I have a little balm for the Minister. Since the last day in respect of one of the cases in which I had a most unfortunate experience, the private firm in question rang me up and told me the delay was entirely theirs and not that of CIE. Therefore, ventilation in the House provides at least that slight solace for the Minister. However, we adjourned on the last occasion with the Minister still going to see his colleague, the Minister for Finance, to discuss the question of the tabling of specific contracts. I notice in the Order Paper to-day there is no reference to such tabling. Therefore, before we proceed further on the section, it might be advantageous to the House if we heard what the Minister's present view on the subject is.
State Guarantees (Transport) Bill, 1962 —Committee Stage (Resumed)
I have given careful consideration to the suggestion by Deputy Sweetman that the contract between CIE and General Motors should be appended to this Bill or alternatively laid on the Table of the House. I can find no grounds for the assertion by the Deputy that this would be in accordance with normal practice. The precedents he quoted did not refer to commercial contracts —one was an agreement between the Minister for Agriculture and the owners of Johnstown Castle for the taking over of the Castle as a gift to the State; the other related to an agreement about rents between the Dublin Artisans Dwellings Company Ltd. and their Tenants Association which was being given legal effect by the Rents Restriction Act, 1960. I am aware of no precedent for scheduling to a Bill or tabling in the House a commercial contract between a State body and a private company. Moreover, similar contracts made between Government departments and private companies are always treated as confidential and successive Governments have refused for obvious reasons of public policy to publish such documents or disclose details of them.
The House is not being asked to ratify a specific contract between CIE and General Motors Corporation. If Deputies will look at Section 2 of the Bill, they will find that in the first place they are being asked to empower the Minister for Finance to guarantee contracts entered into by CIE and in the second place, to empower the Minister for Finance to guarantee this particular contract. As I explained on the Second Stage, the reason for including this special provision was that the Government, in order to enable CIE to avail themselves of the attractive terms offered, undertook to provide the necessary guarantee, subject to the enactment of legislation. Having anticipated the general authority of the Oireachtas to give such guarantees, the Government considered it only courtesy to the House to seek their special retrospective sanction for the authorisation by the Minister for Finance in respect of this particular contract.
It is not strictly necessary to do so at all and I am advised that the Bill would be entirely effective, even if subsection (2) of Section 2 were deleted. If the Dáil preferred, I would be willing to delete subsection (2) of Section 2 and to move an amendment to that effect on Report Stage. There is no question of scheduling future contracts which may be guaranteed under this provision or of laying them on the Table of the House. Particulars of the guarantees will be reported annually to the Oireachtas as provided for in Section 6 and this is the normal provision of the kind.
As I said, the object of the Bill is to give certain powers to the Minister for Finance to be exercised in his discretion and to give him, so to speak, covering sanction in the case in which he has already made a commitment in principle. It is no object of the Bill to obtain Dáil approval for the contract. The reason why CIE, with the encouragement and approval of the Government, decided to acquire these locomotives on the instalment terms offered was not, as insinuated by Deputy Browne, that they could not otherwise get the money. It was because the terms were so advantageous, being better than those on which CIE can raise money at home. These terms are so advantageous because I understand the transaction qualifies in the United States for special export credit financing and this is also the reason why the Government guarantee is required.
The merits of the contract do not arise. The contract was entered into by the Board of CIE on their sole responsibility under the powers conferred on them by the Transport Act, 1950.
On a point of order, is the Minister entitled to read a statement to the House?
On what ground?
It is a practice, when the Minister is making an important statement, that he is entitled to read the manuscript. When a Minister has to make a statement of importance, it is the usual practice that he is entitled to read it.
Is it not also understood and accepted by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges that when Ministers read such a statement, they will go through the normal courtesy of furnishing a copy of it for Deputies who are interested——
It is not in the report——
The Parliamentary Secretary, I may say, gave that undertaking on the Minister's behalf.
But not in relation to this specific statement.
The Minister for Transport and Power is transgressing the undertaking that was given.
I did not mean to transgress any custom——
We shall acquit the Minister of deliberate intent to transgress the undertaking. However, sometimes it is impossible to follow a statement which is read, at the speed at which a statement can be read, compared with a speech. Therefore, the other arrangement was come to, within the past year. The channel of communication between the Parliamentary Secretary and his Government seems to have fallen down.
CIE did not seek or receive any official approval of this contract. I have not myself seen the contract nor the seven other tenders received by the Board and I do not propose to see them. What CIE sought and were given was an assurance that the necessary guarantee would be forthcoming to enable them to secure the very advantageous financial terms offered. It is the giving of that assurance to CIE that the House is being asked to endorse, not the terms of the contract nor the technical design of the locomotives, nor the arrangements for maintaining them, all of which are the sole responsibility of the Board of CIE, entrusted to them by enactment of this House.
Neither I, nor my Department, see or approve contracts entered into by CIE, though they are, of course, open to inspection by the auditors of CIE in due course. Indeed, if affairs were ever to reach a stage where I considered it necessary or desirable that contracts entered into by the Board should be submitted for official inspection or approval, I would obviously have lost confidence in the Board and should seek their replacement. I have not lost confidence in the Board or their Chairman. They are, despite much unfair and misinformed criticism from both inside and outside this House, carrying out a very difficult and thankless job. They stand to make no private gain from pursuing the policy they have determined on and in which they are guided by a sense of public duty and the specific directives laid down by this House in the relevant statutes. I can only describe as mean and unworthy many of the attacks which have been made on them and their Chairman.
As regards Deputy Dr. Browne's innuendoes about the technical specifications of the diesel locomotives, I must again point out that these matters are the sole responsibility of CIE. Under the legislation, I have no function unless it were established that CIE are operating these locomotives in a manner which contravenes safety regulations. This is not the case and the matter does not, in any case, arise on this Bill.
I am not interested in the sermon the Minister chooses to read. However, apart from that, he made one concrete suggestion. He thinks it might be preferable to drop subsection (2) altogether. Personally, my view is that when a contract is named in a Bill, it must be made available to the people concerned with the enactment of that Bill.
I remember other occasions, in addition to the two I mentioned the other day, when the principle was negotiated and accepted after some discussion on both sides of the House. My reaction, frankly, is that it would be better to drop subsection (2) altogether than to have the subsection without the contract being tabled. I propose to consider that between now and Report Stage and to deal with the matter either by way of amendment to the section on Report, leaving the contract in, or by the method the Minister has suggested, deleting subsection (2).
The Minister was asked questions on Section 2 the last day. As reported at Column 2928 of the Official Report of Thursday, 19th July, 1962, I asked the Minister to clarify to the House whether he had power under the Transport Acts to disclose certain information that was asked for in this House, and, if he had that power, to disclose that information or, if he had not the power, to let us know. The Minister comes in here today and reads out a statement that was prepared for him no doubt by some of the gentlemen in CIE who have been under criticism here.
On a point of order, I should like to ask whether it is permissible to suggest that the officers of the Board prepared a speech for me. In fact, it is not the case. This is part of the continuous propaganda against the Board of CIE, which I reject. Nothing of the kind was done at all. What I have said today is entirely my responsibility. It was done in consultation with the Department of Finance, preserving the position in future in relation to State companies.
If the Minister had furnished us with a copy of the speech which he read, we might more easily have been able to determine the author.
Does the Deputy insinuate that it was given to me by CIE?
I am saying the Minister did not carry out the undertaking given in relation to the circulation of copies of speeches. If any misunderstandings arise because he did not do so, he has only himself to blame.
I gather the Deputy is not insinuating——
The Deputy is insinuating anything he likes.
The Minister made it quite clear that he will use this important speech, which he has just read and of which none of us has a copy, as a means of attacking Deputies for daring to suggest that information should be made available to the public. The sum involved in this measure is six million dollars. When Deputies ask questions as to the expenditure of that money on locomotives, surely it is not the Minister's function to come in here and to criticise the Deputies for asking for information on matters which every man in the street is anxious to know about? Have we reached the stage in this democratic institution that it is an offence now for public representatives to query the expenditure of public money?
Not alone are Deputies criticised by the Minister for their interest in the expenditure of money but they are criticised for even suggesting that the present set up as regards State companies in general is unsatisfactory. They are criticised for daring to suggest that the Minister and his appointees, the directors on the Board of CIE, are not doing their job in the public interest.
