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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 23 Oct 1946

Vol. 103 No. 1

Statistics (Amendment) Bill, 1946—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. Deputies will no doubt be aware that the Principal Act which it is proposed to amend by this Bill, the Statistics Act of 1926, enabled the Minister for Industry and Commerce to collect, compile and publish statistics relating to any matter affecting the general economic and other activities of the State. In the Act of 1926 certain matters were particularised. Deputies are no doubt familiar with the matters concerning which statistics procured under the Act have been published. Section 5 of the 1926 Act provided that the Minister for Industry and Commerce could arrange for the collection of statistics by civil servants. Every officer of the Civil Service performing duties under that section was deemed to be an officer of statistics. Under Section 13 of the Act, however, no individual or other forms furnished by any person under the Act could be shown to any person other than the officers of statistics concerned therewith, in the course of their duty as such officers. The only exception to that absolute prohibition of the disclosure of individual forms to any other person other than an officer of statistics was in the case of a prosecution under the Act. It has been found that considerable administrative inconvenience has been caused by that absolute prohibition. On many occasions during the course of the emergency when it was desired to get information from traders concerning stocks, sales and other matters of that kind, it was necessary to go to these traders and ask that they furnish a second time information which they had already furnished under the Statistics Act because we could not avail for the purposes of administration of the information furnished under the Statistics Act, even if the trader were quite willing that the information should be available for general administrative purposes.

The amendment which we are proposing to make in the Act, to enable the Minister for Industry and Commerce to authorise the disclosure of that information to any specified officer of a State Department requiring it for the purposes of his official duties, is in accordance with the provisions of similar legislation in other countries. A similar change in the British Act, the Census of Production Act, 1906, was made recently. The effect of the amendment will be to authorise the Minister for Industry and Commerce to sanction the disclosure of statistical information furnished in returns obtained under the Principal Act to specified persons who must be officers of a State authority or members or officers of a committee, commission or tribunal of inquiry set up by the Government or by a State authority. It is intended that the disclosure of the statistical information procured in that way can be made only to specified persons and any disclosure by a specified person to another person would involve him in substantial penalties. From the viewpoint of the concerns or the persons furnishing particulars, the effect of the change is merely to widen the classes of persons who can be described as officers of statistics in accordance with the meaning given to that term under the Principal Act of 1926. It is unnecessary to stress that the powers given by this amending Bill will be used only in circumstances in which it is considered essential for the proper performance of public duties to do so. They will be used with due regard to the natural desire of business concerns and private individuals that their affairs, as revealed in the returns made under the Statistics Act, will not be disclosed otherwise than to official persons and under the usual conditions of secrecy.

The change is a minor one. The need for the change was emphasised by experience during the emergency, but I think the fact that a similar change has been effected in the law of other countries, and particularly in the law of Great Britain, would have brought to attention the need for effecting the change here also. The persons who give information in returns made under the Statistics Act required for the preparation of the census of production or some other similar statistical abstract will be convenienced by the change, in so far as they may not be in future approached twice by the same Department for the same information. That has been the position in the past and it has caused a great deal of misunderstanding and some annoyance, as Deputies will readily understand. When a firm was asked to give certain information by the statistics branch of the Department of Industry and Commerce and gave it, they could not understand the Department of Industry and Commerce asking, a week or a month later, for the same information to be furnished to another section of the Department which could not, however, get that information from the statistics branch as will be possible in future, provided the Minister is satisfied that it is required for the performance of official duties and makes the necessary order specifying the persons to whom the information is to be disclosed.

I take it that the safeguards which exist at present relating to information supplied by private individuals to the Department of Industry and Commerce or other Government Departments still remain, despite this amending legislation?

In other words, if information of a private nature is supplied by a firm down the country to the Department of Industry and Commerce, which such firms have to supply from time to time, in accordance with regulations made by the Minister's Department, that information will still be regarded as private.

The information cannot be revealed by any officer of statistics except to the person specified by the Minister under this Bill, and that person cannot reveal it to anybody else under severe penalties.

This legislation relates only to information required for State purposes—information or statistics of a general character?

That is right. The information required from private firms would relate, for the purpose of the census production, to the total value of their sales, the quantities of raw materials purchased, the number of persons employed and the total amount paid in wages by them. All that information is tabulated for particular trades and published in the census of production, but it could conceivably happen that the returns of an individual firm might be of information to an officer of the industries branch considering proposals for the extension of a particular industry or the establishment of a new concern in that industry. In the past, that officer could not get that information, except by direct approach to the firms concerned, even though the information was available in the statistics branch next door. In future, the Minister can ask the statistics branch to give that information to the specified officer dealing with the official matter in the other section.

Is the Minister satisfied that the confidence of these firms from whom this information is required will not be broken? Has he consulted business people with regard to the matter? The accuracy of the returns furnished to the statistics branch in the past was due to the fact that they were regarded as strictly confidential. Now this is a wiping out of that system. Is the Minister satisfied that he will get as accurate returns as he got in the past, in view of this change? I also want to say that the fact that the change has been made in the law in Britain is no reason why it should be made here. The Minister has other sufficiently good reasons without putting up that argument. If we are to adopt that as a policy, if the new line is to be one of following them in everything else, well and good.

I mentioned that fact to show that we were not attempting to do anything revolutionary, anything that had not been found necessary elsewhere. There is little danger that firms will lose confidence in the secrecy of their returns. All the penalties for disclosure of this information to unauthorised persons will continue in the future as in the past. The class of persons within the official circle to whom the information can be made available is being widened. I have found, however, that the firms concerned rarely objected to giving that information to another section of the Department which requested it, and in fact most of them did assume that, when they made a return to the statistics branch, the return was also available to the Department generally. That was not so in law, and they had to give the same information separately to enable it to be available to other branches of the Department or to other Departments. The effect of the change is to widen the class of persons within the official circle to whom the information may be made available, if it is required and if the Minister decides that it is needed by these persons for the discharge of their public duty.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, October 30th.