[From How the IoM is governed, 1944]


"Tho Keys are called the representatives of the country." So said Deemster John Pari, in the abstract of the laws of the Isle of Man which he compiled towards the end of the seventeenth century. And in the heading to various Acts passed ins 1645 and at various dates for another 80 years the Keys are described as "the representative body" or "the representatives" of the Isle.

The word "representative" has two meanings. As a noun it means a person chosen by another to speak for him; as an adjective it means, among other things, typical, a sample of, "presenting the full character of a class." The Keys, in the course of their history, were not always elected by the people, but they always, like an ordinary jury, resembled "the body of the country." Until the Reform Bill was passed in Great Britain in 1832, it might have been claimed that the self-elected House of Keys in the Isle of Man was as fairly representative of the people as the House of Commons elected upon the narrow franchise which obtained in Britain.

As already stated in these articles, the Keys were originally a jury, to serve in cases of treason and felony, and to assist the Deemsters in resolving "great and high points of law." Until 1825 they were part of the Court of General Gaol Delivery, and until 1866 they were a court of appeal in certain civil cases. Tynwald as a law-making body, a body permanently constituted and not summoned for special- occasions, crystallised at the end of the sixteenth century. It had met from time to time to "declare" the laws-which ino practice often meant developing the law, making it clear and effective for the first time-ever since the Norsemen settled in the Island. Allowing for breaks, for periods of martial conflict or temporarily successful attempts at despotism, it is as old as, And probably older than, the Altheng which vas founded in Iceland in the year 930.

For at least three centuries before Parliament gave back to the Isle of Man the control of some of its finances, which was in 1866, the House of Keys was self-elected. Whenever a vacancy occurred, the surviving members selected two persons, whose names they presented to the Governor, and of whom the Governor chose one. It has been said that care was usually taken to see that each new member belonged to the same sheading as his predecessor, and it is very probable that when the Keys were constituted in this way for the first time, they were composed of an equal number for each sheading. The doctrine of local representation may have gone even further, for in the days of the Kingdom of Man and the Isles, 16 Keys belonged to Man and eight to the Isles,' and the parishes in Man-counting Santon and Marown as one; it will be observed that the present parish of Marown is the only one which has not access to the sea numbered 16.

There is reason for believing that when the King of Man was also King of the whole Scottish isles, and not merely the northern half, the Keys consisted of two 16s-32.


In 1866, as we have indicated, the Keys passed an Act providing that their successors should be elected by thpeople. Parliament would not have restored financial control to them on any other terms. The distribution of seats was as follows:

The sheadings of Ayre, Michael, Garff, Middle, Glenfaba, and Rusher, and the town of Douglas, three members each: the towns of Ramsey, Castletown, and Peel, one member each-24.

In 1891 Douglas was given five mernbers, and there were created the "electoral districts" of North Douglas, with three members, and South Douglas, with two. To keep the number at 24, a member was taken from Garff and from Michael. The present distribution is as follows:

Towns.-Douglas, five members; Ramsey, Castletown. and Peel, one each total, eight,
Sheadings.-Ayre, Middle, Glenfaba; and Rushen, three each; Garff and Michael, two each-total, 16.

The reason for the Redistribution Act of 1891 was that the population of the sheadings had fallen, and the population of the towns either had risen or had not fallen in the same Proportion since 1866. This transference of population has gone on, and in the National Register of September, 1939, the number of people living in the sheadings was 22,312 and in the towns 28,517. The towns therefore contain substantially more than half the Island's population.

Another redistribution of seats has been demanded, more or less continuously, for close on 40 years-one may say, since the Keys dealt with the larger question of the partial democratising of the Upper Chamber. Bills have been introduced, and the Keys have appointed several committees of inquiry, but even when there has been agreement on the principle, there has been disagreement on the subject of whether existing constituencies, and if so which, should be asked to give up seats. A committee of the Keys reported in 1938, by a majority, that there was no justification for a change. Shortly afterwards the Governor referred the subject to a commission appointed by himself. During the year 1943, when iMr Norris introduced a series of resolutions calling for Constitutional Reform, he asked the Keys to affirm the principle of Redistribution. The House decided to ask the Governor to obtain an early report from the commission, and has received a reply stating that most of the members of the commission have not time to do justice to the subject, but they have been asked to report as soon after the end of the war as possible.


The House is elected by the votes of all persons over 21, plus a vote in respect of the ownership of property. Still, no one can vote twice in the same constituency. Universal adult suffrage was passed in the Isle of Man immediately after the famous Representation of the People Act in Great Britain, introduced towards the end of the first world war. Previously, the household suffrage in Britain and the Isle of Man had been much the same, but it is recalled with pride that Women had the vote in the Isle of Man 37 years before they had it in England. In those days, however, it was limited to widows and spinsters who owned property.


