This amendment is brought forward so that the Seanad may have an opportunity of reconsidering the question which will arise if the amendment already adopted is finally inserted in the Bill. The effect of the amendment, it will be recollected, was to treat the age qualification as being effective on the date of the coming into force of the register instead of on the qualifying date which is six months earlier and which is the determining date for other qualifications and incapacities. In other words, an elector desiring to be registered would have to have attained the age of 21 on April 15th, and would therefore only be 20 years and some months on the qualifying date.
I have thought over the implications of Senator Douglas's amendment, not only, shall we say, from the legal point of view, but from the common sense point of view. Apart altogether from the advice given to me by the officers from the Department responsible for the franchise, I myself have again read the Electoral Act of 1923, and the Local Government Electoral Registration Act of 1924. I referred to the clauses of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, which still have legislative effect to-day, and as a person with some ordinary common sense knowledge of administration and business, I believe confusion will arise. I believe that the chances that confusion will arise are so great that I ask members of the Seanad to reconsider their original decision and to allow this matter to be considered separately on another occasion.
So far as purely legal considerations are concerned, I should like to put forward the following observations to the House. The method of preparing the register of electors ensures that the register will contain a list of all persons who were entitled to be registered on a fixed date previous to the coming into force of the register. This method has the merit of being definite and free from confusion.
If a qualifying date is fixed for some purposes, and in effect a different date is fixed for another purpose, the meaning and application of expressions in the rules are fundamentally altered, and the register will not be a list of persons entitled to be registered on the qualifying date, but will also be a list of persons, in addition, who became 21 between the qualifying date and the date of the coming into force of the register.
In regard to the law and rules governing the legislation which in turn sets up the register, these are contained in Part II of the Electoral Act, 1923, Sections 8-16, and also in Schedule I, Rules 1-40. The whole of this code was drafted on the assumption that a person in order to be entitled to be registered must be qualified and not subject to any incapacity whatever on the qualifying date. Now, there are other in capacities than those imposed by age, imprisonment under certain codes, and incapacity in regard to residence or the occupation of premises. Each of these rules would require detailed consideration to ensure that every provision inconsistent with the amendment would be modified. For example, a person who claims to be entitled to be registered in the course of the preparation of the register, and whose name is not entered in the lists may make a claim. The rule in connection with this would require to be varied so that a person who was not 21, but who would be 21 at a later date, can claim that he would be entitled at a later date.
Similarly, in the case of objection, if the lists contained the name of a person under 21, an objection may be made. An amendment would be necessary to ensure that an objection will not lie if the person will be 21 years of age at a future date before the 15th April. A preliminary examination of these rules shows that a redraft of the code and the orders made under these rules would be necessary. Any extensive amendment of rules in general use is objectionable and the cause of confusion. As the House knows, the Electoral Act has been amended in various respects, but we have managed to retain the rules governing the Dáil and the Local Government franchise, and having regard to every aspect of the matter it would be most undesirable to change these rules by shifting the dates in the registration procedure from one month to another.
The electoral law was consolidated in the Electoral Act of 1923 and the Local Government Electors Registration Act, 1924, except for the Local Government Franchise provisions which are contained in Sections 3, 4, 7, 10 and 44 of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, which still apply. Division III of the Register of Electors contains the names of persons who are registered as local government electors only, that is to say, people who have votes apart from their age qualifications, by virtue of the occupation of premises in a certain area at a certain date. There are about 10,000 such persons.
Most of the persons registered in Division III derive their qualification from the Act of 1918, that is a qualification from the occupation of premises for the period of six months ending on the qualifying date. The provisions of the Act of 1918 are to be interpreted in accordance with Section 41 of that Act, subject to the expressed provision of the Local Government Electors Registration Act of 1924, an Act which directs that the register of electors prepared under the Act of 1923, should also be a register of local government electors. In the application of Sections 3 and 4 of the Act of 1918, interpreted according to Section 41, and incorporated in the electoral code by the Act of 1924, as amended by the Bill now under consideration, a person's age for the purposes of Sections 3 and 4 will be taken to be that person's age at the end of the qualifying period of six months ending on the 15th of September, unless it could be held that the amendment to the Bill modifies or repeals Section 41, sub-section (7) of the Representation of the People Act, 1918.
