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Lord Gilbert: I am not sure that I follow all my noble and learned friend's points. The essence of emergency relief is that it must be rapid. Rapid response is most easily made available through the regular forces of this country.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, those of us who have supported Gibraltar on this matter will be extremely disappointed by the Minister's reply. I have read the judgment carefully. The vote was 15:2 that not only was the United Kingdom guilty, but that the remedy was a matter for the United Kingdom--not Spain, and not other European countries. Therefore, will the Government move quickly and without delay to bring in and secure for the people of Gibraltar the right to vote in the forthcoming European elections? Does the Minister agree that my noble friend Lord Bethell was absolutely right in his amendment and was supported by many Members of this House?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords, I cannot agree. The arguments deployed by Her Majesty's Government over this case were largely the same as those deployed by the Conservatives when they were in power. That is the legal advice.
The noble Baroness is right. It is the obligation of the United Kingdom Government to comply with the judgment. But the way to do that is through amendment of the 1976 EC Act. To do otherwise through domestic legislation would put us in breach of that Act. If the noble Baroness is so keen on this, I point out that there were 13 years when her party was in government after that Act was passed when they might have taken that kind of action. Her Majesty's Government are moving swiftly. We shall table the amendments next week in Brussels, and we are briefing all our posts in Europe accordingly.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I have made it clear to the whole House that Her Majesty's Government will raise this matter in the discussions that we are having on the principles that bind us in relation to the way in which elections to the European Parliament take place. We shall also be briefing all our EU posts accordingly. The reason that this is important is that the obligations placed upon the United Kingdom Government, direct as they are, are also, by extension, placed upon our partners, and that includes Spain.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Government's eagerness to comply with the decisions of the European Court. We also welcome the strong support that the Official Opposition has given to that position. Will the Minister confirm that it is probable that efforts to bring about changes in legislation will not be in time for the next European elections. However, will the noble Baroness and the Foreign Office consider other ways in which, until elections occur with the full representation of Gibraltar, other steps will be taken to allow the concerns of the people of Gibraltar to be registered in this House, not least through the scrutiny committee on European legislation.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, regrettably, I agree. I do not think that the timetabling will allow any changes to be available in time for the European elections. No one is in any doubt that negotiations to secure the unanimous agreement of our EU partners will be extremely difficult. Having secured that agreement, if it is possible, we shall then have to go through a ratification process. In the meantime we shall have to consult about the ways in which we can do our best to take into account, as we always do, the feelings and wishes of our friends in Gibraltar.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, however hard the noble Baroness tries to pass the buck back to the previous government, the decision of the European Court of Human Rights was given this month. The court
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not passing the buck anywhere. I have stated a matter of fact in relation to what the previous government did. The noble Lord cannot gainsay that, however hard he tries. I have been very clear about the responsibilities: they are for Her Majesty's Government. The Government will shoulder those responsibilities unshrinkingly. We hope to do so next week, and we shall brief everyone accordingly.
Lord Bethell: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister is to meet his Spanish opposite number in the next couple of days? Will she indicate whether it is likely that Mr. Blair will raise this matter with Mr. Aznar? Will she also confirm that, whatever the outcome of those meetings, it is only the Foreign Office's opinion that domestic legislation will not work? The Foreign Office's opinion on this question has turned out more than once to be erroneous.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can confirm that my right honourable friend is to see his Spanish counterpart, probably within the next 24 hours. It is very likely that these matters will be considered, although I have not seen an agenda or any briefing papers for the meeting.
I have spoken to the House, as did my noble friend Lord Williams, on the basis of legal opinion. At the risk of making the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, very cross indeed, I point out that legal opinion has been pretty consistent throughout. The difference now is that we have a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights which places obligations not only upon Her Majesty's Government--I have been very clear on that point--but also upon Spain and our other European partners.
Moved, That this House do concur with the Commons in their message of 23rd February that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to report on the consultative document on the draft Financial Services and Markets Bill presented by Her Majesty's Command on 21st December 1998 and any further draft of the Bill which may be laid upon the Table of both Houses by a Minister of the Crown and to report by 30th April 1999.--(Lord Carter.)