HC Deb 28 November 1984 vol 68 cc927-35
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the outcome of the series of meetings that I have had with the Spanish Foreign Minister, Sr. Moran, about Gibraltar.

At our most recent meeting in Brussels on 27 November, we reached agreement about the way to put into effect the terms of the Lisbon statement of 10 April 1980. I am arranging for a copy of yesterday's communique to be placed in the Library of the House. As a result of that agreement, the specific measures which I shall describe in a moment will be implemented by a date to be agreed, but not later than 15 February 1985.

From the date of implementation, direct communications between Gibraltar and Spain will be restored. This means that there will be free movement of people, vehicles and goods.

From the date of implementation, Spaniards in Gibraltar will enjoy those European Community rights which would otherwise become available only from the day of Spain's accession to the Community. From the same date, Gibraltarians in Spain will enjoy similar rights.

The legislative proposals necessary for this will be introduced in Gibraltar and in Spain. This arrangement does not affect the derogations and transitional periods which will have been agreed between Spain and the Community. These will of course be applicable to Gibraltar, in particular as regards the free movement of labour.

The range of matters to be covered will include freedom to enter and settle, rights of establishment and trade union rights, together with the right to provide a service and to purchase land and property. In addition, the Spanish Government have agreed that they will take the early actions necessary to allow safe and effective air communications within the air space in the region of Gibraltar.

On the day that communications are restored, the Spanish Foreign Minister and I will meet to begin the negotiating process envisaged by the Lisbon statement. That process will be aimed at overcoming all the differences between us over Gibraltar and at promoting cooperation on a mutually beneficial basis on economic, cultural, touristic, aviation, military and environmental matters. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Sir Joshua Hassan, will, of course, accompany me to that meeting.

Sr. Moran has told me that the Spanish side will raise the issue of sovereignty in these negotiations, as they are entitled to do on the basis provided by the Lisbon statement itself. Yesterday's communique makes it equally plain that the British Government will fully maintain their commitment to honour the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, as set out in the preamble to the Gibraltar constitution. That commitment stands unchanged. Sr. Moran, for his part, has made clear the importance that he, too, attaches to the wishes of the people of Gibraltar.

Sr. Moran and I agreed about the importance of establishing practical co-operation between the people of Gibraltar and the neighbouring region. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar has expressed the same view. This will be of benefit to all sides. It will provide an important opportunity for Gibraltar's economy to develop and diversify.

This agreement marks the development of a new stage in relations between Britain and Spain, who are fellow NATO allies and prospective partners in the European Community.

Throughout this series of talks, I have kept in the closest touch with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Sir Joshua Hassan. I am most grateful to him for his consistently wise advice and support. In his statement yesterday, Sir Joshua Hassan said that he welcomed the agreement and believed that it will be beneficial to the people of Gibraltar. In his view, it will be a first step in the process of normalisation and fruitful co-operation between Gibraltar and the immediate vicinity for the benefit of all.

Sir Joshua Hassan described this agreement as an honourable outcome. I entirely endorse that judgment. I firmly believe that the agreement is in the interests of Gibraltar. The interests of Gibraltar and its people have always been, and will remain, of central importance to the British Government.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

I should like first to welcome the agreement on behalf of the Labour Opposition. It is a welcome step forward. However, I am bound to say that the concessions made by the Spanish Government are ones that they would have been obliged to make the moment they joined the European Community and undertook to make four-and-a-half years ago in an agreement with Lord Carrington. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the new feature of this agreement since Lord Carrington's discussions is the agreement by the Government to discuss the sovereignty of Gibraltar when negotiations begin after communications are restored? The Opposition welcome that commitment and believe that it might set an important precedent for other parts of the world, such as the Falklands, where it is necessary to link the reopening of communications with discussions on sovereignty.

Like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we welcome the fact that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar regards the agreement as honourable. We welcome the Foreign Secretary's view, which was expressed at the end of his statement, that the interests of the people of Gibraltar must remain paramount.

Perhaps I could ask the Foreign Secretary a few detailed questions. First, can he tell us anything about how he sees the future of the dockyard in Gibraltar in the light of the new agreement? Secondly, what obligations will the Government accept for the pension rights of any Spanish employees who may take advantage of the new agreement at the appropriate stage to accept employment in Gibraltar? Finally, we regard this agreement as removing a serious obstacle to better relations between Britain and a democratic Spain. We hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Government will now give powerful support to Spain's accession to the EC at the already agreed date.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome of my statement. I am glad to endorse the points on which he closed. We join the official Opposition in looking forward to Spain's early accession and will continue to give our full encouragement to the completion of the enlargement negotiations at the date already foreseen.

