Does any Deputy wish to express his views on this amendment?
Committee on Finance. - Local Government Bill, 1945—Committee. (Resumed).
We would like to hear the Minister a little further on it. We are hoping that the view expressed may lead him to alter his mind on the matter.
This is not a matter upon which one could go into the question of principle. It is one of judging whether it would be convenient and practicable. Whatever we may think of the principle underlying the amendment, that the views of the persons concerned ought to be expressed confidentially and ought to be regarded as a matter peculiar and particular to themselves, I do not think it would be wise to set up the elaborate machinery which the acceptance of the amendment would involve. The amendment seeks to provide that the ballot must be secret, and will be taken on the assumption that that is a more convenient and, from the public point of view, a better way of ascertaining the wishes of the inhabitants of the street. It might be a question as to whether it is necessary. As I indicated already, the views of those primarily interested in the question of changing the name—the views of the ratepayers in the street— are ascertained in a confidential way. They are not disclosed to any person, but the obligation is put upon the local authority to endeavour to get every ratepayer in the street to express a view, one way or another. The mere fact that the necessary forms are delivered—I do not know whether they are delivered by hand and again collected, or by post—to an officer of the local authority concerned does ensure, to some extent, that there will be an adequate expression of opinion on the part of the ratepayers. That is all done in a very simple way under the existing machinery.
If we are to accept this amendment we should have to go much further than it does, because we should have to make statutory provision for the taking of this ballot; we should have to prescribe the manner in which it was to be taken, we should have to lay down the whole procedure. We should, for instance, have to determine whether the ballot would be conducted according to the rules of postal voting or whether, instead of that, we should not have ratepayers attending in person at the appointed place to tender their votes. Then, perhaps, we should have to make provision for the appointment of a returning officer, or a person who would preside over the ballot, who would announce the result, and who would ensure that the result was brought to the notice of the local authority concerned. We should, in fact, have to provide a whole code for the conduct of this matter, and I suggest to the House that we should not, in what is, after all, a comparatively simple matter, extend the administrative problems of a local authority in the way it would be necessary to do if we accepted the amendment. Unless there is a really compelling reason, something which coerces us as to the justice and equity of it, we should not necessarily elaborate the procedure for ascertaining the mind of a section of the people in regard to any public matter. For that reason, while it is not a matter of principle, but merely a question of what is convenient, and what is sufficiently effective to deal with the matter, I feel that we ought not to accept the amendment.
I readily recognise that the implementation of this amendment would involve considerable legislation and possibly administrative difficulties. I am vague in regard to the procedure at present adopted. I am quite satisfied if the Minister would indicate that precautions would be taken to ensure that voting would not be given publicity. That is a rather difficult matter, because if the views of the ratepayers concerned are taken by an official of a local authority, I think it is open to the local authority to look into the papers and to scrutinise them. I imagine they would have power to do that.
The Minister did not reply to Deputy Corish's question as to the difficulty an official of a local authority might find himself in, that is to say, if undue pressure were brought to bear on him in regard to the manner in which he would give his decision. As a matter of fact, this is a matter in which an official of the local authority would be called upon to make a count of the votes for and against the proposition and it would be a rather invidious position for an official of the local authority. If the Minister were to look into this whole question before the Report Stage he might possibly be able to find some means by which the interests of the ratepayers who might possibly be intimidated in some way would be protected, and by which there would be no undue or unfair pressure brought on any official of the Department in connection with the matter. If the Minister would give that assurance, I will withdraw the amendment.
I will look into that. I am not wedded to the particular form of the section and I will see if it can be amended.
There is one matter that I wish to raise—I raised it on the Second Reading of the Bill—namely, the question of empowering local authorities to change the names of townlands. There is no power that I know of to do that. In my constituency it is the unanimous wish of the local authority to change the name of one townland. I asked the Minister on the Second Reading to bring in an amendment giving local authorities that power but I see no amendment down that would empower a local authority to change the name of a townland in the same way as an urban authority is empowered to change the name of a street. I think it is generally found throughout the country that 90 per cent. of the names of townlands are national names derived from old Irish names, whereas we find that probably not 5 per cent. of streets bear national names unless they have been changed within the last 20 or 25 years.
I have often thought that that is a great pity. I have a particular case in mind, the townland of Bunclody, which is known officially as Newtownbarry, much to the disgust of the people living within the townland. All the people of that area want the name changed to Bunclody but there seems to be no power to do so. I want the Minister to bring in an amendment to this Bill giving the local authority power to do so, by the same machinery, if you like, as is here provided for changing the names of streets and subject to the sanction of the Minister, if that is desired. The section should be further amended so as to provide that when a name is changed it will continue under that name for 25 or 50 years or any long period. In regard to the point raised by Deputy Walsh, if a local authority name a street or a new terrace of houses that they have built, the local authority coming after them should not have the power to alter the name of that street, and I suggest to the Minister that the section should be still further amended so as to provide that once a local authority has changed the name of a street or has named a street or a terrace of houses, the succeeding local authority should not have the power to alter it, but that it should stand for a considerable time —20 years, 50 years, or some period.
Very definitely, the people of County Wexford have a grievance, because there is no power whereby the local authority or the people living in this district can change the name. It is known to everyone as Bunclody, but cannot be recorded as such on the register. The Post Office call it Newtownbarry. Government Departments call it Newtownbarry, but the people of the district all call it Bunclody. There may be other townlands similarly situated. There is one thing that local residents are entitled to have, namely, the right to call their townland as is desired by an overwhelming majority in the particular townland. I would ask the Minister to consider bringing in an amendment on Report to cover that.
In regard to what Deputy Allen has said, I will look into that particular matter to see what we can do about changing the names of townlands. Of course, the real trouble in this regard is that the law relating to the nomenclature of towns and cities and streets was in a rather confused condition. We are bringing it into some sort of regularity now in relation to urban areas, but about townlands I have some reservation. However, I will look into it and see what we can do.
On the question of prescribing that once a name has been adopted it will continue to be the name of the particular place for a period, that may present other difficulties. I think the provision which we are now making to ensure that there will be a reasonable majority in favour of the change will prevent the sort of spasmodic changes which appear to have been taking place at least in one urban area. Henceforward, whatever else this section does, it prescribes that the name will not be changed except with the consent of a certain number of people. That will prevent a local authority from behaving in the way that Deputy Walsh told the House Drogheda Corporation behaved on at least two occasions.
Will the Minister say under what law the name of Bunclody was changed to Newtownbarry?
Not under any law but I assume that the territorial magnate of the time decided to call it Newtownbarry.
It is known officially by that name and has been. Some Departments refused to revert back. I want to make them.
Deputy Allen has set me thinking a little with his question about Bunclody.
It was a hard job.
When I scratch my head I find wooden splinters under my nail. Now it is explained to me. There are many anomalies of the kind indicated by Deputy Allen. There are two or three Newcastles in Ireland. I do not know how they got the name. There is one point I should like to put to the Minister. I was a member of a firm in the principal street in this city. The legal name of it was Sackville Street. I should like to be enlightened as to whether it is now legally O'Connell Street.
It is legally O'Connell Street.
For how many years has it been?
Since 1923 or 1924, I think.
Previous to that, my partner and I put a document before the court in which the name O'Connell Street appeared. We were struck out. That cost us about £20. Usage made it O'Connell Street but the bourgeoisie called it Sackville Street. My partner and I, in our national ideals, called it O'Connell Street. There was a well-known firm in the street at that time that called itself by such-and-such a company, Dublin, and never mentioned either O'Connell Street or Sackville Street.
I move amendment No. 114, standing in the name of Deputy Hughes:—
In sub-section (1), lines 6 and 7, to delete the words "in their opinion"; in line 7 to delete the word "will" and the words "in the future"; and in line 8 to delete all the words after the word "duties" to the end of the sub-section.
So far as I can see, Deputy Hughes's amendment is to ensure that a local authority will not embark upon the purchase of land until it has absolutely satisfied itself that it needs the land for the purpose of exercising its powers ánd duties and that it will not embark upon the purchase of land when it has not definitely determined on using the land for some public purpose.
It seems to me that that is almost a direct negative to the section. It certainly would make the proposed section superfluous. With some idea of the trend of town and country planning and what the future requirements of urban areas for land may be in that connection, we are seeking to give local authorities power to acquire by agreement land which, in their opinion, they will require in future for the purpose of their powers and duties. Notwithstanding that, the section says that, at the moment, they need not determine the purpose for which they will use the land. I think that that is a very necessary power if we are to have any sort of town and country planning, because the one merges in the other. It is necessary, I think, to enable local authorities, who are taking a farsighted view of what their future aims may be, to acquire land which will enable them to give effect to what they think will be their ultimate aims and purposes. For that reason I could not accept the amendment, which seems to me almost directly to negative the effect of the section and which, in any event, would make it superfluous.
On behalf of Deputy Hughes I move amendment No. 115:—
In sub-section (3), line 17, after the word "land" to insert the following words "or part thereof".
Where a local authority has acquired land and does not require it immediately for a public purpose, Section 57 (3) gives them power to sell the land. This amendment suggests that they should have power to sell portion of the land as well as the whole of the land so acquired.
We are advised that the sub-section as it stands is sufficient to enable a local authority to sell part of the land if they do not require it.
That the whole includes a part?
I think so.
The section only says that they may let the land. It does not give them any authority to sell it if they find that they do not require it.
Yes, they may. Sub-section (3), lines 16 and 17, says that if they become of opinion that they will not require the land they may sell it with the consent of the Minister.
I think what Deputy Hughes meant was that they may only require portion and may require to let or sell another portion. There is nothing wrong about the amendment and I cannot see that it will affect the section.
