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Gibraltar

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:16 pm on 7th June 1995.

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Photo of Mr David Young Mr David Young , Bolton South East 2:16 pm, 7th June 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what actions Her Majesty's Government are taking against the illegal harassment of Gibraltarians by unjustifiable border checks. [25441]

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I have raised our concerns with my Spanish counterpart, Mr. Solana, and our ambassador in Madrid has protested formally to the Spanish Foreign Ministry. We have also approached the Schengen secretariat, other Schengen states and the European Commission. We shall continue to raise the matter with the Spaniards until they take adequate measures at the frontier with Gibraltar to ensure that people can cross the border freely and without undue impediment.

Photo of Mr David Young Mr David Young , Bolton South East

When the Falkland Islands were invaded, force had to be met with force. The harassment that has taken place over many months is affecting British citizens and the economy of Gibraltar. Does the Secretary of State believe that rebukes to the Spanish Government of which they take no notice will be adequate in this situation? Does he have any other thoughts about what can be done to stop the harassment? Will he also give an assurance that the Government will not remove any of the Gibraltar Government's existing powers?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

On the first point, the hon. Gentleman is not quite right. There have been problems at the frontier. They were solved temporarily as a result of a meeting that I had with the Spanish Foreign Minister on 20 December, but the trouble has recurred recently. We must keep up the pressure and the Spaniards know that we will do that.

The hon. Gentleman's second point raises a completely separate issue. As Gibraltar wishes to remain and prosper as a financial centre within the European Union, it is important that it should comply with the rules of the European Union for which the British Government, as the sovereign power, are responsible. We are in touch with Gibraltar, particularly about the need to bring legislation on money laundering into line with the standards in Britain. I am more hopeful than I was that we are making progress. It is a separate issue, but it is important.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Schengen agreement on frontier controls is not the equivalent of the external frontier of the European Union, although Spain is using it as such and as a pretext for delays at the frontier? What action is the Foreign Office taking to persuade Spain to ratify the external frontier convention in relation to Gibraltar, as that could put an end to the circumstances which enable Spain to take destructive action in respect of Gibraltar?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I look forward to talking about the subject in greater depth with the Spaniards before long. My hon. Friend is quite right about the distinction between the Schengen agreement and the external frontier. We do not believe that the Spaniards have any justification for their action.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann

Does the Foreign Secretary consider that the threat which was reportedly made to impose direct rule on Gibraltar might encourage the Spaniards to believe that the constitutional position of Gibraltar could be undermined in view of precedents elsewhere? Does he acknowledge that the United Kingdom would have more credibility in regard to upholding the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Gibraltar if it fully respected the democratic institutions in Gibraltar?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

We hold entirely to the undertaking given to the people of Gibraltar in the 1969 constitution that we would never enter into arrangements whereby the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. On the separate issue of direct rule, we have no desire to act directly; for the reasons that I have already given, however, it is important that the Government of Gibraltar should pass legislation bringing their law book into line with their own wishes and ambitions as a financial centre.