HC Deb 25 March 1958 vol 585 cc227-41

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the outcome of his recent discussions with the Prime Minister of Malta.

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

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 86.

The plan for integration was accepted in principle by the British Government in March, 1956. Last October and November, in talks with Maltese Ministers, we reached agreement on most of the outstanding points in the detailed plans for integration. Then, on 30th December last, a resolution threatening the severance of ties with the United Kingdom and her allies was passed by the Maltese Legislative Assembly on the initiative of the Maltese Government. In the view of Her Majesty's Government this has done great harm to the relations between the two countries and the future well-being of Malta which the plan of integration was intended to enhance.

In the discussions which have just concluded the Prime Minister of Malta refused to recommend integration to the Maltese people on the imaginative terms proposed by Her Majesty's Government. He attempted to attach a political condition, namely, the right to independence on a unilateral basis, which strikes at the root of a union in mutual confidence which was the basis of the integration proposals. It is impossible for the United Kingdom Government to pledge Parliament to proceed with integration unless a very different state of mind is shown. Her Majesty's Government are, however, prepared to resume discussion with the Maltese Government in order to find a modus vivendi pending consideration of long-term arrangements.

At the talks, the Prime Minister of Malta proposed that Her Majesty's Government should immediately enter into further financial commitments of a most extensive character or be ready to grant independence to Malta. He suggested that in implementing the plan for integration the United Kingdom Parliament should undertake that until such time as full economic equivalence was achieved, they would be prepared to grant independence to Malta if a Maltese Government were at any time during that period returned to office with a mandate for that policy. At a later stage he offered to withdraw this proposal, provided that the United Kingdom Parliament were prepared to extend to the Maltese people, at their next Election, a choice between integration and independence.

In the cricumstances, I revived the tentative suggestion that rather than lose all the fruits of our long negotiations, Her Majesty's Government would be prepared, if the Maltese people so desired, to proceed with interim constitutional and economic arrangements for a period of five years. The essence of this five-year plan would be that Malta would be granted a constitution broadly on the lines of that proposed under the integration plan, save for the time being making Malta part of the United Kingdom and' providing for representation at Westminster; the same economic and financial arrangements; and, at the end of the five years, both Governments would consult together to review the working of the constitutional and economic arrangements and to consider whether they could then proceed to the conclusion of arrangements on a permanent basis.

Let me tell the House what our other offers were. In the first place, I made it abundantly clear that there was no question whatever of Her Majesty's Government abandoning Malta and its people, or of their being indifferent to the economic consequences of the effect of defence cuts. I repeated again the assurances already given about the level of employment in the dockyard until 1960 and again confirmed that pending investigation of the possibility of converting the dockyard to commercial use, no decision had been taken about its future thereafter. I repeated that we stood by the economic and financial commitments under the integration plan.

What, in fact, were these? We offered to provide over a period of five years capital assistance of £25 million for diversifying the economy. We offered percentage grants towards the social services costing not less at the start than £1 million a year and with provision for it to rise materially thereafter. We offered additional assistance towards remedial measures in the event of there being, unhappily, substantial unemployment. We offered to set up a working party at once to consider what practical plans could be made in advance to deal with the problems that might arise if, despite the joint efforts of both Governments, there should be substantial unemployment after 1960 owing to changes in defence policy. As to the cost of converting the dockyard to commercial use, we made it clear that this is a separate issue and that it would not affect the arrangements which I have just described.

At our last meeting we discussed the 1958–59 Budget. I said that in the light of our current financial difficulties, our contribution would have to be less than in the present financial year; but we were still ready to provide the very substantial sum of £5 million. In our view and that of independent economic experts, the Maltese Government are fully capable of making a contribution from their own resources, such as raising a local loan. There was, therefore, no reason why the rate of advance in Malta need be slowed down. It was then suggested that there should be a period of three months during which Her Majesty's Government should provide interim financial assistance. The Maltese Government maintained, however, that this should be given without prejudice to the size of the United Kingdom contribution for the whole year and to the question of the Maltese Government making a contribution from their own resources.

It was not, however, possible to agree on the provision of interim financial assistance without prior agreement on these two points, since it would make the United Kingdom taxpayer liable for an unknown deficit which would, in the end, be determined only by the rate of expenditure which the Maltese Government decided to incur. Moreover, Mr. Mintoff maintained that he could not withdraw the resolution unless agreement had been reached at the end of three months on all outstanding issues.

