Parliament is in uncharted territory over the indefinite suspension of bullying MHK John Houghton.
Chief Minister Allan Bell said that if Mr Houghton wins back his Douglas North seat at the general election, while still suspended, his constituents could argue they have been disenfranchised.
The MHK was suspended last week after refusing to apologise following a standards committee investigation which found that he had lied, bullied and inappropriately interfered in a staff matter. He has also been sacked as member for Infrastructure, although he keeps his basic Tynwald salary.
Mr Bell said last week’s near four-hour debate on the 400-page standards committee report was ‘unedifying’ and it was difficult to see how the situation could be resolved.
He said: ‘I think the whole issue was exceptionally disappointing and the outcome very unedifying. It’s damaging to the credibility of Tynwald court and a reflection on all members of Tynwald that we have ended up in this impasse.
‘Members are elected to represent their constituents and it’s absolutely right they can fight to pursue that representation. But we also have a responsibility and duty of care to staff who work for us.
‘This whole matter could have been resolved very quickly.
‘Notwithstanding Mr Houghton’s belief in what he did was correct, it’s also correct that a simple apology would have resolved things in a matter of minutes.’
He added: ‘We are now in totally uncharted territory.’
Mr Bell pointed out that the ‘whole scenario’ has become ‘vastly more complex’ as we are so close to the general election. He said should Mr Houghton continue to refuse to apologise and he regains his seat in September he cannot be sworn in as he is banned from the precincts of Tynwald. ‘That throws up an entirely new challenge. It’s difficult to see how it can be resolved. If he is re-elected, the people of Douglas North will feel cheated and disenfranchised. It’s a real challenge for Tynwald.’
Mr Bell said there have been similar problems with the conduct of members of Tynwald in the past but there was a fine line between being passionate in your beliefs and this straying into behaviour which could be seen as bullying.
He said: ‘In my 32 years in Tynwald there have been members from time to time who have become bullies and in many ways the behaviour of certain members in the past had been every bit as controversial as Mr Houghton’s.
‘Where does it change from being passionate about delivering an outcome a member wants to tipping over into undue pressure which in effect is bullying?
‘Members get passionate about the issues they are pursuing. Sometime their behaviour gets a bit borderline. In this particular incident, the line has been crossed.’
Mr Houghton has been officially suspended from the Department of Infrastructure after the Council of Ministers agreed the move on Thursday.
It means he’ll lose the extra £11,863 on top of his basic MHK salary of £39,546 for his role in the department.
Speaking on behalf of the Council of Ministers, Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK said: ‘I have spoken to Mr Houghton and explained to him that owing to his suspension from Tynwald he cannot continue as a member of the department.
‘A key part of the role of a departmental member is to support the passage of legislation through Tynwald and its branches, a function Mr Houghton cannot currently fulfil.’