I could not say what is the effect of the amendment. In order to clarify this somewhat complex matter, I should say that the Electoral Act of 1923 did not recodify the whole of the legislation affecting both local government and Dáil electors. Portion of the legislation derives from a British Act, and that Act clearly defines that the age factor is determined on the qualifying date and not on the date of the coming into force of the register. It immediately causes legal difficulties. It would require very great consideration, and looking at it with the common sense which I hope I have, I have come to the conclusion that it would reduce the electoral law to a state of confusion. Before we could possibly accept Senator Douglas's amendment, we would have to consider altering the first section of the 1923 Act in which the expression is used that a person who has attained the age of 21 is entitled to vote. An alteration would be required in the very first clause of the Act and we would immediately have to make the most elaborate investigation into the legal procedure governing the rules of registration and also governing the local government section of the register which is partly derived from a British Act and is not affected by the Act of 1923.
It seems inevitable that results like this will flow from this duality of qualifying dates, and it is clear that these complications will all be avoided if one day is taken for all these purposes to decide whether a person has the necessary qualifications, and a register made of the persons so found to be qualified, to come in force as soon thereafter as the practical considerations of time for preparation, inspection, correction, and printing will permit.
Again, putting this into simple language, one might say that although the Constitution provides that subject to any other disqualification imposed by law, people should vote at 21, in practice that should mean that they should vote as soon as possible after reaching the age of 21 and that there should not be any duality of principle whereby you take one date for one purpose, and another for another purpose, in determining a person's right to exercise the franchise or not. Since the Electoral Act was passed, many of its provisions have been repealed in order to give effect to constitutional provisions and to extend the franchise for local government elections and to make other changes which experience in administration have shown to be necessary.
The electoral law is again in need of codification for the convenience of those who have to carry out the law in relation to registration and elections, and some progress has already been made to that end. The idea underlying the amendment which has been inserted in the Bill is, I feel, one to be noted for consideration in relation to codification of our electoral legislation.
I want to say that I have no feeling of opposition to the principle of Senator Douglas's motion and if, without fear of causing confusion or of causing a doubt to arise in the minds of the electors, it is possible at a later date, when we recodify all our electoral legislation, to enable a person to vote after the coming into force of the register who is qualified under Senator Douglas's terms, I should be more than delighted to assist any person desiring to do it and I am sure this House would co-operate to that end.
I feel that a Bill which is passed by the House should contain all the amendments which may be consequential. The one operative section in the Bill which was sent to the Seanad proposes to change the qualifying date and the other provisions of the Bill contain the necessary consequential amendments. As I have explained, the amendment inserted in Committee involves changes in every expression of the law relating to franchise. The rules and statutory forms would also require to be revised and amended. The existing law and rules are clear and well-defined, but the amendment would make many of the provisions doubtful and ambiguous in meaning. I do not believe that the Seanad will finally insist on inserting an amendment to this effect. I suggest that Senator Douglas and those who supported him in the amendment rather desire to have the possibility of altering the law on the lines of the amendment considered at a convenient opportunity, such as would occur, as I have said, when we proceed to recodify the existing law.
Once more I should like to say that I believe there is a lot to be said for Senator Douglas's proposal. So long as we note for examination the intention of his amendment I believe the Minister for Local Government is going as far as he can, and I ask Senator Douglas to consider impartially what I have said, because I can assure the House that I am not accustomed to make complications in dealing with legislation or with matters referring to the law. I have not come here simply for the purpose of trying to raise a number of nebulous arguments against a principle with which I agree. But I would like to repeat that I have read the electoral law and taken the advice of an officer of the Department who has immense experience in these matters. I am absolutely convinced that this is not the time to introduce this principle, and that we should pass this Bill in its present form as a measures which did nothing but take the registration dates in connection with the register of electors, and advance them for a period of a few weeks for the administrative convenience of the people who prepare and print the Acts, and carry out the other purposes laid down in connection with the legislation.