[From How the IoM is governed, 1944]



Sir Spencer Walpole, who himself was Governor for many years, says in his book "The Land of Home Rule" that the Governor "appears possessed of almost autocratic authority." He qualifies this statement with the remark that a Governor thrown into constant communication with the people and with the two branches of the Legislature necessarily learns to mould his views to the people's wishes. But under the literal exercise of his prerogatives, the Governor is the sole executive authority. In addition to his legislative duties as president of the Tynwald Court and of the Legislative Council, he discharges many duties which in other countries are performed by responsible Ministers. He is his own finance minister, his own home secretary. If taxes are imposed, they are imposed at his suggestion; if expenditure is brought forward, it is proposed on his authority; he is responsible for the preservation of order. The police are directly under his control; the prison is under his supervision. The appointments are made by the Sovereign on his recommendation.-A later statement on this latter point-made in the report of the MacDonnell Commission, which will be frequently quoted in these article is that a large measure of initiative is allowed him.

Mr A. W. Moore, whose History of the Isle of Man was published in 1900, says of the Governor that he is the supreme executive authority, and shares the control of the legislative and administrative functions, including the management of the revenue, with the Tynwald Court, both being subject to the supervision of the English Government. He has the power of veto as regards the disposal of the surplus revenue, and it has been the practice for him to initiate all questions concerning the raising or spending of public funds.

The most recent. book on the Manx Constitution is Mr Samuel Norris' "Manx Memories and Movements," published in 1938. There it is said: "The Governor holds the sole executive powers of government in his hands. He is not compelled to seek the advice of anyone in the Legislature, or any person outside it, on what legislation he introduces or refuses to introduce, or whom he appoints to paid offices or unpaid posts, or what taxation or expenditure he proposes or disbelieves in."

Let us put the matter this way. The Governor does not pass the laws or levy the taxes, though he can prevent taxes which he disapproves of from being levied. He does not run such departments of government as are entrusted to boards-such as the Highway Board, the Council of Education, the Board of Agriculture-though he has power to limit the amount of money which these boards can spend. But he is in charge of everything which cannot be classified as coming within the province of some particular board; Government Office is the machine by which the Governor exercises his general duties. And this is the kind of government which is at all times most likely to affect the daily life of ordinary people, and very notably in a time of war. In a vast range of subjects his authority is absolute.

Of course this is also true, in theory, of the King of England. The King is sovereign or monarch, the sole ruler. But everything the King does is done according to advice. There may be occasions, such as when a statesman reports that he is unable to form a Ministry which could count on the support of Parliament, when it is very probable that His Majesty exercises a powerful influence, but he has no personal power: his position is simply symbolic.

Is the Governor of the Isle of Man obliged, in actual working, to act according to advice? As Mr Norris has said, he is not. To what extent does he seek advice, and where does the advice come from?


For at least 500 years, the ruler of the Isle of Man-King or Lord, or Governor - has had his council. The "council" were mentioned in the laws as declared to Sir John Stanley in 1422. This body, consisting originally of the Lord's officers-in effect, the stewards of the Lord's estate-is now represented by the Legislative Council, which since 1919 has contained four members sent by the House of Keys.

The Council is supposed to advise not only on legislation-in legislation, of course, it possesses positive power-but on administration. In the making of certain orders, such as orders under the Cattle Diseases Act, the Governor is bound to act together with at least two members of the Council. When a member of the Council takes the oath, he promises that he "will from time to time be aiding and assisting with my best advice and counsel to the Governor so oft as needful, or I shall be called upon, for the furtherance of the government and the benefit and preservation of the Isle."

"So oft as I shall be called upon," says the oath. It used to be held that the Governor was the judge of whether he should call the Council or not, and how many of them he should call. The Macdonnell Commission, reporting in 1911, stated that in the Council the Governor had a body of advisers, "any or all of whom he may freely consult." In 1921 Governor Fry introduced a Bill which would have incorporated into the written constitution a practice which recognised the whole Council as the Governor's executive. The Keys had all along felt that the executive should be drawn partly from the Council and partly from the Keys, and they turned the Bill down.

In recent years, whenever the Governor has desired advice from an executive, he has summoned the whole Council. When the Council assemble to consider legislation, it frequently happens that ether before or after the public debate, the chamber is cleared while they sit in executive.

From time to time it has been debated whether or not the Governor has a vote in the Legislative Council and in the Tynwald Court. In the Council he certainly exercises a casting vote, and it may be argued that unless the president had the right to give a vote in case of a tie, business could not be carried on.


Until the present war, the privilege of advising the Governor on questions of administration belonged solely to the Council. In their Reform petition in 1907, the Keys strongly advocated an advisory council from both branches. The Macdonnell Commission disagreed, and urged that the necessities of the case would be met by giving the Governor a body of advisers of whom part were associated with the people. The Keys were very disappointed, but having appealed to the Home Secretary. they accepted his decision.


A great change occurred in 1927, when Governor Sir Claude Hill invited the Keys to select four members who, together with the Speaker, could form "a small unofficial and informal consultative body, before whom I could bring various matters relating to the government of the Island, and with whom I could consult on points on which their assistance would be useful," "In this manner," he added, "I shall hope to inform myself of the feelings and general sense of the elected representatives of the people." In a conversation with a deputation from the Keys, he explained that the constitutional position of the Council would not in any way be affected. The Keys accepted this proposal, and the consultative committee was set up. Of late years it has consisted of the same members as the Keys' Finance Committee, created by decision of the Home Secretary in 1920 -a body whose origin and powers we propose to discuss later.

