Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is not using his usual analytical skills on the arguments. I was talking about the two choices that are involved in the process of negotiation; he is talking about the outcome. If proposals are agreed between this Government and the Government of Spain, that outcome will be put to the people of Gibraltar. If and when a referendum takes place, the arguments for those people to consider will be either to maintain the status quo or to have a different future. In the end, that is a matter for the people of Gibraltar.

As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) explained, no other colonial situation has had such a degree of effective self-determination. It did not happen with Hong Kong—those negotiations were carried out by a Conservative Administration who just handed Hong Kong over to China without any suggestion of a referendum—so I do not want to hear any more nonsense about self-determination from the Conservatives.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has

5 Feb 2002 : Column 744

made it clear for some time that he would be more than happy to negotiate with Spain on the restrictions placed on Gibraltar because of the effects that Spain claims they have on it? That has not happened because Spain will not talk about anything unless sovereignty is at the head of the agenda. The Foreign Secretary knows perfectly well that the referendum in Gibraltar, whenever it is held, will result in a resounding rejection by the Gibraltarians. We must therefore ask what his agenda is. Does he mean to say to the United Nations that Spain and Britain have agreed on the future of Gibraltar and the problem is merely that Gibraltar has yet to come to terms with it, and all other options are closed?

Mr. Straw: Sovereignty is part of the agenda; it is not a prior condition, but it was agreed as part of the Brussels process. The hon. Gentleman asked me to predict the outcome of the referendum. My track record is poor. I was an active member of the no campaign in 1975. When the four-week campaign began, there was a 2:1 majority in favour of a no vote; at the end, there was a 2:1 majority in favour of a yes vote. I am therefore making no predictions. During that process, people listened to the argument. I hope that if we again agree proposals with the Government of Spain over time and through discussion, we will be able to discuss them in more detail with the people of Gibraltar. In any event, I made it clear yesterday that it will be their decision; we will respect it and we will stand by them whatever it is.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): May I remind my right hon. Friend that the concept of "two flags, three voices" is fairly similar to the device used in discussions with Argentina and the Falkland Islands, which did not lead to betrayal of the interests of the islanders, any more than my right hon. Friend's present negotiations will lead to betrayal of the Gibraltarians? Will he reinforce his point that a Spain that has to come to the negotiating table knowing that the people of Gibraltar will have the final say on their future is also a Spain that has to negotiate in good faith? He was therefore right in his statement that the process of negotiation is the best way of getting rid of the artificial impediments to Gibraltar's progress imposed by Spain.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his sage observation about negotiations concerning south America and the Falkland Islands. I repeat: we need a process to deal with these problems, and this is the best way of achieving that. I very much wish that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar was taking part in the negotiations. I believe that we have made it possible for him to do so; he takes a different view, which I respect. The invitation remains open.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): Can I help the Foreign Secretary to retain at least a fig leaf of credibility in these shoddy dealings, and respond to questions that he has been asked repeatedly by Members on both sides of the House? Will he state categorically that in the event of the people of Gibraltar rejecting the stitch-up, which they surely will, the negotiations and anything relating to them will be taken off the agenda once and for all?

Mr. Straw: In the event of a no vote, the proposals will not be implemented. I cannot rewrite history in the

5 Feb 2002 : Column 745

event of a no vote. If there is a no vote, the hon. Gentleman and his Front Bench are asking me to rush to the archives and tear up—

Mr. Ancram indicated assent.

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman says yes; we are to be like Arthur Andersen and shred the records. It is the Enron approach to foreign affairs: to negotiate, to agree proposals, and then when people do not like them—as obviously the Opposition do not—to rush back and destroy all the evidence that there had ever been agreement. I am sorry, I am not following that line; I believe in being straight with the people of Gibraltar, which is what we shall be.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Is not it true that the Little Englander mentality of people who refuse even to countenance the idea of any kind of talks can only harm the long-term interests of the people of Gibraltar? Is it not true also that the old Franco mentality of people in Spain who refuse to countenance any change in their position can only harm the future of Spain? Would it not make much more sense for the Government of Spain to renounce their long-term aspiration to sole Spanish sovereignty of Gibraltar and for the Government of Gibraltar to take part in the talks as soon as possible?

Mr. Straw: I accept entirely what my hon. Friend says. Spain has imposed restrictions on Gibraltar which we do not accept and do not believe are justified. There is a parody of Spain and the Spanish people among some hon. Members which bears no relationship to the truth. The Kingdom of Spain is a democracy and a member of the European Union. Fifteen times as many British people live happily in Spain as live in the British colony of Gibraltar, and they live there voluntarily. Many Gibraltarians, notwithstanding the restrictions, have a stake in Spain as well. Moreover, although I do not accept most of what is said, if one is going into negotiations, it is a good idea to understand where the other side is coming from. Whether we agree with them or not, some of the concerns of the other side have a foundation that we cannot ignore. The purpose of the negotiations is to try to find a way through. Again, I repeat that not once in the past 40 minutes of discussion has there been any proposal for resolving the problem for the people of Gibraltar, except through the Brussels process.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Why not—[Interruption.] Perhaps I could have the attention of the Foreign Secretary. Why not three voices and three flags?

Mr. Straw: The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer. Because of the treaty of Utrecht.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): In view of the deep hostility felt by the people of Gibraltar towards falling under Spanish sovereignty, shared or otherwise, will the Foreign Secretary tell us what unpleasant circumstances and trick question he is preparing for the referendum?

5 Feb 2002 : Column 746

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend asks me a disobliging question. She should not judge the Government by her own standards.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): If the Foreign Secretary cobbles together some deal with Spain which involves the diminution of Gibraltarian sovereignty, and if that question is asked in a referendum and wholeheartedly rejected, as it will be, will he guarantee that the rights of the Gibraltarians as British subjects will be no less vigorously protected by his Government, and that he will no less vigorously pursue the iniquities of the Spanish treatment of Gibraltarians through the EU, which he should have been doing rather more vigorously for some years?

Mr. Straw: I said yesterday, as I have already repeated twice in the House, and I said in Barcelona that if the people of Gibraltar decide to reject the proposals, as they are fully entitled to do—I hope that they will not reject them if we agree them, but I accept the possibility that they may—we will stand by not only our legal but our moral and political obligations to the people of Gibraltar.

One reason why I am committed to this process for resolving the problems faced by Gibraltar and those that arise in respect of Gibraltar in the European Union is that, in my experience as Home Secretary, we ran into difficulties time after time with a number of instruments, when Spain raised problems, sometimes with justification, because of the application or otherwise of the instrument to Gibraltar. The proposals are a way of resolving those problems, as well as making a better future for the people of Gibraltar.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): My right hon. Friend mentioned what might happen if there were an agreement between the Government and the Spanish Government. Will he speculate on what may happen to the people of Gibraltar, their economy and their future if there is no agreement with Spain?

Mr. Straw: That, in the end, is a matter for the people of Gibraltar, but my hon. Friend raises an important question. One thing is certain: the, as it were, duty-free, low tax status of Gibraltar will end over the next four or five years. That has nothing directly to do with the Government of Spain or the UK, but results from decisions principally by the OECD and the EU against such tax-free status. That will change the environment in which Gibraltar operates, and there are some people— I accept that they are a minority at present in Gibraltar—who understand that and believe that Gibraltar has a far better future in a wholly open environment as a full member of the EU. That is likely to be my view, but in the end, it is a matter for the people of Gibraltar to make the choice, because it is their life, not ours.

Next Section

IndexHome Page