HL Deb 10 February 1998 vol 585 cc998-1000

3 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the present position of Gibraltar is causing any difficulty in regard to activities associated with NATO membership.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there continue to be some restrictions on NATO military activities in and around Gibraltar, affecting aircraft movements, naval movements and the participation of Gibraltar-based military assets in NATO exercises. We are discussing those bilaterally with Spain in the context of Spanish integration into the NATO command structure.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Are she and her colleagues fully aware that over recent years Spain has been particularly enthusiastic to support self-determination and international recognition throughout every part of Europe except Gibraltar; notably in the cases of Liechtenstein, Andorra and San Marino? Could not our policy be one of seeking to ensure that Spain is consistent and extends the same approach to the Rock? Let it be based upon democracy.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I hope that Her Majesty's Government have in no way been anything other than straightforward in their views on that question. We have no hesitation whatever in making that clear not only to Spain but to our friends elsewhere. Our commitment remains steadfast. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in his speech on 4th February to the Dependent Territories Association Conference, we stand by the assurance given to the people of Gibraltar in the preamble to the 1969 constitution. We shall never allow the people of Gibraltar to pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, will the Minister confirm in the light of the changes in the structure of the Allied Command Europe Southern Region that COMGIBMED will be retained; in other words, the retention of the Commander Gibraltar Mediterranean?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord an undertaking that we shall not allow Spanish military command over Gibraltar nor the presence of Spanish military personnel on the Rock. We have made that clear.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, given that Spain has certain responsibilities of her own in relation to defence in the straits; that Spain has been a member of NATO for some years; and that Spain is a full member of the European Union, would not the Government give some thought to making it a higher priority in their foreign policy aims to reach a solution of that problem? That would be of great assistance to the future development of our relations with Spain and the rest of Europe.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government give a very high priority to that issue, as I said in my original Answer. We are currently discussing those issues bilaterally with Spain. Moreover, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised those issues with his Spanish counterpart on 10th December last year and we have discussed those matters in the margins of the conference to which I referred a few moments ago with Peter Caruana.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that on both sides of the House we are grateful for her robust repetition of this country's position; namely, that there is no circumstance in which Gibraltar will change its status without the consent of its people? In those circumstances, will she please consider following the American example as regards its dependent territories and allow Gibraltar to send a delegate to this Parliament without voting powers but with the right to sit and speak, as a signal to our friends in Spain of our Government's determination?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

; My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his support for the Government's forthright commitment on Gibraltar. He raises the question too of representation in the Houses of Parliament of those from Gibraltar. Mr. Caruana has put forward various suggestions to my right honourable friend which are being considered at present. I ask the House to await the outcome of my right honourable friend's considerations of various constitutional points and other matters of practical application which Mr. Caruana has put forward.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am delighted with her splendid and unequivocal statement that British interests will be upheld as they have been over a long period of time in relation to the Rock of Gibraltar? But is she aware that there are many complaints that the Spanish authorities are harassing tourists and lorry drivers who wish to cross from Spain to Gibraltar? Will she put pressure on the Spanish authorities to cease that harassment since it is non-communautaire—if I may put it in that way?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I was not aware of my noble friend's approbation but I am very pleased to hear it. In addition, he raised the important question of the harassment around the Gibraltar-Spanish border. We are aware of those incidents as and when they arise; and when they arise, we make very clear to the Spanish authorities what we think of them.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, specifically, is it still the firm position of the Foreign Secretary to continue to defer agreement on Spain's integration into NATO's military command structure unless all the current Spanish restrictions on the movement of military aircraft in and out of Gibraltar are dropped since, as the Minister knows, NATO decisions must be reached by consensus?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I said in answer to the original Question, we are discussing those matters at present. It is not wise to prejudice the outcome of those decisions. But I have made it very clear that many of the Spanish ambitions in relation to Gibraltar are unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government.

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