This is another Order which is somewhat similar.
REVENUE COMMISSIONERS' ORDER, 1923.
This is an Order I would like to ask a little information on.
This again comes before the Seanad because, under Section 7 of the Adaptation of Enactments Act, it is necessary where two Boards or Commissioners are amalgamated by order of the Executive Council, that that Order should be approved by a resolution of each House of the Oireachtas before it comes into effect. This deals with revenue and taxation, and somebody has said that it might more appropriately have been introduced first into the Dáil. However, the Seanad has met first, and as we do not wish to have any delay in setting up this Board of Revenue Commissioners we have introduced this into the Seanad. In the United Kingdom there were two Boards of Commissioners, that is, Commissioners of Inland Revenue and Commissioners of Customs and Excise, each Board consisting of four Commissioners. We will not have enough work to justify the maintenance of two Boards of highly paid officials. We propose to amalgamate these two Boards, to give to the Board of Revenue Commissioners the duties of Commissioners of Customs and Excise and of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. There will be three Commissioners, who will be Civil Servants with considerable experience of Revenue work, that is, they will be highly qualified men. They will be subject to the Minister for Finance so far as the general control of their staff is concerned, their qualifications, and hours and conditions of service, but the Minister for Finance will not have anything to say to the assessment of the taxes payable by any individual. So far as that is concerned the Commissioners will act independently and judicially. I think that the Seanad will have no difficulty in agreeing that if for the late United Kingdom 8 Commissioners sufficed to do the work, 3 Commissioners would do all the work in both branches that is likely to arise in Saorstát Eireann. This bringing of the whole revenue under one Board will lead to certain other economies. For instance, I think, perhaps, there would be a common Accountant-General, and it will lead to certain economies in actual administration, as well as to the economies that will be effected by having one Joint Board, instead of two Boards, doing this particular work.
We certainly will support the Government in any proposal they may bring forward for economy in public administration. Their idea of amalgamating the Board of Inland Revenue and the Commissioners of Customs and Excise is certainly a step in the direction of economy, and we will welcome that. This question is really very complicated, and it is not a matter that we can rush into without some little consideration. Do I understand that the re-formed Revenue Board, or whatever you like to call it, will act under the supervision of the Accountant-General, whom we have already appointed? I understood the Minister to say something of that sort.
Under the Minister for Finance.
Under the Minister for Finance. Where does the Accountant-General come in?
The Accountant-General is the Accountant-General of the Revenue service.
That point is clear. It is a special Accountant-General for the Revenue Board itself, who is a different individual altogether from our own Accountant-General. We are to have three Commissioners I understand. These gentlemen shall be appointed by the President of the Executive Council, and shall be removable only by the Executive Council. Is that quite a satisfactory tenure? Supposing that either the Dáil or the Seanad objected to some of these gentlemen or their administration, does that mean that they would have no say as to whether these high and important officials were to remain on discharging their duties or not, if either House were satisfied that these gentlemen were not carrying on their duties properly? Apparently Clause 7, I think it is of Part 2, makes these officials the appointees of the President for the time being, and removable only by the Ministry. Will that mean, for instance, that if there was a change of Ministry all these officers would go out, or could go out, and supposing they were carrying out their duties properly and were put out, will they have any right to compensation? We should know something about the tenure of these officials. Then, supposing these officers were not satisfactory, I think there ought to be some power other than the mereipse dixit of the President and of his Cabinet to remove these officials if it were thought that their removal was necessary. I should like to know more about the conditions of tenure of these gentlemen. We are told they are to be Civil Servants, who are already accustomed to carrying out this work, and who are proficient in its execution, and certainly from my experience of your public officials in this particular direction I think they are most efficient, and extremely anxious to carry out their duties. At the same time it might well be that a wrong appointment might be made. That is a question that I think the Seanad ought to devote a little time to. It is very important. It means the efficient collection of a very large portion of the revenue of the Irish Government. I do not know that the time has come when we could ask the Government to tell us who these gentlemen are to be. Perhaps the time has not come for that. The appointments should be made very carefully, and should not be made in a hurry. Inasmuch as this measure has been brought before the Seanad first, and that in some respects we are responsible for its introduction, I think we ought to investigate the matter rather carefully and get full information on these various points from the Minister in charge. He has told us many things already, but he has not, if he will allow me to say so, gone to the root of the question, and there are a good many details we might have an explanation about.
