HC Deb 26 June 1969 vol 785 cc1709-15
Mr. Hamling

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps Her Majesty's Government will take to preserve the rights of travellers to Gibraltar in the light of the Spanish Government's decision to close the ferry from Algeciras to Gibraltar, and whether he will make a statement.

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

I have instructed Her Majesty's Ambassador in Madrid to deliver a Note to the Spanish Government on 24th June requesting agreement in principle for the operation of a Gibraltar-run ferry service between Gibraltar and Algeciras. I did this because there was reason to believe that the Spanish Government would shortly withdraw the ferry operating from Algeciras.

In their reply, which was received yesterday, the Spanish Government announced that they had decided to suspend with effect from tomorrow regular maritime services between Spain and Gibraltar and, in effect, rejected our request.

This action flouts the standards of international behaviour accepted by modern Governments and it will do nothing whatever to bring a solution of the Gibraltar dispute nearer.

Her Majesty's Government reject emphatically both the pretext adduced by the Spanish Government for this latest measure and the attempt to justify the campaign against the Gibraltarians by reference to resolutions adopted by the General Assembly. Recommendations of the General Assembly that are contrary to binding commitments laid down in the Charter of the United Nations cannot be invoked as justification of the policy of economic and psychological pressure to which the Gibraltarians have been subjected by the Spanish Government.

As to the incident alleged in the Spanish Government's Note, that Government are well aware that Spanish workers were not molested in Gibraltar on 25th June: in fact, they were informed that they should present themselves on the regular day for the payment of their wages.

It will not have escaped the attention of the Spanish authorities that the reason so many workers rushed to Gibraltar on 25th June to claim their wages was precisely because they had good reason to fear that the ferry service was to be suspended.

The interruption of normal maritime communications between Gibraltar and Spain is also contrary to the Treaty of Utrecht, in which it is implicit that there should be sea communication between Gibraltar and Spain. The House will recall that the Spanish Government have consistently refused to agree to the British proposal to submit the legal issues in dispute to adjudication by the International Court of Justice.

The Spanish Government's decision cannot in any way lessen—indeed, it must strengthen—our determination to do everything that may be required of us to enable the Gibraltarians to resist Spanish pressure and to maintain their economy.

I have summoned the Spanish Ambassador early tomorrow morning in order to convey to him personally the views of Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Hamling

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will be grateful for his assurance that Her Majesty's Government are strengthening their determination to help the Gibraltarians? Will he tell us also what reprisals the Government will take against these continual pin-pricks? Is it not about time that he understood the strength of feeling in this country on the side of Gibraltar?

Mr. Stewart

I think that I understand very well the strength of feeling in this country about Gibraltar.

On retaliation, I would remind my hon. Friend of what I said to the House on 9th June—that we must ask of any particular measure whether it will help the Gibraltarians, whether it will influence Spanish policy and whether it will do Spain more injury than it does to Britain and Gibraltar. These are stringent tests, but I believe that they are the right ones. I think that our best course is not retaliation for its own sake, but to continue to make it clear that the Spanish measures are bound to fail.

Mr. Braine

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole House would agree with his comment that this latest action is wholly contrary to the best standards of international conduct and would support the determination which he has expressed to support the Gibraltarians?

Since he has expressed the opinion that this Spanish action is contrary to the provision of the Treaty of Utrecht, can he assure us that Her Majesty's Government will not react to this latest outrageous behaviour by agreeing to talks in which the subject of Gibraltar's sovereignty is on the agenda?

Mr. Stewart

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the first part of his question. On the second part, I can give that assurance. Indeed, it is in line with what was said by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on, I think, 17th February.

Mr. Luard

Since, as my right hon. Friend said, the cutting off of communications by sea between Spain and Gibraltar is clearly contrary to the Treaty of Utrecht, will he warn the Spanish Government that unless they rescind this action we will regard the treaty as at an end, with the result that any question of the reversion of Gibraltar to Spain at a future date would thereby be excluded?

