HL Deb 11 February 1947 vol 145 cc539-56

5.28 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, there will be no dispute on either side of your Lordships' House as to the great debt which we owe to the people of Malta, and to those of our countrymen who joined with them in the heroic defence of that gallant and war-battered island. The courage and endurance with which they sustained the bitter and heavy attacks of the enemy will always be remembered, and it is the desire of the people of this country that we should do our utmost to restore the damage which has been done, and to contribute, to the limit of our own resources, to raise the social standard of the people of Malta. Your Lordships will be aware that in accordance with the promise made by His Majesty's Government in 1943 steps are now being taken to restore to the people of Malta responsible government within the same sphere which they enjoyed in the years from 1931 to 1933.

In the recent White Paper the Government set out their proposals regarding the form that the new Constitution will take, and it is hoped that speedy progress will now be made towards the establishment of this Constitution. The Bill which is now before your Lordships has a twofold purpose. Its object is, first, to honour a pledge given to Malta in 1942 in regard to the grant of assistance from the British Exchequer for the making good of war damage; secondly, to afford a further measure of assistance to the Malta Government to enable the people of the island to undertake the responsibility of their internal affairs, in the full expectation that the working of the new Constitution will not be unduly hampered by financial and economic burdens thrown on the island by the war. Perhaps I may deal with those two aspects of the Bill separately.

Your Lordships will remember that in November, 1942, at a time when the enemy attack on Malta was still at its height, Parliament was asked to make a gift of £10,000,000 to be used for the purposes of restoration of war damage and the rebuilding of Malta after the war. At the same time the assurance was given that: If the total liability of the Malta Government for compensation and rebuilding, after allowing for contributions from private owners, exceeds the sum of £10,000,000, His Majesty's Government will be prepared to make available such further sums as may be required to meet liabilities which are found in the circumstances as existing after the war to be beyond the capacity of the Government of Malta to meet from its own resources, having regard to all other calls upon those resources at that time. I understand that the contribution from private owners is negligible in proportion to the extent of the damage done. The grant made in 1942 was based on the best estimate that could be made in the circumstances then existing. It is now clear that the original estimate is likely to be substantially exceeded. Sir Wilfrid Woods, who was appointed in 1945 to undertake a preliminary investigation into the finances of the Malta Government, estimated in the recommendations which he submitted that a sum of probably £42,400,000 would be required if the anticipated budget deficits in Malta during the next year or so were to be covered, and if the activities connected with water supply, sewers, educational development, health development, town improvement, social services and general reconstruction work were to proceed, and war damage compensation were also to be paid. He added that he thought that £42,000,000 was a sum in excess of anything which His Majesty's Government could reasonably be asked to meet. His figure of £42,000,000 was made up of £10,000,000 for reconstruction, £28,000,000 for war damage, £3,057,000 for social welfare and development, and £580,000 to cover budget deficits.

He also pointed out that it would naturally not be possible to make a precise and final estimate of war damage for many years to come. The total for war damage may well be less than the £28,000,000 of his estimate. It was clear from Sir Wilfrid Woods report that this expenditure would be beyond the capacity of the Malta Government to meet unaided from its own resources, and His Majesty's Government, despite the great difficulty confronting them in financing their overseas expenditure, decided, in accordance with their pledge, that it would be necessary to make available the further measure of assistance foreshadowed in the statement of November, 1942, which I have quoted.

The Government gave much thought to the form that such assistance should take. It could be given either in the form of a series of additional payments agreed from time to time, as expenditure proved in the future to be necessary, or in the form of agreement now on a definite sum of money to be drawn upon as necessary in accordance with the progress of expenditure. The first method of procedure would, in the Government's view, lead to many difficulties of administration and possibilities of friction between themselves and the Government of Malta, since differences of opinion would be bound to arise as regards the eligibility of particular expenditure, the ability of the Government of Malta to make some contribution towards such expenditure from their own resources and the efficiency and economy of the arrangements for carrying out the works involved. His Majesty's Government would, under such a procedure, need to have powers of control over administration in Malta which would be hard to reconcile with the new status. They therefore reached the conclusion that it would be more satisfactory to fix a definite and total sum at this stage.

