Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report

5  Sovereignty disputes

Falkland Islands

378.  The FCO's website states that it has "no doubt about Britain's sovereignty over the Falkland Islands". It argues that except for 1982 the Falklands have been "continuously, peacefully and effectively inhabited and administered by Britain since 1833" and points out that the Falkland Islanders have "repeatedly made known their wish to remain British" (see Part Two for historical detail).[600]

379.  In oral evidence Councillor Summers told us that the Argentine government had become "significantly more aggressive" under former President Néstor Kirchner and that there was "every reason to believe" that this policy would continue under his successor, his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Meg Munn also told us that "there had been less cooperation" from Argentina in recent times.[601]

380.  We asked Councillor Summers whether the Falkland Islands government (FIG) were content with UK government assertions of sovereignty over the Territory. He replied:

The Falkland Islands Government are happy with UK Government statements on sovereignty over the Falkland Islands going back a number of years now. The current Prime Minister and his predecessor have been very robust in saying that the UK does not doubt the sovereignty and independence of the Falkland Islands, and that there should be no discussion of sovereignty unless the people of the Falklands so wish. That has been a strong, coherent and unwavering message, and in our circumstances the consistency of that message is crucial.[602]

Councillor Summers also told us that FIG believed that the UK's current defence posture was "satisfactory" and explained that FIG was briefed "on a reasonably regular basis" by the Commander of British Forces, as well as receiving "a number of high-level visitors from all parts of the UK defence institutions".[603] However, during our visit to the Falkland Islands, some Islanders suggested that the UK was not being pro-active enough in setting out the positive case for sovereignty in international forums, or in rebutting Argentine claims.

381.  Councillor Summers claimed that Argentina had in particular "sought to undermine" the Islands' economy.[604] During our visit some Islanders told us that Argentina was penalising firms that trade with the Falklands. FIG also pointed to the lack of cooperation from Argentina on the creation of a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation for the South West Atlantic.[605] Councillors explained that the region was the only major oceanic region in the world not to have such an organisation to regulate fishing on the high seas and that this was because Argentina had refused to consider proposals from the UK and EU without an agreement eventually to transfer sovereignty. We were also told that FIG's decision to grant 25 year fishing licences to try to encourage licensees to take a long-term view of stock management had upset Argentina (see paras 314 to 322 in Chapter 4 for discussion of FIG's attempts to reduce dependency on revenue from fishing licences). Councillors added that they did not criticise the FCO's handling of this specific issue, since they felt the UK Government had explored all the options open to it.

382.  Oil exploration in the Falkland Islands (see paras 319 to 322 in Chapter 4) is also likely to meet opposition from the Argentine government. On 27 March 2007, the Argentine government announced its repudiation of the 1995 Joint Declaration on hydrocarbon exploration in a Special Co-operation Area, a decision which the FCO has said will "make future cooperation more difficult".[606] In May 2008 there were reports that Argentina, which does not recognise exploratory licences, would protest over drilling and that it had summoned British officials to its Foreign Ministry about the issue.[607] One submission to our inquiry expressed concerns that oil companies would not develop oil without the involvement of Argentina.[608] During our visit, Falkland Islanders also suggested that oil companies might lose contracts in Argentina if they helped to develop oil in the Falklands.

383.  Another issue of contention raised during our visit to the Falkland Islands was Argentina's demand for charter flights of war veterans and their families to be permitted to visit the Argentine war cemetery on the Islands. Islanders had two main concerns about allowing flights. The first was that their infrastructure might be overwhelmed by hundreds of people arriving by air, if weather conditions meant they had to stay overnight on the Falklands. Councillor Summers pointed out that FIG had "always been open to the visits of next of kin from Argentina" by ship.[609] The second was that Argentina's demand was inconsistent with its obstructive attitude towards flights across its airspace. Argentina withheld permission for UK Charter flights through its airspace to the Falkland Islands in 2003 (see paras 315 to 318 for discussion of the direct air service to the UK operated by the Ministry of Defence).[610]

384.  Meg Munn told us that she "entirely" understood the position of FIG, although she also noted that it would take families considerably longer to get to the Falkland Islands by ship. She added:

It would be good if we could find a way through this. That would be a positive message for both populations and it would be humane as far as the Argentinian families are concerned.[611]

