Dáil Éireann - Volume 339 - 02 February, 1983
Dáil Reform: Motion (Resumed).
 Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Éireann resolves that its procedures should be reformed to improve efficiency and its control over the public finances.
(Minister for Industry and Energy.)
Mr. Kelly Mr. Kelly
Mr. Kelly: I had very nearly concluded when the Dáil rose on Thursday last and I have not much more to say. The last suggestion I was making at five o'clock related to Question Time and I had suggested in the hearing of the Minister for Industry and Energy that we might experiment informally—not necessarily adopt permanently—to see how much success we could achieve with a second row parallel question time in which Deputies would be in a more informed framework than that which the Dáil permits and enabled to question relatively senior officials in Departments about the kind of constituency problems which now clutter up the Order Paper and attract the attention of the entire Dáil quite needlessly. The Minister in front of me turned around and asked in a friendly way why I had suggested that there should be no chairman on such a parallel question time. I did suggest that, but that is a very unimportant and marginal dimension of the suggestion I was making. I have no objection to a chairman. I meant simply that probably it would be more satisfactory for the Deputies concerned if they could exchange question and answer with the official, who would have in front of him the relevant file, in a more informal and less strictly regulated way than is customary on the floor of the Dáil. It does not really matter if there is a chairman provided that object is achievable. I believe there might be something to be said for trying a parallel Question Time to see if questions could be taken off the floor of the Dáil and whether perhaps a Deputy might really in the end get more information from the Department concerned. I, of course, accept that a question with a political dimension, a question of genuine general public interest, would  not be appropriate for handling in this way. I do not suggest that Deputies should in any way be deprived of the right to ask the Minister in the Dáil any question they please, and that it should be entirely within their discretion to decide what is a question of general interest and what is one which could be more easily and perhaps satisfactorily dealt with by this parallel official Question Time.
Minister for Industry and Energy (Mr. J. Bruton) John Bruton
Minister for Industry and Energy (Mr. J. Bruton): Would you have the same notice for those questions that you have for ordinary questions in the House?
Mr. Kelly Mr. Kelly
Mr. Kelly: I often think that the present notice of four days is not long enough. I can well imagine that there must be questions which absolutely convulse a Department by the need to have them answered in a form which can be presented in the House within 96 hours. It may easily be that four days is not enough for some types of question. I envisage that in a parallel Question Time the Department could communicate informally with the Deputy and say: “Look, we are heavily under pressure on Tuesday, could we take this on Wednesday or Thursday instead?” Alternatively they could say: “We expect new statistics on the first of next month. If you do not mind waiting until the first sitting day after that date we will give you the answer then”. I envisage an experiment which might be helpful on both sides, might ease the four-day pressure on the administration and might provide more information for the Deputy. It might even shorten the route between the backbench Deputy and the Department by having the backbench Deputy speak face to face directly to the relevant official, and perhaps persuade him face to face that it is time to build this kiosk, to give the go-ahead to that group water scheme, to sanction that school extension or whatever it might be.
I have always been an advocate of experiment and I can see nothing wrong with experimenting with this. It might turn out to be a shambles and not be satisfactory for a number of reasons which I do not now foresee. What about  it? We would have tried it. We can always drop it again. We do not need any change in Standing Orders. It only needs an informal Government agreement to the proposal that on a very informal basis such a service might be provided for Deputies in some room in Leinster House or in some other convenient place nearby in Setanta House if one wished, that it would be done for an experimental month starting after Easter or some time like that. If it is not a success, if it is a shambles, if it is expensive, if it turns out not to be worth the trouble and the money which it might involve then by all means drop it. In all kinds of areas we are afraid to experiment in case we might look foolish if we were forced to admit that the experiment was not a success.
I would like to add something to that in relation to the question of the publicity and the question of the supposed anonymity of public servants. The anonymity of public servants is beginning to flicker at the edges a bit. They are now frequently journalised, they are written about in the papers and gossip columns and in informal publicistic ways of all kinds. Their performance is assessed, and epithets, usually flattering, and so usually well deserved, are applied to them by the media. I do not know that there is any great point in keeping up this British pretence, that anonymity is a necessary part of the public service. I can imagine, in regard to the publicity side of this, that if a parallel Question Time were open to the press — I do not know if the press would trouble to send anybody to cover it — I can imagine that public servants might perhaps gain from the experience of presenting aspects of their administration in that modest public framework.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: I believe that proposal would involve a change in the adoption of ministerial responsibility if officials were to defend policy in their own right.
Mr. Kelly Mr. Kelly
Mr. Kelly: I accept that there is that danger, but I believe that it could be informally understood that public servants would be entitled to say: “Look, I have gone as far as I can go in regard to  my instruction, you are pushing me to the frontier of what is political, and if you wish to pursue this matter any further you had better put down a formal Dáil question”. I can see that there is that frontier and that there would be the danger of crossing it. I am not advocating crossing it but I believe the right should be preserved for a Deputy, who had not got a satisfactory reply and felt there was some political meat in a question, to appeal his question on to the floor of the House in the ordinary way, even though it had an airing with the official previously. I do not mean to be flippant about this but I can even see that some officials might, apart from gaining in their own understanding of the way their work impacted on the outside world, gain a certain modest celebrity in the way, for example, that an English public servant did during the Falklands war by reason of the extraordinary potato-faced image which he projected when giving news of the war, whether it was good or bad. That particular kind of personality would naturally not be much use to us in the framework I am suggesting we might experiment with; but I could see that public servants might enjoy an occasional outing to a session of this kind.
Another thing I want to mention has a bearing on the parliamentary programme. There is such a thing as a parliamentary programme which is never published. It is marked highly confidential and circulates to the Government at frequent intervals. I forget what the intervals are although it was my job to circulate it. I forget if it was once a year or twice a year but it contained a very large list of upcoming legislation with the projected launch date given by the Department. A large number of Bills would be mentioned by their actual titles, or by their possible future titles, with the Department's estimates of roughly when one might expect to see the Bills in print.
I can see that that kind of programme in its very early stages needs to be confidential, but I cannot see any good reason for not publishing it at some stage so that the Opposition and the world can see very roughly what is in the legislative pipeline. I believe this would make  unnecessary a great deal of the sometimes ill-tempered exchanges which go on here on the Order of Business when Deputies ask: “when is it the Government's intention to proceed with this Bill or that Bill? When will we see some Bill which the Minister promised at a bun fight in Ballina last July 12 months?” That kind of question which Deputy G. Brady rather ungraciously said to you a short while ago you were so good at raising yourself in earlier times is perfectly justified.
I cannot see why the Government should not be asked those questions, but I can see a good reason for making them redundant by publishing a rough list at the beginning of a Dáil session, in October or after Easter, of what the Government expect to see on the floor of the House within the relatively near future. If there is some snag about some Bill, and it does not appear afterwards, let it be so. None of us is perfect. I believe that a lot of the trouble in politics derives from parties and individuals pretending they are perfect, that they are to be thanked when the sun comes up in the morning, and the other side are to blame when it goes down in the evening. There is no reason why a Government should be ashamed of producing a programme of probable legislation so that the Dáil can see what is coming up to it. There is no reason for the Government being ashamed, if six months later they have to say that the business was very congested and that there arose many problems that had not been foreseen, which resulted in the Government not being able to make headway. Even within Departments there are dreadful snags in regard to Bills.
During my time as Whip my heart was broken in trying to synchronise the progress of legislation in a steady flow. That sort of situation would be eased very much by the publication of a programme which would show Departments what was being expected of them. The type of situation that used to arise when I was Whip, and I suppose it still arises, is that one would be begging Ministers or Departments to go ahead with some Bill at times when there were large gaps in the business, and when one would be  here day after day listening to long boring Estimates debates; but the Minister concerned could not be persuaded to twist the arm of the Department or even if he were to do that the Department would not respond. Frequently difficulties arose about drafting and so on, so that it was impossible to keep up a predictable flow of legislation coming to the Dáil. Items that had been promised failed to arrive at the last moment. That should not happen though I appreciate that many difficulties can arise in relation to a Bill, but the failure to have it ready on time should not happen with the kind of frequency with which it happened in my experience.
I found, too, that when we got to the end of the Summer session, when everybody was anxious to go on holidays, these same Departments that had been fruitful sources of difficulty and delay up to then in the processing of Bills would come galloping to us and say that such and such a Bill would have to be put through before the recess. That was the sort of situation which resulted in the imposition of time allocation motions by Mr. Cosgrave's Government, though largely the blame for those motions must rest with the people on the other side of the House because of the obstruction on their part. These time allocation motions of 1974, 1975 and 1976 were imposed reluctantly by the then Government because of these difficulties, and because, in respect of a number of items that had to be brought forward, the Government had not even been aware of them 48 hours previously.
Therefore, the publication of a parliamentary programme, even in a tentative non-obligatory form, would be salutary and would be helpful to the Opposition, to the public and to the media. In addition, it would be a powerful psychological impulse to Departments not to be seen to have been responsible for any delay, or for a public embarrassment of the Government in not having Bills ready at roughly the time at which the Government told the Dáil they would be ready.
