Isle of Man 2011 Election. How does government work?

In the run up to the Isle of Man 2011 election we have a superb opportunity to give our candidates some feedback, which I’m sure they would appreciate. We could also take the opportunity to question them about their knowledge of how government works – arguably the most important knowledge an MHK can possess.  At Isle of Man 2011 Election blog the concern is the disparity between the perfectly reasonable manifestos produced by the candidates and the frequently inappropriate bills presented to Tynwald.

My MHK, like yours(?),  is a charming, helpful person who produced utterly reasonable and acceptable proposals prior to the last election and yet, once elected, as a member of the government his time and energies seemed to be centred round some quite extraordinary legislative proposals. Of extreme concern to me is that much of our proposed legislation appears quite irrelevant and unsuited to our requirements. Indeed this very aspect of the bills led me to take a closer look at how government works and how these seemingly alien proposals enter the system. As it seemed most unlikely that my MHK had undergone a personality change – I am sure he is still the well-intentioned, helpful, idealistic man I always assumed him to be – how did these items enter the system in the first place?

Take the Justice Bill: How many MHKs protested about the proposals contained in the Justice Bill? Thankfully, some did  and some were very open about their concerns. However, the two headlines below make it difficult to understand why the bill was ever presented:

Minister respects decision on Criminal Justice Bill – Critics of a controversial and far-reaching criminal justice bill say they are delighted it will now receive the scrutiny it deserves.

Recorded crime falls and detection rate increases – RECORDED crime in the Island fell 2.4 per cent during 2010-2011 while the detection rate has increased, new figures show.

So why has so much time been spent on an apparently unnecessary bill? Is it possible that there is a pathway by which UK legislation is fed into our system?

 Possible “Birth of a Bill”?*

1) There are regular meetings between officials in the Ministry of Justice and their counterparts in the Isle of Man (including the Chief Secretary) And Michael Wills MP states  “In general no formal or permanent record of these meetings is kept and most often action points are agreed between the respective officials.” Tristram C. Llewellyn Jones states that: It is unclear who makes the decision as to whether a specific piece of UK legislation is appropriate for the Isle of Man.

 2) Chief Officer Group meetings are chaired by the Chief Secretary. These minutes often state that ‘Council considered a paper submitted by the Chief Secretary’ This has been described as “a standard phrase used to describe matters arising in Westminster for consideration by the Isle of Man authorities.”

 3) An insider tells us that “policy and direction emanates from the departments not the politicians.” This suggests that policy and direction is actually coming largely from the civil service and “In turn much of this policy comes from the UK – from Westminster”

4) Our insider also refers to the “sheer volume” of legislation going through the house and casts doubts as to whether we need most of it in the first place.

5) And further reference is made to a “tendency to introduce new legislation which is similar to the laws being passed in England and Wales and is a copy of it but which is actually more stringent here, more invasive and provides even greater powers over the people than is practiced in England.”

6) It seems that our ministerial system, the block vote and financial implications can be instrumental in passing legislation which did not enjoy full support at the outset: An insider, “It is thus perfectly possible to find that there is a natural majority against a piece of legislation and yet find that it will still sail through with a solid majority…. it also calls into question the value and meaning of policies expressed in a candidate’s manifesto when it is so often the case that members find it impossible to follow their natural convictions once in office.”

* Sources:

 Our Secret Relationship with the UK – Memo to the Justice Committee Memorandum by Tristram C. Llewellyn Jones, Positive Action Group member, Isle of Man.

A View from the Inside – Chris Robertshaw MHK

Could it be that 1+2+3+4+5+6 = The pathway to the introduction of unsuitable, irrelevant legislation such as that contained in the Justice Bill, Children Bill etc.?

Should this view be incorrect a clarifying statement would be much appreciated. This blog is not about seeking to apportion blame but about finding a way to ensure that the wishes of the electorate are observed at all times and that valuable time is not wasted. So much political time and energy have been spent on these topics – and others. The question is: Why were the bills ever presented for debate in the first place? Who considered these bills appropriate for our needs?

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