§ *(8.50.) MR. BOLAND (Kerry, S.)
Mr. Speaker, the question I desire to 1169 bring before the House to-night is not a new one, for last July I had an opportunity to direct attention to the position of affairs in Malta. At that time it seemed to me they were sufficiently serious to demand the attention of the House, and if that was so then, the state of things now is doubly serious. A period of six months has elapsed since then and the situation instead of being better has become materially worse. As the House knows, the two questions which are very much to the fore at the present time are, first, the language question, and second, the imposition of fresh taxation, to which all the elected members of the Council of Malta have offered their strongest opposition. In addition to those two burning questions which have excited a great deal of attention in Malta for the last eighteen or twenty years, there had been a serious development during the last month. As we all know, Southern people such as the Maltese, are accustomed to express their views openly and to exercise politically the right of public meeting, but at the end of last month, in consequence of the proportions which these movements had assumed, the Executive Government at Malta decided to proclaim a public meeting. That meeting was called together to discuss two perfectly legal questions—the discussion of which to my mind would not in any sense constitute this meeting an illegal one. We are accustomed in Ireland to meetings being proclaimed, but, so far as I know, this is the first time for many years that the right of public meeting in Malta has been abrogated. There is another event which cannot be passed over in silence in connection with this Maltese question. It was only a few weeks ago that the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Onslow, visited Malta, and instead of receiving and listening to a deputation from the elected members of the Council of Malta, a refusal to receive them was given by him, and the people of Malta were therefore unable to bring their views before a Member of the Government, who in conjunction with the Colonial Secretary is responsible for that state of things there. That is a very serious state of things when we consider that while the people of Malta, who spoke through their elected representatives, were unable to lay 1170 before Lord Onslow their views of the situation, there was nothing whatever to prevent the officials at Malta, who carry on the Government there, from putting their views before him; and, further, that subsequently to his visit to Malta, Lord Onslow proceeded to Italy. One knows that the Italian people and Parliament had not been blind to the state of things at Malta, but on the contrary the grievances of these people had been listened to with great interest and sympathy. My contention is that the action of the Government in Malta in proclaiming the public meeting, and in the second place, of the Under Secretary for the Colonies refusing to listen to the deputation, constitutes in itself a new feature in this old question of the Maltese language. There is one topic which I should not have wished to bring forward in this connection, but the documents which have been published in the English Press, and which must be known to many hon. Members, make it necessary to refer to it. It is the religious aspect of the question. I think it will be agreed, that, on the whole, the British Government has treated well the Catholic clergy in the Island of Malta, and I look upon it as one of the great signs of the strength of the Maltese position at present, that now, after waiting for a couple of years, during which the Maltese people and their clergy hoped the representations of their elected members would be sufficient, the clergy and the Archbishop of Malta have come forward.
§ Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present; House counted, and, forty Members being found present—
§ * MR. BOLAND
The words of the petition which was drawn up for presentation to the King on December 26th last year were—The Archbishop of Malta, and the Chapter of this Cathedral Church, find it necessary, in the present political emergencies, to address themselves reverently to the august Throne of Your Majesty, in order to raise their voice against the substitution of English for the Italian language, which is indispensable in these Islands and strictly bound up with the social and individual interest of the Maltese.….1171 I read that to show that any suggestion that may have been made in the past to the effect that the Maltese clergy were not in sympathy with the movement of the people of Malta is not based on fact, because here we have the Archbishop speaking for all the clergy in Malta, coming forward with this opinion, and I would remind the House that the fact that they have come forward in this manner shows that the language question is strongly bound up with the religious susceptibilities of the people. A very important aspect of this language question is this. It has been said, and the Colonial Secretary last season brought forward statistics to prove, that the people themselves elected for the English language in preference to Italian. My contention is that a fair choice was not offered to the people of Malta. A language ordinance was brought in in 1899, under which, at the end of 15 years, the English language was to be substituted for the Italian language in the Courts of Law. The very issuing of that ordinance was in itself a coercive measure, and it naturally had a reflex action on the minds of parents when they were asked to choose between the two languages. The very fact that English was to be substituted for Italian made it necessary for those parents who looked to the future education of their children to choose the English language. In my opinion, therefore, the House should not readily judge the matter on any such statistics. It must also be remembered that that language ordinance, applying to the Courts, necessarily had an effect on the future education and future prospects of the Maltese people, and they were not, therefore, in a position to judge impartially the question put before them.
There is another reason why these people had not a free choice. The Government refused to accede to the very natural and, to my mind, fair request unanimously made by the elected Members of the Council, that when any inquiry of this sort was made, at least one Member of the Council should be present to see that no coercion was employed, that arguments were not put forward to influence unduly the parents in their decision—with the view, in fact, that any statistics that might be brought forward 1172 should have the merit of being absolutely sound and fair. I do not intend to enlarge at any great length on the legal aspect of this language ordinance. It has been said over and over again, that the agitation for the maintenance of the Italian language in Malta is caused by lawyers and other professional men to whom Italian would be an advantage. That is not altogether a fair contention. Behind the substitution of English for Italian in the Courts of Law, the people are faced with the prospect of the incursion of English barristers and others, and the speaking of English in the Courts of Law will inevitably have an effect on the judicial systems of the country. Canon law is the foundation of the law in Malta, and I can clearly see that if this language ordinance is persisted in, in a few years there will inevitably be a demand from this country that the English system of law should be substituted for the canon law. The mere contention that this is the cry of a few interested persons is not sufficient to dispose of the claim which the people have put forward.
The Maltese people, I think it will be admitted, have always been loyal to the British Crown. I do not lay so much stress on that; I am more concerned in seeing a subject people maintaining their own language, and the language, which, after all, is best suited to their traditions and origin. I make the statement merely to prove that any action on the part of the Government which may have the effect of undermining that loyalty, is one which should not commend itself to any British Member of this House. I do not adopt the attitude that because a small people were disloyal, I should take up their cry merely with a view to increasing that disloyalty. I speak without any such arrière pensée. My object is to show that the Maltese people have a perfect right to maintain their own language, and my sympathy goes out to them as one who, in his own country, has felt what it is to be deprived of a national language. In all the speeches which have been delivered in Malta, with perhaps one or two small exceptions, I fail to find that the speakers have any objection to the use of English. They say that they would like their children to know English, because it will be useful to them; but they prefer that in the 1173 first instance they should have Italian as their own language, and that English should be used for the necessary commercial purposes.
The necessity of Italian being maintained in Malta is not merely sentimental; it is also economic. Situated as Malta is, with Italy close to it, carrying on trade with Sicily, Greece, and Tunis—where, after all, a great deal of Italian is spoken—it is necessary, for the commercial prosperity of Malta, that Italian should be maintained as the language of the island. Let the children be taught English as an extra accomplishment, but do not adopt any measures which will have the effect of driving Italian out.
I have now to refer to one of the most important developments of this question. In Malta the national sentiment has been growing, in proportion as the Government has been trying to drive it out by the substitution of the English language. Lately a national hymn was composed. The principal theatre in Malta was taken by the promoters of the movement for the production of this national hymn. The production was to take place on January 7th. On January 4th a letter was sent by Sir Gerald Strickland, Secretary to the Government, not to the promoters, but to the manager of the theatre. In the face of that letter, the manager decided he ought to close the theatre. The promoters thereupon took action against the manager. Judgment was given against the manager of the theatre, and the rehearsals immediately proceeded. But on January 6th a public proclamation was made, and posted on the doors of the theatre to the effect that, for reasons of public order, the theatre was to be closed on the following day. This may seem a small thing in itself, but to my mind it is one of the most curious proceedings that have up till now distinguished the Executive Government in Malta. It was not sufficient that a public meeting, at which these public matters were to be discussed should be proclaimed on December 21st, but the natural desire of the people to celebrate their nationality by producing a play—just as might be done in any theatre in England, Wales, or Ireland—has been stopped by a proclamation of the Government, and I daresay that, having started 1174 with the proclamation of public meetings, and having gone from that to representations in the theatre, we shall soon be faced with the stoppage of all meetings, even in private halls.
