I move that the Bill do now pass.
Committee on Finance. - Arterial Drainage Bill, 1944—Fifth Stage.
I want to say that we are agreed as to the necessity for arterial drainage. We are trying to tackle there a problem created by long years of neglect so far as the national drainage of the country is concerned. If, however, we are to make arterial drainage effective and economic we must tackle field drainage as well. That, too, of course is a very big problem, and I hope it will not be lost sight of. We regret that this Bill has emerged in its present form. The Vocational Commission has seen fit to criticise the bureaucratic trend in our legislation in recent years. I feel that this Bill is an outstanding example of that type of legislation. That trend has been strongly condemned by a commission set up by the Government. We have vigorously opposed it on this side of the House. We did so during the Committee Stage, but the Parliamentary Secretary was adamant in defending the bureaucratic viewpoint. We feel that the power and authority of the people ought to be vested in them. We, in the Parliament of the country, should not surrender the authority of the people to a bureaucratic institution or hand over complete and absolute control of the arterial drainage of the country to an institution constituted as the Office of Public Works is. We feel that, along with the authority that was envisaged by the Drainage Commission in its report, there should be another authority elected and in some way as representative of the people so that control would remain in the hands of the people. The Office of Public Works could be utilised to do the work, but it should be controlled and directed by the people.
We agree that in doing arterial drainage work of this kind very wide powers are necessary so far as entry on land, the acquisition of land and the exercise of rights-of-way, milling, and other matters are concerned. We have freely given those powers to the drainage authority that we are setting up, but during the course of the discussions on this Bill we have thought it desirable and essential to urge that a provision should be inserted in the Bill to protect the rights and liberties of individuals. That demand of ours has been denied time and again, and this House has seen fit to leave out those essential safeguards. The bureaucratic institution has been given wide and arbitrary powers so far as the administration of this measure is concerned. That is to be regretted.
If this House continues to legislate in this fashion an intolerable position is bound to arise. In saying that I am not and have no desire to cast any reflection on individual members of the Civil Service. The civil servants, trained as so many of them are with the one track mind and a red-tape outlook, can scarcely be blamed if we in a Parliamentary institution are prepared to deny to the people the power that ought properly be vested in the people and hand over to a bureaucratic institution that sort of limited control and authority. An individual engineer or inspector from the Department vested with that power of control can behave in a very arbitrary way. It is only human to expect that he will do so at times. That is why I say the safeguards to which I have referred should have been inserted in this Bill. They are essential if we are to ensure that the rights and liberties of individuals are to be protected at all times and so that they may not be steam-rolled by a man exercising the wide arbitrary power which is now being given to the Office of Public Works. We have argued that point on many sections of the Bill, but we have not impressed the Parliamentary Secretary or the majority of the members of this House. Is it not an extraordinary state of affairs that the House should agree to a provision of this sort: that if the action of the commissioners is to be questioned at any time, and if legal proceedings are instituted, a certificate issued by the commissioners to the effect that a particular work has been efficiently done must be accepted as final and conclusive evidence on that point? It must be accepted in court as final and conclusive.
Is not that an extraordinary provision for a democratic assembly like this to agree to? We tried to prevail on the Parliamentary Secretary not to agree to a provision of that sort. The Parliamentary Secretary, claimed, I suppose, to be a great democrat before he was put in charge of the Board of Works. He appears to be a great autocrat now. He believes in bureaucratic rather than democratic control. These are the fundamental issues between the Government and ourselves so far as the shaping and moulding of this piece of legislation are concerned. This is an outstanding example of the very thing condemned by the Vocational Organisation Commission—the trend towards bureaucratic administration. Every member of the Fianna Fáil Party should have regard for this aspect of the question. Very eminent men were put on that commission and they give this question very close examination. When they thought fit to warn the House and the country of the undesirability of such legislation, we ought to hearken to their warning. But we do not appear to worry about it.
A very reprehensible section was introduced into the Bill at the last moment—a retrospective section which sets out to nullify a decision of the High Court. If the people are to have respect for the decisions of the courts, we ourselves ought to set them a good example. We ought to accept the decisions of the High Court. The section to which I refer sets out to treat with contempt a decision given by the High Court. That is a very reprehensible way of dealing with a problem which could have been dealt with in other ways. I regret that the Government and the Parliamentary Secretary have persisted in their effort to defeat the High Court decision by legislation.
