HL Deb 07 July 1982 vol 432 cc771-3

2.48 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

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 on how many occasions and on what dates the Spanish Government have undertaken to cease their land blockade of Gibraltar and their interference with access to Gibraltar airport; and whether Her Majesty's Government will now make it clear to the Spanish Government that the continuance of such unfriendly action against a British colony is unacceptable.

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

My Lords, the Spanish Government agreed on 10th April 1980 in the context of the Lisbon Statement to re-establish direct communications and to lift their restrictions. Subsequently, during the visit of the Spanish Prime Minister to London on 8th January 1982 Her Majesty's Government received an assurance that early practical steps would be taken to adjust the application of the Spanish prohibited airspace in such a way as not to impede the safe and effective use of Gibraltar airport. The Spanish Government are in no doubt about Her Majesty's Government's wish that the restrictions on Gibraltar should be lifted: we have made this clear to them on many occasions, most recently during my right honourable friend's meeting with the Spanish Foreign Minister on 21st June.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that admirable reply. Are not Her Majesty's Government a little discouraged by the continual postponements and delays by the Spanish Government in carrying out their undertakings? May not Spain's inability to abide by her pledged word be beginning to raise in Her Majesty's Government's mind a doubt as to Spain's suitability for entry into the EEC?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government were fully prepared to go ahead on 25th June with full implementation of the Lisbon agreement. The further postponement, at the request of the Spanish Government, is regrettable; but both sides are determined to keep alive the process envisaged by the Lisbon agreement. A new date for implementation is to be fixed in due course. On the matter of the European Community, the Government strongly favour Spain's entry to the Community, but the Spanish Government are aware of our view that it is inconceivable that the frontier should remain closed when Spain joins the Community.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, although the whole House agrees with the view that the present restrictions are insupportable, particularly between a member and a potential member of the EEC, could the noble Lord clarify the position after the Prime Minister's broadcast on Norwegian television? Are the Government going to make preconditions about sovereignty, and so on, before then egotiations start? It is important that the country should know what the Government's position really is.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the Lisbon agreement said that any subject could be raised, but it reaffirmed the British commitment contained in the preamble to the 1969 Gibraltar constitution, and that is the situation in which we would be negotiating.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that the situation in Gibraltar has changed a lot in the last two years? If the inhabitants of Gibraltar had a ballot today as to whether they wanted the frontier opened, the answer is that they probably would not.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if the Cintra meeting had taken place, the Prime Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan, and Mr. Isola, the Leader of the Opposition, had both made it clear that they would have welcomed the negotiations taking place. They would have been present at Cintra, and in particular they would have welcomed the opening of the frontier. That did not come to pass. We regret it.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Lord be prepared, in view of Lord Boyd-Carpenter's Question—he never answered this point directly—to consider asking the Foreign Secretary to make further representations on the points that have been made in this Chamber this afternoon, and include in them the fact that there exist extraordinarily good relations between the Gibraltarians and the contiguous towns on the other side of the border, from both commercial and general good conditions? It is these things which are also at stake as well as thwarting the possibility of Spain joining the EEC. All these points ought to be made afresh in view of the debate in this House today.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right that the continued closure of the border has considerable economic and social results which are harmful to people on both sides of the border. On behalf of my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary I am to visit Gibraltar from 21st to 23rd July to discuss, on the spot, all the implications of the continued closure of the border.

Lord Saint Oswald

My Lords, is it not the case that Gibraltar airport referred to specifically in the Question lies across the isthmus and is built out from the isthmus known politically as the neutral zone, which has never historically belonged—and still does not—to Britain? Is there not some question as to our right to operate an airport with flights in and out of it?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my noble friend kindly gave me notice of this question. The territory of Gibraltar consists of the whole area, I am advised, up to the British frontier fence. If I may add to that, our case was set out in some detail in various Command Papers, and I would draw the House's attention in particular to Document 9 of Cmnd. 3131 dated November 1966, which shows that the Government do not agree with my noble friend on this point.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that our admiration for Spain would be all the greater if their authorities had used their energies to open the gates on the La Linea frontier instead of their batons on the English football supporters in Madrid?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the re-establishment of direct communications would mean that there would be better relations, which would be for the benefit of those who live on both sides of the border. That, I think, is what we ought to work towards.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that, now that we have achieved the great prize of the entry of Spain into NATO, and that therefore Spain is as involved in our defence as we are in theirs, our tone towards this problem ought to be altered and we ought to resolve at all costs to settle it and stop it becoming a festering one?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. While the Government warmly welcome Spain's entry to NATO, which will be good for the western alliance, nonetheless the existence of restrictions on Gibraltar does not make the discussions within NATO about the details of Spain's membership of the alliance any easier, and of course we regret this.

Lord Hankey

My Lords, in view of the strategic importance of Gibraltar, and seeing what happened in the Falklands, would the Government make sure in any negotiations that happen that the Spaniards are not under any illusion about the importance we attach to Gibraltar? In order to avoid misunderstanding, would it not be cheaper if we at least put off the closure of the dockyard and kept it going for some time until this question is entirely settled?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, no one is under any illusion as to the importance which the Government attach to the status of Gibraltar. Indeed, that status is contained in the 1969 constitution. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence said in another place on 1st July, Gibraltar dockyard might take some of the less complex work arising from the South Atlantic operation, but this does not alter the decision to close the Royal Dockyard next year.

Lord Morris

My Lords, despite the deep regret that Her Majesty's Government must feel at the apparently intransigent attitude of the Government of His Majesty the King of Spain with regard to the blockade of Gibraltar referred to in the Question, may I ask my noble friend whether he would consider carefully before tying the problem regarding Gibraltar to the Spanish entry into the European Economic Community?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think I have already responded to that point. Clearly, if there is a closed border there will be problems about the Community. Since the Government strongly favour Spain's entry into the European Community, we would therefore very much regret any impediment to that move.