[From Land of Home Rule, 1893]
IT is one thing to describe the constitution and arrangements of a particular island: it is another to consider how far they conduce to the good government of its people, or tend to preserve harmonious relations with the larger countries with which it is associated. The people of the Isle of Man, it must be recollected, have no voice in the government of the United Kingdom; they send no representative to the Imperial Parliament; they have no concern in the political struggles and changes which take place at Westminster; and, it may be safely added, that they have no desire to take part in them. Proud of their own institutions, content with their own independence, they have no ambition to mingle in the larger conflicts of their neighbours. They reap the advantages of imperial protection and of their connection with the British Empire, but they never cease to recollect that they are not English, Scotch, Welsh, or Irish, but Manx, and that their first duty is to their own people.
The only link which unites them to the British Empire is the crown. Technically, the Isle of Man is not a British possession: it is a possession of the British crown ; and, though the Queen has only once touched at the shores of the Island, and the members of her family have only visited it at rare intervals, there is no part of her Majesty's dominions where the people are more affectionately loyal to her person and her dynasty.
It has been of late years the policy of successive Ministers to leave the Island free to regulate its own concerns; and there is probably no part of her Majesty's dominions which gives her responsible advisers less cause for thought and concern. The Governor, indeed, is under the Home Office, and, within easy reach of London, he can personally communicate with the Secretary of State on any matter of importance. But, in practice, even these communications are not frequent; and Mr. Froude rightly says of Sir H. Loch, who for nineteen years conducted the government of the Island, and, by his energy and prudence, conferred the greatest benefits on its people, that " he achieved the highest success now-a-days possible-the success of being never spoken of outside his dominions."
Politics in the Island talkie a different course from that with which Englishmen are familiar. Man affords a proof that autonomous institutions do not necessarily involve the existence of Ministries dependent on the will of the Legislature. Whatever may be the issues of debates in Tynwald, no one imagines that they will lead to the resignation either of the Governor or of any member of his Council. Perhaps for this reason there are no political parties in Tynwald. Differences of opinion of course occur, but in neither branch of the legislature are rival views of government maintained by opposing factions. (questions affecting particular places in the Island, or the rival interests of town and country, occasionally excite debate; but a struggle between Liberals and Conservatives, or between Church and Dissent, is practically unknown.
Though legislation, as a rule, follows the course of legislation in England, it does not always do so. In the Isle of Man for instance, there are no Factory Acts; and the absence of large industries makes them probably unnecessary. Except in Douglas and Ramsey, the two largest towns, there is no compulsory provision for the relief of the poor; no machinery has hitherto been instituted for the local government of the rural districts, though a measure is now before Tynwald with this object. On the other hand, there is a School Board (or School Committee, as it is called in Man) in every parish in the Island; and practically these Committees all concur in providing religious education for the children.
In the towns, the growth of the population and the requirements of the nineteenth century are tending to increase the pressure of local taxation, and the rates, though low compared with those in similar circumstances in England, are already high, and are increasing. In the rural districts, on the contrary, the rates only amount on an average to about ninepence in the pound. Small as this sum is, however, it is regarded as a grievous burden, and any policy likely to increase it would almost certainly excite grave opposition.
If local taxation is light, the taxation imposed by Government, compared with that of other countries, is also small. In the Island there is no income-tax; there are no death duties; there are no assessed taxes; with small and unimportant exceptions, there are no stamps. The whole revenue is practically raised by customs duties: even an excise on beer is collected by the officers of the customs and classed as customs duty. The duties for the most part are fixed at lower rates than those in force in England. A considerable proportion of them, moreover, practically falls, not on the resident, but on the visiting population. The revenue amounts to above £72,000 the expenditure to about £60,000 a year. The surplus is applied by Tynwald towards the improvement of the harbours in the Island, and towards effecting other needed public works. During the last quarter
Of a century, nearly half a million of money has been so expended, and about half of this sum has been provided out of current revenue. The gross debt of the insular Government does not reach £300,000, and is being rapidly paid off.
Those persons who are familiar with statistics will see from these figures that the Isle of Man enjoys the advantage of singularly light taxation and of exceptionally cheap government. On the other hand, the circumstances which have made it the playground of Northern England have given it great prosperity. Its chief imports are not goods but people, who reach it in their tens of thousands at a time. Probably, its fact, no such traffic exists in the world as that which is maintained in the summer months between Liverpool and Douglas An English reader may derive some idea of the extent of this traffic if it is added that three people land every year at Douglas for every two that land at Dover.
