Island Wide Voting – is it all over?

Lotto-results-LIVESo we have Island Wide Voting (IWV) – 6,017 (52.48%) people out of the 14,370 who voted yesterday have chosen our new system of electing Deputies. Should we respect the vote?  Absolutely!  Should we consider what it means?  Yes – I think we have a duty to do so and now’s the time.

Whilst IWV is a quantum shift from the way we have chosen our elected representatives in the past, will it have the dynamic effect that the proponents hope for?  A better calibre of Deputy was one claim – personally I don’t think IWV will make a jot of difference with the quality of candidate or, indeed, who is chosen but improving the way we support all candidates and changing the way the government works will.

We need to encourage a wide diversity of candidates not only to stand as Deputy but to put themselves forward for all roles in public life – and let’s start now by ensuring our adverts for the roles are more welcoming.  We must ensure that the way in which we support candidates – whatever their background, age, gender etc – is tailored to their needs and equally given.  At elections, we need to make sure it is fair for both newbies and those who re-stand for election to promote diversity and better decision making as a result.

We also need to consider how we can make IWV a success.  Before I was elected, I was keen to promote Island Wide Voting as I felt it would inspire more people to get involved in Guernsey politics.  I wrote a paper on all the ways that the electoral process could help such as late closing of the electoral roll, electronic voting, speed hustings, multi night hustings and a voting slip similar to the National Lottery.  Quite a few of those changes have been made and no doubt more ideas will be developed.

However, the biggest question that must be addressed is does IWV go far enough?  Many are disillusioned with the way Guernsey’s government works – or as some say- not work!  I personally feel that the way in which policies are developed and then legislation produced is a process that could do with a complete overhaul.  I believe we need a more streamline process in Guernsey in the form of executive government.  We need to alter the way in which a proposal can be changed so drastically in a few hours of debate in the Assembly from the well-researched proposals which results in a complete mish mash and inevitable procrastination.  We need to consider again how many Deputies are required and how roles can be designed to ensure the people of Guernsey get the most their elected representatives.

Some may say we’ve looked at that several years ago but then we didn’t have IWV.  Also, I felt that executive government was dismissed out of hand so very easily in that first Policy Letter and so should be revisited.  We are looking at an overhaul of the civil service, change because of Brexit and serious world issues such as climate change.   For all of that, we need a government fit for purpose able to face the challenges in the decades to come.  A review of our system is a must.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambitious Tourism

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On Wednesday last week, the Committee for Economic Development held its annual Tourism Seminar ably presented by Visit Guernsey.  As part of that seminar, I gave a short speech which I hoped would provoke discussion and, even better,  inspire action to support all year round attractions in Guernsey.

Unbeknownst to me when I wrote my speech, the speakers at the IOD Conference the following day called for a more ambitious approach by government.  In response to that and as the Tourism Seminar was, unfortunately in my view, not open to the media but only invited guests, my speech is below so that others may discuss and contribute as to how we can be ambitious for the tourism sector.

“When I was asked to be tourism lead for Economic Development, I grabbed the chance to being part of a team which will create a Tourism Strategy to support the industry and show the public just how important tourism was both to government and to the Bailiwick. I also looked forward to participating in this annual event which I can see is clearly a highlight just by looking at the number of you who have turned up today.

However, no matter how interesting the speakers are today, this event should not just be about turning up and listening – it is about us buying into the idea that tourism in the Bailiwick can, and will be, a thriving industry. How we can turn the numbers watching the Film into visitors? How can we get people to talk about the natural beauty of the Bailiwick, our history and our people? Those Great Encounters we heard about earlier. I believe today is about how all of us here today plan to make tourism a success story and, to that end, I am sure the workshop later will prove very worthwhile.

We have heard from Visit Guernsey and how they have been working hard to market what Guernsey has to offer the tourist. The new website will be an excellent window into what we offer. So much has been done in the wake of the Film it still amazes me I ever doubted our ability to take advantage of this unique opportunity and tell the world about the Island that inspired the film. I particularly like the Occupation Trail we heard about and the idea of a passport – I wonder where they got that idea from?

However, our success must not solely rely on that work – it depends on the extent of the participation of all of us. Everyone can make a difference.

We have heard about the need for good air and sea links and how we are working on that with gusto because, of course, it is not just important for tourism but for everyone. We are also told we need visitor accommodation that meets the higher expectations of the traveller of today. Many of you have done your bit, improving your hotels, guest houses and self-catering units and even other visitor markets such as the popular AirBnB visitor. But more can be done and should be done.

