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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Dec 1946

Vol. 33 No. 3

Statistics (Amendment) Bill, 1946—Committee and Final Stages.

Section 1 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:—

In sub-section (1), paragraph (c), after the word "given" in line 27, to insert the following words: "to an officer of statistics in pursuance of a requisition lawfully made under the Principal Act".

Due to circumstances which I did not anticipate and could not have avoided, I was unable to be present for the Second Reading of this Bill, but I have very carefully considered the views which were expressed in that Second Reading debate. The amendment which I have moved, as well as the other amendments which appear on the Order Paper in my name, are really designed to bring into harmony two completely different views which were expressed by different members of the House and by the Minister. The Minister said that this was a very simple and very harmless Bill, by which I imagine he meant "So far as I am concerned, I mean it to be a very simple and very harmless Bill". On the other hand, many Senators regarded it as an exceedingly dangerous Bill, by which they meant that if a Minister, other than the present one, were to administer it within the scope which the Bill itself allows, it was quite definitely fraught with a great amount of peril. Now, it appears to me that both those views were correct. The Bill as it stands, without these amendments, is frankly exceedingly dangerous, and by itself could open the way to a police State. I do not think it is meant to do that. The Bill would enable information obtained by any means and by any person in the Government service to be circulated, with details as to the person to whom it referred, to all branches of the Government service, and as it stands, if it was not operated with very great discretion, the Bill would be one of the most dangerous that has ever come before the House.

Now, that was one point of view. I equally accept it that the Minister did not see that and did not intend it. Well, now, how are we to reconcile the Minister's innocent lamb with his opponents' dangerous lion? I believe you can do it by accepting this amendment, and thereby make this into a kind of March Bill which comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. I propose to endeavour to show the House that not one of these amendments will cripple the Minister's activities in a single respect. If the Minister desires that this Bill should be used as an innocent lamb, he should be able to accept all these amendments because they give him all the powers which he claims that he desires, and which he claims are necessary under the Bill. But, if the Minister does not accept them, not necessarily in the form in which I have submitted them but in principle, then I will be suspicious, not of the Minister's bona fides which I have never questioned but of some people in the background.

The first amendment, to which I am speaking, is really a prelude to most of my other amendments. This first amendment probably only puts into the Bill something which, by an oversight, was left out. By the original Statistics Act of 1926 there were three methods by which information could be obtained for the purpose of investigating general drifts, and on the various subjects for which statistics were to be collected. First of all, it provided that a form or schedule should be sent to individuals to be filled up. Of course, once the form was filled up the individual simply became a cipher and would thereafter be represented by a number. The second way in which information could be obtained was by giving leave to an officer of statistics to inspect certain records; and the third way was by giving leave to an officer of statistics to make certain lawful inquiries. If Senators will look at sub-section (1) of Section 2 of this Bill they will find that it provides that the expression "statistical information" comprises:—

"(a) the contents or any part of the contents of any individual schedule, form or other document filled in or otherwise completed by any person in pursuance of a requisition made under the Principal act."

That was form No. 1 in the Principal Act. If Senators will refer to the Principal Act they will find that provision in sub-section (1), Section 7, Paragraph (b) of sub-section (1) of Section 2 of this Bill goes on to say:—

"(b) the contents or any part of the contents of any record or document (not being a record or document open to public inspection) which was inspected or of which a copy was taken or obtained by an officer of statistics in exercise of any power in that behalf conferred on him by the Principal Act."

That corresponds to Section 9 of the Principal Act. Now, there is not any extension of the Principal Act in either of these two sub-sections, but if Senators will look at paragraph (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 2 of this Bill, at which this amendment is aimed—"any verbal information or answer given relating to any individual person, business or concern"—they will see that the power proposed to be taken under it is not to be restrained in the way in which it was in the Principal Act. That applies to any question which might be asked in the street by a policeman or other person. There is no limit as to the type of person who might ask the question, and no limit as to the type of question to be asked. There is no limit requiring that the question should be lawfully asked. If one looks at the corresponding provision in the Principal Act, I feel quite certain it will be admitted that the insertion which the amendment proposes to make was really only left out by an oversight. As Senators will see, all that the amendment proposes is, that paragraph (c), as amended, should read:—

"Any verbal information or answer given to an officer of statistics in pursuance of a requisition lawfully made under the Principal Act...."

I seek, first of all, to confine this sub-section (c) to information given to an officer of statistics. I seek to confine it to cases where that information is given in answer to a lawful requisition, instead of applying it to every question asked by Tom, Dick or Harry of Séan or Michéal. In the original Act, you will find in Section 7 (2), that the powers are as follows:—

"Every person who is lawfully required by an officer of statistics to give or furnish to such officer any written or verbal information or to answer any question asked of him by such officer shall to the best of his knowledge, ability or belief... give or furnish information or answer such question...."

