Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Sixth Report


The Foreign Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. This Committee first reported on Gibraltar in June 1999[7] and in July 2000 published a follow-up Report.[8] On 8 June 2000 our first Report was the subject of a Westminster Hall Debate.[9] On 16 November we wrote to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) posing a number of questions; the Department responded on 5 January 2001.[10] We requested further clarification on 30 January 2001 and received a response on 18 February.[11] After considering the memoranda we decided to hear oral evidence from Mr Keith Vaz MP, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.[12]

2. This Report reviews three issues that have been themes of our inquiries into Gibraltar: illegal border delays between Gibraltar and Spain, the restriction on telephone numbers, and the enfranchisement of all British Citizens resident in Gibraltar in time for the 2004 European Parliamentary Elections. They have yet to be resolved and we hope our successor Committee will return to them early in the next Parliament. We also consider the new Single European Sky policy and the Government's approach to British/Spanish relations.

Border delays between Gibraltar and Spain

3. Our first Report on Gibraltar commented that the Spanish Government regularly applied pressure on Gibraltar by closing the border or restricting severely traffic across it.[13] Since 29 January 1999, following a dispute over fishing rights, this has been a constant practice of the Spanish Government. FCO statistics setting out hourly delays clearly demonstrate the problem.[14] The latest set of statistics, covering the period June-December 2000, is appended to this Report.[15] The British Government complained to the Spanish Government that the delays were excessive and unjustifiable and, in 1999, the then Minister for Europe, Joyce Quin, told us that the Commission had undertaken to look into the matter.[16] Our Report concluded that the border delays were unacceptable, and that if the Commission was unwilling to take swift action itself, the British Government should invoke Article 227 against Spain.[17]

4. Following the debate on our Report on Gibraltar in Westminster Hall, we wrote to the FCO requesting updates on border delays. The FCO responded with two memoranda, both of which were published with our follow-up Report.[18] In the second memorandum,[19] we asked the FCO if it could reconcile its figures for average vehicle delays with those given to us by the Government of Gibraltar.[20] The FCO told us that their figures were calculated by taking the maximum delay time for each hour between 0900 hours and 2100 hours and dividing these figures by the number of hours. The Chief Secretary of the Government of Gibraltar told us that its figures were calculated on delay times throughout the 24 hours of the day.[21] There is no discrepancy between the two sets of figures for the maximum delay whether on entry or exit.

5. Commenting on the discrepancy on the figures for average vehicle delay times, Mr Caruana, Chief Minister of Gibraltar said that he had asked his officials formally to appraise the FCO that the Gibraltar Government figures represented the correct, official statistics and that, in future, these should be used when imparting information.[22] In evidence to us, Mr Vaz undertook to ensure that only one method of accounting would be used.[23]

6. In November 2000 and January 2001 we wrote to the FCO asking what progress the Commission had made on border delays. The Department told us that the United Kingdom Permanent Representation in Brussels was in frequent contact with the Commission, at various levels, and noted that the Commission had said it "considered that the checks conducted at the border which lead to these delays could not be proportionate to the legal and practical objectives they are intended to pursue."[24] In evidence to us, Mr Vaz explained that the Commission had "opened a fiche, in respect of infraction proceedings, and they are in correspondence...with the Spanish authorities."[25] However, the Minister was unable to give us an indication of when the Commission would report, stating that it was "for the Commission to set a deadline for responses to their enquiries and to determine their response."[26]

7. We also asked the Government if it was considering invoking Article 227. The FCO argued that, as the Commission was taking up the matter with Spain "it would be premature for the UK to consider the possibility of action under Article 227 at this stage." When pressed on the Government's unwillingness to invoke Article 227, Mr Vaz said "it is very difficult [to give] assurances about something that is going to happen in the future. I can give you this assurance, we will pursue [the issue of border delays] now, we will pursue the Commission, and make sure that what we have requested is achieved."[27] We note that this has now been before the Commission since 11 February 1999.[28] We recommend that the British Government give formal notice now to the Spanish Government that if border delays are not brought down significantly to a reasonable length by a specified date it will commence proceedings in the European Court of Justice under Article 227.

