HL Deb 20 December 1961 vol 236 cc804-10

6.45 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for giving us the opportunity, before we rise for the Christmas Recess, to ask a few questions about the situation in Malta. I agree with him entirely that, in time to come, it will be a question of Malta's having either self-determination or independence, or going from one stage to the other. But that is not, of course, the issue at the moment. I myself strongly hope that all Parties in Malta, or the main Parties in Malta, at all events, will contest the Elections. I think it would be a great pity if they did not contest the Elections. But if any of the Parties who do contest them get a strong measure of support, then it will show what the opinion in Malta is; whereas if any of the main Parties do not contest the Election, the result will be unbalanced, to say the least, and that would be a great pity. As I understand it, the Progressive Constitutional Party and the Nationalist Party have already agreed to contest the Elections, and the Labour Party has not yet committed itself one way or the other. That is the situation.

There is one question I should like to ask on this matter, purely on the subject of the Elections, and that is this. In another place yesterday, a Question was put to Mr. Maudling as to whether 50 candidates were asked for from each Party. Mr. Maulding did not actually answer this Question, and I think that here is some possible misunderstanding. I gather that it is not essential for every Party to put up 50 candidates. As I understand it, there are to be 50 seats. I think there must be some misconception about that, because it seems to me unnecessary that every Party should be required to put up 50 candidates, whether they could do so or not. I think there is confusion between the requirement that there are to be 50 seats, and the necessity for candidates; but perhaps the noble Earl, when he replies, will clear up that point.

Then as to the feeling in the Catholic Church, we in this country, of course, are not used to clerical politics of any kind, and have not been so for many years. But that is not so in the Mediterranean countries, and I think it is very much more common in Latin countries for the church to take an active interest in politics than it is here. Therefore, it is not at all unreasonable that the Catholic Church should take a very strong interest in politics in Malta. Although a good deal has been said in this House and elsewhere as to what the Catholic Church has said about the Labour Party, we have not heard very much about what the Labour Party has said about the Catholic Church. They have 'been by no means backward in giving very strong expressions of opinion.

The situation is this. The Archbishop, whom I had the honour of meeting, as have many of your Lordships, feels, I have no doubt, that his opponents, or some of them, are connected with, and perhaps sympathetic to, the Communist system, and very naturally—I do not blame him at all—he wishes to keep that out of the Island of Malta, for which he thinks he has, and indeed has, a good deal of responsibility. But Communists in many parts of the world do not go into fights with kid gloves, by any means, and 'I do not think that people who flirt with them should necessarily expect to have kid glove methods used toward them. I must say that I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel; it is not for us in this House to take sides in any way at all. But I say that the hard punching has not by any means been all on one side. There have been some pretty shrewd blows coming from the other side as well.

There are just two points I should like to make. First of all, there is the question of local government. I do not think that it is realised in this country what the Blood Commission were very surprised to find: that there is no local government whatsoever in Malta. There are embryonic beginnings on the island of Gozo, but nothing in Malta, so that when the Constitution is suspended, as unfortunately happens now and again in Malta, all political life, national and local, is suspended. I agree that on a little island like Malta it would be ridiculous to have as well as the national Government a whole series of local government bodies. The island cannot carry it. There would be "far more harness than horse", to use an old expression. But there is a case for Valletta having a Council and Mayor. I think that would encourage local interest and patriotism. Then, if at any time the Constitution is suspended, as it is at the moment, at least the Valletta Town Council would carry on and there would be some local interest in Malta for people to rally around.

The other point I want to mention is the Election. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made the important point that it is a responsibility of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the Elections are properly and fairly conducted, because Parliament and the Government here are at the moment responsible for all affairs in Malta. I have no doubt that the Elections will be fairly conducted and there is no reason to suppose that they will not be—the noble Earl would be in the best position to know this—but if there is doubt perhaps it would be possible to send some experienced people from this country to give them a hand. There are precedents for this. In the past we have sent people from the Central Office and from Transport House to Greece. Perhaps the noble Earl might care to think about calling upon various sources in this country which could give the necessary aid in this respect.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour, I venture to rise for only a couple of minutes because I have a special knowledge of the Island of Malta and I am in fairly constant contact with people there. I rise mainly to support the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. I am sure that it is the desire of all of us on both sides of the House to see all Parties in Malta participating in the Elections. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, is perfectly right when he suggests that some kind of electoral commission, a body of people of standing from this country or an international body, to oversee the Elections would have an enormous influence on the decision of the Malta Labour Party about whether or not they shall take part in them. As the noble Lord said, there are plenty of precedents for this. Therefore, I strongly urge the Government to appoint some such Commission to supervise the Elections and give what I hope and believe would be an unnecessary guarantee, but none the less one which I know people in Malta feel they will require and with which they would be far more likely to take part in the Elections. I beg the Government to consider this proposal very seriously.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, I think it has been both useful and appropriate that almost the last subject before the Recess should be the Election in Malta, which is coming shortly. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and other noble Lords have expressed the hope that all Parties will take part in the Elections. I certainly hope that, too. I think that we have done all we can or should do to ensure this. With great difficulty, we have carved out a Constitution, with the help of the Blood Commission, and we have promulgated it. Now the stage is set. I think that we have really "done our stuff"; it is up to the Parties in Malta to do theirs.

