HC Deb 05 February 2002 vol 379 cc735-48 3.30 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his talks on Gibraltar yesterday with the Spanish Foreign Minister in London.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

Yesterday I met the Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Piqué. We held the third in a series of meetings under the Brussels process. A copy of the joint communiqué from yesterday's meeting has been placed in the Library. At every stage we have kept the House fully informed of the process of the negotiations, including in a three-hour debate in Government time last Thursday in Westminster Hall. A further meeting under the Brussels process is due to be held within the next two months. The date has yet to be fixed.

There are four aspects to the approach that we have adopted: preserving Gibraltar's unique way of life; greater internal self-government for Gibraltar; practical benefits through co-operation and putting the long-running dispute about sovereignty to rest.

I am convinced that this dialogue represents the best way forward for the people of Gibraltar as well as for Spain and the United Kingdom. It must be better to try to settle differences through dialogue, and I am convinced that the people of Gibraltar have more to gain than to lose from the process. Moreover, they will not lose their British citizenship nor their traditional way of life. However, they will gain greater self-government and many practical benefits of a much more co-operative relationship with Spain and its people.

I underline the commitment that was first given in the House by the Labour Government in 1969, and that we have repeated in this round: that any proposals affecting the sovereignty of Gibraltar will not and cannot be put into effect without the consent of the people of Gibraltar in a referendum.

I want the Government of Gibraltar to be directly involved in the Brussels round talks. Yesterday, the British and Spanish Governments reiterated our invitation to Chief Minister Caruana to participate in the discussions on the basis of the two flags, three voices formula, in which he would have his own distinct voice as part of the British delegation.

Lastly, there is nothing inevitable about the outcome of the discussions, but it is in all our interests to make a constructive effort to find a lasting solution to the problems—above all, one which we believe will be in the interests of the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. Kaufman

I thank my right hon. Friend for sending me a copy of yesterday's communiqué and his article in the Gibraltar Chronicle yesterday.

Is it not bizarre that Spain has imposed and maintained what my right hon. Friend described in the Gibraltar ChronicleYesterday as obstructions to everyday life which the people of Gibraltar are forced to endure", and that the Spanish Government are now graciously offering to lift those restrictions provided that the British Government sell out the interests of those same people of Gibraltar?

Yesterday in London, despite what my right hon. Friend has just said about his ambition to put the long-running dispute over sovereignty to rest, the Spanish Foreign Minister said that Spain could not accept that the Gibraltarian people had a right to self-determination and would not drop its historic claim on the colony. An agreement from those negotiations would therefore be only the first slice of the chorizo. Should not the British Government value the fact that the people of Gibraltar are so proud of being British that, to maintain their present status, they are ready to endure those obstructions to everyday life, just as they endured far worse in the second world war in defence of Britain and of democracy? Will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that, apart from the telephone lines referred to yesterday, Spain will remove the restrictions—my right hon. Friend described them as those that the people of Gibraltar have to "endure"—only if the outcome of the negotiations is satisfactory to Spain and is then endorsed by the people of Gibraltar in a referendum? Will he also understand that there is no majority in the House for a negotiation conducted under duress?

Mr. Straw

I accept that there would be no majority in the House for negotiation under duress, but I believe that there is a majority for negotiation conducted within the Brussels process, which was initiated in 1984 by the Administration of Lady Thatcher with all-party support and the support of the shadow Cabinet. Indeed, at that time my right hon. Friend and I were on the Opposition Front Bench. Bipartisan support for the process continues to this day. As we discovered on 12 January during a similar private notice question, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary—notwithstanding his bluster—supported a continuation of the process.

As I have said to my right hon. Friend—I am happy to repeat the point—I accept entirely that all kinds of obstructions to daily life in Gibraltar have been imposed by the Government of Spain. Those obstructions should not be there and I am trying to do something about them. However, I defy any Member of the House to explain how we can deal with them—short, as I said on 12 January, of sending gunboats or threatening military action—except through discussion and dialogue with the Government of Spain.

