Politicians yesterday agreed that no such charges should be introduced by committees without obtaining the assembly’s in-principle agreement.An 11th-hour attempt by Finance to restrict the need for a debate to only those charges which will reap more than £250,000 in their first full year failed.Instead, Members backed Senator Stuart Syvret’s proposition to screen all proposed charges by 38 votes to 12.The news will delight Islanders who were up in arms over the proposed introduction of user-pays charges such as the controversial sewerage tax.An indication of this was the public meeting held last week to discuss user-pays charges to which over 200 people turned out to voice their concern.Yesterday’s decision demonstrated convincing support for Senator Syvret’s proposition but it nevertheless took Members three hours to reach a conclusion.After his committee’s failure to amend the proposition, Finance president Senator Terry Le Sueur unsuccessfully attempted to move to the next item on the agenda, thereby leapfrogging Senator Syvret’s proposition.Then, in the afternoon as the debate appeared to be reaching its natural conclusion, St Saviour Deputy Lyndon Farnham made an unsuccessful attempt to refer the proposition back.In proposing that charges should be individually debated, Senator Syvret said that ambiguity surrounded the question of user-pays and there should be an in-principle debate before committees decided to implement the money-raising strategy.Were such charges a tax or a charge? he asked.
If people had to pay, they ought to have some kind of choice and if they did not, then it was a tax, he said.Imposing such charges could have a significant effect on people and erode the sovereignty of the House.
Instead of seeking to raise more money, he argued, efforts should be made to find genuine savings – a sentiment echoed by several Members, he said.Senator Syvret said that he was not entirely against the principle of user-pays, accepting that there were areas where it could be introduced, but only after such proposals had been subjected to scrutiny.Senator Le Sueur accepted that the nature of user-pays needed to be clarified but he said that they were not a bad idea.Finance had brought its amendment to bring some sense of responsibility to the House, he said, and not risk becoming bogged down in detail.
‘We have to achieve better government for the States, allowing us to concentrate on fundamentals, not details.’But in the end, the majority of Members agreed with Senator Syvret’s argument that while the amounts which could be debated could be small, the issues behind them could be quite relevant.
There should be checks and balances and safeguards with any new charges imposed on the public, said Senator Syvret, and the best way to do that was by bringing any such proposals to the States for approval.