Gibraltar

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1968.

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Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 7th May 1968

Before I call the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) to move the first Adjournment Motion, I should remind the House that, under the revised Standing Order No. 9, as amended on 14th November, 1967, the debate on overseas aid, over which that on Gibraltar now takes precedence, will not be extended for three hours after ten o'clock and will end at that hour in the usual way.

Therefore, we are now to have two Adjournment debates, each of approximately three hours, until ten o'clock.

Photo of Mr John Tilney Mr John Tilney , Liverpool Wavertree

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

I am grateful for the opportunity under the revised Standing Order to bring to the notice of the House a matter of urgent public importance, namely the closure of the Gibraltar frontier by the Government of Spain. I believe that this debate will show that there is a consensus throughout Britain, which I hope that the Government of Spain will note, that we are behind the people of Gibraltar, and that we support what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, that it is deplorable that the Spanish Government believe that crude pressures can resolve this international problem. Spain may consider that Britain is weak and will give way. She will find, however, that she is wrong. I therefore hope that the House will not divide on the Motion, but will demonstrate beyond peradventure that the whole country is behind Gibraltar.

I was lucky enough, a few weeks ago, to spend several days in Gibraltar, where I had long talks with fishermen, clerks, workers in the dockyard and policemen. I had discussions with the leaders of commerce and religion. I met the heads of Services and saw many of the troops. I talked with colonial officials and met several politicians and Ministers, even some "doves" though there are not many of them. I talked to the Government, and to the Opposition in the form of the Integration Party, and I was privileged to be received for a long talk with the Governor.

After seeing the galleries, St. Michael's Cave and the tunnels, I visited many houses and flats financed by the public purse both in the town and in Catalan Bay. I saw tourist hotels, which are very comfortable, although there are not enough of them. Though not a gambler, I even went to the casino. My impressions everywhere were of great kindness and hospitality and the feeling among everyone that they wished to remain British. Indeed, I saw, still up on the walls, many of the posters, bearing either the portrait of the Monarch or the Union Jack, urging the Gibraltarians to vote British in the referendum. We in this country saw at that time on our own television the demonstrations of Gibraltarian loyalty to the Crown.

History, a common way of life and a respect for law and order—and how clean and well-ordered Gibraltar is—bind Britain and Gibraltar together: any party in power in this country which forgets that bond would, I believe, commit political suicide.

But one must admit that the economy was already, in March, suffering from the actions of Spain in past years and months. There was no investment, and development was at a standstill. I am told that, in 1964, there were 800,000 visitors to Gibraltar. The figure dropped in 1965 to 400,000 and in 1966 to 350,000. I spoke to members of the Chamber of Commerce, who told me of the drop in trade since 1965. Before then, Spanish workers had been spending up to £9,000 a day buying goods, textiles, general merchandise and foodstuffs, the import of all of which had been prevented in that year by the Spanish Government.

Yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) said yesterday, they are still taking £3 million per annum from Gibraltar into Spain. In 1965, the workers were prevented by the Spanish Government from taking out any goods. In October, 1966 the cars of tourists were stopped and, although the expenditure of the Russian cargo, tanker and whaling fleets has to some extent helped Gibraltar's economy, it has, of course, suffered more from the action of Spain.

Indeed, the Spanish economy itself would have benefited had Spain not taken that action. I spent one or two days in Spain. I deliberately went by the Algeciras ferry, which I am glad to hear is still running, and came back by the land frontier at La Linea, getting out of my car and into that rather charming horsedrawn barouche to travel the few hundred yards to the Gibraltar frontier. All the individual Spaniards I met were extremely friendly and helpful.

In the Costa del Sol I had seen something of the great British colony there, of the immense investment of British capital which has gone into Spain on that coast and, even more, of the evidence of the great tourist expenditure in that area. Yet Spain still has massive unemployment in the area north of Gibraltar. She is suffering from inflation, a wage freeze and devaluation comparable to ours, so one is not altogether surprised at the reports of trouble in Spain. One begins to wonder whether the action of the Spanish Government may be deliberate, to try to take the minds of Spaniards off their own troubles. By closing the frontier to all except Spaniards, Spain has committed a further act of hostility.

I cannot understand the actions of the United Nations in recent months. This country captured Gibraltar as long ago as 1703 and since 1713, by treaty, Gibraltar has been British. It has been subjected to great seiges, but only the storm of weather has been endured. Around the fortress over the decades have grown up a people mainly Genoese, who have married Spanish wives. Although basically the Gibaltarians are Latin, and not Anglo-Saxon, they fear the Guardia Civil, the police force of Spain. They dislike the thought of Spanish law and they abhore the absence in Spain of habeas corpus. Surely it is a human right to allow self-determination. Even Nauru an island of 3,000 people, is now independent. One would have expected the United Nations to respect the wishes of small peoples. Gibraltar, which is 3¼ miles long by ¾ mile wide, and about 1,400 feet high, is denied a hinterland and has only 25,000 people. It is in danger of being dragooned by the Afro-Asian vote in the United Nations into the maw of Spain.

I remind the House that on 20th December, 1966 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which inter alia regretted the occurrence of certain acts which had prejudiced the smooth pro- gress of negotiations between Britain and Spain, regretted the delay in the process of decolonisation and called on …the two parties to continue their negotiations, taking into account the interests of the people of the territory… It was only after the highly successful intervention of the Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan and his deputy, Mr. Peter Isola, that the phrase which I quoted was accepted by the General Assembly.

How can one discover the wishes of a people except by referendum? Spain and the United Nations were both asked to send observers, but this offer was rejected by the so-called Committee of 24; or, to give it its full name, The Special Committee on Spain with Regard to the Implementation of the Grant of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. It was rejected by 16 votes to two, with six abstentions. I fear that this action on the part of the United Nations—a body in which I have believed for so long; at any rate, in its ideals and potential—has made it almost a laughing stock among intelligent people. The United Nations reminds me of the action of the Christian Church in past centuries, when it abandoned the ethic of Christianity for extraneous matters of self-interest. I sometimes begin to despair about the future of the United Nations and wonder whether, when I read the 1964 election manifesto of the Labour Party—the need to reassert British interest in the United Nations—such is really worth while.

These countries voted against the referendum: Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Chile, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mali, Poland, Syria, Tunisia, the Soviet Union—no doubt because it wanted us to fall out with Spain—Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. These countries abstained: Ethiopia, Finland, India, Madagascar, Sierra Leone and, surprisingly, the United States of America. Only Australia was staunch, with Britain, of course.

It must be remembered, too, that we have offered to take our case to the International Court of Justice. That offer was turned down by Spain. Looking at the voting, I begin to wonder what are the motives behind the Governments of some of those countries. Has Latin America, with its Spanish background, promised its vote to the Arab States against Israel? Has the United States thought of its bases in Spain before the real ethic of the United Nations? I remind the House that Article 73 of the United Nations Charter says: Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities in the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognise the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount. Did the United Nations recognise them as paramount in that vote? It is ironic to remember that in May of last year the Spanish Minister of the Army, General Menendez Tolosa, said that Spain was in the Sahara Not principally because of its historic title and clean record, but because of the emotion and desire of its inhabitants who see in our presence the best guarantee of maintaining their independence in the face of foreign ambition. Let us remember, too, that Spain is in Ceuta and Melilla, on Moroccan territory. If the U.N. really considers only geography, where does it draw the boundaries? Is Haiti to be swallowed up in San Domingo and, because Spain is in the majority in the Iberian Peninsula, will it lay claim to Portugal?

Despite our semi-quarrel with Spain—which to some extent stems from the action of the Socialist Government in cancelling the naval manoeuvres and in throwing away the trading arrangements which we had with Spain—and remembering that we shared so much together in terms of mutual civilisation—[Interruption.] It is in Spain's interest and in ours that a Western Power should hold the fortress. Geographically, the fortress is as important as ever, being only 14 miles from the coastline of Africa. It is the eyes and ears to the area, as it has been over the centuries. Our defence forces there spend £8 million a year, which represents well over 50 per cent. of the economy of Gibraltar.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile his attitude with the attitude of his party which, after the Labour Party came to power in 1964, advocated the sale of frigates to Spain?

Photo of Mr John Tilney Mr John Tilney , Liverpool Wavertree

Because we had gone a long way in planning joint manoeuvres with Spain. Because that arrangement was cancelled by the incoming Labour Government, a worsening of relations began. However, I do not want to make party points in a debate of this sort, because I want there to be a consensus of view backing the people of Gibraltar. I fear that the Communist Powers would like to see the United Kingdom and Spain fall out. Despite this nuclear age, Gibraltar's position is vital to the Western world. I believe that it is defensible and that, if need be, we would fight if Spain were to be so unwise as to seize part of the disputed ground up to the airfield.

I want a united Western Europe. I see the sovereignty of Britain being whittled away by one treaty after another. I do not object to that. I hope that some hon. Members will see a European flag flying with the Union Jack over London and with the Spanish flag over Madrid. Yet before or after such a coming together of the Western European nations there will be need for the harbour of Gibraltar and the rock-hewn citadel. If Spain wants a compromise—if it wants or believes that the minority in this country might be prepared to accept a 99-year lease and ultimately become the majority—its actions in the last few weeks are the worst possible way of obtaining its will.

People are more important than places. I do not understand why Spain has gone out of its way to antagonise the people of Gibraltar. An article in The Times yesterday stated: What Spain is doing is to stimulate the claim of Gibraltarians to full integration with Britain which would be valid under the treaty and United Nations resolutions on colonialism". We must not lie down under present pressure. I remind the House of the trade figures between this country and Spain. In 1967, of about 5 million tourists who left Britain for four nights or more, 24 per cent. went to Spain. Italy, the next most popular, was well down the list with 14 per cent. In 1967, we imported £74½ million worth of goods from Spain and exported or re-exported to Spain as much as £92 million-worth, which is a balance in our favour of £18 million. But when we remember the expenditure of tourists and businessmen, which amounted to £43 million in 1966—I suspect that it has gone up a great deal since then—the balance of trade is very much in favour of Spain.

Certain things could be done. There is something which Gibraltar could do for itself. Since the closure of the Suez Canal, fewer ships have used the Mediterranean and fewer have called at Gibraltar. However, many lines still prefer to go to Ceuta for bunkering because, I am told, they consider that the tender facilities from ship to shore are inadequate in the harbour of Gibraltar, especially when two tourist ships arrive together. Nevertheless, there are actions which Her Majesty's Government could take. I suggest that there are six such actions.

First, the British taxpayer provides £2 million in development aid as well as budgetary aid because of the action of Spain. I do not see why we should not recoup at least some of this; why a tax should not be levied on those who wish to spend their holidays in Spain, and I suggest that up to £10 per head would not be too much. It may be said that it would be difficult to impose such a tax because people would fly to France and go on to Spain from there, and that it would be difficult to stop them from doing that. If they took that route it would certainly be more expensive for them. I listened carefully to what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday about interfering with individuals' rights to have their holidays wherever they chose. However, I do not believe it is right for British citizens to condone this hostility. I would therefore, as the Spaniards have closed the Gibraltar frontier with Spain, welcome a temporary and partial closure of our tourist frontier with Spain.

Secondly, careful thought should be given to replacing Spanish labour in a territory which has virtually become an island. Some time ago, Spain prevented any women coming over to work in Gibraltar, but the Gibraltarian women, under the leadership of Mrs. Angela Smith, showed valiantly how they could do without the Spanish women although many of them were great friends of the various Gibraltarian households. Why should not Moroccans take the place of many of the Spaniards? Water is taken from Morocco. Training schemes for the Moroccans might be required. Why should not more mechanisation be undertaken?

My third suggestion is that there should be a lower cabotage rate for the air fares between this country and Gibraltar. I am surprised to find that the cheapest mid-week night flight fare to Gibraltar is £36 18s., a journey of 1,077 miles. The fare is only £37 10s. to Malta, which is nearly 1,300 miles from this country. I hope that some of those who contemplate taking their holidays in Spain will remember how delightful Malta is and that it is in the sterling area and not subject to all the limits of foreign travel.

