§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report of the Malta Round Table Conference, 1955, Command Paper No. 9657.On this important day in the history of the British Commonwealth we meet to consider the affairs of the lovely islands of Malta and Gozo. They have a very ancient civilisation from Phoenician, Roman, Saracen and Sicilian times, with a long and romantic association with the knights and a unique pre-history, with temples built about five to six thousand years ago. For the last hundred and fifty years they have been under the British Crown and are probably as well known, if not better known, to the people of the United Kingdom as any other part of the Commonwealth.
When the Report of the Round Table Conference was published last December, both Houses were told that Her Majesty's Government would take no action on this Report until there had been a debate after Christmas. It has not been the wish of Her Majesty's Government to delay this debate unduly, but we felt that the Report needed the most careful and patient study by Members of the House in the light of the situation as it has been developing both here and in Malta.
I say here as well as Malta because the United Kingdom Parliament is much involved in all this, and we have no intention of treating in a casual or unceremonious fashion the thoughts and feelings of hon. Members on what, after all, is very much a Parliamentary matter. For these reasons, this debate has not taken place before today. In reaching and forming conclusions on the next steps which we will take, we shall wish, naturally, to take account of the views expressed by the House today, but, as my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said last Thursday, I will today state the Government's view on the Report of the Round Table Conference.
I recognise that there is a feeling in some parts of the House that it is too soon even now to debate the Report. I do not underestimate those feelings but, 1779 on the other hand, it would be very wrong indeed for me to give the House the impression that we have unlimited time at our disposal for reaching a conclusion on the future constitutional status of Malta. This is a matter of great political purport both here and in Malta, and it cannot be left in suspense. As in most political processes, circumstances and attitudes are not static and a policy of delay or drift will have consequences which some perhaps do not expect and many cannot foresee.
Before I explain the Government's attitude to these proposals, I should like briefly to remind the House of the events leading up to the appointment of the Round Table Conference, to recall the decisions of the Conference and then say something about what happened between the publication of its Report in December and the present time.
I will not go back on the long history of Malta's association with the United Kingdom, which began in such dramatic fashion a hundred and fifty years ago. Nor shall I try to describe what the Royal Commission on Malta, in 1931, called "the rise and fall of constitutions during the last hundred years, alternating between a benevolent autocracy and that of representative Government, when," as they said, "from time to time, some measure of self-government was granted, and then, after a period, was superseded by a strict Crown Colony system."
History, for the purpose of this debate, began very recently. Unlike the history of Malta it began as recently as 1953—Coronation year. In that year the Maltese Government, which was then under Dr. Borg Olivier, the Nationalist Party being then in power, put forward proposals for Dominion status for Malta and the transfer of responsibility for Maltese affairs from my own Department to the Commonwealth Relations Office. These proposals, after the most careful examination, were not found acceptable to Her Majesty's Government. Neither the Nationalist Party nor the Maltese Labour Party, then in opposition, regarded as adequate the British Government's counter-proposal to transfer responsibility from the Colonial Office to the Home Office.
Therefore, in 1954 we proposed that all-party talks should take place. Both 1780 parties agreed to this proposal, and in June of last year, by which time the Malta Labour Party was in office, they took place under my chairmanship. I there told the delegates that Her Majesty's Government believed that, while Dominion status for Malta was ruled out, the existing Constitution needed revision. On the economic side we issued a joint declaration, to which I will refer again later, which made it clear that economic aid to Malta would be forthcoming in any case, whatever form the constitutional development might take.
While these talks were going on, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced the decision of the Government here to appoint the Round Table Conference. It met very quickly, and submitted its Report in December. I think that the whole House is very grateful to my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues of all parties for the admirable way in which they carried out that task.
The Report is only 26 pages long, and I think it needs no summarising, but there are some points which I ought to emphasise. The Conference made it clear that both the Malta Labour Party—the present Government of Malta—and the Nationalist Party felt that constitutional and administrative changes not involving a fundamental change in status would not go far enough and that it was essential to decide immediately the nature of the ultimate status to be attained.
The Nationalist Party, on its side, maintained that the normal road towards self-government within the Commonwealth was for Malta the proper road, but it recognised that the end which had been most recently attained by Ceylon could not be an end for Malta. It strongly opposed the proposal of the Maltese Government, who put forward as a cardinal feature of their plans representation at Westminster, thereby, as they said, taking into account their legitimate political aspirations and making manifest their equality of status and responsibilities with the British people.
On the economic side, the Report, while recommending certain very desirable developments, warned that expansion in the rate of economic advance was unlikely to be as rapid as some of the witnesses had forecast, and it added a very wise warning that a rapid rise in 1781 costs in Malta would lessen the prospects of this expansion. It said that it was unlikely that more than the present level of aid provided by the British Government could be spent profitably in Malta in the next few years.
On the constitutional side, the Conference said that the road to full self-government was blocked. Then the Conference considered the Nationalist Party proposals. These were for a modified form of Dominion status which provided for autonomy in relation to the United Kingdom but not other countries, and for joint responsibility for defence and foreign affairs based on two agreements. It was the view of the Conference that this would not be workable. It took the view that it lacked essential definition and was bound to lead to conflict in interpretation and embarrassment in relations with Commonwealth and foreign countries.
Then the Report considered and rejected various other alternatives to full representation at Westminster. It considered the Maltese Government's proposals. The Conference stated that common membership of the Parliament of Westminster would make equality of status manifest and meet the realities of the situation, and it recommended that there should be three Maltese Members sitting in this House, but it added that it was for the Maltese people themselves to determine and to demonstrate clearly and unmistakably whether the proposals of the Maltese Government corresponded with their own wishes.
As the House knows, the full Report was signed by all the members of the Conference except my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn).
As to the subsequent developments, on the day before the Report was published the then Lord Privy Seal, now Lord Crookshank, told the House:The Government will consider the Report with all speed, but no action will be taken until the House has had the opportunity of debating the Report after Christmas, thus enabling the Government to take careful account of the views of the hon. Members on this important constitutional question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 1404.]Meantime, the Maltese Government said that they were proceeding with a 1782 referendum of which they had given notice to the Conference. The Conference took note of this, but made no comment. I must frankly say that, as I told the Prime Minister of Malta, I did not at all like this intention to have an early referendum. I asked the Prime Minister of Malta to come to London shortly before Christmas, and I did my best to dissuade him from proceeding with the referendum. I said I thought that the House might think it was being rushed and that a test of Maltese opinion was premature until the United Kingdom Parliament had made up its own mind on the recommendations in the Report which, as I said, was, after all, being presented to it.
The Prime Minister of Malta, however, felt that there were good reasons for proceeding at once with the referendum and, that, indeed—on this point, I must confess that, though unconvinced, I saw something in what he said—there would be some advantage for Parliament if it knew before the debate something of what Malta felt. Anyhow, it seemed to me that the Round Table Conference had considered that the holding of the referendum and its timing were entirely within the responsibility of the Maltese Government.
The holding of the referendum was strongly opposed by the Malta Nationalist Party, which protested not only against the manner in which it said the Bill had been rushed through its Legislature but against several other matters as well. It told its supporters to boycott it. During the campaign there was much controversy about the proposals for the linking of questions together, about the conduct of the referendum, about incidents at meetings and about various other things of that kind.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I were asked a number of Questions at this time about the referendum. We said that when the House debated the Report it would, no doubt, weigh carefully all relevant factors, including the fact that there had been a referendum, the form of the questions asked, the opportunity open to all sides to put their views fully and freely, on the platform, over the wireless and in the Press, the way in which polling was conducted, and, naturally, the result of the referendum. I said to my hon. 1783 Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery):By these and other tests, the House will no doubt be able to form an opinion whether the Maltese people have clearly and unmistakably expressed their views, and will take this into account in deciding its attitude towards the Report…as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 143.]If the House will bear with me, I shall return to this a little later.
The campaign was also, unhappily, an occasion for controversy on religious issues in their possible application to constitutional proposals. On 21st January the Metropolitan Archbishop of Malta and the Bishop of Gozo issued a pastoral letter in which they said the assurances contained in paragraph 79 of the Conference Report were not in themselves sufficient. I was then asked to reassure the Catholic hierarchy and the Catholic community of Malta.
As we all know, that is the religion of virtually everybody in the islands of Malta and Gozo. On 1st February I was asked by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) whether, in view of the forthcoming referendum in Malta, I could give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government accepted and supported assurances given to the Archbishop of Malta by representatives of the Round Table Conference as set out in paragraph 79 of the Report.
I hope the House will forgive me if I read my reply to the right hon. Gentleman, because for the purposes of the record I think it is very important. I said:My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 24th January that Her Majesty's Government were considering the Report of the Malta Round Table Conference and that no action would be taken until there has been an opportunity of debate. The House will not expect or wish me to prejudge the decision which will be taken here and in Malta on the question of integration. I have read the Pastoral Letter of His Grace the Metropolitan Archbishop of Malta with the attention and respect that any pronouncement from him is bound to command. It would be unworthy of the importance of the issues we have to decide if His Grace's words were misinterpreted by protagonists of either side in the controversy over integration.I added that I would remind the House of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had said on 10th November, 1955, to my hon. Friend the Member 1784 for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling), which was:…that Her Majesty's Government will take no action to prejudice the position of the Roman Catholic Church in Malta.I said:I feel sure that the House when it comes to debate the Report will pay great attention to the views on this matter of the members of the Conference, which, of course, was representative of all parties in this House.I concluded:I can, moreover, assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will not commend to Parliament any proposals which run counter to the assurances given to the Archbishop of Malta by representatives of the Round Table Conference as set out in paragraph 79 of its Report."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 926.]I was then asked a supplementary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion and I gave him the assurance that if the decision of the House went in favour of integration steps would be taken to put into concrete fashion the assurances I had given. I said that that remained—and it is true now—Her Majesty's Government's intention.
As all hon. Members know, the referendum resulted in 90,000 people voting out of 153,000 on the register and, of that 90,000, 67,000 said, "Yes" and 20,000 said, "No"; that is to say, nearly 75 per cent. of those who voted said "Yes," but, on the other hand, that represents a little more than 44 per cent. of those entitled to vote. Before I finish my speech—and I do not want to keep the House long, because I know many hon. Members want to take part in the debate—I want to analyse those figures and briefly compare them with other relevant figures.
Since the referendum, the Governor and the Government have made further efforts to remove the Report from religious controversy in Malta. As the House knows, I paid a short, but I hope helpful, visit to Malta on my return from Cyprus earlier this month and the Governor, as one would expect, has been quite unsparing in his efforts to achieve this goal, to remove the Report from religious controversy. So much for the background.
The House is now entitled to know the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the Report. The constitutional aspects are really the heart of the matter. 1785 Other questions, like economic aid, have a most important bearing, but the central theme of the Report is to find a constitutional solution which is, in the words of the Report:consonant with the interests and requirements of both the United Kingdom and Malta, and with the responsibilities of the Imperial Parliament.All who have studied this matter agree that there can be no doubt that most Maltese do not like the present Constitution. How easy life would be—anyhow, in this matter—if they could agree on what they wanted. I say straightaway, to remove any possibility of misunderstanding, that to my own personal knowledge all parties in Malta want to see maintained inviolate the security of the British base. Any suggestion to the contrary would be most unfair to any of the distinguished political figures in Malta.
However, on the Constitution there are very different views. We in this House can hardly be surprised if a democracy has no united view. There are three parties in Malta. The Malta Labour Party won the election in February last year on a programme of integration which, its opponents assert, was even more far-reaching and economically favourable to the people of Malta than the scheme which the Maltese Government put forward to the Round Table Conference. On the other hand, the Nationalist Party has as its main plank a modified form of Dominion status, which the Conference, after careful examination, held to be unworkable. The Nationalist Party has made it quite clear that it has in no way retreated or deviated from the proposals which it put forward before the Conference. Then we have the Progressive Constitutional Party, which, despite the remarkable personality of its leader, who is, like other leaders, an old friend to many of us in this House, is not represented in the Malta Parliament and whose programme, in the view of the two parties which are represented, would not give the necessary early decision—early decision—on the constitutional link which would unite the United Kingdom and Malta in the future.
I hope that these facts will be borne in mind by any hon. Members in this House who may have conceived the view—and it would be a comfortable and, in some ways, an easy view—that there is a 1786 measure of agreement in Malta on constitutional reform among all the parties which could be given effect right away, leaving the question of ultimate status to be decided at some time in the future—not, mark you Sir, decided now and implemented in the future, but the decision itself postponed until the future.
The statements of the Maltese parties and the Report of the Conference make it quite clear that though there are similarities in some of the reforms proposed by all the parties, there is an acute and apparently irreconcilable difference in their ultimate aims. On that, none of them has shown any disposition to compromise in the interest of reaching an agreement among themselves on the interim constitutional reforms.
Therefore, any constitutional decision is bound to be controversial and each plan must be examined on its merits, including its likelihood of being acceptable here in the United Kingdom and in Malta and of providing or paving the way for a final solution.
We must not be too timid because of fear of what may happen in ten, twenty, or thirty years' time. We have to consider the situation as we find it today and as we see it developing for as far ahead as possible. Walter Bagehot used to say that one of the greatest pains to human nature was the pain of a new idea. In my own present responsibilities I know how often I come on a situation when I see a chance which I thought had been open to our fathers, and I say, "If only they had done so and so, that was the time." We must be careful, in these days, that our children cannot say the same of us later.
We have to try to reach a conclusion which offers a prospect of stability and success for the future. Of course, we must anticipate and guard against every possible difficulty that we can foresee. What we must do is choose a course which seems the least likely to produce problems, or one which, if problems do arise, as they are bound to do, will enable us the more easily to solve them.
On this matter the very skilful handling by the Round Table Conference of the problems in view is of very great help and I would ask hon. Members who believe that there is some simpler solution still to these problems to look at paragraph 83 of the Report which says:Following on our recommendation"—1787 that is, representation at Westminster—and assuming its acceptance, we proceed to make recommendations on other constitutional and related questions.…This means that the Round Table Conference supported essential constitutional changes in Malta in the context of representation at Westminster. If I may use a horrible modern phrase, it was a "single package" deal.
In this, the Government believe that the conclusion of the Round Table Conference was right. We cannot, in present circumstances—and I say this with full knowledge of this situation—separate interim constitutional change and ultimate status. After all, the United Kingdom has very great responsibilities. I could not possibly recommend to the House that we should increase the powers of the Maltese Government and Parliament and drastically modify the form and extent of the Maltese Imperial Government and its powers in the field of reserved matters, unless I felt sure that there could be provided the necessary corresponding safeguards for the maintenance of our imperial responsibilities in Malta and the means of ensuring stable, co-operative and happy relations with the Maltese Government in other matters. The Conference thinks that its proposals will meet all these things and it has produced strong arguments indeed.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton put in a statement on the question of representation. The essence of their argument is that the consultative and administrative recommendations in the Report can be implemented independently of representation. To use, again, the modern phrase, this is the idea of a "two package" arrangement and, frankly, I believe it to be a complete fallacy. Moreover, they recognise that representation at Westminster may prove to be the ultimate answer. It is only on the question of timing "in accordance," they say, "with the realities of the present situation," that they dissent.
They make one very important point, that is, that the Maltese Members of this House would have equality of function with all the other Members, but not equality of responsibility to their Maltese constituents for Maltese domestic affairs, including taxation. I agree that that is a very pertinent statement. Logically, the 1788 way to deal with that would be to restrict the rights of the Maltese Members at Westminster, but this possibility was examined and decisively rejected by the Conference. I must say that neither of the two parties in the Maltese Parliament accept this conception of the "two-package deal." Nor do the majority of the Conference. Nor can Her Majesty's Government agree with their assessment of the realities of the present situation.
The next thing I should like to mention—it is an important duty on my part, as Colonial Secretary—is the possibility of colonial precedents being created. I have, and I am glad to have, wide responsibilities beyond Malta. I know that some hon. Members, who would be disposed to approach this problem of Malta sympathetically, ask themselves and me, whether Malta is, in fact, sui generis; can we make a case for Malta without it being followed by many other places which may lack what we all know to be the attributes of our Parliament, the homogeneity of our Parliament, the same background, interests, duties and responsibilities? Though anxious to face the needs and problems in a sympathetic way, these Members see possibilities of expansion beyond what they believe Parliament can properly be asked to accept.
Every country, large or small, has certain political and cultural traditions which compose its history and determine the outlook of its people; and when we say, as some of us do, that Malta is unique, we must agree that to any country its history is something peculiarly its own.
On the other hand, our colonial policy would have had little value had it not encouraged and taught the principles and customs of democratic self-government which we in this country have evolved. Malta has a leading place among the territories in which self-government has been developed. Some of the Colonial Territories, many of them, will, we hope, achieve full self-government within the Commonwealth on their own, or as units in larger federations. But the Report makes it quite clear that there are practical obstacles in the way of full self-government for Malta.
The emphasis of Malta's history during the hundred and fifty years of her association with us has been upon her 1789 strategic importance and her economic dependence on us, arising out of the predominance of our defence expenditure and the island's lack of natural resources. These are the principal reasons why it would not be right or reasonable to expect the people of this small island, who have achieved so large a measure of self-government in their internal affairs, to assume the heavy additional responsibilities of full self-government. The Report argues that these and other circumstances make Malta's situation quite exceptional.
There are, of course, and I know it well, a few other Colonial Territories in a similar position in so far as it does not appear likely that they can, under modern conditions, expect to achieve full self-government, including control of defence and external relations. But I genuinely believe that Malta is distinguished from these other territories in several ways. She joined the United Kingdom of her own free will. It is her own elected representatives who have asked for representation at Westminster. She is geographically close to the United Kingdom in distance and in time. She has a record of peculiar distinction and association with us in two world wars, and her economy and the lives of the greater number of her people are largely sustained by expenditure of Departments of the United Kingdom Government, especially the Admiralty. The activities of the defence Departments are to a great degree inextricably bound up with those of the civil Government, as anyone who has studied this matter closely is bound to agree.
Now, there are other territories to which one or more of these circumstances would apply, but to none do all of them apply in such a marked measure, and Her Majesty's Government feel able to endorse the argument in paragraph 77 of the Report that justification of Malta's claim to representation at Westminster can be based on the quite exceptional circumstances and position of the island. We can also endorse the Report when it goes on to say that because of these quite exceptional circumstances it is not considered that claims for similar treatment from other quarters would arise which could not be dealt with on their own merits. It may be that in time some other territories will ask to be given representation 1790 at Westminster. It would be wrong that I should not mention that, but so far as I can see such requests are most unlikely to be numerous.
Some of the smaller territories, when they recognise the practical difficulties with which full self-government would confront them, and realise that, in consequence, they must leave to the United Kingdom certain overriding responsibilities, may, and I believe will, equally recognise the unsuitability of representation at Westminster. The situation varies enormously. In some of them the system of taxation and its general level differs widely from ours. For others a close approach to equivalence in social welfare measures seems scarcely to be a practical proposition.
I recognise, as I know do many hon. Members, and particularly my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Lord Hinchingbrooke), that we have to devise for these territories some arrangement which will meet their own particular status. This is a task which must be faced, though I cannot pretend as yet to be in a position to propound any general solution. I believe, however, that Malta is in a different category even from these other territories. For her, quite apart from the advance in self-government already achieved, the physical impact of Commonwealth defence needs is immense and touches every aspect of the life of the island in a way which I think cannot be paralleled elsewhere.
So it is our duty to find a solution consonant with the interests and requirements of both of us. None of the alternative solutions in the Report appear to Her Majesty's Government to do this and I must, therefore, state quite categorically that Her Majesty's Government are in favour of the proposals in the Report. This means all the proposals, including the recommendation for Maltese representation at Westminister. There is no question of the Government accepting the Report conditionally. We accept it unconditionally. That is our position. But, as the House knows, the Report itself contains conditions which I must now examine as briefly as possible.
The most important condition is in paragraph 80, that it isfor the Maltese people themselves to determine and demonstrate clearly and unmistakably whether the proposals of the Maltese 1791 Government do indeed correspond with their own wishes.The Conference did not suggest how this recommendation should be met, or when or what was "clear and unmistakable." I do not quarrel with that; I think that was quite right. The Conference accepted that it was for the Maltese Government to settle how the test should be made, although the judgment of what was clear and unmistakable is plainly for Her Majesty's Government.
As regards the referendum in general, it was probably in the mind of the Conference, as it would be, I think, in the minds of us all, that a referendum is not a known constitutional device in this country. Many of us do not think that a referendum is a very reliable method of determining views on a highly complicated question. I have told the House my views on the timing of the referendum. There are other criticisms made by some people. There has been criticism of what is called the "trusted friend" procedure. This is an innovation to us. It is not, we must say, unique. It is open to both sides, but it is equally open to abuse. It is not necessarily improper where there is much illiteracy, though I think that other and better means might well have been found to meet that particular difficulty.
As to the referendum's proposals, to all intents the form of these proposals is identical with the scheme proposed by the Government of Malta to the Conference, and, with one important exception, the proposals are identical with the recommendations of the Conference. The exception is the economic question which voters were asked to answer. It must be remembered, in fairness to the Maltese Government, that the questions did not purport to represent the views of the Conference, but the scheme on which the Maltese Government proposed to enter into negotiations with Her Majesty's Government in the light of the Report.
I would ask those who believe that exaggerated hopes were held out, at any rate so far as the economic questions were concerned, to consider this wording. We all know that in elections individual candidates can interpret their parties' policy in surprising ways. Indeed, when the present Governor of Malta was once a Conservative candidate, hon. 1792 Gentlemen on the other side of the House—or some of their supporters—went round Bassetlaw, as I remember very well, saying, "Vote for Bob and lose your job." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) was his opponent; I am sure that Sir Robert Laycock never said that.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I was the other candidate then; I know something about the Election campaign. I do not think that that candidate was even a Conservative candidate; he called himself a Churchill candidate.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
A very honourable title, and if the right hon. Gentleman had been prepared to call himself the same we would all have been very pleased.
The one important exception to which I was about to refer is the economic question. The statement on which they were asked to vote said:Under the new constitutional relationship between the two peoples, agreement covering a number of years for financial and other assistance would be sought with Her Majesty's Government to support a development plan, the objective of which would be equivalence of standards with Great Britain: (a) by the gradual raising of standards of living of the people of both islands, Malta and Gozo, and in particular of her social services; (b) by maintaining employment, the increase of opportunity outside Service Establishments, and the gradual raising of wages; (c) by raising direct taxation as the national income and the taxable capacity of the people increase.This text ought seriously to be studied, because a great many rather loose comments have been made about the form of that particular statement. The Round Table Conference did not go deeply into "equivalence" and said that its attainment was difficult to envisage at the present time. The Maltese Government pointed out that the objective of equivalence has always been in the forefront of their proposals, and they maintain that the Report of the Conference does not explicitly criticise this objective nor reject the possibility of its attainment.
In our view, the controversy about equivalence is a little sterile since, in any case, on any reckoning of the Maltese Government, it is an objective which can only be attained at the end of a long period of gradual progress and will be dependent upon, among other things, the success of economic development in Malta. As we put it in the statement 1793 I made with the leaders of the two parties in the Maltese Parliament last June:It will involve a bold and sustained effort by the Maltese Government and people, and the degree of success attained will depend on the hard work and self-discipline of the Maltese people and on the Maltese Government and people making the best possible contribution from their own resources.I have been asked once or twice by hon. Members, in and out of the House—and it has been much commented on in the Press—whether there would, in fact, be economic aid whatever the constitutional solution might be. I can only repeat the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion some time ago, that the statement about economic aid made by Dr. Borg Olivier, Mr. Mintoff and myself after the conference in June will remain valid whatever the decision on integration may be; but, as the statement made clear, the extent of economic aid will depend on a number of conditions, and the question how far the conditions will be satisfied is, at this stage, bound to be a hypothetical one.
Further, on this financial aspect, we accept the proposals in the Report regarding economic assistance, including the need for a clear understanding at the start about the maximum amount of annual assistance by Her Majesty's Government over a number of years. Thus acceptance of integration would not involve Her Majesty's Government in any obligation to provide financial assistance to Malta in excess of the levels envisaged in the Report.
There was a very important conditional factor in the Report, namely, whether the result of the referendum constitutes a clear and unmistakable verdict. As I have said, there was an affirmative answer by 75 per cent. of those who voted, but the poll represented 44 per cent. of those who were entitled to vote.
There have been many referenda in previous years. I would direct the attention of imperially-minded Members of the House interested in the development of the British Commonwealth not only to the case of the Federation of Central Africa where, of course, only one of the component States was in a position to have an actual referendum, but also to the referendum in Newfoundland where, in the first referendum, 88 per cent. of people voted, only 41 per cent. of them voting in favour of confederation with 1794 Canada, and, in the second referendum, 85 per cent. voted, of whom 52 per cent. voted for confederation with Canada. Those are, I think, relevant considerations.
One of the factors which make a proper assessment of this referendum very difficult is the effect of various statements made or fears aroused in the hearts of people who went or who did not go to vote. On the one hand, there might be inducements of exaggerated economic aid. On the other hand, there might be what some feared and said would be the effect on the Roman Catholic Church in Malta and the traditional life of the people.
Naturally, Her Majesty's Government would be concerned at any time if relations between the Maltese Government and the Roman Catholic Church in Malta were disturbed by any issue, especially one in which Her Majesty's Government were themselves involved. I do believe, however—and I am glad to say it—that many of the fears so far expressed about the effects of representation at Westminster appear to be misconceived. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have already given assurances to this House which make it, I hope, clear that we would do nothing to prejudice the rights and position of the Roman Catholic Church in Malta.
I am sure that it will be clear from this debate that the Government would have the full support of the House in implementing the assurances given by the Conference in the Report, and that the presence of three Maltese Members at Westminster would not weaken the restraint and respect in these matters which has been shown over the last fifty years, or even a hundred or a hundred and fifty years, but, on the contrary, might well remind the House most solemnly and effectively if it should ever show signs of changing its attitude.
If the House so authorised them, Her Majesty's Government would be willing to work out the specific terms of written guarantees to be embodied in any new constitution or accompanying documents, which should be acceptable to the Maltese Government and the Roman Catholic authorities.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Can the right hon. Gentleman make his last sentence a little clear? What does he mean by, "If the House so authorised"?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
If this House should show itself in favour of the principle of integration—otherwise, it would be an unnecessary exercise. I did not mean "authorised" in precise terms.
§ Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
Would the right hon. Gentleman come to an agreement with the Government of Malta embodying the stipulation he made with regard to the religion of the island? Would the right hon. Gentleman make that definite to them?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I was dealing, first, with the position of the United Kingdom Government in relation to the Roman Catholic authorities in Malta. I was intending to come to the question which the hon. Member may have in mind, in connection with the Maltese Government and the Roman Catholic authorities, which is another matter.
As regards the relations between the Maltese Parliament and the Roman Catholic Church in Malta, I am sure that the House supports the view expressed in the Report, that this should be a matter for that Parliament and the Roman Catholic Church. It follows from what I have said that Her Majesty's Government, in pursuance of the guarantees given, should not intervene in matters within the purview of the Maltese Parliament. Since the people of Malta, who freely elect their own Government, are so loyal to their faith—and, I do not doubt, will continue to be so whatever their constitutional future—it is difficult to foresee that the Maltese Parliament would do anything which really affected their faith and morals, for guidance upon which they would look to the teachings of their Church.
The extent to which the question of guarantees can now be satisfactorily dealt with governs our consideration of the suggestion that there should be a further test of opinion in Malta. How far the conditons of the Report have been fulfilled, and in what ways they may need further fulfilment, will be considered at the earliest possible moment by Her Majesty's Government in the light of this debate.
There is one other point of very great religious importance which I want to make, this time concerning the Protestant religion in Malta. Though, as the House 1796 knows, virtually the whole population of Malta belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, I know that many hon. Members are naturally anxious that the rights of members of the Anglican Church in Malta should at no time be disregarded, and also that this House should not fail to see that the rights of members of the Protestant denominations are properly safeguarded.
Religious freedom in Malta is dealt with in Section 53 of the present Constitution Letters Patent, which reads as follows:Any new constitution in Malta would embody the principle of religious toleration as at present established, and I should consider it my duty, as Colonial Secretary—and I feel sure that any of my successors would do the same—to ensure that so far as it lies within my power to do so these constitutional provisions are maintained and enforced.
- "(i) All persons in Malta shall have full liberty of conscience and enjoy the free exercise of their respective modes of religious worship.
- (ii) No person shall be subjected to any disability or be excluded from holding any office, by reason of his religious profession."
§ Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
May I ask my right hon. Friend what is his view with regard to paragraph 17 of the Report? That paragraph says:The Maltese Legislative Assembly has power to amend or repeal the Constitution, but legislation for this purpose cannot be passed unless the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the Members are cast in favour of it.Is that Constitution to be given effect to in any further tests of Malta's opinion?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I have already said—and I think it would be better if I used the precise words that I used before—that the extent to which the question of guarantees can now be satisfactorily dealt with governs our consideration of the suggestion that there should be a further test of opinion in Malta. The reference in paragraph 17 of the Report is to the present Constitution, and it is an accurate statement of the Constitution as it now exists. If there is a new constitution it may take a different form, and if the House expresses the view about integration that it may do, a new situation would arise which would have to be dealt with in that new light.
