Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE 2002
MP AND MR
20. "Jack Straw: Yes, of course it would
and that would be the end of it." Please can you confirm
that statement represents the British Government's position?
(Mr Straw) Yes. I am surprised anybody should think
other. What I was being asked previously was that by some piece
of magic if at the end of this process there was a referendum
and the people of Gibraltar said "no" that I would be
able to airbrush out the history of what had happened before and
somehow by some kind of Harry Potter process to ensure that all
the copies of the joint declaration, and the fact that I had been
present at the negotiations, was somehow excised from the collective
memory. That was literally what I was being asked. I cannot do
that but of course it would follow that there would be a joint
declaration, then there would be further negotiations, then there
would be what amounted to a draft treaty or the abstract of a
draft treaty, and other matters as well which together would be
the matter for consideration by the people of Gibraltar in a referendum.
If we have said, as we have said continually, that they will in
practice have the final say on this in a referendum, if it is
then put to them and they say "no", as I said that is
the end of the matter. It may be down the track there will be
further negotiations but it would take many years before that
happened. That is the real world in which we live. I do not quite
understand why people are so excited about this. It would only
be in circumstances in which we did not actually commit ourselves
to giving the people of Gibraltar a right to say "yes"
or "no" that there could be any other answer to that
Sir John Stanley: Thank you very much, Foreign
Secretary, for confirming that a referendum answer "no"
means off the table as far as the British Government is concerned.
21. Foreign Secretary, the Spanish daily El
Mundo, 1 May, carried the report stating that if the talks
are not successful Spain will use all the means in its power to
"frustrate the development of a colony which will not for
long be able to maintain a status which is unjustifiable in the
European context". If the talks do fail, are we in danger
of leaving the whole situation of our relations between ourselves
and Spain, Spain and Gibraltar, ourselves and Gibraltar in a much
worse situation than when these talks began?
(Mr Straw) No, you cannot possibly say that. I do
not accept that for a moment. I am no more responsible for what
is said in the Spanish press than what is said in the British
press. We live in democracies and part of that is free press.
That is that. We were absolutely right to enter into these negotiations.
The consequence of the negotiations that they have already produced
is some people can argue about the degree of benefit but, for
example, some easing of the delays on the border, there ought
to be a greater easing of delays. I say, also, as it were, through
you, Chairman, that one of the points we have been able to make
in these negotiations, perhaps more powerfully than British Governments
have in the past, precisely because we are involved in the negotiations,
is that it is incumbent upon the Government of Spain and also
I would say on the Parliament of Spain to recognise that there
are deep suspicions amongst the people of Gibraltar about Spain,
I know there are deep suspicions the other way, which we are trying
to allay but I am talking here about suspicions by the people
of Gibraltar, about the way they feel they have been treated.
It is incumbent on Spain if they want down the track a rapprochement
with the people of Gibraltar to recognise that gratuitously making
for delays across the border or, for example, a matter of some
frustration to me, offering quite a large number of phone numbers
and then frankly not delivering those, is something which is bound
not to improve levels of confidence by the Gibraltarians in Spain.
I just add, also, however, that on the other side, I think it
is incumbent upon the Government and people of Gibraltar to recognise
that the complaints that Spain has had in the past are not all
without foundation and there has to be a dialogue both ways.
22. I think we are looking at a case here. If
there is an agreement and it is rejected by a referendum of the
people of Gibraltar, and it is an agreement between ourselves
and Spain which will exist, the people of Gibraltar will still
be subject to harassment from the Spanish if there was an agreement
which they did not accept. If the agreement fails, there is no
agreement between ourselves and Spain, and assuming there is some
truth, if any, in that press report, the people of Gibraltar are
still going to get hassled by the Spanish because of worsening
relations. Bearing in mind the people of Gibraltar are used to
this but what about the prospects for the European Union where
Spain has in the past blocked European Union Directives because
they will not agree to them covering Gibraltar? As you know yourself,
you have negotiated some of them, this is holding up the European
(Mr Straw) Mr Illsley, there are certain realities
here which we are trying to deal with. It is a straight forward
reality that the Government of Spain has had it in its power to
block a whole series of EU instruments, which is where I first
encountered this issue as the Home Secretary five years ago. They
have that opportunity to do so. Moreover, I have to say, whether
we like it or not, that the other 13 countries inside the European
Union regard this as a bilateral dispute between the United Kingdom
and Spain, do not want to take sides, do not want this dispute
to affect them. There is little prospect, ever, of us getting
the supportand this has been true of previous British governmentsof
other EU members. The whole purpose of these negotiations was
and remains to try and sort out and normalise the relationship
between Spain and the United Kingdom above all for the benefit
of the people of Gibraltar. Now personally I happen to believe,
yes, we have some clear red lines and so do the Spanish Government,
it is in nobody's interest for either us to cross our red lines
or the Spanish to cross theirs because that produces what amounts
to an undeliverable, unstable agreement but if we can deal with
that I believe that the kind of components of an agreement which
we have in mind would bring very significant benefits to the people
of Gibraltar. My very great regret is that the Government of Gibraltar
has not been present in these negotiations notwithstanding the
factlet me make this absolutely clearthat the initial
demand of the Government of Gibraltar was for what has been described
as two flags three voices, which was originally resisted by Spain.
