Kate Beecroft MHK
Tynwald Motion 19/02/2013
Madam President, I stood for election because I felt that democracy was being eroded on this Island. I did not stand with the ambition of having a long political career. I stood because I wanted to change the way things work here. Democracy and freedom of speech should be the cornerstones of our society. But I fear that our democratic rights, and our freedom of speech, are being weakened daily. Just in this session of Tynwald we have seen examples of this. In the budget debate members were denigrated and mocked for having a different opinion – a different point of view. We were told we should not be saying anything negative, nothing that would not help confidence in the outside world. Madam President, I thought that the budget was supposed to be debated – not just a method of heaping praise and being careful what you said in case it was not what government wanted you to say. Then we had Mr Corkish saying that internet forum sites should be shut down. What happened to freedom of speech. Whether you like this site or not – whether you agree with what is being posted there or not, that is immaterial. This Island is supposed to have freedom of speech and I will defend anyone’s right to exercise that freedom, even if I don’t like what they are saying. Last night we had the Southern Area Plan debate. I voted against it and am still torn as to whether or not I did the right thing. We had assurances that it had all been done legally, but it did not FEEL democratic. It cannot feel democratic, even it is legal, when the three local authorities – who represent the people – and the three MHKs – who represent the people – were against it and it still went through.
The Minister did promise last night that he will look at the procedures and see what can be done to make things better, more democratic, and I hope that he manages to do this before other area plans come forward. There were more examples I could have used, but those are just three, and just from this sitting of Tynwald.
The Ministerial system of Government together with collective responsibility has not been round for long in a political sense and it has been in a process of evolution. Various pieces of legislation and subsequent amendments testify to this. There were two Bills that most affected the powers of the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers â€“ and diluted the authority of Tynwald. The first was the Government Departments Bill 1987. This Bill amended the number of departmental members and the way they were appointed. Up to that point each department had two members. They were nominated by, what is now called the Council of Ministers, but were elected by Tynwald. This Bill removed the fixed number of departmental members but, more importantly, gave Council of Ministers (rather than Tynwald) the power to appoint and to dismiss them. The second Bill was in 1990 â€“ The Council of Ministers Bill. This Bill removed the right of Tynwald to elect the Ministers. This right was given to the Chief Minister. The code of collective responsibility for Ministers and Departmental Members evolved until we arrive at the situation we are in today.
We have evolved from a situation where Tynwald appointed the Chief Minister, the Council of Ministers, or Executive Council as it was then, and all departmental members, to where we are today – and that is that Tynwald elects the Chief Minister but all subsequent appointments and dismissals are by the Chief Minister who may or may not take into consideration the wishes of his Ministers. Most of the Ministers are elected as independent MHKs. Yet when they sign the code of collective responsibility, they have to support whatever is decided in the Council of Ministers meetings. If they are not prepared to do this they have to resign or risk being sacked from their Ministerial position. They say that they are proud to be independent and do not want party politics on the Island – that we are too small for party politics. But what you have today is party politics by stealth. It is a party that is formed after the election. A party that the electorate have had no say in. A party that has not published their policies. A party that claims to still be made up of independents – even though a Minister who sticks to what he believes in – what the electorate voted him in for – is going to lose his position. This is not right. It is not democratic. There have been many who feared the path that this ministerial system would lead to. And I would like to quote just a few comments from over the years. 1987 – Mr Quine tabled an amendment to Clause 2(1) of the Bill because he said that if this “is passed into law the appointment of members of departments and their removal from office would, as the Chief Minister has pointed out, be at the pleasure of Executive Council. I find this unacceptable. To place such authority in the hands of Executive Council would, to my way 3|Page
of thinking, significantly detract from the standard of Tynwald and the relationship between Tynwald and Government as represented by Executive Council.” Mr May agreed with Mr Quine and said, “Because ultimately the decision for any appointments should rest with the Tynwald Court rather than with Executive Government on its own.” Mr Karran commented, “If this is passed there is no question, in my opinion as an ordinary member of the House of Keys, you will be helping to create an old boys’ club and you will have a situation where when you are in – you are in, and if you are not in – you will be out in the cold.” During the various debates on the Council of Ministers Bill in 1989 Mr Karran stated that, “The appointing and dismissing at the whim of the Chief Minister makes the position of Chief Minister very, very powerful. He went to say that this would lead to a minority government of elected people who have ultimate power and that there would be very little that other elected members could do. I think that Dr Orme summed it up very effectively and it is worth quoting the start of his contribution in full. Mr Speaker – I am in every respect unable to support this Bill. Mr Speaker – if we were to step back to the principles which we all claim underlie our system of government and democracy – we are seeking systems which reinforce the principle of government by the people for the people. Now – how that aim is served by this proposal – I do not understand. The proposal in the Bill, Mr Speaker, is that a Chief Minister who is unidentified before the electorate will be placed in a situation where without any policies that have been put before the Island as a whole he will be given
carte blanche to choose a government which in effect will create a one-party system within this Parliament. Now to me that is a recipe for nothing but disaster Mr Speaker. I cannot see that anyone can defend that. If there were to have been some checks in this proposal before us upon that I would perhaps have had a greater respect for it but I can only suspect that a one-party system is the intention of this Bill. It is not accidental it is an intention and there will be a one-party system within this parliament the Executive Council Party and as the senior member for Onchan reflected that Executive Council plus Legislative Council will in effect hold sway and I can only see that as being a measure which will serve if anything to defeat the primary aim of a democratic government. How very prophetic. How far sighted were some of the members in 1987 and 1989.
