As a matter of convenience I think the Seanad will agree with me that if we were to take now the second stage of the next Bill on the Orders of the Day it would be a convenience to the Minister for Home Affairs, who desires to speak on it, and is present. We can then go into detail on the stages of the Indemnity (British Military) Bill, 1923. We will take the second stage of the "Enforcement of Law (Occasional Powers) Bill, 1923," now.
SELECTION OF NOMINATED SENATORS. - ENFORCEMENT OF LAW (OCCASIONAL POWERS) BILL, 1923.
I have considered that it would not be right to allow this measure (Enforcement of Law (Occasional Powers) Bill, 1923) to go before you without some words of explanation from the Department which is responsible for it. I wish to review briefly the circumstances and conditions which led me to advise the Executive Council as to the necessity for this measure. The bailiff, as a factor in the situation, has not been over active of late years, let us say. Conditions were against him. He is a personage who has enjoyed, or has not enjoyed, a certain amount of odium in this country for many reasons, for reasons dating back perhaps 20, 25, or 30 years. That he is a useful public functionary is evident by the situation that comes about when he ceases to function. It is that situation that we have to measure and deal with. It is that situation which has made this particular Bill necessary. Credit is a sensitive thing. It is strong within your country to-day, and strong to cross the seas and bring cargoes to your country on a mere promise to pay. To-morrow some adverse circumstance affects it, and not merely is your international credit gone, but it pines and dies within the confines of your own territory. If the writ of our Courts were to cease to run and cease to be effective that would be the position—a position where no man would advance £5 worth of credit, because he would not feel that he had available the means to recover it. In another place, whose proceedings I must not assume interest you in the slightest, I have sketched the reactions of that, and I have attempted to show that the class that it hits most severely, most immediately, is not the prince-merchant class, is not the class whom some people might call bloated capitalists, and others, enterprising business men, but the class that is most directly and most immediately hit is the working class, depending for existence, and the existence of their families, on their weekly wage. And the course of it is this: the shopkeeper, feeling that he has not the means at his disposal to recover, closes down on credit; the purchasing power of his purchasers' money, many of whom receive their incomes by instalments, is considerably lessened thereby. The orders to the factory from the shop are diminished, and the factory, with decreased demands and decreased calls upon it, pays off a certain number of its staff, because the orders were not what they were some months ago. That is the course of it. I know of no class, no body of persons that will suffer by this measure except a body of persons, who do not deserve consideration, except that body of persons which is taking advantage of present conditions to evade liabilities which are legally and morally theirs. Now as to the respects in which this measure differs from the existing code of laws, it is simply this—that to some extent the Pound had failed altogether. I can give an example. And to a considerable extent the local auction had failed, and the wheel was not working, and if that wheel were to cease to work you would have your internal credit, and, consequently, mathematically, inevitably your international credit suffering severely. The wheel was not working because there were conditions in which it became next to impossible to secure the services in that capacity of people to act as bailiffs, because there were conditions of intimidation and disorder generally. We propose to meet those conditions in so far as they exist, and, unfortunately, they do exist in certain counties, by giving the fullest and most impressive military protection to the civil officers in the performance of their duties. There are certain measures in this Bill calculated to meet the difficulties of the situation. I will go through the various sections with brief explanations. The first section merely provides that "Deputies may be appointed for any Under-Sheriff who, for any reason whatsoever, is unable or unwilling to perform his duties." The second Section deals with the employment by the Under-Sheriff or his deputy of bailiffs or persons to act in the capacity of bailiffs, and provides "That such persons may be employed at a weekly or other wage to assist generally in the execution of writs and decrees as aforesaid, the number and rate of remuneration of such persons (to be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas)."
