LegCo like a smelly old sofa and needs to go, says Gawne

Phil Gawne MHK

Phil Gawne MHK

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It was a radical proposal that was unlikely to curry much favour with many of his colleagues in Tynwald.

And when Rushen MHK Phil Gawne, seeking to leave to introduce his private members’ bill to abolish the Legislative Council, likened LegCo to a smelly old sofa his family once owned, it seemed that even he had little conviction in his motion.

And some cynically questioned his real motives. Chief Minister Allan Bell accused his Fisheries Minister of coming up with a ‘red herring to muddy the waters’ of parliamentary boundary reform .

Fellow Ramsey MHK Leonard Singer went further saying he would have supported the motion if only to ‘expose the hypocrisy’ of the member putting it forward - a charge he was soon forced to withdraw.

In the even, Mr Singer voted against, one of 13 to do so, with nine voting in support and Speaker Steve Rodan abstaining.

Mr Gawne insisted this wasn’t about personalities and apologised to MLC for upsetting them. ‘I believe LegCo provide a very useful function. They are rather excellent people who do a fantastic job, they work hard and they are diligent. This is not about members, it’s about the structure. My view - and I know is not shared by the majority - is we don’t actually need LegCo.’

He then recounted the tale of the tatty old family settee which his kids had not wanted to throw away as it was part of their heritage. ‘We’ve now got a new settee which is far better than the old smelly thing which has now gone to the tip,’ he said.

Mr Gawne explained that for much of its existence, the Legislative Council had been the executive, the ‘henchman’ of the Lords of Mann. This non-accountable, non-democratic chamber now had the role of scrutinising the executive.

He said his idea was to get rid of the upper house, ideally by the next election. A new committee stage could be introduced, he suggested. This might prolong the progress of legislation through the Keys by another month but it would still be faster than taking it through LegCo.

Legislation would be scrutinised by a scrutiny committee and the existing policy review committees could be used for this purpose.

He said with the current programme to modernise and streamline government, we would be left with ‘quite a few spare members of the Keys with nothing to do.’

He admitted his motion was radical - maybe a bit too radical - and he urged MHKs not to vote to give him leave to introduce the Bill if they had no intention of supporting it at its second reading and clauses stage.

Mr Singer, the only current MHK who has previously been an MLC, said: ‘There is not a cogent and reason for the Bill at all. There is no clear indication of the consequences of getting rid of LegCo.’

The Chief Minister said the Bill was presented in a very simplistic way and abolishing LegCo would mean abolishing the Keys. He said legislative drafters were under severe pressure and introducing this private members’ Bill would ‘undoubtedly hold up other very important legislation’.

Brenda Cannell (Douglas East) said although the Bill was provocative, she found it ‘quite refreshing in some weird fashion’.

Zac Hall (Onchan) pointed out that other democracies, including New Zealand and the Nordic states, had successfully moved to a unicameral (single chambered) system of parliament, like the one Mr Gawne was suggesting. Kate Beecroft (Lib Van. Douglas South) said she had concerned about the scrutiny of policy and secondary legislation. ‘We don’t have the numbers to form any sufficient scrutiny as it is,’ she said.

Tim Crookall (Peel) asked Mr Gawne to withdraw the motion and come back perhaps with an amendment to Lib Van leader Peter Karran’s private members’ Bill to reform LegCo.

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