The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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TMID Editorial: Reduce allocated speaking times in Parliament

Tuesday, 9 August 2022, 07:48 Last update: about 3 months ago

Labour Party CEO and MP Randolph Debattista said that if parliamentary speeches become shorter, the work carried out by the government would increase and the speeches would become more engaging for all MPs as well as for those following proceedings. 

This particular argument is one which many would agree with. There is absolutely no point in MPs talking for 20 minutes or so, just for the next MP to reiterate the same point. That is not the way it works in the European Parliament which, in our opinion, is a better model.

The main speaker from each party should have a longer time allocated to them, but the MPs speaking after should be limited to around 5 minutes each at maximum. This would, in theory, allow more items to be debated in Parliament than are presently discussed and the agenda would move forward more quickly.

Parliament is a place where laws are to be drawn up, debated and amended. Having MPs spend 20 minutes speaking about a topic their colleague from their party just spent 20 minutes before saying nearly the same thing does not help the process and mostly serves just for MPs to be put front and centre in front of a camera.

Of course there are many other things that need to be fixed in Parliament. For example, when it comes to question time, we have seen on many occasions ministers saying that information is still being gathered in response to a question. It happens very often. Too often, one could argue.

In addition, ministers should do their best to be present to answer verbal questions that are put to them in Parliament, and not have one of their colleagues do so for them, as that restricts the possible on the spot supplementary questions that can be asked.

There is also the idea of Prime Minister’s Question Time, which is non-existent in Malta but should be introduced.

Debattista, when speaking to this newsroom in an interview published last Sunday, said that a discussion needs to take place to see how Parliamentary Privilege could be reformed in order to avoid anyone from abusing it in some way or another. Parliamentary privilege, he said, takes away the right for a citizen to speak up when someone in Parliament obscures him or her.

It would be fair to allow such citizens the opportunity to respond to such situations. However, we must be careful not to, in any way, hinder the ability of MPs to criticise something which is blatantly wrong. MPs must feel at liberty to speak their minds without fear.

Another issue that needs to be tackled are the committees. Sometimes concerns regarding the bias of MPs who sit on them emerge and this, in turn, does make the committees appear weak.

One example would be the standards committee where, in the past, MPs were perceived to be supporting their own party’s MPs, another would be the Public Accounts committee where, in the past, bickering between MPs of both parties turned the committee into a laughing stock.

Now how these can be strengthened is something that is up for debate. For example, perhaps changing the composition of the Standards committee to include independent lay persons could be one idea.

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