Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. Which, again, apparently is of major importance. Can you help me on this because you appoint the Governor, Her Majesty's Government here in London appoint the Attorney-General and you appoint the Financial Secretary. The Financial Secretary is an ex officio member of the legislature, he is your man in the legislature. I understand he is answerable to the Government. He is your man. Is that correct? A man called Bristow is the Financial Secretary. Caruana does not appoint him, I do not appoint him, HMG appoints him.
  (Mr Straw) As it happens in Gibraltar, as in some of the other overseas territories, the line between what is British Government and what is the government of the overseas territories is a very fine and shifting one. What has happened in practice, I make no particular point about this just at the moment, I may do in the future, is there has been in practice a gradual shift in influence towards the Government of Gibraltar in one area after another in practice. I have to say to you if you are trying to say, Mr Mackinlay, that the responsibility for the statistics in Gibraltar—

  41. I have not said anything.
  (Mr Straw)—rests with this chap called the Financial Secretary, that is not the answer I have been given by the Government of Gibraltar.

  42. I am correct that Caruana, and/or any other Chief Minister does not have a hand in the appointment of the Financial Secretary, that is correct, is it not? I do know the Gibraltar constitution.
  (Mr Bevan) I was just going to confirm that is correct. It is a British Government appointment.

  43. This is our man from here. Now he wrote to the Financial Times on 5 June—this is not Mr Caruana, it is our man appointed from London—he says "Dear Editor, I am mystified by the assertion that the Gibraltar Government has failed to publish detailed information about its finances. Each year the Government produces estimates of its annual Revenue and Expenditure, as required by the Gibraltar Constitution. The Government's annual accounts are then subject to audit by an independent external auditor appointed under the Gibraltar Constitution. In fact the system operates in a similar way to that of the UK". Then he goes on. I am truly bewildered how you can come here and complain to the press about this issue when your own man said it is a load of nonsense.
  (Mr Straw) It is not a load of nonsense.

  44. He says that.
  (Mr Straw) With great respect, in the real world, it is slightly more complicated than this, we appoint him but he works for the Government of Gibraltar. He is not responsible, also, for official statistics and official statistics are not just about income and expenditure accounts, they are about the performance of governments. If all the information which was available to Members of this House was income and expenditure accounts, political debate would be impoverished. All right? What I am talking about is, for example, national income accounts. Now those, it turns out, have never been published in Gibraltar. They have never had national income accounts. I think that is a dereliction of duty by successive governments of Gibraltar. Also I am talking about the production of an abstract of statistics. Apparently if you delve away long enough and hard enough you can get different tables, all right, but that is no way for a Government to operate, you need these brought together. That is what I have sought. I want, also, to say to you, Mr Mackinlay, I raised this in the spirit genuinely of an enquiry. Nobody, as it were, put me up to it, I just wanted to know where the figures were. I have had lengthier and lengthier answers, all explaining why it is so difficult to produce an annual abstract of statistics. The Government of Gibraltar has a lot of revenue, it is not short of money, it has got good people working for it, it ought to have produced annual abstract statistics. I hope very much, Mr Mackinlay, as someone who is concerned about standards of probity in Government that you take the same view as I do.

  45. Indeed I do. If I was to put down a Parliamentary Question to you—because you might not have it here—would you be able to tell me on what occasions has any predecessor of yours, because you are relatively new, raised this or the Governor or this man who is your man there, the Financial Secretary, or his predecessors? This is a Straw thing which might be wholly legitimate, I do not complain about that. You can say "I want these things" but it has never been raised. This is a matter which has just been raised by you, is it not?
  (Mr Straw) No, it is not. Look, there are clear standards. This is incumbent.

  46. I understand.
  (Mr Straw) With great respect, Mr Mackinlay, the issue of the publication of transparent robust statistics is not just an optional matter for governments where they do it if they are prompted to by the Foreign Secretary for the time being who happens to be interested in statistics, this is an obligation on all governments and a continuing obligation set out very clearly in the EU but also by the OECD. It was also, as it happens, set out by the present Government in 1999 in the White Paper on the Overseas Territories where we actually said that we stand ready to give expert advice and assistance to help the overseas territories bring their audit and statistical systems up to the required standards. You cannot dodge this one by saying it is the first time I have raised it. It was by chance I raised it but they should have been doing it anyway.

  47. To the Financial Secretary, the existing one or a predecessor, is there on cardboard a stiff note saying "Chief Minister, this cannot go on. I do insist that we have this for reasons of probity" and so on? Has the Governor ever done it, of course not. Have your predecessors ever done it, no they have not. You cannot pretend otherwise, can you?
  (Mr Straw) I have given you the answer but I have done it, all right.


