§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Barnet)
In asking the House to turn its attention to the question of Gibraltar, I am well aware that there has been an unexpected encroachment on our time, and I shall therefore endeavour to make what I have to say as compact as possible. But I must put the case fully, because my hon. Friends and I believe that in Gibraltar a situation of some seriousness and considerable importance is arising which, if mishandled, could lead to very sad consequences for this country and other countries.
My hon. Friends and I attach considerable importance to the maintenance of good relations with the Government and people of Spain. There are solid reasons for this. First, there is our trade with Spain, which has been expanding very rapidly. Since 1952 our exports to Spain have trebled. This year they should exceed £100 million. Last year there was a favourable balance of trade, from our point of view, of over £20 million. Spain, therefore, is a major trading partner of this country, and at this time this fact is of great interest and importance to all of us.
Secondly—and this must not be forgotten—the Spanish people can make an outstanding contribution to the culture and civilisation of the Western world. We wish to see Spain taking her rightful place in a united Europe. For both these reasons, therefore, we attach high importance to endeavouring to maintain good relations with Spain, and we are sad that the present dispute over Gibraltar should continue to throw a strain upon our relations.
One things is absolutely clear; we cannot solve this problem at the price of abandoning, under duress, either our legal rights or our clear responsibilities to the people of Gibraltar. For that reason we have watched with some anxiety the course of the negotiations that have been taking place, particulars of which are set out in some detail in the White Paper recently published. We agree that it is right, in principle, always to try to reach agreement on matters of dispute through discussion, but we feel that on more than one occasion the policy of Her Majesty's Government has shown a certain weak- 1598 ness and a certain giving way under pressure which may have encouraged the Spanish Government to expect that if they continued the pressure they would get more and more concessions.
I can give one very clear example of this. In October, 1965, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said:Her Majesty's Government remains ready to entertain proposals by Spain for conversations but cannot embark on substantive discussions as long as the abnormal situation on the frontier continues and cannot regard sovereignty as a matter for negotiation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1965; Vol. 718, c. 98.]But the position has not been maintained. Discussions have been going on for a long time while what is called, in the Minister's words, an abnormal situation on the frontier—a nice way of putting it —has not only continued but has intensified steadily to the disadvantage of the people of Gibraltar. Small wonder that in the face of this giving way under pressure the Spanish Government should expect further concessions from further pressure.
The same considerations apply in respect of the words about not regarding sovereignty as a matter for negotiation. Throughout the talks which are referred to in detail in the White Paper there is constant reference to the question of sovereignty, so that on two major matters Her Majesty's Government have, in our opinion, given way, and have retreated from the position they had previously taken up publicly. We believe that this retreat has done damage and this damage has not been repaired in any way by the rather foolish insults sometimes offered by the Colonial Secretary to the Spanish Government and the Head of the Spanish State. Abuse is not a substitute for firmness.
There is no doubt that the present restrictions imposed by Spain are harmful and are wholly unjustified. There is no doubt that damage of a substantial character is being done to the economy of Gibraltar. That economy depends primarily upon defence expenditure, and here an effect has already been felt by the withdrawal of the Air Force squadron—admittedly not connected with the talks. This withdrawal has had a substantial effect upon the trade and economy of Gibraltar. The restrictions imposed by Spain are severely hitting the tourist 1599 industry and the ancillary services upon which Gibraltar so much depends—the provision of motor cars, hotel accommodation, restaurants, shops, car hire services and day excursions. These things may sound small in terms of international affairs, but they bulk very large in terms of a community of about 25,000 people. Gibraltar's tourist industry is largely based on people passing through to Spain, particularly in their cars, and people coming by car or coach from Spain to spend some time—often a short time—in Gibraltar. Therefore, their second main economic prop—tourism—has been substantially affected by the actions of the Spanish Government.
However, while the Spanish restrictions can damage Gibraltar, they cannot possibly stifle its economy. They cannot prevent the necessary supplies being brought in from elsewhere, and even if all the Spanish labour were withdrawn, I believe that it would be feasible to replace it from elsewhere. I hope that plans are being made to do this if necessary. What is quite clear from the short visit which I paid to Gibraltar, following the visit of the Colonial Secretary, is that the people there are completely determined to put up with any suffering or inconvenience caused by the Spanish restrictions, if that is necessary to maintain their position, to which they attach so much importance.
The people of Gibraltar recognise and welcome the help now accorded them by the Government. I believe that this help is rather belated. It was only after the Colonial Secretary, under some pressure in this House, went out to Gibraltar himself that the announcement was made about the £600,000. It would have been much better if the announcement had been made earlier in the summer, when the gap between the Spanish and British points of view was so apparent.
Even now, it is not clear how far the Government are committed. I hope that, in replying to the debate, the Minister will make it clear that whatever further help should be needed over and above the £600,000 towards Gibraltar's development plan will certainly be forthcoming. A solemn assurance on that question would be of great help to the morale of the people on the Rock.
1600 The other matter which concerns people in Gibraltar—certainly judging from the discussions which I had there—is the reference of this problem to the International Court. It is to this that I wish now to turn. In the short time that I was there, I saw representatives of the trade unions, the Chamber of Commerce, the Housewives' Association, and many other representatives of different aspects of public opinion. I found a very widespread concern—genuine, unprovoked concern—about the reference of this matter to the International Court and about how Britain could continue to safeguard their position once the matter had been put in the hands of the Court. It is on this that I hope that the Government will enlighten us this evening.
This reference to the Court comes on top of the disquiet caused by the repeated refusal of Ministers to give a clear assurance when asked from these benches that they would not contemplate handing over the sovereignty of Gibraltar to another power against the wishes of the inhabitants. This is the assurance for which we have asked time and time again, but it has never been forthcoming. I find it difficult to understand why not. I do not believe that the Government would contemplate for a moment handing over the people of Gibraltar to the rule of another power against their wishes. That would be a total abrogation of our responsibility to the people of the Colony.
The Government's reluctance to say this clearly may have been based on their worry about the status of the people of Gibraltar in these negotiations. I see, on page 55 of the White Paper, reference to the Spanish contention, which was then being denied, that we regarded the people of Gibraltar as having an option to dispose at will of the territory of Gibraltar. Also, the Government, in their note to the Spanish Government, made it clear that wedo not seek to turn the people of Gibraltar into a third party with the same standing in the dispute as Her Majesty's Government and the Spanish Government.This is absolutely right, but this is not our point in asking for this assurance. We are asking for an assurance not about the legal rights of the people of Gibraltar but about the obligations of Her Majesty's Government to these people—quite a different matter. I do 1601 not see how, in any way, negotiations could have been impeded if the Government had clearly recognised this obligation, which I regard as a very solemn one.
The other point which worries me about the reference to the International Court is that what is in issue over it is no longer merely a legal matter. There is the position under the Treaty of Utrecht, which has subsisted for over 200 years now and is the basis for what I believe to be the entirely valid, legal, British title to Gibraltar, which is, presumably, what the International Court will look into.
But what they cannot look into is the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, who, since the Treaty of Utrecht, have grown up as a population in Gibraltar. This is a political issue and a human issue and an issue of British responsibility, which is as important in every way as the legal issue.
I do not see how this can be fitted in with the reference of the matter to the International Court and the acceptance, as I understand, by the Government of whatever ruling the Court may give. However eminent the authorities which compose that Court, however strong we think our case, we all know that once one goes to law one cannot be certain in advance of what the results will be. Now that the offer has been made of a reference to the Court, one of two things will happen—either the Spanish Government will accept the offer or it will refuse it.
If they accept, clearly we must fight the case all the way through, with all the vigour and skill at our command, treating the whole of the Colony—the Rock and the neutral territory—as one problem, which it clearly is. They all pull together, they are one entity and one unity. But the Government should explain absolutely clearly this afternoon this vital point—how do they propose to safeguard the interests of the inhabitants of Gibraltar if the verdict of the International Court should go against us?
Of course, the Spanish Government may not agree to a reference to the Court. Perhaps the Government are hoping that this will be so, though I doubt whether that is wise tactics. But if there is no agreement and the matter 1602 does not go to the court because the Spanish Government rejects our offer, then the time would have come to recognise that we are highly unlikely to make any further progress along the lines of the talks which recently took place. There is such a wide gap between the two that a period for reflection and further consideration would surely be indicated. Certainly, I am sure that we should refuse to continue any further negotiations while the restrictions against Gibraltar are maintained and intensified.
The other thing which is often mentioned is retaliation. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that retaliation is something which one is reluctant to indulge in, but it is not wise to rule out in every circumstance the possibility of retaliation. By doing so, one automatically encourages people to push harder and harder against one's position. What we will have to do if there is no agreement is build up the economy of Gibraltar as fast as we can and with more vigour than this is being shown at present. We must not, in this case, be bound by precedent. There are many things—possibly unorthodox things—which can be done to help the economy of Gibraltar which would not create a precedent for other territories.
I recognise, as an ex-Chancellor, how wary the Treasury is of giving precedents for other countries, but surely no precedent can be created by giving special economic help to a British Colony which is undergoing economic siege. I hope that the Government will be bold and imaginative. They will have to be prepared for the withdrawal of the Spanish labour force, but the withdrawal of the female labour force was met very effectively by the women of Gibraltar themselves.
If the remaining 6,000 or 7,000 Spanish male workers were withdrawn, their place could be taken reasonably rapidly if proper provisions were made in advance and particularly if emergency accommodation were ready in advance for incoming workers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will enlighten us on this point.
We ought to concentrate on building up the tourist industry. We can do this by little measures and large. Let me give one small example. Why not let people returning from Gibraltar have a larger duty-free allowance through the 1603 British Customs than those coming from elsewhere? That may be discrimination and creating a precedent, but it would be useful and would certainly not be expensive.
The help which the Government are giving is aimed at building up the infrastructure of the island and increasing building there, clearing up some of the waste and derelict areas and laying the foundations for the development of a tourist industry. The major strength of Gibraltar in future, the major accretion of economic strength there, must come from building up a tourist industry in its own right and not merely an entrepôt tourist industry for Spain. This will mean, for example, building more hotels. A large convention hotel established in Gibraltar would attract a great number of visitors and help to strengthen the economy of the Island. That is the type of development for which Gibraltar is looking, and assistance is needed towards the loan finance necessary for the building of new hotels.
There are other ways in which we can help. We could encourage shipping lines to call more often at Gibraltar. I am glad to note that since Lord Mancroft's visit the Cunard Line has based one of its cruising liners there, and that will be of considerable assistance. Technical assistance in the form of expert tourist industry advice to the Government there would also be of considerable value.
I put these points forward as suggestions of a practical character, because my hon. Friends and I believe that if there is to be no reference to the International Court the time has come to build up, really vigorously and with determination, the economy of Gibraltar so that it can stand on its own feet and stand up to any economic restrictions which the Spanish Government may consider imposing.
I promised to keep my remarks compact. I have tried to make the main points, to express our doubts about the negotiations so far and our concern about the reference to the International Court. We wish particularly to hear from the right hon. Gentleman how the interests and wishes which have been so clearly expressed by the people of Gibraltar about their future are to be safeguarded by Her Majesty's Government because we 1604 believe with great intensity that Her Majesty's Government have a solemn obligation to these people; and we will hold right hon. Gentlemen opposite to account to carry that out.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)
I understand the mood in which the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) expressed his view and doubts. I appreciate them and I appreciate more than anything else the difference between his approach and the approach of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition the other day on the unity aspect of the whole question. I am grateful that the right hon. Member for Barnet did not seek to distinguish between the Rock and the Isthmus, as did his right hon. Friend the other day.
§ Mr. Maudling
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding the position. My right hon. Friend was making the point that if one brings in one part of the territory one therefore brings in the Rock as well as the neutral territory.
§ Mr. Brown
The right hon. Member for Barnet did much better in his speech. I suggest that he leaves the matter there. He expressed his view in a way which I very much appreciate and I am sure that we are wiser to leave it there; that is, if we are really considering the interests of the people of Gibraltar.
The more detailed questions asked by the right hon. Member for Barnet—about what we are doing for the people of Gibraltar and so on—will be answered later by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I wish to deal with the other major questions he asked and I begin by saying again, as firmly and as loudly as I can, that in my view Gibraltar is British by right. We intend to support Gibraltar and to safeguard the interests of the people there. I have complete confidence—coming to this quite new office of mine, but having had the advantage of talking some time ago with one of my predecessors about this problem and having considered the matter clearly—in the strength of our case and I am, therefore, quite willing to submit it to the International Court of Justice. I believe devoutly that somebody in this world must stand up for referring 1605 cases to the International Court, not only when there is certainty but when there might not be certainty.
The right hon. Member for Barnet nearly got into the position in which the Leader of the Opposition got himself the other day; of saying that the only cases we would refer to an international authority would be those about which we were absolutely sure and that we would not refer any others. In that case, how do we establish our belief in the United Nations, in the International Court or in the rule of law in the world? If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to fight me on this I will take that fight on. This is one matter which the British people must face and must stand by. Otherwise we will have Vietnams all over the world.
Whatever may be said, I ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite what they are up to on this issue. When they were in office they were acting on the same advice about Gibraltar as I am. There is absolute continuity in this. They were told, as I am told, of Spanish intentions towards Gibraltar. They heard, as I am hearing, the views of the leaders and the people of Gibraltar. They were being informed of the probable course of events over Gibraltar. They were getting the same advice, knowing that events were going the same way, but, despite all this, they were trying to sell ships, frigates, to the Spanish Government. They were told that obstruction on the landward side was a probability, although one did not have to be in power to know that. Yet hon. Gentlemen opposite were willing to sell to Spain the means by which Spain could obstruct us on the seaward side.
When we were in Opposition we opposed the Government on this matter and said that we should keep at least one side open. When we said that, they were rude to us. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman the former Chancellor of the Exchequer had had his way, the Spaniards would not merely have had the means of obstructing us on the landward side but on the seaward side as well, and I find it very hard to understand how their present position of being tough with Spain goes along with the position which they adopted when in power.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not seriously suggesting that the possession by Spain of half a dozen or even a dozen frigates would be used to obstruct our access to Gibraltar? Is he putting that forward as a serious proposition?
§ Mr. Brown
I suspect that Spain would be rather better off with some frigates than without them. What I am saying is that if that were the position of the Opposition when they were the Government, I do not see that it squares with the position which they are adopting today. Having been willing, at a time when Spain was already embarked on this course, to sell her frigates, now they come into opposition they cry out for much tougher measures—not only no frigates; they now want us to send gun boats to deal with the matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is all right hon. Members saying that. Then what does this demand amount to? I listened to the right hon. Member for Barnet, for whom I have a lot of respect, much more than I listened to what was said the other day. But at the end of the day, what does it amount to? I should like to examine it.
§ Several Hon. Membersrose——
§ Mr. Brown
I will give way in a moment, but I hope that later I shall not be charged with having spoken for too long. Having listened to the right hon Gentleman, I could not decide what he was demanding, unless, like his right hon. Friend the other day, he was in fact demanding that I should go to war.
§ Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that he was a member of the Government after the war which sold jet engines to the Russians, and within two years we were participating in the Berlin airlift?