385.  President Cristina Kirchner was due to visit the UK in early April, although her visit was cancelled in the end because of farmers' strikes in Argentina. We therefore asked Meg Munn what would be discussed during this visit. Meg Munn told us that she was not aware of what items would be on the agenda, although she stressed that there were "no plans to have discussions on sovereignty".[612]

386.  We conclude that when the visit by President Kirchner to the UK is rearranged the Government must use this opportunity to raise issues of concern to the Falkland Islands. In particular we recommend that the Prime Minister calls for an end to Argentina's obstruction in relation to use of its airspace and that he also highlight potential logistical issues if Argentine families are allowed to fly in to visit graves. We also recommend that the Prime Minister should press the Argentine President to agree to the establishment of a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation for the South West Atlantic and reiterate the Islands' right to develop a hydrocarbon industry.


387.  In the Foreign Affairs Committee's most recent Report on Gibraltar, published in July 2003, our predecessors recommended that the FCO should withdraw its then joint sovereignty proposal in favour of establishing normal and co-operative relations between Spain and Gibraltar; and that the Government should invite the government of Gibraltar to participate in any further talks on the future of Gibraltar, whether or not under the Brussels process (see Part Two for more details).[613]

388.  In October 2004 Spain and the UK agreed to consider and consult further on how to establish a new forum for dialogue on Gibraltar, with an open agenda, in which Gibraltar would have its own voice. On 18 September 2006, the first Trilateral Ministerial meeting was held in Cordoba. This resulted in the Cordoba Agreement, which concluded that:

  • a single larger airport terminal would be built at the border by 2009, all Spanish air restrictions against Gibraltar Airport would be removed, and flights from Gibraltar to Spain would start in December 2006;
  • Spain would recognise the Gibraltar direct dialling code and enable roaming for Gibraltar mobile phones;
  • the Gibraltar government would make premises available for Spain to set up a Cervantes Institute (Spanish body similar to the British Council) in Gibraltar;
  • pedestrian and traffic flows at the border crossing between Gibraltar and Spain would be improved;
  • there would be a settlement on pensions to compensate those Spanish citizens who lost their livelihoods when the border between Spain and Gibraltar closed in 1969; and
  • co-operation between the port authorities of the Bay in relation to their operations, and in continuing to explore possibilities for collaboration in fields of common interest, would be welcomed and encouraged.[614]

Trilateral Forum

389.  There have been further meetings of the Trilateral Forum since September 2006. Following the March 2007 meeting, the then Minister for Europe wrote to inform us that the agreements reached at Cordoba were "on track and working well" and that the UK, Gibraltar and Spain had "reaffirmed their commitment" to the Forum. At the most recent ministerial meeting, held in November 2007, agreement was reached to extend future agendas to six new areas of cooperation: protection of the environment, maritime safety, education, financial services and tax, police, judicial and customs matters.[615] During a short visit to Gibraltar in April 2008, the Minister for Europe told reporters that the next round of trilateral talks would take place at the earliest possible opportunity and would be attended by both himself and the Foreign Secretary.[616]

390.  In its evidence to our inquiry, the government of Gibraltar wrote very positively about the Forum:

The agenda is open, and thus not focused or preconditioned on sovereignty. And nothing can be agreed unless all three sides agree, thus giving Gibraltar an effective veto on unacceptable agreements. […] in addition, the unacceptable Brussels process has been effectively disabled, because the UK has committed itself to the Gibraltar Government that it will not take part in any Sovereignty discussions or negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. Gibraltar has never been in a position as politically secure as this. […] The Gibraltar Government remains fully committed to continue participation in this Trilateral Forum to continue to achieve the greatest possible degree of friendly and constructive co-operations and normality of relations between Gibraltar and Spain.

However, the Leader of the Opposition, Hon Joe Bossano MP, was less positive about the Forum, telling us:

[…] little comes out of these things […] If anything new is in the pipeline and we are on track to achieve it, we will know it after the event and will then have to judge it post hoc. We cannot evaluate it beforehand, because no information is available.[617]

391.  We asked the Minister for Europe whether he was satisfied with the outcomes of recent meetings of the Trilateral Forum. He told us that in terms of structure the trilateral process was "more mature" than the bilateral Brussels process.[618] He spoke of a "very healthy dynamic" with the Spanish government[619] and argued that the Forum had resulted in "important improvements of substance" including ones relating to roaming charges and ease of movement across borders.[620]

392.  We also asked the Minister whether sovereignty discussions with Spain were now off the agenda for good. He replied:

[…] we have made it very clear […] that the UK Government will never […] enter into an agreement on sovereignty without the agreement of the Government of Gibraltar and their people. In fact, we will never even enter into a process without that agreement.[621]


393.  The Cordoba Agreement resolved an outstanding issue about liability to pay pension benefits to Spanish workers who contributed to Gibraltar's state pension scheme until Franco unilaterally closed the Gibraltar border in 1969.