The Government considered that the sum to be fixed in this way should leave some margin for reconstruction work not strictly covered by the definition of making good war damage and, after considering the estimates in Sir Wilfrid Woods' very competent report, they decided to seek the approval of Parliament for the provision from United Kingdom funds of a further sum of £20,000,000, making with the earlier grant a total of £30,000,000 in all. They decided that this sum should not be paid into a trust fund, as was done in the case of the earlier grant, but should be constituted by law a charge upon the Consolidated Fund. Payments to the Malta Government will be made annually against reasonable anticipations of expenditure as soon as the earlier grant is exhausted. The new grant, together with the £10,000,000 already granted and the interest received or expected to be received in the future on the earlier grant, will result in there being available for expenditure a total sum of over £31,000,000. The Bill, the Second Reading of which I am moving, provides that the Malta Government shall submit annually audited accounts showing that the funds issued under this legislation have been expended on the purposes for which the grant was voted. This does not mean Treasury control.

His Majesty's Government did not, however, feel that the financial assistance to be granted to Malta should be limited to the purposes falling within the scope of the above grant. They recognize that the local government is faced with important and pressing demands for public work and the development of social services. While they were not able to accept the proposals made by Sir Wilfrid Woods in their entirety—and indeed Sir Wilfrid himself made it clear that he did not expect the Government to incur commitments to the full extent of his recommendations—still they were anxious to make some contribution towards Malta's needs for social services. It was therefore decided that as an exceptional measure the opportunity of this legislation should be taken to amend the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, to enable Malta to continue to benefit under its provisions, even after the introduction of responsible government.

In the absence of such amending legislation, the Colony would be debarred under the terms of the 1940 Act from so benefiting once the new Constitution had been introduced. Subject to acceptance by Parliament of this amendment, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies proposes to allocate to Malta a sum of £1,000,000, which would be available for grants for suitable schemes of welfare and development. In addition to the £1,000,000 referred to, Malta will, of course, enjoy a number of central services which are provided in London—services such as the training of the Civil Service for Malta, the provision of assistance in respect of higher educational development, and surveys and research schemes which are often necessary in Colonial areas. All of these will be made available to Malta as a result of her participating in the Colonial development arrangements under the Act. Malta will also be eligible for consideration with other Colonies for supplementary allocations from the remaining unallocated reserves, and will similarly be entitled to share in any further provisions which may be made by Parliament on the expiry of the present Colonial Development and Welfare Act in 1956.

So much for the objects of the present Bill. I should, perhaps, mention that in addition to the assistance offered to the Colony under this Bill the Government have announced that they will be prepared, if necessary, to make some provision by way of grants-in-aid to meet the costs of administration during the financial year 1947–48, in accordance with Sir Wilfrid Wood's recommendation. They also recognize that the complete cessation of commodity subsidies at the end of the current financial year, as recommended by Sir Wilfrid Woods, might in the circumstances impose an undue burden on the Government and people of Malta. The Government are therefore prepared to meet one-half of whatever provision for such subsidies in the Malta Estimates for 1947–48 is agreed to be necessary, subject to a maximum contribution of £450,000.

As a result of this Bill, with the grants already made the total amount for which it is proposed that His Majesty's Government shall be responsible—for war damage, reconstruction, and other services will be of the order of the £20,000,000 provided under this Bill, £10,000,000 already granted, and a further £1,000,000 interest accumulation on the £10,000,000. To this sum of £31,000,000 must be added an allocation of £1,000,000 from the Colonial Development and Welfare Act. In addition, there will probably be a deficit of £580,000 in regard to the budget for 1946–47 and 1947–48, which will involve a grant-in-aid of a similar amount. Further, there is a commodity subsidy for next year which will probably amount to the figure of £450,000. All of these sums must be taken into account when the degree of assistance which the Government are now offering to Malta is calculated. And it must not be forgotten that some £6,000,000 grants in aid of administration have been paid to Malta since 1941. In addition, there have been large food and other subsidies. Although the provision which the Government makes falls short by £9,000,000 of Sir Wilfrid Woods' estimate, I would point out to your Lordships that this expenditure of £33,000,000 will probably be spaced over a period of fifteen or more years. It will now be the responsibility of the Malta Government to plan their own social programme in the light of the assistance we can give to the island.

