Committee on Finance. - Red Cross Bill, 1954—Committee Stage.

Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 5.

I move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper:—

In sub-section (2) to delete paragraph (b), lines 25 to 27.

My reasons for doing so are that, for the past 20 years, there has been an organisation—a private company— which has handled very effectively a nursing service in Dublin and all over this country. It became a limited liability company a few years ago, and has carried on to the very great satisfaction of all the people who had to do with it. It has employed a large number of people. It has a panel of approximately 60 State-registered nurses, and the women and the men whom they employ, too, have given the very greatest satisfaction wherever they have been called upon to help the sick and injured.

They have maintained this service at all hours of the day: in fact, they are running a 24-hour service, and the total calls which they answer average over 4,000 per annum. They also have worked very closely with Aer Lingus in the transport of invalids, and this has become an established feature of their work, and of the work of Aer Lingus. They have done this work, as I said before, to the very great satisfaction of all concerned—and they are a private concern. They have carried on this work in the teeth of the usual competition which a service like this would have to contend with. This society now comes along, I am sure, with the very best motives, but nevertheless the activities of this Red Cross Society are bound to affect the private enterprise which has carried on so well up to date.

I should like to mention that this company in 1945 felt obliged to seek an injunction against the Irish Red Cross Society when they endeavoured to extend their operations on the lines indicated in the Bill. They succeeded in getting a perpetual injunction against the society in the High Court. I think we here should consider very carefully before we set aside, as we shall be doing in this Bill, the action of the High Court which went into the matter very thoroughly. These are briefly the reasons why I propose this amendment. We should be guilty of a very wrong act if we gave the society authority to provide these services which would, in fact, be the ruin of a very fine service run by private enterprise. Something that we do not like to do here is to crush an individual company or any individual with the aid of State money. I would ask the Minister to accept the amendment.

It is obvious that Deputy Dockrell was not here on the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill. I raised the matter at that stage, not because I believed that the particular section which would give this power would be abused, but merely in order to secure an assurance from the Minister that in no circumstances would the Red Cross Society go into competition with private enterprise. We got that assurance. A member of the Red Cross Society in this House spoke on the subject and I think the Minister endorsed everything that Deputy said. So far as I can read the Bill, I think the question as a whole is fully covered by Section 6. I am sure the Deputy will agree that Section 6 gives ample assurance as far as going into competition with private enterprise is concerned. I can endorse what Deputy Dockrell has said in respect to the services which some private enterprises of this kind have given in the past and will, I am sure, continue to give in future. It is because I was aware of such services that I raised the matter on the Second Stage. I am taking it, anyway, that the Minister is not accepting the amendment in view of the assurances which were given on the occasion of the Second Reading.

I am sure the Deputy meant what he said very sincerely, but I would not agree at all that Section 6 safeguards private enterprise in this connection. Section 5 authorises the society to engage in any activities of a humanitarian character which it considers suitable. Then the section goes on to mention two particular types of activity in which it does authorise the society to engage, namely, to carry on a preventorium and to provide an ambulance service. In Section 6 the Minister is given an over-all power of direction, and I suppose he could possibly veto one of these services. Then the argument would be: "Well, if he is given the power of veto, why did Section 5 specifically say that an ambulance service should be carried on?" I think the Minister would be bound to agree to the setting up of an ambulance service if you read paragraph (b) of Section 5 of the Bill. I do not think that Section 6 would give him any more power than just to regulate it.

I would commend the Deputy to read the report of the Second Reading debate. I presume he did not read the report because there was an obvious case given in which an ambulance service might be required. The particular case given, so far as I was concerned, did not come into conflict with private enterprise. From that point of view I was myself perfectly satisfied with the assurances given here by the Minister.

It does appear that there is much substance in what Deputy Dockrell has said, that having established the right the Minister will be put in a rather difficult position to prevent the society operating for reward on a commercial basis. I do not think that I could accept the amendment in its present form, because if I were to do so, I would have to go further. Sub-section (1) of Section 5 authorises the society to engage in any activity and at its discretion to make charges in connection with engaging in any such activity. It is somewhat contradictory, I admit.

I think that this amendment was submitted rather hastily and I had not time to give it the full examination I should like to give it. Although I think Section 6 gives the Minister power to honour the bond he gave here that he would not allow the Red Cross to enter into competition with any private concern, I do not think it is sufficiently clear. The amendment, however, as it stands, would not cover the object the Deputy has in view. I would suggest that the section should be left over until the Report Stage and if I feel it is necessary, I can then amend it.

Will the Deputy withdraw the amendment?

And the Minister will introduce an amendment on Report?

What I am undertaking is to examine the matter, to see exactly how I can make sure that I shall honour the bond that I would not allow the society to enter into unfair competition with private enterprise. I want to say in passing that there are other organisations such as the Knights of Malta and the St. John Ambulance Brigade and that they are allowed to charge. The only difference between them and the Red Cross is that they do not get a State subsidy and the Red Cross does. The case I made was that under the Act setting up the Red Cross there was no permission given to them to charge. It was not on any other ground. The decision of the court was that this authority was not given to them in the Act.

I suppose I must bow to the Minister in this matter, but I still think that the only way in which to be perfectly fair to the interests which are not in receipt of Government funds is by not giving the Red Cross that particular power. I think this is the only way in which that can be done because otherwise it will be left open to the Minister to change his mind at any time. If the Minister does not propose to permit the Red Cross to engage in an ambulance service—under Section 6, he envisages himself as not permitting that society to engage in such a service—I am afraid the society will put up a very good case, under Section 5, asking why on earth they should be authorised to engage in such a service and directly encouraged under the Bill?

In the Second Stage debate last week, an instance was cited which convinced me that it is essential that the Minister should have some power in respect of granting the right to the society to take action; the instance which was given satisfied me that the society would not in any circumstances enter into competition with private enterprise.

The words I used were "unfair competition".

I was satisfied that the case cited was so far removed from an urban or suburban area in which a private ambulance service might be organised that it was hardly likely there would be an ambulance service; in fact, there would not be such organisations as the Knights of Malta or the St. John Ambulance Brigade and, therefore, the Red Cross Society, which is so far-flung throughout the State, would be the only likely source from which such a service could be obtained. In that light, having heard the debate, I was fully satisfied that the Minister should have this power. I think Section 6 fully guarantees and assures to Deputies that there will not be competition as between the Red Cross and private enterprise. In the interests of people living in the remote areas, I think this power should be there.

We have only 18 ambulances all told and they are not in the remote districts. Four are in Dublin.

At any rate they would be nearer than any of the private enterprise ambulances in Dublin.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 5 put and agreed to.
Sections 6 to 10, inclusive, put and agreed to.
Title put and agreed to.
Report Stage ordered for Wednesday, 10th November, 1954.