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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 28 Jan 1926

Vol. 14 No. 3


In this Act,
the expression "the Minister" means the Minister for Industry and Commerce;
the expression "civil service" means the civil service of Saorstát Eireann, and includes the Gárda Síochána;
the word "statistics" includes information not expressible numerically but which is necessary for the collection, compilation or interpretation of numbers relating to any matter in respect of which statistics can be collected under this Act;
the expression "officer of statistics" means and includes every officer in the civil service and every person who is for the time being employed in or about the collection, abstraction, compilation, or publication of statistics under this Act;
the word "lawfully" when used in relation to an officer of statistics means under and in accordance with this Act and in the proper course and for the purpose of his duties and within his authority as such officer.

I move:

In page 2, line 21, immediately before the word "person" to insert the word "other,"

The amendment is purely a verbal one.

Amendment put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 1, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Sections 2 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.
(1) The leaving by an officer of statistics at any house or other building or any office, flat, or other defined part of a house or other building or the sending by any such officer by prepaid post to any such house, building, or defined part of a house or building of any schedule, form, instruction, or other like document prepared and issued under this Act and containing a notice requiring the occupier (without naming him) of such house or building or such defined part thereof to fill in or otherwise complete the document within a specified time shall, as against the person who is such occupier, be a sufficient requisition under this Act on such person to fill up or otherwise complete and to return or otherwise dispose of such document in accordance with the directions contained therein notwithstanding that such occupier is not named in such document or personally served therewith.
(2) The leaving by an officer of statistics for any person at his place of residence or his place of business or the sending by any such officer by prepaid post to a person at his place of residence or his place of business of any schedule, form, instruction, or other like document prepared and issued under this Act and containing or accompanied by a notice addressed to such person requiring him to fill in or otherwise complete the document within a specified time shall, as against such person, be a sufficient requisition under this Act on such person to fill up or otherwise complete and to return or otherwise dispose of such document in accordance with the directions contained therein or left or sent therewith.
(3) For the purposes of this section the place of business of a person includes any place at which he carries on business and, in the case of an incorporated body, includes his registered office.

I move: "In sub-section (1), line 39, to delete the words `(without naming him)'." As the section stands it gives the Minister power to serve a notice on any person by simply writing the name of the house and saying "occupier." By doing that he renders that unnamed occupier liable to a penalty not exceeding £20, or imprisonment not exceeding three months, without even naming the person on whom he serves the demand. This is a comparatively revolutionary principle. There is one precedent for it, and that is to be found in the Census Acts, but the Census Acts are very much more limited and less far reaching than this Bill. The Census Acts seek information on a variety of subjects which is taken on one night every ten years, but this Bill gives the Minister power to seek at any time information on a far larger number of subjects. I do not quarrel with the right. I think it is right that he should get the information, but I do think he ought to name the person from whom he demands it. He should not simply shovel out notices addressed to the occupier. When it is a case of approaching every house in the country I think there is necessity for doing it. We are going to take sample statistics. I think this Bill gives power to take sample statistics. A committee on statistics recommended that we should take that power. Then I think he ought to say definitely who the person is from whom he wants information. Is it intended, if the information is not furnished, that a summons should also be addressed to the "occupier"? The occupier may have changed in the meantime. Is the occupier who has just gone into possession to be liable for the deeds of his predecessor? As a matter of fact, there is very often some doubt as to who, in the legal sense, is the occupier of a house.

When passing the Firearms Act we made provision that an occupier might get a gun licence for five shillings for the purpose of protecting the crops in his garden. A constituent of mine came to me and complained that he could not get a licence at a reduced fee. He said the police told him he would have to take out a £2 licence. He wanted it to shoot the birds in the garden. I inquired into the matter, and found that the householder, although a man of mature years, was not the occupier. His mother was the occupier. Unless the elderly lady took out a licence he could not get it at the reduced rate. There are doubts of that kind in many cases. There are doubts in cases where there have been changes of tenancy. There are doubts where there has been a death. Without some more justification than we have had up to the present, I suggest that it would be unwise to render an anonymous and unnamed occupier liable to these penalties without a little more specific indication of who he is.

I can see great weight in Deputy Cooper's objection, based on the action taken against an occupier so named by the description. That is not going to be the fact. I will try and explain that in a moment.

