Examination of Witness (Questions 60-79)|
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
60. No evidence whatsoever.
(Mr Hain) I have seen no evidence.
61. Why can you not be more generous than that
and say everything is satisfactory, both the stewardship of the
Governor, whom you appoint, and the local legislature are fulfilling
their duties and obligations.
(Mr Hain) I keep asking for evidence.
The Spanish keep saying and producing lots of figures.
62. Why so grudging? Why can you not repudiate
the Spanish evidence. Why can you not tell them in the nicest
possible terms. You are not being fair to British citizens.
(Mr Hain) I would prefer to concentrate
on what we ought to keep our eye on here and that is trying to
resolve aggravation between Spain and Gibraltarboth ways,
complaints made both waysand the harassment which takes
place at border controls, all of those issues which aggravate
the people of Gibraltar and if I were living there I should also
be aggravated by them. The way you get over these issues is by
getting people round a table. That is the way to deal with it,
that is what we are doing.
63. Finally, why will you not agree to this
matter being adjudicated at the International Court of Justice,
the point of law, whether or not the overriding international
law is the United Nations Charter which deals with the principles
of self-determination, as distinct from the Treaty of Utrecht
which gives Spain the right of first refusal? Why will you not
agree to it being referred for resolution?
(Mr Hain) The British Government did
actually offer to put the sovereignty issues to the International
Court of Justice in 1966, under a Labour Government, but the rules
of the ICJ, and we have seen no basis to suggest that has changed
in the interim period, are that both states affectedbecause
remember there is a joint treaty between Spain and Britain over
Gibraltar, both European stateshave to agree to that referral
and Spain has not agreed to that.
64. Could you ask them again nicely?
(Mr Hain) I do not think there would
be any point.
65. So you will not do it.
(Mr Hain) Let us get away from "won't
do" things. What we have to do is concentrate on the business
of serious governmentnot posing and putting questions which
we know are not capable of resolution in that formof negotiating
politically to find a way forward which will liberate Gibraltar
from its historic restrictions and difficulties and aggravation,
give it a bright future, give the people of Gibraltar more self-government,
which they ought to have. That is a fantastic prize and I do not
understand why anybody around this table, whether or not they
have visited Gibraltar, or the Government of Gibraltar, are not
with us in that enterprise.
Sir Patrick Cormack
66. As one who has visited Gibraltar, not as
a guest of the Gibraltar Government but as a visitor to Gibraltar
privately, who has seen the impediments to progress placed by
Spain, terrible difficulties getting across the border and all
the rest of it, queue in a car to do that, may I just put one
very simple point to you? Are you prepared for these negotiations
at the end of the day to result in the British Government upholding
the status quo?
(Mr Hain) In the end, if we cannot reach
an agreement with Spain and preferably with the Government of
Gibraltar, or in the Brussels process, if that breaks down, the
status quo will prevail. Let me remind you, what that status
quo is. It is a status quo of continual aggravation
across the border, all the things the Chief Minister complains
to me about quite legitimately almost weekly.
67. But not caused by Britain and not caused
(Mr Hain) Continuous aggravation but
also action by the European Commission of the kind he has recently
referred to because of the EU's code of conduct on tax and illegal
state subsidies and illegal competition and so on. That case has
continued, the Government of Gibraltar is before the Court of
First Instance at the present time as a result of action by the
Commission. That action is continuing. We have already had two
suspensions; they were not exclusions. We would not agree to exclusions,
but in the interests of the air safety of us all, including Gibraltarians
we had to accept the suspension from the Single Sky. It actually
makes very little if any practical difference to life in Gibraltar,
nor does the other exclusion, but those things are in prospect
in the future. What do we as a responsible Government do? Do we
just say let all of that continue, let our dispute with Spain
as a close partner in NATO, in the European Union, on vital issues
of economic reform, which affect jobs and prosperity and business
confidence here in Britain, on the fight against international
terrorism, all this area where we have a common national interest
and a common agenda with Spain? Do we allow all of those issues
to have continual difficulty there or do we sit down and see whether
we can find a solution? I am astonished that anybody can disagree
without sitting down to try to find a solution. That is what we
did in Northern Ireland. We produced dialogue, we got an agreement.
