HC Deb 27 March 1972 vol 834 cc32-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

7. Mr. Wall

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on United Kingdom relations with the Government of Malta.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

With permission, Mr. Speaker. I will now answer Question No. 7.

An Agreement with respect to the Use of Military Facilities in Malta was signed yesterday by the Prime Minister of Malta and my right honourable and noble Friend the Defence Secretary. The Agreement, which is for a period of seven years, entered into force on signature, and will be laid before Parliament in the usual way on Wednesday.

The Government are making payment to the Government of Malta of the sum due on the signing of the Agreement. Advances will be drawn from the Contingencies Fund as necessary, and Supplementary Estimates will be presented to Parliament in due course. The British contribution to the annual payment remains at the figure of £5¼ million offered last year.

It is a matter of satisfaction to the Government to have been able finally to conclude this Agreement, which they believe is to the mutual benefit of Malta, Britain and the rest of N.A.T.O., whose Secretary General was able to attend the ceremony of signature.

Mr. Healey

I think the whole House will wish to congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the fact that this ship has finally been brought to port. We should also congratulate Mr. Mintoff on obtaining nearly three times the original sum of money offered for the facilities on Malta and Her Majesty's Government for not increasing their original offer.

In view of this extraordinary conjunction of events, and since the facilities available to Britain in Malta are required for N.A.T.O. rather than British purposes, with other members of N.A.T.O. providing two-thirds of the money for the facilities, will the Foreign Secretary explain why the Maltese Government have made this agreement solely with the British Government and why N.A.T.O. collectively is not involved in any way by the agreement?

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether the Government have yet estimated the cost of taking nearly all our troops out of Malta and then putting them nearly all back again? Finally, is it possible under the agreement for naval vessels of Warsaw Pack countries to use Maltese facilities for rest and recreation?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am afraid I can take very little credit for the agreement; it is all due to the patience of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. It was the wish of N.A.T.O. that we should conduct negotiations on its behalf. This we have done, and that is understood by Mr. Mintoff. I will get for the right hon. Gentleman the cost of the movement of troops, on which I shall have to consult the Secretary of State for Defence. We have made satisfactory arrangements for the exclusion or restriction of forces from countries outside N.A.T.O., including the Communist countries of the Warsaw Pact. If the question of recreation arose for the men on any warship, this is a matter which we would discuss with the Maltese Government, and it would have to be by agreement.

Sir D. Renton

Would it not be gracious for us to acknowledge the part played by our N.A.T.O. allies by their contribution not only to Malta but also in this country?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Our N.A.T.O. allies have been very helpful, particularly in providing cash which we felt we could not pay.

Mr. Bob Brown

Does not the Foreign Secretary agree that we embarked on a precipitate, almost Duke of York, exercise in marching the troops out to march them back again, and that as a result the British lion is nursing a sore tail it need never have had?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

It is true that the agreement could have been made many months ago, but perhaps this in and out arrangement is worth while. After all, we have a seven-year agreement and we are protected in the Western Mediterranean.

Mr. Woodhouse

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the arrangements for financial aid made at the time of the original rundown of the Services by the previous Government are not affected in any way by the new agreement?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The 1964 agreement is totally superseded by the new agreement, so all the old arrangements lapse and the new arrangements begin.

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