I have it in Command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place Her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
First, I should like once again to thank the House for facilitating the passage of this Measure. I realise that the short notice has caused inconvenience to hon. Members, and I am grateful to them for agreeing to the rearrangement of business.
This Bill follows the general pattern of other independence Bills. Clause 1 provides for the transfer of sovereignty on a date to be appointed by Order in Council. Clauses 2 and 3 deal with questions of British nationality which arise as a result of Malta attaining independence. Both these Clauses are common form in independence Bills. Clause 4 provides for the amendment of existing laws to take account of Malta's independence, and repeals earlier constitutional enactments which will be replaced by the new constitution.
I do not think that I need at this stage go into further detail about the provisions of the Bill, but I have no doubt that the House would wish me to say something about the new constitution and the Defence and Financial Agreements which were concluded earlier this week.
As the House knows, we held a conference in London in July last year which was attended by representatives of all the Maltese political parties. The conference had to deal with two main issues: the question of independence, and the question of the form of Malta's future constitution. The Nationalist Party, that is to say, the Government party, and the Malta Labour Party, the main opposition party, which together held 42 out of the 50 seats in the Legislature, both expressed a strong desire for early independence. On the other hand, the three smaller parties, which together held the remaining eight seats, expressed their opposition to independence at the present time, primarily on economic grounds.
In the circumstances, we thought it right to accede to the request of the two main parties, which together polled 76 per cent. of the votes cast in the last General Election, and we fixed a target date for independence not later than 31st May, 1964.
When we came to discuss the second question, namely, the form of the future constitution, the line-up of the parties was quite different. The Nationalist Party and the three smaller parties favoured a constitution broadly on the lines of that which exists at the present time. On the other hand, the Malta Labour Party asked for substantial amendments designed to reduce the special position of the Roman Catholic Church.
As it was not possible to resolve these differences at the conference, I asked the Prime Minister of Malta to have further consultations with the leaders of the other parties, with a view to submitting to me agreed constitutional proposals. However, after several months, Dr. Borg Olivier informed me that the parties had been unable to reach any agreement. I accordingly invited him and the leaders of the other parties to discuss the position further with me in London last December. But it still proved impossible to secure agreement.
After further fruitless consultations with the other parties in Malta, Dr. Borg Olivier proposed that the British Government should settle the constitutional question on their own authority. In view of the ecclesiastical character of some of the issues involved, I was, not unnaturally, reluctant to undertake this task. Consequently, the Prime Minister of Malta decided to hold a referendum, in which the electors were asked to vote for or against the constitution for independence which had been proposed by the Government of Malta and endorsed by a majority of the Legislature.
As it turned out, the referendum added nothing to what we already knew about the division of opinion in Malta. Moreover, the results were somewhat confused by the fact that the smaller parties, which, on the whole, favoured the constitution proposed by the Government of Malta, did not feel able to vote for it lest their votes should be interpreted as implying approval for independence. They consequently advised their supporters to abstain or to spoil their ballot papers.
After careful consideration, I formed the opinion that the results of the referendum were not sufficiently conclusive to justify basing important decisions on them. I therefore came to the conclusion that the only way of settling the matter was for me to work out a solution acceptable to the Parliament of Malta, and, of course, also to the British Parliament here.
The procedure that I adopted was to compare the constitution proposed by the Government of Malta with the constitutions which have been approved by this House for other British territories, and then to make such amendments as seemed necessary. After careful examination, I was satisfied that, with three rather important exceptions, the constitution proposed for Malta by the Government of Malta conformed with the principles which we have applied elsewhere.
The first of these exceptions was the absence of the usual Clause prohibiting discrimination on racial or religious grounds. This has now been inserted, and the House will find it at Clause 46. The two other points were concerned with the application of the code of human rights to the Roman Catholic Church. In several Commonwealth constitutions we have, where necessary, included provisions to take account of special circumstances in the country concerned.
In Malta, there are, clearly, special circumstances of a religious character. It is one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in the world, and when the people of Malta voluntarily entrusted the island to King George III they secured a pledge that the special position of the Church would be preserved. It is, therefore, right that, in the same way as we accorded to the Moslem religion a special status in the constitution of Malaya, we should likewise accord a special status to the Roman Catholic religion in the constitution of Malta.
It does not, however, mean that the constitution should place the Church above the law. That is why I did not feel able to approve Sections 48(10) and 48(11) of the Malta Government draft, which would have had the effect of exempting the Roman Catholic Church altogether from the application of the code of human rights. Both these provisions have, therefore, been deleted.
As I indicated in my statement on Tuesday, the Government of Malta have expressed the wish that Malta should become a monarchy after independence with Her Majesty as Queen, and they have informed me of their intention to seek membership of the Commonwealth. I have no doubt that this reflects the feelings of the great majority of the people of Malta, who have a great respect for the Crown, and a special affection for Her Majesty, who is so well known in Malta.
It is intended that, immediately after independence the British Government and the Government of Malta should conclude a Defence Agreement and a Financial Agreement, the texts of which have been published. The Defence Agreement enables British forces to remain in Malta for a period of 10 years after independence, and accords to them, by and large, the same military facilities which they enjoy at present.
Changes in the world situation and the redeployment of our forces have reduced our military requirements in Malta. Nevertheless, we greatly value the facilities which Malta provides for our Navy, Army and Air Force, and we are glad that we shall be able to continue to use them.
The presence of British forces in Malta, and the money they spend, makes an important contribution to the economy of the country, and, despite the rundown, the income from this source will continue to be substantial. These arrangements will, therefore, be of mutual benefit to both countries.
I turn now to the Financial Agreement. When British territories become independent, we usually offer them some financial aid for economic development. But we rarely enter into a firm commitment for more than one or two years ahead. However, in view of the fact that Malta is concluding with us a 10-year Defence Agreement, we think it reasonable to conclude a Financial Agreement covering the same period. For the first three years, this aid will be unconditional During the subsequent seven years, it will be dependent on the continued operation of the Defence Agreement.
The Government of Malta sought from us a firm commitment to provide aid for their recurrent Budget, for as long as it may be needed. They foresaw that such a need might exist until 1970. Subject to parliamentary approval, we have undertaken to provide budgetary assistance up to £600,000 for the current financial year 1964–65. Provision for this has been included in a Supplementary Estimate which has already been presented to the House. I told the Prime Minister of Malta that we could not enter into any advance commitment, as regards budgetary aid for future years, but would be prepared to consider any request for such aid, which the Government of Malta might wish to make from time to time.
We have, however, agreed to one measure, which will to some extent relieve the Maltese Budget. At present, most of the goods imported by our services are subject to normal Customs duties. After independence, most of these imports will be duty-free, as is usual where armed forces of one State are stationed in the territory of another independent country. However, in view of Malta's difficult budgetary position, we propose, again subject to Parliamentary approval, to make good to the Malta Government each year the Customs revenue which they would otherwise lose as a result of the change in these arrangements.
Since we shall have other opportunities later today to express our good wishes to the people of Malta, I will end simply by saying that, if the House will allow me to speak again at the end of the debate, I shall be happy to give any further explanations for which hon. Members may ask.
The presence of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) always reminds us of his dynamic leadership in the war. Perhaps it is fitting that he should be present today, when we recall the part that Malta played in helping the people of this country and of the free world in the struggle for freedom. I am sorry that I have to say this now, but it really is a tragedy that after all the tribulations on Malta's advance to independence the House should be passing today a Bill of such great importance, having had virtually no time to study the arrangements which will apply to Malta when the Bill is passed. But this is characteristic of the Government in their dying days.
They have shown—as we saw again this afternoon—a total disrespect for this House, and they have certainly failed to take into account the wishes of the people of Malta. I noticed on Tuesday that the Leader of the House, when challenged about the timing of the Bill, said that it had to be got through the House. It is a matter for the House of Commons and not for the Leader of the House to determine whether a Bill is to be got through or not. This is all rather indicative of the way in which Governments behave when they have been in power too long.
To some extent what we are having in this country is democracy by embarrassment. The Government have acquired such a thick skin that they seem to be quite insensitive to the damage which they are doing to the best traditions of parliamentary procedure and colonial evolution. My hon. Friends and I intend to put down an Amendment to provide for elections to take place in Malta before independence. Under the present arrangements elections are not due to take place until the spring of 1966. We have put the Amendment down because there is serious doubt whether there is a mandate for independence on the terms proposed. Certainly, there is no mandate for independence being granted under the present Government.
At the beginning of the year the Secretary of State decided to test the opinion of the people of Malta. He knew, as we all knew, that two points were at issue—the question whether the people of Malta wanted independence, and, if so, under what kind of constitution.
We have not had the Second Reading. When we have we shall be able to table Amendments.
I was saying that the Secretary of State put two questions—whether the people of Malta wanted independence and, if so, under what kind of constitution. It would have been simple to ask these questions separately and my hon. Friends and I asked him to do so. Instead, he permitted the Maltese Government to run both questions together. The consequence is that the result of the referendum was almost unintelligible, even if it had been decisive. If one asks an ambiguous question one gets an ambiguous answer. That happened in this case.
Let us consider the figures. They show that 22 per cent. of the electorate did not vote either "Yes" or "No", and most of these did so intentionally to indicate their disagreement with the choice posed. Of the electorate as a whole, only 42 per cent. voted "Yes", 35 per cent. voted "No", and about 22 per cent. stayed away, either because they disagreed with the question or because they did not wish to record their vote. This cannot be regarded as a mandate for the kind of unconsidered action which the Government are proposing to take.
The Secretary of State appointed observers to watch over the referendum and the campaign. He has not yet made their report public. I ask him whether he intends to do so. It is quite wrong that the Secretary of State should ask Parliament to pass this Measure. The mandate for it was a referendum on the conduct of which he is keeping the official report secret. This is an affront to the House and it does not take much thought to presume that if the Secretary of State is keeping the report secret it must be unfavourable. If it is, it means that not only is the referendum itself called into question, but also the elections of 1962, when the present Government of Malta were elected. Let us recall that on that occasion no observers were present.
There is ample reason to say that the best traditions of British colonialism require that before independence is granted under these circumstances new elections should be held. One of the saddest features of rushing this Bill
through the House is that the opposition parties in Malta have had no time to study the changes which have been made since the constitution was presented for the referendum. I see that in The Guardian today there is a report from Valletta, which says that most newspapers in Malta do not think that sufficient time has been given for consideration of the Bill.
The Times of Malta, which recommends an Anglo-Maltese connection, complains in a leading article that political leaders here, as well as the Press and the people, knew nothing of the vital matters of economy and security outlined in White Papers which were not available in Malta.
It is very bad when we have the responsible Press joining in this criticism.
I have quoted that newspaper as an example, but most of the newspapers criticised the decision. I could quote others if necessary, but I thought that it would be sufficient to quote one The Guardian says that most newspapers support this view. In my view, it is quite intolerable that this kind of thing should happen. It is most unusual, and perhaps even unique.
The Secretary of State will say that he was familiar with the views of the opposition parties and that he had to arbitrate and reach his own decision. But he should have provided the opposition parties with an opportunity to make known their views on the decisions he had reached, and those decisions should have remained provisional until that time. It is ludicrous that only last night representatives of the opposition parties came to London, with no knowledge of what was intended. They had no idea of the kind of constitution that we in this House were going to support and pass. In the case of other Colonies coming up for independence this has not been the case. In other cases, there was an elaborate conference. That came first. It went over the grounds of disagreement before the Secretary of State reached his final decision.
Why has all this rush taken place? There was no rush last August, when the Secretary of State sent the Maltese parties bask to Malta for discussions amongst themselves. We on this side of the House certainly said that it would be fruitless, and so it proved to be. There was no rush at the beginning of the year when the right hon. Gentleman insisted on a referendum being held instead of elections. Why should the Maltese people suffer because the Secretary of State has been loaded with so many portfolios that he cannot do justice to any of them?
I now want to turn to the various documents to which the Secretary of State has referred describing the arrangements for Malta's independence. Let me deal, first, with the Defence Agreement. This is a good agreement and I do not want to say anything critical about it. I only want to issue a note of warning. It is possible to conclude a Defence Agreement which is so good that it is bad. This agreement does not provide for consultation with the Maltese Government in the event of Britain wanting to use Malta as a military base for active purposes. This contrasts with the Malaysian Defence Agreement which provides for such consultation. If the Maltese Government are content with such an arrangement, it is certainly not for us to criticise them, but I would remind the House that it is sometimes better to be careful not to write into agreements features which it is known in advance might provoke opposition in a few years' time.
I turn to the Finance Agreement. This is a generous one. There is no need to go into details here, but I would invite the House to notice that there is a definite assurance of money for a period of three years and a conditional agreement for a period of seven years. The condition is a continuation of the Defence Agreement. We shall notice that, later, there is a magic figure of three years in another context. The Finance Agreement has the same flavour as the Defence Agreement. For example, it is provided that the British Government will have a very definite say in the set-up and working of the Malta Development Corporation. Of course, we know that we are giving a lot of money, but in other countries we have not normally taken this kind of power in return. So why have we done so in the case of Malta?
I now come to the principal document which the House ought to consider, namely, the draft constitution. This is a long draft and the House has been given about 36 hours in which to make up its mind about it. If hon. Members think that that is wrong, they should consider the people of Malta, who have been given no time at all to consider it. Of course, that is not unusual. The draft constitution which was submitted to the people of Malta for a referendum in May was equally rushed through the Maltese Legislature, and there was quite inadequate time for consideration. But surely this is no reason why the Secretary of State should try to import such habits into this House.
The constitution is basically the same as the draft submitted in the referendum. The main improvements, as the Secretary of State has explained, are the deletion of two clauses in the human rights section which would have excluded the Church from the provisions which would generally have applied to all other persons and bodies in Malta. But there is a new Section inserted at the beginning of the constitution, Section 2(2) which, although much weaker, goes some way in the same direction.
The other principal change is the inclusion of Section 46 which prohibits discrimination in laws or in actions done under laws. This is a standard provision in many independence constitutions these days, and the exceptions made in the second half of the Section are equally standard. The exceptions would omit the exclusion of Ministers from the Civil Service. I should mention that they would equally permit the exclusion of other groups from the Civil Service, but, as I have said, this is a standard provision and we on this side of the House can only express the hope that the Maltese Government will not abuse it.
We now come to the most important matter of the electoral law. This is not part of the constitution and is a domestic Maltese ordinance. We on this side of the House have proposed that the section dealing with undue influence should be identical with that contained in Section 101 of the Representation of the People Act, which operates in this country. This proscribes the threatening of temporal or spiritual injury. The Maltese Act, by contrast, speaks of "material or moral injury".
I think that it would have been much better to change this wording to be the same as that in the United Kingdom Act. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will tell us that he thinks so, too, but that the Government of Malta were not prepared to agree. I think that this change, however, would have been a very small return for the granting of £50 million in aid.
So far, I have mentioned the points which are new in the constitution. I should now like to refer to some which have not been changed, but which, in my opinion, are also unsatisfactory. The fundamental rights provisions are to have no effect on any existing legislation for a period of three years. They are to be applied only to new legislation during that time. The House will have noticed that this is the second reference to a period of three years. The Secretary of State, of course, will say that there is nothing significant about that—but one will recall that the next elections in Malta are due in the spring of 1966, and the effect of Section 48(7), therefore, is that the fundamental rights provisions will affect no existing law until after the next elections.
The other matter to which we on this side of the House attach importance is the freedom of broadcasting. Broadcasting in Malta is governed by Maltese ordinance, and that ordinance confers on the broadcasting authority the duty to satisfy itself that nothing is included in a broadcast which offends against religious sentiments. This provision has been invoked to prevent the broadcasting of passages which to any person in this country are quite unexceptionable.
