Vaguely Illuminating

The proceedings continued. I’ll try and keep it brief and raise the points that seem to connect with earlier posts. I won’t discuss the validity of individual proposals. This is about our legislative process and questions we need to ask and ensuring we put the right people in place. 

Just to recap: Mr Earnshaw has told the committee that he is a facilitator and that officers draw the Bill together and that he, the Minister, moves it through the Keys. Under those circumstances it would be reassuring to know that the officers involved are really au fait with all the ins and outs, operational practicalities etc. I was also looking out for some evidence to bear out the claim that the Bill was considered to be an urgent matter. 

The sitting continued with evidence from Mr Julian Lalor-Smith (official in charge of the bill) and Mr Will Greenhow (at the time Chief Exec of the Department). In a nutshell: questions were raised about why concerns from the Data Protection Officer (amazingly, the Data Protection Officer’s input was described as “one officer expressing a view”) and the Law Society were not followed up. It seems that the High Bailiff was invited to express his views but concerns from other parties were apparently disregarded at least to the extent that they were not invited to express their views. 

The big question about meetings between MoJ and IOM counterparts where “generally no permanent record is kept of these meeting and that action points are agreed between officers” was actually raised by the Chairman. Mr Greenhow was asked if he accepted this to be the case and whether any elements of the Bill were discussed in those meetings to his knowledge and recollection. Mr Greenhow stated that he was not aware of any such discussions. Mr Gill then questioned if Mr Greenhow was aware of any meetings held in the manner described by the Chairman between any of the officers of the Constabulary or of the Home Affairs Department. Mr Greenhow said he was not aware of any and added, “That is not to say they did not happen, but certainly they were not brought to my attention.” 

When questioned about the urgency issue Mr Lalor-Smith refers to codes of practice in operation in theUKthat are apparently lacking in the Isle of Man. He was asked if they looked further than the UKfor examples of legislation presently in use. Well, I think you can guess the answer to that one. 

Mr Lalor-Smith seemed unable to answer some questions verbally and suggested that he would prefer to supply these answers in writing. On other occasions he suggested that the Chief Constable might be better able to answer the question. 

I am not going to attempt to go into the details of the proposed legislation. I do urge you again to read the document online and bear in mind that while we may have perfectly reasonable people in place at the moment we cannot guarantee that the situation will remain that way. Therefore, anything that could be open to interpretation could be viewed quite differently by different people and under different circumstances. 

Mr Greenhow told the committee that the Department is responsible for policy. If this is the case then it would seem that we need an informed, awakened, determined and steely Minister to deal with these matters. But I can also see that when enormous amounts of proposed legislation are being put forward it is almost impossible for one man to deal with it. What would you do? Seek advice? The size of Bills was raised and perhaps this is the crux of the matter. Smaller Bills can be dealt with more rapidly and thereby increase the possibility of being passed by Tynwald. Why does the Department seem to prefer large Bills that can be difficult for some to get their heads round? That is the question. 

If the Minister feels he is a facilitator and if the official in charge of the bill needs to refer questions to the Chief Constable then who is really in charge? And what could happen in the future with other people in place if they had less-than-honourable intentions? Not possible you think? Do you think we really know what’s going on? Then what about the informal meetings which have not yet been denied? Does that sound transparent and in our interests? We have no FOI Act to obtain any further information and little hope of obtaining a FOI Act in the near future. 

What can we do? Ensure our candidates are aware of our views. Your ever-so-nice candidate might be just the person to listen patiently to your personal local concerns but is he the right one to fend off unnecessary legislation which could threaten our future freedom? Is he knowledgeable about how things really work? 

As always, if anyone wishes to comment on or contradict the above they are welcome to do so. If you wish to confirm things for yourself the transcript is available at:
http://www.tynwald.org.im/papers/early/committee/epkcjb010411.pdf

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