You were with us in the summer of 2012 when I delivered my first budget speech, and today it is great privilege and deep responsibility that I deliver my eleventh address.
We were all reminded by the Chief Minister in his intervention on Tuesday that our time here is indeed a privilege and ought not to be taken for granted. We will soon contest a general election once again and it is with great respect that I say that tomorrow is never promised and it is on this basis that I wanted to take this opportunity to look back and recognise our achievements in our almost twelve years in Government, because despite all the negativity of those opposite, try as they might, they cannot, and will not, rewrite history.
There is no denying that we have changed the landscape and the feel of Gibraltar for the better. Only two days ago I saw a post on social media where there was nothing but praise for our Commonwealth Park, the vision of my good friend Minister John Cortes which he made a reality and something that is now very much part of our lives and easy to take for granted in the same way that his implementation of the smoking ban is something that now, 11 years later is so normal for everyone that it is inconceivable to think otherwise.
I say this as but two examples to illustrate that over the course of almost 12 years that we have been in Government we have achieved many great things & these are all too easy to forget.
While of course I simply cannot list all our achievements and accomplishments over the last 12 years, as there are too many.
And it saddens me greatly Mr. Speaker when the members opposite try to diminish and belittle our efforts. Particularly so when they try to paint COVID and Brexit as excuses. As if anyone would believe that.
They make personal insults. The leader of the Opposition called us jaded and spent, Mr Bossino called us jaded and tired.
We were tired Mr Speaker. During 2020 we were literally physically exhausted because of the battles that we were fighting, but we still persevered because we had no choice. I am glad that the opposition supported us at the time, but they were not the ones steering the ship. They have absolutely no idea.
When you are physically tired, you rest and carry on, and our dedication to continue to work for Gibraltar is what spurs us on. I can assure the members opposite that we have more dynamic and vibrant ideas and the drive and ambition to deliver them.
The hours we worked were unimaginable. The Chief Minister and the deputy Chief Minister in particular, ensuring that Gibraltar was safeguarded in the Brexit negotiations.
Mr. Clinton in one of his outbursts got it completely right when he said that Mr. Picardo was ridiculous. Mr. Picardo is ridiculous. Ridiculously strong in fighting for Gibraltar within our backing.
It saddens me that the members opposite stoop to such ridiculous levels, no wonder that people do not want to engage with Parliament after such petty insults of the people who work tirelessly to put Gibraltar first, it really is not becoming.
Covid was a serious global event and can be all to easily forgotten. For those of us leading on it, we were literally fighting a war in the trenches, we actually for us it was at “the Bunker” for the majority of 2020 and part of 2021to keep Gibraltar safe. I will never be able to properly express my gratitude to those who went over and above the call of duty during this time.
Among the many things that COVID took from us, including our piece of mind, it stole from us the time to deliver our manifesto in four years. But that has just meant we have worked double as hard to deliver as much as we can in two years.
Mr Speaker, before I turn to my responsibilities for individual departments, I would like to commence by making reference to two important overarching strategies that are multi-faceted and multi-agency. They have been many years in the making and I can confidently say that they have matured and come to fruition and as a result they will make a meaningful difference.
The first is domestic abuse which Honourable Members will be aware has been a flagship policy of mine to work towards ending domestic abuse in Gibraltar.
Domestic abuse is a pervasive problem that affects many people in Gibraltar including children. It is heinous crime that destroys lives and tears families apart and as such it is a problem that required meaningful and coordinated action.
This Government has been committed to ensuring that all necessary steps to tackle this issue head on are taken. Our ambitious goal is to eradicate domestic abuse from Gibraltar, by intervening at every level, with children to help them recover, with victims to offer support and empowerment and with perpetrators to hold them to account for their actions and offer help to change their behaviour.
Whereas this has been a focus for many years, the work was recalibrated last year once the COVID demands permitted me to do so. Over the past year I have spear-headed a new domestic abuse strategy which is aligned to the Domestic Abuse Act passed in this House in January this year.
The strategy is titled ‘breaking the cycle’ and its purpose is to do just that, break the cycle of abuse.
At this juncture I wish to thank the Honourable Mr Feetham for his political maturity for he has commended my work on domestic abuse, both in this House and on a Viewpoint Programme. And for this recognition I am grateful.
In order to make this goal a reality, the first step was to update our legislation through a new Domestic Abuse Act. This Act strengthens the legal framework surrounding domestic abuse and in particular moves our legislation on to reflect modern understanding of domestic abuse by creating a new offence around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour as well as that of non-fatal strangulation.
This new offence covers such behaviour when it occurs during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners or family members. This sends a clear message that this form of domestic abuse constitutes a serious offence and provides better protection to victims experiencing repeated or continuous abuse. We must all recognise the harm caused by coercion or control, the cumulative impact on the victim and that a repeated pattern of abuse can be more injurious and harmful than a single incident of violence or move on to even more serious consequences.
Of course, Mr Speaker, updating our legislation is but the first step in this strategy and in many ways it is the easiest step.
Tackling domestic abuse requires a multi-disciplinary approach, as such in October 2022, I set up a Strategic Domestic Abuse Partnership. This high level partnership (the Gold partnership) consists of the most senior managers from all appropriate government departments and agencies, including the Royal Gibraltar Police, the Care Agency, the Department of Education, the Housing Department, the Government Law Offices, the GHA, Public Health, Human Resources, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Gibraltar Courts Service, the Ministry for Justice and the Ministry for Equality. The strategic lead for this working group is the Ministry for Justice.
To support the Gold partnership I have also created three inter-agency sub-groups made up of operational staff. The sub-groups are Prevention, Support and Justice and Protection. The sub-group members are very active in ensuring the action plan from the strategy becomes a reality.
Through this holistic partnership I have ensured that all relevant agencies and departments have a domestic abuse policy in place. All relevant agencies and departments since the 27th June 2023 have trained domestic abuse champions who will continually raise awareness on this issue.
