§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Certainly, Sir Robert: in Clause 1, page 1, line 8, at the end to insert:provided that no such Order in Council shall be made until after a dissolution of the present Legislative Assembly for Malta and the holding of a general election there.
§ Mr. Bottomley
It is not my intention to make a long speech in moving this Amendment, because owing to the limited parliamentary time available many of my hon. Friends who wanted to take part in the debate have been deprived of the opportunity. I hope that if I am brief, they will be afforded a chance of taking part in the discussion.
There are, I am sure, many who share the view that the present Government are living on borrowed time, and it is questionable whether they had the authority to introduce the Bill which is now before the House of Commons. At least, it can be said for the Government that by a democratic procedure they received the support of the majority of the people in this country. But this cannot be said in the case of the present Malta Government. When the General Election took place in 1962, the Government Party got only 42 per cent. support from the electorate and the combined Opposition amounted to 58 per cent. I think we do well to take note of the fact that the Malta Government are unrepresentative in the sense of the number of the electors who gave them support.
The United Nations Special Committee on Colonialism examined this question, and because it thought that the 1962 elections were unsatisfactory it called for new elections to take place. We have asked the Secretary of State about the report of the observers, and he has given us some indication why it cannot be published. But one could hazard a guess that the referendum was conducted under conditions which could not altogether be called favourable. There were no observers at the time of the 1962 General Election, and I think that we can conclude that that election was certainly held under conditions less favourable than those at the time of the referendum. There can be no doubt whatever that the present situation is not satisfactory, and that the only way in which we could come to a reasonable conclusion would be by pressing for new elections to be held. The Secretary of State himself at one time said that he thought that within six months of independence there should be a General Election in Malta. 792 I do not know whether he has changed his mind completely about that. If he has, perhaps he could give us his views. But certainly no mention has been made of it in the debate, and there is no comment about it in the documents submitted to us.
The referendum and the legislation which we have had presented to us were, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, discussed and decided by the Malta Legislature. But approval was by a very narrow vote. I may be wrong, but I think there was one vote in it. Perhaps I may be corrected if that is not so. Consequently, I would say that there is doubt in this case, and I do not think we should be doing service to the people of Malta if we allowed this independence Bill to go through without saying that, in our judgment, it would be better to have a General Election first. I hope that the Committee will agree with me and support the Amendment.
§ Mr. M. Foot
The Amendment is connected, I believe, with a question which we have already discussed—why the Government wish to push through this Measure so swiftly and in conditions which the Secretary of State himself has admitted to be extremely inconvenient for the House of Commons.
The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech just now, gave two reasons why it was necessary to push the Measure through in this abrupt manner. If we were to pass this Amendment, it would offer some mitigation of the situation because it would give further time for consideration to be given to the new Constitution in Malta, if not in this country. As I say, the right hon. Gentleman offered two reasons why he had forced this procedure on the House, and I should like to look at them first.
The right hon. Gentleman said that if we did not accept the Measure and press it through at this moment, it might not be feasible to arrange the introduction of the new Malta Constitution before the beginning of next year. He says that as we have waited for so long, and as negotiations have proceeded over so many years, we are not doing wrong in forcing this independence Measure through now. But his argument cuts both ways.
793 If we have been negotiating and discussing Malta's problems for very many years, and the possibility of independence for the island, then it is not a very powerful argument to say that suddenly we must bring the whole discussion to an end in circumstances in which the Borg Olivier Government seem, in our view, to have established their position by rigged elections. To bring down the curtain at this moment is extremely unfair to a great section of opinion in Malta. That situation would be remedied by the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman's first reason for rushing through this legislation is, therefore, not a powerful one.
His other reason, which I can well understand, is that the Maltese Government wish to proceed as fast as possible to make their economic plans for the future. I can appreciate that argument. It is a creditable one. But when we look at the situation as a whole, consider how tense the position in Malta is and the response of the Maltese Labour Party to these rush proposals, we must surely conclude that these feelings are far outweighed by the desire to try to secure a more general agreement about the Constitution.
I do not want to go over many of the questions already discussed or to say many of the things which some of us might be provoked to say in a debate such as this, because it would not be helpful to do so. But the right hon. Gentleman has shown incomprehension of the real situation. He complained several times that hon. Members on this side of the Committee were somehow treating an Independence Bill for Malta differently from Independence Bills for other territories. That was the burden of his speech, but it missed the point. The situation in Malta is very special because of the powers which are to be given to the Roman Catholic Church under the Bill and because of the way it has exercised those powers in the past.
§ Mr. M. Foot
The hon. Member says that some powers have been taken away. We have had a lot of debate about this. The concessions made by the right hon. Gentleman do not mean very much. 794 Our argument is that they do not alter the general situation. That is certainly the view of the Maltese Labour Party as expressed by those who have been able to speak for it and in the statement which has appeared since publication of the Constitution. They do not regard the concessions as very considerable.
The right hon. Gentleman repeats ad nauseam that we are treating Maltese independence differently. He shows that he does not understand the feeling in Malta about this question. He has shown himself incapable of dealing properly with the situation. He is dismissing as secondary and unimportant the complaint of the Maltese Labour Party about the way in which the Roman Catholic Church behaves in Malta. He does not treat it seriously and that is why he has come to this conclusion.
