The Maltese Prime Minister has said that civil unions for same-sex couples will be introduced by the end of this year.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said this afternoon, whilst receiving the Soldier Award as an Agent of Change, that gay couples should be able to enter civil unions by the end of 2013.

The award was presented by the organisation Gay Exiles, which represents Maltese people who have been forced to leave their families in order to live in foreign countries with their loved ones of the same sex.

Dr Muscat said that the consultative council which has been appointed by the government to work in the LGBT sector, would begin to prepare a bill to be debated and approved by parliament by the end of this year.

Before being elected in March, Dr Muscat had already promised to allow gay couples to have civil unions, a gender identity law for trans people, and said that he would appoint a minister for civil rights and equality.

At the end of August, the Malta Gay Rights Movement expressed disappointment at a bill to regulate cohabiting couples, which had just been launched in the country.

Earlier in 2012, the Maltese parliament did extend its hate crime laws for the first time to protect citizens on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.