On the 25th November 2022, the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, I held Gibraltar’s first national conference on tackling domestic abuse. This conference had internationally renowned keynote speakers and was attended by over 150 public servants. The feedback from the conference was overwhelmingly positive. This conference was inspirational and very much the catalyst for the change and progress that we have since seen. The cost of the conference itself was met by Peninsuar and I am truly grateful for their generosity and support.
The Conference also marked the introduction of “Operation Encompass” to Gibraltar as two of its founding members gave presentations on the scheme. Operation Encompass is a police and education early information sharing partnership that enables schools to offer immediate support for children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. Mr Speaker, witnessing domestic abuse is really distressing for a child or young person, who often see the abuse, hears it from another room, see a parent’s injuries or distress afterwards or can be physically hurt by trying to stop the abuse. This programme will enable children to be offered early support and the Domestic Abuse Act 2023 includes provision to facilitate the necessary sharing of information in this respect. Training on this has been ongoing with over 100 police officers and teachers receiving training last November from the schemes founders and further training has place in May and June of this year ahead of that portion of the legislation being commenced.
In order to break the cycle of domestic abuse it is important for young people to understand what a healthy relationship looks like and also the consequences of abuse either as victim or a perpetrator. The latest report suggests that, although the number of women affected by violence has remained largely unchanged since 2013, the violence now starts at a younger age. It is therefore imperative that we educate our young people on how to have a healthy relationship.
Mr. Speaker, much more has been done setting the groundwork for the Strategy and also the commencement of the new Act. I will set out some examples of this as, Mr Speaker, sometimes it is easy for us to think that simply passing an Act through this Parliament will solve a problem, as I mentioned earlier on many occasions that is but the beginning and much further groundwork and training is required to make the words and thoughts in our legislation a reality.
This year for example I commissioned and funded Childline, in collaboration with the NSPCC and the Care Agency, to develop and deliver a therapeutic recovery programme for children who have lived experience of domestic abuse.
I have also commissioned the University of Gibraltar to develop a victim survey to inform our strategy and ensure that victims’ voice is central to everything that I do.
The training that has been rolled out since then can only be described as prolific and have been offered to all stakeholder departments ranging from generic awareness to sector specific training.
I have engaged ‘Safe Lives’, a UK charity, to deliver training on the development of a multi-agency risk assessment conference (Marac) in Gibraltar. The Marac is now operational and involves staff from various agencies working together to develop a safety plan for victims of domestic abuse.
Rachel Williams, a survivor of domestic abuse and attempted murder in the UK deserves special mention, she has also been engaged to run a number of events, one which was a public event, an event for young people and four workshops for public servants including specifically for GHA GPs. She has also led workshops with victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
We also working on developing our therapeutic pathways to empower victims of domestic abuse and our therapeutic support also involves work with perpetrators.
The Government, and Gibraltar as a whole, should never be complacent when it comes to domestic abuse.
Whilst, Mr Speaker, I am proud of what has been achieved by this Government in breaking the cycle we cannot stop here. This government and I reiterate our commitment to tackling domestic abuse and making a real difference to the lives of victims and survivors of it in Gibraltar.
Mr Speaker, on a personal note, I was honoured to have been invited to Buckingham Palace in November last year for the first function hosted by the then Queen Consort in honour of domestic abuse survivors and that our work in Gibraltar was recognised.
Mr Speaker, an overlapping area as the Minister with responsibility for children and safeguarding, is that of child protection. It may, Mr Speaker, sometimes be seen as a cliché to say that children are our future but that does not make it any less true. It is all of our responsibilities to ensure that Gibraltar is a safe and secure environment for them to grow up in.
Child protection is not just a legal obligation under the Children Act, but a moral one as well, it is our duty to protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation. As a society, we cannot turn a blind eye. We must take proactive measures to prevent child abuse and protect our children. Much work has been done over the past year to ensure children are safe and protected.
However, one cannot rely solely on the Government and its agencies to protect our children. It is the responsibility of everyone to be vigilant and report any suspected cases of child abuse. It is my vison to create a culture of awareness and education where parents, teachers and caregivers are trained to recognise the signs of abuse and take appropriate action.
Having agencies work together and communicate effectively is essential for good child protection practice.
My friend Minister Linares spoke about this and work done by the GSLA in this respect.
To that end I have invested in development days for the multi-agency Child Protection Committee which took place in November 2022 and in March 2023 which were facilitated buy a recently retired UK Director of Children Services, who has extensive experience in this area of work. As a result of these development days, the Committee set three priorities for training and development during the next year. These are children impacted by domestic abuse, children with a disability and safer recruitment.
Mr Speaker, the Child Protection Committee has been very busy this year. There has been more child protection training than ever being delivered to government agencies and to charities and religious organisations. This training is well established for all who work with children and young people. The training programme has been reviewed and updated and will be further updated this year to take account of the Committee’s priorities.
In order to ensure safer recruitment, I have commissioned the development of a framework to enable employers and agencies and including the voluntary sector to manage allegations against persons in position of trust. This framework will ensure a clear process in order to protection children, employees and organisations.
Mr Speaker, I have also commissioned an updated interagency child protection policy and procedures for all agencies dealing with children these will also be implemented throughout the coming year.
Turning to my departments, I will commence with my responsibility as Minister for Equality. During this administration’s three terms of office it has been an absolute privilege to hold a number of portfolios. Of all these portfolios, the Equality portfolio has been the one that I have held from the very first day. Equality is a cornerstone of our Government and it was a great honour to be Gibraltar’s first Minister for Equality in 2011 and it is a responsibility that I have always been, and continue to be, extremely proud of.
Whilst it is a sad reflection that equality matters were given little, if any, political or parliamentary consideration until 2011, I have to say, Mr Speaker, that it has been hugely gratifying to lead a Ministry which is pioneering and ground-breaking in its philosophy, vision, policies and, of course, most significantly, in legislation.
