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Lord Bruce of Donington: I shall participate only briefly in this debate, but should like to ask the Government whether they can inform the Committee quite definitely as to whether Spain has withdrawn, or is likely to withdraw, its claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar and, if so, when. As far as I am aware, Spain's attitude to Gibraltar is that Gibraltar is really part of Spain. As I see it, that is the argument.
I am not at all sure that, if the Gibraltarians were further to involve themselves in the European process, and in particular in the elections for Members of the European Parliament, Spain would take a different attitude. If, for example, the Gibraltarians were accorded the right to participate in the European elections, would Spain drop its claim to Gibraltar? I have had no indication of that. Of course, I may be entirely wrong
Successive governments of all parties in the United Kingdom, supported I believe by all parties, have continued to give Gibraltar and its inhabitants the guarantees for which they have asked us. As far as I am aware, no party in Parliament has dissented from the view that that should continue to be so. For me, this is a balance of probabilities.
Like some Members of the Committee, I have had considerable experience of European affairs. I remember very well when Spain--this is within living memory--declined to give support to the enlargement of the Community unless it was given the right to fish in the Irish box. That does not seem to augur well for the future because, if the Gibraltarians were given the right to participate in European parliamentary elections, thus becoming more and more European as time goes on, and bearing in mind that the European Commission has the right under this pillar to participate fully in defence and foreign affairs, in my view the certainty of Gibraltar's independence, as guaranteed by us, is worth far more than if it began further to be immersed in the European institutional machinery.
Baroness Hooper: I, too, support the amendment. As a directly elected Member of the European Parliament in 1979, I was one of the group, to which my noble friend Lord Bethell, referred, which was asked by the then Chief Minister of Gibraltar, the late Sir Joshua Hassan, to form part of the group representing informally in the European Parliament the interests of the people of Gibraltar. My first visit to the Rock was with a group of MEPs, led by my noble friend. It was clear to me then, as it is now, that it was unfair, unjust and plain wrong that the people of Gibraltar did not have the right to vote--and that was before Spain had even become a member of the European Union. After all, Gibraltar agreed to become part of the European Union with the United Kingdom in 1973, unlike other places such as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man which opted for different and less onerous association agreements. Those agreements did not require those territories to observe European rules and regulations as in the case of Gibraltar.
As a result of that first visit I have campaigned in favour of finding a way to give the people of Gibraltar the right to vote in European elections and a solution to the tensions between Spain and the United Kingdom over Gibraltar under the umbrella of the European Union. I believe that that is possible. This amendment provides an opportunity to take a concrete step forward. Gibraltar is a special case. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that the distinction between Gibraltar and the other dependent territories is that Gibraltar is geographically in Europe and has become part of the European Union. In the past our single member, constituency-based system prevented an easy solution to the problem of how the people of Gibraltar should vote. I believe that under the list system it would be relatively simple to find a way of including the people of Gibraltar and giving them the right to vote. I shall be amazed if
In our debate on the dependent territories last year some noble Lords, in particular my noble friend Lord Bethell, referred to this issue and signalled our interest in trying to do something about it in the course of the passage of this Bill. I believe that the resolution of this issue is in line with the Government's ethical approach to foreign policy. I hope that they will take it seriously in that context. I am delighted that this amendment has all-party support and very much hope that it will be accepted by the Minister. But failing that, I hope that all noble Lords will support us in the Contents Lobby.
Lord St. John of Bletso: I rise briefly to support this amendment. Last year I was fortunate to be able to join an all-party delegation on a visit to Gibraltar. I do not want to go over any of the points that have already been made. However, for years the Gibraltarians have been implementing all of the EU directives and regulations. For this reason it is an enormous anachronism that the Gibraltarians should be denied the basic right and freedom to vote. I accept the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Steel, that technically it may be difficult to introduce this particular amendment to the Bill, but surely the time is now right for the interests of the people of Gibraltar to be acknowledged.