Section 3 provides that the bailiff must produce his warrant of authority from the Under-Sheriff or from the deputy to the Under-Sheriff. Section 4 provides that "it shall be the duty of every Under-Sheriff under whose authority execution shall be levied upon goods, animals, or other chattels, to cause an itemised inventory of the chattels seized to be made out, and within 48 hours of seizure, and if practicable before any removal, to cause to be furnished to the defendant for other the person in apparent possession of such chattels) a duplicate of such inventory, signed by the Under-Sheriff or by a person acting on his behalf." Section 5 exempts from seizure certain chattels. This is an extension of the existing law which exempts £5 worth of goods. It is considered that in view of the decreased purchasing power of money, that should be doubled, and certain goods to the extent of £10 are now exempt. The Under-Sheriff may sell at any time. This is the first important departure from the existing law. The existing law provided that the Under-Sheriff would give three days' notice, and there would be a local auction. It is important to note that that was not the right of the judgment debtor. It was not the right of the defendant. It was, in fact, the right of the creditor, and the underlying idea was, that if there was a sale without sufficient notice a good price would not be secured for the auctioned goods—a fair price. Consequently it was provided that there should be three days' notice, and a local auction. But in practice the result was not quite that. In practice the result was that the three days, if well used, ensured either of two things. Either a kinsman or a kinswoman of the judgment debtor turned up and bought in at a ridiculously low price or else another thing happened. Such odium attached to a prospective buyer at a Sheriff's auction, and such intimidation was used, that it took a particularly hardy purchaser to face that odium and that intimidation, and that hardy purchaser expected very considerable discount for his courage. So that, in fact, the three days' notice and the local auction reacted quite frequently on the judgment debtor in this way. Those chattels or live stock that were put up for auction were frequently bought at one-half, and even one-third of their value because of the odium that had to be faced, of the intimidation that had to be faced, and of the general risk incurred by the purchaser. Personally, I see no virtue in that three days' notice, in the advertisement, or in the local auction. I think that if a careful analysis were made, it would be found that in the great majority of cases that reacted unfavourably to the judgment debtor. It is provided now that the Under-Sheriff may sell at any time.
Section (7) provides that the Under-Sheriff may sell outside his bailiwick. That is an important Section, and in the Dáil there was quite a good deal of discussion about it. It is simply a provision to meet existing conditions—to meet conditions in which the Civil Officers of the Court could not guarantee a fair open sale without intimidation within their areas. This is merely an enabling provision. It does not say that under no circumstances shall the chattels of the judgment debtor be sold within the area of the judgment debtor. It says that the Under-Sheriff may, at his discretion, remove such goods out of his bailiwick for the purposes of sale. Live stock, for instance, may be entrained and sent to the Dublin market. There, again, I have no reason to believe that such transfer, such deportation, will react unfavourably on the judgment debtor. On the contrary, I think it would prove in practice rather a circumstance in his favour. When a notice is put up of a local auction under the auspices of an Under-Sheriff, anyone coming to buy came in this frame of mind: This is an Under-Sheriff's sale; the person selling has no personal interest in securing a good price. He is only interested in securing that the amount of the debt be covered and some incidental costs. Therefore, the people going to a Sheriff's sale went in that frame of mind where they expected to get an extremely good bargain—to buy for one-half, or one-third of the value. When goods or live-stock are removed, and without any such notice to the public that the sale is the sale of an Under Sheriff, in the course of the execution of a decree, these factors making for a lower price will not operate, and the goods will be sold at their real value in the market.
"Whether within or outside the territorial boundaries of Saorstát Eireann." There, again, is a highly contentious provision, but, while I expected a certain amount of controversy with regard to that particular provision, I was not convinced by the considerations that were urged against it. In the existing conditions, it might well be a more difficult, and a far more expensive matter, to train cattle to Dublin than to ship them elsewhere. Certain enlightened people are making war on our railways, but cattle are shipped from all the ports round our coasts—from Wexford, Drogheda, Derry, and so on. Incidentally this provision about removing them outside the territory of Saorstát Eireann would, of course, apply to certain counties in the North-East. Goods chattels or live-stock might be removed from Donegal, say, to the adjacent counties and sold there.