I make this point proudly Mr Speaker as I am concerned that this may not be the case should he members opposite be in Government. None of this was achieved until we embarked on the equality journey. On our legislation, such as gay marriage, abortion and surrogacy, these have not been supported by Mr Bossino. Worse still, he has indicated that abortion in particular could well be reversed. Well, let’s hope that not only that the GSD do not win the next election, but that Mr Bossino is not the leader as his views, which are more aligned with Vox would risk us looking more like Uganda than Gibraltar. Infact, his regressive views was one of the reasons given by the Honourable lady in her press conference at her resignation as to why there would be no merger with the GSD.
Given that June is Pride month and that it has just come to an end, I think it appropriate and timely to begin with LGBTQ+ rights, Mr. Speaker. Not least because in the almost 12 years since its inception, the Ministry of Equality has made significant strides to ensure that gay rights are properly protected by legislation and it is through our awareness campaigns and community engagement that these are understood and embraced.
The development of LGBTQ+ rights since we have been in office has been remarkable and the cultural shift these legislative changes have effected are supremely apparent by last year’s and this year’s successful Pride events making it a total of three pride events. Not only were events by their very nature diverse and inclusive but they were also colourful and joyful celebrations. Pride is a pertinent reminder to everyone that members of the LGBTQ+ community have a right to visibility and the right to an equitable place and standing in our community. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the LGBTQ+ committee who have worked so hard to mark Pride so wonderfully.
When I look back now it is still hard to believe that the first time that LGBTQ+ rights were referred to was in my very first budget speech in 2012 and that the first time that gay rights were first properly achieved in this House was in 2014.
The Civil Partnership Bill, which was the first Bill that I ever moved in this Parliament, was a landmark piece of legislation. For the first time in Gibraltar’s history this Bill enabled the formal recognition of relationships between couple of the same sex. Two years later in 2016, I brought the civil marriage Amendment Act to this House to allow for the civil marriage of gay couples.
Additionally, Mr. Speaker, we legislated to outlaw homophobic hate crime and hate speech in 2013, such crimes are now, thanks to us, aggravated offences.
In July 2015 and in recognition of our transgender community, we made provision to extend protection from discrimination for individuals who have undergone gender reassignment.
The passing of all this legislation has demonstrated our resolute and steadfast commitment to equal rights for all members of our community, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender reassignment.
Whilst we have ensured the legislation protects members of the LGBTQ+ community we will continue to mark Pride month because there is no place in Gibraltar for homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.
Mr. Speaker, we mark Pride in powerfully visual ways as awareness is key. We do this by flying the Rainbow Flag in prominent places throughout Gibraltar, by illuminating the Moorish Castle in rainbow colours, and by supporting the Pride parade. These visual reminders send a strong message to everyone that we will continue to mark and support Pride because it is the right thing to do.
We will continue to mark Pride month because there is no room or place in Gibraltar for hate.
We will continue to mark Pride month because in an equitable and inclusive Gibraltar we are ALL of equal value and worth and because we are ALL entitled to full respect at all times.
We will continue to mark Pride month, Mr. Speaker, because it is imperative that everyone lives true and authentic lives free from the fear of negative or hostile reactions from those around them and this is how it should be in Gibraltar.
Gender equality, Mr. Speaker, is another important strand of my equality portfolio. Gender equality is a necessary component of a modern and progressive society and it is imperative in our pursuit of social justice.
A central strand of the gender equality strategy is the economic empowerment of women. One of the key initiatives of the gender equality strategy is the Women’s Mentorship Programme. We recently completed the fourth cycle of this programme, and feedback from all participants, both mentors and mentees alike, was extremely positive once again.
I am very proud of the continued success and impact of the Women’s Mentorship Programme. Its aims are hugely ambitious and varied. The Programme’s raison d’etre is in the first instance to help women to develop personal and professional skills which will help them overcome certain barriers they may face in the workplace. In the mid to long term the Programme aims to address the under-representation of women in positions of leadership and management. We know that a more gender-balanced workforce is key to success – for organisations and businesses but for national economies too.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, ensuring that we maximise the talents and skills of both women and men in equal measure is a legitimate and necessary objective that we can all support and that, more importantly, we can all benefit from.
The fourth cycle of the Women’s Mentorship Programme came to a close at the end of May and I am very pleased to say that there was a very positive uptake of the Programme by diverse professionals across different sectors.
In total, the number of participants since the pilot cycle in 2019 has been 205. This means, Mr. Speaker that since its inception the Women’s Mentorship Programme has been able to provide support and advice from established professionals to a total of 104 mentees.
The Women’s Mentorship Programme offers women an invaluable opportunity for personal and professional growth and I am delighted to announce that the next cycle of the Programme will commence after the summer and I would like to urge anyone interested in participating in the Women’s Mentorship Programme, either as a mentor or mentee, to contact my team at the Ministry of Equality and to register for the next cycle.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the mentors, many of whom are repeat mentors, for giving of their time and expertise and for giving back to the community.
International Women’s Day 2023
Another important strand of the gender equality strategy is challenging restrictive socio-cultural norms that prevent individuals from leading full and rich lives. The Ministry of Equality’s celebration of International Women’s Day this year with the event, ‘Where are the women of Gibraltar?’ generated a conversation around the representation of women both historically and in the present.
The event, which was over-subscribed and which generated an engaging discussion at the end, shows that there is a clear appetite for these kinds of events. The event was an opportunity to reflect on what more can be done to amplify the voices of women and to further raise women’s visibility to ensure that we continue working towards achieving gender parity.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect if International Women’s day this year, is the demonstration of how far we have come and in addition to my own event, I was invited to a record number twelve other events. Who would have thought Mr Speaker when we first started to mark International Women’s Day in 2012, that it would be embraced so successfully across the sectors.
Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians
Mr Speaker, as you well know, nowhere is the under-representation of women starker than in politics and Parliamentary life. The lack of gender parity in this House is an issue decried by all, and one which we can all agree urgently needs to be addressed.
As you are aware Mr Speaker from my involvement in the CWP, the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians of the CPA, I have been a member of our regional steering Committee since its inception. In 2020, among everything else that was going on, I was elected the Chair of our region. This led me to organise two regional CWP conferences, the one in 2021 was a virtual one and in October 2022 the conference was in person and we welcomed some thirty women Parliamentarians from across our region as well as the International Chair for a three day event.
