Guernsey Press

Routine, rows and rumours

THE last quarter of the year sees States meetings coming around thick and fast.

‘One has to admire the tenacity of Deputies Vermeulen and Dyke,’ says Deputy St Pier, for sticking to their manifestos with their amendment to Economic Development’s policy letter on the airport runway. (32559055)

The routine statements this time are due from the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure and the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture.

E&I have managed to avoid much media and public criticism this term, in stark contrast to their predecessors. They have navigated their policy letters through the States of Deliberation with skill and care, to the irritation of some of their natural political opponents. However, their decision to review the processes and costs for major road closures, which has, for now, ensured there will be no motor rally in 2024, is a chink in their armour that will likely be exploited as they can be expected to come under pressure for that decision.

ESC, similarly, can be expected to be questioned on progress in re-opening Herm School. We are now three weeks into a four- to six-week period indicated during debate as being needed to do so, without any clear timeline for the re-opening. The president, Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen, has, to her credit, sought to reassure members that her committee is working to honour the directions it has been given by the States, but given the body blows the Assembly has served on her committee’s plans in recent months, there is real nervousness that, somehow, reasons will be found to not re-open the school. Notwithstanding that the school was open and fit for purpose in June, it seems that a whole lot of things now need to happen before it can resume its work.

To some in the Assembly, and many outside, there may be a view that there is some parallel between the E&I story and the ESC one – namely, it will be said, too many busy-body civil servants with roles and job titles which gum up the delivery – or speed of delivery – of frontline services. Those tasked with cutting the cost of government will really need to satisfy themselves that all those roles really are needed. In that regard, ESC is a more obvious target-rich environment, given the significant growth in education central services over the years, than the leaner E&I.

Aside from the appointment of a new non-States’ member, Mark Thompson, to the States’ Trading Supervisory Board, following Stuart Falla’s retirement from the board, and a handful of criminal justice measures, there is no substantive business. If it wasn’t for items deferred from the last meeting, it seems likely that the whole agenda would be done and dusted in a day.

Those deferred items include the Committee for Home Affairs’ policy letter on domestic abuse legislation, which its president, Deputy Rob Prow, was very keen to get through at the last meeting. No amendments have emerged and there has been little comment or opposition, so a relatively short debate and approval seems most likely.

Deputies Vermeulen and Dyke’s amendment to the Committee for Economic Development’s policy letter on the Guernsey airport runway will likely trigger a more irritable debate, not least because Deputy Vermeulen is going up against his own irascible president, Deputy Neil Inder. Whether you agree with them or not, one has to admire the tenacity of Deputies Vermeulen and Dyke, who really have stuck to the manifestos on which they were elected, despite the rest of the Guernsey Party abandoning many of their commitments and, in the end, the party itself.

For some, the barrier to considering an extension to the runway was not the cost or economic considerations, which can be argued back and forth depending on the assumptions used, but rather practical constraints. It just never seemed politically deliverable that the runway could be extended beyond its current boundaries with all the opposition that would have brought. The attraction of Deputy Vermeulen’s solution is his promising to deliver the extension within the existing boundary fence by using EMAS, a new aircraft arrestor technology. It’s a proposal that everyone, including I suspect Deputy Vermeulen, expects to fail in the current political climate in the current Assembly, but it will not be the last debate on the matter.

There is a final matter that has slipped onto the agenda. That is to debate and note the findings of a Privileges Panel, set up under the States’ Members’ Code of Conduct, to consider whether or not I had abused my statutory right to parliamentary privilege when I named an individual in the States in a debate April 2022.

The panel found I had not abused parliamentary privilege.

This is the first time this process has ever been used, so there is no precedent to draw on as to how long the debate might take. The code of conduct processes are akin to those which set deputies’ pay. Members may not like either the process or the outcome, but most are reluctant to interfere with the recommendations that emerge from them.

This played out to the detriment of Deputy Le Tissier earlier in the term, when his code of conduct panel recommended his suspension for a year, which the Assembly ultimately accepted. A proposition ‘to note’ is, under States’ rules, to neither affirm nor reject, which means, in a sense, it doesn’t matter how individuals choose to vote.

But the proposition could be amended, and rumours have been swirling, from well before I was even formally notified of the complaint or the Privileges Panel started its work, that some members were determined to use the process to get me out of the States.

If they do move to do so, the week could yet be longer and more interesting than a quick glance at the agenda might suggest.