Friday, 10 February 2017

A Letter from Sir Robert Marett in 1981

Sir Robert Marett, KCMG OBE; who died in 1981, was a Deputy for St Brelade for nine years, and shortly before his death, this letter from him was published in the Jersey Evening Post.

It is a fascinating insight into what was seen then from probably one of the most brilliant Deputies that Jersey has had. I remember Terry Hampton, when Vicar of St Aubin on the Hill, telling me of talks he had with Sir Robert, and how he was a States member who brought both commonsense and wisdom to the proceedings.

Many of the topics in this letter are perennial, problems the Island still faces to this day – population, environment, and education, and it is worth noting his comments and advice, which I think still has something to say to us today.

A Letter from Sir Robert Marett

Shortly before he died, Sir Robert Marett wrote this letter for the Jersey Society in London, though it was first published in the Evening Post on 28 October, by whose kind permission it is reproduced here. Sir Robert describes his work during nine years in the States, and looks to the future.

I entered the States as a Deputy for St. Brelade in 1972 after winning one of the two seats in a four-cornered contest. I had recently come back to the Island after my retirement as British Ambassador in Peru. Apart from helping my constituents, my main interest was with the problem of population control and the preservation of the environment.

As a new boy I entered a hard school by joining the IDC under a very determined and dedicated president, former Deputy Philip de Veulle. This is an experience which ideally every States Member should have had. It brings home to one the tremendous difficulties of controlling the use of land, against the opposition of all sorts of personal and vested interests.

I also joined in the last stages of Philip de Veulle's Immigration Committee, which reported in 1973. It produced the famous formula (often misquoted) that "the annual rate of immigration should be such that by 1995 the population would not exceed 80,000".

The argument was that "when the population approaches 80,000 a big leap in the creation of community facilities of all kinds becomes imperative and high capital expenditure would be needed".

The report went on to underline the dangers to the environment - new houses, widened roads, etc. - that would be involved.

Under the laissez-faire policies of the late Senator Cyril Le Marquand there had been a tremendous expansion of business in the Island - creating great prosperity for most of its inhabitants, but the effect on the growth of the population was disastrous. In 1961 it stood at 63,550; by 1973 it had grown to approximately 74,000.

The Immigration Committee's report, which was approved by the States, was passed to a newly-created committee, the Policy Advisory Committee.

It was not, however, a very effective body, since it had been laid down that the president of the Finance and Economics Committee should automatically be the president of the PAC, thus giving too much weight to the economic side of the equation.

The new committee did, however, produce a report on immigration, recognizing the problem to the extent of cutting down the rate of immigration to a net figure of 500, and setting up machinery, through the "Control of Undertakings", to approve the establishment of new business. Before that time the only immigration controls had been exercised by the Housing Committee. This was a step in the right direction, but in the view of many islanders did not go far enough.

So I decided as a back-bencher to try to change the constitution of the PAC - for a private member to challenge the "establishment", especially when led by such a tough character as the late Cyril Le Marquand for whom I always had the greatest respect, is no easy task. However, by some miracle, I won the day. On my proposition the States agreed that in future the president of the PAC should be an independent member elected by the States in the usual manner. At the same time the constitution of the PAC was changed and the composition of the committee enlarged so as to give more weight to the environmental interests.

At the end of 1978, I was elected as president of the new PAC, with a very competent team to help me. We immediately embarked on a new study of the immigration problem. We worked hard, had talks with almost every business organization, the trade unions and environmental bodies such as "Concern". We gave serious consideration to the possibility of adopting a policy of no net immigration at all, so that people coming into the Island would have to be balanced by those going out. But having weighed up all the factors we decided that this was impractical since it would do too much harm to business, upon which most islanders depend for a living. So we opted for a policy for the next three years of reducing the current rate of immigration by half, that is to say to a net figure of 250.

Even this reduction caused a howl of rage from some important business groups, but was no doubt a disappointment to "Concern". Our report was accepted by the States on October 16, 1979.

