§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the statement on Malta made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 25th March.On 26th March, 1956, I initiated in the House a debate on Malta. The House then decided to take note of the Report of the Round Table Conference. I made it clear on behalf of the Government that we accepted the proposals in the Report, and a few days later Sir Anthony Eden announced our intention, in due course, to introduce legislation. I then asked the House to approach these great affairs with the utmost care, sympathy and imagination. Although I shall not carry all hon. Members with me in saying this, during the last two years I have tried, as have my colleagues, to approach the problems of Malta and the talks with the Maltese leaders in the same spirit. If, today, some of the buoyancy that I felt two years ago is lacking, no one is more sorry than I.
I welcome this opportunity of telling the House what has happened during the difficult and lengthy negotiations which have taken place with the Maltese Government in the last two years. I would gladly have done this sooner, but have refrained from doing so in order not to prejudice negotiations while they were still taking place and also at the request of the Maltese Government, who did not wish premature publication of points on which agreement had been reached. I would say, in passing, that I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the courtesy, understanding and restraint that they have shown in the course of the last two years.
As I made clear to the Prime Minister of Malta at our last talk, I felt that I would have been failing in my duty to this House and to the people of Malta if I further delayed in giving an account of what Her Majesty's Government's offers had been, and how the position now stood. Last week the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and I had a rather sharp exchange, which I, for one, very much regret. It has always been my hope that we should treat the 1032 consequences of the Round Table Conference Report as we treated the conference itself, as a parliamentary and not a party matter. I would never consciously do anything which might make that more difficult. I think that we were at cross-purposes at one point, anyhow.
I asked Mr. Mintoff, before he left England, about the possibility of issuing an agreed statement about the outcome of the talks. It seemed to him—and I could not quarrel with him over this—that that was not possible, in view of the wide divergencies still prevailing between the two Governments. This was the consultation I had in mind when I made my reference to consultation in the House last week. As to the question of the statement I made on 25th March, and the two offers circulated in HANSARD, I told Mr. Mintoff that I must be free to acquaint the House of these offers when I thought it right to do so.
Mr. Mintoff himself had made clear when he delivered his statement to the Maltese Legislative Assembly on the day when I made my statement—that is, last Tuesday—that he was proceeding with a statement which he had already prepared before learning that I was making a statement on that day. The text of his statement was handed to the Lieutenant-Governor for transmission to me shortly before it was made in Malta. As I said, the plan for integration was accepted in principle in March, 1956.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
By the Government. I am referring to the Government.
Since then there has been a great deal of discussion, and very considerable progress has been made. We knew, of course, that the working out in detail of the recommendations of the Round Table Conference would take a long time; though I do not think that anybody thought that it would take as long as it did. The nature of the problems themselves, such as the question of Maltese status under the integration plan; the competence of the two Parliaments, and the economic relationships, were such that it was inevitable that detailed plans could be quickly made. The whole position was very much complicated by the insistence of the Maltese Government for a long time on points of principle, such as economic equivalence.
1033 Nor have the delays over the last two years been entirely due to the problems of the integration plan. There have been innumerable difficulties which I have not always brought to the attention of the House, in a desire not to embitter relationships or to widen the field of disagreement. But these difficulties have had their effect in causing delay over the matter of integration. For example, the dispute in which, through no fault of its own, the Rediffusion Company was involved; the lengthy negotiations over increases in wages and salaries; continuous disputes with the Service Departments about various projects important to them and to N.A.T.O.—and profitable to Malta—and, above all, the weary annual argument about the United Kingdom's contribution to Malta's budget.
Here, let me say, as one who has never disguised his feelings on integration, that I do not think that I made the slightest impression on the Maltese Government in my efforts during those two years to convey the thought to them that Her Majesty's Government had to consider other territories when gauging their financial contribution to Malta, and that they had to consider the readiness of a territory to help itself. But patiently patience, I agree, being shown on both sides—and though blunt language was often used, on the whole not altogether unharmoniously, by the talks we held last October and November we reached agreement on most of the outstanding points in the detailed plan for integration. These were not initialled, but I think it fair to say that I was entitled to believe that they represented, anyhow, a certain measure of agreement.
These detailed plans were set out in HANSARD on 25th March. On the constitutional side the House will note that Malta was put, under the integration proposal, in territory comprised in the territory of the United Kingdom. There were to be three members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Arrangements were made about the division of power of the two Parliaments and for the end of the diarchy. All this was provided for. On the economic side, also, I think that I can justifiably claim that considerable imagination was shown.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I repeat what were the proposals. Her Majesty's Government would approve and support the ultimate aim of the 1034 Maltese Government that after a reasonable period of years Malta should reach an economy and a standard of living comparable with that of the United Kingdom. It would be open to the Maltese Government, after twelve to fifteen years, to request that their economy become an integral part of that of the United Kingdom.
The Maltese Government, on their side, would recognise the obligation of the Maltese people to make sustained efforts to bring the economy of Malta to a level which, taking into account the relevant factors, was comparable to that of the United Kingdom. The development programme would be drawn up on certain lines in consultation with Her Majesty's Government; and towards this plan Her Majesty's Government would, as a first step, provide assistance for the first five years. This assistance for capital development was, as I told the House, to be £25 million over the first five years.
In the sphere of recurrent expenditure I and my colleagues were anxious to do things which would help the Maltese people to be able to help themselves, and to make their contribution more easily to the closer association of the integration. In the field of education we undertook that one-third of the annual recurrent expenditure of the Maltese Government, if it were less than £1¼ million, or half if it were more than £1¼ million, would be contributed by Her Majesty's Government. We would also contribute one-third of the Maltese Government's expenditure on health, and one-quarter of the Maltese Government's expenditure on other social and welfare services. So, as I said last November, it looked as if we had reached eventual agreement over integration, and I, for one, was very glad indeed that that was so.
Then, on 30th December last, came the Resolution threatening the severance of the ties with the United Kingdom and her allies. It was passed by the Maltese Legislative Assembly on the initiative of the Maltese Government and, as I said in the House, it has done great harm to our relationship; and it can do harm to the future well-being of Malta that the plan of integration was intended to enhance. In justification for this Resolution it was argued that a new and terrible threat had come to Malta and to her dockyard, and 1035 that this justified the introduction and passage of such a Resolution.
I am anxious, and I have been all the time, to be quite fair on this and every aspect of these unhappy arguments. I hope I have no need to say that I personally, with all my colleagues—indeed, the whole House— recognise that it is because of the employment given by the Services that a high density population has been able to live in a very small island with a standard of living in excess of that found in neighbouring territories. About 14 per cent. of the total wage earners work in the dockyard and in the naval base—7,000 and 6,000 or so respectively. The three Services employ about 20,000 people and, of course, a large number of people also owe their comparative prosperity indirectly to Service employment. The Services themselves are the mainstay of Malta's comparative prosperity. I think that all of us who have followed this carefully, and all right hon. and hon. Members who served on the Round Table Conference, have recognised for years that this undue dependence on Service expenditure is undesirable.
The July, 1955, declaration, which I was successful in getting the Maltese parties to endorse at a conference in London—one of the many we have had in the last two years—was a statement of objectives of economic consequences. The first statement was our objective to raise the standard of education and other social services so that we would get a more skilled population which would be able to help itself by its quality to attract commercial firms, for example, to set up businesses in Malta. The second objective was to increase substantially opportunities for employment outside Service establishments. The third was to avoid unemployment.
There was, of course, no guarantee of the employment of an immutable number of people by the Services, nor of the provision of alternative employment for men discharged by the Services. Any statement in the Resolution which gives the impression of a contrary understanding is simply not consistent with the facts, I do not believe that any Government could give that undertaking, which we cannot give to the United Kingdom and we cannot give to Malta, and which no 1036 prudent or honourable Government could possibly undertake to give.
None the less, I and my colleagues have always realised the acute anxiety which changes in the defence policy of the British Government must bring to many people in Malta, so, in the discussion which was held in February of last year, when we had reached agreement already on a number of aspects of integration, or I thought we had, we jointly devised—the Malta Government and my colleagues—what we called, among ourselves, the remedial measures clause. At that time we had already made a good deal of progress on the economic side of the integration plan.
The remedial measures clause ran as follows:The United Kingdom Government recognise that any drastic change in imperial defence policy affecting Malta might alter considerably the basis on which a capital expenditure plan was drawn up and the level of employment in Malta. In such circumstances the United Kingdom Government would, of course, be willing to review the position. In particular if, in consequence of such a change in imperial defence policy, the level of unemployment in Malta reached and for six months remained at a higher level than the rate of unemployment in the United Kingdom at the time, the United Kingdom Government would be willing to assist the Malta Government in taking remedial measures to be agreed.Anything that has happened since then, whether it is the visit of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence to Malta, whether it is the very few discharges that have taken place in the dockyards, whether it is the correspondence between the two Governments, whether it is the fears that have been aroused, must be seen in the light of this undertaking, which would have been put into effect under the integration plan and which was settled as early as February, 1957.
Later in the year, on 28th November, actually, I told Mr. Mintoff that no decision had been taken as to the future of the Malta dockyard after 1960, but that there was enough work to keep the dockyard going for about three years at approximately the present level of activity, though some economies would be necessary; and that this assurance held whether the dockyard continued to be run as a naval establishment or whether it was transferred wholly or in part to commercial interests. I see that in a very recent communication, which I 1037 think a number of hon. Members have received from the Maltese Government, the Maltese Prime Minister has said that he had been warned that employment by the Admiralty in the dockyard would be reduced to 30 per cent. after 1960. This is simply not true.
I repeatedly said to Mr. Mintoff that the level of activity would remain substantially the same until 1960, and that when I was able I would give a more exact figure. The Admiralty wanted to be particularly careful that the figure would be realistic. I said that it would be about 12,000 people, for whom work could be guaranteed in the dockyards and naval base until 1960. I said that no decision had been taken about conditions after 1960. Mr. Mintoff's reference to a warning that employment would be reduced to 30 per cent. relates to an Admiralty memorandum, which was sent in an effort to help the Maltese Government and not to add to their alarm or fears.
In the memorandum to which Mr. Mintoff referred as coming from the Admiralty, so far from saying that the level of employment would be reduced to 30 per cent, the Admiralty was, in fact, assuring Mr. Mintoff that even if a commercial firm did take over the dockyard the Admiralty would still be willing, as a means of helping that commercial firm to establish itself and thus to help Malta, to provide naval work for some years after 1960 in addition to the commercial work being done there. The actual words were:The Admiralty envisage that for a number of years at least after 1960, naval ship repair works could be made available for a dockyard to the extent of up to 30 per cent. of the present amount of such work, though this could not be guaranteed indefinitely.I wish I could believe that the distortion made of this Admiralty assurance in the most recent statements of the Prime Minister of Malta was the result of misunderstanding.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Is it not clear that there was no assurance that after 1960 there would be commercial work? If so, one can understand that this talk of 30 per cent. gave rise to confusion. I think that we are confused in this House, too, on that point.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not really think that that is so. I explained this point at considerable length.
1038 Every effort would be taken to find a commercial firm to take over the dockyard. Active steps are now being taken, as those are aware who know dockyard life very well. If that effort is successful, the Admiralty will be able to make its own substantial contribution, in the vicinity of 30 per cent., for some years, even after 1960. If those efforts are unsuccessful, quite clearly Her Majesty's Government would have to think again. As I made absolutely clear, no decision whatever has been made about the future of the dockyard after 1960. I feel that a large number of employees in other activities of the Government would be exceedingly glad if they could have the sort of solemn assurance that I have been able to give to the people of Malta in the course of the last few months.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
My right hon. Friend has been referring to a document which I understand to be an official document from the Maltese Government, and especially from the Maltese Prime Minister. Mr. Mintoff has offered to discuss that document I gather, with some hon. Members of this House. Can we therefore hope that, at least, when the debate is over, the rest of us will see that document?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It is not my responsibility, naturally. I thought I saw one hon. Member opposite, who represents a dockyard, with the document in front of him. Presumably it has been sent to other hon. Members. I did not send it. It came from Malta. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) may be able to get hold of a copy of the document for himself.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to a memorandum sent by the Admiralty to the Maltese Government and which is apparently one of the documents that have brought about the present crisis. Is the right hon. Gentleman referring to that document? If he referred to the document of December, I would point out that none of us have seen it.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I shall look into that matter. I was referring to each of the documents. One is the document which has come from Malta. The Governor conveyed to the Maltese Government a memorandum from the 1039 Admiralty, giving the shape of things after 1960. This was sent in an effort to calm the fears of the people of Malta. I was only saying that it seemed a tragedy that a document which was designed to calm fears should be misrepresented.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
It is very difficult for hon. Members who take an interest in this debate to arrive at any conclusion if we hear comments bandied about relating to documents of which we have no knowledge. Many of us have copies of neither of the documents to which the reference has been made. Is it possible to put copies in the Library, so that we can consult them?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I will do what I can about that. This is not a British Government document, but a particular document sent to a number of Members of the House by the Prime Minister of Malta. Naturally, a copy was sent to me and was also given to the—[Interruption.] If I might for a moment intervene in this debate, may I say that the document had been sent to hon. Members of the House and was brought to my attention by a Government supporter who had himself received a copy. I hope that the result of this interchange will be that all who have not got it receive it, and that all who have received it will understand it and will also bear in mind what I say in relation to some of the premises on which it is based.
As I said, for reasons which appear to Her Majesty's Government to be quite unjustified, the Resolution was introduced into the Maltese Assembly the following month, but the British Government's interest in and responsibility for those working in the dockyards remain quite firm and unaltered. When Mr. Mintoff was last here, to underline this still further I suggested that a working party should be set up at once to consider in advance what plans might be made to deal with the situation in which action along the lines of that envisaged in the remedial measures clause might be necessary, including the possibility of changes in the arrangement for unemployment benefits and gratuities for those discharged by the Service Departments.
Also, as a further reassurance on the matter of the dockyard, on which Maltese opinion is so sensitive, I was able to say that the cost of converting the dockyard 1040 to commercial use was a separate issue and that it did not affect the financial arrangements which I have earlier described as being offered by the British Government as a five-year development plan.
The result of the Resolution was to make relations very difficult, but I was most anxious to keep discussions going, and I urged Mr. Mintoff to come for further talks. This he did. It was said last week that the talks broke down for the sake of £1 million or less. This, also, is just not so. It was not just for a marginal reduction in the United Kingdom contribution for 1958–59, though that is necessary. There were other greater issues. Overshadowing the whole of the negotiations was the resolution, as I mentioned, of 30th December which Mr. Mintoff showed no disposition to withdraw. Moreover, during the negotiations Mr. Mintoff submitted to me a memorandum which contained what I had to describe as the extraordinary proposition that the United Kingdom Parliament should proceed with integration, but, at the same time, should undertake that until such time as economic equivalence was achieved it should be prepared to grant independence if a Maltese Government were elected with a mandate for it.
At a later stage, Mr. Mintoff offered to withdraw the proposal provided that the Maltese people were given a once for all choice between integration and independence at the next Maltese Election and provided that the proposed economic arrangements under integration were revised by further assistance in addition to the £25 million for the capital programme and a minimum of £1 million for social services under the integration plan. Mr. Mintoff proposed that United Kingdom Government should immediately, in addition to all the rest, recognise their obligation to provide an industrialisation fund of £22½ million from which the Maltese Government should make grants and loans to provide employment for the men who might be discharged from the dockyard.
It was also proposed that the British Government should provide £4½, million over the next five years as a supplement to National Assistance to the discharged men at the rate of 85 per cent. of the United Kingdom rates in order to give them equivalence in National Assistance. In addition, it was proposed that there 1041 should be gratuities for unestablished men discharged from the dockyard equivalent to those for men discharged from dockyards in this country and also an amount equivalent to the reduction in Maltese revenue brought about by cuts in defence expenditure.
When hon. Members consider the implications of these proposals, as well as their cost, and consider that all this was to be a unilateral obligation on the British Government and was to be provided or guaranteed in advance of a situation which is still hypothetical, I doubt whether they would say that the negotiations broke down on a mere matter of £½ million, or £1 million. In any case, as Mr. Mintoff made clear when he returned to Malta, he is budgeting for a deficit of approximately £7 million, not of £5 million or £6 million, in the forthcoming year.
Therefore, in the light of this memorandum that I received—as far as I know it has not been sent to anybody else—the Prime Minister of Malta made it clear to me that he felt unable to recommend integration to the Maltese people on the terms which I thought were the imaginative terms proposed by the British Government. Mr. Mintoff argued that because of uncertainty about the dockyard the whole basis of our previous understanding had been unilaterally changed, and it was no longer possible to proceed with integration on that basis. He renewed the demand for independence which he has maintained as his alternative to integration on terms acceptable to him.
At one stage in the discussions, Mr. Mintoff returned to the demand for economic equivalence, which I thought had been dropped. With regard to one particular aspect, National Assistance and unemployment benefit, not only did Mr. Mintoff ask for a guarantee of its ultimate attainment, but for the immediate provision by the British Government of equivalence. It was in the light of all this that I revived the suggestion that, rather than lose all the fruits of our long negotiations, the Government—
§ Mr. Callaghan
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of unemployment assistance and unemployment rates, could he tell us, to fill in the picture, what benefits the men discharged from the dockyard would receive by way of financial assistance or the dole?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Unemployment assistance in Malta is, of course, very low, but the Admiralty has been able to give an undertaking that the same level of benefit will be preserved until 1960. Thereafter, no decision has been taken, although the Admiralty will have a substantial amount of work to give. The problem will not arise on a large scale until 1960, and, I hope, not then. I suggested that so as not to wait for the emergence of such troubles we should set up a working party to consider possible changes in unemployment benefit and gratuities. That I was very ready to do.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not want to be critical, but could the right hon. Gentleman tell us on which of the two undertakings he is standing? Is the position that this would have cost so much that the Treasury could not afford it, or that it would not have cost anything and would not, therefore, arise? If that was so, I cannot see why there was any breaking point about unemployment assistance.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I said that there was a large number of issues on which any Government would be bound to have disagreement with the Maltese Government. Had I conceded that we were prepared for any such change, I should have gone back on the line I had taken, which I think was the only proper one, to get integration and that equivalence was something for which we must aim, but which we cannot guarantee to implement straight away.
Therefore, in the light of these various arguments put forward by the Maltese Prime Minister, and particularly in the light of his memorandum, I suggested that, rather than lose all the fruits of our long negotiations, Her Majesty's Government would be prepared, if the Maltese so desired, to provide interim constitutional and economic arrangements for a period of five years. There would be a constitution broadly on the lines of that proposed in the integration plan. For the time being, Malta would not be made part of the United Kingdom, nor would there be Maltese representatives at Westminster, but there would be the same economic and financial arrangements. At the end of the five years, both Governments would consult together to review the working of constitutional and economic arrangements and to consider 1043 whether they could then proceed to conclude arrangements on a permanent basis. This plan found no favour with Mr. Mintoff. There is a lot to be said for giving it the most serious consideration.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
Would my right hon. Friend make clear that there is no question that exactly the same financial arrangements would be available to Malta whether she were integrated with this country or not?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Certainly. The proposals I put forward came under two specific suggestions. One was for the integration proposals and the other was the alternative five-year interim. I made it clear that under those two proposals the same financial arrangements would be operative.
I must detain the House a little longer, because this is a very important matter and there are certain things which I think it is pertinent for me to say. I should like to say a word about the Budget for next year, the 1958–59 year. As I said earlier, the talks with Mr. Mintoff did not, in my view, break down over a bagatelle—if we have reached the stage where we may describe £1 million as a bagatelle. Anyhow, as Mr. Mintoff himself made clear, he has budgeted for a deficit of £7 million, not £5 million or even £6 million.
The United Kingdom contribution by way of general grants in aid, in addition to war damage payments, welfare grants, and special assistance for emigration, again became a regular feature, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) will know from 1955, when Mr. Mintoff assumed office. The Government have got no regret at all about this as we are anxious to help the diversification and development of Malta's economy. Aid, however, was provided in pursuance of the Declaration signed by the leaders of the Maltese Government Party, the Labour Party, and the Maltese Opposition and Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.
This Declaration, in 1955, made it quite clear that there should be close cooperation with the Government in the detailed elaboration of a long-term development plan but thatthe degree of success obtained would depend on hard work and self-discipline,1044 as the wording is,of the Maltese people, and on the Maltese Government and people making the best possible contribution from their own resources.To this day Her Majesty's Government have not received a draft long-term development plan from the Maltese Government, nor have the Maltese Government taken any steps to increase the contribution of Malta's development from their own resources. Nevertheless, during this period the Maltese national income and note circulation have, according to Mr. Mintoff's Budget speeches, greatly increased. Never has the island been so prosperous in its history. It may be true that the future may, at the moment, seem a little cloudy, but that is added reason for making the best possible contribution now in order to help avert a reduction of the national income.
The reasons put forward by the Maltese Government for not taking steps to increase their contribution have been mainly political. I am not unsympathetic to the political difficulties of a Maltese Government raising taxation in a period of constitutional and political uncertainty, but the best part of three years have gone by without any move on the part of the Maltese Government. I have, I think, been frequently criticised publicly, and, no doubt, even more so privately, for having, if anything, been too tolerant of the failure of the Maltese Government to make their own contribution. Indeed, one person suggested that I was, by this fact, taking part in Malta's politics.
The Government have never insisted that the contribution should be in the form of increased income tax. The independent Economic Commission, consisting of Sir George Schuster and Sir William Scott, suggested a 5 per cent. surcharge on existing taxes as a desirable means of meeting the cost of the 6 per cent. increase in Government wages and salaries which was-put into effect from 1st January, 1957, but the Maltese Government refused to accept this proposal. Nor did they agree to consider the even easier course of a small increase in excise duties.
But I believe, and so do my colleagues, that a perfectly easy, practical, orthodox and politically unembarrassing means does exist by which a contribution could be made to the capital programme and that is by the fiduciary issue, as I made 1045 clear in a number of discussions with Mr. Mintoff and his colleagues.
Malta's currency fund stands at present at approximately £20 million. A fiduciary element of £4 million could, therefore, be created by the application of the accepted proportion of 20 per cent. The accepted procedure would be by way of contribution to publicly issued Government loans and it would be desirable to spread this over a reasonable period of time. The first contributions which the Maltese Government might be required to contribute to a local loan might be between £1½ million and £2 million.
No good reason at all has been advanced to me by Maltese Ministers why they could not follow the widely accepted practice in other territories. Such a measure, coupled with the still very substantial contribution of £5 million from the United Kingdom Government, would enable the rate of progress to be maintained in Malta uninterrupted and would have constituted a contribution which the Maltese parties undertook in the July, 1955, Declaration.
In the circumstances, I am bound to say that I fail to see why the Maltese Government consider that to adopt such a course would make them "puppets", as they say, of the British Government. I would think that continued reliance solely on grants in aid from the United Kingdom Government would be more undesirable from the point of view of maintaining their own independence.
Naturally, this applies not only to Malta but to other territories. I should have preferred, in the light of the current financial position in the United Kingdom, to say that I would not be obliged to suggest a reduction in the United Kingdom contribution either to Malta or elsewhere. I have had some very distressing things to do elsewhere which have not always come to the House and where definite hardship has been inevitable, but in the long run it is to their advantage and to that of the sterling area. In the circumstances as I have described them I do not think that even in her special circumstances Malta alone should be entirely exempted from measures which other territories have agreed to undertake as part of the joint effort to preserve our overall economic position.
The fact is at this point the Malta Government are not merely rejecting a 1046 contribution of £5 million. They are rejecting the continuance of aid at last year's level, the 1957–58 level, which was £6.07 million. The Budget estimates which they presented in the recent talks provided for a total deficit of about £7 million and in the Appropriations Bill which, on their own initiative, they have presented to be passed by the Maltese Legislative Assembly they have provided for capital expenditure at a rate which taken with their recurrent deficit, would involve a contribution of £7 million. That is a difference of £2 million and not of a few hundred thousand pounds, which was suggested was all that divided us. I am bound to say that I can only regard the actions of the Maltese Government in proposing this scale of expenditure at such a time as completely unrealistic.
I was asked whether I could not have agreed to a three-months' interim period. I was quite prepared to negotiate a three-months' interim period and, so that talks should continue, even went so far as accepting that the Resolution of 30th December need not be withdrawn meanwhile, pending agreement on outstanding issues—though I have never disguised my view that it was doing great harm not only to personal relationships, but to other relationships as well.
