HC Deb 28 July 1882 vol 273 cc84-93

in rising to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice, said, it was not his intention to detain the House at any great length upon this question, at so late a period of the Session; but he considered it was a subject of great urgency and interest to one of our dependencies, the dependency of Malta. Our Maltese fellow-subjects had always been remarkable for their devotion to us, and yet we had done very little to encourage them. The Maltese were not a conquered people; they asked to come under the protection of England about 80 years ago; but, notwithstanding that, we had done almost nothing during that lapse of years to conciliate their devotion and loyalty; and whilst we had been neglecting them, other people had been cultivating them, until we found an Italian party had grown up in the Island, who desired them to throw off their allegiance to this country and join Italy. Our misgovernment in Malta was gradually creating a small Ireland in the Mediterranean, and it was long periods and slow processes of misgovernment which was the way that Irelands were created. That had been going on in Malta for a considerable number of years, and was still going on, and it was time there was a change in the management and government of that place. Certainly, England had given Malta a Legislative Council; but it was less than half elective, and the minority was elected by so small a constituency that it did not fairly represent the people of the island. The franchise in itself was not very narrow, if it were not for a bar that was put upon it in the shape of a language test, because no Maltese was allowed to have the franchise unless he could speak a language other than his own—either Italian or English. It was just the same as if they said that no Welshman should be allowed to vote if he could not speak any other language than Welsh. The result of that language test was that there were only about 2,000 voters out of 150,000 people. Naturally, under such circumstances, the financial arrangements of the country were in a bad state, because the system of taxation was one for the relief of the rich, and thus pressed heavily upon the poor. One-half of the taxation was levied upon bread, and as it was evident that a poor man and his family consumed more bread than the family of the rich man—the rich man having other and better diet—the poor man was not only taxed beyond his means, but paid a far greater share of the taxes than his rich neighbours. But as the question of the taxation of bread had been brought before the House on several occasions, he would not now go further into that question. Then, again, the English language had been discouraged. Sir Adrian Dingli had practically governed the Island for 35 years, a man of great ability, but with Italian proclivities, and he had put Italians in all the public offices until the Italian language was becoming the language of the place more than the Arabic. Therefore it was high time something was done for fostering the English language. At the present date they were absolutely accustomed to treat the Italian language as the superior one; and even the Government Ordinances were printed in Italian, to which was appended an English translation, in place of their being printed in English with an Italian translation. Such action as that had the effect of making the people believe that the Italian was really the superior language. Under those circumstances, there was a growing discontent in Malta. The right hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) when in Office was alive to that. He thoroughly understood Malta, and promised reforms; but before they could be entered upon the present Government came into Office. The Maltese had hoped great things from a Liberal Government; they thought that a Tory Government would only give them reforms grudgingly, while a Liberal Government would do it cordially; but, in place of reform, they found the new Government was rather reactionary in its character. A Petition had come from Malta in 1879, signed by 9,000 people; but, finding nothing was being done, a second Petition and an Address were sent in 1880, but the reply sent by Lord Kimberley in August, 1880, created a most painful impression among the friends of England; it was most discouraging, telling the Maltese in plain words they were nobody and nothing, that the fortress was everything, and the welfare of the people was of little consequence indeed. That was the spirit, not, of course, the words, in which the despatch was written, and that spirit had continued until quite recently, and the discontent continued. The right hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire when in Office was so satisfied that reforms were needed that he sent out Mr. Rowsell, Sir Penrose Julyan, and Mr. Keenan as successive Commissioners, all three reporting in favour of very great reforms in the administration; but those reforms, so far, had never been carried out. The Maltese, however, believed that if the late Government had remained in power they would have been carried out. Consequently, they were disappointed with the present Government for not carrying them out. The only reform given of any importance was in 1881, when Her Majesty's Government appointed an Executive Council to assist the Government; but in place of being a reform it made matters worse, because the wrong men were appointed. It consisted of Sir A. Borton, the Governor, General Fielding, the Second in Command, Sir Victor Houlton, the Chief Secretary, and Signor Carboni, the Crown Advocate. The Governor, to keep things pleasant, left the civil administration alone, and his second in command assisted him in doing so; thus the civil administration of the Island was left in the hands of the Chief Secretary and the Crown Advocate—men who were known absolutely to hate all reforms, and yet they were put there to administer and carry out the reforms recommended by the three Commissioners. The result was that either no reforms were carried out, or small re-forms were carried out in such a way that it was admitted they entirely disgusted the people with the idea of reforms. Her Majesty's Government were entirely to blame for that, because they knew the character of the men who formed this Executive Council. They knew they were not friendly to reforms, therefore the reforms never would and never could be properly carried out. It was the business of the Government either to put better men in their places, or to strengthen the Executive Council by appointing men who were known to be imbued with a reforming spirit. At present, all those in the Island, known to be in favour of reform were looked upon with an unfriendly eye; and, as proof of that, he might remind the House that at the time Mr. Rowsell reported in favour of the abolition of the Bread Tax the better