This has reference to guarantees in respect of certain moneys and whether the Minister should guarantee them. Surely we cannot drag officials into such things?
The Minister dragged them in. He spent from five to seven minutes reading a statement in which he sought to suggest that there was a halo around the head of every director in CIE and that Deputies who criticised them in regard to this request——
That is not what the Minister said.
On a point of order, I made no reference——
That is not a point of order, either.
That is a point of explanation.
I made a statement in relation to what the practice should be in the scheduling of contracts in relation to Government Bills which provide for State guarantees and nothing more. If we start discussing the relations of all State companies and their directors, we could be here for days on end. It would be better if we discussed these things on the Estimate for the Department of Transport and Power.
I am trying to point out to the Deputy that the only thing that falls for discussion is guarantees in respect of certain moneys payable by the Board. The activities of officials and whether they are competent or incompetent do not fall for discussion on this at all.
Are you suggesting——
Do not ask the Chair what it is suggesting. I am giving you my direction that the only matter that falls for discussion on this section is what I have set out. I am not suggesting anything beyond giving my ruling on what falls for discussion.
I do not dispute your ruling, Sir. It is on the point of disorder raised by this excuse for a Minister——
I am endeavouring to put Deputy McQuillan on the right track. I hope he will continue on it.
It is appropriate at this stage because we are dealing with locomotives. I maintain I have been on the right track all along.
The only matters that fall for discussion are guarantees of moneys to be expended by the Board——
This House is being asked by the Minister to guarantee a State body in connection with the expenditure of six million dollars on the purchase of locomotives. I maintain it is my duty and my right in this House to question the expenditure of the guarantee that the Minister requests for this semi-State body. It is a fundamental right of a Deputy to be in a position to question the right to guarantee it or the wisdom of guaranteeing it and to discuss, in the long run, whether or not the case put forward by the Minister in requesting the guarantee is strong enough to sway the House. That is all I want to get clear on. Arising out of the sum which the House is asked to guarantee, it would be no harm for us to consider that the Minister's action and his attitude in this House since this section came under discussion has done more to harm and discredit first-class State bodies or semi-State bodies than anything I have heard in a long time.
He has failed to disclose what, in my opinion, is information that should be made available to the House. He has sought to suggest that he is not in a position to disclose it. As on other occasions, he has hidden behind sections and provisions of the Transport Act. I have here to-day a letter from you, Sir, in which you tell me that it is with great regret—as usual—that you find you cannot allow a question to the Minister for Transport and Power regarding the agent who placed the contract and the firms who were asked to tender for the supply of the diesel electric locomotives for CIE. "The Ceann Comhairle states that the Minister has no official responsibility for these matters"—that is what the Ceann Comhairle says. The Minister comes in to-day and proceeds to give certain information in the form of a written statement to the House, information that would not have been made available, were it not for the fact that last week a number of Deputies, including Deputy Dr. Browne in particular, taught the Minister a lesson in Parliamentary democracy and forced him, as a result of their criticisms, to come forward and give information which is of interest to the public.
Is the Deputy speaking to the section?
I kept a close watch on the Minister during the debate the other day and at one stage when he was being cross-examined on a number of points arising out of expenditure under this section, he was, in my opinion, about to give the information, only he was advised officially to do otherwise.
The Deputy is certainly not dealing with the section. He is endeavouring to ramble over the whole field of the administration of CIE. I cannot allow him to do that. He must stick to the section and deal with the section.
This is the only section of importance in the Bill. The whole discussion arises on this section. I do not intend to speak again. This is the kernel of the whole matter. If we have a situation arising that the House can be asked to guarantee the expenditure of £2,000,000 and put no questions, the questions of contracts, the question of the agents who placed the contracts, the question of other firms who were asked to tender, do not arise at all and the public have no right to information about money which they are asked to raise or guarantee. That would appear to me to be the position that has arisen here. All I can say to the Minister is that I hope he will have another look at this situation which obtains regarding the liaison or the understanding that exists between himself and CIE.
The Minister the other day spent quite a considerable amount of time referring me to the Taoiseach's speech when I asked him, on this particular section, to explain the situation as to why he could not give more detailed figures and information about the way this money raised under this guarantee was going to be expended. He said: "I would refer the Deputy to the statement made by the Taoiseach to the Institute of Public Administration on the powers and liberties of State bodies." That is no answer to the public or to me when the Minister is asked to give a straight answer. When a Deputy asks a question of that nature, there is no use referring him to a speech made six or eight months ago, or two years ago, as the case happens to be, by a Taoiseach or any other member of the Government. For the Minister's information, in that particular speech the Taoiseach made it quite clear that if there was a demand in this House for closer co-operation and collaboration between members of this House and a State body, he was prepared to examine such a suggestion carefully. If such a suggestion had been adopted, I do not think we would have today the trouble which the Minister has brought on himself, as far as CIE is concerned. There is, in my opinion, a feeling of contempt amongst the Government-appointed directors for this House. When the Minister in this House——
The Deputy is endeavouring to discuss general CIE administration on this section. It does not fall for discussion on this section.
The only thing about it is——
I have allowed the Deputy a great deal of latitude but he has not begun to discuss the section.
I appreciate your latitude, Sir. I just felt that when the sum of money is of such magnitude it was not inappropriate to point out to the Minister that if certain suggestions made from time to time over the years in this House had been adopted this long discussion on the guaranteeing of £2,000,000 would not have taken place. All I can say at this stage is that I will wait for a further opportunity to deal with the wider aspects of the policy of the Government and of CIE as far as railways are concerned.
I should like the Minister now, before this section is put to the House, to let us know whether it is a fact that he has no authority as Minister to ask CIE for the name of the agent who placed the contract. Has he the power to find out also what the position was in regard to the other companies who might be interested in tendering? Has the Minister power to request CIE to give that information? I know he has told a number of Deputies, including myself and Deputy Dr. Browne, to apply direct to CIE, to Dr Andrews and the directors, for information which he will not give in this House. What are Deputies to do if they apply to the Chairman of CIE——
The Deputy should get back to the section or sit down.
I did not know that you had given up your position as Ceann Comhairle, Sir.
Sometimes I feel like doing it.
I can sympathise with you, Sir. I did not think we had reached the stage where someone with a Fascist mentality like Deputy Booth would be allowed to take the Chair. The position at the moment is that neither the Minister nor the Chairman of CIE will give what is, in our opinion, information that should be disclosed to the public with regard to the expenditure of the money for which the guarantee is being made available.
I have ruled that the section should be discussed.
Precisely. I understand that. I understood that I was discussing the section, and I do not think it is fair that the Chair should be criticised in that fashion by Deputy Booth who spends so little time in the House.
Do not talk drivel; do not talk tripe. The Deputy is playing for time. When will Deputy Dr. Browne be in? What time is he due?
I am beginning to wonder whether the questions which Deputy Booth has put down on the Order Paper to the Minister for Defence are going to his head. He has nothing to say when serious matters in this connection are under discussion, and he comes in to interrupt a debate in which he evidently has no intention of taking part. Will the Minister give the information which was asked for a half a dozen times last Thursday? Will he state who the agents are, and what is the situation in regard to the other firms who would be interested in the contract? Is he or is he not going to make that information available to the House?
I think everyone in the country except the Deputy knows who the agents for General Motors are. Under the 1950 and the 1958 Acts, I have not got the power to ask CIE who the agents are for any particular company. I would consider this matter in a different way, and I hope my successor would. If a position were reached where I felt it was desirable to make a serious inquiry in regard to the giving of any particular contract, I would unfortunately have lost confidence in the Board and in the chairman of the company and I would have begun to make serious inquiries into the management of the company. I am glad to say that that situation has not arisen as far as I can recall in the whole history of the State.
So far as asking questions and receiving information are concerned, I would ask Deputies to read statements I made at the conclusion of the debate on the Estimate for my Department last year and at the commencement and conclusion of the special debate on the report of CIE. They will get there a very fair indication of what I feel is the kind of information which is useful to the House, which it is essential that they should have for discussion in relation to the general operations of State companies.
