More on Tynwald and the Lord Bishop of Sodor & Man

In his latest cross-post, Professor Peter Edge, of Oxford Brookes University, assesses the third report from the Select Committee on the Functioning of Tynwald and, in particular, the possible impact on the Diocese of Sodor & Man were the Bishop to lose his vote in the Legislative Council. 

On 20 February, Tynwald will debate the third report of the Select Committee set up primarily to consider recommendations from the Lisvane Report. Earlier reports have been controversial, and that is unlikely to change with this third report. This report considers continuous professional development for Members of Tynwald, Member’s Pay and, most significantly in purely constitutional terms, the work of the Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man in Tynwald.

The remit of the Committee has changed slightly,  and this new report explicitly considers whether the Bishop, while remaining in the Legislative Council, should lose his vote, and become analogous to the Attorney General.

Here, the ecclesiastical position of the Bishop as the head of an Anglican Diocese is key to the reasoning of the Committee. The report emphasises what the Lord Bishop adds to Tynwald:

“the combination of the presence of the Lord Bishop on the Island and the continuing existence of the Diocese is a matter of great importance to the Island in general for social and community reasons; the Lord Bishop represents a significant part of our continuing heritage. The existence of the Diocese is … a continuing part of the Island’s cultural heritage”.

The report identifies as a “key question” whether the Diocese would cease to exist if the Lord Bishop were to lose his vote but remain in Tynwald.

The Committee had written to the Archbishop of York for clarification on this point. The Archbishop replied on 14 November. In his letter, the vote is described as:

“a matter of great importance to the Church of England. It mirrors the position of the Diocesan Bishops who site in the House of Lords … and … reflects the nature of the spiritual tradition of the Isle of Man. A voice on the Legislative Council without a vote would seem to me to be a very weak position. It would be akin to the position of the Deans in the Channel Islands, who are allowed to speak but not to vote in the Parliament. You may be aware that the Channel Islands do not form a separate diocese and have no diocesan bishop; instead they are incorporated into an English Diocese.”

The Archbishop had been informed by the Bishop that

“the absence of a spiritual vote in Tynwald will cause an issue for many residents of the Island, particularly where voting is required on spiritual issues … The Bishop serves on Tynwald as a focus for all faith groups on the Island and his voting role on the Legislative Council is testimony to the fact that Tynwald takes seriously the spiritual nature of the Island’s identity, and its moral and ethical responsibility for the life of its people”.

The Archbishop concludes: “If the Lord Bishop’s vote were to be removed, in my view this would significantly undermine the case for Sodor and Man being a separate diocese”.

As a result, the Committee concluded that loss of the vote would lead to loss of the Lord Bishop and downgrading of the Diocese to a part of another Diocese based in England:

“We believe that this would have a detrimental impact on the Island’s status and influence”. The Committee noted other advantages to the Lord Bishop’s vote, in particular minimising the need for the President to exercise their casting vote, an increase in the ability to meet quoracy during LegCo vacancies. It is clear, however, that this linkage between the vote and the Diocese is crucial to their conclusion that the Lord Bishop should retain his vote.

It will be interesting to see how Tynwald responds to this element of the report. I think there are two, distinct, areas of interest.

Firstly, the Archbishop of York’s view of the Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man:

(i) In constitutional terms, it does not mirror the Lords Spiritual – although it is true to say that they share the extremely uncommon characteristic of being ex officio religious representatives who vote in a European legislature. The work of LegCo is not the same as the work of the House of Lords, ever since it lost a role in voting for the Chief Minister. Neither is the impact of the Bishop on their small chamber the same as the impact of the Lords Spiritual – even taken as a group – on their chamber. The discussion of the Select Committee on quoracy makes this clear.

(ii) The “nature of the spiritual tradition of the Isle of Man” is not spelled out. A predominantly Christian tradition may be what is meant, but within that broad theme, there are interesting differences between the Manx and the English context. In particular, the place of Methodism in the Manx scene is important for understanding of that tradition, for instance through the domination of the House of Keys by Methodist members in the second half of the 19th century (in contrast to the Anglican Council of the same period).

(iii) Similarly, the way in which the Lord Bishop serves as “the focus for all faith groups” is not detailed. The work of the Lord Bishop in representing a viewpoint between the Church of England is a recurrent theme in debates over the role, driven in the past by the position of an established Church of England in a majority non-Anglican country. A detailed study of the work of individual Bishops shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the way this work is undertaken varies from Bishop to Bishop. Bishop Nicholls in 1980, for instance, was concerned that Jewish and Muslim slaughter methods caused great distress to many people and was “different from the one used in (if I may use the words in the widest terms) a Christian community”. Bishop Attwell in 1986 expressed similar concern that a proposal might create problems “with regard to Muslims and Koranic law, where you can marry a girl at 12 and divorce is simply a male thing”. Bishop Jones in 2000 welcomed a clause exempting Sikhs from motor-cycle helmet rules as respecting them in a very sensitive way – although it may be worth noting that he had been entirely silent on that legislation, and was juxtaposing it with a discussion of summer opening of public houses, a concern closer to the Methodist interests we can see explicitly represented in Tynwald. Bishop Jones in 2000 also took the view that, unlike the UK, the Isle of Man remained a Christian country, rather than a multicultural one. It would be interesting to see if the current Bishop were willing to outline the mechanisms for ensuring he represents all faith groups, particularly those with a tradition of tension with Christianity, such as contemporary paganism; and the extent to which he would be willing to represent a faith-based issue frankly incompatible with Anglican Christianity.

Secondly, the Committee’s view that a potential loss of the Diocese would be sufficient reason to retain the vote is expressed very succinctly. The Committee has gathered clear evidence that the loss of the vote would lead to the loss of the Diocese, but does not flesh out the why this loss of a Church of England Diocese would impact on the Island’s status and influence.

(i) Is there a significant difference in the status and influence of the Isle of Man and Jersey? Jersey, it will be recalled, has already featured in debates about the place of the Lord Bishop in the Legislative Council; and is invoked again by the Archbishop of York. It may be that a reduction from a Bishop to a Dean within the Anglican structures would have a negative impact on the status and influence of the Island, but no evidence is given for this view.

(ii) Is there something special about the status and influence gained from association with the Anglican Church? Manx people are affiliated with a range of religious organisations, with a range of structural solutions to Manx distinctiveness. The Methodist Church, for instance, is structured as a single circuit, and a Methodist District in its own right. The Channel Islands are, similarly, a Methodist District (albeit consisting of a Jersey and a Guernsey Circuit).  The Catholic Church, on the other hand,  treats the Island as part of the Archdiocese of Liverpool; and Jersey as part of the Diocese of Portsmouth. The Latter Day Saints treat the Isle of Man as part of one of the six UK Missions.

(iii) How should the benefits of retaining any such status and influence be weighed against the benefits proponents of the loss of the vote identify?

Peter Edge

Cite this article as: Peter Edge, “More on Tynwald and the Lord Bishop of Sodor & Man” in Law & Religion UK, 14 February 2018, https://wp.me/p2e0q6-aVq.

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