Most of this week was spent in Guernsey attending the 48th CPA British Islands and Mediterranean Region Conference (BIMR), at which I had the real privilege of representing Tynwald, the Manx Parliament.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) in the Isle of Man elects members to attend these Conferences, and although there were several changes, with people pulling out for various reasons, the final delegation consisted of Martyn Perkins MHK and me, to be accompanied by the Clerk of Tynwald, Roger Phillips.
The conference theme this year was “Fake News and Digital Disinformation: the challenges for Parliamentarians and Democracy”.
Ellen and I arrived in Guernsey on Friday (17th May), in order to take a short break before the Conference started last Sunday evening.
More on the Conference later, but hopefully this week’s Blog gives an insight and a flavour of the Conference along with the work involved.
As I mentioned in previous blogs, these trips are based around building firm relationships with other Parliaments and their Members across Europe and further afield, and having attended several conferences and events to date, the Isle of Man as a Parliament is very respected by other jurisdictions, especially some of the smaller jurisdictions.
Personally, I used the trip to explore and review other jurisdictions such as Jersey and Guernsey etc, in order to compare facilities, chambers, structure, staffing, along with pay and conditions etc.
I also try not to claim any additional expenses for off island travel wherever possible and full details on any expenses relating to flights and hotel for attending this conference will be posted online via the Tynwald website in due course.
Happy to confirm once again that any costs relating to my wife Ellen for attending the event were fully paid by us personally.
Anyway, last Saturday and Sunday were spent exploring the island of Guernsey, which I have visited twice before.
Guernsey has an excellent bus service and most bus trips costs just £1 per journey, which means that most buses are very busy but still a great way to explore the island.
At 18.30 on Sunday the delegates attended an informal welcome reception hosted by the Presiding Officer and the members of the CPA in Guernsey.
I was very surprised by the number of delegates that I already knew from my visits to McGill University in Canada, Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and Jersey.
There was a wonderful moment during the reception when I was trying to explain the Isle of Man TT to a very good friend called Doug from the Turks and Caicos Islands, who I first met in Canada. I couldn’t really describe the TT races so I took the opportunity to show him a video, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for his reaction when he jumped back and shouted out loud when he watched a video of a bike doing 160mph plus go past a bloke sitting on a fence …..
His reaction to the video was fantastic, it certainly made all the other delegates stop and wonder what we were watching – it just goes to show that the Isle of Man TT races are something very special to our island.
The reception finished at 20.00 and my colleague Martyn Perkins, MHK who arrived in Guernsey at 19.30 had organised for us to meet up with Guernsey Deputy, Jennifer Merrett who was also on our course at McGill University back in 2017.
It was good to catch up with Jennifer over dinner in St Peter Port before getting back to the hotel for around 22.30.
Up, dressed and down for breakfast by 7.15am on Monday morning before the activities of the day started, with guests gathering at 8.30am, in order to walk down to the Royal Court House, which is also Guernsey’s Parliament building.
The Bailiff of Guernsey, Sir Richard Collas, Presiding Officer of the States Assembly and Deputy Lyndon Trott, Chair of the CPA Guernsey Branch gave the opening and welcoming addresses.
Back to the hotel for 10am to attend the first plenary session and the first key note speech by Prof Dr. Horst Risse who gave a talk on “Fighting Fake News and Digital Information vs Solving Real Problems”.
As Prof Dr. Horst Risse said – it takes two to lie: one to lie and one to listen….
The second key note speaker of the morning was Dr. Victoria Nash who gave a wonderful presentation on “Policy Responses to Disinformation; a public health approach to preserving democracy”.
This was followed by two workshops (A & B) for delegates to choose from. I selected the Workshop “A”, which focused on “Fighting Fake News and Digital Disinformation vs Solving Real Problems”.
The workshop was chaired by Lord Haselhurst, a former Deputy Speaker from the House of Commons for many years. Some people might remember the name because we travelled to Jersey together last November as part of a working group for newly elected members.
An excellent workshop and discussion amongst the delegates attending the session.
After lunch the afternoon was taken up with the BIMR Annual General Meeting, which certainly had a few thorny issues for discussion amongst the delegation, especially around the CPA structure, membership and the behaviour of a certain CPA chairman at an event in Canada.
At 16.00 there were refreshments being served but Martyn Perkins, MHK and I took the opportunity to go for a stroll from the hotel to Castle Cornet, located on the southern arm of St Peter Port Harbour, which took around an hour.
Back to the hotel and changed before meeting with other delegates at 18.30 to walk down the hill to La Fregate, which is a beautiful restaurant with stunning views overlooking St Peter Port.
A wonderful evening and we were placed with delegates from the Welsh Assembly, the Falkland Islands and Westminster, but there are other delegates from St Helena, Australia, Zambia, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Malaysia, Scotland, Westminster, Malta, Gibraltar and Turks and Caicos to name just a few of the countries attending the conference this week.
Back to the hotel for around 22.00.
Day two of the conference got underway at 9.30am with the second plenary session with Rita Payne, President Emeritus, Commonwealth Journalists Association who gave a keynote speech on “Fake news and the Impact on Media Freedom”.
Rita has over 30 years’ experience with the BBC World Services and she gave a very entertaining, but at the same time a very powerful presentation on political corruption, fake news articles, spoof videos and she also outlined the number of journalists killed in actions reporting genuine news article since the 1990’s.