My successor may perhaps go a little further or he may not go as far, but there is no law which prescribes precisely the personal attitude of the Minister towards Deputies in relation to State companies. A tradition has been built up that State companies should be able to operate without day-to-day interference from the Minister and without political interference. In relation to this transaction and in relation to State companies, I have given a great deal of information to the House at all times. But there comes a point where serious interference with the day-to-day operations of particular State companies begins. We would then start creating precedents which would inevitably involve political interference or interference on behalf of the interests of one group or the interests of another. If we start interfering, we may be quite sure that we will not get satisfactory directors for the board; we will not get a satisfactory chairman and we will not even get satisfactory higher executives. The directors of State companies want to feel that they are working on a commercial basis and free from interference of a political kind.
Is this subsection (2)?
I take it we will be entitled to take the same line?
Volumes have been written on this. That is my answer to the question of whether or not sufficient information has been given.
The door is fairly wide open now.
As I say, if Deputies read back over the debates, they will find sufficient information on which to judge the performance of the various State companies, and particularly they will find that ample information was given in the last debate on CIE on which they can judge the wisdom or otherwise of seeing that the 1958 Act continues to remain on the Statute Book. They will see that quite sufficient information was given in that regard during that debate.
The Minister amazes me by his statement. You, Sir, very properly ruled that Deputy McQuillan was completely out of order. The Minister then gets up and replies to the statements which Deputy McQuillan should not have made and which he should not have taken cognisance of, according to your ruling. The Minister starts off with not a word about the section but tells us what he said in the debate on his Estimate.
I took it that the Minister was answering questions as to his attitude towards State companies or bodies, of which CIE is a very important one.
You are very generous, Sir, or else you are hard of hearing on one side. What the Minister really dealt with in reply to Deputy McQuillan was his Estimate, and that Deputy McQuillan should not have been so ungentlemanly as to ask the questions he did. You had already ruled that they were not in order and that they were not debatable. The Minister opened up the whole thing again. What I want to get at is the section itself.
Clearly, the section is one in which we do two things. We give the Minister power to go security for various sums and in subsection (2):
Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, the Minister may guarantee, in such form and manner and on such terms and conditions as he thinks fit, the due payment by the Board to the General Motors Corporation.
I submit he had already the power he wants to do that in subsection (1) and that he does not need this subsection at all.
Having got this power, he now brings to the House details of a specific transaction, plus the name of a firm, and then he will not tell us what the contract is with that firm. Neither will he put it on the Table of the House, but he wants to make the House a party to this contract of CIE so that at a future date no one of us will be able to say he was wrong because the Minister will be able to reply: "You gave me this power and you did not even push it to a division." That is what would happen if we gave the Minister this power without his giving us all the information we require. All we want is that a copy of the contract be placed in the Library together with information as to who the agents are as well as the company itself.
The Minister very blandly tells us that everybody knows who the agents of General Motors are. I suppose certain people in this town do but I knock about quite a bit and I regret to say I do not. That may be my fault, but surely when we ask the Minister who the agents are, confessing that we do not know, the least the Minister should say is: "Everybody knows the agents are so and so". Accordingly, the Minister would be well advised to take out the subsection or, alternatively, give us the information we have asked for. Only in those circumstances would we consider what we should do.
The Minister has raised the very much wider question of State companies in general and not merely in relation to the particular section we are discussing. Nobody will for a moment suggest it is not a vexed and difficult problem, but when we are considering State companies here we nearly always start out on the wrong foot. The classic examples of State companies are to be found in Scandinavia—Norway, Sweden and, I think, Finland. They have set a pattern of their own in this respect. In Sweden and Norway the capital investment programme of the State company and the funds for that are not formulated by the State company itself but by Parliament. The money is paid to the company out of Parliamentary funds and it is on that Vote that the capital investments of the State companies concerned are debated in Parliament.
We must also know that in relation to the whole Scandinavian concept of the control of State companies it is against a background of an economic form of public administration, particularly in Sweden, where every journalist has the right to go into any civil service office at any time and demand to see any file for the purpose of finding out what is taking place. It is for the civil servant to rebut the journalist's claim that there are grounds why the file should be shown to the Press. It is, of course, the complete reverse of what has been built up here and we must, therefore, when discussing State companies—here I disagree completely with the Taoiseach's published address in Studies— have regard to the position in Scandinavia where the journalist has the absolute right to look at the files. In Scandinavia it is the journalist's right that must be challenged. When the Minister endeavours to put on record that the facts and views in this respect are far from being the unilateral ones he has expressed, when he agrees that, in fact, there are very wide differences of opinion——
I agree with the Deputy.
——between people generally holding different views——
I said I agreed with the Deputy.
I do not want the Minister, having put his views on record, to say, when somebody gets up afterwards, that the thing can be seen in the records of the House—that we did not challenge the approach to this matter. In Scandinavia this type of capital investment would be discussed by Parliament because the funds would be made available by Parliament itself. In relation to this section I feel very strongly that once you put a contract into a Bill, once it is named in the Bill, if we permit the Bill to go through in that shape, hereafter we will be told, if anything goes wrong with the company, that we had accepted the contract in the Bill. It is the responsibility and the discretion of the Minister in accordance with the appropriate procedure in the State Guarantees Act.
I do not agree with the Minister that it is not his responsibility to make certain investigations into the activities of a State-sponsored body before he gives his imprimature to a guarantee. He must be satisfied there is need for such a contract before he guarantees it and the fact that the Minister said here he did not make any such inquiries about a contract means he has not done his duty as a Minister. Although I feel strongly that this is a rotten Government, still when the Government are there they are the people to exercise the administrative powers under subsection (1) and as long as they ask the Dáil for the authority to exercise those powers they are asking for what is a proper and executive power for the Government. Under this section they are trying to part with their responsibility elsewhere.
I am quite willing to have subsection (1) of the section withdrawn.
It must have been put in for a reason.
I want to make it clear that the Deputy seems to have misinterpreted what I said. I did not say I had made no inquiries in respect to the circumstances under which this contract arose.
The Minister has himself to blame for not having sent us a copy of the speech he read.
In relation to capital demands, we naturally examined in the Department the whole of the dieselisation programme of CIE and their general programme for the improvement of their stock, stations and so on. What we did examine was whether, from the standpoints of the Capital Budget and the commitments of the State now and in future, this particular method of financing this contract was one which was favourable to CIE and favourable to the Minister for Finance at the same time. We decided it was and we then decided that this kind of contract was a good one, but we left to CIE the discretion of entering into the contract and the terms of the contract because, as I have said already, no Minister before me and, I should think, no Minister after me unless the rules have changed, discusses or debates with State companies the circumstances of individual contracts with individual firms.
The Minister has said that what he submitted to the House was a peculiar statement. When he so describes it, there is little point in any of us contradicting him. If the Minister had come here and said: "I want security from this House to the tune of £2,000,000 to enable CIE to purchase locomotives" there might have been some justification for the failure to disclose the type of information for which he has been asked in various questions here for weeks past concerning the type of locomotives involved, the number of firms asked to tender, the reasons why a particular firm received the contract and further questions of that nature arising out of the decision to buy locomotives from General Motors.
The Minister changed the whole concept of the relationship between CIE as a State body and its work with this House and the Minister by that very sentence, namely: "I want the House to endorse a particular transaction with General Motors." When the House is being asked to endorse one specific deal on behalf of the community I do not think it is for me to suggest that the members of the House should be furnished with full information——
Around we go again. We have had this ten times.
It has been answered already.
——on the firms, whether French, British or German, interested in the sale of locomotives to us. The Minister has sought to suggest that that type of information could not be made available because it would then be a question of entering into the day-to-day administration of CIE but who sought to enter into it? Was it not the Minister himself who came to the House and asked the House to intervene by suggesting we give the signature of this House as a guarantee to enable CIE to purchase so many locomotives from General Motors? Was not that asking the House to move into the arena of the day-to-day affairs of CIE?
The Deputy has repeated himself three times.
I have not spoken on this issue before.
The Deputy has— endless repetition.
Am I entitled to speak, or is this fascist Deputy to be allowed to prevent other Deputies from speaking——
I am communist, not fascist.
The Deputy will not be accepted in that camp, either.
The Minister threw this door right open and repeated the one thing four times. He left it open to Deputy McQuillan or anybody else to reply to what he said.