Sub-section (2) of that Section provides that "all goods, animals and other chattels taken in execution by any Under-Sheriff, under any such writ or decree as aforesaid, may, pending the sale thereof, be impounded, stored and kept by the Under-Sheriff in such place or places whether within or outside his bailiwick." I promised to give an example of the failure of the pound. Some time ago, I think it was in Ballinasloe, certain cattle were seized in execution of a decree. They were lodged behind the conventional 7-ft. wall and iron gate, and that evening, amid general jubilation—which, I think, was ill-founded—the iron gate was broken down and the animals were released. So the law and the machinery of the law failed on that historical occasion in Ballinasloe. I think that the people who rejoiced ought not to have rejoiced, because what it really meant was that their own majesty was flouted, that the law which was sanctioned by their own Parliament was flouted, that the machinery of their own Courts, which administer only the laws made or sanctioned by their own Parliament, had failed. They might have considered what it would mean if there was an extension of that. People, after all, must live; must order their lives either by law or by the strong hand; by the quick draw on the gun, the light finger and the sure eye; or by rules made by their own representatives in their Parliament. The extension of that particular incident, which caused so much local jubilation, would mean the failure of credit within the country and, consequently, the failure of the country's international credit and the failure of domestic credit within our own territory, with consequent unemployment and hardship. It would mean chaos; it would mean the failure of society, of civilisation. Well, it was the question then of strengthening the pound or abolishing the pound. My lights led me to advise its abolition. To strengthen it would make undue demands on people who have a great many calls on them, undue demands on the armed servants of the Government, and I see no case for the pound once we agree to the abolition of the local auction and once we agree that seized property may be removed outside the bailiwick of the Under-Sheriff executing the particular decree. Therefore the pound goes, and Ballinasloe may rejoice or not as it pleases. Sub-Section 3 provides that the Under-Sheriff, in addition to the amount of the debt stated in the decree, and so on, levied for the amount of all costs incurred by him in or about the removal of such goods, animals, and chattels from the places at which they were seized, that all such costs and expenses may be deducted by the Under-Sheriff from the proceeds of the sale of the goods as a first charge thereon. The Under-Sheriff shall be the sole judge of the place or places at which any goods, animals, or other chattels taken in execution by him can be sold to the best advantage.
Section 8 is rather consequential. If you abolish the local auction and abolish the public notice, it is necessary for this reason, that at a Sheriff's sale in the past no better title passed than the Under-Sheriff's own title to the goods. That was the necessity for the advertisement. It really amounts to this, that if an Under-Sheriff made a mistake, if he seized wrongly, seized goods that were not the property of the judgment debtor, then he passed no good title in those goods. He could not pass a better title than he had himself, but Section 8 provides that while this Act lasts every person who in good faith purchases at a sale held by, or under the authority of, an Under-Sheriff any goods, animals, or other chattels taken in execution by such Under-Sheriff shall acquire a good title valid against all persons to the goods, animals, or chattels so purchased, notwithstanding any invalidity or irregularity in or about the seizure or sale of such goods, animals, or chattels, and whether he knows, or ought or could have known, or is affected with any kind of notice that the sale is a sale by or under the authority of the Under-Sheriff or not. Now, there is one thing that that Section does not mean. It does not mean, whenever a Sheriff seizes goods that are not the property of the judgment debtor, that no action lies against him. An action does lie against him, but what this provides is that, apart from the action that lies against the Under-Sheriff, that by the sale a title passes that is indefeasible. That is necessary, because if live stock, for instance were seized and brought to the Dublin Market and sold, possibly to some person not permanently resident within our own jurisdiction, it is necessary to insert the provision that when such sale takes place a good title passes. Section 9 provides that the interruption of the Under-Sheriff's custody is not to prejudice the sale. In the past the Under-Sheriff, or his immediate agent, had to be in constant and permanent custody of the seized goods or live stock. This Section is also merely consequential. If an Under-Sheriff's agents place goods or live stock on a train consigned to some person in Dublin, perhaps, it should not be necessary that the Under-Sheriff in person or some immediate agent of his should travel with such goods. That is simply the force of the Section, that the seizure is not broken by the fact of the goods passing out of his immediate custody in that way.
