Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I shall speak briefly. First, I should declare an interest in that I returned from a visit to Gibraltar this afternoon. A number of other noble Lords accompanied me on that visit. I feel that this should be a relatively short debate and that it should deal with some of the questions which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has posed. However, I was worried by his speech as he seemed to be firing widely directed broadsides at the Government. I minded less his criticism of other member states. I believe that my noble friend and his colleagues in the Government have been striving mightily to assist Gibraltar. It ill becomes someone who was connected with the government who were responsible for international matters and for matters connected with Gibraltar for almost two decades to be so extravagant in his criticism of the present Administration. Indeed I believe the noble Lord mentioned a date that was only a matter of a few days after the present Government took office.

Nevertheless the questions posed by the noble Lord are serious. I am confident that my noble friend will respond to them adequately. I believe that in this debate we should concentrate on the Schengen Agreement. However, during the discussions that I and other noble Lords had with our hosts in Gibraltar over the past 48 hours, little was said about Schengen but much was said about the wider anxiety that exists. I believe the House will have to consider that. I would deeply regret it if the noble Lord's extravagant attacks on my noble friend led the House to consider this debate as a platform for the wider debate which will have to take place soon; namely, as regards the dominant, overwhelming interests of the people of Gibraltar who believe that they ought not to be the only part of the European Union which is not democratically represented within that body.

12 May 1998 : Column 1040

My noble friend should not forget that there is widespread appreciation of the efforts of the previous Labour government which provided Gibraltar with the constitution which it enjoys today. I look forward to hearing my noble friend's response to the noble Lord. I certainly hope that this debate will not become a substitute for the debate that must take place before long.

Lord Monson: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has made some serious allegations of incompetence and of possible bad faith on the part of the Dutch presidency. It will be interesting to hear how the Government respond to that. I, too, declare an interest in that like the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, I returned from Gibraltar this afternoon having spent 48 hours as a guest of the Gibraltar Government.

I wish to move slightly away from Schengen while sticking closely to the ideal of freedom of movement. The Gibraltarians have been members of the EEC--as it then was--since 1973. The Spanish are relative newcomers; they have been members only since 1986. Yet despite their seniority in terms of length of membership, the Gibraltarians are treated as second class, or indeed third class, EU citizens by the Spanish. As I have said on other occasions, time and time again the Spanish behave in a totally non-communautaire manner, not only in regard to Gibraltar but, for example, as regards vetoing the admission of Austria, Sweden and Finland to the Community until the Spanish receive extra money from some source or other, or additional fishing rights--I cannot quite remember which. Anyway it was a blatant act of blackmail. For some reason they are never criticised for their behaviour.

The specific aspect of freedom of movement that I wish to raise relates to identity cards. The European Commission has accepted the Gibraltar identity card as a document valid for both travel and residence purposes under the terms of EU law. It has written to all member states seeking confirmation that the respective authorities will accept the Gibraltar identity card. Yet not only does Spain not recognise the card, it is also putting pressure by the back-door on other EU countries to refuse Gibraltarians entry if they carry merely a Gibraltar identity card. Some--commendably for example Finland--have refused such pressure and allow Gibraltarians in. Others, unfortunately, have succumbed. It will be good to hear what the Government intend to do.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I strongly support what the last two speakers said. I recognise that we cannot widen the debate. I welcome the idea that there should be an early debate on Gibraltar. However, perhaps now is the moment to ask what the Government are doing inside the EU to make clear their strong disapproval of the pressures which Spain is bringing to bear on a fellow member. It is a fellow member for whom we are responsible and which has no vote of its own and cannot speak for itself. Whatever the explanation as regards what happened in June last year, it is necessary for Gibraltar to see that we are using our position in the EU actively to protect her interests.

12 May 1998 : Column 1041

I realise that a great deal of the best negotiation goes on behind the scenes. Nevertheless, it is well known publicly that the Spanish have proposed a joint sovereignty package. That must have greatly alarmed the Gibraltarians. I do not know the Government's position on that. When I last asked, I was told that the matter was under consideration, or that discussion was taking place. I accept that. But from Gibraltar's point of view it becomes increasingly important that we are seen to take a position of concern publicly in the EU for a member of the Community which is being harassed by another member.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, raised some important issues which no doubt the Government will address. I do not wish to pursue them. They relate to what has happened, and are correctly on the record. They are serious allegations which need to be cleared up. However, I wish to address the issues referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, and referred to in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Park.

