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Mr. Straw: I give the guarantee that the right hon. Gentleman seeks, as I have given it throughout my stewardship of my office. The process that we are following is that established in 1984 by the Government of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a member. It was established by Lady Thatcher, and we are following it. As I was speaking, the right hon. Gentleman claimed from a sedentary position that the 1984 Brussels process had nothing to do with sovereignty. That is untrue. The text of the communiqué
Moreover, as I have repeated, we stand by the pledge, originally given by a Labour Government in 1969, that any provisional agreement reached between us and the Government of Spain will be subject, in a free, secret ballot, to the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, without duressas the right hon. Gentleman asks me for that undertakingand would also be subject to a decision by this House and the other place in UK primary legislation.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am far from encouraged to hear that he is pursuing a process started by Margaret Thatcher? Will he accept that I am baffled as to why the Government have allowed themselves to be led into this morass by the appeasement tendency in the Foreign Office? Many of my hon. Friends will not accept any dilution of British sovereignty in Gibraltar against the wishes of the people in a referendum and will not tolerate them being bullied or blackmailed into voting in a referendum. Is it not hypocritical of the Spanish Government to go on and on about sovereignty in Gibraltar when they hold on to sovereignty in Ceuta and Mellila in Morocco? If there is to be a referendum, would it not be appropriate for it to take place on the same day as Spain holds a referendum in Ceuta and Mellila, to see if their people wish their sovereignty to be transferred to Morocco?
Mr. Straw: I was not expecting my right hon. Friend to be persuaded by my point about Lady Thatcher. However, I should have thought that it was a persuasive point for Conservative Members, as they started this process and it is actively supported today by many former Conservative Foreign Office Ministers and people who care both about Spain and about the people of Gibraltar, including Lord Howe and Lord Garel-Jones. [Interruption.] I am glad to learn that the distinguished record of people who have served this country faithfully is now dismissed.
I should be glad to hear from the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) whether the Conservative party is now discarding altogether the Brussels process established by the Thatcher Government of which he was a member. Is he or is he not? No, he is not, he sayshe shakes his head from a sedentary position. In that case, let us be clear that all this is simply piffle and wind. The right hon. Gentleman is not abandoning the Brussels process, so what is this about? He is accepting that there ought to be negotiations and that these negotiations, subject to the consent of the people of Gibraltar, ought to consider the issue of sovereignty.
Let me give a direct response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). The problem about Gibraltar is that it, Gibraltar, raises all sorts of difficulties that it has with Spain. Spain, in turn, raises all sorts of difficulties that it, Spain, has with Gibraltar. Short of sending a gunboat to start military action against
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): The Foreign Secretary has been in politics long enough to know why suspicion and insecurity arise in such situations. We welcome his indication that there can be no transfer of sovereignty to joint or shared sovereignty without the consent of the people of Gibraltar expressed in a referendum. Must it not be clear that that referendum should not be held in an atmosphere of coercion or on the basis that the people of Gibraltar would continue to be denied the basic rights to which they are now entitled, such as representation in the European Parliament and freedom of movement without undue restriction? It is up to the power that wants to increase its involvement in Gibraltarnamely Spainto convince the people of Gibraltar that they will gain positive benefits from the change, and not to connive in any way in a denial of rights that they should have now, with or without this agreement.
Mr. Straw: I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. There are all sorts of rights to which the people of Gibraltar are entitled which they are currently denied. The only way that I can see of even potentially securing those rights is by a process of negotiation, and that negotiation has to be with Spain. I also accept the right hon. Gentleman's point that there is an important responsibility on the Government of Spain to ensure that any proposals that we and they provisionally and jointly agree are beneficial to the people of Gibraltar and that a new atmosphere is created. That would be assisted considerably by a new approach from the Government of Spain.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): As chair of the all-party group on Gibraltar, I would like to put a different spin on this from my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), and ask why, if we are to have discussions with Spain, we do not discuss further independence for the people of Gibraltar or, using the Spanish template, further integration for the people of Gibraltar, as is the case, say, with France and Corsica? Surely that is a way forward that the EU would welcome. Furthermore, sovereignty should not be discussed without Gibraltar being at the table and given an equal voice. No option ought to be considered without that.
Mr. Straw: As regards independence, my hon. Friend is well aware that we are bound by the treaty of Utrecht. Under that treaty, if any issue of the United Kingdom giving up sovereignty arises, the Government of the Kingdom of Spain have to be given first refusal. That is the international legal position.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): It is truly incredible to hear the right hon. Gentleman praying in aid the opinions of Lord Garel-Jones on this matter. The entire House considers them totally irrelevant, because we are looking forwards, not backwards[Interruption.] They are totally irrelevant. If the Foreign Secretary is trying to persuade us that he truly wants to listen to the opinions of the people of Gibraltar, will he give the House an assurance that a referendum of the people of Gibraltar will be held forthwith, and before any further negotiation takes place between his Government and that of Spain?
Mr. Straw: The answer to the hon. Lady's second question is no. A referendum cannot be held until there are clear proposals to put before the people of Gibraltar, following agreement. The hon. Lady may not like that; I understand her anger at Lord Garel-Jones for simply telling truths about the position of the Conservative party on these negotiations. I understand that, but her abuse also covers Lord Howe, the former Conservative Foreign Secretary, who has spoken out
Mr. Straw: With great respect, it is not irrelevant: Lord Howe had stewardship and custody of the issue for six years. The speech that he made in the other place at the end of December is well worth study because he said that the moment one raises the issue of Gibraltarespecially on the Conservative Benchesone is accused of disloyalty. However, it cannot be disloyalabove all to the people of Gibraltarto recognise that they have problems, as they themselves keep telling us, and that those problems need resolution. The only way to resolve them is by a negotiation which, if it is successful, will lead to provisional conclusions being put to the people in a referendum.
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): Without in any way wanting to draw a direct parallel between Gibraltar and Northern Ireland, may I make the following point to the House? In age-old disagreements of this kind, we cannot just stand still and allow things to fester without at least trying to find the basis of an enduring settlement. The Gibraltarians and the Spanish will have to show some significant movement. However difficult it is to find an accommodation in this situation, the Foreign Secretary is showing guts and skill in his approach and I urge him to keep going.