Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Uncorrected Evidence



  By letter dated 16 November 2000, the Clerk to the Foreign Affairs Committee sought answers to further questions which the committee had decided to put to the Department. This memorandum answers those questions.

1.   What responses have been received from (a) Commissioner Vitorino and (b) the European Commission to HMG's representations about border delays; if HMG can provide a schedule of the occasions when British Ministers and officials have raised the issues with Spanish counterparts, outlining the Spanish response on each occasion; and what discussion on Gibraltar in general, and border delays in particular, took place when the two Prime Ministers and two Foreign Ministers last met?

  Officials in the United Kingdom Permanent Representation in Brussels have been in frequent contact at various levels with the Commission on the subject of the continuing delays at the Gibraltar/Spain border. The Commission has said in response to a question from Lord Bethell MEP that it "considers 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" (Question reference H-0789/00). The Commission confirmed that it has therefore requested observations from Spain "in order to assess whether the particular measures applied at the Spain/Gibraltar border are objectively justified".

  As set out in the Memorandum responding to the Clerk to the Foreign Affairs Committee's letter of 27 June, the issue of border delays is raised frequently with Spanish officials. It is not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all such occasions. The issue was raised most recently at talks between senior officials of the UK and Spain in Madrid on 17 November, following delays of up to three hours on 13 November. The Spanish side attributed these delays to operational activity by the local police.

  The Spanish response has generally been that the delays are caused by the checks legitimately required to implement Spain's obligations to check goods entering the EU customs territory and to prevent smuggling of duty-free and other goods across the frontier; and that these checks will vary in nature according to police intelligence at the time. A further reason which they sometimes give is that the Spanish authorities involved are unable to provide the additional resources to process vehicles more swiftly. We continue to make it clear that we do not regard these as sufficient reasons for the delays, which we believe to be disproportionate to their purpose.

  The Foreign Secretary has regular contacts with Sr Pique on a wide range of issues, including those related to Gibraltar. The main purpose of the meeting between the Prime Minister and Sr Aznar in October was to discuss a variety of European Union issues with Spain.

  The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have consistently made their counterparts aware of our wish to see improved relations between British and Spain lead to material improvements for Gibraltar and to the resolution of various practical problems. The Spanish government is in no doubt about the importance we attach to resolving such problems, including delays at the border and the shortage of telephone numbers.

2.   What is the Government's policy on the invocation of Article 227 in respect of border delays?

  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.

3.   What are the figures for delay times at the border over the period since Mr Vaz's answer to Dr Marek (HC Deb 7 June 2000, col 294w)? (You may wish to be aware of the attached letter from the Chief Secretary in Gibraltar: the Committee hopes that statistics can be collected on an identical basis by the Royal Gibraltar Police and the Government of Gibraltar.)

  The figures are attached as an annex to this Memorandum.

4.   What discussions have there been with the Ministry of Defence about lowering the charges for use of Gibraltar airport?

  The Ministry of Defence has in the past held various discussions with the Government of Gibraltar on this issue. The Ministry of Defence has agreed to consider the potential for reducing landing fees if and when increased usage results in recoveries exceeding the cost of supporting civil flights at Gibraltar airport. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces confirmed this position to a group of MPs led by Andrew Mackinlay MP during a meeting in December 1999.

  In the past there has also been discussion between the Ministry of Defence and the operators at Gibraltar airport.

  The only recent discussions have been with GB Airways over the discount for the new Airbus aircraft which they will introduce on the Gibraltar route next year and which will operate at less than the maximum Take-off Weight on which charges are based.

5.   What responses have been received from the European Commission to HMG's representations about delay in the case of telephone operations; if HMG can provide a schedule of the occasions when British Ministers and officials have raised this issue with (a) Spanish counterparts and (b) the European Commission, outlining the response on each occasion; and what timetable is being followed for a resolution of this issue.

  The Government frequently raises with Spain the issue of the shortage of telephone numbers in Gibraltar. As with the issue of border delays, it is not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all the occasions when the subject has been raised.

  The Government has been in regular contact with the Commission on the issue of the complaints against Spain initiated by the Gibraltar telephone operators. The Commission wrote to the UK Permanent Representative on 7 June, urging the British and Spanish Governments to have discussions to find a solution. Our response of 26 June indicated that we were prepared to discuss the issue with Spain without prejudice to possible infractions proceedings. We immediately sought to initiate discussions with the Spanish Government and have continued to urge them to take action to resolve the problem. We wrote again to the Commission on 28 September. The Commission replied on 14 November, noting that a bilateral solution had not been reached and indicating that it was continuing to consider its position. We are pressing both the Commission and Spain for further progress. The issue was raised substantively with Spain at talks at senior official level in Madrid on 17 November.

