Tynwald and the Bishop of Sodor & Man

In this guest post, Peter Edge, Professor of Law at Oxford Brookes, comments on the latest instalment of the debate on the position of the Bishop of Sodor and Man in the Manx legislature.

The Isle of Man is a largely autonomous territory of the UK Crown, with its own legislature, Tynwald, which has very extensive powers. Tynwald regularly meets as a single body, but much of its business, especially its legislative business, happens in the two Branches: the directly-elected House of Keys, consisting of 24 MHKs, and the Legislative Council. The Council, formerly composed of Crown officers, is now mainly composed of MLCs appointed by the House of Keys. Two Crown appointees remain in the Council, however: the Attorney General (who contributes to debates but does not have  a vote), and the Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man, who has both a voice and a vote.

The Lord Bishop is, in the Manx context, more powerful than the Lords Spiritual in the UK. Not only is the Lord Bishop a much greater proportion of his second chamber, but the Manx constitution gives more power to the Council than the UK constitution gives to the Lords. Recently, for instance, the appointment of the Chief Minister, the head of the Manx executive, depended upon the vote of the Legislative Council after the House of Keys tied.

The Island is currently in the midst of a period of constitutional change. In 2016 Lord Lisvane published an important review of the working of Tynwald, which included a substantial number of concrete proposals for major change.[1] A key focus of the review was the role, and membership, of the Legislative Council. Lord Lisvane did not, however, recommend any significant change to the position of the Lord Bishop, although he did discuss the issue at length.

Last week, Tynwald Court debated the Lisvane proposals,[2] finally concluding that some of the proposals should be considered by a Select Committee to report on changes required for their implementation (Part A); and some for further consideration as to their merits (Part B). The Committee will be reporting back on the Legislative Council by October 2017, and other elements by December 2017.

Part A included the proposal that “the Bishop should remain an MLC”, which was carried by a majority of 20 to 4 in the Keys, and a unanimous 7 votes in the Council. Part A also included a proposal that “the Bishop should not retain his vote”. This proposal was carried by the Keys by a majority of 15 to 9, but rejected by the Council by a majority of 5 to 2. Given the dominance of the elected Keys in Tynwald, there is a real possibility of the Bishop remaining on the Legislative Council, but losing his vote.

The parallel frequently drawn was between the Bishop and the Attorney General. Mr Ashford, for instance, supported the Bishop remaining in Tynwald: “the Bishop does have a role in speaking and representing all faith groups” but should not vote, as “I believe that has worked well with the learned Attorney; I believe it would work well with the Bishop as well”. [3] Mr Shimmins was critical of the vote of the Bishop as “a throwback to … less enlightened times”, but again saw the contribution as analogous to the Attorney General: “the Bishop would also provide wise counsel and pastoral advice”.[4] Mrs Corlett saw him as “a steadying view and … a moral compass”.[5] The Chief Minister combined these two threads, seeing the Bishop as both “representing a multitude of faiths” and “maybe giving a different tangent, a view on our debates … a different slant on life which personally I value immensely”.[6]

Others, however, were concerned that the loss of the vote would have an impact on the continued survival of the Diocese of Sodor and Man. Mr Malarkey warned that “probably a lot of the new Members do not actually realise that if we take the vote off the Bishop we will not have a Bishop”.[7] Mr Corkish feared that the loss of the Diocese would result  in damage to “the standing of nationhood and the status of our Island”.[8] The link between the Diocese and Manx patriotism was not, however, accepted unproblematically. Mrs Caine, self-identifying as a person of no faith, did not “see the need for a UK-appointed Bishop to be involved in our parliament”.[9]

The emphasis on the distinctive voice of the Bishop in the legislature accords with the findings of a two-year study into the work of the Bishop carried out by myself and Augur Pearce.[10] Our emphasis there was on the role of the Bishop in debates, rather than in voting. As an internal matter, a change to the voting status would make much less difference to Tynwald than the removal of the Bishop from Tynwald.

As an external matter, however, a concern raised in the 2017 debates was that change to the role of the Lord Bishop would lead to the loss of the Anglican Diocese. This is not a new line of argument, although the battleground has shifted slightly. In 1982, for instance Mr Kneale argued that the Bishop should remain on an otherwise directly-elected Legislative Council, albeit without a vote, as to do otherwise would encourage those within the Church of England who had been seeking the abolition of the Diocese “for generations”.[11] In a separate debate in the same year, Mr Radcliffe tied fears of the abolition of the Diocese on financial grounds if the Bishop were to be removed from Tynwald into a desire for greater Manx independence.[12] In earlier debates, however, the threshold for the Bishop’s survival was seen as sitting in Tynwald rather than voting.[13] By 1994, a change to the vote was sometimes seen as also raising this issue. Addressing a proposal that the Bishop should lose the right to move motions and to vote in Tynwald, although not in the Legislative Council sitting separately, Mr Lowey feared that the change would endanger the future of the Diocese.[14] Although other legislators disagreed – for instance Mr Cannell and Mr Quine – in 2001 Mr Singer referred to “an authoritative source” who had indicated that removing the vote would endanger the survival of the Diocese and lead to amalgamation with an English Diocese. [15]

We do not need to look very far afield to find a Crown Dependency with a Church of England officer who sits in the legislature as of right but does not vote. The Dean of Jersey sits in the States of Jersey ex officio and contributes to debates, but does not vote. If their roles in the state converge, a Bishop of one and a Dean of another may indeed strike the Anglican Church as anomalous.

Peter Edge

Cite this article as: Peter W Edge, “Tynwald and the Bishop of Sodor & Man” in Law & Religion UK, 28 June 2017, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2017/06/29/tynwald-and-the-bishop-of-sodor-man/

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[1] For a summary, see https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2016/07/18/peter-edge-the-lisvane-report-on-the-functioning-of-the-manx-tynwald/.

[2] Hansard, Tynwald Court, 20 June 2017, Vol 134, No. 10

[3] ibid at 2524-2528.

[4] ibid at 2779-2785.

[5] ibid at 3590-3591.

[6] ibid at 4164-4170.

[7] ibid at 3181-3182.

[8] ibid at 2912-2916.

[9] ibid at 3319-3320.

[10] PW Edge and CCA Pearce, ‘The work of a religious representative in the a democratic legislature: A case study of the Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man in Tynwald, 1961-2001‘ (2004) 9(2) Marburg Journal of Religion.

[11] Constitution (Legislative Council) Bill, House of Keys 4.5.82.

[12] Question to the Executive Council, Tynwald Court 14.12.82.

[13] For instance in Resolution to adopt Second Report of Select Committee on Representation of the People, House of Keys 25.1.83.

[14] Report on Reform of the Legislative Council, Tynwald Court 13.7.94.

[15] Constitution Bill, House of Keys 23.1.01.

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