Gibraltar will have eight more Members of Parliament after the GSLP/Liberals and the GSD yesterday backed proposals to expand the House, in a move they said would improve the quality of Gibraltar’s democracy.
The move to expand parliament follows a recommendation to the Gibraltar Parliament by the Select Committee on Parliamentary reform after a meeting yesterday afternoon.
In line with that recommendation, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and the Leader of the Opposition, Elliott Phillips, will bring a joint motion to Parliament that proposes to expand the House through the addition of eight backbenchers.
The proposal has been backed by both the Government and the GSD Opposition but decried by Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon.
Under the 2006 Constitution, the proposal would require the backing of two thirds of Parliament – at least 12 MPs – in order to be approved.
Should Parliament back the motion – as seems inevitable given the backing of the GSLP/Liberals and the GSD – the House would consist of 15 MPs on the Government side – five of whom would be backbenchers – and 10 on the Opposition side, three of whom would be backbenchers.
Additionally, the maximum number of votes per elector in elections to the Gibraltar Parliament will be increased from 10 to 15.
The Committee’s recommendation is that the changes be in place before the next general election.
The expansion of the Gibraltar Parliament has been one of the main issues under consideration for the Select Committee which was established in 2013 and has since met some five times to discuss the proposal as well as other issues the Committee was tasked with analysing.
The cross-party committee’s members include Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, Dr Joseph Garcia, Neil Costa, Samantha Sacramento, GSD MPs Daniel Feetham and Roy Clinton and Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon.
Whilst both the Government and GSD have stated their support for the reform, Ms Hassan Nahon has condemned the expansion of Parliament in this way.
“If anyone truly believes that this enlargement of Parliament on both sides is going to really enhance democracy, time will prove that this is a farce,” she said in a statement.
Additionally, she claimed the only “meaningful, yet detrimental,” difference will be the increase in the costs of Parliament which she put at £200,000 per annum.
Pre-empting the likely criticisms from the Government given the fact that she stood for election four years ago on a GSD ticket that was in favour of this type of parliamentary reform, she said that she and her party believe that there is scope for a model which would enhance democracy.
“We just don’t believe that it has to be this particular one,” she said.
In a statement the Government set out its support for the report from the Select Committee on Parliamentary Reform for the enlargement of Parliament.
Mr Picardo reported to the Select Committee that the Executive Committees of the GSLP and the Liberal party had approved the proposal for enlargement but with a commitment to keep the number of ministers as it is now, 10, so that new members on the Government benches would be backbenchers.
Mr Picardo said: “We have supported this reform, which has been the subject of the work of the Committee, in order to improve the quality of our democracy by ensuring that there are more Members of Parliament than there are members of the Executive.”
“That delivers a closer alignment to the Westminster parliamentary model of government. I am sure this will enhance our democracy.”
“I believe that people will understand that they need to continue to block vote in order to have a government of the party political nature they wish to see, with the back benchers being additional representatives of that party.”
“I look forward to agreeing the terms of the motion to be presented to the Parliament in my name and that of the Leader of the Opposition and to presenting the necessary legislation to amend our laws to make this a reality in time for the next election.”
For its part the GSD said the reform and enlargement of Parliament is a positive step that would improve the quality of Gibraltar’s democracy.
“To keep the situation as it is short-changes people from the democracy they deserve,” the party said.
“Enlarging Parliament would allow better accountability of Ministers and would ensure that Parliament can properly fulfil its role as the people’s democratic watchdog.”
“With a larger Parliament reforms could then be introduced that would not be possible today that would also ensure voters can more directly influence the way our Parliament runs.”
This is not about having more Ministers, the party underscored adding that there should not be an increase in Ministers or wages.
“This is about having backbenchers on both sides that could help scrutinise matters and allow the Parliament to carry out tasks it cannot do today.”
“This would be an enhancement of democracy.”
GSD Leader Keith Azopardi said: “The possibility of enlarging Parliament was explored as far back as 1998 when we were first considering constitutional reforms.”
“Following the work of the previous Select Committee it was provided for in the 2006 Constitution. I have been openly campaigning for this democratic reform since 2006 as I firmly believe it will enhance our democracy and improve how we are governed.”
“The GSD sought to introduce a Motion on enlargement in 2011 and it was also official Party Policy at the last election in 2015 and therefore supported by all GSD candidates – including Marlene Hassan-Nahon.”
“This reform makes sense. All aspects of our lives are affected by what goes on in Parliament. If we improve how it runs and how it is able to keep Ministers in check it will also improve the decisions that are taken on issues like housing, health, education or social services.”
“This is not a party political point. The quality of our democracy delivered by our Parliament is a public service. It is our duty to improve how the system works and it can be done at minimum cost.”
Mr Azopardi added: “This should have happened years ago and there is no valid argument against this change.”