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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. In the light of that, would she consider the request of the National Association of Local Councils that the funding under this provision, which at present stands at £3.50 per head, be raised to at least £5 per head? Further, does not the Minister share the frustration of those parish and town councils caused by the fact that they cannot provide some of the basic facilities, such as playgroups and youth clubs, that they would like to be able to offer to their communities?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it is most important to recognise that there has been an increase by local councils in the use of Section 137 funding. Indeed, 29 per cent. were using it in 1989-90 and the percentage has now increased to 56 per cent. The Government are reviewing Section 137 in the light of the new duty to promote well being. We want to consider representations from NALC as part of that process.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, as I am someone who is not steeped in local government, can my noble friend the Minister explain to me the nature of the provisions of Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I shall do so, although I am conscious of the fact that someone may accuse me of reading.

Section 137 provides a local authority with power to spend a limited amount on activities for which it has no specific power but which will bring direct benefit to the area,

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As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, there is a current limit of £3.50 per local government elector, and it is between £1.90 and £3.80 per capita for district and county councils.

Lord McNally: My Lords, has the Minister heard the very eloquent speeches of her noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn about the need for community and local action on crime prevention? Is this not a role that would be perfectly suited to parish councils if they were given the necessary resources?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am fully aware of the commitment of my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn to combat crime. This is certainly one of those areas in which co-operation can take place. However, I return to my original point; namely, that not all local councils need to resort to this funding. They are able to use funds which are available to them without resorting to Section 137.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the per capita amount that these local authorities are allowed to spend is in fact what used to be the product of the penny rate? Are we talking about something which is still a hangover from the poll tax days? Further, in considering the review of this section of the 1972 Act, will the Government ensure that the ability to pay will be taken into account?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I believe that my noble friend Lord Monkswell will be surprised by my response. Indeed, this is one of the matters which may not be blamed on the poll tax. It actually pre-dated it. The department has stated its intention to promote a duty of well-being, which will broaden and allow a wider range of activities in this area. Obviously we will want to consult with both the Local Government Association and the National Association of Local Councils which are very helpful in this respect.


3.16 p.m.

Lord Merrivale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What Gibraltar Government proposals or options they are considering to strengthen the constitutional status of Gibraltar as a British territory.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Gibraltar is a United Kingdom overseas territory whose constitutional relationship to the UK is defined under the Gibraltar Constitution Order 1969. That status is secure and unquestionable. The Government of Gibraltar have expressed interest in exploring changes to the constitution. We have held exploratory, technical discussions with representatives of the Government of Gibraltar but have received no formal proposals. We have made clear that we are willing to listen to ideas that are realistic and compatible with the Treaty of Utrecht, and other international obligations.

Lord Merrivale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. However, can she say when it is expected that

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final proposals or options will be received from the Gibraltar Government and ultimately acted upon? Further, does the Minister agree that a strengthening of Gibraltar's constitutional status as a British territory would be realistic and compatible with the Treaty of Utrecht, while affecting Spain's capability of harassment and defamation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord when the Government of Gibraltar may see fit to table formal proposals in this respect. As I said, there have been some informal proposals, and some technical discussions about them have taken place. However, no formal proposals have been put on the table. Of course, we are willing to listen to any ideas put forward by the Government of Gibraltar, but they must be consistent with the Treaty of Utrecht and with our international obligations. I believe that the position of Gibraltar as an overseas territory is a strong one, given what was said in the 1969 preamble. But it is a unique position because of the existence of the Treaty of Utrecht.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, given the very strong links that were expressed in the treaty between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom and the interests of the 25,000 citizens of Gibraltar, will the Minister also consider the interests of the 400,000 British citizens currently resident in Spain and seek to ask the Prime Ministers when they meet shortly to try to find good answers to the strained relations between Spain and Gibraltar?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course we would like to see those strained relations improved. In his discussions, I believe that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been able to improve the situation, especially around the border area. As the noble Baroness indicated, there will be a summit meeting between the two Prime Ministers in April, when we hope that the situation will be improved.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one excellent way of improving the status of Gibraltar would be to give citizens of Gibraltar some form of representation in the United Kingdom Parliament, following the precedent which has worked so well for so long in the United States? Has that proposal been discussed informally or formally with the Gibraltar Government? Have Her Majesty's Government considered that and is it on the table for future consideration?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government will discuss sensible suggestions that are brought forward by the Government of Gibraltar to strengthen their position. I hope that when we are able to discuss the White Paper, which will be published next week, which the Government have prepared on the positions of the overseas territories, it will contain some further indications of ways of strengthening links with overseas territories, not specifically with Gibraltar but right across the board. However, I stress that we cannot

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do just as we wish in relation to Gibraltar. The Treaty of Utrecht exists, and it contains an important provision which I know causes a great deal of difficulty but which nevertheless is enshrined in international law.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, will the Minister pay tribute to the Governor of Gibraltar, Sir Richard Luce--I spent a day and a night there recently--and the work he is doing to find a solution to the real problems which exist on the Spanish/Gibraltar border at the moment? Is not the fact of the matter that the Spaniards have an infinite capacity to delay traffic, either pedestrian or car traffic, at the La Linea/Gibraltar border? This situation did not exist at the time the Treaty of Utrecht was written and it therefore requires an imaginative solution to bring the sides together. No one suffers more from this inconvenience than the Gibraltarians themselves.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I am happy to pay tribute to the Governor of Gibraltar. His is not an easy job and it certainly has not been easy over the past few weeks. The noble Lord is, of course, right that some of the traffic delays have been quite intolerable. At some stages over the past few weeks there have been delays lasting several hours. I am happy to say that at the moment, as a result of the interventions of both my right honourable friends, the delays are less than they were. They are about an hour now. I believe that that is still unacceptable and is still inconsistent with the light customs check which would be perfectly acceptable. The delays continue to cause great anxiety. Of course we hope that the meeting that is now scheduled to take place between the two Prime Ministers will address this and other important constitutional issues with regard to Gibraltar.

Lord Monson: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the inhabitants of the Canary Islands, which are semi-detached from the European Union, can vote in elections for the European Parliament, as can the inhabitants of Guadaloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, the inhabitants of Reunion in the Indian Ocean and the inhabitants of French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the Pacific, more than 11,000 miles away from Brussels? Why cannot the people of Gibraltar be given the same rights?

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