The motion is: That this Bill be now read a Second Time.
PUBLIC BUSINESS. - LOCAL AUTHORITIES (MUTUAL ASSURANCE) BILL, 1928—SECOND STAGE.
I do not desire to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. The object of the Bill shortly is to relieve a company which has been formed under the Public Bodies Mutual Insurance Act, 1926, from a liability to lodge a sum of £20,000. Every insurance company which does fire business in this country under an Act which was passed before the Free State came into being has to lodge a sum of £20,000 as a sort of security for the conduct of its business and the payment of its policies. There is an exception to that rule made in favour of mutual insurance companies, companies which mutually insure their members, that is, all the members insure each member against risk. The company which has been formed under the Act of 1926 called itself a mutual company. It was formed under an Act the title of which is the Public Bodies Mutual Insurance Act. but in fact it is not a mutual insurance company and has been so decided by a competent court. It has been held by Mr. Justice Davitt, and with great respect most properly held by him, that this company not being a mutual insurance company is liable to lodge this sum of £20,000. The object of this Bill is really to relieve it from that liability.
As I have said, I am not opposing the Second Reading of this Bill, but I am very anxious to ascertain from the Minister or from my friend, Senator Kenny, whom, sir, I may describe as the father and mother of the original Act, whether the object of the Act of 1926 is being carried out by this company by the formation of a sufficient reserve fund, or whether this company is acting and will continue to act merely as a re-insuring agency. The object of the Bill of 1926, as we were told when it was passing through this House, was to enable local bodies to mutually insure each other. In the ordinary acceptation of language, that would mean that all of them were to be liable for the risk of each, and it was pointed out following what was done in England and the experience obtained in England that the premiums which these local bodies would have to pay would be very much smaller than they were paying under the system that existed of insuring with ordinary insurance companies, and secondly, that the premiums would be all kept in this country.
I am afraid, without going very carefully into the machinery provided for the working of the Act, that was what we thought we were doing when we passed the Act, but in fact it was not what we were doing. The machinery for working the Act is provided, I think, by Section 2 of the original Act. Under that section local bodies might form a company known as a company limited by guarantee. That is a company in which nobody was to be a member except the public bodies. There could be no private shareholders, and the shareholders were to be public bodies, and their only liability was to be by way of guarantee, and the guarantee was not to exceed the sum of £10. Now we all know that in the case of a company limited by a guarantee, that the guarantee never comes into use until the company is being wound up, and it is really a provision for the cost of the winding up of the company. The company which was formed to work this Act was to be that kind of a company limited by a guarantee, with no share capital and with no lodgment of the £20,000. It was therefore a company which would have no assets to start with. It was only a company of the kind that could carry out the objects of this Act—that is, insurance by these local bodies by starting with the re-insurance of all their risks, plus the gradual formation of a reserve fund.
I understand that is what has been done by a company which was formed in England to carry out their Act. which was passed before, I think, the year of 1909. We were told that the English company had already acquired a reserve fund of such colossal size that it was capable of meeting any possible losses, and that its annual premiums had been reduced by an enormous number of thousands of pounds. What I am anxious to find out from the Minister, or perhaps from Senator Kenny, who might know more about the working of this company than the Minister, is this: What provision is this company making, or what provision is it bound to make, for this reserve fund? How is that secured and how is it to be provided for? It is very important to know that, because the whole success of this company as an efficient insurance against risks which these public bodies run depends on the formation of that reserve.
I quite agree with what my friend, Senator Brown, has said. The Bill before us states in Section 2 that the Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurance shall be deemed always to have been and shall continue to be a company, etc., which of course, as far as this country is concerned, is deeming it to be what it is not. This company is carrying an enormous amount of insurance and, as Senator Brown has very well said, it is simply acting as a re-insurance agency. As an actual fact, it has very much less money in the country than any other insurance company that has been established. However that may be, it may work out in time, but this is asking the Seanad to sanction a Bill exempting a company with no assets from depositing the statutory amount of money. This company is a mere re-insurance agency, and even as a mere re-insurance agency it is not insuring with what is known as the recognised tariff insurers. It is asking this House to deal with public property in a manner in which I as an insurer myself would not deal with my own property. If the House in its judgment assents to that view—it is within its competence to do so if it thinks well —I ask Senators who have important insurance to effect, are these the classes of re-insurers to whom they would trust risks involving the destruction of their property? From my experience of them I do not think so. In my opinion, this Bill should not be further proceeded with until its real nature has been carefully examined by a joint committee of both Houses, who would report back to the two Houses. I did not oppose the Bill in the first instance because I never dreamt that any companies other than tariff companies would be used for re-insurance.
