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Lord Merrivale: I support this amendment and wish to refer to some words the Minister said on Second Reading; namely,

That may or may not be so. But can the Minister clarify this point? Can Britain act unilaterally under the Convention on Human Rights to which my noble friend Lord Bethell referred?

I turn to Annex 2 of the Act, annexed to the Council decision of 20th September 1976. On 28th June 1994 the then Minister of State, my noble friend Lady Chalker, wrote to me saying:

    "In order to enfranchise Gibraltar it would be necessary to follow the procedure laid down in Article 138(3) of the Treaty of Rome to amend the territorial scope of the EC Act on Direct Elections of 1976".
On 9th April last the Minister said that that would require a proposal from the European Parliament, a unanimous decision in Council and ratification by all member states. When I saw the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, on 15th April last in Gibraltar, he said that Britain should take political steps to amend the 1976 Act on direct elections, so that Spain is left to adopt the democratically disreputable position of insisting on Gibraltar's continuing disenfranchisement if she so wishes.

Finally, it is interesting to note that in a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights a minority found that the European Parliament had now developed into a parliament to which the Convention on Human Rights applied.

6 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: I was going to ask the mover of the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, whether it would not be appropriate to consider the suggestion that the voters of Gibraltar should vote in an appropriate Spanish constituency, but I dare say that that idea is too advanced for this House at the present time. However, I agree with the noble Lord that it is quite illogical that a substantial number of Europeans are not able to vote as citizens in the European elections of next year and of any other year. The fact is that the best way to secure that aim must be to seek a long-term settlement of the Gibraltar question.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, reminded us of what happened in the 1960s in what he himself admitted were very different circumstances. The present situation is that the strategic aims and purposes of having a colony

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and then an autonomous government in Gibraltar which have existed over so many generations now no longer exist. At the same time we are close allies as well as European partners of Spain. That is a matter of fact. I dare say that if Spain happened to be attacked by Morocco, Britain would be obliged to defend that country. Equally, Spain has similar responsibilities in relation to ourselves. Spain has strategic interests in the Straits of Gibraltar which I think we no longer have.

So my belief is very strong that we should see this anomaly as a way of approaching the idea that there should be a solution to the Gibraltar question which need not be so radical as many noble Lords fear. The present situation of having an autonomous government could survive. But there could be and should be a concession in relation to sovereignty. This would involve a shared sovereignty such as has worked so successfully and for so long in the history of Andorra. I see no reason why that should not be done.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, pointed out, Britain and Spain are on good terms. We need to be on good terms with Spain for all kinds of reasons. The King of Spain has been an example and an inspiration to democrats throughout the world. Therefore, this is a moment for conciliatory moves and even concessions which in all likelihood would not turn out to alter the life of Gibraltar in any respect but which nevertheless would remove a sore from the mediterranean coast.

Lord Hardy of Wath: I trust that the noble Lord who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow his line in my speech. I shall try not to detain the Committee unduly long. I shall therefore not refer to the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and by my noble friend Lord Shepherd, with whom I was in Gibraltar last month.

My real reason for participating in this debate is that, as one or two noble Lords may recall, I spent a longer time on the Council of Europe than any other British parliamentarian since the Council of Europe began. During that time I was privileged to take part in the dramatic changes which have taken place in Europe. Before 1979, when the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, became part of the European Parliament, I was involved in debates in Strasbourg which brought Spain into the democratic community of Europe. I was very pleased to become a friend and colleague of Spanish parliamentarians from then until September last year. I marvelled at the enthusiasm which our Spanish colleagues developed for democracy. Indeed, my friend Miguel Martinez, who is currently the president of the IPU, occupied the presidency of the Council of Europe at a time when the central and eastern European countries were developing their structures and constitutions and electing their parliaments, a task supervised by my noble friend Lord Kirkhill in enormous detail. Our Spanish colleagues, led by our president, were so eager to embrace the new states that they were actually prepared to accept them before they properly qualified.

