Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, from Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 24 July 2002

  Thank you for copying to me Chief Minister Caruana's extensive memorandum of 10 July.[8] I thought you would appreciate my comments before we break for the summer. The Chief Minister addresses several issues and puts forward many arguments. In response I should like to underline the key aspects of our approach, which are a matter of record.


  Mr Caruana was offered the opportunity to participate in the talks from the start. The Spanish Foreign Minister and I both genuinely wanted to have his contribution in the talks. As the Gibraltarians' elected representative he would have been the best person to represent Gibraltar's interests. As you know, he decided not to attend.

  I know that you understand the Government's position on any referendum, but for the record I think it is important that I should restate it here. Any agreement which affects the sovereignty of Gibraltar will be put to the people of Gibraltar in a democratic referendum and will be implemented only if the people of Gibraltar approve it in that referendum. I do not see how I could be any clearer on this point.

  It would be possible to draw the conclusion from Mr Caruana's submission that the British Government is trying to force Gibraltar to accept a deal its people do not want. This would be a false impression. We do seek a stronger, more prosperous and settled future for Gibraltar and we are in broad agreement with Spain on many (but not all) of the principles we believe should underpin such a settlement. But, as I told the House on 12 July, this is not in the end a decision for me, for the Government or even for Parliament. The decision will rest with the people of Gibraltar themselves. That is the Government's absolute guarantee to the people of Gibraltar.


  You will be aware that Gibraltar had not produced an abstract of statistics for some five years. I pressed Mr Caruana on this by letter and during my meeting with the Chief Minister in Gibraltar on 3 May, and I am glad that the new abstract up to and including 2001 has now been published.


  Mr Caruana refers to the Spanish offer of a further 70,000 telephone numbers which his Government has rejected. We have argued all along that the only comprehensive solution to Gibraltar's telephone problems is Spanish recognition of the international dialling code +350. We continue to work for this outcome. In the meantime, however, we have proposed a meeting of British, Spanish and Gibraltar experts to seek to resolve the issue. We proposed this meeting in April. We have not yet received a response from the Government of Gibraltar.


  As I said in my evidence to the Committee on 19 June, we are concerned that aspects of the arrangements in Gibraltar for payments to those of pensionable age might be unlawful under EC Law. The European Commission is investigating this issue. As the Committee is aware, we have been in correspondence and discussion with the Gibraltar Government to encourage the reform of Household Costs Allowance for many years. I described the situation as opaque. We have on many occasions sought full details of the arrangements regarding the payment of Household Cost Allowance from the Gibraltar Government and from the company which makes these payments, Community Care Limited. But we still need clarification on several points.


  The Committee was right to take an interest during its recent visit in the question of transposition of EU directives. We work closely with the Gibraltar Government on this, and we will continue to do so. Gibraltar's record on transposition is much improved on the position in the 1990s. Implementation of EC measures in Gibraltar is, however, still sometimes subject to delay. Where infraction proceedings are threatened or opened against the UK as a result of non-transposition in Gibraltar, the British taxpayer risks being liable for ECJ fines. This is something we are committed to avoiding.

Jack Straw

Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

24 July 2002

8   Appendix 13, Ev 23-68. Back

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