394.  EC Social Security Regulations prohibit discrimination in social security benefits (but not in social assistance schemes) on the grounds of nationality or residence. Upon Spanish accession to the EC, Spanish former workers in Gibraltar, irrespective of the level of contributions they had made, became immediately and automatically entitled to receive a pension from the Gibraltar scheme at the same rate as Gibraltar resident pensioners. As a result of this, the Gibraltar Fund became financially unsustainable.

395.  In December 1985, the UK and Spain agreed bilaterally, without consulting Gibraltar, that Spanish former workers would receive the same uprated pensions as Gibraltar resident pensioners, as of 1 January 1986. In the same month, the British Government agreed to fund in full the payment of these pensions for three years and the Gibraltar government handed over to the British Government the £4.5 million consisting of Spanish contributions (with interest) in the Gibraltar Pension Fund. In 1988, the British Government agreed to meet the full cost of the Spanish pensions for a further five years, on two conditions: that in 1993, the Gibraltar Pension Fund would be dissolved, and that pensions to all pensioners be frozen at 1988 rates.

396.  In 1993, the Gibraltar Pension Fund was accordingly dissolved and pension payments ceased. However, the Spanish pensioners complained to the European Commission, and in 1996, the British Government again agreed to meet the full cost of the liability to Spanish pensioners, without time limit, but once again only if payments to all pensioners were frozen at 1988 rates. The Gibraltar Pension Fund was reinstated, and paid out at the same frozen rates to all pensioners except the pre-1969 Spanish pensioners.

397.  In 1989, a group of private individuals established a charitable trust in Gibraltar called the Community Care Trust. Among its objects, the trust paid a financial sum (the Household Cost Allowance—HCA) to all persons of pensionable age resident in Gibraltar, regardless of entitlement to an old age pension. The trust received donations from the Gibraltar government of £60 million before 1996, and a further £5 million subsequently. Although the Gibraltar government insisted that payments of the HCA were not pension payments, because they were payments made regardless of pension entitlement and by a private trust rather than by the government, it is clear that the reason the HCA was introduced was precisely because it was unrealistic to expect Gibraltar pensioners to live on pensions frozen at 1988 rates. In February 1996, the British Government urged the Gibraltar government to reform the HCA, on the basis that it was a social security and not a social assistance payment because it was based on age rather than need, and that it might therefore breach EU rules prohibiting discrimination because it was not paid to non-resident Spanish pensioners. The Gibraltar government claimed that because the payments were made by a private trust, it had no power to interfere. In July 2001, the European Commission wrote to the British Government explaining that it had received complaints from Spanish pensioners that their pensions had been frozen, and asking for an explanation of the rules on regular increases of pensions in Gibraltar. In its response, the British Government explained that pensioners in Gibraltar received financial assistance in the form of the HCA. In April 2002, the then Europe Minister Peter Hain referred to the HCA as "a pensions scam that is down to the government of Gibraltar."[622]

398.  Although the Cordoba Agreement did not directly address the HCA, under the settlement the UK agreed to pay lump sum payments to Spanish pensioners whose frozen payments it already paid in return for them leaving the Gibraltar Fund. Since April 2007 the UK Government has uprated pensions of Spanish pensioners and the government of Gibraltar has uprated pensions of pensioners who remain in the Gibraltar pensions scheme. The Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar opposed the deal, arguing that the arrangements agreed for the pre-1969 Spanish pensioners discriminated "against all others on grounds of date of contribution, nationality, and residence and may be in breach of EU law".[623] The government of Gibraltar's submission dismissed this allegation as "political opportunism of the worst kind".[624]

