Billet blog: 8 June 2016

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Billet blog: 8 June 2016

Following a month of elections, next Wednesday (8 June) is the first ‘proper’ meeting of the States – a meeting where we will begin to discuss policy proposals and approve legislation.

The President of Policy & Resources has already talked about the need for the States to develop a Policy and Resources Plan, which will provide the framework for developing and prioritising the work we do over the next four years. But that’s going to take some time – we won’t be fully ready before the autumn. In the meanwhile, the proposals that will be considered in these first few meetings are mostly the result of work done by the previous States. That means the agenda is going to feel somewhat bitty and shapeless, at least to begin with. Please bear with us for now.

You can find out what proposals have been submitted to the States by visiting the list of Items Lodged For Future States Meetings. Under the new Rules of Procedure, which govern how the States does its work, there is a requirement for States Members, at the end of every States Meeting, to set the agenda for their next meeting in three weeks’ time. A suggested order of business will be proposed by the Policy & Resources Committee – who will have looked at the list of Items Lodged and decided which have the highest priority – but this can be altered by States Members.

Once the agenda has been set, it forms a “Billet d’Etat” – a collection of items to be discussed by the States at its next meeting. All Billets d’Etat are available on the gov.gg website – you can find Billets from past meetings by clicking on the Archive or see what’s coming up under Next Meetings.

I’ve learned that it’s customary for Deputies to visit their parish Douzaine every month before a States Meeting takes place, in order to discuss the items in the next Billet d’Etat. With four Douzaines out West, it’s got to be a team effort – so I had the pleasure of meeting the Forest Douzaine with fellow Western Deputy Milly Dudley-Owen earlier this month to talk about the agenda for 8 June.

Today’s blog is an experiment, and I’d welcome your feedback. I thought I would try, before each States Meeting, to give a brief outline of the items that we’ll be considering, and my own thoughts on them. I’m going to try and do this a few days in advance each time; so that, if you think there’s an important issue or perspective I’ve overlooked, you can get in touch with me before the debate. I’m afraid these “Billet blogs” will be quite long-winded – but, of course, you’re welcome to skip to the bits that are of most interest to you! Have a look, and let me know what you think.

 

Billet d’Etat XVII – 8 June 2016 (read it online here)

Part One: Elections and Appointments

Item 1 – Election of Non-States Members of the Scrutiny Management Committee (link)

Last month, Deputy Chris Green was elected as President of the Scrutiny Management Committee, and Deputies Laurie Queripel and Peter Roffey were elected as members. The Committee’s constitution requires it to appoint two non-States members who will be full voting members of the Committee. This Committee of five will then put together panels (drawing on a much wider range of individuals) to review specific issues that are deemed to require scrutiny.

The Scrutiny Management Committee has a wide remit, including scrutiny of policies, laws and financial management. The Committee roles have been advertised and I trust that the three States Members will look to appoint people whose skills and experience complement their own; who demonstrate independence, integrity and strength of character; and whose involvement will give the new Scrutiny function the best possible chance of success.

Having trusted the judgment of these 3 States Members enough to vote them onto the Scrutiny Management Committee in the first place, I’m prepared to trust their judgment in terms of appointing the remaining members. So I’m likely to vote in favour of the nominations as put forward by the Committee, unless any significant concern presents itself.

 

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 would have been drafted following a States’ debate on the overall direction of travel in the relevant policy area; and should reflect what was agreed by the States in the course of that debate.

 

Item 2 – The European Communities (Food and Feed Controls) (Guernsey) Ordinance, 2016 (link). Responsible Committee: Health and Social Care.

The purpose of this legislation is to replace a collection of about 20 laws relating to food hygiene, which have emerged piecemeal since the 1940s; and to ensure our local laws are consistent with EU and UK requirements on food hygiene, so that we can easily trade locally-produced food with those areas. The States originally approved this work in May 2011 – there is a short States Report explaining the proposals here (p600-607).

The law is not intended to introduce any new burdens on food and feed businesses. Rather, it is meant to consolidate existing rules, and provide a fair and clear legal framework for operators in this area. Although the wheels were set in motion by previous States, we’ve had a brief opportunity to discuss this as a Health and Social Care Committee, and I believe that this direction of travel, as agreed by our predecessors, remains correct. As such, I’ll be voting in favour of the ordinance.

