[From Land of Home Rule, 1893]
THE historian who endeavours to trace the story of a people in past ages has difficulty in unravelling the complicated mass of material which is frequently at his disposal; but the historian who carries his narrative down to times within his own memory has a still harder task to discharge. He is always in danger of being misled by the sympathies and prejudices of living witnesses, whose testimony he is bound to consider. It becomes more difficult for him to maintain the judicial impartiality which it is his first duty to observe. He is tempted to write as if he were still pleading at the bar, and forget that it is his business to take his seat upon the bench.
Fortunately, however, the history of the Isle of Man from 1829 to the present time offers little opportunity for controversy. Disputes there were, and the sound of them is still occasionally heard, but their relation need not disturb the student's equanimity. Their purport can be stated without heat, their settlement without partiality.
The only really serious constitutional question which the Revestment had raised was essentially financial. Parliament by a strong act of supremacy had taken into its own hands the power of taxation. The right of Parliament to do this will not be disputed by the best authorities; but the best authorities will, at the same time, admit that the right was one which could only be justified by its necessity. The moment, however, Parliament took the power of insular taxation into its own hands, its interests and those of the Island were necessarily brought into sharp conflict; for it was the interest of Parliament to level up the insular duties to the English standard, while it was the interest of the Island that the duties should be low, so that the cost of living should be reduced as far as possible.
This conflict between the interests of the little island and those of the great kingdom was not so marked from 1767 to 1805 as from 1805 downwards. In the earlier statutes, by which Parliament imposed taxation on the Manx people, it had decided that the insular revenue should be kept separate from the funds of the United Kingdom. It was permissible to believe, or at any rate to hope, that it was the intention of Parliament to apply them to insular purposes. But from 1805 downwards such faith, such hope, were equally impossible. The revenues of the Isle of Man were thenceforward merged in the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom.
In these circumstances it was natural that the Island should steadily oppose any further additions being made to the Manx duties, and in 1837 such a policy was proposed by the Treasury. The insular Legislature displayed a serious alarm. The House of Keys sent a deputation to London. The gentlemen comprising it took the bold course of asserting that insular taxation could not constitutionally be increased without the consent of the insular Legislature, and Government withdrew, or at any rate abandoned for the time, the proposal of increased duties.
While this question was in progress, however, a feeling was arising in the Island that something more was required than a policy of resistance. The House of Keys was a self-elected body. The great Reform Act had lately passed the English Parliament. The debates upon it had penetrated to the Island, and had induced a few leading Manxmen to reflect on the constitution of the Chamber which was said to represent the Manx people. A desire in consequence arose for the reform of the House of Keys, and petitions were sent to the Governor suggesting this reform. It must be presumed that before replying to these petitions the Governor consulted the British Ministry; he could hardly have selected a more unfortunate moment for the purpose. The Whig Ministry of that time was suspending the constitution of Canada; it was on the eve of asking Parliament to suspend the constitution of Jamaica; autonomous dependencies were giving it trouble, and it was not likely to regard with much favour the institution of an elected Chamber in a little island within sight of its own shores. The reply which the Governor was directed to address to the memorialists was short and decisive:- " It is my duty to inform you that such a change in the constitution of the Isle of Man cannot be agreed to; and I have further to inform you that, if any reform in the House of Keys is found to be really wanted, representation in Parliament may be the measure of reform adopted." 1
The reply, more decisive than courteous, effectually answered its purpose Manxmen were too much afraid of losing the little remnant of autonomy which was left to them to go on pressing for reform; and, if the English Government had taken no further measures, the Island might have lapsed into its usual apathy. In 1844, however, Peel's Ministry rescued the proposal to rearrange the whole of the insular customs duties. 'The Island again resisted the project, and the Government ultimately consented practically to forego any advantage they would derive from the increased duties, and to pay to the Harbour Commissioners of the Isle of Man a sum of £2300 a year, which, it was estimated, would enable them to repeal the harbour dues which were levied in the insular ports. The arrangement, which was made in 1844, continued in force for nine years. But in 1853, during Lord Aberdeen's Administration, a new and better system was substituted for it. Up to that year the English Government had endeavoured to prevent smuggling from the Island into England by limiting the amount of dutiable goods imported into the Island. In 1853 it decided on getting rid of this limitation, and, in order to diminish the chances of illicit trade, on concurrently raising the insular duties. The proposal again aroused the opposition of the insular Legislature. It sent a deputation to London, which re-fought the old battle which had been so often fought before; and it was finally decided that the duties should be increased, but that the additional revenue which would thereby be raised should be applied to insular purposes. It was estimated that one-ninth part of the u bole revenue would in future be due to the increase of duties, and it was accordingly enacted in 1854, when the proposal was sanctioned by Parliament, that this ninth should be applied towards effecting improvements in the harbours and other public works in the Isle of Man. " And it shall be lawful for the Court of Tynwald to determine what improvements and public works shall be so undertaken, the lieutenant-Governor having a veto on such decision."