In his concluding remarks, the right hon. Gentleman said something which surely directly supports the plea of my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley). The Secretary of State said that he wanted to go out from this Chamber an appeal for co-operation in Malta. He wanted to send a message of good will. But if he refuses to make any concessions whatever to opinion on this side—and after all, although I do not say this boastfully, the Labour Party may soon be the Government of the country—and says, "I am rushing through this Measure on which I have decided arbitrarily and I shall make no concessions to opinion opposite" and then, at the end of the day, wants to send a message of good will to Malta, no one will believe him. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to send a message of good will to Malta and wants co-operation, he can win a response by accepting the Amendment.
If he accepted the Amendment, the atmosphere in Malta would be very different from what it now is among many large sections of the community. The right hon. Gentleman has great responsibility upon him. He claims that he has got concessions from the previous Constitution. They are concessions in some degree, although we do not think that they are very much. However, the Constitution which he has asked us to accept so speedily and with such little 795 consideration is overwhelmingly the Constitution desired by the Roman Catholic Church in Malta and by the party which supports it. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to create a different atmosphere, he must be prepared to give serious consideration to the Amendment. If he were to accept it, he would show courage and he might transform the whole situation and the prospects for an independent Malta.
If he rejects the Amendment and refuses to make any concessions along these lines, that will merely confirm people in the opinion that he has entered into a bargain with the present Government of Malta and that all the discussions which take place in the House of Commons, even in these rushed and abbreviated debates which are all we are allowed, are a charade, and that he has fixed the whole thing beforehand with the party which is in power, but which certainly does not represent the majority of people in Malta.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that it does not represent the majority of people in Malta.
For the right hon. Gentleman to accept the Amendment would be a belated act of statesmanship on his part, but, if, having commited the very grave offence of treating the House of Commons as he has with the Bill, he is determined not merely to rush it through in the timetable which suits his own convenience but also to refuse any Amendment from those who speak from these benches and who may soon speak as the Government of the country, and who certainly speak for many people in Malta, he will merely have added to the offence and will have done something which could lead to a very dangerous situation in Malta. He will have encouraged all those who say that their purpose must be to smash the Constitution because it is a Constitution which cannot protect their rights.
I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to listen to the House of co-operation and to realise that he can have that co-operation only if he himself Commons, to listen to his own appeal for is prepared to make this gesture.
§ Mr. Wall
In spite of the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), I cannot see what is behind the Amendment. It seems to be implied that if we should test public opinion in Malta there might be a change of Government before the new Constitution came into effect. At the last General Election, which was under direct British colonial rule, the Malta Labour Party polled about 51,000 votes and the Nationalist Party about 62,000. Later on, in the referendum, the Malta Labour Party asked the voters to vote "No" and got 55,000 votes and the Nationalist Party asked them to vote "Yes" and got 65,000. The smaller parties had various views about spoiling ballot papers or boycotting the poll. It seems to me that the shift of votes between the time of the General Election and the referendum was very small, and that even if there were another election there would be little change and there would be the same balance in the House in Malta as at the present time. They will go through the expense of a general election for no reason that I can see.
§ Mr. Brockway
As I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I have become almost mesmerised by the soothing way in which he has spoken to us. He has been rather like a parent who has been speaking with great sorrow to his children who really do not quite understand. Under that influence, I have begun to wonder whether the situation which many of us have seen in Malta, and with which we are familiar as a result of meeting representatives of Malta and keeping in close touch with developments there, is the true situation, or whether it is represented by the kind of picture which the right hon. Gentleman has given us this afternoon.
The Amendment asks for a general election in Malta before independence and this Constitution are adopted. I was very amused to hear the short intervention of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), because on previous occasions as we have approached independence and new constitutions in various territories his voice has been the most eloquent about the necessity for a general election.
Again and again in his speech the Minister appealed to the precedents of Constitutions in Colonial Territories. I appeal 797 to him to study the precedents of elections, of the necessity for some reference to the people before those Constitutions are applied. The history of various Colonial Territories shows that there has been an insistence on a General Election before independence was accepted, particularly in those territories where there has been a division among the community.
§ Mr. Brockway
There was an election in Zanzibar, but because the Constitution was imposed before that a revolution followed. I believe that a General Election before the imposition of this Constitution in Malta may save us from serious and grave consequences. As the hon. Member for Haltemprice said, the population in Malta is divided broadly in the ratio of 5 to 6. In that situation, with the intensity of feelings that exist at the present time, I think that the imposition of a Constitution accepted by the 6 and opposed by the 5 may create a very dangerous situation indeed.
I am not a Roman Catholic, but I have a very high regard for the Catholic Church. I believe that Pope John did more towards changing the climate of the world towards peace than any statesman. I believe that Pope Paul in his appeal to the world to put aside the differences of race and race discrimination has made a similar contribution to this great problem. I know what a contribution the Catholic Church has made in the Continent of Africa. When some of us criticise the attitude of the hierarchy in Malta we do not criticise the Catholic Church or the faith of the Catholic religion.
