The Hon Dr Joseph Garcia CMG MP
Deputy Chief Minister
This is my silver jubilee budget!
I have been a Member of this House for twenty-five consecutive budget occasions.
Some unfortunately, were marred by the pandemic.
My Honourable Friend the Chief Minister set out the budget numbers this morning.
The figures show that the economy is working.
They show that the public finances of Gibraltar have been turned around.
That Gibraltar will move from a deficit to a surplus.
It would be unfair to cloud or to diminish the importance of this development.
In particular when other countries across the world continue to post huge deficits.
So Gibraltar must be confident and proud of where we are today.
Mr Speaker, this will obviously be the last budget before a general election.
The last time Gibraltar went to the polls was in October 2019.
We had no crystal ball, Mr Speaker.
Nobody could possibly have foreseen at the time what lay in store.
It has been a complicated and difficult term of office.
A range of critical issues, largely unprecedented, have had to be dealt with.
That has not been easy.
True being in Government is never easy.
But true also that no Government of Gibraltar has been faced with the multiple challenges that we have had to confront.
A global pandemic.
A lockdown within five months of the election.
Economies closed across Europe and the World.
And millions of people dead everywhere.
Sadly, Gibraltar did not escape unscathed.
And over 100 people lost their lives here too.
It was, as I said, a particularly hard and difficult time.
For the elderly who were judged to be most at risk.
For our young people who saw their studies and examinations disrupted.
And for the population in general.
But they were dark days for those in Government too.
Dealing with the unknown.
Trying to keep a killer virus at bay.
Taking hard decisions in order to save lives.
Waking up in fear of what the new day might bring.
It was a physically and mentally draining experience.
But as so often happens, we all rose to the challenge.
And we faced the threat and we stared it down.
Gibraltar came very close to the formation of a Government of National Unity.
The Leader of the Opposition attended some Cabinet meetings.
Both sides of the House worked together to address aspects of the crisis.
So as the pandemic unfolded in front of us, we dealt with it.
We sourced medical supplies and equipment, including PPE and ventilators.
At a time when other countries were struggling with the supply chain.
We topped the global league when it came to testing.
And vaccinated the entire population in world record time.
The first territory on the planet to do so.
We found work-arounds and solutions to the problems that cropped up.
But, Mr Speaker, those solutions cost money.
Medical equipment, medical staff, private sector salaries, and business support all had to paid for.
So the pandemic created a pressure on public finances which was without parallel.
Economies worldwide turned to borrowing.
Record levels of debt have now become the norm everywhere.
The priority was to protect citizens and businesses.
Economies came second.
This was a once in a lifetime event.
And it happened in ours, Mr Speaker.
That cost, coupled with the loss in revenue, continues to be broken down in detail in the COVID Response Fund.
It is published quarterly in the exercise of transparency which was agreed across the floor of this House.
The figure stands at over £400 million.
This pushed the public finances of Gibraltar into deficit for the first time in over a decade.
The House knows that the deficit for the last financial year was projected at over £50 million.
As Honourable Members have heard, that has come in at the considerably reduced figure of £ 15 million.
The good news too is that the projection for 2023-2024, the current financial year, puts Gibraltar in surplus territory once again.
Mr Speaker, prudent stewardship of the economy has now taken Gibraltar out of the red.
This is an important step in the right direction.
UK-EU TREATY NEGOTIATIONS
Mr Speaker, as the House knows, Spain will go to the polls on 23 July.
This has obviously impacted on the negotiations for a treaty to govern the future relationship of Gibraltar with the European Union.
It is one of a series of connected and unconnected events to have impacted on the timing of the treaty.
Indeed, the new elements introduced by Spain in the final stretch of the negotiations have proved to be an obstacle to an earlier agreement.
My Honourable friend the Chief Minister could not have been clearer.
He said that the “ingredients of sovereignty” were creeping into the picture.
The proposal on the table, therefore, was not safe, secure or beneficial for Gibraltar.
And it will fall on whoever is elected in Madrid to continue the discussions.
Or indeed to discontinue them.
The final approach will probably depend on the political complexion of the new Spanish administration.
Mr Speaker, we were first elected into Government in 2011.
This was only a few weeks after the Partido Popular had also won elections in Spain.
We therefore bring plenty of collective experience to the table in dealing with difficult politics from Madrid.
More than that, considerable experience in handling their most difficult Foreign Minister since the days of General Franco.
I refer, of course, to Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.
So if the Partido Popular were to win, with or without Vox, people should know that their Government is prepared.
In the event that the PSOE-Sumar coalition were to renew their mandate,
we are also best prepared to take the treaty negotiations to a safe conclusion.
So the message, Mr Speaker, is that we stand ready to protect Gibraltar whatever the future may hold.
Looking back now, it is obvious that the negotiations have taken up a disproportionate amount of Government time.
The breadth of topics under review have made this a genuinely cross-ministerial exercise.
Evidently, the Chief Minister and I have been more involved.
We have been present at high-level political meetings without officials.
There have been formal negotiating rounds with the European Union.
The process has also seen countless pre-meetings with the United Kingdom, with Spain or both.
Those meetings, contacts and engagements have been ongoing, at different levels and in different locations practically on a daily basis.
In addition to that, the process has seen a huge volume of important technical and legal work.
