COMMITTEE ON FINANCE. - ESTIMATES FOR PUBLIC SERVICES. VOTE No. 5—OFFICE OF THE MINISTER FOR FINANCE.
Friday, 19 June 1925
Dáil Éireann Debate
|Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £44,006 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1926, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Oifig an Aire Airgid, maraon le hOifig an Phághmháistir Ghenerálta.||That a sum not exceeding £44,006 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Finance, including the Paymaster-General's Office.|
Deputies will be aware that this Department of Finance especially is a new Department. The work of the Department of Finance is the work that was done by the British Treasury. There were practically no officials in the old days who were engaged on this type of work. Broadly speaking, all the supervisory and controlling work in connection with expenditure was done on the other side. We are only now getting somewhere near the establishment from the point of view of numbers and efficiency that it is necessary to have, in order that the work may be satisfactorily done. We have still a certain shortage of staff, and we still are, of course, working with men who, for the most part, had only two or three years' experience of the particular type of duty that they now are called upon to perform. Just like in any other branch of work, it often happens that you cannot have it satisfactorily done by a beginner. There is also the fact, like in most types of work, that all men do not do equally well at it. In recruiting our staff, we have taken on the best men we could get and who could be spared by other Departments. In certain cases it has happened that men have picked up their new duties and taken on the particular attitude and outlook that they should have in the Department of Finance very quickly. Other people who were very good in their old offices have been slower in taking up the new duties.
The staff which appears under sub-head (a) is 95 established people. They have not all been obtained yet. There were, as a matter of fact, some 61 established officers engaged in this office last year. The number at the present time is not so very much higher than that. Certain officers who were serving in other Departments and who were on loan last year, to the number of 5, have been transferred. There is an increase in the number of lower executive officers; they have actually absorbed four officers in that class. There were seven last year and we absorbed four, making eleven, from the loaned officers. We have two staff officers who are further down in the list; two staff clerks have been assimilated. There are still four executive officers on loan who may not be required permanently. The increased expenditure of £10,603 under sub-head (a) is due to some extent to the increase in bonus. That increase in bonus is very considerable. It is not all due to the rise; it is due, in part, to the substitution of permanent officers who are entitled to bonus, for temporary officers. It is due also, in part, to the taking over of five officers whose substantive salaries were borne on other Votes last year. That is reflected further down by a decrease of some £3,300 in the allowances to officers on loan from other Departments. There is at least one salary and one allowance borne on this vote which perhaps might be more properly borne on the vote of the Office of Public Works. There is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of Finance and an allowance to the Private Secretary to the Parliamentary Secretary of the Department of Finance. There is also full provision this year for the salary of the Government Stockbroker. His salary was not paid for the whole of last year. The officers absorbed from other Departments are two assistant principals, and a higher executive officer and a junior executive officer. There is provision here for five junior administrative officers. There are, in fact, at present, only two junior administrative officers. It is anticipated that three more will be got as a result of the examination recently held and the result of which, I think, will be declared almost immediately. When the staff shown in the details of sub-head (a) at present have been all secured and when the extra work which compensation throws on the Department has disappeared it is anticipated that we will have practically the full and normal establishment required for the office. It may be some  little time before the staff is exactly as it appears in the details shown in Part 3. The work of the Department of Finance has been very heavy, for special and temporary causes, since the setting up of the Saorstát.
There have been numerous negotiations with the British Government in respect of transfer services and liabilities and assets in connection with them. Various statutory funds had to be apportioned: The Church Temporalities Fund, the Unemployment Fund—even though there was a debit there-and those various funds and various assets have occasioned a considerable amount of work. It was work that required a great amount of attention, because large sums of money were involved. There has been a great deal of work also in connection with compensation. It was not merely routine work in dealing with applicants. The British Government, who had certain liabilities in respect of compensation, had also to be dealt with, and the application of the principles on which responsibility for compensation was divided between the two Governments had to be considered. There is still further work to be done arising out of the change of government—the preparation of material, for instance, in connection with any arrangement under Article 5 of the Treaty. That is very heavy work. There has also been, as I have already indicated, extremely heavy routine work. Then there have been very great changes in administration and very great legislative changes, the financial reactions of which have involved a good deal of work in the Department of Finance. It has often happened in the past that matters could not be dealt with just as rapidly as one would wish, but the strain was exceedingly heavy on the new and largely untrained staff, which was got together for the purpose of discharging these responsible duties.