1797 I am sorry to have kept the House so long, but this is a matter of great importance for our Commonwealth, and Her Majesty's Government are confident that in considering this Report the House will approach these great affairs with the utmost care, sympathy and imagination.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I think that hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that the Minister has set forth his views in a speech of quite exceptional clarity and cogency. In fact, he has made it unnecessary for me to say many of the things which I otherwise would have said, and I do not propose to occupy the time of the House for very long, because I know that there are many hon. Members and right hon. Members who want to speak and, although there is an extension of time for one hour, I am quite certain that you, Mr. Speaker, will find it very difficult to call everyone who wants to take part in the debate.
In this matter I speak not only as a representative of my party, but also as a member of the Round Table Conference. I want to state quite frankly how I approached this matter in the first instance. When the proposal for integration with the Imperial Parliament was accepted by the people of Malta, at its own election, public opinion in this country—in so far as it informed itself about the situation—was, naturally, flattered. It was, for us, a very attractive proposition. It was much more congenial to hear of some Colony wishing to set up its home under the paternal roof than to set up house on its own. Therefore, it was naturally agreeable to find that we had, in Malta, a disposition which was different from waht we had been witnessing elsewhere.
Having been in public life for many years, however, so far from that fact making us readier to accept the proposal, it induced in us a state of acute scepticism, because our experience has taught us that when we listen to a particularly attractive speech it is necessary to consider what has been said as well as how it has been said. Therefore, I am quite certain that I am expressing the view of all members of the Malta Round Table Conference when I say that when we entered upon our labours we did so in a highly sceptical state of mind. We were not prepared to accept the proposal and 1798 recommend it to Parliament merely because it marched so agreeably with whatever taint of Imperialism might be left in some of us.
I am bound to say, however—and again I believe that I am speaking for the majority of members of the Conference—that as our proceedings developed, and as we examined the witnesses, the logic of what had been called integration became quite inescapable. We could not see any other way out of the constitutional dilemma in which Malta finds itself.
The Maltese people are a highly volatile and highly political people—and the island is sufficiently small and sufficiently overcrowded for political gatherings in Malta to take on almost the form of a folk moot. Therefore, its people could naturally be expected to harbour the same aspirations for nationhood as existed in other places.
The demand for equal status, for self-government, and pride in full national manhood, are as strong in Malta as anywhere else; and yet the fact is, as we found, that it was universally agreed that the situation in Malta as a fortress made it impossible for Malta to find its way to national independence by the same road that is open to other Colonies. That is a fact that hon. Members in all parts of the House must face. How are we to satisfy the natural desires of Malta for status if we cannot give Malta complete self-government? In what other way can we do it? That is the crux of the whole matter.
We can argue about the finance and the economics of it. It is no use saying that this is merely an emotional and sentimental matter; the demand for self-government is ineradicable in the modern world. It has to be met. It is no use dismissing it and saying, "That is mere emotion"; unfortunately, it is the outstanding emotion in the modern world. We ourselves would feel it most strongly if we did not enjoy self-government so much. Therefore, over and over again, when we listened to the witnesses here in London and on the island, we were driven to find an answer to what we all agreed were the proper ambitions of the Maltese people.
That, I say to my colleagues who have differed in the Minority Report, is the question which, unfortunately, they do 1799 not face. It is the 'fact that the existing situation in Malta is untenable. Because it had been proved untenable the Round Table Conference was set up. Therefore it is not enough to say that we could merely go on with the status quo; Malta will not have it. It is not enough to say, as some have said, that because the financial guarantees given by the Imperial Government are generous and for the moment adequate to Malta, that will satisfy the Maltese people and they will go on enjoying those material benefits and will not bother about constitutional status.
That does not happen to be the situation. Indeed, it would be regarded by the Maltese as an insult that they should set aside their national aspirations because they were materially all right. That would be a most insulting comparison to make; and indeed any other people in any other part of the world would take exactly the same view. We cannot buy off people's patriotism by financial aid, however generous. We still have to meet the desires of the Maltese people.
The other alternative, offered by the Opposition party in Malta, has only to be examined for it to be seen as quite unworkable. Look at the long-term proposals on page 7. Although we cross-examined the Opposition witnesses as narrowly as we could in order to obtain a clear idea of what they were proposing, I am bound to say—it may be my fault—that my mind was more confused at the end than it was at the beginning.
I do not know what is "quasi-Dominion status." We all know in this House that when a member of the Commonwealth reaches full self-government that status is not qualified in any way. The member remains inside the Commonwealth, but it has the right to leave it. This is an essential tradition for the free co-operation of members of the Commonwealth.
In so far as there are any limitations on sovereignty—there are no de jure limitations to sovereignty in the Statute of Westminster—they are limitations voluntarily adopted after independence has been accorded. Therefore, I do not know what is meant by "quasi-Dominion status." It is an animal which I cannot describe.
If we look at the short-term proposals in paragraph 28 we see the alternative— 1800 hon. Members must face this—if the Maltese Government's proposals are rejected. The status quo is untenable. The only alternative would be the proposals placed before us by the Opposition in Malta. We shall see that they are unworkable The first is:(a) The Maltese Parliament should have power to legislate on all matters other than defence and external affairs (the scope of both terms being subject to strict definition).That is precisely what we are entirely unable to do. It is impossible on the island of Malta to define where the frontiers of defence end and civil government begins. That is why the Round Table Conference made a series of recommendations so as to adjust differences of opinion between the Imperial Government in Malta and the Maltese Parliament itself.
Indeed, it was because the frontiers could not be delimited with any clarity that so much friction existed between previous Governments and the Imperial Government on the island of Malta. In other words, the fortress is so dominating, bulky and ponderous a feature of the life of Malta that only empirical day-to-day adjustment among the various authorities makes it possible for government to continue.
The reason why we have devised this system of two committees, one in London and one in Malta, not only sitting when there is trouble but sitting constantly and having inter-communication between the Maltese Government and the Imperial authority on the island, is so that they might be made aware of their common needs and of each other's intentions. Because of that mixing up of defence and the general government of Malta, we found it absolutely essential to make these proposals. That is why it is impossible to agree to a form of words which would tie us to the assumption that defence and external affairs can be subject to strict definition.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Is it only the question of strict definition to which the right hon. Gentleman takes exception? As I understand the proposal put forward by the Prime Minister of Malta in paragraph 24 (b), foreign relations and defence would still be excluded.
§ Mr. Bevan
Yes. I am coming to that in a moment. In the case of the proposals by the Prime Minister of Malta and the Maltese Government, our recommendation is that we recognise that if integration is adopted there will still be this necessity for day-to-day consultation, precisely because strict definition is not possible.
Hon. Members will see in the Opposition proposals that paragraph 28 (b) says:In exercising his powers in the fields of foreign affairs and defence, the Governor would act on the advice of Her Majesty's Ministers in the United Kingdom but should seek the advice of an advisory council consisting of himself, the Prime Minister of Malta and two other Maltese Ministers. In other matters, the Governor should act on the advice of Maltese Ministers.Can hon. Gentlemen visualise a situation in which foreign affairs will be discussed all the while with an advisory committee of Ministers in Malta, on which presumably, under such a definition, there will be a right to disagree with every nuance of foreign affairs? Can anyone imagine what endless possibilities of friction will arise from such an arrangement? It would apparently not be possible for a Foreign Secretary to make his statement about foreign policy, which would involve Malta, without consulting Maltese Ministers first of all. I can imagine no constitutional arrangement more cumbersome, more difficult to operate and more fruitful of endless friction than that.
But hon. Members must face the fact that these are alternative proposals which would come to life immediately if integration were dismissed, and they must therefore consider that we are not merely asking ourselves whether we could agree to a novel constitutional experiment, but if we rejected it what would be the sort of Government that we would be asked to create in Malta in its stead.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman who is being extremely helpful to some of us on this matter. Can he explain one point which worries me? Did he and his colleagues at the Round Table Conference, when taking evidence from Dr. Borg Olivier and other members of the Nationalist Party, test them on the rigidity of their proposals?
§ Mr. Bevan
Yes, most certainly. As I said, we were very careful to find out 1802 what it was they meant by their proposals, because we wanted to have quite clear in our minds how their proposals would operate if adopted. I am bound to say, speaking quite frankly and I hope respectfully on this matter, that we were extremely confused because the Nationalist Party on the island of Malta did not seem to have got down to what it meant by self-government for Malta within the Commonwealth when it talked loosely about consulting other members of the Commonwealth.
It even spoke at one time of accepting majority decisions. We know that is not how the Commonwealth works. We do not arrive, as I understand it, at majority decisions at all. There is consultation and the highest possible measure of common agreement but we do not proceed by counting heads in that way. Therefore, it seemed to us that Dr. Borg Olivier and his friends, although I am quite certain they are passionately sincere in their desire for the widest possible measure of self-government for Malta, accepting at the same time the dependence of Malta upon its fortress and therefore upon imperial finances, had not really worked out in detail their proposals in any way that we could understand. Hon. Members must see, therefore, that the Round Table Conference was compelled to consider the cogency, if it was cogent, of the Maltese Government's proposals.
What did they say? Here we are quite clear. We have no doubt at all about where they are. They say that defence and foreign affairs shall reside quite clearly and fully with the Imperial Parliament, but because defence and foreign affairs are matters of very great moment they could not allow them to be decided for Malta unless Malta had a share in discussing them in the Imperial Parliament. It was not merely the presence of Maltese Ministers in Parliament as evidence of integration—not merely that—but they could not themselves leave two such important fields and subsequently at some day—we hope in the not-too-distant future—direct taxation as well, to reside with the Imperial Parliament unless there were Maltese constituencies in the Imperial Parliament.
That was the situation of the Maltese Government and it did not seem to me that we could resist it. I know that it can be said that integration is a very 1803 nice word, but that is not integration at all—that so much would be left to the Maltese in the Maltese Parliament and that three Maltese Members will have equality with the rest of the Members sitting here who will not have equal responsibility. That is an argument and it is one that ought to be met.
It was said by the Colonial Secretary that this was a homogeneous Parliament. I thought that perhaps the Scots and the Welsh would take a little exception to that. It is not nearly as homogeneous as it is imagined to be. I thought the silence of Northern Ireland to be quite ominous. In fact we maintain a certain amount of homogeneity only by pushing heterogeneity to the background now and again. It must be remembered that the House of Commons is a confluence of many opinions and many emotions and a number of different traditions, and it is the act of good government and statesmanship to enable that confluence to be effective.
Therefore, there is not altogether equal responsibility and equal authority in this place. Nor, indeed, could hon. Members opposite advance the argument, which I have seen in some places, that we cannot possibly allow three Maltese Members sitting in this House, when the two main parties of the State may be very narrowly divided, to determine the fate of either one of them. I hope that hon. Members opposite—I am striving to put this on a non-party level—will not push that argument too far, because it is in my lively recollection that on two occasions recently the Government were saved by the noncombatants from Northern Ireland; so I really think that this is not a good argument. But, of course, it is true, and we ought not to shirk the argument, that the Maltese Government will have in its own field a far larger measure of power than is enjoyed by the Government of Northern Ireland. Of course it will, and integration is rather a curious description for a constitutional relationship that will exist between Malta and Great Britain for some time. Also it might be said by some people to be merely a constitutional fiction.
There is a lot to be said for fiction in the making of constitutions as well as in the law courts. A very famous book was 1804 written by a German on the use to mankind of fictions. It does sometimes happen that what starts as a fiction grows into a tangible fact. It has happened over and over again that peoples who have been joined together by very tenuous bonds have moved towards each other more and more substantially, and as Maltese Members sit here and report back, and as we take a more lively and intimate interest in the affairs of Malta than we have done in the past, it may be that we shall grow together, that our constitutional relationship will become less and less of a fiction and that it will be more difficult to think of separating then than it is of uniting now.
§ Mr. Bevan
I hope that hon. Members in considering this will not dismiss it merely on the ground that the use of a word in Malta has too deeply prejudiced the position.
There is a further argument. It has been said, and the Colonial Secretary referred to it in his speech, that the people of Malta were brought to vote for representation in Parliament—in other words. integration—because they looked at the wages and salaries being paid in Great Britain and the social services here, and said, "Ah, if we get integration we shall have all that here and have it at once." We cross-examined witnesses on this matter on many occasions and we are bound to say that the trade union witness on the island of Malta itself could not have been franker. We asked him what was meant by this—did he really mean that a docker in Malta would have the same money wage as his opposite number in London or any other port of Great Britain, and he said "No"—that equality and parity were not the same thing; that one could in fact provide an equal standard of life for the people of Malta and yet not pay the same money wages as enjoyed in Britain.
This is not an original conception. It exists inside Great Britain itself. It exists inside many professions where an equal standard of life can be obtained by different wage levels inside the country and inside professions. Therefore, there is nothing novel in that. There are metropolitan regions, provincial regions 1805 and rural areas where different wage payments prevail, so it must not be thought that the trade unionists of Malta are so naive as to imagine that immediately three Maltese Members sit in Parliament all their money wages and salaries will jump up to the British level. In fact, the man I am speaking of specifically said the opposite. Of course, account would have to be taken of the different conditions, different climate and variations of social circumstances in the island in comparing what they would obtain with what is being obtained here. One, therefore, has a very much clearer and franker position on the island than has been represented.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
Would my right hon. Friend assure me that we are not to have in this House three Malta representatives who will undertake some kind of sweated labour by getting less pay than we get?
§ Mr. Bevan
No. I think that my hon. Friend will surely acquit me of suggesting that. What I am trying to point out is that there is no substance in the suggestion that the people of Malta have identified integration with the same money wages in Malta as are enjoyed by their opposite numbers in Great Britain because, when we asked the representative of the trade unions in Malta that question, he said that he did not consider that parity and equality are the same things.
Furthermore, as the Report says, and as the right hon. Gentleman also mentioned, it would be undesirable in this competitive world for costs in Malta to be pushed up too high in the meantime, because in such case employment in the docks might be jeopardised. Therefore, we have on the trade union side in Malta a very realistic attitude to the problem; so it did not seem to us—and does not seem to us now—that there is any difficulty at all about this.
It may be argued in the course of the debate that the referendum—and here I thought the right hon. Gentleman used rather ambiguous language, and we are not quite clear what he meant—was unsatisfactory. I regard all referendums as unsatisfactory. A referendum is not a good constitutional expedient at all. It was beloved of the Chartists, but we have set it aside. But it must be remembered that it would be very awkward for any 1806 hon. Member here to say that an almost 45 per cent. poll in Malta, with 75 per cent. in favour of integration, should not be regarded as a clear indication of Malta's desires, because then the Maltese might look at some of our by-election figures in Great Britain.
§ Mr. Bevan
And at some of our municipal election figures. They might even look at some of our General Election figures. I should hate to think that there are hon. Members sitting in this House without a clear and unequivocal indication from their constituents that they ought to be here. It is quite true, perhaps, that the size of the majority shows the intensity of the voting, but intensity, unfortunately, cannot be counted and we really cannot have circumstances in which hon. Members here are going to allow the minority in Malta to decide the situation.
We really must be guided by the majority of those people who became politically articulate in the ballot. We cannot be guided by the politically inarticulate—though I do not intend to examine why they were politically inarticulate. I do not want to call in aid any dubious authorities, but a Government should rest its weight ultimately upon the organised, effective—I would not say progressive, but coherent—elements of the population. From those elements of the Maltese population on which ultimately good relations between Great Britain and Malta depend we have an unequivocal expression of their desires. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I hope hon. Members do not press that point.
It has been said also—and I am quite certain it is not present in the minds of hon. Members opposite, but it has been suggested elsewhere and I may as well answer it now—that some are hesitating because of the political complexion of the people who might be sent here from Malta. I hope that that view will not be held. It would be an extremely undesirable point of view to take, but it has been put. In fact, some of us thought that the adoption of three Members, instead of two which was suggested, might indeed have the effect of diversifying the political representation from Malta.
1807 It might well happen—we do not know how the vote will fall or how constituencies will divide—that one might have a representative of a minority party, in which case, of course, the representation of Westminster from Malta would be a nearer political picture of the island as a whole. That is one of the reasons why some of us preferred three Members as against two.
I consider, therefore, that there is really no other answer we can make, but I want the House of Commons to make the answer quickly. The Government should act now. No one can suggest that this has been rushed. We sat for a very long time. We went to Malta. The Report has been in the hands of the House of Commons now for three months—and there is still some time ahead. It must be remembered, also, that Malta has been living with this idea for a very long time, and when the eyes travel quicker than the feet the heart grows weary. They have been looking at this for a very long time and hoping that at last their desires are to be consummated.
I do not think that it is wisdom on the part of hon. Members opposite to look for succour or escape from this constitutional dilemma to any increasing confusion on the island or any loss of authority by any political party on the island. We are anxious to see good relations between Malta and Great Britain; we are anxious to see that our interests there are properly served. We do not want to see on the Island of Malta a repetition of what has happened elsewhere. Procrastination here could bring about disintegration there—and one cannot rule by means of political disintegration. All one then does is to encourage and promote very many more difficult elements in the island than there are today. I therefore beg that the Government should now face the problem.
I did not quite understand what the Colonial Secretary meant. Does he mean that another decision by this House is necessary—or rather a decision—before the Government can proceed? Or does he mean another decision by Malta? I do not know quite what he meant. Malta has already declared itself in a General Election, and it has declared itself in a referendum. It really is too much to argue that it should declare itself a third 1808 time. It is correct to say that before any legislation carried by this House can be effective in Malta an election embodying constitutional changes will be necessary there.
The outcome of that election may indicate the strength of feeling in Malta for or against integration. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman meant, then we agree with him. But if he means—and we really ought to be clear about this—that although Her Majesty's Government believe in these proposals they nevertheless want a third declaration by the people of Malta in favour of integration before they go ahead, then we do not agree with him. Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to make that point clear now?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I did not say that. I shall, by leave of the House, be winding up at the end of the debate, and I will then try to deal with that point which will, no doubt, be raised by other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think I know some of the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman and I do not want to make any contribution to them, but, nevertheless, we should be clear on the point. If he did not say that, then is my definition nearer the correct one? I must try to put this because we do not want to be confused about it. Is it true that before any legislation passed by this House can be implemented in Malta there must be an election there embodying constitutional changes? It is also obvious, of course, that that election will again show the feelings of the people of Malta about integration, and in that sense it will be a third instrument for showing their views.
We want to know whether the Government are saying that the Maltese people must say a third time, what they have already said twice, before we act here. The right hon. Gentleman may not be able to give me an answer now, but I hope that he will consider the matter very carefully indeed, because it will have the most appalling consequences in Malta if it goes out from here that yet a third kind of referendum is required in Malta before this House proposes to proceed with a Bill of integration. That is not very clear at the moment. I do not want to occupy—
§ Mr. Shinwell
Will my right hon. Friend he good enough to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies—I prefer that he should do it—what he meant when he spoke about another test? Those were the words he used.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think it would be better to leave it until I wind up. I mentioned the question of guarantees and said that the extent to which they can be given is bound to condition our attitude towards another test. I did not say that the test would have to take place before this House expressed the view. However, I prefer to deal with that later.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been very ambiguous in that matter, and is still ambiguous. At any rate, I want to make our position quite clear. We consider that this issue has now been exhaustively examined, that the Government of Malta have made out their case, and that there is no alternative reasonably available to Parliament except to put into legislative form the proposals for the integration of Malta with the British Parliament. I am convinced that once this is done unequivocally the opposition in Malta will recede. The opposition there now is growing on what it thinks to be the coldness of the Imperial Parliament in this country. Therefore, hon. Members who oppose these proposals take on a very grave responsibility this evening, and I want to say that it is not a responsibility which Her Majesty's Opposition can share.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I have never addressed the House more unwillingly, because I was most unwilling to disagree with the majority of the Round Table Conference; and, having disagreed with it, anybody in the minority was confronted with another difficulty also.
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) spent much of his time arguing that the result was clear and unmistakable. I think, really, it is only necessary to remember how much time he did spend or to look at how much paper has been covered, for instance, by the Labour Party in Malta, with ingenious argumentation to show that, on the whole, the decision came down on their side, it is only necessary really to do that to see that, whatever else may be said 1810 about the result, what cannot be said is that it was clear and unmistakable. Whether there should be further questionings and, if so, of what sort, I do not at all suggest, but that the result so far is not clear and unmistakable I really am sure, and I do not think that any independent person outside would disagree with that view.
There are one or two questions arising which I feel it is necessary to ask. The unwillingness of which I spoke just now arises, secondly, from this, that if indeed this is to be what the continuance of the Maltese connection is to depend on—if that is determined by the Government and by the Opposition—I would be the last man in the world who would wish to do or say anything at all to make it the least more likely that the enterprise would fail.
I was convinced that the advice was mistaken, and nothing that has happened since, in spite of the persuasive speech of my right hon. Friend, has persuaded me that the conviction I came to, at the time when the Report was being written, was wrong. But I had no consciousness of infallibility in coming to that conviction, nor have I any such consciousness now. Anybody who finds himself in disagreement with fifteen of his colleagues—for all of whom I have much respect and with some of whom I have had confidential relations—anybody who finds himself in a minority of two in such body of seventeen is bound to ask himself whether it is possible that he is mistaken.
Therefore, I am very anxious not to say anything which will make the difficulties greater. I think that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale came near to using, if he did not quite use, the almost hackneyed metaphor—and I shall do so myself in a minute—in this connection of matrimony. Matrimony, I am told, is sometimes disappointing in some respects, and I think that the disappointments are more likely to be numerous, and, what is far more important, some one or other of them is more likely to be fatal, if they arise out of a factor which could have been predicted before the union was consummated, but from which at the time all attention was diverted. Therefore, I think it necessary to ask one or two questions about this.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the sentiment of nationality in Malta, and I 1811 would be the last to minimise or to deride that. I have the deepest respect for it. But it is not unanimously the view. I will not bother the House with long quotations, but I have here an article by a member of the Maltese Labour Party who, until fairly recently, was the honorary president of it. He says that it is not a Maltese aspiration or a matter of sentiment that is making them press for integration. He says quite definitely and categorically that this is wanted as necessary to the economic prospects without which they cannot face the future. That view is a view which is held by Maltese, and even by Maltese Socialists, and we must not exaggerate our knowledge of the sentiments of any side.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am not quite sure what that has to do with the point I am making.
If possible, I would rather not be interrupted as I am at some disadvantage. This debate has come on at a time when I did not expect it. I have drawers full of papers but no secretaries or filing systems. I would find it easy to make a short speech if I had ten days' notice, but with two days' notice it is very difficult for me to do more than to hop from one argument to another. All I am saying is that it must not be taken for granted that the unanimous view on the island of Malta, even in the Labour Party, is that the dominant thing which must be settled is a matter of sentiment. That must not be taken for granted; I am quite sure that is true.
We must ask ourselves what are the risks that we run in taking the integration line. I do not ask the House to do more than to take a very passing glance at any risks or disadvantages there may be from our point of view from this end, but I do think that the House ought to be reminded of them. Of some it has been reminded already.The request of the Maltese people that we should have the right to have a say in the affairs of the British, in the same way and with the same rights as the British have in ours, was the most astonishing request that the British Government have ever dreamed 1812 of. In order that the British Government could accept the request of the Maltese Government it was necessary that it should forget completely the constitutional structure on which the British Empire is built.Those are very strong words. They are the words of the Maltese Prime Minister, who is the champion of this proposal.
I do not necessarily adopt them, nor say that it necessarily follows that if this proposal involves our forgetting completely the constitutional structure on which the British Empire is built, that we ought not to consider the proposal, but I say it does mean that no Member of this House should assume without the greatest fullness of consideration the advantage that may be alleged in it.
Then there is the risk of the balance being held here. The right hon. Member spoke of three Maltese Members and said that he hoped no one would think that because they were of the Left that fact would be taken against the proposal. The argument against any risk that the Maltese should hold the balance here has nothing to do with their being Maltese or being of the Left or Right. It is the fact that here they would not know whenever they were speaking and voting on any subject that such speech or vote of theirs here directly affects their constituency: that is what gives us the responsibility that matters, and that is what they would not have.
The right hon. Member spoke about the thin end of the wedge argument. I saw, in a letter to The Times today, that someone had suggested that there might be as many as twenty applicants. I do not know how that may be. It is possible to argue that the thin end of the wedge argument is the best reason for integration, if we want Parliament to expand that way; but we ought to stop and think very deeply about that chance before we go any further.
The economic risk seems to me a very great one as well. The Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that at the Conference last July, by the recommendations there, the Report now, we had in fact promised the Maltese as much financial assistance as any reasonable person thinks they could possibly digest for at least several years. That is what we have promised. That is quite right; I am all for it; but that has been done without Maltese 1813 Members sitting here at Westminster. That is the first point to notice about that question.
The second point to notice about it is that nevertheless—and I have Maltese newspapers here to show it—at the General Election in Malta and in the referendum campaign the arguments were very strongly and even violently, used that integration was necessary in order to get reasonable and proper financial assistance from this country. In fact Malta is already assured of the maximum financial assistance from this country anyway.
§ Mr. Mellish
What the hon. Member is saying is right; in fact we do not need representatives to get economic aid to Malta; but the second point of the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was that there was a need for constitutional change. It is essential, in discussing the need for constitutional change, that the question of financial aid should arise and whether or not that should be through integration.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I do not think that comes at this stage of the argument. So far from getting a permanent settlement we might get an earlier and greater disappointment from the island than we would out of any other method. I did not feel that any duty was necessarily laid on me in the course of a short speech here and now to introduce an alternative method. Nor would I admit—although no doubt it is true, that the Round Table Conference properly considered alternatives—that anyone could think alternatives were considered at equal length, in the time the Round Table Conference managed to make its Report.
The last thing which I want to say, and this is perhaps the most controversial, is something about the relations between Church and State, and the guarantees of them. The right hon. Gentleman today reiterated the phrase "concrete guarantees." Guarantees is a word not always very exactly used. In this sort of connection I am not quite sure what it 1814 means; but it is a word used by the Vatican in the correspondence and the curia is not as a rule careless about using technical and semi-technical terms. I do not for a moment wish to discuss whether any modifications in the ecclesiastical-political life and the government of Malta are desirable, or are inevitable. For the purposes of my argument that is all the same, whatever view any hon. Member may take. Nor do I want to consider at all whether the claim of the Church—that is to say for the permanent, unalterable guarantee of the status quo—I do not want to consider whether that is something perfectly reasonable or something hopelessly inappropriate to our times. That also does not come into my argument.
What is certain, what I thought certain when our proceedings were coming to a point, and which became certain before our proceedings were over and is more than certain now, is that integration involves—perhaps anything less would have involved—the risk of Church versus State controversy. There can be no doubt at least of that now. What seems to me to be obligatory on us as hon. Members of the British House of Commons is to do all we can to minimise the chance of a Church versus State controversy on the island being complicated with an anti-British row, of a Church versus State controversy in which either party or both or a large section of each party used its view of that as an edge of anti-British agitation. I do not want to go into bad, sad not very far-off things, but there have been a great many anti-British things said by all sorts of people in a good many parties on the island, even in the recent past.
Anything we should do which would cause the risk of an anti-British agitation complicating and complicated by a Church versus State controversy is, in my judgment, the very worst thing, short of extreme physical disaster, that could happen to Malta. It would be very bad for us, but I am perfectly certain also, if it is not impertinent to estimate other people's misfortunes, that it would also be the worst possible misfortune for them.
The worst threat of it happening would arise from any at all excusable accusation of bad faith, any accusation with the least colour by any party in the island that the British had sold them up 1815 the river, that then gave the impression that this or that was, as they said, concretely guaranteed when really it was not. Any risk of that happening is what we must do all that we can to avoid. I think we run a very serious risk of it happening.
There are great disadvantages in the British Constitution. The British Constitution in modern times—I regret to say it—can be reduced to a very short, simple proposition; anything that anybody who has got 51 per cent. of the House of Commons with him wants can be made legal, and anything he does not want can be made illegal. That is really all the British Constitution that there is. Some hon. Members think that it is the best possible Constitution. I regret myself a little that it has gone so far, but that is what it is.
No one can foresee how an unlimited capacity to legislate, plus an Executive controlling the Legislature, controlling that capacity to legislate, resting, by election, on the assumed consent of everybody concerned, how that will work, what it will do, or what it will not do, next year or ten years later; no one can foresee. Therefore, a fortiori if one cannot guess what might be done by or with or for Parliament, still less can one guarantee that one will see that it does not happen. What might happen one cannot foresee; still less can we guarantee that if it looked like happening we should stop it.
In my judgment, therefore, there is danger in every step, by way of reassuring the ecclesiastical authorities in Malta—I would wish to give them every proper reassurance because I am perfectly certain that so long as any Government of which I approved, by which I do not necessarily mean Governments only of my party, were in power—danger in every step—beyond assurance of our hope that we should continue to behave in this respect as well as, I think I may say, by the unanimous admission of everyone we have behaved now for five generations.