These three things are, to my mind, sufficient to warrant me in bringing forward this Amendment to the Address. I have not gone into the historical facts connected with the matter, because they are fresh in the minds of the House; they were dealt with by me so recently as last July. But we have this plainly before us, and the House of Commons should bear it in mind. First of all, a language ordinance has been put upon the people against the unanimous wish of the elected Members of the Council. Every Member of the Council has been returned on the understanding that he will support the keeping up of the Italian language. If the Government has any desire to test the real feeling of the people, they have only to dissolve the Council, and order a new election. They will then see for themselves that the opinion of the Maltese on this question is as absolutely sound and lasting as it was two years ago, when the elected Members of the Council were returned. You cannot find anywhere in the British Empire a state of things like this. You have had three Orders in Council passed during the last couple of years absolutely against the wishes of the elected Members of the Council. You have had the stopping of public meetings in Malta, and, in addition to the revolt of the people, you have had the clergy headed by the Archbishop of Malta, presenting a petition to the King asking that this question may be looked into, and asking also that this iniquitous ordinance changing the language, which is to be used in the law courts, should be abolished. You have all these things happening before your eyes and nothing has been done to meet the wishes of the people.
I think I have shown that the state of affairs in Malta has gone from bad to worse since this question was brought before the House last July. The fact that the archbishop and clergy are taking part in the movement is important. They have failed to obtain justice through the ordinary methods of 1175 speaking through their elected boards and councils, and like men of true national feeling they have now decided to make their voices heard. They kept out of it at first because they hoped for better things, and because they thought that the British Government looked upon Malta as a loyal colony. They now find that the voice of the people and the clergy speaking in the ordinary constitutional way has been set aside and they have now joined the movement. I would warn the Colonial Secretary that the last thing he should do in any part of the British Empire is to introduce anything like a spark of religious animosity. This has not been done before in Malta, and I think the Archbishop and the clergy have in the past always got on well with the Government. Behind this natural desire of the people to see the language which has been the language of its culture and literature for generations and for centuries maintained, I fear there is evidence in this ordinance which has been promulgated by the Colonial Office, of an attempt to anglicize the Maltese people, which is bound to fail. Only the other day Lord Curzon pointed out that he would like to see India developed on national lines, and he further stated that in his opinion any attempt to make Indians become Englishmen would prove a failure. Therefore I hope you will not make such an attempt in Malta but will allow the people to grow up freely in the language of their forefathers and continue on national lines, and any attempt such as is being made by these ordinances, will, in my opinion, be an absolute failure, and, in the history of England in connection with this Colony, will prove a lasting disgrace. I beg to move this Amendment.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words—
But we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the people of Malta have been restrained from exercising the right to hold public meetings, in which the proposed substitution of English for the Italian language in the Law Courts after a specified term of years and the increase of taxation were to be discussed; and represent to Your Majesty that the abrogation of the aforesaid ordinance and the restoration of complete civic rights are essential to the re-estab-
lishment of the peaceful conditions formerly existing in that portion of Your Majesty's dominions."—(Mr. Boland.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ (9.18.) MR. GRIFFITH BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge Wells)
I desire to ask the leave of the House to say a few words upon this question, because I believe that I am about the only hon. Member of this House who has lately spent any considerable time in Malta. I was quartered there for nearly a year at the beginning of the present war, and though I went out there to serve as a soldier I could not forget that I was a politician, and the political situation there interested me very keenly. I was rather surprised to see an attempt made by the very small oligarchy in Malta to set up something like the methods of the Nationalist agitation in Ireland or the Boer oligarchy in the Transvaal. It must be admitted that the hon. Member opposite, whether we agree with him or not, has made a very temperate speech, and he has endeavoured to prove to us that a most diabolical attempt is being made by the Colonial Secretary to suppress the language of Malta. I venture to say that if the hon. Gentleman knew Malta as I do, and as anybody who has been there knows it, he would see that there has been no attempt to suppress any language in Malta, and the only language which has been affected at all is not the language of the Maltese people. There has been a certain change made with reference to the Italian language, but Italian is no more the language of Malta than the Irish language is the language spoken by hon. Members opposite from Ireland. I believe there is only one hon. Member among the Nationalist Members who speaks the Irish language, and I think there is about the same proportion of the people of Malta who speak Italian.
§ * MR. BOLAND
said that he knew that the ordinary language of the Maltese was the Maltese dialect; but Italian was the literary language of the country, and as such it was certainly in a better position than the English language at the present day.
§ MR. GRIFFITH BOSCAWEN
Italian is the language spoken by a close corporation consisting principally of lawyers who are anxious that the English language should not be introduced lest English barristers might go over to Malta and take away from them the work of the courts. Italian is not the literary language of the island in any sense.
§ MR. GRIFFITH BOSCAWEN
Certainly there are; and when the agitators urge the people of Malta to preserve the Italian language they address them in Maltese, for the simple reason that the people who attend the meetings, principally because they regard the meetings as a huge joke, do not understand any language but Maltese. It is a grotesque perversion to represent what has been done as the suppression of a national language. Maltese is the language of the bulk of the people of Malta. Certain classes have for generations affected the Italian, which is the language employed in the courts. This has led to a state of things without parallel in any colony under the sun. A short time ago a British subject could be haled before a Maltese Court and tried in a language which he does not understand without having any redress. A British officer was actually committed for contempt of court because he refused to sign a deposition in Italian which he did not understand. Could a more monstrous thing happen in a British colony? The attention of the Colonial Secretary having been called to this, three principles were laid down in regard to the language question. It was enacted that, wherever a British subject was concerned the proceedings should be conducted in English or through an interpreter. Often I have had to attend court in the case of one of my men; and how could I have seen that justice was being done if the proceedings had been conducted in a language which I did not understand? Secondly, it was enacted by an Order in Council that after 15 years English should be substituted for Italian as the language of the law courts. I say that is right and proper and perfectly reasonable, but if the business 1178 in the law courts is to be conducted in a language which is not the language of the people, it ought to be English and not Italian. The hon. Member tried to represent that the opponents of this are the Maltese people. The opponents are not the Maltese people at all. The opponents area narrow clique of Italian lawyers who are afraid that their work in the courts will be taken away. They want to keep up a close oligarchy to control the courts, and they are afraid that if English is made the language of the courts they will not be able to monopolise all the business as they have done up to the present time. I am not surprised that these people are fighting for their own interest, but they are merely a small oligarchy.
