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.