The debate on the Second Reading of the Divorce Bill just published is planned to start in the Maltese Parliament on Monday 4 July and end in a vote to be taken on Wednesday 13 July, when the House will rise for the summer recess. If necessary, the House will also meet on Saturday 9 July to ensure the debate can be completed within the agreed timeframe. This was agreed to last Wednesday at a meeting of the House Business Committee. The bill will then be discussed at Committee Stage later in summer following the recess.
The detailed arrangements are yet to be confirmed as Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tonio Borg is still to respond with the government side’s reaction to this general debate plan. It all depends on the number of MPs who will participate in the debate and the duration of their speeches. A suggestion was made at the House Business Committee meeting that speeches be restricted to 30 minutes each.
Labour Opposition Whip Mr Joe Mizzi’s had suggested that the House continue debating till 18 July but as the House typically rises for its summer recess around mid-July, it was agreed that the Second Reading debate by completed by July 13. Mr Mizzi said that it is important that the House is not accused of hurrying up the discussion. If need be, it was also suggested, the House could meet in the mornings.
The discussion on the details of the provisions of the Bill at Committee Stage follows the Second Reading and will be conducted in the Committee for the Deliberation of Laws presided over by the Deputy Speaker later in summer upon the resumption of parliamentary sittings. MPs will have the opportunity to vote on all amendments, even the slightest changes, that may be proposed at Committee Stage with no discussion allowed and, finally, on the Third Reading. All MPs may attend and participate in the Committee’s meetings and even propose amendments. The initial suggestion that the committee be chaired by the Speaker himself was rejected on the basis that this would breach the House’s rules. The Speaker will preside over the voting.
The Speaker said it had been requested for a photographer and a cameraman to be present during the debate at committee stage. This was agreed to but the House Business Committee members were very much against the voting to be filmed and considered this as putting pressure on the members. During the meeting the Government Whip suggested that any MP who wanted to be listed as excused from a particular sitting would have to inform the Clerk of the House who would then inform the relevant Whip. Acceptable excuses for absence are illness, being overseas or else on political duties.
Nationalist Party’s General Conference
In closing the first session of the Nationalist Party’s General Conference yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Leader Dr Tonio Borg said that the party was liberal in policies, and conservative and radical according to the matter in hand. He said that he was proud there were diverging opinions within the party, including on the issue of divorce. The party was obliged to make its position known but everyone had a free vote to choose according to their conscience, he said.
Dr Borg said that, while the party had to respect the people’s decision, it also had to respect those who voted against the introduction of divorce. This was the reason for having a team from the party’s parliamentary group working on amendments to the proposed Bill to ensure the passing of a fair law that did not discriminate.
Delegates at the General Conference called on the party to adapt its values and principles to the changing reality of today’s society, with particular reference to the issue of divorce.
Opposition Leader interviewed on Xarabank
In an interview on the popular TV program Xarabank yesterday, Opposition Leader Dr Joseph Muscat said that he did not believe MPs should vote against the passing of the Divorce Bill in Parliament. In his view, “in order to respect the people’s decision, they have to either vote ‘yes’ or abstain.” However, Dr Muscat conceded that MPs have the opportunity to decide for themselves and said that there was one MP in the opposition ranks who decided he would still be voting no.
In response to a point made by the presenter that, following the referendum vote in favour of EU membership, his party had still voted against in Parliament, Dr Muscat said this had been a completely different issue since the vote had followed a general election. The Labour Party had been against EU membership but it accepted the people’s decision to join the EU, it understood that its position no longer made sense and changed it. The Nationalist Party was now doing completely the opposite as it was taking a stance against divorce and, if it continues to stick to it today, it would not be respecting the people’s will, said Dr Muscat.
To download the full text of the Divorce Bill in Maltese and in English, click here (411.8 kB)