Tuesday, 25 November 2014

In the Local News

The Duke’s Speech, or Legislation will be brought forward to....

I have come to the conclusion that what we don’t really have as such is the equivalent of the Queen’s speech – a clear indication of the legislative programme that the States will be planning for the next three and a half years. Cut out the aspirational statements from Ian Gorst’s speech to the new assembly, and substance is thin on the ground.

A statement such as this - “We must ensure that our legislation maintains our competitiveness; our approach to regulation must encourage and foster new enterprise while upholding fair competition and open markets.” – actually tells you nothing at all. It is like an astrological forecast, hedged round with so many qualifications that it could mean anything.

Now there is nothing wrong with aspirations, and Senator Gorst lays down some very good ones. But in the UK, in the Queen’s Speech, Parliament opens with the broad details of a legislative programme, not an aspirational one.

When one cuts out the aspirational sentences, or the heavily qualified ones, there are two items left which are solid nuggets:

“I will be proposing to establish a new monetary authority; and the monetary authority will be tasked with identifying and assessing the threats to financial stability in Jersey and with providing independent advice on actions to meet these threats.”

“Mental health has not received the attention it deserves, and I am supporting plans to update the Mental Health Law and to radically improve the support available for people with mental health issues.”

As it now stands, the best way to find out what is intended is to look at the sittings and debates that are forthcoming, and to ask questions about what legislation is currently at the law draftsman office.

But in future, as well as sounding out nominations once elected, I think space should be given somewhere in the States sittings for laying out the legislative programme for the States agreed between Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers. The Medium Term Plan is a fiscal measure, not a legislative one, and we need to know more, and earlier.

Open and wealthy economy.

I find it strange that a recent report praised Jersey as having a “mature political and institutional settings, transparent economic decision-making, and high fiscal flexibility” and said we had an “open and wealthy economy”.

Is this the same economy which has given rise to a 95 million pound deficit? Evidently it is as open as a sieve, with taxable income draining away. The recent scrutiny report criticised the budget for being a hotch-potch of ad hoc measures. In fact what we need is to have the two adjectives reversed, and “mature economic decision-making, transparent political and institutional settings”.

But now we are after the election, I’m sure the new Treasury Minister does not want to be reminded of the black hole in the States finances which he has just inherited. Expect a lot of fiscal and verbal flexibility from that direction!

Street Wise, not Street Works

Kevin Lewis promised if elected to bring in a Street Works Law by the end of the year. Will Eddie Noel manage to do this? Or will the Sir Humphreys in the Civil Service press the “reset button” and push it all back onto the drawing board yet again? Please, someone ask a question in the house.

Schools and Religion in Assembly

"Tobias Gosselin says his four-year-old daughter is being subjected to religious propaganda after a group called the Bible Society were invited into her school to hold assemblies on Christianity."

Parents have the right to ask for their children to be excused from school assembly on grounds that they do not agree with the religious element. Even when I was at school, the Jewish and Catholic students did so. So I really don't see why there is such a fuss.

In terms of the general content, what would alarm me would be that evolution would be denied, and creationist views proposed. If that was the case, even regardless of the right to take out a student, I would be extremely concerned. But no such accusation has been made, nor is there any indication that this is the case.

Most of the Old and New Testament is story - which may or may not be history - and sometimes more like a good yarn than fact. Moses is about to be the subject of a Ridley Scott blockbuster movie but I doubt whether any more than Cecile B De Mille, the religious element features highly. The story is a fabulous one, like European folk tales, or Greek myths. Stories like these form part of the English cultural heritage, and even Richard Dawkins acknowledges that.

Is it indoctrination for a religious element to be present in school assemblies? Going from the legacy of my own school days, I would say that generally it is a highly ineffectual one. As long as kindness, compassion, and not intolerance is the result, I have no problem with it.

But most parents can opt out and choose not to do so. Mr Gosselin would like to impose an "opt in" instead of an "opt out". I can't see why except that he would in fact like his own atheist views to be the default. Is that really fair either? It is substituting one kind of belief for another, and imposing it on children. I know that some of the more fervent atheists proclaim loudly that it is not a belief, but for those of us of a more agnostic frame of mind, it certainly seems to be, especially when expressed so forcefully.

Sex and Statistics

“More than 40 prostitutes – many of whom fly in from the UK to meet clients in hotels – have been working in Jersey during the past year, the JEP can reveal following a three-month investigation into the Island’s hidden sex trade.” (Jersey Evening Post)

The JEP loves to go for large showy headlines that give scary figures. But are the figures as scary as made out. While it says “more than 40”, it cannot mean many more, or it would put “more than 50”.

So let us look a a few facts.

40 in a population of around 100,000 even if transient, amounts to 0.04% of the population. That is a very small number.

In 2010, the number of prostitutes in the UK was estimated at 100,000, and the population at around 62.8 million, giving a percentage there of 0.16% of the population.

Were Jersey to have a comparative percentage, it would mean around 159 prostitutes in Jersey, which is considerably more than the headline JEP figure.

So whatever people think of the issues about whether it should be legal – and the JEP is conducting a self-selecting online poll – the fact is that the situation in the UK is that there are significantly more prostitutes as a percentage of population than Jersey.

The Legal Situation. 

In Procureur Général v Sangan, the accused was convicted of keeping a "maison de prostitution". 

It should also be noted that enforced prostitution is a crime under the Geneva Conventions Act (Jersey ) Order. Meanwhile, the Sexual Offences Act 2003, "criminalises the commercial sexual exploitation of children under eighteen for prostitution or the making of pornography and creates a range of gender neutral offences punishing those who exploit others by receiving money from prostitutes of either sex, those who manage or control the activities of prostitutes of either sex for money or reward and those who recruit men, women or children into prostitution whether or not for gain."

And there are also the procurement offences found in the Loi (1895) Modifiant le Droit Criminel and the offences of using a house for the purpose of prostitution, living on immoral earnings, soliciting for purposes of prostitution or controlling prostitutes with a view to gain, which latter offences are found in the Loi (1915) Modifiant le Droit Criminel.

Where the law has a gap is where prostitutes solicit without coercion (or evidence of coercion). However, they must have somewhere to ply their trade, and that might come under the offense of using a house for the purpose of prostitution.

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