08 March, 2007

Constitutional Reform

The following written question and answer recently appeared in Hansard. It is of interest to us in the Overseas Territories, as it shows us the progress that has been made in other islands, and the kinds of reforms that we may expect from our negotiations with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office:

Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley, Labour) | Hansard source

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what powers were transferred to overseas territories in each of the last two years; and what further transfers are under discussion.

Geoff Hoon (Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office) | Hansard source

On 9 August 2006, a new constitution for the Turks and Caicos Islands came into force. This transferred the following powers to the territory:

the local House of Assembly may increase the number of elected members of the House and increase the number of Ministers proportionately;

the Premier may nominate one extra nominated member of the House of Assembly;

responsibility for international financial services other than regulation transferred from the Governor to local Ministers;

a new Advisory National Security Council may consider and make non-binding recommendations to the Governor on external affairs, defence, internal security, the regulation of international financial services and the exercise of emergency powers (matters which remain the Governor's special responsibility); the local Cabinet may do the same;

an enlarged Public Service Commission and a new Judicial Service Commission may give advice to the Governor on public service and judicial appointments respectively, which would be binding unless the Governor were instructed otherwise by the Secretary of State; and

the Governor must appoint the Cabinet Secretary on the advice of the Premier and the Governor must consult the Premier before appointing anyone to the office of Attorney-General.

On 2 January 2007, a new constitution for Gibraltar came into force. This transferred to local Ministers executive responsibility for all matters other than those expressly reserved to the Governor, namely external affairs, defence, internal security including the police and certain public service matters. It also established a Public Service Commission, a Specified Appointments Commission and a Judicial Service Commission, each having executive powers subject only to an exceptional power of veto by the Governor. It also established an independent police authority for Gibraltar, with power for the local legislature to prescribe its functions; the police authority has power to advise the Governor on the appointment of the commissioner of police, subject to an exceptional power of veto by the Governor. As regards locally enacted legislation, the new constitution limits the circumstances in which the Governor may not assent to bills and removes the power of the Secretary of State to disallow laws.

No other new overseas territory constitutions have come into force during the last two years. Constitutional reform negotiations are currently in train with the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Cayman Islands, but these are confidential to the parties at this stage.

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