The trouble is that the Parliamentary draftsman actually has a very strong objection to putting in words that may be superfluous and that are not clearly required for the purpose of expressing the meaning of the section. They are not required here, because the local authority may let the land. That is a general term. It does not refer to any specific or definite portion of land. They may let any land which they may have and they may sell any land which they may have. That is the effect of the section and I do not think the amendment is necessary.
Subject to the Minister's consent.
Yes. They must satisfy somebody that it is necessary.
I move amendment No. 116:—
To add after sub-section (5) a new sub-section as follows:—
(6) Where land acquired by a local authority has been dedicated to the use of the public and the local authority are of opinion that the use of such land by the public has been abandoned or is no longer required they may sell it with the consent of the Minister.
This is designed to meet the case where land was formerly acquired by a local authority and dedicated to the public and has since been abandoned and is no longer required by the local authority for public purposes. I understand that there is doubt in a case of that kind that the local authority has statutory power to sell the land. I put down this amendment in order to remove that doubt. I know a case where land was taken in some time ago from an estate. Subsequently a portion of that land was converted to public use. It has since been abandoned for all practical public purposes and is no use to the local authority. I am advised that the local authority has no statutory power in a case of that kind to sell the land, if they so desire. I am seeking to give the local authority power in a case of that kind if they so think fit, to sell the land to a private householder or business firm.
I am not quite clear as to what the effect of the amendment would be, nor indeed as to what is the precise difficulty which the Deputy is endeavouring to solve by the amendment. There are a number of expressions in it which I think would afford occasion for quite a great deal of legal discussion. There is, first of all, the question of "where land has been dedicated to the use of the public". What constitutes dedication I think the Deputy will appreciate is not always very clear. In addition to that, where the public have acquired certain rights in land they may be of a very general character and they may be precarious and uncertain. In fact, the local authority may in some cases have a statutory power to take those rights away. I was referring to what precisely would constitute dedication to the use of the public. A road, say, over which the public have a right of passage might be on land acquired by a local authority.
The local authority might have abandoned the road, but the right of passage might not be extinguishable and perhaps they would not be able to sell the land. On the other hand, they might be able to extinguish the right of passage and the land might be sold. I do not want to resist the purpose which the Deputy has in view in regard to this amendment until I am quite clear that the purpose which he has in mind should be rejected. If he could let me have a note of some cases which he thinks should be dealt with under this proposed new sub-section, I would look into the matter and see whether we can meet him at all, or whether it can be met by an amendment on the Report Stage.
I trust the Minister in considering the amendment will be very careful as to its implications. The section as it stands refers specifically to land acquired under sub-section (1) and all the subsections have that same reference. In Deputy Coogan's amendment there is, however, no reference to land being acquired under sub-section (1) and, in its present drafting, it could apply to any land acquired at any time by a local authority. I think that raises a principle that many of us would strenuously object to. For instance, take the city estate of the Dublin Corporation. At present they have no power to sell that. With this amendment inserted, the gate would be wide open possibly to speculation in the city estate. The other difficulty I see is that it is quite possible that a parcel of land may be in the possession of a local authority for some time and used as a public park. It may be very valuable and it is possible to envisage circumstances where the controlling body on that local authority might decide to dispose of that piece of land. It might be entirely against the public interest and yet under the powers conferred by the amendment, the possibility would be there. While it may be argued that they are subject to the eventual control of the citizens and the ratepayers, by the time the citizens and the ratepayers have acquired control, the damage may have been done.
It may be said that there is a safeguard, inasmuch as the consent of the Minister must be obtained, but Ministers change, just as local authorities do, and it is possible that we may have a Minister in office whose regard for the public interests might not be of the character of that of the Minister we have in office now, or who may be in office in the immediate future. I can quite readily conceive the possibility of large and valuable sections of public property being disposed of under the powers suggested in the amendment. I think, if anything, the section as a whole should be allowed to stand as it is, and the question can be argued on the principle as a whole at a later stage.
I agree with the view put forward by Deputy Larkin to a large extent, and perhaps the amendment would have been better framed if I had suggested a new section rather than couple the amendment with Section 57. I had not in mind land acquired under Section 57, but I have in mind land which was acquired long ago, and which is not now used even as a public place, and which has been virtually abandoned for all public purposes. Neighbouring householders might need expansion in the way of a yard or some facility of that kind, and I think that it is only right in a case of that kind, if the local authority were satisfied, that they should have the right to sell such land to adjoining householders with the consent of the Minister. The case of Dublin is a big problem, I agree, but the case I have in mind is a rather small one. Some years ago, on the De Vesci estate in Dun Laoghaire, when the landlords were selling their houses, they gave the right to a number of householders in a certain street to enclose a certain portion of ground at the rere of the premises.
In the actual cases I have in mind, the householders did not opt to take this portion of land at the rere of their premises, but their successors in title do require the ground for the purposes of convenience and of business generally. They are cramped in space and they have been denied rights which the adjoining householders got a number of years ago. The land, I believe, is, in the opinion of the local authority and their engineers, useless for public purposes. The householders are quite prepared in the circumstances, if the local authority is willing to sell, to buy at a reasonable price. There is no question at all of interference with the right of passage or the right of the public to use the place. The land is there and it is derelict. Through a mischance in the past, this land was not enclosed and it is virtually useless. Portion of the place has been set aside as a parking ground but in my experience, since going to reside there in 1939, it has never been used as a parking place. If the local authority intended to build on it they would naturally enclose it. It is a case of that kind I have in mind.
Is the amendment being withdrawn?
Withdrawn, subject to my right to make representations to the Minister before the Report Stage.
I should like to know whether the acquisition of land under this section is a reserved function. I suggest it should be a reserved function, and that the local authority should know the purpose of the acquisition of such land. The section is a bit wide and if the local authority had no knowledge of what the land was being acquired for, it might be acquired over their heads. I agree with the principle of the section, that it is necessary to have a kind ofad hoc authority to acquire land when it comes on the market without waiting to set up machinery to acquire it. I know an instance in which a local authority had to pay triple the price for land because they could not buy it when it was first offered on the market. They had no power without going through the usual course of law and when the matter had gone through the usual course of law, they had to pay three times the price at which they could have bought the land on the open market.
I believe that this should be a reserved function and that when land is being acquired for any purpose the local authority should be consulted. If they are going to pay I suppose they could refuse to find the money but I suggest that, apart from that, they should be consulted by the manager. While I am on that subject, I believe that under the existing law county managers can dispose of property without the authority of the council or without even referring the matter to the council. That may lead to trouble in future. It is something the Minister should look into because one individual should not have the right to dispose of property acquired and paid for by a local authority without consulting that authority. The right should not repose in one individual to dispose of public property already paid for by the taxpayers of the area without their authority.
From my reading of the Managerial Act the purchase and disposal of property such as the Deputy has mentioned is a reserved function. We have exercised that function already in the case of my council.
As to the point Deputy Allen has made, I am not convinced that it is necessary to include here provisions specifically constituting this a reserved function, because one thing certain in this country is that no person, except perhaps in the case which Deputy Coogan has mentioned, which I think is extremely rare, can acquire land without money. Certainly the manager cannot raise money on his own account. Only the local authority can consent to the raising of money, either by way of loan or by way of rate. In regard to the other point, as to the power of the manager to dispose of property, I think I should require to look into that matter a little more carefully before I commit myself. I should be surprised to find that the county manager could dispose of property without the consent of the local authority.
They claim to have that power.
We not only disputed it but exercised our right.
There is a difference of opinion on it.
We can look into it. I find that one of the matters in respect of which the powers, functions and duties are reserved functions is, according to the County Management Act, 1940, "the disposition (otherwise than by demise for a term not exceeding one year) under the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Acts, 1840 to 1888, of lands, tenements, or hereditaments." The precise scope of that provision must be examined before I can commit myself to any definite view on the matter.
The Minister should examine that, as some managers have been legally advised that they have power to dispose of property. With regard to acquiring property without the consent of the council, the council can be committed irretrievably and have no option but to provide the money.
I can see circumstances where they can be committed.
Perhaps the Deputy will give me a note of those circumstances.
There are such circumstances, even though they put up the money afterwards. Regarding the County Management Act, one of the things councils will resent is being faced at a meeting with the statement that the manager has acquired 30 acres of land and wants the money for it. Councils naturally resent just being told that he has acquired so much land and wants so much money to pay for it.
It seems to me that the council have an answer to that which is very conclusive—they can tell him to go and buy the 30 acres for himself.
If he were compelled to consult the council beforehand as to whether it should be bought or not, it would be different. If they agreed, that would mean giving him the money.
It also might mean the price of the land would have gone up correspondingly.
Deputy Allen is quite right. There was a certain city in a part of Ireland which bought property and found it was a white elephant, though it had to pay for it.
I move amendment No. 117:—
Before Section 59, page 23, to insert a new section as follows:—
(1) Where any council of a county, corporation of a county borough or urban authority have for the time being any power to borrow money, they may, with the consent of the Minister, exercise such power by the creation of stock to be created, issued, transferred, dealt with, redeemed and extinguished in such manner, on such terms and in accordance with such provisions as may be prescribed.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of sub-section (1) of this section, regulations made for the purposes of this section may make provision in respect of any of the following matters:—
(a) the discharge of any loan raised by the stock issued in accordance with the regulations,
(b) in the case of consolidation of debt, for extending or varying the times within which loans may be discharged,
(c) consent of limited owners,
(d) the application of the Acts relating to stamp duties and to cheques,
(e) disposal of unclaimed dividends.
(3) Before making regulations for the purposes of this section, the Minister shall consult the Minister for Finance in relation to such regulations.