The methods of the small oligarchy who are conducting this agitation are peculiar. They circulate the most extraordinary stories; they say we are going to force the people to learn English in order that we may press their sons into going to the war in South Africa, and in order that their women may be forced out to South Africa as washerwomen to the British Army. These are sentiments worthy of hon. Members opposite. What are the facts? There has been no forcing whatever. Up to two years in the schools only Maltese is taught, and through the medium of Maltese other subjects are taught. After two years the parents are allowed to choose whether their children should learn Italian or English; and the result is that 82 per cent. of the parents have chosen English, and only about 18 per cent. have chosen Italian. It is perfectly clear that when the 15 years have elapsed the great bulk of the population will know English, and a very small proportion of the population will know Italian. That is a very strong reason why we should persevere in the policy which my right hon. friend has laid down. Of course, we have this agitation. We have had meetings addressed in Maltese, and we have had the refusal on the part of the elected representatives of the people to carry on the government. They have refused Supplies, and endeavoured to stop public improvements. In consequence of their action, the Colonial Secretary and the Governor of Malta have been obliged to fall back on the power which belongs to the Consti- 1179 tution of Malta, as passed in 1887, to impose the necessary taxation for those improvements. In view of the fact that Malta is a fortress and one of the keys of the Empire, we have given an unduly liberal Constitution to Malta; and they have made very bad use of it. There is a population of about 180,000 in Malta, but there are only 10,000 electors, and at the last election only a few hundreds of the electors took the trouble to vote. Therefore this agitation really represents the views of fewer people than are actually in the British Army and Navy who spend so much of their time at Malta. In my opinion the Governor of Malta and the Colonial Secretary have adopted the only possible course open to them. For these reasons I support the policy of my right hon. friend, which is the only policy which is calculated both to defend the interests of the Empire, and, in the long run, really to benefit the Maltese people.
§ (9.40.) SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY (Yorkshire, Shipley)
I am sure the House will recognise that nothing could be in greater contrast to the type of oratory occasionally indulged in by hon. Members on the benches opposite, than the literary words and the cultured and felicitous expressions of the hon. Member for South Kerry. But the hon. Gentleman has based his statement on an entire misapprehension. He seems to believe that the Italian language is spoken by the people of Malta, and that it is in some ways indigenous to them. The fact is, that never since the days of the Roman Empire has the Island of Malta been any part of the Italian Kingdom, nor in any way associated with the Italian people. The language which is spoken is a bastard Arabic, which has gradually evolved from the people who migrated from Africa, and who settled many generations ago in Malta. It may be spoken of as a dialect, but it has no currency outside of Malta, except in a few islands in the Levant. It is true that there are some people in Malta who speak Italian. It is true that those who are anxious for social distinction affect Italian, but I venture to say that that language has to-day no more real connection with the people of Malta and with their every day life than 1180 the English language has. Nay, I go further and I venture to say that the English language would be more generally understood by the ordinary person you meet in the street than if you addressed him in the Italian tongue. In these circumstances what is the proposition the hon. Member lays before the House. It is that in an English fortress, in a place for long under the rule of the British Crown, we should substitute for English as the official language, a language which is quite alien to the people simply because Italy is geographically near to Malta. I listened to the whole of the speech of the hon. Member, and I failed to find in it, with the exception of the reason of national feeling and sympathy, a single logical reason why Italian should be taken as the official language. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to state one logical or useful reason, except the national feeling and sympathy of some of the people, why Italian should be used and why English, should not be used.
§ * MR. BOLAND
I assume that the main question is very well understood. Italian has always been the language of literature in Malta until the English people took it under their protection. I think it was in 1831 an ordinance which was sent out by the King was written in Italian.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY
It is a question of what is best for the people of Malta as part of the Empire. Is there any reason to show that it would benefit the people of Malta to have Italian superimposed on their own language instead of English? Not a single benefit would be conferred on any man, woman, or child in Malta if the Italian language were used in the courts. I think the hon. Gentleman has demonstrated to the House that he has nothing but the national feeling and sympathy which distinguishes Irishmen to bring forward in favour of the Amendment he has brought before the House. On the other hand, what are the facts? The English language is the dominant language of the world, and in that great country of America you have the same language spoken by 70 millions of people. Everywhere you go throughout the 1181 world English is the language of communication most generally under stood. I remember hearing an in stance of this in China. Not long ago, somewhere near Shanghai, there was some difficulty amongst a company of Chinese in communicating with each other. Men from the northern provinces have difficulty in making themselves understood by men of the southern provinces. In this case communication was found to be impossible. A native of Shanghai was called in as an interpreter, but he could not make himself comprehended. Then someone suggested that pidgeon English should be tried. It was tried, and was understood at once by all the company. There is no language so universal as English; and I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the interest of the rising generation of Malta is not a more practical consideration than anything pedantic or sentimental. They should be encouraged, therefore to learn English in addition to their own Arabic tongue. It is only decent, and right and proper, that the rising generation of Maltese should be taught the dominating and universal language of the world, instead of having superimposed on their own tongue a language which has no connection whatever with them. That is the system which the Colonial Secretary has initiated, and I say it is the duty of the House to to support the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, and reject the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ (9.48.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
When we discussed this question last year I found it necessary to take the view the right hon. Gentleman has adopted in regard to it, although I cannot say that I entirely agree with all the steps the right hon. Gentleman has taken. I do not think any one can complain of the tone or matter of the speech of the hon. Member for South Kerry, and I think as a matter of courtesy he ought to have a reply. It must be recognised that the state of Malta at the present moment is not so satisfactory as it was before this question was raised in the island. There have been meetings, agitations and tumults, and those show that some public interest has been taken 1182 in regard to this language question. The Colony of Malta two years ago had some representative element in its hybrid constitution, but now the representative system has ceased to exist, and the island is now governed by the Secretary of State for Colonies by Order in Council. I think the right hon. Gentleman might give the House the advantage of his views in regard to this matter, especially as we have not had any distinct information in the Blue Books for a considerable number of months. There is one point which the hon. Gentlemen raised on which I should like to have some information. The Colonial Secretary has stated more than once in despatches that an option was given to the parents that their children should be taught, after two or three years, Italian or English, and that while 98 per cent. had exercised the option in favour of English, the percentage had since been reduced to 78.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. Chamberlain,) Birmingham, W.
98 per cent. was the highest, and 75 the lowest.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
At all events, it is between 70 and 80 per cent and I am very glad it is so. But has any pressure, direct or indirect, been put upon the parents to influence the choice? The whole point as to whether the option is satisfactory or not depends upon whether the option was a genuine or honest one. I am not for a moment insinuating that such pressure has been put—I do not believe it has—on the people of Malta.
§ (9.53.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I recognise with great satisfaction that the hon. Member for Poplar did on a previous occasion give me his approval and support, and I valued that very greatly, as I do on the present occasion, because in all these matters it is desirable, if possible, to have a continuity of national policy in regard to our colonies. The fact that he is disposed to favour the policy I have had to pursue, and which I think he would have pursued had he been in my place, gives the hon. Member the right to call upon me to intervene in this debate. When, however, he goes on to suggest there was any want of courtesy to the hon. Member for South Kerry in my not rising at once, he is mistaken. I agree that the hon. Member 1183 was perfectly justified in introducing this subject to the House, and he did so in terms of which I have no right to complain, but I am bound to say that, as all his statements had been so completely and categorically answered by my hon. friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, I thought I would wait for some new view of the situation before I thought it my duty to present myself to the House. I desire, however, to have the opportunity of making a statement on this subject to the House, and I am really obliged to the hon. Member for South Kerry for giving me the opportunity. It is not that in itself and in regard to its intrinsic merits it is a question of very serious importance; but there are certain collateral issues and considerations connected with it which I think have been a good deal misunderstood, and in regard to which I am very glad to have the opportunity of putting a full statement before the House.