I hope that the Government can urge the airlines to consider whether they cannot reduce the cost of the air fare to Gibraltar, which is much more than the fare of £30 13s. for a mid-week night flight to Barcelona. The fare to Gibraltar should at least be brought down to that rate.

I would also like to know from the Government whether it is right for nationalised industries to use British capital to invest in new hotel development in Minorca and other parts of Spain at such a time. Would it not be much better to invest British taxpayers' money in hotels in Gibraltar, which could become the temperate Hong Kong of the Mediterranean, with all its beauty, charm and originality and yet its apparent British way of life?

My fourth suggestion is that the Government should consider a low-interest loan to Gibraltar to provide more hotels. There are only 1,000 hotel beds in Gibraltar, 850 of which are of reasonable standard. Another 1,500 are required.

My fifth suggestion is that attention should be given to the large numbers of Spaniards temporarily employed in the hotels of Britain. They come over here in large numbers. Would it not be very much better to see whether some of our Commonwealth immigrants, who are admirable hotel and domestic staff in their own countries, should not be trained for our hotels in this country rather than the temporary Spanish workers?

My final point is that under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act Gibraltarian citizens are treated as third-class British subjects, despite the fact that many of them spent many of the war years over here to relieve the pressure on Gibraltar and a number of their children may have been born in this country. Under the Treaty of Utrecht, it would be permissible to integrate Gibraltar with this country and for us to have a Member of the House from Gibraltar, but I doubt whether Gibraltar would like that. The Gibraltarians would prefer their own taxes to ours and, similarly, their own tariffs and excise arrangements.

Is there, however, any reason why they should not be treated like the inhabitants of the Channel Islands? They fear for the future. During the passage of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, I endeavoured to move an Amendment on this, but failed. It was debated by Lord St. Oswald and Lord Merrivale in another place, even at 8 o'clock in the morning, but they got a cold reply from the Lord Chancellor.

I believe that Gibraltar and, for that matter, the much smaller Falkland Islands, with only 2,500 people, are unique in their claim for full British citizenship and that we cannot properly say that it would be a precedent for the other territories of what remains of the Colonial Empire, because they can never be independent, the Falklands, through fear of absorption by the Argentine, and, in the case of Gibraltar, because of the Treaty of Utrecht, which we must honour. Action on all these suggestions could be taken by Her Majesty's Government.

It would be so much better, however, to achieve a settlement. Gibraltar merely wants security, a free British way of life and a chance to develop her small territory as a tourist paradise for all Western Europe. Yet Gibraltarians fear that we may not keep our faith with those who put their trust in us. To quote again from The Times of yesterday: When Spaniards note the moves over the Falklands, or examine the proposed Anglo-Guatemala treaty on British Honduras, they may be excused for concluding, quite wrongly, that the British may be induced by pressure to abandon Gibraltar. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear beyond peradventure this afternoon that we will protect Gibraltar and fight her battles, economic or of any kind, but that we hope that common sense will prevail, to the mutual advantage of the people of Gibraltar, of Britain and of Spain.

4.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Ipswich

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) is to be congratulated on raising this topic today. I was in the fullest agreement with about 90 per cent. of what he said. This is an issue on which there is substantial identity of view, not only in this House, but in the country. We are all agreed that we cannot hand over the people of Gibraltar against their will to Spain, or, for that matter, to anyone else.

It is, however, important to make quite clear, not so much to ourselves as to the world outside, the grounds on which we arrive at that conclusion. During the last three years, a series of Notes have been exchanged between the British and Spanish Governments. There have been arguments about the Treaty of Utrecht, the circumstances in which it was signed and the extent to which it has been adhered to. There have been further arguments about the zone between the Rock and the fence, the Spaniards claiming that it was never covered by the original treaty and that the British have encroached upon it, and the British relying upon the doctrines of acquiescence and prescription.

All these matters could, and would, have been canvassed in the International Court had the Spanish Government agreed to go there, but in presenting our case outside we should take our stand first and foremost, not on these rather legalistic and historical considerations, but on the Charter of the United Nations, and particularly the provision to which the hon. Member for Wavertree referred.

I regret as much as the hon. Member the votes at the United Nations on this subject. I believe that it is impossible to justify the majority vote. Nevertheless, we in this country should take our stand on the Charter and make quite clear that, whatever anybody else may do, we intend to carry out our Charter obligations.

It is important in that connection to emphasise that, where there is any form of conflict between any other international engagements and the Charter, it is the Charter which must prevail. That is laid down in an Article which has not I think, been cited in these debates, Article 103: In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail. The obligations are set out, as the hon. Gentleman said, in Article 73, which refers to the way in which territories still under colonial rule must be administered. It refers in particular to the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount". It goes on to specify what those obligations are. The second paragrapth says: to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions". No one has the slightest doubt what are the political aspirations of the people of Gibraltar. I would say, in parenthesis, that the argument that I am putting forward applies with no less force to the Falkland Islands and British Honduras.

I go back to another paragraph in Article 73, which is less seldom quoted: to ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned, their political, economic, social, and educational advancement, their just treatment, and their protection against abuses". We cannot possibly ensure the just treatment of the people of Gibraltar if they are handed over to the present Spanish régime. Today, 30 years after the end of the Civil War, the Government of General Franco is still one of the most repressive in the world. We cannot read any account of what happens in Spain without realising that liberty is still a dirty word in Madrid.

The hon. Member quoted from an article in The Times. I want to quote from an article which appeared a day or two ago from The Times' team which went to Spain. I quote one paragraph only: As the right-wing régime opts increasingly for oppression, it alienates many of its staunchest supporters. Among them are the professional-class parents of university students, disenchanted by the unimaginative measures taken to quell student unrest. The Roman Catholic Church, long thought to be the Government's strongest prop, is faced with a mounting revolt by clergy and Christian laity alike. Parish priests from the Barcelona suburbs turns out on the streets in scores to protest against police brutality. In this House and, I hope, throughout the country, we distinguish between the Spanish Government, and the Spanish people, but it is the Spanish Government with whom we now have to deal.

I come to the question, considered by the hon. Gentleman, of what can be done. I do not believe that it is practicable to prevent British tourists from going to Spain if they choose, but I think we ought to appeal to them not to go in present circumstances. Also, I should be reluc- tant to keep out the Spanish workers who normally come to this country at certain times of the year.

Nevertheless, I think that there are a number of steps that we could take. Some of them have just been indicated to the House by the hon. Gentleman. Some are set out in today's Guardian in an interview with Mr. Suriya, the Gibraltar Minister of Economic Development. He wants us to arrange for more ships to call at Gibraltar. He also asks that the British Government should co-operate in building a new hotel with 300 bedrooms and facilities for the holding of conferences, and he further asks for the construction of a yacht marina. Those are all ways in which the British Government could give practical help at the present time, and I hope that they will be very closely examined by my right hon. Friends. I am not in any way attacking the Government. In this matter I have complete confidence in the firmness and determination of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

4.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

Perhaps the best way in which I can express the very genuine gratitude of the people of Gibraltar to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) for raising this subject yesterday, and to you, Mr. Speaker, for granting this debate, is to read a telegram that I received a few moments ago from Gibraltar. I think it worth putting on record how rapidly the people of Gibraltar have responded.

The telegram is from the members of the Chamber of Commerce in Gibraltar, the body which on the face of it stands to gain most from a settlement with Spain because it is the business community above all that is suffering. I suggest that their forthright response has all the more significance. The telegram reads: The Directors and Members of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce thank you, John Tilney, and other Members of Parliament for your warm support for us in Gibraltar in demanding debate and to Speaker for agreeing to its taking place today as a matter of urgency. All Gibraltar has faith and confidence that Parliament and the British people will continue to support our determination that, come what may, we shall remain British and strengthen our bond with you all. In the climate of what has happened—fresh restrictions—this indicates what a deep responsibility we in this House have in that our action has evoked a response as rapid as that. I wish not only that the British people and this House would express themselves as firmly, but that the British Government would express themselves a little more firmly in the future than they have done in the past.

Although Her Majesty's Government, in their wisdom, did not promote any United Kingdom referees at last September's plebiscite—for reasons which were never made quite clear—I was invited to go out as an unofficial one and was there throughout the whole period. What took place at that time was far more than an overwhelming vote. The countries which supplied official referees were Kenya, Jamaica, Pakistan and New Zealand. Far too little public recognition has been given to the fact that those four observers came—let us face it—from countries not all of which have by no means always voted in the United Nations or elsewhere on our side. Those distinguished gentlemen, acting in their individual capacity, gave 100 per cent. clear support to the absolute genuineness and fairness of the plebiscite. Most such reports contain some points of criticism, but in their report there was not one item of criticism that suggested that the result of the plebiscite was not completely true, un-intimidated and uninfluenced and did not show the wishes of the people of Gibraltar.

What happened that night? I was in the crowd outside the palace when the result was announced. The enthusiasm was overwhelming. Men, women and children were openly weeping in the streets because of the significance of the occasion. The Governor and the Chief Minister went on the balcony and, responding to the crowd, asked them to disperse peacefully to their homes, but gave a perfectly clear indication—I do not blame them for what has happened since, because they believed it—that the result was only a prelude to the implementation of the referendum in the sense of steps being taken to strengthen the bonds of Gibraltar with this country.

That was understood by the thousands in the square that night. Moreover, on the same occasion it was mentioned that a constitutional conference would take place early in the New Year. For one reason or another, the conference promised so soon after the referendum is now to take place—and even that is not definitely setled—at the end of June this year. Those six months have seen a definite erosion in the confidence of Gibraltarians in Her Majesty's Government to look after their interests.

It is no use for Ministers of the Crown in this House or in another place to say that they cannot understand what it is all about. Over and over again, they have said that they will stand by the people of Gibraltar. Her Majesty's Ministers have to look at this in the context of the people who, last September, showed their overwhelming support and who, since then, have seen nothing happen. In fact, they have seen something happen. They have seen Her Majesty's Government make further grovelling attempts to renew negotiations with Spain, but no constitutional talks with them.

Only the other day a Minister from the Box—not the Minister who will be replying to this debate, but one of his colleagues—said that one of the reasons why Gibraltar could now have its conference was because talks with Spain were out of the way. The Secretary of State did not say this himself, but that was the impression which was conveyed by his colleague, and I have written to the Secretary of State about this. I hope that he will clarify this publicly today.

In making points about Gibraltar in this House, I do not do so, as the hon. Member for Torquay, for the sake of it. I do so for the reason that day after day I and other hon. Members receive letters from people in Gibraltar expressing concern, and it is those views that we are putting forward.

What has happened in Gibraltar is a hangover following on the referendum. A hangover is never a particularly pleasant state, either physically or mentally. This has contributed to the sourness of the riots which occurred the other day when the so-called "doves" went to Madrid.

I ask the Secretary of State to clarify a further point. It is widely believed in Gibraltar—I say this in all seriousness, and I ask the Secretary of State either to confirm or to deny it—that Her Majesty's Government knew of or connived at the visit of those gentlemen to Madrid in advance of their going there. I am not making an accusation. I am saying that this is widely believed in Gibraltar today, and I have been approached to see whether this can be clarified. It is this sort of suspicion that erodes the confidence of the people in Gibraltar, so that they wonder if this would be the beginning of another bout of talks which will delay once more the constitutional talks.

I have quite shortly painted a picture of the past. I will now address my mind to what in practical terms can be done. Economic aid, although obviously a central feature, is not by any means the only thing we can do. I would ask the Government, although they have full right to take credit for it, not to exaggerate their contribution up to now. In terms of the total budget which Gibraltar has to meet out of its own resources, £200,000 is a tiny sum. The annual budget of Gibraltar is £2 million. By all means, let us pat ourselves on the back, but let us not think it is so marvellous in terms of what we shall have to continue to do in the future. It represents only a fraction of what this Government, and others too, for all I know, spend on far less worthy causes than helping this small community.

There is the difficult question of retaliation, and whether pressures on Spain will contribute towards a desirable result. I was amused to hear the Foreign Secretary yesterday make such a strong point that economic pressures exerted for a political end were not likely to achieve their aims. As I want to keep the House in a pleasant mood this afternoon, I will not pursue a possible paradox in that attitude.

