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Gibraltars economic affluence is matched only by its cultural and social richness. Gibraltarians have varied roots, including English, Spanish, Italian, Maltese and Portuguese, and all of them feel a strong cultural identity tied to Britain. The majority of inhabitants are Roman Catholic or Church of England, but there are also small Jewish, Muslim and Hindu populations, among others. Many citizens are bilingual, speaking both English and
Spanish. Although the people of Gibraltar have many diverse origins, the British influence remains strong and clear to see. English is the sole official language of Gibraltar and is the language of choice in government, commerce and education. Students in Gibraltar who wish to progress into further education do so by attending British universities.
Many tourists are drawn to Gibraltar because of its rich wildlife and breathtaking scenery, which I could not help but observe on my recent visit only last month. As I am sure hon. Members are aware, I have a strong passion for wildlife and conservation. More than 500 species of flowering plants grow in the territory, and olive and palm trees are common. Dolphins and whales are frequently seen in the bay, and Gibraltar boasts a large nature reserve that is home to more than 200 Barbary apesthe only wild monkeys that can still be found in Europe today. It is said that should the monkeys ever leave, so will the British. Apparently, Sir Winston Churchill took this superstition so seriously that he arranged for a fresh consignment of monkeys to be imported to Gibraltar from Africa when he heard that numbers had been depleted during world war two.
Unfortunately for this particular Member of Parliament, the monkeys of Gibraltar do not always extend the same warm welcome that Gibraltarians usually offer their guests. Despite my concern for the well-being of the Barbary apes, in my capacity as shadow Minister for animal welfare, I encountered last month one mother ape that decided to sink her teeth into my left shoulder. I am sure that the Minister has read reports of this in The Sun, the Daily Mirror and every diary column in this country.
During my visit to Gibraltar, I was honoured earlier last month to join Gibraltars national day celebrations, on 10 September. The day is a public holiday, when the people of Gibraltar dress in the national colours of red and white. They gather to celebrate the result of the 1967 referendum, when the people of Gibraltar decided to remain British. The streets of the territory are always strewn with both the Union Flag and the red and white flag of Gibraltar, and most years the celebrations culminate in the release of thousands of red and white balloons to represent the people of Gibraltar. The event is a magnificent celebration, as Gibraltarians demonstrate their love of their homeland and their pride in being British.
We in London sometimes forget to give proper recognition to Gibraltar and indeed to all the British overseas territoriesit is recognition that they so richly deserve. I once again urge Her Majestys Government to give Gibraltar and the other British overseas territories the right to lay a wreath, every year, on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Such a move would acknowledge the valuable contribution of the people of Gibraltar to the defence of the realm over 300 years and particularly to the second world war effort, and would truly be a fitting way to remember and commemorate all those who laid down their lives for Queenor Kingand country. I hope that the Minister will tell the House whether the Government will agree to the proposal in time for Remembrance Sunday on 9 November.
Another great British custom, the trooping of the colour to mark the Queens official birthday celebrations, should also recognise Gibraltar and the British overseas territories. I ask the Minister to explain why the flag of
Gibraltar and those of all Her Majestys overseas territories and Crown dependencies are not flown in Horse Guards parade for that great state occasion. It would be so easy to fly them, and that would mean so much to these loyal subjects, both in Gibraltar and around the world. The time has come to allow Gibraltar to fly its flag at this most British of occasions and to participate in all British traditions here in the United Kingdom. Change is needed, and although those gestures might be small, they would send a positive signal to the people of the overseas territories and a message of pride, patriotism and unity to the rest of the world.
The United Kingdom and Gibraltar share an unshakeable bond. Our relationship is one of deeply held shared culture, historic traditions and a history that has bound us together over more than three centuries. We need to build upon the foundations of that relationship wherever possible. As long as the people of Gibraltar continue to show their desire to remain a part of our great British family, as they have done on so many occasions and continue to do today, we in this House of Commons have a duty to ensure that the freedom and self-determination of the people of Gibraltar are defended, cherished and upheld. Long may British Gibraltar remain a proud territory of the Crown, and may the Union flag continue to fly above the Rock, this day and for centuries to come.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on securing this debate. His long-standing interest in Gibraltar is well known, and it has been reaffirmed by his recent visit last month to the Gibraltar day celebrations. I am grateful to him for giving me this opportunity, so soon after taking up my post, to underline this Governments excellent working relationship with the Government of Gibraltar and to reaffirm this Governments commitment to the people of Gibraltar.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe regrets that, as a result of overseas commitments, she is unable to attend this debate, although she will be following it closely. The hon. Gentleman has made it very clear that there is huge affection between the peoples of Gibraltar and Britain, stretching back over 300 years. He alluded to the fact that Gibraltar is full of reminders of that relationshipin its historic fortifications and British military presence. The high level of interest in this House in Gibraltar issues is also an illustration of that close and continuing relationship.
But the relationship is about much more than history. Gibraltar, as the hon. Gentleman said, is a vibrant modern territory. The constitution approved by the people of Gibraltar in 2006 provides for a modern non-colonial relationship with the United Kingdom. Gibraltars economy is doing well, benefiting from being within the European Union and from a more predictable relationship with Spain, underpinned by the trilateral process. That trilateral process has provided a valuable forum for dialogue between the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and Spain. It addresses practical points and solutions to issues that affect the daily lives of those living in Gibraltar and, indeed, the whole region.
