And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation." (Mark 8:12)
Paul Routier is bring a proposition to the States to ensure that any propositions for debate must be signed by 7 other members, and true to his proposition, he has the endorsement of 7 members for this proposition.
To request the Privileges and Procedures Committee to bring forward an amendment to Standing Orders to require a proposition for debate lodged by a member of the States in his or her own right to be endorsed and countersigned by 7 other members.
The reasons for this are given as "a number of propositions which have been lodged for debate which have either been withdrawn on the day of debate and even during debates for various reasons. Some have been because of a lack of information, some have been because there has not been enough understanding of the existing legislation and services provided by various departments."
No examples are actually given of this, which is why Geoff Southern's amendment calls for equal parity with the Council of Ministers:
to request the Privileges and Procedures Committee to bring forward an amendment to Standing Orders to require a proposition for debate lodged by a Minister to be endorsed and countersigned by 7 Ministers or Assistant Ministers
His reason is that the fault does not just lie with backbenchers, but with the Ministers as well:
During my time in the States, I have witnessed a number of propositions which have been lodged for debate by Ministers, only to be withdrawn subsequently for various reasons. When this occurs, there is a real sense of frustration amongst conscientious backbenchers regarding the waste of members' time in preparation for the debate.
Unlike Deputy Routier, who may give some examples in his speech on the matter but has failed to do so for his proposition, Deputy Southern gives a number of examples of this habit with Ministers, as for example:
More recently, we have had the announcement of a new policy on subsidy for the fee-paying sector from the Minister for Education, Sport and Culture. This occupied considerable amounts of members' time and attention, only to be withdrawn following objections from 3 or 4 Ministers. In the Budget debate, members were also presented with the prospect of a Minister for Treasury and Resources bringing forward a proposal that he did not personally support.
The lack of examples in Deputy Routier's proposition suggests it is more of a blocking tactic, designed not to stop propositions being made and then withdrawn, but to stop propositions being made that would most assuredly not be withdrawn.
But if he is sincere in his proposition, then he would be expected to support Geoff Southern's proposition, otherwise Ministers would be exempt from the same kind of time wasting which he complains of, and which Deputy Southern provides ample evidence. Can it be right that backbenchers can waste time this way, but Ministers are somehow immune from the same rules that apply to ordinary States members?
That the proposition is endorsed by Privileges and Procedures comes as no surprise, as their recent ideas about a required for Senators to have signatures on their election forms from each of the twelve Parishes, and a deposit of £500 for all candidates, clearly will exclude both the poorer members of Jersey, and anyone who has not got friends in every Parish. Those propositions may be made with the best of intentions, but they evidently come from the ranks of the Privileged - the Committee is well named, as they effectively exclude candidates on the basis of wealth and the width of their social network across Jersey parishes.
I myself have relatives in St Mary and St John, friends in St John, St Martin, St Clement, St Mary and St Ouen, but I don't know anyone that well in Grouville or Trinity. But suppose I had many people willing to support me in all the Parishes except St Mary. On that basis alone, I could not be endorsed as a Senatorial candidate, and would effectively be blocked by the Parish with the smallest population. Can this be right? Surely not? I think that Privileges and Procedures would do well to watch the recent series by Michael Sandel on justice, because they seem unable to consider thought experiments to explore the justice of their position, and he provides plenty.
Deputy Trevor Pitman wants an even stronger amendment:
to request the Privileges and Procedures Committee to bring forward an amendment to Standing Orders to require a proposition for debate lodged by the Chief Minister or another Minister to be endorsed and countersigned by all other 9 members of the Council of Ministers.".
In other words, he is calling for "collective responsibility" to actually be in place, so that the Council of Ministers not only support each others propositions, there has to be unanimous consent. That seems to be to be going rather too far. It means that one dissenting Minister could block the vote of all the others, which might be a matter of personal conscience for them, or otherwise put their signature on something they did not actually endorse, just because of the need to do so, but speak up against it in debate. Suppose it was something to do with abortion, with which Catholic members might feel strongly, but the majority of the Council of Ministers were in favour of?