I questioned the Foreign Secretary about debarring Spanish workers from going into Gibraltar. They are the only people who can cross the frontier and take out sterling at the end of the month. He said that we must be careful that we hurt only the right people. This, also, is a paradoxical situation in another context where I have been told that the innocent have to suffer along with the guilty if it is for a desirable political end. Yet it is true that one must bear all these considerations in mind if one is to be helpful.

There are two facets I would mention on the question of holidays. I find it difficult to appreciate why more people in this country do not feel a certain unhappiness about bolstering Spain's economy while pressure on Gibraltar exists. However, that must be for every man to decide for himself, and I would not wish to persuade anyone. The Foreign Secretary was right on that, yesterday. Prevention of free movement does not help.

The Spanish workers coming into Gibraltar will be stopped before very long, whether we like it or not, and it might just as well be the British who take the initiative. One of two things will happen; either Spain will withdraw when it suits them and we shall not be ready, or the people of Gibraltar, good tempered, and good natured as they are, in the light of the latest restrictions and the claustrophobia undoubtedly engendered especially among the poor people who cannot regularly escape by aeroplane.

There will be trouble with Spanish workers before long if no positive action is taken by the Government. Some Spanish workers will then be hurt in a riot and we shall either find ourselves in a major imbroglio with Spain, and she will withdraw them, and we shall have to debar them anyway. I would make a wager with the Secretary of State that, unless we take strong measures, the Spanish workers will not be in Gibraltar within a month, whether we take the initiative or not. Our hands will be forced one way or the other.

The second retaliatory move which we might take on our initiative has been mentioned by my hon. Friend. Because of what happened with the Kenya Asians we are having to take more immigrants into the country than was planned a little time ago. It has been admitted that this figure will have to be increased. I do not see why the purely discretionary permits to Spanish workers to come to this country should not be reviewed. This, surely, is not an unfair suggestion. The Spaniards should move to the bottom of the list, when one considers that week after week they are not only coming here and obtaining the benefits, but that they are, during a period of difficulty with the balance of payments, sending money home.

There is surely a lack of logic here. They are making life difficult in Gibraltar, and yet we are in some cases putting them ahead of other immigrants with a better case for coming into the country than the Spanish possess. This is not a question of hurting innocent people. I am merely saying that we should withstand so much immigration and tell them they will come at the bottom of the list as long as they continue to behave as they are behaving now.

I move to more constructive matters. A very good result flowed from the appointment of the Malta Development Commission of businessmen from both countries. Gibraltar, too, is a small country, I know it very well indeed. I declare my interest, although it is not a direct financial one, in that I have done my best to get firms to go there from this country. A lot more could be done. We are talking about the economic wellbeing of only 25,000 or 26,000 people. A concerted move by business and Government together could easily get us out of a jam and, incidentally, save Her Majesty's Government a good deal of budgetary aid in the future. These are not great problems, and Gibraltar could be helped along very much by a small group of devoted Britishers and Gibraltarians working together, as in the case of Malta.

The House would be surprised at how rapidly results could flow, and this would have a very good psychological effect on the Gibraltarians. They would be able to see how long we intend to stay there, as would the Spaniards which would be a better demonstration of our intention than sending diplomatic notes which are thrown into the waste-paper basket in Madrid the minute they are received.

Finally, I have never believed in the value of an integration policy for the Gibraltarians. This debate is a good answer to those who think that their affairs would be looked after better by a single M.P. for Gibraltar than by the House of Commons, which on these occasions very well rises to the need to look after those who are not represented here. We know the difficulty of getting a debate on matters concerning our constituencies. The Gibraltarian member would find himself extremely frustrated if he had to join the line of those who wanted to talk about their own more immediate affairs. Nevertheless, if a majority of the people of Gibraltar showed that they wanted integration with us, I should not be one of those who stood in their way from any narrow parochial point of view. However, that would not be in their true interests, and I hope that they will settle for something different.

I revert to what the people of Gibraltar are feeling. They fear—and Her Majesty's Government have done something deliberately to encourage their fear—that this constitutional conference will produce practically nothing. Practically the only suggestion which the Secretary of State's colleague made when he went to Gibraltar was that the status of the city of Gibraltar should be raised to that of a Royal borough and that it should be given a lord mayor rather than a mayor. I do not know whether the noble Lord thought that, that, in view of the mood of the people of Gibraltar, was the sort of thing to get the blood coursing through their veins. If I were living there under the present stresses and strains, it would not excite me.

I have been trying to obtain, and I think that I can fairly say that I have obtained, Her Majesty's Government's view that from a legal point of view there would be no breach of the Treaty of Utrecht if a relationship similar to that which exists between this country and the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man were granted to Gibraltar. Whenever we try to get this Government to agree to big constitutional changes for Gibraltar, we are always told that we must not do this because of the risk of running up against the Treaty of Utrecht. But it appears now that there is no danger of this. I never thought that there was. Her Majesty's Government now concede that that would not run counter to any articles in the Treaty of Utrecht.

That would do two things. First, it would allay the Gibraltarians' fears that in the end they will be deserted by a change of mood in this country or elsewhere. Secondly, it would encourage them to do whatever was necessary in their interests and face the fact that there will be a long and indefinite period of Spanish hostility and will, therefore, have to play their part and develop an island economy and outlook. There is no halfway house. But we cannot expect them to do that if we leave them in a vacuum. If we did those two things and gave the people of Gibraltar a constitutional link, this would have a very good psychological effect and we would get out of their mind the fear that they have nowhere to go because, just like the citizens of the Channel Islands, they would be able freely to come to this country.

If anyone fears a sudden mass immigration of people from Gibraltar, he has only to consider the total population and realise that the only reason why they would want to come here is their sense of claustrophobia. For Gibraltarians it becomes almost a sickness after a time when they know that they have absolutely nowhere to go. This sort of gesture by the British Government would not lead to large numbers of Gibraltarians Doming here. If they did come, it would amount to less than a month's past intake of other categories of immigrants. Even if the whole population abandoned the Rock, it would not make that much impact. I do not think that even my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) would take exception to an inflow of people from Gibraltar in these exceptional circumstances.

Our best contribution would be to en- able the people of Gibraltar, under whatever constitution we adopt, first, to appreciate that they are with us for good, if that is what is wanted, and, secondly, that they can come to this country freely as British citizens. It is so easy to do these things. We make a plea to the Government to take these small steps which would have a most rewarding result in the near future for the future of this small country and our own self-respect.

4.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Jeger Mr George Jeger , Goole

The whole House would want to congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) on seizing the initiative yesterday and enabling this debate to take place by permission of Mr. Speaker. If this has upset the Government time-table, and perhaps Ministers, they have only themselves to blame. The double-talk which has been going on between the Government and Spain, on the one hand, and the Government of Gibraltar, on the other, during the last few months has caused even the most loyal supporters of the Government to doubt their intentions.

We have wondered whether they have been waiting for something to happen in Spain, just as those who support Britain's entry into the European Economic Community have been wondering whether Britain is waiting for something to happen in France. With a change of Government in those two countries, perhaps the Governments' policies will be changed, too.

We call in this debate for a clear indication by the Government spokesman of the Government's future policy and intentions. Let there be no doubt that there is almost a united House on this matter. Not a single voice has been raised by the Spanish lobby or by any supporters of the present Spanish régime on either side of the House against the view expressed by hon. Members opposite and on this side over the last few months.

The talks which have been held with the Spanish Government have been a mistake from the beginning, because everybody knows that Spain is interested in only one thing—flying the Spanish flag on the Rock of Gibraltar. They are not interested in anything else. When it was said that we were prepared to discuss, not the possession and sovereignty of Gibraltar, but only the restrictions which have been imposed by the Spanish Government on the Gibraltarians, the Spaniards backed out of the discussions. That was a clear indication that they were not interested in anything except getting possession of the rock. At the same time, the British Government were giving verbal assurances to the Gibraltarians that we would always stand by them. They were so vague and meaningless that they caused a certain amount of doubt among the loyal population of Gibraltar.

As a democratic country, we cannot do less than stand by them. Gibraltar is a British Colony. The recent referendum showed that over 12,000 people in Gibraltar wanted a closer association with Britain and to remain British and that only a handful of people, 44—wanted to give up their British nationality and a closer relationship with Spain. Obviously, the Gibraltarians, used to democracy, freedom of speech and free elections, did not wish to ally themselves with Fascist Spain.

Perhaps the reason for the Government's attitude and the doubts which have arisen in Spain stem from the advisers to the Government. It may be that the advisers to Her Majesty's Minister do not understand the nature of Fascism. They have not had to deal with it. They cannot understand that they are dealing with Fascist bullies and a police State in which there is suppression of free speech and imprisonment without trial and where none of the democratic safeguards which we enjoy exist. I am not talking of the Spanish people. They are, like people all over the world, mixed, mainly very charming, hospitable and friendly. I am talking of the Spanish régime, and for that the Spanish people are not responsible. They have had no chance of voting for or against the régime. They have had to accept it as a military junta.

In addition, the Foreign Office advisers do not understand something which is almost unique in British history. Here is a British Colony which wants to remain British—a most unusual situation. It would be easy to deal with a British Colony which was demanding its independence, and whose people were shooting British soldiers in the back and throwing stones at the Governor's windows. Gibraltar would get its independence if only it created enough damage. Other Colonies obtained their independence in that way, but Gibraltar is loyal, and it is suffering for its loyalty. This is one of the things which perhaps Her Majesty's Government advisers have not taken into account. It is a situation for which there is very little precedent and they have not yet worked out a pattern of behaviour.

Every time talks have been instituted between the British Government and Spain on the future of Gibraltar, or the relationship between Spain and Britain, the screw has been turned even tighter, and more restrictions have been imposed by Spain every time we have conceded that we will talk to Spain about the situation. We have seen this going on for years.

The hon. Member for Wavertree brought a little political implication into the situation by saying that the Labour Government of 1964 fed some oil on to the flames when they refused to take part in military manœuvres with Spain and refused to supply frigates to Spain, but that was not the origin of this dispute. The origin of these restrictions on Gibraltar goes back a dozen years or more. They go back to the time when Her Majesty the Queen visited Gibraltar without asking Franco's permission.

The result of that was the withdrawal of the Spanish consul from Gibraltar and the imposition of passes for Gibraltarians who wished to go across the frontier into Spain. The restrictions imposed then were not so severe as they are now. They have been stiffened and intensified over the years, but that was the beginning of them. The previous happy, neighbourly relations which existed between Gibraltar and Spain were interrupted and broken, and they have never been rejoined from the time that the Queen paid a visit to her loyal Colony of Gibraltar 13 years ago.

That fact should be better known than it is. Then there would not be the political ding-dong going on about whether we should or should not have supplied frigates to Spain in 1964. After all, the Labour Government did then only what both sides of the House say that they should do now. Therefore, the refusal to supply frigates at that time should be a subject for congratulation by hon. Members opposite, not one of condemnation.

How long does it take our advisers to learn the lesson that appeasement of dictators does not bring results and does not work? How long does it take to study the history of the pre-war appeasement of Hitler and Mussolini and to see what came out of the appeasement which went on at that time? How long does it take to learn the lesson of history which Franco learned from Hitler and Mussolini of how to run his country and how to run his Government? He would not have been in power today had it not been for their help, but for all their power, their arrogance and hostility and diplomatic viability, the Spanish régime is a very stupid one.

If Spain really wanted to get possession of the Rock of Gibraltar, the way for her to do it would be to woo the inhabitants of Gibraltar by friendliness, by giving them generous terms, making them welcome and making them feel that they would be a welcome part of Spain, instead of treating them as though they are deadly enemies and subjecting them, day after day, to abusive propaganda by television and radio. That is not the way to woo people one wants to be friends and to make them part of one's family. It is sheer stupidity on the part of the Franco Government to behave in the way they do, because nothing cements people more than to have enemies on the other side of tie border attacking them instead of wooing them with friendly gestures and generosity.

