HC Deb 24 March 1964 vol 692 cc224-5
16. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies by what criteria he will judge the desire of the Maltese people for independence.

Mr. Sandys

The "Yes" votes in the referendum will show how many people want independence under the Constitution which is to be proposed by the Malta Government. It will not, of course, be possible to tell how many of those who vote "No" want independence under some other form of constitution and how many are opposed to independence under any constitution.

Mr. Wall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that after the last referendum in Malta all the political parties claimed the support of those who abstained? Can he say what weight he would give to abstentions on this occasion?

Mr. Sandys

It is very difficult to draw any reliable conclusions from abstentions. I hope, therefore, that those who have views will express them through the ballot box.

Mr. Woodnutt

In view of this difficulty, if a scheme could be devised whereby those who approved of the constitution as submitted and who felt that independence should be deferred were to submit blank referendum papers, would my right hon. Friend take those wishes into account?

Mr. Sandys

That is a hypothetical question. But I think it can be assumed that if an abnormally large number of blank votes were cast in the referendum, I would have to consider what significance should be attached to them.

Mr. Driberg

Does the right hon. Gentleman's own original reply to this Question not show that the only question that is being put in this referendum is of the same order as the familiar question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Can he not seriously suggest to the Malta Government that they might revise the form of the question and make it either two or three questions of appropriate kinds?

Mr. Sandys

I do not see much connection between the question suggested by the hon. Member and the one put in the referendum.