A critical issue is that Gibraltarians feel that their point of view is not taken fully into account. The problem does not lie solely with the Spaniards. It lies in part with the previous government of the United Kingdom. One could forecast the impact of the Schengen agreement on the borders between Spain and Gibraltar--a country of 30,000 adults, which has therefore a great degree of dependence upon free movement rules within the EU agreement.

One of the great problems--it is a fair point about which Gibraltarians feel sour--is that effectively they were not consulted in the run-up to the IGC. Nor have they been adequately consulted over many recent years regarding European legislation which directly affects them. If Gibraltarians are concerned about European legislation, it has been left for them to raise the issue. It has been left for them to pursue the matter through all the highways and byways of Whitehall. There has been no clear channel by which they can make their feelings known. The point is not addressed to the present Government but to the previous government. Therefore the previous government are not in the strongest position to criticise the present Government about what happened in June. That does not mean that the present Government should not respond to those criticisms.

A serious issue relates to the future position with regard to Gibraltar, a country which has no representation in an EU of which it is part and which is not part of any Euro-constituency, despite the fact that everyone else in the United Kingdom and in other member states has some form of representation through the European Parliament which they can use.

During Committee stage, in response to representations by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and others, understandably the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, pointed out the extreme difficulties of trying to amend European election law. Perhaps it is a pity that no one thought about Gibraltar at the time that that law was drawn up. That is not the responsibility of the present Government. But it leaves Gibraltar in an anomalous

12 May 1998 : Column 1042

situation: an area--a "statelet", if you like--which is bound by the laws of the European Union yet can in no way influence them through any democratic process.

I therefore have a suggestion for the Government, if they are temporarily blocked--as they are--by the difficulties of amending European election law. If I am correctly informed--and as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty--it would require every single member state of the European Union to ratify an amendment, and that is unlikely to happen for reasons that are well known to the House. So what other steps might be taken to enable the people of Gibraltar to be heard?

There are obvious ways in which the Foreign Office and other government departments could make themselves open to representations by Gibraltar. However, I suggest that the Government should examine closely the possibility of using the existing, extremely good, process of the Select Committees. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has often pointed out how effective they are. That could enable the Prime Minister of Gibraltar and his government to indicate their belief that a particular piece of European legislation might have substantial consequences for the people of Gibraltar. Such a matter could then be brought to the attention of the Select Committee on European Legislation. The committee would then consider whether the matter was in its view of sufficient importance to be referred to one of the sub-committees for further investigation, including the hearing of evidence and the acceptance of papers--which same evidence might include representatives of Gibraltar's Executive. In that way, at least the people of Gibraltar could feel that their representations were taken very seriously.

I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, who continually reminds us of the importance of democracy. It puts us in an extremely vulnerable position to argue that Spain has no rights in Gibraltar, when we ourselves recognise no democratic rights for the people of Gibraltar in this House and the other place, on which they are solely dependent for making representations at a European level.

That may not be the right approach; it is simply one thought among others that has occurred to me. There may be other ways in which we could give the people of Gibraltar a voice in this House and through parliamentary procedures. But that we need to move--and to move recognising that we have effectively ignored the concerns of the people of Gibraltar to give them a feeling that there is a democratic channel--is of the greatest importance.

My party and I believe that, in the long run, it is worth exploring the issue of some form of dual sovereignty. The Northern Ireland treaty has clearly indicated that the bedrock of any form of acceptance that Spain has the right to be heard on certain issues must be the self-determination of the people of Gibraltar. That self-determination means, for as far ahead as one can see, that the people of Gibraltar will opt by any democratic method to remain within the orbit of the United Kingdom. So be it. I believe that

12 May 1998 : Column 1043

self-determination is a profound rock upon which democracy rests. I see no great fear in relation to listening to Spain on such issues as border controls, epidemics and so forth. I do not see that there is any great objection to that, provided--and I underline this point--that the self-determination of the people of Gibraltar is the central base on which we approach this question. It might actually help to ease our relations with Spain.

Having said that, let me return to the suggestion I made. Perhaps at some stage the noble Lord or the noble Baroness the Minister will write to me. I believe that there is a way forward, and that it should be taken. I recognise that it is not the best way forward; however, since the best way forward is blocked--namely, European elections including the people of Gibraltar--it is incumbent upon the Government and those of us who serve in this House and another place to find some legitimate channel by which the views and opinions of the people of Gibraltar might be heard.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page