(4) Every regulation made for the purpose of this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and if a resolution annulling the regulation is passed by either such House within the next subsequent 30 days on which the House has sat after the regulation is laid before it, the regulation shall be annulled accordingly but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.
(5) If no such resolution as is mentioned in sub-section (4) of this section is passed in relation to any regulation made for the purposes of this section, the regulation shall be deemed to have been duly made and to be within the powers of this Act and shall be of the same force as if enacted in this Act.
(6) Every regulation which was made under Section 52 (repealed by this Act) of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1890, or Article 23 (also repealed by this Act) of the Schedule to the Local Government (Application of Enactments) Order, 1898, and which was in force immediately before the commencement of this section shall continue in force and shall be capable of being amended or revoked as if it were made under this Act for the purposes of this section.
The purpose of this section is to replace Section 52 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1890, and Article 23 of the Schedule to the Local Government (Application of Enactments) Order, 1898, both of which it is proposed to repeal.
I move amendment No. 118:—
In sub-section (1), line 34, to delete the word "possess" and substitute therefor the following words: "should have the assistance of an assessor with" and to delete the word "inspector", line 36, and substitute therefor the word "assessor" and to insert before the word "holding", line 37, the words "assisting the inspector", and to delete the words "and submitting his report thereon", in lines 37 and 38.
The purpose of this amendment is to provide that where an inquiry involves matters of a technical nature, instead of appointing a temporary qualified person, the Minister would appoint the persons normally accustomed to hold these inquiries or properly and legally qualified to hold them, and would have the assistance of a technically qualified expert as an assessor. I have a further amendment later on, on this question of inquiries, under Section 62. Inquiries of a public character should be conducted by people with some knowledge of the law and of the rules of evidence. If you appoint a purely technical person, such as an engineer, he may be perfectly qualified to deal with certain technical aspects of the inquiry but may not be at all qualified to deal with what I consider the important aspects—the nature of the evidence which is admissible. From experience, I find that local Government inquiries may often take on the character of a fishing inquiry.
That is what they are intended to be.
But they may finish up by fishing in every kind of water, clean and muddy.
They are intended to be an investigation and not intended to be a trial.
At the same time, I think it is improper, where you are dealing, perhaps, with the performance of duties by officials that an inquiry which may be into specific allegations may wind up by becoming what we call a fishing inquiry. That is an obnoxious system and very unfair to those whose positions and livelihood are at stake. That does not arise so much on this as on the subsequent amendment. Public inquiries of this nature should be conducted as far as possible after the manner of a court, having regard to the rules of evidence. If the Minister takes the view that it is an investigation, then so is every case before a court and the courts are not restricted in any degree in their investigation except by the rules of evidence. They may not take in every fishy story they hear and may not accept every hearsay yarn that comes along. It is with a view to stopping that kind of thing I put down this amendment.
I think the purpose of this section has been misunderstood by the Deputy, and that some of the points he proposes to raise might be raised more effectively on a later section. Contrary to the general opinion, and certainly contrary to the views which have been expressed here in the Dáil, the Department of Local Government is not overstaffed but understaffed, particularly in regard to inspectors. It is often found to be a matter of great difficulty to allocate an officer to act as inspector to hold an inquiry, particularly where it may be of a protracted nature, as in the case of the Limerick Gas Undertaking.
The purpose of this section is to enable the Minister to appoint temporary inspectors to hold investigations which may be protracted. I quite admit that, in some circumstances, the person appointed should possess special qualifications. In some cases, these qualifications may be of a legal nature and in other instances they may be of a technical character. Having recognised the need for this—it having been brought home particularly in connection with the Limerick inquiry, and one or two other instances, the Cork Fire Brigade Inquiry, for instance—the purpose of this provision is to allow us to meet that situation, which may arise more often in the future than it has in the past. It is not desired to enlarge the permanent inspectorate in the Department for the purpose of holding such inquiries and this will enable us to appoint a personad hoc in such special cases.
I think the inquiry mentioned by the Minister is specifically a case in point. There you had a marathon inquiry, extending over a very long period, and you had the parties before that inquiry represented by counsel. The inquiry was conducted by an engineer.
My point in putting down the amendment is that I consider it is unfair to put a technically qualified engineer into the position of having to decide on matters of evidence, particularly where issues of such a serious nature were at stake as at the Limerick inquiry. I think it would be much better if the person holding the inquiry were a legally qualified person and the engineer were to act as his assessor. You can reverse the position if you like, and, if the technical aspect is the overwhelming consideration, then I suggest that the engineer should have a legal assessor. The Minister can quite see that counsel can, at a public inquiry, get in a whole lot of material, perhaps very damaging material to the interests of a particular party, before that inquiry which he could not attempt to get in before a court of law. It is for that purpose I am raising this issue. I think we should put this more or less on the basis of a legal tribunal— perhaps not altogether on that basis, but as far as possible the conduct of the proceedings before the tribunal should be based on the practice and procedure in the courts.
That is where the Deputy and I are poles apart. These inquiries are not trials; they are not judicial processes; they are in the nature of an investigation. They are what they purport to be, what their name proclaims them to be—inquiries, investigations to ascertain facts, not to prove charges. In connection with the Limerick inquiry, the fact that had to be ascertained there was whether the manager of the gas works was competent or incompetent; whether he had been allowed to carry on a function properly as a manager of such a concern should be allowed. These were matters that could only properly be determined by a person with technical qualification, by an engineer and not by a lawyer. There was not any question as to whether the manager was producing gas illegally. The question at issue was as to whether the manager was producing gas efficiently and economically, or whether the organisation which had been built up around him was such as to prevent him from producing gas efficiently or economically. Those were the points of issue and there was no legal aspect in the matter.
It is quite true that lawyers were engaged on both sides. I do not want to reflect upon the legal profession, but I think that perhaps the inquiry would have been shorter and that the results would have been ascertained with equal certitude if, instead of having persons whose sole practice was the practice of the law, the parties who had to justify themselves at the inquiry, or the persons concerned in the inquiry, had had a couple of people technically competent to consider the technical issues raised and to advise them on those issues. It was arising out of that that we found there was a need on occasions to have people with particular technical knowledge and, I quite frankly admit, people with legal qualifications to act as investigators.
These inquiries are not all of the same type. Sometimes they will be concerned as to whether road maintenance and construction and civil engineering works have been properly carried out. The only person who can decide this is a civil engineer, a person himself competent to construct roads and bridges. In other instances, as in the case of the Limerick inquiry, it may be a question as to whether a municipal undertaking or a gas undertaking has been properly run. On other occasions it may be as to whether a hospital has been properly conducted or a patient properly treated. These are matters in which, I suggest, persons who have an intimate and competent knowledge are better able to determine and decide—because you must remember that this is an investigation and not a trial—much more competent to determine and decide than a lawyer could be.
There may be other occasions where questions of accountancy will arise. Again, an accountant would be better employed because it is not the law or the application of the law that is involved in these matters, except on very rare occasions. What is involved in most of these inquiries is the question of administration, the extent to which the administration is good or bad, the extent to which say, a storekeeper has accounted properly for the goods entrusted to his care, the extent to which a doctor has properly attended to his patients, or the extent to which an engineer has carried out duties efficiently and economically. These are technical matters and they are not matters to be made the subject of a trial.
We have to remember in connection with this that the inquiries are, if you like, fishing inquiries, because the need to hold an inquiry will perhaps arise only on what appears to be an isolated matter. When we receive a complaint from somewhere that moneys are not being properly accounted for, or that a bridge has not been properly constructed, we send a person down, not with very precise terms of reference; we send him down generally to investigate the whole conduct of a local service. Sometimes when it is a case of the treatment of a patient, it may specifically relate to that, but remember, when these cases come to our notice they are only, so to speak, a trace of smoke indicating that there is a large fire, and when we send an inspector down, naturally he starts on the specific matter that has been brought to his notice, but in the course of his investigations he may uncover a lot of other things which indicate that the local administration is not as it ought to be.
Therefore, it would be quite impossible to fulfil the purpose of these inquiries if they were to be regarded as trials at which charges would have to be formulated and at which charges would have to be proved according to the rules of evidence. The trouble created in this matter is because the public mind has been confused as to the function which an inspector has to fulfil. An inspector is, as his name implies, an inspector. When he holds an inquiry he goes to inquire and he goes there not limited in the scope of his investigation to any narrow issue. If we feel it necessary to have a sworn inquiry into any matter of local administration, we are not going to send an inspector there with his hands tied behind his back and one eye blindfolded. He goes down with his eyes wide open and, if he suspects any defect in that local administration, it is his duty to probe it to the bottom. That is the only way in which we can keep our local administration clean and efficient. Accordingly, as I already indicated, I could not accept this amendment, and I cannot accept any amendment, the purpose of which would in any way tend to change the nature of the sworn inquiries and make them judicial proceedings.
Surely the Minister will agree that there are degrees in this matter. There is quite a good case for his argument that a technical man will be probably the best qualified in regard to mortar, cement and engineering work, but where the livelihood of individual officers may be at stake, it is only right and proper that the inspector should be hedged around with law. The position is that the inspector like every other citizen is subject to the law and cannot get outside the law. Neither can the Minister. All I am seeking here is to ensure that where an individual officer's future may be at stake, some regard will be had to the evidence, and that there will be some limit to the fishing investigation. The only way to impose a limit is to insist that the investigation will be carried out in accordance with the rules of evidence, and that the inspector will not accept as evidence anything which would not be acceptable in the ordinary courts of law. There is a good case for that. I know of no court which follows the same procedure as ministerial inquiries in the recent past. I am not going to argue the merits of the position in this case, but I say that time and again evidence has been admitted by an inspector which would not be admitted by a court of law. That evidence was admitted to the detriment of officials whose fortunes and future were at stake. There should be some regard to the rules of evidence in cases affecting the fortunes of public servants.
