Section 1 is the existing law except that the publication of a false statement of the withdrawal of a candidate for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of another candidate is made a corrupt practice.
[DAIL IN COMMITTEE.] - PREVENTION OF ELECTORAL ABUSES BILL, 1923.
I beg to move: "In Sub-section (3), (b), lines 38 and 39, to delete all from the word `for' to the word `candidate' inclusive."
There is not, perhaps, a great deal in this point, but under the Proportional Representation elections a false statement which may be made regarding the withdrawal of a candidate may be just as false, just as harmful, although it may not be made for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of another candidate. You may have a rota of 10 or 12 names on a list, and someone may publish false statements that A.B. has withdrawn. Certainly the chances of the other 11 are increased by the withdrawal of one, but there is no special point towards any other individual candidate on the list. It seems that this phrase might apply quite satisfactorily to the elections under the old method, but it hardly fits the new method of Proportional Representation.
I accept the amendment. I think it strengthens the Clause.
Section 2 is practically the existing law except that there is a Clause preventing the inducing of voters to vote in a particular way. That was not necessary before the introduction of Proportional Representation. It is now necessary, otherwise it is the existing law.
We had better take it section by section.
Sections 3, 4, and 5 are the existing law.
In Section 6 the penalties apply to summary jurisdiction, as it was thought that there would be great certainty of conviction than trial by indictment. It provides a minimum penalty for impersonation, and extends the qualification for registration to the Local Government Franchise.
I move in Sub-section (1), line 16, to delete the words "other than treating or undue influence," and in lines 19 to 22 to delete all from the word "or" to the word `election," inclusive.
It seems to me there is no good reason for making an exception to this particular form of corrupt practice.
I accept the amendment.
Section 8 is practically the existing law, except that there is not the maximum limit.
Section 9 is the existing law.
Sections 11, 12, 13 and 14 are the existing law, except on Section 12 the law extends to include a Referendum and the Seanad elections.
I beg to move as an amendment in Sub-section (2) to delete the words "if such election was a Dáil election" and also to delete the words "if such election was a Seanad election," and further to delete the words "in either case." The sub-section would then read if the amendments were made:—
"(2) Whenever an Election Court reports that any illegal practice has been proved to have been committed in reference to an election to either House of the Oireachtas by any agent of a candidate at such election that candidate shall be incapable of being elected to or being a member of Dáil Eireann during the continuance of that Oireachtas and shall be incapable of being elected to or being a member of Seanad Eireann before the next triennial elections thereto and if he has been elected his election shall be void."
The position of the agent seems to me to be immaterial. If it had been an election to the Dáil, then if there is any disqualification it ought to apply to the other House as well. To say that a man is unfit or incompetent to be a member of the Dáil because his agent has committed a corrupt practice within his knowledge, but that he may be a member of the Seanad is not complimentary to the Seanad, or vice versa.
I accept the amendment.
I beg to move Section 22, which strengthens the existing law to some extent by forbidding the personating agent to leave the booth except with the permission of the Presiding Officer, and in compelling him to leave his notes and registers behind him when he does leave the booth.
In this Section is provided the machinery whereby agents may be appointed to detect and prevent personation at a referendum. It is felt that owing to the prevalence that personation has attained in this country, some steps should be made to enlist people, who may be interested, either for or against any measure, as personating agents to prevent the actual result of the election being falsified, as it might be, by personation, which would be likely to occur if it simply depended on the Returning Officer acting. We know, in many cases, the Returning Officer would not have any great interest, and might not have even a partisan interest, which we would hope to utilise under this section, and that in most cases a Returning Officer would take no action whatever in the matter, no matter to what extent personation was going on. We feel that political parties or groups of individuals interested in a Bill might be able to appoint personating agents in their own area, with the result that you would secure a truer return.
I beg to move Amendment No. 4, which is to delete the Section, and to substitute therefor the following new Section:—
"Whenever a Referendum is demanded under Section 47 of the Constitution, the Returning Officer in each constituency may appoint personation agents, and agents to attend the counting of the votes in the constituency, in such number as he thinks necessary, and every person so appointed shall enjoy the same rights and privileges and be subject to the same obligations as a person appointed for the like purpose by a candidate at a Dáil Election enjoys or is subject to."
