HL Deb 22 November 2001 vol 628 cc1243-5

3.24 p.m.

Lord Burnhamasked Her Majesty's Government:

What conclusions they have drawn from the meeting to discuss Gibraltar between the Foreign Secretary and the Spanish Foreign Minister on 20th November.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, following their meeting in Barcelona on 20th November, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and the Spanish Foreign Minister issued a joint press communiqué. Copies have been placed in the Library. The Government will pursue dialogue with Spain under the Brussels Process, which is aimed at building a secure, stable and prosperous future and a modern sustainable status for Gibraltar.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Will the Government provide the welcome for Mr Caruana to play a full part in all discussions on the future of Gibraltar? Will they also give an assurance that no changes of any kind will be made without the full agreement of the people of Gibraltar?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, if the noble Lord has not yet had an opportunity to examine the communiqué, I point out what it says on his first point. It states: "We"—that is, both governments— agreed that the Government of Gibraltar had a very important contribution to make to our discussions. Gibraltar's voice should be heard. We reiterated the invitation which we issued to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar"— that is, Mr Caruana— when we met in London on 26th July to attend future Brussels Process Ministerial meetings". Mr Caruana has been invited, and that invitation was made clear again in the communiqué. I remind the noble Lord that, as I hope I made clear in my Answer, these discussions are taking place under the Brussels Process. The noble Lord will know that the Brussels Process makes direct reference to the 1969 constitutional position, which is that there will be no changes in sovereignty issues without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, it is right for the talks to take place and for the restrictions that Spain has imposed on Gibraltar to be lifted. If a referendum takes place, will it be binding on the British and Spanish governments? If it is not binding on the Spanish Government, will we defend the interests of the citizens of Gibraltar?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I go back to the question of the auspices under which these discussions are taking place; that is, the Brussels Process. The UK and Spanish governments are committed to that. I remind my noble friend that the Brussels Process said that the British Government will fully maintain their commitment to honour the wishes of the people of Gibraltar as set out in the preamble to the 1969 constitution. That preamble states that we 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 British Government are unequivocally committed in that regard and the Spanish Government are committed to a process that recognises the United Kingdom's position.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the long-term interests of the people of Gibraltar, of the substantial British population who live in Spain and of Britain and Spain as a whole are served by a settlement that is agreed by all parties?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Yes, my Lords, indeed I do. There are several important issues to be discussed in this context—not solely the sovereignty issue, although I accept that that will inevitably excite most attention. Other important issues include the economy, culture, tourism, aviation, military matters and the environment. In their own ways, all of those issues have caused much difficulty for the people in Gibraltar and they need to be resolved.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, will the Government allow the people of Gibraltar—1 have read the communiqué— an independent voice in the discussions and not simply present them with a done deal at the end for their opinion? If Spain intends to be rather more neighbourly to Gibraltar, as some reports suggest, will the Minister confirm that Spain will recognise the international dialling code of Gibraltar rather than insist on all telephone calls being rerouted through Spain?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, on the noble Lord's last point, he will know, having read the communiqué, that issues about the telephone system are still under discussion. He will know that more telephone lines—a further 70,000—are under discussion, which would be a welcome addition. That is a continuing discussion which we hope will be resolved.

On the question of Mr Caruana's participation, the issue, as I understand it, is that Mr Caruana has not so far felt able to accept the invitation because he has argued that he wants nothing to be agreed without his explicit agreement on each individual item. As I understand it, however, Mr Caruana said that he does not want a veto. I hope that that difficulty can be sorted out. We need Mr Caruana in these discussions. He has a very important contribution to make. It is in the interests of the people of Gibraltar that he does so.

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, I declare an interest as one of the architects of the Brussels Process, which was built upon the foundations laid by the noble Lords, Lord Owen, Lord Carrington and Lord Pym. Does the Minister welcome the resumption of negotiations? Does she agree that the presence of Mr Caruana, for the reasons that she has stated, would make an enormously useful contribution to successful progress? Does she also agree that it is important that the Spaniards understand, as increasingly they do, that they must play their part in persuading the people of Gibraltar that a settlement along the lines sought is to be greatly desired from every point of view?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree that the Spanish Government have an enormously important part to play in this matter. It is important to raise the level of confidence of the people of Gibraltar in relation to Spain's commitment to the process. I certainly agree with the noble and learned Lord that we are building on the foundations laid by a Labour government in 1969 and by his government, a Conservative government, in 1984. When launching the discussions we have drawn on both the convention and the Brussels Process.