Section 122(1) requires the broadcasting authority to observe due impartiality, but—and this is very important—the following subsection shows that its application will be without prejudice to any other duties conferred on it by any existing law. It is laid down in Section 6 of the constitution that where there is a conflict between the constitution and other law, the constitution is to prevail. This is a serious weakness, as this is apparently not to apply to broadcasting, and the existing law is to prevail. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us later whether the official observers whom he appointed to oversee the referendum in May were content with the broadcasting arrangements.
There is one final point which I wish to make about the constitution. It has been drawn up by the Maltese Government and vetted by the British Government. This is unusual. It is normal for such documents to be drawn up either by the Colonial Office or by an independent authority. I would not accuse the Secretary of State of writing in these periods of three years, to which I have already referred, in order to fit in with the next elections in Malta, but it would not be surprising if that thought had occurred to other people who have a direct interest in winning the next election.
The Bill does not state any date for independence, but it is proposed to proclaim a date by Order in Council and the Government now say that they propose to do it at the end of September. This, once again, is a decision which smacks of rushing things through to prevent any possibility of discussion on the serious faults in the present arrangements being reopened. The Bill does not provide that the House shall have any opportunity to discuss the draft constitution. It will be made by the Government by Order in Council. I want to make it clear that we on this side of the House say that the Government themselves have the full responsibility for the content of the constitution.
One of the principal criticisms regarding the Bill is that it has been rushed, that insufficient time has been given for study not so much of the Bill as the annexed documents which, in due course, will come into force when the Bill is passed.
I, on the contrary, want not only to welcome the Bill, but, at the outset of my remarks, to pay a great tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for all the patience that he has exercised in the long-drawn-out efforts made to reach the maximum amount of agreement between the various parties in Malta. The fact that there has not been agreement with the principal Opposition in Malta is the fault of no one. The fact that there has been agreement between the Government of Malta, as represented by the Nationalist Party, and my right hon. Friend, representing Her Majesty's Government, is due to the spirit of give and take and the patience which has been exercised by both Governments.
Especially do I think that the Government of Malta have been very public-spirited and far-seeing in agreeing to a new position for the established Church in Malta, the Catholic Church, which would place that Church in a slightly less strong position than it enjoys under the existing Constitution. I am somewhat surprised that the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) should suggest, on behalf of his party, that there ought to be new elections before the new constitution comes into force. I wonder whether he and his right hon. and hon. Friends have taken into account that if there were new elections they would be held under the existing Constitution, which is less liberal than the new one we are now considering; and that the risk which they feel to be real—that the Catholic Church in Malta could exercise undue influence—would be even greater if elections were held now than at any time in the future, when the Bill has become law.
Is it not a fact that under the provisions of the Bill the limitation on the rights about which the hon. Member speaks would not come into force until after three years and that the next elections in Malta would automatically be held next spring?
The new constitution, when it comes fully into force, contains provisions which, to some extent—but with the full approval of the Vatican authorities—go some way towards diminishing the absolutely overall and above-the-law position that the Catholic Church has seemed to have under the present Constitution. [HON. MEMBERS: "In three years."] I do not wish to pursue that point.
There is not much time in which the Bill can be passed through all its stages and I do not wish to delay its passage. However, I wish to make a few remarks about the provisions in the financial agreement dealing with Baileys (Malta) Limited, which, at present, holds a lease on the dockyard. It is, of course, well known that the matter is sub judice, because Baileys is in a position preliminary to engaging in litigation with Her Majesty's Government. I do not wish to prejudge that at all; it would be quite wrong to do so, or to say anything about it. But I wish to point out to my right hon. Friend that, so far as I can interpret the Act of the Malta Parliament which is in force, and under which the administration of Baileys was transferred to a council, there is provision for reasonable moneys to be made available to Baileys (Malta) Limited with which to undertake the preparation and expense of litigation with Her Majesty's Government, should that eventuality regrettably come to pass.
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether he will say something about how those rights will continue to be available to Baileys (Malta) Limited when the Independence Bill becomes law, and whether, in the meantime, representations have been made to the Government of Malta to implement that legislation in favour of Baileys (Malta) Limited.
This constitution is similar in many respects to those which we have passed into law during the lifetime of this Parliament, and the period of Conservative Governments to give independence to many territories. I would describe it as a model for a Christian Mediterranean State. If the House decides to send the Bill on its way to become law, it will forecast the time when our people and the people of Malta will enter a new era of continued association in the spirit of the original declaration under which the people of Malta made plain, in 1812, that they wished to be associated with the British Crown. I wish the Bill well.
I think that we all, on both sides of the House, recognise that we have a special responsibility for Malta. We begin on common ground by saying that it is our desire to help Malta towards independence as quickly as possible. Speaking for myself and, I believe, for some colleagues in the House and some who are not with us now, when, a few years ago, we considered the future of Malta, recognising its desire to be independent, we realised that if independence is to have any meaning it must be able to lead to a viable economy.
Of course, the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) did not come to the same conclusion. If he cannot hear, perhaps he will come a little nearer.
I came to the conclusion, as many hon. Friends did, that perhaps the best solution, as it appeared to many of us and also to many people in Malta, would be the proposal which we put forward at the round table conference on integration. That now is a matter of history. The Secretary of State quite rightly said that the Government have been generous to Malta, but Malta has been our arsenal for a century and a half. Its economic life has been determined entirely by us and it has been bent completely to our defence needs.
This is very important. There was no attempt in Malta to build up the country and give it a sound economic structure and a diversified economy. Its economy was based on the naval dockyard and the provision for our Armed Forces. It was exactly like any of our own naval establishments. We realised how difficult it would be to make a change. It would be very unwise for any of us now, or for people in Malta, to think that it will be easy after the transitional period, if not during that period, to establish in Malta an economy which can sustain its people as they deserve to be sustained, with an ever-increasing standard of living.
I hope that we shall realise that. I hope that we shall realise that we may have to go on paying for many years before we can pay our debt to Malta for the services that she has rendered to us in the past. I welcome the provisions of the Bill so far as they go, but whoever is here in 10 years' time, if we can say that we have been able to build in Malta an economy which can sustain the country without aid from us we shall still have a debt to pay Malta.
I do not propose to speak at length about the constitution, but I wish to ask the Secretary of State one or two questions about it. Generally, such constitutions are agreed to nem. con., without a Division, and we send out our good wishes to the territory for its future. But the Secretary of State knows perfectly well that when we have done that in other cases it has been because, in the main, the people in the territory concerned have been of one mind and unanimous about the constitution. For them, it has meant independence and the constitution generally has been accepted by them. Therefore, they start under the best auspices, but the Secretary of State knows that that is not true of Malta.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it is asking a great deal of this House to pass the Bill in one day through Second Reading, Committee and Third Reading. He did not tell us why it is absolutely essential to do this. If there were a unanimous desire in Malta for this step to be taken now under this constitution, I would understand it, but that is not the case. This constitution is not an agreed constitution, agreed between the Government in Britain and people representing the majority of those in Malta. Let us get this clear, for it is very important.
We can count up the numbers in the parties, but in the referendum less than half the people of Malta voted for the constitution. The House should have these facts put before it. In the referendum less than half the people voted. I have never been in favour of a referendum, but that was the method adopted and I believe that the number of people in Malta who voted was 42 per cent. For that reason, if the House of Commons agrees with the Bill we shall be adopting a constitution which has not been approved by the majority of the people in Malta.
I therefore hope that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Middle-brough, East (Mr. Bottomley) said will be considered. I shall not discuss the point now, because we are to have a Committee stage when, presumably, the Chair will accept a manuscript Amendment on this vitally important question. We shall want to consider very carefully some of the provisions of the constitution. If the Government are determined to do this all in one day, we shall want a longer period for the Committee stage than for the Second Reading stage.
Speaking for myself, and, I think, for many of my colleagues, whatever we put into the constitution one thing is certain, that if the constitution is to work it must give reasonable satisfaction to the Malta Labour Party. I do not put this forward as a party matter. The Malta Labour Party is a strong party and Malta has strong trade unions, built in our traditions, which are very influential.
They possess a most dynamic leader. I have had many arguments with Dom Mintoff, who is a man of tremendous energy and great drive. Whether in government or in opposition, his great talents will be concentrated on solving the great problems which face his country. This was a quite clear impression gained in my one visit to Malta. I say this with respect and without any religious bias. I was brought up in the Nonconformist tradition and I try to remember, when I discuss these questions, that I should show tolerance to others, but we know perfectly well that the one thing which would make any constitution work would be reasonable cooperation between the leader of the Labour Party in Malta and the archbishop. They are the two most influential persons in the island. If they are at loggerheads, for no matter what reason, there will not be an easy time for Malta. At one time the archbishop was a member of the Labour Party in Malta. He has that tradition, whatever the reason.
The Secretary of State said that the Bill must be pushed through now, at the end of this Parliament. Let us be quite clear: if we dispose of the Bill today, and Malta becomes independent under this constitution, that will be the last that we shall hear of it in this Parliament. I ask the Secretary of State: does he think there is not a strong case for one or two things? First, is there not a case for reconsidering whether an attempt should be made to make some changes in the constitution in order to go some way to meet the Labour Party in Malta?
In The Times this morning I read a statement made by Miss Barbara. I make reference to it because it is rather important. When we went to Malta, as members of the round table conference, she was Minister of Education. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was a member of the round-table conference and he has had great experience in education. He would agree—indeed, he said that he was deeply impressed by the work that Miss Barbara was doing for education—that she is a responsible citizen.
I know of Miss Barbara's work and of her sense of responsibility, and I read what she had said. I do not want to quote it, but I ask hon. Members to read it. They should read what she said about this constitution. That is not a very good omen, and that is why I have ventured to speak in the debate, because I think that the worst service which we could give to Malta and the worst way in which we could repay the debt which we owe to Malta—in fact, we can never repay it—would be to carry through, in the last days of this Parliament, a Bill providing for independence under this constitution when at least one responsible citizen said in this country last night that she will try to smash it.
This is a serious matter. It may be that we can do something about it in Committee, but I ask the Secretary of State why the Bill must be rushed through now. Is it not worth while making another attempt? Are we to say that it is beyond our wit to introduce something into the constitution which will meet the desires—some of which I believe to be the legitimate desires—and the demands of the Labour Party without in any way doing offence to the Church, which is the last thing I want to do? Surely it is worth trying.
If that is not possible, I hope that the Secretary of State will accept the manuscript Amendment when my right hon. Friend moves it. I shall vote for it, and I hope that the Committee of the whole House will carry it. In view of the fact that it is known to us that this constitution has not the support of half the people of Malta, I believe that it ought not to be brought into operation before they have a chance to speak again about it and before there is a General Election.
We are reaching the final stages of what, in years to come, we may regard as a very fine chapter in the history of this country—the transformation of an Empire into a Commonwealth. We have reached a stage in which, with one or two exceptions, all the countries which are on the road to independence can look to a successful future. I was pleased to note that the Secretary of State is beginning discussions with Gambia and glad to hear that in those discussions consideration is being given to the association of Gambia with Senegal.
When I was Secretary of State, and for years afterwards when I spoke on this subject for the Opposition, I was worried by the fact that many of these smaller territories would come to political independence but that this independence would turn sour since it could not provide them with the standard of living they wanted because they were small in population and in resources. That is one reason why I was inclined in respect of Malta—and only in respect of Malta, because of the special reasons which attach Malta to us—to think that the best way would be to integrate Malta into this country economically and politically.
That has gone. Nevertheless, it would be very difficult to associate Malta with any other territory within the Commonwealth in that way or in the way in which we had hoped to bring together all the countries in the West Indies. I am glad to see a proposal that Gambia shall be associated with Senegal, which is not in the Commonwealth at all. We are meeting this problem of how we are to satisfy the natural political desires of the people in the smaller territories, who have as much right as anybody else to independence, and at the same time to make independence mean something to them.
Let us not spoil this record. On the whole, it is a good record, although we have had arguments about it now and again. Malta is the last place in which we should make the mistake of spoiling that record. I should be very glad if I could say this evening that I gave my full support to the Bill and to the constitution because it met the desire of the Maltese people for independence. It is because the constitution has not the approval of the majority of the Maltese people that I ask the Secretary of State to think again and not to rush the Bill through unnecessarily.
We may be at the end of this Parliament and of this Government, but it is not the end of Parliament or the end of this House. It would be a very bad thing if at the end of this Parliament, the longest Parliament we have had for a long time, we made a mistake of this kind. It would be a mistake to think that we must rush this through because we are about to adjourn the House and to prorogue. If there were agreement in Malta, I should be prepared to rush the Bill through in one hour. Because I realise that there is not agreement, and because that disturbs me, I ask the Secretary of State and the House to pause and to think before we take this final step.
Both right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have addressed the House particularly on the question of the timetable, and I think that some fairly direct things ought to be said on that subject. The workings of the House are such that, quite rightly—I make no complaint about it—the balance is tipped to the advantage of the Opposition for the time being in terms of the time and the working of the House. Let us have this spelt out in quite clear terms. This discussion is taking place on this timetable with the agreement of the official Opposition. That is why the Deputy Leader of the Opposition rose to the Box when the new business was announced by the Leader of the House, and used the phrase "We are acquiescing" in this timetable because of certain considerations—which he then outlined.
It will not do—I say this in all friendliness to the right hon. Gentleman—to seek to fob off his personal responsibility as a member of the inner team. If he and his colleagues believe that this is wrong, they should say so plainly and definitely and act upon it. The facts are that if this were done in this House and at this time, the Bill could not be got through, and we all know it.
If the hon. Member intends to quote my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition he should quote the sentence in context. My right hon. Friend said
… we have acquiesced in the order of business which the Government are asking for
on the basis that it is their responsibility and not ours … "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1964; Vol. 699, c. 282.]
I said that there were certain words added, but the fact is that if the Opposition were not prepared to co-operate—I do not think that that is too strong a phrase—in the timetable suggested, and if they said so frankly or in the private discussions which we all know take place through the usual channels, then the Bill could not be presented to the House at this late stage in this Parliament.
We all know these to be the facts of the situation. I think that we are imposing very considerably upon the House, as has been said frequently from the Front Benches, but in so far as there is a responsibility it behoves us to take a corporate responsibility and not to seek to place it merely on the shoulders of one side or the other.
The facts of the matter are that if we do not deal with the Bill in this extraordinary way—and none of us would choose to deal with so important a matter in this way—we shall delay the independence of this island long after the date in respect of which the Government of the day gave their word that the Maltese should have independence and long after the date on which, after many weeks of patient negotiation in London, these details have eventually and slowly been hammered out.
I do not for a moment suggest that this is the ideal way of dealing with a situation of this kind. What I am asserting is that, given the situation of the present time as we all know it to be, this is the only practical method of dealing with the problem before us.
It is because this is the only practical way of dealing with it that the Opposition have co-operated, but, if we have the opportunity, we propose to present an Amendment which will show that the people of Malta, as well as this House, will have a fairer opportunity of discussing the matter than they are having now. Perhaps the hon. Member will come into the Opposition Lobby on that Amendment.
It is entirely within the right hon. Gentleman's right and those of his hon. Friends to press for this manuscript Amendment to be put before us and to argue it, as doubtless they will. But if he was so critical of the timetable his method of showing it was to make it plain in ways that he and I know are available and which would have prevented the Bill being presented to us this afternoon. Those are the facts of the situation as he and I know them to be.
