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Gibraltar

– in the House of Commons at 12:50 am on 10th December 1980.

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Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Berry.]

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Melton 1:09 am, 10th December 1980

This debate arises out of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit which I was fortunate enough to make at the beginning of October, in conjunction with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson). They are unable to attend tonight, for very good reasons which they have explained to me, but I should like to place on record their great interest in the subject of Gibraltar. I hope that we shall hear during the debate—if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—from my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie), who knows the Rock intimately and lived there for six and a half years.

Our CPA trip was led by a very distinguished Labour peer, Lord Hughes. We met senior representatives of all shades of political opinion in Gibraltar and also of commerce and the trade unions. I should like to place on record our deep gratitude for the exceptional warmth and hospitality with which we were received and welcomed both by Gibraltarians and by His Excellency the Governor and representatives of Her Majesty's Armed Forces. Since our return, we have met my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal and I have corresponded with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I want to deal first with the Lisbon agreement reached on 10 April 1980 by the British Foreign Secretary and the then Spanish Foreign Minister. The House will be aware that Gibraltar has been under seige by Spain since 1969. Agreement or no agreement, that siege continues. Except for the restoration of telephone communications, Spain has taken little action to improve relations in the light of the agreement. The frontier remains closed. But the spirit of Gibraltarians remains high, although obviously over the years the siege has had adverse effects on the local economy. In that regard, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell us when the review document on the future of Gibraltar's commercial port will become available, and that he will be able to assure us that Ministers will view sympathetically the need to give any reasonable assistance.

Gibraltar, of course, is also an important naval base. I hope that my hon. Friend will reiterate its immense value to NATO as a base for tracking and destroying any enemy submarines or warships that might break out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic to threaten NATO's essential communications. In that regard, we found the defence arrangements of the airfield less than up to date. While, obviously, the anti-aircraft troop of the Gibraltar Regiment is in excellent body of men, it is surely not very satisfactory that this vital Rock, from which Eisenhower planned and launched Operation Torch and which contains today many essential supplies, should be defended by obselete L40/70 Bofors guns. Surely Rapier missiles should be installed there as resources permit. I raised this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in a parliamentary question on 2 December and I was disappointed by his negative reply.

I turn now to the question of sovereignty. I cannot accept that there is ipso facto a Gibraltar problem. There may be a Spanish problem, but there is no doubt that Gibraltar is and remains British. Its 20,000 Gibraltarian inhabitants, who are not and have never been Spanish or of Spanish descent, are fiercely loyal to Britain and to the person of Her Majesty the Queen. I hope, therefore, that Ministers will take every possible step to reassure and support these devoted subjects of Her Majesty.

Let it be understood beyond all possible doubt that there is absolutely no support at all in Gibraltar for Spanish sovereignty. The 1967 referendum, with a 96 per cent, poll, showed 12,138 people wishing to remain British and 44 voting for Spain. All shades of opinion in Gibraltar expressed the view to us that an identical result would be obtained today, except that Spain might not get 44 votes. Why should it, after 11 years of siege?

Let it also be understood that Gibraltarians are not all screaming for the opening of the frontier. Indeed, some of varying shades of political opinion expressed the view to us that they would sooner it stayed closed than that it was opened as part of a negotiation over sovereignty.

I suggest that there can be no negotiation over sovereignty. Under article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht, it is plain that Gibraltar cannot become independent. It can either remain British or it can become Spanish. Since Gibraltarians do not wish to become Spanish, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under Secretary will say clearly and unequivocally tonight that Her Majesty's Government stand firm as the Rock itself—and note that that is a saying in our language—behind the right of the people of Gibraltar to remain British as long they so desire.

I believe that my hon. Friend should go further. He should make it plain that there can be no question of Spain joining the EEC as long as it besieges Gibraltar. That is an impossible barrier to Spanish membership. Further, even if Spain implements the Lisbon agreement, which she has signed, but which has not so far progressed to any significant degree, the issue of sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltarians should not be negotiable, either as part of an EEC deal or for any other purpose. That is what Gibraltarians want to hear, and I hope that they will hear it tonight.

I turn now to a difficult matter relating to citizenship and immigration. I realise that I cannot use an Adjournment debate to press for legislative changes. That is easy for me, because I do not want any legislative changes. The present arrangements are eminently satisfactory. Under the arrangements announced by Mr. George Thomson in 1968, the 20,000 Gibraltarians—we must remember that there are also 10,000 Gibraltarians living in Britain, because many families were evacuted here during the war while their menfolk fought for us in our Armed Forces—are not subject to any form of immigration control or any restrictions on their residence or employment here. That is as it should be. Gibraltar is our only European colony. It is part of the Common Market as a territory in Europe for whose external relations Britain is responsible under article 227(4) of the Treaty of Rome.

When Britain joined the EEC, it declared that all United Kingdom citizens, whether by birth or by registration or naturalisation in Gibraltar, were British nationals for the purpose of the Treaty. No other dependent territory was treated in that way. A Gibraltarian is defined on his passport as a United Kingdom national for Community purposes". Even Channel Islanders or Manxmen do not qualify for that.

