Possibly, but I do not think this is the place for it, and from that point of view I have more or less to pull my punches. However, I hope to give some general ideas of the type of inquiry which an Estimates Committee might usefully make, without in any way suggesting that Departments are being lax.
The system at present is that the preparation of Estimates is a more or less continuous business in Departments, just as the auditing of the accounts is a more or less continuous business. The Estimates have to come to finality at a certain time of the year and must be presented to the Dáil for its consideration, just as the accounts must come to an end on 31st March each year and be presented to the Public Accounts Committee. What happens to the two sets of figures presents a very marked difference. So far as the accounts are concerned, they come before the Public Accounts Committee and can be examined in detail, with the aid of the accounting officers of the Departments and anyone else whom the Committee wishes to examine. In other words, the Committee has available to it the people who are responsible for the accounts and can query specific items in them.
So far as the Book of Estimates is concerned, the Dáil, in Committee on Finance, of course, discusses the Estimates, but, in plain fact, what the Dáil does discuss is the policy of the Estimates and the administration of the previous year. It is not possible for the Dáil to examine these in any business-like way. There are many things in the Book of Estimates which, from a business point of view, are far from clear. It is not possible for Deputies to discover how it works and why it works in any Department. It is not physically possible to do so. We cannot have in the Dáil officers from the Department to answer particular queries, and it is not possible in a debate on the Estimates to have the give and take that one gets by question and answer in the Public Accounts Committee, a Committee of the Dáil.
Of course, the pressure of parliamentary time is such, in the financial part of the year anyway, that the examination of the Estimate must necessarily be cursory and restricted entirely to policy. I do not think that is altogether a happy state of affairs. There are people who think these matters are very technical and that Deputies, possibly, are not qualified to make an examination into the efficiency of a Department or even into inter-departmental work. I do not think that the Dáil should go on record as suggesting that it is not capable of doing work like that. My own view on this sort of high pressure business which goes on in the case of business audits is that the type of work they do can be related to State work or Government work in Departments. Politicians who get elected to the Dáil have their weaknesses but they are a fair cross-section of the public and I think that it is only right that they should have an opportunity to make an examination of the Estimates on behalf of the public. I think that such an examination would prove to be quite useful. No one would suggest that where £108,000,000 is asked to run the public services for the year, a very useful examination could not be made to discover possible economies. I do not want to suggest that necessarily one must view the Civil Service with the eye of suspicion, but it must be remembered after all that as compared with an ordinary private enterprise, one particular motive is lacking in the Civil Service and that is the profit motive. That is the motive which operates most to keep a business run efficiently and that motive does not apply to the public service. Something else must replace it.
There is also the danger that a Minister in dealing with his Department may unduly allow himself to be persuaded that certain steps are necessary to carry out his policy. His job is to get policy carried out. I do not see how any Minister could possibly have time to ensure that in fact his policy was being carried out in the cheapest possible way; yet it is obviously in the public interest, the taxpayers' interest, that the business should be carried out in the cheapest possible way. On the question whether a committee of the House would help to ensure the best possible way, some doubts might be expressed. The same doubts could be expressed as to the efficiency of the Public Accounts Committee in dealing with the Appropriation Accounts. After all, the Public Accounts Committee consists of members of this House, none of them expert in finance or accountancy. They have, of course, only to finish off the job that has been started by such experts. Still there is always a certain amount of business brought before the committee with which they have to deal in a common-sense way and, though I believe doubts have been expressed from time to time, my own opinion is that normally they do carry out their functions reasonably well.
There is also a doubt as to whether, even if an Estimates Committee discovered there were things which might be done better, whether, in fact, any improvement would result. Again, the Public Accounts Committee has no real power, yet we know that its recommendations are quite frequently followed. As to the type of work which an Estimates Committee might usefully do, as I have already said, without going into particular details or pointing to any Department or sections of a Department, it is not very easy to make a clear case, but there are certain lines of inquiry which anyone, who was on the Public Accounts Committee is bound to have in mind. There is, for instance, the difficulty in discussing the Accounts or the Estimate of any Department—the fact that the Committee on Finance dealing with it is limited to the affairs of that particular Department, in other words what is called a vertical inquiry. A horizontal inquiry is not possible and yet there are many things in the Civil Service which are common to the several Departments into which some inquiry should be made.
