asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they have sought an undertaking from the Government of Spain that, in the event of the people of Gibraltar rejecting in a referendum any joint proposals put forward by Britain and Spain, Spain will respect that decision of the people of Gibraltar and will treat Gibraltarians as they are entitled to be treated and not interfere with their rights of free movement.
My Lords, the Government of Spain are fully aware of the public statements made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers that in the event of the people of Gibraltar rejecting any joint proposals put forward by Britain and Spain, Her Majesty's Government will continue to stand by the people of Gibraltar politically, legally and morally. This is not a matter for negotiation with Spain.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Is she aware that the Government have tended to give the impression that they are more interested in building a firm alliance with Spain within the European Union than with looking after the legal rights of the people of Gibraltar in a British possession? The communiqué after the meeting in Barcelona referred to more telephone numbers, but not to free movement across the border. Would it not have been better to have made absolutely plain to Spain that there would be no chance whatever of the people of Gibraltar agreeing to a deal so long as harassment at the border continued? Would it not have been better to have made plain at that stage that if harassment continued, we would have no option but to commence proceedings in the European Court under Article 227?
My Lords, the noble Lord should not underestimate the importance to the people of Gibraltar of the increase in the number of telephone lines available. Having so few lines has been a considerable difficulty for them. The increase from 30,000 to 100,000 is very welcome. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord that the Government have given the impression that he imputes to us. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has gone out of his way to say that Her Majesty's Government will stand by the people of Gibraltar. I quoted his words exactly when I said that we would stand by them legally, politically and morally. The Government stand by that.
Of course, it must be common sense to our friends in Spain, as it is to us, that in order to get any referendum on joint proposals through, there must be attractions for the people of Gibraltar. They must see that it is in their interests. What happens in a referendum will be the great test. That is the ultimate safeguard for the people of Gibraltar.
My Lords, have the Government ever considered returning the sovereignty of Gibraltar to Spain in return for a long and renewable lease at a peanut rent? Has that suggestion been made to either Spain or Gibraltar?
My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lady knows, we are bound by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. Stepping outside the terms of that treaty is enormously difficult. I have often heard it suggested that, given how old the treaty is, we should not be bound by it. However, if we were to step aside from one part of the Treaty of Utrecht, we would thereby be giving up our rights in Gibraltar by another means. That would be as unacceptable to the people of Gibraltar as would giving away their rights through any sort of negotiation without a referendum. The position is clear. We are making progress with the negotiations and they will be put to the people of Gibraltar, but they must be put within the constitutional framework, which includes the Treaty of Utrecht.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, notwithstanding the assurances given, there is great concern on the Rock—so much so that there is to be a general strike on Monday of next week? Trade unions representing a spectrum of employment in Gibraltar are taking that action because of their concerns. A delegation from the Gibraltar Trades Council will be visiting the United Kingdom next week. Will the Minister receive that delegation to hear from its members at first hand and to repeat the assurances that she has given to the House?
My Lords, I am aware that there is a great deal of concern on the Rock about the negotiations. We all understand that. The issue of Gibraltar has been a matter of enormous difficulty to the people of Gibraltar and to the governments of Spain and the United Kingdom for 300 years. That is why it is so important for us to pursue the negotiations, which, I remind the House, were set up under the Brussels arrangements, which were put into place by the Conservatives in 1984. My noble friend asks whether I would receive a delegation. It is the business of my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe to receive such a delegation, but should my right honourable friend be out of the country or unable for another reason to receive the delegation, I shall indeed do so.
My Lords, if the proposals for joint responsibility between Britain and Spain are to be carried forward any further, I suggest that the Government might study the example of the British-French condominium of the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu, which I had the privilege of bringing to independence 20 years ago, to see whether any lessons can be learnt from that rather unsatisfactory example.
My Lords, there are many examples of how different governments have dealt with our former territories. The problem with Gibraltar is that its position is virtually unique—I know that that cannot be right; either it is unique or it is not. I believe that it is unique because of the position of the Treaty of Utrecht. As I tried to point out to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, a few moments ago, because of that treaty we cannot cede independence to the people of Gibraltar, because the terms of the treaty mean that once we relinquish our rights in Gibraltar, they revert automatically to Spain. Although there are many interesting examples of what has been done by a number of countries, including our own experience of dealing with our territories, the position of Gibraltar is unique.