Restriction on telephone numbers in Gibraltar

8. Our first Report also highlighted the problems with telephone numbers in Gibraltar. We were told by the Government of Gibraltar that it was unable to comply with EU telephone liberalisation directives because of Spain's refusal to recognise Gibraltar's international dialling code.[29] As a result Spain refused to allocate any more than 30,000 telephone numbers on the Spanish system.[30] In 1996, two Gibraltarian telecommunication companies, Gibtel and Nynex, took up the matter with the European Commission. We asked for the Government's position on the case and were told by the FCO that it was for the Commission to decide on private complaints. However, the Department told us that it took an active interest and had "urged the Commission to examine carefully the arguments put forward by the complainants and to find an early solution."[31]

9. On 16 November 2000 we wrote to the FCO asking what responses it had received from the Commission on progress in the case. We also asked for a schedule of the occasions when Ministers and officials raised this issue both with their Spanish counterparts and with the European Commission. The Department answered that it was not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all the occasions but that it was frequently raised with Spain.[32] The FCO informed us that the Commission had written to the United Kingdom Permanent Representative on 7 June urging that a bilateral solution be found. The Government's response to the Commission of 26 June indicated that it was willing to initiate discussions with the Spanish Government. The Government wrote again to the Commission on 28 September and received a response on 14 November in which the Commission noted that a bilateral solution had not been reached and indicated that the Commission was continuing to consider its position.[33]

10. In its memorandum of 18 February, the FCO told us that it had passed a detailed position paper to the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in June 2000 but although the issue had been raised regularly with Spanish Ministers and officials, no formal response had been received. The Department also stated that the Commission had made it clear that it would now resume its consideration of the subject.[34] FCO officials told us that the United Kingdom Permanent Representative had written again to the senior Commission official stressing that urgent action was required.[35] When the Minister was questioned on the effectiveness of the Government's negotiations he did not accept the charge that the Government was not prepared to play hard-ball with the Spanish Government in relation to Gibraltar:[36] "I think we are doing everything that we can"[37] he said. We note that the issue was first put before the Commission in 1996, and there is a danger that the concept of 'mañana' will be given a new dimension by this affair. We conclude that the Spanish Government is deliberately trying to curtail the development of Gibraltar as a commercial centre and that it is unacceptable that Spain's inadequate allocation of telephone numbers to Gibraltar remains unresolved 5 years after it was put before the Commission in 1996. We recommend that the Government take a far firmer line with both the Spanish Government and the EU Commission on this issue. We further recommend that the Department examine the scope provided under EU Treaty legislation for the British Government to take this issue to the European Court of Justice and report its conclusions in its Response to this Report.

2004 European Parliamentary Elections

11. In February 1999, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held that the United Kingdom had breached Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention of Human Rights, ruling that Ms Denise Matthews, a British citizen resident in Gibraltar, was denied the right to participate in elections to the European Parliament.[38] Following the judgement, the then Minister for Europe, Joyce Quin, told the House that the Government would be "taking all available steps to secure an extension of the EP franchise to Gibraltar."[39] The Government's preferred solution is to amend the 1976 EC Act on Direct Elections[40] and the text of a proposed amendment was tabled in the General Affairs Group on 16 March 1999.[41] However, the amendment needs unanimity and is therefore open to the threat of veto from other Member States, including Spain.

