Public Business. - Minerals Company Bill, 1944—Report and Final Stages.

On behalf of Deputies McGilligan and Hughes, I move the following amendment:—

In page 5, at the end of Section 16, to add a new sub-section as follows:—

The accounts of the continuing company shall be submitted annually for audit to the Comptroller and Auditor-General and reported to the Committee of Public Accounts.

I do not think that Deputy McGilligan fully appreciates that the accounts of these companies are, in fact, audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. The companies nominated the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and the nomination was approved by the Minister for Finance, and it is the Comptroller and Auditor-General who audits these accounts; but in the case of these companies the Comptroller and Auditor-General is doing that work as an ordinary commercial auditor would do it, and not as a representative of the Dáil; nor does he report to the Committee of Public Accounts in connection with such audits. The audited accounts, however, are made available to the Dáil, and the Act requires that they shall be laid before the Dáil. Accordingly, while Deputy McGilligan probably has something more in mind than the existing legislation provides, the existing legislation does go a long way to meet that point.

It is true that the decision to utilise the services of the Comptroller and Auditor-General was a decision of the companies, and one that could be changed. In fact, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, himself, is doubtful of the wisdom of extending the scope of his office to cover the auditing of a large number of commercial undertakings in which the Government is interested, and in some respects he might not be a suitable auditor in the case of such companies where he would be only interested in the financial results of the company concerned, whereas an outside firm of auditors could give advice and suggestions as to the promotion of efficiency or the general working conditions of the concerns. In the case of these companies, however, for the time being, and so long as they are working on the present basis, I think it is inevitable that the services of the Comptroller and Auditor-General should be retained. Having been examined by him, the accounts are then submitted to the Dáil, in accordance with the provisions of the Acts.

The only thing is that I think that in a case like this, where public moneys are advanced by the Oireachtas, the accounts of these companies should be examined by the Committee of Public Accounts. I think I also mentioned that the Comptroller and Auditor-General has two difficulties in dealing with this matter: first, that private companies would probably resent the Comptroller and Auditor-General going into their accounts, and dealing with other matters with which they were concerned and which they might regard as their own business; and, secondly, that while these accounts are to be laid on the Table of the House, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, at the same time, has not the same responsibility to the Dáil in connection with any objections or comments that he would like to make, such as he has to make in respect of any of the other Departments or services of State whose accounts he audits and which come before the Committee of Public Accounts. I do not think it would be altering the Act very much, or interfering unduly with the affairs of the company, if the Minister would agree to amend this to the extent of allowing that the accounts of the continuing company shall be submitted annually for audit to the Comptroller and Auditor-General and reported to the Committee of Public Accounts.

I could not agree with this proposal. I think that the examining of the accounts of such a company as this and the examining of the accounts of a Department of State are entirely different matters. The primary duty of the Comptroller and Auditor-General in relation to a Government Department is to see that the money voted for that Department by the Oireachtas is devoted to the precise object for which it was voted. In the case of outside companies, capital advances have to be made for the general working of the company. The company, for instance, may decide upon a particular method of working, or upon the acquirement of a certain type of apparatus, and so on, and they may seek capital advances for that purpose. It may be found later on that their decision must be changed: that some other method of working must be adopted or that some other type of equipment, which would be more useful, must be acquired, and the company is fully entitled to do that, or even to abandon the original plan for which it had received approval. That, of course, would not necessarily mean that the company had done anything wrong, but it would be entirely wrong for the accounting officer of a Department of State to approve of the use of money for one purpose, when the money had been voted for another purpose, even though it was well within the amount of the Estimate. It is an entirely different matter in the case of a private company. A private company must have regard, practically from day to day, to its organisation, its staff, various kinds of changing conditions and so on, and if the company had to face such an investigation as has to be faced by Government Departments before the Committee of Public Accounts, then it must keep records similar to those kept by Government Departments and must be prepared to answer for them.

Now, one of the reasons why private companies should not be expected to keep the same kind of records as Government Departments must keep, is that Government Departments have to keep elaborate records in regard to every matter, as Deputies may raise a question about any particular item, and that question must be answered in full, and every item must be fully documented. No private company could function properly if it were to be subject to such conditions, and that is why we must have those commercial activities undertaken, in the main, by bodies that are not subject to the same conditions or obligations as Government Departments. I know that it is quite common to call that type of record-keeping by Government Departments by the name of "red tape," but in fact it is essential if the control of the Dáil over each Department and its expenditure is to be properly exercisable, but we do not want the same type of control in connection with companies set up for commercial purposes. We merely want to be sure that they will not undertake activities that would be in conflict with the purpose for which they were set up, that their concerns will be carried out in a proper way and with proper economy, and that due regard will be had to the proper expenditure of the money put in.

The purpose is to ensure that there is a more complete link between these companies and the Government than would normally exist in the case of other companies. In the present circumstances, I think there is good reason for retaining the control of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and I think it is unlikely that the Minister for Finance would approve of anybody else, even though the same, or even a better, audit might be given by a first-class commercial auditor. In any case, I think it would be unwise, and unusual, to say the least, to have the type of queries addressed to the Committee of Public Accounts, in relation to these companies, that are addressed in connection with Government Departments. I think it would be much better to abolish these companies altogether and do the work through the medium of a section of the Department than to follow out that procedure. I would always be strongly against commercial organisations being expected to work in that way, and I think it would never be satisfactory.

Surely, the Minister should make a distinction between the normal enterprises carried on by a company on moneys subscribed by the community and a company, which really is only fictitiously a private company, set up by the Government. Is it not essential that there should be some accounting to this House for the moneys advanced?

The House has the power to limit the amounts advanced. The accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and are submitted to the House annually, together with a report of the work done by the companies.

If in the meantime the moneys advanced go down the sink we have no control over the operation of these companies. There is a feeling abroad that some of these companies, to say the least of it, are not too expert in connection with business enterprises which they undertake, and that these are of a speculative nature. It is easy for these gentlemen to come forward, perhaps to induce the Minister to allow them to get rid of their responsibilities, if they do not have to account to anybody.

I will not deny that the company's undertakings are not speculative. They are so speculative that nobody else would undertake them. That is why they were set up.

It is because of the speculative character of the undertakings we feel that there should be some tightening up of control. That is what we are asking for.

We provide that the company shall nominate an auditor with the approval of the Minister for Finance. Both companies have nominated the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

Is the submission of the accounts a statutory obligation?

Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Agreed to take the Final Stage to-day.
Question—"That the Bill do now pass" put and agreed to.