My right hon. Friend also asked whether—apart from the telephone lines—Spain will remove other obstructions only if there is a satisfactory outcome to this phase of the negotiations that is then endorsed through a referendum. As part of the Brussels process, we are discussing with Spain the removal of further obstructions—as he calls them—well before any referendum. It is for that reason that we undertook considerable negotiation to get Spain to agree in principle to the transfer of the 70,000 lines. Yesterday, we agreed to further work on some of the technical problems associated with their connection.

I want to make two final points. First, whether we or the people of Gibraltar like it or not, the world for Gibraltar is changing. It is changing not because of Spain or the United Kingdom, but because of the rules of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Union, which will quickly bring to an end Gibraltar's tax-free status. Gibraltar needs a new future and everybody in Gibraltar understands that.

Secondly, as I have said, the process that we are involved in—which cannot conceivably be described in my right hon. Friend's words—means that nothing that we agree can come into force without the consent of the people of Gibraltar in a referendum. I have made a point of that.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that yesterday has done nothing to allay or dispel suspicion and anger in Gibraltar or in the House? If anything, the fears that I previously raised with the Foreign Secretary, and which until now he has dismissed, are turning out to be true. The process in which he is engaged is clearly seen as the disingenuous sell-out that we have always believed it to be.

Does not the Foreign Secretary accept that, once made, a bilateral agreement between the British and Spanish Governments to share sovereignty over Gibraltar cannot be rescinded? Even if it is subsequently rejected by the people of Gibraltar, the principle of ceding sovereignty over the Rock to Spain will have been established, the pass will have been sold and the promised democratic rights over sovereignty of the people of Gibraltar will have been fatally undermined.

Cannot the Foreign Secretary see that that is the sell-out, the done deal, that we and the people of Gibraltar fear, and which we and they will oppose? Why does not he accept the suggestion that I made in my letter of 18 January, which he dodged in his reply? That is that, in this process—which we accept—nothing should be agreed by any party until the overall proposals being put forward are approved in a referendum, and that, in the absence of Gibraltar's acquiescence, neither Government could claim that an agreement had been reached on any issue. That would meet the concerns and fears of the people of Gibraltar, and of Opposition Members.

Cannot the Foreign Secretary accept, even at this late date, that he owes the people of Gibraltar, not least for the loyalty that they have shown us, an open and democratic process, with nothing agreed by him on behalf of the British Government until all the proposals are agreed by the people of Gibraltar? Anything less would be a dishonourable betrayal, which would shame not only the right hon. Gentleman, but us all.

Mr. Straw

Yet again, we see a man without a policy. On the one hand, the right hon. Gentleman says that the Brussels process will lead to a sell-out, and on the other that we should continue with it. He needs to make up his mind.

Only by discussion in the Brussels process can we conceivably reach the point where proposals can be put to the people of Gibraltar. I should much prefer it if the right hon. Gentleman were to write me a letter about a different architecture for the discussions. I would prefer there to be a different architecture for the discussions, and for the Government of Gibraltar to be part of those discussions. I keep repeating that invitation to Peter Caruana. I believe that it is safe for him to take part in the discussions, as nothing to do with his involvement in them would remotely prejudice anything that he said to the people of Gibraltar by way of advice about voting yes or no in a referendum.

I would value Peter Caruana sitting alongside me—two flags, three voices—in the process. In that way, instead of having to meet him separately and make telephone calls to him—which I am always happy to do—I would have his advice in the room. At the moment, that is not possible. The only alternative under the Brussels process, which the Conservative party in government initiated and with which the right hon. Gentleman agrees, is that there should be bilateral discussions.

If the discussions are satisfactory—they may not be—their outcome will be that we agree proposals. However, those proposals will come into law only if the people of Gibraltar agree. That is a sensible way in which to proceed. It has the absolute democratic guarantee that, ultimately, it will be the people of Gibraltar who will decide. Let them decide, is what I say.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

I know that my right hon. Friend has a great interest in trying to achieve agreement over Gibraltar, but the real problem is that Piqué has stated openly and clearly that he will never accept that the people of Gibraltar have a right of self-determination. That declaration should be reason enough for us to withdraw from the talks.