12. The alternative option open to the Government is to act unilaterally, which would enable Gibraltar citizens to vote in the elections without prior amendment of the 1976 EC Act. In its memorandum, the Department states that it is assessing "the legal and practical implications of such action [and] how Gibraltar might, for the purposes of elections to the European parliament, become part of a United Kingdom multi-member Constituency."[42] When asked to state categorically that Gibraltarian citizens would be able to vote in Gibraltar at the 2004 European elections the Department responded "the Government is committed to fulfilling its obligation to give effect to the Matthews judgement and is seeking enfranchisement before the 2004 elections."[43] In evidence to the Committee, Mr Vaz was asked a similar question. "I will give you this unequivocal undertaking," the Minister replied, "we will do everything within our power, legally, to ensure that the people of Gibraltar are enfranchised before the 2004 elections."[44] We recommend that the Department in its Response to this Report set out how it intends to ensure that the people of Gibraltar are enfranchised before the 2004 elections.

Gibraltar Airport and the Single European Sky

13. Our first Report on Gibraltar also set out in detail the dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain over Gibraltar's airport.[45] The airport is adjacent to the border and its development would bring important economic benefits both to Gibraltar and to the region.[46] Unfortunately, we found that 'the airport and air services have become a tangle of disagreement between London, Madrid and Gibraltar.'[47] We concluded that this was one area where the two Governments could make real progress and recommended 'that the British Government take advantage of its ownership of the airport to facilitate a new agreement for the joint use of Gibraltar airport.'[48] We are dismayed that, despite the Government's undertaking 'to work towards arrangements acceptable to both sides,'[49] no agreement has been reached, and are concerned about the effect that its absence appears to be having on wider aviation initiatives within Europe, primarily the proposal for the Single European Sky. We recommend that the Government in its response to this Report sets out how it intends to achieve progress towards an agreement on Gibraltar Airport.

14. The Stockholm Summit on 23-24 March reaffirmed the European Union's intention to improve air traffic management in Europe with the creation of the Single European Sky.[50] However, recent press reports have indicated that the dispute between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar's airport may delay its introduction.[51] In his statement to the House on the Stockholm summit, the Prime Minister stated that "The position of Britain and Spain over Gibraltar remains subject to negotiation over how the policy will affect Gibraltar," but was confident that this would not interfere with any agreement.[52] We hope this policy will not become a casualty of Britain and Spain's relations over Gibraltar. It is possible that the fact that the dispute over Gibraltar may block what is a generally welcomed policy will have the beneficial effect of bringing the dispute to the attention of other EU Members. We recommend that the Department in its Response to this Report states whether the Spanish Government is co-operating fully and expeditiously with the intended introduction of the Single European Sky.

Government's approach to British/Spanish relations

15. During the evidence session, we made it clear to Mr Vaz that the Government's approach to Spain was not sufficiently robust with respect to Gibraltar. Mr Vaz defended the Government's approach and assured us that it was doing "everything [it] possibly can on these crucial issues," and would continue to do its best "in order to achieve a satisfactory solution for the people of Gibraltar."[53] We well understand and are glad that our bilateral relations with Spain are very close in other areas and our co-operation on the generality of EU issues are very close and should be nurtured.

16. However, a recent speech by the Spanish Foreign Minister Sr Pique to the Spanish Senate highlighted the hardline approach taken by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Gibraltar. In his speech, Sr Pique levelled many charges against Gibraltar, including:[54]

    "The Gibraltarian economy which once depended on the British military base, has become a parasite economy that, far from producing anything, lives off Spain.

    If its financial centre has blossomed, and there are more than 80,000 companies registered, that is thanks to the permissiveness and opaqueness of its financial and company system, given that, among other factors, they have not transposed the main Community directives in this field.

    If the [border] controls are flawed at all, it would be in being too lax and permissive with respect to the enormous 'duty-free' shop directed at the Spanish market which Gibraltar represents."

