HL Deb 04 March 1887 vol 311 cc1227-34

said, that the Notice which he had given to call attention to the affaire of Malta seemed, perhaps, to embrace a wider range than it might be convenient to bring before their Lordships at the same moment. He hoped, however, that what he now wished to say might be kept within a small compass. For some time past the state of Malta had been far from satisfactory. There had been a friction in the management of public affairs which had produced an amount of uneasiness which might, perhaps, be more correctly described as discontent among a people naturally loyal and well-disposed, and which was now assuming a serious aspect. We were not living in a time when things were standing still. Education was progressing with rapid strides; mutual communication between almost all countries of the world was fast spreading; competition in trade and commerce was increasing, and in some places amounted to almost a struggle for existence; steam navigation and electric telegraphs had greatly changed the course of commerce; but notwithstanding all this the Maltese policy had remained substantially unaltered. Why had not Malta kept pace with what was going on outside? How was it that Malta, since its connection with England, had been left, as it were, behind, while other Dependencies and Colonies of this country had so much advanced in a commercial and political point of view? It was not because the Maltese people were indifferent to it, or were wanting in talent, or energy, or industry. Their previous history proved the contrary. The real cause, he believed, was—and he said it with great regret—that British subjects in Malta had been debarred from the advantages, the privileges, and the rights of British subjects elsewhere. The consequence had been that trade and commerce and agriculture had not been developed. Opportunities had been little afforded for the advancement of young men in various professions, especially as regarded the Civil Service examinations, which were available to British subjects in other places; and not the least of the causes which operated against increasing prosperity in Malta was that to which he now wished specially to allude—he meant the form of Government, which virtually excluded and crushed all political life. It might not, perhaps, be remembered by some of their Lordships that Malta was a Dependency of this country for 49 years without having any control at all of its own internal affairs, whether as regarded its taxation or any other matter which concerned its welfare—that until the year 1849 it was under a military Government without any elective Members of Council chosen by the people, and was hardly looked upon in any other light than as a fortress to uphold the power and influence of this country. But after this a slight concession was made of a Council of Government, consisting of 18 Members, of whom eight were to be elected upon a franchise and 10 to be official Members, the Governor being one, with a casting vote. The boon, as might readily be seen, was a small one. The elected Members could always be outvoted by the official Members, of which there were several cases on record. The grant of this Constitution, if so it could be called, was made in the time of Mr. More O'Ferrall, the first, and, he believed, the only Civil Governor, and during his term of Office it was understood that the official Members might vote according to their convictions. Afterwards, however, under his successors, the official Members were bound to vote with the Government on all occasions. At length, however, a more favourable interpretation was given by Lord Cardwell (then Mr. Cardwell), when Colonial Secretary, in 1864, in answer to a numerously signed Petition from Malta. Lord Cardwell said— That great consideration should be shown to the opinions of the elected Members of Council in matters of local and domestic interest, and that, above all, no Vote of money should be pressed against the majority of the elected Members except under very special circumstances in which the public interests or credit were seriously at stake, and never without an immediate Report to the Secretary of State. This was really the first instance of the acknowledgment of the right of the vote of the majority of the elected Members to have any weight in questions of money or other local matters since Malta became a Dependency of this country. But, unhappily, this view of Lord Cardwell's, adopted, he believed, by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kimberley), who was Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1873, was not taken up by Lord Carnarvon, and that policy was virtually withdrawn. His noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Derby) who was Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1884, returned in some measure to the opinion of Lord Cardwell, and said— The concession so made has not been withdrawn, but supplemented by my despatch of the 8th of March last (1883), which directs that the local Government shall not overrule the unanimous wish of the elected Members without the express authority of the Secretary of State. Now, there was on the face of this a very great grievance as affecting the Government of Malta—that a discretionary power should be vested in the Colonial Secretary of reversing the policy of his Predecessor on such a vital point as this—namely, whether the elected Members of the Council were or were not to have the right of passing any Money Vote or any question involving matters of local and domestic interest, even though unanimous, unless it was in accordance with the views of the official Members of the Council, who could at all times command a majority. It was really difficult to describe what this kind of Government was, unless that it was a mockery of a Constitution. Could their Lordships be surprised that there was uneasiness and discontent at Malta? They saw other Dependencies of this country enjoying rights as British subjects which were withheld from them. He held in his hand a copy of a paper bearing the signature of Lord Hampden, recently addressed by him, as Lord Lieutenant, to the county of Sussex, a few words of which, with their Lordships' permission, he would read. Lord Hampden said— During the Queen's long and eventful reign there are no events more striking than the growth both of our Colonial and Indian Empires. The English race has in these 50 years taken root in the various parts of the Queen's Dominions, and nations now numbering many millions have grown to large proportions in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Cape of Good Hope, and elsewhere, speaking our own language, adopting our own laws, having their own Parliaments, formed on British models, all these—with ourselves—fellow subjects under one common Sovereign. Their Lordships doubtless welcomed the fulfilment of this happy event. But it might well be asked, why had Malta been excluded from this cause of rejoicing? Why should Representative Governments be granted to the West Indies, to Mauritius, to Newfoundland, and many other Colonies, and even to Cyprus, which in this respect enjoyed more British rights than Malta? Let him, then, put plainly before their Lordships what it was the Maltese people desired. They asked, as British subjects, to be fairly represented in the Council of Government, and that they might exercise a reasonable control over all matters of local and domestic interest. He confessed that he was at a loss to see in what way Imperial interests would be endangered by such a concession. Questions in any way affecting the fortress would naturally be excluded from the jurisdiction of the Legislative Council, and be left entirely in the hands of the Governor and Executive Council. There were matters of detail into which it would not be desirable then to enter until the Papers for which he was about to move were laid upon the Table of the House. He would only add that the sympathy of their Lordships on this question was anxiously looked for by the Maltese people. They had much patriotism, and they loved their country. They had shed their blood for it, and had freely expended their wealth and treasure in its cause. They had given to this country one of its most valuable fortresses, and they asked only that rights which in times past they had enjoyed might be confirmed to them as British subjects.

