Seanad Éireann - Volume 182 - 16 December, 2005

Appropriation Bill 2005 [ Certified Money Bill ] : Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

  Mr. Treacy: I welcome this opportunity [701]to address the Seanad on the Appropriation Bill 2005. Given the Seanad’s busy schedule, I appreciate today’s debate will be very brief and, as the Leader indicated this morning, there will be a more substantial debate on public expenditure early in the new year.

The main purpose of this Bill is to give statutory effect to the departmental Estimates for supply services both current and capital, including all the Supplementary Estimates which have been approved by the Dáil since the last Appropriation Act. The Bill also provides for the carryover of unspent voted capital into 2006 amounting to €346 million under the multi-annual capital envelopes.

The Bill, in line with what is now established practice, includes a technical provision to allow for the deferment of the end year deadline for the financial resolution passed on budget night. This year the Bill also includes a technical amendment to the Appropriation Act 1999 to allow for the payment of certain excise duties levied on tobacco products to the Health Service Executive Vote from 1 January 2006. In line with recent practice, the Seanad is also being asked to approve an earlier signature motion to facilitate a request to the President to sign the Bill earlier than she would normally do.

Section 1 appropriates for the year 2005, the net sum of almost €36.3 billion to the various services listed in Schedule 1. The 2005 sum includes Supplementary Estimates of €91.3 million on eight Votes which have been approved by the Dáil Éireann.

Current indications are that overall spending this year will be within budget. There will be a capital carryover under the multi-annual capital envelopes of €346 million from 2005 into 2006, or 5.8% of net voted capital for 2005. The corresponding capital carryover from 2004 to 2005 was €237 million, or 4.3% of net voted capital. The actual end year Exchequer outturn will be published in the end year Exchequer statement on 4 January 2006. As is normal, the Bill also seeks approval for the use of departmental receipts of almost €3.7 billion as appropriations-in-aid for the services listed in Schedule 1.

In accordance with the provisions of section 91 of the Finance Act 2004, which is the legal basis for capital carryover, section 2 provides for the carryover of €346 million. The relevant Votes are listed in Schedule 2. The €346 million cannot be spent in 2006 until the Dáil approves an order at the beginning of the year specifying the capital subheads in each of the Votes concerned against which the money will be spent as a first charge. The availability of the carryover facility of up to 10% of a Vote means that this money will not have to be surrendered at the end of the year and will not therefore be lost to the programmes concerned. I am sure we all endorse that approach.

[702]Article 17 of the Constitution requires that the financial resolutions of each year must be enacted into law by the end of that year. However, the end year deadline can be deferred if an Act to that effect is passed before the end of that year. This section makes provision for this deferment to be invoked by both Government and Parliament. The inclusion of this provision in the Appropriation Bill will maintain the normal statutory deadlines for passing budget measures into law. Identical provisions have been included since the 1997 Appropriation Act.

There is a technical provision, by way of an amendment to the Appropriation Act 1999, to allow certain excise duties levied on tobacco products to be paid to the Health Service Executive Vote from I January 2006 rather than to the Vote of the Minister for the Health and Children as at present. Arising from a decision in budget 2000 to increase excise duty on cigarettes by 50p per packet of 20 and that the resulting revenue increase of €167.6 million in a full year would be used to fund health services, this amount has been paid as appropriations-in-aid to the Department of Health and Children since 1 January 2000. As the relevant health services are now provided by the Health Service Executive which has its own Vote, it is appropriate that these appropriations-in-aid should be paid directly to the HSE.

The Seanad is also being asked to approve an earlier signature motion. This is sought each year to ensure the necessary legislative authority is in place for the final end year issues from the Exchequer.

This Government is fully committed to achieving value for money from public expenditure. Measures announced by the Government on ICT projects and consultancies and additional measures for securing value for money announced by my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, in October last are being implemented. They build on measures already introduced, such as multi-annual budgets for capital programmes and new guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital projects. The cumulative impact of these is one of improved management of capital projects and programmes.

This Government has provided for over €45.5 billion in gross spending on the public services in 2005. Substantial additional resources have been allocated to the priority areas of health, education, social welfare and capital investment. I commend the Bill to the House.

  Mr. J. Phelan: As the Minister of State said, we will have an opportunity for a more detailed discussion on these issues in the new year. However, I wish to make a few comments on the Appropriation Bill. The Minister of State men[703]tioned the Government’s commitment to spending taxpayers’ money wisely but nothing could be further from the truth if one looks at its record. I am certainly not convinced the necessary measures have been taken to prevent the scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money in certain areas as has happened in recent years. I refer, in particular, to the PPARS project. The report on PPARS was issued this week but the House did not get the opportunity to discuss it. Perhaps we will get the chance to discuss it in the new year.