The plan in the Bill seems to me to be unworkable and not fit for the purpose of achieving the object that the Referendum is supposed to achieve. The intention in the Bill is that whenever a Referendum is demanded the Dáil may appoint a person to be sponsor, and if the Referendum is demanded by a vote in the Seanad the Seanad may appoint the challenger. If the Referendum is demanded by a petition, and the petition is made by a person or a body of persons purporting to act for them they appoint a person to be the challenger of the Bill. Now, if you take paragraph (c) in the section the method there is by popular demand, and it is by a petition that the Referendum is called for; it is as likely as not that more than one body of persons, organised or unorganised, would be interested in the motion of the petition, but under the Bill the body of persons or the person so purporting to have authority to act shall appoint the person to be the challenger. There it seems to me you will have to have another election to decide from all these petitioners who is to be the challenger, or alternatively the Minister will have to decide for the petitioners who is to be the challenger. It may be a Bill in which the Minister is interested, and he is to select a person from among the many persons or bodies who may be interested in promoting the petition—he is to select who is to be the challenger. That, I think, is not satisfactory, and may be found to be unworkable.
The Dáil is to appoint a person to be a sponsor to the Bill. That is to say that a majority of the Dáil, which in its turn means the Government of the day, will appoint a person. That, I think, is not satisfactory in view of the intentions of the Constitution regarding a Referendum. For the appointment of a sponsor for the Bill to be a political appointment, in effect, a Party appointment, for a Bill which may not be a Party Bill or may be a Party Bill, and that may not be a Bill promoted by a Party, seems to me to cause a difficulty. I think the proposal in the amendment fits the requirements of the case much better than the proposal in the Bill. The idea is to consider a Referendum rather as an official procedure, removing it as far as possible from Party conflict, and to treat the procedure of taking a Referendum as in all respects an official procedure. The Government or Minister of the day will have the appointment of the Returning Officer through the ordinary processes, and there is no good reason that I know of why that Returning Officer should not be authorised to appoint officials to act as personation agents and to have the powers of the personation agents which would be given in the case of an ordinary Dáil election. It is unlikely, judging by the experience of most countries, that in the case of a Referendum the same kind of machinery will be brought into operation. It is unlikely that anything like the full proportion of votes that we usually experience at a Dáil or Parliamentary election would be brought into effect at a Referendum, and the method of checking the voting by official personation agents would be quite effective enough, especially with the new powers that the Bill itself gives to the presiding officer, and I think it is much more in harmony with the general idea of a Referendum. I therefore beg to move my amendment.
I am sorry I cannot accept the amendment. The proposal in the amendment was set down as one of the devices that was considered when the Bill was being drawn up. It was felt from our experience in the matter that such machinery as is proposed in the amendment would really result in an expenditure of money without any result. The Presiding Officer is an official person who gets a certain fee for acting as Presiding Officer in the booth. We know from past experience that Presiding Officers have really very seldom shown any inclination to do more than the mechnical work they are appointed to do, and that they do not desire to see anything which they can well avoid seeing, so as not to incur displeasure on the part of anybody by pulling them up if necessary. The Presiding Officer is a man who, perhaps, holds the position of school teacher in an area. He is paid five guineas for his day, and all he wants to do is to earn his five guineas by incurring as little displeasure as possible. If a personation agent were appointed he would be simply duplicating the offices of the Presiding Officer and the Poll Clerk. An official personation agent would not, we believe, stop personation, and would not take any steps to do it. An official personation agent would simply be a third man put there at the cost of the State who would do no more than the Presiding Officer or the Poll Clerk to stop personation. As regards attending at the Court, as the personation agent would have power to do under this amendment if passed, there is not much use, we think, in asking the Returning Officer to appoint a person to watch himself. We feel that if there is to be any good at all in appointing personation agents they must not be appointed officially, and we must not simply create a certain amount of patronage that might be distributed by the Returning Officer. We think that this is a thing which should be done voluntarily by people interested for or against the Bill, and that that is the only possible way in which you could get any results from the appointment of personation agents. If the State were to make these appointments the cost to it would not be negligible. There will be something like five thousand polling stations in the