The Bailiff has told Ministers they should stay away from their officers when answering questions during States Assembly meetings after backbenchers raised concerns about the potential “interference."
With only one Minister out of 12 present in the States Chamber yesterday, Timothy Le Cocq also “warmly encouraged” Ministers to come to the Chamber - rather than joining from the government offices in Broad Street or from home - unless they are “otherwise unable to do so."
His ruling came after Scrutineers voiced concerns about the "interference” of officers with Ministers during question time and major debates.
Scrutiny Liaison Committee Chair Senator Kristina Moore said her panel had written to the Bailiff seeking such a ruling. She spoke in the Chamber after seeing the Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, answering questions from his office in the Government's Broad Street headquarters.
“We have pointed out that there is a level of concern in relation to the potential for officers assisting Ministers in question time but also in major debates and of course the main reason for the letter was because of the coming Government Plan but also we raised the concern of these behaviours creeping into question time also,” she said.
She added that it was “perfectly possible to be socially distanced” in the Assembly and urged the Bailiff to require the presence of Ministers, noting only one out of 12, Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf, was physically present.
The #Bailiff has been asked about #Ministers not being in @StatesAssembly when answering questions. He is “encouraging” #Ministers to be in the #Chamber if possible FYI there are currently just six (6) members in the #Chamber today.— Andy Jehan ???????? (@AndyJehan) December 13, 2021
The Constable of St. John, Andy Jehan, noted on Twitter that only six politicians were in the Chamber yesterday. All States Members, except five who were either excused or ill, attended the sitting.
Senator Sam Mézec made a similar request referring to a previous ruling in which the then-Bailiff had declared civil servants should not be in the precincts of the Assembly.
“Things have now changed because of hybrid settings where you could argue that the precincts of the States Chamber now extends to the other side of a computer screen irrespective of where in the island that would be,” the Senator said, arguing it would ensure backbenchers have direct access to Ministers without “interference” from officers.
The Bailiff said the Standing Orders that allow remote participation were silent on the point raised by both Senators.
He however added: “But they are clearly, as I have ruled in the past, intended to permit Members to participate in the sitting, whereby for reasons of the pandemic they would otherwise be unable to do so.
“Those orders were not designed to extend beyond what is necessary to achieve that end and as far as is possible, the conditions that pertain in the Assembly should be replicated in the remote environment, the rules of the Assembly extend into those spaces as well.”
He concluded that Ministers should have “no greater access to officers and advice” than they would if they were in the States Chamber.
“Therefore, it seems to me that officers should not, unless it’s impossible to arrange otherwise, be present with Ministers during Ministerial Questions,” he said. “This applies also to non-Ministers answering questions in the formal environment of the Assembly.
“I appreciate that this ruling might be difficult to police, but I am conscious, as has always been the case that Ministers will act with integrity and with honesty as is expected of all States Members and will of course adhere to this ruling.”
The Bailiff, however, said he couldn’t require the presence of Ministers as the current position was “permissive."
He said: “Ministers are not required to be in the Assembly but I would warmly encourage Ministers who are in the position where they are responding directly to questions raised by members or dealing with the matter that they are bringing before the Assembly, unless they are otherwise unable to do so, to be in the Assembly, but I think I can do no more than encourage that at this point.”
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.