When it comes to the glaring examples of the misuse of public funds by this Government over the past few years, it is clear it has not learned any lessons so far. I am not convinced by anything the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, or the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, have said in this House or in the other one on the recent budget that they have learned anything from the misuse of public funds which has marred this Government, particularly since the 2002 general election.

On umpteen occasions in this House and elsewhere, I have mentioned the River Nore flood relief scheme in County Kilkenny which was completed two years ago. The expected cost was €14 million but it ended up costing €48 million. There are still significant problems with that scheme in that there are environmental issues which have not been resolved.

I already mentioned PPARS but there are numerous other examples. It is clear that in certain areas the Government is not spending taxpayers’ money as wisely as it should. I have never doubted the Government’s ability to spend money, but I do question its ability to spend it correctly and wisely and to get the best value for it. Everything I have seen in the course of the time I have been in the House leads me to question that ability even more.

I realise we will have an opportunity for a fuller debate on the Bill. There is no opposition to it from this side of the House today but there is a need to have a broader discussion on the Government’s lack of ability to properly spend taxpayers’ money and to ensure that fiascoes like PPARS and other issues such as the Kilkenny flood relief scheme are not repeated in future. I will finish on that note.

  Dr. Mansergh: I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. As we go into the Christmas season, the economy has rarely been in better order. Government finances are totally under control and there is full employment and high growth. Of course, there is a variety of threats and dangers on the horizon. That has always been the case and it always will be. However, we are in a better condition than we were in up to a few years ago [704]and also in a better state than most of our partner countries in the European Union.

There is enormous appreciation of the new schools, new hospital wards, new roads and all the other things on which the Government has spent money. Of course there are isolated incidences of waste of expenditure, there always have been and there always will be. I do not believe the Comptroller and Auditor General will ever be made redundant. Lessons have constantly to be learned. I regret the attempt to present a totally distorted picture and to conjure up an image of large amounts of wasteful extravagant expenditure in order to sully the tremendous progress which is appreciated by most people. Our level of expenditure is very much at the lower end, about a third of national wealth, compared with our EU partners. If there is any argument it is a question of whether we should be spending a higher proportion on services. It is the absolute amount rather the relative amounts that count. We will be making a lot of progress on that side.

I give Senator John Paul Phelan notice that when we come to have a fuller debate on this matter, I will have looked up the Comptroller and Auditor General’s reports for 1995, 1996 and 1997 to demonstrate to him that there is nothing extraordinary about what the Comptroller and Auditor General has reported on this year or last year. He made the same type of reports and found the same type of scandals, if one wishes to call them that, during the period when Senator Phelan’s party was in office. This is an integral part of Government. The Comptroller and Auditor General is doing his job and the Government is doing its job.

  Mr. Treacy: I thank both Senator John Paul Phelan and Senator Mansergh for their respective support on behalf of their parties and the House for the Bill before us. I very much endorse what Senator Mansergh said. Senator John Paul Phelan referred to the flood relief measures on the River Nore in Kilkenny. Complaints were made by people who felt the salmon should be protected. The fisheries people tried to deal with that as best they could. I have not studied this issue nor do I have the expertise in this field to draw any conclusions on the matter but from my observations it would appear many agents were involved to ensure the project continued and to get the extra funding that was required. I hope the matter is resolved at this stage.

  Mr. J. Phelan: It is not.

  Mr. Treacy: Senator Phelan referred to PPARS in particular. Senator Mansergh put his finger on it — PPARS is one particular project and its whole purpose is to create an umbrella ICT archi[705]tecture that will have the capacity to absorb the totality of the management of all of the health services in the Republic of Ireland from an ICT point of view so that we can bring much more efficiency to the delivery of those services. PPARS has been a model——

  Mr. J. Phelan: Of disaster.

  Mr. Treacy: ——of success in the biggest hospital in the country, St. James’s in Dublin, but I accept it has had serious problems elsewhere. It is a complex, multi-purpose, multi-functional system and I hope the problems can be resolved as it evolves because there is not much point spending money, either capital or current, on the delivery of permanent structures or ongoing services if the result will be a write-off that will not continue with the best value for money in the delivery of those services. I hope PPARS can be resolved in the interests of the taxpayer because of the large sum of money that has already been expended on it. I also hope that when financial historians and economists come to do an analysis of the investment that has been made in a decade or so that they will conclude that the initial purpose was good and that the final conclusion was correct.

This is an important Bill which enables us to use our funds in the best way possible and that we can conclude the Votes in the most legal and constitutionally correct way that is required by both Oireachtas Éireann and the Government. I am grateful to the House for its support for this important legislation, which it will get an opportunity to debate in the new year. I thank the Cathaoirleach and all the Members of the House, the Clerk, the staff and everybody associated with the House for their tremendous courtesy and outstanding work, and for the way they ensure this House makes a major contribution to the development of both political and parliamentary democracy on the island of Ireland. I wish a very happy Christmas and wonderful new year to all.

  An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

  Dr. Mansergh: Now.