On Monday next week (19th April) the Isle of Man will finally exit from the latest Covid-19 “Circuit Break”, and I think we all sincerely hope that it will be the final time that this island has to fully lock down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The latest circuit break started on 3rd March and it lasted far longer than anyone expected, but hopefully as we emerge from this six week dark tunnel our focus can now be on the recovery, especially for businesses, tourism sector and the mental health of our Community.
The sign on the door come Monday morning will read that “the Isle of Man is Open for Business’”, but it will not fully open for business until the Manx Government publishes details on how the Isle of Man intends to re-open its borders to families, friends, businesses and finally visitors, along with giving clear details on testing, vaccinations and self-isolation (should they be necessary, because opinion is split amongst Tynwald Members).
On Tuesday around 800 students returned to island schools as part of a phased return for children and young people. According to the Department of Education 448 pupils returned to primary schools and around 347 secondary school students attended their schools, in order to complete any course work before grades are determined in the summer.
At the Thursday media briefing the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK also confirmed that people will be able to meet inside once again on Saturday (17th April) before all restrictions are lifted on Monday morning.
More on Covid-19 and the Tynwald Members workshop in a moment.
As for my own activities this week, with Tynwald still in recess and with the number of meetings / briefings scaled back because of the Easter holidays, I was originally hoping to take most of this week off, because I just know my time will be limited in the weeks and months to follow.
That said, given the current environment around Covid-19 you just cannot ignore any meeting requests or urgent Parliamentary sittings at this moment in time. I am also sure that we have had more emergency sittings of the Manx Parliament in this administration since the Second World War.
Anyway, all of that said I still managed to mix and match a few hours this week, and I was able to take advantage of the dry weather for a change, in order to start building a new ‘garden room’, which will be one last big project for our garden – fingers crossed.
Hopefully, when everything is done I would still love to organise a “Secret Gardens” event for Onchan over the next couple of years, in order to help raise some funds for charity.
As for my own activities last weekend, I did manage to spend most of Saturday in the garden, starting to build that garden room. This is mainly due to the fact that the Isle of Man has been under a Covid-19 “Circuit Break” since 3rd March and various engagements and appointments normally held in the evenings and weekends have been cancelled or re-scheduled. Therefore, I have been able to focus on something else for a short period, and it is a great way of just switching off for a couple of hours, especially over the weekend and in the evenings.
By Saturday evening I managed to get the frame down along with the floor, which I had to redo a couple of times. As I mentioned previously I have no experience of building this type of structure, but hopefully I will be able to post a few pictures once it is completed.
Sunday morning was again spent in the garden before the Isle of Man was hit by sudden snow showers, which quickly disappeared. Most of Sunday afternoon was spent working on this month’s Tynwald sitting, which is fast approaching.
I went into the office before 7am on Monday, in order to collect various bits of legislation and paperwork. Once home I needed to spend a couple of hours going through the draft Local Government (Amendment) Bill and supporting papers, along with the responses received back from various Local Authorities. I also needed to respond to a few other department papers and a couple of constituent issues before I was able to get into the garden for a few hours from around 10am.
I needed to stop for around 13.00, in order to catch up with things, especially a couple more Constituent issues, and one of them was particularly difficult because it related to a family looking to move back to the Isle of Man.
I still managed to get some House of Keys work done before a DOI Policy and Strategy meeting, which related to the Local Government (Amendment) Bill. The two hour meeting gave us an opportunity to look at the clauses and to discuss various points raised by the Local Authorities during the consultation period.
On Monday evening I carried on looking at the House of Keys and Tynwald Order Papers until around 21.00.
On Tuesday morning there was an urgent Tynwald Members workshop, in order to look at various issues around Covid-19, the island’s exit strategy, border controls, testing etc and how the Isle of Man moves towards setting the right level of mitigation, which means that as a society and as community we can start to live with Covid-19, but at the same time minimising the associated risks.
Tynwald Members were split into several smaller groups, and in our particular group we had Tanya, Tim, Jane and Clare, myself and the Chair of the group was Alex Allinson. Over the two and half hour workshop session we looked at what are the principal objectives that the Isle of Man is trying to achieve over the coming months in respect of Covid-19.
When should the Isle of Man change its border position, and should any change being implemented be aligned with the UK and the other Crown Dependencies? This was followed by a session on border mitigations, which looked at testing, vaccination passports and self isolation etc.
The next session looked at island life and what adjustments will be required, in order to get the island to a point of completely open borders once again, and the final session was on how the island should respond to future outbreaks, which will have to be proportionate and given the fact we will all have to accept that we will be living with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future.
