Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report



98. Self-determination is the first of the four basic principles enunciated by the Government as the basis for its relationship with all the United Kingdom's Overseas Territories.[218] Mr Caruana told us that this right to self determination should be recognised by the United Kingdom Government in the case of Gibraltar.[219] Self-determination is not, however, the same as independence. The Committee concurs with the view of the British Government that independence is not an option for Gibraltar. This is because of Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht, with its provision about the territory reverting to Spain if alienated from the United Kingdom.[220] The Government of Gibraltar does not accept that independence is prevented by the Treaty of Utrecht. Their principal argument is that the Treaty of Utrecht has, in effect, been superseded by the Charter of the United Nations and is incompatible with the commitment of the United Nations to decolonisation.[221] They would be content to have the issue determined in an international court,[222] but they emphasise that the question is an academic one, since "the people of Gibraltar do not seek independence from Britain."

Integration with the United Kingdom

99. Integration is a concept which means different things to different people. During our visit to Gibraltar, we encountered a number of people who favoured some form of integration of Gibraltar into the United Kingdom. We understand, for example, that Mr Bossano had been responsible for starting the integration movement in 1964, and that his party believed that the case now was more overwhelming than it was then. Opinions were not unanimous—one union leader, for example, regarded integration with the United Kingdom as a backwards move as Europe became more politically united. Support for integration was also apparent in much of the written evidence we received: Sir Robert J Peliza, the former Chief Minister, pointed to a 1998 opinion poll which suggested that 90% of Gibraltarians supported it.[223] Other individuals wrote in support of integration.[224]

100. The integration of overseas territories with the metropolitan country can be manifested in a number of different ways. It is, of course, well precedented in Europe: the French départements d' outre-mer (Martinique, French Guyana, Guadeloupe and Réunion) are an integral part of France,[225] while the territoires d'outre-mer have a lesser status. Ceuta and Melilla, though in North Africa, are autonomous regions of Spain. Aruba and the Dutch Antilles are self-governing, but are within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Gibraltar's colonial status contrasts unfavourably with these. Mr Aurelio Falero pointed in his written evidence to the fact that the Spanish would naturally consider the position of Gibraltarians anachronistic because of the full voting rights which Spain itself gave to the residents of Ceuta and Melilla,[226] and Mr Caruana said that any Spanish diplomat worth his salt if challenged on Ceuta and Melilla would point to their status as part of Spain compared to Gibraltar's status as a colony.[227]

101. In the recent White Paper on the Overseas Territories, the Government has stated (in respect of all the overseas territories) that integration does not offer a more appropriate alternative to current arrangements, but it has accepted that the issue may need to be "revisited, reviewed and where necessary revised."[228] The Government of Gibraltar told us that it regretted the closing of the door on the integration option which the White Paper appeared to demonstrate. It commented that "this denial of the integration option may be legitimate in respect of territories to whom independence is available. It is less obviously so in the case of Gibraltar to whom independence is not available."[229] Mr Caruana confirmed this view when he gave evidence, describing the policy as "regrettable and disappointing."[230]

102. Ms Quin assured the Committee that integration of Gibraltar with the United Kingdom would not be incompatible with the Treaty of Utrecht.[231] It would hardly be popular in Spain, where it would signify the end of Spanish aspirations to regain control of the Rock. There are other disadvantages in any form of integration. It could take power away from responsive local leaders in Gibraltar, and remove decision-making on Gibraltar-related issues from Gibraltarians and instead vest it in those who understood little about the territory. On the other hand, many of the obstacles which Spain at present places in the way of Gibraltar could potentially be removed—competent authorities in Gibraltar would become United Kingdom competent authorities (this was a point made forcefully to us by opposition politicians in Gibraltar); driving licences and passports would no longer refer to Gibraltar; criticism of Gibraltar's record in law enforcement or compliance with EU requirements would be a direct criticism of the United Kingdom; extradition would be possible, and so on. There would also be a considerable benefit to Gibraltar in no longer having to duplicate work being done in London—to take one example, the Data Protection Registrar's remit could extend to Gibraltar and consequently there would be no need for Gibraltar to set up its own body with its own staff, equipment and overheads.

103. The implication of devolution in the United Kingdom was not lost on Mr Caruana or some of our other Gibraltarian witnesses.[232] In the new variable geometry of the United Kingdom, with different levels of self government for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and the English regions, Gibraltar could form another part of this picture. It might be that Gibraltar would have to give up some of its present powers which would be repatriated to London. Mr Caruana appeared quite relaxed at this prospect.[233] However, Gibraltar would not lose all its legislative independence, and might indeed be regarded as an autonomous region of the United Kingdom, rather than an autonomous region of Spain as Señor Matutes offers. Integration would, of course, pose many problems. However, if the people of Gibraltar were to vote clearly in favour of integration within the United Kingdom, the British Government should be prepared to consider the option.

104. Integration would bring Gibraltarian representation directly into the House of Commons. But even if integration is not the future course for the territory, there is a strong case for a major enhancement of the link between the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Government and House of Assembly of Gibraltar in order to meet some of the existing democratic deficit. First of all, we believe that the Prime Minister should consider meeting Gibraltar's Chief Minister, at least before any bilateral meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister at which Gibraltar is to be discussed. We understand that no formal meeting had taken place, though Ms Quin pointed out that she spoke regularly with the Chief Minister, and reported on these discussions to the Prime Minister.[234] As far as Parliament is concerned, we believe that the Royal Commission at present considering the future of the House of Lords might consider whether Gibraltar should be represented in that House, and we shall draw this view to the attention of the Commission. In the House of Commons, we note the Chief Minister's support for a right for the Government of Gibraltar to petition at the bar of the House, as petitions from the Corporation of London may.[235] This was a possibility which Baroness Symons was prepared to consider when she gave evidence to the Committee in December 1997 on the Dependent Territories Review.[236] We also re-iterate the view we have expressed to the Leader of the House that arrangements should be put in place to allow Members of the House of Commons to visit the Gibraltar House of Assembly in connection with their parliamentary duties.

