HC Deb 31 October 1966 vol 735 cc33-41

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

71. Mr. DANCE

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest position regarding relations between Gibraltar and Spain.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why the negotiations with Spain have been protracted; and what concessions he has offered to Spain.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Spanish Government has now replied to the proposal that the legal aspect of their claim to Gibraltar should be referred to the International Court of Justice.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will, in view of recent developments, now give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will not relinquish sovereignty over Gibraltar so long as the Gibraltarians wish Great Britain to retain it.

85. Mr. FISHER

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will give a categoric assurance that British sovereignty over Gibraltar will be maintained; and what retaliatory measures he proposes to take against Spain, in view of the mounting Spanish restrictions against Gibraltar.

88. Mr. PALMER

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will give an assurance that the principle of self determination by the inhabitants remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government in relation to the future of Gibraltar.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Questions Nos. 78, 83, 84, 85 and 88 together.

I apologise for the fact that this Answer must, in the nature of things, be longer than I normally like to give.

May I start by reaffirming that Gibraltar is, of course, British by right. Recent Spanish actions, including the Spanish Government's activity in imposing new restriction at the frontier, and the mob attacks on our Consulates, which I deplore, cannot affect this fact.

As the House is aware, I have said that it is the duty of nations such as ours to set an example in the peaceful settlement of disputes by referring them to a world authority. This is what we have suggested in this case. We have proposed to the Spanish Government that all the legal issues in dispute between them and us over Gibraltar should be referred to the International Court of Justice.

The Spanish Government have not yet replied. But if the Spanish Government accept the proposal it will be for the Court to decide on all the questions referred to it, including questions of sovereignty, and the Spanish Government and Her Majesty's Government would be bound by the Court's decisions.

The fact that we have suggested a reference to the Court does not, of course, mean that we have any doubts about our rights. On the contrary, we have no such doubt, but we do have faith in these civilised methods of settling disputes.

The House would, I think, like to have a full record of what has passed in these talks. I am, therefore, proposing to lay a White Paper containing all the documents later this week.

I would add just this, that our proposal is entirely consistent with our determination to safeguard the interests of the people of Gibraltar, as, indeed, the United Nations Charter requires us to do. Let me therefore make it quite clear that it remains the firm intention of Her Majesty's Government to sustain Gibraltar in her present difficulties, and that if we think that further financial aid is needed for that purpose we will provide it.

Mr. Dance

That is all right as far as it goes, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the people of Gibraltar want a clear-cut assurance from Her Majesty's Government about their future? [HON. MEMBERS: "They have had it".] They have not been given one. Is he further aware that they require an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will not be intimidated by any threats from Spain?

Mr. Brown

I am fairly sure that when the hon. Gentleman has given himself time to study my statement he will find that I have given as wide an assurance as the people of Gibraltar want and as wide as it is sensible for me to give.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

If Spain refuses to go to the International Court, will the endless negotiations go on? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that they are giving an impression of weakness here and, it seems, of weakness in Spain, too, where we read today about troop concentrations?

Mr. Brown

It is always better to talk than not to talk, and tough words are sometimes an excuse for inaction. The hon. Gentleman may be quite sure that we are already planning should his hypothetical situation arise.

Mr. George Jeger

Would my right hon. Friend inform the House whether any time limit has been set to the offer made to Spain to submit the matter to the International Court? Will the White Paper contain a statement on the concessions which have been offered to Spain during the course of the secret talks which have been going on?

Mr. Brown

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "No, Sir"; it would not be sensible to do so, as my hon. Friend will recognise if he considers the matter in detail.

The answer to the second point of the question is that our counter-proposals to those of Spain will be included in the White Paper.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the statement which he has made must give reassurance not only to the Gibraltarians, but probably to everybody in the world, who welcome Her Majesty's Government's adherence to any future decision of the International Court? However, will he give an assurance to the House that failing the Spaniards accepting to take the case to the International Court, we will give continued assistance to the Gibraltarians for however long a period as might be necessary? Has my right hon. Friend considered the taking of retaliatory action by Her Majesty's Government failing this assurance from the Spaniards?

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the first part of his question. I answered the second part of it in the last sentence of my statement, when I said that it was our intention … to sustain Gibraltar in her present difficulties …". To answer the third part of his question, about taking retaliatory action, it happens to be a firm conviction of mine, and of Her Majesty's Government, that this seldom advances anybody.

Mr. Fisher

That may be so, but surely, after two years, we should seriously consider breaking off these talks under duress if the Spanish reply on the question of the International Court is not satisfactory. To follow the point made by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), is it not possible, after two years of sustained, increasing and unjustified pressures on Gibraltar, for us to consider some form of economic retaliatory action?

Mr. Brown

My answer to that question is "No, Sir", as it is the hon. Gentleman's answer in other cases.

Mr. Palmer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people of Gibraltar wish to determine their own future in association with the British Crown? Will this be stressed in any submissions that are made to the International Court, should the dispute go to the Court?

Mr. Brown

This is, clearly, one of the considerations to be taken into account. We also have the fact that the United Nations Special Committee and United Nations General Assembly have considered this matter. The Special Committee certainly did not take the view that that was satisfactory and the General Assembly called upon us to have talks. My hon. Friend may take it that we have this matter very much in mind, but that we are trying to work this out in accordance with international practice.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a great deal of trouble might have been saved if Her Majesty's Government had made much earlier the statement the right hon. Gentleman has made today? Will he answer one specific question? We understand that certain questions will be put to the International Court. Are we to have those in the White Paper, or will the right hon. Gentleman inform us about what they are in any other way?

