Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60-79)



  60. No evidence whatsoever.

  (Mr Hain) I have seen no evidence.

  61. Why can you not be more generous than that and say everything is satisfactory, both the stewardship of the Governor, whom you appoint, and the local legislature are fulfilling their duties and obligations.

  (Mr Hain) I keep asking for evidence. The Spanish keep saying and producing lots of figures.

  62. Why so grudging? Why can you not repudiate the Spanish evidence. Why can you not tell them in the nicest possible terms. You are not being fair to British citizens.

  (Mr Hain) I would prefer to concentrate on what we ought to keep our eye on here and that is trying to resolve aggravation between Spain and Gibraltar—both ways, complaints made both ways—and the harassment which takes place at border controls, all of those issues which aggravate the people of Gibraltar and if I were living there I should also be aggravated by them. The way you get over these issues is by getting people round a table. That is the way to deal with it, that is what we are doing.

  63. Finally, why will you not agree to this matter being adjudicated at the International Court of Justice, the point of law, whether or not the overriding international law is the United Nations Charter which deals with the principles of self-determination, as distinct from the Treaty of Utrecht which gives Spain the right of first refusal? Why will you not agree to it being referred for resolution?

  (Mr Hain) The British Government did actually offer to put the sovereignty issues to the International Court of Justice in 1966, under a Labour Government, but the rules of the ICJ, and we have seen no basis to suggest that has changed in the interim period, are that both states affected—because remember there is a joint treaty between Spain and Britain over Gibraltar, both European states—have to agree to that referral and Spain has not agreed to that.

  64. Could you ask them again nicely?

  (Mr Hain) I do not think there would be any point.

  65. So you will not do it.

  (Mr Hain) Let us get away from "won't do" things. What we have to do is concentrate on the business of serious government—not posing and putting questions which we know are not capable of resolution in that form—of negotiating politically to find a way forward which will liberate Gibraltar from its historic restrictions and difficulties and aggravation, give it a bright future, give the people of Gibraltar more self-government, which they ought to have. That is a fantastic prize and I do not understand why anybody around this table, whether or not they have visited Gibraltar, or the Government of Gibraltar, are not with us in that enterprise.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  66. As one who has visited Gibraltar, not as a guest of the Gibraltar Government but as a visitor to Gibraltar privately, who has seen the impediments to progress placed by Spain, terrible difficulties getting across the border and all the rest of it, queue in a car to do that, may I just put one very simple point to you? Are you prepared for these negotiations at the end of the day to result in the British Government upholding the status quo?

  (Mr Hain) In the end, if we cannot reach an agreement with Spain and preferably with the Government of Gibraltar, or in the Brussels process, if that breaks down, the status quo will prevail. Let me remind you, what that status quo is. It is a status quo of continual aggravation across the border, all the things the Chief Minister complains to me about quite legitimately almost weekly.

  67. But not caused by Britain and not caused by Gibraltar.

  (Mr Hain) Continuous aggravation but also action by the European Commission of the kind he has recently referred to because of the EU's code of conduct on tax and illegal state subsidies and illegal competition and so on. That case has continued, the Government of Gibraltar is before the Court of First Instance at the present time as a result of action by the Commission. That action is continuing. We have already had two suspensions; they were not exclusions. We would not agree to exclusions, but in the interests of the air safety of us all, including Gibraltarians we had to accept the suspension from the Single Sky. It actually makes very little if any practical difference to life in Gibraltar, nor does the other exclusion, but those things are in prospect in the future. What do we as a responsible Government do? Do we just say let all of that continue, let our dispute with Spain as a close partner in NATO, in the European Union, on vital issues of economic reform, which affect jobs and prosperity and business confidence here in Britain, on the fight against international terrorism, all this area where we have a common national interest and a common agenda with Spain? Do we allow all of those issues to have continual difficulty there or do we sit down and see whether we can find a solution? I am astonished that anybody can disagree without sitting down to try to find a solution. That is what we did in Northern Ireland. We produced dialogue, we got an agreement. I am just asking for the chance to do it again over Gibraltar, in quite different circumstances I understand, and I cannot for the life of me understand why the representatives of the people of Gibraltar or anybody on this Committee or in this House cannot support that basic elementary principle that dialogue is better than a war of words or all the aggravation which we have seen for so long and is still in prospect if we do not produce an agreement.