For instance there are technical staffs, engineering staffs, in several Departments. I do not want to go too far but I think it would be fair to suggest that occasionally one might have some sort of suspicion that there may be a certain amount of overlapping. At the moment, it is not at all certain whether that is true or false and it is essential to discover whether it is true or false. An Estimates Committee could inquire into it.
There is then the question or the use of office machinery in Departments. There are such things as contract forms. There must be a multiplicity of them in the different Departments and the different offices. There are several other things of a similar kind—the use of staff and whether or not there is redundancy. I know that internally there are certain checks. The Department of Finance itself checks the Estimates of all Departments. There is within the Department of Finance and in the Civil Service, a section known as "Organisation and Methods". So far it is fairly restricted in its use. I think that in the Department of Finance there are three officers engaged on O. and M. but in any other Department the most there is is a fairly junior officer. I think there should be a parliamentary inquiry through the Estimates Committee, which would see if something further could not be done in regard to O. and M.
A point I want to make is that a committee such as this would have to act in harmony with the Department. Inevitably there will be points of disagreement but as long as the committee transacts its business in such a way as to be reasonable, no difficulty should arise. In fact, I think there is no reason to suspect that anything would happen other than a reasonable way of doing business. If the committee attempted to do anything else, it would first of all fall foul of the Government and the fact that it would be falling foul of Departments would probably stultify any work the committee tried to do, so that I do not think any difficulty would really arise in that respect. One of the great difficulties of the present moment is the growth of public business. The business of the State and the business of this House have grown enormously. There has been continual pressure in the financial part of the year in the discussion of Estimates, so that there should be plenty of scope for a committee dealing specially with the subject. There is also the fact that, with the growth of public services, it must become increasingly difficult for Ministers to exercise complete control of their Departments.
That, again, leaves some useful fields for Deputies but, unless they have a committee to work through, the ordinary Deputy is stultified in any such approach. The ordinary approach to discovering how a Department works is through the medium of parliamentary question. That suffers from two defects; one is that the Deputy asking the question has to take a leap in the dark, more or less, because he hears something and puts down a question to the Minister to elicit what the true position is. It does not really constitute an inquiry at all. He is also limited as to how far he can pursue the matter once he receives an answer. A debate on the Adjournment is the ultimate limit and, even there, there is no way of having a proper examination.
It will be observed that I have reverted in this motion to calling this suggested committee a Committee of Public Expenditure. That was my original proposal. The general idea was adopted by the former Minister for Finance but he changed the title to Committee of Estimates. Now I personally do not care what it is called. My only reason for preferring "public expenditure" to "estimates" is that I think a clearer picture is given as to what the real function of such a committee would be: to call it purely a Committee of Estimates is a rather slavish copy of something that happened elsewhere and is, I think, inclined to give people the impression that the only concern of such a committee is to look at the Book of Estimates, as presented to the Dáil, and make such inquiries as are obvious on the face of that.
I do not think a committee could work in that way at all. To my mind, the name does not matter. For one thing, the proposal sets the limit on the committee: "to examine such of the Estimates presented to the Dáil in accordance with Standing Order No. 117 as may seem fit to the committee and to report what, if any, economies consistent with the policy implied in those Estimates may be effected therein." That confines such a committee to direct public business. I think that possibly to change from "public expenditure" to "estimates" which was suggested by the former Minister for Finance was due to a sort of fear that this committee might tend to start inquiring into certain State-sponsored companies because it could be argued that they represented in a way "public expenditure" but, in fact, the terms of reference of the committee are quite clear. Its inquiries are limited to the Estimates as presented.
As I have already said, I have no particular feelings on the subject of the name. Indeed, if that were the only difficulty it would be easily overcome. I think, however, that "Committee of Public Expenditure" gives a clearer idea of the intention of the committee; that is, to inquire into public expenditure and ensure that for every 20/-spent value is received for every £1 spent and that no more pounds are spent than are absolutely necessary. It must frequently happen in public business that certain desirable objects have to be obtained and expenditure is not necessarily the first consideration. What I wonder is how far that principle prevails because no private Deputy has any evidence of any kind on that particular matter. No private Deputy has any evidence as to how the Civil Service works and I think it would be useful to have a committee to inquire into that.
I have no idea as to whether or not I am, as it were, pushing an open door. The Minister has been very discreet in any conversations I have had with him in this matter. I have not pressed him for an opinion. It was not that I hoped to sway his mind; indeed, I thought it would be better if I did not, but I appeal to him to consider the fact that this is possibly worth a trial. I do not see how it can do any harm. The amount of good it may do is naturally conjectural; it will depend on who is on the Committee and how they go about their work. But I do not think that the fact that the good it may do is conjectural should deter us from trying something which has proved useful elsewhere and which, I think, could prove even more useful here.