The Minister in introducing this Order has told us that it comes before the Seanad in the first instance. I presume if it is passed now it will go on to the Dáil. Should the Dáil make any amendments in the Order as sent from the Seanad will it come back to the Seanad for their ratification? Otherwise they might introduce matters and clauses which we have not before us here, and which the Seanad might not be willing to agree to. I would also like to ask the Minister if he can tell us—he may not be in a position to do so—who are the three Revenue Commissioners it is proposed to appoint. There are two Clauses here, No. 13, in Part III., and No. 16, in Part IV., which, I think, introduce rather a dangerous procedure. They have evidently been put in because under the old law the conditions were not the same. No. 13 reads—and No. 14 is practically the same wording—"In every case in which any Order, decision, instrument or document is required by law to be signed by, or to be under the hand of two or more Commissioners of Inland Revenue, it shall be sufficient if such order, decision, instrument or document is signed by one Revenue Commissioner." I think that is putting unnecessary power into the hands of one Commissioner. If the law formerly prescribed two in the matter I think we should be very careful that we do not change that law so as to throw responsibility on a single individual, instead of on two or more.
It would be well if the position could be made clear as to these Orders. I am not perfectly clear myself, but I was informed last week that our position in regard to these two Orders was that they were statutory Orders of the Executive Council, to which the approval or assent of both Houses of the Oireachtas had to be obtained before they could become operative, that we had no power to amend, but that we could withhold our assent. I presume that if such assent were withheld on a specific point the Executive Council would have to make out another Order accordingly. The Dáil has no power to amend either.
I myself do not see any clause in the Constitution which provides for this particular form of Order at all. Apparently the approval of the Seanad is necessary, because this is the act of the Executive Council.
I think it is the Enactments Act which provides for this.
That is what I was going to say. It must be under the Enactments Act that this Order comes before us. That is a measure we put through in half an hour. It was so urgent we did not discuss it. I should think there must be some provision in that by which this Order will lie on the table of the Seanad for some time. We do not part with it finally by approving of it now. Do we?
I think so.
Is it not a fact that a similar power existed under the English Government, and that the Enactments Act provides that Orders of the Executive Council shall have legal validity if the assent of both the Dáil and Seanad is obtained. It is quite plain that as the Dáil is not meeting until next week it would be quite in order to adjourn the matter until, say, Wednesday, and bring it up again.
The procedure under the British Government was that these Orders had to lie on the table for a certain time, and could be objected to.
I have the section now. It is Section 19 of the Adaptation of Enactments Act: "Every Order made by the Executive Council under this Act shall be laid before each House forthwith, and unless and until a resolution annulling such Order is passed by either House within the next 21 days on which that House is sitting after such Order is laid before it, such Order shall have effect as if enacted in this Act. But no such resolution shall operate to prejudice the validity of anything previously done under such Order." Therefore we have 21 days from to-day, during which a resolution can be passed by this Seanad annulling this Order.
I think we have only 14 days. It was formally notified to us a week ago, and read.
Whether 21 or 14 days, we are not bound to agree to it now.
Apparently the only power we have is either to approve of, or reject it. I cannot see that we have any power to amend it.
We desire a resolution passed approving of it, and we will also ask the Dáil to pass a resolution approving of it, so that we can proceed to act upon it, and to have the Revenue Board set up to make the appointments, to make sure the matter will not be upset, and so that we will not have the infinity of trouble which might be caused if we were to act on this Order and if one of the Houses of the Oireachtas were afterwards to upset it. It is urgent from the point of view of the Ministry of Finance that the machinery provided should be put into operation without any further delay. The only thing I would like to say is that, as you have spent some time in discussing it, it might be as well to come to a decision rather than postpone it, and, perhaps, get no further on the next discussion. I have no objection to deferring it until to-morrow, because it has to come before the Dáil, but if the Seanad were to pass it to-day the Dáil, I believe, will pass a resolution approving of it on Tuesday, and we will be able to act upon the Order. The power of the Seanad is simply the power of annulling this particular Order. As Senator Douglas has put it, if the Dáil were to refuse on any particular point to agree to the Order, a new Order would have to be made, and the new Order would have to come before the Seanad, so that no right or power the Seanad would have would be prejudiced by adopting it in the first instance. With regard to the point raised by Senator Guinness as to one signature, the reason that has been given for that is that we have fewer Commissioners, and that at present a large number of documents, such as warrants to collectors and statutory declarations and purely formal documents have to be signed by two Commissioners. That is described as a troublesome and archaic provision, for which there is no justification, by people who have been closely in touch with revenue work. In view of the fact that we will have a smaller number of Commissioners, with more diversified work, it is intended that the signature of one Commissioner will serve on certain documents. The whole Board will act together when dealing with matters of principle; but only one Commissioner will have power of doing formal acts. I think there is no danger whatever in that, and it will facilitate business to some extent. As to the tenure of office of these Commissioners, they will be Civil Servants, and will hold Civil Service tenure. In Great Britain they are appointed by Royal Warrant. They have no security of tenure other than when any of them might be