IRISH RAILWAYS. - ELECTORAL BILL.

I beg to move the Second Reading of the Electoral Bill. The Bill has been in the hands of Deputies for some time, and they will have observed that it contains no revolutionary features. The Bill is simply a reenactment of the existing law with the modifications entailed by the provisions of the Constitution. There are a few minor changes, but they are mostly covered by a Resolution which was adopted by the Dáil previous to the 6th of December. As I said in introducing this Bill in the first instance, it will have to be supplemented by a second Bill dealing with Corrupt Practices. The Constitution provided for an adult suffrage for the election of members of the Dáil; it provided that the Seanad should be elected by citizens of Saorstat Eireann over 30 years of age; it provided for the holding of Referenda on the laws that had been passed by the Dáil, and which the Seanad, or a large body of the electors, desired should be submitted to a Referendum of the people. The Bill that is at present before the Dáil gives effect to these provisions of the Constitution. The Bill alters the franchise law so that men and women citizens of Saorstat Eireann who have attained the age of 21 years will be entered on the Register of Voters, and will be entitled to vote for the election of members of Dáil Eireann. It provides also for the Senatorial Register. Although there can be no election of Senators for some years, it is felt that no harm will be done, and that a better roll of Senatorial electors will be secured by beginning in this Register the work of setting an appropriate mark opposite the names of those who would be entitled to vote at a Senatorial election. It does not alter the Local Government Franchise in any way. The Bill provides, as has already been decided by the Dáil by Resolution, that no member of any police force shall be entitled to vote. It does away with the absent voter as ordinarily understood. There will be no proxy voting at all if the Bill, in its present form, is adopted. There will be no postal voting, except for members of the Defence Forces of Saorstat Eireann and for University electors. In one respect a change has been made that I do not think has been discussed by the Dáil, a change which is intended to make difficult any attempt to upset the elections by force. As the law stands at present if in any constituency a single ballot box is seized or destroyed the whole election in that constituency is cancelled and must be repeated. The provision that has been inserted in this Bill enacts that a second poll shall only be held in the polling district in which the ballot box was destroyed. In June last if force had been used it would have been almost impossible to have held the elections, because there was no constituency in which it could have been guaranteed that not a single ballot box would be seized or interfered with. Even if there were fairly ordinary conditions in the country a General Election might be very seriously interfered with by odd bands of marauders who might descend on a ballot box in some lonely district and destroy it, necessitating the taking of a second poll in the whole of that constituency. The provision which has been inserted in this Bill makes it fairly sure that there can be no serious interference with the holding of a General Election. If in any one constituency the ballot boxes are destroyed a second poll will be held in that polling district or the polling districts which may be concerned. The remainder of the votes will be held over until that second poll is taken, and of course sufficient force can be put into a restricted area to ensure the safety of the ballot boxes. The Bill provides, as regards Senatorial elections, that part of the count shall take place locally and part of it shall be held in Dublin. I suppose that there is no instance of an election of such magnitude on the lines of Proportional Representation as we will have in the election of the Seanad. The number of electors will be enormous; there will be 45 candidates, and the count will really be a stupendous job. It is provided in the Bill that in each constituency the ballot boxes will be opened, the number of ballot papers checked, and the number of First Preferences recorded for each candidate will be ascertained. After that, for the purpose of transfers and so forth, the ballot boxes will be resealed and despatched to a central place and the final stages of the count will be carried out there. As regards Referenda it is provided in this Bill that the entire count shall be done locally in the constituencies. The Referendum will be presided over and carried out by the ordinary Parliamentary Returning Officer. In each constituency the Returning Officer will count the votes for and against the measure which has been submitted to a Referendum, and he will despatch to the Clerk of the Dáil a certified return showing the number of votes cast for and against the Bill. The Clerk will tabulate the results and the Chairman of the Dáil will be in a position to announce the result. The Constitution provides that the number of members of the Dáil shall be such that there shall not be more than one for each 20,000 of the population, and not less than one for each 30,000. The constituencies have consequently been re-cast. In fixing the Schedule it sets out the constituencies. We have endeavoured as far as possible to avoid lumping together two parts of separate counties, as was done for the election of this Dáil. That is a matter that was objected to, and there are other reasons for getting rid of it. The local county machinery is, to a certain extent, used in the compilation of registers, and it is hoped that after certain Local Government reforms, and, probably certain judicial reforms have been carried out, that it may be possible to approximate more nearly to the practice in England in regard to registration and Returning Officers. That would be an additional reason why, as far as possible, the limits of the constituencies should be according to the counties. Of course, it may be necessary in some cases to lump the counties together, and in the larger counties also it would be necessary to divide them. We have in a certain number of cases joined two counties together. The necessity for that was that we have endeavoured to have a member for about each 20,000 to 22,000 of the population, and we have endeavoured to keep the constituencies of such a size that there shall be an equal number of the population per member in each constituency. Now, certain counties presented a difficulty, and had to be lumped with other counties to enable that to be done. In Carlow, for instance, with a population of 36,000, there could not be two members, because the Constitution says that there must be 20,000 per member. So Carlow, obviously, had to be lumped in with some other county in order to enable the provisions of the Constitution to be complied with. Then in Kilkenny there is a population of 74,000. That left it very large, if there were to be three members; larger than usual. Of course, it would be too little for four, so that Carlow and Kilkenny were lumped together, and that gave an average of 22,400 of population per member. The same principle was carried out, wherever the population of a county was such that we could divide it by a number of members and get a quota, as it were, of somewhere about 21,000 or 22,000. If that was impossible it was lumped with another constituency. Then Cork, of course, with 18 members had to be divided. It was felt undesirable to have such a large number elected from a single constituency, and it is proposed to divide it into three constituencies. Dublin City is entitled to 15 members, and it is too large a number to elect at once, so that the Dublin constituency is proposed to be divided into two separate constituencies. There is a provision in the Bill that is before the Dáil for the issue of writs. The issue of writs in future will be made by the Clerk of the Dáil. I think there is practically no other matter of substance in it. It contains the provisions which the Dáil has already agreed to, with regard to the disqualification of members of the Dáil and of the Seanad. The rules for carrying out the work of registration and counting of votes and other incidental matters are set out very fully in the schedules. It was felt it was desirable to re-enact the laws governing elections in this form, although there are small changes being made, so that in future in Irish courts if the matter was being dealt with, it would not be necessary to refer to a large number of British enactments, but that the whole matter might be founded on an act of the Parliament of Saorstát Eireann, and that we should proceed from this onward, so far as possible on our own foundations. I move the second reading of the Bill.

