Agricultural Credit Bill, 1946—Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:—
In page 9, Section 14, sub-section (1) (a) (v), after the word "purchasing" to insert the word "land".
I regret that it is at this late stage this amendment comes before the House, to permit the Agricultural Credit Corporation to purchase land. Since the corporation was initiated, it has been my good luck to have had some extensive contacts with it. Under the present Government and the previous Government, I have had nothing but the most pleasant things to say about it. It is an excellent institution. Any limitations that there are certainly are not the fault of the corporation or its officials, who are and have been everything they ought to be.
I may put my argument, in asking that the Agricultural Credit Corporation be permitted to buy land, in an Irishman's way, by asking another question: "If not, why not?" I know of no earthly reason why there should be any limitations on a citizen who desires to buy land. It is regrettable that there are and that one finds it creeping up here and there in institutions of the State, where those limitations are always to be found in the credit that is associated with land. In this development of the Agricultural Credit Corporation this Bill, it is true, goes much further in its ramifications and in the assistance it will bring to citizens who desire to avail of the facilities of the corporation. In fact, practically everything a farmer may want except land is now being authorised by the Agricultural Credit Corporation. The last state then becomes worse than the first. Take the case of a farmer, whether he has ten, 30 or 100 acres of land, and who has a loan from the corporation. You may be perfectly certain that, in its wisdom, the corporation will already have acquired its grip and hold on everything that farmer possesses. If he has a son or daughter who wants to get married and if a plot of land is being offered adjacent to him, he will have nowhere to go to look for credit to procure that land except to the corporation. If the Agricultural Credit Corporation has already everything he has as its security, no bank that he approaches will touch him with a 40-foot pole—why would they? Therefore, there is a fresh limitation being imposed and we are worse really than we were. I know of no reason why this limitation should be permitted by the Government, a limitation which has existed since the inception of the Agricultural Credit Corporation.
I formally second the amendment. It is really inexplicable to me that an institution which has been so forward in its work and in its accommodation and which has been highly appreciated down along the years since it was initiated, should be precluded from this method of progressing and developing its work. With those remarks, I formally second the motion.
I cannot accept this amendment. This question was carefully considered before the Bill was introduced. The purchase of land is not a matter on which it was considered advisable that the corporation should be asked to advance money. We all know that if a farmer starting in business has not a good share of capital of his own, or if any young progressive farmer, or farmer's son, has to go out to buy land that unless he has at least some capital for the purchase of the land, he will find it utterly impossible to carry on farming operations. In addition, it is considered that, if the corporation were to advance moneys on a large scale for the purchase of land, it would help to enhance the present very high values of land and would, to a certain extent, tend to cause inflation in these values. For these reasons I find myself unable to accept the amendment.
I am sorry to hear that the Parliamentary Secretary is pursuing that line. I have given my reasons for moving the amendment. Members of the House are aware that landless men up and down the country are looking for land, and, therefore, they can appreciate the sincerity of the Government in its attitude to this amendment as explained by the Parliamentary Secretary.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 2:—
In page 11, to delete Section 14 (6), lines 49 to 60, and substitute the following sub-section:—
(6) Notwithstanding anything contained in this section, the corporation may invest moneys in its hands in any of the stocks, funds and securities which are for the time being authorised by law as investments for Post Office Savings Bank funds or in the purchase of or subscription for such securities as may from time to time be approved (either generally or particularly) by the Minister for the purposes of this sub-section.
I move my amendment to amendment No. 2:—
After the word "approved" to insert the words "by order".
We can discuss amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 on this amendment of mine. We had a fairly long discussion on the last day on this question of investments by the corporation. Amendment No. 2 goes some distance, but only some distance, towards meeting the point of view that was expressed in the course of that discussion. The Parliamentary Secretary is now restricting the stocks and shares investments of the corporation to investments permitted for the Post Office Savings Bank which are, roughly, I think trustee securities, plus Government bills. There is, however, in the sub-section an additional note adding that the corporation may invest in any other securities which the Minister for Finance approves of. I am prepared to meet the Parliamentary Secretary by agreeing that the provision should be allowed to stand. I do not like it, but I prefer to leave it as it is. I am also prepared to go some distance in meeting the Parliamentary Secretary by giving the Minister for Finance a discretionary power, always provided that the Oireachtas is told how that discretionary power is going to be exercised.
