HL Deb 13 March 1967 vol 281 cc26-30

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Minister without Portfolio in another place. It was as follows:

"We warmly welcome the statement issued by the Prime Minister of Malta yesterday evening.

"In this statement he said that, without withdrawing the objections that they have raised, the Malta Government have decided to let the revised British plan as a whole go forward.

"He further stated, to quote his own words that, 'in the light of these considerations, the administrative restrictions imposed on the British forces will be withdrawn at once, and the Bill to amend the Visiting Forces Act will not be proceeded with.' "Dr. Borg Olivier also stated that if it becomes evident that the hopes of an adequate expansion of employment are not likely to be realised, the Malta Government must then feel free to ask the British Government to review the position.

"We are of course always in close touch with the Malta Government.

"During my talks with the Prime Minister of Malta we agreed, subject to mutual acceptance of the package deal as a whole, that a joint Mission should be appointed to report to both Governments on urgent steps to strengthen the industrial base in Malta and on measures for retraining and the creation of job opportunities. We also agreed to the appointment of a Joint Steering Committee to follow closely and report to both Governments on the progress achieved.

"We agreed that our two Governments would give serious consideration to the recommendations of both these bodies.

"I readily confirm that we would be ready to discuss such reports with the Government of Malta whenever it so wished.

"Like the Prime Minister of Malta, my right honourable friend and I are glad that the danger of a tragic breach between Britain and Malta has been averted. I am sure this whole House looks forward to the unbroken continuance of our longstanding and intimate relationship."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement. I am sure that noble Lords in this House will agree with me when I say that this House, no less than the other, will be very pleased indeed that there was no breach, and that our two countries will have renewed opportunity for working together in the future for our common good.


My Lords, certainly all of us who sit on this side of the House would join the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in his last remarks, and we would all say at once how glad we are that the settlement has been reached, and that wiser counsels have prevailed. I am bound to say, because I have not had an opportunity of saying it before, that in my view this protracted dispute was almost wholly unnecessary. The Government totally misjudged the Maltese reaction to Lord Beswick's proposals when he visited Malta, and even more did they misjudge the British reaction, which almost unanimously took the view that his proposals were mean and unfair. I very much hope that they have learnt their lesson. In the event the Government's last offer seems to me to be reasonably generous, and I am glad that Dr. Borg Olivier has been persuaded to accept it, and that we can resume our friendly relationship.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that he was bound to say the words he used at the beginning of his remarks, and I suppose as Leader of the Opposition he was bound to score such points as he felt possible. For myself, I would say this. To call this a dispute is wrong. These were protracted negotiations, possibly, but the discussions that we have had, arduous and particularly protracted over the past fortnight, were part of a series of negotiations which started when I took the proposals to Malta in August.


My Lords, we on these Benches should like to congratulate the Government on achieving a happy result to these negotiations. In my view, the settlement is a most generous one to Malta—very generous indeed, and far more generous possibly than has been offered to any former Dependency of the British Crown which has become independent. However that may be, we are all glad that this happy result has been achieved. There is one question I should like to ask the noble Lord. I know that a joint Mission is to go out. May I ask him whether he will draw the attention of the Mission to the point that I have often put to him: that is to say, that the whole future economy of Malta depends on an adequate supply of water, and an adequate supply of water depends upon a successful desalination process being evolved in Malta in the near future?


My Lords, first may I thank the noble Lord for what he said at the beginning of his remarks. I am sure that the proposals which we have made are generous. Of course they have to be considered against the background of the relationship which we have enjoyed over a period of 160 years with Malta. So far as the desalination possibilities are concerned, I can tell the noble Lord that over the past fortnight, when we had recesses from the protracted negotiations to which I have referred, this was a matter which I discussed with the Prime Minister of Malta, and I am sure that this will be one of the matters that the Mission, when it goes out to Malta, will have in mind.


My Lords, arising out of the supplementary question which I put to him last time this matter was raised, would the noble Lord say how much the projected savings will be reduced by this new agreement with Malta?


My Lords, over the period of five years, that is to say over the period of the run-down, the additional cost to this Government, by the reduction in the rate of run-down, will be of the order of £10 million. In addition to that, there are the improved payments, for those who are declared redundant, estimated to amount to another £900,000; and in the course of the discussions which we have had we have agreed to add approximately £3 million of undrawn balances to the amount which will be available to the Malta Government over the next seven years.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether this means that in the total the cost of the settlement is going to be greater than the cost of maintaining the existing number of forces in Malta for the foreseeable future?


My Lords, the answer to that is, No. I am sure that the noble Lord himself understands, as do the Malta Government and the Malta trade unions, that there must come a time when it will be quite impossible for this country to maintain armed forces in any part of the world, simply to give economic subsistence to the areas concerned.


My Lords, while sharing the gladness of everybody that the negotiations have not broken down, for the future, when a great many things are going to come into the melting pot, when we know that a great many troops must be brought home to this country, if it be to this country, from different parts of the world, would it not be possible now to consider that that will be most costly, that there really is not the housing and accommodation for them, and that Malta affords an admirable place for holding troops as a temporary strategic reserve, with every facility of accommodation, of access and of approach, and that that might be an economic solution over the years? I hope that the noble Lord will be able to say, now that we are on frank and decent terms again, that that is not excluded as a possibility which might be of great advantage both to this country and to Malta.


My Lords, I quite understand the point which the noble Earl has put forward. This is, of course, a matter which was considered in some depth during the course of the last two weeks' discussions. There will now be a battalion kept in Malta up to 1972, and by that time I have no doubt that quite a number of things will have changed, and it may well be that new thinking will emerge.