Government’s decision to debate changes to the Family Law Act in the House of Assembly today caught the Opposition off guard.
As a result, said St. James Central MP Kerrie Symmonds, he and other members of the Barbados Labour Party, while supportive of the changes in principle, needed more time to properly represent their constituency interests on the matter.
The Shadow Minister of Industry, Commerce and International Business also called for Government to join with the Opposition and establish a special parliamentary committee to discuss family law improvements in a comprehensive way.
He made the comments in the Lower House while responding to Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite’s piloting of the Family Law (Amendment) Bill. Symmonds acknowledged that changes to the Family Law Act were “long in coming” and preceded the current administration, but he said the Opposition were left “a little bit disadvantaged today because I think all of us present would only have obtained the amendment as proposed yesterday afternoon”.
“I just want to make the point without belabouring it that it would be more useful, especially in a non contentious debate of this nature but one which touches the bedrock of Barbadian society and potentially touches every household in this country, that we need to be as fulsome as possible in terms of the substantive understanding of the amendments and an ability to have spent enough time to give them due consideration.”
The BLP spokesman also called for the creation of a standing committee to “deal with family law matters”, which he said were many and “arrive everyday”.
“If we are able to pause this debate to come back so that all members could contribute more fully on a bill that we want to support the Government on we would be deeply obliged,” he stated.
“If the Government was willing to engage with the Opposition on a matter as fundamental as this into the future … the Opposition would most certainly be willing to … engage consistently on a long term basis, and if the Government was willing to look at establishing a committee that enabled the Parliament of Barbados to do so in these challenging social times then we would be very happy to collaborate with the Government in that regard,” he added.
Symmonds said this was important because family law issues “impact every one of our constituencies if not every one of the our constituents. These are real issues and … we are dealing with an environment which is rapidly changing”.
“When we were children the concept of a marriage between a man and man was unheard of, the reality today is that is the mainstay of a major part of the world and so we have to find a way in which we can be as nimble as is possible while preserving values and things of cultural importance in Barbados…,” he noted.
“Have a committee dealing with matters of family law, which not only touches the views of the members in here but can take evidence from people in the wider society, so that we can reshape our family law.
“We have got to talk to more than consultants, we have got to talk to the whole community.” (SC)