HL Deb 12 December 2001 vol 629 cc1386-410

7.53 p.m.

Baroness Hooper rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their current policy towards Gibraltar; and what recent developments there have been.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I start by declaring two interests as a member of the All-Party Group for Gibraltar and as a member of the All-Party Group for Spain. As many of your Lordships know, my interests in Gibraltar arose during my days as a Member of the European Parliament, when I was one of 12 all-party MEPs asked to look after the interests of Gibraltar. It is my hope today that, in replying, the Minister will be able to give a clear statement about the present situation and about the Government's intentions both for the immediate future and the long term. I hope that that will go some way to allay "the anxiety and anger" felt by the people of Gibraltar, to quote the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, when he addressed the meeting of the all-party group recently.

Perhaps before embarking on a scrutiny of current policies, it would be helpful in setting the scene if I were to start with a brief historic outline. The modern story of Gibraltar begins with the Moors, who drove out the Visigoths at the beginning of the eighth century and remained in occupation of the Rock for 751 years until 1462. The Spanish then controlled Gibraltar for 242 years until 1704, when it was seized by a joint Anglo-Dutch military force during the war of Spanish Succession. The peace treaty which settled that war was signed in Utrecht in 1713. The treaty ceded Gibraltar to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, and the territory has remained under uninterrupted British control ever since.

To come back a little closer to the present, I believe that we all recognise that the people of Gibraltar were tremendous allies during two world wars and that the Rock has been of great strategic significance. We also all know that Franco closed the frontier. That isolated Gibraltar and, when democracy returned to Spain in the mid-1970s, the frontier was reopened. Unfortunately, it was reopened rather grudgingly, and the present unsatisfactory situation remains. The border controls cause daily irritation for those in transit between Spain and Gibraltar. I had always hoped that the European Union would provide an umbrella to resolve the problem. Gibraltar joined the EU in 1973 when we did and then Spain joined in 1985. I thought, "Oh, good. Everything will be resolved now". Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Therefore, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have been holding talks with their opposite numbers in Spain. There has been much comment in both the British and the Spanish press about that. I suspect that one of the current problems is that Gibraltarians probably read the Spanish as well as the British press, and that puts a distinctly different gloss on what is going on.

There have been Questions and debates on this issue in both Houses—there was even one yesterday in your Lordships' House—and I suspect that Ministers may be becoming weary of responding to it. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee held hearings at which the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, was interviewed, as well as the Minister for Europe, the right honourable Peter Hain. I understand that the report of those hearings is due out tomorrow.

I believe that all the furore has come about because the Foreign Secretary, in all good faith, seeks to resolve the irritations to which I have referred and which continue to exist. Many of them are petty and many are said to interfere with our good relations with Spain. He has courteously met with members of the all-party group, as indeed has the Minister for Europe—even this afternoon. But still the alarm and despondence continue in Gibraltar.

Therefore, perhaps the question that should be asked is: why hold talks now? Perhaps those talks give rise to unease. Attempts to resolve the situation have been made by previous governments. I am glad that my noble and learned friend Lord Howe is joining in to explain some of the progress that was made in his day. In my view, this is definitely not a party political issue. I believe that there is nothing more sinister about the meetings than the fact that the Secretary of State represents a new broom and he wants to get these irritating issues out of the way. Perhaps it is also significant that Spain is due to hold the presidency of the European Union from January of next year. Perhaps that, too, has created pressure to get something done. In the words of the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, we must also recognise that no government have been more disposed to dialogue with Spain than the present one in Gibraltar. Indeed, early in his administration he went to Madrid and held meetings with the then Spanish Foreign Minister.

Perhaps I may take a long-term look at the solutions. There is, first, the continuation of the status quo which, from statements made in another place, Her Majesty's Government appear to support. It has been clearly said that it is "no" to a handover of sovereignty to Spain and "no" to independence, which is the preferred choice of some Gibraltarians. Secondly, there is the preference of the Spanish Government; that is, that Gibraltar should become an autonomia of Spain and have a status similar to that of Catalonia and the other 17 autononilas, but with even more rights, freedoms and independence. That is not agreeable to the people of Gibraltar. A third solution has been suggested in the past, which is to scrap the Treaty of Utrecht, which is out of date and unobserved in many of its provisions. I call that solution the "Andorra solution". It means independent status under some sort of joint patronage. That could be our Queen and the King of Spain, or the Prince of Wales and the Principe de Asturias, perhaps. That seems to me to be another possible solution. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on such possibilities.

In the short term, there are other issues to be resolved, such as the talks. They have not been attended by the Chief Minister, who wishes to have meetings held only if it is back to the "two flags, three voices" procedure. If the Spanish Government are as well disposed as we are led to believe, why will they not agree to that? There is the issue of voting rights in the European Union elections. I welcome the statement made by the Minister for Europe that legislation is being prepared in order to have Gibraltarians represented in the elections in 2004, the next elections to the European Parliament. Lord Bethell, who worked hard on this issue, will be delighted to hear that. I should be interested to know the timetable for that legislation, if the noble Baroness is able to give that to the House.

There is also much reference to the damage to our relations with Spain. I was hard put to discover any concrete examples of how our good relations with Spain have been affected as a result of our support of the British citizens of Gibraltar. I emphasise that this is not an isolated issue, although Gibraltar is unique, both in terms of the strategic role that it has played in the past and because it is part of the European Union. Any decision made about the future of Gibraltar will have repercussions in other overseas territories, which may have neighbouring powers all too ready and willing to take over management of those affairs which the territories are not deemed capable of managing for themselves. It is not only the people of Gibraltar but the British citizens in all the overseas territories who are following this saga with close interest.

It is in the nature of the debate and the constraints of procedure that I shall not have the right to reply. I should like to anticipate a couple of questions which might arise and comments which are often asserted by Spanish people to whom I have spoken. The first; is, "You have given back Hong Kong to China. Why can't you do the same for Gibraltar?" We know that Gibraltar was ceded in perpetuity, and for Hong Kong we had a time limit. Secondly, there is the issue of smuggling. Apart from the lack of evidence, if we are being meticulous about rules and regulations, what about the Spanish fishermen? Even now, an all-party maritime group has been considering that issue.

