HL Deb 06 February 1985 vol 459 cc1076-81

3.54 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to repeat a Statement now being made in another place by my right honourable and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about the outcome of my meeting yesterday in Geneva with the Spanish Foreign Minister, Sr. Moran, about Gibraltar.

"As I foreshadowed in my Statement to the House on 28th November, our meeting marked the start of the restoration, after an interval of 15 years, of direct communications and the free movement of persons, vehicles and goods between Gibraltar and Spain. We have also started the negotiations which were envisaged by the Lisbon statement of April 1980. These are aimed at overcoming all the differences between us on Gibraltar, and at promoting co-operation between Gibraltar and Spain over a wide range of matters.

"In addition Spaniards in Gibraltar, and Gibraltarians in Spain, will enjoy European Community rights in advance of Spanish accession to the Community.

"Spanish, British and Gibraltarian officials will now be meeting to deal with a number of specific areas for practical co-operation. These include aviation, tourism and economic and cultural matters. The first such meetings begin this month. Sr. Moran specifically reaffirmed to me the undertaking set out in the Brussels communiqué that the Spanish Government will take the early actions necessary to allow safe and effective air communications in the region. Specific ideas for this are now under consideration.

"Sr. Moran raised the subject of sovereignty at our meeting. He was entitled to do so under the terms of the Lisbon and Brussels statements. He also outlined informally to me some ideas on this subject. He said that he will later make formal proposals. However, Sr. Moran also underlined the importance he attaches to the interests and feelings of the Gibraltar people when dealing with this issue. For my part, I made clear that the British Government's commitment to honour the freely and democratically expressed wishes of the Gibraltarian people, which is plainly set out in the preamble to the Gibraltar Constitution, stands unchanged.

"Sir Joshua Hassan, who has led his people so resolutely over many years of difficulty, participated at my side yesterday as a member of the British delegation. He subsequently described the meeting in Geneva as positive and constructive in every way: and expressed himself fully satisfied that the results are good for Gibraltar. I have greatly valued his wise advice. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to his courage, steadfastness and statesmanship.

"The task ahead is to see that practical co-operation between Gibraltar and Spain develops in a way which will benefit both peoples and that Spain and the United Kingdom continue to manage our differences as befits friends and allies.

"In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make quite clear to the House that this result is good for Britain, good for Spain and, above all, good for the people of Gibraltar, whose wishes we are pledged to respect."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement and we also welcome the accord and the agreement which has apparently been achieved between Britain, Spain and Gibraltar. We note especially the reference to the remarks of the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Sir Joshua Hassan, which are extremely important: namely, that the meeting was a positive and constructive one in every way.

We also noted that in another place yesterday—reported in col. 744 of Hansard—the Prime Minister said it was the Government's intention to maintain their commitment to the, freely and democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar", and that there would be no significant change without an Act of Parliament based on the, freely and democratically expressed wishes", of the people of Gibraltar.

We noted those specific words. Can the noble Baroness say whether it is proposed that the wishes of the people of Gibraltar on this agreement and the implications of Spanish entry into the European Community are to be ascertained by a referendum among the people of Gibraltar? Is this not the only secure way of finding out their intentions? If not, how are their wishes to be made known?

On this point again, the noble Baroness will know that Gibraltar's 1969 Constitution contains a guarantee that there will be no change in sovereignty against the wishes of the population. Can she say what was the response of Sr. Moran at the Geneva talks to the question of the right of Gibraltarians to self-determination? I think it is very important to get this clear at an early stage, as sovereignty is beginning to mean different things in different parts of the world. Is it the case that Sr. Moran accepts that a transfer of sovereignty against the will of the people would not be in the interests of Spain?

Finally, can the noble Baroness say a little more about the economic implications of the new arrangements for Gibraltar? While it will obviously bring a tourist benefit, is there some danger that Spaniards, either unemployed or on a low wage, will swamp the labour market in Gibraltar? Again, can she say whether Spaniards will in future be permitted to buy land and other property in Gibraltar?

Lord Kennet

My Lords, we join with the Labour Opposition in thanking the Government for repeating this Statement, and are of course, as satisfied with it as the Government must be themselves. So far, so good. We await with interest the answers to the questions raised by the Leader of the Labour Opposition.

Is it not the case that, while the Foreign Secretary's remarks about sovereignty were obviously very sensible indeed, the Spanish Foreign Minister's remarks about sovereignty were also a great deal more sensible than other remarks about sovereignty in other situations with a superficial resemblance to that of Gibraltar, and that others could learn well from them?

Lastly, will the Government say a word about the Community rights issue which is mentioned in the Statement—that the rights of Gibraltar citizens in Spain and Spaniards in Gibraltar under Community law and arrangements will be phased into effect? Which rights will be phased in, and when? Can the noble Baroness remind us how long the transitional period is for Spanish accession? This is another way of putting the question that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has just put, but what about the mutual right to work in each other's country? Does that come early in the accession period, or late, or what?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Kennet, for their reception of this Statement and for the welcome that they have given it. On the various questions that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked, perhaps I may start by reminding him about the Government's assurances to Gibraltar on the question of sovereignty. The noble Lord referred to the statement of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the other place yesterday. The relevant extract from the preamble to the 1969 Gibraltar Constitution reads: Her Majesty's Government have given assurances to the people of Gibraltar that Gibraltar will remain part of Her Majesty's dominions unless and until an Act of Parliament otherwise provides, and furthermore that Her Majesty's Government will never ever enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their freely and democratically expressed wishes". The noble Lord went on to ask me about the possibility of a referendum on this matter. There is no bar to a referendum being held in Gibraltar if at some future stage it is felt that that is the best way to gauge Gibraltar opinion. But, as I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate, it would be unsettling to hold referenda too frequently.