I regret that Mr. Mintoff did not accept Her Majesty's Government's offers. He and his colleagues returned to Malta on 21st March. I have felt it my duty to this House and to the people of Malta to inform them of the full undertakings worked out in the negotiations with the Maltese Government to which Her Majesty's Government were prepared to agree. With permission, I will circulate a full summary of them in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Sir D. Campbell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have been, and still am, in favour of integration? Does he not agree that the proposals put forward by Her Majesty's Government in all these negotiations have been most imaginative and far-reaching in their implications and that they contain very definite assurances for the future well-being of Malta?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, Sir. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend, who has had a life-long experience of Malta, has said.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Minister aware that no doubt Mr. Mintoff will want to present his account of what has passed between him and the Colonial Secretary and that it would have been far better if an attempt had been made to get an agreed statement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why"?]—on what has passed, so that there should be no argument about a very difficult situation? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the imaginative gesture which he ascribes to Her Majesty's Government was, in fact, the imagination of the Round Table Conference, comprising Members of the House, not merely of Her Majesty's Government?

When the right hon. Gentleman says that the United Kingdom was being committed to an unknown deficit, was not the difference, on his own version. between £5 million a year grant and £6 million a year grant? Is not the unknown figure about which this breakdown has finally occurred something between £5 million and £6 million? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is worth jeopardising our relations with this island, with all the consequences which might come from that, for the sake of £ million or less? Is there any greater difference between the parties on the financial side other than that?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Needless to say, I should have been glad had it been possible to arrive at an agreed statement.

Mr. Callaghan

Did you ask him?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Of course I asked him. The hon. Member has had so little experience of responsibility that I will not take seriously what he has said.

Of course, the proposals for integration came from an all-party Round Table Conference, but Her Majesty's Government endorsed the principle of those proposals and then proceeded to suggest how they could be implemented in a practical way, and made very substantial and imaginative financial suggestions. For that the Government are entitled to claim credit, and the people of Malta should know now for the first time what those proposals were.

As to what the hon. Member said about the breakdown having been over a small sum of money, that is entirely untrue. The memorandum which Mr. Mintoff submitted to me in the course of the talks asked, among other things, for a further undertaking in regard to a £22½ million industrial fund, £5 million for full unemployment benefits in the event of there being unemployment, and further unspecified sums to make up loss of revenue. I cannot believe that in whatever mood of irresponsibility hon. Members anywhere approached this suggestion they could accept it.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the right hon. Gentleman trying to get a settlement here, or is he trying to get a little back because of the differences existing in his own party on the question of Cyprus? Did he invite the Prime Minister of Malta to issue an agreed statement with him about the substance of the negotiations which have concluded, and, if so, did the Prime Minister of Malta refuse?

Secondly, is it not the case that the financial negotiations which have taken place, and the formula to which the right hon. Gentleman has agreed, were concluded before the Minister of Defence went to Malta and cast doubts upon the continued existence of the dockyard? In those circumstances, is it not natural that any Prime Minister looking after his own people would ask for a revision of those financial arrangements and the formula? Would the Colonial Secretary himself have done anything else if he had been in that position?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As I have said, I suggested that it would be better if we had an agreed statement on the talks we had been having for issue to the Press at the end of our talks, but it seemed to Mr. Mintoff—and I do not altogether quarrel with him in this—that so wide was the difference that it was impossible to arrive at any such statement.

We are, naturally, deeply concerned about the anxieties which may exist in the minds of the men working in the dockyard. I made it quite clear in my statement—which, if correctly read, will answer the point—that the financial arrangements arrived at last year are a separate issue from the cost of conversion of the dockyard to civilian use.

Apart from that, we have undertaken to keep the level of employment in the dockyard until 1960 at about 12,000 people, and with regard to the half of those who are employed in ship repairing we are doing out utmost to arrange that private enterprise should take over the work of ship repairing—although, for the foreseeable future, the Admiralty will have work for such men to do— if there are firms in whom it can place reliance.

Quite apart from this, we made a firm promise about unemployment. We gave a specific and separate undertaking in the event of the level of unemployment in Malta rising and remaining above the United Kingdom level for a period of six months.

Last week I also offered Mr. Mintoff a working party to go into questions that might arise in the event of there being, unhappily, unemployment in the dockyard after 1960, but it was not possible to get that working party set up.