Having the opportunity of having so many women members of Parliaments in Gibraltar, I wanted women here to take the benefit, so through the Ministry for Equality I also organised an outreach session to enable women who may be interested in political life to meet parliamentarians from Gibraltar and other countries and to learn first-hand from their experiences. It was a well-attended event and attendees were able to hear from a number of MPs and also actively engage them in conversation during the Q and A and at the end of the event and the networking opportunity afterwards. I know that for many of the women, particularly the younger women present, it was an inspiring event which has left a vivid impression on them.
Finally on the note of women in Parliament Mr Speaker, I am saddened to hear that the Lady opposite has chosen to leave this House, it is a pity that there will be one less woman in Parliament given the huge necessity for diversity and the need for empowered women who are willing to take a stand and make a change. I sincerely hope Mr Speaker that more women will embrace the opportunity at the next election and that we will see a greater representation of women in this house the next time.
Mr. Speaker, I would now like to direct your attention to the work the Ministry of Equality has done on disability. The Ministry for Equality is the pivot in our Government for driving this important agenda and we oversee the progress and delivery of the Disability Act throughout the public sector.
Like the other examples that I gave earlier, so much has progress has been made on this front that it is easy to forget the tremendous investment since December 2011 and how things were before then. Though there is always more work to be done, and we always want to do more, it has to be said that no Government has done more for people with disabilities in Gibraltar since this Government created the Ministry of Equality in 2011.
You may remember, Mr Speaker, in my last budget speech, I mentioned the work done by the Ministry of Equality and Justice in collating the necessary information and evidence, in order to progress the extension of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Gibraltar. This has been a long and arduous task, a tremendous piece of work, Mr. Speaker, but I am happy to say that we are reaching the end of that process and we will very soon be able to submit our findings to the UK. The next step will be for the UK to review Gibraltar’s position and we hope that they will start the process of extending the Convention to us.
Mr Speaker, I spoke last year of my intention to enact Sections 13 and 14 of the Disability Act. Since the commencement of the Disability Act, the Ministry of Equality has provided information and training to both the public and private sector and continues to do so, in order to ensure that everyone understands why it is important to be inclusive as we move to this very shortly. Since his 2019 Budget Speech, the Chief Minister has continued to provide tax relief for businesses that have spent money in adapting or modifying their premises to make them more accessible.
In January this year, Mr. Speaker, I met with the Chamber of Commerce, the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses and the Gibraltar Catering Association in order to discuss the changes to these Disability Act that are coming. Two months later, the Ministry of Equality organised a seminar, open to the private sector on how business premises can be made more accessible in light of the legislative changes that will be commenced soon.
Mr. Speaker, one of the key projects undertaken by the Ministry of Equality, was the introduction of the Disability Information Card back in 2019. The main purpose of this card is as a communication tool that enables the holder to discretely communicate their disability or accessibility requirements to another person. To date, Mr. Speaker, there are currently over 200 active cards in circulation. Over 200 people that are now more confident in communicating their needs outside their normal social circle.
Mr Speaker, another project commenced by the Ministry of Equality, in 2019, was the launch of the RADAR Key Scheme. The first RADAR lock was fitted in the accessible public toilet by Market Place. Since then a number of RADAR locks have been fitted by the Ministry of the Environment in accessible public toilets around Gibraltar. The same RADAR key issued by the Ministry of Equality can open any of these toilets, thus enabling any key holder to use an accessible toilet at any time during the day or night. Over 100 residents have to date, successfully applied for a RADAR key, Mr. Speaker.
Mr Speaker, I would like to thank the Ministry for the Environment, for so readily embracing this project and for continuing to invest in this scheme by installing RADAR locks in other accessible, public toilets. We started with one RADAR lock, Mr. Speaker. There are currently 5 accessible toilets with RADAR locks installed and I have been advised that at least 3 further public toilets have been identified for the installation of this lock and we are waiting for these to be facilitated.
I would like to add Mr Speaker, that these locks are the same ones used in the UK, so not only are we investing in accessible tourism from the UK, we are also enabling anyone from Gibraltar travelling to the UK with the required tool to access accessible public toilets there.
In order to further promote inclusion and accessibility, Mr Speaker, the Ministry of Equality has been engaged in a number of areas. One such strand is in the access to information for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. You may remember, Mr Speaker, the publication of the British Sign Language Act last year. One of my duties under this Act is to issue a report on British Sign Language (BSL) in Gibraltar and what public authorities have done to provide or promote BSL. Mr Speaker, at the end of the first reporting period (30th April 2023), the Ministry of Equality prepared a questionnaire for this purpose and, with the help of our Human Resources Department, shared this with all heads of public authorities in Gibraltar. A report will be published as soon as the Ministry of Equality has been able to extract all the necessary information.
Mr Speaker, further work has also been done to promote the inclusion of Hearing Loops at all public offices. As part of the Government’s drive to make their buildings and services more accessible, and thereby providing a more inclusive service to the community. The Ministry of Equality has undertaken another exercise to ascertain the current need departments, agencies and authorities have for fixed and or portable hearing loop facilities. This exercise is currently ongoing, Mr. Speaker, and once finalised, this Government will be able to take the necessary steps to ensure that hearing loops are widely available at all counter services and board rooms within the public service. We heard from the Minister for Tourism in his intervention how this had been embraced by the GTB.
Members of this house and the general public, Mr Speaker, may already be well aware of my and this Government’s support for the Special Olympics movement so ably led by Annie Risso. Both Special Olympics International and this Government share the same ideals on disability and base what we do on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As you know, Mr Speaker, this Government and Special Olympics made an announcement last year on the Global Leadership Coalition, designed to bring together governments and agencies from around the world to forge expanded models of inclusive education through sport for students of all abilities.