With the main provisions of the Bill we are, of course, in agreement, but there is a great mass of detail which will require to be gone into, and, we suggest, amended, in a number of instances. I put it to the Minister that he should agree to refer this Bill to a special Committee of the Dáil rather than take it in Committee of the whole Dáil. We are disappointed that the changes made with regard to the franchise for election to Dáil Eireann have not been extended to the Local Government franchise. For example, the qualifying period of six months is retained for the Local Government election, and we think the one franchise should apply to both. When the franchise resolutions were under discussion here we expressed our opinion with regard to the disqualification of the police, and our views on that matter remain the same. We hope we will secure an amendment of that in Committee also. The clauses dealing with business premises qualifications would need to be safeguarded in such a way as to prevent votes being registered in certain constituencies for the purpose of gerrymandering. If the business premises qualification is retained at all we think it ought to be safeguarded in that respect. We also notice that in normal times the register will come into force nine months after the qualifying date. We do not see the necessity for such a long period as that. When the Minister was speaking on the franchise resolutions some time ago he indicated that the present register would take about six to six and a half months to compile, and we are sure the present register would require a somewhat longer time than a normal register would. In that case we think six months ought to be the absolute maximum, and it ought to come into force not later than six months after the qualifying date. In the 1918 Act the register came into force three months after the qualifying period. That is a thing that ought to be looked into. There is another matter with regard to the method of voting. We think it is rather confusing that the method of voting should be changed continually. In the ordinary election where Proportional Representation applies, the people have become accustomed to voting 1, 2 and 3. In a bye-election where the old method is reverted to of voting by a cross, I think that is confusing. I think a change should be made in that respect. In addition to that I think that the practice which prevails elsewhere in bye-elections for one vacancy which results in a candidate being elected by a minority of votes is very objectionable. If this method of voting was applied for one vacancy there should be a process of elimination by which the person declared elected would have an absolute majority of the votes cast. That is worthy of consideration. It would in effect mean the alternative vote in practice. I notice that in the Bill it is also proposed to retain the forfeiture of the deposit in cases where the member does not take the oath and sit here. When it is remembered that that provision was first introduced by the British House of Lords for the purpose of penalising Sinn Fein members here in Ireland, I think it ought to induce the members to have it deleted here. Certain people in the country are being exhorted to adopt constitutional methods, and the adoption of a clause of this kind would be a barrier to them, and it could well afford to be deleted. We also think that the amount of the deposit should be very much smaller. We think £50 would meet the case for all practical purposes. £150 is far too large. It is provided in the Bill that the day for the election to the Seanad should be a public holiday in the same way as for the elections to Dáil Eireann. That provision is somewhat questionable. It is very doubtful if an election to the Seanad would evoke the same amount of public interest as elections to Dáil Eireann, and the provision for a public holiday in the case for the election for the Seanad is hardly called for. With reference to the provision for the referanda, where it is provided that a summary of the Bill should be circulated, that seems to be open to objection, and I believe it has been objected to in other countries — notably in Washington. It has been open to great objection; it was argued in Washington that the summary was inaccurate and misleading, and the matter was brought into court to have it tested. We, therefore, suggest it would be better to limit to the ballot paper simply the title of the Bill and to let it go at that. With regard to the provision preventing a member of the Seanad from contesting a seat in Dáil Eireann that seems to me to be unconstitutional.

