A Protest

I WAS startled the other day when told that there was in the Isle of Man a movement on foot for putting an end to separate government, and adding the Island to England as an English county. I do not know how many, or what kind of people support such a movement, or what its strength may be. I cannot believe that it has much support amongst real Manx people. I am ready to believe that it can only meet with support from ‘foreigners’ who have settled down in Douglas and else-where to make a living out of visitors, and who, for lack of education and imagination, care for nothing else. To such as these I would give a word of caution. The better class of ordinary holiday visitor is not that which goes to the Island solely for a holiday spree or to plod the round of cheap amusements, but is that which is attracted to the Island as well by its scenery and air as by the romance of its history and ancient people, and its laws and customs. But for these latter many people w ;uld never submit to the inconvenience and always possible unpleasantness of the sea passage, for charminç~ scenery and sea and mountain air and amusements can be got elsewhere without a sea passage. Commercially it is wiser for the Island in the long run to enco~ rage the better class ofordinary holiday visitor. Reduce the Island to the commonplaceness of some British mainl Lud pretty sea-side resort as it would be reduced if the charm of its quaint peculiarities were removed, and the direct result would be a falling off in the better class of visitor. I leave it to others to classify me. I may say that the sea passage is to me an additional attraction, if there is any-thing like elbow-room on board, but had the Island been merely an English county I should have visited it far less than I have, and there are others like that.

Every year for twenty-seven years, down to and including 1914, 1 visited the Isle of Man, and in most years I have been there many times in the course of the year. In one year I paid it twenty-six visits with no ‘day trip.’ I have visited it in all weathers, in all seasons, and. in every month. I know it in all its aspects. I have some acquaintance with its history, its folklore, and its laws. I have more than the shadow of a claim to be allowed to say what I think of such a movement as that for making the place into an English county.

It may be said that my reasons for protesting against the movement are merely sentimental, and that in such times as these that we are living in sentiment should not weigh in the scale. I do not take that view, and to those who do I point out a few of the practical material consequences in addition to what I have already said about visitors.

If the Island were converted into an English county the following consequences would ensue : —

(I) The present laws peculiar to the Island would be repealed, and it would become subject to English law, and the procedure of the English courts. Amongst other important things that this would bring about, the writs and County Court summonses of the English courts would run in the Isle of Man. In a large class of cases, a plaintiff in England would be able to issue his writ or summons in an English court—say in Kent or Cornwall—against a defendant residing in the Isle of Man. That defendant, if he wished to defend the action, would be put to the trouble and expense of going, and taking his witnesses, if he had any, to the distant English court. If he did not defend the action the plaintiff would get judgment against him by default, and execution could be straightway levied on the defendant’s goods in the Isle of Man. At present an English plaintiff wishing to sue a defendant who resides in the Isle of Man and has no place of business in England, must come to the Manx courts to sue his defendant. Another feature of English law would be the enforcement of English taxation, customs, and excise.

( 2) The Local Government of the Island would be placed in the hands of the Manx County Council, which would have jurisdiction over the whole Island. In the present Manx boroughs its jurisdiction would probably be restricted to such matters as roads, police, etc., for Douglas itself is not sufficiently large to be likely to have allowed to it a special police of its own, though of course it would have a police court. Statutory powers would from time to time be sought for the carrying out of improvements and works and so forth, and, for these, Acts of Parliament or provisional orders would be required, which would involve the going before committees of Parliament at Westminster, with the cost of engaging expensive counsel and professional witnesses and of protracted visits to London of a lot of officials and others from the Island. Amongst other improvements and works for which such powers would be required would be railways, tramways, harbours, main drainage, water-works, compulsory purchase of land for public purposes, and so forth Even when the Local Authority (county or borough) had the powers it would in most cases, when the time came to exercise them and spend money, have to submit to an enquiry conducted by a Local Government Board official, who would hear all objectors to the scheme, for the purpose of obtaining, if the Local Government Board should think fit, the sinction of that board to the borrowing of the necessary money. The result of the enquiry might be a refusal of the Local Government Board to sanction the loan. No doubt a similar procedure is established by Manx law, but the difference is that such an enquiry under Manx law would be held by a man familiar with the locality and its requirements, and able to attach its proper value to the evidence and objections submitted to him ; whereas an enquiry by a Local Government Board would in all probability be held by a man quite unfamiliar with all these things, and therefore likely to be misled into making an unjust and sometimes disastrous report to the Board.

(3) The county rates would be levied over the whole Island. The boroughs would have to contribute to some extent. The Executive Government in London would have control over many matters, such as those concerned with securing uniformity in such things as the Education Code, the working of the Poor Law, Model Bye-Laws, etc., and concerned with health, water supply, roads, audit of accounts, etc, etc.

(4) The Island would not be entitled to more than one, or at the most two, representatives in Parliament. Parliament would not have the time, if it had the inclination, to give attention to matters which would affect only, or in the main, Manx affairs. (This does not apply to private bill legislation of the kind mentioned in the last paragraph, which would be dealt with by committees in the usual way). At present purely Manx affairs are fully ventilated and dealt with by the Manx Parliament, by people who to begin with already know all about them.

I do not think I need further to labour the point. Home Rule for the Isle of Man is the best thing for it, I am sure. I am strongly opposed to Home Rule for Ireland, because there many other things come into play that are absent from the Manx question, and one of these is, I think, the safety of the whole Kingdom, which is better secured while Ireland is controlled by the Parliament in London—in which, by the way it has far more than its fair proportion of representatives.

I notice that another proposal is afoot in the form of a petition to the House of Commons to suspend the ancient Constitution of the Isle of Mann in order to secure certain objects set out in the petition. It is not for me to say anything about the controversial matters which obviously surround those objects, but I think that the course taken to secure them is unfortunate, because the House of Commons might take the petitioners at their word so far as to suspend the Constitution and to enforce the objects, but might not restore the Constitution when they had done so, or at all. This would mean absorption of the Island with England, with all the consequences, indicated above, of such a course. At the best, the suspense of the Constitution and the radical alteration of the law prayed for in the petition would, if granted, be the thin end of the wedge which would ultimately tear the old Manx laws and customs from the Island, and force it into an English county. Such a consummation of Manx history would be most deplorable.



Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2000