There might be some special circumstances I should like to know before I would venture a view in regard to it. As far as this is concerned, I am only talking about the general principles with regard to it. The next thing is "fines, penalties, damages, compensation or costs awarded". That opens up a very wide position and again I should like the Minister to say what he has in mind in regard to it. I take it that we can all accept "fine" as being a fine imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction, whether a military or a civil court. The next thing is "penalties". That is what I have great difficulty about. What does "penalties" mean? What is a penalty? Who is to decide what the penalty is or what it is for? Is it a penalty that may be imposed by the Minister after a court of competent jurisdiction has decided that a soldier is not liable to bear a penalty? A word of that kind means, as I said at the beginning, no limitation of the effect of this section in its original state. I know of no legal limitation to the word "penalties" there. "Damages" again raises the same thing. What are damages? Are they damages that are awarded under the Act by a court of competent jurisdiction or who will decide what damages they are?
Then we come to "compensation" which was the basis, to a large extent, of the discussion we have had over the past few days in regard to deductions. Compensation for what? Is it compensation for an article that happens to be damaged or is it compensation for damage done in respect of which the soldier or the officer is charged and which he is ordered by a court-martial or a civil court to make good, or is it compensation that the Minister may think he should pay? If it is compensation of that kind, will it be limited as it has been up to the present to compensation to make good damage done by a wrongful act or by negligence, or will it be compensation just for a loss which may not be proved to be due to negligence, or compensation on the lines of the example I gave when I was proposing my amendment, for articles that were lost out of a particular consignment of goods?
These are difficulties that arise and these make it very difficult for me to think, while the Minister may have the intention, and I accept that he had the intention, of endeavouring to meet the difficulties that were explained in the Special Committee, on examination of the amendment that he has put in, that there is no restriction whatsoever, nor is there any limitation, and that the full wide scope which was there originally is not still there in the amendment.
Then one gets into much more serious difficulties when one comes to the next sub-section which says, "public or service property lost, deficient, damaged or destroyed". There is not very much difference between public property and service property, but there are definitions in the Act which explain them. For the practical purposes of this debate and for the purpose of trying to understand what is meant, one may take them as being military property, whether they are barracks, uniforms, arms, equipment or things of that kind. The point is "public or service property lost, deficient, damaged or destroyed". What does the Minister propose to do there? Must there be any finding of negligence or wrongful action on the part of the individual before he is obliged to pay for something that is lost, something that is deficient, something that is damaged, or something that is destroyed; or will it be the purpose in the regulation to set out a code of law such as we have now done away with in which all these matters will be covered fully? Who will be the deciding authority? Will it be the Minister himself, will it be Army officers, or will it be members of his Department? Will all these matters be subject to review? Will any person who is aggrieved by a decision against him have the right to apply to the Minister under the section of the Act which deals with redress of grievances and have his case examined by any person?
These are very material factors in regard to this amendment which the Minister should explain fully to the House. Clearly, since the matter was discussed in the Special Committee there must have been considerable consideration given to the aspects of the problem and, obviously, when the Minister agreed to introduce this amendment he only agreed to introduce it when he was satisfied as to the effect of it, and, being satisfied as to the effect of it, he should be in a position now to explain it very fully to the House. I do not want to make the case that this is not a difficult matter, that it would not be difficult for the Minister to explain it. I know it is exceptionally difficult. All that I am asking the Minister at this stage is to give in broad outline what he thinks the effect of these sub-sections will be, if approved by the Dáil.
Then there is another one: "public or service debt or disallowance." That is something new to me, something novel. We all know what the public debt is. We have heard it described from time to time by our statesmen and politicians in millions of public debt.
The amendment further says that deductions from pay will not be made except in respect of public debt. I would be interested to know what exactly the Minister means by that. What would be considered a public debt as distinct from the public debt? What is a service debt or what is a disallowance, which again is new to me? Is this disallowance the same thing that we have in local authorities where an auditor comes along and decides to surcharge members? This particular heading or clause seems to me to be new and for that reason I am very anxious that it should be explained. "Public or service debt"— I try to visualise it and I find the greatest difficulty in regard to it. "Service debt"—does that include, or is it proposed or intended that it should include, mess accounts or mess debts, moneys that might be due in a canteen, a dry canteen or a wet canteen?
The last item is "unauthorised expenditure or commitment". I think the House could conceive that very few people would be caught out under "unauthorised expenditure or commitment". What really does it mean? Does "expenditure" mean expenditure of money, or could it possibly mean expenditure of ammunition on a range? In a broad general way, what is "unauthorised expenditure" and who possibly could be guilty of unauthorised expenditure? The Minister and the House know that, in peace-time at any rate, no member of the Army has any right to expend money without authority and, in fact, nobody but a fool in the Army would expend money without authority. Does "unauthorised expenditure" mean expenditure of the type I have mentioned in regard to the purchase of military requirements, or could it include expenditure in regard to messes in the Army, where the expenditure might be by a member of the committee without the consent of the other members? Could that sort of expenditure be recouped from the members of the mess?
