Thank you Sir,
Paragraph 1.1 of the report states:
“The States’ Review Committee was established in 2012 to review the organization of States’ affairs and to make any recommendations for reform which it considered necessary”
And there in a nutshell is the problem with what we have before us. The committee is composed of five deputies and one politician from another jurisdiction. They have busied themselves with what politicians busy themselves with, rather than an objective view as to the fundamental failings of the States.
The consideration of this assembly as a legislature and the role of deputies as legislators is so unattractive that it doesn’t even receive mention in paragraph 7.12.1 as to forming part of our duties and paragraph 7.12.2 states that the committee will develop it’s thinking on the aforementioned key roles of deputies, evidently omitting, or more likely forgetting, that we are elected as legislators.
We are all guilty of our scant consideration of legislation, in 2013 out of a total sitting time of one hundred and sixty-eight hours and six minutes, legislation was debated for a total two hours and twenty-two minutes. To put this shaming figure in perspective, statements to the assembly took up nearly double that time at four hours and one minute and questions consuming three times the parliamentary time at seven hours and twenty-three minutes.
Just in case these figures mean little to you, just think of how many pristine legislation booklets are on view in the course of our monthly debates. When was the last time an amendment was placed against a piece of legislation?
Our legislative process is inadequate and the committee knows this, at SACC we’ve frequently discussed the problem of encouraging debate on legislation. But it’s all too unattractive for us to put in the time and effort to resolve the problem, far more attractive is a debate on how many committees should sit pontificating about what, and how many should sit on each committee. What we lose sight of too easily, is the long term lasting effects of our legislative actions.
The mental health law is a perfect example, because we all knew the old law to be outdated and inadequate, any new law was preferable and got passed with few having read it. We now have a list of amendments merely one year after its passing. For those who’s interest is commerce, our companies law was so poor that advocates actively encouraged some of their clients to open companies in Jersey, since the law here was an active barrier to business. This is now thankfully resolved, but at what cost to our island commerce?
But no, the States review committee, despite knowing these facts, despite recognizing the problems, concern themselves, as we all do, with the bits that they like, the stuff we want to talk about and put the legislation question in a box labeled “too difficult to deal with”.
There are a number of options available to deal with our legislative failings, none dealt with in the report of course. No mention of a bicameral system, section 5 on the ministerial system makes no mention of how such a system would increase scrutiny of legislation. There is a passing mention in paragraph 5.1.3 of how such a ministerial system would provide for clear separation of the legislature but makes no mention of how this would affect legislation.
It’s evident that if a majority of the assembly are only able to affect policy through legislation, legislation will become the tool used to affect policy. That would increase our legislative scrutiny, but the effects may be unattractive in the number of additional members of St James’ Chambers we may need to employ. Is this a price worth paying, your guess is as good as mine, since the assembly aren’t afforded any consideration of the pros and cons from this report.
Both options that I’ve presented would be fundamental changes to the current make up of the states, but both have been summarily dismissed.
So what do we have before us. A proposal to resurrect bits of the States before 2004 and to tweak changes in the current States. Policy and resources could more rightly be called a reformed A&F presented through rose tinted glasses. I personally don’t believe that the solution to our current problems is found in a wistful and romantic view of the past.
Amongst concern as to the ability of the states to be quicker in its reaction we have mention in paragraph 6.7.5 of a provision for “far greater flexibility in setting the number of committees simply because the matter can be determined on its own merits without having any bearing on the size of the senior committee”. But then following a number of circular arguments paragraph 6.7.15 concludes “the Committee is proposing that there should be no more than nine Principle Committees”. Flexibility is evidently only in one direction, surprising from supporters of the creation of two current committees of the states.