country, and you would probably pay three guineas or so a day to the official personation agents. That would be over £15,000 paid for, I believe, practically no results at all. I quite agree that it might be better to change the provisions of the Bill so far as they affect the case where the Referendum is demanded by petition. It might be difficult to decide who ought to have the power of appointing personating agents on behalf of those opposed to the Bill. It is not to be taken that the Government of the day will appoint a representative of the Dáil in the matter. I think myself that if a Referendum were demanded on the Charitable Hospitals Bill that this Dáil would scarcely allow the Government to appoint a person to act on behalf of the Dáil in the matter. If the Bill itself were a Party Bill, if it were a Government Bill that was being challenged, there is no reason why the Government in that case should not virtually appoint a person who would look after the Bill in the country. But where it was not a Party Bill, where it was some sort of measure as to which there was general agreement, there would be no reason in that case why there should not be a free vote of the Dáil. As a matter of fact, the Government of the day would probably be very anxious to appoint somebody who was outside their own group, to bring other interests and other organisations, if possible, into making the machinery as perfect as possible. It would be very difficult to be sure how this machinery that is proposed in the Bill will work. It is rather experimental. If it proves to be unnecessary, if there is no great amount of personation at Referenda, then I think the whole thing would automatically fall into disuse or almost complete disuse because of the fact that it is voluntary. If you appoint official personating agents, even if it were clear that there was no need for them and that little personation went on, there would be a sort of vested interest, and there would be a number of people in favour of continuing the whole business. When it is voluntary, when there will be no money going for it, I think if it proves to be unnecessary it will very quickly fall into disuse, and the actual provisions can then be repealed. It is a thing that is experimental, it is a thing that we feel, because of the great extent to which personation has been practised, that we ought to provide a penalty at this stage. We could imagine Bills that might affect a fairly wealthy interest, which would expend money in organising personation, and if no machinery existed except official machinery, I am very much afraid that the Referendum would not show the true feelings of the people on the matter ter. If by the penalties in this Bill dealing with personation at elections we were to eradicate the taste that has grown up for it, then, of course, there will not be much danger of it being resorted to at Referenda.
Can the Minister say what the experience has been in other countries which have adopted the Referendum, whether the check upon corrupt practices is generally carried out by private organisations or officials?
My information is that so far as Referenda are concerned, what checking is done is done officially, and that there is no great personation there. We feel that there is a special danger here.
I beg to move:—
In Sub-section (1) (c), lines 33 to 35, to delete all from the words "the Petitioners" to the word "them," inclusive, and to substitute therefor the words: "the members of Dáil Eireann or the members of Seanad Eireann upon whose demand the Bill was suspended in accordance with Article 47 of the Constitution may."
The purpose of the amendment is that the members of Dáil Eireann or the members of Seanad Eireann, upon whose demand the Bill was suspended in accordance with Article 47 of the Constitution, may appoint a person to be challenger of the Bill. The intention, it will be seen, is to limit the number of people whose opinion is to be found. As I have already said, there may be very great difficulty in selecting a challenger of the Bill from amongst a heterogeneous body of petitioners which may be collected from all parts of the country on all kinds of different issues by different means. The proposal in the amendment would give the right to appoint a challenger to those members of the Dáil or Seanad who demanded the suspension of the operation of the Bill pending a Referendum being taken. I think it is very practicable, and I hope the Minister will accept it.
I will accept the amendment, because I see that the arrangement provided in the Bill would lead to difficulties.
Section 24 limits the number of persons who may attend the local Seanad count. This is necessary, as if there were 45 persons, one representing each candidate, it might not be possible to accommodate them.
Section 25 is the existing law, except that it gives a constable power to arrest without being directed to do so.
Section 26 is the existing law, but where an arrest is made by direction of the Returning Officer, without malice, it will not involve penalties, even if it turns out not to have been justified.
Sections 27 to 37, inclusive, are the existing law.
Section 38 deals with the question of a member of the Dáil sitting without having sent in any return of election expenses. The common informer penalty has been removed, and the prosecution is at the suit of the Attorney-General.
Section 40 provides that notice shall be published stating where a return of expenses can be inspected.
Section 41 gives power to Seanad candidates to appoint election agents.