I agree with Deputy Coogan in this matter. I think the Minister made a good speech from his point of view, but I do not think he improved on it. He said that the inquiry was to ascertain the facts, not to prove charges. If I understood him aright, he stated that was the diference between an inquiry and a court of law. I am not a lawyer.
I am not a lawyer either.
When a case comes before a judge his function is not to prove the charge. I presume that is the duty of those making the charge. I do not think there is any better fact-finding institution than the courts of law. The rules of evidence grew up in order that facts should be ascertained correctly and with as much justice as possible. Whilst I can see the point which the Minister made, and which Deputy Coogan admitted and agreed with, that a technical man should be given freedom to inquire into technical matters, I think the person who was the subject of their inquiries should be given the protection of the rules of evidence, not in a way to hinder the investigation but in order to protect him. Personalities might be brought in, or a man's past character might be brought in, greatly to his detriment. Something might be referred to that had nothing to do with the case, but which might colour the mind of the inspector holding the inquiry because he was not a trained legal man any more than the Minister or myself are trained legal men. The rules of evidence have been designed, not to limit the scope of an inquiry to that of a court of law, but in the interest of those concerned. Rules of evidence can help both parties.
The case for having a trained man sitting beside a technical man is very strong. A man who appears before such an inquiry should have that protection. Justice demands it. I do not say that all inquiries in a local area are unjust to men who appear before them. I am sure they are not. But I can see that when working outside, and when completely ignorant of the rules of evidence, something might be admitted which should not be. There is a good case for the amendment. The Minister referred to the question of administration, and mentioned doctors and others. A doctor in charge of a hospital down the country could hardly think any charge more serious, professionally, than that of mal-administration. While it probably would not mean a criminal charge, it might damn him professionally. In the long run what is proposed should strengthen the hands of the Minister and the Department, and should build up a greater public respect than now exists for the present system of inquiry. It might, in certain instances, react unjustly on individuals.
There is a good deal in what Deputy Coogan and Deputy Dockrell have said but I should like them to develop their argument further because it seems to me that to proceed on the basis they suggest would eventually end up in the setting up of a fully established court of law. Let us take, for instance, that you have, say, an engineer assisted by a legal assessor, holding an inquiry, governed by the rules of evidence. One of our objects is to prevent extraneous matters from coming out in the inquiry which would colour it in the viewpoint of the person holding the inquiry or of the Minister or might damage witnesses on either side in the locality. That means that there must be some guidance of the evidence to be given by the individual. Everyone is aware that if a person who is before an inquiry of any kind, or before a court, is asked merely to make a statement, some purely extraneous matter comes out that has no relation at all to the subject under discussion. In the ordinary formal court of law he is guided by questions by the prosecution or defence and the judge is there to see that the rules of evidence are complied with and that he keeps within prescribed limits.
If we have an inquiry such as is envisaged by Deputy Coogan, it seems to me that there must be some similar guidance for the persons appearing before the inquiry and that that guidance must come either from the legal assessor who then, by the nature of the inquiry, very obviously will find himself being committed to one side or the other regarding the issues being inquired into or, alternatively, the legal assessor and the person acting as inspector holding the inquiry remain aloof and the witness is taken through his evidence by another legal person, if you like, acting for the prosecution, and assisted on his part by someone appearing for the defence. I cannot see how Deputy Coogan will succeed in getting what he is anxious for without having to go the whole way and having it a formal court of law. It seems to me that if that is the position we are to end up in, while it may be an improvement to some extent, it also has objections because we are then facing the question of inquiries where ordinary working men, clerical officers, and so on, with no great financial resources, may find, as you will find in a court of law, that his ability, not to defend himself against actual charges, but to maintain his position in the inquiry, may depend on his ability to provide expert legal assistance.
It seems to me much better, even if there are difficulties in the present system, that it should be more free and not confined by limitations. While I agree, in so far as Deputy Coogan suggests that there should be technical advice from an assessor in an inquiry where the inspector should have legal qualifications, and legal advice from an assessor where the person holding the inquiry requires to have technical qualifications, in order to have the two sides represented, it does seem to me that we should still maintain the inquiry on as free and unrestricted a basis as possible, and certainly avoid the possibility of its developing into the more rigid form, with all its consequences, of a court of law.
Of course, Deputy Larkin is under a misapprehension. The parties before inquiries as at present conducted are generally represented by counsel.
No, not generally; sometimes; very often.
Counsel will appear in any inquiry of any importance, and the parties have the right to be represented there and to be heard through counsel. That is the existing practice. I am not suggesting that we should set up a system of local government courts. I am only asking that in their deliberations the inspectors holding these inquiries would be guided by the rules of evidence and that in admitting evidence and in dealing with witnesses they would have regard to the rules of evidence. But, I would remind Deputy Larkin that the practice prevailing in the Department of Industry and Commerce in matters affecting wages and the conditions of labour is, roughly speaking, what I should like to see brought about in local government. There you have a legal chairman of these councils set up by the Minister and he has the assistance of assessors, and the various parties come before them. There is at least this safeguard in that system that you have a man who has legal training and who can decide on matters of evidence in an expert fashion. My whole concern in this is that in many of these inquiries the whole livelihood of an individual or a series of individuals may be at stake. The punishment meted out by the Minister as a result of an inquiry of this nature is so drastic that I think there should be some safeguards for the particular individual.
What about the safeguard for the public interest and the ratepayers and the individuals who may be very seriously affected by the failure of these officers to do their duty?
I quite agree, but you have instituted a managerial system. That managerial system has introduced an entirely new system of supervision over local authorities. We have the Minister's inspectors making periodic visits through the country to the various local authorities, being in touch with the members of the local authorities and with the officials of the local authorities. You have, in theory, a system of annual audit. If all these things were being conducted efficiently, then the number of loopholes for particular individuals to escape through would be very, very few indeed. I think that there is a reasonable case for considering merely the viewpoint that I have, that where individual officers' livelihoods or future are at stake, in these cases the inquiry should, as far as possible, be conducted in accordance with the rules of evidence. I am not pressing the matter further than that.
Shall I put the amendment?
I am not accepting it.
Would the Minister consider it?
No. I think I have already made my position clear. The Deputy has referred to the County Management Act where, I think—I hope I may be wrong—that certainly the power of the Minister to investigate should be strengthened and not whittled down in future.
I move amendment No. 119:—
In sub-section (1), lines 49 and 50, to delete the words "the Minister may, if he so thinks fit, order that".
Amendments Nos. 119 and 120 hang together. Section 60, as it is framed, says that the Minister, if he so thinks fit, may order that the manager for the local authority may appear separately at the inquiry. I raised this point on Second Reading. I think that, as a matter of course, the interests of the local authority, that is, the elected members of the local authority, and the manager are certainly not identical and in many cases may be so diverse that, as a matter of course, the manager should have the right to be represented separately at a public inquiry.
This amendment would leave it to the discreation of the manager as to whether he would appear separately or not at the inquiry. If there is to be a discretion in this matter, I think the discretion ought to rest in the hands of the Minister, because that is really the purpose of the section, although it has been phrased in this way to ensure that the local authority will be separately represented, if they wish to be. Prior to this, there was some doubt, if it were necessary for a local authority to be represented by counsel at an inquiry, as to whose function it was to instruct the legal representatives. Arising out of that, at least at one inquiry where I thought that the council should be represented separately, the manager was able, in his interpretation of the law, to instruct counsel to appear ostensibly on behalf of the local authority who were the complainants in the matter, but, in effect, to act on behalf of the servants of that local authority. It has not happened that it would be necessary for a local authority to be represented independently of the manager, but where it is felt that the members of a local authority should have independent legal advice or be independently represented before the inquiry, then we propose to take that power, and the only way we can do it is by requiring the manager to be separately represented.
I move amendment No. 121:—
In sub-section (2), page 24, to delete paragraph (b).
In moving this amendment I am somewhat amazed, after listening to the last contribution of the Minister, because it seems to me that I am protecting the local authority against something which does not exist, and that I have completely misread the section. As I see the section at the moment, if the Minister so decides, he may order that the manager or the local authority may appear separately at the inquiry.
The point I was concerned with was, that the order being so made by the Minister, the manager is entitled to be represented by counsel or solicitor, and that the counsel or solicitor appearing at the inquiry shall be paid by the local authority. It seems to me to be an invidious position in cases where the reasons for an inquiry being held are due to a conflict between the manager and the local authority, possibly arising out of a question of authority or abuse of authority by the manager, the Minister having ordered the manager to appear separately, that the local authority would then have to pay for the legal representation and separate appearance of the manager, acting on the Minister's orders, although the whole crux of the situation into which the investigation is held arose out of the actions of the manager himself.
Now the Minister says that the purpose of the section is to permit the local authority to be represented separately. If that is so, it does seem to me, if the Minister in a particular case is of opinion that for certain reasons it is important for the manager to be separately represented, that some provision should be made whereby the expenses of the legal representation of the manager should not be thrown on the local authority. If we are dealing with the case of the Minister being afforded power to exercise over-all authority with regard to a local authority, he should be prepared to take the additional step of meeting the costs that arise from the necessity that he has found to make this particular order, rather than to impose the costs on the local authority.
Of course we will have to have regard to the situation which might arise where, aprima facie case being submitted to him, the Minister determines that the manager should be separately represented at the inquiry and the evidence at the inquiry exonerates the manager. In that case we could not surely mulct the manager in costs. That is really the position, that where the manager is required to be represented separately and his general conduct has been justified at the inquiry, he should not have to bear the expense which is inflicted upon him by the order of the Minister.
