HL Deb 16 December 1994 vol 559 cc1474-6

11.21 a.m.

Lord Merrivale

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will protest at the delays and controls imposed by the Spanish Government at the frontier between Gibraltar and Spain.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we have repeatedly and vigorously protested to the Spanish authorities about the harassment at the frontier and the disruption to normal movement across the border. We are keeping the position under close review and will continue to protest if the situation does not improve.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging Answer. Does he agree that the hours of queueing at the frontier—according to yesterday's Daily Telegraph it is up to four hours for pedestrians and up to eight hours for motorists—indicate that Spain is seeking to impose a form of economic strangulation on Gibraltar? Does he further agree that with double checks, normal Customs, and Guardia Civil controls, the controls go totally against the Community spirit whereby member states should conduct effective controls in line with common criteria?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, my noble friend is right. However, Gibraltar is outside the common Customs tariff and Spain is therefore technically within its rights in carrying out the checks at the frontier. As my noble friend said, the current checks are completely intolerable. They are extraordinarily heavy-handed and burdensome. They are intrusive and a profound disgrace. It is important that checks of this nature should cease forthwith.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I accept that an agreement should be by Spain and the United Kingdom and that representations have been made by the United Kingdom. What response have the Government received from the Spanish Government and where do the talks now stand?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we have been in touch with the Spanish Government at high levels. The Spanish Foreign Minister is visiting my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday next week. Obviously, the current situation will be high on their agenda.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend make clear to the Spanish Foreign Minister that far from these niggling, tiresome attempts at the persecution of Gibraltar making it more likely that Spain will be able to acquire Gibraltar the reverse is the case and that this country will firmly support the people of Gibraltar in resisting such outrageous behaviour?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, my noble friend is right. Our commitment to the people of Gibraltar in the 1969 constitution is well known. They will not be allowed to pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I note with pleasure that Her Majesty's Government occasionally enter a protest against actions they do not like. However, will the Minister consider more than protests and saying "No" to some of the demands that Spain makes until, as regards this matter, Spain can behave in a more communautaire manner?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, by the tone of the noble Lord's voice I take it that he may be suggesting confrontation. I do not believe that in the present circumstances that will get the British Government very far. As irritating and frustrating as the circumstances may be, I believe that co-operation is the best way forward.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, when exercising the gentle art of persuasion, to which my noble friend referred, will he bear in mind that Spain receives £12 million per day until the end of the century from the structural fund?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I was unaware of that particular figure. However, I am aware that Spain receives money from the structural fund and also from other Community initiatives.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I echo and agree with what the Minister said. It is far more appropriate to try to co-operate on these matters. I regret the tone of some of the questions that have been asked. I agree that harassment at the frontier by the Guardia Civil is entirely unacceptable. However, will the Minister comment on press reports of worrying developments in Gibraltar? We read of money laundering and extensive drug and tobacco smuggling into Spain. Will the Minister also comment on reports that failure by the Gibraltarian Government to adhere to EU directives has led to the threat of direct rule by the British Government?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I make clear straightaway that there is no threat of direct rule. I repeat that co-operation is the best way forward. There are suspicions of money laundering and drug trafficking and it is true that the Gibraltarian Government have fallen behind in implementing some EC directives. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is exhorting them to implement the directives as soon as possible.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, will my noble friend say whether the Spanish Government have given any reason for the recent worsening of the position on the frontier with Gibraltar? Are we to deduce that it is as a result of the newly appointed governor of Andalucia or in anticipation of next weeks's talks?

A recent article in the Independent made the suggestions to which the noble Baroness has referred today. I understand that they are totally erroneous. In terms of fulfilling obligations as regards the signing up of directives, only recently have the United Kingdom Government signed up to the directives referred to.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the United Kingdom Government sign up to directives as quickly as possible. They have the right and bounden duty to make certain that the Gibraltarian Government also sign up to directives as quickly as possible. I do not believe that the reason is connected with the newly elected governor of Andalucia. The Spanish Government say that it is due to the smuggling of tobacco and drug trafficking in the area.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, will my noble friend consider the Maastricht Treaty, in particular Article K.1, which states that member states shall regard as matters of common interest, rules governing the crossing by persons of the external borders of the Member States and the exercise of controls thereon."?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can tell my noble friend that we are considering all possible options. That will be one of the probable areas of action that is being considered by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.