When we discussed this mater previously I remember making an appeal that there should be a reference to the Pope in this matter. I also remember the cynicism that his created on the benches opposite, the suggestion being that the policy pursued by the hierarchy in Malta was necessarily the policy of the Pope, and that there could be no difference. The Bill shows that there can be a difference. Unless I am misinformed, the Government have since made an appeal to the Vatican and the Pope, and the very changes which have been introduced in the Bill, and have been emphasised as being important by 798 hon. Members on both sides of the House, are the result of the influence which Pope Paul has exerted. That indicates that there can be a difference between Pope Paul and the Vatican, on the one hand, and the application of the Catholic religion in a particular territory, on the other. It is the type of application which has existed in Malta, and not the Catholic Church or the Catholic religion, that we have been criticising this evening.
We ought to have our eyes open to the facts. The overwhelming majority of the people of Malta are Catholics. The overwhelming majority of the members of the Maltese Labour Party are Catholics. There is nothing that a Catholic feels to be more serious than to be told that he has committed a mortal sin—to be interdicted and told that there is no chance of salvation in eternity. If a Catholic is told that by the Archbishop of his Church it is an utter damnation of his soul. Yet the Catholic members of the Labour Party in Malta are told that if they vote Labour or if they assert their right to vote differently from the leadership of the hierarchy they may be condemned. They are not to be allowed to be buried in sacred soil.
In that kind of situation we inevitably have an intensity of feeling between one group and another which may develop into a very grave situation.
§ Mr. Brockway
I shall not quote it at this moment, but I should have thought that it was generally accepted—
§ Mr. Brockway
—that the attitude of the hierarchy in Malta was that to support the Labour Party, to distribute the literature of the Labour Party, to vote for the Labour Party, to speak for the Labour Party, or to be an executive member of the Labour Party, was a sin.
§ Mrs. Castle
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) has challenged us to produce evidence on this point. I would refer him again to the letter in today's Guardian, written by a Catholic, who, having said that Mr. Mintoff has tended to be bitter about his treatment by the Church, goes on to say:But how can one wholly blame him seeing that he and his followers are made subject by the Church to excommunication for reading the Labour papers and, indeed, for supporting his political views?
§ Mr. Brockway
I am not going to press this strongly, because, frankly, I do not know very much about the difference between one kind of sin and another kind. They are all a sin, and some are a mortal sin. Because they are all regarded as sins in this way, inevitably in the situation which exists in Malta there is an intensification of feeling between the 5 and the 6 which may create a very dangerous situation.
I wish, finally, to make this point. The Constitution and the new independence is based on a conception of the future of Malta in which this island is regarded as though it were mainly a centre of military preparations. There is a defence treaty for ten years, and £50 million is to be given as a condition. The tragedy of Malta is that it has been so related to defence in the past. Its dockyards have been linked with naval preparation, and one sees the military presence every where. One can go along that wonderful coast road and for miles see land which could so easily be used for development and become one of the most wonderful tourist resorts in the world just made areas for military training and development—
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I find it difficult to relate this part of his speech to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Brockway
Let me do that in my next sentence, Sir Robert. If these are to be the results of this Constitution and independence and of the agreement made, surely the people have a right to decide in a General Election whether they will accept it or not before it is imposed? That is my argument and I think it a very strong one. The Minister is imposing this and 800 coming to an agreement with the Prime Minister of Malta, but is not allowing the people to decide in an election. I suggest to him and to the Committee that the Amendment ought to be accepted and that there should be an opportunity for an appeal to the people.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)
I wonder whether I can, in a strictly non-controversial sense, get away from some of the religious arguments which have been exchanged and try to return to the Constitutional position vis-à-vis independence at this stage for a self-governing Colony, a subject on which I have spent some considerable time in research. I think there is a case for saying that when we have reached the stage—as we did in the case of Malta a considerable time ago—of granting independence in principle to a dependent territory we do not gain much of what we are trying to gain by seeking, through Parliamentary procedure, to delay that independence by moving Amendments during the Committee stage or any other stage of a Bill.
If it will help to assuage the feelings of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) I will confess that some little time ago I was foolish enough to try to do something in a not dissimilar fashion at the time when Uganda was becoming independent. I thought, as did hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, with regard to the two Lost Counties, as they were called, that conditions could be made better for self-determination in the three territories if we sought to make some changes when independence was almost a fait accompli. The result was not what we might have wished to achieve, and never could have been. I confess now that it was a mistake, and I would say, with respect, that we cannot achieve what we are trying to achieve by Parliamentary methods in this House of Commons when the wheel has turned almost full circle, and we are unable to check it.
I have tried to check whenever and if ever before we have insisted on elections taking place when we have negotiated a treaty of independence with a colonial Government. I find that there are only three possibilities in which our country could have done it. If we have done it, it has been on one of the 801 three following grounds. The first is when there is a question, does the Colony want independence? I do not think there is any doubt, whatever in the Constitutional argument, that both Mr. Borg Olivier and Mr. Mintoff, however their supporters have voted, have themselves voted in favour of independence. I do not think that Mr. Mintoff would say that when he voted "No" in the referendum he was voting against independence. The overwhelming majority, about 80 per cent. of the people in Malta, are in favour of independence. Both main parties have twice asserted themselves in favour of independence.
Another occasion when we have insisted on an election before independence was when there was a new constitution quite different from the one in being. That is not so in this case for we are enacting the existing Constitution, which goes back a considerable number of years. In so far as there have been modifications made to it they have been made more from the point of view of the Opposition than of the Government of the day. Therefore, it cannot be said that we are trying to bring in a new constitution. The Constitution goes some way to meet the opposition of Mr. Mintoff and his followers and the existing Government have not been happy about the terms of the modifications.