Supposing the manager is found not to be blameless in the matter, but the local authority is, does not the section still hold?
Yes. It reads: "where the manager appears at the inquiry by counsel or solicitor, the cost of the appearance (subject to such, if any, limit as the Minister may think proper to impose) shall be paid by the local authority". The Minister has power to determine whether the manager will bear the whole or any part of the cost.
That is just the trouble, because I can foresee where an inquiry may be forced by the Minister and the manager as against the local authority, the local authority being subsequently justified.
It conceivably might happen, but certainly so far I have not ordered an inquiry in which the conduct of a local authorityvis-á-vis the manager has been the issue. In the only other two cases of which I have a recollection it was the conduct of the manager which really arose and not the conduct of the local authority. In the case of the Limerick gas works, the corporation asked for that inquiry. I suggested that perhaps the Limerick Corporation might consider being separately represented, because I thought there was a case to be investigated, but they determined that they would not be. They were represented by the manager. If I had the power in this section, I would have had a great deal of hesitation in allowing the manager his full costs. He did get his full costs, even though the result of the inquiry reflected upon him. There may be a case in which the demand for an inquiry is shown by the evidence to be fully justified, and there were perhaps mitigating circumstances. In that event, I think it would be only just that the extent to which the circumstances mitigated the conduct which gave rise to the demand for the inquiry should be taken into account in assessing what proportion of the costs the manager or any other officer concerned might be called upon to pay. That is the purpose of this section.
It seems to me as the sub-section stands that whatever the result of the inquiry may be, the local authority will be made responsible.
It only says "such limit, if any". That seems to indicate that a portion at least of the expenses of the manager will have to be paid by the local authority. It only gives the Minister power to limit the amount to be paid. I think the Minister will admit that there is something in that.
Perhaps there may be. I will look into that. That certainly was not the intention.
As I say, the Minister will see the liability is on the local authority to pay the costs.
I see that, but we must read the sub-section as a whole and we cannot leave out the saver as to the Minister's discretion. There is power to impose a limit.
That is the only discretion the Minister has. The Minister will not be empowered, for instance, in a case where the manager is found culpable, to say that the local authority will not be responsible for any of the costs incurred.
Except a nominal portion of the costs, perhaps.
Is the amendment being pressed?
I shall press it—unless the Minister undertakes to look into the interpretation of "limit".
I want to be clear as to what the Deputy's objection is. Apparently he fears that invariably the manager would be indemnified as to his full legal expenses in any inquiry.
The manager, it would seem, has a claim to some portion of his costs in every circumstance.
And the desire of the House is that if he is found to be flagrantly culpable, no part of his legal expenses will be chargeable to the local authority?
The manager might be a type of person who is solely responsible for forcing the inquiry. As a result of that he makes the local authority not only responsible for the costs which are put on themselves but also for portion at least of his own costs.
I want to be clear on this matter. Naturally it is not a matter where we are anchored to any particular form of words. If the feeling is in circumstances where investigation shows that the manager has been, as I have said, flagrantly culpable and there are no mitigating circumstances whatever, he should be compelled to bear the full expenses of his legal representation before the inquiry—if that is the principle which the House wants to put into the section, I shall look into the matter before Report Stage and see what I can do to meet that point of view because that in fact is the purpose which I had in mind. If it is possible to state it in another way, I shall state it in another way which shall leave no room for ambiguity. On the other hand, I must say—and the Minister must be the final judge in this matter—that if having examined the evidence, I think that, while the manager has been culpable, there are mitigating circumstances and that it would impose too onerous a burden on him if he had to meet the full amount of his legal expenses — these mitigating circumstances might arise because the local authority took up an unreasonable attitude or because perhaps there was some lapse on the part of the Minister or his Department or they might arise because of a certain kind of local pressure — circumstances like these would seem in justice to demand that the manager should not be mulcted in his full costs, and I think the Minister must have power to waive some part of his costs and ask the local authorities to bear them.
The Minister could retain his power to limit the allowance.
I shall look into this matter between now and the Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 122:—
In sub-section (2) page 24, line 4, before the word "cost" to insert the word "reasonable".
The object of this amendment has been pretty well adumbrated in the discussion on previous amendments. The amendment aims at inserting the word "reasonable" before the word cost because the only power, as has already been mentioned, left to the Minister is to limit the cost. Prior to the Minister's intervention, however, it might be possible for the manager to engage any counsel he likes. "Counsel" in that context may be singular or plural and he may have a whole array of counsel to whom high fees will have to be paid.
We had a recent experience in my city of an inquiry of this kind and we had to pay the cost of it. In that instance the inquiry was asked for by the corporation. The corporation did not want to shirk their liability but we had two counsel and a solicitor on one side and a senior counsel and a solicitor on the other side. There is nothing to prevent a manager under this section from having a full bench of counsel and the Minister would not come into the picture until after counsel had been engaged. Under the section the manager might hold that he was entitled to engage counselad lib. and even if he did not get his full costs from the local authority, part of his costs might reach a very substantial figure. The historic inquiry in Limerick cost approximately £5,000 as between the two sides and we have naturally to be cautious as to the liability of the local authority in future when such inquiries are held.
I hope we shall not have an inquiry lasting 35 or 37 days on the next occasion, but history has a knack of repeating itself and I think the Minister should take precautions now. Personally I am not objecting that, in the circumstances in Limerick, we have to pay reasonable expenses to the manager but other circumstances may arise where a manager would not be entitled to any expenses. In the Limerick case the manager was compelled willy nilly to engage counsel by the action of the corporation in asking for an inquiry but I think there should be a stronger form of words in the section so as to restrict the liberty of action of any manager in bringing in a big array of counsel and make the local authority pay for them. I think the Minister should agree to add the word "reasonable" so as to ensure that no abuse of this kind will take place.
I am prepared to accept this amendment. It is reasonable enough to accept the word "reasonable".
I move amendment No. 123:—
In sub-section (1), line 17, after the word "where" to insert the words "after the passing of this Act".
This amendment is perfectly clear. I think it is only fair to insert the words which I suggest so as to prevent any attempt to extend this contribution to cases already decided in the last few years. The effect of this section should not, I submit, be retrospective because otherwise it might lead to considerable anomalies. I do not know if there are any outstanding cases of the character I have in mind but there may be, and I do not think it would lead to very good legislation to have an omnibus clause of this kind to bring all previous inquiries under the section.
If I were to accept this amendment, I hope Deputy Keyes would be prepared to abide by the consequences so far as Limerick is concerned.
The Limerick Corporation has already paid the expenses not only for one side, that of the city manager but, also those of the gas works manager. That might be a subject of surcharge. In order that we may have no difficulty about a matter of this sort, I think we will have to stand by the section as it has been drafted.
Would the Minister say why he is refusing to accept the amendment? Is there merely the Limerick inquiry at stake?
There may be others.
Surely, if there are others that will be affected retrospectively by the passage of this Bill, we ought to be told?
I do not know. There is that one, anyhow. It is as well to be covered in relation to that one. A very substantial sum was involved there.
If there are other inquiries it is contemplated to cover retrospectively by the passage of this section, we are entitled to be told now what they are. We are entitled to be told the reason for the section when the section is being moved.
I have given the whole case. If an officer of the local authority finds it advisable to be represented by a solicitor or barrister, or if an ordinary private citizen affected by the inquiry finds it necessary to appear, he is not entitled to his costs, even though he may be exonerated as a result of the inquiry, and the auditor is not bound to pass as legally paid any sums which may be paid in those cases. I mentioned the case of one inquiry which was held and, in order to put it beyond yea or nay, this section is brought in and we have to make it retrospective, so as to cover such a case. Otherwise, there might be a surcharge on the members of the council.
No one wants to do that, but there is no necessity for the Minister to get annoyed if a member of the House asks for information. I do not want to be one of the persons going blindly to pass a section without knowing what it is put there to cover. All I asked the Minister for, as nicely as I could, was a little bit of information. I have no objection to the matter of the information which the Minister now gave me. If I have any little objection, it is to the manner in which it was given.
Would the hospital inquiry be affected by this?
It may. In that case, so far as I am aware, the expenses have not been paid by the local authority.
I do not know why the Minister adverts particularly to the Limerick inquiry, as I thought that matter had been disposed of, that the citizens had paid.
Yes, but I am pointing out that the auditor is not bound to pass those payments.
At least some portion, definitely the portion that was paid in respect of the manager, could have been paid.
Yes, the city manager is all right.
The Minister himself was represented at that inquiry, and I am perfectly certain the auditor will not query that portion. There is one other portion, the one of the successful litigant, and we were told we might not pay if we liked; but, having some sense of justice, since the man who lost the case had to have his costs borne, the corporation in its wisdom thought that the man who won the case ought not to be mulcted in costs. I hope the Minister has sufficient moral reason to agree with that. If there is any other section of the expenses he has in mind, I am anxious, like Deputy Morrissey, to know if the Limerick inquiry is the only one being covered by this retrospective clause.
I do not know. I am concerned with this most recent and most serious one. We want to have our auditors on sure ground and there is no legal authority. The Deputy has told the House that the city manager, in the case of Limerick, had his expenses paid, even though as a result of the inquiry he retired from the corporation service. The gas manager, who, I think the Deputy will agree, has justified himself since he got control of the gas works, was himself liable for his own costs. The Limerick Corporation, as a matter of grace, paid his costs, but they had no legal authority to do so, and our auditors have no legal authority to pass them. They may pass them, but the position is uncertain, as there is no express legal sanction for the payment of the costs. We want to correct that, and I think it is reasonable that we should be permitted to correct it and, for that reason, this section will have to have retrospective effect.
