HC Deb 17 February 1972 vol 831 cc608-10
24. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the progress made in the talks concerning the future defence provisions in Malta.

Lord Balniel

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement I made on 15th February.—[Vol. 831, c. 254–259.]

Mr. Dempsey

Is the Minister aware that since he made that statement there has been an important visit to Malta by a representative of the Russian Government? Does this not indicate that, quite apart from any considerations involving defence bases in that part of the Mediterranean, there is a great desire to try to maintain the affinity between our two peoples? Is any further consideration now being given to this matter?

Lord Balniel

There has been no further consideration since my statement on 15th February. I am aware that the Ambassador accredited to Valetta has visited Valetta in the last day or two.

Dr. David Owen

Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is prepared to discuss the phasing of the redundancies and that the 1,600 redundancy figure is an absolute ceiling, because I gather that these two points are still causing concern in Malta? What is the situation about the cable linking Malta and Sicily, which is a N.A.T.O. facility?

Lord Balniel

On the matter of redundancies, we must have the right to discharge labour that is surplus to our requirements, but we have already said that we are ready to discuss with Mr. Mintoff how the redundancies should be phased. In our current offer to him, only 150 of the 1,600 surplus Maltese employees will be made redundant now and no further redundancies will be effected until 1st September, 1972.

The cable between Malta and Sicily was laid by the British Post Office and its terminals were funded entirely by N.A.T.O. under the infrastructure arrangements. If a defence agreement is reached, we shall need this cable for N.A.T.O. uses. If, however, we have to sever the agreement and we cannot make a new defence agreement, appropriate arrangements will have to be made for the reimbursement of the cost of this cable.

Mr. Driberg

Could the right hon. Gentleman say what is meant by his use of the phrase "appropriate arrangements"? Is this not possibly one of the "fixed assets" which he mentioned on Tuesday as to be released to the Malta Government?

Lord Balniel

If we reach a new defence agreement, the Government of the United Kingdom will need to retain the use of the cable. If we cannot reach a new defence agreement, obviously arrangements for reimbursement will have to be made by the Malta Government if they take over the cable.