As a result of the acceptance by the House of amendment No. 40, providing that the executive committee shall consist of all the members of the council or body, it will be necessary to recast Sections 16 and 17 and to make consequential amendments to other sections of the Bill, which will be done on Report Stage. On Committee Stage it has been ordered that amendment No. 41, which is an amendment to Section 17, would be taken to-day. In view of the foregoing, I would suggest that this and any other amendments to Sections 16 and 17, which have not yet been considered by the House, would be not moved, and that the House would proceed to Section 18. Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 to Section 18 have been disposed of and, if the House agrees, I will now move amendment No. 49a.
Local Government (County Administration) Bill, 1950—Committee Stage (Resumed).
I move amendment No. 49a:—
In sub-section (4) to delete all words after "elected" in line 11.
This amendment arises because it is proposed to accept amendment No. 61 which deletes sub-section (2) of Section 22. This amendment will delete from Section 18, sub-section (4) the reference to Section 22 (2). The amendment is rendered necessary because of the acceptance of amendment No. 61.
I move amendment No. 52:—
In sub-section (2), line 24, to insert, "if contested", before "be".
This is to provide that in the event of a contest taking place in the election of a sub-committee, proportional representation will operate. The sub-section already provides that the election of an executive sub-committee shall be conducted on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote and the amendment is merely to insert the words "if contested".
I move amendment No. 57:—
In sub-section (8), line 7, to insert "if contested" before "the".
This, in effect, is the same as amendment No. 52. It provides that in the event of a vacancy occurring in a sub-committee, the election to fill the vacancy, if contested, shall be conducted on the proportional representation system.
I move amendment No. 57a:—
In sub-section (4), to delete all words after "committee" in line 24. This amendment arises because it is proposed to accept amendment No. 61 which deletes sub-section (2) of Section 22. It is on the same lines as amendment No. 49a.
I move amendment No. 57b:—
In sub-section (1), to delete paragraphs (i) and (ii), lines 42 and 50, and substitute the following paragraphs:—
(i) if a member or members of the authority is or are present, he or they shall constitute a quorum for the purpose of holding a meeting limited to making the said decision and shall hold such meeting accordingly and, in case one member only is present, he shall be chairman of such meeting,
(ii) if no member of the authority is present, the county officer shall make the said decision as if the making thereof were an executive function delegated to him under Section 33 of this Act.
This amendment is intended to cover amendments Nos. 58 and 60 in the name of Deputy Cowan.
Is the Minister accepting amendment No. 60?
I intended to move amendment No. 60.
It is consequential on amendments Nos. 58 and 59 which have not been moved. Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 were substituted by amendment No. 57b.
I think that is all right.
Is amendment No. 61 being accepted?
Yes. I move amendment No. 61, which stands in the names of Deputies Kyne and McAuliffe:—
To delete sub-section (2).
I move amendment No. 64:—
To delete "1948" and substitute "1950" in line 9, line 10 and line 11.
This is a drafting amendment.
I move amendment No. 65:—
In line 15, after "possession" to add "for non-payment of rent".
The purpose of the amendment is to provide that, where a tenant owes rent, proceedings may be taken against him and possession recovered by order of the county manager, but that, if possession is to be recovered for any purpose other than the non-payment of rent, the council should take the decision. I think the Minister ought to accept the amendment.
It will be found, I think, in many cases that the reason for taking possession would include the non-payment of rent with some other reasons, undesirable ones of one kind or another. The amendment, as I see it, would divide the authority in regard to the doing of that between the local authority on the one hand and the county officer on the other. If this proposal were accepted you might, perhaps, have proceedings taken under two different headings in respect of the one tenant. I just wonder whether it would be desirable to make this subdivision in the functions of the county officer. If he moves to recover possession for the non-payment of rent, and if the proceedings are bracketed with some other reason, such as that the tenant is undesirable or unsuitable, the result will be that you will have two different authorities moving to achieve the same object. The local authority is not required, as stated by the Deputy, to give any reason.
I am not sure as to whether the acceptance of this amendment would not amount to a contravention of the housing code, because at the present time the county manager can move under a certain authority. I am not too sure that there might not be a conflict between two different authorities if the procedure were to be varied in the manner suggested in the amendment. I am just wondering whether there is anything to justify the proposed subdivision of authority between the local authority and the county officer. I am of the opinion that it would be better to leave this matter to the county officer, who will be acting under the control of the council. If that is done, I do not think there need be any fear of any hardship being inflicted on anybody.
I think there is a considerable amount in this amendment, and I am surprised that the Minister should not accept it. If a tenant will not pay rent, and does not pay rent, then clearly that is a function which ought to be exercised quickly by the county officer. There is no great trouble about that, because it simply means authorising the service of notice to quit and the institution of proceedings. The county officer authorises that, and no one can have any complaint. My point is that, where a tenant is put out for any reason other than the non-payment of rent, it is desirable that the matter should be considered by some responsible authority prior to the issue of the notice to quit or the start of proceedings. I think that would be an ideal function for the council to exercise. There are not many of these cases and the less of them we have the better: but, where it is proposed to put a tenant out, the Minister will agree that that is a serious decision to take, that is a decision to put a tenant out of a house for a purpose other than the non-payment of rent. That is so serious that it cannot be dealt with as a matter of routine or a matter of form. It is my opinion that in that type of case, the facts, as they are reported to the county officer, should be brought before the council. If the council considers that the case is one in which proceedings for ejectment should be taken then the proceedings may be taken.
The matter is very important from this point of view, that once proceedings are authorised, and once a decision has been given to institute proceedings, that is the end of the case. The rest is mere formality, because the district justice has no jurisdiction to hear the case on its merits. Once service of the notice to quit has been proved, the district justice must make a decree. That is the law. What I want to ensure is that somebody will consider the case before the extreme step is taken of issuing the notice to quit and instituting proceedings, because I think it is only right that the tenant should have a little protection. If the law were different, and if the district justice had authority to consider the facts and make up his mind as to whether or not he should make the ejectment order, then I would say that the Minister's case against my amendment might be very reasonable. But when that is not the position, I think the Minister should give a little protection to the tenant.
We have in Dublin alone 30,000 people occupying corporation houses. I think that, throughout the country, there are 80,000 or more occupants of labourers' cottages. I do not know what the exact figure is, but it is probably true to say that there must be 150,000 or more houses which are owned by local authorities. Where we have such a big proportion of our population occupying houses owned by local authorities, the decision to evict should be considered a serious one, and not just a routine function exercised by the county officer. I am going to press this amendment because I think it is an important one from the point of view of giving protection to the tenant. There is nothing against it in principle or in theory. I would press the Minister to accept it. I think it is a simple and a reasonable amendment. It is desirable that the protection which I speak of should be given, and that this protection ought to be in the hands of the local authorities.
I entirely agree with the Minister in his attitude towards this amendment. This is one of the many cases where it is so easy to place the members of a local authority in an absolutely impossible position particularly in the matter of making decisions in cases of this kind. Take it that some person who is in the occupation of a cottage dies, having previously taken in some relative whose means may be far higher than those of the original occupant. When the latter dies, every sort of political influence will be brought to bear on the local authority to retain this other person in the cottage, although there is someone waiting for it who deserves it on meritorious grounds, one who would be entitled to it in accordance with the regulations made under the Housing Acts which the Minister himself directs. I myself believe that it would be quite sufficient if the Minister would consider some amendment on the Report Stage under which, before taking action in connection with this particular sub-section, the county officer would be instructed to consult with three members of the local authority or that the local authority might have power to appoint some small group of people to consider these cases. I agree with the Minister that if there is to be any orderly maintenance of the regulations under the Housing Acts the authority would be divided and that the most the Minister can do is to suggest consultation, as he has already done in connection with other functions of the county officer. In other sections of the Act he has provided for consultation or for the laying of the reasons for taking a particular action before the county council. In the case of a great many of these recoveries for possession there is nearly always someone with less means who is trying to get the cottage. There may be hard luck so far as the person is concerned but it may be even harder in the case of someone who is looking for the cottage.
I do not know that there is any serious clash of principle so far as Deputy Cowan's amendment is concerned. My concern is with the most efficacious way of doing the work. The Deputy may be over-influenced by the Dublin aspect of the matter which may be somewhat different from the county council attitude, with which we are dealing here. I think it will be found, on examination, that the record of evictions by all these authorities, so far as their tenants are concerned, is practically negligible. I think it will be found that there are no abuses throughout the country. The matter has been administered very equitably and very fairly. While the function is to be carried out by the county officer, I am perfectly certain that consultation is taking place all the time and that nothing is done in a hasty manner. I can see the anomaly of two authorities against the tenant: the county manager can proceed only in the case of non-payment of rent though there may be other offences against the tenancy regulations. He will be asked whether he is going to go this way or that way. The county officer is concerned with one function and the county council is concerned with the other. You will have to have joint consultation there.
I think that the real trouble which the Deputy has in mind is that they do not have to give the reasons now. If this alteration is going to be made, a reason will definitely have to be given. They will have to say who is proceeding—whether it is the manager under his powers in connection with rent collection or the council under any other section. That would not improve the position of the tenant to any great extent. From my knowledge of county councils throughout the country generally, I believe that the Deputy would be perfectly safe in leaving this matter to the county officer, rather than to subdivide it in the manner suggested. If there were any fear, I should not hesitate to accept the amendment.
It certainly shocked me somewhat that we should discuss efficiency in relation to the very serious matter of putting a person out of his house. That is not a question where efficiency should be the determining factor. It is very interesting nowadays, when we have so many authorities discussing public morality, the rights of the family and of the home and of what the home means, that the Minister should say that it is not as efficient to let the council decide the matter as to give the power to the county manager. I admit that it is not as efficient to run this country by a form of democracy, I suppose, as we could run it if we had promoted some of our people to be dictators. The principle is there. I cannot see why any person should object to the local authority's deciding whether an individual should be put out of a house or not. After all, they are the people with the responsibility. They are the people who are influenced by the public. Notwithstanding what Deputy Childers says, I think it is right that they should be influenced by their responsibilities to the people who elected them and that they will not do anything which is wrong. Under the law as it stands at the moment, the county manager may not like the colour of a tenant's hair or he may not like the colour of that tenant's wife's hair and he can make an order to put the tenant out. Once he does that, the local authority has no say, good, bad or indifferent.
Has he not an appeal to the court?
The district justice has no say. I am glad Deputy Traynor asked me that question because if the court had power to inquire into the reasons, I should be satisfied that there is some protection. Undoubtedly, I am affected by my knowledge of Dublin, but I also read in the local newspapers from time to time of the considerable trouble that arises over orders made by county managers to evict particular persons. I have often been in court, not only in Dublin but in the country too, when the district justice would ask the solicitor representing the local authority for the reason for putting out a particular tenant and the solicitor representing the local authority would say: "I am not instructed to give you any reason. Notice to quit has been served." The district justice has no powers except to grant the order. I think Deputy Traynor would agree that that is not right.
I feel that a court order has to be secured to get recovery of the premises.
Surely the judge will——
The solicitor representing the local authority does not tell him anything. I should not be so keen on this were I not seeing cases of hardship day after day in this connection. I should like Deputy Traynor to come down with me some Friday morning to the District Court in Dublin and see how it works out. He would be amazed. The district justice sits on the bench. A large number of corporation officials are present and there are a lot of unfortunate tenants there, too. One official gets up and he just states a date — say, 8th February. Another official says, say 16th February, and so forth. The justice says: "Decreed." That is the procedure.
And the justice must grant it?
He must grant it, and the Minister knows that. I am trying to get protection for the tenant so that somebody can say that it is not right to put him out.
Surely the solicitor for the council would have to tell the justice the amount owed if it was a case of failure to pay rent.
In actual fact, when it is a case of non-payment of rent he does say that the amount due is £2 or whatever the amount may be.
Then the justice knows what he is making the order for.
If a person owes rent, I do not object. It is right that a decree should be made against a person who owes rent and does not pay it. But in other cases that arise, the solicitor representing the local authority will tell the justice that the justice need not hear the reasons, that they must not be given to him and that he has no jurisdiction except to grant the decree because local authorities are outside the scope of the Rent Acts.
Supposing a county manager considers a particular tenant undesirable he has to state to the justice that that tenant is undesirable?
No, and that is my great trouble; he need not say a thing. Suppose even that a tenant is undesirable, who is to make up his mind about that? Would it not be well if the county manager came to the council with a report on the tenant and the complaints made against him? The councillors would know something of the circumstances and could authorise action to be taken.
It would all depend on the type of undesirability.
I agree. I tried to get some protection into another Act so that the court could hear the facts. I was stymied there and told that it must go into a different Act. I want to get a provision here whereby the decision to get the tenant out would be taken by the county officer in cases of non-payment of rent but that the council should consider cases of undesirability because if the council, a body of responsible people, consider it some protection is given to the tenant.
In this country, which has a very high standard to live up to and which is endeavouring to give a lead in many things to other countries, I do not think our legislation should permit that the tenants of a house, father, mother and family, should be put out of their home by the efficient method of the county manager in the quiet of his office deciding it. I imagined that I would have had the support of the whole House in asking the Minister to consider that aspect between this and the Report Stage. I am quite prepared to withdraw my amendment and I am sure I will have the support of the House in asking the Minister to reconsider this according to the principles that are so often stated on public platforms outside, the principles of Christianity and the rights of the home. If it is considered from that aspect, I think that some little protection will be given to the tenant and that an end will be put to this simple efficient way of letting the county officer put the tenant out although he may be able to put up a reasonable case against it. I would ask the House to consider the matter.
I cannot see the point Deputy Cowan makes. From what I know of local authorities, in many cases where possession is taken of a house for purposes other than the recovery of rent the last people in the world who want publicity are the tenants. The undesirable tenant who has gone down in the world through misfortune or something else and who because he keeps his cottage in an appalling condition has to be got rid of will not want his case discussed. If Deputy Cowan wanted a case where family circumstances are involved considered in a humane way, the best is the method of consultation where the county officer can consult two or three members of the local authority before making a decision.
If we adopt Deputy Cowan's suggestion we must make the absolutely undesirable assumption that there are a great many civil servants and officers of local authorities who do not like the red hair of a tenant. If the State is to succeed we must accept the idea that it is possible to appoint all over the county persons 99.99 per cent. of whom will not be prejudiced against the red hair of individuals. It would be quite impossible to carry on administration if assumptions of that kind were to be made. We would have local T.D.s sitting to consider the decisions of referees in cases where unemployment assistance was granted; we would have the Minister for Defence and members of the Dáil considering the decisions of referees on military pensions; we would have the Oireachtas and local authorities swollen to ten times their number so as to apply Deputy Cowan's ideas to a vast multitude of decisions made by officers, 99.99 per cent. of whom, I venture to say, do not have a prejudice against people's red hair.
I do not think that Deputy Cowan meant that a decision might be made on the colour of somebody's hair. He did not intend to imply that but was, no doubt, emphasising his case. I think if the words which Deputy Cowan proposes were added as an amendment to the section they would have a restrictive effect. If the words "for non-payment of rent" were added after "recovery of possession" you would restrict local authorities to securing possession of their own property for one specific purpose alone. There are other reasons why possession of a house should be secured and we know several. There are tenants in houses in the City of Dublin who are undesirable tenants and the Deputy knows that as well as I do. He knows that he has often been approached about the conduct of a tenant by his neighbours and that particular tenant may have the whole neighbourhood terrorised. That might be one reason why it would be necessary to secure possession of the premises.
We also know that tenants sometimes sublet and that very small houses provided for the family of one decent tenant are overcrowded. We know of one case in my own and Deputy Cowan's constituency where such a small house was sublet with the result that 22 individuals were living in a house intended for only five or six. A tenant of that description would be highly undesirable. I am rather surprised and somewhat shocked to hear that a tenant can be removed in the way Deputy Cowan suggests. I do not doubt that, but I always understood that an ejectment order had to be secured first and that a case had to be made against the tenant in order to secure it. Heretofore, my belief was that the tenant was in some cases over-protected in that respect and that a landlord sometimes found it difficult to secure recovery of his own property.
In the case of the ordinary private landlord that is so, but the same law does not apply to houses owned by the corporation or a local authority.
I think the corporation has done such excellent work that if the position is such as Deputy Cowan has outlined here he has done a public service in drawing attention to it. The corporation and the councils throughout the country are probably the best type of landlord, the type which should be encouraged to add to their property, and if the situation is as has been outlined by Deputy Cowan, the Minister should take serious note of it and, perhaps, suggest some means of providing a remedy.
As I said earlier, I do not believe there is any fundamental clash of principle in this and I do not think the Deputy was warranted in introducing the Christianity and public morality note. The public authority has to carry out its duties in regard to the property held by these tenants and the question is purely one of carrying out those duties efficiently. The Deputy does not exclude the county officer from throwing them out on the road, despite Christianity, if they are unable to pay the rent. Take a case, not where they are unable to pay but where other things can be invoked against them, disorderliness, rowdiness, and so on. These things are just as unfit for public discussion as any of the other private affairs.
I would like to see this function working as smoothly as possible, having regard to what has taken place in the past, and I would ask the Deputy to take his mind away from Dublin, as the records of Dublin are a bad guide to what has happened throughout the country. I have answered a question from Deputy McGrath as to the number of instances when eviction took place over the past two financial years, from corporation tenants, in the four boroughs, and the figures were: Dublin, 12,193; Cork, 183; Waterford, 28, and Limerick, 20. That shows the vast difference between Dublin and other areas. The Dublin Corporation is faced with a teeming metropolitan area. The records indicate there have been a negligible number of evictions and I am pretty sure that in all cases there was consultation between the officers and the local authority beforehand.
In some cases throughout the country where the council tries to operate differential rents there would be difficulty on this point. They are trying to arrange the transfer of sub-tenants from one house to another, according as they find the tenant's financial position improves, and as some are stepping in others are stepping back. These are matters to be dealt with in consultation and I still have a feeling that the matter would be better administered by leaving it to the county officer.
I appreciate the Deputy's keenness in raising this matter. He did so also on the Housing Act and also on a question to myself in July last, when I stated in reply:—
"I am aware that the Rent Restrictions Act, 1946, under which specific grounds must be submitted in court proceedings by the landlord to obtain possession, does not apply to local authority houses. The letting and management of local authority houses are, however, governed by the Housing Acts and statutory regulations made thereunder, and local authorities do not exercise their powers of ejectment in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner. As it may be desirable to consider the position of local authorities in this matter in conjunction with any review of the Rent Restrictions Act, I will have the Deputy's question brought to the notice of the Minister for Justice for consideration by the commission which is to be set up to make recommendations on future policy in relation to the Rent Restrictions Acts."
That has been done, as a matter of fact, and I have submitted that to the Minister for Justice for consideration in connection with the Rent Restrictions Act. As to this question of splitting up tenancy functions between the authority and the county officer for proceedings, so that the county officer could proceed in regard to rent and the council could proceed for other reasons, I wonder if that is going to give the protection which the Deputy seeks rather than make chaos in the working of what is a normal function. The tenants have to respect the regulations and there are a lot of violations which they could make, such as not living in the house, taking in lodgers or sub-tenants, and so on. In those cases they would be proceeded against by the council, but for rent the proceedings would be taken by the county officer. I do not see what great protection there is there. The county officer could come against them for recovery of rent, and the authority could do it for keeping lodgers, or for improper use under the regulations. What is the difference? What protection can they get from one that they have not from the other?
I suggest that the Deputy should let it stand, as the point he is on is a bigger one and is an alteration in the housing code on which the Rent Restrictions Tribunal may have something to say when they come to deal with it. I am not stressing that it is a point of fundamental importance. I do not believe in the points he makes here about high Christian tenets or high morality. It is a matter of efficiency in doing the work and I have not the least fear of undue hardship being inflicted, whether it is the county officer or the county council that is proceeding against him.
Everyone will have some historical recollection of the great fight made here for security of tenure in the past, in other words that a person who pays his rent should not be lightly evicted. We have a whole series of laws granting rights and protection to tenants, but when those laws were introduced we had not so many local authority houses. There were just a small number and they were excluded from the Rent Acts at the time. I do not know the reason, but they were excluded. Now, the new conception in this country for many years is that it is the duty of the State and of local authorities to provide houses for the people. We have certainly more than 100,000 and probably nearer 200,000 tenants of houses owned by local authorities.
I proceed on the assumption that the county officer will be a reasonable individual, but now and again we find some officer who may have views about his responsibility that others might not have. I take it that the sensible officer, before taking proceedings, would consult the council, and I am quite sure that would happen in a number of cases; but I want to put it beyond yea or nay, to say that not only must he consult but that it is the local council which must take the decision, in a case where proceedings are to be brought in court against a tenant for eviction for any reason other than non-payment of rent.