The Minister is not at a chamber of commerce dinner now where he has a number of people listening to him who may be dependent on him for State grants. He is here to listen to the public representatives——
On the Bill.
And whether he likes it or not, until such time as this House is satisfied, we shall insist on the right to speak and extract from a dictatorial little Government the information the public are entitled to have. The Minister himself, because of his approach, is responsible for any interference with CIE on a day-to-day basis that may have taken place in the House into the affairs of CIE. It was his own attitude that is responsible; his impertinence and the impertinence of the Board of CIE in sending in an ill-thought out measure of this nature and saying to the Deputies: "We want your endorsement so that CIE can purchase from General Motors."
Up to this, whenever a question of expenditure was involved in CIE or any other State company, the House was asked, perhaps, as follows: "We want the sum of £2,000,000, or backing for the expenditure of £2,000,000, to enable CIE to buy equipment." Deputies had always been precluded from inquiring into the number of tenders, whether it was the highest or lowest tender that was accepted and precluded generally from interfering simply because we had no responsibility for the placing of a particular contract. Instead we came here and were dependent on what the Minister described as a feeling of confidence which this House had in the directors of the different boards but in this case the Minister has come here at the behest of CIE and suggests that "CIE want backing to the tune of £2,000,000 to buy locomotives from General Motors and we want Dáil Éireann to give an undertaking that they will back this business deal." At the same time the Minister says: "I am not going to give you any information as to whether there were German, French or British firms interested in this contract——
Or Russian ones.
We were given no information as to the agent who placed this contract. What does the Minister think this House is? I let him know the position in Britain where we have State bodies and State railways. It is the members of the British House of Commons who are in a position to send for the members of the Board of the British Transport Company and interview them and the officials of that Board must obey the instructions of their MPs and come to a meeting and discuss whatever is requested of them.
In this country the position is that Deputies who are now decorating the back bench of Fianna Fáil are small boys in the eyes of officials whom this House appoints. Deputies have been refused admission to the presence of the Chairman of CIE——
On a point of order, is the Deputy in order in discussing all these other matters that are not in the Bill?
The Deputy must relate his remarks to the section, as amended.
I am sure the Chair is grateful for the lead it is getting from Deputy Booth.
The Deputy said that before. I dare the Deputy to talk about the Bill without repeating himself.
The only thing I have to say to the Deputy is that if he were to go out and reorganise his little empire outside this House to face the Common Market, he would be better employed.
A very big empire.
I shall discuss it outside the House with the Deputy, if he wishes. I shall discuss his activities here, if he wants me to. If he wants to draw me at this stage, I am quite prepared to answer.
The Deputy should shut up or talk sense; that is all.
I am making the Deputy a fair offer. The Minister, in his last intervention here, said: "I shall judge the type of information which I think should be disclosed to the House in connection with CIE." The Minister is going to decide that while he is in that position, he will give to the House certain types of information about CIE but it is quite possible that another Minister who might replace him—and that is not outside the bounds of possibility— might have a different outlook and say: "Deputies are entitled to this information which Deputy Childers would not give". Is that not a very unsatisfactory state of affairs? Surely it must be laid down clearly in the various Acts passed here what information a Minister is bound to give to Deputies? It does not matter in those circumstances whether it is Deputy Childers, Deputy Booth or any other Deputy in the Fianna Fáil Party who happens to be Minister——
On a point of order, Sir, the Deputy has already referred to the ruling——
The Deputy is not Minister yet.
——of the Chair that the questions he is repeatedly putting here are out of order as they are not the responsibility of the Minister.
I shall ignore Deputy Booth. We must get a decision from the Minister as to exactly what powers he has to enable him to disclose to the House the fullest possible information on the points raised.
The Chair has told the Deputy already.
For the information of the Deputy, I want to be reasonable. I have not adverted to this particular point previously. I did mention the position in relation to State bodies in general, and I was ruled out of order. I accept the ruling of the Chair on that. I have not got a satisfactory answer from the Minister on this point. The House is being asked to stand security for CIE so that a sum of six million dollars can be expended on the purchase of locomotives from General Motors. Is that action on the part of the Minister not asking the House to move into the day-to-day administration of CIE and to assume responsibility for the expenditure of money? If this House is to assume responsibility for the expenditure of six million dollars on the purchase of locomotives from General Motors, surely the House is entitled to know, first, whether the locomotives already purchased were safe and, if they were not, what changes have taken place in them? Surely we are entitled to ask if it is a fact that first-class terms were available from other suppliers of locomotives in different countries? Why could that information not be given when we are asked to affix the seal of this House to this purchase? Is the Minister, even at this late stage, going to act the little dictator and say: "I refuse to make this information available. I do not think Deputies are entitled to it. I think that I, as Minister, and CIE are entitled to ride roughshod over the public in the matter of giving information in this House on the expenditure of public money". The Minister would help to shorten the discussion by now giving us the name of the agent who placed the contract and the names of the firms who were asked to tender. Will he answer those two questions at this stage? We know we cannot get them through the normal procedure of Parliamentary Question.
I was not going to intervene but I feel I must. When the Minister was introducing the Bill, he said—I can quote from memory—that diesel engines were profitable on the long haul. I asked him where were these long hauls on the CIE system. I also asked him if diesel engines were profitable on long hauls, did that mean they were unprofitable on short hauls. The Minister did not answer me when I asked him was it better for us to make good steam engines at Inchicore or import engines from the United States, Great Britain or Germany.
I also asked the Minister if he were sure that on the short hauls diesel engines were more economic than steam engines. I asked him how the diesel engines measured up to the steam engines in the matter of maintenance. I asked him was it true that the diesel engines required a great deal of expensive maintenance. I understand that a horde of very costly technicans must be employed to keep them running, and they are not able to run them successfully. I also asked the Minister what was the record of these wonderful diesel engines so far as time keeping was concerned.
I answered the Deputy all these questions on the Second Stage.
The Minister did not answer the question about time keeping. They are not running to time.
It is a miracle when trains come in on time.
The Deputy must not have read the debate.
I want to tell the Minister something about the experience of people who live in an area served by a short haul railway line, the Waterford-Tramore line. This was before the Minister's time and, perhaps, before Dr. Andrews's time. On this short haul the steam locomotive was able to haul 2,000 people at a time and get them out in 20 minutes. Then we got an up-to-date diesel train. As a matter of fact, we got two. We could shift only 600 passengers with these wonderful trains and it took 15 minutes to get them out. Even with the 600 in 15 minutes, we were able to take more than 500,000 people the last time that line was allowed to operate.
None of the Minister's minions at Kingsbridge would listen to the local people. A deputation was received and I had to listen to a young buck asking me what experience I had of transport. What experience had he? I had 40 years' experience of being a fare-paying passenger on public transport. This fellow never had been on public transport in his life except as a free passenger.
What has this got to do with Section 2 of the Bill?
This has to do with diesel engines on which we are expending six million dollars. I want to support what Deputy McQuillan has said.
The Deputy must relate his remarks to the section, as amended, which deals with the purchase of diesel engines.
I am dealing with that.
The Deputy is explaining about other types of locomotives.
They put the diesel engines on the Tramore line in place of the steam engines. I am telling you what happened. Instead of being able to take 2,000 people in 20 minutes, they were able to take 600 in 15 minutes. If the Minister thinks that is progress, I should like him to say so.
Now they have done away with the steam engines and they have put buses on the roads. These are not able to keep up the services. Yesterday I was looking at people who had to wait up to 40 minutes for a bus and all that has been caused by putting diesel engines on lines that were paying, on short-haul lines. I cannot say whether it would pay to have diesels on the long-haul lines between Dublin and Cork but there are short-haul lines all over the country and it looks now as if they are being threatened and that they are going to cut away more of the railway. The whole cause of this is the introduction of the diesel engine. It is supposed to be a short haul from Waterford to Dungarvan and then on to Mallow but the Minister is going to cut that lifeline.
We will not let him do it.
We will not let him do it, if we can help it, but this Minister can be fast off the mark and it might be done in a vindictive and spiteful way. If they made the decision to do it next Saturday, they might be smashing down the bridges and tearing up the lines on Monday morning. We have had experience of that already in Waterford. There was to be a children's outing to Tramore today, sponsored by the Mayor of Waterford, and they could not bring any more than 500 children there on this wonderful system. The Minister and these great experts of his had no use for the railway we had there. These experts were hauled off the bogs and dragged up to Kingsbridge and they became experts overnight. They could tell us then that diesel trains would run better than steam engines. They were so happy about getting a job that they became experts in it overnight.
