HC Deb 12 July 2002 vol 388 cc1165-80

11 am

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement about Gibraltar.

As the House will know, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and I had planned to be in Madrid this morning for a meeting, under the Brussels process with Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Pique. However, because of the Cabinet changes in Spain this week, the new Foreign Minister, Ana de Palacio, has asked us to postpone the meeting until after the summer, and we have agreed.

Some time ago, I undertook to report to the House before the summer recess on the progress of our talks. Had today's meeting taken place, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe would have made a statement early next week in my absence on a long-arranged visit to the far east. In view of the postponement of today's talks, however, I thought it right to take the first opportunity to report to the House myself.

There has been a dispute between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar for the last 300 years. As the House will be aware, in 1984 the then Conservative Government decided that the only way in which to make progress to resolve the dispute was to talk to Spain about both the practical issues of concern to Gibraltar and the sovereignty issue which mattered to Spain. The so-called Brussels process was thus born.

This Government decided last year to relaunch those negotiations. We did so because we had reached the same conclusion as our predecessors—that the status quo was damaging to Gibraltar, and also damaging to Britain. It is damaging to Gibraltar because Gibraltar will not thrive while the dispute festers and its people have to put up with everyday disruption: queues at the border, insufficient telephones lines, inadequate air services and much else. Moreover, Gibraltar has an uncertain future in isolation from the European Union's single market and the global marketplace, and as tax havens are phased out.

The dispute is also damaging to Britain's interests because we are trying to build a strategic alliance with Spain to help deliver the European Union that we both seek, and because Spain has repeatedly blocked European measures we want—measures, for example, to make air travel safer, flights cheaper and delays shorter.

Above all, the dispute affects the 30,000 Gibraltarians; but it also affects 60 million Britons. It needs to be solved for good. I know that there are those who think we should simply tackle the practical irritants faced by Gibraltarians, but that has been tried for decades and it has failed. The only way of securing a stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar is through a comprehensive and permanent settlement of the dispute, and that means an agreement with Spain on all issues including—as flagged up by the Brussels communiqué itself in 1984—sovereignty.

By taking the latter approach, we have made significant progress towards a solution. It may be helpful if I remind the House of the phases of the process on which we are embarked. In the first phase, the current one, our objective has been to agree the framework—the principles—of a new permanent settlement for Gibraltar. That is what we have been working on for the past year or so. If and when we were able to reach agreement with Spain on such a framework, we would publish it in a joint declaration—a statement of intent by the two Governments. Thereafter, in the second phase, there would be further detailed negotiations—in which the Government of Gibraltar would again be invited to participate fully—to produce a comprehensive package, including a new draft treaty, based on the principles set out in the joint declaration. The United Kingdom would ratify such a treaty only after securing the consent of the Gibraltarians in a referendum.

After 12 months of negotiation, we and Spain are in broad agreement on many of the principles that should underpin a lasting settlement. They include the principles that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sell-out!"]—including the disputed territory of the isthmus; that Gibraltar should have more internal self-government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sell-out!"]—that Gibraltar should retain its British traditions, customs and way of life; that Gibraltarians should retain the right to British nationality, and should gain the right to Spanish nationality as well—[HON. MEMBERS: "Surrender!"]—that Gibraltar should retain its institutions—its Government, House of Assembly, courts and police service; and that Gibraltar could, if it chose, participate fully in the European Union single market and other EU arrangements. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)


Mr. Straw

Her Majesty's Government believe that a settlement along those lines would offer Gibraltar and its people a great prize. It would mean greater freedom for the people of Gibraltar to make decisions affecting their lives, and to live, work and travel without constraints anywhere in the region and beyond. It would mean greater prosperity and more jobs—from new opportunities to trade freely in the European Union, from the investment that would come if the dispute were settled, and with the prospect of millions of pounds of EU funding to help. It would mean a better quality of life, with improved telephone and transport services, a cleaner and healthier environment, a better infrastructure and faster communications. And it would mean a long-term, settled future: it would mean preserving Gibraltar's links with Britain, while developing a new and successful relationship with Spain.

I profoundly believe that such a future is in the interests of the people of Gibraltar; but, as I have stressed many times, it is not in the end a decision for me or even for the House. The decision rests with the people of Gibraltar. If we and Spain can, after taking stock, reach agreement on the kind of framework that I have outlined, and if thereafter all parties can build on those principles to produce a comprehensive settlement, the whole package will be put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum and they will decide.