I move amendment No. 124:—
In sub-section (1), line 18, to delete the word "Minister" and substitute the words "local authority" and after the word "may" in line 21 to insert the words "on the application of the local authority".
This is the old point, trying to reserve some little right for the local authority. We think the words "local authority" should be inserted there and "with the sanction and consent of the Minister". That ought to give the Minister all the control he needs.
Surely Deputy Keyes does not put this forward seriously? Take the position in which the Minister stands in relation to the ordinary citizen. His primary duty in administering his Department is to the ordinary citizen. He is responsible to the Dáil, and the Dáil, I am sure, is anxious that justice should be done to any citizen who appeals to the Minister. Where a citizen makes a complaint, whether against a local authority or an officer of a local authority, which the Minister thinks requires investigation, the Minister should have power to set that investigation on foot. What is proposed by this amendment is that, if a person moves the Minister to hold a sworn inquiry—and sworn inquiries are not granted lightly—and if he produces to the Minister evidence which, in the opinion of the Minister, demands that such an inquiry should be held, then if that person is summoned, as he will be summoned, by the inspector to attend, and if he chooses, as other people concerned may choose, to be represented, whether by technical advisers or by counsel, and if, as a result of the inquiry, the Minister were to find that the person who complained to him had been perfectly justified in the complaint and that there was maladministration in the local services, that while perhaps even the manager or even the officer concerned might get his costs, when every witness appearing would probably get his costs or some portion of them, the man who exposed the whole thing is going to be left to bear the whole expense of his bringing this matter to the Department in the first case and exposing it to the public and thus enabling the Minister to take steps to ensure that the abuse complained of would be removed. I do not think that is reasonable and I think that whatever purpose Deputy Keyes and Deputy Murphy may have in mind in putting down this amendment, on consideration they will see that no responsible Minister could accept a proposal of that sort.
The facts of the matter are these. The Minister for Local Government has to depend upon the public to bring to his attention any failure or lack of zeal or duty on the part of local officers. So far as I am concerned, I may say that I welcome representations, well founded representations, made by the public in relation to the local services. I do not think they should come to me. I think, in the first instance, these representations should be made to the members of the local authorities. I think it is one of the most important functions of members of elected bodies to see that the local services are properly administered. But when a matter is brought to the attention of the local authority and the local authority, for one reason or another, fails to take action, either by challenging the county manager about the efficiency of the services for which he is responsible to them, or by bringing the matter to my notice, then I think it ought to be open to any citizen to bring the matter to my notice and to try, if he can, to have the matter remedied or redressed.
Why did you not admit that to me this night week? You are off the rails now.
I am learning to bridle my tongue.
That is grand; we are delighted to hear it.
The Minister is repentant.
Where the local authority fails to take action in these matters, the way ought to be open to any citizen to come to the Minister responsible for the local administration and put complaints to him and there should be no unnecessary barrier erected between the citizen and the Minister in the full investigation of the matters of which the citizen complains.
If a person feels that when he complains to the Minister he may be put in the position of having to justify himself on oath before the inspector appointed by the Minister and feels that, even though everything he has said has been substantiated by the investigation, he is going to be mulcted in costs, what man of substance or common sense would think of making a complaint to the Minister in such circumstances? We want to make it easy for the general public to draw our attention to these things. We do not want them to come to us in the first instance. We think they ought to go to the local representatives and the local representatives should see that these abuses do not go unheeded.
If the local representatives are not able to have these abuses remedied, I think they ought to come to the Minister, but the ordinary citizen must have the same right of approach to the Minister and, if the Minister takes action on the ordinary citizen's complaint, then I think that the ordinary citizen ought to be indemnified in regard to his costs and that is why I will resist this amendment very strenuously.
The Minister, in a spate of words, has completely concealed the principle that is involved here. In the course of his statement he clearly indicated his complete lack of confidence in the ability and integrity of local authorities to carry out their duties. It would now appear that the Minister feels he has to depend on outside citizens, anonymously or otherwise, to get reports as to the inefficiency of public bodies. In the case he cited he had no ground for any such complaint. The Limerick Corporation initiated the demand for the inquiry and paid the costs of it. That is one case in point.
I would like the Minister to quote cases where local authorities failed to face their responsibilities. His whole speech was a series of innuendoes against local authorities. Underlying his statement was the attitude that he could not trust the local authorities throughout the country to do their work properly and he has to depend now on the outside citizen. The most recent case that the Minister quoted was one where the public authority did face up to its responsibility, initiated the demand for an inquiry and paid for it. The point now is whether or not the Minister will have confidence in any local authority.
As to who should be paid compensation, there is no desire to sacrifice any man who may be pulled into an inquiry and who has to give evidence of a valuable character. In a later amendment I am using the words "involuntarily concerned". There are cases, as we all know, of people who bring forward vexatious and frivolous complaints. There are cases of an individual using his position as a member of a council to initiate inquiries leading to a public investigation of certain matters for which later it may be found there is no foundation. I think that such a person ought not to be compensated from the public purse. Anyone who is essential as a witness in an inquiry should be paid his expenses, but there are other types who should not be compensated.
The local authorities are elected by the people and there ought to be confidence reposed in them. The members of local authorities are quite capable of carrying out their duties and why should the Minister insist on wiping out every vestige of responsibility that these local authorities have had for so many years? The Minister's words are indicative of his whole attitude towards local authorities—a complete lack of confidence in them.
- Aiken, Frank.
- Allen, Denis.
- Bartley, Gerald.
- Beegan, Patrick.
- Blaney, Neal.
- Boland, Gerald.
- Bourke, Dan.
- Brady, Brian.
- Brady, Seán.
- Breathnach, Cormac.
- Brennan, Thomas.
- Breslin, Cormac.
- Buckley, Seán.
- Burke, Patrick (Co. Dublin).
- Butler, Bernard.
- Lydon, Michael F.
- Lynch, James B.
- McCann, John.
- McCarthy, Seán.
- McEllistrim, Thomas.
- MacEntee, Seán.
- Moylan, Seán.
- O Briain, Donnchadh.
- O'Connor, John S.
- O'Grady, Seán.
- O'Loghlen, Peter J.
- O'Rourke, Daniel.
- Carter, Thomas.
- Childers, Erskine H.
- Colley, Harry.
- Crowley, Honor Mary.
- Derrig, Thomas.
- De Valera, Vivion.
- Flynn, Stephen.
- Fogarty, Patrick J.
- Gorry, Patrick J.
- Healy, John B.
- Hilliard, Michael.
- Humphreys, Francis.
- Killilea, Mark.
- Kilroy, James.
- Kissane, Eamon.
- Rice, Bridget M.
- Ruttledge, Patrick J.
- Ryan, Mary B.
- Ryan, Robert.
- Shanahan, Patrick.
- Sheridan, Michael.
- Smith, Patrick.
- Traynor, Oscar.
- Ua Donnchadha, Dómhnall.
- Walsh, Laurence.
- Walsh, Richard.
- Ward, Conn.
- Anthony, Richard S.
- Beirne, John.
- Bennett, George C.
- Byrne, Alfred.
- Cogan, Patrick.
- Commons, Bernard.
- Coogan, Eamonn.
- Corish, Brendan.
- Davin, William.
- Dockrell, Maurice E.
- Everett, James.
- Flanagan, Oliver J.
- Giles, Patrick.
- Heskin, Denis.
- Keyes, Michael.
- Larkin, James (Junior).
- Morrissey, Daniel.
- Mulcahy, Richard.
- O'Donnell, William F.
- O'Higgins, Thomas F.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Sullivan, Martin.
- Pattison, James P.
- Roddy, Martin.
- Rogers, Patrick J.
I move amendment No. 125:—
In sub-section (1), line 20, to delete the words "any person" and substitute the words "a person involuntarily concerned".
I dealt with this matter already on a previous amendment. I do not think it is fair or proper that persons who may initiate proceedings should get the same treatment as would be accorded to essential witnesses who might be called. I think it is a reasonable precaution to insert the words "a person involuntarily concerned" in order to prevent the possible abuse that I envisage taking place. I know of cases where it did take place and where the council was involved in considerable costs. The initiating gentleman got his portion of the costs from the public purse. I do not think any anxiety should be created by the insertion of the words in the amendment.
I must say I have never been so astounded in my life as I have been at the attitude of Deputy Keyes in relation to this matter of legal expenses payable to a person voluntarily concerned with a local inquiry.
The Deputy has covered the ground in his speech on the amendment which has just been defeated, that was the amendment which proposed to deprive any person who was voluntarily concerned in the holding of an inquiry of the right to recover expenses. The Deputy now is carrying that matter further because he is putting the local authority in the position to refuse to pay the expenses of a person who has been involuntarily concerned in the holding of a local inquiry. Take the position that might arise in connection with this matter. Say a poor woman is in labour, and her husband applies to have her admitted to a county hospital and cannot have her admitted there; she dies and the baby dies; the husband writes to the Minister and produces such evidence to satisfy the Minister that an inquiry should be held, and an inquiry is held, and the husband—as I have known cases—is represented at that inquiry and before the inspector by counsel. This unfortunate man has been voluntarily concerned with the inquiry and I would have power, if this section passes, to indemnify him against the expenses which he has incurred in having the complaint investigated and in having an incident proved, an incident as a consequence of which he had lost his wife and his child. In these circumstances, if the amendment which has been defeated had been carried—I hope all those who voted for the amendment will take this home with them—I could not have paid the expenses of that unfortunate man. Deputy Keyes, his original preposterous proposal having been defeated, wants to carry this vendetta of his further by leaving it within the power of the local authority to refuse to pay these expenses. I would have thought that a Deputy purporting to represent the workers and the poor of this country would be concerned to facilitate them in having their grievances investigated and ensuring that where, as a result of a complaint to them, some abuse in the local administration was exposed and, I hope, remedied, that they would not be at any loss.