In the first place, let me dispose of some details in regard to which the hon. Member for South Kerry has been misinformed, and in regard to which there have been grotesque exaggerations on the part of gentlemen who are known as the elected members of the Council of Malta.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The first of these points is in regard to the question of public meeting. The hon. Member in his Amendment says "the people of Malta have been restrained from exercising the right to hold public meetings." Now that is an absolute misstatement; nothing of the kind has happened. The people of Malta, who, as my hon. friend the Member for Tunbridge 1184 Wells has said, are rather fond of demonstrations, have had ample opportunity of making them. Within the last few-months a large meeting was held, and at other times the elected members have utterly failed to get an audience. On one occasion the principal meeting was held in a great open space within easy reach of the centre of the town, and there the elected members declared there were 30,000 people present. But I happen to have seen a photograph of the meeting, and, having a large experience of these assemblies, I am able to say the number would be about 5,000; still, a considerable number out of a population of 180,000. But I do not suppose the hon. Member is aware that, so far from the Executive interfering with these meetings—which are perfectly harmless in themselves, although occasionally some rather seditious language is used at them—so far are the Executive from interfering that they have given every assistance in their power. They ran on this occasion I have spoken of special trains from the country districts for the advantage of those who wished to attend the meeting; and, contrary to the ordinary practice and arrangement of the line, they stopped every train at the station which happened to be nearest to the place of meeting. What has taken place and what is the foundation for what the hon. Member for South Kerry has said, is the fact that a procession—it was not a public meeting but a procession—which was intended to pass through the narrow streets of Malta was prohibited on the ground that it would probably lead to serious accident and disturbance. And the prohibition took place, not by any new decision of the Executive Government, but in accordance with the ordinance or law—ordinance, I think—which was passed some years ago regulating such processions. That ordinance had been rendered necessary by some disturbance which had taken place; and if the hon. Member is acquainted with Malta, and has visited it as I have done, he will know that the streets are extremely narrow. They are crowded on days of fête like Sundays and similar days by the ordinary population, and the passing through such streets of political processions, accompanied by bands and flags and so on, would most 1185 probably be a cause of considerable difficulty to the police authorities. I think that, in these circumstances, the Government were perfectly right in prohibiting the procession, although they gave every assistance, and would do so again, to anything in the nature of a public meeting held in a place where no danger to order could result.
Then the hon. Gentleman went on to make much of the visit of my noble friend the Under Secretary for the Colonies, Lord Onslow, to Malta. I may inform him that Lord Onslow went in pursuance of an old engagement to an old friend. He went to pay a purely private visit to the Governor of Malta, with whom he had been on terms of intimacy and friendship for many years, and, not being there in any official capacity, when the elective members tried to take advantage of his presence in order to send a deputation or present a petition, he requested that they should put their views in writing and promised, in that case, to convey them immediately to myself. He was perfectly right in doing that, and no discourtesy whatever was shown to the elective members when he took such a course. I think the hon. Gentleman the member for Poplar said that affairs were worse now than they were, was it a year or two years ago?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I really do not think so. I do not think they are as bad. The term "worse" is, of course, comparative. We have been accustomed for a very long time to occasional friction in Malta as in other colonies. There has been some friction of late; but it would be the greatest mistake in the world to exaggerate that friction, and when the hon. Gentleman talks, as I think he did, of riot, I can only say that the term is absolutely inappropriate. There has been nothing in the nature of riot in Malta. The worst of the incidents which have occurred 1186 in connection with this political agitation was the destruction of a British flag in front of the British Club in Malta. When I first heard of that insult to our national emblem, I made immediate inquiries, and I learned that a few schoolboys or youths from the University had bought the sort of flag which is sold in the streets of London for a penny, and which, I think, is a few inches in size, and had torn it up in one of the streets of Malta. It was, of course, a bit of play which I deprecate, but to which it would be perfectly ludicrous to attach the slightest political importance.
I say, then, do not let us exaggerate. We should make a great mistake if we exaggerated anything which has taken place in Malta. A certain difference of opinion has arisen between the elected members of the Council of Government and His Majesty's Government; but we should make a great mistake if we were led by a knowledge of that difference to impute to the general population of Malta anything in the nature of serious discontent. On the other hand, I do not want to depreciate any dissatisfaction which may have arisen in any section of the Maltese population. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for South Kerry said, that the Maltese have been a most loyal and law-abiding people. They boast of their loyalty. They are proud of the fact that they were incorporated in the British Empire at their own request and not by conquest. They are proud of having fought with us for the rescue of their country from French rule; and they have, ever since, shown, on every critical occasion, a great affection and regard for the connection. I would give as two illustrations of that the fact that a most admirable Militia regiment has been formed in Malta with the full approval of the Maltese population, and that it forms at the present time a most important unit in His Majesty's Malta military forces, and that, some time ago, when all the Empire was moved at the receipt of the news of the relief of Ladysmith, I believe that satisfactory event was nowhere received with greater enthusiasm or with greater expressions of relief than it was in our small but most interesting and most loyal colony of Malta. I am an Imperialist, and I desire, therefore, that those feelings of affection 1187 and loyalty wherever they exist should be cherished and not discouraged; and if there is any discontent, even although it is based entirely upon a misunderstanding, still such discontent is to be deprecated, and it ought to be removed if by any action on our part we can remove it; and the grievance, even though it be only an imaginary grievance, ought to be treated by us with respect and in a conciliatory spirit. That is the spirit in which I approach the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Kerry, and I am glad to say that his language makes it easy for me to do so.
But, before I deal with the question to which he has principally devoted his attention, I think it is desirable to put before the House a brief statement of the general situation and of the past history of our connection with this colony. Why do we hold Malta? That is the first and essential point in any discussion of our relations with it. We hold Malta solely and entirely as a fortress essential to our position in the Mediterranean. We do not hold it for any pecuniary advantage; quite the contrary. The trade of Malta is, of course, a mere infinitesimal atom in the great ocean of British Imperial trade. What there is of it is chiefly done with Mediterranean States, and the direct, or even indirect, pecuniary advantage which we could possibly derive by possession of this island is really not worth taking into account. On the other hand, ever since we have held the island, and especially of late years, we have been pouring millions into it from the pockets of the British taxpayers, not, of course, specially intended for the advantage of the Maltese population, although it has materially improved their position, but in the general interests and for the benefit of the Empire, In order to make the fortress which we hold absolutely impregnable. Now, it being understood that we hold Malta not as we told an ordinary colony, but as a fortress, the first condition which we have to bear in mind is the security of the Imperial interests which are connected with its possession. And, in addition to what I have said as to our strong sympathy with the Maltese, and our desire to secure their regard and affection, there is also this Imperial consideration—in a fortress anything like open agitation against the 1188 Government is a thing that cannot be tolerated on the face of it. If you are prepared to tolerate it, you must be prepared to give up your fortress. If you consider it essential to your security to hold your fortress, you must hold it under the usual conditions, and you cannot allow sedition to prevail within it.
MR. SWIFT MAGNEILL
rose to speak, and, amid cries of "Order," persisted in standing, although Mr. Chamberlain refused to give way.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I refuse to give way to the hon. Gentleman, and I object to interruptions which are not relevant, when I am making a serious statement. Sir, I am explaining to the House, the conditions, the necessary conditions, which every sensible man will admit, whatever his views may be, must be the conditions under which we hold a possession of this kind. It was a feeling of the importance of those conditions which led to a remark of the Duke of Wellington's, which may well be quoted at the present time. He was asked at one period whether he would be willing to agree to a Constitution for Malta, and he said—I am not quoting his exact language, which was the language of the period—he said, "To give a Constitution to Malta is absurd; you might as well give a Constitution to a man-of-war!" There is no doubt whatever that there is a great deal of common sense in that remark, as there was, in fact, in all the remarks of the great Duke. But it will be readily understood that politicians in Malta, just as one might say it would be probable of politicians elsewhere in similar circumstances, would not be likely to accept as final such a decision. They naturally strive to magnify their own office, and they are always endeavouring to increase the political rights and privileges which are granted to them. I do not blame them; it is perfectly natural.
