I move Rule 1.
DÁIL IN COMMITTEE ON ELECTORAL BILL. - SEVENTH SCHEDULE.
I move an amendment (a) Rule 1, line 4: To delete “Minister for Local Government” and to substitute “Clerk of the Dáil”; (b) in Rule 1, line 7, to delete “a copy” and to substitute “copies.” These are the rules for the conduct of Referenda, and it seems more desirable that they should be conducted under the auspices of an official of the Dáil rather than of the Minister.
I accept the amendments.
I move Rule 2.
I move an amendment to Rule 2, line 13, To delete "time and place" and to substitute "times and places."
I move Rule 3.
I move an amendment before Rule 3, to insert a new Rule as follows:—"Any proclamation issued before the day fixed for the coming into force of the first register prepared under this Act shall, for the purpose of taking a referendum, be deemed to have been issued on the day fixed for the coming into force of the said Register, and any dates fixed by or under this Act or by any such Proclamation aforesaid, at or during which anything is to be done, shall be postponed accordingly." The object of the amendment is to ensure that a referendum will be taken on the new Register and not on the existing Register.
I beg to move:—
Rule 3, lines 16 and 17—To delete from the beginning to the word "Constituency," and to substitute "The Returning Officer shall make a copy of the said Bill available for inspection of the public at each of the places at which documents are made available for inspection in accordance with Rule 30 of the First Schedule of this Act."
The object of the amendment is to make a copy of the Bill available in more public places than are indicated in the draft. That is to say, that it should be available in all the places where the Notices of the Polls are to be publicly exhibited. As it stands the number of places where the Bill may be consulted officially will be very limited. The proposal is to enlarge the number of such places to include all those where the official Order insists that the Notice of a Poll shall be placed.
I think the amendment is quite reasonable, and I accept it.
I move Rule 4.
I beg to move Rule 5 (Conduct of Referendum in Constituencies).
I beg to move No. 8 Amendment, which is consequential:—
Rule 5, lines 30 and 31—To delete the words "To which the principle of Proportional Representation does not apply," and to substitute the words "at which there are not more than two candidates."
I move Rules 6, 7, and 8.
I move Part 2.
I beg to move:
To delete the words "which (insert a short summary of the Bill)," and to substitute the words "and entitled (insert the full title of the Bill)."
This amendment is designed to insert the full title of the Bill instead of the summary.
The object of this amendment is exactly the same as my Amendment, Number 10. I accept Deputy O'Brien's wording, which I think is an improvement on mine.
I beg to move:
Page 59—To delete the words "Part 2, Form of Ballot Paper," lines 1 and 2.
Is it proposed to take the remaining Schedules to-day?
I do not know whether there has been a misunderstanding —whether these Schedules will be taken or not. There are one or two small amendments.
Up to Schedule 8 certainly was agreed. The question arises about 9 and 10.
Before deciding that question, I wish to draw attention—it is really going back, and is a little out of order—to a point raised by the President last night which it occurs to me requires some consideration before the Report stage, that is the form of the Ballot Paper giving the names. The names are common names in Ireland and, as it appears here, if this goes out as an Act it will be taken by Returning Officers, I think, as binding them to put these particular names forward unless there is some legislative provision to the contrary. It might be wise to make some provision to alter those names.
There is a note at the bottom of the Form on page 54 which was intended to provide for that. Perhaps it does not do it sufficiently, and I will consider the matter before the Report stage comes on.
I think we should have an opportunity to discuss the wisdom of having very large constituencies in the counties and whether there will be an opportunity to revise them. I wish to raise the question, and to have some explanation from the Minister. Take a constituency like the County Mayo, with nine members, and the very big constituency of Galway, with nine members. I think there is a doubt in many minds as to the wisdom of having so very large an area for a constituency in ordinary elections. I am in the lucky position of having a small county for my constituency. But those who have very wide areas are at a very great disadvantage, and, while I think it is facilitating the proper working of the Proportional Representation Scheme, the disadvantage of a big constituency for an election is very great. And unless some good case can be made for making a constituency of nine members cover a very wide area I think it would be worth reconsidering whether those big constituencies of nine, such as Mayo and Galway, could not be divided. I would like to hear the Minister's defence of the present arrangement.
