HL Deb 26 January 1967 vol 279 cc674-6

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their decision to disband the Royal Malta Artillery will now be reconsidered.]


My Lords, it is for the Government of Malta to decide whether or not they wish to take over responsibility for the Royal Malta Artillery. But having examined the question with great care we have concluded that there is no case for the retention of the Royal Malta Artillery in the British Army. We propose, nevertheless, to retain it for a further twenty months, because we recognise that to relinquish responsibility at shorter notice would entail acute difficulties both for the Regiment and for the Government of Malta.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it would not have been right to reach a substantive decision, an agreement with the Government of Malta, with regard to the future of this Regiment, before deciding that Her Majesty's Government would withdraw financial support from it? Is it not still possible to reconsider this decision, in view of the importance to the people of Malta of the continuance of this Regiment in being?


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Beswick answered on Tuesday a number of questions on the discussions that took place with the Malta Government. The simple fact was that it was not possible to reach agreement on this matter. In regard to the second part of the noble Lord's question, obviously we all regret the disappearance of a regiment with a fine and long tradition, but I can offer no hope that this will be reconsidered.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether, after the twenty months have elapsed, there will be a possibility of absorbing into other corps of the British Army the officers and N.C.O.s of the Royal Malta Artillery, if they wish to transfer?


My Lords, opportunities will, of course, exist for recruitment—they exist now—into the British Army, and I personally hope that some will be absorbed; but I do not wish to hold out extravagant hopes that all those at present in the Royal Malta Artillery could be absorbed, or, indeed, would wish to be absorbed.


My Lords, may I, as a matter of information, ask this question? Presumably, after our forces have departed from the Island the Malta Government will want some troops of their own. Is it not possible that this Regiment may be kept on as an integral part of the Malta defence force, or whatever it may be?


My Lords, a proposal to this effect was actually put to the Malta Government, but they decided that they did not wish to take over responsibility for the Royal Malta Artillery.


My Lords, if I correctly understood the noble Lord's answer to the question of my noble friend on my left, it is possible that the N.C.O.s and officers might be incorporated: in other corps? Is one to understand that the other ranks would not have that opportunity? What is to happen to them?


My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord should read too much into my statement. All I said was that there would be opportunities to enlist in the British Army. At the present time the Army is quite close to its recruiting target; therefore the opportunities are bound to be limited. I do not think I can reply further in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, has said.