tynwaldThank you Mr. President,  

My contribution today in respect of the Tynwald Members’ Standards report is not about me personally or about the various investigations and enquiries that I have had to deal with over past the 18 months….

…but more importantly, my contribution today is very much focused on the next member of Tynwald that finds themselves under investigation….

….and on behalf of the next Member of Tynwald that is asked to stand in this Hon Court, and upon your instruction Mr. President is asked to make a very personal and public apology. 

We have a duty as a Parliament and as elected Members to ensure that when things do go wrong, as they do from time to time or when political relationships become strained….

…that our procedures, regulation and our guidelines are fair, clear and robust when trying to address and resolve allegations or complaints, regardless if those allegations or complaints are being investigated by the Tynwald Standards Committee, the Standards Commissioner if appointed or an Independent external Investigator. 

We must also ensure that the whole process is open, fair and transparent for all parties concerned, but more importantly, that Hon Members of this Court are given full details of the relevant facts around any investigation, especially when Hon Members of this Court are being asked to vote on something so important, and so personal for those individuals involved. 

Mr. President, 

I would like to thank the Tynwald Standards and Members’ Interests Committee for their third report relating to the review of Members’ Standards, which follows on from the debate held in this Hon Court in July 2023. 

Can I also apologise to the Committee and its Membership for not taking the opportunity to make a formal submission back in April and May last year… 

…but I do genuinely appreciate that the Committee has taken on-board many of the comments and observations I made in this Hon Court back in July last year when my colleague from Onchan Ms Edge tabled a motion in respect of looking closer at the procedures for regulating the conduct of Hon Members. 

As the report highlights, the Tynwald Standards regime has always been based around the principle of self-regulation, and compared to many other jurisdictions we are very fortunate that as a Parliament the number of referrals to the Tynwald Standards Committee remains relatively low. 

However, the number of referrals made during this administration should be a concern for us all, especially when Annex 4 of Standing Orders talks about building that constructive working relationship amongst Hon Members and trying to resolve our difficulties by mutual agreement. 

It also covers concerns around bullying and harassment.  

Annex 6 of the same Standing Orders sets out the purpose of the Code, Duties of Members, and more importantly the general principles of conduct that apply to all Members of this Honourable Court in all aspects of their public life, and these include “integrity, objectivity, selflessness, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership”. 

So in theory…

….the general principles as outlined in Annex 4 and 6 of the Standing Orders of Tynwald should work. 

Mr. President 

Recommendation 1 of the report discusses the appointment of a Standards Commissioner, in order to remove any political bias, along with preserving impartiality and neutrality. 

Personally, I like the idea of sharing a “pan-island Commissioner for Standards” with our political colleagues in Jersey and Guernsey, but the annual cost of around £30,000 per annum does concern me greatly. 

As I have already mentioned, although the number of actual referrals during this administration has increased, they are still relatively low in numbers compared with many other Parliaments….

…and the annual figure of around £30,000 would equal to around 3 or 4 independent investigations being undertaken each year. 

However, taking into account that there has only been 3 or 4 serious investigations since 2016, I am not entirely sure the figure represents good value for money at this moment in time.  

I also think that many of the complaints received by the Tynwald Standards and Members Interests Committee are relatively straightforward in nature, and therefore could be dealt with in-house, especially if Hon Members agree to follow annex 4 and 6 of Standing Orders.  

We must also ensure that our guidelines and procedures around handling of complaints is fully up to date, in order to give very clear advice to Hon Members before submitting any complaint. 

More importantly for me – we must ensure that there is a solid framework in place around any external investigations, and this must include some form of appeal process, and I will talk a little more on that particular point in a moment. 

Mr President, 

I am very happy to support recommendation 2, which will allow the Tynwald Standards and Members’ Interest Committee to investigate any allegation of misleading this Hon Court and in respect of allegations of abuse of privilege. 

Mr President, misleading this Hon Court or one of the Branches is a very serious allegation. 

It has been investigated from time to time over the years. 

I have promised not to refer to my own experience, so I won’t. 

Instead I would remind the Hon Court of the case David Anderson debated by this Hon Court in February 2014. That was about statements Mr Anderson had made in the House of Keys in June 2013 – eight months earlier. 

Before that there was the dispute between John Rimington and Leonard Singer, which was debated in January 2005. That was about statements Mr Singer had made in this Hon Court in November 2003 – 14 months earlier. 

Mr President, these inquiries are not just incredibly time consuming. They are also incredibly stressful for all concerned.

Mr Greenburg in his submission to this report talks about “who is right or more right” and about alternative versions of events, but at the heart of this particular point is the fact….

…..that if any Hon Member genuinely believes a Tynwald colleague has misled this Court, the Public or the Media or where there is an allegation of contempt or in respect of any allegation of abuse of privilege, then I fully agree that those allegations should be made immediately. 

Thereafter, an investigation should be undertaken, in order to help establish the relevant facts. That review could be undertaken by the Tynwald Standards Committee initially and then possibly escalated to the Standards Commissioner or an external investigator if it cannot be fully resolved. 