It is the duty of the Ministry of Finance to examine all proposals involving new expenditure of any sort. It is not, as some Deputies might think, the duty of the Ministry of Finance to fight any new expenditure. Its duty, rather, is to see that the whole matter has been carefully thought out by the Department proposing the expenditure,  that cheaper or more economical ways of doing what is desired have not been overlooked—in a few words, to have all avenues for doing things on a cheaper scale fully explored. It is, of course, also the duty of the Department of Finance to keep demands for money within the most reasonable bounds possible, and to urge on other Departments, which must put forward demands for new expenditure, the necessity for dropping other types of expenditure which, perhaps, are less important. There have been suggestions of a Geddes Committee and such tribunals in the Dáil as a means of reducing expenditure. I am sure that most Deputies realise that any such committee, going into an office and knowing nothing about its working, could be misled by anybody who desired to mislead them, with the greatest possible ease. Without the expenditure of an amount of time which no such committee could possibly afford, the committee could get nowhere. Economies in public administration can be effected, in practice, only by having your Treasury Department sufficiently and efficiently staffed, and giving it a reasonable amount of backing in the discharge of its duties. Deputies are aware, from amendments that have had to be made, that it often happens that Bills that are passed have not in every respect the effect which it was anticipated in the Dáil they would have. The great amount of legislation that we have had since the setting up of the Saorstát has only in very few instances, involved expenditure greatly in excess of what was intended, or has caused a great loss of revenue that was not anticipated. Accurate results can only be achieved if you are able, in advance, to give a sufficient examination to legislation from the point of view of the Exchequer.
I feel that we are building up a very good Treasury Department, which will enable the Dáil in future to be sure that there is adequate supervision and that adequate weight is given to the financial aspect of all proposals that are put forward. As I said, most of our men have only been a year or two years at their present work, but I am satisfied that the efficiency and grasp of the staff is steadily improving, and  we hope to be able to do all the work of a Finance Department as well as that work can possibly be done. The first tendency very often with people who see things wrong—whether in the sphere of agriculture or elsewhere—is to spend more money or to make a new appointment. If you have not a Department whose outlook is the keeping down of expenditure or the keeping of expenditure within bounds, you will find that new enterprises will be undertaken or that new avenues of expenditure will be opened up which, perhaps, are not strictly necessary, or perhaps that things are done merely with the view of getting some quick result, whereas the speed may not compensate at all for the extra cost. I think that is a matter which, perhaps, was not realised in the beginning on all sides. But I think it is now realised that there are very definite limits to the activities that we can undertake at any one time and that there must be enforced by some Department which has not an immediate interest in any spending service the very strictest scrutiny of the cost of services or proposals to be undertaken.
Mr. HEWAT: I think this Vote, which is on behalf of the Ministry of Finance, may be taken as indicating the general financial policy of the Government. The Minister has turned down any proposal for a Geddes Committee in connection with the cost of administration of the various Departments. He says—possibly, properly— that no Geddes Committee could go into these offices and do any effective work, without the expenditure of an undue amount of time and labour. Incidentally, he says that such committee might easily have the fingers of the Minister or the officials of his Department put in its eye. That may be quite so, and probably is so to a large extent; but the proposal for the appointment of the type of Commission known as the Geddes Commission must have arisen from the belief that it was necessary that expenditure should, if possible, be cut down. This Ministry has been inflated, as compared with last year, from a staff of 61 members to a  staff of 97, with the expenditure running up somewhere about £10,000. It is quite true that it is impossible for any person not conversant with the working of the office to say whether the work to be done justifies the employment of a staff of 61 or of 97.
Mr. BLYTHE: I have now a figure which I was not able to find when I was speaking. Including temporaries, including all staffs, the actual number employed now is 150, as compared with 170 last year. These others are the permanent staff, of course.
Mr. HEWAT: Even on the Minister's showing it would seem that there is justification for the claim for a reduction in numbers, because, as the Minister points out, and as we all must fully recognise, the last couple of years has been a period of exceptional strain on the Ministry of Finance, both in regard to the taking over of services and the control that it was very necessary to have exercised over other spending Departments in their work. On that ground alone I think that it is not unreasonable to say that the present, and much more the future, work of the Ministry of Finance is, and will be, such as to permit of a very considerable reduction in staff. After all, we are now in a more settled condition of affairs, the different Departments are more conversant with their work, and are accounting in a much more satisfactory  manner than they had been doing. That relieves the Ministry of Finance of a very considerable amount of work. As regards the Ministry itself, it is perfectly obvious that, as the controversial matters between the Free State and Great Britain become settled, the work will be very much lightened, and that a staff of the present size would contain a very considerable number of redundant officers.
