I do not propose to go into great detail, although this is a very difficult and very complex measure which requires a tremendous amount of research if one is to understand it thoroughly. It seems extraordinary that we got explanatory notes in connection with Bills which were quite simple, but that we got no note whatever in connection with this Bill, which, from my experience of legislation here, is the most difficult Bill we have ever had to consider since I came into the House.
It is evident that the whole trend towards bureaucratic control is continuing, and, whether it is desirable or not from the Minister's point of view, it is certainly not desirable from our point of view. The local officer is to a great extent gradually disappearing and becoming a civil servant. The Minister may ask how I can argue that. My answer is that executive control, we are told, is vested in the manager, but the manager is the creature of the Minister's Department who carries out whatever the Custom House feels ought to be done. The power of the people who look for local services, for social services and for efficiency and whose responsibility under a democratic system it ought to be to return men at local elections capable of controlling and directing local affairs, by the process adopted by the Minister, is gradually disappearing.
As Deputy Coogan stated, a situation is gradually developing in which decent, capable men, men qualified to look after local affairs, men with knowledge of business who have proved their ability to man local bodies, are no longer interested in local affairs and local bodies to-day have become bodies which are not concerned so much with local affairs as with discussing resolutions which appear on the agenda. Most of their time is spent discussing these resolutions and the actual work connected with administration, expenditure and everything else is handed over to the manager. That is to continue.
Part II is the most important part of this Bill. I suppose the Minister could argue that the natural corollary of the amalgamation which has taken place under recent legislation and under the Managerial Act was to have established a county fund and a municipal fund, but, in doing that, the Minister proposes to repeal Section 47 of the Local Government Act, 1898, which secured that accounts should be kept and accounted for under very definite headings. I should like a definite assurance from the Minister that funds from one account cannot be appropriated for another purpose, because I see a grave danger of that. If that is so it means that we are giving a blank cheque to the manager, that we are giving him power to spend local moneys in whatever way he likes, and strengthening and fortifying his executive position.
I think that is not desirable. It will make for a further deterioration in the situation in which people are not taking the interest which ought to be taken in local affairs. This is a preposterous piece of legislation to introduce when so much lip-service has been paid to the necessity for a codification of the various laws, such as land laws and local government laws, which are a very complex set of laws. As a matter of fact, the local position to-day is that very few local executive officers— I suppose not even the Minister understands it—understand local government law as it exists in its complicated form, and this adds to the complication.
An amendment of the Fishery Acts is thrown into the middle of a Local Government Bill and one cannot understand the justification for such a mixed grill. It simply means the piling on of further expense, so far as the interpretation of the law is concerned, because no local officer will take on himself the responsibility of saying to a local authority that the law is such and such as laid down by any section of any particular Act. There is such a mass of legislation that he cannot be precise or definite about it.
Under Section 10, the county council is being made responsible for levying the rate for town commission purposes. The Minister has not given the House any reason for that change. Possibly he may tell us that it will mean a saving in expenditure as the county councils have the machinery for doing that class of work. I think that the county councils have quite enough to do without dabbling in purely town affairs. I do not think that the levying of the rate and the collecting of it in the past by town commissioners has been a very big problem. They were able to do the work without very much expense. I suggest to the Minister that the House is entitled to have from him an explanation for a departure of this sort, and why he thinks it is desirable to put such a provision in the Bill.
Deputies from all sides of the House have expressed objection to Section 23, which, I agree, will afford an opportunity for slipshod and indifferent estimating. I suppose the reason for it is that the Minister himself has got so used to it in his own Department. Year after year we have Supplementary Estimates presented to us, while the Minister for Finance, in his Budget speeches, assures the House that he is not going to stand for over-estimating any longer, indicating that he has impressed on every Department the necessity for more accurate estimating. In this section, without a demand for it from any local body, we are proposing to give to local bodies the opportunity of doing their business in a completely slipshod way. They can now say at the annual estimate meeting that it does not matter what amount of rate they strike since they will be able to revise the estimate any time they wish during the year. That will be their attitude. The Minister ought to know well that this section will make for that sort of a situation. Ratepayers will not know at the beginning of the financial year what further demands may be made on them later in the year. Surely, that is not fair to them or to their executive officer of the local body. This section, in my opinion, is not a desirable one. It will lead to a slip-shod, careless and an indifferent method of estimating, and is going to make for a deterioration in the local services. It certainly will not make for efficiency. I put it to the Minister that, above all things, he should insist on efficiency, and on close estimation so far as the services of the local authorities are concerned. I think that if the members of a local authority are worth their salt they should not avail of a provision of this kind, but should stand or fall by the estimate they make at the beginning of a financial year.
