The 'Commissioni di vigilanza' in the Nineteenth Century Italian Parliament

The 'Commissioni di vigilanza' in the Nineteenth Century Italian Parliament
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  Francesco Soddu The ‘Commissioni di vigilanza’ in the Nineteenth Century Italian Parliament ‘The importance of some public services and the nature of the rela-tions which they establish between the public administration and thepeople – Mario Mancini and Ugo Galeotti wrote, at the end of 1880s,in their important volume  Norme ed usi del Parlamento italiano  –,led the legislator to determine a special and continuous activity of su-pervision in the course of the administrations which were entrustedwith these services; this without prejudice of the ordinary and high-er control which the Parliament exercises on these services as well ason the other services of the State’. 1  Actually it was a form of control which pre-existed the parliamen-tary system: the ‘Commissione di vigilanza sull’amministrazione deldebito pubblico’, which was established by the Act of 12 March 1859n. 2, was in fact the conversion of the Councils which had been estab-lished in the Kingdom of Sardinia by the edict of 24 December 1819‘as material and moral guarantee that would inspire the State’s cred-itors with the needed confidence, ensuring at the same time the creditsof the State’. 2 With the beginning of the representative system thisfunction of guarantee couldn’t but fall upon organisms in which theParliament played a relevant role.In fact during the first decades of the constitutional regime’s func-tioning, the ‘Commissioni di vigilanza’ 3 (supervision Commissions)enjoyed a good success as instruments which favoured the Parlia-ment’s control on some delicate sectors of the public administration. At the beginning of the Fifties the ‘Commissione di vigilanza per laCassa dei depositi e prestiti’ was established (Act 18 November 1850,n. 1097; then confirmed by the Act 17 May 1863 n. 1270). 4 The latter,at the art. 6, decided that the administration of the ‘Casse dei de-positi e prestiti’ should be supervised by a commission which wasconstituted by three members of the  Senato  and three members of the  Camera dei deputati , who were selected every year by the re-spective assemblies; by three members of the Council of State and bya councillor of the Court of Accounts, who were appointed by their re-spective presidents. This ‘mixed’ composition (to which the Parlia-ment, the Government, the different administrations which were in-volved in this field, the supreme organism of control and advice, con-tributed) characterized the layout of all these organisms, eventhough with different balances. In this particular case, at the end of   each four-month period the administrator of the ‘Cassa centrale’ hadto submit the accounting reports of the several funds (their regional-ist articulation had been one of the subject which had been more dis-cussed during the parliamentary debate) to the minister and to the‘Commissione di vigilanza’. The latter could prescribe all the checkswhich were considered opportune and its president should submit tothe Parliament a report ‘on the moral running and the material situ-ation of the Funds’ (art.33). 5  Also the creation of the ‘Commissione di sorveglianza sull’amminis-trazione della Cassa militare’ dated back to the years of the Unifica-tion. It was established by the Act 7 July 1866, n. 3062. The Fundshould receive the sums which had to be given by those people whohad had the chance to be replaced by somebody else in the militaryservice. The Fund was put under the supervision of a Commissionwhich was composed by two  senatori  and two  deputati  who were cho-sen each year by the respective Chambers, by two councillors of theCourt of accounts appointed by the president of that Court and by fourgenerals who were chosen by the Minister of War. The Commission,like the previous case, elected its president among its members. In anannual report ‘to be divulged’ (therefore not expressly directed to theParliament, like in other cases) the Commission should present theFund’s situation and its remarks on the Fund’s administration.In the same date, 7 July 1866, the General Lieutenant of the King-dom enacted a royal decree (n. 3036) for the dissolution of religious or-ders. The decree established the ‘Commissione per la sorveglianza delleoperazioni concernenti il Fondo per il culto’. This Commission receivedthelegacyofthe‘CommissionedisorveglianzasullaCassaecclesiastica’,which had been established by a law regarding the abolition of religiouscommunities in 1855. On this case I will focus my attentionThis law was deeply disputed and it led the country towards a con-stitutional crisis. The crisis turned out in favour of the parliamentarymajority which was the expression of the liberal line of Cavour, butonly after a prolonged conflict and with some concessions to the