We had hoped to reach agreement with Spain by the summer, but I have also made clear many times that no deal is better than a bad deal. There have been distinct "red lines" throughout this process.

We and Spain have not yet resolved all differences. In respect of the duration of co-sovereignty, we must have a permanent settlement. Co-sovereignty cannot be just a stepping stone to full Spanish sovereignty, however long delayed. I know and understand that Spain has a long-standing historical aspiration to regain full sovereignty one day, but any agreement between us and Spain must be permanent. Gibraltar must have certainty. As for the British military facilities, we have made it clear that our current arrangements should continue.

Unless we and Spain can resolve the outstanding issues, there will plainly be no agreement. Our aim, however, remains to overcome them if we can. We must remember that Spain too has interests. It too has politics; it too has history. The departing Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Pique, has conducted the negotiations throughout with honesty, dignity and integrity, and I pay tribute to him. I am confident that his successor, Ana de Palacio, will wish to continue in the same spirit.

I hope that the people of Gibraltar will be able to reflect over the summer on the progress that we and Spain have made to date. I am glad to say that there is already some new thinking in Gibraltar. I have been struck by the readiness of some people there to think constructively about the future. Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Mr. Peter Caruana, has himself long been committed to dialogue with Spain, and I have always wanted him in the talks alongside me, and free to represent Gibraltar. That offer from the United Kingdom and Spain still stands, under the long-standing "two flags, three voices" formula. I believe that this and the phased process that I have described provide both the safety and the dignity that Mr. Caruana seeks for his participation, so that Gibraltar's voice can be heard in the negotiations as well as outside.

After 12 months of negotiations, we are now closer than ever before to overcoming 300 years of fraught history and securing a satisfactory outcome to a process established 19 years ago by the Conservative Government of whom the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, was a member. The chance of a better future for Gibraltar—more stable, more secure and more prosperous—is too important to let slip. We shall continue to seek an agreement, but it must be one that is acceptable to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum. That is the basis on which I commend our policy to the House.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

The statement is a disgrace and a sell-out. We understand the reasons for the postponement of the talks in Madrid today. Indeed, we formally welcome the new Foreign Minister, Ana de Palacio, and hope that she will be more sensitive to the concerns of the people of Gibraltar than her predecessor was.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving me 20 minutes' sight of what is a detailed statement with deep implications. For the moment, I can do no more than respond in general terms. We will wish to study it in great detail before we respond more fully. It would have been better to hold it over until next week and to give us more notice of it, even if the Minister for Europe had to make the statement. It would have been better to make the statement before a fuller House than the rather small House that is always here on a Friday. I do not like ascribing conspiratorial motives to the Foreign Secretary but I suspect that it is not an accident that he chose to make the statement on a Friday.

The key to the Foreign Secretary's statement is his admission that the British and Spanish Governments are in broad agreement to "share sovereignty over Gibraltar". That is what we have feared has long been being cooked up in the dishonourable talks that have taken place over these past months behind closed doors. Today's statement is yet another shabby step in what has been from the start a shabby and dishonourable process.

Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the Foreign Secretary clearly gave the Spanish Government the impression at the outset that he could deliver a sell-out on sovereignty. Right from the start, the Minister for Europe sought to bully and to intimidate the Government and people of Gibraltar. He mocked the size of their population. He accused them of being stuck in the past. He threatened that they would be left behind if they did not cave in to the Government's determination to betray them. That hectoring tone continued in the statement today.

When will the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues realise that this issue is not about our relations with Spain? It is about the democratic rights of the people of Gibraltar, who have no representation in this House and rightly look to the British Government to represent their best interests. Does he not understand that democracy is about consent freely and democratically given and not about consent sought under duress, threat and deliberate financial pressure?

Does the Foreign Secretary not understand that his broad agreement to share sovereignty is a betrayal of the people of Gibraltar? Does he really not understand after his visit to the Rock the true feeling of the people of Gibraltar whose interests he is supposed to represent? Does he not understand that sovereignty shared is sovereignty surrendered, that the people of Gibraltar will not vote to surrender their British sovereignty, and that they will be right not to do so?

Why cannot the Foreign Secretary accept that the process that he has outlined today is doomed? Why will he not learn the lessons from Northern Ireland and guarantee that in future such talks will be genuinely three-sided, with the Government of Gibraltar properly represented and able to make their own case?