Address for Papers on the Affairs of Malta, especially those relating to the Government of Malta.—(The Earl De La Warr.)


said, he did not propose then to enter into a discussion about the Constitution of Malta, either as it had been or was now. The noble Earl (Earl De La Warr) had moved for Papers; and if, when those Papers were presented to the House, there was anything in them to render a debate desirable that would be the proper time for a discussion to take place. He believed that no one would think it unnecessary that the affairs of Malta should be discussed in that House because it was a small Island with a small population. The manner in which Malta became a Dependency of the British Crown and the engagements which were entered into at the time constituted a reason why the affairs of the Island should engage the attention of their Lordships, and why any complaints which the Maltese had to make should receive respectful consideration. No doubt there had been some unpleasantness in Malta during recent years with respect to its government; but he was bound to say that, so far as his information went, he did not think there was any disloyalty on the part of the population, or any agitation which could be said to be disloyal in any degree. The Maltese were loyal to the British Crown; and he believed that if they were treated fairly they would become even more firmly attached to England than they now were. There were two principles which must underlie any action of the Colonial Office with regard to Malta. Nothing must be done which would impair the position of Malta as a great naval and military station of England, or at all interfere with the direct Imperial control of the garrison and fortress. Subject to that, and consistently with the interests of the country, he would say that it was most desirable that the national susceptibilities of the Maltese people should be tenderly respected, their legitimate aspirations favourably considered, and the development of Representative Institutions promoted and encouraged. Up to the present time the reformers in Malta, even the most violent of them, had been very moderate in their demands—namely, for the gradual development of Representative Institutions, without clashing with the Imperial Government of the Island; there had, indeed, been an election at which the people had shown their displeasure at the inattention shown to their complaints of the constitution of the Council by electing two candidates, one of whom was called "ridiculous" and the other "infamous" by the reformers themselves, and this proceeding could not be defended. It was, however, only an episode which might well be forgotten, and which was unlikely to recur. Of course, in this country such things as ridiculous and infamous countries were unknown, and this was an unfortunate method of enforcing Constitutional views. In the future he hoped that the Government might be able to see their way to concede the wishes of the people of Malta without in any manner compromising the character or strength of the Island as a great fortress.


