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Golden Jubilee

13. Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): What plans he has to encourage celebrations of HM the Queen's golden jubilee year in the British overseas territories. [30494]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Governors of the overseas territories have received guidance on arrangements for the Queen's golden jubilee. It is for the Governments and people of

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the territories to decide how best to celebrate the jubilee. The best present for the overseas territories will be the British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords], currently going through the House; it gives the people of the overseas territories British citizenship, which the Conservative Government failed to do for 18 years.

Mr. Rosindell: I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that the overseas territories have as much right to celebrate the Queen's golden jubilee as people living on mainland Britain? Is he aware that it is nearly 50 years since Her Majesty visited the British Crown colony of Gibraltar? Does he feel that the year of the golden jubilee would be an appropriate time for Her Majesty to visit

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Gibraltar? If not, perhaps an appropriate occasion would be the 300th anniversary of British sovereignty over Gibraltar, in 2004.

Mr. Bradshaw: We never comment on royal visits or where Her Majesty the Queen should or should not go, but she has asked that there should be no undue expenditure from public funds in connection with the jubilee. I would however draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a number of the planned celebrations, including those on Gibraltar, where there will be a birthday parade and trooping the colour. Some territories will issue special commemorative stamps and many will have a public holiday. I am sure that the newly British citizens of the overseas territories will have a good time—an even better time than those back home.

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3.30 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his talks on Gibraltar yesterday with the Spanish Foreign Minister in London.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Yesterday I met the Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Piqué. We held the third in a series of meetings under the Brussels process. A copy of the joint communiqué from yesterday's meeting has been placed in the Library. At every stage we have kept the House fully informed of the process of the negotiations, including in a three-hour debate in Government time last Thursday in Westminster Hall. A further meeting under the Brussels process is due to be held within the next two months. The date has yet to be fixed.

There are four aspects to the approach that we have adopted: preserving Gibraltar's unique way of life; greater internal self-government for Gibraltar; practical benefits through co-operation and putting the long-running dispute about sovereignty to rest.

I am convinced that this dialogue represents the best way forward for the people of Gibraltar as well as for Spain and the United Kingdom. It must be better to try to settle differences through dialogue, and I am convinced that the people of Gibraltar have more to gain than to lose from the process. Moreover, they will not lose their British citizenship nor their traditional way of life. However, they will gain greater self-government and many practical benefits of a much more co-operative relationship with Spain and its people.

I underline the commitment that was first given in the House by the Labour Government in 1969, and that we have repeated in this round: that any proposals affecting the sovereignty of Gibraltar will not and cannot be put into effect without the consent of the people of Gibraltar in a referendum.

I want the Government of Gibraltar to be directly involved in the Brussels round talks. Yesterday, the British and Spanish Governments reiterated our invitation to Chief Minister Caruana to participate in the discussions on the basis of the two flags, three voices formula, in which he would have his own distinct voice as part of the British delegation.

Lastly, there is nothing inevitable about the outcome of the discussions, but it is in all our interests to make a constructive effort to find a lasting solution to the problems—above all, one which we believe will be in the interests of the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. Kaufman: I thank my right hon. Friend for sending me a copy of yesterday's communiqué and his article in the Gibraltar Chronicle yesterday.

Is it not bizarre that Spain has imposed and maintained what my right hon. Friend described in the Gibraltar Chronicle yesterday as


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and that the Spanish Government are now graciously offering to lift those restrictions provided that the British Government sell out the interests of those same people of Gibraltar?

Yesterday in London, despite what my right hon. Friend has just said about his ambition to put the long-running dispute over sovereignty to rest, the Spanish Foreign Minister said that

An agreement from those negotiations would therefore be only the first slice of the chorizo. Should not the British Government value the fact that the people of Gibraltar are so proud of being British that, to maintain their present status, they are ready to endure those obstructions to everyday life, just as they endured far worse in the second world war in defence of Britain and of democracy? Will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that, apart from the telephone lines referred to yesterday, Spain will remove the restrictions—my right hon. Friend described them as those that the people of Gibraltar have to "endure"—only if the outcome of the negotiations is satisfactory to Spain and is then endorsed by the people of Gibraltar in a referendum? Will he also understand that there is no majority in the House for a negotiation conducted under duress?

Mr. Straw: I accept that there would be no majority in the House for negotiation under duress, but I believe that there is a majority for negotiation conducted within the Brussels process, which was initiated in 1984 by the Administration of Lady Thatcher with all-party support and the support of the shadow Cabinet. Indeed, at that time my right hon. Friend and I were on the Opposition Front Bench. Bipartisan support for the process continues to this day. As we discovered on 12 January during a similar private notice question, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary—notwithstanding his bluster—supported a continuation of the process.

As I have said to my right hon. Friend—I am happy to repeat the point—I accept entirely that all kinds of obstructions to daily life in Gibraltar have been imposed by the Government of Spain. Those obstructions should not be there and I am trying to do something about them. However, I defy any Member of the House to explain how we can deal with them—short, as I said on 12 January, of sending gunboats or threatening military action—except through discussion and dialogue with the Government of Spain.

My right hon. Friend also asked whether—apart from the telephone lines—Spain will remove other obstructions only if there is a satisfactory outcome to this phase of the negotiations that is then endorsed through a referendum. As part of the Brussels process, we are discussing with Spain the removal of further obstructions—as he calls them—well before any referendum. It is for that reason that we undertook considerable negotiation to get Spain to agree in principle to the transfer of the 70,000 lines. Yesterday, we agreed to further work on some of the technical problems associated with their connection.

I want to make two final points. First, whether we or the people of Gibraltar like it or not, the world for Gibraltar is changing. It is changing not because of Spain or the United

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Kingdom, but because of the rules of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Union, which will quickly bring to an end Gibraltar's tax-free status. Gibraltar needs a new future and everybody in Gibraltar understands that.

Secondly, as I have said, the process that we are involved in—which cannot conceivably be described in my right hon. Friend's words—means that nothing that we agree can come into force without the consent of the people of Gibraltar in a referendum. I have made a point of that.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that yesterday has done nothing to allay or dispel suspicion and anger in Gibraltar or in the House? If anything, the fears that I previously raised with the Foreign Secretary, and which until now he has dismissed, are turning out to be true. The process in which he is engaged is clearly seen as the disingenuous sell-out that we have always believed it to be.

Does not the Foreign Secretary accept that, once made, a bilateral agreement between the British and Spanish Governments to share sovereignty over Gibraltar cannot be rescinded? Even if it is subsequently rejected by the people of Gibraltar, the principle of ceding sovereignty over the Rock to Spain will have been established, the pass will have been sold and the promised democratic rights over sovereignty of the people of Gibraltar will have been fatally undermined.

Cannot the Foreign Secretary see that that is the sell-out, the done deal, that we and the people of Gibraltar fear, and which we and they will oppose? Why does not he accept the suggestion that I made in my letter of 18 January, which he dodged in his reply? That is that, in this process—which we accept—nothing should be agreed by any party until the overall proposals being put forward are approved in a referendum, and that, in the absence of Gibraltar's acquiescence, neither Government could claim that an agreement had been reached on any issue. That would meet the concerns and fears of the people of Gibraltar, and of Opposition Members.

Cannot the Foreign Secretary accept, even at this late date, that he owes the people of Gibraltar, not least for the loyalty that they have shown us, an open and democratic process, with nothing agreed by him on behalf of the British Government until all the proposals are agreed by the people of Gibraltar? Anything less would be a dishonourable betrayal, which would shame not only the right hon. Gentleman, but us all.

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