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3 Feb 2003 : Column 48—continued

Tony Cunningham: So that I and the House may have some idea of the scale of the problem, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could give us an indication of the amount of correspondence that he has had from the people of Gibraltar about the very important issue of the lack of consultation.

Mr. Cash: I have had the most interesting correspondence. It is not for me to go into detail as to where it has come from. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is from an extremely good source and that it has great authority. It is also extremely clear. I am delighted to be able to inform the hon. Gentleman that before I entered into these discussions and this correspondence I had, as I think the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome had, noticed the difficulties, discrepancies and lacunae in the process. Some of the points that I made on Second Reading also arose from my own assessment. So we are in the wonderful position of having a conjunction, at least on this side of the House, on these fundamental questions. I suspect that there is also sympathy on the other side of the House, certainly among some of its more distinguished hon. Members, with regard to quite a few of these points.

It is very important that we get the balance right on where the legislation should be passed. The way to deal with the matter is along the lines of my amendment No. 29.

I have already dealt with amendment No. 24. I would, however, add that we wish the new Governor well in this context, because he inherits a situation in which, to say the least, some improvement in personal relations will be very welcome.

Amendment No. 26 seeks to require consultation with the Government of Gibraltar and the Chief Minister under clause 11(1). I tabled amendment No. 28 because difficulties in dealing with precise definitions will need to be dealt with through discussion and in consultation with the powers that be in Gibraltar. Amendment No. 32 is a purely technical amendment. Amendment No. 33 again deals with the need to involve

in consultation with the Electoral Commission.

Importantly, amendment No. 41 seeks to remove clause 22(3) because, in the terms in which the Gibraltar Government will understand things—and, indeed, as I understand this matter—it is inconceivable that the United Kingdom should directly authorise expenditure on Gibraltar's constitutional fund. To say the least, such a measure would be a colonialist step in the wrong direction. It is only the legislature of Gibraltar that should give such authorisation. I remain astonished that the Minister has not yet come to terms with the fact that that is a matter of grave constitutional importance to Gibraltar's Government. I am also astonished that the Government have not more specifically acknowledged the point that has been made in that regard.

Amendment No. 30 is another technical amendment that ties in with amendment No. 29.

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The amendments deal with important matters. I broadly agree with the new clause, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, but I believe that we must go that bit further to get the balance right on where legislation is decided. There must also be a proper consultation process to ensure that the genuine and justifiable sensitivities of the people of Gibraltar and the Chief Minister are fully satisfied.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Obviously, both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties have been representing a sensible view. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department will take on board the fact that there should be consultation with the Chief Minister and the House of Assembly, because I question the Governor's independence. We all know that the Governor is independent only on the day when he finishes his job, as he has always rightly been answerable to the Foreign Office, which employs him, and the Foreign Secretary. Unfortunately, I do not think that a Governor has the appropriate independence, and I wonder why we even bother to consult on the basis of such an arrangement.

I recognise my hon. Friend the Minister's new views on the essential fact that we should have elected representation in the House of Lords. In that case, good consideration should surely be given to ensuring that we listen in the same way to the views of the elected representatives of Gibraltar. On that basis, and given her belief in democracy, I hope that she will agree that we should take on board those democratic views and that there should be a way forward. I do not think that that is asking for a lot or that it would affect anything; I merely believe that it would tidy up the situation, as we would be listening only to the democratically expressed views of elected people. That is why such an approach is important for Gibraltar as well.

The stuffy old argument is always made about colonial masters. If we want to be cool Britannia and portray a new image, it would be right to show the people of Gibraltar that we respect their views and will listen to them alone. The Foreign Office should not influence what should be viewed only in terms of democracy.

5.15 pm

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): I support the amendments tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends. The amendments are important because they would give the people of Gibraltar reassurance that their views were being taken seriously and that the Government would not try to railroad through any measures.

That reassurance is especially important after last week's events, when the Prime Minister of Spain provided useful support to our Prime Minister on the issue of Iraq. Those in the diplomatic community to whom I have spoken since the joint letter was signed have made it clear that they think that Spain might exact a price from the Government for that support. Whether that is true or not, we must recognise that freedom and electoral rights in Gibraltar can be protected only by eternal vigilance in this House. One means of demonstrating our eternal vigilance on behalf of the people of Gibraltar would be to support the

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amendments. They are reasonable, they would tighten up the language and they would provide better consultation rights for the Minister, the Government and the Assembly of Gibraltar. For those reasons, I strongly support the amendments.

Mr. Rosindell: I also support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and others. I am astounded that we are even debating the point. How can it be, after so many discussions over so many weeks, that we are still questioning whether the people and the elected Government of Gibraltar—the House of Assembly and the Chief Minister—should be consulted? Of course those people should be given the right to comment and have their views considered on this legislation and on other matters affecting their future.

For whatever reason, the Government continue to appear arrogant towards the people of Gibraltar. It is desperately sad that the people of the Rock, who are so loyal to this country, should be treated so shabbily by our Government. For the sake of the people of that overseas territory, I hope that the Minister will tell us clearly why the Government appear to object to giving the right of proper consultation to the democratically elected Government of Gibraltar on the matters that we are discussing. Many thousands of people on the Rock will be watching this debate and will be greatly concerned that, once again, the British Government are failing in their duty to consult British people on an issue of such importance. I hope that the Minister will answer that point clearly, so that all those watching in Gibraltar will understand why the Government have taken the view that they have.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) mentioned the Prime Minister of Spain and his co-operation with our Prime Minister during this difficult time of international tension, and the fact that Spain and this country are working together on the issue of possible conflict in the middle east. I remind the Minister that we have depended on Gibraltar at difficult times in our history and we may well depend on the co-operation of the people of Gibraltar again in the weeks ahead. Surely it is time that we showed them the same respect and loyalty that they have shown us over so many years.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Yvette Cooper): Hon. Members have tabled a series of amendments reflecting concerns that were discussed extensively in Committee, where I made it clear that I am sympathetic to many of their underlying principles. I undertook to look further at many of the issues, and we are giving detailed consideration to the tabling of amendments in the other place. I said before the Bill left Committee that it would not be possible to table detailed amendments on Report owing to the amount of time required by the parliamentary draftsmen and the need to ensure that the Government of Gibraltar are consulted.

Bob Russell: Will the Minister explain why those basic points of principle were not included in the Bill in the first place?

Yvette Cooper: They were. The point of the Bill is to enfranchise the people of Gibraltar for the European

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parliamentary elections. The timetable to which we are all operating is based on the need to meet the deadline of the 2004 elections. Considerable consultation with the Government of Gibraltar has taken place over a long period, and the principles behind the Bill were set out to them some time ago. We are keen to consider further points that they have made, and it would be completely incorrect to say that we have not consulted the Government of Gibraltar. We have done so, and we shall, as we must, continue to do so. Indeed, that is why the final amendments were not tabled on Report.

Hon. Members may have seen the letter that I said that I would send to them in response to some of the points that they raised in Committee. If not, it should be waiting outside on the board for them. I apologise for its lateness.

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