Therefore, I am suggesting that we should provide that, when the Minister for Finance extends the power of investment for the corporation, he should do so by Order, the Order to be laid on the Table of both Houses. I quite appreciate that if the ordinary method were adopted, and if the Order had to lie on the Table for 21 sitting days before it became operative, a very long delay might ensue, because this House might not meet on 21 days over a very considerable period. What I am suggesting is that the Order should lie on the Table for 21 days only after the first day on which either House sits. That is a very short time.
Having regard to the fact that we are extending the corporation's powers of investment, and that we are giving the Minister for Finance a discretionary power to extend them in a very wide manner, I think it is desirable that there should be some small check and publicity so far as that extension is concerned. I do not want to travel over all the ground that was covered on the last occasion about investments in speculative securities that might have operated as the section was originally framed. I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary might agree that it is desirable that there should be this publicity of any extension that takes place as well as the small check that the Order has to lie on the Table for 21 days, as apart from 21 sitting days.
There is no fundamental objection to this amendment. It would, however, tie the Minister's hands to proceed by statutory Order rather than by formal minute as is intended. Under the provisions of this Bill, the making of such Orders would involve calling in the Parliamentary draftsman, and in accordance with the present practice the Orders would have to be printed and placed on sale. This would involve much more administrative expense than the procedure contemplated under the Bill as drafted. Besides the delay which would ensue in consequence of having to proceed by Order, it might mean that the Corporation might miss the opportunity of taking advantage of a good investment which would offer. After all, it is the object of the Bill to strengthen the hands of the Corporation and enable it to carry on a progressive policy rather than impose any unnecessary restrictions on it. For that reason I ask the Senator not to press the amendment.
The Parliamentary Secretary must think that I am exceedingly simple if it is suggested by him that we do not appreciate in this House that there is always in these Orders a provision which saves anything which is done in the interval. As I understand, anything which requires to be done under a statutory Order is proceeded with while the Order is with the printer. It is not usual for the Department to wait until the Order is in print to take whatever steps are necessary. If the Parliamentary Secretary thinks that there is no sufficient provision in my amendment to protect anything done already under the Order, I am prepared to agree that some such wording should be inserted but I do not think that there is any appreciable administrative difference between a minute and an Order or that there is much difference as regards delay. It is desirable that the Oireachtas should know how these powers have been extended and I do not know of any other way than this by which the Oireachtas can learn that.
I opposed the original section in the Bill and I am satisfied that the amendment which has been brought in provides a reasonable safeguard. Circumstances regarding investments have entirely changed. We can see that in the pronouncement regarding Church funds recently made. They find that they can no longer tie themselves down to gilt-edged securities. These people are astute, and careful to get the best value from their funds. I do not think that we should put any impediment in the way of the Agricultural Credit Corporation using their money to the best advantage. They are tied up to Post Office securities, in the first instance and, secondly, any investment they make will have to receive the imprimatur of the Minister for Finance. Originally, the board had power to gamble with the money. Now, there are certain safeguards and restrictions which improve the situation.
It seems to me that the issue is comparatively simple. The Minister for Finance is to have power to extend the list of securities in which investments may be made. Senator Sweetman and I think that the Oireachtas should know if the Minister does so and the securities which he has approved. That would be of value not only to the House but to other bodies who have to invest and to the public. The Parliamentary Secretary says that that would be done by minute which would not necessarily be brought before the House. I respectfully point out that such a minute must be as accurate as an Order, because the legal powers of the corporation will depend on the contents of the minute. If challenged as to their power to make an investment, they would have to rely on that minute. The minute must be as accurately worded as an Order. Therefore, I am not at all impressed by the point made as to the difference between a minute and an Order. On the question of time, for some years past, Orders were made and notice of their making was given in the newspapers. But neither printed copies nor typed copies could be had for weeks subsequently. That did not cause any serious drawback. I do not think that there would be any drawback in this case. I can hardly conceive of any case in which the House would desire to annul an Order but I can think of some cases in which it would desire to discuss the Order and other cases in which it would be in the public interest that it should be known what securities had been approved. I should be satisfied if the minute were tabled. The information would be valuable.