 

Item 3 – Financial Services Commission (Bailiwick of Guernsey) (Amendment) Ordinance, 2016 (link). Responsible Committee: Economic Development (I believe).

This ordinance changes some of the rules relating to the length of time that Commissioners appointed to the Guernsey Financial Services Commission will be expected to serve, and raises the maximum retirement age from 72 to 75. These changes are part of a set of measures agreed by the States in November 2015, which are aimed at ensuring that the way we regulate financial services is modern and fit for purpose. It looks like there will be a more substantial piece of legislation coming to the States during this term, to deal with the other resolutions made last November.

In the meanwhile, these changes appear to assist in the smooth running of the Commission; and I am as comfortable as I can be that none of the changes will result in Commissioners serving too long, or gaining undue power or influence over the Commission – so I am likely to vote in favour.

 

Item 4 – Gambling (Betting) (Amendment) Ordinance, 2016 (link). Responsible Committee: Home Affairs.

This ordinance will permit bookmakers to open on Sundays (except on Christmas Day, if it falls on a Sunday) – and a further amendment placed by Deputies Mary Lowe and Richard Graham will also enable them to open on Good Friday. It will also allow licensed betting offices to be opened on the ground floor of shops – a situation which is not currently permitted.

This is a simple rule change, to fulfil a resolution already made by the States. But I still have real mixed feelings about this item, which stem from the fact that I’m uncertain where I stand on gambling policy overall. From a general perspective, I have known lives transformed by lottery wins – a kind of transformation that would be impossible, for those involved, through earning and saving alone. While wage structures and the distribution of wealth are so unequal in our society, gambling – in various forms – seems to me fair game as a way of bucking the system. I also recognise the value of lotteries and the like as charity fundraisers – indeed, I’m involved with organising some. On the other hand, problem gambling does real harm to people who gamble and to those who depend on them for support, especially their children. A liberal attitude to gambling sits uneasily with past States’ emphasis on personal responsibility and careful management of one’s resources.

Because I feel so conflicted, I read the Hansard report on the 2015 Gambling Policy Letter (the speeches from Deputies Dorey, Le Clerc, Fallaize and Luxon were particularly interesting and challenging). It was fascinating, but didn’t really help me along! One thing I am sure of is that States’ policy should not be made piecemeal if it can be avoided, and that, if I wish to see a serious change in direction of travel on gambling policy (and I am not sure that I do), I should wait for the Committee for Home Affairs’ full review of the gambling legislative framework (as promised) rather than trying to effect a change via this little piece of legislation.

As I am struggling to form a coherent policy position here, I think the most ethical thing might be for me to abstain on this vote. I don’t want to vote yes to an item when I cannot wholeheartedly support the direction of travel; but I don’t want to vote no without strong policy reasons for doing so. I definitely need to give this one more thought!

 

Item 5 – The Public Transport (Amendment) Ordinance, 2016 (link). Responsible Committee: not sure, but possibly Environment & Infrastructure.

The purpose of this ordinance is to clearly define road trains as “motor vehicles” under Guernsey’s Public Transport legislation, and therefore to make sure that they are covered by license requirements and other regulations, which are intended to protect the public as users of public service vehicles.

This is obviously a response to the launch of the Petit Train service in Guernsey, in order to make sure the provisions of the law are completely clear. It is a small and sensible change, and I’ll be voting in favour of it.

 

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. This would be quite an unusual move.

There won’t be any debate about these items (unless there is a motion to annul one of them), so I’ll keep this section brief. The list of items being considered – and an explanatory note for each one – is available here. I cannot see any which present a cause for concern. There are three which fall within the responsibility of the Committee for Employment & Social Security – the Health Service (Benefit) (Limited List) (Pharmaceutical Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations, 2016; the Health Service (Payment of Authorised Suppliers) (Amendment) Regulations, 2016; and the Control of Poisonous Substances (Guernsey) (Amendment) Regulations, 2016 – which I am of course happy to discuss further with anyone who may want to do so.