399.  The additional costs to be borne by the UK as a result of the Cordoba Agreement have been estimated by the FCO to be about £73 million: £48 million for future-uprating of pensions; and £25 million to be paid as lump sum payments to encourage Spanish pensioners to leave the Gibraltar Social Insurance Fund. The FCO also estimates that the cost of continuing to pay ongoing frozen pensions (which it would have incurred regardless of the Cordoba Agreement) is about £49 million.[625] In oral evidence, the Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar told us that the "the total bill […] from 1 January 1986 to up to when the final Spanish pensioner dies, and his final descendant disappears" would be "somewhere in the order of £250 million".[626]

400.  We asked the FCO whether the pensions agreement was a good settlement for the UK. The FCO replied that it was, because "it removed a substantial financial liability from the UK tax-payer", pointing out that as part of the settlement Spain had agreed not to claim back from the UK the healthcare costs for the affected Spanish pensioners and that following the settlement, the European Commission also closed infraction proceedings against the UK for alleged discrimination against affected Spanish pensioners.[627]

Military movements

401.  Military cooperation was not included in the Cordoba Agreement and although Spain is now a fully participating member of NATO, it continues to refuse to co-operate with direct military movements or communications between Gibraltar and Spain. The NATO Standardised Agreement (STANAG) 1100, which sets out the procedures for visits to NATO ports by naval ships of NATO members, includes a reservation inserted by Spain to prevent visits by NATO ships to or from Gibraltar directly from Spanish ports.[628] Requests by military aircraft from NATO nations which have Gibraltar as their departure or arrival airfield also continue to be denied.[629] Spain also bans direct communications between the British military in Gibraltar and Spanish Armed Forces.

402.  In response to the most recent Foreign Affairs Committee Report on Gibraltar (July 2003), the FCO stated that lifting the NATO reservation and other bans remained a Government objective and that it would continue to pursue it whenever appropriate.[630]

403.  During our current inquiry, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar argued that there was "no justification for Spain treating the British military any differently from the military of any other of her NATO allies."[631] The Minister for Europe told us that so far the measures had "not had an impact on military capacity" except in relation to kit and diving equipment, but agreed that it was "unacceptable—in a NATO sense and because this is a nation with which we have otherwise excellent relations—for such restrictions to be in place."[632] In May 2008 Spain refused to permit two electrical generators needed by US nuclear submarines which had sailed into Gibraltar to cross the La Linea border. The generators had to be shipped by sea instead.[633]

404.  We asked the Minister what steps the Government was taking to have the restrictions removed. He told us that he was "determined to make progress on this" and that efforts to do so through the FCO and Ministry of Defence were "ongoing",[634] although outside the trilateral process.[635]

New airport terminal

405.  Gibraltar's airport is located on the disputed isthmus between the Rock and Spain. For many years, Spain actively sought to make life difficult for those wishing to fly into or out of Gibraltar, denying the use of its airspace to aircraft using the airport. Under the agreement reached at Cordoba, civil aircraft may now use Spanish airspace, permitting safer take-offs and landings. The Agreement also included the construction of a new terminal building along the line of the border.

406.  The Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar was very critical of the agreed immigration arrangements for the new terminal. At present, a dual access system applies, whereby passengers who arrive in Gibraltar on a flight from Spain can choose to go into La Linea (a town on the Spanish side) without passing through Gibraltar immigration or to come straight into Gibraltar without first being cleared by Spanish immigration from La Linea. When the terminal is complete, this dual access system will change. The Leader of the Opposition told us:

[…] technically, nobody will be able to board the aircraft in Gibraltar and exit the aircraft in Spain on landing. Once the extension is there, they will be deemed to have entered Spain before boarding the aircraft and to have remained in Spain after landing, because the exiting from Spain arrangements take place after landing and the entering Spain arrangements take place before boarding.

[…] There are lots of unknown elements in the new arrangements, which will only be tested once they are put in place. Suppose somebody has shown his passport at La Linea, and something happens between him showing his passport and getting on the aircraft. Where is he? In no-man's land; still in Gibraltar; or has he now left Gibraltar and is in Spain? Those things indicate the peculiarity of the arrangements, which are intended exclusively to allow Spain to argue that, in fact, they do not concede that it is an international flight between Spain and Gibraltar, but a domestic flight between one part of Spain and another.[636]

He also criticised the cost of the new airport:

We have a terminal in which, until something new happens, we are investing £30 million quid to provide for a weekend flight to Madrid and a daily flight to Gatwick. We do not think that is a good way to spend public money.[637]