I should be satisfied if the minute were laid on the Table without power to annul.
The procedure suggested would be unprecedented. Publicity can be had by way of question. Members can get any information they wish both in the Dáil and Seanad as to these investments. I have already appealed to the House not to impose undue or unnecessary restrictions on the Agricultural Credit Corporation. Their position is difficult enough already because the margin within which they have to operate is very small. This Bill has been introduced so that they may be able to assist a deserving section of the community. I ask the House not to impose any impediments, however trivial they may appear to some people, which would interfere in any way with the operations of the corporation.
Amendment to amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 2 agreed to.
Amendment No. 3, which was consequential, falls.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Government amendment No. 5:
In page 13, Section 18, line 45, before sub-section (5) to insert a new sub-section as follows:—
(5) For the purpose of effecting any alterations in the articles of association of the corporation required or authorised by this Part, Section 13 of the Companies (Consolidation) Act, 1908, shall be construed as if the words "extraordinary resolution" were substituted for the words "special resolution" where the latter words first occur.
The object of this amendment is to enable the corporation to alter its articles of association without holding a second meeting. This will result in a saving of time. The alteration under the sub-section now being inserted may be made by extraordinary resolution, which is a resolution passed by a majority of not less than three-fourths of the members voting at a general meeting. A special resolution is a resolution which has been passed in the manner required for the extraordinary resolution at one general meeting and confirmed at a subsequent general meeting by a majority of voters present at that meeting, which must be held not less than 14 days or more than one month from the date of the first meeting.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 6:—
In page 13, Section 18, line 47, to delete the words "of this Act".
This is a drafting amendment.
I cannot see what alteration it effects.
The words are regarded by the draftsman as unnecessary.
Amendment agreed to.
It was agreed to take the following amendments together:—
Government amendment No. 7:—
In page 19, Section 25, line 11, to insert after sub-section (3) a new sub-section as follows:—
(4) A copy of this section shall be endorsed on every specific chattel mortgage, but non-compliance with this provision shall not invalidate the specific chattel mortgage.
Amendment No. 8:—
In page 19, Section 25, after sub-section (3) to insert a new sub-section as follows:—
(4) Prior to the advance of any loan on a specific chattel mortgage the corporation shall deliver to the mortgagor a copy of this section.—(Senator Sweetman.)
Amendment No. 9:—
In page 21, Section 29, sub-section (1), to insert a new paragraph as follows:—
(e) such notice shall include a copy of Section 25 of this Act.
Government amendment No. 10:—
In page 22, Section 29, line 39, to insert after sub-section (2) a new sub-section as follows:—
(3) A copy of Section 25 of this Act shall be endorsed on every notice served under sub-section (1) of this section but non-compliance with this provision shall not invalidate the notice.
These amendments have been put down to implement the promise which I made during the discussion on Committee Stage, that we would consider the question of bringing to the notice of the borrower both his responsibilities under a specific chattel mortgage and the penalties he would incur by not acting up to them. Amendment No. 7 provides that a copy of Section 25 is to be endorsed on every specific chattel mortgage and the consequential amendment to Section 29 provides that a copy of Section 25 is to be endorsed on every notice converting a floating chattel mortgage into a specific chattel mortgage.
I am in some difficulty about amendment No. 7. There has been a great lapse of time, as the Parliamentary Secretary is aware, since we discussed this on the previous occasion. So far as I understand it, there are two different points and I want to deal with them separately so that they will not be confused. The Parliamentary Secretary's amendment is to provide that a copy of Section 25 is to be put, by way of endorsement, on every specific chattel mortgage. I cannot recollect now, it is so long since the last stage, nor can I find it in the Bill, whether there is any obligation on the Agricultural Credit Corporation to furnish a copy of the specific chattel mortgage to the mortgagor. There is going to be a copy of the section on the mortgage by way of endorsement and it seems to me to be at least quite possible that the mortgagor may not appreciate the contents of it. He would appreciate the contents of the mortgage itself. I understand it was the Parliamentary Secretary's intention to make it obligatory on the corporation to ensure that a copy of Section 25 should be furnished to the mortgagor and remain in his possession so that he would have it as apart from it being endorsed on the document.
