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Column 549within its own market. Foreign investment on a massive scale would mean Malta's small economy being entirely dominated by outside forces and interests--that country having established full independence only 15 to 25 years ago. What advice have the British Government given the Malta Government about EEC entry? What are the Minister's reactions to the points that I have just made?
My final point is of immediate relevance. These days, we are all supposed to support green parties, having the welfare of the environment at the top of our agendas. I doubt the seriousness of the Conservatives' commitment, but at least it exists in theory. Chernobyl showed us that no country can consider itself to be an isolated island, and that certainly applies to Malta. A polluted Malta would hit the Mediterranean and British tourists taking their summer holidays there.
I am deeply concerned about the building by Malta's Nationalist Government of a power station at the Delimara site. We can only be thankful that Malta is too small to qualify for an economically viable nuclear power station, because a nuclear accident could destroy the whole island. I am not the only person who is concerned, because mass demonstrations and acts of disobedience are occurring on the island, including a recent demonstration by 50,000 people out of a total population of 300,000. The Labour leader and former Prime Minister Dr. Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici says that a future Labour Government will have nothing to do with those who provide services in the construction of the power station. Will the Minister say whether the British Government and British firms have, or are likely to have, any such involvement?
What is wrong with that power station? First, as a coal-fired and oil-fired power station, it will require full imports of both materials because they are not available within Malta. The power station's construction, subsequent imports and operation will destroy the fishing and tourist trade in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, which is the most popular recreational site among the Maltese, who flock there in the summer and who enjoy walks there in the winter months. Eighty per cent. of the area's inhabitants petitioned against the power station's construction.
Next to that fishing village is Birzebbuga and what is known as Pretty bay. It will become a polluted bay if construction of the power station is pursued, with disastrous consequences for the Maltese and for tourists. Its construction is also causing widespread ecological damage, being built on clay foundations at huge cost. It involves the destruction of a large area of good quality arable land, which is not easy to come by in Malta. The plant's massive chimney stacks and ash residues will also create a massive environmental mess.
Due to the prevailing winds, which change direction, any power station must be at the southern end of the island, where Delimara is located. There are much better alternatives. Malta's Labour party has produced plans for a site at Hal Far on the southern coast, where a power station could be built into the rock cliffs, hiding its chimneys, in the area of an industrial estate, with built-in facilities for heating that estate.
On 6 November last, I inspected the Delimara and Hal Far sites, and I am convinced by the case put to me by Daniel Micallef and his fellow Malta Labour Members of Parliament.
I want to put several questions to the Minister. First, what co-operation has there been with the Malta Government in respect of the Delimara project? Secondly,
Column 550has any agreement been signed with the Nationalist Government of Malta to send British troops to the island if civil disobedience arises there? Thirdly, will the Minister give an undertaking that there will be no interference, direct or indirect, in Malta's internal affairs? Fourthly, will the Government refuse any financial, technical or moral aid for this disastrous project? Fifthly, will they lend their voice to calls for internationally recognised environmental agencies to prepare a study of the proposals by visiting Malta and looking for an alternative site and alternative, non-harmful power sources--an internationally backed experiment in the use of solar power in Malta being one of the options?
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North- East (Mr. Barnes) for giving us this opportunity of having a short debate about relations with Malta. I know that he has a particular interest in Malta, and has visited the island both privately and as a member of the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in a welcome formality and congratulate Dr. Censu Tabone, who, having recently resigned as Foreign Minister, has just been sworn in as Malta's president. I am sure that the House will want to wish Dr. Tabone every success in his new office. He has had a remarkable ministerial career, and his appointment is a tribute to the respect in which he is held by his countrymen.
I listened attentively to the hon. Gentleman's speech, which included a brief summary of the history of relations between Malta and the United Kingdom. Let me add that Malta is one of the few countries which entered voluntarily into a relationship with the British Crown. The 1802 treaty of Amiens provided for the Maltese Administration to revert to the Knights of St. John, but the Maltese people petitioned Britain to place the island under British sovereignty. That is a relatively unusual way of establishing such a relationship.
As the hon. Gentleman said, ever since then Malta has occupied a key strategic position. The hon. Gentleman mentioned briefly the heroic record of the Maltese people in the Second World War, which was recognised uniquely in the award by King George VI of the George Cross to the island collectively. That, along with many other things, forms a bond between the people of Malta and those of the United Kingdom.
