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Dependent Territories

3. Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): When he expects to make an announcement on the outcome of his review of Britain's dependent territories. [69422]

4. Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): What plans he has to visit the island of St. Helena to discuss his White Paper on British dependent territories. [69423]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I intend to publish the White Paper on overseas territories during the week commencing 15 March. The White Paper will provide a comprehensive review of Britain's relations with its overseas territories, including their relationship with the Foreign Office, their financial regulation and protection of their rich environmental heritage.

In preparing the White Paper, we have consulted closely with the Government of St. Helena and the other overseas territories. We believe that they will broadly welcome our proposals.

Mr. Colvin: Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that no overseas territory is causing more concern to Parliament at present than Gibraltar? What will his review say about the future sovereignty of Gibraltar? Will he take the opportunity of the publication of the review to say what he will do about the Spanish proposals for joint sovereignty which, at the moment, are sitting in his pending tray? If those proposals are clearly rejected--as they should be, if he is to follow the wishes of the people of Gibraltar and, I believe, of this House--what alternative proposals will he put on the table?

Mr. Cook: The Spanish Foreign Minister's proposal was tabled at a meeting of the Brussels process. The Brussels process was, of course, agreed to by the previous Conservative Government, and committed Britain to discuss once a year with Spain the issue of the sovereignty of Gibraltar. When the Spanish Foreign Minister tabled proposals on the transfer of sovereignty in 1985, the Conservative Government left them lying on the table not for 15 months, but for eight years. At that meeting of the Brussels process, I undertook to give a reply at the next meeting. However, I said at the time that there would be no compromise on sovereignty against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. That was our position at the last meeting--it will be our position at the next meeting as well.

Mr. Russell: I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement this afternoon that the White Paper will be published next month, but does he agree that we now need speed in bringing St. Helena back into the British family, from which it was ejected in 1981--against its wishes--by the previous Government? Can we have an assurance that, before the millennium, St. Helena will be back in the British family?

Mr. Cook: I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that we will publish the White Paper in the week commencing 15 March. He will understand that I cannot anticipate what may be in the contents of that White Paper. I look forward to answering a question on the same subject come that day.

Mr. Phil Sawford (Kettering): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that the Government are

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making on the White Paper. Those of us who have constituents from St. Helena are well aware of the complexity of the issue, and of the problems of the island--high unemployment, a lack of opportunity and a heavy reliance on budgetary aid. Will he assure us that he will give sympathetic consideration in the review to the wish of the people of St. Helena for full British citizenship?

Mr. Cook: I can assure my hon. Friend that the issue has been pressed upon us by the Government of St. Helena--and by the Governments of some other overseas territories--and that we are well aware of the real concern. I entirely share my hon. Friend's other point of concern about the economy of St. Helena, which is one of the two overseas territories in receipt of overseas aid from Britain. It requires such assistance, and we are continuing to commit ourselves to make sure that we achieve economic reconstruction within St. Helena.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will the overseas territories review address the democratic deficit in the overseas territories, whose Parliament is this place and whose Foreign Secretary is my right hon. Friend, but for whom there is no access to Westminster? Should not the Government follow the Parliaments of France, the Netherlands and Spain--as well as the US Congress--which give representation in the main legislature to overseas territories? Is it not time that a Labour Government addressed themselves to enfranchising these people?

Mr. Cook: There is not universal demand from the overseas territories for such representation, primarily because we have much stronger decentralisation for their government than is practised in France, which retains some central control; but I assure my hon. Friend that the people continue to have direct access to myself and my Ministers, and one of the proposals in the White Paper is to provide a better structure for more regular dialogue.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): When, in January 1997, the Spanish Foreign Minister proposed joint sovereignty for Gibraltar, within days, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the then Foreign Secretary, said:


Will the Foreign Secretary repeat his predecessor's words?

Mr. Cook: The fact is that no proposals were tabled in January 1997. There was an oral discussion between the two Foreign Ministers, as there has been between me and Mr. Matutes on six occasions in the past year. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is imagining any U-turn, weakening or retreat in the British position. As I have said to the Spanish Foreign Minister and to the House, the Government's position is that there can be no compromise on sovereignty against the wishes of the Gibraltar people. Their views on the matter are sovereign. We stand firmly by the commitment given by a previous Labour Government in 1969--that the people of Gibraltar will freely and democratically decide whether there should be any transfer of sovereignty.

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The only people to whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman is giving comfort by imagining that there is a U-turn are the Government of Spain. If he really wants to convince them that Britain is firm, it is about time that he said that there is no sign of weakening by the Government, who are backed by a united, not a divided Parliament.

United Nations

5. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): If he will make a statement about arrangements for financing the United Nations. [69424]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): We continue to promote the European Union's proposals for reform of the arrangements for financing the United Nations, which are designed to reflect more closely countries' capacity to pay. We believe that the proposals represent the best way of resolving the current crisis in funding. At the end of 1998, the United Nations was owed over $2 billion by member states. We urge all United Nations member states to pay their dues promptly, in full and without conditions, as the United Kingdom does.

Ms Drown: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, although I am concerned at its content. Over the past decade, 2 million children have been killed in war, and many more have been left disabled and homeless. The world looks to the United Nations to help to solve the conflicts that result in those deaths. How can the United Nations function without the funds that it requires to do its work? Will my hon. Friend make urgent representations to the right-wing Republicans on Capitol hill, and make it clear that they are acting irresponsibly and that children's lives depend on their agreeing to pay their dues without further delay?

Mr. Lloyd: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The simple reality is that a United Nations that is owed $2 billion is not in a proper position to do all the work that we ask of it. We want a more efficient United Nations, but we do not necessarily want a cheapskate United Nations that cannot do the job that the world wants it to do. That is why we as a Government are the biggest single funder of, for example, the UN Commission on Human Rights. Now that President Clinton is firmly back in the saddle, it is incumbent on the United States Congress to accept that it must pay the United Nations what it owes.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): In view of the American Government's lamentable record on the funding of the United Nations and their persistent default in stumping up what they owe, would the Minister support a proposition that the UN headquarters should move to London, at the very centre of the European Union, removing it from the ambit of the rather more absurd American views on it?

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mr. Lloyd: The hon. Gentleman certainly seems to have created a popular movement among Government Back Benchers; but there is no proper proposal to remove the United Nations from New York. The reality is that

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both New York as a city and the United States as a country do very well out of the presence of the UN on their territory. That is why we expect Congress to come up with the money that it owes.


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