Vote 8 - Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General

Ms Colette Drinan (Secretary, Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General) called and examined.

We will now examine the 2017 appropriation accounts, Vote 8 - Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, is the auditor for the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. He is accompanied by Mr. Bernard Barron, partner with Mazars, which carries out the audit on behalf of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I think it is the first time the Committee of Public Accounts has examined the financial statements of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General in over 20 years. While many people will not remember that, we have a policy of trying to cover as many Votes as possible every year, which is why we are here today. We are also joined by Ms Colette Drinan, who is the Accounting Officer of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, although some people think it is Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Andrew Harkness, director of audit, and Ms Mairead Leyden, senior auditor.

I remind witnesses and members to turn off their mobile telephones or switch them to airplane mode.

I advise witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee, through me as Chairperson, to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. While we expect witnesses to answer questions put by the committee clearly and with candour, witnesses can and should expect to be treated fairly and with respect and consideration at all times in accordance with the witness protocol.

I invite Mr. McCarthy to make his opening statement.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

As members will be aware, I am supported, and enabled to carry out my role, by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Legally, the office is part of the Civil Service and is funded through Vote 8. As the Constitution requires that I must audit all accounts of moneys administered by or under the authority of the Oireachtas, specific arrangements have to be put in place to facilitate this being done in an independent fashion.

First, it should be noted that Ms Drinan, as secretary, is the administrative head of the office, with responsibility for operations and ensuring good value delivery of the service. This is in addition to her responsibility as a director of audit for delivery of a portfolio of audits and reports. As Accounting Officer, she controls the annual Estimate and the office’s spending, and is responsible for submitting the appropriation account.

Second, I appoint a competitively procured, private sector auditor to carry out the audit of the appropriation account on my behalf, and to report to me on the results of the audit. The contract for the audit is currently with Mazars. The objective of the audit is the same as for all other appropriation account audits and the audit approach is similar to that carried out by my office for all other Votes. I rely on the certificate and report of Mazars as the basis for presentation of my own certificate, and the auditor’s certificate is presented with my own to the Oireachtas. Consequently, I am accompanied for this session by Mr. Bernard Barron, a partner at Mazars, who leads the audit for the company.

Due to the requirement under auditing standards to rotate responsibility for particular audits, I appointed Ms Drinan to her current portfolio in January of this year. She replaced Mr. Harkness on that portfolio, and also as secretary of the office and as Accounting Officer. Mr. Harkness had fulfilled that role for just over six years and members will note that he signed off on the 2017 appropriation account. He, too, is in attendance.

The office’s appropriation account records gross expenditure of €11.9 million in 2017, representing an increase of around 3% on the 2016 expenditure. The bulk of the expenditure each year is on salaries. Non-Exchequer receipts into the Vote amounted to just under €6 million in 2017. This mainly comprised receipts of fees charged by the office for non-Vote financial audits carried out by the office. The office’s policy, as agreed with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, is full recovery of the costs incurred on non-Vote audits over a three-year cycle. Fees are not charged for Vote audits or audits of the finance and Revenue accounts, or in respect of any reporting work undertaken. As a result of the recovery of fees and some other appropriations-in-aid, the net expenditure on the Vote in 2017 was just under €6 million. The surplus for surrender at the year end was €978,000. I am glad to report that the office received a clear audit opinion and there were no matters arising from the audit that I or Mazars considered required reporting to Dáil Éireann.

I thank Mr. McCarthy and call Ms Drinan to make her opening statement.

Ms Colette Drinan

I thank the Chairman and committee for the invitation to appear before it. I am joined by my colleagues, Mr. Andrew Harkness, director of audit and previous Accounting Officer, and Ms Mairead Leyden, senior auditor. I would like to offer some background information before looking at the specifics of the 2017 appropriation account.