With regard to the general pattern of the agreement, it should be observed that what is now being afforded is an equality of arrangements on both sides. Both sides are agreeing to accelerate the rights that would become available on accession somewhat ahead of time. With regard to sovereignty, the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that the Lisbon statement specifically allowed any subject to be raised by either side and it was always foreseen that sovereignty was likely to be raised by the Spaniards in that context. Indeed, it had been raised before. It arises as a result of this implementation of the Lisbon agreement.

The right hon. Gentleman would be quite wrong to draw any parallel between this case and that of the Falkland Islands. They are historically, legally and constitutionally quite different. There is a complete contrast between the conduct of the two countries concerned — Spain and Argentina. Spain is an ally in NATO and a prospective partner in the European Community. Moreover, successive Spanish Governments have said publicly that they will pursue their claim by peaceful means. As I said in my statement, the Spanish Foreign Minister has spoken publicly of the need to respect the interests and the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. There could be no greater contrast between Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.

Arrangements in regard to the dockyard have already been announced to the House. On 1 January 1985, the Royal Naval dockyard will be replaced by Gibraltar Shiprepair Limited, which is a commercially managed enterprise with A. P. Appledore International Limited acting as managers. The land and assets for the commercial ship repair yard are being handed over free of charge. Earlier this year we announced that £28 million had been made available to the Gibraltar Government for disbursement to meet the initial costs of conversion. We also announced that during the first three years of operation of the commercial yard work to a value of at least £14 million would be provided by the Ministry of Defence on Royal fleet auxiliaries.

I understand that people on the Spanish side of the border who have previously been employed in Gibraltar are already drawing, or are entitled to draw, pensions. All these matters are receiving consideration, but at the moment I cannot be specific.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

My right hon. and learned Friend will agree that in the past it would have been difficult for Gibraltar to keep going without Moroccan labour. Can he assure us that there will not be a dramatic cut-off in relation to Moroccans who already have jobs and without whose help it would have been impossible to keep the territory operating?

My right hon. and learned Friend's statement made it quite clear that the implementation of the Lisbon agreement was contingent on Spain's entry into the EEC on the hoped-for date in January 1986. If due to the influence of other powers—not Britain—that entry date is delayed, may we take it that it will not mean that the Spaniards will say, "Now we have not got in on January 1986 we are hack to the status quo ante and we start all over again."?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I take my hon. Friend's point about a delay in the completion of the accession negotiations. The rights that would arise in those circumstances could not, I think, be altered. Spain will join the European Community. The date has been fixed for the implementation of this agreement—not later than 15 February—and I see no reason to suppose that anything thereafter will alter that date or its effectiveness for all these purposes.

My hon. Friend also spoke of the need to respect the position of Moroccans who already work there. Spaniards and Moroccans in Gibraltar have thus far been treated in the same way as all other non-European Community nationals. So far as we are concerned, they have always been able to live and work in Gibraltar, and that will remain the position.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

The Foreign Secretary, Sr. Moran, and, indeed, Sir Joshua Hassan are to be congratulated on an extremely sensible and well-negotiated preliminary settlement. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this is a vindication of the fact that the European Community is far more than just a trading arrangement, that it is a democratic institution and that it was inconceivable that Spain could have entered the Community while these restrictions existed?

In commenting on the differences between this case and the situation in the Falkland Islands, the Foreign Secretary has done less than justice to President Alfonsin of Argentina, who, after all, at some peril to his own life, was a critic of the aggression against the Falkland Islands—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that this is a statement on Gibraltar.

Dr. Owen

But, Mr. Speaker, the Foreign Secretary elaborated on that point in reply to the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the spokesman for the Labour party. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not being fair to the democracy of Argentina and the statements of President Alfonsin about pursuing sovereignty through peaceful means. I hope that he will reconsider his statements, because they are damaging in the context of the situation in the southern Atlantic.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks, but I must correct the emphasis which he sought to deploy in his latter remarks. An important difference now is that Argentina has an elected democratic government. We welcomed that fact when that Government took office. However, that is not the only factor that has to be taken into account. I drew attention to the much closer relationships which have existed and which will exist between ourselves, the people of Spain and the Spanish Government. That is apparent in the statements which they have made, which stand in sharp contrast to the simple and outstanding fact that Argentina—within a short time of 15 February two years ago—invaded and took possession of the Falkland Islands by force. That is an aspect of history which renders the whole matter vastly different. That is something that must be faced.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. An incidental reference to Argentina is allowable, but detailed references are not.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