Why will the Foreign Secretary not accept that agreements on the sovereignty of Gibraltar, broad or otherwise, should never be concluded with Spain without the consent of the people of Gibraltar, freely and democratically given, before rather than after such agreement has been reached? Will he explain why he is attempting to divide the sovereignty over the military interests in Gibraltar from the sovereignty of Gibraltar as a whole? Will he assure us that in future the full agenda of talks, and the limits within which they are taking place, will be fully and openly disclosed?

I call on the Foreign Secretary to suspend the current round of talks, and to set about reconstituting them on the basis of an agenda that excludes sovereignty, upon which agreement cannot be reached, and deals instead with those issues relating to the normalisation of relations between Spain and Gibraltar, upon which agreement might be reached.

Does the Foreign Secretary not accept that these talks have been a humiliating episode for his Government? He has achieved the impossible. He has upset the Spaniards, he has infuriated the people of Gibraltar, he has shamed himself and his Government, and at the same time he has nothing to show for it. Will he now stop playing with Gibraltar's sovereignty, call off the talks and start repaying the loyalty of the people of Gibraltar to Britain by demonstrating a little loyalty to them in return?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman begins by making what I can only describe as an absurd complaint—that I as Secretary of State have taken the first opportunity to come to the House to make a statement. I was available to make a statement today because I was not in Madrid. I am sure that, had I not used this opportunity and had my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe made a statement quite late in the afternoon next week in what will be a very busy week in the House, the right hon. Gentleman would have made the opposite complaint—that I was not here to make a statement because I was in the far east.

I listened very carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said. I remind him that he was a member of the Government who began the process of which I am giving a staging-post statement.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

We never did anything like this.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that the Conservatives never did anything like this. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Falklands?"] If we look at the history in relation to Gibraltar, the difference between us and the Conservative party is that in 1969 it was a Labour Government who gave the solemn undertaking that there would be no changes in sovereignty without a referendum. As we now know from the Public Records Office, just two years later, when the ink was barely dry on that undertaking, it was a Conservative Government, led by the then Foreign Secretary Lord Home, who were determined to hand over the whole sovereignty of the Rock under a 999-year lease without any referendum whatever.

It does not lie well in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman or Conservative Members to complain about the fact that sovereignty has been discussed in these talks, because sovereignty was at the heart of the Brussels agreement. It is there in the text and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. Then he comes out with the most extraordinary proposition that sovereignty shared is sovereignty surrendered. I do not accept that for a second. We have shared some of our sovereignty with a large number of organisations, including multinational organisations such as NATO, where our ability to exercise control over our future is strengthened by sharing sovereignty. That is one of the paradoxes of sovereignty that the Conservative party has never been able to understand.

The truth is—this is recognised implicitly by virtually everyone to whom I have talked in Gibraltar—that shared sovereignty would lead to more control for Gibraltarians over their own lives. Behind the bluster that we heard from the right hon. Gentleman, there is inherent confusion and contradiction. On the one hand, he asks us to abandon a process and negotiations begun by his own Government when he was a member of that Government; on the other, he says that there should be genuine three-sided talks, as in Northern Ireland. The only difference between what happened in Northern Ireland and what is happening here is that in the end in Northern Ireland, one of the three sides decided to take part in talks; it took a great deal of encouragement before it did so.

There is on the table an open invitation to Mr. Peter Caruana and the Government of Gibraltar to take part in these talks. I discussed that with Mr. Caruana this time last year. He laid down certain conditions, which I got the Spanish Government to accept. He could safely be involved in exactly the way that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government of Gibraltar seek. I am sorry that Mr. Caruana has not so far done so, but there is this difference between Mr. Caruana and some Conservative Members: at least Mr. Caruana recognises, as he has said publicly, that there is a dispute with Spain and that there needs to be dialogue. Nothing that I have heard from the right hon. Gentleman has ever posed any alternative but talks with Spain to try to resolve the dispute. The dispute is a fact. Spain is a fact. The current difficulties which Gibraltarians suffer as a result of the dispute are also facts, and we are seeking to find a way through them that ensures dignity for Gibraltarians and that they have the final say.