It will be printed on the back of the form and the corporation has agreed to furnish a copy of the mortgage to the borrower.
Why is this not put in the Bill?
I do not think it is necessary.
As far as I can recollect the whole point was that it should be delivered to the mortgagor and that it would be made a statutory obligation to deliver it. I can see what the Minister's line is now, but I must say that I differ from it entirely. We are not dealing here with civil rights but with things which will become misdemeanours and a person on conviction is liable to a fine of £100 or two years' imprisonment. £100 is a big sum and two years is a long slice out of a man's life. I think there should be a statutory obligation on the corporation to hand over to the man a copy of this section so that he will know what things will specifically make him liable for a crime for which he is liable to be imprisoned for two years. I am not casting any aspersion on the bona fides of the Parliamentary Secretary's undertaking, but it should not be left to an undertaking by the corporation. There should be a statutory obligation, especially in view of the penalty and imprisonment to which the person is liable.
I think we should accept the undertaking given by the Parliamentary Secretary that a copy will be sent to the mortgagor. The bank always give you a copy of it, no doubt, but they are not bound to do that by law. The difficulty about putting it in a Bill is that it may be necessary for the corporation to prove that they have delivered such copy and that might be a very difficult matter.
I cannot agree at all with Senator O'Dea's point. First of all, a bank in dealing with the creditor is dealing in a civil matter and a man cannot be put into jail for two years. The reason the banks do it is that they do not want to be faced with a difficulty at a later stage of a guarantor saying that he did not know what he was signing. That is a civil matter. Another objection I have is the suggestion that non-compliance with the provision would invalidate a specific chattel mortgage. Non-compliance, I think, should not invalidate a chattel mortgage but I do think that non-compliance with the obligation of delivering the copy of this section should be a defence to the criminal action. The Parliamentary Secretary can quite easily dispose of Senator O'Dea's objection by saying that a copy of this particular section shall be endorsed on every specific chattel mortgage, and a copy of such specific chattel mortgage shall be delivered to the borrower and non-compliance with this shall not invalidate the chattel mortgage. I am quite prepared to agree that the civil rights of the corporation should be amply protected so that non-compliance with the obligation of delivering a copy to the borrower would not invalidate the mortgage but where you are rendering a man liable to two years' imprisonment you should have it specifically stated in the Act itself that this man must have seen a full copy of the section so that he must have known what his liabilities were. The Parliamentary Secretary will agree that the liabilities of fine and imprisonment are rather serious and that it is not reasonable to assume that a person would know that he was making himself liable to a penalty of two years' imprisonment in the same way that he would know that he would be liable to imprisonment for stealing another man's property.
This will be imprinted on every chattel mortgage and I have already informed the House that in addition the corporation has undertaken to furnish a copy to the person concerned. I appeal to the House to accept this undertaking. What reason have we for assuming that the corporation would want to evade their obligations in this regard? Is it not a matter of common sense and good business?
Who prosecutes for a breach of Section 25?
It must be the Attorney-General, under the 1924 Act.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary give us an undertaking that the Attorney-General will bring to the notice of the court any case in which a copy of the mortgage was not delivered to the accused?
That assumes that it will not be delivered. I do not presume any such thing.
There may be a case in which it was not delivered.
In practice, the Attorney-General would be bound in honour to do so.
Amendment No. 7 put and agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 not moved.
Amendment No. 10 put and agreed to.
Government amendment No. 11:
In page 34, Section 55, to delete Section 55 and substitute the following section:—
(1) Subject to sub-section (2) of this section, appointments to situations in the service of the corporation shall be made in accordance with such arrangements for securing the appointment of suitable and qualified persons as shall from time to time be determined by the directors, after consultation with the commissioners, and such arrangements shall include—
(a) in the case of situations in the clerical grades, a provision prescribing, as an essential qualification for appointment, the possession of a knowledge of the Irish language of such a standard as the directors, with the concurrence of the commissioners, may fix,
(b) in the case of other situations, a provision for giving to suitable and qualified candidates, who possess a knowledge of the Irish language of a standard not less than that fixed by the directors, credit in respect of such knowledge.