The guiding idea in drawing up the schedule as it is drawn up was, so far as possible, to make the constituencies coterminous with the administrative counties. It is felt at once that in a constituency as large as Cork, which, with the City, would run up to 18 members—it was felt that it was, of course, quite impossible to carry on an election without division; or in the case of Dublin, where the number was too large, and it was necessary to split it up. There is just this to be said, that if you have a fairly large constituency you will get better down to the idea of giving comparatively small minorities representation, and without being absolutely fixed in our point of view we thought that nine was a possible number under which the system might work satisfactorily. But we had felt also that we would not like to go above nine. If it was the general feeling in the Dáil that a constituency of nine members was too large, I would consider redrafting the schedule with a view to dividing some of those nine-member constituencies. We have to remember that the area is hardly the difficulty entirely. All that matters most, I think, is the official machinery so far as the area is concerned. If you reduce the area—well, the person who can cover a certain area and get a certain number of votes with a reduced area, and the reduced number of members, will certainly be able to cover his area when the whole constituency is larger, and will be even more certain of being returned. I do not really see that there is very much involved except the difficulty of arranging the machinery. The difficulty is, where you have a large number of candidates that second and third preferences may be given in a way that has not much justification—they may be given very carelessly indeed. It may be difficult for the voters to know who exactly are the candidates, and if you have nine vacancies you may have eighteen candidates. Of course, I can see it is somewhat difficult to get intelligent voting right down the paper. That, it seems to me, will be the strongest argument against large constituencies, the difficulty of getting an intelligent vote outside the first preferences. The only difficulty in area is the difficulty which the Returning Officer will have to meet in the matter of counting and in the making of his arrangements. While I am quite open to reconsider it if it is pressed, I do not think that Deputy Johnson himself in his speech has made a case for changing it.
I am not going to press this very far. So far as we are concerned we are satisfied, but we are trying to do the work of those members who are silent representatives of constituencies in the West. But we really leave it to the Minister to decide.
From the schedule I noticed it was intended to make every county stand by itself where there would not be a sufficient population to give a minimum of three representatives. But I notice in Leitrim and Sligo they are joined together for seven members. I would like to know whether it would be practicable to separate those counties into four and three-member constituencies?
There is this difficulty about it. Sligo has a population of 79,000. We cannot give it, because of the provisions of the Constitution, four members, and there are too many for three members. We have, on the other hand, Leitrim, which has a population something above what would give it three members. It has a population of 63,000; that is too many for three members, but not enough to give it four members. It simply evens it up by joining the two. We get it almost exactly fitting into a seven-member constituency, with 20,000 inhabitants per member in the joint constituency. Sligo has that sort of a population that it simply must be joined on to some other constituency, or we would have to put a piece of another county on to it to enable it to have four members of its own. The population is 79,000 as it is; if it had another 1,000 of a population it could be given four members.