The last piece of absurd confusion in the right hon. Gentleman's bluster was his suggestion that we should put to the people of Gibraltar the consequences of the negotiations before the negotiations had been completed. That is exactly what he said. It is the most absurd proposition from the right hon. Gentleman in a whole series of utterly ridiculous propositions. He should read yesterday's editorial in the Gibraltar Chronicle. In place of the nonsense that we heard from him, it says that it is time for Gibraltar to adopt a fresh approach and a positive agenda. It ends with the following words, which I am sure could be directed at the right hon. Gentleman: Let us not resign ourselves to a draining inertia or hallucinogenic escapades. That well sums up the response that we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

I do not know whether the Foreign Secretary heard the cry, "Falklands" during his response to the shadow Foreign Secretary. He may remember that there were extensive discussions about the sovereignty of the Falklands before the Argentinians made the mistake of the military invasion of the Falkland Islands under the then Conservative Government. May I offer my general support for the process in which the Foreign Secretary has been engaged?

In the course of his statement he repeated once again the proposition with which one would hope the whole House would agree, that no deal would be better than a bad deal. May I ask him about what he described as red-line issues? Does he agree that there can be no deal if Spain is unwilling to abandon its claim for full sovereignty, if the United Kingdom cannot enjoy precisely the same military facilities and for as long as we wish and if it is not a matter of agreement between Spain and the United Kingdom that the issue should be finally resolved by a referendum of the people of Gibraltar? Taken singly or cumulatively, are not these issues upon which there can be no compromise?

Finally, does the Foreign Secretary have a mind to the fact that the negotiations cannot acquire some timeless nature? There has to be some time limit. I do not suggest today that he should offer a final point at which they have to be concluded, but I urge him to understand that the continuing nature of the negotiations must inevitably bring uncertainty and the sooner that uncertainty is resolved, the better.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks and for his constructive approach. I noted the discomfort of the Opposition when he dared to mention the Falklands. I was in the House at the time of that utter debacle. I also remind the House of the approach taken by the Conservative party in 1971, which was to dispatch Gibraltar to the Spanish under a 999-year lease without any referendum whatsoever.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

Thirty years ago.

Mr. Straw

They say that it was 30 years ago, but it is the same Conservative party. We know that when it comes to selling out British interests the Tories have not changed. We know about their Pol Pot syndrome, where they keep bringing forward year zero to try to encourage the country to go in for collective amnesia, but it does not work—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should listen to what the Secretary of State is saying.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about red-line issues relating to full sovereignty, military facilities and the referendum. The answer to his question is that any one of those amounts to a red-line issue; it does not require all of them together. As I said in my statement, we have to have a solution based on shared sovereignty and we have made that clear throughout the talks. I have said publicly, as has my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, that conceding total sovereignty to Spain was never on the agenda and that the United Kingdom Government would never agree it. That would be inconsistent with the Brussels process while shared sovereignty is fully consistent and implicit in the Brussels process.

On the military facilities, I have no need to repeat what I said a moment ago about the referendum. We have made it clear to the Spanish Government that the referendum is a fact. Their approach has yet to be put precisely in terms that we have agreed, but they have always acknowledged that fact, as they need to.

On the issue of time, I cannot give a precise time scale and the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not asking me to do so. There needs to be some time limit. It is likely that we would have been further forward had there been a meeting of the Brussels process today. There was not, but I look forward to arranging one in the early autumn so that we can have a further meeting in Madrid as was planned for today. Then, of course, there will be a full report to the House.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

May I commend to the shadow Foreign Secretary and to those engaged in the foolish chorus of "no surrender" and "sell-out"—

Michael Fabricant


Donald Anderson

And "quisling" indeed.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The remark of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) is completely out of order.

Michael Fabricant

If it is technically out of order, of course I withdraw it, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not a technicality. That statement is out of order.

Michael Fabricant

I withdraw it.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Thank you.

Donald Anderson

I recommend to the others that raised that foolish chorus that they have a certain humility. May I suggest that the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) reads the Franks report on the Falklands, the leaseback position put then by the Conservative Government and their proposals in respect of sovereignty of Gibraltar? Historians will decide whether this new initiative by the Government under the Brussels process was indeed misguided and doomed from the start or a brave attempt to deal with real issues and concentrate minds on the way to an eventual permanent solution. What is clear, as the Foreign Affairs Committee saw during our very recent visit to Gibraltar, is that there is a substantial degree of mistrust by the people of Gibraltar in respect of this current initiative and indeed that has been fuelled in part by provocative statements by individual Ministers. So may I recommend to my right hon. Friend that he uses this period of reflection constructively to seek to lower the temperature and find confidence-building measures to build bridges with the people of Gibraltar?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. Of course I am aware of the views of most people in Gibraltar about this. I too visited Gibraltar and received an interesting reception. Yes, we should use this period which has come up by chance because of the Cabinet changes in Spain and I look forward to helping to build the confidence of the Gibraltarians in this process. I have two comments for my right hon. Friend. First, no one who acknowledges that there is a dispute with Spain which causes all sorts of practical problems for the people of Gibraltar has yet come up with proposals as to how these can be resolved other than through a dialogue.

