Government reform – the Lisvane Report

The first thing that struck me about the report was the following comment from Lord Lisvane:


“I was frequently told in evidence that the subject of my inquiry was not something that was a burning – or even generally recognised – subject of public importance. That is not surprising. Citizens and electors generally focus on issues that affect them directly: health, housing, transport, crime, jobs. But the quality of parliamentary governance and operation makes a crucial contribution to how policies are developed, tested and implemented; and that is very much in the interest of every citizen.”

This is a view that I share and is why I believe that this report into the functioning of Tynwald is one of the most important things that the next administration will debate.

Whilst I firmly believe that reform of Tynwald is desperately needed to improve the way the Island is governed I do not believe we should approach reform with a view to changing everything overnight, there are a lot of changes needed and we would be better implementing them in stages.

The first item that Lord Lisvane touches on is the very nature of our system of “independent” MHK’s. Whilst he argues that this is a strength of Island politics he does agree that:


Even if a candidate sets out in detail what he or she will or will not support if elected (as many do) that remains an individual position, which cannot be measured against the sort of collective aims which a party manifesto contains;

And secondly:


Nothing resembling a programme for government (or competing programmes for government) is put before the electorate. Indeed, regardless of the result of a General Election, it may not be clear which MHK, once elected, is likely to be Chief Minister.

Whereas a party has collective aims, and a pre-declared programme for government through its manifesto our system of “independents” doesn’t have this potential. I know that “party politics” isn’t a solution to all our problems, and I certainly don’t want UK style parties with all their divisive politics to be brought to the Island, but I do believe that our current system of “independents” gives us a chance to bring about a new kind of party politics, where members are independent in their views and actions but can work together towards a common set of goals.

In respect of the individual recommendations:

Recommendation 1 – Election of the Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs):

  1. That the House of Keys remain the electoral college but that all candidates for election be nominated by an independent Nominations Commission;
  2. That the Nominations Commission be charged with increasing the diversity of the Legislative Council;
  3. That no sitting MHK be eligible for nomination;
  4. That no proposer or seconder be required;
  5. That the vote be open; and
  6. That the candidates fill the available places in the order of the votes they secure in a single round of voting; a tie for last place would require a run-off.

What is needed is the view of the intelligent, experienced lay person New MLCs could be given appropriate training,but a key point is to make a clean break with a damaging perception, and with no hint of a revolving door.

Whilst I would prefer a directly elected Legislative Council I can support this recommendation. An independent nominations commission where anyone can propose a candidate, as well as barring sitting MHK’s from being appointed are both good suggestions.

Recommendation 2 – Role of the Legislative Council:

  1. That MLCs should not vote on measures which are exclusively on taxation or appropriation, and that the Clerk of Tynwald formulate a definition for Standing Orders;
  2. That MLCs should not be members of Departments and only exceptionally should they be Ministers; and
  3. That MLCs should not vote on the appointment of the Chief Minister, nor on a vote of no confidence in the Chief Minister or the Council of Ministers.

Incidentally, I do not accept the suggestion that an MHK moving from the Keys to the Legislative Council retains some residual electoral mandate. When a Member leaves the House of Keys, at that moment the mandate is extinguished.

These are things that LibVan have been saying for some time. MLC’s should NOT be Ministers or Members of Departments and should have no role in appointing the Chief Minister. These are all jobs for the publicly elected House of Keys.

Recommendation 3 – The Bishop:

  1. That the Bishop should remain an MLC and retain his vote; and
  2. That Tynwald consider whether the Bishop should be included in the quorum of the Legislative Council and whether he should be allowed to abstain.

I can find no compelling reason to remove the vote from the Bishop, nor the Bishop from the Legislative Council. On the contrary, I think his membership is desirable.

Here I would disagree with Lord Lisvane. I am not in favour of the Bishop staying within the Legislative Council whilst retaining his vote. I have no issue with the Bishop having a seat on LegCo so be able to add to the breadth of debate but he should not keep his vote. Only those who have been appointed through the nominations commission (which would be a public process) should be entitled to vote.

Recommendation 4 – A Programme for Government:

  1. That the first task of an Administration be to prepare and publish a Programme for Government, on which the views of the public should be explicitly sought; and
  2. That thereafter Tynwald approval be required for such Programme on formulation, by means of a major debate, at which amendments to the Programme could be moved, and thereafter annually.