For 150 years, as Mr. Mintoff said relations, of Church and State in Malta have been better than ever they have been in the last 2,000 years. But the truth is that there cannot be reliance as was said to us by the Prime Minister, among others, on a "well established and jealously 1816 respected convention." The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will remember the words. I think that in that respect the Prime Minister was mistaken.
It is true that Parliamentary competence being complete and absolute, we cannot add to it and that nothing we are trying to do now will add to it—that is true enough; but what is also true is that any convention there may be about Westminster authority keeping wholly out of what the ecclesiastics assume to be their field must, in my judgment, be fundamentally altered in its very nature from the fact that before a certain date Westminster did not, and after that date did, contain three representatives of the community concerned.
I cannot doubt for a moment, nor can I doubt that the Prime Minister of Malta thinks it would make a great difference, when he says:On the contrary, with a greater measure of self-government and three Maltese spokesmen in the House of Commons, interference from Westminster is very much less likely.That is a matter of guesswork. I should have thought that it would be the opposite. The Prime Minister of Malta goes on to say:one of the most important duties of the Maltese Members at Westminster would be to ensure that no such interference took place.We are all familiar with Members of this House who do not perform their duties. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly we are. I do not perform mine, very often, and I suppose every other hon. Member is at least equally familiar with somebody else of whom the same can be said.
The moment we admit that an essential function of the three Members will be to see that Parliament does not contribute to this sort of thing, we admit that their presence here entirely alters any convention or rule that may grow up about the relations between Parliamentary omnicompetence and the persons for whom those Members are concerned. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may shake their heads. I am as well-qualified and as ill-qualified to judge of this as any man, and I have no doubt about it. If anybody wants to show that it is not so, he will find it quite difficult to make the argument watertight.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I do not intend to intervene for more than a few moments because those of us who had the honour of being asked by the House to study this matter and report to the House have, I feel, fulfilled our duties when we have considered the matter, come to our conclusions and stated our reasons. The matter is therefore one to be debated by the House and by hon. Members themselves.
This is a very great constitutional matter, and one which concerns the House of Commons more closely than other constitutional questions when we are deciding about granting self-government to areas which hitherto have had their destinies controlled from this House, for the reason that we are now recommending, and the House will have to consider, the admission of three other Members to the House for an area which hitherto has never been represented. That is a matter which has not been considered by the House since 1707 and 1801. Therefore, one is anxious to leave as much time as possible for other Members to state their views with regard to this matter.
The position of the hon Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) is entirely different. It is only right that he and the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) should have full time to explain why they differ from the other Members who took the majority view. I would only remind the hon. Member of one or two matters. First, no one in Malta at the present time is satisfied with the present position. Secondly, not only is there a considerable amount of discussion in Malta now, but it has been going on for a very long time, and the sooner that discussion ends and the people settle down, the better.
Thirdly, I thought that the hon. Member would spend more time upon the reasons which he and his right hon. Friend gave in their Statement which is attached to the Report. Their main point has obviously been set out in paragraphs 6, 7 and 8 of their Statement. It was mainly that the responsibility of the three Members representing Malta would not be as great as the responsibility of the other Members of this House. I would remind the hon. Gentleman of two matters; one is that it is definitely the 1818 desire in Malta to attain exactly the same position as the people of this country and that they hope to attain that fairly quickly, so that their responsibility shall be the same and their taxation will be the same. That is one, but, in the meantime, the responsibility in foreign affairs and defence will be on this House.
§ Mr. Davies
The people of Malta have been deeply concerned with foreign affairs and defence in two world wars. Certainly in the last war they were very much concerned with matters of defence. Surely, therefore, it is right that their views upon those matters should be heard in this House?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think it might give a rather misleading impression if the thought went out that even after integration defence and foreign affairs would not remain the responsibility of the Government in the United Kingdom. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not mean to suggest that, but what he said could be so interpreted.
§ Mr. Davies
I was only saying that they will have their representation in this House and will be able to explain, I suppose, the Maltese view.
As I said, I do not want to detain the House, but I would thank the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he explained the matter to the House, and I do so very sincerely. I think the right hon. Gentleman and the Government were right in asking for the views of the House to be expressed freely. That was, quite rightly, the attitude adopted by the Lord Crookshank when he was the Lord Privy Seal and was leading the House. It is quite right that that should be done.
I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for not having replied to the question put across the Table to him by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), but I do ask him to give a definite answer later tonight. The question was whether there was to be another test put before the people of Malta or not.
As for the vote that has already been taken, I myself am surprised at the number who did in fact vote, considering the tremendous influence that is exercised by the Church there and the attitude by the Church to the referendum. 1819 That attitude was not the attitude of the Secretary of State or the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and it was not my attitude, for while we all dislike referendums as such, the ecclesiastical authorities in Malta objected to it altogether, saying it was the wrong way of presenting the matter to the people. In spite of that, 44 per cent. of the people voted and 75 per cent. of those who voted voted in favour. It is a very surprising fact, and it is one which is almost decisive. I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us tonight what exactly the position is to be about another vote.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
It is clear from this debate that the arguments run up and down the benches and not across the Floor of the House, and, since the view contrary to the view expressed by the Government has been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), it may not be unfitting that a view favourable to the Government's should be expressed by me as my own view, especially since I also had the honour to sit on the Conference and to go through the evidence.
It is an example of how difficult it is to arrive at the exact position that not only my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton but also my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), my neighbour on this bench and close associate in national and in other matters, find themselves at variance with the view of the majority. Therefore, it is clear that an honest statement of opinion exists. We ought now to thresh it out, for it cannot be brushed aside, and should not be brushed aside.
Our party is naturally slow to accept change. When it is necessary to change, then it changes, but unless it is necessary to change it accepts the view that it is necessary not to change. The first view, therefore, is that there should be no change. I think that that point of view has been disposed of by the Colonial Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I think, also, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton are satisfied that it is necessary to make some change.
1820 My only quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton would he this. While he very rightly says that he could not elaborate his proposals in a short speech, he sat for months on the Conference, and I think it might have been possible for him to have put in greater detail his alternative proposals.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I could have said quite a lot of things about what my colleagues on the Round Table did or did not say in private or public session, but I refrained from saying anything of the sort.
§ Mr. Elliot
To borrow a phrase from my hon. Friend, I do not see what on earth that has to do with the argument at this stage—a phrase he is very fond of using himself. I quote it from him. I am not asking him to comment on the actions or inactions of other people. I am saying that, if there is to be an alternative solution, one of the places where the alternative solution could have been put forward was in the minority Report. It is not enough for my hon. Friend to say that he did not wish to differ from the majority. I really think that he is unnecessarily touchy on the point.
§ Mr. John Maclay (Renfrew, West)
I think that my right hon. Friend must do us the courtesy of reading the final paragraph of the minority Report. If I am fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye later, I shall certainly elaborate with some care the matter with which my right hon. Friend is now dealing.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I apologise if I misunderstood my right hon. Friend. I now gather that he meant that I should have written more. I thought he said I ought to have said more at the time of the Conference. That was not quite fair, I thought.
§ Mr. Elliot
If I gave that impression, it was totally alien to what I intended to say. However, the House would have been glad to have known what alternative proposals to the proposals of the majority Report could have been brought forward. My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West says that he will elaborate the proposals he has in mind, and we shall look forward with interest to what he has to say. I was dealing only with the debate so far as it has gone, and, so far as it has gone, I do say that 1821 we do not have an alternative to the majority proposals.
It is quite true that there are dangers in any new developments of the kind, but let us not forget that a vast deal of constitution-making is and has recently been going on in the whole of the Commonwealth, and it would be ill-advised indeed for us to say that we here will take no further part in that process. The Colonial Secretary has exhausted himself in the task, successfully accomplished, of bringing about the Federation of the West Indian Islands, and his predecessor, Lord Chandos, put a great deal of work into the bringing together of the three Legislatures of Nigeria, the Eastern, Western and Northern.
There are reasons for fission among them, just as there are strong arguments for saying that there are possibilities of fission here, but it would be a great mistake for us to say that we should not in any circumstances consider territorial expansion of this Parliament's responsibilities when we are asking other parts of the Commonwealth to accept territorial extension of their responsibilities of a very much more sweeping kind.
The argument has been put forward that the Maltese proposal is advanced merely on economic grounds. Indeed, it has been called the £9 a week argument. It has been said that the people are voting for £9 a week. The argument has also been brought up that it would be a very bad thing if this proposal were passed—and this is substantially the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton—because it would create controversy between Church and State. Could anybody imagine a more likely cause of controversy than the circumstance that one party could say, "If our view had been agreed you would have got £9 a week, but, because the Church vetoed it, you are not to get that sum."
These are exaggerated phrases; but we all know that in elections exaggerated phrases are used. I do not think that we can ride these proposals off on the ground that they are most likely to bring about a Church versus State controversy. I think that to leave the matter as it is would be most likely to lead to such a controversy and I ask the House to keep that point closely in mind.
Another argument brought up, not today in debate but in a powerful leading 1822 article in The Times, was that our proposal was proceeding along the French line, that French experience had not been fortunate and that that was a strong argument against the proposal. That is a complete fallacy. This has nothing to do with the proposal by which a vast Colonial Empire was quasi-integrated into the French State. This is a completely separate proposal. The Maltese are having adequate representation on the basis of adult suffrage comparable with that which the inhabitants of Northern Ireland are having in this Parliament. If that had occurred in the French Parliament—I do not say that it would have been possible—it would certainly have made a very great difference to the situation in the French Colonial Empire today.
This is an argument entirely on its own and is an argument which can be and ought to be so treated. Malta is a part of Europe. This is quite a different situation from that involved in the suggestion that we should integrate into our Parliament here far distant parts, separated in many ways much more widely from us than are the inhabitants of Malta. This case is sui gemeris, as the Conference decided, and this point of view could be defended on any platform to anybody.
The difficulty of the proposals before us is undoubtedly the considerable one, brought forward already, and likely to be brought forward again, that the three Maltese Members will have an equal voice in representation but an unequal share of responsibility. It is an anomaly, let us face it. But this House flourishes on anomalies. The House was greatly weakened when one of the anomalies was removed and university representation was abolished. I regretted the disappearance of that very useful anomaly—the only one by which inhabitants of overseas territorities could have any voice whatever in the decisions which were being arrived at in this country affecting them very vitally indeed. However, that arrangement was abolished and I let that go.
Northern Ireland Members have been mentioned again. Their case is undoubtedly an anomaly. This point has been brought up with guarded vigour by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. On some occasions his vigour is greater 1823 and his guard is less, but the fact is that the House would be weakened without the Northern Ireland Members. The fact that they have a certain amount of responsibility here and also support a legislature of their own is simply one of the things by which live constitutions live and flourish. It is impossible to set down in detail what arrangements can be and should be come to in the consideration of electoral anomalies.
The House was recently very greatly upset because of a very sensible arrangement, as it seemed on paper, whereby all constituencies were to be pooled and equally divided by a review every few years. The attempt to arrive at a mathematically calculated representation all over the country has been rejected by the unanimous view of the House. Members for certain far-outlying constituencies represent three or four times as many constituents by their vote in this House as do Members for the great crowded constituencies of the Metropolitan areas. We cannot work a great constitution by means of an attempt meticulously to size up the responsibilities which every Member who may cast his vote ought to be bound by on every occasion.
Furthermore, at this moment, circumstances which brought Malta into Mediterranean history are reproducing themselves—that is, not the history of a hundred and fifty years ago but of centuries ago; during that march of Asia and Africa to the West when the Knights were driven out of Rhodes and established themselves in Malta. This morning we have seen Carthage voting herself into existence again—the new State of Tunis, which, mark you, includes the great naval base of Bizerta. When Carthage is advancing, is that the time to throw away one of our great watch-towers? Is it not rather the time to bring its inhabitants closer to us? It might be no bad thing that from time to time a spokesman of the Mediterranean should give expression to the voice of the Mediterranean here in this House. This proposal should lead to the reinforcement and not the weakening of our debates, for we should remember that Malta is the headquarters of one of our great commands.
Paragraph 15 of the Report of the Malta Round Table Conference states:Recent years have seen the decision to withdraw British forces from the Suez Canal 1824 Zone; the growth of tension and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and the establishment in Malta of the Headquarters of the N.A.T.O. Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces, Mediterranean. All these factors have combined to emphasise the continued importance of Malta as a pivotal point in the Mediterranean.We wrote that last autumn. Can anybody say that the situation has not intensified since then?
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, everybody except the Maltese, in present conditions. The present proposal is not a bright idea on the part of the British Parliament or the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I am sure that nothing would have suited my right hon. Friend better than that matters should have gone on as they were. It is the Maltese who are asking for reconsideration of their affairs, and it is they whom we have to consider when everybody agrees that we ought to be in Malta. We desire the good will of the inhabitants.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
If we were to turn down flat the demand for integration, the demand for independence would be far stronger in Malta and not less strong.
§ Mr. Elliot
It is impossible to prophesy. If we turned down flat the demand for integration we would certainly be in the very difficult position in trying to govern against the will of the elected majority of the Legislature. That is a problem which we in this Parliament should do our best to avoid.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies said one thing with which I most heartily agree. He said that it would be quite wrong to strip the Governor of his powers without making sure that authority resided somewhere. Malta is a fortress and authority must reside somewhere. I do not believe that in present conditions the series of quasi-solutions suggested by the Malta Nationalist Party would have the authority to deal with this situation. Authority must reside either in the Queen in Council or in the Queen in Parliament.
If we had Malta represented here we should move towards the solution of authority lying with the Queen in Parliament, and the decisions of the Queen in Parliament would be taken with at least 1825 the presence of the elected Members of that country here. I am sure that that would give Parliament authority which otherwise would not be there.
This is exactly the point about which some of my hon. and right hon. Friends complain. They say that it would be used wantonly, or at any rate would open the door to greater interference in the internal affairs of Malta than otherwise would be the case. I think that that is an unnecessarily gloomy prophecy. I do not think that this has led to that result in other walks of life. I remember that Mr. Geoffrey Bing, when he was the hon. Member for Hornchurch, did his utmost to interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland, on the whole with singularly little success. It is, indeed, one of the complaints of certain hon. Members of this House about Northern Ireland affairs that they are too far removed from the ambit of interference by this House. If that is so in Northern Ireland, how much more would they be in Malta?
Now I come to the question put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale, to which the Colonial Secretary said he would give an answer later, namely, that the verdict to be given in Malta should be reached by a general election. We can all have our views about a general election. It may be said that a general election does no good. The referendum was referred to. We can all raise arguments against the referendum. It is a new device in our politics, but that fact should not be allowed to count too much. Is the verdict of it clear and unmistakable? I would say that it is not yet clear and unmistakable, and I propose to give my technique for dealing with that point. A clear and unmistakable verdict can be given over a period of time as well as by a single majority. In fact, one could say that a period of time is stronger than a landslide success in either an election or a referendum.
I would go almost all the way with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale in his statement that before the constitution came into effect there would have to be an election on that constitution in Malta. I would also go all the way with other hon. Friends of mine who say that before the hierarchy, or, indeed, the people of Malta, are asked to vote on this matter, they must know what they are voting about, because 1826 they must not be allowed to say that assent has been secured by chicanery or that some obscure assurance had been given.
There are good and respectable precedents for dealing with that problem and I suggest that one of them should be adopted. If the Government think that this debate has been decisive, they should proceed to draft proposals. If, however, the Government do not feel that as a result of this debate they should draft proposals, they must seek authority to do so as soon as possible. Obviously, proposals must be drafted.
It has been suggested that a Bill should be passed through all its stages in this House. I think that that would be not only going too far, but that it would be a clumsy device, and it is not one of which we ourselves always approve when we are trying to rough out a Statute. I remember distinctly the 1929 local government Bills, which will be familiar to the older hon. Members of this House. They were published in the form of a draft White Paper and set out in detail—
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to refer to my question to the Colonial Secretary, and he is now mentioning several constitutional expedients. We are familiar with Bills going through this House that become operative on an appointed day. I had the honour of piloting through the House the Local Government Act of 1949, and that had two appointed days. So did the National Health Act. That procedure is easy. The Bill is passed and comes into operation on an appointed day set by this House, voted upon by this House.
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, my only point is that when a Bill has gone through all its stages it cannot then be altered unless an amending Act can be passed.
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, on a day to be appointed but the Statute, passed by both Houses, then comes into effect and cannot be altered unless amending legislation is passed.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman is not quite right. I can point out to him several precedents of Acts which, by Order in Council, had several 1827 appointed days. The structure of the Act does not have to be amended. All that has to be done is to alter the time, and that can be done indefinitely.
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, but I think we are on a fairly narrow point here. In a matter of this kind I would prefer that legislation should not be altered by Orders in Council, and that the legislation passed by this House should be in its final form. There is a danger in inserting Clauses which can be altered by Order in Council. The result might be exactly what we both fear, namely, that an alteration might be made which one or the other party thought was a breach of faith.
However, I merely put it forward as my suggestion that the Government should either now, or as the result of a resolution of the House at an early date, draft their proposals in detail and should there set out the guarantees which are proposed.
It has been said that it is difficult to consider these things in the abstract. So it is. It has been said that when the election took place in Malta the people there would know exactly what they were voting about. It seems to me that if for any reason the Maltese representatives said, "We think that this White Paper does not go quite far enough"—
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Government should embody proposals in a White Paper and that, thereafter, the Maltese people should pronounce upon them. When they pronounce for the third time, what guarantee have Malta that the terms upon which they vote will not be changed afterwards by Her Majesty's Government?
§ Mr. Elliot
Only the good faith of this House, only the word of the Prime Minister, only the word of the Colonial Secretary, and that holds just as much for a Bill as it does for an undertaking given by this House.
We have always understood that the competence of Parliament is supreme. We have all seen suspensory dates held up for one reason or another. The Home Rule Bill for Ireland was held up indefinitely. We have to trust the good faith of Parliament. If a solemn, binding 1828 undertaking is given by Her Majesty's Government that their proposals—
§ Mr. Elliot
The earliest possible moment after Malta has decided upon them. They will be passed into law here and three Maltese Members will be admitted here. A pledge would be just as easy to abrogate—
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman and I see eye to eye on the fundamentals of this matter, but I am anxious that Malta should not be confused about what we are recommending the Government to do. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that there is already a White Paper, namely, the Report of the Malta Round Table Conference. Today's debate is in fulfilment of the undertaking of the Lord Privy Seal to the House. If we have a White Paper embodying the Intentions of the Government, those intentions will be implemented after something is done in Malta.
What will happen in Malta? How can the Maltese people proceed to alter their Constitution in respect of a Statute not passed by this House? If the Statute is passed here, the constitutional amendments in Malta would relate to our enactments here, not to a White Paper. What we do not want to do is to give Malta the impression at this stage that we want from her another declaration which hon. Members here would also be able to say was not unequivocal, because at once things would be back in the melting pot.
§ Mr. Elliot
I agree that these matters are of the utmost importance, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman is a little optimistic when he refers to our Report as a White Paper. I have the greatest respect for our authority, and I will defend it against all comers, but I would not claim that what we say in it has the validity of a declaration by Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, there are many loose things left in it, such as the addendum by Lord Perth and others, which will need to be cleared up before we come to the categorical definition of the terms upon which the proposals are to be carried through, which is what we both desire to see brought about.
§ Mr. Crossman
Is the view of the right hon. Gentleman that the objection to a 1829 Bill is that it could only be altered by an amending Bill? If that is the objection to a Bill, then obviously a White Paper incorporating the proposals is open to all kinds of change. Therefore, I repeat the question put by my right hon. Friend: what guarantee would there be for the Maltese people if the Government merely issued a White Paper, which might or might not be changed by agitation, so that, once again, there would be further delay? That is what we are concerned about.
We are not putting forward a partisan argument, but we want to end this process of pressure by a final decision. Does not the right hon. Gentleman see that his proposal might lead to another round table discussion, with endless talk, if we merely put forward a White Paper which could be susceptible to change?
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not wish to prolong the discussion indefinitely. I agree that there is that possibility. Like the hon. Gentleman, I desire to see an end to this argument and the position secured. I am merely bringing forward my own tentative suggestions as a means by which we can move towards the end.
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said that intensity cannot be measured. This is a dangerous doctrine. I think that intensity has to be measured, or at least account has to be taken of it. I suggest that this is a means by which pressure as well as volume can also be considered. I really think that the categorical embodiment of the Government's proposals in a White Paper would carry the matter a great deal further, and that, combined with a further election in Malta, which both of us agree would have to take place before the constitution came into effect, we might make good progress towards dealing with many of the troublesome and vexatious questions that undoubtedly still lie before us at the present time.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), I was a signatory to the majority report of the Round Table Conference, so there is nothing in the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech with which I would disagree. We are agreed on the constitutional proposals and on much else in the report, and the only dissent 1830 which has expressed itself so far is that of the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), who, as we know, is one of the two signatories to the minority report.
I think it would be a convenience to divide the matter into two parts: first, whether we are in agreement with what is proposed; and, secondly, if we are, what we do about it. The speech of the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove went on to deal with the second part of the mattes; that is to say, what this House should do next and what is to be done next in Malta.
The Motion before the House is merely to take note of the report of the Round Table Conference, and I think we shall expect to hear from the Colonial Secretary, when he replies to the debate, what further steps he proposes to take to enable the House further to consider the matter. I regret that the House is not asked today to register a decision. I think it would have been appropriate for it to do so, though I recognise that the terms of the assurance given by the Lord Privy Seal might have inhibited the Government from asking the House to register a decision today. Nevertheless, I think it is a pity that we are merely to take note of what the report of the Round Table Conference said.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), when I was first invited to serve on the Round Table Conference, which I counted as a distinct honour, I was somewhat sceptical about this proposal for integration. It was an attractive idea in the context of the attitude of many of our colonial peoples. The mere suggestion that the inhabitants of one of our Colonies would come closer to us, instead of getting further away, was of itself an attractive idea, but we had to consider whether it was workable, whether it was a practical proposition, and what its implications would be.
I would, however, say to those who ask—if they do—what is the importance of the constitutional solution, that the Round Table Conference was appointed to consider the constitutional solution, and that if hon. Members will look at the terms of reference, they will see that that was our specific reference, and—in particular,…the proposal that Malta should in future be represented in the Parliament al Westminster.That was really our most important task—to consider the constitutional solution.
1831 We were informed that the Government had given certain assurances to the Government of Malta about economic aid, and we were told—and we have been assured again this afternoon—that these promises will hold, quite irrespective of whatever constitutional solution may be found. The economic side of this matter, therefore, had been decided, to some extent, before the Round Table Conference met, and our consideration of economic problems was consequently linked more closely with constitutional problems than with the promise already given by Her Majesty's Government.
The conclusion which we came to very definitely—and this also goes for the two Members who signed the Minority Report; and I think we were all agreed about it—was that we had to find a constitutional solution and that economic aid of itself would not be enough, certainly not on a long-term basis, because the minority Report, to which I thought the hon. Member for Carlton did not speak as closely as we expected he would, in paragraph 4, says this:While we recognise that representation at Westminster may well prove to be the ultimate answer to the constitutional desires and needs of both the peoples of the United Kingdom and of Malta, we are not convinced that representation in the next Parliament of the United Kingdom is in accordance with the realities of the present situation.In paragraph 9, the minority Report says:In our opinion, such a stepthat is, representation in the Parliament at Westminster—is premature.I think the House will appreciate that the signatories to the minority Report did not definitely and finally reject the idea of the representation of Malta in the Parliament at Westminster. They expressed the view that it was perhaps premature, but that scarcely suggests that either of the signatories to the minority Report had any alternative constitutional solution to propose, and, indeed, their minority Report does not offer any alternative to the majority recommendations of the Round Table Conference. What we in this House have to appreciate—
§ Mr. Maclay
Reluctant as I am to become involved in an argument about this, because it is very difficult subject, may I draw the attention of the hon. 1832 Member to the fact that paragraph 10 of the minority Report says quite explicitly that, for the time being, there are certain things that can and must, in our opinion, be done which might lead at a later stage to this full constitutional change. In the process of revising the reserved matters—and I will deal with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary and the fallacy contained in them, if I am lucky enough to be called later—and in consultation methods between the two countries, one would be making certain steady progress towards constitutional advance, and, after all, one could move towards the proposed representation, and perhaps another one might appear as we went along.
§ Mr. Houghton
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the interpretation to be placed on the paragraph in the Report which he signed. I therefore say that, in the minority Report, there is no proposal which could be recommended to this House for acceptance, because there would be no acceptance of this alternative by any one of the three political parties in Malta.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Gentleman, whom I thank very much for giving way, used the words "acceptable to the people of Malta." I must confess that throughout everything to which I have listened in the discussion on Malta I have had to remember that there are also to be considered the people of the United Kingdom and of other Colonial Territories.
§ Mr. Houghton
Obviously, the United Kingdom is a party to the matter, but, at the same time, the House and the country are trying to reach an accommodation with the people of Malta in order that our relations may continue on a friendly and co-operative basis. If the people of this country do not understand the importance of a peaceful fortress in Malta they do not appreciate the fundamental requirements of co-operation and friendly relations between the Maltese people and this country.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The substance behind the hon. Member's remarks and the remarks of his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) is that there is a threat of insurrection or other trouble in the island 1833 of Malta if this is not done. Will the hon. Gentleman accept it from some of us who think differently from him that the situation could easily be reversed? If we grant something too soon which does not represent the real feelings of the people of Malta, and they are disappointed with the result, the danger is much greater.
§ Mr. Houghton
I suggest that there will be time enough for the people of Malta to give fresh consideration to this matter and again to register their voice before any constitutional document is finally sealed. I will come in a moment to the part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech dealing with what we do next.
I agree that it would be unfortunate if the people of Malta were to accept a proposal which might later on turn out to be disappointing, but if we agree to a certain solution by a combination of constitutional change and economic assistance—industrial and economic development of the island—then an obligation rests upon us to avoid disappointment, to make the plan succeed and to play our part enthusiastically and helpfully in building up a firm basis for mutual co-operation between the two peoples.
We cannot always avoid disappointment when changes in life are brought about. The Round Table Conference gave exhaustive consideration to the possibilities for evil as well as for good of the proposition. I would remind the House of the care and attention given to the matter by reference to the number of meetings that we held. There were 38 altogether, and there was also the visit to Malta. That represents very full consideration of the complexities of the problem. I think that the House must take some assurance from the fact that, after that care and time devoted to the matter, the influential majority—if I may so describe it—of the Conference was in favour of this solution.
I believe that if the people of Malta and the people of this country enter into the spirit of this arrangement, as I hope they will, with enthusiasm and a desire to be mutually co-operative, there will not be any signal disappointment on either side. After all, the people of this country have been encouraged to believe that the people of Malta are a brave and loyal people, as they are. His late Majesty 1834 bestowed upon Malta a distinction not given to any other part of the British Commonwealth and Empire. Some attention must be paid to the high opinion of the Maltese people which is widely held in this country. I think that that alone will be the stimulus to the sort of spirit which it will be desirable to bring to bear on the solution which we now propose.
I suppose that the constitutional problem turns mostly on representation in the Parliament at Westminster. All were agreed, including Her Majesty's Government, that the present Constitution was in need of revision. I would emphasise that that was the commonly-held view of everyone. Therefore, the Conference had to work out something new. The Government of Malta, representing the majority of the people of Malta, put forward the idea which is expressed in the word "integration," and that idea was specifically referred to the Conference.
If we have to revise the Constitution, the question is, "What form shall the revision take?" We had three points of view in Malta, put forward respectively by the Labour Party—the Government Party—the Nationalist Party and the Progressive Constitutional Party. The proposals of the Government of Malta naturally weighed more heavily with the Conference because they represented the views of the Government of the day in Malta which had obtained an absolute majority in the Malta Legislative Council at the General Election just over a year ago. We gave very anxious consideration to their proposals.
We could not find in the proposals of the Nationalist Party anything which was workable or which we believed could satisfy the views of the majority of the people in Malta or the majority of the people in this country. I would draw the attention of the House to paragraph 27 of the Report, which gives the long-term aims of the policy and proposals of the Nationalist Party. In paragraph 27 (a) one sees a relationship which would give Malta an autonomy in its relations with the United Kingdom. Sub-paragraph (b) says:The joint responsibility for handling defence and Commonwealth and foreign affairs, in so far as they affected Malta, would be governed by agreements to be made between the two Governments.1835 If, as I believe, this House would wish to reserve to the United Kingdom Government powers dealing with defence and foreign affairs, obviously the longterm proposals of the Nationalist Party would not be acceptable to the people of this country. Therefore, its short-term proposals would be equally unacceptable because they would purport to be some kind of moves towards its ultimate aims.
I believe that the proposals put forward by the Malta Government are the only realistic ones that came before the Conference. They are based on the assumption that it will be impossible for Malta to obtain self-government within the Commonwealth at least so long as it is necessary to have a base in the island. I think, also, that their proposals rest on the assumption that Malta could not become economically viable in present circumstances and not at any foreseeable time because the whole standard of life and livelihood of a very large proportion of the population is based upon defence expenditure in the island.