We also need exciting visitor attractions and it is my thoughts, my ideas on that I wanted to share with you today.

We know that we are usually almost full during the summer months but that, during the rest of the year, we have rooms sitting empty awaiting visitors. But, next year, if all those anticipated travellers try to book during the summer and can’t, what will attract them to look at alternative dates during the shoulder months or, goodness me, even during January?

To do that, to be a 365 destination, we need high quality attractions preferably all year round which offer indoor and outdoor activities with a real connection with our Island. And not just super offerings like Oatlands – others can benefit us all.

With that I mind, rather than just talking about what we need, I thought I’d see if I could come up with something – a project, a vision – that could provide that special experience but one for year round visitors. Something which combined fun for the family with a world-wide hook. Maybe even an early entry for the Ideathon we also heard about earlier.

One such attraction in the UK already in existence immediately sprang to mind. A place which, in 1995, was just a twinkle in the eye of its creator. A place which ended up giving a disused piece of land a new purpose and, by combining education and research, created a year-round visitor attraction known throughout the world.

I am of course talking about the Eden Project in Cornwall which was created by Tim Smit and which houses the largest rainforest in captivity, stunning plants and exhibitions which serve as a backdrop to striking contemporary gardens, summer concerts and exciting year-round family events.

So why not here on Guernsey? Why not our very own Eden Project or Garden of Guernsey?

We have the land. There is 80.6 hectares of redundant glasshouse sites – land which under policy OC7 can be turned into tourist attractions. The policy says that proposals to develop redundant glasshouse sites will be supported where the proposal is for outdoor formal recreation or informal leisure and recreation – subject of course to compliance with all relevant policies of the Island Development Plan. Similarly, Policy OC9 allows new indoor formal recreation development.

The States’ approved economic strategy sets out the intent to attract entrepreneurs to Guernsey, to encourage medtech firms to undertake research here and for groups to put on events which attract visitors year on year. Whilst we don’t have bags of money to spare, we do have a nimble, accessible government willing to listen to new ideas. I have also spoken to businesses who are willing to get involved in a public private partnership to promote tourism to the Bailiwick.

Long may we have the natural beauty of this Island but we also need a visitor attraction which offers activities – music festivals, art exhibitions, a marriage venue, ice skating rinks and maybe even a big screen! We need a creator like Tim Smit and others who have an idea and want to get business, government and the people of Guernsey together to create a world renowned venue worth visiting any time of year. One that will benefit all of us both residents, businesses and tourists alike.

You may say it is a dream – even a pipe dream – but I have started by asking what is required for Guernsey to become part of Eden Project International and we shall see what happens next ….

Dreams have to start somewhere – why not here in Guernsey? Let’s be inspired by the Islands we call home.”

Open Planning Meetings – Why Bother?

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When I wrote my blog last Christmas about the Planners* I was very aware of the professionalism they showed and their need to follow their Code of Conduct**.  I was also aware that there was a lack of appreciation by some members of the public of the work they do and the way in which they do it.

However, the recent articles and Comment in the Guernsey Press last week was not an attack on their work but an attack on the way in which the political members of the Development & Planning Authority (D&PA) undertake their responsibilities. It is this I wish to address.  I should add that, whilst the process I  describe is factual, where I express any views these are mine and not that of the D&PA as a whole.

Applications for development are the responsibility of the political members of the D&PA but, at the beginning of this term in 2016, we agreed that the majority of decisions should be delegated to the Planning Service with certain exceptions. However, if an application fits the publicised criteria, then it goes instead to an Open Planning Meeting (OPM). The criteria is as follows:

  • A departure from the Authority’s established policies;
  • The proposal appears to raise particularly contentious or sensitive issues;
  • A Committee Member has requested formal consideration by the Authority;
  • Where the application is by a Committee member or Senior Officer advising the Committee;
  • An appeal to the Planning Tribunal, or other legal challenge, appears likely following determination of the application, service of the Notice or making of the Order.

It must be remembered that an OPM is not a means of appeal. The Planning Panel is the means of appeal; the D&PA is only the first line decision maker. When we decide to hold an OPM, we conduct it in accordance with guidance not regulations and these our President can and does vary from time to time.

The OPM is an even handed manner to give a chance to both applicants and respondents to give us their views on the application. It is the same for both representors and applicants – four minutes each, saying only what they had written in their  representations and with no repetition of what another has said.  Any party can engage architects and lawyers and, indeed, some respondents have done so.