I think that the general criticism might be applied more particularly to this Ministry, that the expenditure on departments of State to-day is out of proportion to the amount of revenue collected or the amount of taxation that this country can bear. I say that emphatically, after looking through the Estimates. I say that the House must concentrate on the demand for reductions, that the State services for a population of about three millions cost an excessive amount, and an amount that is more than the country can bear. Ministers may say that the work cannot be done for less; that may be a matter for controversy, but my view emphatically is that the whole scale of administration will have to be examined in the light of the ability of the people to bear the strain that is put on them. There is no use in shirking the fact that Ireland to-day is vastly poorer than it has been, that an uphill fight will have to be made to resuscitate the industries and the general prosperity of the country, and I think that that must be done by means of greater individual effort, more particularly in a lessening of the spending of the people as a whole. But the Government should set a headline and give an example, and though these Estimates may be justified by the amount of work that is done in the various offices, I make the broad criticism that the amount of money spent is excessive, having regard to the country and especially having regard to the ability of the people to pay taxation. That is very broad criticism, and it is criticism in advocacy of the setting up of a Geddes Committee, a proposal which the Minister turns down as being ineffective. If such a Committee is not set up I say that there is greater responsibility  on the Minister for Finance and on the Government as a whole to look carefully into the expenditure of this, and of other Departments as well, with a view to ascertaining whether staffs are not very considerably redundant for the effective working of the administrative machinery of the State.
Mr. JOHNSON: On the main question I want to give the Minister an opportunity to explain the present position regarding the Civil Service Compensation Committee. A number of statements have been made at different times with respect to the Committee, owing first to the resignation of Mr. Justice Wylie, and secondly, to a case in the courts culminating in an expression of hope, but not a definite promise, a few weeks ago, that the Committee would be re-established shortly. I invite the Minister to tell the House what the present position is and by that means relieve the minds of certain people from anxiety and doubt, people whose future is dependent on the decisions of this Committee. Whether we like Article X. or not, whether it is wise or not, it is part of the price promised to be paid for the Treaty, and presumably has to be agreed to. There is no need to enlarge upon that. The Minister is fully aware of the grievances and the complaints that are being made, and he is in a position to state what the present view of his Department is, and the present position of the Committee.
I am tempted to follow Deputy Hewat, but I do not want to be taken either as denying or confirming his general statement. There are a few small departments which we have thought desirable to criticise in the matter of expenditure, but I think we have not had Deputy Hewat's support. But, in the main departments, my difficulty is in seeing where expenditure can be cut down to any great extent, apart from the general supervision in respect to economy. Following the Minister's opening statement, I could not help reflecting upon the demands that are made from many quarters— very serious and responsible quarters— for a change in the method of check;  claims that the system which we have adopted for checking expenditure by means of a Department of Finance should be superseded by Departmental responsibility for expenditure. I gather from the Minister's statement that he at any rate, is quite convinced that the method of checking expenditure through a central department is much more effective and probably more economical. I take it his view is that it certainly ensures better co-ordination. But, undoubtedly, the other view, that all departments, or certain departments, should be allocated certain sums of money for them to expend under the direction of the Minister, and be responsible for seeing that the money is expended properly, without having to refer so frequently to the Minister for Finance for sanction, is one that attracts, as I say, people of responsibility. My observation and thinking on this matter lead me rather to incline to the present system as being much more effective in ensuring the right expenditure of public monies. I am not sure whether to deduce from Deputy Hewat's frequent statements an inclination towards departmentalising responsibility for expenditure, but I feel that the general statement of Deputy Hewat, and such general statements, regarding the necessity for reduced expenditure —that the country cannot afford the present expenditure and so on—while they are likely to satisfy taxpayers for the moment, are not doing much more than exciting hopes and, perhaps, exciting a spirit of criticism of the Government responsible for the time being.
Usually this plea for economy finds expression in a desire to cut down rates of pay. I think that we ought to see that any exercise of economy should be in the direction of having the money spent wisely, rather than cutting down rates and getting less value, and certainly not in the direction of reducing expenditure on essential and useful services. Unless I am in a position to point to particular items or groups of items, I am slow to urge reduction of expenditure, and I think not much advantage can come to the country or  administration by that particular kind of demand.
Professor MAGENNIS: It may be egotism on my part, but I fancy that portion of the Minister of Finance's opening speech was intended for me. The French have a saying: “That animal is wicked; it you attack it, it will defend itself.” The Department of Finance is a wicked animal to-day. The Minister devoted a great deal of detail to the exposition of what is the correct and legitimate attitude of the Department of Finance to expenditure. It is not to check expenditure, he explained, in the bad sense of preventing the flow from the Exchequer into channels of productivity. It is merely to see, where there are new departures intended, that these have been carefully and duly considered, and that they are wise enterprises, not risky adventures. I should be glad if I could take that view of the relation of the Department of Finance to the spending Departments. I quite agree it is the ideal relation, so long as we continue to practise the British procedure. But I do not like this British procedure, not because it is British. So long as anything is excellent and works well I do not care what is the latitude and longitude of its place of origin. But this is an arrangement by which, while we have the pretence of democratic Government, one Department out-tops the rest, whereby it is possible—I do not suggest it always happens—that permanent officials can dominate the policy of the country.
