Committee on Finance. - Agricultural Produce (Cereals) (Amendment) Bill, 1958—Money Resolution.

I move:—

That for the purpose of any Act of the present session to amend and extend the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Acts, 1933 to 1956, to provide for the establishment of a board to dispose of surplus wheat to be known as An Bord Gráin, to provide for the payment of a levy on wheat to An Bord Gráin and to provide for other matters connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise:—

(1) the advance out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof of all moneys from time to time required by the Minister for Agriculture to meet sums which may become payable under any guarantee given by him under such Act,

(2) the charge on and payment out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof of the principal of and interest on any securities issued by the Minister for Finance for the purpose of borrowing under such Act and the expenses incurred in connection with the issue of such securities; and

(3) the payment out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas of any sums which may require to be repaid to the Central Fund in respect of the whole or any part of any moneys advanced by the Minister for Agriculture under a guarantee and remaining outstanding after two years from the date of the advance.

Surely it is carrying the cavalier treatment of this House to an extravagant degree to move a Money Resolution to provide funds wherewith to implement a levy on wheat, the dimensions of which will control the size of the Vote the Minister asks the House to pass? If the Minister says: "I have bound myself to provide this information within the next 14 days but I shall not give it to the Dáil; I shall not take the decision until the Dáil has adjourned but I shall ask the Dáil to vote me an unascertained sum of money to finance my decision, whatever it may be", he can do that and force it through the House so long as the Government have an absolute majority. It would be wrong for any Opposition to watch the Minister do that without pointing out the nature of what he is doing.

In my experience, the House has always been ready to facilitate a Government where they sought a Vote on the ground that, at this time, it is not possible, by the exercise of any diligence, to give an accurate estimate of what sum may be appropriated under its general authority. So far as I know, whenever such a situation arose, the Minister has been most scrupulous to say that, at the first available moment, every effort would be made to get the information communicated to the Dáil. Time and again, we have had Votes here on which Ministers have expressed embarrassment that they were not in a position to give a reply, that "it might be £100,000 or £200,000 but it certainly will not exceed such and such a sum, and on that basis we ask the indulgence of the House to give us the necessary authority without the specific information."

I do not think I am doing the Minister an injustice by interpreting his attitude as being that he does not give a damn—if we do not like it, we may lump it. He does not care if there is any discussion; he is quite prepared to leave it as it is. He does not want to challenge any argument; he does not want to meet any inquiry addressed to him, and he accepts no obligation to answer a question put to him by a Deputy. He tells Deputy Crotty: "You may ask questions but I do not have to answer them."

Where is that leading to? Does the Government for a single moment imagine that this Opposition is going to continue to subscribe to this farce of parliamentary procedure? The whole business of parliamentary procedure depends on the acceptance of certain rules on both sides of the House. This whole system of Government depends on the fact that the humblest independent Deputy, representing one quota of voters, can come in here and compel the Taoiseach, the head of the Government, to attend and answer any question he sets down on the Order Paper and if any Minister, from the Taoiseach down to the humblest Parliamentary Secretary, throws his hat in the air and says: "I will not come," then on that day Parliament ceases to function. That is one of the elementary rules which Fianna Fáil have got to learn. Parliamentary Government functions only as a result of all sides accepting certain rules and submitting to certain obligations.

Some of these obligations are very exasperating and it would be very exasperating if a contentious Deputy forced a Minister to come in here night after night, on the Adjournment, but the Minister does it because he knows if he does not, Parliament will not function. I do not deny for a moment that there is nothing in Standing Orders which authorises the Ceann Comhairle to direct a Minister to answer questions put to him, but Deputies should wake up to the fact that Parliament will not work if Ministers will not submit to that discipline. I emphatically agree that if Ministers are to submit to that discipline, members of the Opposition also have a discipline to which they must submit and that is to put reasonable and relevant questions. If they do not, a Minister has no option but to get up and say: "I cannot answer that and I will not answer it because it is neither reasonable nor relevant." It is a fair thing for Deputies to ask themselves are the questions being put to the Minister reasonable inquiries for the proper discussion of the business before the House.

We are considering now a Money Resolution to permit the Minister to do a variety of things. One is to lend money to An Bord Gráin with which to buy wheat. Another is to provide from the Exchequer any sum which the board has not repaid to the Exchequer at the end of two years. These are intimately associated with the actual amount which it is proposed to raise under this Resolution and I do not think I am being disrespectful to the Minister if I say he now knows the information that we have asked him for.