I was, however, somewhat surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman first say that he called on the British Government not to intervene in Malta's affairs--a principle that I am delighted to reinforce as the basis of our relations with Malta--and then give a long list of matters on which he wanted me to intervene in the government of that independent and democratic country, whose present Government, I fear, may not be to his taste. Just for a moment I thought that he might have transported himself psychologically across the water--I could understand that, in view of the recent weather here--to the Maltese Parliament, and, in his imagination, might be cross-examining a Minister there. To many of the questions that he put, pertinent though they may be to the Maltese labour party, I have little answer. It is for the Maltese
Column 551Government to make decisions about the establishment--or non-establishment--and the location of power stations.
As a former planning Minister, I know the difficulties. I know that people are unwilling to allow power stations to be sited in certain places. There are always arguments against them, wherever they may be, particularly from those who live nearby. This must be a matter for the Minister of Planning in Malta--I do not know whether he is called that, but he undoubtedly exists. Whoever he is, he has my sympathy, for these are difficult decisions and are never popular. It cannot be for a British Foreign Minister, or any other Minister in the British Government, to make such decisions on behalf of the democratically elected Government of Malta.
Mr. Barnes : Does the Minister grant that there is at least a theoretical distinction between interference in another nation's affairs and assistance and involvement with them, although it may on occasion be difficult to draw the line? I was trying to say that, while some actions would amount to direct intereference in Malta's affairs, others would be helpful and fruitful in assisting the development of the ro le that Malta has traditionally played in the world.
Mr. Waldegrave : There are regimes where there is no democracy. From time to time British Governments, both Labour and Conservative, have taken the view that it is right to protest. The British Government, with the support of the hon. Gentleman and his Front Bench colleagues, have protested about the violation of human rights in Romania because we do not acknowledge that that Government was elected democratically.
The position is different in Malta. Democracy and the rule of law prevails there. Whatever we as individuals or politicians may think about it, we have to respect legitimately taken decisions. If the Maltese Government or a public utility seeks quotations from British companies for work on power stations, it is not for the British Government to stand in the way of British firms. If their tenders are successful, it might lead to jobs for the hon. Gentlemen's constituents and mine. So long as the decision had been properly taken and there was no question of export controls, I should not want to stand in the way.
Relations between Malta and Britain, which have had their ups and downs over the years, are now extremely good. They were stormy at various points, particularly during Dom Mintoff's term as Labour Prime Minister. There is an affectionate and amusing account of the ups and downs of that relationship in the memoirs of Lord Carrington who had a great deal to do with Dom Mintoff when he was Prime Minister, including unscheduled and unexpected visits to Chequers. If he has not already read them, I recommend Lord Carrington's memoirs to the hon. Gentleman.
The "downs" were much regretted by the British Government. Relationships between Britain and Malta became much easier under Dr. Bonnici. They improved to such an extent that the Maltese Labour Government invited HMS Brazen to pay a visit to Malta in August 1986 to commemorate the arrival of the famous relief convoy in 1943. That demonstrated the Maltese Government's willingness to see the old connection revived in some form. HMS Brazen received an emotional welcome by the
Column 552Maltese people. That is, perhaps, not surprising when one considers the naval links between Britain and Malta, particularly as many Maltese have served in the Royal Navy at one time or another. The arrival in power of the Nationalist Government after winning the May 1987 general election has seen a further substantial improvement in our bilateral relations. From the very beginning the new Government made it clear that they wished to impove relations with us and to develop economic and political relations with us. Our bilateral relations are now excellent. They involve no interference in affairs, either way. They are warm and getting warmer. There has been a succession of ministerial vsits in both directions. We were delighted that Dr. Fenech Adami was able to pay a guest -of-Government visit to London in September last year. During his visit he had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 15 September when she told him that we would resume our technical assistance programme for Malta. The joint statement was issued after their discussions pointed the way towards enhanced bilateral co-operation. In particular, it covered co-operation to counter international terrorism--that new scourge-- the illicit trade in arms, and drug trafficking. Dr. Fenech Adami also had talks with the Leader of the Opposition and with a number of British leaders of industry who are interested in investing in Malta.
Dr. Fenech Adami came to this country again at the beginning of this year to open the international boat show at Olympia, and he had a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) on 13 January. That demonstrates the warmth of the existing relationship, which I hope is based on mutual respect. It is certainly based on the principle of non- intervention in the affairs of either country.
