§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. fain Macleod)
On 27th July last year I informed the House of the appointment of a Constitutional Commission to make recommendations for the restoration of elected government in Malta. The Commission's Report is published today as Cmnd. Paper 1261.
Sir Hilary Blood and his fellow commissioners, Mr. Edward St. John, Q.C., and Mr. Fred Hayday, are to be congratulated on a most valuable Report. The Government are grateful to the Australian Commonwealth Government for recommending Mr. St. John, who, of course, served in a personal capacity. Sir Alfred Roberts, until, regrettably, he had to retire through illness, was also a valued member of the Commission.
Although the Malta Labour Party and the Malta Nationalist Party did not give evidence, the Commission was able to consult a wide range of Maltese personalities and interests of all political complexions.
The Government have decided to accept the Commission's constitutional recommendations as the basis for the next Maltese Constitution. The drafting of constitutional instruments will now be put in hand. I hope that it may be possible to hold elections before the end of the year.
472 The broad effect of the Commission's recommendations is that the Maltese Parliament and Government will be responsible for domestic matters, including, with the reservation I mention later, internal security. In addition—and this is an innovation going much beyond the 1947 Constitution—the Maltese Government will be given concurrent powers in the field of foreign affairs by specific delegation, and in that of defence. Because of our ultimate responsibility for defence and external affairs, Her Majesty's Government will also retain powers in those two fields, Her Majesty's Government's view prevailing in the event of conflict.
This arrangement, given reasonable co-operation between the two parties, should enable differences over defence and foreign affairs to be kept to a minimum. The consultative machinery recommended by the Commission will ensure that decisions in these fields are based on adequate information and discussion and, it is hoped, help to prevent disagreements arising or, if they arise, facilitate their settlement. This is a break with the long tradition of diarchy in Malta, which, the Commission is convinced, is no longer practicable.
United Kingdom responsibilities for defence and external affairs in Malta will be in the hands of a United Kingdom Commissioner. The Governor will have duties analogous to those of a constitutional Head of State.
In view of the important step forward that these changes constitute, the Commission recommends that the islands should in future be known as the State of Malta.
The Commission makes it clear that the record of past political interference with the police and the necessity to exclude political and other undesirable influences compel it to recommend that the Commissioner of Police, in whom the day-to-day responsibilities for the administration and operation of the force is vested, should, for the time being, be ultimately responsible to the Governor. Her Majesty's Government accept this recommendation.
Her Majesty's Government have noted the view of the Commission, in paragraph 120 of its Report, that it did not find itself hampered in any way by its terms of reference. The Commission 473 says that, however wide these terms might have been, it could not envisage Malta progressing, at the present time and in existing circumstances, to a more advanced stage along the path of constitutional progress.
The Constitution proposed by the Commission, of which I have given a very brief outline, will enable Malta to enjoy once more a very substantial degree of self-government. Our aim is to establish, as the Commission puts it, a partnership between Malta and the United Kingdom. This partnership will work only if both partners want it to work and are ready to co-operate with each other in ensuring that it does work. I offer Her Majesty's Government's full co-operation and I know that the House will join me in the sincere hope that the same co-operation will be forthcoming from the duly elected Maltese leaders.
Her Majesty's Government believe that, given the necessary degree of mutual confidence between the two partners, the Constitution proposed by the Blood Commission provides the best way in which elected government and self-government can be restored in Malta.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The House will, no doubt, require a little time to study the Blood Commission's Report before making up its mind on these proposals and the indications of the Government's policy just given by the Colonial Secretary.
As far as one can see, one can certainly say that these proposals mark a considerable improvement on the present situation, but may I ask the Colonial Secretary, in view of the fact that the Commission has, I think, described this as the next Maltese Constitution, whether he regards it not as a final matter, but as a step towards ultimate self-determination?
Secondly, may I ask him, in view of the emphasis which he himself has placed on the need for co-operation in working the new Constitution, what steps he proposes to take to consult the two parties who, unfortunately, did not give evidence to the Blood Commission?
§ Mr. Macleod
I accept that this is a complicated plan and that the House will require time to study the Report, which will be available now in the Vote Office.
474 As the Leader of the Opposition rightly says, this is a considerable step forward. I think that, listening to what I have said, people will realise that there are considerable similarities with the constitutional principles which have been established in the State of Singapore.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is not in any way, of course, a final stage. I made it clear that the Blood Commission had as its first concern the immediate future. I did not then suggest, and I do not now suggest, that the Constitution which I have just announced will be the final stage of Malta's constitutional development.
