HL Deb 09 March 1883 vol 276 cc1881-9

in rising to call attention to the affairs of Malta, with special reference to Correspondence respecting the constitution and administration of Malta presented to Parliament in August, 1882; and to move for further Papers and Correspondence relating thereto, said, that the subject was one which had often engaged the attention of Parliament and of the Government. There had been Petitions, addresses to Colonial Secretaries, correspondence with the Maltese Government, and all substantially agreeing in one point—namely, that some modification was required in the form of Government now existing in the Island. The Papers showed how far from satisfactory was the condition of the inhabitants. Poverty and mendicity were constantly increasing. The dwellings of the labouring class and poor were unhealthy; agriculture from various causes was not developed; commerce and shipbuilding were almost at a standstill, while no efforts were made to encourage industry and enterprize. He did not propose to enter into details upon these subjects; but he might add, from his personal knowledge of Malta, that he did not think that picture was very far from being correct. As to the alleged cause of distress and want of improvement in the country, it might be briefly stated that it was attributed to the form of Government which had existed in Malta since it became a part of the British Dominions. It was that there was a Military Governor only, and that there was no Civil Administrator of the civil functions of the Government. During the period that Malta had been annexed to the British Crown there had been one Civil Governor, Mr. More O'Ferrall, and he held the office only a short time. As to the objection which was sometimes raised with regard to the appointment of a Civil Governor in place of a military one—that Malta being a fortress of great importance to the Imperial interests of this country it would not be possible to intrust the supreme authority to a civilian—he admitted there was some weight in the argument; but it might be answered that the General commanding the forces would retain the entire military autho- rity and command of Malta as a fortress, but at the same time there might be a Civil Administrator responsible to the Colonial Office, who would preside, assisted by a Council, over the local and general internal affairs of the country. Precedents of such a kind might be found in the Colonies; but in hardly any of the British Dependencies had British subjects had so few British rights in the way of self-government as the Maltese. In reviewing the history of Malta since it first became subject to the British Crown, which it did by its own act, it was hardly possible not to see that Malta had been regarded almost as a fortress only, with comparatively little consideration for its development as a country possessing a hard-working and industrious population. It had been heavily taxed for Imperial purposes, while, at the same time, little progress had been made in the material welfare of the people. He was not arguing that great advantages would at once be gained by the appointment of a Civil Governor; it would be a work of time. Neither did he suppose that much good had not resulted from the office being held by distinguished military men, acting under the highest sense of duty and responsibility as Governors; but, at the same time, he could not but think that if a Civil Administrator were appointed benefits would accrue in the development of the resources of the country, and in promoting the general welfare of the population. But there was a further question, not necessarily, though in a great measure, connected with that to which he had referred—he meant not only the extension of the franchise in the election of non-official Members of the Council, but that the Council should have a greater control over the expenditure of the country, and in matters of local legislation and the imposition of taxes. Very urgent representations had, from time to time, been made by persons of influence, and by the inhabitants generally of Malta, showing that control in these matters was enjoyed by British subjects in almost all other places. A Petition, signed by upwards of 8,000 inhabitants, was presented to Parliament in 1879; this was followed by an address to which a reply was given by the noble Earl opposite, then Colonial Secretary, and now Secretary of State for India. That reply was referred to in a subse- quent Petition as having "produced a most painful impression among the whole population," the noble Earl having declined to take any steps in answer to the prayer of the Petition. It was not difficult to see whore the objection laid with regard to this Council. The Council was composed of 10 official Members, and eight elected Members; consequently, when any question arose, not only of Imperial interest, but also of local interest or taxation, the vote might be carried by the official Members against the elected Members of the Council. This occurred in a recent instance on a question of drainage, where the unanimous vote of the elected Members was defeated by the votes of the official Members. He regretted to find that the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon), who was not now in his place, laid down this doctrine, when Colonial Secretary, that this power of out-voting the elected Members should be retained by the Imperial Government, even on questions of local interest and taxation. Very different, however, was the language of some other Colonial Secretaries. Lord Card-well, when Colonial Secretary in 1884, said— I will, however, take this opportunity of expressing the desire of Her Majesty's Government that this principle should never be lost sight of by those who administer the Government of Malta—that great consideration should be shown to the opinions of the elected Members of Council in matters of local and domestic interest; and, above all, that no Vote of money should be passed against the majority of the elected Members except under very special circumstances in which the public interests or credit were seriously at stake. Lord Grey also in 1853, when Colonial Secretary, in Lord Russell's Government, said that every opportunity ought to be taken of giving increased development to representative institutions where they already existed, but in an imperfect order; and he added that it was wise and politic to intrust the civil government to a person—Mr. More O'Ferrall—who, not being burdened with the command of the troops, might have more leisure to look closely into the state of its civil affairs, and ascertain what improvements were required in their management. He believed that they might look for these questions, so vital to the interests of Malta, meeting with due consideration at the hands of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Earl opposite the late Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Kimberley), in a despatch of the 24th of June, 1882, now took a more favourable view of the claims of the Maltese people. He said— The arguments in favour of appointing a Civil Governor to administer the Government of Malta have received my special attention. And, again— I do not desire it to be supposed that I am insensible to the considerations to which it may be admitted the present circumstances of the Island lend increasing force in favour of intrusting the Government to a civil officer of experience. These statements afforded ground for hope that the just and reasonable demands of the Maltese people would receive fair consideration, and that the inhabitants of the Island would be placed under a Government which would give to British subjects British rights by enabling them to manage their local and domestic affairs, and to exercise a due control over the taxation of the country.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for further papers and correspondence respecting the constitution and administration of Malta."—(The Earl De La Warr.)