We must be aware that we face the danger that people will accuse us of double standards. We cannot go around the world saying openly that we believe in democratic rights, and that we went into Bosnia and Afghanistan because we believe that people have the right to democracy, at the same time as we are beginning to put an end to the rights of the people of Gibraltar.

Spain has stated deliberately today that the people of Gibraltar have no rights. I declare an interest in what goes on, as I am chair of the all-party Gibraltar group. I believe that we should reconsider our position and allow that other countries in the EU have differing tax statuses within their borders. One example is Spain, and the circumstances covering Ceuta, Melilla, Tenerife and the Canary islands. Another example is France, and the differing status accorded to Monaco. Another example is Britain, with Jersey and the Isle of Man—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Straw

Let me deal with the issue of self-determination. I apologise for not picking up on it in my response a moment ago.

The Spanish Government and people have maintained a long-standing position on Gibraltar. However, they are involved in the negotiations and we have made it clear that there is no way that we shall accept that position and hand over sovereignty, lock, stock and barrel, to Spain. I have said that repeatedly, as has my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. We are involved in negotiations. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) is an expert on the origins of British sovereignty in Gibraltar, he will know that by the treaty of Utrecht, sovereignty was ceded to the English Crown, to the United Kingdom, and that the same clause in that treaty states clearly that if ever sovereignty is given up by the United Kingdom it has to go back to Spain. So in the classic terms of normal decolonisation—when we had absolute sovereignty and no country had first refusal on it—we could of course grant independence if we and the other country so wished. That does not arise in respect of Gibraltar, so the alternatives are sovereignty with the UK, sovereignty with Spain or something in between.

As regards self-determination, whatever Spain may have said in the past, Spain has acknowledged, as part of these negotiations, that we will put any agreed proposals to the people of Gibraltar and that we will not implement them without the consent of the people of Gibraltar. We can argue about whether that really is self-determination, but in the context that I have described I think that it is.

I hope too—Spain has also acknowledged this—that as part of those discussions, if we reach an agreed outcome, we can grant a far greater degree of internal self-government to Gibraltar than exists at present. Spain is entirely in agreement with that.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Has the Foreign Secretary been able to identify any advantage to the people of Gibraltar from their Government staying out of the negotiations, especially when they would have no obligation either to accept or to endorse any result of the negotiations? Furthermore, what efforts has he made in his conversations to persuade the Spanish Government to take unilateral measures designed to increase confidence in Gibraltar—not least by the removal of the bureaucratic obstacles at the border? Finally, can he think of any greater illustration of the principle of sovereignty than that the people of Gibraltar should have an unencumbered veto over the British Government—something that no part of the United Kingdom enjoys?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's final point is absolutely right. I also believe in the wider sense of the word sovereignty. If sovereignty means greater control over one's own life, the kind of future that we seek to map out for the people of Gibraltar—in which there is real freedom across the borders and for trade, and where the economy can be opened up not only to the people of Gibraltar but to the whole of that part of southern Europe—would provide them with a much greater degree of practical sovereignty than they have at present.

As to why Chief Minister Peter Caruana should not take part in these discussions, he has advanced reasons to me that I do not want to go into in public, but in discussion with him I continue to try to identify the rubbing points for the Government of Gibraltar and to try to accommodate them. I regret that that has not proved possible so far, but the invitation remains open. In my judgment—although ultimately it is a matter for him—the people of Gibraltar would be better served by Mr. Caruana being in the negotiations rather than outside them. However, we shall continue to consult with him.

As regards Spain taking unilateral steps to build confidence, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct: Spain should do that. It was for that reason that we urged Spain to put in the telephone lines. We obtained agreement in principle and we want those lines actually to be installed. Furthermore, it would greatly help if Spain could now take other measures—they have formed a major part of my conversations with Minister Piqué—to reduce the lack of confidence that exists across those borders.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

My right hon. Friend has mentioned the rather bizarre concept of two flags, three voices. He has also mentioned Spain's so-called historic claim to Gibraltar. Can he give us an assurance that, if agreement is reached on the two flag concept, an express condition will be that Spain give up its historic claim?

