Keys was back this week, delayed by a special sitting of Tynwald, MHKs met virtually on Tuesday afternoon, here’s some of the highlights from the written answers, including a special trip upstairs to the Legislative Council.

No Timetable for Timetables

Unashamedly indulging my own interest by putting this first, no date has yet been set for the opening of the island’s railways. Garff MHK asked DoI Minister Tim Baker when the steam railway, MER and Snaefell Mountain Railway, which didn’t open for it’s 125th anniversary last year, will be seen trundling through the Manx countryside.

In his response Mr Baker said: ‘The operating dates and times for heritage rail services have not yet been determined. Timetables will be available approximately 10 days before the start of operations.’

Manx Gas Can Charge What it Wants, For Now

Chief Minister Howard Quayle has admitted that Manx Gas could potentially charge whatever it pleases now it is no longer bound by the 2015 Gas Agreement. That agreement was ended after a vote in Tynwald, but negotiations for a new voluntary agreement have collapsed, despite it appearing late last year that a breakthrough was close.

The Chief said: ‘The clauses that provide for the collection/repayment of over/under charges are not included in those clauses which survive, meaning that Manx Gas is not able to claim any under recovery from their customers pursuant to the 2015 Agreement. Consequently Manx Gas is free to set tariffs at such levels that it wishes, subject to any future restriction on tariffs in terms of parameters or conditions that may be set in future regulations by the Communications and Utilities Regulatory Authority.’

Drug Arrests Down

Not much of a shock given the Covid situation, but fewer people were arrested, given cautions or warnings or entered the Drugs Referral Scheme in 2020 than in 2019. The figures (covering the period 2016 to 2020) were released by Justice and Home Affairs Minister Graham Cregeen in response to a question from Mrs Caine. 

  • 60 cautions or warnings were handed out in 2020, down from 94 in 2019 and 87 in 2018, it’s actually the lowest figure for five years

  • 269 people were arrested for possession and/or possession with intent to supply, down from 284 in 2019, but this is still up from the 221 arrests in 2018

  • Drug Arrest Referral Scheme figures are handled slightly differently, these are shown as 2015-16, 2016-17, etc. In 2019-20, 155 people were placed on the scheme, down from 183 in 2018-19.

Mr Cregeen added: The Drug Arrest Referral scheme is open to any person who is found in possession of a controlled substance for the first time. If an admission is made and the offence is accepted, the person is offered to attend the Drug Arrest Referral Scheme.  They will then attend Motiv8 and speak with a professional about drug use, to learn about the drug concerned and how they may reduce harm to themselves. Once this attendance has occurred, that is the end of the matter and this is not recorded as a criminal conviction. 

‘Police records are then updated accordingly. Should the person then re-offend and be found with further ‘personal’ amounts of controlled drugs, then a Police Caution would likely be offered. Any subsequent drug possession would then be dealt with at Court.’

Manifesto Postage

The 2016 election saw a decrease in the cost to the taxpayer for manifestos. Policy and Reform Minister Ray Harmer confirmed the cost of posting each candidate’s manifesto to each home in their constituency was £65,126, down from £73,421.49 in 2011. Treasury pays for the delivery of one manifestor per household for each nominated candidate, this is the only expense which people can reclaim in standing for election. Spending for elections is capped at £2,000 plus 50p per registered elector and candidates must submit an expenses form to prove they did not breach this cap, however this information is not released to the public.

Marine Drive – Special Scientific Interest

A rare trip upstairs to Legislative Council in the written answers also shows that Marine Drive looks set to be registered as an Area of Special Scientific Interest. Bill Henderson MLC had asked for the details from DEFA including what areas of the Drive the DEFA is examining for any such designation; and what consideration the DEFA has given to designating the ecosystem formed by (a) the seaward side of the road and footpath including any banks, verges and cliff faces and (b) the agricultural land to the west of the road?

In response, a DEFA representative said: ‘I am pleased to advise that work on this particular conservation designation is progressing in a positive way. With the recent restrictions, the process has stalled temporarily and the Department would be pleased to update the Honourable Member further at the appropriate time.’