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Mr. Straw: I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He makes them against the background of great experience in the Northern Ireland process. That process has not been perfect but, thanks to his skill and professionalism and that of many of his colleagues, we now have greater relative peace in Northern Ireland than ever before; yet we understand from the position now being taken by Conservative Front-Bench Members that they would not have gone down that roadwhatever position they held previouslyand that they seek to break the process of peace in Northern Ireland and put things back rather than forward.
Of course, as my right hon. Friend said, the positions are not exactly comparable, but the truth is that the position in Gibraltar is least acceptable to the people of Gibraltar. The Brussels processwhich the right hon. Member for Devizes apparently still supportsprovides a means of trying to secure a better future for those people.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Many Conservative Members believe that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to work for and with the British people in Gibraltar, and not to sell them out to Spain. In his answer to the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), the Foreign Secretary claimed that it was necessary to hold negotiations in order to move the matter forward, but one of the right hon. Gentleman's Treasury Bench colleaguesa member of the Home Office teamgave me an undertaking in Committee that the present Government would ensure, by the time of the next European elections, that the people of Gibraltar would have a vote in those elections. That undertaking is not dependent in any way on negotiations with Spain. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore confirm that his previous answer to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was incorrect in that regard? Will he further confirm that the British Government's duty is to support British people first, not Spanish people?
Mr. Straw: I gave a similar undertaking in the House on 27 November, so I simply do not understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. We accepted the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, and we are implementing it. We believe that the people of Gibraltar should have a right to vote in the European elections, and we are making arrangements for that to happen. As on so many things, those on the Opposition Front Bench are tilting at windmills and raising fears that simply have no substance. I have already made it clear that any provisional agreed proposal between ourselves and the Government of Spain will be subject to a referendum in Gibraltar. In addition, I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe told the Foreign Affairs Committee, again at the end of November: there is absolutely no prospect of the British Government agreeing to full Spanish sovereignty over Gibraltar.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is not one of the differences between Northern Ireland and Gibraltar the fact that, apart from anything else, there is unanimous support in Gibraltar for retaining the links with Britain, so a comparison with Northern Ireland is not really appropriate? Is not one of the problems simply that, over the yearswhether under the Franco dictatorship or, unfortunately, since Spain has become a democracy, which, of course, we all welcomethat country has had a policy of outright hostility towards Gibraltar? Understandably, instead of seeing Spain as some kind of friend, the people of Gibraltar recognise that it has adopted such a policy, so they are very suspicious indeed of any moves along the lines about which my right hon. Friend has told us today.
Mr. Straw: I certainly accept that, as my hon. Friend says, there has been a climate of suspicion and hostility in Gibraltar about Spain, and therefore suspicions about any move by the British Government to try to change
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Why is the Foreign Secretary so uncharacteristically tetchy this afternoon? Could it be because virtually all hon. Members who have spoken from both sides of the House oppose his policy? Could it be that a Foreign Office stitch-up has been discovered? While I am asking questions, let me ask another specific question. Is it not blackmail of the people of Gibraltar for them to have to vote on any referendum under duress? Is it not a pity that the Foreign Secretary has not yet said from the Dispatch Box this afternoon how he is trying in his negotiations and discussions with his Spanish counterparts to lessen that duressapart from selling out Gibraltar?
Mr. Straw: There is no question of duress, but if there is an agreement, there must be a discussion, and a discussion is currently taking place with the Government of Spain. We would like the Government of Gibraltar to participate fully in those negotiations. We have made it clear, and I repeat the point, that any outcome will be subject to a referendumfree and fair, in a secret ballotof the people of Gibraltar. For all their bluster, that is also the position of those on the Opposition Front Bench. The shadow Foreign Secretary has made it clear from a sedentary position that he continues to support the Brussels process. That is the one new thing that has emerged from today's discussion. The right hon. Gentleman continues to support the Brussels process, so he continues to support exactly the process in which we are involvedincluding a discussion, subject to the consent of the people of Gibraltar, of the issue of sovereignty.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Is it not simply the case that, whatever the results of the negotiations, there is no way that the people of Gibraltar will accept in a referendum anything that sells out their interests or their views? In those circumstances, what are the negotiations about? They clearly cannot be about sovereignty, even if there is scope for consideration of other relationships between Gibraltar and Spain.
My hon. Friend asked about the other issues for discussion. The Government of Gibraltar and the people of Gibraltar feel profoundly disadvantaged by controls that the Government of Spain have imposed on the borders, by the Spanish approach to a number of EU instruments and by controls over the airport and so on.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): Cannot the Foreign Secretary see that, by entering into the negotiations, the Government are implicitly accepting that there is a valid dispute about the status of Gibraltar, when in fact there is no such question and no such dispute? Can he not see that while the status of Gibraltar may be an irritant to the European Union and, indeed, to his relations with Spain, it is the oft-expressed desire of the people of Gibraltar to keep their present status? If he is confident that the outcome of the negotiations may be acceptable in a referendum, why does he not admit the Gibraltarian Government as a full participating member of those negotiations? In the absence of that, will he publish the minutes and the agenda of the negotiations so that all may see what is being decided in their name?
Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman asks me why we have entered into the negotiationswe have not. The negotiations were entered into in 1984 by the Government whom he supported, and it is a process that we are continuing. I realise that this historic truth is one that the Conservative party wishes to deny, but it is the fact of the matter. The template for our negotiations, in which we are now taking part, comprises exactly the terms of reference laid down by Mrs. Thatcher and the Prime Minister of Spain in 1984.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does my right hon. Friend agree thatat a time when millions of British people go to Spain each year and hundreds of thousands live there and when many Spaniards come to this country and many live and work hererelations between democratic Spain and its 40 million people and the democratic United Kingdom are the best they have ever been, and that this is probably the best possible time for negotiations about an intractable and difficult issue, towards a resolution that is in the interests of the people of Gibraltar and the two countries as well?
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is entirely right: relations are good. That does not mean that the negotiations will not be tough, because we are there not primarily to represent the interests of the United Kingdom, but to represent the interests of the people of Gibraltar. That is another reason why we wish the Government of Gibraltar were included in the talks.
Contrary to the view expressed by Conservative Members, it is not the case that the Government of Gibraltar or the people of Gibraltar wish to keep the present situation. They may wish to keep their present status, but one of the reasons why we have entered into these negotiations is that they wish the status quo to be changed so that they can lead better and freer lives.