PN proposes weekly prime minister’s question time like UK parliament

The Nationalist Party proposes a weekly session in parliament where the prime minister would answer questions put forward by other MPs

Robert Cutjar and David Agius
Robert Cutjar and David Agius

The Maltese Parliament has long borrowed from British tradition, but the Nationalist Party wants to take it a step further by adopting a weekly ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ similar to sessions done in the UK parliament.

Like the House of Commons, the party wants to introduce a weekly session in parliament where the prime minister answers questions put forward by other MPs.

In the UK, the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) event takes place every Wednesday at noon. While the PM only answers questions from MPs, UK residents can visit the chamber when it’s in session.

Malta’s parliament is back in session on Monday, and the Nationalist Party laid out its parliamentary priorities for the coming legislature.

David Agius and Robert Cutajar, deputy leader and whip respectively, addressed a party press conference on the issue.

Agius said that the first port of call will be the parliamentary Standing Orders. The party suggests forming an ad-hoc committee to propose changes to the Standing Orders.

This would be one of several new committees the PN wants to form. Agius proposed setting up a permanent committee focused on justice, as well as sub-committees on diabetes and obesity.

Apart from introducing PMQs, Cutajar said that government ministers should respect ‘the spirit of standing orders and answer any questions put to them by other MPs.

Cutajar mentioned that many ministers in the past have avoided answering such questions, either by not attending the session or by saying that the questions will be answered at a later date.

He noted that many government MPs enjoy a position in the cabinet, allowing them to benefit from dedicated ministerial staff to help them in their parliamentary work. Backbenchers and Opposition MPs are not afforded the same luxury.

“I’ll give one example: the only person assigned to help the Opposition leader is a chauffeur. Is it time for the system to change?”

In addition, Cutajar said that more family-friendly measures should be adopted in parliament, such as offering in-house childcare facilities.

“This was already discussed, but now that parliament is in session we shouldn’t wait months to do it,” he said.

He added that any childcare facilities would not only benefit MPs but also parliamentary staff and security. “This should be among the most urgent decisions to take.”

Other proposals put forward by the party include the regular tabling of Ombudsman reports and more frequent opportunities for the Opposition to put forward their own draft bills.

Speaker Anglu Farrugia suggested amending the Standing Orders in the light of a much bigger parliament, when being interviewed on Xtra last week. Farrugia suggested shorter speaking times for MPs to give all 79 MPs a better chance to contribute in debates.