Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Jersey Youth Parliament: A Kick in the Teeth?

In September 2015, Amy Vatcher met with Privileges and Procedures Committee to discuss holding the Jersey Youth Parliament meetings in the States Chamber. She argued that it would give an appropriate status to the organisation, which she hoped would become the representative body of the Island’s young people.

She advised that the Jersey Youth Parliament would like to hold approximately 4 plenary meetings a year, to take place preferably on Saturday mornings. The meetings would last around 4 hours.

She recognised that there would inevitably be some cost associated with opening the States Chamber on a Saturday morning, as the presence of at least one States usher would be necessary. She further acknowledged that it might also be necessary for an employee from the security company which controlled the Chamber’s public entrance to be present if a large number of visitors were expected.

Ms. Vatcher remarked that although the organisation was likely to secure sponsorship in the near future, some contribution to these costs from the States Assembly budget would be of great help. Whilst she was open to the possibility of arranging meetings of the Jersey Youth Parliament during normal working hours or school holidays to avert such outlays, she considered it important that the meeting dates be as convenient as possible for the young people involved.

Questions were put to her by members of the committee, and in response, it transpired that at least 40 young people would be elected as members of the parliament, some as independents, others as part of the parliament’s established parties. 

The Committee was informed that anyone aged between 16 and 21 could stand to be a member, with the first set of elections to be held in October 2015. The term of office would be one year. Members would be able to stand again at the end of that term should they so wish.

In terms of the conduct of debates, a non-partisan Speaker would be appointed from within the parliament to preside over the sitting and maintain order in the traditional way. In addition, the Jersey Youth Parliament was in the process of drafting its own set of Standing Order

The committee was impressed by the enthusiasm of the representatives and felt that they were aware of the issues that needed to be dealt with before they could be allowed to use the States Chamber. As a first step, the Committee agreed to consult the Bailiff, as President of the States, on the matter before taking a final decision.

However, after the meeting of 13 October, the Bailiff was called upon to give his decision, and the Committee acquiesced in his negative attitude.

The Bailiff advised the Committee that the States Chamber was occasionally called upon to function as a Court, often at short notice, when the Royal Court was already occupied, so this would preclude its use on weekdays. Moreover, he was of the opinion that the use of the States Chamber in this way by external parties could, potentially, diminish the standing of the Chamber.

Clearly the Bailiff had not bothered to read the minutes of the previous meeting, nor had been appraised by the Committee that the meetings of the Jersey Youth Parliament were intended to take place on Saturday mornings, which is not commonly a time when the Royal Court is occupied. The Committee could have corrected him on that, but that was not the case. They kept silent.

And precisely what he meant by “the use of the States Chamber in this way by external parties could, potentially, diminish the standing of the Chamber” is unclear. This is a meaningless piece of drivel, or as George Orwell put it, has a “lack of precision”; as Orwell said of this kind of verbiage, the speaker “either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.” At the end of the day, they reveal probably more about the rather pompous and somewhat out of touch Bailiff.

For what is forgotten is this: the Schools already have Youth Assemblies which take place in the States Chamber. The Jersey Youth Assembly is held once a year and brings together year 12 and 13 students from the Island’s post-16 schools and colleges to spend an afternoon in the States Chamber. No one, as far as I am aware, has ever suggested that this use of the States Chamber by an external party diminishes the standing of the Chamber! If there is any cause for precedence, there it is!

It was good that Deputy Judy Martin considered that the Jersey Youth Parliament should be able to hold their meetings in the States Chamber and expressed concern that the Committee’s decision, in this regard, could extinguish their enthusiasm. She requested that her dissent from the Committee’s decision be recorded. It is a shame that Sam Mezec did not follow suit.

In fact, in so far as it might diminish the standing of the Chamber, the Jersey Youth Parliament would probably do so because the quality of debate would probably put the States members to shame.

The decision to elect their own non-partisan speaker from among their members would have also caused chagrin for William Bailhache, as it might provide an illustration of how the States might function without him. If anyone’s standing might be diminished, it would not be that of the Chamber, but him personally.

Amy Vatcher was part of the campaign to get the Jersey Youth Parliament off the ground, and also was a stalwart supporter and speaker in favour of the “Yes Campaign” to retain the Constables in the States. This request cannot be dismissed as an attempt to promote some kind of left wing Agenda.

To tell the Jersey Youth Parliament that they can meet in the Town Hall instead is to lose sight of their objectives, one of which is to encourage enthusiasm among young people for politics.

Back in the 1970s, the Executive Committee of the Société Jersiaise took a decision that their Curator was not to engage with schools and education, but his task was simply to preserve and look after the museum. It was a lack of foresight, which saw the purpose of the society as primarily concerned with looking inward.

Privileges and Procedures, following William Bailhache’s lead, have turned their back on engagement and encouragement of young people, however much they dress up their decision. Like the Société, they might be described as more concerned with looking after old fossils than educating and engaging the politicians of tomorrow.

1 comment:

Mazdak Khurramiyah said...

As someone who is involved in the Jersey Youth Parliament I am more than just disappointed; I am rather angry. It gets very tiring to have politicians say "The youth must get more involved in politics!" just to have this thrown at our face.