Mr. Bevan

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be deep resentment on this side of the House about his reference to degrees of irresponsibility in our approach to this problem? [Interruption.] I would ask him not to listen to the juvenile applause behind him. The same ridiculous behaviour took place over Cyprus a year ago.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the very formula which he has now recommended to the House as being one of the virtues of the statement was a suggestion which came from this side of the House, and that on several occasions—because we have always treated this question of Malta, following the Round Table Conference, as a non-party question; every party in the House was represented at the Round Table Conference—we have tried to facilitate an agreement with the Government of Malta? He knows that very well.

Furthermore, is it not a fact that the statement which he has now made about the five years' arrangement is one that goes back on a promise of integration, and that it will be so received in Malta? Is it not true that integration, as we have understood it, means that we shall have three constituencies of Malta represented in this House? If three constituencies do not exist there cannot be integration. Therefore, is it not unwise, at this stage—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I beg hon. Members to treat this matter with a little more seriousness—for the right hon. Gentleman to have made a statement of Government intentions, which will be read in Malta as abandoning integration, without giving the House of Commons a further opportunity of discussing the matter? Has he not now made a party issue of what was a non-party question?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

No, Sir. I really think that it would be best if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen would not only read my statement, but read the parts of it which will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT referring to the various offers made, and then make up their minds upon the picture as a whole. As for any applause behind me, it was given in large part because I myself—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman would have felt the same in my place—did not take kindly to the suggestion that I was not telling the truth.

Mr. Wall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House want to maintain good relations with Malta? Will he undertake to see that Her Majesty's Government's very generous offers to the Maltese are given plenty of publicity in Malta? Does not he agree that the alternative solution that he has mentioned—he stated that the Maltese Prime Minister would not accept integration under the terms which Her Majesty's Government are willing to accept—might be acceptable not only to the Maltese Government but also to the opposition parties in Malta, as it is a compromise?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Steps will certainly be taken to see that the statement that I have made and the information which will be published in HANSARD is brought to the attention of the people of Malta.

Mr. J. Griffiths

From the right hon. Gentleman's statement it is clear that the major proposal for integration, which was approved by this House—

Sir P. Agnew

It was not approved by this House.

Mr. Griffiths

It was. The recommendations of the Round Table Conference were approved by this House.

Sir P. Agnew

If the right hon. Gentleman will look at HANSARD he will find that the House was invited to take note of the recommendations.

Mr. Griffiths

Very well, I will correct my statement. That was the formal Motion.

The Government supported the proposals of the Round Table Conference, and they were also supported by the Liberal and Labour Parties. Indeed, with two dissentients, the majority of those taking part in the conference, including a member of the Government, as chairman, supported the proposal for integration. The Secretary of State has told us in his statement that arrangements for integration were practically concluded last autumn, and that the Government were ready to bring forward a Bill. Thereafter things went wrong because of the financial discussions which took place between the Maltese Government and our own Government.

An Election is due to be held in Malta within the next few months. Have the Government considered what will arise, following this statement today, about our relations with Malta—that there will be an Election, not upon a proposal adopted by the House for integration, but upon this dispute, upon the version of what has taken place that has been given by the Secretary of State and upon whatever version may be given by the Prime Minister of Malta?

I urge the House to consider that these have been negotiations between the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. In these circumstances, is it not likely that the whole relationship between ourselves and Malta will be poisoned because in these discussions there have been differences? We have suggested to the Government that we might find a media by which this dispute between Malta and ourselves on financial matters could be settled.

We have now arrived at a position in which the Secretary of State has made this statement, which is bound to be resented in Malta. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For this reason. The Prime Minister of Malta left this country during the weekend. When he was asked to make a statement, he said that he would report back to his Government. We all assumed—and I ask the House to remember that the Opposition have exercised great restraint in this matter—that the Prime Minister had gone back to consult his own Government about the last proposal put forward by Her Majesty's Government.

