HC Deb 29 July 1964 vol 699 cc1422-4

Mrs. Castle (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies whether he will make a statement on the changes he now proposes to negotiate in the Malta Constitution.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

In the course of the debate yesterday in another place the view was expressed that the new Clause 46 which provides comprehensive safeguards against discrimination of all kinds would, in certain respects, particularly with regard to marriage laws, afford less protection than subsection 3 of Clause 41 of the earlier draft proposed by the Government of Malta.

It was obviously not our intention that any amendments which we made to the Malta Government's draft should result in diminishing in any way the safeguards provided. I have spoken on the telephone to the Prime Minister of Malta, who has agreed that the matter should be looked into at once.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not a fact that the point raised in another place yesterday about the effect of Clauses 41 and 46 on the rights of religious minorities with regard to marriage and other matters was specifically raised in this House on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and other hon. Members and that the right hon. Gentleman at that time pooh-poohed the idea that there was anything to worry about and suggested that we were making a mountain out of a molehill?

Is it not clear that the right hon. Gentleman has been so busy trying to railroad his independence Bill through this House that he has not taken time to understand his own Constitution? Has he not grossly misled the House? Will he now apologise to the House, or will he take steps to see that the Royal Assent is not given to the Bill until the actual changes have been made in the Constitution to meet the legitimate fears of the Churches in this country?

Mr. Sandys

I have nothing to apologise about.

Mrs. Castle

The right hon. Gentleman misled the House.

Mr. Sandys

It is not an unusual thing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—even for the Opposition sometimes to make a constructive contribution to legislation.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

That is not what the right hon. Gentleman was going to say.

Mr. Sandys

What has happened is that during the course of Parliamentary discussion a weakness, or alleged weakness, has been revealed and the Government have undertaken at once to look into it. All this shows, first, the value of another place, and, secondly, how well the Executive works with the Legislature.

Mr. Brockway

How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to deal with this matter? Will it be necessary for an Order in Council to be produced? Will it be necessary to have an amendment of the Order in Council which is already proposed? If so, will this House have an opportunity of expressing a judgment upon it?

Mr. Sandys

No, there is no technical problem of any kind. As I explained to the House, it was very important to get the Bill through before the House rose. Otherwise, there would be many months of delay in the granting of independence to Malta.

The Constitution is introduced by an Order in Council which has not yet been made, and there is no immediate hurry for making it. The House will not have a further chance of discussing this matter unless it wishes to sit on into August.

Mr. Bottomley

Is it not a fact that the Secretary of State is now giving support to the contention from both sides of the House that the Bill and the writing of the Constitution have been rushed unnecessarily? We have not had time to consider the matter as fully as we should have done. Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman misled the House when, in the debate on 23rd July, he said: We are making certain changes in a liberal direction …"?—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1964; Vol. 699, c. 782.] This was not done, and we not only once but twice asked for a reassurance on this matter from the Secretary of State.

Will the right hon. Gentleman now give an assurance to the House that Clause 41 (3) of the earlier draft Constitution is restored to its full effect when the Order in Council is made?

Mr. Sandys

That is precisely what I am discussing with the Prime Minister of Malta.

Mr. B. Harrison

Will my right hon. Friend be able to give an assurance to the House that his efforts to give self-government to another part of the Commonwealth will not be unduly delayed by this?

Mr. Sandys

This should involve no delay at all.