The House of Representatives is set to shed its Westminster-style chamber when it moves into the new building at City Gate as both the Government and the Opposition have agreed that a maximum of 81 members should sit in a hemicycle, like most parliaments in Europe.

A working group, composed of party whips Carmelo Abela (PL), David Agius (PN) and Clerk to the House Raymond Scicluna, gave its report to Speaker An─ílu Farrugia.

It suggested the circular chamber to encourage consensus among political parties rather than confrontation, such as the Westminster system where the government and opposition parties face each other on opposing sets of benches.

The group was formed last August to come up with proposals to maximise the use of the space available in line with the functional requirements of Parliament.

They agreed on a number of possible solutions to address concerns raised by the Office of the Clerk and by the members of the working group following an on-site visit.

It was agreed that a number of proposals could be implemented only on condition that Cabinet accept a hot-desking arrangement for ministers, parliamentary secretaries and the chairpersons of parliamentary committees.

Hot-desking is an office organisation system that involves multiple workers using a single work station or surface at different time periods.

The group is also suggesting that a third building be allocated in the near future for use by Parliament to compensate for the lack of office space in the two main buildings.

It was also decided to recommend that the Government and Opposition rooms be partitioned in order to provide office space for committee chairpersons.

Last August the group met with Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, chairman of the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation (GHRC), and with Christopher Paris, the corporation’s CEO. The meeting was set up in order to discuss the feasibility of the working group’s proposals before their submission for approval by the House Business Committee.

Circular chamber to encourage consensus rather than confrontation

During the meeting, government whip Carmelo Abela said the Cabinet had accepted the hot-desking proposal until a third parliamentary building could be identified.

A seating layout prepared by the Office of the Clerk presented to GHRC showed a hemicycle layout of the chamber was possible with minimal adjustment to the plans.

GHRC said the working group’s proposal to provide extra offices by partitioning the Government and Opposition rooms was acceptable, provided no alteration to air-conditioning services be requested.

The working group also proposed the former train station beneath City Gate retain its use as an archive and be extended to include a research library, a committee area and open office space for research analysts.

This was suggested following notification by GHRC that the previously planned restaurant at this level had been abandoned.

The walkways connecting the two buildings would be covered and the area at ground-floor level would be allocated for exhibitions by Parliament and third parties, but its use should remain under the control of the House of Representatives.

The group and the GHRC discussed two options for the chamber’s layout, one providing seating for 71 MPs, with two additional seats for disabled people and eight seats for advisers, and a 75 MP capacity chamber with two seats for disabled people and six adviser seats.

The corporation indicated Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) preferred the 71-seat option, and both options would imply eliminating the ceremonial door.

Last month, the Office of the Clerk proposed option two be revised to increase the seating capacity of the whole chamber to 79 seats with two extra seats for disabled people and six for advisers.

The preference for the larger seating capacity was based primarily on the fact that according to article 52 of the Constitution, between five and seven MPs may be elected from each district, which could translate into a 91-seat Parliament, not taking into account the co-option of additional members by the proportionality system.

The House Business Committee approved the working group’s submissions, including the chamber’s hemicycle arrangement of 79 seats plus two seats for MPs with limited mobility.

No decision has yet been taken on the parking area location.