This traffic would have been impracticable if the great improvements which have been carried out in the harbours had not been effected. Few people, who have not had practical experience of it, have any idea of the difficulty of embarking or disembarking 5000 or 6000 people at the same pier, almost at the same time. Yet this process is carried out almost every day at Douglas during the height of the summer. The extent of the traffic suggested of late years to the Governor the imposition of a penny tax on every ticket. The Tynwald court and the Treasury approved his policy, which has for some few years been in operation. The tax is paid through the steamboat companies, and is perhaps the only extant instance of a tax which involves no charge for its collection; it is so low that it has made no addition to the fares, and it produces a revenue of nearly £3000 a year.
The 300,000 visitors who annually visit the Island necessarily leave large sums of money behind them. It may give some idea of their expenditure if it be added that in 1891 the insular banks exported £4so,ooo in gold and £120,000 in English and Irish notes. These sums represented the amount which the Island was unable to absorb in its own circulation, or whicl1 its people were unable to carry away in their own pockets to England.1
The stream of wealth which the visitors thus pour into the Island is constantly adding to the resources of its people. Its effect may be traced in the rapid growth of Douglas and its neighbourhood, and in the increasing value of real property in that town and in its vicinity. But it indirectly benefits other classes of the community. Even the agriculturists, though they have suffered like their English neighbours from the severe depression of the last few years, have not expenenced the difficulties which have ruined so many farmers in the British Islands. They have been saved by the constantly increasing demand for milk and dairy produce in the summer months. The rent of agricultural land in the Island generally is not materially lower than it was twenty years ago. In the neighbourhood of Douglas it is maintained at its former level.
The wealth which the visitors bring with theft is the more welcome because of late years the fishing industry, on which the Manxmen have so long relied, has not been prosperous. From some mysterious and unascertained cause, the herring have again-it may be hoped only temporarily-deserted the Manx coasts, while the increasing development of the Irish fisheries has led to the presence of a continually growing fleet at the Irish ports, and to a consequent fall in the price of herrings. From these and other reasons, the Manx boats of late years have not succeeded in obtaining that return for their exertions which rewarded them in former times; their owners and their crews have passed through a period of depression and anxiety which has not yet passed away; and the population of Peel, the chief fishing port in the Island, actually declined during the last decade.
These, however, are reflections which are hardly pertinent to this little book, whose object was rather to give a concise account of the history and constitution of the Isle of Man than to describe the present circumstances of its people. In carrying out the chief purport of his work, the author has endeavoured to confine his observations to the Island itself, and to forbear from considering whether arrangements which work in Man are or are not applicable to other communities. The constitution of the Isle of Man is, no doubt, in one sense an anomaly. Consistency might suggest that a little island, smaller than an ordinary English county, might with advantage be absorbed into the United Kingdom, and that Man could be governed at least as easily as the Orkneys or the Outer Hebrides from London. But it may fairly be replied that, while no clear advantage would ensue to the United Kingdom from such a change, the Island itself would suffer a distinct loss, since it would be subjected to higher taxation, would be deprived of its own individuality, and would lose the right of managing its own concerns in its own way, which is perhaps the highest privilege which any community can obtain. Whatever may be the result of autonomous institutions in other places, autonomy has made the Manx a loyal, orderly, easily governed community. Their virtual independence may be denounced as an anomaly and an anachronism; constitutional writers may succeed in demonstrating that dependent Legislatures are likely either to become inconvenient or to break-down; but anomalies and anachronisms, when they are attended with no evil consequences, have a tendency to sure ive; and autonomous institutions, at any rate in the Isle of Man, display an increasing capacity for work.
1 Oceania p. 82
2 'Fine facilities for banking in the Island are very great. There are three joint-stock banks, all of which are banks of deposit and banks of issue, The issue is based on securities deposited with the Governor and Council, and the law directs that, if a bank suspend payment, its notes shall be repaid with 6 per cent, interest from the date of the suspension. The authorised circulation of these banks is £109,000, the average circulation between £so,ooo and £60,000. All three banks allow their depositors interest at the rate of 3 per cent, on their current accounts. This circumstance, and the great facilities of banking, have naturally led to a prodigious increase of business, and the deposits exceed £1,300,000; inl other words, the deposits amount to £25 for every member of the population.