I am just asking for the chance to do it again over Gibraltar,
in quite different circumstances I understand, and I cannot for
the life of me understand why the representatives of the people
of Gibraltar or anybody on this Committee or in this House cannot
support that basic elementary principle that dialogue is better
than a war of words or all the aggravation which we have seen
for so long and is still in prospect if we do not produce an agreement.
68. The answer to that is because nobody knows
what is going to be contained in the dialogue, we cannot see any
options for a result and it is that uncertainty which is causing
the problems. I just want to ask a couple of questions. The first
one is in relation to the suggestion that perhaps Spain is being
rewarded for its intransigence in blocking EU directives, in using
the European Union to forward their claim to Gibraltar. You began
your remarks by saying that pressure was put on the UK at the
Gothenburg EU Council.
(Mr Hain) And on Spain.
69. In other words, from other EU partners.
If that is the case, perhaps the Chief Minister is right when
he says that Spain's policy was to engineer that result within
the European Union, to frustrate everybody so that the Brussels
process was brought into being. How do you answer that, that Spain
has been rewarded, bearing in mind that obviously Gibraltar is
looking for the status quo or self-determination? The only
benefit likely to come out of this Brussels process, if the thing
does move forward, is for Spain.
(Mr Hain) Actually the only positive
things which have come out of the Brussels process are to the
benefit of the people of Gibraltar. First of all, Spain has dropped
its opposition to our insistence on giving the people of Gibraltar
the right to vote in the European elections. That is why we have
been able to proceed. Secondly, an extra 70,000 telephone lines
have been offered, more than triple the existing ones. That is
a second benefit for the people of Gibraltar which never happened
before. Thirdly, Spain has offered additional health facilities
within its borders to the people of Gibraltar on a scale which
cannot be provided on the Rock itself. Three tangible benefits
already as a result of the discussions which have only lasted
a few months. Just look at what could be in prospect for Gibraltar
if we can continue these discussions. The rewards have been for
the people of Gibraltar.
70. That answer throws up another question.
The right of the Gibraltarians to be part of the European Union
and to vote in European Union elections was as a result of the
Matthews case which I understand went before the European Court.
You have just said that Spain has withdrawn its objections to
the people of Gibraltar voting. Are you saying that Spain objected
to the court decision and were not going to allow the UK to implement
(Mr Hain) No, I am saying that there
were two routes by which we implemented it. We either implemented
it at an EU level or we implemented it through changing our domestic
71. But the court case was against us. Why do
we have to ask Spain?
(Mr Hain) The fact is that you are talking
about an amendment to the Treaty, therefore you require unanimity
to do it. That is one route.
72. That is not what Mr Vaz said incidentally.
(Mr Hain) I am speaking for myself. The
second route is the one with Spain's acquiescence which we followed.
The outcome is the same: the people of Gibraltar getting what
they are entitled to. We have delivered it. It has come as a result
of the relationship which has been built in the last few months.
I think that ought to be cheered; I think that ought to be welcomed
by the Committee, as, to be fair, you did, Chairman.
73. We do welcome it and it is something we
argued about the last time we considered this, but the way you
just presented that tended to suggest that Spain were even willing
to contest a court decision against us which required us to give
Gibraltarians a vote as though we were going cap in hand to the
Spanish and asking them to let us implement a court decision in
which the court found against us.
(Mr Hain) It is a matter for the Court
of Human Rights, but it is important for everybody round the table
just to bear in mindand I am not attempting to justify
it at all; as a Government Minister responsible I have to deal
with the facts as I find themthat just as there is passionate
feeling in Britain about our longstanding relationship with Gibraltar
and passionate feeling in Britain, which I share, that Gibraltarians
should have the right to remain British citizens if they want
to, whatever arrangements they agree to in a referendum for their
future, so there is passionate feeling in Spain about its historic
claim to the Rock. There is. We may not like it, the people of
Gibraltar may resist it, may be angry about it, but the fact is
that we are dealing with a Spanish Government which would not
get support in its own Parliament unless we were embarking on
the kind of discussion which we are. As a result of that, against
the tide of exactly the kind of popular pressures in the rest
of Spain that the Chief Minister faces from his own people in
Gibraltar, we have persuaded Spain to make these three important
advances for the people of Gibraltar. That is three wins for Gibraltar
out of the process so far.