If he fails to do so, he shall be guilty of an offence. It is confined to a question asked by an officer of statistics, who is a civil servant employed on statistical work; he may sometimes be a member of the Gárda Síochána if he is collecting census forms. Secondly, you will notice that the question has to be one "lawfully" required. That takes you back to the definition of "lawfully" in the earlier part of the Act. "Lawfully", when used in relation to an officer of statistics, means "under and in accordance with this Act and in the proper course and for the purpose of his duties and within his authority as such officer." So, under this Act of 1926, all you could be required to do was to answer a question put to you by a proper person, namely, an officer of statistics, when it was put under and in accordance with the Act in the proper course of his duties and for the purpose of his duties and within his authority. That is a very reasonable proposition, especially as the person can be required to give his authority for asking the question. The whole purpose of the Act was not to delve into the private concerns of any individual, but to collect statistics whereby big trends could be observed.

I ask that the Seanad should consider, and the Minister should deal very specifically with, the question as to why statistical information is now not being confined to information given to a person concerned with statistics—a statistics officer—and why it is not to be confined to information given in answer to a lawful question, that is, one properly asked. Why should it be extended to any question asked of any person at any time, especially when, if you go to the next section, you find that information illegally asked by an illegal person for questionable purposes can, by the operation of that next section, be broadcast to every Government Department, to the Commissioner of Public Works in Ireland and the Land Commission? That would be the effect if it is left alone. I rather think this has been an omission and that the amendment I suggest, either in the words in which I submit it, or in such other words as the Parliamentary draftsman may prefer, is one which this House should insist on being put in, because otherwise you are instituting and legalising a system of unlicensed personal inquiry, with a process whereby, in the hands of a Minister less scrupulous than the Minister before us, the result of that inquiry could be broadcast to all persons in the State.

I think the Senator has completely misinterpreted the Bill. The Bill gives no additional powers to procure statistical information. Whatever powers are conferred under the Act of 1926, remain unaltered. This Bill does not alter them. The 1926 Act gives power to publish statistical information furnished in accordance with the provisions of that Act with the consent of the person who gives the information. We have power to publish information with consent. The only change the Senator's amendments would make would be to enable us to assume consent if we did not get a reply to our letter within 14 days.

I have not come to that amendment yet.

So far as the collection of information is concerned, our powers are not altered by the Bill. So far as the publication of information with the consent of the persons concerned goes, it would not be necessary to introduce this Bill because we have that power under the 1926 Act. The sole purpose of this Bill is to enable disclosure, without the consent of the person giving the information, of statistical knowledge of a specified character, specified in the direction signed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, to persons who are officers of public authorities for purposes connected with the discharge of their duties. The first amendment, therefore, is not necessary, because the definition of statistical information contained there is one for the purpose of that section. It relates to statistical information procured under the 1926 Act in accordance with the powers conferred under that Act.

To the extent of the definition.

It is a definition of statistical information for the purpose of this section. If a person gives information otherwise than in accordance with the Act of 1926, then there is no secrecy about it at all. It is because the information cannot be disclosed without the consent of the person, or unless to an officer of statistics, that this additional provision is being made to permit of its disclosure in the circumstances set out there when the Minister gives a direction and specifies the persons to whom the information is to be disclosed—to officers of the State requiring it for some approved purpose in connection with the performance of their duties.

The real effect of the Bill, therefore, is merely to extend the class of persons who might be described as officers of statistics, who are employed in the Department of Industry and Commerce in connection with statistical work. It is a very loose definition in the original Act, because it is the Minister who requires the information, collects it, compiles and publishes it, and it is the persons he uses in connection with these duties who are officers of statistics. As the law stands, that information cannot be disclosed, even under the seal of secrecy, to another officer of the Department who might require it in connection with his official duties and it cannot be disclosed to him in future unless the Minister gives a direction specifying the officer to whom it is to be disclosed and the nature of the information to be disclosed. That specified person will be under the same conditions of secrecy as an officer of statistics is at present.

I think the Senator's three amendments are based on a misunderstanding of the Bill. It is not necessary to put in those words here. This relates only to information collected under the 1926 Act. The powers are not altered. That Act gives power to publish information, with consent. The purpose of this Bill is to permit that information to be disclosed to specified persons, without consent.

I do not want to be at cross-purposes with the Minister, but I cannot agree with him. I did not deal with my other amendments when I was proposing this one. The Minister seeks power, if necessary, to distribute what he calls statistical information, definite statistical information, in a way which makes it very much wider than anything in the original Act permits. He has defined statistical information, in Section 2 (1) (c), as any question asked or any answer given by anybody anywhere, at any time.