This has been very ably led by the Attorney General Michael Llamas with the support of the Director of Gibraltar House in Brussels Daniel D’Amato.
It is easy to forget that the negotiations only commenced in October 2021 which is when the European Union declared itself ready to talk.
The structure has been characterised by what we call “variable geometry” between the four relevant parties.
These are the Governments of Gibraltar, of the United Kingdom, and of Spain, together with the Commission of the European Union.
The House already knows that we are close to an agreement.
Given the new elements introduced by Spain, it is conceivable that the talks could collapse.
So those sovereignty and jurisdictional concerns may catapult Gibraltar into a no treaty scenario.
Honourable Members will be clear that there are certain fundamental lines that this Government will not cross.
Mr Speaker, there are those who argue that the conclusion of a treaty has taken too long.
Clearly, had we signed up to everything Madrid and Brussels wanted in October 2021 then we would have had a treaty nineteen months ago.
However, the reason for the timescale is precisely because the UK and Gibraltar have held the line.
That is what a negotiation is all about.
Wider high-level principles.
Detailed technical discussions.
Proposals and counter-proposals.
Then convergence around the common ground.
The intensity of this detailed work has taken its toll.
However, we remain determined to continue to do battle in order to secure a treaty which is safe, secure and beneficial for Gibraltar.
The Government remains firm in the belief that this is the best option for the future.
For our families and our children.
For our businesses and our citizens.
And for our country as a whole.
UK-EU TREATY – IMPLEMENTATION
Mr Speaker, the conclusion of such a treaty raises the practical question of implementation.
This too will involve a considerable amount of legal, political and technical work in order to ensure the smooth operation of the process as any new treaty comes into force.
Implementation will be a mammoth task.
The Government remain in the best position to see this workstream through until the end.
The Chief Minister and I have been present at every high-level meeting.
Issues have been discussed and commitments have been given in our presence.
Policies have been formulated in front of us and decisions have been taken.
So we can hold Spain and the EU to account for what they have said to us in private.
We have been immersed in the detail of this world for some seven years now.
It has, to a considerable degree, taken over our lives.
And we know the issues, the personalities and the discourse inside out.
Mr Speaker, we promised in 2016 to leave no stone unturned.
That is exactly what we have done ever since.
UK-EU TREATY – NO NEGOTIATED OUTCOME
The alternative to treaty implementation, Mr Speaker, is a No Negotiated Outcome or NNO.
The United Kingdom and Gibraltar governments have been working very closely to mitigate the negative impact of no treaty.
Those effects are set out in the public communications that the government has issued ever since the vote to leave the European Union took place.
This has included two booklets which were published and sent to thousands of households all over Gibraltar.
The first was entitled “Preparing for a no deal Brexit – Get Ready”.
The second “Guidance to Citizens – No UK-EU treaty on the future relationship of Gibraltar”.
Some sixty subject-specific technical notices to the general public have also been published.
This included a specific “Guidance to businesses and certain public services” issued at the end of October 2022.
All this remains available on-line.
Separate briefings have been given to stakeholders.
Some at their own request.
Others at the request of the government when there has been something new to report.
This NNO work has been guided by the need to balance the dissemination of information in a sensitive way which does not create a general panic.
The government is very grateful to all the entities that have taken part over the years, including the Members opposite, for respecting this delicate balance.
Mr Speaker, the Brexit structures we have put in place have continued to operate.
The Brexit Strategic Board, that I chair, generally meets once a fortnight.
There are also meetings between sub-groups which cover a wide variety of different subjects.
The general areas are commerce, critical services, waste management, health and social care, law and order, legal and EU matters, public services, special projects and the supply chain.
In addition to this there have been deep dives into a number of specific subjects.
The NNO Board between the Gibraltar and United Kingdom governments has met twenty-six times.
I chair this at a Ministerial level together with the UK Minister for Europe, and at an official level, with senior UK officials.
The close cooperation and working relationship between the two governments could not be better.
Mr Speaker, I want to thank all the different UK Ministers who have been involved in this work including the current Minister for Europe Leo Docherty MP, who has shown a keen personal interest in Gibraltar.
The government is grateful also to the many officials in London, Brussels and Gibraltar, who have made invaluable contributions to our NNO work over the years.
UK officials have defended and promoted the interests of Gibraltar in the same way and to the same degree as those of the United Kingdom itself.
The challenge that Gibraltar would face in the absence of a treaty is already well documented.
Mr Speaker, a total of 132 Brexit related queries have been received at the firstname.lastname@example.org email address from May 2022 to date.
These have all been replied to or the sender has been provided with the details of the department in a better position to assist.
Those queries have related to eligibility for S1 certificates and health cover, passports, residency, customs requirements, road haulage, driving licenses, pets and the registration of medical devices and products.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the Civil Contingencies Coordinator Ivor Lopez and my Principal Secretary Ernest Francis who have played a vital coordinating role in taking this work forward.
I must also thank the countless officials of the Government of Gibraltar, its agencies and authorities, who have all contributed positively to the process.
Mr Speaker, the Government is grateful for the bridging measures that Spain continues to apply at the border for Gibraltar residents with a red identity card.
It is well known that the default position would now be passport stamping for everyone.
We very much regret that Spain has not re-introduced this facility for Gibraltar residents with a blue or magenta civilian registration card.
