Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


Gibraltar's military role

94. Gibraltar was traditionally a garrison and naval dockyard. We were told that over the last 15 years, the level of military personnel has declined from 10,000 to 1,000 and civilian Ministry of Defence employees from 15,000 to 1,200. This has meant that defence-related expenditure in the territory has declined from 70% to 7% of GDP. The resilience which Gibraltarians have shown in developing other industries is highly commendable. However, Gibraltar remains a major defence asset, providing as it does a deep-sea port adjacent to a RAF-controlled airfield. Most importantly, Gibraltar's geographic position makes it a vital staging post on the route to the Balkans, the Gulf, the rest of the Middle East and Cyprus. The Strategic Defence Review took no position on Gibraltar, but we understand from the Commander of British Forces in Gibraltar that there has been a modest increase in MoD funding to maintain support for visiting Royal Navy (and other NATO) surface warships. Current military engagements are likely to increase Gibraltar's potential value in military terms.

Spain and NATO

95. Spain became a member of NATO in May 1982 and became part of the integrated military structure on March 1 1999. As at the time of Spain's admission to the EC, there was an opportunity to exert pressure in relation to Gibraltar during the negotiating process before Spanish entry to NATO. Regrettably, however, it appears that Spanish restrictions in respect of British forces using Gibraltar remain in place. According to a report in The Financial Times,[207] the United Kingdom initially threatened to block Spain's full membership unless these restrictions were removed, but withdrew its veto after Spain persuaded the USA and other countries that Gibraltar was not a sufficient reason to block Spanish admission. Thus Spain still restricts all NATO military aviation movements into and out of Gibraltar, including a ban on military overflights and an air exclusion zone to the north and west of Gibraltar. Access of United Kingdom and other NATO warships to Gibraltar is also restricted.[208] For example, some two years ago, HMS Invincible was not able to call at Gibraltar when involved in NATO exercises with Spain. An agreement was, however, reached in June 1998 on the lifting of some of these restrictions, including air diversions in an emergency and the use of Gibraltar-based assets in NATO exercises.[209] On the British side, one important concession was made by Spain in order to calm Gibraltarian concerns: there can be no Spanish military presence on, or command over, the Rock.[210] The FCO regard Spain's position as a full NATO ally as presenting "the opportunity to develop new arrangements for the use of Gibraltar as a NATO asset."[211] Ms Quin assured us that the Government would be pressing for the removal of remaining restrictions on British aircraft and ships.[212] We regard it as extraordinary that Spain was allowed to join the integrated military structure of NATO while imposing restrictions on the military movement of one of its partners in the Alliance. This was a missed negotiating opportunity. We recommend that the Government exert maximum pressure for the removal of all remaining restrictions which apply to Gibraltar in the NATO context.

Military aid to the civil power

96. We were surprised to learn that the Royal Navy based in Gibraltar is not tasked to support the RGP on fisheries protection or drugs interdiction, though the Royal Navy had trained the RGP in methods of intercepting and boarding vessels. The Royal Navy did, however, have the job of maintaining the integrity of Gibraltarian territorial waters. Spanish official vessels (for example, of the Guardia Civil) could be intercepted and asked to leave, though they had the right of innocent passage under international law.[213]

97. When requested in the House to arrange for the dispatch of a fisheries protection vessel to Gibraltar at the height of the fishing dispute, Ms Quin did not give any specific response.[214] We can understand that to have acceded to this request might have been deemed to have been inflammatory at the time. However, the FCO confirmed to us that HM Forces in Gibraltar are responsible for "providing aid as appropriate to the civil authorities",[215] and earlier in the dispute the Government had said that the deployment of a fisheries protection vessel "to aid in calming the situation" was one of the options they were considering.[216] Mr Caruana made it clear that he would expect the Royal Navy to be used if the situation required,[217] and we understand that the Governor would not hesitate to ask the Government to deploy the Royal Navy in aid of the RGP if a strong case was made to him by the Commissioner. We recommend that the Royal Navy should be tasked to support the Royal Gibraltar Police in their duties of fisheries protection and the interdiction of smuggling.

207   7 July 1998. Back

208   HC Deb 26 March 1999 c. 433. Back

209   HC Deb 31 March c. 683. Back

210   Ev. p. 10, para. 1(a). Back

211   IbidBack

212   Q137. Back

213   Ev. p. 12, para. 8. Back

214   HC Deb 11 February 1999 cc. 467 and 468. Back

215   Ev. p. 12, para. 8. Back

216   HC Deb 14 January 1999 c. 536. Back

217   Q167. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 22 June 1999