It was, however, impossible to accept the financial conditions for the three months' period on which Mr. Mintoff insisted. I was quite prepared to negotiate interim financial assistance on the basis of a Budget for the whole year or for three months provided that it was understood that the United Kingdom contribution for the 1958–59 year could not exceed £5 million for a whole year and that if the Maltese Government wished to continue at a higher rate they must be prepared to make a contribution of their own.
Mr. Mintoff, however, refused to accept, even in principle, that he should make a contribution of his own, and completely rejected the offer of aid at the £5 million level. I fear, from action taken since their return home, that the Maltese Ministers do not seem prepared to change their decision regarding the question of a contribution from their own resources and are determined to proceed with expenditure at a rate which would involve a total deficit for the whole year of approximately £7 million, which, in their 1047 view, should be met entirely by the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. Having had some experience, I must say, that this sort of financial ultimatum is not altogether unusual, but I do not think that hon. Members could possibly expect Her Majesty's Government to submit to it.
As I told the House on 25th March, Her Majesty's Government are prepared to resume discussions with the Maltese Government to find a modus vivendi pending consideration of long-term arrangements, but I cannot disguise from the House the possibility of a grave financial situation.
The Governor of Malta has, on the advice of his Ministers, and since the return of Mr. Mintoff and his colleagues to Malta, assented to an Appropriation Bill and has signed warrants for expenditure involving a deficit of approximately £7 million in 1958–59. The signing of the Appropriation Bill and the signing of warrants for expenditure are formal acts which do not necessarily involve the Governor's approval of the circumstances in which they have been presented to him. He is entitled to assume that Malta's Ministers have made, or are making, the necessary arrangements to provide the money for the expenditure which is contemplated, and which, of course, is not incurred immediately or at once.
Malta's Ministers have, I am bound to say, placed the Governor in an invidious position. They, as Ministers, have advised him to assent to an Appropriation Bill and to sign warrants, and they have, at the same time, informed me that they do not propose to make a contribution of their own and that they expect Her Majesty's Government to meet the whole deficit. As funds will run out by 19th April, Malta will then be placed in a difficult situation.
The Governor of Malta has reason to believe, as I have said, that there are resources available to the Maltese Government in addition to the grant in aid which the British Government are prepared to contribute and which could be drawn upon to meet expenditure. The Governor's assent to the Bill and his signing of the warrant do not imply that Her Majesty's Government are thereby committed to meet the deficit, whatever it may be.
1048 I propose to instruct the Governor to make this point clear to his Ministers and to renew Her Majesty's Government offer of £5 million for the whole year or an immediate cash issue for the next three months provided that the Maltese Government accept that the United Kingdom contribution for the whole year cannot exceed £5 million and that they will meet any additional expenditure on their Budget from their own considerable resources.
There is, then, no reason at all why the Maltese Government need run out of funds in the near future, causing nonpayment of salaries and wages, unemployment or stoppage of projects—no reason at all, provided that the Maltese Government act in a responsible way, with full regard to the interests of Malta and its people. Any failure to do so rests squarely on the shoulders of the Maltese Government.
I hope I am wrong in my suspicion that the Maltese Government are going to refuse to accept the contribution which we are ready to make and, instead, spend, in the next few weeks, the resources which are at present available to them. I am asking the Governor to inform Malta's Ministers of these considerations, and I very much hope that wiser counsels will prevail.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
The Motion before us asks the House to take note of the statement made by the Colonial Secretary on 25th March. Perhaps it is as well that the whole House is asked "to take note". Had there been any more positive affirmation, there might have been divisions on the subject of Malta in which there might even have been some cross-voting, because it was clear from some of the ejaculations which came from the other side of the House that not all hon. Members opposite support the policy which has been followed by the Colonial Secretary during the last two years and equally clear that not all of my hon. Friends would support the policy to which the Government have been committed. Therefore, it was our desire that the Government should put down a Motion which would prevent a Division at this time over a situation in Malta which, I think we all agree, is becoming increasingly grave.
1049 I thank the Colonial Secretary for his explanation of the misunderstanding which took place between us last week. Certainly it is not my desire, and I know it is not his, that anything which should pass between us should hinder events for Malta.
I am ready to accept the account which the right hon. Gentleman has given this afternoon of what transpired between him and Mr. Mintoff when the final discussions were taking place about drawing up a Press statement. Mr. Mintoff, in this famous document—about which the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) is so jealous, because he has not received a copy—gives his account of what has taken place, and I think we will leave it at that.
I hope that the hon. Member and all other hon. Gentlemen will have the opportunity of seeing the document. I should have thought that, if the resources of the Malta Government were open to it, it would have been better to circulate it to all Members of the House so that we might read it. However, we cannot choose what is sent to us; we can only read what is delivered to us.
It is worth while looking back, as the Colonial Secretary has done, to what has gone wrong over the last two years, and particularly over the last few months. I should say that the major point in what has gone wrong is the changed strategic concept of our position in the Mediterranean which has given rise to very great uncertainty about the future of the Malta dockyard and to misunderstandings, whether accidental or not, in the minds of Maltese Ministers about the future of the dockyard itself.
I must remind the House of the basis on which the Round Table Conference reached its conclusion. I ask hon. Members to remember what the Colonial Secretary has just been saying and to remember our defence debates over the last few months and to contrast all that with paragraph 48 of the Report, which states:The United Kingdom Service Departments consider that there is no near prospect of a decline in Malta's strategic importance or in the relative level of defence expenditure in Malta …This was the basis upon which the Round Table Conference proceeded, and it is this basis which I think has become or is becoming falsified. I believe it is this 1050 change in concept which is responsible for very many of the difficulties which have arisen between the Malta Government and ourselves.
None of us can ascribe any particular blame to anybody if the rôle of Malta is changing, but I think we should remember that, as the Colonial Secretary said, a changed rôle for Malta can be a matter of life and death, or starvation or not, to her people. Therefore, I find it very difficult to blame the Malta Prime Minister for fighting a battle, perhaps with an excess of zeal but undoubtedly a battle, on behalf of his own people. Had any of us been in his position, whether or not we should have chosen his methods, I think that we should all have felt constrained to put up the same vigorous battle as he has done in the light of the change which has taken place.
What has happened is that the change has created an uncertainty about the dockyard, to the extent that the Prime Minister of Malta and the other Ministers put their hands to a statement that they understand that the level of unemployment in the Malta dockyard is not expected to exceed 30 per cent. of the present level. The Colonial Secretary has given us an explanation of this. As I understood him, he said that the Admiralty would, in any case, require for a period of years a minimum of 30 per cent. even if commercial shipbuilding firms were available and ready to take up the balance.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I put this repeatedly to the Prime Minister of Malta, and I do not think that I could have left him in any doubt as to what the Admiralty meant.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That still leaves us in some doubt—at any rate, I suppose it still leaves the right hon. Gentleman in some doubt.
What is to be the position if no commercial shipbuilding or repairing work is taken up by commercial firms in Malta? The uncertainty still persists. I hope with all my heart that Smiths and Vickers do take up the repairing facilities that are there, but I must say that if I were the Malta Prime Minister I would be extremely concerned about what was to happen if that eventuality did not come to pass, and I would want continually to press the United Kingdom Government to be clear about the future after 1960.
1051 Although I followed the Colonial Secretary with considerable sympathy for his statement, I thought him less than fair in what he said—it was not part of his brief—in attempting to set off the workers of this country against the workers in Malta, by contrasting the guarantees that our people would like with those that the Malta people are asking for. He knows that this is not a fair comparison.
Every one of us understands the deprivation that would take place in Chatham, Sheerness, Plymouth or Portsmouth if those dockyards were to be closed down. It happened in Rosyth and Pembroke in 1925–26. There was considerable deprivation, and the workers left those yards and found employment in other parts of Britain. That is not the situation in Malta and, of course, the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that that is so. At least, he appeared to do so for a moment, but he made that comparison which, I think, he will agree is not a fair one.
May I put the simple figures to the House and ask for its understanding when I do so? Malta's annual imports are £26 million. Her exports are £4 million. The balance of £22 million is a direct contribution, through the Service Departments, and through the subsidy that has been discussed. Is it not the very life of Malta that is at stake here?
Of course, they are pressing for the utmost guarantees for their future, and I think that every one of us here must have sympathy with the pressure that they are exerting. I am told that eleven-twelfths of Malta's national income is derived from Britain, from the Service Departments or in other forms. Therefore, the comparison with the British worker is not really a comparison that I think the right hon. Gentleman would want to insist upon.
I want to put this to the Colonial Secretary. What is the Government's estimate of the number of unemployed there will be in the dockyard in Malta after 1960? That is assuming that there is no commercial work there, because that, after all, is still an event in the future. I believe that Mr. Mintoff estimates it at a minimum of 5,000 and a maximum of 8,000, and as he says—with what degree of accuracy I do not know—that one job in the dockyard generates two others, he 1052 estimates that this means a minimum of 15,000 and a maximum of 24,000 men out of work.
That is calamity. There is no other word to describe it. I therefore think that the only way in which the Colonial Secretary can destroy this misunderstanding, or whatever it may have been, is by telling us more fully what are the Government's intentions about the dockyard after 1960. I believe that the Colonial Secretary has been fighting a valiant battle on behalf of the Malta Dockyard—it may be against the Admiralty—but there has been all this delay.
There is the fact that it was August when the Minister of Defence went out there, and, in the midst of Malta, gave rise to deep November gloom by his forecasts about the future of the dockyard. There is the fact that not until the end of November could the Colonial Secretary give even the reassurance he has told us about today. His reassurance undoubtedly made things better than they otherwise would have been—
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
But I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that my right hon. Friend was quite frank with the House when he dealt with the position that might arise after 1960. He said, frankly, that the position would be difficult to assess, so that, in the general terms of the new agreement, there is the proposal to set up a working party to investigate the problem, and so prepare for it, if necessary.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not dissent from that. I think that it is very important to set up a working party. I will return to that matter a little later, if I may.
The hon. Member really brings me to finance. Despite the cheers of hon. Members opposite, I must say that I think that the Treasury has been mean in its relationships with the Malta Government in the last few years. Let us take 1957–58. The Malta Government had underspent by £½ million the subsidy—for that is the word—that the British Government were prepared to give for the preceding year, but the British Government were not prepared to allow the Malta Government to carry forward that underspending into the next year, although it was in respect of projects that had either been late in starting or had not proceeded as rapidly as expected.
1053 It was capital expenditure. I must say that that matter created a lot of trouble in the middle of last year. In those circumstances, it seems very mean to argue about £½ million, and I do not believe—perhaps I should not say this—that the Colonial Secretary would have done it had he not been prodded by what was happening.
I understand from the Colonial Secretary that, in the current year, the Prime Minister of Malta has budgeted for a deficit of £7 million, as opposed to £6 million last year, and as opposed to the £5 million that the Government are ready to offer for this year. The first question that I want to ask is this: what justification do hon. Gentlemen opposite think there is, in the special circumstances of Malta, for asking the Malta Government to cut down their expenditure by £1 million in this way? That is, in fact, what is being proposed. I think that I know what is in the Colonial Secretary's mind, and I will return to it later if I may, but that is what, in effect the consequences would be.
If we were asked to cut our expenditures by one-fourteenth, the rough equivalent, I must say that we would be in rather considerable difficulties here in our Departmental spending, but this is the proposition that has been put forward. I think that there was every case for the Colonial Secretary to say to Mr. Mintoff, "We are not ready to go beyond last year's figure. We are stabilising our Estimates at home. We will stabilise them abroad." That is what the Government's objective has been and what, I understand, they have done. But when they were stabilising the Estimates here, was it not a little mean to ask that a little Colony like Malta should directly cut its Estimates? If we were both cutting, there would be more to be said for the sacrifice, but both are not cutting. We are remaining steady.
I now come to the capital fund of which the Colonial Secretary spoke and to the proposition, as I understood it, that the Prime Minister of Malta put forward. I would have thought that £20 million was a grandiose sum to he set aside now for the period between now and integration. The proposal was not that that money should be spent automatically, but that, if unemployment started to grow because of the changed defence concept, it should be available 1054 and ready to allow for the establishment of industries in the interval between now and integration.
The large capital sum to which the Colonial Secretary has committed the Government for the development of industry applies to the period following integration. As I understand, Mr. Mintoff has been concerned with the period between now and integration, whenever that may be. I do not know when it may be. These financial arrangements come into force after that. Therefore, as we have a maximum of three years in which to make these preparations, I think that Mr. Mintoff was right to make these demands.
I think that the sum for which he asked was really out of all proportion, but, as I understand, it was never discussed between the right hon. Gentleman and Mr. Mintoff. Mr. Mintoff put forward a figure that I regard as extravagant. The Colonial Secretary dismissed it as being extravagant, but there was no attempt made—and I do not want to be unfair—to meet the real difficulty in which the Malta Government find themselves because of the unilateral decision by Her Majesty's Government in relation to the dockyard.
I do not want the Malta Government to cut down their expenditure, but to rely more on their own resources. The right hon. Gentleman said that rising taxation was not the only way of doing that, but I must say that that was the first proposition, as far as I know—and according to this document—that was put to the Prime Minister of Malta. If the Colonial Secretary will allow me to say so, I think that he has demanded a higher standard from the Malta Government in an Election year than he was prepared to exact from himself. Before the 1955 Election, I seem to remember that we had a substantial reduction in the standard rate of Income Tax here, although I agree that it recovered in the autumn of that year.
As to the general proposition of the Colonial Secretary, I think there is a lot to be said for the fact that Malta, in its present position, with 100 per cent. cover for its currency, could well afford to make a contribution in this way by raising a loan in the City. I do not dissent from that, and I have made my view clear on that point privately, and do so publicly now.
1055 That brings me to the long-term financial proposals. I should like to put on record that the long-term financial proposals of the Government that would follow integration are, in my view, not ungenerous. I think that they would meet the situation as it stands at present, and that an agreement could well have been concluded along these lines. I also believe that the guarantee of ultimate equivalent standards was invaluable and is invaluable to the people of Malta, and should be snatched by the Malta Government if it is offered, as it has been, by the Colonial Secretary. On these things, we wish to make our position quite clear, so that there should be no misunderstanding in this House or in Malta about where we stand on these issues.
I interrupted the Colonial Secretary in his speech to say that he might well have conceded the point about unemployment. We all know that the rates of unemployment assistance in Malta are low by any standard, whether Mediterranean or British, and we could well have afforded, in my view, if, by our own action, we are to put a number of men out of work, to have conceded a reasonable subsidy to enable them to live at a proper standard, although it would be at a lower standard than we have here. I very much regret that the Colonial Secretary brought this into the balance as one of the factors which led to the breakdown.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I did that only because I was anxious to leave nothing out of that particular document that was handed to me. I expressly said that the level of unemployment benefit was something that ought to go to the working party that I wanted set up at once.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I hope that if it had gone to the working party there would have been a recommendation from the Colonial Secretary that something should have been done to improve them, because we may have men thrown out of work in Malta. Either it will cost us nothing, or we will do the right thing.
I have expressed my view about the financial proposals, and I now want to say something about the other matters. We believe that Mr. Mintoff should have pushed ahead with the proposals for constitutional change much faster than he did. We think that he was ill-advised to bury them beneath a mass of financial 1056 difficulties which could well have been argued afterwards. There was a moment, I believe, when this House, with very little opposition, would have put through these proposals. I am not at all sure that it would do so easily now. There would be a considerable difference of opinion now, and I should like to say a word about that, because I still believe that integration is the best solution in this situation, but I recognise that there are very real doubts about it on the question of religious difficulties.
I know and understand the doubts that many hon. Members have, but we must face the fact that Malta is a Catholic country, and on questions of divorce, church schools, and the right to proselytise, it seems to me that any demand for change must come from the people there themselves. We cannot impose it on them, and I believe that the best chance there is of securing a change to meet what I think will be certainly my wishes and those of the Protestant majority will be that which comes, springs and grows from the Maltese people. Therefore, I hope that anyone whose objections to this idea are based solely on the great religious difficulties would not put that in the way of casting a vote of favour of integration, if we were asked to do so.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Mr. Mintoff made a comment about that, and he has pointed out, with considerable justification, that, as he says, the British have been responsible for the situation for 150 years and have made no effort to alter it. "Why ask me to alter it," he says, "before integration comes about? Let the thing evolve."
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
Surely it would be an obligation—would it not—resting upon this Government, arising from integration, that we should insist upon the same standard of religious freedom obtaining in Malta as obtains in this country?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Of course, religious toleration is something for which I hope this House will continue to stand. I do not want this pushed too far, and that is why I merely mention it in passing as one of the difficulties that has grown up, but which, I hope, would not of itself turn 1057 people against the proposition on that account. There, I should like to leave it.
I come back to the Resolution that was put through the Maltese Legislative Assembly on the question of independence. It was put through unanimously; let me make that clear by both the Government and the Opposition. There is a political lesson there and we should not lose sight of it. In putting the Resolution through Mr. Mintoff has lost sight of the jealous way in which we regard our position as Members of this House and guardians for it.
I do not see how any body of persons, however worthy, can ask to throw in their lot with us on the condition that they may be able to opt out of it later if they do not like it. If they throw their lot in with us, then they sink or swim with us, and there cannot be any question of contracting out once they have come in. I have done my best to make that clear. I regard the Resolution as extremely ill-advised, and I think it has undoubtedly made the situation more difficult than it need otherwise have been.
I come back to the proposal, or the tentative suggestion, as the Colonial Secretary called it, about what I may call "Dominion status minus". It is Dominion status minus, not integration minus, because integration would mean that Malta is comprised as part of the United Kingdom and is represented here. It is Dominion status minus, namely, that the Governor acts on the advice of his Ministers in everything except defence and foreign affairs.
The difficulty that I see about this proposition, and I do not want to rule out anything, is that this is where we came in. It is exactly the proposition that the Round Table Conference examined three years ago and rejected. I was not surprised to hear the Colonial Secretary tell the House that it was not acceptable to the present Malta Government at this time.
Let me remind the House of what the Round Table Conference had to say about the position of Malta in relation to the intertwining of the civilian and defence administrative arrangements. Paragraph 65 says:We were impressed … by the extent to which defence requirements in Malta are inextricably baund up with the everyday life of the community and thus impinge on the domestic concerns of the Maltese people;1058 The Report pointed out the difficulties—in determining whether a matter properly lies within the respective competence of the Maltese and the United Kingdom Parliaments.Under the present system, there are two distinct Governments in Malta. In paragraph 67—I ask hon. Members to note this, because this is the tentative proposal which the Colonial Secretary is now putting forward again—we find this:Nearly all the friction has arisen from disputes on the interpretation of reserved matters, principally over what is a matter of defence.The Report commented onThe ever-widening sphere of defence, complicated by the introduction of Allied Forces.In other words, the Conference said that it is not possible to devise a constitution which will entirely separate the requirements of defence from those matters which are within the authority of the Malta Government.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not want the House to think that my silence during this part of the hon. Member's speech in any way implies agreement with his comparison between the Dominion status plan, even Dominion status minus, and the interim suggestion which I made, which was quite different. I should interfere unduly with the hon. Member if I now explained the position.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had explained it in his speech, because it is not clear to me. The present tentative proposals, as I see them, mean that the Malta Governor would act on the advice of his Ministers and that the Malta Government would be free to enter into trade relationships with other countries and free to act on all matters except defence and foreign affairs. The only alteration, as far as I can see it, concerns the three members in this House and the fact that Malta would not be comprised in the territory of the United Kingdom. There is some confusion in the House about it and if the Colonial Secretary could clear it up I should be glad to give way to him in order that he might tell us in what way the proposals are different.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am quite ready to make another speech, but it might be more desirable for the Under-Secretary of State expressly to deal with this point, among others. The proposals differ in so many ways that I shall be boring the House unduly if I make a second speech at this stage.
§ Mr. Callaghan
In that case, I must proceed on the assumption that what I have said is right. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no use hon. Members saying "No"; I must proceed on that assumption until I have heard the arguments.
Let us get the position clear. I will read from the OFFICIAL REPORT of 25th March. The new constitution for Malta for the five-year trial period isbroadly on the lines of the proposed integration arrangements, save the comprising of Malta in the United Kingdom and representation at Westminster.I will read from columns 241 and 242 of the OFFICIAL REPORT those constitutional arrangements which support what I am saying, because I do not want to read them all:Parliament … would not pass laws extending to Malta with respect to which the Maltese Parliament had power to make laws except so far as the United Kingdom Parliament might judge it necessary for the fulfilment of Her Majesty's Government's responsibilities for defence and external affairs …The reference is to this Parliament. Is not that exactly what I am saying?The Maltese Parliament would have power to legislate on all matters except those specified in a Schedule of excluded matters, of which the main items would be defence and external affairs.Her Majesty in Council would have power to make provision for Malta by Order in Council with respect to defence and external affairs where such provision is urgently necessary"—I ask the House to note the next few words—and for a limited period, in order to modify or adapt the law of Malta in those fields.It continues:There would be provision … for consultative machinery …That does not matter in this context.The responsible Secretary of State"—that would be the Secretary of State for the Colonies, presumably. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It might be the Secretary of State for Air or the First Lord of the Admiralty. In any case, it would be a Secretary of State in this House. The paragraph reads:The responsible Secretary of State would have certain powers of directing reservation of Maltese Bills affecting Her Majesty's Government's responsibilities for defence or external affairs. …—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1958; Vol. 585, c. 241–3.]
§ Mr. W. T. Aitken (Bury St. Edmunds)
May I point out that there is a danger 1060 in describing this as Dominion status minus, because it is different from the Nationalist Party's proposals, which they called quasi-Dominion status. With great respect I think it is rather dangerous to compare the two, because they are different. It is difficult, in an intervention, to recall the whole of the Nationalist Party's proposals, but they are different from the present proposals, which the hon. Member calls Dominion status minus.
Is there not a danger of making it appear as if the proposals which are now put forward for the interregnum are exactly the same as those which were refused to Dr. Borg Olivier, when that is not correct?
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
They were refused by the Government before the Round Table Conference was set up.
§ Mr. Callaghan
In 1953. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) was a member of the Round Table Conference, as was my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). It must have comprised one of the most powerful delegations ever sent from this House. My right hon. Friend is quite right to say that the proposals of the Malta Nationalist Party for Dominion status, without a plus or a minus, had been refused by the Government in 1953.
§ Mr. Aitken
It was the Nationalist Party's proposals for Dominion status minus. That is why I called attention to the use of this expression, so that there should not be confusion.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I think I am being led astray. I must carry on with my speech.
I was trying to examine in what way the tentative suggestion made by the Colonial Secretary—I use his term—would meet the situation which existed at the time that hon. Members went to the Round Table Conference. I may be wrong—and I should like to think I am wrong—but I cannot see this idea as likely to be accepted by the people of Malta. We shall see. I am putting the 1061 differences which exist at present between integration and this proposal.
I must draw to a conclusion. It seems to me that because of the changed strategic concept of the Mediterranean the British Government may now be in an intervening period where they are almost getting ready to offer Dominion status, including control of foreign affairs and defence, or, indeed, independence. If this had arisen in five years' time, I wonder whether the British Government would have been quite as obdurate about the question of independence. There is little doubt to any realistic observer of the Mediterranean scene that, especially since Suez, our influence in the Mediterranean, and, at any rate, the exercise of our naval power in the Mediterranean, has been dwindling. I express the view that it will continue to dwindle over the next few years.
It is probably the case, therefore, that the Government would be very ready indeed to see this tentative suggestion taken up by the people of Malta and to see whether at the end of a five-year period the Government's strategic position was so much clearer that they could say, "Very well. We will not allow defence considerations to stand in your way" or, "The situation is now settled to the point where we think integration is the only way in which the people of Malta can express their views about defence and foreign affairs in the House of Commons."
After all, that was the point. If the Round Table Conference and the Government together ruled out Dominion status, if they ruled out independence and if, nevertheless, they said that there must he a change in the constitutional status of Malta, what else was left? It was by arguing through the position, as I myself have argued, that the conclusion was reached, "What else is left? How else can we give to the people of Malta the right to express their views about their own position, except in this Chamber, if they cannot express them in Malta and if they cannot have the right to be independent?" It was by a process of deduction that the Round Table Conference reached that conclusion. I was not a member of that Conference but, having read about, heard about and argued about, this process, I have also reached that conclusion.
1062 It may be that we are heading for a General Election in Malta in the light of what has been said by the Malta Prime Minister. It would be a very sorry day for both Britain and Malta if an Election were fought there on an issue of independence, as it might well be, in a mood of irritation and exasperation with this country. I very much hope that the Malta Prime Minister will not, at this stage, at any rate, go to the country on such an issue as that, because I believe that it would only serve the interests of the people of Malta ill.
