Text of the
Chief Ministers speech
House of Assembly
Thursday 18 December 2003
Your Excellency, welcome to this your first Ceremonial Opening of a
House of Assembly in Gibraltar. I welcome also Lady Richards and other distinguished
Mr Speaker, congratulations on your reconfirmation in office by this
House just a few moments ago. We all, I am sure, look forward to you continuing to
dispense your effective brand of parliamentary summary justice. In your capacity as Mayor,
Tercentenary year promises to be a busy one for you, which I hope you will enjoy.
During Tercentenary year Gibraltar will rightly commemorate and
celebrate 300 years of our British Sovereignty, of our relationship with the UK and of the
many and much valued historical, political, cultural and institutional fruits of that
relationship. I am sure that the whole House shares my delight at the announced visit by
Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal. Much as we would have liked a visit by Her Majesty
the Queen, the Princess Royal is very welcome and I am sure, will be made to feel so by
the people of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is part of Her Majestys Realm, and it is
therefore wholly inappropriate and improper for foreigners to interfere with or to protest
at such a visit.
I believe that this House should formally participate in the
Tercentenary celebrations, and, therefore I intend to convene a special meeting of the
House on 4th August 2004 for a Special Tercentenary ceremonial meeting. Early
next year I will consult with Mr Speaker and with the Leader of the Opposition on the
format and content of that meeting, which Government intends should include the passing of
Tercentenary freedom of the City motions, upon which I will also consult with the
I detect a growing, and I believe justified view that our parliamentary
procedures have been outgrown by the vibrant and extensively self governing community over
which this House presides. I believe that our parliamentary procedures should better
reflect the present day democratic reality, maturity and needs of Gibraltar. And so, I
hope that Hon Members opposite will accept Governments invitation to activate a
cross party select Committee of this House to conduct a review of the manner in which we
carry out our work with a view to its modernisation and to making early recommendations to
the whole House.
Although I am assured that the number of people who where unable to
vote at the recent elections due to not being included in the Register of electors, is no
more than usual at all elections, I believe that we should modernise our electoral system
to make it easier for citizens to ensure that they are included in the register. I
personally favour the UK system of an "open register" which ensures that once a
voter is on the register he remains there for life. An open register enables citizens to
check and get on to the register and to change their details at any time between
elections, rather than our present system of organising a new register for every election.
The Government will be introducing legislation into the House to reform the present system
in time for our next general election.
Your Excellency, the Government believes that it is the right of every
colonial people to enjoy progressive Constitutional advancement to deliver the maximum
possible level of self Government and to achieve a modern, non colonial status. Gibraltar
is not an exception to that on account of the fact that our neighbour persists with
its anachronistic Sovereignty claim, or for any other reason.
During the next few days, I shall be formally submitting our
Constitutional Reform proposals to Her Majestys Government in the United Kingdom. As
your Excellency knows, these proposals were elaborated by a cross party select Committee
of this House after a wide process of public consultation, participation and debate. They
were unanimously adopted by this House, constituted, in terms of political parties and
policies, exactly as it is now. The proposals therefore enjoy the support of both Her
Majestys Government in Gibraltar and of Her Majestys loyal Opposition in
Gibraltar. That support will be reconfirmed by a motion to that effect that I intend to
move during our forthcoming first meeting. We therefore trust that the proposals will be
afforded the consideration and seriousness that reflects those inescapable democratic
facts and the impeccable democratic credentials and provenance of the proposals
There are, as your Excellency knows, Constitutional advancement
initiatives taking place in other Overseas Territories as well. Indeed, the Overseas
territories White Paper encourages them. This has caused HMG to recently make some
statements of apparent general application in relation to Constitutional change in the
We believe that our proposals are squarely within those parameters.
They do not seek a position where the UK has responsibility without power. They do seek
however that those powers should be reflected in the Constitution in terms that are not
colonial in nature and which reflect the purposes for which they must rightly exist.
We share the views of Her Majestys Government in the UK that it
has the right to expect high standards of probity and governance in the Overseas
Territories. We regard our standards of probity and governance to be at least as high as
those in the UK. And this not because the UK expects or demands it, but because the people
of Gibraltar expect it, demand it and deserve it and because, like elected politicians in
the UK, it is our conviction. In a mature democracy such as ours, the people, in exercise
of their democratic rights, are the most appropriate arbiters of standards of Government.
And the people of Gibraltar are no less able to do so, that their counterparts in the UK.