oppo-sitions which had appeared mainly in the Senate. The Act formallycame from the need which was determined by the cancellation, in thebudget of the State, of the sum which was set aside for supplying thepoorest priests with a ‘congrua’. It actually had more ambitious aims,which were announced in the ministerial report which introduced thebill: it aimed to bring a ‘wide quantity’ of estates which were immobi-lized back to the production circuit (‘to the commerce and to the in-dustry’ but also ‘to public services’ use’). The problem of an infringe-ment of the right of ownership was one of the main themes in the par-liamentary debate. At the same time, the bill aimed to realize a morefair distribution of the revenues of the ‘asse ecclesiastico’. The reme-318  Francesco Soddu  dy was found in the sensible reduction of the ‘stabilimenti ecclesiasti-ci’ which were not ‘really necessary’. In this way the institutes of reli-gious orders which were not devoted to the preaching, to the educa-tion and to the care of the sick, as well as the ‘capitoli delle chiese col-legiate’, and the ‘benefici semplici senza servizio religioso’ stopped ex-isting as legally established bodies. In a first draft the bill stated thatall the properties had to be put ‘under the State property administra-tion’; that their incomes had to be deposited in a ‘particular Fund’ andit had to be utilized for ‘ecclesiastic uses’ which were listed in detail(mainly for paying the pensions to the members of the communitieswhich had been abolished and for paying a ‘fair supplement’ to thepoorer priests). As it is clear, it was an especially ‘sensible’ measure. A form of con-trol of the parliamentary assemblies should be accordingly estab-lished. ‘In order for the Nation to obtain a guarantee for the fulfilmentof this Act’ – the ministerial report concluded – the ministers who pro-posed the bill were requested ‘to report each year to the Parliament’about the activity of the Fund. 6 . The report presented by the parlia-mentary Committee, which was appointed by the  Uffici , 7 gave someindications of a close confrontation with the Government, even thoughthere was a unanimous agreement on the principle from which thebill srcinated. In the end the bill was passed ‘with the changes whichthe Ministry would approve’. 8 The Parliament’s intervention was stillconceived as a ‘warrant’ intervention  a posteriori . An amendment in-troduced by the Mp Valerio during the final stage of the parliamen-tary procedure would introduce the institution of a Commission, com-posed by two members elected by the Senate, two members elected bythe elective Chamber and chaired by a president appointed by theGovernment, which was entrusted with the supervision (organized assuggestions directed to the Government) 9 on the destination of worksof art, books and manuscripts in favour of public galleries and li-braries, as well as with the suggestions regarding the preservation of frescoes and historical buildings. 10 Thus in the debate of this bill afirst form of ‘commissione di vigilanza’ appeared. On the 9 th March1855 the bill was passed in the elective Chamber and then introducedto the Senate. The report of the  Ufficio centrale  (it was the name giv-en in the Senate to the parliamentary Committee, which was ap-pointed by the  Uffici ) showed the conflict which had emerged in thatorganism and had produced three different positions: two members of the Committee ‘totally disagreed in passing the bill’; two others werein favour of the bill but with amendments; the fifth member, finally,took sides with the first two in rejecting the bill due to the articleswhich abolished the religious bodies although he was in favour of therule which provided for their contribution to the ‘congrue parroc-319 The ‘Commissioni di vigilanza’   chiali’. 11 Essentially from the Committee’s debate ‘two different pro-posals, sustained by two different majorities’, 12 in connection with dif-ferent parts of the project emerged.These contrasts emerged again during the debate on the floor (whichbegan on the 23 rd  April). 13 On the 26 th of April the debate was sus-pended as a result of the proposal of the senator Nazari di Calabiana(who was a bishop) who aimed to make the bill retired by solving itseconomic reason through offering, in the name of the piedmonteseepiscopate, the sum needed to make up for the deficit which was go-ing to be produced in the budget of the State with regards to the pay-ment of the ‘congrue’. 14 The first consequence was Cavour’s resigna-tion; the minister of the War, Giacomo Durando, was then called uponto form a new Government but without success; finally Cavour formeda new Government. The parliamentary debate on the bill resumed onthe 5 th May and reproduced the different positions with a range of shades that is not possible to examine here. I just recall the solution of having recourse to a ‘parliamentary inquiry’ as ‘the only way’ for ‘depu-rating, between the opinion of the Ministry and the judgment of theParliament, the true facts from the preconceptions’. 