As provided by Section 2 of the Bill.
I am speaking on Section 2 and I do not know if it is an advantage to the House to have Deputy Booth endeavouring to usurp your function as Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Sir.
Deputy Booth is entitled to his opinion.
I am entitled to my opinion also but when I interrupt anybody, I am called to order, and rightly so.
On Section 2.
Let us hear Deputy Lynch on Section 2.
If he can remember what is in Section 2.
Deputy Lynch can remember that there used to be a fireman on these steam engines and that they were built in Inchicore.
There is nothing in the section about steam engines or firemen.
I am pointing out that there were firemen on the steam engines——
The Deputy may not discuss the whole day-to-day administration of CIE on this section.
When you say that you break our hearts because this is the only chance we will have to deal with these day-to-day matters.
There is always the Estimate.
The Estimate that never came.
It will come.
It will come in October. That is the Kathleen Mavourneen system.
You have wasted so much time in which it might have been dealt with.
Where was Deputy Booth when the Bill for the fluoridation of water supplies was going through?
Surely that does not arise?
Deputy Booth interrupted me and I replied to him.
Are you playing for time, too?
I would never have to play for time on a matter such as this. I feel so strongly on it that I do not have to play for time. This is now late in the month of July and if that restriction were not on me, I could keep on talking to the Minister about the evils he has brought on transport and power in this country. I am glad to see that this is only Section 2 of the Bill and I will be heard on it again. I should like the Minister to point out to us how these diesel engines are going to pay on the short hauls.
Perhaps the Minister would care to intervene to answer my questions?
I have already answered all the questions that appeared to me to be reasonable and I made quite clear the mind of the Minister with regard to this section of the Bill. In my introductory statement, I gave some general information with regard to the Bill. I said that I was duly satisfied that the contract was entered into according to the established practice of CIE; that tenders were sought; and that they made their decision on the proper basis. I also told Deputy Lynch that I was satisfied that diesel engines were more economic for long and short-haul runs than steam engines. I would make a rough estimate that if there had been no diesel engines and no intensified sales campaign by CIE, the loss for 1961-1962 would not be £1,600,000 but something over £3,000,000.
The Minister has stated that he is going to be the judge of the type of information that should be given to Deputies in connection with the purchase of these locomotives from General Motors. The Minister has admitted that there are at least two different viewpoints about the functions and the powers of State and semi-State bodies and that there are at least two different views as to the amount of control which should be exercised by this House over such bodies.
That has nothing to do with Section 2 of the Bill.
Is it unfair to ask the Minister to take into consideration the fact that there may be two different viewpoints about the amount of information which should be disclosed in this House? It is on that basis that I am asking the Minister not to act here as the great know-all but to act in a much more humble way and give information to Deputies who are not as well armed with information as he is, information on a subject on which he has been queried so many times in Questions.
He has stated that a Bill of this nature asking for £2,000,000 for CIE is a common occurrence in this House and that similar Bills in connection with other State bodies have come into this House in the past. I refer the Minister to his remarks here the last day at column 2909 of the Official Report of 19th July, 1962, when he said:
I reject the attitude of Deputy Dr. Browne towards this whole transaction. Enormous purchases have been undertaken by State companies, the ultimate responsibility being left on the State company for the choice of material or equipment. If one were to have this kind of discussion in regard to one hundred million pounds' worth of equipment purchased by a great board such as the ESB since they started, we could have an interminable debate.
Why should we not?
That is the Minister for Transport and Power explaining what he thinks is the foundation of the case he makes for CIE. This House was not told where the equipment purchased by the ESB was being purchased. We were not told whether it was X, Y or Z companies who would act as agents. We were not asked to approve of one or the other. We were not asked to decide the type of equipment, the expenditure of the moneys involved, or the countries which would supply the equipment. We were simply asked to give the financial accommodation, to act as a backer, to give a guarantee so that the ESB could purchase the equipment wherever it wanted. The measure we are discussing here now is a measure to give specific authority to CIE to purchase $6,000,000 worth of locomotives through General Motors. Is there not a distinct difference in the type of approach here?
I have suggested we withdraw that subsection so that the Deputy will be satisfied that there will, therefore, be no mention of General Motors.
Surely the Minister does not think we are all so innocent in this House as to believe that, because a subsection is withdrawn, the implication is not there in the actual section itself.
If it was all right in the case of the ESB, why worry about CIE?
Because that was not the position with the ESB. Under no circumstances did the Minister come in here and say: "I want a guarantee from this House to back the ESB in the purchase of electrical equipment from such and such a firm in Sweden or such and such a firm in America". That was never done.
There is no difference in the world.
Read subsection (2).
Is it a fact that Deputy Booth is the agent involved?
Read subsection (2).
Indeed I am not the agent involved.
Am I to be allowed to speak? The trouble is that a great many people have long memories. A great many people remember the smell that attached to railway shares. A great many people know there was a good deal of trickery.
The Deputy should not go back too far.
Deputies know there was a great deal of trickery in relation to railway shares and we know close friends of the present Government who made hay while the sun shone. We want the public now to be satisfied that there is no longer a smell attaching to the shares of CIE. That is one of the reasons why we want to know who the agent is in this particular section.
Is there an agent at all?
The Minister should tell us that. If Deputy Booth does not know, surely, as a Dublin Deputy, he has some sense, and would like to know.
I do not know.
Does the Deputy know whether or not there is an agent?
The Deputy does not mind the expenditure of six million dollars of public money. He does not mind how it is spent—he does not give two hoots.
Is it in the amount or the principle the Deputy is interested?
In which is the Deputy interested?
I am interested in the principle.
I am glad to hear that. I know Deputy Colley is a young Deputy and he has not so far had some of the integrity rubbed off him that other Deputies have had rubbed off them.
Talk sense, or sit down.
Deputy Booth is usurping the function of the Chair. As I have said here before, it is often a wise move to count ten in this House when there is a Deputy like Deputy Booth in it because one might otherwise say things that one might possibly feel sorry for later. At times, I feel sorry for Deputy Booth. I want to know why all the secrecy? Deputy Booth is not worried as to whether or not there is an agent. He says he does not know if there is. Evidently, he is not any more interested than a great many other members of his Party as to whether or not other firms were asked to tender. He is not interested in finding out, even on behalf of his constituents, the names of the other firms who may have been asked to tender for the supply of locomotives to CIE.
Yet he is quite prepared to give the Minister the backing of this House for a guarantee for the purchase of the locomotives through General Motors, and he wants no more information about the transaction. He is quite satisfied everything is above board. I do not know; everything may be above board. I assume that, with the responsible element in Fianna Fáil, that is the case. But that does not take away from the fact that there is imposed on members of this House a duty to extract the last ounce of essential information to which the public are entitled. I do not know of any other way in which the community, the taxpayer and the ratepayer have an opportunity of getting the information they need and for which they now ask in relation to this expenditure.
They have never asked for it.
The only way they can ask for it is through their public representatives.
They have not asked for it.
There is no good in an ordinary member of the public writing to Dr. Andrews: "Dear Dr. Andrews, Would you ever let me know on what you are spending the £2,000,000?" Is it not a fact that if such a letter went in to CIE, it is doubtful if the person who wrote would get even the courtesy of an acknowledgment? Is it not a fact that when Deputies, who are alleged to represent the public and who are presumed to carry some weight, write to CIE for information on the very matter we are discussing, the purchase of these locomotives, the Chairman writes back and says: "I am afraid I cannot give you that information"? Further, is it not a fact that when Deputies come in here and ask the Minister, the alleged boss of the Chairman of CIE to give the information, the Minister says: "I have no power to do so"? Where is the general public to get the information then? Are they not entitled to know how their money will be spent?
The Deputy has said that about ten times.
He has repeated.
There is no harm to repeat it. It is a strong point. We know the type of answer the Minister gives when he replies to questions here in relation to State-sponsored bodies. This is the only opportunity we have. It is no harm to repeat it.
It may be no harm, but it is not in accordance with the rules of this House.