dispensed with a new Royal Warrant will be required for a successor. As an alternative to having a Revenue Board, all the business of assessing liability on citizens for taxation would have to be done directly by the Minister for Finance. In point of fact it could not be done directly by the Minister for Finance. It would be done by some unnamed and unknown Civil Servant in the name of the Minister. When we have a Board of Commissioners the work will be done by known and named Civil Servants, who will be given a special and responsible position. It is a protection, from that point of view, for the citizen and the taxpayer. Moreover, it is a protection for the Minister for Finance against appeals from citizens on matters that should not be the subject of such appeals. It would be improper, for instance, that the Minister should be appealed to by citizens and, perhaps, constituents, to alter their assessment, say, for Income Tax. The satisfactory way to do that would be by Civil Servants, who would have a special and independent position, who would be allowed to carry on judicially, and whose names would be known. It is not necessary or desirable to give the Commissioners any greater fixity of tenure than is given by putting them into responsible positions in a public way. Suppose the Revenue Commissioners were carrying on their work satisfactorily, and any Executive Council dismissed them, such action could not be carried out by stealth. It would create an outcry, and it is very unlikely that any Executive could expect to do such a thing. On the other hand, if the Commissioners are not given the same security of tenure that the Accountant and Auditor-General has, and if they are not carrying on their work satisfactorily they can be got rid of. This is an arrangement which corresponds with the arrangement in Great Britain. It is an entirely satisfactory arrangement and one which I do not think could be improved on. The Auditor-General is in a very special position. He will exercise his authority over these Commissioners just as he will over every department of the Government. It is necessary that he should be independent and should have a definite judicial position. It is not desirable that executive officers, whose function has a certain judicial character—no doubt those who are executive officers will be those on whom the collection of the revenue depends—should have any greater fixity of tenure than that by which they got the appointment for those very responsible offices.
This Order seems to be a very drastic one, and I think the Seanad would be well advised to hold it up, at all events for a few days, for consideration. It is an Order which gives great power, first to the Minister for Finance, and secondly to the three Commissioners whom the Minister thinks it well to employ in this capacity. I do not know what provision, if any, is made for the safety of the taxpayer. Is there any court of appeal, or have we to go back to the Commissioners who levied the taxes, to get relief? I would like to have more information about this matter. Who are the Commissioners, and what are they? Evidently they are put into a very powerful position, and what might not be the very penalising effect they could have on the people of Ireland, the people who are, and the people who are not, subject to taxation? Very drastic methods have been employed in the past for assessing enormous amounts on poor people, who have been actually prosecuted. I should like that there would be safety, not only for the large taxpayer, but also for the small taxpayer. They ought to have some court of appeal or some protection from the rashness and anxiety of Civil Service Commissioners who endeavour to take all the money they can out of the pockets of the people. There should be some court of appeal, and more information should be given us before we could be satisfied to give effect to this Order.
As regards the question of time, I speak with great diffidence, for I have not seen a copy of the document we are discussing. Part of it, at any rate, is intimately connected with the business in which I am concerned—the Customs and Excise Department. The Minister has stated, and I take it for granted it is quite probable, that the appointments will have to be made. Coming to the question of Customs and Excise, hitherto all the regulations in the Brewing and Distilling business, connected with methods of manufacture and other kinds of things, have been ruled upon by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise. At the present moment we are in discussion with the Commissioners on such matters connected with the business with which I am concerned. We have there a board of several individuals intimately acquainted with the whole business in which we are engaged. Now, I take it that in the desire to effect economy probably only one of the three individuals to be appointed may know anything whatever about our business and our methods of manufacture, and I wonder whether in that desire for economy the Government are quite right. I recognise from the point of view of the Government alone that there are questions, as to revenue and things of that kind, which we may have to discuss, and which may involve considerable sums of money, and it is quite easy to see how one individual may either block, accelerate, or do something that is quite wrong, in the consideration of these matters. Hence, I think we should have some time to look into this matter. I know nothing about it except what I have heard here this afternoon, and, personally, I could not give an opinion as to how it would affect the interests with which I am connected. Before we agree to have the numbers cut down to three, the matter should engage our serious consideration, and for that reason I would like to have more time to look into it. Some one will have to be appointed to the position, but to give such large powers to one individual is a matter that merits much consideration.
I move that we adjourn consideration of this Bill until to-morrow.
We do not meet again until this day week. If we were to adjourn it until to-morrow, it would be the only business we would have to do. I do not myself see what advantage an adjournment till to-morrow would be, because I doubt very much if either the Minister or the members of the Seanad would be able to advance it very much further in the twenty-four hours.
The question is very important. You are going now to the very foundations of the administration.
I am not objecting to the adjournment, but I am just pointing out that, if we are to adjourn until to-morrow, this is the only business we will have before us.
