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A race against time

Peter Roffey | Published:

WHAT do the following things have in common?

(Picture by TWStock/Shutterstock)

1. A new education law.

2. Reforms to the abortion law.

3. A secondary pension scheme.

4. Drug funding.

5. How to fund social care.

6. A sports strategy.

7. A high level fiscal strategy.

8. How to preserve Guernsey French.

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9. An energy strategy – incorporating hydrocarbons.

10. Guernsey’s response to climate change.

11. A review of the population control regime.

12. Discrimination legislation.

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13. A justice policy.

14. A root and branch review of connectivity and how – if possible –to improve it.

15. College funding.

16. A revision of the transport [traffic] strategy.

17. Capacity Legislation

18. Updating Guernsey’s laws on sexual offences

19. A few requetes waving ‘vote for me’ at the electorate.

20. A hand over to the next States Assembly.

You’ve guessed it – these 20 items are just a selection of those due to come before the current States in the first few months of next year.

How will we get through them all?

To be honest, I am really not sure.

It was ever thus. Every Assembly has a last-minute rush to get policies, long in the gestation, before the States before a change of crew which could lead to them being delayed or even ditched.

It does seem to be getting more extreme though. The States of 2012-16 had a heck of a gallop through business in their dying months and this assembly looks like it is going to trump them. After a mega four-day budget debate we had the luxury of relatively light meetings in November and December, but the agendas for Jan-May look truly daunting.

So back to my question. How are we going to get through it all?

Sadly I think the answer is probably ‘with difficulty’.

Of course the ideal solution would be for members to show restraint, only speak when they really have to, strive to be concise, and never simply repeat what someone else has just said. The chances of that in the run-up to an election, with many members desperate to be noticed? Close to zero.

Another possibility, albeit a tiring one which would threaten the quality of debate, would be to allocate much more time to States meetings. This could be done in two ways.

Firstly, instead of starting on Wednesdays, we could start on Tuesdays or even Mondays. One downside of this approach is that it would starve committees of dates when they could meet. Another is that members would definitely be jaded at the end of five full days of debate. The States are not like Westminster where members only come in for the bits they are interested in.

Secondly, we could extend our days. For example we could start earlier than 9.30am but if we are going to do that it is only fair to decide to do so well in advance to give fair warning to younger members with childcare responsibilities. Also if we are going to start earlier I hope we go the whole hog and kick off at 8.30 not 9. What is the point in simply adding to the rush hour and sitting in the traffic for 30 minutes when we could be usefully employed?

Another possibility is clipping 30 minutes off our long lunch breaks. I know I have suggested that a couple of times before and been given a bloody nose by other members who don’t like the idea and – apparently – all have lots of emergency committee meetings at lunch time. Fair enough. I know when I am beaten and will give up on suggesting a permanent shortening of our tiffin time. But surely we could scrape through with a one-and-a-half-hour lunch break just for a few months?

Then of course we could finish at 6pm instead of 5.30, which once again would probably only mean getting home 15 minutes later than usual as the traffic would be far lighter. It might, though, infuriate Channel Television as it would really mess up their reporting of the day’s events in the States.

Then the more radical question is whether we should follow Jersey’s example and limit the duration of speeches. Maybe 10 minutes maximum to allow business to be concluded on time?

In some ways that would be perverse. After nearly four years of allowing members to ramble on forever on minor items such as bonfires we start to muzzle them once the States gets onto the really big stuff. On the other hand, maybe it is the only way we could complete debate on this ludicrously oversized agenda.

If it happened, then I would undoubtedly be one of those frustrated by the restriction. I like to make the odd extended speech on matters I care very much about. For example a 10-minute limit on my contribution to the drug funding debate next month would be very frustrating. That said, if the whole States agreed to be bound by such a discipline I have no doubt I would find a way to say most of what I wanted to in the time permitted.

Of course it would be deeply unfair. Deputy A would deliver nine-minute speeches on just about every item to come before the States, while Deputy B who hardly ever spoke would be cut off at the knee for trying to speak for 12 minutes on the one item on which he/she felt passionately. Then again, nobody said life had to be fair.

Before signing off, I should flag up that this will be my last ‘Roffey Writes’ for the time being, although hopefully not forever. The reason is simple. I am considering standing for re-election next year and if I do end up doing so then it would seem unfair to have the exposure of a column in the Guernsey Press every two weeks in the run-up to the election.

That would be true in any election but doubly so in an island-wide vote where I suspect name recognition will be more important than ever.

I will miss sharing my views with those interested enough to read them and I really do thank those engaged enough to reciprocate by sharing their views with me in turn.

Goodbye for now.

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