HC Deb 10 May 1927 vol 206 cc351-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres Mansell.]


Delegations of Members of both Houses of this Parliament have recently visited various Dominions and there held conferences on matters of common interest, with a view to coming to an understanding thereupon in the interests of the Empire as a whole and in a manner agreeable to the overseas Parliaments. A similar delegation recently visited Malta, and a similar conference was held there, at which the advisability, in the interests of the Empire, of enacting a certain Military Training Ordinance, without conferring in any way with the local Parliament and in the face of very strong local opposition, was discussed, and the unanimous opinion was arrived at that it was in the interests of the Empire that that Ordinance should not be enacted. A promise was made publicly, in the name of the delegation, by the leader of that delegation, a Minister of the Crown and a member of the Cabinet, that representations would be made forthwith to the Cabinet in England as to the views held on the advisability of the non-enactment of that Ordinance. This was on 28th January, and the members of the delegation immediately afterwards proceeded home. Nevertheless, on 4th February, the Ordinance was enacted, and by the enactment of that Ordinance the difficulties in the way of making fruitful representations became almost insuperable. Those representations were forestalled. On 7th February, as appears from replies given in this House, the legal adviser responsible for the drafting of that Ordinance tendered his resignation as the adviser of the naval, military and Air Force authorities, and from replies in this House it transpires that the same legal adviser was receiving remuneration paid from both sides, and from parties that were in conflict with each other.

He received £200 a year towards £1,200 from War Office funds, as a refund towards the salary of £1,200 a year payable in the first instance from the Treasury at Malta. From other replies given in this House, it transpires that, notwithstanding the diminution of work in advising for the three Services, we are informed that the Colonial Office continues to retain the services of the same legal adviser for their work at the same salary. The representations of Parliamentary delegations are of very great importance in arriving at a decision and a good understanding, and a practical solution of complicated problems that are interesting to the Empire as a whole and which are particularly interesting to the Overseas Dependencies and Dominions.

I submit that it is in the interests of the Empire to give increasing rather than diminishing importance to these delegations, and I feel that the Secretary of State for War would be well-advised if, even at this stage, he would move the Crown to disallow the Ordinance in question and to allow the new Governor to start on the problem with a clean slate. There is absolutely no obstacle to a solution of this question. I think that the manner in which the delegation was not listened to, and the complications which I have brought forward are merely the outcome of the reluctance of established bureaucracies and representatives of personal government to submit to the inevitable wave of public opinion which requires that the relations with the Colonies should be based on understanding and good will and not on bureaucratic domination. I hope that these remarks will receive support and that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will agree with me that if the services of the legal adviser responsible for these complications are not good enough for the three services they should not be considered to be good enough for the Colonial Office.


My hon. Friend put a question to me a short time ago in this House on the subject of the remuneration of Mr. Mahaffy, to whom he referred as Legal Adviser to the Government of Malta. I gave my hon. Friend, in reply to that question, all the information I had on the subject. I really am quite unable to follow a good deal of what my hon. Friend has been saying now in the House, but it appears to me that this is not the proper place to bring these matters forward. My hon. Friend is himself a member of the legislative body of Malta, and I should think that, if he had any complaint to make in regard to the Legal Adviser to that Government, the proper place to make that complaint was, not here, but in Malta.


If I may interrupt the, right hon. Gentleman, I would point out that this official is entirely independent of the Parliament of Malta. He is the nominee of the Colonial Office, whose officers he advises on various matters, and he is entirely responsible to the Colonial Secretary who is responsible to this Parliament.


I entirely dissent from my hon. Friend. This is a matter that concerns the Government of the island of Malta. My hon. Friend is perfectly at liberty to make any representation he likes to the Governor, and the Governor, if he thinks fit, can make representations to the Government here, either the Colonial Office or the War Office. But really all I am concerned with is the very simple matter that was brought before the House in the question put to me the other day. So far as my information goes—and I have tried to get all the information I can on the subject—there is not a shadow of foundation for the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman that the resignation of this gentleman had anything to do with any ordinance or the drafting of that ordinance or any action taken by the recent delegation. To me it seems a matter of doubtful propriety to bring up in this House the action of the Parliamentary delegation which visited Malta. It was purely a private concern, although it consisted of Members of both Houses. But it was entirely unofficial, and had no responsibility whatever. If the hon. Member is right, it would appear that this Parliamentary delegation took advantage of their presence in Malta to interfere in some way with local affairs in that island. All that is mere gossip, and I have no official knowledge of it at all, nor is it our concern in any way.

I will tell the House exactly what happened in regard to this gentleman, Mr. Mahaffy. He was the legal adviser to the Government of Malta, and for the sake of convenience he was also asked to act as legal adviser, and did for a time, to the three Services which are represented in that Island, but there was a dispute early this year, or at the end of last year, on a purely private matter. Mr. Mahaffy thought himself aggrieved because the telephone of which he had been given the use had been withdrawn. He was told that he could no longer have the free use of this telephone, and he thereupon said that under those circumstances he could not continue to act as legal adviser to those three Departments. Consequently he sent in his resignation. That resignation was accepted, for that reason, and for no other at all. It had nothing to do with any ordinance, any delegation, or with any dissatisfaction with Mr. Mahaffy, his legal attainments or the conduct of his office. That is all I know about it.


I should like to make one observation arising out of the remarks of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury with regard to the recent delegation. I certainly am not going to enter into the discussion between the hon. Member and the Financial Secretary, but when the Financial Secretary suggests that the members of the delegation took advantage of their presence in Malta to interfere in a local dispute, I do not think he is quite in accordance with the facts. The delegation was quite unofficial and non-party, and dealt with things mutually helpful, and one of the items brought up for discussion in the conference was the recent military ordinance, which had been sent along to Malta for the Colonial Office. We were totally unacquainted with the effect of this ordinance. It was, however, brought to our notice in the Conference and all that the British delegates could say was that they would think about the matter and convey the wishes of the Maltese Parliament to Britain. As to the result of any representations made to the Colonial Office, however, they said they were quite unable to prophesy.

So far as interfering is concerned, such did not take place. The dispute over the legal luminary of Malta is purely a matter for the Maltese Parliament and one into which I do not intend to enter. I merely rise to dissent from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that the delegation, which consisted chiefly of members of his own party, interfered in the domestic affairs of Malta.


I hope the hon. Member does not misunderstand what I said. I was not making any suggestion of my own that they did interfere. I know nothing about it. I never even heard of the matter at all, except what the hon. Member for Lancaster (Sir G. Strickland) has said. I gathered it from what he said. I remarked that it was incredible that there should have been interference, but that seemed to be the inference to be drawn from my hon. Friend's observations.


So little is it incredible that similar conferences have been held in Australia at which both Houses of the overseas Parliaments have been present, and have sat together as in Malta with the British Parliamentary delegates. Similar conferences have been the subject of very favourable comment in the Press both here and in the Colonies. This system is developing the possibility of finding a counterpart for the impossible and, perhaps, to-day, undesirable idea of a Parliament of the Empire.


The hon. Member is now making a second speech.

Brigadier-General CHARTERIS

May I reinforce what has been said by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams)? There was no question of interference. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that the delegation was under the leadership of a Member of the Cabinet, and it was under his guidance that the delegation undertook to convey the strong expression of local opinion. I wish to dissociate myself from any idea that there was any interference with internal matters.


Or with the telephone?

Brigadier-General CHARTERIS

Or with the telephone.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-four Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.