Section 27 provides that an official may appoint a deputy. I cannot understand that. I could understand power being given to an official to nominate a deputy, the appointment to be made by the local authority, subject to the sanction of the Minister. Why the holder of an office should be given power to appoint a deputy, and to leave the local authority completely out of it. I cannot understand. I wonder if that is the intention of the Minister or if this is an error in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister would tell the House when replying.
Section 28 deals with whole-time officers. The Minister is asking for power to ensure that whole-time officers shall devote their whole time to their office. I am sure that no one would criticise the Minister for taking power to see that whole-time officers give whole-time service. I believe that certain exceptions are made in the case of existing whole-time officers to enable them to become, for example, members of this House, or to act on committees. This is a very wide section and gives the Minister very full powers. I would like to know if he is going to be very drastic in the exercise of them. Is it intended to apply to existing officers or merely to future appointments? If it is intended to apply to existing officers, is it the Minister's intention to deny them the right they have enjoyed under existing legislation? In the case of whole-time officers appointed in the future, let us suppose that some of them are elected to represent the people in Parliament, or to serve on local committees, is it the Minister's intention to deny them the opportunity of doing so? This is a very important matter, and the Minister should deal fully with it.
I am 100 per cent. with those Deputies who expressed apprehension and disapproval of the further powers which the Minister is asking for the removal of members of local authorities and of subsidiary bodies without a sworn inquiry. After all, this is not, I hope, a Fascist Administration. It has still some of the characteristics of a democracy, and we do not want to make the Minister an absolute autocrat. The Minister is the servant of the people, and has to satisfy them, when he removes anyone from office, that he was justified in doing so. If aprima facie case is made for an investigation a sworn inquiry ought to be held in every case so that the public may know the evidence. The evidence at those inquiries used to be published in the Press. In all those cases the Minister ought to satisfy public opinion that his decision is justified. That can only be done by publishing the report of the inspector. The Minister may make all the reference he likes to precedents.
Sometimes we in this country are the slaves of precedent. There is no reason why we should be governed by precedent, and especially when we think of what the future may be when ideas in the world at the present time on social, economic and other questions are being revolutionised and when our outlook is changing. It is no defence for the Minister to say that he has the precedents established by the British Parliament and by British Ministers. What I suggest to the Minister is, that it is his responsibility to satisfy the public that any action he takes in this way is justified. So far as the reports of inspectors who hold inquiries are concerned, I think that in every case where the affairs of a local authority are in question the findings should be published. In some cases it may be undesirable to do that, particularly if they refer to an individual, because publication might react detrimentally on that individual's future employment. No one could object to the Minister exercising a discretion there. But, as regards an inquiry into the affairs of a local authority, I think that, without exception, the report of the inspector should be published.
Section 57 deals with the purchase of land by a local body inside or outside its functional area. I do not agree, except the local authority has a specific reason for purchasing, that they should be permitted to gamble in that way, but I think there should be provision, where the local authority is purchasing land for specific purpose, whereby they would have power to dispose of portion of the land. Sub-section (3) provides:
"A local authority may let land acquired by them under sub-section (1) of this section pending its being required for use by them, and, if they become of opinion that they will not require the land, they may sell it with the consent of the Minister."
My experience is that sometimes a local authority may acquire land, say, for building purposes. They want five acres of land, but they find that they cannot purchase by agreement five acres of land; they have to purchase seven or eight acres. It is more convenient to purchase by agreement, and the owner is reasonable about the price. I think we should facilitate the local authority there by empowering them to purchase the eight acres, and to dispose of the two or three acres they do not require. I think that is the real problem, and not the one covered in the proposal in this particular section. I think the Minister certainly should empower a local authority to dispose of part of a parcel of land that they have acquired if they do not want to use the whole parcel.
There are many other points which have already been covered a number of times by other speakers, and, as the Minister has shown a certain amount of impatience with me, I do not want to trespass too much on his patience. He has been generous in giving way to me, and I promised not to be long. I merely want to say again that the Minister should make it very clear to the House that even the repeal of Section 47 of the Act of 1898 does not affect the accounting for expenditure in any way; that the accounts under the various headings will be segregated, and that the manager has no right whatever to appropriate a sum of money from one account to the other. I think it is very important and very essential that proper accounting should be preserved, and that no power should rest with the manager to appropriate any sum of money from one account to the other. I cannot compliment the Minister on the sort of Bill that he has presented to the House, because it is a horrible medley. In those days, with the resources that the Minister has, one would have expected him to produce a better Bill than this.