If the Malta Labour Party recognises the impossibility of the dream of Dominion status and separation from the United Kingdom, it is not surprising that its proposals take the form of closer association and union with United Kingdom. Closer association of Malta with the United Kingdom must find some symbolic expression in representation at Westminster if it is to have the reality and spiritual content which a desire for closer association implies. It is the mark and sign of closer association, of unity with the United Kingdom, not necessarily parity in every respect, not necessarily giving the people of Malta exactly the same social and economic conditions as those of the people of this country, but representing a political union and a spiritual union.
I know that it is asked: what would Malta Members of Parliament at Westminster do? They would have a vital interest in foreign affairs and defence. There are few parts of the British Colonial Empire which are so directly dependent upon decisions of this House in defence and foreign affairs. In my submission, the people of Malta are more closely dependent upon decisions and policies of the Government of this country than are most other parts of the 1836 Colonial Empire. It naturally follows that they wish to have this closer association expressed in actual representation in this House.
I do not believe that the Malta M.Ps. would ever tilt the balance between the major parties in the House. We examined that proposal in our Report and said that in our opinion it is not a danger which need deter the House from accepting our proposals.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
Does the hon. Member mean that the only other territory that would be represented in this Parliament would be Malta, or shall we expect further territories to come in? Further, might not the balance between the parties be affected?
§ Mr. Houghton
We have also examined that matter in our Report and the Colonial Secretary dealt with it fully. We do not believe that if this arrangement with Malta is reached it will be followed by other claims for representation at Westminster which could not be considered on their own merits. We believe that Malta is unique and that it has a claim to representation at Westminster on the basis of this constitutional solution. It is a claim far stronger than any other territory could have.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Surely the hon. Member will agree that claims in respect of Gibraltar will clearly arise and properly arise as a further extension of the system.
§ Mr. Houghton
Gibraltar was another territory which, naturally, we considered in this connection. Gibraltar is very much smaller than Malta both in population and area. It is doubtful whether on any basis of constituency representation Gibraltar could claim a seat in this House. That is a point of view which was held by the majority of the members of the Round Table Conference and I can do no more than support what the Conference has done and agree with the speech of the Colonial Secretary in that respect.
The House need not be deterred from this proposed arrangement with Malta on the ground that other territories might claim equal treatment. I know that many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are anxious to express their views and I shall not speak for an undue time, but I 1837 want to refer to a remarkable broadcast made by Mr. Clive Parry which was published in The Listener on 17th November. Speaking about this subject he said:Indeed, we ought perhaps to fear the creation of a new precedent less than a poverty of fresh constitutional ideas. We should perhaps consider whether we have not come to think that the only road forward for a colony is the road away from Britain.…Those were wise words. The House should not be afraid of this new idea.
I sincerely hope that the House will show boldness and imagination in dealing with this problem. The House will not be the poorer for representatives from Malta. Indeed, it will be enriched by an experience somewhat different from our own. There will be brought into our debates a point of view frequently absent when we are discussing defence, colonial policy, and economic aid to underdeveloped parts of the British Colonial Empire. I enter into this idea with enthusiasm. It offers a new hope in our relations with the people of Malta and may well be one of the brighter stars in the colonial firmament in the future.
I hope that the Government will go on from here with courage and speed and will not shilly-shally, waiting for Malta to express itself once more, with the people of Malta probably waiting for this Parliament to express itself. We have a decision to take and we ought to go forward with it boldly and give the people of Malta a clear idea of our intentions and ask Malta finally to confirm the decision she has already reached. We then stand a chance of getting an amicable settlement, a new constitution speedily brought into operation and a new era of peace and co-operation between the two people.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
I should like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to be the first non-member of the Round Table Conference to speak this evening. I mean no reflection on you, Sir, when I say that for three hours we have listened to right hon. Gentlemen most of whom have signed a Report, or told us what they think—[HON. MEMBERS: "All of them signed it."] The Colonial Secretary did not sign it. I gather that at the end of the evening we shall have another 1838 hour of summing up, and possibly others who are connected with the Report will want to speak. That leads me again to ask the Government to reconsider having a two-day debate on this subject, because we have been told by the Leader of the House that both the Government and the Opposition feel that it is very important and of great interest to the country. Nevertheless, the Government did not feel that this subject was worth a two-day debate.
I should like to follow many of the points which have been made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, but, unless I go on for the whole evening, I shall be able to deal with only one or two. I cannot see with what justification we can go through with this matter before a General Election. We are told that there must be either a General Election or referendum in Malta, so why not here? There is no reference to us, although there is to be a very great change in our constitution. I cannot speak for the Socialist Party, but I can speak for my own; this matter has not been discussed at any party conference, any party meetings in the country. or at a General Election. I cannot see what authority or mandate there can be for putting through this scheme at the moment.
Be that as it may, undoubtedly we are to have a complete change in our Constitution. It is absurd to sweep the problem away by saying that it is only Malta. A short while before this happened I remember the Secretary of State for the Colonies was saying that other Colonies would not want to come into this because there would be the question of them having to pay the same taxation as Great Britain, and no Colony would want to do that; but that matter has been swept away. The question of taxation may not be discussed for 15 or 20 years. It is no longer talked about and will not be discussed even during this debate. So much for that question.
We begin to hear about Gibraltar and there is a suggestion about Cyprus. It is a possibility that in the long run someone may be able to find a solution whereby Cyprus could ask for representation. Then there are other areas, for instance the Seychelles. One cannot tell, but perhaps Archbishop Makarios might come to this House as a representative from the Seychelles—after having been 1839 there for a very long time—instead of as a representative from Cyprus. This matter may well become absurd. If we go on indefinitely in this way, we shall reach a stage where a number of representatives from the Colonies might make a serious difference to this country at a General Election. In 1950–51 the Labour Party had a majority of six, and later, when we came back in office, we had a majority of only eighteen or nineteen. If this arrangement is followed to its logical conclusion and we get a series of Colonies represented in this House, the same position may arise again.
I do not say that that state of affairs would necessarily be wrong. I do say that it is wrong that this House should decide on this matter before the country has been consulted. Why are we doing this for the little Island of Malta? I have many friends in Malta and I am sure that they will not be angry with me if I point out that the whole population of the island numbers 350,000—
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins (Birmingham, Stechford)
I find it difficult to understand how, under our constitutional system, the country can be consulted about a proposal on which apparently the Colonial Secretary—and therefore presumably the whole Government—and the Opposition are agreed. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how that could be done?
§ Mr. Teeling
A General Election was held in Malta and this was discussed there with various other subjects, and there could be a similar General Election in this country when this would be—
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The suggestion of the hon. Gentleman is that this House should deal with the matter by way of a General Election. The point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) is that if the Government—and presumably the majority of the Conservative Party—are in favour of the proposal, and the Opposition is also in favour, what chance has the country except to vote for one or other of the 1840 parties, both of which are in favour of the proposal?
§ Mr. Teeling
There is a possibility that at the time of such a General Election, and after this matter had been properly and thoroughly discussed, people would not be quite as keen on it as they are at present. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]
In my opinion one of the most serious features of this matter is that we are going far too fast. The whole question was "pushed" by Mr. Mintoff only last year when there was General Election. Afterwards the Malta representatives came to London and there was a Conference at which it was decided to give economic aid to Malta. Only after that was it decided that there should be a Round Table Conference. We heard nothing more about it until the members were decided and we were told that it was not to be discussed until after the Conference had met.
They met while the House was in recess during October and the meetings lasted for two or three weeks. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) gave an impressive number of meetings which took place, but I believe that I am right in saying that Dr. Borg Olivier and all his party were asked to be present for only two to two-and-a-half days of the meetings in London.
This is a subject on which for several years the Colonial Office has been unable to make up its mind, but a number of intelligent right hon. and hon. Gentlement have found a solution, with which they seem content, after a few weeks of meetings in London and a five-day visit to Malta, and after talking among themselves privately here. Then, in December, before we knew where we were, we were forced into awarding a referendum to Malta; then we have this one-day debate and goodness knows what will happen after that.
Malta is a very small island, its population is about the same as that of the City of Nottingham which might be regarded as one of the lesser of our great cities. Yet this small number of people have a Prime Minister, a Leader of the Opposition, a Governor, and a Lieutenant-Governor, a Minister of Police who is also Prime Minister, a Cabinet and two Oppositions. All that exists in this tiny area, and it is because the Maltese are 1841 discontented that 60 million people in Great Britain and 80 million in the rest of the Colonies are asked to change the whole of their Constitution; and presumably the 80 million people in the Colonies are to be governed by, among others, three Members of Parliament from Malta. I doubt whether this is as popular a measure as it is said to be.
No one has suggested for a moment that all the 360,000 people of Malta want to be represented here. What has happened is that we are very unhappy about the present position of the world, and of ourselves and our Colonies, and because of that we are much relieved when one Colony wishes to join us—or rather not one whole Colony but only a part of it. It has been argued that they wish to join us for economic reasons but it has been proved that they will get many of the advantages without such representation. Even the Report says that we should have this if Malta wants it. What, then, was the reason for the referendum? Was not that sufficient proof of whether the Maltese wanted it or not? Evidently it was not. Some people say one thing about it and some say another, but the majority of people say that it was wrong to have the referendum in the way we did and, because of the influence of the Catholic Church, we must try to find some method whereby the power of the Catholic Church will be appeased and it will be possible to hold a referendum without any trouble of that kind. Then, it is argued, everyone would be found to be in favour of integration.
At the same time as the Church is supposed—I say only "supposed"—to have put pressure on the people to vote, or not to vote in this referendum, surely the General Workers' Union was doing exactly the same thing for members of the Labour Party. Under the circumstances, who can say that the General Workers' Union was not as much a force as the Church is supposed to have been?
If we look back upon the past history of Malta, we find that there have been several Constitutions over the last few years. It has not hurt the British Government to suspend those Constitutions when things went wrong. The last thing we want is to have that happen at the present time, and I do not think that it will. Much of what has been said in this debate about conditions in Malta is, in 1842 my opinion, exaggeration. I do not think that there is need for suspension. I consider that were Mr. Mintoff to be told that he was not having integration there would not be disintegration and the terrible things threatened by his party would not happen.
In 1947 Mr. Mintoff had a Labour Government at Valetta which had more of a majority than the present one. Within two years it was split and the whole party was temporarily finished, and instead we had a Government later led by Dr. Borg Olivier. In my opinion, it is a mistake that we should seem to concentrate so much on one party. We appear to be putting ourselves in the position of assuming that there will be no alternative Government, which is a very grave mistake to make. Only a year ago Dr. Borg Olivier was in power and he lost power because one member of his Government went over to the other party. Dr. Olivier had a majority of one, and one member of his Government found that he wanted to be on the side of Mr. Mintoff. I know nothing about how that worked out. I have heard rumours, which I do not wish to repeat, but the fact remains that the one member went over to the other side.
A General Election was held, during which everything was said regarding the advantages of integration, economic and otherwise. That was the policy of Mr. Mintoff. Everything that could possibly be said was said and the result was that he gained a majority of five—six with the Speaker—and Dr. Borg Olivier returned seven Members in the present Malta Parliament. These are facts which really ought not to be ignored, and they had nothing to do with any religious question at that time.
Now we come to the question of the referendum as a result of the Report. I was there at the time when it was being prepared and saw a great deal of what was going on. We have been told by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), the Leader of the Liberal Party, that it was a remarkable thing, after all the pressure put on by the Roman Catholic Church, that in the end Mr. Mintoff still got the largest number of votes. In actual fact, the argument should be put in this way: that that was the result after he had been a year in 1843 power, a year in which a great deal of the moneys wanted by Malta, which Dr. Borg Olivier was unable to get, had been paid out and handed over to Malta and spent in a variety of ways. It was shown that Mr. Mintoff had been able to go and, as I say, almost hold a pistol at the head of the British Government.
I have here a Reuter's report of his attendance at a meeting in London in July. It states:The Malta Prime Minister, Mr. Mintoff, made a surprise appearance at the Socialist International Congress in London today. The Congress agreed to hear him, although Malta is not yet a full member of the International. Mr. Mintoff apologised for his belated arrival, saying, 'I have been very busy elsewhere.' He told delegates that 'the unique solution' which he sought 'would promote the course of Socialism'.There is nothing wrong with that for Socialists, but it is interesting from our point of view. He then goes back to his people saying that he has succeeded in doing these things and goes forward, with that great victory, to hold a referendum. He does that, although, as the Colonial Secretary himself told us, the right hon. Gentleman had used his influence to dissuade Mr. Mintoff from holding a referendum. The Colonial Secretary has shown that he was, in a sense, defeated by Mr. Mintoff, because the latter completely ignored that advice and held it.
In spite of all that, he got 3,000 votes less instead of more. One might have thought he would have got more, and we are told it was because of the Church. May I say first of all that the Church in Malta has a great deal more power than many Members of this House realise, but not at one moment was that power really used at the last referendum. The Archbishop himself was a Labour Member of Parliament at one time. He is also a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George, which shows that he did very well during the war. Everybody agrees that he is one of our most loyal friends and allies. He has been miserably unhappy and worried about the whole situation. I know that he has felt that if he were to come out in any way and oppose Mr. Mintoff completely, people would immediately say—as has already been suggested as a possibility—that he was hurting the economic advantages of the working classes, that he was against 1844 the working classes and for the middle and upper classes. The Archbishop knew that was a possibility.
As a Roman Catholic, may I say that our Church is world-wide? It is absolutely adamant on dogma, but it is extremely flexible on ordinary matters of day-to-day life. That, possibly, is why it is a universal Church. In this country things are allowed by the Roman Catholic Church which would never be allowed in Malta because this is a Protestant country and not Catholic. Hon. Members may not agree with that; I am merely stating the facts about our Church. When it comes to matters of dogma or really vital issues, we never give way and cannot unbend; but in other matters we have regard to the country we are in, the area we are in and the life of the people around us.
Malta has never been English. There is nothing English or Scottish about it. Its Constitutions have never really been a great success; it has had four or five over the last 20 years. On the other hand, it has had a Roman Catholic Church there for nearly 2,000 years. Since the year 1500 it has been a bulwark of Catholicism throughout the world and especially against the Turkish Empire. It was from there that the Knights of Malta went forth to fight; they were in control; the Church was working with them. After all, the Knights were Church Knights in those days. The whole law of the country is the Canon Law of the Catholic Church. That has gone on for hundreds of years.
At one time I remember my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary referring to conditions in Buganda, saying that in that part of the world it was a terrible mistake that things had been altered and changed whether we wanted it or not, and bit by bit everything in Buganda was allowed to go back. Let us not try to alter the position of the Church in Malta. It is very friendly to us; it is very good to the people of the island. It has very little about which to be critical, and what cause for criticism there may be—and who has not some cause?—can very likely be easily reformed without any trouble.
The Archbishop himself was terribly upset about what was to happen. He felt that in linking up with us, his country would be involved in various problems fundamental to themselves, problems of 1845 education, of marriage, of birth control, and such things about which there is deep feeling in that island. He was terribly worried over the possibilities there. He wanted guarantees. He wanted signed guarantees, if possible. He felt that words were not good enough. I do not say that he did not trust my right hon. Friend or any of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but he had a duty to perform towards his own flock, or, at least, he felt he had, and we must respect him for that.
There is one point which has been omitted from our discussion tonight. Mention has been made of two members of the Conference who did not sign the full Report, but we have left out of consideration the fact that Lord Perth, the one and only Roman Catholic on that Conference, put in a caveat, saying we must have these guarantees before anything can be done.
§ Mr. Crossman
I think the hon. Member has overlooked a point. He told us about five minutes ago that he would give us reason to show that the Catholic Church had not used any of its influence during the referendum. I hope he has not forgotten that.
§ Mr. Teeling
No; I will come to that. There was that caveat by Lord Perth put into the Report. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he can clear up for me just two or three questions which arise on points he made. He referred to the guarantees. He said, as I understand it, that the British Government are prepared to give guarantees to the Archbishop. I know, more or less, what are the sort of guarantees the Archbishop wants. I cannot see how we will be in a position to give those guarantees, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman may be able to tell us how he will do it. I believe the Archbishop wants signed guarantees, passed by this Parliament. Is that going to be done? If so, how are they to be implemented? Surely, these guarantees are for matters outside defence and outside foreign affairs. Suppose anything went wrong in Malta, how is he ever to fulfil any guarantee? What sort of guarantees are they to be?
§ Mr. Nicholson
My hon. Friend said he knew what guarantees the Archbishop would want. I was wondering what they were. Can he tell us?
§ Mr. Teeling
With regard to the position of the Catholic Church of Malta, with regard to the Canon Law, marriage, and education.
§ Mr. Crossman
Would these be vis-à-vis the Maltese Government or vis-à-vis the British Government? There are two sorts of guarantees.
§ Mr. Teeling
I would ask my right hon. Friend how he will implement these guarantees in Malta if the Maltese Government are not equally prepared to give those guarantees to the Archbishop as well. We know full well that during the referendum the Archbishop asked Mr. Mintoff to do so, but finally he did refuse to do so. When a priest sent round notices to the Catholic Action groups that he had refused to do so, Mr. Mintoff immediately had that priest prosecuted. The priest was finally acquitted, it being said that it was true Mr. Mintoff had refused to give the Archbishop any guarantees.
I now return to the question whether or not the Archbishop influenced the General Election. It may be remembered that two or three weeks before the referendum a pastoral letter was issued by the Archbishop. I believe that everybody who read it—and I know that certain hon. Members opposite have done so—would agree that it was as non-committal as it could be; that it was very far from damaging, and left a great many possibilities to be considered. After that, the Archbishop tried to have the referendum postponed so that he could come to some agreement with London. He asked if he could go to London, and that time should be allowed for him to do so. Mr. Mintoff refused, absolutely. After that Mr. Mintoff published correspondence which the Archbishop had had with the Vatican. That was a breach of etiquette in every sense of the word. The Archbishop felt that it was a personal insult to him, and also to the Church, but he did not go any further than to say merely that he had not got the guarantees he 1847 required, and that he left it to the consciences of the people to decide for themselves.
I am fully aware that it has been said that several priests did this, that and the other, but they certainly did not act upon the instructions of the Archbishop. It is impossible to control people all the time. A few days before the election the Archbishop requested permission to make a broadcast—because of the way things were going—but he was told that it was not possible; that Mr. Mintoff would not allow it. I believe that it was the rediffusion people and the Governor who finally insisted, and he was allowed to make the broadcast, but when he did so the loudspeakers in all the villages were cut off.
§ Mr. Teeling
It must be remembered that nine-tenths of the people do not have wireless sets of their own. Furthermore, many of them cannot read or write, and it was immensely valuable to have the full use of the radio upon these occasions.
That is as far as the Archbishop went at that time. He could have gone much further. He could have excommunicated people, and gone further in many ways. Those are always possibilities if the Archbishop really feels that the fate of his people is in danger, and I warn the House that it must realise that these are facts. It is most unlikely that the Vatican will ever let the Archbishop down. I know a great deal about the way in which the Vatican works. It is immensely loyal to its Archbishops all over the world, and it has a deep affection and respect for this one.
I do not want to keep the House very much longer, but I want to say that since the referendum things have not got better; they have gone from bad to worse. At present there is a deep feeling within the Catholic Church in Malta against Mr. Mintoff. We are told that the British Government will be able to give guarantees, but is it fair either to Protestant Members of this House or to the people of Malta itself, to carry out this proposal? We shall presumably have three Members of Parliament from Malta. A few days ago someone said to me, "We do not mind things going as they are at present—so long as Malta remains where 1848 she is, in a treaty of alliance with us—but if she gets three Members of Parliament here the Protestant people in this country will not stand for certain things being done in Malta when she is part of the United Kingdom."
That is why I am so frightened about the situation. It is possible that religious ill-feeling will be caused in this country and in other parts of the world. I feel that at the moment the Government are in danger of being considered rather irreligious. Only tomorrow there will be a debate upon foreign affairs in another place. The Duke of Norfolk will be speaking there, giving the Catholic point of view about the Russian leaders' visit. We have trouble enough in the Middle East over the Greek Church at present.
Through you, Mr. Speaker, I beg every hon. Member to bear in mind that, at the moment, we have a very loyal and very friendly body in the Roman Catholic Church in Malta. Every 2nd February the people give their candles to the Governor, and he tells the priests from all over the island what is needed in their parishes, and they go out and tell their people. This may be an old-fashioned method, but it may be better than sending three Maltese Members to this House.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
The first thing I must tell the Colonial Secretary is that the speech which he has just heard from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) is not necessarily the voice of the Church of Rome. It by no means expressed the unanimous opinion of those who hold the great faith to which the people of Malta belong. There is another Catholic point of view, and another Catholic approach to this matter.
I must point out at once to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, that I think he has done his Church—and certainly his party—a great disservice by his speech. He knows better than most that it will do a great deal of damage in Malta, and will cause to flare up once again the smouldering embers of religious difficulties and problems. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman made the speech he did, and that he was not much more temperate. He has also aroused a great deal of anti-Catholic opinion in this House. He has no right to speak as if he and he 1849 alone can pontificate on behalf of the Catholic Church, because he has some exclusive admission to the Vatican. It is quite wrong for him to suggest that he has some quite exclusive standing with the Vatican.
I went to Malta at the invitation of the London office of the Malta Commissioner. I went there with colleagues on both sides of the House, at the time of the referendum. I want to pay a tribute to the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) for the part he played there in trying to reach a happy compromise between the Church and the State. I know that many difficulties exist, and I am prepared to deal with some of the problems later on. I do not seek to minimise these problems. I welcomed the approach made by the hon. and gallant Member in an attempt to try to marry Church and State. It seems to me that what we should be trying to do now is to pour oil on the troubled waters, and to try to see what is best for both the Maltese and the British people.
I went to Malta with a feeling of very great pride. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said, the fact that the Maltese people wanted to come closer to Great Britain was a star on a very dark night. My first feelings, at any rate, were, "Now that the Round Table Conference, composed of experts from both Houses of Parliament, and under the chairmanship of the Lord Chancellor, hascome down in favour of integration, I can go to Malta happy, praying that a way can be found to overcome some of the difficulties which I know to exist."
When I reached Malta I had an emotional experience due to the fact that the impact of the Church of Rome there is quite considerable, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said. In almost every Government office I visited—and this was Mr. Mintoff's Government—there were altars and statues. In almost every street there is an indication of the influence of the Church of Rome. About 99.7 per cent. of the island is Catholic, and any Government of Malta which attempted to fight the Church of Rome and to take from Malta those things which rightly belong to the Church of Rome would destroy themselves. Everyone knows that. No legislation could be passed by this House, or by any 1850 Malta Government, which could destroy that position.
This Government cannot give any guarantees to protect the Church of Rome against any Maltese Government. It is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to do so. Nothing which they could write into any document or constitution would guarantee the position, any more than anything done by this Government is binding upon a future Government. The next Government—which I hope will be a Labour Government—will not have to continue all the policies and legislation of the present Government.
Much uninformed talk has been coming from people in regard to written guarantees to protect the religion of the island. There is a Church of England and also a Methodist Chapel on the island, and people who do not have the faith of Catholics have every right to go to those churches. I mention that for the benefit of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black), who, I understand, would like to speak in this debate. It is important to remember that there is religious freedom in Malta. There is no denying it: I mean in the sense that anyone can go to church if he wants to.
The argument for integration, which has been so ably debated here by members of the Round Table Conference who have spoken, has been, in the main, decided for this House by the speech of the Colonial Secretary and by the Round Table Conference Report itself. They have come down firmly in a majority in favour of integration. I do not propose to go into the technical argument of what is the best way of achieving it, except to say that after reading the Report of the Round Table Conference carefully it seems to me that they reached their conclusion an the basis that there was no other way out, and that Malta was in a very special position not to be compared with any island of its kind in the world.
When one goes to Malta one senses at once the terrible economic plight of that small island. Unless one has been there and seen the island one cannot visualise that there is no hope of it ever becoming economically independent. The Malta story is one of past failures of British Governments. We have given a great deal of consideration to ships, harbours and docks, but we have been apt to forget all about people, homes and 1851 standards of living. We may have made some contribution to those things, and I do not deny that we have done so, but it has not been enough. As in the rest of the world, the ordinary folk are asking for a better way of life.
What are the consequences of the demand for integration? If for any reason, because of any argument put up by any Conservative or Labour Member, integration is denied to the Maltese, the holy war and the anti-clericalism referred to by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavillion will come about more quickly than ever. I assure the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) that that will be so, because, rightly or wrongly, the impression is now prevailing in the island that integration is the real answer to the island's economic problems, and means very much to the future of the Maltese. If they do not get integration I sincerely believe that anti-clericalism and anti-Catholicism will come more quickly.
One of the extraordinary things is that those who are anti-Catholic are anti-integration. One finds that, by listening to the debate tonight. We have heard that many hon. Members who are anti-Catholic are also anti-integration. Christopher Hollis, who used to be a Member of this House, wrote in the Tablet on that very point. He is quite right, too. Those who have the interest of the Church and the Island of Malta at heart are behind the proposal for integration, although they must understand that we cannot give any guarantee that will be of real value. The Church must defend itself and its own position.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
Would it not be possible, at some future date, for a concordat to be arrived at which would give a guarantee in the ordinary way of a treaty, which would fix up the details of the guarantee?
§ Mr. Mellish
I respect the hon. Gentleman's point of view but the fact quite simply is that whatever concordat or arrangement was made by the Imperial Parliament, we could not protect the Archbishop and his Church from the activities of a Maltese Government. That is what the Archbishop is frightened of.
1852 Suppose that for some reason or other a Maltese Government decided to take away from the Church in Malta the educational facilities that it possesses. Maltese Members of Parliament, if they were here, might ask Questions about it, but the fight would have to take place on the island of Malta itself. I repeat—and I hope that this part of my speech will be read by the people of Malta -that any Government in Malta which attempted to do that sort of thing would destroy itself. I do not believe that any Government of Malta would do that sort of thing. I have already said that every Government office displays its acknowledgements to the Church. Every one of them is associated with the Church in every possible way.
I am not prepared to argue the case for integration on the basis of the figures, because I believe the case has been decided by the Round Table Conference and the speech of the Colonial Secretary, but I want to join with other hon. Members in asking the right hon. Gentleman, "Where do we go from here, after this debate?" What will happen? We are entitled to know. The longer the solution is delayed the worse it will be for the Maltese. I am sure that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South, genuinely wishes for delay, but that would not be a good thing, because unless the problem is decided soon the Government of the day will have on their hands a crisis with which I do not think they will be able to deal.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am not suggesting that nothing should be done, but that this particular solution should not be adopted.
§ Mr. Mellish
The noble Lord made one or two interjections showing that he is certainly asking for delay. We ask for action to be taken as the result of the debate.
I speak for myself when I suggest that, after the debate, the Colonial Secretary should produce a Bill, after consultation with the Church and Prime Minister in Malta, and place it before this Parliament for consideration. When the Bill has passed through all its stages there should be a General Election in Malta so that the people of Malta would have the final word on the implications of the positive Measure which would be before 1853 them. Anything short of that would not be satisfactory for this purpose.
We must be sure that Her Majesty's Government have made up their minds. We heard earlier today from the Colonial Secretary a speech, seven-eighths of which was first-class. We waited for him to tell us where we went from here, and what the Government were going to do. We were told that that would not be decided until after the debate. That makes debate difficult. I do not want to bring party politics into this matter, but I do think that that statement follows the general pattern that we have been seeing from the Government side of the House. We ought to be far more decisive than we are apparently going to be. I and my colleagues on this side of the House are asking for an expression of view which will enable the Maltese people to know where we stand and the people of Britain to know where they stand.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion spoke about having a General Election before these proposals were put into operation, but that cannot seriously be entertained. The people of Britain would not consider this proposal as important as the hon. Member believes it is. Agreement having been clearly established among Conservative, Liberal and Labour Members on these proposals, how could the people of this country vote? The whole idea is nonsensical. It is only another dodge for avoiding the issue.
We should have a positive statement tonight from the Colonial Secretary. We are entitled to it, and the people of Malta ought to be told where they stand.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Sir Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail in the religious field. We are discussing a matter of real constitutional importance for Britain and the Commonwealth, and I hope that these great principles will not be wrecked at any stage on the rocks of religious prejudice. I am a great believer in religious tolerance. I was brought up to listen and to respect the point of view of the other man, and that is my attitude to the point of view of my hon. Friend. Our country has an outstanding record of 1854 toleration, and I hope that that record will be maintained here and in Malta.
We have had an opportunity this afternoon of discussing a new and interesting problem about which until recently none of us had made any commitments. We were all able to approach it with an open mind. Nevertheless, I must say that for some time I have been rather inspired by the bold and imaginative approach made on this matter. I think that it is of importance that we should consider the fact that the integration proposals come to us from Malta and are the ideas of the Maltese Government and not ours. It is our duty to look very carefully into any proposal that comes to us from a Colony which voluntarily placed itself under our rule some 150 years ago. I was very pleased to see this approach, compared with the approach on similar matters that came to us from Cyprus.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
In the interest of historical accuracy, I would point out that the Maltese were in no position to offer the sovereignty of Malta to us because the sovereignty belongs under the Treaty with Charles V to the Knights of Malta.