These are the difficulties I have in regard to the proposed addition to the section. I think, on hearing what I am saying in regard to it, the House will come to the conclusion that these additions do not limit or restrict the Minister in any way from his original intention, but my detailed examination may have enabled me to take a view in regard to it that is not shared by some of my colleagues in this House. That is my objection, or rather my difficulty, in regard to this. The view I hold is that whether this amendment which the Minister proposes is put in or left out, it does not in any way lessen the powers the Minister has been given in the first part of the section we have just dealt with.
The last part of the proposed amendment says:
"The total deduction to be made under regulations made under this sub-section from the pay of a man, except a man who is being transferred to the Reserve Defence Force or discharged from the Defence Forces, shall not in any week exceed such sum as would cause him to receive less than one-third of his pay for that week."
I understood that the provisions in regard to forfeitures and deductions applied to officers and soldiers and I should like the Minister to explain was there any particular reason why this matter of reducing the deduction to two-thirds was limited to soldiers. Was there any specific reason for that and if so what was it?
There is one other point which is a technical matter but I take it it will be corrected by the Minister. It is only a small matter of drafting. There are two sub-paragraphs (b) in the section but perhaps there may be a subsequent amendment dealing with that. I have endeavoured in examining this proposed amendment to see how far it helps to protect the position of soldiers or officers and I would be anxious to know what powers the Minister considers he shed when he agreed to propose this amendment. What powers did he propose to shed and deprive himself of? What powers of forfeiture? What powers of deduction? I am satisfied from an examination of it that it gives much wider powers than exist in the present Act, the 1923 Act, which is still the law; that it gives those wider powers in a very unsatisfactory way; that it enables the Minister to make regulations and to alter those regulations at will, giving, as somebody has said, flexibility. If one thought that the alterations would be alterations made in favour of the officer or soldier one might agree that that type of flexible procedure which makes for ready amendment might be desirable but every soldier's experience has been that powers given to a Minister particularly powers to interfere with his pay are generally interpreted in an unfair way to the individual. While a Minister looking over a file in which it is alleged an individual has caused damage, say, to the extent of £10, decides in a generous frame of mind to reduce that by half, may consider that as doing a substantial benefit to the soldier, in fact the deduction of the reduced amount, if it is not done in a just fashion, will have just the same detrimental effect on him as if the larger deduction was in fact made.
I do not think that we can accept as a criterion the position that in examining the amount that a man is obliged or will be obliged to pay you help matters a great deal by deciding to take only half of what is being unjustly taken from him instead of taking nothing at all from him as might be the just result if one had the type of judicial investigation that is in it.
I would ask the Minister to say whether in the regulations which he projects the complete power to deal with them will be in the hands of the Minister; or in the hands of subordinate officers; whether the complete power of going into this matter will be in the hands of military officers or the hands of civilians or in the hands of some type of joint body composed of both officers and civilians. I think if we had that information in regard to this section, in addition to the other points I have asked for, we would be in a position to say how far and to what extent this new procedure is going to interfere with the rights of the officers and soldiers.
In the next sub-section it is proposed that the regulations shall be laid in the ordinary way before each House of the Oireachtas and the House will have the right, if it so desires, to annul. I take it that those regulations when made will be available for officers and soldiers, not only in the Stationery Office, but throughout the units. As far as the Act is concerned as a whole, I think the old Act was generally and extensively understood right through the Defence Forces. Will these new regulations be widely distributed? Will each soldier who may be bound by this regulation be supplied with a copy of it? Will every officer be supplied with a copy or will it be made available to units? Will it simply be sent as disciplinary regulations are sent at the moment to the different military organisations and not to the individuals?
I am not very much concerned how the thing is done so long as proper efforts will be made to see that the regulations are known to the persons who are likely to be affected by them.
I think I have said, perhaps, as much as I propose to say in regard to this amendment. I reiterate what I said at the beginning in answer to points that were made, that in my view the insertion of this amendment does not in any way limit the Minister's powers and that there is no conceivable matter on which there could be forfeiture or deduction where the Minister is not covered in the heads that he has set out here in regard to forfeiture and deduction. It is and will be and must be important that when the regulations are drawn that they will be drawn in the way an Act of Parliament would be drawn. I do not know whether the parliamentary draftsman or the Attorney-General would be consulted in matters of this kind but I do say where statutory regulations are to be made to replace provisions of Acts of Parliament those regulations should be prepared with the same care and attention as an Act of Parliament is prepared in the parliamentary draftsman's office because it must have the same effect as far as the Army is concerned not only from the point of view of the person who suffers the deduction or forfeiture but also from the point of view of any person in an administrative capacity who has to work on the decisions that are taken in regard to it. In so far as officers of the different units are concerned who would be anxious to advise soldiers as to their rights, if any, under the regulations, it is desirable that the regulations which they have to interpret in that way should be as carefully drawn up as possible.
I do not think there is anything else I want to say in regard to this particular section relating to pay. I regret that we are discussing it but that is unavoidable, I suppose, in view of the decision that has already been taken. I hope the Minister, for the benefit of the House and the Army, will give in a broad, general way the explanations that I have asked from him in discussing the amendment.