Examination of witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
and MR RICHARD
Chairman: Mr Jones, Mr Hill, we welcome you,
alongside the Minister. Mr Mackinlay, please.
1. In recent documentation, since we last discussed
this with you, Minister, we now know that there is a disparity
as to the figures for the border frustrations, between those of
the Gibraltar Government and those which you have supplied to
the House of Commons, or the Foreign Office has. One, why was
there not spelled out to us that there was a different accounting
procedure; and, two, will you now ensure thatI want to
get the actual wording hereevery frustration, every instance
where border delays are raised, these will be recorded, that there
should be parity of accounting? I wonder if I could just pause
(Mr Vaz) If there is a disparity, and if it is because
of a different method of accounting, I will certainly look into
making sure that there is one method of accounting which will
be acceptable to the Committee. But, as far as I am concerned,
the principle remains the same, border delays remain a problem.
This morning, I met with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, who
is in London over the next week, and I discussed this and other
issues with him. We are constantly aware of problems that it causes,
and we have raised representations, as the Committee knows. When
I went to Gibraltar, I did go to the border area and I watched
what was happening and I took out my stop-watch and I realised
it was unacceptable.
2. In his address to the Spanish Parliament,
on 8 February, the Foreign Affairs Minister reiteratedI
think it is a liethat Gibraltar were tardy on implementing
European Union Directives. Now, in your Foreign Office note, you
do not seem vigorously to rebut that; if not, why not? If there
are still some deficiencies, what are they? But, assuming that
the compliance of Gibraltar is satisfactory, from the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office's point of view, why has there not been
a challenge to the Spanish Foreign Minister to demand that he
says where there is a deficiency? Gibraltar has been introduced,
we have not challenged the Foreign Minister, to say, "What
are you on about?", and why have we not; if there is some
deficiency, what is it?
(Mr Vaz) As far as we are concerned, Gibraltar is
doing its best to implement whatever is required of it; if there
are any examples where countries feel that they are not doing
so then it should be brought to our attention. I think, if I were
to comment on every single speech that was made by Foreign Ministers
to their various Parliaments then we would be here late into the
3. Minister, the point, surely, is this. We
have a speech made by the Spanish Foreign Minister, not an official,
it is made in respect of a country for which we have responsibility,
in respect of their external relations, there are clear errors
in that speech. Are we making it our business to correct those
(Mr Vaz) Of course, if there are any circumstances
in which Gibraltar has not acted properly, of course we have made
4. Yes, but, really, that is not good enough,
is it, because he actually spells outI am just trying to
find the relevant referencebut he actually alleges that
Gibraltar is not fulfilling the European Union Directives. And
the record will show, you used the words "doing its best";
well, Gibraltar is either doing it to the agreement of the United
Kingdom Government or there is a deficiency. Your own wording,
actually, is the kind of thing which gives credence to this thing
which is peddled by the Spanish Foreign Minister to an audience,
namely, the Spanish Parliament. Can I ask you this way, are you,
this afternoon, satisfied that Gibraltar is complying, to the
satisfaction of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as regards
its European Union legislation?
(Mr Vaz) All countries have issues where they have
not implemented and not acted upon particular Directives. What
the Spanish Foreign Minister says to the Spanish Parliament, Mr
Mackinlay, is a matter for him. I am not responsible for his speech.
The Government of Gibraltar is responsible for implementing the
Directives that it is responsible for, and I am satisfied that
it is complying in the best way it can.
5. So you see no need to challenge the Foreign
Minister, saying, "What are your complaints, Foreign Minister?"?
(Mr Vaz) What is it you want me to do to the Spanish
Foreign Minister, Mr Mackinlay?
6. He is the equivalent of you, or senior, he
says to the Spanish Parliament something which we deem to be untrue;
in an earlier session, you actually referred to the fact that
a French official wrote to Honourable Member Fabricant, rebutting
things which were said in the British Parliament. Why do you not
challenge him on something which was said wrongly in the Spanish
(Mr Vaz) If Mr Mackinlay feels so strongly about this
particular speech, I will certainly reread it, and if I think
that it merits any further action I will consider what to do.
7. But he has made a specific allegation that
Gibraltar is not complying with European Union Company Law Directives;
you are saying that that is not correct. Have you corrected Senor
(Mr Vaz) No. Mr Chairman, I think the record will
show that I did not refer to a particular Directive. If you wish
me to look into a particular Directive, what I will do is, I shall
seek the views of the Governor of Gibraltar, and if this is untrue
I will decide what further action to take.