I come now to the question of some of the Dáil conventions which are written into your book of precedents. Some of these conventions are silly. The absurdity of them becomes compounded and multiplied  as the years go on and as they develop a momentum of their own. The original purpose of them is lost sight of. Indeed, they have disappeared in the country that originated them. These are conventions that we ought to drop.
One of these, for example, is the convention that prohibits us in this House from citing from a Seanad debate. The fact that we must pretend to ignore that there is a Second House of the Oireachtas is a case of this Parliament keeping up, for some reason which it does not understand, a precedent the origin of which lies buried in the troubled history of seventeenth-century England. Where is the logic in affecting to suppose there is no such body as the Seanad? It would not matter if the convention were on some kind of joke level, but it is serious when it gets to the point where one is not allowed to cite speeches made in the Seanad. At the same time a Deputy, a Senator or anyone else who makes a speech at a dinner or elsewhere outside can be cited here subject to the rules of relevancy. Repeatedly here I have tried to bring into the debate something which Senator Eoin Ryan said at the time when Fianna Fáil were getting into a lather of sweat about our fishing limits, when they were willing to go to the barricades for the 50-mile limit. They not only dropped that but also sabotaged the former Deputy Donegan's so-called box as soon as they were returned to office in 1977. However, at the time when they were frothing at the mouth about the 50-mile limit Senator Ryan, who was a big wheel in Fianna Fáil then as I suppose he still is, said in my hearing that if we did not get a 50-mile limit we should rethink the whole question of our membership of the EEC. Those words came from a senior Senator, from one that both the business world and the political world look up to. He has been in politics since I was in short trousers. There is a photograph showing him as a student in 1938 going across in a motor launch to Spike Island in the company of the then young Kevin Boland and Mr. de Valera. In other words Senator Ryan has been around for a long time. When a Senior politician  such as he makes a statement of the kind to which I have referred I would regard it as legitimate political ammunition. It is a lunacy that one in this House should be estopped from firing that ammunition merely because it surfaced in the Seanad and not at some comhairle ceanntair meeting or at some dinner. That is the sort of convention that makes us look ridiculous. I trust that it will not be considered a matter too small to attract a few minutes of the time of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
Though not to the same extent, the same goes for the convention for not mentioning here people outside the House, whether to praise them or to criticise them. I appreciate that different considerations apply in this case, and I accept that somebody who is not in the House and who has no champions here is not in a position to defend himself. However, the ordinary rules of human decency, fairness and politeness and the wish to behave like gentlemen, or ladies as the case may be, ought to restrain Members from unfairly blackening someone who is not in a position to defend himself, and blackening him under the protection of the privilege of this House, since in respect of words uttered here no proceedings, either criminal or civil, can be brought. I accept that the Chair has a role in trying to recall Deputies to these ordinary rules of decent behaviour; but there is a long way between that proposition and the proposition that one cannot mention or discuss at all people who are not in the House. Surely there are people outside whose conduct is highly relevant to public affairs, and which must be brought to the notice of the House, which cries out to be brought to the notice of the House. In saying that, I have no special target in mind. It could be that there is some figure in the CII, that there is some trade union leader or some representative of the farmers who by his activity is affecting public affairs. The convention that we are not allowed to comment one way or the other on any such person is wrong. Admittedly, it is not a rule that is enforced with great strictness, but it exists. We should be allowed to comment on people who are  outside the House subject to observing ordinary rules of fairness and not abusing the privilege this House bestows on us.
The last of the conventions that I wish to protest about, and have protested about before, is the so-called sub judice convention. Put in a few words, that rule is to protect a court from having other people breathe down the back of its neck and tell it what to do. In other words, in a country like ours, which has an independent Judiciary, everybody is expected to respect that independence; and a dimension of that respect is that people must refrain from telling a court and, a fortiori, telling it in loud, threatening or abusive language what it should do in deciding a particular case. That is the only purpose of the sub judice rule. For example, it would cover the case of a Deputy telling a court what to do in regard to a case that was at hearing. It would cover the case of a Minister who took it on himself to express an opinion about litigation that was in progress. I would support the application of the sub judice rule to prevent utterances of that kind. But the rule has been brought to ludicrous lengths here. I have heard occupants of your Chair, under the colour of it being an application of the sub judice rule, prevent comments even on judgments which had already been handed down and which were now in the past. There is no such thing as a sub judice rule which inhibits you from commenting on a past judgment on a case which is not under appeal and which is over, and provided you do not speak abusively about a court or a judge or in such a way as to lower the standing and respect to the esteem of the court in public appreciation, you are entitled to speak your mind, either inside or outside this House, about the correctness or otherwise of a judgment. I am perfectly entitled to say outside this House, never mind inside it, that I think Mr. Justice X was wrong and I am not committing a criminal offence nor am I in breach of anybody's civil rights in doing so.
I have heard Deputies being prevented from speaking about a matter, even though it was a very general matter, such as an outbreak of hooliganism or delinquency,  on the basis that it might be sub judice, simply because it was likely that sooner or later the Garda would arrest somebody, charge him and that a trial might take place. There is no reality in that. For example, look at the experience in Limerick over Christmas where there was apparently a fairly widespread outbreak of lawlessness and violence in certain parts of the city. Although it has not been tried out yet, I think the people in this House are perfectly entitled, perhaps even bound, to pay attention to what is going on there and to comment on it freely, not inhibited by any sub judice rule.
I admit I would find it difficult to formulate, in a form which would be satisfactory to the occupants of the Chair, the sub judice rule as I would apply it. I do not want to do that on my feet, because I may be overooking some germane factors, but I hope the sub judice convention could be severely looked at with a view to reconciling with reason the way it is applied.
That is all I wanted to say. I regret that the rules of order prevent me from repeating some of the points I made last Thursday, but I will save those comments for a future occasion.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: This is a very important subject to discuss but I am not sure if this is the right time or the right way to do it. The Minister has circulated a thought-provoking paper. We sought a debate on the economy; there are major elements of law and order to be debated and the unemployment situation is very serious with over 700 jobs lost last week. The Government have adjusted their unemployment target from an average of 177,000 to 190,000 with a peak of 218,000 this year. It seems a little ridiculous in the context of certain serious economic catastrophes throughout the country that we will spend a number of days debating Dáil reform with a large number of Government speakers contributing to keep the debate going.
Mr. Bruton Mr. Bruton
Mr. Bruton: Fianna Fáil are involved in party meetings and do not have enough speakers——
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
 Dr. Woods: We did not interrupt the Minister earlier. Until there is Dáil reform I accept that this type of situation will continue but an outside observer might say that this debate would be very suitable for a special committee, after preliminary consideration in this House.
We should be considering the Estimates at this time. The purpose of publishing them last November was in line with the thinking of the Minister for Industry and Energy to have them debated before the budget was introduced. In this way the Minister for Finance would have the views of Members before the budget. I am not suggesting that the Department should be hogtied by the views expressed in this House but I am suggesting that the reason for the Estimates being published early was to allow the House an opportunity to discuss them in advance of the budget.
It is unfortunate we did not discuss the Estimates, especially the major Estimates about which there has been so much contention in recent times, when the opportunity was presented to us. A debate on those Estimates would have given the Minister for Finance some indication of the areas where he might consider giving extra support or withdrawing some resources in the budget and it would give him an indication of the feelings of the people as expressed by their public representatives. The Minister for Industry and Energy said that very often Estimates are debated when most of the money has been already spent. I agree with him, and that was the point in publishing the Estimates early and making them available for debate at an early date.
I congratulate the Minister for Industry and Energy on his campaign for Dáil reform. He made a very interesting speech, including from his experience some practical caveats in relation to the kind of changes which might be made and to areas where they might infringe on Deputies' very fundamental rights of free speech. This fundamental principle is very important in any consideration of the details of reform of this House. We  must be careful not to take away the right of Members to full and open discussion on the floor of the House.
This is our only National Assembly where Deputies from all parts of the country can come together, each with an equal right to put forward his views in an unfettered way. He can express in his own way his views on all matters of state. This is not a House for the academic or for selected speeches, although that is the way the media tend to look at it, but the ultimate forum for the right of free speech. Any changes in Dáil reform must not infringe that right because if they do all our institutions will be adversely affected.
In that respect I would like to refer to some of the complaints and allegations made recently against Members on all sides of this House, and particularly against two former Ministers for Justice, at the end of the session before the last general election. It should have been the duty of the House, which has processes and procedures for dealing with such allegations, to deal with these in an organised way which would give good example to our public adminstration as a whole. The Taoiseach should have made a statement here about these matters. Instead, a selective, one-sided statement was made by the Minister for Justice on television. This was a particularly reprehensible approach to the matter.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: Could I ask the Deputy a question which has no reference to the particular case to which he is referring? In general, would the Deputy think that in cases of this kind the House has adequate sanctions to take against Members in the event of their being found in default?