But here let me say, by way of parenthesis, that it is an entire mistake to 1189 suppose, as I think the hon. Member for South Kerry supposed, that the present irritation, or friction, is a new thing, or that it is due in any way to the special and exceptional action of the present Colonial Secretary. That is not the case at all; and if Members of the House have looked at the Papers which have frequently been presented they will nave seen that in many of the documents which have been presented, whether by private individuals or by the elective Members or by any other representative authority in Malta, it is the invariable claim that they have been subjected to a century of oppression. Well, I cannot go back a century. I am not responsible, at all events, for the early part of it, and although one makes allowances for what the hon. Member for South Kerry called the Southern temperament of the population, I think you must feel that that Southern temperament has led them a little to exaggerate on the present occasion. At all events, if it be true, as they say, that there has been a century of oppression, and that the Maltese during the whole of that time have been subject to a tyrannical rule, that their life-blood has been drained—I am using the expression of these gentlemen—it is worth while for a moment to go back and see what the real circumstances are. The cession of Malta was confirmed in 1814. It became British in 1800, as the Maltese themselves rightly boast, with the goodwill and authority of the Maltese themselves. What were the terms, then, which the Maltese made with Great Britain when they voluntarily entered the British Empire? They were not terms of surrender, it is perfectly true; we did not conquer the Maltese, we were fighting side by side with them, but we were never fighting against them. It was not a conquest, it was a cession by the representative authorities of the Maltese. What terms did they make? The Constitution, if, indeed, it can be called a Constitution, which existed at the time of the cession, and for a great number of years afterwards, was a purely autocratic Constitution. The Governor was judge and jury in every case in which Imperial interests were concerned; he was the Grand Elector, he was the representative authority; all laws were made by him. And I have always understood 1190 that Sir Thomas Maitland, when he was Governor of Malta, from 1813 to, I think, 1824, and who is still remembered in Malta with the greatest kindness, was a very autocratic gentleman. He was, in fact, the best type of beneficent despot; he had no idea of Constitution or of elective members; and Sir Thomas Maitland, or King Tom, as he was generally called would have been very much astonished indeed if he had been permitted to live to read the representations of the modern elected members. Now, from 1800 to 1838, that is for thirty-eight years, the Constitution of Malta was absolutely autocratic; there was no representation of any kind. Then in 1838 a representative element was introduced for the first time, but the representative element was not an elected element. The Council of Government then consisted of the Governor and six persons, all of whom were nominated by the Governor. Three of them were official members, three of them were unofficial members. These were the gentlemen who, up to 1849. made the laws of Malta. I am giving the House this short account of the history of the constitutional question in Malta because it is the custom, as I have said, of the elected members to represent that tyranny has been imposed upon them. On the contrary, the Constitution, as settled between the representatives of those who conceded Malta, or allowed its incorporation in the British Empire, was absolutely autocratic, and the constitutional changes which have been made since then have been in the direction of giving greater political rights and larger political liberty.
I come to 1849. Then, for the first time, at the instigation of the British Government, elected members were introduced. The Council of Government then consisted of the Governor and nine nominated, with eight elected, members. But, it will be observed under this Constitution, as under the previous one, in the last resort the Governor, representing the Imperial authority, representing the security of the fortress and the interests of the Empire, was supreme. These elected gentlemen were called in to advise and assist him, but in the last resort the will of the Imperial Government prevailed. That went on till 1887. Now I call the attention of the hon. Member for South 1191 Kerry to this fact, that for eighty-seven years the majority power was in the hands of the Governor, not in the hands of what are called the representatives of the people of Malta. How far they are representative I will deal with directly. But for eighty-seven years the majority was in the hands of the representatives of the Imperial Government, and accordingly the interests of the fortress were absolutely secure. I come to 1887, to modern times, only fifteen years ago, under a Conservative Government. In deference to the wishes which were expressed by representatives, at all events, of a section of the Maltese population, for the first time in the history of Malta, a majority of the Council of Government was given to the elected members. The Council consisted, and consists still, of the Governor and six official members, and there are fourteen elected members, one of whom, I should say, has since disappeared owing to a change, which is a matter of detail. So that at the present moment the Council consists of the Governor, six official and thirteen unofficial members. The consequence is that the control of the finances, and therefore the absolute control of the government of Malta, subject to one safety valve which was fortunately provided, has been transferred from the Imperial Government, from the representatives of the Empire, to the elected members. What results from that? Suppose the elected members chose to abuse their power. In that case the whole administration of Malta is at their mercy. They could refuse every penny for every service in the island; and I need scarcely say that in those circumstances the position of the Imperial Government, as the sole trustees in that case of the interests of the Empire and of the maintenance of this great and most important fortress, would be one of the greatest embarrassment. But, as I have said, there was one safety valve. My noble predecessor, Lord Knutsford, who was officially responsible for this change, foresaw the possibility, although he did not anticipate the probability, of such an abuse of the new powers which were being for the first time in the history of the fortress confided to the elected members; and accordingly he laid great stress in his dispatches upon the maintenance of the power to legislate over their heads, in case of necessity, by Order 1192 in Council. If that power had not been reserved to us, long before now the affairs of Malta would undoubtedly have occupied the attention of this House, unless, indeed, we were prepared to abandon altogether our fortress there, and our authority in the island. Fortunately, however, as I say, legislation by Order in Council was expressly reserved. That is a safety valve; and, accordingly, if the powers of the elected members have been or are again abused in any way, the Imperial Government have it always in their power to legislate over their heads by means of this Order in Council. Now I think the House will feel with me that the Imperial Government were really extraordinarily sanguine and extraordinarily generous when they gave these great powers to the elected members in a colony under such conditions as those which exist in Malta. But did that satisfy the Malta representatives? It did not satisfy the politicians, who naturally, in every country and under all circumstances, desire to magnify their own privileges and rights. Since I myself have been in office I have had deputations and representations from the elected members claiming that they are still slaves—that is the actual word they use—and asking that a further extension of constitutional rights should be given to them, and that Malta should be made a self-governing colony. I would only say it is clear that it would be difficult to satisfy the full demands of the gentlemen who are dissatisfied with our recent proceedings. What has been the result, however, of the concession which was made in 1887? Since then there has been continual friction, not between the Imperial Government and the people of Malta, but between the Imperial Government and the elected members. Those who, like hon. gentlemen below the gangway, have probably not studied the details of this question, perhaps will not perceive that there is a distinction to be made to which I will direct their attention presently. For the moment, I say that the irritation, or friction, or whatever else you please to call it, has existed almost continuously between the elected members and the Imperial Government not in the time of this Government alone, but in the time of my predecesssor, and in fact ever since the concession was made. The most serious 1193 difficulty arose in regard to the marriage question, which, fortunately, is, for the time being, in abeyance, and I sincerely hope it may not again be raised in a way to create irritation.
As I have mentioned the marriage question, let me tell the House what that question was. In Malta so anxious have we been to make every possible concession to the sentiments, the prejudices, and above all to the religious beliefs of the people, that we have allowed institutions to remain which have not their parallel, I believe, in any other Catholic country in the world. As far as I know, there is no Catholic country in the world in which the institution of civil marriage has not been established; but in Malta there is no institution of civil marriage, and grievous difficulties, sometimes causing most serious friction, have arisen owing to the existence of a mixed population—Protestants and Catholics living side by side—and the mixed marriages which have taken place between them. Occasionally the result has been immorality. The difficulty of securing legitimate marriage has led to immorality. In other cases the difficulty has been got over by temporary expedients, by Governor's licences, or other methods of that kind. But I must say that, if these questions are to be raised, this is one in which the concession made to Maltese feeling has been so great that I can well conceive that the Government might be taken to task for not having dealt with the matter in a more satisfactory way—more in accordance with the precedents in other countries.