The Minister has agreed that my statement of the law is perfectly correct, that there is no obligation on a local authority to give any reason in court for the proceedings; all they have to prove is that they served notice to quit. I know of a case in which proceedings were taken on a secret report about a family which was proved afterwards to be wrong. Is it not a very serious matter that somebody can send in a secret report about a tenant and a notice to quit is immediately issued? When the tenant goes into court to protest, the justice says: "I am sorry, but I have no power. I must put you out as you have got notice to quit." Afterwards it was discovered that that was a false and malicious report sent in privately. You cannot send that sort of false and malicious report to all the members of a local authority because somebody would know something about the facts or might try to find out something about the facts. It is wrong that this matter should be taken lightly. It is a serious responsibility on a local authority to decide whether they should put a person out or not. In matters other than payment of rent the council should take the decision.
The Minister stated that some question as to the suitability of a tenant might be unfitted for public discussion. That is a serious matter. In other words, you can have some undercurrent, some secret suggestion made about a person's character and, on that particular matter, the county officer might order notice to quit to be served. I think that that is a right type of case for discussion by the local councillors who would have some knowledge of the facts and circumstances and who would take a reasonably fair decision in the matter. The Minister says that local authorities do not act unfairly—what the Minister means is that the county managers have not acted unfairly—and that the decision to eject has been their function for many years. Even if there have not been many cases of ejectment, there have been some.
I remember that about a year ago in the County Meath there was a great "to-do" in the local Press about a case brought against an individual. A decree was given and the justice stated in open court that, if he had the power, he would not have granted a decree on hearing the facts of the case and pressure had to be brought to bear on the Minister by Deputies to get the county manager not to execute the decree. If the local authority had considered that case in the first instance, they would not have authorised the proceedings and we would not have had all that "to-do" that we had in the Press about it.
The Minister should accept the very fair offer I have made to him to agree to consider this whole matter between this and the Report Stage. I am not tied to the form of words I have put down in the amendment. I am quite prepared to be reasonable with the Minister in regard to it and it may be that, on consideration, he may agree to an amendment that will give the sort of protection I have in mind and the House then will be unanimous in agreeing to that amendment.
I think I should follow the suggestion made by Deputy Childers to bring in the consultation issue in an amendment on the Report Stage; that is, to secure consultation between the county officer and the elected body. I think that is the point the Deputy has in mind—that no decision should be taken until after such consultation has taken place.
That would go some distance.
I have come in late on this issue, but I think we ought to bear in mind why it has been necessary to give these powers in matters of summary ejectment. A number of years ago, before the Dublin Corporation had taken over some of the townships here, there were organised strikes of rent-paying tenants and there have been similar occurrences elsewhere. In addition to that, there have been tenants who have violated the regulation which prohibits tenants of subsidised houses from using these houses for business purposes. There have been, of course, other even more undesirable cases which had to be dealt with in a rather summary way.
Deputy Cowan has based his amendment and his whole justification for it upon facts which are known personally to himself but which he has not divulged to the House. I have never known, and I think that when I was Minister I should have known, of any case where a tenant was unjustly ejected. If a person had been ejected in circumstances which were not justifiable, I am perfectly certain I would have heard of it, because any Minister in charge of any Department or any public service, if anything is done which is unjust, would be immediately made aware of it. I do not remember any case where a person was unjustly ejected.
I think, therefore, that we ought to be very slow to give effect to the proposal contained in Deputy Cowan's amendment, because, after all, it would be quite easy for a member of a local authority who was looking for publicity, as some have been known to do in order to advance their political careers elsewhere, to raise a case in a public way perhaps without even the consent of the person principally concerned. He might raise it to the prejudice of the person primarily involved by pretending to raise it in that person's interest and a very undesirable exposure of unsavoury factors and circumstances might occur.
Deputy Cowan says that there are now almost 200,000 tenants of public authorities of one kind or another. If that property is to be properly managed in the interests of the ratepayers, so far as possible the administration and management of that property must be removed from the political arena. None of us is going to deceive himself for a moment into believing that politics do not enter into local administration, particularly in the public proceedings of local authorities. Therefore, it is quite possible that we could have a political issue made of a case which was wholly a question of good management and of nothing else. For that reason I felt that, on the section in the Bill as it originally stood, this amendment was a practical one. I do not think now it would be a matter of accepting this amendment because, except for the non-recovery of rent, every other issue relating to ejectment proceedings can be raised in public at the meeting of the public body, which happens to be the housing authority concerned. We could have questions raised as to whether a house was being conducted in an undesirable manner, whether, in fact, it was being run as a brothel. I do not think any of us would want that sort of thing to be discussed in public. It would not do any good to the people concerned and it would not do any good to the public.
If Deputy Cowan's amendment were accepted and if a house were being run as a disorderly house the management could not take proceedings for ejectment in the way in which proceedings can be taken at the moment. Again, if a house were run as a business premises, and I do not think any house which is subsidised by the ratepayers should be run for business purposes, the same question would arise, and ultimately we get down to the fact that if there is an owner or occupant of a disorderly house with sufficient political pull he will not be ejected; if there was a tenant who had sufficient political pull running a house for business purposes he would not be ejected. Where then would this extension of exemption end? Ultimately, of course, we would have isolated this one question of ejectment for non-payment of rent and in time all attention would be focussed on that. But ultimately even that power would be taken from the management and we would revert to the position, which obtained here some years ago, where public property, subsidised houses built at the expense of the ratepayers, were not being managed in a proper and efficient way.
We may make up our minds to-day that it will not be possible for us to solve the housing problem unless the administration of municipal property is fairly rigid and unless it is absolutely impersonal because the burdens already imposed on the community are very heavy; unless these burdens are reduced to the lowest possible minimum by good management, impersonal management and impartial management without any political interference it will not be possible for us to continue on the lines we have embarked upon. Apart from that, I do not think there is any real necessity for this amendment if the purpose is to ensure that the elected body will be aware of what it is proposed to do.
The county officer, as he is now called, cannot proceed to eject summarily. He must go to the courts and get an ejectment order and he must, of course, serve due notice on the tenant concerned that he proposes to look for such an order. Those of us who have the experience know that, if such a notice is served upon a tenant informing him that the county officer proposes to seek an ejectment order against him, that tenant will be off hotfoot to his county councillor, or his urban district councillor, or his city councillor, as the case may be, to get him to intervene with the manager or county officer in order to ensure that these ejectment proceedings will not take place. I am perfectly certain that the manager or county officer will listen to any representations made to him in relation to a matter of this kind and if there are circumstances which would justify him in holding his hand I know of no county officer who would proceed to act in complete disregard of such representations made to him in a private capacity by a member of the council.
If, however, the county officer felt that he should disregard the representations made to him, then the county councillor concerned can have recourse to Section 45. I will grant that Section 45 does not carry him the whole way but at least the county officer is bound when a request is made by the council of the county, or elected body or executive authority or by the chairman of such council, body or authority to give such information, advice or assistance on request either of the council of the county, the elected body, the executive authority or the chairman of any one of such bodies. If the county officer is inclined to disregard the representations made to him by a member of the elected body, that member can then go to his chairman and ask him to give him information in relation to the particular matter and will be able to procure such information as I think should satisfy him. If he is not able to persuade the chairman of his elected body or the chairman of his council, to put it in that comprehensive way, that there is good ground for demanding this information any more than he was able to persuade the county officer, then the member of the council involved can go to the county council and can put down a motion for the purpose of securing this information and for the purpose of ventilating whatever other grievances he may have in relation to this particular act of the county officer.
I think it is undesirable that we should intensify the political factor in so far as it exists at present in relation to the management of public properties. I think it is undesirable for that reason that we should limit the power and ability of the county officer to administer the housing properties of the corporation on an impersonal, impartial, and non-political basis. I think it is undesirable that we should limit it by an amendment of this sort, apart altogether from the fact that it is obviously undesirable that certain questions should be raised and debated in public in the way in which they could be raised and would be debated if Deputy Cowan's amendment were accepted. In fact, ultimately this amendment is unnecessary since if there were cases of obvious injustice any member of the elected body who was sufficiently concerned to have such matters publicity ventilated could do so by availing of the facilities afforded to him under Section 45. On those grounds I think Deputy Cowan's amendment should not be accepted.
I am not familiar with the practice in the country from the point of view of what Deputy MacEntee refers to as the publicity end. In Dublin these matters are done by a committee of the corporation and there is no publicity in relation to the matters discussed at such committees. The Press are present. When the meeting is over the responsible officer, either the principal housing officer or the housing director, gives a statement to the Press as to the work done. He does not get down to details, and there is no question of publicity arising there. Regulations laid down under the Housing Acts say that the premises must not be used for business purposes. That is where the difficulty arises. The county officer may have a different conception, a different interpretation from what reasonable councillors might have in regard to that.
I did not want to give examples when Deputy MacEntee asked me. I did give examples in a previous debate. However, I have in mind one instance, a very recent one, of a corporation tenant. He was out of work; he was not anxious to draw unemployment assistance or home assistance, and he decided to sell sweets in small packets for a penny. He and his wife made up the packets. In other words, he went to the factories and bought a couple of boxes of sweets, brought them home and he and his wife put them into paper packets. He then took them out in a basket and met the children going to school at 8.30 or 9 o'clock in the morning. He did the same in the middle of the day and also in the evening.
He worked a hard day. He did nothing in the house beyond himself and his wife taking the sweets out of the boxes and putting them into paper packets. That was held to be using his house for business purposes. A notice to quit was served on him and a decree for possession was given against him in the court. I do not think even Deputy MacEntee would say that that was using his house for business purposes. That is the difficulty.
It depends on the turnover, on all sorts of things. If it meant only a couple of packets, nobody would mind.
As I have indicated, he was merely selling sweets in 1d. packets out of a basket outside one of the big schools in Dublin. That is the sort of thing I do not like to see happening. There should be something to prevent that happening. That was a reasonable interpretation, anyway, that he was using his house for business purposes. He had no defence in court. He could say nothing. That was not even explained to the justice. All that he was told was that notice to quit was served and he must give a decree.
I have another case in mind. In this case the person has a toy dog, one of those small dogs. Keeping a dog of that sort is contrary to some regulations. You are not to have live stock on your premises. The person is told to get rid of this little dog and he does not do so. Notice to quit is served and a decree for possession of the premises given. Surely, that is not right?
We are inclined to think that the issuing of a notice to quit does not affect people. It does. Take a decent person who has never been to court, who knows nothing about the machinery of a corporation or a county council. He gets a notice to quit in the form in which these notices are issued. I have known people to come running down immediately, crying out about the terrible way they were going to be thrown out at once, that they have only seven days to get out of the house and where were they going to go.
I think it is not right that people should be shocked in that way. They go to court and the justice grants a decree. I would infer from what Deputy MacEntee has said that after that there is an approach made to local councillors and they endeavour to stave off eviction. Nevertheless, there is something given in the way of costs and possibly 10/- would be added to the summons. That is not necessary. There should be some consideration of the facts of the case before the notice to quit is served. If that were done, I would be quite satisfied.
I would be satisfied so long as the decision to issue the notice to quit is not made by a man who is very busy in his office. A recommendation comes in from a rent collector to issue a notice to quit against a person. This is signed as a matter of form. I do not think the decision to evict or to serve notice to quit should be taken as a matter of form, particularly as the tenant has no right to put up a defence in court. If he had a right to put up a defence, the position would be different; he could fight his case. But he has no right. Therefore, this decision to issue the notice to quit on any grounds other than the non-payment of rent should be taken only after mature consideration.
I could give several examples, but I do not want to give them. I have them, and it is because of the examples I have that my mind has been directed towards the possibilities and, in fact, to the actual injustices that have occurred. The Minister has indicated that he is prepared to consider this aspect. If he is prepared, I am quite sure that, having heard the arguments put forward here, he will come to the conclusion that it is only right that these matters should be considered by the local council.
The local council might probably decide that in these matters they would go into committee. That would be a matter for themselves. They might decide to discuss it in private instead of having it open to the Press. They can do that; we do it in Dublin and I think it is a very satisfactory way of doing it. I am sure they do it in other places, too. There might probably be a suggestion that, in dealing with tenancy functions or other matters, they might prefer to decide these matters in committee. However, that is entirely a matter for themselves.
I do not think there is any great danger of anyone making a terrific lot of political capital for himself out of it. It may be done. After all, publicity is the life-blood of politicians and somebody may make publicity out of that.
I find that cases such as these cause an awful lot of trouble and take up a great deal of the time of local councillors. If local councils had some say in the decision, they would be able to explain, and say: "The matter came up for consideration and it was decided by the majority and there is nothing that I can say in regard to it."
I hope the Minister will very carefully consider the administrative implication which would be created by the position we are now going to be placed in. According to Deputy Cowan, we have 200,000 houses here——
I am not sure of the figure.
Well, we have more or less that figure under the control of local authorities. If a gentleman decides that in order to benefit himself he will break a regulation, and if the county officer then decides that the regulations are made to be kept and not broken, we are going to have a solemn committee of the council called to consider this particular case. One fellow will get away with it and immediately he does there will be ten others to imitate him, and ultimately the whole thing will simply accumulate and it will be quite impossible to manage the municipal problems.
Deputy Cowan has quoted what appears to be a very pathetic case but, as a lawyer, he knows that hard cases make bad law. He mentions the case of this gentleman selling his pathetic penny packets of sweets. In what different position is he from the good-natured man who will get a few dozen stout in on Saturday night in order to oblige his neighbours on Sunday morning?
One is breaking the law and the other is not.
How are we going to discriminate between them? They are both trying to do it. Both of them are in very impoverished circumstances. Both of them are out of work. What are you going to do? If one gentleman is entitled to buy chocolates and engage in the packing business in a subsidised house, are you going to say a fellow is entitled to buy a few dozen of stout and charge 1d. or 2d. for the use of the tumbler on Sunday morning? Once you allow this regulation to be infringed in any way you may as well decide to abandon the restriction altogether.
I do not know about the hypothetical case, but having regard to the fact that he was a pedigree pup, perhaps the house was being run as a nursery for household pets. It is impossible to believe that a single dog would be the occasion for evicting a man from his house. If the Deputy had time to go out to Kimmage, or Crumlin or to any other residential districts around Dublin he would see hundreds of dogs running around, domestic pets. Neither county manager nor anybody proposes to evict the owners of these domestic pets merely because the people keep them as domestic pets. I think it is very unfair to use that pup as an excuse for "selling a pup" to the Minister for Local Government.
When you come to look into this matter, I hope you will find that there is a great deal to be said for adhering to the section as originally drafted. Nobody wants to be harsh, but we cannot overlook the fact that the amount of public property which is now being administered by public authorities of one sort or another is so great that you have to administer it in the most impersonal way if you want the system to continue and if you want to provide all our people with decent houses. Perhaps, the Minister could bring in an amendment about domestic dogs.
I appreciate the persistence of Deputy Cowan in trying to get his point across. I have given effect in amendment No. 78 to something that I am prepared to bring in. In amendment No. 78 I am arranging, in regard to the selection of tenants, for consultation between the manager and the county council. In this case I would be prepared to bring in some form of words on the Report Stage.
I mentioned earlier that there were very few cases of hardship that I know of. One of the biggest cases of hardship that I have known under the Management Act was for the non-payment of rent. The county manager put the people out for non-payment of rent and they spent weeks and weeks in a stable.
Again, I would say that Deputy Cowan's remarks have been coloured all the time by Dublin. He cannot escape from Dublin but the Dublin environment is very remote from what is in this Bill. However, I would still like to adhere to my own view, but I think I can intermingle both by getting a form of words on Report Stage that would secure consultation before action is taken by the officer.
I am prepared to see what the Minister brings in. I am sure he will satisfy me.
I move amendment No. 66:—
In line 18, to delete "fixing, revision and".
As it stands at present, the tenancy function of the council which would be exercised by the county officer includes the fixing, revision and recovery of rent. I think that it ought to be a function of the county officer that he would recover the rent, but the fixing of the rent and the revision of the rent are matters that should be decided by the council and not by the county officer. I think that is the practice at the moment—the decision to fix the rent is taken by the council, probably on the recommendation of the county manager or county officer. In all cases that I know of the decision to fix the rent is now taken by the council. Decisions to revise the rent are taken by the authority of the council. It would be a very unwise procedure to leave the county manager to fix rents and to revise rents. I would ask the Minister to accept that amendment.
The object of this amendment is apparently to alter paragraph (f)——
——of Section 25 to read, "The recovery of rent" only. I really do not see what is the particular point that the Deputy has in mind. There will be plenty of supervision. If the officer should ever attempt to make a general increase of the rents he will have the whole council to deal with and that will not happen without plenty of discussion. I do not see that there is anything very much in the point the Deputy is making. I think the matter is fairly safe.
I do not know whether Deputy Cowan has adverted to this matter, but if it were decided that the local authority should be given power to introduce and operate the differential rent system I do not see how it would be possible to operate the differential rent system if you deprive the county officer of the power to revise rents. Rents will fluctuate with the income of the family concerned. If there is going to be a meeting of the council, I do not see how it would be possible to work the differential rent system. So far as the fixing of the rent is concerned that is going to be very largely automatic.
The rents of the houses are fixed, in the first instance, when three things are determined: the amount of the grant the Minister is going to give; the amount of subsidy which the ratepayers are to be asked to provide and the amount of rent which the tenants are going to be required to pay. The question of fixing, to my mind, would appear to be merely a collation of these three factors in order to arrive at the amount of rent which the tenants will pay. It would impose an unnecessary burden upon the council. They really have no option as between the Minister, on the one hand, and the tenant, on the other. I assume that no council would fix, or try to fix, a rent unnecessarily low and I assume that no manager would either, that he would have to have regard to the grant he is going to obtain from the Minister or from the development fund in order to enable the amount to be contributed by the local authority and the rent to be paid by the tenant to be fixed at what would be a reasonable amount.
I do not think there is much to be gained by adopting Deputy Cowan's amendment. I think it would make it unnecessarily difficult to give effect to differential renting. So far as the fixing of the rent is concerned, it is something which is done, in the first instance, by the council when the whole scheme is under consideration. It may happen that these rents might afterwards have to be revised, downwards or upwards, and I assume that the manager in that case would make his proposals fixing the rent and would then have to go to his council and persuade them, if he had revised them downwards, to make a greater contribution and, if he had revised them upwards, that he was not being unjust to the tenants. I do not think there is really very much in the point. The real point is that it is better that the manager should have the power of decision at the outset and then allow these matters to be reviewed later, if the need for review arises.
Do I take it that the county officer will consult, as heretofore the managers consulted, the councils in the fixing of rents? According to the Minister's statement, he may do so.
He will do it.
The position up to this is that he did, but I cannot see anything against the managerial system, so far as this is concerned, because the managers with whom I have dealt have always consulted with us in the fixing of rents and have been more or less guided by whatever recommendations my council made.
The elected body fixes the general rent scheme, whether it is differential, graded or otherwise. That is fixed by the general body. It is part of the original financing of the scheme, and whatever revision would have to take place, the principle has been set down by the elected representatives. It is fixed by them as a body.
When I put down these amendments, I was actuated by one principle and these amendments all follow that principle. I wanted to carry out the promise which I made that I would endeavour to restore to local authorities powers of which they were deprived under the County Management Acts. That is the principle underlying most of my amendments. In the previous amendment, I wanted to give them power to decide with regard to recovery of possession. Now I want to give them power to fix rents. One of the Minister's responsibilities is to endeavour to restore powers to local authorities. I want to give them these powers and the local authorities are guided in the same way as the manager is by statutory regulations and statutory rules, so that, as Deputy MacEntee says, the fixing of rents is almost automatic. The principle, however, is there: is the local authority to have the power or is the manager to have it?
Under this measure we are discussing, it is a managerial function and up to the present county managers, in the great majority of cases, have consulted with their councils, but it is a definite managerial function now to fix rents. I say that that should be done by the council, that they should fix the rent. I do not see any difficulty about a differential rent because if a tenant goes in on a differential rent, he goes in on a rent which is so much, if his income is so much and so much less if his income diminishes. In other words, he is in on a differential rent which depends on his income and which goes up or down. Speaking again from my experience in Dublin, the council always fix the rents. The city manager comes before us and works out the whole thing. We take the decision that the rent is to be so much, and that is that.
I cannot see why it cannot be done by the county councils and I think it is the responsibility of the county councils. If the Minister is anxious to fall in with the principles outlined in the Bill of restoring the powers to local authorities, he should agree to restore this power. Where a rent has been fixed and has not been paid, I agree that the manager should go to court and take proceedings for its recovery. That is a proper function to be exercised by an executive officer or county officer, but I think that, within the scope and intention and principle of this Bill, the fixing of the rents should be done by the local authority and not by the county officer.
The trouble with Deputy Cowan and a number of other people in this House is that they are doing their utmost to make civil servants of members of the local authority, because, if all the amendments proposed by Deputy Cowan, including this amendment, were to be adopted, that is what members of local authorities would become—civil servants, administrators. I think that sub-paragraph (f) of Section 25 is a little vague in that it might give one to imagine that a county council did not have the general power of prescribing the type of rent to be fixed for a group of houses, but I take it that the Minister is referring in that sub-paragraph to the fixing of the rent of a particular cottage or the rents of a group of cottages for any reason that might be desirable after the general scheme had been prepared. Therefore, the council have the power, having regard to the amount given to them by way of grant and having regard to the cost of the houses, to prescribe the general scheme. I believe that if this power were made an executive function, executive committees would sometimes be discussing for hours the question of the revision of a particular rent.