I must congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the diligence and diplomacy which he displayed in the many meetings with Sr Moran to arrive at the successful conclusion which was announced in yesterday's communiqué. However what is the reason for the fixed date of 15 February 1985? Is it not possible to give expatriates and others the opportunity of visiting either Spain or Gibraltar during this year's festive season?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I would be disposed in principle to agree to anything which increased the prospects of festivity. The date which has been chosen takes into account the likely necessary time to carry through the introduction of the legislative measures that are necessary on both sides. It was clear that both sides wanted to move ahead as expeditiously as possible. The 15 February is a not-later-than date. If we can move ahead of it, so much the better. I fear that we shall not be able to do so in time for Christmas.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the agreement, on which I congratulate him, illustrates how it is possible to negotiate in perfect good faith with the present Spanish Government? Does he draw the further conclusion that one of our main purposes over the coming months must be to negotiate further, fully in accord with the people of Gibraltar and in consultation with them, to ensure that we strengthen democracy in Spain, which is one of the greatest achievements of recent times? Does he accept that this sort of agreement can assist?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful for the opportunity of agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman. This sort of agreement negotiated in this way can assist in this process. The accession of Spain to the European Community, on which we are all working as hard as we can, will make a powerful additional fortification to that process.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Has not the trouble in recent years been the unreasonable treatment by Franco of Gibraltar? If Gibraltarians are able now to deal in a reasonable, just and friendly way with Spain, may they not eventually find it possible to live in a Spanish dimension without losing their own identity?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is a question which in the end will have to be answered by the people of Gibraltar themselves. That is why we have underlined our commitment to respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. My hon. Friend is right in saying that one of the consequences of the agreement should be an improvement in the prospects of co-operation between the people of Gibraltar and the people of the nearby part of Spain. That can do nothing but good in opening up the prospects for further co-operation between the two peoples.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

I, too, congratulate, the Foreign Secretary on the agreement. Does he agree that the issue of sovereignty becomes an obstacle to the resolution of larger and wider problems? He showed a welcome sensitivity to Spanish views on the subject by agreeing to have them on the table for discussion. Does he agree that the problem of Northern Ireland is far more serious than that of Gibraltar and that the issue of sovereignty—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Hume

—is a major obstacle—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Hume


Mr. Speaker

Order. That was an abuse on the part of the hon. Gentleman and I am surprised at his action.

Mr. Hume

We have taken many abuses over the centuries, Mr. Speaker.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be no change in the sovereignty of Gibraltar until its people decide that with a free democratic vote?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The position for the people of Gibraltar remains exactly the same as was stated in the 1969 constitution. It will be changed only if the freely expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar point in that direction. We stand by that unchanged commitment.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Liberal party also wishes to congratulate him on the agreement, which is much in the terms set out by Sir Joshua Hassan, who I noticed attracted from the Foreign Secretary the quite unique tribute of being consistently wise? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the only aspect that will delay the agreement until 15 February is the necessary legislation in Spain and Portugal and that no other factors are relevant?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is the practical position. Obviously, having moved as we did in the past two days to reach the agreement, it was necessary to identify a date a reasonable period ahead, as soon as we could reasonably make it, and with a reasonable prospect of being able to complete all the necessary steps. It is a practical choice of a practical date and, as I have said, it is a not-later-than date.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

How does my right hon. and learned Friend envisage honouring the pledge that the wishes of the people of Gibraltar will be respected? Does he recall that 15 years ago the people of Gibraltar were given in a plebiscite the opportunity to declare whether they wished to remain under the Crown? Will he give a specific assurance here and now that at the appropriate time—and it may not be yet—the people of Gibraltar will be given the same right as they were given all those years ago?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have given the specific assurance reaffirming the proposition set out in the preamble to the 1969 constitution that Her Majesty's Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. There is no doubt about the wishes and feelings of the people of Gibraltar at the present time. That was established in a referendum some time ago. It may not be desirable to continue to test the temperature in that way. That will have to be considered by the Gibraltar Government. However, the principle that I have enunciated stands unqualified.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

While congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on his achievements and welcoming his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), may I ask whether it follows from the communiqué that should the Spanish Government raise the question of sovereignty, as they are entitled to do, any discussions of that matter will be academic?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not think that it would be right to reach that conclusion. The Spanish Government have stated on more than one occasion that they do not expect change in that respect, even on their own terms, happening at a fast pace. They have stated that they recognise the need to have regard to the wishes as well as the interests of the people of Gibraltar. In effect, they recognise that if the proposition contained in the constitution that I have just quoted is to be respected a process of persuasion on their part would have to be undertaken. All those are features which, realistically, they must take into account during the negotiating process.