The House will know that this concession was terminated following changes to the immigration controls exercised on EU and Spanish nationals on entry into the United Kingdom itself.
In other areas, like reciprocal healthcare, road haulage and cross-border ambulance services bridging measures have now come to an end.
The helpful consequence of this staggered approach has been to soften the landing zone as we left the European Union.
Mr Speaker, the Government sincerely hopes that in the coming months we may be able to conclude a treaty on the future relationship of Gibraltar with the EU.
However, in the event that we do not, Gibraltar will need to adapt to the new world that no treaty will thrust upon us.
There are many areas where no mitigation is possible.
The new scenario will simply reflect life outside the European Union.
But even then, Mr Speaker, we are a tough and resilient people.
Over the centuries we have shown that we are adaptable.
We find new opportunities.
And we have demonstrated that we can thrive on change.
Gibraltarians can and will take advantage of any situation.
GIBRALTAR HOUSE – BRUSSELS
Mr Speaker, I now turn to report on our office in Brussels.
It has been eight years since this Government made the move to expand Gibraltar’s presence in Brussels.
And what a timely decision that turned out to be!
The office has continued to provide critical support since our withdrawal from the European Union.
It has also provided a firm base from which to defend Gibraltar’s interests.
The relationships which our staff there have forged and the expertise they have developed over time are invaluable.
This has allowed them to provide the Government with decisive advice as we moved ahead in these challenging times.
GIBRALTAR HOUSE – TREATY NEGOTIATIONS
Mr Speaker, during my last budget address I underlined the important nature of the treaty work that Gibraltar House is involved in.
This has not changed.
Indeed, it could be said that the treaty negotiations, or work linked to those negotiations, take up almost the entirety of their day-to-day activities.
The Director, Daniel D’Amato, has in particular, provided the Attorney General with solid support as they both attended, in person, formal rounds of negotiations with the European Commission.
Preparations for those rounds have been intense, methodical and required a lot of work over the many areas intended to be covered in the treaty.
Since the last budget session there have been six more formal rounds of negotiations with EU Commission officials.
That is fourteen formal rounds in total.
In addition, there have been numerous technical sessions with subject-matter experts, and many more diplomatic and political level meetings.
These have taken place in London, Madrid and, of course, in Brussels.
There have also been meetings in Gibraltar.
Beyond the technical support in the negotiating room, Gibraltar House in Brussels is expected to play a key role if an agreement is actually concluded.
In such an event, as I said earlier, we would still need to implement the treaty.
It would be important to ensure that it functions and is governed as was agreed.
This will create a new workstream which will endure while the treaty lasts.
That work will include political stakeholders as well as officials in Brussels.
The EU will need to be appraised of developments on the ground and as they happen every step of the way.
The team at Gibraltar House, through their network of contacts and relationships, are well positioned to take this forward as and when necessary.
ENGAGEMENT – VISIT TO BRUSSELS
Mr Speaker, despite the intensity of the treaty negotiations, the office in Brussels still continues to support the government in lobbying and engaging with the European institutions.
In March I had the opportunity to visit Brussels on official business.
The main purpose of my visit was to participate in a meeting of the European Committee of the Regions – United Kingdom Contact Group.
The UK Contact Group brings together EU and UK regional politicians to foster dialogue in the post-Brexit era.
The meeting was the eighth such occasion of this configuration and the second time I have attended in person.
As part of the UK Contact Group delegation, I was invited to attend a ceremony in the European Parliament commemorating 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement.
The ceremony coincided with the announcement of the Windsor Framework.
It was a fitting tribute to the importance of the resolution of issues relating to Northern Ireland.
The meeting of the Contact Group itself highlighted the many opportunities that UK-EU relations can bring for the future.
In my contribution, I highlighted the importance of reaching an UK-EU agreement about Gibraltar as part of that future framework.
I also took the opportunity to meet a number of senior MEPs in the European Parliament.
All shared their close interest in Gibraltar and their views on issues arising from the negotiations.
However, they all agreed that Gibraltar was the last missing piece in the construction of a post-Brexit edifice of solid relations between the UK and the EU.
During my stay in Brussels, I chaired a roundtable meeting of the Heads of Office of the Devolved Administrations, the Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories.
The opportunity to compare notes with them and exchange views on how we were each navigating the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is always enlightening and instructive.
We share many common goals as a UK family of nations in Brussels.
UK RELATIONSHIP WITH THE EU
Mr Speaker, one of the key takeaways from my visit to Brussels was precisely the marked improvement in the UK’s relations with the EU.
Indeed all interlocutors, MEPs, and fellow representatives of British interests in Brussels, agreed that the conclusion of the Windsor Framework had brought about a new era in relations.
Those are now underlined not by ideological differences but by pragmatic solutions to real problems that affect real people.
This same approach will, in our case, help us to find a way to a beneficial treaty.
Mr Speaker our office in Brussels regularly attends events organised by the UK Mission to the European Union.
They also engage with those of the Devolved Administrations, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.
One example of this was a St David’s Day event organised by the Welsh Government.
The fact that they held an event in Brussels, hosted by their First Minister, on Wales’s national day, goes to show how much stock our UK friends have put into their Brussels engagement.
Gibraltar too is redefining that relationship and our presence in Brussels.
WESTERN EUROPEAN PARTNERS
Mr Speaker, one of the benefits of having a base in Brussels is not only that you can speak to EU interlocutors but also to everyone else who has a representation there.