It must also be remembered that the Planning Service is there to give impartial advice on the planning regime in accordance with their Code of Conduct. They will explain to anyone what the legislation says in any particular circumstance but cannot advise on whether a proposal for development will be successful or not.

If an application, when originally submitted, fits the criteria for an OPM but it is subsequently amended, re-publicised and receives fewer representations which raise concerns, we must consider if we feel an OPM is still appropriate.

So specifically with regard to the proposed development at the Rue De Cobo, we considered that the application, which had been revised and fully publicised, did not meet the OPM criteria. Not only that, far from abdicating our responsibility for the decision, we as a Committee reviewed the revised application and made a conscious decision to delegate authority to the professional planners to decide if the application complied with planning policies.

It seems to have also been forgotten that that process of calling for the views of neighbours, politicians and the parish Douzaine was successful in this case. Changes were made to the application and – OK it was not entirely to everyone’s  satisfaction – but it went some way towards it. We had 26 people object to the original application but only 7 objected to the revised plans, none of whom were Deputies.

Should the lack of people objecting to the revised plans be interpreted as acceptance or fatigue? But why shouldn’t the D&PA take it as acceptance? Are we mind readers? And why, when it is so simple to make a further representation, should we take it as fatigue? If you consider that, in this instance, specific letters were sent to all the 26 respondents notifying them of the revised application and all they needed to do, if they wished to make a further objection, was to e-mail planning@gov.gg providing their concerns*** and a request to speak at an OPM if one is to be held – how easy is that?

The D&PA must and does consider every application on its merits whether it is the first or the tenth iteration and any respondents should do so too. The D&PA cannot be expected to take silence as an indication of continued objections especially when we consider that those objections, which can be taken into account in the planning context, have been catered for in the changes to an application.

The Rue De Cobo revised plans fitted the requirements of the policies of household development. No Deputies objected. Only the Douzaine, who are fully aware of the way the planning regime works, and 6 other respondents raised objections to the new plans but it was felt that they did not raise any substantial objection in relation to the material considerations which might justify refusal of the application. Whilst the respondents did not have an opportunity to have their say in an open forum, they would not have been able to add anything further than what they said in their original letters. As there was nothing in their original letters which gave rise to a concern over the revised plans, the application just did not fit the OPM criteria.

Whilst some may say that ‘the proposal appears to raise particularly contentious or sensitive issues’, those issues must be planning related. The original proposal certainly did raise such issues but the second did not.  The proposal was altered because of the views of those 26 respondents resulting in an application which was acceptable in planning terms and approved.

The reason this recent decision by the political members of the D&PA has become news worthy is not because the approved application was contentious but because those who objected to the previous planning application were not conversant with the planning process. All respondents, whether or not Deputies, could and should read the information on gov.gg and/or talk to the Planning Service and understand how planning applications are decided. The applicants do, some respondents do and so should Deputies who wish to object to plans. With all these opportunities, it should provide answers to all the questions on the planning process applicants and respondents need to know. If it does not then please just e-mail us and tell us what else we can do.

All that said, I have often voiced the concern that we are raising false expectations by holding OPMs; giving the impression that there is something to be gained by having a planning application being heard by politicians. It must be remembered that the OPMs are not a means by which the public can air grievances believing they will make a difference to the outcome. Those grievances should not make a difference if they are nothing to do with the planning regime. Even though elected individuals are responsible at OPMs for making quasi-judicial decisions, the myth that their emotions are engaged should be dispelled. Because, if our emotions were engaged overriding planning law, we are in the wrong and should not be making planning decisions especially as, if the decision we make deviates from the legislation, it can be appealed in exactly the same way as can a decision from the Planners.

So, when a decision is borderline, an OPM being held may be beneficial so that politicians can apply a subjective view but, if it is a clear cut case of being either in accordance with the planning policies or not, why  take it to an OPM? If we did, it would raise a false expectation that we will make a decision that does not comply with those same policies.

These policies, which include the Island Development Plan, the Supplementary Guidance, the Development Frameworks and, together with pre-application advice, have resulted in fewer refusals and appeals. Indeed, it has also resulted in fewer cases which need to go before an OPM. We, the politicians on the D&PA, are responsible for the policies as well as providing the democratic accountability for the action of the professionals of the Planning Service and it is these policies which have already shown they are flexible and have saved money.

However, whilst I, personally, question whether politicians should be involved in even border line decisions at OPMs, I do believe that there is a need for appropriate training for any Deputy who has to make quasi-judicial decisions such as those at an OPM.