His Majesty's Government are confident that these measures can be regarded, not only as honouring in full the pledge made by the Government in 1942 but also as affording the people of Malta an assurance that responsible government will not be unduly hampered by financial difficulties. For their part, the British Government can expect the Malta Government to plan their reconstruction programme and their policy of economic and social development in a manner calculated to ensure the most effective and economical use of the resources now made available to them, and to review their system of taxation in order that the fullest contribution from their own resources may be made towards these objects.

Your Lordships, I trust, will agree that considering our own financial difficulties a contribution of some £33,000,000 is not ungenerous, and I ask your Lordships to give the Bill which is now before your House a unanimous Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Hall.)

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain you for more than five minutes because I know that several other noble Lords wish to speak. The points which I wish to make can be put very briefly. I warmly echo the tribute which the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, has paid to the people of Malta. There have been times in this recent war, and in a previous war, when the fate of Britain and her Allies seemed to depend on the fortunes of this little island.

Malta has been in our charge for nearly 150 years, and came into the British Empire at her own request. Our relations with Malta provide an example of the inter-dependence of the countries of the Empire, for if Britain and her Allies depend on Malta in time of war, Malta is entirely dependent, economically and financially, on Britain, in both war and peace.

I am voicing opposition to two principles which are contained in Clause 1 of this Bill, but before making my case I would like to draw attention to Clause 3. A part of the sum voted to Malta is being offered under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act. With the imminence of responsible government, Malta would normally be ineligible for this grant. I am delighted that she is to receive it. Because a Colony is to receive self-government is no reason why it should be debarred from financial benefit.

In 1942, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, has pointed out, the Parliament of this country voted £10,000,000 to make good the war damage in Malta, and added the pledge that Whatever further expenditure the Government of Malta might be put to under this head Which it was beyond bier own resources to produce would be made good.

You cannot make a final settlement of a debt until you know exactly how much you owe. To that end Sir Wilfrid Woods went to Malta, made his survey and made his report, reaching various conclusions. He produced certain figures which he himself said were "highly speculative." If a Commission went to Malta this year, next year or the year after, their conclusions would still be highly speculative. The noble Viscount has said that it will take some fifteen years to repair the ravages of war, and it will only be some time near the end of that period that our total indebtedness will be known. Yet we are to understand that although our total indebtedness is a figure that none of us can tell now, this is to be a final settlement.

The noble Viscount outlined very clearly the different courses open to the Government in implementing their pledge. I took the liberty of thinking that His Majesty's Government chose, from the courses outlined, an absolutely wrong one which, whatever its merits, does not in fact honour that pledge. For that reason I consider this Bill to be a bad document. I consider it bad for that reason and for this further reason. Under Clause 1 one of the objects given of this grant is the reconstruction of Malta, in the sense of planning. To my mind that is a clear cut case of a composite sum. If the people of Malta, taking a much larger share than heretofore in the affairs of their own Government, have a composite sum, they will know exactly where they stand. They will know exactly what the scope of their planning can be, because they will know what they have to plan with.

Sir Wilfrid Woods in his report used these words: A full and final settlement of the question of financial aid from the United Kingdom to Malta, by payment of a single sum to the Malta Treasury, or, to Trustees, would have obvious advantages, but it is not a practical proposition. I entirely agree—I do not believe it is a practical proposition. This Bill lumps all these issues together into one, and it leads to the rather dreary conclusion that the Government of Malta will find themselves with three choices. The first is to go all out in repairing the Near damage and, because they do not know what it will finally cost, keeping the residue of that sum up their sleeves in case they should eventually need it, in which case the planning would suffer. Secondly, they can go ahead with a fairly, ambitious planning scheme, but always taking a risk that the rubble of over four thousand air raids may continue to lie where it lies now. Thirdly, they can make a half-hearted attempt to do both, and do neither adequately. It is not surprising to me that our integrity has been called into question by the people of Malta. It will be distressing but not surprising if this transaction is regarded as the touchstone of our sincerity in this present day, and then our integrity may become a matter of doubt to countries far beyond Malta, both within the Empire and without it.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, before I make a few comments in answer to the noble Lord opposite, I would like to point out a peculiarity about this Bill. The copy I have in my hand is as the Bill was introduced into another place, and it has a page of explanatory memorandum upon it. The Bill in your Lordships' hands has not the explanatory memorandum. I do not know whether that is a compliment to your Lordships' House or not, but I personally would have been glad of the explanatory memorandum if I had not had the House of Commons copy, and I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, might have modified some of his rather strong words—


I had the honour of pointing out to the noble Lord that this other Bill existed which contained this memorandum, so I think he can assume I have read it.