I negotiated with Spain, they agreed two flags and three voices
in every particular and that was then turned down again by the
Government of Gibraltar when they imposed further conditions on
their participation which had not been there in the first place.
One of the conditions was that there should be some kind of complete
veto over the final outcome of any negotiations between three
parties. Well, you cannot have a negotiation on that basis. Mr
Illsley, of course, the idea of these negotiations is that we
produce better circumstances for the people of Gibraltar. I still
hope and believe that we may be able to do that but I cannot guarantee
that. One of the difficulties in this has been that the Government
of Gibraltar has, as I have indicated, been unwilling to take
part in the negotiations.
23. Soon after you became Home Secretary I put
questions to you about the European franchise. I always remember,
it is ingrained in my mind, your reply was "could not and
would not" or it might have been "would not and could
not". It was two sided in saying "no, this was a ridiculous
idea". The inference was what a stupid idea and anyway we
could not do it, so I felt rather smug when the European Court
said you should do it.
(Mr Straw) Okay.
24. Then we have Baroness Symons and a whole
catalogue of Foreign Office Ministers saying "Well, we still
have to get an amendment to the Treaty". Then we achieved,
certainly under the plethora of European Foreign Ministers you
have had, we have had five I think since Labour came to office,
we got Minister Vaz who then said "no" but ultimately
if Spain had got a veto we would not implement it in time for
the next European elections. Then there was some wobbling on that
and we had it confirmed whatever happens, come hell or high water,
we do not have to get the Treaty amendment but it will be in franchise.
I get a bit jumpy, frankly. Can you give us a categoric assurance
that the people of Gibraltar will be franchised as has been the
commitment of a whole plethora of Foreign Ministers under this
Government, that it will be enacted?
(Mr Straw) I can give you an assurance that is our
intention. I cannot give you an absolutely categoric assurance
because it does require domestic legislation and, as you may have
spotted, that is not in my gift.
(Mr Straw) It is called parliamentary democracy and
also neither is Parliamentary time in my gift. We are committed.
Mr Mackinlay, I remember the exchange on this matter and this
was in the context of the now celebrated European Parliament Elections
Bill, which was rejected six times, as I recall, by the House
of Lords, and had to be subject to the Parliament Act, the one
which introduced a system of proportional representation to such
wide approbation. That was our position. As you know the matter
went to the European Court of Human Rights. We have always accepted
the authority of the European Court of Human Rights. I took one
view, they took a different view, their view is the one which
prevails so that is why we are here. Fine. Also, frankly, it makes
it a lot easier because there is no question of negotiation with
26. That is where we are.
(Mr Straw) That is where we are. I want to do it.
The Electoral Commission currently have the responsibility to
advise, for example, on which constituency is most appropriate
and matters like that.
27. Thurrock will do nicely.
(Mr Straw) It is part of East Anglia. There are only
28. I know. I am being flippant.
(Mr Straw) I know you are. There are fewer voters
in Gibraltar than there are in a couple of wards in Thurrock and
they are small wards. That is an issue of whether it is attached
to, say, I guess the most obvious one would be the South West
Region but it is a matter for the Electoral Commission. We do
want to go ahead, yes.
29. What did concern me and surprise mebecause
I have a high regard for our colleague, Minister Hainwas
in the Chamber he referred to the pension scam, "scam",
not disagreement or controversy but "scam". That has
never been retracted. Now, first of all, everyone was amazed,
gobsmacked, when they heard it because they were wondering what
this was. When you scratch the surface you find it is a disagreement
about whether or not certain payments are lawful. There are plenty
of disagreements in the European Union. I wonder if you can confirm,
firstly, it is not a scam and, secondly, that this is a matter
which has to be pursued, pursued politically between governments
and the European Union? It is a controversy, it is a matter which
has not been prosecuted by the Commission.