If that is the case, there must be an immediate resumption of negotiations between the British Government and the Malta Government once more. That is the only way I can see for an escape from a situation which will deteriorate and which could become as serious as the other situations with which the Colonial Secretary has had to deal in recent months.
Speaking for myself on this—I know I can speak for a number of my hon. Friends also, but not for all—I would make a gesture to the Maltese people by placing on the Statute Book the proposals for the constitutional arrangements which were outlined by Sir Anthony Eden on 28th March, 1956. They would be in suspense. There would be a date in the future from which they could operate.
§ Mr. Callaghan
As my right hon. Friend says, there would be an appointed day. But they would be there, as a guarantee of our good faith and as a symbol that we should be ready to carry our share of our responsibilities if the people of Malta wished to take up their responsibilities, too. In my view, that would be the biggest single gesture the Government could make to convince the people of Malta that, if they throw in their lot with us, despite all the financial argument which has gone on, we shall stand by them and not let them down.
Next, I put it to the Government that they ought to restore the cut in the subsidy, from £5 million to £6 million; they ought to leave it where it was last year, instead of asking the Government of Malta to cut their services, as things will now mean. Although it is not our job, I suppose, to give advice to the 1063 Government of Malta, I do suggest that this matter needs flexibility of approach from them, too. In negotiations of this sort, no one can get all he asks or all he wants. I believe that it would be in the interests of the people of Malta if the Maltese Government were to resume negotiations in a flexible spirit of give-and-take.
I quite understand the views of some hon. Gentlemen opposite that financial aid continues whether there is integration or not. But that is not the whole story, as the Colonial Secretary knows. Whether the financial arrangements are adequate or not is only part of it. The other part is the part I have been discussing. In what way can the people of Malta really exercise political control or, at any rate, some semblance of control over their own affairs? Even if we offer them the most generous financial aid, it still will not remove from the ambit of argument and discussion the question of the political future of the Maltese people themselves.
I hope that I have given a full picture and made the position of the Opposition as clear as possible. I will conclude by saying to the Colonial Secretary and to the Government that, if we are not ready to concede the right of a people, whether demanded or not, to govern themselves, then we must govern with their consent.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
I always listen to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) with particular interest, because on matters of this kind he has a knack of putting his finger on the important point. He said much with which many of my hon. Friends will probably agree, although we shall also find much with which we disagree. I agree very readily when he says that one could not accept the idea of contracting out of membership of the House of Commons. I confess that I was a little surprised at Mr. Mintoff's suggestion that Parliament should be permanently committed to accepting Maltese Members of Parliament but that the Maltese Parliament should retain the right to withdraw them. When he went on to say that the Treasury had been "mean" in offering £5 million in these negotiations, I found myself in very much less agreement with him. I could not help thinking that the population of Malta is 1064 very similar to that of my own County of Dorset and that to us in Dorset £5 million plus all the other things offered to Malta would be a very large sum indeed.
I was most interested in what my right hon. Friend said in his account of these long-drawn-out negotiations. Those who listened to him will have had a great deal of sympathy with him. I believe that he has exercised very great patience in negotiations which have often been extraordinarily difficult, and he has been generous in the offers he has made to the Government of Malta.
In the two years or so since we last discussed the matter, two very great changes have come about. The first is the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, the changed attitude towards defence. There is no doubt that that has put a different complexion on what was in our minds two years ago. The second factor is the atmosphere which has been created by the very protracted negotiations. Both those factors have fundamentally altered our attitude on this question.
I cannot tell how large the cuts in the dockyard will be, but it is obvious that, with the new attitude to defence, Malta must be less important to us as a base than hitherto. That is the first consequence. The second consequence is that there is bound to be less employment for the Maltese—I do not know how much—directly or indirectly from defence. This, in turn, makes the problem of Malta earning itself a living even harder. Everyone will agree, I think, that the economic problem of Malta is hard enough in all conscience, but it is bound to be made more difficult by the changed defence policy.
As regards the changed attitude created by the long-drawn-out negotiations, many people would agree with some words in The Times this morning, where it is said that Mr. Mintoffis continuing to make things difficult.There has been an impression that in these negotiations, perhaps because he was over-anxious about the future of his island, he has not always been an easy person to negotiate with. The question at once arises: if there are all these difficulties in discussing integration over two years with the party in Malta which believes in it, what will things be like in 1065 future in trying to work it with those who do not—with Mr. Borg Olivier's party? If we really find it so hard to get on with those in Malta who believe in it, it will not be very easy to work it with those in Malta who do not believe in it. It is very important to remember that there are those in Malta who are against the scheme.
There is another stumbling block, the question of parity, or whatever it is called. In its memorandum, Mr. Mintoff's party called it wage discrimination. There is no doubt that the question of parity between Malta and this country is very difficult. Wage rates in Malta have risen since the war much faster than they have in this country, and they have now reached a fairly high level. On the other hand, one must admit that the rate of output per man in Malta is not as high as it is here.
There are other factors to be taken into account in considering parity; for instance, the expenses of people in Malta are less owing to the climate. On the other side of the picture, there is the fact that families are very much larger in Malta than they are here. If one is to have complete parity of standards of living—from that point of view—wages would need to be larger in Malta than they are here. But the fact remains that the doctrine of parity is not calculated to be the best inducement to attract industry to the island.
The economic question is still, and always has been, at the very centre of the problem. What has Malta to offer? That question has been asked by very many people, and it is very hard to find satisfactory answers. Malta has a large supply of labour to offer. That is one advantage. But, as I have just said, the wages are not particularly attractive to industrialists whom one might wish to induce to set up undertakings there. Nearly all raw materials have to be imported into the island, which naturally puts up the cost of most types of manufacture, unless one could find one where the cost of importation is very small. Even factories would be comparatively expensive to build.
There are shortages of both power and water. It is a serious matter that the water table in Malta has shrunk very much in recent years, and it will probably be very difficult to restore to its 1066 former level. One is led to wonder whether some imaginative solution should not be attempted. We read in the Press that the electricity grids of England and France are to be linked together. Could not something of the kind be explored in association with the neighbouring island of Sicily, in an effort to overcome some of the difficulties which are bound to stand in the way of attracting industry to Malta?
A great deal has been said about the problem of converting the dockyards for ship repairs. I very much hope that something can be done to achieve that aim. But we must not fasten too large hopes on this matter, because Malta is not ideally situated for voyage repairs, nor is the dockyard ideally laid out for the purposes of ship repairing. It is an extremely large unit for the purpose of ship repairing. Ship repair yards in this country are comparatively small, none of them employing anything approaching 12,000 people.
When we come to the other thing that Malta has to offer, tourism, it is disappointing to find that not much has been done. No doubt that will be borne in mind in future. My conclusion is that Malta has not much to offer to a prospective industrialist, and cannot expect to attract any huge industries at the moment but it will require time and perseverance to attract small industries to solve the economic problem. Malta, like another Mediterannean island, Corsica, is bound to remain partly dependent on more powerful and richer neighbours in order to earn its living.
Let me turn to the purely constitutional aspect of the situation.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman will remember the Round Table Conference, when he was at the Admiralty. Did the Admiralty then contemplate these changes? If so, did it tell us?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am not concerned with confidential information. The Report is based on the evidence that was given. Does the hon. Gentleman dispute paragraph 48?
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
I have read the relevant paragraphs carefully, and on the 1067 whole I would say that they were a fair description of the kind of impression that I tried to create. But I would not go further than that and say that word for word I would put it in the same way. Having said that, I do not see how Malta can possibly hope in the near future to earn its own living without outside help, either from this country or another country.
I should like to come to the question of integration as such. When we first heard about it, it struck us as an imaginative idea, and it greatly appealed to many of us. We all felt that one thing that was essential in an imaginative scheme of this kind was that it should be backed by confidence, both in Malta and here. I believe that that confidence is lacking at present. Whenever I think of the constitutional problem of Malta, I cannot help thinking of similar smaller islands, namely, the Channel Islands. When I went along to the Library to try to discover the exact relationship between Jersey and this country, I was quite unable to find out what the Constitutional position was. As far as I know, there has never been any question of the Channel Islands having representation in this House.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the difference between the Channel Islands and Malta is that the Channel Islands are so fortunately situated and wealthy that they would like to opt out of our country, whereas Malta is so poor that it wants to opt in?
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
That may be so, but I do not think it is true that the Channel Islands have always been wealthy. There is a great similarity with Malta's position in other ways. The Channel Islands have at least the bond of common religion with us, whereas that does not exist in Malta, and that is one of the problems which we have to solve.
On re-reading the Report, one of the things that strikes me most is, as set out in paragraph 33, the number of points on which there is agreement between the various people from Malta who gave evidence. Disagreement was more or less confined to the question of Maltese Members of Parliament in this House. If Members of Parliament sat in this House 1068 for Malta, it is agreed that they would be concerned only with matters of defence and foreign affairs. It is clear that our defence debates have more or less ended for the year, and we shall not have many more foreign affairs debates during the year. Therefore, only a small proportion of their time would be occupied with matters which directly concern Malta, and a great deal of the time of Maltese Members of Parliament here would be spent when we were discussing questions which did not directly concern Malta.
As I understand the constitutional proposals, the powers of the Maltese Parliament are being increased and not diminished. It is not as if more powers were being handed back to be decided here. Malta is taking more and more into its own hands, and therefore we are concerned less and less with Malta.
In these circumstances, the idea of a five-year interim plan is probably the best way out. Indeed, it may be the only way out. I hope that in framing it, whatever its exact nature may be—and I hope negotiations will go on—we shall attempt to carry Mr. Borg Olivier and his Nationalist Party with us as far as possible. After all, elections change things, as we have seen in Canada only this morning. If we are to have a scheme, we want it to work. It must work if we have Mr. Borg Olivier in power as well as for Mr. Mintoff.
We should base a scheme of this kind on the widest possible agreement. Meanwhile, I see no objection to having one or two life peers under the new Bill being taken from Malta, because, as with the American Senate, the Second Chamber is the place where minority views are represented. I dare say, however, that that solution would not appeal a great deal to Mr. Mintoff. I believe it is right to have a trial period to try to get closer together and to create that confidence on which an arrangement of this kind must be based. Unless confidence is restored both in Malta and here in the practicability and the desirability of a scheme like this, it would be a mistake to go into it.
Meanwhile, I hope that the economic position will be tackled by the Maltese Government with the help of our own Government. I am sure that if that is done it will help to create an improved 1069 atmosphere and confidence which we must have before we go further with the scheme.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
I share the pleasure of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that this is to be a debate on the Question, "That this House takes note—". The Government have been wise in deciding that it should be taken in that way, and the Opposition has been wise in being willing and desirous that it should be taken on that basis. We are in a somewhat different atmosphere from a week ago. We are having a fairly quiet debate on a matter in which there is not much in the way of party principle dividing hon. Members. Nevertheless, it is a matter upon which it may be possible to have differences of opinion.
We all feel some proper degree of sentiment about the island of Malta. We do not forget that in the Second World War she stuck it out in company with ourselves, suffered a great deal of damage from many attacks made by the German Air Force, and was loyal to the association with the United Kingdom in the prosecution of the war. Indeed, so courageous were the people of Malta and so severe were the attacks upon that island, that His late Majesty conferred upon them the George Cross, which we all thought was right because Malta so richly deserved it.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that the British Navy and the Merchant Marine themselves suffered greatly in taking food and other necessities to Malta and in the general defence of the island, just as the British people at home suffered greatly from enemy bombardment. So we are grateful to them also for the way they stuck it out, and although Malta suffered a lot, so did we. At the same time, we are grateful to the people of Malta for the way in which they stood firm and were good friends of ours throughout that period, which must have been one of great trial for the island and its people.
I do not think there is any fundamental difference of opinion on the principle of the desirability of the United Kingdom giving to Malta and its people such economic and financial aid as we can and as is fair and equitable in the circumstances of the case. Whether it is easy for Malta in its natural circumstances to 1070 reach the same standard of life as that of the British people, with their totally different productive system and characteristics, I do not know. It is clearly desirable, however, that our country should extend economic and financial aid to Malta and that we should not be unduly sticky about it or unduly mean.
In view of the fact that Malta has been primarily a dockyard for a long time, if work there is to be reduced or if employment is diminished as a result of United Kingdom Government action, that certainly puts a responsibility on us to do what we can for the island. At the same time, we must remember that some of our own towns are in trouble about cuts in dockyard employment and so on, and so we have to keep them in mind as a matter of equity. Nevertheless, as the dockyard at Malta has been the island's main source of employment, and it was our main use of the island, we have a special obligation when work at the dockyard is being reduced.
There is a reference somewhere in the Report of the Round Table Conference and an implication that if and when Malta receives the same public and social services as are received by the people of the United Kingdom the Maltese should suffer the same degree of taxation as the British people; that is to say, the same Income Tax and the same level of taxation generally. If I have said that I am not sure about the social services coming up to ours, I am certainly not sure about the level of taxation coming up to ours either. These are obviously matters for discussion in the future.
As regards the recent financial discussions, I cannot find it easy to say that the Secretary of State has been utterly mean and hard-hearted in his dealings with the Prime Minister of Malta. There may be room for criticism about degree and so on, but I cannot say that the right hon. Gentleman drives me to a feeling of moral indignation by treating the people of Malta with despicable meanness in the offer he made to them. I have never been a friend of political integration, but if I had been, in view of the conduct of Mr. Mintoff recently on these financial matters. I should be doubtful about supporting it in the light of that experience. I, together with a number of my political colleagues, met Mr. Mintoff when he first came to this country for discussions. My 1071 right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) will agree with me that we all formed a good impression of Mr. Mintoff at that time and of the arguments he put forward. I was not present at the recent meetings, but I gather it was rather a different story. However, I will not go into that.
Free negotiations between the Prime Minister of one country—or whatever the constitutional status of Malta is—can be a discussion between free men, if you like equals, with arguments—and stiff argument, now and again; it is a different thing when one of the parties to the discussion jumps in and says, "Either you give me what I want, or else"—including threats of a general election and threats of a declaration of independence of the United Kingdom. If that is going to happen now while the constitutional connection is there without Parliamentary representation, what will be the situation when Parliamentary representation comes? In these circumstances, I find it difficult to support the idea of Parliamentary representation in this House.
§ Mr. Mellish
There is this aspect which should be taken into account. The recent announcement of defence cuts by Her Majesty's Government must have driven Mr. Mintoff and his Government into an almost impossible situation, in that the future appeared so bleak for them and for their people. It was essential, therefore, for them to try to bargain for at least better financial assistance, not only now but also for the long term, in order to build economic resources in their own country. One must concede that to them.
§ Mr. Mellish
I was not thinking of my right hon. Friend. The argument today from the other side of the House has been that Mr. Mintoff is a very bad man who has destroyed all his chances—
§ Mr. Mellish
—and that, because of his pigheadedness, he could not get all 1072 he wanted. To be fair to him, he is facing a serious position for his people.
§ Mr. Morrison
The last hon. Member in this House I would quarrel with is my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I thought he was telling me to be reasonable and, as he is sitting next to me, that was not an unnatural deduction. Although it sounded to me as though he was talking about me, I am glad he was not doing anything of the kind but was talking about hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am certainly not coming to their defence.
I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey. If it is the case that the Prime Minister of Malta received a sudden shock from that announcement, I can understand him being worried and upset.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not know whether Prime Ministers and other politicians are terrified quite like that.
I understand and I am not unsympathetic towards the point my hon. Friend has made, but on the other hand there were offers of a capital sum of £25 million to help over a period, and there were undertakings about the level of employment between now and 1960, and other financial undertakings. There may be an argument about whether the degree was adequate, but I should have thought that the island was being taken care of to a considerable extent for the next couple of years. I agree that Mr. Mintoff was entitled to be anxious about what happened after that couple of years, but he was not justified in handling the negotiations on the basis of either getting what he wanted or calling for a General Election, with possibilities of independence and another resolution of the Maltese Parliament.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend wants to be absolutely fair to Mr. Mintoff. Is he not aware that, under the terms of the Malta Constitution, there has to be a General Election in Malta before many months in any case? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
§ Mr. Morrison
If that is so, the point still holds. I do not want to be unfair to the Prime Minister of Malta, but I do not want to be unfair to the British, and I am not going to be. If there has to be a General Election within eleven months, then surely Mr. Mintoff was intimating that he would accelerate the General Election for the purpose of testing Maltese opinion. He has to advise the Governor that a General Election should take place, and he is a free man and can give what advice he likes, but his advice would have been in that context.
I have had many negotiations with Ministers in my time as a municipal representative representing London County Council, a very important authority for a very important place. Sometimes I went at my request, and sometimes the Minister asked me to go. There was always plenty of frank speaking and, sometimes, hard speaking, but neither side claimed to be more than equals, free public representatives, freely discussing with each other what should be done. As between the British Government and the Prime Minister of Malta, that is the best spirit in which negotiations can be conducted, and on this occasion Mr. Mintoff's conduct was not all that could be desired, from his point of view, and from the point of view of the well-being of the people of Malta. I am sorry I have been dragged into this argument a little more than I meant.
Paragraph 44 of the Report of the Malta Round Table Conference says:On the other hand, the proposals of the Maltese Government included representation at Westminster as their cardinal feature, and were put forward on the ground that they truly met the realities of Malta's unique situation. In particular, they argued that their proposals recognised that independence was not an attainable aim, and that the Parliament at Westminster must retain for an indefinite period control over defence and foreign affairs, as well as over-riding powers in all fields. Their proposals were accordingly designed to give the Maltese people an opportunity of sharing at Westminster in Parliamentary discussion and decisions on these matters, thereby taking into account their legitimate political aspirations and making manifest the equality of their status and responsibilities with those of the British people.The spirit of the negotiations by the Prime Minister of Malta is relevant to this matter of representation in the British House of Commons.
1074 Rightly or wrongly, I am a Parliamentarian with Parliamentary instincts. Like many other right hon. and hon. Gentleman, I have a deep affection and even reverence for the British House of Commons. I believe that our success in large measure is that this is a coherent family institution, in a sense, in which the Opposition and Government fight each other, as they ought—and the place would be dead if we did not; that is essential—but, nevertheless, a coherent and representative body of the British people—from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In those circumstances, there is a coherence and unity about the House of Commons which we would not have if there were people of diverse character and racial origin brought in from overseas. I do not like the idea of bringing Maltese representation into the House of Commons. That would be confusing and difficult. I did not sit in Parliament in the days of the Irish Nationalist Party. Its members came from the United Kingdom—at least, that was what we hoped it was—-but I gather that they never really "lived" here, so that their only interest in the place was what they could get out of it in the way of home rule and ultimate independence. That was, therefore, an element of disquietude in the House of Commons.
It is not desirable that Malta should be represented in the House of Commons by the three Members who are proposed. That would lead to confusing situations for them as well as for us. Logically, they ought to speak only on defence and foreign affairs, but agree with the Round Table Conference Report that it is very difficult to define where those things begin and end, especially when defence and foreign affairs are systematically mixed in our debates. Those Members would, therefore, be free to speak on other subjects, even though those subjects could be debated in the Maltese Parliament.
§ Mr. Morrison
I will come to Northern Ireland. I agree that that is a fair point to raise.
Supposing we had another 1950 when the Government had a majority of six. That was a nasty situation—nasty for both sides. It was not one of the 1075 happiest periods of our Parliamentary history when people were dragged to the Lobbies from hospitals to be counted in the Divisions. It may be said that such a situation is unlikely, but it has happened once and it can happen again—even with a majority somewhat larger than that. It would be awkward if the guns were pointed at the Government Chief Whip and if he were told, "Unless you give way to us, our chaps will vote against you on this issue." That is not a healthy Parliamentary situation, and it is not conducive to the running of the Parliamentary system.
Northern Ireland was mentioned. Ireland has been a part of the United Kingdom for a long time, until Southern Ireland was granted independence. Northern Ireland does not wish to leave the United Kingdom, and I do not see why she should be driven out. That is an historic situation, and there is no true analogy between the geographical or racial situation of Northern Ireland and that of Malta in the Mediterranean.
Moreover, what could one say to other British Colonial Territories which might want Parliamentary representation in this House? There are several other Territories which could claim representation on a basis similar to that suggested for Malta. I cannot understand why the Government have swung along as far as they have on this issue, when some difficult repercussions are possible from other Colonial Territories. If we once concede the principle, it will be difficult to get away from it if others make the same claim.
Let us take the case of Singapore, which has a somewhat similar Constitution—self-government, subject to defence and foreign affairs; those matters being reserved to the Government at Westminster—and thus has a doubtful finger in the pie of internal affairs. I have been there, and I would say that the present political set-up is similar to that of Malta. If Singapore claimed representation in the House of Commons and threatened to go independent if it were not given to her, we should have a very interesting body of Members of Parliament representing Singapore. It is highly probable that some of them would be Chinese in origin, in which case they would have that curious continuing 1076 loyalty to their mother country, China, although it would not necessarily be a loyalty to Communism. These people of Chinese origin do have a sentimental feeling and regard for China. I should not welcome such representation in the British House of Commons, but the Colonial Secretary has got himself into such a position that he could be placed in difficulties if Singapore made such a claim.
It is said that if we do not give Malta political integration, including representation in the House of Commons, we must provide an alternative. I am not sure that it is fair to argue that we must do so. Solutions have been found in the cases of other countries in somewhat similar situations. The situation in the Channel Islands is not so different from that of Malta. The Channel Islands were mentioned by one hon. Member opposite, and I think that he was being fair in mentioning them.
§ Mr. Morrison
There is the Isle of Man. Both that and the Channel Islands are physically nearer to this country, which, in fact, makes their case for integration stronger, but they have complete internal self-government, outside the spheres of foreign affairs and defence. It may be that the Isle of Man has British postal services, but the Channel Islands, at any rate, are a good analogy with Malta.
I submit that it would be enough if Malta were given local self-government, without representation in the British House of Commons. If it be argued that the Maltese might want an argument raised in the House in connection with foreign or defence affairs which affected Malta, I would point out that I have never noticed any difficulty about finding in this House channels for the expression of opinions coming from our Colonial Territories—and it is very good that that should be so. Judging from the number of Questions addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the folks in Malta would not be in great difficulty in arranging for their points of view to be brought up in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Is not the basic difference between the Channel Islands and Malta the fact that in the Channel 1077 Islands self-government is a reality, because the defence of those islands is neither here nor there from our point of view—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—considering what happened to them in 1940, whereas we have taken over the Island of Malta and used it as a fortress, and self-government has no reality to the Maltese unless they are in a position to discuss matters of defence and foreign affairs.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not think my hon. Friend's point breaks down the analogy; if anything, it confirms it. As Home Secretary, I was the Minister concerned with the Channel Islands from 1940 onwards, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we did not want to lose them. They were useful to us in a military and naval sense, and in other ways. I agree that theirs was not quite the same story as that of Malta, but they were militarily useful, and when we left, owing to force tnajettre, under a Nazi attack, it was not because we wanted to do so. We left with very deep regret. Further, we owe a lot to the people of the Channel Islands for their loyalty and the way they stood with us under the Nazi occupation.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not follow what advice my hon. Friend is giving me. Nevertheless, I am much obliged to him.
Another case which is worth taking into consideration is that of France. This idea of integration is a French idea. Some of the French colonies are regarded as part of metropolitan France, and I suppose that that is political integration. They have representation in the French Parliament. Judging by the present unhappy and anxious state of the French territories in North Africa, this system is not working out very successfully for France. She is having a very difficult time. I think that it is a bad idea.
I have met some of the French Parliamentary representatives from these territories, in company with other members of the French National Assembly, and I do not think that the way in which those North African representatives are regarded by their colleagues is good for either side. They are regarded as people to be used by the French political parties to the best of their ability. This essentially French idea is not a good one. It is not doing France any good. My advice to the Government, therefore, is 1078 that they should resume negotiations as soon as they can. They should do all they can—as I am sure they will—to create a friendly atmosphere in those negotiations. But let us drop the idea of Maltese representation at Westminster. It would have been far better if the idea had never been taken up.
I am sorry that these differences of opinion should exist, but there they are. I cannot conscientiously say that the line which the Colonial Secretary has taken has been wholly bad, or that the line which Mr. Mintoff has taken has been wholly bad—or wholly good. I do not think that it will hurt the Labour Party if, from time to time, its members are not afraid to stand up in this House and say that they believe that upon this issue our country has, in the main, been right.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Aitken (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) because, had I not had the privilege of being a Member of the Round Table Conference, I would have agreed with every word he said. I very much agree with his observations about the way in which the Prime Minister of Malta has handled this question. It is a good thing that he should have said this today, because that, I think, is what most of us feel, much as we admire the volatile Prime Minister of Malta, who is an extraordinarily capable man, and who has done a great deal for his country.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) hit the nail right on the head when he said that the Round Table Conference was driven to the inescapable conclusion that integration was the only possible answer for Malta. I had many misgivings about the whole project, and if I had not sat out those long discussions at the Round Table Conference I certainly should have agreed with the minority report of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn).
