Blog 21 Jul 19“The Cracks are Showing” – that was the headline in the Manx Independent on Thursday morning, and I don’t think Isle of Man Newspapers were just talking about the promenade, as a number of Ministers came under intense scrutiny in Tynwald this week….

This week was the final Tynwald sitting of this parliamentary session, and it certainly was a long one, and just a little feisty at times as a number of backbench MHK’s held individual Ministers, Departments and the Council of Ministers collectively accountable for various ongoing projects and decisions being taken at the moment.

There was definitely a change in the air this week, maybe a number of more recently elected MHKs now feel the time is right for a ministerial shuffle over the summer period – at least one MHK certainly called for that in Tynwald this week and later on even asked for the current Education Minister, Graham Cregeen, MHK to be replaced by Dr. Allinson, MHK on Manx Radio.

Later on in the week the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK announced a shuffle of Department Members on MTTV, and it will be very interesting to see what happens there over the coming weeks…

More on the Tynwald sitting later on.

Before I outline my activities from this week, tomorrow morning (21st July) at 02.56am we celebrate 50 years since American Astronaut, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon, and as he put his left foot onto the surface of the Moon he said those famous words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Only 12 people have actually walked on the surface of the Moon, the last person was Harrison Schmitt on Apollo 17 in December 1972……

Anyway, back to last weekend, Ellen and I attended the Onchan Fair on Saturday afternoon, which was a welcome distraction from the Tynwald Order Paper. On Sunday we met up with a group of friends for lunch, but like so many other people I spent most of the afternoon switching channels between the Men’s Wimbledon Final and the Cricket World Cup Final, which England eventually won, but what a match!

Unfortunately, the Tour de France didn’t get much of a look in on Sunday, but I still managed to work through most of the Tynwald Order Paper in the background.

I was in the office for 8am on Monday and the morning was taken up with preparing or taking part in Junior Tynwald, which is an annual event that involves year 12 students from each of the island’s five secondary schools.

In recent years more and more Tynwald members including the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK and other Ministers have taken part, which certainly raises the profile of the actual sitting and gives students an opportunity to table questions directly to the Chief Minister and other Department Ministers.

This year the Chief Minister answered questions on whether the Isle of Man should have been entitled to vote in the EU referendum, and if the Isle of Man should revise its policy about receiving refugees – excellent questions.

I acted as the DfE Minister to answer questions on limiting emissions during the TT, Manx Grand Prix and Classic TT, along with how many jobs have been lost as a result of banks leaving the island – two more fantastic questions that definitely raised a lot of supplementary questions from the students.

In total there were 15 questions down for oral answer, but we only reached question 11 in the allotted time available.

There were also two Motions down for debate, the first that Oil and Gas Exploration in Manx waters is likely to be detrimental to the environment and should be stopped, which was actually defeated in the Chamber.

The second Motion related to referendums and if the Isle of Man should use them more frequently in the future; again the motion was defeated.

The last referendum on the Isle of Man actually happened in Onchan (thank you, Chris Thomas, MHK) and related to the Parish of Onchan where I live joining the Village of Onchan.

The quality of the debate and the questions were fantastic, so congratulations to all the students that took part in this year’s Junior Tynwald.

Finally, I got back to my desk for 13.15 in order to catch up with a few things.

At 14.00 I attended the Creative and Social Economy DfE steering group meeting, which is a great title but I am questioning the value of the meetings at the moment, but we are still at a very early stage, so I need to give it time….

The steering group includes the DESC, the Arts Council, Culture Vannin, Creative Network, the Engine House, UCM etc and the aim of the steering group is to work collectively and not in silos.

Back to the office to go through a couple of Tynwald reports from 2015 relating to the role of the RTLC ahead of a motion being tabled in Tynwald on Tuesday, along with drafting several emails.
I left the office at 17.15 but continued to work on the Tynwald Order Paper until around 20.00, although I did also take the opportunity to read through the Government’s paper on zero hours contracts and on the local authority transition review before finishing.

I certainly wasn’t the first person in the office at 8am on Tuesday morning ahead of the last Tynwald sitting of this parliamentary session.

