A Bill was published on Friday to increase the number of elected members of Parliament from 17 to 25. This follows the recommendation made by the Select Committee on Parliamentary Reform to the Gibraltar Parliament on 9 May.
The number of Ministers remains the same. This increase applies to Members of Parliament only and is proposed initially on a trial basis.
There is no change to the system of voting other than each elector will have a maximum of 15 votes instead of 10 votes. Electors would be free to continue block-voting for the same party-block as they do now, in order to choose a Government.
- Gradual increase in elected Members historically
The debate and discussion on the possible enlargement of Parliament dates back well over ten years. This has surfaced at various points in our political and constitutional development. In the first elections to the Legislative Council in 1950, the people of Gibraltar could vote for only 5 Members. The number was gradually increased until it reached 11 in 1964 and 15 in 1969. In the discussions leading up to the 2006 Constitution, the decision was taken to increase the number of Members from 15 to 17. It was also decided to provide a formula within the Constitution itself so that Parliament could regulate any future change in the number of Members following a Motion supported by two thirds of the House.
- Commonwealth tradition is for more elected Members with more self-government
In the historical context of British colonialism and in the development of the Commonwealth an increase in the number of Elected Members has been the norm as the Governments of the Territories were bestowed with greater power and responsibility as the years went by.
- Other Overseas Territories have more Parliamentarians than Ministers
It is important to place the proposal to expand the Gibraltar Parliament In context.
It is very common for different jurisdictions to have Parliaments where there are more MPs than Ministers. This is particularly so in the UK Overseas Territories which enjoy a higher degree of self-government and in the Crown Dependencies.
Bermuda, which is a UK Overseas Territory like Gibraltar, elects 36 MPs of whom 11 are Ministers.
Cayman Islands, which is also a UK Overseas Territory, has 7 Ministers, 5 Government Back Benchers and 6 Opposition Members.
Jersey, which is a Crown Dependency, has a combined total of 49 elected members of whom 11 are Ministers.
Guernsey elects 38 Members of the States and effectively is run by 11 Ministers.
In the Isle of Man, the House of Keys has 24 elected Members and 9 Ministers.
It is therefore quite common in all these jurisdictions for there to me more Members of Parliament than there are Ministers. This is not the case in Gibraltar at the moment. We are the exception and not the rule.
Indeed, an analysis of micro-states in Europe shows that, for example, the Parliament or Landtag of Liechtenstein, has 25 MPs, and 5 Ministers. The Parliament of San Marino has elected 60 members with a maximum of 10 Ministers.
- Opportunities for debate and consultation
The possible expansion of Parliament has been under discussion for over a decade. This dates back to the period before the 2006 Constitution.
More recently, a Commission on Democratic and Political Reform was set up in Gibraltar following the 2011 general election. This Commission invited representations from the public across a whole range of different issues until September 2012. The deadline was then extended until October 2012.
A Select Committee on Parliamentary Reform was established in Gibraltar in June 2013. The main subject under consideration throughout was the possible expansion of Parliament and the Committee held oral hearings precisely on this subject. It should be noted that there were only members of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party, the Liberal Party and the Gibraltar Social Democrats present because no other political party existed at this time. The Select Committee met in May, with representation of all the political parties in Gibraltar, to conclude what had been a long-drawn out process which had commenced six years before.
The Constitution requires that there should be detailed consultation between the Government and the Opposition on this matter because there is a requirement for two thirds majority in order for the Motion to be approved.
In addition to this, the system is being proposed as a trial measure over the lifetime of the new Parliament so that it can be tested properly.
The Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said:
“It is perfectly legitimate to take a position in favour or against any Motion or any Bill which comes before the Gibraltar Parliament. Indeed, it is proper and healthy in a democracy that this should happen. However, there is also a duty to allow for a full examination of the facts. The facts show that Gibraltar is out of step with similar small jurisdictions around the World, including those which form part of the British family of nations. The Government has made it clear that there will be no increase in the number of Ministers. This will remain the same. The proposal is to increase the number of Members of Parliament (not Ministers) which would allow for backbenchers on both sides of the House.
The proposal to increase the number of Parliamentarians, if approved, will be monitored over the lifetime of the next Parliament in order to test its effectiveness. This trial period is really the best way to see whether the system works or not. A future Gibraltar Parliament would be free to make whatever changes it wishes after the new system has been tested.”
Note to Editors:
Table showing number of MPs and Ministers in jurisdictions similar to Gibraltar
Country Number of MPs Number of Ministers
Isle of Man 24 9
Jersey 36 11
Guernsey 38 11
Bermuda 36 11
Cayman Islands 18 7
San Marino 60 10
Liechtenstein 25 5
Gibraltar 17 10
(Ministers have a majority)