Under Section 42 Seanad candidates are not given power to appoint personating agents. It was felt that if a Seanad candidate were, for instance, to appoint a personating agent or two in each of the 5,000 polling booths, that the appointments might carry him in and might lead to the election not being carried on on the lines it was desired that it should be conducted. There is also the fact that it would be impossible to allow each candidate to appoint a personating agent at the polling booth. There could not possibly be 45, as there would not be accommodation for more than three or four people in a number of places where the polling booths will be situated.
What then is the intention regarding the personation agents? Does this reference to agent include personating agent?
Not personating agent. Sub-section (2) says: "Nothing in this Act or in the Electoral Act, 1923, shall be deemed to authorise a candidate at a Seanad election or the agent of any such candidate to appoint a deputy agent, sub-agent, or personation agent."
Does not that nullify the argument the Minister has just used? If a candidate is a very wealthy man he can buy enough support by appointing personating agents in every constituency. I take it that a candidate who had support widely distributed through the country could appoint a personating agent in every constituency.
It expressly says he shall not appoint them.
Then what is the check upon personation in the case of a Seanad election?
That is one of the difficulties we were up against, and we felt, on the whole, that we would let the section stand. There would be 45 candidates, and you could only have a few represented anywhere. You could not have the same sort of eagle eye on likely personators or supporters of a particular candidate who were being personated, as would be the case if there were a much smaller number of candidates. It was felt, as there will be a Dáil election before a Seanad election, that perhaps personation will have been given some check at the next election. There will be a smaller number of voters on the Seanad ticket, and there will be, we think, a great deal less interest in the Seanad election. There will be less likelihood of spontaneous personation, and in weighing up the matter it was thought that we might leave the election open, as one might say. We could only have imperfect representation of candidates for the purpose of checking personation. It would be undesirable to allow candidates to get influence over a wide area of country in which they might not be known at all by the mere device of appointing a special agent for each polling station and a personation agent for each booth. Personation was, we feel, not so likely at all in the case of the Seanad elections, because, you see, everybody cannot go up. Nomination is only open to certain classes of people who are chosen either by the Dáil or by the Seanad, and we feel that personation was a great deal less likely than in the case of a Dáil election, or even in the case of a Referendum, and as we could not think of any special way to represent each candidate for the purpose of preventing personation, and as there were objections to appointing a large number of agents by candidates who might only be known in a small area, and would only have proper reason for the appointment of personation agents in a small area, it would be better to leave the matter in the Bill without any personation agent. It is not a matter on which I feel very strongly, but I think that, in the circumstances, what is in the Bill is, perhaps, the best thing to be done. I would be quite open to conviction on the matter.
There is a good deal of force in what the Minister says about the difficulties, but the arguments he has used rather convince me that the suggestion made respecting the taking of a Referendum and the appointment of personation agents for a Referendum apply at least as strongly to a Seanad election. The Seanad election of the future will, I think, be taken seriously by some people. In twelve years' time the Seanad will be entirely an elected body, and their powers will be considerable. If there is any necessity at all for a check upon personation at any election, it seems to be required for a Seanad election at least as much as for the voting on a Referendum, and if the provisions regarding the appointment of personating agents at a Referendum are considered satisfactory by the Minister, I think that they ought to be made applicable to an election for the Seanad. More strongly, I think, the arguments the Minister has used point to the necessity of having official personation agents in the case of a Seanad election, persons selected, not by the Returning Officer, who may be a local man with, perhaps, local interests, but appointed, let us say, by the Minister himself. But the local influences that surround a Dáil election will not apply even to a Referendum or a Seanad election, it seems to me, and it seems that there will be no need at either of those two forms of election for personation agents, if they are required at all. I think that there ought to be some means of checking and having somebody in the polling booth who would be responsible for noting the attempted personators. Perhaps the Minister will consider the wisdom of adding to this section some machinery or some adaptation of that which he has embodied with regard to the Referendum, or the proposal to appoint official personation agents for Seanad elections, which will only take place in every three years.
