House of Assembly: Vol2 - FRIDAY 8 AUGUST 1924
Mr. FOURIE, as Chairman, brought up the First Report of the Select Committee on Public Accounts as follows—
Your Committee begs to report that sums amounting to £4,639 5s. 4d. are shown inter alia on page 286 of the Controller and Auditor-General’s Report as requiring to be covered by Vote on the Union Revenue Account, and your Committee would recommend this sum for specific appropriation by Parliament.
A. P. J. Fourie, Chairman.
Report to be considered on Monday.
Mr. SPEAKER announced that the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders had appointed the following members to serve on the Select Committees mentioned, viz.—
First Order read: House to go into Committee on the South African Society of Accountants (Private) Bill.
House in Committee:
On Clause 3,
I have a small amendment in Clause 3: in line 49 on page 8 to omit “Person” and to substitute “member.” The House will see that an amendment was made in the original Bill by the Select Committee, in which the word “practice” was taken Out and “membership” substituted One of the objects of the society is to take legal proceedings to deal with the removal or the suspension of any person registered where that person has committed an offence. When the Bill came before the Select Committee the original Bill laid down that it was an offence to practise without being registered. The Committee said, no; the practice was not the test, but the test is when a man holds himself out to be an accountant, and it should be a prohibited act for a man to hold himself out as such when he is not registered. Once a man becomes a member of the society it is perfectly clear that one of the punishments you want to impose on a member (such as the Law Society imposes) is suspension from the power to practice. If hon. members will look at. Clause 25 they will find that the power given is to apply to the Court in case an offence has been committed, and the court can suspend a man from practising if necessary, which is an eminently right and proper thing for the council to decide. I think the hon. member for Lady-brand (Mr. Swart) will agree with me that it simply puts these two clauses in harmony, and members will find that there is provision in other parts of the Bill in which the suspension of practice is dealt with The court will not necessarily suspend a man, and may make such order as it may think fit. But the court ought to have that power.
I hope the Committee will not agree to this amendment. The Select Committee was very particular on this point wherever it appeared. The effect is to put a member of the society in a worse position than one who has never been a member. A man can still do accountancy work and still practise so long as he does not describe himself as an accountant. Here is a man who is struck off the roll and is absolutely debarred from doing work under any circumstances, as he is debarred from practising.
I agree with the hon. member for Langlaagte (Mr. Christie) on the matter. We allow a person to do accountancy work if he likes and if people like to take them into their service he is allowed to describe himself and hold himself out as an accountant. If the amendment of the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) is accepted, it will mean that members of the society removed from the roll are in a worse position than they would be if they had never belonged to the society. I hope the Select Committee’s recommendation will be accepted.
We are asked to give the society the right to go to law against members who may be in arrears with their subscriptions, and a man may be deprived of the means of earning his livelihood owing to the fact that he has not paid his subscription to the society. We seem to be tending more and more in the direction of building up professions from the legal point of view. Members of the brickmakers or engineers society have as much right to come to this House to have their trades unions legalized as any professional combination may have. We are continually being met with this type of legislation, yet hon. members opposite when discussing trades unions dealing with blacklegs, speak of victimization and of the starving men to-day. They themselves ask for legal protection, but they deny moral protection to the trades union. I hope hon. members will be a little more broad-minded in the future.
I think the hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston) has gone out of his way to attack the Bill. It was not a question of creating a trades union by legislation, for if the hon. member brings a Bill forward with that object, I have no doubt that every member of the House will pay consideration to the merits of the case. Perhaps the hon. member (Mr. Waterston) may be amused to know that when a Bill of this kind was introduced about ten years ago—I happened to be counsel for the promoters—one of our foremost supporters on the Select Committee which considered the Bill was Mr. W. H. Andrews. The hon. member has spoken on the Bill as if it were intended merely for the protection of the profession, but that is not quite fair. We are trying to put this profession on the same basis as the legal or medical profession, not in the interests of the profession itself, but in the interests of the public which that profession serves. A considerable amount of training is required for this highly technical work. The whole point is this, do you want to ensure that for the protection of the public there shall be qualified accountants? If that principle is conceded a Bill of this kind is necessary. If the hon. member holds that it is not necessary to insist on having qualified accountants or a body to uphold the status of the profession, he will vote against the Bill. It is not proposed that a man should be struck off the roll merely for failure to pay his subscription, but in the event of a man not paying his subscription for two years application can be made to the courts, which will decide whether he shall be struck off. Should he be struck off, he has the right to come back on the roll on payment of arrears and a registration fee. You will see that the Council has the right to conduct examinations, to form a library, to establish funds and so on for the convenience of the Society and to purchase property. All those are quite common powers given to any corporate body. The first test is; do you require that people practising as accountants in this country shall be competent to do their work; do you require to establish this as a highly qualified profession which will be of the greatest advantage to our young men and provide them with honourable avenues of employment in the future? If you do, this Bill is necessary.
The hon. member states that this Bill is brought in for the protection of the public. Let us be frank. Is it for the protection of the public?
Of course it is.
Well, just for the same reason that our friends the doctors get all the protection they can and as our friends of the legal fraternity get all the protection they can—all for the same reason, for the benefit of the public. Meanwhile the poor old citizens of this country who have to go to a doctor or a lawyer have to pay through the nose for the services rendered simply because those professional men belong to a close corporation, a ring, formed for the protection of the public. The public get very little benefit indeed from this class of legislation. The public have to pay for it. Let us be frank and sincere and say that these Bills are not for the benefit of the public but for the protection of such gentlemen as those who have been responsible for bringing this Bill before the House. When we form a trade Union, at least we are frank and honest about it. We say plainly that the Union is formed for the protection of the men engaged in the industry. We do not say it is for the protection of the public. Although our bricklayers have just as much right when they form a trade union to come here and argue that they are working in the interests of the public and that the union is formed not so much for the benefit of the workmen as for the public whose interest it is to see that houses are properly built by efficient men and that jerry-built places are not put up by incompetent builders. I doubt whether gentlemen opposite would support a Bill brought forward in this House to protect the hon. fraternity of bricklayers and carpenters. Judging by the statements of the hon. gentlemen opposite and their attitudes towards the trade union, I doubt very much indeed whether the same support would be forthcoming for a Bill to protect the hon. fraternity of bricklayers and carpenters as is forthcoming for this Bill. The hon. gentleman has said that I have gone into this Bill with too much rigour. Well the hon. gentleman belongs to the legal profession, and he knows, as many of us have found out, that the law in practice is very different from what it looks like on paper. A great deal more rigour is put into the carrying out of a good many of these Acts than is looked for when they are brought before this House. I am quite convinced that, after this Bill is passed, we shall find that the great masses of the people of this country who want any work done which comes under this society, that professional charges have been raised considerably above what they are now. The public will have to pay again for this particular species of legislation which is brought before this House, it is said, solely in the interests of the public. There has been no demand from the public whatever for this Bill and as far as the Transvaal is concerned I know of many qualified accountants who while they have nothing to lose under this Bill are entirely opposed to it because they know that it is going to do an injustice to many people who are now practising as accountants in this country. This Bill is out to create a legalized close preserve; another little bit of the spoil which the hon. members over there talk about is to be given to some of their friends. If this Bill is passed the accountants will fix their own fees at whatever figure they like and will have all the machinery of the law to enforce their terms.
I would like to know what is going to happen in any small dorp or out-of-the-way place where they have church societies, associations and so on, most of which have their books to be kept and yet where there are no accountants who will be members of this society in practice. What are people in such places to do? Are they to send miles away to a town to employ an accountant who is a member of the society?
No, that is provided for.
They have no accountants in those places. Are they to send to Cape Town for a man? I believe the hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston) is right. It is creating a close preserve. I think we should leave these accountants alone as they are and trust to the survival of the fittest.
The question which the hon. member has just raised is already provided for in the Bill. Any place which is 25 miles away from any town where there is an accountant is not subject to the provisions of this Act. For instance, any place 25 miles from Port Elizabeth, presuming the nearest member of this society to be at Port Elizabeth, would be exempt. There is no doubt that this is creating a corporation and that the Bill to a great extent is intended to protect the accountant, but surely there can be no objections on that account. While it is protecting the accountants, it is protecting the public as well. This Committee boiled down the thing and brought it up in its present form. They must get rid of the idea that this is a close corporation. It is to provide protection for the public from persons who say they are public accountants and who are not. The provision of 25 miles—
The 25 miles provision is not now in the Bill.
Did you take it out?
Yes, the word “practice” wherever it occurs in the Bill is taken out and that means that people in the smaller villages may do the work of auditors and accountants as much as they like, the only provision being that they shall not be allowed to describe themselves as public accountants.
Can these men take payment if they audit cooks?
There is a provision in the Bill to prevent any one practising—that is no one shall hold himself out unless he is a registered member of the society; provided a man does not describe himself as such he can practise and take payment for his services. Under Clause 4 there are two exceptions. One is, a man can describe himself as an accountant in relation to a business in which he is engaged at a salary. Another is as to a member of a society. Such a man can audit accounts for such a society, provided he does not take a fee.
Take the case of co-operative societies, there may be two or three in the same district, and what weight will a man’s name have who cannot describe himself as an accountant if he audits their books. I am looking to the country districts. The public has hitherto been well served by accountants of approved ability. Let us judge on ability, and let value be paid for such ability.
If the hon. member will raise the question on the next clause I will deal with it.
I would like to know what will happen to people who are doing the work now, but who are not qualified. Will these people be thrown out of employment?
I beg to move the deletion in line 49, page 8, of the words “person or”, then it would read merely “members only”. I shall move further for the deletion all words after the word “subscription” to end of the clause.
By removing the words “person or” it comes to this, the society will not have the power of taking legal proceedings against any member. The clause in question gives the society legal status and enables it to institute proceedings against members, and generally to recover any monies due to the society by any person or member, and if this amendment is carried it will take away a very important right.
I appeal to hon. members not to go in for amendments which do not affect the principle at all. The society cannot make anyone liable by regulation. No good will be effected by taking away these wards.
Then I will withdraw my amendment.
The CHAIRMAN then put the Question: That the word “person”, proposed to be omitted, stand part of the clause,
Mr. CHRISTIE called for a division; upon which the Committee divided:
Badenhorst, A. L.
Beyers, F. W.
Boshoff, L. J.
Brink, G. F.
Brits, G. P.
Cilliers, A. A.
Conradie, J. H.
Conroy, E. A.
Du Toit, F. J.
Fick, M. L.
Fourie, A. P. J.
Hertzog, J. B. M.
Heyns, J. D.
Keyter, J. G.
Malan, D. F.
Malan, M. L.
McMenamin, J. J.
Mostert, J. P.
Muller, C. H.
Naudé, A. S.
Pretorius, J. S. F.
Rood, W. H.
Sampson, H. W.
Smit, J. S.
Stals, A. J.
Steytler, L. J.
Strachan, T. G.
Swart, C. R.
Te Water, C. T.
Van Niekerk, P. W. le R.
Van Zyl, J. J. M.
Visser, T. C.