§ Sir R. Robinson
My hon. Friend, who is a Knight of Malta, shares common allegiance with me as a Member of this House today without any trouble and without any difficulty. I put it to the House that this is not a matter in which we should procrastinate for much longer. I do not believe that in this matter time is on our side. It is not. History does not wait. The problems of the Commonwealth today under the changing situation throughout the whole of the world are of outstanding importance and urgency.
We have given a great deal of attention to this matter. The proposals were put to us last summer, and the Government, I think quite rightly, set up a Round Table Conference to consider them. Some of my hon. Friends have criticised it because it gave a judgment after some thirty-eight sittings and some two weeks in Malta. I believe that is exactly what the House of Commons would have wanted it to do. The House set up the Conference so that it could consider things and come to a decision; now it is our duty to say whether or not we are to take its advice. I am inclined to do so.
I agree that Malta is a special case and, whether we like it or not, it is an island 1855 fortress and an integral part of the whole of our defence system. From that it has followed that for a great many years the economy of Malta has been inevitably tied up with this country. I think that the Round Table Conference put it clearly when it pointed out that one-third of the net income of Malta derives from payments from the United Kingdom Service Departments and that one-quarter of the working population there is employed on defence projects.
I think that it is common ground between all of us, whatever our views, that there is necessity for giving economic aid to Malta. But it is fair that we should say that the proposals, although they are good, do not make Malta into an economic paradise. If the people of Malta feel that because they are integrated with us the continuing emigration of their growing population is coming to an end, I think that they are wrong. We must face up to the fact that the people of Malta wil continually have to emigrate.
We have given, in the last year, a great deal of economic aid to Malta. When I was in Malta, I heard a great many suggestions that our economic help was a bribe to Malta so that it would integrate with us. I think that we should make it abundantly clear that that was not so, and that whatever happens we shall not fail in our responsibility to Malta, and shall continue our economic aid. It is true that that aid has been larger during the past few years, but that is in general accord with the colonial policy followed by both parties in the House. We have an increasing sense of public and social responsibility, and throughout the whole of the Colonial Empire we have been stepping up aid to all those Colonies which have found themselves in need of it. I think that this matter is entirely separate, and it should be made abundantly clear that the one is in no way dependent upon the other.
It is true that some difficulties have arisen on the constitutional side, and that the constitutional proposals do not meet with the approval of all. On the other hand, I would urge that the matter of status is very important and that economics and money are not enough. We have seen that in Cyprus. In the case of Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots ask for Enosis, and although it would mean 1856 economic ruin to them, they want it. So in Malta status is just as important, and I think that we should be pleased that they have decided to come down on our side. My opinion is—and it is an individual opinion—that we should go forward, provided that this wish for integration is the clear will of the people of Malta.
I feel that the Maltese people must be sure, and we should point out that we ourselves are definitely determined not to force them into integration if they do not want it. The Round Table Conference asked for a clear and unmistakable view. Hence the Prime Minister of Malta called for the referendum. Personally, I would rather have seen it take place later, after the House of Commons had had the advantage of discussing the matter; but we have to accept the fact that it was held when it was.
It was my good fortune to be there with some of my hon. Friends at that time. I think that I can say that unfortunately most of us felt that by the time we got there the position had developed very much into a quarrel between the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Maltese Labour Party. As a result of that, many of the main issues were forgotten and many people voted, or did not vote, on religious rather than constitutional grounds. As a result, in my opinion, the people of Malta have not as yet expressed their views with sufficient clarity. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said that in his opinion they had, but how can they have expressed their views with sufficient clarity when at the same time the leaders of each party in Malta were able to claim a victory for their cause? It was the reaction in Malta that leads me to believe that there was not that degree of clarity.
§ Sir R. Robinson
But then we only claim a moral victory. In Malta, both parties claimed an actual victory on this matter.
I said earlier that the United Kingdom has a very fine record of religious toleration. I think that we all ought to recognise that Malta is a Catholic country, and it was for that reason that the Round Table Conference said it would be proper to 1857 turn over jurisdiction in religious matters to the people of Malta themselves. I feel most strongly that that is where the jurisdiction should lie, and that Malta should decide on those questions rather than we ourselves.
I am one of those who believe, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, that there is a real possibility of reaching a fair settlement between the Government of Malta and the Archbishop. I do not honestly believe that they are so far apart from each other as my hon. Friend thinks. I think that a certain measure of toleration and give and take on either side could produce a solution which would be satisfactory to all.
As I have said, Malta is a Catholic country, and its politicians and its Church have to get on together, otherwise there will be absolute chaos in that country. I think that in some way or other we are entitled to ask for some further expression of opinion from Malta, and that we can get it. Before that is done, I feel that the Government should make their proposals to Malta so that the Maltese Government and possibly the Maltese people as well have their chance to say "Yes" or "No" on some specific questions.
There are two or three ways of doing that. One would be to get an agreement between Church and State and parties. If that could be done it would be satisfactory, because I am sure that at that time it was clear that the Church, for reasons other than economic, was not in favour of these proposals, and if it were to withdraw its opposition it might be better. Another suggestion is that we might have another general election in Malta. I am not quite so convinced that that is the best way, because there are so many issues that arise during a general election, and people may vote for half a dozen other reasons.
Another ground for my not liking the idea of a general election is that inevitably it must force everybody who is in favour of integration into the hands of the Malta Labour Party, and tend to force the followers of the other two parties into the opposite political camp to us. I am not sure that we want to do that. The other possibility is another referendum. Many of us are a little doubtful about the value of that but, if it is done, then again I think that it would be wise if, by agreement, 1858 we should approve any questions put to the vote of the Maltese people so that there can be no mistake as to what they are voting for.
My view is that today we want a clear and unmistakable opinion, and I am very anxious that if we have integration it shall remain. It would be an awful thing for politics in this country if we had Malta in at one Election and out at the next one and so on. We want some continuity in policy, and that is why it is more than ever essential that we should have an agreed solution. If the majority agreed solution turns out to be integration then I hope that the Colonial Secretary will have talks with Dr. Borg Olivier and Miss Mabel Strickland, the leaders of the other two parties, because I feel that after-this battle is over we should make some, appeal to them to see if they, too, cannot join in and work this constitution.
Her Majesty's Government, of whatever party it may be composed, should be concerned with all the people of Malta and not only with a party. I hope that after this debate the Government will make up their mind and not leave matters until too late. Malta has great traditions—and so have we. In two wars Malta showed great courage and fortitude, and I, personally, have no doubt that if the George Cross island had come to us at any time around 1945 and had asked for integration the voice of the House would have been almost unanimous. We have not forgotten, and this is a matter in which we can well afford to be generous.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir R. Robinson) referred to the fact that we are dealing with an important constitutional issue, and I agree with him entirely. This debate is a sign of the changing times in which we live. It is part of that wave of feeling which is sweeping over the world and affecting, in particular, people whose countries have been in the position of Dependencies The colonial system itself is largely discredited throughout the world, although I realise that there are over 70 million people belonging to the colonial part of the British Commonwealth.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that the House will be well advised to indicate to the Government that an early decision on 1859 this question is imperative, for no one, whatever his opinions, can want delay on such a subject. It is unwise, however, for us to believe that we can completely divorce religion and politics in this particular context. Indeed, it has been clear through the debate that people have been inspired, some of them, by the deep religious convictions which they hold.
I cannot say how much I appreciated the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), and I was so glad that he followed the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling). They are both devout members of the Catholic Church. I am a Nonconformist, and I hold my convictions equally strongly, equally deeply, and I trust that I may express them with equal frankness in this free Parliament.
Through the centuries this House has stood, above all, for religious toleration, freedom of thought and expression.
§ Mr. Thomas
It is a strange day when my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) finds himself at one with the hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ Mr. Thomas
My right hon. Friend is right, of course.
I want to make my position perfectly clear. I would welcome the recognition by this House of the aspirations of the Maltese people to have representation here, but that carries with it obligations in Malta as it does here. It would be impossible, I feel, for an hon. Member of this House to represent a part of the world where there was not complete religious freedom. We could not have certain hon. Members representing parts where there is religious freedom and other hon. Members representing places where there is not.
§ Mr. Mellish
My hon. Friend is advancing a very logical argument, but I wish he would apply it to some parts of Northern Ireland, and be consistent.
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend is not quite so clever as he thinks, because I had the privilege of proposing a Motion dealing with Northern Ireland—I think it was before he came to this House. I can well remember the trouble I got into following my friend Geoffrey Bing who, unhappily, is no longer with us. I stopped short of following him all the way.
It is natural that there should be certain anxieties among the Protestant peoples, for it is not only the Archbishop who must make clear the position in which he stands. Protestants, too, also have rights. My information is that there is only one Maltese Protestant on the island, and she is 93 years of age so we cannot expect much from her—although I am reminded that there is a Methodist Church there which, on Sunday mornings, is full of Service people, and I am pleased that it is.
As my hon. Friend must be aware, there are limitations upon the freedom of Protestants in that island. I believe that if the Government do the right thing and offer representation in this House to the Maltese they should, at the same time, say that the same freedom which exists in these islands shall exists in that island—and that particularly with regard to matters religious.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey did a great deal to lower the temperature of the debate—he did for me, at any rate—after the speech of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion who, apparently, believes that guarantees should be given that the present position shall be maintained.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) has been saying, but in fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling), who is not here at the moment, I would point out that what he was saying was that if integration took place those guarantees should be given. He did not imply that in his opinion integration was necessary.
§ Mr. Thomas
I find it hard to detect any difference between what I said the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said and what the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) says he said.
1861 I, as a Nonconformist, value my own religious freedom sufficiently to want to see it guaranteed to all Her Majesty's subjects wherever they may be, and I believe it will be a retrograde step if ever this House recognises officially, or this House or this land blesses, any form of intolerance.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
To get the position absolutely clear, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is saying that a new religious settlement would have to be imposed on Malta before integration would be acceptable to him?
§ Mr. Thomas
if the Maltese people were asked to grant religious toleration, I should not like to think that they would refuse it. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting to me that religious freedom would be denied?
§ Mr. Bevan
I think we are in some danger of becoming a little confused. As I understand the situation, it is this. The Constitution of Malta confers religious toleration upon all the people of Malta. That is the first point. That is in the Constitution. The second is that matters of faith on the island are questions that must lie between the Maltese Government and the Church of Malta. I think I state the Colonial Secretary's position when I say that, that being the situation, it would be very unfortunate for him if those facts became confused in he debate.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) rather suggests that the only ground on which integration would be acceptable to him would be a change in the present religious situation in Malta.
§ Mr. Thomas
I want to make my own position perfectly clear, whatever anybody else thinks. I could never vote for a settlement which did not permit of absolute religious freedom for Protestants as for Catholics, as much religious freedom in Malta as in Cardiff. I want to see the rights of free men granted in this matter of religion.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman holds a different view from mine.
I make this plea to the House, that it should be mindful that it is the guardian of religious freedom as well.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Commander Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
I am sorry that I have not heard all the speeches in the debate, but I heard the speech of my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, and I had the opportunity also to hear the one made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). One thing is clear, and that is that the debate has been characterised by a complete absence of any party political point of view or feeling on this matter.
I want to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) on the religious aspect. He was stating the view of a very large-number of people in this country when he pleaded for the implementation in Malta of religious toleration. Indeed, the Eighth Article of the Declaration of 1802 says:Toleration of other religions is, therefore, established as a right.…That is also enshrined in the present Constitution, but, at the same time, there are certain disabilities to which the members of the religious minorities, Protestants of all kind, are still subject.
I shall not go into the details, but I refer to the conditions under which mixed marriages, marriages between Roman Catholics and others, can take place, and to the situation which arises sometimes, perhaps not very often, when a Maltese returns to Malta after having married an English girl in this country, to find that the children of that marriage are at a great disadvantage legally. They are, in fact, illegitimate.
I believe that the great majority of English, Scottish and Welsh people would, broadly speaking, wish to see the position of the Roman Catholic Church in Malta as the established Church of that island retained; but surely, at a time when this situation is fluid, and when we are discussing only terms and conditions under which the scheme might be effected, it is not beyond the wit of the Government, in a friendly but realistic: fashion, to ensure with the Roman Catholic Church authorities that, if the established position of the Roman Catholic Church is assured by some kind of guarantee, there shall be these very moderate concessions, affecting only a very small number of people. That. I think, would satisfy the hon. Member for 1863 Cardiff, West and a great many other people as well.
I come now to what the Prime Minister of Malta has described as the crux of the situation, the question of Parliamentary representation here in this House. The arguments for it could not have been better put than they were by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in his speech. We can but envisage what would be the situation if the scheme were entered into and these three gentlemen—they might be ladies, I do not know—arrived at Westminster. For a number of years, may be quite a few, there would be inevitably a sense of unreality about the functions they would discharge as Members of this House. However, I think that the arguments are persuasive, that there could not be any scheme of integration, or union, as I prefer to call it, unless that Parliamentary representation were part of it. I trust, therefore, that that will be accepted as part of the scheme, if it is decided to proceed with it.
Now I come to the question whether this House and the Government should regard themselves as satisfied that they have received any indication entitling them to proceed with the scheme. Various suggestions have been made, not, I think, for another referendum, but, perhaps, for a general election. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) suggested that the question should be a feature of a General Election here. It seems to me that those who advocate that course lack any sense of the urgency that is now sweeping right over the Mediterranean people. I do not think that those people could wait as long as that.
There is the question, therefore, whether there should be a general election in Malta itself. I want to speak plainly and say that in my view the results that we should be likely to get from a general election held in Malta on this issue at this time would be so highly charged with emotion and misrepresentation that they would not be informative and likely to help us in our deliberations here on whether we should proceed with the scheme.
On the other hand, I think that the time has come when the Government, 1864 immediately following this debate, cannot any longer put off coming to a firm decision as to what they will do about this problem. Although I personally regret that the situation should be such that we have to infiltrate Members from another country, Colony or Dependency into our Parliament to help us manage our domestic affairs, if that is to be the price in order to maintain in a firm and new unity the loyalty of this ancient Dependency with which we are so closely linked, and which has performed such great service for our kingdom, it is not too high a price to pay, and a scheme of union should go forward.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins (Birmingham, Stechford)
I would agree with a great deal of what the hon. and gallant Member for Worcestershire, South (Commander Agnew) has said, except that I do not think that I would approach the idea of having three Members from a Dependency outside the United Kingdom in this Parliament with as much reluctance as he felt necessary to do. I was, however, particularly in full agreement with the hon. and gallant Member's views about the urgency of the present situation.
I want to address myself not to the merits or demerits of integration as such but to the question of what is the position, after the referendum in Malta, of people who would take the view that they would accept the Report of the Round Table Conference if there had been a much larger majority for integration in the referendum but, given the result of the referendum, now feel great doubt. This seems to be the position which The Times took up in its leading article this morning.
I should like to discuss what one ought to do in the present position and what is the present state of mind of the people of Malta as far as one can see it after the result of the referendum. With the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir R. Robinson) and four or five other hon. Members, I had the opportunity of being in Malta while the referendum took place. I do not think that visiting polling booths for two days, and discussion with religious and political leaders in Malta, places one in a particularly strong position to judge the significance of particular results of the referendum, but I should like to say something, first, about the way in which the 1865 referendum was conducted technically and, secondly, about the wider considerations.
In spite of the impression which the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) gave, there is no doubt at all that that referendum was conducted in a thoroughly fair way, in the sense that conduct in the polling booths was exactly what it should have been, that voting was perfectly secret as far as the literate voters were concerned, and that the votes were properly counted—indeed in rather a stricter way than is often the case in this country. I saw some votes disallowed as invalid, to the disadvantage of the Government party—votes which I am perfectly sure the town clerk of Birmingham and returning officers generally in this country would have allowed as valid by expressing the intention of the voter in a British General Election.
There is no doubt that in all these ways the referendum was conducted fairly. The Colonial Secretary referred to the "trusted friend" procedure. I would agree that that is not a particularly desirable procedure or a happy precedent to follow in the future but, equally, as far as I could see—and I think that the hon. Member for Blackpool, South, would agree—that did not result in any way in swelling the total which the Government obtained beyond the figure which it otherwise would have been.
The referendum was also perfectly fair in the sense that nobody was open to any material disadvantage according to which way he voted or whether he did not vote at all. There was, of course, the question, which has been raised, of public meetings before the election. It is true that there was a certain amount of disorder at some of the opposition public meetings, but this did not take any extreme form. There was practically no evidence of violence, but evidence rather of some good-natured shouting which is liable to take place in any election campaign.
It is necessary to realise that as an offset to the possible difficulty of getting a quiet hearing at public meetings the Opposition in Malta had almost complete control of the Press. In addition, there was the strong opposition of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the inevitable effect that this had on the Election. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion 1866 referred to the Archbishop's broadcast which took place at rather short notice after all the nominally political speeches in the election had been concluded.
This, it must be remembered, was a political speech in the sense that it was specifically dealing with matters which were before the electorate at the referendum and there is no question at all that it would not have been delivered had not the referendum been about to take place in two days' time. Inevitably, in a country as strongly Catholic as Malta, quite apart from the much greater length to which some parish priests went, and of which there is clear evidence, the effect of this was considerable. I would no' like to say how many would have voted "Yes" had there not been this ecclesiastical pressure, but I have no doubt that some would have done so.
In all the circumstances—circumstances in which the Archbishop felt it necessary to say that the Maltese Government had declared war on the Church—it was very remarkable that the affirmative vote was only 600 less than the Maltese Government obtained at the general election a year before. When religion enters politics in this way, it is, of course, difficult to distinguish between what is and what is not improper pressure, because everybody casting a vote in any election anywhere does so with a certain amount of conflict of intellectual and emotional pressures. But there was a very strong force working against the Government and one must make full allowance for it.
How do we interpret the results of the actual figures of the referendum? The Colonial Secretary drew a pertinent analogy with the Newfoundland referendum of 1948, but he ran through the figures so quickly that I do not think that they sank in and impressed the House as much as they should have done. The people of Newfoundland were asked to decide by referendum whether or not they wished continuance of government by Commission, whether or not they wished to have responsible Government, and whether or not they wished to enter into a confederation with Canada.
On the first ballot, confederation with Canada, which was the solution eventually adopted, ran second. There were 68,000 votes for a responsible Government, 61,000 vote for confederation with 1867 Canada and 20,000 votes for the Commission continuing in existence. On the second ballot confederation went ahead with between 78,000 votes as against 71,000 for a responsible Government. It was a very narrow majority. Of the total registered electorate, almost exactly the same percentage voted for confederation as voted for integration in Malta. In Malta, it was rather more than 44 per cent.; and in Newfoundland rather less than 44 per cent.
In Newfoundland, there was a more substantial adverse vote. Whatever may be said about abstention, which can indicate a whole range of different political feelings, a given number of abstentions cannot possibly be reckoned as the equivalent of a given number of adverse votes. In the case of Newfoundland, where confederation went through and, as far as I know, without claiming expert knowledge, has worked satisfactorily, it was accepted by the population on a vote less favourable to the proposal than that which has taken place in Malta. There, I think that the Colonial Secretary made a very pertinent comparison.
It may be said that in Newfoundland we had to do something because we could not maintain the status quo. That is equally the case in Malta now. There has been a grave tendency on the part of hon. Members not very favourable to integration to underestimate the danger of doing nothing and a tendency also to put forward no practical, constructive alternative solution. This was marked in the speech of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, who gave no hint of a practical alternative solution except to say that Malta had been happy under the Church for 2,000 years. I did not find in that statement any proposal which was encouraging. It is obvious that there is no clear-cut alternative solution.
Now I want to say a word about the question of economic aid. The Colonial Secretary said that this was not conditional upon a particular constitutional solution being accepted by Malta. Of course, it is right that the right hon. Gentleman should say that, because it would be wrong if we held out a given amount of economic aid and said that Malta could have it if she accepted this constitutional solution. At the same time, it would be foolish if we were to get into 1868 the position of thinking that the economic future and the economic prosperity of Malta is entirely divorced from a satisfactory constitutional solution.
Surely nobody will suggest that Malta will have much future economic prosperity unless she achieves a satisfactory constitutional solution. No one will say that whatever happens in Malta, however unto-operative a Government she may have there, the United Kingdom will go on pouring out a given amount of aid year after year in the future. Even if the United Kingdom did so, would it be much good if Malta, for years to come, devoted her attention to constitutional problems instead of building up her economic prosperity? Therefore, it would be unfortunate if from the very proper words of the Secretary of State for the Colonies this afternoon, the impression got about that the economic prosperity of Malta is in no way bound up with achieving a satisfactory constitutional solution.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, who, I am sorry to say, is not here, said that we were building up a great deal too much on one party, perhaps even on one man, in Malta at the present time. I do not believe that anyone wants to do that in our relations with any part of the Commonwealth. At the same time, it is difficult to visit Malta without getting the impression that the only leader of real force and ability is the present Prime Minister. It is difficult to build much on the other parties.
Clearly, the Constitutional Party counts for very little, despite the personality of Miss Strickland herself, to which the Colonial Secretary referred, and the solution put forward by the other party—the Nationalists—besides being cloudy to a degree, are clearly unacceptable to anybody in this House. I know of nobody who can envisage Dominion status as being a practical solution. That is so obviously the case that it need only be put up to see how impossible it is. We cannot make a Dominion out of a dockyard, and that is what the position would be.
While one does not want to build too much on one party, still less on one man, it is important to recognise the realities of the present situation. I believe that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion was wide of the mark when he referred to Mr. Mintoff's narrow majority. After 1869 all, the Malta Parliament, under its existing Constitution, is elected on a system of proportional representation. If the system by which that Parliament is elected were the same as the system by which this House is elected, he would have a majority of three to one.
Mr. Mintoff polled 57 per cent. of the votes cast, which is a far larger percentage than the votes polled by the party opposite at the last Election or, indeed, by any major party in this country at any Election in the recent past. Therefore, it would be unwise to regard that as being a narrow majority, or to believe that there is in Malta a situation in which there could be an alternative Government in the present circumstances.
There is, of course, a political force besides Mr. Mintoff in the island, and that is His Grace the Archbishop. There is no question but that these are the two forces in the island today. As I understand, however, the Archbishop has never come out against integration as such. What he has been against is integration without adequate guarantees. He has always been a great deal more concerned about guarantees against the Government of Malta than guarantees against the Government or Parliament of the United Kingdom.
It may be open to doubt to what extent the Archbishop is entitled to guarantees against a Government freely elected by the people of Malta. Be that as it may, I agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool, South that there is a possibility of further negotiations between the Archbishop and the Prime Minister. I also believe that there is one essential precondition to those negotiations being successful. This is that Her Majesty's Government should give the impression that they are serious about integration.
If that is the case, then I believe that the Archbishop would be willing to negotiate, and I also hope that the Prime Minister would be willing to do so—I think he will be—and I hope that the negotiations may succeed. If, however, there is the impression that Her Majesty's Government are not serious, or that they will delay for a long time, then the negotiations would not be successful.
I shall not keep hon. Members waiting much longer, but there is this one last point. There has been a hint of a suggestion that we might have another 1870 referendum in Malta. I hope that nobody will consider it seriously. Referenda are bad constitutional devices and they are alien to the British political tradition. The difficulty about a referendum is that we might get into the position, in which we are in danger of being in Malta now, in which there could be considerable abstention, and where it could be said that there is not a clear vote for something or the other.
Then you get a conflict between the apparent weakness of the only political force capable of forming a Government in a referendum and its strength at a general election. When that happens we have an impossible and chaotic political situation. Very many things have been done in the constitutional development of this country without a referendum or without a specific General Election, and by majorities far narrower than those which exist in the Malta Parliament at the present time.
I believe that this is a position in which we can certainly go ahead. We are being asked to take a step which is certainly novel in the history of United Kingdom constitutional development, but it is no more novel than the spectacle which one saw in Malta, six weeks ago, of a meeting of perhaps 10,000 or even 15,000 people, mainly dockyard workers, waving Union Jacks, and crying "Long live England." I think that in those circumstances we should be very foolish to be afraid of taking a novel but important step.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
I hope that no word which I say this evening will give offence to anyone because of their religious beliefs. I have a deep respect for those who belong to various Christian confessions, and nothing which I say is intended to be critical of a purely religious matter.
I want, however, to follow, on one point, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Commander Agnew), and that is on the point of marriage in Malta. It is a subject which is giving a considerable amount of worry to many people in this country, and perhaps I may best put it by giving an example.
If today, in Malta, a Maltese woman marries a British Service man, the ceremony being conducted by a Protestant 1871 minister, that is an invalid marriage. The parties may come and live in England, but that does not make the marriage valid, and any children which are born are illegitimate. May I quote from the Report of the Round Table Conference, from paragraph 79?We consider that on the basis recommended in paragraph 85 below, the Maltese Parliament should remain responsible for legislation on all domestic affairs and, in particular, on such matters as the position of the Church, education and family life. Moreover, although the representatives of the Conference were able to discuss the matter with the Archbishop of Malta only on a hypothetical basis, they felt entitled to give him assurances that, in their opinion, the Maltese Parliament would continue, under any new constitutional arrangement which could be envisaged, to exercise authority in all fields in which the Church is directly concerned, and that the Parliament at Westminster had no desire whatever to intervene in such fields and, following its longstanding tradition, would not so intervene.If Malta becomes a part of the United Kingdom, this matter will not be a religious one but a constitutional one. Just as it would be intolerable to consider a marriage celebrated in a Roman Catholic church in the United Kingdom to be in-invalid, so also would it be intolerable to consider a marriage celebrated in a Protestant Church in the United Kingdom to be invalid. Many years ago, the battle for Catholic emancipation in the United Kingdom was fought stoutly, and rightly won. The battle may again be joined, but, this time, it will be for Protestant emancipation.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Knox-Cunningham) because I think it is useful to remember, in our discussions about Malta, that there is a Protestant conscience as well as a Catholic one. I hope to refer to that point again later, in my speech.
I want to start, as a member of the Round Table Conference, with one general observation on the debate. I feel, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), that there is something topsy-turvey about the debate this afternoon. I am very glad that it is not a party matter. But it still remains a true and remarkable fact that the overwhelming majority—in fact practically every 1872 hon. Member—on this side of the House seems to me to favour integration, and that the only serious opposition to it comes from members of the Conservative Party, who pride themselves on their traditional Imperialism.
That does surprise me. I should have thought that the hopes of getting closer union with a colonial people would have inspired those who are interested in the concept of Empire. All of us on this side of the House, and particularly myself, as Socialists, have been brought up to the idea that we should sympathise with the people in the Empire who wish to emancipate themselves from British rule. We believe that they should have self-determination, even though it is inconvenient to us. That is why I am very strongly in favour of the Enosis of Cyprus with Greece, if it wants it. That is why I am also in favour of the Enosis of Malta with us, if it wants it.
I am really rather baffled how those who are interested in the Empire can look so carefully and find so many difficutlies about accepting something which will tie—and this has hardly been mentioned in the debate—the one surviving stronghold of British power in the Mediterranean to this country. These gentlemen on the other side of the House, who lecture us about the requirements of Imperial strategy, are not prepared to stretch a constitutional point in order to save for us the strategic stronghold of Malta.
I think it must be because hon. Gentleman opposite have genuine conscientious objections. Certainly I believe them to be genuine; and because I believe that, opinions can be altered in a non-party debate, I should try to explain how someone like myself, who started entirely inimical to the idea, became convinced that it was inevitable, against almost all my natural instincts.
I do not think it is sufficiently appreciated what we have done in the island in 150 years. If we had not been in Malta, if we had not decided to have a British naval base there, it would be virtually depopulated today. We see that kind of situation all along the Dalmatian coast. There are islands there from which the people have gone because there was no substance to be got from the poor ground and not enough fish in the sea around. If one sails down the Dalmatian coast, one finds island after island in what 1873 is now Yugoslavia virtually depopulated. If there had not been a British naval base in Malta, the population would by now be a few thousand: We have created the economic conditions in which 315,000 people live on the island. They would have to emigrate tomorrow if there was not a naval base.
I suggest to the House that we must have some responsibility to a population which we have created by our naval policy. The population is there because of what we have done. It is economically as much a part of Britain as the population of Portsmouth, Devonport or Pembroke. The people there are economically integrated into the British Isles, and their whole livelihood depends on us. When that population comes to us and says "May we be a part of the United Kingdom?", it is surprising to me that those Members who claim to be the great Imperialists should deny the political complement to the economic integration which has already been accomplished. The integration is a fact in the sense that the population of Malta economically and strategically are a part of us.
Now, they ask us, now that we have created the conditions in which they can have children, multiply and live on their islands, what sort: of freedom do we offer? They say "You tell us that we cannot have Dominion status, that we can never have genuine self-government"—and they cannot because the requirements of defence mean that the reserved power of any British Government in Malta will constantly trespass on any genuine self-government. So they cannot have even genuine local self-government—far less Dominion status.
So the Maltese say to us "What can we have? You regard us as civilised people. You know that we are perfectly able to use our civil liberties. What future do you offer us? Since you have turned down all the other solutions, can we have one remaining solution? Can we become part of the United Kingdom?"