One of the things which must strike the Minister and which he must face realistically is the fact that there is a vast number of rents of cottages that are hopelessly out of date, having regard to the present value of money and the present level of wages. When I was Parliamentary Secretary, as far as I remember, the average rent of the cottages that had been built up to the war was something like 1/10 a week, and at the present time there is a very large number of people who may be still drawing what would be considered inadequate wages from the point of view of the millennium but whose wages do permit of a slightly higher payment than that when a cottage becomes vacant. But, there again, this question of politics is bound to enter into any discussion of that kind. If discussion takes place in public over the revision of cottages that become vacant, into which will be put people who are earning far higher incomes than was the case when the rent of the cottage was originally fixed, you get this undesirable kind of discussion, and the only result of it is that, unless the rents of the cottages are increased, it will be still more difficult to provide cottages for other people who need them with the greatest possible subsidy attached to them. One person is getting a privilege at the expense of another of what might be described as the under-privileged community.
I think the Minister is perfectly right in deciding that, subject to consultation with the council, this should be an executive function.
I am rather surprised by one statement of Deputy Cowan, which he gave as the fundamental all his various amendments. I, too, am striving, throughout this Bill, to restore power from the county officer, as he will be, to the elected representatives, but I do not think that the correct way of doing that is to nibble at whatever are considered to be the essential functions of an officer. Whatever council we may have, no matter how democratic it may be, they will have to have some officer functioning. If, in this Bill, we are giving back to the elected representatives all the executive powers exercised by the manager, these representatives, in order to function successfully and efficiently, must have an officer. He must have some clearly defined functions to carry out and, in this Bill, it has been set down that the council will give him the employment, tenancy and individual health functions. I do not think that it is in the interests of the Bill or of the councils to strike at him for the sake of pinching something from him and having him stripped and left unarmed. I want an efficient officer there. I have not the least doubt or suspicion about the men who are there at the present time. It is the principle we are trying to alter. I am perfectly satisfied that the men who will be there as county officers will carry out the limited duties left under their control, particularly with all the restrictions set down in the various terms of this Bill.
If Deputy Cowan had said that he was looking for "revision" to be handed back, I would have admired it much more if he had not given that qualification—that it was simply for the sake of taking it from somebody and giving it to somebody else. I want these functions—the tenancy functions, the health functions and the employment functions—left with him. If it requires any dressing up, to try to improve it in the mind of the House, I am not objecting to it, but I would not like to approach it from the point of view that we want to take it simply for the sake of taking something from him. I want him efficiently working for the council. If there is any suggestion made in regard to the proposals (e), (f), (g), I am prepared to consider it reasonably, but not from that particular viewpoint or angle.
I do not think there is anything serious in the question of having the rents fixed as suggested here. The rents eventually must be sanctioned by the Minister and, as I have explained already, in a scheme of houses being prepared, the rents must be fixed as part and parcel of the functions in connection with that scheme by the county officer and the council themselves and sanctioned by the Minister. There will be differentiations, according to the differential system. There will be an adjustment by the officer on the lines and principles set down to guide him in particular cases, but he will not in effect be fixing rents; he will be doing only what has been done already and it will be on the well-ordered lines and basis laid down by the people who are his council.
I have not any very hard and fast ideas about this matter. I am not adamant about it. If the amendment were accepted the Bill would not fall down in a heap, but I do suggest that it is much better to have it as it is— the revision and recovery of rent to be done by one officer, having fixed them already by general consent of the council and the body elected. If the House were inclined to insist on it, I am not adamant about it. I think it is better as it is and will make for better working of the council and for the efficiency of the council as a whole.
I would like the Minister to make one thing clear, because I cannot find it in the Bill. I take the view that, so far as the fixing of rents in individual cases is concerned, I do not want to have anything to do with it at all, but I want to be quite clear that it is the local authority, and only the local authority, that fixes, not merely in the initial instance when the scheme is built, but all through the scheme of rents—in other words, the general policy of rents. It might be that at the beginning of a scheme the system of differential rents was not tried and that later the council wanted to introduce a system of differential rents. I want to be quite sure that it is the council, and not the officer, that takes that policy decision. I want to be quite sure, if the local authority decides that one-eighth, or one-ninth or one-tenth of the income coming into a house should be the rent, under a differential system, that it is the county council or the other local authority that decides the proportion. As to whether people fall into a category or not, that is a matter of pure executive administration which I am quite happy should be with the county officer, but I cannot find in the Bill where the provision is that the scheme will be fixed by the local authority as apart from the officer. I would like the Minister to give me some enlightenment. Unfortunately, I was not able to intervene at an earlier stage.
The council, with the consent of the Minister, are the people who will fix these rents. That is clear. In the original instance, when rents are being fixed, it is the council, with the consent of the Minister, that will have to fix them. The other revisions that will take place of a minor character, that have been referred to——
Is it the council that makes the revision of any scheme that is adopted at the time of the building?
As long as that is so, I am quite happy.
Yes, on this scheme.
I would ask the Minister to take this amendment and put it right because the tenancy functions are set out in this section and the tenancy functions include the fixing and revision of rent. Deputy Childers said something that I had in mind at the time that I put down the amendment. There is a number of cottages throughout the country and the rents are fixed at a very old figure, something between one shilling and two shillings and, under this section, the county officer could decide that these rents were too low and could increase them to 2/6. I am quite sure that no Deputy, certainly no Deputy of the Labour Party, would agree to the county officer having the power to increase rents.
Vacant cottages I am talking of, from which a tenant departs before a new one comes in.
But, under this, the county officer may increase the rent of those old cottages, the rent of which is 1/6 and 1/10. He could say that they are too low and could increase them to 2/6. He can do that under the power given him there. The local authority may disagree with that, but they cannot do very much about it, and under Section 45, which has already been mentioned, all the county council can require the county officer to do, in regard to tenancy functions, is to give them records. He is bound to give information, and information is defined in regard to tenancy functions as records relating to tenancy functions. I do not want to go into that, but I do think that it should be made clear that in fixing a general rent for a scheme, it is the local authority who do it. In other words, they fix the rent for the scheme and, if these rents of the future are to be increased or reduced, that can be done only by the local council and not as an executive function of the county officer. That is why I am pressing this amendment. If the Minister is prepared to consider it and if he can suggest a form of words that will clear the point that has been already mentioned, I shall be perfectly satisfied. Let the council have the power to fix the rent in principle as it were. I do not mind what the county officer does afterwards in regard to individual tenants, within those limitations.
Does the Deputy want me to put the amendment?
Will the Minister consider it?
Rather than have so many amendments on the Report Stage, I would prefer to accept the amendment. I am not vitally concerned with the question as to whether or not this provision is deleted. I am prepared to accept the amendment rather than be put to the necessity of bringing in a further amendment on the Report Stage about it. I believe myself that it would be more effective as it is. I think there is not any great principle involved in it although the Deputy seems to think there is. I shall accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 67:—
To delete paragraph (g), lines 19 and 20.
The same point arises here, that where it is a matter of the enforcement or waiver of covenants or conditions, that should be a question for the council and not for the county officer. I take it that the general covenants will be decided by the council at the time the scheme is approved. I feel if there is to be any question of waiving these covenants or conditions, the county officer should report to the local council and the local council should decide what is to be done.
I think it is more appropriate that these functions should be carried out by the county officer. Various points will arise in connection with the waiving of covenants. Take the case of covenants under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts. As a condition of receiving assistance under these Acts, a man has to live in the house. He may be called away, perhaps, to attend to a job elsewhere and he will have to live somewhere else for a couple of months. If he is not going to annul his covenant with the council, he must have some agreement or adjustments so that when he comes back his position will be all right. That is a common occurrence. Why should the council have to be called together to deal with a matter of that kind, if we have any confidence in the chief officer at all? Whatever may be said about the Deputy's other amendments, I suggest there is no justification for this amendment at all. Really, this is a function that can best be performed by an individual. It is not a matter in which the elected representatives would be concerned. I think the Deputy might withdraw this amendment.
I am prepared to withdraw it.
I am surprised to hear the Deputy say so. I thought there was a point for consideration in the amendment as a whole, and I certainly did think there was a point in asking that the power of waiver should be confined to the elected body. Once the covenants have been agreed upon and the conditions determined, the enforcement of them might properly lie with the county officer, but the question of waiver is a rather different matter. After all, there might be quite other aspects of the matter. For instance, there is the regulation which we have been discussing that a house cannot be used for business purposes. Is it going to be open to the county officer to waive that condition? I know it is a regulation, a condition of the tenancy, but if the county officer were to waive that condition, would the waiver stand, and would it, so to speak, override the regulations? I think the Minister ought to give some consideration to the Deputy's amendment and that Deputy Cowan has run away quite too speedily from his amendment. He had a point, I think, in asking that the waiver of the covenant or conditions should be a function of the local authority. I am surprised that a Deputy who had been fighting all through the Committee Stage of the Bill to assert the powers of the local authorities should be content in a matter of this sort to leave the local authority entirely subordinate to the county officer.
I move amendment No. 68:—
To delete paragraph (h), line 21.
Before the section is put, would the Minister be good enough to tell us what is going to be the effect of the acceptance of amendment No. 68? Does it mean that in each particular case the allotment of a cottage will be a matter for the local authority or does it——
The sale of it.
I am quite satisfied. "Disposal" is a rather comprehensive term.
I think that we might take amendments Nos. 69 and 70 together. I move amendment No. 69:—
In sub-section (1), paragraph (a), to delete all words after "service" in line 27 to the end of the paragraph.
We on this side of the House are very strongly opposed to the proposal that the granting or withholding of public assistance should be a matter for decision by local authorities. We are opposed to it because we believe that it strikes absolutely at the heart of democracy, that, having regard to the acknowledged weakness of human nature, the only way of preserving honest democracy and preventing undue pressure being brought upon public representatives who, like all of us, have the ordinary weaknesses of human nature; that the only way to avoid the bringing of undue pressure upon them is by placing matters of administration in regard to the granting or withholding of assistance given from voted money in the hands of administrators—of civil servants. They should have the power, whether in the case of the central authority or of a local authority, of deciding whether a particular individual should be granted public assistance. There should be ample opportunity for consultation and ample opportunity for questioning the right of a person, or the desirability of a person, to have assistance, but the general conduct of the business should be in the hands of officials.
I am quite prepared to go at very great length into this subject in order to try and persuade a majority in this House of the desirability of accepting this amendment. There is no use pretending, in connection with this argument, that the members of local authorities are beyond temptation or beyond being moved by political pressure. That is not to say that they are dishonest or corrupt. It is to say that it is extremely difficult for an individual on a public authority to make a decision of the kind, particularly if he is pressed by friends or relatives in the area, and particularly, in some cases, if he has a wrong sense of judgment himself in regard to a particular case. We have seen in this country a number of local authorities operating for years in which, as a result of the control of public assistance by the old health boards, large numbers of persons were receiving small sums weekly such as 2/6 or 5/-. When, under the County Management Act, the county manager took control of the granting of public assistance, a great many of those grants were stopped and, with few exceptions, when they were stopped, there were very few protests of any kind, either from the persons concerned or by the members of local authorities in the Dáil who had voted against the County Management Act.
I do not intend to go into detail in regard to that, but I hope there will be people present here to-day who will give detailed descriptions of what took place. I could refer at length to the practice as it obtained in the County Dublin area and to the reductions in the rates which were effected when the public assistance became controlled by a public administrator. I could refer to the almost complete absence of criticism even by councillors such as representatives of the Labour Party, a Party which has made, so to speak, a speciality of trying to influence grants, of trying to bring pressure to bear to have public assistance granted.
The world has changed a great deal in the last 20 years in regard to the awarding of all social services. Public assistance is no longer an almost isolated form of social assistance; it is no longer the only means by which a person in distress can be succoured. There has grown up a vast array of laws designed to protect the unfortunate. There has been the development of unemployment insurance, unemployment assistance, national health insurance, children's allowances and so forth, and it has been found that, in the case of every one of these, it is necessary and desirable to have a permanent body of administrative officials to decide whether people should or should not be granted those services. In the case, for example, of unemployment assistance, the administration in regard to the withholding or granting of it is conducted by officials appointed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce or, now, by the Minister for Social Welfare. The applicant has an ultimate appeal to the referee who is appointed for a period, and who can only be dismissed under certain conditions. He is not subject to pressure by the Dáil or by the members of local authorities or by any other representatives. The referee gives his final decision as to whether a person should receive unemployment assistance, and there is no appeal from him to the Minister. The person concerned, if he feels aggrieved, can write to a member of the Dáil or to the Minister. The Minister can then send for the papers and find out whether there was any sort of administrative flaw in the conduct of the whole business up to the time that the referee made his decision. The Minister can then write to a Deputy and say: "Well, it looks as though it might be wise for this person to reopen the case later, but I cannot interfere with the decision because the referee has made it."
I should like to hear the Minister give good, succinct reasons as to why there should be a difference in the administration of home assistance as compared to the administration of unemployment assistance. In the case of unemployment assistance, the referee is the ultimate arbiter and not the Minister, not a Deputy and not a member of a local authority. In the case of home assistance, the county officer is, like the referee, the ultimate arbiter in the making of a decision, but in this case there is nothing to prevent consultation with a group of local representatives, so that in one sense the person who applies for home assistance is going to have more protection in regard to the examination of his case than a person who applies for unemployment assistance because, as I have said, in the case of unemployment assistance, the officials carry out the whole business, with the exception of the referee, and at no time can a member of a local authority or a Deputy interfere with the decision in the case.
In the case of an applicant for home assistance, there is no question but that, if necessary, the county councils can give their advice to the county officer. So far as I know, there are a number of councils already which have home assistance committees. I know at least of one council which has a home assistance committee which discusses these matters with the county manager. It does not matter what form of social service one is considering, the rule has grown up in this State that it should be a matter for permanent officials, and that, if there is an appeal, it should be to a person who is not amenable to political influence, such as a referee, in connection with the withholding or granting of widows' and orphans' pensions, or such as deciding officers in the case of old age pensions. In connection with the latter, I sincerely hope that the Minister for Social Welfare has maintained the principle which certainly was in operation when I was in charge of old age pensions for a short time, namely that the deciding officers have practically the powers of judges, and that the Minister very rarely interferes in regard to the final award of an old age pension.
In regard to national health insurance, the same thing holds good. There is practically no power by which a member of the Dáil can grant or withhold national health insurance to an individual. The object is evident for all to see. It is to prevent the members of local authorities, or members of the Dáil, having to decide the awarding of moneys in individual cases. It is most highly undesirable that they should do so. I can see no more reason for giving local authorities the power to grant or withhold public assistance than for giving the members of the Dáil power to grant or withhold military pensions or unemployment insurance. On the precedent proposed by the Minister, we can have the Dáil become a talking shop in which the granting of sums of moneys to individuals can become a matter of political debate. A great many democracies have disappeared from this earth because of undesirable practices that arose—in the first instance, possibly quite innocently— and which had their origin in giving members of a political assembly—and a local authority is ultimately a political assembly—the right to grant or withhold moneys from individuals. There are a number of very imperfect democracies and the good citizens of those democracies to-day regret the result of pressure brought to bear on individual members of local authorities which frequently results, in turn, in what would amount to corruption.
Moreover, another objection to giving the complete administration of public assistance to members of local authorities lies in the difficulty of their performing their business adequately. Already, under this Bill, they are going to have an enormous amount to do. They are being compelled—almost against their will—to become civil servants, to become administrators instead of legislators. If, in addition to all that, they are going to have to deal with all the numerous cases of public assistance brought before them, I very much fear that the only result will be inefficiency in administration. I see also, in this connection, that local authorities are going to have the right to decide whether a person should receive medical assistance under the Public Assistance Act. That seems to me a matter of still greater importance. Let me give the Minister a comparison in regard to the changes that have taken place in the past 30 years. The voluntary hospitals of Dublin have appointed almoners— trained social service workers—who have received the social science diploma and the almoners' certificate. They are appointed solely because there has to be a considerable amount of skill and tact and humane understanding in deciding whether a person receiving medical attention in a voluntary hospital should pay all or part of the cost. The dealing with cases of that kind has become an acknowledged science. You have only to examine what happens in cases where charitable organisations withhold or give charity. More and more those organisations find that if they can get persons trained in social science, trained in the job of understanding the needs of the community, those persons do their work better than people who go forth with simply a good sense of humanity but with very little technical knowledge of how to ensure that an inadequate amount of money—and it is always inadequate—will be spent in the best way. Sums of money allowed by public authorities for public assistance are, I always consider, very small, but, small as they are, it is important that they should be spent wisely. I would not say that at the moment the administration of public assistance is by any means perfect in this country.
I should much prefer to see higher pay given to home assistance officers who would be persons of higher qualifications. I should like to see that view encouraged and proposed by the Minister—although it is now a matter for the Minister for Social Welfare. It seems to me, however, that the administration could be improved and perfected—and, above all, we do not want to revert to the old system which benefited certain political Parties and which came to be used by political Parties for their own ends. I am not going to cite names, but I know people who have been members of local authorities and who, in certain areas and towns where there was a considerable degree of assistance, maintained their position and received votes because of the power they were supposed to exercise solely in regard to the granting of public assistance. It is not right that that should be so. It is not good for democracy. This State started out and, whatever our difficulties, we maintained a fairly high record in regard to honesty of administration and in regard to members of local authorities being able to carry out their work as legislators rather than as givers or withholders of charity. It is extremely important to preserve the principle that members of local authorities are not civil servants. They are not givers or withholders of moneys to individuals. They are legislators. They are persons intended to see that a scheme of administration is carried out efficiently, that there are no abuses, that hard luck cases are reconsidered by the officers under their control. They should not be persons who have the right of giving or withholding moneys from individuals. You can make a great many comparisons between local authorities and the Dáil itself. We can spend our time discussing questions of administration rather than of principle. We can spend our time discussing the application of various Acts which involve the giving of money to individuals in a way which would bring discredit to the House. All of us are subject to the weaknesses of human nature and all of us could be amenable to pressure brought to bear on us. There is an entire distinction in regard to this matter as between the Minister's desire to give back to local authorities certain powers of which they were deprived under the County Management Act and the giving to them to powers which are not regarded as good or desirable powers in countries where the County Management Act does not exist at all.
I should like to ask the Minister— when every other social service is administered by civil servants, with only an appeal to an independent referee— why he wishes to single out this particular form of social service and give it to legislators instead of to civil servants or administrators to carry out? Why should there be the distinction? What difference is there between the award of public assistance or the award of unemployment assistance that he should make that distinction? He may say that it is impossible to provide administrators who can do their work well. I can assure the Minister that the vocation of knowing how to find out whether a person deserves social assistance is recognised in every modern country of the world.
In every modern country in the world the universities have courses designed solely to give people those qualifications so as to secure that people with that vocation could in 99 cases out of 100 say correctly whether a person should receive anything from State assistance or not. I am absolutely certain that by making use of the Civil Service Appointments Commission it would be possible to find public servants working for local authorities who in most cases would be able to decide whether a person should receive public assistance or not. They could make the first decision and bring the case to the superintendent assistance officer who could make the second decision, the third decision being made by the county officer. If, as well as all that, arrangements were made whereby there could be consultation with a small number of persons in the local authority to review certain cases, what more could be required?
With the growth of social services there has been a great demand for people with these particular qualifications. In the case of a person living in a remote rural area who has become sick or whose mother needs help of one kind or another I do not see how the Minister can make the case that it requires a political decision—because it is a political decision whether the Minister says it is or not—to grant this person public assistance. I would make an earnest appeal to the Minister to reconsider the whole matter before the Report Stage.
I am very anxious to try to keep politics out of this. I do not want to have to say that it is largely one Party in the House who are making this request because I believe that that Party should be able to live as a Party without having to request the Minister to give local authorities the right to grant home assistance. I do not want to drag Party politics into the arena. I do not want even to mention formally the name of the Party, but I would ask the Minister, in all seriousness in this Bill, to bring the awarding of home assistance into line with all the other forms of public assistance which are now available in the State, such as health services, unemployment insurance and unemployment assistance. He would be doing a great service to the country and preventing the growth of what I am afraid will inevitably be undesirable practices, not because any one member of a local authority is likely to be corrupt but because there is a distinction between having pressure brought to bear on one and being deliberately dishonest and when pressure is brought to bear on one it all begins in that way. The Minister who is in favour of social insurance, whose Party favours cradle to grave social insurance, should do his utmost to maintain the same high standard in these matters that has been maintained up to now in all the other social services and I would make a very earnest appeal to him to reconsider the matter.