The first couple of hours were spent in the office working on the Tynwald Order Paper, preparing several notes, along with catching up with various Tynwald colleagues.

At 10am a number of Tynwald members went to the library for a quick photo relating to the publication of a new set of stamps by the Isle of Man Post Office.

The Tynwald sitting got underway at 10.30am and it certainly was a massive Order Paper, which started with 49 oral questions, but only 21 questions were answered in the allotted time (13.00).

My colleague Lawrie Hooper, MHK tweeted on Tuesday lunchtime – “shocking that a number of MHKs (including backbenchers) voted against finishing oral questions just now” – “Disgraceful, effective scrutiny is essential to good government and those MHKs have let their constituents down today”.

Strong words from the Ramsey MHK but I have to agree with him. We put three days aside for each sitting of Tynwald and although the Order Paper was long, I still felt we could (should) have finished off the Question Paper.

Out of the 21 questions answered, those relating to the transfer of the RTLC to the OFT, the ongoing Douglas Promenade scheme and the number of vacant properties on the Isle of Man certainly generated a number of clashes between Ministers and backbench MHKs.

Definitely one of the feistiest question sessions of this administration so far.

The morning session finished at 13.10 and I then did a quick interview with Paul Moulton from MTTV about the Douglas Promenade scheme before going up to the Barrool Suite for a presentation by the MUA on Smart Metering.

Straight back to Tynwald Court at 14.30 for statements on Cold, Hunger and Homelessness, along with a statement on Funding of Nursing and Residential Care in the future by the Policy and Reform Minister.

There was also a long debate on the government’s SAVE programme, but more importantly the potential changes involving our airport, which I voted against.

I am not entirely against the idea of pursuing or exploring a corporate business model for Ronaldsway Airport, but as I mentioned last week, the report prepared by York Aviation has ‘increased charges’ written all over it…..

In addition, the Council of Ministers and the Department of Infrastructure have had many months to consider all the available options. Unfortunately backbench MHKs have given a couple of weeks, which is not long enough given the importance of the decision.

The Chief Constable’s Annual Report and the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company re-financing options were also accepted by Tynwald Court before Tynwald members debated Early Years Childcare in the Isle of Man, which I supported.

The sitting finished just after 20.00 and once home I still needed to return a couple of calls and messages before finishing at 21.15.

Straight back into the office for 8am for day two of this month’s Tynwald sitting, which got underway at 10.30am.

Prior to the sitting I needed to catch up with some outstanding correspondence, along with reviewing a couple of Department and Committee papers.

The morning session in Tynwald was taken up with just a couple of motions relating to the Isle of Man Ferry Terminal in Liverpool that needed a further £7 million and the transfer of certain functions relating to the Road Transport Licensing Committee (RTLC) from the Department of Infrastructure (DOI) to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

A number of members highlighted the current conflict between the DOI and the RTLC at the moment, and the potential conflict that would still remain if certain functions were transferred from the DOI to the OFT.

The motion was supported by 13 votes to 10 votes in the House of the Keys, but fortunately all eight Legislative Council Members in the Chamber voted against the transfer, which meant the motion was lost, and rightfully so…..

That said, Chris Thomas, MHK has asked for a combined vote to be taken in October, which might create a final twist.

Hopefully, the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee will now continue to look at the role of the RLTC.

The morning session finished just after 13.00 and once I returned a couple of calls it was straight up to Onchan School for the year 6 leaving assembly and prize presentation, which is always a wonderful event for the students, teachers and proud parents.
I might just be a little biased as an Onchan MHK, but both Ashley Hill and Onchan School have fantastic teaching structures in place, which certainly give the students the perfect foundation for the rest of their lives.

I was planning to leave at 14.15, but I felt I had to stay until the final prize was given out by Head Teacher, Jo Richardson.

This meant that I was 10 minutes late returning to Tynwald, but it was worth the apology I had to make to the President, and I certainly take this opportunity to wish all Onchan students all the very best for the future.