I submit that the Deputy has not considered this matter. I do not know what is the purpose behind these amendments. I find it very difficult to understand. I know that the Deputy and members of his Party, just like myself, do not want to make things difficult for anybody but I must say that I cannot conceive what has been behind these amendments and I do not know why they are being pressed. I hope the House this time will not put us to the necessity of going into the Division Lobby in order to ensure that justice will be done to people who bring a complaint to me which has to be investigated and brought home.
I can only assure the Minister that whatever inspires the amendment, it is not the vendetta referred to by the Minister. There is no question of a vendetta in the minds of the movers of these amendments against the poor or any other section of the community. The type of case the Minister quoted is certainly very deserving but there are other cases, that I sought to cover in this amendment, of people who initiate proceedings vexatious and frivolous in many cases and quite distinct from the type of case the Minister quoted. Possibly there may be a danger but I do suggest, as the Minister did advert to the defeated amendment, that it would have no such effects as the Minister now indicates after the division has been taken. However, I shall not press this amendment, since the Minister has indicated the grave dangers he sees in it and that it may react in other directions not aimed at by the amendment. I had in mind cases that I know of that involved public authorities in considerable expense in regard to things of a very minor character far removed from the case of the death of a wife and child, as was quoted by the Minister. In case it might ever have the effect that he indicated, I shall not press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 127:—
To add a new sub-section as follows:—
(2) The proceedings at a local inquiry shall be governed by the rules of evidence and the findings of the inspector upon the evidence tendered before him shall be made public within three months from the date upon which the inquiry terminated.
We have already covered a good deal of the ground in the arguments concerning previous amendments, and I do not want to go back over what we have said already on this subject beyond again emphasising that I think that some safeguards should be held out to the individual whose fate is at stake in these inquiries. The only safeguards that I can conceive are those which are given to the ordinary citizen before a court of law, that is, a strict adherence to the rules of evidence. We have discussed that aspect fully and I do not want to go back on it again. The second portion of the amendment suggests that the findings of the inspector upon the evidence tendered before him should be made public within three months from the date upon which the inquiry terminated. In the debate last night we adverted to certain aspects of this matter of publication, and I put forward the argument that, whether or not the Minister agreed with the findings of the inspector, the findings should be made public, and in the case where the Minister disagreed with the inspector the Minister would be free to make a public statement as to the grounds upon which he disagreed. The Minister's answer, I fancy, will be that this is entirely an internal matter of administration and that the inspector is merely investigating the facts so as to enable him to come to a decision. I want to emphasise as strongly as I can that whilst there may be some grounds for admitting the soundness of that argument, there is abroad the suspicion that in investigations of this kind the Minister may select an individual, a subordinate of his own, whose findings are likely to coincide with the Minister's views upon a particular matter and, if for no other reason than that, and to disabuse any public suspicion that might arise, the findings should, to my mind, be made public. The decision which the Minister has to give on a matter of this kind very often is in the nature of a quasi-judicial decision.
For that reason it is essential that the grounds upon which he gave his decision should be made as public as possible. It is also essential that the evidence upon which he reached his decision should be made public. I would go so far as to say that the findings of the inspector should also be made public. The inspector himself in a case of this kind must be open to suspicion, criticism, or to any animadversions of various kinds. In fairness to the inspector himself it is only right that the findings should be made public. If, in the course of his findings the inspector has occasion to comment adversely upon particular individuals, then I think there should be some safeguard by which that inspector would be indemnified against any possible action that might follow as a result of these animadversions.
The Minister to-night has admitted that these inquiries are in the nature of fishing inquiries. He is quite frank in admitting that. But, as I argued last night, I am only concerned with endeavouring to secure that the investigation will be conducted in accordance with accepted principles of law. It is possible in a local inquiry to throw the net so wide that it is almost impossible for any individual to escape the Ministerial fishing. I think that we have got to this stage, that there is so much power vested in the Minister and his subordinates that there should be some safeguard for the average official and the average citizen. Owing to the complexity, as a result of modern life, of present-day legislation which is largely of a social and economic character, we are rapidly coming to the state here where we will have to set up an administrative law. If we cannot get redress through the ordinary courts and if the present policy of concluding the citizen as against the State continues, willy nilly a system will have to evolve itself whereby in administrative matters some system of administrative courts will have to be set up. The present drift of legislation is such that we will be driven into this position. The citizen, in his relation to officialdom, in many cases now has no rights. The only right he is given in the various Acts coming before this House since I came here is the right to appeal to the Minister.
In 99 out of 100 cases, the right of appeal to the Minister is a right of appeal to some anonymous official in the Custom House or some other Government Department. The decision is reached in the privacy and secrecy of the individual official's office. The aggrieved citizen or the aggrieved official, as the case may be, does not know upon what grounds the final decision has been reached. The whole thing is carried out in the secrecy of the Minister's Department. He is told the result. He has no opportunity of knowing what evidence may be filed against him in the archives of the Department. He certainly has no opportunity of cross-examining the individual official who is responsible for coming to the decision. In other words, the final proceedings leading up to the Ministerial decision are conducted behind his back. To that extent, he is completely in the dark.
Now that position obtained in France up to Napoleon's time and led to such a crisis that Napoleon introduced theconscil d'etat to relieve the citizen as against officialdom. In later times you have developing out from that a system of administrative law and an administrative code. To-day in France you have this position: An aggrieved official or an aggrieved citizen in relation to officialdom can go to an official court and have his case threshed out openly. You have, in addition to that, the Court of Conflict, which resolves the rights and interests of the ordinary courts as against the administrative courts. I mention this matter because I can see that we will be driven eventually into the position that some system of this kind must evolve itself here unless we can call a halt to the present Ministerial policy of circumventing the courts and concluding the citizen as against the Minister by the customary enactment telling you that the Minister's decision shall be final and conclusive and that there shall be no appeals therefrom.
In the matter of local inquiries we are in this position, that the inquiry is conducted in public and the inspector makes his report. In addition to his report, a typescript of the evidence is given to the Minister and, on the report and evidence, the Minister reaches his decision. But the finding of the inspector is not published. As I said, that leads to a certain amount of public uneasiness and suspicion, because the inquiry is conducted by a subordinate of the Minister and for that very reason suspicion inevitably grows up that the subordinate will endeavour if at all possible, unless he is a very strong-minded individual, to ascertain what the man above is thinking and what he wants and he will try to meet his wishes and wants. The case where a civil servant will be of such an independent mind that he will openly oppose the Minister, in the present tide of our affairs here, is I think a very rare one. The examples which have taken place in recent years are such as to be a very forcible reminder to any inspector conducting an investigation of this kind that it is to his interest to be careful and not to offend the powers-that-be, and, if at all possible, to meet their wishes. That is an aspect of these inquiries which is the real weakness. It is for these reasons that I want to hedge these inquiries round with some form of legal protection for the individual officer or official or citizen who may find himself paraded before such an inquiry.
As I have indicated already, the penalties ultimately inflicted upon the individual may be so great that even the highest court in the land would have considerable reluctance in inflicting such punishment for the irregularities, omissions or commissions of that particular individual. After all, when this is all boiled down to the case of an official who has been incompetent or irregular in the discharge of his duties, it means that his livelihood is at stake and the penalty of loss of livelihood is one which no court in the land inflicts even for the most grave offences. From that consideration alone, I am moving this amendment in the hope that the Minister may find it possible even now to change his mind. and that he may give some degree of legal protection to the parties who may be affected in future by such inquiries.
I should have thought that the Deputy, like the House and myself, would have been weary of this matter. It is clear, I think, from the terms of the amendment that the Deputy has misconceived —as I endeavoured to point out in relation to a former amendment—the nature and the character of an inquiry held under the Local Government Acts or under the Public Health Acts. These inquiries, let me repeat, are not judicial proceedings. The person appointed is a layman and not a lawyer. I mentioned very substantial grounds why in many cases it was better that he should not be a lawyer but that he should be a person who had other special qualifications. Not only is the inspector not a lawyer, but he is no more than the agent or the instrument of the Minister appointed to ascertain facts. He is not a person superior to the Minister. He is one of the Minister's officers whom the Minister designates to investigate a certain matter on behalf of the Minister. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as inspector's findings from an inquiry. We should have to frame a new definition of that phrase if we were to think for a moment of accepting this amendment. There are findings by the Minister, who is the constitutional head of his Department and who is responsible to this House. Apparently, the wheel of democracy has now turned full circle so that those who were proclaiming the Minister to be a dictator are now anxious that the Minister should become the agent or the instrument of his officers. How could any responsible Minister run his Department in these circumstances if he, who is responsible to the general public and to the Dáil for the administration of his Department, should be bound by the findings of one of his own officers? Are we not reducing the position to an absurdity, if we bind one of a Minister's officers to publish the memorandum or advice which he feels called upon to give to his Minister as a result of what he has ascertained, and we bind the Minister to accept that advice?
That is not in the amendment at all.
I thought I made it very clear last evening, though I did not advert to it this evening, that I did not intend that at all. I made it very clear last night that what I was asking was that if an inquiry was held the inspector's report should be published together with the Minister's findings on that report, and that where the Minister disagreed, he should give his grounds for that disagreement.
