Wednesday 17 July 2019
Resignation from a principal committee in controversial circumstances is a serious matter for which an explanation is owed to the States as a body, and I am grateful to the Bailiff for this opportunity to explain mine.
At its simplest my reason for resigning as a member of the Committee for Home Affairs is that I need to challenge the recent report of the Committee's governance and I do not consider that I can adequately do so whilst remaining a member of a committee which has much urgent work to do, not least that of repairing the damage already done, ironically by the report itself. The majority of my colleagues take a different view and I wish them well and offer my support for the remaining months of their term of office.
The next 14 minutes will not be about defending my reputation. Instead, I want to focus on a much more important matter of principle, namely that of the questionable conduct, and therefore dubious value, of the current round of reviews of the governance of our principal committees, and the use to which P&R is putting them. This is a matter of especial relevance just now in view of the current debate on how politicians and civil servants should best engage with each other in the government of our island.
The reason that it is not about my reputation is that I am not remotely fussed about it and consider it irrelevant. Most certainly, the reviewer's opinion of me is of no importance to me. In a previous life I have done the operational leadership bit at a number of levels and now I have done the political oversight bit, so I have experienced the political/operational interface from both sides of it, whereas as far as I can see the reviewer has practical experience of neither. With that in mind, the fact that the reviewer has a low opinion of my ability and integrity as a politician is not remotely concerning to me.
Of slightly more relevance is that the Policy and Resources Committee share the reviewer's very low opinion of me. Just as the reviewer has done herself, the P&R Committee have gone out of their way to assert that the reviewer is an expert and must ipso factobe correct in all her judgements. Deputy Le Tocq could not have been more clear in his public commentary: the reviewer is an expert whose judgements cannot even be questioned. This is raising the concept of Papal infallibility to new heights.
Frankly, Sir, such has been the conduct of the members of P&R over this review that I am relieved that they do not consider my integrity to be on a par with theirs. Who can forget how, in the absence of the P&R president when we debated the P&R Plan last month, it was the States very own Integrity Champion himself who calculatedly thrust a notice to quit into the hands of the Home Affairs President so that she could read it just before speaking in that role?
No Sir, if I am at all concerned about what P&R think of me it is that my colleagues on the principal committee of which I remain Vice President should not find themselves vicariously having to share the consequences. That apart, I am happy to be judged on my record by my peers and by the Castel electorate who placed their confidence in me just over three years ago.
I now turn to the much more serious matter of the questionable quality and value of the current round of governance reviews as judged by the review and report of Home Affairs. In even attempting to do so I am of course open to the obvious charge of shooting the messenger, but if that is what some members and no doubt some media commentators think this is all about, so be it.
In pointing out the flawed nature of the governance review and demonstrating the report's sheer unfairness to Home Affairs, it is difficult to know where to begin and end. So many are the flaws, so many are the instances of unfairness, that there is simply only time to touch on just a few examples.
The first question to ask is about the reliability and objectivity of the review's methodology, with its reliance on triangulation. The reviewer stakes the review's credibility on this.
So, if person A says something and is then backed up by either two of the 6 other interviewees or by two separate documents, or by just one other interviewee and one document, then it must be true.
There are obvious flaws in this approach as used by the reviewer.
- As far as triangulation with three persons is concerned, that would not have been an option when the same reviewer reviewed HSC. Curiously, she chose to interview only two non-politicians on that committee compared with 7 on the much smaller Home Affairs committee
- Second. If, for example, the necessary 3 Home Affairs officers made a particular allegation against Home Affairs members but it was not supported by evidence from the remaining 4 officers interviewed, why should the allegation from 3 officers be accepted by the reviewer as unchallengeable fact when 4 other officers did not corroborate it and did not have their non-corroboration recorded? And what if numerous documents directly disprove the assertions made under interview but remain unread by the reviewer even though available to her?
- A further point. To date, 4 separate States members who are not members of Home Affairs have come to me to assert that this whole affair has been a P&R stunt to bring down Deputy Lowe. I have no idea if it was. Whether I believe it or not, if I informed P&R that I have more than triangulated evidence, indeed it would be quadrangulated evidence, that as a committee they have pulled a squalid stunt; that I have no documentary evidence to support the allegation and even if I did I could not divulge it for reasons of confidentiality, and that since the 4 Deputies came to me in confidence their allegations cannot be checked with them - in those circumstances, would P&R be willing to accept the allegation as true and agree to put it in the public domain with their unqualified support?
- I now cite the inconsistency with which the reviewer applied her methodology to me as a political member and to the Home Affairs officers and heads of services. In her report the reviewer refers to having studied "documentary evidence provided by interviewees". I was interviewed just once, by telephone on a poor line. To the best of my memory, at no time during that interview or afterward was I invited to cite any documentary evidence to support my responses to the interviewer's questions or to counter any allegations made against me. Had I been given the opportunity, I would have referred the reviewer to such documentary evidence.
So much for the questionable methodology, although I could offer more flaws if time permitted.
This flawed methodology, and the sloppy way it was carried out, meant that the body of the report consisted of little more than a series of unsubstantiated hearsay assertions made against the political members, accompanied by the reviewer's highly subjective and speculative narrative.
I have only time to cite two typical but far from egregious examples.
The reviewer accused the Committee of indifference to the levels of imprisonment in Guernsey.
The prison population in Guernsey varies widely from one period to another. A snapshot at one time would have shown our level to be higher than in Jersey and the UK, at other times below or similar to the others. That said, our judiciary do tend to sentence more offenders to imprisonment than their UK and Jersey counterparts, but as former Deputy Gillson explained in his column last week, by nowhere near the levels to which the reviewer refers as "extraordinarily high". What is extraordinarily low is Guernsey's rate of reconviction of post-release prisoners, at around one third of the UK's, and it is significant that the reviewer chose not to mention that good news.
