I do not know whether it would be possible to raise a question in connection with this Bill that has given a number of Senators food for thought for some time past, dealing with the representation of the Government in the Seanad. In my judgment, it would be a very great convenience if we could have somebody in the Seanad, representing the Government, to whom we could put Questions, or who could explain to us the policy of the Government with regard to public matters. At the present moment we have nobody who can act in that capacity, and I think it would be a very great convenience to us, and possibly would assist us in expediting our business, if there were somebody here, more or less permanently, to explain to us what the views of the Government were in regard to various questions. I put forward the suggestion, but I do not know if it is possible to amend this Bill in that direction. Possibly, between now and the Committee Stage, the Government may consider the matter, and let us know if we could take any steps to deal with it.
SEANAD RESUMES. - MINISTERS AND SECRETARIES BILL, 1923.—(SECOND STAGE.)
The matter of putting Questions to Ministers has occupied the attention of Senators ever since the Seanad was originated. We had occasion to consider it. It was referred to a Committee that considered it very fully, and made a report. That report was against the suggestion, not that the Committee did not think that it would be a desirable thing to have an opportunity of putting Questions to Ministers, but we were unable to see how, under the Constitution, or under the Standing Orders of either House, we could do anything except by arrangement by consent. The matter was again brought before the Seanad by Senator the Earl of Mayo, and it was again sent back for reconsideration by the Committee. I may say that the Committee have reconsidered it, and a report is ready to be presented to the Seanad. In that report the Committee has adhered to their former recommendation for the reasons that they gave on the first occasion. I may say that I do not see how it would be practicable to ask the Government that a Minister should be constantly in attendance in the Seanad. There might possibly be something in the suggestion that on a set day and hour once a week a Minister might be in attendance. The difficulty about that is that that Minister would be embarrassed in speaking for any Department but his own. Certainly, if supplementary Questions were put to him he would not answer them without first communicating with the Minister in charge of the particular department to which the question referred. The whole question bristles with difficulty. At the same time it might be done. I have not considered the scope of this Bill, but if Senator Sir Thomas Esmonde would consider a well and carefully thought out amendment, and moves to insert it on the Committee Stage, then, if I think it is within the scope of the Bill, it can be discussed.
That is my object.
In other circumstances I presume Senators would, perhaps, have a good deal to say on the Second Reading of this Bill, but in the special circumstances that exist one can only make a few hasty remarks in connection with it, and leave it to the Committee Stage to deal with the principal points at issue. Personally, I regret that it has not been found possible to take away the duties of the Transport Ministry from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The Ministry of Industry and Commerce is already a combination of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour. Its duties are of an extraordinary wide and comprehensive character. In dealing with even the combined duties of these two posts it will be, I believe, overburdened. Now, to put in, in addition, transport problems means that this great problem of transport cannot receive the special care and consideration and the specialised knowledge which are necessary, if it is to be dealt with in an effective manner. The relations between the various branches of transport by road, rail and inland waterways, and other methods of transport, constitute in themselves a special set of problems that require very careful consideration and highly-specialised knowledge.
The Road Department is going to the Local Government Department. The result is that there will be a lack of coordination and co-operation in regard to the different phases of transport. This whole question is big enough in itself to constitute a separate Ministry, and I would suggest—as has been put forward elsewhere—that the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs might be very properly taken within a Ministry of Transport, so that all systems of transport, including communications such as Posts and Telegraphs, might be co-ordinated. There is no reason why there should be a Postmaster-General at all. That might be a separate Department within the Ministry of Transport. Surely the question of the ordinary transport communications of the country is as important, if not more important, as Posts and Telegraphs, for which there is a separate Minister. There is another question. It seems peculiar that Pensions should be divided between the Ministry of Finance and the Local Government Department. The Finance Ministry is entitled to scrutinise the total expenditure, but it is not competent to deal with its administration. That should be left to the Department that deals with the aged poor in County Homes, Infirmaries, and with Health Insurance and other means of public assistance—social provision, as the French call it. Old age pensions may soon be linked with insurance, and may form part of a general insurance system. For these reasons it seems a pity that there should be any division of it between two Ministries.
There is one other question, and that is in regard to the Army Council. It is right, perhaps, that there should be an Army Council, but why the personnel of that Council should be actually set out, why servants of the Ministry should get certain statutory recognition I fail to see. You might as well give special statutory recognition to a set of servants in any other Ministry as in the Army. It may very often turn out that particular officers mentioned may not form the very best type of Army Council. This is an important question, and should have been left more open. I suggest that it would be better to make it legal for a Minister to appoint an Army Council, but he should not be tied down to a certain set of officers within the Army itself.
Senator O'Farrell has spoken fully on a subject of which he is competent, and we have his views. I only wish to say with regard to Ministers attending here that I repeat the wish I expressed before, that we should always have somebody to whom we could put questions. I now see that there are immense difficulties in that arrangement being come to, and all I can say is, that since Ministers have attended lately, that is to say this Session, they have given the greatest attention to our speeches, and to our amendments, and they have also understood the Bills. When you have that state of business going on in a proper way I do not see how you can amend this Bill in any way, and I am afraid we must go on. I admit it is quite awkward that questions of domestic policy, questions of railway arrangements and all sorts of questions that affect the social, domestic and industrial life of this country cannot be asked and answered here forthwith. I hope that the Constitution will not be dragged into this matter, because I do not see how the Constitution does come in. I always notice that when anything is said here we have to fall back upon the Constitution. It is a written Constitution, and we cannot alter it. That small matter of asking questions is one which I now see involves great difficulty, and I am afraid that we must go on as we are going until we become an older State than we are at present.