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House of Lords

Tuesday, 14th May 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Gibraltar: Spanish Intervention

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are aware that the Spanish Government have objected to the participation by Gibraltar in an international conference of Customs officials which Gibraltar has attended for many years and whether they will protest to the Spanish Government over this course of action.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, the Spanish Government tried to prevent Gibraltar Customs attendance at an international conference in France last month. We intervened and ensured that Gibraltar Customs attended the meeting.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that satisfactory reply. Will she make it clear to the Spanish Government that these attempts to trouble Gibraltar will not pay the Spanish Government any profit; and that, on the contrary, we shall stand up to them in all these international obligations?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his supplementary question. We have maintained our commitment to the people of Gibraltar and we shall go on doing so. The Spanish Government's behaviour in obstructing the border and in other harassment of Gibraltar only strengthens our resolve. We have protested to them about delays at the border. It is an absolute nonsense for them to suggest that they are justified by reference to smuggling. Our commitment will remain. We shall not let the people of Gibraltar pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. The election is on 16th May. We shall work with the new elected government to ensure good governance and an economically sustainable Gibraltar.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, following what the Minister has just said, will she tell the House what plans, if any, the Government have to reopen talks on the long-term future of Gibraltar, and to find a solution which is satisfactory to Spain, Gibraltar and the UK? As elections are to take place on Thursday, would not now be a good time to consider reopening such talks, given that it is some time since the talks last took place and that they then broke down?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, Gibraltar is British. As long as the people of Gibraltar want her to remain British, that is what they will voice in their

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elections. That does not mean we should not discuss an appropriate modus vivendi with the Spanish Government, and that we do. We talk to the Spanish on all occasions. My honourable friend David Davis is in constant contact with them in order to resolve the difficulties that we have had. I do not believe that there is any reason to change the policy at the moment, and I do not believe that the people of Gibraltar wish it.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, have the Spaniards made any moves to give up their enclaves on the African coast?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, in this House I might have been the first to hear of that had they done so, and I have heard no such message.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, the Minister mentioned smuggling. Is not the smuggling of drugs a substantial common interest to Her Majesty's Government the Government of Spain and the Government of Gibraltar? What active steps are the Government taking to promote discussions on that matter?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord. We have taken firm action against smuggling in Gibraltar. We are determined that it should end for good. The situation has improved out of all recognition since the measures we took last year. Spain must accept that. Our measures have been further strengthened by action against the fast boats following the crash about which we spoke in this House some weeks ago. We have to have proper, continuous, sound cross-border co-operation. That is what we seek to have with the Spanish through Gibraltar. There have been bad problems, but they have declined. We intend to ensure that they remain as minimal as they can be made.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sorry to come back, but I was a little surprised by the Minister's answer. Is she not aware that the Gibraltarians themselves are unhappy about their present constitutional position and wish to see talks on these matters?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am aware that some parts of Gibraltar are unhappy. We cannot possibly pre-empt the views of the newly elected Gibraltar Government who will no doubt emerge later this week. When we have their views, we can look at the future. Gibraltar is part of the EU by virtue of our membership. Its citizens are EU citizens. We want to work not just with the Gibraltarians but with the Spanish. I believe that we should continue to await the decision of the people of Gibraltar. We can then review what will happen. No one in your Lordships' House should be in any doubt--our commitment to the people of Gibraltar continues, and the amount of help that we give them is extensive.

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Open Spaces in Urban Areas

2.42 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they will take to encourage the revival, development and preservation of open spaces in urban areas.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the Government are committed to maintaining, enhancing and preserving open spaces in our towns and cities. We provide substantial planning and practice guidance, and 160 successful bids under the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund have included improved or reclaimed open space. In addition to the measures which the Government have taken, the Heritage Lottery Fund has launched an urban park programme.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that most encouraging Answer. Is he aware of two reasons why the policy which he has announced must be faithfully pursued? The first is that the drift of people from towns is one of the major threats to the countryside. The second is that recent research shows that many species of birds prefer to live in towns so long as the habitat there is suitable--of course, I refer to real birds.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. I am sure he is aware that peregrine falcons, in particular, find living in towns agreeable to the point where citizens of Cardiff have taken to eliminating them because of the threat to racing pigeons. Towns are places for people to live in, and we must make them pleasant places to live in.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that British Coal Enterprise, which has been privatised, was responsible for open spaces and recreational facilities in the coalfield communities? What assurances can he give that those will be maintained?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, those open spaces will be the responsibility of local councils and local people. I hope that they will continue the good work which British Coal started.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, have the Government given any thought to the future of Spring Common, which is in the Prime Minister's constituency of Huntingdon? Is he aware that the six acres of that haven for people and wildlife was saved from development only because the developer went bankrupt? Can he persuade the local Conservative council to heed the wishes of local people and stop development on that open space?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I have to be careful about what I say about any particular site because my right honourable friend is the final "appeal court" on planning applications. I shall look into the particular site, about which I have no immediate knowledge, and write to the noble Baroness.

The Earl of Drogheda: My Lords, can the Government give some encouragement to councils to

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look after allotment land in a better fashion? Such land is rarely properly guarded, and there is a great temptation for councils to try to reallocate allotment holders in order to sell the land for development purposes.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, while allotments are used well, they are an important part of the local community and should be regarded as such. I believe that they are protected under the planning guidance that we issue. Surely where allotments are no longer used it is right for the local council to try to find a better use.

The Earl of Drogheda: My Lords, it is easy to create a situation in which allotments are deemed to be used improperly or to be under-used. The allotments become vandalised as a result of the provision of insufficient security. Equally, councils do not always publicise the availability of allotments and therefore they say that there is no demand. I believe that--

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Earl asked a question, but I shall do so. The Minister spoke about certain steps which the Government have taken. Does he agree that local authorities which do not win what we regard as the lottery of the Single Regeneration Budget are left without any particular means of preserving open spaces in urban areas? Does he further agree that there is a need for legislation in respect of urban commons as opposed to rural commons? I believe that the Government have promised legislation on common land since 1987. Furthermore, can the Minister say what measures the Government have in their power to ensure that the Royal Parks in London are properly maintained?

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