The noble Lord went on to ask about a referendum on the question of joining the Community, but, of course, Gibraltar is in fact already part of European Community territory by virtue of Article 227.4 as a country for whose external relations the United Kingdom is responsible.

On the question of self-determination and what has been the attitude of Sr. Moran, he said at a press conference last October: We accept the wishes of the people of Gibraltar to maintain their British nationality once the territory is re-integrated into Spain. If they gave me Gibraltar on a plate against the will of the Gibraltarians, it would not be a good deal for Spain". The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, also asked me about various transitional arrangements. Of course we hope that tourism will be one industry to benefit by the opening of the frontier. On the question of workers, the Community is insisting on a seven-year transitional period and that a joint declaration on free movement of workers should be annexed to the Spanish Treaty of Accession, as it was for both former enlargements. In fact, no one can come to work in Gibraltar without a work permit. On the question of the sale of land, the fact is that there is a very limited property market in Gibraltar and the right to purchase is linked to a Spaniard being employed or self-employed or rendering a service.

I hope I have answered most of the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, raised, too, but he asked me quite specifically about advanced Community rights. The arrangement for advance enjoyment of certain Community rights is an indication of the special dimension to the relations between Spain and Gibraltar. We agreed that Spaniards in Gibraltar should receive those Community rights that they would otherwise enjoy on the day of Spain's accession, and that Gibraltarians would at the same time receive corresponding rights in Spain. This arrangement has the full support of the Gibraltar Government. It does not of course affect the derogations and transitional periods agreed between Spain and the Community, which will be applicable to Gibraltar. The timing of these transitional periods will run from the day of Spain's accession.

On quite specific Community rights, the negotiations are well advanced on the main matters relevant to this arrangement. The rights of establishment chapter has been concluded, and we hope to see the social affairs chapter concluded very shortly.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend clarify one point in her most interesting and welcome Statement? Does the reopening of the land frontier with Spain also include the right to operate seaborne services across the bay between Gibraltar and Algeciras such as used to exist? Secondly, and on a different point, in the course of her right honourable and learned friend's discussions with Sr. Moran was any regret expressed on behalf of Spain for the damage done over 15 years by this wrongful act both to Gibraltar and to this country?

Baroness Young

My Lords, if I may take first the second of my noble friend's two questions, I think I would be correct in saying that at the discussions in Geneva all parties were looking forwards rather than backwards. On the first of his questions, the answer is: yes, the seaborne routes will be open, as indeed will the frontier be for traffic.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give some indication, if at all possible, as to when the problem of flight paths and of air traffic will be solved? The present descent into Gibraltar is enough to put one off flying and to discourage tourism.

Baroness Young

My Lords, that will be one of the matters which will clearly be subject to future negotiations. We expect that experts will start to meet quite soon on a number of practical issues, of which aviation will be one.

Lord Somers

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give some really strong assurance that Gibraltar will not be offered a half solution such as self-determination, but that we shall maintain our sovereignty since, apart from the fact that the Gibraltarians all want it, Gibraltar is a small area bordering directly upon Spain, which is only too anxious to obtain control of her, and Gibraltar needs our protection?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I hope that what I said in answer to the first supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, made absolutely plain the British Government's commitment to stand by the preamble to the 1969 Constitution.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say what arrangements will be made for Moroccan workers who took the place of Spanish workers when they were not allowed to come in? Are they just going to go back to Morocco, will they be given redundancy payments, or what action will be taken?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as far as the future of the Moroccan workforce is concerned, I can tell my noble friend Lady Vickers that Sir Joshua Hassan has said that the public sector employers in Gibraltar are firmly committed not to discharge any Moroccan worker to make way for another worker from outside Gibraltar. There are approximately 1,700 Moroccans working in Gibraltar, and they make a valuable contribution. The arrangement agreed with Spain does not threaten those in paid employment.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, notwithstanding this agreement between ourselves and the Spaniards for the future of Gibraltar, it would be extremely myopic if we did not acknowledge that at some time Spain is going to return with some vigour to the question of sovereignty? Does the noble Baroness agree that it might well be that there will be some activity emanating from Spain which would cause difficulties for the Gibraltarians? In that event, should that transpire, may we have an assurance that Britain will immediately give every assistance to the Government and the people of Gibraltar?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I hope that I have already given that assurance of the British Government's stand, in answer to two questions that I have been asked this afternoon. I would repeat it to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend this question? Between now and when Spain joins the Community, is it proposed to erect Customs barriers between Gibraltar and Spain so that tariffs will have to be paid each way?

Baroness Young

My Lords, my understanding of the position is that there will be completely free movement of goods and services, as pertained before the closing of the frontier. On the specific point about tariffs, I understand that under certain circumstances it might be that there will be some goods which will be subject to tariffs. However, perhaps I might write to my noble friend on this point.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, it could be very important in regard to whisky on one side and sherry on the other.