I am delighted to be in Sark today and have this opportunity to meet with all of you. I thoroughly enjoyed my last visit, although the roughness of the sea crossing was more than enough excitement for me.
I am hoping on this visit to see more of the island and meet a wider cross section of its residents than is often possible on a one day or half day visit.
I have now been the UK Minister responsible for the Crown Dependencies for three years. It is a responsibility I take very seriously and perhaps I should start be explain how I see those responsibilities.
It is significant that I am a Ministry of Justice Minister – not a Foreign Office Minister. You and the other Crown Dependencies have never been colonies and none of the Dependencies ever let me forget that fact. What then are my and Her Majesty’s Government responsibilities?
First, there is the responsibility for Sark’s international obligations. That falls to the United Kingdom Government generally – and to me in particular. It means that if Sark does (or doesn’t do) something that breaches the European Convention on Human Rights or some other international obligation which it has taken on, the UK is held responsible for that breach on the international stage.
Second, the UK also has a responsibility for the defence of the Islands. I think you will be relieved to hear that that one is safely in the hands of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces and not to do with me!
My third responsibility – is that of advising Her Majesty on the good governance of Sark and the other Crown Dependencies.
It is that concept of good governance I would like to explore a little more with you today. How you deliver good governance is for you to decide. It will not always be the same as other jurisdictions.
I am not here to bully, cajole or pressure you into a one size fits all concept of good governance. But there are key elements against which Sark will be measured and against which it must measure itself.
First there is the upholding of democracy and the rule of law. By this I mean ensuring that all policing issues are thoroughly investigated, court processes are carried out in accordance with the rule of law and that elections are demonstrably free and fair. In this world of 24 hour global news, perception is key to public and international trust, and in these areas all jurisdictions must be seen to delivering. It is not enough to have a fair election; its fairness needs to be demonstrated. This is why it was critical to have an election observer at the recent election in December – so that you were able to demonstrate to the world that the election process was free and fair.
Secondly good governance means using robust evidence and good quality advice to identify and deliver government priorities and deliver on those priorities in a timely manner. This is an area where Sark has made progress in the last year, with the perception survey letting you know what the concerns of the population were and the subsequent Vision document highlighting what your priorities are based on this. I hope this will give you a framework for dealing with the issues that are currently facing Sark. I recognise that you can’t do everything at once and you will need to prioritise what you do when, to ensure progress is made in meeting the expectations of the public.
Third you have to be transparent and accountable when making decisions through a system where there are clear roles and responsibilities. This means all those in public life adhere to the principles of public life, including Selflessness; Integrity; Objectivity; Accountability; Openness; Honesty; and Leadership. It means handling conflicts of interest robustly. It means ensuring that decision making criteria and the process used to reach a decision are available and understood by the community. A lack of transparency can lead to accusations of unfair decision making and bias and this needs to be avoided.
Here I am not asking you to do something which Her Majesty’s Government is not willing to do itself. Through our transparency agenda and Freedom of Information Act we are committed to a more open system of government which empowers citizens and underpins good governance.
Part and parcel of such an approach is my fourth area of good governance - engaging actively with the local community and encourage public participation. Again Sark has made progress in respect to this over the last year with the perception survey and the recent consultation you held on Colin Kniveton’s work. Every government needs to actively and regularly seek feedback from the community on what it has been doing and what it is intending to do.
And finally, I return to our shared international legal obligations. For example in developing government policy taking into account compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, and other international obligations under Bailiwick treaty extensions. It is this responsibility above all which gives the rationale for this being a matter for the Ministry of Justice.
Sark is a young democracy and with the energy and commitment of members of Chief Pleas I am confident that Sark will be able to deliver upon all these requirements. The last year has seen Sark make considerable progress and the recent meeting of the Chief Pleas showed further the desire of Sark to strengthen itself for the future.
This is not about the UK Government changing Sark, or imposing Whitehall solutions on Sark. It is about Sark fulfilling the responsibilities as a Crown Dependency in a way that is right for Sark. It is for you to decide – not me. You must set priorities which reflect the priorities of the people of Sark. But as a candid friend I have to tell you – stop the world we want to get off is not an option.
The work of Colin Kniveton and Belinda Crowe has given you options for how to take forward a reform agenda; but it is for you to take them forward. I do not have a view on how many committees you have, provided the structure works and you make decisions effectively and in a timely member. I do not have a view on how many civil servants you have provided you are able to administer yourself effectively. I do not have a view on which area you prioritise first from the Vision document, provided you do it a structured way and make policy based on evidence, which is compliant with international requirements and has involved consultation with the people of Sark.
I have no interest or agenda other than ensuring good governance in Sark.
I am aware that progress will not be easy. There is a lot to do and I know that there are pressures on you to fire fight and deal with the daily issues at the same time.
However, you are not alone, you have already benefited from the advice and experience of the other Crown Dependencies.
There is a real opportunity to underpin Sark’s special qualities in a way which protects and sustains what makes Sark so special.
But the decisions are yours – not mine. I hope what I said today helps you in those deliberations.
I want to leave you with a quote from the Sark Scribe which highlights some of the issues facing Sark:
“Of course there are things that do need fixing and it is hoped that Conseillers will now start to look seriously and constructively at supporting our faltering economy, encouraging the creation of jobs, consulting with residents before they draft new legislation, creating a strategic plan for Sark, costing the much needed Boarder Agency presence, moving forward on land reform, reducing health care costs and a myriad of other things that are serving to keep Sark as the poor relation of the Channel Islands.”
I wish you well.