It was a whirlwind few days in Parliament last week. After the exultation of the ground-breaking Same-Sex Marriage Bill, our attentions turned to perhaps less momentous but by no means less important affairs that affect the smooth running of our community. These issues might be less headline-grabbing, but they reflect the everyday concerns of many Gibraltarians, so it is only right that we give these the appropriate attention.
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to challenge Minister Paul Balban on the matter of the taxi service. With the Chamber of Commerce’s recent criticism of the service – an opinion frequently shared by many members of the general public – it was important that the Minister faced these questions. While the Minister recognised that he was less than satisfied with the current levels of service – not a very glowing endorsement – he failed to give many details about how he plans to improve matters, outrightly dismissing the prospect of introducing more licenses. Given the important role that the taxi service plays in terms of delivering a positive experience for tourists, as well as in encouraging locals to not use their cars (and the environmental and parking implications of this), I urge the Minister to not blind himself to these criticisms and to heed our suggestions in order to solve a seemingly perennial problem.
I then had the opportunity to question Minister Balban about the perilous state of some of the paving in Main Street. Wearers of high heels know only too well how tricky it can be to negotiate your way through town while avoiding areas where the cobblestones have stilleto-sized gaps, presenting dangerous hazards. While this might seem trivial to the unaffected, there are many Health & Safety implications, including the very real possibility of a nasty accident one day. I was promised in the House that the filling of the cobblestone gaps will be completed within this electoral term as per manifesto commitment. Again, I hope that this will be resolved, preferably before we all have to resort to a nasty trip up.
Thursday also saw me engage in dialogue in Parliament with Minister Joe Bossano for the first time. At the beginning of our brief exchange, I reminded him of the many debates he held with my father, and expressed the hope that this new generation of Bossano / Hassan dialogue will feature the same level of mutual respect. Mr Bossano’s reaction left me in no doubt whatsoever of the affection which he still holds for his former rival, for which I am very grateful.
Another exciting debate at Parliament was prompted by the proposal of a Bill to establish a Consultative Council in Gibraltar. This initiative would see some of our nation’s finest political minds – including former Chief Ministers and their Deputies – gathered around a table to advise the current Chief Minister on issues of national importance. It would be irresponsible to deny Gibraltar this privilege, so I felt the right thing to do would be to support the Bill, but I did express some legitimate concerns about how the Council’s oath of secrecy would impact on active MP’s – particularly members of the Opposition – who might be invited to form part of the body. Would it be wrong for a Leader of the Opposition or ordinary MP to form part of a council where an oath of secrecy must be taken? My dilemma with this is that as great as our collective responsibility is to the Chief Minister and his Government, our responsibility to the electorate is greater, and I therefore remain unconvinced about being privy to information that may be in the public interest if this had the effect of compromising my ability to publicly hold the Government to account, which is precisely what I have been elected to do. To me, this would represent a conflict both of interests and of conscience. The people of Gibraltar need to be confident that their Opposition representatives can act without having any hands tied by a justified need for secrecy and discretion. I feel that, in this scenario, the duties and responsibilities to which the electorate binds me could be curtailed, preventing me from fulfilling this role with honesty and sincerity.
However, on assurance by the Chief Minister that the Bill gives members the option to remove themselves from the Council or to refuse to join it, leaving it up to the conscience of the individual invited to decide, I am satisfied that in principle the council will be a fruitful incentive, especially in the times we are living.
This productive week in the House was tinged with sadness, though, with the news of the passing of David Hoare. David was a fantastic personality and, throughout his many years as a radio broadcaster, his was the voice that many Gibraltarians chose to listen to, and it will be forever associated with many important events, most notably the full opening of the frontier in 1985. His wit and charm were second to none, and the many tributes on social media clearly indicate that, both as a broadcaster and as an Anglican reverend, David touched the lives of many. Our community will feel his loss deeply.
This session of Parliament is by no means over, and we still have some exciting issues to discuss throughout the weeks ahead. Being a Parliamentarian means that every day is different, and you get to listen to powerful arguments and to passionate exchanges of ideas. It really is quite a privilege.
But, for now……what’s next?