407.  However, Gibraltar's Chief Minister defended the new arrangements:

Madrid is inside Schengen, Gibraltar is outside […] as is the UK […] there is absolutely no question […] of Spanish immigration officials exercising any form of control over entry into or exit out of Gibraltar. What they are doing is giving Gibraltar passengers advance Schengen entry clearance, and deferred Schengen exit clearance, which is also required under the Schengen acquis […][638]

The FCO also told us that it was "content that the immigration arrangements at the new terminal have no implications for sovereignty and jurisdiction or control".[639]

Territorial waters

408.  In June 2007 a dispute arose over the activities of a US marine salvage company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, which claimed to have lifted a considerable quantity of treasure from a wreck off Lands End. Spain believed that this treasure was in fact from a Spanish merchant vessel sunk by the British off Gibraltar in 1804. On 12 July the Ocean Alert, a Panamanian-registered vessel belonging to the US company, was detained by Spain's Guardia Civil at a point 3.5 miles south of Gibraltar. We were alerted to this issue while on a visit to Gibraltar and wrote to the FCO to request further information on the incident.[640] The FCO explained that the waters are considered by the UK to be high seas and that the UK had therefore protested to the Spanish authorities that the detention had occurred without its consent.[641] The treasure consignments were flown to the US and became subject to a court case in Florida between Odyssey and the Spanish government won by the latter in April 2008. Odyssey's exploration was discussed at the most recent Trilateral Forum. The Forum's communiqué called for more transparency on Odyssey's part and cooperation with Spanish authorities to ensure no breach of Spanish laws.[642]

409.  Spain claims that Gibraltar has no territorial waters. Following our evidence session with the Chief Minister we received a letter from the Spanish Ambassador to the UK which argued that Spain did not recognize as having ceded to the UK any spaces other than those included in article X of the Treaty of Utrecht and that it had stated clearly when ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea[643] that this could not be construed as recognition of any rights of maritime space except those included in that Treaty.[644] However, the FCO told us that it "categorically" rejected this view and that it did not allow Spain's assertion that Gibraltar has no territorial waters to go unchallenged.[645]

410.  The Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar argued that the UK should increase its three mile claim to the territorial waters around Gibraltar to the 12 mile of waters it claims around many other Overseas Territories.[646] John Borda, a Gibraltarian living in the UK, also called for this change.[647]

411.  However, the Chief Minister told us that Gibraltar had "no economic or social need for more than 3 miles of territorial water".[648] The FCO also told us that it believed three miles of territorial waters was sufficient.[649]

Obstruction of conventions

412.  The 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Cooperation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children came into force in 2002, but does not apply in the EU. As a convention which has to be ratified both by individual states and by the EU as a whole, it falls into the category of "mixed competence" conventions. In the past Spain had blocked ratification of such conventions by the EU because it believed that designating the government of Gibraltar as a "competent body" would amount to a de facto recognition of the status quo, undermining its sovereignty claim. However, on 8 January 2008, the Foreign Secretary reported in a written ministerial statement that, "with the agreement of the government of Gibraltar and in the spirit of ongoing co-operation", it had now concluded a set of arrangements with Spain which would allow the EU to move ahead and ratify" a number of mixed competence conventions by the EU, including the 1996 Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and the 2001 Cape Town Convention on International Interest in Mobile Equipment and its Protocol on Aircraft.[650]

413.  However, in oral evidence the Leader of the Opposition told us:

only two weeks ago they entered a reservation about the extension to Gibraltar of legislation to stop international organised crime. The extension of the UN convention on combating international organised crime was signed by the United Kingdom some years ago and extended to Gibraltar last year. The first thing Spain did was to object to its extension to Gibraltar. You would have thought the last thing they want is for us to become a nest of people who organise international crime, unless they want to be able to point the finger at us because the criminals are there, because we have not got the convention extended.[651]

414.  We welcome the Cordoba Agreement and the progress being made on cooperation between Gibraltar, Spain and the UK in the Trilateral Forum. We note that the pensions settlement which was part of the Agreement was costly for the UK, but we welcome an end to the "pensions scam" and the removal of other potential liabilities on the UK. We recommend that the Government continues making strong representations to Spain and within NATO at the highest level about the unacceptability of Spain's continuing restrictions on direct naval, army and airforce movements or military communications between Spain and Gibraltar. We further recommend that the Government continues to make strong representations to Spain about its failure to recognise Gibraltar's territorial waters and its objections to international conventions being extended to Gibraltar.