The necessity for this Bill is regrettable, because I think it is due entirely to an oversight in the drafting of the original measure. The object of the present Bill is to give effect to what were undoubtedly the intentions of the Oireachtas when the original Bill was passed. The Minister for Local Government at the time, Deputy Bourke, who conducted the Bill through the Oireachtas, stated in the Dáil:
The company or companies formed as a result of the Bill will proceed exactly on the same lines as the English company, which was in all respects a conspicuous success... It is not a case of taking a plunge in the dark. The way has been already mapped out for us by the English company and we know exactly where we are going.
The Minister continued:
At the outset, of course, the company that will be formed as a result of this measure will be only able to retain a very small part of the business it will secure. It will have to re-insure practically up to 90 per cent. or more of its business, and in that way local authorities will run no undue risks. The funds that the company will have in hands will be able to meet any liability... As reserve funds are accumulated the company will be able to carry a larger share of the risk.
The Minister at the time made that statement in the Dáil on the 23rd June, 1926, so that it cannot be truthfully said that the Bill was passed under false pretences. It was well known that, in the beginning and until such time as reserves had gradually accumulated, that a large proportion of the risks would have to be re-insured, and that the proportion would decrease in the course of time, until eventually the new company would be able to carry a very considerable proportion of the entire risk. That is what is being done in regard to all insurance companies. Most of the insurance companies re-insure their risks, because hardly one of them carries one-quarter of the funds sufficient to cover the amount of the risks that they make themselves responsible for.
A great deal of capital has been made out of this Bill, and an attempt has been made to show that the original Act has not been a success. In fact it has been a very conspicuous success, as its balance-sheet shows. One finds that under the item of fire insurance that the usual reserve for unexpired risks is forty per cent. of the net income for the year—that is to say, forty per cent. is set aside—but this company has set aside 91 per cent in respect of fire insurance. In addition, it has written off half of the whole of its preliminary establishment expenses, so that it shows no false or vague assets of a non-existing character, as is the case with certain companies that are now trying to destroy the existence of this company. The most eloquent commentary on its success is the fact that the tariff companies have, as a result of the existence of this company, had to cut their rates down by an additional ten per cent. in respect of fire insurance for local authorities, on condition, of course, that each insuring authority would insure for a period of not less than five years.
There is no branch, I think, of insurance on which greater profits are made than on local authorities insurance. The eventual result of this Bill will be that tens of thousands of pounds probably will be saved to local authorities, and consequently to the ratepayers through its working, and they will incur no risks that they do not incur at the present time. It has been pleaded in certain quarters that the tariff insurance companies give employment, whilst this company gives little or no employment, but it has to be remembered that the employment given by the insurance companies is almost entirely in respect of industrial insurance burdens, and that in respect of local authorities fire insurance no employment is given except to the local bank manager who transacts the business, and possibly sends a cheque furtively to some clerk or official of the local authority. That is the only employment that it gives, employment to people who do not require it, and who are not in the real sense of the word insurance workers at all.
I hope that the House will pass this Bill, and pass it before this session has concluded. Personally, I may say that I am rather averse to retrospective legislation of any kind, but here quite obviously the intentions of the Oireachtas were not expressed in the wording of the Act, and it would be quite foolish and ridiculous for us to fail to implement the intentions of the Oireachtas even at the expense of an amending Bill such as this.
I would like to say, in reply to what Senator Brown has stated, that we would be very glad to have pointed out to us any way in which this Bill does not cover the exact legal position. I am advised that the Bill fully covers the legal position with regard to the legalising of this particular company, and enables all companies such as it is to carry out the work that the original Bill was intended to allow them to do.
I think it does.
The position which the original Bill was intended to meet here was a position which, as far as my advice goes, could have been created by local bodies here under certain circumstances under the existing British Acts, because the kind of mutual insurance carried out by this particular company is exactly the same type of insurance that is carried out by the Municipal Insurance Limited in England.
That was formed before the British Act was passed.