As for the afternoon session of Tynwald on Wednesday, the motions tabled by individual members at the end of the Order Paper always generate a considerable amount of debate and this month’s sitting was no different.

The motion brought by Daphne Caine, MHK on the education policy certainly generated a strong exchange of words between the Garff MHK and the Education Minister, Graham Cregeen, MHK.

At one point the President, Steve Rodan, OBE had to pull the Education Minister up for his unparliamentary language, and his comments were eventually withdrawn.

One particular motion on the Tynwald Order Paper caused me a considerable amount of difficulties, and this related to a motion tabled by Clare Bettison, MHK on removing the minimum wage for 16 – 17 year olds.

As someone who left home at 16, I fully understand the difficulties I had personally to make ends meet at such a young age. At 17 I was working at Ronalsway Airport having to work anywhere between 50 or 80 hours per week, but only earning £2 an hour so I genuinely understand the struggle some young adults have.

On the flip slide, the Department of Enterprise and the Minimum Wage Committee have already removed certain bands between the ages of 18 and 24. From 1st of October 2019 the minimum wage on the Isle of Man will be £8.25, which is an increase of 40p per hour.

Those under 18 will also see an increase of 30p to £6.15.

This administration are continuing to move towards a living wage on the Isle of Man, but further discussion around removing the final band relating to those under the age of 18 has to continue, and in conjunction with businesses, especially those in hospitality and retail.

A very difficult decision to make as an MHK, especially when I voted to keep the band for the moment whilst ongoing discussions take place.

The Tynwald sitting finally finished around 21.00 but I still had a few things to catch up before calling it a day at 22.15.

Back into the office once again for 8am on Thursday morning for day three of this month’s Tynwald sitting, but we only had one item left to discussed.

Before the Tynwald sitting got underway at 10.30am I needed to go through some Eastern Area Plan documents and notes etc before walking over to the I-Museum for the Pre-Inquiry Meeting, which started at 9.30am.

Unfortunately, those Tynwald members that attended the meeting could only stay for the opening 45 minutes, which is extremely disappointing.

Serious questions have to be asked in respect of who scheduled such an important meeting in the same week as a Tynwald sitting – totally unacceptable….

Straight back to Legislative Buildings and into the Tynwald Chambers at 10.30am for the final item on the Tynwald Order Paper, which was a Motion brought by Bill Shimmins, MHK and related ironically to the Eastern Area Plan and the number of housing units required under the Strategic Plan.

It was an excellent debate that lasted over three hours, but in the end we have to wait for a collective vote in October.

The Tynwald sitting finished at around 13.30 and it was straight up to the Barrool Suite for a presentation by the Serious Case Management Review Board.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able stay for the full briefing as I needed to return several Constituent calls and to go through some information before walking to DfE at 15.30 for a Political Workshop, which finished at 17.00.

Once home I needed to draft several more emails and to start preparing for the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee until around 20.30.

As I didn’t get everything done on Thursday evening, I went into the office for around 7.30am on Friday morning in order to finish off any work relating to the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee, which took evidence from the DOI Minister, Ray Harmer, MHK and other officers, along with various local businesses located on the promenade.

The two oral hearings finished at 13.10, which gave the Committee an opportunity to do a quick Manx Radio interview on the evidence taken.

Historically, Tynwald Policy Review Committees normally only review post events, mistakes made and lessons learnt etc.
So it is only the first or second time that the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee has actually taken an opportunity to look at a live government project, in order to review, scrutinise, evaluate and discuss any ongoing or potential problems.

The rest of the Friday afternoon was spent at my desk desperately trying to catch up with various things before heading home at 17.10.

On Friday evening, Ellen and I attended a lecture given by Howard Parkin at St Peter’s Church on the events surrounding the Apollo 11 mission and the moon landing.

A wonderful event and a fantastic presentation from Howard, which raised over £600 for St Peter’s, Onchan.

As for the weekend, I have my Political Surgery between 10am and 11.30am at the Onchan Community Hub on Saturday morning and in the afternoon I will be taking part in the Viking Longboat race being staged in Peel.

On Sunday I still have various chores and correspondence to catch up with.