Mr Illsley

  68. The answer to that is because nobody knows what is going to be contained in the dialogue, we cannot see any options for a result and it is that uncertainty which is causing the problems. I just want to ask a couple of questions. The first one is in relation to the suggestion that perhaps Spain is being rewarded for its intransigence in blocking EU directives, in using the European Union to forward their claim to Gibraltar. You began your remarks by saying that pressure was put on the UK at the Gothenburg EU Council.

  (Mr Hain) And on Spain.

  69. In other words, from other EU partners. If that is the case, perhaps the Chief Minister is right when he says that Spain's policy was to engineer that result within the European Union, to frustrate everybody so that the Brussels process was brought into being. How do you answer that, that Spain has been rewarded, bearing in mind that obviously Gibraltar is looking for the status quo or self-determination? The only benefit likely to come out of this Brussels process, if the thing does move forward, is for Spain.

  (Mr Hain) Actually the only positive things which have come out of the Brussels process are to the benefit of the people of Gibraltar. First of all, Spain has dropped its opposition to our insistence on giving the people of Gibraltar the right to vote in the European elections. That is why we have been able to proceed. Secondly, an extra 70,000 telephone lines have been offered, more than triple the existing ones. That is a second benefit for the people of Gibraltar which never happened before. Thirdly, Spain has offered additional health facilities within its borders to the people of Gibraltar on a scale which cannot be provided on the Rock itself. Three tangible benefits already as a result of the discussions which have only lasted a few months. Just look at what could be in prospect for Gibraltar if we can continue these discussions. The rewards have been for the people of Gibraltar.

  70. That answer throws up another question. The right of the Gibraltarians to be part of the European Union and to vote in European Union elections was as a result of the Matthews case which I understand went before the European Court. You have just said that Spain has withdrawn its objections to the people of Gibraltar voting. Are you saying that Spain objected to the court decision and were not going to allow the UK to implement it?

  (Mr Hain) No, I am saying that there were two routes by which we implemented it. We either implemented it at an EU level or we implemented it through changing our domestic legislation.

  71. But the court case was against us. Why do we have to ask Spain?

  (Mr Hain) The fact is that you are talking about an amendment to the Treaty, therefore you require unanimity to do it. That is one route.

Andrew Mackinlay

  72. That is not what Mr Vaz said incidentally.

  (Mr Hain) I am speaking for myself. The second route is the one with Spain's acquiescence which we followed. The outcome is the same: the people of Gibraltar getting what they are entitled to. We have delivered it. It has come as a result of the relationship which has been built in the last few months. I think that ought to be cheered; I think that ought to be welcomed by the Committee, as, to be fair, you did, Chairman.

Mr Illsley

  73. We do welcome it and it is something we argued about the last time we considered this, but the way you just presented that tended to suggest that Spain were even willing to contest a court decision against us which required us to give Gibraltarians a vote as though we were going cap in hand to the Spanish and asking them to let us implement a court decision in which the court found against us.

  (Mr Hain) It is a matter for the Court of Human Rights, but it is important for everybody round the table just to bear in mind—and I am not attempting to justify it at all; as a Government Minister responsible I have to deal with the facts as I find them—that just as there is passionate feeling in Britain about our longstanding relationship with Gibraltar and passionate feeling in Britain, which I share, that Gibraltarians should have the right to remain British citizens if they want to, whatever arrangements they agree to in a referendum for their future, so there is passionate feeling in Spain about its historic claim to the Rock. There is. We may not like it, the people of Gibraltar may resist it, may be angry about it, but the fact is that we are dealing with a Spanish Government which would not get support in its own Parliament unless we were embarking on the kind of discussion which we are. As a result of that, against the tide of exactly the kind of popular pressures in the rest of Spain that the Chief Minister faces from his own people in Gibraltar, we have persuaded Spain to make these three important advances for the people of Gibraltar. That is three wins for Gibraltar out of the process so far.

