HC Deb 01 February 1956 vol 548 cc923-6

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, whether, in view of the forthcoming referendum in Malta, he will give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government accepts and supports the assurances given to the Archbishop of Malta by representatives of the Malta Round Table Conference as set out in paragraph 79 of the Report, Command Paper No. 9657.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

With permission I will now answer Question No. 80.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 24th January that Her Majesty's Government were considering the Report of the Malta Round Table Conference and that no action would be taken until there has been an opportunity of debate. The House will not expect or wish me to prejudge the decision which will be taken here and in Malta on the question of Integration.

I have read the Pastoral Letter of His Grace the Metropolitan Archbishop of Malta with the attention and respect that any pronouncement from him is bound to command. It would be unworthy of the importance of the issues we have to decide if His Grace's words were misinterpreted by protagonists of either side in the controversy over Integration.

I would remind the House of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 10th November to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion: My hon. Friend can be assured that Her Majesty's Government will take no action to prejudice the position of the Roman Catholic Church in Malta. I feel sure that the House when it comes to debate the Report will pay very great attention to the views on this matter of the members of the Conference, which of course was representative of all parties in this House.

I can moreover assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will not commend to Parliament any proposals which run counter to the assurances given to the Archbishop of Malta by representatives of the Round Table Conference as set out in paragraph 79 of its Report.

Mr. Gaitskell

We welcome the fact that the Colonial Secretary has made this statement. I am sure that, in view of the Archbishop's Pastoral Letter, and despite the fact that we have not yet debated the Conference Report, it was wise for the Government to make their position plain, as they have done in the Minister's statement. Speaking for my right hon. and hon. Friends, we fully endorse the assurances given by the representatives of the Conference to the Archbishop as stated in paragraph 79 of the Report.

Mr. Clement Davies

Might I say a word as now the only Member of this House who was one of the representatives appointed by our colleagues to have the honour and privilege of seeing His Grace and repeating in this House the assurances which we gave him in private, and they are precisely in the words which are set out in paragraph 79.

Mr. Teeling

As I have seen the Archbishop since this took place, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that the Archbishop was not completely satisfied with these definite statements made to him and that in his Pastoral Letter that fact is clearly set out? In view of the fact that Lord Perth, the only Roman Catholic member of the Round Table Conference, has added a rider to all this by stating that this is: … on the assumption that appropriate and satisfactory assurances are provided in connection with any new constitutional arrangements can my right hon. Friend say whether, as the referendum is taking place within ten days' time, such assurances will be a possibility in the future?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Clearly, steps will have to be taken, if the decision of the House goes in favour of integration, to put into concrete fashion the assurance that I have just given, but I hope that what I have now said will be regarded as adequate assurance. It is, of course, not possible to formulate written guarantees in connection with new constitutional documents in advance of a decision of the House that such documents should be prepared.

Sir F. Markham

May we also have an assurance that everything will be done to safeguard the rights and traditions of religious minorities which are involved?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, Sir.