I can say that now because it is too late for any action which the Franco régime may take. They have done the damage to the friendliness of the people of Gibraltar and, whatever may happen in future, there will always be the memory of the hostility and bitterness shown by the Spanish régime against the Gibraltar people. The people of Gibraltar are loyal and patient, but we cannot expect them to be patient forever. I do not know that we can expect them to be loyal forever. No expression of mother love from the motherland will compensate them forever for the exasperation caused by seeing no response by Britain to the way in which they, as loyal members of the British family, are treated by the Spanish Government.

Some time, as the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) said, there might be some reaction by the Gibraltarians to the Spanish workers who are still working in Gibraltar and crossing the frontier each day. We could be faced then with complaints from Spain and legally and technically we should be in the wrong. The Government cannot continue to bank on the loyal and moderate leaders who at present are leading the people of Gibraltar. They have formed a coalition, and they have the backing of well over 90 per cent. of the people of Gibraltar, but their moderation and their loyalty are being subjected to a certain amount of strain when they cannot see results from their dealings with the British Government.

What can we do to help? Every hon. Member who has spoken so far in this debate has contributed suggestions for what can be done. I, too, have some suggestions. Some of them dovetail into some of the suggestions already put forward, but I start with one which has not yet been made. I put forward the proposition that we should recall our Ambassador from Madrid. That would have to be followed by the recall of the Spanish Ambassador from London, in which case the Embassy would be manned by a chargé d'aflaires which would lower the level of the status of Spain in the international sphere as a world Power. This would be a blow to their pride, something not violent but which would have an effect.

I would have another look at the way in which, as the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, we are giving grants-in-aid to see whether those grants are being given in sufficient quantities, whether they are being given sufficiently quickly, and how long it takes to vet an application for assistance when put in by the Government of Gibraltar before the Treasury sanctions it, and whether they cannot be speeded to show a measure of willingness to go half-way to meeting them.

Then there is the question of air flights into Spain and into Gibraltar. Restrictions are placed on the land frontier. At present, there is no land communication, only sea and air communication. I have no doubt whatever that in the near future there will be interruption in the sea communication. Spanish ships will fill the bay and there will be interruption of shipping out of Gibraltar. That leaves us with only air communication. I suggest that through our nationalised B.E.A. we should arrange for more flights into Gibraltar and fewer flights into Spain, more into Gibraltar and on to Tangier.

It has been suggested by the hon. Member for Wavertree that we should put a tax on tourists going to Spain. I would be thoroughly in favour of that. It would cut down on our sterling going out and it would cut down on their tourism, on which they depend a great deal to balance their budget. The new constitutional talks, which are due to begin rather belatedly, should be speeded up. We should also speed up the industrial development of Gibraltar. The two go together, because there is not likely to be very much industrial development and investment in a country which is not firmly based. Until the constitution has been settled, there will be some hesitation on industrial development and investment. Long-term security and stability must be given to Gibraltar so that it can build up its industries and its morale, which is so important.

There are at present about 5,000 Spanish workers who pass the frontier daily into Gibraltar and take back into Spain between £2 million and £3 million sterling every year. They are not allowed to buy anything in Gibraltar: they must take their sterling across the frontier and exchange it at the Spanish frontier post at a "phoney" rate of exchange, and then spend their pesetas in Spain. So Spain gets the full value of the sterling which is paid out in wages to Spanish workers.

I do not see why we continue to allow 5,000 Spanish workers to come into Gibraltar to work. We have unemployed people in Britain. There are unemployed people in the dockyards of Malta. There are unemployed people in Portugal and in Morocco. I do not see why we should not take the initiative of dismissing those 5,000 Spanish workers who work today in the workshops and the dockyards of Gibraltar and replacing them by other people, and thus save the sterling.

A suggestion has been made about restricting Spanish workers in Britain. I have looked at the figures. The latest are for 1966 and I see that over 2,000 workers were allowed into Britain in that year for less than 12 months, 4,800 for 12 months and about 1,400 for 12 months or more. If we are to tighten up on immigration and have stricter control of work permits, I share with the hon. Member for Torquay the desire that we should start cutting down on the workers who come here from Spain and should extend our strict control, in the first place, to the Spanish workers who come to this country.

The next thing we should do is to review our trade treaties with Spain. These come up periodically for review and modification and the next time we have trade talks with the representatives of the Spanish Government we should insist, as a matter of right, that Gibraltar be treated as a part of Britain and that whatever is good for Spanish-British trade should also be good for Spanish-Gibraltar trade, that a blow to Gibraltar will be treated as a blow to Britain.

It may be said—and, indeed, it has been said in a rather despicable leading article in the Yorkshire Post this morning—that whatever we do to injure Spain in the way of retaliation will result in cutting off our noses to spite our faces, and will turn back on us. That has not deterred us from action on a moral issue which we have thought to be necessary in other parts of the world. Several times in the past few months I have heard on the subject of Rhodesia that it is a moral issue and that, even though it is costing us a great deal to stand by this moral issue and our obligations and what we believe to be right, we have undertaken it and are going through with it.

It may well be that our trade with Spain will be injured. It may well be that we as well as Spain, will suffer by it, but on a moral issue one does not count the suffering but the extent to which one stands by one's principles and one's friends. I regard Gibraltar as being on an equivalent level as a moral issue and I hope that the representative of Her Majesty's Government will accept that moral obligation and see to it that Gibraltar has no doubts or fears for its future.

5.4 p.m.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

I am sure that the House has listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger). I agree with almost every word he has said. He has taken a great interest in Gibraltarian affairs for many years.

I am sure that the House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) for initiating this debate. I think that he spoke very modestly and kept the temperature down when he could have said rather more.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister will note the mood of the House of Commons this afternoon. On this issue the House is speaking with one voice, and when the House does that it is time for the Government to take action and not to let this matter build up to something in the country, as we have seen in other events; because this may be a small matter but in the eyes of the people there is a great principle involved.

I feel about Gibraltar as many hon. Members opposite feel about Rhodesia and we are perfectly right to express a parallel point of view. We all admire the Gibraltarians, their courage and steadfastness—they are a delightful people—and their Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan, and the lead he is giving to the people of Gibraltar.

Going back to the summer of 1964 and the matter of the frigates, I well remember the Government, then in opposition, saying at that time that they would not sell the ships to Spain if they were elected in October, 1964, and so on. Of course, this has been going on for years. Franco has used the Gibraltar situation when things have been particularly bad so that he could divert attention from domestic affairs, but the situation was very inflamed in those months of 1964 and it has gone on ever since. it is for that that I blame the Government. They seem to sell arms to some countries with which we do not agree, and not to others—to Portugal, for example, although some hon. Members are in disagreement with the aims of Portugal. There are far worse countries than Spain in that respect when it comes to trading with them.

In October, 1964, the Committee of 24 invited the United Kingdom and Spain to undertake conversations to find a negotiated settlement. On the very next day, 17th October, Spain began to enforce the Customs procedure more rigidly than before. As time has gone on—as the hon. Gentleman said, months and years have gone by—Spanish measures have been progressively extended in scope and severity.

Over the years I have rather liked the Spanish people. I think that most people do. They are very agreeable and friendly. But I detest the Franco régime, although there are many worse Governments even in Europe. He may not have done a lot for his people, but many other Governments have done worse, and every country gets the Government it deserves. Perhaps we should think of that in our own country today.

The talks began on 18th May, 1966, and dragged on until June, 1967. There were no positive results. Without going into all that happened in the United Nations, it was quite disgraceful what went on. That is why I have my doubts. I support the United Nations in principle; there has to be such an organisation, but it makes mistakes. We believe what it says about Rhodesia, but then it rigs a vote and we see the result as regards Gibraltar. I hope that the Government will not have any truck with the United Nations in connection with this situation.

After the referendum the British Government again suggested talks with Spain. Spain replied that talks could wait until after discussion by the General Assembly of the United Nations. My argument to the Government is that over the years since they have been in power they never seem to have got to grips with the situation. They have shown vacillation and weakness. There have been the rumours of the discussions with the Argentine Government over the Falkland Islands and with Guatemala over British Honduras. People take encouragement from this and continue, knowing that the chances are that they will get away with baiting of this kind. Over the past 12 months this has been happening all over the world in different aspects of foreign affairs.

I was delighted to see the line taken by Lord Caradon when Britain voted against the resolution on this subject. He called it a disgrace and said that to hand over Gibraltar to a régime which had done so much to harm them would be an intolerable injustice. That is what Lord Caradon said and the Government must stand by that.

On 19th February of this year the British Government again proposed to Spain that talks be held at official level in Madrid on 15th March. These talks were held, lasted a day or two, and were called off. They failed completely. In April last year we had the air restrictions. Very little has been said about that. Fortunately, B.E.A., with charter flights into Gibraltar, managed by some very clever flying to maintain a service, but it must be extremely difficult when the weather is bad.

In April, 1967 Spain notified I.C.A.O. that a zone near Gibraltar was prohibited to all types of foreign aircraft. The hon. Member for Goole is quite right: unless we take a firm stand, there will be added restrictions. I think that on one occasion a ship with a very high mast was sited to windward of the runway, which impaired the safety of aircraft, and it was suggested that a yacht marina should be built. It is dangerous enough for a naval vessel or a cargo ship to go in and out of Gibraltar, let alone small yachts. The Government must be quite certain about what they are doing before they encourage such ventures. As to aviation, Britain raised the matter at the Council of the I.C.A.O. under Articles 54 and 89 of the Chicago Convention. The proceedings are still continuing. Like all these things, they go on for years.

Sooner or later, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) said, the 5,000 Spanish workers will be withdrawn on some pretext or other. Without causing undue hardship to the people of Gibraltar immediate plans should be taken—I do not say stop the passes of the Spaniards tomorrow—to ensure that they can be replaced in a matter of weeks or a month or so. We should take the initiative and show the people of Gibraltar what we are doing.

In my view, the British Government have bent over backwards in an effort to find a solution, but they must remember who they are dealing with. When dealing with a man like Franco we are not dealing with a perfect gentleman. Therefore, other methods must be found. The hon. Member for Goole said that the British Ambassador should be recalled. I entirely agree, but I put it another way round. The Spanish Ambassador in London has completely failed to convey to his Government the mood and the opinions of the British people. Therefore, what is he doing here? I would declare him persona non grata. Then bring back the British Ambassador.

Only by adopting measures like this will the British Government get Franco to show some respect for Britain. It is no good going on having conferences and seeing little steps being taken bit by bit, biting into the freedom of Gibraltar. That will not do. All that is being done by Spain is very severely affecting the economy and the lives of the people of Gibraltar.

The Government could do much more. In the case of Malta, Lord Robens recently headed a mission which went out and studied the problems there. A book was circulated to Members of Parliament last week about the progress being made. Not so much progress has been made as was perhaps to be expected, but good progress has been made. Why cannot something be done for Gibraltar on the lines of the Robens mission? As for tourism there, if there are not enough tenders to take passengers off liners, more vessels should be bought. Much more could be done.

It is not very satisfying to Gibraltarians to feel that for the immediate years ahead they must just live on British aid. They must be able to hold their heads high and earn their living in the ways they want to. They must go across the Mediterranean and bring in workers and encourage tourism from Gibraltar across to Morocco. Why cannot we offer to Gibraltar what was done for the Channel Islands? That arrangement works well. Industries have been built up there. The Gibraltarians should be offered similar arrangements.

A few years ago France got worked up about the Minquiers Islands, which lie to the south of Jersey about eight or 10 miles from France. These islands are not very important, except for fishing rights. The matter was taken to the International Court of Justice at The Hague and Britain won the case. It is no good, just because an island or a piece of land is near another country, to accede to a demand that that country has a right to it.

The people of Gibraltar have been tied to Britain for 300 years. They do not want to leave us. This is very unusual, as the hon. Member for Goole said. We are the guardians of their future and, if they do not want to leave us, we must look after them. Urgent action is required.

I respect the Secretary of State for the way he deals with matters at the Foreign Office. He is the only one there that I respect in that way. He must get to grips with this problem. I would be against putting a tax on British holiday makers going to Spain. I do not believe in interfering with the subject to a greater extent than is necessary.

However, I suggest that a Minister with responsibility for these affairs goes on television and explains in simple language to the British people what this is all about. They read a little about what takes place, but not a great deal. Let a Minister go on television and explain to the people what damage is being done to these brave people in Gibraltar.