Water ston, R. B.
Werth, A. J.
Wessels, J. B.
Wessels, J. H. B.
Tellers: Van Niekerk, C. A.; Vermooten, O. S.
Anderson, H. E. K.
Bates, F. T.
Brown, D. M.
Byron, J. J.
Chaplin, F. D. P.
Close, R. W.
Coulter, C. W. A.
Deane, W. A.
Gilson, L. D.
Giovanetti, C. W.
Grobler, H. S.
Hay, G. A.
Jagger, J. W.
Krige, C. J.
Lennox, F. J.
Louw, J. P.
Marwick, J. S.
Miller, A. M.
Nel, O. R.
O’Brien, W. J.
Pretorius, N. J.
Richards, G. R.
Rider, W. W.
Sephton, C. A. A.
Smartt, T. W.
Struben, R. H.
Van Heerden, G. C.
Van Hees, A. S.
Van Zyl, G. B.
Tellers: de Jager, A. L.; Robinson, C. P.
Question accordingly affirmed, and the amendment proposed by Mr. Close dropped.
Clause, as amended, put and agreed to.
On Clause 4,
I want a little more information from the hon. member with regard to this. I know it states that members of clubs, institutions or any society are excluded, provided that no fee or consideration is paid to such person for his services. Now, I want to ask the hon. gentleman whether this is not going too far. The hon. member here near me mentioned that accounts in small villages will not be affected, but as a layman I read into it that Clause 4 will entirely eliminate anyone from practising in country districts unless he is registered. I leave it to my legal friends to argue out the legal phraseology. Take the trade union movement again: a most important movement in this country, but not recognized by many hon. members on the other side of the House. Many unions have small branches, and a particular union may have a branch where there are only twelve or fifteen members who do not get much remuneration, but can get their branch books audited by one of their own members. They will not be able to do this any longer if he is not registered, and that would be an offence. A trade union would not be able, under this particular system, to allow its books or the books of a branch to be audited by a man who is not registered, and allow that man to get a small remuneration. There is another important organization in South Africa. Take the political wing of the Labour movement—the Labour Party, where we have our branches spread in different parts of South Africa. If we meet and appoint a particular person to audit the branch accounts and he is not registered, and if we give him some small reward for his services, this particular person will be committing an offence under this Act, and will be liable to a fine of £100, and that for auditing a few books which may take him a few hours on some particular evening. No, we are getting too many laws in this country, and soon we will not be able to move right or left without committing an offence. It is always we who have been in the net in the past, but hon. members on the other side may now find themselves in the net. You will find members who are qualified to belong to a profession in this country but who do not happen to have joined a society, probably doing a bit of time
We only lock up generals, and there are only colonels on this side of the House.
If we lock up more of the colonels on the other side of the House, and a few predikants, you will have a little more peace in this country. I am afraid hon. members opposite are getting rather frivolous. I raise the point in all seriousness for it is going to be a very serious thing to cricket and tennis clubs and benefit societies and organizations of that description if they have to pay the fees of a fully-fledged accountant to audit their accounts. In fact it would be a real hardship on them to have to do this.
I would like the hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston) to answer the question whether the trades unions in the Transvaal or Natal have experienced any of the difficulties to which he has referred. As a matter of fact the clause to which he takes exception has been the law in the Transvaal since 1904.
It has never been carried out.
There is a provision in the Transvaal Act which lays it down that no person shall describe himself, or hold himself out as a public accountant or auditor unless he is registered as a public accountant. The Bill now before the House makes provision that nothing shall prevent a man who is a member of a club from auditing the books of that club or society provided he does not do it for a fee. Again, a man is not prevented from doing auditing work, provided he does not hold himself out as a public accountant. A man will not infringe the law if when he audits accounts he puts some such word as “examined” but he must not use the word “audited.” I will now move the following amendment in line 6 on page 10 after “capacity of” to insert “and describing himself as an.”
The hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston) can obviate the whole difficulty by having the books audited by a Dutch-speaking person, as the Bill prevents nobody from describing himself as an accountant.
So as to remove all questions of doubt I will move the omission of the proviso. This will not make the profession such a close preserve as is intended in the Bill.
I think it is quite clear from this clause that upon the expiration of 12 months after the commencement of this Act no person shall describe himself as an accountant or auditor or—it goes on to say—“nor prevent any person, being a member of a club, institution or society which is not carried on with a view to profit, from acting in the capacity of auditor of such club, institution or society, provided no fee or other consideration is paid to such person for his services.” As I read English it is there clearly laid down that no person shall hold himself out as an accountant, nor shall he audit the books of any club or institution of which he may be a member if he accepts any fee or other monetary consideration for his services. It is perfectly clear to me that in this particular clause, in addition to the fact that he shall not hold himself out as an accountant or auditor, he shall not audit the books of his own society if he is paid any fee. He may do it for nothing. If this clause passes as it is printed here my contention is that no man may audit the books of any society if he receives any fee or payment. The hon. member goes even further, and says that he shall not receive any consideration at all. The hon. member knows perfectly well the conditions in South Africa with many of these small institutions. The common practice is that they have their honorary auditors, who may be members of the institution or some other gentlemen who are quite capable of auditing these books, and they give them a certain honorarium for doing that. This clause is going to eliminate that sort of thing. It is going to make them employ one of these highly qualified gentlemen, approved by this society, who will charge whatever fees he likes to fix. I would ask the hon. member to look at that word “nor” and I ask if that is not an additional qualification.
I think it will clear matters up if I say that we are prepared to accept the amendment moved by the hon. member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay).
I notice that the marginal note remains as it was before the amendment was made. I take it that that word is an oversight and will be altered.
The marginal note has already been altered for the next print.
It is clear in Clause 4 on page 8 “provided always that this section shall not prevent any person employed exclusively at a salary on accounts.” That I should say is a bookkeeper in a small country store—he can style himself an accountant. They do not have any objection. So to my mind this is quite clear that the fee is the great thing they are striving after. In my little dorp for instance there will be only one man who will register himself as an accountant and will monopolize the business. Who will have to pay him? It will be the farmer or some local institution or society. This gentleman will claim his own fees and this Bill will enable him to enforce them. This is simply a feemaking business, and is operating against the farmers of the country.
If they look at the main Bill hon. members will see that wherever the word “practise” occurs it has been erased by the Select Committee. The meaning of this is, without a doubt, the position will be the same as it is in the Transvaal to-day. The men in the small villages will be allowed to do the work of auditor and bookkeeper-accountant, but they will not be allowed to deceive the public by describing themselves as qualified accountants and auditors. If the hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston) will read this clause he will see that that is the position. They will be allowed to do the work, but not to hold themselves out as qualified auditors or accountants. He will not be allowed to put up a name plate describing himself as “J. Smith, Accountant.” He may say “these books have been examined by me and found correct, J. Smith,” but then the public will know that the accountant who has examined these books is not a qualified accountant. The Transvaal Act has been in force since 1904, and there are numbers of men practising as secretaries, bookkeepers and so on in the Transvaal to-day. Of course my friends will see under section 9, that all persons who are to-day practising as accountants in the Free State and the Cape will be put on the register if they are bona fide practitioners.
I see that the word “practise” has been deleted, consequently it will be a contravention of the law if a person describes himself as an accountant. By practising as an accountant, a person gives the impression that he is a qualified accountant. In a village like Christiana there is not enough work for a registered accountant, yet a person may do the work in conjunction with his own work. Under this Bill, however, such a person cannot practise as an accountant. This is an impossible state of affairs.
Is the member in charge of the Bill going to accept the amendment of the hon. member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay) that a person who is not an accountant is entitled to accept a fee from Clubs and Societies. I ask him if all the Words in line 3 from the word “nor” should not disappear from the Bill. I do not see how a person can carry on a business of accountant and not call himself an accountant. Either a person shall be allowed to carry on business as auditor or accountant or he shall not; here it says he shall not and then he shall, provided, he does not put up on his board—that he does not call himself an accountant or an auditor. I understand this Bill is intended to protect the public from illegal practitioners, but there is a loop-hole here for certain people by which they will be allowed to audit the books of clubs, institutions or societies for a fee. The member in charge of the Bill says he will accept the amendment of the member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay) but I ask him whether he should not delete from “nor” to the end of the section.
I understand from the speeches of the hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston), and the hon. member for Lady-brand (Mr. Swart), that if the proviso is retained no member will be able to audit the books of the church if he is paid for it. With that I do not agree.
I would like to point out that these are the exact words of the Transvaal Act which has been in operation for the last twenty years, and I thought that the clause might be taken from it as it stood.
We are now considerably widening the scope of the Bill. If we leave the word “practise” everything is quite clear. Now the word “practise” is deleted, and I cannot see why. I therefore suggest that the words “describes himself as an accountant” be deleted.
Many estates are now administered by members of the legal profession. I would like to ask the hon. member (Mr. Close) what happens to these men if this Bill goes through? Will they still be able to carry on this administration of estates?
There is nothing to prevent them from carrying on the administration of estates; this Bill only deals with a particular class of work, accounting and auditing. An important part of an accountant’s work is in connection with the administration of estates. That is quite a different branch from the legal side. If an executor wants an account for a particular purpose he may call in an accountant, but he is not bound to in the ordinary way.
If a member of the legal profession has an estate or the executor of an estate or any particular person appointed as an executor of an estate, do I understand the hon. member to say that it would be necessary to get a public accountant or a qualified auditor to certify that the accounts are in order? For instance, does it mean that the Master of the Supreme Court would require that the accounts should be certified by an accountant?
I suppose you will be working in that direction bye and bye.
I was just putting an illustration which, I thought, would make it clear to the hon. member, who asked me whether this Bill would interfere with anybody acting as an administrator of an estate.
I move in line 58 to omit the words “describe himself or hold himself out as an accountant or as a public accountant or auditor or”.
If that is carried the Bill will be like “Hamlet” without the Prince of Denmark. There will be nothing left of this clause and we may as well tear the Bill up. If the hon. member for Namaqualand (Mr. Mostert) will think over it now, he will see that if we agree to what he has moved it will wreck the Bill.
I should like to be clear on this. If there is a qualified accountant in practice in a certain place, must you avail yourself of his services, and are you debarred from making use of the services of a man who is not qualified? If so, it would be a very serious thing for us up-country because we cannot always afford to make use of the services of a registered accountant, and we have people who are perfectly competent to make up books who are not certified or registered accountants. I want to be clear on that point before I vote for this section.
I should like to point out to the hon. member that what the Bill prohibits is that a man must not describe himself as, or hold himself out to be, an accountant, unless he is registered. A registration implies registration as understood under the Act. The people who employ him do so on the understanding that he is of a certain standard, but if they employ him and he does not describe himself as an accountant they can employ him and pay him.
There is nothing to penalise him?