8. But can I, for the record, just read this;
this is what he said: "If its financial centre has blossomed,
and there are more than 80,000 companies registered, that is thanks
to the permissiveness and opaqueness of its financial and company
system, given that, among other factors, they have not transposed
the main Community Directives in this field." Now, it is
a matter of record that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office actually
insisted, put in, the regulatory arrangements in Gibraltar; you
have done it. This is traducing not just Gibraltar which I resent,
but is traducing you, and throughout all these years which we
have been on this Committee, it is to our amazement that you allow
the Spanish Government not to traduce the Government of Gibraltar
but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; one, such as this, on
financial regulations, and also they do it in respect of the police
force, which is under the control of the Governor, who is under
the control of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, not the home
(Mr Vaz) Well, Mr Chairman, I have said to Mr MackinlayI
see he is getting concerned about the speech, and obviously he
is passionate about it, he is a great friend of GibraltarI
will look at it again, and if I feel I have been traduced, as
he puts it, I will decide on what action I should take.
Sir John Stanley
9. Minister, almost two years ago, your Department
submitted a memorandum to this Committee, in its first Gibraltar
inquiry in this Parliament, and, in paragraph 45 of your memorandum,
which was considered by the Committee on 30 March 1999, it says
this: "We have complained to the Spanish Government several
times since February", that, of course, is February 1999,
"about delays, stressing that they are excessive and unjustifiable,
as well as counterproductive. We have also pressed the European
Commission on the need to remind Spain of her EU obligations for
free movement of people. We believe that Spain must honour her
assurance that she does not question the right of Gibraltarians
to freedom of movement within the EU." That is, as I said,
effectively, two years ago. And the Committee, in that report,
pressed the Government to take more action with the EU, to get
the Commission to discharge its proper responsibilities, in making
very, very forceful representations to Spain, and, if the Commission
refused to do so, we urged you to use the powers which are available
to the British Government under Article 227 of the EC Treaty.
In the latest series of questions, which we have put to you and
to which you have replied, in memorandum GIBF 4d, for ease of
identification, which is in front of us today, you say this, in
response to our question, "What is the Government's policy
on the invocation of Article 227 in respect of border delays?",
and your reply is this: "The Government has noted the Committee's
recommendation that it take action under Article 227 of the EC
Treaty. Such action is extremely rare (since the EC Treaty confers
primary responsibility for the enforcement of Community law on
the Commission). Since we understand that the Commission is now
taking up the matter with Spain, it would be premature for the
UK to consider the possibility of action under Article 227 at
this stage." Will you explain to us, Minister, why it has
taken, apparently, two years after these intolerable delays, as
your predecessor, Ms Joyce Quin, made quite clear in her own evidence
to the Committee, why has it taken two years for the EC Commission
actually to start taking up this matter with Spain; is that not
absolutely intolerable, and, indeed, a dereliction of duty by
the EC Commission?
(Mr Vaz) It is not a dereliction of duty. We have
referred this matter to the European Commission, as we promised
to do. They have opened a fiche, in respect of infraction proceedings,
and they are in correspondence, which, as you know, infraction
proceedings, by their own nature, and these whole matters are
confidential, but they have opened correspondence with the Spanish
authorities and they are quite clear what our views are on this
10. Why did it take two years?
(Mr Vaz) The fact is, it is happening, and I cannot
give Sir John an explanation as to why it took two years. The
fact is, we know that this matter has been a cause of concern,
but we also know that it has been used, as I saw for myself, when
I went down to the border, when they see a visitor there and they
know that something is happening, they tend to make it even longer
for people. And I share the huge frustration of those who wish
to cross the borders, and we have made this clear to Spanish Ministers
and others. But those proceedings have begun, the fiche has been
opened, and we expect action to be taken.
11. Are you aware, Minister, that it is frequently
indicated to this Committee that Gibraltar does not loom at all
significantly in the European policy of the present Government,
and that the present Government is much more concerned about its
relations with the Spanish Government, and Gibraltar, for that
purpose, is regarded as something which is genuflected towards
but is not made the subject of any serious defence, as far as
its legal rights are concerned?