It is a strong point. We know the manner in which this House is treated when members seek information in relation to State-sponsored bodies, and particularly this State-sponsored body.
Deputy McQuillan is in possession, not Deputy Murphy.
Under no circumstances do I wish to repeat and, I would ask you, sir, to extend your patience a little further, should I happen to repeat myself in order to bring out one or two particular points. The first is that, if there is a demand by Deputies for information as to who the agent is in connection with this sale, and the names of the other firms or companies asked to tender for the supply of the locomotives, and that information is not forthcoming, surely the public will take the view that this House is discredited and no longer represents public opinion. Are we not as Deputies doing a disservice to ourselves as public representatives?
Is it not a fact that the Deputies who are not giving full thought to the implications of this are leaving themselves open to the possibility that the public can say: "What is the use of electing these people to the Dáil at all? Is it not a fact that they are only messenger boys to Departments? Is it not a fact that the officials who are appointed to a company like CIE can tell the Deputies, `You have no authority whatever, even though you represent the people, to get this information'."? The public will say that this House has discredited itself.
The Deputy has said that at least four times. He should cease repeating himself. The Chair has been very lenient.
I hope the Chair is not siding with the Minister in trying to put an end to the debate.
The Chair is not siding with the Minister or with the Deputy. The Chair is trying to keep the Deputy from repeating himself, as he has been doing.
I want information from the Minister and, even though it may be very painful to members of this House to sit here, I can, if I wish, go through the Minister's speech and keep well within the rules of procedure, as you happen to know, if I want to do that. But I have no intention of delaying the House. I want the Minister to answer two specific questions: Who is the agent involved where this sum of 6,000,000 dollars is concerned and, second, what are the names of the other firms asked to tender for the supply of locomotives? The Minister is not getting this measure in so far as I am personally concerned until he gives that information. Otherwise, the public, who are not used to the technical ramifications of debates in this House and that "under subsection (d) of Section 5 the Minister cannot disclose the information," will ask, "What is all the secrecy about?"
If the Minister had come in here and, on the basis as I first suggested, asked for a backing for CIE of 6,000,000 dollars as a blanket purchase, without giving any information, there would have been some sense in his approach. He did not do that. I object, and I am sure even in Fianna Fáil there are Deputies who will object, to allowing our names to be used as having sanctioned a transaction with a particular firm without knowing the names of the other firms also asked to tender. Is it an unreasonable proposition that the people who are responsible on behalf of the public who are asked to guarantee this expenditure should know the names of the other firms? Why should we merely be told that it is General Motors that got the contract and be prevented from knowing the names of the firms who were unsuccessful?
Round and round and round and round we go.
The Deputy should go back and try his luck in the Common Market. He would be much better occupied than engaging here in irresponsible interruptions. We know the expenditure of £2,000,000 of public money means little to a Deputy and a company which has been protected for years here by public money and who has been subsidised up to his two eyes up to the present to keep his inefficient company going.
The House is not discussing Deputy Booth or his activities. Section 2, as amended, is under discussion.
It is a pity we are not.
Sit down, for pity's sake.
I should like the Minister to take the opportunity provided for him in this House to answer questions. Otherwise, he will sit here for quite a while.
I do not wish to hold up the House longer than it is being held up but there are a few things which should be said. We have heard a good deal of talk about the principles involved here, as, for instance, the obligations on a Deputy to question the expenditure of public money. Deputy MacEoin mentioned that in his view the Minister was endeavouring to implicate the members of the House in a transaction which might turn out to be doubtful, so that nobody could complain about it. Nobody seems to have adverted to what the Minister, in fact, said, that was, that subsection (1) would permit him to do exactly what he is asking to do in subsection (2), that he introduced subsection (2) merely as a courtesy to the House because these commitments had been entered into subject to the enactment of legislation. The Minister went further and said——
You do not believe it was out of courtesy to the House?
The Minister went further and said that if Deputies would feel happier about it he would withdraw subsection (2).
I have offered to do so.
All this talk has taken place and I will tell you why, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It does not suit certain Deputies to listen to that offer because they want to go on and on and on about things which they know cannot within the rules of order be discussed here and they know also that any State body, if it is to be operated in any normal way, cannot be subjected to scrutiny in this House in its day-to-day workings. If Deputies paid any attention to what the Minister said and paid attention to his offer and were logical in their arguments they would say: "Right. Withdraw subsection (2) and that means we do not have to complain about these various things" but nobody said: "We will accept your offer" because it did not suit Deputies to do so. It is time that it was pointed out to the House that that is what is going on.
The Deputy has deliberately misinformed himself. If the Minister is taking this out he should have said so specifically. He should have said that he withdrew the section. He did not. He said: "If it would suit Deputies" but he did not say he was doing it.
I was waiting for Deputy Sweetman to come back because he had not made up his mind whether he wanted the Report Stage tomorrow or today to discuss this matter.
The Report Stage was always going to be tomorrow. I have already an amendment in on Report. I am sure the Minister has been told about it.
If the Minister says he is withdrawing it and if the Deputy can speak for the Minister——
I said the Minister offered to withdraw it.
I am in possession.
I am circulating the amendment immediately for discussion on Report Stage tomorrow, if that will satisfy the Deputy.
And I am still in possession. If the Minister wishes to reply when I have finished, he may do so. The Minister says he will withdraw this. Of course, if that is so, the plain truth is that it never should have been put in. Why was it put in? Why has the time of the House been taken up with it? Why was this printed? Why was so much time lost if the provision was not of some value? The Minister, when he now withdraws it, should tell us why he put it in, in the first instance.
He put it in for the specific reasons I have told the House here, that he wanted to commit Deputy Booth as well as Deputy MacEoin to this contract that he has entered into, or that CIE has entered into.
That is my opinion. Deputy Booth can get up and express a different opinion, if he wishes.
It is not what the Minister said.
Is the Minister infallible?
If the Minister is withdrawing it, he should do so formally without saying that if somebody desires or if it pleases Deputies, he will withdraw it.
I agree with Deputy McQuillan that we should have detailed information in relation to this purchase. The Minister has no authority whatsoever to guarantee State money without the approval of this House. If he had such authority, I am very sure, being the type of Minister he is, he would not bother to ask us. Does he expect this House to approve of the expenditure of more than £2,000,000 without detailed particulars as to how that money is expended? We have not got these detailed particulars here. I may say en passant, that it is, indeed, peculiar that this Bill has been brought before the House at all having regard to the action of the Minister and of the State-sponsored CIE in removing the main bulk of branch lines.
It is quite evident that the Minister and CIE have made mistakes in the past, have made serious blunders. We as members of this House must be cautious that they are not making a mistake in this deal. What did the Minister say in the House last year? On one occasion he told us he was assured by Dr. Andrews and the CIE Board that we were quite safe until 1964, that if the Tramore line, the West Cork line and the Clare line were wiped out, CIE would be solvent until 1964 and there was no danger of any move being made to close further lines. Did the Minister not make that quite clear here in the House? Did Dr. Andrews and the Board of CIE not make it quite clear?
The closing of branch lines is not relevant.
It is relevant in this way. I am asking the Minister for detailed information and I am pointing out that both the Minister and CIE have made mistakes in the past. I am recalling some of these mistakes, big blunders, to my mind, for instance, that persons such as the Minister and Dr. Andrews should make statements that there would be no further closures of branch lines until 1964. That statement was made in 1961.
The Deputy may not discuss the closing of branch lines on this Bill.
I did not intend to do so but at the same time, I think it was relevant. This House is being asked to guarantee 6,145,330 United States dollars and that guarantee may have to be honoured. How do we know CIE will not make further blunders, thus being unable from their own resources to pay this money? They have been subsidised by this House over a number of years and, despite what is in the Transport Act of 1958, there is a likelihood that they will have to be subsidised again. Is that the reason we have this further closure of lines?
What any business executive would be entitled to know how CIE or the Minister went about the purchase of these engines. Did they insert advertisements in the newspapers in America, Germany or any other country selling this type of equipment, and ask for tenders, or did they, as is alleged here, get some of their agents to go to America to buy these engines and cut others out of it? Did that happen? We do not know whether it did or not. The Minister is the person to give us the information.
I gave it. The Deputy was out of the House.
I was present.
The Deputy was not present when I gave the information.