Last year, I attended a two day course offered to those members of the public who are on our Appeal Panels and Tribunals. It is not offered to Deputies as of right and I believe that it should. It is not cheap and, as usual, it cannot be made compulsory for Deputies to attend but it is a solid grounding to those making such difficult decisions affecting all of us.

So, whilst I prefer politicians to stick to what we were elected to do – making policy – if we are to continue to make quasi-judicial decisions then we should all have the appropriate training to go with it.

 

* Royal Town Planning Institute’s Code of Conduct                                                                     ** https://www.gov.gg/opm                                                                                                      ***Please also include your name and address

 

Sun, Sea and Fun During the 70th year of Alderney Week

DSCF1012.JPGMy summer holiday this year was spent, again, in our Northern Isle soaking up the sun and enjoying the wonderful atmosphere of the 70th anniversary of Alderney Week.  Having taken a 10 minute flight from Guernsey, the fun began with a walk with our suitcases from the airport through St Anne’s to our hotel.  It is so close and the weather was so lovely that it seemed silly to get a cab for a two minute trip down the hill.

That evening we wandered around the town and ended up on the Butes to listen to two excellent bands.  This was followed by a Sunday spent cycling around the Island using electric bikes, rather than the push bikes that we used last year, due to my whiplash injury.  When we were getting them from the shop, I was asked why the recent 25% price reduction was not available in Alderney – something I will follow up.

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The Cavalcade on Monday afternoon was a great occasion with many Myths and Legends celebrated including the lovely Mrs Gollop who was seated in the Connaught’s float.  My personal favourite was “How to Train Your Dragon” which had so much detail and clearly took a lot of hard work.  But then again that could be said about all of the entries both vehicular and on two and four legs!

As is my want, many a conversation was had during the four days – about the Island and its relationship with Guernsey.   As has been the case for several years, the main concern was the cost of the poor air links although praise was given to the new ferry service subsidised by the Alderney States.  With quasi-open skies and the ability to offer a Public Service Obligation for the Alderney – Guernsey route, there is hope there will be opportunities for Alderney.

We also enjoyed the hospitality of James Dent, the Chairman of the Policy and Finance Committee in Alderney, and his wife at their house where we had a long discussion over the relationship between the Islands and how to improve in the lines of communication.  Wednesday saw both James and Graham McKinley, one of the States of Alderney Representatives to the Guernsey States, joined me for a video conference at the Mignot hospital with my colleagues on the Health & Social Care Committee, who were in Guernsey, to talk about common issues.

Due to his recent major operation, I was advised that I should not visit the other States of Alderney Representative, Louis Jean, but I was able to pass on my regards and best wishes to him through his daughter and the many other friends of Louis that I met.

Tuesday evening was a blackDSCF1047 tie event with the wonderful Blowers accompanied by excellent singers at a James Bond themed Casino Night.  It was very different from the Rock the Rock event we attended last year and sitting down and enjoying the music was a great way to end the few days we were able to spend on the wonderful island of Alderney.  Roll on next year!

Assisted Dying – My Speech

After an emotional debate on whether Guernsey should set up a working party to look at the introduction of assisted dying, I thought I would publish the speech I made yesterday in the Assembly.  I do so mainly because we have had so many people e-mail and write to us to whom I haven’t responded, that I thought it only right to set out my position on this most difficult subject.  So for the benefit of those who weren’t able to listen yesterday or for those who did but want to read every word here it is:

“Sir, I have found it difficult to put into words why I did not support this Requete nor do I support Propositions 1 to 4.

I have found it difficult because the more I considered my position the more I believed my reasons for doing so differed from many although yesterday I realised I am certainly not alone.  It was also difficult to be satisfied that I had reached the right decision, at least for me, as we have read and listened to the heart wrenching stories of suffering: none of us would wish anyone to suffer.

For helping me with this decision, I also want to add my thanks to the very many people who have taken the time to e-mail or write to let me know of their views.

Sir, I cannot support the first four propositions for two reasons: firstly because I feel that we should not just have capacity legislation in force; we need to also ensure that it is effective.  A working party set up to consider the test for what is effective does not give me the comfort that the legislation would not be properly tested before bringing in assisted dying.

And secondly, the idea that I and obviously others have found difficult to reconcile.  If those essential safeguards are indeed in place and effective, why are the Requerants arguing that only a few people will be eligible to benefit?