(Mr Vaz) That is simply untrue. We take the issue
of Gibraltar very seriously indeed. Sir John, it occupies an enormous
amount of time of officials, and, indeed, ministers. This morning,
I had a meeting with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, at 24 hours'
notice, he asked to see me, and I went and saw him and we had
a discussion about issues concerned with Gibraltar; he is on the
telephone to Mr Hill, who is our senior official, Mr Jones, on
these matters, on a weekly basis. We have an excellent Governor
out there, whom I spoke to at 2.15 today. This occupies a lot
of ministerial time. And we care for Gibraltar and the people
of Gibraltar. So please do not believe that that is not something
that does occupy our time.
12. Are you prepared to give this Committee
any assurance that the British Government will use its Article
227 powers if the Commission fail to produce the requisite freeing
of the border between Spain and Gibraltar?
(Mr Vaz) It is very difficult giving you assurances
about something that is going to happen in the future. I can give
you this assurance, we will pursue this now, we will pursue the
Commission, and make sure that what we have requested is achieved.
13. Minister, you probably share my view that
the Spanish Government does not set about this in a particularly
constructive way; they ought to be wooing the people of Gibraltar
rather than threatening them the whole time, and, clearly, if
there is going to be a solution to this problem it lies along
those lines, rather than either side trying to browbeat the other.
I suppose both countries could say there were much bigger issues
between us than Gibraltar, but it does seem that the Spanish Government
is prepared to make quite a lot of this issue and we are not prepared
to make very much of it, and then they are prepared to deny telephone
lines, effectively, to run a blockade on the border, but we are
not even prepared to take infraction proceedings. Do you not think
that this imbalance in our respective approaches to this problem
encourages them to think that their bullying tactics might work;
whereas, if we made it clear that those will not, by instituting
infraction proceedings and then saying, "Now let's sit down
and try to find . . ." I think the solution is probably a
regional one in that part of Spain, including Gibraltar. But if
we did that we would be more likely to make progress on the substantive
issues, but at the moment we are sort of sending them the wrong
(Mr Vaz) No; we are sending them the right signals.
14. Well, what makes you think that, because
they are continuing to run a blockade and we do not seem to be
making any progress?
(Mr Vaz) It is not a blockade. These delays are unacceptable,
and we have done what is required by the law that we should do,
we have referred it to the Commission. We have sent these signals,
very clearly, to the Spanish Government and they understand our
position; we have got the balance right.
15. It is, in a sense, what Sir John Stanley
asked you already. Our understanding is correct, is it, that the
United Kingdom does have the right to take proceedings on its
own, under Article 227 of the Treaty; if it decided to do so,
it has the right to do that?
(Mr Vaz) Yes.
16. A legal right to do that. And, of course,
Gibraltar and Gibraltar citizens are citizens of the United Kingdom,
and Gibraltar is part of the European Union, so it would seem
perfectly within our rights to do that. What I am suggesting to
you is that your assertion that we are sending the right signals
is not being interpreted by the Spanish Government in the way
which seems to be making any progress at all. And I suggest to
you, again, that by not taking more robust action we are actually
sending the wrong signal, and that the Spanish are encouraged
in continuing the policy that they are continuing, which seems
to be to try to browbeat us or Gibraltar in some way into a solution?
(Mr Vaz) I disagree. I think we are taking the right
17. What effect do you think it has had on the
Spanish Government, our approach?
(Mr Vaz) I think it has had a positive effect, they
are aware that we are serious, when we said we would involve the
Commission; we did not have to involve the Commission, but we
did, and a fiche has been opened and the dialogue has commenced.
18. At Nice, the Spanish got a derogation, or
dispensation, which was a very considerable advantage to them,
which was that the removal of a veto on the allocation of Structural
Funds was delayed until 2007, I think I have expressed that correctly,
in accordance with whatever the documents said. And, of course,
if it had gone to QMV now, rather than in 2007, there is a good
possibility the Spanish would not have been getting so much out
of the Structural Funds. That must have been a very considerable
concession to them, and I wonder if, when that concession was
made, these issues about Gibraltar were raised, and why we did
not extract some similar concession in exchange for that, since
we pay a huge amount of the Structural Fund budget?
(Mr Vaz) All kinds of issues are discussed at European
Council meetings. I can assure you that, when we went in to bat
for Britain, we put the best foot forward and we did what was
right for Britain.
19. In relation to the Spanish request that
the QMV on Structural Funds be delayed until 2007, did we raise
the issue of Gibraltar and possible infraction proceedings under
(Mr Vaz) We discussed all kinds of issues. Mr Maples,
you would not expect me to tell you what was discussed in confidential
conversations between the Prime Ministers of our two countries.