Denis Healey – 1972 Speech on Malta

The speech made by Denis Healey, the then Shadow Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 17 January 1972.

While thanking the Foreign Secretary for his statement and welcoming the signs that negotiations may now be resumed, and even more the statement by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Defence that there is now a 50 per cent. chance of solution, may I say that many on this side of the House will have been surprised by the sour and ungracious tone in which the right hon. Gentleman referred to the contributions which have already been and may yet be made by our N.A.T.O. allies? We on this side of the House agree that there should be no increase in the British contribution. Indeed, if any money is available to create jobs, we believe that it should be used to create jobs in Britain rather than in Malta. But now that the other N.A.T.O. countries are clearly prepared to make a financial contribution commensurate with their interest in Malta as members of the Alliance, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why the Government were so angry and embarrassed last week when the Americans finally came forward with a contribution, why they attempted to conceal this offer, which was made at least 12 days ago, from the Maltese Government, and why it took the rather improbable alliance of the Secretary-General of N.A.T.O. and my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) to get communications restored?

The Foreign Secretary has rightly stated a point which was pressed on the House by myself as Secretary of State for Defence and hotly contested by the Conservative Party some years ago, that Britain’s and N.A.T.O.’s interest in Malta is not so much to have forces there ourselves as to prevent the Russians having a base there. Will the Foreign Secretary recognise in the course of the negotiations that a solution is much more likely if it de-emphasises the political and military alignment of Malta with N.A.T.O. and concentrates rather on eliminating the possible use of the base by Soviet forces? An agreement along these lines is more likely to receive the continued support of the Maltese people as well as being compatible with progress towards conciliation between the West and Russia in the Mediterranean.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The right hon. Gentleman has got this wrong. So far from concealing any offer made by an ally towards a solution with Malta, we have been pressing our allies month by month to raise some extra money over and above what we ourselves are willing to subscribe. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman really has got his facts wrong on this matter.

There are to be further talks, so I do not want to go further into the finances now. However, there is this important question of aid in the future which I have no doubt would be available from allied countries. This would be of enormous value to Malta if Mr. Mintoff would take it in that form.

Mr. Healey

The right hon. Gentleman must not seek to present the facts other than as they were—[HON. MEMBERS: “Oh.”] Is the Foreign Secretary denying that the American Government made this offer of an increased financial contribution at least as long ago as 8th January, that the British Government declared themselves extremely annoyed when the Maltese Government were informed of this offer by the American Government, that it took several days of persuasion by the Secretary-General of N.A.T.O. to convince the British Government that they must start negotiating again with the Maltese Government, and that the attempt to establish these negotiations did not in fact begin until Friday and Saturday of last week?