Countries and states referred to in EU-speak as “Western European Partners” are very relevant to our engagement.
In fact, the unit of the European Commission that is responsible for the Gibraltar negotiations is called the “Western European Partners” unit.
Brussels is the best place to understand the many differences between the needs of those with a similar geographical configuration to Gibraltar and their respective relationships with the EU.
These partners include small states such as Andorra, San Marino and Monaco with whom we have long standing working relationships.
Third country EFTA and EEA countries also have a relationship with the EU.
These include Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Some of these states are in active negotiations with the Commission, whilst others have already concluded agreements which may prove not too dissimilar to our own.
Mr Speaker, it is important to better understand those third countries as well.
Whilst recognising that we are we all different, we do have lessons to learn from each other.
These countries all have the same experience in dealing with the EU on the other side of the table.
However, they all seek very different solutions tailor-made to each of their individual circumstances.
The relationships that we have built with some of these states in Brussels have proven to be very useful indeed.
BRUSSELS OFFICE – FUTURE
Mr Speaker, Gibraltar House has therefore been and continues to be at the centre of Gibraltar business in Brussels.
Their engagement there will remain necessary whatever our new relationship with the EU may be.
The Brussels office can be found at Head 11, Sub-Head 2(7).
GIBRALTAR HOUSE LONDON
Mr Speaker, I move on now to Gibraltar House in London.
I am pleased to report that after the disruption of the pandemic, the last financial year was largely a return to normal for Gibraltar House.
However, even to the present day the work from home pattern still continues in Whitehall and in many institutions and large companies.
So some meetings have become a mixture of in person and virtual encounters.
GIBRALTAR HOUSE LONDON –
APPG AND EVENTS
Sir Bob Neill MP, chair of the APPG made his first visit to the Rock since the pandemic in January 2022.
The Government and commercial entities once again started making use of the facilities at Gibraltar House for in person meetings.
The first in-person APPG was held in February 2022 as the Parliamentary estate began to open up to visitors.
In addition to supporting ministerial visits to London, the office continued its work liaising with diplomatic and political contacts.
The Swiss ambassador visited Gibraltar for a full briefing tour in March 2022, the Austrian Ambassador in April and the Australian acting High Commissioner in July.
Mr Speaker, Gibraltar was also represented at several major events in London.
This included the last Commonwealth service in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Gibraltar Representative Dominique Searle was also at the Commonwealth flag event hosted at the Westminster Parliament by the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
He also attended the Commonwealth Jewish Council event and other such functions.
Gibraltar has continued to form a strong relationship with the Speaker’s Office.
This connection was the driving force behind a Speaker’s conference which was held in London.
It was also the spur to provide greater access to Parliament.
And it has facilitated Gibraltar’s attendance at diplomatic and Commonwealth events hosted there.
There are plans to allocate a room in the UK Parliament to the Overseas Territories, where Representatives and their guests can have prebooked access for meetings.
Mr Speaker, Gibraltar was represented at the State Opening of Parliament in May 2022.
Later that same month, also at the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral which commemorated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
In July Gibraltar House assisted the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee during their formal visit to Gibraltar.
This provided an important opportunity to make our case to an influential group of MPs so that they better understood the impact of Brexit on Gibraltar.
In September, as MPs and Peers gathered in Gibraltar for National Day briefings, the tragic news broke that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had passed away.
This impacted everyone greatly.
And as the people of Gibraltar mourned their Sovereign,
visiting Parliamentarians were able to participate in the tributes made locally to mark such a great loss.
UK PARTY CONFERENCES AND
Mr Speaker, the autumn of 2022 also saw the Government’s participation at different UK party political conferences.
The Chief Minister opened the Gibraltar Reception at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham before leaving for the United Nations in New York.
I stayed there for a series of pre-arranged meetings and engagements.
I was also happy to represent the Government at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool.
The Government hosted a reception there for Members of Parliament and delegates.
Shadow Europe Minister Stephen Doughty pledged the Labour Party’s support for Gibraltar at the event.
Plans for the Liberal Democrat conference fell through when the event was cancelled after it coincided with the late Queen’s funeral.
Gibraltar was also represented at the SNP and DUP conferences.
Mr Speaker, a number of well-known external factors impacted on our lobbying work.
Not least the fact that just over a fortnight after the Conservative Conference Liz Truss was forced to step down as Prime Minister.
She had only taken over from Boris Johnson forty-four days earlier.
The political upheaval that ensued forced the postponement of the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council.
Nevertheless, Gibraltar Day in London, which involved finance centre meetings and a diplomatic event, went ahead with a high attendance.
The reception at the Shard saw UK ministers, High Commissioners, Ambassadors and diplomats present.
More recently, the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee paid a useful visit to Gibraltar.
Again, as with the EU Scrutiny Committee, the visit was a decision taken by them and financed by them.
Gibraltar House assisted in making arrangements and providing logistical support.
In a separate visit, eighteen Members of Parliament from the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme also came to Gibraltar at the beginning of last month.
They were hosted by the MoD.
Mr Speaker, these visits help significantly in getting influential parliamentarians to understand the nuances of the complex situation that has arisen for Gibraltar as a consequence of leaving the European Union.
They are also very useful in laying the basis to lobby Parliamentarians for support.
