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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 Nov 1942

Vol. 88 No. 19

Expiring Laws Bill, 1942—Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill is a hardy annual, which is generally introduced about this time of the year. This year's Bill is slightly shorter than usual. It is necessary that it be enacted before the end of the calendar year. The Bill proposes to continue for a further year the statutes set out in Parts I and II of the Schedule. The Schedule differs from the Schedule in last year's Act in the following respects:—The Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923, and the Poor Relief (Dublin) Act, 1929, are omitted, as they have been repealed by the Public Assistance Act, 1939, which is now in force. Again, a new Act appears in Part II of the Schedule, namely, the Local Government Act, 1941. Section 65 of this Act, which expires on the 31st December, 1942, relates to temporary borrowing by local authorities for current expenditure, and it is desired to continue it for a further period, pending consideration of a comprehensive Bill dealing with borrowing by local authorities.

As the Schedule differs from the 1941 Schedule in these respects only, and as it is necessary to effect every possible economy in the use of paper, the customary explanatory memorandum has not been circulated to all Deputies. Of the eight Acts appearing in the Schedule, provision has already been made for the repeal of the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing) Act, 1925, when the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing) Act, 1939, comes into operation. It may not be possible, however, owing to the emergency, to give effect to the 1939 Act before the 1st January next, and it is necessary to continue the 1925 Act for a further period.

A Rent Restrictions Bill is at present being prepared, and the Minister for Justice hopes to introduce it as soon as possible. It will not be enacted before the end of this year, and in the meantime it is necessary to continue for a further period the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923. The position regarding the remaining Acts is being reviewed, to consider whether legislation could be introduced to give permanence to them in the form of amended Acts, but any such legislation is thought not to be feasible at present.

We have been favoured by the Minister, or some of the Departments concerned, with an explanatory note regarding this measure. Item No. 6 is rather interesting. It says: "A Rent Restrictions Bill is at present being prepared, and the Minister for Justice hopes to introduce it as soon as possible. It may not be enacted before the end of this year." Why not get to the point and say that it will not be enacted before the end of this year?

I did not say that it may not be enacted, I said it will not be.

Then the memorandum is wrong.

It is rather interesting to note that the measure, whenever it will appear, apparently succeeds a report by a tribunal which was set up in 1936 and took five years and 16 days to report.

That is right.

And reported then in a rather unusual style—there was an agreed report from four members and a separate report from each of the four.

This Bill proposes to continue certain Acts which are regarded as either of a temporary nature or as dealing with matters of duration in respect of which it is not possible to produce some amending legislation. I have not had time to look up some of these hoary Acts—the Parliamentary Elections Act, 1868 or the Corrupt Practices Commission Expenses Act, 1869—but I observe from the memorandum issued in connection with this Bill that they are being continued pending revision of the whole law relating to election petitions. In that connection, I would like to refer to one or two matters governing the question of elections which, I think, are not dealt with in the Corrupt Practices Commission Expenses Act, 1869.

Our whole legislation in respect of elections is rather archaic. There is need for the application of modern thought to the manner in which elections should be carried out and the responsibility of the State to ensure that they are conducted in a manner which shows efficiency and good citizenship. The Electoral Act takes no note of parties, and the underlying assumption is that each citizen is invited to vote. Parliamentary Parties think it wise and advantageous to the electors to notify them of their number on the register and where they are entitled to vote. There are elections only every four or five years, and if people are likely to move between one election and another, it is obviously an advantage to the elector to know his number on the register and where he is entitled to vote. That seems to me to be no part of the job of a Parliamentary Party, because Parliamentary Parties are not provided for in the Electoral Acts at all, and if there were no Parliamentary Parties—if we could imagine such a concept of life—there would be no one to do that kind of job. Of course, the Taoiseach, as a member of a political Party, does it or assents to its being done, and is anxious that it should be done. No doubt, in any constituency, it is regarded as an important function in regard to an election.

I suggest to the Tánaiste that the returning officer should have placed on him the responsibility of notifying each elector as to his number on the register and the particular polling booth in which he is entitled to vote. That is not work which brings any great advantage to a political Party. If it is not done, it may well bring disadvantages to a political Party, as the underlying assumption of that assistance to the elector is that he will be thankful to the Party that notifies him of his rights in this respect. I suggest to the Tánaiste that serious consideration should be given to the question of putting the obligation on the returning officer to notify the elector of his number and polling booth.