Now, I am quite with the Minister and with Deputy Hewat in their plea for economy, but, as Deputy Johnson has just pointed out, there is economy and economy. Cheeseparing is not economy. Getting the greatest value for your expenditure of £1 that £1 can give, is economy. I said some time ago that under the guise of checking waste, of restraining ardour on the part of spending Departments, the Ministry of Finance is able to control policy to the extent of preventing things being done in other Ministries which ought to be done. I am not so sure that the Minister is not himself conscious of that. Otherwise, why the plea persevered in,  repeated three times a day, not to shoot? Do not shoot at the Ministry of Finance; it is doing its best.” That was the plea. “We have had great difficulty in creating this Department; it is a new thing that had to be set up; we had to draw upon other public Departments for the most suitable men to staff this new Department; some of them have got into their stride very quickly, others have proved inefficient; but we hope in time to have the sort of staff that such an important central Ministry demands.”
The Minister would not have dwelt upon that so persistently if he was not conscious of there being something that is vulnerable. I will use no stronger word than that. He knows perfectly well that as regards the settlement of this long-drawn-out and most unpleasant contention with regard to Secondary Teachers' Salaries, it is the Ministry of Education that is blamed by the country at large, whereas we in this Assembly know it is the Ministry of Finance that is the culprit. Similarly, we know perfectly well that in embarking on this policy of a subsidy for beet sugar the experiment, if it be an experiment at all—and it is only in one direction an experiment—would be carried out properly were it not for the Ministry of Finance, which is afraid of seeing a decrease for a year or two in the annual amount of revenue extracted.
If one were so minded, and if there were time available, it would be quite easy to show that democratic government and the inheritance of a Ministry of Finance that controls, and in an arbitrary way exercises the control, are quite incompatible. I am altogether with Deputy Johnson in this, that we really must try to conceive of some other method of dealing with public finance than that which we have taken over. I do not accuse or attack anyone for the present incompleteness and consequential inefficiency, so far as there is an inefficiency. It is a damnosa hereditas, and we are making the best of things in a transition period. I am speaking now, partly because I think we have got sufficiently advanced to be able to put before the public that we have another scheme, another conception,  of administration besides that which belongs to another people with another history.
It is rather unfortunate that we should have to take over under the Treaty so many institutions, some of which we do not require, some of which are not suited to our peculiar situation. There is a danger here of routine taking control; there is a danger of our accepting the arrangements of administration merely because they are. To pass to Deputy Hewat's criticism, there is one type of critic: he is the only type of critic who can make himself unhelpful by his criticism, and he is the man who says that something must be done. He does not tell us what the something is that ought to be done. We hear from the representatives—as they are styled—of business, the representatives of the business community, time after time, sometimes a wail and sometimes an indignant protest about expenditure. Have we ever had one constructive suggestion?
Professor MAGENNIS: A Geddes Commission? That is a piece of Deputy Wilson's characteristic humour— that a Geddes Commission in this regard is a constructive proposal. We all know what Commissions are invented for—an elaborate method of throwing dust in the eyes of the public and of making the people keep quiet, in the belief that something will eventuate.
Professor MAGENNIS: What did the Geddes Commission do in England? It increased expenditure. As between a Geddes Commission and continuing the practice of the Ministry of Finance, which is to exercise continuous supervision over the spending Departments, I vote for the Ministry of Finance arrangement. Of two evils I would choose the lesser. I do not believe a body of outsiders without experience such as the Civil Service possesses, could be able to examine into a Department and decide on the minimum expenditure allowable for it. It sounds  well. It is one of those plausible things which an English newspaper can write leading articles about from time to time, and the man in the street or the man in the train who reads the paper says that it is an excellent idea. In practice it is not an excellent idea. I think I have already indicated the directions in which I have fears with regard to control by the Ministry of Finance. Anyone who has ever read the novel of Mrs. Riddell, called “The Senior Partner,” will remember the contrast between the old Scottish merchant who believed in old steady plodding methods of business and who got left, and badly left, by competitors who realised that courage as well as wisdom is necessary in business. Rather I should say courage is a manifestation of wisdom. I do hold that all checks upon the useful spending of money are in restraint of prosperity. I see, sir, that you are growing impatient, and consequently I will keep what I have to say for some other time.
Mr. BLYTHE: No, sir; there is no staff on loan from London now. It is a staff on loan from other Departments. There may be staffs in the Revenue Department on loan, but there are not in the Ministry of Finance.
