Examination of witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
and MR RICHARD
20. You are free to disclose that. But I think
you must get the very distinct impression from this Committee,
and I do not think this is just Sir John Stanley and me, I think
it is the feeling of the whole Committee, that the Government
is not approaching this problem sufficiently robustly. And I have
now given you an example of, somewhere, you know and I do not,
whether or not this issue was raised, but, I have to say, if it
was not, and, clearly, if it was raised, it was not raised successfully,
because we did not succeed in getting any concession from the
Spanish in return, if it was not raised, I think that is a terrible
omission on the part of the Government, that we gave this enormously
valuable concession to Spain, for which we will pay a huge part
of the Structural Fund budget, without getting anything in return.
And I just want you to go away from this Committee with a very,
very clear understanding that we think that the Government is
not being robust enough about this, and that this lack of robustness
is not engendering good relations with Spain, if anything, it
is making the relations with Spain worse, and this problem will
go on and on. And this Committee will come back to this issue
again and again and again, so I hope that the Government will
adopt a more robust attitude to it. And I am, I have to say, very
surprised, or I would be, if I were to find out that the issue
was not raised at Nice in connection with this Structural Fund
(Mr Vaz) As I have said to you, Mr Maples, there is
no need for you to be astonished about these matters. I am not
disclosing to you the discussions that took place. We never agree
to a concession to any of our allies unless we get something in
return; that is the nature of British diplomacy. It is not a matter
of which party is in power, it is the whole philosophy of British
diplomacy over the last a hundred years, we will never agree to
something unless we get something back.
21. We have discussed with both you and your
predecessors the Matthews case, where this woman succeeded, despite
the Home Office's view, in getting a judgement which said she
was entitled to vote in the European elections. To our dismay,
the opening response of Her Majesty's Government was that this
would require an amendment to the Treaties, and, both with your
predecessors and yourself, we have pressed you on that, and I
remember you, personally, under pressure from us, indicating that,
"Yes, we'd like to get the agreement of the others,"
which clearly means Spain, "but, if not," and we pressed
you on this, "unilaterally, the United Kingdom would introduce
its own legislation for the next European elections to allow the
people of Gibraltar to vote in the European elections." I
think that was the way it was left, I think I am not doing you
an injustice, Minister, I do not know if you would confirm that
is more or less fair enough, is it?
(Mr Vaz) Yes.
22. Right; well, then, in the latest missive
we have got, this GIBF 4d, we say to you, "Could Her Majesty's
Government let the Committee know, in confidence, if necessary,
what options are being considered for unilateral action to enfranchise
Gibraltarians for European elections by 2004?". And then,
in your reply, you repeat this mantra, which I thought we had
moved away from, namely that it says: "We believe that the
best method of doing so is by amendment to the 1976 EC Act on
Direct Elections, which would require the agreement of other Member
States." You have gone back, or are going back, on what you,
personally, have said to this Committee, and I find that very
disquieting, unless this is an error. So, this afternoon, I give
you this opportunity; will you give an undertaking to Parliament
again that Her Majesty's Government will ensure that the people
of Gibraltar, are on the electoral register, will vote for Members
of the European Parliament at the next European elections, come
hell or high water?
(Mr Vaz) Well, I do not know whether a cliche
is appropriate on such an important issue of this kind. I will
give you this unequivocal undertaking, that we will do everything
within our power, legally, to ensure that the people of Gibraltar
are enfranchised before the 2004 elections.
23. But you are slipping?
(Mr Vaz) I am not slipping.
24. You said, "everything within our power"?
(Mr Vaz) Yes.
25. "Everything within our power;"
so you are going back on what undertakings you have given?
(Mr Vaz) No, Mr Mackinlay, I am not. I know you feel
strongly about this.
26. No; you gave evidence to this Committee,
you acknowledged, you acknowledged that it was something which
this Parliament could do, regardless of what the others said,
and now you are reneging on it?
(Mr Vaz) No, I am not.
27. Minister, have you ruled out unilateral
action by the Government, if we fail to get the agreement of other
(Mr Vaz) No, Mr Chairman, I have not, I have not ruled
that out, we have not. I have made it quite clear, we unequivocally
accept our obligations and we will do everything we possibly can.
There are two options, as he knows, the amendment of the 1976
EC Act, we have taken legal advice, and there is an option, which
we are considering, as we have said, on the last occasion when
we gave evidence, Mr Mackinlay, to take unilateral action for
enfranchisement of the people of Gibraltar. As he knows, as the
Committee will know, unilateral action would mean bringing in
domestic legislation without amending the EC Act, and we are committed
we are not committed to that course of action, we are committed
to considering it.
