HC Deb 14 April 1980 vol 982 cc800-7
The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on Gibraltar.

I am pleased to report that the Spanish Foreign Minister and my right hon. and noble Friend reached agreement on 10 April on the re-establishment of direct communications between Spain and Gibraltar. It is envisaged that the practical preparations will be completed not later than 1 June. This will then allow the agreement to be speedily implemented. A copy of the joint AngloSpanish statement has been placed in the Library of the House.

This is a very important step, and one I am sure that the House will wish to welcome, though I should emphasise that this is only the beginning of what is likely to be a very long process. The Spanish decision represents another milestone for democratic Spain, and the Government pay tribute to Senor Oreja's statesmanship and the good will which he has shown in his approach to this problem. Our agreement makes a significant contribution towards the strengthening of the United Kingdom's bilateral relations with Spain, to whose early membership of the European Community we look forward.

It is also a move of great significance for the people of Gibraltar, who have been cut off from Spain for 11 years. My right hon. and noble Friend and I discussed the implications with the Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition in London earlier today.

I should like to stress that the AngloSpanish statement reaffirms the Government's commitment never to enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.

Mr. Shore

The House will welcome the removal of restrictions on movements and the opening of the border between Gibraltar and Spain, all the more so since the 11-year siege of Gibraltar was wholly unjustified from beginning to end. The right hon. Gentleman has rightly stated—we welcome this, too—the Government's commitment, as he puts it, never to enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. That is absolutely right.

I have only two questions to put. The communiqué of 10 April referred to the forthcoming negotiations aimed at overcoming all the differences between Spain and Britain on Gibraltar. Can the Lord Privy Seal say what subjects are to be covered in these negotiations or talks? Will he confirm that they will not include the question of the sovereignty of Gibraltar?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about re-emphasising the Government's firm commitment which I stated at the end of my statement.

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's question about the communiqué that was issued at the end of my right hon. and noble Friend's conversations with Senor Oreja, we agreed to talk about anything. It is a part of the agreement that nothing is barred. We shall discuss anything. But, as I say, that must be read in the context of our firm commitment to the people of Gibraltar which I mentioned earlier.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Will my right hon. Friend say whether the Spaniards are still insisting that, under the correct interpretation of the Treaty of Utrecht, any change in the status of Gibraltar would necessarily involve a reversion to Spanish sovereignty? Will he say whether Her Majesty's Government accept or reject that as a matter of law and as being outwith the spirit of the age?

Sir I. Gilmour

As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, the Spanish Government stated in the agreed text that they believed that Gibraltar was part of the territorial integrity of Spain. As I have said, we do not take that view. Our position is as I have stated—that there can be no change in the position of Gibraltar without the freely and democratically stated wishes of the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I welcome the Lord Privy Seal's statement, particularly the last paragraph. Can he say anything about lifting restrictions on flight paths into Gibraltar? I understand that those restrictions are still in force. Can he comment on employment in the dockyards? I understand that Moroccans have now replaced Spaniards. Is that subject still open for discussion, and what is the likely outcome?

Sir I. Gilmour

The restrictions on flight paths were referred to in the statement and should come to an end. That will be beneficial to anyone flying into or out of Gibraltar. The dockyards will be discussed in the negotiations. As the hon. Gentleman has rightly said, Spanish workers have been replaced by Moroccan workers. However, future employment is a matter for commercial negotiation.

Mr. Rippon

With respect to my right hon. Friend, I do not think that he has fully answered the question put to him by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) about the effect of the Treaty of Utrecht. Do the Government agree that, although there is no question of unilaterally abrogating British sovereignty, or doing anything without the approval of the people of Gibraltar, if we were to leave Gibraltar for any reason the sovereignty of the island would revert to Spain?

Sir I. Gilmour

I cannot agree with my right lion, and learned Friend. We have no intention of leaving Gibraltar and therefore the question does not arise. As I have said, any change in the constitutional arrangements of Gibraltar—that means any giving up of British sovereignty over Gibraltar—can take place only after the free and democratic wishes of the people of Gibraltar have been stated.

Dr. Gilbert

As one of the proposals mooted in the past has been that there should be joint administration with Spain of the dockyard and airfield, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that such proposals would be far easier to implement if Spain were to become a member of NATO? Will he confirm also that the considerations applying to those two sets of installations are totally different?

Sir I. Gilmour

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The question of Spanish membership of NATO is entirely a matter for Spain and is some way in the future.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

What action is my right hon. Friend taking in his negotiations with Spain to safeguard the interests of the many Moroccan workers who have provided indispensable support for the Gibraltarian economy for 10 years and who may now have no employment in Morocco? Will he bear their interests in mind in return for the valuable service that they have performed for the economy of Gibraltar and its territorial integrity?

Sir I. Gilmour

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Moroccan workers have played during the past few years an indispensable part in the preservation of Gibraltar. Their interests will be safeguarded. As I have already said, all these issues are for future discussion by the Gibraltarians. I should make plain that in all future negotiations the Gibraltarians will be represented.

Mr. English

if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he can fob off his right hon. and learned Friends as he has done, he is wrong. They are right. Will the right hon. Gentleman publish, or at least put in the Library, the legal case made on behalf of the British Government answering that put by a previous Spanish Government? For example, a previous Spanish Government pointed out that by admitting Jews to Gibraltar we had broken the express provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht. That might be something that we would all wish to do. However, the point needs answering and no answer has yet been given. Will the right hon. Gentleman do that?

