Travellers entering or leaving the Spanish customs post at La Linea are subject to long delays and to exceptional searches of baggage, vehicles and other formalities. In some cases duties which are apparently new are being charged on goods taken across the frontier in either direction.
There has been no relaxation of these unreasonable restrictions and delays, and indeed they have been intensified. The export of all commodities from Spain to Gibraltar, except foodstuffs, is now restricted and the Spanish authorities on the frontier are refusing to recognise the validity of Gibraltar driving licences. Foreign nationals resident in the Campo area of Spain who have hitherto used their passports to cross the frontier to work in Gibraltar have been prohibited from doing so.
However much the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the Spanish Government may have contributed to this dispute, may I ask the hon. Lady whether she will assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will do everything possible to protect our fellow citizens in Gibraltar from what is rapidly becoming a persecution?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that similar action was taken in 1954 under the previous Administration. We are, of course, determined to do everything possible to sustain the Gibraltarians in this situation.
Will the hon. Lady point out to the relevant Socialist authorities that the resurrection of this vendetta has, in the opinion of the overwhelming majority of people in this country and in Spain, led to a deterioration in trade between the two countries and to the discomfort and dismay of the loyal and friendly population on both sides of the frontier?
We certainly wish the present situation to be brought to an end in a reasonable manner. We believe that this is possible. But, as the hon. Member will appreciate, we cannot talk about any matters which may need further discussion under duress.
While fully supporting the strongest protest which the Government are, no doubt, making to the Spanish Government, may I ask whether the hon. Lady can say what measures of any kind the Government have taken during their term of office to improve relations with Spain?
As I have just informed the House, fresh restrictions have been imposed quite recently.
While it would be a mistake to exaggerate the result of these and earlier restrictions, there is no doubt that some sectors of Gibraltar's economy, particularly those dependent on the tourist industry, are being affected. Continuance of the restrictions would involve problems of economic readjustment. The senior Economic Adviser to the Colonial Office is at present in Gibraltar for consultations. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated in a written reply on 1st February, Her Majesty's Government are fully aware of their obligations to protect the welfare of Gibraltar and the legitimate interests of its people. We have every intention of standing by these obligations.
After consultation with the Governor I have arranged to fly to Gibraltar tomorrow so that I can present a firsthand report to my right hon. Friend when he returns from British Guiana next week.
While welcoming the news from the hon. Lady and wishing her a successful visit to Gibraltar, may I ask her for an assurance that when the Government get around to taking some action, it will be constructive action and that she will not be deflected by those elements on her own side of the House whose only concern in this appears to be to try to make relations between London and Madrid worse than they have been for many years?
I have already assured the House that we have every intention of standing by the people of Gibraltar. As far as my own Department is concerned, that is our main concern.
Is the hon. Lady aware that we welcome her decision to go to Gibraltar, all the more as we have been rather concerned at the apparent inability of the Government to get the position improved? Will she assure the House that she will tell the Governor, the Chief Minister and the people of Gibraltar that they have with them the solidarity not only of the Government but of every political party in this country? Will she consult the Governor and Sir Joshua Hassan as to what measures to take and will she undertake to report to the House in a statement on her return?
Can my hon. Friend confirm the report that school children are being stopped on the frontier and searched by Spanish Customs officials? Will she give an undertaking that the positive measures which the Government intend to take if these provocations do not cease will not include the supplying of frigates to Spain, as was suggested by the Opposition some while ago? Will she also make an appeal, if the provocations do not cease, to tourists to cancel their holidays in Spain?
Perhaps the hon. Member would phrase that Question in some other way. It is not in order to ask a Minister to confirm or deny a report unless she is responsible for it.
I understand that there has been an interference with the transport of school children. The fact that some of the reports in the newspapers have been somewhat exaggerated is one of the reasons why I wish personally to go to Gibraltar to see what is happening. I would point out, with respect to my hon. Friend, that the supply of frigates is not a matter for the Colonial Office.
I wish my hon. Friend every success. Can she tell us a little more about what is happening to British subjects living over the border? What is this transit camp in which we are placing some of our people on the way? Can she tell us a little more about that?
As the House will have heard, it is true that persons who were living on the Spanish side of the border without residence permits have been made to cross into Gibraltar if they wish to continue to work there. Temporary arrangements have been made for their accommodation, and this again is one of the things that I shall see for myself, to decide whether these arrangements are satisfactory, or whether improvements should be made.
While congratulating the hon. Lady on the stout way in which she is standing up for the rights of Gibraltarians, may I ask whether she would agree that the situation has been greatly exacerbated by the foolishness of the Prime Minister? What steps have been taken to raise this matter in the United Nations? We are spending a vast sum of money on this organisation. Do the Government think that there is no point in raising it there?
Possibly the hon. Gentleman is not aware that the cause of a good deal of this trouble in the way in which our predecessors in Government handled Gibraltar's Constitution last year. Had this been done with greater diplomatic success, these troubles might never have arisen.
As regards the United Nations, the question of Gibraltar was discussed last year. We desire to have consultations with the Spanish Government, and we have expressed our willingness to have those consultations at such time as the present restrictions have been entirely brought to an end.