classes got up riots against him; and the instigator of the riots, a man of the name of Gatt, had been made the chief of the Government printing office, so that he had been rewarded in place of having been punished. That office, he might also say, was a great abuse, and was one of the things the Commissioners recommended the abolition of. Under these circumstances, discontent was growing, and everyone of position and independence of character shunned the Legislative Council, six of the Members the other day having threatened to send in their resignations in consequence of the desires of the Maltese people being entirely neglected. In fact, matters had gone so far that the Maltese the other day elected a man known to be utterly unfit for the post, simply as a snub to Sir Victor Houlton, because Sir Victor Houlton had set up one of his own nominees. The only thing that had been done to give the Maltese encouragement was the despatch recently sent out under the auspices of the hon. Member who represented the Colonial Government in that House; and he sincerely hoped that would not give rise to hopes that were again to be disappointed, and that the reforms hinted at would be carried out, so that the discontent might be put an end to. What should be done was to supersede Sir Victor Houlton and appoint a friend of the people and of reform in his place. It would be still more agreeable to the Maltese if, on the next vacancy, they would appoint a Civil instead of a Military Governor. In the second place, the Executive Council should be strengthened by some new men, as there were good men in Malta who, if appointed, would make the Council cease to be the utter farce that it was at present. In the third place, the Bread Tax should be abolished. Then the language test for the franchise should be abolished; and though it would give the franchise to many uneducated men, they should remember their own experience was that there was no such educator as the franchise. There ought also to be municipal institutions, which should levy a police tax to make the burden of taxation fall more equally, and the Government Ordinances ought invariably to be printed in English with an Italian translation. Lastly, as there had been great abuses in dealing with public property, a Commission ought to be appointed to inquire into that, and see how many officials and the friends of officials had purchased or obtained leases of public property at very insufficient prices; and in future it should be an ordinance that no lease should be given and no sale made of public property except by public auction. He would not now go further into the question, as he had told the House what he thought ought to be done; and he hoped the Colonial Under Secretary would be able to tell them that some of these reforms would be made before next Session, otherwise it would be necessary for him to bring the matter again before the House in a stronger form.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is the opinion of this House that the long tried loyalty of the people of Malta to British rule deserves more consideration than it has received; that the several reports of Mr. Rowsell, Sir Penrose Julyan, and Mr. Keenan, as well as the numerously signed Petitions of the people, prove that great changes in the civil administration of the island are urgently required, and that Her Majesty's Government ought to he doing more than they have been doing to carry out the needed reforms, and so to promote the prosperity and secure the contentment of the Maltese people,"—(Mr. Anderson,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that his hon. Friend had set a very good example by recognizing the fact that time was very valuable to the House of Commons at this late period of the Session, and by confining his remarks accordingly within a small compass. He should try to imitate his hon. Friend's example and be as brief as possible. He congratulated the hon. Member on the fact that he showed symptoms of extreme youth—in other words, the disposition of very young people to have everything which they desired done at once, and to think that they obtained nothing if they did not obtain all. He admitted that for a considerate number of years little or nothing had been done in Malta; but he could not agree with his hon. Friend that nothing had been done since the initiation of the first inquiry by Mr. Rowsell into Maltese affairs. Efforts had been made for the improvement of the state of things in Malta both by the present and by the late Government; but the great difficulty that had to be contended with had lain in the constitution of the Legislative Council of Malta. The hon. Member was right when he said that the franchise was too limited, and that the Members of the Council represented but a very small class of the population. All efforts at reform had been thwarted by the Council. The Colonial Office was so thoroughly convinced of that fact that they had determined that the Legislative Council should be placed upon a more liberal basis; and, accordingly, they had prepared a measure for that purpose; but they had thought it right that, before enlarging the franchise, they should submit to the Council the measure they proposed in order that the Council might express an opinion upon it. The difficulty in a proper constitution of the basis of the franchise was the education test difficulty. He would now refer to the Reports of Mr. Rowsell, Sir Penrose Julyan, and Mr. Keenan, in order to show what had been done and what had not been done. As to the question of the abolition of the duty on wheat, dealt with in Mr. Rowsell's Report, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), in his despatch of the 4th of May, 1878, adopted a proposal for a remission of half the duty. But on the 14th of May an anti-repeal demonstration was got up in support of the elected Members, which ended by breaking the windows of Dr. Savona's house, where Mr. Rowsell was staying. The question came on again in April, 1879, when the proposal for a remission was again opposed by the elected Members. Then came the General Election of 1880, and the new Council met in December of that year. On the 12th of February, 1881, Lord Kimberley wrote to the Governor of Malta, expressing his concurrence in his predecessor's views about the remission of half the Wheat Duty; and he directed the Govenor to propose a Resolution affirming generally the expediency of reducing the Grain Tax. Again the Legislative Members came forward, and gave notice of their opposition; but there was no discussion, and the matter stood thus—that in April of last year Lord Kimberley sent a despatch expressing his regret that opportunity of argument had not been afforded, and requesting that the Government would consider what would be the best time for bringing forward the subject again. So that the failure of the