What hon. Members do not perhaps realise is that there is a fundamental problem which we find in Malta, and that is almost the complete unworkability of a diarchical system for this kind of people. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South drew an analogy between this and other Colonial Territories which might seek the same privilege or a 1079 similar solution. Had the right hon. Gentleman been a member of the Round Table Conference, I think that he would have seen that there is not much danger of that. The situation in Malta is quite unique, and it will, no doubt, be developed by the Under-Secretary of State when he winds up the debate. That is one fact which emerged with great clarity at the Conference. The first problem in Malta is the fact that the diarchical system of Government has been tried, and failed.
We have had a great deal of experience in administrating this kind of dual system of government and we know many of the pitfalls and difficulties as well as its advantages in politically immature countries. But in a tiny place like Malta the question of defence enters into every problem. If one wishes to tear down a fence, the question of defence arises. You cannot put up a telephone pole without an agreement about whether it is a matter for the Maltese Government or the defence authority. All one needs to do in Malta, to see the unworkability of this system of diarchy, is to have an hour's drive round the island and imagine how many points of friction there might be between these intensely nationalistic Governments and the defence authorities. We must accept that nationalism is part of the healthy growing pains of communities such as Malta and there is no question, if we want to make arrangements for the good government of Malta, that we have to take that into consideration. It is one of the realities of political existence there, as it is elsewhere.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)
I agree that these preoccupations were extremely vital at one time, but would not my hon. Friend agree that, in view of future changes in the rôle of defence in Malta, they may not be so intense in discussions on the relationship between the two countries?
§ Mr. Aitken
I am coming to the rather different situation which arises at present.
I believe that the Round Table Conference which was, by and large, composed of reasonable people without too many prejudices, came to an unescapable conclusion. Unless there have been great changes in the aspirations of the political parties in Malta, I still do not think that there is any other real solution to the 1080 Maltese problem than integration. For the benefit of hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friends on this side of the House, I will say why I think that is so.
First, I wonder whether hon. Members realise how much common ground exists between the major political parties in Malta. There is a great deal. Fundamentally, they all want the same things. They want to enhance the status of the Maltese. This business of status, again, is one of the facts of life in the political existence of these small territories. They wish to enhance the status of the Maltese and that means the status of the Maltese Government. The receding tide of imperialism has left many territories in a difficult position, none in a more difficult situation than that of Malta, yet no amount of pressure or criticism or fears for the future will alter that passionate nationalism. So, despite the difficulties in which Malta finds itself, we must accept this desire for status as the driving force which still dominates Maltese politics.
As a result of this feeling, they all want to see a reallocation of the functions between the imperial Government and the Maltese Government. They wish to see that there is no diminution in the position of the Church in Malta. We who were at the Round Table Conference could not fail to realise even then that there is nothing new about the fears regarding the dockyard. Despite the assurances, that the future of the dockyard appeared to be much more secure than it is now, these fears were very much alive. All parties want better consultation machinery between the authorities in Malta and the authorities in this country.
It is interesting to note that at that time none of the parties argued for independence. They are all agreed on the necessity for economic aid. There were wide differences of opinion about the way that this should be achieved. We listened to a great deal of evidence not only from political parties, but other organisations and individuals. Anybody who says—as I have heard it said—that the Round Table investigation was a purely cursory one, need only look at the list of evidence heard at the Conference which appears at the end of the Report. The reason for my intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, on the question of Dominion status, 1081 is because the Nationalist Party had the idea that it would be possible to have a sort of status where the British Government controlled external affairs and defence—a sort of quasi-Dominion status—but the difficulty of administering Malta, the difficulty of sorting Out defence interests, was the main reason why this quasi-Dominion status was ruled out by the Round Table Conference.
The next and most interesting suggestion came from the Progressive Constitutional Party, which holds ideas about the administration of the island similar to those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South. They were good common sense and, like anything that Miss Strickland is likely to put forward, a sound and a good argument. Unfortunately, there is little support for them among the political parties in Malta, and that was ruled out as politically impracticable. The Conference itself ruled out independence as not attainable in the foreseeable future.
It seems to me that we have to look at this matter in one way only, irrespective of the fears, apprehensions and the difficulties which might occur as a result of having Maltese Members of this Parliament. Perhaps my view is slightly different because I was born in a country where it is not considered particularly difficult for people of a different race, language and religion to play their part in the Government, whose traditions and background of Parliamentary practice are wholly British. Of course, anyone can point to the fact that the Government of Canada is a Federation, but there is no doubt about that the French Canadian people, who understand a lot about these things, can and do enrich the proceedings of that Parliament. I do not feel the same degree of apprehension about this access of new blood as does the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, perhaps because of my own origin rather than logic.
A thing we must look at and remember is that we have a duty to Malta. I believe that we have a great responsibility towards Malta. No matter what happens, whatever the difficulties we may run into with Mr. Mintoff, whatever political hysteria may prevail in Malta, we are still bound by our duty and conscience to be generous to Malta. We have created a situation there which has resulted in 1082 the building up of a much larger population than the island can sustain. We are responsible for the distortion of their economy.
I am not one of those who believe that Malta is without economic and strategic importance. We have seen very dramatic changes in our views on defence in the last two or three years. We may witness even greater changes over the next few years. It may be that we shall find the problem of the guided missiles one which is quite hopeless for land-based organisations to deal with. It may be that the N.A.T.O. organisation and the rest of us may come back to sea power in the missile age and there, perhaps, Malta may again play a great part.
There is a question of aviation, including the factors of payload of aircraft and the necessity for more frequent landing stages and bases so as carry less fuel because of the necessity to act quickly in military emergency and because of the possibility that the whole North African Continent may well be hostile to the West in the next few years. I do not mean necessarily that we will be at war. These staging points in the Mediterranean, Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus, may well be very much more important for defence, for communications and for bunkering aircraft than we visualise at the present time.
Malta can also have a considerable economic significance for this country. Many things are developed in Malta which would be of great use not only to our air communications, but possibly in meeting the need for greater technical training in those parts of the world. I should like to see a vast technical training college for the Mediterranean area set up in Malta and all kinds of tourist development based on Malta, the nearest warm climate country to Britain. Many of these things could be done. "Mony a mickle mak's a muckle"—and if we were to apply the same energy and drive to Malta for these diverse activities as we have applied to developing the defence side of Malta we could make Malta a much more viable territory than it is now.
We have come to a position of very serious difficulty, but the general tone of the debate may well do much to mitigate these troubles. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East made a statesmanlike 1083 speech which will do nothing but good in Malta. I should, therefore, hope that the House of Commons will take this view: we are responsible and have a duty to Malta and we intend to carry out that duty. The Round Table proposals have been very carefully thought out as the only possible answer, and if we believe in them—and I think that the majority do—we should stand by our decision, whether it takes a longer or shorter period, one year or five years, to bring it about. We have given an earnest and have given our views. We have shown that we are anxious and willing to assist Malta to achieve what she desires most—status in the world and economic security. I should like to see the Commonwealth associated with Malta, perhaps in giving technical aid and in other ways assisting the future development of Malta's economy.
I have no doubt at all that political integration is the only solution which will reconcile British responsibility for Malta with friendly relations with the Maltese and with giving them the assurance they want. If this solution involves having Maltese Members of Parliament we must accept that solution and must say so. If we feel that Malta is worthy, as she is, and that we must do everything we possibly can for Malta, integration is the only possible answer.
I do not believe that the Maltese people have yet realised the significance of the political and economic settlement proposed, but time may do that. Once Malta becomes integrated with Great Britain, neither Parliament nor the people of this country will tolerate Malta's being left as a poor relation. We must face it: we can no longer allow Malta to suffer disabilities of unemployment or lack of social services that are not suffered in this country. We must be quite clear about this.
Mr. Mintoff and the trade unions in Malta were quite clear what this means. I once asked the Prime Minister of Malta whether "equivalence" was as ambiguous a word in Maltese as it is in English and he said that it probably was. There is no doubt in the minds of the Maltese leaders that if we have what is called "equivalence" we do not mean that they should have the same money payments or make the same weekly payments for 1084 social services. We mean something which is comparable in the light of Maltese conditions. We must not burke the facts. Either we say that we do not want Malta and must take the consequences, or we must accept the only solution that anybody could see at that conference.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock
I hope that my hon. Friend has not lost sight of the fact that it was not the British Government who repudiated integration but Mr. Mintoff in the Malta Parliament, in December of last year.
§ Mr. Aitken
Mr. Mintoff has not repudiated integration. We are quite a long way off that, I hope, although the process should have been completed before now. There is still a possibility for a settlement. I think hon. Members would say that if there is any fault there is more on the other side than on this side. I hope that this historical opportunity will not be spurned by the House of Commons, and that there will be no lack of faith and mutual confidence between ourselves and Malta in the future.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I wish warmly to congratulate the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) on his speech, which was packed with sober judgment and sound reasoning on this very difficult problem.
It is to the advantage of the House of Commons at this moment that the hon. Gentleman followed directly my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), and secondly that the hon. Member, a member of the Round Table Conference, is one of the few members of that Conference who did not speak in the debate in this House on 26th March, 1956. He is therefore uninhibited by anything he then said. The House will value his opinion today because he has had an opportunity of reflecting for two years on the situation without committing himself by any speech. This fact restores the debate to its proper level.
The hon. Gentleman was justified in re-examining the constitutional proposals of the Round Table Conference, but I hope that the debate will turn once more to the immediate situation, which relates 1085 more to the financial difficulties of Malta than to constitutional proposals. What a depressing contrast there is between the debate today and the debate of almost two years ago, followed as it was two days later, in 1956, by the unequivocal declaration by the then Prime Minister about the Government's policy and intentions. The right hon. Gentleman said:As my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary told the House in Monday's debate, the Government accept the Report of the Round Table Conference and intend to proceed with the necessary steps to carry out its recommendations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March, 1956; Vol. 550, c. 2157.]As far as I am aware, the Government have never gone back on that declaration of policy. It would be quite untrue to suggest, so far as my information goes, that Her Majesty's Government have repudiated that policy or are attempting to sabotage it. I do not believe that. I believe that the Colonial Secretary has approached this difficult period with his mind fully made up that the integration policy was the right one. When the Round Table Conference was meeting, we were left in no doubt at a very early stage about the solution which the Colonial Secretary thought would be the likely outcome of our deliberations. The right hon. Gentleman went further and said—this has to be borne in mind today—that, so far as he could judge the foreseeable future, there would be no alternative to Mr. Mintoff in the Government of Malta. Mr. Mintoff is still there.
I hope that this afternoon we have not met to bury integration, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South pronouncing the benediction. That speech should have been made two years ago in the debate on the Report of the Round Table Conference. If my right hon. Friend, for whom I have a profound affection, did not have the opportunity two years ago, he should have found one in the period in between so that at least we could have had the benefit of his views on the matter long before we reached this difficult stage.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I would remind my hon. Friend that he has just congratulated, warmly congratulated, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) on not having spoken two years ago.
§ Mr. Houghton
I accept my right hon. Friend's rebuke, but, of course, one always warmly welcomes a speech with which one agrees.
The question before the House is, surely, what do we do now? Where do we go from here? Unhappily, there is grave deadlock, but our responsibility for Malta remains, and as long as our duty towards Malta remains, despite the provocations of the Prime Minister of Malta—and no doubt there have been many—we must try to rise above them in the discharge of what we feel in our own conscience is our duty towards the people of Malta.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that we should encourage Her Majesty's Government to proceed with the necessary legislation on the constitutional proposals without Maltese consent or approval. That would be dangerous. I believe that when the necessary legislation to implement the constitutional proposals comes before the House we want to be sure that it is agreed with Malta or that, at least, no substantial differences remain which might wreck its purpose.
At the moment, we should be unlikely to get the co-operation of the Maltese Government in putting on the Statute Book of our Parliament the necessary legislative instrument for changing the constitution of Malta. Without that cooperation and assistance it might well lead to future trouble, because, if we once pass an important constitutional law of that kind, it would be unthinkable that we should have, only a little later, to alter it at the behest of Malta. Therefore, once it is done, it should be done and finished with it should be irrevocable, and never likely to be the subject of further amendment in any substantial degree.
That being so, I do not think at the moment that the problem will be solved by this House proceeding with the necessary legislation to implement constitutional proposals so long as bad blood and acute disagreement on the financial and economic questions still exist. I feel, therefore, that we have now, unhappily, to leave aside the constitutional proposals while we still pursue the question of financial agreement. I believe that to be the only practicable step.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite and with hon. Members opposite who have said that, to a very large 1087 extent, the success of these proposals in all their aspects, these comprehensive constitutional, economic and financial proposals, will depend on good will, confidence and co-operation. We must try, if we can, to rebuild that afresh. We certainly want this marriage between Malta and the United Kingdom to have a lot of affection in it. We do not want it to be merely a marriage of convenience, with frequent disagreements and wranglings about housekeeping money. It must be a peaceful marriage, based on confidence, mutual respect and good will.
Unhappily, that spirit, which lies at the very foundations of this tremendous experiment, appears to be absent. How can we regain it? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East that the situation took a turn for the worse when the Minister of Defence went to Malta and made some very disquieting utterances about the future of the island. That undoubtedly caused great perturbation among the people of Malta. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will fully understand the depth of feeling of the Maltese on the matter when they realise how wholly dependent on defence expenditure are the people and economy of Malta.
It is not too much to say that if the British Government ceased to employ people in Malta there would be either widespread starvation or extensive emigration within a matter of weeks after the dicontinuance of our indirect aid to Malta, quite apart from any direct subvention or assistance which we might give. Therefore, we must try to understand that, from the point of view of the Maltese people, this matter goes to the very root of their livelihood and is not merely an unpleasant economic disturbance which they are in a position to meet and overcome.
In present circumstances, the Maltese have no remedy whatsoever for such a situation, and it will take a very long time before we are able to build up in Malta civilian activities and peaceful pursuits which will give her a viable economy. That is where some hon. Members are so wrong about Malta. There is all the difference in the world between the desire for independence of some territories which have a viable 1088 economy, or can quickly build one, and that of Malta which has no early hope of doing so and is wholly dependent on defence expenditure, or, alternatively, on direct financial aid from Britain.
That dependence is bound to create in the minds of the Maltese a very strong feeling that they are poor relations, dependent in certain circumstances on the continued generosity of the National Assistance Board of the United Kingdom. They do not want to feel in that position after their proud record and their valiant and stoic behaviour at a time of great peril during the war.
We must try to get out of the deadlock. Someone has to make a move in that direction, and I do not think that what the Prime Minister of Malta has just done with regard to his declaration has helped. It is almost provocative. It says, in so many words, "We will go on spending at a level of our own choosing and when we are broke the responsibility must rest on the British Government." That is a very unfortunate step to have taken, and I deplore it very much. I hope that wiser counsels will prevail, but in a deadlock of this kind each side has to make some overture towards agreement.
I am making my deductions from a close study of the matter and from contact with such Maltese representatives as have come my way, but I believe that in the third part—entitled "General"—of the statement made by the Minister on 25th March this year there is a most disquieting reference to a six months' period of unemployment above the level of the United Kingdom. It may be that if unemployment comes to Malta it may come suddenly and it may be catastrophic. It could be, at all events. That possibility, I think, has to be taken into account if the activities of the dockyard were substantially reduced in a comparatively short period. I do not know whether they would be or not. No guarantees are given after 1960 and I am not talking of the time between now and 1960.
However, if it were decided, in the interests of the cuts in the defence programme, or because of economic considerations here, that some quite drastic changes should be made in the level of activity in the dockyard at Malta unemployment would rise sharply and quickly. If unemployment rises sharply and 1089 quickly I think that the prospects are that it will rise to a figure substantially above that of the level of unemployment in this country.
In those circumstances is it reasonable to ask the Maltese to see disaster staring them in the face for six months before any special remedy is found to meet their plight? I hope that this six months' qualifying period will be removed from this section of the statement. I think we should be ready to respond speedily and generously to any grave rise in the level of unemployment in Malta which would have serious economic repercussions upon the well-being of the whole island. Unemployment there on any scale would afflict the whole economy. It would bring about reductions in consumer expenditure. The whole island would enter a period of blight. There is no doubt about that.
I hope that something more reassuring and more liberal can be done about that. I would offer the suggestion, as a basis for a fresh approach, that the level of the subvention be improved apart from the amounts for capital development. The Secretary of State said he had offered £5 million as against just over £6 million in payments in the year 1957–58.
In paragraph 59 of the Report of the Round Table Conference we referred to the agreement of July, 1955, and the payments which were then being made of between £4 million and £5 million a year. I should have thought that on the level of prices alone, and probably on the need for rather speedier progress in the direction of the whole purpose of integration, the Government would have been justified in maintaining last year's subvention of £6 million without the reduction which the Secretary of State insisted upon in his discussions.
The unhappy part of this is that the Round Table Conference, of which I felt honoured to be a member, dealt with the constitutional problems which we thought would be the most difficult and intractable ones. Now, apparently, it is the economic and financial aspects of the matter which have brought about the breakdown, the aspects which we assumed, rather too optimistically, perhaps, would proceed without serious mishap. We all looked at the agreement of July, 1955, and took heart from it, and we hoped and believed that the assistance would be continued for a longer period 1090 on an adequate scale so that no difficulties would arise on that account.
This may be a small offering to peace, but what else can one suggest? We cannot say that we are going to stay put and that Malta must now either come to terms or face the consequences. We do not want to have a quarrel with Malta, with all its possible consequences. We do want to get agreement. We were greatly heartened that a Colony wished to have closer association with Britain. It w ill be a tragedy if the whole thing breaks up and we enter into a period of acrimony and ill will and possibly even graver consequences than that. I hope that out of the debate today the House will give the Secretary of State some encouragement to make a fresh overture to peace. If he does that he can rely on the House to look to the Maltese Government to respond in the right spirit.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I would agree with the last sentences of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member for Sowerby."] Yes, I suppose I should have said the hon. Member for Sowerby," but he is my hon. Friend, as he knows well. I entirely agree with him that anything the House can now do to help the Colonial Secretary to deal with the economic and financial side ought to be done, and I quite agree also that this is one of those set of circumstances where, if there is to be error, it had better be error on the generous side; although as a rule I very much deprecate the use of the word "generosity" in connection with the handing out of taxpayers' money by Ministers. However, it is, I entirely agree, a special case.
I wish I could hope with him that we could now get a settlement which would be irrevocable. That has been wished before. We have had a certain amount of history today. Perhaps I may be allowed to add another small piece:The King of the United Kingdom is our Sovereign Lord and his lawful Successors shall in all times to come be acknowledged as our lawful Sovereigns.Those words come from the Declaration which, it is apt to be forgotten, was not a declaration made by British authority: it was a Declaration made by what authority was left in the Island when the Knights had gone. They then said that 1091 they were irrevocably giving their allegiance to our Crown. I think we might remember that now, when we talk about irrevocable settlements.
Although I began, because the hon. Member finished, with the financial and economic side, I do not wish to speak of it, more than that I entirely agree that we ought to be generous about it, that the House ought to be generous in trusting the Secretary of State, and that the Secretary of State ought to be generous in persuading the Government to find the money. I entirely agree with that, but the economic and financial side of the matter is not that with which I feel most concern.
I have one further thing to say about it, and that is that the expert whom the Maltese Government brought to give expert evidence before the Round Table Conference, Dr. Balogh, the hon. Member for Sowerby will remember, I am sure, in examination said that the only economic resource of the Maltese was that labour in the island was comparatively cheap. I have not the document before me, but the hon. Gentleman may remember asking a question, whether the Trades Union Congress might not look rather doubtfully at that argument. That is all I want to say immediately about the financial and economic side; although there is much more that might be said about it.
It is on the constitutional side I want to say a few more words. I do not apologise for doing so, although I do to this extent, that what I am just going to say I have said before to the House, or tried to; and if then I did not make myself clear, no doubt that was my fault, and I hope the House will forgive me for trying again. It is the point about guaranteeing the religious situation as it exists on the isle of Malta. I have not really, I think, yet persuaded the House to see what I mean about this. I have not the ambition to make the House unanimously agree with me, but I should like to have one more shot at trying to make the House see what I mean about it.
What I mean about it is that there has been continual talk—talk on the island by the Archbishop and by others—around the word "guarantee", and the word "guarantee" has been used loosely, 1092 too, by some people on our side. I am not sure that that does not include the Chairman of our Round Table Conference, than whom no one could have greater authority. The word "guarantee" has been used without having the strict significance which I think it should have if one is going to discuss great matters in terms of "guarantees".
I do not venture to say that the definition which I am now going to give is exactly what a court of law would accept, but by "guarantee" I mean something which is within the control of the person to whom it is given and not within the control of the person who gives it, once it has been given.
I do not myself see how under the British constitution—which has been reduced to very little more than this, that 51 per cent. of the House of Commons at any given moment can do what it chooses—how under that it is possible to promise what shall happen in the future. Nor can I doubt two things. The first is in respect of the "toleration" which there is on the island of Malta. To do the Maltese justice, I think it is toleration in a stricter and exacter sense than toleration in the sense in which we use it; it is toleration in the seventeenth century sense of toleration, that one puts up with the thing as long as it happens outside one's sight and one does not go looking for it to punish it. Toleration in that sense is not what any of our people mean by toleration.
Nor are the rights and prerogatives of the Roman Catholic Church on the isle of Malta what any of our people, I think of any party, take for granted. On the other hand, I myself would not wish in any sense to disturb them, for practical reasons which I need not go into now. But I think that for us to purport to give guarantees that they will not run any additional risk of disturbance if there are Maltese in this House and if this House can therefore naturally feel that any inhibitions it had before about extending its omnicompetence to the ecclesiastical arrangements of Malta—for us to purport to give guarantees that such a situation could in no way threaten any of those things which the Roman Catholic authorities in Malta value, is to run a risk, I think, far more than anyone who calculates it carefully would dare to run, of being faced with the extremest charge 1093 of perfidy. Heaven knows, our Government have faced some charges of perfidy, most of them I think unjustly, some of them—I am deeply ashamed to think—not unjustly. I think that this would be such a charge, more barbed and poisoned than any such charge that we have faced before. I beg right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to consider that.
The reason why I speak now is largely because of another thing which the hon. Member for Sowerby said. He spoke as if the fact that the earlier Report was noted somehow bound to approval everybody who did not take part in the debate in which it was noted. I think that a wry dangerous matter, and I want now, at the earliest possible moment, to put on record—not that it matters what I think on these subjects, but it will at least put it on record—that it is possible to be extremely dubious about the constitutional language in the integration proposals given in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 25th March at col. 241.
To begin with, I am sorry to say that I cannot construe it. I am not saying this out of any pedantry or any stickling for one sort of grammar, or anything of that sort. I am afraid I simply cannot construe the third paragraph of the proposals. The bits that I can construe I cannot comprehend. I beg hon. and right hon. Members to believe that nothing is more dangerous in these high constitutional matters than to go using language which is either unaccustomed or undefined and to think that one can get round a difficult corner by some trick, and that it will be quite right again before one gets to the next corner. It never comes right again—never, never, never.
I ask hon. Gentlemen to consider these words in the first paragraph:It would be provided … that Malta would be comprised in the territories …That is odd language, to begin with.… of the United Kingdom and Parliament would be asked to affirm in the legislation that in no event would Malta cease to have this status …I may be wrong about this, and I stand ready for correction by lawyers or historians, but I think that is an absolutely unique form of words—that Parliament would be asked to affirm in the legislation that something or other would happen or would not happen; I do not 1094 understand the language. In so far as I guess what it is meant to mean, I do not think it would mean it, and I am strongly inclined to think that it would not mean anything at all.
I now turn to the second paragraph. It says:… and Parliament would affirm that the representation of Malta would not cease without the consent of the Maltese Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1958; Vol. 585. c. 241.]That is very curious. The Maltese are to have representation in this House, and, also, the Maltese Parliament is to be for a great many important purposes a fourth estate whose consent is to be necessary to this new kind of legislation couched in this very odd language.
I would not cross-examine the Solicitor General or the Lord Chancellor on this language or hold them to it. I was a minority of one. Incidentally, the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths)—I am sorry that he happens to be out of the Chamber at the moment—was concerned in an intervention when somebody talked about the Round Table Conference deciding against Dominion status in any form or in any way whittled or watered down. The right hon. Gentleman popped up to say that the Government had decided that already, before that Conference.
