HL Deb 20 December 1961 vol 236 cc800-3

6.15 p.m.


rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to ensure the participation of all the political Parties in the forthcoming Election in Malta and to guarantee that it is conducted with scrupulous fairness towards all qualified to vote. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am inflicting a Question upon the Government and a short speech on your Lordships before the Recess for this reason: that in the middle of February there will be a General Election in Malta and this is the last opportunity I shall have before the Recess of asking the Government for certain further statements about their policy with regard to Malta and the Election.

We all hope that this Election w ill be successful and that Parliamentary Government in Malta will be restored on a firm and representative basis. We are all glad that Malta is getting out of direct rule and returning to a Parliamentary system of Government. But this Parliamentary system will not be successful unless it is representative and the people who are elected really speak for the people of Malta; otherwise there is a grave danger that we shall go back again to direct rule, which has so often happened before in the history of Malta. To get a representative Government in Malta it is essential that all the main political Parties should take part in the Election; and for this to happen I think that certain further actions are required by Her Majesty's Government. That is why I am addressing this Question to the noble Earl opposite.

First, I think we may need a fresh statement of policy from Her Majesty's Government about Malta. This state ment of policy should include two important things: first of all, it should acknowledge in principle the right of Malta to self-determination and independence. This does not seem to be going very far. I know that the statements that have been made so far stress that this new Constitution is not the last stage in the constitutional development of Malta; but I think we want a definite statement that Malta has the same right to self-determination and to independence as any other Colony and cannot be treated as an exception to the general rule. I am not going to labour that point because I have laboured it before. I do not wish to inflict a long speech on your Lordships, but I think it is quite impossible to expect that the Maltese will accept a position in which they are treated quite differently from their neighbours in Cyprus and from any of our Colonies on the other side of the Mediterranean in the continent of Africa.

The second thing that I think we want the Government to say is that they would be willing, after the Elections have taken place, to discuss with an elected Government in Malta the questions of a final. Constitution for Malta and of fixing a date for the independence of Malta. After all, in February a Conference is being held in Lancaster House for this particular purpose in connection with Kenya, and it is impossible for Malta to watch all these things going on in connection with other Colonies without feeling that they are not being given the same right to self-government and self-determination.

Finally, it seems to me that it is most important that a statement of policy on those lines should be published as soon as possible and well in advance of the Election. That is why I am asking the Question now. If this is done then there will be a very good chance that all the main Parties will take part in the Election; if this is not done, then there is a chance that that will not happen. The other thing which I hope the Government will do is to give every guarantee they can give that the Election will be free and fair, and that all persons qualified to vote will be in a position to do so without any interference or any pressure from outside.

What I mean in that regard is this. Unfortunately, at the moment, in Malta, there is very considerable tension between individuals and between organisations. We all know, we all regret, the conflict between the Malta Labour Party and the Church of Malta; I mention this only because it is an example of the extreme tension in Malta which may easily explode into violence. As your Lordships know, the Church of Malta has decided to ban the literature of the Labour Party—its publications, its printing and the selling of such literature. It has also placed an Interdiction on the members of the Executive Committee; and, of course, the Church also feels that members of the Labour Party have been disrespectful and have not played their proper part as Catholics in Malta.

I do not, of course, venture to express any opinion about the merits of this conflict, and I should hope that that would be the view generally held in your Lordships' House, because the last thing we want to do is to inflame opinion. What we all desire is that there will be a friendly settlement of this religious conflict. I merely point to it as a most striking example of the tension in Malta. Your Lordships will remember that only a short while ago shots were fired at some visitors from overseas and from the Commonwealth, as they were passing in a car through a street in Valletta, and there have been other examples of violence and of interference with freedom of assembly in Malta. I hope the Government will do everything in their power to make certain that the Election campaign is conducted with absolute fairness, and that all Parties will have an equal chance of holding their meetings without being interfered with, without the meetings being broken up, and with the proper protection to which they should be entitled from the police. The other point is that when the Election takes place on February 18, polling should be absolutely secret and no pressure should be brought to bear on any voter to vote in any way except in the way he or she wishes. Obviously, that is equally indispensable.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl can give these guarantees that the Government will do whatever they can to ensure that the Election is conducted in the way in which Elections are conducted in this country, in order to ensure that every voter has a chance of forming a reasoned judgment and expressing that judgment secretly when he casts his vote. Also, I hope that the Government may be able to make a firm statement of policy which would encourage all the main Parties to take part in an Election which they would then feel is leading to another stage in the progress of Malta towards self-government and independence.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do now adjourn during pleasure, until the Royal Commission at 6.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.