Now, before he has had an opportunity of doing that, Her Majesty's Government have issued this statement, which is bound to exacerbate the whole situation. I therefore wish to ask the Secretary of State whether he told the Maltese Government before he made his statement that this is the position of Her Majesty's Government, and, if so, in the event of the Maltese Government rejecting this proposal, what are the future constitutional proposals which Her Majesty's Government have for Malta?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I think that over the last few months, in a way, Her Majesty's Government's case has gone by default because we had never said what our proposals were. I made it abundantly clear to Mr. Mintoff, during our talks, that Her Majesty's Government must have full freedom of action to make their own position clear when they thought that the appropriate moment had arrived.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Is it not a fact that, quite contrary to some of the suggestions made, it was the Prime Minister of Malta who did not want to enter into a definite political commitment about the future of integration until he could be satisfied about Britain's capacity or willingness to fulfil her economic pledges in the future? Therefore, if a breakdown did occur, it came not from us but from the Maltese Government. In these circumstances, can my right hon. Friend say whether this suggestion about a five-year interregnum would have precisely met Mr. Mintoff's own suggestion?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It is a fact that in the earlier talks last year, the suggestion for a five-year interregnum was put by me to meet Maltese fears that they might be tying themselves irrevocably politically. I again put it forward in a different context last week. I think that it has considerable merit, but it did not commend itself to the Maltese Prime Minister.

Mr. Bevan

Why did the right hon. Gentleman think it necessary to make his statement to the House of Commons about a five-year interregnum before returning the whole question to the House of Commons, where it belongs? The House of Commons decided—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will keep his face under control—on the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman and the Opposition in the House, to accept the principle of integration—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—as put forward at the Round Table conference. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Is it not, therefore, highly improper for the right hon. Gentleman to go back on that statement and on that decision by the House of Commons on his own account? Will he now answer the question, where do we go from here? If this statement is taken in Malta as a statement of the abandonment of integration by the Government, at least for five years, what does the right hon. Gentleman think will happen in Malta? What do we do about it? Is it not desirable that the House of Commons should take possession of an issue on which he himself has blundered so badly?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The difficulty about answering the right hon. Gentleman is to disentangle a specific question from all that he said, but, as far as there was a question, I think it is true to say that it was the Prime Minister of Malta who attached new and altogether extremely different conditions to the agreement reached tentatively on integration. The integration, as he then saw it when he was here last week, was a different proposal from that which we agreed last year. I do not believe that it is possible to debate this matter by question and answer.

Mr. Callaghan rose

Sir R. Jennings

On a point of order. May I ask your help, Mr. Speaker? [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."] I will speak up; there is plenty that I can speak up about, and there is no need to ask me to do it. I am raising a point of order with Mr. Speaker. Is it not detrimental to our relations with Malta, Sir, to carry on this discussion in the way we are doing?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order, but a matter for the judgment of the House. I would ask hon. Members on both sides to remember that this is a matter on which there has been a good deal of co-operation between the parties to start with. I think that perhaps the hon. Member who raised the point of order has some merit in what he suggested to the House.

Mr. Callaghan rose

Mr. Fell

With the greatest deference to you, Mr. Speaker, may I point out that we have now had approximately six propaganda speeches from the Front Bench opposite, two from one right hon. Gentleman, one from another and one from another? You did say, Sir, that your remarks applied to both sides of the House. May I ask you whether your remarks, though applying to both sides, do not apply particularly to the Opposition side of the House?

Mr. Speaker

My remarks were addressed to the House in general. I think that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) may now be allowed to ask his question.

Mr. Callaghan

I respectfully agree with the Colonial Secretary that we should not continue this discussion by question and answer, if the Government are ready to afford time for a debate, but, as far as I know, there are no facilities or arrangements for a debate.

May I therefore ask the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House or the Colonial Secretary whether the Government can make arrangements for an immediate debate on this question so that the House may express itself, and that the whole story may become known to the House, and, what is more important, that the future of Malta may become a little clearer to all of us who are concerned about it?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

Perhaps I may be allowed to intervene. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that probably question and answer, although common on these statements, have reached a point at which to press them further would not add to our knowledge on this subject, on which we all take a great interest. I therefore suggest that perhaps hon. Members would like to read my right hon. Friend's statement and study it, and the annex which will be published with it, and that if the Opposition feel that a debate would be desirable perhaps they would make inquiries and deal with the matter through the usual channels.

Mr. J. Griffiths

The Prime Minister will realise that the statement of the Colonial Secretary will be read not only here but in Malta. We are concerned to try to save this situation. If we are to do that, may I remind him that it was his predecessor, as Prime Minister, who made this a House of Commons matter? May I urge him to consider affording time for a debate at the earliest possible moment, if possible this week, but certainly before Easter?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think that the proper way would be for the Leader of the House to discuss that with the Opposition in the ordinary way.

Mr. Callaghan

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In those circumstances, I should like to ask your permission to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the breakdown of negotiations with the Malta Government and the abandonment of the principle of integration by Her Majesty's Government. In asking you, Sir, to agree to such a Motion, may I also say to you that I believe that were it put to the House you would find that it would receive support from all quarters of the House.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the breakdown of negotiations with the Malta Government and the abandonment of the principle of integration by Her Majesty's Government.