No, provided he does not describe himself as an accountant. If he signs a document “audited by me, John Brown,” that would not be allowed if he is not an accountant; but if he says that he has “examined” the books and does not indicate that he is an accountant, that is perfectly in order, and he can be paid for it. We must remember that a large number of our accounts are not for our own use in South Africa but relate to very important and huge concerns outside which have big interests in South Africa, and if these people know we have a standard on accountancy in South Africa which is guaranteed by the effective work of a society, they will probably, and almost certainly, employ South African accountants, and they will not send their own men here.
I cannot understand, after the explanation by the hon. member in charge of the Bill, why he does not see his way clear to accept the amendment of the hon. member for Namaqualand (Mr. Mostert).
Because that is the whole thing.
As has been made clear by the hon. member for Delarey (Mr. van Hees), a man holds himself out as an accountant or auditor if he does auditing work, but does not say he is an auditor. There is a danger lurking in these words, and the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) should meet the feeling which there is with regard to this.
We have had some experience of the Accountancy Bill in Natal which was passed many years ago, and we have not found it to be a hardship. We had the experience there of the Dutch-Reformed Church employing a man who was not a registered public accountant to audit the books, and they were passed as correct for three years. Later on, it was found that there was a deficit of £1,200—and that is where the protection comes in as regards the public, for it is very necessary when a man is engaged to audit books that he should be competent and know what he is doing, and for that reason I think it necessary to point out that particular instance to the committee.
Members on this side do not want to obstruct the Bill. The amendment of the hon. member for Namaqualand (Mr. Mostert) is a very reasonable one, however, because it leaves the most scope in the description of the position of a person who calls himself an accountant. The amendment will make no difference whatsoever to the general principles of a Bill.
I think there is a point that has been made by the hon. member for Delarey (Mr. van Hees) in regard to the ambiguity of the words “hold himself out”. It might possibly be argued that if a man who is not a qualified Accountant was offered the work of auditing the accounts of a village Church that he was holding himself out as an accountant, but I do not see why we should take out the words “describing himself”. I move the deletion of the words “or hold himself out.”
While the words “shall describe himself” must remain in the Bill I am prepared to accept the amendment of the hon. member for Yeoville (Mr. Duncan).
The amendment proposed by Mr. Mostert was withdrawn.
The amendments proposed by Mr. Duncan, Mr. Close and Mr. Hay were agreed to.
I would like to know when I can move that the word “rekenmeester” can be substituted for the word “accountant” in the Dutch text.
The word has already appeared in previous clauses which have been passed, and the hon. member will, therefore, have to move his amendment at the report stage.
I accept the suggestion. The only question is whether the English and Dutch text will be signed at the same time.
The clause as amended was agreed to.
On Clause 5,
Let hon. members read Clause 5. “Any person not registered as an accountant in pursuance of the Act, but describing himself or holding himself out as an accountant”—“shall be guilty of an offence, and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding £100 for each offence, and in default of payment to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six weeks.” How many more criminal offences are we going to make in this country If this is to be an offence at all, why should not it be a civil offence; why should it be a criminal offence? As I have stated before when we have been discussing societies such as this, in the face of the medical profession one can quite understand it being a criminal offence because there injury may be done to a member of the public which cannot be repaired. But in a case like this the only loss will be a loss to somebody’s pocket. Moreover you are not confining the offence to members of your Society. Although no doubt some members of the Society may commit offences precisely as with the legal profession, you have members of the legal profession committing offences. It is not fair to hold out that anybody who does not come under this particular species of legislation is necessarily dishonest. There are many clever men in this country who will not be members of this Society and yet may give greater efficiency and more faithful service as accountants and auditors than members of this Society. By making it a criminal offence it does not benefit the general public at all. It only benefits the individual. Again, what do we find in connection with these Societies, once they succeed in getting a close preserve and complete control of that profession what happens Men find it very difficult indeed to get into the profession. We had a case like that in Benoni. There was a man who drew plans very successfully for buildings like the Dutch Reformed Church and the Workers’ Hall at Benoni who tried for years and years to get into the Architects’ Society and they would not have him. They wanted to keep away competition. That is the object of these Societies—to keep away competition so that the members of these professions shall not know what it is to experience unemployment. When we get more competition among the doctors and lawyers, and when we see the unemployed doctors and legal gentlemen marching up Adderley Street, then we shall see something done for the unemployed. We find these people now forming these Societies to protect themselves from unemployment. These gentlemen are trying to protect themselves from the effects of secondary education in this country. They do not want to face the competition of the children of the working classes who have been educated in a secondary school and who are qualified for professional work. These gentlemen are asking themselves: Where shall we get our artisans from if the children of the working classes are free to enter our professions and compete with us. The hon. member for Yeoville (Mr. Duncan) will come in useful here, and I hope he will move his amendment to have the clause omitted. I hope the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) will agree with me that it is too drastic to make this a criminal offence.
The amendment of the hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston) is unacceptable. It is desirable, for the sake of the farmers, that there should be capable accountants.
The further we get into this draft Bill the more we see how drastically it has been drawn and how impossible it will be for it to work satisfactorily. In regard to Clause 5, I am going to move a deletion to meet what I think the hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston) desires, that is to say that we should not fill our gaols with legally-made criminals. I am going to move as an amendment: To omit all the words after “describing himself”, in line 10 to “hereof” in line 13, and to substitute “as a member of the Society.” I can quite appreciate that in these days every one wants to entrench himself. That is all very well, but when they are to form Societies like this for that purpose, they must confine their penalties to members of their Society.
That will destroy the Bill altogether. If that amendment is carried we may as well do away with the Bill. The object of this Bill is not merely to set up a Society and see that no one calls himself a member of this Society if he is not one. The object of the Bill is also to protect the public who receive documents signed by people who call themselves accountants and lead the public to believe they are qualified accountants when they are not. The object of the Bill is to see that people do not describe themselves as accountants unless they have the qualifications laid down by this law. Surely merely to provide that they should not call themselves members of the Society is not enough. You must go further and say that a man must not call himself an accountant or an auditor unless he has all the qualifications. If the amendment is accepted the whole object of the Bill will be frustrated.
Mr. NATHAN moved, as an amendment to this amendment: In line 10, to omit “or holding himself out”.
That will meet the case.
I hope the member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay) will not press his amendment, because if it is carried it will destroy the whole principle of the Bill. After all, the object of having an accountants’ society with the necessary legal powers, is first of all to bring up a profession that will be capable and fully qualified, so that the public will be enabled to go and get efficient, properly trained and qualified men. If this amendment is accepted whereby it would not be an offence for a man to call himself an accountant, I can see straight away that the object of the Bill is negatived. Sufficient provision will not have been made for the protection of the public.
The amendment moved by Mr. Nathan was agreed to.
The amendment of Mr. Hay was negatived.
Would I be in order in moving a further amendment to the Bill to delete “one hundred” in line 14 and substitute the word “fifty”, and in line 16 delete “six” and insert “three”?
That is quite in order.
To show how agreeable we are I will accept that amendment.
The amendment was agreed to.
The clause, as amended, was agreed to.
On Clause 6,
I have a few questions to ask on Clause 6. I wish to know why the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) is bringing the Auditor-General into this. Also why the Minister of the Interior should elect members on the council. I also wish to know who are going to pay the fees of this particular body.
Under the existing Acts of the Transvaal and Natal the persons to deal with the original formation of the societies are persons who are themselves members of those societies. The hon. member (Mr. Waterston) has two of three times, I think, very unjustly indeed, if he will allow me to say so, made some rather unkind imputations as to the desires and motives of the people in forming these societies. They are really formed for the benefit of the public. They are also incidentally formed for the protection of members of the society. It was felt by certain persons, as was shown by the evidence, that probably more confidence would be given if there should be something in the way of independent influence in the council which would deal with the first formation of the society. That influence is obtained by getting the Auditor-General of the Union, who comes in as ex-officio chairman of the council and gives that impartiality and independence to it. And then you have the constituent bodies, which are the existing societies of the four provinces, electing their members. In addition, however, as there were some complaints in the course of the evidence before the Select Committee by persons who are not members of the societies at the present time, an arrangement is made for the appointment of a member outside those societies: for the purpose of obtaining that more independent outlook than some people feared might be the case if the constituent body were confined in the first place to the four societies only. I would point out to the hon. member (Mr. Waterston) that his argument is very unfair to the Transvaal society which has a very much more rigid and stringent position under its existing Act than it will have under this Bill. It is the same with the Natal society, which also has its own Act. All the societies have agreed to this position of the Select Committee, to satisfy persons who have any doubt, that the Auditor-General should be the chairman and that one member should be nominated by the Minister of the Interior. As to fees, the hon. member will see that there are registration fees to be paid by persons as they join the society, and, of course, those fees will go towards the expenses of the society, including those of arranging for the council.
I cannot see any reason why the Auditor-General has been dragged in to protect the work of this accountants’ trade union. The Auditor-General has got his own work to do and I think societies should elect their own chairman and their own president in the usual way. I do not see any reason at all why this highly-paid official should have this job placed upon him in addition to his own work, and I trust that the hon. member (Mr. Close) will take out this provision.
I would inform the hon. member (Mr. Hay) that the inclusion of the Auditor-General was done, not at the instance of the societies, but at the instance of the public. The society of Accountants had no idea of bringing the Auditor-General into their affairs, but certain members of the public and persons doing the work of accountants who were not members of the society came to the Select Committee and said that they had no representative on this Council, that there was nobody to see that the interests of the public were protected, and they also said “Why not have the Auditor-General to see that this trades union will not work against the interests of the public?” In my opinion the inclusion of the Auditor-General is for the very purpose of seeing that this trades union does not infringe on the rights of the public and of protecting men who stand outside the four societies of the Transvaal, Natal, O.F.S. and the Cape. We asked the Auditor-General whether he is prepared to go on to the Council, and he said that he was.
The clause was agreed to.
On clause 9,
There seems to be a great deal of confusion in connection with this Bill. I am informed by public accountants in the Transvaal that it will cause a hardship to many men who are now practising in the Transvaal. They tell me that it will interfere with them and they claim that if this Bill becomes law and this particular clause is passed, every man in the Transvaal who is to-day practising as an accountant or an auditor should be automatically registered and come under this Bill without any examination or anything of that description. We have precedents for that because when he introduced something similar in connection with the engine drivers a man employed on an engine got a certificate automatically, whereas the new man would have to undergo an examination. I would ask the hon. member in charge of this Bill if he is not prepared to agree to the deletion of the particular lines in the clause which are not altogether doing justice to the accountants of the Transvaal. It says that “all persons whose names at the commencement of this Act appeared on the register of the Transvaal Society of Accountants.” Would that mean those who have not joined the Society or are not members of it and practising? They do not come in at all. If it is altered to “practising as an accountant or auditor,” as the case may be, it would be all right. I would like the Hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) to give us hope in this direction, and to be as reasonable in this clause as he has been on the other clauses. We hope he will continue to be reasonable and meet our point of view.
The Chairman put the amendment proposed by the Select Committee in lines 16 to 18.
