Thursday 09 February 2023
Sir, I am grateful for the opportunity to provide an update on the work and priorities of the States' Assembly and Constitution Committee. I am pleased that 2022 has seen the progression and completion of several the Committee's work streams.
In March, the States approved the Committee's proposals for simultaneous electronic voting and the system went live in September. After some minor teething troubles with the very first votes, the system is now well established with voting now a quicker and more streamlined process. Importantly, with the public now able to see almost instantaneously how each Member voted on any given topic, there is now maximum transparency and accountability regarding the way that all Members vote. It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that the introduction of this technology has made a significant contribution to democracy in Guernsey and I am very grateful to everyone involved for their hard work in delivering the new system.
Last time I gave an update, I advised that work was progressing on the introduction of a Commissioner for Standards and I am pleased to say that, jointly with Jersey, we advertised for the role late last year. We were extremely fortunate to attract a number of high calibre candidates and, following interviews at the beginning of February, the recruitment panel, comprising representatives from both Guernsey and Jersey, agreed to nominate Dr Melissa McCullough as the Commissioner to serve both islands. Dr McCullough has an impressive CV, holding qualifications in medicine, ethics and law. She has held a variety of roles, including a period as a senior lecturer in Clinical Ethics and Law at the Brighton & Sussex Medical School, part of the University of Sussex, and a Guideline Committee Member for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. She is currently the Commissioner for Standards for the Northern Ireland Assembly, a role she has held since 2020, and is therefore an excellent fit for the position. SACC will need to bring a policy letter to the States seeking approval of the appointment and I am pleased to confirm that this is in hand and should be before the States at its April meeting.
This sees the culmination of a work stream that started in 2017 when the Policy & Resources Committee asked SACC to consider how the Code of Conduct for States' Members might be improved. One referendum, two lockdowns and a General Election later, we are now able to take this significant step forward which will bring Guernsey into line with comparable jurisdictions; meeting many relevant CPA benchmarks; and vastly improving the perception of fairness in respect of investigations. Of course, as this chapter closes, it would be remiss of me not to thank all of those who, over the years, have willingly given up their time to serve on the Panel.
Having agreed at the end of 2021 that it would schedule targetted reviews of specific areas of the Rules of Procedure during 2022, the Committee has now completed its review of "Statements and Questions", and the resultant policy letter is due to be debated during this meeting of the Assembly. A review of rules relating to Members' interests is also under way and proposals will be brought to the Assembly later this year.
The Committee has always operated with lean resources and recently those resources have been depleted further. Whilst the Committee is grateful for the support it has received thus far to address the issue, the fact remains that it currently does not have the resources it needs to progress all its priorities in the time scales originally envisaged.
Therefore, the Committee has reviewed those priorities and has concluded that, in light of the significant work that needs to be completed ahead of the 2025 General Election, it has no option but to pause its review of the Rules of Procedure and concentrate instead on ensuring that it discharges the responsibilities allocated to it by Resolution of the States in respect of future elections.
Recognising that some Members may be disappointed that their particular concerns about any given Rule may not end up being addressed as swiftly as they might have hoped, I would add that if any of my colleagues wants to make suggestions as to which Rules should be brought forward for consideration, the Committee would be pleased to consider their representations and, if additional resources are forthcoming, then we will look to address any that are nominated by a good proportion of the Assembly.
Whilst the Committee has had to pause its review of the Rules of Procedure at this time, it remains keen to ensure that Members are well equipped to discharge their Parliamentary roles. Having reflected on how best to support them, and considered how other jurisdictions achieve this, the Committee concluded that much of what ensures smooth Parliamentary processes relates to a good understanding of Parliamentary procedures and constitutional conventions. Therefore, the Committee has agreed that the States need a Parliamentary "bible" - a pragmatic guide to key points of Parliamentary practice to complement the Rules of Procedure. Work on this will be incremental but it is hoped that a start can be made later this year.
Looking ahead to the next General Election, the Committee has now started to consider some of the recommendations made by the CPA BIMR Election Expert Mission and the Registrar-General of Electors after the 2020 election and intends to submit a comprehensive policy letter on proposed amendments to the Reform Law within the next 12 months.
With more time to plan the 2025 election, and free of the constraints of a global pandemic, the Committee is currently focusing on how best to support candidates in their preparation for standing for election; in particular helping them to understand what is involved in being a States' Deputy. We are looking to build on the successes of the 2020 election whilst also learning from its challenges and, whilst the last election was considered a great success, we believe there are opportunities to make the next one even better, particularly in terms of the experience for candidates and the electorate.
On a closely related matter, the Committee is also pleased to be assisting the Scrutiny Management Committee with its review of island-wide voting.
Of course, we remain committed to supporting existing Members and, before closing, I would take this opportunity to remind Members of the States that, should they wish to do so, they are able to take advantage of becoming a qualified Mental Health First Aider facilitated by Guernsey Mind, as a budget to allow all Members to attend this, during this term of office, has been secured. I know that several Members have undertaken this training already and found it very beneficial, and I hope more will consider doing so.
In conclusion, Sir, I believe that the Committee has achieved a great deal in the twelve months since my last update statement, particularly as it operates with very limited resources and budget, and I would be happy to take any questions that my colleagues may have.