Broad support for Isle of Man’s election bill

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

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Minor amendments will be made to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill following public consultation.

The Bill updates the law governing House of Keys elections and seeks to provide a ‘robust and transparent election process’.

The move comes after the 2010 Douglas East by-election, in which candidate and TV chef Kevin Woodford’s campaign had financial backers whose identities were secret.

Twenty responses were received in the consultation and the Cabinet Office has now published a report with a summary of the main comments, together with its response.

It says there were a number of areas where there was broad support for the proposals .

The Bill requires candidates to declare publicly campaign funding they receive, and to refuse anonymous donations. Comment was made the minimum donation to a candidate that should be declared should be raised above £50 and that the requirement could deter new candidates.

The Cabinet Office responded saying it was a key recommendation of the Independent Review Panel.

The Bill provides for the registration of political parties intending to support or nominate candidates.

Concern was raised that registration of a political party implied approval ‘and the government should not be able to withhold approval of any political party, no matter how abhorrent its policies may be’.

In its response, the Cabinet Office said the process was one of compliance and ‘any refusal would only be made if the Attorney General is of the opinion that the party, or their application, has not complied with the legislation’.

It limits the amount that can be spent on a candidate’s campaign (a maximum of £2,000 plus 50p per registered elector, in the 12 months prior to an election). Comment was made the sum was ‘too low and unrealistic’ and the expense should be variable by order.

The Cabinet Office said: ‘There were a number of comments received on the cap on election expenses, some supporting the maximum amount, and others stating it was too low.’

The maximum amount can be varied by regulations.

The practical enforceability of the cap on election spending was questioned, but the Cabinet Office said: ‘While the system will be self-regulating, it is a vast improvement as candidates will have to declare and the chief registrar will have the ability to verify expenses.

‘There will be an addition to the Bill to allow the chief registrar to nominate a person to verify or investigate complains about election expenses.’

An omission in the draft bill picked up during consultation was that political parties, not just candidates, should be prohibited from retaining anonymous donations. This will be added to the Bill.

A couple of respondents said proxy voting should be removed, but the Cabinet Office said this would disenfranchise groups such as members of the armed forces overseas.

Chris Robertshaw, Minister for Policy and Reform, said: ‘The consultation responses have been welcomed by the Council of Ministers. Following the East Douglas by-election in May 2010, an independent review provided recommendations that have been included in the draft Bill.

‘The Bill will update the law governing House of Keys elections, and provide a robust and transparent electoral process ensuring the Isle of Man’s international reputation continues to thrive and attract inward investment.’

The Cabinet Office will now seek to make some minor amendments to the draft Bill, which will be presented to the Council of Ministers for approval for introduction to the branches of Tynwald.

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