HC Deb 20 February 1968 vol 759 cc236-8
Mr. Maudling (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the reopening of negotiations with Spain over Gibraltar.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)

We delivered a Note to the Spanish Government yesterday proposing that the talks at official level which we had planned to hold last year should begin in Madrid on 18th March. We have suggested that either side should be free to raise whatever subjects it wishes to discuss.

Mr. Maudling

Is the Under-Secretary aware that his statement that either side can raise any subjects it likes will give rise to doubt, as it appears to include the question of sovereignty? Could he reaffirm in that context the repeated assurance on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is not a subject which they can allow to be put at issue.

Mr. Rodgers

I am prepared to reaffirm that. We thought it better in the circumstances that if talks were to begin and to be fruitful there should be an open agenda and no pre-conditions. I can confirm that we are not going into the talks in order to discuss the transfer of sovereignty.

Mr. George Jeger

In view of the intransigence of the Spanish Government, why are we wasting time on these farcical talks before Spain has given any sign of good will by reducing its barbarous and uncivilised restrictions against Gibraltar?

Mr. Rodgers

I do not think they are farcical talks. I think my hon. Friend has indicated the need to try to talk together to alleviate the conditions of the people of Gibraltar as far as possible. It seems reasonable to take any steps we can to lower the temperature and to discuss such practical subjects as shipping and communications.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe

The House will accept that the Under-Secretary's assurance is correct and that we are not going into these talks to discuss the sovereignty of Gibraltar, but would the hon. Gentleman, arising out of the intervention of the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudlin;), make it clear that not merely are we not going to raise the question of sovereignty, but that if this is raised this is not something that is negotiable?

Mr. Rodgers

I do not think it would be right to try to lay down the actual exchanges which may or may not take place. By reaffirming our previous view, I sought to make it clear that there is no change of policy involved. In the Note we delivered yesterday, we have made clear that we do not intend to discuss the transfer of sovereignty. We have said that. I cannot be responsible today for what may or may not be said in the course of discussions by the Spanish representatives.

Mr. Shinwell

How does my hon. Friend reconcile the statement he has just made with his original reply? He told the House that any question can be raised by either side. Would he make it clear beyond possibility of doubt that the question of sovereignty, if raised by the other side, will be excluded from the ccnversations?

Mr. Rodgers

I think my right hon. Friend is reading more into my original reply than is justified. When the House was informed on 23rd October last that we hoped talks would take place, we said that they should be about matters of common concern, including Gibraltar. This remains the position.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether representatives of the Government of Gibraltar will be associated with these discussions and, if not, will he give an assurance that no agreement will be entered into with the Spanish Government which is not acceptable to the people and Government of Gibraltar?

Mr. Rodgers

I am able to give the second assurance. These are, however, bilateral discussions of a general kind, and I do not think that they are likely to result in the sort of agreement the right hon. Gentleman suggests.

Sir F. Bennett

Having been completely in the right in all our attitudes towards Spain and Gibraltar in the past, is it wise at this stage to get ourselves into a false position by saying that something can be raised on the agenda which we have also announced publicly that we will not discuss?

Mr. Rodgers

We are not in a false position. Everything said in the House is well known to the Spanish Government. I have made our position doubly clear again today. Our Note of yesterday has been published and I will make it available in the Library. I do not believe that there is a possibility of misunderstanding.

Mr. Ogden

Would my hon. Friend note the feeling of the House and tell the Foreign Secretary that this House is not prepared to discuss the transfer of sovereignty from this country to Spain?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that my right hon. Friend fully understands the mood of the House.

Several Hon. Membersrose—.

Mr. Speaker


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