Very well. I have been more logical than the Deputy, because naturally if any memorandum or minute which an officer addressed to his Minister is to be published, then the Minister is going to be put in the situation that he has to justify his conduct as against the advice of his officers. What sort of diarchy would we have in this country in such circumstances? Suppose the head of my Department gives me advice, as he frequently does, an advice which I most frequently take but which sometimes I reject, because my function as Minister is to come to an independent judgment on the best advice available to me. If the judgment of my officers, in my view, is sound, I naturally accept it but sometimes I have the hardihood to erect my judgment over theirs and to give my decision according to whatever wisdom or discretion I have. If the principle of this amendment were once admitted, every minute that was submitted to me might be called for in this House and we should have the Opposition—because that is the whole aim which they desire to attain by an amendment of this sort—justifying the action or the advice of the Minister's officer and condemning the action of the Minister for rejecting the advice of his officer. As I say, we should have a sort of diarchy in this country in which, on the one hand, we would have the Minister responsible to the Dáil supported, I presume, by a majority in the House and, on the other hand, we should have another section in the Dáil setting up the judgment and the wisdom of a civil servant as against that of the Minister. That would tend to create a state of utter confusion in the administration of public affairs which I think could not be tolerated. An attempt is being made, principally by lawyers, to confuse the public mind in relation to this matter, by trying to suggest that an inquiry is a judicial procedure and that therefore it is necessary that it be conducted according to the rules of evidence and that there should be a lawyer appointed to hold the inquiry.
Now, the question of law very seldom arises at these inquiries. Questions of fact continuously do; but the extraordinary thing about the settled legal procedure of this country is that in regard to grave matters, when individuals are arraigned on account of their conduct, the determination of the facts of that conduct is not rested on a judge or on a lawyer, but on laymen. These laymen do what the Minister does—they consider the evidence. They may, and, I am sure, do, take account of the speeches which have been made on one side or the other and of the charge which has been delivered to them by the judge, but they meet in private, they consider the matter in private, they discuss itin camera. The subject matter of the discussions and the views which they have expressed on one side or the other are held to be strictly confidential. That is the ordinary legal process when the conduct of individuals is arraigned in court. How does that differ in any essential particular from the present practice in relation to inquiries? The Minister gets the full transcript of the evidence, it is considered by his officers and their views on various aspects of it are expressed to him. All the pertinent points in that evidence are brought out, just as in an ordinary court of law such points are brought out orally before the jury. The Minister studies the evidence in the light of memoranda which he may have, discusses it with his officers, and then comes to his decision upon it. Is not that precisely what happens in the courts, where the conduct of individuals is being adjudicated upon? You have the same process, except that in the courts the business is done by word of mouth. In the Department and in the Minister's office, it is conducted on the basis of the written word.
It has been suggested that the Minister is incompetent to determine these matters, since he has not seen the witnesses for himself. Well, the duty of the inspector is to see that every witness is examined thoroughly, that all the facts are brought out. Whether this might be in accordance with the rules of evidence or not does not matter, because the inspector is not sent there as a judge to determine questions of law.
He is sent there to find out everything that bears upon the inquiry, whether it is in favour of the individual or not. Where questions of administration are concerned—and these are the only things concerned in such inquiries—what matters is the public interest. The public interest surely demands that, if a person has been guilty of any neglect or dereliction of duty, he will not be able to cover himself up by a technicality. Therefore, the question of how a witness has comported himself before the inspector is not of primary importance. In so far as it may be important at all, as where a witness refuses to answer, the inspector, if he likes, can comment on that to the Minister and the Minister naturally will take any observation of the inspector into account and will give such weight to it as he, in his judgment, feels it ought to carry.
That is precisely what every juryman does. Read any address to the jury in any important matter. The judge will put the aspects of the evidence before the jury. Counsel on both sides will do the same—not only will they put the facts, but will try to put the best complexion they can on the facts, if they happen to be for the defence, and will try, without straining the facts, to bring their full significance home, if they happen to be for the prosecution. But it is the jury which decides—the laymen and not the judge on the bench who has conducted the investigation or inquiry. Similarly, it is not the inspector sent down to conduct the investigation or inquiry who makes the findings—it is the Minister, who, in the same way as a jury, has to bear public responsibility for the verdict. The inspector cannot be called to account here in the Dáil if his findings went against the weight of evidence. Let me remind the House that that evidence is publishedin extenso in the local papers, where the inquiry is held outside the city and, in the case of one matter which was subject to great discussion, has been published in extenso here.
It has been suggested also that there is something unprecedented in the Minister coming to decisions based on the transcript of the evidence, advised and assisted as he is by the observations of his officers upon the transcript.
What happens in the Court of Criminal Appeal? What happens in any court of appeal? If there is a rehearing, is not the rehearing based, and has it not been based, on the transcript? I understand that is not exactly how the matter stands now, but that is how it stands, at any rate, in relation to the Court of Criminal Appeal. Witnesses are not heard there by the judges. There only arguments are heardpro and con. In the same way arguments pro and con are adduced before the inspector and the full significance of those arguments is sifted afterwards, as I have said, in the Department. Therefore, let me repeat that there is no justification for the clamour that has gone up to try to tie the hands of the person who is responsible to the Government, in the first instance, because of the doctrine of collective responsibility, to the Dáil next, and then to the people for ensuring that the local services will be properly administered and will be carried on in the best interests of the people.
We have undoubtedly had a great deal of confusion created in the public mind.
How could the public business be carried on if effect were to be given to the proposal before the House? There are inquiries held very frequently, much oftener than Deputies or the general public are aware. I mentioned the type of case which most frequently occurs, where there is a complaint against some local officer, very often a medical man, or one charged with responsibility for the public services in a particular area. How could the Minister conduct the affairs of his Department if, in every inquiry of this sort—to ascertain whether, when a doctor got what is popularly known as a red ticket, he refused to take it and proceeded to charge a fee to a person entitled to have his services free of charge, or to deal with the sort of allegation that you sometimes hear, where it is alleged that people have been improperly treated in hospitals, in mental hospitals and other institutions—we were going to have a sort of State trial, such as is contemplated in this amendment, with the Minister appearing as a complainant and the public officer as the defendant and, I suppose, a bench of three judges sitting solemnly to determine whether Tom So-and-so misappropriated money given him to distribute as public assistance? Sure, the thing would become farcical.
We could not possibly carry on the administration if every fad that has been conceived by a legal hair-splitter were to be made part of our administrative machinery. For that reason I hope the House will reject the amendment.
The Minister said that a great deal of confusion had been created in the public mind. There is, apparently, a great deal of confusion in the Minister's mind. He certainly tried, in this amendment, to confuse the mind of the House. What is the amendment before us? It is:—
The proceedings at a local inquiry shall be governed by the rules of evidence and the findings of the inspector upon the evidence tendered before him shall be made public within three months from the date upon which the inquiry terminated.
That is what is before the House. Listening to the Minister for the last 20 minutes, no one would think that was the issue before us. The Minister, while repudiating that an inquiry was or should be a judicial function, in his zeal to prove that it was on all-fours with a court of law, started to give us a lecture on what happens in a court, and the functions of a jury. He said it is exactly the same—there is counsel on one side and counsel on the other and it is the jury that ascertains the facts and the jury isin camera. He repeated that a couple of times and then he started to put his foot in it. He got his toe in and when he realised that the foot was going in, he drew it back. He talked of counsel for the defence and counsel for the plaintiff, and said the judge then starts to tell the jury and then the Minister, realising where it was leading him, drew back immediately. That is exactly what we want this amendment for, that we shall get the judge's charge to the jury, to the people who come to the decision.
The Minister directs that an inquiry should be held. That may be an inquiry affecting an officer or a local authority. The Minister appoints the inspector. He may be a member of the permanent staff of his Department or now it may be any person in this State selected by the Minister as a suitable person, in the Minister's opinion, to hold the inquiry.
That person holds the inquiry and hears the evidence. We are now told, for the first time, by the Minister, that he does not present any findings, he does not present even a report on the evidence to the Minister. That is what the Minister now alleges. But the inspector makes what the Minister is pleased to call observations on the evidence tendered before him. There may be a subtle distinction, the Minister's own. How a person can make observations that are going to be of any use to the Minister in coming to a decision on evidence tendered at an inquiry, which may last either for a day or 40 days, and which may involve taking evidence from one witness or 50 witnesses—how such observations, unless they are in the form of some sort of a report, or an intelligent presentation of the evidence, or an intelligent presentation of the inspector's views on the evidence, I do not know, but what I do know is that, far from being on a level with a court of law, as the Minister sought to convey now, it is the very opposite.
I have been telling the House that.
Not at all.
The Minister has been for the last 20 minutes telling us there is no difference between an inquiry and a case tried in the court before a judge and jury.
I pointed out there was nothing novel in the procedure.
I always suspected, but I never got a clear indication of it until now, that the Minister has been talking through his hat and really does not know what he is talking about. Everyone here heard the Minister trying to tell us there was no difference between the procedure before a judge and jury and before this inquiry.
I was saying there was nothing novel in the procedure; there is a vast distinction in the character.
The Minister said it clearly and distinctly and he repeated it, and I listened to him repeating it. I invite the Minister, before he resumes on this Bill to-morrow morning, to read the Official Report of his own statement. I know it is hard for him now, sitting back and reflecting on the absurdity of what he said, to believe he said it; but the fact is that he did. Of course, I quite agree with him that it was a most absurd proposition to put forward.
We are proposing that whether a person arraigned before an inspector is an official or the local authority itself, that person or that local authority is entitled, before any penalty is placed upon them by the Minister—and, as has been pointed out here, that penalty may be a very severe one; it may be a penalty which will blast that official's whole life, blast his whole future in this country —to know why and how and for what reason the Minister has decided upon a particular sentence. The public are entitled, in justice, to know what the reasons are. They are entitled to get the report of the inspector. We had a case last year. I am not going to enter into the merits of it now.
Will the Deputy move to report progress?
I move to report progress.