Mr Speaker, the Government continues to develop and promote links between Gibraltar and the Commonwealth.
In London, Gibraltar House liaises regularly with the Commonwealth Foundation, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
In May, I was pleased to renew our contact with the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Baroness Scotland.
And I also used the opportunity to meet with a number of High Commissioners in London.
This visit provided the opportunity to raise some passport and e-visa issues which affect the Hindu Community in Gibraltar.
I also met with the Commonwealth Foundation.
Gibraltar has been a member for decades and we wanted to obtain a better understanding of how to make the best use of this long-standing membership.
Mr Speaker, Honourable Members will know that Gibraltar participates in some Commonwealth bodies in its own right, and in others by virtue of the United Kingdom’s own membership.
The Government is determined to build upon our relationship across the board.
Mr Speaker, 60% of the citizens of the Commonwealth are under the age of 30.
It is vital to engage young people going forward.
I want to congratulate the four winners of the different categories of our annual Commonwealth Essay Competition.
These were Luca Trinidad in Lower Primary, Gianella Pitto in Upper Primary, Haylee Pincho in Secondary School and Gabriella Chipol in the university student category.
That policy of encouraging youth engagement continued during 2022.
In June, two representatives of the local Commonwealth Youth Association participated in the Commonwealth Youth Forum which was held around the Heads of Government meetings in Kigali, Rwanda.
And in November, two youth delegates represented Gibraltar at the Commonwealth Youth Parliament in Trinidad and Tobago.
In April this year, Gibraltar hosted the main, global Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
This provided a very useful opportunity for Members to exchange views with MPs, Speakers and Ministers from all over the Commonwealth family.
And the Gibraltar flag flew proudly once again during the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last summer.
Finally, Mr Speaker, one practical change for Gibraltar House in London has been the pedestrianisation of the area in front of the office which stretches all the way to Australia House.
This greatly improved streetscape has cut down on the level of noise and other pollution from traffic.
I want to take the opportunity to thank Gibraltar Representative in London Dominique Searle and everyone at Gibraltar House for their work over the year.
Gibraltar House in London can be found at Head 11, Sub-Head 2(6).
UNITED STATES –
NEW YORK, WASHINGTON, RALEIGH
Mr Speaker, the Government has continued to develop commercial and political links with the United States of America.
I was delighted with the success of the local AMCHAM branch recent visit to Raleigh, in North Carolina.
The twinning of Gibraltar under the Sister Cities programme has worked very well.
The delegates were joined by David Liston, our representative in the United States.
They were received by the Secretary of State and the Governor at an event held there to commemorate the Coronation of King Charles III.
Mr Speaker, the House knows that the Government has maintained, and will continue to maintain, the ongoing work at the United Nations.
In October, the Chief Minister addressed the Fourth Committee in New York.
In May Sir Joe Bossano represented Gibraltar at the annual seminar organised by the Committee of 24 this time in Bali, Indonesia.
The Chief Minister and I went to New York last month for the annual session of the Committee of 24.
I stayed behind an additional day for a number of separate meetings.
There is considerable work to be done there discreetly and away from the glare of the cameras.
Mr Speaker, in May we resumed our work in Washington.
I was delighted to meet with Members of Congress from both the Republican and Democratic parties in order to put across the wider Gibraltar point of view.
The hectic schedule saw twenty-six meetings in two and a half days, right until we made our way directly to the airport from the last one.
One of those meetings was with the head of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
They are responsible for the upkeep of the US War Memorial in Line Wall Road.
The monument was completed in 1933.
The inscription says that it was “erected by the United States of America to commemorate the achievements and comradeship of the American and British Navies in this vicinity during the World War.”
This was obviously World War One.
We exchanged ideas with the Commission as to how we can work together to upgrade and improve the area.
The Government expects those contacts to continue.
GIBRALTAR NATIONAL ARCHIVES
Mr Speaker, I move on now to report to the House on the work of the Gibraltar National Archives.
I want to start by paying tribute to the former Archivist Anthony Pitaluga who retired earlier this year.
Mr Pitaluga has taken the archives into the digital age.
He was instrumental in setting up a number of virtual exhibitions which kept our people entertained during the lockdowns.
And he also curated important physical exhibitions which marked milestones in our journey as a people.
He was assisted in this by a highly skilled and enthusiastic team.
On behalf of the Government, I wish Mr Pitaluga all the very best for the future.
I am told that the process of recruiting a new Archivist has already commenced.
Mr Speaker, the website www.nationalarchives.gi continues to be very popular.
There were twenty-one thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight hits from one hundred and forty-four countries registered on the GNA website.
An average online session lasted about twelve minutes.
81.9% of those hits came from new users.
The remaining 18.1% came from returning visitors.
Mr Speaker, there were a further seventy-nine enquiries from thirty countries received by email or post.
These came from Europe, Africa, North and South America, and Australia and all were dealt with.
Mr Speaker, the staff of the archives took part in a series of training events and conferences over the last financial year.
Honourable Members will be aware that three exhibitions were organised during 2022.
In April-May there was an outreach on the 40th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Falkland Islands.
This was followed in June and July with another one to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
A third one took place in November to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Operation Torch.
Attendance at those events by schoolchildren has picked up, and I am told that the latter two saw numerous school visits.
Mr Speaker, I want to draw attention to two collections which are now in the possession of the National Archives.
