Majority of public support removing Isle of Man bishop’s vote

The majority of Isle of Man residents support removing the bishop’s vote in the island’s parliament, a new survey has shown.

Fifty one per cent of responses were in favour of removing the vote, with 49 per cent against. A total of 2,934 people responded to the consultation, around 3 per cent of the island’s population.

Fifty two per cent also supported ending the practice of holding prayers before sittings of the parliament, known as Tynwald, with 48 per cent against.

One Church of England bishop, the bishop of Sodor and Man, sits by right in the Legislative Council, the upper house of Tynwald. As well as voting on legislation, the bishop leads prayers at the beginning of sittings in the Legislative Council.

The consultation was held following a successful second reading of a private member’s bill which would remove the bishop’s vote. The bill was introduced by Lawrie Hooper, a member of Tynwald’s lower house, the House of Keys.

Responding to the consultation’s results, Mr. Hooper said the results should be viewed “with caution” and that, in his view, “those voting in support of the bishop’s right to vote are likely over-represented in the responses”.

Mr. Hooper said there was “evidence of a coordinated effort” amongst those who support the bishop’s right to vote, with “nearly 50 per cent of the paper submissions” being delivered by five people, “all of which expressed the same view”.

During the consultation process, the National Secular Society wrote to Members of the House of Keys urging them to pass the bill, saying the privileged position of “one denomination of one faith” is both “divisive and unrepresentative”.

In its submission, the NSS called attention to the bishop’s use of his position to “subvert the democratic will” of the Manx people. In 2018, the bishop voted against a bill which sought to extend access to abortion on the Isle.

The reforms to abortion law enjoyed overwhelming support during public consultation and were passed by a margin of 22 to 2 in the House of Keys.

The survey findings will be brought to the House of Keys on 26 March, when members will continue to vote at the clauses stage of the bill.

NSS: ‘Support for secular principles encouraging’

National Secular Society chief executive, Stephen Evans, said: “It’s encouraging to see a majority in favour of removing the bishop’s vote and for ending the holding of prayers before sittings.

“The principle of secular governance should be a feature of any modern democracy. Privileges for Anglican clerics compromise that. Manx legislators should back reform not only on the basis of popular support – but also because it is right in principle.”

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