I have had the absolute privilege of attending four Special Olympics World Games with the Gibraltar delegation and I can genuinely say what excellent athletes and ambassadors they are for Gibraltar. At this year’s World Games in Berlin, I had the opportunity to attend the first Global Forum organised by Special Olympics culminating with the Berlin Declaration, which I supported on behalf of Government. This involvement gives Gibraltar the possibility of tapping into a variety of knowledge and resources from around the world with the simple aim of enabling people with disabilities and educating society in general through educative, sporting and health programmes. Mr. Speaker, we are now in the process of trying to develop some of these programmes and am excited at the potential this could have, in particular with the health programme, that could be instrumental in developing more advanced screening opportunities for people with learning disabilities or communication barriers.
Mr Speaker, there is also a need to ensure that processes are in place so that inclusion is encompassed even when it isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind. We have to make sure that not only should buildings be more accessible, but the approach to these too. For this reason, Mr. Speaker, I have established a working group with the aim of achieving a more accessible Gibraltar and this will be a strategic priority of the new Gibraltar Development Plan. The working group is Chaired by the Head of the Ministry for Equality Jason Belilo where he meets with the heads from Technical Services, Town Planning and Building Control and the Ministry for Traffic and Transport in order to identify current processes and highlight any changes that may be required to develop or maintain accessible routes around Gibraltar.
Finally on disability Mr Speaker, I am also happy to announce that I have established a working group to develop a better disability register. This working group brings together the professionals in this field and the Head of the Ministry for Equality, together with the Director of Public Health and the Chief Statistician will advise me on how we can improve in the collection of data so that we can better inform policies and practices going forward.
When it comes to disability, there are many stakeholders. Many stakeholders are represented by charities and their input is invaluable in what we do as we continue to progress our disability strategies and I thank each and every one for their valuable input and assistance.
The Ministry for Equality is a small team of four dedicated people. It is quite remarkable that such a small team have achieved so much progress and for that I thank them all.
Royal Gibraltar Police
This has been a challenging year for the Royal Gibraltar Police for a number of reasons. Despite this, the force has always maintained its professionalism in protecting the public and Gibraltar throughout.
The RGP continues to strive towards meeting the existing and emerging threats posed by terrorism. There has been significant investment in firearms equipment and ammunition as well as considerable financing towards developing firearms commanders who specialise in commanding and coordinating responses to firearms incidents. Investment also continues to be made in Operation Servator with training provided by the City of London police to ensure that they deter, detect and disrupt a wide range of criminal activity while providing a reassuring presence for members of our community and visitors to Gibraltar.
Investment in body worn cameras was a focus in the previous financial year with an uplift to the current cameras. Research has shown that the use of this technology will allow for improved transparency, a reduction in assaults on police, swifter resolution to criminal prosecutions and police complaints and training opportunities. The forthcoming budget will see further financing with a further uplift of approximately 40 cameras.
Following the recommendations in the HMICFRS report the RGP invested in specialised counter corruption training for a number of officers. In the last financial year the organisation sought to build upon its counter corruption capabilities by engaging consultants to assist in enhancing efficacy within this area of policing. The forthcoming year will see continued investment in software based products aimed at ensuring improved governance over all digital devices utlilised by officers of the RGP. This funding will help them to improve the RGP’s capabilities, allowing them to identify areas of corruption, thereby safeguarding and building trust with members of the community.
Dealing with high tech crime, Mr Speaker, is an increasingly demanding business area and the RGP has increased its resources thus enabling them to tackle more work. The RGP has invested in updated equipment and forensic software that will further enhance the unit’s capabilities and will continue with this programme in the forthcoming year.
Mr Speaker, the new Penalty Notices for Disorder scheme has now been implemented and which will provide officers a quick and effective alternative disposal method for dealing with low level anti-social and nuisance offending. The scheme aims to reduce the time officers spend completing paperwork, allowing them more time to spend with the public dealing with more serious crime, whilst also reducing the burdens placed upon the courts.
The last financial year saw investment in an e-learning platform which is in the process of being rolled out across the organisation. The platform will assist in creating a culture of self-led learning and a focus on continuous development. It is envisaged that this will drive better performance throughout the force, and with the use of blended learning, will release training resources to focus on the increasing number of organisational training needs.
As part of the organisational commitment to learning and development the RGP has continued to invest in accredited leadership training for officers in supervisory and management roles. The last year also saw training by the same provider on diversity, equality and inclusion across the organisation. Looking forward, the next financial year will realise accredited training in the areas of leadership and wellbeing for those officers who have recently been promoted in rank.
I would like express my gratitude to the brave staff at the Royal Gibraltar Police for their dedication and support and to the Commissioner Richard Ullger for his leadership.
Gibraltar Financial and Intelligence Unit
The Gibraltar Financial Intelligence Unit continues to make a significant contribution in Gibraltar’s fight against money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation financing. It has made remarkable progress and demonstrated its performance through its recently published Annual Report and Strategic Analysis.
The GFIU Director highlighted in his 3-year strategic plan for 2023-2026, that the Unit will build upon current momentum, shaped by its experience during the Moneyval and the FATF’s process. The plan, which will form the backbone of GFIU’s digital transformation journey, promises is to exploit the opportunities from technological advancements and work with stakeholders to ensure that GFIU has the best innovative solutions.
Through its sustainable outreach and engagement program, Project Nexus, which this year was recognized through HMGOG’s Project Achievement Award, the GFIU has provided training to hundreds of professionals both in the private and public sector, covering a broad range of topics related to money laundering, terrorist financing, sanctions and proliferation financing, not only in Gibraltar but also in other countries. For example, GFIU delivered training in Egypt through the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime to law enforcement agencies and FIUs from the Middle East and North African region. Additionally, the GFIU delivered training to the Government of Kazakhstan on Gibraltar’s efforts to counter proliferation financing. This further showcases the unit’s commitment to sharing expertise and knowledge with international partners in the fight against financial crime.