I would like to support Deputy Childers in his remarks on that section and the amendments he has put forward. As a member of a local authority dealing with home assistance, I think it is very wrong for the Minister to give local authorities the power of granting local assistance because it leaves this important matter open to abuse. When I use the word "abuse" I do not believe that at the moment any member of a local authority will be dishonest, but, as Deputy Childers pointed out, pressure can be brought to bear.
In discussing cases of home assistance we are inclined to err on the side of being over-charitable. I am a member of the home assistance subcommittee of my own county council. Periodically we meet the manager, the superintendent assistance officer and the local assistance officer, and I can assure you that we spend quite a lot of time going through every case the local home assistance officer has on his books. If the matter lay solely in our hands we would be inclined to be over-charitable, and the present scheme whereby the manager has the decision while being honest enough and big enough to consult the councillors periodically is the better scheme and will prevent anything corrupt arising in the administration of home assistance. The manager keeps a brake on our charity, and he must do so because he knows the amount of money at his disposal which he receives at the striking of the rate and he has a fair idea of what home assistance will cost. It would be wrong to have the matter decided by the councillors as a whole or in respect of their electoral areas. I can speak from experience and am prepared to admit that I myself may have been a culprit by looking for too much for some individual. If the matter is left to me and the other councillors moneys will probably be given to which people are not really entitled according to the regulations. I am trying to be as honest as I can in expressing my views, and the Minister should see to it that the present position obtains under this Bill and that the county manager will have overriding powers in the administration of home assistance. He could always call the councillors into consultation periodically as is done in my county to give them an opportunity of seeing whether the people are getting an even break and a fair deal. I would add to Deputy Childers's appeal that the position be left as it stands. If it is not mandatory on the county manager to call councillors to periodic consultation the Minister could discuss making it mandatory.
For eight years I was a member of a statutory body dealing with home assistance and then home assistance was renewed every month. I found during that period that there was nothing in the line of money misspent by the councillors, who were members of various Parties on that board. I cannot say the same of what occurred after the Managerial Act came into force. In the first place, there was delayed action, as the manager had so many powers to contend with that he found himself at times between the devil and the deep sea. I also maintain that the local council would give a very fair opinion as to whether a destitute person is entitled to a sum or not. I have in view a certain case that was put forward by a home assistance officer who was acting in a temporary capacity. The case was put forward to have him made permanent, so as to reduce the cost in his area by something like £16 a month. It was subsequently proved that what was given out there was needed in the area. That would not have occurred under the board of assistance that was superseded by the manager.
I have not very much blame for the manager falling down from time to time. I am well aware that certain influence might be brought to bear on him—as Deputy Brennan and, I daresay, I myself, might bring influence to bear if we could. I would rather err on undue influence than that there should be no interference at all. The ideal way to administer home assistance is the way in which it was administered prior to the Managerial Act coming into force in 1941 or 1942. I certainly agree with that power being handed back again to the executive committee. We will find after a short time that it was very wise of the Minister and his draftsmen to give that power of providing home assistance to the local councillors.
The concentration of the discussion has centred principally on home assistance, but the Deputy's amendment goes even further than that. He seeks to delete "(other than decisions as to whether or not a person shall be granted medical assistance under the Public Assistance Act, 1939)", which is included by the Deputy in handing back the function. In the Bill as set down, the personal health function does not start with the granting of home assistance or medical assistance, but the particular application of it does. It is the function of the body to provide the medical assistance, but when it comes to the application of a particular form it is a matter for the medical officer.
The net issue joined here is as to whether the public authority is the right body to grant assistance or not. I cannot understand why suspicion has entered into the mind of Deputy Childers. Perhaps he has not had much experience of public bodies himself, except as a Deputy. I have had a lot of such experience, and so have had many Deputies here, and I can say from experience that we have not found this terrible corruption. Deputy Childers seemed to indicate that democracy and corruption were synonymous terms and I draw the impression from him that he thought the Labour Party seemed to dominate the whole thing.
I did not say corruption, but pressure that might lead to corruption. It is a very different thing and the Minister must not misquote me. I did not say "terrible corruption".
Civil servants must feel jubilant at the compliment paid them by Deputy Childers, who holds them forth as the people to administer this scheme. I think that the civil servants, on reading this debate, will be getting tight hats, they will be so delighted at the compliments fired at them. Surely there must be a gulf between the administration of a service as administered by an officer and a committee. This service is considered to be a function of the local authority and is being put under different auspices and on a different basis.
When we talk about the danger of corruption of public men or public bodies, we must remember that it is public men who constitute these boards. If Deputies would not like to entrust the work to such people, what about the juries? They are the same people who sit on juries. Surely we should scrap the whole jury system and place the people's lives instead in the hands of civil servants or others? Here we have the right to grant home assistance given to the people who are elected. The home assistance officer and the superintendent assistance officer, whose job it will be to make the necessary inquiries and who at present report to the manager, will report instead to the executive committee. That is all the difference. They will be the officers still to make the necessary inquiries. They will be honest in their work and faithful to their duty, working for the committee as they did for the manager. When they investigate certain cases and make their report, surely there is nothing to complain about. Regarding the size of the committee, the bigger it is the less chance of corruption, as it would be exposed to the light of day. I do not believe that corruption would creep in. That has not been evidenced in the past and I believe all this has been grossly exaggerated.
In my experience, there was never sufficient public assistance given by the public authorities. They were always too stingy and the amounts they gave were scarcely sufficient to keep body and soul together. The amounts given to poor people were beneath contempt. My own experience was that a certain amount of home assistance was given and that became the standard, and I think it was a scandal that such a penurious method was adopted. I had a case similar to that mentioned by Deputy Keane, where a certain official came along to take over the functions and, without any inquiry whatever, he struck off 320 people. I would have had no objection if the 320 cases had been investigated, but that individual came down—he was an official from the Department of Local Government —and struck off the 320 without inquiry. He said he was going to tighten things up. Those people could have died of hunger, as they were respectable and well dressed, but they were ashamed to admit to poverty.
Were they put on again?
They were. It happened in Limerick. I will leave it at that. The Deputy might be able to trace it back. I was mayor myself at the time and naturally there was a bit of a row. The matter was investigated. If it were a case of tightening things up, I would have had no objection, but he struck off all those people and practically every one of them had to be put back on home assistance again. My point then was—and I am making it now—that there were home assistance officers working in particular areas and reporting to the committee but when the committee was abandoned and when this commissioner came in, the same officers were available to him. They were either honest or dishonest the day before as they were the day after. If they had been consulted, that could not have happened, as they could not have struck off 320 whom they recommended the day before.
You have the home assistance officer and the superintendent assistance officer reporting to the manager now. They will report in future to the committee, which is there to question any case. When it comes to the matter of the particular type of medical assistance, however, that is a matter to be dealt with in privacy as a private function, one which ought to be respected as an individual health function. But the general granting of home assistance ought to be in the hands of the people elected by the citizens to carry out the work. They have the machinery there such as the manager has now and I do not think that the fears expressed here have any foundation in fact— that there would be any inordinate or undue largesse distributed by the people amongst the unfortunates who have to look for home assistance. I think that the picture has been very largely overdrawn. I have perfect confidence that the people elected to these bodies will, with their officers, administer home assistance correctly and impartially.
The Minister has given us an example of what might be done by people who do things inconsiderately. I would be grateful to him if he would give us some further particulars. He told us that in his experience an officer came down from Dublin and struck off 320 people from the home assistance list. He implied that this officer continued to administer the County Limerick or the City of Limerick—I am not sure which—as a commissioner for some time after this incident occurred. I hope the Minister will not misunderstand me, but somehow or other I do not think that can be the whole story.
That is the whole story.
If the Minister will bear with me, perhaps we will get some other facts which may put a slightly different complexion on it. I assume that this officer was a responsible and experienced officer. If he quite arbitrarily struck off 320 people merely for the purpose of striking them off the home assistance list and with no other intention in his mind, doing it not because it was necessary to do it in order that he might investigate their circumstances and, perhaps, the circumstances under which they had been given home assistance, I should say that he acted quite irresponsibly. None of us, when we are discussing the merits of Deputy Childers's amendment, want to defend or justify irresponsibility of that sort in any way. It is quite true that you will get men who are unfit for their job, men who only show themselves to be unfit for their job after they have been appointed, men who have to be pushed out of their jobs, as perhaps some Cabinet Ministers may be. But it does not mean that you cannot have responsible Government and that you cannot have Cabinet Government in a country if you do get an officer acting in the irresponsible way which the Minister suggested. It does not mean that, because you have one individual who is obviously unfitted to hold the job of county officer, then the whole system should be scrapped for that reason.
I do not think that the example which the Minister has given and the form in which he has given it to us is a typical example of what has been occurring during the last ten or 11 years during which the final decision as to whether or not home assistance will be granted to individuals has been reserved to the county manager as the executive officer of the public assistance authority. Therefore, I should like to examine this case a little further. It is only fair to those of us who have to consider the principle embodied in Deputy Childers's amendment that we should have some information about this officer who struck off 320 people.
I have not suggested that it was a typical case. I gave the case exactly as it occurred. I do not suggest it is typical by any means.
I assume the Minister has given it to us as what we should describe as a horrible example. When I was a boy we used to have Catch-my-Pal and Band of Hope meetings and they used to drag in a gentleman in a very shabby suit with a dirty collar and a red nose and hold him up to the admiration of the audience as a horrible example of what over-indulgence in intoxicating liquor would do. But we are not discussing horrible examples here. We are discussing the ordinary, normal run of the administration of this country by responsible and capable officials, and the real point at issue is as to whether we are to continue to place on these responsible and efficient officers the final responsibility for determining whether or not public assistance, public moneys, moneys collected from the ratepayers, moneys which many farmers find it hard to pay, will be paid out in individual cases free from political pull and political pressure and in an absolutely impersonal way, having regard merely to the circumstances of the individual who is asking for home assistance.
We were told that 320 persons were struck off the home assistance list in a rather arbitrary way. I asked the Minister how many were put back and he told me that practically all of these were put back. But, if all these people whom he struck off were, after due inquiry, subsequently put back on home assistance by the officer who had dealt with them in the first instance, does not that suggest that he took them off merely because he felt it necessary that they should justify their claim to home assistance and that, once that very important obligation had been fulfilled by them, he then acted in the ordinary, normal way that he was expected to act under the law? In so far as the facts have been disclosed to the House, I do not think that we can say that this officer acted in any improper way. I think that was the kernel of the Minister's case, that we had an officer coming from Dublin acting irresponsibly, acting arbitrarily, and therefore acting improperly in striking off these 320 people. What we did find subsequently was that this officer, after due inquiry, placed most of the 320 people back on the list.
The important thing to consider is how many did he not place back on the list. Was it 50 or 100? Nearly the whole of the 320 might have been put back on the list. Were two-thirds of them put back on the list or were four-fifths of them put back? If fourfifths of the 320 were put back, then there had been 64 people drawing public money who were not entitled to it, money which had to be provided by hard-working families and by men who themselves were in impoverished circumstances. It would justify this particular officer's general approach to the question if he struck the whole 320 off the list and said: "You will not get another penny of public money until I am satisfied you are entitled to it." If, after he had done that, he investigated all their circumstances and found there were 60 or 64 people drawing public money to which they were not entitled, I think that officer would be quite justified by the result of what he had done in the first instance and I am perfectly certain that the hardship he might occasion would not be at all incommensurate with the public benefit he secured.
Let me come back now to the point I made at the outset. We are not concerned with this particular individual whose case the Minister cited to us. What we are concerned with is what is the best way and what is the most honest way from the point of view of the general public interest in which public assistance should be administered by local authorities. The unfortunate thing is that every public man is subject to influence, to pressure and to the representations which he will receive from his friends and neighbours and even, perhaps, from his own intimate political supporters in relation to individual cases. It is only natural, therefore, as Deputy Keane and Deputy Brennan have told us, and as I would say myself if I were in their position, that we would be inclined to take these representations at their face value. It is only natural that when a person comes to us and tells us that such and such a man is in very penurious circumstances and that he deserves home assistance we would be inclined to take that person's word and that when we go into a committee where these individual cases are discussed it is only natural that we would advocate them with all the eloquence at our command and try to persuade others of our friends to support us in that particular point of view. Out of deference to the representations that have been made to us, out of loyalty to one another and friendship for one another it is only natural that we should forget that it is not our own money we are dealing with and we may be, shall I say, rather elastic and rather generous and rather lax, perhaps, in the manner in which we administer public assistance.
I do not think there is any question of corruption in this matter. I do not believe for a moment that any local authority representative will be influenced in granting public assistance by reason of the fact that if he gives a man 15/- or a £1 that man will come to him afterwards and give him a rake off of 2/6 out of the £1 he receives of the public assistance authority's money. I do not believe that for one moment. But we do know that, unless these funds are very carefully administered and unless there is a very tight grip kept upon them, some people will inevitably get money to which they are not entitled. We do know that unfortunately public bodies, where there are nine, ten or 15 men sitting in committee, will be inclined to be generous. It is always very easy to be generous with other people's money. It is always very easy to spend other people's money. It is in order to try to do justice as between those who are really in need of home assistance and those who have to provide the home assistance that the system which is now in vogue was introduced.
I think on the whole the present system has worked very well. I do not think anybody who is in real need of home assistance can be neglected under the present system because, if the county officer is inclined to be tightfisted, after all he has over-looking him and supervising him the local authority. If assistance is refused in cases where it should properly be given the individuals concerned can always go to their county councillors. The county councillors can go to their friends and they can go to the county manager and virtually compel a review. The important point is that while they can supervise the administration of public assistance by the county officer, as he will henceforward be called, they cannot compel him to give home assistance in any case in which he thinks it is not warranted.
Let me remind the House that county managers or county officers are individuals like ourselves. I tried to describe the circumstances in which members of local authorities find themselves. They are perhaps under pressure from their constituents, from neighbours and from friends. They may be under pressure to grant home assistance in particular cases. The county manager or county officer is also to an extent under pressure from members of the local authority but he is, of course, always in a position to stand out against that pressure. I do not say that he always does so. I think that where a county manager or county officer has any doubt after representations have been made to him in regard to the grant of public assistance in particular cases he naturally gives the persons involved in the particular instances the benefit of the doubt. I think it is only natural that he should do that.
The rigidity, therefore, with which public assistance may be administered if the manager had not the elected body around him is tempered by a degree of elasticity and that elasticity always operates in favour of the applicant for home assistance. But it operates to a limited degree because the manager or county officer has always before his mind the fact that only a limited amount of money has been provided for public assistance and he must deal with all the applicants within that limited amount. If he exceeds that amount and has to approach the local authority for an increased appropriation for public assistance they will probably question him very closely in regard to his application of the money at his disposal because they, in turn, will find themselves faced, should they grant the application for an increased appropriation, with the responsibility of increasing the rates. In these circumstances, because the responsibility for administration is particularly pinned on him, he will be careful about administration. He will neither be harsh nor unduly rigid; he will be careful and provident. I am afraid that, human nature being what it is and committees being what they are, one will not get the same degree of care and providence if one takes the responsibility for administering public assistance in individual cases out of the hands of one man and entrusts it to a committee.
I think the Minister said, speaking on another amendment, that every member of that committee can blame the over-spending upon every other member of the committee, individually and collectively, and because of that, because there is a way out, you will not get the same careful administration of the public money if you take this administration out of the hands of the county manager and entrust it to the elected body as a whole.
For all those reasons, I hope that the Minister will favourably consider Deputy Childers's amendment. We have had this system in operation for ten years. So far as I know—and I think we should have known in the Custom House during my period of office—there was no complaint from impoverished persons, persons in need of public assistance, that it was being administered harshly or that they were not being properly cared for. On the contrary, the complaints which we used to receive were that far too much money was being spent on public assistance. Far too much money, it was said, was being spent when public assistance was administered by the county managers, as they are now —county officers as they will be in the future. That was the general complaint of the ratepayers.
I had no complaints from individuals —perhaps I should not say I had none; that would be quite untrue. When we were in office, if you wanted to write to the Minister for Local Government, all you had to do was to write your letter or postcard and drop it into the letter-box without putting a stamp on it. I believe the situation has changed since. You had merely to write and your complaint went immediately to the Minister, and I can assure you that when these complaints came to me and, I may say, to my predecessor, they were immediately investigated, because we regarded it as our function to look after the individual citizens just as well as the general policy of the Department.
When these complaints came in they were immediately investigated. I do not believe, when I was in office, that I received more than ten or 20 complaints in the year. Out of all the people who had applied for and were granted home assistance according to their circumstances, as the county manager judged them, I do not believe I received more than 20 complaints in any one year. On the other hand, I received numerous complaints from representatives of the ratepayers that the amount which was being spent on home assistance was excessive, having regard to the circumstances of the ratepayers themselves. When you have that sort of balance as between the people in receipt of home assistance, on the one hand, and the people who provide it, on the other, I think on the whole the present system must be adjudged to have justified itself.
I do not see that any good case has been made for departing from it, and therefore I hope the Minister, having regard to all these reasons, will consider Deputy Childers's amendment very favourably and will indicate that he is prepared to accept it.
Tá cúpla rud a bhaineann leis an leasú seo agus ba mhaith liom cur síos orthu. As far as I remember, on the Committee Stage of this Bill the Minister accepted the principle that the committees would be constituted of the whole council instead of a portion of the council elected on the proportional representation system. If I am right in that, then the whole council becomes a committee to deal with home assistance. In the old days of the boards of health you had a committee of ten. Home assistance was the last item that came up for consideration. The home assistance officer went, seriatim if necessary, with the councillors over the area, in particular cases, not alone as regards home assistance but as to who would pay hospital fees or who would be bound to pay hospital fees.
That was succeeded by the managerial system which, I admit, is a big improvement on the old system. There is a much better collection of hospital fees now, and the ratepayers have been saved a lot of money as a consequence. People who would approach members of the board of health to get off paying any fees towards their treatment in hospital are less prone to approach the manager. Even where they approach a councillor to get off paying fees, the manager has a method of estimating their means and the collection of hospital fees is much better than when I was on the board of health in Mullingar.
We now propose to throw open, not to a committee but to the whole council, the question of whether A, B or C will pay anything towards his treatment in the hospital. The result of that will be that nobody will pay anything towards his or her maintenance in hospital. There will be a thoroughly good canvass. The man who has a car, or who can employ a car, will canvass the members of the counsel to get off paying anything. I think it is very wrong that the case of A, B or C should be discussed by the 25, 26 or 27 members of the council, as to whether they could get 7/6 a week, whether the children should get free books, whether the free milk scheme should apply, or whether a man should contribute to this, that or the other, 1/-, 2/6 or 5/-. I think it is letting chaos in.
Under the old system, when I was chairman of the Westmeath Board of Health, there was a committee of ten who did the work fairly effectively. An improved system came along under the managerial scheme, but now, instead of a committee of ten or a manager dealing with this particular problem, you will throw it open to all the members of the council, who will spend their day wrangling as to whether 7/6 or 27/6 would be enough for a particular individual. It is a retrograde step, a wrong step; there is nothing democratic about it. It does not make for good administration. I make the plea to the Minister to accept the amendment proposed by Deputy Childers.
The provision in this section looks plausible enough, and the explanation given by the Minister could be said to be quite plausible too. The House was told that the officer will in future report the circumstances to the local committee and the committee will then make its decision, as against the existing practice of the officer reporting to the county manager, who makes the decision as to the amount of home assistance to be paid. There is one thing that those of us having experience must admit and that is, if you deprive an officer of the responsibility for the making of the ultimate decision, you cannot rely to the same extent on the report which he will make. You cannot expect him to be as thorough in his investigations of the applicant's circumstances as that officer would otherwise be.
In addition to that objection, there is also a further point to be considered. It is this. What really happens when you give a committee such as this the responsibility for administering home assistance? I have heard the Deputy from Westmeath speaking of what his experience was. Strange to say, my experience is quite different. I was a member of the board of health long before the managerial system was introduced at all. The board of which I was a member decided, in a voluntary way, to divest themselves entirely of the responsibility for making decisions either in regard to home assistance or in regard to the matter of the collection of maintenance charges. We did that not because we wanted to deprive local bodies of the authority. It was a voluntary act of ours. The unfortunate part about an argument or a discussion of this matter in this House is that immediately a Deputy moves an amendment to a section such as the one contained in the Bill, providing, as Deputy Childers proposes to provide, the charge is immediately made that an attack is being made on members of local authorities or that one is falling for this or falling for that. The members who are moving the amendment are accused of trying to deprive local authorities of democratic power and so on. I think it is a mistake that that should be the case.
Suppose this executive committee is composed of one-third of the members of the council, let us ask ourselves what will happen. If the section in the Bill stands, the home assistance officer will attend the meetings and he will have a number of reports to make to this executive committee. I will assume that I am a member of the council. I will wait until the report dealing with my area is reached. Naturally, I will be more interested in the cases that will come from this area. If I see that the applicant from my area upon whom the officer is reporting is not likely to be reached for an hour or two, the chances are that I may move out into the hospital, if it is convenient, to see some patient. I will leave the other reports to be dealt with by the persons who represent those other areas and who are certain to know more about the applicants than I would.
