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UK Territorial Space: Spanish Incursions

Volume 765: debated on Monday 9 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent incursions by Spanish vessels and aircraft into United Kingdom waters and airspace.

My Lords, incursions are an unacceptable violation of British sovereignty, and we take them seriously. The Royal Navy challenges all unlawful maritime incursions, and the Government protest to Spain at an appropriate level following all air and maritime incursions.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but I must tell him that things can change rapidly. For instance, another bone of contention is border controls, with people having to queue at the border. An inspection took place on 27 October which was supposed to be secret but which had been in the Spanish press. Not surprisingly, there was no queue on that day, but the day after, people were waiting for four hours at the border. Can Gibraltarians be present at all times in discussions with the Spanish, and will the Government bear in mind the health, safety and welfare of the people of Gibraltar?

My Lords, the noble Lord mentions the border issue between Gibraltar and Spain. We noted that delays increased the day after the European Commission visit. The welfare and security of Gibraltarians must come first. The noble Lord also mentioned that any discussion about the future of Gibraltar must include all parties—and when I say all parties, I mean the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and Spain.

My Lords, given that the queues increased to three hours after the visit by the EU inspectors, should we not insist that such visits not be announced in advance but be spot checks?

The noble Lord makes a good point. I noted that there was an increase in time but if we go back to 2013, the Spanish were accused of queues of almost seven hours at the border. It is a little less than that now. The noble Lord is quite right in drawing attention to delays that happened after the visit of the European Commission.

My Lords, in light of the some 300 or so incursions into British Gibraltan territorial waters in the first nine months of this year, are Her Majesty’s Government using all possible methods to liaise with the Spanish Government? Would matters be made better or worse were the United Kingdom not a member of the European Union?

I do not see the relevance of whether the United Kingdom is a member of the European Union. On the relationships between Spain and the United Kingdom over these incursions, the Spanish ambassador is summoned frequently. Summoning is a very serious form of diplomatic protest. The extent to which we have employed it is particularly unprecedented when we talk about an EU and NATO partner.

What will happen when the current two Royal Navy ships finish their work in 2017? Do the Government intend to have some decent ship to deal with the incursions by the Guardia Civil on their much faster boats?

My Lords, our assessment is that the assets, structure and procedures of the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron are enough for the job but I take very careful note of what the noble Baroness said. We want to make sure that these challenging maritime incursions can be dealt with by our assets there.

My Lords, the Minister will be well aware that the ships we have in Gibraltar are in fact very tender, do not have very long range and are not nearly fast enough. Of course, the people manning them are very proud of them and do their best but it is their job to say that they are doing their best and they are good. The reality is that they are not good enough for the job and because of that there will be an incident where someone may be killed or badly injured. The Government of Gibraltar have said that they are willing to pay for faster, bigger craft. That has been done before with other countries we have been responsible for. Could we look at this very closely, so that we can get these new craft and then be able to do things that will not risk injury or death for our people there?

I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord said concerning our naval assets in Gibraltar. I will ensure that that is drawn to the attention of the department.

My Lords, since we are discussing preventing people from straying on to territory where they should not be, can anything be done to stop senior serving military officers appearing on television?

My Lords, what consideration have the Government given to the impact on Gibraltar of possible withdrawal from the EU? What guarantees can the Government give to the people of Gibraltar that there will be no border closure and that they will continue having access to the EU single market if the people were to vote to leave the EU?

My Lords, as I have said before, my right honourable friend is focused on delivering successful renegotiation but I see the United Kingdom and Gibraltar’s future as being part of a reformed EU. In my view, it is in the interests of Gibraltar, the UK and the European Union as a whole that our work on improving the competitiveness, fairness and accountability of the EU is successful.

My Lords, that being the case, I am delighted to think that the Prime Minister will go in and fight for our fishing vessels. The rest of the Question was to do with them. We all know for sure that the Spanish fleet, which is bigger than the rest of the fleets put together in the whole of the European community, abuses at all times its quotas. We have only self-policing in the European community now. No country can report another for cheating. Is it not time that our Prime Minister looked at this and came back with something for the British fisherman?

My Lords, the fishing policy in the Gibraltar waters is the concern of the Government of Gibraltar. We will take careful note of what my noble friend says.