Taking the Long View on LegCo: Reforming the Council, 1417-2018

Professor Peter Edge, Oxford Brookes University

6.00-7.00pm, Main Hall, University College Isle of Man (free admission, no booking required)

On Wednesday 31st January, Professor Peter Edge will be talking about the past, present, and future reform of the Legislative Council, in an extra lecture for UCM’s History & Heritage public lecture series.

Prof. Edge, from Oxford Brookes University, will explore the development of the Manx constitution in relation to three broad themes: autonomy in relation to England; domestication of power within the Isle of Man; and democratisation of Manx power.

The Legislative Council has been a core component of Tynwald for centuries. From 1609, legislation in Tynwald required the assent of both the Council and the Keys and, from 1704, they debated legislation as separate branches of Tynwald. Occasionally, the tension between the two chambers flared into conflict. For instance, between 1715 and 1726 a row over the powers of the Council led to mass imprisonment of the Keys, and a purge of the Keys by the Governor.

Two reports by outside experts (the MacDonnell Report of 1911, and the MacDermott Commission of 1959) transformed the position of the Council in respect to the Keys

Firstly, from 1919, membership of the Council was gradually transformed, with the officials who sat in the Council being replaced with MLCs appointed by the House of Keys. At the start of the twentieth century, the eight members of the Council were all appointed by the Crown. By the end, one was appointed by Tynwald, and eight by the Keys. Only two officials remained – the non-voting Attorney General, and the Bishop. The continuing seat for the Bishop, and especially the Bishop’s vote, are seen by some as unfinished business.

Secondly, before 1961, the consent of the Council was required for any Act of Tynwald to become law. In 1961 a cumbersome process was set up to allow the Keys, in time, to over-ride the objection of the Council. As a result, in 1964 the Council reluctantly passed a Bill knowing that, if they did not, it would become law in any case. In 1979 the Council persevered in their resistance to Sunday licensing, and the over-ride was used for the first time.

In 2015, Tynwald asked Lord Lisvane to conduct a review of the functioning of the branches of government and to recommend options for reform. The Lisvane Report of 2016 has not been unanimously endorsed by policy and law makers. However, it is clear that even constitutional debates which reject Lisvane’s recommendations are shaped by them.

These debates form part of the continuous evolution of the Manx constitution. To quote Governor Walpole: “the constitution of the Isle of Man, like the constitution of the United Kingdom, is no rigid law. It has never been embodied in any document or regulated in any statute. It has changed, it is changing, it is susceptible of future change”.

Prof. Edge’s lecture on ‘Taking the Long View on LegCo: Reforming the Council, 1417-2018’ will take place at 6pm on Wednesday 31st January in the Main Hall at University College Isle of Man, Homefield Road, Douglas. All are welcome, and no booking is required. The lecture will be recorded and made available online at a later date.

Back to the 2017-18 Lecture Series.

   The Home Office Manx Reform Commission (McDonnell Commission) c. 1911 (courtesy of MNH PG.6271)
   Spencer Walpole, Governor of the Isle of Man 1882-1893 (courtesy of MNH PG.13485)
Lord Lisvane  
Professor Peter Edge, Oxford Brookes University