Unfortunately, under this system, you will see a development of which I myself had experience where that committee will break up into the officer on the one hand and the local councillor on the other. The officer will say: "Here are the cases which have arisen since our last meeting in your area and here are my reports. What do you think about them?" The local councillor will say: "I think you are a bit harsh in this case" and so on. That sort of development in the old board of health days induced a body of which I was a member to pass a resolution giving the authority to the assistance officer and the superintendent assistance officer to make decisions in regard to each application. As well as that, when the collection of the hospital maintenance accounts arose, the body gave them authority to examine the circumstances of the people and asked them to come back and report what they were recommending.
The Minister gave us the analogy of the jury system but that is entirely a different matter because the accused person is before the jury. The witnesses are present and all the facts in regard to the case are available to the court. The jury will have heard them. But in the case of a number of men who are members of a committee sitting down together or, perhaps, not sitting together, because of the natural tendency to leave the decision in regard to cases to the man from the local area, the committee will break up and ultimately the major portion of the work will be done, as the day progresses, by a smaller number of members.
We, in discussing this Bill in its entirety, and those who were responsible for the introduction of the managerial system, were convinced of the necessity for some such system because of the impossibility of coping with all the work that came to be handled by local authorities in the last 15 or 20 years. Do not we all admit that a large amount of the work that was formerly done by local bodies has been handed over to these officers, whether you call them county managers or county officers? What special merit is there in taking this matter of home assistance out of the hands of these officers and giving it back to what is called an executive committee in this Bill? I must say, without having any strong views on this matter or any desire in the world to deprive local authorities of this right, that I cannot see where that merit lies.
Speaking as an individual who has had some little experience, the home assistance officer should be put in the position of being responsible for making a report to the county officer. The county officer would be responsible in return for making a decision as to whether or not the applicant should receive assistance, and if so what amount. The officials making that decision should be made responsible in the legal sense. I would then be free as a public man to criticise them if they gave too much or too little. I cannot, for the life of me, see in what way you are tying the hands of local representatives by taking the course that is proposed in this section. Quite candidly, if I were still a member of a local body, I would much prefer to be in the position in which the legal responsibility would be on the paid official and in which I would be free, as a public man, to say whether he did right or wrong.
The onus is upon the Minister, his Parliamentary Secretary, or those who support the section to show what particular merit there is in giving this power to the executive committee as against all the other powers of which we have deprived the councils and which we have handed over to these officers. I am open to be convinced if a convincing argument can be advanced, but my experience tells me that the practice of making paid officers responsible in regard to home assistance and the collection of hospital maintenance is sound. In the old days I saw thousands of people getting away from their responsibility of paying the maintenance charge in a hospital who were capable of paying without any hardship to themselves or their families, and it is not fair that in such cases the rates should be burdened with the responsibility. I was often approached by people who had been in these institutions and I said to them: "If you were at home, it would cost your people something to keep you and you can at least give to the institution which is supported out of the general rates the amount it would take to support you at home." It will not matter to me individually which way the House decides, but I am 100 per cent. in favour of the amendment, not because it has been moved by a Deputy of my own Party but because I am convinced from whatever little experience I have had that the provision he would have inserted in the section is a thousand times more solid and profitable, from the community point of view, than what is in the section.
I support the amendment because it is my experience that there has been no serious complaint by any person drawing home assistance under the present system. A council must largely depend on the officer in charge. Individual members may know certain cases but they will not know all the cases, even in the districts they represent. Surely it is not to be one of the functions of a member of a council to go around finding out who are the people in greatest need? It will happen in many cases that councillors will be approached by individuals who may or may not be entitled to home assistance, and, as Deputy MacEntee pointed out, the position, so far as these members are concerned, will be one in which it will be a matter of one councillor helping another. If a councillor puts forward the name of an individual who he thinks is entitled to home assistance and gets the support of other members, a similar case may occur on a later occasion when that councillor will have to support some individual who should not be entitled to home assistance. Councillors will be faced with that position in the future. I have been a member of a council for quite a number of years and in no case have I heard of a person entitled to home assistance being denied it. The home assistance superintendent and the home assistance officers have, if anything, erred on the side of leniency and have often taken the responsibility, if they heard of a bad case, of approaching the person who would normally be entitled to home assistance to find out the circumstances and have given it without any reference whatever to the council: Home assistance officers, I know, are anxious that this should be carried out in order to benefit the people.
Did the Deputy say that home assistance officers granted home assistance on their own authority?
I said that they reported cases themselves to the county manager. Without anybody reporting or approaching them, they heard of the circumstances of an individual and made a report without being asked to do so by the person involved. Because of the number of functions now handed over to county councils, I cannot see how councils will be able to cope with all the business. It will mean county councils will have to meet every week. There will have to be home assistance meetings, council meetings, general purpose meetings, housing meetings and so on, with the result that it will be almost a whole-time job. I have not heard any argument to justify the handing over of the granting of home assistance to the councils. What is to happen if a meeting of a council is called to deal with home assistance and only a very small percentage turn up? Will the home assistance officers for the various districts be asked to submit the names of the people they think should be getting home assistance? Will it rest with the local members to put forward the claims? Who is to be responsible? At present we know who is responsible, but in future it may and will be the responsibility of the councillors.
Again, if a meeting is protracted, the possibilities are that some of the members may leave or some may not attend, with the result that many deserving cases will not be dealt with at all. Again, some members of a council may remain over, and, at the end of a meeting, may find very little difficulty in putting through a number of cases from their own districts, people who are not or should not be entitled to draw home assistance. That type of thing will go on. At present you have nothing like that because the officer in charge has the responsibility of reporting to the county manager the people who are entitled to draw home assistance. It is on him the responsibility devolves and if there is any question of complaint, the council can always, as a body, bring the matter forward and inquire into it, and will then have the same function and the same authority as it is proposed to give them in the section. I cannot see why any change should be made at this stage.
In addition to the increase in cost of home assistance which may result from handing over this service, there will be the cost of additional meetings, which will mean another burden on the ratepayers. Unless county councils are to become a second Dáil and members are to be paid whole-time, I cannot see any reason why meetings should be called every week or fortnight, as they will be, to deal with home assistance. Various cases will crop up and there will have to be meetings every other week to deal with them.
With regard to hospital fees, I have not heard one complaint in ten years. There may have been a few applications now and again, but home assistance officers in all cases are able to deal with them themselves. They make the reports and in no case has it been refused. Where the circumstances warranted the payment of hospital fees or funeral expenses, in no case was it refused. Therefore I cannot see what benefit the people will gain by having the council members dealing with these matters. They are very honestly dealt with at the present time. I am speaking for County Kilkenny now. In County Kilkenny, they are dealt with very honestly and there has not been a complaint raised in ten years as far as this is concerned. For that reason, I would support Deputy Childers's amendment and I would ask the Minister to give it very favourable consideration because, as the councils are dealing with these matters at the present time, they are very satisfactory and things should be left as they are.
Unfortunately, the Parliamentary Secretary was not here when the Minister made his initial reply to my observations on this amendment. I do not know whether I have to start all over again, but I intend, if it takes me hours, to extract from the Minister the proper replies to what I said. He did not give them. He simply made a vague statement that, because local authorities voted the money, why should not the people's representatives on the local authorities decide who should get it in each individual case. The Minister sounded to me as though he was thinking in terms of democracy about 1820. We have advanced since that day. There is no longer any conception in the minds of modern democrats that the people who vote the money must decide who gets it in each individual case. That is absolute, sheer nonsense. Nobody suggests that that is the way by which moneys are spent by modern democracies. I will start all over again and will try to put it more clearly and maybe the Minister will then understand my point of view of what I consider to be the conditions under which all social services should be awarded, whether the Dáil votes the money, whether the Dáil votes part of the money and the local authority votes another portion of the money, or whether the local authority votes the whole of the money.
These principles apply in nearly all modern democratic States. They apply particularly in States where the Government is composed very largely of people of what might be described as the Left Wing, who have seen to the growth of social services of various kinds. I will mention them to the Minister and I will ask him to see if he, as a supporter of the Labour Party, can criticise principles which apply in every democratic country in Western Europe where social services are advanced and on a very considerable scale, and where there is an elaborate panoply of social service administration.
The principles are as follow: The first is that the element of pauperism should be completely absent from the granting of all forms of social assistance and insurance and if the element of pauperism is to be absent, that implies the right of privacy and the right of examination of the particular circumstances of a person applying for a social service or social assistance of any kind in front of professional civil servants. That is one principle for which the ordinary plain people of this world have fought through their representatives for 100 years, to get away from the idea that you must go to the man who voted you the money to see whether you should have some of it. That is a principle that was fought for, that Liberals and the Labour Party fought for in England, that people have fought for in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. I am not saying it is perfect everywhere, but, everywhere, all over the world, in sound democracies, the principle of the abolition of a sense of pauperism in the community is one which, as I say, has been fought for, where men are decent. That is the first principle.
The second principle is: A decision based on need, examined both with regard to the human aspect of the case and in regard to the technical aspect of the case. In other words, you cannot always refuse or grant a sum of public assistance on purely cold-blooded, cast iron grounds. There must be occasionally borderline cases; there must be a case where whatever officer judges the case must have regard to human considerations and must occasionally give the benefit of the doubt.
They do not always give the benefit of the doubt.
We will not start another debate on the question of exceptions. We will not debate this amendment on the fact that there may be exceptions because, if there are exceptions to the general conduct of home assistance, they can be corrected administratively.
The next principle is: When a person requests a sum of money voted by a local authority or by a national authority, the person who examines him and decides to give it to him should be vocationally trained for that job. In other words, we hope that the home assistance officers and the superintendent assistance officers will be men who are keenly alive to their job and who have the vocation, just like the vocation of a priest or a doctor, of judging people's needs, of knowing how to apply a law humanely and judiciously, of avoiding waste and abuse and of presenting a case which will make it easy for the highest official to determine it in the long run. That is the next principle which affects the granting of a social service, both local and national.
The next principle is an absolutely vital one: That no person who receives any form of assistance in this State should ever have to be beholden personally to any member of a local or national authority who voted the money in the first instance, that he should never have to make any kind of appeal to the individual who was one of a number who voted the money, that there should be interposed between him and the people who voted the money a group of vocationally trained officers and administrators, so that at no time could it be possible for a local representative to say: "I gave you this money. I saw to it that you got this money. Now I ask you for my vote or I ask you for your influence in helping me to get a vote." That principle has been fought for for years right from the beginning of the 19th century—the right of the community to receive grants of home assistance without being beholden to those who voted the money. It is a most valuable and essential principle in any democracy.
Another very important principle is that there should be always adequate safeguards of appeals, that over and above the hard and fast, rigid, cast iron administration, there should be regard to the humane aspect of the case, and that there should be a sufficient number of persons in any administration to ensure that every case can get two, three, or, shall we say, four hearings. Under the present system, so far as I know, the home assistance officer examines the case, the superintendent assistance officer can examine the case, and the county manager can examine the case and, in addition to that, if necessary, I have no objection to a local authority having a consultative body to discuss the general giving of home assistance. I think it ought to be held in private. I do not think the Press should be present. I think the people who have the natural, God given right of appealing to the public as a whole for assistance should have their cases heard in all privacy and, if there is to be any kind of consultative committee of the kind mentioned by Deputy Brennan and the kind mentioned by other Deputies here, the people who come for home assistance should have the right to have their cases considered privately. Wherever there should be the case of an appeal or wherever the county councillors would wish, in their own right, to go over a list of cases and to say to the manager: "We think you were not very fair in this," or, "We think your decision was wrong in this. Why did you not give more to this particular individual," I see no reason why representatives on a local authority should not do that. I see no reason why they should not bring cases that come to their notice, as they do in every case. But the great thing about the position of representatives on local authorities at the moment is that they can bring all the cases they want to but, interposed between them and the individual concerned, is this permanent administrative machine which means that a person never has to be ultimately beholden to an individual who voted the money.
Who ask public representatives to interfere on their behalf? Is it not those who have been refused assistance?
People go to public representatives still and ask them to obtain public assistance for them in many cases. I say that they should have the privilege of an independent body between them and the public representatives to examine the applications once they ask for money in that way. I say that is an essential principle recognised in the public service all over the world. It has extended to England, Denmark, Norway and to this country, and we should do nothing to put back the hands of the clock. I should like to ask the Minister why he does not insist, in the case of unemployment assistance, that there should not be a committee of Deputies sitting in the capital towns of the country to examine cases for the granting or withholding of such assistance? I should like to ask the Minister would he desire to have the ultimate decision, in regard to the granting or withholding of unemployment assistance, given to Deputies in their respective districts? Would he like to have Deputies sitting in capital towns of the country to hear the final appeal in regard to old age pensions because Deputies vote the money for old age pensions and for unemployment assistance? Why should they not go around the country on a tour to hear appeals in these cases? Why should they not be the ultimate arbiters in regard to the giving or withholding of unemployment assistance? Why should we appoint referees who spend a considerable period in dealing with these cases and against whom there is no appeal? I see no reason why there should not be an old age pension committee or any other group of people so long as anybody has the right to go to a permanent group of independent judges of their cases.
Take the case of the old age pension committees. They first examine the applications for old age pensions and ultimately the person applying has the right to go to the Minister and, in practice, going to the Minister means having his case examined in all privacy by people who can decide ultimately whether he should get the pension. As I have said, it seems to me a very important matter that we are discussing and I do hope that the Minister will reconsider the whole question. I wonder he does not go very much further in this whole matter if he really believes in local authorities having the ultimate decision. I do not see why he should not decide that the question of the tenancies of local authority houses should be decided by county councils. Could he not extend this principle until in the end there was no permanent administration, until in the end you could have 70 councillors doing the work of civil servants and having practically no permanent staff in the councils at all? It seems to me that democracy cannot survive unless we get acceptance of the principle of having permanently employed officials who are vocationally trained for their jobs and who can come between the individuals applying for assistance and the person who votes the money for it.
There are a few observations which I should like to make in regard to the amendment. First of all, I should like to say that I see considerable weight in much of what has been urged by Deputy Childers and some other Deputies who have spoken. Perhaps I might put it this way. If we were discussing the principle contained in this amendment de novo, without any relation to other machinery existing in this country, I could see considerable weight in what has been urged by Deputy Childers, but that is not the case. Actually to-day and each week there is in existence the type of machinery contemplated by the Bill as it stands which relates to the examination of old age pension applications and the virtual disbursement of old age pensions. Deputy Childers shakes his head but, in fact, if he will examine what I am saying, he will find that I am not very wrong. Each old age pension committee is largely staffed from the elected representatives on each county council.
Each applicant for a pension must submit his claim to these pension committees. He must there be examined as to his means and as to his merits and a decision is given by that pension committee with regard to his claim. It is true that, if he is dissatisfied with that decision, he has a statutory right of appeal to the central pension authority but that is mere machinery. The principle is the same because in the case of our old age pension committees we have had in existence for a great number of years the particular principle to which Deputy Childers objected in this Bill—the subjection of an applicant for State assistance to examination by persons who may subsequently look to him for support in elections.
They do not actually vote the money.
Voting the money in relation to the Deputy's objection on this point is quite irrelevant because as I understood Deputy Childers's objection it was that it was in some way wrong to have any person entitled to relief or assistance from the State or local funds to be beholden to anybody who might be elected by his or her vote. That I gathered to be one of the principles which Deputy Childers mentioned here. If that is so it does not much matter where the money comes from. If the objection is to the principle, it holds whether they vote the money or not. I think it is important that we should appreciate that the situation to which the Deputy objects exists to-day and has existed for a great number of years. Accordingly, I do not think that the proposal contained in the Bill is in any way unusual or revolutionary or in any way strange to anyone who has had any experience of local government or of the administration of the Old Age Pensions Acts. I cannot deny that I see considerable weight in much of the arguments used by Deputy Childers, but at the same time I cannot help feeling that the Deputy is speaking to a certain extent with his tongue in his cheek because if he really believes many of the arguments which he has addressed to the House, I think it must follow inevitably that he has a very low opinion of the elected representatives on councils of this country. I do not believe he could have that low opinion conscientiously because it is, and I think it must be, generally accepted that most county councillors and public representatives, in cases of need and distress, are more than anxious that fairness and justice should be meted out. I can say that in my constituency I have never heard of anything to the contrary, and I cannot see that the home assistance machinery will be impeded in any way, or interfered with, by the proposal in the Bill.
On a point of personal explanation: I do not think the Deputy is trying to misquote me, but I want to make it clear that I had no low opinion of local authorities. What I tried to say was—it may be rather ironic—that it is the most honest democracies in the world, including ourselves, who have been carrying out the principles which I have stressed. I am not reflecting on the local authorities. I said that there had been a gradual development, or a gradual evolution, of the principle of enabling assistance to be granted to individuals, but that, having to meet those who voted the moneys, we ought to go along the line I indicated, that we are as honest a democracy as others.
I am glad to hear the Deputy say that. I might suggest, perhaps, that he used an unhappy turn of phrase. I took the Deputy down as saying that it was important that an applicant for home assistance should not be beholden to any public representative who might later seek his vote.
That is a political democratic principle.
It is easy to talk about political principles in the abstract. I suggest that you have got to judge political principles by the ordinary facts of everyday life. I think that the particular sentence the Deputy used in relation to public representatives in this country would convey the meaning that those representatives would use home assistance for the purpose of buying votes for themselves.
It has happened.
Now, we have Deputy Allen saying that it has happened. I do not share that view of his for one moment.
I can prove it.
I think that what the Deputy has said is quite an unwarranted slur on county councillors and on the members of local authorities. It has been my experience that, with regard to assisting the needy and those in distress, there never has been in our local machinery any question of politics. The members of local bodies have always been only too anxious to ensure that the underdog and those in need would get every possible assistance.
Deputy Allen's Party did that.
It is unfortunate that such a contention should have been introduced. I feel certain that Deputy Childers does not hold that view at all, and that he is more or less endeavouring to discuss this matter in the abstract.
No, I am not, because the people who secured the assistance might quite easily subconsciously feel politically influenced without there being any question of it.
There can be no question of this, that in the post bag of every Deputy there are letters from constituents asking him to approach the Department of Social Welfare in relation, say, to a pension or some other Department about something else—letters asking the Deputy to do a hundred and one things of that kind. It is absurd to think otherwise, no matter what law you have and no matter what position you have with regard to machinery of this kind. No matter what may be done under this Bill, the ordinary constituent will still approach Deputies and elected representatives with regard to matters of this kind. If Deputy Childers is so naïve as to think that, by putting something into a section of an Act of Parliament, you are going to get people to act otherwise, all that I can say is that he has many more things coming to him.
As I said at the beginning, while academically I appreciate much of what Deputy Childers has urged here, I, nevertheless, say that, from a practical point of view and in view of what has been done with regard to Old Age Pension Acts and other matters of that kind, there is nothing strange, novel or revolutionary in the proposal in this Bill. At the same time I must say that I can agree with what, I think, Deputy T. Walsh, or maybe it was Deputy Childers, said, because frankly I do not see the necessity for this particular provision in the Bill. I did not hear the Minister's statement on it, but at the moment I do not see the necessity for it. While that is so, I, nevertheless, cannot share the view that it is something so strange and revolutionary as to be contrary to the principles which we all express and endeavour to practise. In fact, I am inclined to think that it is possible, under the proposal in the Bill, that there will be more justice meted out to home assistance applicants, in view of the fact that councillors in the different areas will know the home circumstances and know the cases more intimately. That will ensure that cases of immediate need will be brought to the notice of members of the council and that whatever hardships there are will be the more speedily relieved.
This is an important amendment, and I hope it will get mature consideration from every Deputy. To my mind, it is one of the most important amendments that have been put down to the Bill. I hope that the House, in its final decision on it, will not change what is in existence at the present time. It would be a retrograde step for the Dáil to revert back to what was in existence before the passing of the County Management Act. I can say that with deliberation. Home assistance is the one social service we have in which the scale of assistance given is not previously determined by the Dáil. The previous speaker referred to old age pension committees. It is true that an original application for a pension must come before a committee which is representative of people in the district. Very often, there is no public representative whatever on these committees.
I think that occurs very rarely.
What about county councillors?
They may not desire to serve on a committee, but that is beside the point. When an original application comes before an old age pension committee, the investigation officer, who is appointed by the Department of Social Welfare, is there, and he informs the committee of the results of his investigation into the case. He reports that applicant A.B., whoever he may be, is entitled to a certain scale of pension according to law. The committee may or may not accept his view. They do, almost always.
I beg your pardon.
