The Foreign Affairs Committee has agreed to the
1. This Committee first reported on Gibraltar in
and in July 2000 published a follow-up Report.
On 8 June 2000 our first Report was the subject of a Westminster
On 16 November we wrote to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(FCO) posing a number of questions; the Department responded on
5 January 2001.
We requested further clarification on 30 January 2001 and received
a response on 18 February.
After considering the memoranda we decided to hear oral evidence
from Mr Keith Vaz MP, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth
2. This Report reviews three issues that have been
themes of our inquiries into Gibraltar: illegal border delays
between Gibraltar and Spain, the restriction on telephone numbers,
and the enfranchisement of all British Citizens resident in Gibraltar
in time for the 2004 European Parliamentary Elections. They have
yet to be resolved and we hope our successor Committee will return
to them early in the next Parliament. We also consider the new
Single European Sky policy and the Government's approach to British/Spanish
Border delays between Gibraltar and Spain
3. Our first Report on Gibraltar commented that the
Spanish Government regularly applied pressure on Gibraltar by
closing the border or restricting severely traffic across it.
Since 29 January 1999, following a dispute over fishing rights,
this has been a constant practice of the Spanish Government. FCO
statistics setting out hourly delays clearly demonstrate the problem.
The latest set of statistics, covering the period June-December
2000, is appended to this Report.
The British Government complained to the Spanish Government that
the delays were excessive and unjustifiable and, in 1999, the
then Minister for Europe, Joyce Quin, told us that the Commission
had undertaken to look into the matter.
Our Report concluded that the border delays were unacceptable,
and that if the Commission was unwilling to take swift action
itself, the British Government should invoke Article 227 against
4. Following the debate on our Report on Gibraltar
in Westminster Hall, we wrote to the FCO requesting updates on
border delays. The FCO responded with two memoranda, both of which
were published with our follow-up Report.
In the second memorandum,
we asked the FCO if it could reconcile its figures for average
vehicle delays with those given to us by the Government of Gibraltar.
The FCO told us that their figures were calculated by taking the
maximum delay time for each hour between 0900 hours and 2100 hours
and dividing these figures by the number of hours. The Chief Secretary
of the Government of Gibraltar told us that its figures were calculated
on delay times throughout the 24 hours of the day.
There is no discrepancy between the two sets of figures for the
maximum delay whether on entry or exit.
5. Commenting on the discrepancy on the figures for
average vehicle delay times, Mr Caruana, Chief Minister of Gibraltar
said that he had asked his officials formally to appraise the
FCO that the Gibraltar Government figures represented the correct,
official statistics and that, in future, these should be used
when imparting information.
In evidence to us, Mr Vaz undertook to ensure that only one method
of accounting would be used.
6. In November 2000 and January 2001 we wrote to
the FCO asking what progress the Commission had made on border
delays. The Department told us that the United Kingdom Permanent
Representation in Brussels was in frequent contact with the Commission,
at various levels, and noted that the Commission had said it "considered
that the checks conducted at the border which lead to these delays
could not be proportionate to the legal and practical objectives
they are intended to pursue."
In evidence to us, Mr Vaz explained that the Commission had "opened
a fiche, in respect of infraction proceedings, and they are in
correspondence...with the Spanish authorities."
However, the Minister was unable to give us an indication of when
the Commission would report, stating that it was "for the
Commission to set a deadline for responses to their enquiries
and to determine their response."
7. We also asked the Government if it was considering
invoking Article 227. The FCO argued that, as the Commission was
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." When pressed on the Government's unwillingness
to invoke Article 227, Mr Vaz said "it is very difficult
[to give] assurances about something that is going to happen in
the future. I can give you this assurance, we will pursue [the
issue of border delays] now, we will pursue the Commission, and
make sure that what we have requested is achieved."
We note that this has now been before the Commission since 11
We recommend that the British Government give formal notice
now to the Spanish Government that if border delays are not brought
down significantly to a reasonable length by a specified date
it will commence proceedings in the European Court of Justice
under Article 227.
Restriction on telephone numbers in Gibraltar
8. Our first Report also highlighted the problems
with telephone numbers in Gibraltar. We were told by the Government
of Gibraltar that it was unable to comply with EU telephone liberalisation
directives because of Spain's refusal to recognise Gibraltar's
international dialling code.
As a result Spain refused to allocate any more than 30,000 telephone
numbers on the Spanish system.
In 1996, two Gibraltarian telecommunication companies, Gibtel
and Nynex, took up the matter with the European Commission. We
asked for the Government's position on the case and were told
by the FCO that it was for the Commission to decide on private
complaints. However, the Department told us that it took an active
interest and had "urged the Commission to examine carefully
the arguments put forward by the complainants and to find an early
9. On 16 November 2000 we wrote to the FCO asking
what responses it had received from the Commission on progress
in the case. We also asked for a schedule of the occasions when
Ministers and officials raised this issue both with their Spanish
counterparts and with the European Commission. The Department
answered that it was not possible to provide a comprehensive list
of all the occasions but that it was frequently raised with Spain.
