I am sorry I was not able to table an amendment to this. It was only this morning that I received a letter suggesting that the Bill, as originally introduced, should be allowed to stand, and that sub-section (3) of clause 8 should be eliminated. The reason that they give for that is that it would entail a very considerable hardship upon a great many people living at a distance from the district where the conservators are to be elected if they are not allowed to vote by proxy.
SEANAD IN COMMITTEE. - FISHERIES BILL, 1925—COMMITTEE.
Do I understand you rightly to say that sub-section (3) was not in the Bill as originally introduced?
It was not. That is the sub-section that they ask me to call attention to. Hitherto persons were allowed to vote by proxy, and they are anxious that that privilege should be continued. The reason they give for it is this—they say that the people who live at a considerable distance will, in many cases, owing to the expense of attending in an out-of-the-way place, be unable to do so, and that it would be better if they were allowed to vote by proxy. If this sub-section is insisted on it will throw too much power into the hands of a few people belonging to the immediate neighbourhood. This is the whole argument in favour of proxy voting. I have been discussing this matter already with the Minister, and I think there is something to be said for it.
I do hope the Minister will not accept this amendment. This method of voting by proxy in the working of a board such as a board of conservators, who are expected to do their work well, is a stupid and antiquated method. How can they give an intelligent vote without hearing the argument for or against?
This only applies for election purposes.
It is not for the ordinary business.
Well, even for election purposes people are allowed votes on a financial basis. I think it is only reasonable they should come forward to record their votes. After all, an election is a very important thing in many respects, and you might as well allow voting by proxy for the Seanad elections as to allow it in this case. It is a bad and antiquated principle at best. I think the Bill is much better for having this sub-section in it.
I do not know what view the Minister takes of this question, but it has come on us rather by surprise. It is a rather difficult question. I was going to suggest that it would be better, perhaps, to leave it over till the Report Stage. I know that in cases that have come up in the courts it has been shown that the proxy system is liable to very great abuse. You can go around the country and gather proxies if there is a question coming before the Conservators, and we know that happened in curious cases in the West of Ireland which recently came before the courts. It is a system liable to great abuse. I think the Senators would like a little more time to think over this question rather than to vote on it to-day.
The abuses I understand you to refer to would not be covered by this at all. This is only in the case of an election.
The case of an election is important, because the whole policy of the Board of Conservators depends on the men elected. Every man who is licensed in the district has a right to vote by proxy. I know they go around the country and collect these proxies, and collect them very often from people who do not know the issues at stake. I would like time to think over which of those two systems is the best. At any rate, I think it would be better to decide the matter on Report.
I am willing that the matter should be postponed to the Report Stage.
I have no objection to that. Senator Brown has really touched the kernel of my objection to the proxy vote. As well as that, I have a kind of feeling that it is wrong in principle. There have been grave abuses in the past. In some cases these abuses have come into the law courts. A certain interested person collected these votes and cast them in favour of a particular candidate for election to the Board of Conservators, the candidate being pledged to maintain that person in his job or to give him a job. That undoubtedly happened in the past, and it would be difficult to prevent it happening in the future. In many cases, too, the proxy vote was the vote of an angler from across Channel, who was a bird of passage, who came to one district one year, and to another district another year. He could not be expected to have the same interest in the locality as the ordinary angler or fisherman resident in the district. I am opposed to reinserting the proxy vote in the Bill, but if the Seanad wishes to have it further discussed on Report I am willing to have it postponed.
It might be possible to provide some restrictions to prevent proxy voting being abused, for the principle might, in some cases I can conceive, be desirable, but, of course, it is open to abuse, and this abuse could be guarded against by restrictions. I take it that the matter stands over for Report?
Agreed that amendment be held over for consideration on Report.