To tell the truth, I was really to some extent keeping an open mind on the matter until I had heard what the Seanad itself had to say. There is just one thing about it that I did not mention. There will be a Police Constable or a Civic Guard in the booth, and he will have power in future to arrest on his own initiative if he thinks that personation is being done. By the time there is a Seanad election the members of the Civic Guard will probably have as good a knowledge of the people in their respective districts as they are likely to have, and a good deal more knowledge than they have at present, or than they will have when the General Election takes place. It is possible that to some extent they would act as official personation agents. Certainly they are the only people who would be likely to arrest on their own initiative the persons committing offences. The number of Seanad electors would be small, and it might be possible in some cases to combine polling stations. In that case the police could act more effectively. That is a matter that could be thought over, but we cannot find the means in the case of a Referendum, where an appeal is being dealt with, to line up people of two sides to find out what their interests are. If you get men each fighting for their own side in a sort of partisan spirit, which is the only way you will get people to act, in the case where you have 45 candidates one personation agent would probably be interested in one individual only.
I do not think that it would be a good thing certainly to allow the candidates for the Seanad election to appoint personation agents generally. I admit that it does seem a bit unfair to the Seanad candidates, and rather like discrimination against them. If, in the Seanad, there should be any strong case made for it, I have really to a considerable extent an open mind in the matter.
Motion made and question put: "That Section 42 stand part of the Bill."
Section 43 refers to the Corrupt and Illegal Practices list. It is the existing law. A list will be sent to each registration officer.
Motion made and question put: "That Section 43 stand part of the Bill."
Motion made and question put: "That Section 44 stand part of the Bill."
Section 50 appears to be inconsistent with the Title of this Bill. If Section 50 were relevant to the subject matter of the Bill we could insert Section 50, amend the Title, and make a special report immediately, but I cannot, with the information at my disposal now, see any relevancy as between the Dáil candidates being entitled to certain free postage and the amending and consolidation of the law relating to corrupt practices.
I think there are other reasons why the Title should be altered, because there are several sections of the Bill which deal with procedure rather than the prevention of abuses or corrupt practices, and consequently the Title might very well be altered to allow these sections to be embodied. The Minister is not, I think, committed to the Title.
It is desirable that we should agree to amend the Bill in Committee, with a recommendation to alter the Title.
The Title may be altered. With regard to questions of procedure at elections, they are, in a sense, relative to the prevention of corrupt practices, but what is the relevance of Section 50 to the Bill as it stands?
I will tell you how it comes there. It arose in connection with the maximum limit of expenditure which existed until it was removed by this Bill. Previously a candidate could only expend a certain amount legally for the purpose of enabling him to circularise literature to each elector. He was given free postage. It acted practically as an extension of the limit—this particular Clause—and came under the law of corrupt practices then. As therefore the limit has been removed now, I can see that it does not, in the ordinary way, relate to corrupt practices at all, but it is a matter in which the substance of the section is necessary to be preserved. We could, of course, preserve it in a particular way if we chose, without specifically mentioning it, by not repealing the particular section which provides for it.
Which Act is it in?
The Representation of the People Act, 1918, Section 33, Sub-section (2), so that could simply exclude that.
If that is the only way, I agree that it be done that way, but it is not the proper way.
It is better to have the provision made clear in the Bill itself. In the Title it is stated that it is an Act to amend and consolidate the law relating to the prevention of corrupt and illegal practices and other electoral abuses, and to make provision for the prevention of such practices and abuses at elections for Seanad Eireann and at a Referendum, and for other purposes connected therewith. A further sentence, such as "to make provision for facilitating the election," will surely be allowed to be included. That is really what it is for—to facilitate the taking of an election.
I do not think the question is of any moment in this particular case, because everybody is agreed that this Section ought to go into the Bill; but we have to provide for general rules always, and we may have very acute questions arising as to the introduction of a section in a Bill which is not within the Title, and which could not be declared to be relevant to the general subject matter of the Bill, as introduced. In that case the ruling upon it will become more important, and I would not like to see a precedent created, even in regard to a Section about which we are agreed. The giving of certain postage facilities to Dáil candidates is really a question of facilitating the election. I do not think it is the same as preventing corrupt practices. I do not think that could be argued.
No, except that it comes into the question of consolidating and amending the law relating to corrupt practices. It is a matter that had relation to the prevention of corrupt practices heretofore. Under this Bill, or in future, it certainly will not.