The FCO informed us that the Commission had written to the United
Kingdom Permanent Representative on 7 June urging that a bilateral
solution be found. The Government's response to the Commission
of 26 June indicated that it was willing to initiate discussions
with the Spanish Government. The Government wrote again to the
Commission on 28 September and received a response on 14 November
in which the Commission noted that a bilateral solution had not
been reached and indicated that the Commission was continuing
to consider its position.
10. In its memorandum of 18 February, the FCO told
us that it had passed a detailed position paper to the Spanish
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in June 2000 but although the issue
had been raised regularly with Spanish Ministers and officials,
no formal response had been received. The Department also stated
that the Commission had made it clear that it would now resume
its consideration of the subject.
FCO officials told us that the United Kingdom Permanent Representative
had written again to the senior Commission official stressing
that urgent action was required.
When the Minister was questioned on the effectiveness of the Government's
negotiations he did not accept the charge that the Government
was not prepared to play hard-ball with the Spanish Government
in relation to Gibraltar:
"I think we are doing everything that we can"
he said. We note that the issue was first put before the Commission
in 1996, and there is a danger that the concept of 'mañana'
will be given a new dimension by this affair. We conclude that
the Spanish Government is deliberately trying to curtail the development
of Gibraltar as a commercial centre and that it is unacceptable
that Spain's inadequate allocation of telephone numbers to Gibraltar
remains unresolved 5 years after it was put before the Commission
in 1996. We recommend that the Government take a far firmer line
with both the Spanish Government and the EU Commission on this
issue. We further recommend that the Department examine the scope
provided under EU Treaty legislation for the British Government
to take this issue to the European Court of Justice and report
its conclusions in its Response to this Report.
2004 European Parliamentary Elections
11. In February 1999, the European Court of Human
Rights (ECHR) held that the United Kingdom had breached Article
3 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention of Human Rights,
ruling that Ms Denise Matthews, a British citizen resident in
Gibraltar, was denied the right to participate in elections to
the European Parliament.
Following the judgement, the then Minister for Europe, Joyce Quin,
told the House that the Government would be "taking all available
steps to secure an extension of the EP franchise to Gibraltar."
The Government's preferred solution is to amend the 1976 EC Act
on Direct Elections
and the text of a proposed amendment was tabled in the General
Affairs Group on 16 March 1999.
However, the amendment needs unanimity and is therefore open to
the threat of veto from other Member States, including Spain.
12. The alternative option open to the Government
is to act unilaterally, which would enable Gibraltar citizens
to vote in the elections without prior amendment of the 1976 EC
Act. In its memorandum, the Department states that it is assessing
"the legal and practical implications of such action [and]
how Gibraltar might, for the purposes of elections to the European
parliament, become part of a United Kingdom multi-member Constituency."
When asked to state categorically that Gibraltarian citizens would
be able to vote in Gibraltar at the 2004 European elections the
Department responded "the Government is committed to fulfilling
its obligation to give effect to the Matthews judgement and is
seeking enfranchisement before the 2004 elections."
In evidence to the Committee, Mr Vaz was asked a similar question.
"I will give you this unequivocal undertaking," the
Minister replied, "we will do everything within our power,
legally, to ensure that the people of Gibraltar are enfranchised
before the 2004 elections."
We recommend that the Department in its Response to this Report
set out how it intends to ensure that the people of Gibraltar
are enfranchised before the 2004 elections.
Gibraltar Airport and the Single European Sky
13. Our first Report on Gibraltar also set out in
detail the dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain over Gibraltar's
The airport is adjacent to the border and its development would
bring important economic benefits both to Gibraltar and to the
Unfortunately, we found that 'the airport and air services have
become a tangle of disagreement between London, Madrid and Gibraltar.'
We concluded that this was one area where the two Governments
could make real progress and recommended 'that the British Government
take advantage of its ownership of the airport to facilitate a
new agreement for the joint use of Gibraltar airport.'
We are dismayed that, despite the Government's undertaking 'to
work towards arrangements acceptable to both sides,'
no agreement has been reached, and are concerned about the effect
that its absence appears to be having on wider aviation initiatives
within Europe, primarily the proposal for the Single European
Sky. We recommend that the Government in its response to this
Report sets out how it intends to achieve progress towards an
agreement on Gibraltar Airport.
14. The Stockholm Summit on 23-24 March reaffirmed
the European Union's intention to improve air traffic management
in Europe with the creation of the Single European Sky.
However, recent press reports have indicated that the dispute
between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar's airport may delay its
In his statement to the House on the Stockholm summit, the Prime
Minister stated that "The position of Britain and Spain over
Gibraltar remains subject to negotiation over how the policy will
affect Gibraltar," but was confident that this would not
interfere with any agreement.
We hope this policy will not become a casualty of Britain and
Spain's relations over Gibraltar. It is possible that the fact
that the dispute over Gibraltar may block what is a generally
welcomed policy will have the beneficial effect of bringing the
dispute to the attention of other EU Members. We recommend
that the Department in its Response to this Report states whether
the Spanish Government is co-operating fully and expeditiously
with the intended introduction of the Single European Sky.