British Indian Ocean Territory

415.  Successive Mauritian governments have asserted a claim to sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, arguing that it was illegally separated from Mauritius before the country gained independence. The UK has repeatedly rejected these claims, but it has given Mauritius an undertaking that it will cede the archipelago to Mauritius when it is no longer required for defence purposes (see Diego Garcia "lease" and renditions above).[652] In November 2007, the Prime Minister agreed to establish a dialogue between the Mauritian high commission and FCO officials on issues relating to the British Indian Ocean Territory.[653]

416.  In March 2007, the President of Mauritius was reported as saying that "ultimately" Mauritius would be prepared to take its sovereignty claim to the International Court of Justice and that he would be willing to leave the Commonwealth to pursue this legal battle.[654] Mr Gifford, legal representative of the Chagos Refugees Group, told us that the Mauritian government was "very much wedded to the idea of sovereignty" explaining:

They take the view that "We was robbed". They believe that Mauritius was regarded as an inferior, non-independent country. It was worried about negotiating the terms of its independence at the time, and it had its arm twisted, so it was in a lower bargaining position and it was not true consent when it agreed, in return for £3 million, to cede the islands to Britain.[655]

However, Mr Gifford also pointed out that the International Court of Justice only had jurisdiction on the basis of consent.[656]

417.  Previous Mauritian governments have been "hostile" to the Chagossians' claim, but the present government of Mauritius has recently made strong statements in support of the Islanders' cause.[657] Mr Gifford told us that the Mauritian Prime Minister had said that "the interests of the Mauritian people, the Chagossian people and the Mauritian government were now complementary and they could march forward together". He also told us that Mauritius was likely to be "quite helpful and positive" once it realised the "the commercial benefits that will come to it from re-establishing the economy of the islands."[658]

418.  We asked Mr Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group, whether a resettled Chagossian community would prefer to be a British Overseas Territory or part of Mauritius. He told us that islanders were most concerned about getting their fundamental rights, but said he believed most Chagossians would prefer to stay British.[659]

419.  We will examine Mauritius' sovereignty claim over the British Indian Ocean Territory further (see para 69 for details of decision to consider the implications of a resettlement for the Chagossians in greater detail). At present, we conclude that any resolution to the UK's sovereignty dispute with Mauritius over the British Indian Ocean Territory must take Chagossians' wishes into account.

Seabed claims

420.  Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea defines the continental shelf of a coastal state as extending in the first instance up to 200 nautical miles from the shoreline. The Convention further provides that a state's continental shelf may extend beyond 200 miles, but only if specified geological conditions can be satisfied. In order to establish this, states are required under the Convention to submit detailed information to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which then makes recommendations about the establishment of an extended outer limit. In cases where a dispute exists between coastal states, the rules of the Commission require it to decline to examine any submission, until those disputes are resolved. The best way forward, therefore, would be for any neighbouring States making a claim to agree on a common approach before submitting their claims to the Commission.[660]

421.  Under the terms of the UN Convention, all state parties have up to ten years following ratification by which they have to submit any claims. By further agreement that deadline was extended to May 2009 for those states, like the UK, which ratified prior to 1999.

422.  We asked the FCO for details of the submissions which the UK was considering making in respect of Overseas Territories.[661] It told us that it was currently "researching" a submission in respect of the continental shelf around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands but that plans had "not been finalised". The FCO added that it had "no doubts about its sovereignty" over the Territories, nor "its right to submit a claim to extend the continental shelf", but that it had "already had useful contacts on the issue with technical and legal experts from the Argentine MFA with a view to making a joint submission without prejudice to rival sovereignty claims", including meetings in 2001 and 2004.[662]

423.  The Falkland Islands Legislative Council argued that it was important for the UK to submit continental shelf extension proposals in good time "for the protection of the UK's sovereignty", although it did not believe these proposals had short/medium oil term exploration implications. Councillor Summers told us that he was "satisfied" that the FCO was preparing the claim[663] and that it was unlikely to provoke any clash with Argentina.[664]

424.  The FCO also told us that it was considering a submission to the Commission in respect of the continental shelf around Ascension Island, but that it had not yet taken any decisions on this.[665] On 9 May the FCO made a formal bid with regard to the seabed around the Territory. The UN Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf will review the claim in August.[666]

425.  With regard to the British Antarctic Territory, the FCO said that it had not yet made any decisions on its approach. It strongly denied press reports that this was a "land grab" and stated that the UK remained -

fully committed to upholding the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty including the Protocol on Environmental Protection and its clear prohibition on minerals related activity.[667]

Councillor Summers told us that any claim from the UK in respect of the Antarctic claim could cause problems with Chile and Argentina,[668] both of which also claim sovereignty over the British Antarctic Territory.