Tynwald first resolved to adopt a ministerial system of government in June 1983. It is curious that the first time an amendment to this resolution was suggested it was by Mr Bell,our current Chief Minister. One of the reasons he gave for moving the amendment was that - a ministerial form of government is urgently needed to ensure that the Island enjoys direct and decisive leadership at a time of economic stagnation. Mr Delaney tabled an amendment to Mr Bellâ€™s Resolution to â€œimplement a form of ministerial government appropriate to the needs of the Isle of Man.â€? Our current Chief Minister had to wait over 20 years but he became Chief Minister in the ministerial system of government which he wanted.
During the intervening years some have tried to put constraints on this mighty power. In 1992 Mr Quine tabled a Motion which called for the appointment of a Select Committee to report back with a mechanism for appointing a Standing Committee to scrutinise Government policies and activities. It is worth noting some of Mr Quineâ€™s concerns at this time, in 1992. My present concern is with the evolution of ministerial government over the last five years, particularly the transfer of the power to make ministerial and other appointments from Tynwald Court to the Chief Minister. My concern is not so much with the fact that the Chief Minister has assumed the power, or been given the power, to make or to appoint his own ministers if that were where it rested but with the absence of adequate checks and balances to underwrite the democratic process. Now here on the Island Tynwald Court appoints a Chief Minister and he in turn invites nine ministers to join him to make up the ministerial team. They, of course, function, as we understand it, on the basis of collective responsibility, imperfect in practice as that may be on occasions, and I think we can expect that. The Chief Minister, then, to all intents and purposes has in his gift the chairmanships of statutory boards, no fewer than four I think at this point in time. The Chief Minister, in consultation with ministers, then appoints members to departments. The chairmen of statutory boards and members of departments are expected to support the Chief Minister and their respective ministers insofar as their ministerial system. He went on to say - The Chief Minister has a considerable amount of patronage at his disposal, and I am certainly not suggesting that that
patronage has been misused in any way, but it does give him, if nothing else, exceptional security of tenure. Five years ago Government was in the hands of parliament as a whole; that was exercised through a severality of boards, and executive power was not centralised as it now is.