What we have to keep before us is not so much a particular question, but the general implication of the ruling and precedent. It would, of course, be better to insert a Section in the Bill than simply to say that a particular Section or Sub-section of an Act is not repealed.
Would it meet the difficulty if some such phrase as "providing postage facilities for candidates," is put in the Title?
Is there any structural difficulty in procedure in regard to amending the Title now, or recommending that the Title be amended to read: "A Bill to prevent electoral abuses and to deal with other matters pertaining to elections"?
The question is not so much the difficulty of amending the Title; it is a question of keeping the amendment which may be offered to a particular Bill within certain limits of relevancy. If we adopted the suggestion made by Deputy Figgis we could bring in a Bill with a very simple Title, and consisting of twelve sections. Either the Government or the Opposition or any Deputy could bring in an amendment to insert other sections dealing with a wholly different matter, and could then simply move to amend the Title by including these matters. It is not so much a question of amending the Title as of relevancy to the subject matter.
I think this is relevant to the subject matter of the Bill. This was part of the law relating to corrupt practices, and we are consolidating that law now and amending it. If it were to be introduced as a fresh provision it certainly would not have anything to do with corrupt and illegal practices.
In some Standing Orders that come to my memory it is definitely stated that the Title to any Bill is left last in Committee, and it then may be amended. If the Title is to be left last and may be amended it may be supposed that certain matters introduced in Committee may require the amendment and the enlargement of the Title. It follows again that certain matters may have arisen in Committee that are not strictly relevant to the Title.
That is quite clear. What is introduced in Committee must not necessarily be relevant to the Title, but it must be relevant to the Bill as read a second time and as brought into Committee.
I think the Section is in order as it stands. This is a Bill to amend and consolidate the law relating to the prevention of corrupt and illegal practices. We simply have taken certain sections and struck out a certain provision of the law relating to the prevention of corrupt and illegal practices, and we have left in other things to be re-enacted here. I think it should be left in even although its relevancy is a bit lost.
I support that view. When I raised the question first it was rather with reference to the Short Title. I think the point made by the Minister when he draws attention to the Long Title, and the fact that this Bill is to consolidate and amend the existing law, makes the section conform to the general intention of the Bill as passed on Second Reading.
Yes, on that ground, that the consolidation and amendment of the law relating to the prevention of corrupt practices necessitates the insertion of this section, the section would be in order. The general position, however, is that when a Bill is introduced and read a second time, any section moved in Committee or any amendment moved in Committee must be relevant to the subject-matter of the Bill. The fact that the amendment moved is not within the Title is not necessarily a bar to the amendment. The amendment may be judged to be in order when it relates to the Bill. In that case if the amendment is adopted the Title must be amended. I only wanted to keep myself clear about it.
I move the First Schedule, Parts I., II., III., and IV.
If it is in order to go back to Schedule One, may I say that Paragraph 3 reads: "One personating agent in each polling station and no more." Is the polling station the building or the box? Should it not read, "at each polling station"?
It is really at the table.
The station is where the box is, and you cannot put a personation agent where the box is.
I do not think I would interpret it just like that. I think that is the wording that has been accepted. In the Electoral Bill (Section 15 of the Fifth Schedule) it is provided that a separate room or booth may contain several polling stations—that is to say, there may be several polling boxes in the same room. That does not exactly say what is the polling station. I think that the station is the place, and not the box.
I think it is better we should have a clear understanding on that. Commonly a polling station is spoken of as being the building in which the stations are placed—the booth, as it would be called. To speak accurately, a polling station is the box, at which a certain number of voters are to receive their polling papers and place their ballot papers there. I think "at each polling station" would be more accurate, and it would prevent a misunderstanding of the term.
Very good; I will accept that. The amendment is: "In Paragraph 3 of Part I. of the First Schedule to delete "in" and to substitute "at."
The paragraph as amended reads: "One personation agent at each polling station, and no more."
In the short title of the fourth item in this Schedule, "The Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883," the word "Practices" is left out. It is a misprint.
That will be rectified without any amendment.
Question: That Schedule Two stand part of the Bill."
Is the Minister sure that the note is sufficient to effect the purpose?
I will get advice on that. The Bill specifically refers to Dáil Eireann and the Seanad.