I want to say a word or two about the constitution. The Bill is short, the documents annexed to it are lengthy, and, quite understandably, there has been comment about the religious or church aspect of the constitution. I want to say something about that and I do so from a wholly uncommitted point of view. I owe no allegiance whatever to the great church which is specifically mentioned by name in this constitution, and I cannot conceive of myself ever doing so. I say that with friendly respect to hon. Members who, I know, are.
When in recent months I had the opportunity of discussing these matters with the Archbishop of Malta, who has been mentioned in the Press generally and already mentioned by name in this debate, I am bound to say that I changed some of the preconceived notions with which I went to that interview, and I interviewed subsequently in considerable detail some of those who advise him.
I must say that in reading the Press over here, and listening to comments from people outside, I got the impression that I was going to meet, to put it in plain, blunt language, a very bigoted old man. I came very quickly to realise that I was dealing with somebody of a very different kind indeed. I believe that just as one of the most remarkable features, which I am sure we can all agree, of the present ecclesiastical scene is the greater understanding and the infinitely greater tolerance between Churches than ever before, so, equally, this has its counterpart in matters of the kind which we are now discussing in Malta.
I believe that if we look at the way in which over these negotiations—which, if The Times is to be believed, were assisted by the Vatican—the entrenched positions, as some believed them to be, have moved, we see that even in circles which were believed to be immoveable the spirit of tolerance and give-and-take has prevailed.
We have only to consider for a moment the proposed Clauses as they were placed before my right hon. Friend, naming a particular Church as being above the operation, for example, of the civil rights provision, and a look at the Clauses on discrimination where special provisions had been made, to see that there has indeed been a spirit of give-and-take in these negotiations.
I want to plead that in our subsequent discussions those who, like myself, are not committed members of this particular and great Church will perhaps be careful to avoid saying things which, in the present spirit of public opinion and church opinion, will gravely hurt those who, I think, are moving fast in a way which may produce results far greater than any of us here can possibly foretell.
I plead for the general spirit of toleration in the working of this constitution. At the same time, I ask for clarification on two specific points. I should be grateful to know, in reference to Clause 41 of the proposed constitution, that there is secured, as I think is the case, for other great Churches in Malta, smaller, of course, in numbers and likely never to be the Established Church, the absolute freedom of worship and of the tenure of their buildings.
How can the hon. Member have confidence that this freedom of conscience is assured when there is an exception that the requirements of public order may interfere with the practice of this freedom of conscience?
I am dealing with Clause 41. I was in the middle of asking my question, and it will be helpful if the matter can be clarified definitely. For all I know if the hon. Gentleman knows Malta, as I suspect he does, he will, for example, remember the great Anglican Cathedral at Valletta, recently greatly restored by the efforts of many people in the island. Before we part with the Bill we should like to be assured that written into this constitution—what I personally believe, from personal contact and experience, is the intention of the leader of the majority Church in Malta—is the absolute freedom to maintain their religious way of life and the tenure of their buildings. We should like to be sure that subsection (2) does not derogate from that in any way. This point was rightly seized on by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne).
I come now to the point which I thought that the hon. Member for Lincoln was on concerning Clause 46, namely, the question of freedom of marriage. I, like other hon. Members, have only had the opportunity of reading this over quickly. I do not suggest that I have studied it with the care which documents of this kind merit. As I understand the effect of Clause 46, discriminatory laws are barred. "Discriminatory" in this sense is defined. It should be clearly noted that this is a new provision. It goes on specifically to provide that this bar against discriminatory laws shall not apply, for example, to any law with respect to marriage. It would be helpful to know a little more about what is involved here for members of other faiths than the great Church which is specifically mentioned in the Constitution. If this aspect cannot be fully probed here, the other place contains persons much better qualified to probe this matter.
I turn quickly to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), the question of the docks, which are specifically mentioned in an annex to the documents we are now studying. I had the advantage in a recent visit to Malta to spend, admittedly, a short time in trying to understand something of the problems of that dockyard. I take my hon. Friend's point that we in this House must be careful, because litigation is at the moment in progress, and in accordance with our traditions we do not wish to say anything to prejudice that.
There are Members of the House who do not necessarily hold any brief whatever for Baileys Limited as a firm in England or for the Bailey family or necessarily for what may or may not have been done in Malta, which is the subject of litigation, but who, nevertheless, feel it to be part of the English legal tradition that persons accused shall be able to defend themselves fittingly and properly when charges are laid against them. I should like to be assured that this ability to defend themselves by Baileys, both as a family and as a firm, is not being prejudiced by the hold-up of funds by the consortium at present running the docks and that Her Majesty's Government would influence the consortium to make those funds available.
I feel sure that the House knows so well that in the success of these docks may lie a significant part of the future economic prosperity of the Island. It is enormously encouraging that over the last few months they have been successful in attracting to Malta increasing numbers of tankers in particular and ships in general for repair work, fitting out, and so on, in Malta. They have discovered that they have been able to attract on fair terms ships from Northern Europe and other parts of the world because of the fortuitous circumstance that they can work upon them for many more days in the year than is possible in Northern Europe ports and also because of the fortuitous circumstance that Malta is very close to the tanker routes going across the Mediterranean and to Libya.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the large 150-ton crane in Malta has been taken to Gibraltar and that the large floating dock in Malta is now being advertised for sale by the Government?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his great experience in these matters, will develop that argument, but it does not detract from what I have been saying about the fitting out process. I have no technical knowledge of this and do not stand before the hon. Gentleman pretending to have any. When I was able to go round the yards, I did not observe that either of those two important items of equipment was necessary for the sort of work which I have in mind, though it would be my hope that in the future these yards would extend to shipbuilding in addition to the ship repairing facilities which they now provide.
I am limiting myself to what I think is the uncontroversial statement that Malta's geographical position is such that in wise management and a wise and courageous labour policy lie the seed of much prosperity for Malta. I think that a wise labour policy in the docks may be the key to much of Malta's success in the future.
I realise that some of the features in the Bill and the documents attached to it do not present the full case which the Leader of the Opposition in Malta would like to see presented. I echo what was said from the benches opposite in one particular. I was lucky enough to spend a considerable time with the Leader of the Opposition in Malta and would not dream for one moment of breaching the confidence of a private talk, any more than any other hon. Member would. One cannot be in the presence of the Leader of the Opposition in Malta for five minutes without appreciating that one is in the presence of a man of very great ability. It is surely to the advantage of the island that this should be so.
In view of the many positions which, in his public utterances, the Leader of the Opposition in Malta would have regarded as quite unnegotiable by the Church, but which have, in fact, proved to be negotiable, one might well ask whether some of the positions which he regards as entrenched on his side might not now be negotiable, too, and whether a new start might not be made. It might be reasonable to ask that both sides of the Legislative Assembly, as it is at present, should work together on the constitution, as it will be if we pass the Bill and documents annexed to it.
Lastly, defence. We must face facts squarely. There is an element of trust here between the new State of Malta and the United Kingdom. No one who has been in Malta for more than a few minutes can fail to realise that British forces at present, and as far as I understand it under the terms of the agreement, are inextricably woven into the island's life. There is no question in Malta of doing what I will loosely call "a Cyprus", of retreating, if necessary, to an enclave. British forces are in among the life of Malta. They have in the past occupied, and indeed occupy at present, some of its finest buildings, many of which they are now progressively evacuating. There is provision in the documents for the care of some of those majestic buildings.
It will, therefore, be not so much a matter of the paper which we are discussing today. It will be a matter of trust between two nations whose outlooks, although so far separated, have much in common. They are both Christian nations. They will both start their association at least under monarchical government, under parliamentary government. Whereas the one will have to have certain safeguards written into its Constitution, the other has them by long practice and tradition. I would personally hope that both the present party in office and any future party in office in Malta, as here, will appreciate that the interests of the two countries will coincide in future as closely and as effectively as they have in the past.
We are discussing today a matter of very great delicacy, and practically everything that we have to say and much of what we shall do have really been predetermined for us by the forces of history. I was a member, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), of the Round Table Conference that visited Malta in 1955 when we were discussing the issue of the integration of the group of islands in the Government of this country, and at a time when, certainly, actual independence was not thought of or so much as discussed.
We are dealing in Malta with a country that appears to have no indigenous resources. It has not even got a water supply. One of the things that the Round Table Conference reported in paragraph 50 was this:
The first need, in our view and in the opinion of most witnesses, is to improve and expand the water supply. There are no rivers in Malta; and although the average rainfall is 20 ins., the facilities for collecting and storing rainfall are dangerously inadequate, even for present needs. The salinity of the lower water table is rising rapidly, and in years of low rainfall a serious shortage occurs of drinking water and of water for agriculture and industry. Work is in hand to catch and store water in the upper water table, and geological surveys are being undertaken to find other underground sources. We were informed that this should result in a marked increase in present supplies and in the avoidance of serious shortages in years of low rainfall. But, if the present highly unsatisfactory and dangerous position is to be remedied, and if there is to be any hope of improving agricultural output and encouraging the establishment of new industries much work remains to be done and further capital must be spent on water schemes.
An island which at that time had about 300,000 people living on it and to which such a Report, in my view, was slightly flattering to the actual position, obviously presents very great difficulties in all problems of Government. And, of course, we did not come into this island in the way that we came into most of the countries for which we have responsibility.
Over 150 years ago it was reported that Napoleon Bonaparte on his way to conquer Egypt, secured Malta for himself, as a half-way house to his Military and Marine requirements.
He stayed in Malta for eight days, during which time he robbed all the Churches and Treasury and imposed many 'Libertè Egalitè' ideas not wholly acceptable to the inhabitants, and which after he sailed, were protracted and amplified by the French; beyond the people's religious endurance.
Encouraged by the success of Admiral Lord Nelson at Aboukir, a local unheralded and quite spontaneous insurrection compelled, what was left of the 4,000 French garrison under the veteran General Vaubois, after a terrible butchering from the Maltese, to seek shelter behind Valletta's fortifications then considered the strongest in Europe. Whilst they were kept besieged for two years, many a French sortie was made and repulsed by the Maltese, to the confusion and often with loss of much life and many captures of French veterans. Some two weeks after the rising, Nelson was approached by a Maltese delegation to help against the common enemy. Meanwhile the Maltese rebels had organised themselves into a disciplined body and all principal and proper civic authority was established.
They were short of provisions and practically without arms and ammunition for the carrying on of the siege to a successful end but eventually some 1060 French muskets captured at Aboukir, and cartridges and flints were sent by the British to the inhabitants, besides this a blockade by sea was maintained practically all the time throughout the siege of Valletta, by the Portuguese and the British and some 400 marines were landed.
Those two years siege caused hardship to both sides. Famine and disease were rampant amidst the Maltese, and the French scarce of victuals, with no hope of reinforcement, and no news but the decline of French influence in Europe, were getting naturally very depressed especially so when after fifteen months Brigadier Graham landed with 800 fresh British troops, followed some months later by General Pigot with the 48th and 2nd Bat. of the 35th Regt.
All these setbacks made Napoleon's trusted General Vaubois think of capitulation. Negotiations between the Maltese and Vaubois had already started and offers of hostages were made by the French as security for the large sums due to the Maltese; eventually these sums were accounted for by the French Government to the British, but these sums never reached Malta to the present day.
They then approached King George III with a request that the island might become a British Colony and they equally made one stipulation, which gives considerable trouble today. They insisted that they must be allowed to retain the Roman Catholic religion and to have freedom to operate it in the island. That was accepted, and the Clauses which some of us find distasteful in the draft Constitution originated from that. A pledge was given in 1802 to the inhabitants of Malta, when they asked to become subjects of King George III, that they would be assured of the continuity of their religion in the island.
As much as I dislike some of the things that are in the Constitution, I cannot say—the whole world of nations has to be respected—that we can ask to be excused from carrying out the pledge that was given in 1802. Some of the things which I find most difficult to accept in the Constitution come from that promise and I do not think, if it is ever pointed out to the British people that the distinct promise was given in specific terms that they should have these assurances, that there would be long objection by the majority of British public opinion to it.
It must also be recollected that the British, while they respect the religions of other people, expect their own to be properly treated when it comes to the kind of things that have, on occasion, gone on in the past in Malta. There distinguished English ecclesiastics have been treated with very great contempt and ignominy by the ecclesiastical authorities in Malta. I hope that in return for what is done in the Constitution greater tolerance will be shown in Malta itself to people of other than the Roman Catholic faith, because, undoubtedly, this is a cause of very considerable misgiving to a large number of people whose cooperation will have to be sought if this island is to become viable.
I am a believer in the dual system which we have for education in this country. I agree with what the late Archbishop Temple said of it, that its very duality is something that is worth preserving. Let us be quire certain of this. The Constitution, to which this debate is leading us, makes no hesitation in saying that all the State-supported education in Malta must be Roman Catholic and that only Roman Catholic teachers may be employed, not merely in the schools giving the teaching but in any part of the education service of the island. There is no talk in the Constitution of the parents having any rights in the matter. When I think of the negotiations I have had in my time with Roman Catholic authorities in this country urging me to respect the feelings and rights of parents, I am sometimes a bit perturbed when I find how different their attitude is when they are in a country in which they are in the majority.
I mention these matters not to arouse controversy but to indicate that the Government have run grave risks in the concessions they have made in these respects in the draft Constitution. I hope that by the time we get to the point where we shall be discussing the Order in Council establishing the Contitution we shall be able to have some assurances that in the light of the concessions which have been made we can expect some reciprocal arrangements on the part of the Catholic authorities in Malta in their dealings with the population who are not of their own faith.
The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) raised the question of mixed marriages and the rights of persons who are married by other than the Roman Catholic rites in the island. The absence of any facilities for divorce and so on—which, as far as I can see, are not mentioned in the Constitution—are undoubtedly matters of considerable grievance to a number of Maltese persons, not Catholics, and certainly to anyone living in the island who does not happen to be of the Roman Catholic faith but wishes to marry a member of that faith. I had a case of that in my own family, and I know the difficulties and bad feelings which are caused. I hope that in view of the way in which the Government have handled this matter and their obvious desire to fulfil, not merely in the letter but in the spirit, the concession of 1802, we are entitled to expect some reciprocity in the future Government of the island when it comes under the new Constitution. I regret that we have got nothing effective today.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Wokingham about the reasons for the Government adopting the attitude they have, and I accept what my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said the other day about acquiescing. Acquiescing does not involve co-operation or approval, and I do not regard myself as approving of things which the Government have done merely because I acquiesce in helping the Leader of the House out of the difficulties he has got into by postponing the General Election from March to October. His difficulty is that he wants to get this through for the Secretary of State; and it does not appear likely that, from the point of view of this Parliament, he will get that unless the procedure the Government have imposed on the House is followed.
I hope that in his future negotiations the Secretary of State will bear in mind that we are labouring under grave difficulties and that we have to take even this constitution in two stages. We are passing legislation today to make it feasible. At a later stage the right hon. Gentleman will have to bring forward, and get confirmation of, an order to establish the new constitution. I want to assure him that some of the things I have hinted at in my speech will remain in the minds of a number of people who would expect to have greater reassurances than they have so far had.
No, but it will have to be submitted to the House and the right hon. Gentleman cannot say what will happen to anything when it is submitted to the House. We will doubtless regard it as a good and proper Order, but he must not be surprised if some of my hon. Friends think the mere fact that he approves of it entitles us to be very suspicious as to what its full effect will be.