6.   Could HMG let the Committee know, in confidence if necessary, what options are being considered for unilateral action to enfranchise Gibraltarians for European elections by 2004?

  The Government is committed to fulfilling its legal obligations to implement the judgment of the ECHR in the Matthews case to enfranchise Gibraltar for elections to the European Parliament. We believe that the best method of doing so is by amendment to the 1976 EC Act on Direct Elections, which would require the agreement of other Member states. Unilateral action would involve legislation to enable Gibraltar citizens to vote in elections to the European Parliament without prior amendment of the 1976 EC Act. We are currently assessing the legal and practical implications of such action. We are considering how Gibraltar might, for the purposes of elections to the European parliament, become part of a UK multi-member Constituency.

7.   What contacts there have been with the Spanish national and regional authorities, and with the Government of Gibraltar on HMS Tireless, and what undertakings were given to either side?

  The Government has kept the Governments of Spain and Gibraltar regularly informed since HMS Tireless arrived in Gibraltar on 19 May. The Chairman of the Naval Nuclear Regulatory Panel is briefing a independent panel of experts appointed by the Government of Gibraltar. The Government is also sharing information with Spain via an ad hoc working group, which includes representatives of the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council and other authorities. The Secretary of State has written to the Chief Minister in response to the Home of Assembly motion making clear that we do not see the cooperation outlined above as having any bearing on broader issues of the type mentioned in the first paragraph of the House of Assembly motion. The Government has also made clear to the Government of Spain that this cooperation has been provided for the purpose of reassurance on public safety and in the spirit of good neighbourliness, without any wider or future implications.

  British Ministers and officials have discussed the HMS Tireless issue frequently with the relevant authorities in Gibraltar and Spain. The Prime Minister has discussed HMS Tireless with the Spanish Prime Minister, for example, in Madrid on 27 October and Zagreb on 24 November. The Governor of Gibraltar and the Commander of British Forces have given regular briefings to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. The Foreign Secretary has had extensive contacts with the Spanish Foreign Minister. The British Embassy in Madrid have also been in close contact with the central and regional authorities in Spain. The Government acknowledge the legitimate concerns which have been expressed in Gibraltar and the neighbouring region concerning public safety and have undertaken to maintain this flow of information and to do all they can to allay the concerns of the people of Gibraltar and of Spain.

8.   The Government will be aware of the Committee's view that the Brussels Process should be discontinued. However, since the Government does not share this view, the Committee wishes to know whether there will be a meeting under the Brussels Process in the next six months and, if not, why the Government believes that the Brussels Process is active.

  The Brussels Process is a framework for talks which was established with a view to overcoming a wide range of differences between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar. It does not, however, preclude discussion of Gibraltar issues in other contexts, for example, in other Ministerial or official-level meetings. We believe it is important to keep open all our channels of communication with Spain.

  Meetings under the Brussels Process do not take place according to a set timetable. There have been several periods since the process of meetings began in 1984 when there has been no formal meeting. No meeting at either Ministerial or official level is currently scheduled.

Foreign & Commonwealth Office

5 January 2001



DateDelay Exiting Gibraltar (minutes) MaximumAverage Delay Entering Gibraltar (minutes) Maximum Average
10 Sa6036 00
11 Su6019 00
127536 4511
137556 00
148055 605
156035 457
166046 4510
17 Sa9048 306
18 Su7537 203
197535 459
209045 305
214027 6013
226023 306
239048 306
24 Sa9052 102
25 Su9051 00
267549 205
274524 154
289038 4512
294524 206
309037 207


DateDelay Exiting Gibraltar (minutes) MaximumAverage Delay Entering Gibraltar (minutes) Maximum Average
1 Sa6037 201
2 Su4522 151
34517 6022
44522 209
57545 6015
69060 259
77534 205
8 Sa6041 308
9 Su6040 204
106027 4519
119063 307
124515 3010
134522 4514
144523 4515
15 Sa9053 152
16 Su6038 00
176034 7526
189034 6031
196035 6024
209037 4514
219027 4511
22 Sa12057 206
23 Su9048 3010
247526 6024
259058 6025
266039 6023
274526 4014
286028 4514
29 Sa6049 6029
30 Su4526 00
317537 5017