§ Mr. Brown
With respect, I cannot see what that has to do with Gibraltar. I am not here talking to back bench Members. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am talking to Ministers and ex-Ministers who were Ministers just before me, who shared the same advice and who faced the same problems. I want them to understand this or to confess to it. The right hon. Member for Barnet was, 1607 quite properly, very concerned about our balance of payments, just as I was concerned about them when I was at the Department for Economic Affairs. The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) was then Prime Minister. Nobody defended more strongly than either of them did the selling of frigates to Spain at a time when each knew that this Gibraltarian question was on the agenda.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)
It is a rather curious doctrine that the right hon. Gentleman is speaking to ex-Ministers and not to backbench Members. I have not heard that before in the House. Is not the point that during the whole of the time that we were in office we did maintain friendly relations with Spain so that they never pushed this question to the point of active dispute? No question of strength arose or the use of force. We were hoping—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) please keep quiet for one moment? We were hoping to bring Spain into the N.A.T.O. system and to make her a member of a united Europe. Would not the right hon. Gentleman return to the constructive part of his speech?
§ Mr. Brown
Unhappily, the right hon. Gentleman turned out to be wrong, and the problem came to be faced after he had gone out of office. He knows too much about this to pretend that it was not a problem for him when he was in office.
I laid before the House last week a White Paper setting out all the documents and all the evidence. I set out the proposals and the arguments that have been advanced on both sides. There is no party issue in this. I want to describe the pattern which has emerged. I do not want to take an anti-Spain or pro-Spain 1608 position in this. I think that too many loose and irresponsible charges have been made. We are not following a policy of weakness and appeasement.
§ Mr. Brown
With great respect, it does not help to make it an inter-party matter. Let us try to present a British position here. It would do the Spaniards no harm to hear a firm position here presented.
At the first meeting on 18th May the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, whom I know quite well and have known for a long time, proposed that a convention should be concluded between Britain and Spain under which Gibraltar would pass to Spanish sovereignty while we should retain a British base there which would be co-ordinated either with the Spanish defence system or in some wider grouping, such as that which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. Guarantees under that were offered to the Gibral-tarians, who would have been able to retain their British nationality, and they were offered a legal régime to protect their interests.
But these proposals were accompanied by a mass of argument, most of it legal. We gave the Spanish Government a detailed commentary on the statement of Señor Castiella and refuted all his main supporting arguments. On his proposals, we told the Spanish Government squarely that we saw no prospect of any radical solution in the present state of opinion both in Britain and in Gibraltar. Instead, we put forward on 12th July some counter-proposals which we regarded as more realistic and more likely than theirs to lead to a just settlement which would safeguard the legitimate interests of all concerned.
We made two counter-proposals. The first was originally a Spanish proposal. It was made by Señor Castiella himself 1609 during the exchange of views at the opening talks. He then said quite plainly that if we would take down the frontier fence to which Spain objected, Spain would be ready to remove some of the restrictions at the frontier. This offer of Señor Castiella's had a lot of publicity in Spain and I believe that there is no doubt that he meant it when he said it. So our first proposal was to put this suggestion of his into effect. But it was at once taken back by the Spaniards, and we were told that we had misunderstood the proposals and that further discussions on these lines would be a "waste of time".
The other counter-proposals which we made on 12th July were practical ones aimed at laying the foundations for future understanding by dealing with a number of points about which the Spanish Government had complained. The Spanish answer to all this was to say that a number of our ideas could be considered provided that it was agreed that they were simply a preliminary to the early hand-over of Gibraltar to Spain.
Those exchanges, therefore, produced no concrete result. Our positions were too far apart. The discussions showed clearly, however—and this goes to the heart of our disagreement—that legal arguments and the legal issue lay at the root of the dispute. The two Governments, ours and the Spanish Government, are working on different premises about what the legal position is over a wide range of important matters. It seemed quite clear to me that there was little prospect of any progress unless the legal issues could first be clarified. I thought that they would best be clarified if we referred them to the appropriate international body.
The talks have also shown up clearly certain contradictions in the Spanish position. Spain claims that her claim over Gibraltar is waged in the name of decolonisation. This I feel to be fantastic. Spain clearly wishes to grab Gibraltar against the wishes of those who live there. Nobody could describe this as an act of decolonisation. I have spent all my life fighting against colonialism and I would regard this as absolutely ridiculous. I simply do not understand how anybody who is concerned, as I am, to end colonisation could regard 1610 such a proposal as a move in that direction.
The Spanish claim is even more extraordinary in the light of her own record in dealing with her own colonial territories. Over the last 20 years, Britain has given independence to 700 million people. Over the same period, Spain has been hanging on to her colonial possessions. Ifni and the Spanish Sahara, Rio Muni and Fernando Po are still regarded as being Spanish. The enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla remain Spanish to this day. These facts speak for themselves and should be heard by the Committee of 24 in New York.
§ Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)
I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he sees nothing good, honourable or creditable in Great Britain's colonial record. If he does see it, will be say so?
§ Sir G. Sinclair
The right hon. Gentleman claimed credit for having been a fighter against colonialism and all the rest of it for all his life, and he was hoping to whip up some sort of support in some quarters. This was not a tribute to something to which he subsequently paid lip-service.
§ Mr. Brown
It cannot be honourable in itself to be a colonial Power. In this case, it must be our stand that our great contribution is that we have passed over our colonial obligations to the peoples themselves, because that is the whole argument which we have with the Spaniards. If the hon. Member is trying to prove that a colonial Power may be a good colonial Power, he may well hand it to the Spaniards on a plate. I suggest that he does not do that.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
How does the right hon. Gentleman suppose, for instance, that Gibraltar could be handed over to the Gibraltarians without any support from us in view of the threat from Spain?
§ Mr. Brown
I will come to that presently. I am dealing with the colonial argument. We must here stand on the proud record of Britain—it has nothing to do with any party Government—over a long time in having been better almost than, indeed better than, anybody else at disengaging ourselves from being a colonial Power, bringing about freedom and doing it without hurting the people to whom we have given it. This we must stand on.
The real problem here—and I now come to the question asked by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden)—which the Spaniards so far do not see is that the issue is a matter involving human beings and that their interests should be paramount. This is what the United Nations Charter tells us we should take account of. It is not just an irritating obstacle to Spanish territorial demands. There are 20,000 people there. They have views. In all our approach to this or any other similar problem, this must be paramount.
The Spanish statement of 12th July——
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that point, I wonder whether he would spare a word for the Basques and the Catalans, who in many respects, ethnic, cultural and linguistic, consider themselves as much oppressed colonials as the people of the Spanish colonial territories overseas?
§ Mr. Maudling
Before the right hon. Gentleman passes from that point, may I ask him to deal with the main point of my argument? Accepting, as the right hon. Gentleman does, that the interests of the people of the territory must be paramount, how does he reconcile this with accepting the verdict of the World Court whatever it may be?
§ Mr. Brown
I will come to that in logical progression. At the moment, I am not being helped by all the interventions.
1612 I am trying hard to use this occasion both to answer the right hon. Gentleman, as I hope he will agree, in a sensible and serious way and also to establish some things which other people may wish to consult.
The Spanish statement of 12th July said thatthe consent or otherwise of the Gibraltarians to what Spain proposed to Great Britain is legally and politically irrelevant to the international solution of the problem.It went on to say thatwhatever the good will of Spain, she cannot expect that the complete solution of the problem of Gibraltar should be held back through the obstinacy of the inhabitants".For our part, we attach tremendous importance to the wishes of the Gibraltarians. The responsibility for Gibraltar is ours, and we have told the Spanish Government so. We are not seeking to make the Gibraltarians a third party. The responsibility, I repeat, is ours; but at the same time we recognise, as the Spanish Government should recognise, that the wishes of the Gibraltarians are a very strong factor in the situation.
One thing which seemed to me to emerge quite clearly from the talks between the two Governments was that the legal issues would have to be clarified if progress was to be made. Our proposal that the legal issues should, therefore, be referred to the International Court of Justice seems to me to be a logical sequel to the discussions which have taken place.
I have said elsewhere, I said earlier this evening, I say again, that I believe it to be the duty of nations like ours to set an example by referring international disputes to the appropriate world authority, and I say again, even if the other side of the House finds it difficult to accept, that that means being ready to accept the resulting decisions, even when they are not agreeable to us—even when they are not agreeable to us—and if the former Attorney-General really believes that the only time you go to law is when you are sure you will win, I find it hard to understand how he ever became a Queen's Counsel, let alone Attorney-General.
§ Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
I think the right hon. Gentleman did not quite hear my intervention. I am sorry. I will make it 1613 again. The logical conclusion is you accept the conclusion whether acceptable to you or not and whether it is agreeable or not to the people of Gibraltar.
§ Mr. Brown
—or to the other lawyer's clients; to oneself or the others. Else how did the former Attorney-General ever become an Attorney-General?
That is a very important issue. If I could have the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention, I should be obliged. One either believes in the rule of law, whether internal or external for the minute does not matter, or one does not. If one believes in the rule of law one accepts the decisions which are made by the legal bodies. The former Attorney-General, if he is really insisting that he only ever advised his colleagues, or his clients, to go to law on the condition they knew they were going to win, must surely be enunciating a doctrine which the Bar Council would find it very hard to understand.
§ Sir J. Hobson
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I never advised my clients to go to law when I thought they were going to lose. One cannot draw an analogy between ordinary clients and international law, which is not compulsory but voluntary, under which the Government assume an obligation to accept the decision not only for themselves but for those for whom they are trustees. The only point which remains about the International Court is that the Government have committed the people of Gibraltar to a decision with which they may not agree.
§ Mr. Brown
And having, as we have, and as he gave his colleagues in his day, complete confidence in our case, what is wrong with our then going to the International Court to get a ruling that we are right? Why is it that the former Attorney-General who was so sure when he was in office we had nothing to fear is now pretending in Opposition that may be we are selling people down the river? What has changed, except that he has gone from this Bench to that Bench?
1614 That is all, and now there is some politics, he thinks—I think, quite wrongly, but he thinks—to be played in this.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull) rose——
§ Mr. Brown
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. Sometimes I am attacked for not giving way and sometimes I am attacked for giving way. I beg your pardon.
I still believe we must be right to accept a decision. When I went to New York in October—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is conducting another debate, but I should like to have his attention—when I went to New York and I talked to the United Nations, I said that I believed that the future of the world lies in strengthening the authority of the United Nations, of the international authority, in the world. I believe that passionately. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not believe that—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire in a speech at Berwick on Tweed some years ago suggested that he did not—they had better say so. But I do, and so long as I am Foreign Secretary Britain will refer proposals which involve, as this one does, legal issues to the International Court, which is the judicial organ of the United Nations and, in my view, is the right body to judge such issues. I believe that this is the kind of civilised behaviour which is appropriate to the second half of the twentieth century. I believe it is the kind of civilised behaviour we should like to see a great deal more of in the world.
Then believing this, as I do, I think Gibraltar has a good case to start with. Nobody here or in Gibraltar has in fact any need to worry. I have not any doubt of the result. Nor have the elected representatives of Gibraltar. They fully support the proposal we have made. They have said so to their own people. We have, let me repeat, the full support of the Gibraltar Ministers for the proposal we have put forward.
Now hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite speculate about all the variety of judgments which the Court could in theory deliver, and they invite us to announce how we would deal with each hypothetical judgment. I do not believe this does any 1615 service to Britain or to Gibraltar. I think it is unreal, and I think it is irresponsible, and I think it could have—this refers particularly to the recent intervention—very dangerous effects on our case—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—Yes, indeed. And the same goes for some of the talk, although the right hon. Gentleman did not follow this tonight, about which issue should be before the Court.
I want to make it quite clear that, in my view, the legal issues go together. They should be referred together. They stand together. An offer to go to the Court must be fair if it is to have any value, and if it is to be fair it must be comprehensive. I know that some hon. Gentlemen opposite think that on some issues we are so impregnable we need not refer them. I do not accept this. I do not think anybody, whether one is a lawyer or a trade union negotiator like myself, should ever take out the area where he thinks he is strong and refer only the area where, by implication, he thinks he is not so strong. I do not divide the territory of Gibraltar, and I do not want the Court to divide the territory of Gibraltar. I do not see any difference between the Rock and the so-called neutral territory, the Isthmus. We do a great disservice to the Gibraltarians if we try to define such artificial distinctions, and I am absolutely certain that no one now in opposition would draw those distinctions were they sitting over here and were they Ministers.
The Spanish behaviour towards Gibraltar has meant difficulties, inconveniences and hardships for the people of Gibraltar. The latest restrictions on the frontier have deprived them of their legitimate outlet to Spain by car, by bus or by any other road transport; but I believe that Spain has sadly misjudged the temper and the resolution of Gibraltar, and of this country, if she thinks that her campaign will bring the people of Gibraltar to their knees or bring Britain to terms.
The efforts of the Gibraltarians, their versatility, their buoyancy, have, with the necessary help from Britain, resulted in the complete failure of Spain's campaign.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
Does my right hon. Friend not think that if we withdrew passports to Spain and withheld credit facilities it might force Spain 1616 into a frightened sense of self-inquiry? Would he not agree that reprisals are the only language that a Fascist dictatorship understands?
§ Mr. Brown
No. The answer to that is, frankly, no. It is a course on which I would hate to embark. Telling people which countries they may visit or which countries they may not visit is, if I may say so, the almost classical way in which any Fascist Government sets out on its course. I do not propose to embark on that kind of course, and if my hon. Friend thinks about it he will see how dangerous that kind of line would be and how much better it is to present oneself to a properly constituted legal authority and rely on the strength of one's case. Otherwise what is the distinction between us and the Fascists whom he denounces? There has to be some distinction. The distinction must be our belief in the strength of our case and our willingness to submit it to a legal authority. There is no other distinction.
The measures we have taken to support the people of Gibraltar have, I think, been adequate. There has been no need, and there is no need now, for panic measures. Not only are we keeping a day-to-day watch on the situation, but we are operating in close concert with the Governor of Gibraltar, with the people of Gibraltar, and with their own Ministers. The welcome which they gave to the statements which my right hon. Friend made during his recent visit is the best demonstration that Gibraltarians agree with the position we have taken up.
As for the future, I made our determination, to sustain the people of Gibraltar, quite clear when I made my statement to the House last week. If we think that further financial aid is needed to sustain them in the face of difficulties, we will provide it. Neither Gibraltar nor this House need have any doubt on that score.
It is true that Gibraltar is no longer to Britain what it was in imperialist days. It is no longer the indispensable fortress guarding the route to India; but it still has an important rôle to play in our defensive arrangements. On top of that, we have a great responsibility to the people of Gibraltar, and this has not changed. It is a matter of profound importance. At the very heart of this 1617 controversy are 20,000 people who depend upon us. They do not depend upon the Labour Party or the Conservative Party; they depend upon this country.
I do not think this should be a matter of party feeling, either in this country or in this House. I am not myself concerned with anti-Franco feeling. I do not believe in making foreign policy according to whether one likes or dislikes a leader of' a country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am concerned with the people one is dealing with. Our responsibility, as I see it, is to look after the people of Gibraltar and to get the issues between Spain and ourselves solved by normal civilised international processes. Sir, in this task I would hope that I could look to this House—both sides of it—for its wholehearted support.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)
Quite frankly, the whole House must have been absolutely astonished at the speech of the Foreign Secretary this evening. At Blackpool recently my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), in welcoming the Foreign Secretary to his new post, said that there was a national society for being kind to George Brown. I can only say that our allegiance to that society has been strained to the utmost this evening. It is incredible, to those of us who have taken a keen interest in this subject, that we should have had to listen to this rambling monologue which touched on everything except the issues which most concern us and the people of Gibraltar.
