HC Deb 06 May 1968 vol 764 cc32-7

Mr. George Jeger (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the latest action by Spain at the frontier of Gibraltar.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

The new restrictions imposed by the Spanish Government are, like the earlier ones, unjustified and clearly aimed at damaging the Gibraltarian economy. It is deplorable that the Spanish Government believe that crude pressures can resolve this international problem.

These arbitrary restrictions can only harm the prospects of an eventual solution acceptable to the people of Gibraltar and satisfactory to the two Governments.

Her Majesty's Government remain determined to sustain the people of Gibraltar in the difficulties which they are facing as a result of the policies of the Spanish Government.

Mr. Jeger

With due respect to my right hon. Friend, we have heard all that before. En this Government of planners, could not the Spanish Government's latest action have been foreseen? Was not it expected many weeks, if not months, ago? What plans have the Government for dealing with the situation by retaliation against Spain?

Mr. Stewart

The matter has been the subject of discussion between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs and the Governor and Ministers of Gibraltar. There will be further discussion of it with the Gibraltar Ministers who arrived here this morning. I do not want to prejudice what the Gibraltar Ministers might wish to say to my right hon. Friend by an announcement of what we might do.

On the question of retaliation, we must keep our minds on what kind of action will assist the people of Gibraltar.

Sir F. Bennett

Does not the right hon. Gentleman find it a little ludicrous at present that the only people now allowed to use that frontier are those Spanish workers who take no less than £3 million a year out of the sterling area and cash it into hard currency in their country? But will the right hon. Gentleman accept a tribute from me for the recognition that he has just given to the futility of economic sanctions in obtaining a political settlement?

Mr. Stewart

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell that story to those of his hon. Friends who so often ask for retaliatory measures in so many different contexts. One cannot argue from one example of this kind to another. It is true that even since the restrictions were imposed recently the Spanish workers have still been coming across the frontier. We must bear in mind that they are in no way to blame for their Government's actions.

Mr. Cronin

In view of this further provocative and hostile action by the Spanish Government, would my right hon. Friend take the opportunity of warning prospective British tourists of the inconvenience they may suffer if they use Spain as a holiday resort?

Mr. Stewart

It is quite clear and, I hope, well understood that there will be those inconveniences.

Mr. Tilney

I believe that over the the long term Gibraltar cannot be economically prosperous without a friendly Spain. Would the right hon. Gentleman consider partially and temporarily closing our tourist frontier with Spain by putting a special tax on those taking their holidays there, the proceeds to be used for mechanisation in Gibraltar to remove the need for so much Spanish labour?

Mr. Stewart

I agree that it would be desirable to secure relations between Gibraltar and a friendly Spain. That is what we have sought in good faith, and that search is frustrated and damaged by these actions.

At to action against British individuals who wish to take holidays in Spain, as my predecessor said, it is doubtful whether it would be proper for the Government to tell individuals where they should or should not spend their holidays. But it is now, I think, for individuals to consider what they should do in the present situation.

Mr. Molloy

I welcome the first part of my right hon. Friend's reply to the Question, but I urge him to make it transparently clear to both the Gibraltarians and the Spanish that any efforts being made by the Spanish Government to threaten Gibraltar involve Great Britain all the way through; irrespective of what they do, it is not a question of the Spanish Government against Gibraltar but the Spanish Government against Great Britain and Gibraltar.

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir. We shall make very clear not only in words, but in acts, as we have already done, our resolve to help the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. Braine

We on our side wholly agree with the right hon. Gentleman's condemnation of the Spanish action. Can we take it from his answer that a protest will be made to the Spanish Government? What effect will the new restrictions have on Gibraltar's economy, especially the tourist industry? Could the right hon. Gentleman be a little more explicit about counter-measures? Surely the Government will not leave it to individuals to make up their minds on what to do? Are the Government studying the possibility of counter-measures?

Mr. Stewart

I raised the matter of individuals in response to the question about individuals taking holidays in Spain. The Government have studied for a considerable time what actions might be helpful to the people of Gibraltar. The point I wanted to make is that in judging such actions we must not think in terms simply of hitting back for the sake of it, but what kind of action would help the people of Gibraltar. We have already made clear to the Spanish Government what we think of their earlier restrictions and we shall make very clear our protest against these restrictions, too.

Sir Dingle Foot

Will my right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear to the Spanish Government and anyone else concerned that our obligations towards the people of Gibraltar are those set out in Article 73 of the Charter of the United Nations, which obliges us to develop self-government and to take due account of the political aspirations of the people, and make it clear that under the Charter, if there is any conflict, those obligations prevail over the obligations under any other international agreement?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir. That is a point which we have made very clear wherever the matter has been discussed.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that very many people believe that the situation has been aggravated by the Government's negotiations with the Argentine and over British Honduras? Every few months we are told by the Foreign Secretary that something will be done. Is he aware that the British people are sick and tired of Her Majesty's Government trailing their coattails behind General Franco? Will the right hon. Gentleman take the initiative?

Mr. Stewart

I am not sure if the hon. Gentleman is aware of what has already be done to help the people of Gibraltar. Since November, 1966, there has been £2 million development aid to Gibraltar and budgetary aid. The point I was making was that when one talks of action one must consider what kind of action will help the Gibraltarian people. That kind of action we have taken, and shall continue to take.

Mr. Winnick

Very recently the people of Gibraltar showed through democratic choice, unlike what has happened in Spain, what they want to do about their own future, which is to remain closely allied to Britain. As they have so chosen democratically, why do we not ask the United Nations Committee of 24 to go to Gibraltar to hear the desire of the people for their own future?

Mr. Stewart

I will consider that suggestion, although whether it would really help the situation I am not quite sure without further consideration. But there can be no doubt as to the opinion of the people of Gibraltar as declared in the referendum.

Mr. Onslow

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the husband of one of my constituents, Able-Seaman Lightowler, has been held for six months in Algeciras gaol without trial? Is he further aware that Mrs. Lightowler hopes shortly to go to Gibraltar to visit her husband? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that she is able to do so? Will he also press for a speedy trial of this unfortunate British seaman?

Mr. Stewart

That is a different question from the one I was originally asked, but I shall give most diligent attention to it.

Viscount Lambton

Is it not the case that, at the moment, there is no solution that is acceptable both to the people of Gibraltar and to Spain? Should we not make it plain to the Spanish Government that, until they totally change their approach, we do not think there can be any solution whatever?

Mr. Stewart

I think that that follows. The professed aim of Spanish policy, as I understand it, is to make the people of Gibraltar want to be part of Spain, but the actions of the Spanish Government do not tend towards that end.

Mr. Hastings

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that a fitting motto for the Government's foreign policy would be, "Apologise, disarm and retreat"?

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman is always trying to make mischief and is always doing so on the basis of a complete misunderstanding of the facts. The fact in this case is that we have neither apologised nor retreated.

Sir Knox Cunningham

After the right hon. Gentleman has met the Chief Minister tomorrow, will he undertake to come to the House and make a statement ment about what action will be taken?

Mr. Stewart

I cannot give an undertaking of that kind at present. We must await the discussions which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs will be having with the Chief Minister.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on.