Section 10 states: "No action shall lie against an Under-Sheriff for or on account of his having entered or broken into any lands, house, close, or other premises for the purpose of taking into execution any goods, animals, or other chattels which were, or might be, on or in such lands, house, close, or premises, or for or on account of any injury occasioned to such lands, house, or premises by or in the course of such entry or breaking in." The force of that Section is to modify somewhat the existing law. The existing law provided that where an Under-Sheriff entered the house of a third party, other than the actual judgment debtor himself, an action lay against him if he did not find therein the property of the judgment debtor. If he was fortunate enough to find such property then no action lay, so that it depended entirely on whether or not he found some property of the judgment debtor's whether he was liable to an action or not. This Section 10 modifies this somewhat. It says that an action shall lie unless either of two things—unless he finds property there belonging to the judgment debtor or is able to show reasonable grounds for his belief that there was such property on the premises. So that it gives him just one other loophole, that if in good faith he entered the premises believing the property of the judgment debtor to be there, then he is not liable to an action, provided he can establish his good faith and show that he had reasonable grounds for such belief. Section 11 states that "From and after the passing of this Act, and notwithstanding any enactment, rule, or law or order to the contrary, no action shall lie against and no penalty shall be incurred by any Under-Sheriff in the absence of fraud, malice, or gross negligence for or on account of his having seized or sold under any writ offieri facias, or any decree of a Civil Bill Court, more or less, goods, animals, or other chattels than would or might be sufficient to meet the full amount of the debt.” In dealing with chattels it is difficult exactly to hit the mark of the debt for which judgment is given. One might take the hypothetical case of an Under-Sheriff's agents having seized a certain amount of property, and being, in their own opinion, three or four pounds short of the mark, and the only available asset on the premises for seizure is a marble clock worth £8. Well, this Section provides that in the absence of fraud, malice, or gross negligence, an Under-Sheriff shall not be liable for an action for over seizure. There, again, it is a question of good faith, but the civil officers of the Court ought not to be deterred from doing their duty by the threat of action. It is simply a question of doing their duty in good faith according to their lights. If the judgment debtor can prove that the Under-Sheriff or his agents came along in a malicious and fraudulent spirit and seized far more than the amount of the debt, and brought the goods away by train, possibly even by boat, and sold them simply as a matter of vindictiveness, an action will lie against an Under-Sheriff. The words “In the absence of fraud, malice, or gross negligence” are of considerable importance in that Section.
Section 12 empowers the Minister for Home Affairs to fix a scale of fees to be charged by, and paid to, the Under-Sheriff and others. This Bill also contains certain Sections which do not bear on the question of Under-Sheriffs and their sales, but which it was necessary to insert as a matter of convenience in the existing conditions. It provides, for instance, that where, for any reasons, it is impossible to hold a Quarter Sessions in a particular town the County Court Judge, with the concurrence of the Minister for Home Affairs, may order that the Session be held elsewhere. It has been found necessary to do that in a few places lately, and there is a provision here making this retrospective, and indemnifying people who from the necessity of the situation acted contrary to statute. That is Section 13. Section 14 provides that in the serving of certain documents that there may be a departure from the statutory methods provided that the County Court Judge is satisfied:—
"(a) that it was not reasonably possible to effect service of such document in the manner required by the law aforesaid; and
"(b) that such document, or copy thereof, or reasonable notice of such document and of the contents thereof did, in fact, reach the person required to be served therewith.”
This Section applies to civil bills and summonses of jurors and so on.
Section 15 is a kind of compassionate amendment which was accepted, providing that a County Court Judge may give a decree with a stay of execution if he is satisfied that the defendant intends to make an effort to meet his liabilities, that while giving the decree he may put a stay of execution for five months or six months, and so on.