Why delude ourselves that it is fair or reasonable that with the appropriate safeguards that assisted dying should not be available to those who truly want to have autonomy?

But that leads me to why I absolutely cannot agree to go down this path without those safeguards in place.  Why I cannot, yet, grant the people of Guernsey what has been described as this crucial aspect of personal autonomy.  However simple this concept appears, having been involved in ascertaining whether someone has the capacity to make a decision, has this autonomy, I was concerned that the complexities were being dismissed as one those clever draftspeople can overcome.  Whilst, we do have excellent professionals and an approach to legal drafting which provides for simpler Laws than the UK, we still need to understand that the Law will need to be interpreted.

This is a complex area and one I wanted to illustrate in my speech so think how pleased I was to note that late yesterday afternoon, I was sent the May edition of the Mental Capacity Report.  This report is sent to members of the Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners, produced by the barristers practising in England and Wales known as 39 Essex Chambers.  In it was a very interesting article entitled “The relationship between autonomy and adult mental capacity in the law of England and Wales”  How timely.

In it the author considers the underlying relationship between autonomy and mental capacity as discussed in various judgments dealing with this issue.  I have decided to go into the arguments raised to illustrate the complexities of what we are discussing.

The author, Paul Skowron, who is a Research Associate on the Wellcome Trust funded Mental Health and Justice project, working at the York Law School, divides the relationship between mental capacity and autonomy into three types identified by judges.  The first is the gatekeeper type where having mental capacity is treated an overriding reason not to interfere with their wishes, not to interfere with a person’s autonomy.  Another type is the insufficiency type where capacity is not enough to be autonomous. Freedom from coercion and undue influence is also needed.  For example in one case, ‘Mrs L’ had capacity and did not wish to bring proceedings for a non-molestation order against her son. Nevertheless, she was found to be “a vulnerable adult whose autonomy has been compromised by a reason other than mental incapacity” so a wide range of injunctions were made restraining him so Mrs L was found both to have capacity and to lack autonomy.

Lastly, the relationship between mental capacity and autonomy can be described as one of “survival”.  Mr Justice Baker said this was when “personal autonomy survives the onset of incapacity.”  But that is not the end of it and the author goes on in his article to say “it does not mean that everyone, regardless of capacity, is so autonomous that the state should not act against their wishes. It merely holds that some people without the relevant capacity might be so autonomous, and that the issue is decided as part of the best interests decision.”

For example, one factor is ‘the strength and consistency of the views being expressed’.  The author says “Fairly often, people without capacity know what they want, want it for intelligible reasons, or would be utterly distraught if what they wanted was disregarded. By softening the link between autonomy and capacity, the survival type allows these things to be taken into account.”

But Mr Skowron concludes “One of the original aims of the Mental Capacity Act introduced in 2005 in the UK was to simplify the law, but it does not appear to have done so.”  There are a wide range of factors that judges take into account when assessing a person’s autonomy and whilst capacity is relevant so, for example, is coercion.

For those who are interested the full article is available albeit for a fee – not to me I hasten to add.

Sir, I mention this as the debate has focused on freedom of choice, “my life my choice”, – if the decision before us were that straightforward I would find this debate a lot less challenging.  But it is not that simple because it is about competing demands – not just the legalities but practicalities too.

Giving due regard to those demands is the most important aspect of government as we must not allow them to be overshadowed by the emotions of the argument.  My feelings of empathy may pull me one way but my conscience says another.

As can be seen from the various Propositions before us, we are on a very long journey.  We have already agreed upon most of the stages of that journey as it will involve the introduction of an effective Capacity Law, non-discrimination and equality legislation for disabled islanders or preferably an Equality Law, the extension of international conventions and an even better palliative care service than we have now.

But what I find is unacceptable from a purely practical point of view is that we are being asked to combine these aims with that of enabling one person to assist another to die.  As I have said it is not the outcome that I have issue with but that these other most essential steps could be in anyway thwarted by association.

I believe there is a real risk of that happening because of the nature of the safeguards required because of the limited number of people to whom the right of assisted dying is being proposed to be given and so inevitably the greater number who will need protection from those safeguards.

It is also not about the person seeking to exercise the right that needs protecting.  It is not just about giving the right to an individual to die but it is also about protecting the ‘third person’ – the one who has the difficult task, even with well-written legislation, of assessing capacity, the one who has to write the prescription, the one who administers it and the family and friends who are left behind.

We are told by supporters that it is “a given” that we should have the very necessary protections for the vulnerable in place before we can move forward but do these four propositions really provide for that?  Do they adequately cover all of those people affected by such a decision?

The letter of comment from the Committee of Health and Social Care, a Committee on which I sit, sets out many such concerns.  As Deputy Soulsby, as President of HSC, will be commenting further I will say no more.

The question I need to answer is do I feel sufficiently reassured by those Propositions to believe these people will be protected by laws, processes and support networks BEFORE anyone is assisted to die.

As a glass full person, some may be surprised Sir by my scepticism – that I feel the need to ensure the safeguards are in place first.  But what has happened is that I have repeatedly, throughout my preparation for this debate, drawn on my own personal experiences both of my family and as a lawyer.  I too do not apologise for this as I believe these experiences are most relevant to this debate.

For 25 years, my primary task, as a solicitor who practised law in England and Wales, used to be discussing death – whether it was with an individual before their demise or afterwards with their family and friends.  For that reason, I am extremely pleased that the most difficult subject of death is being discussed openly with so many people.

During Dying Matters week, or as we call here it here on Guernsey “Going Out with the Tide”, we have an opportunity to break the taboo and stress the importance to talk about what needs to be done in the event of illness, incapacity and death so that our loved ones are aware of our wishes and have the tools to ensure those wishes are carried out.  It is also an opportunity to hear from professionals about what happens when people die, how the body functions in the last days.  Details difficult to hear but important to understand.

Getting people to talk about their ultimate and unavoidable demise, has always been difficult but usually occurs after someone has suffered a loss or an experience which they felt they did not want to go through themselves.  Whether that be someone dying without having made a Will or because, as we have heard over and over recently, their loved one had a painful death.  I have made Wills for people and then attended their funeral only the following week.  I have also helped people who had thought they were going to die a painful death, often because of an HIV diagnosis, only to receive joyful messages from them some 20 years later.

My role was to enable a discussion to, as we use to call it, put “ones affairs in order”.  In the UK, this would include a Will, plans for the funeral and an Enduring Power of Attorney which gave the power to someone to make decisions in respect of financial matters in the event of someone becoming mentally incapable. There was also the advance directive or Living Will which dealt with medical matters.

Together, this suite of documents could enable families to get on with their lives feeling confident they could deal with the eventualities of life.

However, life, or rather death, is not like that.

There have been occasions when I have been in despair over the way in which the law has operated.  I have watched as families fight over assets and debating whether someone had the legal capacity to take a certain action.  I have seen the despair when documents thought to be valid be declared invalid due to a technicality and I have seen well-constructed Wills be overturned because a family member who was excluded had managed to persuade a Court they needed the money.  Despite what the Deputy St Pier said in his speech, I have had to make it clear to clients that they do not have autonomy over their assets either before or after death – they can only give an indication of what they want as nothing can be set in stone.

In particular I have watched the issues around the introduction in the UK of the Lasting Power of Attorney which combines the financial powers of an Enduring Power of Attorney and a health and welfare section which is akin to the Living Will or advance directive.  That legislation has brought untold problems due to the way it has been administered.  One such example was a case where the person ticked two boxes on the form instead of one giving a contradictory instruction of what to do if the donor was in a vegetative state.  This resulted in the provision in the Lasting Power of Attorney being struck out and, if the donor had not been able to make another directive, their wishes would have been ignored.

This leads me on to my second concern.  To explain this I find it easier to refer to a conversation I had last week.  A parishioner asked me to vote for assisted dying advising me that if I did he would not need to go to Switzerland when he could no longer take care of himself.

Even if these propositions are successful, my parishioner would not live to see the legislation nor do I believe he would be eligible as he is a fit octogenarian!  I am concerned about this false expectation as people seem unaware of those who the Requerants intend should benefit from assisted dying.

During this time I have reflected on the life of my cousin who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 21.  He was given 6 months to live and so could perhaps be someone who, under the proposed regime, could have been assisted to die.  Instead, knowing his life-expectancy, he successfully completed the 9 months left of his degree course and, whilst not being able to even feed himself, he continued to be the most inspiring person I have ever met for another 21 years of his life.  My Aunt, who cared for him every day, never once advocated assisted dying although later, when she found out how cannabis could have helped him, her anger was immense.

So, as the majority of people will not be able to take advantage of an assisted death, once this is acknowledged will there be the clamour for an extension before even the safeguards are in place?  Will the coming years in this Chamber be ones of twoing and froing from this stated position, raising expectation only to dash them later – and all this whilst essential work which benefits the whole Bailiwick is sidelined.

Or simply should we wait until we have the necessary safeguards – sorely needed – in place and effective – have the continued dialogue over what happens shortly before death, what we need to plan for, how palliative care can help and improve – and then agree and only then agree what if any assisted dying legislation we should have?  Some may say this is kicking the can down the road – something I would never wish to do unless it was right to do so – but this to me is the right time.

So, without safeguards that work, that are thorough and effective, I cannot agree to start a process that has so many uncertainties, with so many people who could be effected without their protection at the forefront.  Considering there are just so many things we need to do to benefit Islanders, I cannot agree to spend money on a fundamentally flawed and expensive process to give help to a few.

There are lessons that I hope we can all learn from this debate and which costs nothing and that is to do our utmost to ensure people do not feel a burden.  To help people to realise how much they are valued.

We also need to reiterate how all these aspects of life and death intertwine and that the horror stories we have heard are not what we or are families and friends are going to face – that we as a government are providing the care to make this very unlikely.  Let’s us explain in greater detail what is available and to remove that fear at least.

Saying that Sir I cannot sit down until I have complimented our Palliative Care on this Island.  All our healthcare staff have had the training to provide such care and we have an excellent Specialist Palliative Care team for the last weeks and days of life such care which can, of course, be improved.

And for me, personally, I put my faith in their care and that they will be there for me when I need it rather than having faith that there will be truly effective safeguards in place.

Before I conclude, I should add that, whilst I voted for this Amendment, it was because I wished a clear and straightforward debate not because I can vote for its effect. I should also add that Amendment 7, if it had been successful, made no difference and nor will any amendment which tries to water down the contents any further if it still associates any workstreams with assisted dying.

I cannot agree to a path which can in any way deter us from the so important aims we seek to achieve – they have been and continue to be hard enough to achieve without assisted dying be added in the mix of the goals we seek.”

 

 

Liberation Day Fireworks

As someone who hates the loud bang of fireworks, both because of the effect on people and animals, I was asked on the Phone-In on November 5th last year if I would support the introduction of “silent” fireworks which, if necessary, would be by laying a Requete.

The third caller supporting this also asked me to seek support from the States to use these type of fireworks on Liberation Day. I agreed and have been speaking to as many people as possible about how to go about this with the primary aim to avoid using up States’ time on a Requete. Whilst I had several Deputies (certainly enough for a Requete) and a fair number of members of the public confirm their support, I wanted to find out more first.

Having read the article about the Italian village who banned such fireworks, I was hopeful. “Silent” (or more appropriately “quiet”) fireworks, whilst widely available, could also be combined with music through the public address system (as was done for Last Night of the Proms). What I needed to understand was how easy it was to ensure quiet fireworks were used for Liberation Day and restrict the availability generally so they were the only type available for private functions.

During the last six months, I have unfortunately been sent round the houses. Firstly, I spoke to the then President of the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture to ask if we could put on “quiet” fireworks for Liberation Day. I also spoke to the then Harbour Master, who advised that he was responsible for deciding what fireworks is to be allowed at the harbour, and who was amenable to the idea subject to the agreement of others. Both directed me to organiser of the event but, during our telephone call, she advised it was not her decision but she would speak the supplier and revert. Despite reminders, I have only recently heard back from her to say that the fireworks were ordered last November!

Whilst this was most disappointing, it appears that little could have been done for this year. However, what I have discovered it that the contracts for putting on the display next year are being renegotiated and the new President of the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture has said he is keen to include the requirement for “quiet” fireworks.

That said, whilst I had hoped that Liberation Day would demonstrate the viability of this entertainment, I am also looking into the possibility of changing the appropriate legislation to replicate the Italian village’s approach. So far I understand it is more complicated than simply passing regulations (as per!) but the new Customs Law (necessary because of Brexit) will enable regulations to prevent the “loud” fireworks to be imported – if approved.

However, there may also be a way of changing the current Import (Control) Order, 2010 and I am grateful for Deputy Rob Prow and the Committee for Home Affairs confirming last week that, once I have the necessary description for limiting such import to quiet fireworks, then I can present a paper to them to see if they agree to preventing them coming into the Island in the first place.

I have also been talking to the Chief Health and Safety Officer for the Committee for the Environment and Infrastructure who has been fantastic in taking the time to explain all the issues surrounding this complicated subject. I am hoping that between us we can come up with the requisite wording for inclusion in the change to the Import Control Order

So to be able to inform the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture for the contract negotiation and the Committee for Home Affairs for possible changes to import control, I need to determine the precise description for the restriction on the types of fireworks we can import.

