HL Deb 20 April 1982 vol 429 cc462-5

2.50 p.m.

Lord Merrivale

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 what financial and other assistance they propose to give to the Government of Gibraltar after the opening of the frontier between Spain and Gibraltar to enable them to meet the substantial expenditure which will be required:

  1. (a) to create the necessary tourist infrastructure; and
  2. (b) to promote the private sector
in addition to the substantial expenditure which the Government of Gibraltar will have to incur to commercialise the dockyard.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the Gibraltar Government have not yet made any request for financial or other assistance for the purposes which my noble friend mentions. If and when they do make such a request, the Government will give it thorough and careful consideration. The sum of £4 million was made available to the Gibraltar Government at the end of last year to help finance essential development projects, and project applications submitted by the Gibraltar Government are currently under discussion.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for his reply, may I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his recent appointment, and also on the fact that he is the Minister responsible within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for our dealings with Gibraltar? If I may, I should like to ask him two supplementary questions, the first of which deals with the last part of my original Question. I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether he agrees that the Falklands issue has brought in a new dimension to the question of timing in regard to the closure of the dockyard, bearing in mind, too, the fact that the viability of commercialisation is still very much in the melting pot. Furthermore, if I may refer to the figure of £4 million, may I ask my noble friend to bear in mind that, at the time, the Gibraltar Government asked for £8½ million over two years, but received only £4 million? Also, would my noble friend agree that the delay in opening the frontier, which was to have been done today, means that there is an increased urgency for supplying the Gibraltar Government with funds as they require them and, anyhow, assistance, on account of extra financial commitments—

Several noble Lords


Lord Merrivale

My Lords, I am asking whether the Minister can reply to this. In view of the fact that the Gibraltar Government have extra financial commitments—

Several noble Lords


The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would be good enough to bring his Question to a conclusion.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Merrivale for his kind remarks. The first question which he asked me was about the timing of the closure of the dockyard. Within the framework of the decision which was announced by the Government last November, the Government will be as flexible as possible to ensure that any ill effects arising from the closing of the dockyard for Royal Navy purposes are avoided where possible, or, at least, minimised, and that the transition to commercial work, if that is what is decided, should be as smooth as possible.

Secondly, my noble friend asked me about the figure of £4 million which was mentioned in my original Answer. Of course, the fact is that the Gibraltar Government asked for more aid than that over a three-year period as a contribution towards their development programme, but consideration of the request was suspended in the light of the decision to close the Gibraltar dockyard. I am sure that the best course now is for Gibraltar to submit new proposals in the light of altered priorities.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the dockyard at Gibraltar is rendering very considerable service at this moment, in the present crisis? In view of the fact that, whatever else results from the present crisis, there will plainly have to be a review of defence arrangements, particularly affecting the Royal Navy, can my noble friend undertake to give further study as to whether it would make strategic sense to retain the Gibraltar dockyard indefinitely?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I confirm to my noble friend that the dockyard in Gibraltar has rendered very valuable service in the present crisis which is facing this country. I think it would be right for me just to remind my noble friend that it has already been agreed, if both the Gibraltar Government and Her Majesty's Government accept the viability of a commercial dockyard operation after the Royal dockyard has closed, that, subject always to parliamentary approval, necessary surplus dockyard lands and assets will be made available free of charge. Moreover, subject to detailed negotiation with the operator, some continued naval work will be made available during 1983 and 1984.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that, in this and similar problems, a two-flag solution is probably the best answer?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not think that that is a very appropriate question.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether a fresh date has been agreed with the Spanish Government for the opening of the frontier? If so, does he think that the frontier will, indeed, be opened on that date?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, a firm date has been agreed between Her Majesty's Government and the Spanish Government for the meeting which was to have taken place today, when the negotiations agreed under the Lisbon agreement will be carried forward.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend very briefly whether Her Majesty's Government will bear very much in mind the fact that the Gibraltar Government have had quite a large amount of expenditure on the assumption that the frontier would be opened today? Will they bear that in mind when reacting to any demands in the near future by the Gibraltar Government?

Lord Belstead

Certainly, my Lords. I take the point which is being made by my noble friend. But I do not think we ought to let my noble friend's Question go by concentrating solely on the dockyard. In addition to that, the Overseas Development Administration is financing a consultancy on behalf of the Gibraltar Government to investigate the prospects for alternative economic activities other than the commercial dockyard, and that consultant's report is expected by the end of May.