Billet blog: 29 June 2016

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Billet blog: 29 June 2016

Following today’s debate on the States’ Accounts for 2015, the States has an ordinary meeting tomorrow, Wednesday 29 June. We will consider the following items:

Billet d’Etat XIX – 29 June 2016 (read it online here)

Part One: Elections and Appointments

Item 1 – Election of Members of the Ladies’ College Board of Governors (link). Responsible Committee: Education, Sport and Culture.

The States is responsible for approving appointments to the Board of Governors of The Ladies’ College. There are currently three roles to fill, as two governors’ terms expired at the end of May, and one has been promoted to Chair of the Board.

Two of these roles are filled on the direct nomination of the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture. The States can reject their nominations if it wishes to, but can’t suggest alternatives. The two candidates proposed by the Committee are Deputy Heidi Soulsby and Dr Mary Short. The Board of Governors is recommending Mrs Catharine Walter to fill the third post, but the States has discretion to propose an alternative candidate if it wishes to do so.

Background information on all three candidates can be found here. The Board has recently completed a skills audit, and the candidates help to fill important gaps: Dr Short brings professional educational expertise, and Mrs Walter has property and estates experience. Deputy Soulsby fulfils the requirement of having a States Member on the Board, and is equally respected for her own skills and professional experience.

Item 2 – Election of Non-States Members of the Scrutiny Management Committee (link). Responsible Committee: Scrutiny Management.

This was in my Billet update on 8 June, but it was deferred from that States Meeting. Deputy Green (President of the Scrutiny Management Committee) declared his two candidates as Mrs Gill Morris and Mr Richard Digard, but we were unable to vote on them, as their CVs had not been sent around. This has now been corrected, and the vote should go ahead on Wednesday.

Part Two: Legislative Business (Laws, Ordinances and Statutory Instruments)

This section covers legislation which needs to be approved by the States. The laws and ordinances presented here will have been drafted following an earlier States’ debate on a Policy Letter.

Item 3 – The Interpretation and Standard Provisions (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2016 (link). Responsible Committee: presumably Home Affairs.

The purpose of this law is to replace the 1948 Interpretation Law with an updated version. To be completely clear, “interpretation” refers to the way that standard wording in laws and other statutory instruments is to be understood and applied. It has nothing to do (in this case) with translating from different languages.

Without being familiar with the 1948 Law, it’s difficult to know why an update was necessary at this stage. However, the provisions of the proposed new Law all seem reasonable, so I am likely to vote in favour of approving it.

Item 4 – The Offences (Fixed Penalties) (Guernsey) Law, 2009 (Amendment) Ordinance, 2016 (link). Responsible Committee: Home Affairs.

The Vehicular Traffic (Hospitals, etc.) Ordinance, 1985 requires drivers to comply with traffic signs and parking regulations at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital and the Duchess of Kent Home. This new legislation would allow breaches of the rules (such as someone parking dangerously outside the designated parking areas, or leaving their car for extended periods while going off-site) to be dealt with swiftly by issuing a £40 fixed penalty notice.

The Committee for Health and Social Care does not expect this legislation to be invoked often, and knows the importance of being sensitive to those who are visiting hospital, often at a distressing time for them. At the same time, we welcome this as another tool to help hospital staff manage on-site parking effectively, so that our hospital remains accessible at all times to those who need it most. I will therefore be voting in favour of the ordinance.

Item 5 – Access to Neighbouring Land (Guernsey) Law, 2016 (link). Responsible Committee: Policy and Resources.

In May 2014, the States debated a Policy Letter from the Policy Council that would introduce “Access to Neighbouring Land” legislation in Guernsey, along similar lines to the UK’s 1992 Access to Neighbouring Land Act. This is intended to deal with situations where a person needs to access their neighbour’s land in order to carry out maintenance on their own property. It will allow people to access a neighbour’s land in order to preserve, repair or maintain services or jointly-owned boundaries, by serving a written notice on their neighbour of their intent to do so. In other circumstances (such as building work, douit clearances, and so on) where access to neighbouring land is required, people may apply to the Court for an “access order” permitting them to do so.

The law should only be used when the person concerned has been unable to get their neighbour’s consent – on the whole, friendly, informal arrangements between neighbours should still be the norm. One of the reasons why Policy Council recommended having the law (as a kind of backstop, in cases where consent is withheld) was because they had become aware that, increasingly, commercial lenders were reluctant to offer mortgages when the value of the property depended on having a neighbour’s permission to access their land. This is thought to have delayed and even prevented some property sales – which is regrettable at a time when the housing market is already very slow.