Let me take one or two examples. The Foreign Secretary referred to the legal question and spoke of the Gibraltar people as clients. There is one very great difference between Gibraltarians and clients. Clients choose their own lawyers. We are in the position of trustees to beneficiaries and we have no right, merely to suit our own ideas, to decide that something should or should not be settled according to a certain method. To ignore the rights of the Gibraltarians and to refer to them as clients is wholly misleading and is, in fact, utterly dishonest.
The Foreign Secretary spoke about taking the dispute to the International Court as though we were the plaintiff. We are not and never have been the 1618 plaintiff. I had a much smaller practice than my right hon. and learned Friend the former Conservative Attorney-General and other hon. Members, but I cannot remember a case of an individual in firm possession actually seeking to go to law against himself. That is the position into which the Foreign Secretary has carried us on this matter. We are the people against whom a dispute is raging at the moment. It is up to the Spanish to adopt the civilised measures to which the Foreign Secretary has referred. Are we going to say—which appears to be the Foreign Secretary's policy—that if charges are made against us in any part of the world, then we as defendants will refer the matter to the International Court? That is the path he has set us on.
The Foreign Secretary complained, almost in a melancholy way, that all he was doing was following the policy of the Tory Government. However, he ignored one salient point—as to what he and his right hon. Friends have done. They said they were not going to talk under duress. They said this publicly, yet a few weeks later they did talk under duress. That is the essential difference. He did not inherit the situation; he created it, and the Spanish are in a position where they can keep on pushing us.
Then there was this talk about frigates. The idea that apparently only British frigates are capable of obstructing Gibraltar is certainly a novel one. I personally have the impression that there are a few other nations capable of building frigates. I imagine that French ones, for one, would be just about as good at obstructing Gibraltar as any other nation, and that is where Spain went to after we refused to supply it with frigates.
§ Mr. George Brown
On that matter, what I was constrasting was the tremendous anti-Spanish attitude which the Conservative Party is now taking with the very pro-Spanish attitude which the party took when it was in office.
§ Sir F. Bennett
On the contrary. Neither in anything that my right hon. Friend said in opening, nor in anything that any of us on this side of the House will say, will a single anti-Spanish statement be made, except in the context of 1619 the dispute over Gibraltar. [Interruption.] When the Labour Party came to power, it quite gratuitously, not only over the frigates, but over the cancellation of naval manoeuvres, entered into a new element of hostility, apart altogether from the Gibraltar dispute. The Foreign Secretary will realise, when he reflects upon it tomorrow, that the picture he gave us of our saving Gibraltar from a seaward attack by refusing to sell the Spanish our frigates was the biggest piece of nonsense in his speech, which is saying a lot.
Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman said that it would have been wrong to let the Spanish have the frigates, because it might have led to a blockade. Yet in his own White Paper one of the concessions he offered the Spanish Government was the free and unfettered use of Gibraltar for the Spaish Navy. This is what he is offering them. They cannot keep the frigates outside, but they can have them inside. This is the position into which the Foreign Secretary has put the House.
There was only one thing on which I altogether agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, and that was when he said that it was a great pity to confuse this issue with our like or dislike of the present Spanish Government. An intervention by one of his hon. Friends showed perfectly clearly that this was what the right hon. Gentleman was doing. We on this side are not interested in what form of Government Spain has in this dispute. That is irrelevant. What we are interested in is our Government's treatment of the people of Gibraltar. We should expect that treatment to be exactly the same even if there were, God forbid, a Socialist Government along the lines of the present British Government in Spain at present. We would not wish that on the Spaniards. Nevertheless, we want our support of the people of Gibraltar to be continued, irrespective of what régime there is in Spain at present.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman therefore clearly suggest that he prefers the Fascist Government of Spain to the Socialist Government of Great Britain?
§ Sir F. Bennett
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should tempt me into such horribly indivious comparisons.
1620 I turn now to the question which is the centrepiece of the feelings of all of us on this side, as exemplified in my right hon. Friend's remarks. This is our definite anxiety about the whole question of the reference to the International Court of Justice. Here I want to go through some of the correspondence and some of the Questions and Answers in the House of Commons recently. It is worth while my doing this so that I get on the record what has been happening.
On 24th October I asked the Foreign Secretaryif he will define precisely what aspects of the Anglo-Spanish dispute over Gibraltar Her Majesty's Government has proposed should be referred to the International Court of Justice.The Answer I received was quite clearly not meant to give me the information I required. The Answer merely said:the intention of Her Majesty's Government is to submit to the Court all the legal issues in dispute."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October, 1966; Vol. 734, c. 106.]This did not make it clear whether sovereignty, as I had asked, was to be one of them.
I followed that up with a personal letter to the Foreign Secretary to which I was accorded the courtesy—I say this at once—of a prompt answer. In his reply the Foreign Secretary confirmed—I think that this was the first time this had been said; it certainly had not been reported anywhere in the Press—that the draft did include a request to the Court to give its decision as to whether Spain or the United Kingdom had sovereignty over the whole Territory of Gibraltar which, of course, includes the Rock.
That letter was written by the Foreign Secretary on 28th October, giving me this information quite explicitly. I thank him for it. Two days later the right hon. Gentleman gave my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition a very rough time for asking precisely the same question. The right hon. Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend was being very unhelpful, yet he was merely asking the same question the answer to which I had received in writing from the Foreign Secretary only a few days before. My right hon. Friend himself got reproved for putting a question which the Foreign Secretary had found it proper to answer, without marking the letter to me "Confidential", only three days previous to the exchange on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton) rose——
§ Sir F. Bennett
I shall not give way. I want to get on. I suppose I should be very grateful to the Foreign Secretary for treating me with such respect, in view of earlier remarks this evening.
I turn now to what followed after that. I then wrote to the Foreign Secretary on the very point that is now the centre-piece of all our anxieties. Although we are more confident—I, as a lawyer and as a politician, am just as confident as is the right hon. Gentleman—that we have a 100 per cent. case on Gibraltar, still the fact remains that no litigant ever goes to court, or very rarely goes to court, unless he thinks that he will win. Even in my own small past experience, I came across an awful lot of people who were 100 per cent. convinced of the Tightness of their case, but who nevertheless lost. This is a fact which the Foreign Secretary has no right to dodge in his calculations, because here he is dealing with beneficiaries and he is the trustee. He and his advisers cannot rightly ignore this fact.
§ Mr. George Brown
If in that case the hon. Gentleman advises that we do not go to court, what does he advise us to do?
§ Sir F. Bennett
I think that the right hon. Gentleman told us to wait for the orderly sequence of his speech. I will come to that point a little later. I think I can claim that my speech will probably be at least just about as orderly as the right hon. Gentleman's was.
I was saying that I then posed the question in a longer letter to the Foreign Secretary; because, whether he believes it or not, I am just as passionately dedicated as he is to this question and have tried to help on successive occasions when I have gone out to Gibraltar and elsewhere. I saw a definite danger in our position as trustees, just in case our calculations and our advice might be wrong. Therefore, I sought to get from the right hon. Gentleman his interpretation of what would happen if the Court should go against us. Would the right hon. Gentleman then ignore the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, or would he not? He could have written a perfectly flat answer—"Yes" or "No"—to that, because this 1622 is a question the House is entitled to ask. We cannot just accept his assumption that we shall win the case, however much we agree this is likely, because we have a responsibility towards others who are not directly parties to this litigation.
I wrote a letter and asked this perfectly fair question. Only today did I receive an answer to what was a perfectly simple question and one which could have been accorded a very quick reply, but it took nine days. I am glad that I received it before the debate. Here it is:Thank you for your letter of 1st November about our proposal to the Spanish Government that the legal issues in dispute between us over Gibraltar should be referred to the International Court of Justice. I have nothing further to add to what I have said and will be saying in the House.Naturally I came here, as I think we all did, wanting to know the answer to this question—what will be the outcome if the Foreign Secretary's calculations are wrong and if in fact the verdict, or some part of it, should go against us?
Only a couple of days ago at Question Time I asked the Foreign Secretary this supplementary question:…is he really determined, if this matter does go to the International Court and if by any mischance the verdict should go against us, to hand over the people of Gibraltar to Spain, without consulting them as to their wishes?The Foreign Secretary replied in this way:To deal with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's Question, it is obviously incompatible to say that one was willing to refer the matter to the International Court and then to lay down the verdict which one would accept.My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) then asked:Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply mean that if the verdict goes against us he would be prepared to hand over Gibraltar to Spain, regardless of the wishes of its inhabitants? Is not that dealing with a free people as though they were a piece of property, rather like old-fashioned colonialism?To which the right hon. Gentleman replied:I must say that that question, coming from a distinguished lawyer, as well as a Privy Councillor, does make me wonder. That is not the sort of question one should deal with, in those terms, before going to a court of any kind, let alone the International Court."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1966; Vol. 735, c. 952–3.]1623 But that is exactly the sort of question with which we should be dealing. It is the only question with which we should be dealing: what will we do?
As I understand it, the only interpretation one can put upon what is happening—it is a most melancholy interpretation, and I wish it were otherwise—is that the message going from the House tonight is that, if the verdict should go against us, the people of Gibraltar will be handed over to the Government of Spain without their wishes being consulted. That is the only possible interpretation of the Foreign Secretary's answers and of what he said tonight, unless another Minister can give us another assurance later.
I can take this even further——
§ Sir F. Bennett
I have already told the hon. Gentleman that I wish to put before the House a series of questions and answers, and I must maintain the sequence. I shall give way when I have finished this part of my speech.
Because I was distrustful of what was being done, I put a Question to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. It was in general terms because it was difficult to put one down in precise terms on the Gibraltar issue at this stage after so many Questions had been asked, with fruitless results. Two days ago, I asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies,to what extent the principle of self-determination of peoples enshrined in the United Nations Charter as to their future in the process of the decolonisation of the United Kingdom's remaining overseas dependencies still has application in the formulation of Her Majesty's Government's policies; and what exceptions are provided for.I received a reply only an hour or so ago:Her Majesty's Government's policy is in accordance with the United Nations Charter"—and then come these words, which I ask the House to note—It takes full cognisance of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, as of other relevant principles and obligations.We are entitled to ask what are the other relevant principles and obligations which we must take into account as well as the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. Are we saying that, because the matter has gone 1624 to the International Court, we must abide by the outcome? As I see it, that can be the only message now. I would love to be proved wrong, and I hope that we shall have a definite assurance later tonight that I am wrong.
§ Mr. George Brown
May I put my question again to the hon. Gentleman? Clearly, he is against our referring the case to the International Court. If I have to spell it out in detail, the Spaniards have the landward side. What would the hon. Gentleman have us do?
§ Sir F. Bennett
This really is wasting time. I have said that I will come to what I would do in my concluding remarks. I am not dodging the point at all. I am trying to deal with the whole question in an orderly manner.
I come now to the International Court itself. Both in the House and in the country, we have a tendency to treat certain international bodies nowadays as sacred cows to which it is always wrong to refer in terms other than almost hushed praise. The International Court of Justice at The Hague is a great and august body, but it is right for us in the House of Commons, as we are trustees, to look at this court with fairly careful scrutiny, not just referring to it as the International Court of Justice and, therefore, beyond any question by the House. Only a few weeks ago, the International Court gave a verdict on the question of South-West Africa which, I am sure, not one hon. or right hon. Member thought that the Court would give. Whether we agreed with that verdict is immaterial now; what I am saying is that there can have been hardly anyone who believed in advance—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman did not—that that verdict would be given. This only goes to show how one can get unexpected verdicts.
Let us consider the composition of the International Court of Justice at the Hague, in which the Foreign Secretary puts absolute faith. What happened immediately after that decision on South-West Africa? The Polish judge got the sack. That was done by his country as a political decision. When the question of reappointing the judges came up only a few days ago, the Australian replacement was voted out; not only did the former Australian judge not carry on but his replacement was 1625 voted out. There is no doubt about the reason; it was done because of the casting vote which the Australian judge had given in the unpopular political case of South-West Africa.
Whether we like it or not, it is not right to talk of the International Court, with its present composition, as though it were a court in the verdicts of which one can have blind and absolute faith. If I have not convinced all hon. Members here, let them consider for a moment the way the Court divided on the question of South-West Africa, packed as it was with racial tension. Which countries went one way and which the other? The casting vote for the actual decision of the court was Australian, and the remaining countries were Greece, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, South Africa, and Poland. We know what happened to the Polish judge. The countries opposed were Nationalist China, the Soviet Republic, Japan, the United States—the one exception in the list—Mexico, Senegal and Nigeria.
Need I say more? Do those lists of names mean nothing to hon. Members? Do they not carry a message that we ought to keep in mind when we as trustees represent people who are beneficiaries?
§ Sir F. Bennett
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman regards this as disgraceful because, having set up his sacred cow in which he puts absolute faith and the future of the people of Gibraltar, he does not want its quality queried. But not one word I have said does not stand up to examination by anyone who cares to check.
§ Mr. Archer
The hon. Gentleman has on several occasions said that this country is a trustee. Is he advancing the thesis that a trustee should cling to the territory concerned even if that should transpire to be in defiance of international law?
§ Sir F. Bennett
There is no question of the trustee trying to cling to the territory. We are talking about the beneficiaries, the people who live on the Rock. The Rock cannot be regarded as a piece of territory. It happens to have an indigenous population living on it, 1626 and I am reminding the House that we are trustees representing those people. I am not worried about a verdict on the Rock. We are talking about the people on the Rock. This is what hon. Members do not seem to understand.
I was asked by the Foreign Secretary what I would do, and I now come to that. We have offered to refer the matter to the Court, and I do not suggest that at this stage we could sensibly withdraw that offer. I would not have done it. I disagreed when the offer was made and have done my best to explain why. But the offer has been made, and the only outcome which will get the right hon. Gentleman off the hook on which he has impaled himself will be a refusal by the Spanish Government. I suspect that, when the right hon. Gentleman goes home to bed, that is the one result he hopes for.
But let us assume that Spain turns the offer down. Then what should we do? I go back to my original contention. We have done our best, in accordance with the wishes of the United Nations and otherwise, to reach agreement by negotiation. The right hon. Gentleman will accept that the negotiation has achieved nothing but failure. I do not blame him for what the Spanish Government have done. Every attempt by us to reach a conciliatory outcome has been greeted with fresh restrictions by the Spanish Government. We know that that has happened all along, but we have at least done our best.
If the Spanish Government now refuse to go to the Hague Court, we ought to suspend the talks and report to the United Nations that they have proved fruitless. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was always better to go on talking rather than stop. This is a very fine sentiment, but he has not conveyed it to the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in another context in which time limits seem to be more the fashion. In this case, apparently, we can go on talking indefinitely. For my part, I would give a definite time limit or, rather, suspend the talks now because they have proved fruitless.
Second, we must give not just adequate aid to Gibraltar. I said this when I was out there and on television and radio. This is an occasion when we ought to show by a massive injection of capital 1627 into the territory—not thinking in terms of £600,000 a year but in terms of a three-year, five-year or eight-year programme—that we have a real and determined interest in the people of Gibraltar. We must do this for one reason, if for no other. If the Spaniards were convinced that they could not trouble Gibraltar economically, this would be the best weapon that we could wield. We must not talk about aid just for this year. We must make it clear that we intend to put Gibraltar on its feet economically, whatever it costs. It will not cost very much. Some of the enterprises into which the present Government have entered overseas—and I do not wish to draw this matter into party conflict—are costing a great deal more than it would cost to put Gibraltar on its feet in a permanent sense. We could put Gibraltar permanently on its feet to the extent that it could not care less whether the Spanish had a blockade or not. This has happened elsewhere, and we can do it. Plenty of other dependencies are in that position, and there is no reason why Gibraltar should not be put in the position in which it does not have to depend on Spain.