But I said that I would draw the attention of the House to the distinction between the elected members and the population. This has already been done by the hon. Member for Tunbridge; but, if the House will allow me, I will repeat the figures. The population of Malta is 180,000. The franchise is conceded to only 10,000—a ridiculous proportion as compared with the proportion in this country, for instance, or in Ireland.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Out of a population of 180,000 there are 10,000 electors. In this country or Ireland the number 1194 would probably be 30,000 electors. But it is also true that of these 10,000 electors the number of those who take the trouble to go to the poll in any election is really insignificant. It is impossible to make a general statement on the subject, because in many cases the elections have not been disputed; but wherever there has been a contested election the number of persons voting has borne only a very small proportion—a ridiculous proportion—to the number of electors. Consequently, although the elected members may fairly claim to be the only representative authority in the island, it is also possible for those who differ from their proceedings to say that, at all events, the vast majority of the population in the island do not take sufficient interest in their policy or their proceedings to vote.
Another fact which has to be observed—although I do not want to attach too much importance to it—is that the more educated and intelligent part of the population in Malta, who have the largest stake in the country, do not take part in elections and cannot be induced to present themselves for election. I think that is a deplorable fact. When they are asked to do so, they object that the language of the local papers is so scurrilous and so personal that they are not prepared to face it. I do not think myself that that is any excuse. If members of this House were guided by similar considerations it would mean a clearance of these benches. I myself pointed out to distinguished and representative citizens of Malta that I thought it was their duty—a duty which they owed to the people of Malta—that they should, in spite of this severe and, I admit, scurrilous criticism, present themselves for election, and thereby secure a better representation of the whole population. But the facts are the facts—they do not present themselves; and accordingly a very large section, and a very important section, of the population is not represented by the so-called elected members. That is the state of the case so far as regards the Constitution.
The immediate question with which we have to deal is the language question but, believe me, if we had not the language question to deal with, we should have the marriage question, the taxation question, 1195 or some other question which would be raised, and upon which precisely the same issues would have to be decided. But what does the House imagine the language question of Malta to be? Listening to the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kerry I should have supposed, if I had not known better, that Italian was the national language of Malta. In the explanation which he gave afterwards he said it was the language of culture in Malta; but in his original speech he spoke of it as the national language, and I should have supposed that the British Government at the present time were deliberately and against the wishes of the Maltese forcing upon them the English language in substitution for their own national language of Italian. There is not the slightest shadow of foundation for either of these statements. The language of Malta is not Italian; the language of Malta is an Arabic patois, which is not a literary language, and which cannot, therefore, be adopted for literary purposes. There is no literature in the Maltese language. But the Italian language, which the hon. Gentleman represents as, if not the national language of the Maltese, at any rate the language of the cultured, is not understood by one in seven of the population of Malta. I believe I am understating the case. There are more people in Malta that speak and read English than speak and read Italian; and if, indeed, we are to distinguish between the national language and the language of the more highly educated classes, then I say undoubtedly, on the figures in my possession, English more than Italian is the language to which we should give the preference. What are the figures? At the last census, including the garrison—and for the life of me I do not know why the garrison of Malta is to be excluded: when the garrison is there its members are subjected to Maltese laws, tried in Maltese courts, by Maltese judges, by Maltese juries; are they to be absolutely ignored in a British colony, and treated as though they did not form a part of the population? Including the garrison, the population that spoke English was 43,000 against a population which spoke Italian of 23,000. But if you choose to except from consideration all the troops, all the sailors, all the people in Govern- 1196 ment employ, then the numbers would be 19,000 speaking English, 21,000 speaking Italian. So that without taking into account a single person in Government employ you still have almost an equality between those who speak English and those who speak Italian, while if you include the troops in the island you have a majority of nearly two to one.
Then we are told of the official language that it is Italian. The hon. Member for South Kerry repeated that statement, and he declared that the official language of the island of Malta had been Italian for centuries. Yes; no doubt the hon. Member got that statement from the information supplied to him, but that statement also is absolutely untrue. Any such assertion is historically inaccurate. If the hon. Member would only read the history of Malta, the history of the Knights of Malta, and its possession by Spain, he would find that his statement is without foundation. What are the facts of that matter? The official language of Malta during the time of the Knights of Malta was Latin, and Latin was actually in use in the Courts—in the decisions of the Courts—and in many of the deeds and documents registered in the Courts, down to 1815, fifteen years after the British occupation. The use of Italian is absolutely modern. It was found that Latin was becoming a too archaic language, so to speak, and it then became necessary to adopt a modern language. At that time Italian was the best known language in Malta, no doubt. There were those who spoke English, but there were more who spoke Italian. Accordingly, Italian was by universal consent accepted as the official language of the island; but to say that there is any national sentiment connected with the use of Italian in Malta is to be false to the whole history of the island. Now, of late years, not only has the knowledge of English increased, but the number of English visitors and English troops has also greatly increased, and the inconvenience of having a language which these English people were unable to understand became more and more manifest. At last it came to a head in what is known as the Hewson case. My hon. friend the Member for Tunbridge has dealt with that matter, but to make my case complete I must repeat what he said. Colonel 1197 Hewson was an English officer of the garrison; he was called as a witness in the case before a Maltese tribunal. He gave his evidence in English. When he had finished giving his evidence he was presented by one of the officials of the Court with the deposition in Italian. His evidence had been translated by the interpreter. He was asked to sign the deposition. He did not understand Italian, but looking at the document, he thought from certain words he saw there that the evidence had been incorrectly translated. He therefore objected to sign this deposition written out in Italian. The Judge told him that it was necessary under the law that he should sign, and that if he did not he would render himself liable to imprisonment. He then offered to sign the deposition, attaching to his signature a declaration to the effect that he did so in the faith that the translation was correct, but that he himself was unable to understand Italian. That offer was refused. He then finally declined to sign a document that he did not understand. And this officer, in a British fortress, in a British colony, was actually committed to gaol for three days for contempt of Court by the Judge of the Court. The sentence thus passed was not carried into effect; mercy was extended to the offender. The Governor's pardon was brought down, and the colonel was released. Does any man imagine that anyone standing in my place as going to submit to the possibility of a continuance of such a state of things? We proposed various changes, but they were rejected by the elected members. We then carried those changes by Order in Council. In criminal cases, where the accused is a Briton, it was provided that the language is to be English. In civil cases, where a Briton is a party, the judge, the jurymen, the counsel, the witnesses, or the parties may, if they like, use English. That is to say, it is optional to use English or Italian. I do not think that that is a change in the law stronger than the circumstances required. Of course, circumstances of this kind require a review of the whole situation, and, in connection with that, I had to consider the question of education in Malta. I determined to carry out a decision which had been in contemplation some time before; and from that date, in 1899, every parent in 1198 Malta had the free option—there was no compulsion of any kind—to elect whether he would wish his child taught, in addition to Maltese which was his natural language, as a foreign language, English or Italian. He could make his choice; if he chose Italian he was perfectly free, and if he chose English he was free, too. Now, what was the result? The people of Malta were told, on the other side, that Italian was their natural language, and all sorts of things were said to them about the Englishmen who were desperately poor and who would flood this delightful island of Malta, and would take the bread out of the mouths of the Maltese. What was the result? When the choice of the Maltese was free, when they were not under the influence of the agitation, 98 per cent. elected for the English language. Of course they did. English is the great commercial language. It is a question of bread and butter. It was to the interest of the people to learn the language, which is in itself the passport to all the commerce of the world; and it was on that ground, no doubt, that the Maltese parents decided for the English language in the interest of their children. Since the agitation began—I do not wish to dwell upon controversial matters—but since the pressure began to be applied this 98 per cent. has fallen as low as 75 per cent.; it is now rising again; I believe it is 80 per cent.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us some information as to how this option is taken?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Free option on the part of the parents. The parents have to declare their preference, and no pressure can be applied directly or in directly by the Government. If the hon. Gentleman means, is it done by a written paper—
