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Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): We never did anything like this.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that the Conservatives never did anything like this. [Hon. Members: "The Falklands?"] If we look at the history in relation to Gibraltar, the difference between us and the Conservative party is that in 1969 it was a Labour Government who gave the solemn undertaking that there would be no changes in sovereignty without a referendum. As we now know from the Public Records Office, just two years later, when the ink was barely dry on that undertaking, it was a Conservative Government, led by the then Foreign Secretary Lord Home, who were determined to hand over the whole sovereignty of the Rock under a 999-year lease without any referendum whatever.

It does not lie well in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman or Conservative Members to complain about the fact that sovereignty has been discussed in these talks, because sovereignty was at the heart of the Brussels agreement. It is there in the text and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. Then he comes out with the most extraordinary proposition that sovereignty shared is sovereignty surrendered. I do not accept that for a second. We have shared some of our sovereignty with a large number of organisations, including multinational organisations such as NATO, where our ability to exercise control over our future is strengthened by sharing sovereignty. That is one of the paradoxes of sovereignty that the Conservative party has never been able to understand.

The truth is—this is recognised implicitly by virtually everyone to whom I have talked in Gibraltar—that shared sovereignty would lead to more control for Gibraltarians over their own lives. Behind the bluster that we heard from the right hon. Gentleman, there is inherent confusion and contradiction. On the one hand, he asks us to abandon a process and negotiations begun by his own Government when he was a member of that Government; on the other, he says that there should be genuine three-sided talks, as in Northern Ireland. The only difference between what happened in Northern Ireland and what is happening here

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is that in the end in Northern Ireland, one of the three sides decided to take part in talks; it took a great deal of encouragement before it did so.

There is on the table an open invitation to Mr. Peter Caruana and the Government of Gibraltar to take part in these talks. I discussed that with Mr. Caruana this time last year. He laid down certain conditions, which I got the Spanish Government to accept. He could safely be involved in exactly the way that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government of Gibraltar seek. I am sorry that Mr. Caruana has not so far done so, but there is this difference between Mr. Caruana and some Conservative Members: at least Mr. Caruana recognises, as he has said publicly, that there is a dispute with Spain and that there needs to be dialogue. Nothing that I have heard from the right hon. Gentleman has ever posed any alternative but talks with Spain to try to resolve the dispute. The dispute is a fact. Spain is a fact. The current difficulties which Gibraltarians suffer as a result of the dispute are also facts, and we are seeking to find a way through them that ensures dignity for Gibraltarians and that they have the final say.

The last piece of absurd confusion in the right hon. Gentleman's bluster was his suggestion that we should put to the people of Gibraltar the consequences of the negotiations before the negotiations had been completed. That is exactly what he said. It is the most absurd proposition from the right hon. Gentleman in a whole series of utterly ridiculous propositions. He should read yesterday's editorial in the Gibraltar Chronicle. In place of the nonsense that we heard from him, it says that it is time for Gibraltar to adopt a fresh approach and a positive agenda. It ends with the following words, which I am sure could be directed at the right hon. Gentleman:


That well sums up the response that we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North–East Fife): I do not know whether the Foreign Secretary heard the cry, "Falklands" during his response to the shadow Foreign Secretary. He may remember that there were extensive discussions about the sovereignty of the Falklands before the Argentinians made the mistake of the military invasion of the Falkland Islands under the then Conservative Government. May I offer my general support for the process in which the Foreign Secretary has been engaged?

In the course of his statement he repeated once again the proposition with which one would hope the whole House would agree, that no deal would be better than a bad deal. May I ask him about what he described as red-line issues? Does he agree that there can be no deal if Spain is unwilling to abandon its claim for full sovereignty, if the United Kingdom cannot enjoy precisely the same military facilities and for as long as we wish and if it is not a matter of agreement between Spain and the United Kingdom that the issue should be finally resolved by a referendum of the people of Gibraltar? Taken singly or cumulatively, are not these issues upon which there can be no compromise?

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Finally, does the Foreign Secretary have a mind to the fact that the negotiations cannot acquire some timeless nature? There has to be some time limit. I do not suggest today that he should offer a final point at which they have to be concluded, but I urge him to understand that the continuing nature of the negotiations must inevitably bring uncertainty and the sooner that uncertainty is resolved, the better.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks and for his constructive approach. I noted the discomfort of the Opposition when he dared to mention the Falklands. I was in the House at the time of that utter debacle. I also remind the House of the approach taken by the Conservative party in 1971, which was to dispatch Gibraltar to the Spanish under a 999-year lease without any referendum whatsoever.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North–West Norfolk): Thirty years ago.

Mr. Straw: They say that it was 30 years ago, but it is the same Conservative party. We know that when it comes to selling out British interests the Tories have not changed. We know about their Pol Pot syndrome, where they keep bringing forward year zero to try to encourage the country to go in for collective amnesia, but it does not work—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Hon. Members should listen to what the Secretary of State is saying.

Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about red-line issues relating to full sovereignty, military facilities and the referendum. The answer to his question is that any one of those amounts to a red-line issue; it does not require all of them together. As I said in my statement, we have to have a solution based on shared sovereignty and we have made that clear throughout the talks. I have said publicly, as has my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, that conceding total sovereignty to Spain was never on the agenda and that the United Kingdom Government would never agree it. That would be inconsistent with the Brussels process while shared sovereignty is fully consistent and implicit in the Brussels process.

On the military facilities, I have no need to repeat what I said a moment ago about the referendum. We have made it clear to the Spanish Government that the referendum is a fact. Their approach has yet to be put precisely in terms that we have agreed, but they have always acknowledged that fact, as they need to.

On the issue of time, I cannot give a precise time scale and the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not asking me to do so. There needs to be some time limit. It is likely that we would have been further forward had there been a meeting of the Brussels process today. There was not, but I look forward to arranging one in the early autumn

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so that we can have a further meeting in Madrid as was planned for today. Then, of course, there will be a full report to the House.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): May I commend to the shadow Foreign Secretary and to those engaged in the foolish chorus of "no surrender" and "sell-out"—

Michael Fabricant: Quisling.

Donald Anderson: And "quisling" indeed.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The remark of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) is completely out of order.

Michael Fabricant: If it is technically out of order, of course I withdraw it, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. It is not a technicality. That statement is out of order.

Michael Fabricant: I withdraw it.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Thank you.

Donald Anderson: I recommend to the others that raised that foolish chorus that they have a certain humility. May I suggest that the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) reads the Franks report on the Falklands, the leaseback position put then by the Conservative Government and their proposals in respect of sovereignty of Gibraltar? Historians will decide whether this new initiative by the Government under the Brussels process was indeed misguided and doomed from the start or a brave attempt to deal with real issues and concentrate minds on the way to an eventual permanent solution. What is clear, as the Foreign Affairs Committee saw during our very recent visit to Gibraltar, is that there is a substantial degree of mistrust by the people of Gibraltar in respect of this current initiative and indeed that has been fuelled in part by provocative statements by individual Ministers. So may I recommend to my right hon. Friend that he uses this period of reflection constructively to seek to lower the temperature and find confidence-building measures to build bridges with the people of Gibraltar?


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