I was present during portion of the debate.
The Deputy was not present when I gave the information.
In any case, I have read the reports. We want to know here how many persons or companies tendered for these engines.
I gave that information.
What was the nature of the competition? Who carried out the work on behalf of CIE? Was it Dr. Andrews himself, or was it some agent, or was it some friend of the Minister or of the Government?
Is the Deputy alleging that I had any part in this transaction, directly or indirectly? Is he accusing me of corruption?
I am not making an allegation beyond this, that, in the absence of information, we cannot say what has happened.
The Minister has given up importing tar, I suppose?
The Minister is the only person who can clear the air in this matter. He must take this House into his confidence. Neither he nor the Government have any power or entitlement to guarantee money without the approval of this House. The Minister has to bear in mind that he is Minister in a Party who have not a majority in this House. It was quite all right for the Minister when he was discussing CIE matters a few years ago in this House. He had a majority then and he was quite safe in the knowledge that if a vote were taken, he would win. However, that majority is not in existence at the present time and he will have to change the dictatorial manner in which he has treated this House in the past.
I do not want to delay the House but I want detailed particulars from the Minister as to how CIE came about purchasing these engines. Did the Board consult the Minister? Did they ask him about this guarantee or did he, as Minister for Transport and Power, make any suggestions to CIE as to the best course to adopt to ensure that the equipment was purchased at the lowest possible price? It has often been announced by the Chair that the Minister for Transport and Power has no function in the day-to-day affairs of CIE. Numerous questions which I addressed to the Minister for Transport and Power have been disallowed by the Chair, on the ground that the Minister was not responsible for the day-to-day activities of CIE, the day-to-day activities of the ESB, or the day-to-day activities of other State bodies. In fact, at one time I addressed a question to the Taoiseach asking if the Minister for Transport and Power had any functions at all because whenever a question was addressed to him, he told us it was a matter for the Board. It is evident that he has functions, so far as Section 2 is concerned. He cannot deny that and he should give us the information we seek in order to ensure that there will be no behind-the-scenes talk about this matter and that everything is above board.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,
That bell should ring until the Deputies are inside the Chamber. The Clerk is not entitled to stop ringing it.
When 20 Deputies are inside the enclosure, then there is a House.
I accept that, but before 20 Deputies were inside, the Clerk stopped ringing the bell.
The Deputy should not make charges against officials of the House.
As this is the Committee Stage, the Minister might like to give us the information we have sought before we proceed further with the discussion.
I have nothing more to say on this matter, except that I propose on Report Stage to withdraw the subsection which gives the name of the firm from whom the equipment is being purchased. I have already at great length answered the questions of Deputy Murphy in so far as I am able or think it proper to do so.
What are the Minister's reasons for withdrawing the subsection? Is it because he thought he was giving the House too much information?
The Deputy was not in the House unfortunately——
I am in the House more often than the Minister.
He was not in the House for this debate.
I was in the House for portion of the debate.
He was not in the House when this matter arose and when I stated that the subsection mentioning the name of the contractor was put in more or less as a courtesy to the House. If it troubles Deputy Sweetman, Deputy MacEoin and other members of the Fine Gael Party that we should put in a subsection which clearly indicates the name of a specific firm without actually scheduling the section as part of the Bill, I am prepared to believe that might create a very awkward precedent in relation to future contracts of this kind and that it would be best therefore to delete that subsection and simply to enable the Minister for Finance to guarantee a sum of money for purchases made under these special conditions.
That will mean that the Bill, if enacted, would be of no different character from many others where money is guaranteed to State companies and where there is no question of the Minister of the day giving details in regard to contracts entered into, giving the names of the firms that were not successful in regard to any contract, or giving the names of the agents for the firms in this country. The Bill will, then, be one of many measures of a similar kind where no one in the House ever thought of asking for such information. On that basis, I am accepting the suggestion of Deputy Sweetman, so we need have no further controversy on this matter.
I have complete and absolute confidence in the Chairman and the whole board of CIE. I am confident that there is absolutely nothing whatever underhand in the arduous work they are undertaking in this country. The Chairman and the Board are jointly responsible for contracts, as in the case of other State companies.
The conduct of their operations is entirely satisfactory, as far as I am concerned. I deprecate the suggestions and the criticisms impugning the character, particularly of the Chairman of CIE who is not able to answer for himself in this House. The Board of CIE are acting under legislation passed by this House at various times. I believe they are acting with a full sense of responsibility.
Any charges made against any individual member of the board or against the Chairman should, in fact, be made against me who am responsible and against the Government who are responsible for the general appointment of the Board. It will be quite impossible to get good men to act as directors on boards if they are to be attacked individually or by name in this House. I am quite sure, however, responsible Deputies will agree with me in regard to that matter.
I have no objection to Deputies criticising me and my conduct as Minister for Transport and Power, or to their criticising the Government for their overall responsibility for State companies. Let us, however, not criticise men who are not able to answer. Deputies would be setting a very serious precedent. I have answered all the questions that have been asked which seemed to me to be relevant to this debate. I am proposing, as I have said, on the Report Stage, to eliminate the subsection referred to and so to get us out of a difficulty which, I agree with Deputy Sweetman, might cause us some problems in the future.
Has the Minister concluded his lecture?
He will give us another one in a few minutes' time.
The Minister is feeling he should not give us this information at all. He feels that we should have got no details such as the few details set out in subsection (2). He told us as well that the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Sweetman, agrees with him. I do not know whether or not that is the case, but I think it is the view from these benches, and it is my personal view, that we do not agree with that type of procedure.
One would think, by the Minister, that he was taking us all very closely into his confidence and giving us some deep secrets so far as CIE are concerned. He is doing nothing of the kind. Is every member of this House, who is a member of a local authority, not aware that these questions arise from time to time at local authority meetings when, say, the local authority would require money to purchase equipment such as we propose here? In scarcely no instance would it amount to the sum of money involved here.
Would the members of the local authority not get, as of right, particulars as to the number of contracts, as to the other prices, as to the steps taken to secure the best value for money, as to the steps taken to ensure that the project was publicly advertised and that all people or all firms selling the type of equipment were quite well aware of the requirements of the council?
Are we to assume from the attitude of the Minister for Transport and Power, in relation to this Bill, that we should be satisfied to give him a blank cheque to guarantee a State-sponsored body such as CIE more than £2,000,000 without getting the information which we require? Is that not the reason why we come from Cork, Donegal, Mayo Meath, and from every other county in the country, to inquire into the workings of this House, to inquire as to how our public money is expended, and to ensure that public money will usefully and gainfully be employed to the best advantage? Is that not the reason why this Parliament makes laws and regulations?
There is a law and a regulation by this Parliament which provides that a Minister has no right to guarantee money, such as is being guaranteed under this Bill, without the approval of this House. It is by virtue of that fact that we are here today seeking this information.
I should like to refer to the remarks made by the Minister so far as the Board of CIE are concerned. I think I have never abused the privileges of this House since I became a member by commenting on any person who had not the right of audience within the House. Surely, however, a man such as the Chairman of CIE, or a board such as the Board of CIE, must be coming to that point here? There were occasions in the past when reference was made to the dictatorial attitude of CIE.
Surely the Deputy covered that in his previous speech?
I think, with your indulgence, I am entitled to reply to the Minister's statement, which I think was uncalled for. There was no need at all for it. He assumed we were contributing to this discussion——
The Deputy is not entitled to repeat his speech.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,
I was refuting the Minister's assertion that members are abusing the privileges of this House in making unwarranted attacks on men who are not members of the House. I am sure he was referring to the Chairman of CIE and to the members of the Board. I maintain that no unwarranted attacks were made on any of these people, and no attacks at all. The statements made were completely relevant to this discussion.
It is well known that the majority of the members of this House are very dissatisfied with the courtesy extended to them by the Board of CIE. It would be no harm if the Minister, instead of lecturing us, were to turn his attention to them and give a lecture to the Board of CIE. A State-sponsored body should be courteous and helpful so far as the legitimate requirements of Deputies are concerned in the line of seeking information. It is very unfair for the Minister to sidetrack the issue involved by commenting unnecessarily on alleged abuses of privilege in this House.