If they determine otherwise, an appeal is made to the Minister for Social Welfare against the decision of the local committee. The determining officers in that Department then decide finally the scale of old age pension that a particular applicant is entitled to receive. If it is a clear case of an applicant's being entitled to the full scale of pension, no question arises afterwards. The pension is awarded as a result of the committee's decision. But if the committee act counter to the advice and opinion of the investigation officer, the investigation officer appeals in all cases. Therefore, it is quite different altogether from the administration of home assistance.
The principle is the same.
It is absolutely different. A trained investigation officer, trained by the State and in the employment of a State Department—formerly the Department of Finance and now the Department of Social Welfare—investigates the means of each applicant. That officer advises the committee according to the scale that has been laid down by the Oireachtas. Is that not so?
I do not think that the Deputy follows it.
I follow it quite well. I have worked on an old age pension committee and also on a home assistance committee.
Speak on local government.
I have some knowledge of these two types of committee.
You have very little knowledge of either of them.
With regard to the matter of home assistance as previously administered by local authorities, one of the reasons why the original County Management Act was brought before this House was because of abuses that took place in the administration of home assistance. That is a well-known fact. In one particular case in Ireland—we will not narrow it down any further——
That is very wise.
——it was publicly known that a particular personage who was a member of a home assistance committee used, at the end of each meeting, to send a note to each person who was granted home assistance on that particular day, telling him that he, the personage, had got him the home assistance. That is a well-known fact. It was because of the abuse of the administration of home assistance—in a few small individual cases, I will admit—that it was found necessary in the County Management Act to put the administration of home assistance into the hands of the county manager and his investigators.
I hope the Minister will accept this amendment by Deputy Childers. I believe it would be in the best interests of local administration that the county officer, together with his investigators, should administer home assistance. Undoubtedly, in this Bill, as in the previous County Management Act, the right to determine the remuneration and terms and conditions of employment of any individual in their employment is taken from the local authority. They have no right whatever to determine whether an officer should get shorter hours or an increase in wages or anything affecting the terms or conditions of his employment. That was done for a specific purpose. It was done in order to ensure that due, proper and non-political consideration—and when I say "non-political consideration" I mean non-public representative consideration—would determine what the remuneration of any officer in the employment of a local authority should be.
Who supply the moneys?
The council. They have no right in any single instance, not even in respect of one farthing, to determine what any officer should receive. That is in the County Management Act at the moment and it is being continued in this Bill. Almost 90 per cent. of the total rates struck and collected by any county council is spent in salaries, wages, allowances, pensions and so forth. With all this talk about democracy and the giving back of rights to local authorities, it seems to me to be very peculiar that the Minister and the Labour Party who sponsored this Bill did not give back the right——
It will come back.
——of determining how that 90 per cent. of the local taxation should be spent. Home assistance is a very small moiety of the local taxation. It has been justly and fairly administered. I say deliberately that there have been less complaints about the administration of home assistance than there were when the councils were administering it themselves.
In further support of what Deputy Childers has said, I should like to remind the House that there is nothing so degrading to a poor person as to have to go to a local representative and ask his assistance and influence in order to get what is that poor person's absolute right—and home assistance is given to the very poor sections of the community.
The county manager will not give it without a doctor's certificate.
That can be altered administratively. It does not require any change in the present law to alter that.
Home assistance has been granted to thousands without doctors' certificates.
Not now. You are not in touch with the position. When I go to the home assistance officer he tells me that the person on whose behalf I am making representations must get a doctor's certificate before the home assistance can be granted. That is in the Bill that your Party introduced. We should never have had county managers.
Deputy Allen, on the amendment.
This amendment is very important. I appeal to the Minister to accept it. It will improve the Bill. We are all concerned with getting local government machinery that will work satisfactorily in the interests of all the people. Above all, we want to ensure that no possible abuse can arise under the machinery which we will provide. I hope the day will never come when members of local authorities will personally have to administer home assistance again. I hope that the Dáil will never decree in any Act that the local authorities should be the determining factor in the administration of home assistance to decide that A.B. should get so much or so little a week. It is asking the members of local authorities to do something which they should not be asked to do. The superintendent assistance officer and his assistants are trained to do it and the county manager on receiving their reports gives the final decision. If any member of a local authority has a grievance he has no difficulty in ventilating it at public or private meetings of the council or in making representations to the county manager. Representations have been made time and time again by every member of a local authority on behalf of individuals seeking home assistance and as a result investigations were made. It is degrading, however, for members of local authorities to have to determine what few shillings very poor persons should receive in the week. It can be abused. It has been abused very seriously in the past and is open to abuse in the future. I hope that the Minister will take no hard and fast line but will keep his mind open. If he will accept Deputy Childers's amendment it will be all to the good but he should promise the Dáil at least to give the matter more mature consideration before deciding that the amendment should not be inserted in the Bill.
Listening to Deputies Allen and Killilea I was convinced that it was their mentality which made the Management Act as it is implemented at the moment a Fianna Fáil forest. Only a warped mentality like that of Deputies Allen and Killilea could suggest for a moment that the local representatives who have the confidence of the electorate of their area would, in order to enhance their political reputation and chances, introduce corruption as we know corruption by exploiting the recipients of home assistance, the destitute people of their area. I have often heard it said that every man judges every other man by his own mentality and I was ashamed to listen to those two very responsible Deputies of the Opposition and can certainly agree with the remaining Deputies.
Deputy MacEntee mentioned 320 people—I do not know if that was a notional or factual figure—all of whom were put off and 60 of whom were kept off as a result of a more intense examination of their cases. I maintain that the proper procedure would have been to intensify the examination and to put off the 60 people who were found to be drawing home assistance to which they were not entitled, but not to victimise the other 260. I would like to know how long they were off home assistance, which was their only means of existence, and how they existed during that time. The Minister could give us a picture of that as it happened in his own area.
Deputy Smith stated that the council in Cavan divested themselves of the responsibility for awarding home assistance. They took the power from themselves and the reason was lack of moral courage. They were afraid that they would be tainted, that they would lose caste or that they would be pilloried if they accepted responsibility for administering home assistance in Cavan. Still they accepted responsibility when they put themselves before the people for election to the county council. Many of them were members of county boards of health and other statutory bodies, but yet they took the responsibility of administering home assistance from themselves and placed it on officials.
I would like to get a definition from Deputy Childers of local government administration. Would I be right in saying that local government means local administration by local representatives?
The Deputy has not understood a word of my speech. I will have to make it all over again.
I listened with interest and the Deputy need not repeat it. I listened to the word "beholden" but whether, as my colleague Deputy O'Higgins said, he meant that in the abstract or not I do not know. Deputy Childers understands that when an old age pension claim comes before a local committee the secrets of that man's means are exposed on paper and the committee are quite entitled to examine them. If a local representative is approached by some unfortunate man or woman seeking home assistance he is almost always conversant with the conditions of that man or woman if he or she lives in the neighbourhood.
He will not ask whether they are getting anything from England or America. He will not ask if they have means in the bank and get permission to investigate in the bank because he knows all about the person from the grapevine of his community. He knows more than the official who comes with the form to get information which must be given or else the applicant's means are assessed at their maximum and he is deprived of any pension he is entitled to get. The committee will then examine the case. Is it not a fact that those committees are canvassed from time to time by old age pension applicants? I know very well that I have been canvassed during the past 17 years and have been asked by the poor old good Irishman "to put in a good word" for him. I do not think it was degrading in any way for those people to ask me to put in a good word for them. From time to time the humane concepts of the local representatives overcame the red tape concepts of the officials who were carrying on the work under the local authority. I never saw any abuse during my eight years as a member of a public assistance authority. I do not know whether we in the south have a different way of carrying out business from the people in other parts of Ireland, but I can say we always dealt with home assistance at the meeting. The first thing presented to the meeting was the report from the home assistance superintendent, through the chairman, and if there were any new cases to be dealt with they were discussed, not in public, and the chairman signed the various sheets; and then the meeting went into public session to discuss hospitals and everything else. The sooner we return to that system the better. We will be removing a degrading principle which at the moment is more than prevalent. First of all, the cases are examined by the local home assistance officer, then by the superintendent and last, but not least, by the manager. When all fails, the applicant can come to the local representative and ask him to go and kow-tow to the manager. It is not the applicants who will be beholden, with some of the managers, but the local representative making a plea on their behalf.
Someone said there has been a great improvement in regard to hospitals, in the payment of the charges. We always took every case on its merits, where an application was put in to have hospital charges reduced. The area I was representing could compare favourably with any other part of Ireland regarding the payment of hospital charges. I hope that never will the function be taken away from the local representative so that he cannot intervene on behalf of a borderline case, which outwardly may look affluent but which really may be on the border between middling well off and not well off. It is a very goodly and godly idea of the Minister to return to the local representatives the authority to administer home assistance in its very wide sense. I hope that the mentality expressed by both Deputy Allen and Deputy Kennedy will not prevail. Deputy Kennedy mentioned a case where a hospital patient had a car and canvassed all the county council members to see if he could get away free gratis regarding hospital charges. That amazing statement was made by a member who stated he was chairman of a public assistance committee.
I would like to ask Deputy MacEntee would it not be the lesser of two evils if those 320 had been kept on home assistance and, when further investigations had been made, the 60 who were not entitled were knocked off, instead of peremptorily knocking off the 320, then making further investigations and putting back 260. I am sure that in his humane moments at times Deputy MacEntee would not consider victimising 260 genuine cases, leaving them to bear the brunt of want, leaving it to some charitable institution to provide for them for the week, fortnight or month that the cases were being investigated, and depriving them of the little pittance they were getting from the Limerick City or County Board of Assistance. I hope this House will repudiate the statements that were made by some of the Opposition Deputies and show that repudiation by not accepting the amendment by Deputy Childers.
In fairness to the managers that I happened to be with for the past nine years, I would like to say that at no time was there an attempt to make the Managerial Act function in County Cork as far as these people were concerned. They were always prepared to meet the committee—it was only a recommendation committee—and more often than not they agreed to the proposals put before that committee. I believe also that for the eight years before that when I was a member of the statutory body, the North Cork Board of Public Health and Assistance, the administration of home assistance was done in a far more suitable and beneficial way to the people who most deserved it. I am not talking about those who got it under pretence and did not want it. The vast majority needed it very badly. I hope that when we come back here in the New Year, after a certain amount of experience under this new County Officer Act, we will be able to say that home assistance is now being properly and justly administered.
I would like to say a few words in contradiction of Deputy Keane. I would be very sorry to see the present method of home assistance reverting to the former method under the county council. I am a member of a local body and can safely say that whenever I recommended a deserving case to the county manager it was attended to most conscientiously. It is humiliating enough to have to go before these people and when a person has to ask a local representative to recommend him to a manager, it is hard enough to do that; but if it reverts to the county council he will have to go around all the members to ask them to do their part in obtaining the home assistance. It would be a very retrograde step for this Dáil to go back to that. Undoubtedly, there would be abuses, as each councillor would be claiming it was he who got the home assistance for that poor person. At present they feel that they can go to a member and ask him to recommend them to the manager for an increase in home assistance or for home assistance in the first instance. It would be a great mistake to change the present system because there have been abuses in the past. As long as you have a good conscientious county officer, there is no doubt that the Act will be properly administered. Therefore, I hope the Minister will accept the amendment.
Deputy O'Higgins stated that the granting of old age pensions rested entirely with the old age pension committees. That is not so. I have served on one of these bodies and I found that the matter rests almost entirely with the investigating officer. In most cases he decides what the person is entitled to and in very rare cases have the committees been able to get him to increase the old age pension. People may appeal against his decision in the hope of getting an increase, but very rarely can they get the investigating officer to change his decision. Therefore, the committees have very little to do with the granting of the old age pension, except in a very few cases where there is no question of means or anything like that.
I am surprised that the discussion on this matter has taken so long and I am more than surprised that the amendment is being pressed, because the whole structure of the Bill, the whole intention of the Bill, is to restore to local authorities powers that they lost under the County Management Acts. I feel that in the matter of home assistance and the other matters referred to in the two amendments before us the decision would best be taken by local representatives with a sense of responsibility and a sense of duty. Deputy Mrs. Rice says it is all right when you have a good conscientious county manager, but you may not have a good conscientious county manager. County managers are human just like anybody else and they can make mistakes. They can have a different approach. It is because they have made mistakes and because their administration has been subject to considerable criticism that we have this general desire to replace the managerial system by a more democratic system. I feel that councillors, with their responsibility to the electorate and their duty under the statute to administer these matters, will approach them from a humane point of view, that the human aspect will be uppermost in their minds. There will be before them an individual case and the circumstances of that family may be known to a number of the councillors and, in my view, they are the best people to decide this particular matter.
Deputies overlook the fact that, even though the local councillors may have the function of deciding the matter, investigation will still be in the hands of officials and there will be before the councillors reports from these officials on each individual new application. In regard to the others, there will be the usual formal report. Therefore, you have investigation by people who are experienced in investigation and recommendations made by them. Here is where the difference will come in.
If you have the local councillors, they will approach the matter from a humanitarian point of view, and it is their duty to do so. If you have the local councillors looking at it from that point of view, that will influence those investigating officers in their approach to the problem and in their recommendation in respect of a particular individual. If the local councillors dealing with the matter are to look at it from a humanitarian point of view, then the recommendations made to them will be made on humanitarian lines. Whereas, if you have the manager, who may not have a humanitarian approach, who may simply have the approach of £ s. d., who may be a person who thinks there should not be home assistance at all, his influence will permeate to his officials and these officials will submit recommendations to accord with the known views of the particular county officer. That is the danger I see in dictatorship, whether it is local or otherwise.
I should like to see these matters discussed by the local councillors with a sense of responsibility and a sense of duty. They may make mistakes, but they will make them on the right side, and that is important. It is better to make a mistake on the right side than to make it on the wrong side. Taking it all round, it is better that these matters should be administered by the local councillors, who, after all, are elected by the people as the best persons to investigate, examine and administer these particular matters. If they are reckless, they have the responsibility of answering their electorate at the next election. For that reason, I cannot understand why this amendment is being pressed because it is out of context. It is opposed to the principle of the Bill which we are passing. It is out of harmony with the principle of the Bill as accepted in this House. That is why I am surprised that it is being pressed, and I hope that Deputy Childers will not insist on pressing it.
I shall go on pressing it.
I hope not, because it may happen that Deputy Childers may get a decision in his favour. That would not be very good; it would be very bad for the people. It would be very bad for Deputy Childers, but he will take that responsibility. If his Party as a whole decide, irrespective of how they may individually approach the matter, to support this idea I do not think that decision will be welcomed generally in the country. I would ask Deputy Childers to agree that once this House has decided to make an amendment in the Management Acts he should assist them in putting into effect the new provisions and giving democracy a chance to work.
I have no use for those who talk about corruption in relation to local councillors and in relation to local authorities. I have heard that allegation made many times, but I have never come across a single instance of corruption.
Back in 1898 when we first got local authorities the suggestion was made against them that they were corrupt and concerned solely with their own pockets. From what section of the people did this suggestion come? It came from that section of the people who were deprived of certain powers under the Act of 1898. When people of means and property are deprived of certain functions they invariably make the suggestion of corruption against those people of lesser property and lesser means who replace them. I think our local administration generally all over the country is absolutely above reproach. Whatever may be suggested in regard to these particular amendments, let them not be put forward on the basis that our local councillors are corrupt. Many Deputies are councillors. Does any Deputy who is a councillor hold himself or herself up as corrupt? Not one of them. But they make the insinuation that some other representative of the people on a local body is corrupt.
You are all saints over there.
We are all saints when we are talking about ourselves and all the sinning is done by someone else. I would like to see this Bill get a fair start. I would like to see the members of local authorities getting the powers we promised to give them. I would like to see them getting those powers with the will of the House. If, when the Bill comes into operation, it is found to be defective the House can then come together and with its experience of the working of the Act it can remove these defects. The function of this Bill is to restore to local authorities powers which were taken away from them in days when there was a new approach, particularly on the continent of Europe, to local administration. People were inclined to see good in the dictatorships in Germany and Italy, and they were inclined to put some of these concepts into operation here. That period has now passed and we are back again to democracy. We realise the benefits of it.
Is the Deputy talking about the Blueshirts, by any chance?
I know nothing about the Blueshirts.
Only about The Vanguard.
The Deputy will extend the scope of this debate if he thinks there is any connection between my amendment and Hitlerite Germany. The debate will go on for weeks until the Minister moves the closure. The Deputy will get his reply pretty quickly.
I have no desire to prolong the debate.
You have already put another half-hour on it.
When this conception of management was put into general operation here there were these faulty examples in existence in Europe. They have gone now. The idea is gone. We are back again to democracy in operation and democracy in action. Let us put democracy into operation and into action and let us give the local authorities the responsibility for those things for which all right-thinking people believe they should have responsibility. Do not let us try to retain some of the county management dictatorship in this new measure. In the interests of the Bill and in the interests of good administration, I appeal to Deputy Childers to withdraw his amendments.
Probably I have more experience of local administration than Deputy Childers has, since I am a member of a local authority. I have had the experience of people who were looking not just for home assistance but for an increase in home assistance. When I approached the officer concerned I was told that a doctor's certificate would have to be produced according to the instructions of the county manager. Are we not better judges than these dictators who obviously went astray in some counties? When Deputy Childers was Parliamentary Secretary during the Fianna Fáil régime we were deprived of our right to go to the Custom House and there make a case for an old age pensioner.
Not on this amendment.
If this matter is raised, it will take another half-hour.
The Chair can deal with irrelevancy without any assistance.
Old age pensioners were referred to. Are old age pensions committees corrupt, with their chairman a clergyman?
Old age pensions do not arise under this.
The committee decide that a particular applicant is worthy of an old age pension. An officer is sent out to investigate that application. The officer goes to extremes. He counts the hens and the chickens. He goes back and reports. But that is not done in all cases.
The matter does not arise on this amendment.
But that will apply if this amendment is passed. The local representatives are the best judges. If there was corruption in the past, then that corruption must have existed under Fianna Fáil since they appear to be so extraordinarily worried about it. Deputy Allen said to-day that he knew of one instance where an applicant for home assistance was sent a postcard by a particular individual notifying him that he had procured the home assistance for the applicant. Deputy Allen did not mention where that happened. He did not mention whether the individual was a member of any particular Party. Deputy Childers lives in the city. He does not come into contact with our ordinary man-in-the-street in the way in which a member of a local authority does. Why should there be any fear because the elected representatives of the people have a say in the administration of home assistance? It is we who strike the rate. Is it not a sad commentary that one should be told that an applicant for home assistance must procure a doctor's certificate? Is it not wrong that his claim should be held up? I know of one instance where a county manager had to take money from the unemployment assistance and give it out in home assistance. Did Deputy Childers know anything about that? Was that right? Was that Christian? Home assistance is given in order to tide a person over a period of distress. An unemployed man can go to the court of referees and bring any member of this House, who is in his area, to defend him at that court. Why should we not have authority to speak on behalf of whoever wants home assistance? What do the county managers, some of whom are imported into counties, know? By whom are they going to be guided if not by the local authority? Deputy Childers is greatly afraid something terrible will happen.
I never suggested county councillors could not recommend home assistance.
That is what we are setting up committees for.
Apparently the Deputy did not understand my speech.
The Deputy spoke a lot of boloney, because he knows nothing about local authorities; if he did, he would not put down that amendment. I would like the Minister to go further; I would like him to bring in a Bill to abolish all the little dictators set up by Deputy MacEntee, and give us full power. It was under their administration that some of their pets were made county managers and now they are afraid a little power will be given back to the elected representatives of the people. The people want that. Every day I meet unfortunate people from the country who cannot make a case for themselves. How will they get home assistance if they have not some local man on the committee to speak on their behalf? Have the unfortunate people to wait until the home assistance officer comes out, whenever he likes, to see if they want home assistance? Is that the Deputy's intention—that we have to wait until the home assistance officer or the county manager comes out to ascertain the circumstances in which an unfortunate man or woman is living?
No suggestion of that kind was ever made.
Committees should be set up. Why have we a committee of agriculture and other committees outside the county council? Why have we vocational committees or general purposes committees?
We did not even oppose the idea of a committee.
You are opposing the Bill with all these principles in it and you cannot get away from that. There is no use blowing hot and cold. I would like to see the county managers finished. That would save the ratepayers the £1,000 salary and expenses and we could give more towards home assistance. Is it not a shame that the Government have to fight so hard to get a Bill through that will benefit the poor? The Opposition were 16 years in office and the sooner they realise they are gone for ever, the better. Their day has passed. The day of dictators has passed. Democracy is prevailing; peace and harmony are prevailing in all parts of the country. That was not so when Fianna Fáil were in charge of the country for 16 years. They were chasing the I.R.A. and others through the country, and the jails were full.
I have listened to several speeches on this amendment. We have heard a lot about restoring the powers of councils, particularly from Deputy Cowan. I have been thinking over this matter and, as regards the system of administration of home assistance, so far as I know there is no dissatisfaction on the part of the people in receipt of it. I believe they are all satisfied with the present arrangement. The administration of home assistance is a very difficult matter. I would not like to see the present system changed.
