Order 37 provides that when a Bill is being considered in Committee the Dáil may decide how much time is to be given to the consideration of certain clauses. Then it proceeds to say that when the time so allotted shall have expired if such clause or group of clauses have not already been voted on, the Ceann Comhairle shall, without motion of discussion, put to the Dáil the amendment under discussion, and any other amendment which the Dáil, on a show of hands, without discussion, decides shall be so put. Then it proceeds:—"That when all amendments have been so disposed of, the Ceann Comhairle shall put the clause or clauses concerned to the Dáil. If the time allotted to any clause or group of clauses shall expire at 8.30 o'clock, the Dáil shall continue to sit for the purpose of taking the necessary votes." Now, sir, in the draft of the proposed alterations that I have, there were two amendments designed to leave the thing to the discretion of the Dáil, and to leave the adjournment of the sitting beyond 8.30, equally at the discretion of the Dáil, but only one of those appeared on the motion paper. What I wanted to get in in the sixth line were the words "may in his discretion," instead of "shall." The Ceann Comhairle may consider there has not been sufficient discussion, and he ought to have a discretion; and in the last line but one "if the time allotted to any clause shall expire at 8.30 o'clock," not that "the Dáil shall continue to sit," but "may at its discretion continue to sit." Take the case of yesterday, if we had decided, as I believe we had decided, to take 25 clauses of the Constitution yesterday, if I read this draft Standing Order aright, we should have had to sit through the night to get through those 25 clauses. This clause says when the time allotted to any clause is expired we must go on sitting; therefore, I suggest that if you put "may" instead of "shall" we would get over the difficulty.
REPORT OF STANDING ORDERS COMMITTEE. - ORDER 37.
Ce chuidígheann leis an leas rún?
I second it.
The objection to the first change is that it is not desirable that the Chairman should alter, on his own motion, a thing that had been deliberately decided by the Dáil. That is, if the Dáil deliberately decides to allot a certain time to a clause, it is not desirable that the Chairman should then say he did not think the time had been sufficient. With regard to the other matter, it is not likely to arise that we would be kept until midnight. The object is, I think, that the Dáil would not be compelled to rise at 8.30 and leave the matter undecided until a certain vote had been taken. The Dáil could continue sitting.
When Deputy Gavan Duffy handed in his amendment, I seconded it because I thought it was an attempt to protect the privileges of private Members. I found right through these Orders the conception of the Dáil as of a purely registering Assembly to say "Tá" to everything that the Ministerial leaders propose. Observe the effect of this. Certain wise men are to determine beforehand what is the proper amount of time to allot to the discussion on certain clauses. It is not at all improbable that some members of the Dáil will understand these much better than some Ministers. Yet the Dáil is to be precluded from having any information or enlightenment they might receive from such members, shut out merely because of the pre-determination of whoever was in charge of the carriage of the business of the Dáil, and five or ten minutes less may have been apportioned than was necessary. Everything we are doing is settled by the tyrannical power of the Ministry. We are simply to come here and sit at the feet of certain of our colleagues in the Dáil, and the most we are permitted to do, in effect, is to say "Níl." I think it is a very curious way to impress upon the Irish people that the will of the people is registered here. Why, the views of the outside public cannot make themselves felt here only unless there is some secret sympathy or telepathy between Ministers and them. The thing to be presupposed is this, that those who sit over there are to be exclusively the expression of the people's mind and will, and that all those who sit in these less privileged benches are to sit as in outer darkness, ignored. If you allow the Ceann Comhairle to protect us, we are safe in his protecting hands. I am quite sure that, so long as the present occupant of the office is in the chair, no undue curtailment of our rights will be permitted. But these Orders are setting up a bad precedent for whoever is to come after us. And it would be much better, it seems to me, if we were allowed to debate questions at length or to the length they would require, even if, occasionally, too much time was devoted to one clause. It is like the old prescription for the cure of a toothache, "cut off the head."