  74. I think we shall have to agree to differ on that. I want to come to another, very brief, question. Was there any reason why the Government decided to resurrect the Brussels process and negotiate with Spain on the future of Gibraltar? The reason I ask that is because you began your replies by saying the Government were looking for a new future for Gibraltar, new ways, clear thinking, new thinking. If that was the case, why could we not have a different process from the Brussels process? Why resurrect something which was last used in 1984? Why not simply get all three parties around the table, no pre-conditions, just talk about Gibraltar and everybody with an equal participation?

  (Mr Hain) The Brussels process is one which has been recognised by agreements, not just by the European Union but by both the Spanish and British Governments for some years now and has been a process of attempts to make progress over that period. It is a recognised forum. I do not think people should be obsessed with the label. I do not think they should be paranoid about the history. The truth is that when we talk, as we have done and as we could do with the Chief Minister if he did not leave an empty chair, that discussion, that negotiation, is open, no vetoes are brought by anybody. We have so far made progress in respect of the three items I mentioned. There could be further progress and that is why I put the simple question again: why not join the discussions because there is an enormous opportunity for Gibraltar if you do.

  75. The other point is in relation to whether primary legislation will be required. It just struck me that if the end result of this were an amendment to the Treaty of Utrecht, the process for ratifying treaties would not require primary legislation in the House of Commons.

  (Mr Hain) There is the 1969 legislation; yes, an Order in Council. If we got an agreement—if we got an agreement—if that were backed in a referendum, if legislation then followed, as it would have to do both in Spain and in Britain, we would obviously want to have legislation. You could not do this under Royal Prerogative or any kind of sleight of hand like that. May I just add that an amendment to the European Communities Act would be necessary as well, because it would change the status of Gibraltar under the European Treaty?


  76. Which could only be done by primary legislation.

  (Mr Hain) Indeed.

Mr Hamilton

  77. May I be rash and put this to you? Spain is interested in one thing and one thing only and that is to regain sovereignty over Gibraltar. It is not really interested in what the people of Gibraltar think at all. It certainly would not recognise any referendum which was taken in Gibraltar itself because that is its primary aim and that is what all these discussions are about. Could you respond to that?

  (Mr Hain) I do not recognise that description at all from the discussions we have had. First of all, Foreign Minister Piqué said at his press conference that he accepted that Britain was going to hold a referendum and that he would abide by the result. There was no alternative for him. Indeed in our discussions that has been an accepted fact. Spain has an historic claim to full sovereignty, just as the people of Gibraltar, or many of them, want full independence. Neither of those are achievable, nor could they be the outcome of the discussions to which we are party. We have to look for a different alternative, show a bit of creativity, show a bit of flexibility, try to get people to show a bit of give and take and modernise their thinking. This is a dispute which has gone on for too long. It is very similar in that respect to Northern Ireland. How did we solve Northern Ireland or at least move it in a huge direction forward? By getting people round the table, thinking in new ways, throwing off their old prejudices and fears and trying to come to terms with a modern Europe, which is changing very fast, and we do not want to see Gibraltar left behind on that.

  78. Are there any circumstances in which you would ask the UK Parliament to pass legislation which would change the sovereignty of Gibraltar against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar? Are there any circumstances?

  (Mr Hain) The logical sequence must be, surely, that there is a referendum and if the referendum says yes, then there is primary legislation.

  79. Then it is not against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. The question really was whether you would consider any circumstances against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar.

  (Mr Hain) I cannot see how primary legislation, which it would have to be for the reasons that European treaties have to be amended amongst other things, could be put through the House of Commons or the House of Lords and Parliament as a whole without a referendum authorising it from the people of Gibraltar. Indeed Spain recognises that because that has been spelled out in the discussions so far. In that sense, the people of Gibraltar do have their veto over the whole process, but that does not stop us trying to make progress. What I do object to, if I may say so—questions have been put very fairly and forcefully to me and I not mind that at all, that is the job of the Committee and it is my job to answer—what I object to is people thinking that the status quo is sustainable and failing to come up with an alternative. There is literally no alternative to what we are doing: trying to get everybody round the table and make progress.

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