HL Deb 09 February 2004 vol 656 cc37-8WS
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar wrote to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on 22 December, formally tabling proposals for reform of the 1969 Gibraltar Constitution. He has replied, acknowledging the importance of these proposals to Gibraltar, and saying that they will receive the most careful consideration. He expects to meet the Chief Minister soon for an initial discussion.

The cornerstone of our policy towards Gibraltar remains the sovereignty commitment, that the UK 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. Whatever the outcome of the present proposals, that position will not change.

The starting point for consideration of these proposals is the Government's general policy towards the UK's relations with our Overseas Territories, as set out in the 1999 White Paper, Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories (Cm 4264). As my honourable friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Rammell) said in his Written Statement of 18 December 2003 (Official Report, Commons, cols 151WS–152WS) the security and good governance of the Overseas Territories remains a key foreign policy objective for this Government.

While the people of Gibraltar wish to remain British, it is essential that there should be an appropriate balance of powers between the UK and Gibraltar. While we recognise the aspiration of the people of Gibraltar to manage more of their own affairs, the UK Government must have sufficient and effective powers to protect their overall responsibility for ensuring good governance, compliance with international obligations and minimisation of contingent liabilities. An assessment of the powers required by the UK Government to deliver a balanced and modern relationship must, in particular, take full account of the fact that the UK is responsible for Gibraltar's compliance with EU law, including ultimately before the European Court of Justice. And, in considering the constitutional relationship between the UK and Gibraltar, Her Majesty's Government will take account of Gibraltar's particular circumstances and the wider international context.

This Government will therefore study the proposals put forward by the Gibraltar Government, and look forward to discussion of them in due course, with a view to the further development of a modern and appropriate relationship with Gibraltar.