British Ambassador to Spain Peter Torry gave an in-depth interview to the Bulletin's Humphrey Carter in Madrid yesterday in which he discussed a wide range of topics from the Tireless to living in Spain. He started the interview with an admission. Even though his family had owned a house in Spain for more than 40 years, when he was appointed our man in Madrid he only spoke pigeon Spanish. I made a concerted effort to learn the language and it has vastly improved the quality and enjoyment of my life here, he said. While he would not be drawn on the subject of all Britons living in Spain learning to speak Spanish, he did say that it was a very good idea to know the language because you enjoyed life more in Spain. Torry said that he shared his job with the millions of Britons who visit or live in Spain. We are all Ambassadors for our country and 99.9 per cent are excellent, he said, adding that Steve McManaman, John Toshack and Michael Robinson (the Canal Plus, TV presenter) topped the list. Torry said that the remaining 0.1 per cent were the dwindling number of lager louts which every now and then pop up and have to be dealt with by Embassy or Consular staff. The Ambassador estimates that there are 400'000 British home owners in Spain although as they are no longer required to register with local Consulates, it is quite difficult to get an exact idea. Torry did say, though, that the British population in Spain was increasing at a rate of between five and ten per cent a year. He is well aware of the problems and concerns of some members of the British expatriate community in Spain especially as regards pensions and other supplementary benefits. He pointed out that all pensions and incomes which generate in the UK are taxed at source. He said that even though there were complaints about pensions from people living in Spain those in states such as Andorra were even worse off because they were not even entitled to the pension top-ups. People in London make the policy decisions regarding pensions and supplementary benefits and they have decided that these resources are better used on meeting the needs of those in the UK. Peter Torry believes that British citizens living in Spain have a much larger role to play, especially as they can now vote in local municipal elections and still have a voice in general elections in their home country by registering as overseas voters. On the political front Spain and Britain are enjoying a very close working relationship and both countries share a very similar agenda, according to the Ambassador. This was clearly underlined at the Lisbon European Union summit last year. The Lisbon summit saw a SpanishBritish proposal to try and influence Brussels for the good of the people of the European Union, he said. Spain and Britain have recently held an employment conferenece in Birmingham and Torry said that over the past three years Britain and Spain have created more new jobs than the rest of the European Union.
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