In conclusion, I hope that the debate will send out a clear signal to the people of Gibraltar that their friends understand their anxieties and stand ready to give their support when needed. I am grateful to all those who are to speak and look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I understand the Government's wish to resolve the continuing impasse with Spain over the Gibraltar question. Obviously, it is desirable that Spain's attitude to Gibraltar should be better. There seems no sensible reason why Spain should continue to provoke hostility. Nor, in my view, is there a sensible reason for Spain to rest its case on Article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht, the pre-industrial revolution treaty, which came at a time when the concept of democracy was merely a minor notion and the rights of men were flagrantly ignored.

I recall the pleasure I felt, as did many others, at the end of the long Franco years when Spain joined the democratic community in Europe. I was present when Spain took its seat in the Council of Europe, when it subscribed to the Convention on Human Rights and the principles of democracy and when it then followed that membership and accession by eagerly supporting the recognition and establishment of the sovereignty of a large number of states. The expansion of the Council of Europe and the end of the Cold War demanded the recognition of sovereignty of states which had not even been thought of in the middle of the 19th century. I found particularly interesting the eager enthusiasm with which Spain most emphatically supported the recognition by and membership of the Council of Europe of states such as Andorra, with a population of 65,000, San Marino with a population of 26,000, and Liechtenstein with a population of 32,000, a state not formed until six years after the Treaty of Utrecht.

At the same time—I am grateful to the noble Baroness for speaking about its history—the state of Spain did not really exist until Granada and Navarra had been absorbed into Spain by 1512. That means that Gibraltar was part of Spain for well over 100 years less than its involvement with Britain. Yet we have a situation in which the hostility continues. Spain appears to have made no attempt to win the hearts and minds of Gibraltar. Its hostility over the years has been remarkable.

I recall, about a decade ago, being at an RAF station and being given an opportunity to fly an aircraft simulator. I was invited to try to land a Nimrod in Gibraltar. I can remember the comforting words of the squadron leader standing behind me who said, "Peter, on this occasion you can fly through the Rock". I would certainly have done so in real life to avoid Spanish airspace. The fact remains that Spain has been remarkably foolish. It has shown hostility when wisdom would have generated a great deal more political benefit.

At the same time, Spain may well imagine that if it maintains its present political approach, it can win. However, I believe that people are becoming a little irritated by Spain. For example, over the past few years, by the singularly vigorous use of its diplomatic service, Spain has secured a disproportionate number of important political positions in the free world. I refer to the Council of Europe, WEU, OSCE, NATO, and the European second pillar. That is a disproportionate number of positions, given Spain's population of 32 million. It has ignored a number of—for example—European Union steel policies. I recall a steel works in my then constituency which was doing very well. Spain could not possibly compete with it until the Spanish Government gave huge public support in utter defiance of EU policy.

I recall—I have mentioned this in the House previously but I shall touch on it again because it is relevant—how the Spanish were among the leading voices calling for the establishment of the European second pillar. France was equal in its enthusiasm. However, when we became slightly anxious about the excessive zeal that Spain was displaying in that regard, its Ministers invited the Defence Committee to go to Madrid to discuss the matter. When we arrived we were told that the meeting had been cancelled. We were put onto an aircraft and flown to the historic shipyard of Ferrol to be given a demonstration of Spain's contribution to European security. We were shown an aircraft carrier which was near completion. The British members then discovered that the aircraft carrier was intended for the Royal Thailand Navy to serve as flagship and royal yacht for the King of Thailand. It was not a contribution to the EU security policy which Spain was so avidly supporting.

I do not want to criticise Spain. I have friends in Spain. I want to see a sensible relationship between Spain and this country. I also want to see decency to the people of Gibraltar. I trust that the Government will seek to persuade Spain to change its approach and to win hearts and minds. If it does it will very rapidly reverse the situation which it should have taken more seriously when just 44 people in Gibraltar voted for a link with Spain in a recent referendum.

I emphasise to my noble friend that it would be highly desirable for Britain, and perhaps the international community, to urge Spain, along with Britain, to submit this case to the International Court of Justice in the hope that it can come to a conclusion which will solve the impasse and allow Spain and Gibraltar and Gibraltarians to live happily together. That will enable British and Spanish relationships to be as good as they should be.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, I am glad to be able to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, in order to echo his closing words. The objective which we all seek is good relations between our country and Spain, and a prosperous, peaceful and hopeful future for the people of Gibraltar. Despite my legal background, I would not immediately look towards a court resolution of the problem. But that is a different matter.

I also thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for initiating this very important debate. She rightly drew attention to the historic importance of Gibraltar in the history of this country and to the loyalty of its people through many adverse circumstances. She also rightly drew attention to the possibly valuable role of our joint membership of the European Union. She speaks with authority on this subject because of her distinguished service as a Member of the European Parliament in the halcyon days when Merseyside was represented in that institution by a Conservative MEP. We all look forward to the return of that prospect, although not perhaps to its representation by my noble friend.

I do not want to compete with Queen Mary and say that Gibraltar is engraved on my heart. Certainly, it occupies a very important position in my recollection of my six years at the Foreign Office. It is probably the biggest disappointment of my time there. I thought that we had left it on track for a solution along the right lines. That has not happened. The Brussels agreement, which lead to the opening of the frontier was also designed to lead, and did lead, to the accession of Spain to the European Union and indeed to NATO. I attended in Madrid as well as at Lisbon to sign the Treaty of Accession for Spain to the European Union. Senor Fernando Moran negotiated that agreement with me and set the Brussels process under way. We would not attach any importance to the name, any more than our predecessors, the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Owen, would attach importance to the Lisbon process which was also derailed.

I think I am right in saying that the then Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan, was present at all the key negotiations leading to the Brussels agreement. I do not think—but I cannot be sure—that he took a direct part in triangular discussion, but he certainly met the Spanish delegation, and we all recognised that his voice was one to which we must listen.

It is quite clear that the voice of the people of Gibraltar must be of decisive importance as we look for a solution. Some people question the legitimacy of even seeking a solution to this issue. Some people write and speak as though the search for improvement in this position is in some way, ex hypothesi, disloyal—disloyal to the people of Gibraltar and disloyal to the British interests. I reject that absolutely. If one is to reject that rationally and to understand the unwisdom of condemning that as disloyalty, it is necessary to understand the present position. The fact is that the present position is doing harm to every party concerned. It is doing harm to Spain itself. It has a historic grievance, and one can understand that. For Spain to have a small corner of territory outside its own country but very close as an area of persistent economic, social and political concern must in itself be undesirable.