With regard to the objection that it is wrong to have a document left addressed, not to a person named, but merely to the occupier, the Deputy has mentioned the census. There are matters, not exactly a census, but of a census type, which would naturally fall to be taken under this type. It would be absolutely and entirely putting the cart before the horse if the officers of statistics should have to go and inquire the names of persons before serving them with certain documents where, in fact, the serving of the documents is mainly for the purpose of getting the name of the occupier and various particulars about him. The name of the person and the fact that he is in occupation might be one of the main things aimed at. There is going to be no trouble whatever about prosecutions. It is quite impossible to believe —it has been suggested and the suggestion has been turned down most vehemently—that the Courts would entertain an action of the type, "The Attorney-General v Occupier." It could not possibly be done. As to the other difficulties which the Deputy referred to—that you might have, for instance, a person in occupation at the moment that the document was served and when the time came for filling up the document somebody else—the circumstances would all come out if any action was taken. And to have an action taken would require that a certain person should be named. The most obvious defence would be that the person named was not the occupier at the date at which the particulars should have been given. If the Deputy takes my assurance, that there will be no possibility of the Courts entertaining actions against persons described as "occupiers," and if he takes the further assurance that only in very exceptional circumstances—I omit matters of a census nature, because there you are really looking for the name of the occupier—will documents be left merely addressed to the occupier that there will be trouble gone to to get the name of the exact person who is in occupation and the name of the exact person who should furnish the information required. I hope the Deputy will agree that the amendment is not of very serious importance from the public point of view, and if those words were struck out it might render the work of the statistics officers very onerous.

I will accept the Minister's explanation. That is the kind of assurance that I wished to obtain and, with the leave of the Dáil, I withdraw the amendment, and also amendment 4, which is consequential.

Amendments 2 and 4, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment 3—

"In sub-section (1), line 41, after the words `specified time,' to insert the words `which shall not be less than one week from the date of delivery of the document'."

I put this amendment down because I have from time to time observed that there is a certain tendency amongst minor officials in Government Departments to think that a man has nothing else to do but fill up forms. You find notices served on you to be filled up and sent in after two or three days. Sometimes, you are away from home and these notices are forwarded to you. Sometimes a considerable amount of research is required in connection with these inquiries, and you may not have time to do that when engaged in your ordinary business. You may have to wait until the week-end to ascertain all the particulars required by the form. I am not tied to a week in any special way. My desire is to assert the principle, that there should be a reasonable interval between service of the notice and the date for filling it up and returning it. A week seems to me a reasonable interval for that purpose. If there is any substantial reason against a week, I am prepared to modify the amendment in that respect, but I do think that the ordinary citizen is entitled to have his convenience met in regard to all these notices—census of production, ordinary census and so on, in connection with vital, social and educational matters, commerce, railways, etc. It is reasonable that there should be a certain time given to supply the information, and I suggest to the Minister that if the amendment in its present form is not acceptable to him, he might introduce some words that would give the person who would, I suppose, then be defendant a certain defence in the law courts.

I was going to suggest to the Deputy that it might be better to rely on the commonsense of the person in charge of statistics, but after what he has said about minor officials acting on the assumption that a person's time is at the disposal of Government officials for the filling in of forms, I do not suppose he would be disposed to agree with me. But I put it to him in this way. It is always a difficulty in legislation that you have to guard against cases which may be very rare. Where you are having a Bill of a general type, such as this Bill is, which is intended to last for some time, you have to envisage certain periods of emergency. I can very easily see a type of emergency arising in which it would be essential to know the amount of coal, petrol and essential food-stuffs in the country at a particular period, and it might spoil the whole effect of such a demand if one had to wait a week for the information. I think in most cases a week would be a very reasonable time and that no very great advantage would be got by modifying the seven-day period. But it is very hard to look forward in the vague and to find out what would be a reasonable time, no matter what emergency one considers. Let me again refer to inquiries of a census type. I am referring to the analogy of the Census Bill, although it is not quite on all fours with this Bill. The whole aim and object of the census is to get a document left on a particular day before a certain time and have it filled in by midnight and then returned within a certain time. That, and matters akin to it, would very definitely be prejudiced by putting in a week. If some vague phrase about a reasonable interval being allowed would meet the Deputy's requirements, I would be disposed to agree. I do not know on whom the definition of "reasonable" would devolve. If the Deputy can suggest any form of words, I would be very glad to meet him. I do end with what I said I was not going to begin with— that the setting-up of a department of statistics with a director, that director being advised by a statistical council— the statistical council will certainly not be entirely a body of civil servants, and one may hope to get the ordinary human point of view as opposed to the Civil Service point of view—will lead to statistics being handled in the future, though he may not be disposed to agree with me, with more humanity and to more time being allowed for the filling in of forms. If the Deputy would put his amendment in a form that would provide that the whole matter of time would be dealt with in a reasonable way and that there would be no undue pressure in the filling in of these forms, I would be prepared to accept it.

