Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 40-59)




  40. Order, order. Mr Hain, we welcome you, together with Mr John Macgregor, who is the Director, Wider Europe, and Mr Richard Jones, Deputy Head of the European Union Department (Internal) of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). I believe you attended the earlier part of this session when we posed questions to the Chief Minister. You have talked about concluding the current talks by the summer of next year, that is the talks taking less than a year. Why the hurry?

  (Mr Hain) Thank you very much for inviting me to this session. If I may, I shall come directly to that point in just a minute. The sixth report of the Committee, that is your report of 3 April 200[13], recommended that we take action to empower the citizens of Gibraltar to vote in the European elections. I am delighted to announce the Government's intention that for the first time ever the Gibraltar electorate should be able to vote in the European parliamentary elections. The Government fully supports Gibraltar's aspiration and right to be represented in the European Parliament. We are committed to achieving this in time for the new elections in 2004. This will require domestic legislation in the UK, so we shall be seeking the legislative time in order to bring in the necessary domestic legislation; we shall of course proceed in close consultation with the Gibraltar authorities.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  41. Will Gibraltar be a constituency?

  (Mr Hain) That has as yet not been decided. We are going to explore the detail.


  42. That is a most welcome announcement. It is something the Committee have been pressing for and we shall watch the details with great care. Now to the question: why the hurry?

  (Mr Hain) I shall of course be happy to discuss the details with you and keep you closely informed. The situation is that we are dealing with a dispute which has run on for 300 years since the Treaty of Utrecht. We are dealing with a dispute which has aggravated life in Gibraltar for many, many years and with which all recent governments of Britain have had to contend, Conservative and Labour. More recently things have come to a head by a whole series of other aggravations, continuing border delays, about which we have regular and justifiable complaints from the people of Gibraltar and its Chief Minister almost on a weekly basis, denial of telephone opportunities, again about which we have consistent and regular representations and I have had personally from the Chief Minister, whether it is lack of mobile access or lack of external lines and so on. The obstacles in the way of Gibraltar airport, which should be the centre of the whole region. These are just some of the issues which have aggravated the situation. In addition we face a situation where Gibraltar has been suspended now from two EU regulations in respect of air safety and air security. The war of words continues between Madrid and Gibraltar. The European Union, our fellow Member States, do not understand why two very senior members of the European Union, who in other respects have a common agenda, continue to allow their dispute over Gibraltar to get in the way of important business which affects all our security such as air safety, including flights to Gibraltar. This has produced in our minds a situation where we must try to break the log jam and do so as soon as we can with fresh thinking in Madrid, as there is, with fresh thinking in London, as there is, which I hope in time will also produce fresh thinking in Gibraltar. You cannot change a situation of continuous enmity between Gibraltar and Spain with continuous aggravation for the people of Gibraltar except by dialogue, which is what we are embarking on.

  43. But you have set a short timetable. You know the result of the 1997 referendum, where almost 100 per cent of the people of Gibraltar voted effectively to stay with UK sovereignty, you heard the views of the Chief Minister today. What possible evidence is there that the views of the people of Gibraltar have changed in the interim?

  (Mr Hain) I am encouraged by the Northern Ireland experience. If you had asked me ten years ago whether we could achieve a situation in which the governments of both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland could come to a common position, together with the people of Northern Ireland and their political representatives, if you had said that to me ten years ago, I would have said there was no prospect of it at all. How did we overcome those deep historic entrenched divisions; very different from Gibraltar in the sense that there was the most terrible violence, nevertheless common in this sense that there was a constitutional issue dividing opinion there, there was deep bitterness, there was a lot of aggravation? How did we achieve it? We got people around a table talking. We changed minds. Everybody changed minds. All I am inviting the Chief Minister to do, backed by the people of Gibraltar and backed also by opposition politicians in Gibraltar who should give him the right to come and have Gibraltar's voice represented in these talks, is to say that by dialogue these are better ways of moving the situation forward for the people of Gibraltar.