74. I think we shall have to agree to differ
on that. I want to come to another, very brief, question. Was
there any reason why the Government decided to resurrect the Brussels
process and negotiate with Spain on the future of Gibraltar? The
reason I ask that is because you began your replies by saying
the Government were looking for a new future for Gibraltar, new
ways, clear thinking, new thinking. If that was the case, why
could we not have a different process from the Brussels process?
Why resurrect something which was last used in 1984? Why not simply
get all three parties around the table, no pre-conditions, just
talk about Gibraltar and everybody with an equal participation?
(Mr Hain) The Brussels process is one
which has been recognised by agreements, not just by the European
Union but by both the Spanish and British Governments for some
years now and has been a process of attempts to make progress
over that period. It is a recognised forum. I do not think people
should be obsessed with the label. I do not think they should
be paranoid about the history. The truth is that when we talk,
as we have done and as we could do with the Chief Minister if
he did not leave an empty chair, that discussion, that negotiation,
is open, no vetoes are brought by anybody. We have so far made
progress in respect of the three items I mentioned. There could
be further progress and that is why I put the simple question
again: why not join the discussions because there is an enormous
opportunity for Gibraltar if you do.
75. The other point is in relation to whether
primary legislation will be required. It just struck me that if
the end result of this were an amendment to the Treaty of Utrecht,
the process for ratifying treaties would not require primary legislation
in the House of Commons.
(Mr Hain) There is the 1969 legislation;
yes, an Order in Council. If we got an agreementif we got
an agreementif that were backed in a referendum, if legislation
then followed, as it would have to do both in Spain and in Britain,
we would obviously want to have legislation. You could not do
this under Royal Prerogative or any kind of sleight of hand like
that. May I just add that an amendment to the European Communities
Act would be necessary as well, because it would change the status
of Gibraltar under the European Treaty?
76. Which could only be done by primary legislation.
(Mr Hain) Indeed.
77. May I be rash and put this to you? Spain
is interested in one thing and one thing only and that is to regain
sovereignty over Gibraltar. It is not really interested in what
the people of Gibraltar think at all. It certainly would not recognise
any referendum which was taken in Gibraltar itself because that
is its primary aim and that is what all these discussions are
about. Could you respond to that?
(Mr Hain) I do not recognise that description
at all from the discussions we have had. First of all, Foreign
Minister Piqué said at his press conference that he accepted
that Britain was going to hold a referendum and that he would
abide by the result. There was no alternative for him. Indeed
in our discussions that has been an accepted fact. Spain has an
historic claim to full sovereignty, just as the people of Gibraltar,
or many of them, want full independence. Neither of those are
achievable, nor could they be the outcome of the discussions to
which we are party. We have to look for a different alternative,
show a bit of creativity, show a bit of flexibility, try to get
people to show a bit of give and take and modernise their thinking.
This is a dispute which has gone on for too long. It is very similar
in that respect to Northern Ireland. How did we solve Northern
Ireland or at least move it in a huge direction forward? By getting
people round the table, thinking in new ways, throwing off their
old prejudices and fears and trying to come to terms with a modern
Europe, which is changing very fast, and we do not want to see
Gibraltar left behind on that.
78. Are there any circumstances in which you
would ask the UK Parliament to pass legislation which would change
the sovereignty of Gibraltar against the wishes of the people
of Gibraltar? Are there any circumstances?
(Mr Hain) The logical sequence must be,
surely, that there is a referendum and if the referendum says
yes, then there is primary legislation.
79. Then it is not against the wishes of the
people of Gibraltar. The question really was whether you would
consider any circumstances against the wishes of the people of
(Mr Hain) I cannot see how primary legislation,
which it would have to be for the reasons that European treaties
have to be amended amongst other things, could be put through
the House of Commons or the House of Lords and Parliament as a
whole without a referendum authorising it from the people of Gibraltar.
Indeed Spain recognises that because that has been spelled out
in the discussions so far. In that sense, the people of Gibraltar
do have their veto over the whole process, but that does not stop
us trying to make progress. What I do object to, if I may say
soquestions have been put very fairly and forcefully to
me and I not mind that at all, that is the job of the Committee
and it is my job to answerwhat I object to is people thinking
that the status quo is sustainable and failing to come
up with an alternative. There is literally no alternative to what
we are doing: trying to get everybody round the table and make