That is just a matter I wanted to point out to your Lordships, and I would suggest it would be better on the whole if we also had explanatory memoranda in future Bills. We have heard some very strong language from the noble Lord. He talks of integrity, broken pledges, questions of our sincerity and so on. I read every word of the proceedings in another place, I listened with very great care to the most able speech of my noble friend below me, and I read the Bill. Really, for the life of me I cannot see where broken pledges, the lack of sincerity or integrity come in. If this money is found insufficient for the purposes for which Parliament has provided it, it is open to this Government or any future Government to provide further sums. I cannot see where the finality comes in at all.

Clause 3, with which the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, agrees, allows the Colonial Development Fund to be drawn on in the future for just this sort of purpose. I cannot see where the temptation lies for the Government of Malta to skimp the work, as was suggested by the noble Lord. All sorts of things' are said in another place; but I think it is unfortunate that in your Lordships' House, where we are supposed to be so dignified, careful of our language, and so well-behaved, such strong language should be used which will be seized upon by the small minority of Fascists in Malta to stir up trouble for us in that hard-pressed Island.

The only part of the noble Lord's speech with which I agreed was when he reechoed the praise of the people of Malta in their hour of trial so eloquently expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall. The explanatory memorandum talks of the "Siege of Malta." It was not a siege in the accepted sense of the term, in that the enemy never had the courage to attempt a landing on the island. They employed every sort of devilment with the least possible risk of themselves, by blockade and by their continuous and promiscuous air-raids. We used to prepare our convoys to Malta consisting of six specially picked ships (Reconstruction) with specially picked crews. Each of those ships was loaded with the same cargo—so much', petrol, so much ammunition, so much medicine and so much food—in the hope that one would get through. One or two did get through. That is what saved the Island, and the spirit of the people was never broken, as both of the noble Lords who have spoken have remarked.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, said, Malta is in the unique position of being the one territory of the British Empire which voluntarily invited the Crown to accept its allegiance. The others were annexed, conquered or colonized, but this is the one case of people of European stock who voluntarily came in with us. We therefore have a special responsibility for them. I am glad that this Bill has been introduced by my noble friend. He is not only the ex-Colonial Secretary, but he is the present First Lord of the Admiralty. Speaking as one who used to know Malta very well in happier days, I must say that the Navy owes a great debt to Malta both to its hospitable and industrious people, and because of its great strategical importance. I understand that the Navy have returned to Malta, and I hope full use will be made of it and its dockyard resources.

There is a grave problem of over population, and it has existed now in Malta for centuries. The natural resources are meagre; the people are prolific, and the population is too great. Emigration is one attempt to deal with it. It is difficult for the people of Malta to emigrate at the present time. I wonder, for example, if inviting the Maltese to come to this country to help us out in our agriculture and our building has been considered. The Maltese are excellent farmers; they are amongst the finest id the world. What they have done with the limited soil they have is miraculous. They are very hard working and sober. They are good husbands and would send the greater part of their wages home to Malta and thus help the economy of the Island. They are also excellent builders. No one who knows the wonderful buildings of Malta would require me to justify that. The last time I was in Mousta I was glad to see standing the second greatest dome in the world after St. Peters in Rome, a building which was erected by the poor villagers of Mousta and took a hundred years to build. That sort of people would, I believe, be extremely valuable at the present time to help us over our problems in this country. They are British subjects and would be very helpful. Moreover we could rely on them to remit the greater part of their earnings to their families in Malta.