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I accept that the Minister is not referring to this particular case. We should examine the available sanctions and the measures and methods which might be taken. This area is open to further exploration. I am not familiar with the details of the available sanctions within the Orders of the House, but this  is something which could bear examination.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: There is merely the procedure of a motion of censure.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: That is available, in any event. It comes down to how far one wishes to go in imposing sanctions. If this House, a public forum, decides on a motion of censure, or otherwise, this has a very dramatic and serious impact. I speak now in the interests of our democracy and in the interests of this House. I was, therefore, particularly concerned that such a question should arise without the right of reply in proper circumstances of the Members concerned. This was a trial, a judgment and an execution by television, with free speech being denied.
An Ceann Comhairle Thomas J. (Cavan) Fitzpatrick
An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair thinks that while passing reference to the matter raised by the Deputy is in order he should not go into it in depth in this debate.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I remember the Chair mentioning to a member of The Workers' Party — and I am quite certain that it is on the record of the House — that this matter could be raised within the context of Dáil reform. However, I accept the point made by the Chair. This is quite pertinent to the way in which Deputies carry out Dáil business and is fundamental to their position as Deputies. My view, as an elected representative, is important in this respect. If there is a lack of natural justice in the way in which Members of this House are treated, this is properly a matter for debate on how this House conducts itself and the way in which we might reform our approaches to these affairs. The Chair will recognise the direct relationship between the two. The Minister said that television and radio might be brought into the House.
It would be difficult to participate in and consider reform if the basic functions of the House and of our institutions are to be set aside. It is very important that we address ourselves now to the now past danger in relation to affairs outside the House. The heat of that moment had its implications for the major Opposition  party but that is a separate question. I am concerned about the implications for the future behaviour of the House in relation to its Members generally. If we do not use the mechanisms of the House, we are in danger of allowing people from outside, through public relations operations and sophisticated marketing approaches to the presentation of material, to present, in a very biased and unfair manner, the behaviour of Members within the House or within their Departments.
It is a matter of record in this House that the former Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, initiated arrangements for a judicial inquiry to be undertaken in this matter and the present Taoiseach has promised to proceed with this inquiry. This would be the proper line to take in relation to such matters. The available procedures were, by and large, agreed. They should have been pursued without entering into the show to which we were treated.
An Ceann Comhairle Thomas J. (Cavan) Fitzpatrick
An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy continues on those lines it will obviously lead to an in-depth discussion on a matter which is not properly relevant to this debate.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: It is very important that we consider the matter.
An Ceann Comhairle Thomas J. (Cavan) Fitzpatrick
An Ceann Comhairle: It may be important that the matter be discussed here, but we would have to have a proper opportunity and a motion, if the Deputy so wishes to discuss it.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I agree with Minister Bruton that we should have reform of our procedures, but only when the Government show due respect to the Members and the institutions of the House. I stress particularly that this House can show justice to both the articulate and inarticulate Members. I hope that the matters which I have discussed will be taken up by the inquiry. In the long term, the processes of the House will be seen, in cooler moments, to have been those which should have been used in this case. I look forward to calmer deliberations.
As far as the sittings are concerned, I  have sat here for many and long hours during debates on different aspects on the business of the House. Being a Dublin Deputy, it is no great hardship for me to attend the House at any time. Members have been prepared, in the past, to sit for longer hours when necessary and into the small hours of the morning on particular occasions in the interest of legislation or of the passage of some part of the budget and so forth. We have seen the tragic results of the pressure being exerted on our country colleagues. Tragically, one of my colleagues, Deputy Coughlan, died yesterday. We extended our sympathy in this House to his family and friends and we shall have an opportunity of doing so again at the Mass which will be offered for him tomorrow morning.
We should be honest with ourselves when speaking and not speak solely from the capital city. We should remember that there is great pressure on rural Deputies getting here. There has been an arrangement in operation which meant they could get home and be with their families for the weekend while at the same time attending to their constituency work. However, adhering to that programme constitutes an extremely busy weekend for them. I would appeal to the Minister in his consideration of the reform of procedures of the House, especially in relation to sittings, that he give special consideration to the position of rural Deputies in this respect. I believe there was much good sense in the arrangements made by our predecessors here. Such arrangements facilitated rural Deputies in maintaining contact with their homes and constituencies.
In regard to the drafting of Bills generally, I would recommend a thorough examination of the phraseology used. This is a matter raised quite often in the House. We should now make an attempt to overcome the legal restrictions on us in so far as that can be done in regard to the modernisation of their phraseology. This is a matter which can be very confusing to us as laymen because we may want to include particular statements or kinds of feelings in Bills. However, we  find that this is not so simple in practice with the constraints of law on us. Indeed, such has led to confusion here at times in regard to the expressions included in Bills. I experienced some difficulty in the House in regard to one Bill when people were inclined to think I was changing its emphasis when in fact I was merely responding to the requirements of the draftsmen.
Committees of the House can undertake excellent work. As Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare I dealt with the committee on the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Bill. With the support of civil servants we on that committee did a great service to all public representatives and people concerned in regard to the application of social welfare legislation in the future. But we discovered then that there was not anybody really interested in the work of that committee. One discovers when one passes such a Bill to a committee that there is not anybody interested. I did not mind because at the time I was interested in the consolidation of this legislation. It brought all social welfare legislation to date under the umbrella of the one Bill which we considered a useful exercise which would be helpful to people in the future. Indeed, it should be done in respect of other legislation from time to time.
I was conscious that the various Deputies and Senators involved in the work of that Social Welfare (Consolidation) Bill committee would be engaging in a lot of work over a long period receiving no publicity whatsoever because it was rather dull stuff. Yet the work was very relevant to presentday needs. Indeed, it constitutes the basis on which many questions are asked in this House under the various subsections of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act. If one examines various parts of that Act one finds that it deals with the allocation of funds of people in different circumstances and the terms governing that allocation. At that time I made strenuous efforts to get the media along even for some photographs at the outset to show that these Members were engaging in this work. A few photographs were taken, one only of which  appeared afterwards, that being of the chairman of the committee and myself. In all honesty I was least interested in getting my own photograph into the press. I felt the Members of the committee were devoting a lot of their time to hard work and I should have liked to see them get some credit in the media. Despite my best efforts we did not manage to do so.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: I think the Deputy is right in what he says. I entirely agree with him. I wonder, in his view, what is the answer to the problem.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: That was a consolidation Bill.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: Yet it is very important.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: Yet it was full of practical day-to-day matters often referred to in the House. After all, parliamentary questions usually ask: “Why does it happen this or that way?” That constituted the broad content of that Consolidation Bill. Those elements were discussed and questions asked on them as our work proceeded.
The Minister asks what can one do about it? I think other committees could be more specific and consequently more interesting. Indeed, one could increase general efficiency by taking the Committee Stage of some Bills from the House to a special committee. That may well be one area in which we should consider the introduction of radio coverage. For example, if there is to be a special committee on, say, building land or some such subject, I am sure that is a matter in which there would be considerable public interest. Perhaps if radio or even television coverage could be brought to bear on such an area that might warrant some trial in that direction. I agree with what the Minister has said, that we should be prepared to try some things, to agree here that it is merely a trial, that not all trials prove to be successful. We might well ask the media for once to cease acting childishly about trials, just as do Members in the House, but rather agree that trials are undertaken to establish  whether something will work. One may not get the answer one wants but one may discover something through a trial. One may well find a new direction emanating therefrom. It is much more important to get one's direction correct in such circumstances than that the trial be 100 per cent correct. The impact of the media could be considerable in the area of special committees. Indeed, such may well be necessary to increase interest in these committees.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: Might I suggest that it might be a matter we ask the Press Gallery to make a submission on themselves, as to how they see the committee system being developed?
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I agree with the Minister and I shall do that now. Through the Chair I would ask the Press Gallery to consider that because it is very relevant if we want the system to work and it could have a considerable pay-off from the point of view of the press.
An Ceann Comhairle Thomas J. (Cavan) Fitzpatrick
An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair thinks it would be better to communicate with the Press Gallery through regular means. Otherwise we might involve the Press Gallery in the debates in the House.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: Yes, it is only through the Chair that I would speak.
An Ceann Comhairle Thomas J. (Cavan) Fitzpatrick
An Ceann Comhairle: Which might even be better.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I believe there is scope for committees. But in regard to particular decisions to be taken in the House it is extremely important that Members have freedom to speak in the House in their own way.
It must be remembered that our research facilities are limited. As people on both sides of the House are aware, there is the question of having back-up information readily available. I know there are limited facilities available through the Library. However, this is one of the great weaknesses of our present system which, in itself, takes from the quality of debate to be expected in the  House bearing in mind the circumstances in which we work. Any improvement along those lines would constitute worthwhile reform and be welcomed by all Members. In this respect there are some conventions here which would warrant improvement. Even in regard to the forthcoming budget one finds that people are having to put down parliamentary questions about all sorts of straightforward calculations which are probably freely available to members of the press when they telephone Departments, to ask questions like how much revenue would a penny on the pint bring in or if one were to increase the level of VAT by 1 per cent or 2 per cent what sort of revenue would that yield? There is a good deal of this factual information readily available. Yet we must go through this process of asking parliamentary questions seeking such information.