§ Mr. George Brown
Will the hon. Member face the problem? I have said again and again and again that the people who live on what he chooses to call Gibraltar, which is the Rock, will be taken care of. Since he rejects my approach, will he tell us what he would do about the airfield, which is not on the Rock?
§ Sir F. Bennett
In the first place, I said that I would not have referred any of the issues in dispute to the Court, in which case I should not have referred the airfield. I would stay exactly where we are. I would suspend the talks, make an announcement of aid in a considerable form and stand on our rights. This would be much more effective in bringing about a solution than the havering in which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have been indulging.
Finally, in this context, I would seek the co-operation of the Gibraltarians in bringing about a satisfactory constitutional future of that country which would take it out of the Anglo-Spanish cockpit for good and all, not only economically but politically. I am not talking about the 1628 precise form of integration which should be adopted, but by one method or another it should be possible to achieve what the people of Gibraltar unanimously want—a relationship with this country which first of all economically puts them outside the capacity of Spain to menace and then politically puts them outside the capacity of Spain to menace.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
When my hon. Friend was out there did he discuss the possibility of Gibraltar becoming a constituency in the House of Commons and sending representatives here?
§ Sir F. Bennett
I did not discuss it because those who are so much in favour of integration do not give anyone much chance of discussing it. They do all the discussing. There is a very active pro-integration movement in Gibraltar which makes that point. I do not want to go into the detail of whether it should be on the lines of the Channel Islands or on new lines. We should not get bogged down in detail. There is a substantial view, not necessarily a majority, for full integration with a seat in the House of Commons.
If we do not go to the Court we should suspend the talks. We should make the Spaniards completely convinced by both our economic and our political actions that they will never get anywhere at all. In that event I am willing to make my own bet that this will bring about a speedier resolution of this dispute than many of us think possible at the present time.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has repeated vehemently on a number of occasions—only two minutes ago was the last time—that the people of Gibraltar will be looked after by Her Majesty's Government. Only two days ago this assurance was given by my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary in answer to Questions when he said,The people of Gibraltar are British and will remain British. Nothing can alter that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1966; Vol. 735, c. 243.]Those on the surface are very satisfactory statements, but I should like them to go a little further. I should like the Foreign Secretary to say not only that 1629 the people of Gibraltar will be adequately looked after but that they will be looked after in Gibraltar, not as emigrés living away from Gibraltar, with perhaps redundancy pay or compensation or disturbance pay as British subjects remaining British but living away from Gibraltar. If we can have the guarantee that they will continue to live and be looked after in their home territory of Gibraltar, I think that the whole House will be satisfied. But there are loopholes within those two statements, which, with all due respect to the views which have been put forward by the Foreign Secretary, need clarification.
I have read the White Paper very carefully—all 126 pages of it. The effect of it has been to confirm me in my previous opinion that the talks between the Government and the Spanish Government on Gibraltar have been a sheer waste of time. From beginning to end, it is obvious, the Spanish Government have set their demands for sovereignty over Gibraltar, and it is obvious that they did not budge from those demands. It is obvious that my right hon. Friend and his predecessor, and the Department generally, have been conducting the talks in what my right hon. Friend called a civilised manner but dealing with uncivilised people.
The arguments set out by the Spanish Government in paper after paper were obscured with "phoney" legal arguments, long, repetitive, involved and fine-sounding emotional phrases, not dealing with the question of Gibraltar and the people of Gibraltar. There are many attacks on colonialism and on Britain as a colonial Power without, as my right hon. Friend said, mentioning their own colonial obligations and their own colonial possessions, even those just across in Morocco.
They even made promises to the people of Gibraltar about the fine, prosperous future which they would enjoy once the Spanish flag was raised over the Rock. But what do these promises amount to? How much can we rely on the words of the present Spanish Government? How much truth could there be in those promises when we look at some of the things which they put into the documents which they laid at the talks with the Foreign Secretary? For example, they said in the early stages of the talks that 1630 now that these discussions were taking place, Spain would abstain from any further measures against Gibraltar while the talks were going on, and then progressively more and more restrictions were placed upon the frontier of Gibraltar, upon the Gibraltarians, their travel into Spain and their trade.
They further said that the consent or otherwise of the Gibraltarians was completely irrelevant to the question of a settlement between Britain and Spain about Gibraltar. But surely the whole question is one of those people who are living on the Rock. It is not the bit of soil and the bit of rock and the harbour that matter. It is the welfare of the 20,000 or so people living there in freedom, under the British flag, free to have their political associations, to have their free elections, to have their free uncensored Press, to have the right of free meetings and of free trade unions—all the things that the Spaniards are denied under their present régime. It may be quite justifiable for the Spanish Government to promise to the people of Gibraltar all the blessings that they have given to their own people in Spain. In the opinion of the Spanish Government it may be highly unreasonable for the Gibraltarians to refuse to accept those privileges which the people have from their own Government.
They further say, as a point of argument, that all the Spanish people, whatever party they may favour, whatever point of view they may have, whatever class they belong to, are totally unanimous in the demand that Gibraltar should revert to Spain. That again is not true. There are many anti-Franco elements in Spain, some of them organised clandestinely, some of them fragmented and unable to organise very well because of the police State in which they live. But on 12th October, the Evening Standard had a long article about a student anti-Franco rally in Barcelona, attended by 5,000 students, accompanied by sympathetic members of the Catalonian intellectual community, 20 Roman Catholic priests and various university professors. Members of this free syndicate, which was formed in Barcelona, were asked by Jonathan Aitken, the Evening Standard reporter, for their views on Gibraltar. He reports: 1631They replied amidst general agreement: 'We are happy for Gibraltar to stay British, for it is of no use whatever to Spain. That is the view of the vast majority of young Spaniards. We know that Franco is just out to create trouble for Gibraltar in order to bolster up his own fading prestige'.I have with me a letter from the General Secretary of the Catalan National Committee in which he says:As Catalans, we wish to state our opinion on the Gibraltar problem".He goes on to say that they have lived under Spanish dictatorship far too long and goes on:As the Spanish régime cannot last for ever, we would rather prefer the Gibraltarian people keeping their personality as at present, and wait until the future Confederation of free Iberian Nations we aim at becomes a reality, when the Gibraltarians then can choose whether they prefer to form a part of it as an independent people, or remain as they are at present".That is the opinion of a very large section of Northern Spain, Catalonia.
So it is throughout Spain. There are various groups of anti-Franco opinion, whatever their political views may be, who regard Gibraltar as an irrelevance in the present context. It is completely false for the contrary argument to be adduced by the Spanish Government in the White Paper. If the Spaniards have any doubt about it and want to prove to the world what they maintain to be the position, why do not they have a free election in Spain in order to show the world what the opinions of the Spanish people are? Furthermore, the Spanish Government offered to remove restrictions if we would remove the fence. That was immediately taken up and the offer was immediately withdrawn. So the good will of the Spanish Government was shown.
Perhaps the most interesting feature is the three pages of argument by the Spanish Government pointing to Spain's neutrality during the war—it uses the word "neutrality". On page 80 of the White Paper it says that this behaviour on its part during the war deserves a more serious consideration. If I may be allowed to take up the time of the House, I want to give it serious consideration.
It should not be forgotten that during the war Franco's Spain was not neutral. It started out as neutral, but the moment 1632 Mussolini declared war Franco—Spain declared that it was no longer neutral but was a non-belligerant. I refer hon. Members to the memoirs of Lord Templewood, who was our ambassador in Spain during the war and who has set out his views of the history of those times in a book entitled, "Ambassador on Special Mission". It contains powerful arguments against the point of view which the Spanish Government has put forward in the White Paper.
For example, the Spanish Government quotes out of context from a letter which Churchill is supposed to have written thanking Franco for not having come into the war against us. It does not quote a further part of that letter in which he said:But I also recall that throughout the war German influence in Spain has been consistently allowed to hinder the war effort of Great Britain and her Allies and it is a fact that a Spanish division was sent to help our German enemies against our Russian allies. During this period the Spanish Government publicly followed a policy not of neutrality, but of non-belligerence.He went on to refer to numerous complaints put to the Spanish Government against its activities which were little in accordance with Spain's avowed neutrality and referred to repeated protests and complaints against its contemptuous references to Britain's defeat being desirable and inevitable. He ended his letter by saying that Spain would certainly not be admissible to any international organisations because of her behaviour during the war.
Published in this book also are confidential letters which passed between Franco, Hitler and Mussolini, 15 documents in all, which were discovered in Germany after Germany was occupied. These, according to Lord Templewood, provedFranco's complete solidarity with the Axis, his carefully laid plans to intervene against the Allies if and when a really favourable opportunity arose, and his intrigue to obtain Gibraltar and Morocco and to close the Mediterranean to Great Britain.But there was no honour among thieves and Franco, Hitler and Mussolini quarrelled among themselves, particularly because Franco knew very well that once he allowed German troops to occupy or enter Spain, he would find it very difficult to get rid of them. One of the documents 1633 quotes a letter from Franco to Hitler in which he says:The Spanish Government declares itself ready under certain conditions to give up its position as a non-belligerent state and to enter the war on the side of Germany and Italy.There is a letter dated 22nd September, 1940, in which he wrote to Hitler saying:I reply with the assurance of my unchangeable and sincere adherence to you personally, to the German people, and to the cause for which you fight.Later on, when Hitler was worrying him as to why he had not come into the war against us and he was still dodging, on 26th February, 1941, he wrote to Hitlerin confirmation of my loyaltyas he said. It is a very interesting letter saying:I consider as you do yourself that the destiny of history has united you with myself and with the Duce in an indissoluble way… I also share your opinion that the fact that Spain is situated on both shores of the Strait forces her to the utmost enmity towards England.I want to dispel all shadow of doubt and declare that I stand ready at your side, entirely and decidedly at your disposal, united in a common historical destiny, desertion from which would mean my suicide and that of the cause which I have led and represent in Spain… I need no confirmation of my faith in the triumph of your cause and I repeat that I shall always be a loyal follower of it.That is the expression of the neutrality of General Franco, on behalf of his Government and people, during the war when we fought for several hard years against Fascism.
It is a great pity that at the end of the war we did not cross the Pyrenees and end Fascism in Spain as we ended it in the rest of Europe. It is a great pity that we did not liberate the people of Spain from the oppression under which they had lived since 1938 and under which they are living today.
This shows that the White Paper is a record of lies, evasion, blackmail and threats against smaller Powers which is so typical of Fascist behaviour. Franco learned very well from his Fascist associates and we should have taken action when we had the power to do so.
What can we do now? Obviously we cannot invade Spain and liberate it, but I think that it is time to stop talking and to get down to action. I have a great deal of sympathy with the point of view 1634 of the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) who queried why we, as the Power in possession, had taken this matter to an international court. I have never heard of a person who believes that he is right and who is in possession taking a matter to court. It is the claimant who takes the matter to court. We are not the claimants and nor are the people of Gibraltar. We stand on our rights and the people of Gibraltar stand on theirs. If Spain has any case to go to court, she, not us, should be the country which takes the matter to the International Court for decision.
The Foreign Secretary has said that he does not agree with imposing sanctions upon Spain. I disagree with him violently about this. The only way to resolve this matter is to break off the talks, say that we are not interested in discussions going on any longer because they are useless and, if Spain wants to take the matter to the International Court, then we will be pleased to attend and state our case. But, in the meantime, we should take diplomatic and economic sanctions against Spain, hit her where it hurts, even though in the loss of our trade it might hit us a little too.
It is very desirable that we should look back in history and remember what happened when a previous British Government handed over to a Fascist country the democratic people of Czechoslovakia and the infamy which accompanied that act. Do not let history repeat itself. Gibraltar is free and democratic. It is a British possession by the will of the people of Gibraltar and we should take every possible step to see that it remains so. If Spain wishes to take the matter to court let her do so—we should take action against Spain now.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
Both last summer and this summer my wife and I went to Gibraltar as ordinary private individuals. In meeting the ordinary private people of Gibraltar I found a very different attitude from that described by the Foreign Secretary. They were disturbed and bitter and thought that they had been let down by the British Government. They have been waiting for so long to hear from the British Government a categoric assurance about their future. We know that during the summer 1635 we have been going backwards and forwards in this House trying to get that categoric assurance. Could we get it? We have completely and utterly failed.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies has been waffling about this for far too long. The people of Gibraltar want this categoric assurance that they will remain British, that the Rock will remain British and that their homes will remain British. I know that we are all very pleased, as my right hon. Friend said earlier, that, belatedly, the British Government have awarded help to the sum of £600,000. I should like to repeat what my right hon. Friend said and ask for a positive assurance from the Government that any future aid required will be made available. We do not want a nebulous answer that it may be there. Will it definitely be there? This is what the people of Gibraltar need.
Gibraltar, even with this blockade, can stand on her own feet and can be made viable, provided that something is done. It is a tragedy that the barrier is closed and that there is not free access to and from the Rock, but we have to accept the facts. When I was there, I think it was the Housewives League, or an organisation of a similar name, which did a magnificent job when the women from Spain were refused entry to Gibraltar. They really got down to it and kept the hotels and other places going. There is a great future, even with the limited amount of space, for tourism. It would be much easier if there were free access to and from Spain but if that is to be denied, there is still access to North Africa, to Morocco which is only a very short way across the sea. There is the "Mons Calpe", the Bland Line ferry, which takes cars across and is making journeys every day. In addition there is a hydrofoil which does the journey very rapidly, and if money were made available these sorts of tourist facilities could easily be developed.
I entirely agree that we need to build new hotels there. There is a certain amount of hotel accommodation, but certainly not enough. If Franco goes even further and stops the 6,000 Spanish workers coming in every day it would create a great problem for the people on the Rock. It would be a great pity, because a lot of the Spaniards who work 1636 there during the day are very good workers and like coming to the Rock. If they are to be shut out we must provide some alternative.
When I was there there was a certain amount of talk about bringing people over from Morocco. They would have to be accommodated. Can the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State say what thought has been given to this? At one time it was suggested that old liners might be brought in. We do not have the same heat problems which we had in the Far East, when air conditioning was necessary. Has this been thought of? Has thought been given to the possible utilisation of some of the Service barracks which are now being evacuated? There is a good bit of land, not far from the airport, where a certain amount of building has already started. Will that be completed. I believe that it was not completed because of lack of finance. Are the Government prepared to help here?
I will not go into the question of the legal side of the Treaty of Utrecht. It is completely sacrosanct. We have to consider the people who have lived there for 200 years. They are not Spanish; they are Gibraltarians—a mixture of races who have through the centuries come in and lived there. Above all they are British and we must see that they remain so. I too am rather frightened of the idea of taking this case to the International Court, for the reasons which have already been put forward. There is another point. This Court does not do its work in five minutes. It takes a long time. I am told that it could be up to two and a half years before the Court reached a decision. What are the people of Gibraltar to do during those two years?
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Foreign Secretary in particular, made great play about the frigates. It is perfectly true that Spain was to buy some frigates from us and to have a naval exercise, which was cancelled. The Spaniards are a very proud people and they do not like the sort of treatment which was handed out by Members opposite. I spoke to people out there and they were under the impression that had there been, which unfortunately there was not, a change of Government in Britain last year, there might have been a very 1637 different attitude on the part of Franco over this question.