DateDelay Exiting Gibraltar (minutes) MaximumAverage Delay Entering Gibraltar (minutes) Maximum Average
17534 3515
24520 9029
37535 102
44524 6021
5 Sa4525 4530*
6 Su12056 155
74515 9057*
812036 9045*
97543 6033
106037 6034*
116034 4531*
12 Sa4530 4018
13 Su6038 2011
146030 6042
154519 6040
164534 9047
176027 9047*
184521 9046
19 Sa9047 4514
20 Su6034 204
214525 9043
224522 9042
234520 9055
249042 4527
256042 4520
26 Sa6050 307
27 Su4528 152
28 Bank Hol6039 4530
2915065 4529
3012044 6016*
316033 302


DateDelay Exiting Gibraltar (minutes) MaximumAverage Delay Entering Gibraltar (minutes) Maximum Average
16038 307*
2 Sa7549 305
3 Su6045 00
46036 4518*
57532 9037*
64534 6035*
77030 7543*
812059 7536*
9 Sa7555 7536*
10 Su9051 4012*
116047 7545*
129035 9037*
139046 6020
146033 6034
157538 9038
16 Sa12067 4519*
17 Su12059 207
186036 6019*
1912049 4514
204531 6021
2110555 6025*
2210550 6018**
23 Sa6042 3010
24 Su9049 152
259035 6017
264534 4513*
279046 9025*
2812059 305*
297542 306
30 Sa7540 6017


DateDelay Exiting Gibraltar (minutes) MaximumAverage Delay Entering Gibraltar (minutes) Maximum Average
1 Su9036 3010
29024 7515
36051 302
49047 6011
56035 256
66046 6024
7 Sa6042 7531
8 Su7530 308
96028 9021
109036 6025
119060 9024
126017 12048
139055 3017
14 Sa9050 4521
15 Su4522 3015
169037 3010
179037 307
1812059 3010
194536 409
206040 4513
21 Sa7545 4522
22 Su4531 4510
236033 2010
246036 207
256024 6017
266030 204
279044 6016*
28 Sa9075 00*
29 Su9037 00
308041 205
317047 254*


DateDelay Exiting Gibraltar (minutes) MaximumAverage Delay Entering Gibraltar (minutes) Maximum Average
16014 9025
27543 00*
37543 207
4 Sa7542 4017
5 Su4524 6020
66026 4511
74530 151
84522 5010
96039 205*
109031 4510
11 Sa9051 4513
12 Su4516 203
1318062 203*
146032 304
159040 309*
166032 457
176044 457*
18 Sa4527 306
19 Su4529 304
204535 205
214019 205
224013 306
237535 102*
249054 102*
25 Sa9045 307
26 Su4517 305
276022 00
284515 00
293013 203
307527 253


DateDelay Exiting Gibraltar (minutes) MaximumAverage Delay Entering Gibraltar (minutes) Maximum Average
17538 456
24533 4013
34021 4511
49035 307*
59052 3012*
66034 9035*
712071 3010*
89039 6024
96035 3012
106026 4510*
116031 153*
126033 101*
139056 153*
146037 00
159039 202*
166034 2510
176022 305
189027 202*
199042 153*
209050 6017
216027 102
222010 205
234512 101
24305 00
25303 00
267522 00
279022 6022
287535 2016
297529 6027
304537 4518
312510 00


DateDelay Exiting Gibraltar (minutes) MaximumAverage Delay Entering Gibraltar (minutes) Maximum Average
100 00
27524 3018


  Average delays are measured for the period 0900-2100, when most traffic crosses the border. Figures for delay times on which these statistics and those of the Government of Gibraltar are based are provided by security and immigration officials at the frontier and collated by the Royal Gibraltar Police.

  *delays of ten minutes or over after 2000.



  Thank you for your letter of 30 January to Robin Cook, which I am answering on his behalf.

  You raised a number of questions on Gibraltar.

When does the European Commission expect to receive the observations it has requested from Spain on border delays, and what action is HMG taking press the Commission to obtain the observations?

  While the UK remains in close touch with the Commission on this issue, communications between the European Commission and Member States concerning possible infringements of Community law are confidential. It is for the Commission to set a deadline for responses to their enquiries and to determine their response.

Why is it not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all occasions on which the issue of border delays has been raised with Spanish Ministers and officials?

  We do not record every occasion when border delays are raised. They are numerous. But we take up Gibraltar issues, including border delays, frequently with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Madrid and with other Spanish authorities. For instance, the Embassy wrote to the Guardia Civil on 11 January to follow up a discussion between the Ambassador and the head of the Guardia Civil on border issues.

When was the issue of Gibraltar borders delays last specifically raised by (a) Mr Vaz (b) you (c) the Prime Minister with your Spanish counterparts?