Gibraltar has a similar set of problems to confront. These have already been mentioned by my noble friend. There is a limit to its prospect of political progress; there are recurrent economic and social shocks; the frontier closes and opens; and there is no present arrangement for its representation in the European Union. To all our partners in the European Union there are recurrent failures to achieve agreement because of the persistence of this obstacle. The United Kingdom suffers disadvantage because of the other things that could go wrong. All those disadvantages to our European partners affect us. We have a potential running sore in our relationship with Spain, despite all the other areas where we have good relations. We share with the people of Gibraltar—people for whom we have an inescapable sense of responsibility—their sense of frustration at the persistence of this grievance.

In terms of British selfish interest, which some Spanish commentators say is the reason for our position, we have virtually no selfish interests in the perpetuation of the present situation of conflict. The days of the coaling station and of a naval dockyard for repair services have passed. The Gibraltar dockyard became like those in our own country which had to face economic pressures and therefore ceased to play the part they used to play.

Far and away the greatest British interest in the situation is in a resolution of this dispute on terms acceptable to the other parties. The continuance of the dispute is against everyone's interests.

The background starts in the Treaty of Utrecht, in the sense that our title and the Spanish claim to the reversion of sovereignty are rooted in that. The word "always" looms out of that treaty as one factor. It is a word that prudent politicians today would never use, I fancy. On the other hand, before the preamble to the constitution of Gibraltar in 1969, it is set out that we would "never" make the change of sovereignty of Gibraltar without the consent of the people. So one has a "never" confronting an "always". If one is to find a solution, it is essential that both sides—I say "both sides" because it is really only Gibraltar and Spain that are contending with each other—in seeking to find a solution, are willing to make changes to their positions.

As has already been said by both the previous speakers, if a solution in the long-term is to be found, Spain must surely acknowledge the need to secure the consent of the people of Gibraltar. It must surely regulate its conduct and attitude in relation to these matters with a view to achieving that outcome. In effect, it must win their trust—to be able to win a referendum in the last resort—if it is to find a final solution to the problem. It must abandon any ideas that harassment or obstruction can win any advantage at all.

The frontier that I thought was open at the time of the Brussels agreement has been recurrently shut. It is a permanent irritant in this situation. Disputes over licences, passports and telephone numbers can all be resolved with good will.

But Gibraltar must be ready to move as well. First, above all, it must surely abandon the opposition that some express to joint use and development of the airport. Nothing would do more good to the economic development of southern Spain and Gibraltar than to implement the agreement—which, again, I thought that I had reached with Senor Fernandez Ordonez way hack. Unhappily, implementation of that agreement was blocked by the reluctance of the Gibraltar legislature to see it through. That remains the position today, although many voices in Gibraltar, not least the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, now see the necessity for it.

The fact that the legislature could block that in that way is a real demonstration of the need for consent in the whole process. Mr Peter Caruana has recognised the other component. Some time ago, he said: You cannot expect to engage Madrid in a process of dialogue in which they are not free even to raise the matter that is of most interest to them—and that is of sovereignty". In my judgment, it should ultimately be possible to reach an agreement whereby, as my noble friend Lady Hooper said, sovereignty might be shared in one of a variety of ways between the United Kingdom and Spain—but not, please, by means of a lease, which would merely recreate a Hong Kong-type situation and postpone the problem for the future. The Andorran solution is certainly a possibility.

Discussion of that aspect will be made possible only on the basis of growing wider trust and confidence between the peoples of Spain and Gibraltar. Progress of that kind requires, above all, the willingness of the parties concerned—Gibraltar as well as Spain—to meet and talk to each other. They must find ways in which they can work together by effectively securing joint use of the airport and by cessation of harassment of any kind. Spain must be willing to view the people of Gibraltar as it should if it is to reach its objective and if the people of Gibraltar are to be reassured in the way that I should like.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Brett

My Lords, I should like to begin by declaring an interest. For some 25 years, I was an official—latterly, the general secretary—of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, which became the Institution of Professionals. Managers and Specialists, a trade union organising on Gibraltar for about 65 to 70 years. As my noble friend the Minister is well aware, my union had a series of major difficulties in Gibraltar. The closure of the dockyard has been mentioned. There were naval base issues. We still have more than 800 members on the Rock—I say we; I have no formal relationship with the union any more, I am retired. But, needless to say, the people that I have known for a quarter of a century have been anxious to let me know their views and concerns. They have written to me and I have received more e-mails than usual because of their concern.

I am grateful to both the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for setting out some of the history and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, whose great experience in the matter brings us up to date. A point on which there is total agreement is that we need a solution that is acceptable to all. The problem in Gibraltar is people's great anxiety that, to put it crudely, they will be sold out. Everybody in Gibraltar would agree with the view expressed by the noble and learned Lord that the British have no selfish interest in retaining Gibraltar. However, many of them would turn that on its head and say that the British want to get rid of the problem.

That judgment may be unjust. I have already told my former colleagues and the members of the union—now named Prospect—in Gibraltar that I have every faith in the integrity of the Ministers concerned. Two issues concern my former colleagues: one is the role of the Chief Minister in any such talks; the second is the back-stop that the issue of sovereignty will, in the final analysis, be put to a referendum. At the union's request, I am visiting Gibraltar next week, and I should be grateful if I could take assurances from my noble friend the Minister. I should also like to pose her a couple of questions that have been posed to me.

First, on the question of the role of the Chief Minister, if there are to be confidence-building talks leading to a solution that everyone can accept, my former colleagues believe it essential that the Chief Minister be involved in trilateral talks with the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom, and they are aware of the precedent set by the previous Chief Minister but one, Sir Joshua Hassan. There is no division between the political parties in Gibraltar on that issue.

During my many years dealing with Gibraltar, I had some lively battles with Mr Joe Bassano, the previous Chief Minister, the current Chief Minister, the Ministry of Defence and other establishments. I learnt that we had for many years been anxious to ensure that those on Gibraltar recognised their allegiance to the United Kingdom. Some of my union's members were born in the United Kingdom, but many are for many generations Gibraltarian. They have always looked to the United Kingdom for further education and technical training—I believe that the Chief Minister was at one stage trained in the United Kingdom, as were most prominent Gibraltarians. They accept that there should be a solution acceptable to all, but are uneasy about the limited role given to the Chief Minister and the fact that whatever input Gibraltar has, in the final analysis, any decision will be made between the two Governments without their involvement.

