‘Big ego’ ministers ‘leaving backbenchers disillusioned’

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Deputy Carolyn Labey said the Council of Ministers had too often pressured backbenchers to delay or withdraw proposals that have merit in a bid to put their own spin on it.

And she added that the system of collective responsibility – whereby all ministers vote en bloc – has ‘got to go’ as ‘it creates a ridiculous scenario that goes against our oath of office to vote with our conscience’.

Her comments came after her proposition to block new electricity stand-by charges and provide more support for renewable energy was deferred until next year after a request from Treasury Minister Alan Maclean.

The minister, who acts as the shareholder representative of Jersey Electricity on behalf of the public, said that the debate on renewable energy should be deferred to allow further research to be carried out with a fuller review being brought back to the States in the coming months.

He said there is ‘no conspiracy’ to take credit for good backbench proposals.

However, Deputy Labey has said that the move was simply the latest example in a ‘much wider problem’ that is leaving backbenchers disillusioned by ministerial government.

Deputy Labey said: ‘The fact that the Council of Ministers keep behaving in this way is disenfranchising States Members and disenfranchising the public.

‘If you are raising issues that the Council of Ministers think should have been their idea they will try to get you to withdraw it.

‘There are some really big egos whereby the Council of Ministers can’t have anybody bring something to the States Assembly that might have some merit and might win the debate.’

The Deputy cited previous propositions lodged by Deputy Montfort Tadier about legalising medicinal cannabis in certain cases and removing the Bailiff from the States – both of which were rejected by the Assembly and have since been put forward by ministers.

She added that she was asked by ministers to withdraw her debate on renewable energies but refused. However, following Senator Maclean voicing his concerns in the Assembly, Members voted to defer the debate until January.

And a 2014 debate to legalise same-sex marriage from Deputy Sam Mézec was deferred only for the proposals to ultimately be adopted a year later when Chief Minister Ian Gorst tabled his own proposition.

Senator Maclean said that on those occasions Members had agreed to withdraw the proposals based on ministerial promises that were later acted on.

He said: ‘I think the basis of the deferral, which was agreed by Members, was to gather information to better inform the debate. Deputy Labey gets two bites of the cherry.

‘If the debate had gone ahead it may have been defeated because of some of the concerns we, and other Members had which would have been a shame because there are a number of elements that we broadly agree with. This isn’t to the detriment of Deputy Labey – she has raised the issue, the charges aren’t being introduced yet and a review will be undertaken. She has done an excellent job in getting this issue brought to focus.’

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