HL Deb 13 April 1967 vol 281 cc1412-5

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs in another place. It is as follows:

"An Order was published in Madrid on April 12 establishing a zone in which all flying will be prohibited, allegedly in accordance with Article 9 of the Chicago Convention. This zone is in the immediate vicinity of Gibraltar.

"The decree declared that the reason for the prohibition was—I quote—'for the basic reasons of national security'. The decree is to take effect one month after its notification to the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

"The text of the decree and the charts attached to it will require careful study to see whether the decree would have any practical effect on flights in and out of Gibraltar. After this study, a further Statement will be made.

"We of course intend to uphold to the full our right to use the airfield.

"In view of this new development, which I greatly deplore, we have decided to postpone the talks on Gibraltar which were due to be held with Spain in London next week. The Spanish Ambassador has been informed.

"As regards our general policy on Gibraltar, the House will know that the Minister of State recently had discussions with the Governor, and with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar and his Deputy. At these talks complete agreement was reached on the policy and course of action to be followed. But the House will obviously not expect me to elaborate on this matter at this stage."


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we on these Benches certainly give our wholehearted support to the statement by Her Majesty's Government that they intend to uphold to the full our right to use the airfield at Gibraltar? Secondly, will Her Majesty's Government make it clear to the Spanish authorities that this kind of behaviour can only bring the Spanish Government into contempt in this country? Finally, while I fully appreciate that Her Majesty's Government have been greatly provoked in this matter, I would ask whether, since it has been reported that the action taken by the Spanish authorities may have been taken in order to get the talks postponed, the noble Lord is sure that it is wise for Her Majesty's Government to take the initiative in postponing them.


My Lords, on the first point made by the noble Lord. I thank him for what he has said and I accept the spirit behind it. On the third point, as to whether we were wise in postponing the talks, I would emphasise that we have only postponed them. But, after all, these were talks which were to begin next Tuesday; it is now Thursday. We have not yet received the charts on which this decree is based, and we are unaware of the details involved. I am bound to say it does not seem to be a constructive attitude, so far as the Spanish Government is concerned, to make this decree at this point of time, and therefore I think we are wise to postpone the talks.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we on these Benches fully support the decision of Her Majesty's Government not to go into negotiations under duress, and also to uphold our rights to use the Gibraltar airfield? Further, has he any explanation why these tiresome tactics are being undertaken by the Spanish Government?


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his remarks and I am glad he takes that line on behalf of his Party. I am afraid I cannot speculate on the intention behind the decree. I can only say again that it does not show the most constructive attitude towards the talks, that this action should be taken on the eve of what must be, one would hope, a way of solving this problem.


My Lords, I would say that I agree with everything that has been said. May I ask my noble friend whether, from the point of view of air safety and the desirability of avoiding air accidents, which we all know take place under similar situations, it has been the practice of our authorities to give prior notification to the Spanish authorities whenever aircraft make use of this air strip? Surely the responsibility will be on the Spanish Government if there is an accident.


My Lords, as I understand the situation, prior notification is given to the appropriate Spanish control authority in instrument flying conditions. But if any arrangement were needed under which notification was deemed to be advisable, either in instrument flying conditions or in clear weather, we should, of course, be happy to fall in with any constructive arrangement.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say when Her Majesty's Government expect to be in a position to announce what steps they propose to take to guarantee to civilian airliners access to, and egress from, Gibraltar airfield? Secondly, would the noble Lord feel it desirable that an approach should be made to the Portuguese Government to allow our airliners to over-fly Portugal rather than Spain for the time being?


My Lords, I am not sure that the question of guaranteeing flights arises at this stage. As I have said, we do not yet know whether the zone to which they refer encroaches upon what we regard as British territorial waters, and until we have seen the charts and know the actual limitations of the zone it is not at all certain that any question of guarantee of access comes in. In any event, I should like to make it clear that the civil operators have announced their intention to carry on business as usual, and in any case this decree does not come into operation for one month. With regard to the second part of the question, namely, flying over Portuguese territory, I am not certain that this would help. My own impression, gained from flying into Gibraltar several times during the war, is that it would not help; but I will bear in mind what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government give an undertaking that they will be extremely tough with the Spanish Government in these matters?


My Lords, I should have thought that what I have said— namely, that we intend to uphold our rights to use this airfield—could be defined as being tough.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether there is any difference between United Kingdom air rights and the air rights of other countries—that is to say, international air rights? Is the discrimination against the United Kingdom only, or are other countries affected as well?


My Lords, there is no discrimination, except in so far as it is the United Kingdom which uses this airfield more than others. The decree relates to a zone over which the Spanish Government claim the right to prohibit all aircraft.