That may not be the end of the story, if they can rely upon a referendum. The question is: what does the referendum represent? Will it be solely on the issue of sovereignty? Is there a difference between legal sovereignty and the sovereignty of not being interfered with in the running of one's business by another government or party? I should be grateful for some reassurance on that from my noble friend the Minister. From my e-mails and telephone conversations. I know that those are the Gibraltarians' considerable anxieties.

If anything, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, in her eloquent and moderate presentation, may have slightly understated some of the difficulties. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath that, when democracy returned to that country, the Spanish Government would have better pursued their interests had they been more accommodating.

Gibraltarians sometimes have to spend two and a half hours getting across the border at the caprice of a policeman who decides when it opens and when it shuts and that the bonnet and the boot must be opened, while the next car may be waved through because he feels that he likes the person or knows them. That is not irritation; that is harassment. That has taken its toll on the confidence of Gibraltarians to believe that talks in which they are not fully included will lead to solutions acceptable to all. If we are to make progress—I accept much of the analysis of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon—building confidence and carrying Gibraltarians with us from the beginning of the process to the end is the only way. I look forward to some reassurance on those points from my noble friend the Minister.

8.27 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, an encouraging aspect of the present situation is that, for the first time—if the reports from the meetings of Senor Piqué and Mr Straw in Barcelona are correct—the Government seem to look on Gibraltar as a problem to be solved and not, to put it perhaps too strongly, a redoubt to be defended. I hope that we might now be able to start from scratch without too much attention to old commitments such as the Treaty of Utrecht—or even the 1969 Gibraltar constitution.

Of course, they have legal significance and will continue to have such. They are period pieces—rather good antiques in some respects—but, in the case of the Treaty of Utrecht, not entirely creditable. The treaty obliged Britain to keep Jews and Moors off the Rock. That was not done—as a matter of fact, the dominant politician in Gibraltar during much of the second part of the 20th century. Sir Joshua Hassan, a delightful individual, was, I think, both.

The Treaty of Utrecht gave Britain the right to import 4,800 slaves into the Spanish empire. That is not something on which we now seem to rely for our commercial interest in Latin America. The treaty gave no firm basis for the occupation of the neutral ground on which we built the airport in 1938. Of course, the Gibraltar constitution is less of an antique. Nevertheless, it was written at a time very different from the present. General Franco was still in power. Spain had not entered the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, nor the European Union. Your Lordships may say that that is unimportant, but the fact is that the North Atlantic Treaty obliges Britain to defend all Spanish territory. We are obliged to defend La Linea and Algeciras, just as much as Spain is obliged to defend Dover Castle and the Isle of Wight.

Therefore, I believe that we ought to consider the situation from scratch. We ought also to consider the interests and preoccupations of all three parties concerned. Furthermore, let us not forget the important remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, in which he pointed out that the present situation causes damage to all three parties concerned.

Let us first consider the British position. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, pointed our most eloquently, for generations Gibraltar played a large part in British strategic thinking. No such defence preoccupation exists today, not even as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, pointed out, a coaling station or naval dockyard. Britain has a responsibility to ensure that any change should he carried out justly and fairly. We have not always done that in our past abandonment of political positions outside this country, but we must try and do so in this case.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said, it is also important to appreciate the fact that we need and want good relations with Spain. Spain is a natural ally of this country within the European Union. It is an important trading partner and several hundred thousand British people live there permanently.

Moreover, we should not forget the interests of Spain because they exist. There is not just the residual right under the Treaty of Utrecht if Britain should consider divesting herself of responsibility for Gibraltar. Obviously, Spain must have a strategic interest in the future of the Rock. She could not accept, for example—I do not suggest that it is a possibility—a terrorist government in Gibraltar or one which, like General Noriega's government in Panama, was concerned primarily to sell drugs. Even a demagogic government, such as Mr Mintoff had in Malta, would cause a good deal of difficulty in Spain.

Perhaps we should remember that Spain was most understanding in relation to the recent crisis deriving from the damage to the submarine "Fearless". Perhaps she was more helpful to this country than was the Gibraltarian government, but it reminded us that those waters are of Spanish interest. A nuclear submarine sinks in the Bay of Algeciras and that is a main consideration for any Spanish government.

Childish though it may seem—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, touched on the matter—the fight of the Rock often seems to Spaniards a reminder of past humiliation. No doubt that should not be so but we can imagine that if by any chance a Spanish admiral had seized Dover Castle in 1704 rather than Admiral Rooke seizing Gibraltar we would understand the situation in much the same way.

Then there are the interests of the Gibraltarians. Fernando Moran, who was Foreign Minister of Spain in the mid-1980s, made a point in a recent article in the newspaper, El País, that Spanish politicians often acted as though those interests did not exist, but of course they do. Gibraltarians want to remain British and of course they want to retain the property they have now. They want to retain their strong economic position, including their place as an offshore financial centre.

Many Gibraltarians want to travel in Spain, do business and have holidays more easily than is now possible. Gibraltarians want more telephone lines from Spain but one day they could want protection even from the Spanish navy; for example, against illegal immigration from Morocco. Who knows what the future of North Africa is? The situation could constitute a serious concern for any Spanish government.

Returning to Gibraltarians, at some time in the future one of the cities near Gibraltar such as San Roque or even Algeciras might develop a university to which Gibraltarians might want to go. I hope that that might be done. Above all, Gibraltarians must require and desire certainty about the future.

I make no apology for believing that the best solution is one that has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe; for a so-called Andorra solution. That would mean that Gibraltar would have an autonomous government, much as it does today but perhaps slightly differently formed. The King of Spain and the Queen of England would be the joint sovereigns. As in the similarly successful bicephalous state of Andorra, the President of France—he used to be the King of France —and the Bishop of Seo and Urgel are the sovereign powers.

Andorra has been a success since 1278 and I believe that that solution should be seriously considered. Of course it is eccentric and might seem odd to the tidy-minded constitutionalists but nevertheless often the eccentric is the desirable answer. I do not dare to suggest that a bishop should be involved, but I believe that we should recognise that the realities of geography and modern strategy, as well as tradition, suggest that the two-flag solution might be one to which we should give serious attention.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, in rising to speak in the debate I declare an interest in the matter. I am a member of the Gibraltarian group. In examining the issue, much has been said about Spain. Spain could help itself. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, appears to forget that the difficulties which exist are being caused by Spain. As was said by my noble friends, if Spain wants to woo the people of Gibraltar it is going about it in a very strange way.