It certainly was the feeling of the Standing Orders Committee that private members' rights should be safeguarded and preserved in the Dáil.
But I think that anyone reading the official reports of this Dáil for the past ten days' sitting will have no doubt at all about it, that the rights of private members in discussion have been preserved. The great bulk of these reports are made up of speeches delivered in this Dáil by private members.
That was under the earlier temporary Standing Orders
I wish to say that the feeling in these benches is that we have done more sitting at Deputy Magennis's feet than he has at ours.
I think the idea, if I have it correctly, of the Standing Orders Committee was that private members, who largely outnumber the Ministerial members, might continue the discussion, upon certain clauses, to much the same sort of length as the late Dáil occupied with certain matters. And if that were so, it would be open to half a dozen gentlemen possessed of great lungs, or of great physical strength, to hold up the assembly here at their own sweet will to spite the Ministry, to spite the Dáil. If this particular clause does not suit the Dáil, it is open to us after having experience of it to alter it, and, I take it, the business of the Dáil is the first consideration of private members. If we find the business suffers, we can alter it. No Ministerial direction was given to restrict any rights of private members. I do not, think it is the intention, nor has it been the experience up to this; but at last we must get down to business, and, I think, it was for that purpose that this clause was put up.
The amendment, I suggest, would not in any way go against what the President has said. The second part is, I take it, agreed to, that we are not to be compelled to sit after 8.30 for the purpose of taking the necessary vote. To that, I take it, there is no objection. The other is a matter of reasonableness, that we leave it to the Ceann Comhairle to say whether he shall or shall not, when time is up, permit the discussion to continue. It may have been started only five or ten minutes before.
I would never like to undertake something which I could not adequately perform, and there is a difficulty in the wording of the Clause as amended. The time is first allotted, and after the time is allotted the Ceann Comhairle is asked to say whether the time has been sufficient or not. It puts the Ceann Comhairle, it seems to me, in rather a difficulty, because the time is first fairly allotted, and subsequently the Ceann Comhairle will have to say whether the Dáil was wrong. I would prefer the Dáil to state it was wrong itself. I do not wish to intervene in debates in any way, but as this is a matter which is distinctly left to me, I would like to say how it strikes me.
It appears to me a closure clause of this kind is quite unnecessary until we find a reason for such a clause. I suspect it was put forward in anticipation of something that is not likely to happen on the Constitution Bill; but if we are going to have a closure clause, I do not see how we are going to amend this satisfactorily. The discussion that was spoken of says that, the Dáil having agreed to do certain things, the Speaker shall have discretion and say whether they would be done or not. I do not think that is satisfactory. If we are going to have a clause at all, I do not think that clause can be amended.
I think we will take the amendment to the first part of the clause first, and let the other one come on subsequently.
The Clerk read Order 37, as follows:—"When a Bill is being considered in Committee of the whole Dáil, or is to be so considered, the Dáil may, by resolution, specify the time which shall be given to the consideration of any clause or group of clauses. When, then, the time so allotted shall have expired, if such clause or group of clauses have not already been voted on, the Ceann Comhairle may in his discretion, without motion or discussion, put to the Dáil the amendment under discussion, and any other amendment which the Dáil, on a show of hands, without discussion, shall be so put."
Amendment put and negatived.
The amendment is lost. There is a further amendment in the latter part of the clause.
It is agreed to substitute "may" for "shall."
The remainder of the amendment then read:—"When all amendments have been so disposed of, the Ceann Comhairle shall put the clause or clauses concerned to the Dáil. If the time allotted to any clause or group of clauses shall expire at 8.30 o'clock p.m., the Dáil may continue to sit for the purpose of taking the necessary votes."
If the necessary vote is not taken, what becomes of the clause?
The only purpose would be served of taking votes the next day. I think it would never arise.
The vote could be taken at the subsequent sitting.
When the time allotted has passed?
I suppose it would be a case for the discretion of the Ceann Comhairle.
The word "may" was agreed to.