I recommend that, once an Administration has been formed, its first task should be to prepare and publish a Programme for Government ….. I envisage a much more comprehensive document, with policy objectives, milestones (or at least indications of phasing) and broad intended budget allocations.

I fully agree that the Government should publish a Programme for Government at the start of it’s term, and that the public should be given a chance to provide input into this programme before Tynwald has it’s debate and gives it’s approval or otherwise. An annual review would be a good way of keeping it up to date and would give Tynwald a chance to hold government to account on its promises.

We already have a version of this process with the annual Budget, Government uses the Budget to set out its stall for the upcoming year, but it has no public element and Tynwald don’t get any input into the longer term strategic aims. A Programme for Government would be a significant improvement.

Recommendation 5 – Departmental Members:

  1. That there be no more than one Departmental Member per Department; and
  2. That appointment as a Departmental Member be made only where it is clear that substantial responsibilities will be assumed in recognition of the salary enhancement.

I do not believe that the system of Departmental Members is remotely sustainable. The issue of patronage, and the perception or reality that Members are receiving significant salary enhancements for a role that at worst may be unnecessary, is a reputational liability. 
I therefore recommend that the present extensive system of Departmental Members should end.

I totally agree. One Member maximum per Department. I would go further to add that “collective responsibility” should not apply to Departmental Members.

Recommendation 6 – Scrutiny:

  1. That the scrutiny role continue to be delivered principally by four Standing Committees of Tynwald (“the four principal committees”), namely the Public Accounts Committee and, following reform, the Economic Policy Review Committee, the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee and the Social Affairs Policy Review Committee, as renamed;
  2. That the Chairmen of the four principal committees be elected immediately after the Chief Minister;
  3. That the Chairmen of the four principal committees be paid at the same level as Ministers;
  4. That the members of the four principal committees be paid at the same level as Departmental Members;
  5. That the Programme for Government be the focus of the reformed Policy Review Committees;
  6. That the Terms of Reference of the reformed Policy Review Committees set down their key tasks and, if such Committees are able to examine Estimates, that the Terms of Reference of the Public Accounts Committee be amended so that the first limb refer to “accounts” rather than to “papers on public expenditure and estimates”;
  7. That the Chairmen and Members of the four principal committees have appropriate familiarisation and training concerning the work of the Executive and best practice in scrutiny and questioning;
  8. That consideration be given to supporting the work of Select Committees of Tynwald through external advice and expertise;
  9. That the Tynwald Auditor General Act 2011 and the Tynwald Commissioner for Administration Act 2011 be brought into force.

They will be entirely free of potential conflicts with Government duties and loyalties.
I see an independent Auditor General function as essential to Parliamentary scrutiny
The appointment of an Ombudsman is highly desirable

This is probably the most important of the recommendations. It sets out that the scrutiny aspect of Tynwald – the “oversight” of Government – is equally as important as Government itself and this has been the cornerstone of LibVan’s philosophy since it was founded.

I wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy, that we need effective scrutinty to make sure Government is acting in our best interests, and not its own.

Recommendation 7 – Legislation:

  1. That a new draft Bill procedure be adopted under which draft legislation is automatically referred to the relevant principal committee instead of being subject to the existing formal consultation procedure; but that the relevant principal committee seek the views of the public;
  2. That the committee be required to report its conclusions on the draft Bill and any suggested amendments within a fixed time period, which could be reduced by resolution of Tynwald in cases where urgency was demonstrated;
  3. That, in considering the draft Bill, the committee take evidence from experts in the field and from persons who may be affected by the proposed legislation;
  4. That amendments to the Long Title of a Bill be authorised by an instruction moved immediately after second reading (which instruction would be open to amendment);
  5. That amendments to the Long Title of a Bill be taken at the end of the clauses stage; and
  6. That, when leave is given to introduce a Bill, the House of Keys approve the proposed topic of the Bill as opposed to approving the Long Title; and that the Speaker certify the Long Title of the Bill as introduced as corresponding to the terms in which leave was given.

The consultation process is clearly not producing useful, or sufficiently broadly based, results.
A Motion which describes in non-legal language what the Bill is to achieve is in any event more suited to political debate

This area is a little more technical, I can see the benefits of this process. I certainly agree that the current “consultation” process is not producing useful results and instead allowing the public to submit comments directly to the relevant Committee could give us better engagement.

