Wednesday 16 February 2022
I am grateful, Sir, for this opportunity to provide an update on the work and priorities of the States' Assembly & Constitution Committee, and particularly pleased that, unlike this time last year, I am presenting this in the physical - rather than the remote - States' Chamber.
The Committee reflected on its work in 2021 at its January Meeting. In May, it published its policy letter on the General Election 2020, which attached the reports from the CPA BIMR Election Expert Mission and the Registrar-General of Electors. The policy letter set out the workstreams the Committee would undertake in response to lessons learnt from the 2020 General Election and in preparation for the 2025 General Election. Progressing these workstreams is a high priority for the Committee in 2022.
Further to consideration of the Government Work Plan - Stage 1 in March, the Committee worked with the Policy & Resources Committee to review and revise Rule 4 of the Rules of Procedure and the changes proposed were agreed further to the Government Work Plan debate in June.
The programme of ongoing professional development of States' Members has continued and in October the Committee published a report on the induction and ongoing development programme organised for Members. This included a review of the programme conducted by the Induction Working Group, which detailed the breadth of induction and ongoing sessions provided to elected Members to support them in their roles as Parliamentarians, Committee Members and Constituency Deputies.
Progress was made in improving facilities for States' Members.The States' Members' room at Sir Charles Frossard House was altered to provide one room that can be booked for meetings with constituents, and another room where Members can do work. There will also be additional support available to Members in their constituency roles with a person recruited whose responsibilities will include working with Members and providing research services for them.
2021 began with a remote Meeting of the States of Deliberation and ended with a hybrid Meeting, in light of the prevailing circumstances in the Island at those times. The States held three hybrid Meetings and, whilst there was desire from some to enable 'hybrid' Meetings to become part of 'the new normal', the Committee has concluded, from practical experience, that it will not be bringing proposals to the States to enable this as a permanent option. It will, however, look in the future at whether 'emergency procedures' provisions should be included in the Reform Law in respect of States' Meetings.
Work was undertaken throughout 2021 with a local company to develop a prototype of a bespoke web-based simultaneous electronic voting system and the Committee is pleased that the States will be debating the proposals to introduce this system at the March States' Meeting. If approved, it is planned for the system to be operational in the States by June.
Work is continuing to introduce a Commissioner for Standards to investigate alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct for Members of the States of Deliberation, replacing the States Members' Conduct Panel. The Committee has taken on board lessons that were learnt in 2021 and plans to return to the States in May with legislation to amend the Reform Law, and a policy letter regarding the introduction of the role.
The Committee also created a Non-States' Members on States' Committees Framework which covered the selection process; orientation and ongoing development; and conduct and performance of non-States' Members. Further to this, it was requested that a Code of Conduct applicable to non-States' Members who are serving on States' Committees was developed and this is currently a work in progress. The Committee intends to bring a policy letter on this subject at the same Meeting that the Commissioner for Standards proposals will be considered.
The Committee is also working closely together with the Policy & Resources Committee on the Reshaping Government workstream, with myself and Deputy McKenna forming part of the sub-committee charged with progressing the work and reporting back to the Committee regularly. This work will continue throughout this year and into the next.
The Committee agreed at the end of last year that it would schedule smaller reviews of specific areas of the Rules of Procedure throughout 2022, rather than seeking to undertake one all-encompassing review and produce one policy letter. In January, the Committee agreed a schedule of reviews of the Rules to be undertaken on a quarterly basis. The first quarter review focusses on 'Statements and Questions' and Members and Committees have been sent a consultation document to provide feedback to this review.
The review scheduled for the second quarter will focus on the 'Rules and closure of debate', covering points of order and correction, 'give way' interjections, Rule 26(1) - the 'guillotine motion' - and the rules of debate on amendments.
The third quarter review will look at the 'hours of sittings, extensions and adjournments', further to suggestions received regarding adjournments and spillover dates.
The final review of the year relating to the Rules will focus on Members' Interests. This will not only address the extant resolution to consider the definition of 'direct and special interest' but also look at developments in other jurisdictions and a review of what information is required on Declaration of Interest forms.
There are other workstreams on the Committee's Forward Work Programme that it intends to progress this term, including the review of the States of Election; however, in light of limited resources, the Committee must carefully prioritise its work and it is not intended to progress this workstream until next year.
As I said in my last statement, the Committee is always happy to hear from Members' on matters falling within its mandate and is open to new ideas or approaches. However, it must again highlight that the Committee only has one member of staff, and a very limited budget, and therefore the resource implications of any new workstreams put forward would need to be carefully considered.