HL Deb 25 March 1958 vol 208 cc410-3

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the Committee stage, but the statement on Malta is being made by my right honourable friend the Colonial Secretary in reply to a Question in another place, and I know the interest of many of your Lordships on the question of Malta. The statement is as follows:

"The plan for integration was accepted in principle by the British Government in March, 1956. Last October and November in talks with Maltese Ministers we reached agreement on most of the outstanding points in the detailed plans for integration. Then on the 30th December last a resolution threatening the severance of ties with the United Kingdom and her Allies was passed by the Maltese Legislative Assembly on the initiative of the Maltese Government. In the view of Her Majesty's Government this has done great harm to the relations between the two countries and the future well-being of Malta which the plan of integration was intended to enhance.

"In the discussions which have just concluded the Prime Minister of Malta refused to recommend integration to the Maltese people on the imaginative terms proposed by Her Majesty's Government. He attempted to attach a political condition, namely the right to independence on a unilateral basis, which strikes at the root of a union in mutual confidence which was the basis of the integration proposals. It is impossible for the United Kingdom Government to pledge Parliament to proceed with integration unless a very different state of mind is shown. We are, however, prepared to resume discussion with the Maltese Government in order to find a modus vivendi pending consideration of long-term arrangements.

"At the talks the Prime Minister of Malta proposed that Her Majesty's Government should immediately enter into further financial commitments of a most extensive character or be ready to grant independence to Malta. He suggested that in implementing the plan for integration the United Kingdom Parliament should undertake that until such time as full economic equivalence was achieved, they would be prepared to grant independence to Malta if a Maltese Government were at any time during that period returned to office with a mandate for that policy. At a later stage he offered to withdraw this proposal, provided that the United Kingdom Parliament were prepared to extend to the Maltese people at their next election a choice between integration and independence.

"In the circumstances I revived the tentative suggestion that rather than lose all the fruits of our long negotiations, Her Majesty's Government would be prepared, if the Maltese people so desired, to proceed with interim constitutional and economic arrangements for a period of five years. The essence of this five-year plan would be that Malta would be granted a Constitution broadly on the lines of that proposed under the integration plan, save for the time being making Malta part of the United Kingdom and providing for representation at Westminster; the same economic and financial arrangements; and at the end of the five years, both Governments would consult together to review the working of the constitutional and economic arrangements and to consider whether they could then proceed to the conclusion of arrangements on a permanent basis.

"Let me tell the House what our other offers were. In the first place I made it abundantly clear that there was no question whatever of Her Majesty's Government abandoning Malta and its people or of their being indifferent to the economic consequences of the effect of defence cuts. I repeated again the assurances already given about the level of employment in the Dockyard until 1960 and again confirmed that pending investigation of the possibility of converting the Dockyard to commercial use, no decision had been taken about its future there after. I repeated that we stood by the economic and financial commitments under the integration plan.

"What in fact were these? We offered to provide over a period of five years capital assistance of £25 million for diversifying the economy. We offered percentage grants towards the social services costing not less at the start than £1 million a year and with provision for it to rise materially thereafter. We offered additional assistance towards remedial measures in the event of there being, unhappily, substantial unemployment. We offered to set up a Working Party at once to consider what practical plans could be made in advance to deal with the problems that might arise if, despite the joint efforts of both Governments, there should be substantial unemployment after 1960 owing to changes in defence policy. As to the cost of converting the Dockyard to commercial use, we made it clear that this is a separate issue and that it would not affect the arrangements which I have just described.

"At our last meeting we discussed the 1958/59 budget. I said that in the light of our current financial difficulties, our contribution would have to be less than in the present financial year; but we were still ready to provide the very substantial sum of £5 million. In our view and that of independent economic experts, the Maltese Government are fully capable of making a contribution from their own resources, such as raising a local loan. There was therefore no reason why the rate of advance in Malta need be slowed down. It was then suggested that there should be a period of three months during which Her Majesty's Government should provide interim financial assistance. The Maltese Government maintained, however, that this should be given without prejudice to the size of the United Kingdom contribution for the whole year and to the question of the Maltese Government making a contribution from their own resources. It was not however, possible to agree on the provision of interim financial assistance without prior agreement on these two points, since it would make the United Kingdom taxpayer liable for an unknown deficit which would in the end be determined only by the rate of expenditure which the Maltese Government decided to incur. Moreover, Mr. Mintoff maintained that he could not withdraw the resolution unless agreement had been reached at the end of three months on all outstanding issues.

"I regret that Mr. Mintoff did not accept Her Majesty's Government's offers. He and his colleagues returned to Malta on the 21st March. I have felt it my duty to this House and to the people of Malta to inform them of the full undertakings worked out in the negotiations with the Maltese Government to which Her Majesty's Government are prepared to agree. With permission, I will circulate a full summary of them in the OFFICIAL REPORT."

The following is a summary of the main features of the proposals that had been worked out in negotiations with the Maltese Government.