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David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is it likely that there are more than 12 people, at the very maximum, in Gibraltar, who are in favour of what is happening? Is not the truth of the matter simply that, over the years, Spain has pursued a policy of harassment, obstruction and downright annoyance against the people of Gibraltar, whose only crime is that they simply want to retain their links with Britain? Good luck to them.
Mr. Straw: I suspect that the number is rather more than 12, but I shall not start counting just yet. Of course, I understand the intense feeling among the people of Gibraltar about the harassment that takes place against them; nor do I remotely think that it is justified or necessary. I am involved in these negotiations, even at the risk of finding that, just at the moment, I do not have majority support in Gibraltar. I am glad that it is not my constituency, but that is okay because I know that the
Even though I understand some of the difficulties and complexities of the issue that faces us at the moment, I am involved in the negotiations precisely because I am concerned about that harassment and those obstructions by the Government of Spain. But I also look ahead down the track and see a different environment, in which Gibraltar will have to operate whether or not we reach agreement. I cannot say what the final conclusion will be, but we are working in the best interests of the people of Gibraltar, as well as the United Kingdom.
In case my hon. Friend did not hear this right at the beginning, there is no question that the people of Gibraltar will lose their British citizenship, or their British way of life. Those are absolutes; we made that clear to the Spanish Government at the start, and to lift the veil a little on the negotiations, they have accepted both points. If they had not done so, we would not still be involved in the negotiations.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that many hon. Members on both sides of the House can smell the stench of betrayal and sell-out wafting out from underneath the doors at King Charles street? If, as he says, the people of Gibraltar have an arm-lock on the results of the negotiations and given that he knows perfectly well what the results of the Gibraltarians' considerations on his negotiations will be, would it not be much better for his extremely clever and dedicated team of staff in the Foreign Office to get on with something rather more worth while?
Mr. Straw: The value and importance of this process were recognised 18 years ago by a distinguished Conservative former Foreign Secretary, now Lord Howe, and it was pursued with the active support of the then Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher. We supported the process at that time precisely because of the problems faced by Gibraltarians. There has to be a process of discussion.
As we have heard, despite all the bluster from those on the Opposition Front Bench, they support the process, too. I have not heard one proposal this afternoon from any of those who have a slight difference of emphasis from me in regard to the negotiations about what they would do other than to engage in discussions to seek to resolve the problems for the people of Gibraltar.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): May I point out to my right hon. Friend that there are Labour Members who support the hard work that he is putting in to try to resolve an anachronistic constitution in a modern Europe? People in business in Gibraltar recognise that, if there are no changes to its constitutional status, their businesses will not prosper in the future and they will be denied any real independence. That view is widely held.
Mr. Straw: The principle is that international negotiation is a far better process to follow than the alternative. However, Conservatives Members baulk at that suggestion. We have problems with Spain over Gibraltar, and the Gibraltarians have even greater problems. There are two ways of seeking to resolve such problems. The first is by force of arms and the other is by force of argument. I believeinternational law requires thisin using force of argument. Moreover, it is utter nonsense to suggest that we are going over the heads of the people of Gibraltar. We are going to the people of Gibraltar and we shall not just ask for their opinion, because they have a veto over the final conclusion that we come to.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is part of his thinking that the Government of Gibraltar's engagement in this process would enable them to improve Gibraltar's identity and place in Europe? It would also improve and strengthen relations between Britain and Spain and between Britain and the Government of Gibraltar and would not allow those relations to wither away, as they are at present. Does he agree that, although those Labour and Opposition Members who use the language of betrayal and sell-out may be genuine friends of Gibraltar, they do not help the process and are making it even harder for him to accomplish what he is trying to do?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is exactly right. I do not believe that using such misplaced and inaccurate descriptions helps anyone, least of all the people of Gibraltar. I find it difficult to understand how such labels can be attached when the process is open and we want the Chief Minister of Gibraltar to be involved in the negotiations. As that has not been possible to achieve, we are consulting him as much as we can.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Will the Foreign Secretary accept that we do not have a dispute with Spain? The right of the Gibraltarians to be involved with the United Kingdom is recognised in an international treaty that is almost 300 years old. What we are experiencing is the unreasonable behaviour of Spanish Governments and the Spanish people. Can he tell the Houseif he truly believes in democracywhether the people of Gibraltar came to the British Government to ask for help in negotiating joint sovereignty with Spain so as
Mr. Straw: It is a matter of record that the request for the Brussels process arose from discussions between the then Conservative Government and the Spanish Government. It did not arise directly from a request by the Gibraltarian Government. However, we have received many requests for us to sort out the difficulties in Gibraltar. I repeat that the only way to do that is by discussion. That has to be within the Brussels process because the die was cast in 1984 by the Government whom the hon. Gentleman and Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen supported. One part of the negotiations deals with sovereignty because that was what was agreed between the Government of Spain and a Conservative Administration.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): Has my right hon. Friend been offered from any quarter practical proposals on how to get rid of the restrictions on the people of Gibraltar other than by entering into discussion and negotiation? Can he explain why those who oppose the process think that the status quo, which includes those restrictions, is acceptable and why they think that a process in which the people of Gibraltar have the final say in a referendum is not self-determination?
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The Foreign Secretary said that there were only two choices: to go to war or to negotiate. There is a third choice, however: to maintain the status quo. That has been successfully achieved in facing down other regimes and can be successful in Gibraltar. Does the right hon. Gentleman honestly believe that even if restrictions are removed for the duration of a referendum campaign and the vote goes against the acceptance of shared sovereignty once he has done his dirty deal with the Spanish, those restrictions will not immediately be reimposed by Spain?