It appears to me that a Committee representing the various sections of the Dáil might with some advantage come together unofficially, and see if it were possible to draft out a better scheme than is outlined here. I know Deputy Johnson had not in his mind the fact that it did not affect members of his Party; and that he did not care very much what way it was arranged. The point with regard to it is this: Electoral law should stand and should be proof against any infirmity of any sort or kind. This is the first opportunity we have got of showing our form with regard to a matter of administration that will be the foundation of the various Parliaments that will assemble here for a number of years to come, and therefore it would be advisable to consider very seriously the system which is put up here, the system which is arranged on a very definite plan —that is, the county plan in the first place, and the regulations of the Constitution in the second place, and the grouping together in certain cases of certain counties. The constituency I represent is held by most people to be unwieldy, from the fact that two counties are brought together which are not much in touch with one another. A candidate in one is practically unknown in the other. It is quite possible that Leitrim and Sligo might not mix, but at any rate the Bill has got this infirmity about it, that there is no uniformity whatever as regards the distribution of seats all over the country. In one case the number of candidates selected will be nine, and in another case three. That is to say, a person having behind him one-tenth of the support of a particular constituency can get elected, while in another constituency he must represent at least one-fourth of the number of votes cast in order to get a seat—in fact, one over the quarter. From the point of view of symmetry, the thing does not lend itself to any very analytical examination or certificate of perfection. Therefore I would suggest, if Deputies are agreeable, that they should consider this unofficially and see if they could bring the collective wisdom of many Deputies to bear on the subject and draft a better scheme. It certainly has not got a sound appearance on paper.
I think the Dáil will perhaps agree with me when I say that we have not examined this Bill except from the point of view of the general good, and not from the party standpoint at all. I agree it would be worth considering whether any better arrangement of constituencies could be made. I do not think the argument respecting one-fourth and one-tenth is very valid. We are prepared to co-operate with any members that may be nominated from other parties to consider whether any better arrangement than this could be devised between now and the next meeting.
I wish to lodge a protest with regard to the way my own constituency is treated here. I see that Longford and Westmeath have five members. Well, we have had four up to the present, and up to 1918 Westmeath was by itself, and Longford was by itself. I wish to know now if it would be possible to give three members to each. I would like to see one more member at least added to Longford and Westmeath.
I take it that the suggestion to appoint a Committee is agreed to.
I have always been most anxious to meet anyone on this matter, which is partly one of local feeling. I have not really got any suggestions about it, but I discussed it with some people. The reason I did not get suggestions was, there was general condemnation of the system in force for the last few years of having parts of two counties joined together. From all quarters there came condemnation over that. I do not know whether there were any sound grounds for that condemnation or whether it was based on sentimental considerations; but still there did come to us a request not to have bits of counties joined together in two constituencies. That came from a considerable number of people. That was really the principal thing borne in mind —that sort of appeal. I would be very glad to have a Committee such as this suggested formed, and that the Deputies who would have any views at all on the matter would assist the Committee, and so make the thing satisfactory from every point of view.
I move Schedule 9 (Adaptation of Enactments).
As an amendment I move the deletion of Rules 1 and 2, dealing with Local Government Franchise.
I move Schedule 10 (Repeals).
I move the following amendment, which is consequential on the elimination from the Bill of all reference to Local Government Franchise:—
"In column 3, for Extent of Repeal of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, to substitute:—
"The whole Act except so much as related to Local Government franchises, the registration of Local Government electors, Local Government electoral areas, and Local Government elections, and sections three, sub-section three of section four; sub-section one, two and four of section 7, sub-section two of section 8, sections ten and seventeen, sub-section one of section twenty-two, section thirty-three to thirty-five, sections thirty-eight and forty-one, sections forty-three to forty-seven, and the fourth, seventh, eighth, and ninth schedule."
May we take it that this amendment only refers to Local Government elections?
Yes, it is purely consequential.
I have no objection to the amendment itself, but as regards the Tenth Schedule as a whole I may perhaps be permitted to say thus much. The present Electoral Bill when it is completed will be our Electoral Law and consequently the equivalent, to all intents and purposes, of the Representation of the People Act. It will be the Representation of the people of Saorstát Eireann Act. I gathered from the speech of the Minister when introducing the Bill, more particularly on the second reading, that he intended to do what would be very valuable, to codify in the present Bill the law relating to elections to the Dáil and Seanad. It seems to me, perhaps I am mistaken, that putting portions of Acts into a Schedule, as here, and making it necessary, in order to read the whole thing intelligently, to go outside the four corners of the Act itself, and to consult British Statutes, is rather awkward. I would like to suggest, with all respect, that we might incorporate in the Act what is necessary for its completion so as to make it absolutely self-contained; that if anyone wishes to acquaint himself with the prevailing law on the subject he need read no more than this Statute which we now enact. I put that out as a suggestion; it is not hostile to anything here, of course.