That releases me a little from some of my inhibitions. I was a member of the Round Table Conference, and of those who went to Malta I was the only one who did not agree with the others. I do not say that to boast. I regretted it very deeply at the time, and I have regretted it ever since.
If the Government and the House are—I was about to say "hell-bent for integration"; what is the Parliamentary term for "hell-bent"?—absolutely determined on integration, I do not wish to do anything to make it more difficult; but I think it has become pretty difficult now. Consequently, I think the Government ought to heed this warning. I do not know who drafted the constitutional language, whether it was the lawyers in the Colonial Office or the Lord Chancellor or the Attorney-General. Whoever drafted it, I undertake that it was not—
§ Mr. Pickthorn
My hon.Friend cannot be funny; I can, but he cannot. My hon. Friend must try to be serious, or keep quiet. Whoever drafted the constitutional language, I am disrespectful enough to say that he had better be asked to take it back and make quite sure that it really does mean exactly what he wanted, and that he wants it to stay like that.
That was the main thing that I wanted to say. There are one or two other things about which I want to ask. I do not want to cross-examine too much, but if the Under-Secretary will listen to me for a moment, this is rather particularly to his address. I have the impression that the Secretary of State's last sentences were meant to warn the banks, the people who might be cashing cheques after there was no money there. I do not want to be indiscreet and if it is not possible to push clarification of that further, I will not "chi-ike" from the back benches at half-past nine.
The Government ought to consider whether it is possible for anything more to be said in connection with its recommended fiduciary issue, a matter upon which I do not even think myself competent. Who is to produce the first syllable of the fiduciary issue? Who are to be those who have the faith? Do Her Majesty's Government's recommendations of this—there can be nothing indiscreet about this, so I hope that the Under-Secretary will note what I am saying on a bit of paper—of this procedure by public loan issued by the Government of the island in the island mean that Her Majesty's Government would have some responsibility, and, if so, what responsibility for such a loan? We are not to tax the Maltese. The Maltese will be able to come here and debate our taxation proposals, but they will have their own taxation system for fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years. When they borrow money, will it affect our credit?
The hon. Member for Sowerby spoke about a marriage, and no doubt, with integration the comparison leaps to the mind—"These twain shall be one flesh"—and all that. We can remember what the poet said about it—"It may have been right to dissemble your love, but why did you kick me downstairs?" The poet would have been even more puzzled if the lady had insisted on signature before an attorney on a blank form of 1096 divorce before she would go upstairs. That is what the Prime Minister of Malta is doing.
I do not want to wrangle with earlier speakers, but much has been made about the changed strategical situation being the apparent reason for the difficulty, the fact that there would be much less labour employed by the Services on the island. Everybody has assumed that that is what has given rise to the situation, from which has come this simultaneous alternative, "Marry me or else". However, that has been a continuous part of Mr. Mintoff's tactics for the last eight or nine years. The theory that it suddenly blew up because the Minister of Defence said, "Boys, in future we shall not need any ships", or whatever he said, will not do.
The hon. Member for Sowerby spoiled one argument which I intended to use, although I shall use it all the same. I intended to say that there was a great contrast between this and the previous debate, in that in this debate no one had said with tears in his throat, "Surely, when there is someone who wants to get nearer to us we ought not to be the ones to hold off". Nobody but the hon. Member for Sowerby has said that. There is still a great contrast with the earlier debate.
I honestly hope and believe that I am as conscious of what this country owes the Maltese, and as conscious of our duty to Malta, and certainly more conscious of personal affections in and for Malta than the great majority of hon. Members. Most hon. Members have not been to Malta, as I have at one time or another, nor had so many friends there. That is not boasting, but simple fact.
There has to be feeling on the other side, too. The argument about someone wanting to get nearer to us is all very well, but it must be made quite clear that he wants to get nearer to us.No lasting agreement with the British Government is possible, even at this late stage, unless it is sustained by a goodwill on both sides and by a spontaneous desire to take the rough with the smooth.I am sure that hon. Members agree with that. It is taken from the Malta Labour Party Manifesto of 1950, which that party proudly reprinted in 1955.
I hope that no amount of saying that there is no other solution and no amount 1097 of saying that we do not want to push away people who want to come nearer to us will persuade Her Majesty's Government that they can go on with what the hon. Member for Sowerby called this marriage, unless there is reasonable evidence that on the other side as well as on ours there is "good will and a spontaneous desire to take the rough with the smooth."
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
It is a pleasure, on this occasion, to follow the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn). I hope to maintain the friendly atmosphere of the debate, in which we have talked in such an unrepresentative way. I have never heard the hon. Member so friendly, witty and unfierce as he was today. However, there is one issue which I want to take up with him.
The hon. Member said that he hoped that the Colonial Secretary would not be influenced by the people who asked what alternative there was. For Colonial Secretary's unlike back benchers that is a relevant question. If any opponent of integration can say what alternative there is, then that will be relevant for the Colonial Secretary. We head a very able, quiet, good-tempered and very damaging speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) and we have heard many hon. Members saying what is wrong with integration, but it is fair to say that we have not heard a single constructive suggestion about what our long-term relations with Malta should be.
We have heard that we are to give a great deal of money, but it is no solution of Malta's problems to say that we will put off the decision and pay the bill. It is extremely bad—and here I agree with the hon. Member for Carlton—to go on paying money to people who are being very insulting to us. It is a bad habit to continue to pay what is only Danegeld and nothing else. That is not a very dignified solution to the relationship between ourselves and Malta.
There is another matter with which I can agree with the hon. Member for Carlton. It is extremely disturbing to note the contrast between the tone of this debate and that of two years ago. It is extremely important that Mr. Mintoff should observe that difference. Mr. Mintoff 1098 should observe that two years of postponement and disappointment have greatly increased the vocal opposition in this House to integration. Those of us who believe in integration should tell Mr. Mintoff to take cognisance of the difference between the two debates and the very serious deterioration from the point of view of the friends of integration.
Although I know that the ground has been covered, it is important to repeat, however trite they may be, the reasons why those of us on the Round Table Conference who supported integration still support it. No one who has not been to Malta can appreciate how totally we have created the economy of that island in our own image. What staggers me about Malta is the smallness of the problem and its dependence upon us.
I wish we did not talk about the national economy of Malta, for it is the economy of a small backward country, and because the phrase national economy gives a totally misleading account of the possibilities of that island. Let us be quite clear in our minds that the island would by now be as desolate as many other islands in the Mediterranean which were depopulated in the last century had it not been for the British Navy. We have completely created the livelihood of these people. We have raised their standard of living far beyond that of any people around them. If anybody wants to see what Britain has achieved, let them compare the standard of living of the island of Sicily, only a few miles away, with the standard of life in Malta. Heaven knows, it is backward enough compared with this country—but not when compared with other islands in the Mediterranean—
§ Mr. Crossman
One of the things that we do in this debate is not only to speak to each other of these facts, but to remind the people of Malta that they have been pulled into a position in which they can be ambitious enough to share in the British Welfare State. They might reflect that if they lived in Sicily, they could not even dream of this possibility. The whole power and dynamic of Mr. Mintoff is that the Maltese people can dream of that possibility.
1099 The second reason is one which I do not think the opponents of the scheme have faced. When we build a Colonial Empire, we have no right to say to people who are mature that they cannot become equal citizens with us. Surely, we have laid down perfectly clearly the principle that for every member of our Colonial Empire there must ultimately be the destiny of full and equal freedom. The main difficulty of Malta is that there is no freedom, because this island is blanketed by defence. If a Maltese does not share the responsibility for the defence of Malta, he has merely colonial status and he is not a free man.
There is a perfectly fair question which Mr. Mintoff put to us. It was, "If you cannot give us Dominion status, the only alternative way of achieving freedom is by integration."
I myself—and I think these sentiments were shared during the Round Table Conference by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—felt that the proposals put forward were very half-way house proposals. We did not propose complete integration; we proposed only partial integration.
We did not propose that Malta should become a county of these islands of ours—that it should be as closely a part of us as is Pembrokeshire. Quite frankly, I should have liked to propose that. I should have said that that was the right thing, but there were difficulties in proposing it which convinced me that it was completely impracticable as an immediate objective.
First of all, there was the fact that in terms of education and religion the Maltese were not prepared to come in at this moment. The second was the economic problem of bringing Malta up to the British economy when its economic standards are so infinitely below British standards. If, for instance, we gave to Malta workers unemployment benefit on the British level, in the case of a man with four or five children it would not pay him to go to work. These were perfectly practical reasons why, if we were to integrate, it would have to be in the long term, in ten or fifteen years' time. That would give us the opportunity to raise the standard of living so that Malta could really become a county of this country. We had to have that long period 1100 before we could create the social atmosphere and we had to remove the psychological obstacles, too.
So we made this strange proposal of representation without taxation. We made the proposal that people should have all the advantages of being Members of Parliament without having the financial responsibilities. We were doing something that was absolutely unique. It had never been done before—which, by the way, makes all talk of a parallel with the French constitution sheer balderdash. We proposed it because we saw that the only way of settling the problem was over a period of ten or fifteen years. We proposed to jump the political gap and give them their political status at once; and, after that, to work on the economic problem to raise the Maltese to the point where eventually they could have common taxation and a full share in our Welfare State. That seems to me to be what we were aiming to do, and I have not heard any critic of the proposal put forward any substitute for that long-term plan.
We have to face the fact that great difficulties have arisen in the last two years. I myself do not believe that the main source of difficulty has been in this House of Commons or in Whitehall, although, of course, I could criticise the mistakes of the Government. I think the point was rightly made that we should not have cut the grant this year and we should have been much more prepared to work on an urgent plan to deal with unemployment. Nevertheless, by and large, the obstacle in the last two years has come from the author of the idea of integration himself—from Mr. Mintoff. It has been a terrible disappointment that, in the course of these two years, this man who had this wonderful idea should have done a number of things which have made it far more difficult for this Government to persuade their own supporters to carry this idea through. That is the fact and we have to face it. It is much more difficult after these two years, and I do not think it will be any easier after another five years.
I concluded my speech in the last debate by saying that some people said that the important thing was to accept integration, and to wait for a favourable moment to fulfil it. I warned the Government that the time for integration was as soon 1101 as possible after the Round Table Conference, and I said that we had created a favourable mood on both sides that might easily evaporate and that we should have the greatest difficulty in recovering that mood. That is true, and it is even more true today, and it deeply alarms me to hear that the Government propose that integration should be postponed by five years, during which we continue to pay money through the nose, hoping in five years' time the atmosphere on these benches and in Malta will not be any easier.
I should like to make one suggestion to the Government which is slightly in disagreement with something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). He said that he would be deeply alarmed if the idea of independence were discussed in an election campaign.
§ Mr. Crossman
The mood of irritation would he inevitable in any Maltese election, if I know anything about their elections. I should not be so afraid of this idea being aired. I myself seriously suggest that the British Government should take it seriously when people start saying that they want independence. There may be a certain risk in this, but I suggest that the Government should say to Mr. Mintoff, "Very well, you want independence; perhaps you can tell us in detail how you are going to do it? We could then discuss the arrangements with you." When the Government proposed to allow India to achieve independence, there was a time in the timetable when we always had to be pushing them, lest they got cold feet. I think there will he a time in Malta when they may get cold feet, but this time we shall not want to push them on. There is no better way of teaching the people of Malta the facts of life than to take the clamour for independence dead seriously and to say. "Right, you can have it. It means, of course, that we should leave Malta." It is much easier to say this now when the Government are talking about closing down the naval base in 1960 as a possibility. Now they can no longer put forward the objection to independence, which was one of the objections put forward at the Round Table Conference, that this is a strategic island of such value that we could not agree to the possibility of independence.
1102 I think that independence will produce misery in Malta and I think that it is likely to produce misery in Cyprus, too, but if the people there are beginning to want independence, my view is that we should take them at their word and say, "Let us work it out together". I urgently suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that in his reply he should at least tell me whether he does not think that there is something in this argument. Should we not say to Mr. Mintoff, "We should like to see your plan. We will give you independence in a year. Let us hear how you want the present arrangements wound up and the last subsidy to be paid. We should like to hear it in some detail because we want to make quite sure that all your voters want it." I have a hunch that this would be the best way to assist the cause of integration, because I believe that what has been offered to the people of Malta already, economically, is fully sufficient to justify them in integrating with this country.
I think that from the start the best thing for Mr. Mintoff to have done would have been to say, "I accept wholeheartedly your political settlement and, having done that, I shall then seek my economic salvation within Britain." If only he had done that two years ago how much further he would have been along the road. If that is true, we must not say now, "Wait another five years."
In my opinion, the Government must make a tremendous effort now to mould opinion in Malta and to call the bluff. They must say, "We have offered you as a Colony more per head of the population and per square foot than any other British Colony has ever received. We have offered you all this. Be serious with us now. Come in or go right out. We want you to come in. We believe that integration is the right solution for your people and we see no other way of doing justice to your island. We see no other way of solving this problem. Nevertheless, if you want to take your island to total destruction and if your people vote for total destruction, then go, and good luck go with you."
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
I thought the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) was less than fair to Mr. Mintoff. This is the first time I have had a chance to speak in a debate 1103 on Malta, but the difficulty which I have seen in following this controversy has been that Mr. Mintoff has been acting exactly as I should expect a Mediterranean politician, one brought up in the Latin tradition, to act in dealing with this country.
What seemed to me to be the outstanding feature of the Majority Report of the Round Table Conference, with which I do not agree, was the extraordinary woolliness of many of the proposals. For instance paragraph 80 was merely an expression of good will towards Malta and in paragraph 85 there are uncertainties about the arrangements on even so important a matter as taxation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) has pointed out in a striking speech, even in the most recent statement by the Government, published last week, the drafting is so uncertain as to be nearly meaningless.
What Mr. Mintoff seemed to me to have been trying to do in a perfectly understandable Latin way—I remember-being struck by this when I heard him speak to groups in this House—was to get the details precisely drawn so that he could have the feeling of security which those brought up in the Latin tradition want to have in their minds and which they need to put before their people if they are to carry conviction in financial as well as constitutional matters. That is why I think that the hon. Member for Coventry, East was less than fair in criticising Mr. Mintoff, as indeed were other hon. Members who have spoken.
My sympathy is with Mr. Mintoff in trying to get the British to do what we so much dislike doing—namely, to be precise in constitutional as well as in financial matters. Mr. Mintoff is an extremely intelligent representative of the Mediterranean thinker and politician, and it is precisely because his whole outlook is so entirely different from ours in this House that I have been consistently opposed to the integration proposal. That is why I found myself in sympathy with the criticism of the integration scheme which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) made this afternoon.
The principal argument which is advanced by those who support integration—other than the romantic argument 1104 on which both my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) and the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) touched, about how wonderful it was to feel that a Colony was trying to draw towards this country—seems to be that there is no alternative. I do not agree. To this extent I listened with by no means complete disagreement to the hon. Member for Coventry, East when he said that if the Maltese are so concerned about their standing in the world, concerned to the extent of wishing to put aside very valuable financial arrangements, then we, as well as they should think about their becoming an independent country.
In saying that, I realise that I am making a tacit decision on a subject about which I am singularly ill-equipped to take a decision—the strategic developments in the next decade or further ahead. It seems to me, however, that it is no argument for integration to say that those who oppose it are not prepared to face the alternative when in fact there is at least one alternative the full consequences of which should be much more carefully examined than they have been examined so far—namely, independence.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
This debate, which has posed a unique problem, has not so far found a unique solution to that problem. In conversation with me a few days ago a member of the general public, not a politician, suggested that Mr. Mintoff has seriously overplayed his hand. In my opinion, Mr. Mintoff never had a hand. We dealt him one and he played it very badly.
What is the issue here? It has been outlined in the debate and it is the responsibility of this country to the people of Malta, an island rock in the Mediterranean which we built up on the basis of necessity over 120 or 130 years. Having raised the standard of the people by the establishment of a dockyard and having kept the economy of the island viable and alive and at a standard which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) said, was higher than anywhere else in the surrounding islands in the Mediterranean, we have a responsibility to maintain the standards to which those people have become accustomed—but not for all time.
1105 For the past three or four years, with some of the most doubtful arguments I have ever read, Mr. Mintoff has bandied backwards and forwards the proposals about integration which arose from the Round Table Conference, with the result that the good will created at the Conference has been seriously damaged. Many people are now having second thoughts about what should be the outcome.
Malta was valuable to us during the war years and performed a great service. So did we. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said, we performed a great service to Malta. But this problem is not the problem of this country alone. As the world changes, as new political alignments develop and new national movements arise, there must be a rethinking of Great Britain's position vis-à-vis our Commonwealth and international obligatons. I submit that many countries of the Commonwealth have obligations to Malta at this time just as great as ours.
Let us consider for a moment the arrangements for emigration from Malta into the countries of the Commonwealth, particularly Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and into the United States. For the United States, I believe that the quota is five Maltese per annum only. Canada will not take any at all, nor will Australia or New Zealand. Yet we are left with the problem on our hands, a problem which, in its fullness, is becoming of international moment in the Mediterranean.
§ Mr. Tomney
In that case, I am mistaken. But it is not so in the case of Canada there are discussions going on, but they have not reached fruition yet. The problem is not one for Great Britain alone.
There is talk of investment in Malta. What can one invest? Let us look at the problem objectively, as an industrialist would. Malta is an island with very little water supply, a thing which must be considered in relation to the very large need of any industry today for water. Faced with this factor alone, how will one attract industrialists to Malta? Frankly, it cannot be done.
1106 The problem of the closing of the dockyard in Malta must be viewed alongside the problem at the dockyards in Rosyth, Sheerness, Devonport and other parts of Great Britain. It is no good arguing, as Mr. Mintoff does, that his people shall have full employment in the dockyard guaranteed for X number of years at the expense of the dockyards in this country, because the trade unions, the men employed in the dockyards and people generally do not see matters in that light at all.
Some of the figures of rundown in the work of the various Ministries are very relevant. The Ministry of Supply is depleting its industrial labour force, so we are told, by no less than 17,000 over two years. The Air Ministry is reducing its force by 8,000, and the War Office is depleting its force by 8.000. The Admiralty is depleting its force by 10,000 in the next two years or eighteen months. All these are factors closely related with the problem of defence.
What shall we do in this situation? Do we have integration and a permanent charge and subsidy to Malta for anything up to twenty or thirty years, or do we, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East suggested, give the Maltese the independence with which Mintoff has challenged us? I am all for the second proposal, even if it means assuming responsibility for going above the figure which the Colonial Secretary mentioned, £25 million over twenty-five years. I am prepared to go further than that and say £7 million for fifteen years. The responsibility must be faced. We have raised these people up, bringing them eventually towards independence. I do not think that Mintoff will accept it for a moment, faced with the consequences which independence would bring. If he will not face it, he must accept the best terms available to him, which are comparable with the terms offered to any community of industrial workers in this country. We cannot guarantee to Malta the things we cannot guarantee to our own people, yet that is exactly what Mintoff is asking—"Full employment regardless and notwithstanding".
We must look at the matter having in mind the position of people in this country who do not see the argument in the same constitutional light as politicians in the House of Commons see it. They see it in economic terms, in terms of bread 1107 and butter and jobs. Anyone concerned with a dockyard constituency would have the devil of a job to argue in his constituency that the reason that his own people are out of work is that the Maltese dockyard must be kept in full production. In terms of everyday economics, it would not stand up in the eyes of the people upon whom the penalty would be put.
The obligation is upon us. All right. Whether the arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South are substantial from a constitutional standpoint or otherwise, is not for me to argue. There are dangers either way, as he forcibly pointed out. If we were to have a situation in the House such as we had in 1951, with a majority of six between each side, and there were three representatives holding the balance between the parties, that would be something which neither party nor the people of Great Britain would like, because every decision would be taken with people looking over their shoulder to see which way they were going to jump. We could not afford to have that. It would lower the dignity of the House and of the British nation.
After what we have gone through in the late war, now that we have our N.A.T.O. alliance and our new concept of defence in association with a United States which is irrevocably and completely tied up in Europe, other nations besides ours must make a contribution towards the solution of the problem of Malta. There are various ways in which it can be done, for instance, by taking immigrants, skilled workers or otherwise, or by putting money into a common pool through the United Nations or some other body to sustain these people until they can—if they can—stand on their own feet.
This is not our problem alone. Those days have gone. The new problems and responsibilities which this country is assuming, one after another, have more relevance in a changing world. I ask the House to consider whether others in the Commonwealth besides us have not responsibilities just as great as we have. In terms of national budgets and economic responsibilities, looking at what one might call the turnover in their national budgetary system, some of them are enjoying social benefits as great or greater than those we enjoy in this country. On 1108 the basis of comparative standards of wealth, they are better off, because they have not our obligations.
The problem is with us and we cannot shelve it. I believe, however, that the countries of the Commonwealth have a responsibility, and, also, that the United States, through its N.A.T.O. alliances, with the possibility that Malta may be regarded in future as a bastion in the defence of the Mediterranean or of the West, must undertake some of the responsibility.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
This is a most extraordinary debate. I suppose that it is one of the occasions when it is said that the House of Commons is at its best, as a Council of State, but I think that it is also a tragic occasion. I say that this is an extraordinary debate, because I find myself agreeing with the most unlikely people. I find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). I find myself disagreeing on matters of Parliament with one of the greatest Parliamentarians here, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), with whom, in my humble way, I share a deep devotion for the House of Commons. I disagree profoundly with the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) and with my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort). I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). It is really most extraordinary.
Does the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North really believe that it is consonant with the dignity of this country to pass round the hat for a Colony? That is what he said. He said that other countries must help us. He said that we should go to the United States.
§ Mr. Tomney
The hon. Gentleman must not misinterpret my words in that way. I say that, in the changing context of world politics and international responsibilities, Malta, as a defence bastion of the West within the N.A.T.O. system of defence for Europe, is not the responsibility of Great Britain alone.
§ Sir G. Nicholson
That means that we should go to other people and pass round the hat, saying, "Will you help us?" I can imagine the sort of answer we should get. To my mind, it is not consonant with our dignity as a great Power, it is not consonant with our duty and obligations to Malta, and it is not consonant with the whole tenor and history of our relations with Malta. It is unrealistic. We might tell foreign nations that all sorts of problems of ours should be shared by them, but we should receive a very dusty answer.
The debate has been occupied mainly by experts. I am not an expert. My only claim to knowledge is that I know Mr. Mintoff quite well and I believe that his character is largely the key to the situation, and I think that it is high time that somebody who is wholeheartedly in favour of integration rose from this side to speak. The arguments and reasons why I support integration are not material arguments. The material and Parliamentary arguments are very even—perhaps the balance comes down against integration. My arguments are emotional, although I do not like to use the word "emotional".
The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) said, "Do not let anybody use the argument that when a Colony wants to come closer to us we must not rebuff it". I shall certainly use that argument, for I think it is most powerful. If one has any faith in the history of the British Empire and in the colonial ideal we should be delighted that one of our Colonies desires to come closer to us. I may be emotional and sentimental, but this is an argument that moves me profoundly, and, whatever the hon. Member for Carlton says, I shall continue to use it.
The argument about our duty to Malta has already been advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken). We have an immense obligation to Malta. We have really created Malta. I do not know what the population of Malta was when it joined us, but I very much doubt whether it was more than 60,000 or 70,000. The population is now about 360,000 or 380,000. It is our creation. We have created an extraordinary economy in which there is no mobility of labour, and I do not think that even 1110 hon. Members realise that. It is ridiculous to compare unemployment in Malta with unemployment in a dockyard or anywhere in this country. After all, in this country people can move from one part to another. For instance, if people in the Isle of Wight are thrown out of work they can get work on the mainland, and thank heaven most of them have done so. Cannot this country see that the Maltese feel themselves cornered in a little barren, rocky corner of the world with nowhere else to go? As the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North says, there are many obstacles in the way of emigration. It is this psychological feeling of being cornered and at our mercy that produces the difficult reactions in the Maltese mind.
I am not ashamed of the argument about obligation and duty. I think that we have an obligation to our Colonial Empire. We have a heavy burden to bear and an obligation to the nations that we have created and brought up to manhood, to the status of being adult. That is something that we have got to sustain. We are very stupid and slow in realising that in Great Britain we are born free Englishmen and free Britons. We have never had any doubt from the day of our birth that we can look any foreigner in the face. Most of the world is not born in that happy state. People in a large part of the world and most of the Colonial Empire are born—and I do not say this in a patronising way, but in an attempt to arrive at the truth—in a status that is thought to be inferior. I do not wish to be insulting or patronising to any colonial race, but I do not think that any of us would like not to have been born in England—
§ Sir G. Nicholson
—or in Wales or Scotland. How would we like to feel that we were regarded as second-class and inferior citizens of the world? Education spreads and ideas spread, and the people of these nations realise that they are thought to be inferior. They realise that they are thought to be of a lesser clay. They wish to become adult and equal. There are emotional and, if we like, sentimental arguments; they are not material arguments.
