My Lords, Gibraltar's role as a key staging post, strategically located at the gateway to the Mediterranean, makes it a logical transit point for naval and other forces en route to the Mediterranean or the Middle East.
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, as in the past, the people of Gibraltar are once again showing loyalty to this country? Does he not further agree that loyalty is a two-way traffic?
My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. The Government fully and completely appreciate the support, including to our military forces, of the people of Gibraltar for many years. Our primary aim is to secure a more stable and prosperous future for the people of Gibraltar. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place on 18th November last:
"no deal will be imposed on the people of Gibraltar against their will".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/02; col. W17.]
My Lords, the Minister agrees that Gibraltar is of vital strategic importance to this country as a forward-operating base. Does he further agree that any military operation in the Mediterranean or Gulf area would be greatly hindered if the United Kingdom did not have sole control over this forward-operating base in the future?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord's comments. We have made our views clear. We intend to retain current arrangements for UK military facilities on Gibraltar.
My Lords, I do not agree that they have been suspended. Under the Brussels process, the UK and Spain reached a broad measure of agreement on the principles that should underpin a lasting settlement, although a number of issues remain unresolved. It was equally clear that, for Her Majesty's Government, no deal was better than a bad deal. I repeat that any agreement reached would have to be acceptable to the people of Gibraltar.
My Lords, there are other ways of getting aircraft to the Gulf; namely, by flying them.
My Lords, we do not ignore the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. We recognise that the referendum result highlighted how the people of Gibraltar feel. What we still believe—I think that the government of whom the noble Lord was a distinguished member also believed this at one time—is that we need to look at how to move forward and tackle the real problems that still exist for the people of Gibraltar. The referendum did not answer the basic question of how to secure a more stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar. That is what we need to do. Nor did it address the underlying reality of the dispute with Spain, which can be resolved only through dialogue.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. That is absolutely right. Although Gibraltarians, as always, are staunch and solid allies of the United Kingdom, it should be noted—and has been noted by my noble friend—that Spain, too, is on our side in this important matter.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that not all of us seem to think that we are all on the same side? If the Government will not suspend these negotiations, will they consider that in current circumstances, which may well involve important military action, they should be put on ice?
My Lords, we shall certainly consider what the noble Lord says but we still feel that we need to find a way through this matter. That means dialogue with Spain and Gibraltar. I am sorry if the noble Lord and I are not on the same side. I try to be on the same side as he.
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot comment on the motives or reasons that the Spanish Government may have. All I can say is that on the issue that is of the greatest importance to this country at the present time, Spain is a loyal ally.