The committee is, of course, very familiar with the work of the office, which is to assist the Comptroller and Auditor General in the exercise of his statutory functions. In his opening statement, the Comptroller and Auditor General set out the distinction between his constitutional role and the role of the office, and my role as Accounting Officer. When I became Accounting Officer in January, I took on responsibility for the administrative operations of the office. As such, I am responsible for ensuring that adequate financial management and internal control systems are in place to support the proper administration of the office in an economical and efficient manner.

The office’s approved staff complement is 178. As at 31 March 2019, the office had 159 full-time equivalent members of staff and 19 vacancies. We have recently completed a trainee auditor recruitment process, resulting in a panel of 29, and consequently the number of vacancies is expected to be reduced significantly in the coming weeks. The current staff are distributed across three functional areas. Nearly three quarters of the staff work on financial audit, 15% work on examination reporting, while 12% work on support services.

What does Ms Drinan mean by examination reporting? Is that special reports?

Ms Colette Drinan

Yes. It is performance audit.

Financial audit involves the annual financial audits of almost 290 clients. All financial audit staff from the auditor grade upwards are qualified accountants. Audits are carried out in accordance with international standards on auditing. To manage peaks in demand during the calendar year the office contracts out a number of these financial audits annually. A key objective of the office is to advance the timeliness of the completion of financial audits. The committee will be aware of the progress made on this over recent years. At the end of 2018, eight sets of financial statements relating to 2017 or earlier years had not been certified. This compares with 13 arrears for 2017.

The output of the reporting programme comprises the report on the accounts of the public services, which issues at the end of September each year, and special reports. In 2018, a total of 29 reports were issued. This was made up of 22 chapters in the report on the accounts of the public services and seven special reports. The figure compares with 26 reports issued in 2017, made up of 24 chapters and two special reports.

Support services comprise a number of business units covering human resources, finance, information technology, good practice, business improvement, training and development and corporate services.

I will now set out the financial position. In 2017, the office operated an administrative gross budget of €12.64 million, nearly 82% of which was allocated to salaries. During 2017, actual expenditure was approximately €11.9 million, which was €720,000 or 6% below budget. This was primarily due to savings of approximately €500,000 in salaries. There was a further saving of €291,000 in subhead A7 because our requirement for external assistance for examinations was less than budgeted for.

On the receipts side, audit fee income was up by over €300,000, reflecting the earlier completion of the audit programme. This trend continued in 2018. The savings in salaries have arisen mainly due to turnover of staff and the carrying of unfilled vacancies. Vacancies arise due to staff departing and due to an increase in the overall staff complement in recent years. There is currently a shortage of qualified accountants in the Irish market as a result of the recovery in the economy. This has created a demand for experienced accountants and we see the impact of this on our turnover rates. We recruit actively. In the past three years we have made 125 staff appointments, including 64 recruits at entry level. The environment continues to be challenging and we keep this issue under constant review.

This is a brief overview of the office and its work. I thank the Chairman and committee members for their attention and I welcome the opportunity to engage further on specific queries that committee members may have.

Thank you very much for that opening statement, Ms Drinan. Deputy Murphy has indicated and she will be the first speaker. I have to leave before 12.30 p.m. one way or the other because I have another commitment that I cannot get out of. We will see how we are fixed by then.

I thank Ms Drinan for her opening statement. The deputation is very welcome. Ms Drinan described how different types of work are required to be done. There are mandatory audits and this work is constitutionally provided for. That is not where we will see the staff shortages showing up if they exist. We will see staff shortages showing up where there is opportunity cost. I presume that is where there is a degree of discretion. What does not get done as a consequence of staff shortages? Is the number significant?

Ms Colette Drinan

The first thing to point out about vacancies is that there is a turn in where they arise and we are running active competitions. It is not a question of vacancies sitting in particular areas that are not filled. The vacancies are distributed. Deputy Murphy is right about the statutory audit work. A programme is in place and it has to be delivered. The consequence of vacancies in that area would impact on the timeliness of the delivery of the financial audit. We look at how to manage that. We are keenly aware of the need to produce the financial statements and get certification as soon as possible. The area that probably tends to suffer is more on the performance audit side.

