Maltese constitutional development has had a rather turbulent history. Under the Order of St John, from 1530 to 1798, democracy was unknown even as an inspiration. The French period was short-lived, from 1798 to 1800, and was marked by an armed insurrection within months of its commencement. With the approval of the King of the Two Sicilies, whom the Maltese still recognized as their lawful sovereign, the British were invited in and the French eventually had to leave.
In 1814, by the Treaty of Paris, Malta became a British possession. Its first Constitution was granted in 1835. However, its Council of Government was by nomination. In 1887, for the first time in its history, Malta acquired representative government through a Council which was composed of a majority of Maltese elected Members. By the turn of the century, the political situation became tense as the 1887 constitution was slowly dismantled until representative government was revoked altogether in 1903.
The political aspirations of the Maltese grew stronger and in February 1919 a newly constituted National Assembly unanimously resolved to request the British government to grant a new constitution with full political and administrative autonomy. Events came to a head on 7 June 1919 when riots broke out as a result of which four Maltese were killed by British troops. This crisis paved the way for the formation of a responsible government through a new constitution, granted in 1921. Thus Malta had its first government composed of Ministers who were themselves Members of and responsible to a Legislature which the Maltese people elected.
Malta obtained independence from the UK in 1964 and became a Republic in 1974. Thirty Years later, in 2004, Malta joined the European Union.
The House of Representatives
The Maltese Parliament can be described as the sum total of the constitutional experiences which the Island went through especially during the past century. The Maltese Parliament is an institution that operates under a set of rules which have been modeled on the British House of Commons’ general rules of procedure, but which have been tailored to suit the needs of a much smaller Parliament. The Maltese Parliament has today built its own tradition and structures, but which can still access and benefit from precedents. Customs and usages adopted by the House of Commons in cases not provided for by the Standing Orders of the Maltese Parliament.
Throughout the years, the Maltese Parliament has functioned through simplicity and pragmatism. However, in 1995, the need was felt to set up Standing Committees, namely, the Public Accounts Committee, chaired by an Opposition Member, a Privileges Committee, a House Business Committee, a Social Affairs Committee and a Foreign and European Affairs Committee. These Committees relieve and facilitate the work in plenary.
Parliamentary involvement in international affairs have been recognized by one and all. Parliamentary business and multilateral relationships demands a more assertive place in the globalised agenda of the twenty-first century.
Malta’s commitments have grown considerably since 2004 when the Island became a member of the European Union. However, membership of the European Union has shown itself open to compatibility with membership of other international organizations. Thus, the Maltese Parliament, besides participating actively in European institutions and their activities, takes part in other international parliamentary fora, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA), the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association(CPA). Malta, along with Cyprus and Britain, remains an active member of the Commonwealth of Nations.