HC Deb 08 April 1968 vol 762 cc894-7
Mr. Maudling (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the recent disturbances in Gibraltar.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. William Whitlock)

On 4th April, a group of Gibraltarians signing themselves as "The Doves" published an open letter in the Gibraltar Chronicle suggesting a positive solution to the Gibraltar question to be embodied in a contemporary Anglo-Spanish Treaty in substitution for the outmoded Treaty of Utrecht". There followed a number of detailed proposals, which included one for the symbolical flying of the Spanish flag in Gibraltar along with the Union Jack; and they stated specifically that their proposals would not involve a transfer of sovereignty to Spain. The letter also said that its authors had been in direct touch with the Spanish Foreign Ministry. "The Doves" are a small group of professional and business men.

At about 11 o'clock on Saturday, 5th April, a small crowd came to the Governor's residence and asked to see him. He saw three spokesmen who told him that "The Doves" did not represent the people of Gibraltar, had no right to negotiate with Spain, and should be cautioned about their activities. The Governor said that he would take note of their representations but stressed that Gibraltar was a democracy and that freedom of thought and expression must be upheld.

However, irresponsible elements in the crowd continued to incite public feeling against "The Doves" and their property. Before long, the crowd had grown and were doing considerable damage, including the overturning of a motor car and a bus. Two policemen were injured. At this point, a small quantity of tear gas was used. The crowd then went to the main square where the Chief Minister, assisted by other elected Members of the Legislative Council, attempted to speak to them. He talked to some of their representatives and pointed out the folly and danger of the crowd's action. With their help and that of his colleagues he persuaded the crowd to disperse.

Unfortunately, sections of the crowd led by a small group of hooligans began to ransack premises belonging to members of "The Doves" and to overturn cars. They also burnt a boat belonging to one of "The Doves", and innocent bystanders were assaulted. At this point, the Governor decided, after informing the Chief Minister, to call out sufficient troops to assist in the protection of lives and property. The troops have not carried fire arms but only pick handles and have been used mainly to guard points likely to attract demonstrators.

On Saturday evening, the Governor spoke to the Gibraltarians on radio and television about these events. He reported yesterday, 7th April, that all was then quiet in Gibraltar. Sixteen arrests were made on Saturday evening, and those accused were to appear before the magistrates' court this morning.

The Governor is setting up a Commission of Inquiry under the appropriate local ordinance.

I am sure the House will join with me in deploring these disturbances, which are so uncharacteristic of Gibraltar.

Mr. Maudling

The House will regret these disturbances and wish to congratulate the authorities on handling them in the way they did.

Does the Minister realise that tension is bound to grow in Gibraltar so long as the constitutional talks are delayed? It has been a very long time, many months, since the referendum. When do the Government intend to take some action in this matter?

Mr. Whitlock

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that tension is bound to mount in Gibraltar in these circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs reported on the situation of our negotiations with Spain on this matter on 1st April, when he said that because of the attitude adopted by Spain in the negotiations it was impossible to create the better atmosphere in which progress might have been made towards a settlement.

Mr. Maudling

I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstood my question. I was not referring to talks with Spain but to consitutional talks with the Gibraltarians. Could the hon. Gentleman say when the Government intend to do something about that?

Mr. Whitlock

That is a matter of discussion with the Gibraltarian authorities. But it is obvious that this situation has arisen from the resentment caused by the publication of the letter by "The Doves."

Mr. George Jeger

Does my hon. Friend realise that the statement issued by "The Doves" was made on 1st April and was by a limited number, a mere handful, of people in Gibraltar? Do the Government realise that the tension that exists there and the anxiety among the Gibraltarians is contributed to by the delay in having the constitutional talks, and that so long as the delay continues so will the tension get worse, and a few hooligans can spark off an explosion such as the regrettable one that happened last week?

Mr. Whitlock

So far as I am aware, the article which has caused this trouble was published in the Gibraltar Chronicle on 4th April.

Mr. Jeger

It was 1st April, I have it here.

Mr. Whitlock

I agree that tension exists and it has been exploited by a few hooligans. The Governor has reported that the number of looters and rioters was very small, and that they were definitely drawn from a criminal element in Gibraltar.

Mr. Wall

I deplore the hooliganism, but it is now seven months since the referendum and there is a deep feeling of frustration among the people of Gibraltar that Her Majesty's Government have done nothing to guarantee their constitutional future.

Mr. Whitlock

The talks with Spain have only just come to an end, as my right hon. Friend recently reported, and therefore the future situation will be dealt with as quickly as possible with the Gibraltarians.

Mr. Paget

If talks by "The Doves" with the Spanish authorities cause this sort of alarm in Gibraltar, how much more alarm would be caused by talks by Her Majesty's Government? Is it not reasonably clear that talks with Spain on this subject are neither practical nor desirable, and that we should get on with our own talks with our own people?

Mr. Whitlock

The reasons for our talks with Spain on this matter are perfectly well understood in Gibraltar, as they should be in the House. Now that these talks have definitely come to an end, as my right hon. Friend said on 1st April, because of the attitude of Spain, we can consider the future.

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