I cannot find that that is within the Standing Order. In the first place, these discussions with Malta have been going on for a long time. This is not a new matter; it is a continuing matter. It is true that the negotiations have reached what appears to be a difficult situation. But there were in the statement the words that Her Majesty's Government are, however, prepared to resume discussion with the Maltese Government in order to find a modus vivendi pending consideration of long-term arrangements. While these discussions are going on, I cannot find that this is a breakdown. On that, there is a dispute of fact, and when there is a dispute of fact the Standing Order does not apply. I think, therefore, that this is not a case for the application of Standing Order No. 9 and that the proper course would be for the House to arrange a debate in the ordinary way.

Mr. Callaghan

May I ask you to consider this point, Mr. Speaker? While we must accept your Ruling, will you consider that now a new situation has been created by the statement of the Colonial Secretary in relation to the principle of integration? In those circumstances, in view of the very distinct possibility of difficulties and troubles occurring, may I put it to you, Sir, that it is the essence of this situation that the House of Commons should express itself at the very earliest moment and in the interests of us all, both in Malta and in this country? May I ask you, therefore, to reconsider your decision?

Mr. Speaker

I have carefully considered that matter. I did not gather from the words of the statement as I heard them read out that there was an abandonment of integration. At least, there seems some doubt on that point. It is essential in these Motions that there should be agreed facts and not a dispute about them.

The other thing which occurs to me, and which I would put to the hon. Member and to the House, is that it was part of the Minister's statement that further particulars of the Government's offer regarding integration were to be published in HANSARD. I think that that is part of the statement, and without the full information I could not find it proper to deal with this under Standing Order 9. It would be a very bad precedent.

Mr. Bevan

With respect, Mr. Speaker, is not there a breakdown in the negotiations, and is not that the reason why a statement has been made? Is it not a fact that the statement about five years has occurred for the first time, when all these negotiations have been conducted on the assumption that Her Majesty's Government were preparing a Bill for integration to be brought before the House at the earliest possible moment? Do not those two things constitute an emergency of a most serious kind?

Would it not be in the interests of this country and of Malta that there should appear in Malta a statement that the House of Commons is still seized of the matter, so that some tranquillising influence may be brought to bear there, rather than that the Maltese people should feel that the statement by the Government is a definitive statement of House of Commons policy in this matter?

Mr. Speaker

I have carefully considered what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but my view is unchanged. I do not think that anyone reading an account of what has transpired this afternoon would form the opinion that the House of Commons has come to a definite conclusion on this subject. A great deal of difference of opinion has clearly been manifested. Although the negotiations have reached an unhappy turn, I could not find that there is a breakdown or a final break with Malta. Weighing it all up as well as I can, I find that I must stick to what I have said.

Mr. J. Griffiths

One of the considerations you had in mind in giving your Ruling against the Motion asked for by my hon. Friend, Mr. Speaker, was that you did not understand that there had been a breakdown? The Prime Minister With respect, may I say that the impression we have gained is that there has been a breakdown. The Prime Minister of Malta was here last week for discussions and when he returned to Malta he said he had gone back to consult his Government.

The Secretary of State has made a statement this afternoon to the House, and in our view that statement, made without agreement with the Prime Minister of Malta, means that Her Majesty's Government have announced a decision without agreement with the Maltese Government, and that that is an effective breakdown of negotiations. In view of that, is it not desirable that the House, which was originally consulted about this major plan, should have an opportunity of discussing the matter?

Mr. Speaker

From what I have heard today I think it is a fact that the negotiations have taken an unhappy turn, but that is not to say that there was a final breakdown. I should feel on surer ground if I knew what the Prime Minister of Malta has to say and his point of view, but I feel that I must adhere to my contention.

Sir I. Fraser

Can you guide me, Mr. Speaker, whether it is proper to adduce an argument to try to make you change your mind in this matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] If it is, I wish to catch your eye.

Mr. Speaker

I am always willing to consider the representations of hon. Members on a matter which is suddenly raised for my judgment and on which I admit I do not know as much as they do, because I cannot know everything. I think that what has been said has been a helpful effort to put the facts before me, and I am grateful. But, having given my Ruling, I think that the House should accept it.

Following is a summary of the main features of the proposals that have been worked out in negotiations with the Maltese Government: