On this Bill, we are in exactly the same position. No evidence whatever in support of the claim that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should not have access to these papers has been brought forward. The Act of Parliament has been quoted, but in a very minor particular. It has been quoted in reference to Section 6 by the Minister for Agriculture in regard to the Minister for Finance, and even in that small matter, the Minister for Agriculture showed that he had never read the Act, because it was not the Minister for Finance, but the Minister for Defence, who was referred to in that particular section. We are asked in this Bill to sanction the proceedings of that board of which we have no knowledge; of which the Minister for Agriculture, in spite of his enthusiasm, has no knowledge; of which he know so little that he does not even know whether the evidence taken and sworn, I presume, there — I do not know whether it was or not — was ever written down upon paper. It is akin with his knowledge of the rest of the subject and with his idea of this Dáil, that he should come forward and treat us to such a miserable and preposterous setting forth of his ideas.
Deputy Cooper, who I am sorry is not present, when speaking on this matter pointed out that he had been a member of the Public Accounts Committee and that if there was anything he looked forward to, in case he left public life, it would be the feeling that while on that Committee he had done good work for the country. It is an extraordinary thing that Deputy Cooper himself recognised, while a member of the Public Accounts Committee, with his colleagues there, that this position, if not illegal, was anomalous, and that, at any rate, an effort was being made to curtail the rights and powers of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. He was a member of the Public Accounts Committee which submitted the report signed by Deputy Davin on 24th February, 1928, which Deputy Davin has already read to the House, and which they may be in danger of forgetting; because when people who know nothing whatever about the Public Accounts Committee, and about the procedure, and do not even go to the trouble of ascertaining the simple facts in connection with it, get up here and treat us to the kind of stuff that the Minister for Agriculture has treated us to, we are apt to forget the simple facts of the case. The Public Accounts Committee reported: —
It is undesirable to deal with a charge which recurs annually in a manner which appears to limit the powers conferred on the Comptroller and Auditor-General who is required by the terms of the Statute defining the duties and powers of his office to examine on behalf of the Dáil every Appropriation Account other than those in which a specific indication to the contrary appears on the face of the Estimate.
When Deputy Cooper was speaking here the last evening he took very great care indeed, though not anxious to prejudice the weak position which the Government hold upon the question, knowing something about this matter, and having been a member of the Public Accounts Committee, that another side of the question should be brought out in the Dáil. He said here quite definitely two things, and these are the only two important points in his speech: that there were abnormal circumstances in connection with this matter and that, perhaps, the Labour Party were somewhat to blame because, when this Bill was originally passing through the Dáil, they did not say that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should have the right that they now say he has. The same argument was made, as a matter of fact, by the Minister for Finance — why did not the Labour Party say so-and-so when the Bill was being passed? The answer is there — there was no need to. That Bill was the same as every other Pensions Bill, in connection with which the awards and the evidence upon which the awards were based, and all other matters connected therewith should have been available to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. It speaks well for the Labour Party — and I give them credit for it — that they took the chief part in showing up this thing. A decision was arrived at the year before Deputy Davin was in the Chair and the amount in the Estimate that year of £2,000 was passed by the Public Accounts Committee.
It speaks well for Deputy Davin and the Labour Party that the following year they got Deputy Cooper himself to bring in this amendment or minute that I have read, because although it is in Deputy Davin's name it was Deputy Cooper brought it in. Deputy Cooper brought in this amendment, saying that an attempt was being made to limit the powers of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Therefore, it comes badly from Deputy Cooper at this stage to say that the Labour Party is to blame, and that the Dáil did not know its own mind — that the thing was not foreseen, that it was not clear in the Act. That is all rubbish, all hogwash. The Act was the same as every Act. The Labour Party took the view that there was one Vote different to all other Votes where the Auditor-General is not allowed this right, and that is the Secret Service Vote. We all know that; it is stated on the face of it. But there is nothing in the Bill to show that the Comptroller and Auditor-General should not have the right. Nobody has brought it forward here or would be able to show that the Comptroller and Auditor-General has not these rights. These were denied him for the past two years. Speaking the last night, Deputy Cooper thought perhaps that the position and dignity of the office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General might require considerable strengthening even from him, as a member of the Government Party, when he said that at no time did the Comptroller and Auditor-General exceed his functions or power.
Now we are told by the Minister for Agriculture that he is trying to do so, that he is trying to set himself up as a tribunal over this Board of Assessors; that he is going to hear witnesses from all over the country. Did anybody ever hear a grosser misrepresentation of the whole business than that? Are we to believe Deputy Cooper that the rights and prerogatives of the Comptroller and Auditor-General are being prejudiced, or are we to believe the Minister for Agriculture, who was never on the Public Accounts Committee and never took the trouble to study any of its proceedings. It has been said that this is a court. Apart from the ground that the Comptroller and Auditor-General has these rights, that as he is an officer of the Dáil and endowed under Statutes of the Dáil with the power, it is our duty as Deputies of the Dáil to support him in asserting these powers against any Minister or against the Executive or against any officials who attempt to interfere with him. What does the Comptroller and Auditor-General himself say. One might have thought from the speech of the Minister for Agriculture that the Comptroller and Auditor-General had no feeling in this matter. He has feelings. It is no joke for an official of the Dáil who is in a special position and has special rights attached to his office, and whose position is preserved by the Constitution, to find himself moving contrary to the wishes of the Executive in power, and having to pit himself and his office year after year against the combined attacks, against the combined efforts, massed forces of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Defence, and the whole Executive Council in this particular matter. Therefore, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, who, the Minister for Agriculture would give us the impression, was either a nonentity or a Frankenstein, is in danger of doing enormous damage unless we take steps to retard him.
When the Army Finance Officer came forward with the legal arguments, such as they were, the Auditor-General made a statement. I shall give his exact words. I do not give them because they establish a special point in my favour, but to show that as an official the Comptroller and Auditor-General has to go before the Public Accounts Committee. The Committee naturally have to regard things from his standpoint since we represent the Dáil and he represents the Dáil and since he only brings before us irregularities, things he thinks are not right. We naturally have, to a certain extent, to take his standpoint. When the Committee of Public Accounts were examining the 1924-25 Accounts through some extraordinary weakness which they made up for the following year when they signed Deputy Davin's report, they professed to see reason in the statement of the Department of Defence that these things should not be made public to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Mr. McGrath said: "I do not want to be regarded as coming here to get the authority of the committee to go any further than the intention of the Dáil, but it is my duty to point out that this committee is agreeing that moneys voted by the Dáail shall be expended without examination of the basis of the award." There precisely the Comptroller and Auditor-General had to state his position. He was defeated upon that position for the time being. The following year, with Deputy Davin in control, a definite minute was inserted in the report which originated with Deputy Cooper himself and that minute specifically reversed the decision of the previous year and came to the conclusion that the abnormal circumstances——