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Statement given by the President of the States' Assembly & Constitution Committee

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Wednesday 27 February 2019

General update

I am grateful, Sir, for this opportunity to provide an update on the work and priorities of the States' Assembly & Constitution Committee.

Much has changed since the last General Update Statement delivered in February 2018, not least the entire membership of the Committee. I became President on 9th November. I was joined by Deputy Merrett as Vice-President - and Deputies Ferbrache, Le Tocq and Yerby.

In the three and a half months the current Committee has been in place, we have been busy.

Much of our time has been spent looking at preparations for the 2020 General Election. I will cover that in more depth shortly, but will first give Members a brief overview of the workstreams the Committee has been progressing. I will cover the workstreams the Committee is under resolution to deliver first.

This consultation garnered five responses.

Given the requirements of the referendum, and then the change of Committee Membership, the workstream was put on hold in late 2018.

I am pleased to advise that Deputies Merrett and Le Tocq have agreed to form a Panel to progress the workstream in the second half of 2019.

If any Member wishes to join this Panel, I would be grateful if you could contact Deputy Merrett regarding this.

The Committee was advised that it was felt that wider States resources should be utilised to support training requirements. The Committee will raise this matter with the Strategic Lead for Supporting Government when they are in post to progress this.

You will all understand that our main focus has been the General Election. I know Members may have questions on other items that have been raised with the Committee historically however if this Committee has not discussed them, I will not necessarily be able to give a definitive answer on such matters at this point in time.

Any items raised in the Q&A session will be discussed by the Committee at one of its meetings and Members are welcome to put matters to the Committee at any time.

Now to turn to the General Election 2020

In February 2016, the States of Deliberation agreed that for the 2020 General Election onwards

"all deputies shall be elected on an island-wide basis ............ provided that such a system shall first have been approved in an island wide referendum".

That referendum was held on 10th October, 2018 and in line with the resolution, island-wide voting for 38 Deputies on one day in June 2020 was the winner.

The States gave a commitment in November 2017 that it would introduce the electoral system which was the most favoured in the referendum, provided that the number of persons voting in the referendum exceeded 40% of those inscribed on the Electoral Roll. The turnout threshold was met and therefore the Committee is now making preparations for the introduction of island wide voting.

We are approaching this project in stages. We intend to publish its first policy letter on the General Election by 11th March, 2019 which will propose amendments to the Reform Law to enable the General Election in 2020 to take place on an island-wide basis. It is planned for this to be debated at the April meeting.

A further policy letter will be submitted later this year providing details which do not require legislative changes, touching on topics such as voter education, voter engagement, hustings and manifestos.

I have said previously that this is the "people's policy" and I repeat that now to remind Members that the necessary amendments to the Law must be made expediently to hold the 2020 General Election as agreed - by the people and this assembly.

We have engaged with Members and the public in the formation of this initial policy letter. After the Committee was appointed in November, it issued a press release inviting anyone who wished to provide suggestions or comments on preparation for the General Election to contact the Committee.

The Committee received a number of constructive submissions from members of the public and we are grateful to everyone who took the time to provide feedback.

We held a Deputies' Workshop, attended by 23 Deputies, in December. It has followed up this workshop by circulating notes, requesting further feedback from Members, and updating Members on its deliberations to date.

I believe at that Workshop I suggested a further Member workshop in February; that didn't happen due to the pace we are moving. We intend to convene a further meeting with Deputies after the publication of the draft policy letter in March, to talk through the changes it proposes.

The Douzaines have always played a vital role in the administration of General Elections and the Committee wishes that role to continue. It met with representatives from the Douzaine in January and February to hear their thoughts on the forthcoming Election and to learn from their invaluable experience in helping to run Elections. The Committee will continue to liaise with the Douzaines regularly in the lead up to the Elections.

And I will say for the public record that we are grateful for their continued support for the election process - and I'm sure Members will agree with me in that sentiment.

The Committee is also keen to ensure that the Election is as accessible as possible. It has therefore held an initial meeting with representatives from the Guernsey Disability Alliance, Access for All and Age Concern to make sure that they are engaged from an early stage of the process, and can assist us in shaping preparations to ensure the Election is accessible to the entire Island.

We are shortly attending an event in early March to meet with Members of the Youth Commission to get feedback on the opportunities and hurdles of young people standing to be a States' Member. We are also looking to work with all the schools on the Island to promote the General Election.

Officers of the Committee and Home Affairs are working closely together to ensure there is a cohesive approach to this project and this will continue throughout the project.

The first policy letter mainly focusses on the legislative changes which will enable the General Election in 2020 to take place on an island-wide basis. However, it also includes a section regarding the emergence of political groupings and parties. The Committee is conscious that there has been a level of public interest in how such groups operate.

It is also conscious that equality of opportunity must be guaranteed for parties and candidates alike and this requires a neutral attitude from the States. The Committee will therefore be proposing that whilst certain rules will be recommended regarding such groups on registration and campaign spending, it will look to introduce a simple and light-touch approach at this stage.

We have sought to conduct this process openly and given people the opportunity to have their voices heard on this important issue. We will continue our preparations in this vein.

Sir, and Members of the Assembly, I know some of you would not have chosen Island Wide Voting as your preferred option.

But there is one thing that a democratic system is there to deliver and that is democracy itself; we are likely to disagree on areas within the forthcoming policy letters; I'm guessing on areas such as levels of grant, expenditure limits and how we manage parties that may or may not emerge.

If I can ask members one thing it will be this. To set aside our differences on the result of the Referendum and work towards the delivery of an electoral system which is fair to candidates, fair to the electorate and that respects the rights of 'free assembly' and 'free speech' allowing the Island to move towards the new system of island-wide voting.

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