(2) Sub-section (1) of this section shall not apply to—
(a) appointments made in the ordinary course of promotion, or
(b) appointments of casual employees, or
(c) appointments of industrial workers, or
(d) the hiring of persons to perform subordinate duties.
(3) in this section—
the expression "the directors" means the directors of the corporation;
the expression "the commissioners" means the Local Appointments Commissioners appointed under the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926 (No. 39 of 1926).
This amendment has been introduced in an effort to meet the point of view put forward by Senator Hayes and we have gone as far as we reasonably could to cover the two points he made, first, to prevent anything in the nature of patronage, and, secondly, to ensure that so far as possible all appointees to the staff of the corporation will have a competent knowledge of Irish. It is felt that this amendment will meet these two objections, and that if the appointments were to be made by the Civil Service Commissioners to a commercial concern of this kind, it would be found that the method would not be suitable for the appointment of subordinate appointees. With regard to the other question as to the appointment of technical men, it is found that a certain discretionary power must be given to the directors and I think the amendment meets the situation in a reasonable way.
This amendment took a very long time to draft and all kinds of people must have been consulted about it. One does not need to be a member of the School of Cosmic Physics to know that it is the resultant of an enormous number of forces. All kinds of people have been working on it and the mountain has produced a very foolish mouse. The amendment is a compromise and means nothing as far as I can see. The more I read it, the less I understand it.
The point I made on Committee Stage was that the Agricultural Credit Corporation has Government money, that is to say, has public funds, that it is entirely appointed by the Government and that its employees should be subject to the same method of appointment as public officials, that is to say, the directors should have no more power than the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to make appointments. Both the Civil Service Commissioners and the Local Appointments Commissioners deal, not only with routine posts, but with technical posts, and there is a machinery in both the Civil Service Commission Act and the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, the Act appointing the Local Appointments Commissioners, for making technical appointments, but this amendment does not meet either of these cases, although it has the effect of being a kind of suggestion that in future the Agricultural Credit Corporation, and, presumably, other similar corporations, will consult the Local Appointments Commissioners before proceeding to appoint their staffs.
A Government Department is in the position that it must do what the Civil Service Commissioners and the Minister for Finance combined want them to do. Local bodies are in the position that they must go to the Local Appointments Commissioners for the filling of certain posts. Of that, there can be no doubt whatever. This amendment, in spite of all its verbiage, simply means that the directors of the Agricultural Credit Corporation must consult the Local Appointments Commissioners, and, having consulted them, can do what they like. That is the exact position. It says that "Subject to sub-section (2) of the section, appointments to situations in the service of the corporation shall be made in accordance with such arrangements for securing the appointment of suitable and qualified persons as shall from time to time be determined by the directors after consultation with the commissioners"; that is, they consult the commissioners and make any arrangements they like. Does the Parliamentary Secretary argue that there is some meaning in it other than that? I should like to get it clear.
If the Senator had read on and had related what he has said to sub-paragraphs (a) and (b), he would see that (a) sets out:
"in the case of situations in the clerical grades, a provision prescribing, as an essential qualification for appointment, the possession of a knowledge of the Irish language of such a standard as the directors, with the concurrence of the commissioners, may fix."
And that (b) says:
"In the case of other situations——"
meaning technical officers, and perhaps appointments of a professional character
"——a provision for giving to suitable and qualified candidates, who possess a knowledge of the Irish language of a standard not less than that fixed by the directors, credit in respect of such knowledge."
"The directors, with the concurrence of the commissioners"—that means they have to consult the commissioners and have to concur with them as to the standard of Irish required. Concurrence, in my opinion, means agreement, and it is the Local Appointments Commissioners who will have to state what exactly is the knowledge of Irish required and the directors will have to concur.