Mr. Straw

That is obviously one part of the discussions. [Interruption.] As people who have ever been involved in the negotiations will know, that is, of course, one part of the discussions. I shall not anticipate the outcome of the negotiations, until there is a satisfactory outcome, but I am happy to say that there is no way, in these negotiations, that we intend to cede, lock, stock and barrel, the sovereignty of Gibraltar to Spain. That is not part of our agenda—not now, not for the future.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

As the Government of Spain have been shamefully and blatantly depriving the people of Gibraltar of their entitlements in anticipation of the discussions, would not the Foreign Secretary, as a great enthusiast for the EU, think that a better start to the negotiations would be to invite the Commission to take Spain to the European Court of Justice for blatantly and wrongfully depriving the people of Gibraltar of their rights?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman suddenly seems to have been converted to the merits of the European Court of Justice. [Interruption.] Well, he mentioned it. That is a rather dangerous path down which to take Gibraltar because the infraction proceedings that are in prospect before the European Court of Justice are not against Spain, but against Gibraltar for its failure to transpose a number of EU directives. Whether or not one accepts another party's position in the negotiations, it is always at least worth comprehending that position. Spain has a number of points against Gibraltar. We have to examine carefully the way in which Spain thinks that Gibraltar and, indeed, the United Kingdom have behaved towards Spain historically, and we have to take that into account in any final agreement that we may reach.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it likely that there are more than 12 people, at the very maximum, in Gibraltar, who are in favour of what is happening? Is not the truth of the matter simply that, over the years, Spain has pursued a policy of harassment, obstruction and downright annoyance against the people of Gibraltar, whose only crime is that they simply want to retain their links with Britain? Good luck to them.

Mr. Straw

I suspect that the number is rather more than 12, but I shall not start counting just yet. Of course, I understand the intense feeling among the people of Gibraltar about the harassment that takes place against them; nor do I remotely think that it is justified or necessary. I am involved in these negotiations, even at the risk of finding that, just at the moment, I do not have majority support in Gibraltar. I am glad that it is not my constituency, but that is okay because I know that the people of Blackburn support me in this endeavor, as I suspect do the people of Walsall, although we have no need to put it to the test.

Even though I understand some of the difficulties and complexities of the issue that faces us at the moment, I am involved in the negotiations precisely because I am concerned about that harassment and those obstructions by the Government of Spain. But I also look ahead down the track and see a different environment, in which Gibraltar will have to operate whether or not we reach agreement. I cannot say what the final conclusion will be, but we are working in the best interests of the people of Gibraltar, as well as the United Kingdom.

In case my hon. Friend did not hear this right at the beginning, there is no question that the people of Gibraltar will lose their British citizenship, or their British way of life. Those are absolutes; we made that clear to the Spanish Government at the start, and to lift the veil a little on the negotiations, they have accepted both points. If they had not done so, we would not still be involved in the negotiations.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that many hon. Members on both sides of the House can smell the stench of betrayal and sell-out wafting out from underneath the doors at King Charles street? If, as he says, the people of Gibraltar have an arm-lock on the results of the negotiations and given that he knows perfectly well what the results of the Gibraltarians' considerations on his negotiations will be, would it not be much better for his extremely clever and dedicated team of staff in the Foreign Office to get on with something rather more worth while?

Mr. Straw

The value and importance of this process were recognised 18 years ago by a distinguished Conservative former Foreign Secretary, now Lord Howe, and it was pursued with the active support of the then Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher. We supported the process at that time precisely because of the problems faced by Gibraltarians. There has to be a process of discussion.

As we have heard, despite all the bluster from those on the Opposition Front Bench, they support the process, too. I have not heard one proposal this afternoon from any of those who have a slight difference of emphasis from me in regard to the negotiations about what they would do other than to engage in discussions to seek to resolve the problems for the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

May I point out to my right hon. Friend that there are Labour Members who support the hard work that he is putting in to try to resolve an anachronistic constitution in a modern Europe? People in business in Gibraltar recognise that, if there are no changes to its constitutional status, their businesses will not prosper in the future and they will be denied any real independence. That view is widely held.