Frankly, I find it very difficult to say "No." If I say "No," I am saying that 315,000 people must be permanently denied their liberties and constitutional rights because of our strategic necessities in the Mediterranean. I find it particularly difficult to do that, when I know 1874 that if I deny them these rights we shall lose the value of the base in Malta as we have lost the value of the base in Cyprus. That is why I feel there must be overwhelmingly powerful objections if we are to turn down the plan for integration.
Perhaps I might speak frankly to the opponents of integration on the other side of the House. I will not suggest for one moment that there is any cultural affinity between the Maltese and ourselves. There could not be greater differences. The reason for the demand for integration is not because the Maltese people feel British. It is because there is no other way for them to achieve the full rights of citizens except as citizens of the United Kingdom.
I have tried to listen to the objections from the other side of the House. I think I can list four. I will start with the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Antrim, South, because so little has been said about it. I, too, come from the Protestant side. I must say that when I went to Malta I had to suppress a great deal of indignation inside me at what I saw there. I noticed that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) suppressed his Catholic feelings far less than some hon. Members on this side of the House have done. If we have suppressed our Protestant feelings it is because we care about the future of Malta. I am glad that the hon. Member for Antrim, South said what he did—because there are certain things in Malta which really cause one's blood to boil, especially when we remember that in the Constitution of Malta full rights are guaranteed to every citizen.
I would merely say to hon. Members opposite that it was precisely because we were aware that any solution that we had to offer had to be compatible with the Protestant conscience of our country as well as with the Catholic conscience of Malta that the members of the Round Table Conference laid it down as a principle for ourselves that there could be no question whatever of a British Government giving any further guarantee to Malta than a guarantee against British interference.
Any question of the relations of the Malta Government and the Church of Malta must be left entirely to the people 1875 of Malta, for we must never permit ourselves to be accused of siding with one against the other. I do not want to side with the anti-clericals against the Church. But I also do not want to side with the Church against the anti-clericals. Those are issues which are entirely for the Maltese people themselves to decide. That is why we felt it was so absolutely vital to make that point clear in our recommendations.
If the Archbishop seeks guarantees against the democratically elected Government of Malta, I think we have to warn him that no one can guarantee for ever a Church which violates the conscience of its people, and certainly this country can never be used for that purpose. I do not believe that any really sincere Catholic would want it to be used for that purpose. I know that if we committed ourselves to being so used, then the Protestant conscience in this country would be aroused and would say "That agreement is one that we cannot possibly accept". Therefore, I would say to the hon. Member for Antrim, South that I believe that his objections have been completely and fully met in the Report.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Does not the position remain that when there are Members representing Malta in this House no Methodist minister will be allowed to wear his clerical collar in Malta, that no Salvation Army officer will be allowed to wear his uniform, and that there will be no freedom for Protestants?
§ Mr. Crossman
I want to get this objection perfectly clear in my own mind or as clear as it was when the Conference was discussing the matter in secret, as it did for hours. It is true that there will be no change or improvement from that point of view as the result of integration. It is also true that some of us would have liked to see an improvement—of course we should—but we also realised that we had no right to interfere and force the improvement. If there is to be an improvement, then it must come from the spontaneous desire of the Maltese people to make a change.
My reply to my hon. Friend is that we felt that the strict non-interference in the affairs of Malta must be both ways. If we do not interfere on the side of the Catholic Church, we do not interfere on 1876 the side of the Protestants either. We think that in due course the people of Malta will do the right thing in their affairs.
I want now to turn to the Catholic objections and deal with them very briefly. They were dealt with admirably by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I have no doubt what the objection of the Archbishop is. We all know it. The Archbishop fears that integration will allow a new breeze, a new liberal air, to enter Malta. I can understand his fears. I do not believe, however, that they are shared by all Catholics, and that was proved by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey.
If the Archbishop fears for his power, the way to make certain that his power is undermined is to create anti-clericalism in Malta, for clerical tyranny breeds anticlericalism. What some of us want to see is Malta saved from the sterile conflict between a clerical party and an anticlerical party. I believe that that aim will be assisted by integration—it certainly will not be hindered by it. All I would ask is that any hon. Gentleman opposite will bear in mind that there are Catholic reasons for believing that integration may be a good thing for Malta.
There are two other objections that I have heard. The first relates to economics, and it is a serious one. It is true that we are accepting the principle that by a lavish expenditure of money from this country, parity should be achieved between the standard of living of the Maltese and our standard of living here. Even if parity does not mean economic equality, it is a very expensive thing to achieve. Hon. Members may well say "Why should we undertake this job for Malta? Why should we say that we must achieve, for the Maltese dock worker, parity with the British dock worker?"
I have also heard the phrase "Why can we not go on as we are now going?" I have two answers to that. One is that if we try going on for much longer as we are going now the strikes in the dockyards will get worse and worse because one cannot live on an island preaching democracy for 150 years without the island taking one seriously. The Maltese dock worker is saying "Nobody denies 1877 that I am just as skilful as the British dock worker who comes out from Britain to work alongside me. Why should I not have parity with him?" The Maltese is not asking for equality. He says "Why should I not be able to earn sufficient for me to have the same standard of living as my equivalent on the other side?" There is no answer to that challenge. Unless this country is prepared to yield the principle of economic parity, it will lose the good will of Malta and turn those friendly people into hostile inhabitants of our last surviving base in the Mediterranean.
I might be asked "What has integration to do with parity?" Why should we not just give the Maltese economic parity and leave out this political integration?" To that I would make one very hard-boiled reply: to pump money into a disgruntled Malta, without any ability to control expenditure, is bad policy. Integration at least means that there are three Maltese Members in this House to take part in our debates on the Admiralty and on the dockyards, and who will hear our discussions and who will have some responsibility.
We are more likely to have money well spent if Malta's economy is integrated into the United Kingdom's economy than if it is left outside and we are merely pumping in money to give the Maltese satisfaction. Is it very wise to try economic bribery, for that is what it comes to, because one is not prepared to have three Maltese here? That, coming from the other side of the House, is a most extraordinary argument.
§ Mr. Maclay
That is a very good point, but the economic commitment was made before the Round Table Conference ever sat.
§ Mr. Crossman
I quite agree.
I had hoped to speak after the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), because I was waiting to hear the constructive proposals of those who oppose integration and see how effective they were. The right hon. Gentleman said that the commitment was made. He and I were on the Round Table Conference after the commitment about the economy was made, and he and I and others together had to decide which political framework would make the economic commitments work better, integration or 1878 a disgruntled Malta. It was precisely because the commitment had been made that we thought that the argument for integration was preferable. We had to find a political framework in which we would not waste our money and in which we should have some control over our money.
The fourth argument which I have heard is the constitutional argument about this House of Commons. This proposal is a major break in our constitutional tradition. We ought not to deny that, nor do I believe that it is wise to deny that it may be a precedent for other Colonies. It is quite unrealistic to deny the possibility that other countries—and here I am thinking of Gibraltar and the Gambia—if this arrangement works, will be inspired to dream of the same thing. It would be only sensible to view this as a precedent, which may be followed by other Colonies, if not by many.
Not only is having three members from the Colony as Members of the House of Commons a precedent, but it is also a fact that the Maltese Members will have full representation without taxation. In view of the principle, "no taxation without representation," it is surprising to have representation without taxation. It will be a very remarkable thing to have people coming to this country and being full Members of the House of Commons and yet having their own social legislation, their own tax legislation, their own customs and so on, all run by the Maltese Parliament for a transitional period which may last a long time.
It is perfectly fair for any hon. Member to say that he would like to look at this proposal very carefully indeed before accepting it, and to ask whether we are justified in doing it. I would say to the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West that if I saw any alternative way of holding Malta loyal, I would not myself have accepted this unprecedented action. The Round Table Conference would not have been entitled to advise this House to accept integration, unless we had seen it as the only possible way of dealing with this problem satisfactorily. I believe that it is only under those conditions that we are entitled to set this precedent.
Certainly I was not the only member of the Conference who would have much preferred to see Malta integrated into the 1879 United Kingdom even more than is proposed. I should have liked it to become as close as an English county or an English county borough. I do not believe that integration will succeed, unless in the long run that happens; but we must be clear that it is not practical politics to propose it now. Maltese public opinion is not ready for such a suggestion, mainly because of the Catholic Church.
We are devolving on the Maltese people far more than we would normally have done in integrating a Colony into the United Kingdom. Indeed, it is very misleading to call this integration. Far from being integration, it is only a first step which can—and I hope will—lead to integration in the long run.
Finally, I should like to ask the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West—with whom I argued day after day—whether, if we do not have integration, he proposes that we should make the other constitutional concessions on the reserved powers, as the Maltese Opposition wants? I shall listen to his answer with the greatest care. Shall we say to Dr. Borg Olivier that a whole number of powers now reserved to the Government shall be given to the Maltese? If the right hon. Member says that, then I tell him that he is a very bad Tory—[Interruption]—then he is an irresponsible Liberal, because it is unwise to concede power to a people who are fundamentally dissatisfied.
After all, if integration is refused, the Malta Labour Party will be in opposition. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared, at that time, with the country riven by conflict, to concede a vast amount of the reserved powers now in the Governor's hands and hand them over to the Maltese people? No responsible Government could conceivably make that concession in a period of violent conflict in Malta.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
Will the hon. Member not agree that the converse is true, that if integration comes about, there will be controversy from the other side?
§ Mr. Crossman
We are now beginning to see that the objections are really based on ignorance. Of course it is true that there will be some conflict. But on reintegration there will be British authority 1880 in Malta. We shall not be moving towards more and more Maltese freedom and away from British authority, but to more and more integration of Malta within the laws of this country. Surely, if one is in danger of conflict, one must strengthen and not weaken the central authority.
§ Mr. Craddock
This is a very important point which worries me. When the hon. Member referred to me as being ignorant, may I respectfully refer him to paragraph 80 of the Report? It reads:Finally, we recognise that a decision to grant representation for Malta in the Parliament at Westminster would not meet the wishes expressed to us by the representatives of a large section of the Maltese electorate.It is that on which I based my comment.
§ Mr. Crossman
We are therefore agreed that whatever we do, there will be a period of some political conflict in Malta.
All I was saying was that if there is this period of political conflict, it is unwise to devolve a lot of extra powers on the local people. It is wise to keep some powers in one's hands. A proposal for integration is a proposal to have more power in London and less in Malta. In the long run Malta will become part of the United Kingdom. I do not think that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) would really deny that a refusal of integration will mean discontent in the docks on a formidable scale for an indefinite time. The hon. Member for Spelthorne shakes his head, but those dock workers believe in this. They believe passionately in the idea of parity. If the British people wish them to continue to raise their Union Jacks and say that they are our friends, we must not turn this proposal down flat and say to the first colonial people who wish to send members to the House of Commons, "No, we must take care, it is too difficult." Should that be said, I suggest that the enthusiasm of the Maltese people could be transformed into resentment and disappointment.
May I add a word to what has been said to the Colonial Secretary by a number of hon. Members. The one thing not to do is to say, "I believe in integration, but we need not hurry about it". Or, "Integration, after a reasonable period for reflection". There has been quite a 1881 period for reflection in Malta, and tempers are getting worse and not better. The major reason for that is because the British Government have sat on the fence now for quite a number of months since our Report was published. If, as I hope is the case, we desire to get Malta to accept our solution, there must be action by the British Government. It is not fair to go on saying to the Maltese people, "We must find out what you think about it ", while the British Government refuse to think about it or to make up their minds. If we desire the Maltese to make up their minds in favour of integration, the British Government should make up their minds now.
I was tremendously impressed by the Colonial Secretary until the last six sentences of his speech. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have made up his own mind but to be in some doubt about whether he could afford to do the right thing because of some of the hon. Members behind him. It would be a grievous thing if our relations with Malta were ruined because a Colonial Secretary who wanted to do the right thing had not the courage of his convictions, whatever might be said by some of the hon. Members behind him.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)
I first visited Malta at the age of fifteen and I have been a frequent visitor to the island ever since. I am, therefore, particularly pleased that this debate has taken place, because, at least, it demonstrates the very great fund of good will which exists in this country towards the George Cross island. I hope that all the Maltese people will bear that in mind, whether they believe or disbelieve in integration.
In general I support the integration proposals for two reasons which I will not elaborate because they have been repeatedly stressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I support them, first, because I believe it the easiest way to channel in the economic aid so essential to the future of the island, and, secondly, because there seems to be no reasonable alternative, as Dominion status without control of foreign affairs and defence is not true Dominion status. However, I also believe that these proposals are conditional and that they depend on two fundamental matters. The 1882 first is the expression of complete agreement by the vast majority of the Maltese people and, therefore, I support hon. Members who have asked the Government to put forward a definite policy and submit it to the people of Malta in another general election to be held on the suggested new constitution.
But if this course is adopted, what happens about the clause in the existing Constitution which requires a two-thirds majority in the House at Valetta before it can be changed? That question has already been raised and I hope that my right hon. Friend will answer it because I consider it most important.
I believe it most important that the Maltese people should have a chance of declaring their unanimous support of the new constitution when it is formulated. At the moment there exists a large number of people in Malta who feel that the Imperial Government have taken sides in this matter and have come down fairly strongly in support of the present Maltese Government. That belief has been fostered by certain Government representatives in Malta who have shown great friendship to the existing Government and have not been too careful in their relations with the Church. Here may I say that I am not referring to the Governor of Malta, an officer under whom I had the honour of serving during the war, and for whom I have the greatest respect.
The second condition required for the integration proposals to succeed is agreement with the Catholic Church. I must deal with this point in a little more detail, because I believe it to be fundamental. If this House decides that integration is the right answer, I do not believe that it has a hope of succeeding in Malta against the opposition of the Church. The Declaration of Rights of 1802 which was signed when Malta became part of the British Commonwealth, states in Clause 6 that:His Majesty the King is the Protector of our Holy Religion and is bound to uphold and protect it as heretofore …It also states in another Clause:… reference in spiritual matters shall only be had to the Pope and to the respected generals of the monastic orders.It also states:that freemen have the right to choose their own religion. Toleration of other religions is therefore established as a right.…1883 If we alter the Constitution of Malta, do we, or do we not, alter that Declaration? At the moment the Church in Malta is protected by that very solemn Declaration which has been in force for 150 years. If the Constitution is altered, does that alter as well?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
May I say straight away to my hon. and gallant Friend, whose long association with Malta is well known and whose help is welcomed, that that Declaration most certainly would not be altered under any new Constitution.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
But surely it is fair to remind the House, since possibly not all Members may know, that this was a Declaration by the Maltese. It has not been clear from the words of the hon. and gallant Member during the last five minutes that that Declaration of 1802 was a declaration by the Maltese.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
So far as that is true, it will fall to Her Majesty's Government to devise words which give the same authority from the United Kingdom's standpoint as was accepted only from Malta.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me to say a word before he resumes? This is a very important matter. Would he indicate whether, if what the Minister has said takes place, we would still have the difficulty that Nonconformists in Malta are not allowed to speak in the open air on religious issues?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I noted what the hon. Member had said in the course of his speech and I had intended to refer to that briefly in my reply.
§ Major Wall
I thank my right hon. Friend for his assurance. I do not believe, because of statements which have been made by leaders of all parties in this House, that there will be a great, or in any way an insuperable, difficulty in negotiating under a new constitution revised relations between the British Government and the Roman Catholic Church in Malta. I do not believe that is an insuperable problem, but I do believe the agreement must be written into the constitution. Indeed, that is what my right hon. Friend has said.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
What weight does the hon. and gallant Gentleman give to the last words he read from the Declaration of 1802? That is a point which worried me a great deal when I was on the Round Table Conference, because it does seem to assure tolerance. It is true that it was made by a Maltese group of civilians, but it has always seemed to me to guarantee reasonable toleration within the island to people who do not worship with the Roman Catholic Church.
§ Major Wall
I think the real problem expressed by the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members arises from the fact that the law of Malta is Canon Law; if, for example, the relationship in mixed marriages is to be altered, then a fundamental change will be made in the whole law of Malta. I think that such a change would give rise to great dissension. Mixed marriages, the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham)—that is to say, when Catholic and Protestant are married in Malta in a Protestant Church—have, I understand, given rise to difficulty only six times in the last twenty years; so although it is a matter of principle—I quite appreciate that—it is not really very often a material problem. I would respectfully suggest that if one is to alter the whole Constitution of Malta for that one matter, far greater difficulties may well arise.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
The reason why it has arisen only six times in recent years is because people go over in their dozens to North Africa and get married there.
§ Major Wall
May I now consider the relationship between the Maltese Government and the Catholic Church in Malta? It has already been said by hon. Members on the opposite side of the House that the Archbishop has himself said he is not against integration as such but, as spiritual ruler and director of the people of Malta, he is bound in his duty as Archbishop to say when he feels that the faith or morals of his flock might be affected by some important proposal.
I should like to make quite clear the attitude he took in regard to the referendum. This has already been discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling). The attitude 1885 of the Archbishop towards the referendum was, to my mind, very similar to the attitude adopted by Her Majesty's Government towards the debate on the abolition of capital punishment. He advised his flock not to support the proposals, in exactly the same way as Her Majesty's Government advised us not to support the proposals of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). In each case the Archbishop and Her Majesty's Government respectively left it to the consciences of their supporters to decide for themselves which way they should vote, and in each case quite a number of their supporters took a line opposite to that which they were advised to take. It is of great importance for the House to realise that, because if the Church had taken a much stronger line the results of the referendum would have been very different. We must remember that, because the same situation may arise again in the future.
I am quite convinced that the differences dividing the Prime Minister of Malta and his party, and the Archbishop of Malta, are not nearly as great as they have been made out to be, especially upon such fundamental questions as education, which is the affair both of the State and the Church. Given good will I believe that those differences could be bridged. I commend the suggestion made earlier, in an interjection, of the possibility of a concordat between the Government of Malta and the Vatican.
Very much depends upon the good sense of the Maltese Ministers when they return to Malta supported, as I believe they will be, by the assurances of this Howe that the integration proposals will have our support, provided that they can obtain the agreement of the Archbishop to those proposals. We must satisfy the objections of the Church upon the fundamentals of faith and morals. Such agreement is essential to the whole future of these discussions.
There is considerable danger that that good will might not be shown in Malta, and that instead of getting better, which it could do, the situation may get worse. I therefore repeat the suggestion which I have already made. In the referendum the people of Malta were asked to vote upon six separate questions. I should like to put the first one last, and deal 1886 with it separately. They were asked to agree that the Parliament at Westminster should have exclusive authority in defence and foreign affairs; that the power of the Maltese Parliament should be extended; that the present dyarchical system of government in Malta should be abolished; that they should agree to certain economic proposals—details of which I shall not go into now—and that there should be better consultative machinery.
I think it would be true to say that all those five proposals are agreed to by all the political parties in Malta. The only proposal about which two political parties do not agree is the remaining proposal, which is for representation at Westminster. There is a fundamental difference upon that issue, and I put forward my previous suggestion not in order to defeat the integration proposal but to try to prevent further strife between the Church and the State. I suggest that the Government should bring forward a new Constitution embodying the first five points, and should make the sixth one subject to four years' delay, when it could be brought into affect by a general election. I know that that suggestion will not be popular with many hon. Members, but it would get over the very grave difficulties which may occur in the next two months. If my right hon. Friend says that this is impossible I shall accept his advice.
I would point out that the Archbishop of Malta does not need the protection of this House. Any Maltese Minister who sets himself against the Church in Malta is bound ultimately to go down in defeat. I believe that the division between Church and State in Malta at present is not nearly as great as may have appeared. I hope that I am right in my belief that, given good will, we will eventually see integration, and that Maltese Members will come here, blessed by the Catholic Church.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
I assure the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) that, not knowing Malta as he does or having been on the Commission, I have no intention of following him in what I may term, with all respect, theological disputations. I shall confine my comment to this most interesting Report, particularly to paragraphs 76 to 78, and to the implications of the step 1887 that we shall take in the future by integrating the island of Malta with the United Kingdom.
As many hon. Members have said, this will be a momentous and important step. The idea of taking a small, distant Dependency and integrating it into the Metropolitan territory here is unprecedented. We are all thinking very carefully about it, and none more than the Colonial Secretary. He knows as well as we do that once this is done other small Dependencies will wish to follow. There is an interesting letter on this aspect of the matter in The Times this morning from Miss Margery Perham. I do not think that there will be a string of territories wanting to follow this step, but perhaps one or two.
I want to take up a comment which was made by the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) in this connection. To have its Members at Westminster will be, for the Maltese, the Gambians, or any other colonial people, a matter of enormous prestige to the Colony. No doubt there will be a desire among other peoples to emulate the Maltese when they take this step. I am not daunted by this prospect. Before this day is out I hope that the Colonial Secretary will concede the principle that, if there is a desire in Malta, as there is undoubtedly, or in Gibraltar and other places, to integrate with the Mother Country they may do so. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) that that should accord well with the staunchly held convictions of Tory Members, who have long been an imperial party and have wished for close links between overseas possessions and ourselves.
I am going to assume in the next few minutes that Malta will be integrated. I cannot believe that any Government, and least of all the present Government, would send out a Commission to Malta and would have the Commission's findings debated if they had no intention of going on with that course to the logical end. It is unthinkable that the Government should now have doubts and fears and should pull out at this late stage. The only thing which could bring about the non-completion of this integration would be defeat of the Labour Party and of Mr. Mintoff at the polls, if and when this 1888 constitutional change is put before the Maltese people at the next election.
We shall see three, or perhaps more, Maltese Members sitting on the benches here in Westminster. I have sat here in several Parliaments and have seen Ulster Members voting and speaking in this House. I see no distinction whatever between having Ulster Members here on the one hand and, on the other, Maltese or Gibraltar Members of Parliament here, taking part in our debates and voting as the Ulstermen have done. It is even possible for us to ask more questions about Malta and have more say in the affairs of Malta, than in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)
Is the hon. Gentleman sure on which side of the House these Maltese Members will be seated?
§ Mr. Johnson
This point is dealt with in paragraph 76 of the White Paper, which I will look at now, in view of that interruption, which has been exceedingly well timed. This paragraph says:We have considered, first, whether there is any merit in the contention that Maltese Members of Parliament, necessarily very few in number, could have little or no influence on the proceedings of the House.For my pant I would welcome them here. What influence they have does not worry me in the slightest. I think that if we can shall we say, take part in their affairs in that Colony, they are entitled to come here. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said, the chief dynamic in the world today is the desire of all our dependent peoples in the Empire to have a say in shaping their own affairs.
If we are to allow the Gold Coast and the Nigerias to become full Dominions, like Ceylon and New Zealand, but other places because of their non-viability—because they are too small in size, lack geographical resources, or because of small population—cannot be Dominions, we still must yield to them what we yield to the Gold Coast—ache right to have a say in their own affairs. Therefore, they must be entitled at some time to have a share in and send members to the sovereign Parliament to debate and discuss their business, and vote on the supply of money spent on their behalf in those territories overseas.
1889 I believe most earnestly that sooner or later these people must come to the Metropolitan Parliament and have a say in how their affairs are dealt with. If they cannot be full Dominions we must find a way to integrate them so that they can come here, be in our midst, work with us on Committees and vote in this Chamber on their affairs. If we are democrats, and honestly believe what we say, we shall have to see that these peoples are entitled to have a say in their own destiny and to sit in a sovereign Parliament.
Other objections are voiced in the next paragraph, paragraph 77, of the White Paper fears have been expressed about the possible repercusssions here and there. Where will these repercussions be? The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove defended the admission of Malta because it is part of Europe. He said that we could assimilate it because it belonged to our culture and continent. Incidentally, he mentioned that Malta is also a N.A.T.O. base, with a large fortress and a large harbour. We could assimilate Malta—and, I suppose, the people of Gibraltar, also—because they are Christian of Europe with a Latin culture, a Christian culture, and all the other things which go to make up our Western way of life. But what happens if the Gambia want to come in?
I was in Bathurst, Gambia, speaking to Mr. Garba Jahumpa and other leaders there, and they said, without any hesitation whatever, "If Malta comes into the United Kingdom Parliament, we, too, would like to be Members at Westminster." This might also apply, although I would not care to commit them, to Sierra Leone, or even Mauritius. If we are to allow Malta to come in, as most hon. Members think that we ought, do we baulk at Gambia? As the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove seemed to suggest that we should take in Malta and Gibraltar because they are heirs to our Hellenic and Christian culture, then, if we do not take in Gambia, we are up against the question whether we admit only whites and Europeans to this Parliament, or go beyond that stage and admit others of different colours.
I submit that once we begin by having Members for Malta in the House of Commons we shall have to go on to the Gambias and beyond, because we cannot stop at whites and Europeans only. I say 1890 to the Colonial Secretary that he is like Julius Caesar—although he may not think it. He is now approaching his Rubicon. He is coming to the crossing.
§ Mr. Johnson
The right hon. Gentleman may come to the same end because we have heard of knives in the back before now. I hope that he will think about this and that tonight he will concede that there is a principle here and that Malta, despite its gallant deeds in the war is not unique. There are other islands and small territories that equally claim to come here. If the right hon. Gentleman were to say to these dependent distant territories, "You can have integration" he would have said a very big thing indeed. Many people overseas will be listening to him tonight, and would then be applying for entrance to this "club" which, I believe, is the finest political institution that has been known in the world. This Commonwealth of Nations is, and has been, the finest democratic institution of free peoples known and if the smaller people, who look to us for guidance and regard us as a shield, decide to opt into this place and to pay us this compliment I say that we should allow them to come in.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
The speech from the hon. Gentleman for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) will alarm some people because of the extent to which it goes. I should like for a minute or two to ask whether he does not see that there is some fallacy in his views. The Parliament at Westminster, first of all, has Scottish and Welsh people interfering with English affairs—
§ Mr. Foster
—and vice versa. That is justified because the representation is wholly at Westminster and there is no devolution of any functions from Westminster to Wales or Scotland. The next step is the representation from Northern Ireland. The powers reserved to the Northern Ireland Parliament are so few that it is justifiable for hon. Members for Northern Ireland constituencies to "interfere" in English, Scottish and Welsh affairs—and vice versa.
1891 When one comes to Malta one takes a big jump and a break with principle, because the matters which are delegated or reserved to the Maltese are so large that when their representatives come to Westminster the only matters common to them and the United Kingdom are those of defence and foreign affairs. The Maltese even have taxation reserved to them for a certain amount of time. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) was right in saying that Malta is a special case. There may be other special cases. I can conceive an argument being put forward for Gibraltar, but I have not applied my mind to that. I rather think the argument for Gibraltar probably would not hold good.
If the hon. Member for Rugby is looking forward to other Colonies joining the "club" he has to get his constitutional principles right. He should be asking for federation. I am an enthusiast for this proposal for Malta—I support it very much and, in fact, proposed it seven or eight years ago—but only on the ground that it is a special case. There is the dockyard, and there is—a sentimental reason this—the peculiarly heroic contribution Malta has made in two World Wars. But it is a special case. I shall have a word or two more to say in a minute about the proportion who have asked for integration, but in my view a substantial proportion of the Maltese people have asked for, as it is called, "integration" which I think is wrong, but is a convenient word to use in this debate.
Those special reasons that apply to Malta do not apply elsewhere, and it is a breach of principle to say that they should. If others are to come in it should really be a federation, where people come into the centre on certain powers reserved to the federal centre of Parliament.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman concede that Gibraltar is on all fours with Malta?
§ Mr. Foster
No, I had not applied my mind to that. I can conceive an argument—and an interesting one—but I would first want to hear the argument on both sides. I can conceive that Malta might not be the only special case.
§ Mr. Foster
It might not be unique but it is a special case, and I make a difference. It certainly would not apply to Gambia. As I am at present advised, I would say that Gambia would not be a special case. If special powers were reserved to Gambia, and it was intended Gambia should send a certain number of Gambian representatives to the Parliament here, when they would be in a position to decide in the United Kingdom, upon matters which, in Gambia, were not within the power of the United Kingdom Parliament, that, it seems to me, would be a breach of sound constitutional principle.
There are two other matters on which I would touch. One is that of mixed marriages and similar matters. The instance occurs to me of a priest in Malta who wishes to give up his priesthood and to marry. By the law of Malta he is unable to do so. If he goes to certain foreign countries the law of Malta may follow him and prevent him from doing that. I deplore that, as I do the law about mixed marriages, but in my view it is much more likely that that situation will be improved if the Maltese send representatives to Westminster than if they do not. At the moment there is not in Malta any sign of that Members being altered. If the three Maltese Members of Parliament were here they might, in discussion with other hon. Members on both sides of the House, as many of us regard the mixed marriage law as wrong, agree that in their country there ought to be some sort of concordat legitimately arrived at with the Church to cure that situation.
§ Mr. Foster
I said that I was an enthusiast. Sometimes an enthusiast does harm to the cause he advocates. The Archbishop may have been right in his fears, but I do not mind, because I think his fears are misplaced in the sense that they are founded on a wrong principle.