The Minister for Finance could make a fact sheet available in advance of the budget so that we could see the options and discuss the choices there may be. Such information is readily available on a whole series of items which are not confidential. There is some information which would be confidential and this should not be made available. Perhaps the Minister for Finance might consider this in relation to the forthcoming budget. If such factual information was made available it would save a great deal of time in the House.
When I was Whip I used to try to have a certain number of Members in the House at any one time. There is an onus on the Government to maintain a quorum but we should look at the question of keeping a certain number of people in the House. I could have 20 people in the House at a moment's notice. All I would have to do is point out that there is not a quorum and people would attend. We should look at that and come to some arrangement whereby people would be here on a more continuous basis even if it means dividing it up between the parties involved. I know that Deputies have work to do in the offices around the House but it is an aspect which we should look at.
 We should also look at the whole question of divisions. In other countries one or two hours' notice of a division is given. This means Members can attend to business and be back in time for divisions. We have a situation which, in terms of getting work done, is rather silly because we do not know when a division may occur and we are on standby all day. If a person running a business had to keep people on standby all the time it would be very costly. At certain times we agree to take divisions together, for example on Wednesday evenings. This means Members can get on with their other business during the day. We should look at that aspect and see if we can learn anything from current practices in other countries.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: What does the Deputy think about the method of voting? Would he favour an electronic system?
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: That might be difficult. People have been known to change their minds walking up the stairs and people have been known to watch in what direction people went when they got to the top of the stairs. Such a situation could arise in the near future. A Bill was introduced this morning which could bring about such a situation. As was pointed out, it is one of the few times that backbenchers get a good opportunity to talk to Ministers. It is often an opportunity for a backbencher to get a Minister to agree to meet a deputation or whatever. I know it would be nice for a Minister to escape from such a situation although I know the Ministers opposite would never think of doing so.
With increasing technology we must be careful that we do not drift from basic democracy. Our system as it operates is a very democratic one despite what may be said about it by people outside the House. We should build on that democracy and use the system to improve its effectiveness but we must be careful not to take away from the democratic process.
It is important that more news items be announced in the Dáil. I tried this once or twice but did not get a great response  from the then Opposition. Perhaps it is not as practical as it sounds. I was anxious to announce matters here so that people would see the relevance of Dáil Éireann and would have respect for the House.
Many suggestions were made about confining localised questions to written reply. Deputy Kelly mentioned having a parallel system for more local questions. To some extent this is a matter for the Opposition. It is our duty to organise questions so that questions of national importance are given time in the House. It is something to which we will have to give attention. We will arrange that questions of a more general nature are given time here. Many of the other questions could be taken for written reply. I would be reluctant to interfere with the parliamentary question system since it is one of the most elementary aspects of the whole process. Deputy Kelly suggested a parallel Question Time with Departmental officials for some of these questions. I doubt that that would receive very wide support because it would be taking away from the floor of the House.
Deputy Kelly made the point that the sitting hours are long enough if properly used. There is a great deal of common sense in that. If items are dealt with in an efficient manner and people do not unduly delay the House or try to keep the House sitting, except in special situations, the time we have available is adequate. Basically the purpose of the House is to debate and pass legislation.
Parliamentary questions and Adjournment debates are very important to Members. The Minister made some suggestion about Estimate debates. for example, breaking them up and having shorter contributions. On Adjournment and Estimate debates Members of the Opposition usually want to make a reasonable contribution. One might have a situation where there would be agreement to 20 or 30 minutes and then one could have a break with an opportunity to come back once or twice.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: Another possibility would be to allow the major parties or  even a Deputy to circulate with the Official Report a general statement of position which could then be discussed with the Estimate. This would meet the point about longer presentation. Deputy Woods raised the fact that Members do not stay in the House. If there are long contributions like the ones we have all made in this debate, Members will not stay because their prospect of getting in is diminished. If contributions were limited to five minutes the House would be much fuller because Members would have the prospect of speaking.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I appreciate that there could be circumstances in which five-minute contributions could be relevant but during certain debates, such as those on the Estimates and Adjournment debates, there is a need to examine the direction of Government policy. On the latter occasions it is necessary to examine general areas but I believe contributions could be made fairly quickly. It sometimes happens that Members speak for, perhaps, an hour-and-a-half and they repeat themselves or waffle on in order to fill in time.
Regarding the circulation of documents, I would make the point that it is necessary to be able to digest these documents fairly quickly. I recall an occasion when, as Minister for Health, I had a comprehensive statement ready for the Estimate debate. For some reason it was not possible to adhere to the time arrangement which had been agreed in advance and I was able to give only a synopsis of the statement. The full statement would have been of great advantage to Members because each of the sections was spelled out in detail and the relevant facts and figures were given. I could not be allowed to circulate the speech or have it included in the Official Report. If the Minister's point were adopted it would be necessary to have documents circulated well in advance of debates so that people would have an opportunity to read them.
It is particularly important that we should have in this House the debate on the Public Capital Programme. That can  be done as soon as the Government wish. Such a debate would help to make our deliberations more meaningful.
I congratulate the Minister on the line he is pursuing and on his initial contribution. I would be in favour of many of the reforms he mentions. However, I would be fundamentally concerned that the freedom of speech, involvement and participation of the ordinary member should be absolute and maintained in the face of whatever changes take place. I am talking about any Member, no matter where he comes from, no matter what his form or mode of speech and no matter whether people outside this House like it or not. Members of this House are representatives of the people and if we lose sight of that aspect then all the rest will be of no value.
Mr. Taylor Mr. Taylor
Mr. Taylor: A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as this is the first occasion on which I see you occupying the Chair I take the opportunity of welcoming you in this capacity and wishing you the very best of luck in your new position.
It has to be accepted that in the eyes of the public the manner in which this House conducts its business leaves a great deal to be desired. The House has been debased in the eyes of the public and is not seen to occupy itself decisively with the important issues of the day. Members of the public see clearly enough what those issues are. Most people would be aware of the importance of such things as the closing of the Ranks mill in Limerick, the likely closure of Clondalkin Paper Mills, the cuts in education and the increases in CIE fares. These are the issues which are preoccupying the minds of the public but none of these matters is seen to be receiving the attention of this House. In some cases the role of the House is completely irrelevant. The education cuts were dealt with by ministerial decree without consultation in this House and in the absence of debate. I shall be dealing with the question of ministerial decrees at greater length.
This House has virtually no control over public finances. Perhaps in theory it has such control but the reality is otherwise.  The key matters are determined by the executive and backbenchers on either side of the House have very little input to the control or analysis of public finances. Debates take place on Estimates and Supplementary Estimates and voluminous figures are produced but these debates are phrased in general terms and it is not possible for a Deputy to find out in detail how the money voted by this House is being expended. Public money is expended not only by Government Departments but also by semi-State bodies and the semi-independent statutory bodies such as CIE and the ESB, and this House has no direct control or input on the expenditure policy of these bodies.
As a Legislature this House has abdicated a very major share of the function and role it should play under the Constitution. The Constitution provides that there should be three basic divisions of government: the Legislature, this House which makes the laws; the Executive, that is the Ministers and the civil servants of the Departments who put them into effect; and the Judiciary, the body which determines and interprets them. As far as the making of laws is concerned, the procedures of the House do not provide for or admit of the free introduction of the key, kernel issues which are facing the country at present. We cannot speak here about crucial matters affecting the country. Clondalkin Paper Mills are a good example of this. Here is a case of a key industry of paper-making on the verge of disintegration. If that mill goes the paper-making facility has gone and we know we will never get it back. We are at a crossroads and yet, to bring up and discuss that very important matter, one has to rely on luck to raise it on the Adjournment. It is not good enough. The matter is too important to be decided on the throw of a dice as to whether one will be lucky or not.
The Ranks situation is the same. Many backbench Deputies would like to express their views on how that matter might be tackled to protect existing industries but the existing procedures of the Dáil fall down completely in regard to enabling Deputies to raise key, vital  and important matters of that nature in this House across the floor with the Ministers concerned and, perhaps in another venue, with the senior officials of the Department concerned.
This House is supposed to be the law making organ of the State but to what extent is that the reality? The real power in this State has gone from this House, and to some extent from the Judiciary side of government, and has become vested in the Executive side of government, by which I mean the Ministers and the civil service, especially at senior level of the civil service. That is where the real power lies and the executive branch of Government are engaged in promulgating laws themselves without any real control or reference to this House. They do that by various means authorised by this House in legislation and those laws which they bring in are known variously as rules, regulations, by-laws, orders and so on. The volume of laws that are made by the Executive side of government, by Ministers and civil servants, is vast. The volume of legislation that this House enacts is miniscule compared to ministerial regulations. Those rules and regulations which the Departments and Ministers bring in affect the everyday lives of ordinary people every bit as much if not more than the laws enacted by both Houses of the Oireachtas. They cover every field and aspect of life and every Department. The reality is that the House exercises no real control over them and therein lies a very serious defect in our procedures and one which ought to be looked at and changed.
