Gibraltar

– in the House of Lords at 2:40 pm on 4th March 2003.

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Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour 2:40 pm, 4th March 2003

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What role Gibraltar is playing in the build-up of military forces in the Gulf.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

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.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

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?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

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.]

Photo of Lord Vivian Lord Vivian Conservative

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?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

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.

Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that in the circumstances he set out negotiations with Spain for sharing sovereignty of the Rock have been suspended?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

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.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, if there is no other way of getting RAF planes to the Gulf, will the Government transport them by ship, using Gibraltar as a staging post on that journey?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, there are other ways of getting aircraft to the Gulf; namely, by flying them.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, as it is clear that the people of Gibraltar are not in favour of sharing sovereignty with Spain, why do the Government persist in negotiations towards that end?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

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.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, in the circumstances with which the Question deals—the military build-up in the Gulf—does my noble friend acknowledge that the British Government, the British people, the Spanish Government, the Spanish people and the people of Gibraltar are all fighting on the same side?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

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.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

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?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

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.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Spanish Government have their own reasons for not wishing to enter into a shared sovereignty agreement with the United Kingdom Government?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

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.