I am glad that the Progressive Constitutional Party and the Nationalist Party are going to take part in the Election. If other Parties do not, of course, that is regrettable. I think that one would be inclined to ask why. I am sure that the reason is not that the stage is not available for them to do all they can to run their own country, and to get back to what we all want to see, a normal form of Government.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked me to give a further pledge about the future. He has pressed me many times before, and I am sure he is not surprised when I say that I am not able to go beyond what I have said before—namely, that we do not regard the present Constitution as the final stage in Malta's development, and that when we have a new Government and that new Government want to talk about other stages, it is always open to them to do just that thing. But I cannot, and will not, go further to-day, because I do not think that there is any advantage in doing so, much as I know the noble Earl would like me to do so.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl does not want to raise false hopes in Malta when he referred just now to a future Government in Malta talking about the next stage in constitutional development. Clearly, that would not be possible unless Her Majesty's Government were also willing to talk. I understand that that is not the case. I am sure that the noble Earl would wish everyone to be absolutely clear about this, both here and in Malta.


My Lords, what is quite clear is that people can raise this subject. Whether Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to consider it can only be decided in the light of events. I know on15' too well, as do your Lordships, that one should never use the word "never" in this context.

The next part of the noble Earl's Question is whether we will do all we can to ensure—"guarantee" is the word used in the Question—that the Elections are conducted in a perfectly fair way in regard to all qualified to vote. I understand the importance of this very well, and we have been at the greatest pains to ensure that just this will happen. Not only have we studied the question here, but we have also had the Chief Electoral Officer and Registrar of Malta over here to discuss with him his plans for the Election. We have advised the Governor upon all our anxieties in this matter, and when the Governor was here last my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I cross-examined him (if I may put it in that way) very closely on all the angles and everything that would have to be done to ensure that the Elections were fairly handled. I assure your Lordships that we are fully satisfied about this.

If it would be of any value, I should be glad to write to the noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon and give them in more detail just what is being done to make sure that this will happen. There is in Malta a detailed and complicated system of representation and election, something which the people there have always been accustomed to, but we have taken particular care in this case to avoid the possibility of unfairness or duplication or anything like that. As I say, I should be only too happy to give further details in writing to the noble Lords. but there is no point in going into it at great length at this moment.

The noble Lords, Lord Faringdon and Lord Ogmore, said that, despite all this, we should send a representative group of people to oversee the Election. I do not really think that this is called for. It is rather a curious situation. Here, on the one hand, is a demand that Malta should be given self-government and should be allowed to run its own affairs, and, on the other, it is said that we cannot trust them to do it.


My Lords, I did not say that. I said, if the noble Earl was not satisfied would he call in aid from here? I agree that if he is satisfied that they have the aid there then there is no need to call in aid from here.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for saying that. I am satisfied, and I am willing to write and give further detail on this.


My Lords, what I said, or hope I said, was that, in my view, this anxiety on the part of the Maltese might not be justified, but if one wanted them to take part in the Elections one must set at rest unreasonable fears.


My Lords, I understand that. But I feel that to set at rest even unreasonable fears in an unreasonable way—and I believe this is an unreasonable way—is not the right course to follow.

There were two other points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, one of which—whether we require 50 candidates from each Party—I am glad to have the opportunity of clearing up. Of course, the answer to that is, No. What has happened is that there are to be 50 seats, and it is up to the Parties to nominate as many candidates as they want to, or can do, in the constituencies where they think they will have a good chance, or, for one reason or another, they may want to nominate candidates. If it happens that an independent candidate or a Party of only two comes forward, that is fine; and if it is 50, that is fine, too. It is up to the Parties to put forward the candidates they want.

On the second point raised by the noble Lord, on local government, I have great sympathy with the suggestion he makes, and I am not at all sure that it is not something which we have already commended; because, although one does not want too much harness, as the noble Lord put it, none the less, I think there is value in a certain degree of local government more widely spread than is projected at the present time, or as he suggested it in relation to Valletta. There has been a start made in regard to Gozo, and it will be for the people of Malta themselves to decide whether they want to go further. I would only say that we should certainly welcome any such move. So, there we are, my Lords: the date of the Election is fixed and the stage is set. We have done our part, and I hope the Parties will do theirs and all go to the Election, and that we shall see what we all want to see—namely, Malta with her own Government, running her own affairs.