That is an error.

Yes, it seemed to me to be unconstitutional. The members of the Army, Police and Civil Service are disqualified from being members. We object to that. We say if it is essential to prevent members of the Army, Police and Civil Service from acting as members of Dáil Eireann that it should be made a condition of their employment to resign if so elected. In recent constitutions, notably in Denmark, Germany, Poland and Austria provision of this character has been made permitting members of the Civil Service to be members of the Legislature, provided that if so elected they shall resign their positions. As to what the Minister said regarding the desirability of having all matters connected with the Electoral Law in this Bill completed, we are in full agreement; but there are one or two matters which may have been overlooked, and which are not included. Section 10 of the 1918 Act, dealing with the right of property owners to be elected to local bodies, does not appear to be incorporated. Neither does Section 33, dealing with the question of free postage, appear to be incorporated. The provision making the Clerks of the Crown and Peace the Registration Officers would appear to be also objectionable. We do not see why the various Town Clerks and Secretaries of County Councils should not be made the Registration Officers. When the last Registration Act was going through the British Parliament, it was quite obvious it was done because these people, who are known to possess an anti-national bias, would be more pliable in carrying out the laws than the popularly elected Secretaries of County Councils. In view of all these points we hope that the Minister will agree to remit this Bill to a special Committee so that it can be altered in regard to many points, many of which would be non-controversial, and an agreement could be easily reached upon them.