Government's approach to British/Spanish relations
15. During the evidence session, we made it clear
to Mr Vaz that the Government's approach to Spain was not sufficiently
robust with respect to Gibraltar. Mr Vaz defended the Government's
approach and assured us that it was doing "everything [it]
possibly can on these crucial issues," and would continue
to do its best "in order to achieve a satisfactory solution
for the people of Gibraltar."
We well understand and are glad that our bilateral relations with
Spain are very close in other areas and our co-operation on the
generality of EU issues are very close and should be nurtured.
16. However, a recent speech by the Spanish Foreign
Minister Sr Pique to the Spanish Senate highlighted the hardline
approach taken by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Gibraltar.
In his speech, Sr Pique levelled many charges against Gibraltar,
"The Gibraltarian economy
which once depended on the British military base, has become a
parasite economy that, far from producing anything, lives off
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.
If the [border] controls are flawed at all, it would
be in being too lax and permissive with respect to the enormous
'duty-free' shop directed at the Spanish market which Gibraltar
17. We questioned the validity of these assertions
and asked the FCO to comment.
Mr Vaz wrote refuting the various specific criticisms, in particular
in respect of Gibraltar's finance centre, its economy and its
implementation of EU legislation. "Far from being a parasite
economy, Gibraltar offers employment to many Spanish citizens,
[and] Gibraltar's record on the implementation of EU legislation
has improved significantly over the past few years following sustained
efforts by the Government of Gibraltar."
18. When Mr Vaz came before us he was questioned
further on Sr Pique's speech. On financial propriety, he explained
that, while the Government of Gibraltar was responsible for implementing
EU Directives, he was satisfied that Gibraltar was complying in
the best way it could.
However, in spite of the content of Sr Pique's speech, no formal
rebuttal has been issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
When pressed, Mr Vaz told us that he would reread the speech,
and if he thought that it merited any further action he would
consider what to do.
We are not aware of any action which has been taken by the Government
since Mr Vaz's rereading of the speech. We recommend that the
Department should have a firm policy of publicly rebutting factually
inaccurate statements and unproven allegations made publicly by
Spanish Ministers about Gibraltar, and we wish to be assured by
the Department in its Response to this Report that such a policy
will be followed.
19. We fully recognise that the present Government
inherited a number of the problems over Gibraltar. However, we
remain very concerned about the lack of progress on the enfranchisement
of British citizens resident in Gibraltar and in resolving the
disputes over border delays and telephone numbers. Gibraltar lies
within the territorial area of the EU. We expect the Government
to ensure that Gibraltar fulfills its obligations under EU law,
but above all, to uphold the rights of Gibraltar and Gibraltarians
under the EU Treaties with the same determination and rigour as
it would in any part of the United Kingdom.
Fourth Report, Session 1998-99, Gibraltar, HC 366. Back
Report, Session 1999-2000, Gibraltar Follow-up, HC 863. Back
9 HC Deb
8 June 2000, col. 117WHff. Back
p. 1. Back
p. 9. Back
12 QQ1-43. Back
para. 27. Back
366, Ev. pp. 53-60. Back
pp. 3-9. Back
QQ16, 20-21. Back
227 was inserted into the Treaty Establishing the European Community
by the Treaty of Amsterdam. The provisions of Article 227 would
allow the UK to take the Spanish Government to the European Court
of Justice for the obstruction of free movement across the Gibraltar/Spain
Report, Session 1999-2000, Gibraltar Follow-up, HC 863,
Appendix 3 and 4. Back
ibid., Ev. p. 6. Back
863, Ev. p. 13-51. Back
p. 18. Back
p. 18. Back
p. 1, para. 1. Back
25 Q9. Back
p. 9. Back
p. 17. Back
366, Ev. p. 44 para. 98.4. Back
para. 67. Back
Ev. p. 122. Back
p. 2, para. 5. Back
p. 2, para. 5. Back
p. 10. Back
35 Q39. Back
36 Q41. Back
37 Q38. Back
366, para. 88. Back
Deb 2 March 1999 col. 684; HC 366, Ev. p. 2, para. 10. Back
full title of the Act is The Act Concerning the Election of the
Representatives of the Assembly by Direct Universal Suffrage. Back
Deb 21 April 1999 col. 569. Back
p. 2, para. 6. Back
p. 11. Back
44 Q22. Back
366, paras. 35-41. Back
an example of such benefits, we cited the precedent of Basel/Mulhouse
airport where passengers can travel directly to and from either
Switzerland or France. Back
366, para. 35. Back
366, para. 41. Back
4892, p. 4. Back
conclusions, para. 17. Back
The Guardian, 22 March 2001. Back
Deb 26 March col. 683. Back
53 Q43. Back
informal translation provided by the FCO has been placed in the
p. 11. Back
56 ibid. Back
57 Q4. Back
58 Q8. Back