As the Senator knows, there is no secrecy about that information unless it is information procured under the powers of the 1926 Act. If I ask a person a question and he gives me the information, there is no barrier to my passing the information on to anyone else. If I say: "As Minister for Industry and Commerce under the authority conferred on me by the Act of 1926, I require you to give me this information", then the obligation of secrecy arises. It is only where the secrecy rule applies that it is necessary to have this amending legislation to enable the information to be passed on to other persons.

I appreciate the point that if the person asks me a question in the street, the answer to it is not given in any circumstances in which I would expect secrecy to be observed unless it was about a confidential matter of business but the whole point is that you may ask a person a question in circumstances in which he would reasonably suppose that it is going to be held secret. You can do that under the Principal Act in certain circumstances and for certain purposes and there was a provision preventing disclosure. Now you so arrange those circumstances, by being dressed in the appearance of authority, that a person who had no real responsibility could ask questions of an individual, which that person would imagine were being treated as confidential, though he is not authorised to do so by the Principal Act.

If he is not authorised to do it by the Principal Act, he is not authorised to do it by this Bill.

He is not authorised to do it by this Bill but you can stage a matter—when I use these phrases you will understand that I am not bringing an accusation—you can send a police constable around to ask a person questions of such a type that he imagines the police constable is doing it in pursuance of his duty as an officer of statistics.

Not under this Bill.

No, but in fact you can do that. This Bill treats that as being statistical information and says that you can circulate it broadcast. The Minister is right that the amendments hang together. I want first of all to make quite certain that the expression "statistical information" is used as meaning the same class of information obtained in the same type of way as was in the Principal Act. Having got information of that type, which you are entitled to get, because it is given to a regular person in pursuance of a regular purpose, I have no objection to that being circulated to the proper quarters, if an intimation is given to the person, either at the time when he answers the question or by some subsequent notice, and he does not dissent from it. But let me give an example of the kind of thing that might happen: Several people in this House have probably been required in the course of the past years to fill in a form indicating how many salmon or sea trout they caught in the year, the weights and the prices they got for them and everybody who had done so would be only too pleased to furnish any information which would show the general passage of fish up and down the rivers, the general trend of a good season or a bad season. By the powers that are given here, when the information has been docketed for that reasonable purpose—I am giving what is admittedly a rather extravagant example to make things clear—it could then be sent on to the Minister for Local Government to check up on fishery rates and, quite conceivably, if one had sold some of one's fish there could be a further investigation as to whether one was carrying on a business of selling fish which would render one liable to make a special return for income-tax. Of course, nobody ever yet has ever made a profit out of fishing but I am giving that as an example of the sort of way in which the return could be circulated.

If the Minister is merely anxious to avoid duplication of returns, as he suggested, there is no possible reason why he should not have a little slip printed: "The information furnished by you on form so-and-so is required for transmission to such and such a Department. If you have no objection, this will be done and if you do not reply within 10 days it will be assumed that you have given your consent". That will avoid all the duplication and all the irritation that the Minister suggests. On the other hand, if the man who gave that information in good faith, assuming it was given for a certain purpose only, does not desire it to be utilised for an alien purpose, he can prevent it.

Let us take the case of a person filling up the census form. He fills up a number of forms and, as soon as he fills them up, he becomes not an individual, but a Hollerith card. All his information is indicated by punches in a long piece of cardboard. For one purpose he may belong to the class of people in Tipperary, for another purpose to the class of unmarried people, for a third purpose to the class of people with three children. He no longer is an individual, he is merely of interest to the Statistics Branch as a member of one class or another. Anybody will give that information and will give it willingly for the sake of helping the State to find out things. Supposing he knew that that could be formed the basis of an investigation as to whether one of his children was or was not legitimate, supposing, instead of being merely a class of a person with children, he, John Jones, was liable to have that individual piece of information with his name tacked on it circulated to the Guards or to any other person, would he not have a right to object? Supposing a woman has filled up her age with a slight allowance of three years in her favour, as is not unusual in a woman, is she because she had done that in the census form, when she comes to apply for an old age pension to be confronted, her own details having been sent from one place to another, with a statement that she is not the age she claims to be? Admittedly, she can probably get a birth certificate, but she would have to go to that trouble.

The Bill, if left in the present form, will allow any information given in pursuance of a legitimate request for a limited purpose to be used in a way which the person who gives it cannot anticipate and which might be exceedingly undesirable. Following the Minister's example, I am speaking now to the second of these amendments. If, first of all, you secure that the information which is classed as statistical information and which the Minister has a right to broadcast, is only of the type which is required by the original Act and if, secondly, you make it certain that it shall not be distributed with the name of the person to whom it applies unless with his consent, you have taken all the objectionable matter out of this Bill. Can the Minister say as to how that appears to him in the innocent purpose for which he introduced the Bill, namely, that he is anxious that there should not be duplication of statistics? I am anxious that a person who gives statistics for one purpose should not have them used against him for another.