In 1863, nearly ten years after this settlement was made, Mr. (now Sir Henry) Loch was appointed to the governorship of the Island. He had the perspicacity to see that its prosperity depended on the improvement of its communications with the United Kingdom, and that these communications could best be improved by enlarging the capacity of its harbours and the accommodation of its landing-stages. He accordingly commenced the great series of harbour works which has been continued ever since. But it was obvious that works such as those which he was projecting could not be carried out unless the revenues of the insular Government u ere increased. He accordingly proposed to raise again the insular customs duties, on the understanding that the increased revenue should be at the disposal of the insular Government. This proposal led to the financial arrangement of 1866, under which the revenue of the Island was thenceforward made applicable to the following purposes:-(I) The cost of collection; (2) the cost of Government; (3) a sum not exceeding one-ninth of the customs revenue to be applied towards improving the harbours and other public works in the Isle of Man; (4) a sum not exceeding two-ninths of such revenue to be applied towards improving the insular harbours; (5) the payment of £10,000 a year - being the amount which the Consolidated Fund had, on an average, derived from the surplus revenues of the Island -to the Imperial Exchequer; (6) the balance, if any, to be applied towards such insular purposes as the Tynwald Court might determine - he Governor having a veto on the decision.
Under the arrangement which was thus gradually elaborated in 1844, in 1853, and in 1866, the Imperial Exchequer was practically allowed to retain the original surplus revenue of the Island, but the fresh surpluses, created from 1844 downwards by additional taxation, were left to the disposal of the Island. The first part of this arrangement was almost the necessary corollary of the policy of the Imperial Government from 1765 to 1805. If it were true, as was practically decided in 1805, that the Duke of Athole was entitled to a beneficial interest in the insular revenue, it followed that the Imperial Government, which had acquired his rights by purchase, was entitled to the same benefit.- If, again, the £220,000 which, from first to last, was paid for this interest, was not excessive, £10,000 a year was not an immoderate return on the purchase-money. A few Manxmen occasionally still argue that the £10,000 should belong to the Island, and not to the Imperial Government; but having regard to the whole of the circumstances, remembering also that the Island contributes nothing to the cost of Imperial defence, from which, in common with all Her Majesty's possessions, it derives so distinct a benefit, the arrangement is one which is certainly not disadvantageous to the Isle of Man
But, though these Acts provided a satisfactory compromise so far as the surplus revenue of the Island was concerned, they still maintained the principle, which had first been asserted in 1767, that the insular customs duties should be regulated by the Imperial Parliament. As an Act of Tynwald cannot amend an Act of Parliament, it is difficult to see how this system can be avoided, even if any strong feeling should arise for terminating it. Practically, however, Parliament in the last few years has made a concession on this point, which appears likely to prove permanently satisfactory. It has authorised Tynwald, by resolution, with the approval of the Treasury, to make any change it thinks proper in the insular tariff; but it has provided that such change shall cease to be operative if it is not confirmed by Parliament within six months, if Parliament is not sitting when it is made, or in the current session, if Parliament should be sitting,. This provision has maintained the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, while, as Parliament now merely registers what Tynwald proposes, it has maintained it without exciting heartburning or jealousy.
In making the fiscal changes whicl1 were approved in 1866; a considerable measure of organic reform was simultaneously effected. The Governor suggested to the Imperial- Govern meet, and the Imperial Government approved his suggestion, that, if Tynwald were given a power of financial control, the House of Keys should be made a representative body. The readiness with which the Imperial Government accepted that recommendation is a proof how largely ideas of the government of dependencies had been altered in the period of a single generation. In 1838 as we have already seen, the Governor had been instructed to reply to the demand for representation that any change in the constitution of the House of Keys might take the forth of representation in Parliament. In 1846 the then Governor had advised the Imperial Government to refuse representation to the people, on the ground that the concession of representative institutions would lead to an inconvenient demand for financial control 3 In 1853 the Secretary to the Treasury, in arguing against the claims of the Island, used opposite language, and declared that "it was impossible to permit the House of Keys as [them constituted, being a self-elected body, to have any voice in the distribution of public money; " and in 1866 the Ministry had the wisdom to insist that financial reform should be dependent on organic reform, and that financial control should only be conceded to the insular Legislature when the House of Keys was reformed.
The reform which was consequently effected infused new life into the insular Legislature. Men there were indeed who regretted the old House, and contended that the self-elected Keys contained more ability than the representative chamber which had supplanted them; just as in England there are possibly even now men who think that an unreformed House of Commons contained more statesmen than the reformed House. Lovers of the antique may be found in every community. But, just as the reformed House of Commons acquired the strength which popular support afforded it, so the reformed House of Keys gained an influence which the unreformed House could never have obtained. Its members spoke not as individuals but as representatives; the measures they demanded were thenceforward urged not in their own name, but in those of their constituents.