Page 43 of Cmd. 3131, headed "Use of the Gibraltar Airfield and the Port and Waters of Gibraltar", states:Her Majesty's Government are ready in principle to agree that in time of peace and subject to British operational requirements, Spanish military aircraft should put down at and make use of facilities at Gibraltar airfield and Spanish naval vessels should make use of berthing and repair facilities in the naval dockyard and harbour of Gibraltar.It would appear that, provided that the frigates are not British-built, not sold to Spain by Britain, anyone can come in and may well come in. This is the Socialist attitude, these are Socialist proposals.
The Secretary of State, when he replies to the debate, should admit that it was a stupid move by Her Majesty's Government to deny Spain the possibility of buying frigates from us.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
The hon. Gentleman is not seriously suggesting, is he, that the Spanish Government would not be making a claim to Gibraltar if it were not for this issue of the frigates?
§ Mr. Dance
I am not saying that. But this is a proud nation, and the insults which the people in Gibraltar have received from hon. Members opposite have certainly not helped the situation there.
I conclude as I started. Having met these people and known them, and known how friendly and very courageous they have been in difficult circumstances during the past years, I ask the Secretary of State, as I asked the Foreign Secretary last week, whether he will give them a positive assurance as to their future and an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will not give way to Spanish threats.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Colin Jackson (Brighouse and Spenborough)
Dealing with the legal, position of Gibraltar, I feel that this country is in the position of being a complainant against Spain. I think that we have every right to refer the matter to the International Court, and I have every conviction that the judgment will go in our favour. Clearly, prior to the case being heard, we cannot state what we 1638 would do should the case not go in our favour. No person with any acquaintance of the law would accept or expect that kind of action. But if we did not refer it to the International Court, then, in view of the present actions of the Spanish Government, we should have to consider what physical action we should take against them. This is giving the Spanish Government an opportunity to back away from their present position over the period of the reference of the case to the International Court.
I entirely agree with the Foreign Secretary that it is a difficult position to get into to be threatening retaliation at each stage of the story of Gibraltar. We must remember that were we to take physical action against Spanish property or Spanish territory it could easily be used by Franco-Spain to whip up the loyalty of the Spanish people behind the present Fascist régime.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger), who said that the vast majority of young Spaniards are not concerned with claiming Gibraltar or with annexing the Rock. But should we engage in hasty, irresponsible action in a physical fashion against the Spaniards, we might find Franco-Spain pulling in the whole population behind it. But I do not believe that we can continue indefinitely with the Spanish pressures exercised against the border. I do not believe that Her Majesty's Government should give a public ultimatum to the Spaniards. However, at this stage, when the question of the reference of the case to the International Court is before us, we should make it clear that any further escalation of action by the Spaniards would mean the ending of any possibility of a legal settlement. We would then have to consider physical action.
We should make it clear to the Spanish Government that should they obstruct the landing of our aircraft on the airstrip at Gibraltar, or should there be a recurrence of physical violence against British property in Spain, certain consequences would follow. That should be made clear in confidential communiqués to the Spanish. We should have to consider certain retaliatory action if, for instance, our aircraft were banned from flying into Gibraltar. No Spanish aircraft should then be allowed to fly into this country. We need to keep a very delicate balance 1639 between not clumsily threatening the Spanish all along the line and giving the impression to the Spanish that whatever they do to us we will in no circumstances retaliate.
In the meantime, the best place for this dispute is the International Court. I cannot believe that a single hon. Member has the slightest doubt about how the case will go and, having gone in our favour, that our title will be unchallenged and acknowledged throughout the world.
I turn briefly to what I think are one or two constructive points. One can talk in terms of the domestic situation in Gibraltar. We must concentrate on one simple factor, namely, to help the people of Gibraltar to realise that they have reached a definite and positive stage, which is that never again will they be dependent on Spanish territorial supplies and never again will they lay themselves open to such blackmail as has been exercised by the Spanish Government recently.
The next few years will be a difficult time for the people of Gibraltar. I am confident that our aid of £600,000 will be increased as and where necessary. We must, in our relations with the people of Gibraltar, emphasise the positive side. We want no more nostalgia about afternoon trips to the La Linea area for polo. We want no more feelings about hanging on to see whether the taxi service can be resumed. Together with the people of Gibraltar we can make the Rock a viable territory. It is our job, the two peoples in partnership, to create that viability during the next few years. But, if we are to do this, it is vital that we should leave aside the legal international question of sovereignty, about which I have not the slightest doubt, and concentrate on practical measures.
Reference has been made to Spanish labour, which is now 6,000, having dropped from 9,000. I, too, pay tribute to the housewives of Gibraltar who in their own kind of modern Dunkirk showed that the Spanish would merely lose £250,000 through their actions. But we should be pushing ahead so that we are ready for the end of Spanish labour altogether. Not only Morocco but Portugal can help here. I acknowledge that Her Majesty's Government would not be wise to make any revelation of fore- 1640 planning labour from Tangier because of the way in which General Franco might take propaganda advantage of it. But we do not want in a year or two a sudden collapse because of further blackmail action over labour from Spain. I feel desperately sorry for the people of the Campo area and La Linea, who are innocent victims of the latter-day ambitions of General Franco. But we must put the people of Gibraltar first in our concern.
Secondly, in terms of domestic action, reference has been made to tourism. When I was in Gibraltar in September I was very pleased to find that B.E.A. flights were full up two or three weeks ahead. Next year B.E.A. must make much more elaborate plans for aircraft arriving in Gibraltar. I hope that Thomas Cook, for example, will be able to arrange many more package deals, with five or six days in Gibraltar and then a holiday in North Africa. These are constructive suggestions. B.E.A. made a mistake last year by cutting down air flights to Gibraltar. We should expect B.E.A., belonging to the nation, to cooperate. Clearly there is profit to be made out of this as well.
I hope that we shall have more work on commercial ship repairing. We are going to have an accelerated housing programme. We need to have a much more rapid clearing away of the old Army barracks which clutter up the modern picture of Gilbraltar. If those things are done, Gibraltar can be a prosperous, viable territory by 1970.
It is the most effective democracy in the Mediterranean. It mirrors our life and our ambitions. No judgment in the International Court, short of a total travesty, could do anything other than recognise that.
With the accelerated economic aid which is now promised, this next period must be a new chapter in Gibraltar, turning its back on the vicissitudes of Spanish relationships and making itself a new modern independent city State within the Mediterranean.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)
With unprecedented arrogance and discourtesy, the Foreign Secretary said that he was not here to speak to back benchers. Fortunately, that does not rob back 1641 benchers of the right, which is protected by the Speaker, to speak to him in this House, whatever his eminence, when he happens to have the patience to stay here and listen to back benchers.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mrs. Eirene White)
What my right hon. Friend said in that particular passage was——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
Order. We cannot have two hon. Members on their feet at the same time. Is the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) giving way?
§ Sir G. Sinclair
No, I am sorry, I am not. I have a note of what the Foreign Secretary said, and I am prepared to rest on what he is reported to have said in HANSARD.
At the outset, I should like to associate myself with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said about the need for friendship between Britain and the people of Spain. That does not mean that we should sacrifice our friends in Gibraltar to stark blackmail by the Government of Spain.
Why have Her Majesty's Government, by their vacillating and weak attitude, put the people of Gibraltar to months of distress, anxiety and financial hardship? I know, from letters which I have just received, that their anxieties have been assuaged somewhat by declarations made in the last two weeks and by the visit of the Colonial Secretary.
I am bound to say, however, that these reassurances were made only in reaction to attacks on the Government from this side of the House, and a promise that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet would visit Gibraltar to assess what the people there needed to relieve their anxiety and to offset the economic results of a mounting blockade by Spain.
It is only since our attack on the Government that any reassuring statements have been made on the two vital issues of sovereignty and economic aid.
On the issue of sovereignty, the Government have at last said openly that they are confident in our rights not only to the Rock itself but also to the Isthmus area, including the airfield, over which our sovereignty has remained unchallenged since 1838.
1642 Why, then, refer the whole question of sovereignty to the International Court? That seems to be a very wet course if we are confident in our rights. It is also a dishonourable course in view of our political obligations to the 25,000 people of Gibraltar. They, at least, have expressed vigorously to the United Nations and the outside world their determination to remain under British sovereignty. This reference is indeed a disgraceful and despicable retreat from trusteeship.
No doubt it was respect for those clearly expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar which led to the United Nations to limit their request to Britain and merely to ask us to talk over with Spain the differences between us about Gibraltar. The United Nations did not urge our Government to take the matter to the International Court.
What have the Government done? They have undertaken a series of talks with Spain, from which it has become plain that what Spain is claiming is a return of sovereignty over Gibraltar. Once it was clear that Spain would be content only with a transfer of sovereignty, I suggest—and here I agree with several of my hon. Friends and one or two hon. Members opposite—that the only right course was to reject that claim and let the United Nations know what we had done to meet any justifiable complaints from Spain on the basis of our retaining sovereignty over the areas which we now administer.
We should have told the United Nations that Spain was interested only in a transfer of sovereignty and that we were not prepared to consider it, not only because of our rights but also because of our obligations to the people of Gibraltar. I believe that the Government's decision to refer the matter of our sovereignty to the International Court is wrong and is regarded by many people in Gibraltar as putting their fate in jeopardy, as if they were disposable chattels.
The Foreign Secretary said that, as part of his policy of referring all our external legal issues to the United Nations or to its agencies, Gibraltar was a good case with which to start, and that the elected Ministers in Gibraltar supported that action. But they had no option; they had to lump it. They were excluded from the talks with Spain. The 1643 Ministers did not welcome this step. The people of Gibraltar are anxious to know why they should now be faced with the threat of a possible legal action in the International Court lasting for several years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) warned us.
Gibraltar has been facing economic siege of increasing severity for many months, and it is only now that the Government have promised aid on a substantial scale. If the Government had acted earlier to show their confidence in our sovereignty and their determination to see that the people of Gibraltar did not suffer through a disagreement between ourselves and Spain, they would have relieved the people of Gibraltar of anxiety and might well have discouraged Spain from her adventure—an adventure aimed to see how far she could succeed in dislodging Britain from the Rock. Such a course, taken earlier, might have done something to check Spain's development of her blockade.
I turn now to the scale of aid proposed. To make up for all the anxiety and economic hardship which the Government have allowed to develop in Gibraltar, would they commit themselves to helping the people of Gibraltar to develop their natural assets, enable them as soon as possible to pay their way and further improve their standards of living? I doubt whether the sums already committed go anywhere near achieving that aim.
The people of Gibraltar are our friends. They have stood by us through good and bad times. They have kept close together with us, and I hope that we shall continue to keep close to them. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will give the assurance sought by the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) that this help will be granted to the people of Gibraltar in Gibraltar, and not in some other place to which they might have been moved.
Let us not hear from the Government that they cannot afford aid on the scale required. The only thing which this country cannot afford is several years more of the mismanagement of the economy of which this Government have been guilty.
1644 We are certainly strong enough—and I hope that the Minister will agree with this—to assist this small but vigorous and friendly community in Gibraltar to develop very quickly in the new circumstances brought upon them by Spain. The new circumstances are that they are living on a small peninsular of a few square miles, now cut off economically from Spain with which there has been fruitful economic exchange for centuries. We have to help them get used to this and live with this new situation. We should make our determination crystal clear. I hope that such a determination will deter Spain from intensifying her harassment of Gibraltar by interference with access by sea and air from outside Spain. I know that this is a main anxiety among some of the leading people in Gibraltar today.
In view of the intransigence which Spain has shown in her measures against Gibraltar, and the risk of further measures, will the Government now press forward with contingency planning to help Gibraltar, if her economy is further threatened by any attempts to dislocate sea and air access?
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
The time of the House is becoming limited, and if some of my assertions are made even more eliptical than usual, I hope it will not be thought that I could not develop them further, given more time.
There appear to be three questions which are not likely to divide the House, and heaven knows the greater the area of agreement in this House and in the country on this topic the better.
The first is that we are all clearly agreed that Spain will not advance her cause by acts of piracy and banditry on the frontier. We cannot prevent her doing some economic damage to the inhabitants of Gibraltar, but we can ensure that it does not get her one inch nearer to her goal, and on that there does not appear to be anything between us.
Secondly, we need not waste time in debating the merits of the Spanish case in law. I have studied with great care the statement made by the Spanish Foreign Secretary on 18th May, and if it is pruned of the repeated assertions that Spain feels strongly about it, it boils down 1645 to the fact that Article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht imposes certain limitations on the British occupation of Gibraltar, and that from time to time Britain has been in breach of those obligations. Not one of those allegations will stand up to examination. Some of them were dealt with by my right hon. Friend. All of them were dealt with in detail in the British reply of 21st July. But even if every one of them had been proved true up to the hilt, I know of no principle in international law which states that if one party to a treaty asserts rights which go a little beyond what the treaty confers, that in some way invalidates the treaty. We do not have to worry about the legal weight of the Spanish case.
The third matter on which, again, surely we are not divided is the rejection of the Spanish argument that the people of Gibraltar are not entitled to be consulted because they were not a party to the Treaty of Utrecht, they have been there only since 1727, and they earn their living by buying and selling. Surely no one in this House subscribes to that doctrine, and here again we are entirely at one in saying that the principle of self-determination applies to the people of Gibraltar. The Spanish argument might perhaps have been a little stronger if the very people about whom they were talking were not the victims of the pressure by which they have attempted to advance their cause. Surely where pressure is applied, this in itself gives the victims a right to be heard?
If I may say so without appearing ungenerous, perhaps many of us would have been happier if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite had been equally unreserved in their approbation of the principle of self-determination on previous occasions. There have been occasions when we have heard hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about giving away the Empire, but perhaps all of us, and I include my hon. Friends, would do well to remember that we cannot assert the principles of self-determination where it pleases our book where someone is asking to remain within the Commonwealth, and reject it where it does not because the people are not asking for that. If the principle of self-determination' applies to Gibraltar, it applies to China, to South Vietnam, and to Ireland.
Where I think we are differing is on the question of what happens if there is 1646 a conflict between two principles which I am sure everyone in the House holds dearly, the principle of self-determination, and the principle of the rule of international law. When the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) opened this debate, he came very near to putting his finger on the essential dispute, because, however either side of the House attempts to evade the issue, we may still have a situation in which these two principles conflict.
I do not believe that this will be such a situation. I believe that if the rule of law is applied, it will be found that the claim of the United Kingdom is upheld, and this is precisely what the principle of self-determination would dictate. But we might have a situation—and, of course, no one can predict with certainty—in which it was held that, as a matter of law, the United Kingdom should give up its claim to Gibraltar. If that were to happen, the question would arise, what should be the attitude of the United Kingdom?
We would clearly, logically, be in the position that we would have to sacrifice one or other of these principles. We do not evade the issue by saying that the matter should not have been referred to the International Court at all. Whether it should or not, the question with which we are confronted is whether we are prepared to adhere to the rule of law or not.
As I understand it, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have given an answer to that question. They have said that, even if it transpires to be contrary to the rule of law, even if international law is against us, in defiance of international law, we should retain our hold on Gibraltar. As I understand it, that is their position, and if I am wrong I shall be grateful if whoever replies for the Opposition will make the position clear.
On two occasions it has been suggested that possibly it is not quite so bad in law if one is a trustee. I know of no principle in either municipal or international law which says that a trustee, on behalf of his beneficiaries, is entitled to act in defiance of the law. If the law is against us the principle of the rule of law demands that we should give up Gibraltar.
