Thursday, February 11, 1999 Published at 17:55 GMT
UK backs Gibraltar rights
Some Gibraltar drivers are being refused entry to Spain
The UK Government will continue to defend Gibraltar's legitimate rights, MPs have been told.
The move is a sharp escalation in a row over fishing rights around the Rock - a British dependent territory.
She said the UK "will continue to defend with determination Gibraltar's legitimate rights" in the face of Spanish restrictions on border movements prompted by the fishing dispute.
Spanish border guards have refused entry to at least two Gibraltar drivers saying they do not hold licences valid in Spain.
Ms Quin stressed the UK's good relationship with Spain, although she said Spanish authorities had to respect the people of Gibraltar.
The government would be raising the dispute through diplomatic channels with the government in Madrid and would also pursue the issue through the European Union, Ms Quin said.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard, who called for the statement, said the whole pattern of the government's dealings with Spain was "one of equivocation, retreat and surrender".
He claimed Ms Quin had "conspicuously failed" to condemn Spain's behaviour.
He asked: "Can you confirm reports in this morning's newspaper that Spanish proposals for joint sovereignty with Gibraltar have been languishing in the foreign secretary's in-tray for more than a year?"
MPs also heard how one man had been denied permission to cross the border as his wife was about to give birth.
Ms Quin said: "There have been some human tragedies and human difficulties associated with the delays which have been imposed at the border."
The British Foreign Office says it is complaining to Madrid as Gibraltar licences are valid within the European Union and must be recognised by EU member states.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the British Ambassador in Madrid, Peter Torry, has registered a formal protest with the Spanish Government over the driving licence issue.
She said: "We want to see this issue resolved peacefully and without confrontation, but not at the expense of the rights of the people of Gibraltar."
She added that the threat by Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes to ban Gibraltar aircraft from flying over Spain was "extraordinary and unprecedented".
Spanish fishermen blocked the Gibraltar border for 16 hours when one of their boats was seized for illegal fishing.
The dispute was defused with an agreement between the Gibraltar authorities and the local fishermen.
But Mr Matutes said matters concerning Gibraltar could only be solved by Madrid and London.
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