The first is the historical book collection of the late Mr Lionel Culatto.
This consists of a vast corpus of historical publications which are a most worthy addition to the Gibraltar National Archives.
In addition to this, the Archives are also now in control of the Historical Reference Library of 18th and 19th century records from the Gibraltar Courts Service.
The collection consists of an extensive number of legal documents and correspondence.
This will prove to be an essential resource which offers the opportunity for advanced study of legal documentation and administration of that time-period.
Mr Speaker, I want to thank Acting Archivist Mr Gerard Wood and the staff of the National Archives for their enthusiastic work throughout the year.
I move on now to civil aviation.
The Director of Civil Aviation has continued to actively encourage and promote flight safety activity in all areas involving civil aviation in Gibraltar.
This includes the oversight of agencies, operational activities or the maintenance of international standards and practices by operators in Gibraltar.
CIVIL AVIATION – ICAO AUDIT PREPARATION
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) audited the UK aviation safety oversight system in November 2022.
The Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, were not individually audited during this visit.
However, the Director of Civil Aviation was required to complete the Compliance Checklists and Protocol Questions for all 19 of the Annexes to the Chicago Convention.
This task took up a considerable amount of time over the past year.
A large number of the published directions, procedures and policies were updated too.
The ICAO has stated that it wishes to audit one of the Crown Dependencies or Gibraltar over the next two years.
The continued update of the compliance checklists and protocol questions will remain a high priority moving forward.
Mr Speaker, the Director of Civil Aviation (DCA) continues with an ongoing separate audit programme of activities at the Airport.
This is necessary in order to demonstrate continued compliance with stringent international civil aviation requirements.
CIVIL AVIATION – LEGISLATION
Mr Speaker, work on aviation legislation continues.
This is both part of the ICAO audit process described above and in order to comply with other international obligations relating to aviation.
In November 2022, legislation was gazetted to enact the requirements of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).
In October 2022, amendments to the Civil Aviation Act were gazetted.
These provided the power for the relevant authorities to be able to act during the period when Winston Churchill Avenue transforms from a public highway into a runway.
The changes to the Act were followed by the Civil Aviation (Winston Churchill Avenue) Regulations 2023 which were gazetted in February.
CIVIL AVIATION – DRONES
Mr Speaker, drone activity has reduced slightly over the last year.
Nonetheless, there remain a significant number of local commercial and recreational operators registered with the Director of Civil Aviation (DCA).
In addition, there is a steady stream of film companies coming to Gibraltar wishing to incorporate drones into their filming activity.
The support of stakeholders such as the Department of the Environment, the Ministry of Defence and the Port in helping to make those flights possible is greatly appreciated.
The last year also saw a significant increase in contact with Spanish drone operators.
This allows the DCA and Air Traffic Control to ensure that those drones too operate in a safe manner.
Mr Speaker, it is very welcome to see the positive impact that drone imagery has had on the coordination of rescue operations in the wake of the OS-35 incident and during the subsequent ongoing recovery operation.
CIVIL AVIATION –
SAFEGUARDING AND REPRESENTATION
The DCA and the Airport Authorities are consultees to the Development and Planning Commission and advise on the impact of building developments on aircraft operations.
It is clear that developers are much more keenly aware of the limitations imposed upon them when constructing developments close to the runway.
Moreover, the inclusion of wind and aeronautical studies to prove the compliance of such developments has now become an accepted practice.
The Director of Civil Aviation continues to represent Gibraltar on the United Kingdom State Safety Board in order to ensure that Gibraltar’s safety interests are safeguarded.
There are also quarterly meeting with the United Kingdom Department of Transport to discuss safety and security regulatory issues.
In addition, the Director meets on a six-monthly basis with his counterparts from the Crown Dependencies and the Department for Transport to discuss areas of regulatory concern and emerging new technologies.
I would like to thank the Director of Civil Aviation Chris Purkiss for all this work.
Mr Speaker, I move on now to update the House on progress at the Northern Defences.
This can be found in the Improvement and Development Fund Head 102, Projects at Sub-Head 4 (zzt).
This network of military defences has been an integral part of Gibraltar’s history.
It has played a crucial role in protecting our country from foreign invasion.
However, over the years, those defences, formidable as they are, became neglected, overgrown with vegetation and in need of attention.
The Government acted on a policy decision in 2016 to slowly and gradually rescue this asset.
This is a sensitive project which cannot be rushed.
Its full restoration will take many more years to complete.
But the results are now visible.
The potential of the area is undeniable, from a heritage, an environmental and a socio-economic point of view.
Mr Speaker, last year, whilst clearing operations continued, works focused on laying a new water main to feed Hassan’s Centenary Terraces and future developments at the east side reclamation.
This was a significant project.
It was similar to the upgrading of infrastructure carried out during the 1990s, which supplied the then westside reclamation.
Those works have seen the laying of approximately 1650m of pipes, all the way from reservoirs at Willis’s Road near the Tower of Homage down through tunnels, ramps and steps, to Laguna Estate.
This has been achieved while respecting the heritage value of the site and minimising the inconvenience to the public.
It was a commendable exercise for which we owe AquaGib a great debt of gratitude.
Whilst those works were carried out, the rest of the site continued to be used by families and visitors.