We aim at getting to the point where we will not have to go back to British Statutes, but we do not wish to re-enact law in a form in which we do not intend it to stand. There is in course of preparation an Electoral Abuses Bill, and there is also in the preliminary stages of preparation a Bill for the reform of various Local Government matters. When the Electoral Abuses Bill has become an Act, and when the Local Government Reform has been carried through, then we will have in our own Acts the whole body of the law dealing with this matter.
I do not wish to occupy the time of the Dáil unduly, but take, for example, that provision whereby a candidate is enabled to address an appeal to the electorate once free of postage. There is no reason why that should not be in the body of this Act instead of, as we were recently informed, being preserved merely through the fact that the Representation of the People Act, 1918, is not wholly repealed.
That is a point that I think merits consideration.
This, I take it, is the first of a series of Election Laws. When we shall have the others there will be a complete code of Election Laws?
That is so.
Now the title. It has a number of infirmities— the word "Parliament" and the word "Seanad," for instance.
I have talked to a couple of people about it, and I have had no better suggestion than that which Mr. Figgis mentioned here, that we should use the word "Dáil" instead of "Parliamentary," that is to say, "Dáil elections,""Dáil electors" that we have here actually recited in the title of the Bill. "Seanad" is used as an adjective —"Seanad franchises"—and if you would frame it so that the Bill might be reprinted with these changes, I would move that throughout the Bill where "Parliamentary Electors" is mentioned or "Parliamentary Elections" or "Parliamentary Franchises," the words "Dáil Electors,""Dáil Elections," and "Dáil Franchises" should be used.
That is to say, we will alter "Parliamentary" in the title and take the alteration throughout the Bill as consequential. In the title the words "Local Government" are deleted, and I take it that is agreed.
It might be a little more elegant, if only a word or two longer, to read, "To regulate the franchises of the Dáil and the Seanad." It is the same thing.
"The" will be deleted before Saorstát Eireann?
The title would now read, "An Act to regulate the Dáil and Seanad Franchises in Saorstát Eireann; to amend and consolidate the law relating to the conduct of Dáil elections, and to regulate the conduct of elections to the Seanad and of a Referendum and for other purposes connected therewith," leaving out the word "Parliamentary."
I think you would want to say "Elections to the Dáil" in that case.
Would it not be better to say "A law relating to the registration of electors and the conduct of elections to the Dáil and Seanad and of a Referendum?" You see, you would have "Conduct of Elections" twice.
I think that is obviously a correct amendment, or criticism, because we have deliberately excluded "Local Government Elections" from the whole scope of this Bill, and therefore if the title calls this "A Bill to Regulate Elections and the Elections to the Seanad," the title would go far beyond the scope of the Bill, and therefore I think it would have to read, "The conduct relating to the conduct of elections to the Dáil and the Seanad."
I think you must use the two phrases, because in one case you say, "Consolidating the law relating to the registration of voters," and it is also, I think, to amend and consolidate the law relating to the conduct of elections to the Dáil, and then, as regards the Seanad, it is, I think, a new thing.
I think it ought to read, "An Act to regulate the Dáil and Seanad franchises in Saorstát Eireann; to amend and consolidate the law relating to the registration of electors and the conduct of elections to Dáil Eireann and to regulate the conduct of elections to the Seanad and of a Referendum and for other purposes connected therewith."
If you use the term "Dáil Eireann," you must use the term "Seanad Eireann."
The title as amended, therefore would be, "An Act to regulate the Dáil and Seanad Franchises in Saorstát Eireann; to amend and consolidate the law relating to the registration of electors and the conduct of elections to Dáil Eireann and to regulate the conduct of elections to Seanad Eireann, and of a Referendum, and for other purposes connected therewith."