Votes for All: House of Keys Election Act 1919

The introduction of universal adult suffrage in the Isle of Man was the result of a private member’s initiative. Mr William Crennell, MHK for Ramsey, was persistent in his attempts to introduce an Adult Suffrage Bill, giving the vote to all men and women resident in the Isle of Man. Sadly, he died before he could see his efforts come to fruition.

On 19th November 1912, William Crennell moved that ’the time has arrived when the principle of adult suffrage should be accepted as the basis of qualification for voters in the election of members of the House of Keys’. After some debate, the motion was approved by the Keys, with 16 Members voting in favour, and the Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan was requested to prepare the necessary legislation for introduction. When the Second Reading of the Bill took place on 18th February 1913, however, 13 Members of the Keys voted against it.William Crennell mHK

If at first you don’t succeed...

Crennell tried again five years later—with more success. On 20th November 1917, he moved exactly the same motion. The House of Keys supported it again, with 19 Members voting in favour. The Second Reading of the Adult Suffrage Bill took place on 30th April 1918; this time the motion carried unanimously, and the House immediately began to consider the clauses of the Bill. The Bill aimed to give the vote to all men and women aged 21 and over who lived in the Isle of Man, regardless of their property or marital status, and also to give them the right to stand for election to the House of Keys.

Redistrubution and plural voting

There was some debate about whether the Bill should first be considered by a Committee, which would also be tasked to consider the thorny question of redistribution: the number of seats representing each area of the Island. The Keys eventually voted against this proposition. The Keys also voted against Clause 7, which aimed to abolish plural voting and introduce the principle of ‘one vote for each citizen’. This remained a controversial topic well into the 20th century: the property qualification was not abolished until 1969.

The Impact of WWI

In 1919, the Isle of Man was just beginning to recover from the turbulent events of the First World War. This was reflected in two important amendments to the Bill. The first gave the vote to men aged 18 and above who had served in the armed forces. The second disenfranchised conscientious objectors who had refused to do any work of ‘national importance’. While some Members wanted to remove this right to vote for life, the House agreed that it should only be for a period of five years from the end of the war.

Death of William Crennell MHK

Crennell died suddenly on 29th May 1918 at the age of 51. An obituary in the Ramsey Courier commented that ‘his last achievement in the Keys was to successfully pilot through the Adult Suffrage Bill, which was always dear to his heart,
and with its completion he finished his work in the Manx Legislature. It was his crowning achievement.’

Council amendments

On 18th February 1919, the Council considered the clauses of the Bill and changed the age of voting for women to 30 years, in line with the UK’s law. The Keys considered the Council’s amendments on 11th March 1919. After a conference on 8th April 1919, the Council agreed to withdraw this amendment, meaning that the Bill as passed by the Keys was the final form. The Bill was signed in Tynwald on 15th April 1919, received Royal Assent on 25th June, and was promulgated at St John’s on 5th July.

General Election 1919

The first election under universal adult suffrage took place in September 1919. It is now considered to be a ’landmark election’. Of the 24 returned Members, 11 had never before held office—the biggest change in membership since 1867. The new House was progressive in nature, favouring political and social reforms—many of which, such as the introduction of
a national health insurance scheme and old age pensions, took place in the following years.