A number of Deputies on the Government side to whom I listened to-night are members of local authorities. I believe they have mistaken ideas about restoring powers to county councils. They have not a proper idea of what the powers of a county council are. I have had experience of local bodies over a number of years in my own county, and I am aware that there are many individuals who have an idea that in themselves they are the county council. In my county there were individuals who thought they had a perfect right to do certain things. They would write a note to the home assistance officer asking him to give assistance to a person whom they considered was a deserving case. The home assistance officer might be weak enough to give way to that councillor. The councillor might say: "That man is entitled to home assistance; give it to him." I have known it to happen in years gone by that a note would go from a member of the board of health and the home assistance officer would need to be a fairly strong man to refuse the request in that note.
A county council composed of people with that type of outlook does not deserve to be called a council. Such persons have no idea of working together as a council. Deputy Cowan mentioned that the local councillors knew the circumstances of the people in their own areas best. A councillor in one area may have a different outlook on the position and on this question of home assistance from that of a councillor in another area. One councillor may be inclined to be overgenerous. He may have set up a standard in his area, and demand greater scales and bigger payments than would be possible throughout the whole county. In another area, against that, you may have a councillor who may err in the other direction. He may be parsimonious about the spending of public money. When this committee composed of all those councillors with different outlooks meet and weigh up the position and act fairly and impartially towards all the applicants, the result of the whole position may be—it has happened under the old system—that the applicants in one area may be neglected and not get justice, and the position may be abused in other areas.
I think the present system is as near as we possibly can get to perfection. This whole question of the powers of the county council being taken from them and of restoring the powers of the county council under this Bill, to my mind, is all nonsense. The effect of giving back to the committees the power to grant home assistance is not restoring any power. It is only making it possible for us to revert to abuses that were possible when that system was carried on before. County councils, under the Managerial Act, where they work as a council had full powers to compel the manager. The manager is the only man. He is paid for the job. He has time for it, and he has a home assistance officer. If the council meet as a council—not as individuals pulling as much as they can for their own areas and doing what they can for their own areas— and take a view of the county as a whole and try to act for the county as a whole and not for the people with whom they come into contact, they can lay down a policy for the manager that will be fair and just to all the people. If the manager is extravagant in the expenditure of money the council can deal with him. If he is inclined to restrict payments and not give to the poor—the people who are in need of home assistance—the amounts they need and to which they are entitled, the council can deal with him in that direction. The manager will very soon get to know what is best to do.
From my knowledge of officials, I know that they are always careful. That is particularly so in the case of home assistance officers. They are inclined to be on the safe side and the safe side for them is to give the benefit of the doubt to the applicant. I do not think any council should object to that. They do not want cases arising where people may die of starvation. They always have that at the back of their minds. They have a difficult job to carry out. Under the present arrangement with the county manager under the control of the council acting as a council for the whole county and with the interests of all the county in view, our present system is as near as we can possibly get to perfection. Nobody in the country, so far as I know—the poor people, the ratepayers or anybody else—is worried about the position. I think that the poor, under the county manager, are getting more attention than ever they got and that his administration is more impartial than administration under a number of individuals called a council will be. He is in a position to weigh up the situation for the whole county.
He knows everything.
Deputy O'Leary represents probably one area in a county. I represent another. I will be inclined to judge the whole county on the conditions obtaining in my own area. I often heard county councillors remark that everybody should fight for his own area. It is a good thing to see a councillor pushing forward but there must be somebody over all, somebody who will keep the interests of the county as a whole in view. That is not done either very often or always by county councillors.
I do not intend to say more than a few words. I feel very strongly on this question of the change of policy which it is proposed to make in this Bill. I have been a very long time on local bodies and quite a long time on boards of health. The one argument that I could see in favour of the managerial system was that there was too much work to be done by the old boards of health. This matter of public assistance was one of the things that made our work almost impossible. But we have to consider what is the present procedure in this matter of home assistance.
A county councillor, or, in fact, anybody may write to the county manager or a person who wants home assistance may make application to the county manager or secretary of the county council. The manager then proceeds to have his application investigated. He does that through his assistance officers. If necessary, in special cases, if he is not satisfied with the report of the local assistance officer, he gets the county superintendent to check up, investigate and report. Then the manager, having all these facts placed before him, decides whether the applicant is entitled to home assistance or not and awards a certain amount if he thinks fit. I would like to know how this assistance committee are going to depart from that procedure. Surely, nobody will allege that ten members of the county council can have sufficient knowledge of their own to make a decision in at least three-quarters of the applications for assistance. They could not have that knowledge. They will all the time have to rely on the reports furnished by the assistance officers. What then is the advantage? I cannot see any advantage really. They will have to decide, if they want to decide fairly, on the reports that come from the assistance officers. Deputy O'Leary will agree with that.
What will they do while they are waiting?
There is no waiting.
Die with the hunger?
If the Deputy knows the job as I know it, there is no waiting. Temporary assistance is given in every case where it is required.
Not in all cases.
In all cases, and there is no county manager who will attempt to refuse temporary assistance where it is required.
If he is up in the mountains, how will he get down to the manager?
Deputy O'Rourke must be allowed to make his statement without interruption.
Deputy O'Leary would be surprised by the way they get down. I wonder how many of them manage to see him now and again.
They write to me.
Assuming that this committee is set up, they will not have sufficient knowledge, except in regard to odd individual cases, to decide on the necessity for home assistance and the amount to be allocated, and they will, therefore, have to rely on the reports of the assistance officer. There is no other way out of it, and, therefore, so far as information goes, there is no advantage in this committee. What are the disadvantages? In the first place, if such a committee is to deal with every individual case, it will have to be in session a long time. The county manager and those in the county council's offices are there all the time. They are doing this work day after day and are a long time in session. I wonder how long will the assistance committee be in session if they are to study each individual case. It will cost a great deal of money and is, therefore, a disadvantage to the ratepayers from the financial point of view and no advantage that I can see to the recipients of public assistance.
It has happened—I suppose it happened before the last local elections, but it certainly happened after the last local elections—that committees were appointed on a political basis. In some cases, there is scarcely a single representative of the Opposition on committees of agriculture, on vocational education committees and other committees. What, then, will be the position if we are to have public assistance committees elected on purely political lines? Will that not lead to a nice state of affairs? There is a grave danger of that happening. It has happened and such committees are in operation at present, and nobody can say that it is not likely to happen again. I say, therefore, that there is a very great danger of the whole thing developing into cliques which will not be in the interest of either the ratepayers or the poor who are supposed to get home assistance. The Minister has been a member of a local body—perhaps not as long as I have been—and he should very carefully consider this amendment. I am afraid that, if he does not accept it, a serious state of affairs for his Department will be brought about. I ask him to accept the amendment and I do so as one who never believed in using political influence to penalise anybody.
The Deputy is surely not serious when he says that? The Fianna Fáil clubs used every bit of it that could be used.
Deputy O'Rourke, without interruption.
I know more about Fianna Fáil clubs than Deputy O'Leary——
He would not be allowed into one.
And I can assure him that such a thing as interference by any Fianna Fáil club has never happened that I am aware of, and there is no danger of it. There is, however, a danger, especially after local elections when tempers are up and feelings strong, of committees being appointed on a political basis. That would be disastrous for the administration of public assistance or the administration of any other service in which the interests of a large number of people are involved. I think it would be a retrograde step, and I am asking him now to accept the amendment as one who, in my own Party, opposed the managerial system. I was against having it as through as it is now, but one thing with which I always agreed was that the board of health could not possibly carry out the functions it was supposed to carry out. To do so these boards would have to be in almost continuous session, and I could see no way out of it other than leaving it to trusted officials to carry out these functions.
The discussion has ranged over a very wide field on this issue, which is definitely a very straight and simple issue, but the longer the discussion goes the more involved it seems to become. Taking the last speaker first, Deputy O'Rourke is in error when he sees a danger of political committees being appointed. It will be a matter of a committee of the whole council, a general committee, and hence there cannot be any question of interference.
The general tone of the discussion seems to have been based on a fear about entrusting this function to the elected representatives. The Bill itself is designed to restore powers to the elected representatives which they did not hold under the County Management Acts. They are given very wide and very representative powers in regard to contracts, roads, houses, and so on, and why we should swallow the camel and strain at the gnat, I do not know. What are we afraid of in the matter of entrusting them with the administration of home assistance? They will have the same officers. The home assistance and assistance officers will be there, and will carry out their functions as they carry them out to-day and report back, not to the manager but to the elected representatives. What, then, is the basis of the fear about the desperate corruption which is to take place?
I would join with some of the Deputies who have spoken in saying that I think the remarks made by some Deputies are not at all a worthy reflection on the character or type of those who make up our public representatives. The elected representatives are the best the country can put up, and, taking them by and large, we have no reason of any kind tobe ashamed of our county councils. We have had many Deputies showing the greatest fear that, in entrusting them with the administration of home assistance, we will be submerged in corruption instanter. I did not know until now how influential politically destitute people who are dependent on home assistance can be. They are, to my mind, numerically negligible and I hope will become more negligible; but I do not believe that, even if councillors were inclined to use them politically, it would be any great advantage to them and I certainly do not believe that they are of the type suggested by some Deputies that they cannot be entrusted with the giving of home assistance to people who are momentarily down and out.
There is a vast gulf between home assistance and old age pensions and other State pensions. In the State-aided schemes, there are well defined rules which must be obeyed. There is a certain age, a means test and so on. We have had a comparison made between the pensions officer and pensions committee and the home assistance officer, but the pensions officer is working on the basis of a well-defined code. Home assistance, which is primarily and essentially the function of the local representatives, is and must be more elastic. You are dealing there with people who are quite all right one week and who, next week, because misfortune strikes them, are momentarily down and out and require assistance. It may only be of a temporary character, but I suggest that the local representatives would be more conversant with that type of case than other persons you could name. These elected representatives will still have the cooperation and assistance of the people, the home assistance officer and assistance officer, who are trained in the work and who will report back. Why we should have the idea that all the virtues must be vested in the individual, the county officer or manager, I cannot understand. Deputy Allen mentioned that it was mainly because of home assistance that the Management Act was brought into operation.
One of the reasons.
The fact that there was abuse in the administration of home assistance was one of the principal reasons, the Deputy said, for that Act.
One of the reasons.
Since then, everything in the garden has been lovely. Deputy Childers seemed to hold the same viewpoint because he said that the county managers ought to be national leaders to whom the people would look, showing a certain association of thought. I have perfect respect for the managers, but I do not get down on my knees to adore them. They are not people to be defied. Public representatives can be trusted to carry out the functions which they are elected to carry out and the last people to cast a reflection upon them should be Deputies. I want to see this Bill working successfully. I have met the Deputies as far as I can in relation to the various amendments, in order to bring forth a machine that can function effectively in the interests of the country and democratically. I believe that the transfer of the home assistance functions from the county officer to the elected representatives is part and parcel of what we are doing in the Bill as a whole. It is one added power that we are giving to the elected representatives, and not a major one at that.
Having gone so far as we have gone with the Bill, having decided, on Second Reading, to transfer these powers to the elected representatives —they had much wider powers before that—I do not see why we should crib over this particular one. I cannot see what is the fundamental objection to allowing the people who are elected to administer home assistance. They are the people who strike the rate and who will have to make provision for home assistance, on the basis of their experience and knowledge of the circumstances in their respective areas. I have not the least fear that they will go to the moon in respect of this matter because they will be responsible for striking the rates. I believe home assistance will be administered correctly and fairly and, I hope, more generously than was the habit.
Once again I express the view that this was one of the services that were on a miserly standard throughout the country generally. I say that from what knowledge I have of public life. The standards of home assistance were very miserly and the amounts given were not competent in many cases to maintain life in the poor people who were getting it. With the introduction of this new measure, I hope it will be somewhat more generous. I have no fear whatever of local representatives over-spending or spending widely because they will be responsible for striking the rate and for making provision for the area. I hope it will be somewhat more generous than has been the customary standard of public assistance. I trust that there will be less and less people for it but such as have the misfortune to call for it ought to get a modicum to keep them going for the temporary period they are depending on it.
I would, therefore, ask the House to accept the position as it is in the Bill and to show confidence and trust in the representatives to do the right thing in respect of the home assistance service.
Up to date there has been a great deal of misunderstanding with regard to our attitude on the amendment. Everybody is trying to make political capital out of it. We are proposing something of a really serious character. We have not made any suggestions that county councillors are corrupt. We have not made a suggestion that county councillors cannot act as representatives and bring cases where home assistance is needed to the attention of the manager or the home assistance officer. We have not suggested that there should be any delay in the award of home assistance in urgent cases and we have not suggested that county councillors cannot check the administration of home assistance in the ordinary way. We have made none of these suggestions. We have not suggested, even, that home assistance is necessarily adequate. We are not arguing here as to whether home assistance is given on a miserly basis or not. There is nothing to prevent an increase being given in home assistance by various local authorities, if they chose to plan their rate scheme to award larger amounts and, if they do not do it, as in the case under many other Acts that have been passed, the Minister for Local Government can enforce some higher minimum scale of home assistance. None of these things has any relation to the general question of this amendment.
We have had people making comparisons between the award of home assistance and the award of old age pensions. It is quite obvious there is no comparison. First of all, there is a definite scale of values prescribed under an Act for old age pensions. Secondly, the investigation officer gives practically all the information required in every single case, and, thirdly, the old age pension applicant can appeal once more to a higher authority and the higher authority does not consist in the ordinary way of people who are immediately responsible for making available the money for the old age pension. As a matter of fact, as is known to the House, Deputy Dr. Ryan made proposals for the amendment of the Social Welfare (Insurance) Bill, which would eliminate a great deal of the publicity attached to the granting of old age pensions by substituting a valuation test for the old test which involved minute analysis of the person's means.
Surely not on this amendment.
I have had to go far astray. What I am coming to is that I put seriously to the Minister certain principles in connection with the award of any form of social service. I wonder how many times I have to repeat them before the Minister understands them. I put them very seriously, and I suggest that when Deputy Cowan and the Minister think that the power of granting or withholding assistance should be retained in the hands of local representatives, they are actually going against what might be described as the left wing viewpoint in regard to the award of social services.
This amendment is not a conservative amendment. If anything, it is rather in the direction of the left. It is an amendment designed to maintain principles in regard to the award of social services which are entirely modern and entirely up to date and which are believed, I might add, by a great many supporters of Labour Parties throughout the world who have been fighting for the right of people to receive social assistance without tests being applied which, in fact, are humiliating to them.
What we have suggested is that, first of all, applicants for home assistance should have the right to privacy of hearing. There need not and should not be publicity unless the person really desires it. There should be privacy in regard to the hearing of the case and in regard to the person who examines the case. That is not a reflection on county councillors. That is not a reflection on the character of county councillors. It is simply making a suggestion for a modern type of administration, whereby a person can apply for assistance and have his case examined privately.
Secondly, as I said before, it is a modern principle, advocated by Labour Parties in various parts of the world, that a person who applies for social assistance should not need to depend for the granting of that home assistance on the person who voted the money. It is an absolutely fundamental democratic principle that the ultimate appeal in regard to whether he should have the money should go to some independent individual. It is a thoroughly good left wing principle. There is nothing conservative about it at all. In other words, the person making the appeal should have the right to a decision independent of political control or political influence.
A great many people here to-night have tried to make the suggestion that when we put down this amendment we were suggesting that county councillors were corrupt. So far as I am concerned, that has no relation to my argument. There is a very great distinction between the idea of corruption and the idea of, shall we say, general exercise of patronage without any evil intent. Does the Minister understand what I mean or am I again to be accused of suggesting that county councillors are corrupt? I have said that in all cases where people who voted the moneys also decide who is to get the money, they cannot help exercising a sort of patronage which is utterly undesirable and which should be eliminated from the modern State, and they exercise it unconsciously, whether they like it or not. They can exercise it entirely without any wish to have any political influence. Does the Minister understand what I mean and does he understand that persons of his own political point of view have worked for 100 years to establish the principle that people have the right to social assistance without there being any danger of that political patronage being exercised? It is not corruption and it is not even an abuse. It is simply something that we all of us know has gone on in democracies from the time the first Parliaments of this world started.
The effort of every decent democracy is to remove into the sphere of administration the granting of sums under the heading of social services. Deputy O'Leary and other Deputies talked about the humane aspect of the matter. We desire home assistance to be administered on a humane basis. We know perfectly well that it is possible to train officers to have a humane attitude and that, all over the world, there are people who have the vocation of knowing to award home assistance and other social benefits humanly and efficiently. There could always be a sufficient hierarchy of officials, in the awarding of social benefits, to ensure that there would be that difference of viewpoint so that one man would have a chance of knowing the grounds upon which another man arrived at a particular decision. We have no objection to councillors checking the administration of home assistance and going over cases so as to prevent abuses.
I hope I have made our attitude clear. We want the people of this country to have a vigorous independence of mind both in local and general elections. We do not want to have even 1 per cent. of the people, if it can possibly be avoided, using the phrase: "So-and-so did something for me" and making that the decisive reason why he should vote for that individual. We do not mind that element entering into it, as it is bound to sometimes, but one of the reasons why social services are awarded by independent officers is to avoid that particular atmosphere in an election. The Minister knows I am saying something that is absolutely true, that it has no connection with corruption, and every decent Labour Party in Western Europe has been trying, however Socialist they were, to keep all these awards of social services on that basis. I am surprised that the Labour Minister in charge of this Bill should wish to remain in the backwater or to get away from these modern principles. I am surprised that Deputy Cowan does so-much to suggest something which is not in the least in accord with modern principles of the award of social services.
I hope I have managed once again to explain our view in regard to this matter, because there is no use in the Minister's implying that we are proposing this amendment because we think that county councils are corrupt. My hope is, if this amendment is lost and the Bill goes through in its present form, that county councils will delegate authority to administer home assistance to the county officer because I believe it will show they have a proper sense of respect for persons who are victims of distress and who apply for home assistance. I hope that, while exercising a general check on administration, they will say that they prefer that they should not be asked to deal with applications from likely beneficiaries of a particular award, that they would prefer that some officers should do that, while they would have the right, if you like, of recommendation and of check. I hope local authorities throughout the State will take that action. I hope that the first step will be to delegate the right to give home assistance to the county officer which, as far as I can make out, they have power to do under the Bill. As everyone knows, that is not the final act. They can always revoke that delegation of power if they wish to do so. I do not think I can say any more than that. I have tried to make these matters clear to the Minister and I hope there will be no further suggestion that we consider that county councils are corrupt when we are merely advocating a modern principle which has been already well established in regard to the award of social services.
If I have misinterpreted any statement from the opposite side, I can only say that I clearly got the impression from the remarks of Deputy Childers, and also of Deputy Allen, that there was a fear amongst Opposition Deputies that the members of county councils would be corrupt, to put the matter plainly, in the administration of home assistance and that they would utilise their power for an illegal purpose to advance their own interests. That was what I gleaned from the remarks of Deputy Allen and Deputy Childers. There was the further point that they wanted the recipients of home assistance to be independent to the extent that they would not have to ask anybody to give them such home assistance. I do not know how that could be achieved because they would have to ask somebody, and you could not reasonably prevent them from approaching councillors if they wished to do so.
So far as the Deputy's suggestion in regard to a Labour Minister getting away from Labour principles is concerned, I make a present of that to the Deputy. I am standing on what I consider a reasonably fair principle. I ask the House to agree to it, and if Deputies are not inclined to do so, they can have it their own way. I am suggesting that the people who are elected by the votes of the people should have the right to dispense home assistance with the help of their officers. I think they are at least worthy of that responsibility, but it is a matter for decision by the House. That is the position. If Deputies do not like that proposal, I shall leave it to a free vote of the House. In that way councillors who constitute a very big part of the membership of this House can say whether my proposal or that of Deputy Childers is the better one.
We have just heard a rather extraordinary pronouncement from the Minister which I do not think should be allowed to pass unnoticed. Here we have one of the major sections in this Bill, a proposal to change radically the present system of administering public assistance, a proposal affecting the disposal of millions of public money, and the Minister calmly announces to the House that he is prepared to run away from the principle which he has embodied in this Bill, that his Government is not prepared to stand by it, and that he is going to leave a major matter of this sort to a free vote of the House. A free vote of the House! Where has the Constitution gone? Where is the doctrine of collective responsibility upon which proper government and proper administration of this country depend? We know that in ordinary matters up to this it has been put into abeyance, but here for the first time, upon a matter of the first public importance, we have a member of the Government getting up and saying that he is not prepared—because that is in fact what it means—to stand by his own proposals, and that the Government is not prepared to stand by them.
This is a Bill, the principle of which the House has accepted.
Is it any wonder that the country is in the state it is to-day? Is it any wonder that the newspapers are full of recurring Government crises? I think that it is certainly time public attention should be directed to it. Do we have any fixed principle in government at this moment? I heard Deputy Cowan talk about democracy. Democracy means, if it means anything, order and control; it means standing on principles.