The third occasion when we have insisted on elections before independence has been when a Parliament has been ending its life and it would therefore not be fair to assume that it could carry on government after independence.
§ Mr. Brockway
Surely the hon. Member is aware of cases in which there has been a General Election before independence because of a division of opinion and the fear of violence between the two sections resulting?
§ Mr. Bennett
I do not think either condition has applied. Recently there has been an election and there has also been a referendum which, if it showed nothing else, showed that the great majority wanted independence and that question of communal violence is not relevant to Malta.
The third occasion is when a Parliament is ending its life. I am quoting 802 historic precedents. We have never before undertaken a General Election other than in the three circumstances I have described.
The constitutional position in Malta at the moment is that elections cannot be held unless the Premier himself so advises. I am not sure how we could provide for elections for we would be abrogating the Constitution which we are putting forward because there is no method by which legally held elections could be brought about except on the advice of the Premier. Therefore, I cannot see that the Amendment would have validity unless we were prepared to abrogate the Constitution to which we have given a Second Reading tonight.
I am not entering into religious controversies as I am not very much on one side or the other, but on the constitutional position we must be very careful not to seek to interfere in the internal affairs of Malta in a way in which we would never dream of interfering in the internal affairs of a dozen African countries whose era of independence I have been glad to welcome in the last few years. Had we tried to do this in many other territories, hon. Members opposite would have been among the first to say that it was intolerable interference by the Imperial Government.
I ask them to do no more than accord to Malta the same standards as they have accorded in the era of independence of other Colonial Territories during the last year. On a previous occasion I have made the same sort of proposal that certain hon. Members opposite have made tonight, and I have often regretted it.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
I want to follow the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) inasmuch as I want to support the Amendment, and also on constitutional grounds. I think that on reflection he will agree that there is little in his argument that in Committee we cannot accept an Amendment because it would abrogate the Constitution which we aproved on Second Reading. All that has happened is that we have had Second Reading, and, as is normal, the main debate after Second Reading is taking place on a major Amendment. That is normal, and it has happened on many occasions.
803 I do not agree with some hon. Members who have suggested that there were certain points in the Second Reading debate which the Secretary of State did not seem properly to understand or the importance of which he did not appreciate. I dissent from that view. I do not think that there has been anything of importance said in the debate which he does not understand or had not thought about before Second Reading. He has discussed these matters with people from Malta and with hon. Members on so many occasions that he was bound to be well aware of all the arguments and causes which might be advanced.
But an argument which he ought to consider is one of practical political importance. I suggest to him that there are two points in his own speeches, particularly in his winding-up speech, which ought to lead him to a practical reconsideration of his attitude to the Amendment. These were the two most important pillars of his policy: first, that we wish Malta to have a good economic future in co-operation with the United Kingdom and, secondly, that he has concluded a Defence Agreement which he regards as a good defence agreement and he hopes that future relations between the United Kingdom and Malta will be such as to allow for the full implementation of that Defence Agreement. I hope that I have not misrepresented the two most important pillars of his speeches.
If he considers the present constitutional position and the attitude of significant sections of the Maltese electorate, he will find that by not accepting the Amendment he is gravely endangering those two points which he regarded as important. First, in the light of recent history, is it not clear that we cannot have a military base, military installations and a military commitment on someone else's territory if we do not have the broad approval of the people of that territory for that defence policy? He is starting a new defence agreement under the most unhappy and unfortunate circumstances.
A decision is involved here which the right hon. Gentleman has not fully reported to the House, although he has addressed hon. Members twice. In his second speech he implied that once an agreement has been reached, we have 804 to go ahead. But the reports which we have had from Malta during the last 48 hours have proved conclusively that the agreement which he has reached is a very limited agreement. He might argue, "If we have a majority of over 50 per cent. in Malta, the agreement is enough". If the Government had a majority of over 50 per cent., he might argue, an agreement with them was good enough.
This holds true for all sorts of normal arrangements, but not where a new constitution is involved. Why do we always insist in the House that if there is to be the slightest change, not only in the Constitution, be it the written or the unwritten part, but even in the underlying principles of the Constitution, affecting free speech or freedom of assembly, it must never be imposed by one party, even though it has a majority in the House of Commons, upon the rest of the country? We always say—and I do not think that this can be contradicted by hon. Members—that where constitutions are involved and are under discussion we need more than a narrow majority.
It has been proved clearly that it is most doubtful whether the Government in Malta are supported in this matter by a majority of the electorate. The electorate have had no chance of showing their reaction because they have not seen the Constitution, and its implications are only beginning to reach them. Leaving that alone, even if there were a narrow majority it would be quite insufficient, I submit to the Secretary of State and the Committee, for the adoption of the Constitution. What he ought to do where a constitution is concerned is to see, once a plan has been worked out and he has reached agreement on that plan with the Government of the day, what the reactions would be of all the electorate of Malta over the next 12 or 16 weeks and then to allow that crystallisation of opinion to be followed by a General Election.
