Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of the position of the Liberal Democrat Party on this matter. It is to be congratulated on the remarkable consistency of its support on this issue, which was also reflected by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe.

With regard to the point of principle, I shall say this. The point of principle with regard to shared sovereignty is that it must be a matter for a referendum of the people of Gibraltar. The other points mentioned by the noble Lord are not the crucial issues in this instance. What is crucial is that any change in the sovereignty of Gibraltar must be a matter for decision by the people of Gibraltar.

We have also said that any agreement reached must be permanent and that existing military arrangements would have to continue. Of course, as noble Lords would expect, we shall use the summer Recess to continue to do all we can to further the possibility of reaching an agreement that would be in the interests of the people of Gibraltar.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a terrible smell of hypocrisy in the air in relation to Spain's claim for sovereignty over Gibraltar, given that Spain has sent warships, fighters, helicopters and special forces to remove six Moroccan soldiers from an uninhabited island which Morocco claims as its territory?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I see that a number of noble Lords enjoyed that question. However, as a spokesman for the Government, let me say that we see this issue as one that should be resolved peacefully and quickly. We have good relations with both Spain and Morocco and we look to them to sort out their differences over the island of Parsley.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, first, does the noble Baroness agree that there is more than one way to resolve the issue of sovereignty? One of those ways would be for Spain to accept British sovereignty, as she

18 Jul 2002 : Column 1397

did when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed. Secondly, can the noble Baroness explain in exactly which ways the Spanish wish to interfere in Gibraltar, for if they do not wish to do so, then surely they would not wish to exert even joint sovereignty?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course there is more than one way of solving the question of sovereignty. Theoretically it is possible that Spain might cede its claim, but as the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, knows full well, that is not the real world. Spain has been clear and unequivocal on the point; it is not going to resile from its claim. We shall not resile from our position; namely, anything negotiated that affects sovereignty must be put before the people of Gibraltar. That is our red line, as indeed is the red line that I spoke of in an earlier response; that is, any solution must be a permanent one and the existing military arrangements would have to continue.

The noble Lord has asked why the Spanish would want to interfere. The word "interference" is very loaded, but I hope that Spain would want to co-operate in making the lives of the people of Gibraltar very much better than they are today—in dealing with the problems of border delays, in dealing with the questions over aviation and in dealing with the issue of telephone numbers. In those ways Spain could make a real difference.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that the Spanish Government made a comparison between Gibraltar with Hong Kong? Does she agree that that was somewhat far-fetched and have the Government made any response?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that the comparison is far-fetched. A number of analogies have been drawn. A moment ago my noble friend Lord Hoyle referred to the dispute over the island of Parsley and I refer to the Spanish enclaves in Morocco. The historical context of all those is very different, as is the legal position. I do not believe that it helps any of the parties involved in trying to resolve the issue to make such unhelpful comparisons.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the difficulties being experienced by the people of Gibraltar, such as the issue over telephone numbers. Can she say why it has not been possible for Her Majesty's Government, as a member of the European Union representing Gibraltar—which I believe has a standing in the Union—to press for Spain to behave as she should towards another member? Why is it necessary to consider issues of sovereignty before we consider using our position within the European Union to persuade Spain to do what she should and to stop doing what she should not?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the fact is that we have tried to use every avenue possible in order to resolve the issue. It has been suggested that we take some of these issues to the international

18 Jul 2002 : Column 1398

courts. But in order to reach any kind of resolution through such multi-lateral fora, we would have to have a willing partner in Spain. The fact is—I refer back to what the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said—we have not had a willing partner in Spain.

What we do have is the helpful mechanism negotiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, during his period in office as Foreign Secretary; namely, the Brussels process. That is the way in which Britain and Spain have decided to try to resolve this issue. So I agree with the noble Baroness: it is a pity that we cannot use to better advantage the European Union. We have tried to do so, but it is not possible. We are using the mechanisms open to us.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, given that there is in place a procedure for negotiation and given the real difficulties of striking poses on the issue, does the Minister accept that we on these Benches strongly support the answers that she has given and believe that there is no way forward except by pursuing an understanding negotiation between the two sides, even though that may take quite a while?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her support. In answering I should say that I think it a pity that more of those who do understand the real position in relation to Gibraltar do not have the courage demonstrated by the noble Baroness to state that as unequivocally as she has done.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the original Brussels negotiations initiated by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe were a sensible and ingenious mechanism. Why have things got into such a mess under the present Government? Everyone recognises that the handling has been a bit deficient. Will the present agreement in principle become null and void if and when the people of Gibraltar vote it down, or will it stay on ice?

Following on the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, I cannot resist asking the noble Baroness whether she sees any contradiction between the continuous, long-term insistence on the part of Spain on total sovereignty and in the meantime her use of the bullying tactics referred to by my noble friend Lord Blaker, and the rather zealous protection of the sovereign enclaves of Spain in Morocco.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord's premise that the handling of this matter has been "a bit deficient". There were 13 years of Conservative government after the agreement in 1984. I point out to the noble Lord that we have got further in one year of negotiation than the party opposite did in the 13 years during which the process was available.

As I have explained previously, we have made it absolutely clear that no deal is better than a bad deal. I reiterate that to your Lordships. If we are not able to negotiate a deal which we believe will be in the interests of the people of Gibraltar, we shall have no hesitation

18 Jul 2002 : Column 1399

in saying so. We are engaged in an honest endeavour and enterprise to make their lives better. If we are not able to do so, it will not be for want of trying.

Business of the House: Defence Expenditure

3.30 p.m.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may ask the Leader of the House a question of which I have given notice; namely, whether or not the extremely important Statement on defence expenditure made earlier today at the other end of this corridor is to be repeated in this House; and if not, why not?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I think the noble Lord knows the position. It is not intended that the Statement on defence should be repeated. The usual procedures were followed. The Statement was offered to the Conservative Opposition, and they did not wish to take it. It was offered in the usual way to the Liberal Democrats. They did not wish it to be taken. There is nothing different about this. Exactly the same set of circumstances obtained as recently as last Friday, when there was a Statement on Gibraltar which was offered, and the usual channels decided to decline, as they are perfectly entitled to do.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, that shows the wisdom of never asking a question unless you know the answer in advance—which, of course, I did. It is very sad that Her Majesty's Government have not sought to repeat the Statement in this House, as it is open to them to do. It lays out fair and square that this is the first time that there will be real increases in defence expenditure for five consecutive years.

I wonder whether my noble and learned friend can help us as to the motives of the Opposition. I do not normally rise to my feet on partisan matters in this House, but I think it quite extraordinary. Are they frightened to examine a Statement which contains such good news from the Government on defence expenditure; or do they lack the self-confidence—this applies to the Liberal Democrats as well—to find fault with it?

Unfortunately, I shall be at Farnborough next Wednesday and shall not be present for the debate on procedures. It is deplorable that the Cross-Benchers are not consulted on these matters. They include five former Chiefs of Defence Staff and many other senior experts in defence matters. The whole process of consultation in this House with respect to Statements is sadly lacking. I very much hope that my noble and learned friend can promise us a debate on this important Statement very soon after we return from the Summer Recess.

18 Jul 2002 : Column 1400


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page