HL Deb 19 July 1967 vol 285 cc254-6

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, should the majority of the people of Gibraltar vote for a free and voluntary relationship with Britain when the Referendum is held, in what way they are proposing to initiate discussions on the constitutional questions that will arise, and/or whether they would consider convening a Gibraltar Round Table Conference.]


My Lords, as I informed noble Lords in my Statement on June 14, if the majority in the Referendum vote to retain the link with Britain, we shall thereafter discuss with representatives of the people of Gibraltar appropriate constitutional changes which may be desired. We envisage that these discussions would probably be held in Gibraltar itself, and that representatives of all shades of political opinion in Gibraltar would be invited to attend. If by "Round Table Conference" the noble Lord means a Conference attended by members of all Parties from both Houses of Parliament here, I do not think that such an exceptional arrangement would be suitable or necessary in the present circumstances of Gibraltar.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I would ask him whether he will reconsider the last part of his reply, because there was a precedent for this form of Conference in the case of Malta, in 1955. Therefore, would the noble Lord not agree that a Round Table Conference would enable Parliament and members who for the last few years have taken an interest in the affairs of Gibraltar to debate the report of the Conference, and thus discuss and examine the present situation, which is critical; the evidence of the Gibraltar Government and political Parties, and the conclusions and recommendations regarding economic development as well as constitutional changes?


My Lords, I am aware of the precedent of Malta to which the noble Lord refers, and of course there were other precedents in the cases of Burma and India. But in all three cases the circumstances were different. As I have said, I do not think that, in the particular circumstances of Gibraltar, a Round Table Conference would be the most useful way of carrying out the kind of discussions we have in mind.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether Her Majesty's Government intend to inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations officially of their intention to hold this Referendum; and, secondly, whether they would consider inviting the Secretary-General to send a personal representative to be in Gibraltar while the Referendum is taking place?


My Lords, I am glad to say that my noble friend Lord Caradon has filed with the Secretary-General of the United Nations a notification of our intention to hold this Referendum. Certainly, the suggestion the noble Lord has put forward about the possibility of a United Nations representative being present at the time is one we can consider. So far, as I have stated on previous occasions, the intention is to invite Spain to send a representative as an observer. We have also invited Spain to avail herself of the opportunity to explain her point of view to the people of Gibraltar. It is also our intention to invite members of the Commonwealth to send observers during the course of the Referendum.


My Lords, in her communiqué of July 3 Spain refused the invitation of Her Majesty's Government to send a representative. The Spanish Government said that if the Referendum is held, the manifestation of the popular will of the inhabitants would bring into effect the devolution clause of Article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht, and until such time as the devolution to Spain could be brought into full effect Gibraltar would be for Spain a part of Spanish territory illegally occupied by 18,000 aliens supported there by the armed force of Britain. In view of that reply by the Spanish Government, which seems to have certain threatening implications, does not the noble Lord think that this whole ques- tion could be dealt with in a wider context?


My Lords, it is certainly true that the Spanish Government did submit an aide-mémoire to Her Majesty's Government about ten days ago. It is also true that in that aide-mémoire they made certain criticisms of this proposal. But explicitly they have not yet refused our invitation to send a representative, and we still hope that they will reconsider their attitude.