Mr. Straw

I have always admired my hon. Friend's independent judgment and the quality of the arguments that he advances.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

If the Foreign Secretary accepts the principles of decolonisation and self-determination, why are the British Government and the Government of Spain, who wish to become the colonising Government in Gibraltar, attempting to construct a joint sovereignty arrangement over the heads of the people of Gibraltar? Such an agreement will be turned down by the people of Gibraltar, because they cannot be bought in that way. However, the agreement will remain as a rebuke and a threat to Gibraltar for long afterwards and in defiance of the people's wishes and, indeed, of the principle of self-determination. What principle of international relations or international law is the right hon. Gentleman following, or is this really about the demands of the Spanish Government and the convenience of the European Union?

Mr. Straw

The principle is that international negotiation is a far better process to follow than the alternative. However, Conservatives Members baulk at that suggestion. We have problems with Spain over Gibraltar, and the Gibraltarians have even greater problems. There are two ways of seeking to resolve such problems. The first is by force of arms and the other is by force of argument. I believe—international law requires this—in using force of argument. Moreover, it is utter nonsense to suggest that we are going over the heads of the people of Gibraltar. We are going to the people of Gibraltar and we shall not just ask for their opinion, because they have a veto over the final conclusion that we come to.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is part of his thinking that the Government of Gibraltar's engagement in this process would enable them to improve Gibraltar's identity and place in Europe? It would also improve and strengthen relations between Britain and Spain and between Britain and the Government of Gibraltar and would not allow those relations to wither away, as they are at present. Does he agree that, although those Labour and Opposition Members who use the language of betrayal and sell-out may be genuine friends of Gibraltar, they do not help the process and are making it even harder for him to accomplish what he is trying to do?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is exactly right. I do not believe that using such misplaced and inaccurate descriptions helps anyone, least of all the people of Gibraltar. I find it difficult to understand how such labels can be attached when the process is open and we want the Chief Minister of Gibraltar to be involved in the negotiations. As that has not been possible to achieve, we are consulting him as much as we can.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will the Foreign Secretary accept that we do not have a dispute with Spain? The right of the Gibraltarians to be involved with the United Kingdom is recognised in an international treaty that is almost 300 years old. What we are experiencing is the unreasonable behaviour of Spanish Governments and the Spanish people. Can he tell the House—if he truly believes in democracy—whether the people of Gibraltar came to the British Government to ask for help in negotiating joint sovereignty with Spain so as to remove some of the problems, or whether they asked him to intercede to get a co-member of the European Union to behave in a civilised and reasonable way?

Mr. Straw

It is a matter of record that the request for the Brussels process arose from discussions between the then Conservative Government and the Spanish Government. It did not arise directly from a request by the Gibraltarian Government. However, we have received many requests for us to sort out the difficulties in Gibraltar. I repeat that the only way to do that is by discussion. That has to be within the Brussels process because the die was cast in 1984 by the Government whom the hon. Gentleman and Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen supported. One part of the negotiations deals with sovereignty because that was what was agreed between the Government of Spain and a Conservative Administration.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)

Has my right hon. Friend been offered from any quarter practical proposals on how to get rid of the restrictions on the people of Gibraltar other than by entering into discussion and negotiation? Can he explain why those who oppose the process think that the status quo, which includes those restrictions, is acceptable and why they think that a process in which the people of Gibraltar have the final say in a referendum is not self-determination?

