The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

PN angered about not receiving copy of gay marriage bill before debate

Helena Grech Monday, 19 June 2017, 09:21 Last update: about 2 years ago

The Nationalist Party has expressed its frustration at the Prime Minister’s announcement that the second reading for the Marriage Equality Bill will take place today week without the PN having been given a copy of the bill seven days before discussion, as is customary.

The Marriage Equality Bill will legalise gay marriage. Homosexual couples who enter into a civil union have the same rights and privileges of married couples, however in the name of equality and fairness, both mainstream parties have declared their support for homosexual couples to be given the right to get married, despite this in effect being a change in title, rather than limit them to civil unions.

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During a short interview on One Radio yesterday morning, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the second reading of the bill should start by today week, and the law should come into force before summer recess, which will likely be towards the end of July.

Speaking to The Malta Independent, former PN Whip and elected MP David Agius expressed his frustration about the announcement, stating that normally the Opposition received an advanced copy of the proposed bill seven days before the first reading. An OPM spokesperson however confirmed that the final changes to the bill will be finalised during this Tuesday’s cabinet session, and that it would pass on a copy to the Opposition by Wednesday morning.

In reaction to the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday morning, Agius said that when considering that Parliament officially convenes next Saturday, that the first normal debating session will take place tomorrow week, and the PN is forming its parliamentary group this coming Wednesday, it will not have its customary seven days to review the wording of the bill.

Agius said that government is well aware that the PN is in favour of gay marriage through its inclusion in the pre-electoral manifesto, however the party would like to review the wording before committing itself as in legal terms, simple wording can have huge implications.

“We are asking the Prime Minister to respect Parliamentary process and the Opposition. If he was really serious about working hand in hand with the Opposition, not showing us a copy of the Bill before entering a debate into the issue is not the way to do so,” he said.

“I would not have expected the PM to just announce that the second reading will take place on Monday. First he has to consult with the Opposition on anything in Parliament if he really means that he wants to work hand in hand with the opposition. When you set up a Bill, first thing you have is the first reading. From first to the second you have three days’ notice.”

The Malta Independent took these concerns to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in order to gauge an understanding into its decision to make the announcement yesterday morning on radio, and to get its reaction about the PN’s concerns.

In a statement sent to this newsroom, an OPM spokesperson wrote: “Government understands that given its pre-electoral statements, the Opposition agrees with the principle of same sex marriage. Government will be approving final details of the bill in Tuesday’s Cabinet and a copy will be passed on to the Opposition. PN’s parliamentary group will have a copy before it is formed on Wednesday. This should give the Opposition enough time to form a position on this first bill of this legislature.”

Both the first and second readings will take place on Monday. Parliamentary procedure dictates that for a Bill to reach the floor, it is first presented to the Speaker. After three days the Bill is put on the Parliamentary agenda for its First Reading.

The motion is put to the vote without any debate. Upon publication, the bill is again included in the agenda of the House, this time for its Second Reading. The discussion generally commences on such date as agreed upon in the House Business Committee.

The snap election called on 1 May for 3 June disrupted a solid five weeks of Parliamentary work, which could be the reason behind the urgency.

In the meantime, David Agius also added that Muscat’s plans to have debates up until July to discuss money bill on 10 state entities is also controversial, because normally MPs have annual reports at hand before discussing such matters.

“We are there to cooperate, but we need to move in line with Parliamentary procedure”.

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