Mr. Brown

To answer the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, what he said could be said about many statements which the right hon. Gentleman himself made in this House as well as outside. As a matter of fact, a lot of trouble would have been saved the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot have politics played on only one side.

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's second point—the more serious part of his question—is that if the Spaniards accept our proposal the terms of reference will be agreed between us; and, obviously, they could not be announced by us in advance of their answer.

Mr. Lubbock

Will the Foreign Secretary point out to the Spanish Government that although we have no intention of taking economic measures of retaliation against them, their intransigent and truculent attitude over Gibraltar is likely to discourage many British tourists who might otherwise have thought of visiting Spain?

Mr. Brown

I did not pronounce on the first part of the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher). I only thought that it would not be a very sensible thing to do now. But I am quite sure that the Spaniards will take notice of what the hon. Gentleman has said and of the feeling of the House about the matter.

Mr. Shinwell

What possible complaint can be laid against the Government over their attitude to the Gibraltar situation? Arising out of the supplementary question asked by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), is it not true that the Government have from the outset declared their willingness to refer this matter to the International Court? Which is preferable: to try to evoke a peaceful settlement with the Government of Spain over this situation and protect the interests of the people of Gibraltar, or to antagonise the people of Spain and their Government and declare—what? A state of war?

Mr. Brown

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. If hon. Members opposite who sounded so bellicose the other day—and perhaps I may say that I think that my hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary had a pretty rough time and a pretty unjustifiably rough time then—[Interruption.]—would just consider the matter for a moment, it surely must occur to them that the way in which we are proposing to deal with the question, and are dealing with it, is a good deal more to the comfort of the Gibraltarians than are the implications of what they are suggesting.

Mr. Heath

While we understand that what is referred to the International Court must be a matter of agreement between the two countries, will the Foreign Secretary nevertheless reconsider his reply about stating the terms which we ourselves proposed? If he is to publish a White Paper with all the documents, surely he can publish what we ourselves have proposed.

Secondly, could the Foreign Secretary clarify his own statement? When he speaks of referring all the legal issues, does this include the question of Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht, about the Rock of Gibraltar itself, or only about the so-called neutral zone, because, although there is dispute over the Rock, as I understand it is not a dispute about the economic implications of Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht? Could he say whether the reference includes the whole of that, or only the so-called neutral zone?

Mr. Brown

I am not at all sure that that will be a very helpful question for me to answer at this stage of the talks—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am sure that when the right hon. Gentleman considers it, he will see that it is not a very helpful point to make—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] As far as the Government and myself are concerned, there is no distinction. We shall refer all the legal questions which are in dispute between the two Governments to the International Court, and seek to get terms of reference that cover them. I do not think that it is at all sensible for us to try to draw a distinction of that kind.

Mr. Michael Foot

Can the Foreign Secretary say whether he has secured full support from the United States Government for the attitude which the British Government have taken? Does he not think that the United States Government are in a particularly good position to use their influence to persuade the Spanish Government to make a civilised response to my right hon. Friend's proposal?

Mr. Brown

I have not sought the support or help of any other Government. We are discussing this matter with the Spanish Government. We regard it as a matter that can be solved between us if they are willing, and I very much hope that they will be.

Mr. Heath

In the situation we have now reached over this very difficult problem the Foreign Secretary is not justified in saying to the House that it is not helpful to ask such a question or give an answer to it. If the Foreign Secretary says that he does not distinguish between the Rock and Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht and the so-called neutral zone, does it mean that he is referring the whole question, including Article X, to the International Court?

Mr. Brown

It means that I believe that our rights to both are firm and existing. I would be a very foolish man to indicate that there was any distinction between them. We shall, therefore, stand on our rights to both, and we shall refer the legal questions to the International Court.

I forgot earlier to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question about including the terms of reference in the White Paper. The answer is that I think it best not to include the terms of reference we have in mind. It would be only courteous, I think, to reserve those for agreement with the Spanish Government if the Spanish Government care to give it.

Dr. John Dunwoody

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the new-found concern of the Spanish Government for Gibraltar contrasts very sharply with the consistent neglect of the same Government for their own African territory, whose population is about ten times larger than the population of Gibraltar, and who have never been given any opportunity of self-determination, and where there is no sem-blence of democracy as we understand it in Great Britain or Gibraltar?

Mr. Brown

It may well be so, and I have it very much in mind, and I cannot myself understand why the members of the Committee of Twenty Four did not have it more in their minds when they passed their resolution. But they did pass that resolution, and I must deal with the situation as it now is.

Mr. Heath

I still do not understand why the Foreign Secretary cannot answer a straightforward question. He is now falling into the same position as the Colonial Secretary fell into for so long. Does his answer mean that he is referring Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht as well as the so-called neutral zone to the International Court—yes or no?

Mr. Brown

It means that I am willing to refer all the legal issues in dispute between the two Governments to the International Court—all of them. But I would tell the right hon. Gentleman quite firmly and frankly that in trying to draw a distinction between the Isthmus and the Rock he is doing this country no service at all.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can the Foreign Secretary give us an assurance that at this moment of international tension he will not renew the negotiations with the Spanish Government that were conducted by the Opposition, when in government, for the modernisation of the Spanish Navy?

Mr. Brown

I have forborne to mention that delicate subject, but I am very interested in the different attitude of the Opposition when in opposition from the attitude they adopted when in government.

Mr. Heath

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that by referring Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht, which the Spanish Government do not regard as a legal issue but a political issue, he himself is weakening the whole basis of his arguments?

Mr. Brown

There are many hon. Members and some right hon. Members on the right hon. Gentleman's own side who know on what dangerous ground he is now treading.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on.