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4.52 pm

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): Before I raise my main subject, may I reiterate the concerns about the Post Office expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)? The Post Office will be a difficult problem for the Government to tackle and I hope that careful thought is being given to how we can best preserve the role of local community post offices, many of which, including those in urban areas, are likely to close.

I represent a constituency that is mostly urban, and I know from my experience that the Post Office is the centrepiece of a community. Elderly people, for example, require such a facility to collect their pensions and to meet their friends. They use the post office as an everyday facility that benefits the community. I hope that there will not be mass closures of post offices across the country. Rural areas are likely to be particularly affected, but I hope that consideration will be given to the consequences in urban areas such as my constituency of Romford.

Two years ago, I led a local campaign to save the post office in Rise Park. We succeeded, and I was amazed by the response that we received from the entire community. It thought that it would lose its post office and that elderly people would have to travel long distances simply to claim their weekly pension entitlements. I hope that such issues will be given careful thought in the months ahead.

The main issue that I wish to raise is this Government's and all Governments' attitudes in recent years towards British people who do not live on these islands. I refer to the people who live in the British overseas territories and, in particular, to the loyal British subjects who live on the rock of Gibraltar. They have been treated appallingly by the present Government.

Only last week, we saw on our television screens thousands of people demonstrating not for better hospitals, better schools, wage increases or better working conditions, but simply for democracy—for the right to remain British subjects. How can it be right that anyone should have to demonstrate in such numbers, simply to defend their right to remain British? How many Members of this House would tolerate their constituents being treated in the same way as this Government appear to be treating the good people of Gibraltar?

Yesterday, a delegation of the Gibraltar Women's Association visited Buckingham palace—in fact, it is still in London—to present a 16,000-strong petition to Her Majesty the Queen, asking for the issue of Gibraltar to be given the prominence that it deserves, and for Gibraltarians' rights and freedoms to be defended. Last week's demonstration and yesterday's petition are two examples of how betrayed the people of that territory feel by the way the Government are treating them. They are indeed loyal British people, and they deserve better. They deserve to be treated in the same way as we expect our own constituents to be treated. No Member of this House

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would tolerate such attacks on their own constituents, so why do we tolerate them in respect of the people of Gibraltar? It is time that we gave them an equal, democratic say in the things that affect their everyday lives.

The kingdom of Spain is a democracy, a NATO ally and a so-called partner in the European Union, but it bullies the people of Gibraltar. How can that be right? At the moment, at least, Spain is not behaving as an ally or a friend. Indeed, given its treatment of British people, I consider it a fair-weather friend, and I have recent first-hand experience of that.

Just over a month ago, I flew from London to Gibraltar, accompanied by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), and my hon. Friends the Members for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride). The weather was atrocious, making it too dangerous to land on the Rock of Gibraltar. However, our flight was not diverted to Malaga—in the kingdom of Spain, our ally—as one would expect; instead, we were told that Spain would not allow the plane to land because it was a Gibraltarian flight. We were diverted to Tangiers, in Morocco, where we had to wait some considerable time for the flight to be re-designated as a Tangier-Malaga flight. On arriving at Malaga several hours later, we then had to travel to Gibraltar.

The most appalling aspect of that incident was not the fact that five Members of the British House of Commons were delayed on their trip to Gibraltar, but that on board the flight was the coffin of a young Gibraltarian, who had died in tragic circumstances. His parents were waiting at Gibraltar airport for the coffin to arrive, and the funeral was due to take place that same day. The Spanish authorities would not allow the coffin to be transported from Malaga to Gibraltar, so his poor family—distressed and distraught at the death of their son—were made to wait, only to discover that the funeral could not take place. The coffin then had to be flown to London, and was flown back again some days later. How can that be right? How can we stand by and watch British people be treated in such an appalling and unfair manner?

Although I am a Conservative Member and I speak for almost every other Conservative Member in respect of this issue, I should point out to the Minister that many dozens of Labour Members also feel very strongly about it. I should like to quote the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), for whom I have the utmost respect because of his principled stance on this issue. In a recent letter to a newspaper, he said:

If Labour Members have such views and feel the same as many Conservative Members, surely it is time for the Government to address this issue.

I want to develop my remarks to take in not only Gibraltar but the overseas territories in general. I am very proud to speak as secretary of both the Gibraltar all-party group and the Falkland Islands all-party group. The way in which Britain has administered her remaining overseas territories is a national disgrace. Uniquely among

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European countries such as France, the Netherlands and Spain, Britain's attitude towards her remaining colonial possessions has resulted in her pushing them further away, offering them a baffling array of constitutional arrangements and forms of citizenship that never fully equal those on the British mainland.

Although I welcome the move to award full British citizenship to all inhabitants of the overseas territories, we must go further. It is time that we stopped regarding them as mere colonial relics and offered their citizens equal status with everybody else in the United Kingdom, including representation here in the British Parliament.

Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green): The hon. Gentleman implied that the Netherlands treats its overseas territories rather better. What overseas territories does the Netherlands have?

Mr. Rosindell: The Dutch Antilles.

Dr. Vis: No.

Mr. Rosindell: Okay.

The people of the overseas territories, who are British, as we are, do not have a democratic vote for this Parliament, which is their Parliament too. The people of Gibraltar should have their own elected Member of Parliament. It was recently announced that the Western Isles is to retain its MP. I believe that its electoral population is about 20,000. I believe that Gibraltar has slightly more voters, so there is no reason, in numerical terms, why Gibraltar should not also have an MP to represent it in this Chamber.

