HL Deb 18 October 1988 vol 500 cc1005-6

Lord Merrivale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assistance they propose to give the Government of Gibraltar (pending the restructuring of the system) to enable payments to Spanish pensioners to continue after 7th December 1988.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have now agreed to contribute nearly £19 million towards these costs for the period 1986-88. My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is to meet the Chief Minister of Gibraltar again on 31st October to continue their discussions about the restructuring of the Gibraltar social insurance fund.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. On the restructuring of the fund, will the Minister say what consideration is jointly being given to the possible integration of the UK and Gibraltar social insurance schemes?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, this is one of the matters that is being discussed between my right honourable friend and the Chief Minister. In the light of the further discussions to which I have referred, I hope my noble friend will agree that I should not anticipate how those discussions may turn out.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, will the Minister say whether it is true that at the present time neither the British Government nor the Gibraltar Government are prepared to make any contribution to the remaining £257 million owed to the pensioners? Have the Government taken legal opinion that liability in this case lies with the Gibraltar Government?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, these discussions have been continuing for some time, as the noble Baroness will know. They are reaching a very important juncture. I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I do not say anything to anticipate the outcome of the discussions shortly to take place.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend a further question. When these further discussions take place at the end of the month will Her Majesty's Government bear strongly in mind that these Spanish pensions are a heavy burden for Gibraltar as they represent approximately 7 per cent of its GNP?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I cannot confirm exactly the figure to which my noble friend refers, but of course it is the case that a commitment exists However, it is also the case that contributions have been made over the years. An entitlement to pensions therefore also exists.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I understand my noble friend's unwillingness to make any comments on the matter while discussions are at an important stage. Is he aware of the great interest in all quarters of the House in this matter? When these discussions have been concluded, will he be in a position to make a statement?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we shall certainly be willing to answer questions on the outcome of these discussions, or let the House know in some other way as soon as that outcome is reached.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, made an appeal which was well briefed by those who have studied the position, I hope Her Majesty's Government will be generous in negotiations with the new Prime Minister of Gibraltar.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as regards generosity, we have already contributed the £19 million to which I have referred.

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