  48. Can we just confirm this: if it be an obligation on all overseas territories to publish those accounts why has it not been raised at any other time before you yourself have done so?
  (Mr Straw) Mr Anderson, with great respect, if I may say so, that is not the best question you have ever asked me because I am now raising it as a question, all right? My predecessors are not necessarily people who have taken the same interest in official statistics as I do. I have unearthed this, if you like, and for my predecessors then to be criticised for failing to do so seems to be a rather eccentric idea. I understand the sympathy by some Members of this Committee for the Government of Gibraltar, I have huge sympathy for them. At the same time they have to accept and acknowledge their responsibility for transparency and in some areas they fall down on those. That is the reality. I went to the Statesman's Year Book in the hope not of discovering they did not produce statistics but that they did.

  Chairman: Can I ask you this. The Committee will be visiting Gibraltar on Monday week, can you give us a brief on the specific relations between our Government and the Government of Gibraltar in respect of those official statistics and why, if at all, it has not been raised and other relevant matters.

Mr Illsley

  49. I have in front of me a copy of a letter dated 31 May from the Chief Secretary of the Government of Gibraltar to the Deputy Governor[1] which addresses all the points the Foreign Secretary has raised. Are you now saying that letter does not answer the points you have made regarding transparency of statistics?

  (Mr Straw) It seeks to deal with the questions which I have raised. However, I hope you would accept, Mr Illsley, on the basis of the letter that my questions about why they were not official statistics were actually well placed because they should have been. The Government of Gibraltar, this having been raised by me now, seeks to accept that. All right.

  50. I do not question your reasons for raising it.

  (Mr Straw) They need to start publishing them. The answer to "Are there official statistics?" ought to be "yes". What in place of that I have had, after quite a lot of prodding it has to be said, is a lengthy explanation as to why there are not official statistics in an annual abstract. I look forward to the annual abstract being published.

  Chairman: Secretary of State, I will move on shortly but I know Sir John wishes to ask one further question before we leave the subject of Gibraltar.

Sir John Stanley

  51. Foreign Secretary, again like you in a spirit of genuine enquiry, your discussions with the Spanish on joint sovereignty—I want to leave aside for a moment whether that is a matter of policy and principle—I wish to understand, and I am sure other Members of the Committee also wish to understand, how you envisage the mechanics of joint sovereignty actually operating to achieve timely and proper decision taking for Gibraltar should joint sovereignty ever come into place. Presumably in your draft Treaty you will be setting out the issues that will be reserved to the two governments that are to be the subject of joint sovereignty and therefore of joint decision taking. It must be right, I assume, to believe that over the whole of those areas joint sovereignty, and therefore joint decision taking, means that each party, each government will effectively have a blocking veto over the decision and that therefore unless unanimity can be achieved there will be no decision. Now I question whether that is remotely a viable way of carrying out the responsibilities of Government over a country or dependency, admittedly a relatively small one but one which covers most of the totality of national life. How can such a blocking veto system between two governments be established as a viable basis for decision taking over Gibraltar?
  (Mr Straw) Sir John, may I first say that one of the paradoxes of this situation in respect of Gibraltar is that part of the result of any arrangement in respect of joint sovereignty would be to give the people of Gibraltar a greater degree of control over their lives than they are able to enjoy at the moment. So there will be fewer decisions for determination by, as it were, the sovereign powers—plural—in that case than there are at the moment for determination by the Government of the United Kingdom. The second point is this. I understand the point you are making. I do not think in practice there would be those difficulties but this is an important area for discussion in stage two of the negotiations which is why we are taking it in two stages. You have stage one where you set out broad agreement over all principles. Then stage two in which the Government of Gibraltar would be taking part in a tripartite basis where there would be discussions about this kind of issue. Then only when those were satisfactorily completed would there be a set of coherent proposals to put to the people of Gibraltar. The last thing I would say about sovereignty is that sovereignty is a legal concept and it is in that sense an intellectual abstraction. It can vary in its application hugely. There are territories which are not sovereign which have a huge degree of day to day control, people do, and equally there are countries which are sovereign which in practice, for reasons of geography, history or size, have virtually no control over their lives. What we have to do is to ensure that there is this, as it were, overall umbrella of what would be joint sovereignty and joint responsibility for the territories but within that envelope a higher degree of day to day control, as I say, going to the people of Gibraltar, that is the challenge.