Since the establishment of the Financial Liaison & Intelligence Network, Gibraltar’s Public-Private Partnership, the GFIU has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UK’s Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Task Force which increases cooperation, sharing information and intelligence, providing collective knowledge and experience to make Gibraltar and the UK a hostile environment for criminals involved in serious and organised crime. This has been made possible by GFIU’s membership of the Quad Island Forum of FIUs.
During the past year, the Probation Service has continued to meet its commitments of service delivery to the criminal justice system working closely with a range of stakeholders, service users and the wider community and the voluntary sector.
The Probation Service prioritises delivery of services to the courts, prison and plays a key role in sex offenders risk management in the community. The team’s commitment to evidence based practice has remained integral to working with service users to address their complex needs and in this respect they have undertaken further training in various risk assessment tools to enhance the quality of their reports and improve the management of offenders. This includes motivational interviewing, anger management, problem solving skills, and interventions when working with perpetrators of domestic abuse.
The Community Service aspect of the team’s responsibilities has continued by delivering an alternative sentencing option to custody to the Courts and providing a positive social and environmental impact in Gibraltar. The service continues to provide support in developing pro-social thinking and attitudes whilst promoting and developing some employment skills.
From 1st June 2022 to 15th June 2023 Probation has received 165 requests for Pre-Sentence Reports. In total 71 Community Rehabilitation Orders and Youth Rehabilitation Orders have been issued by the Courts.
With regard to Parole matters, the Probation Service has prepared 25 reports.
Again, Mr Speaker, I am extremely proud of the hard work and determination of this small team who regularly go above and beyond in providing an important and valuable service to the criminal justice system.
The average number of inmates at HMP Windmill Hill for the last financial year stood at 41 prisoners per month, down from 56 prisoners the previous year. There were a total of 130 admissions during this time.
The prison’s facilities continue to be well used by those in custody. The most popular activities being the gymnasium followed by educational and vocational classes. Inmates also made good use of the counsellors and programs available to them these being substance rehabilitation programmes delivered by the Care Agency, therapeutic interventions for Sexual Offenders and therapeutic counselling. The Prison’s Voluntary Drug Testing Scheme is proving to be continue to be a success and these initiatives will better place offenders on the road to rehabilitation and successful re-integration into society and thus reduce the rate of reoffending.
Mr Speaker, I am also pleased to report that the training of prison officers has recommenced following a hiatus due to COVID. Additionally, a number of upcoming UK specialist courses will be attended by officers.
Gibraltar Courts Service
As reported in previous years, there continues to be no backlog at the Magistrates’ and Supreme Courts in respect of dates being provided for criminal trials and for civil and family applications waiting for first hearing dates.
This year, all the members of the judiciary including the Justices of the Peace, attended training on Domestic Abuse. This training was organised by my Ministry and was delivered by two judicial trainers from the Judicial College of England and Wales. The training was very well received by the judiciary as communicated to me by the Chief Justice.
The Government has invested in a new Courts Audio/Visual and Recording System, the works for this have now commenced.
As Minister for Justice, I continue to work closely with the Chief Executive of the Gibraltar Courts Service to ensure that the Courts’ back office administration is properly resourced to make certain that the level of performance, support to the Judiciary, Court Users and the legal profession is maintained so as to continue delivering a timely and efficient justice system that is open to all. I am most grateful to Hazel Cumbo for her invaluable work.
Government Law Offices
Mr Speaker, and now the Government Law Offices.
Mr Speaker, since the last Budget Speech, the Government’s team of lawyers have continued to play a crucial part in delivering legal advice to the Government, shaping legislation, and providing legal representation to our law enforcement agencies.
During the course of 2022 to date, the GLO published:
– 36 Government Bills
– 28 Acts
– 341 Legal Notices [of which just 15 were Covid-related].
After a lot of planning, last month saw the OCPL and RGP begin a trial of the use of digital dockets in Supreme Court matters. Moving forward, the intention is for the system to be used for all criminal matters at whatever stage of the criminal process. This will greatly improve information flow between OCPL and RGP and reduces the need for physical criminal files and documents to move between locations.
I thank the team Mr Speaker for all their hard work and advice.
I turn now to my responsibility for the fire services.
Airport Fire & Rescue Service
The Airport Fire and Rescue Service (AFRS) continues to enhance its operational response capabilities by investing in developing its staff and resources. In this respect, a number of professional and other relevant courses have been undertaken throughout the past year;
As core participant in any airfield aircraft emergency the AFRS has an obvious primary operational response role. Beyond its continual training it also participated in a number of multi-agency exercises, but more directly in the airfield’s biennial aircraft emergency live exercise. This involved working on the ground with airfield stakeholders and various other responding partner agencies, participating collaboratively at all levels, and learning from this to improve and enhance the effectiveness of the response plans.
The training throughout the year has consisted of
*First Response Emergency Care (FREC) Level 4 qualification
* a variety of instructor qualifications in relevant areas and the qualification of assessors, trainers and internal quality assessors.
*The whole AFRS team undertaking the Safeguarding Children and Young Adults Tier 1 ; and
*A Senior Officer attending a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Strategic Command course at the College of Policing in UK jointly with a GFRS Senior Officer.
Mr Speaker, Continual Professional Development and the Maintenance of Skills is central to the ethos of the AFRS which is periodically scrutinised by inspectors from both the Defence Fire Safety Regulator and the Civil Aviation Authority. Such external reviews enable the organisation to gain assurance and verification that it is performing and delivering a service in accordance with UK and internationally mandated standards, as the aviation industry allows no room for complacency.
Three new firefighter recruits are currently in UK undertaking their initial 8-week Structural Firefighter, to be followed up by a further 2-weeks’ Aviation specific fire and rescue training
This has been a year of numerous challenges for the GFRS as an organisation that prides itself on setting high standards of performance in the service that we provide to the community. The staff have faced circumstances that have taken them to the extreme in terms of risk exposure, with the aim of resolving incidents and thus keeping the impact on the community as low as reasonably possible.
Let us not forget the heroic efforts of the firefighters this time last year when they were called upon when the fire broke out at Power’s Drive. I was with the Chief Fire Officer as events were unfolding and we cannot underestimate how these firefighters run to danger to keep us safe.