I must make one further remark which has no direct bearing on the Bill but has on Malta. Many of your Lordships will know that there have been few debates on Malta in this House since the lamented death of Lord Strickland. He had a Maltese mother and he served your Lordships' House with distinction. Against all sorts of coldness, obstruction and indifference from the Government, he used to rise from the Red Benches of the House and present a case for Malta, and urge the need for strengthening the defences of the Island for the war that would come. He was not listened to, but how right he was! When the war came we particularly needed those defences which Lord Strickland had always advocated in this House. I cannot let this occasion pass without paying a tribute to his far-sightedness and his statesmanship. He helped some of the great services of Malta and formed Malta's Labour Party. I think it right to pay that tribute to him. I am sorry there has been this opposition from the other side of the House. I believe the Bill is generous and it has the necessary safeguards. I believe it will be generous and it has the necessary safeguards. I believe it will be accepted by the inhabitants of Malta and will be one more link with this great people.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think it necessary for me to embroider the eloquent tributes made by the noble Viscount who opened the debate, or by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, and the noble Lord who just sat down, as to our feelings towards the people of Malta and the great part they have played in recent years. I am sure any tributes they paid expressed the feelings of us all. I wish to do no more, therefore, than to associate myself most warmly with those expressions. We feel we are here to-night to endeavour to show our gratitude in some concrete form to the people of Malta. But when I come to examine this Bill I very much regret to say that I cannot find it in my heart to support it as it stands. It seems to me that the main weakness of the Bill is that this is a Bill framed to deal with two different cases in respect of which this country and His Majesty's Government have entirely different commitments. It is framed to deal with war damage, on which there is a pledge which the noble Viscount explained at some detail in his speech, and in the second place it is framed to deal with planning and reconstruction, which is an entirely different matter and one in which we have no such obligations. That is the first fault of the Bill.

The second fault is that this Bill is in the nature of a final settlement, and on this question of finality I should like to say a word in connexion with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. It seems to me to be plain that it is quite open for any other Government to add to the money we are proposing to give to Malta under this Bill. Why then make mention that this is a final settlement? What is the object of it, if another Government is later going to add to the money? I would much rather, so far as war damage is concerned, see no final settlement. I think His Majesty's Government were extremely unwise to make such a settlement, which has aroused the worst kind of disappointment in Malta.

I would like to deal briefly with the question of war damage. The noble Viscount gave us the figure of £28,000,000, which Sir Wilfrid Woods estimated would be the cost of war damage. I should like to join with Lord Tweedsmuir in saying that it is quite obvious that at the present stage we cannot estimate what is going to be the cost. There are various factors which will affect it, one of which is where the materials are going to come from. Obviously it would make a very considerable difference to the situation if Malta had to buy all her materials abroad in foreign currency, with a depreciated pound sterling. Sir Wilfrid Woods made his estimate in 1945 when he was presumably calculating on the basis that materials were coming from this country. With the present housing situation I cannot conceive how for many years we are going to be able to send much building material to Malta. That seems to me to be the issue which affects the matter of war damage.

The next question is Malta's capacity to pay. That is a point we want to know. All I can do is to take the only evidence available to your Lordships, which is the report of Sir Wilfrid Woods. In this report he estimates that if Malta's budget is cut to the minimum, and if direct taxation and additional customs dues are imposed, Malta's budget will just about balance. He may be wrong or he may be right: we cannot tell at the present time. That is his estimate. Malta is an extremely small island with only one-eighth of its income derived from natural resources and the bulk of its revenue coming from services rendered to the Royal Navy and the Forces. If, as is likely, the amount that is obtained from these services is reduced, it may well be that Sir Wilfrid Woods' estimated revenue may be reduced. So much for war damage aspects of the matter. In view of those points, I do feel that the matter should have been left over until we could really see how we stood under our pledge.

