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The Legislative Council: 100 Years of Reform

​On 25th November 2019, Tynwald celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first election of Members to the Legislative Council by Members of the House of Keys. 

In 1919, Tynwald passed the Constitution Amendment Act 1919, which fundamentally changed the membership and powers of the Legislative Council.  Before the election in 1919, the role and membership of the Council had changed little since the Middle Ages, consisting of representatives of the judiciary and the Church, along with the Lieutenant Governor as presiding officer.

The 1919 Act was the result of many years of agitation for reform, both inside and outside Tynwald. After a series of committees and petitions, in 1911 the MacDonnell Committee recommended a number of reforms to the constitution of the Isle of Man, including the introduction of elected members to the Legislative Council. After a delay partly caused by World War I, the first elected members of the Council were sworn in on 9th December 1919.

The 1919 Act set in train a series of reforms that continue to this day.  Over the past century, more elected Members have replaced the Church and judicial appointments, culminating in 1990 with the replacement of the Lieutenant Governor by the President of Tynwald as the head of the parliament. At the same time, the Council’s executive powers have been transferred to the House of Keys, and its current role as a revising chamber has become established. Today the Council’s role is understood as complementary to that of the House of Keys.

To mark this significant event, the Clerk of Tynwald’s Office has produced educational resources on the topic of the Legislative Council, detailing the changes in membership and function over the past 100 years. Members of Legislative Council will visit secondary schools to talk to students about their role in the Island’s parliament. All resources are available from the Tynwald website.

The procedures by which the House of Keys elects members of the Legislative Council have changed since 1919.  Today, each elected Member of Legislative Council (MLC) is elected for a term of five years and the elections are arranged so that four Members at a time are elected. There will be four vacancies on the Legislative Council from 29th February 2020 and another four from 28th February 2023. The Speaker of the House of Keys, the Hon Juan Watterson SHK, has determined under Standing Orders that an election will be held on the afternoon of Thursday 12th March 2020, with nominations opening on Wednesday 29th January 2020 and closing on Wednesday 26th February 2020. More details are available here.

The President of Tynwald, The Hon. Steve Rodan OBE MLC, said:

‘As recent debates have shown, the role of the Legislative Council continues to be a subject of great interest.  The Council continues to evolve, and I will watch future developments with interest. I would echo the words of His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir William Fry, talking in 1919 about the newly elected MLCs:

the change in the constitution of the Council, by making it of a more representative character gives an accession of strength to the counsels of the Council. I feel sure that, in the opinion of the people of this Island, the work which we carry out will deserve approval.’

For further information contact:
Jonathan King
Deputy Clerk of Tynwald and Clerk of the Legislative Council
Telephone: 01624 686303
Published - 25/11/2019