HC Deb 25 May 1950 vol 475 cc2250-2
The Minister of State for the Colonies (Mr. John Dugdale)

Sir George Schuster has made certain recommendations to the Maltese Prime Minister regarding the financial and economic situation, and the Maltese Government have informed His Majesty's Government that they have accepted his advice and propose to implement it so far as this can be done locally. At the request of the Maltese Prime Minister, Sir George Schuster has acquainted His Majesty's Government with the results of his investigations so far, and the Maltese Government have sought, through him, an indication of the attitude of His Majesty's Government.

His Majesty's Government are now satisfied that Malta cannot, even with the most vigorous action, rely on being able over the next few years to provide out of their own resources all that will be re-required to meet essential expenditure and to sustain the standard of public services to which the Maltese Government are already committed. His Majesty's Government recognise further that, in view of the close ties binding Malta with the United Kingdom, Malta may legitimately look to His Majesty's Government for help towards recovering stability after the disturbances of war on grounds analogous to those which prompted the Marshall Plan.

His Majesty's Government are prepared to announce at this stage their willingness in principle to provide such assistance. The figure which Sir George Schuster recommends is £1½ million over the next five years and, subject to Parliamentary approval, His Majesty's Government would be prepared to contribute up to that amount. Assistance would have to be directed towards projects likely to strengthen the economic foundations of Malta or to make good arrears of necessary capital expenditure; it would not be appropriate for His Majesty's Government to commit themselves to subsidising, directly or indirectly, normal recurrent expenditure or the creation of new social services.

In these circumstances it appears to His Majesty's Government that Colonial Development and Welfare funds would be the right source from which the money can be provided; but for this and other purposes it will be necessary to seek Parliamentary approval in due course for some increase in the sums made available by the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, 1945. It would moreover be necessary to reach agreement with the Maltese Government about suitable machinery for joint consultation with regard to the uses to which United Kingdom assistance would be put.

Mr. Eden

I think that there will be a general desire to do what we can, despite our own very heavy burden, to assist Malta, for the whole House is unlikely to forget the debt which we owe to the Maltese for their war efforts. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? Sir George Schuster's report has been made to the Maltese Government and to the Prime Minister of Malta. Is it proposed that the report will be available before we discuss the matter? Is it possible to get the Maltese Government to agree to this? It would add to the interest of our own discussions.

Mr. Dugdale

The Prime Minister of Malta has informed me that it is intended to publish this report but that he cannot say the exact date of publication.

Mr. Thomas Reid

Would not this sum bring the total of grants of Malta since the end of the war to about £40 million, and can the Minister give an assurance based on Sir George Schuster's report that by the investment of this money in Malta the island can hope to become economically independent thereafter?

Mr. Dugdale

As regards the first part of the question, the total amount will be approximately £35 million. As regards the second part of the question, it can be said that as a result of Sir George Schuster's recommendation there would previously have been a Budget deficit of about £400,000 but that the Budget now being introduced in Malta, contemplates a surplus of approximately £100,000.

Mr. Gammans

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether this money can be used to help emigration schemes, which in the long run are the only thing which will help to put the economy of Malta straight?

Mr. Dugdale

The Maltese Government, like our own, are fully alive to the importance of this and, I am sure, will do everything possible to help emigration.

Mr. Rankin

It is not so long ago that we were sending German workers to Cyrenaica. Is it not possible to assist Malta by using her unemployed for that kind of work in North Africa?

Mr. Dugdale

That would not solve the problem of emigration unless they took their families with them.

Mr. Snow

Would it not be possible to draw the attention of the Italian Government to the economic situation in Malta and to ask them if they could make some contribution to restoring the economy of the island?

Mr. Dugdale

No, Sir, that is a matter between ourselves and the Government of Malta.