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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 Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking 12:00 am, 23rd July 1964

It is very extraordinary that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), of all people, should try to pretend at this late date that the Roman Catholic Church is a monolithic body. If there is one thing that the Vatican Council has shown, rather to the surprise of people outside the Catholic Church, it is that there are many different strands and emphases and many different points of opinion—indeed, quite fundamental differences—on many issues. So it is not the least surprising that anyone who knows anything about the world or the Church knows perfectly well that some national hierarchies are much more liberal than others and some much more retrograde than others. I suppose that the Maltese hierarchy is about the most retrograde in the world, even more so than the Irish, and that is saying a lot. So do not let us have any more of that humbug from the hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State and hon. Members opposite will not be in the least surprised that we on this side of the House shall continue to debate the Third Reading for a little while longer in view of what my hon. Friend called the bloody-mindedness with which he and the Government have treated the House. Admittedly, the right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly expressed regret for that, but it was quite unnecessary, as he knows very well. However, we shall not keep the House more than two or three hours more, so hon. Members opposite need not be too worried.

My hon. Friend referred to British Guiana, where the right hon. Gentleman has reintroduced flogging recently, a hallmark of civilisation in that part of the world. He flogs the Guianese, but merely has to "whip" hon. Members opposite, and, of course, he automatically gets his majority, and gets his Bill and his constitution through absolutely automatically.

Actually, I am a little surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) seemed at all surprised at one point in his speech at the conduct of the Government. They treat Parliament with the same contempt with which they treat the Maltese people. I thought that one argument that the right hon. Gentleman has used from time to time in the course of the discussions on the Bill was a little surprising. I could not follow it.

The right hon. Gentleman seemed surprised that we were picking on particular paragraphs and clauses in the Constitution which, he said, are all common form. Parliament has repeatedly passed without comment similar paragraphs and sections in other independence Measures. Of course we treat this one differently, because, as he said in another context, Malta is very different from other Colonial Territories. It is a unique island. It is an island which all of us, however much we may differ about the constitution, love.

We like very much the Maltese people. We admire their record, their courage, their gallantry. In all that, of course, we agree with hon. Members opposite. But because they are different, and because there is this uniquely horrible and uniquely backward hierarchy sitting on their backs, we have to treat them differently and we have to view with acute suspicion paragraphs and clauses in a Constitution or a Bill, which in relation to other Colonies which are free from that particular menace would probably pass unopposed and uncondemned.

Also, as the right hon. Gentleman will realise when he reads HANSARD tomorrow, he gave a totally inaccurate and irrelevant answer to my question about a particular section in the constitution about discrimination in jobs in the public services. I hope that he will take an opportunity in the future to correct that answer, although I have no doubt that it will make no difference to the unfortunate people in Malta who are discriminated against as a result of his inclusion of that section in the Constitution.

Of course, we all share in the expressions of good will which have gone out. [Laughter.] That laughter shows how sincere those expressions were from the benches opposite; they were largely humbug. We share in the good will expressed to the people of Malta and we wish that it could have been expressed by the Government, including the right hon. Gentleman, in a more tangible form—in the form of giving them a choice in the conduct of their own affairs, giving them some freedom to choose the sort of Government that they might want. But, of course, the right hon. Gentleman refuses that. He hands them over to this clerical autocracy.

So we send them our good will, without much hope for a particularly happy life for them in the immediate future, at any rate, until Mr. Dom Mintoff becomes their Prime Minister again, as the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said that undoubtedly he would some day. I am sorry, it was not the hon. Member for Wokingham; it was Count Michael de la Bedoyère, but the hon. Member for Wokingham paid tribute to Mr. Mintoff's ability.

We send our good will to him in the great distress and anguish of mind that he must be suffering as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's bloody-minded-ness, the Archbishop's cunning and Mr. Borg Olivier's general complaisance. We send no good will at all to the hierarchy of Malta, to those prelates who are inflicting this spiritual terror on so many of the unfortunate people of that island, and we hope most earnestly that they will soon be translated to places where they can do less harm, either by the Vatican or by some higher power still.