It was, and because it was formed before the 1909 Act, it was not required to make a deposit of £20,000. But in the year 1918 the bodies which are members of this particular company wanted also to take up insurance themselves against employers' liability. When they approached the Board of Trade with regard to further extending their business so as to include employers' liability, they were challenged and told that they would have to pay down £20,000, but they were excused after a certain amount of argument with the Board of Trade from putting down the £20,000, because they convinced the Board of Trade that under the 1909 Act they were a mutual insurance company. This is an extract from Section 33 of that Act:—
Where the company is an association of employers... that is about to carry on business wholly or mainly for the purpose of the mutual insurance of its members against liability to pay compensation or damages to workmen employed by them, either alone or in conjunction with insurance against any other risk incident to their trade or industry.
The Municipal Mutual Insurance, Limited, in Britain convinced the Board of Trade that they were an association of employers about to carry on business for the purpose of mutual insurance of its members, and if the interpretation of mutual insurance in the 1909 Act is going to be reciprocal insurance—well, the interpretation of the Act by the British Board of Trade since 1909 goes by the board. It may be because the circumstances are such in Britain that these matters do not go into the courts for interpretation, but why we should restrict ourselves in a way in which in actual practice in Britain the municipal bodies desire to form a mutual insurance company and are not restricted, I do not see any reason for it, or why the present Act should not be carried through. Senator Brown raised a question about the building up of reserves. So far as the legal position is concerned, I take it that the Senator will not argue that having no reserve will make any difference from the legal point of view?
In fact, whereas the British company which has now established, as the Senator has said, very large reserves in its first year of trading, the difference between its premium income and re-insurance was only £1,067. As a result of the first nine months' trading the new company here established a fire insurance fund of £1,010, and while I am assured that its business is carried on in the most conservative way, from the point of re-insurance, it ought to be understood that the Ministry accept no responsibility for the proper conduct of this company any more than it does for the proper conduct of the business of any other insurance company. The idea of the new company here grew among the local bodies themselves. It grew out of circumstances which are pretty well known to most Senators. We explained when the principal Act was introduced that all the public bodies themselves were to be the members of this company. There are no other members. The nominees of the public body are appointed on the board of directors to carry on this company, and we must have faith in them and feel that they are both able and conscientiously seeing that the work of re-insurance and every work in connection with this company is carried along on good sound lines. If any public body is not satisfied that the work of this company is properly carried out, there is no obligation on it to insure with it.
Does the British Municipal Mutual Company re-insure with a tariff company or not?
I could not say.
There is a great deal of misconception in the minds of people with regard to these tariff companies. Some Senators who have spoken have stressed the importance of the tariff group. The tariff group is simply a group of insurance companies of the London fire insurance offices who arbitrarily dictate the rates of re-insurance for the public bodies of this country. They have their agents in this country. They have the company that is principally opposing the Public Bodies Mutual Insurance Company. The companies that are in the tariff group form the channel through which the activities of London fire insurance offices are operated for the purpose of protecting profiteering with regard to the business of fire insurance that obtains in the whole of these islands. They know that fire insurance risks of the public bodies of Ireland are a premium insurance. The public bodies in this country have in their buildings, usually sound structures, any fire appliances they may have for dealing with outbreaks of fire. We as a General Council had in contemplation the setting up of our own fire insurance society for practically the past twenty-five years. Even before the Hibernian Society came into existence very close consideration was being given to the matter. At that time, before the Hibernian Company was formed, we thought there would be difficulty in getting a charter or permission from the English Board of Trade, and we placed ourselves behind the Hibernian Company when it was started. We succeeded in having the accumulated business of the public bodies of Ireland transferred to that company, and so matters went on until the Hibernian Company was bought over, as other companies have been, when it proved to be a success. Capital was omnipotent and it came in, with the result that the Hibernian went over to the English group, like other companies had done before.
The object of the London Fire Offices is not to have any Irish companies succeed in this country. It has been the inevitable fate of Irish companies when they get to a certain paying basis and show symptoms of success that the force and seductions of capital were invoked against them, and they were bought. We got fed up with this and the General Council of County Councils decided that we would not have any more of this thing, that we would take the fire insurance into our own hands, and would put it even out of our own power to transfer the business to an English company. That was a condition insisted on by the Local Government Department at the time, that in our Articles of Association we should put it out of our power to make any transfer to any English company, and we did that. Now the company has been a startling success from the very outset, and the balance sheet shows that in the course of nine months we succeeded in building up reserves which approximate to the fire reserves built up by other companies after an existence of eight or nine years. We got within a reasonable distance in nine months of the reserves that have been built up in nine years by other companies. The public bodies had been paying for years an extortionate premium rate for their fire insurance.