The second key note speech was from Doug Wills, Managing Editor of the Evening Standard who gave a presentation on “the Importance of Quality Journalism in a World of Fake News and Social Media”.
The third and final key note speaker was Victoria Schofield, Historian & Commentator from the Commonwealth Roundtable who gave a presentation on “Fake News and No Platforming”.
After a tea break there were two further workshops (C & D) for members to choose from and I selected workshop “C”, which was chaired by Martyn Perkins, MHK and the topic for discussion was “Impact of Media Freedom / the Importance of Quality”.
We broke for lunch after 12.45. The weather in Guernsey throughout the Conference was fantastic, hitting the low 20s Celsius most days – just a shame we were stuck inside for two days.
After lunch there were presentations and updates by CPA Benchmarks for Democracy and BIMR Election Observing Boards before delegates received feedback and reports from the four workshop sessions.
Deputy Lyndon Trott, Chair of CPA Guernsey Branch gave the closing remarks, in order to bring the Conference to a close just after 16.00.
At 18.15 delegates assembled in the hotel foyer before jumping on a coach, in order to attend a reception at Government House with Guernsey’s Governor, Vice-Adm. Sir Ian Corder KBE, CB.
The reception was meant to be held in the Government House Ballroom, but the weather was so good everything was moved into the garden.
At 19.45 coaches collected delegates and transferred to Cobo on the west coast of the island, and a lovely restaurant called La Reunion. Again, another wonderful evening with delegates from the Welsh Assembly, Gibraltar, Guernsey and Jersey.
Before being elected, I didn’t really understand the merits of this type of trip, but there is no doubt that Tynwald has always built up strong relationships with current and future Ministers and Political members that will surely benefit the island for years to come.
A very special trip, personally and professionally and I was very proud to present the Isle of Man and the Tynwald Parliament.
Wednesday was all about travelling back to the Isle of Man.
We left the hotel at 8.30am in order to catch a flight up to Manchester at 9.50am, which left on time. There was a couple of hours spent in Manchester airport but it gave me an opportunity to catch up with a large number of emails and messages.
I also received a couple of calls from Constituents during my travels back to the Isle of Man relating to the TT and High Hedges.
We landed at around 15.30, which gave me a chance to catch up with outstanding issues that couldn’t wait until Thursday.
As for Thursday it was all about sorting various things, even though I did respond to most correspondence when away, most of it required follow up work.
In the office before 8am and it was head down with admin before walking over to DfE for the Department meeting, which was carried over because of the Tynwald sitting this month going into two days.
The Department meeting finished at around 11.30am which gave me time to try and clear out my in-box and other admin tasks before driving into Onchan at 12.25 for two Constituent meetings relating to parking and an ongoing planning issue.
My knowledge of the planning process and procedures has certainly improved since being involved in this particular planning application, especially when things go wrong….
As it was highlighted to me on Thursday lunchtime, a planning officer’s report has to be 100% accurate at all times, otherwise it does give the wrong impression to those elected or appointed to make those difficult planning decisions.
Back to the office for 15.00, in order to draft various correspondence responding to invitations and enquiries from Constituents.
I also had to deal with a TT related issue and a Constituent issue relating to a swarm of wasps, which wasn’t straightforward.
I left the office at 17.15 and after getting showered and changed I headed south for the Isle of Man Municipal Association AGM Dinner, which was an excellent opportunity to catch up with local authority members.
An excellent evening and I managed to get home for around 22.30.
Friday was definitely one of the very positive days that you enjoy from time to time in this role.
I was in the office for 8am and it was straight into a couple of Constituent issues, one relating to the swarm of wasps in an empty property in Onchan, which was brought to my attention on Thursday.
A big thank you to DEFA and to Ross at Onchan Commissioners for looking into the ownership of the property, in order to try and gain access to remove the wasps.
At 9am the Health Minister and I had a meeting with a Constituent relating to an ongoing medical issue, but importantly the manner in which the Constituent has been dealt with by Noble’s Hospital and the general complaints department.
A big thank you to the Health Minister, David Ashford, MHK for listening to those concerns.
At 10am I drove down to the Sea Terminal to say hello to the cruise welcome team before boarding the “MV Corinthian” cruise ship, which was making its maiden voyage into the Isle of Man.
There were only 68 passengers onboard, but it was still very special to present the captain with a plaque on behalf of the Isle of Man.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to experience the usual tender boat trip, as the Cruise Ship was tied up along side the harbour.
Back at my desk for 11.30am briefly before walking over to DfE for a Department workshop on immigration, but back in the office again for 13.15 to send a couple of emails and to return a couple of calls before driving into Onchan for a Constituent meeting, which started at 14.00.
The traffic flow in and around Douglas especially on the promenade and at the Grandstand was very heavy, which I hope isn’t a sign for what might be coming over the next couple of weeks.
The Constituent meeting related to the enforcement of various planning conditions, which a number of Constituents in Onchan have been fighting for many years.
After attending various meetings with constituents, I genuinely believe that most issues have now been resolved, which is excellent news for everyone involved.
Final trip back to the office to send a couple of long emails before leaving the office at 17.10.
Meanwhile during the day, news came in from the UK as Theresa May confirmed that she will be standing down as the Prime Minister on Friday 7th June 2019 after giving a final tearful address outside Downing Street.
As for the weekend, well the 2019 TT festival gets underway on Saturday but I still have a lot of work to catch up with over the bank holiday weekend, but I am hoping to spend a couple of hours in the garden.