When I was discussing this Bill on the last occasion before the Adjournment I had mentioned, as the Minister himself had mentioned, that the Bill really only dealt with two things, that in the first place it related to the administrative machine by which these existing companies would carry on and, in the second place, it extended from £240,000 to £400,000 the amount that would be advanced out of public funds to the new company that was going to take over the project he had in mind. I suggested then that I thought it was desirable that the Minister should inform the House of the reasons and the qualifications upon which he had appointed the several directors of the company. I do not mean that I want to know the personnel. So far as the names of the personnel are concerned I am not interested, but I am purely interested in their qualifications, the qualifications we will say of Mr. A and Mr. B. I happen to know who they are. I know one of them and, so far as the one I know is concerned, I am perfectly satisfied that he has the qualifications for the position so long as it did not cross his own private commercial enterprise. But I think the House should get, so to speak, a picture of the manner in which the Minister has moved in making appointments of this nature and in considering the remuneration which these directors obtain by way of fees for carrying out their duties. The Minister made the point that the Civil Service has not the technical knowledge that industrial and commercial concerns perhaps require, and the red tape of the Civil Service does not allow sufficient enterprise. I am inclined to agree with him that that has been approved in respect of one industrial operation that was carried out under Civil Service management. At the same time I think that we ought to be very clear in our minds when employing this method of dummy companies.
These dummy companies do in fact mean that by their formation of regulations they had a complete avoidance of the fundamental regulations of the Civil Service, which we like sometimes to sneer at as red tape, but which were designed for integrity, economy and Parliamentary control. We must be certain that in giving us those regulations we are getting something that is very considerable. This is not a new question at all. It is a question that was discussed in the first place by the Banking Commission, and was discussed at very great length by the Vocational Commission, which reported to the Government on the 4th November, 1943. Even at the risk of boring Senators with knowledge that they have already acquired through the reading of the Report of the Vocational Commission, I do think it is worth while to refresh their memories on one or two paragraphs. If we refer to paragraphs 4, 7 and 8, on page 298, we see this sentence: "The Banking Commission pointed out that some of them"—(they, of course, are references to these companies)—"that some of them were established without legislative authority, that they, often received public funds to a large extent, and that there is an evasion of Parliamentary responsibility as regards both policy and accounting to the Comptroller and Auditor-General."
Now, so far as this company is concerned, the position, I understand, is that the Comptroller and Auditor-General does audit accounts which are laid on the Table of the House, but I will deal with a certain deficiency in these accounts as presented. Be that as it may, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, although accounting in the way he does, is purely dealing with it not as an investigator but as a checker, if I might use that word. One of the worst things I felt in regard to the accounts of these particular companies was that there was only a consolidated profit and loss account and a consolidated balance sheet. I find that the Vocational Commission in their report used very strong words of criticism in respect to the refusal of the company concerned to give similar information. In respect to the Dairy Disposals Board, the Slievardagh Company and the former Minerals Development Company, a report was made to the Department, and the report was there available on the Table of the House, but there was no effort made to produce a trading account.
That trading account or that report would segregate into various departments the many different enterprises that were being carried on by the particular company concerned. All these things were considered as I say fairly and fully by the Vocational Commission. The Minister in the other House tried to brush aside as being of no importance the report of that commission, but it does appear to me that it is of very little assistance to set up commissions from time to time to report to the Oireachtas if we are not going to pay some attention at any rate to their representations, even if their representations are made on matters to which we did not quite anticipate they would advert when they were being set up.
On page 430, paragraph 683, perhaps the most significant paragraph appears. It says:—
"This method of administration is clearly fraught with great danger to the prestige and integrity of democratic government. It offers a wide field for the exercise of political patronage of a very costly and undesirable type, for not merely may large salaries be given to persons as a reward for political services but large sums of money for capital and working expenses may be placed at their disposal without adequate safeguards. It could provide an unscrupulous Government with a means of making a large number of persons dependent on it for salaries and wages and of obtaining electioneering support by promoting enterprises or industries in certain localities without due regard to economic factors."
Those are very strong words of criticism particularly taken in conjunction with the fact that a couple of pages further on they state:—
"There would appear to be little justification for appointing persons without special technical or business ability. The practice of making appointments on the ground of rank or political affiliation is most questionable and is open to many of the abuses concerned with interlocking directorships and the utilisation of political personages for company promotion."
It was to satisfy myself that was not in fact what has been happening in regard to these particular companies that I suggested on the last occasion to the Minister that he should explain to us the qualification upon which the directors in this case had been appointed. That may be all very well from the point of view of theory but we have got to get down to brass tacks and try to see if this theory has had any practical effect in recent years. That report was made in 1943. We all know that the practice of the State engaging in commercial enterprise since then has largely increased. There is, quite frankly, a danger that such an increase would mean that the very evils to which the Vocational Commission referred would be extended. There were in the last few weeks proceedings in a case before a certain court, which have now terminated, proceedings which were of peculiar interest to the members of this House. In those proceedings one of the witnesses for the State has alleged, on oath —and we must, of course, accept that statement without question— that he was making a sum of £12,000 net profits from a contract that he had obtained from one of those companies—I do not mean one of the companies mentioned in this Bill but one of those State-controlled dummy companies. I have no means whatever of verifying whether the statement was correct but the statement was made on oath by that individual, that he had made, over a period not exceeding two years, a sum of £12,000 profit out of one contract, that that was only one contract, that he had several, and that he made that profit by sub-contracting the contract given to him by this dummy company. The mere fact that that could be stated in open court suggests that we have got to get down to the basic principle of these companies, that we have got to ensure that we shall substitute for the red tape that does mean integrity in the Civil Service, some method of control that is not there at present, some method of control that will ensure that nothing of the kind I have described can happen in future because we are dealing with public funds. The particular person concerned on that occasion was receiving public funds when he said that he was making £12,000 in two years, that is, £6,000 a year.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I am making no charge against the Minister or against any director of any company that that was in any way fraudulent but there should be some method, something equivalent to the Committee of Public Accounts in the Dáil, whereby such a system of accounting could be examined and at least the public would know that the money that was being spent was being watched and checked by somebody on their behalf. I think the Minister will agree with me when I say that the very essence of an audit of these companies by the Comptroller and Auditor-General as apart from an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of public funds distributed through the Civil Service, is that the Comptroller and Auditor-General will merely vouch that the amount has been spent and that he will not of necessity inquire into whether it was good business or bad business to spend it. I do not think it would be reasonable to ask him to do so. In respect of these matters I think we shall have to have something on the lines suggested by the Vocational Commission itself, that there should be a body of experts set up which would be invested with some such power as that of the Committee of Public Accounts in the Dáil, and which would be in a position to judge and to report whether in fact the public funds in this case were being used to the best possible advantage. So far as this particular Bill is concerned, I fully appreciate that we are in the middle of an emergency, and one of the things done under this Bill is to produce anthracite —340 tons a week, I think, was the estimate given by the Minister. I think it would be very inadvisable to do anything at present which would hinder our getting that 340 tons, or prevent it from coming in to assist the supply situation, but, on the general principle, if we are not going to have distrust of the whole system of State entry into commercial enterprise on those lines, sooner or later some such system of control will have to be established. Therefore, I think it is advisable that we should ask the Minister to give to the House an indication of what his views are as to the future of such companies, and as to the future method of ensuring that they will be patterned to some degree at any rate along the lines that were suggested by the very diversified experience of the members of the commission to which I have referred.