That briefly is the substance of the Bill. It has been called various names in other places; it has been called a penal measure, and one Deputy suggested that the title should be amended, and that it should be called "A Bill for the Better Extermination of Certain Debtors." and so on. The fact is that the existing law provides for the seizure of debtors' goods and for their sale, and anyone who knows the existing law will realise that the departures set out in this Bill are not, in fact, penal or ferocious, that they are merely matters of public convenience to meet certain difficulties arising out of the existing conditions in the country. There was no law in this country in the past that people should not pay their debts, or that the decrees of the Courts were to be put on a shelf and forgotten; that the Courts writs were not to run; that Under-Sheriffs were not to attempt under any circumstances to seize goods of judgment debtors and sell them in order to have the debt paid. That was not the position. The position was that the law provided for the seizure and sale of debtors' goods. The law considered that the man who received goods across the counter, undertaking to pay, for them, should, in fact, pay; that if he failed to do so someone should sell his goods and pay for him. But there were conditions causing certain difficulties in the execution of decrees, and this Bill meets these conditions. It abolishes local auctions, and provides that the goods may be taken out of the bailiwick of the Under-Sheriff, out of the zone of intimidation and odium, and sold elsewhere. There are no provisions in this Bill that are not necessary. There are no provisions inserted with any penal intent or in any spirit of vindictiveness, but if the domestic and international credit of this country is to survive it is necessary that there should be a healthier commercial atmosphere, and that there should be security that we should not drift to a condition of things in which everyone who would have a £5 note would sit on it.
I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.
I second that motion.
As a matter of convenience I think, perhaps, the Seanad would like to know if the property of other persons is protected if seized upon the lands of a judgment debtor. Take the case of grazing lands, where cattle the property of various persons have been taken to graze. Are these liable to seizure if the owner of the land, or reputed occupier, has, the Sheriff put in motion against them?
The Under-Sheriff will be liable to action if the wrong live-stock, chattels, or goods of any description are seized and sold. The provision giving a valid title is necessary if goods are to be sold in open market without any advertisements, to the effect that they were goods being sold in the execution of a decree by the Under-Sheriff; but that does not bar an action against the Under-Sheriff. The sale would pass a good title to the buyer, but an action would lie against the Under-Sheriff.
Supposing another class of goods were seized; say a man is motoring through the country and he puts a valuable motor into the care temporarily of a man against whom there is a judgment debt, and supposing that motor is seized and sold, what protection has the owner of the motor under the Bill? Would you consider the introduction of a clause protecting cases of that sort, in which persons have no opportunities of enquiring as to whether a man is perfectly solvent in whose charge they put goods for the time being?
He has the protection which the owner of the cattle has. He has this protection, that an Under-Sheriff is most unlikely to seize goods without very careful enquiry as to the ownership of such goods. An action would lie against him if he seized and sold goods that were not the property of the judgment debtor. There is the protection of the law in both cases. The only provision is that if a sale takes place, that sale will pass a good title to the purchaser, but it does not indemnify in any way the Under-Sheriff, or render him not liable to an action for having seized property that was not the property of a judgment debtor, but the property of a harmless third party.
It is a more cumbersome procedure. Would you consider the introduction of some clause that would, perhaps, more readily protect him? Take my own case. I have had a horse and trap seized, simply because it arrived accidentally, and was put up at, the house of a man against whom there was a judgment. They saw their opportunity and seized my horse and trap, and the result was that I had to pay in order to release them, rather than go to the rounds of this action against the Sheriff.
Might I suggest that Clause 4 does that?
Next week the Committee stage of this Bill will be taken, and an opportunity will be given for the formulation of amendments. Personally I think it is rather wise, although scarcely in order, that questions should be allowed at this stage, when the Minister is present. I do not think that matters should be pressed to any detail, as we will have an opportunity of dealing with the Bill in detail when amendments are put down. If the amendments are of importance it will be quite possible for the Minister to attend again.
I think the Minister is in a far better position than we are to introduce a clause of this sort, and I merely ask him to consider what I have suggested.
I would draw attention to the following:—"Provided however that in any case where the Under-Sheriff shall break and enter the premises of a person other than the person against whom he has been called upon to enforce a judgment order or decree he shall either have found any goods, animals or other chattels of such last-mentioned person therein or thereon or shall have reasonable grounds for believing that there were some such goods, animals or chattels therein or thereon."