1647 I face this difficulty squarely, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary faced it earlier. The answer is that if we are driven to face this conflict between two principles—which heaven forbid—our allegiance should be to the rule of law. At the end of the war, when the United Nations was set up, it was felt that here was a body which would ensure the resolving of international disputes, so that we could have negotiations, discuss our difficulties round a table, and, if that failed, refer the matter to international arbitration. There was to be an end of the old jungle system of, "They should grab who have the power; they should keep who can." It was to be the end of the danger of economic battles and local wars which might escalate. It was to be a new civilisation.
Where has all that gone now? I am happy to think that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have not always taken the attitude to this matter which they appeared to take tonight——
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Doubtless the hon. Member is aware that although we were awarded damages from the International Court in respect of two of our destroyers which had been illegally mined by Albania, we are still waiting for the damages to be paid.
§ Mr. Archer
I agree that other Powers have not necessarily accepted the jurisdiction or the decisions of the International Court. The Corfu Channel case, to which the hon. Member has just referred, is a case in point. We have never ceased to condemn Albania for her failure to observe the rule. But this country has a fine record. In the Norwegian fisheries case and in a number of others we have set an example which has been the pride of the world.
In the past hon. Members opposite have adopted an attitude rather at variance from that which they have expressed today. Sir Winston Churchill, in July 1957, said:Justice cannot be a hit and miss system. We cannot be content with an arrangement where our new system of international laws applies only to those who are willing to keep them.On 27th November, 1963, the then Foreign Secretary—now Lord Butler— 1648 referring to the decision to alter Reservation 6, said:In taking this step, Her Majesty's Government are showing in a practical way the support which they have always given to the maintenance of the rule of law in international affairs through the International Court of Justice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1963; Vol. 685, c. 87.]One cannot be a believer in the rule of law just when it happens to be attractive. A man who does not eat meat except when the joint looks particularly succulent is not a vegetarian. A man who does not believe in war except when he thinks he can win is not a pacifist, and a man who is not prepared to accept the rules of international law except when they accord with his case is not a believer in the rule of law.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I have been listening to the hon. Member's case with the greatest care. He talked about the prime importance of self-determination. If he believes in that, does he feel that it must be an error that there should be a choice either between self-determination for a people or, as he says, accepting the rule of law? Does he feel that, because of this, this case should never have been offered to the International Court?
§ Mr. Archer
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I have said that I do not believe that in this case there is likely to be that conflict. I was going on to refer to some remarks made by the right hon. Member for Barnet a few moments ago, when he expressed the view that the International Court of Justice would not be entitled to consider the principle of self-determination in this case. That is debatable. I do not believe that the rule of international law should say artificially that the International Court of Justice is necessarily compelled to ignore the wishes of the people involved. If, however, it transpires that I am wrong in this, I would have thought that the answer was not to ignore the rule of law in this case but to attempt to get it changed. This is basically the issue that we are fighting.
Before I take the matter further I should point out that I have given what I hope is at least an unequivocal answer. It is my answer, and some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen may disagree with 1649 it. If the unlikely were to transpire and it were to be ruled by the International Court of Justice that Spain's claim to Gibraltar was justified I certainly would not consider that it followed that we should be compelled to abandon the people of Gibraltar to live under a régime of which they heartily disapproved. But it would entail the hardship of their having to be resettled elsewhere, and I hope that in that eventuality the Government would give them every possible assistance to ensure that they were settled as happily as possible. That could happen, and I must face the possibility squarely.
We are confronted with this possible conflict and this possible result. It is an unlikely event, and one which none of us would like to see happen. But basically we have to make up our minds—if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are pressing us on this point—one way or the other, which would be the major principle to uphold if that conflict arose. In my submission, every consideration of peace, every consideration of humanity, and every consideration of international civilisation would dictate that the major consideration should be given to the rule of law.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
I am sorry that the representatives of the Liberal Party have been so conspicuous by their absence during this debate, in contrast to their conspicuous presence earlier in the afternoon. I am sure that that well-known anti-imperialist, Mr. Gladstone, would have been disappointed during this debate, since he was responsible for building the main part of the harbour at Gibraltar in the 1890s.
An hon. Member opposite intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) to ask whether my hon. Friend was claiming that, if there were a Conservative Government in Britain, the Spaniards would have abandoned their claim to Gibraltar. I am sure that my hon. Friend was not putting forward that argument, which I do not believe would be tenable.
The Spanish claim to Gibraltar has existed for 250 years and they will not abandon it now. The question is quite a different one. It is, how hard do they push their claim? They will not abandon it. I think it is clear that, if there 1650 were a Conservative Government and had been for the last two years, they would not have been pushing their claim in the way in which they have——
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that therefore, because the Spanish have this claim, we should adopt a cowardly attitude towards them?
§ Mr. Blaker
I do not think that my words would bear that interpretation. I would argue exactly the opposite—that we should adopt a robust attitude towards them. Indeed, had we been robust, the claim would not have got near the present stage. It has existed for 250 years, for most of which it has been dormant. The times that it has been pushed were the times when Spain had the impression that Britain was weak.
Spain has been pushing her claim since November, 1964. The party opposite has been in power since October, 1964. Is that a coincidence? The Spanish have stepped up their claim, month by month, since November, 1964. Have I made myself clear now?
I believe that the reason that Spain has stepped up her pressure since the autumn of 1964 is the behaviour of Her Majesty's Government. I can best sum up what I think of that behaviour by saying that it has been a combination of insults and weakness. I can imagine no combination more calculated to make a mess of the Gibraltar problem than those two things——
§ Mr. Blaker
The frigate question is an example, and the extravagant language of the then Leader of the Opposition in the summer of 1964 about the frigate question was a contributory factor. I believe that the cancellation by the Prime Minister within a week of the 1964 election, of the naval manoeuvres with Spain was another insult. That insult was more serious even than the frigate question, because it was a direct insult to the pride of the Spaniards. Only one nation is more proud and stubborn than the Spanish and that is the English. This is something which the Government have entirely neglected.
A third example of insults is the repeated references by hon. Members 1651 opposite—perhaps not so surprising from the back benches but it is surprising from the Front Benches—to a "Fascist dictatorship"——
§ Mr. Blaker
Indeed it is, but do we have to talk about it all the time? Do hon. Members opposite base their language about the Soviet Union on the use of the words "Communist dictatorship" all the time? Would that help our relations with the Soviet Union? I do not think that it would. I do not think that such language is necessary, even though I do not like the régime in the Soviet Union.
I said that the second leg of the Government's attitude towards Spain had been weakness. We have only to remember the extraordinarily flabby statements made in this House in the last few months by the former Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman the present Colonial Secretary. We have only to remember the fact that, after insisting, with an appearance of great firmness, that we would not negotiate under duress, the Government did precisely that. What impression do hon. Gentlemen opposite think that that gives to a country like Spain, which wants to take over Gibraltar? Do they think that the Spaniards attach no significance to the fact that, after taking up that apparently firm position, Her Majesty's Government then turned and ran for cover? In the context of the history of the last 250 years and in the context of the fact that Spain has pressed her claim when Britain has appeared weak, is not that sort of behaviour a positive invitation to the Spaniards, when they are on the rampage, to step up their pressure?
We had another interesting example this afternoon of what I believe is the fundamental weakness of the Government on this question. Among a number of extraordinary passages in the speech of the Foreign Secretary, one was particularly extraordinary when, in a plaintive voice, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Gibraltar case was presented by Spain as a great anti-Colonial crusade on the part of Spain. In a querulous voice, the right hon. Gentleman ask why Spain seemed to have so much support at the 1652 United Nations when that country had such a bad colonial record.
Our policies and case since 15th October, 1964, have been presented at the United Nations by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Could it be that they have a guilt complex, which comes out in the presentation of their case at the United Nations? This afternoon we had an apparently spontaneous remark from the Foreign Secretary when he said, in effect, "I have fought against colonialism all my life". That came from the heart, did it not? Could the fact that Spain has been so successful at the United Nations in the last two years in putting over what ought to be a weak case compared with ours have something to do with the spontaneous statement by the right hon. Gentleman? I leave that question to the House.
I want the Colonial Secretary to deal with two important questions and to reassure the House that the Government have not been as weak on them as they have been in other respects. These questions concern the terms under which they are proposing to refer the matter to the International Court. First—and this question was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove—as it will take probably two years, perhaps longer, to get a decision from the International Court, if the Spaniards accept the reference to it, what will happen between the time of their acceptance and the decision of the Court? Is our proposal for a reference to the Court made on the understanding there will be no harassment of Gibraltar by Spain during that time; and, if not, why not?
Secondly, what will happen if the decision goes in our favour? Various comments have been made about what might happen if the decision goes against us. What about the situation if the decision goes in our favour? If Spain accepts the reference and if, as we hope and believe, the decision is in our favour, is there any understanding, any condition, in the proposal which the Government have put to Spain, which would oblige Spain in that event to stop harrassing Gibraltar? If there is not, if the matter goes to the Court and the decision is in our favour, and then Spain is free to resume her harrassment, hon. Members opposite will look even sillier than they have looked in the last few months.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Earlier in the debate some bizarre cohesion appeared to be developing between the two back benches, with crude nationalism on one side and anti-Fascism on the other side. This problem must be dealt with in rather more fundamental terms than appeals simply to sovereignty or to anti-Fascism.
The right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) criticised the Government for negoiating under duress. It is true that pressure has been put on this country to negotiate, but it has been put by the United Nations, and it is important in the debate to recognise that fact and to take account of it in our thinking and in trying to arrive at a sound policy. The present conversations arose from a Resolution of the General Assembly passed on 16th December, 1965, which is clearly set out in the White Paper.
But behind that Resolution, as it clearly says, lies the report of the Committee of 24, a committee at the United Nations concerned with problems of colonialism throughout the world. The existence of this Committee and the tenor of its reports reflects the very deep concern of the United Nations about the whole question of colonialism throughout the world.
We may dislike or be embarrassed by or perhaps on occasion be opposed to the anti-colonial feelings, actions and sentiments of the United Nations, but we have to accept that they are there and that they are genuine, and what is more, we must accept that they represent a trend of feeling, an attitude to world policies and developments, which we cannot resist and which we should be most unwise, in our own interests, to attempt to resist.
It is ironic that only today there are reports of an attack on Spanish colonialism, and I am glad that the Spanish record in colonialism matters is now being put under the microscope and fully examined by the world Assembly. This may result in a modification of the Spanish attitude on the present conversations.
But the fact remains that at the back of the present dispute and behind the problem of Gibraltar, however one approaches it, lies this world feeling that colonies no longer have a justification in 1654 the present-day world. For this reason I welcome the Foreign Secretary's action in referring the matter in the first instance to the International Court to settle, beyond dispute, the legal rights and the legal position of the people concerned in this argument, because these must be settled beyond any doubt before any sensible progress can be made in this matter.
An hon. Member opposite made the point that even if we achieve a judgment from the International Court which is fully satisfactory to us in the legal sense, a problem will still remain, and I believe that he is right.
We have to remember that no one ever challenged our legal title to great territories in Africa and Asia which we held 30 years ago; but we did not find it possible purely on the basis of undisputed legal title to continue to govern the land and the people of those territories. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has pointed out, over a period of two decades we have relinquished sovereignty over 700 million people and vast territories in Asia and Africa.
I therefore believe that following the reference to the International Court, it must be a cardinal aim of our policy to justify our position in Gibraltar to the United Nations and to ensure that the status of the territory and of the people is made fully acceptable to world opinion. This may mean some kind of modification of the existing situation.
What it means, I am sure, is inviting the United Nations in asking its agencies to join with us in an examination of the problems of Gibraltar and its people, problems both territorial, social, economic and democratic, so that the member States of the United Nations, and, above all, the Members of the Committee of 24, may be thoroughly and obsolutely conversant with the problems that are there, so that when we go beyond the legal question to a political solution which eventually must lie beyond the legal settlement, the United Nations and the other peoples of the world recognise fully our position and that we for our part are prepared to create the situation, or to adjust the situation, so that it becomes accepable to world opinion and to the opinion of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
1655 My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made an interesting remark when he said that it cannot be honourable to be a colonial Power. That remark would arouse widely sympathetic echoes within the United Nations, but in those parts of the world where we are still a colonial Power it carries the implication that we may have to make adjustments—political, social, economic and military—to take account of the fact that my right hon. Friend and, I think, most of us no longer regard is as an honourable position to hold people or a territory as a colony.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
In the few minutes available to me, I should like to say how glad I am that at the end of the month I shall be going to Gibraltar on a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation and I hope to come back knowing much more at first hand about its problems.
Without doubt, the great weakness of the International Court is that it cannot take into consideration the wishes of the people of the territory concerned. The latest example of this is the judgment given in the case of South-West Africa, where the wishes of the inhabitants were regarded as being totally irrelevant to the judgment.
I regard the wishes of the people of Gibraltar as the most important single aspect. Backed up behind that comes the undeniable right of British sovereignty. Spain's only original right to the territory was the right of conquest. By that same right she lost the territory to Great Britain, which has now held sway of sovereignty for longer than Spain did. The Treaty of Utrech is over and in addition to it. There have, of course, been various violations of it. Jews have been allowed to practise their religion in church, which is contrary to the Treaty. If anybody thinks that because of that the territory should revert to Spain, the processes of justice have no justice in them. Certainly, to hand the case to the International Court of Justice knowing that it is not permitted to consider or to adjudicate on the basis of the wishes of the people is to hand it over under conditions which are unacceptable to us as the trustees for that ter- 1656 ritory, and I hope very much indeed that these are considerations which will not be absent from our mind when we debate the future of Gibraltar.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)
In the very few minutes available to me I should like to have another look at this problem from a somewhat different point of view. We all welcome the stand which the Government have taken, and the financial help they are giving to Gibraltar, but the thing I have been concerned about is the absence of forward-looking which seems to have prevailed on both sides of the House in this debate. I have felt that no real, permanent solutions to the problem have been put forward, and I would once again suggest that, in view of the Spanish pressure, it may be time for us to consider possible constitutional changes in Gibraltar.
I have no doubt that the Colonial Secretary has seen my Question for Tuesday, about the possibility of giving to Gibraltar a British county status. I am making this as a serious suggestion, because this above everything else would give the Gibraltarians a sense of absolute and permanent association with the British people. In many ways I think that this would be an ideal type of solution to Gibraltar's problems. There could be a county council in Gibraltar, and a representative from Gibraltar here at Westminster. He would not, I think, affect the balance in this House in any way. He would, at least, represent in this Chamber the feelings of the people of Gibraltar.
I feel that this has enormous advantage over some types of representation we have here nowadays—for example, the representation from Northern Ireland, which governs without the governed. There would be nothing of that type in a case of such a unit as this in Gibraltar.
Further, I think the real reason for putting forward this argument is that there is little doubt that the overwhelming majority of the people of Gibraltar support such a move. Many hon. Members will know the work of Major Peliza, who carried out an inquiry, and what he found, having asked something over half the electorate, was simply this, that the overwhelming majority of those whom 1657 he asked were all for close unity with Britain.
This is not a case of the continuance of imperialism or the continuance of colonialism. It is anti-imperialistic in every sense of the word, because my suggestion is not based on putting something in Gibraltar against the will of the people there; it is putting in Gibraltar something which fulfils the will of the Gibraltarians. There are 25,000 of them, which compares with the population of some English counties, such as Rutland, and of several Welsh counties. The majority of the 25,000 people are British in every sense of the word. Only some 2,000 of them are aliens, including all the Spanish population. I think that this is really the type of permanent solution which could apply to this territory.
