The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I wish to make a statement to the House informing members about the Gibraltar constitutional negotiations, which concluded successfully in London on Friday 17 March.
A joint statement by the UK and Gibraltar was made earlier today, which sets out the main provisions of the new constitution. The full text of the new constitution will be published in the coming weeks, and put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum. If it is approved by them, it will then be given effect by Order in Council.
As I set out in my statement of 6 February 2004, the starting point for the work to modernise Gibraltar's 1969 constitution was the invitation in the 1999 White Paper "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories" to OT Governments to submit proposals for constitutional reform. In July 1999, the Gibraltar House of Assembly constituted a Select Committee to report on constitutional reform. The Committee published its proposals in January 2002. We formally received them in December 2003. These
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proposals were subsequently discussed between delegations from the UK and Gibraltar in November/December 2004, September 2005 and March 2006.
The new constitution provides for a modern and mature relationship between Gibraltar and the UK. As I will make clear in the Despatch that I will send to the Governor at the time that the Order in Council is passed, it does not in any way diminish British sovereignty of Gibraltar. The UK will retain its full international responsibility for Gibraltar, including for Gibraltar's external relations and defence, and as the member state responsible for Gibraltar in the European Union. Gibraltar will remain listed as a British Overseas Territory in the British Nationality Act of 1981, as amended by the British Overseas Territory Act 2002.
The preamble to the new constitution will also make clear that the UK stands by its long-standing commitment that Gibraltar will remain part of Her Majesty's dominions unless and until an Act of Parliament otherwise provides, and furthermore that Her Majesty's Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.
The new constitution confirms that the people of Gibraltar have the right of self-determination and that the realisation of this right must be promoted and respected in conformity with the provisions of the UN Charter and any other applicable international treaties. In the Despatch, I will note that, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, Gibraltar's right of self determination is not constrained by the Treaty of Utrecht except in so far as Article X gives Spain the right of refusal should Britain ever renounce sovereignty. Thus independence would be an option only with Spanish consent.
The remainder of the constitutional text introduces substantial reform and modernisation. The main elements include limiting the responsibilities of the Governor to the areas of external affairs, defence, internal security and the public service, thereby reversing the previous practice and giving Gibraltar much greater control over its internal affairs. The House of Assembly will be restyled the Gibraltar Parliament, and may determine its own size. The Governor's powers to withhold assent on laws passed by Gibraltar are streamlined and my power to disallow them is removed (although the power to make Orders in Council is retained). New commissions will be created to handle appointments in the judiciary and public service. The creation of a new Police Authority for Gibraltar will give Gibraltar a greater input into policing matters. Finally, the Human Rights chapter has been updated to bring it into line with the ECHR.
I warmly welcome the text of the new constitution. I believe that it is a clear demonstration of our enduring commitment to the people of Gibraltar and that it represents the development of a modern, mature and appropriate relationship with the people of Gibraltar. I believe that the whole House will wish to commend it wholeheartedly to the people of Gibraltar.
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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary , Sir John Grant (UK permanent representative to the EU) and I represented the UK at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels on 20 March 2006.
The presidency invited the Council to comment on the draft European Council conclusions. The European Council will focus on its annual review of the strategy for growth and jobs agreed at Lisbon in March 2000 and re-launched last spring.
Commisioner Mandelson briefed the Council on progress in the WTO Round following the G6 ministerial in London 1012 March. The Commission would now look to increase contact with key partners and Mandelson called for member states' assistance in contacts with third countries.
The Council adopted draft conclusions welcoming discussion at the EU-Western Balkans Informal Foreign Ministers' meeting in the margins of the Gymnich (EU Foreign Ministers' informal meeting) and renewing calls for Serbia and Montenegro to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Draft conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina reflected the need for her to fulfil Stabilisation and Association Agreement conditions (legislative and administrative capacity, police and public broadcasting reform and ICTY) as well as the need for progress on constitutional reform.
The presidency noted that the UN Security Council was considering appropriate steps to strengthen the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). High Representative Solana informed the Council that the Secretariat was working on a paper for the April Council on EU-Iran relations.
The Council adopted conclusions expressing concern at Iran's continuing failure to co-operate fully with IAEA while also underlining other areas of long-standing concern such as terrorism, Iran's approach to the Middle East Peace Process and respect for human
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rights. The conclusions also welcomed the recent release of Akbar Ganji, condemned his detention and treatment while in prison and called on the Iranian authorities to release all other prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.
The Council adopted conclusions reiterating its deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in Darfur; welcoming the decision to extend the mandate of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) until 30 September 2006 and set a framework for a transition from AMIS to a UN operation in Darfur. On Abuja, the Council agreed the need for increased pressure on the parties to make more rapid progress.
The Council adopted conclusions reaffirming its full support for the Government of Lebanon, encouraging it to implement economic and political reforms and implement fully UN Security Council resolution 1559.
The Council agreed with the assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission that the election was severely flawed; agreed to begin urgent consideration of restrictive measures against those responsible; and urged the Belarusian authorities to allow the people of Belarus to exercise their right of assembly and freedom of expression.
The Council discussed a response to the UN request for EU support to the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) during the forthcoming electoral period. High Representative Solana briefed the Council on his recent meeting with President Kabila where the latter accepted, in principle, the deployment of a small EU force.