Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Members present:

Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Mr David ChidgeyMr John Maples
Sir Patrick CormackMr Bill Olner
Mr Fabian HamiltonMr Greg Pope
Mr Eric IllsleySir John Stanley
Andrew MackinlayMs Gisela Stuart

Letter to the Chairman from Rt Hon Peter Hain MP, Minister of State for Europe

  1.  I write in response to the letter of 20 August from the Committee's Clerk, seeking a note on developments since the Government's response[3] (dated July 2001) to the Committee's Sixth Report[4] (dated April 2001).

2.  The Foreign Secretary and I held talks under the Brussels Process, the first for some three and a half years, with Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Piqueé in London on 26 July, thereby re-establishing the dialogue on a range of issues concerning Gibraltar. Jack Straw and I firmly believe that there currently exists an opportunity, through this dialogue, to make progress on a wide range of issues affecting Gibraltar. Our overall objective is to establish a normal relationship between Spain and Gibraltar, and a stable and prosperous future for all Gibraltarians.

  3.  Jack Straw drew the attention of the House to the resumption of the Brussels Process during the debate on the Queen's speech, underlining two key aspects of our approach:

    —  that it was our firm intention that the Government of Gibraltar should be fully engaged in this process; and

    —  that the Government would continue to stand by its obligations to the people of Gibraltar set out in the Preamble to the Order in Council establishing the Gibraltar Constitution.

  4.  I sent you under cover of my letter of 30 July3[5] the joint statement issued by the Foreign Secretary and Senor Piqué after the meeting on 26 July in which they confirmed that they would warmly welcome the attendance of Chief Minister Caruana at future meetings.

  5.  We have also reflected carefully on the views on the Process expressed in the past by the Committee. I am also conscious that many Gibraltarians view the Brussels Process with suspicion. But we want Gibraltar to be able to play its full part in the changing EU, and not to be left behind. When I visited Gibraltar in September I encouraged what I believe to be a healthy debate on Gibraltar's future. I enclose with this letter copies of the article I wrote for the Gibraltar Chronicle at the time of my visit and a subsequent interview with Dominique Searle, Editor of the Chronicle, both of which will, I hope, be of interest to the Committee4[6] . When there I was at pains to stress the unequivocal nature of our constitutional commitment to the people of Gibraltar. I explained that under the Brussels Process we are committed to discussing sovereignty issues, as well as issues of practical co-operation, but with no predetermined outcome. Indeed, Jack Straw agreed with Senor Piqué on 26 July that we would put aside the Matutes (1997) proposals, which did have a predetermined outcome.

  6.  Since 26 July we have had intensive Ministerial and official level contacts both with Spain and with the Government of Gibraltar, one of the aims of which is to agree satisfactory arrangements for Mr Caruana to attend the next Ministerial level meeting which is scheduled to take place in later November. The Foreign Secretary met the Chief Minister in London on 8 October and the subsequent Gibraltar Government statement, of which I enclose a copy, highlighted our joint wish to achieve this goal. We expect to hold further discussions on this issue with the Chief Minister in the near future.

  7.  The Committee will also wish to be brought up to date on the "European Single Sky" issue. As you will be aware, we have come to an agreement with Spain to allow this important dossier to move ahead. We consider Single Sky essential for improving the use and management of EU airspace—we believe it offers the best way of reducing delays and improving safety. To break the log-jam, we have therefore reluctantly agreed that Gibraltar airport be suspended from the Framework Regulation, inserting the standard suspension clauses when the proposal reaches the Council.

  8.  While we fully understand the disappointment at this outcome, expressed during the demonstration in Gibraltar on 4 October, we do not believe that suspension will have any practical effect on the operation of Gibraltar airport. The focus of the EC's Single Sky work, at least initially, will be on the organisation and use of upper airspace and the management of Europe's air traffic service providers. Neither of these issues will have any practical impact on Gibraltar.

  9.  Because it is important that the Commission should at all times recognise Gibraltar's Rights under the Treaty, we made clear to both Spain and the Commission that our agreement on Single Sky was conditional on the Commission itself bringing forward a neutral proposal (ie without itself inserting the suspension clauses). We also agreed with Spain (a) that suspension from Single Sky was without prejudice to the application of future aviation measures to Gibraltar and (b) on a minutes statement, making clear that suspension does not in any way prejudice the application of the EC Treaty to Gibraltar. This reinforces the point that suspension does not carve Gibraltar airspace out of Community airspace—an issue about which the Chief Minister has expressed some concern.

  10.  We have agreed to a similar formula with regard to the Commission's emergency proposal for a Regulation on Aviation Security. This proposal is a crucially important part of the EU's overall contribution to the international community's fight against terrorism following the 11 September atrocities. The Spanish government made clear that, without Gibraltar's suspension, they would not let the measure go forward. The Spanish position is deeply disappointing—it is particularly surprising that Spain should insist on suspending from a vital security measure a Community airport right on its doorstep. But, given the crucial importance of this measure to the wider EU anti-terrorism agenda, we were not prepared to see progress delayed.

  11.  Again, we are confident that suspension will have no material impact on the operation of Gibraltar airport. The main purpose of the proposal is to require Member States to enforce ECAC standards of security. We, and the Government of Gibraltar, can still do this without being required to do so in Community law. We will therefore, together with the Gibraltar Government, undertake to ensure that Gibraltar airport is subject to security controls no less stringent, and monitoring procedures no less effective, than at other Community airports.

  12.  In view of the Committee's close interest in the question of the allocation of telephone numbers to Gibraltar, you will wish to know that the Spanish Government have agreed to more than triple the quantity of numbers available to Gibraltar. This is a constructive first step which, will, when implemented, help to alleviate the shortage which Gibraltar is currently experiencing. But there are, however, other equally important issues relating to telephone services in Gibraltar, including the "least cost routing" problem and the lack of "roaming" agreements between Gibraltar and Spanish mobile telephone operators. The Spanish authorities are committed to making progress on these, and we shall pursue detailed discussions with them. The Commission is aware of our concerns, and has been kept fully informed of developments.

  13.  We are looking for improvements in the unsatisfactory situation concerning border delays, which I witnessed for myself on 6 September. We shall continue to raise this issue with the Spanish Government and with the Commission.

  14.  We shall be pursuing our discussions with the Spanish Government and the Government of Gibraltar on all these issues in the weeks ahead. The Foreign Secretary hopes to visit Gibraltar later this month. We expect a further Ministerial level meeting of the Brussels Process in November at which, as I have said, we very much hope to welcome the Chief Minister.

  15.  The Clerk of the Committee has been in touch with officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with a view to arranging a further evidence session on Gibraltar. I would very much welcome such an opportunity to report back to the Committee after the forthcoming round of events.

Rt Hon Peter Hain MP,

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

October 2001

3   Cm 5231, Session 2000-01. Back

4   HC 319, Session 2000-01. Back

5   See Annex, pp 17-18. Back

6   Gibraltar Chronicle, 6th and 17th September. Not herewith printed. Back

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