I do not believe that it is wise, quite apart from the other implications that were raised on Second Reading, for a British statesman to appear before the people of Malta having agreed on a onesided arrangement with the Government of the day and then to say to the people 805 of Malta, "We are now suggesting to you that this is to be the Constitution".
There is another matter to which I want briefly to refer. In dealing with a number of points made by hon. Members on Second Reading, the Secretary of State said, "It might well be that these are desirable laws." This is a point on which I should very much like to have the attention of the Secretary of State who has been very courteous so far. The right hon. Gentleman said during his first speech and again when winding up the Second Reading debate that hon. Members had raised a number of important points, but he suggested that these points could be embodied in desirable laws by the Maltese Parliament after independence or at any other time if it so desired. He implied that this was something that it would have to deal with. I agree, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if this freedom is to be created for the electorate of Malta and for a Parliament resulting under this new Constitution there has to be a firm belief by the vast majority of the Maltese electorate that they will be under a Constitution which allows for the completely free expression of their views?
I might submit to the Committee, without immodesty, that this ought to be an acceptable argument to all hon. Members of the Committee. If significant sections of the electorate start out with a firm conviction that they are going to work under a new constitutional set of laws which gives an. equal chance to every sector of the electorate and every individual of the electorate, surely, they will have confidence that "those desirable laws", to use the right hon. Gentleman's phrase, will be brought about in the new Parliament which will be created as a result of the new Constitution.
There are other hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate and therefore I conclude by urging the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider, before he makes up his mind on his reactions to this Amendment, whether there are not very serious practical political reasons concerning the best possible future relations between the people of this country and the people of Malta for his accepting, on behalf of the Government, the Amendment, thereby doing something to reach more agreement here and, far more important, to give an earnest to the people of Malta and to the Opposition 806 in Malta that he is not in any way trying to impose upon them in agreement with the Government of the day what they do not really want.
If there were a period for reaction in Malta and for the crystallisation of opinion there and then an election, which our Amendment allows, T think that the cause of the friendship of Malta for the United Kingdom in the future would be very much better served.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). It is important that before these changes take place, as in South-West Arabia, the people be consulted before a Constitution be given to them by the Government of the day. I do not dispute that the present Prime Minister in Malta is the Prime Minister of Malta and commands the authority of the Maltese people. Those of us who have had the good fortune to visit Malta—after all, my former whip, Mr. Wakefield, is the High Commissioner, so it was a good opportunity for me to have a long talk with him when I visited Malta—know that all Maltese political parties, whether it is Mr. Ganado or Mr. Mintoff, who happened to be at my own college at Oxford, agree that Malta wants independence, but who is to pay? That is an absolute fundamental in discussing the future of Malta.
A defence Agreement has been proposed to the present Prime Minister. Is this the right way in which to start off the new Constitution? I doubt it. Would it not be better to think again about the Defence Agreement which is part of this arrangement? I am not too certain that the Opposition in the future might not attempt to overturn the Constitution in the long run because of the Defence Agreement for finance. Is it necessary to tie finance for Malta to defence? Are there not business interests or other ways in which we could agree to let the people of Malta have the finance they need?
What does Malta need above everything else, if we are to accept the proposition in the Amendment? The Opposition say that, if there were an election first, all the problems of Malta could be discussed. Malta desires, above all things, industrial power and water. She cannot have either of these things 807 without first having the money with which to extract water from the sea and convert it. She needs industrial power—electricity. I suggest that the proposition made by the Opposition is probably in this case a very wise one. I think that it is wrong, when a country wants to get independence and when it wants finance, that finance should be tied to a defence obligation. Malta does not need a defence obligation at all. I cannot see that any other country in the world is particularly interested in occupying Malta or worrying about Malta's strategic position.
Therefore, in discussing the whole problem of an election first, the Opposition in this case have got it right. I myself would say, having discussed this problem with the Maltese politicians in the past, that if it is pressed to a vote I would be bound to abstain, because I do not think that it is either strategic ally necessary—[Interruption.] It is not a question of being yellow. We hear too much about these old Goldwater techniques. If the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) insists that I vote against the Amendment while he sits there—
§ Mr. Yates
If I felt strongly about a matter, both the Secretary of State and the Chief Whip know that I would have no worry at all about voting against them, if I thought it right and proper for the people of Malta. My right hon. Friend is, therefore, faced with a serious situation and in this case I honestly suggest to him that he would be wise not to tie Malta down to a defence obligation involving money which she vitally requires for the future.
Unless I hear something slightly better from my right hon. Friend I will have no alternative but to take the course I have said. Knowing the people of Malta—and I have no difficulty in discussing this matter with the Catholics there, having met the Archbishop personally—I say that it would be unwise for this country to tie Malta's financial needs to defence in a world in which I do not think it is necessary for us so to do.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) made a 808 typically courageous and sincere contribution to our deliberations, and I am glad that we have had confirmation from the benches opposite of the unhappy mood in which the Committee finds itself in approaching the conclusion to our discussions on this Bill. Surely the Secretary of State will now concede that the whole Committee—apart from two or three supporters behind him—is unhappy about the way the Bill has been brought to Parliament, the way it has been given to us at the last possible moment, without time for us to consider the provisions—the provisions of the Constitution, let alone the Bill itself—and the way it is being rushed through in one day.