I was going to suggest to the Minister that he should, on Report Stage, bring in an amendment providing for a reasonable time and leaving it to the courts to determine what is a reasonable time in the particular circumstances. If the Minister is prepared to consider that—it is more or less his own suggestion—I would be prepared to withdraw my amendment. As regards civil servants, the Director of Statistics and civil servants of the higher grades would not, I agree, be disposed to limit the time too much, but there is always the danger that these things will be filled in in the office. Somebody will prepare a draft containing the important items and the various heads under which inquiry is to be sought, but the other portion may be filled in in the office without coming under the notice of the director. If the word "reasonable" were introduced, I would be quite satisfied. Perhaps the Minister would consider that before Report Stage.

Then I ask leave of the Dáil to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment 5 not moved.
Motion made: That Section 8 stand part of the Bill.

Section 8 refers to leaving documents at any house or building. Does this refer to the Census Acts?

Matters akin to the census.

It is not a substitute?

I do not know what the intention is. I think there is a Census Bill on the programme of legislation. There is a special Bill actually down, but if it were found convenient to have census operations or something in addition to census operations taken under this Bill, or if it were found to fit in, I would not like to preclude the Minister from making use of this Bill for his purpose.

My point is that this section gives power to ask for information on certain points. It does not include all the points which the Census Act of 1911 asked for information upon. That was the first Act I discussed in Committee, and I have some knowledge of it. It does not include those statistics which hitherto the Irish census always included, statistics relating to those whom I may call the minority denominations. It is rather important to have those statistics in order that we may know where we are. It would not be possible to get a complete census, on the lines on which it was customary to take a census in the past, under this Bill. However, if no decision has been arrived at, I do not want to press the matter.

I am afraid it will seem apparent that I am arguing that a census should be taken in connection with this Bill. I am not at all arguing that. The Deputy thinks there is a gap in regard to matter on which we may require some information. I would refer him to Section 2, where it is stated:

"The Minister may collect, compile, abstract, and (subject to the provisions of this Act) publish statistics relating to any matter affecting the general economic and other activities and conditions in Saorstát Eireann..."

I fail to see what could be omitted and what we are prevented from inquiring into under such a general statement as that.

Does the Minister not attach sufficient importance to religion to indicate that it ought to be specified?

Not for the purposes of Parliamentary discussion.

I think I have heard it stated somewhere that when a number of items are set forth, following a statement that certain activities may be entered upon, those items are taken to exclude any other items. I do not know whether that is so, although I would imagine that "vital, social and educational matters" might easily be understood to include religious matters. I think this matter of the census is important. I imagined this Bill was really taking the place of a Census Bill. If it is intended to take the census in April, and if advertisements are appearing regarding contracts for the printing of census forms, I would imagine the Bill empowering the census to be taken should be in our hands now, before the advertisements appear in regard to it, and certainly before any orders are given. Unless this is to be taken as empowering——

I believe anything could be taken under this, including the census. I was under the impression that a special Census Bill was in preparation. I presume the forms are being got ready on the basis of the sort of census to which we have been accustomed in the country, and I presume the census will, more or less, follow the same form as on previous occasions. I am not quite clear as to Deputy Johnson's point. If words set out in detail, following general words, are to be taken to exclude from the purport of the general words, matters not specially referred to in the details, then I would prefer to amend the Bill by wiping out the details and leave the wording in the general form. This was founded on the South African and the Canadian Acts with regard to statistics. The statistics officials take everything, including the census, in both countries. I do not know whether they have the matter set out in detailed form. I am not sure that the details would preclude taking anything such as has been referred to. If that is not so, I will undertake to have the Bill amended.

It has been stated in reference to other Bills that when details are given in a form such as we have here, nothing else is allowed.

I cannot answer Deputy Johnson definitely on the point he has raised in regard to what the intention is in connection with the census and how it is to be taken. As to the point that he has drawn attention to, I will inquire into it before the Report Stage.

Question—"That Section 8 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Questions—"That Sections 9, 10, 11, and 12 stand part of the Bill"— put and agreed to.
(1) Neither any individual schedule, form, or other document filled in or otherwise completed by any person in pursuance of any requisition made under this Act nor any part of any such document shall without the consent of such person be published or, except for the purposes of a prosecution under this Act, be shown or communicated to any person other than an officer of statistics concerned therewith in the course of his duty as such officer.
(2) So far as is reasonably practicable, no report, abstract, summary, or other publication made under this Act shall contain the particulars of any information supplied in any manner whatsoever in pursuance of this Act by any person to any officer of statistics so arranged as to enable any person to identify such particulars as being particulars relating to any individual person, business, or concern without the consent in writing of that person or of the proprietor of that business or concern.

