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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The Government resumed talks with Spain under the Brussels process in July. We met again in Barcelona last Tuesday. In accordance with the terms of the Brussels communiqué that was agreed 17 years ago today, in November 1984, by the then Conservative Government, which included consideration of sovereignty, the talks are overcoming all the differences between the United Kingdom and Spain on Gibraltar. Our objective in relaunching these negotiations is to build a secure, stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar, greater self-government for the territory and better relations with Spain. We have invited the Chief Minister of Gibraltar to join the Brussels process meetings. Under the treaty of Utrecht, Spain has first refusal if the United Kingdom decides to relinquish sovereignty. We stand by the undertakings given in 1969 that the people of Gibraltar will have a right to vote on any proposal to transfer legal sovereignty.
Tim Loughton: For brevity's sake, I ask the Foreign Secretary for a simple yes or no. Will he continue to uphold the 1969 Gibraltar constitution and guarantee the right of the people of Gibraltar to remain British citizens, living in a British sovereign territory for as long as they determine?
Mr. Hoyle: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that overseas territories such as St. Helena will have the same right to self-determination as the Falkland Islands? The right exists in the preamble to their constitutions, but will it be included in the main text?
Mr. Straw: We stand by the principle of self-determination. The extent to which it can be applied in practice depends on the legal position, and the basis on which the United Kingdom acquired the territory. In some cases, we were able agree to total independence; in others, that is not possible. However, in every case, we are committed to a high degree of internal self-government.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman give two undertakings? First, will he state unequivocally that this country will not unilaterally renounce sovereignty under the treaty of Utrecht? Secondly, will he assure us that any referendum in Gibraltar will be binding on the people and the Government of this country?
Mr. Straw: I can only repeat what I have already said. We stand by the terms of the 1969 ordinance, the law of this country that provides that we shall not transfer sovereignty in Gibraltar without the consent of its people. I have said that three times in three minutes.
I hope that Conservative Members will, like Lord Howe and Lady Thatcher 17 years ago, recognise that the day-to-day position is not satisfactory for Gibraltarians. Their complaints are against Spain; Spain has complaints about Gibraltar. The only way in which to resolve them
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that, whatever the outcome of the talks with the Spanish Government, the people of Gibraltar will have the right to vote in the European elections?
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Does the Foreign Secretary understand the genuine fears of the people of Gibraltar, which I witnessed last week, that a deal with Spain is being stitched up behind their backs and that there will be political and economic attempts to bounce them into accepting it?
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the people of Gibraltar do not wish their interests to be compromised in the current talks by being members of the United Kingdom delegation on only a consultative basis? Why will he not revert to the two flags, three voices formula, which would allow Gibraltar a true voice in the talks while preserving the status of the two sovereign Governments? Surely it is better to have Gibraltar participating in the agreements before they are put to a popular vote in a referendum.
Mr. Straw: Of course it would be far better for the people of Gibraltar to be represented in the talks, and we have opened the door to participation in those talks on exactly the same basis as previous Administrations of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member. I understand the fears and anxieties of the people of Gibraltar. I am involved in the talks because I support a better future for them. Whatever the outcome on sovereignty, I want them to be able to exercise greater control over their daily lives and greater freedom over their actions. That requires negotiations between us and Spain. They would be greatly assisted by the participation of the Chief Minister; there is every reason for his participation. Unless the right hon. Gentleman is telling usperhaps he shouldthat he is resiling from Lady Thatcher's agreement on the basis of the talks, they are the only way forward for the people of Gibraltar. The current position is not a good thing for them.
Mr. Ancram: Is the Foreign Secretary therefore saying that he is offering the Gibraltar Administration the two flags, three voices formula? That is not their understanding. That was the formula offered by Lord Hurd when he was Foreign Secretary.
On another matter, will the right hon. Gentleman come clean with the House as to whether joint or shared sovereignty in any shape or form is on the agenda of the current talks with Spain? Is he aware that joint sovereignty has rarely, if ever, proved a sound basis for stable settlements? Does he not understand that sovereignty shared is sovereignty abrogated and that, in the case of Gibraltar, it would be regarded as the start of a slow-motion ride to the surrender of British sovereignty? The people of Gibraltar will not see their
Mr. Straw: From that response, I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is now resiling from the Brussels agreement that was negotiated by Lady Thatcher 17 years ago and followed by every successive Conservative Government until 1997. The conditions that we have offered Chief Minister Caruana for participation in the talks will enable him to have his own voice alongside me at the table of the United Kingdom delegation, and the Spanish have accepted that they will respond directly to him. There is no reason for Chief Minister Caruana not to take part in the negotiations, and not to have full independence of expression in those meetings, as part of the United Kingdom delegation.
Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): I welcome my right hon. Friend's reaffirmation of the Government's commitment to the 1969 constitution. Given that Gibraltar, although small, has a distinct history and identity, will my right hon. Friend agree that it would be desirable for Spain to pursue a policy of positive co-operation with Gibraltar if it wants to see a change in the relationship, and that creating difficulties at the border and trying to block EU legislation on Gibraltar-related ground are counterproductive?
Mr. Straw: I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend. That point has been pressed on the Spanish Government in the negotiations and outside, and a lot more remains to be done by the Spanish side. As a result of the negotiations, however, we have already had an allocation of 70,000 additional telephone lines for Gibraltaron top of the 30,000 that it currently has. That is a tangible benefit for the people of Gibraltar as a result of the negotiations.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): That is welcome news, but does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the attitude of the people of Gibraltar towards the Government of Spain would have been very different if they had not been subjected to nearly two decades of harassment at the border, in communications, and in terms of the airport and of NATO ships not being allowed to sail through Spanish waters to the sovereign base in Gibraltar? Will the right hon. Gentleman suggest to the Spanish Government that an early priority should be to sort out the status of the airport? Will he also suggest to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that another early priority should be to sort out the enfranchisement of the people of Gibraltar?
Mr. Straw: The airport will be one of the matters on the table. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that, although the UK unquestionably has sovereignty over the rock of Gibraltar under the treaty of Utrecht, one
The best way to secure a better future for the people of Gibraltar is through the negotiations established 17 years ago by Lady Thatcher, which we have reopened, because the current situation of complaint and counter-charge and the people of Gibraltar increasingly being isolated is not in the interests of the people of Gibraltar.