HL Deb 22 June 1888 vol 327 cc959-61

asked, Whether Her Majesty's Government can give satisfactory information with regard to the working and efficiency of the new Constitution of Malta, and of the manner in which it has been received by the Maltese people; also, whether a copy of a resolution moving an address to the Governor, and carried unanimously by the Council of Government on the 30th of May last, praying him to petition Her Majesty for the establishment of a Militia regiment in Malta, can be laid upon the Table of the House; and whether any communications on that subject have been made by the Governor to the present or any former Colonial Secretary; and, if so, whether they can be laid upon the Table of the House? He also wished to move for a Return in the words of which he had given Notice— Moved, "That an humble address be presented to her Majesty for Return of the amount of the annual contribution from the revenue of Malta for military purposes, and of the amount remitted directly or indirectly in drawbacks to the military authorities, with the view of ascertaining the possibility of applying these sums towards defraying the expenses of the Militia."—(The Earl De La Warr.)


observed, that he had recently had an opportunity of gauging the feelings of the people of Malta with respect to the formation of a Militia regiment. He felt sure that the formation of such a corps would be viewed most favourably, and would tend to increase the loyalty of the people.


The noble Earl has always taken a keen interest in this subject, and has endeavoured to ascertain and forward the wishes of the Maltese to acquire larger powers in the management of local affairs, and I believe his work has been thoroughly appreciated in the Island. No one, therefore, will be better pleased than the noble Earl to hear my reply to the first part of his Question. I can assure him that the new Constitution has been received with satisfaction by all classes in Malta, and that up to the present moment it has worked most successfully. This success is largely owing to the tact and judgment of the Governor, Sir Lintorn Simmons, and the Colonial Secretary; but it is mainly owing to the hearty co-operation and loyal support of the elected members under the new Constitution, and especially of the three elected members of the Council of Government, who are also members of the Executive Council. There were, no doubt, many persons who wished to see larger and more sweeping changes in the Constitution; but they had, nevertheless, shown a spirit of moderation and a loyal desire to support the Government and the new order of things. The Constitution was not yet in operation in its entirety. As part of it, it had been decided to divide the Island into districts, and to assign a member to each district; but, as it was found impossible to collect in this country the necessary information for the purpose of deciding what should be the actual districts, or whether any district should be represented by more than one member, a Royal Commission was appointed to go to Malta to examine into the matter. The Commission has now reported that the proposal to divide the Island into districts had been received with great favour throughout the whole Island. As the Commissioners took very great trouble to ascertain the views of the people, and went into all the districts and examined persons of all classes, I may, perhaps, read a passage of their Report to your Lordships. The Commissioners state that they have acquired a clear insight into the opinions and feeling of all sections of the inhabitants of the country districts, and that they havex2014; Satisfied themselves by abundant proofs that the decision of Her Majesty's Government to divide Malta into several electoral divisions was equally just in itself and in accordance with the interests and wishes of the great majority of the persons principally affected by this change from the former system, under which the entire community, both urban and rural, was treated as one single constituency. From this change, which has long been advocated by leading men, I anticipate very good results, for it will, I believe, tend to create a more lively and intelligent interest in local questions affecting the well-being of the people. It will come into operation when the next Council of Government is elected. Her Majesty's Government have certainly made large concessions to the people of Malta, and conferred upon them considerable privileges. This they have done in the full belief that the new Council of Government would meet them in a loyal spirit, and that its future proceedings would conduce largely to the credit and prosperity of the island without infringing in any way the rights and duties of the Crown. I may, perhaps, be allowed to observe that the power of the Crown to protect Imperial interests has been secured by the provisions of the Letters Patent. In answer to the second Question of the noble Earl, I have to say that the proposal to establish a Militia regiment was first made by the present Governor in 1885, when the Earl of Derby was Secretary of State. That noble Lord viewed the suggestion very favourably; but it appears to have been shelved for a time, as some questions were under consideration affecting the Malta Fencibles. It has now been revived by a unanimous Resolution of the Council of Government, and the Governor is greatly in favour of the establishment of a regiment. I have myself a strong belief that the creation of this Militia is advisable, both from an Imperial point of view, as adding to the defensive power of Malta, and from a Colonial point of view, as bringing all classes together and giving them a lively interest in the defence of the Colony; and I am very glad to find that the noble Lord who has last spoken is also in favour of the scheme. The matter has been referred to the War Office, and a favourable consideration for it has been asked. It is hardly necessary to add that the War Office would probably be the first Department to recognize the importance of having this addition to the Forces in Malta; and I, therefore, hope that their Report will be favourable. The Treasury must also be consulted on the subject. The Papers for which the noble Earl asks can not be well presented until a final decision shall have been arrived at; and I hope that the noble Earl will, therefore, consent to wait a little time for the Papers and the Return for which he has asked.


said, that he would accede to the request made by the noble Lord.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.