(Mr Straw) There is something more to this though
and it may be worth spelling this out, Mr Mackinlay. I think a
common definition of a scam would be something which is opaque,
not transparent and also potentially unlawful. I am afraid to
say that both apply to the pensions situation in Gibraltar. The
short story hereit is much more complicated than thisis
there were people from Spain, Spanish citizens as well as Gibraltarian
citizens working in Gibraltar, they had a single entitlement to
a single set of pension rules. Then, subsequently, the rules were
changed by the creation of a little confection, the result of
which is that Gibraltarians who are in receipt of these pensions
get a bigger pension than those in Spain. That is potentially
unlawful under European legislation which applies to Gibraltar
as much as it applies to anywhere else. That will in due course
be a matter for the Commission and be subject to proceedings by
them. Meanwhile, because there is a potential liability of £80
millionthat is a lot of money for a territory of 30,000
peoplewhich the Gibraltarian Government will try to impose
on us, we have had to say to the Gibraltarian Government "This
is your responsibility" and make it clear it is. "£80
million, your responsibility. We are not sure you are on good
grounds but what is more we want to find out whether you are on
good grounds, could we see the accounts? Could we see the basis
on which this arrangement is made?" My officials have been
backwards and forwards to the Government of Gibraltar trying to
get them to be transparent with us and so far the Government of
Gibraltar have failed to be so. One of Mr Caruana's claims is
that since he was elected to power in 1996 he has cleaned up a
lot of completely unacceptable practices in Gibraltar. That is
true to a point but it begs the question, also, about the nature
of those unacceptable practices which were going on before 1996
which were consistently being denied. One of the things they have
done, I understandthere is a whole series of companies
run by the Government of Gibraltar on which ministers used to
sitI gather that ministers no longer sit on these companies
but these companies are still a very opaque set of front organisations
by which it appears to us, because we cannot get at the full circumstances,
some of these arrangements are made opaque. That is the problem.
Would that they had transparent arrangements which they would
make available to us as the sovereign government. It is a similar
position, I may say, in respect of official statistics. I have
had a lengthy explanation about why the Government of Gibraltar
is still not publishing an annual abstract of statistics. Right?
I got on to this when, Chairman
30. I was going to ask you about that.
(Mr Straw) Please do. I got on to that because I am
interested in official statistics, always have been, I have a
Statesman's Year Book on my desk and I wanted to look up GDP and
other figures for Gibraltar and I discovered that the most recent
figures in the up-to-date version of the Statesman's Year Book
were 1995. Then I started to ask questions. I said "Could
someone go and get me the annual abstract of statistics"
like you can get them from any other country, OECD, EU country,
not forthcoming. Then I raised this by polite letter to Mr Caruana,
still nothing forthcoming. I raised it with him when I saw him
on my visit. I am afraid to say I got a bombastic reply from him.
Now I have had a lengthy explanation with a promise that this
will be forthcoming in due course. The answer is it is the clearest
responsibility on governments which subscribe to standards of
transparency to provide proper abstracts of statistics that make
31. If you look at the transcript tomorrow you
will see I asked about a specific thing and the Foreign Secretary
went on to two other things, one of which we have heard for the
first time Going back to the so-called scam, I listened very carefully
to what you have said, it is a disagreement about the interpretation.
They believe it is lawful and it has never been challenged. On
the business of the accumulated thing, I understand Her Majesty's
Government from that point is saying "Look, the meter is
running on this, if somebody does have to pick up the bill, it
is a large sum of money". I understand that point, Foreign
Secretary, but on the actual language of Minister Hain, and the
actual substance, it is a disagreement as to what is lawful.
(Mr Straw) I am sorry to say it is more than that.
32. All right.
(Mr Straw) I sought to explain that. It has been challenged.
It has been challenged loads of times. The difficulty is getting
to the bottom of this arrangement. I am afraid to say the Government
of Gibraltar have not been forthcoming. We are the sovereign government.
We are, as it were, the party which will be in the dock in the
European Court of Justice on this. I think we are quite entitled
to expect complete answers when we raise this with them.
33. You have never asked themwhen I say
"you" I do not mean you personally, the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office and your predecessors, including the Conservativesto
put on the Statute Book through the House Assembly that they will
pick up the bill?
(Mr Straw) I cannot answer that.
34. I will tell you you have not, you have not
because the Foreign Office interfered in Gibraltar politics largely
because they thought if they pressed what they thought would be
a favourable administration it might embarrass it in a Gibraltar
(Mr Straw) Have we done that?
(Mr Bevan) I know successive governments have raised
this issue with the Government of Gibraltar, at least as far back
as 1996. Successive governments have made clear that if the contingent
liability does become actual they will hold the Government of
Gibraltar responsible for payment.
35. You have never done that publicly, have
you, until recently? Have you?
(Mr Straw) We try and have negotiations with overseas
territories in private. This has become a larger issue.
36. Coincidentally at this time. Coincidentally.
The second point you raisedI had never heard it beforeabout
the state companies, you did not stop for breath, you moved from
that thing I asked you about
(Mr Straw) That is part of the opaqueness, Mr Mackinlay.
37. I never used the word "opaque".
(Mr Straw) No, I did.
38. I do not know if any Members of the Committee
have heard that before.
(Mr Straw) I have not been asked this question before
in the Committee.
39. The third point you made was the question
of the statistics.
(Mr Straw) Yes.