As the report rightly highlights, it is a fundamental art of politics that Members should be entitled to disagree, and strongly…

….each with certainty as to each other’s inaccuracy, without fear or favour. 

…and for that reason alone, no political member should find themselves at the centre of further allegations or under further investigation simply because they dared to challenge a statement or a comment made in this Hon Court.  

Mr President

I also fully acknowledge and accept the Committee’s conclusions in respect of lay members sitting on any final review panel or Committee, but I hope that the Committee might look again at this particular point in future. 

In respect of recommendation 3, the Committee have tabled three helpful options for consideration by the Court. I fully support option 3, which would allow members of the public to submit a complaint about a Member of Tynwald directly to the Tynwald Standards and Members Interests Committee for consideration….

However, the Committee is right when it talks about also protecting Hon Members of this Court, especially around providing solid evidence that the complainant has at least tried to resolve any issue before the matter is escalated to the Committee for further consideration.   

Mr President

The report also talks about mediation, resolution and penalties, and this is where the Committee and I slightly disagree, especially when Hon Members are being asked to consider the introduction of an “indicative scale of penalties”. 

Firstly, I can assure this Hon Court that having to stand up and make a very public apology is far worse than any penalty that this Court could impose on me….  

Secondly, you cannot ask Hon Members of this Court to impose penalties on political colleagues based solely on the findings of an investigational report, especially when Hon Members haven’t been given full access to all the relevant facts and information. 

If we are to move towards greater sanctions being imposed onto Hon Members for wrongdoing, then we have to find a fair and robust system that allows elected Members of this Court to see all of the relevant information and evidence….

….and certainly before Hon Members are asked to vote on something so sensitive, and so personal to those involved as I have already mentioned. 

Nether, am I comfortable voting or imposing sanctions, suspensions or penalties on Hon Members that are based around a “Balance of Probability”, which is considered to be a lower standard of proof.  

In respect of recommendation 5, I fully agree with the Committee’s conclusions around unpublished records and that individual cases handled by the Committee should not be retained indefinitely. 

All files, correspondence, recordings and data should be deleted automatically after 5 or 6 years.  

Mr President,  

I find myself disagreeing with the Committee’s conclusions in respect of the Appeals process. 

I have promised not to refer to my own experience, so I won’t. 

Instead I could talk again about the Anderson case of 2014, or perhaps the Houghton case of 2016. These cases remind us that a report by the Tynwald Standards and Members’ Interests Committee can have a serious impact on people’s reputation, and on people’s career.

For that reason Mr President, it is essential that the process is as fair as possible. 

Fairness is obviously essential from the point of view of the Member being investigated, but it is also essential to the reputation of Tynwald itself.

The Committee says “it is not always possible to provide everything”, and that there can be no appeal because “Tynwald is the supreme political decision-making body in the Island”. 

Is that really the best we can do?

Mr President, I think we can do better. 

I would implore the Committee to think again about these issues. 

When a Committee has got such significant powers, it also needs significant checks and balances to make sure those powers are used in the right way.

Mr President, I do not make this next statement lightly….

….but as a Member of this Hon Court I am deeply concerned about a potential miscarriage of justice arising from using the current system and procedures, especially when the recommendations of this new report are looking to impose even stronger sanctions, suspensions or penalties onto Hon Members. 

I feel that this report really should be discussed privately, and I hope the Committee would consider scheduling a Members’ briefing, in order to give all Hon Members a fair opportunity to discuss how we can improve our procedures and guidelines around Members’ Conduct for the future.  

It is also disappointing that the Committee did not take the opportunity to look a little closer at the two very different types of investigations that might involve Hon Members of this Court. 

Firstly, you have your normal disputes involving the political members, which could be relatively straightforward to resolve using Annex 4 and 6 of the Standing Orders of Tynwald. 

However, my main concern is around allegations being made and involving third parties, basically non-political members.   

  For example, should any allegation being made by a Civil Servant go through the “Fairness at Work Policy and Guidance” first, which is designed to support and to help protect all civil servants working on our island? 

The Interim Guidance on Handling of Complaints really needs to be very clear, and we must have a defined procedure around handling this type of evidence, because we cannot allow evidence to go unchallenged or without reply by those under investigation……

….and all of these concerns must be fully addressed before a final draft report is put on the register of business. 

We have to remember that under section 53 of the interim guidance notes, the decision of Tynwald Court is final and there no appeal. 

So as Hon Member we have duty to get the procedures and guidelines right before it reaches this Hon Court.   

Mr President 

In closing, I want to ensure that in the future any report that may include conclusions and recommendations that are presented to this Hon Court on behalf of the Tynwald Standards and Members’ Interests Committee in respect of a Member’s conduct has gone through a fair process of natural justice ….

…and that all Hon Members of this Court are aware of the full facts before being asked to vote on a report and its conclusions, which could have serious consequences for the individual involved.   

I would like to thank the Tynwald Standards and Members’ Interests Committee once again for their report, but I feel further work is needed before I feel more comfortable with the direction we are going in respect of Members Conduct and the changes being proposed at the moment. 

Thank you, Mr. President.