Letter to the Chairman, Foreign Affairs
Committee, from Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State, Foreign
and Commonwealth Office, 24 July 2002
Thank you for copying to me Chief Minister Caruana's
extensive memorandum of 10 July.
I thought you would appreciate my comments before we break for
the summer. The Chief Minister addresses several issues and puts
forward many arguments. In response I should like to underline
the key aspects of our approach, which are a matter of record.
Mr Caruana was offered the opportunity to participate
in the talks from the start. The Spanish Foreign Minister and
I both genuinely wanted to have his contribution in the talks.
As the Gibraltarians' elected representative he would have been
the best person to represent Gibraltar's interests. As you know,
he decided not to attend.
I know that you understand the Government's
position on any referendum, but for the record I think it is important
that I should restate it here. Any agreement which affects the
sovereignty of Gibraltar will be put to the people of Gibraltar
in a democratic referendum and will be implemented only if the
people of Gibraltar approve it in that referendum. I do not see
how I could be any clearer on this point.
It would be possible to draw the conclusion
from Mr Caruana's submission that the British Government is trying
to force Gibraltar to accept a deal its people do not want. This
would be a false impression. We do seek a stronger, more prosperous
and settled future for Gibraltar and we are in broad agreement
with Spain on many (but not all) of the principles we believe
should underpin such a settlement. But, as I told the House on
12 July, this is not in the end a decision for me, for the Government
or even for Parliament. The decision will rest with the people
of Gibraltar themselves. That is the Government's absolute guarantee
to the people of Gibraltar.
You will be aware that Gibraltar had not produced
an abstract of statistics for some five years. I pressed Mr Caruana
on this by letter and during my meeting with the Chief Minister
in Gibraltar on 3 May, and I am glad that the new abstract up
to and including 2001 has now been published.
Mr Caruana refers to the Spanish offer of a
further 70,000 telephone numbers which his Government has rejected.
We have argued all along that the only comprehensive solution
to Gibraltar's telephone problems is Spanish recognition of the
international dialling code +350. We continue to work for this
outcome. In the meantime, however, we have proposed a meeting
of British, Spanish and Gibraltar experts to seek to resolve the
issue. We proposed this meeting in April. We have not yet received
a response from the Government of Gibraltar.
As I said in my evidence to the Committee on
19 June, we are concerned that aspects of the arrangements in
Gibraltar for payments to those of pensionable age might be unlawful
under EC Law. The European Commission is investigating this issue.
As the Committee is aware, we have been in correspondence and
discussion with the Gibraltar Government to encourage the reform
of Household Costs Allowance for many years. I described the situation
as opaque. We have on many occasions sought full details of the
arrangements regarding the payment of Household Cost Allowance
from the Gibraltar Government and from the company which makes
these payments, Community Care Limited. But we still need clarification
on several points.
The Committee was right to take an interest
during its recent visit in the question of transposition of EU
directives. We work closely with the Gibraltar Government on this,
and we will continue to do so. Gibraltar's record on transposition
is much improved on the position in the 1990s. Implementation
of EC measures in Gibraltar is, however, still sometimes subject
to delay. Where infraction proceedings are threatened or opened
against the UK as a result of non-transposition in Gibraltar,
the British taxpayer risks being liable for ECJ fines. This is
something we are committed to avoiding.
Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
24 July 2002
8 Appendix 13, Ev 23-68. Back