We are embarking on providing a constitution for an island which was civilised when our ancestors were walking about wearing woad. It is impossible to do anything to ensure that anything other than the dictate of the Minister will be considered in the Parliamentary processes which are involved, but any Amendment moved from this side in Committee to enable us to get at any rate some chance of giving others better opportunities of considering this matter will certainly have my support. I protest most strongly at the way in which this important matter—this historical matter involving considerations of issues which many of us regard as matters of high principle—has been handled by the Government in this way. Of course, one cannot expect anything better of this lot.
It gives me the greatest possible pleasure to say that I agreed with almost everything the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said—that is, apart from some of his concluding sentences. I cannot recall ever before agreeing with him so widely.
I find this an unhappy occasion. I have an hereditary and an almost lifelong personal concern for Malta. I have had many, and still have a few, friends of whom I have been very fond in the island. As the right hon. Member for South Shields pointed out, this has been a long story. He spoke of some of his experiences at the Round Table Conference. I was there, too, and, without going further back into the history of this matter, I will content myself with saying that this has been a long story of difficulties, misfortunes and the spreading of resentment on both sides of the sea. At one time to get things sorted out even tolerably was almost too much to hope for. So now we have come to a point—and I beg my right hon. Friend to listen to what I am about to say—which is tiresome, I can see that, but which I really think deserves an answer. I do not wish to protest—that is not a word I would use—but I feel, almost as much as any hon. Member on the other side, shaken and rather frightened by the haste of this procedure.
I am not trying to obstruct it or even to oppose it, because it seems to me that the only explanation of it can be—and if the Under-Secretary or the Minister of State does not mind, I do particularly want to speak to his right hon. Friend more than anyone else—the only defence and explanation must be the strong feeling of the man who knows most about the present situation that (a) in the present situation this is the best that could be hoped for—and I am prepared to agree there—and that (b) if this were not done, I will not say today or tomorrow, but before the Summer Recess, very probably it would never be done at all. If I may say so without appearing to be too much taking the view of a superior officer, I think that we were entitled to have an exposition of what I have just said, if that is the real explanation, or of whatever is the right one, at the beginning of the debate, and if we had had it perhaps I could content myself, but I hope now that we shall get it at the end of the debate.
This is a very important matter indeed. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields reminded us, we are under pledge to these people to maintain—and it must be in the sense which the words would have for them and not in the sense which the words would have for us—to maintain their religion; no doubt even to them the sense of those words is not quite the same now as it was five generations ago, but it is in their sense that we are pledged. That, as a matter of honour, makes it extremely difficult for us to try to use any more influence or pressure than, presumably, we did in order to do what would have seemed to be reasonable but would have seemed to be something contrary to that pledge. As a matter of honour, that must have great weight with us.
So it must, I think, as a matter of convenience. We were reminded by the right hon. Member for South Shields—and I am most grateful to him for the help my eloquence is getting from him—quite rightly, although I was not sure he got the right year because I have not looked it up, of Napoleon, and of Napoleon's behaviour, and the behaviour of the French, and the result. It was a most remarkable result—an almost unique event in history. Here were people anxious for the preservation of their way of life, whatever its poverty, and we cannot imagine it now, and they sought protection for that, and most particularly for their religious and ecclesiastical habits, from what was then the great Protestant Power. It is a very remarkable thing.
On the point of convenience also it is really an unanswerable consideration that we must be scrupulous in this matter, because we know that it was the bad behaviour of Napoleon himself and of his troops that caused the result of their first being besieged and then expelled, and of having the humiliation to see what they had taken put under the British flag just because they had taken it. It is of enormous importance that we should remember these things.
I do not want to speak for long. I think perhaps I should stop, and I shall not be many minutes longer, but this is a matter on which one cannot easily say anything without saying a great deal. What does democracy mean in the terms of these papers, and are all relations between Her Majesty's Government and the Matese Government, however the two may shift and alter, to be with the memory that the difficulty of democracy is that we cannot maintain a democracy unless we allow people inside it not to be democratic? That seems to be one of the essentials, if not the essential, and that makes the whole question of public security, and the relations with what must continue to be, in some sense or other, however we alter the words, the protecting Power, all very difficult.
I should like to ask some small and, it may seem, merely verbal questions. I am sorry that I have not—partly, perhaps, because the topic is not to me wholly congenial—taken a very close interest in all this legislation which, as the phrase goes, turns an empire into a Commonwealth, but I see in page 23 of the Constitution before us the words:
There shall be a Parliament of Malta which shall consist of Her Majesty and a House of Representatives.
Is that common form? If it is not common form—or even if it is, but more if it is not—we deserve some explanation. It seems to me, though I do not stick to this—I have forgotten all my learning in these matters, and I do not stick to what I now say if someone has better expert opinions—that the Queen is not a member or part of Parliament, or is she? Parliament does not consist of the Queen and the right hon. Gentleman and me and a few noble Lords—does it? Or does it? We ought to be told about that.
Similarly, in page 35 we find the words:
The executive authority of Malta is vested in Her Majesty.
It was vested in Her Majesty, surely, by the bargain between the inhabitants of the Maltese Islands and His Majesty King George III. Surely, it should read
"remains vested". These are not Committee points in effect, although they sound like Committee points in form.
I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) if he were here, that it seems to me not possible to agree with his saying that one of the similarities between this island and that island is that we are both Christian peoples—or even as I think he said that we were both Christian States. We are not. We once were. Perhaps we were the better then, or perhaps the better now—I do not wish to discuss that now—but this is a secular State.
The principle of this State which is generally assumed in conversation, and even in technical and learned discussion, is that very man or woman who is a citizen of this State is equally entitled with every other to any legal activities, to any political activities, to any religious activities—not plainly against the law of decency, and so on—and that it is no matter whatever which of us has which sort of religion, and which of us has none. That could not seem to any Maltese to be what one would call a Christian country, and we had better think of that and not talk of our similarity in that respect.
There is another matter on which I disagree with one previous speaker. The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) told us that however long the world goes on and whatever happens to us and whatever happens to the Maltese, because, as he put it, their economic situation for a century and a half—and it is more—was conditioned by us, we therefore owe a financial and economic obligation to them and to their descendants, as far as I could hear, to all eternity.
I feel bound to say, although I know that it is not very popular in the House, that I think that in general the assumptions now uncritically made about the duty to what are called underdeveloped people, and so on, are very dangerous, and especially very dangerous to the under-developed people, if they are pushed too far. It never occurred to the Maltese in 1798 or 1801, whichever it was, that they were going to find a protector who could assure them four meals a clay, and the meals getting better by 3 per cent. per annum on to the Day of Judgment. They had no such hopes. What they hoped was that they were going to get peace and quiet and nothing in the least like Napoleon, a radical secularist.
If we are to be told that the Government ought now to delay in order to try to get, as we were told by one or two speakers, something rather more acceptable to the Labour Party in Malta, we ought to face some of the realities about that. None of us is immortal. The Archbishop is not immortal, Mr. Mintoff is not immortal. As far as any of us can understand—and we are not frightfully good at understanding each other—and as far as we can venture to base the argument on that assumption, the leadership of the Labour Party has for long, and does now and will for long, desired to clash with what it regards as a kind of ecclesiastical authority which it believes is incompatible with the modern world, and perhaps it is.
If so, whether they would be wise to choose the modern world or wise to choose the ecclesiastical authority is not a matter for this House, but we had better be conscious of that and not think that it is because of the incompetence or wrong-headedness of my right hon. Friend that these documents are not more agreeable to the Maltese Labour Party. However far we have gone that way, and we have almost certainly gone as far as is compatible either with the morals or with the convenience of the original bargain, it would certainly seem that it would not have been far enough for the Maltese Labour Party as at present led to admit itself satisfied or even partially satisfied.
It is with the deepest regret that I find it difficult to see this—I will not insult my right hon. Friends by saying "solution", I am sure that he is wise enough to know that there are no solutions of this sort—but I deeply regret that I find it impossible to think that this arrangement will turn into something permanent and get better and better. Perhaps it will, and if so I am all for it, but if not and if I am not merely being foolish, my right hon. Friend owes a duty to the House to explain to us more fully than any of us have yet understood exactly why this arrangement had to be passed at exactly this rate of knots.
If I may say so without offence, the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) seemed to me to be talking a good deal more cool common sense than some of the other hon. Members who have spoken from the benches opposite. He was much less soothing than some of them were about this "arrangement", as he called it. I agree with him that it will not work for long. No constitution is for ever; I doubt very much whether this one will last long.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken on both sides of the House, the hon. Member also deplored the haste with which this has been rushed through Parliament, imposed on Parliament and imposed upon the Island of Malta without any consultation—consultation, that is, after the terms had been agreed between the British and the Maltese Governments. The people of Malta, including those who do not happen to support the present Maltese Government, are presented on 48 hours' notice with a fait accompli, and the postal service in this country being what it is at the moment—a point which I tried quite wrongly, as Mr. Speaker pointed out, to raise on Tuesday as a point of order—they will not see the new Constitution or the Bill which we are discussing tonight until this House has passed it and, when the other place also has passed it, it is an Act of Parliament.
Then, at some time—and it was not clear in the exchanges between my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the Minister exactly when—an Order in Council will be promulgated which apparently we shall not have the right to pray against and which will not require an affirmative or any other Resolution of the House. This is a process much nearer to dictatorship than to democracy.
The hon. Member for Carlton asked what was perhaps a rhetorical question about democracy. I forget exactly what he said, but he asked what these proposals had to do with democracy. I do not think that they have anything to do with democracy as most people in the West understand it. Every concession mentioned in the debate, every toning down or modification of the fantastic demands that were originally made, is immediately qualified by a number of restrictions, modifications and exceptions.
The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) mentioned marriage and Section 46 in the Constitution. Section 46 opens bravely enough by saying:
… no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect.
But, earlier, the Section also says:
Subject to the provisions of subsections (4), (5) and (7) of this section …
and it is in subsection (4) that the question of marriage arises. It is extremely difficult for those of us who are not constitutional lawyers to follow the extraordinarily involuted language in which the Constitution is drafted. If I misunderstand it at any point, I hope that the Secretary of State will correct me.
Having said that
subject to the provisions of
no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory",
it goes on to qualify that by saying that it
shall not apply to any law so far as that law makes provision … with respect to adoption, marriage, dissolution of marriage, burial, devolution of property on death or any matters of personal law not hereinbefore specified".
Another important qualification of that anti-discrimination provision in Section 46 of the Constitution has not been mentioned so far. It appears in subsection (5). I must read it out to the House; again, the language is appallingly complex. I do not know that it is really necessary for it to be in such complex jargon, but here it is:
Nothing contained in any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of subsection (1) of this section to the extent that it makes provision with respect to qualifications for service as a public officer or as a member of a disciplined force or for the service of a local government authority or a body corporate established for public purposes by any law.
Although the word "it" in the second line of that quotation is, in my view, disgracefully slovenly and ambiguous, it would seem that that subsection means that a person can be barred from the public service in Malta if, for instance, he is a Socialist, an agnostic, or some other kind of person who is disapproved of by the prevailing authorities.
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Wokingham raised the question of marriage, and I hope that the Secretary of State, in his reply, will clarify the position for us. Although this obviously is not the most important effect of this Constitution, it is one of the matters about which public feeling in England may easily be most anxious. We should not flatter ourselves in this House today that public feeling in England is seething with anxiety about this new constitution—I do not believe that it is—but there could easily be a number of incidents such as one which I recall which would be played up very much in the popular Press and would inflame a certain amount of ill will, which certainly none of us wants.
I recall a case which I had occasion to deal with and take up with the Government several years ago, of a British Service or ex-Service man who married a Maltese girl in England in an Anglican parish church. She then went back to Malta and he was to follow her there and settle down there with her and, presumably, raise a family. He was absolutely stunned to receive an intimation from Malta, from her or from her parents, that her marriage to him in England had been declared invalid and had been annulled by the ecclesiastical authorities in Malta. This seemed very strange to me, because I thought that the process of annulment, at least in the Roman Catholic Church, was reserved for the Rota at Rome. This, however, was apparently a process in Malta which was in accordance with the prevailing ideology.
Will that still be the position under this Constitution? I hope very much that the Secretary of State can clear up that point and also the other point which I have mentioned about what sort of people are debarred from the public service under subsection (5) of Section 46 of the Constitution.
I have used the word "dictatorship", and I do not use it lightly, because, despite the soft words uttered with complete sincerity by the hon. Member for Wokingham and others, I believe that this Constitution may well result in—I will not say the establishment of, because there already is one, but in the consolidation of a clerical dictatorship in Malta. I believe that the concessions that have been made are practically worthless. To do him credit, I think that the Secretary of State probably did his best vis-à-vis Archbishop Gonzi and his puppet Prime Minister. If, however, one examines the concessions, they do not really amount in essence to very much.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman was able to persuade the Maltese to get rid of that most obviously objectionable Section which was read out and which put the church or the hierarchy above the law. In negotiation, it is always customary to start by asking for more than one expects to get. I wonder whether that Section was put in, because it would be so obviously extreme and unacceptable to any British Government, with the deliberate thought that it might be expendable in the course of negotiation and that, anyway, the position of the hierarchy would be safeguarded.
Not only other Sections later in the Constitution, but the Section 2, on page 1, states:
The Religion of Malta is the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion.
That is a point, incidentally, which is not denied by the Malta Labour Party and which the Malta Labour Party never tried to get rid of or to countermand. Of course, it could not. It concedes that the religion of Malta is Catholic; it has always said so in its public documents and policy statements.
Subsection (2) of Clause 2, however, goes on to state:
The State guarantees to the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church the right freely to exercise her proper spiritual and ecclesiastical functions and duties and to manage her own affairs.
If the Maltese hierarchy still interprets such a phrase as
proper spiritual and ecclesiastical functions and duties
in the same way as it has always interpreted similar phrases in the past, this will entitle it to intervene in elections with every bit as much tyrannical spiritual pressure as at any time in the past—as at the last disgraceful rigged election, for instance.
The Archbishop will say—that he will say it with the utmost sincerity, nobody doubts; he is passionately, fanatically sincere—"it is our spiritual function and duty to preserve the souls of our flock from the contamination of such evil heresies as Socialism ". He knows that the Malta Labour Party is a Socialist Party. Indeed, one of the two reasons given for what I regard as the most disgraceful and cruel action ever taken in modern times by any hierarchy—the solemn personal interdict imposed on every member of the Malta Labour Party Executive, including some who were devout practising Catholics—in itself shows how very out of touch, how ignorant and how politically illiterate that hierarchy is; for this reason was that the Malta Labour Party belonged to the Socialist International.
I know that right hon. and hon. Members opposite do not sympathise with the ideas and policies of the Socialist International, but they are at least sufficiently educated to know that it consists entirely of democratic Socialist Parties, such as the British Labour Party and the German Social Democratic Party, which are the two largest member parties in the Socialist International. To impose such an interdict to bar from the Sacraments devout Catholics simply because they are members of the executive of a body which belongs to the Socialist International seems to me an appallingly cruel thing to do, and without any Christian sanction to support it.
But they did one thing even more cruel. The aged vice-president of the Malta Labour Party, who was not present at the meeting which led to the imposition of this interdict, died a few weeks or months after this event. He was refused Christian burial although he had been a devout practising Catholic all his life. His body was slung on to what they call in Valletta "the rubbish dump". His family were not allowed to have a public Requiem mass said for his soul.