Mr. GOOD: When this Vote was under consideration a few months ago much the same arguments were used as have been used this afternoon. I am not sure that the suggestion of a Geddes Committee was not even pressed more strongly 12 months ago than it is to-day. The Minister's answer on that occasion will be remembered by many Deputies. He told us that under that he supervised every Department of State. In fact, I think he went so far as to say that no temporary additions could be made to the staffs of these various Departments without his approval and sanction. That was his answer. In other words he says, “I am doing the work thoroughly, and there is no need for any interference.” I am satisfied there is no Minister who has tried to do more and, may I say, has been more successful than the Minister for Finance, but there are limitations to what one man can do, even though he be the Minister for Finance.
Looking back on the amount of time absorbed by Parliamentary work and preparation for Parliamentary work during the past 12 months, I am quite satisfied any man who has had that serious responsibility in connection with this House and the discussions in it has had very little time to devote to what may be called Departmental work. That, to my mind, is one of the most unfortunate positions. Why that is necessary I do not know. A great deal of the time of the officials of State is taken up in connection with work of this House rather than that of the Departments. I am satisfied that if less of the Minister's time had been taken up in connection with the work of this House we would have, from our point of view, a more satisfactory estimate from his Department.
I am sorry the Deputy who has just spoken has left the House. He has taunted as business men, as he does almost always when he addresses the House, that we never put up any constructive proposal. I think we, business men, turn our minds in the direction that criticism, without any constructive proposals, cuts very little  ice. The remedy of the difficulty of the amount of time taken up by Parliamentary work might be seriously diminished if we had fewer speeches of two hours and ten minutes. I think that is a constructive proposal, and I am sorry the Deputy is not here to listen to it.
In the details of this Estimate the Minister has explained that there is an increase in the total amount. That is rather unusual because the amount of money that will be administered in the current year is less than the amount of money that was dealt with last year. On the total estimate for the current year there is a reduction altogether of something between six and seven millions. Therefore the amount of money to be administered is considerably less, and in view of that fact one would imagine that while the status quo would have remained as regards the number of officials, on the other hand we find there is an increase in the number of officials. Doubtless there may be an explanation for that. The Minister has pointed out that there has been an increase in what you might call the more responsible officials. That is not exactly borne out by the details of the Estimate given to us. First of all, let me say the reduction in the amount of money is not very large. The Estimate of this year is £1,000 less for the temporary clerical staff than it was this time 12 months. On the other hand, on the permanent staff there has been no increase at all in the numbers of what may be called higher officials. I see there is, amongst the assistant principals, an increase of from 6 to 9, but the largest increase that one notices is amongst the lower executive officers. They have increased from 7 to 14, while the lower clerical officers have increased from 14 to 29. The shorthand typists have increased from 6 to 11. I think I am correct in saying that the increase in the number of officials has been more or less amongst the lower officials. It would lead one to think that possibly a little more inquiry into the necessity for this large increase amongst what might be called the lower staff might have resulted in greater efficiency and greater economy.
The Minister has turned down on  this occasion a proposal for a Geddes Committee, largely on the grounds that the members of that Committee would not have the knowledge essential to enable them to judge of the work, turned out by a particular staff in a particular Department. I am not very conversant with the arrangements that led up to the appointment of the Geddes Committee on the other side, but I am rather inclined to think, from what one has learned, that the Geddes Committee had before it, as the basis for its work, the report of a Departmental Committee, and that this Committee used its judgment very largely in inquiring into the findings of that Committee. Possibly that line might be a useful one for the Minister to consider. Doubtless to bring in outsiders to express an opinion on the staffing and the work turned out by the staff of the Departments is not possible in all cases, except the Commission is one composed of persons competent to judge of the particular work under consideration. It is in many cases a difficult commission to make up. If, leading up to such a commission, we had a report of a Departmental Committee, from men who would really have spent their lives in this particular work, with a thorough knowledge of all that came before them, then we might be in a position to consider whether the work of that Committee might be referred to such a commission as the Geddes Commission. That might achieve the same end on more business-like lines.
There is a feeling throughout the country, as very definitely expressed by Deputy Hewat, that our Government and the Departments are largely overstaffed, and that we are called upon to spend a larger sum on the administration of the affairs of the State than is essential or necessary. Notwithstanding what the Minister may say as to the incompetence of a Geddes Committee to deal with such a subject, I am afraid that that view is so deeply embedded in the minds of the taxpayers of the country that until some such step is taken —such as inquiring into the working of these Departments and reporting— this question will constantly crop up. The feeling is deeply embedded in the minds of the taxpayers that they are  paying far more than they should be called on to pay.