17. We questioned the validity of these assertions and asked the FCO to comment.[55] Mr Vaz wrote refuting the various specific criticisms, in particular in respect of Gibraltar's finance centre, its economy and its implementation of EU legislation. "Far from being a parasite economy, Gibraltar offers employment to many Spanish citizens, [and] Gibraltar's record on the implementation of EU legislation has improved significantly over the past few years following sustained efforts by the Government of Gibraltar."[56]

18. When Mr Vaz came before us he was questioned further on Sr Pique's speech. On financial propriety, he explained that, while the Government of Gibraltar was responsible for implementing EU Directives, he was satisfied that Gibraltar was complying in the best way it could.[57] However, in spite of the content of Sr Pique's speech, no formal rebuttal has been issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. When pressed, Mr Vaz told us that he would reread the speech, and if he thought that it merited any further action he would consider what to do.[58] We are not aware of any action which has been taken by the Government since Mr Vaz's rereading of the speech. We recommend that the Department should have a firm policy of publicly rebutting factually inaccurate statements and unproven allegations made publicly by Spanish Ministers about Gibraltar, and we wish to be assured by the Department in its Response to this Report that such a policy will be followed.


19. We fully recognise that the present Government inherited a number of the problems over Gibraltar. However, we remain very concerned about the lack of progress on the enfranchisement of British citizens resident in Gibraltar and in resolving the disputes over border delays and telephone numbers. Gibraltar lies within the territorial area of the EU. We expect the Government to ensure that Gibraltar fulfills its obligations under EU law, but above all, to uphold the rights of Gibraltar and Gibraltarians under the EU Treaties with the same determination and rigour as it would in any part of the United Kingdom.

7   Fourth Report, Session 1998-99, Gibraltar, HC 366. Back

8   Ninth Report, Session 1999-2000, Gibraltar Follow-up, HC 863. Back

9   HC Deb 8 June 2000, col. 117WHff. Back

10   Ev. p. 1. Back

11   Ev. p. 9. Back

12   QQ1-43. Back

13   ibid., para. 27. Back

14   HC 366, Ev. pp. 53-60. Back

15   Ev. pp. 3-9. Back

16   ibid., QQ16, 20-21. Back

17   Article 227 was inserted into the Treaty Establishing the European Community by the Treaty of Amsterdam. The provisions of Article 227 would allow the UK to take the Spanish Government to the European Court of Justice for the obstruction of free movement across the Gibraltar/Spain border. Back

18   Ninth Report, Session 1999-2000, Gibraltar Follow-up, HC 863, Appendix 3 and 4. Back

19   ibid., Ev. p. 6. Back

20   HC 863, Ev. p. 13-51. Back

21   Ev. p. 18. Back

22   Ev. p. 18. Back

23   Q1.  Back

24   Ev. p. 1, para. 1. Back

25   Q9. Back

26   Ev. p. 9. Back

27   Q12.  Back

28   Ev. p. 17. Back

29   HC 366, Ev. p. 44 para. 98.4. Back

30   ibid., para. 67. Back

31   ibid., Ev. p. 122. Back

32   Ev. p. 2, para. 5. Back

33   Ev. p. 2, para. 5. Back

34   Ev. p. 10. Back

35   Q39. Back

36   Q41. Back

37   Q38. Back

38   HC 366, para. 88. Back

39   HC Deb 2 March 1999 col. 684; HC 366, Ev. p. 2, para. 10. Back

40   The full title of the Act is The Act Concerning the Election of the Representatives of the Assembly by Direct Universal Suffrage. Back

41   HC Deb 21 April 1999 col. 569. Back

42   Ev. p. 2, para. 6. Back

43   Ev. p. 11. Back

44   Q22. Back

45   HC 366, paras. 35-41. Back

46   As an example of such benefits, we cited the precedent of Basel/Mulhouse airport where passengers can travel directly to and from either Switzerland or France. Back

47   HC 366, para. 35. Back

48   HC 366, para. 41. Back

49   Cm 4892, p. 4. Back

50   Presidency conclusions, para. 17. Back

51   The Guardian, 22 March 2001. Back

52   HC Deb 26 March col. 683. Back

53   Q43. Back

54   An informal translation provided by the FCO has been placed in the Library. Back

55   Ev. p. 11. Back

56   ibid. Back

57   Q4. Back

58   Q8. Back

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