In every hour of every day of every year there are traffic difficulties at the border crossing. One is held up for at least one and a half hours every day. There is no air or sea travel to Spain. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to the defence of certain towns in Spain. I realise that no UK military flight can pass over Spain, despite the fact that we are both in NATO.

I believe that that is a ridiculous situation. Spain will not sign the "Open Skies" agreement because it objects to the involvement of Gibraltar. All that is caused by Spain, not Britain or Gibraltar. Furthermore, Spain has been forced into making telephone concessions because Gibraltar has a right to them. It was decided by the international court.

And why does Spain object to Gibraltarians participating in European elections? It may want to win over the Gibraltarians but it is indulging in silly behaviour such as preventing Gibraltar from participating in international sporting events and sending top judges. Such behaviour is unnecessary, unacceptable and unjustified. If Spain wants to woo over Gibraltar, it is going about it in a most strange way.

However, Spain is the country which is benefiting from all those restrictions. I believe that the talks should go ahead and I hope that agreement can he reached. However, the people of Gibraltar are on edge because they believe that they are in danger of being sold out and will be unable to have a say in their future destiny.

Gibraltar has a viable economy. Irritating as the restrictions are, even if no concessions arc made Gibraltar will still thrive. I hope that if the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, has some influence with his Spanish friends and that he will bring those matters to their attention and ask them, "Why are you doing it?".

Let us look at what Gibraltar has achieved recently. Only a few years ago, some 70 per cent of the Gibraltarian economy depended on the dockyard. The dockyard is now a thriving tourist centre and the Rock has become a major financial centre. The Gibraltarian people have proved themselves extremely resourceful and they should be praised for what they have achieved.

The problems over Gibraltar have more to do with relations between Britain and Spain rather than with the future of the Rock itself. As I have said, Gibraltar can continue to be viable and to prosper even if no change takes place and the status quo remains. Again, much has been made of the proposal that the Chief Minister should attend the negotiations. Surely, however, ultimately the agreement should not be made between Britain and Spain, but rather between the three parties. On that basis, the Chief Minister should take part.

I should like to put one or two questions to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I know that she always gives excellent replies to our queries, but I appreciate that she may be able to respond directly to some questions, but that to others she may not be able to do so. When my honourable friend the Minister for Europe or my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary refer to the position of Gibraltar, they have made it clear that the Gibraltarians will be consulted if their sovereignty is at stake. But Gibraltar cannot be given away; that right is written large.

My noble friend Lord Brett has already put the question, but I too should like to know the meaning of a new term that has cropped up recently. It was used by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary when answering Questions in another place. Suddenly he started to refer to "legal sovereignty". We want to know what that term means because it is the kind of point that upsets the people of Gibraltar. Does it mean that an agreement will be sought that may fall short of sovereignty, and that the people of Gibraltar will not be consulted? That is the underlying fear of many Gibraltarians. I would be pleased if, when my noble friend comes to respond to the debate, she would answer the question. The answer will reassure the people of Gibraltar.

Spain always refers to the problem of smuggling. Anyone looking at the situation could not fail to ask why anyone would want to smuggle goods into Gibraltar and then have to cross the frontier. Indeed, my honourable friend the Minister for Europe, when responding to a question put to him at the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee on 28th November last, had to admit that there was no evidence of smuggling. As those allegations are not backed by any evidence, I refer to what was said in response to the Select Committee's report of July 2001. We said that if Spain was making false allegations we would raise the matter and that a press statement would be issued. Does the Minister admit that the Spanish Government will provide no evidence? When did we raise the matter? If we did so, where was that done? Was a press statement issued as a result?

A further issue is that Gibraltar would like to be self-determining. Again, Gibraltarians are quite happy to say that they do not think that that would depend on the Treaty of Utrecht and that they are prepared to go to the International Court of Justice. Gibraltar has more to lose than either Spain or Britain. Why do we not investigate whether the Gibraltarians could have self determination? I also join other noble Lords in asking whether we could have details of how Gibraltarians will be enfranchised in time for the European elections in 2004? How will that be brought about? The people of Gibraltar would welcome news about what work has already been done on that matter.

Finally, in the response to the Select Committee's report in July 2001, the Government said that they were continually monitoring border delays and that they would take every opportunity to raise the matter with the Spanish Government. I know that my noble friend will not be able to give a response tonight, but will she write to me and place a copy of that letter in the Library? Since 1997 when have the Government raised the question of delays at the border, with whom has the question been raised and how often has it been raised? If we could have the answers to some of those questions, some of the fears of the people of Gibraltar could be put aside. They fear that an agreement will be reached which will fall short of interference with sovereignty, but one which would have a marked effect on the development of the Rock. Having said that, I wish the talks well.

8.46 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for the opportunity to debate so important a subject as the fate of the people of Gibraltar. We all know that in 1969 the British government of the day, a Labour government, said in the preamble to Gibraltar's new constitution that, Gibraltar is a part of Her Majesty's dominion and will remain so unless and until an Act of Parliament otherwise provides, and that furthermore HM Government have made clear that it will never hand over the people of Gibraltar to another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes". It stated further that Gibraltar would henceforth be known as the City of Gibraltar, and no longer as a colony. Furthermore, it stated that Her Majesty's Government, will never 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 international status of Gibraltar would not be affected by the constitutional proposals and the people of Gibraltar, in common with the people of the UK and its other dependent territories, would continue to enjoy their existing status as British subjects and citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies.

When Spain, in retaliation, introduced a number of measures of harassment, including closing the border and ordering Spanish workers to leave the Rock, the government of the day responded with admirable firmness. The then Foreign Secretary stated that, The declared policy of Her Majesty's Government is to support Gibraltar and we will continue to sustain its people … The Spanish government decision cannot in any way lessen—indeed, it must strengthen—our determination to do everything that may be required of us to enable the Gibraltarians to resist Spanish pressure and to maintain their economy". Autre temps, autre moeurs. Today, Spain is no longer a fascist dictatorship. Spain will have the next presidency of the European Union. Without important concessions to Spain, the EU's ambitious plans to establish control of the single European sky and, in effect, to supersede Euro-control are being obstructed. Her Majesty's Government want to be loved by Spain, which is often a useful ally, and they do not want to be responsible for holding up the single European sky project, some of which, although by no means all, could have useful effects.

