HL Deb 31 January 1983 vol 438 cc514-6

2.45 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 whether, bearing in mind the 1967 Gibraltar Referendum and the Gibraltar Constitution Order 1969, they will give an assurance that as a result of the proposed meeting next spring of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and the Spanish Foreign Minister (the agenda of which could include discussions on the future status and sovereignty of Gibraltar) there will be no Act of Parliament or arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar could pass under the sovereignty of another state "against their freely and democratically expressed wishes".

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

My Lords, the Government stand by the commitment contained in the preamble to the Gibraltar Constitution, and referred to in the Lisbon Agreement, to honour the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that unequivocal assurance, may I ask him two questions? First, will Her Majesty's Government insist that the lifting of all restrictions on access to Gibraltar and the resumption of ferry services from Algeciras and air services to Madrid are agreed upon en bloc and not piecemeal? Secondly, while hoping that the whole tone of the negotiations will be centred on practical co-operation for mutual benefit, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government would consider playing the Ceuta and Melilla card should the discussions tend to concentrate on the reestablishment of the territorial integrity of Spain?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I entirely understand why my noble friend is concerned about all the various forms of communication to Gibraltar; my noble friend takes a close interest in that and I absolutely accept that it is a valid question. I would simply draw his attention to the fact that under the Lisbon Agreement, both Governments have agreed to start negotiations aimed at overcoming all the differences between them. As for Ceuta and Melilla, that is not a matter for Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, if there is any question of the dockyards being opened, or perhaps partially reopened, may I ask whether any consideration would be given to the granting of work permits to Spanish citizens—because that was the essential bond between the two communities prior to 1969—and will that subject form part of the negotiations?

Lord Belstead

That matter may be discussed under the Lisbon Agreement, my Lords, but I cannot forecast exactly what will be raised.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is anxiety in Gibraltar lest the possible closure of the dockyard may make it impossible for Gibraltar to maintain her identity, whatever legal safeguards are adopted?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is an apprehension which I do not think is borne out by the facts. The facts are that officials are now engaged in detailed discussions with the parties directly concerned for establishing a commercially managed dockyard in place of the naval dockyard, and I very much hope that those negotiations will meet with success.

Lord Saint Oswald

My Lords, do the Government consider that, in the light of the recently and frequently described efforts of Her Majesty's Government to reach accord with the Argentine over the Falkland Islands, including the possibility of condominium, leaseback or eventual cession of sovereignty, it is even more difficult than it was before for any Spanish Government further to restore the facilities which once existed on the Gibraltar frontier, without parallel possibilities being included for discussion in the intergovernmental talks promised by Her Majesty's Government and soon, I hope, to take place between our Government and the Spanish Goverment?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, let us concentrate simply upon the issue of Gibraltar. From the point of view of Her Majesty's Government, the Lisbon Agreement is a method of looking at the future generally of Gibraltar. Only a week ago I told your Lordship's House on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that there are matters that the Government will wish to raise in the Lisbon talks. I consider that the people of Gibraltar believe that is a realistic way forward. Therefore I hope that my noble friend will accept from me that we are focusing upon Gibraltar, and not upon anything else.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, have we not really got beyond the point when we should be considering the problem as a question of sovereignty under this nation state or that nation state? Is there not any constructive thinking going on at all about the possibility of some form of United Nations trusteeship?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, in my original Answer to my noble friend Lord Merrivale, I repeated our commitment to respect the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar. It is written into the constitution. It is also written into the Lisbon Agreement. That is an agreement between the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom; and it will be between those two Governments, together with the Government of Gibraltar (because they, too, will be present at the time) that the Lisbon talks will be held.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, when the discussions take place, will my noble friend invite the attention of Spanish Ministers to the fact that the continued obstruction of access to the territory of a friendly power would be quite inconsistent with membership of the European Commiunity?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as I think my noble friend knows, Her Majesty's Government fully support Spain's application to join the European Community. but it is inconceivable that Spain should join the Community while restrictions remain on ordinary traffic between Spain and Gibraltar.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, so far as the dockyard is concerned, is there in Europe a single dockyard that can exist without heavy government subsidy—and who will provide the subsidy?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have no idea what is the answer to that particular question, but what I do know is that we are making realistic, and I consider, sensible proposals, from the point of view of Her Majesty's Government, to see that commercialisation is a success, if—I repeat, if—the details of the matter can be worked out to the satisfaction of all concerned; and it is those talks that are going on at the present time.