It may be that he is in the position that he is obliged to say: "This matter is a matter for discussion between myself and the Minister for Industry and Commerce and we have not yet agreed on it." I think that is fair enough. The scheme lays down that the determination of the surplus is a matter to be arrived at by him, after consultation with the Minister for Industry and Commerce. That places on him no more than the statutory duty to consult and he then takes the decision. In practice, that usually means agreement between the two Ministers, or referring the issue to the Government for arbitration. If the Minister says: "The matter is under discussion between me and the Minister for Industry and Commerce and we have not agreed as to what the surplus will be and on the basis of that I cannot reach a conclusion as to what the levy will be," I think that is a reasonable answer, more especially if he said that he would inform either this House, or the Seanad, what the decision was, the moment the decision was arrived at.

I want to put it to the Minister that his present attitude simply makes parliamentary procedure unworkable and if persisted in would—and I say this with the fullest sense of responsibility, as somebody who loves Parliament so profoundly and who believes in its vital necessity for individual liberty—make parliamentary procedure impossible in this country. It is appropriate that this Money Resolution should be availed of to deal with one observation which the Minister for Agriculture made. He said that we were eagerly contesting the Money Resolution but that when you looked at the Order Paper you found that we had no amendments to offer for the improvement of the Bill and that that bespoke a lack of diligence on the part of the Opposition. If he inquires from his colleague, the Minister for Finance, he will find that where amendment is appropriate, there is no lack of diligence on our part. I think, if he inquires of the Minister for Justice, he will discover that where amendment of the Solicitors Bill, to assist him to do what he was not fit to do himself, was requisite, there was not a lack of diligence. In fact, there were so many amendments he made up his mind that he could not deal with the Bill in this session.

This is hardly relevant.

This observation has been made by the Minister for Agriculture and I think——

It will arise more appropriately on the Bill than on the Money Resolution.

The Minister made it on the Money Resolution and I want to reply to it quite expressly. I refused on behalf of the Fine Gael Party to put down any amendments to this dirty, fraudulent Bill. This Bill is not susceptible of any improvement. This Bill is a dirty, fraudulent smokescreen for the Minister's subterranean activities which he has not got the courage to conduct in the light of day. I am not going to patch his umbrella, or his mackintosh either, and if he wants to equip himself with a mackintosh and an umbrella and a mask, he cannot blame me if I refuse to put patches on them when they leak, and the wetter he gets in his peregrinations under this umbrella, this mackintosh and sou'wester, the better pleased I shall be. I regard it all as a fraudulent and shameful transaction. If he had come in here and stated openly and plainly what his purpose was, we would have debated it, would have taken a decision upon it, and that would be the end of it. The reason we proposed no amendment to this can be stated simply. You cannot touch tar without smelling of pitch; and we have no desire to acquire that smell from the Minister's Bill. That is why we did not propose amendments.

It is a lazy man's excuse, of course.

Ask the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Justice on that score.

The Minister, to conclude on the Money Resolution.

I will leave it to themselves.

Has the Minister nothing to say?

I have called on the Minister to conclude.

He is not able to conclude.

I would love to be talking to the generals in front of me, but I do not feel like exercising myself to-day.

Is that the depth to which we are sinking? Can one imagine a Minister of an Irish Government saying to Parliament: "I do enjoy talking to the generals there in front of me, but I do not feel energetic to-day." Do you realise what is happening, that a Minister of this country—I do not think, Sir, I am employing an extravagant phrase—elects in the Front Bench of our own Parliament to act the clown, not at our expense but at the expense of Parliament itself?

Can Deputies find fault with youngsters up and down the country who form associations declaring their contempt of Parliament, when they hear a Minister of our own Government, in power, concluding a debate on a Money Resolution by saying: "I enjoy talking to the generals in front of me, but I am just feeling lazy to-day"? It is to me something utterly shocking that two of the senior soldiers of the Army of this country should be held up to the Minister's derision because they held senior rank in our Army. Are we all going mad in Dáil Éireann?

I would point out to Deputy Dillon that the Money Resolution is still before the House.

Did the Leas-Cheann Comhairle hear the Minister's intervention? What are we to do?

We cannot have a debate on the Minister's intervention. The only thing the Chair is concerned with is the Money Resolution.

Yes, and you have heard us address queries to him; and you have heard his answer.

We cannot have a discussion on that.

What does the Leas-Cheann Comhairle suggest Parliament should do when a Minister says, on a Money Resolution, that he is lazy to-day?

That might be the subject of another resolution, but certainly it would not arise on the Money Resolution—not relevantly—and that is what the Chair is concerned with.

It is shocking and incredible.

Question put and declared carried.