Secondly, I wanted Chief Minister Caruana and the Government of Gibraltar to be represented in these talks from the start. I believe that the conditions that I negotiated with Spain—the so-called two flags, three voices arrangement—fully met the conditions that Mr. Caruana initially imposed. Had he been involved in the talks, their consequences would necessarily have been different because they would have involved three parties rather than two. We had agreed that we would hold these talks—that was an agreement between the two Governments as long ago as 1984. I have sought to ensure that Mr. Caruana has been informed about the progress of the talks, but it would be better all round if he were willing to say, "Yes. I have always been up for dialogue with Spain. There is a dispute and this represents an opportunity for me to represent the interests of the people of Gibraltar." Again I can give Mr. Caruana a complete undertaking that he would be as free to represent the interests of the people of Gibraltar in the talks as he always has been outside them.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that during the Foreign Affairs Committee's visit to Gibraltar the week before last when we met every political party, the trade unions, every conceivable community group, people at random on the streets and patiently sitting stationary in their cars during the Spanish obstruction on the border, neither I—nor, I believe, any other member of the Committee—was able to find a single person on the Rock who was prepared to say that they would vote in favour of the Government's joint sovereignty proposal.

Given that it is blindingly clear that the people of Gibraltar will in no conceivable circumstance vote in favour of the Government's deeply misguided policy of joint sovereignty, surely the only sensible course is to abandon that policy, and to abandon it now.

Mr. Straw

I am not aware directly of the right hon. Gentleman's experience in Gibraltar, but it will come as no great surprise to Members of the House, particularly those who have visited Gibraltar. He asks whether I am aware that not a single person would be prepared to vote in favour of the shared sovereignty proposal. There is no shared sovereignty proposal to be put to the people of Gibraltar yet. Let me make it clear that what we seek to do is to resolve all the disputes with Spain. They include the question of sovereignty.

I have been open about that from the start, as indeed were the Government of whom the shadow Foreign Secretary was a member back in 1984. The question of sovereignty has always been on the agenda. It is impossible to conceive of why it was on the agenda unless one of the likely conclusions was that there would be shared sovereignty. The Conservative party was signed up to that principle, we have accepted it in principle. However, any agreement—any joint declaration, but any subsequent detailed agreement, including the treaty—would seek to resolve everything together.

My belief is that if we could get there, we would have a package of proposals that would make a real difference to the people of Gibraltar, and if we had a process of discussion in which the Government of Gibraltar would have to be involved, that would change perceptions. That is my belief, but in any event it was going to be some time down the track.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I never thought the day would come that he would make a statement, practically every word of which I disagreed with? Is he further aware that many Labour Members will not go along with what he is doing and that just as this House, of which I was a Member at the time, would not accept the sell-out of the Falklands by the Tory Government, so we shall not accept the sell-out of Gibraltar by a Labour Government?

May I point out to my right hon. Friend that Mr. Pique, who has just been sacked, said that whatever agreement Britain made with Spain on joint sovereignty, Spain would never give up its claim to total sovereignty? The Spanish Government treat the people of Gibraltar so oppressively now, when they have British sovereignty, that one wonders how they will treat them if they get their hands on them, even under joint sovereignty. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the restrictions on the people of Gibraltar could be removed now as a sign of good will by the Spanish Government and that although they want to cozen this Government, they have no genuine goodwill towards the people of Gibraltar?

My right hon. Friend says that the people of Gibraltar would enjoy Spanish as well as British sovereignty. Is he not proud that the people of Gibraltar are so proud to be British that they do not want to touch Spanish sovereignty, that they want to be British, just as they were British during the war when a fascist Spanish Government fought against this country? It is about time the Government abandoned these talks.

Mr. Straw

I regret that my right hon. Friend disagrees about this, because we are genuine friends and normally agree on matters. Of course I am aware of some of the sentiment in the House, but I also believe that, in our party and in the Liberal Democrat party, there is widespread support for this process. My right hon. Friend says that the restrictions should be removed tomorrow. I understand that; I do not wish to see the restrictions there for a second longer than they should be—and they should not be there. In saying that, however, he admits that there are matters of deep concern to the Gibraltarians about how they are treated by the Spanish Government. If that is accepted, I am afraid that the next conclusion is inevitable: we must have a dialogue with Spain to resolve those difficulties. That is what we are engaged in.