I come to the referendum. In referenda generally the abstentionist vote cannot be counted as an adverse vote. In this instance there is a special situation 1893 which allows a certain proportion of the abstentionists to be counted as opposing. Nevertheless, it is most remarkable that in a referendum 75 per cent. of those voting say "Yes." That is a remarkable thing to happen in a referendum. The usual tendency, as has been noticed in Australia, for instance, is for people to say "No."
In this case the persons who were answering the questions were making things extremely difficult for themselves if they gave affirmative answers. They had a long list of questions to answer. Even though there were questions the answers to which were common between the main political parties in Malta, nevertheless, it is the usual reaction of people who are asked questions in a referendum to say "No," and the fact that they said "Yes" in such large numbers is extraordinary. It is so extraordinary that I would say that the Governments of Malta and the United Kingdom would be well justified in saying that in this case the result represents the view of a very substantial majority of the people of Malta.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I have listened to this debate with very great interest, and, like the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), I find myself an enthusiastic supporter of the proposal for what is called—wrongly, as has been pointed out already—integration.
The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to have some qualms, that when the Maltese Members came to this House they would not have the same burdens that we have, in that they would have to deal with only two subjects, namely, defence and foreign affairs. That, of course, is perfectly true, but, for my part, I am not worried about that. It is said that it is a break with precedent; but so was the coming here of the Northern Ireland Members when, in Northern Ireland, there was—and is—a Parliament. Perhaps I should put it this way—that it was an innovation, in the case of Northern Ireland to have a Parliament in existence when, from the same territory as it represented, Members were already coming here.
I am not worried about innovations. This is a very great step forward. Here is the British Commonwealth developing once more, and I want to congratulate 1894 the Government most sincerely, and the Colonial Secretary on his performance, this afternoon. It is wonderful that the Government have been able to bring themselves to take this step forward. Cynically, one might say that it was because there was no other step available to them, but I think that they could have found reasons for finding other steps available to them if they had really wanted to do so.
There are certain Protestant fears about the integration of Malta with this country. It has been pointed out that there are certain consequences of the laws of Malta of which many of us would disapprove very strongly. I regard as barbaric the conditions in relation to mixed marriages and that a Protestant clergyman may not wear his clerical collar in the street, and so on; but it is not for us to interfere with the laws of Malta in this respect if it is the will of the Maltese that these laws should be maintained.
If we think that these conditions are barbaric and unacceptable to us, it is surely for us to try to persuade the Maltese, in such ways as are open to us, to amend their laws. The bringing together of people with totally different outlooks in these matters may have very beneficial effects in the future. We may well influence each other to a certain extent, much as I believe the Western and Russian worlds are bound, inevitably, to influence each other in time, and come closer together, though it may take a long time.
There are also Roman fears just as much as there are Protestant fears. I believe that the Roman Catholic fears are not fears of what we would do in this House, because it has been perfectly obvious, over the last hundred and fifty years, that this country has not the least intention of altering any of the laws of Malta contrary to the wishes of the Church. But it may very well be that the Maltese Government will alter these very laws. The Archbishop is probably far more worried about that than about any possible interference officially by us. He may have fears that, when there is integration, the contacts between this country and Malta in future may bring about changes of which he disapproves. But it is quite wrong for him to expect outsiders like us, for such we are at the 1895 moment, to come in and guarantee his privileges and views against his own people. It seems to me that that is precisely what he is expecting at present.
I am not worried about the precedent from the point of view of representatives of other territories in the British Commonwealth coming here. Each case must be judged on its own merits. I would not lay down any law as to whether this or that territory is eligible for similar treatment to that which we are now proposing to give to Malta. There may well be many others. If there are, I shall welcome their sending their Members here.
This Maltese proposal is a totally different case, I believe, from the case of representation in the French Parliament. There, enormous numbers of their fellow citizens from overseas territories are represented by very few numbers in the metropolitan Parliament. Here, the people of Malta would be represented on a numerical basis comparable with our own. So it is not true to say that we are following the scheme of the French constitutional device of integrating their Colonies with the metropolitan territory, which some people think has not been so successful as ours.
There is, however, one element of similarity between the French system and the one we are now proposing for Malta, and that is that some Members should come here. But it makes a vast difference that the numbers who are to come here are to be on a representative basis comparable numerically with the basis on which we ourselves come here as Members of this House. Therefore, I think that each case of a territory which wishes to integrate with us should be considered on its own merits, and that we should treat each case with the same broadmindedness with which the Government and this House have been considering this Maltese matter. I say that this is a wonderful step forward in flexibility, courage and vision, and I am delighted that it should have been in my time in the House of Commons that this matter should come before us for our decision.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
There is nobody in this House who would more warmly welcome, or who would more go out of his way to help and entertain the Members from Malta, if and when 1896 they come here, than I. I know that this is as true of every hon. Member of this House as it is for myself. Speaking for myself, I would gladly have voted for this Motion had it been not only to note but to approve. Having said that, I would say that nevertheless I think it is not a good step because I think it is not a step in the right direction, even although I am sure it is a step with the right intentions.
The French have a good saying—reculer pour mieux sauter—and I would say that in this case our step in the wrong direction ought to be a prelude to a really big jump which will take us in the right direction. Therefore I make a special plea to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies that it should be a matter of timing; that is to say, timing so that we should do it quickly but also timing in that we should do it with the reservation of temporariness; that it should be until a General Election, by which time it would either be permanently ratified or made into the better step forward which I hope to be able to suggest is a possibility awaiting us.
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) made the point that the logic of integration has become inescapable because there is no other way by which we can meet the case of Malta. That case, it seems to me, is rather like the case of our American colonies which was "No taxation without representation". We have now a case of "No disturbance without representation". It is hard for us to realise the degree of disturbance which is involved in a naval base, and which is involved in the great British base of Malta, to anybody who lives there or who has property or a job or any interest.
We may complain when the local authority has powers given by this House to dig up our land and lay a drain. That is just local, but when we are defending a great Commonwealth, absolutely everything becomes a matter of Commonwealth defence. My constituency in Bath has now become a naval base, and there is disturbance in Bath. Yet it is nothing like the disturbance which takes place in Malta. What we are really seeing throughout the world in all our great bases—and where we missed a particular bus in Suez—is that we did not really appreciate 1897 soon enough that the issue was "No disturbance without representation".
The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) particularly said that he hoped that somebody on this side of the House would make alternative suggestions. I at any rate am in favour, and I propose to make a suggestion of an alternative. Meanwhile because my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) has said why, in his opinion, this is a bad step, and because others wish to speak I do not propose to give my reasons why I think it is not a good step. He has already done much of it, and much is in the OFFICIAL REPORT for all to read.
Surely, is not this the dilemma—that we have here in Westminster the relict of an Imperial Parliament and we are boggling at making this step the jump to a Commonwealth Parliament? Are we not in the dilemma that, with our present constitution, any back bencher here, any private Member can introduce a Private Member's Bill even to do away with the Statute of Westminster and remove altogether the Dominion status from Canada, Australia and all the great Dominions? I know that it would not happen, but that is the very essence of the constitutional position in which this House finds itself.
Again, we have the terrible dilemma that it is conceivable that the Crown's advisers in one territory will be advising the Crown to go to war with the Crown in another area of the Crown's Dominions, where Ministers will be advising a war in the contrary sense.
Does not all that arise because we are neglecting the principles of organisation? In a short period in the Treasury, I had the opportunity of seeing the mechanism which we have traditionally worked out for free collaboration between autonomous Departments of State; the way in which the British Civil Service and our Constitution work, with complete autonomy for each Minister, yet all of them subordinating themselves willingly and freely to a common purpose. It is I think one of the brilliant achievements of the British race. I had a parallel experience of the Presidential organisation in America, and I can assure hon. Members that, so far as collaboration with the Commander-in-Chief as head of the Army and Navy is concerned, it does 1898 not produce so good and freely collaborative an effort between Ministers as an association of autonomous Ministers freely entered into and working freely in its common purpose.
The principles of organisation, are very well understood, and I will not give them here, because there is not the time to do so. The main one is that one should define the purpose of any human collaboration before starting to organise for it. I would say that the Commonwealth purpose is perfectly clear. It is to maintain the peace, and, during peace time, to deny to potential enemies any bases or opportunities from which they may threaten or make war. In war, it is to have defence in resistance; to have offence when we get the initiative; and it is to achieve victory in the end. Given these purposes, I would say that the whole of the British Commonwealth is a unit with that one single common purpose, but there is no other single purpose, other than loyalty to the Crown in which they outvie one another, that is in any way common to all the members of the Commonwealth, and which may, therefore, be included in a common organisation for collaboration.
Therefore, is it not right that we should organise ourselves centrally and as a Commonwealth for the common Commonwealth narrow purposes, and leave to all the constituent members the organisation of all the functions which are the very essence of government? Clearly, the organisation and the real integration which ought to take place for Malta is the integration of a Commonwealth Government and a Commonwealth Parliament. That would really give a fundamental security to the Dominion, because the Crown, having granted to its Commonwealth Government and a Commonwealth Parliament a function within this field, could not take away, by that Parliament, any of the devolved responsibilities and powers, whether they were those of the Parliaments of Westminster, of Canberra or even of Malta.
I would say that during the period until the next General Election this idea could be put to the people of this country. It could flower into a great idea. It could apply potentially not only to the United Kingdom, the Dominions, and all the Colonies. It is within our recollection that my right hon. Friend the Member for 1899 Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) offered Commonwealth status to France. It would be into just a framework that such an offer and such an acceptance could easily fall, and it is one into which the whole of the N.A.T.O. framework could very easily come. Our friends from Northern Ireland might easily find themselves in a much better position with their friends the other side of the border, and Ireland might easily come back into a Commonwealth organised on those lines.
At all events, the point is that the problem facing us today faces us not only from Malta but from all the places where there are strategic bases and where there are British people owing fealty to the British Crown. The problem is one of solving the question of representation so that there is no disturbance without representation and of solving the question of a true integration for those few common purposes which the Commonwealth has.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
My only real claim to take part in the debate is that I was fortunate enough to be in Malta throughout the period of the extraordinary referendum campaign. I was there one month, which was four times as long as the Round Table Conference spent there.
I learnt from a Maltese historian that this is not the first time that integration has been put forward. The first such proposal came during the Napoleonic Wars when Malta was under French domination. It was then mooted that Malta should become a department of France. This was followed six months later by a popular uprising which drove the French from the island, as the result of which historical circumstances have so changed that Malta now seeks to be integrated with us. I trust that there will be no popular uprising if, as I hope, the integration proposals go through.
Like many hon. Members on this side of the House, and I think on the other side too, my opinions have veered from extreme support for the proposal to very extreme misgivings against it. However, I finally came to the conclusion that it was absolutely inevitable, because dyarchy—to use the correct term—is quite unworkable and unsuitable to an adult political people, being as uncomfortable and as unsuitable as it would 1900 be for us to wear a suit of armour in our daily lives. For this constitutional reason alone I am certain that integration is essential.
Nevertheless, I must say that after the campaign I still have some doubts about the result. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) deduced from the figures that there was ample support in the island for the proposal, but I think we must take account of the fact that the majority of those who abstained were at least doubtful about, if not hostile to, these proposals. I plead in aid a quotation from Torch, which is the journal of the trade union on the island, which on 12th January, said:Each vote omitted to be cast by those in favour can and should be considered as one against integration.I must also say that among those Maltese to whom I talked I found only the haziest ideas about what integration was and the rosiest ideas of what it might mean for them in future.
One Maltese said to me—and I am delighted he said it for it is a right and proud ambition—"I want to live like an Englishman." That is a legitimate ambition and I hope that we can help him to achieve it. It is some tribute to the 150 years of British rule that he wants to live like us and not like his other neighbours in the Mediterranean. I am certain that economic parity or equality can be achieved eventually, but it will not be achieved very soon. What I fear is that the delay that will take place in achieving economic parity—not political unity because that will come—will be the cause of widespread disillusionment and frustration in Malta and a feeling of futility because their three representatives can be out-voted so easily.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) is not in his place, but I should like to repeat a question which he put to a witness at the Round Table Conference:This is the thing I am thinking about, what the Maltese is going to find when he has actually got representation. Is he not going to say, 'What have I got? I have only got 3 M.P.s and they can always be out-voted.' I can see somebody saying, 'How much cleverer it would have been for us not to integrate.'If that happened it would bring us into a very difficult and very dangerous situation. It is as well that our misgivings 1901 should be voiced now and then we shall be able to say to the Maltese people that the blame for these troubles must lie fairly and squarely on the shoulders of those of their leaders who have hustled them into this policy. Meanwhile, if it is the true wish of Malta—and if this wish is confirmed as ultimately it must be by a further general election there—then of course we welcome their representatives here and we welcome them warmly, but we must face the fact that to complete this union will not be an easy task now or in the future.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. John Maclay (Renfrew, West)
I am not proposing to argue in any detail the case which was set out in the minority Report of the Round Table Conference and I shall try to avoid the ground covered so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) today. However, there are one or two things I must say, although I am conscious that other hon. Members have not had a chance of expressing themselves in public. If, therefore, I keep my remarks short and I am not completely clear and logical, I hope that I shall be forgiven.
I want to make it abundantly clear that when I started work on the Conference I was very attracted to the idea of Maltese representation at Westminster. What fascinated me was that the arguments which were developed as we went on with our proceedings seemed to persuade people who had been more doubtful than I that Maltese representation at Westminster was right and proper and to convince me of exactly the opposite. That is what has been happening throughout the debate today. A number of speeches have expressed exactly what I feel about the matter and have come to a completely opposite conclusion, simply on the ground that they have said that there is no other alternative.
Before dealing with that point, I must say that I accept, as does the conclusion in the minority Report, the principle that representation at Westminster of Malta constituencies is quite possible in the future. I am not objecting to the principle at all. Therefore, one may be asked, "Why wait?" Why not take a deep breath, a statesmanlike breach, and not miss an opportunity, but accept representation at Westminster now, or as soon as the normal procedure may be completed? 1902 The answer is simple. It must, I agree, be a matter of judgment, and that is why I cannot speak upon it with great intensity. It seems to me that if we move into everything that representation at Westminster would entail, without the people of Malta and the people of the United Kingdom, and other peoples as well, really understanding what is meant and what will happen, we are running the gravest risk of doing the greatest disservice to the people of Malta, to ourselves, and even to some people in other Colonies.
One or two hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), dealt with one of the things which has worried me most. I have never believed it possible for this or any British Government to give an absolute guarantee about religious matters. The hon. Member for Bermondsey took that view. He went further and said that he did not think the Government should try to do so. I am glad that has been said, not by me, but by someone else, and particularly by someone of the religion of the hon. Member for Bermondsey. It has been a matter of the gravest concern to me throughout the whole discussion that, because of the majority recommendations of the Conference, there may be an impression that the United Kingdom Parliament would give a guarantee which, in fact, it could not do.
Where we have something which is unreal, there is grave danger that it will not work. When I say "unreal" I mean where we have two or three Members of Parliament representing constituents to whom they have no responsibility for anything except defence and foreign affairs. But when those Members of Parliament would have full rights of debate, and vote on everything that happens in the United Kingdom Parliament affecting the lives of every person in the United Kingdom and people in other Colonies, that is taking a grave risk. I repeat that it may be a question of judgment about how grave may be the risk compared with other risks, but a risk is there.
We are here talking of three Members, but the principle is the same whether we speak of 3, 30 or 300. I am not referring at the moment to the balance of parties; that is a different argument. But were we speaking of 30 or 300 today, I believe that very different speeches would have 1903 been made. I am worried about the principle of developing a Parliament which has unequal interests in its representation, because the dangers must be very real indeed. I could elaborate that argument, but I do not wish to speak at length. I think I have made it as clear as possible without going into further details.
I come now to the other main point, about which I was challenged by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) and by other hon. Members: if I do not want integration now, what is my alternative? I would answer that because there is no immediate obvious solution to a constitutional problem or any other problem, because one is in a negative position, it does not mean that it is right to jump into a positive position with positive action, if the dangers of that positive action are considerable.
What my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton, who signed the minority Report with me, and I said about that in the Report was clear. I am not pretending that it meets the wishes of the Prime Minister of Malta. But it is worth remembering that it goes far enough to meet the wishes of the Progressive Constitutional Party; and hon. Members must not say that because that party has no Members of Parliament, it does not represent anything. It is an established party with a long history.
The proposals in the minority Report also go a considerable distance towards meeting the interim position taken up by the Nationalist Party. I certainly agree that the minority Report does not contemplate Dominion status at any time, but it is worth remembering that the Nationalist Party was proposing an interim stage of indefinite nature in time, which is not so very different from what the minority Report suggests.
No matter what happens on the constitutional issue, I believe that the reserved matters are in urgent need of revision. The same applies to the consultative arrangements which exist between Malta and the United Kingdom. They are completely out of date and, I would have thought, almost unworkable. Certainly, nobody who has studied them at length will have failed to realise that.
We have dealt at length with economic aid today, and, of course, that must go on; we are fully committed to it.
1904 The question I am going to ask of the Colonial Secretary relates to his treatment of the three points—or, rather, two, if we leave out economic aid—that is to say, improved methods of consultation and revision of the reserved matters. He said that those two matters were part of a package with the constitutional change from the Queen in Council to the Queen in Parliament.
I recognise the validity of the argument that if we go from the constitutional position in Malta of the Queen in Council to the Queen in Parliament we must look very carefully at the revision of the reserved matters. Nevertheless, I would submit that the very carefully chosen words in the minority Report should have made it clear—perhaps it is not so clearly expressed as it might have been—that I do not believe all the proposals in the Round Table Conference Report for revision of the reserved matters and changes in consultation would be practicable unless there is a transfer from Queen in Council to Queen in Parliament. I do maintain, however, that anybody who sat through those long discussions and heard all the evidence must realise that no matter what basic decision is made on the constitution, there are sub stantial alterations possible in the reserved matters and substantial improvements possible in the methods of consultation, without going the whole distance set out in the Report.
That is what I would say to the hon. Member for Coventry, East. I believe that we can make good progress with revision of reserved matters and improvements in consultation which would meet the wishes of two of the parties in Malta; and I cannot help feeling that if the Prime Minister of Malta really wanted to hold his party steady he could do so on that basis. Everything needing urgent action is there—for the improvement of the standard of living, for better consultation, and for movement towards constitutional improvement. All these things can be met.
If at this stage we take the further step of representation at Westminster there is a risk of disillusionment in the island and disillusionment here at home, and risk of some grave misunderstandings in the Colonies abroad. I am not yet convinced that it is right to take that risk when we could make substantial progress 1905 towards meeting the proper needs of the Maltese—for whom I have the highest admiration—in the way I have suggested; and I am not by any means ruling out that at a later stage, when we see the type of progress and whether it is moving in the right way, we might ultimately finish with representation at Westminster.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I do not follow the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) who referred to the inherent risk in the proposals before the House today. I suggest that the risk of any postponement in the implementation of these proposals is far greater than the risk the House has to face in dealing with a new situation as we are asked to do in Malta.
I cannot accept that we may look at the matter of economic aid separately from constitutional change. It may be possible to continue as we have done in Malta, making proposals for grants, making proposals for economic aid in various forms, and yet not facing the basic problem of that country; but it is quite impossible to look upon economic aid as a separate item, which we can give out of charity, as it were, to these people, while we ignore the constitutional framework within which that economic aid must be administered and applied.
We must be sure that within the Maltese Government there exists the machinery which will enable planning to be carried out upon a long-term economic basis, and which will enable plans to go ahead for using the money which this Government may propose to spend in Malta. I am convinced that, while we look upon the problem of Malta as merely or mainly an economic one, we shall fall short of the main issue, which is one not of economics but of the status of the people. They are not coming to us begging for economic aid. It is my belief—based upon impressions I received when I was in Malta and in Gozo—that the people are sick and tired of coming cap in hand to this country, and also of commissions, reports and suggestions. What they are asking for now is some action, and I believe that they are justly entitled to ask for it.
We must face a situation in which new ideas and new proposals must be 1906 examined in the light of twentieth century conditions. Malta affords this House a great opportunity of showing that there is sufficient flexibility within the British Commonwealth to meet an unprecedented situation. In discussing this question with my Maltese friends I have often felt that they are, in a way, calling the bluff of colonialism. We have been very lavish in our praise of Malta. We have made it a George Cross island; we have told its people how brave they are, how much we admire them, and that Malta is a daughter in the Commonwealth family of nations. They are now saying to us, "All right. We are one of your daughters, and we are coming home to stay."
They must be taken up on that point. If they want to come home to stay I hope that the House will welcome representatives from Malta in our midst, and make them feel that they have a part to play in this honourable House not only by representing the interests of their country, but also by the contributions which I am sure they can make in all the wider issues with which we have to deal—especially in the field of colonial affairs.
We are thinking tonight of an island, one-third of whose income is derived from the activities of our Service Departments, and where one-quarter of the population is dependent for its work upon defence projects. Decisions which are taken in this Parliament to increase or decrease defence expenditure have the effect of giving Malta a great deal of work, or taking work away. Once we have taken work away from the people by our decisions, the question of what happens to them once they have become unemployed is at present passed back to the Maltese Government. This puts that Government in a very unfair position, and it suggests that we feel that they should be left entirely to cope with the unemployment which results from our decisions.
I cannot agree with one hon. Member opposite that abstentions from voting in the referendum should be taken as votes against integration. That is not a fair conclusion to draw. Surely all hon. Members in this House have had sufficient experience of abstentions in elections to know that not all those who do not bother to vote are necessarily our enemies; there are habitual abstentionists.
§ Mr. Teeling
The hon. Lady will remember that on the last occasion when a religious issue was decided in Malta 96 per cent. of the population voted. In this case a large proportion of the people did not vote, due to the fact that Dr. Borg Olivier asked his supporters to abstain.
§ Mrs. Jeger
It is impossible for any hon. Member here to say how many of the abstentions were due to intervention by Dr. Olivier.
§ Mr. Mellish
May I help my hon. Friend to get her facts right? The actual votes cast for integration were approximately the same as those which got Mr. Mintoff into power.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. No hon. Member should take the view that abstentions represented 100 per cent. opposition to integration. It is pure fiction to suggest anything of that kind. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) has really given us a point. It was the intention of the Nationalist Party to suggest to this House that all the abstentions were on its side. That was an evil action on the part of the Nationalist Party and one which I very much regret. I shall regret it even more if any hon. Member of this House has been taken in by it. It was a pure subterfuge and a confusion of the issue.
Situations of this kind have arisen in the past, and have had to be considered on their merits. Some of us have looked carefully at the various ideas that have been put forward. At the time of the argument about Irish representation there were suggestions of an in-and-out system whereby Members should come here from Ireland and speak only when local business was discussed. I am glad that that suggestion was not adopted and applied to the Irish Members whom we have with us now.
The Americans tried a variant of that by inviting members from other territories, such as Hawaii and Alaska, and allowing them to vote only on matters concerning their own territories. I am sure that any proposal to create a special class among Members of Parliament would be repugnant to us all. If we are to have Members representing different 1908 parts of the Commonwealth they will come as Members of this House and there will be no limitation of their activities or responsibilities. They must take their full share in this House.
We are making an urgent appeal. I have heard it suggested that there is too much hustle about the matter and that we ought to think about it a little longer and allow the Maltese people longer to think about it. That argument shows failure to grasp the frightening urgency to get this question settled for Malta. This is not a new idea that has just cropped up; the question has been before Malta for several years. The right hon. Member for Renfrew, West said he wondered whether the people in Malta understood what was going on and what was involved. Great efforts have been made by the authorities and political parties in Malta to put the case both for and against to the people. A great deal of Press material has been published for and against. If any Maltese wanted to understand the implications of the question there has been no lack of opportunity.
I cannot follow the hon. Member in his other suggestion that the people of Malta have been given too rosy an idea of what would follow integration, and that it was going to be a matter of benefits for them and expense for us. I would therefore quote briefly from the Election Address of the Malta Labour Party, which put the point very fairly when it said:An undue emphasis on our national prestige or an overestimation of the importance of our Islands in the new disposition of Western strategic forces is not our main danger in the immediate future. It may rather lie in our eagerness to share the benefits of a welfare state without an equal readiness to shoulder the burdens. No lasting agreement with the British Government is possible … unless it is sustained by goodwill on both sides and by a spontaneous desire to take the rough with the smooth.I think that that is a very fair summary of the position, and I am sure from my talks with very many people from all sorts of walks of life in Malta that they do realise that there would be responsibilities as well as advantages in this suggestion.
I would close on what seems to me to be a basic issue. The majority of the people of Malta—and to my mind it is an unequivocal majority—have come forward with this suggestion. I would hope that we can show that within the British Commonwealth there is sufficient 1909 flexibility and sufficient open-mindedness to accept—or more than accept, to welcome—the new ideas which they have put forward. Those new ideas do not come forward purely as a matter of economic need. To my mind—and I hope that this will be the overriding consideration in the minds of all hon. Members—they come forward as a question of the status of the people of an island which wishes to play its full part in the nationhood of the British Commonwealth. Unless this Parliament can show a willingness to accept the question of human dignity which is involved, we shall be failing in the example we wish to make of the British Commonwealth as an institution of incomparable flexibility, and one which, in the twentieth century can come to terms with those ideals of human dignity which we hope to see prevail throughout the world.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril W. Black (Wimbledon)
A number of diverse opinions have been expressed from both sides of the House, but there is one matter about which all hon. Members are agreed, and that is the great debt which we owe to Malta and to its people for the unwavering loyalty shown over a period of 150 years and for the magnificent service rendered in two great world wars. I think that it is equally in the interests of Malta and of this country for the proposals of the Round Table Conference, the advantages and disadvantages, to be frankly faced and discussed, and I want to voice some of the apprehensions which I know exist among many hon. Members and members of the public on this matter.
It seems to many of us that the discussion has been concentrated far too much on the attitude of the people of Malta and of the Roman Catholic Church in Malta towards the proposals, and that not enough consideration has been given to the attitude of the people and churches of this country. A scheme has to be acceptable to both sides. There are two parties involved in any question of integration. There are obligations on both sides, and the views and legitimate interests of both sides must be taken into account. I want to say just a little from the Protestant side, following on what my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) said from the 1910 Catholic standpoint, as to the attitude of our churches in this country.
I have taken the best opportunities that I have been able to of discussing the Round Table proposals with the leaders in my constituency of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and the Free Churches. I have found among all of them considerable apprehensions regarding these proposals, and particularly a very strong dislike of the proposals for the integration of the Island of Malta into the United Kingdom. Those apprehensions have not, of course, all arisen from the same reasons. The reasons have been different, as one might expect, in different cases, but the opposition and the apprehensions have been general in my constituency among the leaders of the various Churches. So far as I can ascertain, that opposition and those apprehensions are fairly general among the churches throughout the country.
I think that we have to recognise the fact that the faith, customs, history and traditions of Malta are vastly different from those of our own country, and while Malta maintains her present status problems from those differences do not seriously arise, but directly Malta becomes integrated into and a part of the United Kingdom then all of us have a much larger concern and responsibility for what takes place on the island of Malta. I do not want to spend time in going over particular matters to which other hon. Members have referred, but in regard to two church difficulties, among others, I would make a passing reference.
One is the position of the schools and the education service in Malta, which at the present time are under the control of the Roman Catholic Church there. If Malta becomes in fact part of the United Kingdom, we then have the Malta schools on United Kingdom territory, very largely paid for by money provided by the taxpayers here, and it would only be natural if the question arose in the not far distant future—no public money without some measure of public control. That is an issue which obviously may arise if integration takes place.
Reference has been made to the difficulties arising in connection with the marriage laws of Malta.
§ Mr. Mellish
In regard to education there are already State schools in Malta, and I understand that there are schools which are entirely run and financed by the Church, so do not let it go out from this House that there is not a measure of control in the State schools already.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
Would not the hon. Gentleman show the same concern for the Catholic schools in this country? For example, there are Catholic schools in my division.
§ Mr. Black
We have the same problem in this country, and the position of the denominational schools has a very long and stormy history. The question of public control going with public money is a matter which over a long period of years has been highly controversial and has for long been debated in this country.
There is also the question of the marriage laws of Malta, to which reference has been made, and which must become a bigger problem and a matter of greater concern to the people here, if Malta becomes part of the United Kingdom. We are told in the Report of the Round Table Conference that the representatives felt entitled to give assurances that the Parliament at Westminster had no desire to intervene in such matters, and that, following its long-standing tradition, would not so intervene. I suppose the importance to be attached to that statement must depend upon the significance that one attaches to the word "intervene."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) said, I think rather surprisingly, that the Parliament here, which stood in very much the same relationship to the Northern Ireland Parliament as it would to the Maltese Parliament if integration took place, had always shown itself very reluctant—indeed, unwilling—to enter into the internal and domestic affairs of Northern Ireland. That really is not the case at all.
We have had fairly recently a debate in this House on a Motion highly critical of 1912 the conduct of the Government of Northern Ireland, and allegations were made in this House against the Government of Northern Ireland of religious bigotry, curtailment of civil liberties, the existence of a biased police force, discrimination in the allocation of council houses and of the gerrymandering of electoral areas. The right of this Parliament to debate those matters was claimed in the debate in this House on the following ground: As Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, how, it was asked, could the democratic Administration of this country allow the continuation of a totalitarian system in Northern Ireland?