Chairman: So we have no misunderstanding, by
(Mr Vaz) Are you satisfied, Mr Mackinlay?
29. No; no, I am not.
(Mr Vaz) Why?
30. (Inaudible) considering
(Mr Vaz) No, we have to consider it.
31. Just to be clear, in response to that, there
are two possible options, and if we cannot succeed with the agreement
of our allies we will go forward unilaterally?
(Mr Vaz) I am not giving the option now, Mr Chairman;
that would be a departure. I am saying, these are the options
that are available. Let us deal with them in this way, if I may,
if I may just explain. The Matthews judgement, in my view, has
to be given effect, it has to be, we have an unequivocal obligation
to ensure that we comply with Matthews.
32. Before 2004, presumably?
(Mr Vaz) The third point, we are
33. Was that a `yes'?
(Mr Vaz) If I could just do my third point.
34. You did not answer it?
(Mr Vaz) I am trying to, because I am actually answering.
35. Finish first, and then Dr Godman.
(Mr Vaz) We are seeking enfranchisement before the
2004 elections. There are two options, either an amendment to
the 1976 EC Act, or the option of taking unilateral action to
enfranchise Gibraltar; unilateral action would mean bringing in
domestic legislation without amending the Act. We want to do this.
Do not attack us, Mr Mackinlay, on the grounds that we do not
want to do this; we want to do this.
36. May I say, Minister, that I agree wholeheartedly
with John Maples' observation that the Spanish ought to be wooing
the people of Gibraltar, rather than haranguing and harassing
them, as they have done down the years. May I say, also, I agree
with, fully support, the principle of consent; that is, if the
Gibraltarians seek to remain United Kingdom citizens then that
wish must be honoured, not only by the Government but by Spain,
other members of the European Union and, indeed, the United Nations.
Coming back to Senor Pique's address, he said, and I am quoting
from the first paragraph on page 9: "The British attitude,
apart from breaching what has been agreed, is also a contradiction;
they reject dialogue on questions of sovereignty but appeal for
it on `co-operation'." And that is in direct contradistinction
with what you say, in your letter to the Chairman, and I quote:
"Provided the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht are respected,
the question of constitutional reform in Gibraltar is a matter
for the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, although, as your Committee
highlighted in its 1999 report on Gibraltar, Spanish concerns
are clearly a matter both sides will wish to bear in mind."
Now where the Irish Republic is concerned, and I know there are
many more differences in Irish/British relations than there are
vis-a"-vis Northern Ireland and Gibraltar in Spanish/British
relations, we saw successive administrations here arguing that
Articles 2 and 3 should be, if you like, abrogated of the Irish
constitution, which, of course, made territorial claims on Northern
Ireland. And what we said, again, all of us, in the House of Commons
and elsewhere, support the principle of consent, in relation to
the people of Northern Ireland, that is, if they choose to stay
as British Citizens then that has to be honoured and protected.
Why have you not made similar arguments, in your discussions,
or negotiations, with the Spanish, that the principle of consent,
in relation to the UN Charter, in relation to the democratic rights
of the people who live in Gibraltar, must be honoured by all parties,
and that is, of course, especially true of Spain?
(Mr Vaz) I think that Dr Godman will know that, in
all the discussions that we have had on Gibraltar, because this
is not a new issue, as you have said, the Committee has revisited
it on many occasions, the people of Gibraltar live with the situation;
their wishes and the wishes of the Government of Gibraltar are
paramount, and we will continue to listen carefully to what they
have to say. You will know the results of the last time the people
of Gibraltar decided to exercise their views on these matters,
there is no reason to believe that that has changed, and that
we will continue always to approach this matter on the basis that
we have always done so, the consent of the people, the wishes
of the people and the wishes of the Government.
37. So you reject the claim, or the allegation,
that you are irresolute in terms of defending the principle of
consent, when you discuss Gibraltar with your Spanish colleagues?
(Mr Vaz) I totally reject it.