As I understood from the speech of the Minister, this is the clause that has been strengthened. In its original form he was only exempt from action if he did find goods in the house, such as he expected to find. At present he can evade on showing reasonable grounds of suspicion. I raise the point that it is a very serious thing to increase the rights of entry into a house. You have here the case where an officer of the State can enter a house. You increase the rights of entry, and that is a serious thing. I do not say that it is wrong to do. At present it seems to me that the bailiff can enter your house and allege that his reason for doing so is that he suspects you of having a clock belonging to a neighbour against whom there is a judgment. I think it is a serious thing to give the bailiff the right to enter your house, possibly by force, because of the suspicion he holds that you have got somebody else's property. Unless there is some very strong reason for it, I would ask the Minister to consider a modification of the clause.
Apart from this Bill, the law, as it stands, contains an anomaly. Under the existing law the judgment debtor's house was his castle. The agents of the Under-Sheriff could not break into or enter a house; they had to obtain entry in the conventional way. But the house of the third party was not his castle if goods belonging to the judgment debtor were therein. Now the Under-Sheriff or the bailiff could break and enter the house or premises of a third party, and whether he would be liable to an action or not depended on whether he found there the property of the judgment debtor. That was the position. He could not break or enter the premises of the judgment debtor, but he could break into and enter the premises of the judgment debtor's neighbour if there was property belonging to the judgment debtor there. Now this clause, as drafted, provides that it is simply a small extension of that, that the bailiff may break into and enter the premises of a third party on either of two conditions. One is, provided that there is in fact, and is proved to be subsequently, property there belonging to the judgment debtor; and the second is that he can show reasonable grounds for his belief that there was property there belonging to the judgment debtor. It will be simply a question for the Court to weigh, whether he had reasonable grounds for the belief which prompted him to enter these premises, that there was property there belonging to the judgment debtor.
I rise to a point of order. Interesting as this discussion is, it is really one which should arise on the Committee Stage of the Bill, and if we do not adopt some regularity of procedure we will be laying down a very dangerous precedent, which will be constantly introduced, and our proceedings will become most irregular. We should, I think, confine ourselves to questions which would properly arise on the First or Second Stage of the Bill. What these questions are I am not quite clear; but these questions of detail are usually dealt with on the Committee Stage.
No amendment would be possible at this stage, and the discussion that now takes place should deal generally with the principle of the Bill. I pointed out that the discussion which has been entered into was scarcely in order, but if there was general agreement that it should continue I did not desire to interfere. I think it would be undesirable, if we were to use the presence of Ministers during the first stages of Bills, to have any prolonged discussion. When a Minister attends, if we could provide reasonable questions as to the character of the Bill, they should, I think, be allowed, and the Minister should be given an opportunity to explain various matters. The reason I think that discussion now would be convenient is there will be a week's interval before the Bill comes before the Seanad again. In previous Bills which came before us we found rather hastily drafted amendments handed in during the meeting of the Seanad, which could not properly be considered. The particular value, I think, of the Second Stage discussion will be to bring the whole matter before the members of the Seanad, so that they can at an early date hand in amendments, if there are any, which can then be circulated amongst the members, and receive consideration when we come to the Committee Stage of the Bill. The reason why I felt inclined to allow a certain amount of latitude to-day was because certain of the questions asked were rather in the nature of explaining the Bill. I do not think amendments should be foreshadowed now, or that the Minister should be pressed as to what he thinks of certain amendments.
I presume we are now engaged in the Second Reading debate, and the question before the Seanad is, whether we agree in principle with this measure or not. Later on we shall have the Committee Stage in the normal course. Might I suggest that when we have the Committee Stage it would be a great convenience for the Seanad if we had some Minister, or some member in charge of the Bill present, who could speak authoritatively on the different questions which are bound to arise. At present we are discussing the main principle, whether we shall agree to this Bill or not. The suggestion I have made as regards the attendance of a Minister when the Committee Stage is reached is one the Government might consider.
We have already appointed a Committee to discuss with some members of the Government, and with the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, the question of the relations between the two Houses. That Committee, I am certain, will deal with the question of the attendance of Ministers here. At the same time I think it would, obviously, be impossible for Ministers to attend the Committee Stage of Bills in both Houses, considering the quantity of legislation that is being introduced. I think an attempt should be made, in a spirit of courtesy, to try and make reasonable arrangements between the two Houses in that respect. If members of the Seanad put on the Order Paper amendments in advance it will give Ministers an opportunity of knowing that these amendments are likely to come forward, and in that way I think the point made by Sir Thomas Esmonde will be met.