There are not many administrative difficulties because, for instance, the educational system already fits into the British system, and there are in Gibraltar many social conditions which are in parallel with those in Britain. There are certain difficulties, particularly on the taxation side, because at the moment a great deal of the revenue of Gibraltar—about £800,000, I think—comes from the Customs side. There would be difficulties if they became integrated fully with Britain in this way, but there are possibilities that we could have this integration without affecting the tax system. I think the Americans have done something of the sort in Puerto Rico. But even assuming that they had to face this choice—on the one hand of highly-taxed Britain and, on the other, of Fascist Spain—I have no doubt what the choice of the Gibraltarians would be. From some of the remarks we have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite, I am doubtful about what their choice would be, but so far as the Gibraltarians are concerned, I have no doubt at all that if they had to choose between Fascist Spain or highly-taxed Britain, they would come to Britain every time.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
I must apologise for not being present, for reasons which I could not help, at the start of the debate. I have heard many of the speeches, and I was a little surprised at so many hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that we on this side of the House were wrong to stress what I will 1658 call the ideological aspect of our attitude towards Spain. In the ordinary way, I would agree that the manner in which a country manages its internal affairs is something for that country alone. One might disagree with a foreign political system and would not want to accept it for one's own country, but in the ordinary way the matter would not be raised between nations; but when it is suggested that a free people, who have known free institutions, should be handed over by Britain to a dictatorship, then I do not think it is improper for those of us who detest dictatorship of any kind to point out that the Spanish system is a system of dictatorship, and this is an additional good reason for our resisting the Spanish claim apart from all the others.
I think that the debate will do good, because it will demonstrate to everyone, and particularly the Spanish Government, the unity of the Members of this House against any suggestion that the British position in Gibraltar should be abandoned. At one time, as my right hon. Friend knows, I was a little doubtful as to whether we were showing that kind of strength and determination in our resistance to Spanish claims and actions that we should show—not because I thought we were weak in that we would compromise with Spain, as such, but simply because I thought we were inclined to look at the situation far too much in purely abstract terms; and, with the great respect that we on this side of the House traditionally had for international law and for international institutions, we tended perhaps to stress too much the theoretical case for conciliation.
I must confess, however, that my right hon. Friend's speeches and actions in the last few weeks have done much to reassure me that he is as determined as anyone else to see that the British position, British responsibility, and the rights and opportunities of the people of Gibraltar, are fully maintained. I am still a little doubtful whether we are really wise to refer the matter to the International Court; not because I am against international courts—obviously not—or because I am against international institutions. It would be an excellent world if we could have courts of law accepted by all and whose decisions were respected throughout the world. However, unfortunately we do not have that state of 1659 affairs as yet. In any event we have courts of law in our own country. But if I am certain of my position; if I am certain that my home really belongs to me; if I am certain that I am right in protecting my dependants, then I do not necessarily have to go to a court of law to have confirmed my natural rights. Thus, though it is possible to argue for the merits of international institutions, and be glad that some such institutions or courts exist, this does not mean that at every stage one must make use of them if one is certain that one's position is strong in any event. For that reason I am still a little doubtful whether tactically we have been right to refer the Gibraltar problem to the International Court of Justice.
I have been to Gibraltar on two occasions in recent years. I echo everything that has been said already about the fineness of the people of Gibraltar, about their quality as individuals, about their belief in democratic institutions, and about their absolute desire to retain the British connection. If there were a single soul to be found anywhere in Gibraltar who wished to have Gibraltar returned to Spain, that at least might be something, but the whole of the population of Gibraltar can be searched from end to end without anyone being found who wishes to see Gibraltar returned to Spain.
In fact, as has already been pointed out, Gibraltar can hardly be returned to Spain, because the British connection has been in Gibraltar for a longer period than the previous Spanish connection, because before the 15th century Gibraltar was part of Moorish territory. This is an historical point which is still worth making when Spain talks of "robbery".
There is no doubt that the people of Gibraltar, as a matter of their own self-determination, wish to remain with Britain in some political form which is workable and viable for the future. I stand firmly with those of my hon. Friends who say that the days of traditional colonial régimes are ended. Of course they are, and so they should be. It is indecent that one people should dominate of exploit another people or rule them against their wishes.
But when the principle of self-determination is applied, as it can be so easily 1660 applied in this case, and when a small people wish to retain a particular connection with another country with which they have associated for so long, the anti-colonialist argument no longer applies and that of self-determination takes precedence. It is additionally strong in this case because of the geographical accessibility of Gibraltar to the United Kingdom. It is possible to visualise for the future some kind of permanent free association between Gibraltar and its indigenous population and the much larger sister people of the United Kingdom. This is natural because the indigenous population of Gibraltar are not Spaniards, even though most of them speak Spanish as their second language, but British in culture and habit. Such an association would respect the principle of self-determination and would at the same time be construed by no one as in any sense colonialism.
I am glad that this debate has taken place, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies will make quite clear to all of us that he intends fully to maintain the British position because he believes it to be right and that he will do everything in his power to ensure that the free future and prosperity of the people of Gibraltar is guaranteed by the United Kingdom they respect so much.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Wood (Bridlington)
A great many of us felt it a pity that the admirably firm statements at the beginning of the Foreign Secretary's speech were almost immediately hidden by a vast smokescreen from frigates and gunboats which he managed to trail across the picture. We felt it a pity also that he could not make up his mind, apparently, whether he was proud or ashamed of the part which this country has played in the British Commonwealth of Nations and which it continues to play in the remaining Dependencies.
A good deal of the debate has centred upon the question which my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) asked, which has been echoed by the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), namely, whether the Foreign Secretary's new doctrine which he enunciated today means that any claim against this country should be 1661 referred to the International Court. It would be surprising if it were his view that anyone who had a claim against us, however unjustified we might think it, need not wait for the question to be taken to the International Court by himself but would find us going to the International Court for the purpose of proving whether we were right. I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman would seriously apply this doctrine to all international disputes, however unjustified he might think them, any more than he or anyone else would be willing to apply it to his own private life.
The debate has been rightly concerned with the present and the future rather than with the past, but it is always true that the sum of our past actions, or omissions, indisputably shapes our present situation and future prospects. In no case is this more plainly true than in the case of Gibraltar. Most of us can remember the fierce denunciations not long ago by members of the Labour Party of the so-called policy of appeasement in the 1930s. The Foreign Secretary tells us that the Government's policy has not been appeasement. He would, no doubt, prefer to call it conciliation.
I am the first to agree that the attempt to conciliate almost always deserves praise. I do not believe that such an attempt is a sign of weakness, and I am convinced that, ultimately, the healing of differences both between human beings and between groups of human beings is the noblest endeavour of which we are capable. But, unfortunately, as we have seen in the matter we are now debating, the gap between wise and firm conciliation, on the one side, and the first fatal signs of weakness, on the other, is dangerously narrow and all too easily overstepped.
We have seen that the surrender of important debating positions one after the other is bound to create a lively impression that, under the steady application of further pressure, the whole defensive position will collapse. I am not arguing, and it would be idle to argue, whether Her Majesty's Government were right to begin talks about Gibraltar while restrictions still existed at La Linea. But it is true, none the less, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) pointed out, that it was barely a year ago that the Minister of State at 1662 the Foreign Office used very firm words—and the earlier White Paper, Cmnd. 2632, reporting the exchanges between Great Britain and Spain during the previous winter echoed this firm robustness on almost every page—and then, within three or four months of the hon. Gentleman's firm statement, the firmness disappeared.
The first position had then been abandoned. What was much more serious was that the evasion of the then Foreign Secretary, when he refused to say whether or not British sovereignty would be discussed during the talks, made a great many people fear that Her Majesty's Government were about to yield a second and far more important position.
Moreover, there are two other principles which most of us always assumed were implicit in any presentation of the case for Great Britain over Gibraltar. The first is that Great Britain would be prepared to sustain the people of Gibraltar in any difficulties they might face, with all the resources available. The assumption which I have just mentioned got a very bad shaking when the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who is to reply to this debate, refused to say the short word "Yes", which was all that was necessary, in answer to a direct question on this subject.
The other assumption on which we have always worked is that Great Britain would never entertain the possibility of a new arrangement for Gibraltar which would sever the connection between Britain and Gibraltar while the people of Gibraltar desired it to continue. The Foreign Secretary, however, has now taken an action which, for the first time, makes such a severance possible, however, lively—and there is no doubt about its liveliness—the desire of Gibraltar to remain closely attached to Britain.
It seems to me that this afternoon the Foreign Secretary got himself into a jam, because I heard him, as other hon. Members will have done, talk about the paramount importance which he attached to the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. I have looked up "paramount" in the dictionary and I find that it means "superior to all others". This therefore means that at one moment in his speech the Foreign Secretary was saying that the rule of law must take precedence, whereas at another 1663 moment he said that whatever happens about our case at the International Court, the importance of the wishes of the people of Gibraltar is paramount. When the Secretary of State for the Colonies replies to the debate, will he make clear—because this is an immensely important question—which, in his view, is of paramount importance, the decision of the International Court or the wishes of the people of Gibraltar?
One by one these moves from previously-held positions, and the food for suspicion with which the Government have fed Parliament and public opinion in Britain, have shaken confidence a great deal in this country and they have, no doubt, similarly, aroused confidence in Madrid. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet pointed out, the occasional attempts by right hon. Members opposite to be rude to the Spanish Government will give an impression not of strength, but of weakness.
The mistakes of the past cannot be entirely wiped out. Certainly, the protection of Gibraltar from possible unwanted rule by Spain—although I am the first to admit that it would be wrong to make too much of this—cannot be as complete now as it was a month ago, now that the Government have decided to refer all the issues, including the issue of our sovereignty in Gibraltar, to the International Court.
I have found during the debate that the reference to the International Court of Justice seems to have very few friends. I heard a particularly withering attack on it by the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger). As my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay rightly said, however, what is done cannot be undone, unless Spain refuses to let it be done. I agree wholeheartedly both with my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet and with the Foreign Secretary that the Gibraltar question which has been referred means the question in its entirety: the people, most important of all, the Rock and the Isthmus.
Whether or not the Gibraltar question ever comes before the International Court of Justice, however, there is still a great deal that the Secretary of State can do to create new confidence both in the minds of people in this country and in the minds of people in Gibraltar and of those 1664 in Spain. By all accounts the Secretary of State for the Colonies was more successful in reassuring the people of Gibraltar during his recent visit to the Rock than he was in giving confidence to hon. Members when he answered questions here on 25th October. We are grateful for that improvement.
The Government are now awaiting the answer of the Spanish Government to this proposed reference to the International Court. If the Government of Spain agree, it seems to me—and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give us his views—that it is likely to be many months before these questions are decided. Meanwhile, the pressure by Spain against Gibraltar and its inhabitants may well increase. We should like to be reassured—and the right hon. Gentleman will have plenty of time to reassure us—about the plans which the right hon. Gentleman has made to sustain the life of Gibraltar during this period, even if Gibraltar has to stand completely on its own. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that Britain is prepared to take all steps to counter all possible Spanish pressure and to prove to the people of Gibraltar that we intend to stand by them in all circumstances?
On the other side, if Spain refuses the reference to the International Court, are the Government prepared to return to the talks, the atmosphere of which does not seem to have grown very much more harmonious during the last six months; or is the time approaching, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay suggested, when we can rightly claim to have discharged the duty which was remitted to us by the Committee of 24 two years ago?
In either case, whether Spain accedes to the Government's suggestion or refuses it, this country now demands—and this is not a matter of issue between us, because demands have been expressed from both sides of the House—that the Government should show firmness and a clarity of purpose which have been very sadly lacking during the last year. The Foreign Secretary said that it would do the Spaniards no harm to hear a firm statement of the British position. There were aspects of his speech which were admirably firm. Whether its clarity matched its firmness was a question about which I was not sure.
1665 Fortunately, none of us in the House doubts the patriotism of either the Foreign Secretary or the Colonial Secretary. Our complaint is that the evasions of the Government and their frequent prevarications have caused a dangerous decline in confidence and certainty of British intention both here and in Gibraltar, with a corresponding effect on expectations in Spain. I do not believe that it is yet too late to redeem those mistakes of the past and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to do so.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Frederick Lee)
Many of the matters raised during the debate fall within the province of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I will take up one or two as I go along, but in the main I have nothing to add to what he said. However, there are other matters which fall directly to me as Minister responsible for Gibraltar and in any case I would not wish to lose the oportunity to tell the House something of the events during my visit to Gibraltar last week.
First, I hope and believe that the whole House will wish to join with me in paying tribute to the Governor of Gibraltar, General Sir Gerald Lathbury, who in his unique position as head of both the Government and the Garrison is giving such outstanding leadership to both the civil and military community in Gibraltar. I was able to confirm at first hand the complete confidence shown by Gibraltar Ministers and by the public in their Governor. I should like also to pay tribute especially to the Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan, and his deputy, Mr. Peter Isola, well known to many hon. Members on both sides of the House. Their quiet resolution and wise counsel have been the greatest support to the Governor and an inspiration to their colleagues and the people of Gibraltar in these trying times.
Hon. Members have referred to the restrictions which the Spanish authorities have imposed at the Gibraltar frontier. As they will know from the White Paper published in April, 1965, these measures to isolate Gibraltar economically from Spain began in October, 1964, with artificially contrived delays to vehicles crossing the frontier at La Linea. Later the export of all goods from Spain into Gib- 1666 raltar was stopped except for fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. Then a number of British subjects who worked in Gibraltar but lived in the adjacent area of Spain were denied the use of their passports and passes to cross into Gibraltar to work.
As a result they had to leave their homes in Spain and move into an already overcrowded Gibraltar. Further Spanish measures this year culminated in the downgrading of the La Linea customs post last month, so that no vehicles or merchandise of any kind can now pass by land between Spain and Gibraltar, although pedestrians can still cross.
We deplore these measures and regard them as quite unworthy of a European nation in the 20th century. I am sure we have the support of everyone in this House on that. We also deplore the campaign of vilification pursued on Spanish radio and television. I know something about campaigns of vilification, but in my case the barber does not come from Seville.
As hon. Members will have seen from the White Paper which my right hon. Friend laid before the House last week, we have not at any stage failed to protest at these measures and to make it clear to Spain that the imposition of restrictions of this nature is not the way to create good will and facilitate a settlement of the dispute over Gibraltar.
Meanwhile, irksome and unworthy as these Spanish measures are, we must keep their practical effects in perspective. Some sectors of the Gibraltar economy have indeed been seriously hit. The effect on individual businesses has varied according to how much they depended on tourism and on direct trade with Spain. The value of imports in 1965 fell by 44 per cent. from those of the previous year—which had been an exceptionally good one—and will almost certainly show a further decrease this year. This will naturally affect the revenues of Gibraltar which had risen to their highest point ever in 1964. Also, because of the need to import building materials from further afield, the cost of building constructions has increased considerably.
But the Gibraltarians are both adaptable and resilient. They have faced worse situations over the 250 years during which the Rock has been British, and they have won through. They have 1667 already begun to adapt themselves and their economy to this new situation. With our backing and help I have no doubt that they will succeed. In this connection I would commend to hon. Members an informative article on Gibraltar which appears in The Times of today. I hope that the humour of this situation will appeal to hon. Gentlemen if I assure the House that it is quite authentic on this occasion. Whatever the position on the land frontier, Gibraltar lies open to the sea and most of its trade has always been by sea.