If you pick up any Act of the Oireachtas you will find the enabling section giving power to the appropriate Minister to make his regulations. When I was thinking of speaking on this matter I reached out for the nearest Act I had, which just happened to be the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. I looked up the appropriate sections dealing with the matter of making regulations. Section 10 states that “The Minister may make regulations for prescribing any matter referred to in this Act as prescribed or to be prescribed or in relation to any matter referred to in this Act as  the subject of regulations”. That is a pretty wide power to start with, an unfettered power that is given to the Minister.
When I talk about “Minister” in this connection and in any respect in which I am discussing this issue, the reality is that by “Minister” in that context you mean the permanent officials of the Department concerned. What is the role of the House in the regulations? That is dealt with in section 10 (2) which says that “Every regulation made under this Act shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and if a resolution annulling the regulation is passed by either such House within the next twenty-one days on which that House has sat after the regulation is laid before it, the regulation shall be anulled accordingly...”. Take the phrase “the regulation shall be laid on the table of the House”. When I first came in here I looked around for the table in the House where these regulations were laid. There is only one table obvious in the House and I never saw anything laid on it except the reporter's notebook. I made further inquiries and I was told it meant being laid on the table of the Library. There are many tables in the Library; I looked at them all but there was nothing to be found on any of them. It transpired that they are there all right, locked away in the Librarian's cupboard. These masses of laws which are enacted, not by this House or by vote and not scrutinised by this House are locked away in a cupboard in the Library. I wonder how many Deputies examine them in any detail because they are not published or submitted to us. We do not see them. Assuming a Deputy did go along and examine those regulations and decided that he was unhappy about one of them, what can he do? It says here that there has to be a resolution passed by either House. I wonder how a Deputy, whether on the Government or the Opposition side, could organise a resolution of this House to annual a regulation. Has it ever been done in the history of the State?
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: It has.
Mr. Taylor Mr. Taylor
Mr. Taylor: It must be quite a rarity.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
 Dr. Woods: In following up what Deputy Taylor has said, could I suggest that the Minister might consider having a table in the Library on which these might be laid? That would give a physical presence, otherwise you have to know what to look for. They could be left there for a week.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: There is a list published each day at the back of the Order Paper.
Mr. Taylor Mr. Taylor
Mr. Taylor: The list is published but we never see the regulations and they are very important. They are laws which ought, in theory at least, to come under the ambit and control of this House.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: There is a committee in the Seanad which looks at these but it has not been a very active committee.
Mr. Taylor Mr. Taylor
Mr. Taylor: It should be active. We should have a committee of this House to consider and deal with sub-legislation. The wording of the subsection is very clever in the sense that it will discourage and make sure that a backbench Deputy who might have an interest in one of these matters will not be able to do anything about the regulations. Such power as is given to the House is a power to annual regulations. When dealing with a subject the Department concerned come forward with a set of regulations and Deputies are told they may annual the regulations if they like but we know that if the regulations are annulled the whole import and effectiveness of what is to be done will fall to the ground. That is not something a Deputy would wish to do. However, what he should be able to do but cannot because of the way the sections are framed would be to amend the regulation in question. We should not have to accept lock, stock and barrel what the permanent secretary of a Department happens to bring forward, without having an input into amending the regulation. We are given power to annual a regulation but not to amend it. The enabling sections, as I understand them, do not give power to a Deputy to raise the question of amending the regulations. This matter should be examined.
 In my view the body of laws, the sub-legislation, has got completely out of hand. The House has legislated away the basic powers vested in it under the Constitution. We continue to do this all the time and the powers of the House and of its elected Members are being whittled away by our own actions. An example that will come up in the future will be the taking away of a vital section, that of Posts ad Telegraphs, and instead of this House being able to monitor and control and have an input into the vital key functions in this area, An Bord Post and An Bord Telecom will be hived off and put in the control of civil servants. Thus the Members of this House will be deprived of the authority to have a voice in the expenditure, operation and policies of those bodies. This is part of an ongoing process. This time it is Posts and Telegraphs, but what next?
The same trend operates throughout the local authorities. Elected members find themselves in little more than an advisory position. Their powers have been whittled away. Here again it is the public servants in the local authorities who exercise the executive key functions. The practice has arisen of giving a blank cheque to the executive side of government; we have given them very wide powers with no measure of control over them.
To what extent can we bring some order into the chaotic situation that has developed? Can any procedures be devised under which the House can exercise some measure of control over the sub-legislation? The problem is that while Ministers are amenable to Dáil questions, senior officials and permanent secretaries in the Departments are not. The public rightly feel that real power is vested in them but they are not amenable to the elected representatives. A possible procedure to deal with that situation would be to have permanent committees of this House that would have power to call before them the Minister concerned, the Minister of State, the permanent head of the Department as well as senior officials and also the heads and managers of the State-sponsored bodies and the semi-independent statutory bodies. The committees should have the power to call  those people before them and to give evidence in public of what is taking place in the Department concerned. They should be obliged to produce documents when required to do so by a committee and they should be open to questions in depth and in detail as to what is going on in the Department.
There is a tremendous reluctance — this has always been the tradition — on the part of civil servants to give information from their Department. There is also a tremendous reluctance to produce documentation and people who have been involved in litigation with Government Departments are aware of this. Even when it comes to releasing documents for court cases there is a tremendous reluctance to let go reports or to give reasons for decisions made by senior civil servants. We must face the fact that senior civil servants are acting not only as legislators in making rules and regulations but they are acting as judges also. We find this is the case in many tribunals. I gave the example of An Bord Pleanála and the appeals commission in respect of income tax. The list is endless. These people are performing judicial and legislative functions as well as their own executive functions but they are not answerable to and cannot be called to account by Members of the Dáil. The Dáil has been seen to have whittled away and to have abdicated its powers to the executive branch of government and that is the reason the stock of this House has fallen in the public eye. It is an ongoing process. Unless some steps are taken to bring the executive branch of government under some kind of answerability to this House that situation will continue. The House will devolve even more than it is now into little more than a grand forum and debating society where backbenchers serve their constituencies but have little input into the real control of finances. How can we find out details of a particular project from a Department, who is working on it and how many civil servants are involved? To do that you would need to have the senior controller of the Department present to be able to question them in some depth to find out what exactly is going on in that section of  his Department, what documentation has been taking place there and to probe that in depth. If that is done we would have some hope of bringing the Executive into some realm of amenability to this House. If not we will relax more and more into the level of a grand debating club.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn Mrs. Taylor-Quinn
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I welcome the opportunity of speaking on this motion. It is refreshing that the Minister has presented it to the House. It has been long overdue. The Minister and also the Opposition are to be congratulated on the constructive way in which they have approached this motion.
Dáil Éireann has the potential to be an extremely good democratic institution, but for the last 60 years we have had a Westminster inheritance which is centuries old already. In this House we have just about everything except the ghosts of the great orators of the past such as Burke, Parnell and Churchill. That is pitiable and in the light of it the Minister is seriously considering Dáil reform.
The system at the moment is ridiculous, farcical. Between the party system and the procedures in Dáil Éireann no elected TD can adequately represent his constitutents here in the Chamber. If a backbencher on either the Government or Opposition side wishes to speak he or she must go through his or her party Whip and in so doing will be relegated according to position. Ministers and shadow Ministers are allowed to speak first and any other Minister who wishes to speak usually is given preference over the backbenchers. That is very sad. Deputy Woods said that this House was the Chamber in which Deputies had the right to free and equal speech. They do not have the right to free and equal speech. There are preferences. I hope that when this Dáil is reformed all elected representatives will have more equal opportunity irrespective of status. I understand that the Minister and shadow Minister of a Department must get preference but outside of that everybody should be treated equally. The situation at the moment is very frustrating for backbench TDs because they cannot  truly and honestly represent their constituents. They are inhibited first by the party system and second by Dáil procedure.
This House, and the Oireachtas according to the Constitution, are supposed to have the full and exclusive power of making laws for this State. After reading that I began to consider what power the individual TD has or, indeed, the majority of TDs have in this House in influencing the laws put before us here. I suggest that TDs have very little influence, if any. A Bill is presented which has been drafted and prepared by the relevant Department. We are confined by our party Whip or party system. We cannot be too controversial. If we are on the Government side we cannot disagree strongly although privately we may disagree with what is being presented. If we are on the Opposition side we can disagree, but on a vote the majority will carry it and the result is that there is not totally honest representation. As Deputy Taylor said, Bills presented to this House are prepared by the civil service and rather than having a democratic institution we have a bureaucratic institution. This must be looked at very seriously. We have reached the stage where TDs are not seen as the primary representatives. In recent times pressure groups have become very strong political forces. Why? This is so because in the past various Ministers have not heeded backbench TDs or the Opposition sufficiently. If Governments were prepared to listen more to their backbenchers and to the Opposition there would not be the same necessity for pressure groups. Pressure groups possibly have easier access to Ministers and to various Departments than backbenchers and the Opposition have. That is sad. We are moving away from what we are elected democratically to do. There is an onus on this House to see that the public are better educated as to what this House is all about and the function of a TD. All pressure groups should be directed to the respective TDs in their constituencies and these in turn should tackle the Ministers and Departments. That situation must be examined very seriously.
