Blog 19 May 19I have to start this week’s Blog by congratulating the Isle of Man Netball team on winning the Europe Open Challenge at the NSC last weekend.

It was a fantastic tournament and the Manx team definitely punched well over their ranking, especially against the Republic of Ireland.

I didn’t know much about Netball before the tournament, and I still don’t know much about the sport today, but I really did enjoy following the tournament and the results throughout the weekend – congratulations to the whole team, they certainly did the Isle of Man proud….

Although I am away for Tynwald next week I still spent a considerable amount of time over the weekend going though the Order Paper, in order to ensure that I am up to date with the items being discussed.

I will listen to Tynwald when I get back to the island.

This week started by getting in the office for 8am on Monday as I continued to research the topic that will be discussed at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (British Isles & Mediterranean Region) AGM, which will be held in Guernsey next week.

The delegation is led by my colleague Martyn Perkins, MHK and we are joined by the Clerk of Tynwald, Mr Roger Phillips.

This year’s CPA BIMR conference is based around two plenary sessions and a number of workshops on “Fighting Fake News and Digital Disinformation”, “Policy responses to Misinformation” and the “Impact on Media Freedom”.

On the surface it looks a relatively straightforward topic for discussion, but I did spend several hours researching the topic over the weekend and it definitely isn’t an easy topic, especially around the ever evolving world of social media, which has only been around for 14 or 15 years, which is amazing when you think about it….

UK TV / News Channels are regulated by OfCom and the Newspapers are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which can fine publishers up to £1 million.

However, social media companies such Facebook and Twitter etc remain self regulating at the moment but that could certainly change in the very near future if governments get their way, which also raises further questions around press freedom.

Facebook and Twitter etc have argued strongly in recent years that they are tech companies, very similar to phone companies and that their role is to simply to provide a social platform and to enable engagement and discussion.

On the flip side, they have also made millions from sponsorship and advertising relating to fake-news articles, such as during the US Presidential Election in 2016 and more recently in the Brexit referendum, without actually validating or checking the contents.

Governments and politicians now are arguing strongly that social media companies such as Facebook should be treated as a publisher, and therefore should be held accountable for what is posted online.

Facebook has over 2.7 billion people posting online each day, so how can you actually police this amount of content without infringing on press freedom etc?

I am sure there will be more on this particular topic next week.

Anyway continuing with Monday’s activities, just before 10am I drove into Onchan to attend the Springfield Court Coffee morning, which I always enjoy. I always receive a warm welcome from the residents, along with a cuppa and a piece of cake.

I was back in the office just after 11am to continue working on the CPA project, along with catching up with correspondence and going through some particular legislation.

I also returned a number of calls with Constituents.

At 12.30 we headed up to the Barrool Suite for a presentation on new legislation relating to Moneyval and AML / CFT. This was followed by a further presentation given by the Education Department on the new Student Awards Regulations 2019.

Subject to Tynwald approval, the Department is set to increase the level of maintenance support available to students studying at higher education level, which is fantastic news.

The maximum maintenance support for qualifying students studying in the UK is set to increase from £5,500 to £7,500 a year or £6,000 to £8,000 in London and any country outside the UK.

The announcement is very positive news and if Tynwald approves the changes they will come into effect for the 2019/20 academic year.

For more information visit:

https://www.gov.im/news/2019/may/13/increase-in-financial-support-for-higher-education-students-proposed/

The presentation finished just before 15.00, which gave me only a few minutes to collect some paperwork before attending a Committee Meeting on “Accommodation for Vulnerable Young People”.

The meeting gave us an opportunity to go though the draft report in some detail, along with ensuring that the recommendations actually reflect the Committee’s thoughts on a very difficult topic, but one that we sincerely hope will deliver some meaningful improvements for vulnerable young people in the future.
The meeting finished 16.20, which gave me an opportunity to catch up with a couple of calls and emails before leaving at 17.15.

Once home I was still working on various things until around 20.00, and this included going through the Tynwald Paper.

Back in the office for 8am on Tuesday, and the first task was to review guidelines and legislation in respect of Public Sector Housing. I also needed to review a number of Department papers relating to motorsport and tourism.

Just before 10am we headed down to the House of Keys for a fairly short sitting.

There was no legislation to consider this week, and there were only 7 questions down for oral response and a further 2 for written reply.

One question certainly left me speechless and that related to Local Authority Reform, which was originally being tabled by Lawrie Hooper, MHK.