We have come now to a suggestion which really is fundamental and vital to the Bill. The position is, that prior to this Bill being introduced into the House here the Transvaal had their Act from 1904 and Natal from 1909, and if this Bill does not go through these two Statutes remain untouched. At the present moment in the Transvaal and Natal nobody can hold himself out as an accountant or describe himself as an accountant unless he is a member of the Society. The Natal Act is in almost exactly the same wording as the Transvaal Act. The result is that at the present time in the Transvaal we have exactly the same position that will be created in the Cape and the Orange Free State if this Bill goes through,—to this extent, that nobody (who is unregistered) can describe himself as an accountant, but there is nothing to prevent his practising. Since 1904 and 1909 in the Transvaal and Natal respectively people have been practising without let or hindrance so long as they did not describe themselves as accountants or auditors. Now, in 1904 when the Act was passed, or rather within 6 months afterwards, every person who was entitled to be registered had an opportunity of doing so, and at that stage all these persons who were qualified and were publicly and bona fide practising at that time as accountants, or belonged to certain specified societies, or on application to the Society, were held to be fit and proper persons to be on the register had the door opened very wide to them. The door was opened very wide to existing rights, there having been no previous prohibition by law against a man holding himself out as or describing himself to be an accountant. It was held that all these persons who were practising in good faith should have the opportunity of coming in at once,—even those persons who were not practising but were considered to be fit persons. The result was that everybody who had any moral claim to come on the register had an opportunity of doing so, but since then they have neither a legal nor a moral claim to come on the register. Under Clause 1 provision is made for persons who appear on the register of the Transvaal and Natal to come on the register of the new Society, and there is no need to make further provision for persons who are doing anything else. In the Cape Province and the Orange Free State we are in the same position to-day as the Transvaal was in 1904 when this Act of theirs was passed. You gave the same consideration in the Transvaal and Natal then that you are giving in the Cape Province and the Free State now. This Bill is regarded by a great many people, both inside and outside the accountancy profession, as a very vital one to pass. One of the witnesses before the Select Committee was Mr. Stuttaford, now the hon. member for Newlands, who gave evidence on behalf of the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce, and showed the importance to the business community of a Bill like this; and it does not need any argument to prove that it is highly important that the Bill should pass. The object of Clause 9 is that persons should be admitted who may be said to have a just grievance if they were not admitted. But I cannot see for the life of me how people who cannot now hold themselves out to be accountants in the Transvaal, can claim to acquire the right to re-open the Transvaal or Natal registers if the Bill becomes law, or should have a grievance if that is not done. This Bill owes its introduction very largely and very materially to the Transvaal and to the Natal Societies of Accountants—each being a statutory society—and they feel very strongly indeed that it is impossible to reopen the register of the Transvaal, as would be done if the suggestion made by the hon. member is adopted. The whole of that was threshed out in Select Committee where voluminous evidence was taken. The attitude of the Transvaal and Natal Societies was supported by the Cape and the Free State Societies. If the hon. member succeeds in getting the Clause modified as he desires it would mean an alteration of one of the two vital clause of the Bill. I move that the date to be fixed in Clause (c) as the date up to which persons resident and practising in the Cape and the Free State can come in as registered members be altered from March 31st, 1924, to August 1st, 1924.
I have pleasure in moving the following new sub-section to follow sub-section (e): (f) Any public servant who at the commencement of this Act holds the post of accountant in any department of the Union or provincial government service, or any audit or financial post in any such department which carries an equal or higher status than that of accountant may make application within nine months for registration, and shall be entitled to have his name entered in the register of the South African Society of Accountants. It is quite possible that there may be some retrenchment in the service. For instance, at the time of Union I knew a man aged 37, who was retrenched from a very high position in the Government service. If the Opposition had its way the Provincial Councils would be abolished, and under this Bill the Provincial Secretary and Provincial Accountant would be prohibited from practising as accountants. It is to meet cases such as these that I bring forward this amendment which at the outside would affect only 25 to 30 men. It is very improbable that a very large number of qualified men would require to follow this honourable profession. The hon. member in charge of the Bill will be very wise to accept the amendment which, although not of a very drastic character, is in the true interests of all concerned. The gentlemen to whom I have referred have in numerous instances to put the Chartered Accountants themselves right, for statements are often made in a non-professional manner by Chartered Accountants. The Provincial Accountant and the Provincial Auditor stand head and shoulders above the ordinary accountants.
I move in line 15 the insertion of the words “or may subsequently be admitted to the Society in terms of this Act.”
Just dealing with the last amendment moved by the hon. member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay), I do not quite know why he proposes that because Clause 19 deals with it. This Clause 9 is only the initial registration of members of the Society. There is a subsequent clause which deals with persons who become qualified subsequently. This clause only deals with the formation of the roll in the first instance.
In that case I withdraw.
I support the amendment moved by the hon. member for Liesbeck (Mr. Pearce). I do not think it will seriously interfere with the structure of the Bill. I certainly do not understand why persons who are in the public service and in a position where they sit in judgment upon and criticize the work of members of this profession should not be provided for as is suggested. The amendment only deals with men who are occupying positions of a certain status. It has been pointed out to me by a member of the public service that some men will not come under it, as it is not merely a question of status but of qualifications. Accordingly, I move, as an amendment to the amendment moved by the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce): In line 4, after “accountant” to insert “or holds a post which requires qualifications equal to those of an accountant and who is granted a certificate to that effect by the head of his department”.
I support the amendments proposed, but I would like to ask the hon. member for Liesbeck (Mr. Pearce) why he substituted nine months instead of five years. I understand the public servants’ representatives asked that the period be extended for five years. Now the hon. member for Liesbeck (Mr. Pearce) suggests nine months. Will he kindly give the reasons for the alteration.
I do not understand what the member for Liesbeck means by the words: “Which carry an equal or higher status than an accountant.” I would like the hon. member to say what he means by his amendment.
There is a gap in the amendment moved by the hon. member for Liesbeck (Mr. Pearce). If that is not seen to, difficulties are sure to arise later on. His amendment entitles certain persons who have a status equal to, or higher than, an accountant to be registered as members of the Society, and to practise as accountants It does not appear from the Bill what body or authority will define who has that status. It is necessary, therefore, to define when a person has that status and the amendment will have to define the authority for determining whether that status is equal to or higher than that of a recognized public accountant. I cannot just now move an amendment to that effect, but I suggest that the definition be left to the Civil Service Commission. The Executive of the Society of Accountants would probably not be impartial enough, but the Civil Service Commission would be, and besides that is the only body which has the necessary intimate knowledge of the Civil Service.
We have this very important amendment by the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce). It is one of the two or three matters which I regard—as I have several times pointed out—as really vital to the Bill. The proposal is that every public servant, whoever he may be, shall be entitled to be admitted to the register of the society. The position is this under the Bill as it stands at present: Provision is made that all persons who are practising accountants on the 1st August, 1924, can be made members of the society; provision is also made that all persons who are considered by the provisional council as fit and proper persons can be admitted. In Natal, when their society was formed, a number of people were, under similar provision, admitted to the register of the society when it was founded, including four inspectors in the Audit Office. In the cases the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) referred to, it may be considered that these persons are all persons of outstanding ability. If so, they are persons who can apply to the society to be admitted under Clause (d). If the application is not granted then under Clause 20 of the Bill any such person who applies has a right to go into Supreme Court and test the decision of the provisional Council. It may, I am sure, be taken for granted that the members of the Provisional Council will be gentlemen who will have the outlook, prospects and benefits of the society at heart. But if through an inadvertence or error of judgment the person who has made application under this clause to which I have referred. Clause (d) paragraph 4, is not accepted, when he should have been, he has his remedy in going to the Supreme Court. The people from the municipal services in Natal who are held up by hon. members as being entitled to be registered are, if at all, so entitled because they are people whose past knowledge and experience fits them to be registered. As I have said, this amendment touches one of the fundamental principles of the Bill. A vital thing for the Bill is that the registers of the Transvaal and Natal, which have been fixed and established under their own statute, should not he reopened, on the ground that there is no claim on the part of anybody, in law or otherwise, to be put on the registers. That also would apply to public servants. This Clause 9 must be read in connection with Clause 19. Clause 9 deals with the formation of the initial register of the society, while Clause 19 deals with the future admissions to the society. That is after the first register has been compiled and members admitted. Under Clause 19 provision is made for persons who have been for 10 years in the public services on certain specific classes of work in the accountancy branch, and they can be admitted to the society if they have practised for 18 months in the office of a practising accountant. This is a material thing in the Bill, and if the amendments suggested in that direction are accepted the Bill becomes absolutely bad. Why should public servants have a claim to a special privilege? They hon. member must remember that he is dealing with the initial registration under Clause 9. But what is really intended by this amendment is to prevent public servants from having to serve the 18 months under Clause 19 if they wish hereafter to retire and to practise as accountants after leaving the service. The Bill lays down that all persons in the Cape and Free State who at the commencement of the Act were practising accountants can be registered. In the services certain men may get a wide training; but the chances are that the persons who occupy positions as second grade clerks know no more than one side of the particular training of an accountant. Experience can only be picked up in the office of a practising accountant and requirements cannot be satisfied merely by examination, no matter how brilliant a man may be. What is required also is practical knowledge—just like a chemist or an attorney—and for that a man must have some practical service. A compromise has been suggested and one which I am prepared to accept. Under Clause 19 it is provided that 10 years shall qualify a man provided that he has 18 months in an accountant’s office. It is essential that that provision shall remain as it is. But I am prepared to agree to the deletion of the last proviso in Clause 19 and to accept the amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek in regard to Clause 9 with a certain limitation after the words “public servant”; subject to the retention of the 18 months’ period of service in paragraph 19. I propose to limit the hon. member’s amendment by inserting the words “in the Cape and Orange Free State Provinces” after the words “public servant” in the first line.
With whom will he serve the 18 months?
On the basis I have mentioned public servants in the Cape and Free State who apply now for registration will be registered for good and will not have to pass examinations or serve the 18 months. But as to persons who come in afterwards and apply for registration on the 10 years’ basis, they will have to serve the 18 months. That is the utmost limit of the compromise which cart be made and beyond that I cannot go. I suggest that the hon. member accept that. The last three lines of his amendment are not necessary because they are practically set out in the first portion of Clause 9. We are prepared to agree to this clause of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce), as so amended, confining it to the Cape and Free State. On the other hand it must be understood that Clause 19 will not be altered except that, as I have said, we are prepared to accept the amendment of the hon. member for Ladybrand (Mr. Swart) to allow a man to take his examination at any time whether he has served in the office or not. I move, as a further amendment to the amendment proposed by Mr. Pearce: In line 1, after “servant” to insert “in the Cape and Orange Free State Provinces”; and to omit all the words in lines 5 to 7.
I understand that the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) is prepared to accept the amendment provided it is confined to civil servants in the Cape and O.F.S. Certain officials who held similar posts come under the Acts of the Transvaal and Natal. Many men from the Cape and O.F.S. have been removed from the Cape and O.F.S. to the Transvaal and Natal and under this amendment they will be excluded. I would urge upon the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) that he should accept the amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) as it stands or reject it. It seems to me that in its amended form it would be manifestly unjust to men from the Cape and O.F.S. who have been removed to the Transvaal and Natal. Under the circumstances I would prefer to support the amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) if it is not entirely rejected.