With regard to reconstruction, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, that this is a matter which is upon an entirely different footing. So far as reconstruction is concerned, we are planning for the improvement of Malta. Therefore, I think it would be perfectly proper for His Majesty's Government to decide what the British taxpayer can afford to give, and to make a final settlement. One point I would like to make on that matter is that Sir Wilfrid Woods, in his estimates regarding reconstruction, mentioned large sums which would have to be spent on sewerage and water in Malta. He brought out, very plainly, that these were facilities which were not only important to the Maltese but also to our own Forces stationed at Malta. Therefore, in making these payments for reconstruction, we benefit not only the Maltese but ourselves. I should have hoped that His Majesty's Government would have been as generous as possible had they been going to make payment of a fixed sum, but that has not been done. The course which I should have liked to see taken would have been, first, for the contributions under two heads to have been kept separate, second, for the contribution in respect of reconstruction to have been a fixed and final sum, and, third, for the contribution towards the repair of war damage not to have been final but in the form of another instalment similar to the instalment of 1942. As it is, undoubtedly, the impression has been given to the Maltese people that while His Majesty's Government may seem to be generously providing for war damage and for reconstruction, on closer examination the sum provided is inadequate for both. They feel, I think, that in some way, they have been "done down" by His Majesty's Government.

Lord Strabolgi has referred to the words of my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir. I think he deprecated the language which Lord Tweedsmuir used, and suggested that by what he said he might be raising feelings in Malta that would otherwise lie dormant. I should like to refer the noble Lord to a letter in The Bulletin of Monday, January 27, written by Dr. Paul Boffa, Leader of the Maltese Labour Party. Dr. Boffa wrote: The decision arrived at by the British Cabinet that the total grant to Malta of 31,000,000 to make good the havoc wrought by the war is to be considered as final, is most unjust, unfair, and illogical. Further on the letter contains this passage: No wonder, therefore, that friends and believers in a 'British Brotherhood of Nations' are fast losing faith in the proverbial British justice and fair play; no wonder that the Egyptians and Indians are after complete and absolute independence, Cypriots for annexation to Greece, and no wonder, therefore, that the proverbial Maltese loyalty is undergoing a process of rapid evaporation under the disillusion and frustration. I suggest to the noble Lord that those feleings to which he referred already exist in Malta. The writer of that letter, after all, is the Leader of the Maltese Labour Party. But whether what Dr. Boffa wrote is correct or not, I regret infinitely that such an impression could have been aroused by His Majesty's Government. The fact that such an impression can be aroused adds point to what Lord Strabolgi said, and tends to foster such anti-British feeling as already exists in Malta. It tends, moreover, to loosen those ties on which the British Empire is built. I regret to say that I feel there is some justification for these feelings, and I consider that, possibly inadvertently but nevertheless definitely, His Majesty's Government have in effect, broken the pledge that was given in 1942 to the Maltese people.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I rise only to speak very briefly. No one in this House, as I think the First Lord of the Admiralty said in his opening speech, will wish to criticize, still less to oppose, the main purpose of this Bill, which is to make reparation to the people of Malta for the cruel losses which they have suffered as a result of their unflagging devotion to the Allied cause. The story of the defence of the Island will, I suppose, go down in history as one of the great epics of this or any other war. It might have been anticipated, I think quite fairly, by any military expert, that that little Island, in the very middle of the Mediterranean, far from any Allied territory and close to the Italian bases, would have been the first of the Allied bastions to fall. But through four years —more than four years—of uninterrupted attack by sea, land and air, the people of Malta surmounted the worst that the enemy could do against them, and never to the end were they overcome. That is a magnificent record.

It was my privilege—a privilege which I expect others of your Lordships enjoyed also—to visit Malta during the siege. That was in August, 1942. The worst of the bombing was then over, but in many ways I think that the people of the Island were undergoing the most severe of their trials. Food was short, and there was no immediate prospect of getting any more. Their ancient and beautiful buildings had been battered into rubble, their harbour was filled with rusty and rotting shipping, and the Allied Forces in North Africa (this was before the Battle of El Alamein) were still being steadily rolled towards the east. Indeed, a thousand miles separated the Island from the nearest Allied Forces. Yet at that time—and the Earl of Munster, who was there much longer than I will tell you the same thing—the brave Maltese people never wavered in their faith. Their loyalty to the King never flagged. It was a most moving and unforgettable experience to see their calm, unruffled fortitude. Never was the George Cross more worthily bestowed than upon the Island of Malta.