For as far as the reviewer is concerned, the current Home Affairs Committee is guilty as charged. In her lack of balance and objectivity she asserts that the Committee were simply not interested in understanding or addressing the high level of imprisonment. She offers no documentary evidence to support her assertion, and failed to seek, let alone find, the ample documentary evidence readily available to her that would have contradicted her assertion. Even a cursory look at the documentary evidence of Committee minutes and papers would have shown the reviewer that the Committee, from its earliest days, sought conscientiously to understand the issues and give strategic direction. The documents show that the Committee first indicated to the appropriate officers and head of service that their strategic aim was to extend the post-sentence engagement of the probation services to short-term prisoners. The Committee requested a paper for their guidance, first in 2016, again in 2017 and chased again in 2018 until a report was finally received in May this year.
In her eagerness to criticize the Committee, the reviewer also revealed her own poor understanding of a complex issue.
The reviewer ignores the fact that the Police and the courts already have ample tools to keep offenders out of prison
The reviewer does not appear to have even considered that our courts, and not the Committee, have a relatively low threshold for sentencing offenders, particularly those dealing in illegal drugs. Nor has the reviewer reflected that our Law Enforcement officers achieve a detection rate which those in the UK can only dream of and which therefore brings many more offenders before the courts.
Instead, the reviewer made further accusations against the Committee. First, she accused the committee of failing to consult other relevant committees in addressing possible causes of offending and reoffending. She offered no evidence for this false assertion, and did not seek the available documentary evidence to the contrary. For example, at a very early stage the Committee engaged with the Committee for Employment and Social Security over the need to enable prisoners to have access to a bank account in order better to enable them to cope post release by removing one barrier to finding employment and thereby lessening the temptation to revert to criminality. The minutes of joint committee meetings were readily available to the reviewer had she genuinely sought independent evidence. She did not.
Sir, the reviewer's negative mindset does Guernsey and the Home Affairs Committee no justice by judging our approach to criminality and the offender through her narrow and obsessive focus on the number of prisoners in our prison rather than on the outcomes of our holistic approach to justice. Apparently lost to the reviewer, but I hope not to this Assembly, is the recognition that many other jurisdictions would be envious of our low crime rate, of our very low rate of reoffending and of the degree of safety and security felt by most of our community.
I now offer an example of how the Committee were damned by the reviewer if they did and were damned by her if they did not.
In the first draft of her report she criticized the Committee for referring operational matters raised by members of the public to the Head of Law Enforcement. In her words, to do so was to waste his valuable time.
I now quote from committee minutes of a meeting in 2016 which were available to the reviewer.
"Deputy Leadbeater asked the Head of Law Enforcement whether there was any legislation in relation to flashing bicycle lights ..... The Head of Law Enforcement confirmed he would take the query on board. He advised members that he would welcome emails from them regarding issues like these and suggested they copy them to the President."
In the final version of the report the reviewer repeated her criticism, this time complaining that members crossed the boundaries by seeking information from officers or more junior staff about operational matters when the head of the service was not present. I now quote from the transcript of the Scrutiny Management Committee's 2018 public meeting with Home Affairs about the HMIC report. The reviewer had a copy of the transcript. In the quoted passage Advocate Peter Harwood questions the then Head of Law Enforcement on this issue.
"Advocate Harwood: Politicians throughout the universe are going to be taking up issues that have been raised with them by concerned members of the public. Are you saying that it is wrong for a Deputy to do so ....?
Mr Rice: No, I do not. I think it is wrong that the Deputies contact the Chief of Police about the issue.
Advocate Harwood: Who else would they...?
Mr Rice: I think they should be contacting the Duty Inspector if they are raising concerns about offences."
As I said, damned if they did, damned if they did not.
Sir, in the time available to me I have been able to cover just two of the countless examples in the report where assertions have been made against the Committee not only without providing evidence that could be assessed but also ignoring available evidence that clearly shows the assertions to be false. This would be of little consequence if it were all about me, but there are really serious issues here. There is the alarming naivety - or perhaps its cynicism - of P&R in accepting as unchallengeable the assertions of a report that any clear-eyed, objective reader would identify as deeply flawed. There is the waste of public money and our time in having reviews that contribute nothing to the stated aim of improving the governance of our principal committees. I have the necessary triangulated evidence from three members of HSC that their committee learned little or nothing about their governance that they did not already know, and five members of Home Affairs think the same of theirs.
Of course the Committee found it easy to agree to the report's recommendations but there was no need to have an expensive review to identify them; just Google the principles of good governance and there they are.
There is also something deeply sinister in all this. The first draft of this report was vicious and spiteful in tone, depicting Deputy Lowe as a sort of mafiosa figure, surrounded by four gutless, on-the-make rookies and ruling the roost of Home Affairs as Guernsey's very own Donna Corleone. This absurd part of the report was subsequently toned down, presumably on legal advice, but the point had been made. Here is a dangerous political device by which the States senior committee can knowingly deploy a sloppy, ill-researched and unevidenced report and thereby wilfully damage the reputations of fellow members of the States, undermine the Committee's already improving governance and sew the seeds of mistrust at the very time when mutual trust needed encouragement.
Sir, in my view members of the States should watch sceptically over this new approach to reviewing our government.
I am not denying that lessons from the past 3 years remain to be addressed by both politicians and officers at Home Affairs, nor that some relationships need mending. The tragedy is that this one-sided, poorly-researched report was the worst possible intervention in a process of improvement and restoration of trust, a process already well under way in the wake of the HMIC report and the response to it in cooperation with the new Head of Law Enforcement.
In short, this report and P&R's use of it provide an example of the very worst governance. I invite members to taste the irony.