HL Deb 27 March 1995 vol 562 cc1401-2

2.46 p.m.

Lord Merrivale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will seek talks with the Moroccan authorities towards the implementation of the 1976 Exchange of Notes (Cm. 6798), and the amendment of the current UK-Morocco air services arrangements for a Morocco-Gibraltar-Paris route.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, Royal Air Maroc can commence operations on a route Morocco-Gibraltar-Paris at any time. However, if a Moroccan airline wished to pick up passengers in Gibraltar for Paris—and vice versa—on that route, the Moroccan authorities would need to seek to amend the current UK/Morocco air services arrangements accordingly. At air service talks on 13th January, the Moroccan authorities made no such request. We expect to resume talks shortly.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his response which rather follows the line of the Written Answer 1 received on 17th January. However, bearing in mind that there is only the UK-Gibraltar-Morocco route and that Great Britain is responsible for the external relations of Gibraltar, is it not for the Government to seek to encourage a further route which would benefit the economic development and the tourism of Gibraltar?

Viscount Goschen

No, my Lords; I do not agree with my noble friend. As with any other country, if Royal Air Maroc wanted to operate a Morocco-Gibraltar-Paris service with traffic rights, it would be up to the Moroccan authorities to request them from us; not the other way round

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister accept that it would be very much to the advantage to the economy of Gibraltar if such a route were put into operation? It would help Gibraltar to combat attempts by Spain to create every sort of difficulty as regards traffic to Gibraltar.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the point to be considered here is that we cannot force a foreign airline to operate a service. However, if that airline feels that it has the commercial need and requirement for such a service it would approach its national authorities which would seek to engage our national authorities in air service negotiations and make that part of a package.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, I am afraid that I shall have to refer to my supplementary question again. In fact, I happened to mention "a further route"; I did not just say a route from Morocco. However, as the Government said in a Written Answer on 16th June last year that, some details of the 1987 Agreement need to be updated to take account of the liberalisation of air transport in the Community" [Official Report, 16/6/94; col. WA 109.], can my noble friend the Minister say what progress, if any, has been made? Will my noble friend also bear in mind the fact that Morocco is not bound by Council regulations?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, indeed, Morocco is not bound by Council regulations. The important point on the airport agreement side is that the ball is in Gibraltar's court. The Gibraltarian administration refuses to implement the agreement because it believes that it cedes important concessions on the issue of sovereignty to the Spanish. This is not the position of Her Majesty's Government. We continue to press the Government of Gibraltar to act in this area. The emphasis is on the Gibraltarians; we will continue to press them to make progress on this important issue.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply with which I wholly concur—maybe uncharacteristically—can he confirm that this specific Question has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of the sensitive Gibraltarian/Spanish relationship'? Is he further aware that the Opposition support the view that he has taken? There was of course a deal struck in 1986–87, in which I had some part to play, which concluded a not wholly satisfactory arrangement between Britain and Spain on the issue. It is a sensitive matter and it does not help if rather irrelevant questions are imposed on it.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, it is difficult to separate out the issues. We believe that coming to an agreement on the airport is important for a number of reasons. I wholly agree with the noble Lord that this is a sensitive point. We continue to press for progress.