This is the hierarchy to whose mercies we are now committing the Maltese people. Make no mistake about it: this Constitution can, of course, be changed. Even these moderate safeguards—which I contend mean practically nothing—can be got rid of by a two-thirds' majority. At the last election when all this tyrannical pressure, as I maintain, was exercised, the Malta Labour Party got just one-third of the votes. Although the other smaller parties, or some of them, do not agree with the Nationalist Party, on inde- pendence—Miss Strickland does not, for instance—none the less they may all be loosely described as under the umbrella of the Church and the hierarchy. So it would be perfectly possible, once this is out of our hands, for them to engineer a tightening up of the Constitution in the interests of the hierarchy and what they, I think wrongly, believe to be their interests.
I have spoken, I fear, rather harshly. I applaud the ecumenical spirit of some of what the hon. Member for Wokingham said, but I think that he was being much too optimistic. I liked his description of Dom Mintoff and his tribute to Dom Mintoff's ability. He said how good it was for Malta that there should be such a man. I felt that there was an unspoken implication there that it was very good for Malta that there should be such a man, and that he should be permanently Leader of the Opposition. However, I let that pass.
The hon. Gentleman is designing to get me to my feet. He must not put words into my mouth. With him, I am sufficient of a democrat to hope that the Constitution will work and that in due time there may be changes. He must concede that occasionally that is a good thing for us all.
I would at least agree with the hon. Member that Dom Mintoff is the outstanding political personality in Malta, but there is this head-on clash between him and the Archbishop.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Carlton that the Labour Party has ever sought a clash with the Archbishop. On the contrary, for many years, especially when Dom Mintoff was Prime Minister, it would, I think, be truer to say that both Dom Mintoff and the Achbishop were, as it were, fencing with each other, avoiding a direct head-on clash, testing their strength with secondary issues, in almost all of which the Archbishop was defeated.
For example, when Dom Mintoff was Prime Minister, he introduced rudimentary social security in the form of family allowances. The Archbishop tried to insist that these should not be paid in respect of illegitimate children. He was defeated on that, I am very glad to say.
It is not true that the Labour Party has sought a clash. The clash has been brought about by the implacable intransigence of the hierarchy, which is, I suppose, about three hundred years behind the Vatican in its attitude towards the modern world. I emphasise that because I do not want either the hon. Member for Wokingham—I do not think that he would—or anybody else to say that I have been making an anti-Catholic or anti-Roman Catholic speech. I share the tolerance of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. In many respects I revere the Roman Catholic Church. I was glad and privileged to be able to see something of the exciting development at the first two sessions of the Vatican Council.
In order to show that one can criticise the Maltese hierarchy quite severely without being accused of being anti-Catholic or anti-Roman Catholic, I would simply refer hon. Members to the letter in today's Guardian from Count Michael de la Bedoyere, one of the best known Catholic laymen in England, the former editor of the Catholic Herald and the present editor of the newsletter, Search. He has lately returned from Malta where he talked to Dom Mintoff and the Archbishop and others. He writes:
From what I heard and saw it seems to me that the antique and unique Roman Catholic Establishment in Malta was totally out of step with the position of the Catholic Church in Europe and America. … It is, then, not surprising that Mr. Mintoff, as Leader of the Opposition, has felt it to be his duty … to criticise and oppose the status of the Maltese Church upheld by Dr. Borg Olivier. I think he has done this with great bitterness, even though very many of his followers are convinced Catholics. But how can one wholly blame him seeing that he and his followers are made subject by the Church to excommunication for reading the Labour papers and, indeed, for supporting his political views?
This is what I meant when some months ago, in this House, I referred to the Maltese hierarchy as "inventing new mortal sins"—asking penitents in the confessional whether they had read a Labour newspaper and refusing absolution if they said they had helped the Labour Party in any way. Such conduct is utterly contrary to the example of the present Pope when he was Archbishop of Milan and ordered his priests not to question penitents in the con-
fessional about whether they had voted Communist, Socialist or anything else.
Count de la Bedoyère goes on:
These religious sanctions (unique to Malta, I take it) were bad enough in the past. But today, when the Catholic Church all over the world is responding … to Pope John's 'bringing the Church up to date,' the mediaeval mentality of the Maltese Church is dreadful. I cannot think that Mr. Sandys (hiding within the cassock of the Archbishop perhaps in order to get his military bases) has understood the position. The result, it seems to me, can only be an increase of political bitterness "—
and he refers to Mr. Mintoff—
who surely will one day be Prime Minister again".
I hope and believe that that is true, but one effect of this Constitution and the Bill—and no doubt an intended effect—will be to "rig" the next elections, whenever they are, in such a way as to prevent Labour from coming to power there. This is a thoroughly bad Constitution and, therefore, this is a thoroughly bad Bill.
The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) has spent the whole of his speech on the politico-religious problem of the George Cross island. I do not think that this is Malta's real problem. Although I agree that both politics and the religious position have to be discussed in some detail, the real problem facing the island is economic.
In 1802, Malta placed herself voluntarily under British rule and for 162 years has been used as a British and Commonwealth base. From our defence forces she sustained her economy until, in 1957, my right hon. Friend, then Minister of Defence, introduced his White Paper on the replanning of defence. Then it was clear that the British defence forces in Malta were to be run down. We have to consider the effect of this because we are discussing the defence agreement and the financial agreement as well as the Constitution, and these two agreements are of vital importance to the future of Malta.
The Report of the Round Table Conference on Malta, published in 1955, said, in paragraph 10:
A third of Malta's national income is derived from payments by the United Kingdom Service Departments, and a further important part is indirectly so derived. A
quarter of the working population is employed on or in connection with defence activities. About 90 per cent of Maltese imports are paid for by expenditure in Malta of United Kingdom Departments or by direct financial aid from the United Kingdom Treasury.
A few years later, in 1963, the Governor, in his now very well known speech to the parish priests at Candlemass, said:
Our national income is about £45 million a year mostly based on, and generated by, spending from the British Defence Services. We only export £5 million worth of goods, but our imports cost us £29 million. The money to pay for this we earn from the Defence services.
That is the position of Malta's economic dependence on the British defence forces.
The rundown started in 1963 and will end in 1967. By 1967, about 20,000 people could be out of work in the George Cross island directly due to the rundown of the British forces. This must be prevented at all costs and I believe that the Bill and Agreements will do much to prevent the disastrous effect of the rundown and to generate a new economic future for Malta. The Governor, in his speech, said
The logic of the future presents us with problems and possibilities. Our problems are jobs, income and revenue; our potential lies in agriculture and horticulture, in the Dockyard, in new industries and in tourism; our outlets lie in emigration and employment in Europe; our challenge is Independence.
This, of course, is the challenge we are discussing.
The problem is that, for the past many hundreds of years, Malta has always been protected by the dominant power in the Mediterranean, be it the Knights of Malta or Great Britain. The Knights, and then Great Britain, have had to subsidise its economy. The big question now is whether Malta, soon to become independent, can stand on her own feet. Can she become viable economically? We can draw some conclusions from the first five-year plan which ended in December, 1963. I want to refer to some figures because they give us a basis on which to judge the future economic potential of Malta as she proceeds to independence.
British assistance for the first five-year plan was £35 million, which included £7¼ million for civilianisation of the dockyard. The plan will result in 42 new industries and 4,600 new jobs. This goes some way to taking up the slack created by the rundown of the Services. It represents capital investment of £6½ million, of which over 50 per cent. was private capital attracted from outside. In other words, the assistance we were able to give generated private investment from outside and by the end of 1963—these are the latest figures I have—31 out of the 42 new industries had started production. This has already meant 2,720 new jobs and a total production order of over £3 million; also six of the 31 new industries have already had such success that they have started expansion programmes.
This only shows what can be done provided Malta has financial assistance to set her on the road to the change-over from a service to a civilian economy. The dockyard is, of course, the largest employer and the best training ground for apprentices. The completion of civilianisation of the yard will be of great assistance—I understand that this should be early next year—and the yard will continue to employ about 4,000 people. It is obvious that the dockyard must remain competitive with other Mediterranean yards if Malta is to prosper economically.
Another matter referred to in the Governor's speech was tourism, which has increased threefold since 1959. Whereas there were 1,750 hotel beds in 1963, there will be 4,000 by 1966. Here, again, Britain has helped by a grant of £1¼ million towards tourism in the first five-year plan. New hotels, the casino opened last week and tax concessions to those who want o retire to Malta will all help to generate Malta's economy.
I believe that the strategic importance of Malta is increasing rather than decreasing. Events both in Libya, Cyprus and other parts of the world have shown that Britain still has a great interest in Malta as a defence base. The Times yesterday headed its leading article on Malta, "Expensive Independence". Of course, £50 million may be considered rather a lot to give a Colony on entering the road to independence. Indeed, I believe that this is the highest per capita population grant given to any Colony.
There are, however, good justifications for this expenditure in the links with Malta and the historic assistance given by Malta to Britain and the Commonwealth for so many years. It is a repayment of the debt we owe to Malta. Those are the remarks I wanted to make about the economic problem which is, I believe the fundamental issue for the Maltese people. However, it would be wrong to disregard the political and religious problems which have figured so largely in speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Hon. Members have referred to the Declaration of Rights of 1802, but I do not think that the two Clauses of the Declaration which refer to religion have been quoted. I believe that they should go on record because they were provisions of the agreement entered into by the Sovereign with the people of Malta. Clause 6 reads:
That His Majesty the King is the protector of our holy religion, and is bound to uphold and protect it as heretofore; and without any diminution of what has been practised since these Islands have acknowledged His Majesty as their Sovereign to this day;
Clause 7 states:
The interference in matters spiritual or temporal of no other temporal Sovereign shall be permitted in these Islands; and reference in spiritual matters shall only be had to the Pope, and to the respective Generals of the Monastic Orders.
The Constitution recognises, as hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise, that Malta is a Catholic country. I do not mean that in the sense that one says that France is a Catholic country, for about 99 per cent. of the Maltese people are practising Catholics. The new Constitution establishes the Roman Catholic religion as the religion of the country. It thus recognises the promises made in 1802. I am very glad that, with the agreement with the hierarchy in Malta and with the agreement of Rome, the additional clauses which appeared to put the Church above the law have, by agreement, been removed. One cannot possibly maintain, although hon. Members opposite have, that this will lead to an ecclesiastical dictatorship. No fewer than 16 Sections of the Constitution deal with the fundamental rights and freedom of the individual.
Some of these issues were raised by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) who said that teaching in State schools was to be teaching according to the Catholic religion. But that in no way prohibits schools of other religions being set up, and it applies to State schools because Malta is a Catholic country. There are schools of other religions in the dockyard and elsewhere in Malta. The Constitution insists on the appointment of Catholics in State schools only for giving religious instruction, and that is a reasonable provision. It does not insist that all teachers must be Roman Catholic.
One wonders why there has been such hostility in the speeches of hon. Members opposite, at any rate in that of the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), to the Constitution which are echoed by the Opposition in Malta. When he was in office, Mr. Mintoff supported integration. The best solution for the island might well have been for it to be linked to this country. However, it did not turn out like that and I doubt whether Mr. Mintoff himself really wanted integration. When it was given to him and when he was offered large financial support, he upped the bid every time and finally demanded a blank cheque which made nonsense of the integration proposals.
To judge from the Maltese Labour Party's suggested amendments to the Constitution, Mr. Mintoff seems to want to create a lay State which is a republic outside the Commonwealth. That is not what the mass of the Maltese people want. He speaks of the present Constitution being against the Maltese Labour Party. I do not want to read many of the amendments suggested by Mr. Mintoff, but there is one which is illustrative of the kind of party political issue in which he involves the Church. The Amendment is:
Insert in section 25:
(5) 'The Police are empowered to enter places of worship even during the performance of sacred functions and stop the ringing of bells or other nuisances which may disturb public order during public meetings'.
I know the reason for this as well as the hon. Member does. Church bells have been rung in many villages in Malta without the permission of the ecclesiastical authorities. It has been done to disturb public meetings taking place outside the local church. But should we try to legislate for this kind of thing in a Constitution? That seems to be reducing the Constitution to a farce.
Another important issue has been the electoral law, mentioned by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley). As it stands, the electoral law is exactly the same as it has been since 1924. If the changes are so important, why did Mr. Mintoff not make them when he was in power? It is a pity that the subject of religion has been brought into party politics rather as a red herring. I regret it and I am sure that every other hon. Member does.
When the hon. Gentleman suggests that we have dragged in that question as a red herring for reasons of party politics, does he not appreciate that it is absolutely central to the Constitution, apart from anything else?
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I was saying that the quarrels in Malta are largely party political and that all political parties have dragged in the Church as a red herring to detract from their opponents' point of view. It is better, as in this country, that the Church should be left outside politics.
We should remember that Mr. Mintoff and the Malta Labour Party appear to want Malta to be a lay republic outside the Commonwealth. I am sure that all hon. Members hope that Malta will not persist along that path—I do not necessarily mean along the path behind the Malta Labour Party but along a path which would take Malta away from the Church, away from the Crown and outside the Commonwealth. One hopes that the quarrel will be ended and that all sides will realise that everybody in Malta has to get together to make a success of independence. I hope that the ecclesiastical authorities will withdraw the interdicts which the hon. Member for Barking mentioned and which were placed on certain members of the executive of the Malta Labour Party, so that Malta can start on the path of independence with a clean sheet and with the sanctions of either side withdrawn.
I hope that the statement in The Times, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Llanelly, does not represent the view of the Malta Labour Party. I hope that all five political parties in Malta will agree to co-operate under the new Constitution and to build up a strong Catholic State in the Mediterranean which is a full member of the Commonwealth.
I hope that the Maltese will have faith in the future of their own island. I am told that there is £100 million of Maltese money invested outside the island. I hope that now that Malta is becoming independent the Maltese will invest in their own industry and in the future of their own island.
On a number of occasions, I have drawn the attention of the House to the inequalities of pay between the Royal Malta Artillery—which will be the Maltese Army—and the British Army. I hope that the Prime Minister of Malta will do something about that when Malta becomes independent, and will thus take a lesson from other Commonwealth nations.
I support the views of many of my hon. Friends who hope that it will be possible by some means to end the litigation with Messrs. Bailey before Malta becomes independent, or very soon afterwards, so that this thorny problem is not passed on with independence. If the Maltese Government so desire it, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will back their application for membership of N.A.T.O. After all, Malta is the headquarters of the N.A.T.O. Mediterranean Command.
It is very fitting that, on the day when Her Majesty the Queen has reviewed the Royal Marines in Buckingham Palace on their 300th anniversary, we should be discussing the Malta Independence Bill. The Royal Navy and the Royal Marines have been intimately connected with Malta for nearly 200 years. I believe that the whole House will welcome a new European member of the Commonwealth.
I should like, finally, to say that Malta is the only country where one can go into a post office, or police station, and find on one wall a crucifix, or a statue of the Sacred Heart of the Virgin Mary, and on the other wall a picture of Her Majesty the Queen. Malta has followed the old advice that made Britain great—"Fear God and honour the Queen." I hope that an independent Malta will maintain these two virtues for many years to come.
I have read the Constitution that we are discussing. It affects the lives of 340,000 men and women in Malta. During my reading of it, I asked myself a number of questions such as, will this document bring greater happiness and harmony to the island of Malta? Will it bring the nationhood of Malta nearer than it is at present? Does it express the desires and aspirations of the people? Is it a real independence, or a sham independence, that we are offering them? Will it give the voters of Malta the rights and protection that I enjoy in this country? They have a right to expect the same privileges, the same rights, and the same responsibilities that I expect in this country. Is it a Constitution which I would make for myself? If it is, I can give it my wholehearted support.