Sir I. Gilmour

At present, I do not think so. It is not an issue that is being put forward in the present negotiations. I do not see any great advantage in answering such points if they are not being put forward. If they are put forward, we shall answer them.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have stood throughout questions on the statement, if they will co-operate.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

In the light of my right hon. Friend's announcement, will he state that there is no excuse for the inordinately high air fares which impede the tourist development of the Rock? As has been stated, there is British sovereignty and Spanish sovereignty and a third option called "independence". Will my right hon. Friend categorically state his position?

Sir I. Gilmour

I have already stated my position. British sovereignty will not be altered without the expressly and democratically stated wish of Gibraltarians. Surely that is as clear as it can be. I cannot go any further. The inordinately high air fares to Gibraltar are a subject for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. I hope that one of the beneficial results of the agreement will be that such fares will come down.

Mr. Dalyell

Are we quite sure that there is no misunderstanding in the minds of those negotiating on the Spanish side? Are they clear that we have no intention of leaving, according to the terms of the Lord Privy Seal's statement? A second and lesser question is whether anything has yet been said about the possibilities of British Service men being allowed to travel in southern Spain when stationed on the Rock.

Sir I. Gilmour

Nothing has yet been said as regards the second question. As regards the first, if the hon. Gentleman reads the joint declaration he will sec the answer.

Mr. Shersby

Do the Government intend to propose to the Spanish Government that a referendum should take place to determine the wishes of the people of Gibraltar concerning their future status?

Sir I. Gilmour

As my hon. Friend will know, a referendum took place some time ago. To have another referendum now would be to rush things. There is a long way to go before any question of another referendum arises.

Mr. Stanbrook

Since the previous position of the Spanish Government was understood to be that restrictions would not be lifted until there had been an agreement to enter into meaningful discussions and negotiations about sovereignty, can my right hon. Friend say whether that condition has been fulfilled?

Sir I. Gilmour

I have already told the House that, as was made clear in the joint Anglo-Spanish statement, which my hon. Friend will have read, we have agreed to discuss everything. That seems a perfectly reasonable thing to agree to. We have agreed to do so in the context, which I have stated many times, of the 1969 declaration.

Mr. Garel-Jones

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the atmosphere in which the discussions will take place will be enhanced because the Spanish Government have not only applied to join the EEC but have stated their intention to join the NATO Alliance? If he agrees, will he, to enhance the atmosphere of those talks, go further by stating that were Gibraltarians to choose to change their status and to move closer to Spain the British Government would not stand in their way? Will he also confirm the point already made, that under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht it is not possible for Gibraltar to resort to independence and that were the United Kingdom to withdraw Gibraltar would automatically become subject to Spain's sovereignty?

Sir I. Gilmour

I cannot continue to repeat my remarks or make them any more meaningful. I have already said that we have no intention of withdrawing, and therefore the question does not arise.

Of course we should welcome any decision by Spain to join NATO. However, that is some years ahead and is an issue for Spain, and not us, to decide.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Was not one of the contributory factors to this most welcome advance the sturdy conduct of the Gibraltarian people under the leadership of their Chief Minister? Does not Gibraltar now require a period of calm and reflection during which confidence can be re-established and relationships cemented between Spain and Gibraltar?

Sir I. Gilmour

I agree with those remarks, particularly those concerning the leadership given to Gibraltar by the Chief Minister. It is natural that after 11 years of blockade and isolation there should be some apprehension in Gibraltar about the future. It is therefore right and proper to have a period of calmness.

Mr. McQuarrie

I welcome the decision to have talks. I am sure that my right hon. Friend's attention will have been drawn to the large demonstration in Gibraltar expressing considerable opposition to the decision to have the talks. Having experienced this for six years, I can tell my right hon. Friend that an emotiveness has been created in Gibraltar. I welcome my right hon. Friend's view that there should be a period of calm before negotiations are started. I also welcome the fact that the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar will be present during the negotiations because that will give the Gibraltarians an opportunity to see that both sides are considered. Is my right hon. Friend aware—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask his question. I have extended the time allowed in order to permit him to ask his question. We want to move on at some stage.

Mr. McQuarrie

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the joint communiqué by the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition issued on 12 April? It said: We further reiterate the position of the people of Gibraltar that for their part they are opposed to any negotiations on sovereignty over Gibraltar, a view expressed in a unanimous resolution of the House of Assembly in November 1977.

Sir I. Gilmour

As my hon. Friend knows, the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were at the Foreign Office today and the Foreign Secretary and I had talks with them. They seemed to be fully satisfied by what we said. There can be no possible objection to our agreeing to discuss everything with Spain. That must be right, provided that it is recognised that it is in the context of the 1969 declaration. That is our firm position.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the President of the Council of Ministers, when answering a question that I put to him, said that the British Government, during negotiations on the Spanish application to join the Common Market, had never raised the issue of sovereignty over the Rock of Gibraltar? Is it not time that the issue was raised? Should not the Government spell out to the Council of Ministers and to Europe where the British Government stand?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman is slightly behind events. The agreement appears to make his suggestion unnecessary.

Mr. Shore

One aspect of the scope of negotiations worries me. Given the clear statements by the Spanish and British Governments, there can be no merit or benefit in picking over that particular sore in the talks. Will the Lord Privy Seal therefore do his utmost to steer away from the sovereignty issue and discuss such important and practical issues as the flight path and other matters which are of concern to the people of Gibraltar?

Sir I. Gilmour

I think that the right hon. Gentleman slightly misunderstands. I hope that issues such as the flight path will be agreed before negotiations start. It must be right, in the context of the agreement, to agree to the Spaniards raising any matter that they wish. That is normal. We have discussed that with the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition today. They have said that they are satisfied. It is unduly suspicious of the right hon. Gentleman to object to the terms of the agreement.

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