HC Deb 14 February 1967 vol 741 cc315-8
1. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what speed of run-down of British Service personnel and of Maltese civilians he announced to the Maltese Government.

The Minister of State, Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. George Thomas)

I would refer the hon. Member to the statements by my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary in the House on 24th January, and by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 2nd February.—[Vol. 739, c. 1274–1284; Vol. 740, c. 807–883.]

Mr. Digby

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm or deny the suggestion that the Maltese counter-proposals have now been rejected and that there are to be new conversations with the Maltese Government, as forecast in The Times today?

Mr. Thomas

I shall be dealing with that in reply to a later Question on the Order Paper.

Mr. Wood

Can the Minister now give the date, which his right hon. Friend did not give at the end of the debate, when N.A.T.O. was informed of the plans of the British Government?

Mr. Thomas

No, Sir, I am afraid that I cannot offhand, but I will communicate with the right hon. Gentleman.

2. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received from the Government of Malta about the rapid reduction of defence expenditure and of locally entered employees.

12. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on Malta.

19. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a further statement about his discussions with the Maltese Government.

Mr. George Thomas

We are at present in communication with the Government of Malta through the British High Commissioner there, with a view to securing agreement to early talks being held between the two Governments. While these exchanges are in progress, I hope that the House will agree not to press me further.

Mr. Digby

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the very strong feeling that there is in the country about this, and can he say where the talks will be held—in this country or in Malta?

Mr. Thomas

I am quite unable to give any further details until the exchanges are complete.

Mr. Goodhart

Is the Minister aware that the reason why the Maltese Government are trying to pin so many conditions on these negotiations is because they do not trust Her Majesty's Government as a result of their past experience? Is he also aware that, despite the tension between the Maltese and the British Governments, relations between the Maltese and British communities in Malta are excellent because the entire British community there condemns the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Thomas

I do not know if the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is helping the country by his observations. I would only say that it is in the interests of us all to try to get these talks going, and then to make them succeed.

Mr. Barnett

Would my right hon. Friend assure us that he will not give way to pressure on this matter? Will he ensure that the run-down of troops continues with all speed, making it clear that this is a question of aid which cannot be allowed to interfere with the vital need to reduce defence costs?

Mr. Thomas

I cannot add anything to what I have already said; exchanges are under way between the two Governments, and I hope that they will be successful.

Mr. Powell

Can the Minister give the House any assurance that the Malta Parliament will not proceed tomorrow with the Visiting Forces Bill? Can he say why, if the Government are prepared to enter into consultations with the Government of Malta now, they did not do so six or eight weeks ago, when all of this could have been avoided?

Mr. Thomas

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be unaware that consultations have been going on for a very long time. They have been going on for at least five months. The Malta Parliament is due to meet tomorrow and we have naturally made clear to the Malta Government the undesirability of any irrevocable action while our diplomatic exchanges are proceeding.

27. Mr. Rose

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what discussion he has had with the Maltese Government on the possibility of a British initiative to channel investment in tourism and industry to Malta.

Mr. George Thomas

The needs of tourism and of industry in Malta have been discussed on many occasions in the context of our aid programme to Malta.

Mr. Rose

Would my hon. Friend explore the possibility of setting up a joint development corporation between Britain and Malta, and would he perhaps also explore with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade the possibility of incentives for industrialists in this country to take industry to Malta in the wake of the withdrawal of our military establishment?

Mr. Thomas

There already exists a Malta Industrial Development Board, under the chairmanship of a British industrialist. That Board exercises a continuing interest in investment in industry in Malta. I hope that, if talks between the two Governments get under way, tourism may be a subject which we could discuss with advantage.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Since the moral responsibility for the present crisis in Malta rests upon the British Government, are not the Minister and the Government under a moral duty to find alternative means of putting the situation right?

Mr. Thomas

We are anxious to discuss these questions with the Malta Government, and we shall approach the subject with goodwill.