Mr. Straw

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The answer is no; there have been no alternative practical proposals for resolving the problems—none at all.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

The Foreign Secretary said that there were only two choices: to go to war or to negotiate. There is a third choice, however: to maintain the status quo. That has been successfully achieved in facing down other regimes and can be successful in Gibraltar. Does the right hon. Gentleman honestly believe that even if restrictions are removed for the duration of a referendum campaign and the vote goes against the acceptance of shared sovereignty once he has done his dirty deal with the Spanish, those restrictions will not immediately be reimposed by Spain?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is not using his usual analytical skills on the arguments. I was talking about the two choices that are involved in the process of negotiation; he is talking about the outcome. If proposals are agreed between this Government and the Government of Spain, that outcome will be put to the people of Gibraltar. If and when a referendum takes place, the arguments for those people to consider will be either to maintain the status quo or to have a different future. In the end, that is a matter for the people of Gibraltar.

As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) explained, no other colonial situation has had such a degree of effective self-determination. It did not happen with Hong Kong—those negotiations were carried out by a Conservative Administration who just handed Hong Kong over to China without any suggestion of a referendum—so I do not want to hear any more nonsense about self-determination from the Conservatives.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has made it clear for some time that he would be more than happy to negotiate with Spain on the restrictions placed on Gibraltar because of the effects that Spain claims they have on it? That has not happened because Spain will not talk about anything unless sovereignty is at the head of the agenda. The Foreign Secretary knows perfectly well that the referendum in Gibraltar, whenever it is held, will result in a resounding rejection by the Gibraltarians. We must therefore ask what his agenda is. Does he mean to say to the United Nations that Spain and Britain have agreed on the future of Gibraltar and the problem is merely that Gibraltar has yet to come to terms with it, and all other options are closed?

Mr. Straw

Sovereignty is part of the agenda; it is not a prior condition, but it was agreed as part of the Brussels process. The hon. Gentleman asked me to predict the outcome of the referendum. My track record is poor. I was an active member of the no campaign in 1975. When the four-week campaign began, there was a 2:1 majority in favour of a no vote; at the end, there was a 2:1 majority in favour of a yes vote. I am therefore making no predictions. During that process, people listened to the argument. I hope that if we again agree proposals with the Government of Spain over time and through discussion, we will be able to discuss them in more detail with the people of Gibraltar. In any event, I made it clear yesterday that it will be their decision; we will respect it and we will stand by them whatever it is.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)

May I remind my right hon. Friend that the concept of "two flags, three voices" is fairly similar to the device used in discussions with Argentina and the Falkland Islands, which did not lead to betrayal of the interests of the islanders, any more than my right hon. Friend's present negotiations will lead to betrayal of the Gibraltarians? Will he reinforce his point that a Spain that has to come to the negotiating table knowing that the people of Gibraltar will have the final say on their future is also a Spain that has to negotiate in good faith? He was therefore right in his statement that the process of negotiation is the best way of getting rid of the artificial impediments to Gibraltar's progress imposed by Spain.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his sage observation about negotiations concerning south America and the Falkland Islands. I repeat: we need a process to deal with these problems, and this is the best way of achieving that. I very much wish that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar was taking part in the negotiations. I believe that we have made it possible for him to do so; he takes a different view, which I respect. The invitation remains open.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon)

Can I help the Foreign Secretary to retain at least a fig leaf of credibility in these shoddy dealings, and respond to questions that he has been asked repeatedly by Members on both sides of the House? Will he state categorically that in the event of the people of Gibraltar rejecting the stitch-up, which they surely will, the negotiations and anything relating to them will be taken off the agenda once and for all?

Mr. Straw

In the event of a no vote, the proposals will not be implemented. I cannot rewrite history in the event of a no vote. If there is a no vote, the hon. Gentleman and his Front Bench are asking me to rush to the archives and tear up—

Mr. Ancram

indicated assent.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman says yes; we are to be like Arthur Andersen and shred the records. It is the Enron approach to foreign affairs: to negotiate, to agree proposals, and then when people do not like them—as obviously the Opposition do not—to rush back and destroy all the evidence that there had ever been agreement. I am sorry, I am not following that line; I believe in being straight with the people of Gibraltar, which is what we shall be.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

Is not it true that the Little Englander mentality of people who refuse even to countenance the idea of any kind of talks can only harm the long-term interests of the people of Gibraltar? Is it not true also that the old Franco mentality of people in Spain who refuse to countenance any change in their position can only harm the future of Spain? Would it not make much more sense for the Government of Spain to renounce their long-term aspiration to sole Spanish sovereignty of Gibraltar and for the Government of Gibraltar to take part in the talks as soon as possible?

