Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Coming Up in the States

What's happening in the States this week? Here's a brief overview plus commentary.
Proposition: Draft States of Jersey (Minister for External Relations) (Jersey) Regulations 201-.
Reference: P67/2013
The preamble for this proposition sets forth the rationale for having a Minister for External Affairs or Foreign Affairs. This doesn't involve any extra expenditure; there will not be an extra Ministry set up with Chief Officer and underlings. And it does seem to me an eminently sensible way to proceed - it's something which the Isle of Man certainly has.
"The international norm is for each jurisdiction around the world to have 3 positions in order to conduct external relations. These 3 positions are: (1) Head of State (for Jersey, Her Majesty the Queen), (2) Head of Government (for Jersey, the Chief Minister), and (3) Minister for Foreign Affairs (not at present a ministerial post in Jersey and hence now proposed as Minister for External Relations). The United Nations Protocol and Liaison Service maintain an up-to-date reference list of Governments with official titles of the respective Heads of State, Heads of Government and Ministers for Foreign Affairs."
"There would be enhanced accountability to the Council of Ministers, as a Minister would be in attendance at each Council meeting to account for their actions in a way that is not necessarily the case with an Assistant Minister. There would be improved accountability to the States Assembly, as a Minister would be voted into office by Members and would be required to regularly answer questions in the Assembly and appear before scrutiny as is the case with other Ministers."
But I would like to suggest that the Assistant Minister who currently deals with Foreign Affairs should not automatically be promoted into the new position. It is a new position, and while I am sure that many people will consider that Senator Bailhache has done sterling work, the new position should start as it means to continue. And that means a proposal for the candidate by the Chief Minister, with the possibility of other candidates being proposed, with an ensuing election decided by open ballot.
Proposition: Draft Loi (201-) (Amendement) sur la Voirie. Reference: P.70/2013
"Give greater flexibility in the dates of the Visites du Branchage by extending the period from 15 days to 21 days (21 days from 24th June and from 1st September) - Article 7"
This proposition was due much earlier in the year, and has rather missed the time this year. It also made much needed changes to the position regarding Branchage regarding responsibility in the case of co-ownership association (in the case of flying freehold); and the company (in the case of share transfer flats).
I dealt with the law changes there in detail on my article on the Rosscot Chartered Accountants website:
Proposition: Draft Public Finances (Amendment No. 4) (Jersey) Law 201- Reference: P.73/2013
Establishment of the States Insurance Fund;
Medium Term Financial Plan and Heads of Expenditure;
Role and Remit of the Treasurer;
Extending the Accounting Officer role;
Formalisation of the Fiscal Policy Panel; and
Miscellaneous - Law to be amended by Regulation; and amendments to the administration arrangements for Special Funds.
"The final part of the amendment enables the Minister for Treasury and Resources to make Regulations to amend Parts 3 and 4 of the principal Law (excluding Article 15 which deals with the power to give immediate effect to a Law that is a taxation draft). These Parts deal with the States administrative process for the Medium Term Financial Plan and Budget and States Trading Operations. The States would still be required to approve any amending Regulations, but these would not require further approval by the UK Privy Council."
As there is a backlog of around 130 laws (or amendments to laws), anything which speeds up the process of how the States operate is to be recommended. This has the advantage that it permits changes to regulations which do require approval by the States, but would no longer require the sometimes lengthy wait for approval by the Privy Council.
Proposition: Draft Public Finances (Amendment No. 4) (Jersey) Law 201- (P.73/2013): amendment. Reference: P.73/2013(Amd)  - Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel
"The Fiscal Policy Panel is an independent advisory body to the States, and this position must be reflected in every aspect of the primary legislation. In order to maintain its independence, the Panel propose an approach which follows a similar process to the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is based on the requirement that following a selection process, a Proposition that has been signed by both the Chief Minister and the Minister for Treasury and Resources should be brought to the States for its approval of appointment."
This is an important amendment because it ensures that while the selection process is in the hands of Chief Minister, the final approval of that appointment must be made by the States.  It ensures that proper scrutiny can be made of the appointment, and any concerns about conflicts of interest raised in the States Chamber.
Proposition: Jersey Appointments Commission: re-appointment of member. Reference: P.79/2013
"The re-appointment of Commissioners to the Jersey Appointments Commission, to re-appoint Mr. Julian Rogers, as a Commissioner of the Jersey Appointments Commission until 23rd February 2014."
"The Commission consists of a Chairman and 4 other Commissioners. The Commissioners are required to meet 4 times per year, to contribute to the production of guidelines that will apply to States' employees or States' appointees, to audit recruitment and to oversee recruitment to senior posts."
It should be noted that Julian Rogers is also wearing another hat - he is Chairman of the States Remuneration Panel, which decides on States Members pay. This has occurred before, and I've already discussed potential conflicts of interest in a previous blog:
Proposition: Draft Adoption (Amendment No. 6) (Jersey) Law 201-. Reference: P.80/2013
"The amendment's purpose is to repeal paragraph (3) of Article 11 of the 1961 Law which prevents a single male from adopting a female child unless the Court determines that there are 'special circumstances'"
"It is worth noting that since these 2 cases the 1961 Law has been amended to take account of the Civil Partnerships (Jersey) Law 2012 which has accorded civil partners the same rights as married couples when adopting. Nevertheless, as occurred in 2009 and 2011, homosexual male partners who are not in a civil partnership continue to be prevented from making a joint application to adopt female children. Consequently, in its written judgements to both cases, the Court expressed the hope that the legislature might consider whether article 11(3) of the 1961 Law ought not to be repealed."
"This call was prompted in the first instance by the Court's understanding that the provision is based on an outdated rationale which essentially holds that men pose a de facto risk to female infants. Furthermore, it assumes that fathers are unable to meet the emotional needs of a female infant whereas, presumably, a mother is capable of meeting those of a male infant; insofar that nothing prevents women from adopting a male child."
This brings Jersey in line with the UK and changes the situation regarding who can adopt, removing the part of the legislation which was biased against the adoption of a female child by a male couple. There was an asymmetry in the assumptions of the law, and it is only right and proper that it be changed. In fact a recent Cambridge University study showed that:
"In-depth research into the experiences of adoptive families headed by same-sex couples suggests that children adopted by gay or lesbian couples are just as likely to thrive as those adopted by heterosexual couples. It also reveals that new families cope just as well as traditional families with the big challenges that come with taking on children who have had a poor start in life. "
This might however court some unpopularity in various quarters because of religious reasons, and it will be interesting to see if religious bias surfaces in the debate or whether the proposition gets implemented as a matter of routine. There was, after all, considerable disquiet among religious adoption agencies in the UK. Notably around 2007, Catholic Church bid to be exempt from UK laws on adoption by gay couples, and leading members of the Church of England weighed in on their side

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