The Minister has not indicated why he objects to circulating a short notice to a person that, if he does not object, the information is going to be passed on. If he will meet me on that point, it is equally necessary that that should only apply to information which was correctly taken in the first place. I have substantially spoken to the second amendment now and I think there is only one amendment before the House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Chair will put them separately.

Even if the Chair will put them, separately, it will be just as simple, if I may do it, to deal with some other matters now. The Minister said this was not infringing very much what was in the original Act. The original Act had three sections of protection other than the ones I have referred to. There was, first of all, Section 13, which provided that the individual information was not to be shown except to an officer of statistics concerned therewith, in the course of his duty as such officer, that is to say, it was not to be shown to anybody who was interested in the individual but only a person who would be interested in the numerical result, and that no report, abstract or summary was to contain any particulars so as to allow the information to be identified with any particular person.

Again, the person, once he had filled up the form, was merely to become a number—and there were similar provisions in regard to documents. It then went on, in Section 14, to provide that an officer of statistics, while he might disclose the information in his hands to another officer of statistics who was concerned with the matter in hand in the course of his duties, might not disclose it to anyone else. Naturally, one person taking a census may have to find out how many Gaelic speakers there are in Tipperary and may then hand over that form to another officer, to find out how many bachelors there are in Dun Laoghaire; but it can only be handed on from one officer to another dealing with statistical information. There was, finally, in Section 15 the penalty for abuse of the office by an officer, which is substantially reproduced in the penalties in this Bill.

All through the earlier Act, there was a provision to ensure that the person who gave the information would be safeguarded and would get an inkling of the general lines for which he was giving it—namely, to use the words of the Act, for providing any information "which is necessary for the collection, compilation or interpretation of numbers relating to any matter in respect of which statistics can be collected under this Act." His identity was to be preserved: as far as it concerned him, he was to be anonymous. As far as possible, in giving information helping statisticians to find out what they wanted, he was at their service, but outside that he was given anonymity and the statistics were limited as regards the persons who could see them, and the preservation of the form of the records was such that no one could trace it back.

In this Bill that is all gone. The information can be related to an individual, it can be given to people who are not officers of statistics, or it can be published in a form in which it is recognisable.

It cannot be published at all.

It can be communicated to a committee. It is a legal use of the word "published", which is correct legally but perhaps incorrect in the ordinary sense. It can be communicated in a form in which it is no longer anonymous. I can conceive that these powers are useful—but for what purposes are they useful? Why should one Department want to investigate, not the trend of commerce or the trend of population or anything like that, but the details affecting an individual man or an individual firm—and that without his consent?

It may be that statistics furnished for one purpose may be useful for another purpose. In that case, the consent would be as willingly given as were the statistics originally furnished. But it may not be that. If this Bill is left alone, statistics which are furnished for trade could be used by other Departments for entirely different purposes. They could be used for police purposes. It may be very desirable that they should be used for police purposes, but let it come out into the open. There is no limit to the extent of publication or the abolition of anonymity which is allowed by this Bill—except the person who for the time being happens to be holding the position of the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

If members of this House were to imagine this identical Bill being introduced in Germany or in Russia, they would see the danger. The only reason why Senators do not realise the danger is that we happen to know the present Minister and we trust him. But if you were to imagine that it was in an entirely different country and that a Minister was to have power to reveal the details, given by any individual on a specific subject, to the Gestapo or to the Ogpu or any other secret service police, you would see the danger. That power is there in the Bill. It is said that it is not intended to be used like that. The Minister has told us the Bill is a lamb. Surely the power should not be left there, if we can safeguard it in a suitable way? The Minister has not suggested any real difficulty which would be involved in confining it to information which has been obtained in a proper manner and in ensuring that the consent of the person would be obtained before information, given by him or collected from him for a specific purpose, is used for an entirely different one. If there were any elaborate form necessary, I could understand the Minister resisting that.

If the Minister is going to resist the form of this amendment, I am afraid, for the first time, it does arouse suspicions in my mind that there is some intention of transferring information from one Department to another, when the Department and the Minister would know perfectly well that the person who had given it would dislike intensely the information being passed on in that way. If we are going to do this, let us at least put on the face of every kind of schedule which is sent round, a statement in red letters: "The information which you are providing by filling this up may be circulated, with your name attached to it, to every Government Department, including the Land Commission and the Board of Works". That at least will give people notice of it. If that is not done, surely we are trading on the good faith and credulousness of persons who hand in statistics for one purpose and then find them used for another?

