Tynwald and the Bishop of Sodor & Man – Part II

In a previous post, Peter Edge, Professor of Law at Oxford Brookes, commented on the earlier debate on the position of the Bishop of Sodor and Man in Tynwald. In a cross-post from his own blog, he reports on the resumed debate.

In another very long session, Tynwald Court returned to the process of considering matters raised by the Lisvane Review on 18 July 2017, now available on rolling Hansard.

The most significant development was a discussion of the First Interim Report of the Select Committee on the Functioning of Tynwald – Remit and Work Plan. This report sought to inform Tynwald and members of the remit of the Select Committee, to set out a general plan of work, and to request “a modest change to our remit”. In particular, the Select Committee asked for the authority to consider whether MLCs should be able to vote on the appointment of the Chief Minister, whether the Lord Bishop should retain his vote, whether a sitting MHK should be eligible to be nominated as an MLC, and a number of changes to the draft Bill procedure. The Select Committee took as part of its remit that they should accept in principle that MLCs should not vote on measures exclusively on taxation or appropriation, that MLCs should not be Ministers other than in exceptional circumstances, and that the Bishop should remain an MLC.

The report was only briefly debated. Mr Hooper focused on two points where he felt that a majority of members of Tynwald were in agreement: that the Bishop should lose his vote, and that MLCs should be prohibited from voting on the Chief Minister. Mr Robertshaw, who had supported the loss of the Bishop’s vote, on reflection felt that the issue needed to go to the Committee. The motion was accepted by 23 to 1 in the Keys, and unanimously by the Council.

The debate may have been so brief because of two very specific motions moved by Mr Hooper further down the agenda. Mr Hooper moved that Tynwald direct the Select Committee that the Bishop should not retain his vote in the Legislative Council and that the Select Committee should consider ways to implement this change: in other words, moving the issue of the loss of the vote from consideration in principle to consideration of the implementation section of the Select Committee remit. Mr Hooper’s principal argument was that the Keys were already convinced that the Bishop should no longer vote and that, as the democratically-elected chamber, their judgment should prevail.

Mr Malarkey countered that it had been made very clear to past Chief Ministers that if the Bishop lost his vote, the Bishopric would be abolished. Mr Corkish agreed, but further reemphasised his view of the distinctive voice of the Bishop in Tynwald (“and the Bishop cometh free”). Mr Shimmins reemphasised the parallel with the Attorney General as a non-voting member of the Legislative Council and was prepared to accept the loss of the Bishopric if that were to follow from the loss of the Bishop’s vote. Mrs Beecroft drew a sharp distinction between the Bishop’s voice, which she valued, and his vote, which she thought was inappropriate. The Chief Minister and Mr Cregeen both emphasised the value of religion and morality in Tynwald.

Mr Hooper then quoted my Law and Religion blog entry on last month’s debate – and in particular the possible parallels with Jersey – as indicating that losing the vote would not necessarily result in losing the ecclesiastical office, although Mr Corkish interjected “No, it is different” – perhaps giving more emphasis to the difference between a Bishopric and a Deanery. The motion was lost in both the Keys (10 to 13) and the Council (2 to 6).

His second motion would have made a similar change in relation to the Legislative Council voting for the Chief Minister – again, moving it from discussion of principle to implementation. Debate was briefer and the motion was firmly passed by the Keys (17 to 6) but not by the Council (2 to 6) – so the motion failed to carry.

So the Select Committee remit will now extend to whether the Bishop should retain his vote but not to whether he should retain his seat. The Select Committee will report back on this as a matter of principle. Additionally, the Select Committee will report back on the principle of MLCs’ involvement in the appointment of a Chief Minister – despite a clear majority of MHKs clearly supporting the principle and wishing the Select Committee to move to implementation.

Peter Edge

Cite this article as: Peter W Edge, “Tynwald and the Bishop of Sodor & Man – part II” in Law & Religion UK, 1 August 2017, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2017/08/01/tynwald-and-the-bishop-of-sodor-man-part-ii/#more-37922.

4 thoughts on “Tynwald and the Bishop of Sodor & Man – Part II

  1. It is not absolutely clear why the existence of an Anglican see should be absolutely dependent on that bishop’s rôle in a legislature. Frank could you reprise this argument in brief for those not as immersed in Manx governance as yourself?

    • It’s not my argument: it’s the argument of various MHKs. However, I think their point is this: that the Diocese of Sodor & Man is tiny (it only has 43 churches and 14 benefices), that the fact that the Bishop is a voting Member of the Legislative Council gives a civic importance to the office – separate from its pastoral importance – that it would not otherwise have, and that if the Bishop ceased to be a Member of the Legislative Council (with or without a vote) it would drastically reduce the institutional importance of the Bishopric.

      I assume that their fear is that the Diocese would go the same way as the former Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield – which were merged into what is now the Diocese of Leeds.

      • I take your point: to go the same way as Bradford Ripon and Wakefield would be a step too far. Unless serious deficiencies in the Bishop’s exercise of his civic responsibilities have been established why the need to alter them?

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