HC Deb 02 December 1953 vol 521 cc1158-60

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

62. Mr. Braine

To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies what reply has been sent to the Prime Minister of Malta's proposal to Her Majesty's Government that responsibility for matters relating to Malta should be transferred from the Colonial Office to the Commonwealth Relations Office.

At the end of Questions

Mr. Lyttelton

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer Question No. 62.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds to give the answer, may I ask him a question on this matter? As he knows, an election is to take place in Malta next week, and in view of that fact does he propose to make a statement in the middle of the election? I raise the point so as to avoid any misunderstanding.

Mr. Lyttelton

I am rather glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the point, because the Government and I are in a dilemma on this point. The offer, which forms the substance of my reply to this Question, was made to the Maltese Government on 16th September, and it was not until 9th October that the Coalition Government was defeated on a technical motion during the Budget debate. When that happened, I felt some considerable doubt as to whether we could remain silent upon the offer which had been made in view of the approaching General Election. I took the view that we must make this offer public before the election takes place as otherwise we might be accused of suppressing something which was bound to affect one way or another—and I do not know which—the issue of that election.

I now come to the answer, which is as follows:

Yes, Sir. The Maltese Prime Minister has been told that his proposal has been very carefully considered but that Her Majesty's Government are unable to accept it. He was also informed, however, that Her Majesty's Government recognise the unique position of Malta as a fortress in Europe, its long history of civilisation and its service in peace and war, recently distinguished by the exceptional award of the George Cross; and that, Her Majesty's Government would therefore be prepared to agree in principle to the transfer of responsibility for handling business relating to Malta to the Home Secretary, who is the Secretary of State immediately concerned as The Queen's Minister in relation to the United Kingdom and neighbouring islands.

This proposal was conveyed to the Maltese Government on 19th September. The Coalition Government was defeated in the Assembly on 9th October. In the circumstances, the Maltese Government have found themselves unable to give a firm reply to the proposal, though the first reaction of the Nationalist Minister now in office pending the general election has not been favourable.

Mr. Braine

Is my right hon. Friend aware, in view of the high esteem and affection with which Malta is regarded in this country, that his answer will cause widespread interest? Can he say whether this very interesting proposal envisages the representation of Malta in the Imperial Parliament?

Mr. Lyttelton

The answer to the latter part of my hon. Friend's Question is "No, Sir."

Mr. Griffiths

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? First, will the transfer of responsibility for Malta from the Colonial Office to the Home Office require legislation? Secondly, does it mean that the constitutional position of Malta is unaffected by the change of the Department responsible?

Mr. Lyttelton

I think I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to wait for an answer to both those questions until I receive a reply. I certainly think it would require legislation if implemented in one way, but not if implemented in another. If the right hon. Gentleman will wait a little longer I shall be able to satisfy him on that point.

Mr. Ede

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider issuing a White Paper indicating the exact relationship that will exist between Malta and this country if this proposal fructifies, because, of course, the Home Office relationships with Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which I think are the analogies on which the right hon. Gentleman is relying, are in each case different from all the others?

Mr. Lyttelton

If it would assist the House, and if the proposals are accepted, I should be only too glad to issue a White Paper. Perhaps we would do that in any case, but, if I may, I will have a talk with the right hon. Gentleman upon the subject.

Mr. Amory

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this very generous offer will cause great satisfaction to the many friends of Malta in this country and in other parts of the Commonwealth?