Ministers Warned Against Officers Help During States Sittings

Jersey's Bailiff says government officers should not be in the same room as Ministers when they answer questions from States members during sittings of the assembly.

Concerns were raised by the Scrutiny Liaison Committee and Senator Sam Mézec, after the Chief Minister answered a question on housing from Broad Street.

States members can attend sittings virtually, because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Senator Kristina Moore, who chairs the SLC, says there is a level of concern over the potential of officers assisting Ministers during question time and debates.

"Of course, the main reason for the letter (sent to the Bailiff) was because of the coming Government Plan debate, but also we raise the concern of these behaviours creeping into question time also.

I see no reason why Ministers, if they're able to attend their office today, then they should be able to attend the Chamber."

Former Bailiff William Bailhache has previously made a ruling about officers not being present in the States Chamber to give any assistance to Ministers.

Senator Sam Mézec, a former Government minister, raised a similar point with the current Bailiff over the weekend.

Deputy Richard Renouf was the only Minister present in the States Assembly when this was discussed.

Timothy Le Cocq says the rules on virtual sittings were clearly meant to allow members to participate online because they were unable to do so because of reasons related to the pandemic.

"Those orders were not designed to extend beyond what is necessary to achieve that end and as far as is possible, the conditions that obtain in the assembly should be replicated in the remote environment.

The rule of the assembly extends into those spaces as well. Accordingly, in my view, Ministers should have no greater access to officers and advice, than they would if they were in the assembly.

"Therefore it seems to me that officers should not unless it is impossible to arrange otherwise, be present with Ministers during Ministerial questions.

"I appreciate that this ruling may be difficult to police, but I'm conscious, as has always been the case, that Ministers will act with integrity and honesty as is expected of all States members, and of course adhere to this ruling."

The Bailiff has also called on Ministers to attend the States Assembly in person when answering official questions from States Members unless circumstances don't allow it.

Senator Ian Gorst said he couldn't be in the States Assembly for family reasons.

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