Dáil Standing Orders Relative to Public Business.

I move:—

That the Standing Orders of the Dáil relative to Public Business be amended as set out in the Schedule to the Second Report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, dated 19th May, 1943.

Motion agreed to.

I move:—

That the Standing Orders of the Dáil relative to Public Business be reprinted.

It seems to me, Sir, that you got through No. 1 very quickly.

There have been some interruptions, and possibly the Deputy did not hear the decision.

Well, on the second motion, I observe that a recommendation of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges suggests that the time allotted for parliamentary question and answer should be confined to the hour from 3 to 4. I observe that, in the text, there is a discretion left to the Chair to extend the time.

That makes it worse.

I may say that the ordinary time has been 3.30 and it is now extended to 4.

Parliamentary institutions are being attacked pretty widely in the world to-day, and I must confess when I have had to defend these institutions I have found it difficult to maintain that our method of legislating is the most expeditious method, and I have been constrained to say that, while it is true that in the matter of legislative procedure it might be possible to reform our procedure so as to make it more efficacious and more expeditious, I have always held that no person should willingly throw away that defence of personal liberty with which Parliamentary institutions provide us. In that connection, I have often told the story of an important function, in connection with the visit of a very important personage to the island of Fiji, when somebody wanted to interrupt the ceremonials in order to ask the governor a question on some rather trivial matter. The governor felt that that was not the proper place or time to raise that matter, and it was said to him: "But, Sir, if you do not deal with it now a question may be raised in Parliament about it." Now, it seems to me that when, in connection with a remote island, 15,000 miles away from the central government of a great Empire, a question could be raised in Parliament dealing with even trivial matters, that is a guarantee of the preservation of native rights, even in the middle of the jungle, as a result of these parliamentary institutions. The most insignificant person, if he has no money and cannot get to the courts, or if he feels that he has any legitimate grievance, knows that he can come to any one of us and have a question raised in Parliament: that we can pursue that question in Parliament and force the responsible Minister to search his Department and cause the Department to defend itself in the House. That is an immense instrument of human liberty and, indeed, of justice, and I urge on this House most strongly to assent to no amendment of the Standing Orders which will in any way limit Deputies' rights to put Parliamentary questions in the House. I apprehend that if this is permitted, we shall gradually start chiselling away this right, which is naturally an embarrassment to any Executive. The whole tendency of the Executive is to circumscribe this right.

Might I interrupt to state that it is proposed to extend the time from half an hour to an hour—that is to 4 o'clock?

It has been generally accepted that the question of the limitation of time for questions was one that was left in the discretion of the Ceann Comhairle——

——and that was an eminently desirable thing.

Owing to the Dáil meeting rarely, a few years ago, at the request of some Deputies, of whom I think Deputy Dillon was one, the Chair did allow questions to continue to 4 o'clock. Perhaps it would be no harm to say that, largely at the suggestion of the Ceann Comhairle, 4 is put in instead of 3.45, which was suggested in order to give ample time to Deputies. It has never gone beyond 4 o'clock.

In my judgment, the question of the restraint of the right of Deputies to put questions is a matter which ought to be left in the hands of the Ceann Comhairle, because his office commands the respect of every Deputy in the House, and every Deputy feels—even the most defenceless or most isolated Deputy—that he has in the Ceann Comhairle his best defence against an Executive or any other body who might try to silence him. I think that the proper method of dealing with the limitation of time for Parliamentary question and answer would be to leave the matter in the hands of the Ceann Comhairle and I emphasise again that any form of rigidity designed to squeeze out an individual Deputy, whose only recourse is by way of Parliamentary question and answer, is a retrograde step. If the Ceann Comhairle says that this is largely to extend time rather than restrict it, then I shall withdraw my opposition, but I would suggest to the House that at some stage we ought to re-examine this Standing Order and leave that question of the limitation of Parliamentary time in the discretion of the Ceann Comhairle, albeit he may dislike having to accept responsibility for such a discretion. It seems to me that that would be the proper method and it would be a protection for any Deputy against an Executive or a powerful Opposition who might try to limit that time, because the more we are stripped of rights of this kind in connection with Parliamentary government, the more doubtful it becomes if Parliamentary democracy is the best method. So long as you have the method of Parliamentary question, and the right to cross-examine a Minister before the people, there can be no doubt in the minds of rational men that Parliamentary government is a good thing, and therefore the House should bear in mind that this matter of the limitation of time for Parliamentary questions and answers should be vested in the discretion of the Ceann Comhairle.

I take it that the Deputy agrees to motion No. 2?

I do not agree, but I withdraw my opposition temporarily— until after the election.

Motion agreed to.