Blog 31 May 20At 20.35 (a very strange time) on Wednesday evening a formal press release was issued confirming that the Policy and Reform Minister, Chris Thomas, MHK had been dismissed from the Council of Ministers – not entirely sure if Chris received flowers or simply a thank you for all his hard work over the past couple of years.

The dismissal was a direct result of him voting against the Emergency Powers (Coronavirus) (Town and Country Procedures) Regulations 2020 on Tuesday in Tynwald, and according to the press release his actions were at odds with the principle of collective responsibility as set out in the Government Code, which all members of the Council of Ministers are bound by.

The Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK said that collective responsibility is a fundamental principle of the island’s system of government and is especially important during a time of national emergency.

I will talk more on the actual Tynwald debate in a moment, but I do have to seriously question why Chris selected this particular Motion in Tynwald to take a stand against the DEFA Minister, Geoffrey Boot, MHK and the Council of the Ministers.

One reason might be found on the BBC Isle of Man website where Chris says that the Manx Government’s attempt to use emergency powers to amend planning legislation was “practically unlawful” and “unjustified”…

Personally, I have known Chris for several years and he is definitely one of the most intelligent and diligent MHKs in the current House. He has an eye for detail and if you are going to pick a fight with him over a particular policy or report then you need to do your research, because you know he will be fully prepared….

On the flip side, Chris can be over confident and a little too sure of himself at times, but having him on the backbenches will certainly make the next 12 months or so very interesting indeed.

Anyway, let’s move on…

As for the weekend, well I should have been arriving in Malta on Saturday afternoon ahead of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference that was due to take place this week, but it was cancelled due to Covid-19.

The conference will still be held, but online, and I am certainly looking forward to taking part and meeting up with various political friends.

Monday was a bank holiday, so Ellen and I took advantage of the wonderful weather that the Isle of Man continues to enjoy by heading out for a walk.

Before heading to Foxdale for the start of our walk we stopped off at The Caff by the bus station for bacon and sausage baps, which we ate at the top of Douglas Head – who said romance was dead….?

From there we headed West to the Baltic Pub in Foxdale for the start of the walk, which included the outskirts of the old Foxdale mining village, along with taking in the Arrasey and Slieau Whallian Plantations.

The 8.5 mile walk offered some stunning views down into Peel and across the island.

Mid afternoon I was able to start going through various bits of research in readiness for some correspondence that I will need to submit to the DOI in a couple of weeks.

As for Tuesday, a quick walk on the promenade before getting into the office to print off various reports and documents that I will need this week.

Back to the house to start working through two motorsport papers, along with preparing for the virtual sitting of Tynwald in the afternoon, which involved a large amount of reading.

I also needed to deal with a number of calls and messages received around nursery care, rates and social housing, along with a continuous stream of phone calls.

Towards 14.30 I logged onto the virtual Tynwald sitting, which started with three emergency questions and five motions being brought under the Emergency Powers Act 1936.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks this week, the Emergency Powers (Coronavirus) (Town and Country Planning Procedures) Regulations 2020 certainly generated a considerable debate amongst the Tynwald Members, and by Wednesday evening it would cost one Minister his job in the Council of Ministers.

The clause that caused so much concern amongst Tynwald Members related to how “planning appeals” will be dealt with under these emergency powers. The DEFA Minister, Geoffrey Boot, MHK was proposing to allow only written submissions to the planning inquiries, which raised serious questions around obtaining a fair hearing and the transparency of the planning appeals process,

Mrs Jane Poole-Wilson, MLC delivered yet another cracking speech around this particular clause, and Mrs Kerry Sharpe, MLC picked up my concerns on the equality legislation, especially for those who are unable to write detailed written submissions, in order to make a successful appeal.

There isn’t much that shocks me in this role, but the DEFA Minister’s closing remarks in which he said that if the Motion fails then no appeals will be heard and it could bring the island’s planning system to a standstill did surprise me, because Government’s role is to carry out the will of Tynwald Court.

In the end the Motion was defeated in the Legislative Council 8 votes to nil, although in the House of the Keys the Motion went through by 12 votes to 11.

However, with the two Branches in disagreement, the Motion therefore failed overall, so with several high profile appeals on the horizon I hope the DEFA Minister and his Department looks again at how planning appeals are held under this State of Emergency.

The sitting finished just before 17.30, but once I caught up with the correspondence I was able to finish for 18.30.

