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Lord Steel of Aikwood: I do not propose to detain the Committee for long. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, is to be congratulated on taking this opportunity to raise again the subject of Gibraltar. I remember my own visit there as foreign affairs spokesman for my party which took place some years ago. I remember expressing the hope that, following the accession of Spain to the European Community, the longstanding future of Gibraltar could be sorted out. My thoughts are very much along the lines of those stated by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, but so far it is not to be.
My simple point tonight is that I do not believe that that can be achieved in this Bill either. We are dealing here with a technical matter relating to elections next June for the members of the European Parliament. Leaving aside the fact that the amendment does not deal with where the people of Gibraltar are supposed to vote, I remind the Committee--the noble Lord made much the same point earlier--that for Gibraltar's position to change electorally, it would require, first, a proposal from the European Parliament, as I understand it, and, secondly, the unanimous decision of the Council of Ministers followed by the ratification of all member states. Frankly, none of that is going to be achieved by next June. If we concentrate on this Bill we have to conclude, sadly, that while this is undoubtedly a useful opportunity to debate Gibraltar, we should leave the text of the Bill as it stands.
Lord Waddington: Before the noble Lord sits down, does he not agree that it is an abuse of civil rights to deny the vote to the people of Gibraltar when, as I understand it, the situation in the European Union has
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My simple answer is that I am not putting forward any such proposal. I am simply saying to the noble Lord that he was Home Secretary for a long period when the position of Gibraltar was exactly the same as it is today. I agree that it is highly unsatisfactory but we cannot sort it out in this Bill. That is all I am saying.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, made a somewhat lengthy intervention about Spain. I remind him that Spain is a very active member of NATO. My noble friend Lord Bethell has long been a great advocate of Gibraltar and he demonstrated that tonight. I have a lot of sympathy with the solution proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton. We need to tackle the major issue, but perhaps not in this particular piece of legislation. The fact is that we always have problems with overseas territories, as they are now called--hence dependent territories--because their regimes are all different.
I have taken a great interest in this subject with various overseas territories, some of them being further away. Their regimes are rather complicated. It worries me that the overseas territories always seem to cherry pick what they want. They remember their Britishness when it is convenient and forget it when it is not. They are not in that situation with us all the time, but it is a worrying aspect. Although the people of Gibraltar are very close to us, is this not another example? For instance, the tax regime in Gibraltar is rather beneficial.
In the United States there was a very old maxim about no taxation without representation. In this instance one could perhaps reverse that and say no representation without taxation. Perhaps that is not quite appropriate to this particular debate, but it is a factor. I wonder whether we need to resolve the matter on a longer time-scale as suggested by others rather than in the amendment we have tonight, however much sympathy one has with my noble friend Lord Bethell in his brilliant advocacy.
The Earl of Carlisle: My noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood has pointed out that this is a very untidy and unsatisfactory situation. I agree with him. I take a rather different line. I support the amendment most ably proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. Before I do so I wish to declare an interest. From 10th to 12th May this year I was part of a delegation from your Lordships' House which visited the Rock of Gibraltar under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I pay tribute to him.
There is one serious omission. Gibraltar has no vote for Europe of which it is a part geographically, culturally, economically and socially. It also conforms to all the directives of the Community at great financial cost, but it does not have a vote in the forthcoming European elections.
I derived two points from my visit. I had never visited before. I have declared the interest. Nobody has pressured me to speak or to vote either way. I thank them. Having been in your Lordships' House for about 30 months, I note that political parties very rarely agree on one thing totally either here or in another place. I was struck by the way in which all the political parties and all the people I met in the 48 hours agreed totally on one point; namely, that they wished for a vote in the European elections. I pay tribute to that desire to take part in European democracy. I believe it was called "The People's Europe" two weekends ago at a conference at the LSE.
An example of that was when the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, after Question Time, laid a Petition in this Great Council of England, as it was called for centuries and still is. On the Table of the Great Council in London up to 90 per cent. of the Gibraltarians voted by writing their names and saying, "We request this Parliament for a vote".
The Bill incorporating into British law the European Convention on Human Rights passed through your Lordships' House a few weeks ago. I took part in those proceedings as a spectator and as a voter. Having passed that Bill a few weeks ago, are we really going to tell the Gibraltarians now, "Sorry, it is too difficult to give you a vote"? Historians, constitutionalists and voters among your Lordships will recall what was said by governments in 1821, 1865, 1883 and 1917. Those governments said, "It is all too difficult", but in 1918, the women, the fairer and gentler sex, got the vote and used it. Are we saying to Gibraltarians, "We are not going to give you a vote"?
Perhaps your Lordships will permit me briefly to widen the issue. On 31st March this year, five-plus-one nations agreed to enlarge the Community. They came to Brussels and they said, "We wish to be part of the European Union and we want to have MEPs". Are we going to say to them when they have completed their negotiations, "Sorry, some of your people in your constituencies do not have the vote"? If they then turn to us and say, "But the people of Gibraltar do not have a vote", what can we possibly say to them? Looking them straight in the face, are we going to say, "That is a different subject"?
I do not quite understand the reasons why, stretching back to 1973, we have never arranged for the Gibraltarians to participate in European parliamentary elections. Will the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, assure the Committee that his great department of state has not been put upon by any other great department of state to block the vote for the Gibraltarians? If a department of state which contains
If the amendment is pressed to a Division, I ask Members of the Committee to vote in favour of giving the Gibraltarians a vote and of ensuring that the Government either press the European Union on this or introduce legislation themselves so that we can at least show the world that we are in favour of human rights for those who hold British passports.
Lord Monson: The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, reminded us at the beginning of this debate that within the past month we have seen a magnificent demonstration of grass-roots democracy in action. Over 90 per cent. of Gibraltar's electorate--an amazingly high percentage--have in effect voted for the right to vote in European elections, a right which is at present denied them despite a ruling by the European Commission of Human Rights.
For better or worse, Gibraltar joined the EEC, as it then was, well over two decades ago. The Gibraltarians have fulfilled all their EU commitments, some of which are quite onerous, but they have not received all the corresponding benefits due to them. They have not been cherry-picking, as the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, seemed to suggest.
Baroness Strange: I should like briefly to support my noble friend's amendment. My association with Gibraltar goes back even further than that of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, as I had an ancestor who served in the garrison there in the late 18th century. More recently, my son also served in the Army there. We visited him often and made many friends among the people of Gibraltar, some of whom are in this House today. We were always very impressed by the Britishness of Gibraltar. We believe that the Rock of Gibraltar is a very British rock.
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