Debating bills that are put before Tynwald in “non-legal language” (i.e. plain english!) is a common sense suggestion.

Recommendation 8 – Code of Conduct:

  1. That Tynwald introduce a single formal Code of Conduct for its members;
  2. That such a Code be a free standing document rather than various Standing Order provisions;
  3. That each Member sign a declaration to abide by the Code of Conduct immediately after the introduction of the Code and thereafter at the time of taking the Oath after election or appointment;
  4. That there be a minority of lay Members of the Members’ Standards and Interests Committee;
  5. That anyone within the Isle of Man should be able to make a conduct complaint; and
  6. That the procedure for breaches of the Code be revisited, and that there be provision for a specified period of suspension notwithstanding an apology.

Codes of Conduct are not only for those who are subject to them; they also demonstrate to the outside world a commitment to ensuring that the highest standards of behaviour are observed and enforced. So far a comprehensive approach has seemed to be lacking.

This speaks for itself. It’s about time that Tynwald Members had to adhere to a formal code of conduct, maybe this would make them behave in a manner more befitting a National Parliament.

The recommendations regarding breaking the code of conduct don’t quite go far enough in my opinion. I would like to see any Member who is found breaking the Code of Conduct that they have signed up to be forced to face the Electorate in a recall election. Any “unelected” MLC breaking the Code should be forced to resign and go through the nominations process again, to allow the public to submit other names to the nominations commission should they desire.

Recommendation 9 – Diversity:

  1. That Tynwald address with energy the need to make its membership more diverse.

If this is even only partly true, Tynwald has a major problem, both in demonstrating diversity and in reflecting the society it serves, as women outnumber men on the Island (50.3% of the population compared with 49.7%).

It is a matter of real concern that Tynwald is almost exclusively male and I would support action taken to encourage a more diverse membership. This also goes for local politics and it would be interesting to see if any changes at a national level could be applied to local authorities.

Recommendation 10 – Members’ Pay and Allowances:

  1. That an independent review of pay and allowances be undertaken urgently.

In recommending that equivalence between Scrutiny Chairmen and Ministers I am making a general point of principle, but I have taken the issue of pay no further

 

I agree with this, and have already touched on my thoughts on Tynwald Members pay in aseparate post

Recommendation 11 – Training:

  1. That there should be continuous professional development training for Members of Tynwald.

Up-to-date training and awareness (“continuous professional development”) should be part of doing any job effectively. The role of Parliamentarians is no exception.

In my professional life I am required to keep my professional skills up to date by attending what seems like an endless number of seminars, courses and training sessions – surely being responsible for running Government should require the same level of Professional commitment?

 

There are a couple of items that Lord Lisvane touches on but doesn’t fully address in his recommendations:

1. Regarding Direct Democracy


Within the scope of my Review I do not think I am in a position to take matters further at this stage, but I would hope that Tynwald itself will do so. Although these methods have much to offer, there need to be safeguards to ensure responsible and courteous use.

I’d agree with this sentiment. Direct Democracy has the potential to significantly improve public engagement and could have a really positive impact on the way we are governed. I would also be very supportive of online voting, we already have a secure online system where we pay our taxes, why not expand this to allow voting online?

However, there need to be significant safeguards in place to make sure the system is not open to abuse.

2. Regarding the Chief Minister


I do not favour direct election of the Chief Minister

 

Here I am torn. I would not like to see the Chief Minister become some sort of “President” role, but equally I do believe the public should have a say in the election of the Chief Minister.

I accept that public input into the “Programme of Government” goes some way towards mitigating the fact that the public can’t vote on the Chief Minister and thereby direct the sort of Government we will get, but this is only “after the fact”, i.e. after the Keys have elected the Chief Minister and the Government has been formed. My preference remains for a party system wherby the Party’s Manifesto (their “Programme for Government”) is available before the election giving people the chance to vote for the type of Government they want.

 


Conclusion

Overall the report is a huge step in the right direction, and I can only disagree with only a few small points. It’s refreshing to see that the report is supporting nearly all the things that reformers such as myself have been saying for some time and now it only remains for Tynwald to take these suggestions on board and act.


 

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