There was a time when it was thought that the way to resolve those difficulties was simply by taking each individual problem in turn. That does not work, and has not worked. That was why the previous Government, in 1984, decided—it will be recalled if the Commons record is seen—with approbation from the then Labour Opposition to engage in the process of negotiation with Spain. We are continuing with it.

Finally, my right hon. Friend talked about shared Spanish sovereignty for individuals. I think that he meant shared Spanish citizenship.

Mr. Kaufman

Yes, citizenship.

Mr. Straw

What I would say on that is this: early in these negotiations we established that it was absolutely fundamental that Gibraltarians would retain their right to British citizenship in any event. That has been accepted. In addition, they would be offered, if they so chose, Spanish citizenship as well.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, whatever its validity in the past, the Brussels process is no longer appropriate? The talks should cease now. Is not the change in Foreign Minister in Spain the best opportunity to stop them?

Does the Foreign Secretary also accept that, whatever his personal intentions and motives, he gives the impression that he is more interested in the rights—claimed or otherwise—of the kingdom of Spain than he is of those of the British citizens who live and work in Gibraltar? Does he accept that he would be better employed now in actively protecting and pressing the rights and interests of the United Kingdom, including the people of Gibraltar, and dealing with Spain on matters upon which our two countries can agree? Surely it is right that the agreement that he intends to reach with Spain should not be brought into being until after he has consulted and reached a firm view about the views of the people of Gibraltar. To do it the other way around, as he currently intends, is to leave the people of Gibraltar in a state of uncertainty, which is not fair on them.

Mr. Straw

Let me deal directly with the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, because it is a serious one. I am glad to note that he at least accepts the validity of the Brussels process up to now, even if there is a difference across the Chamber as to whether it should be continued. His last point is fundamental. I can reassure him that we have always made it clear that no agreement would be put in place without the positive consent of the people of Gibraltar. However, there is an issue about how one gets there.

Mr. Caruana says that there should be a dialogue

we are engaged in a dialogue. He says that there is a dispute: we are trying to have a dialogue to resolve the dispute. We cannot know the conclusions of the negotiations until the negotiations are concluded. I wanted Mr. Caruana in the room. I hope very much that the Conservative party will join the Liberal Democrats and me in telling him that it is safe for him to be involved in the negotiations. To this day, I simply have no comprehension of why he decided not to join in the negotiations, because he would have been, and still would be, a free man in those negotiations to agree or disagree as he wanted.

The purpose of the negotiations is to come forward with a proposition. Because Mr. Caruana was unwilling to take part in the negotiations, we had to have them bilaterally between the two Governments. That was why we decided on the approach of a joint declaration, which would be a framework that would then be the subject of tri-lateral negotiations, outside the Brussels process, with the Government of Gibraltar. Only at the end of that could we pin down an agreement in treaty language, which would then be put to the people of Gibraltar.

I understand the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman makes about the current degree of uncertainty, but it is critical that before we ask the people of Gibraltar to vote, they know exactly what they are voting for. That is why we have this careful process.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

I have great respect for the views and vision of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, but at times we all make bad decisions and mistakes. Surely the time has now come to recognise that what we have done with the Brussels process has been a mistake and has not been best handled.

We can come up with all the arguments in the world. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree that it would be better if Gibraltar were to be represented, but it is not, and we can come up with all the reasons why it is not. The bottom line, however, is that had Gibraltar had the power of veto, it might then have attended the talks. It did not attend because it did not have a veto. The time has come to end the talks, sit back and think about where we go from here. We say that the people of Gibraltar will have the right to free access to Spain, but not all of them have access to Spain now. Many people in Gibraltar are not allowed to cross the border into Spain.

Those are some of the reasons why we should not continue down this road. The bottom line is that if we want to come up with a useful agreement for Gibraltar, it should be about open access, allowing it into the single skies agreement and reintroducing the ferry across to Algeciras. All the wrongs that have been done should be put right before we continue.

The other bottom line is that we should never capitulate to a bully, because the moment we do that we will never secure the rights of the people of Gibraltar and ensure that they have freedom. Please lift the sword of Damocles from over the heads of the people of Gibraltar as quickly as possible.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is a good friend of mine, but I must say that he just made the case, very eloquently, for the negotiations.