Unless the Secretary of State gives a far more satisfactory reply than we have previously received, this will not be the last debate on Gibraltar. I shall do everything I can to see that these people get a proper deal and that their future is assured. I hope that the Secretary of State will take the initiative against Spain and institute some sanctions.

6.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Jackson Mr George Jackson , Brighouse and Spenborough

I want to add my congratulations to those which have been offered to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) on raising this subject for debate today. I want, also, to echo the almost unanimous expression of concern about the people of Gibraltar and the territory there. There is no doubt that as we speak today the people of the Rock will be waiting in a desperately anxious mood. They will be waiting to hear the Secretary of State give a reply for Britain because of the insults by the Spanish Government against the Rock and its people.

The problem of Gibraltar falls basically into two quite simple divisions: first, the political question and the question of morale; and, secondly, the question of sustaining the territory economically. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to say categorically tonight that, as long as the people of Gibraltar clearly, in almost absolute unanimity, express their desire to remain closely associated with Britain, their desire will be respected and maintained by this Parliament without any qualifications whatsoever.

I was in Gibraltar during the referendum last year. That referendum, which was held in complete freedom and which was witnessed by other Commonwealth nations, showed that the people of Gibraltar will not be divorced by force from the United Kingdom by the Spanish Government by any means whatsoever. It is imperative that we give a clear message of guarantee today, otherwise the mood of the people of Gibraltar may rapidly deteriorate. They are isolated. They are subject to insults that no civilised nation would ever imagine should be delivered.

There is a limit even to the patience of these people. Month by month, and year by year, they have been subjected to nagging humiliations. It is time we made it quite clear that this kind of action must not continue and that the United Kingdom will always support the Rock, whatever the provocations. I am much enamoured of the suggestion that the Spanish Ambassador in London should be sent home, because he does no good. It would be better that he were gone. We should make it quite clear in Madrid, too, that there is little purpose in our Ambassador remaining if the Spanish Government are unable to behave in a civilised fashion.

I hope that we shall be told by the Secretary of State tonight that the talks which will shortly be in progress will enable the people of Gibraltar to have a political solution which will not exclude a Channel Islands type arrangement and will not exclude, for example, if the people of Gibraltar so desire, the eventual signing of an act of union between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom.

There are individual matters to ease the morale situation in Gibraltar that I think are important. Reference has been made to the air link. I hope that we manage to encourage further charter flights at special low rates. Our fellow citizens in Gibraltar have an acute sense of claustrophobia. At present, the cheapest fare is £36 for a night flight, which is a big item in a Gibraltarian's budget. If there could be a much lower figure of £20, which I understand is economically possible, and fairly frequent contact, it would be an advantage.

The people of Malta have a special immigration concession to enter the United Kingdom. The people of Gibraltar, in somewhat the same special position as the people of Malta, should have a similar concession. If we do not do it that way, let us take 500 off the number of Spanish workers who are coming in at present and make that number available to the people of Gibraltar to enter and return freely, so that they feel that they have an immediate opening to the United Kingdom for short or long visits.

On the economic side, the question of the Spanish workers poses something of a dilemma. There have been certain initial suggestions, such as the one that they should come over on the ferry from Algeciras, which would be rather pleasant. They would spend most of their time travelling over and back and would be paid for the amount of time they spent on the Rock. But I hope that we would use the ferry for tourists in the summer.

Lord Robens has carried out an investigation into the economy of Malta, including the dockyards. I should be very interested to see an inquiry into the efficiency of the Gibraltar dockyard, perhaps by a distinguished former member of the Armed Forces in the House. I have visited it more than once and always found it something of a mystery how the 5,000 people there managed to keep themselves economically employed, waiting for a ship to turn up. I believe that we could cut those numbers fairly drastically and fairly quickly, and nothing would be lost. As with Malta, the emphasis should all the time be on commercial ship repairing.

There are Moroccan friends who have come over from Tangier to help and who behave very properly and correctly in Gibraltar. They are of benefit to Gibraltar, and their numbers can be increased. The sooner Gibraltar's dependence on Spanish labour is removed the better, because that is a further turn of the screw that Franco is waiting to inflict. I find myself in something of a dilemma, because in contemplating this we are considering punishing the Spanish workers, and that is not something that any hon. Member would want to do. The Spanish workers in the La Linea area are the unwilling victims of the régime in Madrid, which has also attacked the lawyers, the students and the factory workers.

We should make haste with industrial and economic development in Gibraltar. It is fairly easy to say that, and it has been said many times in the past, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) says, we should try to speed up the time between a project's being approved and going into operation in Gibraltar. We should persuade our friends in the Armed Forces in Gibraltar slightly more rapidly to give up even more of the territory they have occupied in out-of-date barracks and so on. I am sure that they do not want to be saddled with them. They have already cleared a good number. These are vital areas for both flats and hotels, and in view of the latest action by General Franco there must be more urgency about this.

We cannot go on indefinitely hoping that useful things will happen in the relatively near future. We should make it easier for people from the United King- dom to go to Gibraltar and reside there permanently. We should encourage its much more frequent use by British people as a Mediterannean resort.

We have had a more or less unanimous approach on the subject of the Rock this afternoon. The people of Gibraltar have been associated with us for 250 years. When we look at the Rock we see a mirror of ourselves. We see some of the things which we are not always too pleased about but also the things of which we have every right to be proud—a free people, a free Press, a moderate voice and a democratic spirit. It is our duty today, through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to send to the people of Gibraltar our clear and, without any complication whatsoever, absolute guarantee of their security in perpetuity, and our belief that they have a right to live in freedom just as we do.

5.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I share the opinion voiced by both sides of the House this afternoon, and I support Gibraltar in her present face-to-face position with Spain. I join other hon. Members in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), who had the initiative to secure the debate, which has so far been of great value in showing that the whole House is absolutely united in saying that Gibraltar is supported strongly, and that we have had enough of the bullying demeanour which has been adopted by the Spanish.

I hope that the message we shall get from the Minister is that at long last we shall tell Spain that enough is quite enough. I say that because for too long a succession of incidents has occurred over a number of years which we have simply passed off. We have shrugged our shoulders and hoped that the unpleasantness would end. For example, in 1966 the crossing of the frontier by tourists' cars was stopped. In 1967, the Spaniards, by a very dangerous procedure, tried to impair the use of our airfield at Gibraltar.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) said, very difficult and skilled flying by all pilots who enter Gibraltar is now involved if they are not to violate the very strict limitations of air space which Spain has imposed. I understand that in certain wind conditions it is almost impossible to land civil and military aircraft at Gibraltar airfield without violating those conditions.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

My hon. Friend used the phrase "almost impossible". I have flown there in conditions—and it happens more frequently at night—when civil aircraft must be diverted to Tangier, which puts everybody to a great deal of expense.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's observation. He has only recently returned from Gibraltar and he told us exactly what the people of Gibraltar are thinking and saying and what they hope will be the result of the debate. He also told us about the reactions in Gibraltar over the latest step the Spaniards have taken this year in closing the frontier to all but Spaniards.

I have briefly mentioned three major incidents. What is to come next? My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) suggested that within a month Spain would entirely withdraw all the Spanish workers now crossing over, and the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) suggested that we should get sea intervention by Spain on a large scale. I think that it is a little premature to suggest that those next steps will occur within a month, but occur they will if we continue to adopt the vacillating attitude of doing absolutely nothing in retaliation. It may be that they will occur sooner or later. The Spaniards may well stop all the Spanish workers crossing the border soon. They may well prevent the Algeciras ferry from running as another step in their chapter of planned incidents.

For far too long the Government have failed to identify this country with the people of Gibraltar in the face of the bullying demeanour adopted by Spain. Too often in recent years I have had the impression that Gibraltar has given the appearance of being a little country of 25,000 people face-to-face, almost alone, with a country of the stature and geographical size of Spain. I hope that one of the results of the Secretary of State's speech will be to make it clear that Gibraltar is not alone and that the British people are with her.

We have heard a number of cogent reasons from both sides of the House to explain the Spanish attitude. I believe that it hinges quite a bit on the present health and insecurity of the dictator of Spain, General Franco. His health is ailing. Spain is as much a police State as ever; almost daily there are severe internal disruptions. It is safe to say that there are organisations in Spain simply waiting for General Franco's death. That being the case, it is in the interests of the Spanish régime at the moment to endeavour to transfer the interest of its inhabitants overseas to the problem of Gibraltar.

Some hon. Members have made interesting suggestions as to what we should do, other than nothing, which is what we have done so far. I would like, first, to see introduced at an early date a Gibraltar Bill to establish once and for all the status of Gibraltar. I should like to see nothing less than Channel Island status for Gibraltar, with all the consequent advantages and security which my hon. Friend the Member for Waver-tree spelled out.

I listened with interest to the financial measures suggested by hon. Members. I suggest that, instead of putting a tax on travel to Spain, we simply reduce the foreign currency allowance. Why should it be £50 for travellers to Spain as well as for travellers to any other part of the non-sterling world while Spaniards adopt this aggressive attitude? Why should not the currency allowance for British citizens wishing to holiday there this summer be reduced to £25 until Spain ceases its present attitude? I, too, would put the Spanish workers wishing to come here at the bottom of the list for work permits.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay, I would take steps to prepare now for the next move that Spain will possibly make—the replacement of the Spanish workers who will, sooner or later, be withdrawn. My hon. Friend suggested that Moroccans or Maltese could be introduced to Gibraltar to do the work which the Spanish workers are now doing. I understand that many hundreds could be accommodated, provided they were single, as a temporary measure in some of the old barrack accommodation.

Let us get rid of the Spanish Ambassador. I think that we should have done this years ago. Obviously, he is ill-fitted to occupy his position if he has failed truthfully to interpret the attitude of the British people over Gibraltar. I suggest an interesting Amendment which the Government might make to the Finance Bill. They should introduce a temporary surcharge of 100 per cent. duty on Spanish wines entering this country.

Lastly, I counsel the Government to remain as immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar in this matter and to support the British people throughout in that territory.

5.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

First, I must make it clear where I stand on this matter, because I have listened to a tremendous amount of arrant nonsense during the last half hour. It is a paradoxical situation when hon. Members on both sides agree on certain points, since they violently disagree on many others. I, too, collected money for the International Brigade as a boy when the Spanish Civil War was on. Since then, I have done a good deal of reading, and I must say that, if Franco had not been successful, Spain would have gone Communist, with a great historic effect on Europe and this country.

I remember the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in July, 1964. In the last five minutes of it, he came out with references to "Fascist Spain" and to how there would be no guns, no boats and no nothing for Spain. A few months later, he decided that we would not allow our ships to exercise with ships of the Spanish Navy. All this did a lot to exacerbate feelings in Spain.

I am not talking in support of the Franco régime, but we should cast our minds back, because some hon. Members have been trying to reduce us to tears about what happened 250 years ago, when we took Gibraltar. The Spanish people there were turned out and we brought people in from the Mediterranean areas in their place. The Spaniards have been treated as second-class citizens by the Gibraltarians for years, up to two or three years ago.

We are told of the loyalty of Gibraltar to the Crown, and I accept that. I readily accept, too, that we must take care of the Gibraltarians. At the same time, we must try to understand the feelings of the Spaniards. If we want to arrive at the true position, we must try to look at the situation through their eyes and not be so stupid as to say that we should take certain steps when we know that the majority of world opinion is on the side of the Spanish Government.

The airport at Gibraltar has been mentioned. When we made that airport, we took mean advantage, in 1946 or 1947, by building it on land considered to be neutral. If Spain now says, "You are using the airport, but you should not invade Spanish air space", the same thing is applicable elsewhere. But all the time we expect Spain to take everything, including all the abuse meted out in this Chamber when people talk of some form of retaliation.

All the newspapers refer to restrictions. I would point out that these are not restrictions. They are the withdrawal of generous facilities. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) said that if only the Spanish régime would accept the policy of more compromise and move the people involved, they would be more successful. But the Spanish Government have been doing that for years.