 The committee system as we have it at the moment could be very much improved and then the overall situation would improve. If we want to improve it we must look at the American system. There is no point in creating new committees or increasing the membership of existing committees unless we are prepared to give them power and clout. At the moment they have not a great deal of power. Various approaches could be adopted. A very rough outline of a Bill for a Department could be presented to a committee who could debate it honestly, and directly and constructive points could be put. Power should be given to the committee to extend the Bill or to delete matters in that Bill. The Bill, after being debated in committee, could be presented to the House and we would have had a fair representation of all honest viewpoints regarding it. The committee should also have the power to call in any type of technical advice which they would feel necessary and to summon various people whom they might feel could help in the interest of what was under discussion.
Another area is that of public accounts and public moneys. We have an accounts committee at the moment and basically they are ensuring that money is spent in accordance with proper accounting procedure. That is all very well, but they should be doing far more than that. As they stand they are merely a watch-dog on the accounts. Power should be extended to that committee to enable them to give direction to Departments and to semi-State bodies on expenditure in different areas.
With regard to semi-State bodies, in the past — I hope this will not continue — grave abuses and lack of control by respective Government Departments have existed. Semi-State bodies appear to have no accountability to this House in regard to expenditure or the way they manage their accounts. Suggestions have been made to extend the semi-State bodies system, but I have strong reservations about doing that in the present situation. If it is to be extended those bodies should have far more accountability to this House than they have had in the past.  After all, public money is being spent and this House should have control over what is going on. At the moment it does not. I feel a lot of money could be saved if a far closer eye was kept on expenditure in that area.
The Public Accounts Committee should have more responsibility for the public capital expenditure programme. That is a long-term type of policy and they could examine this on a long-term basis rather than under the existing system. An economic development committee should be set up which would deal with the development of industry, agriculture, forestry and fisheries. I feel a committee like that could help a lot in the House. It could be of great assistance to the respective Ministers and could come up with ideas other than those brought up by civil servants. I have great respect for civil servants; I know they do a good job but unless you are on the ground meeting the people, talking to them and moving around a constituency or a county, such as every TD does, you will not have the same understanding or grasp of what is needed, what is practical and available. A committee like this could be very helpful.
I believe a committee on justice and law reform should be set up. Too much time in the House is spent on discussing finance and the budget and very little time is given to law reform or the introduction of new laws. If a good committee on law reform and justice was set up the situation could change. Another committee could be set up to deal with welfare and I would include here health, social welfare and education. A committee combining those three Departments could be very useful.
Committees should be set up — perhaps it is a bit unfair to say this — to take certain powers from Ministers. At the moment our system is becoming more bureaucratic. This is the primary representative House and there should be more accountability to it. The House has in fact delegated through the years a lot of its responsibility directly to Government. This is unfortunate. Committees of the House should get more power,  take some power from the Ministers. This would result in a better balance and there would be more democratic representation.
Another area I would like to deal with is parliamentary questions. This is the one thing available to all TDs which is worthwhile. I know that at times there may be abuses of it and there may be matters put on the Order Paper which could be dealt with otherwise. The Minister suggested that there was a restriction on time for Question Time because we needed time for debate. I suggest that the time for debate in the House is far too long at times. People get up and ráiméis and ráiméis. Often the Whips of the various parties get people who are longwinded enough into the House to keep the debate going. That is an absolutely ridiculous attitude. If people could be short, constructive and fairly well researched it would be far better than being longwinded for the sake of speaking. I believe, rather than spending one hour a day on questions that two hours a day should be spent on Question Time. We should have an hour of questions in the morning and another hour in the afternoon. I ask the Minister to seriously consider this. The Dáil question is often the only means by which a Deputy can actually confront a Minister and get some very specific information from him. The Adjournment Debate is not very widely used. It could be far more widely used and I hope this can be expanded and more use made of it.
The Minister suggested that we should extend the sitting days. I was happy to note, when Deputy Woods spoke, that he had a special appreciation of rural Deputies. I would be very slow to stay here on Friday for a Dáil sitting. I feel we could actually resolve the situation in two ways. We could do this, firstly, by curtailing the length of contributions which Deputies make, allowing more Deputies to contribute to the various debates and secondly, by having slightly shorter holidays and still having the three days a week and perhaps coming back in September after the Summer Recess. As far as rural Deputies are concerned I do not believe it would be possible for them  to sit in the Dáil on Friday. It is all right for a person within the radius of 40 miles from Dublin but outside of that it is totally ludicrous if one is anxious to get re-elected. By all means sit in Dublin for four days a week if you do not want to stand for election the next time but if you want to seek re-election you would be a very foolish TD to sit in Dáil Éireann on a Friday.
I would like to refer to the accommodation and facilities for Deputies which is absolutely appalling. I have no doubt that if the Department of Labour were brought in and the various labour laws were to be applied in relation to the space and the square footage per person at work there is no way this House could comply with the rules and regulations or the existing laws. The conditions under which Deputies and their staff are forced to work in at the moment are appalling. I hope the Minister will seriously consider the present situation and consider the accommodation and the facilities afforded to Deputies in Leinster House at the moment. We vote large sums of money to semi-State bodies but if any of us visit those semi-State bodies we will find the various executives and staff working in luxurious offices with fantastic accommodation while we literally squat in corners trying to get our constituency work done. It is most unsatisfactory and should not be allowed to continue.
I should like to refer to Dáil divisions. It is suggested that we might change over to the system used in Washington at the moment, the electronic system. That could be wise but against that, as Deputy Woods said, we may not have the access to Ministers and have the type of social chat which is often part of the voting system at the moment. It might be an idea, rather than doing that, to say that on Wednesday evening we will have divisions on a number of issues and set aside a certain time each week for divisions on all matters. That may be wiser than our being confined to the House, not being able to go to any Department or to leave the House when the Dáil is in session. That sort of situation is not conducive to good representation and is  something that should be considered seriously. I trust that the Minister will consider all the points that have been made during the debate and that he will act on them as soon as he finds it possible to do so.
Mr. Kenny Mr. Kenny
Mr. Kenny: Going through the different contributions that have been made during this debate one is reminded of the Latin phrase, repetitio mater studiorum est. Most of the points have been made and made well. I consider this motion to be one of the most important to come before us for a long time and I congratulate Deputy Bruton both in his role as Minister and as Leader of the House for introducing the motion. This motion has given the ordinary back bench Deputies as well as everybody else in the House an opportunity of voicing their opinions on what they consider to be right or wrong as the case may be in respect of the procedures of the House.
We have many different kinds of Deputy here. We have rural Deputies, urban Deputies, Deputies of some ambition, Deputies with not too much ambition, Deputies who are over-ambitious and so on. However, all Deputies were anxious to come in here and once in they do not wish to leave. Let us take the rural Deputy. If he says to his constituent that he will be in the Dáil from Tuesday to Thursday of any week, the constituent might well ask what will be going on there, what will the Deputy be doing during that time. The only confirmation of what goes on in this House is relayed to rural people either by way of radio, television or the press. One of the reasons for a rural Deputy speaking at all in the House is that he has the opportunity of sending details of his contributions to local papers, thereby keeping his name before the people he represents. This enables constituents to read what their Deputy has been advocating. The Deputy from an urban area does not have to the same extent the service of local newspapers.
I recall walking through the lobby with another Deputy to vote in a division when he took from his pocket a small transistor radio on which he said he hoped to hear  on the 6.30 news what was going on in the Dáil. The point I am making is that many Deputies vote here on matters with which they are not acquainted to any great extent. I have done that myself since coming here in 1975. For the first 18 months of that time when there was not a very strong parliamentary majority, there were divisions there was a quorum being called for by the then Opposition. This situation resulted in Deputies trooping up and down the stairs, having to leave committees or deputations in order to be here to fulfil their role in relation to the procedure of the House.
The interpretation of what transpires here is relayed by the media but there are many people in rural Ireland who do not read national newspapers. Indeed, in many areas the national newspapers are not received until a few days after printing. In most cases the emphasis on what happens here is relayed to rural Ireland by way of the local newspapers. That is why it is so important from a rural Deputy's point of view that he makes a case here on whatever may be the local issues involved.