That is where the value-for-money work is done. Is that right?

Ms Colette Drinan

Exactly, we have set a target of 25 reports per year as the output. We believe that is the minimum that the office should be delivering. We have met that target over recent years.

Is that the number for each year?

Ms Colette Drinan

Yes.

Is staff churn better this year than it was in 2017 or is the profile more or less the same?

Ms Colette Drinan

We have seen an improvement. The turnover in 2017 was 14%. That has reduced to 10% for 2018. As a consequence, our average staff numbers were running at approximately 95% of our compliment versus 2017.

When new staff come in there is induction, training and so on and all of that impacts on productivity. Keeping stable staff numbers will be an important aspect of delivery of audits and the additional work that is done.

Ms Colette Drinan

We would consider turnover rate of 8% to 10% as appropriate for our office. We are coming into that range now. It was 10% in 2018.

What are the disciplines? Obviously accountancy is one. Are there other areas where staff churn is more prevalent?

Ms Colette Drinan

The office is staffed predominantly by accountants.

At the end of 2018 eight sets of financial statements relating to 2017 or earlier had not been certified. Ms Drinan has made it clear that the cost of the audit is not on the entity that has been audited. Yet, it is clear that there are problems in those particular ones. Does extra expertise have to be brought in where there is difficulty in finalising an audit? Does that ever occur?

Ms Colette Drinan

The committee will be aware that we produce a report annually that details the accounts in arrears and looks at the reasons for those arrears. Specific scenarios can arise. A client might be in wind-down or there may be a problem around the adequacy of the books and records. Particular challenges can arise. We have not needed to bring in outside expertise. Is that what Deputy Murphy means?

Ms Colette Drinan

No, that has not arisen. Obviously, it has an impact on the plan for how staff were to be deployed. If staff need to take longer on a particular client, then it will have a knock-on impact for the rest of the audit programme. In those situations we look at the amount that we will charge the client. We consider whether it is appropriate in those circumstances to add an additional fee to reflect the fact that the audit took longer than originally envisaged.

There could be a penalty. Is that right?

Ms Colette Drinan

There could be an increase in the fee income. I would not call it a penalty.

Are contractors brought in to augment staff directly employed in the office in the context of extra auditing, statutory audits or for the special reports?

Ms Colette Drinan

For the financial audit programme we have two other resourcing strands - I will put it like that - in addition to the permanent staff. One relates to where short-term vacancies arise because of departures. We would look to get contractors in on short-term contracts while we are looking to fill the posts permanently. Committee members will see from the information I sent that the number of contractors and the amount we have spent on contractors has reduced significantly. The number was the equivalent nine full-time equivalent staff in 2017 but it reduced to one in 2018.

Is it more cost-effective to do it in-house? I presume it is.

Ms Colette Drinan

It is. Where an organisation is buying in a resource for a short period, it is going to be more expensive.

Does Ms Drinan have any idea of the additional cost per member of staff?

Ms Colette Drinan

In 2018, the cost was €128,000 for the contract, and the hours equated to one full-time equivalent, FTE. It is significantly higher than the salary scales for our staff, but pensions have to be factored in for our staff. Certain elements have to be factored in that are not captured in that cost.

I note that a clear audit opinion was given.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

On the relative cost, from discussions we have had in the office, we have found that there has been quite significant variation over the years. This is true when we contract out audits as well. The price can vary from year to year, depending on how busy potential contractors are. If they have more scope, they are willing to price very competitively, and in that instance it can represent good value. It is hard to get a long-term value for money comparison done. It varies.

The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General is the most important office in the land, alongside the Central Statistics Office, CSO. There is a duty on us to ask questions about it.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

When the Deputy was speaking earlier it occurred to me that our office is analogous to the CSO. It provides economic statistics, but there is a equivalence between what we do and what it does. It verifies information and facts for use in decision making, and that is exactly what we, as auditors, do.