I am not so much concerned about whether we in the House of Commons have sufficient time to decide whether or not this is the Constitution for Malta. I am more concerned with whether the people of Malta really want independence with this Constitution. I believe that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) was wrong when he said that the majority of people in Malta want independence with this constitution. There is no proof of that. When the Nationalist Party won the elections they did not win them with a mandate for independence—certainly not a mandate for independence on this Constitution, which 99 per cent. of the people of Malta have not yet had an opportunity of considering.
Only tonight are the people of Malta being allowed to examine this Constitution. It is even too soon for us to feel the reaction of the political leaders of Malta to this Constitution, after they have considered the proposals in consultation with their supporters. It is too soon for us and for them, and I ask the Secretary of State to answer a question which has several times been addressed to him today but which he has still not answered: what is the necessity for rushing this Bill through now?
The Secretary of State pointed out the great similarity between this Bill and other independence Measures which the House of Commons has considered in the past, but there is one great difference which appears in the Clause to which we are proposing an Amendment. In every other Independence Bill a date 809 has been determined, a date reached by discussion and agreement with the political leaders of the country concerned and a date which has been announced openly so that everybody was aware of it. There is no such date in this Bill, and the people of Malta have not been consulted about such a date. It has been cooked up as a result of confidential discussions which the Secretary of State has had with the Prime Minister of Malta and which have suddenly been brought to a conclusion because of the dying days of this Parliament.
§ Mr. W. Yates
Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the Committee of the reaction of the political leaders in Malta to these proposals?
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
We have not yet had an opportunity of hearing in detail what are the reactions of the leaders of the political parties in Malta itself. What we do know is that the Malta Labour Party, for instance, has sent a deputation here—it is here tonight. It has already expressed—and a quotation from The Times has already been read out—great misgivings about this procedure of pushing through independence by means of a Constitution that no one has had a chance of considering.
Why is the Secretary of State doing this? I accuse him of doing this because he knows that the Labour Party here will win the election in this country and he wants to push through, in the last possible few days of Conservative rule, an independence Bill for Malta on a Constitution that he knows the people of Malta would not support if they had a fair choice in the matter. If Dr. Borg Olivier and his party really have the support of the Maltese people for this Constitution, as in other aspects, of their Administration, why do they need fear an election?
Surely, Dr. Borg Olivier has achieved a great diplomatic success in pulling off this agreement with the Secretary of State and would welcome an opportunity to go back to his people saying, "I have been in London for nine weeks. It took a long time to get the Secretary of State to have discussions with me. because he had so much to do, but eventually he did have discussions with me, and I have succeeded. We have a Constitution with which I can agree, and which I am pre- 810 pared to recommend to you. Therefore, with confidence, I ask for your support at a General Election." If the Malta Prime Minister is confident of having the support of his people, he would welcome our Amendment.
We know that there are other sections of the community that would be most unhappy about the Constitution we are now forcing down their throats but which they have not had a chance of considering. We do not yet know what their final reaction to it will be, but we do know what their reactions have been to past proposals and what they have said about the Roman Catholic Church having so much influence in the Island.
It is all very well for us to brush this off, but I spent a little time in the island and spoke to people who have suffered from the dictatorial attitude of the church authorities. I find it remarkable that, despite the great pressure of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Malta, the Labour Party there continues to receive such tremendous support. We have to remember that it is a sin, mortal or otherwise, to read the Labour Party newspaper; that it is a sin to print the newspaper; that it is a sin to place advertisements with the newspaper, and that it is a sin to sell the newspaper. That being the position in Malta, it is truly surprising that the Labour Party in a country which is 99 per cent. Roman Catholic should receive the support of does.
I remember meeting supporters of the party who are devout Catholics themselves. They almost wept when they told me of what some of their coreligionists who supported the Labour Party had to go through. I heard the story of an old woman who was refused absolution because her son—it was not her own sin—had been selling the Labour Party newspaper. There is the more recent example of the president of the labour women's section who was knocked down by a car as she was leaving church. Her family were refused permission to bury the woman in consecrated ground because she had been a member and a supporter of the Labour Party.
That is the atmosphere in which these people have to live. How can they have free political activity when the Church is constantly terrorising them spiritually in this way? That is why 811 we say that if the people of Malta want to accept this environment for independence, let that be their own choice. It is not for us to decide the political or other environment in which they choose to live—certainly not for us to dictate to them. None of us on this side is trying to do that, but we say that they must have the right to choose before independence and the independence Constitution is forced upon them.
I have already asked in an interjection that the Secretary of State should show us the difference between British Guiana and Malta. We are glad that there is not the violence in Malta that there is today in British Guiana, but what is the difference in principle? There is disagreement in British Guiana between the political parties. There is disagreement between the political parties in Malta, yet the Secretary of State is holding up independence in British Guiana but is pushing it through in Malta.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept the goodwill of all of us on this side of the Committee. We have allowed the Second Reading to go through without a Division. We are prepared to cooperate to that extent. Will the right hon. Gentleman now please be sympathetic, not to our outrageous demands on this side of the Committee, but to the wishes of the people of Malta to have some choice in the matter before their country has to accept the Constitution which he has decided in consultation with the Prime Minister of Malta in secret?
§ The Chairman
I am sorry, but the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) resumed his seat and I called the Minister.