One recognises the difficulties attending the production of any such Bill as this, and any criticisms that necessarily arise, seeing that different people look at the matter from different points of view, are tempered by that consideration. Dealing now with the general principle of the Bill, I think it would have been a good thing if the Minister had done with this Bill what has been done by even so distant a legislature as the Maltese Legislature. There they had to bring in a Bill under precisely similar circumstances immediately after the attainment of self-government, and they set up a small Committee that made thorough inquiry into Electoral matters throughout the whole world, and produced a Bill that did purport to be, and substantially is, the embodiment and the translation of all that is done in other places that has been proved worth adopting and adapting. This Bill, a copy of which we have had furnished us, is practically neglectful of very considerable advances that have been made in many parts of the world, and it is practically a gathering together, a mere codification of the existing English law, with some slight changes, none of which are of a very material kind. I think that is rather unfortunate. It would have been better, both for the country and the Dáil, and incidentally also for the Minister, if he could have put his name to a Bill that did not or would not in the immediate or near future require any substantial changes, as I fear this Bill will require in the course of a year or so, if only as we become aware of what other nations have done and are doing. There are one or two questions I would like to have information about as prefatory to the sending of this Bill to Committee, where amendments will be considered, because perhaps some of the criticisms might be obviated by answers that would be given to questions. I notice, for example, in Clause 1, Section 4, it states: "For the purposes of this Section such a person shall be deemed to be ordinarily resident." It does not say who is to judge of that ordinary residence. There should be something introduced into that particular clause dealing with who is to make the decision. Perhaps explanation may show that that has already been considered. There is another small matter in Section 2, Sub-section B. I do not see exactly why we should have taken over the principle, which is a bad one adopted in English legislation, of making an unfurnished room a more valuable one than a furnished room. In the next section there is a still more important matter, a matter of principle in which I think the intention of the Constitution has been rather avoided. The Section reads: "A woman shall be entitled to be registered as a Local Government Elector where she is the wife of a man who is entitled to be so registered in respect of premises in which they both reside, and she has attained the age of 30 years." Why 30 years? Everywhere else it is twenty-five years. The chief matter of complaint, and a matter which I think is a very grave injustice, is in Clause 8. That matter was discussed once before in this Dáil and I imagine it will come up again in Committee. It deals with the taking away of the rights of citizens from persons acting as police officers. That, surely, is a very grave injustice. With regard to Sections 1 and 2 in Clause 11, I would like the Minister to let us know if they are not mere repetitions of Section 9, and why is that so? Does it not cover exactly the same matters? The matter mentioned by Deputy O'Brien in regard to bye-elections and casual vacancies is perhaps one of the most important matters of all. I would like to add my voice to what he has said, and that is that the principle of the Bill should be that in all elections, whether bye-elections or ordinary elections, the single transferable vote should be accepted as an essential principle. The single transferable vote does not upset anything in the least and it might be accepted as a general principle in the Bill for all contingencies. A similar matter is contained in Clause 23, Sub-section 4, where it states:—"For the purposes of this sub-section the number of votes polled shall be deemed to be the number of ballot papers (other than spoilt ballot papers) counted; and where the election is held under the system of the transferable vote the number of votes polled by a candidate shall be the number of votes polled by him as first preference."

In other words, if there are two persons from one Party, and that Party happens to be in the ascendancy, there may be a candidate who would get all but one vote required to return him, and yet not get one single first preference vote, because he does not happen to be the most favoured candidate on his party ticket. I suggest that might have been met elsewhere, or if it is not met elsewhere, there should be a proper form of words for it. These matters will arise again in Committee, and if the Bill is to be considered in Committee of the whole Dáil, they could be put forward in the ordinary way. I add my voice to Deputy Wm. O'Brien in saying with regard to a Bill of this kind, involving so many technical elements, that possibly the better way would be to appoint the first Standing Committee of this Dáil and commit the Bill to them. When that is done, I hope that special care will be given to possibly one of the most important parts of the Bill, that is the Schedule by which the counting of the votes is to be decided — Schedule 3. There are several items in that that I think might be very considerably improved. Generally, however, it is a Bill the Second Reading of which might be passed with consent as a matter of very great necessity.

I say this Bill appears to be a splendid Bill. It appears to meet a lot of the difficulties, and I only rise to draw attention to one or two points. One is regarding the question of Registration, and the printing of the Register. I wish to express the hope that those responsible for the printing of the Register will print it in geographical order, and not in alphabetical or street order. For instance, a case occurs in which a person living in, say, Merchants' Cottages, at the end of the North Wall, and if the Register is printed in street order, that person would have to vote in Marlborough Street, close to Nelson's Pillar. What I would suggest is, that Marlborough Street be taken as a polling station for an area within a quarter of a mile around it, and that the Register be printed in geographical order, and not in street order, which is very confusing for candidates, and very unfair to people living distances away who have to come from the point of the North Wall and pass by a polling station to get to a polling station further up the town where they have to vote. That is a point which I hope will have the attention of the Ministers. There is another point that I think it necessary to consider; that is the protection of candidates from personation. I think a candidate who in his efforts to stop personation arrests a personator or a person who appears to be a personator, ought to be free from action in the Law Courts. I had one experience myself — I raise the point because of that experience—in which an agent acting for me arrested a personator. His name, say, was John Brown. John Brown had already voted. It was a question of an uncle and a nephew. The nephew had voted as John Brown. The uncle, who was the real John Brown, came along and wanted to vote. We had proof that John Brown had already voted, but the uncle took an action against me and got very small damages. In a case like that there ought to be some protection for candidates against action in the Courts.