When we first took into serious consideration the position, we called for a return from 326 public bodies in Ireland and asked them to supply us with the premiums they had paid under the various headings of fire insurance for the last eleven years, and these returns disclosed the fact that £78,848 was expended in fire premiums alone by 199 public bodies. The fire losses sustained and recovered by them during that period were only £5,796, so that out of every £100 in fire insurance sent out of this country to the London fire offices, who had a monopoly of this business, we got in return only £7, thus making a free gift out of every £100 of £93—that is to say, on a 7½ per cent. risk properly attributable to Irish public bodies for insurance we were paying 56 per cent. or 58 per cent. premium. We then approached the Government, and we represented that the Municipal Fire Insurance Company of London had been a highly successful company after twenty-three years of trading, having started, as we proposed to start, had accumulated reserves amounting to £300,000. In the first year of their trading they did not manage to build up a large reserve. I say with regard to the bona fides of the position in England that if there had been any flaw in the Municipal Mutual Insurance Company in England, with the whole body of the fire insurance world ranged against them, because it was the first introduction of the mutual principle as far as fire insurance was concerned, certainly it would have been detected. The Municipal Insurance of England has to-day a Memorandum and Articles of Association similar to ours, and are doing the same business, but more than we are attempting to do as regards variety, and yet with all that phalanx of opposition brought to bear, it has been their fate to survive that and meet with great success. That is the actual position.
We are seeking from our own Government only the same facilities that the English Government gave to a similar body in England, and under which permission that body has been trading ever since with remarkable success. When we tried to do that same thing here we found all sorts of obstacles to our progress. The Government here, seeing the merits of the proposition we laid before them, wanted to make our position absolutely secure, considering there may be a doubt if tested on the other side in a court as to whether the Municipal Mutual in England could be properly exempted from the deposit of £20,000, and they said "We will make the position absolutely secure for you," and to do that they introduced an enabling Bill. Now the situation has arisen that the Bill does not apply to this particular company for which it was purposely framed, and the ordinary man in the street would say if it does not apply to this particular company for which it was framed, to what does it apply? It seems to have been a piece of futile legislation which applied to nothing, or which applied to only one set of circumstances, the setting up of this company and to buttress it and secure it in its position. Now it has transpired that owing to a legal technicality the Act does not apply to the company to which it was intended to apply. Under the Circuit Court procedure we were debarred from following up the proceedings initiated in the District Court, as the final court of appeal from the District Court is the Circuit Court. Had we the opportunity of going further we should have done so, and possibly succeeded, because the point was purely a technical one. In the meantime there has been a considerable amount of propaganda used against us, and we have to try and defend ourselves. We were the innocent victims right through. The Circuit Court vouched that we had complied with every possible condition the law had imposed and we were innocent victims. We were mulcted to the extent of some hundreds of pounds, and possibly may be mulcted in more, because the vendetta pursuing us will not stop in its pursuit.
Whether our case has merits, or whether this Bill is a sufficient Bill or not, I am satisfied that there is no shame-facedness in this opposition so far, and for the purpose of propaganda and to keep up a state of ferment in the public mind, even on the least pretext, proceedings will be instituted against us. The London fire offices, we are creditably informed, are prepared to spend £20,000 to break us and prevent the mutual principle operating here. If with our newly-won freedom it is not possible for us to start a company such as this our freedom, from that point of view, is of very little use. We are accused of having no assets. Neither had the Mutual Insurance in England any assets. I say that in proportion to the risks we hold in any insurance we undertake we have a much greater proportion of that risk covered than many of the companies in opposition to us to-day. With regard to labour and the giving of employment, I say that we give more employment in proportion to the business we are doing than any of the opposition companies. We are working in a limited field. We are only touching the buildings of public bodies. Other companies have the whole field of commercial insurance. We only do business under one particular head. We are confined to public bodies. Surely these other companies, if they had any sort of decency in them, would leave that little field to us, seeing that they had such a wide area to exploit from which we have purposely cut ourselves off? This deposit of £20,000 is a chimerical thing relative to the business some of these companies are doing. £20,000 would probably, in the event of winding up of a company, not contribute one penny per policy on the number of policies issued. It is looked upon as a sort of security, but in practice and effect the relative value of £20,000 in comparison with the enormous figures of some of these companies is a bagatelle, a mere cypher and quite negligible. We at the outside have only to retain a risk proportionate to our reserves, but as our reserves are built up we hope to hold more and more of those risks. Our strong point is re-insurance. It was contested in the Courts that when we went into the field of re-insurance we went outside our immediate members and put a risk outside instead of keeping it as a mutual risk. You can establish no fire company or insurance company without re-insurance. It is inherent in the business of insurance companies. Even Lloyd's would not venture to trade a week on their own. Re-insurance is merely a distribution of risks.