Mr. Colin Moynihan (Lewisham, East)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to welcome the friendly, realistic and, above all, constructive approach of the Spanish Government not only on this issue but on the talks about a new extradition treaty, on Spain's becoming a member of NATO and on its seeking early membership of the European Community?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am glad to be able to say yes to that question. It is the prospect of making progress on, for example, the new extradition treaty that is encouraged by such an agreement. It is one of the practical illustrations of the benefits that can flow from such an arrangement.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There is another statement to follow. I shall allow questions to continue on this statement for a further five minutes.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend examine the unemployment and pension rights of Moroccans who prevented Gibraltar from collapsing when Franco's Government endeavoured to bring about its collapse by closing the frontier? Does he recognise that many people are extremely worried about what will happen to them? Without those Moroccan workers, there would have been a much heavier cash liability on the British Treasury to support Gibraltar. Does he agree that we have an ex-gratia obligation to ensure that some form of pension is provided for them when they are displaced as a result of these entirely excellent arrangements? I ask my right hon. and learned Friend not to neglect those matters because many hon. Members feel strongly about them.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that matter. The pension rights of people who have been working in Gibraltar, whether Moroccan or Spanish under the previous disposition, depend to some extent on the schemes that have existed and that exist today. I shall certainly consider that point carefully.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Is not the concession of sovereignty a surrender to blackmail? We have never before discussed sovereignty with the Spanish Government. What is to stop them from nibbling away at this issue, confident in the knowledge that the principle of a transfer of sovereignty has already been conceded? The Spaniards never observed the Lisbon agreement. Why does my right hon. and learned Friend think that they will observe this agreement?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is wrong to say that the principle of sovereignty has now been conceded. The position remains the same as that arising from the Lisbon statement, except that the question of sovereignty can be raised. He is also wrong when he says that there is nothing to stop sovereignty from being conceded. My firm reaffirmation of the preamble of the 1969 constitution stops that. We shall continue to honour our obligations and respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Has my right hon. and learned Friend read this morning that a spokesman from the Spanish Foreign Office effectively said that the agreement meant that there would eventually be integration of Gibraltar into Spain? Does he accept that that is not inevitable? Will he note that a reason which may change Gibraltarians' opinion is a decline in their economy? Will he therefore accept that this country and the Government have a continuing responsibility that goes further than merely financing new ship repair yards?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have noticed many statements reported in today's press, including the proposition of the Spanish Foreign Minister, which underlines the fact that the Spanish Government have the greatest respect for the feelings of Gibraltarians. The possibility that we have wanted to avert by making this agreement is the risk of a decline in the economic prospects of Gibraltar. Nothing could do more than this agreement to promote improved prospects in that respect. The British Government will continue to follow closely economic developments in Gibraltar. We envisage that this agreement will assist the economy of Gibraltar to develop and diversify.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend, but I particularly congratulate the small Gibraltarian Government who may have considerable difficulties — hon. Members who know Gibraltar will recognise this—during the next two years with their economy in the new changed position. Will my right hon. and learned Friend promise to be behind that Government and, if necessary, to increase the subsidy to help them through this difficult period?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We shall continue to follow economic developments in Gibraltar closely, as we have done thus far. I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety about the nature of the problems that have been and are facing Gibraltar. The opportunity opening up on 1 January with the commencement of the dockyard under new management will make a positive contribution to the future. The prospect of economic co-operation opened up by the agreement will make an even more substantial contribution to the prospects for economic prosperity. We shall certainly keep the position closely under review.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Loughborough)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the agreement is welcome evidence of the improving relationship between Britain and democratic Spain? Is he further aware that it is an important demonstration that the proper way for democratic states to resolve sovereignty disputes between them is on the twin bases of discussion and respect for the rights of those most intimately involved?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with both points.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

As it is clearly established that it is the wish of the overwhelming majority of Gibraltarians to stay British permanently, does not my right hon. and learned Friend believe that it would be rather unkind to allow Spain to delude itself into imagining that any change is likely at any time in the future?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Even my hon. Friend must hesitate about asserting that any proposition is the permanent truth. What is true, without any qualification, is that the Spanish Government wish to raise the question of sovereignty, and that our commitment to respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar remains firm, unqualified and as set out in the constitution.


Mr. Hume

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier today I was fortunate enough to catch your eye following the Foreign Secretary's statement on Gibraltar and I was grateful for that. I am somewhat puzzled, however, at what I regard as the inconsistency of your treatment of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and myself. When those right hon. Gentlemen raised what they regarded as analogous issues you allowed the Foreign Secretary to reply, but when I did the same you not only ruled me out of order but described my question as an abuse, which is, you will agree, rather strong language. I believe that I am entitled to raise an analogous issue, especially as I was making exactly the same point as the two right hon. Gentlemen — that the Government's policy on analogous issues is based not on principle but on expediency.

Mr. Speaker

Two abuses do pot make a right. After the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) raised the matter I pointed out that only an allusion could be made to the Falklands. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), however, persisted in making a rather long statement about Northern Ireland. The Foreign Secretary's statement had nothing to do with Northern Ireland. Gibraltar was the subject of the statement.

Mr. Hume

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

No; we cannot have any further points of order on that.