The Case for
 The Gibraltar

 House of Lords
 October 1998

 The amendment
 was not carried
 because of
 opposition from
 The Labour

Original Text

European Parliamentary Elections Bill
Extract from Hansard 12 Oct 1998

Clause 1 [Number of MEPs, electoral regions and electoral system]: Lord Bethell moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert-- ("(2) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, "United Kingdom", "Great Britain" and "England" include Gibraltar.").

Lord Bethell: My Lords, I make no apology for raising again this matter which was debated in your Lordships' House in Committee on 24th June. I believe that the amendment raises an important principle of the right of universal franchise. I hope that this House will consider the principle carefully today and decide on a solution which will be to the benefit of all the voting peoples of Europe and not just of most of them.

I hope also that the Minister will have something encouraging to say. On 24th June he expressed his sympathy for the people of Gibraltar, who at the moment are not entitled to vote in the European elections. Nearly four months have elapsed since then and it will be interesting to see into what practical form his sympathy has evolved since that date.

Before beginning, I should declare an interest in that on 10th September I was the guest of the Gibraltar Government for the celebrations of their national day. Your Lordships may be interested to hear that on that day at least half the voting population of Gibraltar assembled in the main square, demanding the right to vote on 10th June 1999. I also have an interest in that since we last discussed this matter I have been selected as a prospective Conservative candidate in the European elections next year and I suppose it is just conceivable that the electors of Gibraltar may have the chance to vote for me and the others who are on my list. That is rather a remote matter of interest but something which I suppose needs to be declared.

I believe that the case for allowing Gibraltar voters to take part in the European elections is unanswerable. Certainly it has not been answered by any Minister over the past 20 years. Gibraltar is part of the European Union and its citizens are citizens of the European Union. They are also citizens of the United Kingdom for European Community purposes. That is all in the book of words. They are, I am sorry to say, the only EU citizens who cannot vote in European elections: 17,000 out of 300 million voters are unable to vote. That disability does not burden the people of the dependent territories or of the overseas territories of other member states. The people of the Spanish enclaves--of Ceuta and Melilla and the Canary Islands--are entitled to vote although they do not pay European taxation. The people of the Dutch Antilles vote as part of the Dutch contribution to European elections. The people of the French islands of Reunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique and others also take part. Only Gibraltar is discriminated against in that way. For the life of me, I cannot understand why.

The Single European Act was signed by my noble friend Lady Chalker in 1985. It states that,

"the European Parliament, elected by universal suffrage, is an indispensable means of expression for the democratic peoples of Europe".

The European Parliament, according to that, is elected by universal suffrage not by universal suffrage minus 17,000. All the peoples of the European Union should be entitled to vote. Furthermore, that question has become part of the European Convention on Human Rights which states, in Article 3 of the first protocol, that member states undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot to enable people to elect their legislature.

Again, that matter affects the people of Gibraltar as much as any one of us or any citizen of any other member state. They have no person to whom they can write or refer a problem in the way that we do with our MEP. Often they need to raise questions of commerce and other European issues. At the moment they are unable to do so. As the Minister knows, that matter is now before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It seems that the advice I have received on that conflicts with that received by the Minister, but the matter will no doubt be worked out in due course.

The question of the right to universal suffrage is also mentioned in the 1977 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed by the institutions of the European Union. As it happens, Mr. Roy Jenkins was President of the Commission and Dr. David Owen was Chairman of the Council of Ministers. They were two of the three signatories of that statement which supports the European Convention on Human Rights on the matter of universal suffrage.

I know that the Minister takes seriously the 1976 Act on direct elections which states that the provisions of that Act apply to the UK alone. I realise that there is a conflict between that paragraph and the various other international agreements that I have quoted. However, I believe that, in as much as Gibraltar citizens are UK citizens for EU purposes, it makes sense in terms of fairness and justice, and perhaps in law, to include them in the provisions made for UK voters. Certainly, it seems unfair and unjust that they alone in the European Union should be excluded. As to the law, we are in the hands of the lawyers who give us advice.

With respect, I believe that it is part of your Lordships' duty to look after the people of Gibraltar in this matter. We are their stewards. They have no standing in matters of foreign policy. We, part of the British Parliament, are responsible for ensuring that their rights are protected. I hope that that is what your Lordships will do in this debate and in the Division Lobby.

Article 73 of the United Nations charter states that members of the UN: "recognise the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these [dependent] territories are paramount".

I suggest that the interests of the people of Gibraltar in this matter are paramount and that they are more important than any irritation or annoyance that might be caused to the Spanish Government if we go ahead and pass the amendment. I realise that we do not want to annoy foreign governments. Mr. Blair does not want to annoy the Chinese Government over questions of human rights in China. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office may not want to annoy Spain over the question of European elections, but I believe that this principle is more important than that. Therefore, I commend it, as encapsulated in the amendment, to the House. I beg to move.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Bethell and congratulate him on pursuing this cause so persistently and courageously, as always.

We discussed the issue thoroughly in Committee on a different amendment which had support from all sides of the House. I was disappointed by the result of the Division on that amendment. I rise only to remind your Lordships that we had on that occasion a petition from 90 per cent. of the people of Gibraltar, asking for the right to vote in European elections. Although I am a great friend of Spain, have many Spanish friends and take seriously our good relations with Spain, nevertheless I think it important for your Lordships to support this request to ensure fairness and justice for that disenfranchised corner of Europe, for the people of Gibraltar. They should have the opportunity to vote not only in the next European elections, but in all subsequent elections. I support the amendment.

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