15 It was proposedby Sclopis who imagined to limit the application of the law only to the‘noxious’ corporate bodies (on the contrary, for those of ‘lesser utility’prevailed the general principle imposed by ‘the conditions of our ac-tual liberty’ which ‘want that the Government does not meddle in thelife of civil bodies, nor in that of individuals’ but ‘enables the widestliberty of action for all the people’). 16 The Parliament would make a‘preventive’ intervention with regards to the dissolution of the corpo-rate body. This first phase of the debate ended with the adoption of aseries of amendments formulated by the two members of the ‘Ufficiocentrale’ who were not against the bill (Des Ambrois and Di Collegno),to which the Government agreed reluctantly. 17 On the 18 th May a new committee, appointed by the Senate after thepassing – narrowly 18  – of the amendments, passed the report preparedby Des Ambrois. 19 The report gave an account of the positive con-frontation with the Government which led to the abolition of the art.2 of the bill (the one which submitted to the discretionary power of theGovernment a series of heavy obligations with regards to the corpo-rate bodies which had not been suppressed), to other changes in thesrcinal text (as a consequence, ‘the civil power remains more clearlyinside the limits of its competence and it respects the religious vows’,and ‘the discretion of the executive power is deeply reduced’). Further-more it admitted that in the text some imperfections still remained,which the concrete application of the law would suggest how to berectified. In any case, the characteristics of the Fund were better de-fined as well as the role of control (‘alta sorveglianza’) exercised by the320  Francesco Soddu  Parliament. Rather, as the report specified, by ‘persons from the threegreat powers of the State’: as the article 8 clarified they were threesenators and three members of the ‘Camera dei deputati’ who wereelected each year by the respective Chambers, and three members ap-pointed by the king following the suggestion of the Minister of ‘Jus-tice and ecclesiastic affairs’. This Committee was entrusted with ‘thehigh inspection of the Fund’s operations’; the latter was managed, ac-cording to the art. 6, by the general director of the Public Debt Ad-ministration ‘with the help of a special Council’ which was composedby the general accountant of the ‘benefizi vacanti’ (ecclesiastic estatesdevoid of holder) and five other members appointed by the king. TheCommittee, each year, should present to the king a report on theFund’s state; the report should then be distributed to the members of the Chambers and published in the official journal of the Kingdom.The final debate on the floor did not come back to the theme of the su-pervision committee. The bill was passed, on the 22 nd May, with 53votes in favour and 42 against.The extension of the ecclesiastic legislation to the countries whichhad been gained with the Unification did not take place in a uniformmanner (as Lorenzo Spinelli noted in an essay published on the occa-sion of the Unification’s centenary). 20 The creation of a unique eccle-siastic fund for the whole Italian kingdom was not possible (the ec-clesiastic legislations of the pre-unitarian States were very diversi-fied). It took some years for having two normative provisions (the al-ready mentioned royal decree of 7 July 1866, n. 3036; and the Act 15 August 1867, n. 3848) which would put in order this complex subject.The two provisions – Spinelli noted – ‘in addition to expand the pre-vious Act of 29 May 1855, revised and completed the latter, both in-cluding a wider number of bodies under its rules, and abolishing theexceptions’. 21 Essentially all the properties which belonged to the re-ligious communities that had been suppressed were assigned to theState property, with the obligation to fix a 5% revenue in favour of theCult Fund, which in this way gained a juridical existence. 22 The Fundwas burdened with several obligations, in particular the payment of the allowances for the priests who were unprovided with economicmeans. The Act established a different administration from the otherState administrations for its managing. This was led by a general di-rector who was appointed by the Government and was assisted by aboard which had to decide on the most important affairs, such aspassing the budgets, incurring loans and deciding on the complaintsregarding the ‘congrue’. 23 The Fund’s activity intersected that of theadministration which was charged with the running and the alien-ation of the properties of the bodies which had been suppressed.It was a complex mechanism which was submitted to the supervi-321 The ‘Commissioni di vigilanza’ 
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