My reason for suggesting an adjournment until to-morrow was that I understood the Government wanted to have the Bill ready for the Dáil to discuss it next week. I was trying to meet the Government's convenience. I formally move now that we adjourn until to-morrow. If the members of the Seanad are not agreeable to that, we can fix some other day. There are one or two points the Government might give us some information on when we come to discuss it again. We understand that these very important officers are going to be appointed practically by Ministerial warrant, and that they will be removable by Ministerial warrant. That is quite satisfactory because it does not give them fixity of tenure if they fail to carry out their duties properly.
I understood the Minister to say the reverse. He said they would be Civil Servants. If that were so they would not necessarily be removable by the Minister, because the Minister might go out of office and a new Minister come in.
What I mean is, they would be removable by Executive Order, or whatever the proper name is. They would be removable, I suppose, by warrant from the Cabinet, or from the head of the Government, so that, at all events, there is that check on the carrying out of their administration. The Minister also told us that in certain matters one signature would be sufficient, and I quite see his point. I understand from the Minister that the one signature would only relate to purely formal matters of routine and detail in which no principle was involved.
The Minister cannot bind himself to that. That was only a suggestion as to how it would work out in practice. Apparently in theory at any rate any one of the these three could sign and be responsible for any act at all in connection with the office.
That is not in accordance, I think, with the statement of the Minister.
I understood the Minister simply to say that was what would happen in practice— that one of the Commissioners would act alone in purely formal matters, but I do not think the Minister said there was anything in the Order to bind him to that.
That is the point I was trying to come to, that we should get some undertaking from the Government that only in formal matters, in which no question of principle was involved, one signature would be sufficient. In purely formal matters we might not object to that, but then there is the question of safeguarding the right of appeal of the taxpayers. That is very germane to the question we are discussing, namely, the right of appeal from the decision of these Commissioners. What we want to know is, if the ordinary citizen feels himself aggrieved where is he to appeal to, and if there is to be an appeal, and I presume there will, is it going to be a cheap one and one in which the ordinary citizen can have easy access to. This proposal seems quite simple, but it is very important, and to-morrow or next day the country may wake up and find itself saddled with an administration against which it may kick. Therefore I say it is hardly fair to ask us to dispose of so important a document as this on the spur of the moment. We should have some assurance on this question of an appeal, and we should also be assured that those are real appeals within the reach of the ordinary citizen, so that he will be protected and not find himself in the hands of the bureaucracy over which he exercises no control. We are living in very difficult times and passing very special laws, and how do we know that these laws may not be part of our permanent constitution. We must go slowly, and whatever liberty remains with us let us be very slow to part with it.
I think it would be very easy to exaggerate the meaning of this particular order. It leaves the rights of appeal exactly as it was heretofore. If we intend to make any changes in future it will be done by deliberate legislation. This is an order that provides machinery to carry on. There is practically nothing in it except it sets up one instead of two boards. With regard to the signatures, the power is vested in the whole Board of the Commissioners. A Commissioner cannot sign unless permitted by the whole Board to sign, but we are removing the legislative bar to a single Commissioner signing certain documents. That is merely an administrative matter and it concerns the administration and convenience when it is unnecessary that there should be two members signing. If one signs he must have got immediate or general authority from the whole body of Commissioners to carry out any work. Consequently I think there is no danger at all in that. In regard to the matter that was raised by Senator Jameson, I think you will never have Commissioners who are technical experts. The Commissioners who will be dealing with this work will, one or two of them, have as much experience as any Commissioners could have, but you cannot expect the whole body of Commissioners to have technical knowledge on all matters. They will have to rely upon the technical experts. If you have men dealing with this particular type of business from day to day you would not improve it very greatly by putting on four instead of three. One may have more knowledge on particular matters than another. Others will be dealing with the problems and will rely on their technical advisers. You cannot get men who are chemists—that is, with a particular type of knowledge that would enable them to form their own judgment. All people engaged in administration have to exercise common sense, and for that particular knowledge they require in dealing with technical problems from day to day to rely upon the opinions of experts.
Would the Minister give us the names of the present Commissioners? Or has he yet decided upon them?
They are decided upon, but it is not germane to the issue. I could give the names of three, but I might appoint others, and perhaps disappoint them.
Is there any objection to appointing two laymen?
I think that would lead to the work being very badly done indeed.
I think there would be a great deal of confidence if there were laymen on it.
The motion before the Seanad is for approval of this order, and Senator Sir Thomas Esmonde has moved an amendment that the further consideration be adjourned till to-morrow.
I understand that the Seanad is to be adjourned until next week, and with the consent of the House I would amend my amendment so as to have the further consideration adjourned until our next meeting.
The Seanad now stands adjourned until this day week, and I wish to remind members that we have fixed that date for the election to fill the vacancy existing.
The Seanad adjourned at 3.10 p.m., to Wednesday, February 21st.