It is very important because the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General is trusted to an extraordinary degree. I will not go into the politics of it. It is the last bastion of truth and honesty. There is an onus on the shoulders of the staff of the office to carry out its duties correctly. The office has had a clear audit, and I congratulate it on that.

Procurement comes up all the time, and it seems the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General has not complied with the rules in that area. Perhaps it could enlighten me on that.

Ms Colette Drinan

The account discloses non-compliant procurement of €31,000 for 2017, and that occurs again in 2018. That arose in the context of our IT arrangements. We were considering the strategy we were using and how best to build resilience into the IT service, how much we should do in-house and how much we should contract out. In that context, we rolled over the contract we had in place until we had a better sense of what exactly we wanted to replace the contract with. Those services are being tendered for at the moment. We have moved to a shared service model with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer. We came online there in December 2018 and on foot of that we have gone to the market for residual services we need.

Were there other instances of non-compliance in 2018?

Ms Colette Drinan

No.

It only happened once, in that case from 2017 that carried over into 2018.

Ms Colette Drinan

Yes.

Who owns the building in which the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General is situated? What rent is paid?

Ms Colette Drinan

The OPW pays the rent. It is not State owned.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The Central Bank actually owns the building. It occupies half of the building itself, and the OPW has the lease on the other half.

Is the OPW paying rent to the Central Bank for it?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is paying rent to the Central Bank.

That is interesting.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I believe the Central Bank is considering a sale of the building. That is a matter that is in the public domain.

It is not considering giving it over to the public for the common good, is it?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

No.

The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General has an ambition to produce 25 special reports per year. Is that correct?

Ms Colette Drinan

We have a minimum target of 25 reports per year.

Are they special reports?

Ms Colette Drinan

They are a mixture of the chapters on the accounts of the public service, which are produced every year, and special reports. We count all of those within the target.

The office has not reached that target yet.

Ms Colette Drinan

We are exceeding the target every year. In our statement of strategy we have been quite open in saying that we would like to have ten special reports a year. We are aiming to do that in addition to the chapters on the accounts of public services.

In the past year, has the office identified certain areas in which it would have liked to carry out a special report but did not do so because of a lack of resources?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

I certainly identified areas I would like to examine. However, I have to make choices. We have quite a significant list of issues, some of which will go out of time; it will not be relevant to examine them in two or three years' time to examine them. I would like to do more reporting work, but the resources are not there. As Deputy Murphy has said, the obligatory financial audit work has to take priority. If we are carrying any vacancies, the reporting work is going to suffer.

Is there a forum in which the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General can report back to the Government about areas it cannot touch? Perhaps there is a sense of David versus Goliath. Is there a method by which the office can tell the Government that there is a certain body of work that could be done but that it cannot be done because of a lack of resources?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We have done that. It is the secretary's function to make the case to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for additional resources.

Ms Colette Drinan

As part of the annual Estimates process, we engage with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Where we identify the need for additional resources, we have the conversation with it. It has been very constructive. As the Deputy will see, our complement has increased by ten between 2017 and 2018. One of the key reasons for that was that we looked for additional resources to dedicate to performance reporting.

Many organisations look for extra staff. Is a special case made on the basis that extra staff are required to work on special reports, which are very helpful to us in doing our work, or does the office make a general case for more staff?

Ms Colette Drinan

When we make a bid for additional resources we have to set out very clearly what the elements of that are and what we intend to do with those additional resources. In the context of the bids we made to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, increasing the resources within the performance audit section was part of that.

Issues were raised recently by the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board on shared services. It was said that audit delays are sometimes caused by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Perhaps I misinterpreted the opening statement. Does the office cause delays sometimes? Is it part of the problem on occasion when financial reports are delayed?

Ms Colette Drinan

Focusing on the timeliness of the completion of audits, there can be a cluster around the calendar year. Many of our clients have the same financial year end, which can create a peak in demand. One of the reasons we contract out for services is to try to manage that. The sooner we start an audit, the sooner it will be completed.