We might ask what the ordinary backbencher does in relation to his membership of Dáil Éireann. He comes here every Tuesday morning with a briefcase full of correspondence. This correspondence relates to such items as medical cards, dentures, hip replacement operations, land division, blocked drains, potholes in the roads and so on. During the three days he spends here, the Deputy writes about these various matters to the people on the Front Bench and receives an acknowledgment which he then passes to the relevant person at home. He will say that he had a letter from his TD but that the potholes, for instance, are still in the road. The Deputy gets in touch with the county manager who says there is no money to carry out the work concerned. In turn, the case is put to the Minister for Finance through the Department of the Environment but the potholes remain in the road.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: Fill them up with Tayto.
Mr. Kenny Mr. Kenny
 Mr. Kenny: There was a Deputy here once who advocated digging potholes in the roads in the interest of creating employment. If procedures in the House were operating properly, Deputies would be able to take the more important aspects of their correspondence and deal with them effectively. The time of too many Deputies is taken up in dealing with what is very often wasteful correspondence. That has resulted from a system that has become very bureaucratic in recent years.
So far as being noticed in the House is concerned, I might refer to Deputy Gregory-Independent who, because of not wearing a tie, got the attention of the national newspapers. I suppose that if somebody were to arrive in a tracksuit he, too, would be given attention by the media. If a Deputy wishes to be put out of the House, he will probably talk to the Chair beforehand and tell him that he intended to create a racket and wished to be thrown out. The Deputy would get considerable attention in the newspapers with the result that constituents might say to the Deputy that he was doing a great job in putting on pressure in respect of whatever was the issue involved. That is the kind of procedure that we have had for a long time so that one's role as an effective legislator has been diminished by the antics of the House.
This House was in existence long before I came into the world. There were many people here before I came on the scene but one tends to get the impression that those earlier people were of a much higher calibre and were much better people in many ways than is the case of today's Members. That may well be true. I do not wish to take from any of them in any way but this whole business of politics has changed enormously in the past decade in terms not only of the volume of legislation going through the House but in terms also of the volume of correspondence received by every public representative as a result, in many cases, of constituents being made aware of their rights in relation to various laws. People query public representatives on these matters and if one is not entirely up to  date with what is going on, one can find oneself at a severe disadvantage.
The work of every public representative goes on almost around the clock. He is continuously taking telephone calls, attending meetings at which he may be either praised or abused, being stopped in the street and so on. All of this means that a Deputy does not have sufficient time to get through even a minute quantity of the correspondence that he finds on his table. To be an effective Deputy one would need to concentrate on three or four specific areas only instead of attempting to be an expert on all matters.
In the last number of years the irrelevancy of the House has grown in the public mind. I do not think that the power of the media in relation to this is understood fully by many people. The impression that the ordinary man in the street has of Dáil Éireann is that it has become an irrelevant institution. That is why the Minister, as Leader of the House, whatever that means — I hope he will explain it to us later because it is a rather nebulous title — will push through effective reforms that will allow every Member of this House to play an effective role in so far as the processing of legislation is concerned.
I have much respect for a former Minister, Mr. Justin Keating. I spent many hours listening to him speak here. One of the reasons for his not being returned here was his concentration on his ministerial duties. This meant that he was not available to answer the everyday whim and call concerning all the little problems in his constituency. Deputies are between two minds, whether to try to become effective legislators or to give a social service second to none. In my case I travel all over my constituency, which is 110 miles by 70 miles, and try to service the needs of my constituents as far as I can, as do the other Deputies representing the same constituency.
Many people have made the point that this institution is based on Westminster structures and has become outdated in many respects. The broadcasting of portion of the debates is very necessary, but  there is an inherent danger there. Certain Deputies have a vocabulary second to none and they could dominate broadcasting time thus minimising the effectiveness of the role of the ordinary run-of-the-mill Deputy. If broadcasting were introduced it would have to be structured in such a way that the Ministers and Deputies better able to perform would not take away the opportunity for the less able Deputies to make their case. Broadcasting debates would enhance the view people have of this House. I listen to the broadcast of Question Time in Westminster and I would not like the Chair to take the same line as the Speaker of the House of Commons. For example, I would not like the Chair to say to my good friend and colleague Deputy Donnellan from Galway “Would the Right Honourable Member from Galway West sit down?” If he were in Opposition the Deputy might tell the Chair to “mind himself”. That is not meant to be a derogatory comment on Deputy Donnellan, who is a straightforward Deputy. That type of comment from the Chair would not be relevant to this House because we are a different people, behaving in a different way and trying to get the job done as quickly as possible.
The parliamentary question is the only recourse open to many backbench Deputies. Before the Minister answers a question he asks his civil servants the type of supplementaries he might be asked. If the civil servant is good at his job, he will have five or six answers prepared for every parliamentary question. When the Minister comes in he will give as little information as possible in his reply to the Opposition Deputy, but if he is a good Minister he will have phoned the Government Deputy telling him his Opposition colleague has asked a question and he will tell him the answer he is giving. He will caution the Deputy that he did not give him that information but that he can use the information if he wishes.
Mr. Bruton Mr. Bruton
Mr. Bruton: Deputy Kenny will not get any more phone calls.
Mr. Kenny Mr. Kenny
Mr. Kenny: Telephone calls are welcome.
 The point made about debating the Estimates before the money is spent should have been introduced a long time ago. Every week we get reports of bodies which spent the money being discussed two or three years ago. It is past time that this procedure was reformed. If this were done, various pressure groups and organisations could meet their public representatives and have their case debated in front of the Minister before the budget was finalised. A budget debate might last six or eight weeks after its introduction and Deputies from all sides make their cases, very often repeating what already has been said, about what they consider should be done or what should be implemented in the budget. Such a debate would be much more relevant if it took place before the budget was introduced.
If the committee system is introduced it should get its share of national publicity. Committees should have power to call witnesses and get the evidence they require. At present many committees are held in Setanta House and it could take 20 minutes to get a quorum. If the division bells are rung or a quorum is needed in the Chamber, the Deputies have to come back to Leinster House. Only a small proportion of them might return to Setanta House for the second part of the meeting. Deputies spend most of their days running up and down stairs, taking telephone calls, going on deputations to Ministers and Ministers of State, meeting visitors at the gate, showing them around and bringing them into the Public Gallery. They often remark that there are very few Deputies in the Chamber. The Deputy in the Chamber may be making the best case possible, but the public get a wrong impression when they do not see Deputies occupying their seats in the Chamber and they do not regard this as an effective Parliament. They get the impression that Deputies get free meals and free drinks and that this is a kind of circus. Sometimes one would want to bring in a symphony orchestra to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery to liven things up.
The reform of our parliamentary system is of the utmost importance in the context of the very large numbers of our  young people. A recent United States report indicated that by the year 2000 all the goods at present manufactured will be manufactured by 3 per cent of the population. That trend will eventually hit us, leading to higher unemployment and more leisure time.
In terms of the effectiveness of our present institutions, this motion and the Minister's responsibility is very important. Prior to the recent election I remember canvassing a certain Government building. I say this with no disrespect to the people working in that building, but I met two officials — clerical assistants — who told me their section did not have any work. They said the work comes in waves every six or eight months when they work non-stop, but during the lull there is nothing to do. The staff in income tax are over-worked and under great stress. Because of the union system and the different grading system operating, the officials who might have nothing to do for certain periods are not allowed to help out in an overworked section. That is something the Minister for the Public Service should bear in mind.
The procedure for transfers needs to be centralised. An official who wishes a transfer to the west for family or other reasons might be fifth on the transfer list this week, but next week she might be fortieth. There should be a central list for people in the same grade. A transfer should be granted in order of application and if an official declines a transfer he or she should be able to do so at his or her own discretion.
I wish Deputy J. Bruton well in his role as Minister with responsibility for this area. He has the parliamentary strength to bring in reforms which will make this Chamber much more effective in the years ahead and which will show the people that the role of the public representative is not merely providing a social service, being a messenger boy or as fodder for the lobbies, but is part and parcel of the principle of democracy which allows the people to go behind a screen on election day and vote for a candidate of their choice. When a voter sees his candidate elected, he likes to know his  TD will make effective points in debates in this House.
I remember having the doubtful fortune of appearing on a well-known television programme where a well-known journalist said of me: “This guy purports to be a Deputy, but he did not even speak in that Dáil.” That Dáil only lasted for a short time, but the journalist was right, I did not speak in this fashion in the chamber during that Dáil. The number of people who commented on that fact was unbelievable. I thank the journalist for pointing this out in his own way. Indeed, I go further and remind him of my invitation to a week of travel around a rural constituency to see how TDs live and operate, which challenge has not yet been accepted. If he wants to accept it and give a full report in that well run magazine and all the publicity which he wants, I will pay him royalties.
In conclusion, I trust that Deputy Bruton, in his wisdom, having previously written the document in relation to many of the finer points regarding parliamentary procedures in different countries, will shortly introduce into this House an effective procedural Bill which will allow all elected representatives to play a really effective part in the governing of our country. It is high time that we were given this opportunity and I thank Deputy Bruton for that.
