House of Keys

The House of Keys is the directly elected lower Branch of Tynwald the Parliament of the Isle of Man, the other of the two Branches being the Legislative Council.

There is a dispute over the origin of the name. The word 'keys' is thought by some to be an English mishearing of the Norse word Kjosa meaning 'chosen'. However a more likely explanation is that it is a mishearing of the Manx language name for the House of Keys which is Yn Chiare-as-Feed. This actually translates as 'the four and twenty', as there have always been 24 members. The oldest reference to the name known is in a document of 1417 written by an English scholar in Latin, which refers to 'Claves Mann' and 'Claves Legis' ('The Keys of Mann' and 'The Keys to Laws').

Members are known as Members of the House of Keys, or MHKs. Those over the age of eighteen may vote, while one must be at least twenty-one years old and a resident of the Island for three years to be elected. There are fifteen constituencies, based on the sheadings, two of which choose three MHKs each, five choose two MHKs each, and eight choose one MHK each. The term of the House of Keys is normally fixed at five years, but provisions exist for dissolution before the expiration of the term.

The Speaker of the House of Keys (SHK) is an MHK chosen to be the presiding officer. He may vote in the same manner as other members, but he may also abstain, unlike the others. (If, however, the vote is tied, the Speaker may not abstain and must cast the deciding vote.) Unusually for a legislative body attendance is required by law and if a member cannot attend they must request permission for absence.

The House of Keys elects most of the members of the Legislative Council. Also, legislation does not usually originate in the Council. Thus, the Keys have much more power than the Council, which performs its actions as a revising chamber.

The House of Keys meets about once each month with the Legislative Council in a joint session called "Tynwald Court." The President of Tynwald, elected by both branches, presides over Tynwald Court and over the Legislative Council. Once each year, however, the Lieutenant Governor presides on Tynwald Day, the Isle of Man's national day.

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