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Baroness Park of Monmouth: If Gibraltar is a member of the European Union, why does it not have a vote?

Lord Whitty: My noble friend Lord McIntosh explained that matter in detail the other night but, if the Committee wishes, I will refer to it later. From 1976 onwards, under the European Parliamentary Elections Act, Gibraltar was excluded from representation in the European Parliament. That immediately followed British accession and predated the creation of a directly elected European Parliament. Unscrambling that would require unanimity, which would need the agreement of Spain. We accept absolutely in principle and in all morality that Gibraltarians ought to have a vote and be represented in some way in the European Parliament. However, it is not possible for us to negotiate that, so it is not sensible to proceed on those lines. We discussed ways of ensuring that Gibraltar can make its views more directly known to the European Parliament, but direct involvement in elections is not feasible. I regret that situation, but that is the reality of the matter. It means that Gibraltar is not affected by the OCT agreement. Therefore, any threat of a veto is at best extremely remote.

It means also that under the second amendment, with its reference to the island regions and therefore to internal economic assistance under structural or regional funds, Gibraltar already qualifies. Gibraltar already has objective 2 status under the structural funds and benefits substantially--I would argue, to a greater extent than do other overseas territories under the OCT agreement.

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Under the Amsterdam negotiations, a declaration was agreed that the particular problems of island regions should be recognised. The amendment would require us to report again on the budgetary consequences. There are no direct budgetary consequences. Any such assessment would take place within the overall assessment of structural and other funds. The relative pressures in the complex negotiations on Agenda 2000 that are continuing now on the future of the structural funds and on urban and less-developed areas and areas of industrial decline obviously involve some consideration of the island regions. They will involve consideration of Gibraltar's status, as they will the status of every territory currently receiving structural funds within the mainland of the United Kingdom.

The Commission's current proposals are not acceptable in their present form to the British Government. As it happens, they would not adversely affect Gibraltar. They will be subject to a lengthy period of negotiation. I do not believe that it is necessary for us to agree in this context to producing a report on the consequences of the declaration that island regions have particular problems. Clearly they do, but so do other regions. The financial consequences involved in terms of structural funds will be subject to a much more detailed, wide ranging and difficult negotiation at a later stage, which will no doubt be reported and discussed at length in this Chamber, but not in the context of this treaty. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I do not want to detain Members of the Committee for long, but I should like to say a few words on the subject, especially in regard to Gibraltar. I am sure that my noble friend knows that not only myself but also many others on this side of the Chamber are very sympathetic towards the problems that Gibraltar experiences and would like to see them solved. As regards the treatment of Gibraltarians--and, indeed, of others--wishing to travel to and from the Rock, we believe that Spain interferes unduly with such movements. That causes people living in Gibraltar a great deal of trouble and heartache. I understand the difficulties that we may have with Spain but, nevertheless, we ought to tell the Spanish that both they and Gibraltar are part of the European Union. They should know that Gibraltar, as such, is entitled to the full consideration and the full protection that the European Union is supposed to give. If it does not do so, then the European Union is failing in its duty. I believe, therefore, that our Government should be pressing for action through the European Union to bring Spain to book.

There is another solution with which Spain ought to be faced. I feel quite sure that this country--certainly the people of this country--would give a sympathetic hearing to Gibraltar if it applied to become part of the United Kingdom. Of course, if it became part of the UK it would be eligible for representation in the European Parliament. So there are one or two things that we can say to Spain to get that country to treat Gibraltar in a better way.

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I understand that we are also dealing with the island regions. I should like my noble friend to comment on the question of the Channel Islands and the proposal to extend tax harmonisation to them. My noble friend will be aware that the Channel Islands are not part of the European Union, but it would be useful to know that the Government, of which my noble friend is a member, will resist any attempt by the French through the European Union to impose taxes on the Channel Islands, which the latter do not wish to impose.

The other matter in relation to the Channel Islands that I should like to raise relates to the French and their demands to depredate the fishing areas of the Channel Islands and to go in without let or hindrance, without being stopped by the British Navy. There is also their claim to overflight without proper consent. It should be remembered that the Channel Islands are under the suzerainty of the British Crown. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will take those matters on board and perhaps give a short reply in that respect.

Lord Whitty: Even after five days in Committee, I have to say that the course of this debate has stretched a little too wide of the original amendment. My noble friend and I, the Foreign Secretary, and others, have expressed concern about the position in Gibraltar. We are in constant discussion with the Gibraltar authorities about its future both directly and in the context of the review of all our overseas territories, on which an announcement is likely to be made at about the end of June.

I do not believe that it is appropriate for such an amendment to be used to produce a debate within this Chamber on what are very delicate constitutional future arrangements for Gibraltar and on the manoeuvres and the negotiations that will be required in that connection. It would be far better if we were to await the outcome of the review on the future of the overseas territories and then dealt with it in that context. It is certainly not appropriate for us to take the matter further tonight.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: If my noble friend is unable to reply to me tonight, perhaps he will be good enough to write to me about the position of the Channel Islands.

Lord Whitty: If my noble friend really wants me to send him a postcard from Jersey I shall be quite happy to do so. But the Channel Islands, likewise, are not covered by any of the designated territories for OCTs, island regions or outermost regions; indeed, they are not part of the EU. Therefore, they are not actually relevant to any debate on the Amsterdam Treaty even within the wildest stretches of imagination that we have so far managed to reach. Nevertheless, I shall try to keep my noble friend informed of developments regarding the Channel Islands.

Baroness O'Cathain: May I just mention the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, to the effect that the French were to impose some sort of jurisdiction over the Channel Islands in terms of tax. Do I take it from

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the reply of the noble Lord the Minister that the French will have absolutely no locus whatever in the Channel Islands?

Lord Whitty: Absolutely.

Lord Moynihan: I thank the Minister for his comments although I have to say that I am surprised that he was unaware of the potential, when tabling amendments such as this, to enable specific cases to be brought before this Chamber for detailed consideration. It is a perfectly proper procedure, and a great advantage of tabling amendments calling for a report on budgetary implications, that it does allow the Committee to explore specific points. There is no doubt at all that in the context of overseas countries and territories there was a very real concern, as expressed by the Gibraltarians, about the implications of a potential Spanish veto. So to say that this is not a matter for discussion tonight and should not be touched on in this context I think is totally wrong. I was using a form of words which would allow us this evening to look very carefully at an important case.

I have to say that there was a clear difference in tone between the last comments that the Minister made and his earlier comments. In his earlier comments he went quite a long way on the subject of the voting rights of Gibraltarians. Having discussed at such length this afternoon the basic human rights of European Union members to vote, it appears that he is not now prepared to negotiate on that. I believe I heard him correctly. I would very much hope that he would be prepared to negotiate on that. When he sees the record and sees the way in which the example of Gibraltar was brought into the context of this debate, quite legitimately, and the extent to which exchanges took place on both sides of this Committee, I hope that he will reflect that it should be central to the Government's ethical or foreign policy to place the interests of the Gibraltarians at the very top of the agenda and to ensure that a right to vote was examined and developed and brought forward as an essential and important principle of the Government's foreign policy. I shall give way to the Minister.

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