Concerns that the rule book, binding politicians, is not being applied consistently and is being abused have been raised to the States Assembly & Constitution Committee.
The Rules of Procedure sets out States members’ functions as the law-making body of the Bailiwick, and details the duties, constitution, and interactions of government departments.
Deputy Sam Haskins attended the SACC meeting last week to pose suggestions to committee on gaps in the rules, and issues that have arisen generally for politicians because of them in this political term.
“It is essential for the rules of procedure to evolve and adapt to the changing needs and expectations of both the deputies and the public,” he told Express.
“By addressing any shortcomings in the current rules, we can create an environment that encourages robust debate, inclusivity, and the ability to effectively serve the interests of our community."
Pictured: Deputies Haskins represented the concerns of several deputies when he attended the meeting.
“By attending the meeting, I aimed to contribute my insights and suggestions to help improve the efficiency, fairness, democracy, and consistency of the rules of procedure,” Deputy Haskins said.
“The gaps I highlighted in the rules were not solely based on my personal experiences, but also on the collective experiences and feedback I have received from fellow deputies.”
Conversations between politicians had “helped identify areas where the current rules may not adequately address certain situations or may impede the efficient functioning of our legislative process.
“It is important to note that my actions were guided by a genuine concern/interest for the welfare of the legislative body as a whole. I have been in communication with several deputies who share similar concerns and have expressed a desire for more efficient, fair, democratic, and consistent rules.
“My efforts can be seen as a representation of these general concerns among various deputies.”
Pictured: Guernsey's parliament is bound by a rule book known as the Rules of Procedure.
Deputy Haskins raised several instances in which it was felt that the Rules were being abused.
One was the requirement for deputies laying an amendment to set out the financial implications of their proposed change to the law. Deputy Haskins argued this calculation should be submitted by the committee which will bear the costs, rather than those proposing the change.
Deputy Meerveld said changes to that were being considered as part of wider changes to Rule 4 – that requires government business to include information on the political, legal, and financial consultation undertaken - which he said “can become a checklist with no real meaning”.
Politicians can ask urgent questions at short notice in States meetings, which are lodged through Rule 12. Deputy Haskins queried whether there should be more stringent controls on requiring that any information sought should not already be in the public domain, as he feared sometimes questions can slip through that have already been reasonably answered.
A parliamentary official advised that questions are accepted at the discretion of the Bailiff or other Presiding Officer of the States of the day, and that committee Presidents who respond to the questions can make the argument they are not valid.
Pictured: The Presiding Officer of the States - usually the Bailiff - has leeway to permit questions, speeches and procedural motions in the Assembly.
Perceived inconsistencies in the Presiding Officer applying the rules at their discretion was additionally raised by Deputy Haskins who feared this can unduly affect the length of question time following Presidents’ update statements.
Deputy Haskins also suggested there was sometimes not sufficient time for deputies to invoke a rule in the Assembly, which needs to be done prior to the Presiding Officer calling another individual to begin a speech. He asked if a formal mechanism could be inserted to allow more time to lay a spontaneous motion.
But Deputy Lester Queripel, Vice-President of SACC, said any individual concerned by this “just needs to be quicker… you don’t need to wait to be called to invoke a rule”.
Deputy Haskins asked if dedicated breaks could be introduced to allow politicians the chance to exit the chamber without missing debate.
Deputy Meerveld confirmed that formal breaks in the middle of States meetings, both in the morning and afternoon sessions, would be included in proposals to be submitted this political term.
Pictured: Issues were cited relating to the new electronic parliamentary voting system.
Rule 26(9) relates to challenging the accuracy of a vote made through the new simultaneous voting system. A recount can be called on the basis that the technology may have failed to log a vote correctly.
The rule was triggered during the landmark tax review debate in February, where deputies appealed for a recount to take place after one of the tax and spend options – put forward by Deputies Soulsby and St Pier – came out tied 20 to 20. After the recount the tally remained the same and the proposition lost since it had no majority.
Deputy Meerveld said a rule change to that end was being investigated by the committee which would only include oral votes since the new digital system had been proved effective and was “trusted”.
But there have been instances of the technology not working correctly, Deputy Haskins said, citing a few examples of deputies either being locked out of the voting system, or “lag” preventing a vote in the specified time.
Deputy Neil Inder was recently unable to vote due to a related issue with his computer and reportedly appealed to SACC to lodge a complaint against the Bailiff for not allowing him to vote.
The rules state that if an individual’s computer is not working, they can submit their vote orally.
It was noted in last week’s meeting that while Deputy Inder was inadvertently locked out of the voting system, he was not in his seat at the time the vote was called in the Assembly.
An official agreed that instance was a genuine technological fault which the voting systems could accommodate but the States’ rule book couldn’t.
Deputy Haskins added that he was grateful for the Committee hearing out his suggestions.
“I would highlight what Deputy Simon Fairclough said to me at the end of the meeting which I believe was ‘thank you for your interest and suggestions - I wish more members showed as much interest and involvement as you.’
“The meeting was testament that SACC is willing to listen to fellow deputies, and I would encourage all colleagues to also share any feedback/suggestions on the rules of procedure they have.”
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