  44. Clearly he is not going to tango. In retrospect, do you not think it would have been a wiser course to have had a dialogue within the UK, a dialogue in Gibraltar about the options before bringing in Spain?

  (Mr Hain) This has been a longstanding process. We are picking up the Brussels process discussions and meetings from the situation first begun under Baroness Thatcher's Government when Lord Howe was Foreign Secretary in 1984. We are picking up that process. It has been a process pressed upon us by the European Council in Gothenburg. I was present at that Council. They urged us as two important Member States to get back together. This is what we are doing. I have detailed discussions with the Chief Minister and with others in Gibraltar urging Gibraltar's voice be heard in those discussions. I think it is terribly important that their voice is heard in those discussions and I continue to urge that it be so. There is nothing to fear from talking, is there?

Sir John Stanley

  45. As you well recognise, the precise wording using by Ministers in anything to do with Gibraltar and the Spanish relationship is of the utmost significance. Studying the parliamentary answers you have been giving in recent weeks, there is a very marked discrepancy in the answer you have given on the issue as to the entitlement of the people of Gibraltar to a referendum in circumstances where there is a change in sovereignty. The discrepancy exists between the answer you gave on 19 November with the earlier answer you gave on 30 October, to the same question in effect. On 30 October, in reply to Mr Andrew Rosindell, you said this. "The Government stand by their commitment to the people of Gibraltar set out in the preamble to the 1969 Constitution which enshrines the principle of consent of the people of Gibraltar to any change in sovereignty". I stress the phrase you used, "to any change in sovereignty". On 19 November, in answer to Mr Andrew Turner, you used this formulation, "The Government stand by the commitment set out in the preamble to the 1969 Gibraltar constitution that we will not enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes". It is self-evident that there is a huge difference between an undertaking to give the people of Gibraltar an entitlement to express their consent in a referendum, where there is in your words "any change in sovereignty" to the alternative position which you postulated on 19 November whereby a referendum would be available in the circumstances where Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state. So the question I would wish to put to you is this. Will you give an absolutely clear and unequivocal undertaking to this Committee that any change in sovereignty will require the consent of the people of Gibraltar in a referendum?

  (Mr Hain) Yes. I do not understand why there is any doubt in your mind. If I had answered the second question in exactly the same way as the first, I should simply have referred the answer to the first question as in the normal way. What I did in that other answer was put on record literally an extract from the legislation of May 1969 which says "Her Majesty's Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes". In my mind I was answering the question in a slightly different way, but I was actually getting on record effectively the wording of the 1969 legislation.

  46. What I am seeking to clarify is that at the outset of this negotiation in which the British Government has apparently agreed to put sovereignty on the table —

  (Mr Hain) As did the Conservative Government before us, as does the Chief Minister accept would be the case.

  47. With sovereignty on the table. There are clearly three possible outcomes. One is no change in sovereignty. Two will be some form of joint arrangements, joint sovereignty. Three, theoretically only I trust, a total transfer of sovereignty from Britain to Spain. Those are the three possible areas of outcome. What I take away from the yes, which you have just given, is that if the British Government and the Spanish Government agree on a range of joint arrangements, in which there is a move from exclusive British sovereignty to some form of joint sovereignty, you have now given this Committee an unequivocal assurance that any form of joint arrangements will require the consent of the people of Gibraltar in a referendum.

  (Mr Hain) I do not accept that those are the only three options. I wish life were as simple as that. There is no question, and I am very happy to repeat that to the Committee, there is absolutely no question of this Government simply handing Gibraltar over to Spain full stop. Let us get that out of the story entirely. There is no question of us just handing over sovereignty to Spain, that would be against British law, it would be against the principles of democracy which we hold very dearly to.


  48. And it would not get through this Parliament.

  (Mr Hain) And it would not get through this Parliament. To come to your question, any alteration of present arrangements of sovereignty will be put to the people of Gibraltar full stop. It is absolutely crystal clear and I do not understand why anybody has the slightest doubt about it.