I hope the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) will not accept the compromise suggested by the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close). There are men holding high positions in the Service for when some provision should be made to enable them to come under Clause 9. And the hon. member for Liesbeek’s amendment will meet their requirements.
It seems to me that at last we have reached the real bone of contention in this Bill. I support the amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce). I appreciate the difficulties of the Transvaal people as outlined by the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) and I recognise it would be manifestly unfair to many of these Transvaal men, but at the same time we have to do justice to all the members of the Civil Service. Men have interchanged in the Provinces and in laying down that you will only admit the men from the Cape and O.F.S., you will certainly be taking away rights of the man in the Transvaal and Natal. I cannot agree with the amendment of the hon. member for Hanover; Street (Mr. Alexander). If you allow the head of the department to certify that a man under him has the qualifications of an accountant you open the door very widely in deed. The idea of the Committee was to open the door fairly widely at the beginning. We felt that you must protect existing rights, but, of course, there are limits to that. Mr. Close has intimated that if the amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) is accepted it will be a breaking point in the Bill. I am sorry to hear that. There is a lot of good in this Bill and it would be a pity to wreck it upon a point like that. After all only a limited number of men will be affected. Of this limited number probably only two or three will come into competition with the accountants in the Transvaal. How many of these men will leave the service and start practising as accountants in the Transvaal and Natal? I feel sure that very few of them will do that. If that is so, why exclude the Transvaal and Natal men? One of the reasons why we ask the Auditor-General to take a seat on this Provisional Council is that he will protect the interests of the civil servant if necessary, but we must admit that the first decision should be left to the Provisional Council as to who are competent for admission. In the Select Committee we felt very strongly on this matter of appeal, and lots of objections were raised. We decided that there should be an appeal to the Supreme Court, and all parties were satisfied with that, so that we ought to be satisfied to leave it to the Provisional Council.
The amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) appears to me to be a very far-reaching one. I notice that in Clause 9, which provides for the admission of persons to this Society, it states that any public servant that has attained a rank not lower than second-grade clerk or has for a period of 10 years done accountancy work can be admitted, after doing 18 months’ practical work in an accountant’s office. To say that on the formation of the Society any public servant who at the commencement of the Act holds the post of accountant or auditor or is of equal or higher status to or than an accountant, can become a member of the Society even if only promoted yesterday, surely that is going very far, and you should qualify it by saying that the man should have had some practical experience in doing accounts. Why should not the same period of service be required of him as under Clause 19? The only reason why a man wants this privilege is that he is going in for private practice; he may fear retrenchment or leave the service, and may want to practise as an accountant, and it is only reasonable and proper that there should be some safeguard and that there should be some guarantee that he has that practical experience before he is let loose on the world. I do not think it would be reasonable to expect the accountants to open the door to this extent, that is, conferring on the people who hold posts in the public and Provincial services a privilege to which in a large number of cases they are not entitled.
I am very much surprised indeed at the hon. member for Yeoville (Mr. Duncan) and the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close). These are two gentlemen who were telling us last session that the members of the Public Service Commission were Heaven-sent men and knew the capabilities of the civil servants.
What has that got to do with it?
I am willing to accept that the Public Service Commission should decide which persons are fit.
That is not my point at all.
My point is that the suggestion is thrown out from this side of the House to give to the Public Service Commission the power to decide, men who in years past were as Archangels to the other side of the House, yet they will not accept their verdict. I do not want any person in the service of the State to get any advantage if he is not capable, but if they are fit they should be allowed to be put on the register. We never know what happens in this country, and I am firmly of the opinion that if once again those gentlemen on the opposite side of the House get the reins of office into their hands there will be retrenchment, and I am also of the opinion that this amendment was suggested before the general election, when they realized that there was a danger of retrenchment. The members should say very little on the opposite side of the House? and accept the suggestions from this side of the House.
Seeing that the Bill has been made so wide now, why should there be this strenuous objection to doing this act of justice to public servants? It is something I cannot understand. Here comes a reasonable amendment saying that a public servant occupying a certain position—
It does not matter how long. Once a man has attained the position, he has the requisite qualification, for that position. You may as well say a man is not an Advocate because he was admitted only yesterday. But you swallow the camel in opening the door wide to everybody practising in the Cape and the Orange Free State, and you strain at the gnat of the public servants.
The hon. member for Cape Town (Hanover Street) (Mr. Alexander) will see that para, (c) of Clause 9 deals only with men who are now practising in the Cape and Orange Free State, though the hon. member says the door has been opened to everybody. The person not on the register practising in the Transvaal and Natal at present are not on the same footing at all. The hon. member seems to forget that in the latter province there is no claim of any kind on the part of anybody to be admitted to the register merely on the ground that he is at present practising as an accountant.
Business was suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 8 p.m.
Before the House adjourned some remarks were made which I should like to have an opportunity of dealing with. The first is in reference to the injustice alleged to be sustained by a certain class of public servant. In order to have an injustice you must have a deprivation of rights. At the present moment neither public servants nor other persons have any right of admission to our Societies of Accountants except by going through the prescribed procedure. At the present moment in the Transvaal and Natal no persons can be registered as accountants except on serving for a period of four years under articles, or six years not under articles, though the four years may be reduced to three years if the person is a graduate; so the minimum periods are three, four or six years. In the Transvaal and Natal at the present time no man has a right to be admitted into the rank of the persons who are entitled to hold themselves out as accountants simply because he is a public servant. If this Bill has to drop because of the non-acceptance of this clause, what will the position be? The result will be, if this Bill drops, that the law in the Transvaal and Natal will remain just as it is to-day; and not a single public servant or any person whatever can there become an accountant, as he might under this Bill, unless he goes through a period of three, four or six years besides passing his examination. In order to secure uniformity throughout the Union, the Transvaal and Natal who have their position entrenched by their own statutes, have made certain concessions. But the Transvaal and Natal are proud of having built up such a body of accountants and a status of accountancy as they have now. They are not going to surrender their position. After twenty years in the Transvaal and fifteen years in Natal they have got the profession into a state of which they are proud themselves. They are prepared to make sacrifices in the public interest. But they say: if we are going to admit persons in this wholesale way without a period of 18 months service as is proposed in section 19, then we are taking a retrograde step and going back 10 or 15 years. When we talk about injustice to persons in the Transvaal and Natal we must remember that such persons have no right whatever to come in at the present time. So here could be no possible injustice.
Why we discriminate is this. In the Cape and the Free State we have not yet acquired that statutory position under which in the Transvaal and Natal you have a statutory body of accountants. Just in the same way as under Clause 9 paragraph (c) the people who are bona fide practising accountants in the Cape Province or the Orange Free State are to be admitted, so we say we are prepared to admit civil servants in the Cape and the Orange Free State. Beyond that, we cannot go. The principle is that where you have not got a statute which prohibits persons from practising in this way you have people coming in because they may be held to have a moral claim. But in the districts in which this moral claim was done away with some years ago, the Transvaal and Natal, we say there is no shadow of excuse for these persons to come in now. I do beg and implore the House to realize this, that if we are really determined in this country to bring about the growth of a, profession of accountancy which will be one, not only we ourselves can rely upon and be proud of, but will be one which will commend itself as worthy of respect and recognition in other countries, then we shall have done a great work in South Africa. But if in pursuance of’ sectional considerations we are going to kill this Bill, then we shall be doing a very bad deed in the interests of South Africa. The hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) has put forward the case of the public servant. I am an old public servant myself. May I ask, with all respect to the public servant, why he should have a special claim here? If you are going to say he must come in simply because he holds a responsible office, then you will have to consider applications from persons who hold other responsible situations in municipalities and so on., For this reason I do suggest there is no earthly reason whatever why we should depart from, the principle which I have put before the House as ai fair compromise, that is the principle that, just as we should admit persons who were practising at a given date in the Cape and the Free State, we are prepared to accept the civil servants in the Cape and the Free State. Those who refuse that concession are doing the civil servants a great injury, because they are depriving them of the proposed statutory position. For this reason I moved my amendment to the amendment moved by the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce), that is that it shall apply only to persons in the Free State and the Cape.
I cannot understand why the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) cannot accept the reasonable suggestions we have put forward in regard to this Bill. The excuse put forward by him is that the members in the Transvaal had built up a society there, and the members of that society being qualified men and taking a pride in their society, did not wish to have their doors thrown open in the Transvaal. What is the difference between the doors being open in the Cape and Free State and opening the doors in the Transvaal: why should a differentiation be made? Why should not people who are to-day practising in the Transvaal, and who are going; to have their livelihood swept away by this Bill, why should they not be brought into the fold at the beginning of the Act? It is necessary to open the doors as wide as possible, so that no one will be injured. Later on, under this Bill, you will be able to select entrants to this profession, and the Bill will perform the task it is intended to. The member in charge of this Bill has said that if it is extended to the Transvaal it might as well be scrapped. That bears out what I said earlier in the afternoon, that the object of this Bill is to create another close preserve. There is no reason why the Transvaal should not be included, and there is no sound reason put forward why this difficulty is being made. We have no desire to obstruct this Bill, but we do not wish to see anything done in this measure which tends to do injustice to any section of the people, and we want to see any such injustice eliminated before the Bill is passed. I do not want to see the Bill go through unless town clerks, treasurers, and other gentlemen who, we feel, should come under this Bill, are included. I do not want to see it passed if they are to be excluded. There is one danger in the amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce)—you must have some protective measure to protect the community against civil servants, who have been pensioned off, and then entered this business. If it is accepted, I feel you are not doing your best in the interests of the people interested in this Bill. Already there have been many complaints that many people pensioned off in the civil service are filling jobs in municipalities and other places, jobs which could be filled by men walking the streets at the present day, looking for employment. There are two points I wish to see carried out. First, no differentiation between the Cape and the Transvaal. Secondly, to see embodied in this Bill town clerks and treasurers, men who are as fully qualified to carry on this work as any gentlemen whom this Bill intends to protect. After all, can the hon. member tell me how many men will be affected by this? Why are the people in the Transvaal so bitterly opposed to coming in under the same conditions as the Cape; what does the additional competition mean to them?
The last thing I would like to do is to jeopardize the Bill; it is a good one, and it should go through. The various societies represented have spent a great deal of money in preparing this Bill. The only amendments suggested to this clause are by the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) and myself, and they make provision for public-servants. I do not disagree with the other provisions of the Bill, and the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) has met the position fairly by making the suggestion he did. With regard to the Transvaal and Natal, it will be obvious that this Bill is based on Provincial lines, and I cannot agree with my friends the hon. members for the Transvaal, when they say they would prefer to get nothing at all if the Transvaal is excluded—it would not be right to sacrifice all the others because of that. While I certainly will vote for the amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce), if he presses it, I do not agree with the attitude of hon. members who say we should throw the Bill out altogether if we cannot get that amendment. I do wish that the hon. member (Mr. Close) could see his way clear to accept this amendment in its entirety, but I certainly think, if we cannot get the whole, we should accept what is offered.