said, no one regretted more than he did the unsatisfactory condition of matters recently in regard to the legislative affairs of Malta. They were not without experience in this country of certain Members being sent to Parliament who did not contribute to the rapid and efficient discharge of Public Business. He was sure, therefore, that their Lordships would sympathize with the difficulties in which the Governor of Malta and the Secretary of State for the Colonies found themselves placed with respect to the Legislative Government of that Dependency. He agreed with the noble Lord (Lord Brabourne) that inasmuch as the Island of Malta was not acquired by this country in the course of conquest, but the Maltese people having of their own free will asked to be placed under the protection of the British Crown, there was a reason why we should feel all the more bound to consider their reasonable and legitimate aspirations. But he differed from the noble Earl (Earl De La Warr), who brought the subject forward, when he said that nothing had been done towards conciliating the desires of the Maltese people. As long ago as 1864 Mr. Cardwell expressed his wish that great consideration should be shown to the elected Members of the Maltese Council, and the policy which Mr. Cardwell inaugurated had been the consistent and undeviating policy of successive British Governments, and was also the policy of the present Government. The Governor had himself communicated with Her Majesty's Government, and in one of the Papers which, would be laid on the Table in response to the request of the noble Lord it would be seen that the Governor said that he was desirous of allowing to the Maltese as much control over their own local affairs as was consistent with efficient administration. There was reason to believe that the Nationalist Party in Malta were thoroughly satisfied with the present Governor, and the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor had been credited with having done more to advance the interests of Malta within the last three years than had been done in the preceding generation. He was justified in saying that the policy of Her Majesty's Government had always been to meet the views of the Nationalist Party, and the present Government was not less desirous of doing so than any of its Predecessors. It must be borne in mind that there were two conditions essential to the enjoyment of Representative Institutions. The first was that the country desiring them should be willing to accept them, and should be capable of discharging the great responsibilities they involved. He would not say anything as to whether the Maltese were capable of undertaking these responsibilities, nor whether those on whose behalf the noble Earl pleaded represented any general feeling in the Island. The second point in this case was that Malta was one of a chain of fortresses between this country and the Suez Canal; and it would be admitted that a Dependency which enjoyed the advantages of connection with the British Crown should, to some extent, subordinate its individual interests to the interests of the Empire at large. Therefore, Her Majesty's Government were not asking too much of the Maltose when they asked them to remember that their fortress was absolutely indispensable to the British Empire, and that nothing could be allowed to occur in that Island which would for one moment withdraw from the Representatives of the Imperial Government the ultimate control of every matter which affected Imperial interests. Several schemes had been proposed for the re-arrangement of the Constitution of Malta. All these were under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government; but no one of them had received more favourable consideration than another. An incorrect and misleading telegram had been sent from this country to Malta. It was not correct that the Secretary of State had approved of any Constitution laid before him. All that Her Majesty's Government had ever done was to say that they would be glad to see a large representation of Maltese upon the Council, and also that they should have a larger share in local administration. The Secretary of State had made no statement in respect to any particular scheme of Constitution, and had only said that he desired to give as much representation to the Native Maltese in the Council of the Government as it was possible to give them consistently with the safety of the fortress. The Governor had been requested by telegraph to come over at once to advise the Secretary of State, and had started in company with a Native Maltese gentleman, Dr. Carbone, and would arrive in England on Monday next. Until Her Majesty's Government had had an opportunity of discussing the matter fully with the Governor it was impossible for them to decide upon any alteration in the Constitution. In conclusion, he thanked their Lordships for the patience with which they had listened to him on this, the first time that he had addressed them in an official capacity; and he trusted their Lordships would be satisfied with the assurances he had given.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

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