I beg to move:—

At the end of the section to insert a new sub-section as follows:—

"(3) No record or other document nor any part of any record or other document in the custody or charge of an officer of the Civil Service or of any other person and not open to public inspection which is inspected or of which a copy is obtained or taken by an officer of statistics under a power in that behalf conferred on him by this Act shall be published or shown or communicated by an officer of statistics to any person other than another officer of statistics concerned therewith in the course of his duty as such officer nor (so far as is reasonably practicable) shall any report, abstract, summary, or other publication made under this Act contain the particulars of any information obtained from any such record or document so arranged as to enable any person to identify such particulars as being particulars relating to any individual person, business, or concern without the consent in writing of that person or the proprietor of that business or concern."

The purpose of this and the two succeeding amendments that stand in my name on the Order Paper is to ensure that the provisions regarding secrecy which, in Section 13 and 14, apply to information obtained from the public, shall also apply to information obtained from public records and documents, under Section 9.

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 13, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

In regard to this Section I am not sure whether it does not go very much further than is desired and will make impossible the publication of returns which have been found necessary hitherto. I can, for instance, look up the census returns for 1911, and find that in the City of Dublin there was one maker of dolls' eyes; I could find something about his family and antecedents, religious associations and so on. I am, therefore, able to identify the fact that John Smith is a maker of dolls' eyes. Under this section that information could not be published. Similarly the matter can be applied to railways. There is one railway company in the country. Section 2 indicates that you are to obtain particulars regarding railways, tramways, shipping and other forms of transport. Unless those controlling the railways or tramways specifically allow you to publish the information they give, you will not be able to publish it.

I think, too, that the section is going to limit very much the value of the census returns. Take, for instance, the census of industries. There are industries in the country that will inevitably be recognised by any returns you publish. This section would preclude the publication of any information which would be taken to identify the industry or business in question. In that way it seems to me the whole section is going to nullify the effect of much of the statistical inquiry that is to be made. I suggest that the Minister should consider the kind of statistical information that it is desirable to keep private, but he ought not prevent the publication of information of a general character which would be of public interest, simply because it might identify the persons concerned. As an obvious illustration, I will point to the railway company. Under this section, unless the company gives specific permission to publish any information that they give, it could not be published.

There is a point in that, and I am glad the Deputy has drawn attention to it, with regard to the railway. The Deputy, I am sure, understands the purpose of the section. It is to prevent the returns of individual businesses being published in such a way that particulars of any business may be identified. In the endeavour to secure this, this section may have gone too far. In the example given it has probably gone too far; it was not so intended. The section requires some re-drafting so as to secure the secrecy which is required in connection with individual returns. But a company of the type of the Great Southern Railways, operating in the Saorstát, should not have the right to refuse consent to the publication of particulars supplied by them. There is always, I think, an obstacle to any form of wording that I have ever seen. The first example given by Deputy Johnson of one individual employer in a particular type of business is easily identified by reason of the subject-matter of the business. I think it has been considered by the Statistical Office that a business so marked out is not of sufficient importance to warrant an abstract of it being made.

Supposing it were Messrs. Guinness?

There is that difficulty. What I propose to do is to give the Deputy a guarantee that I will have the matter looked into as to how far I can reconcile the two points: the safeguarding of secrecy with regard to particular firms and the avoidance of giving power to the railway company to refuse, simply by an act of refusal, the publication of details which would be of use to the public. I shall require to have that held over for consideration on report.

Question put and agreed to.
(1) Save for the purpose of a prosecution for an offence under this Act, no officer of statistics shall publish or disclose to any person, other than another officer of statistics concerned with the matter in the course of his duties as such officer the contents or any part of the contents of any individual schedule, form, or other document filled in or otherwise completed by any person in pursuance of a requisition made under this Act.
(2) Every officer of statistics who shall publish or disclose the contents or any part of the contents of any such document as aforesaid in contravention of this section shall be guilty of an offence under this section and shall be liable on summary conviction thereof to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and such imprisonment.

I beg to move amendments 7 and 8 to this section. The purpose of No. 7 is identical with amendment No. 6. It reads:—

In sub-section (1), page 6, line 25, after the word "Act" to add the words "or the contents or any part of the contents of any record or document (not being a record or document open to public inspection) which was inspected or of which a copy was taken or obtained by an officer of statistics in exercise of any power in that behalf conferred on him by this Act."

Amendment 8 reads:—

In sub-section (2), page 6, line 27, immediately before the word "document" to insert the words "individual schedule form, or other documents as aforesaid or any such record or."

Amendments put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 14, as amended, stand part of the Bill"— put and agreed to.
Sections 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 and the Title—put and agreed to.
The Dáil went out of Committee.
Bill, as amended, reported.
Fourth Stage fixed for Wednesday, 3rd February.