Sir John Stanley
38. Minister, I would put it to you that it
is absolutely demonstrable, from abundant evidence, that it is
the consistent and determined policy of the Spanish Government
to stunt and arrest the economic and business development of Gibraltar,
and this is reflected most clearly, I suggest, in their deliberate
policy of restricting the availability of telephone lines into
Gibraltar. In our Committee, we have been raising this absolutely
consistently since our report of June 1999, and we recommended,
in that report, "We recommend that the Government take all
steps open to it under the Treaties to ensure that a determination
is made by the European Commission, with no further delay, in
the case of telephone operations." We have returned to this
issue again and again, and we returned to it in the latest series
of questions we put to you, to which you replied in GIBF 4d, and
the Government's reply, on every occasion, is simply, "We
are raising this." You open your reply to our questions with
this sentence: "The Government frequently raises with Spain
the issue of the shortage of telephone numbers in Gibraltar."
And you end your reply: "The issue was raised substantively
with Spain at talks at senior official level in Madrid on 17 November."
Minister, it is patently clear that raising this issue is simply
producing no results, and we have an instance here of, effectively,
economic sanctions being conducted by an EU Member State against
a British dependency. It is totally intolerable. So I must ask
you, as your policy of raising this issue is producing absolutely
zero results, when are you going to adopt a policy which is going
to enable Gibraltar to have the access to telephone lines and
the proper business communications that should be available to
each and every territorial area within the EU?
(Mr Vaz) I disagree with Sir John's analysis. I think
we are doing everything that we can, and I will ask Mr Hill now
to brief us on the latest letter that we have sent to the European
Commission. When I spoke to Chief Minister Caruana, on the last
occasion, and, indeed, with the Governor today, this is an issue
that does remain uppermost in their minds; it is important for
39. (Inaudible) ?
(Mr Vaz) Yes; and they expressed it to me, and, therefore,
it is now uppermost in my mind, Mr Mackinlay. My mind is always
full of Gibraltar, because it is an important issue, and it is
important to them, and, as a result of it being raised with me,
it was raised again. Mr Hill will tell us the latest position
(Mr Hill) Our permanent representative has written
again to the senior Community official, Commission official, dealing
with this matter, again, stressing the urgency of the issue and
also stressing that urgent action is required. And, also, as our
memorandum stated, we have been in contact with Spain, we have
raised it at our talks which we had in November, and we are very
much hoping, also, to continue to raise it with the Spanish Government
Sir John Stanley
40. But, Minister, that answer is just a reiteration
of a policy that has failed totally, ever since this Committee
has been raising it with you, for over two years. Letter-writing,
raising, is not producing any results?
(Mr Vaz) I am not sure, Sir John, what you would expect
us to do?
Mr Maples: Take infraction proceedings.
Sir John Stanley
41. It is open to the British Government actually
to negotiate in a very much more tough way; as you constantly
say, other EU Member States want things from us, and we simply
are not prepared actually to play a hard ball with the Spanish
Government in relation to Gibraltar. I am afraid, that is the
only conclusion that, certainly, I, for one, can draw from what
(Mr Vaz) I cannot accept that, Mr Chairman, I cannot
42. Minister, let me wind up in this way. One,
I thank you, on behalf of the Committee; but the message is very
clear, there is a total consensus in this Committee that the policy
of Spain in respect of Gibraltar, the border, the telephones,
is wholly intolerable and unacceptable. There is, equally, a consensus
on the Committee that the policy both of the previous administration
and of this Government has not been robust enough, in respect
of Spain. We have the option of infraction proceedings at the
European Union; we understand that those officials at the European
Union will want a quiet life, they will say that "This is
a bilateral matter; please go away." Our job is to ensure
that it does not go away and that Spain no longer has the free
rein to carry out those policies which we, all of us, believe
to be intolerable. Now I cannot say what the successor Committee
will do after the election, I would hope that they will be equally
resolute on behalf of Gibraltar, and anyone from this Committee
who stays on, I am confident, will be very ready to harry you,
or your successor, in that respect. But I hope that is the message
you do take away, that, perhaps, for the Foreign Office, Spain
is the big picture; for us, the injustices to Gibraltar are an
equally big picture.
(Mr Vaz) May we follow the (Salmon ?) procedures,
and give me the right of reply, Mr Chairman?
(Mr Vaz) I understand what you are saying, but can
I say to you this. We have a number of senior officials working
on a daily basis with Gibraltar, with the Government, with the
Governor; ministerial time is taken up with this issue constantly.
I can assure you we are doing everything we possibly can on these
crucial issues, and we will continue to do our best in order to
achieve a satisfactory solution for the people of Gibraltar.
Chairman: Thank you.
1 Note by witness: sentence should read . .
. we are committed to considering that. Back