Major COOPER: I am gratified to find, at long last, that I am making converts to the idea of a committee to overhaul Government expenditure and machinery. Personally, I would like to agree with Deputy Good, though I am not particular as to the form of the committee. I would prefer an outside inquiry, but I will take a departmental committee as a first step. I would even take a committee of the Executive Council to review and overhaul existing expenditure. That is the method adopted, I think, this year in England. It is common knowledge that Ministries vary very very much in efficiency and staffing. It is inevitable, I think, where we have a new Ministry doing new work that there must be certain variations. I should like to see Ministries which are more extravagant or, shall I say, less economical, which, perhaps, would be less offensive—doing their work with, perhaps, more friction and delay in acknowledging letters to the public— levelled up with the good Ministries— and there are good Ministries.
Deputy Good, as well as other Deputies, has reviewed the expenditure. I think there is one point I would like to emphasise, and that is the extraordinary increase in the number of typists on this Vote. Last year 7 typists were enough, but this year 17 are required. Last year a little over £500 paid their salaries, but this year £1,200 is needed. There is a certain decrease in the temporary clerical staff. Whether that consists entirely of typists or not, I cannot say. This is one Ministry where we here must scrutinise these things carefully, because, though the Ministry of Finance would check such an increase in any other Department, there is no check over the Ministry itself. There is an old saying that if you want an efficient gamekeeper you should get a converted poacher. What happens when the gamekeeper himself turns poacher? While the Ministry for Finance checks increases in other Ministries it is possible to increase its own staff, both in numbers and in salary. We must inevitably give some care and  attention to this Vote, not because the Department is inefficient—it is not—because I think it answers one of the tests I suggested, by dealing promptly and efficiently with correspondence. The Ministry of Finance, being by law over all other Departments, and not subject to the check of other Departments, a careful and detailed scrutiny of its accounts is one of our most difficult and most responsible duties.
Mr. BLYTHE: My feeling about the matter, as to the method of controlling expenditure, is very much like that of Deputy Johnson. I do not say that it necessarily follows the method we have taken over from the British is the best method, but, certainly, I have heard nothing that would convince me that any of the alternatives suggested are nearly as good. I certainly believe that you can do nothing on the lines of rationing Departments. In other days an attempt at rationing was made. Endowments of statutory sums were made for each Department. We found they exceeded these sums and entered into commitments for new work that was required. They then found they were already committed to the full amount of their income, and new sums had to be provided. I believe you would find it impossible to keep each Department to the sums allotted to it, as a public clamour for some new work would make it necessary to exceed the ration. You would have the position arising whereby Departmental control, based on limits of income, would be removed.
I had experience in a small way of working on a system where there was no Treasury control. Under the old Dáil there was no Treasury, as it is understood now. The Ministers pretty well decided what they wanted. They applied to the Minister for Finance and the money was supplied automatically. My little experience, using very small sums of money, for a year or two, convinced me that it was not a good system. Ministers had very different ideas of the rigidity with which they ought scrutinise expenditure. They had different ideas of the salaries that ought to be paid. Certainly, in my opinion, there is nothing in which example is so demoralising as in the  matter of the expenditure of money. If one Minister is allowed to be lavish in any particular direction, you find that other Ministers are driven against their own wishes to a similar state of lavishness. There is again the question of conditions of the staff. You must have a certain amount of uniformity, and, I say, in spite of the remarks of Deputy Magennis, that no system matters that would not satisfactorily replace the present system.
You might have establishments like the army where you could have different systems of accounting, if you had an army big enough to make that worth the cost. But with an army so small as ours, and with an army which will be smaller, it is doubtful whether accounting costs would not be too great to justify any change. So far as the other Departments are concerned, the work of these Departments is so different that you cannot compare the work of any Department with the work of another Department. You cannot go to the Department for Justice and say: “Your average official costs so much, the Local Government average official costs so much.” That would be wrong. You have different volumes of work, and you may require different sorts of staffs. It seems to be that there is no method in which you can control public expenditure so well as the method of the Treasury Department that would sanction expenditure and be in touch with the spending activities of all Departments, and will try to regulate them in the best way it can with a view to keeping the expenditure as low as possible, without stultifying departments or preventing necessary work being done. It may be that possibly the opposition to certain expenditure offered by the Department of Finance prevents many things being done. You must remember that if we tried to do all these things at once it would put burdens on the country it would be impossible to bear. Everything that everyone desires to be done at once cannot be done. I do say this, that a matter that is put up with full consideration by a department, a matter which can be justified, and which will get support from other people concerned with the Government, will never be resisted, and will be delayed no  more by the Department of Finance than is necessary to ensure a proper scrutiny. In these cases it is simply a case of cutting the cloth. There is expenditure which the Department of Finance must turn down. But there are appeals from that. If any Department is not satisfied with the line taken by the Department of Finance there is an appeal to the Executive Council, and the whole matter can be settled there.
