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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, at the moment British passports are issued in Gibraltar under the authority of the Governor acting as the personal representative of the Queen. The Spanish Foreign Minister has given a public assurance that Spain has never questioned and will not do so in future the right of Gibraltarians to freedom of movement in the EU. Of course we expect the Spanish to respect that.
Lord Monson: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that a few months ago the commanding officer of the British forces in Gibraltar, who was wearing civilian clothes but carrying documents which made it perfectly clear who he was, was stopped at the border and treated in the most abusive and insulting manner by the Spanish border guards, as, more recently, was Lady Luce, the wife of the present Governor? Can the Minister say what representations have been made to Spain over the disgraceful behaviour of its frontier police?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I regret that I was not aware of the incidents the noble Lord has outlined to the House. If indeed they took place, they were not only disgraceful, but entirely contrary to what the Spanish Government told us would be the case. I shall look into the incidents described by the noble Lord and write to him.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I welcome the report from the noble Baroness that the border situation has improved. But can she assure us that the British Government will continue to make every effort to improve this exasperating situation, not only on a bilateral basis, but also through the appropriate channels in the European Union?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness that assurance. This is a matter that exercises the British Government. It is a subject that we raise frequently in our contacts with our friends in Spain and of course it is a matter that we discuss with the Spanish through EU channels. We shall continue to do so while the issue causes concern, not only in your Lordships' House but elsewhere.
Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, I support the strong stand that the Foreign Secretary took at the recent NATO summit in saying that Her Majesty's Government would only support Spain's full membership of NATO should the Spanish authorities lift restrictions on landing rights in Gibraltar. However, will the Minister ensure that such landing rights apply to military as well as to civilian aircraft?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I regret that I am not in a position to answer the detailed question regarding military aircraft landing rights. That is a matter which is probably more appropriately put to my noble friend Lord Gilbert in the Ministry of Defence. I shall write to the Ministry of Defence on the noble Lord's behalf and ask for a view on the specific point relating to military aircraft.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there are no plans to hold a specific constitutional conference on Gibraltar in the near future. The whole question of our relationship with the dependent territories is one that the Government are considering. As the noble Lord probably knows, a ministerial group meets to consider the dependent territories. That group recently met and will be meeting again in the autumn. The question of Gibraltar's constitution is considered by that group along with the constitutions of other dependent territories, as I am sure the noble Lord will be aware. The arrangements of the previous administration have not changed.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I have given the House every indication that the Foreign Secretary will continue to take a strong stand over the question of Gibraltar whenever and wherever he discusses the matter.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that assurance. I listened carefully to hear whether he said yes, there would be lay representation on expert committees or yes, he would consider there being lay representation on the committees. I imagine I heard the former rather than the latter. I understand that a paper will come to this House and the agency will not be up and running until 1999. I hope to ask many Questions on this subject during the intervening time.
Will the Minister agree that it is the wall that has been raised between expert committees and consumer committees in the past that has caused so much trouble, whereby it is thought that consumers are not intelligent enough to work out what the experts will say on the expert committees? Does he agree that the committee on novel foods and processes and the committee on medical aspects of food and nutritional policy have made a valuable contribution to the work thus far?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, one of the consolations of this office is being able to look forward to exchanges with the noble Baroness. My right honourable friend in another place is making a response today to a Written Question setting out many of our proposals for the new food safety agency. We totally support in principle the idea of lay representation. The response will state that openness and transparency will be one of the agency's principal criteria. As for its advisory committees, it will be an independent agency and I assume that it will begin by involving the existing advisory committees, mainly from MAFF. We propose to strengthen the role of the Food Advisory Committee, which already has two lay representatives and will have more.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, will the Minister note that I entirely support what my noble friend Lady Wilcox said? A modicum of common sense is worth a great deal of expertise. It is very much lacking at present in food nutritional labelling, which is unintelligible. The problem is exacerbated by the dreadful Euro-numbers--indeed, one needs a translation book to understand them. Will he undertake that, if a comprehensible and easily intelligible form of nutritional labelling is proposed by the committee, he will not allow our partners in the Community to override it?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, that is one of the many reasons why we support lay representatives. Labelling will be a factor. I am sure that the new committee will bear in mind what the noble Baroness has said. On the European role, food safety is basically a Europe-determined policy.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware how much I appreciate the breath of fresh air that seems to be flowing through MAFF at the moment? As well as bringing lay membership into the committees, are the Government considering broadening the scientific base, as I suggested in my speech of 24th June when I suggested that perhaps young Ph.Ds might also be co-opted onto the committees?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Countess for her kind remarks. I also thank her because she has been responsible for much of the momentum in changing the situation and attitudes in this area. We are looking at broadening the scientific base--I know this is an area in which she is interested. We propose to put lay members very shortly on two subordinate committees to the Advisory Committee on Pesticides--the Pesticides Forum and the Working Party on Pesticide Residues.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, desirable though the aims of this agency may be, is the noble Lord aware that there is a certain amount of apprehension that its activities could develop into a nightmare of officiousness and bureaucracy? I just wonder which of the noble Lord's colleagues will have the rather difficult task of restraining the excessive enthusiasm that the agency may be tempted to show.
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