HC Deb 21 July 1964 vol 699 cc277-81
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

I will, with permission, now answer Questions Nos. 13, 19, 24, 26, and 34 together.

I have this morning completed the long negotiations with the Government of Malta on the question of independence.

As a result, we have now settled the form of Malta's future Constitution. This will be on the lines proposed by the Government of Malta with certain important amendments which have been agreed.

The Government of Malta have expressed the desire that Malta should remain a Monarchy with Her Majesty as Queen; they have informed me of their intention to seek membership of the Commonwealth.

We have also this morning initialled agreements on defence and financial aid which are to be signed on independence.

The Defence Agreement will enable British forces to remain in Malta for 10 years. Under the Finance Agreement, Britain will, during the same period, provide capital aid for the development and diversification of the economy and assistance for emigration, up to a total of about £50 million.

The text of the new Constitution is being published today as a White Paper; and a limited number of cyclostyled advance copies of the two agreements are available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Driberg

No, they are not.

Mr. Sandys

Despite the small amount of Parliamentary time which remains, I hope that the House will feel disposed to pass the necessary Independence Bill before the Recess. I realise that this is asking a lot of hon. Members. But, as they know, Malta's independence has already had to be postponed beyond the target date of 31st May. It is, therefor, most desirable not to delay further, any longer than is necessary.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many friends of Malta in this country will welcome this Agreement with the Malta Government and, as far as we can see, the form which it takes? In the matter of defence, is there any provision for the time after the 10- year period has elapsed, and over how long a period will the £50 million of economic aid be spent?

Mr. Sandys

As I have said, the Defence Agreement is for 10 years. I do not think that we can look beyond 10 years, but I have no doubt that during that time we can consider any arrangements beyond that date. As I said in my statement, the Finance Agreement is for a similar period of 10 years.

Mr. Brockway

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we will all welcome the independence of Malta? Is he aware, however, that he has made no reference to the most controversial issue which is being discussed with reference to the Constitution? Is there no agreement on a Bill of Rights which will guarantee to the people of Malta freedom to make their own decisions without the pressures of what are termed "spiritual authorities" to damn them unless they vote in a particular direction? If there is to be liberty in Malta and real independence surely the right hon. Gentleman will guarantee that in the Constitution.

Mr. Sandys

The Constitution contains a large chapter on fundamental human rights. As a result of these negotiations that chapter has been further strengthened. An additional non-discrimination clause has been inserted and amendments have been made which, I am sure, will be in accordance with the wishes of the hon. Member.

Mr. Driberg

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the documents to which he referred are not available in the Vote Office? I understand that they were to have been there at 3.30, but I am informed by the Vote Office that their arrival was deliberately postponed to 3.45, no doubt in order to cause the maximum possible inconvenience to back-bench Members.

Can the right hon. Gentleman therefore answer one or two questions to which we might have been able to find the answers ourselves while studying these documents during the few peaceful minutes since 3.30? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the human rights clause, which he referred to as strengthened, is acceptable in its present form to the Archbishop of Malta? Can he say whether provision is made for elections before independence, and if not, why not? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman publish the report of the observers of the referendum?

Mr. Sandys

On the question of the Vote Office, it is a very usual procedure to make documents available immediately after a statement has been made. I am sure that the House will recognise that.

These amendments, which have been made to strengthen the human rights provisions, are fully approved by the ecclesiastical authorities in Malta.

Mr. Driberg

They will be jolly useful, then!

Mr. Sandys

That is a thoroughly prejudiced remark, because the Catholic Church—

Mr. Driberg

Roman Catholic.

An Hon. Member

The Apostolic.

Mr. Sandys

Perhaps I may be allowed to speak in my own way. Because the Apostolic Catholic Church—

Mr. Driberg

The Roman.

Mr. Sandys

The Roman Apostolic Catholic Church. Because it is in agreement with the changes which we are making to strengthen human rights, that is no reason for the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) to jeer.

The third point was the question about the referendum and the observers' report. As I think many hon. Members know, the referendum did not really tell us anything new that we did not already know about the differences which existed among the Maltese parties on this question, and it has, therefore, not in any way influenced the conclusions which we have reached. Therefore, I do not see any advantages in either analysing the result of the referendum or in publishing comment upon it.

Mr. Gordon Walker

While we are very glad that these negotiations have been concluded, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is not aware that he is absolutely right when he says that the proposed timetable is very hard on hon. Members?

I note that a limited number of advance copies of the two Agreements are to be available in the Vote Office. Will more copies be available in a reasonable time? After all, any debate which we must have must be very quick indeed, and if hon. Members cannot study these two Agreements they cannot make a contribution to the debate.

Would the right hon. Gentleman think again about publishing the observers' report? This was a very important impartial body that was making the report and the refusal to publish it must give rise to all sorts of doubts in many places about what the report might contain. It may be an unjust view about it, but this would be an inevitable consequence of the refusal to publish the report which, I think, everybody assumed would be published when it was made.

Mr. Sandys

It was a confidential report, but I will consider whether it ought to be published. As for copies of the Agreements, when I said that there would be a limited number I meant that they will not be on sale generally, but I hope that there will be sufficient copies for all hon. Members.

Mr. Wall

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing these long and difficult negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion? Will the 10-year Defence Agreement mean a check on the rundown of British forces in Malta? Will it be possible to complete the litigation about the dockyard and get it out of the way before independence and before Malta assumes Commonwealth membership?

Mr. Sandys

I do not think that there is any prospect of the dockyard litigation being completed at any early date. It is likely to be a long process. The Defence Agreement will not affect our military plans except to the extent that if there had not been a military agreement we would have had to withdraw our forces altogether.

Mr. Grimond

Do I understand that in the right hon. Gentleman's view no lessons whatever can be learned from the referendum? Is this due to the phrasing of the questions, or to what other cause?

As for human rights, what sanctions are available if this provision should be disregarded?

Mr. Sandys

In the main, the sanction is that any law or anything done under any law in contravention of human rights will be invalidated. That is the main sanction, and it is the normal sanction in all human rights codes. This follows closely the human rights provisions in other constitutions.

With regard to the other question, everybody voted more or less according to their party affiliations, which we already knew.

Sir W. Teeling

Will my right hon. Friend agree that both we and Malta owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Prime Minister of Malta for having waited here for nine weeks at a time when he, no doubt, wanted to be at home looking after his own affairs, realising that my right hon. Friend was busy on other matters?

Mr. Sandys

I think that the Prime Minister of Malta has shown great patience; but so have I.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate this matter now.

Mrs. Hart

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With the greatest respect, it is only during the last two minutes that several of us have had an opportunity to look at the documents. We should like an opportunity to put some questions.

Mr. Speaker

That may be, but that would seem to be an even better reason for debating them on the Bill.

Mrs. Castle

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have said that it would be better to raise these matters on the Bill. What some of us are anxious about is exactly how much time we are to be given to study these important documents and this detailed constitution before the House is asked to pass the Bill. Could we, therefore, elicit from the Secretary of State an undertaking that this matter will not be brought before this House until we have had at least a week to study these important documents?

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps if I call the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal to make a business statement we shall get some guidance.