We also share the view of HMG in the UK that it is important to ensure
the independence of the civil service, the judiciary and the police, in the very same
measure and manner as it is important to do so in the UK itself and in all democratic
countries. And so in the non colonial climate that we would wish to exist these
institutions in Gibraltar should be appropriately independent of everyone, including the
UK Government and the Governor, and not just independent of the democratically elected
local Government. Independence and colonialism must not be confused with each other.
The point that I am making is that the vitally important task of
ensuring the independence of these bodies does not require colonial mechanisms, because
the same vitally important independence is achieved elsewhere (for example, in the UK
itself) by democratic means that are not colonial in nature. The independence of these
institutions can be achieved by colonial or by non colonial means. We favour non
colonial mechanisms for these important purposes in Gibraltar as well.
The UK also emphasises its responsibility to ensure that Overseas
Territories comply with international obligations. We acknowledge this, but the issue is
not that simple. I have, in the past, at similar ceremonial occasions, questioned the
practice of extending international obligations to Overseas Territories without their
agreement and then demanding compliance because they have become international
obligations. Indeed, I believe that it is possible to question the UKs legal right
to do so. Often, these obligations are not in the interests of the Territory and place
unaffordable financial strain on it or place huge constraints on its economic and social
development. Sometimes the international measure serves the UKs own domestic policy
interests at the expense of the interests of the Overseas Territories. I believe that it
is morally wrong to impose these things on the Overseas Territories and very probably
legally indefensible, given among other things the nature of the UKs obligations to
the Territories under the Charter of the United Nations. We have first hand experience of
this in the areas of the European Taxation of Savings Directive and the Mutual Legal
Assistance Convention, amongst others.
And then, if the UK wants to exercise that which it regards as its
right to contract international obligations on behalf of the Territories and to
police compliance with them in the name of its constitutional responsibility for
international affairs, is there not an obvious moral and legal corollary to that, namely
an obligation on UKs part to ensure the protection of our international rights.
And so I ask, why do we still have a telephone number shortage as a result of Spanish
disrespect for our international rights? Why must we be excluded from European Single and
Open skies regimes (with UK consent)? Why do we still suffer restrictions in air services
to Gibraltar and problems with diverted flights? Why have our tax reform proposals still
not been approved? Why are Gibraltars EU rights in practice only justiciable when a
Gibraltar plaintiff is able to initiate the Court proceedings? Why are the Gibraltar
Governments concerns in relation to the proposed new EU Treaty not taken up by the
UK in the negotiating process, so that our EU interests are placed on a sure footing, and
not left open to argument and to the vagaries of Qualified Majority voting or
unprecedented EU Commission legal action against Spain. If our future obligation to
participate in certain measures is in future to be automatic", then why is the
corresponding right to participate in some such measures left for a "case by
HMG uses the phrase mutual or shared responsibilities and obligations.
We acknowledge that that must be so. But it cuts both ways. Just as UK rightly looks to us
to discharge our responsibilities and obligations to the UK, so too we are entitled to
look, in the same measure, to the UK to discharge its responsibilities and obligations to
us. In the case of Gibraltar, most objective observers would rightly conclude (as the
Foreign Affairs Committee has done) that Gibraltars compliance record in respect of
its responsibilities to UK, is better than the UKs compliance record of its
responsibilities towards Gibraltar.
Your Excellency, I conclude with one further thought. At the recent
Overseas Territories Council, Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell again pointed out to
the Territories that, (except in the case of Gibraltar) they enjoyed the right to
independence which they were free to exercise if they did not like the terms upon which
they could retain a relationship with the UK. That was not a new message. However,
precisely because the UK denies that choice to Gibraltar, the UK must be open to
Constitutional models for Gibraltar which it might not be willing to contemplate for other
Overseas Territories, because otherwise, unlike the other territories, we must remain
inevitably stuck in a colonial status for all time that cannot be right. I am sure that it
is not necessary for me to remind HMG that the Treaty of Utrecht (whatever may or may not
be its current impact) does not require Gibraltar to remain in a colonial status.
It is in this context, and in the context of our desire for enduring
British sovereignty and Constitutional links with the UK, that we present our
Constitutional Reform proposals.
Your Excellency, I think that your Governorship has got off to an
excellent start and I believe that the people of Gibraltar share that view. I have much
enjoyed working with you since your arrival here and I look forward to continuing to do so
during the next 4 years.