Nor do I think that, in pressing this matter—and I am aware that I am pressing the amendment—I am meeting with a danger which is entirely unreal, even at the present moment. Official inquiries and official secrecy have gone a remarkable length. In a Department —which is not the Minister's—quite recently, in a case which is still a matter of legal conflict, a certain firm in Dublin was charged a sum of money in respect of customs and politely queried as to whether they were charged the right sum. They paid the sum which they were charged and they exercised their rights then by claiming back from the officer who had charged them that sum which they said was overpayment. The officer proceeded to justify his charge under two Orders which had been issued to him by his superiors. So far, there is nothing in the least objectionable. There was a general question at issue, but when the firm asked the officer to produce the text of the Order, they were met with a claim of State privilege. A Customs duty is being exacted under an Order which the officer claimed to keep secret and would not show to the person from whom he was taking the money.

So much for undue secrecy. And what about all these questions now being asked when any person is renewing his passport—as to whether the consent of the other spouse is forthcoming? That is an nice way of wrecking homes and encouraging jealousy and encouraging a spouse who happens to be of a domineering nature. In these cases, we find a citizen can be taxed and his money taken under an Order which will not be revealed, on the claim of State privilege and a citizen cannot be allowed to exercise his rights of coming and going without answering impertinent questions. Surely I am within my rights in looking upon the provisions of this Bill as extremely dangerous, if they do, as I tell you they do, allow information to be collected, apparently, for one purpose and by one Department and circulate it to every Department with the name of the person to whom it applies. I would very strongly press upon the House that, if they accept the amendments which are before them, the Minister will not be crippled in one iota in his legitimate use of this Bill; but, at the same time, they will ensure that matters which may be very private indeed, which may be communicated in an access of good faith in order to help the Government in arriving at certain statistics, shall not find their way into hands in which they will be deterimental to the person who has furnished them. The Minister will not be able to consider every individual case. We all know the Minister's quickness of mind, we all know his reasonableness, and we all know his power of rapid decision. But the Minister, in fact, is not going to be the person who is to decide on every matter like this. It will be done by anonymous people, important people, no doubt, in different sections of the Ministry. How are we to be certain that they will not make a mistake? How are we to be certain that this power may not be abused? I ask that the Seanad should take their stand firmly on this: that a man should not be asked to give information for a limited purpose and find it is being circulated against him, with his name attached to it, for a purpose which never crossed his mind when he was giving it.

May I on the first amendment and on Section 2 (1) ask this question? Senator Kingsmill Moore desires to amend paragraph (c). Paragraph (c) refers to any verbal information or answer given. I presume that that means oral information. Oral answers do not become statistical information until somebody writes them down. Surely paragraph (c) refers to answers written down by a person authorised under the Principal Act. Paragraph (a) and (b) both refer to the Principal Act. Paragraph (c) does not. The Minister was rather convincing upon the matter, but, looking into it, I wonder why it does not.

I will try to make that clear. May I intervene to try to get the discussion back to the Bill before the House? Deputy Kingsmill Moore certainly has not been talking about this Bill. So far as his first amendment is concerned, let me say that, if the Minister can trick people into giving information, he does not need this Bill to enable him to disclose that information. There is nothing in this Bill which affects his powers in that regard. This Bill has nothing to do with it. Section 2 is solely for the purpose of enabling the Minister to reveal to specified persons information which he could not reveal to them before without committing an offence under the Act of 1926. If he has that information through any source, by tricking people into giving it to him, by any method, overhand or underhand, which he can use, then clearly the barrier upon its revelation otherwise than to an officer of statistics under the Act of 1926 does not apply. It is only where that bar applies, it is only in respect of information which he may not now reveal except to an officer of statistics without committing an offence, that this additional power is being sought. I think that answers the points concerning paragraph (c). What that relates to are the steps taken by officers of statistics to clarify returns which are not infrequently ambiguous in detail. A firm will send in a return. The officer of statistics will find it has defects in some respect or is not clear in some other respect. He will ring up the manager of the firm and explain as regards that return what precisely is the information wanted.

And he will write down the answer.

He will correct the form or write down the answer.

Under the Principal Act.

Under the Principal Act. That information obtained under the authority of the Principal Act by an officer of statistics cannot be revealed to anybody except another officer of statistics. It is that information which cannot be revealed that the Minister may permit to be disclosed to a specified person under Section 2 of this Bill.

To whom does the Minister want to give the information?

I shall come to that. Senator Kingsmill Moore talks about that information being broadcast. There is no question of its being broadcast. He talks about its being revealed to the detriment of a person in civil proceedings or in connection with old age pensions. It cannot be used for that purpose. The point is that the information revealed under the authority of a Ministerial Order given under this Bill to a specified person is confidential to that specified person and cannot be revealed by him to anybody without committing an offence under the 1926 Act. There is, therefore, no question of broadcasting or publishing in the ordinary sense of the term; no question of using the information in ordinary Departmental administration. It can be revealed only for a specified purpose to a specified person. The Minister can allow that information to be revealed to a specified person who must treat it as confidential. He cannot disclose it to other persons even if they require that information for the purpose of their official duties.