It is said that there is never smoke without fire. I think there has been smoke in this House for the past two days and that smoke leaves a question mark in my mind. The Minister must take a lot of responsibility for that. He fanned the fire himself by refusing to answer questions that were asked of him. If there has been trouble about this Bill, the Minister must be practical and realise that the House has a duty. The result of the discussion during the past two days has made me uneasy about the Minister. His conduct in this debate has not filled me with any confidence. Supercilious sermons are not quite good enough. Whatever about the general judgment of CIE in the wider sphere, the position has not been helped by the fact that the Minister has sought to erect this screen more closely around this transaction.
The Minister suggested that Deputy Murphy was not present when he read what has been described as "a peculiar statement". That was no excuse for trying to suggest that Deputy Murphy was not aware of the Minister's attitude all along the line. Four times within the last hour within my hearing, the Minister has delivered a lecture to Deputies to the effect that they were irresponsible for daring to criticise the Chairman or the directors of CIE. The Minister stated that any charges that are to be made should be made against him as Minister and at that stage he stuck out that mighty chest of his and that was the first time I heard the Minister assuming responsibility for the office which he holds. I have been listening to him for a number of years stating that he has no responsibility for this, no responsibility for that and that he would refer the Deputy to CIE for this, or he would refer the Deputy to the ESB for that. While he was doing that, the Ceann Comhairle was preventing Questions from being tabled on the ground that the Minister had no responsibility. I am not criticising——
The Deputy, I take it, is not making a charge against the Chair?
No, I am not.
A statement of fact.
I am emphasising the wonderful courage which the Minister has shown suddenly when he says that "If charges are to be made, let them be made against me", and that he is responsible. I do not think he has the slightest responsibility for running this Department. It has been shown before he is merely a rubber-stamp. Therefore we must criticise somebody. There is no use criticising a rubber-stamp—it is an inanimate object. As far as I can see the Minister is up a siding. He has been shunted up one of these forgotten places where the grass is growing between the tracks, and perhaps derailed, from what we hear.
The Deputy is not keeping on the rails.
The Minister, after a debate which has lasted a few days, comes in and quite casually says: "I am going to drop subsection (2) of Section 2. I am quite satisfied it will meet with Deputy Sweetman's approval." I do not know why suddenly, after the House has been discussing all this secrecy and the lack of co-operation on the part of the Minister and has failed to extract information that should be made available, the Minister should think he can solve his problem by withdrawing a subsection, one young and well-meaning Deputy of his Party having said that the Minister brought in that subsection as a matter of courtesy to Deputies. Is that all that is thought of the standard of intelligence of Deputies, that we can be hoodwinked on this measure? Is it not a question of "a rose by any other name"? The House is debating the matter and we are still being asked to endorse a cheque to CIE for the purchase of locomotives from General Motors. There has been no change in that but the Minister is going to drop the subsection at this stage in order to meet the worries expressed by certain members of the Opposition.
I make the charge that the Minister is irresponsible at this stage and there is no question of the Minister suggesting that it is Dr. Andrews or the directors of CIE that I am attacking. I am criticising the Minister and saying that his attitude towards this House has been one of complete contempt.
The Deputy has made that point on many occasions already.
Yes, but not in relation to the particular point I am discussing, the homily delivered to Deputies on four different occasions. He sought to suggest that what we were doing was attacking individuals of CIE. I want it recorded on this matter that my first interest here is to extract information from the Minister in regard to the sum of six million dollars. If in the course of trying to extract that information, some people's ears or noses are pulled or twigged and some of them get a little rough treatment, then the only person to be blamed is the Minister. If his officials or his appointees feel hurt by the way they have been knocked about in this House, let them place responsibility on the Minister who failed to give the information he was asked for in the House, information which, in the public interest, he should have given.
The question is that Section 2, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
We are going to discuss it on Report Stage. The Minister is putting down an amendment to delete subsection (2)—is that not the position?
I take it the Minister's amendment will be available to-morrow?
The amendment is available now.
I want to be reasonable. I do not want to speak again if the Minister is amending the section and we can have the matter re-examined on Report Stage.
The amendment referred to is ready for distribution.
It is ready for circulation.
It has already been circulated here.
Is Section 4 in the same form as in the normal State Guarantees Bill?
It is, yes.
Is the Minister positive?
Well, Section 4 is self-explanatory.
I know, but is it in the same form as the other sections?
I understood that the position in relation to general guarantees which had to be made good by the Minister for Finance was that those guarantees had to be made good out of voted moneys and they had to come before the House for the purpose of being voted. That is the general pattern in relation to most items of guarantees, the Trade Loans (Guarantee) Act, for example. The Minister will recall that on many occasions Ministers have had to come to the House for the purpose of paying the amount due under the Trade Loans (Guarantee) Acts, where the companies concerned went into liquidation and were not able to meet their commitments.
I think Section 4 and Section 5 taken together follow the exact lines——
They do not follow the line of the Trade Loans (Guarantee) Act and that——
I think they follow the same line as the State Guarantees Act, 1954. It will be seen that the moneys will have to be voted by the Oireachtas.
Will the effect of these sections be that the Central Fund makes good the guarantee and these voted moneys have to be made good to the Central Fund? Is that what the Minister means?
I do not think it is in exactly the same form. What I am worried about is that I think it is all wrong for the House to pass a Bill providing for a guarantee, unless, at the same time, the Government of the day must come back to the House in one form or another, if that guarantee has to be met out of public funds. I do not mind how it is done. It does not matter to me whether it is done by the Central Fund paying the debtor and the Minister for Finance reimbursing the Central Fund. I am satisfied that there must be, without question, a categorical arrangement in respect of any guarantee by the State, not merely in this Bill, that the control of this House over the fiscal arrangements is such that there must be a vote to make good what has to be repaid under the guarantee.
Section 6 (2) of the State Guarantees Act, 1954, is, in actual fact, identical with subsection (2) of this Bill. They are, in fact, identical, so the Deputy can be reassured on that matter.
What guarantee has the Minister that this money will be repaid within the specified period of two years? Has he had consultations with the Board, and were the Board able to give evidence to the effect that they will be in a position to repay the money within the two years provided for in the section?
That might arise on the following section.
It arises on Section 5 which provides that any advances out of the Central Fund shall be repaid to the Minister, with, if the Minister so requires, interest thereon at such rates as the Minister appoints, by the Board within two years from the date of the advance. Has the Minister any evidence that the Board will be in a position to repay the money? As it was pointed out earlier, there is a change in the outlook of the people so far as CIE are concerned.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,
CIE have had to make changes in their plans. They have indicated the closure of a number of branch lines as outlined in this map.
Section 5 deals with the question of repayments.
I am speaking of the capacity of CIE to repay the money.
The Deputy may not discuss the whole administration of CIE on this section which deals with the repayment of loans.
Surely on this section we can discuss the possibility of CIE not being able to repay the loans?
The Deputy may not discuss the closure of branch lines.
I am not discussing the closure of branch lines; I am only referring to them. At present it does not seem that CIE are in good standing. They have had to change their plans and they will make orders, I am sure, in the not too distant future for the closure of branch lines. There has been a change of outlook about CIE and many people feel that the Government should review the entire transport system of the country.
The Deputy may not proceed along those lines. The section deals with the question of repayment of loans.
With all due respect to you, Sir, if you made a loan to a person, would you not consider the possibility——
The Chair does not make loans to anyone.
To put it bluntly, if this House guarantees a loan for two years to somebody such as CIE, is it not entitled to inquire into the circumstances of the borrower and into what the borrower's financial circumstances may be two years hence when the loan is due for repayment?
The Deputy is discussing security for repayment of loans, which would have arisen on Section 3.
With all due respect, I accept your advice, but I do not like to see other people meddling in a matter that does not call for their attention.
I have already pointed out to the Deputy that the section does not deal with the matter to which he is referring.
What are we discussing on this section?
I take it the Deputy is discussing security for loans which might have arisen on Section 3.
It is set out in Section 5 (1) that the loan must be repaid within two years from the date of the advance. Is it not relevant to discuss what may be the financial circumstance of CIE two years hence on that section?
What is relevant then?
It is not for the Chair to advise the Deputy.
I would not like to say that I think the Chair is out of Order.
The Chair is never out of Order.
In the Chair's opinion.
This is the same as the section in the State Guarantees Act, 1954?