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5 Nov 2002 : Column 135—continued


5. Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): If he will make a statement on the Government's planned response to the Gibraltarian referendum on joint sovereignty with Spain. [77165]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): As I told the House on 12 July, there will be no change in the sovereignty of Gibraltar unless the people of Gibraltar agree to it. I also said that if we could reach agreement with Spain on a comprehensive settlement, the whole package would be put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum and they would decide. At present there are no such proposals.

Mr. Rosindell : The Foreign Secretary will of course acknowledge that since the Government's election, referendums have been held in Northern Ireland, London, Scotland and Wales. Will the Government undertake to respect the wishes of the British people of Gibraltar, whatever their decision, and will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to end this shameful period of negotiation with the Madrid Government and respect the freely held and democratic wishes of British Gibraltarians?

Mr. Straw: I understand the strong feelings held in Gibraltar. I have made it clear from the start that any proposals that were discussed provisionally with the Government of Spain would be the subject of further discussion with the Government of Gibraltar and would then be put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum. On the referendum that will take place on Thursday, there are no proposals before either the British or Spanish Governments, still less before the Government of Gibraltar. However, our commitment that the final say is for the people of Gibraltar is absolute.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): Does my right hon. Friend recall that in the early 1980s the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which had a Tory majority, recommended exactly the policy that he is pursuing now, and that the previous Conservative Government pursued exactly the same policy? Whatever the pros and cons of the argument, the attitude of the Tories, particularly the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), smacks at the very least of expediency and perhaps even of hypocrisy.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman should withdraw that remark.

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Mr. Foulkes: The hypocrisy?

Mr. Speaker: Yes.

Mr. Foulkes: I will stick with expediency then.

Mr. Speaker: But the Minister will talk only about Gibraltar, not the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Straw: My right hon. Friend is of course right, up to the point when he said something that had to be withdrawn. The Brussels process, which he had in mind when he made his remarks, was initiated by the Government of the then Mrs. Thatcher—[Interruption.] It explicitly included the issue of sovereignty. However, my right hon. Friend is too generous to previous Conservative Governments. Documents just released from the Public Record Office show that in 1971, under the Government of Edward Heath, as he then was, supported by all Conservative Members—[Interruption.] They fall for that every time, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Heath's Conservative Government were planning to give Gibraltar away with no referendum whatever. That is not our policy.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Does the Foreign Secretary realise that what really upsets people in Gibraltar is seeing him treat this serious issue with such levity—as he has today? Will he disabuse himself of the idea that the Gibraltar issue is about Anglo-Spanish relations? It is not. It is about the constitutional and democratic rights of the people of Gibraltar.

If, as seems certain, the people of Gibraltar vote overwhelmingly on Thursday against shared sovereignty, will the Foreign Secretary finally understand that the grubby, heavy-handed and arrogant attitude that he and his Ministers have shown to the people of Gibraltar has completely backfired and that he has achieved the impossible: a resentful but determined Gibraltar, a furious and disappointed Spain and a humiliated British Government? After Thursday, will he take the opportunity to bury the agreement as if it had never existed and to explore areas where agreement is possible, rather than talking about sovereignty where it is not?

Mr. Straw: I understand the need of the deputy leader of the Conservative party to let off steam, but even by the right hon. Gentleman's standards that was slightly over the top.


6. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): If he will make a statement on the recent discussions he has had with the Sudanese authorities about the war in that country. [77166]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: (Mr. Bill Rammell) We continually carry out intensive consultations at ministerial and official level with the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in support of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development peace process. My right hon. Friend the

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Foreign Secretary most recently met the Sudanese Foreign Minister at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Mr. Laurence Robertson : We are grateful to the Minister for that response. Will he comment on Operation Lifeline Sudan? How effective is that aid package? Have the Sudanese Government obstructed the programme? Will the hon. Gentleman also comment on reports that many of Sudan's oil reserves are being used to buy arms? Is that not contradictory?

