Gawne says bid to axe LegCo ‘makes sense’

Phil Gawne MHK

Phil Gawne MHK

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Government Minister and Rushen MHK Phil Gawne will launch a bid in the House of Keys today (Tuesday) to abolish the Legislative Council.

Mr Gawne said there was no doubt in his mind that LegCo fulfilled a valuable role but that the island could cope without it – particularly at a time when public finances were squeezed.

But even if he secures leave to introduce his private member’s Bill, his call to abolish LegCo has little chance of succeeding, and is likely to go the same way as all the other previous attempts to reform of the second chamber.

Mr Gawne told the Examiner: ‘It’s pretty simple really. Do we need LegCo? – probably not. Does LegCo provide a useful service? Yes. Does it provide an essential service? No. Does the Keys have a role in scrutinising legislation? Yes. Does it fulfil that role as well as it could? No.’

Mr Gawne said he had been prompted to call for the abolition of LegCo by the moves to shake-up the parliamentary boundaries – changes that would see his three-seat Rushen constituency reduced to two members.

He said: ‘Boundary change is a fairly tiny step on the road to greater democracy. Yet we’ve got this greater sore of a non-popularly elected LegCo.’

But he said the drive to streamline ministerial government had been a bigger spur to draft his private member’s Bill. ‘Government is getting smaller and we are reducing the number of Ministers and political members.

‘If each MLC earns £50,000 to £52,000 and there’s eight of them, that’s £400,000 we could save. And presumably we would not need a President.’

He added: ‘We’ve failed quite dismally over the years to come up with a more democratic solution.

‘Whether the Keys will have a stomach for it we will have to see. I’ve already heard a number of pompous comments from people saying that LegCo is an ancient tradition which cannot change.

‘But do we actually need it? I think that’s a reasonable question to ask. It makes senses to me – and it would save money. Members of the Keys may have to work a bit harder than they do now on legislation.’

But Alex Downie MLC questioned why Mr Gawne hadn’t simply tried to amend the private members’ Bill of Liberal Vannin leader Peter Karran. Mr Karran was last year given leave to introduce his bill which calls for MLCs to be elected by the public on an all-island basis.

Mr Downie suggested Mr Gawne was vulnerable as a result of the pending boundary changes: ‘This is just a tactic to make him more electable at the next election.’

He accused Mr Gawne of trying to ‘deflect the flak’ against his own department. And he added: ‘LegCo provides a good service in Tynwald. A lot of members serve with distinction in government departments. They also serve to scrutinise things departments do.

‘If you get rid of LegCo there won’t be enough members to run government.’

Former MLC David Callister who tried – and failed – to reform LegCo during his five years in parliament, said: ‘If you did abolish LegCo then there would cease to be a Tynwald.’ Mr Callister’s bill proposed eight constituencies each returning three MHKs and one MLC.

Tynwald voted in June last year to review the island’s political map after voting for the Boundary Review Commission’s proposals for 12, two-seat constituencies.

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