Deputy Johnson made a point to which I will refer with regard to the Civil Service Compensation Committee. I have already spoken about that once or twice. Deputy Johnson asked a question on that. The work was at first held up by the resignation of Mr. Justice Wylie. Then there was some delay about finding a successor to Mr. Justice Wylie. Finally, an action was brought into the courts, where it was sought to declare that there was a justiciable right under the terms of the Treaty. The court before which it was brought, in the first instance, decided in favour of the civil servants. An appeal was taken to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court decided that these rights were not justiciable rights. I took steps to have the Committee reconstituted. I actually interviewed a judge who agreed to act. I feel it necessary that we should have a judge. This is a matter that really might be the subject of negotiations between this Government and the British Government in case there was default to be found. It is a question of implementing and carrying out the Treaty. We feel very strongly that the whole matter should be submitted to a person having the status of a judge, a man of high standing and competence.
For various reasons which I need not go into here, I think it would not be possible at all to have a resigned or retired judge to do the work. It is very difficult for an existing judge to do it. It means a sacrifice of leisure time to him. None of the judges can leave his court. They are there fully occupied, and it must mean that during the vacation, or in the evenings, or Saturdays and other times like that, when the judge would have leisure, that  he would serve on this Committee and go through a large number of cases. I had found a judge who very kindly agreed to give a considerable amount of time to this work. Just as I had succeeded in getting this judge's consent to act, the Attorney-General advised me that an appeal to the Privy Council had been lodged by these two civil servants, so that the matter is still sub judice. I think that the judge who is willing to do this public service does not feel that he should proceed in the meantime with what might turn out to be useless labour. I do not want really to give the final word, but I am afraid that as the position is now, it will not be practicable to have the Committee reconstituted, until the Privy Council has either refused leave to appeal or until it has decided to appeal. If it gives leave to appeal I appreciate, with Deputy Johnson, that it is unsatisfactory that these cases, which are pending, should not be dealt with. But it is not a matter that is really within my control. I certainly would not think it a satisfactory arrangement at all to act without a committee and simply by myself, with the help of my officials, to determine the pensions in these particular cases. I do think that there is not a satisfactory way provided, that the rights are justiciable rights and are rights that would not be dealt with diplomatically in cases of disputes. The only way to deal satisfactorily with them would be by a tribunal presided over by such a judge as Mr. Justice Wylie—that a judge should be chairman. I do not think that, generally speaking, it can be said there is any overstaffing of Government departments. There may be cases of individual departments or a section of an individual department being overstaffed. Continual and frequent inspections are carried out by the Department of Finance. Reductions have been demanded where necessary, and they have taken place. Reports and returns on the actual amount of work carried out in each department are supplied.
I think as a general statement it may be rightly said that there is no over-staffing of departments, and that the staffs of the departments cannot be appreciably  reduced, except by the reduction of work. As a matter of fact, the things that we have been doing here in the Dáil, and rightly doing, have tended to increase the number of the staff. All these very valuable Acts that have been passed have thrown additional work on the departments, and this has led to an increase in the staff. For instance, such Acts as the Housing Facilities Act, the Dairy Produce Act, and all legislation of that kind have generally led to an increase in the staff. Certain changes permit of certain activities being dropped. It does not mean that we have a continuous increase of staff all the time. Generally speaking, all the overdue legislation has a tendency to increase the staffs. As a matter of fact, with the departments getting into their stride, and complying more satisfactorily with the requirements in regard to financial procedure, a great deal of additional work has been thrown on the Department of Finance. For instance, the number of files opened in 1922 by the Department of Finance amounted to 4,483; the number of files opened in the year 1923 was 7,757, and the number of files opened in 1924 was 9,798.
The Departments are getting into their stride. New things are being done. New acts are being put into operation, and that has naturally resulted in a very great volume of departmental work coming along to the Department of Finance. Certain other work, like that arising out of the negotiations with the British Government have shown a tendency to fall off, but the other work of the Department has continued to increase. It would seem that Deputies who are in favour of a Geddes Committee are being practically converted by me and my opposition, because there is a sort of idea that a Geddes Committee would be for the purpose of throwing dust in the eyes of the public. At any rate, it has been suggested that a Geddes Committee could not do its work unless the entire field had been surveyed and the spade work done. That is what I have said all the time about a Geddes Committee, that if there is a certain expenditure that the Department of Finance wants to cut down and  the other Departments do not agree, the Ministry can bring in a Geddes Committee, and with the imprimatur of this Committee this demand can be effected.