Exactly the same argument would, of course, be used in this House in debates upon the internal and domestic affairs of Malta if integration took place and Malta became a part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Mellish
What were the consequences of that debate? The debate took place, but did legislation follow? Is legislation going to follow? The answer is "No."
§ Mr. Black
The consequence of that debate was certainly not to improve the feeling between those members of the United Kingdom who live in Northern Ireland and those members of the United Kingdom who live in England and Scotland and Wales, and it is exactly the point I am making, that to bring the internal and domestic affairs of Malta into discussion, and possibly unfavourable discussion, in this House is not the way to improve friendliness and cooperation between the people of Malta and the people of this country.
What could be particularly disastrous is this. Controversy that took place in this House about the affairs of Malta would be most likely to arise in connection with Church and religious matters. I should regard that as one of the greatest calamities that could happen, alike for Malta and for this country. We in this country have a long history of religious controversy and controversy over Church matters. There have been long periods in our history, with which we are all familiar, of controversy between the Catholic interests on the one hand and the Protestant interests on the other. Fortunately, we have now achieved in this country a relationship between the 1913 various Christian churches of tolerance, understanding, and even friendliness which is an example to most parts of the world.
What we do if we adopt the Malta proposals is to jeopardise all the progress that we have made and run the very great risk of bringing those issues of religious controversy and those matters of church differences back into the politics of this country. That, after all, would be a most deplorable thing for us to do.
The difficulty arises, surely, from the fact that the problem created by the Malta proposals is really insoluble. The Government cannot, in the nature of the case, give an assurance which will go far enough to satisfy the Roman Catholic Church, and such assurances as may be given will go too far to be satisfactory to the other church interests in this country. I can readily understand the apprehensions and concern of both sides.
I should at least hope that the Colonial Secretary, before committing himself irrevocably on this matter, will take the opportunity of consulting with the various church bodies and church interests in this country, whose apprehensions and concern are very real indeed, and see whether it is not possible to arrive at some basis of agreement which will be satisfactory to all, and which, if agreement could be brought about, would have the effect of removing certain great difficulties that many hon. Members feel regarding these proposals.
§ 10.6 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
It was my privilege to serve on the Round Table Conference, to examine with my colleagues the evidence presented to us and to discuss the issues raised in that evidence and arrive at conclusions. It had been my privilege for all too short a period to be Secretary of State for the Colonies and I therefore came to the task of the Conference not without some knowledge of the immediate background of the situation in Malta.
It is very important for the House to realise that the setting up of the Round Table Conference was not the beginning but was the last stage in a process of discussions which had gone on for some time. It is important that the House should have very clearly before it what were the alternatives, as they emerged before us at the Conference, and what the 1914 alternatives are now. It would be a very great pity if our debates continued on assumptions which are false, and unwarranted. I should like, therefore, to run through the history very briefly. The Secretary of State for the Colonies did so, but it is important to go back to the real issues which confronted us.
We began with the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people in Malta have made up their minds that they will not be content to go on living in a country which suffers from an inferior status. That is true of the bulk of the people of Malta, and it is also true of the major parties in Malta. The history of the discussions prove that up to the hilt.
The present discussions began with the present Colonial Secretary's predecessor and not with the present Prime Minister and present Government of Malta but with the Nationalist Government and Dr. Borg Olivier, who came to Her Majesty's Government, through the Secretary of State, and made the request that Malta should be conceded Dominion status. I am not going to argue whether it was quasi-Dominion status or Dominion status. No one who sat through that Conference can have doubts that the Nationalist Party's aim was Dominion status. The application which it made for Dominion status was to be symbolised by the transfer of responsibility for the affairs of Malta from the Colonial Office to the Commonwealth Relations Office, which is the constitutional change that takes place when a country makes the change from being a Colony to being a Dominion.
Her Majesty's Government turned down that proposal. They not only turned it down at that stage, but they made a statement the full implications of which it is important to realise. They said that Dominion status was ruled out for Malta, that the road was blocked. They made an offer—which became known as the Home Office offer—that they would be prepared to transfer responsibility for the affairs of Malta from the Colonial Office to the Home Office. After that, they made another offer. This was before the present Government came into office. They said that they would be prepared to enter into discussions about the implications of the Home Office offer and about consequential changes in the Constitution, all the time on the 1915 understanding that the road to Dominion status was blocked.
The National Government did not take up that offer of discussions and in 1955 the Parliament of Malta was dissolved and an election took place. The Nationalist Party, the party which had been the Government, fought the election on the same programme which eventually they submitted to the Round Table Conference. The Malta Labour Party was led by Mr. Don Mintoff. As tributes have been paid to other leaders, perhaps I may be permitted to pay a sincere tribute to Mr. Mintoff, the Prime Minister, for the revitalised administration he has brought to Malta, and for the bold, imaginative step he took in bringing forward these proposals.
What he said was, "Her Majesty's Government tell us in Malta that the normal road available to Colonies in developing gradually towards Dominion status with full membership of the Commonwealth is blocked. We accept that, because we think the reasons why Her Majesty's Government have made that statement are valid, namely, that because of the strategic importance of Malta, because of our defence position and foreign affairs, it would be impossible for Her Majesty's Government to concede full Dominion status. Very well, if you say that the road towards the fulfilment of our desires for equal political status with you is closed to us, we must seek another road." And the other road they sought is that which has been described as the proposal for integration.
It is clear that now, and for the foreseeable future, the control of foreign affairs and the control of defence vested in this House is, in effect, control over the vital parts of the life of Malta. That is a fact. I do not want to go through the figures because they are available in the Report of the Round Table Conference. The Malta Labour Party said, "We believe that it is essential, if we are to attain equality of status with the people of the United Kingdom, that we shall be represented in the Parliament which controls so much of our life. We therefore put forward these proposals." Those proposals came before us at the Conference.
We examined both. I ask hon. Members to realise that the first thing about 1916 which we had to make up our minds was whether it was essential at this stage to settle the ultimate constitutional objective of Malta. Many hon. Members have spoken here today who have said, "It is a pity that we have to do this." The tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) was, "I wish that at this moment we did not have to settle the ultimate objective of the constitutional development of Malta."
But that is not within our sole right to decide. The people of Malta have a right to say something about this. They say, "We will not be content with colonial status." Both major parties say that. The Progressive Constitutional Party is the only one which does not ask for it, but then it polled only 3 per cent. of the total electorate and did not have a member returned. Both other parties have said that they want a change of status. It was not a question of whether they wanted it, but how that change was to be achieved. Therefore, Malta having said that she was not content to continue on colonial status, it became clear that the choice before us was not whether but how.
§ Mr. Maclay
I think it is important to appreciate that, as far as the Nationalist Party is concerned, at the interim stage they did not demand complete progress towards Dominion status. I think it is only fair that that should be stated.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The interim stage was a stage of quasi-Dominion status, which I will not discuss because it has been discussed before. But I think the right hon. Gentleman knows, because I think that he and I are at one in this, that it was unworkable and impracticable for the reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and, indeed, the Secretary of State himself this afternoon.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes, the interim and the ultimate stages, but the ultimate stage was ruled out by the Government and by the Round Table Conference for the same reason. The intermediate stage we discussed at very great length. Far from reducing the difficulties existing in Malta today, we believe that it would multiply them and would lead to a worse situation. 1917 As a Conference, we came to the conclusion that there was no answer to the Malta Government except to say, "agree." I ask the House what answer it would have given. We had turned down Dominion status, and if we had turned down this proposal for integration, what else did we offer? What alternative is there, because we must have an alternative? It is quite clear that, having turned down Dominion status, if we now turn down this proposal for integration, the present Government of Malta would resign. They would seek a dissolution, there would be a general election, and what would it be about? I say frankly that that general election would be the beginning of a campaign for independence of some kind or other outside the Commonwealth, because we would then have blocked up all the roads to anything like political equality with the people of this country.
I therefore came to the conclusion that the alternative which seemed to me to meet both our own needs and the needs of Malta was the alternative put forward by the Malta Labour Party. I have listened to the discussion today, and nothing said in it has caused me to change my mind. There is really no alternative before the House and before Malta, and I understand that the Secretary of State himself had arrived at the same conclusion—that that is the only possible way in which we can meet both the desires of Malta for political equality and our own strategic and defence needs.
Secondly, we said that in our view, in the special circumstances of Malta, the island was entitled to a special road to political equality, and that that special road should be representation at the Parliament at Westminster. First, however, Malta itself must choose; she must make her own choice. The Government of Malta, before they put their proposals before the Round Table Conference, in the general election which they fought, had given a pledge to the people of Malta that they would eventually submit proposals to a referendum.
I join with other hon. Members in regretting that they gave that pledge. I do not like the referendum, and what happened in Malta has made my objections much stronger than ever they were before, because one knows that what happens under a referendum is just what 1918 can happen in those circumstances and what cannot happen in an election. It is so easy for parties to oppose in a referendum without risking anything, whereas if the parties oppose in a general election they have to run candidates and risk losing their seats. The one is responsible opposition, and the other irresponsible opposition, because all one has to do is to organise a boycott, and the result is that we get the kind of figures which have been quoted, and which I will not repeat.
I regard the result of the referendum, in the circumstances in which it was taken, as a very big victory for the Malta Labour Government and their proposals. In 1955, they fought the election on the same proposals, on the same issue they had a referendum, the result of which is before the House. It is very important to note one or two things. First of all, in the 1955 general election, when they were returned with a majority on the basis of the proposals for integration, the Malta Labour Party polled 45 per cent. of the electorate. In the referendum, it polled 44 per cent. If the polling for the referendum had been polling for a general election, the Malta Labour Party would have been returned with the same number of Members and the same majority as in the general election.
What really caused the doubts about the referendum on the part of hon. Members opposite was the fact that 40 per cent. of the people abstained. It is anybody's guess how many of the abstainers were people who normally abstain and how many were deliberate abstainers, but in previous general elections the average abstention has been 23 per cent. If we assume that the number of ordinary abstainers at the time of the referendum was the same as at a general election, we can then say that the majority for the proposals was a very decisive one. Anyhow, there it is. It is a majority of those who had an opportunity to vote, whether they voted or declined to vote. I regard the vote in the referendum as being a very big victory.
Having given the matter a great deal of thought, I would say that the vote for integration makes any other solution impossible. I would urge hon. Members to think about this. The fact that 67,000 people voted in those circumstances is full justification for us as a Parliament to say that we will now act upon the recommendations of the Conference. I will 1919 come in a moment to the question of the future.
I listened to the speeches of the hon. Members for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) and Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling), and I should like to say a few words about the Church. If I might speak for all who served on the Conference—I happen to be a non-conformist, and I was not the only one—I would say we strived to do our very best to keep the religious question out. In paragraph 79 of the Report we said that, in our view, under the new proposals and the new constitution, responsibility for the affairs of the Church—when I say "affairs of the Church" I include what is associated with the Church in Malta—should remain with the Malta Government and Parliament. That is the first thing, and I hope the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion agrees with that.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The next thing we said was that for 150 years we have had responsibility for Malta and have had overriding powers over it but no Government of any complexion in this country has intervened, or sought to use its powers at any time to intervene, in religious affairs in Malta. We have had Conservative Governments, Liberal Governments, and Labour Governments, and not one of them has done that.
It is our belief that when the new proposals, if they are accepted by the British Parliament and the people of Malta, come into operation, that same respect for Malta and for its religion should be observed. We expressed that opinion in paragraph 79. When the referendum campaign began and it became clear that religion was becoming an issue, I took the responsibility of putting a Question to the Secretary of State.
I asked him, notwithstanding the fact that Parliament had not yet had an opportunity of debating and pronouncing upon the Report, whether Her Majesty's Government were prepared before the referendum to endorse and support the assurance embodied in paragraph 79. The Secretary of State said, "Yes." My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, after we had sought and secured the full approval of our party, gave it our support. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) gave 1920 it his support as Leader of the Liberal Party. The Church in Malta was, therefore, given a pledge in this House by the Secretary of State for the Government, by the Leader of the Opposition and by the Leader of the Liberal Party, that our attitude towards the Church would be that set out in paragraph 79 of the Report of the Conference.
In my view, no Church could have a pledge more valuable than that pledge made on behalf of all hon. Members of this House, of all parties in this House. Any possible Government in the future is committed by the declaration and the promise of its supporters. Beyond that we cannot go. Beyond that this House ought not to be asked to go. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us tonight what assurances will be given. I hope that those assurances will go the full length and breadth of what we have said in paragraph 79, but, at the same time, I hope that they do not go beyond that.
The House should not be asked to give assurances other than the assurance that religion and matters associated with religion shall continue to be the responsibility of the Maltese Government and of the Maltese Parliament. We have given an undertaking that all parties in the House will observe the pledge given in paragraph 79. With that we go all the way, but we should not be asked to go further and guarantee the Church against what might happen in Malta. Speaking for myself and most of my colleagues, I say that we could not do it and shall no do it.
§ Mr. Griffiths
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) agrees that that cannot be done. I hope that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) and others will think that the Church will be well advised to accept those assurances coming from this country with its history and its record of the last hundred and fifty years. If, notwithstanding that pledge, they still oppose this proposal for religious reasons, and divide Malta on it, it would be a bad thing for Malta and a bad thing for this country.
I put it with all respect to the Church and to the Archbishop; here they have a pledge pledging the honour of all the 1921 major parties of this country. Do they accept it? As Secretary of State, I had the privilege of talking to the Archbishop and I have great respect for him. Does he refuse the pledge? No other country and no other Church has ever had an offer of this kind. To reject it—and I say this to the Church and to the Vatican—would be to reject an offer made in good faith which, I hope, will be accepted in good faith.
§ Major Wall
Is it not a fact that the Archbishop has already said that he would accept such a pledge if it were in writing? Could it not have been made before the debate? That makes all the difference.
§ Mr. Griffiths
It was given before the debate. I was seized of that point and was very anxious to meet it. I discussed it with my right hon. and hon. Friends and said that before we came to discuss the constitutional aspects of representation, this was something which we could do and we could do it, because we had done it for a hundred and fifty years. The pledge was given before the referendum. For those reasons, I hope that the pledge having been given we shall not be asked to give more, because we ought not to give more and we ought not to be asked to give more.
We therefore had the general election in 1955, with the Malta Labour Party winning on integration and putting proposals to us; then came the referendum with the results which we have discussed. I now want to put some questions to the Secretary of State about the future. The Government said that they were anxious to have this debate on a Motion to take note of the Report. I would have preferred it, quite frankly, on a Motion to approve the recommendations of the Round Table Conference and a vote today. However, the Government felt that they were bound by the pledge given by Lord Crookshank, when he was Leader of the House, so we have had this debate.
Now, where do we go from here? This is what is important. I join the Secretary of State in saying that this is a matter in which we cannot delay. To delay is to drift; to drift is to run into very serious trouble. I hope, therefore, that we shall have a clear statement from the Government as to what ought to be, and what is to be, our action in the future, and I 1922 want to make some suggestions, if I may, as to what I think ought to be our action now, in having had this debate.
I think that these proposals ought now to be embodied in a Bill. The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) suggested that they ought to be embodied in another White Paper; that that White Paper should be submitted to us, and, presumably, should be endorsed by the House by a Motion that we endorse the proposals in the White Paper; that then, having endorsed them, we should ask the Government and the people of Malta to declare their view upon them in another general election.
That is not fair to the people of Malta, it is not fair to the Government of Malta, and it is not fair to us either. They have had a General Election; they have had the referendum; now I think they are perfectly entitled to say to us, as a Government and as a Parliament, "Let the British Parliament commit itself first, then ask us to pronounce judgment upon that." I would say, therefore, that I do not think it would be fair to ask the Government of Malta to accept the proposal put forward by the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove. I cannot speak for the Government of Malta, but I think that if that proposal is put to them they would be disposed to reject it, and I can quite understand why.
I believe that the Government should now put the proposals in a Bill; that those proposals should be brought before the House and pass through all the stages of a Bill. The date of its operation, particularly of the part of it dealing with representation at Westminster, can be left open. It seems to me that there are two, perhaps three, parts of the Bill. First, there are the changes in the Constitution other than representation at Westminster, which must either be put into the Bill or, if it is to be an enabling Bill, the Bill could give power to the Secretary of State to bring those new changes in the Constitution other than representation into operation by Order in Council. Let those changes be brought into operation meantime.
Another part of the Bill would provide for representation of Malta in the Parliament here at Westminster. It was agreed by all of us at the Round Table Conference that such representation should 1923 date from the next General Election, whenever that takes place. One hon. Gentleman opposite asked for a General Election now. I was very tempted to take up his offer. I wonder whether the Prime Minister heard that one of his back benchers wanted to have a General Election? However, whenever we have a General Election here, it is at that Election, and not before, that Malta will have the first opportunity of returning Members to the House of Commons.
Presumably, unless the hon. Gentleman has his way and we have a quick dissolution, it will be some time, but that can be the appointed day. When that Bill has been carried through the House, leaving the date upon which representation at Westminster becomes operative to be fixed by Order in Council, at that stage, Parliament having committed itself in a Bill, let us ask the people of Malta. Let us have a general election in Malta, and let the general election there either confirm or reject it. That, I think, is the way now in which we can proceed.
Now I want to ask one other thing, if I may, of the Secretary of State. A good deal of reference has been made here—and the Secretary of State said it himself—to the fact that this was all one package. Let me say something about economic aid. There have been suggestions that economic aid in itself is all that we ought to provide now, with some minor constitutional changes. I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in saying how much we were impressed with the evidence before the Conference of the representatives of the trade unions in Malta. I beg hon. Members to realise that there can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the workers in Malta, if not all of them, support integration. Of course they do. There are two claims made by the people of Malta. One is political equality; that is basic. The second is for an equivalent standard of life with us in this country. I do not see how we can reject that.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Will the right hon. Member remember that the official organ of the trade unions said about the referendum that each vote omitted to be cast by those in favour could and should be considered as one against integration?
§ Mr. Griffiths
That may be, but I have dealt with the referendum, and I was dealing with the point about economic aid, because I consider that important. The workers in Malta want to secure that, eventually, they will attain an equal standard of economy with the people of this country. I hope that the Government are agreed about that, I hope that we are all agreed about it, and that we shall take a very realistic view of the matter.
When the people of Malta asked for parity, as they called it, they did not mean actual equality in money terms, but in standards. They agreed that this should not be brought into operation immediately; that there should be some period, some said ten years, some fifteen and some twenty. But the two things they want are clear; political equality, as symbolised by representation in this House, and for the people of Malta and of this country to work together for equivalent standards of life, and we should give them both.
This is certainly a very great venture. We have made great ventures in our Commonwealth before. That is why it still survives. What a venture it was to determine that we ourselves should seek to export from this country our parliamentary institutions to the Colonial Territories and to build up their governmental institutions on our own pattern. That was a very bold venture, but it succeeded. This is a new venture and I want to see it succeed.
I join with other hon. Members in saying that we should regard it as a great tribute that the people of Malta should see their future in closer union and association with us. It is the only way in which we can visualise a future relationship between Britain and Malta on terms of equality, respect and dignity. I hope that the House will not turn it down. I hope that we shall have a clear pledge from the Government that after this debate they will take the necessary action to bring a Bill before us, and to pass it and then let Malta decide. If their decision is, as I believe it will be, in favour of these proposals, let us give a welcome to them as colleagues in this House of Commons when the day comes.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I rise, I hope with the permission of the House, to make a few comments on the debate and to reply 1925 to some of the questions which have been raised. It is true that I have tonight the very welcome advantage of the presence of the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs, but he has only just returned over the weekend from a tour in West Africa, in the Gambia and Sierra Leone, and it seems a little unreasonable to plunge him into a debate of this kind immediately upon his return, when he has been out of the country for the last few weeks. Therefore, I should like myself to wind up the debate.
It has been a good debate; on the whole, a helpful debate; and I am very grateful to all hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken briefly so as to enable such a considerable number of Members to take part. I must apologise now for the very great length of my opening speech, but I felt it was important, in view of the magnitude of the occasion, that a full and considered statement should be made from the Government's point of view.
There has been a number of most interesting speeches from many hon. and right hon. Members who served on the Conference and from other Members as well. I should in particular like to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) on what was to me and, I believe, to many others, an admirable speech, a very welcome one from one who does not speak often enough in the House. Without wishing to be drawn into the problems raised by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), I would say it was an admirable reminder, not, perhaps, of the unique status of Malta, but of the special status of Malta, which is the justification for the almost unanimous agreement with which these proposals have been greeted.
I listened with great interest also, as I am sure we all did, to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall), whose sincerity for his faith, but recognition of political and other realities, has enabled him, not only in Malta, but elsewhere, to play such a conspicuously helpful part in the short time that he has been a Member of the House. My hon. and gallant Friend said that in his view there was a wide measure of agreement on all but one of the questions that had been asked in the referendum in Malta. Because I 1926 knew that that was his view I anticipated his argument in my opening speech, and I hope he will forgive me if I do not go over all the ground again. From the point of view of the United Kingdom I do not believe that unless we felt sure or virtually sure that we could have a stable and co-operative Maltese Government it would be possible so drastically to strip the Maltese Imperial Government of their powers as the Round Table Report now proposes to do.
Of course, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay)—I am sorry if I gave the contrary impression—that there should be changes, anyhow in the reserve powers, but the contemplated extent of the changes was, in my view, and in the view of the Conference, conditional upon there being agreement which was likely to bring about stable and harmonious relations between the Government of Malta and ourselves.
As to the query whether all the parties in Malta are agreed on five out of the six questions, how happy I should be if that were so, but a scrutiny of the very voluminous evidence—I cannot pretend to have read every word of the evidence yet, and I doubt whether any hon. Members have yet read every word of it—would suggest that such agreement as there is is dependent on the main purpose of the two main party programmes being fulfilled—representation at Westminster for the Labour Party, or modified Dominion status for the Nationalist Party; and agreement, even if its implementation were to be postponed, on the assumption that there would be acceptance of one or the other of those policies, before there could be agreement on the other questions. Therefore I do not believe that that is a starter—to use a colloquialism. I was encouraged by my hon. Friend saying that if he felt convinced that it was not possible, then he would agree that the proposals in the Report of the Conference were the best that we could adopt.
We had an interesting speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West, who signed the minority Statement. No one who knows him could disagree with him without re-examining their own case. I inherited, as they say, his desk at the Ministry of Transport, and also the good name and respect that he built up there. I am very conscious that 1927 my right hon. Friend arrives at his conclusions after the most meticulous care and examination.
My right hon. Friend inferred that the lack of fire in his speech was because he recognised that this was a matter of judgment. I much regret it, and I hope that this will be the last time it will happen, but my judgment in this matter differs from his. I cannot accept that the undoubted difficulties that there will be for a time, and possibly a long time, are any reason for not proceeding with these proposals. Of course I share the feeling of my right hon. Friend that disillusion is possible among Maltese Members of Parliament, and indeed is probable. But then anyone who has been a Member of this House for a long time knows that that is not likely to be confined to new entrants into this body.
The main theme of most of the speeches that have been made followed the lines I had anticipated when I made my opening observations. However, there have been one or two points made or stressed by hon. and right hon. Members to which I would like to address a little attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), who also signed the minority Statement, spoke with the burning sincerity that all his friends know—and I am glad to say that I am one—he feels on matters of this kind. I recognise that my hon. Friend arrived at his decision with reluctance. I must confess, however, that he made one or two observations which surprised me a little. Unless I have misunderstood him, my hon. Friend seemed to think that if a Maltese Member of Parliament came here determined to try to stop something, there was something improper in that attitude. Well, large numbers of Members of Parliament, including myself, regularly come here with every intention of doing our best to stop things that they think would be contrary to the national will—[An HON MEMBER: "The right hon. Gentleman used to."] Well, I still do, but perhaps I have to do so in ways that it would be improper to comment on now from this Box.
The hon. Member for Carlton and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir R. Robinson) both dealt again with economic aid. I repeat once again 1928 that the Government have every intention that there should be economic aid however the constitutional solution may work out. But there is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) said, that we cannot altogether divorce economics and constitutions, and that a smooth constitutional set-up is essential for proper economic development.
Then my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton rightly dealt with the question of guarantees for the Roman Catholic Church, and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) also dealt with this problem in a vigorous speech. I hope it is not unfriendly if I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion that, despite the eloquence and sincerity of his speech, he gave no hint of an alternative, and in this at least he differed from the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice. The fears of both these hon. Members, and in particular those of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, are not for what the United Kingdom Government might do in regard to the Roman Catholic Church in Malta but what the Maltese Government might do in regard to the Roman Catholic Church.
I share completely the view of the noble Lord, Lord Perth, about the rider which he put—it appears at the foot of page 21 of the Report. I have repeated once more today that the British Government would be willing to work out in specific terms written guarantees to be embodied in any new constitution which should be acceptable to the Maltese Government and the Roman Catholic authorities. We will, most certainly. I am quite prepared to repeat that again whenever it is required.
This debate, of course, is of the greatest help, as my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have said, in making it possible now to be more emphatic in that matter, but in regard to the Malta Government and the Roman Catholic Church, that, as many hon. Members have pointed out, is a matter which must be between the Roman Catholic Church and the Maltese Government. I cannot believe that a predominantly—indeed, almost universally—loyal Catholic population in Malta would ever be likely to tolerate from their local rulers anything distasteful or harmful to the Roman Catholic Church, but 1929 should ever a Government be ready to do it, they could do it with or without integration, and, therefore, it really has no relevance to the big issue that we are discussing today.
A number of hon. Gentlemen who are Protestants have also made very helpful contributions, including the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Commander Agnew) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black). To my hon. Friends I would offer my congratulations on very interesting and helpful speeches. The speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South was particularly helpful because I think I know some of the anxieties that he formerly felt and the conscientious way in which he has tackled this problem.
To my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon I would say that I recognise that it is essential to preserve the calm and sensible relations in the United Kingdom and outside which have existed between Christian denominations. I know his anxieties. I tried to deal with them in my opening speech. I have, of course, consulted Church leaders in the United Kingdom—Anglican Church leaders—and I am very ready to talk to other leaders.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I have consulted not only leaders but others as well, but there must be a limit to the number of people whom one can consult. As I have said, I shall try to ensure, so far as it lies in my power to do so, that the constitutional provisions in the Letters Patent shall be maintained and enforced.
§ Mr. Thomas
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way? He ought to do so, and I am very grateful to him for doing so. He said that he had consulted Church leaders in this country, and then he added "Anglican Church leaders ". Has he consulted Nonconformists at all?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The Anglican Church leaders asked to see me, and I naturally said that I would see them. I am ready to see other Church leaders besides the Anglicans, when I am 1930 approached. If I have been approached already and have been unable to see them, I will make up for that as soon as I possibly can.
A large number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have concentrated on the question "Is this a clear and unmistakable verdict?" and then they have asked "What are the Government going to do now?" It is right and proper that both those questions should be asked. The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said that they wished that the vote tonight had been a positive one rather than one on a "take note" Motion. I think that both of them recognised the very definite undertaking that was given by the Lord Privy Seal to the House a little while ago.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) favoured a White Paper, with an affirmative vote here and then a vote on the White Paper in Malta, but the right hon. Member for Llanelly, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish)—in a very interesting speech—and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) all asked that a Bill should be published here and, presumably taken through all its various stages, no doubt including in it the constitution, and then that it should be submitted to the people of Malta for acceptance and rejection.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It would be for acceptance or rejection by Malta. "Acceptance and rejection" would bring many interesting possibilities into this House as a result of integration, if that were possible. We are talking about Malta, not Ireland.
I certainly did not say that there should be a third test in Malta. Malta has had a general election and a referendum. I did not say that another test would be essential before Her Majesty's Government took positive steps to give effect to our acceptance of the Report.
Hon. Members on all sides of the House have stressed the need for early action. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South said that after this debate the 1931 Government must make up their minds. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South—though I would not accept that, put like that, it was altogether an accurate description of what has happened—said that those who advocate delay lack any sense of urgency; a General Election here before we could do anything would undoubtedly prolong affairs, and a general election in Malta would be charged with emotion and misrepresentation. I agree with the sense of urgency he displayed.
We have had a very interesting debate which, of course, we have to consider in the light of the very definite pledge that was given by my noble Friend Lord Crookshank in this House. The Government will now consider very quickly and very carefully the various points that have been raised today. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has authorised me to say that he will make a statement of the Government's intentions at the earliest possible moment, and that he proposes to do this in the House before Easter.
In the meanwhile, I think it only fair, from my point of view, to say—and I feel bound to say—that, though I have listened with the greatest care to all that has been said in this debate, nothing has been said in the debate that gives me any ground for believing that for Her Majesty's Government to do something other than that proposed in the Report, or to do nothing at all, would find a fuller measure of agreement in Malta now or hold out the prospect of achieving it in the future, or be for the greater advantage of the British Commonwealth.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report of the Malta Round Table Conference, 1955, Command Paper No. 9657.