Sections 8,9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
(1) Whenever during the term of office of any board of conservators the seat of any elected member of the board becomes vacant by death, resignation, incapacity, or disqualification, it shall be lawful for the other members of the board or such of them as shall be present by resolution duly passed at a meeting of the board to elect a person to be a member of the board during the residue of the term of office of the board in place of the member whose seat is so vacant.
(2) When the seat of any member of a board of conservators becomes vacant as aforesaid the other members of the board may until the vacancy is filled under this section continue to act notwithstanding such vacancy.
"In Section 11, sub-section (1) to add at the end of the sub-section the words 'Any such casual vacancy shall be filled at or before the second meeting of the Board after such vacancy occurs.'"
As the section stands at present it merely declares that it shall be lawful for the other members of the Board to fill up a casual vacancy. If it is not compulsory on them to do it within a certain time it is possible they will not do it at all, and if they do not do it some area in a district might be with-our representation, and its interests might not be properly protected by the Board. Meetings of the Board are held every two or three months, and it seems reasonable to me that they should fill up vacancies at least at the second meeting after the vacancy occurs.
You would make it compulsory on them to fill the vacancy at a certain time?
Yes, that they shall do it on or before the second meeting after the vacancy occurs.
My difficulty is that I feel that this amendment is only a pious resolution.
No, with great respect.
Where is the penalty?
It would then become a statutory duty, and you could compel them to do it. You could mandamus them.
The position would be the same with all public bodies. Once you say they shall do a certain thing, then if they do not do it the Executive have got their remedy. I think it would be very difficult to provide penalties against a whole board failing to fill up a casual vacancy. I do not think the Seanad would care for that, but if it is mandatory on them to do it, as it would, according to the amendment, then the Executive would have the duty carried out.
I would like to consult with the draftsman on the matter as there may be difficulties about it. It is not easy to get suitable candidates to go forward. Suppose that at the second meeting of the board there was a bare quorum, and the members at that meeting felt that it would be better for them to have a fuller meeting before they filled the vacancy, I think it is desirable that there should be a full meeting for the purpose of filling the vacancy. I do not like to make it obligatory, and I do not like to tie them down.
My experience is that if there is an election there will be a full meeting.
If it is an election for a paid position I agree, but where it is a case of a member of a board acting in a voluntary capacity it is a different matter.
You would be satisfied, Senator, if there was a provision to the effect that any such casual vacancies shall be filled in a reasonable time?
There are two or three months between their meetings, and this would give them practically six months to elect a member. Boards of conservators have communicated with me that they are anxious that this should be done.
This section gives conservators the right to strike a rate on fisheries, and there is no limit to that rate. There should be a limit to the rate to which people would be liable. The rate might be far in excess of the rate in the district under the county council rating. I suggest to add at the end of the first sub-section the words: "That such rate shall not exceed the rate per £ imposed by the county council for the same district."
This is a novel type of opposition to this section. In the Dáil the chief opposition to the section was that the conservators being fishery owners—it is an argument that I did not agree with—would be put in the position of striking out the rate altogether. Senator Kenny's suggestion is that the conservators may strike a rate far in excess of the local rate. I think that does not hold. All rates struck by the boards are subject to sanction by the Minister for the time being. The Minister can pass or modify them, either by way of increase or reduction. The boards put forward annually to the Department of Fisheries a statement as to what their requirements will be. They will be required by the Department to strike a rate sufficient to carry on the business of conserving the fisheries in their locality. I do not think there is the slightest danger of a rate being struck that will be excessive, any more than I believe that the rate struck will be too little. The Department will have sufficient control to see that an equitable rate is struck.
Where does it get that control?
Sub-section 2 of Section 13.
(2) Every rate struck by a board of conservators under this section shall be subject to confirmation by the Minister who may confirm the same either without modification or with such modification (whether by way of increase or reduction) as he shall think proper.
Under the old system there was a safeguard by which the fisheries could not be rated for more than the average rate in the district. Why should a particular class of ratepayers be subject to a variation of this kind? I think the principle is wrong.