An early start on Wednesday morning as I needed to go through the DfE agenda pack, which took a couple of hours.

At 9am DfE announced details on the ‘TT Lock-In’, which is eight days of TT themed entertainment from the past, present and future, which is being hosted by Vlogger Chis Pritchard and double TT race winner Steve Plater.

The event will be streamed from Saturday 6th to Saturday 13th June via the official TT website: iomttraces.com, Facebook page and YouTube channel. ‘TT Lock-In’ blends some of the greatest solo and sidecar moments from the track in the TT’s long illustrious history with live interviews, personal insights and revelations from the TT Races’ biggest stars.

Fans will also be able to experience a world first: the ‘Virtual TT powered by Motul’ – live action gaming featuring some of the biggest names in the TT competing alongside experienced international gamers.

For more details check out iomttraces.com.

At 9.30am we had a pre-Department political meeting before the main Department meeting, which got underway at 10.30am.

Not sure how it happened but I also a DHA Department meeting at the same time, for which I had to give my apologies on this occasion.

A relatively straightforward meeting with only a handful of decisions to be made this week.

This was followed by a political meeting between DfE and DOI Ministers and officers along with Lawrie Hooper, MHK and myself as we discussed the ongoing promenade scheme, which included the proposed changes that were announced recently.

A very open and frank discussion on the work being undertaken, and I am extremely grateful for DOI allowing us to table various concerns in respect of the ongoing promenade scheme ahead of the formal political meeting being held next week.

A short break to catch up with various correspondence and phone calls but a Tynwald briefing on Public Sector Pensions – “Cost Sharing”, which was led by the Policy and Reform Minister, Chris Thomas, MHK.

Addressing the Public Sector Pension concerns remains a massive thorn in this administration, but Chris Thomas has been at the forefront of trying to drive forward changes which will try to address some of those concerns.

The last hour was spent catching up with a few things.

A quick four mile walk on Thursday morning before starting work at around 8am with an ongoing project, but most of the morning was taken up with various constituent issues, along with going through various papers relating to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

At 12 noon there was a PAC meeting as the committee looked towards the next evidence session being held on Friday morning.

At 14.00 I dialled into the latest Department of Health briefing for Tynwald Members, which gave the latest information on Covid-19, along with answering any questions.

Unfortunately, I had to leave that briefing slightly early in order to attend a Manx National Heritage (MNH) trustee meeting, which gave Director and Chairman an opportunity to give an update on current activities, budgets and to outline their plans to start opening up heritage sites.

At 15.45 I dialled into a tourism meeting with KPMG who have been engaged by Treasury to look at how Covid-19 has affected various sectors of the Isle of Man economy.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t my finest meeting as words were exchanged, especially as I hadn’t been included in a key discussion held earlier on in the day, which meant that I wasn’t able to follow the afternoon discussion in great detail.

I finally finished for around 18.00.

A very early start on Friday as I went into the office just after 6.30am, in order to print off various papers and documents.

Back home to start going through those documents, along with preparing for the PAC evidence session that was being held mid morning, and for next week’s evidence session that will look at eduction.

I also needed to prepare for the House of Keys sitting, along with catching up with various correspondence and constituent issues.

At 10.45am I dialled into the PAC meeting before the next evidence session with the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and the Director of Public Health, which got underway at 11am and lasted just over an hour.

A short break before another PAC meeting as they look at next week’s evidence session.

This was followed by the House of Keys sitting that started at 14.30 with 5 oral questions and 5 written questions. This was followed by consideration of Clauses relating to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation (Isle of Man) Bill 2020.

The Treasury Minister, Alf Cannan, MHK also moved the Income Tax Bill 2019, but it was a relatively short sitting, which finished just after 15.30.

I also had to return a large number of calls received throughout the day, but I was able to enjoy a little bit of the wonderful weather from around 16.30.

I can’t end the week without a quick mention of Covid-19 and the latest information here on the Isle of Man.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases remains at 336 and there have been 4,756 concluded tests and just 11 people are awaiting results, and a further five people are awaiting a test.

There have been no further deaths caused by Covid-19, so the number of deaths remains 18 in the community and six in hospital.

As for the weekend, I should have been preparing for this year’s TT festival on Saturday evening, but instead I will be focusing my attention on filling a mini skip as Ellen and I clean out the shed.

If the great weather continues, then hopefully we will get plenty of time in the garden.