Sir John Stanley

  49. Does that include all forms of joint arrangements?

  (Mr Hain) Anything which affects sovereignty. Anything which affects sovereignty. I am not getting into the detail of discussions which are very confidential at the present time. I do not want to set—though it obviously seems I have from the earnest sighs around your table—any hares running in false directions. I cannot conceive of joint arrangements being in any way implementable without some change in sovereignty. I cannot see how that is possible. Take the sighs and the laughs and the amusement back. The simple answer is that anything which provides for any joint sovereignty, if that is the outcome—and I have no way of knowing whether it will be—will go to the people of Gibraltar.

  50. What you are saying—and I am trying to put a totally accurate summation on it and correct me if this is not right—is that there could be the possibility of various joint arrangements which both the British and the Spanish Government deem not to be changes of sovereignty, which in turn would not be put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum. That is what I believe you are saying to us.

  (Mr Hain) That is not on the table. I honestly tell you straight, that is not on the table. I do not think that would take the situation forward either with Spain or with the people of Gibraltar, therefore I think you are chasing false hares and it should not even come into the consideration of this Committee. May I say one other thing? May I take you back to the joint press communiqué, a very significant one issued last week by the Foreign Minister of Spain and our own Foreign Secretary, Spain for the first time agreed that we share a common objective of a future where Gibraltar enjoys greater self-government and the opportunity to reap the full benefits of a normal co-existence with the wider region. The guiding principle is to build a secure, stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar and a modern sustainable status consistent with our common membership of NATO and the European Union. If we are talking about increased self-government, that is something that Gibraltar has wanted, that it can look forward to if we can bring these negotiations to a successful agreement.

Mr Chidgey

  51. Thank you for that. Just before we leave this particular point, I was very interested in your comments in your opening remarks that you drew your experience and hope from what has happened in the island of Ireland in recent years. From my memory, I understand that the Republic of Ireland had to change its sovereignty claim on the six counties of Northern Ireland in order for progress to be made. May I ask you therefore whether the Spanish Government shows any signs of being willing to compromise its long-standing sovereignty claim on Gibraltar?

  (Mr Hain) I am not going to get into the detail of discussions and you would not expect me to. If it had been appropriate for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to come to give evidence to this Committee or for that matter to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee in the middle of the proceedings leading up to the Good Friday Agreement or subsequently to reveal what discussions were or were not going on, we would never had reached an agreement.

  52. So you are not able to tell us whether Spain have or have not changed their mind on their sovereignty claim for Gibraltar.

  (Mr Hain) What I can tell you is that there is absolutely no prospect of the British Government agreeing to full Spanish sovereignty over Gibraltar; no prospect of that at all.

  53. That begs the question.

  (Mr Hain) Somebody from the back row has just interjected "full". The trouble with this debate is that there is a kind of lawyer-like insistence on reading 50 different things into virtually everything I say. I am being absolutely straight and frank and some people have accused me of being too frank. We will not agree to hand Gibraltar over in any shape or form to Spain. That is not on the agenda, nor is Spain asking for us to do that.

  54. May I move on to another area and refer you to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office circular 015-01 which was kindly circulated to the Committee in which in the implementation of EC legislation the statement is made, "HMG has always taken the view that a further consequence of the Act of Accession is that measures adopted under Article 95 TEC which have as their objective the removal of barriers to trade in goods are not applicable to Gibraltar". My question is: why did HMG come to take that view, particularly as it is now being challenged by the Commission and is before the European Court of Justice?

  (Mr Hain) That was part of Britain's Accession Treaty. That has been the historic situation. What we have in prospect is an entirely new status for Gibraltar within the European Union if we are successful in the Brussels process negotiations. I think there would be clear benefits to Gibraltar from a closer relationship with the European Union and the erosion of the border with Spain, free movement of goods, services and people, greater scope for economic co-operation with the Campo and the wider region, full and free access for Gibraltar's firms to the world's largest post-enlargement market, larger than the US and Japan combined, by, for example, easier access to Spain and the EU by reducing and removing the Customs/passport controls at the border and all the extra business that would attract to Gibraltar's port. There is more choice and better value for Gibraltar's consumers, economies of scale and access to services which are impossible for a community of only 30,000.