I have very little to say on the general principle of the Bill, and wish to confine myself to general questions. It will be agreed by everyone, I think, that, unfortunately, there has been a very considerable loosening in the morals of the whole country. This loosening is exhibiting itself in many ways, one of which is the more or less alarming tendency on the part of people in many parts of the country to shelve the payment of their lawful debts. One might easily trace back that tendency to the policy which was favoured by some of the people now in power in trying to administer the affairs of the country. It started with an intimation to the people that they should pay no income tax, that they should pay no dog tax, and that the publicans should not pay their licence duty. Notwithstanding that fact those arrears, which the people would probably have paid if they had not been advised to do otherwise, are now being demanded by the present Government. I think it is just one of those examples which go to show that the end does not always justify the means. It was inevitable that some abnormal measures would have to be taken for the purpose of restoring the national credit, because that is what it amounts to. The bad example of a few people in any particular district has very far-reaching consequences. If some few people take it into their heads that, because of the abnormal conditions of affairs, they can risk not paying their debts, they are allowed to go free, it is only in human nature that those who would otherwise pay their debts will argue that they would be foolish to pay while other people can go scot free. Hence, the bad example set up by a few spreads in an ever-widening circle until it eventually extends itself to practically every class in the community. As regards the people whom we represent, I do not think they are very much concerned with the operation of this particular Bill, because, fortunately, or unfortunately, the average worker is never allowed to go very much into debt. Even if he is anxious to get into debt, he will not be allowed to do so. The Bill will affect, principally, the middle classes, or, as they have lately been termed, the new poor. It will certainly affect a large number of pretty well-to-do farmers and others, who are very unpatriotically taking advantage of the present condition of affairs by trying to get out of the payment of their rates and rents. I am not sorry that these people should be made recognise the law, of which they represent themselves as being the main pillar. I am in agreement with the general principle of the Bill.
It is desirable that the machinery introduced for enforcing the law should, as far as possible, be of a fairly unimpeachable character. I quite agree no one can turn out hastily a perfect machine, but where there are obvious dangers, I think it is the duty of the Government, the duty of an assembly, whether of the kind represented in this Seanad or in thee Dáil, to try and remove these dangers as far as it is humanly possible to do so. The arguments advanced by the Minister for Home Affairs are all arguments against the weaknesses of the law as it exists at the present time, and go to show that even in normal times the operation of the law could be defeated by anybody who set himself out to defeat it. Yet this Bill is only to operate for six months, so that I do not think it was necessary for him at all to adduce these arguments showing the weaknesses of the present law in normal circumstances, unless he proposes to make this a permanent measure. One of the things that is of a very undesirable character is the limitation of the value of tools, which are to be left to the judgment debtor. The amount is limited to £10. If you take the case of a poor music teacher, who earned a living by teaching the piano, that article is surely worth more than £10, and it must be taken from him because it happens to be worth more than £10. One could elaborate that, or give other instances of tools that are certainly worth more than £10; and they are to be taken from the debtor and thereby deprive him of all opportunity to pay his debts, because they are over a certain value. I think it might reasonably be provided that tools by which a person earns his livelihood might not be seized upon.