The statistical branch has, in fact, at the present time, for the publication of the various reports which appear from time to time, to go to various firms to get their consent under the 1926 Act for the revelation of information. Senator Sir John Keane will be familiar with one case. It is necessary and desirable that figures should be published concerning the output of cement. Everybody knows that we have only one firm manufacturing cement. It would be illegal under the 1926 Act to publish that information unless the firm consented; but the firm does, in fact, consent. A large number of firms are in that position. They have to be approached and are approached and give their consent to the publication of the information for the production census or some other return, which could not otherwise appear. Their consent will be still necessary under this Bill. There will be no power to publish in that broadcast sense any information secured under the authority of a statistics Order. That information can only be revealed in confidence to an officer of a Government Department, or a tribunal of inquiry, or a commission of inquiry, for the purpose of enabling them more effectively to discharge their duties. There is, therefore, none of these dangers of abuse to which Senator Kingsmill Moore referred. There is no possibility of the information being used to the detriment of the individual concerned. There is no likelihood of its being broadcast. It is an entirely different process which we are authorising here. The whole of the Bill relates only to information secured under the authority of a statistics Order and not capable of being published, except in accordance with the terms of the 1926 Act, unless this amending Bill is passed.

I think this matter wants a somewhat closer examination than it has had. I understand that certain information rendered to statistical officers, to Departmental officers, is rendered voluntarily. I should like to know if the person rendering this information has any knowledge at the time whether it is done under an Order which he is bound to observe or whether he is doing it voluntarily with the knowledge that it is voluntary.

If he is required to give information under the authority of a statistics Order that fact is made clear to him. Of course, a very large number of firms and individuals give voluntary returns which are used in the preparation of statistics relating to national income and matters of that kind. That information is not prepared under the authority of the Statistics Act. The person concerned can withhold that information if he wishes to do so but if it is information required for the publication of abstracts or other statistical data and the person must give the information, then the fact that the information is required under the authority of the Act and that it must be given is made clear to him.

I know that there are powers to call for information prescribed by the Minister under a statutory form but I am not sure whether the people rendering the information know whether they are obliged to do so or not. People give information generally in the belief that they are bound to do so. The Minister might differentiate between these two classes when he is replying. I want to examine this matter of passing information to a specified officer more closely. Let us examine it in the light of administrative experience. Let us suppose that the specified officer is Mr. A. I cannot see what use such information would be to Mr. A. alone in any Department.

The information goes on a file and if it is going to be used for administrative purposes, it must be circulated amongst quite a number of Departmental officers concerned in the matter. I should like to get that point made quite clear, whether the specified officer is the only person who gets this information and if he is the only person, how can he use it? If he has got to use it by putting it on a file and utilising it for administrative purposes, it cannot be regarded as merely individual to that person.

The difficulty which Senator Sir John Keane has raised has affected my view to some extent too. It is evidently intended under the sub-section—because it would be necessary for the committee or commission to get the information in order to discharge their functions under the Act—that the specified person will be entitled to give that information to his commission or committee.

No, he will not.

That is very satisfactory. I am very glad to know that because, if that is so, it takes away the sting from the Bill completely. I was afraid that he might disclose information concerning an individual who would be the only manufacturer perhaps of a particular commodity. I do not know that the section should not be altered in some way to afford the necessary protection because it would appear from the section that it was necessary for the commission or the committee to get the information and that the specified officer would be obliged to pass it on to them. I do not know that it would ever be construed in that way but there is that danger.

Would the Minister give an example of how information conveyed to a specified officer and confidential to that specified officer, could in practice be of any Departmental or administrative value?

The most obvious case that occurs to my mind is where a Departmental committee was investigating certain economic or other trends for the Government and where they would be asked to report to the Government on that matter. A member of that committee could get this information available in an individual return. It could not appear in the report which the Government would receive but it would enable individuals to prepare that report with a much clearer knowledge of the facts and without having to take the steps necessary to procure that information first-hand for themselves.

They would report to the Government on the basis of that information that the production of pigs was going up, or that the production of boots was going down, as the case might be. They would base their report on the knowledge they got. Even individual officers investigating particular proposals or propositions before a Department and desiring to make a fully-informed comment on a particular proposition or project, may require that information. I do not say that case would often happen because it would have to be a rather formal business to require the Minister to specify certain persons and authorise officers of statistics to reveal certain information to these persons. That would not happen except in connection with some matter that was of more than usual importance. It would not be done in connection with the ordinary day to day business of any Department. The most likely instance would be in connection with inter-Departmental committees. It might be necessary in connection with a commission or tribunal of inquiry such as is mentioned here. Again that would be a case where the information need be revealed only to an officer of the commission or tribunal, to give him an indication of the direction in which the commission might pursue its inquiries. Further, it might be necessary to reveal it to members of the commission but in no case can the information be published by them in their report or by communicating it to any other person without an offence being committed.