I recall arguing with my Spanish colleagues who were saying "We must bring in Croatia" about three years before Croatia was entitled to come in under the

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arrangements which were made. During that period my Spanish friends and colleagues were certainly enthusiastic about endorsing the sovereignty and independence of Liechtenstein, Andorra and San Marino. I remember saying to some of my Spanish colleagues, "If you are so keen--and I am delighted you are keen--on recognising the sovereignty of Liechtenstein, Andorra and San Marino, what about Gibraltar?" Their faces froze.

I accept that it would be desirable for us to maintain our happy association with Spain. But if Spain really wanted to change the situation, instead of laying claim to Gibraltar all the time, it might do a little more to win the hearts and minds of the Gibraltarians; and that it has very signally failed to do. When Spain allows 190 or so incursions of illegal fishing in Gibraltar waters, with the Gibraltar police boats going out and being threatened by the Spanish fishermen, who clearly have enjoyed a nod and a wink relationship with the authorities, the British Government have an obligation to do something. When one considers the enormous queues which face people trying to get into Gibraltar, one realises that that really is not the act of a friendly state.

I accept that we have seen a massive change in the world. We have seen a movement from serious risk to mild threat in the international security situation. But Gibraltar remains as it was, the rock which is the south western bulwark of European security. While Spain is a partner state in NATO, I have very real doubts as to the wisdom of Europe being safeguarded in its south western approaches by Spain, given the present priority which Spain affords to security.

I have taken part in debates in Spain in the past three or four years when Spanish governments of both complexions have demanded that we have the European security pillar. The sad thing is that if we had the European security pillar today the Spanish contribution to it would be negligible. I shall illustrate my point by looking at the longer vista of European historic practicality. The Spanish Government invited the defence committee of the Western European Union to meet the Spanish Minister of Defence to discuss European security policy and European defence. About 18 months ago I travelled out to Spain early in the morning--in a dreadful rush--and got to the Ministry of Defence 15 minutes before the meeting was due to begin only to find that it had been cancelled. Instead, we were put on an aircraft, flown to Coruna, taken by bus to Ferrol, the Spanish naval shipyard, to be shown an aircraft carrier nearing completion. The noble Lord, Lord Newall, and another colleague, Jack Thompson, and I went aboard the aircraft carrier. The British members made some rather pertinent inquiries. We got into a lift and pressed buttons. We found that it was not a proper aircraft carrier at all. Most of the superstructure was heavily furnished in expensive wood and it was going to go to Thailand to be the flagship of the Royal Thai Navy and the royal yacht for the king of that country, which hardly made it a formidable weapons system. Had it remained in Spain it may have been a useful addition to NATO's armoury.

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But the fact remains that this country takes its obligations for security very seriously and quite properly; indeed, rather more properly than some of our partners in Western Europe. For us to suggest that we pass the Rock of Gibraltar, the bulwark, to Spain with its record on security which is grossly inadequate, would be an act of gross irresponsibility.

The real argument is the one that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and my noble friend Lord Shepherd have deployed. We have an obligation which was conferred on us by the Treaty of Utrecht. I am not a particularly expert historian but Gibraltar might have been tied to Britain longer than it was to Spain before the treaty. Gibraltar has served this country and the free world well by the inevitability of its geographical position. But for generations Gibraltar was devoted to the interests of British security. Seventy per cent. of its economy was dedicated to defence, not in its own interests but in ours. In recent years Gibraltar has had to struggle mightily as that proportion of its income has been reduced from 70 per cent. to 7 per cent. That is proof of the endeavour and success which Gibraltar has achieved in recent years.

We cannot ignore our responsibilities. Surely, we cannot accept a situation in which we do the dirty work for Spain because it will proclaim that it is not Spain which has blocked democracy in Gibraltar but the government in London. That would be a very shameful thing given our heritage and historic responsibilities.

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