On the 21st of November 2017, Tynwald debated the Second Report of the Select Committee on the Functioning of Tynwald, debate having been delayed by illness. Tynwald was invited to approve a number of important recommendations, which I will strand into a number of categories.
Firstly, the composition and role of the Legislative Council. The Select Committee recommended a specific job description for MLCs (passed); that the President of Tynwald should be tasked with encouraging a wide range of candidates to the Legislative Council (passed); that MHKs should recuse themselves from elections to the Legislative Council if they are candidates (an amendment by Mr Ashford was passed by MHKs, but not by MLCs, so the resolution as a whole was held over to a combined vote in December, being passed at that point with Mr Ashford’s amendment); that any examination of the pay of MLCs should not result in an increase in the overall cost of Member’s remuneration, but should result in a level sufficient to allow everyone to serve, and attract a diverse collection of community members (passed). One issue in the composition of the Council, the role of the Lord Bishop, was left until the new incumbent had settled in, and the Archbishop of York had expressed his view. The Select Committee considered only minor changes to the place of the Bishop, categorised by Mr Skelly as “a bit light”. In response to an amendment from Mr Ashford requiring the Select Committee to make recommendations on the Bishop’s role and ability to vote in Tynwald, Mr Watterson saw this as already planned for the next report from the Select Committee. Despite this support, the amendment failed in the Legislative Council, despite being passed by the Keys.
The Speaker, Mr Watterson, moving the motion, noted that previous debate about the Legislative Council had been negative, and that it was important to focus on what the Legislative Council, particular a more diverse Legislative Council, could do in the future. A duty on the President to encourage diversity was part of this, but it was a theme that also found expression in the emphasis on MLCs being full-time officers whose remuneration should not limit it to the better off, and in consideration of the age requirement of MLC candidates. Diversity in Tynwald was a particular concern of members such as Mrs Poole-Wilson.
Secondly, and again concerning the Legislative Council, the Select Committee made a complex set of recommendations in relation to MLCs in executive roles. The Select Committee recommended that Tynwald should express the opinion that the Chief Minister should only appoint an MLC as a Minister in exceptional circumstances, and that these should be explained to Tynwald – not going as far as members such as Mrs Beecroft would have liked to have seen (passed). In relation to Departmental Members, the Select Committee put a menu of mutually exclusive options to Tynwald, ranging from excluding MLCs from being Departmental Members entirely, to no change to the current practice. Tynwald adopted the last, with the slight clarification proposed by Mr Harmer that MLCs should act as Departmental Members for only one Department.
The Speaker, moving the motion, acknowledged that the retention of Departmental Members was contrary to the recommendations of Lord Lisvane, who he argued had not properly understood the workings of a system which, on its face, raised serious concerns about the separation of powers. He noted that in a small legislature, the Departmental Member scheme could function as “an apprentice scheme where future Minsters can be tested in Government work”.
Thirdly, a number of broader constitutional reforms. This included a principle that the Government should not automatically have a majority in Tynwald or the House of Keys (passed); that the Standing Orders Committee should consider amendments to the Constitution Acts, particularly around the eligibility of candidates to stand for Tynwald (passed); that the method of electing the Chief Minister be referred to the Select Committee for report by February 2018 (passed, but overtaken by events); and that each appropriation and taxation measure be based on a policy decision taken by Tynwald and the appropriation or taxation decision made by the House of Keys voting alone (failed).
More broadly, this debate had a number of interesting features.
Firstly, the structure of recommendations in relation to MLCs as Departmental Members was intended to simplify a complex decision where the Select Committee had not been clearly able to identify a consensus. As The Speaker said “We agreed that we would recommend the various options in the order of greatest change, taking the option for change which represents the most radical recommendation first, on the basis that if one option succeeds then all others fail immediately. This will reduce the need for tactical voting and reflect more straightforwardly the will of Tynwald”. This is an evolution of the approach the Speaker had taken to the motion which established the Select Committee, and helped structure a wide-ranging and complex debate.
Secondly, the debate made it clear that there were members who were in favour of a substantial, perhaps complete, adoption of the recommendations of the Lisvane Report, and who found the Report disappointing, or as Mr Shimmins, put it “woeful”. The Select Committee choose not to adopt some Lisvane recommendations, and developed recommendations of its own, leading Mr Cannan, as part of strong criticism of lack of change to the Departmental Member system, to categorise a shift of attention from the Lisvane Report to “what I, perhaps maybe slightly unfairly, would term the “Watterson Report””. Equally, other members such as Mr Boot found the Lisvane Report seriously lacking, particularly in relation to detailed understanding of the working of the system as a whole, and clearly welcomed scepticism over its value. Lord Lisvane made it clear that his recommendations could be adopted or rejected wholesale, although as I noted at the time there were considerable synergies between different recommendations. This is clearly the future of the Report – a toolkit for consideration, rather than a manifesto for major constitutional reform.
Thirdly, as the vote over the appointment of Chief Minister’s made clearer still, the focus of the current constitutional debate is on the role of MLCs in relation to the Executive; with the exception of the vote of the Lord Bishop, not in relation to its legislative work.