Under the old system, indeed, which was thus modified in 1866' the Legislature could never have acquired the power which it now enjoys. While the whole revenues of the Island were paid into the Imperial Exchequer, its expenditure was necessarily defrayed by the Imperial Government. Tynwald had consequently no voice in the management of its own finance; and, in matters of administration, the Island for one hundred years-from 1765 to 1866- was little better than a department of the Home Office. The measure of 1869 restored to the Isle of Man much of the independence of which it had been deprived by the Revestment; and, thenceforward, though its Governors acted under the Home Office, and the Treasury was still empowered to control its expenditure, Tynwald was practically given a free hand, and was allowed to manage its own affairs in its own way.
During the period with which this chapter is concerned, the struggle which the Island maintained for a right to dispose of its surplus revenue is the most important circumstance in its history. But during the same period another battle was fought by its people for the retention of its bishopric.
The commissioners who were appointed in 1835 by Sir Robert Peel to consider the requirements of the Church of England stated among other things that the number of parishes in the Isle of Man was too few and the whole population too small to justify the continuance of a bishop there;1 they accordingly recommended that the See should be united to the diocese of Carlisle, and in 1836 a Bill was introduced to give effect to this recommendation. So far as the Isle of Man was concerned, little or no opposition was in the first instance excited by the passage of the Bill; but it had no sooner become law than vigorous remonstrances were raised both in England and in the Island against its provisions. The See of Sodor and Man, it was contended, was the oldest See in the British Islands, its admirers referred it to St. Patrick, and they raised a loud protest against the suppression of the diocese. They were warmly supported by the diocesan, Bishop Ward, who had succeeded Murray in 1827, and whose episcopate is still remembered for the zeal with which he prosecuted his duties. The Manx clergy and the Manx bar, roused from their temporary lethargy, raised their opposition to the Bill, and the Government decided to give way and leave the diocese alone.
Years afterwards, in the time of Sir Henry Loch, the project was again revived, the Government of the day proposing to unite the Manx See with the new diocese of Liverpool. It was decided to sweeten the change by applying a large portion of the revenues of the See to the improvement of the incomes of the parochial clergy; but the measure again excited v aria opposition in the Island, and it was abandoned.
Though the Manx have succeeded in retaining their ancient bishopric, it cannot be said that, as a people, they are warmly attached to the Establishment. The bulk of the population may perhaps be described paradoxically as Nonconformists who conform to the Church. Many of them attend the service of the church on Sunday morning and the service of the Dissenting chapel on Sunday evening, while most of them bring their children to church to be christened, and come to church themselves to be married. Nonconformity in the Island has thus never taken the aggressive form which it wears in other Celtic communities. The tithe is paid without murmuring; a small cess is annually voted in almost every parish in the Island,4 and excites no remonstrance; religion rarely enters into insular politics; and Churchmen and Nonconformists are not divided, as in other places, into opposite camps. Those who are accustomed to trace effects to antecedent causes may perhaps conclude that this absence of dissension is partly due to the circumstance that Nonconformists were never subjected to the disabling legislation which survived almost to our own times in other parts of the British Islands. It is certainly not due to any lack of energy among the Nonconformists. Methodism, since its first introduction in 1775, has in fact made, and is making, rapid progress. Woods, when he wrote his account of the Island in 1811 computed that at least one-tenth part of the inhabitants were Methodists, while Wesley, who visited it in 1777, himself said-and his words have still some truth in them-
" We have had no such circuit either in England, Scotland, or Ireland. This island is shut up from the world. There are no disputers-no dissenters of any kind. The Governor, Bishop, clergy oppose not. They did for a season, but they grew better acquainted with us."
Thus, during the last two generations, few questions affecting either politics or religion have disturbed the peace of the Island. The little Legislature has shown a disposition to adopt the reforms which have been accepted by the larger countries around it. Many of its measures-its Criminal Code, its Education Acts, for example-are based on, or are copied from, the legislation which has been adopted by Parliament. The people in the meanwhile have been mainly occupied in promoting the material prosperity of the Island, and in gathering the rich harvest of gain which some 250,000 to 300,000 tourists afford them. But though, as a rule, they mingle little in politics, they would keenly resent any interference with their legislative independence, and they possess a strong reason for their faith in the lightness of their own burdens, and in their comparative immunity from taxation.
They have no income-tax, no death-duties, and, except a small duty on beer, no excise. They have no grave political questions, no domestic troubles, no foreign policy. Thus of them it may be truly said, that " Happy are the people that are in such a case."
1 Debates, Tynwald Court, vol. ii. p. cog.
2 Debates,Tynwald Court,vol.ii,p.204,
3 Train, vol. i. p. 310.
4 The morning offertories in the parish churches are, by long-standing custom, given to the poor; and, except in Douglas and Ramsay, there is no compulsory provision for the relief of the insular poor, The Nonconformists are said to believe that, if the cess were abolished, the morning offertories would necessarily be applied to church expenses, and provision for the support of the poor would have to be made by a rate. The Nonconformists conclude that they had better, therefore, bear the ill they have, in the shape of a modest cess, rather than run the risk of incurring a greater evil in the shape of a poor-rate.