Besides taking the oath of allegiance to the King, newly-elected members of the Keys pledge themselves as follows:- "His Majesty's counsel, your fellows' and your own you shall not reveal? you shall use your best endeavours to maintain the ancient laws and customs of this Isle. You shall justly and truly deliver your opinion and do right in all matters which shall be put unto you without favour or affection, affinity or consanguinity, love or fear, reward or gain or any hope thereof, but in all things you shall deal uprightly and justly and do wrong to no man." "His Majesty's counsel" has been substituted for "The Lord's counsel," and implies discussions with the Lord's representative, the Governor. At one time the sittings of the Keys and the Council and of Tynwald were held in private.


The powers of the Keys can be stated briefly. They decide, subject to the consent of the Council and the veto of the Governor and of the Crown, wheat laws shall be passed; they decide, under the same conditions, what taxes shall be raised and how the public money shall be spent. There are qualifications to these financial, rights, which will be set out when we come to describe the constitution and the powers of the Tynwald Court. The Keys can reject proposals made by the Council, the Council can reject proposals made by the Keys, and the Governor can in an extreme case reject proposals made by both.

Before the third reading of any Bill can be passed, before any Bill can be sent to His Majesty as the desire of Tynwald, and before any taxation or expenditure resolution can be passed in the Tynwald Court, it must receive the signature of a majority of the complete House of Keys-that is, of 13 members. Every now and then, Bills which have secured the vote of the majority of the members actually present, but not the vote of 13, have been lost. Bills have passed both branches, but when they came to be signed in Tynwald, some supporter has been absent or has changed his mind, and the necessary number of signatures has not been given; taxation resolutions have been carried by a majority, but the majority has not been sufficient Sometimes a taxation resolution to which the Governor attaches importance is passed round the House two or three times before the sitting of Tynwald ends, and at last the extra signature or signatures are secured.

While sitting in Tynwald, the House has a privilege which it prizes very highly. At any stage while a question is being proposed, the House may retire to its own chamber and discuss the subject separately. A motion to this effect may be moved by the Speaker or any member, and when it has been moved it cannot be debated; if it is moved when the proposition is first made the House must leave the chamber forthwith, and if it is moved while the debate is in progress it must be put at once, and will be carried if one-third of the members present vote in its favour.

This procedure of withdrawing from Tynwald has sometimes preceded a Keys' "strike," a refusal to meet the Governor until the wish of the House has been met. It was exercised quite recently on the Governor's proposal for the conscription of women.


If when Bills are being discussed there is a difference of opinion with the Council, the House may decide to disagree with a view to a conference. Similarly, a conference may be asked for by the Council. By this procedure deadlocks are avoided almost every session. Sometimes the disagreement is found incurable, but often one branch or the other gives way, or the branches come to a compromise. Governor Walpole remarked that the Manx conference "closely resembles what used to be known as a free conference in Parliament, and usually proves an efficient contrivance for reconciling differences." The Keys feel, however, that the conference procedure places them rather at a disadvantage. They take part in it by deputation, five or seven members whom the Standing Orders oblige to represent the majority view only-and this deputation has to argue with the Council's full membership,


In the words off Governor Walpole, the rule which gives to the House of Commons exclusive financial control is unlmown to the House of Keys, Mr A. W, Moore puts it in this way: "They have no exclusive privilege with regard to money Bills." He quotes a statement made in 1791 by John Quayle, Clerk of the Rolls, that "this examinant" had heard that the House of Keys claimed it as their privilege to originate money Bills, but adds that this statement was not borne out by any of the other persons whom the British Government's commission of that date called as witnesses. There is no suggestion nowadays that in taxation and expenditure, the Council are less than equal partners with the Keys.

This point was raised before the Macdonnell Commission, and the Commission commented that Government measures were usually introduced, into the Council, where the Governor possessed, "in the judges and the Attorney-General," highly competent exponents of his policy, but there was no assured pilot for government measures in the Keys. They made a suggestion, which is in practice now, that the Government should be able to depute a member of the Upper Chamber to conduct a Bill through the Lower Chamber.

Even if this recommendation were carried into effect, said the Commission, they would be reluctant to impose upon the Insular Government an absolute obligation to initiate money Bills in the Keys. When the Council contained an elective element, it would reflect popular opinion effectively, and they preferred that such an important change as the transfer of initiative in financial legislation from one chamber to another should be spontaneous and gradual. But, said the Commission, "we regard the probable growth of this practice with satisfaction."

