HL Deb 14 May 1996 vol 572 cc385-6

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware that the Spanish Government have objected to the participation by Gibraltar in an international conference of Customs officials which Gibraltar has attended for many years and whether they will protest to the Spanish Government over this course of action.

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

My Lords, the Spanish Government tried to prevent Gibraltar Customs attendance at an international conference in France last month. We intervened and ensured that Gibraltar Customs attended the meeting.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that satisfactory reply. Will she make it clear to the Spanish Government that these attempts to trouble Gibraltar will not pay the Spanish Government any profit; and that, on the contrary, we shall stand up to them in all these international obligations?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his supplementary question. We have maintained our commitment to the people of Gibraltar and we shall go on doing so. The Spanish Government's behaviour in obstructing the border and in other harassment of Gibraltar only strengthens our resolve. We have protested to them about delays at the border. It is an absolute nonsense for them to suggest that they are justified by reference to smuggling. Our commitment will remain. We shall not let the people of Gibraltar pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. The election is on 16th May. We shall work with the new elected government to ensure good governance and an economically sustainable Gibraltar.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, following what the Minister has just said, will she tell the House what plans, if any, the Government have to reopen talks on the long-term future of Gibraltar, and to find a solution which is satisfactory to Spain, Gibraltar and the UK? As elections are to take place on Thursday, would not now be a good time to consider reopening such talks, given that it is some time since the talks last took place and that they then broke down?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, Gibraltar is British. As long as the people of Gibraltar want her to remain British, that is what they will voice in their elections. That does not mean we should not discuss an appropriate modus vivendi with the Spanish Government, and that we do. We talk to the Spanish on all occasions. My honourable friend David Davis is in constant contact with them in order to resolve the difficulties that we have had. I do not believe that there is any reason to change the policy at the moment, and I do not believe that the people of Gibraltar wish it.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, have the Spaniards made any moves to give up their enclaves on the African coast?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, in this House I might have been the first to hear of that had they done so, and I have heard no such message.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, the Minister mentioned smuggling. Is not the smuggling of drugs a substantial common interest to Her Majesty's Government the Government of Spain and the Government of Gibraltar? What active steps are the Government taking to promote discussions on that matter?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord. We have taken firm action against smuggling in Gibraltar. We are determined that it should end for good. The situation has improved out of all recognition since the measures we took last year. Spain must accept that. Our measures have been further strengthened by action against the fast boats following the crash about which we spoke in this House some weeks ago. We have to have proper, continuous, sound cross-border co-operation. That is what we seek to have with the Spanish through Gibraltar. There have been bad problems, but they have declined. We intend to ensure that they remain as minimal as they can be made.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am sorry to come back, but I was a little surprised by the Minister's answer. Is she not aware that the Gibraltarians themselves are unhappy about their present constitutional position and wish to see talks on these matters?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am aware that some parts of Gibraltar are unhappy. We cannot possibly pre-empt the views of the newly elected Gibraltar Government who will no doubt emerge later this week. When we have their views, we can look at the future. Gibraltar is part of the EU by virtue of our membership. Its citizens are EU citizens. We want to work not just with the Gibraltarians but with the Spanish. I believe that we should continue to await the decision of the people of Gibraltar. We can then review what will happen. No one in your Lordships' House should be in any doubt—our commitment to the people of Gibraltar continues, and the amount of help that we give them is extensive.

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