No sooner had this been decided than the world was hit by a severe depression, of which there had been no hint when we were drafting our report.

Unemployment began to develop in Jersey. We did not waste any time. After discussion with the Finance and Economics Committee, the guide-lines we had established for the application of the "Control of Undertakings" were relaxed, but without departing one iota from the declared policy of keeping immigration down to a figure of 250 net. It seemed a fair assumption that, with growing unemployment in the Island there would be less pressure from immigrant workers wanting to come in.

So where do we go from here? I hope that one of the first steps of the new PAC will be to take a new look at immigration policy to see whether, under the completely new economic conditions of today, some further tightening of the screw might be possible. The following are some of my own ideas about the future:

1. We badly need a voluntary agreement with all employing bodies to give first preference to applicants for jobs who are Jerseymen, or at least already have housing qualifications. Even if the qualifications of the immigrant might be slightly higher, we would hope that preference would be given to the local man.

2. If this campaign for voluntary control fails then we might have to fall back upon "work permits". In 1973, under my chairmanship, a working party of the PAC looked very thoroughly into the question of work permits, and came to the conclusion that to administer them would require too many extra civil servants and place an intolerable burden on industry. We did recommend, however, and the States agreed, that we should have the necessary enabling legislation up our sleeves in case the States should ever decide that this method of control was needed. I have been disgusted by the long delay (owing to the need for consultation with the Home Office) in getting this legislation before the House.

3. We should pay more regard to industrial training. In 1980 I chaired a working party, established by the PAC, whose recommendations have resulted in the Education Department becoming more aware of the problem, together with the setting up of an Advisory Industrial Training Council, chaired by a business man, Mr. Gordon Reed, and consisting of business men and members of the Education Committee. I have great hopes that we are now going to make a lot of progress in this important field.

4. One of the problems is that at least 30 per cent of our school leavers have sub-standard educational standards and therefore need special training. At the moment too many of these people are registered as unemployed. In the old days the more adventurous Jerseymen would have taken ship to Australia or Canada. I myself went to Brazil! That is why the population was stable until the 1950s and 1960s. There is nowhere to go to now.

5. On the other hand there are all too few Jersey school leavers with the educational standards required for the professions or higher technical jobs. Some of these gifted young men, who may have been trained partly at the expense of the States, take jobs in the United Kingdom and never come back to the Island. That is why it is absolutely inescapable that we should import a certain number of "essential employees" with their families in order to keep the wheels of our increasingly technical society turning round.

6. The micro-chip and computer revolution can only increase the problem, with fewer jobs for the less qualified employee and a greater demand for technical expertise.

7. In the public sector the same considerations apply. Apart from this, it is essential to cut down the size of the Civil Service and those in public employment. As a member of the Establishment Committee, I greatly admire the vigour with which Senator John Averty is tackling the problem.

8. Finally, we should never forget the "multiplier" effect which goes with population growth. As a member of the Housing Committee, under the dynamic leadership of Senator John Le Marquand, I am aware that a large part of the demand for new houses arises not only because of population growth, but because people are demanding better standards. The same thing applies to modern hotels which need a bathroom in every room, adding to the pressure on water. Many working men's houses run three cars. Hence the traffic problem.

In short, the immigration problem, and all the other problems which go with it, is a tough nut to crack. Electioneering platitudes will not help. One of the problems is that preserving the environment causes few problems for the more affluent members of our society. But if we tighten the screws on the economy too much it will be the small business man and the humble employee who will suffer most.

As Colin Powell has said so often - and I could not have had a more helpful collaborator - in the end it all comes down to a question of balance.

Old men fade away and younger men take their place, and that is how it should be. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the States. On leaving I only make one plea - I hope the new PAC will not lose its momentum. I attach great importance to the need for better co-ordination between committees. I believe our efforts to get committees to present to the States fundamental assessments of their policies from time to time is a move in the right direction and should be continued.

As for immigration, I have complete faith that the Island will continue to prosper and, if the will exists, it can do so without spoiling the environment too much. 

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