Gibraltar — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 20 January 2014.

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Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour 2:45, 20 January 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what response they have received from the Government of Spain about incursions by Spanish vessels into Gibraltar’s territorial waters and delays at the frontier.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Senior Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government), Senior Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Faith and Communities) (also in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, we have raised our concerns about incursions with the Spanish Government. Their response is that the waters were not ceded to the UK in the Treaty of Utrecht. We remain confident that the waters are British, as sovereignty flows from land. We have also raised concerns about the additional border checks. Spain maintains that the checks are necessary to prevent smuggling, while HMG considers them to be disproportionate, politically motivated and therefore unlawful under EU law.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

First, I must declare an interest as a freeman of Gibraltar, a title of which I am very proud. When did we last see the Spanish ambassador, what assurances did we get—from the Minister’s reply, it sounds as though they were negative—and, as we are members of the European Union, can we ask it for help and assistance in requesting Spain to stop the incursion into British territorial waters and to stop the unnecessary hold-ups at the frontier?

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Senior Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government), Senior Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Faith and Communities) (also in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

In terms of contact, the Spanish ambassador was summoned back in August, the Minister for Europe spoke to the Spanish Minister for Europe, the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Spanish Foreign Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister spoke to the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister. In September, the Prime Minister spoke to the Spanish Prime Minister at the G20 summit. In November, the Spanish ambassador was resummoned to the FCO. The Prime Minister also spoke to President Barroso in the margins of the December European Council.

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

My Lords, the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, is entirely the most important in this context. Is the Minister aware of the observations by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum—a body with which I have not been very familiar—which has come to the conclusion that policy issues relating to Gibraltar are relevant, but not strongly relevant, to numerous UK Government ministries and departments, ranging from two sections of the Foreign Office to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? The forum’s conclusion is that,

“it seems likely that it is Gibraltar’s misfortune to”, run the risk of falling “between the slats”.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Senior Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government), Senior Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Faith and Communities) (also in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, there are a number of issues that are of course competences for the Government of Gibraltar; it is important that the United Kingdom Government ensures that they become involved only in those issues that are competences as far as the United Kingdom Government are concerned. I was not entirely clear as to the specific question that my noble and learned friend asked, but it may well be that I can go back through Hansard and then write to him in detail. However, our strategy at this stage is very clear: to de-escalate the situation and to try to resolve these matters through diplomatic and political routes.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, the sea incursions are clearly very reckless—

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is on his feet, perhaps we can hear briefly from him and then hear from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

I will repeat: the sea incursions are clearly reckless and the border delays are highly damaging to the economy of Gibraltar. In October and November, the peak period, visitors to Gibraltar were down by 44%. Should not we urge the Spanish Government to respond to the recommendations of the European Commission—which we can do as we are now, and will remain, a member of the European Union—and should not the Spanish Government be told that these provocations will not help, because there is overwhelming support among all parties for listening to the Government and people of Gibraltar before there is any change in Gibraltar’s status?

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Senior Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government), Senior Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Faith and Communities) (also in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The noble Lord is right that the incursions have been steadily increasing: in 2011, there were about 23 incursions; in 2012, they went up to 228; and in 2013 they went up to 509. The good news is that there has been a welcome reduction since December of last year, so this may mean that there is a slight change in attitude. We have been asking for the ad hoc talks to resume; we have reiterated to the Spanish Government the Foreign Secretary’s proposal of ad hoc talks, which he made in April 2012, involving all the relevant parties.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, is it not Spain’s unfortunate domestic situation, brought about by her membership of the euro, which encourages her to look outwards and behave badly over Gibraltar? Is the result not yet another example of how useless the EU and our membership of it have become?

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

Is it not the case that there has been not only a 44% reduction in visitors to Gibraltar but a 26% reduction in the number of non-Gibraltarian cars visiting Gibraltar? With 10,000 Spanish workers’ jobs dependent on a growing economy in Gibraltar, is not the use of aggressive tactics at the border to make life more difficult actually damaging the Spanish economy, which is already in a parlous state?

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, when these meetings took place—the Minister gave a list of all of them—did our representatives point out to the representatives of the Government of Spain that Spain has two enclaves in Morocco, in Ceuta and Melilla? That therefore shows their hypocrisy on this kind of issue. What kind of replies do they get from the Government of Spain in relation to that?

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Senior Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government), Senior Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Faith and Communities) (also in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

These discussions are always about trying to resolve matters, not trying to make them worse. It would not be appropriate for me to go into the details of those discussions but, needless to say, we are robust in making the views of the people of Gibraltar known to the Government of Spain.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that no Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister has visited Gibraltar since the election of a new Government and Chief Minister in 2011? Is that not slightly surprising and remarkable, given the increased tension in Gibraltar since that time? What plans are there for a visit by an FCO Minister in the near future?