Mr. Straw

I accept entirely what my hon. Friend says. Spain has imposed restrictions on Gibraltar which we do not accept and do not believe are justified. There is a parody of Spain and the Spanish people among some hon. Members which bears no relationship to the truth. The Kingdom of Spain is a democracy and a member of the European Union. Fifteen times as many British people live happily in Spain as live in the British colony of Gibraltar, and they live there voluntarily. Many Gibraltarians, notwithstanding the restrictions, have a stake in Spain as well. Moreover, although I do not accept most of what is said, if one is going into negotiations, it is a good idea to understand where the other side is coming from. Whether we agree with them or not, some of the concerns of the other side have a foundation that we cannot ignore. The purpose of the negotiations is to try to find a way through. Again, I repeat that not once in the past 40 minutes of discussion has there been any proposal for resolving the problem for the people of Gibraltar, except through the Brussels process.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Why not—[Interruption.] Perhaps I could have the attention of the Foreign Secretary. Why not three voices and three flags?

Mr. Straw

The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer. Because of the treaty of Utrecht.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

In view of the deep hostility felt by the people of Gibraltar towards falling under Spanish sovereignty, shared or otherwise, will the Foreign Secretary tell us what unpleasant circumstances and trick question he is preparing for the referendum?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend asks me a disobliging question. She should not judge the Government by her own standards.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

If the Foreign Secretary cobbles together some deal with Spain which involves the diminution of Gibraltarian sovereignty, and if that question is asked in a referendum and wholeheartedly rejected, as it will be, will he guarantee that the rights of the Gibraltarians as British subjects will be no less vigorously protected by his Government, and that he will no less vigorously pursue the iniquities of the Spanish treatment of Gibraltarians through the EU, which he should have been doing rather more vigorously for some years?

Mr. Straw

I said yesterday, as I have already repeated twice in the House, and I said in Barcelona that if the people of Gibraltar decide to reject the proposals, as they are fully entitled to do—I hope that they will not reject them if we agree them, but I accept the possibility that they may—we will stand by not only our legal but our moral and political obligations to the people of Gibraltar.

One reason why I am committed to this process for resolving the problems faced by Gibraltar and those that arise in respect of Gibraltar in the European Union is that, in my experience as Home Secretary, we ran into difficulties time after time with a number of instruments, when Spain raised problems, sometimes with justification, because of the application or otherwise of the instrument to Gibraltar. The proposals are a way of resolving those problems, as well as making a better future for the people of Gibraltar.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

My right hon. Friend mentioned what might happen if there were an agreement between the Government and the Spanish Government. Will he speculate on what may happen to the people of Gibraltar, their economy and their future if there is no agreement with Spain?

Mr. Straw

That, in the end, is a matter for the people of Gibraltar, but my hon. Friend raises an important question. One thing is certain: the, as it were, duty-free, low tax status of Gibraltar will end over the next four or five years. That has nothing directly to do with the Government of Spain or the UK, but results from decisions principally by the OECD and the EU against such tax-free status. That will change the environment in which Gibraltar operates, and there are some people—I accept that they are a minority at present in Gibraltar—who understand that and believe that Gibraltar has a far better future in a wholly open environment as a full member of the EU. That is likely to be my view, but in the end, it is a matter for the people of Gibraltar to make the choice, because it is their life, not ours.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

Does not the Foreign Secretary think that it was strange and indeed discourteous to the House that at no time during last Thursday's debate in Westminster Hall did the Minister for Europe ever mention the fact that further talks would be taking place yesterday? Does not that illustrate why the House is so suspicious of what the Government are doing?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. He owes an expression of regret to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, because we made that announcement.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Is it not the case, in respect of the events of the past few years, that trying to negotiate an agreed constitutional settlement that is acceptable to the people of Gibraltar is simply hopeless without the prerequisite of confidence-building measures on the part of the Spanish Government? Such measures need to be in place over a period. The suggestion that there are no diplomatic levers that the UK Government can use with Spain short of sending a gunboat into Cadiz is frankly ridiculous.

