Religious representation in a democratic legislature: A case study of the Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man in Tynwald.


The Isle of Man is a largely autonomous territory of the United Kingdom Crown. It entered the territories of the Crown in the fourteenth century, but remained under the control of a vassal monarch, the Lord, until 1765. In that year the Crown ‘revested’ the regalities of the Lord into itself, and the British authorities exercised direct authority over the Island. From the mid-nineteenth century on, however, the Island regained an increasing level of autonomy, this time vested in the Tynwald – a body broadly analogous to the United Kingdom Parliament – rather than the Lord. Today the dominant constitutional body in the Island is Tynwald. Executive authority is largely exercised by a government drawn from its members, and commanding its support, while it exercises a plenipotentiary legislative authority over the jurisdiction. Tynwald, although meeting regularly as a single body, is for most purposes divided into two Branches – a directly elected House of Keys, and the Legislative Council. The Council originated in the Lord’s retinue of principal officials. Although the Council included ecclesiastical officers as early as 1614, it was not until after the Revestment of 1765 that this became established as the invariably practice. Throughout the nineteenth century the Council included the Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Vicars-General, and the Archdeacon of the Diocese. In the early twentieth century the lesser ecclesiastical officers were removed, and the Council began to include a number of members elected by the Keys, as well as officials appointed by the Crown or the Governor. Throughout the twentieth century this element increased, until today the Council consists of nine members elected by the Keys, the Bishop, and the Attorney General who sits without a vote as a legal advisor. Although the Bishop’s seat and vote survived this major constitutional change, it was not uncontested. From 1958 on, reform of the Bishop’s role was suggested – often but not invariably as part of a broader constitutional change – by individual members of Tynwald, Commissions, and Committees. The changes of 1980 left the Bishop as the last unelected member of the Council with a vote, and subject to intense scrutiny – most notably in 1981-3, 1992-4, and 2000-1. A study of the work of the Bishop in Tynwald between 1961 and 2001 shows that his vote has been decisive on 53 occasions. Although demonstrating to some extent the significance of the vote, this does not properly delineate the nature of the Bishop’s role, which requires detailed analysis of all debates concerning or involving the Bishop, rather than simply those where his vote proved to be decisive. Such an analysis shows that the Bishop was expected to contribute to debate in two major areas – moral issues and technical issues concerning the Manx Church. The voice of the Bishop in moral issues can be seen in debates concerning gaming, sex between men, abortion, and Sunday trading. In relation to the Manx Church, the Bishop took a lead role in ecclesiastical legislation before Tynwald, but also had a role in debates over church property, legislative ceremony, the nature of oaths, and prison Chaplains. Although proposals were put forward to limit the role of the Bishop to moral issues in particular, Bishops were entitled to, and did, contribute on a range of other topics. It is in these particular topics, however, that the Bishops were seen as having a special role. As well as expectations as to subject matter, the Bishops operated within expectations as to their modes of contribution. The strongest of these is that the Bishop should not become entangled in party politics. There is also a strong expectation that the Bishop should represent the Manx Church and Christianity more generally, although this expectation does not seem to have been realised in relation to 5 non-Christian religions. There is some evidence that the Bishop is also entitled to use both secular and religious modes of argumentation, and that he should not expect to the be the only religious voice in Tynwald, or even the uncontested voice of the Manx Church. The study suggests an eleven point taxonomy for the analysis of religious representation in deliberate assemblies. Applying this taxonomy to the Bishop, and to the Lords Spiritual in Westminster, we see that religious representation in the two bodies is very similar, making lessons learnt from the Manx study applicable to consideration of reform of the House of Lords; and the broader literature on reform of the Lords Spiritual relevant to consideration of the Manx situation. Analysing this form of religious representation first in a legal sense, it seems likely that such representation is permissable, but not obligatory, so long as the interests of unrepresented religious communities are not unreasonably compromised. The gender bar on religious representation in both legislatures may, however, be problematic. If international law, most immediately under the European Convention on Human Rights, gives a strong emphasis to the right to non-discrimination on the grounds of gender over the right to religious self-determination, the gender bar on the Bishops may be unlawful per se. It may be, however, that the Manx and English Church can discriminate in relation to its leaders, but not where this discrimination will be endorsed by the State in the composition of the national legislature. Moving away from legal restraints on the composition of the legislature, a range of justifications for the role of the Bishop, and the Lords Spiritual, emerge from debates over the future of the role in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Process arguments see the Bishop as improving the quality of the legislative and deliberative processes – for instance through his insulation from normal political processes. Public benefit arguments find a broader benefit to the Manx state or society – for instance safeguarding the continued existence of the Diocese of Sodor and Man. Community benefit arguments see benefits accruing to the Manx Church, or Manx Christianity more broadly – for instance through the oversight of ecclesiastical legislation. We conclude from this study that the current model of religious representation in Tynwald is probably the simplest involving ex officio representatives that can be envisaged. A focus on this form of religious representative underplays the extent to which other spiritual voices can be heard in the chamber. Although other legislators speak with a spiritual voice, the Bishop does have a distinctive role. He contributes a Manx Christian perspective to debates on moral issues, and functions as a technical expert on the Manx Church. The broader idea of the Bishop as representing religion generally, including non-Christian faiths, has not been fulfilled in relation to communities outside of interdenominational Christianity. International law provides few limits on the choices of Tynwald as to religious representation, although the gender limit on the Bishop may be problematic, and a variety of justifications for the role of the Bishop emerge from debate. It may be artificial, however, to seek a single justification for his role – his legitimacy may derive from the cumulative effect of several grounds, each of which could be applied to others, none of which combine in any other single office.

Attached files


Edge, P
Augur Pearce, C

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\School of Law


Year: 2003