I asked the Parliamentary Secretary on the Second Stage of this Bill to bear in mind that there is an agricultural aspect to this problem of national drainage. He did not appear to grasp the significance of my point. Great Britain has undertaken large-scale, agricultural drainage schemes during the war. They claim to have reclaimed about 6,000,000 acres—a huge achievement in a short time. It was necessary for their chartered surveyors to have agricultural qualifications because this whole problem of drainage and water levels has a very important agricultural aspect. I feel that the ordinary engineer, trained to deal only with water, does not know enough about that aspect. It is not merely desirable but essential to have men with agricultural qualifications. Great Britain has done that. America has insisted for some years that some of the men engaged on drainage should have agricultural qualifications. If the Parliamentary Secretary is not prepared to accept my advice, I hope he will undertake to examine that aspect of the matter further and consult men capable of giving him advice.
All we can do now is to express the hope that the extraordinary powers vested in the Department by this piece of legislation will not be abused. I believe that it is unlikely they will be abused to any great extent but we cannot take things for granted. We ought to make legislation watertight and insert the necessary provisions. A mere promise that everything will be all right is not sufficient. The House has been given good reason to doubt the wisdom of allowing legislation such as this to go through without necessary safeguards by the action of the Parliamentary Secretary in attempting to undo a mistake made by his Department. I hope that undue advantage will not be taken by the officers of the Department or by the Department itself of those sections which have been left wide open and in which the interests of the individual have not been sufficiently safeguarded.
I want to join with the last Deputy who spoke in voicing my protest against the vicious principles which have been introduced into this measure. It is a very excellent measure, dealing with a desirable thing —arterial drainage—and it is regrettable that advantage should be taken of it and that it should be made the cloak for enshrining undemocratic principles in our legislation. I do not share the hope of Deputy Hughes that the powers given in the Bill may be used sparingly. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will use them mercilessly. I hope he will avail himself of the powers given in order to set aside the rights of private citizens and the elected representatives of those citizens in the county council and here, as has already been done. I hope that that will be done unsparingly, because I trust that, in that way, there will be a natural reaction from the people. They will not lie down tamely under the operation of retrograde legislation of this kind. As stated by Deputy Hughes, their every right has been flouted. Evidence of the intention of the Board of Works is shown by the way they have set aside in this Bill a decision of the High Court and anticipated any similar decisions by defeating them in advance. In that frame of mind, it is futile to hope for a sparing use of the powers given. In the interests of the country, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and those associated with him will use their powers unsparingly so as to bring about a reaction which will destroy that kind of mentality in this House. We have been sent here to represent and maintain a democracy but here we are handing over to a subservient body —the Board of Works—power to override the rights of common citizens who will be affected by arterial drainage schemes. They are to be the sole judges as to whether a work is properly completed or not. Once it is certified by them, that will end the matter. Neither the people nor the courts will have anything to say to it. I do not believe in putting any body above the law. The Board of Works are given a privileged position under this Bill and I regret that so necessary a piece of legislation should be used as a cover for the establishment of so vicious a principle. I trust that the idea of such a privileged position will be resisted vigorously, and that a position may be brought about in which the citizens of this country will have a voice, and will be enabled to bring us, their representatives, to book later on if we should fail in our duty.
When this Bill was introduced I ventured to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on having the privilege of producing such a Bill as this, which had been so long delayed, and I expressed the hope that when the Bill left this House such a piece of legislation would be enacted as every section of the House and every Deputy could welcome, but I regret, as other Deputies have already pointed out, that the Parliamentary Secretary was not more amenable to the various suggestions that were made here for the improvement of the Bill. One of the difficulties that I saw in the Bill when it was originally introduced was that it appeared to be too dictatorial; that there was no link provided as between the local bodies and the commissioners. Suggestions were made on various stages of the Bill to provide for such a link, but they were all refused by the Parliamentary Secretary. I even suggested an amendment whereby the Minister for Local Government would be brought into the Bill, as being the Minister most closely in touch with the local bodies, but for some reason the Parliamentary Secretary seemed to resent any question of interference by the Minister for Local Government.