There has been a tremendous amount of smuggling between Gibraltar and Spain—it has been acknowledged. It runs into million of pounds a year. I know that many people in Gibraltar are visitors themselves and have housing in Spain, paying no tax there and no tax here. Spain gives them many facilities and I remind the House that Gibraltar itself was very pro-Franco up to 1963. It may have been against the Spanish régime, but it was pro-Franco.

There is a divided opinion in Gibraltar at present. Some people there are quite prepared to talk about the best way out of these difficulties. Many people talked about a united Europe. But if we are going to hold Gibraltar—and we know what is happening in the Mediterranean—then it would be as well for those who own Gibraltar to have friends around them and not enemies.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

The hon. Gentleman said that the people of Gibraltar were pro-Franco until 1963. Is he suggesting that that pro-Franco spirit prevailed during the war years when Franco was aligned with the dictators Mussolini and Hitler and when Gibraltar played an important part in the victory of the allies?

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

I do not want to enter that controversy. I know a lot about what happened. General Franco had no one else to turn to. I do not think that he really supported either Hitler or Mussolini. I have read many books on the subject, including George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia". However, I do not have time to deal with that.

It is time that we brought a little common sense to our discussions of this subject. I want the Gibraltarians to be protected and I want there to be good relations between them and the Spanish. If we can bring that about, it will help towards achieving the unification of Europe. However, if there were a diplomatic break between Spain and this country, I am sure that France and the United States of America would take the side of Spain and we should look ridiculous in the eyes of the world.

All Spain is trying to do is to implement a United Nations resolution. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] How many hon. Members have said that the matter ought to go to the United Nations? Yet, when the resolution comes back to us, we refuse to accept it. The facilities would not have been withdrawn if the Gibraltarians had not been invited to a constitutional conference in this country. I hope that we shall not speak of restrictions. The Treaty of Utrecht may be moss-covered, but it is still a treaty until something else is put in its place. I hope that we shall deal with this issue in a common sense way and as outlined in the editorial in the Yorkshire Post, because at the end of the day we shall have to agree whether we like it or not.

5.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Rodgers Mr John Rodgers , Sevenoaks

It is with a very heavy and grieving heart that I briefly intervene in the debate. For many years I have travelled to Spain. I love Spain and I love the Spanish people, and I regret bitterly the deterioration in our relationship with the Spanish Government over the Gibraltar issue. I agreed wholeheartedly with the Foreign Secretary when he said yesterday that cruel pressures were no way in which to solve international problems. I have been a little alarmed by some of the suggestions for retaliation. We must be careful not to indulge in cruel retaliations which would make us as vulnerable as the Spanish Government have made themselves by their attempt to secure its point of view by these methods.

I was sorry to hear the attacks from both sides of the House on the way in which the Spanish Ambassador has carried out his task in this country. I know him well and I am certain that he has faithfully, honestly and sincerely transmitted to his Government in Madrid the deep feeling in this country about Gibraltar and Gibraltarians. It is not for ambassadors to tell the people of the country in which they reside the reaction to their telegrams and it has been most unfortunate that the Spanish Ambassador should have been attacked. That is not to say that a case cannot be made out for withdrawing our ambassador in Madrid, resulting in the possible recall of the Spanish Ambassador in London.

We must make it clear beyond a per-adventure that we are not prepared to be bullied or to give way to threats to find a solution to the Gibraltar problem. We must make it clear that it is the will of both sides of the House that at this juncture we should march squarely with the Gibraltarians and stand by them in their struggle and try to support them against the threats to the position which they occupy politically and economically at this moment.

However, I have found it hard to swallow some of the solutions put forward from both sides of the House. I do not believe that full integration could ever be a final solution to the Gibraltar problem. I do not believe that year in and year out grants in aid could be regarded as a method of keeping the Gibraltar economy ticking over and providing a decent standard of living. I do not believe that we should permanently tell the Gibraltarians that they must regard themselves as an island cut off from Spain and that they must trade with North Africa.

This does not mean that I would for a moment give way to the threats and the bullying now going on, or that I suggest that we should abandon Gibraltar. The final solution must be in trying to make Spain a friendly Power. I agree with the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Albert Roberts) that we are a little guilty and that we have hurled abuse at General Franco and his Government over the years and that we behaved badly over the frigates and many other things. We have also failed to look at the Spanish point of view.

If we are to find a proper solution with Gibraltar with its own self-government but next door to a friendly Spain, we must not only refrain from hurling insults at Spain, but we must look at the problem through Spanish eyes. The Spanish have a point of view about the air strip, about a fully equipped military airfield built in the neutral zone. I should like to know whether in the negotiations which have been attempted we have made any concessions to Spain and whether we have offered joint rights to use the airfield. It is not all a one-way traffic. There is a Spanish point of view about our actions in the so-called neutral zone.

While I would not for a moment weaken our support for Gibraltar at this instant, I think that the only long-term solution lies in trying to convince Spain that we are friendly towards her and wish to work with her in a friendly way and that we will seek a solution hand in hand with Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians.

5.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

It is regrettable that this sort of emergency debate should have to be so truncated. It would have been interesting to hear the arguments of some hon. Members opposite if they had been given free rein to develop exactly what they had in mind. Even when the House is almost united on the gravamen of a great issue of principle, almost inevitably there are engendered a number of debating points to suggest that there is some acrimony or disagreement.

We had an example of that this afternoon in some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) about the United Nations, and I was appalled by them. I yield to no one in my admiration of and my loyalty to the Gibraltarians and the repugnance I feel towards the form of Government in Spain, which is anathema to me. But when we have these strong feelings, it is still wrong to attack the United Nations simply because we disagree with its com- mittee's findings about Gibraltar. I think that those findings were wrong and I contest them.

We have to be sane enough to look at this in a much wider context. While disagreeing with this particular committee, am I to condemn U.N.I.C.E.F., U.N.E.S.C.O., the World Health Organisation? [Interruption.] Those are the facts. I know that they may be unpalatable on reflection, but that is not my fault. We have had war for a million years. The United Nations is trying to put sanity in its place, to discuss certain serious situations. If it happens that some decisions are hurtful and harmful to us, let us say so, but in the context to which they are related to us.

It is remarkable that when we have an emergency debate, both sides of the House suddenly discover a lot of things that ought to have been done many years ago. Hon. Members opposite have been submitting admirable proposals about what ought to have been done many years ago in Gibraltar—helping her with hotels, various forms of aid and so on. The probability is that if they were returned to power tomorrow they would somehow forget this, as they forgot it over so many years. [Interruption.] When hon. Members opposite attack the Government over their handling of Gibraltar it is apparently quite in order, but when hon. Members on this side attack hon. Members opposite for what they have said, then that is an appalling thing.

I regret that they will have to like it or lump it. These things have to be said. This problem did not start in 1964, and any hon. Member opposite who believes that it did, who takes the view that this story, tragic as it might be, suddenly started in 1964, is not making any point which will aid Gibraltarians. They know that it started long before 1964.

As long ago as 1954 Spain made declarations pressing her claim on all of Gibraltar. This was the beginning of the argument. I will not criticise, although I could, the actions of the then Government of this country. Let us acknowledge the facts and not be too keen on trying to put the responsibility for all the world's problems on to this Government. In 1956 Spain began making attacks on Gibraltar airport, claiming that it was nothing more than a military airport. This Government, and the then Government, have pointed out—and statistics support them—that fundamentally it is used for civil rather than military purposes. Because they were truthful these answers were unacceptable to the Spanish Government and they did not wish to continue with that plan. They have been searching for an excuse to nibble and nag at the constitution of Gibraltar, based on their attitude that Gibraltar belongs to Spain.

There is an amazing paradox in all this. It is right that the House should acknowledge it, and it is that despite the acrimony engendered between Great Britain and Spain over the Gibraltar issue the terms of trade between the two countries have increased remarkably. It might interest Members to know that trade with Spain in 1952 was less than £25 million and that by 1965 it had increased by no less than 300 per cent. In 1965 exports to Spain went up by 25 per cent. I am all in favour of this form of commerce, even if it is with a country for whose Government I have no time. Like so many Members I make a distinction between a Government and its people. To any supporter of the Spanish Government I would say that it is a shame that there is nowhere in Spain where one could have the sort of debate that is going on in this House today. They have to face up to this, irrespective of what other view they may take. This is fundamental to our attitude.

It has been suggested that we might have some form of integration with Gibraltar. This is an attractive argument emotionally, but practically it is very difficult. Many of the points submitted by hon. Members for closer commercial integration should be looked at very closely. They will not only establish the fact that we are loyal and support Gibraltar, but will provide practical means of supporting the Gibraltarians economically. Some ideas, like the building of hotels to assist the holiday trade, are very good. It is right that the Gibraltarians should be enabled to initiate such ideas and put them into practice. There should be some solid contribution from Great Britain. We ought to make it clear that there has been a referendum in Gibraltar and the people have made their decision about their future. The hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) chided my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for what he said about sanctions. I know that what the hon. Gentleman had in mind was the situation in Rhodesia. He wants there to be a referendum in Rhodesia, and for the people there to decide how they should be ruled.

One does not want to enter into this sort of argument. What is sometimes perplexing is that when this is put forward from the other side one has to ask oneself very seriously: "Shall I make a reference to this or shall I keep quiet, because it is not really within the terms of the debate?" If one mentions it, it will be on the record and challenged; when one tries to explain why one has kept silent, one is charged with not having the courage to speak up. Therefore, this ought to be said.

I sincerely hope that all sides of the House will acknowledge that there cannot be any doubt anywhere, in the United Nations, among the Spanish people, if they have heard about it, among the people of this country or the world, that the Gibraltarians were given an opportunity, without any prejudice or fear to decide, secretly, what they wanted their future to be. They have demonstrated their decision with a vote that will probably be unique in history for many years to come. This Government, or any other Government, must not run away from what this means. It means that the people of Gibraltar have said: "We favour and support the democratic principle. We know that it is enshrined in the history of Great Britain and we are not, therefore, tied to Great Britain, but we voluntarily regard ourselves as a partner, irrespective of our size, of the people of those islands."

I hope that the message of this House to all those who are interested, particularly the Spanish Government, is that we here this evening have demonstrated beyond a scintilla of doubt that when there are threats, or attempts at threats, or any moves whatever against the people of the Rock of Gibraltar, those threats are accepted by us as being threats against ourselves, too.

What we have said this afternoon will demonstrate our inextricable links with Gibraltar. This debate has brought to light many things which can be done to aid Gibraltar economically. But, more than that, it has demonstrated our complete alliance with the Gibraltarians. Henceforth, there should be no doubt in the mind of the Spanish Government that the people of these islands stand firm in their loyalty to and support of the people of Gibraltar.

6.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

Two reasons prompt me to intervene briefly in the debate. The first is that Gibraltar is about the same size in population as the County of Rutland. I cannot imagine the United Kingdom ever being frightened by the County of Rutland. Therefore, I cannot imagine why this great Spanish nation should think there is any threat to it from the little Rock of Gibraltar.

The Government need only be patient and firm on this matter. Year by year—usually about this time of the year, coming up to the summer—we have had pinpricks by the Spanish Government against the Rock. Provided the Government do not give in to the pressures from Spain, in due course the Spanish Government will decide that it has gone as far as it can and by the time we reach that situation there will be the prospect of an agreed solution. It means that the Government have to stand firm and make it clear that they intend to stand by the people of Gibraltar. It means that we shall have to assist them. It also means that the people of Gibraltar may be forced to make additional sacrifices. For example, it would be fair that they should pay slightly higher taxes than they do now if we are prepared to stand behind them.

We may have to say to Spain that if she insists on closing the border at La Linea, except to the workers coming over, leaving open only the ferry, the workers should also have to use the ferry. Disadvantage could be caused to Spain by not having these people secure employment in Gibraltar. A large number on the unemployment market would be a considerable embarrassment to the Spanish Government. Restricting the workers coming in or forcing them to use the ferry could have a salutary effect on the Spanish Government.

The second point arises from what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday. He reiterated an appeal to the British people who were going to spend their summer holidays in Spain, an appeal which had been made by a Foreign Office spokes-man in a previous year, not to go to Spain. This seems to be in keeping with the suggestion made by the Government concerning Rhodesia, namely, that there should be some interference in private travel.