We do indeed now have Scrutiny Committees but the Chief Minister still does have, as Mr Quine said, a considerable amount of patronage at his disposal. Not many Ministers, or indeed departmental members, will go against the wishes of a Chief Minister because they are aware of the consequences. Collective responsibility has not always been so rigidly enforced as it is today under our current Chief Minister. Indeed he has broken the rules on two occasions himself and was not sacked for doing so. In March 1987 Sir Miles Walker was the Chief Minister. During the Human Rights debate Mr Bell voted against the Council of Ministers. In Tynwald he said I find myself in a very, very difficult position this afternoon. On the one hand I do support the principle of collective responsibility within Executive Council and of course loyalty to my Chief Minister, but on the other hand I am bitterly opposed to the position Executive Council have taken on the issue of granting Manxmen the right to petition the European Court of Human Rights. Hon. members who were members of the last Government are aware of my strong feelings on this issue when I tried to have the rights petition restored last year. It was my intention to argue again at some length in favour of restoration. However, in deference to my Chief
Minister and to the eloquent case put forward by Mr. Speaker, I will keep my remarks brief today. But, Your Excellency, my brevity does not mean I am going to support Executive Council's view on this matter. He did however, go on to speak at length and he survived. He survived again in October 2001 when Mr Gelling was Chief Minister. Mr Bell was the Minister for Home Affairs. There were concerns at that time over where carcases of slaughtered animals would be buried should the Island be hit with an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. A Motion was tabled for a burial site in Jurby. The proposal was agreed unanimously in the Council of Ministers meeting but, when it was on the floor of Tynwald, he voted against it. The Government was outvoted and suffered a humiliating defeat. Mr Bell said that he had “changed his mind” since the Council of Ministers considered the plan in September. Chief Minister, Mr Gelling, said that Mr Bell had made his position very difficult – that he would talk to him about his vote – but that he would not sack him. The position today is that we have a Chief Minister, who at least twice whilst he was a Minister, did not obey the rules of collective responsibility and survived. This is the same Chief Minister who has been responsible for the sacking of one Minister, Mr Karran, and three departmental members, Mr Hall, Mr Houghton and Mr Henderson since he came to power nearly eighteen months ago. The most concerning is actually the sacking of Mr Henderson, the principle behind this sacking. Mr Henderson was sacked for saying that he was going to vote against the introduction of tuition fees. For saying it, not for voting
against – no vote took place, so it was just for saying he was going to vote against it. Mr Henderson is not a Minister and he was not in the Department of Education so how was he governed by collective responsibility? I asked the Chief Minister this very question in the House of Keys on 29 January, just a couple of weeks ago. He said “Mr Henderson was part of Treasury. Treasury has responsibility for drawing up the Budget and the tuition fees issue was very much part of the Budget and Mr Henderson was part of the construction of that. Therefore, unless there is a very clearly stated pre- declared position within Treasury, Mr Henderson, as every other Member, would be covered by the same rules”. Does this mean that any item which is in the Budget that we discussed this morning is tying all Treasury members, as well as the departmental members, to support a financial Motion brought to Tynwald by any Minister? It would certainly appear so. That is what the Chief Minister said. In his manifesto Mr Henderson said the student grant system must continue. Isn’t a manifesto promise a pre-stated position? Apparently not. Any MHK may change their mind because of a change of circumstance or whatever and if they do they are answerable to their electorate. They have to explain to those who voted for them and got them elected. No MHK should be forced to go against a manifesto promise as if it were not important – not a prestated position. The situation today – is that Ministers hide behind collective responsibility. They say – well I don’t like it but I am governed by collective responsibility. It’s as if this absolves them from any responsibility. This is not right and this is certainly not democratic.
As we have seen many warned, because of the size of our parliament, that the legislation and the rules governing collective responsibility, could be the creation of a monster. I am not going to call it a monster - but I would say that it is monstrous. It has evolved over time to where it is today and I believe that it is time for further evolution - an evolution that will make our ministerial system more open, more transparent and more democratic. One way of achieving this could be that, before a new Chief Minister is elected, he sets out in writing his basic policies, ones that any Minister that he selects would have to support, but that anything outside of these would be a free vote. Everyone would know where they stood then. MHKs and, more importantly the public, would know what the basic policies of a new government were, what their elected MHKs would be expected to support, and what they would be able to vote freely on. Ideally, which MHKs were governed by collective responsibility and which were not should be stated at the start of every debate. In a perfect world, I would like to see the whole Island voting for the Chief Minister before a Council of Ministers is appointed. That way everyone could play their part in selecting the MHK whose policies resonate the most with their wishes and every MHK would know what policies they would have to support should they accept a Ministerial position. I know that is a long way off but I do believe that one day it will happen in some form. Changing the way collective responsibility is enforced would most certainly help the evolution of democracy on this Island. The Motion is asking for the Council of Ministers to consider this and to report back to this Court in May. That is all. I have put no firm suggestions in
the Motion because I am sure that whatever I suggested would not find favour. That is why I am asking the Council of Ministers to come forward with their suggestions for debate in May. I do hope that members will support this Motion, and I do hope that the Council of Ministers is not restricted by collective responsibility when voting on this Motion. Thank you Madam President. I beg to move.
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