To watch the spinning of a spider's web can be most enthralling. The spider never spins the web for the pleasure of the onlooker, but, listening to the Minister for Industry and Commerce last night, one realised that the spinning of his web in relation to this Bill was as cute and as cunning a performance as that of a spider. For instance, the first argument put forward by him, not for the support of the Opposition in this House, but for the support he hopes to secure in the country, was significant in that he laid particular stress on the fact that, under the present system, in some constituencies, two Deputies of the same Party may be elected. The Minister clearly pointed out the difficulty for a Party when two men are in the one constituency and that, evidently, now is to be a further reason as to why we should change the system of election in this country.
He went further, of course, and suggested that the work in the constituencies would be better done by one Deputy. Should it happen that two members of the one Party, elected in the same constituency, have their disputes, that should have no bearing, directly or indirectly, on the rights of the people in that constituency to elect whom they wish. Furthermore, when he is so anxious that one Deputy should work so hard, it is interesting to point out that those of us who are members of local authorities find the task of conscientiously and honestly doing our best on behalf of our constituents mighty hard, even where there are three Deputies in the one constituency. Each Deputy represents approximately 20,000 persons in a constituency, and the Minister for Industry and Commerce now suggests that one member, who may, as well, be a member of local authorities, will do that work in a better manner, and more expeditiously, on behalf of the people than three members catering for the equivalent number of constituents.
In making such suggestions, he has, of course, drawn particular attention to what, in his opinion, are the obvious advantages which flow from the system in Britain. In that country, under the system of one representative per constituency, it is very often a case of having an "absentee" representative, to use a word that is well known in this country. That, of course, is a matter for the people of that country, but are we to impose upon our people a system under which a Deputy will wallow in the pleasures of life in Dublin City, while representing a country constituency in the northwest, south-west, or south-east of the Twenty-Six Counties? Yet we are told that will be one of the further advantages given to the people under this system which is offered by the Fianna Fáil Government. In his cute way, he laid emphasis on the fact that he believed that in future it would be a case of the Government and a strong Opposition, perhaps the Labour Party.
I am speaking as a member of the Labour Party and I say that the Tánaiste has no right to try to tell the people whom they should have here, whether it be one Party in the name of Government and one Party in the name of Labour. In my opinion that is a matter for the people themselves to decide and should they wish to see a particular Party in Government they should have the right to elect that Party. That right is being denied to them through this Bill. This system, lauded so much by the Tánaiste last night, must remind us of the old system under which certain people had particular advantages—the advantages of owning a pocket borough. Vested interests in this country, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach must remember, can very well be provided with their pocket boroughs in repayment for the support given to certain political interests.
That happened in the past and it can happen in the future. I believe, speaking as a member of the Labour Party, but fundamentally as an individual member of this Chamber, our duty is to oppose, as far as lies within our power, the reintroduction of any provision which will bring with it the pocket borough. I know that in relation to arguments put forward by Fianna Fáil in Government and elsewhere they have four approaches to this important problem. One approach is through a person who writes as a political correspondent. That is all right with me. I notice, of course, that they are drawing particular attention to the importance of allowing the people to examine this question on its merits. It strikes me forcibly that in putting up the case the speakers of Fianna Fáil, whether within this House or at debating societies, are making no attempt to bring to the fore any point in favour of P.R. Therefore, while we in opposition are expected to play the game, while we are expected to leave the decision to the people on the merits or demerits of the case, we are also, apparently, expected to accept the principle from Fianna Fáil that they have no intention of presenting anything considered favourable to the present system of P.R.