There is another matter that might be dealt with in this connection. The whole method of providing transport during elections is of very considerable importance. We have experience of what has happened here.

I am afraid these things do not come under the Bill that we are discussing.

I speak subject to correction, but I have an idea that the Corrupt Practices Commission Expenses Act, 1869——

These details are not in order on an Expiring Laws Bill.

The Tánaiste is continuing a Bill and saying he has a matter under review, and I am hoping that, when he is reviewing——

I may be wrong, but I think all we are entitled to discuss is whether an Act should be continued or not.

It is obvious that, if the merits of every Act on the Schedule, and the administration thereof, were to be discussed, we would have a prolonged debate. There are no opportunities of amendment on this Bill, other than to drop an Act or continue an Act that is being dropped. The question at issue is whether or not an Act should be continued. Administration does not arise. It arises on an Estimate, on a substantive motion or upon a Minister's Vote. If legislation is promised, it is anticipating legislation to discuss in detail prospective legislation.

I submit that it is in order to point out——

It is in order to state why an Act should or should not be continued.

Surely it is permissible to point out—as has been permitted on each previous occasion—the shortcomings of the Act which it is proposed to continue?

The Chair has no recollection of the shortcomings being discussed at length by any Deputy.

Has the Ceann Comhairle ever heard of combined purchasing being discussed on the Expiring Laws Bill?

I do not recollect it.

Also, the Rent Restrictions Act has always kept a prominent place on these occasions. However, I do not want to go into any great detail.

I am not objecting.

I thought the Minister would be with me on this matter, but how long he will be with me is another matter.

Not very far, probably.

There is another aspect of the elections question—that of providing transport. It is desirable that citizens should vote, and some countries make a virtue of saying that they compel their citizens to vote under penalty of fine. We should give the maximum possible assistance to voters. Quite a considerable number of citizens are unable to vote because of the long distances from their residences to the polling booths.

Could the Deputy show how such provision could be made in this Bill?

Again speaking from recollection, I think there is a limitation by which a candidate for election cannot spend more than 5d. or 7d. per head of the elector. If I were a candidate in an election and spent, on the provision of cars, a sum which subsequently worked out at 9d. per head instead of 5d. or 7d., I would be guilty of a corrupt practice.

But there is no opportunity for amending that in this Bill.

I submit again, Sir, that the shortcomings of various Acts may be mentioned.

Of every Act scheduled?

I would suggest that, Sir, while I do not propose to do it.

Other Deputies may. Is it suggested that every Act scheduled may be discussed?

We are all different citizens and I have no interest in some of the Acts. If the Minister is going to consider the scope of these Acts, he should give consideration to the question of putting the obligation on the returning officer to provide transport for voters in outlying areas. In other words, we believe that, as citizenship entails the exercise of the franchise, it should not be the job of a political Party, but the job of the State, to provide transport, as it provides returning officers, poll clerks and schoolhouses or other buildings in which votes can be recorded. We would considerably improve the whole method of voting if we were to do these simple things, which would not involve any wasteful type of national expenditure. This work is at present done by political Parties in a haphazard way and in a way which leaves a political Party or candidate open to a possible charge of corruption, because the candidate with the cheques can, obviously, spend more than the Party which has not the cheques. The Minister, in examining corrupt practices in connection with elections, should consider the making of these phases of election activity a charge on State funds.

The Minister for Finance could not do that

Perhaps some other Minister for Finance will do it.

Neither of them could do it under this Bill. New legislation would be required.

I want to refer to the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923. Nobody, except perhaps a rapacious landlord, can pretend to be satisfied with the present position in respect of the Increase of Rent Act. The whole Act is completely out of date. It was passed in 1923 and even that Act was an amendment of an earlier Act. The restrictions in respect of rent do not apply to houses built within the past 25 years. The only houses caught by this Act are those built before World War No. 1. Potential tenants of houses can be mulcted in any way landlords like. It may be asked: "Why do they take the houses?" When there is a shortage of goods or services or shelter, people are prepared to pay prices which they should not, in conscience, be required to pay. They pay those prices only because of the scarcity. We should have a new code in respect of rent-restriction. The Government has had a report on this subject for a considerable time. This report represented the labours of a commission for five years and something should be done to expedite the introduction of a new rent-restriction Bill which would ensure to each tenant —not merely the tenant in occupation before world war No. 1 but tenants who have taken up residence since then or who are occupying newly-built houses or about to occupy houses being built to-day—sufficient protection. The Minister should, as a member of the Cabinet, exercise his influence to secure that there will be no further delay in introducing an amending Bill. It is long overdue and, because of the delay, many people are being forced to pay rents which are exorbitant owing to the famine for houses.