I hope that my hon. Friend will do his best to ensure that these highly satisfactory arrangements continue. I must not, and will not, mention any possible or impending legislation, because I should be out of order, but I can say that the Gibraltarians are, and think of themselves as, British citizens, and that is the way it should remain. To recoin an old phrase which is familiar to my hon. Friend and important to Conservatives, If change is not better, it were better not to change". I am not happy with the reply that I received from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday in answer to a parliamentary question on this subject. My right hon. Friend said: The Government have received a memorandum signed by leaders of the political parties and by others in Gibraltar. In addition, about 10 letters from private individuals have been received. The Government have said in reply to the memorandum that the feelings of people in Gibraltar are well understood and that their requests will be carefully studied."—[Official Report, 9 December, 1980; Vol. 995, c. 550–51.] I would have preferred it if my right hon. Friend had said "a memorandum signed by leaders of all members of the House of Assembly in Gibraltar and all representative organisations in the colony", and if she had added that "the feelings of all the people of Gibraltar are well understood" rather than the feelings of people in Gibraltar are well understood". There is an important difference.

I look to my hon. Friend to repeat the Thomson assurances tonight and also to make it plain that they are not solely linked to the closed frontier. These vital concessions must not be allowed to lapse if the frontier reopens. I am sure that my hon. Friend would regard it as totally intolerable if Spain were to join the EEC but Gibraltarians became newly subject to immigration control into the United Kingdom. Such a situation could mean that oar only European dependency, linked with us in the EEC, with its unique constitutional circumstances under article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht, and with its exceptional loyalties to Britain, would be treated worse from the point of view of immigration into Britain than Spain, Germany, France or Belgium. I do not believe that there would be a majority in this House for such a deplorable proposition, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will wish to reassure our loyal and devoted friends in the colony in this regard.

I stress to my hon. Friend the need to lift and sustain the morale of those in Gibraltar. I believe that it would be a considerable morale booster and a tribute to the steadfastness of Britain towards the colony if it were possible for an early visit to be paid to Gibraltar by either th'5 Lord Privy Seal or the Foreign Secretary, because it would allow local opinion to be made known to him direct. I hope that this point will be seriously considered by my hen. Friend. I make that proposal in full awareness of the importance of it. I commend this proposal and the future of the people of the Rock to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Albert McQuarrie Mr Albert McQuarrie , Aberdeenshire East 1:21 am, 10th December 1980

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) in speaking on the important subject of Gibraltar. As he indicated, I had the pleasure of living in. Gibraltar for six and a half years and had the opportunity of witnessing the siege that reigned between Spain and Gibraltar.

I can confirm that the people of Gibraltar wish to ret lain British subjects. Over the years they have come to think of themselves as British citizens. In recent times there was an organisation called the Integration with Britain Party. Unfortunately, it fell by the wayside, but it was interested in having total integration with Britain and in ensuring diet Gibraltar had a common purpose with this country. That was commendable inasmuch as these people, who for many years had thought of themselves as Britons, did not want to feel that they would become Spanish.

As my hon. Friend said, under the terms of the Lisbon agreement, the Spanish Government said that they would open the bolder. They did not open the border on 3 June as they agreed That is a sad reflection on the land of agreement that one would have expected from the Spanish authorities. The Gibraltarians would have welcomed the opening of the border without restriction.

There is no question of the sovereignty of Gibraltar being removed from the Gibraltarians to Spanish soil. Gibraltar cannot be independent. When the Treaty of Utrecht was entered into, it was agreed that the only place to which Gibraltar would be removed would be Spain. The Gibraltarians have no desire that that should happen. Gibraltar is the only dependent territory that we have left, and its people are entitled to ask the British Government to support their demand to remain British. Any question of a change of mode, habitation or sovereignty should remain with them in a British context.

I conclude on the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Melton made on the nationality laws. I am not preempting a subject that will be discussed in the House later. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary must give careful consideration to his decision on the Gibraltarians. They must not be regarded as third-class citizens of the United Kingdom. They must have the right to remain United Kingdom citizens, as they have been since we took over the Rock when we defeated the Spaniards in 1703.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham 1:23 am, 10th December 1980

I welcome the opportunity provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) to discuss Gibraltar. It is certainly good to know that many hon. Members are interested in and concerned about Gibraltar. I appreciated listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie), who has considerable knowledge of Gibraltar.

The visit to Gibraltar in early October by the delegation from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was particularly welcome and gave three hon. Members the chance to see something of the people of Gibraltar, who are such close friends of ours, and to see at first hand the situation there.

It is some time since we had such a discussion, and the timing of this debate is particularly good. It is almost eight months since my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal informed the House on 14 April of the conclusion in Lisbon of the Anglo-Spanish agreement on Gibraltar. At that time hopes were high, and we looked forward to the early restoration of direct communications between Gibraltar and Spain.

The long delay over implementing the agreement is disappointing. However, the House as a whole has, I know, admired the patience and fortitude with which the people of Gibraltar have lived with a closed frontier and all the inconveniences which that causes. They have prospered as a community in difficult circumstances. That is in itself a testament to their resourcefulness and skills.