The fundamental principle of insurance is distribution of risks over a wide area. I want to get back to what is in people's minds regarding tariff companies. It is represented by propaganda on the other side that every risk insured is backed by the whole assets of the tariff group. That is a mistake. In every insurance risk that is taken by a company, Irish or English, if it turned out that a claim must be made for insurance the party insured would in the first instance have only to look to the company insured with. If that company went wrong in its insurance risks it would have to bear the brunt. Many of these companies, as far as we know, take very considerable chances in these insurances, and hold much more than they are in a position to warrant them holding. They take chances. We take no chances. We play for safety first, and right through, no matter how small the portion concerned, we follow the lines of the Municipal Mutual Insurance Company. They gave us the greatest assistance. In any risk we take we have the treaty group behind us, and that is as strong and as honourable and as well-founded as any of the tariff group. When we went for our treaty insurance we did not seek for English companies to take it up. They were avid to take it up, knowing that it was absolutely a gift, the insurance of Irish public bodies, and that there was no risk attached. All we had to do was to make a choice, and that was an extraordinary position. So far as the non-tariff companies are concerned, many of them are more powerful than the tariff group. They came after us for this business, and we took a pick from the best of them. I say that we have a better group behind us than the tariff group. There are millions behind every insurance we take up and to which we sign our name. That is the position of public bodies. Seeing that this was an agreed measure in the other House, I do not think there will be any degree of hostility shown to it here.
As far as Senator Kenny is concerned, this is a private company. If it were an ordinary company and the ratepayers were not involved, I would not bother to see that it complied with the law. If public bodies are not properly insured, losses will fall on the rates. I gathered from the remarks of the Minister that if the Bill goes through the Government have no further interest in it. There was to be no inspection or control as to reserves or anything else. The local bodies belonging to this mutual insurance company made their own rates and settled their own reserves, but they hold every single thing themselves, and the ratepayers have only to look in them to see that the business is done correctly and on sound business lines. The rates they charge may be so low that they cannot possibly put up proper reserves. I take it from what Senator Kenny has said that they are re-insured with good companies. Are all of them gradually reducing the amount of re-insurance? Are they piling up reserves so that eventually the great security they have got and the small risks will accrue to the advantage of the taxpayers and will remove from the taxpayers the cost of insurance? These are points on which the public want information. Personally I would like to know that someone well acquainted with insurance acting on behalf of the Government would keep an eye on these things and give us a report now and then on matters on which we as ratepayers are so interested.
Why not have Government inspection of all of them?
I do not know. I am only dealing with the question before the House, which is of great interest to ratepayers. I suggest that the Minister should tell us that somebody connected with the Government who knew a good deal about insurance matters would give us an assurance as time goes on that reserves have been accumulated, that the ratepayers' interests are being attended to, and that the cost to the ratepayers was going down, so that gradually there would be no charge for insurance, and that the reserves built up might be used for other purposes. I think the ratepapers might expect the Government to do something like that, and give us a report now and then. Senator Kenny is perfectly right in saying that the business is splendidly conducted, but it would be a great relief if we had a public auditor who could give us particulars in the way I have suggested.
