And if the changes are adopted, Islanders will potentially be given the final say on whether the proposals come into force in time for the 2022 elections through a referendum.
The proposition, which has been lodged by the Privileges and Procedures Committee, would see Islanders vote for five or six representatives across nine districts. Senators would be removed, while Constables would still be allowed to take part in debates but would not be eligible to vote. Constables would also be allowed to stand for one of the newly formed Deputy seats.
An independent Boundaries Commission would also be set up after the 2022 elections to make recommendations to ensure that the nine districts remained broadly equal in size.
A series of surveys and focus groups carried out by independent research agency 4insight have taken place and parish hall meetings have been held to inform the debate. PPC chairman Deputy Russell Labey said that the results showed a public appetite for reform.
Electoral reform has been a topic that has dogged States agendas for a number of years, although there have been very few meaningful changes.
This is despite a series of reports – the most recent being from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association elections observers – which criticised the composition of the States. Last year, the election observers reviewed the general election and found that the Island’s political system was lacking in several key areas, including voter equity. They also criticised the number of uncontested elections.
Deputy Labey said: ‘We did a series of surveys and focus groups and had a lot of positive feedback. In the focus groups, 89% were in favour of the proposals in their entirety. In the survey 74% were in favour.
‘In the parish hall roadshows we did, there was clearly concern to preserve the role of the Constable. We have said now that all Constables should have ex-officio membership of the States in a non-voting capacity. That way they are kept involved and are able to speak in debates and do non-executive committee work.
‘There is nothing stopping any Constable standing for election in any of the nine districts, but it will be their choice.
‘This way they could perhaps pop in for debates pertinent to their parish. I know of people that would be excellent candidates for Constable of the parish but have been put off from standing by the States commitment.’
The survey also showed that the number of respondents in favour of the proposition rose to 87% among those under the age of 40.
PPC brought similar proposals earlier this year but that debate was pushed back to allow for the parish hall roadshow to take place.
Deputy Labey said that the fresh calls for change would be boosted by the additional work that has been carried out.
The proposition is due to be debated on Tuesday 4 February.
Potential new districts
- St Helier South, comprising Vingtaines de Bas et de Haut de la Ville.
- St Helier Central, comprising Vingtaine de Rouge Bouillon and Vingtaine de Bas du Mont au Prêtre.
- St Helier North, comprising Vingtaine du Mont Cochon, Vingtaine du Mont à l’Abbé and Vingtaine du Haut du Mont au Prêtre.
- West district, comprising St Mary, St Ouen and St Peter.
- Central district, comprising Trinity, St John and St Lawrence.
- East district, comprising Grouville and St Martin.
*Each district would elect five Deputies, with the exception of St Saviour, which would have six.
Previous reform plans
In 2000, the Clothier review began and looked at the composition of the States.
A series of recommendations were made and brought before the Assembly. The Clothier report effectively paved the way for the introduction of ministerial government, which replaced the old committee system.
However, Members were accused of cherry-picking elements of the report rather than enacting it in full.
A separate report – the Carswell review – took place in 2009 to look into the roles of Jersey’s Crown officers, including the Bailiff. The two key recommendations were that the Bailiff should cease to act as president of the States and that the States should elect their own president but the Bailiff should continue to act and be recognised as the civic head of Jersey. The panel’s recommendations formed the basis of an ‘in-committee’ debate in 2011.
Two years later, a referendum was held but the winning option – which would have seen 30 Deputies serving six districts and 12 constables elected to the Chamber – was never implemented.
A further referendum a year later resulted in overwhelming support for Constables to remain as automatic States Members.
Perhaps the closest the States have come to agreeing major changes to the composition of the Assembly came in 2017, when Members were on the verge of agreeing an Assembly comprising eight Senators elected on an Islandwide basis, the 12 parish Constables and 28 Deputies voted in to represent six super-constituencies. Despite agreeing the changes in principle, the proposals were scrapped once again as Members U-turned and voted against the necessary legislative changes at the final hurdle.
Deputy Labey has said that, if agreed by the Assembly in full, the proposals would go to a referendum. He said: ‘I’m not frightened of a referendum, because if we get the right information out this will pass. The no vote will come out and be strong and we must make sure that there is a strong yes group. If this survey is to be believed, then the overwhelming percentage of the population is in favour of a change.’
Focus group results
As part of the renewed reform attempts, a series of focus groups were carried out by research agency 4insight. Participants had the proposals explained and the conclusions of the report were that 85% of respondents believed the system should change, with 89% in favour of the PPC’s proposition.
The overall opinion of the current electoral system was that:
- It is confusing and overcomplicated.
- There are too many politicians.
- Some parishes are underrepresented.
- The system is unfair and inequitable.