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Call for end to collective responsibility

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COLLECTIVE responsibility – the doctrine enshrined in the ministerial code which requires ministers to toe the official government line – is curtailing proper democratic debate and should be scrapped, the Economic Development Minister has said.

The Council of Ministers, who are currently required to toe the official line

Senator Lyndon Farnham spoke out after abstaining from a crucial States vote this week on a proposal in the 2018 Budget to charge big retailers 20 per cent corporation tax.

The minister left the Assembly when the vote was taken on Article 7, having earlier declared an interest and not voted in Senator Philip Ozouf’s amendment to it to reduce the levy to ten per cent.

Senator Farnham’s two assistant ministers in Economic Development, Deputy Murray Norton and Constable Steve Pallett, voted against the Council of Ministers on both issues – pressing the ‘pour’ button in support of the Ozouf amendment and ‘contre’ in defiance of Treasury Minister Alan Maclean’s 20 per cent proposal.

Shortly after the debate, Deputy Norton tweeted: ‘Large retailers get 20% tax on profits. Should’ve been 10%, will mean groceries will go up & high street investment down. #baddayforshoppers.’

Senator Farnham said that in the absence of party politics, collective responsibility did not work, as it curtailed important debate and meant that Islanders did not get the benefit of the knowledge, experience and arguments of senior politicians.

‘I did argue strongly against a 20 per cent retail tax, but I failed to persuade my ministerial colleagues that we should go for ten per cent and when it got to the States debate I was in an impossible position.

‘I did not want to vote against and break the ministerial code,’ he said. ‘I could not vote for it because it would have gone against all the work that my department have been doing.

‘Economic Development works extremely hard to grow the economy, create jobs and to represent all sectors of commerce. Lately, we’ve been working very closely with the retail sector, which is finding it really challenging. That is not just true in Jersey, which is punching above its weight compared to towns and cities around the UK and across Europe. The retail offering in St Helier is exceptional.’

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He added: ‘I am minister responsible for commerce and I have a lot of business experience. My input to the debate and the vote was curtailed because of collective responsibility. It doesn’t work and it should be abolished in the next States.

‘I don’t think I have ever abstained before. I did speak against the 20 per cent tax in my speeches, but I had to be very measured because of my position.’

And he said: ‘There are robust debates around the Council of Ministers’ table. We do work as a team and we are not afraid to have very robust conversations about these things.

‘I can assure members of the public that issues the government brings to the Assembly are very well debated.’

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Senator Maclean said that he understood the reasons for the Economic Development Department not supporting the retail tax.

He said: ‘I think I would have been doing the same thing if I had been in their shoes – they are there to support business.

‘The Chief Minister [Ian Gorst] has already said that collective responsibility isn’t working as was intended.

‘I would probably agree with that and we do need to look at it again.’

This was not the first time that ministers have broken ranks. Senator Philip Bailhache openly defied the line being taken by the Chief Minister in opposing his proposed changes to the role of the Bailiff earlier this year.

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