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.”

Briefing note 2

The briefing note below is the second of a series which is intended to be a short summary which will enable 2020 Association members to be aware, in advance, of significant business scheduled for debate at forthcoming States Meetings.

Future States Business brief (2) – Meeting of February 27th.

There is probably only one matter of States Business scheduled for the 27th February meeting which is likely to give any food for thought to members, as mentioned at the end of this piece.

The States will first proceed to elect from among their own, replacements for former Deputy McKinley to the Transport Licensing Authority and for Deputy Lester Queripel (who has resigned) to the Development and Planning Authority. It is to be hoped that people with common sense will be elected, especially to the latter. Lobby your Deputy if you have any ideas.

Following this, some 23 proposed Ordinances/Orders/Regulations will be laid before the States. Whilst the States can, in theory, annul these, they have already been debated in the States at an earlier stage and are simply up for approval. Their subjects are varied. For those who are interested, there are ten relating to the imposition of 25 mph speed limits on various sections of road (Members will recall the debate about these last summer, when it transpired that the road signs had already been ordered in advance of public consultation – either presumptuousness or lack of common sense here); there are five dealing with fees – amending (raising) the fees chargeable for the registration of public documents, for marriages, for fire services, or boarding permits, and the levies on the financial services industry; there are three relating to the supply and purchase of medical appliances; there are two aimed at ensuring that companies which claim the benefit of being subject to income tax in Guernsey actually perform economic activity of substance here. One brings in the new schedule of social security benefits, one amends the list of notifiable animal diseases and one puts the presently operating system of Legal Aid on to a statutory footing. There seems to be nothing which demands particular comment, and our understanding is that, except in unusual and exceptional circumstances, there will be no further debate and they will all, in practice, simply be voted through.

There are six items set down for the States to discuss as potential legislation either for approval or as a matter of policy. Most are unlikely to be contentions. Of the two for approval, the first makes provision for an assumption that where an entity uses a computer program to make contracts, there is a prima facie presumption that it intends this to be legally binding. The second sets up a system for clarifying and regularising the situation where there has been a breach of planning control (ie, use of real property in contravention of planning permission) but this has continued for so long that the authority would now be out of time for enforcement by serving a compliance notice. The proposed Law would enable a landowner to apply for a “certificate of lawful use” in that situation, rather than remain in a state of uncertainty until any actual dispute arose. This is a useful procedure, long established in the UK where it works well, and obviously sensible to adopt in Guernsey.

As to the four policy items, two are of narrow scope, one being a provision to enable the “Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank” – an international development organisation – to operate in Guernsey, and the other providing the mechanism for Alderney to levy its own TRP, and use it for its own purposes, as part of a general devolution of certain financial operations to Alderney, previously agreed. The third provides for amendment of the Marriage Law to simplify the process for obtaining a marriage licence (whilst retaining the necessary minimum identification formalities to protect against forced, sham or illegal marriages) and to relax the present somewhat archaic restrictions on wedding venues, times, and forms of ceremony, so as to enable couples to marry in such way as they would wish. The proposed changes, proposed after and largely in accordance with extensive consultations, appear to be very appropriate for modern times and to contain nothing which should be contentious.

The fourth policy item is the only matter which members may like to reflect upon. It is a policy proposal to set up an overarching Independent Statutory Commission to regulate the provision of all medical and social care services in Guernsey. The aspiration is stated to be to make Guernsey a “world leader” in terms of regulating health care. As a Commission regulating the entire spectrum of health and care services, including complimentary, cosmetic, mental health and suchlike would require an army of specialists who would obviously be grossly underemployed for a population one thousandth the size (for example) of the UK, it is proposed that the Commission comprise a team of core officers, with the power to engage specialist consultants for assistance in particular areas as and when required. There is also an aspiration to co-operate with Jersey, to help reduce costs. The first year set up cost is estimated – but we all know what that means, and the reporter was instructed to try to constrain the costs of any recommendations – at £368,000 (including £274,000 in staff costs), which it is said would reduce to £194,000, after deducting the estimated cost of current regulatory processes and income from current regulatory fees. Whilst admitting that the running costs of such a system, once established are unclear, it is suggested that these would involve a States grant of £184,000 per annum – but that is on the assumption that the functions and costs of the Commission would be shared with Jersey. The likelihood of this is not discussed.

This is the item on which members may care to reflect. Regulation, and the creation of regulators, is expensive. It incurs large costs in the shape of salaries for the bureaucrats who form its office and secretariat. It also costs the operators who are obliged to pay fees and spend effort dealing with the regulators rather than conducting their work, and such costs have to be passed on. A “world leading” system such as can be constructed and devised with tolerable efficiency for a large economy of diverse people the vast majority of whom are strangers to each other may be a commendable abstract aspiration, but in the context of a small community, the question of the costs, direct and indirect, of a blanket bureaucratic regulatory structure, relative the actual benefits ever likely to be achieved in reality, must surely come into question. The report appears to admit that the rather broad brush and light touch system operating in Guernsey at present makes it difficult to see both where excellent services are in fact provided as well as where, and even whether, there are significant shortcomings. Is there really a case for setting up such a bureaucratic institution for reasons of substance, rather than simply for the sake of form and appearances? What robust evidence is there that the creation of another general bureaucracy, rather than taking an incremental approach where deficiencies can really be seen, would, in fact, deliver any real and tangible benefits for islanders? This whole issue perhaps raises the wider question of how far Guernsey should keep on adopting a policy of doing what the UK does, because we “ought” to, rather than thinking for ourselves – an issue to debate with your Deputy?

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

© 2019 – The 2020 Association

Briefing note 1

The briefing note below is the first of a series which is intended to be a short summary which will enable 2020 Association members to be aware, in advance, of significant business scheduled for debate at forthcoming States Meetings. If thought appropriate, the Association will canvas members’ views, probably in answer to particular questions. However, member responses or comments will be welcome on any basis.

Future States Business brief (1) – Meeting of 30 January 2019.

Apart from further debate on the HMIC report on Guernsey’s Police and Border Agency, adjourned from the December States meeting, there are only two matters of substance scheduled for consideration at the next States Meeting on 30th January 2019.

Neither is felt to require canvassing of 2020 membership views. The first is a proposed direction to various States Departments to investigate and report (mostly by the end of 2019) on the causes, and the means of potentially alleviating, In-work Poverty in Guernsey. This can scarcely be controversial, although our members might like to consider the definitions of “poverty” which are frequently used in debate and discussion in this area.

The second is a proposal for the refurbishment of the Alderney Airport runway. The present tarmac runway was previously resurfaced in 1999 on the basis of a 12 – 15 year lifespan but has been patch repaired ever since, to the point where this is regarded as no longer viable. The recommendation is to pursue “Option 3” which, in essence, involves resurfacing and slightly widening the existing runway and improving landing lights, and doing so in a way which will not preclude the possibility of also lengthening the runway at a later time. Pursuant to an expert report which was commissioned, this option is preferred as against the possibility of also proceeding to lengthen the tarmac runway (either immediately, or as a two phase project) so as to be able to accommodate larger aircraft. The report concludes, broadly, that such a project is not economically justified with Alderney’s current population and tourist levels. The conclusions appear to be non-controversial, and indeed relatively obvious, and it is again not felt that there is any need to seek 2020 membership views on this topic.

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

(Whilst emailed to our members on the 04/01/19, this note was inadvertently omitted from the website at the time.)

© 2019 – The 2020 Association