Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A Sly Amendment

Made15th September 2011
Coming into force16th September 2011

THE STATES, in pursuance of Article 48 of the States of Jersey Law 2005[1], have made the following amendment to Standing Orders -

1      Standing Order 112 amended
In standing order 112 in the Standing Orders of the States of Jersey[2], in the table in paragraph (1), in column 2 relating to item 1, for the number "14" there shall be substituted the number "28".
2      Citation and commencement
This amendment may be cited as Amendment (No. 16) of the Standing Orders of the States of Jersey and shall come into force on the day after it is made.

This Order amends the Standing Orders of the States of Jersey by changing the period following an ordinary election within which the meeting for selecting a Chief Minister designate must commence. The period for commencing  such a meeting is changed from a period of 14 days following such an election to a period of 28 days.

Now the reason for this is the single day election, and this has caused a discrepancy between what used to happen and what should happen:

This very brief but extremely important amendment to Standing Orders is being brought forward to correct an oversight that has only just been noticed in relation to the date of the first meeting of the new States after the elections. Under the Standing Orders as currently drafted, that first meeting must be held within 14 days of the Deputies' elections, and that is not possible under the timetable for this autumn as already agreed by the States.

And the solution - which appears to be a permanent one - is to increase the time available for the old States to debate the budget! The proper solution, of course, could have been that the budget would have to fall between two States Assemblies, so that the new States members, who will have been elected now by 4 weeks, almost a calendar month, could have a say. In the UK, for example, the day after the election, if you are voted out as an MP, you are out. In Jersey, however, if you are voted out, you have a period of grace of 28 days when you are completely unaccountable to anyone!

The old States would be required to remain in office for some 3 weeks after the elections in order to debate the 2012 Budget; and although at first this may not appear to be ideal, it should be pointed out that the old States currently remains in office for some 8 weeks after the senatorial and Connétables' elections even though there is, of course, only some 10 days between the Deputies' elections and the swearing-in of the new States. The 3 week period will provide additional time for the start of the induction programme for new members before they are sworn in and this will be a benefit, as the current system where very little time is available between the Deputies' elections and the start of the new States is far from ideal.

To say that "at first this may not appear to be ideal" is a masterpiece of understatement. I'm sure. To whom are any States members voted out of office accountable to? The notion of accountability is linked, or should be linked, to the ballot box, but here it is being wrenched apart, purely so that a legislative programme can be passed by the old States. Surely the legislative programme must take second place?

Notice the weasel way in which this is treated as an advantage - it can be used for an "induction programme". How they manage in the "Mother of Parliaments", goodness only knows, without all this extra time available? Perhaps Philip Ozouf should suggest an extra 28 days legislative power to the Liberal Democrats while he is over there for the new MPs that come along when they get decimated at the next election!

Because the legislative programme has to remain inviolate, Privileges and Procedures (who are bringing this proposition) comment:

If the current provision remains unchanged and is ignored, there could be ongoing uncertainty about the validity of the appointment of a Chief Minister made after the prescribed 14 day period. Alternatively, if the provision was followed as required, there would be no option other than to convene the 'old' States within the 14 day period to elect a new Chief Minister. This would clearly be a totally ridiculous and unacceptable option and may not even be possible because of other requirements of the States of Jersey Law 2005 and Standing Orders

The proposition was passed, with not one vote against or abstention, which is hardly surprising. If you are voted out, this gives you an extra chance to cling on to the reigns of power and vote on the business plan, and make your voice heard.  Who wants to do that?

But it is a serious anomaly, and it should be reduced to 14 days as soon as possible, and future legislative programmes should be curtailed so that they do not "over-run". I suspect it won't, and it will remain on the Statute book, allowing business plans to get by just before every election, because they are not dependent on the outcome of that election, but only on the whim of sitting States members, who may have even lost their seats or retired. I think a lot of the general public will be surprised when they see their votes are making no difference for virtually a month, and the old incumbents are smiling happily at them while they vote.

A lot was made of Gordon Brown holed up in Downing Street, clinging to office, after the last UK election. Clearly, all he should have done was to pass an amendment to give himself extra time, just like this.


alane said...

I can't even believe this.

Zoompad said...

I hope you dont mind but this is such an important post that I have copied and pasted it onto my own blog to try to maximise the number of people who read it. Love Barbaraxx

Ex-Senator Stuart Syvret said...

Well spotted, Tony, well-spotted.

These people will give themselves every possible little advantage when it comes to clinging on to power.


James said...

Actually, this is turning out far worse than you thought. It looks like P&P are going to slip the chance to reverse the vote on open ballot for Chief Minister into the 28-day gap.