I am glad that the hon. member in charge of the Bill has seen the wisdom of opening the door as widely as possible, but I cannot see the logic of restricting it to the Cape and the Free State. The public service of this country is not restricted to the Cape and the Free State. Members of the service are interchangeable; they are removed sometimes from the Cape to Pretoria and Natal. We have officials who are working half their time in Pretoria and half their time in Cape Town. Where do these people come in? They will claim to be domiciled in Cape Town, although half their time is spent in Pretoria. Supposing some of the principal positions in the Department of Finance become vacant, you may find that the Minister responsible for making these appointments may say that these are positions where a registered accountant ought to be put in. I think the hon. member (Mr. Close) ought to accept the amendment moved by Mr. Pearce in its entirety. I regret very much to see some of the members who suggest taking half a loaf running away and leaving the public service in the Transvaal high and dry.
I think it is perfectly apparent now the camouflage is off as regards this measure being designed for the protection of the public. What is there in this amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) that endangers the public? It is clear that the measure is designed to protect a certain class of practitioners and a certain number of people who want to make this profession a close preserve. If it were not so this amendment would be readily accepted. The class of men who would come in as accountants under this amendment are men who are thoroughly trustworthy, men of character, and certainly men from whom there is no necessity to protect the public. Now we are coming to grips with the Bill. We are told that unless we accept this compromise and accept Clause 19 as it stands the Bill will be abandoned. It seems to me that the sooner we get to this question the better.
The hon. member has now delivered his ultimatum. Well, we will take it up. He has a right to deliver his ultimatum, but I regret that in doing so he should have displayed unpardonable taste in imputing motives to the very honourable gentlemen who have been promoting this Bill in this House. That is not a matter of right; it is a matter of taste.
The hon. member must not lose his temper.
I appeal to every member of this House as to whether I am not completely justified in saying that this Bill should be discussed on its merits without that deplorable kind of bad taste with which the hon. gentleman is afflicted. May I come now to the merits of the Bill? I would point out, in answer to the sort of easy allegations which hon. members have been making, that this Bill owes its promotion to four Societies, one of which is the Transvaal Society, and the other of which is the Natal Society. The Transvaal Society at the present moment is entrenched in the interests of the public with powers to develop the profession of accountancy in the Transvaal on sound and strong lines. For the last 20 years it has developed that profession. It is the same in Natal. The point I am making about the Bill is that those who are responsible for promoting it, whether they are right or wrong—and I assume that they are right—take the point of view that to weaken the qualifications of the Society means weakening the status of the members of the Society. To weaken the status means to weaken the regard which people here and abroad will have for the membership of that Society. People who take that line are dealing a deadly blow at the real and true interests of young South Africans who are coming on. If the hon. member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay) in the exercise of his undoubted right chooses to say it is a wrong limit he will vote the Bill out. I am not using any threats, but simply pointing out a fact—that the people, who are responsible for the promotion of the Bill regard these limits as the irreducible minima, and if they are passed, cannot shoulder their responsibility further. While they must bow to the decision of the House, should the House be against them on this point the House will have to take the responsibility of dealing a deadly blow against the interests of the South Africans who are coming on and for whom has been created a profession of which South Africa can be proud.
I will be very sorry indeed if we come to a deadlock on this Bill. The point has been attempted to be made by the hon. member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay) that the Bill is not in the interests of the country. I may tell him that if this Bill is not passed, South Africa will remain the hunting ground of overseas accountants who will be able to come here without having to pass the examination here, and practise as Chartered Accountants whereas our boys are not in the position to study for the position of Chartered Accountants and take the examination in this country. They will have to proceed overseas. If the Bill is passed, our own South Africans will be able to take the examination in this country without being dependent on overseas. I agree with the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) that the House takes a responsibility on itself when it allowed the Bill to be read. It seems unnecessary that the Bill should be wrecked on a point like this; although I must say I cannot understand the logic of the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close), and I should say either fight this amendment altogether or allow the civil servants of the country to come in. If you lay down the position, “we are going to admit civil servants,” why not admit all? Personally, I would rather be prepared to ask the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) to withdraw his amendment than to see the Bill wrecked, or I would appeal to the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) to accept the amendment, but not to take half measures. Every hon. member ought to be sorry to think that this Bill should be wrecked on a point like this.
I rise to accept the amendment of the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close). I would like very much to carry my point, but I see it is a divided House, and I do not want to take the risk of wrecking the Bill.
I extremely regret that the hon. member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay) has brought so much heat into it. He says the whole question is one of camouflage, but the hon. member has sufficient experience to know that the public are not going to promote a measure of this kind, and undoubtedly this measure is promoted for the interests of the accountants, but no one is going to say that raising the standard of accountancy is not in the public interest. The highest authority in England, Sir William Plender, if he comes here, will have to pass an examination if this Bill becomes law. Who are the trustees of the London “Times,” and who are the persons nominated? The Chief Justice of England; another is the Governor of the Bank of England, and a third is the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. You could not have a higher mark of qualification than that. I hold in my hand the year book of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. The first examination is general education, which is of a high character. The second examination deals entirely with the qualification for a public accountant generally, and the third includes partnership, bankruptcy and company law. These persons who are accountants claim that you must have a standard of education that includes a legal knowledge of the subjects that they deal with. Do you wish to keep your sons in South Africa? At present they have no opportunity of attaining a high standard of training. The Cape Society of Accountants is actually paying every year a sum to the University of Cape Town for the purpose of having lectures on accountancy, and I think the same thing occurs in the transvaal. The Law Society Bill was for the protection of those engaged in the profession of law, but it also protected the public by providing machinery for dealing with those who were not fit to be in the legal profession. Accountancy will not be a close corporation, because it will be open to any man’s son. By all means think of the public interest, and raise the standard of the profession so that our sons shall be able to stand side by side with those who come from Britain to practise here. If you pass this Bill, not even a British chartered accountant will be able to practise here without passing our examination.
I congratulate the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) in splitting up the opposition to this particular clause by conceding the principle to those here in the Cape. But I cannot congratulate the hon. members who represent the Cape constituencies who stood for this principle. I believe in dealing with such a question in a South African, and not in a Provincial, spirit. I think the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) really got over-heated in dealing with the remarks of the hon. member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay).
I think you would have too if you had heard his assertions.
This particular measure has not been introduced so much in the interests of the public, as in the interests of the gentlemen in the accounting profession. In the document circulated by the Parliamentary agents for the Bill they say that the Bill has been introduced in the interests of the accountants. but they also say that if you do so and so we will wreck the whole Bill. The hon. member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay) is accused of having presented an ultimatum, but who presented the first ultimatum? Under the Bill a gentleman who has been acting for years as a town clerk, will, if he wishes to join the Society of Accountants, have to leave his office and serve for 18 months in an accountant’s office. “If this provision is struck out of the Bill there is every reason to think that the promoters will have to withdraw it.” So that, practically, the promoters threaten hon. members that if they press their amendments the measure will be withdrawn and the onus will be placed on those hon. members. They also say that if the amendment of the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) is pressed the promoters will have to consider the propriety of withdrawing the Bill altogether. In fact, the promoters are continually threatening hon. members. Then the hon. member (Mr. Close) gets very angry with the hon. member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay), whose remarks were not in such bad taste as the hon. member thought they were. I have heard much harder things come from that side of the House in reference to myself, but what does it matter—always take it from whence it comes. We wish to see a South African national spirit, the same as in Canada or Australia, where people do not call themselves British, Germans or Italians, but Australians or Canadians. We want a real South African sentiment, and to provide openings for the youth of South Africa in preference to having these places filled by men from other parts of the world, but we must not forget those South Africans who would be unemployed if this Bill passes. If you are going to throw a lot of men out of their occupations simply because the gentlemen who are behind this Bill to-day are not broad-minded enough to open the door sufficiently wide to embrace everybody who happens to be in the profession, you are not doing a service to South Africa. There are men to-day earning their living in the Transvaal who will be excluded under this clause.
No, they go on precisely as they are now.
I differ from the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close). There are many gentlemen who are not members of the Transvaal Society who practise, and you lay down in this clause that they must now become members of that Society.
Under the existing law in the Transvaal they have no right to practise.
They are doing it, anyhow. One wants to see a measure like this passed, but at the same time one would like the hon. member to be a little more reasonable.
Well, you said this afternoon that I was reasonable.
Yes, he was reasonable this afternoon, but he is not being quite so reasonable to-night.
Do I understand that the amendment by the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) has been withdrawn?
We understand the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) is prepared to accept a compromise.
I may as well make this position quite clear. In the interests of chose concerned. I placed this amendment on the Order Paper and I sincerely wish it were possible to carry it through this House as it originally stood, but I am one of those who when I cannot get everything, take as much as I can get. At the present time it is only possible to get that which has been offered me, and I am willing to accept it.
I am still prepared to fight in favour of the public servants of the Union to get what we have asked for, but I should be foolish if at the end of the debate I found that by refusing the compromise I had got nothing for the public servants at all. I personally, after my long parliamentary experience, while fighting for what I think is right, am always prepared to accept what I can get in face of a hostile majority. At the same time I am in no sense deserting the public servants, as stated by the hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston).
On a point of order, can an hon. member withdraw an amendment without the consent of the Committee once he has put it on the Order Paper?
The amendment has not been moved and therefore the hon. member does not need that consent.
The amendments moved by Mr. Close and Mr. Pearce were agreed to.
I suggest to the hon. member for Liesbeek (Mr. Pearce) that he should delete the last, three lines of his amendment because they simply repeat what is already put in the introductory part of the clause.
Yes, that was agreed upon when I accepted the compromise.
The amendment moved by Mr. Alexander was negatived.
The clause, as amended, was agreed to.
On Clause 10,
In view of what has been accepted in the previous clause I will not go into this. I hope it will not pass, and I move its deletion entirely.
I might point out to the hon. member that he cannot move the deletion of the clause, he can simply vote against it.
The clause was agreed to.
On Clause 13,
I move in line 8 at the beginning of sub-section 4 to insert “subject to the provisions of sub-section 1 of this section.
The amendment was agreed to.
The Clause, as amended, was agreed to.
On Clause 14,
I move in line 12, to omit “to” and to substitute “twelve of whom shall”; and in line 16, to omit “and” where it occurs for the first time.
On the motion of Mr. Close, the chairman put the amendment proposed by the Select Committee in line 16, which was negatived.
In lines 16 and 17, to omit “two persons to be elected for the district of the.”
Clause, as amended, put and agreed to.
On new Clause 19,
On the motion of Mr. Close, the chairman put the new Clause 19, proposed by the Select Committee.
I move in lines 26 and 29 respectively, after “public” to insert “or railways and harbours.” I submit these little amendments because it has been pointed out that the word “servants” in lines 26 and 29 might be held not to include railway servants. The amendment will make it clear that the rights given under this clause apply not only to the Public Service, but to the Railway and Harbour Service as well.