Mr. BLYTHE: There is no use in people talking about expenditure in the way certain people do. In countries that are proportionately no richer the proportion of expenditure is a good deal higher. A good deal depends on what is done with the money. It is not a question entirely of the total amount expended. It is what the State gets in return.
Mr. BLYTHE: Proposals came along to my Department from the Minister for Agriculture for an increase in the money for cow testing. It would be easy to say we could not bear any new expenditure, but obviously that would be expenditure that would give a return. It is difficult to see how there can be any great decrease in expenditure. With the legislation we have in existence and the various services that exist, the thing we can try to do is to get the best returns for them. There are services many people declare to be useless, but which are undoubtedly misunderstood, such as the National Health Insurance, to which there is a great popular opposition that is not justified. You cannot cut off services like that that may be a bit unpopular, unless you see that the complaints against it are justified. We cannot take the line, as I said, in connection with the Budget on the Report Stage, and say: “We will reduce expenditure regardless of results.” It would be possible to say that  parents must pay for the education of their children and that “We were about the Estimates for Education, and we will wipe out the Education Estimates, and that people should provide for sickness and so we will wipe out the Insurance Estimate.”
Mr. HEWAT: May I suggest to the Minister, without criticising in detail the system at present in operation, that there is overlapping in all directions. For instance, there are certain inspectors doing work that might be done by the Civic Guard.
Mr. BLYTHE: The Civic Guard are there in any case, and they do work that officials are specially appointed for. In other cases, where special inspectors are necessary, you might get rid of the duplication that exists on lines like that. That would tend towards a more effective working of the machine, but as to clearing out, root and branch, the services that exist, I do not see how that could be done.
Mr. BLYTHE: No doubt certain economies could be effected, and they have been effected. These are matters that are being pursued. If it were steadily the view of the Finance Department that certain things ought to be done, and that there was great resistance being put up by those engaged on them, and no change could be accomplished, then, presumably, there will be a case for a committee or something else to decide in the matter. On the question of the increase in the number of typists, to which Deputy Major Cooper referred, that is explained by the figures I gave in relation to the  number of files. The subjects dealt with, and their compliance with financial requirements, has led to a great increase in work and inter-departmental correspondence. There was a time when the Army expended money without asking for sanction. That did not involve correspondence, but now they apply in advance for sanction before spending the money, and that entails correspondence. It is the same with other Departments. The very fact that there is normal procedure carried out means that there is an exchange of letters, that there are questions, and so forth.
Mr. JOHNSON: I would like some information in respect to the position of the Government consulting engineer. His salary is £1,050, inclusive. I think the same appointment was held last year. What I desire to know is, what is the relationship between that consulting engineer and the Department of Finance, or the State in general; whether this is a fee or a salary; whether it is an estimate of what the fees would amount to in the course of the year; and whether there is an addition to this £1,050 in office staff. The position of consulting engineer is one that I think requires a little more explanation. We know that there was a consulting engineer appointed to deal with certain expenditure in consequence of the destruction during 1922-23, or for the purpose of reconstruction. I am anxious to know whether the position of this consulting engineer is the same to-day as two years ago; whether, in respect of any purchases that are made affecting engineering affairs, the consulting engineer, as the vetoing officer, is the person who exercises a check upon any of the Departments; whether the consulting engineer receives a commission on purchases made according to these specifications, or whatever the technical term may be.
In a general way I would like to know what the position of the consulting engineer is and what his duties are in return for this £1,050 and whether any change has been effected in the personnel or duties of the office this year as contrasted with two years ago.
Mr. BLYTHE: The position of consulting engineer is at the present moment under consideration. As a matter of fact, I am of opinion that there is not going to be any work that would justify the continuation of the arrangement which appears in the Estimates. As a matter of fact, the position is even more indefinite than that, because, although the offer of that sum was made to the gentleman who was acting as consulting engineer, he never accepted it. He asked for a fee of £1,500 and consequently this is a very tentative figure. There were various sorts of work being done by the consulting engineer. First there was the construction of railway bridges for which he was being paid on the basis of 3½ per cent.
Mr. BLYTHE: One thing at a time. He was being paid a certain sum, as remuneration. There was a fixed lump sum of £1,050 for dealing with other railway claims. Then there was a scale for purchases on behalf of the Government in England on the ordinary Crown agent's scale. Then for advice on other matters this fee of £1,050 was suggested in August, 1923. It was offered, but as a matter of fact, as I say, it was never accepted. That fee was for all other advice that he might give to the Government in connection with electricity supply works or any other things. Various things occurred which made it impossible or undesirable for the Government to avail of the services of the particular engineer. So far he has received altogether for work done the sum of £8,150.
|Last Updated: 16/05/2011 17:58:49||Page of 15|