Mr. Straw

I do not think that that view is shared by Liberal Democrat Front Benchers or by many other people. Between 1987, when the airport agreement failed, and the resumption of negotiations under the Brussels process last year, this Government and previous Governments have sought—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let the Foreign Secretary answer the question.

Mr. Straw

In that period, various diplomatic negotiating devices were tried by Conservative and Labour Administrations. None of them worked, so the proof is there that the Brussels process provides us with the best possible means of solving this matter.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is it not supremely unedifying for our Foreign Secretary to presume to know better than the people and elected Government of Gibraltar what is in their best interests? If he wants to put the issue of sovereignty to rest, should not he quite simply refuse ever to discuss it with Spain? Will he bear it in mind that the last time we tried a joint sovereignty solution—in the Falkland Islands—it merely increased the appetite of those who had malign intentions towards British territory and citizens?

Mr. Straw

I dealt with that point at some length, so I refer the hon. Gentleman to earlier answers.

I should like to point out to the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) that, in Westminster Hall on 31 January, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe specifically announced that the next in the series of ministerial meetings in the Brussels process will be held in London on 4 February."—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 31 January 2002; Vol. 379, c. 138WH.] The right hon. Gentleman owes my right hon. Friend an apology.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Will the Foreign Secretary explain to the House the difference between our relationship with Gibraltar and that of Spain with Ceuta and Manila? Why are there not two separate sets of negotiations in which Spain can change its relationship with Ceuta and Melilla while his Government are seeking to change our relationship with Gibraltar? Furthermore, he said that Gibraltar was in the dock in the European Court of Justice for not applying directives. Of course, it had no political representation concerning those directives. Neither Gibraltar nor its people were represented in any discussions whatever, as they have no directly elected Members of the European Parliament. Will he therefore take this opportunity to confirm the words of the Minister for Europe and tell us that Gibraltarians will not only be guaranteed British citizenship, but have the right to elect their very own Members of the European Parliament?

Mr. Straw

We have already accepted that judgment and work is in hand. Gibraltar would have to be part of another constituency. Let me explain to the House that we have got this problem because of an unsatisfactory outcome to the negotiations in 1713 following a slightly inconclusive result in the war of Spanish succession. That is the truth: in 1713, insufficient attention was given to the prospects 300 years later for negotiations with Spain. That is why we are in a unique legal position in respect of the sovereignty of Gibraltar. Had the treaty of Utrecht resulted in the United Kingdom gaining Gibraltar without any first refusal for Spain, we would not be in our current difficulties. However, the legal base of our title to the Rock is different, and so the problems exist.

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford)

The Foreign Secretary claims that there is no serious alternative to his proposal. Why has not he considered the obvious alternative of giving the people of Gibraltar the same rights as the people of the overseas territories of France and Spain, and allowing them the option of full integration into the United Kingdom?

Mr. Straw

That proposal has not been put before us, but if it happened, all Gibraltar's economic and tax advantages would go.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

I declare my interest as an active member of the all-party group on Gibraltar. The Foreign Secretary has said repeatedly that he wants constructive suggestions about the way forward. Would not he be wiser to recognise that his job as British Foreign Secretary is to represent the British people of Gibraltar in their complaints about Spain's bad behaviour? Since he refuses to do that, will he acknowledge that he has caused additional offence, as one of my Gibraltarian friends with family in my constituency said, by appointing as the Minister responsible someone who is less British than the people of Gibraltar?

Mr. Straw

That shows a certain poverty of argument. Of course I try to represent the interests of the people of Gibraltar in the negotiations; I am the only person at the head of a delegation on our side. I should much prefer Peter Caruana, the elected representative of the people of Gibraltar, to sit alongside me so that there could be two flags and three voices. I look forward to the realisation of that hope.