[From How the IoM is governed, 1944]
" Government by committee " is a feature of Manx politics which is not paralleled in Great Britain or, speaking generally, in the British Commonwealth, and it has aroused the interest of many British students. At the head of each department of administration in Britain is one man, a Minister chosen by the Premier. He is responsible to Parliament in this sense, that if the Ministry as a whole loses the confidence of the House of Commons, he and all -his colleagues go out of office. The vote implying no confidence might arise out of an action which he himself had taken. and which the Premier and the Cabinet had decided to defend.
The corresponding departments in the Isle of Man are managed by committees -usually styled boards-elected by Tynwald. There are not so many of them. The Island doesn't need a Foreign Secretary or a Minister for War, and some duties which in Britain would be performed by a Minister are in the Isle of Man performed by the Governor and the permanent officials. In that respect the Manx system is much less democratic; in another respect it may be claimed that the work of day-to-day government is shared among all the persons elected by the people.
Nevertheless there is no rule in the Tynwald Court, as there is, for instance, in the Douglas Town Council, that no member may serve on more than a given number of committees, and no member may be left off committees altogether. In 1943 Mr Gerald Bridson attempted to introduce such a rule, but his proposal was not supported.
In 1937 a committee of Tynwald reported upon the constitution of boards. and recommended. principally, that they should all be elected on the same date - firstly, immediately after a general election of the House of Keys, and secondly, on the 5th July in the following year. After that they should hold office for two years, and then there would be another election whose results should last till the dissolution of the House. As the norrmal life cf the House of Keys - except in time of war-is five years, this would mean that half-way in the life of a House there would be an administrative break, so that if the Court was dissatisfied with any of its committees it could change them. This proposal involved an amendment of each of the Acts constituting the various boards, and an amending Bill was accordingly introduced. There were differences between the Keys and Council concerning the size of various boards, and concerning a quite incidental matter, the proposed transfer of jurisdiction over petrol-filling stations from the Local Government Board to the Development Board, and so the Pill was lost.
The Constitutional Reform Act of 1919 contains a clause by which Tynwald may at any time declare by resolution that forthwith, or on a day to be named, all or any of the members of any board or committee appointed by Tynwald shall cease to hold office. This of course is very drastic, and it may have been thought preferable that Tynwald should have the opportunity of changing the membership of a board without declaring by special resolution that it was resolved to do so.
The boards are not the same size, and not all chosen according to the same principle. We give a list, with particulars of their size, their composition, and the method by which their work is financed.
Advertising Board (nowadays styled Publicity Board).-Fourteen members, of whom seven are chosen by Tynwald and one each by the local authorities of Douglas, Ramsey, Castletown, Peel, Port Erin, Port St. Mary, and Onchan Village. Financed partly by Government grant and partly by a penny rate upon the towns and village districts.
Board of Agriculture.-Seven members, nowadays appointed by Tynwald. Originally the Henry Bloom Noble charitable trust. which provided funds for the purchase and equipment of Knockaloe experimental farm, was entitled to nominate a member, and so were the northern and southern branches of the Isle of Man Agricultural Society. Tynwald may still appoint two members from outside its own body, but leas not chosen to do so for many years. Financed mainly by Government grants, but also by a rate of a penny-farthing on agricultural land, estimated to produce £800, supplemented by a statutory Government payment of the same amount.
Council of Education.-Five members, all appointed by Tynwald. Financed by Government grant, which, apart from the Council's office expenses, is paid to the Education Authority, and represents roughly half the Authority's expenditure.
Development Board.-Nineteen members, appointed by the Local Government Board, the Highway Board, and the local authorities of the towns and villages and groups of parishes. Financed by Government grant.
Electricity Board.-Five members, of whom the chairman is appointed outright by the Governor and the others are nominated by the Governor subject to the approval of Tynwald. In practice one is chosen from each of the four High-Bailiff's districts. Deficiencies (if any) between expenditure and the proceeds of charges on the consumer are to be met by rate. In the first few years, until the scheme developed to the point of becoming self-supporting, the Board received Government grants. The capital for the concern was obtained by issuing stock.
Fisheries Board.-Seven members appointed by Tynwald, of whom not more than a majority need be members of the Court. One present member is the Head of the Department of Oceanography in Liverpool University-the body which co-operated with Tynwald in founding the Marine Biological Stalion-and another is a member of the Biological Station's staff. Gentlemen interested in fresh-water fishing have occasional y been appointed to this board, but none are serving on it now.
Forestry Board.-Seven members appointed by Tynwald, which in this case also is entitled to go outside its own membership, though it has not done so in recent years. Financed by Government grant.
Government Property Trustees.-The Speaker of the House of Keys, the Government Treasurer, and a member of the Legislative Council nominated by the Governor subject to the approval or Tynwald. Financed by Government grant.