I take it that the insurance funds are audited by a responsible public auditor. After all, the public bodies are not so foolish that they will not see from year to year that the business of the society is conducted in a proper manner. I am sure that the public bodies would be the first to leave a firm not conducting business in a proper way. I realised in the county councils that work of this nature was essential if we were to protect ourselves from the ravages of the English societies. The county council I was connected with took its own risks with regard to employer's liability. The English society was so rapacious that they doubled, trebled and quadrupled the amount of premium from time to time, with the result that the council had to form a sort of mutual society and take its own risk for many years, and while doing so it accumulated reserves. I cannot see for the life of me why the Government, having secured the stability of this society and being satisfied that the risks are being re-insured in a proper manner, should be concerned whether the re-insurance is with a tariff or non-tariff company. I presume that the Mutual Society in England, while being a non-tariff company, is capable of absorbing a certain amount of re-insurance. I do not think that a public inquiry every year by the Government into the affairs of this company, any more than any other society, is desirable or should be encouraged.
The suggestion made by Senator Jameson appears to me to be an extraordinary one. It is the first time that I heard such a suggestion made. The facts are, that most of the public bodies in this country were anxious to place insurance with Irish institutions. For a number of years they went out of their way to place the insurance with Irish companies. While we found that the public bodies were patriotic enough to place their business with Irish companies, the patriots who controlled these companies sold our business. They may say that they sold their own business, but it was not their business. We had produced that business, and when I say we, I mean those who were connected with the public boards of the country. We trusted these people and supported them, and then we found that we were sold. In order to prevent a repetition of that proceeding the representatives of the public bodies put their heads together and said: "We will be sold no more; we will do our own insurance." As a result this Bill was promoted in the Oireachtas, on lines identical with one that was passed in the British Parliament, and the Irish Mutual Assurance Company was established on a purely co-operative basis. It is not looking for general business, but for the business of the public bodies, yet Senator Jameson tells us that the Government should have a yearly stocktaking of its accounts. When people were carrying on a vendetta against the Irish Mutual Assurance Company there was no talk about protecting the interest of the ratepayers or of the necessity of an annual examination of the accounts of capitalistic organisations who were conducting the business of the public bodies. But immediately a co-operative organisation was established by the public bodies themselves there is all this talk about protection for the ratepayer. It is astonishing how anxious we are about the ratepayers when financial interests are affected. There was no talk about the ratepayers' interest a few years ago when we had the Sun, Liverpool and Globe, and the London Insurance Companies, but immediately we try to do something for ourselves and stop the continuous flow of money out of this country for insurance, all sorts of objections are raised, and all kinds of obstructions are put in the way, while a vendetta is carried on by people who want to prevent us doing our own business. The one great thing about this organisation is that the directors of the Irish company are elected by the policy holders and not by the shareholders.
In other insurance companies, the directors are elected by the shareholders, but in this organisation the directors are elected by the policy holders. The business in this company is, therefore, bound to be safe, and I think it is to the credit of the public men who are directors that they charge no fees for their services. I think it is time we got away from the vendetta that has been carried on against every organisation established in this country when we try to do something for ourselves, and to prevent this continual flow of money to cross-channel organisations for insurance. I wonder would Senator Jameson suggest that this House should pass a resolution suggesting that there should be an enquiry into the position of some financial insurance companies that spend seventy-five per cent. of their total income on management expenses. When they spend seventy-five per cent. of their total income on management expenses what becomes of the shareholders? Senator Sir. John Keane may shake his head but I know what I am talking about. I will produce balance-sheets to prove what I am saying, and it would not be the first time that I did so. Immediately after the setting up of the Provisional Government in this country I was one of a deputation that went to the late General Collins to ask him to take steps to prevent the wholesale robbery of the poor by these insurance companies. As a result of that interview some inquiries were made. I could give the name of the gentleman who made the inquiries so that Senator Sir John Keane need not shake his head, as I know what I am talking about. I congratulate the Minister on coming to this House with this Bill to remove any legal technicalities that exist. There are always legal difficulties when people in this country try to do something for themselves. I congratulate him on coming here to wipe out all the legal technicalities. Personally I do not care much about legal technicalities. I am glad to see the representatives of the public bodies in this country going forward in this matter. They have made a success of the venture and I hope they will go on and that in a few years they will have done such good work for the ratepayers that they will not have to ask them for any premiums.
Stripped of all verbiage the real question at issue is, what security have the ratepayers or the public bodies in this country for making good any damage done by fire? I have great sympathy with the suggestion made by Senator Jameson, and I have still more sympathy with it after the speech to which we have just listened. Senator Farren has just told us that they have been sold over and over again by various bodies. I think it is the duty of the Seanad to see that the public bodies are not sold again.