If a Government meets and solemnly considers proposals for legislation put before it by a Minister, and if that Government comes to an agreement in regard to those proposals: if, in its collective wisdom, it decides that something should be done in the public interest and for the benefit of the community, what justification is there for a Minister coming into this House, simply because he appears to be in a parliamentary difficulty and to avoid the risk that he may have to face the country if he is defeated, and going back upon his colleagues and renouncing a decision which, presumably, the Government have come to in regard to public legislation? Of course, when one is speaking on these matters one is talking in the dark. We must proceed here on these benches on the assumption that things are done now as they were done when we were in office, that is to say that proposals are submitted to this House with the full consent and assent of the Government, and that every Minister coming into this House knows that he carries not merely his own personal responsibility for the legislation which is submitted to it, but the responsibility of every member in that Government, acting collectively as a team, and, therefore, in order that this may be put beyond yea or nay that every Minister who has a proposal to submit to the House submits it first to the Government for their approval.
As I say, that is the conception that we have of the manner in which a Government should be conducted. It is the manner in which we conducted it, and we would like to be able to assume that it is the manner in which it is conducted to-day. But this continuous renouncing of decisions which have been taken ostensibly by the Government, this continuous rejection of responsibility on the part of Ministers, these announcements that, "whatever you do in this House, we will make certain that the Government does not fall," lead us to believe that that is not how the affairs of the country are being conducted now.
I do not think that public confidence or public conduct in relation to big affairs was ever reduced to a lower level than it is to-day, whether it is in relation to a Social Security Bill or in relation to a County Administration Bill, or to the mother and child service programme. Everything is put up for auction in this House, and if the House is not prepared to buy, then the Government will withdraw the proposals and accept the verdict of the House because they are afraid to take the verdict of the country on their proposals.
I am very sorry that the Minister for Local Government, for whom I have some admiration and a great deal of respect, should have committed himself on a major proposal in this Bill to follow the bad example which has been set by some of his colleagues when they have been in a parliamentary difficulty. Either the Minister should stand or fall on this. If he thinks there is any merit in the proposal, and we think there is, then he should say that: "I will accept it and withdraw my own." But this idea of trying to evade responsibility by not making the question a matter of confidence if it goes to a division, is, I think, quite unworthy of the Minister.
Deputy MacEntee has been in the House for the past hour or so. During that time he must have heard Deputy O'Rourke behind him explain to the House that he was in favour of the amendment though he had been against the County Management Bill. It was an unfortunate moment that Deputy MacEntee selected to make the speech which he has just made, having regard to that statement of Deputy O'Rourke's.
Deputy O'Rourke is not a member of the Government.
The difficulty about Deputy MacEntee is that he has not realised that the big stick he used to wield is gone. The situation is quite clear. When the Minister for Local Government introduced this Bill, he made it quite clear on the Second Reading that he was doing so for the purpose of giving back to the local authorities some of the powers which had been taken from them by the County Management Acts of 1940 and 1942. He made it equally clear, on the Second Reading, that, so far as that principle was concerned, he was standing or falling by it, but that so far as the degree to which the powers should or should not be handed back, that was a matter on which he wanted the collective wisdom of this House, and that it was a matter on which he felt we might be able to approach the problem in a non-political spirit. Unfortunately, Deputy MacEntee, in his usual manner, has been unable to respond to that appeal on this particular amendment.
There is one matter that I should like to make clear. I see quite a lot of merit in the last proposal that was made by Deputy Childers. I do not like Deputy Childers' amendment, as such, because it would not give the power of review to the councils concerned. Deputy Childers made the suggestion, however, that he hoped that if the amendment was passed the councils would delegate the function to the county officer and that they could take it back again if it was not operated properly. In spite of the fact that Deputy MacEntee is not anxious to approach this in a non-political spirit, I still believe there should be a halfway house between the Minister and Deputy Childers on this amendment. I believe that you want, in regard to home assistance— in the general cases—to have the executive Act operated by the executive officer. But I want more than a check by the local councils. I want the local councils, effectively, to be able to get in, override and correct the mistakes that are made when mistakes are made by the county officer. I want that to be done—and I want to be quite clear on this—as Deputy Harris has stated by the council as a whole, and not by individual members of the council. I cannot see any way of getting that done except by vesting the powers in the local authorities.
The local authorities, in the ordinary case, can delegate the power to their county officer, knowing that they can retract it again. There is not any other method of doing it. I make a present of this to Deputy Childers if he can find me the halfway house between the two things: if he can find me a method by which the executive officer will carry out the job in the ordinary way, while at the same time the local council will have not merely a check but what I might perhaps describe as the harrying power which Deputy Childers himself mentioned— an actual firm corrective so that it can intervene in specific cases. If that could be done, then I think it would be much better. The only method, on the basis which Deputy Childers has suggested in his amendment, would be to leave the power with the county officer, and then to get the information. That is not adequate. You can get all the information required. You can provide in this Bill that all the information possible can be obtained, but there is only one way in which you can get the corrective, so far as I can see. I am open to conviction on the matter: we on this side of the House are open to conviction—which is different from Deputy MacEntee's view. There is only one way in which I can see that you can get that power of corrective, namely, to put the power in the hands of the local authorities and trust them to do their job.
I want to be quite clear that I am not utilising the word "corruption" in any unpleasant sense—I think Deputy Childers made that quite clear in his last speech—but even if the power were going to be utilised in a way that was undesirable it might in the long run be the best thing because it would rouse local people to ensure that that type of councillor would not again be returned. In the long run, it would be the best thing. I think that to take the other view is to accept defeat and to accept the view in defeat that we are not going to get the right type of person on our local authorities. Of course, I accept the view put forward by Deputy O'Rourke that a matter of time may be involved. That is why I want the provision that while the responsibility is that of the local councils that the corrective power is that of the local authorities. They will have power to delegate that to the county officer. There is no way at all in which that situation can be arrived at except by the position in this Bill. While I want the general principle on which the Second Reading of this Bill is based, that more power be given back to the local authorities, I am quite prepared to listen if any method should be evolved by virtue of which the time taken by details in the work of local authorities can be avoided.
Deputy Sweetman seems to want the best of both worlds all the time. He wants the power in the hands of the local authority and he wants the local authority to delegate it to the county officer. Deputy Sweetman must remember that when the council delegate their power to the local officer it is then in the hands of the local officer.
They can take it back.
In respect of specific cases, I take it, or the whole powers. Deputy Sweetman knows quite well that that kind of machine could never function. Either you give it to the county officer or you keep it yourself. At what stage do you take it back from him? Do you take it back from him if you find him abusing it or because he is too parsimonious or too liberal, or what? Either you operate the power and keep it in your hands or you delegate it to the county officer and trust him to use the power on behalf of the council as he should use it.
The Deputy is slightly embarrassed because of his earlier interruptions to-day. If the Deputy wants an answer I will give it to him.
Can Deputy Sweetman give us a formula whereby the council would hold the power and at the same time the county officer will operate it? You must have it either one way or the other. Deputy Sweetman knows quite well that without this Bill at all, under the Management Act, at the moment any member of a county council can have a discussion, in public session or otherwise, if there is any abuse in any single respect of the administration of home assistance—and that the manager cannot prevent him from doing so. They can pass resolutions recommending that the county officer should take lines other than those which he has been taking in the matter of the administration of home assistance. Is that not so? It can be put on the agenda for any meeting of the council. A special meeting of the council can be called if a number of members sign a requisition. The manner in which the county officer is administrating home assistance can come up as an ordinary item on the agenda at every council meeting. I have yet to hear of a single case of abuse under the Management Act in the administrative areas with which I am acquainted. To put the power of administering home assistance in the hands of a local authority might result in an abuse. It is well known that in the past the home assistance fund was used for political or patronage purposes. There is a strong and shrewd suspicion abroad that certain groups are interested in getting that power of administration back into the hands of the council for that purpose in the future. I know of things that have happened in the past in the matter of using the home assistance fund for patronage purposes. It can be used in that direction in the future. The Minister talks about giving back democratic powers to the local authorities. Home assistance is only a very small proportion of the funds raised in rates by the local authority in any county. Earlier to-day, Sections 24 and 25 were passed by this House. Many functions and powers under these sections were left in the hands of the future county officer—functions and powers that councils would be very interested in. Take, for instance, the matter of tenancy—the determining of the tenants of the hundreds of thousands of houses that have been and are being built by the local authorities. Many councillors might be interested in the future tenancies and might like to have these powers. I believe that the power should be in the hands of the manager and not of the council.
Between 80 and 90 per cent. of the total revenue of any council is spent on salaries, wages, allowances, pensions and so forth. In other words, between 80 and 90 per cent. of the total funds of a council is spent in paying the remuneration of the officers of that council. It might be considered very democratic to give back to the elected representatives the right to determine the salaries, wages and allowances, conditions of employment, etc., of all the officers in their employ, but in this Bill as in the Management Act it is deliberately being retained in the hands of the county manager. Ninety per cent. of the expenditure of the councils will be swept away out of the hands of the elected representatives in this Bill. If a Parliament or a local council have not full control over all the finances they have no power. I am not seeking that they should have control over the remuneration of the officers of the council, tenancy functions, the making of lettings, the making of advances or the fixing, revision and recovery of rent, and all these matters affect the finances of the council, but we are asking that in addition to those very far-reaching functions which are being given to the county officer he should also have the function of determining in respect of the very poor section of the community who seek home assistance what each applicant is entitled to. It is degrading that in order to get assistance a poor person should use political influence. That is humiliating and something this House should not countenance.
I would ask the Minister to accept Deputy Childers's amendment in good faith. It is the result of our experience and we are concerned with nothing but getting a good machine that will give good service to the people and under which the least possible number of abuses can take place. That is all we on this side of the House are concerned with, that and nothing else.
Imagine a council of 27 people—we have up to 45 on some councils—sitting down to administer home assistance and to determine in 200 or 300 cases each month whether they should give 2/-, 5/- or 10/- a week. Imagine the most intimate and personal matters affecting the lives of those poor people being trotted out at public sessions of the county council. The Minister was a member of a local authority for many years and he knows what that means. The applicants for home assistance are amongst the poorest sections in the community, and the home assistance officer will have a full detailed report of all matters affecting their lives. I think it would be unfair and unreasonable that that report should be investigated at a public session of the council. I hope that the Minister will see reason in this matter and agree with the Dáil and with those who believe that he is doing a wrong and an injustice to the machine he is seeking to create by insisting that the administration of home assistance be given back to the local representatives.
I suppose we should be thankful to Deputy MacEntee for his dissertation on political practice and thought. I refuse to get as excited as Deputy MacEntee, however, about this patter. This Bill was introduced and got its Second Reading without a division. The principles of the Bill have been accepted and have become the property of the House. I asked for and got the co-operation of both sides of the House in making this as effective an instrument as possible. Deputy MacEntee easily becomes excited when he wants to talk of disposing of £1,000,000. We are dealing simply with Deputy Childers' amendment, which seeks to delete certain words from sub-section (1) (a) of Section 26. We are deciding whether the administration of medical assistance should be left to the county officer or to the elected representatives. Sub-section (1) (b) indicates that the county officer's funtions shall be:—
"with respect to decisions as to the extent to which and the manner in which a person shall receive treatment under or otherwise avail of a health service (including the service provided under the Public Assistance Act, 1939, in relation to medical assistance)."
That is the present function of the county manager. All this storm is about the question of whether a local authority is entitled to say who is to get medical assistance; the extent is left to the county officer. Yet Deputy MacEntee seized the opportunity of suggesting that this Minister followed the bad headline of other Ministers in side-tracking all our magnificent principles. It seems that it is foreign to Deputy MacEntee to accept the decision of the House as to what would be a useful instrument for administration in the country.
No big stick tactics have been used by me since this Bill was brought in, and I succeeded in getting the decision of the House for its principle. Deputy MacEntee said that I was afraid, but I have left questions to free votes, I have accepted amendments and I have compromised with everybody on all sides of the House in order to make this a reasonably good instrument. Deputy MacEntee uses very extravagant language and refers to vital principles and the spending of £1,000,000. Amendment No. 70 is not before us, and even if its principle were accepted, we could not incorporate it in the Bill, so therefore we are dealing simply with amendment No. 69, the question of whether X will get medical assistance or not, the amount, method and extent to be decided by the county officer. I am not adamant now and was not adamant at the start, but I think that mine is the better proposal. The opposite view to mine is held on this side of the House as well as on the other side, and I am prepared to leave it to the wisdom of the House which is largely composed of members of county councils. If that is a departure from high-falutin Government policy according to Deputy MacEntee's lore, I am prepared to accept that rebuke. I am pursuing my own line on the Bill with the knowledge I have of public life in order to make a useful instrument of local government, and I will accept the decision of the House on this matter as I have done on other parts of the Bill up to now.
There are people who oppose my view on this side of the House but I would be slow to believe that everyone on the other side of the House would pass the vote of censure expressed by Deputy Allen. He did not pull his punches just now, but said that the funds of county councils had been used for political purposes, and would be used for political purposes again. That is a strange thing for a chairman of a county council to say. Speaking with knowledge, I am perfectly certain that that view is not shared on the Fianna Fáil benches any more than it is on these benches. That was a shocking reflection for Deputy Allen to make on the elected representatives of the country, and I am surprised that he should have done so. He can only assume that something will happen.
I was making it from knowledge.
It is a long time since they had the chance to do so. He is assuming that if they are given the power they will use this power for political purposes. I repeat that they would be very bad politicians if they could not do better than that. I believe that the amount of political influence of the poor destitute dependent people who have to look for public assistance would be negligible. Even if they were mean enough to stoop to that, it would be ill-spent time.
I am again asking Deputy Childers to accept the provision I am putting in, as I believe it is better than his, and if he cannot accept it I repeat that I am prepared to let the House decide it.
- Beirne, John.
- Belton, John.
- Blowick, Joseph.
- Brennan, Joseph P.
- Browne, Patrick.
- Byrne, Alfred.
- Byrne, Alfred Patrick.
- Coburn, James.
- Commons, Bernard.
- Connolly, Roderick J.
- Corish, Brendan.
- Cosgrave, Liam.
- Costello, John A.
- Cowan, Peadar.
- Davin, William.
- Dockrell, Maurice E.
- Donnellan, Michael.
- Dunne, Seán.
- Everett, James.
- Fagan, Charles.
- Finucane, Patrick.
- Fitzpatrick, Michael.
- Flynn, John.
- Giles, Patrick.
- Hickey, James.
- Hughes, Joseph.
- Keane, Seán.
- Keyes, Michael.
- Kinane, Patrick.
- Kyne, Thomas A.
- Lehane, Con.
- Lehane, Patrick D.
- McAuliffe, Patrick.
- MacBride, Seán.
- MacEoin, Seán.
- McFadden, Michael Óg.
- McGilligan, Patrick.
- McMenamin, Daniel.
- McQuillan, John.
- Madden, David J.
- Morrissey, Daniel.
- Mulcahy, Richard.
- Murphy, William J.
- Norton, William.
- O'Gorman, Patrick J.
- O'Higgins, Michael J.
- O'Higgins, Thomas F.
- O'Higgins, Thomas F. (Jun.)
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Sullivan, Martin.
- Palmer, Patrick W.
- Pattison, James P.
- Redmond, Bridget M.
- Reidy, James.
- Reynolds, Mary.
- Roddy, Joseph.
- Rooney, Eamonn.
- Sheehan, Michael.
- Sheldon, William A. W.
- Spring, Daniel.
- Sweetman, Gerard.
- Timoney, John J.
- Tully, John.
- Aiken, Frank.
- Allen, Denis.
- Bartley, Gerald.
- Blaney, Neal T.
- Boland, Gerald.
- Bourke, Dan.
- Brady, Seán.
- Breen, Daniel.
- Brennan, Thomas.
- Breslin, Cormac.
- Briscoe, Robert.
- Buckley, Seán.
- Butler, Bernard.
- Childers, Erskine H.
- Colley, Harry.
- Collins, James J.
- Growley, Honor Mary.
- Davern, Michael J.
- Derrig, Thomas.
- De Valera, Eamon.
- De Valera, Vivion.
- Flynn, Stephen.
- Friel, John.
- Gilbride, Eugene.
- Gorry, Patrick J.
- Harris, Thomas.
- Hilliard, Michael.
- Kennedy, Michael J.
- Killilea, Mark.
- Kilroy, James.
- Kissane, Eamon.
- Kitt, Michael F.
- Lahiffe, Robert.
- Lemass, Seán F.
- Little, Patrick J.
- Lydon, Michael F.
- McCann, John.
- MacEntee, Seán.
- Moylan, Seán.
- Ó Briain, Donnchadh.
- O'Grady, Seán.
- O'Reilly, Matthew.
- Ormonde, John.
- O'Rourke, Daniel.
- O'Sullivan, Ted.
- Rice, Bridget M.
- Ruttledge, Patrick J.
- Ryan, James.
- Ryan, Mary B.
- Ryan, Robert.
- Sheridan, Michael.
- Smith, Patrick.
- Traynor, Oscar.
- Walsh, Richard.
- Walsh, Thomas.
Amendment No. 70 is consequential and has been discussed.
I do not think it can be described as consequential.
It is a cognate amendment.
I think we should have a separate division.
If the Deputy wants a separate division, he can have it.
I think we would be entitled to ask for a separate division because it is quite a different principle.
I take it that Deputy Childers is moving the amendment?
I move amendment No. 70:—
In subsection (1) to add a new paragraph as follows:—
(f) the granting or withholding of public assistance.
Aiken, Frank.Allen, Denis.Bartley, Gerald.Blaney, Neal T.Boland, Gerald.Bourke, Dan.Brady, Seán.Breen, Daniel.Brennan, Thomas.Breslin, Cormac.Briscoe, Robert.Buckley, Seán.Butler, Bernard.Childers, Erskine H.Colley, Harry.Collins, James J.Crowley, Honor Mary.Davern, Michael J.Derrig, Thomas.De Valera, Eamon.De Valera, Vivion.Flynn, Stephen.Friel, John.Gilbride, Eugene.Gorry, Patrick J.Harris, Thomas.Hilliard, Michael.Kennedy, Michael J.
Killilea, Mark.Kilroy, James.Kissane, Eamon.Kitt, Michael F.Lahiffe, Robert.Lemass, Seán F.Little, Patrick J.Lydon, Michael F.McCann, John.MacEntee, Seán.Moylan, Seán.Ó Briain, Donnchadh.O'Grady, Seán.O'Reilly, Matthew.Ormonde, John.O'Rourke, Daniel.O'Sullivan, Ted.Rice, Bridget M.Ruttledge, Patrick J.Ryan, James.Ryan, Mary B.Ryan, Robert.Sheridan, Michael.Smith, Patrick.Traynor, Oscar.Walsh, Richard.Walsh, Thomas.
Beirne, John.Belton, John.Blowick, Joseph.Brennan, Joseph P.Browne, Patrick.Byrne, Alfred.Byrne, Alfred Patrick.Coburn, James.Commons, Bernard.Connolly, Roderick J.Corish, Brendan.Cosgrave, Liam.Costello, John A.Cowan, Peadar.Davin, William.Dockrell, Maurice E. MacBride, Seán.MacEoin, Seán.McFadden, Michael Óg.McGilligan, Patrick.McMenamin, Daniel.McQuillan, John.Madden, David J.Morrissey, Daniel.Mulcahy, Richard.Murphy, William J.Norton, William.O'Gorman, Patrick J.O'Higgins, Michael J.O'Higgins, Thomas F.O'Higgins, Thomas F.(Jun.).
Dunne, Seán.Everett, James.Fagan, Charles.Finucane, Patrick.Fitzpatrick, Michael.Flynn, John.Giles, Patrick.Hickey, James.Hughes, Joseph.Keane, Seán.Keyes, Michael.Kinane, Patrick.Kyne, Thomas A.Lehane, Con.Lehane, Patrick D.McAuliffe, Patrick. O'Leary, John.O'Sullivan, Martin.Palmer, Patrick W.Pattison, James P.Redmond, Bridget M.Reidy, James.Reynolds, Mary.Roddy, Joseph.Rooney, Eamonn.Sheehan, Michael.Sheldon, William A.W.Spring, Daniel.Sweetman, Gerard.Timoney, John J.Tully, John.
I move amendment No. 71:—
To delete sub-section (1), lines 1 to 3, and substitute the following:—
(1) The employment function of the council of a county or elective body shall, if the council of the county or the elective body so decide, be performed by the council of the county or by the elective body, but until and unless so decided by the council of the county or the elective body the employment functions of the council or of the elective body shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, be performed by the county officer.
I think this amendment is quite clear and precise. It is in accordance with the principle that I mentioned earlier in the debate this evening. I am anxious that as much power as possible should be vested in the local authority and if the local authority wants to exercise the employment functions of the council or the elected body they may do so by resolution; but if they do not wish so to decide, then the employment functions as set out in the Bill, subject to the provisions of the Act, shall be performed by the county officer.