The Keys, then, have not the exclusive power to promote Bills involving public expenditure. Have they power to promote such Bills at all? We are discussing for the present their powers in their own chamber, not their powers in Tynwald.

On this point there may be a variety of opinion. It is held that "substantive" resolutions on taxation or expenditurethat is, resolutions which actually say that such-and-such a tax shall be imposed, or such-and-such an expenditure incurred-may only be moved with the consent of the Governor. This principle, so it is claimed, is also followed in England; expenditure can only be undertaken with the approval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As has been said, Tynwald has some right of expressing its opinion, otherwise than ,at the instance of the Governor, by passing a resolution declaring that in its opinion such-and-such an expenditure is desirable.

What about Bills? A great part of modern legislation is bound to involve some charge, great or small, upon public funds. it so happens that the powers of the branches in this respect have been mentioned during the past few months. The Council, with the approbation of the Governor, passed a Bill enabling pensions totalling 150 in any year to be awarded to persons who had rendered the Island meritious service.In. the Keys it was moved that this sum be raised to £500. The Speaker, who said he hadn't anticipated this Bill being the subject of much discussion, began by doubting the power of the House to increase expenditure without the Governor's consent. He ended by saying that the House had the right to pass what legislation it liked, but as in the end the Governor had the right of financial veto it was best, "as a matter of procedure, not of constitutional right," to ascertain beforehand whether or not the Governor was agreeable. The question has not been taken further, since the amendment on being put was lost.

In the Council, Deemster Farrant has introduced a Bill to impose Excess Profits Tax. He has taken this action as a private member, and in the debate on the first reading the Attorney-General said that it was competent for any member to introduce-[not merely an expenditure resolution or an expenditure Bill, but]-a taxation Bill. He quoted. the case of Mr Daniel Teare, who in 1931 introduced into the Keys a Bill imposing income tax upon non-resident companies. The debates on that occasion show that while certain complications arose before that Bill became law, Mr Teare's right to introduce it was not challenged. Still, the Attorney-General went on, the Governor has the ultimate say, for he can refuse to sign the Bill, or can recommend that it should not receive the Royal Assent. Deemster Farrant "recognised that he could not go on with the Bill if His Excellency disapproved."

The Macdonnell Commission remarked that in the House of Commons a Bill involving a charge on public funds must be based on a preliminary resolution in Committee of Way and Means and recommended that. a similar procedure should be adopted in the Tynwald Court. The Home Secretary adopted this recommendation, but it was not incorporated into the Constitutional Reform measures. When in 1927 a deputation from Tynwald discussed financial control with a representative of the Home Office (Sir Malcolm Delevingne) it was suggested in a memorandum from the Government Secretary that "on the onalogy of the Parliamentary practice, Bills involving a charge on public funds should not be introduced into either branch of the Insular Legislature until a declaratory Ways and Means resolution has been passed by Tynwald." It was agreed between Sir Malcolm and the deputation that this clause in the memorudum be struck out, as a matter which could be dealt with locally, by Standing Order or otherwise. The present Standing Orders of Tynwald and the branches are silent on the subject, and readers will remember that the Excess Profits Tax resolution moved in Tynwald was rejected. It would seem, then, as the Attorney-General has just said., that "in this respect we differ from the Imperial Parliament."


The House of Keys, as well as the Governor, might consider itself handicapped when important official measures were presented without any guarantee of their being adequately explained. The Speaker may request any member to take charge of a Bill which has come down from the Council, and that member will naturally make himself acquainted with what the measure contains, but when points are raised in debate he may not be sure what the draughtsman had in mind.

Following a recommendation of the Macdonnell Commission, the Home Secretary decided that the Governor should have power to depute a member or members of the Council to conduct a Bill through the Keys, such member to have full rights of speech but no right to vote. This decision is incorporated in the Isle of Man Constitution Act and in the present Standing Orders, and from time to time the Attorney-General has attended sittings of the Keys and explained difficult proposals, and has been warmly thanked for his help. We think we are right in saying that whenever this has been done the Keys have requested it; the suggestion has not come from the Governor or the Council.

The committee of the House of Keys which in 1937 considered possible modifications in the terms of appointment of the Governor, "so as to provide for the people of the Isle of Man a greater measure of control over their own internal affairs," recommended that when Bills were initiated by the Keys, the Governor should follow the example of the Speaker and invite some member of the Council to take charge of the Bill, make himself familiar with its provisions, and urge the Council to accept it. They did not suggest, it will be seen, that a member of the Keys should have the right to give the explanations to the Council, or that the Council should invite some member of the Keys to attend for that purpose. But the Home Secretary saw no reason for intervening further in the Islands rolitical affairs, and all to nothing.

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