Harbour Board.-Five members, of whom the chairman is appointed by the British Government, and the others are nominated by the Governor subject to the approval of Tynwald. Until 1872 all the members were appointed by the British Government, and were not necessarily members of Tynwald. Financed partly by harbour dues and passenger tax, and partly by Government grant. Licences, rents, and tolls are paid into the general revenue and are at the disposal of Tynwald, but in practice are voted back to the Board.
Highway Board.-Seven members, appointed by Tynwald. This is the oldest of all Tynwald committees, dating from the early part of the eighteenth century, and until about 40 years ago members could be appointed who did not sit in Tynwald. Financed partly by a rate levied everywhere except in the towns and the village districts of Port Erin and Port St. Mary; partly by licence fees of various descriptions, and partly by Government grants. A good deal of the work for which Government grants are given is done in the winter months only, by men taken from the register of unemployed.
Insurance and Pensions Board.-Fourteen members, of whom eight are appointed by Tynwald, three by the Isle of Man Medical Society, and one each by the directors of the Health Insurance Society, the Workers' Union, and the Employers' Federation. Non-contributory pensions are financed by Government grant; the costs of contributory pensions and of sickness benefit-which scheme is managed by a board of directors partly elected by the insured persons, partly nominated by the Governor with the approval of Tynwald, and partly nominated by the isle of Man Medical Society and the Employers' Federation-are provided out of contributions made by the insured persons, the employers, and the Government.
Local Government Board.-Seven members appointed by Tynwald. Financed by Government grant.
Mental Hospital and Assessment Board.-Five members appointed by Tynwald. Financed by rate levied by Tynwald.
Museum Trustees. - Twenty members. appointed by the Governor, the Council and the Keys separately, the Council of Education, the Education Authority, the Natural History and Antiquarian Society, the Manx Society, the trustees of the J. M. Nicholson memorial collection of pictures, the University of Liverpool, and the local authorities of Douglas, Castletown, Ramsey, and Peel and including three co-opted by the main body. Financed by Government grant.
War Pensions Committee.-Fifteen members, of whom five are appointed by Tynwald and the others are nominated by the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association, the Soldiers' Sailors', and Airmen's Help Society, the Manx district of the British Legion, the National Union of Seamen and Firemen, the Friendly Societies as represented in the Isle of Man, and including two women members-all nominations subject to the approval of Tynwald. Administrative expenses financed by Tynwald.
The Northern and Southern Water Boards, which expend large Government grants, are nominated by the Governor subject to the approval of Tynwald, except that their chairmen-who in all cases, like the chairmen of the Electricity Board, have been members of Tynwald-are appointed outright by the Governor. There are also special committees appointed under the Food Regulations Act, the Postcard Censorship Act, and the Agricultural Wages Act, a committee appointed to advise the Governor on the registration of unemployed men, a committee to advise the Governor on agricultural imports and exports, and war-time emergency committees like the "Local Conditions" Committee, most or all of whose members are appointed by the Governor subject to the approval of Tynwald.
The boards have sometimes complained of not having the control of the moneys they expend, and of being obliged to pass on all their accounts to the Government Treasurer. When in 1925 Mr B. E. Sargeaunt, the then Government Secretary and Treasurer, drew up memorandum for the use of the committee which was considering the contribution to the imperial Government in respect of the last war, and was demanding on behalf of Tynwald increased financial control, he stated that "It is the Government Treasurer's duty to secure that all expenditure from the revenue is made in strict terms of the resolution of Tynwald which has authorised it, and it is only in the case of payments which are made in the nature of grants-in-aid than he does not himself defray the detailed expenditure of a vote." That is to say, if a board has "moneys of its own," such as the proceeds of a rate, and these are supplemented by a Government grant, the Treasurer does not actually pay lhe bills; where the board is financed solely by the Government. the bills are passed on to the Treasurer. This applies also to certain agricultural subsidies administered by the Board of Agriculture.
Practically every appropriation resolution passed by Tynwald directs the Treasurer of the Isle of Man to apply moneys out of the general revenue or out of the Accumulated Fund, as the case may be, for the purposes specified. In some cases, such as Government grants for winter employment schemes, the Treasurer is directed to make the payments on the certificate of the responsible officer of the board concerned -for example, on the certificate of the Surveyor-General.
Where the payments are made direct by the Treasurer, it is the practice to have them certified by the boards which have ordered the work or the goods. The Treasurer is entitled to require explanations, and when that happens delay in payment naturally fellows. Some boards handle no moneys except allowances granted as petty cash.
The Harbour Eoard is in a class by itself. It is set up not by an Act of Tynwald but by an Act of Parliament. and its ex officio chairman, the Receiver-General, is appointed by the Crown, though since 1919 the office has carries no salary. A considerable part of its revenue -comes from Government grant but is not under the control of the Government Treasurer, and the annual accounts are audited by the "Comptroller and Auditor-General" in London, and not by the public auditors of the Isle of Man. The estimates, and in due course the audited accounts, are laid before Tynwald.