The technical co-operation programme is now fully operational. Its immediate priority is to help the Maltese to establish a manpower training commission through the provision of United Kingdom training for individual Maltese and by sending British advisers to Malta for short and long-term attachments. As a first step, we have agreed to appoint an expert to help the Maltese set up a computerised profile of the Maltese labour market. We shall follow it up with the provision of a long-term training leader to work in Malta for about a year.
The return of the British Council to Malta is another illustration of our renewed warm relations with the country. Sadly, Dom Mintoff decided to ask us to close the British Council operations in 1978. Following an interval of 11 years, the council has now decided to open an English language resource centre this autumn. After discussion with the Maltese authorities, we have agreed that the resource centre will concentrate initially on liaising with Maltese teachers of English and providing them with back-up advice on the latest methods of teaching English.
United Kingdom-Maltese relations are not confined to
Government-to-Government contacts. It would be strange if they were. There is a network of links that continue irrespective of the political climate. To illustrate the diversity of such links, I would mention the Young Vic's successful production in Malta last year of "Remeo and Juliet". Here in London various Maltese artists participated in a celebrity concert to coincide with Malta's official participation at the international boat show in January this year.
Column 553Tourism plays an important part in the Maltese economy and last year 500,000 British tourists visited Malta. That figure represents 60 per cent. of all tourist arrivals in Malta and more than adequately compensates for the imbalance in visible trade. Many Britons have found the attractions of Malta's history, beauty and Mediterranean climate irresistable and have made their homes there. This is a two-way process. Many Maltese, too, have decided to settle in Britain, although perhaps for different reasons.
Trade is also an important factor. Britain is the second largest supplier, after Italy, to the Maltese market. In 1988 we exported products worth £121 million to Malta. Britain is also Malta's second largest export market. I give these figures to show that the ancient and mutually beneficial connections are still very much alive. Famous British companies such as De La Rue and Dowty have large investments and employ many people in Malta, to the mutual benefit of both countries.
I have shown, I hope, that United Kingdom relations with Malta are diverse, deep and friendly. As hon. Members would expect, they in no way compromise the independence of our countries and they take full account of the differing roles that we play on the international scene. Malta is at a crossroads. Her geographical position gives her a special role as a bridge between Africa and Europe. That has been so throughout history.
Mr. Barnes : The Minister has twice criticised--or at least, made sideswipes at--the Labour Government during Dom Mintoff's premiership. They were stormy times. Malta had established its independence of us and turned itself into a republic. It was looking to adopt a nonaligned position in the Third world. Naturally, there was some hassle under Labour Governments during that period but relations were beginning to be re-established not just in the period of Nationalist rule but towards the end of Mintoff's premiership and under the leadership of Bonnici.
Mr. Waldegrave : I certainly did not intend to take a swipe at anyone. Quite a number of those in different countries who had dealings with Mr. Mintoff at one time or another found him to be a man of charm and panache, although sometimes somewhat mercurial and unpredictable. Britain has good relations with many of the non-aligned countries and, indeed, with the founding members of the non-aligned movement. We have good relations with Egypt and India. We have no difficulty in establishing warm relations with Malta--either now or
Column 554with Dom Mintoff's successor and the Labour party. There is no point in going back over history. We should celebrate the fact that relations now are very warm, and there seems to be no reason why they should not become warmer.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Malta and the European Community. Again, that must be a matter for the Maltese Government. It would be wrong for me to lay down what their policy should be. As far as I know, they have made no formal application to join the European Community, and Community countries and the Commission would obviously wait to analyse the implications of any such application if it ever came. It cannot be for me to advise the Maltese electorate or their Government on the right course for them. They have an association with the Community from which both sides already benefit. We have been giving support for and finding ways of exploiting the potential of the existing association agreement. During the fourth European Community-Malta Association Council on 20 March, the third financial protocol was signed. It provides Malta with generous access to grants and European Investment bank loans and fully reflects the closeness of European Community-Maltese relations.
The Maltese Government have been active on the international scene. They had a successful presidency of the Council of Europe from May to November last year. In the United Nations they take a particular interest in the environmental matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We co-sponsored with the Maltese a resolution on climate change last year from which a great deal has flowed. Malta made an important contribution to the recent ozone layer conference in London at which Dr. Tabone made a major speech.
It is not for me to intervene in internal Maltese affairs. On the international scene, the Maltese Government have played an honourable role in relation to the environment.
The motion having been made after half-past Two o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order .
Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Three o'clock .
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