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House of Lords

Monday, 15th April 1996.

Reassembling after the Easter Recess, the House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Gibraltar: Air Links

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take on the motion passed by the Gibraltar House of Assembly on 9th February 1996 requesting Her Majesty's Government to terminate the Anglo-Spanish Airport Agreement of 1987.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, the Government's position on the 1987 Joint Declaration concerning Gibraltar Airport is unchanged. We still believe an airport agreement would benefit Gibraltar, but we shall not impose it. A satisfactory solution can still be found and we remain ready and willing to work to that end.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can she indicate what would be a possible improvement over and above the perfectly plain and understandable request which the Gibraltar Government and people have made?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, this is a slightly difficult Question at this moment because, as I believe my noble friend knows, there needs to be an alteration, if we are to have an agreement in the future, which is actually consistent with changes that we have made in our national law and indeed with the European Community. Therefore, the agreement as it stands is not strictly applicable. But we are working on this matter and when I have news for my noble friend I shall let him have it.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, after the unfortunate incident last week in which a Spanish civil guard was killed intervening in the drug smuggling that was taking place involving a British boat from Gibraltar, can the Minister reassure the House that Anglo-Spanish relations are not going to be damaged further by drug smuggling from Gibraltar? Can she also tell the House whether the matter of money laundering that has been rampant there has now been dealt with? Are the Gibraltar Government now complying fully with European Union banking regulations after their earlier failure to do so?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, perhaps I may say first that we were obviously very sad to hear of the helicopter crash and of the death connected with it. In no way would we or any other responsible

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government condone drug trafficking. Therefore, we are committed to working with our partners, including Spain, to stamp it out. Tough action was taken against the Gibraltar-based or registered boats first of all, last summer. Although a few smugglers may still be getting through, we intend to see that everything is done so that they are stopped. The noble Baroness asked about actions. I can tell her that the Chief Minister in Gibraltar has agreed further action against these rigid, inflatable boats, which have been evading the controls by registering as British boats. From now on it will not be permitted to register or re-register any rigid inflatable boats as British boats. Other measures will be taken when further discussions have been completed.

As regards money laundering, new legislation has come into force. That was necessary because for Gibraltar to have a successful financial services centre, it must have proper legislation against money laundering. That legislation has been worked out to conform with the European requirements because money laundering is not a national matter but covers endless opportunities and crosses all possible boundaries.

Lord Merrivale: My Lords, can my noble friend say, if the airport agreement has not been updated, how Gibraltar can take advantage of the liberalisation of air transport which has taken place in the Community? Does she accept that the EC single market in air transport could apply to Gibraltar, with purely commercial arrangements for the airport, and the status of Gibraltar as a UK domestic regional airport remaining unchanged?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, if I understand my noble friend correctly, as I mentioned to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, some changes would be necessary on the airport agreement if it were to be brought up to date. But we have said quite clearly that we shall not impose it. The point that my noble friend makes about EC air liberalisation is a very good one, but he will know that Gibraltar is currently suspended from the single market in aviation, including open access to the air routes within the European Union. That is one of the problems which we are seeking to discuss not only with Gibraltar Ministers, but also with all those who are determined that a single market must apply in aviation to Gibraltar, Spain and everywhere else.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, does the Minister agree that despite that unfortunate incident those of us who know Gibraltar and its people know that it will in no way affect the profound feelings of the people of Gibraltar for our United Kingdom?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord. He may like to refer to the Question answered in this House on 14th December last at col. 116 of the Official Report where Britain's commitment to Gibraltar was made clear beyond peradventure. It is all down in Hansard.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, in the context of the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and in connection with this smuggling

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lark with drugs, tobacco and so forth, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether there are any MTBs or their equivalent today on-station which are sufficient to cope with that illicit trade?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, there are still some available, but I would have to check whether they are operational in the area about which my noble friend has asked. However, I do know that many rigid inflatable boats have extremely powerful engines and one of the problems is that catching them can require the use of air power. That is why helicopters have been used.

Greenpeace: "Observer" Article

2.44 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received a letter from Lord Melchett, Director of Greenpeace UK, resisting the conclusion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, on 5th February (H.L. Deb., col. 2) that "part of Greenpeace's mission is to mislead"; and, if so, whether they will place a copy of Lord Melchett's letter in the Library of the House.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, I confirm that I received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, to which I replied on 2nd April. It is not for me to place copies of correspondence initiated by a Member of your Lordships' House in the Library of the House. However, I have copied my reply to those noble Lords who spoke on this issue on 5th February to whom the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, sent copies of his letters to me.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, the Minister must be aware that Lord Melchett has taken leave of absence from the House and is therefore legitimately absent. In those circumstances and since the noble Lord with whom the Minister has been in correspondence is not in a position to speak in this House himself, will the noble and learned Lord revise his opinion and agree that, in the light of that fact, it is desirable that the whole of the correspondence should be made available to your Lordships?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, in the course of the last exchange on this matter I referred to a report in the Observer, at the end of which I concluded that that report was so inaccurate that it amounted to a "mission to mislead". I have already asked Lord Melchett if he would like to point out to me any respects in which the report in the Observer did not bear out the briefing and the press release provided to it by Greenpeace. Although he may have taken leave of absence from this House, he has had ample opportunity to write to me, but he has failed to offer any answer. If he thinks that I shall retreat from my declaration of a "mission to mislead", I can confirm that, having looked

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at the matter further, the indication that I gave was perhaps less than I should have done because the press release is headed with the assertion:

    "Magistrate raises doubt about legality of BNFL's Sellafield plant".
If anyone had cared to read the full text of that report, which I arranged to be placed in the Library of the House, they would have found the simple statement that BNFL was prima facie operating lawfully at the Sellafield plant.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, if your Lordships will permit me--

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that Greenpeace has certainly succeeded in misleading--whether or not that was part of its mission--as in the case of "Brent Spar" and particularly its incorrect public statements about residues in "Brent Spar" at the end of its life as a storage buoy?

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