I hope it was a genuine slip when my colleague Daphne Caine, MHK (Garff) asked the DOI Minister for local authority boundaries to be aligned with the House of Keys general election boundaries.

Onchan remains the only local authority on the island to have been split into three for the House of Keys General Election back in 2016, and I know most Onchan residents / ratepayers still want the opportunity to vote for an Onchan MHK for the House of Keys, and they certainly do not wish to cast their vote for Garff or Douglas North MHKs…..

If that actually did happen, then around 2,500 to 3,000 ratepayers of Onchan would be transferred into the parish of Garff or Douglas North, which would raise serious political questions from the second largest Local Authority on the island.

The sitting finished just after 11am.

Other than attending a presentation by a new charity called “Reach”, which was held in the Barrool Suite at lunchtime, the rest of the day was spent at my desk going though the Tynwald Order Paper or continuing to research for the Conference next week, before leaving at 17.15.

In the evening I started to go through the written evidence submitted by the Manx Taxi Federation, along with looking at the structure of the Road Transport Licensing Committee (RTLC), but I still managed to finish for 20.00.

Wednesday was all about tours and taking Committee evidence, and the first part of the morning was spent finishing off reviewing the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee agenda pack.

At 9.30am we had Onchan School (Year 5C) having a tour of our Parliamentary Chambers, and it was nice to be able to say hello and answer questions from the students.

Unfortunately, I could only stay for around an hour, because I needed to finish off my prep work ahead of the Policy Review Committee meeting, which started at 11am.

From 11.30am we took evidence from the Manx Taxi Federation, which was represented by five committee members, along with a number of supporters sitting in the Public Gallery.

It was one of those Committee Sessions in which our Committee didn’t have to say a lot, but simply allowed the Federation to outline their concerns relating to the structure of the Road Transport Licensing Committee (RTLC), along with the Road Transport Act 2001,

The evidence session lasted just over 90 minutes and the RTLC will be given an opportunity to present their evidence to the Committee in due course.

Enough time to spend drafting a couple of emails before meeting the second group from Onchan School (Year 5G) taking a look around the Parliament Chambers.

At 15.00 I walked over to DfE for a tourism meeting relating to the Isle of Man Darts Festival and how we can improve things ahead of the 2020 event.

The last hour was spent in the office going through my Isle of Man Visit Agency Pack.

On Wednesday evening the Isle of Man Post Office announced they had reached agreement with the Union over changes to pay and conditions.

I will look at the actual detail of the settlement last week.

In the office for the normal time on Thursday and it was straight into drafting a couple of letters, along with talking to a constituent on a planning decision.

At 9.15am I walked over to DfE for the Isle of Man Visit Agency meeting, which included a presentation by Manx National Heritage.

I had to leave the meeting a few minutes early at 12.30, in order to enable me to do a couple of personal chores before meeting another group (Year 6W) from Onchan School at 13.15.

At 15.30 I attended a meeting briefly with Joerg Horn from the Secretariat of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which was organised by Chris Thomas, MHK.

Unfortunately, the meeting was scheduled very late in the day, so I was only able to stay for around 30 minutes as I needed to finish various things in the office before jumping on a flight on Thursday evening.

I left the office at 17.00 and once home we still needed to finish off packing before driving to the airport for 19.00.
Ellen is accompanying me on this trip to Guernsey and we have left Oscar (our cat) looking after the cottage and my mother (Pam).

Before I met Ellen most of my holidays were taken up playing snooker or pool in the UK with the island teams, but since 2003 we have travelled to various places in Europe and the world together, including Guernsey that we have visited twice before.

In a world of transparency, the costs of all Tynwald Members’ parliamentary travel including my own are posted on the Tynwald website in due course. However, for clarity I declare here that Ellen is travelling with me and that we have paid personally for Ellen’s flights, along with the hotel in Gatwick Airport and for the two extra nights in the hotel in St Peter Port ahead of the Conference, which actually starts on Sunday evening with a small reception.

The Easyjet flight to Gatwick left on time at 21.05 and we finally settled into the airport hotel for 23.00.

Back in Gatwick Airport for 8am on Friday morning ahead of our flight to Guernsey via Aurigny Airlines at 10am.

We arrived at the hotel at lunchtime and were able to spend a couple of hours wandering through St Peter Port, Guernsey’s beautiful capital, then later had tea at the “Boathouse”, which is located on the harbour front.

As for the weekend, hopefully we will be exploring Guernsey before the conference starts on Sunday evening.