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I ask for the actual way in which it is done. The right hon. Gentleman says the option is given, and it is material to know exactly how parents have an opportunity of expressing their view.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
If the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question, I will give him the necessary answer. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that 1199 I have not the slightest doubt that the most absolute freedom of choice has prevailed except so far as it has been interfered with by certain sections of the population to whom I have already referred. And I say this—it is the first statement I make with regard to the future—at all hazards and against all opposition we are determined to observe this freedom of choice. For we will not at the dictation of a small minority take away from 80 per cent. of the population of Malta their right to learn English and force upon them the necessity of learning a language which they do not wish to learn. So far with regard to education. But we have done more than that. The hon. Member for South Kerry said that we had made an ordinance providing that the English language should become the official language fifteen years hence.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
That is a mistake. The period is eighteen years hence; but that is not the main correction I have to make. No ordinance has been issued. No ordinance could be issued to pledge future Governments. All that has been done is to issue a proclamation declaring the intention of the Government at the time named to make English the official language of the Courts. Permit me to say that this was really done purely as an act of kindness, and that affects very much my feeling with regard to its preservation. It was done for this reason alone, and it has no operative effect whatever. A mere proclamation declaring the intention of the present Govern merit does not bind the successors of the present Government; it does not bind those who, long after I am dead and the present Government has disappeared, may be dealing with the situation; but I may say myself that if as that time—some twenty years hence—it be found that what I anticipate has not taken place, and the vast majority of the population do not understand English at that time, but do understand Italian, no doubt my successors will continue Italian as the official language of the Courts. They would only adopt English if they found that it was in the interest of the population. But my reason for issuing the proclamation was not to 1200 declare in any authoritative way what the future, hides in its lap, but to give warning to the people chiefly concerned, the officials connected with the Courts and all others, young men who may be studying or practising in the Courts, and so to enable them to prepare themselves for that eventuality. That is the whole object, and I attach no importance to it except as a warning given to the persons chiefly interested, and as of possible advantage to them.
I shall come back to the proclamation directly, but, meanwhile, I wish the House to understand that the most recent features of the agitation have arisen from the action of the elected members since it was known that we intended to allow parents to have an option with regard to the second language their children should learn. After the issue of this proclamation expressing the intention with regard to a period nearly twenty years hence, what did the elected members do? They were entitled to make a protest, to have a debate and a division such as would have happened in this House. They would have been entitled to petition the King and this House and to have asked for the reconsideration of this condition of things. But that was not what they did. What they did was to abuse the authority we have given them under the Constitution of 1887 to deal with the Estimates. They refused a vast mass of Estimates presented absolutely in the interests of the people of Malta. Let me state to the House what happened. The Estimates presented were for £623,000 capital expenditure. All that would have to be provided for out of taxation would have been interest and sinking fund. What was it for? In the first place for new schools. Is that for the benefit of the English? No; they are elementary schools entirely for the benefit of the Maltese population. There is no compulsory education in Malta; but so eager are the people for education that the provision that had been made has proved insufficient and a considerable extension of the number of schools was required. In the next place, the money was wanted for the drainage of Malta. That was not only an Imperial necessity for the health of the garrison and naval forces, but a local necessity for the health of the Maltese 1201 people. Everybody knows of the Maltese fever. It is a special form of fever which medical authorities believe to be entirely due to the state of the drainage, the condition of the harbour, and other sanitary defects. It is absolutely necessary to remedy these defects; and a sum of, I think, something over £300,000 was required for this purpose. A leper asylum was required for women. The elected members refused it. The general hospital has been reported again and again as being in a terribly inefficient condition, and it has become a matter of great importance for the people of Malta to have a new hospital. That was rejected. Certain repairs were wanted on the roads, partly for Imperial purposes, to render them fit for the movement of artillery, partly for the benefit of the country people bringing their produce to market. The electric lighting required extension. That was refused. A breakwater was required for the island of Gozo for the benefit of the fishermen, to enable them to earn their livelihood, an improvement such as is proposed sometimes by the Congested Districts Board in Ireland on the West Coast, and this was refused. Those services which I have named account for £600,000 out of the £623,000 that was asked for. Now the Government, having considered this state of things, decided that where purely local interests were concerned we must, so long as there were elected members, allow them to play ducks and drakes with these interests of their constituents. But wherever Imperial interests were concerned, or where there were interests that so considerably affected the welfare of the population that they became Imperial interests, we must interfere. Accordingly, we determined to impose taxation in order to provide for the expenditure of £380,000—about two-thirds of the original expenditure. We have availed ourselves of the power reserved to us by Order in Council, and we have imposed the necessary taxation in order to provide for these expenses. The people of Malta, as represented by the elected representatives, say that we are draining their life blood, that it is taken from them to enrich the English, and all sorts of southern exaggerations of that kind. Now, the taxation amounts to £38,000 per annum. It is estimated that £17,000 of that will come from wine and 1202 Spirits, £11,000 from tobacco, and £7,500 from stamps, and that only leaves a small sum to come from other sources; and the majority of that taxation, I should say, under those three heads falls upon the British and European population and not upon the Maltese.
Now, Sir, what have the Maltese gained in the general situation? Owing to our presence there, owing to the vast amount of money we have spent upon naval and military works, the rate of wages in Malta has gone up immensely beyond the corresponding rate of wages in other Mediterranean States, and the people of Malta are much more prosperous than most of their neighbours. The taxation of Malta is only £17s. 6d. per head, which is less than that of any States in the neighbourhood, while that of the United Kingdom is £4 13s. per head. I say the Maltese under these circumstances have not much to grumble at. But the condition of things caused by the action of the elected representatives still continues. We put the matter straight for the time by this Order in Council, which I have explained in detail. But since then they have recommenced. They are rejecting Vote after Vote, and, of course, the whole of the Administration is at their mercy. And, Sir, the avowed determination of these gentlemen is to bring the Government of Malta to a standstill. They think in rejecting all the Estimates for carrying on the Government that we shall give way upon the language question or some other questions. Sir, we have got an easy remedy. We have the old remedy. We have the power of legislating by Order in Council, which we shall use without the slightest hesitation whenever it is necessary. But then, I think if we are to go on in this way, if year after year administration is to be put in a position of chaos and anarchy in Malta, or if, as an alternative, we are to proceed by the arbitrary act of Order in Council, it may be said that that is an undignified proceeding, that it is making the Constitution which we have conceded a farce, and that we had better do without the Constitution at all. Now, Sir, I have dealt with this question for reasons which I have stated, and another reason which I have still to state at greater length than I should otherwise have thought the immediate necessity of 1203 the case requires. I will just remind the House of what I have endeavoured to show. I have endeavoured to show that, so far from not having kept the terms to the Maltese people since the cession by them of their island to us, we have, on the contrary, gone far beyond the terms of the cession; and there will be no objection on our part, if any such general desire were expressed, to go back to the terms of the cession. I have endeavoured to show, in the second place, that as regards questions of language, while we decline to force the Italian language on a majority of at least four-fifths who do not desire to learn it, we do intend to preserve an absolutely free choice, so that if opinion should change in Malta the system will change with it, and there will be at all times an automatic power on the part of the whole of the Maltese population to have either English or Italian as they prefer. [A Voice: Why not both?] Why not both? The hon. Gentleman asks a question to which there is a very easy answer. Because all the experts in education say that any attempt to teach very young children two languages besides their own results in their learning neither; and if you want a perfect acquaintance with a language it must be a single language in an early period of their career. There is, of course, nothing to prevent them when they go to the University from adding to their knowledge of Maltese as many other languages as they think fit. In the third place, if complaint is made of our taxation, I have endeavoured to prove that this taxation is absolutely necessary for the security and welfare of the fortress and the garrison as well as for the benefit of the people of Malta, that it is largely paid out of the pockets of the wealthy, or comparatively wealthy, European and British population, and that it is expended for the benefit of the majority, who have profited from it in other ways, and who have also benefitted in the most material way from the British occupation.