I move in lines 44 to 48 to omit the proviso, and to substitute: “Provided, however, that no such person shall be entitled to describe himself as an accountant or auditor save in respect of his position as aforementioned until after the completion of eighteen months’ continuous service in the office of a practising member of the Society.”
I move in lines 37 to 39 to omit: “On completion of 18 months’ continuous service in the office of a practising member of the Society, and”. I have been asked by the Municipal Association of the Transvaal, members of the Public Service and others, to take up this matter on their behalf. They consider that the services that they render to the municipalities and the Public Service and the wide range of subjects coming under their administrative work, peculiarly fit them to take the examination without serving, in the office of a practising accountant. Mr. Martin, the City Treasurer of Cape Town, who is also a member of the Accountants’ Society, has stated in his evidence that he considered that the practice which they got in the municipalities particularly fitted them to take this examination without serving the 18 months. It was also pointed out that it was quite possible and in fact probable, that it would be exceedingly difficult for these men to get permission to serve in an accountant’s office. In the Transvaal, Natal and the Cape, you have a series of lectures and a Faculty of Commerce by which these men can take their Bachelor of Commerce degree, which also enables them to pass this examination. These men feel that it would be a distinct hardship on officials if they are precluded from joining the Society unless they have served in an accountant’s office for 18 months.
I hope the House will agree to the amendment of the hon. member for Pretoria (East) (Mr. Giovanetti) because, in view of the amendment to Clause 9, it is now essential that these men should be given some opportunity of getting on the register under Clause 19. Unless these men are met in this way, you are going to make it impossible for them to get on the register. I hope the House will give them fair play, and see that they are not entirely excluded, but that some reasonable opportunity will be given them to be registered. If we accept this amendment I think it will afford a measure of relief to these men and not endanger the status of the Society.
As I indicated on the second reading and again this afternoon, the two vital points in this Bill are, first, the question of re-opening the Transvaal and Natal registers and second, the question of service for every person who is to become qualified. The member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston) has rather a picturesque way of putting things sometimes. He told me that I had uttered a threat.
I said the agents.
Well, it is the same thing. I endeavoured, with all due respect to the majesty of this House, to indicate that I myself would feel, and those behind me would feel that we would have to bow unquestionably to the decision of the House should the House decide that our point of view was wrong, but that the effect of such a decision would be to wreck the Bill. That position we accept without question. In doing so we take the point of view that it would be entirely wrong in the public interest to allow a measure to go forward under which you would turn a lot of people loose on the public as accountants who do not satisfy the standard that the Council considers satisfactory. They may be wrong in thinking it essential; but they do think so, and they are responsible for what they think and for the conduct of the Society, should the House entrust it to them.
The public will take the best man.
That begs the whole question. I was interested indeed to hear the hon. member for Langlaagte (Mr. Christie), who was a member of the Committee on this Bill, and who without any contrary vote accepted the principle laid down in Clause 19. He knows that the whole of that clause was a compromise introduced directly against the wishes of the promoters of the Bill; but because they felt that the Bill ought to go through, they accepted the compromise, and the hon. member was a party to that compromise: so I am a little surprised to see his attitude towards this Bill. He says “pass an examination,” but I should be very sorry indeed if, for instance, after I had passed merely the Chemist’s examination, I were turned loose on the public simply as a result of having passed that examination. By the time it was found out whether I was the best man, there would be a good many corpses.
That is what the law does not allow you to do. It sets a certain standard and qualification both of examination and service. May I point out to him that, of course, no standard of examination or service will guarantee that the man who is admitted is absolutely without reproach in his profession or anything else. Here you are eliminating the unqualified man, and you further protect the public by having a qualified body to deal with the errant ones who lack either efficiency or conduct. That is what the whole Bill is for. Does the hon. member for Langlaagte (Mr. Christie) suggest that a Chemist should practise after having merely passed an examination? I ask him, does he advocate that? The hon. member was a member of the Committee on this Bill. The Committee put in Clause 19 as a compromise. A compromise is an agreement between two parties by which each surrenders something for a common end; it is not something which is to be made a basis for making fresh demands. I do not think it is quite fair or the game to do so. But, on the merits, the principal point is this. I do not think that any hon. member of the House can point to any single accounting society of standing anywhere that does not require service with or without articles. There is a society which some years ago required neither service nor examination, but later on it insisted on examination, and later on service too. The Chartered Societies in England, Scotland and Ireland all insist on service, because the practical men who are in charge of and conduct the affairs of the Society know that the work of an accountant is essentially something that depends on practical experience Take the work of an attorney; you, sir, will know that his examination is supplemented by actual practice for years. The House will pardon me for taking a little time over this, as this is a vital clause in the Bill, but if this “eighteen months” is taken out, the responsibility is the hon. member’s of causing the dropping of the Bill. If the House will look at Clause 19 it will find what a wide range of persons is admitted under that clause. We are following, not pet fallals of our own, but the experience of experts who have found in their own voluntary Societies here and elsewhere that to give their diplomas a commercial value throughout the world the mere passing of an examination or examinations, is not enough: actual practical service is essential. However stiff the examinations may be or however brilliant the man may be, that is not sufficient. There must be service. Now, no man can be admitted in the Transvaal or Natal unless he has served for three or four years as an articled clerk or six years as a non-articled clerk. It may be said that it is all very well there, because there they have these people under control under their statutes. But in the Free State and the Cape where the Societies are voluntary societies only, they do not allow persons to become members unless they serve a similar number of years. Why do they do that? Because they know from practical experience that insistence on practical service is part of the prestige which membership to their Society involves. Why do people join a Society with restrictions of that kind unless they believe that the fact of admission to that society is going to be of commercial and professional value to them?
We have been saying that all day.
We have been pointing out that while we want to develop a strong, sound, highly qualified body, we are also developing a profession for our young men. If you wish that profession to become attractive, you must make its diploma of commercial value. It is in the interest of the public, and also in the interest of the members, that the qualifications should be as high as possible. The point of service is fundamental. You may have men in the Public Service whose experience does not qualify them to practise outside. Very often when you get a very good man in the Service, he is kept in a groove simply because he is so good at a special kind of work. The fact that a man has served 10 years in the Public Service is not a guarantee that he has had that experience which he ought to have to enable him to become of use to the public in his professional capacity as an accountant, and the same remark applies to officials in municipal offices: for instance experience in estates and company, insolvency and liquidation work. You may have a star man here, or a brilliant man there, and “hard cases” as well, but you cannot legislate merely on the lines of dealing with brilliant men or hard cases. The House will be taking a vital and retrograde step.
If it carries those amendments, because it will mean that the Bill really will have to drop. What the Society feels is that it wants to make its diploma worth while. They could only do that by having a period of practical service, which would enable a man to have a variety of experience which an official in a municipal or divisional council or public office does not obtain. In which of those offices does a man get an experience in insolvency, company work or in the management of deceased estates? Yet those are some of the big branches of work which a man in an accountant’s office would have to deal with and the lack of practical experience might mean very serious loss, and even ruin, to the people who employed him. The 18 months’ minimum service is a compromise and is irreducible. I beg and implore the House not to take the responsibility of doing something which would mean the withdrawal of the Bill. It would be lamentable if all the good work which Has been done by the four bodies of men from the different provinces is thrown aside. After the experience of 10 years ago, when a similar Bill was rejected, if the present Bill is thrown out it will mean that there will be no unity of control and no prospect of the building up of a big profession which it is hoped to achieve under the measure now before the House.
I have not spoken at all on this debate because, quite frankly, I want this Bill to go through, but I do hope the hon. member in charge of this Bill will accept this amendment. I have the utmost respect for the opinion of the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close), but even Homer nods at times. I would like to take the case of a municipal employee, such as the assistant treasurer of the city of Cape Town, or Durban, to show how absurd this clause is. If, before this man entered the municipal service, he served for 18 months as an office boy in the office of a practising accountant, and then after 10 years’ municipal service passed the examination, he would be entitled to become a practising accountant. If, on the other hand, he was careless enough to omit that 18 months’ service, in an accountant’s office, he is barred for ever from practising as an accountant. The hon. member has said that every public servant has the option of leaving the public service for 18 months, going into an accountant’s office, then taking his examination, and then going back, I presume, to his position in the public service. We shall have them coming to this House petitioning us to condone their absence from the public service. There is no municipal service in this country, I am sure, which will permit its senior officials to go away for 18 months, sit for examinations and then come back. There is not, to my knowledge, any practising accountant who will take a man at the age of 50 and admit him to his office for 18 months so that he can get the status of a practising accountant. This is an absurd clause. It is a clause which permits an office boy to sit for the examination as a practising accountant, but it does not permit of the senior officials of the public service doing the same. The men who administer these municipal and public undertakings have far more responsibility and much wider experience than many practising accountants engaged in private enterprises. I think these public servants have as fair a claim at least as a man who has served in the office of an accountant. It may be said there is no hardship on the municipal employee while he is a municipal employee. I suggest that there is. Among the benefits to be gained from membership of this Society, are the fellowship with others in the Society, the reception of the journals, and records of the Society, the meetings at annual conferences of the Society, the interchange of ideas, and so on. Although the municipal employee may not wish to go out and practise in competition with accountants engaged in private enterprise, he will miss all those things. I think that is a distinct hardship on those men. I know there is a distinct desire among these public officials that this clause shall be omitted. These men have served the community far better than many of those who are engaged in private enterprise. I trust the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) will accept this amendment.
The hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) said I was a member of the Select Committee and I agreed to this 18 months’ clause. I would like to point out that when this clause came up for final discussion before the Committee, objection was taken to it by the hon. member for Ladybrand (Mr. Swart) and myself. We opposed this 18 months. But we did not vote against it, wishing it to come before this House and reserving our right to oppose it here. The hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) differentiated between the civil servants in the Transvaal and Natal and those in the Orange Free State and the Cape in this matter.
This provision about civil servants was not raised in the Select Committee.
All the more reason why we should deal with it here and see that it is made uniform throughout South Africa, and not restricted to two provinces only. The hon. member said this examination is on the same lines as the chemists’ examination. But the chemists’ examination is a practical as well as a theoretical examination. In the case of the accountants it is a theoretical examination only, and the work can be got up theoretically as far as the examination is concerned. The 10 years’ experience that will be obtained by these people in the municipal, civil and public services will probably in some cases be greater than the experience gained by articled apprentices in an accountant’s office. You will find a young man will go into an accountant’s office and he will be kept for the greater part of his service on one or two lines of work. May be the firm will not be able to give him experience in other lines. He is therefore, in the practical sense, only brought up in those one or two lines which his firm is dealing with and he does not get a broad experience. The position of the civil servants is different, with their long period of service. The fact that the examination is still there and that they cannot get on the register without passing that examination should be quite a good enough qualification for them being admitted as practising accountants. When the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) quotes overseas societies he is not strengthening his case. These overseas societies are voluntary societies. In England and Canada they have not got the power which is being sought by accountants in South Africa. The only country in the British Empire that has the power the South African accountants are asking Parliament for to-day is New Zealand. That information was given to the Select Committee, and I am prepared to accept it. The Chartered Accountants’ Society in England and the other accountants’ society there are voluntary societies. They have no control over persons who are not members. Anyone can set up in business in England and call himself an accountant. England, therefore, should not be mentioned in this connection because it is not in the interests of the promoters of this Bill to quote that case. Here in South Africa you are asking Parliament to give you a close preserve. When you have power such as you are asking for to-day it is essential that you should leave a reasonable means of access to those who wish to become accountants. The idea of having this examination as a final test should be sufficient to satisfy the society and to protect the people of South Africa.