The Commonwealth Relations Secretary traced the history of the matter leading up to the present position. He did it very well, but he left out some things, and I want to fill in the gaps. The referendum was held nine weeks ago. Was the question asked in that referendum clear, or was it obscure and ambiguous? Did they understand what they were voting for? The question that they had to answer was: do you agree with the constitution set out by the Prime Minister, Mr. Borg Olivier? I have tried to put myself in the position of the people of Malta. What influences were brought to bear on them during the referendum? Was physical, or moral, or spiritual pressure brought to bear on these men and women? If so, to what extent was this pressure brought to bear to make them vote one way or the other?
I have listened carefully to the debate and to the religious controversy that has been brought into it. I am not a particularly religious man. I want there to be tolerance in religion. If a man's belief is different from mine, I want him to be allowed to follow his belief. During the referendum, did the clerical authorities follow a policy of spiritual tolerance? Did they follow Pope Paul and Pope John in the spirit of a fast-moving and progressive age? If they had done, I do not believe that there would have been any dispute this evening about this constitution. Did the clerical authorities act in the spirit which prevailed in this country before the Toleration Act of 1688?
Some time ago I had occasion to trace the development of Nonconformity, and how it broke away from the Conformist Church and formed its own church in Wales. The Toleration Act was then in operation. It appears that the Maltese people are in the position that we were in 300 years ago. Was there tolerance during the referendum? Were they free from coercion? What threats and intimidations were used against them?
Men must be allowed to act freely when considering both religious and political problems. We value very highly the freedom that we enjoy. I am not going to allow anyone to take away from me the freedom that was won for me by my forefathers. The people of Malta want the same religious and political freedom of action that I enjoy. According to this document, we are offering them freedom. Is this a real freedom that will last? Is this freedom fitting for a democratic people?
As I said, the referendum was held nine weeks ago. The Commonwealth Relations Secretary decided to send six observers to the island to see whether any undue pressure was being brought to bear on the people there. The United Nations asked the right hon. Gentleman for permission to send a number of international observers to the island, but he turned down that request and decided to send out his own observers to report to him. He sent them out to obtain information, but surely that information was not only for himself? The intention was that the observers should report not only to the right hon. Gentleman, but to the House. We have not, however, had their report. I was anxious to know exactly what took place. If the observers have not had an opportunity of reporting on what they saw, I know as much as the right hon. Gentleman does.
The day before yesterday, after nine weeks' delay, we were presented with a Bill. Why this rush? Why this helter-skelter to place the Bill on the Statute Book? The delay which has taken place has created mistrust and deep suspicion among the Maltese people. There is an uneasy feeling that either the Government of Malta or the Commonwealth Relations Secretary has something to hide. Why have these observers not given us their report?
It appears that, either willingly or unwillingly, the observers have been kept silent. But if they have been compelled to remain silent and inarticulate, somebody else has spoken out to explain what was happening in Malta at that time. The Press has spoken out. It is a good thing that we have the Press. I sometimes criticise it because I think that it is biased, but in this case it has done a good job by speaking out.
I shall not give my opinion of what happened in Malta because I was not there. Under the heading "Malta Crossroads" the Sunday Telegraph of 26th April said:
No election, no referendums can express the will of the people in this world so long as the church can threaten voters with punishment in the world to come.
That statement was made, not by a member of the Labour Party, but by an unbiased newspaper when it was making its inquiries.
On 2nd May the Daily Telegraph said:
Although Archbishop Gonzi has issued a fiat that priests and nuns throughout the island are not to influence the electorate, this had been massively disregarded.
Did the observers see all this in Malta during the referendum? If so, did they report it to the Commonwealth Relations Secretary? If they did, why is it that the right hon. Gentleman has not reported to us, so that we could be as familiar with the situation as he is? Has the right hon. Gentleman stopped the observers from speaking?
On 3rd May, the Sunday Times said:
The whole referendum campaign has been heavily overshadowed by religion and conducted with nastiness and every known trickery. Despite a decree by the 77 year-old Archbishop that the referendum was a political issue and that the Church would not intervene, many priests and nuns have defied him openly advocating support for the Government draft Constitution.
That is another independent report.
On 1st May, the Catholic Herald said:
Without holding a brief for Mr. Mintoff"—
and I am glad that Mr. Mintoff's character and ability has been appreciated by some hon. Members today—
Catholic M.P.s in London find it difficult to see anything inherently objectionable in the
amendments of the Maltese Labour Party. They are distressed because many non-Catholic M.P.s without being in any way unsympathetic to the Church, feel, rightly or wrongly, that she is claiming more than her proper share in the field of spiritual sovereignty.
All those reports are from the Press. If hon. Members opposite will not accept the views of the Labour Party, they should accept the views of their own Press. Under such conditions, with such pressure brought to bear, we would not have been greatly surprised if Dr. Borg Olivier had had a tremendous majority after the referendum. But what happened? After all the pressure, 38 per cent. voted for the referendum and 32 per cent. against it—9,000 voters spoiling their papers and 30,000 people not bothering to vote. Does this Constitution represent the voice of Malta, in view of the threats that have been uttered, overt and covert? In my view it confirms my idea that although every method, moral and otherwise, was used to win affirmation for the Constitution, and despite the personal prejudice against the leader of the Malta Labour Party, only 38 people out of every 100 voted for the Constitution and as many as 32 out of every 100 against it.
Does the hon. Member realise that the difficulty about the referendum is that many people feared independence? Many people voted a certain way because they did not want independence, and not because they disapproved of the Nationalist Government's Constitution. That is what confuses the issue.
And there were many people who wanted independence and who were afraid to vote for it because of the threats that were held over their heads.
Our Government know the wishes of the Maltese people, but they are not prepared to act. Great Britain seems to want to give Malta independence with one hand and take it back with the other. Why is this? Are we afraid of a free Malta? Are we afraid of Mr. Mintoff? We were afraid of Makarios, and we exiled him—but we brought him back in the end to negotiate with us. I can see the time coming when we will do the same with Mr. Mintoff. It will not be in my time here, because this is my swan song in the House. I am glad to be making this contribution on behalf of the courageous and noble people of the Island of Malta.
We should not run away with the impression that the freedom of Malta is a trifling matter. It is a serious matter. Freedom is vital to thinking men and women. They value it more than life. If they did not, we would not be here today. We would not be enjoying the freedom that we now have. Millions of people have laid down their lives in order to win this freedom, and more will yet do so in order to maintain what they have, and to gain more.
I want to make it crystal clear that the people of Malta do not want national assistance from us. What they want is to be put upon a financial and economic footing which will enable them to compete in the world. Will the new constitution do that? I do not think that it will. The economic position of Malta has been gradually deteriorating. In Malta, 7,000 men are unemployed, and 7,000 men are emigrating every year. Unemployment is increasing. I am afraid that the constitution will leave the people of Malta worse off than they are now. The Sunday Times said:
Malta Vote on Constitution Indecisive
on 7th June. The Guardian said:
Uncertainty of Malta Referendum".
The Daily Telegraph said:
Both Sides Claim Malta Poll Win".
The next day the same newspaper said:
Inconclusive Understatement as far as Malta is concerned".
The Universal newspaper said:
Malta Votes But There is Doubt and Confusion".
The Minister has given an undertaking that he will not act upon an inconclusive decision. He refused to act on the decision of the previous referendum when the figures were much more conclusive. Now he wants to act when it suits his purpose. It was a confused referendum and a confused decision.
Before he comes to a final decision about the constitution of Malta I ask the Commonwealth Relations Secretary—there are legal difficulties in the way perhaps—to let the people of Malta speak in an election. I am convinced that the forces of progress will move on in Malta as they have in the past, and I ask the Minister not to do anything to prevent that from happening.
I hope that I shall not be thought guilty of any discourtesy to the House or to my right hon. Friend for not having been present in the Chamber earlier. I have been engaged in the service of the House in the Estimates Committee, elsewhere.
I had not intended to intervene in the debate and I do so now only briefly and, I hope, in an uncontroversial manner, but the association of Malta with the Royal Navy has been so great and so close over such a long period that I thought it not unfitting that a naval officer who is a Member of this House should express the hope that this constitution will bring happiness, success and benefit to the people of Malta.
Not many hon. Members are able to recall the sight of the Grand Harbour at Malta a generation ago filled with great ships which occupied every part of the harbour and every creek. It was in those days the presence of the Royal Navy and the naval dockyard which brought great benefit and economic security to the Maltese. We all agree that we owe a tremendous debt to the Maltese for their courage and loyalty during the war, and I think that the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) in the Chamber during the early part of the debate indicated his own recollection of that debt.
I do not wish to enter into any controversy of party politics over this Bill, and still less into the confusion of party politics in Malta. I am glad that in the Bill generous financial provisions have been made: I think that right, and they could not be too generous.
I want to express the conviction that Malta, during the next few years, will become a good deal important from the defence point of view than has been the case recently. The uncertain political future in Cyprus, and also, possibly, in parts of North Africa, will inevitably, I think, draw greater attention to the importance of Malta once again as a naval and an air base. If that happens, some of the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) may be lessened. If, within the next few years, larger forces are once more based on Malta, this would bring benefit to the island.
I congratulate sincerely my right hon. Friend on the success of these talks. We all appreciate that they have been exceedingly difficult.
We are almost at the end of the life of this Parliament, and I regret that we should have to debate and perhaps divide on a Bill of such great significance as this one at such short notice. This is a good Bill, but that is not the point. What arises here is something of historic importance in the long history of Malta. I appreciate the dilemma in which my right hon. Friend finds himself, but, as a matter of principle—it is not the first time such a thing has happened in this Parliament—I think it wrong that this House should be faced with having to make a decision of this significance without having proper time for consideration and debate.
Had the Bill not been the good Measure which I consider it to be, Government supporters would have been placed in a difficult position. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend, when he brings his next Bill forward in the next Parliament, will give a little more time for hon. Members to talk about it.
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) I did wartime naval service, but my experiences have left me with the view that, as a base, the usefulness of Malta is limited. I formed that opinion 20 years ago and so I hope that I may be forgiven if I say that I cannot regard the defence provisions in this Bill with approval, nor can I support the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) as enthusiastically as I should wish. Of course, what the hon. Member said must be right, regarding the economic aspects of Malta's development, which must be most important in the long run. But in the short term I cannot believe that they deserve our full attention. How can Malta develop economically unless her people and her economy can experience a release of energy which is unlikely to happen if some people in the island bring about a close society? We have ample historic authority for this pessimistic view if, for example, we consider the situation of Spain and Portugal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) said that this may be the last occasion on which he will address the House and that he was glad to be able to speak on behalf of those great, noble and courageous people of Malta, as he described them. I am happy to have the opportunity to speak after my hon. Friend. I know of his reputation as a great fighter for freedom. Hon. Members will agree, I think, that the House has never heard him to greater effect than today and it was an appropriate occasion for his "swan song".
I share the concern which he expressed about the provisions of this Bill regarding human rights, which are crucial. I agree entirely with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), and I congratulate him on a powerful speech. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members were a little nervous in their approach to this subject, in case what they said might offend their Catholic colleagues. I do not think that they should feel nervous on that account. The susceptibilities of their Catholic colleagues are of no account alongside the real issues that we are discussing. They are of no consequence alongside the future rights of those 300,000 or 400,000 people of Malta referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central.
I think I may say fairly to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking that his Catholic colleagues share his concern. Some of us have tried to convey this concern to other authorities, to the Archbishop of Malta. It has been very difficult to convey sentiments that hon. Members, Catholic and non-Catholic, regard as self-evident and to enunciate principles which other people regard as indispensable to the development of a healthy society in Malta. Letters have been received from those who surround the Achbishop describing such sentiments as "frankly insolent". I wrote a letter to the Archbishop to which his public relations secretary replied:
I cannot bring myself to accept that you think in the way you are expressing yourself in this letter.
The belief that we cannot actually believe what we say when we speak of human freedom needing these elementary safeguards has shocked me. There seems to be a view among those around the Archbishop that anyone who was not prepared to go along with them until a few weeks ago, when they were trying to gain a supra-national position for the Church of Malta, was merely trying to create legal conditions for an apostacy—for rebellion against the Church, in other words. I think it important that we should try to understand how those in authority round the Archbishop look at these things. In this way we may begin to understand how he is thinking. Then we shall realise the seriousness of this position, if we have not already done so.
That is why I cannot follow the hon. Member for Haltemprice in thinking that the economic aspects of the Bill are the most important. The human rights aspects are the most important. This House of Commons, through the Secretary of State, cannot discharge its responsibilities to Malta unless it provides the rundimentary conditions for an open and modern society. I do not think any of us underestimate the obstacles in the path of that development, but I think we all agree that Malta and the people of Malta should be placed on that path. They should be given a chance to work towards a modern society. Yet, when I look at the Constitution and look at Section 2(2), as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking did, I note:
The State guarantees to the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church the right freely to exercise her proper spiritual and ecclesiastical functions and duties to manage her own affairs.
I go on to note the very vague character of Section 46. I cannot believe that human rights will be defensible in Malta unless the State also recognises that
All citizens are invested with equal social dignity and are equal before the law, the Administration and justice without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinions and personal or social conditions.
Neither can I believe that such safeguards will be adequate unless the State recognises that
All religious denominations are equally free before the law
nor that such safeguards are enough unless the State recognises that
Religious denominations other than Catholic are entitled to organise themselves according to their own creed provided that they are not in conflict with Maltese juridical organisation.
Heaven knows, I do not regard such safeguards as the sum total but merely as the basic safeguard that this House ought to insist upon. I know the arguments, and some of them come back to me from Malta. They are that, of course, we are dealing with a society quite different from our own and quite different from that of America, not with a pluralistic society. We are reminded of that when we look at Section 2(1):
The Religion of Malta is the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion.
Do we seriously believe that the religion of all, or the majority, of people in Malta will always be Catholic and that people there will continue to feel about religion as they do now in the numbers in which they do now given the pace of social and material change?
We are entitled to hold the proposition that, apart from not seeking such safeguards as we would seek in a pluralistic society, we should insist on them because this is not a pluralistic society. This is a case for such minimum safeguards simply because we are dealing with a monolithic society, a society which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking said, may continue to be authoritarian and become increasingly an authoritarian society.
There is perhaps a certain piquancy in my suggesting to the hon. Member that there may be more to this than meets the eye, but would he feel on reflection, bearing in mind that we are creating a new Constitution, that Section 2 is fundamentally different from the oath which in this country we require of the Sovereign in relation to the Established Church of England?
Yes I would, but I am concerned about its implications. If the hon. Member will bear with me I think he may see where my concern lies, although I can give him an illustration now. I am concerned, for example, for minority rights. We provide for minority rights in this country. The children of Catholic parents attending State schools in this country are able to contract out of the teaching of the State religion in those
schools. So far as I know, they have always been able to do so. I do not know of any provision in this Constitution for such contracting out. On the contrary, under Section 10 of the Constitution I find:
Religious teaching of the Roman Catholic faith will be provided in all State schools
There is no provision for contracting out, yet Catholics enjoy such rights in Britain. I should have thought the hon. Member would insist on reciprocal rights in Malta. Otherwise—do not let us mince our words—we are putting the people of Malta back into conditions reminiscent of the eighteenth century. That is something from which non-Catholic hon. Members shrink. The thought repels them. It is as alien to Catholic hon. Members as it is to non-Catholics.
May I help to put this matter into perspective for the hon. Member? Under the scheme known as integration, which received support on both sides of the House and which might have been carried into force, the Catholic Church in Malta would be far more strongly entrenched than it is under this scheme. That was in spite of the fact that Maltese Members were to sit in this House of Commons.
