Briefing note 3

The briefing note below is the third of the series giving a summary of business scheduled for debate at future States Meetings, to enable 2020 Association Members to be aware, in advance, of significant matters. There is some comment which Members may wish to reflect on. It is not thought that there is any matter upon which Members’ views should be surveyed on this occasion, but, as always, Members’ comments are welcome.

Future States Business brief (3) – Meeting of 27 March 2019

There are only four matters scheduled for discussion at the March States Meeting which merit particular note or comment.

The first is the laying before the States (effectively for rubber stamp ratification) of various Orders concerning matters to do with motor vehicle traffic. These were debated by the States in December, and they concern contingency plans for attempting to minimise any potential problems caused by Brexit with regard to Guernsey drivers either taking vehicles abroad or simply driving abroad. They will enable such matters as the future granting of International Driving Permits to Guernsey drivers, registration of professional driving instructors, standards for traffic circulation regulation (ie, a Highway Code), seat belt requirements, and, and perhaps of most noteworthy impact, a regulatory system of mandatory safety testing and certification of vehicles and trailers. All this is to comply, with the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic 1968, and to enable this Convention to be applied, therefore, to Guernsey, and give corresponding international recognitions in certain countries.

These measures have been perhaps somewhat hurriedly introduced as a perceived “fail safe” with regard to the uncertainties created by Brexit. However, the general implications of acceptance of yet more regulation do bear thinking about, in general. Many of these regulations, particularly those regarding vehicle testing, have been introduced under the virtuous aim of promoting road safety, and raising and maintaining standards, which is no doubt very worthwhile in large countries, mainly with land borders and much international traffic. However, the introduction of a blanket periodical vehicle testing system is yet another matter of regulation and consequent expense – to the taxpayer in the devising and implementing of the system, and to the individual vehicle owner, in the test fees which will then be mandatorily incurred, in addition to general vehicle servicing costs. Carrying out the tests was known to provide a ‘nice little earner’ for garages when introduced into the UK, with the fees simply increasing the expenses of motoring, quite apart from the need to regulate the testers.

It is already a criminal offence in Guernsey to allow an unroadworthy vehicle on the road, and the authorities do carry out random checks. Whether there is any evidence of death, injury or damage being caused to any significant degree by unroadworthy vehicles in Guernsey does not appear to have been considered (although perhaps owing to lack of time). A close consideration of whether it is actually merited, on balance, that the whole of the driving populace of Guernsey must accept and pay for a general system of motor vehicle testing, as against the possible inconvenience or difficulty for the number of Guernsey drivers taking vehicles abroad in obtaining any necessary certification to do so, is beyond the scope of this briefing note. The general point, however, is that it behoves the States to consider closely whether introducing intrusive and expensive regulation of yet another aspect of everyday life actually delivers worthwhile benefits, rather than simply to take the easy course (in the modern context of ever more officious government) of agreeing to introduce it.

The second major item of proposed legislation is that required to authorise proceeding with the first phase of the proposed modernisation plan for the Princess Elizabeth Hospital. This will, of course, incur significant capital expenditure, but it appears to be generally recognised that the community would both need and wish to have a modernised hospital, and no further comment is therefore required.

The third item of interest is a proposal to introduce law to amend the principles of awarding damages for personal injury. Where persons suffer extreme physical injury and are entitled to damages which may represent major future loss of earnings and care costs for life, the present law in Guernsey is that these must be assessed and paid as a single lump sum. The proposal is, firstly, to correct (to make more realistic) judicial authority as to the appropriate rate of discount to be applied to the figures to allow for the benefits of this sum being paid in advance, and, second, to authorise that, in appropriate cases, such an award of damages can be ordered to be made by periodic payments, at the time they are required in the future, thus avoiding having to “guesstimate” future uncertainties such as the length of the person’s life, and future rates of inflation. Again, this is all non-controversial, and as it of financial assistance to liability insurers, its introduction will assist in keeping down insurance premiums.

The fourth major item is one of constitutional significance, but is again, scarcely controversial. The fact that a certain group of MPs in the UK have sought to introduce legislation into the UK parliament to force the Crown Dependencies (including, therefore, Guernsey) to introduce legislation to require a fully public register of the beneficial ownership of Guernsey registered companies even if they do not wish to do so, has highlighted the constitutional issue of whether the UK has power to legislate for the Crown Dependencies without their consent. The Guernsey position, backed by long established convention, is that Westminster cannot do so, and that it is the approval of Guernsey itself (signified by registration in Guernsey of the relevant UK enactment) which gives force to any such legislation in Guernsey. Hitherto there has been no formal process with regard to the decision whether or not any such legislation should be registered in Guernsey. It is therefore proposed to remove any uncertainty created by this omission, and to enact a Law, similar to one already enacted in Jersey, to provide expressly for the question of proposed registration of any legislation of the UK parliament which purports to affect Guernsey to be brought before the States of Deliberation for debate, and to decide whether or not to give consent to its being brought into Guernsey law by registration. This is to be welcomed.

The remaining legislative and policy items which will be considered by the States are not matters of particular note or controversy. For completeness, they relate to some very minor amendments to social security benefit entitlements, and to the treatment of children from Alderney and Sark in relation to the Population Management Laws.

Information regarding future States Business can be found on www.gov.gg under “Search States Meetings Information.”