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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 Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 23rd July 1964

I have not had time to read them all. [Laughter.] That is one of my complaints. Hon. Members may laugh, but the British House of Commons, which is supposed to be the exemplar of democracy, thanks to the time-table laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, is passing through this Measure when hardly an hon. Member has read the Constitution. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is a good procedure?

Even more important, the parties in Malta, as has been shown—not merely the Malta Labour Party, but those who speak for other parties, who have a right to speak, even though they are not in favour of independence—have not been able to study the matter. The right hon. Gentleman has forced through the Measure in a manner calculated to cause the most distress and opposition in Malta. Is that what he wanted? Does he think that it is a clever thing to have done? Does he think that it is a brilliant piece of diplomacy or Parliamentary skill to push through a Measure in a way which will make it least effective in being carried out in Malta?

The right hon. Gentleman said that his judgment was that he had to press it through now because in his view no improvement was possible in the next few months. That is his main case. There are not many hon. Members opposite who were present at the time, and I will therefore repeat for their benefit what he said. He said that the reason why he must conclude the whole matter now was that in his judgment no purpose would be served by any further negotiations and any further discussions. He said that it was much better to ring down the curtain because he had gone through the whole matter so extensively in the past weeks and months that in his judgment nothing further of advantage could be procured.

We are asked to rush through the Measure largely on our estimate of the correctness of the right hon. Gentleman's judgment. Some of his hon. Friends may have faith in his judgment, but I have no great faith in it. It is not only a question of what has happened in Malta. There have been other places in which the right hon. Gentleman has had a lot of influence. This is not concerned with the question of his judgment on the Bill, but it affects our consideration of his judgment. I remind the House of Cyprus, British Guiana and Southern Rhodesia. The right hon. Gentleman has had a lot to do with all those places. There always seems to be some fresh china shop where he can apply his special bovine touch.

The right hon. Gentleman need not think that the House of Commons has great faith in his judgment. There is hardly a place where his influence has been brought to bear where it has not resulted in riots and rebellion afterwards. He is very complacent about these matters. He hurried off to Cyprus. He was the man to go there and solve it all. It was a good deal worse after he had been there than before he went. There is British Guiana. Is it a coincidence that it always seems to turn out this way? He knows about Aden, too. He visited Aden. I had forgotten that one on the list. I am a very theoretical kind of a fellow, but he is one of those who says that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. On that basis, what about these places?

The right hon. Gentleman has an extremely dismal record of success. Hon. Member opposite may say that it is not his fault. It may be that it is not his fault, but it so happens that his judgment on what was to happen in all those countries proved wrong. He gets into a frame of mind after a while that he determines to push through Measures exactly as on this occasion. He reaches a point at which his well-known patience, like Hitler's, is exhausted. He gets into a state—I am not quite sure whether this is a Parliamentary expression—in which he suffers at the end of his pursuits from what I call bloody-mindedness. In the case of British Guiana he said, "I am fed up with more discussions and I am determined to push this through."

The fact of the matter is that the right hon. Gentleman, as I have said, has forced through this Measure primarily on the claim that we should accept his judgment about the prospects in Malta. I fear that, with the best will in the world, there is very little evidence for supposing that the right hon. Gentleman's judgment is correct. The difficult question arises as to how the people in Malta, who have been so shabbily and shamefully treated by the right hon. Gentleman, should deal with the question. I do not mean the Prime Minister of Malta, who has got what he wanted from the right hon. Gentleman. I do not mean the Archbishop of Malta, who also has got what he wanted from the right hon. Gentleman. I mean those who have been trying to establish democracy in Malta, not merely for the past few months, but for many years. Their chief opponents in trying to establish democracy in Malta have been those who are most satisfied with the Bill. These are the facts about what has gone on in Malta.

The question arises: as a result of the Bill to which we are now asked to give a Third Reading, what should those in Malta who have been struggling to establish democracy, with so little assistance from the right hon. Gentleman and some of his predecessors, do about it? I very much hope that they will not resort to any form of violence. I hope that they will restrain themselves to the very maximum. It would be appalling if the bitterness which is in Malta were to express itself in the same way as the bitterness in British Guiana, and if violence were to occur. It would be shocking. I appeal to the Malta Labour Party, despite its justified complaints against the right hon. Gentleman and Her Majesty's Government, to do everything in its power to make independence successful.

I hope that the Malta Labour Party will do all it can, despite all its legitimate grievances, despite the fact that the British House of Commons has behaved in the most monstrous manner in the way in which independence has been given to Malta. I still hope that the Malta Labour Party will try to make independence successful. If it is unable to make it successful, and if events of the kind which have occurred in some other territories for which the right hon. Gentleman has been responsible do occur in Malta, his will be the responsibility.