Tuesday, 24 March 2009

An Unreserved Apology With Reservations

"It is clearly of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to the House. If they knowingly fail to do this, then they should relinquish their positions." (John Major)

"Ministers of the Crown are expected to behave according to the highest standards of constitutional and personal conduct." (Questions of Procedures for Ministers)

It's made Jersey's Hansard! Yes, the unexpurgated version of what was said is given on the States Assembly website - please note I have replaced the words below with asterisks - and it is clear that Senator James Perchard - as he admitted - was lying to to the Assembly both when he denied the language just spoken and the occasion in the Town Hall.

The matter has been treated by both Senator Le Sueur and the Deputy Bailiff as "a private matter", which begs the question, if it is private, and not relevant to the Assembly, why bring in the code of conduct? There is an inconsistency here - on the one hand, we are told it is "private", i.e. beyond the scope of the States - and on the other, we are told that members should not use such language because it is within the scope of how members conduct themselves.

Despite popular cynicism as to the ability of politicians ever to tell the truth, not lying to Parliament has long
been regarded as being of the utmost importance. The very survival of politicians in office has often been made dependent on whether it can be shown that they have misled Parliament: 'John Profumo lost office not because of his sexual misbehaviour but because he lied to Parliament. When Mrs Thatcher narrowly survived the Westland affair the debate was on whether Parliament had been deceived'

Senator S. Syvret:
On a point of order.  I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but the Minister to my right, Senator Perchard, is shouting ... well, not shouting but saying in my ear: "You are full of f**ing sh*t.  Why do you not go and top yourself, you b*tard."  I really do not think that this conduct is acceptable.

Senator J.L. Perchard:
I absolutely refute that.  I am just fed up with this man making up allegations against people.  I just wish he would not.

Senator S. Syvret:
The Senator did engage in a drunken foul obnoxious outburst at the Town Hall the other night ...

Senator J.L. Perchard:
Oh, rubbish.

Senator S. Syvret:
... in front of witnesses and he is now persisting in his foul aggression against me.  If the Assembly is to maintain some semblance of good order, I really think somebody ought to have a word with Senator Perchard and perhaps help him get some therapy.

Senator J.L. Perchard:
This is out of order.  I really object to the Senator hijacking question time to pursue his personal vendetta against me.

The Deputy Bailiff:
One moment.  This was a private matter in any event.  I cannot rule on what was said and what was not because it is denied so we will leave the matter there.  But quite clearly Members should as a general principle be courteous to each other, should not insult each other or use abusive language to each other.  That is in Standing Orders so far as public utterances are concerned.  It is in the code of conduct as I understand it so far as ordinary private interaction between Members is concerned.  I urge all Members to abide by that.  [Approbation]  Now, Minister, I am sorry you were interrupted but perhaps you could carry on.

On another related point, Ben Quérée in his weekly comment on the States, argues that the fact that we have a Health Minister advising someone to commit suicide should not be an issue, just that he used bad language.

And if the big deal is that Senator Perchard is the Health Minister, and that it is particularly unacceptable for him to tell people to top themselves, well - you know, that's got some problems with it too. Does that mean that Freddie Cohen can tell people to go top themselves, because he's the Environment Minister and mental illness isn't in his remit? Can Deputy Phil Rondel say it? Can the Constable of St Peter say it? Can I? No. This is utterly ridiculous. If Senator Perchard makes a habit out of swearing at his colleagues in the States Chamber, then he's got to go. Fair enough.

But I'm not so sure that is quite as simple as he makes out. I know one States Member in the old days who resigned from the Presidency of the Education Committee, and it was pretty likely because he was having an affair with another member of the States (they later divorced their spouses and married).  The feeling was that part of the remit of the Education Committee was teaching children "good behavior", and having an affair rather contradicted that - being a member of another Committee did not provide such a contradiction. Much the same problem bedevilled John Major's "Back to Basics" campaign which was intended to bring moral values back to schools, but ended being derailed because the government proposing it was a public hotbed of slease and adulterous affairs.

In fiction, in "Yes Minister" - "Party Games" - Duncan, the Foreign Secretary - is ruled out of the Treasury because of suspected dodgy (but legally above board) company dealings, while Eric (the Treasurer) is ruled out of Home Affairs because of his liasons with a foreign lady from behind the Iron Curtain.

Now I am not condoning bad language from any member, but I think this shows that there is a case where the suggestions of suicide - such as those made by Senator Perchard - are particularly reprehensive - and thereby made worse - because of the office which he currently holds.

Returning to Senator Perchard. In today's JEP it is reported that he has now apologised; he has issued what he terms a " 'full and unreserved apology" to Stuart Syvret. Unfortunately, it is not as "unreserved" as that adjective used in normal speech would suggest. Clearly Senator Perchard has his own copy of the dictionary of weasel words used by politicians to sound good, in which "unreserved" means "with the following reservations":

In his statement, Senator Perchard (pictured) maintained that he was misquoted. 'Firstly, I wish to make it very clear to Members that I did not lie to the House during that sitting and that I absolutely reject the allegations about the precise words I used at the time,' he said.

Having read Hansard, as detailed above, it is also clear that "I did not lie" also has a strange rarefied meaning when used by the Senator. He would have been better saying he was being "economic with the truth" - at least while we all know that means he had lied, it would not be an outright contradiction. I don't think apologies that claim to be "unreserved" and say "I do not lie"-  and are thereby themselves lies - are acceptable behaviour and are anything other than rather pathetic attempts to save face and keep his job.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent - my sentiments exactly. Anyway, as I have stated on the JEP comments on this issue (if they print them) it is too little too late and if Perchard thinks it makes it ok to have used his suicide comments because he was Assistant Health Minister, it's time he got real and I still maintain he should GO.