Reading Hansard makes you wonder if politicians ever think before they speak. I've been looking back at the last sitting (2nd July) before this one, and Senator Le Gresley is cheerfully telling the States that officers use all kind of policy documents, but the general public have no idea what those are. It's like something out of Franz Kafka:
"The Income Support Scheme is a very complicated scheme and if we were to make available every single policy document that officers use when determining claims, we would be publishing the equivalent of the Holy Bible. I could not do that but what I said today about the policy will be recorded on Hansard and that is the policy we currently have."
Shona Pitman, who asked the question about policy, wondered if the basic guidelines could be made available online. It does seem extraordinary that there are parts of the Income Support Scheme which are not in the public domain relating to how it actually operates. It seems rather like Deputy Pryke's proposed Health (Dwellings) Law, which depended upon "intentions" that were not actually enshrined in the law.
Sometimes, there is a rare outbreak of common sense. Deputy Baudains was asking Alan Maclean about arrangements for local fishing boats to be registered. Senator Maclean replied that the matter had been investigated, but a pragmatic approach was taken:
"I have investigated this matter and discovered that there has been a problem concerning a local fisherman only a few weeks ago. In this case the fisherman was fishing with an unregistered boat and was stopped by the States Fisheries Section and told he must have the vessel registered. It is illegal of course not to do so and crucially it is not safe until it has had its safety check carried out. The Fisheries Section did not take the hard-line option which they could have done in such circumstances by ordering the fisherman to destroy his catch. Instead, a more pragmatic approach required him to immediately register the vessel. From the time that he was stopped operating his unregistered vessel until the safety check was carried out was a total of 13 days"
The EU, of course, has also relaxed its guidelines on catches, where fish trawled by mistake not in a quota would just have to be destroyed or discarded, they can now be sold. Food waste is something which needs to be minimised, and if officialdom can actually act more in the interests of the consumer, that is to be commended.
The Connétable of St. John, Phil Rondel, noted that he had no trouble getting a registration card:
"Having been in this morning and picked up my own registration card, where it says I am entitled, it was a pleasure to walk into a States department, go in, show your identification and walk out with a card within a couple of minutes. It appears things are working well."
A cynic might suggest that when a well-known politician goes into Social Security with identification, the process might well be streamlined. School leavers are finding it considerably more difficult, as they have no record of employment, and need to get letters from their schools giving details of the period they were educated there. The schools have not given these automatically, perhaps because the students may have in fact gone on to Highlands for further full time education. With schools about to break up, this could be difficult, as it could for students looking for a holiday job. These are matters being picked up by Phil Rondel's next door municipal neighbour, Constable Juliette Gallichan (of St Mary).
I have also been told of cases where there have also been problems locating employment histories even though the department should have them on its computer. That's not to say that these problems cannot be ironed out. There are bound to be teething problems. But the sunny optimism of Phil Rondel rather overlooks those cases.
The waddling duck of taxation rears its head once more. Deputy Tadier was asking about the extra 1% added to ITIS and where it was really a change to the 20% base rate of income tax. Senator Le Marquand was replying as rapporteur, Senator Le Gresley seemingly having vacated the Chamber after his earlier reply.
"The proposed initial 1 per cent long-term care contribution rate is not an increase in income tax. It is a new contribution specifically set up to meet long-term care costs. It could be viewed as a kind of insurance against future residential care costs. I want to make it absolutely clear, it is not a departure from the 20 per cent maximum income tax rate. The Minister for Social Security has explained the proposed long-term care contribution rate of 1 per cent will become an additional liability under the Social Security Law."
It is being collected by ITIS rather than Social Security because it is levied not just on those paying social security (working age) but also on contributors of pensionable age. He says that:
"As the Taxes Office already collects money from both of these groups it is a sensible and cost-effective solution to collect the new contribution through these existing taxes office processes."
So Deputy Tadier comes back asking him to acknowledge that it is (1) a levy up to 1% (2) a levy paid for on the basis of income tax.
Senator B.I. Le Marquand: "Initially 1 per cent, yes, that is indeed my understanding. I have made inquiries from the Treasury in relation to this who tell me that, effectively, people will have one bill but with 2 parts to it; one which is an income tax liability and the other which is their liability under this, with the 2 being added together as to the total sum due."