To the best of my belief the hon. Member is quite right, although the present situation, heaven knows, is still enough to appal hon. Members because we are dealing with Archbishop Gonzi, a man who has not been dragged into politics as the hon. Member for Haltemprice suggested. The Church was not dragged in. His suggestion that but for political parties the Church would not be in politics was a gross distortion. The truth is that the Church will not get out of politics and will not give democracy a chance in Malta. Archbishop Gonzi is a man with a deplorable record, a man who is the Goldwater of Catholicism, a man who has exercised spiritual sanctions such as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking described which shocked me and must have shocked every hon. Member. As we know, ecclesiastical sanctions have been imposed for which he has no Christian authority and can find no authority within his own Church. I am sure that many of his colleagues, not only in this country but throughout the world, have been shocked.
That is why, far from the hon. Member for Haltemprice jeering at my hon. Friends when they support safeguards in such matters as protection for citizens who wish to hold peaceful meetings, protection in respect of the holding of demonstrations, and protection in respect of the ringing of bells, he should realise that these are important issues. He regarded them as unimportant and even matters for amusement, but hon. Members who have been in touch with conditions in Malta know that these are the kind of practices which have been employed in Malta against a political party and presumably on behalf of the Church authority. These things have happened, and I suggest that there is a case for such safeguards, in some form or another, being introduced into the constitution.
It is not merely Archbishop Gonzi and those immediately around him with whom we are dealing. We are also dealing with the Diocesan Joint Council of the Catholic Lay Organisations. May I quote from a resolution from the Council? It resolves
to bring to the notice of Her Majesty's Government that they are not in a position to propose, and much less to impose, limitations on the freeedom of the Catholic Church in the exercise of her mission.
I emphasise the phrase "her mission", because in my experience there are few people from whom most Catholics shrink more than their fellow Catholics who believe that they have a mission in life and who attempt to practise Catholicism with, if hon. Members will forgive the phrase, an evangelical fervour. The quotation continues:
… especially as regards the guidance of the individual and collective conscience, religious, education and in the moral standards of a Catholic country.
Plato would have admired the intention of that paragraph, but he would have been appalled at the temper and spirit behind it.
These are people whom we must bear in mind, as well as the Archbishop and those immediately around him. That is why I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barking when he said that the Constitution ought to include safeguards for broadcasting, especially on religious questions, and provision that no person shall for political or religious reasons be deprived of burial in cemeteries built or maintained wholly or partially by the Government of Malta.
I come back to where I began. I say sincerely to the right hon. Gentleman that he cannot discharge his responsibility to Malta unless he provides in the constitution rudimentary conditions for an open modern society. I am entirely at one with my hon. Friend the Member for Barking in this: the right hon. Gentleman cannot leave the people of Malta exposed, even to a small degree, to the powers of a man whose conception of Church-State relations is quite mediaeval. It is absurd to tell the House, as the right hon. Gentleman told it this afternoon, that a pledge was given under George III to Malta, and that that pledge involves Her Majesty's Government now to some degree in ensuring the special place of the Catholic Church in Malta. To whom was that pledge given by George III? Can the right hon. Gentleman in all seriousness say that sovereignty in Malta has not changed its seat even a little since George III?
I will not quote fully, because my hon. Friend the Member for Barking quoted it, the letter in The Guardian today from Count Michael de la Bedoyere, who is a prominent Catholic layman and until two years ago was editor of the Catholic Herald. He ends his letter by saying that the new Constitution can only lead, in his view, to serious trouble, religiously and politically. I urge that view upon the right hon. Gentleman and I ask him, in the spirit in which it has been requested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central, that before he foists this Constitution upon the people of Malta, at least he will allow a General Election to be held.
In recent years I think that I have taken part in more Independence Bill debates in the House than I can count. I may even have taken part in more than has the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. They have usually been agreeable occasions and relatively non- controversial. But this afternoon has been a particularly miserable occasion, and quite exceptional among the Independence Bills which the Government have brought before the House. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) said in opening the debate for the Opposition, it seems particularly unfortunate that this should occur in the case of Malta, which is one of our oldest Colonies and is a Colony for which the British people have a close attachment because of its record of bravery and courage during the Second World War.
It is almost exactly 150 years ago to the month that Malta became a Crown Colony and was formally ceded to this country under the Treaty of Paris at the end of the Napoleonic War. It seems extremely unfortunate that Malta's final journey to independence should take place in such a highly unsatisfactory rush and amid the mass of recriminations with which it is undoubtedly surrounded. The Secretary of State will have noted that even the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) found himself in strong agreement with the criticism made from this side of the House of the way in which the Government have handled this matter.
I do not blame the Secretary of State for the difficulty which he has had in persuading such very strong and diverse characters as Mr. Dom Mintoff, Mr. Borg Olivier and Archbishop Gonzi to come together in Christian or brotherly harmony and love. I do not envy the lot of any statesman who has to tackle that task. But we do blame the Secretary of State and the Government for the way in which they have rushed the final stages of this on us.
This is by no means the first time that it has happened, although I do not think that it has happened before in such difficult and unfortunate circumstances. I am afraid that we are becoming very much accustomed to this kind of thing from the right hon. Gentleman. When he stood up in the House on Tuesday, only two days ago, and announced to the House,
I have this morning completed the long negotiations with the Government of Malta on the question of independence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1964; Vol. 699, c. 277.]
it awakened echoes in my memory, because it is only a few weeks ago, on
15th May, that he came to the House one morning and said about Basutoland,
The conference completed its work in the early hours of this morning and we have just this morning signed our report."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1964; Vol. 694, c. 777.]
He was once again putting himself in the position of suddenly rushing constitutional developments which I think ought to be taken much more slowly and much more carefully than I am afraid they have been under his stewardship.
I do not understand this accusation. I can understand that the Malta Independence Bill is a fearful rush, and we all regret it. But I do not think that it is a ground for criticism that I came straight to the House after a conference to inform the House of the result of that conference. I did not bring in a Bill or ask for action to be taken. I merely informed the House at the first possible moment.
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I was not complaining abouth is lack of courtesy. On the occasion to which I refer, I thanked him for coming straight to the House and telling us about it before the House went into Recess. I am complaining about the way in which he rushes the agreements which have been made. There are long delays when he is not available to go into conference, and then suddenly everything happens in a rush, and the results are frequently very unsatisfactory, as they are in this case.
Today there is further evidence that it was a disastrous decision of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), to combine the posts of the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office at the time that he did. It is, of course, true that the Colonial Territories are much fewer, but I think that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that this amalgamation happened before it should have done. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, after his experience of the many different problems he has had on his hands, as Joint Secretary of State, might very well have come to agree with me on this. I sometimes feel that his experience might lead him to enunciate what might be called Sandys' Law: "The time taken over colonial problems varies in inverse proportion to the number, size and population of the Colonial Territories that are left under under Her Majesty's Government."
The right hon. Gentleman has many qualities, and I do not deny them, but he has no capacity to delegate decisions to any of the Ministers who serve under him. Again and again over recent months we have had a situation occur in which decisions have been delayed by the right hon. Gentleman until they have had to be taken in a hurry and all sorts of complications have followed from that. I think of the case of Zanzibar, in which the right hon. Gentleman took the perfectly correct decision to recognise the new Government of Zanzibar but took it so belatedly that the good will which could have been obtained from that was lost.
This is the complaint that we are making against the way in which the Government are handling this Bill. I am arguing that it has not been an isolated example, and I suspect that when the new Labour Administration comes into office after the General Election we shall find perhaps 12 months from now, something exploding in the House of Commons and when we look at the reason for this happening it will be discovered that something had piled up in the Colonial Office six months or nine months ago and was not dealt with then with the expedition that it should have had.
In the case of this Bill, the Secretary of State has put the House and the Opposition in what is not only an intolerable but an insoluble dilemma, and I do not think that there is now any satisfactory solution to the timetable that has been imposed on us. We on this side of the House did not feel that it would have been right to delay independence until after the British General Election. It is for this reason that we are not opposing the Second Reading of the Bill. With a new Government after the General Election in this country it would inevitably mean that the final decision on independence for Malta would need to be delayed until some time after the new Government had taken office. I think that this is the answer to the very curious point put by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) to us. He seemed to be complaining that although we grumbled at the timetable that the Government had imposed on the House we were not opposing the Bill, and he seemed to feel that this was some kind of humbug on our part. It is a little hard or. us when we tried to show a sense of responsibility to the House in this matter that we should then be attacked for not obstructing the Government in wanting this Measure through. We have taken the attitude that we have, because we feel that it would be quite wrong for this House to stand in the way of independence for Malta in circumstances in which the one thing that is certain about Malta is that a substantial majority of the people want independence.
The referendum, which was so inconclusive in other ways, was fairly decisive on that point. As I read it, there were 120,600 votes for independence in one form or another and about 41,000 votes against There was, however, no certainty whatever about the decision of the Maltese people on the form of the constitution under which they wish to have independence. In the referendum there were 65,714 for the Constitution under which the Maltese Government are being granted independence and there were, according to my calculations, 95,935 against that Constitution. The present Government of Malta was originally elected on a 42 per cent. poll at the last general election, and it is for that reason that we feel that it is highly reasonable and indeed absolutely essential that before Malta advances to full independence there should be a new General Election.
This will be argued in more detail, we trust, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on a manuscript Amendment in Committee. But I say to the Secretary of State that he puts himself in a very difficult and invidious position on this matter if he is prepared to say, as he has done, that in the case of British Guiana there has got to be a general election before it can move towards independence, but in the case of Malta, against a background I have described, he has said that a general election is not necessary.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who is not with us at the moment, said in criticising the Opposition party in Malta that they wanted to take a certain course of action which he was convinced the majority of the Maltese people would repudiate. I do not know what the majority of the Maltese people would do in a general election, but I say let them have the chance and let them take their choice whether they want independence under this Constitution or with amendments of it. Then the new Government which would lead Malta into independence, whatever its character, would have a fresh mandate and the full authority of the Maltese people behind it.
Is it not quite unrealistic to compare British Guiana with Malta? Quite different circumstances pertain in one to the other. It is a very different political situation in British Guiana from what it is in Malta. Surely it is not strictly fair to compare the two?
It is always difficult to compare any one country with another. There are undoubtedly differences. This will come up in more detail on the next stage of the Bill, and I do not want to take time on it now, but I should be interested to hear the Secretary of State explain why, in this case, what is all right for British Guiana is all wrong for Malta. I leave it to him to make his case when the time comes.
From this side we welcome the changes which the Secretary of State has been able to obtain and make in the new Constitution in relation to the human rights provisions so far as they go, but they do not go very far or as far as we would like. We are, however, on this side of the House particularly glad to see that after about two years the Government have taken the advice of the Opposition in the way to approach this. If The Times is to be believed this morning these changes were brought about by Her Majesty's Government approaching the Vatican on this matter and getting its co-operation. This was exactly the course of action that the Opposition pressed on the Government in an interview which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and I had with the Minister then responsible after the last general election in Malta, and I am sure that it has been the right course to take.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Duffy) have made it quite clear that it is perfectly possible to be critical of the behaviour of the ecclesiastical authorities in Malta without being anti-Catholic in doing so. It is perfectly possible and I would have thought the reasonable and wise thing in present circumstances to be on the side of the Vatican in these matters and critical of the kind of position that has been taken up by the Archbishop inside Malta.
It ought not to go out from this House that there is at this moment any difference at all between the Archbishop and the Holy See. The custom in the Catholic Church is always to argue at very great length but when a decision comes to be taken then everyone loyally abides by it.
I am very glad to have that assurance from the hon. Member, with the authority and knowledge that he brings to it, which I do not have. If the Catholic Church in Malta is now going to follow the very welcome lines of social advance that have been taken by the last Pope, Pope John, and the present Pope, I am sure that the future of Malta will be a much happier and more harmonious one. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman is right.
The point I wanted to make, taking perhaps a rather less optimistic view of the situation, was that the present Constitution ought to have had further safeguards in it than it has. A number of hon. Members have drawn attention to the rather remarkable Clause 41 of the Constitution on protection of freedom of conscience. Paragraph (1) says:
All persons in Malta shall have full freedom of conscience and enjoy the free exercise of their respective mode of religious worship.
Paragraph (2) goes on to qualify this quite substantially. It qualifies it in a way, to use the concluding words, which
is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
I am no lawyer, but I boggle at the task of the judge who has to define what can be shown
to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
Apart from that, I wonder why there should be any clarification of the sort
which is contained in paragraph (2) of the protection of freedom of conscience. I can understand the qualifications being inserted in other Clauses dealing with matters like the freedom of assembly or the freedom of the Press. There there are obviously great difficulties. Clearly, in any community there must be legal provisions about the supremacy of public order, and so on. But I cannot for the life of me understand why questions of public order, public safety, public morality or decency and public health come into the question of freedom of conscience. I hope that the Secretary of State can give us some explanation of that. I should have liked to have seen it amongst the paragraphs that the Secretary of State deleted from the Constitution.
Having said that, I must confess that for my part I recognise that there are substantial limits to the extent to which tolerance can be promoted by means of legal process, especially by legal process initiated from outside the community in which one hopes that the mutual tolerance will grow up. I believe that in the end the people of Malta must work out, no doubt slowly and with difficulty, as others have had to do, the conflicts inherent between Church and State in a modern community. In future, our duty will lie in giving the maximum amount of economic help to Malta, in making her independence a reality, and in trying to create a viable community there.
It seems to me that Her Majesty's Government have been reasonably generous in the Finance Agreement. I have worked out that the £5 million a year over ten years is in proportion to population roughly five times the normal amount of Commonwealth aid that we are giving at the moment to the Commonwealth as a whole. I am inclined to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that in connection with a financial settlement of this sort it ought to have been possible for the Government to have obtained some more safeguards in the Constitution than they have in fact been able to obtain.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that in the case of Malta, perhaps to a peculiar extent, we have a special historic responsibility. The modern Maltese community, its economy, the size of its population, its whole shape, is the result of our using Malta for our own military purposes for over a century and a half. At times when the going got very difficult indeed—when during two years of the last war there were 4,000 air raids—the Maltese people stood up to this and stood with us. It would be agreed on both sides of the House that there is a very strong moral obligation for us to give the Maltese people the means to make a new life for themselves in the new circumstances of the world as they find it.
This is the last time, because of the way the Government have acted on this, that we shall discuss Malta as a Colony. Because of the impending General Election, this is the last time that Malta will be discussed in this Parliament. But we can be pretty sure, as the various forebodings which have been expressed from both sides of the House have shown, that it is by no means the last time that the House of Commons will have to debate, and concern itself with, the problems of Malta. We can only hope that, despite the difficulties, despite the defects which we find in the Constitution, Malta will do well in its new adventure in independence. There I conclude.
I speak again by leave of the House. I rather agree with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) that this has been a somewhat unhappy debate. In so far as it is due to the haste with which we have had to bring the Bill before the House, I once more express my regret to hon. Members. But I do not think that the atmosphere which has been created by some of the speeches we have heard is wholly attributable to the Parliamentary timetable. Some of the things which have been said, and the tone in which some of the speeches have been delivered, are in my view, regrettable, and will send a somewhat unhappy message to many people in Malta.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn), the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), and others complained—I do not object to that in any way—of the speed with which we have introduced—
I will speak louder. This is the second time that my hon. Friend has not heard. It may be that the loudspeaker arrangements in his part of the House are inadequate.
