HC Deb 10 December 1963 vol 686 cc187-90
1. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the constitutional conference on Malta.

5. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he is arranging for new elections in Malta before that country proceeds to independence.

19. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what conclusions were reached as a result of the consultations he had recently with representatives of the Government and of the Opposition of Malta.

27. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement about his discussions with the Maltese political parties.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Nigel Fisher)

The talks which my right hon. Friend held last week with the leaders of the political parties of Malta showed that they were unable to resolve their differences on the independence constitution. My right hon. Friend urged them to make a further effort to agree upon some suitable procedure by which the Maltese people could be given the opportunity of stating their opinion; and he asked the Opposition leaders to give careful thought to a proposal by Dr. Borg Olivier for a referendum to be held on the main questions in dispute, which are: what form Malta's future constitution should take and whether new elections should be held before independence. This they undertook to do.

With permission I will include in the Official Report the text of my right hon. Friend's announcement at the conclusion of the talks and of Dr. Borg Olivier's letter offering a referendum.

Mr. Hughes

While thanking the Minister for that detailed reply, may I ask whether he realises that the Government's failure to achieve success in the talks that have taken place is very bad, not only for the British Commonwealth and for Malta but for all the peoples concerned? Will he try to take more constructive and effective steps to achieve success, in the interests of the British Commonwealth and the Maltese people?

Mr. Fisher

If I may say so, the hon. and learned Gentleman is being a little hard. One cannot force people to agree if they do not wish to agree. We hope that this matter will be referred to the Maltese people for their decision.

Mr. Stonehouse

If there is not general agreement with the proposals, and the Maltese Prime Minister and the opposing parties wish to go forward for new elections, will that find agreement with the Secretary of State?

Mr. Fisher

Dr. Borg Olivier's proposals are for a referendum in which the people will be asked to decide between his form of constitution and Mr. Mintoff's form of constitution. If all the parties agree to a referendum, that is the way the matter will be decided, but, if they do not agree, my right hon. Friend will have to decide, and this is the last thing he would want to do.

Mr. Wall

As Malta is not viable, and is unlikely to be viable for some years, is it not very unfair to discuss a constitution for the date of independence until talks have been held on long-term financial aid from Britain to Malta: and when will those talks take place?

Mr. Fisher

We are ready for financial talks whenever Malta is. Our view is that Malta should not be less generously treated as a result of independence than she has been hitherto.

Captain Litchfield

What is the urgency for pressing independence on a reluctant Malta?

Mr. Fisher

The two major parties both said they wanted independence, and both made it part of their policies at the General Election in 1962.

Mr. Awbery

Is not a referendum likely to cause confusion in the minds of the people of Malta? Would it not be better to have a General Election?

Mr. Fisher

I always thought that a referendum was a very democratic method, of deciding what people wanted.

The following is the announcement:

Proposal for Referendum in Malta

The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Duncan Sandys, today, Friday, 6th December, 1963, concluded the consultations which he has been holding in London with the leaders of the Maltese political parties.

At the final meeting this morning Mr. Sandys made the following statement: "Since the British Government have definitely decided that Malta is to become independent not later than 31st May next, the final form of the Constitution must be settled without further delay. In the light of the views expressed to me by all political parties, I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that there is no likelihood that the differences which exist between them on important constitutional questions will be resolved by further discussion. In these circumstances there remain only two courses open. The first is for the issues to be referred to the people of Malta, either through a referendum or through elections. The second is for the British Government to proceed to take the necessary decisions on their own authority. From every point of view, the first of these courses is much to be preferred. I therefore earnestly trust that the Maltese parties will make a further effort to agree upon some suitable procedure by which the people of Malta can be given the opportunity of stating their opinion."

At the same time Mr. Sandys read out a letter (text attached) from Dr. Borg Olivier in which the latter offered to hold a referendum on the two main questions in dispute, namely, what form Malta's future Constitution should take and whether new elections should be held before independence.

The other Maltese leaders undertook to give careful consideration to this new proposal.

6th December, 1963.

Letter from the Prime Minister of Malta to the Secretary of State for the Colonies

6th December, 1963.

"Dear Secretary of State,

At the end of the Conference in London last summer, you announced the British Government's decision that Malta should become independent not later than 31st May, 1964. In the light of this definite decision, you invited me to hold discussions in Malta with representatives of all political parties, in an endeavour to agree upon joint constitutional proposals; and you suggested that, should we fail to agree, the outstanding issues might be referred for decision either to the people of Malta or to the British Government.

The further talks in Malta and in London have shown conclusively that the parties cannot agree on the constitutional arrangements for Independence. However, there is general agreement that an imposed solution should, if possible, be avoided. I consider therefore that before accepting this necessity, we should all make a further effort to agree on some procedure by which the people of Malta could be directly consulted on the matters at issue.

The two main questions on which there is disagreement are:

  1. (i) whether there should be new elections before Independence; and
  2. (ii) what should be the form of Malta's future Constitution.

In order to give the people an opportunity to express their opinion on these two precise questions, I propose that a referendum should be held on the lines indicated in the Annex to this letter. As regards the conditions under which the referendum and any consequential elections would be conducted, I am prepared to give favourable consideration to any arrangements which may be jointly proposed by the opposition parties.

Failing agreement on this or any other procedure for popular consultation, I shall have no option but to refer the outstanding issues to the British Government for decision.

Yours sincerely,


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