No sovereignty talks against Gibraltarians, says Governor at ceremonial opening of Parliament
|FULL TEXT: ADDRESS BY THE GOVERNOR VICE ADMIRAL SIR ADRIAN JOHNS:
Honourable Members of Parliament, it is a privilege formally to open this House of Parliament in Gibraltar following the election held less than a fortnight ago on 8 December.
In looking around the House, I see many who are well-acquainted with and experienced in the ways of parliament. But I also see a number of newly-elected members on both sides. Indeed, over a third of this parliament is now comprised of newly-elected members. To you all, old hands and new faces alike, I offer my warmest congratulations on your election to this place, and I wish you all success in the term ahead. I also welcome you back, Mr Speaker, and acknowledge the support you have given this House over the last 4 years.
And, of course, we mourn the passing of one of your distinguished predecessors, Sir Bob Peliza, a great Gibraltarian to whom we said farewell earlier this week.
It has been a stroke of good fortune for me to have been here for a General Election. It is an event which is not guaranteed during every Governor’s tenure in office and it has been a fascinating experience. I have been impressed by the demonstration of democracy in all its forms: through the debates; the manifestos; the media reporting; and through the high level of public engagement.
On the day of the election, I visited many of the polling stations, was present at the verification, and I witnessed at first hand the counting of the votes. The sense of responsibility and commitment of all those involved and the meticulous attention to detail at every stage contributed to what I can only describe as an unimpeachable process and I pay tribute to the Returning Officer and every member of the team who delivered excellence in every aspect of the organisation and conduct of this election.
Equally impressive was the palpable sense of pride and determination of people everywhere to play an active part in their democracy and to exercise their right to vote. And vote they did in great numbers - more people voted than at any election in Gibraltar’s history and the turnout of 82.5% was hugely impressive by any standard.
I should like also to pay tribute to the candidates, both those present in the House today, as members of the Government or the Opposition, and also to those who were not, on this occasion, elected.
Gibraltar’s democracy is greatly enriched by both the fact and the manner of your participation in the electoral process: your personal endeavour, the support of your families and friends, and the mutual respect shown by leaders, candidates and supporters alike, particularly when the results were announced, highlighted the dignity and generosity that are fundamental elements of the democratic process and epitomised much of what is best about Gibraltar.
In short, the election was a beacon of democratic excellence. Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar is committed to a fundamental reform of the way other aspects of democracy work in Gibraltar. In particular the Government will:
• Establish an independent commission to undertake a review of the way democracy works in Gibraltar and make recommendations for reform;
• Call monthly meetings of Parliament;
• Adopt a Ministerial Code and propose a Parliamentary Code to regulate the conduct of Ministers and Members of Parliament respectively;
• Introduce legislation for a Freedom of Information Act which will allow citizen access to current information and all official documents over 20 years old;
• Introduce legislation within the next 100 days to ban bullying and harassment in the workplace, followed within 180 days by legislation for a Public Interest Disclosure Act for the protection of those who come forward to provide information relating to corruption or other wrongdoing;
• Strengthen further laws to prevent bribery and corruption and establish an independent authority to address allegations related to such crimes;
• Establish a review of the Civil Service, potentially resulting in the introduction of legislation for a Civil Service Act;
• Establish an Equal Opportunities Commission as provided for under the Equal Opportunities Act;
• Introduce legislation to reform the Development and Planning Commission and open all its meetings to the public; and
• Introduce the practice of publishing online, insofar as possible, all legislation as Command Papers at least two weeks before publication of Bills in the Government Gazette.
Mr Speaker, these are times of change and great uncertainty – in the world, in Europe and here in Gibraltar. At a point where nations are challenging undemocratic regimes, where financial systems are under strain, and where the future of the Eurozone and with it Britain’s relationship with the European Union are all in the spotlight, many old certainties cannot be taken for granted. Gibraltar and the United Kingdom together face many challenges and a close working partnership will be essential. But there is a bond between Gibraltar and the UK that transcends challenge and uncertainty, and that is the bond of sovereignty.
It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that, at the opening of this session of Parliament and in order to underpin the work and confidence of this new Government and this House, I affirm once again the United Kingdom’s commitment never to enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes, nor to enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.
Mr Speaker, in these turbulent times the people of Gibraltar will look to their Parliament to represent their interests and to ensure a secure and prosperous future for Gibraltar. I know that all in this House will work together across the political divide to ensure that this challenge is met.
I wish Members of the House, in Government and in Opposition, all success in tackling their work and in fulfilling the responsibility which the people of Gibraltar have placed upon them.
I have great pleasure in declaring open this Session of the House of Parliament.