I completely disagree with Deputy Norton in his remarks about the Electoral Act. One of the great failings of democracy is the tendency to spoon-feeding electors. This spoon-feeding has proceeded to an undesirable degree. It should not be the duty of a returning officer to notify an elector of his number. If an elector will not take the trouble to ascertain what his number is, he is not of much service to the community. As regards transport, I think that it would be a good thing if it were made clear that no transport would be provided at general elections. So far as I know the law, it is illegal to provide transport so as to bring voters to the polling booths, but the law has never been enforced in that respect. It has been recognised that, so long as the candidate himself does not hire the car but leaves that to somebody else, he is quite safe. If there is to be any conception of citizenship in the country, I suggest to the Minister that he should not go far along the road indicated by Deputy Norton. The farther away we keep from inducing people, by this sort of spoon-feeding, to do what they should have sufficient citizenship to do for themselves, the better. A lot can be said for the system of compulsory voting, which obtains in other countries. I would not fine a person for failing to vote, as is done in other countries. If a person did not choose to exercise the franchise, and was without sufficient excuse, such as ill-health, for his failure. I would deprive him of the franchise for a period of ten years.

Last year, when this Bill was before the House, I protested against the inclusion of the Rent Restrictions Act. I thought that, during the past 12 months, the Minister would have seen fit to introduce an amending Bill. He has not done so. The original Act was passed in the year 1923. The only serious amendments to that Act were made by the Act of 1926, though a few minor amendments were made in later Acts. Since 1926, there have been decisions by the courts which have inflicted, and are inflicting, very great hardships on both landlord and tenant. That is common case with everybody who has investigated the matter. These hardships have existed for a great number of years. I am not so much concerned with future legislation, as envisaged in this explanatory note which has been sent around, as I am with the necessity for tackling the situation which has arisen as a result of these various decisions. I do not intend to go into that in detail. These matters fall under, at least, a dozen headings and they continue to cause great hardship. I was very disappointed during the past year that there was not an amending Bill dealing with this code. A very short measure would have been sufficient to deal with the points to which I am referring and of which the Minister is probably aware.

With regard to the question raised by Deputy Norton as to transport in connection with elections, I am not in agreement with his view. It is well that citizens should do everything possible themselves to exercise their rights and duties as citizens. They should vote at Parliamentary elections without being fetched to the booths. I agree with what Deputy Linehan has said. I should be in favour of bringing some pressure to bear on the public with a view to inducing them to carry out their duty and vote at elections. It is deplorable that, in some cases, a quota and, in other cases, a quota and a half of electors have abstained from voting. That does not seem to be right. Anything which would disabuse the public mind of the idea that electors should be brought to the poll in motor cars would be a good thing. I should like to see various other reforms, including the abolition of canvassing, if possible. A candidate has already sufficient ways of placing his views before the public.

In this country particularly, owing to the circumstances here with the system of proportional representation, I think we should try to get away as much as possible from the old idea and try to make the citizens think out these things for themselves and force them to do these things for themselves. I do not agree with Deputy Norton in his contention that greater facilities should be given to bring people to the polls. In country districts where old and infirm people live they should be brought to the polls by their neighbours, just as they are brought to Mass on Sundays. Generally, I think it would be a very good thing to discourage the idea that people should be brought to the polls in motor cars.

So far as being told where they are to go for voting purposes is concerned, that is another matter. I think there is something to be said for that. I have known cases where persons have not known to what particular booth they should go for the purpose of voting. I do not refer particularly to any election in which I was personally concerned. But in elections in previous times they were not in a position to know where they should go. As we are now facing a situation when within the next few months we must have an election in this country, I think, having regard to the fact that it was usually the practice for motor cars to be used to a large extent, that there should be a greater number of booths provided at more suitable distances. If such a scheme were adopted, I think it should be made generally known through the country at the earliest opportunity so that people can acclimatise themselves to the fact that a change has been made in order to ensure that the people will get a proper opportunity of voicing their opinions at the coming election. I am afraid I strayed a little bit away from the matter before the House.

Some details of administration. However, I suppose it was an interesting topic.

