Although the Isle of Man continues to be in the middle of a national “circuit break” due to Covid-19, the Manx Government is finally starting to release just a few of those restrictions that have been in place since 3rd March 2021.
At the media briefing on Thursday, the Chief Minister Howard Quayle, MHK confirmed that island residents could meet up with other households for outside gatherings from Friday, which will be welcome news for many families, especially during this Easter Bank Holiday.
The maximum number of people who can meet up is 10, but social distancing rules will apply and masks must be worn.
Island schools have also been closed since 3rd March, but hopefully the Department of Education, Sport and Culture will be lifting some of those restrictions from Tuesday 6th April, in order to get some students back to school. Any remaining schools and the University College should be open from 12th April – final details are still to be published.
More on Covid-19 in a moment.
A couple of other local stories caught my attention this week. The first one related to the Isle of Man Bank, which is meant to be a Community Bank. I am not entirely sure if the bank is on a self-destruct course or if the parent company, RBSI is simply trying to remove the local brand from the market.
After closing a couple of branches in Peel and Castletown recently, the bank is now targeting local not-for-profit charities with new fees and charges on their accounts. At the end of May the bank will increase maintenance charges, along with additional charges for cheques and cash transactions.
The Speaker of the House of Keys, Juan Watterson, SHK will be moving a motion on the topic in the April Tynwald sitting. If approved, the motion could pave the way for all licensed banks to require them to allow charities and not for profit clubs to do basic banking for free, a motion that I will be fully supporting.
Another story that caught my attention this week was the House of Keys General Election which took place over several days between 22nd and 30th March 1881.
Why the significance? Well as the current President of Tynwald, Steve Rodan, OBE mentioned in Tynwald this week, it was the year when property-owning women on the Isle of Man could cast their vote in a general election, in order to choose their representative in the House of Keys.
To put that in context, women in the UK didn’t get an opportunity to vote until 14th December 1918, and women aged 21 to 29 had to wait until 1929 to be able to cast their vote.
The Tynwald website gives details of that historic day, which should have seen elections being held in Castletown and Ayre. Unfortunately, the Castletown election was unopposed, which meant that all the attention was on the Ayre election.
What I find fascinating about this story is the fact that some of the names of the women who voted on that historic day have been recorded. These included Esther Kee (Andreas), Catherine Callow (Bride) and Eliza Jane Goldsmith (Ramsey) and Margaret Kelvin (Sulby).
We should not forget the true value of being able to cast our vote in a House of Keys General Election. Let’s move on to other things before we talk about the next House of Keys General Election, which will be held on 23rd September 2021.
Not much to report from last Saturday. Again I managed to get some time in the garden before looking at the Tynwald and House of Keys Order Papers for a few hours in the afternoon.
On Sunday the clocks went forward an hour, which always takes me a few days to adjust, but I still went into the office early to collect various reports and papers that I will need throughout the week. The weather was pretty horrible so I was able to get my head down to get some work done at the kitchen table, but it was with a view to trying to take a few days off over the Easter Holidays, which will give me an opportunity to recharge the batteries.
Part of Sunday morning was spent going through a TT motorsport paper, which focused on setting the digital future for the event. It was a very interesting paper, which was both bold and visionary and it will be interesting to see if the goals can achieved over the next few years.
I also needed to go through a couple of other papers and correspondence, but just after 14.00 I joined the Voices of Participation (VIP) for their annual presentation, which had to be virtual this year.
VIP was established in 2009 and the project aims to enable children and young people in care to influence and have a voice in policies and procedures that impact their lives, and encourage all young people to participate in sharing their views through discussion, art, music, media, drama or photography.
As the current “Children’s Champion” I am proud to be involved with the VIP group. I also needed to go through the rest of the emergency sitting of Tynwald that will be held just before the House of Keys sitting on Tuesday, but I was able to finish for around 17.30.
Over last weekend there were also a further seven new cases of Covid-19 on the Isle of Man, which brought the current number of active cases to 471, with eight people in hospital, one of whom was in the intensive care unit.
Unfortunately, this was followed by the tragic news on Sunday afternoon that two more patients at Nobles had died from Covid-19, which brought the total number of people who have lost their lives while suffering from the virus on the Island to 29.
My thoughts are again with the families during this very difficult period.
As for Monday I started just after 7.30am by going through the DOI agenda pack along with the Competition Bill and the final few amendments ahead of the DEFA and OFT team meeting at 9am. This was to ensure that we were fully ready for this week’s House of Keys sitting after the difficulties at the previous sitting.
At 10am there was a further backbench Tynwald members get together, which gave us an opportunity to discuss a few ongoing issues around the Manx Care Bill. I then had a few hours to go through the House of Keys work and any remaining items on the Tynwald Order Paper, along with a Supplementary Order, before returning a few calls.
At 13.00 there was a further Tynwald Members presentation on the Manx Care Act 2021, and I know a number of members have already highlighted their concerns around the complaints process as part of the new piece of legislation being introduced. However, the Manx Care (Duty of Candour Procedure) Regulations 2021 will address some of those concerns, but work will be needed in order to ensure that any complaints are dealt with correctly, and in a timely manner.
This was followed by a DOI political team meeting before the main Department meeting and Divisional updates, which lasted around three hours. After another short DOI political meeting along with returning a couple of calls I was able to finish for 18.00.
On Tuesday I was in the office just after 7am to collect a couple of late papers ahead of various virtual sittings taking place. Once home I still needed to fully prepare for the emergency sitting of Tynwald that started at 10am with a statement by the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK on Covid-19, which had fewer questions than normal.