An excellent workshop session in many ways, a lot of excellent contributions from the team. There was a short break before all Tynwald Members got together at 12 noon, in order to listen to the responses from the other workshop groups, which lasted around an hour. I was then able to take a break, in order to get into the garden but unfortunately heavy rain arrived within 40 minutes.
The next couple of hours were spent going through DfE and DEFA agenda packs ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled meetings. At 16.00 there was a DEFA and DOI Waste Management Meeting, in order to discuss a particular issue around agriculture plastics. I finally got back in the garden for a couple of hours at around 17.00, and by the end of the day I almost had two sides of the garden room completed.
On Wednesday morning I went back into the office very early, in order to get a few things done before I return to the office next week. Once home I went through any remaining papers related to DEFA and DfE meetings. At 9am we had the DfE political catch up with the DfE Minister before I joined my Tynwald colleagues for the latest catch up session.
At 10.30am we had the DfE Agency update from the four Chairmen, but that was restricted to around 30 minutes because it was followed by an economic strategy briefing by the Treasury team. At 12 noon we had the DfE department meeting, which was relatively light this week with only a handful of decisions and discussion points.
Straight out of that meeting and into the DEFA Agriculture and Lands political meeting, which I was around 15 minutes late for. A short break before the DEFA Environment Directorate meeting that got underway at 15.00 with divisional updates from Fisheries, Biosphere, Energy and Minerals etc. Shortly after 16.00 I had to come out of that meeting, in order to deal with a couple of urgent Constituent matters, which needed follow-up correspondence to be sent before the end of the day.
I managed to get back in the garden for a couple of hours towards 17.00.
Thursday started with me preparing for the House of Keys sitting, and I am extremely grateful for a particular email sent by the Speaker, Juan Watterson, SHK that proved very helpful ahead of the sitting.
At 10am there was a short sitting of Tynwald Court, in order for the President to pay tribute to His Late Royal Highness, the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh who died last week. This was followed by this week’s virtual House of Keys sitting that started with 9 oral and 16 written questions, and I sincerely hope it will be the last virtual sitting.
Once question time had finished, my colleague Ann Corlett, MHK tabled a motion relating to the amount of time that is given each week to answer questions. Just like previous administrations there has been a push in this Parliament to end question time after the allotted hour, mainly because of what appears to be a block vote from the Council of Ministers.
Again, I am not going to repeat my previous comments around the overall quality of certain questions and fairness in order to ensure that all Members are given an equal opportunity to ask questions.
After an hour long debate Mrs Corlett’s amendment was supported by the House of Keys, which means that a simple majority of Members present can now vote to extend question time. That said, a lot of Members asked for the relevant Management Committee to look again at the whole process, and possibly the way questions are tabled in the future.
Before and after the lunchtime break we moved onto the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill 2020, but before we looked at any remaining clauses, my colleague Chris Robertshaw, MHK tabled a motion to rescind a particular clause of the bill, but his motion failed to carry.
Going through and debating the remaining clauses of the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill 2020 took up the rest of the afternoon and into Thursday evening. Once we finished with the clauses stage the DOI Minister, Tim Baker, MHK then moved the third reading of the bill before the legislation is passed to our colleagues in Legislative Council for consideration.
As I have mentioned previously, this particular bill has been the most difficult for me personally, especially when trying to get legislation right while listening to the views of landlords and tenants – not an easy process.
The final item on this week’s House of Keys Order Paper was consideration of Council Amendments relating to the Road Traffic Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2020 before the sitting finished at 20.30 with a personal statement from the Health Minister David Ashford, MHK in order to correct a statement given earlier in the sitting.
Just a few bits of correspondence and a couple of calls to return before finishing for the day at around 21.15.
As for Friday all three meetings scheduled for the morning were cancelled, so once I caught up with things I was able to get into the garden between 9.00 and 13.00, which was fantastic.
I still needed to take a couple of calls and to respond to various correspondence, but I managed to get a lot done in that time. After 13.00 I needed to go through a few urgent department papers ahead of a DfE Motorsport meeting at 14.00, which lasted around 90 minutes.
Back in the garden for the rest of the afternoon until round 17.00.
As for the weekend, I guess most of Sunday will be taken up with the Tynwald Order Paper, in order to ensure that I am ready for next week. With regard to Covid-19, we end the week with no new cases and only 11 active cases on the island at the moment, which is fantastic news.
Finally, by Thursday evening the Isle of Man had delivered around 48,606 first vaccinations, along with 15,474 second vaccination jabs.