  I raised the issue of border delays with Sr de Miguel in Madrid on 24 May 2000 and again in London on 27 October 2000. The Secretary of State raised the question with the Spanish Foreign Minister, Sr Pique, in London on 24 January. The Prime Minister has also consistently emphasised to Sr Aznar the importance of material improvements for Gibraltar, including addressing border delays and telephones. He last raised this when they met in Madrid on 27 October 2000.

Why does the Government consider it "premature" to consider action against Spain under Article 227 in respect of border delays? In what circumstances does HMG believe that it would be appropriate to take this action? Will the Government now set a date on which it will take action if the Commission has not satisfactorily resolved the issue?

  We have consistently said that it is for the Commission to take action against Spain in accordance with its responsibilities for the enforcement of Community law. The Commission has confirmed that it is now written to Spain on the issue of border delays. No advantage would be served by the UK bringing proceedings under Article 227 at this stage. We will keep the possibility of Article 227 proceedings under review in light of progress in the action now being taken by the Commission.

Does HMG now accept the Gibraltar Government figures for the length of border delays? Were the figures given in the memorandum of 5 January based on Gibraltar Government figures, and, if not, why not?

  Both the Government of Gibraltar and we receive the same raw data for average border delays over hourly periods from the Immigration and Security Officers at the border. The Government of Gibraltar and we then interpret these figures. We have used the hourly figures to calculate an average for the period 0900-2100 at the request of the Committee. Most traffic crosses the border during these times.

What response has been received from (a) the European Commission and (b) Spain in response to HMG pressure for further progress on telephone numbers of Gibraltar?

  As set out in its Memorandum of 5 January 2001, the Government has been in regular contact with the Commission on the issue of telephone numbers. The Commission wrote to both the UK Government and the Spanish Government asking them to seek a bilateral solution. HMG passed a detailed position paper to the Spanish MFA in June 2000 but, although the issue has been raised regularly with Spanish Ministers and officials, we have not yet received a formal response. We will continue to press the Spanish Government on this subject. But, as a solution has not emerged from bilateral discussions, the Commission has made it clear that it will now resume its consideration of the subject.

When will HMG begin infraction proceedings in respect of telephone services?

  The complaint concerning the operation of Gibraltar telephones was brought before the Commission by Gibtel and Gibraltar Nynex Communications. It is a private competition complaint. The EC Treaty confers primary responsibility for the enforcement of Community law on the Commission. It is for the Commission to initiate infraction proceedings. In particular, the Commission maintains significant authority in competition issues. The Government for its part has supported this complaint in its dealings with the Commission.

Why is it not possible to provide a comprehensive list of all occasions on which the issue of telephone numbers for Gibraltar has been raised with Spanish Ministers and officials?

  As with the border delays, the issue of telephone numbers is mentioned frequently in exchanges between our Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, and with Spanish officials here.

Can the Government state categorically that Gibraltarian citizens will be able to vote in Gibraltar at the 2004 European elections?

  The Government is committed to fulfilling its obligation to give effect to the Matthews judgment and is seeking enfranchisement before the 2004 elections. Implementing the Matthews judgement would require primary legislation in the United Kingdom.

Is the Committee correct in concluding that the Brussels Process is moribund?

  No. The Spanish Government has recently made clear the importance it attaches to the continuation of the Process. While there have been no meetings of the Brussels Process at Ministerial level since December 1997, we have been seeking to make progress on issues such as border delays and telephones to improve confidence and cooperation.

What is the current position with regard to the repair of HMS Tireless? When is she expected to leave Gibraltar? What representations have been received this year from the Spanish Government and the Government of Gibraltar about her repair?

  The current stage of the repair of HMS Tireless began on 23 January. There has been good progress with the repair work and the welding has been completed. It remains the Government's firm intention that the repair should be completed by the end of March and that HMS Tireless should leave Gibraltar as soon as possible thereafter. This year there have been further ministerial contacts with the Governments of Gibraltar and Spain regarding progress with the repair and the Chairman of the Naval Nuclear Regulatory Panel has held further meetings with the independent panel of experts appointed by the Government of Gibraltar and with representatives of the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council and other Spanish authorities. The Government will continue to keep both Governments fully informed of progress with the repair.

  Your Clerk wrote separately on 13 February to the FCO Parliamentary about Sr Pique's speech in the Spanish Parliament on Gibraltar on 8 February. We are sending the Clerk an unofficial translation of that speech. Your Clerk also asked for the FCO's comments on the speech. I will write separately on this.

Keith Vaz

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