[From 1911 MacDonnell Inquiry]
ISLE OF MAN CONSTITUTION COMMITTEE.
TO THE RIGHT HON. WINSTON S. CHURCHILL, M.P., HIS MAJESTY'S
SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT.
1. IN compliance with your directions, we have inquired into the Petition of
House of Keys dated the 27th February, 1907, and into the representations that have
been made to His Majesty's Government respecting the constitution of the Isle of Man
and the civil, judicial and financial administration of the Island.
We have taken evidence in London. from representatives of the Colonial Office
and the Office of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues.
In the Isle of Man itself, which we visited, we received evidence both oral
documentary from the officials of the Insular Administration: from the Legislative
Council and the House of Keys: and from a large number of witnesses representative
of the professional, commercial and industrial life of the Island. This evidence, is
contained in Part II. of this Report.
We have also carefully considered the documents that have been submitted to
us, and made such inquiries as seemed to us to be necessary into the Municipal
Administration, which is financed. not from the Insular revenues, but from rates
imposed by Acts of the Local Legislature. We now beg leave to submit our Report
upon the whole subject, with the recommendations we have agreed to make for your
2. The early history of the Isle of Man. is set forth in Mr. Speaker -Moore's
erudite and exhaustive work " A History of the Isle of Man," and in Sir Spencer
Walpole's book " The Land of Home Rule." Of the inhabitants of the Island before
the advent of the Celts we know nothing. The Celts occupied the Island at some
unknown period before the birth of Christ, and continued in exclusive possession
until challenged by Scandinavian invaders towards the end of the ninth century
of our era. The contest for possession of the Island between the Scandinavian and
Celtic races seems to have been of short duration ; and early in the tenth century
the Norse Kings had brought the Island under subjection and established in it a
dynasty which lasted for nearly four centuries. Afterwards the Island passed under
Scottish rule, and was finally ceded to England after the battle of Neville's Cross
3. During the Norse rule in the Isle of Man the Celtic and Scandinavian elements
of the population became assimilated. The Celts imposed their language on their
conquerors and received from them the Norse system of Government. Of this system
the chief features were (1) the "Thing," or local assembly for management of local
affairs; (2) the Tynwald, or general assembly for management of Insular affairs;
(3) the Deemsters or Judges, who were the repositories of the law ; and (4) the Keys
whose province it was to assist and advise the Deemsters.
4. For more than half a century after the establishment of English domination
the Lordship of the Island was held by a, succession of English barons on feudal tenure,
but in 1405 the Lordship was granted by Henry IV. to Sir John Stanley " to have
" and to hold by liege homage and the service of rendering to the said King two
" falcons once only, that is to say, immediately after the same homage done ; and
" of rendering to his heirs, Kings of England, two falcons on the days of their
" coronations instead of all other services, customs, and demands." Thus began the
rule of the Earls of Derby, which, on the whole, was characterised by observance
of the Insular Constitution and Customs as transmitted from Norse times.
The direct connection of the Derby family with the Island terminated with the
death in 1736 of the tenth Earl without male heirs. The Lordship of the Island then
passed to the second Duke. of Atholl, who was descended from a daughter of the
seventh Earl of Derby.
5. For some time before the succession of the Atholl Family
to the Lordship of
Man, the attention of the English Customs Department had been drawn to the smuggling
which had been practised in the island, to the great detriment of the English and
Irish Revenues. The Manx Customs Tariff compared with that of England was low,
and cargoes were consigned from abroad to the island, landed, and run at convenient
opportunities to the mainland. So openly was this done that in 1670 a company of
adventurers from Liverpool settled in Douglas for the avowed purpose of conducting
the trade. Various Statutes were, directed against this traffic, and an Act of the
British Parliament passed in 1725 definitely prohibited the removal from the Isle of
Man to the mainland of Great Britain or Ireland of any goods other than the produce
of the Island, and also authorised the Treasury to treat for the purchase of the
Negotiations, however, do not appear to have been effectively opened until
by which time the loss to the revenue of Great Britain was reported by the
Commissioners of Customs and Excise in Scotland to amount to 350,0001. per annum.
6. In 1765--by an Act which is commonly known as the Revestment Act
(5 Geo. III., c. 26)-the Lordship and Customs of the Isle of Man and its dependencies
were bought from the third Duke of Atholl for 70,0001. and an annuity of 2,0001.
