Guernsey has had a concern about population and there has been legislation relating to it since the 1940’s. There were Housing Control laws post war and from the 1940’s which over the years suffered various manifestations and alterations until housing laws were no longer felt to be Human Right compliant so were replaced by the Population Management (Guernsey) Law 2016.
Guernsey’s population has undoubtedly increased since the year of my birth (1951). It was then in the early 40,000’s or thereabouts. By 1976 it had increased to 53,637. There was then a fall of 324 over the next five years, but it then steadily continued with its upward incline until the end of 2012, when the population was recorded as being 63,085. It is now somewhere in the order of 62,500 or thereabouts. It has not shown any significant increase thus in the order of ten years or possibly more.
It is true that we are more densely populated than Jersey. Although Jersey has probably an extra 44,000 people living on its Island than we have living on ours, it is nearly twice the landmass. That said, in my view the Population Law, as I will call it for ease of convenience, is a law that is too complicated and in some ways is past its time.
It is not just in Guernsey as it applies in lots of other jurisdictions, but there is a common problem: statutes which are enacted to solve a social issue, in this case to control population, are often outdated and the horse has bolted by the time the law actually comes into force. In my opinion that is exactly the position and situation that we are in in relation to the Population Law.
I have no doubt that the Population Law should be revoked or varied or suspended. There are precedents for laws being suspended when they are out of date. There was a law that was enacted in the mid part of the 1970s which sought to control people speculating in land. By this century it had served its purpose and the law was suspended. In theory it can be brought back into operation, albeit in practice in that case that is unlikely.
My conclusion would probably be that there should either be a replacement Statute or a radically revised Statute. This note, for the sake of brevity, deals with two of the provisions of the Population Law. They are though, probably, the two main provisions.
The first is how you become a permanent or established resident. There is a very complicated set of requirements which begin at Section 3 of the Law which sets out who are permanent residents. Some of the provisions are Stone Age in their creation.
One that particularly appals me, but there are others that concern me, is the provision under Section 3(A). This relates to somebody who was born in Guernsey on or after the commencement of the Law, and one of whose birthparents (note the words birthparents) was born in Guernsey and that birthparent was ordinarily resident at the time of the child’s birth, and that birthparent had one of his or her parents born in Guernsey. That person then from the moment of their birth, and however short their residence in the Island, becomes a permanent resident. They can come back to the Island at any time and live. Others have much stricter requirements applied to them.
The idiocy of that provision is apparent in my own family. Although in practical terms it has made no difference, only one of my four children would so qualify under that provision. His three siblings were all born in England and came here as young children. That in itself, and I cannot be the only person in that position, makes that part of the Law an absolute nonsense. I appreciate, of course, I can only trace my side of the family’s residence in Guernsey back to the early 1600’s. In fact my lot have been here much longer but they were humble folk who were probably not literate so their births were not registered.
I would get rid of the distinction between permanent residents and established residents. I would still keep the definition, or a definition of an Open Market residence. What I would say is that anybody who has lawfully lived in Guernsey, whether as a minor or as an adult for eight years, becomes a permanent resident once they have spent the specified amount of time in Guernsey, and that would include them going off to university or school. I would give credit for time in the Services. I would also have one or two other provisions (without making the requirement too difficult and the law too complicated) which would enable people to clock up their eight years in say ten or twelve or fifteen years. I would keep it simple. Laws that are kept simple are the best laws.
That would also enable an Open Market resident who had lived here lawfully after that period of time to become Local. If somebody lives in this Island and is ordinarily resident here for that period of time, then in my opinion they have put their roots down and they deserve to be treated equally with other citizens. I say that as somebody whose family has been here for hundreds and hundreds of years. We are all people and we all, once we have put our roots down here, deserve to be treated with equal respect.
Such a provision would keep alive the need for and the economic viability of the Open Market. It would though say to decent Open Market citizens “We welcome you and after a certain period of time you can become a permanent resident in this Island which is truly your home”.
Somebody may ask why eight years? It is an arbitrary choice of period but my understanding was, and I agree with it, that the fifteen year period that used to be specified in the Housing Laws as a period whereby you would qualify after being an Essential Licence Holder, was deemed to be too long by European Court precedents, and eight years was thought to be sustainable. In any event I think eight years is about appropriate. Five or six years is too short and ten years is too long. It is a matter of choice and when you pick any period of time for anything there is a degree of putting your finger in the air and hoping it is right. In my view, once a person has lived here for that period of time they are as Guernsey as me.
The second part of the Law that I would alter is what I call the Licensing system. The Law provides for people to apply for Employment Permits. I should add that from what I know the staff that deal with it on behalf of the relevant body of the States of Guernsey are competent, fair and sensible. This is no criticism of them. Nevertheless this is still a bureaucratic procedure. Under Section 20 of the Population Law there are four types of employment permits, namely a long-term employment permit, a medium term employment permit, a short term employment permit and an Open Market employment permit. I would just have one employment permit. Call it whatever you will. Again, subject to deeper thought about drafting and some transitional provisions, there should just be one kind of permit.
People would have to apply for a permit if they were not permanent residents or spouses or partners or children of permanent residents. That would allow a check to make sure that they were decent people and did not have a litany of convictions and/or otherwise were unsuitable. There would have to be provisions in the permit that if they behaved badly during the term of the permit that the permit could be revoked.
That permit should be granted for everybody for eight years. That is whether they are a waiter or a bank manager or a doctor or even a lawyer (of which there are now far too many). Once that person has successfully completed their eight years of ordinary residence then they would become a permanent resident and free from such permits.
At the moment we have full employment. In fact we have had full employment for a very long time. We have a very high GDP. The economy though probably in real terms is not growing. There is not a queue of people wanting to come and work in Guernsey like there used to be. It is difficult for certain businesses, particularly in the hospitality/tourist sector, to attract people. That is not so much to do with the population but because of the shortage of skills and people available to do that work elsewhere, the lack of local people wanting to work in those sectors and the strength of the economy in other jurisdictions which used to supply that labour. Thus we do not need another bureaucratic hurdle. Whether we like it or not Guernsey is considered to be unwelcoming to potential incomers. We need to, therefore, disabuse people of that conception.
Thus we have a law, in my view, which is outdated, which is too cumbersome and which does not meet the needs of a 21st Century developed economy like Guernsey.
My proposals would enable us to be more flexible. If in the future there was a problem then we could bring in a law. We should be bringing in laws more quickly anyway to meet various problems that we have or requirements that we might want to achieve than our current process. That though should be the subject of another note.
The above is not meant to be a legal treatise. It is just meant to express my views as a Guernsey person who has lived here for the majority of his life and with the wellbeing of Guernsey very much in mind. It is meant to be practical. If these or like proposals were adopted I sincerely do not believe they would bring the walls of Jericho tumbling down or encourage vast swathes of unsuitable people to come and live in our lovely Island.
Deputy Peter Ferbrache