Is the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General part of the reason for delay? We are very hard on organisations and bodies that come before us with late reports. Is the office part of that delay sometimes, in a small way?

Ms Colette Drinan

We have to sequence the way in which we do our financial audit programme. We choose to audit our larger clients first. That is an explicit choice we have made.

When we are being extremely harsh on organisations is it the case that it is sometimes not entirely their fault? Does the office cause delays?

Ms Colette Drinan

We plan to have all audits completed within the year, but people may wish to have their audits certified earlier in the year. We might be told by an organisation that it would like to have its audit certified within four or five months of the financial year end.

There is a charge incurred every time the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General carries out an audit. Does everyone pay? I notice that the fees received are down between 2016 and 2017.

Ms Colette Drinan

We only charge fees for financial audit work. As the Comptroller and Auditor General stated, a fee is only charged on non-Votes. I do not think we charge for the Finance Account or the Revenue Account. It is a particular body of clients that is charged fees.

Page 14 deals with receipts. In 2016, slightly more than €6.112 million was realised. In 2017, it went a bit over what was estimated but less than what was received than in 2016. What is the reason for that?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That was due to a variable acceleration. There was more of an acceleration in clearing arrears in 2016 than there was in 2017.

Clearing audit arrears.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes. Generally, those are fee-paying cases. The more one can bring them forward and into the year-----

It was a practical decision.

Ms Colette Drinan

Yes. When we look at our age debtors, for example, there is nothing-----

That is what I was going to ask. They are prompt payments.

Ms Colette Drinan

Yes. We recover all of our fees.

On consultancy services and value for money, the estimate provision was €350,000 and the outturn was €59,000. I refer to page 13. There is a big difference between the estimated and actual provision detailed on page 13 for consultancy services and value for money policy reviews. I ask Ms Drinan to clarify that issue.

Ms Colette Drinan

As I mentioned in the opening statement, the €291,000 relates to our practice of annually budgeting for an amount that would allow us to get in external expertise should we require it for performance audit. It is quite difficult to assess------

It relates to getting in staff to do the work.

Ms Colette Drinan

It is more for particular expertise. For example, some years ago we did some work on day surgery and in that context we got medical consultants to help. It is an amount that goes in, but it can be quite lumpy or difficult to forecast to what extent we will use it in the year.

It is there if it is needed.

Ms Colette Drinan

Exactly, yes, depending on the scope of requirement.

On the report, Ms Drinan stated that approximately 15% goes on the reporting side. Ideally, it would be good if that was at 20% or 25%.

Ms Colette Drinan

That is what I was going to say. Our international peers are at approximately 20%.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

In fact, some are 50:50. The UK is at approximately that figure.

Its audit office has the resources or whatever to do these extra works. Although 75% may be routine audits, people may pay more attention to special projects and special works. That is an observation more than anything else. I am sure the witnesses would not disagree with it. Ms Drinan referred to contracting out and mentioned that it is done by local union agreement. Is that specific to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General or is the office part of a public service-wide agreement?

Ms Colette Drinan

We engage with partnership. The man hours or man days that we agree to contract out result from local discussions between ourselves and the partnership within our office.

Perhaps staff days would be a more appropriate phrase.

Person hours.

Ms Colette Drinan

Person hours.

Obviously, the figures have been published. What are the two or three largest audit fees received by the office? If the witnesses are not aware of that, I ask them to send a note to the committee. I am asking out of curiosity. Which organisations account for the largest audit fees?

Ms Colette Drinan

The HSE and NAMA.

What level of fees do they pay? Is it €100,000 or more?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Approximately €500,000.