There is one consideration collateral to those I have dealt with which I regard as of very considerable importance. There is no doubt that the action which we have taken—which, I believe, has been altogether misunderstood—has caused some 1204 pain and, perhaps, some apprehension in Italy. If that be the case, I deeply regret it, and, on behalf of the Government. I will do everything in my power to remove any such feeling. A good feeling between Italy and this country is, I think, for both peoples a national asset. We, I am sure, sympathise with the Italian people in their great struggle for unity and in the splendid efforts which, through many vicissitudes, they have made to maintain that unity. Our relations with Italy have always been friendly. Our interests and theirs are in many cases, and especially in the Mediterranean, mutual interests. Our soldiers have fought side by side with theirs. It would be deplorable if any misapprehension were to alter or to diminish in any way the sympathies which have existed, and which, I hope, may long continue to exist, between the two nations. I believe that any feeling which prevails in Italy, and which exists, no doubt, especially among the cultivated and governing classes, is a feeling of sentiment. I do not think it is pretended on their behalf that they have any substantial grievance, least of all any right of interference. But these educated classes are proud, and justly proud, of one of the most beautiful and classic languages in the world; and it is to them a subject of pain that anything should be done which seems to place it in a subordinate position, or—as they have been led to believe, although entirely inaccurately—which would proscribe it; and, accordingly, this feeling in thier case does not, I believe, extend for one moment to what? have expressed as the objects or the policy of His Majesty's Government—namely, to secure to the population of Malta what is their clear, undoubted right, an option as to the education to be given to their children. What the Italians have objected to is the proclamation to which I have already referred, the object of which I have explained, and the effect of which I believe has been altogether exaggerated in Italy. But I do not want any kind of misunderstanding to remain in Italy; and, therefore, if I could believe that by the offer of a compromise in this matter I could remove any feeling which exists among our good allies, the Italians, and if I could, at the same time, remove any feeling of a similar character which may exist among persons in Malta 1205 to whom the Italian language is the current channel of expression, then I say without hesitation I would formally withdraw this proclamation. I would withdraw it at once without any condition, perfectly willing to trust to the future. If, as I have said, the future should show that the vast majority of the people of Malta should in twenty years understand English and not understand Italian, I imagine it would be absurd that proceedings in the Courts should be conducted in what to the people of Malta would be a foreign tongue. But I may be mistaken in my prediction or anticipation, and in that case neither I nor any one else would wish that the terms of the proclamation should be strictly observed. Therefore I say that am perfectly ready to withdraw the proclamation of which the hon. Member for South Kerry and others have complained.
I think that this is, at all events, a considerable concession. I hope it will be recognised as such by the elected members as well as by other persons to whom I have referred. I hope they will now look at this question of taxation as we should expect them to do in ordinary times. I do not for one moment deny their right to criticise the proposals of the Government, and to oppose them in the last resort; but to refuse absolutely necessary Votes of money for purposes from which their own constituents would derive the very greatest benefit in order to defeat the decision of the Government in regard to some other question is really not in accordance with a Parliamentary Constitution, and I earnestly trust that that course of action will be abandoned. It is not to be contemplated that the state of things which we all regret and which exists at the present time should continue. The elected members themselves will be ready to admit that. They cannot expect the Government responsible for this great Imperial fortress to allow this childish game to proceed, and it would be clearly the duty of any Government under these circumstances to preserve the great Imperial interest in their keeping either by going back to the Constitution before 1887 or be such a modification of that Constitution as may be necessary to give the Government a controlling voice in the administration. I make no threat—I have 1206 endeavoured to treat the question in a conciliatory way. I hope that no drastic measures may be necessary, and that the elected members and all concerned will meet me in the same spirit in which I have endeavoured to meet them, and that nothing may occur in the future to disturb the good relations which have existed, I am glad to say, during 100 years between the population of Malta and his Majesty's Government.
§ (11.17.) SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
The right hon. Gentleman has made what he rightly speaks of as a concession. I feel, like the rest of the House, very partially informed on the whole of this subject, and I have listened with great interest to the recital which the right hon. Gentleman has given us of the circumstances as they present themselves to him. I think, at all events, with regard to the most critical part of the proceedings, he has taken the line which is most likely to conduce to satisfaction both in this country and in Malta. The night hon. Gentleman very properly observed on the desire which possesses the hearts of the people of this country to keep on good terms with the Italian nation, although he dwelt a little too much by way of contrast on the desire which we ought to have to keep on good terms with the people of Malta with whom we are more closely concerned after all. I do not wish to say anything which will detract from the force or the grace of what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do. This is not the only proclamation the right hon. Gentleman has withdrawn lately, but I do not know that there is any proclamation the withdrawal of which will have a better effect. There is one question I wish to ask on the great point of the languages. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say with regard to education that all parents would have their choice—that their children were to be instructed in the Maltese language, and that they should have the choice of having further instruction either in Italian or in English. So far so good in the matter of education. But in the matter of proceedings in the Courts, do I understand they are to be conducted either in Italian or in English; and not in any case in the Maltese 1207 language, which he said himself was the only language the people understand? I wish, not by way of controversy, but by way of information, to know if that is so, because it seems to me a somewhat awkward arrangement. In order to show how small a hold the Italian language has on the Maltese people the right hon. Gentleman said that the great majority did not know Italian.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
And yet the proceedings in the Courts are to be conducted in either of two languages, both of which are unintelligible to the people.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman has stated the matter perfectly accurately. The Maltase language is really a patois or taal, and, I believe, is inadequate as a language to be used in the Courts. At all events, since the British occupation Italian has been used in the Courts, and now the only change we have made is that where a British subject is concerned, English shall be used in the Courts in a criminal case, and may be used, alternatively with Italian, in a civil case. But in no case is the Maltese language to be used in the Courts, and if it is it is to be interpreted by an Italian interpreter. The same position prevailed in the Transvaal.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I am only quoting it for the particular purpose of answering the right hon. Gentleman. Dutch was used in the Courts of Transvaal as the official language, but the people who spoke the taal of the Transvaal did not necessarily understand Dutch, and the taal was not used in the Courts. In the same way the Maltese, or taal, is not used in the Courts, except to be translated into the literary language of Italy. There is one correction which I wish to make. By a slip I said that Lord Carnarvon was the Colonial Secretary in 1887; I meant to say Lord Knutsford.
§ * MR. BOLAND
Then under these circumstances, as this proclamation which has caused all the evil in Malta has been withdrawn, I shall certainly withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment by leave withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.