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Orders of the Day — Malta Independence Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd July 1964.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East 12:00 am, 23rd July 1964

It would have been much happier if today's debate had followed the usual lines of a unanimous expression of our desire that a country should proceed to independence without any of the recriminations that have been expressed today. But that was hardly likely in the circumstances.

The Secretary of State asked why there should be a different approach on this occasion from what has happened in connection with other independence Bills. I would have thought that it was quite obvious. The constitutions of other independent nations have been prepared by the Colonial Office or an independent body. In this case it was a Government which did not carry the majority of the electorate with it which drafted the Constitution, and it was presented to the people of Malta in such a way that they learnt about it through the Press.

It was only because of its appearance in the Press that the major opposition party proceeded to London to learn more about it—not from Her Majesty's Government, but from the Opposition, to the extent that it was possible for the Opposition to give them information. It was therefore inevitable that we could not have the usual harmony on this occasion.

However, I am sure that we can conclude in a spirit of harmony. The Secretary of State thought that the criticism of him was a little harsh. He said that his Bible was the report of the Constitutional Conference held last year. If so, why have we had all these other deliberations? Why the referendum? If, as a result of considered thought, the right hon. Gentleman believed this to be the document upon which independence could be given, why was not it presented to the House long ago, so that we could have considered it reasonably and come to a decision not in haste, as we have had to today, but in a manner suitable to this honourable House and in a way which would have been a credit to a Bill of this kind?

We wish the people of Malta well. We say that the Government of Malta have a heavy responsibility to see that independence is carried out in the traditions of democracy and freedom, as practised by this Government so long as they were the protectors of the Maltese people. If this is done the Maltese Government will earn the good will of their people—serving as a Government for a short time, I hope, so that after another election, like the one that we are shortly to have in this country, a Government of the liking to the people of Malta will be in power. I would prefer that to have been done before independence, but I hope that soon after independence there will be a General Election in Malta.

On behalf of my party, I wish godspeed to Malta.