said, that he had recently returned from Malta, where he had heard a great deal of the subjects referred to by the noble Earl. In his opinion—and his experience of Malta extended over 40 years—it was not correct to say that the inhabitants were unanimously in favour of the appointment of a Civil Governor. The Maltese did not speak of the days when the affairs of the Island were administered by a Civil Governor as days of unusual prosperity. It was true the rule of Mr. More O'Ferrall had been very popular; but then the fact of that gentleman being a Roman Catholic prejudiced the Islanders somewhat in his favour. The appointment of a Civil Governor was not the great want in Malta. What the people complained of was that proper sympathy was not extended to them by the authorities at home and those who governed them, and this complaint should receive consideration. The late Secretary of State for the Colonies said on one occasion that he was of opinion that the number of voters was not in proportion to the population of the Island, and held out hopes that the sub- ject would receive the attention of the Government. At present there were only 2,300 electors out of a population of 150,000. The noble Earl, with less than his usual accuracy, said that the franchise should be extended to all persons who paid rates and taxes. There was, however, no such person as a taxpayer in the Island; and people thought that, by making such a statement, the noble Earl showed that he had not paid so much attention to the question as he ought to have paid to it. The fact was that the people of Malta had been treated more like a conquered people than as men who ought to possess the rights of British subjects. The higher classes of the population were very intelligent and able; and the lower ranked among the most industrious communities of the world. The people were much interested in all the affairs of the Island, and they felt that they had not that share in its representation which they deserved. They were most sincerely attached to the British Crown, and desired to retain their connection with England. It was an error to suppose that the Island was in a wretched condition. In all directions signs of improvement were to be seen, and agriculture was in as flourishing a condition as it could possibly be in. It was a matter for regret that there was not more sympathy between the English officials and their Maltese fellow-subjects. The want of such sympathy, and not the absence of a Civil Governor, was the principal cause of discontent in the Island.