The Minister can specify as many persons as he likes.

That is true.

For instance, he might say in certain circumstances: "All this man's returns should be available to the officers in the Ministry of Justice". What I feel is that this section needs to be tightened up. The methods I have suggested may not be the correct ones but I think they are. May I ask if (c), that is whether an answer which has not been given in pursuance of any obligation under the Principal Act, need be in at all?

As a safeguard. I think the Senator is completely under a misunderstanding. It is a safeguard to the public that even information given verbally may not be revealed to a specified person except the Minister makes an Order——

It must mean one or two things. Either it can mean a casual conversation between himself and the Minister——

It is intended to be information procured under the authority of the Act.

If it is under the Act of 1926 why not put it in?

The Act of 1926 refers to verbal information.

This sub-section (c) does not refer to the Act of 1926 but (a) and (b) do.

Section 13 of the Act of 1926 prohibits the publication or disclosure of information where it is derived from any individual schedule, form or other document filled in or otherwise completed by any person in pursuance of any requisition made under the Act or any verbal information or answer given in relation to any individual person. That section prohibits the disclosure of that information whether written or verbal. Now we are proposing to amend that section to permit of the disclosure of that information, which cannot be disclosed because of the provision of Section 13 of the 1926 Act, to specified persons.

Sitting suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.

I do not propose to take up any more of the time of the House. I am afraid that I cannot follow the Minister as to why he will not confine this to information properly obtained under the Principal Act. Either this provision should go out completely as unnecessary or it should be confined to information lawfully obtained.

It is confined to information lawfully obtained under the Principal Act.

As a matter of drafting, why is the Principal Act mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) and not in paragraph (c)? I do not understand that.

I think the reason is that, when a notice is sent to a firm or individual requiring information, the Order made by the Minister is quoted and their obligation under that Order to give the information is mentioned. The practice, as I explained earlier, is for officers of statistics occasionally to make additional inquiries by telephone or conversation to get clearer information. On many of those occasions, they may not go through the formality of quoting the Order. The intention is that the information should be treated as confidential and that it should not be revealed to any person without the committal of an offence. It is precisely that information which it is desired to make available to those specified officers.

That is information which could be lawfully required under the Principal Act.

I want to make quite clear that there is nothing in this Bill which alters in the slightest the power to obtain information. This Bill does not increase or alter that power.

I am clear about that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 were discussed on the previous amendment. Are they being moved?

I move amendment No. 2:—

In sub-section (2), line 32, after the word "may" to insert the following words: "with the consent of the person who filled in the schedule, form or document or to whom the record or document inspected relates or who gave the verbal information or answer".

The Minister has not shown me in what way this amendment, together with amendment No. 3, could cripple him.

They do not. What I tried to point out to the Senator was that the Principal Act gives full power to publish information with the consent of the person who gave the information. The insertion of these words would nullify the Bill and would give no power which we have not already got under the Principal Act. What is required here is power to reveal that information to a specified officer without the consent of the person.

I think there is an enormous difference between them because, under the Principal Act, I think you would have to get the express consent, while, by this amending Bill, you get a presumed consent. You merely put on a postcard: "I propose to pass on the information which you gave me in such and such a form to such and such a person, unless you express your dissent in ten days".

Is it not very undesirable if it is not intended to do so at all? What I want the Senator to remember is that this information cannot be passed on until the Minister has authorised the passing on of specified statistical information to a specified person for a specified purpose. He cannot merely say: "Give the Department of Local Government or the Land Commission all the information they want". There must be an individual authorisation. The Minister must name the person, name the information and name the purpose, and I think it would be undesirable to suggest by any general phrase in the form issued to firms that the information was going to be used in any event. It might never be used or might be used only once in ten years, and then only in the circumstances contemplated here, by disclosure to persons who would be under precisely the same bond of secrecy as the officers of statistics.

It does not say that it is to be revealed for statistical purposes.

It is statistical information.

It says "statistical information" which has been defined in a very wide way.

It is not necessarily for statistical purposes, I agree. I can best illustrate this by quoting the example I gave earlier. An inter-Departmental committee might be set up to advise the Government upon certain aspects of trade or certain economic trends. That committee, in order to produce a fully informed report, might require to have access to some of these individual returns. They would be authorised to have access to them, but they could not refer to individual returns in the report they send even to their Ministers or the Government as a whole; but they would, nevertheless, be more certain that their statement of the facts was correct if they had had this information before them when preparing their report. It is that type of case which is far more likely to arise than any other, and, in any event, the information could not be revealed by them to any person but used only for the purpose of adding to their own knowledge and enabling them to do their own work more efficiently.