Michael Fabricant

No, he did not.

Mr. Straw

He did. He drew attention to a long list of problems suffered by the people of Gibraltar, including access to Spain and to the single skies. The only way of resolving those problems is by dialogue with Spain, which is what we are seeking to achieve.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

Surely the Foreign Secretary must understand by now why many of us in the House and the people of Gibraltar have no confidence in his part in the negotiations. The Government do not have a glowing record on enforcement. They failed to enforce the Sangatte protocol, to restore freight trains between England and France and to enforce the legitimate export of beef to France. Many of us have expressed real concern about infringements of law by Spain that directly affect the free movement of people between Gibraltar and Spain. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to pursue the talks, I suppose that is up to him, but he is doing so in the certain knowledge that the people of Gibraltar will ultimately reject them in any case. In the meantime, what is he doing to enforce the law as it stands or as he, practically alone, would like it to stand?

Mr. Straw

If the hon. Gentleman wants to have a contest about which Government have been more effective inside the European Union, it is one that my party would win hands down every time. He talks about Sangatte. As my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee said, a little humility might be appropriate from the Conservatives, because the mother and father of the problems at Sangatte, about which I know a great deal, is the fact that they signed up to the Dublin agreement and tore up an effective operational bilateral agreement for the return of asylum seekers.

It is worth bearing in mind the remarks of a distinguished former chairman of the Conservative party, who recently said: The concessions Labour are considering are the same ones John Major's conservative government was willing to make. In politics it is important that parties do not lose their sense of history. Some of this criticism expresses an out of date and completely obsolete vision of Spain.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I am not very impressed with the yah-boo nature of this interchange. From either Front Bench we have heard that the other is to blame, but those of us who are consigned to the wilderness have an historic role: to press a Government, of whatever colour, to resist appeasement and stiffen their sinews against the bully.

Mr. MacGregor of the southern European department of the Foreign Office took the Polish ambassador to the Court of St. James down to Gibraltar to discuss the 60th anniversary next year of the death of General Sikorski—a great Polish hero who was killed off Gibraltar. What was the Foreign Secretary's reaction when he heard that Spain had said to the Polish Government during the Spanish presidency that it was not a good idea, if Poland was interested in acceding to the European Union, to aggravate Spanish feeling by participating in those important commemorations for the Poles and the Gibraltarians, as well as the United Kingdom people?

Spain has been consistently bullying, and it is time we stood up to it. Many of the things that the Foreign Secretary referred to in his statement are not things that can be given to the people of Gibraltar—they are matters of right. It is time that he and others stood up with vigour to prosecute and promote the best interests of Gibraltarians, Britons and others in the European Union who want free mobility in and out of Gibraltar, and free commerce. What he has embarked on will not succeed. It is more likely that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) will seek election to the papacy than that a Spanish Foreign Minister will agree in perpetuity to joint sovereignty.

Mr. Straw

I do not know anything at all about the General Sikorski anniversary. I have a Polish community in my constituency, however, and it is entirely appropriate that they should be able to mark it, so I will look into the matter and write to my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend talked about promoting the best interests of the people of Gibraltar and encouraging commerce. I agree with that, but he and other hon. Members have not told us how we are to do that but for a dialogue, to which Mr. Caruana has himself signed up. [Interruption.] Now the shadow Foreign Secretary says that he is in favour of dialogue. In that case, what on earth is he complaining about?

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

I fear that the Foreign Secretary has got so excited at the Dispatch Box this morning that he may be in need of some homoeopathic medicine for his blood pressure.

The Foreign Secretary said that an argument for shared sovereignty is that there are insufficient telephone lines. That is absolutely amazing. He should have a word with my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). We have satellite communication now. How can he possibly say that we need shared sovereignty to deal with insufficient telephone lines and get faster communications? He then implied that 60 million Britons will be as affected as 30,000 Gibraltarians. That is patent nonsense. He has not referred to the absolute hypocrisy of the Spanish position on Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish colonies on the north African coast that the Spanish Government have not the slightest intention of giving up. If they want sovereignty negotiations over Gibraltar, they should be talking about giving up those colonies, which they grabbed many years ago.

Mr. Straw

I shall deal with the last point first. There is a dispute between Spain and Morocco over Ceuta and Melilla, but the treaty basis for those enclaves is different from that for Gibraltar. Had it been the fact that article 10 of the treaty of Utrecht had provided for Britain to have sovereignty for ever, without the provisos that the article contains, the position would have been different. The treaty of Utrecht applies only to the Rock, and there is a much livelier dispute about sovereignty over the isthmus, which is another issue that has to be resolved in the negotiations.