There has been another change. In the changed world of defence, the Rock is no longer an essential, although remaining, I would have said, a valuable, part of our defence strategy. The Navy no longer needs the dockyards. Not least the European Union is gunning for offshore financial centres. These include the Channel Islands and Gibraltar, the latter having resourcefully become such a centre in response to the need to change its entire economy and find a new way to survive economically.

Her Majesty's Government therefore have several reasons, in the EU context, to wish to please Spain at any cost. There is just one awkward and inescapable fact in the way. We told the Gibraltarians, in their new constitution in 1969, that we would never hand over the people of Gibraltar to another state against their freely expressed and democratic wishes. Indeed, the UN Charter forbids us to do so. It lays on us a solemn and binding obligation, in the British Government's own words, to safeguard the interests of the inhabitants of the non self-governing territories for which they are responsible.

I have little doubt that the Minister will set out the wonderful advantages that would accrue to Gibraltar if it came under the rule of Spain, and she will say regretfully what a difficult life the people are going to have if it does not. It is doubly unfortunate that while Spain's colony, Ceuta, and the French dependencies all have a vote and thus a voice in the EU, we have not so far secured that for Gibraltar even though, because of her British association, Gibraltar actually entered the EU when we did, some years before Spain.

The Secretary of State recently, in the context of Gibraltar, was reported as saying that we need to rethink our attitudes to concepts like independence and sovereignty. He said that by sharing sovereignty, the people may end up with more, not less, independence of action; more, not less, internal self-government; and more, not less, control over their lives. He added that we cannot afford to ignore the lesson that nations are stronger when working together than they could be alone.

Two independent entities working together may indeed be more powerful, but I cannot see how Gibraltarians could possibly feel more in control of their lives if they have shared sovereignty with another country whose interests are so different from their own. There is no way we can expect them to prefer to yield control over their own lives. Would we do so? Of course not—so why should they?

There is no honourable, legal or constitutional way—unless the Minister can tell us otherwise—in which we can go back on our agreement and hand Gibraltar over against the wishes of its people. If our intention is to secure our object and that of Spain by virtually blackmailing Gibraltar by withdrawing the support it was honourably given in 1969, it will still not be possible to hand over Gibraltar—and, sadly, this Government could never again have the effrontery to claim that they operate an ethical foreign policy.

8.51 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, this is a sensitive issue but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, it is not party political. It is rather like the Cyprus issue—which I am sure we will also he debating in the next year—one which has all kinds of echoes in the domestic politics of this country.

The situation has changed a great deal since 1969, and, indeed, since 1985. Spain is thoroughly democratic and a member of the European Union; British/Spanish links are far closer than they were; there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, remarked, a very large British population in southern Spain. I am not sure that I am entirely happy with that. The last time I drove east from Gibraltar towards Malaga, the area seemed to be becoming very much like the strip between Bournemouth and Poole—filled with golf courses for retired, well-to-do British businessman. There is a large Spanish population in the United Kingdom and, with the recruitment of Spanish nurses, that population is about to increase.

Gibraltar is benefiting much less from British defence spending than it was, and so it is more dependent on tourism and on having become an offshore financial centre. The Gibraltar economy is fragile. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, who said that Gibraltar could be prosperous even if there were no change in the status quo. If Gibraltar's prosperity is to depend more on being a tax haven, that is real vulnerability, and one has to be prepared for that.

I am puzzled by the remarks about recent delays on the frontier. It took me about 35 seconds the last time I crossed it.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but the figures I gave were not my figures. The figures of the British Government and of the Gibraltar Government show that crossing takes a minimum of one and a half hours. From my experience and that of others, I can only say that the noble Lord was very lucky indeed.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I was obviously very lucky. I was merely going to say that the time it took me was mainly spent soaking my feet in the disinfectant provided because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

The present position is not sustainable; it is not in the interests of Gibraltarians in the long run; and it is not in the interests of Andalucia. One has to talk about Spain in regional terms at this point. Part of the mistake of the Spanish Foreign Ministry—it has been the Spanish Foreign Ministry above all which has held firm on this point—has been due to the Castilians in Madrid who are strongly committed to the unity of Spain. Therefore it is highly appropriate that British/Spanish talks on Gibraltar should take place in Barcelona, where the Catalans have a slightly different perspective.

We should all welcome close relations between Britain and Spain because we have a wide range of shared interests. We should be searching for an agreed solution. The Andorran solution involving some form of shared sovereignty, which has been suggested by several noble Lords, looks to be the way forward.

We have to be careful to avoid allowing governments to get stuck on the question of legal sovereignty. The question of what exactly sovereignty now means is one which governments, such as the Turkish government at the moment, find very easy to debate passionately—but, of course, sovereignty has always eased a way between advanced industrial democracies. Shared sovereignty should be possible and mutually acceptable. That would allow for the development of the airport; for regional enterprise and regional employment; and for shared health services, education and telecommunications. As a number of noble Lords said, that would provide a more secure future basis for Gibraltarian prosperity than further development of its tax haven status.

We must recognise that part of the Spanish sensitivity is that Gibraltar is on the external frontier of the European Union. While we recognise that the smuggling issues which were there in Gibraltar many years ago have been effectively cleaned up, there is bound to be much concern about the security of the Straits of Gibraltar because a very large number of people are already being smuggled across those straits to southern Spain. This is an issue about which the Spanish Government are rightly concerned.

Anomalies such as Gibraltar should be manageable within the European Union—there are a number of other anomalies— but they have to be justifiable. Gibraltar's position in the EU and the question of voting rights must clearly go with Gibraltar's acceptance of EU obligations. There is a contradiction between the Gibraltarian Government asking to be treated in the same way as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man as a home dependency, when the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man go to great lengths to insist that they are not in the European Union and that their low tax status—I was assured by the chief executive of Jersey—is guaranteed by an agreement with the Duke of Normandy of 1204. If that agreement is still valid—as I was assured it was only a year ago—then 1713 is a relatively recent agreement.