I am glad to say that the Spanish action in downgrading the Customs Post has not caused problems in essential supplies. With a few exceptions, the passage of merchandise across the land frontier had been prohibited since the Spanish restrictions began. The exceptions were fruit, vegetables and fish. These too have now been stopped, but adequate supplies are available from elsewhere, and have been arriving since the evening of the day the new restrictions were imposed.
I turn to the plans of the Gibraltar Government, about which the right hon. Gentleman asked. These plans are for an extended development programme for the years from 1967–70. The bulk of the expenditure in the programme will, in our view rightly, be devoted to the provision of additional housing accommodation. I think that we all agree that the provision of such housing is an essential adjunct to further economic development in Gibraltar. Housing conditions there have been extremely difficult since the end of the war.
The Gibraltar Government have been continuously engaged on a rehousing programme for their population. But this problem was increased very considerably last year by the action of the Spanish authorities, to which I have referred, in making it impossible for Gibraltarians to work in Gibraltar but to live in Spain. This action alone involves the Government of Gibraltar in accommodating between 600 and 700 extra people. New flats must also be provided to attract people from overseas with the skills now needed to sustain the Gibraltar economy—for instance, in the dockyards and in the building trade.
1668 The Government of Gibraltar have been working on a programme to which we have contributed £1 million in Colonial Development and Welfare funds. We offered a further £200,000 as an Exchequer loan and which the Commonwealth Development Corporation has also been helping to finance. This provides for the completion of 440 housing units by 1968, and they now plan to expand this by a further 560 units, making 1,000 in all by 1970.
The plan also includes improvements in amenities which will make possible both an expansion of tourism and private development and the building associated with it. Several hon. Members have asked about the future of tourism. This is an essential part of the programme now being developed.
I do not think that Gibraltar need henceforth see her future as simply a place where tourists pass through on their way to Spain. I am sure that there are great potentialities for holidays in Gibraltar itself, coupled with visits to Morocco and other places which can be reached so easily. The Gibraltar Government's development plan provides for improvements which will make the attractions of the Rock and its peoples far more accessible to visitors than they are now.
Finally, the plan provides for very necessary expenditure on certain public utilities, including electricity and water. I was very glad to study all this on the spot during my visit last week.
Hon. Members have naturally wanted to know more about financial aid. The Gibraltar Government will be contributing quite substantially to the financing of the programme and, as the House knows, I have told them that we support the general objectives of the programme and that, in order to allow them to start implementing it, we are allocating to Gibraltar immediately a further £600,000 of Colonial Development and Welfare money. I also said that we should be ready to discuss with them later the subsequent stages of this programme. The House knows that Gibraltar Ministers welcomed our offer.
Gibraltar is now embarking confidently on the first stage of her expanded development programme. Before I left Gibraltar, I was able to tell the people there how much we admired their courage and 1669 determination and how impressed I have been by the strength and sincerity of their wish to stay British and to stay with Britain.
I was very touched by the warmth of my reception in Gibraltar and heartened by the discussions which we had subsequently. The tone of those discussions was very well caught in the statement which was issued by the Council of Ministers in Gibraltar on 2nd November, at the end of my visit. The statement began with a paragraph which, with permission, I should like to read to the House:The discussions by the Council of Ministers with the Secretary of State have covered the whole range of political and economic problems arising out of the Spanish Government's actions against Gibraltar and we are pleased to state not only that our views are fully appreciated by the Secretary of State but that there is complete harmony of views between Her Majesty's Government and the Gibraltar Government.Whether that is disappointing in some parts of the House, I would not know; but that really is the case, and I am looking forward very much to a continuation of my talks with the Governor, the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister when they come to this country next month. I know that they will receive a very warm welcome here.
A number of hon. Gentlemen, among them the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), were concerned about what would happen if the Spaniards withdrew their male labour. As the House knows, the Spanish authorities have stopped the 2,000 Spanish women who were working in Gibraltar from entering. They alleged that, following an incident involving two drunken Spanish labourers and the Gibraltar police, it was no longer safe for Spanish women to come into Gibraltar to work. But it has not escaped notice that, while it is alleged that it is unsafe, the Spanish authorities see no danger in allowing Spanish women to enter Gibraltar regularly to draw the pensions to which they have become entitled under the Gibraltar social security scheme.
Several hon. Members mentioned the women's organisations in Gibraltar, and I join with them in my admiration for the work that those ladies are doing. Since Spanish female labour has been withdrawn, the women of Gibraltar have 1670 acclimatised themselves to a completely new set of conditions, and the way in which they are coping is something which one notices there.
The remaining 6,000 Spanish male workers are still going daily into Gibraltar. As I told the House on a previous occasion, the Gibraltar Government have plans to deal with the situation which would arise should that labour be withdrawn. In Gibraltar, we looked at those plans again in great detail, and I am satisfied that they will meet the situation. But I am sure that the House will understand why I cannot possibly make them public. I am quite satisfied, for my part, that they are adequate to meet the position which would arise if the Spaniards withdrew that labour.
Again the right hon. Member for Bar-net, among others, said that he was disturbed by the fact that we first declined to hold talks with Spain under the duress of the frontier restrictions and later agreed to do so. During the course of this evening's debate, we have had a number of variations on that theme. Our policy has been perfectly consistent. It is the situation itself and not the policy which has changed. Originally, at the end of 1964, we were dealing with a consensus of the United Nations Committee of 24. That consensus invited Spain and Britain to begin talks about Gibraltar. It seemed to us that the talks would have a much greater chance of success if the Spanish Government first lifted the restrictions which she had recently imposed at the frontier. We were justified fully in requiring that she should at least make some move in that direction before talks began.
The Spanish Government refused to remove or reduce the restrictions. At the end of last year—and this is where the difference comes—it was not only a question of the consensus of the Committee of 24. The General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution which had the full authority of the Assembly, urging that the talks which the Committee of 24 had envisaged should begin without delay.
In view of this, we thought it right that those talks should then begin, and I suggest to the House that there is a very real difference between a consensus in the Committee of 24 and a 1671 Resolution passed by the full Assembly of the United Nations.
§ Sir G. Sinclairrose——
§ Mr. Lee
I want to get on.
The right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) said that there had been misleading statements from the Government side of the House and that my refusal to say "Yes" had caused a certain amount of apprehension. This is a highly sophisticated assembly which occasionally understands the background against which questions are either answered or not answered. The one thing which was really remarkable was that among the part-time politicians on the Ministerial Council in Gibraltar I could not find one who did not know why that incident happened. Has the right hon. Gentleman looked at the question I was asked? I was asked to give an utterly unconditional assurance that under every conceivable set of conditions we would hang on to sovereignty. What happens if I say "Yes"? The right hon. Gentleman either knew that he was being utterly mischievous, or was not very particular whether we won the case at the International Court. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]
Let us face it. The right hon. Gentleman knew that we were asking the Spanish Government to agree to come to the International Court. We cannot very well ask another Government whether they are prepared to go to the International Court, and to abide by its decisions, and then, even before they have agreed to go to the Court, give a categorical assurance that even if they go, and they win, we will refuse point blank to accede to the Court's request.
§ Mr. Lee
Do hon. Gentlemen opposite want another Suez? Let us face it. Either we agree to abide by international law or we take the law into our own hands, and I say again that had I fallen for the 1672 blandishments of the right hon. Gentleman the Spanish Government would have been within their rights to say, "The British Government are being completely hypocritical in that they have said that even if we win they will not agree to the decision of the court".
The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether we thought it was a good thing to insult the Spanish Government, and this question was asked by a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite during the debate. The insult which we were alleged to have offered was that we called the Spanish Government a Fascist dictatorship. Is this an insult to them? If the world were to keep calling us a fine democratic Government, we would regard it as a great honour. Why should the Spanish Government, based as they are on the Fascist ideology, regard it as an insult if we refer to them as a Fascist dictatorship? For my money, we are proud of our democratic concept which is the opposite of the dictatorship of which they are not very proud.
Two hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that we had grossly offended Spanish pride. They said that the Spaniards were a proud people. I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that pride is not a virtue, but one of the seven deadly sins. Indeed, so is envy. I wonder whether the Spanish Government are not activated more by pride than by anything else.
One heard the reaction when my right hon. Friend mentioned our record of decolonisation since the war. Surely it is a very proud record. Surely, if we can show that since the war we have brought independence to 700 million people who were previously in our Colonies, this is a criterion by which the United Nations should be able to judge whether we are right in saying that where-ever a territory asks for and can sustain independence it can have it. I challenge contradiction when I say that one could not find a voice in Gibraltar which favoured a change from British citizenship to any sort of connection with Spain.
My right hon. Friend illustrated the attitude of the Spanish Government on the question of decolonisation. Whilst I was in Gibraltar I ventured to make points similar to those which my right hon. Friend made tonight. Unfortunately, the British Press did not notice 1673 them, except for The Times. These are points of enormous consequence if this issue goes back to the United Nations. Therefore, far from being a cause for sneering, I would have thought that this was something of which both parties—for they have both played a part in this enormous change—should be proud; something in respect of which we, as a nation, lead the world. It is surely upon this kind of criterion that we should ask the United Nations to judge us as distinct from the Spaniards.
§ Sir G. Sinclair
The right hon. Gentleman has made the greatest play over reverence for the United Nations—the Committee of 24 and the Assembly. Was it the United Nations that asked us to refer this matter to the International Court? I suggest that it was not.
§ Mr. Lee
It was the United Nations that passed the Resolution that we should agree to talk with Spain. Therefore, it was in complete conformity with a decision of the Assembly—and not merely a consensus of opinion among the Committee of 24—that we took the step of discussing these issues with Spain.
The point has been made that if one has possession one does not go to the Court; it is the other man who goes. Let us consider that. We in Britain are not suffering from the imposition of restrictions by the Spanish Government; the Gibraltarians are suffering. Who are we to say that that kind of thing should go on and on, rather than that we should take the matter to the International Court and have the full light of world opinion thrown upon the matter? I would have thought that this was easily the best way to ensure that the restrictions are raised.
It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to sit smugly back when they are not suffering from the impositions placed upon the people of Gibraltar—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Lee
I have given the House the background of the feeling and the degree of agreement that this Government have 1674 reached with the Government of Gibraltar. They know quite well that we will support them. The £600,000 that we offered was a first instalment, as they know. I have told the House that the full extent of their programme will now begin to unfold. The Governor and the two Ministers will be coming here in the next few weeks and we will again discuss, in the light of the developments since I was last there, the next features of the programme, how we want to co-ordinate them and so o
The people of Gibraltar are under no illusion—no matter what hon. Members opposite think—and they know that this Government are solidly with them and will sustain them. We believe that our case is right. We want the world to know it. We want to take it to the International Court in the knowledge that it is right. If the Spanish Government feels that it has a case which it would like to take into the world arena, let it come to the Court, and let the Court decide.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)
I have attended all the debate except for about an hour and a quarter and I had hoped that, before we concluded, the right hon. Gentleman would answer the material point which arose time after time in our discussions. It is an important one. We ought to know and the people of Gibraltar ought to know what is the Government's attitude if the Court gives a verdict contrary to what they and the House hope for. The right hon. Gentleman should give some information on this matter. It is no good his saying that the people of Gibraltar trust the Government. I have not been there and I will not argue that, because one needs very good information on this point, although I will go there willingly to find out.
But, if that is so, their reliance is based upon that form of assurance—that they will not, in the last analysis, be let down. This is what the House has a right to know. My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), in what I think the whole House will agree was a very capable and well documented speech, said that the Foreign Secretary was dodging certain matters. But the biggest dodge by the Foreign Secretary—and by the Colonial Secretary—was on this one point.
1675 I do not question the Government's intention to do all that they can for the people of Gibraltar. I do not question that they wish to help the people of Gibraltar by means of housing and other things. No one who has been here for some time would question any Government on that premise. But we are entitled to question them on this very material point, that, having taken this decision—I accept that it is sincere and I am sure that they believe that this is the right thing to do: this has been the point of the debate—they must have faced up to the question, in meetings of the Cabinet and Cabinet Committees, of what are the consequences of their action.
If they have not faced up to that question, they have no right to be in Government. They owe it to the House and to the country and to the people of Gibraltar to say categorically what is the consequence of this action if the decision of the Court goes against them. If they cannot say that, they are not being true to themselves, they are not being true to the country and they are not being true to the people of Gibraltar. They are making an unmitigated and despicable farce of the whole of the negotiations over Gibraltar——
§ Mr. George Brown
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me this chance, because I think that this may go out from this House and we may disturb many people. With the hon. Gentleman's permission, and yours, Mr. Speaker, may I therefore repeat that we will see the people of Gibraltar through the problem? We will sustain them, we will support them, we will supply them. The hon. Gentleman asks, have I any other answer than the International Court? I am entitled to ask him, as I have asked everyone who has spoken tonight, has he any other answer to the ultimate problem than that of going to the International Court?
§ Mr. Hirst
—in our obligations we must stand by them and say, "This is 1676 our responsibility and we will stick by it through thick and thin". The right hon. Gentleman has no right to challenge me unless he will answer my challenge. After all, they are the Government while I am only a thoroughly good private hon. Member. It is for them to say what they will do as a consequence of their action. They are not being frank if they are not prepared to say what they will do. This is fundamental and the right hon. Gentleman and the Colonial Secretary are not answering the debate unless they face up to this situation.
It is no good the Foreign Secretary merely saying in those terms that Her Majesty's Government will stand by Gibraltar. While it is unlikely that the International Court's decision will go against Her Majesty's Government, what do the sort of assurances the right hon. Gentleman has given mean? What is meant by "standing by the people of Gibraltar" in this context? I challenge the Foreign Secretary, with four minutes to go, to answer that question or be damned to eternity—[Interruption.]
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Having listened to the opening and concluding speeches, and particularly to the remarks of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst), I cannot refrain from adding my comments in the closing moment of this debate.
It is absolutely extraordinary, if the Conservative Party feels so strongly on this matter and believes that it should not have been referred to the International Court, that we are not debating a Motion tabled by the Conservatives to the effect that it should not be so referred.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Instead, we are debating this extremely important question on the Motion for the Adjournment, and it is quite unprecedented for the House to have heard a sequence of speeches from Conservative hon. Members deploring the fact that the matter has been referred when they have not had the courage to place a Motion on the Notice Paper saying what they really think.
§ Mr. Blaker
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that most of the speeches made today have not been heard by any Liberal hon. Members at all?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am not aware of that. [Interruption.] I prefaced my remarks by saying that I listened to the opening and closing speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) heard all the speeches that I did not hear—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and I therefore believe that I can fairly size up the debate. I notice that hon. Gentlemen opposite agree with my assessment of Conservative hon. Members in that they have not had the courage of their convictions in tabling a Motion stating that the Government should not have referred the matter to the International Court.
§ Mr. George Jeger
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he will repair tomorrow the deficiencies made by his absence today if he reads the report of the debate in HANSARD, where he will read that many speeches were made from this side of the House agreeing that it is deplorable that the issue should be referred to the International Court?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I already spend at least three hours each day reading the 1678 OFFICIAL REPORT. I assure you that tomorrow will be no exception.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I need no assurance from the hon. Member. He must assure the hon. Member to whom he is speaking; and whether or not he is a slow reader is not a subject for this debate.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I was tempted into making that comment by the intervention of the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger).
This debate seems to be a sham piece of hypocrisy on the part of the Conservative Party. I am glad that the Government are taking a firm stand, and I deplore the action of Conservative hon. Members in making party political capital out of a situation in which the people of Gibraltar are making a heroic stand in this battle against Spanish Fascist domination.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.