School groups, charities, visiting students, lecturers, videographers, bloggers and academic institutions now visit the area on a weekly basis.
Whether it is for a team building exercise or a family picnic, the defences have already become a popular areas to experience locally.
Amongst those who visited this year were the Financial Times, Subterranea Britannica and UK Charity Alabare.
Members of our local Mindspace Project charity have also embraced the area and will be visiting shortly as part of their youth programme.
International exposure was provided by the tactical tabletop game SN team who very recently held their twelfth international “No Retreat” event there.
A special mention has to go to The Gibraltar College and the Royal Engineers who ran a successful ‘1789’ charity event.
This was organised by the College Business and Travel students and is a testament to their dedication, leadership and community engagement.
The event drew attention to the site’s date of construction, the year 1789, and £1789 was donated to GBCs annual open day.
The Government is very grateful for this.
It is rewarding to see interest in the site continue to grow.
Students seek inspiration from it in developing their academic profiles.
The programme’s emphasis on project-based learning highlights the significance of such practical education.
The Government very much looks forward to seeing this initiative grow further still.
Honourable Members will have seen that the Government intends to allocate further funds towards the restoration of the Northern Defences during this coming financial year.
The focus shall be threefold.
First, infrastructure works will continue with the provision of water and electricity to key locations.
This will see the commencement of some uplighting to display the northern walls of our Castle Keep.
The second focus will be clearing out works.
The removal of vegetation along walls and fortifications will continue after the nesting season.
In addition to this, previously closed off sections of tunnels such as the Queen’s Lookout will be cleared and added to the visitor experience.
The third area will lie in education, leisure and tourism.
The completion of the mains water supply project has allowed for a new tourist product.
This is a military trail which connects the Tower of Homage to Grand Casemates Square via the Northern Defences.
Works to make this a reality will commence after summer.
Mr Speaker, a thousand years of military history will be experienced in the descent through those steps and ramps.
This year will also see the installation of new technology, such as cameras and sensors.
The objective is to enhance our ability to detect any potential threats and respond accordingly.
We will also ensure that, working with the Project Director, a team are equipped with the necessary skills to operate those new systems effectively.
Such an investment of funds, time and effort should serve as testament to our values and commitment towards our heritage.
Mr Speaker, I want to thank the Project Director Carl Viagas who has been instrumental in taking all this forward.
The very building where we meet, Mr Speaker, is also finally receiving some much needed attention.
This historic building is the heart of our democracy and the centre of our parliamentary system.
However, over the years, it has become clear that the building requires significant renovation work to ensure that it continues to serve its purpose.
Therefore, we will be investing in a comprehensive renovation of Parliament House, along the lines of the presentation given to Honourable Members opposite.
We have incorporated their ideas into the design.
This will include repairs to its historic fabric and the installation of a new lift.
The latter will address the problem of access for persons of reduced mobility.
The objective is to ensure that the building remains fit for purpose,
and also to preserve its cultural heritage for future generations.
The current ongoing works are focusing on two main elements.
The first is the external fabric.
Here, the contractor is carrying out investigations on the condition of the roof, walls and columns.
The stripping out works have been completed and this has allowed for full surveys to determine the condition of the building.
As part of those investigations, the condition of the render was assessed.
I am told that it has come as a surprise to discover that a simple paint finish concealed solid sandstone columns and features.
It is our intention to have these consolidated, restored and exposed as they once were.
The second element are the lift, offices and new infrastructure which will be provided inside.
Mr Speaker, the Government would like to thank the Parasol Foundation for their generosity in respect of this project.
Mr Speaker, the Parasol Foundation has in addition pledged one million pounds for The Mount.
The Government too will continue to allocate funds towards this property and its grounds.
This remarkable piece of real estate shares a common ancestry with the Northern Defences.
Designed by Colonel William Green, and home to numerous Admirals, The Mount is similar in size to the Alameda Gardens.
Unfortunately, this too was an area which had been unkept for decades.
Due to its size, historic significance and rich ecosystem it was decided to deal with this project in a similar way to the Northern Defences.
The key is a gradual and phased approach.
In this way, we have embarked on several “smaller” projects within a master plan in order to make such a refurbishment more manageable.
This will take time.
However, the improvements are palpable already.
The clearing out of vegetation is almost complete
This has exposed paths and trails within the vast grounds.
Some of those paths connect to the upper rock nature reserve.
And potentially it can provide a new access route for those living in the south district.
This exercise so far has revealed the true scale of the project ahead.
It has allowed us to carry out the necessary investigations on the state of its retaining walls and existing infrastructure.
Those studies will better inform us of the necessary steps which need to be taken in preparing for the next phase.
However, running concurrently with this exercise are works to two other locations.
These are the Porter’s Lodge and the old tennis court.
Work has started on the Porter’s Lodge located at the northern entrance of the estate, and this will continue through this financial year.
The building will serve as a registry office for weddings and, together with the hall, will be the first step towards the future use of these facilities for ceremonies and other events.
Preparations for creating two new paddle tennis courts are also underway near the southern entrance to the grounds.
These are planned to be completed during this financial year and will provide facilities for our community which are in high demand.
In conclusion, the investment that the Government continues to make in the Northern Defences, Parliament House, and The Mount demonstrates our commitment to preserving our history.
The Government welcomes that these restoration projects have, by and large, counted on cross-party support in this House, and are grateful for that.