But this, and Deputy Southern's proposition, do raise the question of how collective responsibility actually functions within the Council of Ministers. The recent resignation of Sean Power illustrates the slippery nature of what is going on. He noted that:
"At a meeting to-day, the Council of Ministers has expressed a view that I should resign as Housing Minister and I now do so."
Quite how does the Council of Ministers "express a view", and how is that decided upon? Is there any dissent, and how is that dealt with - in other words, are we getting a "majority view" that is papering over any disagreements? Is a view possible if Ministers are absent or ill? The endorsement of propositions by at least some Ministers and Assistant Ministers in Geoff Southern's proposition has more to recommend it than Trevor Pitmans. And some more transparency in the sometimes murky decision making processes of the Council of Ministers would be welcome.
Privileges and Procedures bring one of their arguments that serious consideration may not be given to propositions at the moment:
A member may be willing to second a proposition simply because they consider that the proposer should have the right to have their proposition debated. Such members may not be willing, however, to endorse the proposition in the manner proposed by Senator Routier.
What do they mean by this strange idea? That somehow by signing a proposition in this way will lead to support for the proposition itself, and those who do that can be taken as agreeing with the substance of the proposition? Or is this a case of guilt by association, that support can be taken as endorsing a policy, and this used by other States members for propaganda purposes? Even if it is not intended as such, again Privileges seems unable to see the unintended consequences that would result. But Paul le Claire, with his amendment, is well aware of this:
After the words "other members" insert the words "although the names of the members who endorse and countersign the proposition shall not be disclosed or published by the Greffier of the States unless he or she is requested to do so by the proposer".
He comments that:
I am suggesting this amendment as, if this proposition is passed, members will invariably be subjected to the usual derogatory comments that we see in the Chamber from the members who like to ridicule those that have not voted in support of the Council of Ministers. It occurs on a regular basis and the usual phrase we hear is "the usual suspects". This type of comment will invariably dissuade members from signing other politicians' proposals and will eventually further erode the rights of backbenchers.
Deputy Philip Rondel, meanwhile, has a very simple amendment:
For the number "7" substitute the number "2".
He notes that:
I must say there may be merit in increasing the number of signatures on a proposition, but the system proposed by Senator Routier and others is farcical and is designed to prevent a member from doing what they believe is right for the people they represent. In parishes with only 2 elected members, it may be more difficult than the Senator thinks to look at bringing members from outside the parish to support an issue.
Deputy Rondel notes that Senators do not take much of an interest in Parish affairs, but a proposition may be brought which is of importance to the Parish, but not necessarily Islandwide in scope, and it may be difficult to get endorsement of Senators:
Aside from Senator Le Main attending a meeting in St. John for Field 605, I do not recall seeing any Senator attending a Parish Meeting or Assembly in the last 10 years, other than at election hustings and polling days when they want your vote; but I would stand corrected if individual members could furnish me with the relevant dates they did attend such meetings.
and as Deputy Rondel notes - again giving examples so lacking in the original proposition:
A member may wish to do any number of things within his/her Parish or district to benefit those they represent - for instance to put a reduced speed limit in the parish, as I did successfully in the late 1990s. Such matters may be of no interest to other elected members, so they would disqualify themselves from signing the proposition.
What this means, of course, is that where Parish Matters are concerned, any collection of signatures may be done strategically, on the basis of "you support my proposition, and I'll support yours" in order to get the requisite numbers, which rather defeats the argument that at present "a member may be willing to second a proposition simply because they consider that the proposer should have the right to have their proposition debated".
Instead, strategic game play may mean that 7 members may be willing to support a proposition, not necessarily because they consider the proposer has a right to have the proposition debated, but because they want support when it is their turn. Quite how this will "strengthen those propositions" (PPC) by producing a culture in which back-scratching self-interest becomes a dominant strategy is unclear. Perhaps I'm old fashioned in my views, but I would not consider that an improvement!
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