As Minister for Finance I am not, in that capacity at any rate, concerned with any part of the legislation set out in the Schedule. As a matter of fact, I do not know why I have charge of this Bill at all. Perhaps it is because I am a soft person and take anything that is handed to me. When I was in Local Government I used to deal with this Bill, too, and perhaps that is the reason it has been passed on to me.


That is right. In fact, there is nothing in the two Acts dealing with elections mentioned in this Bill—the Parliamentary Elections Act and the Corrupt Practices Commission Expenses Act—having any relation to any of the matters that have been discussed. They only refer to the trial of election petitions and the expenses of commissions set up in connection with election petitions. That is the sum total of the subjects dealt with in these two Acts. However, the matters mentioned are naturally matters of interest to all of us, and probably of some interest to the public as well. I would go a little bit of the road with the Leader of the Labour Party. As he rather suggested, I would go some part of the road with him, but not very far. I would go so far as to suggest that perhaps it would be a wise thing for either the State or the local authority to send to each elector a note at some time or another with the name of his polling booth and his electoral number. That perhaps could be done when the rate collector is serving his rate notices. Something of that kind might be arranged.

As to the other suggestion about transport for election purposes, I do not think that is the duty either of the State or the local authority. Voting is a duty as well as a privilege, and I think a person ought to be encouraged to regard it as a solemn duty to record his vote and to get to the poll, however he gets there. I think Deputy Linehan is right in suggesting that too much spoon-feeding is very bad. People should be encouraged and educated to regard this as a very solemn duty and responsibility and encouraged to get to the poll in whatever way they can. The lame, the halt, and the blind should have it borne in upon them that they are neglecting a solemn duty if they do not go out to vote. At present there is rivalry between political Parties and, if they help, that is their own affair. The public may benefit, but I do not think the State ought to be asked to go that far. As to the question of the polling booths, the name of the booth and the place and the number, I never heard it suggested before that the State or the local authority ought to do that, but I think it is worth consideration. Perhaps if the Minister for Justice or the Minister for Local Government were considering legislation in regard to this matter a way might be found to do something of that kind.

I think there is a great deal of foundation for the criticism which has been expressed about the rent restrictions Acts, but I think everybody agrees that it is a frightfully difficult matter to deal with. The last tribunal which discussed that as well as other matters sat an unconscionably long time and took a long time to furnish their report. But their excuse was that there was hardly anything more difficult in connection with legislation. I think the Minister has not the report more than about a year. He has had a pretty full year with other legislation. He did hope to have a Bill introduced before the end of this year. He has not succeeded, but he has hopes of having it introduced early in the new year. I do not know what it will be like when it is introduced, but I do know that it certainly will not satisfy everybody—it would be a miracle if it did. At any rate, he expects to have legislation ready early in the new year to deal with the rent restrictions Acts.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take the remaining stages now.
Bill put through Committee without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I want to make a brief reply to Deputy Linehan. He says that we should not spoon-feed electors. That seems to be using a phrase which has no application whatever to electors. What do we do for electors? The electors, probably with more truth, might say that they spoon-feed those they elect. I never met an elector who felt that he was spoon-fed by the Legislature in the matter of elections. My concern in raising both these matters —I am glad the Minister has sympathy with one of them—is to try to put the thing on a basis of equality as between political Parties. In my own constituency I have seen very wealthy families turn out in a £1,500 limousine, on a holyday, to aid a particular Party.

Is the Deputy sure of the value?

You have only to look at them to see that. I know well that these cars were only being utilised by the political Party to which the owner gave allegiance. Even if you are as blind as a bat, or if you are legless, that car will be used only for the purpose of serving the ends of the political Party on whose behalf it is put into the field on that day.

Are you sure that everybody that was carried voted the way the owner of the car wanted?

I hope I have a lot of intelligent supporters there, who managed to get over these difficulties, but that was not due to any special desire on the part of the owner of the car to facilitate them.

I would ask the Deputy to be brief. It was the Deputy who raised the matter, though the Act in question refers to election petitions.

Perhaps we may assume, from what Deputy Linehan said, that at the next election the Fine Gael Party will abandon the practice of using cars for election purposes, and that we will not see a single car used on behalf of that Party to transport their supporters to the polls; but while we might assume that, according to Deputy Linehan's point of view, we will probably have Deputies Cosgrave and Mulcahy saying: "Let us carry on the same old game; let us get the cars and carry on the same as usual."

Perhaps the Deputy will tell us where we will be able to get them.

Question put and agreed to.