The ties between ourselves and the Gibraltarians are close. There is no doubt about their strength and durability. I stress that there is absolutely no need for concern about sovereignty. My hon. Friend made an excellent speech on the importance of our ties with Gibraltar. I emphasise that the British commitment is crystal clear. As my hon. Friend said, it is as solid as the Rock itself, and it is enshrined in the preamble to Gibraltar's constitution, which states: Her Majesty's Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. That commitment is reaffirmed in the statement made in Lisbon on 10 April. I was anxious to respond immediately on that singularly important point.

My hon. Friend mentioned the subject of defence. There is no doubting the strategic importance of Gibraltar. It commands the entrance to the Mediterranean through which all seaborne reinforcements and supplies of the southern flank of NATO in time of tension or war would have to pass. In peace-time, the facilities of Gibraltar enable the Alliance to keep the Straits under continual surveillance: one-third of NATO's oil supplies and some 2,000 ships a month pass through.

My hon. Friend raised a number of specialist points about the naval base and airfield defences at Gibraltar. I will, of course, draw his views to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I can, however, assure him that the defences of Gibraltar are kept under regular review. He will, of course, be aware that proposals regarding specific weapons systems cannot be considered in isolation from our expenditure on defence as a whole. I should tell my hon. Friend—this is something that he probably knows—that there are no plans to install Rapier.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the port at Gibraltar. The review of the port was commissioned by the Gibraltar Government from consultants. It is to consider the prospects for Gibraltar as a commercial port. I understand that the review will be completed early in 1981. The British Government of course welcome the idea that Gibraltar's commercial port should be developed. We shall study the report with interest when it is made available. However, we do not think that it will be available until 1981.

My hon. Friend the Member for Melton mentioned the important Lisbon agreement. It is much to be regretted that the agreement has not been implemented and that the frontier remains closed. Sr Perez Llorca, the new Spanish Foreign Minister, reaffirmed his Government's commitment to that agreement when he met my right hon. and noble Friend in late September. At this stage I cannot give any indication of a likely date. All is ready on the British and Gibraltarian side—indeed, it has all been ready since June. The British gates will remain open, as they have always been. It is now up to the Spanish Government. I hope that they will realise that it is in Spain's interest, as well as in Gibraltar's and Britain's, that communications should be restored and confidence built up.

The Lisbon agreement was to start negotiations aimed at overcoming all the differences between the British and Spanish Governments on Gibraltar and to re-establish direct communications in the region. We shall certainly not start negotiations while the frontiers are closed.

My hon. Friend mentioned sovereignty. At the beginning of my speech I sought to give him the total reassurance that he requires. The agreement is aimed at overcoming all the differences between Britain and Spain on Gibraltar. One of the differences is the Spanish claim to Gibraltar, and it will not go away through shutting our eyes to it. What matters is the commitment to the people of Gibraltar. The British Government believe that this is the key. There can be no sovereignty change without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar. That is firmly enshrined in the Lisbon agreement.

My hon. Friends the Members for Melton and for Aberdeenshire, East spoke of a number of other matters. Spain's possible accession to the European Community was mentioned.

The Government support Spain's accession to the European Community. This is a matter of importance to Britain and all Europe as well as to Spain. I stress that we have made no formal link with the lifting of restrictions on Gibraltar. Restrictions should go and the border be reopened long before Spain joins the Community.

Both my hon. Friends raised important questions about citizenship. It would not be right for me to pre-empt the legislation, but let me try to clarify a complicated subject. The Government are well aware of the strong feelings in Gibraltar over the nationality issue. We have kept in close touch with opinion there. A detailed memorandum from leading Gibraltarians was recently received by my right hon. and noble Friend. It has been forwarded to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and will be carefully considered by him before a Bill is laid. It should be understood that the present rights of access to the United Kingdom for Gibraltarians will not be affected by the proposed new nationality legislation.

Gibraltar is part of the territory of the European Community. As United Kingdom nationals for European Community purposes—I use the technical term—Gibraltarians have free access to this country and all other Community countries to seek and take up work; and the families of workers already there may join them. I stress that this right will not be affected by the new British nationality legislation. I can assure my hon. Friends that there is no question of Spanish nationals having easier access to the United Kingdom than Gibraltarians.

The arrangements announced in Gibraltar by the then Commonwealth Secretary on 23 May 1968 have been substantially continued by successive Governments. They, too, will be unaffected by the new nationality Bill. Lord Thomson of Monifieth, the then Commonwealth Secretary, made clear in 1968 that these administrative arrangements were made in the context of Spanish restrictions, and the policy of successive Governments on this matter has not changed. We stand by that position.

My hon. Friend asked whether my noble Friend the Secretary of State or my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal might consider visiting Gibraltar. I shall draw that suggestion to the attention of my noble Friend, but I should remind my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal visited Gibraltar in July last year. If we thought that it would be a good idea, I am sure that it would be carefully considered.

I hope that I have covered the main points that my hon. Friend raised in this important debate. There is no doubting the strong and important links that exist between Gibraltar and this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes to Two o'clock.