Mr. Stewart

I believe that I should first summon the Spanish Ambassador and make clear the view of Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the Council of Europe, in Western European Union and in other European bodies there is a good deal of misunderstanding about the British case and a good deal of improper sympathy for the Spanish case? Will he give instructions that British missions in Europe should make clear to the Parliamentarians of our allies what is the whole of the British case so that we will be in no doubt of having their support on this important matter?

Mr. Stewart

I agree that it is important to make the entire validity of our case known internationally as widely as possible; and I acknowledge the help which the hon. Gentleman has given to that end.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have taken the most diligent steps to see that our case is fully explained. In some cases lack of support for it is due not to a lack of understanding as to how valid it is. However, I notice that if we compare the results the last time this matter was considered in the United Nations with the time before, it is apparent that what we have been doing has been having some effect.

Mr. Molloy

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that, in essence, this is a so-called territorial claim by a Fascist régime? In addition to declaring that we will stand by Gibraltar, should we not demonstrate this by, for example, my right hon. Friend considering visiting Gibraltar to speak with the leaders of the Gibraltarian community to see just how far Britain can go in helping them?

Mr. Stewart

I assure my hon. Friend that we will take whatever steps may be necessary and wise, whether by visits, by economic help or by any other means, to make it clear that the Spanish attempt to make life in Gibraltar impossible will never succeed.

Mr. Thorpe

While condemning the illegality of this act and recognising its inconvenience, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say, first, what adverse economic effect it is having on Gibraltar and, if it is having such an effect, what plans we have made to assist the Gibraltarians?

Secondly, to return to the point which the right hon. Gentleman sympathetically considered when I raised it previously, has he given further thought to the possibility of persuading ships no longer to bunker in Spanish ports, which is a large source of revenue to the Spanish economy, and suggest that they might go to Gibraltar?

Mr. Stewart

I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to wait a little longer for an answer to the second part of his supplementary question, which I am considering.

The answer to the first part—about the effect of this step on the Gibraltarian economy—is, "Not so far." At this stage it is to be regarded more as a petty and malicious act than one which is doing any serious damage to the Gibraltarian economy.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Is it not about time that Her Majesty's Government stopped holders of British passports from visiting Spain? How far does my right hon. Friend intend to allow the Spanish Government to go before taking that step?

Mr. Stewart

In answering that supplementary question I ask my hon. Friend and the whole House to consider what I think hon. Members realise, that there would be considerable difficulties in Her Majesty's Government trying to enforce action of this kind on British citizens. However, it is an action that is immediately within the reach and free choice of any British citizen, a view which I have previously expressed.

Mr. Amery

Will the right hon. Gentleman represent to the Spanish Government that they are making themselves look a bit ridiculous by picking a quarrel with us at a time when the Soviet Fleet is establishing itself more and more in the Mediterranean, not least on the Algerian shore opposite Spain?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir, I think that that is true. The general decision of the Spanish Government to be at odds with countries in Western Europe is extremely ill-advised.

Mr. James Johnson

Was the possibility of Gibraltar being isolated in this way foreseen by Her Majesty's Government and were steps envisaged? Will my right hon. Friend consider consulting B.E.A. about increasing the number of flights to Gibraltar and decreasing the cost of air fares to that country?

Mr. Stewart

I assure my hon. Friend that all these matters have been, and still are, under consideration. The House will have noticed that the injury that might have been done to the Gibraltarian economy by, for example, the withdrawal of labour, has been greatly minimised because of the extent to which it was foreseen and because of the necessary precautions that were taken.

Mr. Peyton

While supporting what the right hon. Gentleman has said, may I ask whether the Government would consider imposing some charge on travellers from this country to Spain so that they may make—gladly, I am sure—a contribution to the cost of sustaining Gibraltar?

Mr. Stewart

That was suggested earlier, but I think that I should take the House into my confidence on this issue by asking hon. Members to pose this question to themselves: if we tried to impose prohibitions, fines or levies on British subjects who chose to go to Spain on holiday and were then faced with the fact that they were going to nearby Spain and simply crossing the frontier, we might find it difficult to enforce measures of that kind without a degree of interference in the ordinary liberty of the British subject which the House and the country might not accept. That is why I say that the remedy is in the hands of every patriotic British subject.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on. Mr. Heath.