Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence



  Thank you for your letter of 30 January to Robin Cook, which I am answering on his behalf.

  You raised a number of questions on Gibraltar.

When does the European Commission expect to receive the observations it has requested from Spain on border delays, and what action is HMG taking press the Commission to obtain the observations?

  While the UK remains in close touch with the Commission on this issue, communications between the European Commission and Member States concerning possible infringements of Community law are confidential. It is for the Commission to set a deadline for responses to their enquiries and to determine their response.

Why is it not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all occasions on which the issue of border delays has been raised with Spanish Ministers and officials?

  We do not record every occasion when border delays are raised. They are numerous. But we take up Gibraltar issues, including border delays, frequently with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Madrid and with other Spanish authorities. For instance, the Embassy wrote to the Guardia Civil on 11 January to follow up a discussion between the Ambassador and the head of the Guardia Civil on border issues.

When was the issue of Gibraltar borders delays last specifically raised by (a) Mr Vaz (b) you (c) the Prime Minister with your Spanish counterparts?

  I raised the issue of border delays with Sr de Miguel in Madrid on 24 May 2000 and again in London on 27 October 2000. The Secretary of State raised the question with the Spanish Foreign Minister, Sr Pique, in London on 24 January. The Prime Minister has also consistently emphasised to Sr Aznar the importance of material improvements for Gibraltar, including addressing border delays and telephones. He last raised this when they met in Madrid on 27 October 2000.

Why does the Government consider it "premature" to consider action against Spain under Article 227 in respect of border delays? In what circumstances does HMG believe that it would be appropriate to take this action? Will the Government now set a date on which it will take action if the Commission has not satisfactorily resolved the issue?

  We have consistently said that it is for the Commission to take action against Spain in accordance with its responsibilities for the enforcement of Community law. The Commission has confirmed that it has now written to Spain on the issue of border delays. No advantage would be served by the UK bringing proceedings under Article 227 at this stage. We will keep the possibility of Article 227 proceedings under review in light of progress in the action now being taken by the Commission.

Does HMG now accept the Gibraltar Government figures for the length of border delays? Were the figures given in the memorandum of 5 January based on Gibraltar Government figures, and, if not, why not?

  Both the Government of Gibraltar and we receive the same raw data for average border delays over hourly periods from the Immigration and Security Officers at the border. The Government of Gibraltar and we then interpret these figures. We have used the hourly figures to calculate an average for the period 0900-2100 at the request of the Committee. Most traffic crosses the border during these times.

What response has been received from (a) the European Commission and (b) Spain in response to HMG pressure for further progress on telephone numbers of Gibraltar?

  As set out in its Memorandum of 5 January 2001, the Government has been in regular contact with the Commission on the issue of telephone numbers. The Commission wrote to both the UK Government and the Spanish Government asking them to seek a bilateral solution. HMG passed a detailed position paper to the Spanish MFA in June 2000 but, although the issue has been raised regularly with Spanish Ministers and officials, we have not yet received a formal response. We will continue to press the Spanish Government on this subject. But, as a solution has not emerged from bilateral discussions, the Commission has made it clear that it will now resume its consideration of the subject.

When will HMG begin infraction proceedings in respect of telephone services?

  The complaint concerning the operation of Gibraltar telephones was brought before the Commission by Gibtel and Gibraltar Nynex Communications. It is a private competition complaint. The EC Treaty confers primary responsibility for the enforcement of Community law on the Commission. It is for the Commission to initiate infraction proceedings. In particular, the Commission maintains significant authority in competition issues. The Government for its part has supported this complaint in its dealings with the Commission.

Why is it not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all occasions on which the issue of telephone numbers for Gibraltar has been raised with Spanish Ministers and officials?

  As with the border delays, the issue of telephone numbers is mentioned frequently in exchanges between our Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, and with Spanish officials here.

Can the Government state categorically that Gibraltarian citizens will be able to vote in Gibraltar at the 2004 European elections?

  The Government is committed to fulfilling its obligation to give effect to the Matthews judgment and is seeking enfranchisement before the 2004 elections. Implementing the Matthews judgement would require primary legislation in the United Kingdom.

Is the Committee correct in concluding that the Brussels Process is moribund?

  No. The Spanish Government has recently made clear the importance it attaches to the continuation of the Process. While there have been no meetings of the Brussels Process at Ministerial level since December 1997, we have been seeking to make progress on issues such as border delays and telephones to improve confidence and cooperation.

What is the current position with regard to the repair of HMS Tireless? When is she expected to leave Gibraltar? What representations have been received this year from the Spanish Government and the Government of Gibraltar about her repair?

  The current stage of the repair of HMS Tireless began on 23 January. There has been good progress with the repair work and the welding has been completed. It remains the Government's firm intention that the repair should be completed by the end of March and that HMS Tireless should leave Gibraltar as soon as possible thereafter. This year there have been further ministerial contacts with the Governments of Gibraltar and Spain regarding progress with the repair and the Chairman of the Naval Nuclear Regulatory Panel has held further meetings with the independent panel of experts appointed by the Government of Gibraltar and with representatives of the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council and other Spanish authorities. The Government will continue to keep both Governments fully informed of progress with the repair.

  Your Clerk wrote separately on 13 February to the FCO Parliamentary about Sr Pique's speech in the Spanish Parliament on Gibraltar on 8 February. We are sending the Clerk an unofficial translation of that speech. Your Clerk also asked for the FCO's comments on the speech. I will write separately on this.

18 February 2001

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