It still remained optional with the Governor whether or not to call the Consultative Committee together on and particular occasion. A committee of the Keys which reported in 1937 declared that the committee had been consulted by Governor Butler to a much greater extent than by Sir Claude Hill, particularly on financial questions. Still, said the committee, "he has not been under any obligation to do so, and a successor might have a completely different outlook."

This committee, appointed when Sir Montagu Butler was about to relinquish office, recommended that the consultation should be extended by the Governor bringing before the Consultative Committee all public Bills passed by Parliament during the previous year, and all proposals submitted to him by boards of Tynwald and public authorities, and obtaining the committee's views on them. They asked the Home Secretary to discuss this subject with a deputation. He replied that he felt sure that the policy of consultation adopted by the three previous Governors would be followed by their successors, and that no useful purpose would be served by the interview asked for.


We come now to the period of the second war. On August 4th, 1939, a month before hostilities broke out, Mr Eric Fargher moved that a committee of Tynwald should be elected "to consult with His Excellency cn all matters, questions, and actions to be taken in connecticn with national emergency." This followed a private sitting of the Keys, and the resolution was carried unanimously and without debate. Nominations were taken, and seven members were elected without opposition. The committee consisted of two members of the Council, Deemster Cowley and Mr Corrin-and five members of the Keys. Three months later this committee was disbanded, and another committee was appointed. The Speaker intimated that differences had cropped up between the committee and the Governor, and he himself retired from membership; Mr Fargher, who remarked that the way of the transgressor was hard, and that he might have been the transgressor, consented to being "dropped." Though a resolution was moved containing the names of the committee, it was stated by the Speaker that the nominations had been made by the Governor, subject to the Court's confirmation. The Court, it will be seen. had not had a perfectly free hand. Nor had the committee been permitted to choose its own chairman.

An important undertaking by the Governor was that the committee should meet him and his advisers and executive officers-apparently this meant the attorney-General and the Government Secretary-once a week, and that the whole committee, or such members as he could get at short notice, should confer with him when urgent matters arose which could not be left over till the weekly meeting.

It will be appreciated that this committee advises the Governor purely on "matters arising in consequence of the war," and that its chairman is the Second Deemster, who does not sit in Tynwald as a representative of the people. It has never been made clear whether the Governor lays before the committee all matters arising from the war, or whether he reserves the right, as his predecessors did, to act in some matters without receiving their advice.


A large number of matters arising out of the war are dealt with by orders and regulations made under the Emergency Powers Act. This Act was passed in England not long after the outbreak of war. On June 12th, 1940 Tynwald requested that the Act should be applied to the Isle of Man subject to two adaptations: That any order or regulations should (1) be approved by the War Committee, and (2) be laid before Tynwald at its next sitting. The form of this resolution was found to be unconstitutional, and in the following November it was amended so as to provide that the regulations should be submitted in draft to the War Committee for concurrence, and should afterwards be laid before Tynwald; and that orders made under the regulations which involved, any question of general policy should, except in cases of extreme emergency, be laid before the War Committee for concurrence. This was described by the Attorney-General, Deemster Cowley, Mr Norris, and others as the biggest step forward ever made in the democratic government. of the island, a step which linked up the Manx people and representatives more closely with the executive govenment than had ever been possible before.

In Tynwald on June 22nd. 1943. the, Governor informed Mr Alcock that all orders and regulations involving general policy had been dealt with in terms of this resolution.


Constant controversy has taken place in Tynwald over the Governor's claimed right to prevent any motion involving expenditure to be placed on the agenda without his consent. It was complained that this right would give him much more than the "subsequent veto," a veta upon expenditure resolutions after they had been passed. The Imperial Parliament's Act of 1866, which restored financial control to the Manx Legislature, sets out that the "surplus" from the Customs duties shall be "applied for such public purposes of the Isle of Man, to be approved of by the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, as the Court of Tynwald shall determine, the Lieut.Governor having a veto on such decision." The Macdonnell Commission remarked that the view appeared to prevail that the Governor exercised his veto of his own motion and independently of the British Government, but in their view there should be no question as to the British Government's supreme controlling power. Apart from the Governor's veto, and the question of whether or not he exercises it as the British Government's mouthpiece, it will be seen that the British Government has the right to veto a resolution after it has received the approval of the Governor as well as of Tynwald. But Governors have claimed what has been described as an "antecedent veto," a veto upon resolutions before they have even been proposed. The argument is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the person responsible for the submission of the Budget and the safeguarding of the nation's finances, must of necessity have the sole right to initiate proposals for expenditure. In recent years mernbers of Tynwald have obtained the right to submit "declaratory resolutions"; they can ask the Court to express thopinion that such-and-such a scheme, involving the spending of money, should be carried out, and to request t1ru Governor to make the necessary financial provision. A declaratory resolution is a request only, and the Governor is not obliged to comply with it.

In April, 1943, when the Governor summoned Tynwald to ask them to adopt the additional customs duties which had been imposed in Great Britain, the Speaker complained that these proposals had not been laid before the Finance Committee of the House of Keys. The Governor replied that the Home Secretary's decision in 1920, by virtue of which the committee was set up, directed hiim to communicate to both branches of the Legislature an outline of his proposals for the expenditure cf the year, but did not direct him to communicate proposals for taxation. After the House had refused to meet in Tynwald until an assurance had been given that future proposals for taxation would first be laid before the Finance Committee, the Governor gave the promise desired. The Keys assented to the doctrine that His Excellency could not bind his predecessors, and it remains to be seen whether this concession has passed into the constitution in the form of a precedent.


The Governor was formerly appointed for life or during His Majesty's pleasure. As a result of the Reforms of 1919, he cannot be appointed for a longer period than seven years.

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