To this day, they are still trying to recover from the effects of the pandemic, in terms of training needs and the maintenance of their competences and frequencies in line with UK National Operational Guidance.
With the ongoing growth of Gibraltar’s landscape, amendments to fire safety standards, and innovative fire engineering solutions, the GFRS Fire Safety team is constantly challenged and does a magnificent job in the anticipation of risks, subsequently contributing to our frontline operational preparedness. They continue with the primary objective, implementing and adopting any measures or procedures necessary to ensure that they maintain competence and provide the best possible level of emergency response to safeguard Gibraltar.
Works have commenced to develop and modernise the internal Incident Reporting, Human Resource Management, and Dispatch/Operational Support systems. The main objective is to improve efficiency in emergency response and day-to-day working practices.
The GFRS continues to form a vital part of Gibraltar’s ongoing development as a modern and more importantly, safe community, with significant involvement in major projects, public events and residential developments. The aim of their involvement in these projects is not only to familiarise themselves with potential risks in order to adapt SOPs, but also to ensure that new builds comply with fire protection/safety standards aimed at saving lives and assisting Fire Service operations.
I turn now to my portfolio as Minister with responsibility for regulation
Town planning and building control
The department continues to deal with large volumes of applications having received a total of 589 applications during 2022.
The DPC held a total of 12 meetings in 2022. The DPC’s sub-committee, that determines more minor and less contentious applications held 24 meetings during 2022.
The tender process for a new Gibraltar Development Plan and the preparation of a new plan is underway with the tender having closed on 25 May 2023. Bids are now being assessed and once the successful bidder has been selected work on the new plan will commence.
During the course of the year, the department has been actively recruiting professional Town Planning and Building Control staff to fill various vacancies that existed. As a result, in the next couple of months the department’s professional staff complement should be back up to full strength. This will ensure that the department is appropriately staffed to deal with the volume of work.
The department is undertaking an exercise to review the current Building Regulations and various building codes with a view to bringing them in line with the latest standards. This will enable the Building Control staff to ensure that standards are maintained and best practice(s) achieved and will ensure the health and safety of both the users and occupiers of the built environment. A simultaneous review of the relevant sections of the Public Health Act is also being undertaken in order to provide Gibraltar’s first Building Act.
The department will be working on the development of structural building codes for both seismic and wind, that take account of Gibraltar’s unique geology and topography. It is important that new buildings are designed to an adequate standard to ensure that there are no catastrophic failures, such as those recently seen in the Turkey/Syria earthquakes.
HMGOG will continue to ensure that the planning system is open and transparent and that we have an efficient and effective system of Town Planning and Building Control.
A complete holistic review of our GDPR structures and requirements was undertaken in August 2022. The review recommended that a restructure should be implemented to bring wholesale improvements and to allow for processes to be streamlined to create uniformity across all departments and authorities, and remove dependency on a single individual.
The restructure highlighted the need to prepare for future data challenges, especially as personal data and data, in general, are becoming a prominent feature of everyday life.
In November 2022 I appointed a new Data Protection Officer, Mr Michael Crome, to work independently as the Public Sector’s Data Protection Officer to implement these wholesale changes, having had this role imbedded within the Gibraltar Law Office prior to that.
Mr Speaker, since this appointment we have produced a new user friendly Data Protection Policy, together with mandatory training packages aimed at providing our employees with the right tools to be able to discharge their duties relating to the handling of personal data safely.
We have also introduced a number of other policies and procedures to assist data controllers to deal with the sharing of data, data breaches, subject access requests and data protection impact assessments.
A full compliance program has now been designed, and individual data controllers are being assessed by our Data Protection Officers to ensure that they adhere to their legal obligations within the Data Protection Act 2004 and GDPR.
The next phase of the restructure will be to appoint data protection champions embedded into departments to enhance the level of compliance.
I thank Mr Crome for his innovation since taking over this responsibility.
The GRA continues to regulate their statutory areas of responsibility; data protection, broadcasting, cyber security compliance, higher education, electronic and radio communications, postal services and competition.
Mr Speaker, I turn now to the Office of Fair Trading.
Fair Trading Bill
Mr Speaker, the Government continues to work on the Fair Trading Bill which is on the agenda of this House. To ensure that the new legislation appropriately supports our business community this process there has been consultation with the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses and the Chamber of Commerce and I am grateful to my friend Minister Isola who commenced this piece of work for his assistance.
The new legislation will create a better framework for the OFT, ease the establishment of new businesses by simplifying the licensing process, better protect Gibraltar consumers and allow the OFT to set trading standards.
I shall move on to each of the OFT’s core responsibilities
The business licensing authority has issued 386 new licences over the course of the past financial year. This, Mr Speaker, is a positive indicator that Gibraltar continues to have an active and resilient business community despite Brexit-related uncertainties.
A total of 846 business licence application notices were published over the same period. On average, the OFT therefore processed over 16 applications per week, with a maximum of 31 applications in a single week.
The OFT is currently in advanced stages of testing a new software package. Once fully developed it will permit the licensing team to process these consistently high number of applications quicker and more efficiently and allow it to deliver an improved service to the business community.
Turning to consumer protection Mr Speaker, the OFT’s Consumer Protection team processed a substantial 381 complaints from Gibraltar consumers during the past financial year. Of these, 60 led to investigations carried out by the team.
These high numbers reflect the success of the OFT’s consumer awareness programme which continued throughout 2022 and into 2023 and aims to empower consumers about their rights. Awareness this year has been raised about varied subjects including real estate agents, vaping products, buying second hand cars, and hiring builders.
The team has also carried out 71 visits to local businesses as part of its ongoing inspections programme. This is a 31% increase from the previous year and includes follow up visit to ensure compliance of identified shortcomings, e.g. pricing of goods.
The OFT’s Code of Conduct for the Retailers of Goods has been relied on significantly by the OFT as it provides best practice guidance for businesses that retail in goods to ordinary end consumers. It is also proving to be very useful to businesses and consumers alike as it provides clarity should disputes arise from purchases, including expected redress and timeframes.