(Irish) a year on the joint lives of the Duke and his Duchess. The purchase did
not affect the, Duke of Atholl's manorial rights in the Island, and he retained his
interest in the land revenues, patronage. of the bishopric, advowsons, &c. The
Revestment had apparently for its object the prevention of smuggling ; but
its immediate effect was to transfer the administration of the Island to the Crown,
and to subject the Island to the harassing commercial restrictions which the short-
sighted policy of that time imposed on English dependencies. The people of the
Isle became discontented with English methods of administration. and to mitigate
their discontent as well as to propitiate the fourth Duke of Atholl, who had raised
claims to larger compensation than had been paid his father, the Duke was appointed
Governor of the Island. For some time his administration was acceptable to the
Islanders, but his endeavours to increase his income brought him ultimately into
unpopularity with them. His money claims on the Government, which were
investigated by a Parliamentary Committee in 1805, were met by the grant of
an annuity of one-quarter of the Customs revenue of the Island : but still his
relations both with the people and the Government: were often unsatisfactory.
Finally it was decided to buy out his own and his family interests in the Island,
and this was effected in 1825, the price fixed being- 417,1141. It may be added that,
after the purchase, the manorial rights, land revenues, &c., were treated as part of the
hereditary revenues of the Crown, and placed under the Department of Woods and
Forests (10 Geo. IV. c. 50).
7. From the Revestment until 1866 the Customs of the Isle of Man formed part
of the General Customs Revenue of the United Kingdom ; the gross Insular receipts
were paid into the Exchequer, and the expenses of the Island were defrayed partly by
charge on the Consolidated Fund, partly from moneys voted in Supply. The Tynwald
Court maintained that the surplus of the Insular Customs duties above the expenses
of Government should be spent in the Island. The Treasury, on the other hand,
claimed the right to use the surplus as they pleased. This subject of controversy
the Act of 1866 set at rest in favour of the Island.
8. We have already indicated the outstanding features of the Norse Constitution
of the Isle of Man. That Constitution was essentially democratic. No law could be
promulgated except with the consent of the people in public meeting (Tynwald)
assembled, and no judgment affecting public; or private interests could be pronounced
by the Deemsters unless they had consulted the Keys. In the course of centuries
this democratic Constitution was modified in various directions. A Council consisting
of the Lord's barons and chief officers was created to advise the Lord. The Keys
lost their judicial and acquired a legislative character ; and the assent of both the
Council and the Keys assembled in Tynwald became necessary to the perfection of
9. At present the Government of the Island consists of (1) the Lieutenant-
Governor, representing the Crown, (2) the Legislative Council, (3) the House of Keys,
and (4) the Tynwald Court.
(1) The Lieutenant-Governor has, since the Revestment, been
appointed by the
Crown. He holds office at pleasure. He is the supreme executive authority in the
Island ; without his consent no action, legislative or executive, (not being prescribed by
statute), is valid. He presides over the Council and over the Tynwald Court, having,
in the opinion of the Manx Attorney-General, a vote in each (Q 5883-5886), In his judicial
capacity he is President of the Court of General Gaol Delivery; and President
of the Chief Civil Appellate Court of the Island.
(2) The Legislative Council now consists of nine members (including the
Lieutenant-Governor) viz. : the Clerk of the Polls, the two Deemsters, the Attorney-
General, the Receiver-General, the -Bishop, the Archdeacon, and the Vicar General.
These may be all said to hold their seats ex officio. For Legislative purposes the
Council sits separately from the House of Keys. Its sittings are, like the sittings
of the Keys, open to the public, and the members are free to vote as they please.
The strength of the. Council has varied front time to time. For example, for
time at the close of the 18th. century there was only one Deemster instead of two.
from the Revestment till 1813, and again between 1832 and 1872, the Receiver
General did not sit in the Council. An official styled the Water-Bailiff had a seat on
the Council till his office. was abolished in 1885. From 1777 to 1793 the ecclesiastical
officers were excluded from. the Council. From these, facts we infer that the existing
constitution of the Council is of comparatively recent date.
(3) The House of Keys consists of 24 members. in the Derby regime it seems
that the Lord designated the members when he had a motive for doing so ; otherwise
the members were nominated by the different Sheadings or local territorial divisions.