objects his hon. Friend desired was entirely due to the action of the Legislative Council. Then, Sir Penrose Julyan made those elaborate Reports to which his hon. Friend had re- ferred. He recommended that the office of Treasurer should be abolished, and that a Registrar General should be appointed with his seat in the Council. Another recommendation was that the Public Works Department should be placed on a proper footing. This was done by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach). Another recommendation was that in the Customs Department fractional duties on dutiable goods should be abolished. This was not done on account of the opposition of the elected Members. Then there were further recommendations, among others with reference to the marine police, police and prisons, the printing office—which was about to be abolished—the Post Office—the reforms in which had been ordered and would benefit the Island to the extent of £2,000 a-year—the Public Registry, and the Law Courts, the amalgamation of the clerks of various offices into one establishment, the discontinuance of transport allowances, and the revision of the Civil List. A great deal had been done in the way of carrying out the recommendations in Sir Penrose Julyan's Report. With regard to Mr. Keenan's Report, he would state what had been done since that Report had been received. Mr. Savona had been appointed Director of Education, and Dr. Carnana, Secretary and Principal of the University. Then, in 1881, the question of improvements in the Education Department was brought before the Legislative Council, and a Select Committee was appointed to consider the subject. The scheme involved an expenditure of £4,000, and it was consequently resisted by the local Government. But Lord Kimberley was bent upon its being carried out, and there was reason to hope that a satisfactory change would be made. The moral to be drawn from all this was that patience was necessary. Malta was a very peculiar place. There was a large and ignorant population, governed by a small class, and that class were naturally indisposed to reform. Things, therefore, had to be done slowly. The question of a civilian Governor was, no doubt, a burning one. There was, however, something to be said on both sides, and he was not at present in a position to say that the Colonial Office had resolved upon a change. He could assure the House that the interests of the people of Malta would be carefully studied. He could not accept the Resolution of the hon. Member for Glasgow, because it was not in accordance with the facts of the case; but he accepted his speech as a support to the Colonial Office in the task it had to perform, which was to carry out all necessary reforms in Malta, and to foster and strengthen the loyalty of the people.


said, he desired to say a few words on this subject, as he had, during several years' service in the Colonial Office, to consider many of the questions raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson). He thought the statement of the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies was most satisfactory, and that the House would agree that not only the late Government, to whose exertions the Under Secretary had rendered full justice, but also the present Government, had done good work towards improving the condition of Malta. He (Sir Henry Holland) trusted that the hon. Member for Glasgow would not press his Motion to a division, as it was impossible, even for those who desired to see further improvements effected, to vote for a Resolution which practically condemned the Government for inaction. He did not desire to detain the House, and he would, therefore, only refer to one or two of the points which the hon. Member for Glasgow said that the Maltese desired to see carried out. In the first place, they were anxious that Sir Victor Houlton should be removed. Now, it might be admitted that a younger and more active man would be more efficient as Colonial Secretary, and it was not unnatural that the Maltese should press for a change; but he wished to point out that Sir Victor Houlton had served the country well for many years, and such services should not be overlooked when the question of retirement was considered. In the second place, they wished to have a Civil instead of a Military Governor. Now, this had been, as the Under Secretary justly said, a "burning question" at the Colonial Office for many years. Looking to the peculiar position and conditions of Malta, the question was by no means free from difficulty. From the Colonial Office point of view it might be considered that a Civil Governor would be preferable; but the decision did not rest with that Department, and the War Office naturally inclined to a Military Governor, Upon the whole, he (Sir Henry Holland) doubted whether this point could be usefully pressed by the Colonists. Then as to the Executive Council. If the hon. Member for Glasgow wished to see elected Members on that Council, he (Sir Henry Holland) could not agree in that view. The proper constitution of Executive Councils had often been considered by the Colonial Office; but it might be taken as finally decided that, except, perhaps, in some very special case, an Executive Council should be entirely composed of officials with whom the Governor could advise confidentially. Whether the best officials were on the Executive Council at Malta, which seemed to be doubted by the hon. Member for Glasgow, he (Sir Henry Holland) did not presume to say, as he was not acquainted with the facts. But, in truth, at the bottom of the whole subject lay the great question whether the franchise should be enlarged, even at the risk of some uneducated persons becoming voters. Upon this point he concurred substantially in the view of the hon. Member for Glasgow. The elected Members had, beyond doubt, set themselves against proposed improvements; and it did seem desirable that Members should be chosen under an enlarged franchise, who were more alive to the wants of the poorer classes, and more ready to assist in social reforms. But as it appeared, from what the Under Secretary of State said, that the Government had set to work to effect this reform, and were prepared to press it on, he must again express his hope that the hon. Member would not trouble the House to go to a division.


remarked, that the difficulties of the Governorship had been increased by the fact that latterly an unfortunate choice had been made of a Civil Governor, he being either a military man, between whom and the Military Governor jealousies arose, or a civilian of extreme views. It would be impracticable to make the faculty of speaking Italian a qualification for electoral rights. The language of Malta was not Italian, but a dialect of Arabic, and not more than one man in five knew Italian.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."