This was followed by the Health Minister moving the Manx Care (Duty of Candour Procedure) Regulations 2021, along with the Social Services Independent Review Body (Amendment) Regulations 2021.
Just a short break before the virtual House of Keys sitting got underway from 11.15am starting with 18 oral and 7 written questions. After all of the media attention around the Council of Ministers voting down the continuation of any remaining questions over the past four years, it was very interesting to see the Treasury Minister, Alf Cannan, MHK and the Home Affairs Minister Graham Cregeen, MHK move to extend question time this week after the allotted hour, which I think caught most backbench MHKs out….
It will be interesting to see if that is just a one-off gesture by the Council of Ministers or the individual Ministers or if this will become the norm as we move towards that House of Keys General Election in September.
We reached question 13 by lunchtime and once I caught up with a few calls and a couple of correspondence I was able to take an hour off.
Back to the virtual chamber at 14.30 to continue with question time that lasted for around 40 minutes.
We then had the first and second reading of the Enterprise (Aviation and Merchant Shipping) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2021 before moving onto consideration of clauses relating to the Adoption Bill 2021, which was halted after just 9 clauses. This was mainly due to the fact that Ramsey MHK, Lawrie Hooper, MHK asked the Health Minister to clarify the difference between “adoption society” and “adoption agency”, which was being used throughout the bill.
In the end the Health Minister pulled the bill, in order to get further clarity on those particular points. I was also expecting the Adoption Bill to take around an hour to go through, so when the bill was pulled suddenly I then had very little time to change all the paperwork on my kitchen table, which almost caught me out.
We then went through any remaining Clauses relating to the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill 2020, and again the House of Keys went into a virtual Committee of the whole house, which lasted a few hours as various Members tabled questions to the Manx Landlord Association, the DOI Minister and to the legal drafter of the Bill.
At around 19.30 the clause stages of the Landlord Registration (Private Housing) Bill 2020 was adjourned until the next sitting of the House of Keys. This was after my colleague Chris Robertshaw, MHK raised various concerns around one particular clause of the bill that will need to be fully reviewed ahead of the next sitting.
Chris was actually the Minister who tried to move the original Landlord and Tenant (Private Housing) Bill back in 2013/14, but was unsuccessful, so if he is raising some concerns then they need to be fully reviewed.
Anyway, after a short 15 minute break we then went through the remaining clauses relating to the Competition Bill 2020 before my colleague Martyn Perkins, MHK moved to take the third reading of the bill.
This week’s House of Keys sitting finished with consideration of Council Amendments relating to the Justice Reform Bill 2020, which brought all business to a conclusion at around 21.25 – definitely a massive sitting this week, and a long one.
Just time to catch up with a couple of things before finishing for around 21.45.
A complete change of pace on Wednesday as I started to look towards taking a few days off, but obviously I will still be available over the bank holiday weekend if Constituents need me, just call me or drop me a quick message as always.
With a couple of meetings cancelled or rescheduled on Wednesday, I was able to spend most of the morning just catching up with a few things, especially relating to a couple of constituent issues and some department work, along with the usual catch up with Backbench Tynwald Members. I was also able to take a few hours off over lunchtime, but from around 14.00 I continued to do some research into a couple of topics.
Not a busy day in many ways, but I was originally planning to take Wednesday and Thursday off, in order to extend the Easter Bank Holiday break.
Thursday was also an easy day, the morning was taken up with a few small tasks and bits of administration before I joined my Tynwald colleagues virtually at 10am for a quick catch up. This was followed by a tourism meeting, which was also a general catch up with the Head of Tourism and the Chair of the Visit Agency.
I then had a DfE political catch up with the Minister at 12 noon. From there I was able to take a couple of hours off again, in order to get a few jobs done around the house. At 14.30 I tuned into the Tynwald Public Accounts Committee that was taking evidence from Dr Rachel Glover who is the Chief Scientific Officer at Taxa Genomics Limited, which is based in Onchan.
The evidence lasted around three hours, and I will have to listen to the last hour or so again over the weekend, because I was also trying to listen to the latest media briefing with the Chief Minister, Education Minister and Health Minister and doing some project work.
Some of the evidence given by Dr. Glover was damning and I haven’t heard a public evidence session like that before, especially with the DHSC being accused of copying software and coding etc. If nothing else Dr.Glover is one very brave lady to give that level of evidence, and in public.
I won’t comment further until I have heard both sides of the story, but it will be interesting to see the response from the DHSC, and I do expect to see the Health Minister and the DHSC CEO being invited to give evidence and to answer various questions before the Public Accounts Committee.
On Thursday Manx Care also came into operation, who will now have day to day responsibility for the delivery of the island’s health service, with the Department of Health and Social Care continuing to set the policy and strategy.
Let’s hope that the overall changes being implemented lead to improved services, reduced waiting lists, savings and a health service that we all can be proud of, especially when things unfortunately go wrong.
As for Easter Good Friday, the day started with me heading down to the Chester Street Vaccination Hub for my first jab. I arrived 10 or 15 minutes ahead of my appointment, which was at 8.30am and I was all done within 15 minutes. A very impressive and professional service, and the staff were fantastic throughout.
A big thank you to Sal and Rosie for administering my first vaccination.
More than 50% of the island’s adult population (aged 16 and over) has now received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, which is fantastic news. According to the information published on Thursday evening 37,491 first vaccinations have been completed, along with 15,340 second doses.
The rest of the day was spent in the garden or simply taking it easy for a change.
As for Covid-19 we end the week with no new cases and just 197 active cases on the island, with four people in hospital, none of whom are in intensive care.
Fingers crossed that the current circuit break is the last one that the Isle of Man has to go through because of Covid-19, and that we can get back to normal from 19th April 2021.