HL Deb 20 March 1975 vol 358 cc913-7

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Similar Bills have been introduced when other Commonwealth countries have made a similar constitutional change. The most recent legislation of this kind is the Republic of Sri Lanka Act, 1972. The present Bill, like the others, is short and, I feel sure, uncontroversial. It is a piece of legislation which is needed in consequence of Malta's adoption on 13th December 1974, of a new Constitution under which Malta became a Republic but has remained within the Commonwealth. Following the lines of previous legislation in parallel cases, it makes the necessary adjustments in our own law consequent upon this constitutional change in Malta. It provides that the operation of the law of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man existing on 13th December in relation to Malta and to persons and things belonging to, or connected with, Malta is not affected by the fact that Malta has now become a Republic. The reason why it is desirable to make such provision is that much of our existing law relating to Commonwealth countries still dates from the time when all such countries were under the Queen's sovereignty. One therefore finds in it, for example, expressions such as " Parts of Her Majesty's Dominions " which, in the absence of this Bill, would no longer cover Malta now that it is a Republic. The Bill will also have the same effect on the law of dependent territories of the United Kingdom in so far as their law consists of Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament extending to them and of Orders in Council extending such Acts to them. This is desirable since the local Legislatures in the dependencies would not themselves be competent to make the necessary provision.

Malta asked the other Commonwealth Governments to agree that she should remain within the Commonwealth. Her continuing membership of the Commonwealth was welcomed by all the Commonwealth Governments, including the British Government, and Malta has accordingly joined the ranks of those Commonwealth countries which have become Republics. The first President of the new Republic is the former Governor-General, Sir Anthony Mamo, and Mr. Mintoff continues in the Office of Prime Minister. Messages of goodwill towards the new Republic were sent by Her Majesty the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on 13th December, when the Republic came into being. I am sure that all noble Lords will join with me in extending to the President, the Government and the people of Malta our best wishes for the prosperity and success of the new Republic. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House will feel extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for explaining so fully the contents of this Bill and its purpose. I agree that this piece of legislation is perfectly straight-forward; it takes account only of the altered status of Malta to that of a Republic within our own existing legislation and this decision to become a Republic is with the consent of the people of Malta. We on this side of the House wish to concur in and be associated with the remarks made by the noble Lord concerning the people of Malta and the messages of goodwill sent to that country by the Government.

The friendship that has existed between Malta and Britain has been flourishing for many years, through thick and thin. We hope that this friendship will long continue, especially in the light of Malta's associated status with the European Economic Community. The whole House will be pleased that Malta has decided to remain as a member of the Commonwealth and will thus continue to take a full part in the important deliberations of that worthwhile grouping of countries. For this reason, and in view of the British Government's decision to withdraw our forces from Malta between 1977 and 1979, when the current Malta Facilities Agreement comes to an end, we hope that Malta will also decide to remain within the ambit of NATO. It is only right that this Bill should be given a speedy passage through this House, and my noble friends and I will not make any attempts to delay it. We wish the Malta people well as they embark on their role as a new Republic.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to say a few words about Malta, which I know well. The saying " Small is beautiful " applies very much to Malta, and I should like to add my good wishes to her people for the future and to congratulate them on the part they are playing in World Architectural Year, which will be most beneficial for future generations. When we remember the discussions that took place in another place, and probably here, too, about whether Malta should be integrated into our Parliament—in other words, that Malta should send three MPs to Westminster; when we remember how Malta became independent in 1964, and when we ponder on the fact that Malta is now a Republic, we see that a great deal has happened within a very few years. And when we reflect on the fantastic devastation that took place there during the war—and I was there during 1944 and 1945—we must congratulate them on the way in which they have built up their country. I echo the hope that Malta's becoming a Republic will not affect our friendship in the future.

There are a few questions I should like answered at this stage. What will be the position of Maltese who come here? They have had a very special relationship with us in the past, and Malta was allowed to send more people here to work on a special basis than were some other countries. I hope, especially when the people of Malta read in the Official Report what is being said about them, that they will wish to continue to play a part at Strasbourg. They have been somewhat criticised there, particularly over the manner in which they ran their elections. I spoke in support of them because I felt that a great many people did not understand the conditions in that country. It is valuable that they should continue to hold conferences in Strasbourg, which they do very well, not only for us but for the people of Malta— because it is an island—who have an opportunity of meeting people from the other 17 countries in Europe.

The Minister mentioned that the defence arrangements will cease between 1977 and 1979. What will happen to the pensions of the people who served us so well? Now they are part of a Republic, will they get the same advantages as they might have had had Malta still been independent within the Commonwealth and not become a Republic? This is important because over the years many of them, in the Navy, in the dockyards and in other Services, have given marvellous and faithful service to this country. So I should like to wish them very good luck in their new role. We have, as the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has said, examples of other countries which have been successful as Republics-among them Sri Lanka and India—and we hope that Malta will be equally so and will enjoy the role that it can play in the Commonwealth of Nations.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the House for the expressions of good will which have come from all parts for the new Republic, which has elected of its own free will to apply for continued membership of the Commonwealth—an application which was unanimously granted. I should also like to pay special respect to the admirable speech which we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, whose interventions in another place I recall with great pleasure. The noble Baroness raised one or two important points, as did the noble Earl, Lord Cowley.

My Lords, Malta's change of status does not in any way alter the position of Maltese citizens in regard to immigration and nationality. Entry to the United Kingdom is still governed by the current immigration arrangements for Commonwealth countries, nor is there any change involved in this legislation in the matter of pensions. I entirely agree on the other points raised by the noble Baroness, and hope very much that the practical contribution by Malta which she described and which some of us have experienced will continue. I have no doubt that it will. On the defence point, this is of course a question that has been decided in agreement with the Maltese Government. They wanted this. We shall continue to discharge the 1972 commitment until 1979 when it would normally end, and the Maltese Government concurs in that. On the note that the whole House wishes the Maltese people—the people of the George Cross Island—the very best good fortune and happiness in the future as a member of the Commonwealth, I once more thank your Lordships' House for its support for this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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