Finally, Mr Speaker, I refer to the OFT’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing supervisory role, the AML team has dedicated significant efforts to contributing to the Gibraltar’s ongoing review by the FATF following the MoneyVal Mutual Evaluation Report in 2019. This has involved face to face meetings in Paris with the FATF where the OFT’s supervisory role has been assessed for effectiveness.
The OFT has continued with its onsite visit programme for real estate agents and high value good dealers carrying out 18 visits on a risk-based basis. These have resulted in nine fines for breaches of AML/CFT legal obligations amounting to £11,400.
The AML/CFT team has also continued to support these business sectors to compliance through outreach carried out on 10 occasions last year. The OFT has planned further outreach for the current financial year.
After three years of battling through the COVID-19 pandemic, 2023 feels to be the year that we have finally returned to normality. WHO’s determination in May of this year that COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing health issue which no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern is very welcome news. That said, we have had a few potential scares in the last 12 months where we have again seen new variants emerge, such as the Kraken variant which was detected in Gibraltar in January 2023 and more worryingly, China’s decision to open its borders with the inherent risk that unknown variants of concern could enter circulation. In response, HM Government of Gibraltar, like most of the rest of Europe, promptly re-introduced travel restrictions as a preventative measure but after closely monitoring developments, we were delighted to be able to progressively scale back from a heightened posture. Certainly, doing away with the last of the COVID-19 emergency regulations on the 17 March 2023, after an uninterrupted period of 1,130 days of active emergency regulations, felt like a hugely significant milestone and the start of a new phase in our lives.
While the last 12 months has been largely positive on the COVID-19 front, it has however reminded us of the importance to be fully prepared to deal with every eventuality. Indeed, the Office of Civil Contingencies together with our Emergency Services and other responding agencies have again been put to the test as Gibraltar has been required to respond to an unprecedented number of back-to-back emergencies with some of these major incidents taking place concurrently.
Separate Strategic Coordinating Groups were activated to manage the response to incidents such as the escalating MonkeyPox global outbreak which was first detected in Gibraltar on 31 May 22; the fire in Power’s Drive Tunnel and the subsequent damage to our water’s Critical National Infrastructure and very significant disruption to our water supplies and the collision at sea of the OS35 and Adam LNG vessels that could have potentially resulted in a major environmental disaster for the region. I applaud the efforts and professionalism of everyone involved in keeping Gibraltar safe through what has been a very difficult and challenging time.
Aside from the recent events that have directly impacted on our community, it is evidently clear that we live in an increasingly volatile world in which we have recently witnessed the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic; War in Ukraine, cyber security challenges and climate change. The threat picture continues to evolve and it is therefore increasing important that Gibraltar continues to regularly monitor emerging risks and threats to ensure that we remain best prepared for any and every eventuality. In this respect, the Office of Civil Contingencies through the construct of the Gibraltar Contingency Council has continued to work very closely with the Emergency Services and other first responders.
In the last few years, we have seen at first hand that we are not cocooned from the potential of harm and despite our best efforts, bad things can happen and will happen from time to time. It is for this reason that we must continue to develop our capabilities, build on our foundations and strengthen our resilience so that we can better prevent, mitigate, respond and recover from the numerous risks with face. The work that the Office of Civil Contingencies coordinates in conjunction with other partners in the field of Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response is key to us as we strive to protect our national security and become more resilient through the optimised use of all our capabilities.
Except for the conduct of operations, training is a most important activity as success is dependent on high quality and realistic training. Being ready for response operations is what drives the training requirements and our emergency services and other first responders must continue to train to attain the highest of standards at the individual, organisational and multi-agency levels. The ability of different organisations to work together is a must and it is for this reason that multi-agency interoperability training lies at the heart of what we do. Throughout the past year, the Office of Civil Contingencies have through the establishment of Exercise Planning Groups, led, planned, organised and conducted a series of complex multi-agency training events and exercises to practise and test a number of Gibraltar’s major response plans. In the last 9 months alone, such multi-agency live exercises have included the testing of response plans to a Marauding Terrorist Attack, Radiation Emergency, Aircraft Post Crash Management and the new Kingsway Tunnel. Additionally, Civil Contingencies have coordinated and delivered a number of Table-Top Exercises (TTXs) and multi-agency command training events. In the past month, the Office has facilitated training on event safety for both event organisers and members of the Safety Advisory Group. It has also directly engaged with the UK’s Counter Terrorism Policing, National CBRN Centre to facilitate the delivery of Operational and Tactical Command training for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) incidents.
The Office of Civil Contingencies has played and continue to play an instrumental role in the preparedness and response to emergencies. The department’s contribution in this field has been and continues to be hugely significant. The small team of three at the Office of Civil Contingencies is fiercely committed to its core role and work incredibly hard in partnership with other stakeholders to develop existing and future capabilities and ensure that Gibraltar is best prepared to deal with any risk manifesting itself however unpredictable they may be.
I am grateful to the team at Civil Contingencies and knowing their dedication as I do, I feel that Gibraltar is in safer hands when we have to call upon them.
While of course I have every confidence that we will win the next general election, I will end as I started, and on the basis that tomorrow is never promised.
I am proud of all our achievements, and in particular making Gibraltar more accepting and inclusive, our work on LGBTQ+ rights, our work for women; surrogacy, abortion.
How the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister have led on Brexit, how we led on Covid, the GHA’s reset, restart and recover programme that I commenced, and I thank Minister Isola for recognising my leadership in his intervention, the list is endless and demonstrates that we are a government who cares, who cares for social justice matters greatly and a government that gets things done.
Mr Speaker, I thank my ministerial colleagues, twelve years later we are still a great team and we remain great friends.
I thank my ministerial staff for their continuous support and all the work that they undertake and of course yourself Mr Speaker, Mr clerk and the Parliamentary staff.
Mr Speaker, I commend the Appropriation Bill to the House.