Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Independent: 52 ‘Yes’ votes carry divorce Bill through

26 July 2011  by Chiara Bonello and Annaliza Borg

The divorce Bill yesterday passed through the final reading in parliament with 52 votes in favour. 11 MPs voted ‘No’, five abstained.

One MP, Adrian Vassallo, from the opposition, who was strongly against the Bill since the introduction of the debate, did not turn up for the session. All other opposition members, including Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, who abstained at the second reading, were yesterday in favour of the amendments.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, Justice and Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici and Infrastructure, Transport and Communications Minister Austin Gatt, all voted against the final reading during which a committee, chaired by deputy speaker Censu Galea, went through the Bill in detail, proposing amendments.

Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg and Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono also voted against, as did parliamentary secretary Jason Azzopardi and PN MPs Frederick Azzopardi, Louis Deguara, Beppe Fenech Adami, Philip Mifsud and Edwin Vassallo.

Finance, the Economy and Investment Minister Tonio Fenech, parliamentary secretaries Mario Galea and Clyde Puli, as well as MPs Francis Agius and Peter Micallef, abstained.

All opposition MPs excluding Adrian Vassallo, as well as 19 PN MPs voted in favour of the Bill at the third reading.

The Bill was approved through committee stage first thing in the morning.

Before the final vote, the House voted for each proposed amendment while the chairperson of the pro-divorce movement Iva għad- Divorzju, Iva għaz Żwieġ, Deborah Schembri, witnessed the session from the Strangers’ Gallery. She has participated in the debate throughout and had been present during committee meetings to help fine tune the law.

Although the process of votes was quite lengthy, it was plain sailing most of the time. A division was called after amendment D for clause number five was read out. This was linked to the referendum question and so a clear vote was requested.

The clause makes it clear that each of the spouses shall have the right to demand divorce and it shall not be required that, prior to the demand of divorce, the spouses shall be separated from each other by means of a contract or of a judgement.

Points two, three and four of the same clause state: “The dissolution of marriage shall be granted by virtue of a judgement of a competent civil court.” The clause then goes into further detail about the process.

Following the second reading – a debate on the Bill in which every member of the House of Representatives that wished so, had his or her say over a number of days – 44 MPs voted in favour. Another 13 MPs including the Prime Minister had voted against the Bill and 12 had abstained.

The private member’s Bill, proposed by PN MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and seconded by PL MP Evarist Bartolo, started being discussed last month following a ‘Yes’ vote at a referendum. Following the conclusion of the parliamentary process yesterday, the Bill will be sent to the President for final approval and should be enacted at the beginning of October.

Among the changes to the original Bill were clauses on the guarantee of maintenance, one to have children maintained until the age of 23 if they are still students, another to curb abuse of social services and one saying that changes to essential elements of the law may only come in after a referendum.

PM’s actions ‘inexplicable’

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi voting against the divorce bill is ‘inexplicable’, but hopefully the government will now set to work creating the necessary structures for the introduction of divorce, Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat said yesterday.

Speaking after the House of Representatives voted on the third reading of the divorce bill, Dr Muscat said that Dr Gonzi’s decision had impressed him, as not only had he chosen to ignore the people’s will, but also the fact that they were voting on amendments proposed by both parties to improve the law.

“I can say that it seems the Prime Minister has lost his way,” he said, adding that there had been a positive discussion by MPs from both sides, for the improvement of the Bill.

It is now important that we have the necessary institutions in place, for example vis-à-vis mediation, he said, so if there aren’t enough resources, this will be looked into.

In separate comments, Dr Gonzi admitted that the amendments had meant an improved divorce Bill, but said that this still did not mean that he was in favour of divorce, and therefore he continued to vote ‘No’.

The outcome was not satisfying for all MPs, but they all had a free vote, and voted according to what they believed was best at every stage. Now it has passed, and it is important to see it is implemented in the best way.

A legal team was working on the amendments and everyone participated, but this didn’t mean they were forced to approve everything, he said. If one disagrees on a matter of principle, even if it is a major improvement, you stick to it, he said.

Dr Muscat’s concern at the Prime Minister’s vote was echoed by Iva chairperson Deborah Schembri, who said it made no sense to her that MPs voted against, once the people had expressed themselves, and by Evarist Bartolo, who presented the joint Private Member’s Bill with Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.

Dr Schembri said she was happy that all the work which had been done had not been for nothing, and that any queries or amendments were dealt with during the committee stage.

There were some surprises at this stage, she admitted, however at the end of the day it was all for the best.

Mr Bartolo also said that a lot of work had been carried out at committee stage, and this by people having different opinions, to strengthen the law to protect the people’s rights.

“I am proud that we have kept the promises made during the campaign and happy that over 60% of the House chose to respect the people’s wishes,” he said, also commenting that he can’t understand someone like Dr Gonzi voting against.

Dr Pullicino Orlando said he was very satisfied that the public, who made it clear that it supports the rights even of minorities, had expressed their will to the MPs, the majority of whom chose to respect it.

He went on to say that both sides had worked together during the committee stage and that the final Bill was going to mean a major step forward for family law.

How they voted

Labour Party

Abela Carmelo Yes
Agius Chris Yes
Agius Decelis Anthony Yes
Bartolo Evarist Yes
Bonnici Owen Yes
Brincat Leo Yes
Buhagiar Charles Yes
Buontempo Stefan Yes
Busuttil Luciano Yes
Cardona Chris Yes
Caruana Justyne Yes
Cauchi Gino Yes
Coleiro Preca Marie Louise Yes
Dalli Helena Yes
Debono Grech Joseph Yes
Falzon Michael Yes
Farrugia Angelo Yes
Farrugia Michael Yes
Farrugia Noel Yes
Galdes Roderick Yes
Gulia Gavin Yes
Herrera José Yes
Mangion Charles Yes
Mizzi Joe Yes
Muscat Joseph Yes
Parnis Silvio Yes
Pullicino Marlene Yes
Refalo Anton Yes
Sammut Joseph Yes
Sant Alfred Yes
Vassallo Adrian Not Present
Vella George Yes
Vella Karmenu Yes
Zammit Anthony Yes

Nationalist Party

Agius David Yes
Agius Francis Abstained
Arrigo Robert Yes
Azzopardi Frederick No
Azzopardi Jason No
Bonnici Charlo Yes
Borg Tonio No
Cassar Joseph Yes
Cristina Dolores Yes
De Marco Mario Yes
Debono Franco Yes
Debono Giovanna No
Deguara Louis No
Falzon Joseph Yes
Farrugia Jean Pierre Yes
Fenech Tonio Abstained
Fenech Adami Beppe No
Galea Censu Yes
Galea Mario Abstained
Gatt Austin No
Gonzi Lawrence No
Gonzi Michael Yes
Gouder Karl Yes
Micallef Peter Abstained
Mifsud Philip No
Mifsud Bonnici Carmelo No
Mugliett Jesmond Yes
Puli Clyde Abstained
Pullicino George Yes
Pullicino Orlando Jeffrey Yes
Said Chris Yes
Spiteri Stephen Yes
Vassallo Edwin No
Zammit Ninu Yes
Zammit Dimech Francis Yes

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