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Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, have the Government taken steps to prevent multiple applications for passports? The Minister will recall that, after 11th September, some people in this country who were not unconnected with those events were found to have more than one passport.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the UKPS is taking steps to deal with such problems. The UKPS has a useful system that contains details of persons known to have made fraudulent applications in the past. With the benefit of the measures that have been put in place partly as a consequence of 11th September, the UKPS is pursuing such cases and is doing extremely well. Earlier, I gave figures on fraud detection, and much other encouraging progress is being made.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the improvement in the service for issuing passports, but I share the problems experienced by my noble friend Lord Lipsey as regards receiving passports through Royal Mail. Two passports for members of my family have recently been
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Royal Mail remains the most reliable agency for ensuring that people receive their passport on time. The UKPS is doing very well. I am told that the average turnaround time for a passport is 4.24 days, which is a big improvement on the time that many customers experienced four or five years ago. Then, it took much longer17 or 18 days.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, can the Minister say when the requirement for a paper car licence, as well as the plastic driver's licence, will be dealt with? The Minister will be aware that, in many countries, the vehicle driver's licence is used as a form of corroborative evidence for people raising questions about the validity of passports. It is inconvenient that, in the UK, we still have the requirement for a useless plastic driver's licence as well as a paper one.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I take the point. I said earlier that the driver's licence was one of the documents used to check applications. The current driver's licence is in paper and plastic form.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, would it be possible to go back to the first part of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey? He asked about the loss of passports. Does the Minister have any figures on that?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have no figures for lost passports, but I will investigate the matter. I shall write to my noble friend Lord Lipsey and make the information available to other noble Lords who are interested.
If Spain wants to influence the Gibraltarians in her favour, the right policy would be to woo the Gibraltarians, not to bully them. If the Government have already suggested that to the SpanishI dare say that they haveshould they not abandon their existing policies and make that point to the Spanish at every opportunity?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as we have already discussed on a number of occasions, it is clear that Spain will have to make any deal attractive to the people of Gibraltar. As the British Government have made clear over and over again since 1969, anything that effects the sovereignty of the people of Gibraltar will be put to the people of Gibraltar in a referendum.
Of course, we reiterate to our friends in Spain that it is important that the issues that cause such irritation in Gibraltarborder delays, problems with telephone numbers and the other issues that your Lordships have discussed over many yearsmust be put right, if any deal is to go through.
Lord Temple-Morris: My Lords, is not my noble friend the Minister well aware that successive governments have, on various occasions, endeavoured to get agreement on this difficult matter? All too often, they have backed away because of parliamentary and other pressure. Recess or no recess, will the Government please press on with the brave efforts that they have made to reach a settlement, bearing in mind the necessary safeguards for the people of Gibraltar and the undoubted fact that a settlement is in their interests?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government will pursue the path to which we are now committed. I remind the House that it was a Conservative government who originally said that sovereignty could be included in such discussions.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, does the Minister recall that the original Brussels agreementin which I declare a semi-paternal interestwhich launched the process, aimed at overcoming all the differences between Spain and the United Kingdom over Gibraltar, including issues of sovereignty? It was welcomed at the time by the Chief Minister of Gibraltar and by our Prime Minister as being, in her words,
Does the Minister also recall that that agreement spelt out clearly the full commitment of Her Majesty's Government to honour the wishes of the people of Gibraltar? Has not the present regrettable deadlock arisen largely because of the serious imbalance in the Government's approach to the negotiations? They are much too willing to accommodate the requirements of the Spanish Government and much too willing to be heedless of the need for Spaineven more than Britainto gain and maintain the confidence of the people of Gibraltar.
Finally, if the negotiations are to be resumedas I would hope, but only after the dust has settled a littleis it not essential that that should be on the basis of proven Spanish willingness, as promised in the original 1984 agreement, to take the early action necessary to allow effective air communications and free movement of persons, vehicles and goods between Gibraltar and Spain?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, has an excellent memory. He is absolutely right because I have in front of me the text of the Brussels communique. He also has the great integrity to use his memory, which is a point that might be reflected on by some of his honourable friends in another place.
The noble and learned Lord went on to talk about a serious imbalance. From the beginning of our discussions on this issue, I have very much regretted the absence of Mr Caruana from them. He was invited to join the discussions and that invitation remains open to him. I very much hope that, on reflection, he will decide that his proper place is at the negotiating table.
However, I should remind noble Lords that in the Statement made last week by my right honourable friend Mr Straw in another place, he pointed out that not only had the issue of shared sovereignty been discussed, but also that Gibraltar should have more internal self government; that Gibraltar should retain its British traditions, customs and way of life; that Gibraltarians should retain the right to British nationality; that it should be free to retain its institutions and that it should be able to participate fully in the EU single market. I do not think that that reflects an imbalance in the position. That reflects a truly balanced position and one that has at its heart the interests of the people of Gibraltar.
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