Then, in Clause 6, the provision by which the Sheriff finds it unnecessary to issue any public announcement regarding the sale of goods, chattels and live-stock seized, is a very serious one. I think the position would be met if a public announcement would be made that certain goods, chattels and livestock would be sold by public auction. It would not be necessary to state that they were part of the Sheriff's seizure, or that they were sold as the result of the execution of a decree. Otherwise, you give tremendous powers of corruption to these new Deputy-Sheriffs who will be appointed. We must remember that these men, in the natural order of things, will have to be Sheriffs something of the Wild West or Blue Pete type. They will have to be regular six-shooters in order to do the duties imposed upon them. And they will be inclined to act in a sort of backwoodsman style in the carrying out of their duty. I do not want to leave it in the hands of a man of that calibre, or in his power, to make private arrangements with his friends so that he could hand over to them at a ridiculously low sum some goods or chattels or live stock that he may seize; and for that reason I think some public announcement should be made wherever the sale is going to take place, so as to ensure that there will be some competition in bidding for goods that are to be sold. Then in regard to Clause 7, where he may sell outside his bailiwick, well, that may be necessary; but I certainly think that if we have any spark of national pride at all left we should try to ensure that it should be sold inside the Free State. We should not carry the tangible emblems of our shame outside our border by selling those goods in Northern Ireland or across the Channel. Our national credit will suffer to a greater extent by these exhibitions than by being unable to sell the goods at home.
In regard to Clause 10, that has been referred to by more than one Senator, and is one of the most serious objections in the Bill itself. It leaves every man open to the operations of any designing enemy he may have. There is nothing in the world to prevent Sheriffs being supplied with false information regarding the alleged existence of goods belonging to a judgment debtor in a certain house, and the clause merely provides that the Sheriff shall be able to show that he had good reason for suspecting that these goods existed there. But is it not always possible to make out a very plausible reason for taking action of that kind? I do not think it is beyond the wit of an Irishman at any time to show that he had admirable reasons and an admirable cause for invading a poor man's cottage or a rich man's castle in search of goods which were alleged to be hidden there. I think it should be laid down definitely and provided for under this clause that where the Sheriff breaks into a man's house under this clause and finds there is none of the goods that he was led to believe existed there, that there should be an action against him in that particular case. It will in itself be an incentive to him to be a little more careful than he might otherwise be. For he would be supplied also with bailiffs, who will of necessity be of the Wild West type. This Clause 10 itself is not specific enough in regard to an action against the Sheriff. It simply states that he will have to show good reason. It does not lay down specifically that if he does not show good reason there is no action against him. I am not a lawyer, but as an ordinary layman I should say it would be hard to convince me if the Sheriff were unable to make a good case for his entry that under the Bill as it stands I should have an action against him at law. These are a few of the objections in regard to the Bill which otherwise I think most people will have to support in principle. No country stands to gain by a repudiation of its private or national debts. We have had a very striking example of the repudiation of national debts in the case of Russia, where the whole National Debt was repudiated, and the nation, instead of gaining by it, became poorer, and eventually had to reconsider the whole position. Those of us who are interested in building up Ireland, in developing its fallen and crippled industries, and in helping it to take the place that it should of right take amongst the new nations set up since the Great War will, as common sense practical people, agree that one of the first essentials to the bringing about of that state of affairs will be the recognition by all her citizens, individually and collectively, of their responsibility financially and otherwise, so that the nation itself may be able to establish that sound national credit and good name which is so necessary to its progress in the future, which can be made bright or otherwise as the people of this State themselves determine.
The general necessity of this Bill leaves in my mind no possibility of doubt. About 6 months ago I was staying in the country, when a process server arrived to serve a process on me. I think it was for rates. He had with him seven Free State soldiers to protect him. I invited him to tea, and he and the Free State soldiers had tea with me, and my wife took their photographs. Shortly afterwards, however, he found himself amongst debtors who were less hospitable, for instead of giving him tea and cake and taking his photograph, they compelled him to eat all his own summonses. There was a large quantity of paper, and paper, I believe, is exceedingly indigestible. On the question of the details of the Bill I have nothing to say, as the representative of the Labour Party has drawn attention to the one clause which rouses my suspicion only because I do not yet know whether there is a very good case for it.
I think Clause 10 is arousing a certain amount of uneasiness.
Is the Senator in order in raising this point on a Second Reading of the Bill?
Not unless Senator Love wishes to make a speech dealing generally with the Bill.
I was just going to say that that danger is provided against.
It is now for the Seanad to decide whether this Bill in accordance with Standing Order 48 will be referred to a Committee of the whole Seanad or to a SubCommittee.
I beg to move that it be referred to a Committee of the whole Seanad.
I beg to second that.