I must disclose a general interest. I have not got a private interest. Though I have a company engaged in travel, we do not send many people to Spain, because we are not largely engaged in package holidays. However, the Association of British Travel Agents have been in touch with me this morning. They are a little concerned about the effect of the statement by the Foreign Secretary yesterday on our own airline arrangements and on the arrangements already made by British people and travel agents for the summer months. I suggest that it is unfair that the Government should try to bring pressure upon a foreign Government by making appeals to individuals to act for them. If the Government want to bring pressure, that is a matter for them. If they want to take action they are entitled to take it. What they are not entitled to do is to make appeals to individuals to change their arrangements which then affect individual family holidays. That is the first point.

Secondly, such action would affect the bookings on British airlines, as well as Spanish airlines, and would affect the arrangements of package-tour operators who have very heavy commitments in this connection.

I do not have a personal interest in this, but it is a matter in which my business has an overall interest in that it is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents. I hope that the Commonwealth Secretary, when he replies, will provide an assurance that there will not be any direct interference this year on arrangements that have already been made.

One hon. Member opposite suggested that we should assist Gibraltar to develop its holiday business. One has to accept that the advantage of Gibraltar as a holiday resort is clearly linked with Spain. The sooner this situation is solved, the better it will be for Gibraltar and for Spain. Spain is doing herself a disservice in not keeping clear the lines, so that the traffic can go from Gibraltar into Spain. If there were to be a large switch of holidays from Spain to Gibraltar at this moment, Gibraltar could not take it because it has not got the hotels. Therefore, I hope that the Spanish and the British Governments in due course will be able to reach agreement. It is in the interests both of the Spanish Government and of Gibraltar in the years ahead to increase the tourist traffic which can bring money to both countries.

6.8 p.m.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

Like others who have spoken, I am glad that Mr. Speaker felt it possible to meet the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Waver-tree (Mr. Tilney), that this matter should be debated on the Floor of the House, because the recent action of the Spanish Government directed against the people of Gibraltar offends against all the canons of neighbourly international conduct and the peaceful settlement of disputes in a civilised manner. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has already made a protest to the Spanish Government and made it clear that it is his view as well as the view of the majority of people in this country.

For some 10 years in government I lived very close to this question of Anglo-Spanish relations and the claim of Spain against Gibraltar. I never remember a year in which this claim was not lodged, but never did it become an issue threatening relations between the two countries. Broadly, there were two reasons for this. First, the Spanish Government knew that the British Government of the day, when the political repercussions of the Spanish Civil War were out of the European system, would be sympathetic to Spain's ambition to become more closely connected with the development and the security system of Europe.

Photo of Mr Russell Kerr Mr Russell Kerr , Feltham

The right hon. Gentleman should speak for himself.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I am speaking for the British Government of the day. That is not unreasonable, because I believe that the international interests of Spain and of each country in the N.A.T.O. Alliance are complementary.

Secondly—and perhaps this is more acceptable to the hon. Gentleman— privately we were able to say with a distinctness which could not be mistaken—and successive Foreign Secretaries made this clear—that British sovereignty over Gibraltar was not for trading. We told them that privately but plainly, and we could not be mistaken on that issue.

It is not in the mood of the House this afternoon to have any political controversy, and I shall therefore go only so far as to say that since then the central issue of the sovereignty of Britain over Gibraltar has somehow become blurred. I do not say that the British Government were vacillating, but it may have been thought that they were, and against the background of the Government quitting their responsibilities overseas, and unilaterally modifying their treaty obligations, the Spanish Government decided that they could be pushed around. There is no doubt about that.

Against that background it has not been easy for the Foreign Secretary and the Commonwealth Secretary to persuade Spain that to continue this campaign is useless, and at the same time to create in the people of Gibraltar that confidence in the British Government which is absolutely necessary. The Foreign Secretary—and I think that the whole House is glad of this—has now been specific. I can understand it if he gets a little irritated when we go on asking him to repeat the statement that he has made that the British Government stand behind Gibraltar, but, because of the background which they have created, it is necessary to do so, and I therefore ask the Commonwealth Secretary to say it again.

It seems to me that two statements are necessary, and that they should be made on behalf of both sides of the House. The first is that in no circumstances will Britain abandon sovereignty over Gibraltar unless the inhabitants of Gibraltar ask us to do so. The second is that whatever the needs of Gibraltar which genuinely arise from the hostile acts of Spain they will be met by the British Government and the British taxpayer. Those are the two essentials, and I hope that the Commonwealth Secretary will echo them. I know that he does so. I know that the Foreign Secretary has done it, but I want it done again, because it is essential. Here is a chance to make that clear to the people of Gibraltar, to the people of Spain, and, let me add, to the United Nations.

Article 73 of the United Nations Charter on dependent territories has been quoted. It says: Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognise the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount… I can only say that the behaviour of the United Nations' Committee dealing with this matter has been contemptible. I think that Lord Caradon's word was "disgraceful". I do not quarrel with that, but I warn the Foreign Secretary and the Commonwealth Secretary that in my view the mischief of this organ of the United Nations is not completed. It is quite likely that this summer it will pass a resolution asking Britain to get out of Gibraltar by a certain date.

I hope that before the next vote at the United Nations in June or July the British Government will take positive steps to convince our friends that however unlikely it may seem to them, this is a British colony, and it wants to stay connected with Britain. Our friends, including the United States, had better understand that before the next vote of the United Nations comes along. In that I support what was said by the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger).

If those two statements are made specifically by the Foreign Secretary, as I am making them now on behalf of the Opposition, the question of retaliation and positive assistance to Gibraltar can be looked at calmly and with objectivity, and with the assistance—and happily he is here—of the Chief Minister of Gibraltar.

On the question of retaliation, certain general considerations are valid. It is usually a mistake to mix politics with trade, and tourism is trade. It is not practical—and here I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich(Sir Dingle Foot)—to stop tourists going to Spain. Economic sanctions seldom, if ever, produce the political results required.

I hope that we can avoid personal attacks on ambassadors. I have no doubt that our Ambassador in Spain, and the Spanish Ambassador here, do their best for their respective countries. It seldom pays to lose contact, and this is especially true in the light of the situation in Spain, where the Spanish Government are on the way out. I shall not speculate on the fate of the Government here. Generally, it does not pay to break contacts

Many good proposals have been made today to deal with possible retaliation, and, what appeals to me much more, to help Gibraltar. The test of any action that we take or recommend should be whether it will assist Gibraltar to meet her crisis, and whether it will contribute to her long-term well being.

The question of the 5,000 to 6,000 Spanish workers who go to Gibraltar has been raised. I think that it is prudent to ensure that a replacement is found for them. That will be difficult, but it is likely that they will be stopped, and Gibraltar will then be hard put to it quickly to find an alternative. I rather like some of the suggestions which have been put forward, for example, increasing servicing for shipping, giving concessions in air fares, building an hotel, and that kind of thing, which would come under the heading of a development commission. Those proposals should be examined with the Chief Minister, and if we can hit on the appropriate thing to do it will be the most positive indication that Britain can give that she means to stand by Gibraltar.

We have not reached the constitutional talks. Various proposals have been made, and again it is for the Gibraltarians to choose. The suggestion that Gibraltar should have a kind of Channel Island status has made a considerable appeal to those who have thought about it, and I hope that it will not be too easily dismissed. It seems to have considerable merits, and I gather that the legal advice is that it is probably consistent with the Treaty of Utrecht. I hope that all those matters will be closely and sympathetically examined.

I think that the view of the great majority of the House today is that there is probably only one thing that really matters, and that is that the British Government's spokesman should say unequivocally that British sovereignty is not for bargaining, that Britain accepts absolute responsibility as a trustee for Gibraltar's future needs. If that is made plain from both sides of the House, I think my hon. Friend can be content that he has achieved the purpose which he set himself yesterday.

6.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

This has been a serious and important debate about a community whose loyalty to this country arouses admiration and a desire to reciprocate in all parts of the House. There has been virtual unanimity throughout the debate, with only one, or perhaps one and a half, dissenting voices from the general consensus. This is important at this time, because of the message which it brings to Gibraltar and to the Governor, the Ministers and the people of Gibraltar. I know that the House would wish to convey to the Governor, as head of the Gibraltar Government, an expression of our warm admiration for the job he is doing and the confidence he commands. He bears a heavy burden of responsibility and I am grateful for the way that the House has sought to say nothing today which would have made that burden heavier.

As the House knows, the Chief Minister and one of his senior colleagues are now in London for discussions which I began with them only an hour or two ago and will continue all week. The speeches today will enable them to carry back to their colleagues the assurance that the House, like them, has the true interests of Gibraltar at heart and is conscious of the responsibilities which they carry.

I know that the House would also wish me to pay tribute to the courage and leadership of these democratically elected leaders in the face of great difficulty and provocation. All the suggestions made in the debate to convince Gibraltar that Britain and the British people are solidly behind them will be carefully examined by me and in consultation with the Gibraltar Ministers. I am very well aware that this is, above all, as the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) said, a psychological problem, because the people of Gibraltar, occupying an area about the size of Hyde Park, feel a justifiable sense of claustrophobia in the face of the threats and actions taken against them on the frontier.

The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) said that he felt that Gibraltar was a moral issue, as we on this side, in his words, felt that Rhodesia was a moral issue. I can assure him that Her Majesty's Government feel that both Rhodesia and Gibraltar are moral issues of great principle, in which we have a profound moral obligation to stand by the interests of the peoples of both territories.

I say now, as plainly as I can, that Her Majesty's Government will never betray the rights of the people of Gibraltar to determine where their own interests lie. I give the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) the assurance he sought, that in no circumstances will Britain surrender sovereignty over Gibraltar against the wishes of her people. I add that we will protect and support them whatever threats are brought to bear upon them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that these are satisfactory answers to his questions. I take no offence at the fact that he keeps repeating them, because, in this continuing situation, it is very important that these assurances be repeatedly reasserted.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we have already protested to the Spanish authorities about their action in closing the frontier to normal tourist traffic. The answer is that we have not yet done so, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary proposes to do so tomorrow, when he has asked the Spanish Ambassador to come to see him. We felt that this was the right timing for two reasons. First, it was, I think, important to gather as many facts as possible about the full implications of this latest action and the talks with the Gibraltar Ministers this morning have been very relevant for this. Secondly, we thought that it would be very useful to draw the Ambassador's attention to the unanimous views of the House of Commons.

I have no hope that my right hon. Friend's latest protest, however forcibly he makes it—and I have no doubt that he will make it very forcibly—will do any more than any of our other protests to alter the present policy of the Spanish authorities. Indeed, this debate, in a sense, will do more than any formal diplomatic démarche to make clear, once again, our firm opposition to the Spanish policy of pressure against a small community. However, we shall certainly take every formal step open to us, as well as the others, to make Spain aware of the feelings in this country.

I thought that I should explain to the House how we view the Spanish justification for the new restrictions. One or two hon. Members have dealt with the Spanish arguments. First, the Spanish Government say that they have taken these measures because Britain declared that she would not apply Resolution 2353 which the General Assembly passed last December. As the House knows, I yield to no one in my belief in the importance of the United Nations, and its potentialities to develop in the direction of a genuine peace-keeping authority, but my belief in it stops a long way from a starry-eyed view that all its resolutions are written in tablets of stone.

The General Assembly is as wise or as unwise as its member nations permit it to be and I frankly regard the adoption of Resolution 2353 by the General Assembly as little short of disgraceful. I feel particularly strongly about it because I think that it does great damage to the reputation of the General Assembly as the guardian of the rights of colonial peoples. That was why we voted against the resolution.

It was, of course, a recommendation and, as the House knows, we consider our attitude to every such recommendation on the merits of the case. In this case, we gave priority, as we were bound to do, to our own obligations to the people of Gibraltar. Some hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot), have said that, among these obligations, are the obligations under Article 73 of the United Nations Charter, in which it is laid down that the interests of the people shall be paramount. This means, paramount now—not after their future has been settled over their heads, as so many members of the United Nations seem to think in the case of Gibraltar.