Following the debate in May 2014, the law has been drafted, and the States are now being asked to approve it. In doing so, we are also being asked to consider two alterations to the original plan: the first is that these issues should normally be dealt with through the Magistrates’ Court, rather than the Royal Court, in order to keep the costs down for all parties; and the second is that all access orders made under this law should have an expiry date (although the States would have the power to revisit that in future, if it were thought appropriate). Both these changes seem reasonable to me, and I am likely to support the proposals and approve the draft law.

As a side note, there was an amendment to the 2014 debate, directing the Commerce and Employment Department to explore the need for statutory rights for utility companies to access private land, in order to lay or maintain services. That led to a Policy Letter in May 2015, which found that there might be some benefit in introducing such rights for water and sewerage services, and agreed to explore this further. This work will now fall to the new Committee for Economic Development, who may come back with a report in due course.

Part Three: Legislation Laid Before the States

The items in this section are statutory instruments (orders and regulations) which are agreed and put into action by individual Committees of the States, in line with their powers and duties. The States do not have to approve these (they are in force from the moment the relevant Committee decides) but we do have the power to annul a statutory instrument if we don’t agree with it. Unless there was a motion to annul, there wouldn’t normally be a debate about these items.

There are two statutory instruments being laid before the States at this meeting, one relating to the Companies Law and the other to the transfer of functions between Committees following the reorganisation of the States. Details of the statutory instruments, and a brief explanation of each, are available here.

Part Four: Other Business

This section would normally include Policy Letters for debate, led by various different Committees. There are none to be considered at this meeting.

Part Five: Appendix Reports

These are items which are put to the States for information, but which would not normally be debated.

Item 6 – Record of the 2016 General Election (link).

This report is the Bailiff’s formal record of the 2016 General Election. It includes details of the Returning Officers and polling stations in each parish, the numbers of votes cast for each candidate, blank and spoilt papers, parish-level turnout and election results.

Item 7 –Report of the Guernsey Police Complaints Commission from July 2011 to July 2015 (link).

Although this report was submitted as an Appendix, a motion to debate it has been laid by Deputies Peter Roffey and Mark Dorey. If the motion is approved, the States will be able to debate the contents of the report.

The idea of a Police Complaints Commission for Guernsey was first proposed in January 2005. Legislation to introduce it was approved in November 2008 and implemented in 2011. The Guernsey Police Complaints Commission was launched in 2011, and this, its first formal report, covers the period July 2011 to July 2015. Over those four years, it has met with the Home Department at least annually to report on progress.

The purpose of introducing Police Complaints legislation and setting up an independent Commission was to “provide greater protection for the public should police officers act outside their powers” and “increase public confidence and trust in the police and in the complaints system as a whole”, as well as providing “greater protection for police officers from complaints which are an abuse of process.” It was intended to make the process of resolving complaints more open, accessible, independent and timely, improving communication with complainants and maintaining discipline within the Police.

The Commission is responsible for overseeing the way that complaints are investigated, but the actual investigation is carried out by an external Police force. The Commission is only responsible for overseeing serious complaints, including those in which a person has died or suffered serious injury and those made against senior Police officers (superintendent rank and above). However, the Commission also has sight of the full register of complaints kept by the Police.

There are three matters of potential concern in the Commission’s report. One is the lack of any information on the number and nature of complaints investigated. This is attributed to the need to protect confidentiality. However, the equivalent body in Jersey, the Police Complaints Authority, keeps at least basic statistics on the nature of complaints investigated and the outcomes. Similar record-keeping in Guernsey would help to build confidence in the system.

The second is a matter raised by the Commission itself: specifically, there is a need to review how the Police Complaints legislation has bedded in since it was introduced in 2011. It says the Home Department and Law Enforcement support such a review, and set up a working group in June 2014, but suggests that there has been only limited progress so far.

The third point, also raised by the Commission, is that it is supported by administrative staff employed by the Home Department (now the Committee for Home Affairs), which is also responsible for Law Enforcement. Structurally, this is obviously not perfect independence, although the Commission believes that in practice it receives impartial and objective support. This reflects a wider question about how commissions, tribunals and other independent supervisory or regulatory bodies are linked to States’ Departments, and how this impacts on their role. Following the reorganisation of the States’ Committee structure, this may be an issue which merits further consideration this States term.

As there are no propositions in the report, there is nothing for the States to vote on in the end. But if it is agreed to discuss it, I am likely to raise these points for consideration in the debate.