 

Part Four: Other Business

Normally, this should probably be the meatiest part of the States’ agenda, with a variety of policy letters on different topics being considered. But as it’s very early days, and the new Committees haven’t really had a chance to develop much policy yet, there’s only one item being considered this time around.

 

Item 6 – Island Games 2021 Proposals (link). Responsible Committee: Education, Sport and Culture.

Guernsey has been asked, by the International Island Games Association, to bid to host the Island Games in 2021. This is six years earlier than planned (we were originally aiming for 2027), and we’ve been approached because the original host, the Faroe Islands, is no longer able to do so. In order to fit with the international timetable, Guernsey’s own Island Games Association (GIGA) has already submitted a bid in principle to host the Games; but the States need to confirm their support before a final decision can be made.

The report estimates that it will cost about £1.6m to host the Island Games. Of this, about £100,000 will come from registration and accreditation fees; £750,000 will be raised through private and corporate sponsorship; and the remaining £750,000 will (if agreed) be provided by the States as match-funding. Based on Jersey’s experience, the immediate economic benefit of hosting the Games could be a boost of about £2m – along with equally positive, but less financially measurable, impacts on our reputation and our community spirit.

The States’ funding will be taken from two accounts previously held by the Culture & Leisure Department – the Sports Loans Account and the Lottery Appropriation Fund (including a new lottery to be held specifically for this purpose – for which I refer you to my “mixed feelings”, above!). This will minimise the impact on the overall States’ budget, which is vital in a time of limited resources.

The scale of the challenge mustn’t be under-estimated – the logistics of organising massive events like this are always tough, and the report hints at some particular challenges: a reduction in the number of hotel beds since 2003 (when we last hosted the Games), and higher expectations in terms of quality and security, being two that are likely to be key. But I believe it’s absolutely the right thing to do – for Guernsey’s reputation and economy, for our sportspeople and wider community, and for the positive legacy it will leave – and I therefore intend to vote in favour of these proposals.

 

Part Five: Appendix Reports

These are items which are put to the States for information, but which would not normally be debated. There are two this time:

Item 7 – Nomination of Acting Presiding Officers of the States (link)

This report nominates Deputies Mary Lowe, John Gollop and Peter Roffey as Acting Presiding Officers of the States of Deliberation (and Deputy Lowe as the Acting Presiding Officer of the States of Election). The nominations are based on total length of service as States Members. They will be responsible for chairing States Meetings in the unlikely event that both the Bailiff and the Deputy Bailiff are indisposed.

Item 8 – CICRA Annual Report (link)

The 2015 Annual Report of the Channel Islands’ Competition & Regulation Authority (CICRA) is tabled for information. There are a couple of interesting points to pull out, particularly from the Chairman’s introduction. One is the observation that Jersey has a rather larger regulatory budget than Guernsey’s, inevitably weighting the work of CICRA towards Jersey. As questions were also raised earlier this year about the availability of funding for CICRA to investigate relevant issues, I think at some stage the new States will want to assure itself that the level of funding in this area is appropriate. I guess that this is initially an issue for the Committee for Economic Development to consider.

The other point is the Chair’s comment that there’s a limit on the amount of significant progress that Guernsey and Jersey can make on joint work “unless cultures and approaches generally are more aligned and electoral cycles are harmonised.” These are big structural changes, and I find it hard to imagine that either island would want them to happen in the near future. But if those differences do have such a considerable impact on joint working in the field of regulation, I think it’s a timely message to us, as a new States, that, while our relationship with Jersey is very important, we should not expect massive or rapid transformation of services as a result of working more closely with them – unless we’re prepared to draw the governance of our two islands much closer together at a fundamental level.

~

And that’s all there is on the States’ agenda for this time. I hope that this is of some help or interest. I’m not sure whether sharing my voting intentions will prove to be a smart move or not – I’ll figure that one out over time. At the moment, it feels like a sensible and democratic thing to do: I am (or I hope I will be) completely receptive to people who want to push back on my decisions or my way of thinking, and I’d rather invite those comments before the vote than afterward (when it’s too late). Because I am committed to listening and learning, that does mean that I will sometimes reflect further on the issues and the feedback people have shared with me, and change the way I eventually vote in debate – that’s inevitably going to be part of this process from time to time. But I will at all times seek to be honest and open about what decisions I’m making and why.

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