HC Deb 05 August 1965 vol 717 cc1971-5

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

4.25 p.m.

Mr. Hay

Before the House went to another place, I was reminding it that in the Defence White Paper clear acknowledgment was given of our obligations and the need for the maintenance of bases and other military facilities to permit us to carry those obligations into effect if required.

That is the answer to the hon. Member for West Lothian as to the continued need for these facilities in Malta. Of course, I realise, as the House does, that his main interest has been to ensure that what he called "social development" in Malta should be extended and expanded. That is something with which I think all of us, in all quarters of the House, would agree. I would remind the hon. Gentleman—and, in view of the loss of time in this debate, I will not seek to quote from the various documents—of the various agreements entered into between the then Government and the Government of Malta in July of last year, when independence was obtained.

There is a financial agreement which obliged Britain to contribute something like £50 million over 10 years. Article 3 of that agreement specifically referred to a development plan. If one looks at the headings in the development plan, one sees references to higher and technical education, and to various other aspects of the sort of thing which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

We must not lose sight of the other obligation we have to Malta, under the agreement, of mutual defence and assistance. This agreement was made at the same time as the other documents relating to independence. There is a clear obligation placed upon us, and it is one which I would suggest the Government should consider very carefully, because it is something which I do not believe that the people of this country would want lightly thrown aside, leaving apart altogether the possible dangers there may be in the Mediterranean, dangers which I have already outlined in relation to Libya and so on.

We are discussing Malta in the defence context, and I should like to ask the Under-Secretary to acknowledge that there is a considerable degree of feeling in Malta, and among a lot of people in this country who know something about it, about the position of what is called the Royal Malta Artillery. This is a regiment of considerable age, which has rendered valiant service in two world wars. I am told that there has been, over the last nine months, a complete ban on recruiting to the Royal Malta Artillery. It is a unit of the British Army, and although the Under-Secretary has responsibility principally for the Royal Navy I hope that he will tell the Secretary of State that we on this side feel somewhat anxious about the situation. There seems to be no good reason for this ban on recruiting and no good reason which it should continue. I hope that it will be taken off as soon as possible.

4.28 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)

I am not quite certain to which of the three debates we have just had I should be replying. I think that perhaps I had better not mention anything that has taken place in your absence, Mr. Speaker, but deal solely with the two rather separate aspects of this issue which have been brought to the notice of the House today.

First, strictly on defence matters, I will deal with the Royal Malta Artillery. There is a section of the Royal Malta Artillery carrying out a transport rôle for B.A.O.R. In recent months there has been some doubt whether that rôle should continue to be played. I understand that this is the main reason why, for the time being at any rate, there has been a halt in enlistment. So far as I know, there is still a future, at any rate on a smaller scale, for that magnificent body of men who have done great service in times gone by.

It is quite true, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has said, that there has been some rundown in the use of Malta, particularly as a naval base. As the hon. Gentleman for Henley (Mr. Hay) pointed out, in the 1962 White Paper, Malta was declared to be no longer a base, but a position for forward operating facilities. That has meant a rundown in terms of the Navy. During the last three years the numbers of members of the Royal Navy and civilians working for it has gone down from 10,000 to 5,000. So far as we can foresee, by 1967 the figures will have been reduced to about 3,500, and they will be maintained at that level.

While the Navy has been running down there, the Army and the Royal Air Force have not. In the view of the Ministry of Defence, there is still a need to maintain considerable Air Force and Army facilities there. Therefore, I should not like my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian to assume that money is being spent on things which are obsolete in Service terms. This is not so. He said—and I am sure that the House agrees with this—that we in this country have a social obligation to Malta.

As the hon. Member for Henley mentioned, we have recognised that already. Between 1959 and 1964 this country made about £29½ million available for development in Malta. This has been put, not into obsolete things, but into new industries which have produced work for Maltese. About 2,500 Maltese are now employed in these new industries. During the next 10 years the figure will be increased to £50 million. We hope that that will provide employment for at least double the number already employed—

Mr. Hay

I want to get this clear because, with respect, I think that what the hon. Gentleman has said is inaccurate. I understood that under the independence agreements of last year £50 million, spread over the subsequent 10 years until 1974, was allocated or earmarked. The hon. Gentleman is now speaking of a further £50 million for the next 10 years.

Mr. Mallalieu


Mr. Hay

Is this an announcement of a change of policy?

Mr. Mallalieu

No. I am stating the position as it is now.

The sum of £29½ million was spent in the period 1959–64. From 1965 to 1974 there will be a further £50 million. There is no new announcement. I am just reminding my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian that a great deal is being done to assist in social matters and in developing the economy in Malta. Probably that is the best help that we can give. The tourist trade in Malta—that lovely island—has enormous possibilities if we can help in building up the hotels and other services. The future of the light industries in Malta is also good.

But that should not necessarily preclude doing the sort of thing which my hon. Friend suggested about schools. There is, however, a Service difficulty here. As I understand him, if the Navy gets out of an establishment, he wants the establishment to be turned into a school. We cannot do that off our own bat because, under the independence agreement, whenever the Services give up an establishment—either buildings or land—they are compelled to hand it back to the Government of Malta. Such establishments as we have vacated are already in the possession of the Government of Malta and are under their control. Therefore, if we were to want to do what my hon. Friend has suggested, it would be necessary to get the co-operation and agreement of the Government of Malta. I do not say that this would be a great difficulty, but it is a limiting factor on what we can do independently.

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian said, he has had a good deal of correspondence with my hon. and right hon. Friends in the Department of Education and Science and elsewhere. He will know that the Department of Education and Science finds itself in some difficulty about agreeing to the ideas which he has put forward, especially about the school for British children. He has put forward something which is new to me—the idea of a teacher-training college there. I can say honestly that we in the Ministry of Defence should welcome it, for a number of reasons. We are most anxious to get Maltese recruits into the Royal Navy. Unhappily, we have had to fail a good many of them on the educational test. Anything which would improve the supply of teachers in Malta, and hence improve the standard of education there, would be certain of getting our best support.

I notice that my hon. Friend is showing the impatience of an enthusiast—and I do not blame him—at the delays which he finds in Government Departments in at once leaping to his suggestions. I do not think that he is being altogether fair. This is not a new idea. He has pioneered similar ideas on many occasions and has put something like these ideas into practice with enormous success, but they involve a good deal of money and a question of priorities, as he admits. It seems to me perfectly reasonable for the Departments concerned to look at my hon. Friend's ideas and, if it seems to them all that there is a reasonable chance of this being a viable proposition, then to get together by forming an interdepartmental committee, for which my hon. Friend is calling today.

I have the authority of my colleagues for saying that I do not want my hon. Friend to think that he is merely being fobbed off. This looks at first sight a very good idea. There are difficulties about it. We want to find out what the real difficulties are and how they can be overcome. We shall examine the idea with good will, and the points made by my hon. Friend during his speech will be noted by the Ministers concerned.