§ The Chairman
Order. When one Member resumes his seat it is incumbent upon the Chair to call another Member, and I called Mr. Duncan Sandys.
§ Mr. Sandys
All other speakers have been very brief and I will be brief, also. The Amendment proposes that elections should be held before independence. I have listened to the views which have been expressed, but I do not understand what exact purpose these elections would serve. As we know from the debate, there are two main issues. One is the question of independence. Should Malta have independence? The other is: what form should the independence constitution take?
The elections will not decide whether the Maltese people want independence. We have got past that stage now. All of us have accepted that Malta is to have independence, and that decision is supported by the two main parties which obtained 76 per cent. of the votes at the last General Election. I do not think that anybody is seriously questioning that decision at this stage.
But I do not understand how the holding of elections would help to secure agreement, or a greater measure of agreement, on the form of Malta's future Constitution. Is it really suggested that elections would help to resolve the differences that exist between the Maltese parties on the Constitution? I have not heard anybody explain why it is thought that the holding of elections would bring the parties closer together.
It is very unfair to say that these negotiations took so long, because I had not the time to take part in them. I sat for hours and hours, day after day, and sometimes half through the night, with the Prime Minister of Malta and his delegation, trying to reach agreement. The length of the negotiations is not due to the fact that I have neglected my duties, or have not been available to take part in these discussions.
But, having spent so long in these negotiations and talks, having put so many night hours into them, I assure the House that I would readily allow the whole process to go on for another few 813 months if I thought that we could get agreement. I attach every bit as much importance to agreement in a matter of this kind as does any other hon. Member. It is infinitely preferable if we can base a decision of this kind on agreement. But, after all the talks, all the conferences and all the consultations which we have had over the last 18 months, with no give at all in the various political parties, I do not see that, as a result of having a heated election campaign, with everybody abusing each other—which happens in elections in many countries, and Malta is certainly no exception—they will all love each other much more, and we shall all find it much easier to resolve differences which we have not been able to resolve during the past months.
I assure the Committee—and I hope that hon. Members believe me—that if I thought that elections would bring about agreement, or even the narrowing of differences, I certainly would not hesitate to go ahead with that proposal.
§ Mr. Driberg
That is not the point, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so. The point is to let the people of Malta have a genuine free choice to express their political views and to elect a Government—perhaps the same Government and perhaps a different Government. They did not have that genuine free choice at the last election, which was seriously interfered with. They should have it at an election properly supervised by international observers.
§ Mr. Sandys
One of the arguments is that the last election was not fair and that the Church exercised an undue influence. If one has an election or a referendum, as in the last instance, which is closely tied up with ecclesiastical interests, I think that it is too much to hope that the Church will not express its views on these matters. But I do not intend to express an opinion whether the last elections were held in a fair manner or not, any more than I would express an opinion on elections in many other parts of our Colonial Territories or elsewhere.
Hon. Members must take it that elections are not always held in overseas territories in exactly the same manner or in accordance with exactly the same standards as those to which we have grown accustomed in this country. Of course not—and it is no good pretending that they are. I will not express an opinion 814 on whether those elections were fair or on exactly what influences were exerted. All I say is that those who make this complaint should have taken the matter to the courts. I gather that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) says that the Maltese will do so. If necessary, they should have sought to exercise their right to bring it to the Privy Council. There is a right of appeal to the Privy Council.
Some maintain that it is not a question of undue influence being exercised at elections, but that the electoral law, in relation to a definition of what is undue influence and corrupt practice, is unsatisfactory. If it is true—and I am not expressing an opinion—that the law itself is at fault, I see no reason to suppose that fresh elections held under it will be any fairer than elections held under it on previous occasions. No matter how many observers there are, those observers have to observe the implementation of the law. There is nothing else they can observe. They cannot create rules of their own.
But I am not saying for a moment that I consider the electoral law in Malta to be unsatisfactory. It all turns on the question of the difference between the words "spiritual and temporal", and the words "moral and material", and nobody has ever been able to show me the difference between moral and spiritual or temporal and material.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Foot
What about paying tribute unto Caesar for the things which are Caesar's and unto God for the things which are God's?
§ Mr. Sandys
As no one seems to have put a case to the courts, it is difficult to establish whether the law in Malta is or is not unsatisfactory. These are only two circumstances in which I would think it would be right to insist on elections before independence. One circumstance would be if the life of the Parliament in the country concerned was very near to its end. But that is not so in Malta. The other circumstance in which I think it would be right to ask for elections before independence—and this applies to British Guiana, which has been mentioned, I think somewhat inappropriately, in connection with this debate—would be if a new electoral system were being introduced. Then there 815 would be very good reasons for starting a country off on independence with a Parliament elected under the new system.
§ Mrs. Castle
Is not another very good occasion on which elections should be allowed one in which a very large minority of the people concerned ask this House of Commons that independence shall not be granted to Malta before elections have been held? Are they not the people who are best able to appreciate whether or not the elections held while we still have responsibility would be likely to be fairer than those held after we have handed responsibility over to an unrepresentative and reactionary Government?
§ Mr. Sandys
I know that there are the three minority parties which still do not want independence, but, as I have said, I really think that we have got to the point where we have to take it that we have decided that Malta is to be independent; and I do not think that that is an issue which could usefully be put to an election. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady talked about a minority. I thought that she was referring to the small parties.