The position is that the people of Malta are offered out of the blue a chance to 1111 become equals. What do Mr. Mintoff and the Maltese want? What is all this bargaining about equivalents and depression as a result of unemployment? It is not horse trading, but an effort to bring about a situation in which the Maltese know that they will be treated in precisely the same way, if Malta becomes a depressed area, as a depressed area in this country.
I said that I know Mr. Mintoff fairly well. He is one of the most remarkable people that I know. I like him and he is a friend of mine; but he is a queer fish. Ninety-five per cent of him is entirely reasonable—a brilliant administrator, logical, sensible and rational. But five per cent. of him is completely unpredictable. I do not know why it is. I suppose that it is the responsibility of his Creator. The result is that he has landed his own people in a position where the great chance of achieving equal status with us seems to have gone. It is no good denying that we have come to bury Caesar tonight, not to praise him. I want to revive Caesar. I want to see the idea of integration revived. I want explained to the people of this country what integration means to the Maltese.
I particularly want my remarks to be made known to Mr. Mintoff. We are a generous people. I know that we are a proud people. We are particularly proud in the House of Commons. We are proud of our traditions. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South gave a superb example of that. We think that it is a great compliment to ask another people to send Members to this House. We think that in offering our hand in marriage we are bestowing a great favour on Malta. Do not let us hesitate to use that word. Wooing is essential in marriage. In this marriage we must be wooed, as well as the people of Malta. It is no good Mr. Mintoff thinking that he can bring about this marriage on a shotgun principle. The hon. Member for Carlton said something about having provisions for divorce arranged before we can get the lady to go upstairs. That is not quite right. What is really being said is, "We will not think of wooing you unless we are entirely happy about the marriage settlement."
§ Sir G. Nicholson
Yes, and he wants to invest in blue chips and gilt-edged.
I trust that the result of this debate will be twofold. I should like to see it result in renewed movement in this country towards explaining integration to the electors and I should like to see it bring a greater sense of reality into the mind of Mr. Mintoff and his Maltese colleagues.
I conclude by saying that in connection with this matter I have seen a great deal of the Colonial Secretary. I have the deepest admiration for the patience, persistence, vision and generosity he has shown, and I want to put those sentiments on record. I suppose I am an emotional person, and this is an emotional argument, but I believe this is a turning point in the history of the Colonial Empire. Let us make no mistake about that. If we say we will call Mr. Mintoff's bluff; if we say, "Go and have your independence. What a silly ass you are", it is the end of the colonial idea in its true nobility. We cannot treat our friends like that, calling their bluff, any more than Mr. Mintoff can bring about a marriage with us at the point of the pistol. This is not the way to treat Malta. We do indeed need some great imaginative step. It is not for me to say what that step should be, nor do I know. Let us remember, however, that there is more at stake here and now than the relationship of this country with Malta. It is the relationship of this country with the whole Colonial Empire.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
We have just listened to a moving speech, which I much enjoyed. I shall not speak as long as the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson), but at one stage I will address some of my remarks to Mr. Dom Mintoff, because I know him also and believe he might have been a little happier in some of his actions over the past few months and years.
This is an unusual debate, and in parts it may be sombre compared with the debates of two years ago. Of course, all debates are a little unusual if the Whips are off and people speak across the benches at each other. The Colonial Secretary often asks for a bi-partisan policy. Today he has been getting something more genuine, an uninhibited contribution from both sides of the House. 1113 particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who made a startling speech—that is to say, startling to all of us who sit on these benches with him.
Two years ago, I supported the innovation of integration. I still believe in it, but I would say to the Minister that this is a unique step which could take us along a completely new path in the Commonwealth, as the hon. Member for Farnham said. I hope the Minister will remember that in the Gambia Mr. Garba Jahumpa has been canvassing this idea for years. It is a very attractive proposition to masses of people who are living overseas on the low standards of the Gambia and Malta to become members of our family here in the United Kingdom, to have our social services after a decent interval of time, properly phased, and to have all the benefits enjoyed by, say, London and Manchester. Again, let us not forget that the colonial leaders would like very much to come to London to sit in the metropolitan Parliament and to take part in our debates.
Today there have been free contributions by back benchers, but there will be no voting. In a way this is a happy thing, because listening to the debate, I have had the feeling that if there were a vote with no Whips on this House might decide against integration. It is possible, and that would be unfortunate at this stage of the delicate negotiations between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and Mr. Dom Mintoff; so no one can be easy about the way in which the debate has gone. In the moving speech made by the hon. Member for Farnham there were statements which will look horrific in black and white. The hon. Member spoke about shotgun marriages and queer fish. It is the atmosphere in which such things are said that matters, but they will go out to Malta for people to read.
I do not wish to be sentimental and talk about the blitz. People were blitzed here as well as in Malta and other parts of the Empire. Yet the fact stands out a mile that we created the island's economy. Let us make no bones about that. If we had not gone there, it would have been like Calabria on the Italian mainland which now has massive unemployment and would need, as Calabria is having, enormous doles of 1114 new world money, of American money, to help it pick itself up and live at a decent level. The Services are the mainstay of Malta's prosperity. Thus we have an obligation. Do not let us shirk it Let us stand by the island.
Having said all that, let us also not forget that it is an island of emotion. Mr. Mintoff is an emotional man, he has behind him an emotional party, he is living in an emotional atmosphere and, like all colonial leaders—such as Tom Mboya in Kenya and Julius Nyerere in Tanganyika—he is being pushed all the time by the big battalions behind him who are often not in possession of the economic and constitutional facts. So he must keep the pace going to hold the loyalty and keep the leadership of his own people. Nevertheless, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East on this point: bearing in mind all the difficulties of:Mr. Mintoff in his party and in his island, bearing in mind Mr. Mintoff's own temperament, I say openly that the stoppage in these negotiations does not lie with the House of Commons or with the Colonial Secretary. In my view, Mr. Mintoff is very much to blame for much of the difficulty.
I was a little shocked to pick up The Times and read a contribution from Malta dated 26th March, according to which Mr. Minton in his own Parliament said:… Mr. Lennox-Boyd had told Parliament and the British and Maltese people a pack of lies.It is difficult when such language is used about negotiations and in the kindliest way I would say, as the hon. Member for Farnham said, let Mr. Mintoff at least seek a better climate of debate and discussion than that. It makes things very difficult for the people at this end.
We have been told today by both sides of the House that there should be a resumption of talks because it is always better of talk than to fight. I would put this pertinent question to the Under-Secretary: on what basis are we to have a resumption of talks? If we accept the terms or conditions put before us by the leader of the Labour Party in Malta, it will verge upon capitulation at this end; because it is 100 per cent. or nothing as the cards lie. Mr. Mintoff says, "I would like this", and as things are we look like having to give him nearly all of what he wants.
1115 I offer this suggestion to the House, that God helps those who help themselves. I would like to see a little more being given at the other end and in the way of taxation in the island. It is not my job to say on what basis taxation should be levied, but if we are to give £X million—and I would willingly give all of it—I would like to see a little paid at the other end as a token—no more than a token—to hold both sides together.
§ Mr. Johnson
Yes, because we have got beyond the infant stage now in many of our Colonies. Let us be honest about this. Malta has a higher level of education and of political development. Mr. Mintoff himself is much more advanced than some of the leaders in the less advanced Protectorates. So we are saying, in the kindest possible way, that we would like a contribution at the other end to cement the bargain between us made in good faith. We are being asked to give a blank cheque, and in this case we have no means of measuring how large the amount is to be. Mr. Mintoff's actions are provocative—they are more than provocative over the appropriations estimates for next year.
It is a little disturbing to find in our Colonies this ill-behaved boy complex—I prefer that expression to Danegeld. In Kenya, for example, the leaders of the Luo tribe have been saying that although they have been orderly and loyal and the Kiyuyu have been, shall we say, not quite the best behaved in the Colony, the Government are spending a great deal of money on the Kikuyu Land Unit while the Luo tribe are asking what is to be done about them. We have had the same sort of situation in Nigeria and in Ghana. Colonial leaders are saying, "We have been well behaved, while so-and-so has been difficult, and yet you are helping him." It is a difficult problem. It often happens in homes where the ill-behaved child is best off in the end while the good child is supposed to back up the parent on all occasions.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East suggested that we should call the bluff of Mr. Mintoff. One does not like holding pistols to other people's heads, particularly when they are in the same family. 1116 That is not a nice way of putting it. I like to think that Mr. Mintoff is not bluffing but is sincerely and genuinely fighting battles for his own people in his own way, even though we may think that he is misguided and emotional and asking for stakes which are too high. That may be so, but I do not think that we should reply to Mr. Mintoff, "Leave us and go outside the Commonwealth."
That would be a madcap solution, for where else could Mr. Mintoff get financial help on the scale on which we are providing it? To where would he turn? I wonder whether the Americans would help him out of this predicament. Some people have flippantly said that what Nasser has done Mintoff could do, but bearing in mind the history of the Maltese people, I cannot believe that they would turn to Russia in the way that Nasser has turned for a solution of their difficulties. It is a madcap idea to think of independence and the Maltese turning that way for financial help.
Despite his unpredictable and irritating and very provocative behaviour, my sympathies are with Mr. Mintoff. I would not tell him to get outside the Commonwealth. I should follow the course which the Colonial Secretary has followed. I should put my faith in marking time until temperatures have cooled, and I favour the five-year period which has been suggested. I hope that Mr. Mintoff will note this debate and will realise that we are still his friends and all wish to help Malta out of a difficult predicament. I suggest that he seriously considers this five-year "breathing space." Things will have cleared somewhat by 1960, and it may be that economic affairs will then be taking definite shape. The dockyard may get a large share of commercial contracts and the Navy will help with at least 30 per cent. additional work. The year 1960 will be fateful for many Colonies. The picture will then be clearer and Mr. Mintoff will be able to get matters into perspective. We should support this five-year waiting period.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
I listened with great interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), especially when he referred to Gambia, because I have always argued that Malta would be only 1117 the first step in integration and would be followed by other Colonies after these tempting offers. We have been assured by the Colonial Secretary that he took great care to find out about that, and that with the exception of Gibraltar he could think of no other Colonies which would be likely, in the foreseeable future, to want integration on that basis.
§ Mr. J. Johnson
It is not only Gambia. I would also suggest Mauritius. There is not only Mr. Garba Jahumpa in Gambia, but there are politicians in Mauritius who would also like to have a closer connection with the Mother Country on these terms.
§ Mr. Teeling
Another hon. Member mentioned Singapore, and we do not know what is to happen in British Honduras. However, I do not want to follow that line.
It is fairly well known here in this House, and certainly well known in Malta, that I am not in favour of integration and never have been. Only yesterday, I took time off to read through the whole debate of two years ago and I have a fairly good idea of what was then said. It is remarkable how different is the tone of this debate.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) suggested that we should call Mr. Mintoff's bluff and let him have independence. There is a risk of that, in view of the present feeling in the House and in the country. Some people are disgusted with the whole matter and are quite prepared to see Malta have independence. It is, however, not bluff but perfectly true that at the last General Election in Malta Mr. Mintoff went to the country on the issue of integration or independence. He now considers, rightly or wrongly, that he cannot get integration on his terms and it well may be that he will seek an Election on the question of independence.
The way in which we have allowed countries which were originally our Colonies to get independence before they were ready for it has been tragic. I am one of those who say that Ghana was not ripe for independence. There are hon. Members opposite who have gone to Ghana, as lawyers, to try to help the chieftains and others who have always been loyal friends of ours against Nkrumah, who seems definitely to be a 1118 dictator. I read the other day with great interest that he was now in fairly close contact with Mr. Mintoff on the question of lotteries and that he had asked Mr. Mintoff to attend a State reception in Ghana.
I have always regarded Mr. Mintoff as being a dictator at heart. For a long time he has wanted complete power. If we had a quiz in the House. I wonder how many of us could give the names of any of Mr. Mintoff's Government. It is always Mr. Mintoff, although it is true that he usually brings a Minister or two here with him. And then we talk about having Dr. Borg Olivier as an alternative. Some people are critical of him because, they say, he has not the power of Mr. Mintoff, but surely it is better to have an understanding Prime Minister who has some other Ministers of nearly equal status working with him. I believe that several such men can be found in the Nationalist Party, who would work with their leader, Dr. Borg Olivier, if he became Prime Minister. But there is no doubt that in the present Government of Mr. Mintoff it is he, and he alone, who controls almost everything.
Before handing over everything to Malta, therefore, we must try to protect the interests of a variety of minorities—not only the Church, but the middle classes and the supporters of the Nationalists. It is unfair of people to criticise the Colonial Secretary and say that in the last few weeks he has not been as helpful in the question of integration as others have been. To my mind, he has been far too much in favour of integration. My right hon. Friend has stood an amazing amount from Mr. Mintoff, and I give him full marks for it.
Having voted in Mr. Mintoff as a Prime Minister, with no outstanding Ministers around him, the people of Malta should realise that it is not only the Colonial Secretary who has to deal with these problems in this country. Their Lordships at the Admiralty are also concerned. I have just returned from Hong Kong, which is now facing quite a problem, and is wondering what the Lords of the Admiralty will or will not do. Their Lordships say, "The Treasury is behind us, and we have to watch out for it." We also know that the Minister of Defence spoke in Malta not long ago. That being so, it is unfair to blame the Colonial 1119 Secretary who has to give way to other Ministers. Mintoff has not. My right hon. Friend has done his best to bring to fruition what he has called an imaginative idea, an idea which, he hoped, would be a counterblast to the happenings in Cyprus and, later, something like the friendship we achieved with the Boers in South Africa after the war there. Lord Chandos, his predecessor, was against integration, as was Mr. Oliver Stanley, years before him. We must not think, therefore, that integration was a suggestion which came from the Round Table Conference; it was made long before those days.
During the last few months we seem to have reached the stage at which we are trying to force integration upon Malta. Everybody who has spoken today has talked about it as something that Malta must have; as if there is nothing else for her, and as if that is what she wants. I have also noticed that the majority of speakers tonight have either spoken of the period of the Round Table Conference or have not been near Malta for the past year or so. I was there only two months ago, and before that one-and-ahalf years ago, and I can say that things have changed considerably in the last few months.
Even if they had not, however, we ought to bear in mind that there are other people in Malta besides Mr. Mintoff's supporters. Anybody would think, from what we have heard today, that the present Maltese Government is the only thing that counts there. There were elections in Malta in 1951, 1953 and 1955. The present Parliament has gone on for one and a-half years longer than any recent Maltese Parliament. Dr. Borg Olivier was probably quite right when he recently said to Mr. Mintoff, "You have made a mess of it. Let us go to the country and ask it what it really feels about this. I am prepared to have a General Election." At that time Mr. Mintoff said that he was not prepared for one, although we now hear this afternoon that he may be prepared for one fairly soon.
When Mr. Mintoff was returned in 1955, in a blaze of publicity, upon a policy of integration with this country and a wage of about £9 a week for all, he 1120 managed to get only 68,447 first preference votes, with 23 seats, out of an electorate of 152,000. We must not forget that his opponents, the Nationalists, who were completely against integration, managed to get 48.514 votes—only 20,000 less—with four candidates fewer, and they managed to get 17 seats out of the total of 40.
I have heard rumours that people in other countries are wondering whether there will be a Labour Government after our next General Election. Some people in Cyprus feel that they might have a better deal under a Labour Government, although we know how wrong they are. But it is an odd thing that nobody here today is talking of what might happen, if Mr. Mintoff is defeated. There is an Opposition party in Malta, too, which at present has seventeen seats out of forty.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
If Mr. Mintoff were defeated, it would presumably be by Dr. Borg Olivier, and the alternative put forward by him is Dominion status. Does the hon. Member support Dr. Borg Olivier's policy?
§ Mr. Teeling
The right hon. Gentleman is leading up to what I was about to say. In 1955, 81 per cent. of the electorate voted. With all the promises of integration and of money coming in one would have thought that practically everyone would have voted. Not a bit of it; only 81 per cent. voted, as against 95 per cent. in 1932, when a General Election was fought upon vital religious issues. The lowest percentage that ever voted was 74 per cent., in 1951.
Mr. Mintoff came here after the 1955 Election and after that we had all the publicity of the Round Table Conference and the tremendous prestige created for Mr. Mintoff by right hon. Members opposite and the Lord Chancellor going out to Malta. This was a great feather in Mr. Mintoff's cap. In those circumstances, one would have thought that his prestige would have been tremendously increased, and that far more people would have voted in the referendum he called. Not a bit; in the referendum he received 67,607 votes—1,000 less than at the General Election—and on that occasion most of Dr. Borg Olivier's supporters did not vote at all. The net result was that only 44.5 per cent. of the electorate voted 1121 for Mr. Mintoff, and only 60 per cent. of the electorate voted at all.
It cannot be said, then, that even two years ago Malta wanted integration. Less than half the electorate voted for it. In spite of all the offers made, and Mr. Mintoff's great prestige and success, he received less than half the possible number of votes.
What will be the policy of the Nationalists if they get in next time? It is true that they want Dominion status. It is equally true that the Round Table Conference turned down that proposal.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
When Dr. Borg Olivier was the Prime Minister of Malta, before the Round Table Conference was set up, he asked the British Government for Dominion status and the Government turned his proposal down. That is the history of the matter.
§ Mr. Teeling
Is it not the policy of the Labour Party today that the Colonies shall be given Dominion status?
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
Surely my hon. Friend will agree that if a territory receives Dominion status it does not continue to receive a subsidy from this country.
§ Mr. Teeling
That is true and there can be no question yet, in the light of the financial problem which now exists. In any event, Dr. Borg Olivier wanted Dominion status, and was told that he could not have it. At that time both economic and defence reasons were given, but we are now told that defence is no longer such a vital issue and that the matter boils down to the question of economics.
We have heard all the talk about the docks. There is no question that the dockers feel extremely upset about their future. That was the reason why Dr. Borg Olivier's group voted with Mr. Mintoff at the end of December, because of the feeling that was sweeping the island. Everybody felt that something must be clone. Since then, however, they have broken away again and Dr. Borg Olivier's group has strongly disapproved 1122 of Mr. Mintoff's attitude during the last few weeks and months.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Would my hon. Friend therefore say that there is no possibility of the Opposition in Malta joining with the Government of Malta on a programme of independence?
§ Mr. Teeling
I would say that there is absolutely no possibility of that. They might, perhaps, join over the question of the five years; there might be some agreement in that way. As far as I know, they certainly do not want independence. They want to remain within the Commonwealth. One of the proposals that Dr. Borg Olivier's group put forward was to have a treaty with this country and to work on that basis, but still to leave defence and foreign affairs largely to us.
Economically, there is the possibility of development. I was told by the Governor and others when I was in Malta that the possibility is envisaged that all the 12,000 people who may be put out of employment can be put into industry which could be brought to Malta. It is, however, essential that people like Lord Hives and others who go out there should not be contradicted and argued with on business matters by Mr. Mintoff, who knows very little about them. If there is the possibility of economic development, there must be no fear of the whole island always being frightened by threats of strikes and unrest.
I believe that Dr. Borg Olivier is perfectly right in saying to Mr. Mintoff, "You have had your three or four years. Now let us go to the country. Give me a chance to lead a quieter premiership." My view is that although the Colonial Office might not have liked Dr. Borg Olivier very much in the past, it would prefer him now. That being so, and especially if oil is developed, although the talk of it is not very serious, it should be possible economically to develop the island. Even Mr. Mintoff has an idea of negotiating trade agreements with other countries.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) spoke about migration. Unfortunately, I do not have his figures. The figures which I myself noted yesterday show that in 1956 the number of migrations from Malta was 4,492; in 1955, it was 9,007; and in 1123 1954, 11,447. In 1956, 2,724 Maltese went to Australia and 1,161 came to the United Kingdom. Although the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North said that nobody went to Canada during that year, 383 Maltese went, in fact, to Canada and 217 to the United States.
I should like my hon. Friend, when he replies to the debate, to say what would be the position, either with or without integration, concerning the quota for the United States from the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. As far as I know, we do not always fill our quota. If Malta came in under integration, would she be able to come in with our quota, which might mean that a larger number of Maltese would be able to migrate to the United States?
It is not a horrible tragedy if people leave Malta. I know all about the people who left Ireland. The first generation are slightly unhappy, but the second and third generations never return for more than a month. The same is true of Malta. Its people do extremely well and have been a tremendous asset in Queensland and in other parts of the Empire. I know that Australia has recently reduced the numbers, but if anything further could be done to increase the quota it would be a great advantage. I suggest that whichever party is returned to power in Malta, whether Mr. Mintoff's or Dr. Borg Olivier's, should invite all the Dominions to send representatives to a conference in Malta to see what the Commonwealth as a whole can do to take migrants and to help the island. It is true that Malta did wonders for us during the war, but they were wonders for the whole Empire. I see no reason why Australia, for example, which takes more immigrants than we do, as well as the other Commonwealth countries, should not do something to help.
We may be in for troublous and difficult times over an Election in Malta in the next few weeks or months, but do not let us lose our heads over it. It is true that some people, including my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, have said that they see no alternative to integration, but my right hon. Friend has obviously climbed over that mountain a little bit and now sees on the other side the five-year plan. That is not quite integration; it is putting it off a bit, but it is a possible 1124 solution. When my right hon. Friend finds that the Nationalists get back to power, as I believe they will, he will have a request made to him for some kind of Dominion status and something may he able to be worked out. If something can be worked out for Cyprus, which has only 500,000 people, why should it not be possible to work out something for Malta, which has no more than 300,000? if grants of money have to be given, can they not be given by way of a settlement, as in the case of Newfoundland?
I am sure that something can be done. I am convinced that it will be far better for both countries to have possibly a little lazier and quieter Prime Minister in Dr. Borg Olivier, who would, at least, be reliable, than to have a volatile gentleman causing us such endless trouble and worry and not really doing Malta any good.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I intervene briefly to say that I hope that this debate will have two results: first, that it will show that it is possible for negotiations to start again; and secondly, that they should be continued on the basic principle of integration as the guiding line. Having listened carefully to the whole of the debate and to the interesting cross-bench speeches, I am bound to say that nobody has put forward any constructive alternative. I do not agree with those hon. Members who have said that that is not our function. It is extremely irresponsible—and it is not in the tradition of this House to be irresponsible in these serious affairs—to shoot down a carefully thought out proposal without making any alternative suggestion
I hope that the negotiations will be resumed as early as possible. Time has already eroded much of the brightness of the first concept of the integration idea, which we all welcomed when it was reported upon by the Round Table Conference. The passage of time does not make the solution any easier, but will, in fact, bog us down even further in difficulties.
I do not propose to say anything about the Prime Minister of Malta. Too much has been said already about the personality of the Prime Minister of Malta. We are dealing with an idea and with policy, and it would be a tragedy in the history 1125 of colonial relationships if we were to use the excuse of the difficulties of personality of the elected representatives of colonial peoples as any alibi for our failure to reach the conclusions which this House believe to be right.
The Constitution of Malta as we know it today is comparatively young. Malta is not a country with a long history of serious political responsibility. I think I am right in saying that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) who was responsible for introducing the present Constitution of Malta some years after the Second World War.
I ask the Colonial Secretary to look at one or two of the problems which, I think, have exacerbated the situation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that the cut of £1 million seems to be mean and unjustified. This might have been imposed more easily had the grant to Malta been at some extravagant level, but that is not the case. This £1 million has become a factor of great significance; it has become almost a symbol, and it is exaggerated beyond its actual fiscal consideration.
The second matter about which I ask the Colonial Secretary to revise his statement is unemployment. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that special measures would be undertaken if unemployment in Malta continues at a level higher than that obtaining in Britain for a period of more than six months. I submit that that is a doctrine which is absolutely unacceptable to any Prime Minister, whatever his personality. Why should we say to the people of Malta that they must go through a sort of six months' apprenticeship in unemployment before we take special measures to help them?