A heading which we have been reading recently is "Give the People a Chance". We are entitled at this stage to ask: who asked for the chance? We are entitled to comment here and now on the fact that it was asked for a few weeks ago by the representatives of seven or eight cumainn at the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis, inspired it is true, but nevertheless asked for. Those cumainn included one from Cork City. God protect us—rebel Cork! Of course, in that true sense of democracy so profound within the ranks of Fianna Fáil and the confines of the Cabinet of this Government, in order to facilitate the representatives of seven or eight cumainn there was no question of money. What did the spending of £100,000 on it matter? It made no difference. It gave to that minority the right of demanding and securing, if within the power of the Government at all, a legacy, which would inevitably mean the perpetuation of certain political powers over the ordinary people of this country.
I am aware of course that the results, as published, in relation to the elections of 1932-33 and 1937-38 and 1943-44 were not correct and that the statements of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in this House were equally incorrect in relation to the elections of these periods. As I stated last night the present Taoiseach led a small group a splinter group to use his own words —in 1927. In 1932, however, when he formed the first Fianna Fáil Government he had the guaranteed support of the Labour Party. That was not enough. It is never enough for a dictator to be assured of the support of an independent group. He must have within his grasp everything that goes with power. Therefore, although in 1932 and during the years that followed, he was assured of and got the support of the Labour Party, in 1933 we had another election. He tells us, and so does the political correspondent, that the people were allowed in 1933 to give a majority and they gave it. In 1937 we again had a repeat of 1932.
What happened in 1937? Certain members of the Government were kept out of the House to make sure that, on what was considered an unpopular issue with the people in the country, the Government would come down. It was the question of arbitration for the civil servants. Again they went before the people on a false issue and again got the advantage. We all know the advantage of an outgoing Government by holding elections within 12 months. No small Party can hope to compete with an outgoing Government because the finances cannot be made available within 12 months to repeat the battle of the polls. But the Taoiseach was always cute enough to know that that was the one advantage he held—"Let us get in. Do not mind the majority. In 12 months we can crucify the political opponents." The political opponents were not the members of this House but the people who voted against the Government Party outside.
The same thing happened in 1943-44. Certain issues were again brought before the people, and before the House, on the pretext of the Government being interested in certain proposals. They went to the country in the full belief that certain issues would help them again to secure the financial backing available to a Government and that owing to the fact that all was in their favour they could again come back. That has been the history of the 1932-33, 1937-38 and 1943-44 periods. Now we are told that the people must get a chance. They are getting it. They are supposed to be getting a chance because, as I will show later on, please God, of the existence of what is so fondly termed by the Taoiseach as the important Government, the strong and stable Government.
It is important for us to remember that on the same seat, back in 1954, when the result of a by-election went against the Government, before announcing the dissolution of the Dáil, the Taoiseach made an extraordinary statement which has a direct bearing on giving a chance to the people. He said that they in Fianna Fáil would have an election when it suited Fianna Fáil, because when it suited Fianna Fáil, it suited the country. These are the people who are now telling us it is essential to give the people a chance. The policy of Fianna Fáil has been to give the people a chance only when they know it is in the best interests of Fianna Fáil to do so: other than that, never once did they give the people a chance.
There is the second approach to this question. An outstanding member of the Cabinet—and I think it is important to quote remarks at this stage which undoubtedly are in his favour, not only as a member of the Irish Government but also as a humanitarian and a wise citizen of Western Europe—as quoted in the Irish Press of November 25th, a few days ago, said:—
That is the people—
"had the duty to assist the growth of peace based on law by helping to eliminate hatred and spreading the spirit of tolerance and Christian charity."
These words were spoken by none other than the Minister for External Affairs. He it is who speaks of Christian charity and tolerance and advises all and sundry to do all they can to spread peace and avoid hatred. The same Minister a week or two ago expounded to the people in a certain part of this country—if he was really there—the vital benefits of the two-Party system. In the view of that Minister, there should be no room for more than a Government and a one-Party Opposition. I can say this much for him: he is consistent in his remarks in the House and outside it. He has made it perfectly clear that he has no time for small Parties and in another forum, he made it clear that he had no time for small States. "Keep away from the small States" were his words. The four-member Club, the almighty Powers, the Powers of destruction were the Powers he wanted to keep in with.