Part of the harbour revenue, the harbour dues and passenger tax, is paid over to the British Customs authorities. who lodge the money in the Bank of England, from whence it is drawn by resolution of Tynwald. It has been urged that this singling out of part of the Manx revenue should be abolished, partly because it complicates the bookkeeping and partly because Tynwald resents the implication that the maintenance of the Manx harbours is the British Government's concern; but the suggested change has not been made.
The subject of agriculture is handled by bodies additional to the board of Tynwald appointed for the purpose. There is the Agricultural Marketing Society, which before the war possessed the nominally uncontrolled power of fixing prices; in practice there was a Government control, for a committee appointed under the Agricultural Marketing Act, comprising representatives of the farmers, representatives of the consumers, and an independent chairman, might advise the Governor to permit agricultural products to be imported if the prices fixed by the Agricultural Marketing Society were higher than those prevailing in Great Britain. In war time, under the Defence Regulations, prices are fixed directly by the Governor, who takes the opinions of this advisory committee and the Marketing Society, and also of the War Committee of Tynwald. To ease friction, the Advisory Committee was given the right to consult a special committee chosen from the Board of Agriculture, the Marketing Society, and the Isle of Man Farmers' Club.
Amid this multiplication of advisers the Board of Agriculture is quite liable to find itself in a minority, and the same position arises in regard to fixing the amount of agricultural subsidies, the nature and quality of imports or exports governed by other considerations than a comparison of prices in the Isle of Man , and in Britain, and regulations concerning the methods of sale. The Board sometimes complains that its earnest and considered recommendations have been brushed aside in favour of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee or the War Committee of Tynwald.
It may be argued that while in a general way the Board of Agriculture is the proper body to promote agricultural development, questions like the price of home-grown foodstuffs and the preservation of an adequate food supply concern the consumer quite as closely as the producer, and that the Board of Agriculture, which is or is supposed to consist mainly of farmers, could not be accepted as impartial. On the other hand, Tynwald has for many years placed some of its members on the Board of Agriculture on the definite ground that they represented not agriculture but the general public interest.
The officers of the boards of Tynwald are not considered civil servants. They had no pension rights until 1934, when an Act was passed enabling the Governor to set up a contributory superannuation scheme for their benefit. Until recently tile secretaries even of such important bodies as the Highway Board and the Local Government Board were part-time officials, and the secretaries of some boards are part-time officials still. They are not transferred, by way of promotion, to posts in the appointment of the Governor. There is no uniform scale of salary, either as between the staff's of different boards or the staffs of all the boards and those of Government, Office holding positions of similar responsibility. This arises through the boards making their own appointments and fixing their own salaries, though in some boards at least no post commanding a salary of over £200 can be created, and no salary in an existing post can be raised beyond £200, without the approval of Tynwald.
Could "government by committee" continue to exist if the Island had political parties? Suppose a majority in Tynwald had a definite and controversial policy on education or agriculture, would it be possible for them to arrange their votes so that all five members oî the Council of Education, or all seven members of the Board of Agriculture, could be trusted to carry that policy into effect? Suppose a Cabinet was set up, and it was desired that as in Britain the members of the Cabinet should be heads of the principal departments, could the boards be left with the right of choosing their own chairmen? Possibly the Cabinet could be chosen solely to deal with questions of general policy, and questions of administration left-unless policy was involved in some particular case-to committees chosen because of their aptitude for particular duties.
Party politics are the rule in a great many British municipalities, and yet the work is divided among committees. It would seem unlikely that the committees can be selected so as to secure a party majority in each, and it is doubtfulthiat even the chairman of each committee is a member of the majority party. That could be secured if the chairmen were appointed not by their own committees but by a selection committee chosen by the whole Council, and we have the impression that in some municipalities that system obtains. We have also the impression that in some places the parties are allotted a number of committee chairmen in proportion to their respective size. In some places it is certain that the majority party is too uncompromising to show any such spirit of accommodation.
On January 4th, 1944, the House of Keys approved the draft of a petition to the Home Secretary asking that responsibility for the government of -he Island and the administrative powers vested in the Governor should be henceforth vested in an executive committee to be appointed by Tynwald. It Vaas asked that the committee should consist of the Governor as president, two, mén.bers of the Council, and five members of the Keys, elected by Tynwald, and retiring at different periods by rotation. The committee was to appoint a chairman, presiding whenever the Governor was absent, and was to be empowered to meet apart from the Governor for the purpose of consultation amongst members themselves. Tynwald was to be enabled to remove any or all of the members by resolution. The Government Secretary was to be the officer of the Isle of Man Government and its executive committee, and the committee was to have a voice in his appointment; and the executive was to have the general control of the police. Nomination of certain bards by the Governor was to cease. A member of the executive committee was to undertake questions of finance, including the preparation of the Budget.
The committee which drafted the petition preferred to leave untouched the questions of the removal of the Deernsters from the Legislature and the establishment of an elected majority in the Council. Two members moved amendments proposing these changes, but the amendments were defeated and the majority recommendations were carried unanimously.
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