I cannot understand how the right hon. Gentleman will relate the rate of unemployment in Malta to the rate obtaining in this country. May I remind him that the figures are very difficult to correlate? The employment position in Malta is very different from that in this country. In Malta, there is practically no work for women; it is one of the most serious problems on the island. In any of the little villages one can see all the girls who have left school and are not yet married, sitting on those hard 1126 chairs outside the houses. I am not talking about the mothers with babies, because I think it a good thing that they should be able to sit outside their houses in the sunshine. But there is a serious dearth of work for unmarried girls.
Because they have never been at work—there have never been jobs for them—these girls never appear in the unemployment statistics. Their inclusion would put the unemployment figures in a very different light. We know that in many families in this country, if the man falls out of work, it is possible for his wfe to help to keep things going for a time by going out to work, but that could certainly not happen in Malta.
The other serious difference is in the social services available to the unemployed in Malta, which cannot be compared with those in this country. Six months of unemployment in Malta would mean infinitely more suffering, hardship and hunger than in this country. The right hon. Gentleman owes it to us to explain how he arrived at this painful and cruel formula. I do not think we need to teach the Maltese anything about being hungry. They found out all about that during the war. The Maltese know more about hunger and poverty than do most people in this country.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That remedial measure was a further insurance. I hope the hon. Lady will not suggest that it was the only way in which we were trying to help the Maltese. It was a further insurance which we thought would be a good idea in addition to a large number of others.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. In order to save time, I did not propose to go through all the suggestions but to put only one or two which seemed to me to be difficult. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is able to see this matter in its proper context.
To my hon. Friends and to hon. Members opposite who have spoken as if we had done Malta a favour by putting the dockyard there, thereby raising the standard of living, I would say that that was not the reason why the dockyard was put in Malta. It was put there because we wanted it there. The tragedy of Malta is that the island has been treated for too long as a sort of hinterland to 1127 the dockyard, and it is this distortion of the economy which is causing all the difficulty today.
It would be a pity, however, if this idea of integration got completely bogged down because of financial and economic reasons. I do not think that need happen. I am sure it is not beyond the wit and power of the Colonial Secretary to seek some formula on which the talks can be resumed.
From what I have seen of Malta, it appears to me that, important though the economic measures are, there is a bigger problem at stake which was referred to so movingly by the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson). It is the question of status and dignity. In Malta, we are faced with an educated, cultivated European people, who have decided that they will not put up with colonial status any longer. That is a question which we have to answer. The real reason why so many of us have supported the idea of integration is that it seemed to present an opportunity to make a different sort of offer to these people by changing their colonial status without losing them from the Commonwealth.
There is a new young generation in Malta today. It may be that the Prime Minister represents adequately the rebellious feeling among people who are not prepared to accept poverty as inevitable. I know there are hon. Members opposite who are concerned to refer to the opposition parties in Malta, and that is quite right and proper. But do not let us try to escape from the fact that the Labour Party was elected in Malta and, under the Constitution, is responsible for present policy. One of the difficulties is that too many of the young people in Malta have been brought up in the island where, in fact, two nations have been living side by side. There have been many references to the higher standard of living for Malta compared with the surrounding islands. But there is a more relevant and much narrower issue in the minds and eyes of the young people in Malta. They have seen British Service personnel and British workers in the dockyard very often living at a higher standard than they enjoy.
The young people of Malta have not had to come to this country to see the 1128 Welfare State in action, and perhaps to become a little envious about it. They have seep the Welfare State imported to Malta for the benefit of British Service and dockyard personnel, but not extended to the Maltese people. I have talked with young Maltese mothers about this situation. I apologise if I seem to be mentioning small points, but a Maltese mother, for instance, cannot get National dried milk for her baby, although the wife of a British dockyard worker who may be living next door can. There are two completely different sets of apparatus in Malta, which has contributed largely to feeling among the Maltese people that they cannot put up indefinitely with this difference in status.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) referred to other members of the Malta Government. If I had wanted to provoke him I could have stressed the work of the Minister of Education, who is the first woman Cabinet Minister in Malta, Miss Agatha Barbara. She had to face a situation in which, after very many years of British rule, compulsory education was not current in Malta. The Malta Government seem to have been accused today of not doing sufficient to help themselves, but those who have spent a considerable time in the island know that the Government have been working tremendously hard, particularly in education, to raise the standard of the people. Not only is education now compulsory, but for the first time it is full-time. This has meant a great deal of improvisation.
Far from Malta's being a place in which, as some hon. Members imagine, everybody is sitting back and waiting for the dowry, it is a place in which people are determined to raise their standard of living and to work very hard in order to do so. We should give more credit to them for this. We must remember that ideas which are now familiar to us, relating to the welfare services which we enjoy, must become equally familiar in Malta if its people are to feel that we believe what we say and are concerned for their welfare.
I must refer to emigration. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion mentioned the year 1954, when 11,000 people emigrated from Malta. He said, and so did my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), that more emigration would relieve the situation in 1129 Malta. I want to put a different view. Emigration will never be the complete or even a substantial part of the answer to Malta's difficulties.
The Maltese are a nation with big close-knit families. Very few of them can bear the scenes at the docks when the emigration ships sail out. Emigration is a heartbreaking solution, and particularly hard for people who do not have to face that kind of separation to recommend to others. Looking at it in a more hardhearted way, I take the economic view of emigration. Of the 11,000 people who emigrated in 1954, only about half went as family units. The other half were young, single and, for the most part, skilled workers. If emigration is stepped up in Malta, we shall simply cream off the skilled young people and leave behind the economic problems associated with the under-educated, the unskilled and the old.
Some of the villages in Malta are very sad places to live in. One goes from house to house and finds sitting in each of them two old people. All they have of their family is the sad photographs on the wall. They are in the evening of their days and face the possibility that they will never see their children again.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am sure the hon. Lady would not want to do a disservice to Malta by suggesting that emigration must not go forward. The present Minister of Emigration in Malta said that Malta cannot go forward without the emigration of about 5,000 people a year. Anything suggested to the contrary does a great disservice to the people of Malta.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I am sure that emigration from Malta must continue, but there are other means of dealing with the population problem that I have not time to speak of. We should not force the people of Malta to emigrate until we have done everything else we can to provide alternatives. Otherwise, we disregard the human element in a way which is unfair, because emigration is something that we do not have to endure ourselves.
I am very glad to find myself for once in agreement with what was said by the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson). This is not just a question of an argument between Malta and Her Majesty's Government. As I see it, the whole future of the Commonwealth ideal is involved in this matter, and I hope 1130 it is in that attitude of mind that the Government will be able to resume negotiations.
I was very disappointed in the conservative speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), not only because I felt that it was an unimaginative conservative speech, but because it was at least two years too late and made no contribution whatsoever to the present dilemma which it is the responsibility of this House to try to solve. I believe that the only hope for the survival of the Commonwealth today is by showing its capacity for flexibility and for adapting itself to new situations.
The idea that, in a world which is becoming geographically very small, distance should be the overriding factor seems to me quite unacceptable. Malta is no further from Westminster than are some parts of the great Dominions which, as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) reminded us, have to deal with Parliaments in which have come together people separated by race, geography, history and language.
I would remind my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South that he may be a little late in his criticism of the idea of people from Malta coming to this House. I remember one of the daughters of the late Lord Strickland, that great Prime Minister of Malta, telling me of the exciting times when her father, though Prime Minister of Malta, still retained his seat in the House of Lords and came to Westminster to participate in the debates of another place at the same time as he was Prime Minister of Malta. No one complained about that. I think that it was a very interesting situation.
I hope that we can get back to the same imaginative and bold approach with which the idea of integration started, for unless we can do that in relation to Malta and, if necessary, in relation to other territories—I am not frightened of that—we shall, I fear, fail to preserve the concept of the Commonwealth which we have tried to project into the modern world. Integration offers one opportunity for the Commonwealth to come to terms with the twentieth century and with the demands which people in the twentieth century make towards ideals of human dignity and independence. I very much hope, 1131 therefore, that we shall be able to find some formula on which these talks can be re-opened, because I am convinced that, given the will, we shall be able to find a way.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
I will not comment on all the points made by the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger), but I want, if I may, just to put her right for the sake of the record with regard to the late Lord Strickland. Actually, I think, he sat in this House as a Member for a number of years and gave distinguished service here, although he was at the same time Prime Minister of Malta. I believe it was thought that by his elevation to the peerage he could even more fittingly give the public service which he was then giving, and he did then, of course, go to another place.
Two years ago we were asked to take note of the Report of the Malta Round Table Conference, and this evening we are again debating the subject of Malta, but on a very sombre note. I regret that the terms of the Motion put down by the Government do not include approval of the statement, serious as it was, that my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary found it necessary to make last week. The most important part of that statement for Malta was undoubtedly the serious words:It is impossible for the United Kingdom Government to pledge Parliament to proceed with integration unless a very different state of mind is shown."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1958; Vol. 585, c. 227.]In this debate we are trying to assist the Government to resolve those difficulties which have led to a break off of the discussions between the Government and the Government of Malta. We are trying to assess the failure to reach agreement. We are doing so not with a view to apportioning blame, because that is a very barren and unrewarding purpose, but to see if we can map out something for the future, and for as soon as may be.
I would first pay my tribute to the Colonial Secretary and say at the very outset that even if we were to apportion the fault or blame no part of it would be found to rest upon him because of the failure to reach agreement: none whatsoever. I do not think there is anyone who has occupied the great office he 1132 has in the last four years who has been more painstaking or more arduous in such a routine as he mapped out for himself, in travelling to every dependency of the Crown to learn its problems and then to give the Government and the House the benefits of the experience and knowledge gained thereby. Malta has not been excepted from that routine. He has not only been painstaking in all these long conversations, necessarily confidential and secret as many have had to be; but now I think it would be fair to say that the Colonial Secretary has also been very long-suffering as well.
§ Mr. Mellish
In fairness to the Colonial Secretary, who, I am sure, has had a lot of pressure put upon him from various quarters, I would point out that I understood that his view of the integration of Malta was that this was really the only way we could possibly rule Malta.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I do not think that my right hon. Friend has ever disguised that. He has been absolutely frank about it from the very beginning.
In spite of that, I am afraid the fact is that he has not been about to reach agreement about that with the Government of Malta. I want to make my submission to the House why that failure has occurred. I think it stems from quite a while ago, from the very genesis of the plan which has come to be known as the scheme of integration. That plan did not spring from this country. It originated in Malta. The initiative for asking for integration came from the Government of Malta and the political parties there. It had the important result that the British Government decided to set up the Round Table Conference, which, I think, would be more accurately described as a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament, except for the possible technical disability of a Joint Select Committee's holding sittings outside this country. That was, however, the character of that body, which was given a set task to try to discharge.
But the genesis of the initiative had also an unfortunate effect, so I think, upon the Conference. Because the United Kingdom was really considering dealing with proposals which came from Malta, the Round Table Conference was fettered in the consideration which it could give to the whole problem. Its 1133 terms of reference were rendered narrower, and it was, in fact, given power only to consider constitutional and related questions arising from proposals for closer association which had already been made. It was not given that very wide mandate that constitution-making bodies or individuals have sometimes been given, such a mandate as I suppose Lord Radcliffe was handed when he set about the task, admittedly a very difficult one, of trying to devise a workable constitution for Cyprus. So it was not surprising that the Report of the Round Table Conference dealt with integration, as that was what it was asked to do. It is, of course, on record that all except two of the members of the Conference were in favour of the whole of the Report, including the representation in this House.
I now wish to say a word about the nature of integration. Like other hon. Members, I have read the Report several times, but I cannot change from my original thought upon it, that it is not really a scheme for the union of two countries. The word "integration" appears to have been specially coined for the purpose. A more accurate description of the scheme which we have been considering would, I think, be "federation", and it is the Colony of Malta which is to be federated with this country, preserving its own legislative institutions but sending representatives here. That description would be seen more readily to be true were there other dependencies which were similarly to send representatives here; but I do not want to go into all those arguments now.
Neither do I wish to dwell upon those considerations which make me persevere in my original view which I expressed in this House in the debate two years ago when I was against that part of the proposals which envisaged representation here and the participation in the domestic affairs of this Parliament of Maltese Members individually having as big a vote as any United Kingdom hon. Member upon the issues of this country with which by their upbringing and the nature of their civilisation they would, in my submission, be totally unqualified to deal.
§ Mr. Mellish
One can apply that argument to the twelve Ulstermen who are Members of this Parliament—that they have no right to mess about with English affairs.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I will not widen the debate, even if the Chair would permit me to, by making any references now to Ulster or anything of that kind.
One thing that the scheme of integration envisages is that it is inappropriate for the British Members of Parliament to intervene in great detail in the domestic affairs of Malta. I must, therefore, make as short a reference as I can to one aspect of that, namely, the question of the religious disabilities.
I feel it right to refer to the fact that religious toleration, although laid down in the Declaration of 1802, is not, in fact, in some small details which are important to those who are concerned, actually carried out in Malta, but I would say that had there been no question of integration I should not have felt it right that the British Government should penetrate too deeply into the administration of the island in that regard. It is only when there is the question of comprising the territory and people of Malta in the United Kingdom that there arises the question of the foreign sense of value of social service and of religious tolerance as well.
Here I do not think that I can do better than quote just one passage from what the Archbishop of Canterbury recently said on this subject, when addressing the representative Church body of the Anglican Church in this country. He said:In recent months I began to wonder whether it should not he made quite plain that, in the view of the Church of England and of other Churches, the Roman Catholic Church in Malta must be prepared to see Anglicans and others exercising the same liberties of conscience and religious profession and the same ecclesiastical freedoms as are an essential part of our constitutional freedoms here and, indeed, of the British way of life.As one who, in this country, has worked closely at times with the Roman Catholics on various political issues for a number of years, I appreciate very fully the immense difficulty of making even a slight impact on, or incision into, a country where the canon law and the civil law are, for all practical purposes, the same. Many of us would welcome a solution, were it possible to achieve, whereby the Roman Catholic Church in Malta would remain unquestionably the established Church of that country, but where at the same time, concessions would be 1135 made in those borderline cases where non-Catholics and Catholics, in spite of the best intentions of their respective religious blocs, decide to knit their fates together. It is there and then that the present religious disabilities arise.
Having stated them, I do not want to pursue them. The last thing I want to do is in any way to criticise the Colonial Secretary for not having been able, at this stage, to include these important matters in the list of points on which he has reached agreement—
§ Mr. Wall
I am sure that my hon. Friend does realise the magnitude of that task. It is not just a question of altering the marriage laws, but, as he rightly said, the fact that the canon law is the civil law of Malta would mean that if these disabilities were altered it would entail the alteration of the whole civil law of Malta. That would be an enormous task.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I fully realise that. I do not wish to argue about those matters now, but they do weigh in the account which makes the real union and the real comprising of the people and country of Malta with the United Kingdom very difficult indeed of achievement on a satisfactory basis.
It has been frequently stated today that there is nothing else that Britain can offer, but I have already said that the Round Table Conference was not really invited to roam at large in looking for other solutions. It is true that it examined the scheme favoured by the Maltese Opposition under Dr. Borg Olivier, and it looked at what he calls Dominion status. The Conference turned that down as impracticable, and felt that the road to it was blocked.
I should like to contribute what I think is a new idea that can be considered during these next five years in which we are all to turn over these matters in our minds, both in Britain and Malta. Malta does not wish to be relegated to permanent subordinate colonial status, a status out of which it is the avowed policy of this country to take all the peoples in the dependencies for whom it is now responsible. On the other hand, there is surely a status that could be achieved, that might be something approaching that which Southern Rhodesia enjoyed for a 1136 very large number of years. Southern Rhodesia had self-government within the Commonwealth, but the responsibilities for its defence and its foreign policy rested firmly and without question in Whitehall. I do not see why a status like that could not be achieved for Malta, and why Malta could not be solemnly invested with statehood and called the State of Malta in precisely the same way as, after the severe Irish troubles, a new State was born over there which was called the Irish Free State.
Something like that could be done. There would then be no constitutional barrier to Britain continuing to carry on what I think every hon. Member of this House and the people of this country would feel was always necessary, that is, a full implementation of those feelings of generosity because of the part we have played in Malta—and, indeed, because of the part we have played in creating a problem in Malta today. I think we should recognise that.
If we are to be generous to Malta, we must also be just, and justice must also be given to our own people. That is why I support the Colonial Secretary in his disagreement with the Prime Minister of Malta as to the amount of the subvention that should go from this country.
For the future, I would ask if the problem of the actual details of the constitution cannot be looked at again. It seems that there will be quite a fair time in which to do that. In the meantime, I hope and trust that there will be no bitterness over the failure so far to reach agreement, but an earnest looking forward so that the future might yet be one in which there can be worked out a satisfactory arrangement for the people of Britain and Malta within the same Commonwealth.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I apologise for intervening in these last few minutes of the debate. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that I shall not entrench on his time, but I thought that it would be cowardly of me, as one who was a member of the Round Table Conference and who has previously abstained from taking part in these debates because I wanted to hear the views of my colleagues, if I did not now say that it was with great reluctance that I moved along 1137 the path towards integration, after hearing the Colonial Secretary indicate the kind of problems which confronted us.
But after going to Malta, seeing the people, realising all the difficulties and considering every phase which we might have to face in the future, I found no alternative to integration. I remain of that opinion. I regret the five-year delay and I hope that we shall arrive at a fruitful decision long before that time has expired.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The debate began with a speech from each of the Front Benches. The Secretary of State put his case fully and frankly, and I have no quarrel with the way in which he put it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) set out the immediate situation and put forward suggestions which I wholeheartedly support. I say that now because I do not want to enter into great detail about the immediate situation and the difficult problems which, so far, have proved to be insoluble, but which I still hope will be solved.
Following the opening speeches many hon. Members have described the debate as "interesting", "extraordinary", "astounding" and "a Council of State". As a member of the Round Table Conference who shared the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), may I say that at times I have found it a disappointing debate and—I hope I shall not be misunderstood in saying this—a sad debate.
Perhaps I may say to my colleagues, as one interested in these problems, that I hope that this day will not become known in the history of our Commonwealth as a day upon which this House threw away an opportunity of writing a new and exciting page in the history of the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. Griffiths
If it is too exciting for the hon. Member there is nothing which 1138 compels him to listen to any excitement which I may introduce.
In thinking of the atmosphere of the debate and of my fear that we may have missed a great opportunity, I recalled words which were used by Lord Attlee. When I had the opportunity to leave the Chamber for a few moments I read again those words used by Lord Attlee, who was Leader of the Opposition when the consideration of integration began. It was on the day that Sir Anthony Eden, then Prime Minister, announced that the Government had decided to set up a Round Table Conference because they considered that this was a matter for the House of Commons and for Parliament and because the Prime Minister desired to create a bipartisan approach to this new suggestion which had been made from Malta.
Lord Attlee urged the Prime Minister to set up the Round Table Conference as quickly as possible in the hope that it would proceed with its work expeditiously, that it would report as quickly as possible, and that thereafter the House of Commons, when it received its recommendations, would proceed with equal expedition. My right hon. Friend said:…in these constitutional matters time is of the very greatest importance… sometimes the whole matter slides away … and the favourable moment is lost."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 1137.]I wonder whether this will be our approach to Malta. No one had a better right in Parliament or, indeed, in the country to use those words about the importance of the timing of constitutional matters than had Lord Attlee, for when history of the Commonwealth is written his timing of the granting of independence to the Asian countries will be found to have been one of the greatest contributory factors to maintaining the Commonwealth in the post-war period. I was interested, in reading the Report of the debate on 26th March, 1956, to find that the Secretary of State was also worried about timing. Perhaps he will permit me to quote the words which he used, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will listen to them:… 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 1139 be left in suspense. As in most political processes, circumstances and attitudes are not static"—If the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) wants to interrupt, perhaps he will have the courtesy to stand up and do so.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I did not hear one word which was being read out, and I asked my neighbour what it was. I have got it now.
§ Mr. Griffiths
If the hon. Gentleman listened, perhaps he would hear.… 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".—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 26th March, 1956; Vol. 550, c. 1779.]Perhaps the hon. Member for Carlton is one of those who cannot foresee the consequences.
Those words were said by the Secretary of State, two years ago. The circumstances in which this debate are being conducted are such that the opportunity we had, two years ago, of carrying through the House of Commons with, I believe, almost wholehearted support, this new idea of integrating Malta with this country, may now be lost because of the delay. I hope that it has not been lost. In the time remaining to me, I want to devote myself entirely to considering where we go from here and what can now be done to save the situation.
At present, negotiations are at an end. There are no negotiations taking place between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Malta. Unless they are resumed, things will take their course and drift—towards what? The Prime Minister of Malta has said that he proposes—I believe that he has already done it, as the Secretary of State told us—to carry through the Maltese Parliament legislation by which he will proceed to budget for expenditure which involves a deficit of £7 million over the whole financial year.
That is to be done on a basis which he now knows, unless there is a change in the Government's view, will be a subvention from Her Majesty's Government this year of £5 million. He has further stated that, when this sum of money has been spent, he proposes to dissolve Parliament and ask for a General Election.
1140 By the Constitution, the Governor will be bound to give him the dissolution or suspend the Constitution. There will then be an Election in Malta.
I believe that it is in our interests, as well as the interests of the people of Malta, to seek to avoid any such Election and all that would follow. An Election taking place in the present atmosphere would create a bitterness between us and the people of Malta which might take a generation to eradicate. My first plea, therefore, to the Secretary of State and to the Government—I am not afraid of using the word "plea"—is that they should take the earliest possible opportunity of resuming negotiations.
Having said that, I would say to Mr. Mintoff that it is his duty also to his own people to resume these negotiations immediately. I hope that the Government and the Secretary of State will not say, "Not a penny more than £5 million", and I hope that the Prime Minister of Malta will not say, "Not a penny less than £7 million". I hope that they will come together and seek to settle the immediate problem. Unless we settle the immediate problem, we cannot go on towards any kind of common solution.
I do not want to argue about which is right and which is wrong. My desire is to see the thing settled. If there is to be a settlement before this Election in the next few months, it will have to be a settlement negotiated by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister of Malta, Mr. Mintoff. I ask hon. Members to remember that, because many things have been said about Mr. Mintoff today. With whom will the Secretary of State negotiate except Mr. Mintoff? Does anyone who knows Malta now suggest that there is at this moment anybody with any authority in the island who can negotiate about the immediate situation or the future of Malta, apart from Dom Mintoff? After an Election has taken place, there may be another Prime Minister. Until such an Election takes place, Mr. Mintoff is the Prime Minister and he is the only one with whom the Secretary of State can negotiate.
Mr. Mintoff has been described as a Mediterranean, temperamental and emotional. At one stage I thought that hon. Members were describing the Scots and the Welsh and, indeed, the Irish. The 1141 United Kingdom did not come together without trouble. Wales did not become united with England without trouble, and certainly Scotland did not. As to the Irish, I do not think that they have yet become united with England. But we must approach this matter with due modesty. Who am I to judge Mr. Mintoff?
I would like to quote an extract from the Report of the Economic Commission, which was set up by the Government and asked to report upon the economic problems of Malta. I propose to quote from what is officially known as Colonial Paper No. 332. This is what appears in paragraph 7 about the Maltese Government, the Prime Minister of which at that time was Dom Mintoff:… in our opinion the present Government, though it may have erred on the side of attempting too much rather than too little, has undoubtedly created a new spirit of elan which can be of great value. Although we are clear that the time has now come for a critical review of certain lines of activity, we think it would be most unfortunate if this new spirit in Malta should be seriously weakened.We realise that Mr. Mintoff has made many mistakes in the last two years and I have sought at times to take the liberty of advising him. My first advice was concentrated upon getting integration first and then to discuss other matters. I am sure that all hon. Members, whether they agree with him or not, will agree that Mr. Mintoff brought a new vitality and virility to the life of Malta. I think that the Secretary of State would agree with that. He nods, and, therefore, I take it that he agrees with me.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It must not be assumed that I suggested that there was no vitality before. Mr. Mintoff certainly brought a different kind of vitality into Malta's affairs. I regard him as a friend with whom it is a pleasure to deal.
§ Mr. Griffiths
For all those reasons, I urge the Secretary of State to express his readiness to resume negotiations. He has said it before, but I want him to repeat that he and Mr. Mintoff are prepared to meet without either being tied to any fixed limit.
That is all I wish to say about the immediate situation with which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East dealt in great detail. I wish to add only one thing, and that concerns dock-yards. The dockyard is the lifeline of 1142 Malta. We all know how important defence work is to such dockyards as Portsmouth, Devonport and Chatham. But is any one of them so dependent as Malta is upon defence expenditure on the dockyards? The Secretary of State will know that when the Round Table Conference met to consider the future constitutional status of Malta there were two guiding principles which we had to bear in mind all the time—the constitutional and economic aspects.