I was saying that my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for South Shields had complained of the speed with which the Bill had been introduced. I was asked to explain—I gladly do so—why I thought that it was unavoidable. I believe that the Constitution and the Agreements which are now before the House are the best we can secure in all the circumstances, and that after 18 months of discussion there would be no prospect at all of obtaining a wider measure of agreement by further delay and further conferences.
We fixed a target date for independence not later than 31st May. It was most unfortunate that this target date could not be achieved, because we were not able to conclude the negotiations and the discussions in time. If we fail to pass the Bill now, it would be difficult to get independence much before the beginning of next year. The hon. Member for Dundee, East agreed with us that it would be unfortunate to have a further long delay in giving independence to Malta. We all realise that, once a country has been promised independence, once the arrangements have been made and the agreements reached, it is not wise to appear to hold back. All kinds of misinterpretations are liable to be placed upon that.
Apart from the political factor, I should emphasise that the Government of Malta are very anxious to go ahead with the planning of their economic development. This is, to some extent, dependent upon the arrangements we have made in the Finance Agreement. They want to be sure that these things are firm, settled and signed—which will not be until after independence—before they can enter into firm and definite com- mitments in regard to their economic plans.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East and other hon. Members asked that there should be fresh elections before independence, but since I understand that an Amendment is to be moved in Committee, perhaps the House will forgive me if I do not go over this ground twice.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East also raised the question of Section 41(2), dealing with freedom of conscience. He was surprised to find that, having stated the broad principle, there was then an additional subsection which appeared to limit that freedom. I can assure him that this is common form in all constitutions which this House has approved time and again.
Incidentally, I am a little disturbed that the House seems to be looking at these matters in relation to Malta with quite a different eye from the way hon. Members have looked at it in relation to Kenya, Malawi, Tanganyika and other countries. I am not saying anything against these other countries, but I feel that altogether different standards are being applied to Malta. This provision is common form. The purpose of these exemptions is to safeguard against what one might call barbarous, immoral and unhygienic practices which could be carried on under the cover of a religious cult. That is the purpose of the subsection and, as I say, it appears in most other modern constitutions.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) said that the Defence Agreement did not provide for consultation with the Maltese Government. That is not so. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at it he will see that Article 7 of the Agreement states:
Arrangements shall be made for consultation between the Government of Malta and the Government of the United Kingdom and their respective authorities on the operation of this Agreement and each Government shall have the right to raise with the other at any time any question as to the application of this Agreement, where that is materially affected by any change of circumstances.
The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East also seemed surprised and
critical that the Finance Agreement provided an extensive right for Her Majesty's Government to concern themselves with the use to which this money will be put in the development programme of Malta. The reason for that is, that we are providing considerably more money than we do in normal circumstances, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East pointed out, and since we have this continuing obligation to try to help Malta, we naturally want to make sure that the money being provided is used to the best possible advantage. I can assure the House that we have no wish, having given independence to Malta, to try to cramp its style or to make it difficult for the island to plan its economy in the way that it wishes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) asked about the rights of Bailey (Malta) Ltd., to receive reasonable payments out of the funds of the company towards its expenses in litigation with Her Majesty's Government. I can assure them that this provision is contained in an Act of the Malta Legislature which will not in any way be affected by the passing of this Bill.
The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) complained that discrimination was to be allowed in the admission of persons to the public service.
The hon. Member expressed anxiety lest there might be discrimination. I know that these constitutions are a little difficult to understand, but, again, this is a common form provision and I consider that it is perfectly legitimate to say, for example, that a judge must be a barrister of so many years' standing or that a soldier must have good eyesight and be of a certain height; or that a civil servant must be able to speak English as well as Maltese. Those are the kind of situations with which it is intended to deal.
What the right hon. Gentleman is saying does not accord with Section 46(3), in which the definition of "discriminatory" is given as:
affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their
respective descriptions by race, place of origin, political opinions, colour or creed …
That has nothing to do with the remarks he is now making.
The hon. Member for Barking will find the whole of this in other constitutions which this House has approved time and again.
Then I was asked about Section 46(9). This provides not, as I think it was suggested, that all teachers must be Roman Catholics, but only that teachers whose job it is to teach the Roman Catholic religion must be Roman Catholics. That does not seem altogether unreasonable.
The hon. Member for Barking also asked why marriage was excluded from the non-discrimination Clause. There again, I have to tell the House that that is common practice in all modern constitutions which have been approved by this House for one country after another. The purpose is so that Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Jews and others may be allowed to have different rules for marriage and divorce according to their customs.
I regret to have to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again, but would he clear up a point which is of considerable human interest to many people in this country? What will be the position in future of people who are in the position of the man whose case I described—who married a Maltese girl in an Anglican church here but then found that his marriage was annulled in Malta?
We are dealing with a constitution. There are all sorts of desirable laws people might like to see passed in Malta, but they do not belong in a constitution. Constitutions do not deal with marriage and electoral laws and those sort of things. I do not know of any examples where they do.
There has been an attempt with regard to this Constitution to put into it all the things people would like to see enacted by the Parliament of Malta. They may be very desirable but it does not mean to say that they should be included in the Constitution and entrenched in a special way. These laws are matters for the Parliament of Malta. The House should realise that we are not suddenly introducing all sorts of reactionary measures, as would appear to be suggested. We are making certain changes in a liberal direction, but are not totally remodelling the law of Malta.
The hon. Member for Barking said that the Roman Catholic hierarchy would interpret the Constitution in a biased and oppressive manner. That was the sense of his comments. The Constitution will have to be interpreted not by the Church, but by the courts, and I have no reason to suppose that they will interpret it in a biased manner. Nobody has suggested—although allegations have been bandied about—that the courts of Malta do not behave in a strictly judicial manner.
The hon. Gentleman said that the constitution could be changed by a two-thirds majority after independence. Of course, we are giving independence to the country. We must remember that. When we give a country independence we give the people the right to do the things they want to do. We can make certain things more difficult in the constitution by insisting on a two-thirds majority or by other provisions but, in the end, if they want to do something after independence that we do not like, there is nothing we can do to stop it, and we must recognise that position.
We all enjoyed the vigorous speech delivered by the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery), and I am sure that we are all sorry—I was not aware of it before—to learn that we are not likely to hear him again in this House. The hon. Gentleman said that I should not act on an inconclusive referendum. I have tried to make it very clear that I am not acting on an inconclusive referendum. I said that I regarded this referendum as inconclusive, and was, therefore, not prepared to base any decision upon it.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East criticised me for insisting on this referendum, and for choosing an ambiguous question. I made it very clear to the House some months ago that I did not initiate this referendum, and that I did not choose the question that was put. I was very insistent that it should be understood that it was a referendum initiated by the Government of Malta on their own responsibility and on the responsibility of the Legislature of Malta. I should have got into very great difficulties if I had started laying down exactly what questions should be put, and we would have been committed to all kinds of consequences if the referendum had come out in an unsatisfactory way.
The hon. Gentleman also said that the referendum cannot be accepted as a mandate. I am not regarding the referendum as a mandate at all. He and other hon. Members have said that less than 50 per cent. voted for the Constitution in the referendum. I do not wish to analyse the results of the referendum, because I do not believe it to be a basis on which we should found our decisions. Nevertheless, 50 per cent. is not altogether a bad vote. The last Labour Government was elected by less than 50 per cent. of the votes—they obtained only 38·8 per cent. of the votes cast. I do not say that that is wrong, but we do have to be a little careful what we say, and about the use we make of percentages.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton—
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery), will he tell the House why he has failed to publish the observers' report?
As I said recently at Question Time, I think that what we want to do as far as we can, is to create a good atmosphere in which to launch Malta upon independence. I set up this team of observers, but, as I explained, their report is entirely confidential and I would have to consult them before I could publish it. But, since I made it perfectly clear that I am not basing any decisions on the results of the referendum, I think that the whole thing has become academic, and I see no point in publishing the report. It was not intended to be published. If there was great importance attaching to it, because we were basing our decision on the referendum, the House would be entitled, if not to see the report, at any rate to have an account from me of what it contained—
Will not the Minister take into account that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central quoted from several newspapers, and certainly not Labour newspapers, what was the view of the reporters there of what happened at the time? One of the questions my hon. Friend put to the right hon. Gentleman was whether the report appearing in the newspapers of the exercise of quite improper activities by the Roman Catholic Church there was corroborated by the kind of evidence that came into the observers' report. Why should not the House of Commons be able to judge the observers' report as well as the right hon. Gentleman?
All I can say is that the observers' report is about as inconclusive as the referendum, but I really do not want to start an argument about that if I can avoid it—
The Secretary of State keeps reiterating that he is not basing anything on the outcome of the referendum, so that is outside the argument. If that is so, on what is the right hon. Gentleman basing his Constitution? If it is not on the referendum and if it is not on an election, it must be purely on his own personal judgment. If that is so, what is the relevance of his saying that delay would not lead to any chance of closer agreement between the parties? He is not basing his Constitution on agreement between the parties but on what he thinks is democratically right for Malta. That being so, is he not responsible for all the undemocratic faults in the Constitution?
This is my bible—the Report of the Malta Independence Conference that was held last summer, in which the Malta Government set out the Constitution which they wanted. On the opposite page, we have the amendments proposed by the Malta Labour Party to every Section and subsection right the way through and, at the back, we have the amendments proposed by the other three parties on every point where they differed with the proposals of the Malta Government. We have an absolute bible here of what every one of the political parties thinks of every Section of the Constitution, and I think that that is the best starting point.
As I explained when moving the Second Reading, I took the Constitution proposed by the Malta Government and then compared it with the Constitutions which the House approved for other British territories obtaining independence. I assumed that the Constitutions which the House had approved for other territories were also acceptable for Malta and tried to bring the two as nearly as I could into conformity with each other.
But I must say that it seems that the House is applying different standards to Malta from those they have applied to other countries, and that is the difficulty we are up against this afternoon—
The Minister is deliberately misunderstanding. I referred to Section 2(2). Nobody contests that the Roman Catholic religion should be the religion of Malta. Dom Mintoff accepts that, and the Labour Party, and others, but Section 2(2) gives special rights and duties that are not normally given to Church authorities—
We do, in all these Constitutions, take account of special circum- stances. As I have said before, there is no doubt that the position of the Catholic Church in Malta is a special circumstance, in the same way that the position of the Muslim faith in Malay is a special circumstance. We also had to provide special safeguards in the case of North Borneo and Sarawak for the indigenous population. We have to take account of all kinds of special circumstances that arise in these territories.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton questioned whether it was correct to vest legislative power in Her Majesty in Parliament.
The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East and others said that the Maltese opposition parties should have been consulted, and that there should have been a conference. I do not know how much more consultation he wants, and how many more conferences. I had a preparatory meeting with the Government of Malta nearly two years ago. I then went out to Malta and had meetings with all the political parties there. We then had a conference in London, in which all the political parties took part and reported their views, as I have just indicated to the House.
Then we had a meeting in December, in London, to which all the political parties came; and then I had another meeting in the early part of this year to which they came. We had the fullest consultation. The Prime Minister in Malta, in between these meetings in London, has had consultations with the various parties.
I think that we have exhausted the possibility of agreement by consultation, and this is what I am explaining to the House. I do not think that we would make further progress. I know exactly what the views of these parties are. The trouble is that none of them, with the exception of the Malta Government—and that only after many weeks of discussion—is prepared to make any concessions towards one another.
The difference is that, while these people say rather beastly things about each other, they do not kill or burn one another every night. It is unfair to Malta to compare it in any way whatsoever with the situation that is obtaining in British Guiana.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Duffy) made a very virulent attack on the Catholic Church. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not on the Church."] Certainly it was an attack on the Catholic Church in Malta, and in terms which I thought regrettable.
If the right hon. Gentleman consults HANSARD he will find no evidence whatsoever of a virulent attack on the Catholic Church. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] What I deplored was the conduct of some members of the Catholic Church, both ecclesiastic and lay, with regard to the Constitution in Malta. I regard this not only as an infringement of human rights, but as offensive to Catholics throughout the world and especially in this country.
It is difficult to make an attack of the kind which the hon. Member made on leaders of the Church in Malta, without that being regarded by Catholics throughout that country as an attack upon their Church and religion. The House of Commons is a free place and the hon. Member is perfectly entitled to say what he did, but I am equally entitled to say that I regret his speech. I thought that a moderate way of expressing myself.
The right hon. Gentleman will also find, when he consults HANSARD and other hon. Members, that what I had to say was perfectly factual. The right hon. Gentleman may deplore it, and I deplore it, but there is no point in blinking one's eyes to facts.
All right, the eighteenth century if the hon. Member prefers it, but the idea was that we were putting the clock back. That is the impression the hon. Member may have, but we are in fact introducing amendments into the constitution of a liberal character. They may not go as far as some hon. Members would like, but every change that we are making is in the general direction which, I am sure, is desired by the whole House. I cannot understand why there has not been all this interest in the laws and Constitution of Malta in the past. These laws have existed for a long time. The law most complained about—the Electoral Law—was introduced in 1924.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not know that in 1930 the Constitution of Malta had to be suspended by the Labour Government precisely because the Catholic Church in Malta was using the same methods against the Strickland Government as it now tries to use against the Mintoff party? Does the right hon. Gentleman not know the history?
If the Church behaved in the way of which the hon. Member complains, I would remind him that Mr. Mintoff later won a General Election and became Prime Minister and did not think it worth while to change this law, which he could have done.
The right hon. Member for South Shields and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton recognised that there are special circumstances in Malta in the sphere of religion. Both made a statement which, I think, does credit to the House. They said that having given a pledge, as we did, to the people of Malta, when they voluntarily handed over the protection of their island to the British Crown, we should not write that off and act as though it did not exist. Circumstances, of course, have changed, and we have to take account of the movement of thought in the world, but that does not mean to say that because this pledge was given a long time ago we do not regard ourselves as committed by it. I am glad that recognition of that fact has been expressed.
A great deal has been said about the intervention of the Roman Catholic Church in elections in Malta. In this intensely devout Catholic country, the influence of the Church, not only at election time, but also in the daily lives of the people, plays a much greater part than it does in many other places. Many people, however, of all denominations, will feel that although this religious influence may at times have been misused—I do not question that—it is none the less an influence for good and it is not part of our business to try to weaken the loyalty of the people of Malta towards their Church.
Even those who do not take that view will, I think, accept that we should not try to apply to Malta more stringent standards than we have applied to other territories which are seeking independence. There is no doubt that, in some other British territories, pressures of various kinds have been exerted which were much greater than any exercised by the church in Malta, and yet we have not attempted to make independence conditional upon the elimination of that kind of influence. The House will I am sure agree that the same rules must apply to all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), in a very constructive speech, stressed the importance of the economic problem. I am greatly surprised that in this debate so little has been said about the economic problem which confronts Malta. If there is one thing which should cause us anxiety and concern, and which should have been discussed in the debate, it is the economic future of Malta. Instead of which almost all the speeches have been devoted to quite other matters. I hope very much that, after independence, Maltese politics will be less concerned with ecclesiastical issues, and that more attention will be concentrated upon the urgent problems of industrial development and financial stability, upon which the future well-being of the country will depend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham made an appeal for cooperation in Malta. I am sure that that is the note on which we should end this Second Reading debate. Of course, there are differences between the parties on all sorts of questions, but in a small island like Malta there is not room for the divergencies of attitude between the parties and groups which exist today. If Malta, with all its economic difficulties, is to go ahead and thrive and become viable, she will have to depend upon the good will and cooperation of all her people and, above all, of her political leaders.
I hope that we can send out to Malta from this House today a message of good will and confidence and an appeal to all in Malta to make a success of independence.