I am not really concerned with the use the Minister is going to make of it but with the use which could be made of it.

I want to assure the Senator that there is no possibility of the information being used, as he seemed to think, for the purpose of a prosecution or for the purpose of enabling a Department to take action against an individual who had given false returns or anything of the kind. Under no circumstances could information made available to an officer of the Department be published by that officer, much less used as evidence in a court or at an inquiry.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.
Question proposed: "That Section 2 stand part of the Bill."

I should like to emphasise the doubt I expressed on Second Reading. Although the Bill does not expressly say so, the Minister, in reply to a question on Second Reading, said it was intended that this power would be retrospective. I have every sympathy with the Minister and I do not wish in any way to impede him in what he is trying to get, but the Bill does give power by which all the information can be given to a wide number of people, within, of course, the limits prescribed by the Minister. A lot of the information in the possession of the Statistics Department, however, was got voluntarily and was given in detail because of the confidence then felt that it was being given for statistical purposes. I do not want to exaggerate, but there is a considerable amount of uneasiness that information so given—in many cases, information of a highly confidential nature— might at some time—not particularly under the present Minister but the Act will continue and the powers conferred by the Act will continue when the Minister may be in a more exalted position—be used to the detriment of those who gave it.

I realise the Minister's difficulty. He wants to have the information for certain purposes and I cannot suggest how it could be so worded that it would not be possible to make use of information already in the possession of the Department, but if, from this date onwards, people are asked for information in the full knowledge that it will be used in the way described in the Bill, they will give the information with that knowledge and knowing what they are doing. I feel, however, that there will be a degree of uneasiness that what they have given in good faith might conceivably be used to their detriment. I content myself with saying that. I say it in no spirit of hostility but merely for the purpose of giving expression to a doubt which exists, and perhaps the Minister could see to what degree it can be met, if at all.

It is quite obvious that the information now in the possession of the statistics branch should be available if these powers have to be used just as readily as information which may become available. Again, I give the illustrations I have already given. Suppose there is an inter-Departmental committee inquiring into the trend of bacon production and it wants to ascertain whether there is any movement of production from the West to the South, from one part of the country to another. Clearly, it would have to investigate the output of individual concerns over a number of years and it could not determine the trend except by examining the returns over a number of years, and consequently would need to have past, as well as current, information. In certain cases, it would be undesirable for the Minister to make an Order under this section for the revelation of information acquired in the past, except where that revelation was clearly of a kind which was not likely to cause a difficulty to individuals.

We in this country get a large part of our statistics voluntarily. Senator Summerfield referred to information given voluntarily, but we are not talking of information given voluntarily. We are talking of information given compulsorily under statistics Orders. But a very high proportion of statistics which form the basis of reports published by the Department of Industry and Commerce are secured voluntarily, and there is rarely difficulty in getting the cooperation of firms in supplying information—even most intimate and confidential information relating to their own concerns.

For example, the estimating of national income requires that certain firms should give information concerning the number of employees, the wages they pay, the hours the employees work, average earnings and so forth, information which is not sought under the Statistics Act but obtained with the voluntary co-operation of a number of firms. In fact, for the recent national income report, about 10,000 firms were asked to give all that very detailed and intimate information. Half of them did not do it. Half of them preferred not to do it, and that was an end of the matter. The information was not obtained under the authority of statistics Order. It was in fact voluntarily contributed by these firms and was used solely in the Statistics Branch for the purposes of their report. This Bill relates to the transmission to specified officers of information which it would be illegal to transmit to them under the terms of the 1926 Act because it was given under the authority of an Order made under the 1926 Act.

I alluded to this on Second Reading. I have no objection at all to the disclosure of information to civil servants. I have the greatest confidence in their discretion and I have the greatest sympathy with the Minister in this matter. I understand the case he makes for the Bill and the purposes for which he wants the Bill. The real objection which Senator Summerfield and others have to it is that it includes civil servants, members of commissions, who may be any people at all, who may be very varied, and the officers of commissions. In other words, when the Minister has a good case for getting extra power, he comes to the two Houses with that good case, but always gives himself good measure in the Bill. That is what it amounts to, and that is the whole story. Perhaps I would do the same if I were Minister. I am not accusing a particular Minister, but, in every case where power is taken, it is taken in ample fashion. That is the whole story, and it cannot be helped apparently.

I would not agree.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 3 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Agreed: That the remaining Stages of the Bill be taken now.
Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration"— put and agreed to.
Question—"That the Bill do now pass"—put and agreed to.
Ordered: That the Bill be returned to the Dáil.