I would, of course, be ready to consider any suggestions, particularly of the parties that the Leader of the Opposition mentioned, and the representations which all the political parties in Malta may wish to put to me, based on the Report and on the statement that I have made today.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
While the Colonial Secretary would be willing to receive representations from other persons in Malta, would he not agree that the important fact of the present situation is that neither of the two main parties was willing to give evidence? Personally, I regret that it was so, but it is a fact. If this Constitution is to work it is enormously important that they should be induced to play a proper part in working it. Would he not consider calling a conference with these two parties, and others as well, to discuss the whole matter?
§ Mr. Macleod
I will consider that. As I said when I announced to the House the setting up of the Blood Commission, I thought that this was the better way of proceeding than by way of a conference. As the Leader of the Opposition will remember, conferences have not a very happy record, as far as Malta is concerned. I recognise the force of what the right hon. Gentleman says. It would be very helpful to have the help of these two particular parties. If they are willing to discuss the matter with me I will see how best that can be done.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
Under these proposals, will there be any alteration in the tenure of Service land, which is a matter of considerable importance?
§ Mr. Macleod
No. All the matters which concern defence will be for the definition of the United Kingdom Government. If there is a dispute between the Government of Malta and the United Kingdom Commissioner, the view of the United Kingdom Commissioner prevails.
§ Mr. Awbery
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is some confusion and misunderstanding between himself and the Labour Party of Malta on the question of the terms of reference of the Blood Commission? The Blood Commission was reported on the wireless as having said that in the terms of reference it was precluded from discussing any self-government for the Island of Malta. That was confirmed by the deputy-chairman of the Commission, while the Minister himself seemed to give the impression that it was within the scope of the Commission to discuss this matter.
As the Labour Party of Malta was under the impression that self-government was entirely excluded from the terms of reference, and that that was the reason for its not giving evidence before the Commission, will the right hon. Gentleman now have another look at the position and, if necessary, invite representatives of the Labour Party of Malta to come to this country to discuss the position again?
§ Mr. Macleod
I have made it clear that it would be quite wrong to treat the Maltese Labour Party, or any other party, differently from the other political parties that there are in Malta. After all, if there are any disagreements in these matters they might well have been best resolved by Malta's Labour Party seeing me, which I invited it to do, and which it refused to do.
As I said in my statement, and as stated in paragraph 120 of the Report of the Commission, and as the hon. Member will find, the Commission said that it did not find itself hampered in any way by the terms of reference and would not, whatever the terms of reference, have gone beyond what it recommended.
§ Sir P. Agnew
May I, while welcoming the statement by my right hon. Friend and the recognition of the statehood of Malta, ask my right hon. Friend whether this step forward, which will enable the people of Malta to have a greater share in the running of their 476 everyday life, will be accompanied by the setting up of a legislature of ample size to accommodate all shades of Maltese representative opinion?
§ Mr. Macleod
Yes, Sir. The size of the legislature will, I think, be 50 members. It will be unicameral. It will be elected on universal adult suffrage with the special P.R. arrangements which Malta has. Obviously, a Chamber of that size fully meets my hon. Friend's point.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
Detailed as was the statement of the Colonial Secretary up to a point, there is at least one aspect which is not clear in his statement and that relates to the future constitutional status of Malta. In view of the differences of opinion between him and the Labour Party and various parties in Malta upon that question, will he now state what kind of constitutional status the Government are aiming at in Malta. Further, will he take the relevant political parties in Malta into his confidence with regard to that, with a view to evolving a satisfactory solution of the problem?
§ Mr. Macleod
With respect, I think that I have answered that point. What we are aiming to do is establish an elected Government and self-government as soon as possible in Malta. The hon. and learned Member is quite right in saying that very divergent views are held by the political parties. I hope that all future stages of Malta's development will be in association with the Commonwealth, but I do not think it right, in view of the disputes which the hon. and learned Member knows exist, to go beyond the terms of my statement this afternoon.
§ Mr. Wall
While warmly welcoming the restoration of Parliamentary government in Malta, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would be able to make a statement about the conversion of the dockyard under the future constitution of the island? If this partnership in defence and foreign policy proves to be a success, could he go so far as to say that a further move forward within the Commonwealth is not ruled out?
§ Mr. Macleod
That is a point on which negotiations have been going on 477 for some weeks with the company. General agreement has been reached on the scope of the enlarged conversion plan. I would hope, for I recognise the importance of this matter, to make a further statement about it within a comparatively short time, but I should not like to go beyond the answer which I have already given.
§ Mr. Awbery
Has the right hon. Gentleman still an open mind on the question of self-government of the Island of Malta?
§ Mr. Macleod
Again, I have answered that. What matters in this immediate issue is to re-establish the basis on which elections can take place and we can have a Government in Malta. I have also made it perfectly plain that I do not envisage this as the final stage in Malta's constitutional development.