Gibraltar's House of Assembly was consigned to the history books this week as the Gibraltar Parliament convened for its first session under the framework of the new Constitution. The precincts of the former House will from now on be known as Parliament Building reports the Gibraltar Chronicle.
Elected members become Members of Parliament and will be entitled to use the abbreviation MP behind their names. The Gibraltar Government will shortly present a series of Bills aimed at implementing key changes arising from the new Constitution, including legal mechanisms for two new ministries, and will begin exploring a broad modernisation of parliamentary procedures. At the next General Election, the number of elected MPs will rise from 15 to 17, with the two new members filling in the ex-officio posts held until now by the Attorney General and the Financial and Development Secretary. In opening speeches, Chief Minister Peter Caruana and Opposition leader Joe Bossano rehearsed their well-known ÃÂ¢€" and significantly different - views on the impact of the new Constitution on Gibraltar's affairs. "For the first time ever the United Kingdom has recognised in our Constitution that the people of Gibraltar enjoy the right of self determination in terms of the UN Charter," Mr Caruana said. "Furthermore, the UK has recognised and acknowledged that our Referendum in November last year constituted an exercise of that right of self determination" "In consequence, Gibraltar now enjoys a modern and mature Constitutional relationship with the UK which is not based on colonialism." "We are thus effectively decolonised". However Bossano differed with the Chief Minister on the effect of the new Constitution on Gibraltar's status as a colony and said the issue of whether or not that status had changed hinged largely on the UK's submission to the United Nations later this year, and the UN's reaction. If, in UN terms, Gibraltar's status as a colony remained unchanged, "then this Constitution is not the end of the road," he said. "The jury is still out on this". Mr Caruana told parliament that the architecture of certain public affairs was already in the process of change to reflect the provisions of the new Constitution. The Gibraltar Government and its ministers are now formally and constitutionally responsible for all matters except external affairs, defence and certain aspects of policing and the civil service. The principal areas where new direct ministerial responsibilities are created are public finance and justice. The Government had already announced the creation of two new Ministries, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs. The Ministry of Finance will comprise the Treasury Department, the Income Tax Department, the Customs Department, the Finance Centre Department and the Gambling Department. The Ministry will be responsible for the economy, public finances including Government budgeting, Government expenditure and Government revenue, taxes and duties, gambling and financial services. The Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs will include responsibility for justice, civil protection including civil contingency, police issues and crime and fire brigade, the prison, immigration residence & personal status and civic rights. The Chief Minister will take on the responsibilities of both new ministries, though the Justice and Home Affairs portfolio will be his only on a temporary basis until the next General Election. The Chief Minister said the Government would shortly publish a Bill for a Judicial Service Act, in connection with the Ministry of Justice and the establishment, under the new Constitution, of a Judicial Service Commission to give advice to the Governor in all matters of judicial appointments and discipline. The Bill went to consultation in draft form to the judiciary late last week. The Government will also publish this week a Bill for an Act that replaces with appropriate references all those references in existing legislation superceded by the new Constitutional text.