Mr. Rammell: The Lifeline Sudan programme is extremely important. We investigate every allegation about the purchasing of arms. At present, we have a real opportunity to push forward the IGAD process and we welcome the fact that on 14 October talks were resumed and that there has been a cessation of hostilities and unrestricted humanitarian access. That must be the starting point for a durable settlement in that dispute.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and to his well-deserved promotion. I congratulate him, his hon. Friends and Alan Goulty, the Government's peace envoy to Sudan, on the work that has been done to assist the Machakos peace process. I congratulate them on the military standstill. Will my hon. Friend assure me that every effort will be made to ensure that Operation Lifeline Sudan can capitalise on the arrangements to get full access for the first time ever to the whole of Sudan and that the work of that vital programme is monitored so that access can be maintained?

Mr. Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend for his words of congratulation, which are well received.

Operation Lifeline Sudan is crucial. Africa's longest running conflict is in Sudan and it has resulted in 1.5 million deaths, which underlines the need to get effective humanitarian assistance to the people who most need it as quickly as possible.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): The Liberal Democrats also welcome the Minister to his new post. He will know of the Sudan Peace Act 2001 passed by the United States Congress. Does he support the United States of America in its threat to both sides in the civil war should they break the peace?

Mr. Rammell: I thank the hon. Lady for her words of congratulation. The United States—I believe—has been a constructive force for change and reconciliation in Sudan and has been working alongside us and all other partners to bring the two sides together. We certainly welcome its constructive engagement.

Elections (Sub-Continent)

8. Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): What assessment he has made of the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir. [77168]

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10. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): What assessment he has made of the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir. [77170]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The elections in Jammu and Kashmir were marred by high levels of violence and intimidation, which we unreservedly condemn. Despite that, the Indian election commission has made strenuous efforts to deliver free and fair elections. Many Kashmiris chose to participate. We hope that the election will be a step in a broader process that will bring peace to the region.

Ms Dari Taylor : I am reassured by what my hon. Friend has said, but does he accept that the situation in Kashmir remains dangerous and very concerning? Eight hundred people have died since the election was called and cross-border violence persists. I would appreciate hearing my hon. Friend's views on how a dialogue between Pakistan and India can take place and what qualities that dialogue may have. What does he believe is central to achieving a solution?

Mr. O'Brien: The tension between Pakistan and India has reduced in recent weeks. I was in Delhi two weeks ago on the day that India announced its intention to redeploy forces from the Pakistan border. That is certainly to be welcomed. Pakistan responded promptly the next day by announcing a return to barracks of some of its forces. There has been a broad welcome for that de-escalation by both sides. Both President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee have shown that they do not want war and that they want a peaceful way forward. We now need to ensure that there is an end to terrorism and a beginning of a process of greater contact between the two countries. In due course, I hope that it will be possible to hold discussions that will lead to a peaceful settlement of the disputes, including those in relation to Kashmir.

Mr. Love: I hear what the Minister has said, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) pointed out, 800 people have died, many because of cross-border terrorism. Pakistan appears either unwilling or unable to deal with that robustly. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that Pakistan lives up to the promises and pledges that it has made on this issue?

Mr. O'Brien: I share the concern about cross-border infiltration. We have raised the matter regularly with the Pakistani Government, including during the visit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to Islamabad on 19 and 20 July, and when he met the Pakistani Foreign Minister on 16 September in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. The Pakistani Government have assured us that President Musharraf's pledge that there will be no further movement across the line of control still stands, and that the Pakistani army is doing all it can to stop infiltration. We are ensuring that the Pakistani Government are aware of our continued concern and we are working with them in order to try to ensure that those promises are indeed kept.

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Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr): Does my hon. Friend agree that there would have been more confidence in the election process if international observer teams had had full and unfettered access throughout?

Mr. O'Brien: There was some examination of the process involved in the election in Jammu and Kashmir. We certainly felt that the personal intervention of Prime Minister Vajpayee, which ensured that the Indian election commission tried to run free and fair elections, produced a level of fairness despite the fact that large numbers of people were killed. There was also, to some extent, a view in certain parts of Jammu and Kashmir that people did not want to participate. None the less, we hope that the election and other steps taken in the south Asian region can be part of a process that will begin to heal some of the pain and the disputes that have bedevilled the region for so long.

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