We regard and will continue to regard our vote against the Resolution as an affirmation of the view which has continued to guide our policy, namely, that our paramount concern must be the in- terests of the Gibraltarians. That is why we reject the Spanish claim that, by refusing to apply the resolution, we gave them any justification for their action in hitting against the economy of Gibraltar by new restrictions.

I come now to consider the economic and financial effects of the new restrictions, so far as they can be foreseen. Our experience has shown that, in the face of previous restrictions imposed by the Spanish Government, when there was deep and understandable anxiety immediately after the restrictions were imposed, the Gibraltar people and economy have displayed remarkable resilience. I do not doubt that the performance of Gibraltar in the face of these restrictions in the past has, to a large degree, confounded Spanish expectations.

Our experience has also shown that it is not possible accurately to predict the effect of these restrictions, at least financially. To give an example, the Gibraltar Government, in the face of the restrictions imposed at the frontier in October, 1966, expected a substantial deficit in 1967, but the actual out-turn of the year proved much more favourable than was expected, notwithstanding increases in wages and salaries which came into effect in that year, and, at the end of 1967, quite contrary to the most careful predictions which had been made, the general revenue balance stood at approximately £953,000.

It would be right to pay tribute here to the splendid efforts of the Gibraltar Government and people in introducing measures designed to raise revenue, which were largely responsible for this very good result. I shall say a little more in a moment about what we have done to help, but I agree with the hon. Member for Torquay that what is important is the way in which the people of Gibraltar rallied to help themselves.

Therefore, although I do not under-estimate the seriousness of the new restrictions, I do not wish to encourage Spain to think that they can bring the Gibraltar people to their knees by such means. Nevertheless, these new restrictions are designed to reduce Gibraltar's tourist revenue. I am examining ways in which the effect may be mitigated and I will watch closely the way in which the situation develops.

Restrictions should not affect visits made direct to and from Gibraltar, and I would like to urge people from Britain increasingly to consider spending their holidays in Gibraltar itself, which is an excellent place for a holiday, and thus help to offset the effect of the Spanish actions.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Waverttee (Mr. Tilney) and other hon. Members raised the important question of increased visits by cruise ships as a means of increasing Gibraltar's foreign exchange earnings. This is, of course, an important source of tourist income. Increased efforts have been made by the Gibraltar tourist authorities to increase the number of these visits. In 1968, I understand that a total of 66 cruise liners are expected to call at Gibraltar and I will be glad to examine any practical ways in which the Government can help to improve the facilities which Gibraltar offers for these cruise ships.

We have already, from our substantial aid funds for Gibraltar, provided a £125,000 loan on favourable terms for a chalet-type hotel development, and I have been able to get agreement this week, as one of the few immediate responses which I am able to announce to the House to these new restrictions, for further financial help by the Government for additional hotel development. The details are not yet finalised, but I will give them to the House as soon as I can.

I recognise that the House is understandably anxious to hear of some new response to these new restrictions, but I must ask the House for patience while I am in middle of the talks with the Gibraltar Ministers. But I suggest that there are three reassuring basic facts to keep in mind when considering any new ways of helping.

First, what is of overriding importance all the time is Britain's will to defend the rights of the people of Gibraltar to make up their own minds where their interests lie. I hope that what I have already said and will continue to say has left no doubt on that score. Second, in asking what more we can do for Gibraltar, it is right to remember how much we have already done and how much we are now doing. Apart from the budgetary aid, we have undertaken to support the Gibraltar Government's present development plan to the extent of £2·7 million. This amount in relation to a population of 25,000 is evidence, I think, of our willingness to give practical financial support to Gibraltar. I was concerned at what my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) said about the possibilities of delays in vetting applications for particular projects under that development aid, and I will look into this. If he has any particular examples in mind, I should be happy to investigate them.

Third, we have engaged with the Governor and the Ministers of Gibraltar in thorough contingency planning for whatever eventuality may follow the Spanish actions. For example, since 1966, Gibraltar has been made independent of Spain for her essential supplies. This has safeguarded her from any difficulties of supplies from the closing of the land frontier. Of course, we have contingency plans for the latest Spanish actions and for any other actions which Spain may take, but I am sure that the House would not expect me to help the Spanish Government by revealing them.

However, these are plans for an emergency—I emphasise the word "emergency"—if it came to that and, if they ever had to be put into operation, it is idle to suppose that anything like business as usual could continue in Gibraltar. We understand very well, I hope, how the people there feel, but when they have had time to reflect we are confident that they will recognise that it Is in their interests, as it is in ours, not to precipitate the withdrawal of Spanish labour from Gibraltar.

Perhaps, in that connection, I might draw the attention of the House to what the Governor said immediately after the new restrictions were imposed. He appealed to the people of Gibraltar …to avoid any situation from which disorder might develop and called upon them to show restraint, because, as he said, …emotional outbursts will get us nowhere and in fact only lead to further bitterness. I suggest that that wise broadcast by the Governor is the background against which we should consider the very difficult question—I think that every speaker today has recognised that it is difficult—of what kind of retaliation it would be sensible to seek to take against Spain in response to these restrictions. I certainly have every understanding and sympathy for the mood of those in this House and outside who look to Her Majesty's Government to retaliate against the latest Spanish restrictions.

Let us be clear of what we want to achieve before we consider how best to achieve it. Our essential objective is surely to sustain the people of Gibraltar. In doing this, we must strive to create the framework for an eventual settlement of the international problems which loom over this small and gallant community. The words uttered by many hon. Members in this context are important and we are wise to keep them in mind at a moment when we feel so strongly about some immediate crisis.

The Spanish Government must bear a heavy responsibility—of course, the responsibility—for the hardships they have imposed and for the hostility they have shown and which has been engendered. However, it is better for Britain, as far as it can, not to express words of bitterness for retaliation and not to set in train a struggle of growing intensity and bitterness in which the Gibraltarians as well as ordinary people in Spain and Britain would be likely to suffer. In the light of my preliminary discussions with the Chief Minister and his colleagues—and the discussions today were only preliminary—the people of Gibraltar understand the situation very well. They want to know, above all, that we stand behind them, and I hope that this debate has made it clear that we do.

The Government have considered carefully, on the various occasions when the Spaniards have imposed restrictions on Gibraltar, what retaliatory action we might take. There is a wide range of theoretical possibilities. A number of them have been canvassed in the House today. I do not wish to comment in any detail, for reasons which the House will understand, on the merits of these while I am in the middle of talks with the Gibraltar Ministers. I might, however, mention one of the difficulties in the way of restricting Spanish workers coming here. It is the number of them employed in the hotel industry.

The hon. Member for Torquay, for example, might find himself torn between his genuine devotion to the interests of the people of Gibraltar and his desire to represent the interests of his constituents in the hotel industry in Torquay.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if such a conflict arose, the interests of the people of Gibraltar would be overriding in my mind.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I did not doubt that and I hope that what I said did not carry any implication of that sort. However, it is a real conflict of interest and it illustrates some of the difficulties.

I would like to follow the principle of examining all the suggestions from the point of view of whether they would be likely to make matters worse for the people of Gibraltar. I have undertaken that all the suggestions that have been made will be looked at from that point of view. I was particularly interested in the constructive suggestion made in a number of quarters that there might be some lessons to be learned in Gibraltar about shipyard development from the advances that have been made in Malta. I undertake to look at this matter closely.

A good deal has been said about the idea that British tourists should be stopped or discouraged from spending their holidays in Spain. It should be remembered that about 10 per cent. of the tourists who go to Spain each year come from Britain, so that the number is very large indeed. I will confine myself at this time to simply agreeing with what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in the House yesterday; that Spain's behaviour to Gibraltar now makes it right for individual citizens in Britain to feel strongly about the situation and about what Spain is doing to Gibraltar to consider their own attitude towards any holiday that they might at present be considering taking in Spain.

It is within the context of our general attitude over retaliation to look at the question of the Spanish labour force in Gibraltar. Superficially, nothing would look easier than to declare a lock-out—that would be a slap in the face for Spain—but recent events in Spain do not give one grounds for confidence that the Spanish Government would be unduly distressed at the loss of employment for 6,000 workers. The real people to suffer would be the people of Gibraltar and the Spanish workers themselves. These Spanish workers should not be held responsible for the actions of the Spanish Government. We should never forget the rôle of these workers and others like them in connection with the development of political institutions in Spain that might alter the whole atmosphere, including the view of Spain held by Gibraltarians.

Apart from that, it is well known that the Spanish labour force in Gibraltar makes an important contribution to the economy of Gibraltar, both in the dockyard and the civil sector. They work in a friendly way, as they have done for many years, with the people of Gibraltar. They know their jobs and they do them well. Gibraltar could survive without its Spanish workers if it must, but the loss would present serious and severe economic problems, as the right hon. Gentleman said.

A number of hon. Members have expressed fears that we slowed down the pace of constitutional discussions to give priority to talks with Spain. The hon. Member for Torquay, among others, mentioned this point. I assure the House that there is simply no truth in these fears. The timetable of constitutional talks—some hon. Members may feel that in their judgment they have been slower than they would have wished—has been related only to the needs of Gibraltar; the need to have the next steps in constitutional development thoroughly considered.

Apart from discussing the present situation which has been created by the restrictions, I am having detailed discussions this week with the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister about the revision of the Constitution. This is preparatory to the visit of my noble Friend the Minister of State will make to Gibraltar on 17th June, when there will be full discussions on the next stage of constitutional progress. In these circumstances, it is obviously impossible for me to give any details today of what form the future constitutional changes might take. However, we are very ready to listen to ideas from the various quarters about how we should go forward in Gibraltar during the years that lie immediately ahead.

I am glad to take this opportunity, offered by the remarks of the hon. Member for Torquay, to deny categorically that Her Majesty's Government either knew or connived at the visit of the so-called "doves" to Madrid. I do not understand the fears—I say this frankly, knowing that hon. Members have sometimes chivvied me about this—of some hon. Members about talks. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole has these fears in a pronounced form. There have been two rounds of talks with Spain. The last were held in March and the round before that had been about 18 months earlier. I would not say that we have had a record of doing a great deal of talking with Spain about these problems, although there have been diplomatic exchanges. As a general principle, it is better to talk than not to talk, but it is clear that with its latest move, Spain has slammed the door on talking in present circumstances.

I echo the words of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that enough is enough. But one never says "never" about talking, and that applies to circumstances other than Gibraltar. If at some future date it seems possible that by holding further discussions with Spain we might help the Gibraltarians and bring a solution nearer, I am sure that we would be right to use that chance. However, at present there are no plans or proposals for further talks, and, obviously, Spain has chosen the least persuasive method of convincing people like us or the Gibraltarians that talking can produce results.

I emphasise to hon. Members who have these anxieties about the link between constitutional discussions and diplomatic exchanges with Spain over Gibraltar that our only concern in the constitutional discussions is to find the right answer—it is not an easy one to find—to the next stage of Gibraltar's constitutional development. At no time during the period I have been Commonwealth Secretary has there been any suggestion that we should delay talking about constitutional progress because some other diplomatic exchanges were going on.

One of the important aspects of this debate is not only the message it brings I hope of encouragement to the people of Gibraltar, but the message that it brings to Spain where I am confident every word that has been spoken in the House today will be closely studied. Our message is one of determination—the determination of this House, speaking for the British nation, that the interests of the 25,000 men, women and children of Gibraltar are, to use a word mentioned in the United Nations Charter from which I quoted, "paramount". The message is that we shall not under any circumstances allow them to be sacrificed.

On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I tell the Spanish Government in clear and unequivocal terms that no matter what pressures or provocations Spain engages in, Britain will not abandon the people of Gibraltar. We shall sustain and support them through whatever troubles they face. The people of Gibraltar can rest assured that the overwhelming majority of the British people feel a sense of deep concern for Gibraltar and for our commitments to Gibraltar. Britain will continue to stand four square behind the right of the people of Gibraltar to judge for themselves where their own interests lie.

Photo of Mr John Tilney Mr John Tilney , Liverpool Wavertree

Because the whole feeling of the House is, I believe, behind the Secretary of State, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.