General update on the work and priorities of the Committee
I am grateful, Sir, for this opportunity to provide an update on the work and priorities of the States' Assembly & Constitution Committee.
As Members will recall, in 2017 the States supported the Committee's main proposals in relation to holding a referendum on Guernsey's voting system. The intention is that the referendum will be held on the 10th of October this year, allowing the electorate to determine their future electoral system ahead of the next General Election. Coincidentally I am required to make this Statement at the same meeting of the States at which the draft Projet de Loi - the Electoral System Referendum (Guernsey) Law, 2018 - will be considered.
If the legislation is approved, the Committee will return to the States promptly with a policy letter containing recommendations for the membership of the Campaign Group Assessments Panel. This is the Panel which will be responsible for independently assessing applications from groups or persons wishing to lead any of the five campaign groups - one for each of the options on the ballot paper - which we hope will be appointed.
Provisionally the Committee envisages these campaign groups being appointed in June to allow them adequate time to prepare their campaigns for an official campaigning period from the start of September to the day before the referendum.
On behalf of the Committee, I chair a Referendum Steering Group which has been formed to assist with the administration of the project over the next nine months. It includes officers with responsibilities in connection with the electoral roll and communications. The Group - and the Committee - will be working closely with the douzaines on the practical arrangements for the referendum. I would like to place on record our appreciation for the valuable assistance the douzaines will provide in the holding of the referendum.
The Committee has limited resources and the referendum must remain its primary focus. However other work is being progressed and will result in policy letters coming before the States in the next few months.
In the first quarter of this year, the Committee will publish a policy letter containing interim proposals for minor changes to the Code of Conduct for Members of the States of Deliberation.
First, in response to requests from other States' Members, it will suggest changes to enable Members, should they wish, to organise their workloads with the assistance of employees or associates who do not work for the States. Second, it will suggest changes to ensure the Code meets international standards to prevent the bribery and corruption of public officials.
This policy letter is being presented in advance of the comprehensive review of the Code of the Conduct which the Committee will be undertaking in 2018. The terms of reference for the review will be drafted over the next couple of months and the Committee will consult with all Members, and seek feedback from members of the public, regarding the effectiveness of the Code and the current procedures which support it. The Committee will look at how complaints against Members of Parliament are dealt with in other jurisdictions and will take into account a report which it is understood is being prepared by the Panel of Members appointed by the Bailiff to hear cases in relation to the Code.
Periodically the Committee reviews the Rules of Procedure of the States of Deliberation and their Committees. In the first half of this year it will bring a policy letter to the States proposing amendments to the Rules. I would like to take this opportunity to invite Members who may have suggestions on such amendments to write to the Committee setting out their thoughts.
Following a review of St James Chambers, the Policy & Resources Committee has requested the Committee to examine the case for establishing the role of States Greffier or States Clerk, a role which has existed in Jersey in support of their Parliament for several decades. This work is at an early stage but should not take too long to complete.
After the referendum, the Committee intends to undertake a comprehensive review of the States of Election, including the process for electing Jurats and the conditions which apply once they are elected. This will inevitably include consideration of replacing age restrictions with term limits.
A particular area of interest to the Committee in recent months has been data protection, especially in light of the General Data Protection Regulations which will come into force in May 2018. The Committee is working with staff from the Policy & Resources Committee to ensure that Members have adequate training to understand the data protection obligations placed upon them, whether in their role as Committee members or individual deputies.
The Committee is exploring other training opportunities for Members, in order to introduce a programme of ongoing training and development of members throughout the political term rather than restricting it to the period immediately following a General Election. In this matter the Committee has received much useful advice from other Members, not least from Deputy Dudley-Owen, and looks forward to working with Members to improve what is available to them in this and future terms.
Another Member approached the Committee with concerns about safety when working alone potentially on contentions matters. The Committee issued a Lone Working Protocol in November 2017 and is grateful to several Members who have provided positive feedback on it.
The Committee has met and corresponded with a number of Members on various other matters which fall within its mandate. The Committee is grateful to Members for their continued engagement and reminds them that they are welcome to attend meetings as observers. The Committee has also continued with its commitment to be open in its work by allowing the media to attend its meetings.