That is certainly not in the section as drafted now. What the Parliamentary Secretary says is correct. It would appear that the directors must consult the commissioners, but it is quite clear to everybody that "consult" means that you consult but you need not agree. Consultation is one thing; concurrence is another. Every Bill is dotted with "with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance". That is a very definite phrase with a very definite meaning, with which, I am sure, the Parliamentary Secretary is familiar, as we all are. I say that the only thing about which the Local Appointments Commissioners must give their consent is the standard of the knowledge of the Irish language and nothing else. The directors can fill the post any way they please, after consulting the commissioners, provided they fix the knowledge of the Irish language with the concurrence of the commissioners. In order words, the commissioners are only brought into this matter with any power in so far as a knowledge of the Irish language is concerned. I do not want to labour the point, but I say that, in very elaborate verbiage, the situation is left practically as it was before, that is to say, the Agricultural Credit Corporation directors are still all-powerful and still have a power of appointment which does not reside in a Minister or in a Parliamentary Secretary. There is consultation only.
Take subjects apart from Irish. The Local Appointments Commissioners fill all posts for local bodies, who have no power to fix the standard. In this case, if my suggestion were adopted, the Civil Service Commissioners would, of course, fix the standard in concurrence with the Minister for Finance, but here the directors have only to consult the Local Appointments Commissioners. They need not do everything that the Local Appointments Commissioners suggest, except one thing—they must agree with regard to the knowledge of Irish. With regard to anything else they need not agree and, therefore, the position is left exactly as it was before. Where the directors require a knowledge of the Irish language, it must be such a knowledge as the Local Appointments Commissioners are prepared to agree to. That is the position and there is no further advance. My position is that, where there is Government money in the hands of a body, the appointment of the staff should be the same as it is to Government Departments. That staff is very extensive and includes a considerable number of technical people such as doctors, architects, engineers, draftsmen and so on.
I do not know what the exceptions in sub-section (2) mean. Is there a difference between "appointment" and "hiring"—the "appointment of casual employees" or the "hiring of persons to perform subordinate duties"? I presume the draftsman had different things in mind. For example, if being a messenger is performing subordinate duties, then in the case of Government Departments, messengers are appointed on a particular plan—they have to come from the labour exchange at present and I understand they must be persons with Army service. I do not know if that is the case here.
With regard to Irish, my position is —and was, when I was a member of the Civil Service Commission—that no person should get a preference for a knowledge of Irish unless it were a real knowledge. If it is a real knowledge, yes, if he is technically qualified. The position about Irish is capable of all kinds of wangling and humbugging and has been so used. This amendment which, I take it, I will have to accept, has one merit and that is, that, elaborate and all as it is, and meaningless as a good deal of it is, it does include the intervention of an outside body accustomed to conducting these examinations and it may serve as a headline—though, I think, not a very good headline—for many other Government-appointed boards. For example, if you were to work on the analogy of the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926, sub-section (1) (a) of this amendment, instead of reading:
"...a knowledge of the Irish language of such a standard as the directors, with the concurrence of the commissioners, may fix,"
should then read:
"...a knowledge of the Irish language of such a standard as the commissioners, with the concurrence of the directors, may fix,"
Surely that is the common-sense way to do it? There would be people fixing a standard every day whose business it is to do that, and who are in contact with the Department of Education, who know the kind of people being appointed all over the country and who should be able to fix the standard. The directors, since they are the people who are going to employ these people later on, should have a say and should be consulted and should have to agree. This amendment puts the thing round the other way—it is the directors who should fix the standard, not the commissioners. I would prefer my original suggestion, naturally, for the Civil Service Commissioners, but they are not very much different.
This amendment must have been very difficult to draft, as the less simple you are the more difficult it is to draft the amendment. It is a very grudging amendment and I do not know what it means. The Parliamentary Secretary is right in saying there is one thing in it and that is the only thing I see. Perhaps it is a slight advance, but it has not met the point I think should be met generally—that where Government or public money is concerned there should be an open competition and everybody should have a chance of getting the post, on the conditions laid down and made public. I think this amendment will not accomplish that, but in practice it may be a slight step forward.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.
Question—"That the Bill, as amended, be received for final consideration"—agreed to.
Agreed to take Fifth Stage to-day.
Question—"That the Bill do now pass"—agreed to.
Ordered: That the Bill be returned to the Dáil.