Another point I wish to raise is with regard to the question of Returning Officers or Government Agents at the tables. They ought not knowingly to allow personation. I think if it is proved that a Government Agent knowingly allows personation to take place, he ought never be allowed to act inside a polling station again. I think that officials of the Town Clerk or Sheriff, or whoever they may be, ought to have power and be authorised to stop personation.

As regards the question of postal voting, I heard the Minister giving an instance of a postal voter as a man on service. In the constituency which I represent there are three or four cases in which I think people would be entitled to postal voting. For instance, the case of a sailor or captain of a ship, or a member of a crew. Their boat is due to sail on the evening before the election; 20 or 30 of the crew may be living in one division, and I think they ought to be allowed the privilege of having their names put on the Postal Electors' Register. I do not think the Minister will raise any objection to that. It is a matter which I believe will receive favourable consideration.

There is another matter which, I am sure, members who had to contest elections felt embarrassed them, especially when they had not a strong party behind them — the practice of allowing half a dozen young men with pencils to stand outside the booth. It is called "tallying." They demand from the people as they come out their number and whether they had voted or not. In certain cases voters believe that the giving of their number to a certain person is an indication of how they had voted. In one or two cases I know of, fear made people give the number only to the person representing the side for whom they had voted. I think that "tally" system of half a dozen young men standing outside the polling station and demanding their cards with the numbers on them from the people as they come out ought to be made a punishable offence. It is not free voting, and it is not fair. I hope the Minister will take steps to prevent anything like that taking place.

As to page 18, "Infringement of Secrecy." I think when there is a system of personation attempted, and the Presiding Officer or the agent of the Registration Officer, sees a man sending out messages, he should take action. It is a common practice late in the evening for an agent inside to look down the register and to find that a certain number of persons had not voted in a certain street. I know a case where a man sat at a table and took down the numbers of 200 persons, who had not voted, from the register and sent them outside to a certain committee room with an instruction to get them "done." I remember that on that occasion it went so far that I had to assault the man myself in the polling station, and take out of his hand the list with 200 names on it. I have never made a complaint about the 1918 election, but that occurred at the 1918 election. I can take a defeat in a sporting way, and I hope my friends and opponents will say, at least, that in 1918 I took my defeat as a sportsman and without complaint. But now I take the opportunity of suggesting that such a thing as that should not be allowed to occur again — that no person should, especially with the knowledge of an official, be allowed to send out 200 or 300 names in order to get them personated. It is not fair to the candidate who might appear to be weak as regards organisation. I think it is a matter for the Government to take very stringent steps to stop it. There are forty or fifty more pages of this Bill, and I really can find no fault with it. On the whole, I think it is a splendid Bill. It has been well thought out, and it does a good deal to do away with the old grievances that candidates at contested elections have had.

Motion made and question put: "That the Electoral Bill be now read a second time."

Agreed.

There is the question of the Committee Stage.

I am afraid we can hardly accept Deputy O'Brien's suggestion that the Bill should be referred to a Special Committee. This matter was under consideration to some extent, and it was considered that this was not a Bill of the type that is really suitable for referring to a Special Committee. It is of general interest to the members and is in no way limited in its interests to any special set or section of the members here. Although I think that a good deal of the matter is such as would be considered quite non-contraversial, that will simply mean that the Bill will be got through much more quickly. I could not, therefore, accept the suggestion that it should go to a Special Committee. I desire that it should be dealt with by the Dáil in Committee and I would propose to begin the Committee stage on this day week, if it is agreeable to the Dáil.

Shall we take it as an order of the Dáil that the Electoral Bill be considered in Committee of the whole Dáil on Wednesday, the 10th instant, and that it will appear on the Order Paper?

Agreed.

In order to facilitate the Committee stage, amendments should reach us in due course. Amendments to the first nineteen clauses should certainly be in the office before noon on Friday in order that they may be circulated on Monday. It is well that as many amendments as possible should come in so that notice of them can be given to Deputies.