§ Mrs. Castle
No. This is the second time that the right hon. Gentleman has quite deliberately misrepresented me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If it is not deliberate, then the right hon. Gentleman is not fit for his high office and cannot understand English. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I will with draw and substitute for "deliberately misrepresented me" the phrase "incompetently misunderstood me".
I deliberately said a "large majority"; I was not referring to the three small minority parties. I was talking about the Malta Labour Party, which is a very large minority, and is at this moment asking the House of Commons not to give independence until there have been elections. They are the people I am talking about.
§ Mr. Sandys
The Malta Labour Party has been more insistent than anyone else in its desire for the grant of immediate and early independence, and I very much question whether, if it were in the reverse position, it would have felt inclined to have fresh elections before independence. I very much doubt that. In any case, to come to the practical issue, I think that the Committee will realise that I could not possibly at this stage introduce a new condition without calling in question everything that has been agreed after these long and difficult negotiations.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Did not the right hon. Gentleman inform those with whom he was negotiating that the House of Commons would have the right to decide this matter? What right had he to make a package deal which is agreed on everything? Does he mean to say that when he asked the House to rush this Measure through in one day he was not in any case intending to pay any attention to what the House of Commons had to say on the matter? Does he think that that is a good example of democracy for the new Constitution? It is utterly unconstitutional that the right hon. Gentleman should not have informed those with whom he was negotiating that the matter would have to be submitted to the British House of Commons.
§ Mr. Sandys
I happen to have it on record in a public communiqué that the ultimate responsibility for the future constitution of Malta rests with the British Parliament. It is not often that one is in as good a position as that. None the less, for the reasons I have explained, I must advise the Committee not to accept the Amendment.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 85, Noes 149.817
|Division No. 141.]||AYES||[9.51 p.m.]|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Ede, Rt. Hon. C.|
|Beaney, Alan||Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Benn, Anthony Wedgwood||Collick, Percy||Fletcher, Eric|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Crossman, R. H. S.||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)|
|Benson, Sir George||Dalyell, Tam||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Blackburn, F.||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S. W.)||Diamond, John||Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Bowles, Frank||Dodds, Norman||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Driberg, Tom||Hamilton, William (West Fife)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Duffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley)||Hannan, William|
|Harper, Joseph||McInnes, James||Short, Edward|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Mackie, John (Enfield, East)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)||MacPherson, Malcolm||Small, William|
|Hilton, A. V.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Holman, Percy||Mason, Roy||Steele, Thomas|
|Houghton, Douglas||Mendelson, J. J.||Stonehouse, John|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Millan, Bruce||Stross, SirBarnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Hunter, A. E.||Milne, Edward||Swingler, Stephen|
|Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Mitchison, G. R.||Taverne, D.|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||Moody, A. S.||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Kelley, Richard||Oliver, G. H.||Whitlock, William|
|Lawson, George||Pavitt, Laurence||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Rankin, John|
|Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Robertson, John (Paisley)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lipton, Marcus||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Mr. Charles A. Howell and|
|Loughlin, Charles||Rogers, C. H. R. (Kensington, N.)||Mr. Redhead.|
|Lubbock, Eric||Ross, William|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Pitman, Sir James|
|Arbuthnot, Sir John||Gurden, Harold||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Pounder, Rafton|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch|
|Batsford, Brian||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Pym, Francis|
|Bidgood, John C.||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Bitten, John||Hastings, Stephen||Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hirst, Geoffrey||Rees-Davies, W. R. (Isle of Thanet)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Holland, Philip||Renton, Rt. Hon. David|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hopkins, Alan||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Bishop, Sir Patrick||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Box, Donald||Hughes-Young, Michael||Ropner, Col, Sir Leonard|
|Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Braine, Bernard||Iremonger, T. L.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. Duncan|
|Brewis, John||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. SirWalter||James, David||Sharples, Richard|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Shaw, M.|
|Bryan, Paul||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Shepherd, William|
|Buck, Antony||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Kirk, Peter||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Campbell, Gordon||Lambton, Viscount||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Stainton, Keith|
|Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert (Mitcham)||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Chataway, Christopher||Litchfield, [...]. John||Stodart, J. A.|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Cole, Norman||Longbottom, Charles||Tapsell, Peter|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neil||Longden, Gilbert||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Taylor, Sir William (Bradford, N.)|
|Corfield, F. V.||MacArthur, Ian||Teeling, Sir William|
|Coulson, Michael||McLaren, Martin||Thomas, Rt. Hon. Peter (Conway)|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Marten, Neil||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter|
|Curran, Charles||Maude, Angus (Stratford-on-Avon)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Dance, James||Mawby, Ray||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Cordon|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Turner, Colin|
|Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.||Mills, Stratton||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Alec||Miscampbell, Norman||Walder, David|
|Duncan, Sir James||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Elliott, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Morgan, William||Wall, Patrick|
|Elliott, R. W. (Newc'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Neave, Airey||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Finlay, Graeme||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Whitelaw, William|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Page, John (Harrow, West)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Wise, A. R.|
|Freeth, Denzil||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Goodhew, Victor||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Percival, Ian|
|Green, Alan||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Mr. J. E. B. Hill and Mr. Peel.|
§ It being after Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.