We need to be cautious about allowing important British dependencies to cherry pick on their EU obligations while exploiting tax loopholes, on-line gambling, offshore financial centres and so on. This is not just about Gibraltar; it is also important for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

I support the Government's moves towards a settlement. I do not see it as appeasement, as the Daily Telegraph appears to charge at least once a week. I ask and urge the Spanish Government to hold back its Castilian nationalist hard-liners and to listen more to those in Bilbao and Barcelona who have a much better sense of Spain as a country which itself shares sovereignty. I ask the Gibraltar Government not to dig themselves deeper into a hole from which it might be impossible to reach a settlement which would be in the best long-term interests of Gibraltarians.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for bringing this important subject before the House. We on these Benches welcome the Government's announcement that the Gibraltar electorate should be able to vote in European parliamentary elections. We look forward to playing our part constructively in the legislative process to enable that to happen. I also hope that the Minister will give the House some information today about a timetable.

This is a worrying time for the people of Gibraltar, a concern shared by a number of speakers from all quarters of the House. There is a genuine fear among Gibraltarians that they will be presented with a "done deal" affecting their sovereignty which they will be under enormous political and financial pressure to accept. This is particularly the case as the Spanish Foreign Minister has been quoted in the Spanish media as saying that taking over the sovereignty of Gibraltar is No. 2 on the ministry's priority list, immediately following the fighting of international terrorism.

Can the Minister confirm that the two governments are not working to a hidden and pre-agreed agenda? Will she confirm the point made by noble friend that the preamble to the Gibraltar legislation of 1969 still stands?

The Foreign Secretary met his Spanish counterpart in Barcelona on 20th November. As my noble and learned friend Lord Howe said, we seek good relations with Spain. Both countries have much to gain from working constructively together.

Although we welcome the Spanish decision to more than triple the number of telephone numbers for Gibraltar to 100,000 and its proposals to improve healthcare facilities in Spain for Gibraltar, we share the concerns of the citizens of Gibraltar. We believe that Gibraltarians have a right to veto any proposed change in their status and if they want to remain under British sovereignty, they should.

We on these Benches remain wedded to the principle that the future sovereignty should not be changed without the freely and democratically expressed wish of the people of Gibraltar. They are British and are living in sovereign British territory, as they have for 300 years. Mere consultation with them is, we believe, not enough. We feel that they should be involved, as equal partners, in the reaching of any agreements which might form part of a package. I share the aspiration of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe that the Gibraltar Government will adopt a flexible approach. But bouncing them, stitching them up—or even selling them out—is absolutely unacceptable. It would be an insult to people who have fought with us and for us and who bear allegiance to the British Crown.

From a recent Written Answer in another place, I understand that the Minister's right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is proposing to hold a further ministerial meeting with the Spanish Foreign Minister early next year to discuss the future of Gibraltar. Is it still the Government's objective to resolve the future of the Rock by the end of next year?

Spain has refused to recognise Gibraltar-issued ID cards and passports as valid travel documents. The European Commission has accepted the Gibraltar ID card as a valid travel and residence document for the purposes of relevant EC directives. The purpose is clearly to frustrate further the free movement of persons at the border and to harass people, as the noble Lord, Lord Brett, said.

As the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said in its report, the present system of border controls is "unacceptable" and wholly inappropriate between two parts of the European Union. What progress have the Government made with the Spanish authorities on ID cards, passports and other border control problems?

Gibraltar is still a military base, and is especially useful for intelligence gathering. Bearing in mind the Government's renewed emphasis on the rapid deployment of British forces in response to crises, and that north Africa and the near and Middle East are widely regarded as regions where such crises could occur, do the Government agree that Gibraltar and its facilities provide a useful and independent forward operating base? Service manpower has already been reduced to the minimum necessary to manage the remaining defence facilities in Gibraltar. Will the Minister confirm that there will be no further defence cuts there in the short term?

9.4 p.m.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating the debate. The All-Party Gibraltar Group, of which she is vice- chairman, does valuable work in bringing Gibraltar issues to the attention of Parliament. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate.

On 26th July this year, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and his Spanish counterpart, Sr Josep Pique, met in London under the terms of the Brussels communiqué of November 1984, thereby relaunching a dialogue on Gibraltar between the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom.

The Government's aim in re-starting the Brussels process is precisely as set out by the Conservative Government in 1984; namely, to overcome all differences between the United Kingdom and Spain over Gibraltar. It is the Government's firm view that the present situation in which Gibraltar faces long and unpredictable border delays, telecommunications difficulties, restrictions on the use of the airport and a range of other problems are not in the interests of anyone, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, told the House so authoritatively.

It is clearly not in Gibraltar's interest, nor is it in the interest of the United Kingdom, to see the citizens of a loyal overseas territory prevented from pulling their full weight in a European region full of opportunity. It is not in the European Union's interest for important EU business to be impeded by the Gibraltar dispute. Frankly, it is not in Spain's interest either to be at odds with a good European neighbour over this issue.

Her Majesty's Government see a strong. and very much a shared, interest between the United Kingdom, Spain and Gibraltar in finding a lasting solution to this dispute, which has continued for close on 300 years. The present UK-Spain and Gibraltar-Spain relationship is very different from that which pertained in 1969, when Franco closed the border; or even that which pertained in 1984 when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, agreed the Brussels communiqué. I was enormously pleased that he decided to participate in the debate, particularly as I agreed with almost everything that he said.

I am sorry that matters did not turn out then as the noble and learned Lord had hoped. However, I hope that he will agree that our relationship with Spain has developed enormously in recent years. We are now close partners in the European Union, in NATO and in other international fora. Spain is now one of our most important trade and investment partners and is home to half a million Britons. Millions take their holidays there every year. Similar trends can also be seen in the relationship between Gibraltar and Spain: there is much more economic interdependence and, despite all the difficulties, many Gibraltarians visit Spain regularly; hundreds have houses across the border.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, was right to ask the question: why are we doing this now? But there is a straightforward answer. We believe that, now, there is a real opportunity to resolve the historic tensions and to forge a new relationship between Gibraltar and Spain, to allow the people of Gibraltar to look forward with confidence to a better and more secure future. After the July meeting of the respective Foreign Secretaries, a further meeting was held in Barcelona on 20th November. The joint communiqué issued after that meeting has been placed in the Library of the House. In that communiqué the Ministers stated that the guiding principle of their discussion was, to build a secure, stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar and a modern, sustainable status, consistent with our common membership of NATO and the EU". Secondly, the Ministers declared that their shared objective was, a future where Gibraltar enjoys greater self-government and the opportunity to reap the full benefits of normal co-existence with the wider region". I believe that that demonstrates how far we have come since 1969.