Few failings are mentioned in the report as to the committee system, but for fairness and balance, I’d like to explore a few. During those first few weeks in May 2012 there was a talk given by the then deputy chief executive listing a number of items that would be beneficial to us as new members. Whilst I remember midnight oil, since I’d be burning it a few times, one item wasn’t listed, Aspic. The committee system is geared towards the status quo and the comfortable position of incremental changes. Decisive action is quickly quashed and original thinking actively discouraged. Resistance to change doesn’t take much and it’s assisted by the increasing numbers of decisions we’ve handed over to technocrats. When was the last time a committee took note of legal advice but acted to the contrary due to its conviction? When do we at HSSD make a decision that is contrary to the Professional Guidance Committee. Can we conceive of an Education department that would have survived actively disputing the Mulkerrin report?
Decisive changes can only be effected by external consultants, paid handsomely for their services. Deputies are relegated to rubber stamping.
And just as I despaired as to such a vision I see that the States Review Committee encourage such a constitution by proposing more non states members. Why do we feel these external bodies, who do little to stand the test of accountability, that the report obsesses over, are such a good solution? If people want to effect change, surely they should stand for office and face the electorate, but no. Another item where accountability is only relevant to Deputies, with technocrats facing no such test.
I recognize that it isn’t within the committee’s mandate to look at why these people feel they’d like to make a contribution and won’t stand for election, but resigning ourselves to that position is defeatist. I’ll explore this further in SACC, but I’ll also make a plea to the Policy Council to include it in the terms of reference for the remuneration of States members.
There is logic to the proposals, when viewed in the cold light of theory, they are a coherent set of proposals. But we don’t live in a logical nor a theoretical world. Government by committee has begat government by committee because it is logical, but logic and theory is no solution to our predicaments, decisiveness and conviction is.
Having said all of the above, I can’t really blame members of the States Review Committee. The chances of getting anything fundamentally different past this assembly would be too difficult. We shy away from decisive action and jump at the opportunity to criticize when someone takes it. Aspic and stasis are the natural course for consensus.
To paraphrase the Gospel of St John, God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee. But we couldn’t take the leap to do without it. It is our security blanket, excused as a check and balance on individuals not tied to a party system. It is the fundamental expression of fear as to the maturity of this assembly.
And that’s where I quibble in my argument. I’m unsure of my faith in the maturity of this assembly. Debates on reports compiled by statutory officials are reduced to minor gripes and groans. A recent debate on the introduction of responsible officer legislation, essential for the maintenance of a healthcare system on island, is seized upon as an opportunity to kvetch and vent our frustration about some pet HSSD subject or other. Introducing paid parking, which is surely minor in its effects compared to the loss of most medical practitioners from the island, turns into an orgy of shroud waving and a marathon of a debate.
I made reference, shortly after being elected, to the assembly’s ability to self harm. That view has hardly changed, only further vindicated by our poor debate and lack of discipline.
So given my despair as to the assembly’s ability to accept change, I suppose the States Review Committee have done the right thing, in not expending too much energy on proposals that simply wouldn’t go through.
If that’s where we are, then where should I vote.
I don’t believe that the proposals today are for change, these are proposal for minor adjustments. At a cost of circa two hundred and fifteen thousand pounds we have a report on how to re-arrange deck chairs.
Some may question why there’s no amendment or no sursis forthcoming. The answer is that I doubt an amendment would alleviate my concerns. A sursis has scant chance of survival given that members have booked four days into their diary and given the opportunity to make a change that tics the reform of government box, included in so many manifestos.
I suppose I’ve lost faith in this assembly to make real change and I don’t feel that I can be party to what I consider to be window dressing. I think the time has come for us to put a stop to the committee and to reject the propositions. How much time and money are we to spend on incremental changes. How can we reconcile our desire to use public money efficiently and support a committee for tweaking.
I do believe that this is an opportunity lost, but it is lost not as a result of five, but as a result of 47 who simply won’t by majority support real change.
I avoid making personal attacks and I hope the foregone speech won’t be viewed as personal, but unless we look in the mirror and recognise our failings, we have little chance of resolving them. I just don’t believe we’re capable of being so brutally honest. That lack of honesty is why I don’t think we need pursue the recommendations in the report, that is why, with a heavy heart, I will vote against all propositions.
Thank you for your time.