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Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, can my noble friend indicate that Her Majesty's Government have great respect for the way in which the Gibraltar Government carry on and will help them to achieve this freedom?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can certainly give my noble friend the assurance that we have great respect for the way in which the Gibraltar Government operate. However, although we can provide a certain amount of help, it is now for the Gibraltar authorities to get the right people in place and to show that they can operate the appropriate procedures correctly.

Lord Merrivale: My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I may ask a further question. What is the present attitude of the Building Societies Commission to this issue? It is difficult to see why Gibraltar should be excluded from the list of territories and countries in which a body corporate or MIIC can be formed when, for instance, Lichtenstein, Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney are included.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I cannot speak for the Building Societies Commission; I can speak only for Her Majesty's Government. I can assure my noble friend that he is incorrect in that Lichtenstein is not included. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has applied two conditions to the Gibraltar authorities. As I said, they have met one of them but not the other. If they can meet the other condition, my right honourable friend will then consider the matter further.

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Rockall: Oil/Gas Exploration Licensing

2.50 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to include blocks in the area around Rockall in the forthcoming 17th round of licensing offshore oil and gas exploration.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, the closing date for nominations for the 17th round of licensing offshore oil and gas exploration is 8th March 1995. Depending on the areas which companies nominate, decisions will be taken about which blocks to offer for licensing.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his Answer. Can he confirm that at least three other countries have made claims to Rockall? Is he aware that I was the Secretary of State who put through Parliament the 1972 Act which consolidated Rockall as part of Scotland?

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is my noble friend further aware that the United Kingdom's position was strengthened unintentionally when Mr. Tom McLean, the lone Atlantic rower, demonstrated that it was a habitable island by camping on it for four weeks although the average seagull finds it difficult to maintain a perch, leaning hard against the wind?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, peculiarly my noble friend is not wholly accurate in his first supplementary question. Three countries have not made claim to Rockall. Ireland does not recognise UK sovereignty over Rockall, but has not made a claim. We have no doubt about the United Kingdom's sovereignty over Rockall. Iceland and the Faroes claim the seabed to the west of Rockall, which is beyond the 200 miles from St. Kilda, but they do not dispute the UK's sovereignty over Rockall itself.

A number of things happened when my noble friend was Secretary of State for Scotland, of which periodically he is kind enough to remind us, and the passing of that Act did indeed take place under his authority. I am grateful for that. As regards Mr. McLean, I can only tell my noble friend that our sovereignty over Rockall does not rest over whether it can sustain human life. Mr. McLean is a private citizen. His action of camping on Rockall did nothing to strengthen the United Kingdom's sovereignty—nor, I dare say, did it do much to strengthen the seagulls' sovereignty.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that I agree with him that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is from time to time keen to remind us of some of the things, but only some of the things, that happened when he was Secretary of State, but when I take the opportunity in your Lordships' House to remind the noble Lord of some of the other things that happened under his stewardship he is quite keen to forget them? Is that not a contradiction?

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Is the noble Earl aware that the 17th licensing round is an important issue especially in relation to Rockall which is a disputed territory? As I understand it, the claim of the Faroe Islands and others to the seabed around Rockall has still to be resolved. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten your Lordships on the current position of the dispute over the area. Is the noble Earl further aware that from a reading of the Cabinet minutes of 1955—nearly 40 years ago—when the United Kingdom annexed Rockall, it is clear that the UK did so for a completely different reason? It was because of the rich, fertile fishing grounds and had nothing to do with oil and gas. However, here we are, with the 17th licensing round in prospect, and for the first time there is a conflict between licensing and drilling for oil and gas and those very fertile fishing grounds. Can the Minister give the House an absolute assurance that, before any decisions are made, there will be extensive discussions with the fishing industry and the other interests involved in this important question?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord chided my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for reminding us of some of the things that he did during his tenure of the distinguished office of Secretary of State for Scotland. The noble Lord said that he sometimes reminds my noble friend of the things that he did wrong. When the noble Lord is Secretary of State for Scotland he will be able to remind us of the things that he has done, but I doubt whether he will have that opportunity.

The noble Lord continued by saying that fisheries have nothing to do with oil and gas. He is right, the fisheries issue in relation to Rockall has nothing to do with oil and gas and does not come into this. What we are talking about is geology. The rocks on Rockall are of the same geology as the rocks of Scotland. Therefore, we claim that there is a prolongation and that the rocks in Rockall and in Scotland are of granite-gneiss, which are 2,000 million years old—if you believe that kind of thing. The Faroes rocks are basalt and they are only 60 million years old; and the Iceland rocks are lavas and are less than 30 million years old, which in time and space is merely the other day. We claim that the rock structure around Rockall is the same as that in Scotland.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that, in the Moray Firth and elsewhere on the continental shelf, differences of interest between oil, on the one hand, and fishing, on the other hand, have always been resolved satisfactorily?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, they are usually resolved satisfactorily although periodically there are hiccups. In this instance, however, there is no correlation between the right to fisheries and the right to oil and gas exploration.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his further answer about the United Kingdom's position and the relevance of Mr. McLean's feat. However, is he aware that experts in international law have pointed out that the United Kingdom's position

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might be strengthened if there were to be a British wedding on the island or, better still, a birth, but that no one, however patriotic, should be encouraged to try that?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am not quite sure what one concludes from that, other than the fact that anyone who tried to be married on Rockall must need their head examined, as must anyone who tried to have a baby there.

European Union: Single Currency

2.58 p.m.

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have permanently ruled out joining a single currency in the European Union.

Lord Henley: My Lords, no. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has repeatedly made clear, the United Kingdom has a completely open option on when and whether to seek to participate in Stage 3.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if there is to be the kind of integration in Europe, which I hope that we would both like to see, inevitably it must result in a single currency? However, given the constitutional importance of such an event, does he accept that it would be important to get the support of the British people by way of a referendum?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can do no better than repeat what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said yesterday: that obviously we believe in the primacy of Parliament. However as he made clear, we have never ruled out a referendum; and he made clear only yesterday that one might be appropriate on a single currency or on moves towards further political integration. That decision cannot be made now. It is something for the future.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is premature to talk about a single currency, particularly in view of the fact that the ecu is being used more widely not just for commercial but for government funding? Would it not be a good idea to drop this business of a single currency? Let us see how the ecu develops. We might then be in a better position to make up our minds.


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