The UK Governments position on sovereignty is clear, and forms the important overall context in which to view the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. In an
otherwise excellent speech, the comments that he made about the actions of this Government and the reference he made to raising the Spanish flag above the Rock are without foundation. The British Government have never sought to impose a constitutional arrangement on Gibraltar. I state clearly for the record that the UK 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. Furthermore, the UK will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. That could not be clearer. The Government stand by that public commitment to Gibraltar, which is reflected and enshrined in the 2006 constitution and its accompanying dispatch.
As I mentioned earlier, the trilateral forum of dialogue on Gibraltar has been a significant and welcome development since it was established in December 2004 at Chevening. The 2006 Cordoba agreements resulted in a historic package of measures on improved border flows and telecommunications, enhanced use of Gibraltar airport and the settlement of a long-running pension dispute. That has made the lives of citizens in Gibraltar immeasurably better.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary hosted the second ministerial level meeting of the trilateral forum in London in July. The Foreign Secretary, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, and the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, agreed on six new areas of co-operation and a timetable for taking that further co-operation forward. That is very much to be welcomed. The agreed future areas of co-operation cover a wide range of issues relevant to the everyday lives of people in Gibraltar and the surrounding area, including environment, education, financial services, maritime issues and judicial co-operation. The trilateral forum is an ongoing process with great potential and a far-reaching future agenda. However, while the agenda is open, I wish to make it clear that sovereignty has never been discussed in the trilateral forum.
The Government understand the wish of representatives of Gibraltar, and indeed the other overseas territories, to participate in the annual national ceremony of remembrance at the Cenotaph. Ministers have no objection to that in principle. However, there are significant logistical constraints on introducing changes to the ceremony. Any proposals for change need to take account of the extremely limited scope around the Cenotaph for additional participants, and the views of the royal household also need to be sought before any significant changes to the existing ceremony can be introduced. Therefore, the Government are working with Gibraltars representative in London and the other overseas territories representatives to consider the issue further.
Like the rest of the overseas territories, Gibraltar does not have political representation in the Westminster Parliament as constitutionally it does not form part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it is a separate jurisdiction. The people of Gibraltar are able to express their views to their locally elected representatives, just as people in the UK can do to their Members of Parliament. The interests of Gibraltars voters are served by the Gibraltar Parliament and underpinned by the 2006 constitution. The people of Gibraltar are also able to raise their concerns with the Governor, and have the right to
petition the Queen or the Secretary of State directly if they wish. The small size of Gibraltar means that people tend to have a much closer relationship with their elected representatives than people in the UK generally have with theirs, and can therefore easily make their views known. Gibraltars voters are also entitled, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, to vote in European parliamentary elections. Their votes contribute to the election of the MEP representing the south-west regionthe constituency is called the South West of England and Gibraltar.
The 2006 constitution provides for a modern and mature relationship between Gibraltar and the UK. Although it gives Gibraltar much greater control over its internal affairs, it does not in any way diminish British sovereignty over Gibraltar and the UK retains full international responsibility for Gibraltar, including for Gibraltars external relations and defence. The UK is the member state responsible for Gibraltar in the European Union.
The people of Gibraltar exercised their right to self-determination in line with the treaty of Utrecht when they approved the constitution by referendum in November 2006. That is an important point to make to some of the international critics of the constitutional settlement as regards Gibraltar. The fundamental issue is the right to self-determination, which is absolutely in accord with the principles of the United Nations.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to educational issues and the fact that if students from Gibraltar progress to further and higher education, they tend to attend universities in the UK. I had the opportunity of moving from the Foreign Office, where I had been responsible for the overseas territories, to become the Minister of State responsible for higher education. That informed my perspective on these issues, and one change that I was pleased to be able to agree was the right for students from the overseas territories who came to study in the UK to be granted home fee status. That has benefited students in Gibraltar and has been well received.
Let me return to the hon. Gentlemans point about the trooping of the colour. He has asked about the flags at the trooping of the colour, but only flags of
Commonwealth countries are flown in Horse Guards road during the trooping of the colour. The overseas territories, including Gibraltar, are not member states of the Commonwealth although they are associated with it. As a consequencethis is a settled positiontheir flags are not flown.
I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the diversity and success of Gibraltars economy, which is the responsibility of the Government of Gibraltar. I agree that Gibraltar has prospered recently, benefiting from diversification and the opportunities provided by its being within the European Union. In recent years, robust financial regulation and a well-run maritime sector have also contributed to that growth. No territory is immune from the impact of the global economic situation, but I believe that Gibraltar has positioned itself very well. We hope that the trilateral process will contribute to an increased economic partnership between Gibraltar and the surrounding area.
I want to thank the hon. Gentleman for his colourful description of the celebrations during his recent visit to Gibraltar. I hope that he has recovered from his close encounter with one of Gibraltars Barbary apes. I understand that the ape is also expected to make a full recoveryI am sure that the House will be reassured by that fact.
In conclusion, Ialong with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europewant to echo the hon. Gentlemans appreciation of the work of the Governor, Sir Robert Fulton; the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana; Gibraltars representative in London, Mr. Albert Poggio; and Members of the Gibraltar Parliament. I thank, too, my fellow MPs who are members of the all-party group on Gibraltar and all those who have worked throughout the House in support of the interests of Gibraltar.
Gibraltar and the UK share a great bond. The UK Government fully intend to continue our excellent working relationship with the Government of Gibraltar and to stand fundamentally by our commitment to the people of Gibraltar.