Other constitutional change

105. The FCO told us that the Government of Gibraltar was "interested in exploring the possibility of effecting various changes to Gibraltar's constitution."[237] Preliminary exploratory discussions had taken place, but no formal proposals had yet been made. The British Government's position is that "they are willing to listen to any ideas that are realistic and compatible with international obligations, which include the Treaty of Utrecht." The aim of the Government of Gibraltar is "to seek the effective decolonisation of Gibraltar, by means of the modernisation of Gibraltar's bilateral constitutional relationship with the UK."[238] This aim chimes in with the policy of the main opposition parties in Gibraltar: as the Memorandum of the Joint Foreign Affairs Committee of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party and the Liberal Party of Gibraltar put it, "Gibraltar is a colony and it must be decolonised."[239] The Government of Gibraltar believes there should be "last resort" powers for the British Government, but the "existing residual colonial features of the present Constitution would be removed."[240] The opportunity could also be taken to reflect changes (such as membership of the EU) which had occurred since the 1969 Constitution was put in place. An illustration of the sort of proposal which might be made was Mr Caruana's suggestion that the Governor, whose office was a colonial one, should be replaced, for example, by a Lieutenant Governor (as in the Channel Islands).[241] Mr Caruana intends to propose to the Gibraltar House of Assembly that a Select Committee should be established which, he hopes, can come forward with unanimous proposals for constitutional change.[242]

106. The Government of Gibraltar expressed misgivings that the British Government might allow a "Spanish dimension" to inhibit its moves towards decolonisation.[243] However, it argued that constitutional modernisation was a move to give Gibraltar a status which suits its circumstances, and which would be approved by its people in a referendum.[244] This would be in keeping with UN Resolutions on decolonisation. (We return to the issue of a referendum later).[245] Opposition politicians in Gibraltar told us that they believed that the Foreign Secretary had told Mr Caruana that Spain would "go ballistic" if changes were made to the Constitution. We are aware of Spain's hostile reaction to the 1969 Constitution,[246] but this is not a reason to prevent change to that constitution. Nor do we accept the Spanish view[247] that the Treaty of Utrecht would be an obstacle: Ms Quin told us that the Government's initial view of the Gibraltarian Government's constitutional proposals were that they were compatible with the Treaty of Utrecht.[248] Moves to greater self government, under the British Crown, do not seem to us to amount to the alienation of Gibraltar from the Crown referred to in Article X of the Treaty. The Committee believes that, while the potential Spanish reaction to any constitutional change compatible with the Treaty of Utrecht is a consideration which British and Gibraltarian Governments will wish to bear in mind, there can be no question of a Spanish veto on constitutional developments in Gibraltar.


107. We have already referred to the referendum of 10 September 1967 when Gibraltarians were asked whether they wanted "to pass under Spanish sovereignty in accordance with the terms proposed by the Spanish Government to Her Majesty's Government on 18 May, 1966" or "voluntarily to retain their link with Britain, with democratic local institutions and with Britain retaining its present responsibilities." The Committee pursued the issue of the desirability of another referendum both during its visit to Gibraltar, and during subsequent evidence sessions. Sir Robert J. Peliza, the former Chief Minister, suggested that Gibraltar could be decolonised by 2000 "if the political will is there by holding a referendum."[249] Trade union leaders and others in Gibraltar told us that there was support for another test of public opinion on sovereignty, but Ms Quin thought that no referendum was necessary because the Government "know very clearly what the wishes of the people of Gibraltar are."[250] The Government of Gibraltar has made it plain that it would expect any constitutional change it proposes to be endorsed by referendum, and that any such referendum should ask the people of Gibraltar whether they wished to become a devolved unit within the United Kingdom.[251] Mr Caruana was also willing to conduct regular referendums to demonstrate the will of the Gibraltarian people on the sovereignty question.[252]

218   Cm 4264 para. 1.19. Back

219   Q150. Back

220   Ev. p. 1, para. 7. Back

221   Ev. pp. 40-41, paras. 75-77. Back

222   Q185. Back

223   Ev. p. 82. Back

224   E.g. Ev. p. 98 (Appendix 16). Back

225   Ev. p. 13, para. 13. Back

226   Ev. p. 103. Back

227   Q186. Back

228   Cmnd 4624 para. 2.6. Back

229   Ev. p. 41, para. 79. Back

230   QQ192,233. Back

231  QQ87-88. Back

232   Q199; Ev. pp. 97, 103. Back

233   QQ192,199-200. Back

234   QQ73-77, 195. Back

235   Q196; see Erskine May, 22nd edition, page 814. Back

236   HC 347, Session 1997-98, Q186. Back

237   Ev. p. 1, para. 7. Back

238   Ev. p. 38, para. 53; QQ186ff. Back

239   Ev. p. 88. Back

240   Ev. p. 42, para. 88. Back

241   Q204. Back

242   Ev. p. 42, para. 85 and Q187. Back

243   Q182. Back

244   Ev. p. 42, paras. 86 and 87; QQ186,189. Back

245   See para. 107. Back

246   Q202. Back

247   See evidence of Señor Estrella-Ev. pp. 100-103. Back

248   Q90. Back

249   Ev. p. 85. Back

250   Q92. Back

251   QQ189,200. Back

252   QQ183-4. Back

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Prepared 22 June 1999