Orders of the Day — Malta (Reconstruction) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th January 1947.

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Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay 12:00 am, 24th January 1947

The right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary has attacked one or two of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and although he is welcome to do so it means that some of us intend to stand by our friends in this matter. When he said that some of the words used from this side had been indiscreet I want to remind him that if the moderate language we heard today had been used over the last 10 years, and before, by some of the Members on his side of the House, things might have been very much easier. I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is a convert on this question, and that we have had something of the same sort from the Colonial Secretary. I have always held the view that one could not be too careful, as a Member of this House, in what one said about international, imperial or inter-colonial affairs, and I welcome the fact that the Socialist Party and the Government have been taking that line today. I hope that Government back benchers will pursue a similar line in their speeches in future, for it was never more needed than at present.

There is a general feeling on all sides of the House that we wish to keep the pledge that was given in 1942. The only real difference between this side of the House, and the other side, is whether we are doing it adequately' in this Bill. Everyone wishes to do what is best in the interests of the Maltese people, because we realise the terrible suffering they have undergone, and what the bombing of their island has meant. Some of us, and I am one of them, who have had our own houses bombed, and have had to seek lodgings, realise even more the extreme discomfort which the Maltese people have had to undergo. So, let us all start from the basis that we all sympa- thise with them, and want to keep the pledge which'we gave. I agree with the Financial Secretary in what he said about the British taxpayer, who has to bear a very heavy burden and terrible privation at the moment.

But I am against this Bill because, whether there is a limitation of £30 million or not, it is the wrong time to deal with this matter now. According to the Government's own White Papers, we are on the verge of a financial crisis, and we cannot possibly tell what £30 million will buy in three or six months' time, or in three or 10 years' time. If you like, let us say, "We will give you a token credit to go on with," but what is the good of trying to deal with the whole matter of the future reconstruction and war damage of Malta, which are mixed up in this Bill, until you have settled its future? What is to be the basis of Malta's utility and development in future? Will it be a big military centre or not? How is it intended to deal with the surplus population of Malta? It is wrong to have a Bill of this sort until you have decided these matters. May I ask him, when we come to the Money Resolution, to tell us whether the materials which will go to Malta from this country will count in the figures of our export trade, because they are not trade as I understand it; they are a gift to the Maltese.

I have no wish to take any great time on this subject, but I regret the controversial note which was sounded by the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary. I have tried not to accentuate it in any way, and I think I have succeeded, but I think this Bill is hopelessly ill-timed from the financial point of view. Beyond that, it is a great pity that much more consideration was not given to this question of reparations for Malta during the last 18 months. From the events of the last week it looks as if the Government have now muddled away the chance. My third point is that with the present position in regard to materials and finance in general, this is a completely wrong time to bring in such a Bill, for it means that we give a nominal sum today without the haziest idea of whether or not it will carry out the pledge, which was to make good the war damage. That is where we differ. I think most people want to keep the pledge, but I do not think this Bill will necessarily do so, whatever is the intention of the Government.