I accept the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Ladybrand (Mr. Swart). It removes the provision and makes it so that an examination can be taken at any time.
This is the one clause on which there is going to be any discussion. I should like to support the amendment moved with regard to the 18 months’ service, it is quite a fair one. When the accountants accepted this clause they accepted something which is quite foreign to the Bill and in a spirit of compromise and, if it is accepted at all, the amendment should also be accepted, otherwise it is surely a case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. It would be of no practical use unless these words are taken out. In the first place there is nothing in the Bill referring to the number of articled apprentices an accountant can take. In Cape Town they are allowed, by their own regulations, to accept two. There is actually no provision made as to Articles in the Bill, which means that a man can be in an office for 18 months doing no particular* work and there is nothing to compel the Chartered Accountant to teach him accountancy. That should be provided for, because apprenticeship involves the obligation of training in accountancy. But surely ten years in an office of the kind mentioned in this Bill, ten years in auditing or accountancy work is a better qualification than 18 months in any capacity in any accountant’s office. It must be remembered that while some firms have large staffs and a tremendous amount of work, there are others who do modest work in keeping books for a number of tradesmen. After all, you can rest satisfied that if a man has had ten years in a public office doing nothing but accountancy or auditing, it is enough and sufficient for him to be allowed to lie admitted as an accountant provided he complies with all the other conditions. His character must be good, his examination work must be good, and, when he has done ten years of such special work in a public office that should be sufficient. If this rule to which I referred about two articled clerks is adhered to, there may be a difficulty in obtaining accountants to take these men. There is nothing in the Bill to compel them to do so. In fact, you leave the men entirely at the mercy of the men who are in the profession at the present time. Under all these circumstances I do think that as you have given a privilege to the public servants which was not in the Bill before, it is no good if you make another provision which practically nullifies all that.
I feel that as the House has so nearly reached agreement on this vital clause it is a pity to chance wrecking it. It is a measure which is of great value to the public and I do feel that as the hon. member in charge of the Bill has agreed to withdraw the proviso to this clause—
It means nothing.
It means a good deal. By the withdrawal of the proviso it means if a man takes up accountancy as his profession he can pass all his examinations before he, burns his boats. An accountant in the employ of any municipality, civil service, or commercial house can, until he has passed all his examinations, remain at work. After that he can leave his employer’s service and go for eighteen months into an accountant’s office. He has converted a risk into a certainty. The compromise arrived at in Committee should be accepted. I will go further and say that I think it would be advantageous to a man who is going to take up accountancy as a profession if he did pass a period of 18 months in an accountant’s office so as to learn the routine of the work. I think it is very necessary that we should not lose our true perspective in regard to this Bill and that we should recognize that, in view of the numerous Acts of Parliament that are now coming forward, such as the Companies Act, the Insolvency Act and matters of that kind, it is most vital to this country to have a body of men to see that these Acts are carried out with intelligence and probity. I think it would be a very great pity at this stage if on this one small item the Bill has a chance of being wrecked.
I do not think all the eloquence of the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) can save this Bill if the line he has taken is to be insisted upon. From all parts of the country the point has been pressed of the injustice that may be done to men who have already put in a considerable amount of time in their profession. The hon. member for Hanover Street (Mr. Alexander) has shown there are no provisions in this Bill in regard to accountants taking on apprentices, and no provisions in regard to the premium to be paid if such accountants choose to charge a premium. It may be they would fix the premium at a prohibitive figure. So far as other professions are concerned, the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) does not attempt to show that the provisions in this Bill are on the lines of those of other societies and other professions. It is even provided that a man shall only put in his service with a member of this particular society. This appears to be an innovation. I think myself the more we go into this Bill the more we see that it is intended to make this a close profession, as close as it can possibly be got. We have had an ultimatum presented to us by the Parliamentary agents, and, therefore, it is as well that we have got to the real crux of the Bill. It is perfectly useless for us to accept the deletion of the proviso in one case and then carry the same thing into effect elsewhere.
The member in charge of the Bill laid great stress on examination without practise, but he carefully slurred over the fact that these men have 10 years’ service in the municipality of public service. The City Treasurer of Cape Town, in his evidence before the Select Committee, pointed out the valuable nature of the training which these men get in municipalities.
It has been stated that we have now come to the crux of the whole question. It is said that these men have all had experience. That is admitted. Mr. Martin is a man of high experience, but he happens to be a member of a society. One can understand that in the case of large corporations carrying on important trading concerns the man obtains a general training. When a man goes into the public service he starts his career at probably £120 a year. Under the Accountants Acts of the Transvaal and Natal a period of apprenticeship is stipulated for Suppose by starting at a very low wage he gets up to being in business, and after having struggled to get into that position, another man, who was in the public service and retires at the age of 60 with a large pension, walks into competition with the other man who has been at it from the very beginning. There are two sides to the question. I am very glad to hear the hon. member for Umbilo (Mr. Reyburn) and I believe that he did speak for one man, but he cannot name six men who have the qualifications of his friend. In municipal accounts—I have seen something of them as an auditor—everything is done in parallel columns, and it is only the head man who gets the practical work. It is routine work—simply doing it—and in other large concerns it is the same. What experience would you get of executive accounting? Another form of accounts that is very complicated is mining accounts; and what training do you get in a municipal office or the Government service for that?
There is no accountant in Cradock. Cradock is a health resort, but not an accountants’ resort. You have municipal accounts, railway accounts and banking accounts: where did they get the training? You are taking the highest title, “chartered accountants.” Are not the words what they profess to be—22 carat hall mark? I would ask the House are you going to stultify your position; are you going to use the fair name of chartered accountant and bear a standard that is recognized in the world for chartered accountants?
I am afraid we have come to the other breaking point of this Bill. I am very glad the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) has accepted my amendment. The man in the municipal or public service while in that service (the effect is) may pass an examination and qualify, but will not be allowed to practise and hold himself out as an accountant until he has served his 18 months. The hon. member for Umbilo (Mr. Reyburn) seemed to take up the position that such a person should not be debarred from membership of the Society. I take it he has no objection to such a person practising. I suggest another compromise, and I ask the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) whether this amendment will meet his requirements, that is, in line 37 to omit from the word “on” up to the word “and” in line 39.
That has been moved.
And then to insert a proviso at the end “provided, however, that no such person shall be entitled to describe himself as an accountant or auditor save in respect of his position as aforementioned until after the completion of 18 months’ continuous service in the office of a practising member of the Society.” That would do away with the difficulty raised by the hon. member for Umbilo (Mr. Reyburn) and would make a man a full member of the Society so long as he remains in municipal or public service, and in such service he may describe himself as an accountant, but as soon as he leaves the service and wishes to practise publicly he will be required to go through the ordinary course of service with a practising accountant. I would urge on hon. members to expedite the passing of the Bill and to accept my amendment, as it will meet both sides.
I suggest that the clause stand over and that we go on with the remainder of the Bill which is non-contentious.
The 18 months’ service has been shown to be a mere bagatelle, as it might be served in the capacity of an office boy. I appeal to the hon. member for Rondebosch (Mr. Close) to accept the amendment of the hon. member for Pretoria (East) (Mr. Giovanetti).
The amendment put forward by the hon. member for Ladybrand (Mr. Swart) is not a compromise; it is an unconditional surrender. The vital point at issue is this 18 months’ service. As long as that 18 months’ service remains, there is no question of a compromise at all. The hon. member for Three Rivers (Mr. D. M. Brown) spoke about mining and all these other accounts, which he says the town clerk or town treasurer has no experience of. What do the accountants in the small towns all along the Witwatersrand do? Their practice is not with large mines and big firms; they do not get the plums like that; all they do is to audit traders’ books, keep small accounts and that sort of thing. You may get these bigger jobs in your larger towns, but in your smaller towns you don’t get these people called in to audit mining companies’ books. These lads who serve their apprenticeship in accountants’ offices in these smaller towns will be very much less qualified than the town clerks or town treasurers to become members of this corporation. The hon. member talks about all these different kinds of accounts which these people have to do in this country, but very few of them get the opportunity of doing these things as far as the mines and so on are concerned. In these smaller towns these people can take in youths and give them five years in their office and they can become accountants. There is no genuine reason to eliminate this 18 months, and I hope the hon. member for Ladybrand (Mr. Swart) will not think he has come forward with a compromise. The point cannot be overemphasized that the main difficulty of your municipal officials will be to get an accountant who will give them the opportunity of getting that 18 months’ service. I do not want, for a moment, to reflect on the profession which my hon. friend is so ardently fighting for to-night, but suppose they decide amongst themselves that they have quite enough accountants in the country already, and that they shall not provide this opportunity to the municipal official of serving this 18 months, then where do our municipal friends come in? Again, what are they going to do and what wages—I should not call it wages, but salary—what salary are they going to get when they go in with these public accountants? Take a man of 50 years of age, a town clerk or town treasurer; what salary is he going to get during that 18 months?
£5 a month.
£5 a month and he has got to live during that 18 months. I am sure my friend will agree that the disadvantages he is placing in the way of municipal employees qualifying under this Act makes it impossible for them to qualify. It simply cuts them off completely and it is merely camouflaging the position. Unless this 18 months proviso is deleted I am sure we must really be prepared to shoulder that tremendous burden of tremendous indignation that we shall have to meet in wrecking this Bill. We will have to stand a constant stream of protest from outside, because we cannot allow the Bill to go through with this proviso. If the hon. gentleman wants the Bill wrecked he will maintain the position he has adopted by refusing to accept the amendment of my hon. friend the member for Pretoria (West) (Mr. Hay). I support his amendment because it is a fair one. As it is getting late I hope the hon. gentleman (Mr. Close) will relent and accept this amendment, so that he may really be able in another quarter of an hour to report some real progress.
We are trying to get this vital Bill through for the good of South Africa—it is for the good of the people and for the protection of the public. We are endeavouring to entrench the position of municipal and other employees and if the hon. member for Brakpan (Mr. Waterston) is sincere he will support the amendment of the hon. member for Ladybrand (Mr. Swart). It is not so much a question of when they leave the services and set up on their own as preventing them from being blocked completely for promotion in their own services. If men wished to leave their particular service, 18 months with a qualified accountant is not such a hardship, but when a man has had many years with a municipality as Assistant Treasurer and a position of Treasurer is advertised he should be in such a position that he will be able to obtain that situation.
In order to give time to consider this amendment in all its bearings, I will move that the Chairman report progress and ask leave to sit again.
Progress was reported and leave obtained to resume in Committee on Monday.
The House adjourned at