Approximately €500,000. My guess of €100,000 was a low estimate. I ask that question in order to make people aware that organisations such as the NTMA and the HSE pay the largest fees to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

It was stated that the target of the office is to get all audits completed within 12 months of their year-end and that it takes approximately three months to get them in. In my opinion, the office should target getting audits cleared within three months of being submitted. I acknowledge that there is a 12-month target, but getting audited accounts for a previous year in November or December may be too late. In the long term, the office should try to clear the audits within three months. I acknowledge that the appropriation accounts were finished by the end of September. In an ideal world, some of the big accounts would be cleared more quickly. I acknowledge that accounts of organisations such as the NTMA and the HSE will be in in the summer but it would be great if all of the accounts could be smartened up in that way. It is probably an issue of resources as much as anything else.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is a general challenge that we face. All of the appropriation accounts must be submitted with the report.

We understand that.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We face the challenge of creating a large train with approximately 80 carriages which must all arrive in the station at the same time. If even the appropriation accounts could be published separately from the report, it would give us more scope. There is a kind of anomalous situation whereby we publish financial statements for 25 Departments. No other state auditor is required to do that. Rather, the entities publish their own financial statements. The legislative framework under which we operate creates these large, lumpy deliveries which we must make.

The one good thing I see in the report is the draft for the 2018 performance report. It need not be put up on the screen. On page 13 there is a figure showing the uncertified accounts at the end of the year. I am not referring to the appropriation accounts but, rather, the performance report 2018. The witnesses are familiar with it. In 2013 and 2014, there were approximately 60 uncertified accounts, whereas last year there were only eight such accounts. That is a remarkable improvement from the committee's objective point of view. I acknowledge that the high-value accounts were always completed but it is good to see that we are down to only eight uncertified accounts. They are a tiny percentage of the 60 accounts that were in that category a few short years ago.

On management letters, I will explain to those watching the proceedings the difference between issues that must be reported on the statement of internal control and those that are only included in the management letter. How does the office decide the category into which such issues fall? How is it decided which is public and which is private?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Ultimately, it is my judgment call. I am required by law to report on material matters. Generally, where we identify losses that have occurred, we ensure that they are reported publicly. Where we see a weakness in controls, there is an opportunity for management to fix those and those tend to be the kind of things that would go into a management letter.

If the loss occurred due to weakness, the Comptroller and Auditor General will publish it if-----

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We need to see it published or the organisation must publish.

If there is a weakness which may not have resulted in a loss but there is the possibility that it would if not corrected, that is a management letter issue.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes. That is a general rule of thumb.

Yes. It is a rough overview. Mr. McCarthy referred to an issue being "material". Is that based on its accounting for approximately 1% of turnover of the organisation or more? I know that it is different for organisations.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We tend to take a view that, when dealing with public money, absolute sums matter.

€50,000 is €50,000.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Yes. The threshold is €100,000. One would like to see the organisation disclosing anything over that sum in an appropriation account.

What the public are hearing from Mr. McCarthy is that the level of materiality applied by his office is very low relative to private sector audits.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We operate the standard audit threshold of materiality for the financial statements in terms of looking at their accuracy. For matters of a proprietary nature, such as expenses and so on, we operate a very strict absolute threshold.

Zero tolerance.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

Not zero tolerance.

As close as can be.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

We do not wish to create a space whereby people think they can be liberal up to the limits above which we would report on matters. We try to act as a control and offer feedback in that regard.

I wish to draw this section of the meeting to a close. The committee thanks Ms Drinan, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Barron for their attendance. It has been a useful engagement. The committee wished to explore the operation of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. We are very familiar with the office because we deal with it frequently and understand a significant amount of its operations. However, it was no harm for the committee to spend an hour asking the witnesses the routine questions which we would ask in regard to any other voted expenditure. We thank them for their attendance and assistance.

Voting is starting quite late, at 1.45 p.m. Will we resume at 2.45 p.m.? We have one session in the afternoon but cannot have it now as the witness has signed up for after 2 p.m. We can resume as quickly as possible after the votes.

Straight from the votes.

There are five or six votes, which could take most of an hour. I suggest 2.30 p.m. or as soon as possible thereafter.

Sitting suspended at 12.30 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.