HC Deb 09 December 1958 vol 597 cc32-4W

I welcome this opportunity to give the House further information about plans to meet the situation that will arise in Malta when the Royal Navy's use of the Dockyard for H.M. ships is reduced. As the House is aware from my statement on 31st July, H.M.G. decided that the Malta Dockyard should be converted to a commercial yard and transferred to a commercial ship-repairing firm. Since July, the firm referred to in my statement—Messrs. C. H. Bailey of South Wales—have, in consultation with H.M.G., made considerable progress with their plans for the takeover, with the result that I was able to announce on 10th November that, subject to the completion of a satisfactory agreement, the Malta company which is to be set up by the firm should assume full responsibility for the Dockyard not later than 30th March, 1959.

After the handover the Royal Navy will continue to use Malta as a naval base and in consequence the Admiralty will be responsible for the base, together with some of the functions at present carried out in the dockyard, e.g., the port auxiliary services and the electricity generating station. The Admiralty at present employ some 12,600 local entrants in the base and dockyard. It is estimated that about half of these will be offered employment in the yard when it is taken over by Messrs. Baileys and that the remainder will continue to he employed by the Admiralty. But there will be a reduction in the total labour force effected largely by wastage, so that by the end of 1960 the firm and the Admiralty expect to be employing around 12,000 between them. The best forecast that the Admiralty can give of their employment during the subsequent two years, i.e., up to December, 1962, is that the numbers in their employ will fall to about 5.500.

Messrs. Bailey estimate that, of their expected employment of 6,000 Maltese industrial and non-industrial workers at the end of 1960, about 1,000 will be engaged on warship repair work and about 2,000 on a number of shore services for the Admiralty and on the maintenance of the yard. These estimates have been worked out in consultation with the Admiralty. Given good conditions, Messrs. Bailey take the view that there should be enough ship-repair work for about another 2,000 to 2,500 men; and the firm hope to have found work by the end of 1960 for the remaining 1,000 to 500 men in ancillary industries, which would help to meet the normal ups and downs of ship-repairing work.

Thus, the plans that have been made hold out good prospects of employment for about 11,500 men at the dockyard and in the naval base at the end of 1962. I am sure that there will he no lack of effort on the part of Her Majesty's Government and Messrs. Bailey to bring these plans to a successful fruition and I am confident that the Maltese workers will also play their part. The urgency of proceeding with these plans lies, of course, in the fact that the next two years afford an invaluable opportunity for the commercial firm to develop the work which they are taking over before the inevitable decline in naval work at Malta comes about.

Side by side with these arrangements for converting the dockyard and providing maximum possible employment there, plans are proceeding and measures have been taken to provide employment outside of the dockyard with the general aim of attracting industrial enterprises to Malta and by diversifying the economy of reducing Malta's dependence on the Services. The major projects of this kind which are at present in hand are:

(a) The Deep Water Harbour.—The contract for this has been let and the contractors expect to make fairly substantial progress by the end of the present financial year. The harbour, by providing Malta with modern port facilities, should help to encourage industry and tourism.

(b) Tourism.—For the first time in the Island's history a Malta Government Tourist Board, with full executive powers, has been established. The Board is already hard at work and its present plans for publicising Malta as a tourist resort should begin to bear fruit next year. Plans are going ahead, in consultation with The Church in Malta, for St. Paul's Centenary celebrations in 1960 and also to attract to Malta tourists who will visit Italy for the 1960 Olympic Game. Parallel with this activity the Board is also examining various hotel and amenity projects.

(c) Industry.—On the industrial front three things are being done to attract new enterprise; the provision of industrial sites, the promulgation of suitable financial inducements, and the overhaul of existing commercial legislation in order to bring it into line with modern practice. The late Maltese Government's plans for an industrial estate are therefore being pressed forward, and it is hoped that the first two factories will be built during the current financial year. An Aids to Industry Bill will be promulgated shortly. The overhaul of Malta's industrial and commercial legislation, where necessary and the provision of adequate technical educational facilities are also being undertaken.

In addition, plans are being made to increase the present rate of emigration, while keeping a watch on its effects on the age structure of the population. Lastly a Government Development Plan is being prepared, for the carrying out of which Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to contribute further substantial capital sums over the next few years.

As was stated in the 1955 Declaration agreed between Her Majesty's Government and the Maltese political parties then represented in the Maltese Legislative Assembly, the degree of success attained in this vital task of developing the Maltese economy and providing new opportunities for employment will depend "on the hard work and self-discipline of the Maltese people and on the Maltese Government and people making the best possible contribution from their own resources".

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