Once done, I will be meeting the importers to understand their views on the effect of such a restriction.

Whilst that was a conversation that I would have liked to have earlier, I have had to leave this until after Liberation Day. I hope that this year’s event will be a success for all concerned even if it could be the last time it ends with a (loud) bang.

Half Way House

IMG_20160321_135529It is two years tomorrow since the election and, despite being nearly half way through the political term, I continue to be asked what my achievements have been so far.  Whilst I am always happy to reel off the long list of what I am doing, not everyone is interested in the work in progress.  Most want to know about the new policies or actions that I have had a direct effect upon.

To summarise, two of the three Committees I am on have brought major new policies to the Assembly: the Island Development Plan and the Partnership of Purpose and the third, Economic Development, will shortly bring an exciting package of ideas to support the major aspects of our economy.

However, I also have questions about the divisions which are starting to show in the “House”.  Those who take a keen interest in voting patterns in the States have already seen there is a predictability in the way we vote indicating a definitive split emerging.

Whilst the outcome of such voting indicates, in my view, a more forward looking approach to policies, the backlash to this trend has led those who are on the losing end of these votes to consider how they can turn the tide.  In order to challenge the majority in the Assembly, a populist approach has been advocated.

Earlier in the year there was the formation of Charter2018 resulted in the issue of a statement of values and policies which, on the whole, anyone could sign up to.  However, it also contained ambiguities and contradictions which could lead to only one conclusion: if they mean different things to the public they may also represent different things to each of the signatories.

We were told that the Charter represented a path for the next two years and, in order to address the next election and beyond, the Islander’s Association was formed.  Neither are said to be political parties but both purporting to offer a form of clarity to the public on what each Deputy stands for.  The basis of that clarity appears to be a promise for Deputies who are endorsed by the Association will reflect the “will of the people”.

Whilst I am far from averse to setting up of groups which promote involvement of the population in the decisions made by the States, I am not in favour of promoting the voices of a few drowning out the many and those few claiming to represent the “will of the people”.  The many are the silent majority who quietly interrogate us keeping us on our toes and to them we must listen.

One thing which is often repeated is that we should give value for money and that is by working together for everyone’s benefit – not just for one small group.  I hear that the public do not want Deputies devoting their time on frivolous activities which do not do justice to the role they have been elected to.  They want us to devote our time to helping all, including the silent majority, and not just appeasing the vocal minority.

Whilst I have absolutely no objection to voices being heard loud and clear, they must be given due weight and not block out the views of the rest of the population.  And to that end I also believe that the media should be supporting that balance.

Recently this has been going sadly wrong.  When on the BBC Sunday Phone-In several weeks ago, I was joined by two members of the Islander’s Association.  Whilst I have great respect for these two gentlemen, I did not expect to have to wait almost half an hour before I was able to speak and then only given a few minutes to comment on the Islander’s Association.

This is not about giving me airtime, it is about the BBC’s own Guidelines on the balance they must give to differing opinions.  Their Guidelines state “Over an appropriate time frame we must aim to give due weight and prominence to all the main strands of argument and to all the main parties.”[1]

As they did not give me that equal airtime, I made my concern known after the Phone In.  Two weeks later, Deputy Carl Meerveld and I were given the opportunity to have that balanced conversation and I have to say the BBC were true to their word in how it was presented.  We had a sensible and interesting conversation which I hoped informed the public.  The BBC also agreed they were learning how to deal with the new political world we inhabited in Guernsey.

Then we had this Sunday’s Phone In.  It started well – Simon Fairclough asked if either of the two guests were members of Charter2018 or the Islander’s Association.  No they said.  And that was it.  No comment as to why they were asked.  No observation that the BBC would give balance to callers who were from the Islander’s Association or Charter 2018 – nothing.  So what was the point of the question?

Also, during the Phone In, a caller advised that members of the Committee for Health and Social Care would not go on the Phone In.  We were given a right to reply.  I called in and said that I was prepared to go on the Phone In as were others on the Committee but no comment was made on air.  None.  So no right of reply then.

I e-mailed afterwards to try to get some semblance of understanding of the BBC’s attitude to their duty to give you the audience a fair representation of what is going on.  To date I have had no response.

So I can only conclude that, whilst you and I are struggling to understand the BBC’s approach and what is going on in the House, those struggling to get their desired outcome out of our current structure of government are setting up political parties!