  52. You say that but I think I am prepared to wager if you ever get to the position where you put an agreement to the people of Gibraltar and to this House of Commons that one of the areas which will most emphatically be reserved to the two Governments will be the issue of the operation of the airfield in Gibraltar. As you know, that is a joint military/civil airfield. From an earlier incarnation I have some degree of familiarity with the sort of potential problems which can arise. How can you envisage some system of joint sovereignty being exercised by the British and Spanish Governments successfully over the operation of a mixed military and civilian airfield in Gibraltar? I just do not see how that can conceivably be operationally sensible or possible.
  (Mr Straw) Never see, is the answer but also I do not know whether you are referring to a previous incarnation when the previous Government, of which you were a Member, in 1987 negotiated the Airport Agreement with Gibraltar, an agreement which, let me say, was not only satisfactory to the Governments of the United Kingdom and Spain but also satisfactory to the Government of Gibraltar which negotiated it at the time. Of course what then happened was that it was a subject of political controversy inside Gibraltar and it was decided in the end by the then Government, the British Government, to withdraw from that agreement.[2] Just to go back to a point Mr Illsley has made, the Spanish Government can be forgiven for feeling rather concerned about the way they were treated because they signed up to an agreement on the airport in good faith and they felt that good faith was not carried through by British Governments. Now, Sir John, we can argue about this. My own sense is that agreement would have been to the benefit of the people of Gibraltar and would have operated in practice. Actually there are plenty of examples of bilateral agreements and treaties in very, very difficult circumstances which operate. I am not using this as a facetious example at all but one of the only pieces of good news in respect of the current dispute between India and Pakistan is the fact that the River Indus Water Treaty Commission still operates. It is an entirely bilateral commission between India and Pakistan in respect of the territory, part of which is disputed. It continues to operate and we have got very careful mechanisms and architecture for the determining of disputes between those two countries who are close to war with each other from time to time. I do not believe that it is remotely impossible to have a structure between two countries which are allies in NATO and equal members of the European Union to operate effectively on joint sovereignty.

  53. Can you name any joint sovereignty agreements between two governments for the running of a country or dependency?
  (Mr Straw) There is a number where there are some arrangements, and these are not the same but they involve some degree of sharing, for example Andorra is one. It is different but it raises similar principles.

Ms Stuart

  54. A very quick one. You may have answered this before and I have simply forgotten it. If plan A is the Brussels process which has been going on for more years than we care to remember, if Plan A fails what speaks against Plan B which is full integration, give Gibraltar an MP who sits at Westminster and than make him comply with all the UK rules?
  (Mr Straw) Maybe there will be a demand for that. That would be consistent with the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht but of course what it would mean and have to require is an acceptance by Gibraltar—and there is no commitment here in respect of a referendum—an acknowledgement by Gibraltar that all the acquis of the European Union would apply to it. That would include, therefore, Common Agricultural Policy, Common Customs Union, the Single Market and Common Taxation. They would then be 16,000 voters, a bit like probably the Outer Hebrides, who would have a Member of Parliament and the current Chief Minister would be running a local authority. I understand, Ms Stuart, that is what you are suggesting and certainly it is not outwith the current terms of the Treaty of Utrecht.

Andrew Mackinlay

  55. I need to get a life because like yourself—
  (Mr Straw) I have been thinking that.

  56.—I also study the Statesman Year Book when I cannot sleep. I was looking at it just the other night. If you look under Andorra it is what is called the Suza Management.
  (Mr Straw) Okay.

  57. All you can refer to is the fact that the President of France and the Bishop are joint heads of state. They have no executive authority whatsoever, am I right?


  58. I feel "I rest my case". One final question, Secretary of State. We always think of you as a pragmatic feet on the ground Foreign Secretary. In those circumstances can you envisage, seriously, any time in which the people of Gibraltar will agree that sort of deal in a referendum?
  (Mr Straw) What do you mean?

  59. They would vote in favour by a majority for that deal?
  (Mr Straw) Not Mr Mackinlay's deal.

1   Ev 52-54. Back

2   Note by Witness: On 2 December 1987 as part of the Brussels Process, Francisco Fernandez Ordon¯ez and Geoffrey Howe, then Foreign Secretaries repectively of Spain and the United Kingdom, issued a Joint Declaration on the Airport Agreement. The Government of Gibraltar had been involved in the early negotiations, but after elections in 1988 the new Government of Gibraltar did not introduce the necessary customs and immigrations legislation necessary for the agreement to come into operation. The British Government, while firmly believing that the agreement was a good deal for Gibraltar, was not prepared to impose it. The British Government was therefore unable to give the notification specified in paragraph 8 of the Joint Declaration. Back

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