Deputy Keyes, a moment ago, referred to the question of the completion of a scheme and the necessary certificate. Under this Bill, the word of the commissioners is to be taken that a scheme is satisfactory, and there is no machinery whereby the local bodies or anybody else can appeal against that decision. I endeavoured to have an amendment inserted in the Bill to the effect that no certificate as to the completion of a scheme would be issued without, at least, the consent of the Minister for Local Government who, as I have already said, is in close touch with the local bodies. The Parliamentary Secretary refused to do that, but he did give us what some of us, at any rate, accepted as an undertaking that he would bring in an amendment to the effect that the Minister for Local Government, at least, would be consulted before any certificate was issued by the commissioners and that he was bringing in a definite provision in the Bill linking the Minister for Local Government, by name, with the issue of such certificates. I was surprised, therefore, to find that the Parliamentary Secretary failed to introduce any amendment covering that point. At a later stage, he said that, on reconsideration, it was thought not wise to introduce such an amendment. In other words, on careful consideration, it was finally concluded that it was definitely better to leave the Minister for Local Government out of the Bill so far as any advisory capacity was concerned. I think it is regrettable that the Parliamentary Secretary could not see eye to eye with us in that respect. As the Bill now stands, there is no effective appeal from the decision of the commissioners in any matter. That is regrettable for many reasons. In such a complicated business as national drainage there are bound to be differences of opinion between the local bodies and the commissioners. It is not a good thing that the decision should be left to one of the parties concerned, and that is what is bound to happen once the Bill leaves the House in its present state. I do not want to make any reference to what we have already discussed on the various stages of the Bill. Like Deputy Hughes, Deputy Keyes and other Deputies who spoke, I regret that the Parliamentary Secretary took the opportunity of introducing, at a late stage of the discussion on the Bill, a revolutionary section, making it impossible for local bodies, through their representatives, or even for the Minister for Local Government, to offer any effective opposition to any decision of the commissioners. In fact, the commissioners are put in such a position that their decision is over and above that of the judges, so far as this particular section of the Bill is concerned. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary takes this Bill to the Seanad, having considered it more closely in the meantime, he will give way, in the Seanad, to suggestions that were made in this House but refused by him.
Little more remains to be said by me, except to express the hope that, even though our suggestions have not been received by the Parliamentary Secretary in the manner in which we hoped they would be received, great good will be achieved as a result of the passing of the Bill, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be as enthusiastic in seeing that the drainage problem of this country will be undertaken speedily as he has been in resisting the suggestions put forward by various members of this House, which he was adamant in refusing.
There are just a few remarks that I should like to make in connection with the Bill. A lengthy debate took place on one section of the Bill in connection with the Mulkear judgment, and the Parliamentary Secretary, it seemed to me, conveyed the impression to the House that the effect of the judgment in the Mulkear case was to tie up the House from spending any more money on that scheme. I have since seen the judgment on that case, and it seems to me to be clear that all the judge decided was that a final award could not be made until the works had been completed and until the entire costs were included— quite a different thing from what the Parliamentary Secretary suggested. I do not want to go back on that particular aspect of the question now, but it is clear to my mind that there has been a grave neglect of drainage work by county councils in the past and that the local authorities throughout the country, as a result of that neglect, are left with a huge legacy of work to be done. We sought to shift that work on to the State because we felt that it was unfair and unreasonable to pile the cumulative effect of that neglect on top of the local authorities, as is, apparently, contemplated under this Bill. I have no doubt, as Deputy Keyes has pointed out, that the Board of Works will take steps to compel the local authorities to bring the works up to the level of the standard at which they feel they should have been kept in the past.
Another fear that I have in connection with this Bill is that, through the County Management Act and the present local government administration, generally, the voice of representative bodies throughout the country will be silenced, and that the local authorities and the elected representatives of the people will have no say whatever in the administration of the Act. I think that is a deplorable departure, particularly as we have no right of appeal whatever to any court in the land. The central drainage authority is the court of final appeal, and I can visualise a position arising, the result of which will be that the entire implementation of this Bill will go forward irrespective of what the local people may feel about the matter. There are good features in the Bill also that, I think, should be commended: such as that the occupiers of lands to be benefited are being freed from the charges under this Bill. I think that that is a very good provision and that the Parliamentary Secretary should be complimented upon it. At the same time, however, I must say that I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary met us properly on the other points that were made, and particularly on the question of the right of appeal to the High Court and also the passing of this heritage of neglect to the local authorities.