It is the people of Gibraltar who have said that they want more telephone lines from the Spanish to resolve some problems that they have had in running their businesses. I happen to agree with them, and to believe that dialogue is the way of achieving that.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Does the Foreign Secretary understand and accept that self-determination and freedom are not negotiable, as they are a matter of principle? Does he therefore accept that it is insulting and offensive to the free people of Gibraltar that he seeks to come to a deal on sovereignty over their heads and without their consent?

Mr. Straw

It cannot conceivably be over their heads. Opposition Members are tilting at windmills. The Brussels process, supported and activated by the last Conservative Government, laid down that sovereignty was a key part of the discussion, but nothing can be decided over the heads of the Gibraltarians because of the undertaking that a Labour Government, not a Tory Government, gave in 1969.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that it is entirely typical of the way in which the negotiations have been conducted that the statement has been sneaked out on a Friday morning, when most hon. Members are back in their constituencies on constituency business? Does he accept that it is a sell-out of the people of Gibraltar? That is how it will be perceived, however the Government attempt to spin it. Does the Foreign Secretary also accept that it will cause anxiety in the Falkland Islands—the difference is that the Argentine Government do not have votes to trade in the European Union, as the Spanish Government do?

May I put three specific points to the Foreign Secretary? First, as he has intimated today, broad agreement has already been reached with the Spanish Government, so when does he anticipate that a copy of the agreement or joint declaration will eventually be made available, including to hon. Members? Secondly, the Foreign Secretary has visited Gibraltar and knows full well that there is no prospect whatever that the people of Gibraltar will vote for an agreement that will result in shared sovereignty with Spain. Everyone has known that all along. That being the case, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what is really behind the agreement? What have we been promised in return by the Spanish Government for going along with it? What votes have we been promised in the EU and what—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going on far too long.

Mr. Straw

The idea that I sneaked out the statement at 11 o'clock on a Friday is absurd. The moment I knew that the Spanish Foreign Minister had been moved from his post, I decided to make a statement and communicated that fact to Front-Bench spokesmen and many hon. Members on both sides of the House, so they were well aware of my intentions.

The hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) asked when a copy of the joint declaration would be made available, and I am glad to hear that he thinks that is a good idea. We shall do so when there is one, but there is not one, as I have been trying to explain. There may not he one, but I think that there probably will be.

As for the Falklands, the hon. Gentleman was not in the House in 1982, but I was. The history of the Falklands is one that we shall certainly not follow. There was an effort at backstairs deals with no negotiation or involvement whatsoever with the people of the Falklands; there was a readiness by the Government of whom the shadow Foreign Secretary was a member to hand over the Falklands, without any veto whatever being given to the people of the Falklands. Contrast that with our position on Gibraltar, on which we have said from the start that of course we respect the commitment that we gave—not them—to ensure that any final decisions are put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

Am I right to say that both Ceuta and Melilla, the two sovereign Spanish enclaves off the Moroccan coast, are represented in the Spanish Parliament and, indeed, the EU? The Foreign Secretary has spoken a great deal about the democratic wishes of the Gibraltarians. Surely the time has now come to make sure that they have proper representation both in Westminster, probably with two MPs, and in the EU.

Mr. Straw

On the European Union, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of our commitment to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and ensure representation by attachment to a United Kingdom constituency in the European Parliament. The other issue that he raised is interesting. Essentially, he is proposing that Gibraltar should become directly a part of the United Kingdom. In that case, the Government of Gibraltar would obviously have to become a local authority and accept completely the current laws of the UK as they apply. People in Gibraltar have never put that to me; if it is a proposition, we shall obviously look at it.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Whatever the rights and wrongs of making the statement on a Friday, does the Secretary of State not think that he has learned something today? With the exception of one Labour Member, not one Member in the Chamber could give him any comfort whatsoever. Do I have to remind him that a former shadow Foreign Secretary said that he could not agree with a single word of the Foreign Secretary? Does he not think that the whole process of negotiation in Gibraltar, as elsewhere with other European Union countries, has been characterised by his Department's surrender and weakness? This is not a policy of flying two flags. It is a policy of flying one flag, as ever, as the Minister for Europe knows full well—the white flag.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman asked about comfort. I have to tell him that his interventions always provide me with comfort.