Mr Speaker, some of these investments will have a significant positive impact on our community and will enhance the facilities available for visitors at the same time.
I again want to thank the Project Director Carl Viagas, whose track record in the restoration and refurbishment of heritage sites of this kind is second to none.
ROAD TO THE LINES
Mr Speaker, connected to the King’s and Queen’s Lines within the Northern Defences is another area on which the Government has focused as part of its urban renewal initiative.
This has been a real cross-departmental effort together with the Minister for Urban Renewal Professor Cortes and the Minister for Housing Minister Linares.
The Road to the Lines is a charming part of our old town which is of special significance.
Honourable Members will know that this area consists of a series of houses, steps and narrow passages within the walls of our Castle.
As you walk along those passages, you can see the massive walls and fortifications.
These structures are a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people who built them.
They serve as a reminder of the sacrifices that were made to defend this important outpost of Empire.
But the road to those defensive lines have unfortunately been neglected for decades.
The area has suffered a similar fate to that endured by the core of many other old towns.
Simply put, populations move out towards more accessible properties which offer modern comforts like car parking and other amenities.
It was precisely the work on the Northern Defences that has helped to unlock the plans for the renewal of this area.
Indeed, I am told that the intervention in what was known as “the jungle” has also seen some reduction in anti-social behaviour.
However, there is still plenty more to be done.
Nonetheless, the work so far has enabled us to be in a position where we can focus on a meaningful urban renewal initiative in this part of the upper town.
The proposal currently under discussion involves the introduction of modern infrastructure, improved accessibility, quality of design and the potential to attract a diverse market across social strata.
The plans include charming residential properties, cafes and alfresco dining within the confines of a medieval castle.
The new Road to the Lines will reward residents and visitors with an experience which celebrates the beauty and majesty of this historic zone.
This House was advised last month that the final negotiations for an MoU between the preferred developer and the Government are now very close to a conclusion.
That remains the position today.
Mr Speaker, the Government has signed an agreement for the development of the Rooke site.
Some detail on this was already provided to Honourable Members in May.
The proposal is based on a low-rise development on 80% of the site.
The gain to the taxpayer is a cash premium of £30 million.
The gain to the public is a huge podium park and leisure area, a car park and a retail area which presently includes a supermarket.
The incorporation of the historic No 4 Dock into the scheme has also been agreed with the prospective developers.
Mr Speaker, a Memorandum of Understanding has been concluded in respect of the site of the Queen’s Hotel and the Queen’s Cinema.
This follows two separate Expressions of Interest for the site in 2017 and again in 2020.
The proposal provides for a mixed-use development.
The gain to the taxpayer is a premium of £11.2 million.
The gain to the public lies in the separate senior citizen accommodation proposed, a dance hall for the Ministry of Culture, and a retail and restaurant area on the ground floor.
However, this proposal remains subject to planning approval.
Mr Speaker, negotiations continue with different preferred bidders for the old air terminal site and the former GBC site, following public Expressions of Interest for both locations.
Separately, a panel was convened to consider three of the proposals received in respect of a plot of land at Europort.
The outcome is that negotiations with a preferred bidder for the site are expected to commence shortly.
No preferred bidder has been formally selected as yet in respect of the AHQ and Rosia Bay.
The next step in this process will be to invite three of the entities who submitted proposals to deliver a presentation to a panel.
This will assist the Government when making its determination as landlord.
Mr Speaker, the Government is very grateful here to Kevin de los Santos, and the management and staff of Land Property Services Ltd, whose professional advice and guidance in such matters has always proved invaluable.
Thank you also to the Lands Office in No 6 Convent Place.
And so, Mr Speaker, as I set out my concluding remarks, I want to take the House back to where I started.
Every Government will face a challenge in a given four-year period.
But even our most ardent opponents will accept that in many ways the challenges we have faced have been pretty much unique.
This is a matter of fact.
A global pandemic within weeks of the last general election.
Two lockdowns with serious economic consequences.
And two further periods of curfew.
If all that were not enough, Mr Speaker,
we have witnessed unheard of political instability in the United Kingdom.
Four Prime Ministers since 2019.
And all this obviously impacted on the negotiations to secure a treaty on our future relationship with the European Union.
The truth is that nobody else could have done more.
Because we have indeed left no stone unturned.
And we have yet to hear, Mr Speaker, what anyone else would have done any differently in our position.
My Honourable Friend the Chief Minister is correct.
Given the nature of the threat to our country,
and the uncertainty that remains,
this will indeed be a Brexit general election.
The people have to decide,
that Government should finish what we started.
Because we are best placed to continue the negotiations following the general election in Spain.
We are also in a prime position in the event of a No Negotiated Outcome.
So one way or the other, Mr Speaker, we are confident that we can and will deliver for the people of Gibraltar.
But as my Honourable Friend the Chief Minister has said, we will never surrender one iota of our sovereignty or our jurisdiction.
The people can rest assured that their future will be protected with a treaty or without one.
But we need to be here to be able to do it.
And so, Mr Speaker, in closing I want to thank my personal staff:
my Personal Secretary Coral Schembri;
my Personal Assistant Stephen Britto and;
my Principal Secretary Ernest Francis.
They continue to support everything that I do.
I am very grateful also to the Clerk and the staff of the Parliament and indeed to you, Mr Speaker.