  55. So the view on the applicability of those measures is probably misguided.

  (Mr Hain) May I just say this? Impossible for a community of only 30,000 people to realise on their own such as access to education, health, storage facilities across the border, easier access to Gibraltar's English language, legal and business expertise by expatriates on the Spanish coast. The point is that if we could make the Brussels process discussions successful, there is a fantastic prize for the people of Gibraltar, an end to the aggravation with Spain, better access to all the opportunities the European Union offers, greater prosperity, more jobs and I think that is a prize which should invite the Chief Minister to come to the table and represent his people in the discussions.

Andrew Mackinlay

  56. I want to put to you what is going to happen. I shall tell you what the game plan is and you can say I am completely wrong on all four counts, because if I am right I shall throw Hansard back at you. The first thing is that these discussions are very conveniently going to conclude, wham, bam, at the time of the parliamentary recess, so there will be no statement to the House of Commons. Secondly, there will not be a referendum and I shall tell you why there will not be a referendum, because the satisfactory conclusions of the discussions are going to fall short of sovereignty. Spain will have moved on a bit and you will not have conceded sovereignty in accordance with the terms of the replies you have given to Sir John Stanley and others today, so there will be no need, will there, for a referendum? Thirdly, there will be no primary legislation. Fourthly, any amendment to the Constitution will be done by Order in Council on which we are lucky to an hour and a half's debate. Am I wrong on four counts?

  (Mr Hain) Yes. I disagree with my good friend Andrew on every point. No, there will be no agreement in the middle of the recess. Yes, of course the House of Commons will be fully consulted; of course it will. Yes, if any agreement is reached, and I do not know whether it will be reached, though we are pretty optimistic, then yes, there will be a referendum. Finally, if we did reach an agreement which covered sovereignty questions, and I do not know whether that is possible or not, but if we did, not only would there be a referendum in Gibraltar but of course there would have to be primary legislation in Britain as well.

  57. Just in passing, it is the same Government which told me that it was neither possible, nor should it happen that the franchise should be extended to the people of Gibraltar. That is this Labour Government. Now they are having to do it, not virtuously but because they have no alternative because the courts have told them to do it. My next question is this. You heard me say to the Chief Minister that Gibraltar is being traduced, I personally believe on the spin of the Foreign Office, but certainly the Parliamentary Private Secretary actually referred to smuggling in a broadcast in the past few days. You have heard his rebuttal of this. I put it to you, and this is your opportunity to say where you disagree with the Chief Minister, that, no doubt there is smuggling, there is smuggling in Tilbury, but there is not smuggling in the sense of a great scandal, no worse than elsewhere and it is containable. Secondly, the police are your responsibility not his, there is general fulfilment of European Union directives and the financial sector is as he has described. Is that right? We can stop all this humbug, this traducing by innuendo about the stewardship both of the Governor, who is your appointment, and the Chief Minister and his colleagues?

  (Mr Hain) I remember a little while ago driving up the Spanish coast, going onto Gibraltar and back off again across the border and then further eastwards and thinking how much easier it would be to smuggle things into Spain via a boat pulled up on the beach than somehow to pull a boat up onto the Rock where there was no beach and then get it through the border. That was my impression. If you were to invite my opposite number, the Spanish Europe Minister, Ramon de Miguel to give evidence to you—and I dare say he might even be prepared to do so—he would go on to you at length about smuggling.

  58. But what do you think?

  (Mr Hain) I am actually telling you what I think. My Private Parliamentary Secretary was expressing one of the criticisms the Spanish make of the Gibraltar Government absolutely consistently and they cite a lot of evidence which I have never seen about smuggling and it is an issue in the discussions and it does relate to good relations between Spain and Gibraltar. This is why it is important to get people round the table and discuss these issues.

  59. You cannot abdicate responsibility. You either have to say here today —  (Mr Hain) I have seen no evidence on smuggling myself.

13   HC 319, Session 2000-2001. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 13 December 2001