A government minister was ordered to withdraw comments that appeared to question the honesty of a backbencher during angry scenes in Tynwald last week.
The row blew up during debate on a damning report of the way a government-owned company - Isle of Man Meats - was set up to run the meat plant after an abandoned tender process for a private operation.
Tim Baker - a member of the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture - was appointed to be the new company’s chairman.
Mr Baker, now also infrastructure minister, let rip on Chris Robertshaw (Douglas East), who made scathing criticisms of the way the company was set up in 2017.
He accused Mr Robertshaw of talking ’absolute drivel and rubbish’.
Mr Baker added: ’He seems to see conspiracy in every situation. You see things the way that you are. If you are basically honest, you see things as honest and if you are not, you don’t.’
Those remarks forced an intervention from President of Tynwald Laurence Skelly, who asked Mr Baker to withdraw the comment.
Mr Baker said: ’If you believe that I should, Mr President, I am happy to do so.’
The incident - just one day after Mr Skelly had been voted in as the new Tynwald President - came in the same week that Labour MP Dawn Butler was temporarily excluded from the House of Commons after calling UK premier Boris Johnson a liar and refusing to withdraw her comment.
In Tynwald, the rising political temperature put the heatwave outside into the shade, as members debated the report - penned by the environment and infrastructure policy review committee.
Mr Baker sai the evidence base for the ’unbalanced’ report had been ’carefully ploughed’, with the committee only listening to what fitted ’their preconceived ideas of what the story was’. He listed ’factual errors’.
His anger was stoked in particular by comments from committee member Mr Robertshaw, who rejected the idea that IoM Meats was an ’arm’s length company’.
The DEFA had been ’hellbent’ on nationalising the meat plant since 2010, said Mr Robertshaw. It had brushed aside the tender bids to run it in 2017 because it wanted to run the meat plant itself. He branded it as ’jobs for the boys’ and a ’sleight of hand’.
Mr Baker insisted they had wanted the tender process to succeed.
’The private bids were not credible or robust,’ he said. Accepting either would have left the business in a ’real mess’.
IoM Meats had performed ’outstandingly’ through the pandemic, Mr Baker argued. ’The meat plant has improved unrecognisably over the past three years and I and the team together have delivered that.’
The debate was opened by committee chairman Clare Barber (Douglas East MHK) who said there were ’serious concerns’ about the operation and regulation of the meat plant.
They included the cancellation of the tender process and that ’key documents that would explain that decision appear to have been lost’.
She added the decision to set up a government company took place without Tynwald scrutiny.
’Until autumn 2017 the preferred option was to find a private operator and nationalisation had not been considered in any detail,’ she said.
’We are concerned that a £2 million subvention is being paid to IoM Meats each year only for the majority of Manx meat to end up being sold at wholesale prices in the UK.’
She added: ’There is too much political interference in what is supposed to be an arm’s length company.’
Her committee’s report did not make any recommendations, but Mrs Barber said if it had, they would have included a call for a ’more transparent policy’ on government ownership of enterprises and for an investigation by the auditor general when that position was filled.
Mrs Barber added: ’We are troubled by the culture of fear that surrounds the meat plant. We took evidence from several individuals who asked to remain anonymous as they feared reprisals from individuals at the meat plant or from DEFA.’
But Agriculture Minister Geoffrey Boot rejected many of the accusations and insisted the department welcomed scrutiny.
’Upon reviewing the report I am not clear that this is a good example of valuable or effective scrutiny,’ he said, describing the report as ’incomplete’ and ’rushed’.
He rejected the claim the meat plant had been nationalised. ’We are just one shareholder.’
Mr Boot accused the committee of ignoring evidence from the National Farmers’ Union that had been positive about the meat plant.
The original motion for debate was to merely receive the report, but Tynwald voted in favour of an amendment by Chris Thomas (Douglas Central) calling on the equity of IoM Meats to be transferred from DEFA to the Treasury.
In addition, the amendment called for the meat plant’s governance and regulation to be reviewed and reformed ’as soon as is practicable’. The amended motion was passed 14-9 in the Keys and 7-0 in Legislative Council.