said, he thought the practice of discussing in that House the affairs of our Colonial Dependencies was a satisfactory practice, for those who resided in the Colonies were thus made aware of the interest felt at home in their well-being. He was glad, therefore, that the noble Earl had introduced this subject. Though he could not entirely approve some of the arguments that had been used, or accept as correct all the statements which had been made, he was not disposed to enter into a controversy with the noble Earl. He felt, in fact, bound to accept many of the conclusions at which the Mover of the Resolution had arrived. He thought, however, that his noble Friend had drawn rather too gloomy a picture of the material condition of the Island. No doubt a good deal of poverty was prevalent; but it would be difficult to show that that poverty had been produced by administrative neglect or mismanagement. It was the natural consequence of the presence of a very dense population within narrow confines on a barren soil. His noble Friend (Viscount Sidmouth) spoke of a want of sympathy with the people as prevailing among the official classes, and of a feeling that improvements were discouraged. That was a charge of so comprehensive a character that it was impossible to deal with it in the absence of details. The only local improvements about which much interest had been excited lately were the repeal of the import duty on grain and the new drainage scheme, which was declared by the best local sanitary authorities to be indispensable. The people objected to the removal of the import duty and the substitution in its place of a direct tax. The drainage scheme also was the subject of very great complaint; so that in these, the only cases of the kind that had recently occurred, the officials were in favour of improvement, and the people against it. Setting those questions aside, he agreed with the general views expressed by his noble Friends. There was no disaffection in Malta, and the people had no desire to be placed under any other Government. They were too few to entertain the idea of standing alone, and they certainly did not desire that the Island should be annexed to Italy; for if it were annexed to that country, they would be much more heavily taxed than they were now. He believed the people of Malta were sincerely attached to the British connection; but there was, no doubt, a certain amount of discontent in the Island, arising from causes to a great extent of a local character. The first question which his noble Relative mentioned was the question of a Civil as against a Military Governor. That was not a question on which opinion in the Island was unanimous; it was one very open to argument, and of which the merits were not all on one side. The argument in favour of a Civil Governor was that a Military Government confined itself to military interests, and did not extend its care to the requirements of the civil population. The argument against a Civil Governor was the obvious inconvenience of separating the civil from the military power, and dividing the decision I of questions connected with one another between two co-ordinate authorities, who, if they were not more than ordinarily prudent and cautious, were likely to be brought into collision. The question was an important one, he fully admitted; but no change could be made, if it were to be made at all, until the expiration of the present Governor's term of Office, and that would not be for a period of one or two years. Upon that matter, therefore, he suspended the expression of any opinion. He would only say that he would give a careful consideration to the question when the time came. With regard to the Legislative Council, two matters were made the subject of complaint. One was that the elected Members wore chosen on too narrow a basis; and the other that, from the composition of the Council, the elected Members were always outvoted by the official Members. With regard to the first of these complaints, he had dealt with it already. The number of electors was now, he believed, a little over 2,000; but by an arrangement already made, the Letters Patent having been granted, the suffrage would be extended to about a £6 rating. The effect of that would be to substitute some 6,000 electors for the 2,000 and odd who now held the franchise That would not be considered a very revolutionary change, the total number of the inhabitants being upwards of 150,000. At the same time, it multiplied the present electoral body nearly three-fold, and was a substantial concession. With regard to the other and probably more important question, that of the powers which the Legislative Council exercised, he had thought it desirable to deal with that also. Undoubtedly, it was a fair ground of complaint if the elected Members of the Council were, on purely local matters, liable to be outnumbered and outvoted by an official body which gave its vote as one man. He had endeavoured to deal with that grievance by limiting the number of officials who should attend the meetings of the Council to a number equal to that of the non-official or elected Members, so that the two parties would exactly balance each other. He did not propose that the Governor should, as a general rule, vote at all; it was only in case of an exact balance of votes that he would give a casting vote. The Governor was directed that if the question was one, in his judgment, involving only local interests, and in which no Imperial interests were concerned, he was to accept the decision of the elected Members. If, on the other hand, Imperial matters were concerned, then the Governor might either suspend his decision, or, if he thought fit, he might outvote by his casting vote the elected Members. But, in case of his so doing, he was immediately to report the fact to the Secretary of State. The consequence would be that his powers would not be exercised except under the immediate supervision and control of the Colonial Office. He did not know whether that concession would satisfy all who had complained; possibly not; but it was a very large concession to their reasonable wants, and it would exhibit evidence of a desire to make local self-government in matters not affecting Imperial interests a reality and not a mere show. Another proposal was that, instead of all the electors voting in one constituency, the Island should be divided into electoral districts, seven or eight in number. That proposition had been inquired into. It was one which he saw no reason for opposing. It was a point on which local opinion and local feelings should be consulted, and he proposed to leave it to the Legislative Council to deal with as they might think fit. His noble Friend would see that he had to a very considerable extent anticipated his requests, and had brought, or was bringing, into operation changes which those whom his noble Friend represented desired. He had laid the Papers on the Table that afternoon, and he believed they would be in the hands of their Lordships some time next week.


said, that it appeared from the Papers that what the Petitioners asked for was that a Civil Governor might be appointed, who should be subordinate to a Military Governor. He thought he was correct in saying that there was no modern instance of such an arrangement. In Ireland there was a Lord Lieutenant and a Military Commander-in-Chief under him; but that was the reverse of what was now asked for. He should like to ask whether the noble Earl would think it desirable to advise Her Majesty to appoint a Civil Governor, who should be subordinate to a Military one?


said, he had stated that he did not contemplate any change, because the question would not arise for one or two years. Until then he could not decide.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.