Most of the points that have been raised on this Final Stage of the Bill have been very fully debated in the House already, and I do not propose now to cover the ground that has been so often covered during the various stages of the Bill. As well, I shall have an opportunity in the other House I suppose of going over this measure, section by section, as we have done here. It is true to say that I have not been able to meet members of the Opposition in all the amendments they have submitted but if these amendments have been resisted, they have been resisted simply because it was our considered view that their acceptance would injure, and would in fact in their application impede, the work that all Parties in this House would like to see undertaken and carried out as quickly as possible. There is no doubt that drastic powers are enshrined in the Bill but anyone who has any idea of the problems associated with arterial drainage will realise the necessity for drastic powers. My only fear is that when we come to grapple with these problems the powers which we have taken in the Bill will not be sufficiently drastic for the purpose.
Reference has been made amongst other matters to the Mulkear decision and I was very pleased to observe from the remarks we have heard from Deputy Coogan, that although on the Committee Stage we were accused of doing something that was entirely unconstitutional by the introduction of an amendment, although we were denounced by him and some other members of the Party from every angle for the introduction of that amendment, he has now come forward and admitted that since the discussion he has read the decision given by Mr. Justice Overend. I hope that some of those other people who have been talking about this judgment and that some of those leader writers who saw fit to comment on our attitude in this matter, since writing these leaders and making these comments in a public way, have also made up their minds to read that judgment. If they do so, I think whether they be laymen or lawyers they will agree that instead of our doing, as was suggested by some Deputies and by people outside, something contrary to that particular judgment, we are in fact following rigidly along the lines suggested in the High Court decision.
May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if the commissioners will follow any order of priority in undertaking drainage schemes? What I mean is this. If, for instance, a scheme with a novel historical background is put before the commissioners, will that scheme get prior consideration to a scheme which has been brought before the commissioners in comparatively recent years or recent months? Will schemes formulated under the 1924 and 1925 Acts which were not completed because local authorities could not see their way to subsidise these schemes, be given a certain preference over newer schemes?
I do not know any particular drainage district that has not an historical background.
I can give the name of one right off the reel, the Arrow scheme. Its history goes back to the days of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons—back for 60 or 70 years.
As I say, I would be surprised to hear of any drainage scheme that had not a historical background. I know a number of districts about which an agitation has been carried on for years and years, but we have not any fixed notions as to the line on which we shall proceed. The House has some idea, I suppose, from the fact that we have already selected the Brosna and we are at present working on the Glyde and Dee. I think that in the commission's report mention was made of the Brick and Cashen, but I am not repeating that to indicate that that is the order in which we shall travel in the preparation of schemes. As I have told the House already, our activities in that regard will be subject to review annually here. I have no doubt at all that we shall hear then from Deputy Roddy, who will have in mind, and who will be under pressure from his own people in Sligo, some particular district which has, as he says, an historical background. If our selections are not in the from which he thinks fit and proper, we shall get the criticism of this House and the country outside. I am sure that no matter what our choice will prove to be, or in what order we may proceed to select districts, we shall have people saying that we have not taken up the most necessary schemes. I suppose that is to be expected, having regard to the length of time it will take to complete this work and the amount of pressure that will be put on everybody to see that I come before you and that you come before the other fellow. The drainage authority, however, will have to examine every one of these districts from every point of view—the point of view of employment, the point of view of the equipment we may have at our disposal at the time and the point of view of the amount of good that will result from the carrying out of the scheme. These are the considerations that will have to be borne in mind when deciding the order of priority; at least they are all the indications I can give to the House at this stage.
I assume that a scheme such as the one I mentioned, a big scheme embracing three counties, would get preference over much smaller and more recent proposals.
I can see how easy it is to misunderstand the sort of conversation that took place——
These will be carried out first?
Having regard to the interpretation which Deputy Bennett placed on some assurance which he alleges I gave to the House and which I am quite conscious I never gave——
It is on record.
It is not on record. I could not have given it.
On a point of personal explanation, I said that the Parliamentary Secretary had to a certain extent misinterpreted the judgment in the Mulkear case. I have not gone back on the views I already expressed on this Bill. I tried to point out here that the Parliamentary Secretary was sailing pretty close to the wind of unconstitutionality in the Bill and I have no reason to retract these views.