Mr. Briscoe Mr. Briscoe
Mr. Briscoe: This is my first speech in this new Dáil. I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and Deputy Bruton on their appointments. I am very pleased that part of the Minister's portfolio deals with this matter. He has shown a great interest in it and has done much very good work. I was happy to witness this in the sessions of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges before the break-up of the House.
I begin where Deputy Kenny left off. He is quite right that the public's perception of a TD's work is limited to what they read in the news media about what the Deputy does in this House. We all know the tremendous workload which has to be carried by all Members, with good humour and conscientiousness.  Rural TDs, having covered extensive areas, have to attend the House and debate on legislation. We appear to operate a cabinet system, with very little contribution to legislation from backbenchers. One of the great problems facing us and the Government, is the shortness of the time of office of Ministers. They are transferred to another Department or, as in the last couple of years, there are frequent changes of Government and it is a miracle that any policy can evolve. For that reason alone, I hope that there will not be an election for another few years, if only so that policies can be pursued. I hope that the Members will be enabled to contribute more towards policy-making. The only way in which this is possible—and this has been mentioned in the House and by the Minister — is by having a proper committee system, with the back-up of public servants. While it would be to the benefit of the country to have parliamentarians more engaged in the actual legislative programme and contributing towards the drafting of policy, it is essential to recognise that constituency work still must continue. The Minister must bear in mind that if ultimately we are going to do something as constructive as he proposes, we will need facilities for the management of our constituency affairs.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
Mr. J. Bruton: That has been considerably improved by the previous Taoiseach.
Mr. Briscoe Mr. Briscoe
Mr. Briscoe: That is quite correct. He introduced secretarial services for the first time. When I became a deputy, these services were not available. Then we got one secretary for six Deputies, later one for three Deputies and now we have a secretary each. This has certainly made a tremendous difference to my workload. Nevertheless, we could examine the framework within each constituency. I would not have the same difficulty as a rural Deputy. Some of these have secretaries operating from their constituencies, but they need management of their constituency affairs — representation, visiting people on their behalf — if they are to spend more time in the House and if the number of sitting hours is to be  extended. It has been proposed that the House sit on Fridays on a regular basis, for debating Estimates and so forth. That might not require the attendance of every Deputy at any particular time.
We know how inaccurate is the belief that because the Dáil only sits for three days a week, the TDs work for only three days a week. Most TDs who attend the House are very impatient to get back to their constituencies, where their main workload is. I also understand the anxiety of Ministers in Cabinet who see their fellow members working at constituency level while they are locked in, as it were, in their legislative position, legislating for the country. They must seek re-election at election time and the man who has had the freedom of the constituency will get more votes and gain from the man who has been doing important work at Cabinet or junior Minister level. The Ministers have facilities for running their constituencies, clinics and so forth, but the position is still worrying for every Minister. Only fellow TDs can appreciate the concern of TDs in this connection.
I look forward to more information as to what is happening in other countries, other democracies. At some stage, the possibility was discussed of examining some of the other systems. We should educate ourselves as to what would suit our system. One cannot say that the Australian, New Zealand or American system would suit us. Each country is different. Here we have a much more homogenous population. No other country gives greater access to public representatives than this. I am quite sure of that.
Reference was made to speech for the sake of speaking, in order to keep a debate going because something else is not ready. A lot of this goes on. I would be very much in favour of a system which restricted speakers to a shorter time, perhaps allowing them to speak as frequently as they wished on Committee Stage. By so doing the work of this House could be rendered more meaningful. It is embarrassing sometimes to have to get up and waffle on for the sake of keeping a debate going. This really is a problem of governments  rather than of opposition. From reading the Minister's remarks if, as I hope, it is the intention to break away from this system I would support it.
I might just say also that very often the well-prepared speech, one on which a Deputy has worked really hard receives no more media space or time than the speech of a Deputy who has been told just to go in there and speak for 15 minutes or so. Very often this is discouraging to new Members who feel somewhat aggrieved. They feel: what is the point? I have worked very hard on the preparation of my speech, undertaken a lot of research, yet it gets two or three lines press coverage while a Deputy who may have made a lot of noise saying nothing receives just as much or even more coverage.
I think this House has served the people well but, legislatively speaking, we are moving into different times when governments more than ever will need the collective good sense of the whole of the House of the Oireachtas.
Minister for Finance (Mr. Dukes) Alan Dukes
Minister for Finance (Mr. Dukes): The case for improved mechanisms to provide for fuller and more efficient consideration of public policy issues by public representatives in my view is well established. The proposal for parliamentary committees contained in the Government's programme is an indication of our commitment to development in this area.
A full analysis of the problems affecting the financial business of the House is contained in the Government Discussion Paper published by my colleague, the Minister for Industry and Energy when Minister for Finance. At the time of its publication this document was circulated widely and received a very favourable welcome. Many bodies and individuals commented on it. Their comments have been and will continue to be taken into account in the formulation of proposals for reform in that area.
I should like to pay tribute to the impetus given to the reform process by my colleague, the Minister for Industry and Energy. I know he has a long-standing interest in these matters and a deep commitment to them. I have every confidence  that, with the agreement of this House, he will bring about substantial and constructive reforms. While the subject of reforms in parliamentary procedures touches on a great variety of issues I shall address myself mainly to the handling of financial business and to financial procedures in this House in particular.
Of course the most important event in our financial calendar is the budget. I might make the point that in some countries our system would seem very strange. The presentation of our budget is preceded by more or less intense speculation by the media and by interest groups. Much of this speculation is inspired and a great deal of it highly imaginative. The presentation of the budget itself is followed by immediate reaction by the Opposition. I might add further that, having been on both sides of the House, the same qualifications could be applied to parts of the reaction from the Opposition.
Very different procedures are followed in other countries. For example, in Sweden the Government's budget Bill is seen as the first step in a long process of negotiation. The Bill itself is a long and complicated document and is presented to the Swedish Parliament when individual Members can add amendments. There then follows a process of consideration in parliamentary committee before the final Budget begins to take shape. In the parliamentary committees the Government will often make alterations in order to achieve consensus. I am not suggesting that we change overnight from our traditional way of doing things or attempt to disturb unduly our processes which have the advantages of being well tried and well known. But we can perhaps learn some useful lessons from other countries in this regard. I might make the point also that a number of us are familiar, in one capacity or another, with the procedure of drawing up the EEC budget, which is rather similar, goes on for a long time and where there is a great deal of room for suggestion, input and amendment by the people involved in the budgetary process. Again this is a procedure  which produces a great deal of involvement, debate and inevitably consensus in its preparation.
The matter of budgetary timetable is one which we must consider. The Programme for Government envisages the earlier presentation of annual Estimates so that the Dáil can have an opportunity to consider them before the beginning of the financial year. Deputies will be aware of the practice which has existed for many years of presenting the annual public expenditure Estimates to the House in January which means that much of the expenditure has taken place before the Estimates in question can be debated. We all realise and accept that a debate in such circumstances can be expected to have a very reduced influence on policy. Deputies know also that substantial amounts are voted through the House each year without any worthwhile scrutiny or debate because we have neither the time nor the procedures necessary to undertake such scrutiny.
A start has already been made on the process of making public expenditure plans known at an earlier date. The Estimates for 1983 were published last November by the former Government, the procedure having been initiated in July 1981 by the present Minister for Industry and Energy when he introduced his first budgetary proposals in this House in that month. I hope to secure a further improvement in that timetable this year. Ideally a substantial part of the budgetary process — including perhaps the budget itself — would be concluded before the start of the financial year. The extent to which this could be achieved is not yet clear. I would hope that further discussion during the debate on this motion would help us to get an indication of the way Members feel we could manage this process. What is certain is that we can and should secure fuller consideration of the Estimates by the Dáil before the beginning of the year to which they refer.
There are of course a number of drawbacks in earlier presentation. For example, the outturn figures for the current year would be very tentative as the figures for the final quarter would not be available. If existing practice were to continue  Supplementary Estimates for the current year would still require to be presented after the Estimates for the coming year. However, when due allowance is made for these constraints it should be possible to provide sufficient information to allow consideration of at least the main thrust and implications of the Government's public expenditure proposals for the coming year.
Consideration is also being given to the feasibility of publishing, at an earlier date, a general indication of the outlook for revenue in the coming financial year. This would enable the House to consider both the taxation and borrowing implications of a given level of public expenditure. A new procedure being followed by the British Government is of interest in this regard. In 1982 the first edition of their new Government autumn publication was issued. This is the autumn statement in which projected revenue and expenditure for 1983 were discussed together with some of the bases for calculating revenue changes from various options. This corresponds to a point raised earlier this morning by Deputy Woods. Certainly it is something I will take on board and review in the context of the general improvement of information available to the House in advance of discussions on the Estimates and on budgetary matters. It is a matter of great importance to create an awareness of and acceptance by the community as a whole that levels of expenditure and taxation are inextricably linked. The kind of presentation to which I have just referred would be of immense assistance in bringing people's minds to bear on this inextricable link between expenditure and taxation.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.
Dáil Éireann 339 Dáil Reform: Motion (Resumed).