A number of noble Lords, most notably the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, in her opening address, raised questions concerning discussions on sovereignty under the Brussels Process. Of course, discussions will cover sovereignty. Indeed, it is explicit in the Brussels communiqué, agreed by the Conservative Government in 1984, that the talks would include discussions on sovereignty. But the Barcelona communiqué made clear that no conclusions have yet been drawn on the nature or content of any proposals which might be put forward. Therefore, in answer to the noble Baroness's three options, it is up to the parties to discuss how the fraught issue of sovereignty might be taken forward. I make this point to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton. We cannot pretend that the Treaty of Utrecht simply does not exist. I shall return to that in a moment.

As I told the House in response to a Question from my noble friend Lord Hoyle on 22nd November, the Government stand by the commitment contained in the preamble to the 1969 Constitution Order which states that Her Majesty's Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. Consequently I reiterate to my noble friend Lord Brett and the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, that if agreement were reached with Spain which involved a transfer of sovereignty to Spain the wishes of the people of Gibraltar would be ascertained in a referendum.

It is important to be as explicit as possible on this point, particularly as my noble friend Lord Hoyle asked for specific assurances. Anything which affects the sovereignty of the people of Gibraltar will be put to them in a referendum. I do not want to mince around with terms such as legal sovereignty, or how we define it. I say that anything which affects the sovereignty will be put to them. That point was made by my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe when he gave evidence to the FAC on 28th November.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and my noble friends Lord Brett and Lord Hoyle raised questions about the participation in the talks of the Chief Minister, Mr Caruana. As I told the House on 22nd November, the Spanish Government share our view that the Government of Gibraltar have a very important contribution to make to these discussions. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brett, will make this point to his colleagues in Gibraltar. Gibraltar is guaranteed a separate and distinct voice alongside the Foreign Secretary within the British delegation. Spanish Ministers have assured us that the Chief Minister will be treated with the respect and dignity that his position deserves. So we very much hope that Mr Caruana will accept the invitation which has been extended to him to attend future meetings. His voice on behalf of the people of Gibraltar should be heard.

Lord Brett

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The Minister assures us about the role of the Chief Minister. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, reminded us that in 1984 Sir Joshua Hassan played a full part. Is the role proposed for the present Chief Minister of Gibraltar exactly the same as in 1984? We know that the Brussels communiqué led to discussions being resumed last year. Is it reasonable to believe that the role of Gibraltar's Chief Minister will be the same in 2001 as it was in 1984?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am not familiar with the exact constitutional position of Mr Hassan at that point. There are two flags here but three voices. I hope that that helps the noble Lord. A distinctive voice is guaranteed to Gibraltar. Gibraltar does not have to remain silent when my right honourable friends are negotiating and talking in these fora. Gibraltar will have a distinctive voice of its own. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar will sit alongside the Foreign Secretary behind the British flag. I hope that that I am as clear as I can be about what is being offered.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, will my noble friend explain that? She says that he would sit behind the British Minister, but would he be party to the final agreement?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

The Minister will sit alongside—not behind in a position of less dignity or importance, but behind the British flag. I cannot say whether or not he then has the right to resile from the agreement, but I understand that that is not what he seeks or what he wants to secure in taking part.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked me to assure your Lordships that nothing would be hidden in these talks. Nothing will be hidden. If Mr Caruana were to participate in these discussions, he would know that nothing was being hidden. That is an important point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, was right that Her Majesty's Government believe that much is to be gained for the people of Gibraltar. We would not be making this suggestion if that was not our belief. We wish not only to end the obstacles that have plagued their everyday lives; we are thinking of the future when goods, people and services can flow freely in and out of Spain. Gibraltar can capitalise on the excellent start that it has made as a financial centre to become a major centre for financial services in the region. There is also the agreement to allow full development of the airport where matters are currently at an impasse.

Gibraltar already enjoys a substantial measure of autonomy and Her Majesty's Government would like the people of Gibraltar to exercise greater control over their daily lives. This has to be exercised in accordance with our other treaty obligations which, in Gibraltar's case, includes the Treaty of Utrecht. It is not good enough to say that we can sweep all that on one side because human rights issues that are grossly outmoded are involved. It is a treaty and the Government do not set treaties on one side when they go past their sell-by date. We have to acknowledge that treaty. Independence could be an option only if it was done with the agreement of the Spanish Government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, my noble friend Lord Hoyle, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and many others asked about voting rights in the European Parliament. Let me make it clear that we are committed to extending the European parliamentary franchise to Gibraltar in time for the elections to the European Parliament in 2004. To that end, Her Majesty's Government have now decided to seek legislative time in order to introduce the domestic legislation for that purpose. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Astor, did not expect me to be more precise than that. It will be done in time for the election. The decision to extend the European parliamentary franchise to Gibraltar by enacting domestic legislation is a matter for the United Kingdom alone. In preparing to take that step, we have rightly been in contact with all the interested parties, including Spain.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was a little unfair in implying that the Gibraltarians were not implementing European Union legislation. Their record is generally very good and it has improved considerably since the mid-1990s. They transpose about 50 directives a year, which is not so different from the United Kingdom or, indeed, other countries in the EU.

My noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath was right that after so many years of dispute, attitudes on both sides have hardened. For our policy to succeed, we need some new thinking—not only in the United Kingdom, not only on the Rock, but crucially, in Spain. It has to win the hearts and minds of the people of Gibraltar if the measure is to be a success. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, was right that the time has come for Spain to show its new attitude through action. We have seen the important steps that it has taken over the increase in the number of telephone numbers available. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, was right when he said that we now have to look to the Spanish Government to take more steps in normalising their relationship with Gibraltar.

I disagree again with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The border delays are bad. They are now what we consider unacceptable, as my noble friend Lord Hoyle made clear. The matter has been raised by the Prime Minister, Ministers on many occasions, by the Ambassador in Madrid and, most recently, by my right honourable friend Peter Hain on 10th December.

We also need to encourage the people of Gibraltar to have an open mind in the current talks. They need to look at the matter rationally and have an informed discussion about a future in which their Government can take a full and active part. In conclusion, I ask the House for support in what the Government believe to be a realistic policy, to take advantage of the real opportunity that now exists to forge the future, which we believe will be demonstrably better for all the parties involved, especially the people of Gibraltar.

House adjourned at nineteen minutes past nine o'clock.