Furthermore, in the reform of the House of Lords we have a great opportunity to give all British people in the overseas territories the right to send representatives to the British Parliament. Some Members may recall that I spoke in a debate a few weeks ago in which I proposed that we reform the House at least partly on a territorial basis, which would give all overseas territories at least one representative in the newly formed, democratically elected House of Lords. Why should not the overseas territories have a voice in this Parliament, which is their Parliament too?

Most of the overseas territories would welcome with open arms integration and representation of that type. Their current Governments could remain in place as devolved authorities. As we see in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the principle has now been established that it is possible to have a devolved Assembly or Parliament and still have representation in the House of Commons. There would be no inconsistency in Gibraltar retaining its House of Assembly and having representatives here.

Opinion polls held in Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, St. Helena, Montserrat and the Pitcairn Islands consistently show that for their inhabitants integration is the preferred form of constitutional settlement. It has worked well for their French and Spanish equivalents. Uninhabited territories, such as South Georgia, could be integrated immediately.

Some territories, such as Gibraltar, enjoy a special tax status, and the argument put to me by the Foreign Secretary during a recent debate on Gibraltar was that that status would be lost by integration. However, that is not

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necessarily the case; it is not a barrier to integration, as experience in other European Union member states proves. For example, Spain secured the duty-free status of its integrated territories in North Africa—Ceuta and Melilla—despite their being inside the EU. Similarly, the Netherlands secured special tax status for the Dutch Antilles.

I want to devote the rest of my comments to Gibraltar, given the profound constitutional uncertainty that the Government have chosen to engineer there. The Government's policy on Gibraltar is obsequious and wrong. Rather than force Madrid by all available means to abandon its unfounded claim, the Government have put the future of the territory up for negotiation—believing it to be, as the Minister for Europe claimed, an anachronism.

Madrid's stance betrays the many occasions on which Gibraltar has aided Spain. When British forces liberated Spain from Napoleon, they came through Gibraltar. During the anti-fascist campaign against Franco, Gibraltar gave Spanish refugees food and shelter. Franco never forgave the territory for giving succour to his enemies. For all its democratic reforms, modern Spain, sadly, maintains Franco's line.

The Government try to justify their negotiations by claiming, in effect, "Short of gunboats, what else can we do?" The answer is that Gibraltarians must be given the same status as mainland British citizens, with their own Member of Parliament. An opinion poll commissioned by the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation found that a plurality of Gibraltarians support integration, while a lesser number support other options, including free association with the United Kingdom and independence. A much smaller number want shared sovereignty or Spanish control.

Integrating Gibraltar in that way would end Madrid's perception of a half-open door against which she can continue to push. Spain herself provides a model for that policy, having integrated most of her overseas territories—with the result that they are now celebrated and constitutionally stable, and not subject to repeated referendums on their future.

Last year, in evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Europe claimed that integrating Gibraltar would contravene the treaty of Utrecht. The treaty is, however, no obstacle to the integration of the territory. Under the treaty, Gibraltar is forfeit to Spain only should Britain "alienate" the territory. Integration scarcely constitutes alienation. The right hon. Gentleman also commented that integration of that sort is not compatible with the modern era—whatever he means by that. Does he think that our European partners, including France and Spain, are living in the past?

Meanwhile, Madrid clings to her dictatorial claim that the Gibraltarians' views are irrelevant. The Spanish Foreign Minister claims that by holding talks the UK and Spain are "building a house". Gibraltarians, he adds,

Unfortunately, under the treaty of Utrecht, he actually has a point. Under the treaty, Gibraltar must be in either British or Spanish hands, without regard for its inhabitants' opinions.

Times and opinions change. The treaty of Utrecht was written in the age when monarchs signed over territories with little regard for their inhabitants. I hope that the

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Prime Minister is not hoping to emulate an ancient monarch. When Gibraltar had little civilian population, of course there was no need to give those people the right to decide, but nothing could be further from the truth today.

The legal and political standards of the 21st century leave the treaty of Utrecht in tatters. The many ways in which the treaty has been broken include the existence of Jewish and Moorish populations on the Rock. Spain's many sieges of the territory also breached the treaty. As well as being broken, the treaty has been superseded by the treaty of Rome in 1957 and the United Nations declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples in 1960.

It is time that all sides acknowledged that the treaty of Utrecht—broken, superseded and incongruent with the democratic age as it is today—is not worth the parchment that it is written on. It is the treaty that is an anachronism, not Gibraltar.

We must end the crude and illegal pressure placed on Gibraltar by the kingdom of Spain, but negotiation is not the way to do so. Spain is in direct breach of international law and lacks any support in Gibraltar, yet for years London has squandered opportunities to force the matter—failing, for example, to block Spain's accession to the European Union or, more recently, to NATO until it dropped its claim. Rewarding Spain for its intransigence would be a betrayal of the loyal Gibraltarian people and of their right of self-determination.

We should be proud that the Gibraltarians wish to remain British, and not treat them as a colonial anachronism. It is time that we gave the people of Gibraltar and all British subjects, wherever they may live in the world, the same democratic rights, the same liberty and the same freedoms that we would demand for our constituents.

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