They cannot be sold any more. They are doing their own work now. They trusted the other people too long.
Can they not? They can be very easily sold if some public bodies suffer a loss of ten or twenty thousand pounds, and if the ten or twenty thousand pounds is not forthcoming to meet it. That would sell them worse than anything else. It seems to me that it would be a great comfort to our minds, representing as we do the interests of the country at large, if there was some kind of inquiry by the Government as to how this company is doing its business. This company comes along and asks to be freed from an obligation that other companies are under. That is the obligation to put up £20,000, which is there as a security for people who suffer losses. If the company is to be freed from that liability, surely it ought to be put under some other obligation. It seems to me that it would be only reasonable and fair, in the interests of the public bodies, to subject the business of the company to investigation by the Government every year to see that it is doing its work properly and that the moneys for which it makes itself responsible are likely to be forthcoming.
I am fully convinced that some scheme for the nationalisation of insurance would be the best policy for this country. Every Senator knows that there is a large amount of money going across the water for insurance that could be kept at home. I think if the Government could see their way to nationalise insurance it would be the best policy. One thing that I do not like in this Bill is the retrospective legislation that it involves. If the Act was wrong, or if there was some flaw in it, I think it should not be remedied by making this Bill retrospective. I object to that policy very strongly. I trust that the Government will see their way to nationalise insurance. If they do they will be doing the best day's work imaginable for the State.
I would like to answer a few of the questions that were asked.
This discussion is rather going beyond what is legitimate to the Second Reading at all. All these suggestions about having audits and so forth are really points that should be raised in Committee, and do not affect the principle of the Bill at all. I did not stop them, because when alluding to them I thought Senators were going to talk about the principle of the Bill, but I found as they went on that they were apparently in sympathy with the principle of the Bill, but were looking for safeguards in connection with audits and other things. These are all Committee matters. Therefore I think, unless the Senator is very anxious or that there is something he wants to correct, it is not necessary to pursue this line any further.
The worst of it is that this company is labouring under very great disabilities at the moment. Those people who are out against us are working for all they are worth, and we are powerless until we get this Bill through. The questions properly and innocently asked by Senator Jameson will rather add to the propaganda. The propagandists seize on these points, and to-morrow circulars will be sent to the public bodies, as they were sent before, stating that questions were asked in the House and that the Minister and Senator Kenny were unable to answer them—that they were silent. That is the sort of insidious propaganda we have been trying to meet. There was an insidious propaganda for two months, ever since the Court case went against us. Our hands were tied. I would ask for the patience of the House for a few moments to answer the questions put by Senator Jameson. With regard to Government control or Government inspection, our answer is that we are only too happy to have the Government inspect every figure in our books. That is a thing that no other Irish or English company has had the pluck to do. The Government is open to do so in our case tomorrow and to investigate every figure. We are under the same rule as other companies and supply annual returns to the Registrar. For the payment of 1/- anyone can go to the Registrar's office and see every figure in the balance-sheet. In our first nine months of existence we put up a reserve, as I have already said, a legitimate reserve. There is no camouflage about it. Our administrative expenses are only thirty per cent., as against fifty per cent., sixty per cent., and seventy-five per cent. in other companies. Further than that, we have paid all our initial expenses that are usually spread over a period of ten years, and out of the first nine months' trading we had a reserve of eleven hundred pounds to meet fire risks we have retained. In addition, we succeeded in bringing down insurance premiums in this country outside of the public bodies, by reaction and sympathy, to the extent of twenty-five per cent. We had not been registered one week when the tariff group dropped their insurance rates by twenty-five per cent. Kill this company and you will have them up again in a very short time.
Just one word which I think might have been said in reply to Senator Barrington. Senator Barrington assumes that if you want to have a sound business in this institution, if you want to prevent all ills and cure everything that is wrong, all you have got to have is a Government audit. I wonder is an audit by a Government representative any better than an audit by a reputable firm of chartered accountants. Is it one bit better? I think it is a fairly sound line to adopt in regard to these matters to get an institution like this going, to set it on its feet, get it working on sound business lines, put it in charge of a body of men who know their business, and let it work out its own destiny. The experience of most people is that in things like this the less Government interference there is the better, and—I suppose if we could accept Senator Barrington's hypothesis as correct—this country would labour under no ills at all and we would be very happy.