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Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. Of course I am aware of the views of most people in Gibraltar about this. I too visited Gibraltar and received an interesting reception. Yes, we should use this period which has come up by chance because of the Cabinet changes in Spain and I look forward to helping to build the confidence of the Gibraltarians in this process. I have two comments for my right hon. Friend. First, no one who acknowledges that there is a dispute with Spain which causes all sorts of practical problems for the people of Gibraltar has yet come up with proposals as to how these can be resolved other than through a dialogue.
Secondly, I wanted Chief Minister Caruana and the Government of Gibraltar to be represented in these talks from the start. I believe that the conditions that I negotiated with Spainthe so-called two flags, three voices arrangementfully met the conditions that
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): Is the Foreign Secretary aware that during the Foreign Affairs Committee's visit to Gibraltar the week before last when we met every political party, the trade unions, every conceivable community group, people at random on the streets and patiently sitting stationary in their cars during the Spanish obstruction on the border, neither Inor, I believe, any other member of the Committeewas able to find a single person on the Rock who was prepared to say that they would vote in favour of the Government's joint sovereignty proposal.
Given that it is blindingly clear that the people of Gibraltar will in no conceivable circumstance vote in favour of the Government's deeply misguided policy of joint sovereignty, surely the only sensible course is to abandon that policy, and to abandon it now.
Mr. Straw: I am not aware directly of the right hon. Gentleman's experience in Gibraltar, but it will come as no great surprise to Members of the House, particularly those who have visited Gibraltar. He asks whether I am aware that not a single person would be prepared to vote in favour of the shared sovereignty proposal. There is no shared sovereignty proposal to be put to the people of Gibraltar yet. Let me make it clear that what we seek to do is to resolve all the disputes with Spain. They include the question of sovereignty.
I have been open about that from the start, as indeed were the Government of whom the shadow Foreign Secretary was a member back in 1984. The question of sovereignty has always been on the agenda. It is impossible to conceive of why it was on the agenda unless one of the likely conclusions was that there would be shared sovereignty. The Conservative party was signed up to that principle, we have accepted it in principle. However, any agreementany joint declaration, but any subsequent detailed agreement, including the treatywould seek to resolve everything together.
My belief is that if we could get there, we would have a package of proposals that would make a real difference to the people of Gibraltar, and if we had a process of discussion in which the Government of Gibraltar would have to be involved, that would change perceptions. That is my belief, but in any event it was going to be some time down the track.
May I point out to my right hon. Friend that Mr. Pique, who has just been sacked, said that whatever agreement Britain made with Spain on joint sovereignty, Spain would never give up its claim to total sovereignty? The Spanish Government treat the people of Gibraltar so oppressively now, when they have British sovereignty, that one wonders how they will treat them if they get their hands on them, even under joint sovereignty. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the restrictions on the people of Gibraltar could be removed now as a sign of good will by the Spanish Government and that although they want to cozen this Government, they have no genuine goodwill towards the people of Gibraltar?
My right hon. Friend says that the people of Gibraltar would enjoy Spanish as well as British sovereignty. Is he not proud that the people of Gibraltar are so proud to be British that they do not want to touch Spanish sovereignty, that they want to be British, just as they were British during the war when a fascist Spanish Government fought against this country? It is about time the Government abandoned these talks.
Mr. Straw: I regret that my right hon. Friend disagrees about this, because we are genuine friends and normally agree on matters. Of course I am aware of some of the sentiment in the House, but I also believe that, in our party and in the Liberal Democrat party, there is widespread support for this process. My right hon. Friend says that the restrictions should be removed tomorrow. I understand that; I do not wish to see the restrictions there for a second longer than they should beand they should not be there. In saying that, however, he admits that there are matters of deep concern to the Gibraltarians about how they are treated by the Spanish Government. If that is accepted, I am afraid that the next conclusion is inevitable: we must have a dialogue with Spain to resolve those difficulties. That is what we are engaged in.
There was a time when it was thought that the way to resolve those difficulties was simply by taking each individual problem in turn. That does not work, and has not worked. That was why the previous Government, in 1984, decidedit will be recalled if the Commons record is seenwith approbation from the then Labour Opposition to engage in the process of negotiation with Spain. We are continuing with it.
Mr. Straw: What I would say on that is this: early in these negotiations we established that it was absolutely fundamental that Gibraltarians would retain their right to British citizenship in any event. That has been accepted. In addition, they would be offered, if they so chose, Spanish citizenship as well.
Does the Foreign Secretary also accept that, whatever his personal intentions and motives, he gives the impression that he is more interested in the rightsclaimed or otherwiseof the kingdom of Spain than he is of those of the British citizens who live and work in Gibraltar? Does he accept that he would be better employed now in actively protecting and pressing the rights and interests of the United Kingdom, including the people of Gibraltar, and dealing with Spain on matters upon which our two countries can agree? Surely it is right that the agreement that he intends to reach with Spain should not be brought into being until after he has consulted and reached a firm view about the views of the people of Gibraltar. To do it the other way around, as he currently intends, is to leave the people of Gibraltar in a state of uncertainty, which is not fair on them.
Mr. Straw: Let me deal directly with the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, because it is a serious one. I am glad to note that he at least accepts the validity of the Brussels process up to now, even if there is a difference across the Chamber as to whether it should be continued. His last point is fundamental. I can reassure him that we have always made it clear that no agreement would be put in place without the positive consent of the people of Gibraltar. However, there is an issue about how one gets there.
Mr. Caruana says that there should be a dialogue: we are engaged in a dialogue. He says that there is a dispute: we are trying to have a dialogue to resolve the dispute. We cannot know the conclusions of the negotiations until the negotiations are concluded. I wanted Mr. Caruana in the room. I hope very much that the Conservative party will join the Liberal Democrats and me in telling him that it is safe for him to be involved in the negotiations. To this day, I simply have no comprehension of why he decided not to join in the negotiations, because he would have been, and still would be, a free man in those negotiations to agree or disagree as he wanted.
The purpose of the negotiations is to come forward with a proposition. Because Mr. Caruana was unwilling to take part in the negotiations, we had to have them bilaterally between the two Governments. That was why we decided on the approach of a joint declaration, which would be a framework that would then be the subject of tri-lateral negotiations, outside the Brussels process, with the Government of Gibraltar. Only at the end of that could we pin down an agreement in treaty language, which would then be put to the people of Gibraltar.
I understand the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman makes about the current degree of uncertainty, but it is critical that before we ask the people of Gibraltar to vote, they know exactly what they are voting for. That is why we have this careful process.