Lord Waddington: I hope that the Minister will inform the Committee whether there is any legal objection to tagging voters in Gibraltar to an English constituency. We were told in another place that there were legal difficulties, but do those difficulties prevent that possible solution? To an extent it is artificial, but it is better than nothing. One knows perfectly well that the regions which are the subject of this Bill are artificial creations. There is not the slightest community of interest between Carlisle on the one hand and Merseyside on the other; nor is there the slightest community of interest between the Isles of Scilly and Swindon. In any event, one is dealing with completely artificial areas for the purposes of this Bill. Surely, to add the voters of Gibraltar to one or other of the regions demarcated in the Bill is better than nothing.
Lord Hughes: I find myself very much in sympathy with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, my noble friend Lord Shepherd and my noble friend (to whom I cannot refer as my noble kinsman but perhaps as my namesake) Lord Hughes of Woodside. My sympathy arises from a parliamentary visit that I made to Gibraltar a good many years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, was part of that visit. Having spent a few days in Gibraltar I came away with the feeling that I could just as easily have been visiting a part of England. I understand why the people of Gibraltar have no interest in being part of Spain. They are so British in their outlook, behaviour
My noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside said rightly that Spain was a democracy. Of course it is a democracy when it deals with its internal affairs; it is democratic as far as Catalonia is concerned. But when it comes to Gibraltar Spain is not interested in the fact that over 90 per cent. of Gibraltarians have made perfectly clear that they have no desire at any time to be part of Spain. I cannot recall the name of the noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Democrat Benches a long time ago and said that the obvious solution was to reach an agreement. I would accept that were there the slightest indication that Spain was interested in any reasonable negotiations whatsoever.
As my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside has pointed out, the behaviour of Spain in relation to fishing shows that it is much more interested in the use of force than in democratic discussion. For that reason I also hope that the Government, who all along have shown how anxious they are to preserve the position of Gibraltar, will not oppose this amendment. Although it is unlikely that it will have any effect on the position of Gibraltar before the next elections to the European Parliament, as my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington points out, at least it will show sympathy with the people of Gibraltar, who all along have shown a total willingness to be regarded as British as well as Gibraltarians.
Lord Henley: I rise briefly from this Front Bench to give our views on the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Bethell and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle. The Committee owes a debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Bethell for presenting the petition this afternoon following questions from the people of Gibraltar asking that this House takes note of their concerns. That petition was supported by the vast majority of the people and electors of Gibraltar. We also owe my noble friend a debt of gratitude for tabling this amendment. We on these Benches intend to support my noble friend if he decides to press this matter to a Division at this or any other stage.
As always, I have a degree of sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who is to respond to this amendment. Unless he is to accept the amendment, which I very much doubt, yet again he appears to be in a rather small minority in terms of those who have spoken on this amendment. Virtually every single speaker, with the exception, dare I say it, of two speakers from the Liberal Benches, has spoken in support of this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, who was the only one who managed to support him on the previous amendment, on this occasion made it quite clear that he would support the amendment. The amendment has in fact had support from all parts of the Committee, as my noble friend Lady Hooper said.
I believe the case to be absolutely overwhelming. As we have heard and as we all know, Gibraltar is part of the European Union. My noble kinsman Lord Carlisle made clear that it is not just culturally, economically,
This Bill, with its abolition of the old European Union constituencies--regrettable though that might be for those of us who still believe in first-past-the-post and who would still like to have those European constituencies--provides an ideal opportunity, and an opportunity we have not had in the past, for adding Gibraltar to one or other of these regions--regions which, as my noble friend Lord Waddington said, have no particular community of interest between one part of the region and another. Therefore this would be an ideal moment to add Gibraltar to London, the south-west or whatever region seems to be most appropriate.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made a point which had not occurred to me, but it seems almost more damming than all: that is, the extraordinary idea that a Gibraltarian living in London would have the vote and also a Gibraltarian living in Paris, Madrid or wherever could vote, but that same Gibraltarian if he happened to live in Gibraltar would not have a vote. That cannot be right. We were told by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that there are insurmountable hurdles to resolving this problem. We may be told that we need a proposal from the European Parliament. We need then a unanimous decision from the Council of Ministers and we need the ratification of all member states. No doubt we will also be told, in response to points put by my noble friend Lord Waddington, that technically it is very difficult. However, I do not accept that particular argument and certainly with the expert lawyers available to all government departments I am sure that this is a matter that they can resolve should they so wish and should this Committee and the other place make it clear that that is what we wish to do.
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