Deputy M. Tadier: "Can the Minister see how it could quite easily be confused that this is an increase in income tax, given that it is not appearing on anyone's social security contributions as a separate item, it is appearing on their income tax form as a separate item and it is being collected by income tax? Will the Minister perhaps respond to that first?"
Senator B.I. Le Marquand: "It is very difficult for me to comment as to what may or may not confuse people as some people are extremely easily confused as is readily seen in this Assembly by some of the questions and possibly by some of the answers. I think that every effort will be made to make it clear on the forms that this is a separate sum being collected for a separate purpose."
There's a clear air of someone floundering here, who has perhaps not been properly briefed for the question.
Deputy M. Tadier: "So essentially, Minister, you are saying that 1 per cent of income tax will be ring-fenced for a separate purpose. Do you acknowledge that just because it is ring-fenced in itself does not make it not an income tax as far as those who have been charged are concerned?"
Senator B.I. Le Marquand: "I am not 100 per cent certain that the calculation of the 1 per cent will be done on exactly the same basis as income tax is done. I am afraid I do not have that level of detail but essentially it is a 1 per cent levy which is based upon income but which is being collected for a separate purpose and not as part of the collection of income tax."
It waddles like an income tax duck, it quacks like an income tax duck, and we all know what Bill Clinton said about that - but we are told nonetheless that this is not an income tax, but like the ugly duckling, will no doubt grow into a social security swan.
It is clearly the stuff of which fairy tales are made, and I don't believe it for one moment, and neither will most of the general public. They will accept it and put up with it, as they put up with a good many things, but it is an extra income tax in all but name, just as "user pays" is so often a stealth tax by another name.
Poor Senator Le Marquand - within a few minutes he was being asked to read the Chief Minister's mind. The Constable of St Lawrence asked a question:
"A member of the public recently paid to attend a conference in order to gain access to a number of Ministers. What inquiries has the Chief Minister made to establish the validity of the claims that this gentleman had been unable to speak to the Ministers?"
Senator B.I. Le Marquand: I am unable to answer that question because it is asking me to have knowledge of what is in the mind of the Chief Minister, which I do not have.
The Connétable of St. Lawrence: No, it is not asking the Deputy Chief Minister to have knowledge of what is the mind of the Chief Minister but rather it is asking him to speak about the actions that the Chief Minister took following the assertions that this gentleman had been unable to reach Ministers.
Senator B.I. Le Marquand: I do not know.
It might be better if questions directed to absentee members of the Council of Ministers were in future deferred to when they returned; but it does provide a certain degree of probably unintentional humour in Senator Le Marquand's replies.
There was vote to put though an open ballots for elections of Ministers, chairmen, committees and panels and no longer by secret ballot. The proposition was already been approved by the States and the amendments put the various arrangements into effect. As this is something already voted on, I would have thought abstention by those who voted against would have been enough, but a few members decided to vote against, which I found surprising. For the record, they were:
Senator B.I. Le Marquand
Connétable of St. John (Phil Rondel)(
Deputy S.S.P.A. Power (B)
Deputy G.C.L. Baudains (C)
Deputy of St. John (Patrick Ryan)
Deputy J.P.G. Baker (H)
It was approved that electronic devices (as long as they were not intrusive) could be used in the States Chamber after the trial period. This did lead to one rather amusing remark by Senator Le Marquand (where is he getting his jokes from?):
Senator B.I. Le Marquand: Although I am not yet the proud owner of an iPad myself, I do support this. I think it is useful and important. But I do have one plea, and that is a plea for the expansion of the current system of fines in relation to: "Oh, my phone is going off" because I was recently at a meeting when suddenly we were being spoken to by no less a person than Winston Churchill on the device. It seems to me that there ought to be some sort of penalty agreed on a voluntary basis for such indiscretions in the same way. It seems a logical extension.
The only people who voted against iPads etc were in the end:
Connétable of St. John (Phil Rondel)
Connétable of St. Saviour (Sadie Rennard)
Deputy S. Pitman (H)
Deputy G.C.L. Baudains (C)
I have no idea why Deputy Shona Pitman voted against it; perhaps she can't get her husband's attention unless she tweets him? Is that the bald truth of the matter?
(For those who don't get the allusion @baldtruth is his twitter handle).
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