First, on the constitutional point, we were assured by Her Majesty's Government that the strategic importance of Malta at that time and in the future was such that Her Majesty's Government and the Parliament of this country must retain authority in that sphere over the island and its people. It was on that basis that we proceeded, and it has coloured and conditioned many of our recommendations.
I want to ask the Under Secretary whether that still stands? If it does not stand, then the road to solutions other than integration is open. The road to independence is open. The only reason why we rejected Dominion status and independence and all the other normal ways towards the self-government of other Colonial Territories was that fact. Does that still stand? If it does not, then it alters the situation.
That was why I interrupetd the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby). He confirmed that this was what we were told by the defence Departments and by the Government and we told the people of Malta that the road to independence was blocked for that reason. If that reason has gone, the road to independence is no longer blocked. If it has gone, let us tell the people of Malta. If it still stands, we must accept the full responsibility that goes with it.
My other question is this. The Malta whose future we have now to consider is the Malta we have created. Were it not for the dockyard we do not know what the history would have been. Probably it would have been a small island, with a peasant population, associated with another country, as it has been at times. By now, that might have been so. Indeed, there are still some people in Malta who believe that the real remedy for the island is not integration with the United Kingdom but integration with Italy. There 1143 are some, though not many, who believe that. We have made Malta into a fortress, we have used it for generations, and the whole of its life, the whole of its economy, has been patterned and conditioned by us. We, therefore, are responsible.
If, now, the entire defence situation changes, and if, as a consequence, there are to be changes in that island of 300,000 people, depending largely upon the dockyard, with unemployment either on the scale feared by the Prime Minister of Malta or on a smaller scale, I suggest to the House that it is our responsibility as a British Government and as the British nation to provide alternative employment for the people who have given their lives in our service. Do we accept that? We ought to do so. It is a moral and political obligation, and I think that we must do it.
I agree entirely that Malta must also make her contribution. I will not say whether the 5 per cent. surcharge or some other proposal is the best way by which Malta can do this. I merely say that I accept the view that Malta must also make her contribution with this country, in the circumstances rightly and inevitably carrying the major part of the burden. I hope, therefore, that in entering the discussions the Government, with the full support of Parliament, will accept responsibility.
In trying to follow the history of the tortuous negotiations of the last two years, it has seemed to me that what caused the crisis and the break-down which we are now facing was that unfortunate resolution which, I hope, will soon be wiped out. It was at that period that doubts began to emerge about the future of Malta.
I am not now speaking of the Secretary of State, but I have an uneasy feeling that the conveying of the news about the future of the Malta Dockyard was not well handled by the Admiralty or the Ministry of Defence. I have an uneasy feeling that, somehow, the Maltese heard about that at second-hand. The Maltese have a Government and a Prime Minister and it is time that we began to realise that we cannot treat other people as though they were inferior. To do so does untold damage.
1144 The resolution about the people who were to be sacked from the dockyard, and which came before the Secretary of State, was able to give assurances about the next three years, and doubts about what would happen in 1960, and all the rumours that the dockyard was to be reduced to 30 per cent. of its present capacity could have been avoided if the matter had been well handled. It is vitally important that in dealing with the people of Malta we should be frank and discuss matters with the Government of Malta, saying that we are willing to accept responsibility, although they must make their contribution. For generations Malta has been our fortress in the Mediterranean. It is now of less value and we must accept that responsibility. Not to do so would be less than fair or just to Malta.
Speaking as a member of the Round Table Conference, I want now to refer to integration. I had my doubts about integration when I first met Dom Mintoff and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) today expressed those doubts. However, my doubt was not about whether this Parliament could adjust itself to having people from Malta sitting with us. Are we suggesting that we, the centre of the Commonwealth, could not adjust ourselves to having three Members from Malta sitting in the House of Commons? Are we suggesting that we are afraid of this venture, we who are the centre of the greatest multi-racial community which the world has ever known? To suggest that is unworthy of our tradition.
My doubt was not about our side, but about the Maltese side. It was the French colonial doubt, the doubt about the French colonial system of making a colony part of France itself and with representatives in the French Parliament. I was afraid that the proposals would break down in that way. I studied the problem with an open mind, but I have become convinced that integration is the only way and that it is the answer.
Let us examine the possibilities. We tell other Colonies that we will guide them towards responsible, democratic self-government within the Commonwealth, so that when the time somes they will be independent like all the other members of the Commonwealth, and that it will then be for them to decide their future. We have not said that to Malta 1145 and we do not say it now. We say that that road is blocked. If that road is blocked, what are the alternatives?
The Round Table Conference carefully considered the proposals of all the other parties. All the parties and other organisations—including trade unions—which gave evidence before the Conference said that they wanted a fundamental change in Malta's status, that they wanted Malta to cease to be a Colony. On that, they were united. They wanted to symbolise that in varying ways. The Nationalist Party wanted it to be symbolised by the transfer of responsibility for Malta from the Colonial Office to the Commonwealth Relations Office. Miss Strickland's party wanted it to be symbolised by the transfer of responsibility from the Colonial Office to the Home Office. The Maltese Labour Party put forward the view that the new status should be symbolised by integration and representation in the Parliament at Westminster. But they all wanted a change in Malta's status.
It will be appreciated that the question that we have now to decide is not a matter of choice between integration or the maintenance of the present position, because nobody in Malta wants the present position to remain; everybody wants a change. If we say that Malta's road towards self-government and independence is blocked, what are the alternatives? We turned down an interim plan put forward by Dr. Borg Olivier. This plan was talked of as a halfway house that was to lead eventually to Dominion status, under which the responsibility for defence and external affairs was to be entrusted to Her Majesty's Government by the free will of the Maltese Government, embodied in a treaty made between equals.
We had to consider the fact that there would be joint responsibility for external affairs and defence between Malta and this country. Does the hon. Member for Carlton support this interim plan? His Government did not. They turned it down, before the Round Table Conference was asked to look at it.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Very well. Dominion status and independence were blocked for Malta. At the same time, Malta said, "Our life is dominated by the dockyard 1146 and defence. Britain's defence policy, which is under the control of the House of Commons, dominates our life in a way that it does not dominate any town in the United Kingdom. Chatham, Portsmouth and Devonport are represented in the House of Commons, where their future is determined. Malta has no voice at all. We are determined to have a voice; we think that we are entitled to a voice", and I think so, too. If we say that we must retain in our hands these matters which dominate the life of Malta, the Maltese are entitled to say that they should have a voice, just as we have. I represent an industrial town, and I have a vote in deciding the future of Malta. Why should I have a vote and not the people of Malta? I cannot answer that question. Can anyone here answer it? How can anyone have a voice in the matter? He can do so only by being represented here.
Those are the realities of the future constitutional status of Malta. We discussed all possible kinds of alternatives at the Round Table Conference, not only those put before us but many others among ourselves, and in the end we came to the conclusion that in the special circumstances of Malta which I have already mentioned the only solution was integration. We accepted it. Some people have said that we have since become romatic about it. I would say that the history of the Commonwealth in the last twelve years has been such that we can take pride in it. We can take pride in its previous history, too, but I speak particularly of the last twelve years, because fundamental changes have taken place in that period. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Carlton would occasionally keep quiet it would help. If he will contain himself for a few minutes I shall finish. I know that it is difficult for him.
Here we had an opportunity of writing a new chapter in our Commonwealth story. All the evolution of the Commonwealth has been towards independence. Fortunately for us and for the members of the Commonwealth, too, with one or two exceptions, all the countries that have become independent have chosen to remain voluntarily associated with the Commonwealth. Malta was the first Colony which asked to join us—the first Colony that saw its future not in separation, but in union. I ask hon. Members on both 1147 sides of the House what it will mean if we can pull it off. Do we not realise what it would mean all over the world, that here is a country which has been a Colony and a dependant, which is now asking to join the Mother Country, and which the Mother Country welcomes as an equal?
I end as I began. I hope that a solution to the immediate difficulties will be found. I hope that we shall indeed get back to integration and carry it through quickly, and that we shall not look back upon this day as one on which the House of Commons threw away a glorious opportunity of writing a new chapter in the history of the Commonwealth.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Profumo)
The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said that many hon. Members had referred to the quality of the debate in various terms. I would call it an unusual debate. I have sat through it, almost the whole way and I have been very conscious, as other hon. Members must have been, of the considerable number of interventions and interruptions which hon. Members have had from their own side of the House, far more than is usual in the normal cut and thrust of debate. Anyone who may have been in danger of losing confidence in this House as a genuine debating Chamber must have been considerably reassured by the performance this afternoon.
My right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary and I will study in great detail and with great trouble all the speeches which have been made, even though in the time at my disposal it will probably be impossible for me to deal, even if I could remember them all, with all the various points that have been made.
I should like to start by talking about one of the matters which has probably occupied more of the time of this debate than any other, namely, the question of Service employment in Malta. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), in his opening and most helpful speech, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), spoke about this problem. 1148 The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East thought that the misunderstanding about the future of the dockyards in Malta resulted perhaps more from the changed rôle of Malta in the strategic concept of the Mediterranean. In general, I accept that. What I cannot accept is that there was any misunderstanding in this matter which led to or caused the breakdown in the negotiations and the discussions which my right hon. Friend has been conducting with Mr. Mintoff.
Let me say this, because many hon. Members on all sides have referred to it, including the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East and the right hon. Member for Llanelly, who considered that we had a special responsibility towards Malta. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) thought that we had a particular obligation towards the Maltese people, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) thought that we were bound to be generous to the Maltese people. Various other reasons have also been referred to by a number of hon. Members.
The United Kingdom Government have always been conscious of their obligations under the July, 1955, Declaration to support the Maltese Government in their efforts to avoid unemployment. I want to make it absolutely plain that it is still the policy of Her Majesty's Government to do everything they possibly can to help the Maltese Government if unemployment arises in the Island, especially if it arises as a result of any change in defence policy. We thoroughly accept that. In fact, we would wish to do just as much as we would try to do for unemployment in this country. I cannot go further than that. We could not accept the demand of the Maltese Government that the level of Service employment in Malta should be maintained indefinitely at any particular level; nor that for every man declared redundant, for whatever reason, an alternative job should be guaranteed by the Services and financed entirely by the United Kingdom taxpayers. I think that reasonable.
The United Kingdom Government have made every effort to provide all possible assurances to the Maltese Government and people about the future of the dockyard. These include willingness to assist the Maltese Government in 1149 remedial measures should substantial unemployment result owing to drastic changes in Imperial defence policy arrangements and be maintained above the level of unemployment in the United Kingdom for a period of six months. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) thought that was slightly "off-side" and that we should go a little further. If the hon. Gentleman reads through that part of the OFFICIAL REPORT following my right hon. Friend's statement last week, he will see that we do go further. My right hon. Friend said that he would be prepared to set up a working party to go in advance into the problems which would be created if there were sudden unemployment after 1960 due to a change in defence policy; so we have gone further than the hon. Gentleman said.
It was because of fears about the possible effect of defence cuts that the remedial measures clause was agreed in February, 1957. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence later paid a short visit to Malta, which has been referred to during this debate. He had discussions with the Maltese Government on the possible future rôle of Malta as a defence base and the implications in terms of employment. My right hon. Friend said he was examining the possibility of using spare capacity in the dockyard for commercial use and emphasised that Her Majesty's Government would make a sustained effort to encourage commercial activities in Malta, but that they could not guarantee to maintain a particular level of employment nor accept responsibility for providing alternative employment; so that there was no change there.
After some time, Mr. Mintoff came back to London, in July, 1957, for further discussions on the proposed economic and financial arrangements under integration. We reached agreement on the proposals which my right hon. Friend outlined in his statement last week, including the remedial measures clause. This is important. This agreement was reached in the light of full knowledge of the possible effect of change in defence expenditure in Malta and Her Majesty's Government's inability to accept Mr. Mintoff's contention that they should guarantee alternative employment.
I am anxious that there should be no misunderstanding about the 30 per cent. 1150 Admiralty work after 1960, which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East went into in some detail. This relates to possible future circumstances in which the dockyard might be taken over for commercial ship repairing. The question is now being vigorously explored. The 30 per cent. would not be, as I think the hon. Gentleman put it, a minimum which the Admiralty would require to be done in the dockyard after 1960.
The Admiralty said that this is the level of contribution—the maximum contribution, if hon. Members prefer to put it that way—which the Admiralty would be prepared to give to "ante up" an offer for a number of years after 1960 in order to help any British firm which had taken over the dockyard for commercial ship repairing in order that it might get off to a good start. Hon. Gentlemen may say that that is all very well, but what would happen if a commercial firm does not take over the dockyard? There we have said that a completely new situation would arise. My right: hon. Friend and Her Majesty's Government have made clear that there is no decision which has been taken as to what will happen to the dockyard after 1960. It is quite clear that a completely new situation would arise—though I am fairly certain this will not happen—if no commercial interest was prepared to come into the dockyard.
I ought to draw the attention of the House to the fact that all these matters were under discussion for many months before the Maltese Legislative Assembly Resolution of 30th December last, and that the fullest possible assurance, short of a positive guarantee of employment in the circumstances of the time, had been given to the Maltese Government. The Maltese Government have persisted in conveying the impression publicly that they had not been consulted, that an assurance had not been given and that the closing of the Admiralty dockyard was imminent.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Surely the Under-Secretary realises better than most hon. Members the uncertainty that would exist in the mind of every dockyard employee so long as no decision is reached by Her Majesty's Government. Can he not go a little further and tell us what is delaying this decision, and in what circumstances we would be able to reach a conclusion on the matter so that the people of Malta may know where their future lies?
I fully accept the point that if one could say something more specific it would be of help to the people in the dockyard. I have gone out of my way to say that no decision has been taken, whereas a decision has been taken on the British dockyards in the United Kingdom. To that extent, Malta is rather better off. My right hon. Friend has said that we are trying to encourage commercial firms to go to the dockyard, and it will be on that, no doubt, that the Admiralty will take its decision. No decision has been taken. If we cannot attract commercial interests to the Malta dockyard, obviously a fresh decision would have to be taken by Her Majesty's Government. I cannot go further than that. All these things are subject to change. That is as good a guarantee as can be given at the present time.
It is unfortunate that this attitude on the part of the Maltese Government culminated in their promotion of the Resolution of the Legislative Assembly last December, to which I have referred and which, in the view of my right hon. Friend and of Her Majesty's Government, was quite unjustified and has certainly done immense harm to the cause of integration and to the prospect of attracting industrialists into Malta. I will not go into all the details, such as the fact that the Resolution appeared on the Order Paper without any notice being given to my right hon. Friend, and all the turmoil in Malta of the Prime Minister resigning. I do not want to emphasise this, but the Resolution has done a great deal of harm which it would be wrong for us to overlook entirely.
Contributions to the Maltese Budget were also referred to at some length. Throughout the protracted negotiations of plans for closer association between Malta and this country, progress has continually been hampered by the persistent inability of the Maltese Government to agree that the joint obligations in the 1955 Declaration, which were endorsed by the Malta London Round Table Conference, obliged the Maltese Government and people to accept that they should forthwith draw up a long-term development plan and make the fullest possible contribution to the financing of that plan from their own resources.
It has appeared to us throughout that the Maltese Government were unjustified 1152 in expecting the United Kingdom taxpayer to be obliged unilaterally to finance the development of Malta's resources and, consequently, Malta's standard of living, desirable as that is, and that the limitation on United Kingdom contributions to Maltese budgets should be set only by what the Maltese Government considered it necessary to spend.
To begin with, the Maltese Government argued that it would be politically difficult for them to raise taxation or to finance expenditure on loans until integration was accepted. On the basis of this, we did not at first press the case for contributions from the Maltese people. On the contrary, the assistance provided by the United Kingdom towards the Maltese Budget rose progressively from about £4.25 million in 1955–56 to more than £6 million in 1957–58. In spite of this, the United Kingdom Government have been under continual pressure to provide further sums, without any token of willingness by the Maltese Government and people to raise their own contributions which, in the view of independent experts as well as of my right hon. Friend, was fully possible, practicable and desirable. I was very glad to find that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East shared that view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) asked about the fiduciary issue. That is a perfectly simple operation. It is a Government operation, not involving going to the public or involving Her Majesty's Government. It simply means switching part of the Maltese currency backing to a Maltese Government loan issue, done locally.
The other thing my hon. Friend asked me was whether, when my right hon. Friend finished his speech, he was warning the bankers in Malta. The answer is that he was not warning the bankers; he was warning the Government of Malta lest they should go ahead unheedful of the warnings which he had given them in the past.
Perhaps the most potent question posed during the debate has been, to use the words of the hon. Member for Sowerby "Where do we go from here?" My right hon. Friend made it clear in his statement last week that it really is impossible to proceed with the integration plan at the present time. The Maltese Government have firmly stated 1153 that they are not prepared to proceed with it in Malta on the basis previously negotiated, though this was supplemented by further assurances by my right hon. Friend and by the offer to set up a working party.
Hon. Members will recall that the recommendation of the Malta Round Table Conference was that integration was subject to the Maltese people themselves clearly and unmistakably demonstrating that they were in favour of it. A great many metaphors about marriage have been used in the debate today, but it was perfectly clear that this was not a case of the bride being hauled up to the altar, but of her going voluntarily and freely. In so far as the Maltese—
§ Mr. Profumo
I was regarding my right hon. Friend as the groom.
In so far as the Maltese Government may represent the views of the Maltese people, it would now appear that they are in favour of it on the basis which has been negotiated.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who made an extremely interesting speech, said that the climate was now quite different—he regretted that—from what it had been even a year ago. I entirely agree with him and go so far, if I may with his permission, to quote from an article which he wrote in the Daily Mirror on 14th March, in which he described Mr. Mintolf and his whole attitude. The article stated:Unfortunately, he"—Mr. Mintoff—has given the impression that he regards the integration plan not as a generous British offer to Malta but as a favour which the Maltese might concede to Britain on condition they get all the economic help they ask for.I think that really is the impression—
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The Parliamentary Secretary said, "It is impossible to proceed with the integration plan at the present time." I do not know what he means by "the present time." If Malta interprets this announcement as meaning that intergration is now at an end, and if parties join, as they might, in asking for independence, what will Her Majesty's Government do?
§ Mr. Profumo
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed, 1154 because I would not like this taken out of its context. The reason why the matter has broken down is because Mr. Mintoff has not felt it possible to accept integration on the terms which my right hon. Friend felt he had to put to him. I then went on to quote the conditions and the difficulties of these negotiations, and I then quoted the hon. Member for Coventry, East, who, I think, summed up the position very well in his newspaper article.
As to our position here, in spite of what the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said when he asked whether we could not perhaps have legislation now, I really do not think hon. Members would seriously suggest that my right hon. Friend could come to this House with a Bill to implement a plan for integration, with all its constitutional and economic provisions and with all that it is intended to do in the way of reaffirming the connections between the two countries, so long as the Resolution of 30th December stands on the books and so long as the Maltese Government are trying to attach a unilateral condition of independence to the integration plan.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, whose speech was one of the most interesting I have ever heard him make, and he has made an awful lot to which I have had to listen—[Laughter.] I did not mean to put it that way, particularly as the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to stay in the Chamber. I really do not feel I gave him the praise that. I am sure, all hon. Members who heard him would feel to be his due. He spoke of the spirit of integration, and I thought he put that very well. I do not agree with all he said, nor would my hon. Friend. What I mean is that his speech was very thoughtful, and certainly I thought that that part of his speech which summed up the spirit of the negotiations was poignant.
There is no place for pistols in negotiations, and that is a thing we have got to understand.
§ Mr. Profumo
On either side, and there have been no pistols pointed at Mr. Mintoff, only sensible suggestions and proper negotiations. Negotiations must be done as between equals. A different state of mind is needed in Malta before we can really get down to what 1155 the right hon. Gentleman and, I am sure, the House really want.
As my right hon. Friend has made clear, the Government are ready to negotiate on a basis of a five-year trial period, at the end of which it might well be possible to proceed with the integration plan, or with some other long-term constitutional and economic arrangements provided they are acceptable to the Governments of the two countries.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East referred to independence. I go along with him in his inability to comprehend how the Maltese people could seriously consider the question of independence. The Malta Round Table Conference did not consider that even the Maltese Nationalist Party's programme of quasi-Dominion status within the Commonwealth a practicable proposition. Paragraph 64 of the Report says:In the special circumstances of the Islands, we cannot foresee a time when Malta could achieve complete independence. There can, therefore, be no question of the Parliament at Westminster abandoning the authority which is now vested in it
§ Mr. Profumo
The other day I saw in the New Statesman of 29th March an article which, after pointing out that Mr. Mintoff had continued to force into the negotiations the choice between integration and independence, and thus, in effect, reopened the whole question of integration, said:The tragedy of all this … is that independence is, and always has been, a totally unviable concept for Malta.If there is any more evidence needed, I will turn to a pamphlet which I read not so long ago, a Labour Party pamphlet, "Malta to Westminster?". I always enjoy reading these pamphlets—
§ Mr. Profumo
I always do, but I enjoy them more when I find that I can understand them.
That pamphlet says, in page 8:Then, secondly, the smallness of the island and its important strategic position made it unlikely ever to be able to stand completely on its own feet as an independent country.1156 I agree with all that, and I really do not believe that it is possible. I know some people in Malta, perhaps even the Government, consider that they would be able to support themselves by payments from countries wishing to use the defence facilities in Malta and so on. I wonder whether they have considered if they would be willing to support the 13,200 people who would no longer be employed in the dockyard and provide an equivalent contribution to the Maltese economy that the presence of large numbers of Service men and their families at present make. All this supposes that British or other European firms would have confidence in Malta's economic stability and would establish themselves in the island. I fully realise, of course, that there is some hope of finding oil in the islands, but we all know what a speculative business that is.
This is a point which I think I ought to make. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson), that I do not think it would commend itself to this House if the Government were to go in for a game of bluff, to bluff the Maltese people.
§ Mr. Profumo
Call the bluff, perhaps. It is a game to call a bluff. I am not a great poker player, but I should not want to begin unless I were able to carry it through. I am quite sure our people would not wish us to play that sort of game with our friends in Malta. I make the point only because I think I should. I do not believe this would be commendable to the House. I think it would be a wrong way to go about it.
§ Mr. Callaghan
We had a discussion about it this afternoon. All the political parties in Malta agree that their status needs enhancing. The Colonial Secretary said that their present status could not be left where it was. What I am not clear about is in what way the five-year standstill period which the right hon. Gentleman is now proposing enhances the status of the people of Malta. Unless we can be given the answer, I do not believe the plan can succeed.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am just coming to that. The main difference between the five-year plan which was suggested by my right hon. Friend and what I think he called 1157 "Dominion status minus" is that the five-year control plan is meant only as an interim measure whereas the Round Table Conference was considering a permanent solution.
The five-year control period is no new idea. It was originally put forward last May when it appeared that negotiations would break down. Luckily, it was not needed, but I think there is some very considerable advantage in examining it, because, as hon. Members realise, we have come to a deadlock, a stalemate, at the moment, and the matter has to be opened out again. It is important that there should be considerable time for people on all sides to think carefully about the future, about the possibilities and about what should or should not happen. It would be the worst of all worlds if we tried to dash into negotiations again and everybody started taking up fixed stands. That would be terrible. The situation is one that we should not wish to exacerbate. Therefore, there is a great deal to be said for a time in which we can think.
We are not running away from integration, but there really are difficulties, and if there are difficulties in proceeding here, there are equally difficulties in proceeding in Malta. Some hon. Members who have spoken would like us to proceed straightaway with Members of Parliament coming from Malta to Westminster. Others, like the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, would not like that. In the circumstances, it seems to me that the proposal for a five-year control period is a positive and constructive proposal which merits serious consideration.
When I first heard that this debate was to take place, I was filled with misgiving. It seemed to me that it could do nothing but harm to the cause that we all have at heart, the closer association with Malta, for I feared that there would be intolerance and recrimination, taunts and rigid attitudes and, in the end, a public display of division. I saw further confusion both in Malta and here at home over an issue the principle of which was agreed in 1955 in an all-party Round Table Conference. More than anything, I feared that we might exacerbate an already tense situation.
Before I sit down, I should like to say that I think that today's discussion has 1158 been extremely useful and very constructive. I believe that all who read the report will discern behind our misgivings, our apprehensions and our frustrations a genuine desire on the part of my right hon. Friend, and, indeed, on the part of hon. Members to reach a solution—I do not say what solution, but a solution—which can further cement the ancient ties of the British and Maltese people and draw them to a closer harmony and association.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the statement on Malta made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 25th March.