Subsequently the Keys secured their own perpetual existence by co-opting members
on the occurrence of vacancies. This co-option took the form of presenting to the
Lord the names of two persons, one of whom he appointed to fill the vacancy.
The Keys in 1866 became an elective body as part of the settlement concluded
by the Imperial Act of that year ; and an Insular Statute, has ratified the settlement.
(4) The Tynwald Court is composed of the Legislative Council and the House
Keys sitting together under the presidency of the Lieutenant-Governor. It is an
administrative rather than a legislative body, but all Bills passed by the Council and
the Keys must be approved by Tynwald, which however cannot mollify them though
it may reject them. On any proposal submitted to Tynwald the Council and the Keys
vote separately, may if there is not a majority in each Chamber in favour of the
proposal , it is rejected. Tynwald discharges administrative functions by means of
Boards, appointed from its members. in this way the administrative duties
connected with Roads, Education, and the Lunatic Asylums, are connected.
10. There have therefore been modifications and changes of the functions
discharged by each branch of the Manx Constitcntion. Still. that constititution
reflects the leading features of the Norse polity; and we are unanimous in thinking
that nothing should be done to destroy these remains of a most interesting political
survival, to which the Manx people seem devotedly attached. The recommendations
we shall make are conceived in this spirit of conservation, our object be:ing
to give effect, in the democratic: spirit of the Norse original, to such alterations in
detail as modern times call for.
11. We. have referred to the dissatisfaction with which, after the Revestment,
the administration of the Island was regarded by the people of the Island, and to
the controversies which led to the enactment of the Statutes of 1.866 by which the
Island recovered something of its self-governing powers. But the settlement of 1886
seems to have left something to be desired. We were told by important witnesses (e.g.,
Mr Crennell, Q. 2542) that "when the Constitution was revised in 1866, the members
" of the House of Keys were then very dissatisfied with the agreement come to. As
" a matter of fact, they seemed to have claimed that they were, unintentionally
" there is no doubt, indeed, and that the powers granted to them were not com-
" mensurate with their expectations, or with. their understanding of the agreement
" by which they became an elective body. This applies to several matters, and
" since that, even, as we have heard this afternoon, the powers that we contend were
" expressly reserved to them by that Act, have since been said to be withdrawn from
" the House."
12. Among the papers laid before us by the Home Department
we found a
letter dated 30th April. 1881, from Lieutenant-Governor Loch, bringing to the
Secretary of State's notice the dissatisfaction felt with the secrecy of the Council's
deliberations ; and we find in the evidence we have received a statement to the effect
that the unrepresentative character of the Legislative Council was, in 1891, held up
specially as a grievance.
This dissatisfaction assumed greater precision and volume in 1903, when a
Resolution in favour of Reform was carried in the House of Keys and a detailed
statement of the changes advocated by that House was delivered to the Home
Department by Mr. Hall Caine, then a member of the Keys.
A new House of Keys was elected in 1903 ; and without loss of time addressed
itself to the question of constitutional reform. A Committee was appointed and a
draft scheme prepared, which, on its presentation, was unanimously adopted by the
House. Some piecemeal and infructuous action followed; and three years passed
before all the demands of the Reform Party were collected into the Petition of the
27th February, 1907, which was duly presented to the Secretary of State for the
Home Department. ( Appendix, No. 1.)
The preliminary inquiries in connexion with that petition had not come to an
end when in last February a dispute arose between the Lieutenant-Governor and the
House of Keys as to the right of members of the Tynwald Court to pass resolutions
concerning expenditure out of the surplus revenue without having obtained the
Governor's previous consent. The Keys refused to admit the Governor's contention
that his previous sanction was necessary to financial motions, and they declined to
proceed with any business in Tynwald till their claim was conceded. Subsequently,
however, on hearing that a Committee of Inquiry into the Petition of February, 1907,
was to be appointed, the Keys consented to resume business in Tynwald, without
prejudice to the principle immediately under dispute.
13. This brings the history of the proceedings up to date : and we now proceed
to consider the Petition of February 1907, the evidence we have recorded and the
other representations which have been made to us during our inquiry. They may
be conveniently discussed under the following heads :
I. - The Lieutenant-Governor.
II. - The Legislative Council.
III. - The House of Keys.
IV. - The Tynwald Court.
V. - The Administration of Justice.
VI. - Finance.
VII. - Miscellaneous.