This House, after all, is the only thing that stands between the country and bureaucracy. There is a set tendency all the time towards having things done in a swift, direct way. Bills that are introduced and Acts that are passed repeatedly have provisions in them under which the Minister does most of the work by Order. The details are not in the Act at all. Doubts have been expressed here time and time again as to the wisdom of that procedure and the taking away of control from the public direct. The Dáil does not know how far things will go because Ministers can do so much by Order.
The situation is similar in relation to the financial business. Deputies meet here and, after discussion, they pass Estimates for the public service; but they know very little of the background behind those Estimates. I consider it is their duty to know. At the present time we are debarred from giving assistance in relation to economy except in the loosest possible way and I cannot see that that kind of assistance in a debate on Estimates is of any practical value.
If there is any way in which the functioning of such a Committee could be limited to a certain length of time in order to discover whether useful work is or is not being done I would be very happy to incorporate that limitation, but I do not see how that would work. If it does not work and if the Committee fails to produce any worthwhile results the Dáil has a very easy remedy, namely, to reverse the proposition I am putting before the House to-night. I think myself that eventually a committee system may grow up entirely in relation to parliamentary control and I think this would be a useful step in the right direction because it would provide Deputies with something to do, something which would prove of a real value.
One very important point is that it would give Deputies an insight into the running of the State. That is something they find it very difficult to achieve at present. It would not astonish me to find that Governments might resent that: there is naturally a tendency to produce a rabbit out of a hat, though that does not necessarily mean that that particular rabbit is a better rabbit. I think the general idea is reasonably clear from the terms of the motion. Of course one Committee could not deal with all the various facets likely to be presented to it and, therefore, I propose that the original Committee be given the power to set up sub-Committees to deal with specific lines of inquiry. What has been found useful in another place is the fact that the chairmen of the various sub-Committees form a committee of their own to suggest lines of inquiry. Probably that would work here quite well. If, however, some other method can be suggested, a method which is parliamentary, I will be happy to hear of it. I hope the Minister will not start talking about efficiency and bringing in experts from outside to advise because, for that, I would not give tuppence. My concern is not only to ensure increased efficiency in the Civil Service, if it is necessary, but to ensure also parliamentary control. Parliamentary control is the proper thing. It is the really important point. As it is, parliamentary control suffers because of one very wide gap; that is, that Dáil Deputies have no immediate concern with or knowledge of how the Estimates are framed or how efficient Departments are within themselves.
There is, too, the relationship between the various local authorities throughout the country and the central Government through the Department of Local Government. As a member of a local authority I have frequently had doubts raised in my mind as to just how well the various local authorities and the central Government get on together, whether it is not possible that a more streamlined machinery could be found, whether there is not overlapping there with too many checks and re-checks as between the two sets of bodies. A parliamentary inquiry into that would be very illuminating and very helpful, not only to the Government as a whole but to the Minister for Local Government It would certainly be very interesting to members of local authorities.
I am seriously tempted, of course, to go into a few more precise details of things that I think it might be useful to inquire into but, as I have said, I do not think it is quite fair. In what I have said about the Department of Local Government I am not suggesting in any way that it has a deliberate policy of hampering local authorities, but there is a certain amount of delay and friction between the two and I think an inquiry by a body of sensible men in this House might lead to smoothing out the difficulties that are there. Very much the same thing applies to other Departments.
I have already referred to one or two things that I would be glad to see inquired into in a general way. I am far from satisfied that Organisation and Method is being operated as far as it should. I am not at all happy about the use of experts in various Departments. Further than that I do not wish to go. I think I have said enough there to raise questions in Deputies' minds as to just how efficiently the Service is being run, and whether we can be satisfied with it or whether we can as private Deputies through a committee help the State to be more efficient. Of this I am very sure, that it is certainly the desire of the Civil Service to be efficient and to run well. That is one thing I do want to say.
I am very glad that my 11 years' experience on the Public Accounts Committee has continually favourably impressed me with the devotion to duty, to put it that way, of the Civil Service, but that does not say that the Civil Service is perfect. It does tend to be a closed body with a special point of view and, I think, a bit of the ordinary common sense point of view of the man in the street, and the man from down the country blowing through it might do a great deal of good, and that this is a good parliamentary way to do it. I heartily recommend it to the Minister and to the House.