426.  Although no rights accrue in respect of the water column or fishery reserves beyond 200 nautical miles, any continental shelf gives the coastal State sovereign rights over the seabed and the subsoil, including the nature and scope of any activities proposed to take place there. Seabed areas not falling under any national jurisdiction will be designated as being for the "benefit of mankind", and be regulated by the International Seabed Authority. The FCO told us that therefore it was "in the long-term interests of the UK to secure its sovereign rights to the continental shelf at this time".[669] We agree.

427.  We conclude that the Government was right to submit a claim to the UN Commission for the Limits of the Continental Shelf for the seabed around Ascension Island. We recommend that the Government should submit a similar claim for the continental shelf around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. We also recommend that the Government should in its response to this Report state its current policy on seabed claims in relation to the continental shelf around the British Antarctic Territory.

600 Back

601   Q 322 Back

602   Q 33 Back

603   Q 59 Back

604   Q 39 Back

605   Ev 85 Back

606   HC Deb, 29 February 2008, col 2023W Back

607   "Argentina to protest over Falklands oil exploration", Financial Times, 1 May 2008 Back

608   Ev 237 Back

609   Q 60 Back

610   LAN Airlines' service from Chile is protected by the 1999 UK-Argentina agreement, but during our visit some Islanders also expressed concern that Argentina could put pressure on LAN to cancel this route. Back

611   Q 322 Back

612   Qq 320- 321 Back

613   Foreign Affairs Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2002-03, Gibraltar, HC 1024, paras 12 and 22 Back

614 Back

615   Ev 296 and Q 256 [Murphy] Back

616   "Miliband to join Caruana and Moratinos in 'Revitalising' Trilateral Process", Gibraltar Gazette, 25 April 2008 Back

617   Q 179 Back

618   Q 256 Back

619   Q 253 Back

620   Q 256 Back

621   Q 257 Back

622   HC Deb, 16 April 2002, col 453 Back

623   GSLP/Liberals press release, 26 September 2006 Back

624   Ev 296 Back

625   Ev 362 Back

626   Q 186 Back

627   Ev 362 Back

628   HC Deb, 31 October 2002, col 891 W Back

629   Q 215 Back

630   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Response from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the Eleventh Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Cm 5954, September 2003, p 5 Back

631   Q 215 Back

632   Q 259 Back

633   "US sub visit tangled in Spain's controls on military movements at border", Gibraltar Gazette, 9 May 2008 Back

634   Q 259 Back

635   Ev 362 Back

636   Q 180 Back

637   Q 180 Back

638   Q 213 Back

639   Ev 362 Back

640   Ev 68 Back

641   Ev 77 Back

642   Communiqué of Forum of Dialogue on Gibraltar, Castellar de la Frontera, 5 and 6 November 2007 Back

643   See also following section on seabed claims. Back

644   Ev 322 Back

645   Ev 77 Back

646   Qq 182-183 Back

647   Ev 256 Back

648   Q 218 Back

649   Ev 77 Back

650   HC Deb, 8 January 2008, col 6WS Back

651   Q 203 Back

652   Ev 144 Back

653   HC Deb, 27 February 2008, col 1701W Back

654   "Mauritius says may leave Commonwealth in Chagos row", Reuters, 7 March 2007 Back

655   Q 168 Back

656   Q 168 Back

657   Q 169 [Mr Gifford] Back

658   Q 169 Back

659   Qq 170-172 Back

660   Ev 238 Back

661   With regard to itself, the UK made a joint submission to the Commission with France, Ireland and Spain in respect of the Bay of Biscay in 2005 and is currently negotiating with Ireland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands in respect of the Hatton-Rockall basin. (Ev 238) Back

662   Ev 238 Back

663   Q 36 Back

664   Q 38 Back

665   Ev 238 Back

666 Back

667   Ev 238; See Part Two for further details of the Antarctic Treaty. Back

668   Q 38 Back

669   Ev 238 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 6 July 2008