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Billet d’Etat XX – 29 June 2016 (read it online here)

Part One: Elections and Appointments

Item 1 – Election of Members of the Guille Alles Library Council (link). Responsible Committee: Education, Sport and Culture.

The States is responsible for approving appointments to the Guille Alles Library Council. There are currently two roles to fill, one of which must be filled by a member of the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture, and the other by another States Member. Nominations will be made by the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture during the States Meeting, and other nominations may be made from the floor of the States.

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Additional item for debate: Managing the Implications for Guernsey because of the UK’s Changing Relationship with the EU (“Brexit”)

On Thursday, the UK held a national referendum and voted 52:48 in favour of leaving the European Union. I blogged about this here. The UK’s decision to leave means that some of Guernsey’s formal relationships with the EU (particularly Protocol 3, which governs trade with the EU) will be subject to change. In addition, the change creates considerable uncertainty for the UK and the other countries of the European Union, which may have significant knock-on effects for the environment in which we live, work and do business.

The Policy and Resources Committee has tabled a Policy Letter which sets out how it intends to act in order to protect the best interests of Guernsey following the referendum result. Work has already begun, and States Members are receiving regular updates from the Policy & Resources Committee on progress. The Policy Letter simply provides an outline of the kind of work that now needs to be done, and asks the States to confirm its support for Policy & Resources to progress negotiations intended to secure Guernsey’s best interests. For us, that is likely to mean establishing ongoing relationships with both the UK and the EU which are as similar as possible to those that have been in place until now; which safeguard our trade and our financial services sector, among others, and which respect our constitutional position.

There is a great deal of uncertainty internationally at present, and neither the UK nor the EU appear to have a clear plan of action for managing their own changing relationship at the moment, so Guernsey is limited in what we can plan to do. The most important thing is that we assert ourselves in the negotiations that affect us, that we work closely with Jersey and the Isle of Man to mutual benefit, and that we are able to react quickly and flexibly to new developments as they arise. With that in mind, Policy & Resources will have my full support to continue leading on the process in the way they have outlined in this report.

As the policy letter was only published this week, following the UK’s decision, it’s not officially on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, but States Members will be invited to decide whether to consider it tomorrow or reconvene on 20 July, which has already been set aside for that purpose. In the meanwhile, P&R have already started to negotiate on Guernsey’s behalf internationally, and will continue to do so, in accordance with their Committee mandate, until the States’ debate is held.

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Reflections on the Last Debate

Today I gave my maiden speech on the 2015 Accounts, in the context of an interesting and thought-provoking States Debate centring on the States’ fiscal and economic policy for the coming years. The points raised in that debate bear some careful reflection, and I’ll come back to it when I’ve had the chance to do so.

Meanwhile, a couple of small points on the last full States Meeting, held on 8 June 2016. The meeting started with statements and questions, which aren’t published beforehand (so weren’t covered in my blog). Among those, Deputy Roffey asked the Committee for Employment and Social Security for an update on progress with equal marriage legislation, and was advised that it would be brought to the States at the earliest opportunity this year. Deputy Lester Queripel asked the Committee for Health and Social Care why the Convention on the Rights of the Child had not yet been extended to Guernsey, and was assured that it had been identified as a priority in the latest Children and Young People’s Plan, and HSC and the Policy & Resources Committee were working with other Committees across the States to bring this in as soon as possible. (Of course, the External Affairs team, who lead on the extension of international Conventions, are likely to be very busy with Brexit now, which may have a knock on impact here.)

Deputy Richard Graham gave his maiden speech on the Financial Services Commission Ordinance, making the important point that positions should not be subject to arbitrary upper age limits – reminding us that effective performance management is the way to deal with concerns about a person’s fitness for their role, and that arbitrary age limits, as well as being unfair to the person concerned, also deprive the organisation of access to their valuable skills and expertise. It was a good point, well made, and entirely in keeping with his manifesto commitment to challenge the States to take a more optimistic look at our ageing population, seeing it wherever possible as an asset and an opportunity.

Finally, in the debate around the Island Games proposal, States Members were strongly reminded about the States’ tight financial position, and the fact that the quantifiable return on investment from hosting the Games is very low. There were, however, strong arguments for the intangible benefits of holding the Games, and the boost it should give our economy and our community spirit. Ultimately, the States voted overwhelmingly to support the Games, but a recorded vote was held – perhaps so that the debate can be used as a benchmark against which States Members’ future financial decisions can be judged. (I certainly made use of it in the Accounts debate today!)

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