Now, as the First Lord of the Admiralty said in his speech, the time for reparation has come, and the only question with regard to this Bill, as I see it, is not whether too much is being allotted to the people of Malta but whether too little is being allotted. That has been the burden of some of the speeches that we have heard this afternoon from the Benches behind me. It is a point which has already been thoroughly threshed out in another place, and though, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I do not feel, myself, that the declaration of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in another place was sufficiently elastic to meet the position, I do not propose, personally, to reopen the question here to-day. As your Lordships know, the powers of this House are, in any case, severely limited where matters of finance are concerned. But I feel that, perhaps, in view of what has been said this evening, there is one comment that I ought to make. While it is true that I, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, in 1942 gave an assurance that if the original £10,000,000 was not adequate to provide for the repair of war damage, His Majesty's Government would make available such further sums as were required to meet such liabilities as were beyond the capacity of Malta to meet from her own resources, it was clear from my answer at that time—if your Lordships will trouble to look it up—that it was then anticipated that £10,000,000 might well be enough for that purpose. I will quote my own words: If the actual expenditure under these heads falls short of the total vote of £10,000,000, the balance will be applied to other purposes beneficial to Malta after the war. It is, I think, therefore clear that at that time £10,000,000 was regarded as likely to be a fair compensation for the damage that had been done. In the circumstances, and with all deference to other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon—and I honour their sentiments—I cannot myself feel that the present additional gift of £20,000,000 can be considered mean. I would not like that impression to get abroad with regard to this particular question. Meanness to Malta would be a most deplorable thing, and no one in this House would countenance it for a moment. But I do not personally feel that this additional gift can be considered in that light.

Having said that, I would add, with all the emphasis at my command, that nothing we can contribute is too great for Malta's deserts. Before the war we were a rich, a proud, and a powerful nation. We are still powerful, and we are still proud, but at the moment we are not quite so rich as we were. Yet what we give to Malta we give with a full heart, as a tribute of our affection and esteem for an island which, though small ill area, has proved herself very great in spirit.

6.22 p.m.


The debate on the Second Reading of this Bill has been very short, but it has been very interesting. I am pleased that what opposition there has been has centred around just one point: as to whether the amount which this Bill will provide, in addition to the amount already given, is sufficient. I am indeed indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for saying in his closing remarks that he did hope, notwithstanding the opposition of noble Lords, that they themselves would not like to convey to the people of Malta that there is any intention by His Majesty's Government to regard this amount, which is freely given, as being in any way mean. After all, it must be remembered that the contribution, quite apart from the grant-in-aid and subsidies given for war damage and reconstruction, alone is more than the total income of Malta for two years. Sir Wilfrid Woods referred to that fact in his very able report, where he estimated the annual income at about £14,000,000 per annum. To give a free gift of more than the total income for two years cannot be regarded in any way as being mean.

The question of the finality of the amount was fully debated in another place, and I do not know that I can add anything to what has already been said. It is a question very largely of the interpretation of the pledge which was given. May I say that I listened with great pleasure to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd? I had the very great pleasure and the privilege of being Under-Secretary to his late and very honoured father; indeed, I assisted in getting the Colonial Development and Welfare Bill through the House of Commons, and the late Lord Lloyd was successful in getting the Bill through your Lordships' House. I regard his passing as a great loss, he was a man of very great ability who did an enormous amount of work for the Empire—Colonies or Dominions. I know that it will be a case of a noble son following a noble father. There is nothing more that I can say, other than that Malta is deserving of every consideration.

It has been my privilege to visit Malta. I have seen the rubble. At the same time it is as well that Malta should know how much she will have to go along with; then she can arrange her own resources. I am hopeful that not Memorial Trust only will she be able soon to balance her budget, but that she will be able to make a valued contribution to the reconstruction and the building up of the social services without in any way expecting, and possibly depending too much on, assistance from a country which is faced with a financial problem which will not only cause us some concern in the near future, but will cause us a great deal of concern for many years to come. A free grant of £20,000,000, plus what will be received out of the Colonial Welfare and Development Fund, is not an amount which any of the members of your Lordships' House—or, indeed, any one in the country—need fear can be described as other than a very valuable contribution made to a very gallant people. And it will give them a good deal of assistance in building up their own economy and in improving the social services which are so much desired by the people of Malta.

6.27 p.m.


Before my noble friend sits down, would he take note of my suggestion that some of the surplus labour may be invited to come here?


I certainly will put the suggestion made by the noble Lord to the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Agriculture.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.