There are a few questions which, if the Parliamentary Secretary is prepared to answer at the outset, will shorten considerably what I have to say. For example, if the Parliamentary Secretary would let me know at this stage whether my interpretation of a particular recommendation is correct, there would be no need for me to say anything further in this regard. I am not clear about the position of a private Member. Do the proposed changes mean that a Member, in order to have rights of any worth, must belong to a group consisting of not fewer than seven Members? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary might clarify this point?
Standing Orders: Motion (Resumed).
I am labouring under the difficulty of not having got to bed for more than 30 hours and, more particularly, the difficulty that the Deputy has not referred me to the Order in question. There is no question of cutting down the rights of Private Members. From my recollection, the question of a group arises only in one particular context. In that instance the group is defined as being seven Members of the House. So far as the purposes of that Order are concerned, that is the force of the proposed amendment.
I think it refers to the introducing of a Bill. Does that rule out any Member who does not belong to a group of at least seven Members?
My understanding of it is that the definition of a group is intended to accommodate Deputies who form a very small party or are individually non-aligned. However, there must be not less than seven because otherwise they do not qualify as a group for the purpose of this Order.
Perhaps the Deputy would make his contribution in the ordinary way and allow the Parliamentary Secretary to reply to queries in the ordinary way rather than by question and answer as on a Committee Stage. It is not as if we were in Committee.
I appreciate it is rather unorthodox but so is the situation in which one finds oneself.
With regard to questions that may not be answered by the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply, the Chair will allow Deputy Blaney to put further questions at that stage. We should not proceed by way of question and answer at this stage.
Will there be another opportunity other than today to discuss the pros and cons of this matter as we do on a Committee Stage?
If the Deputy feels aggrieved by any of the amendments the Committee are recommending, perhaps he might write to me and explain his grievance? I will make the best case I can for his point of view at the next meeting of the Committee. I entirely sympathise with the Deputy's situation in the House even though I agree with hardly anything he says.
That was unnecessary, although not unkind.
It is both necessary and kind to make it clear how I stand with regard to Deputy Blaney. The Deputy's situation in the House is a difficult one; he has a point of view which represents a large number of people even though they are thinly scattered and the Rules of the House should accommodate him. I do not wish to be fussy about the matter, but perhaps the Deputy might put in writing his objections and recommendations with regard to the Standing Orders. I will make the best case I can at the next meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I wish to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his offer and I shall avail myself of it. Judging by the contributions in the debate, it appears the House will accept the recommendations. Is it possible there would be any change as a result of my representations if they were in conflict with the recommendations before us?
I can only give the Deputy a purely personal assurance. Perhaps somebody else in my position would not do that, but personally I have sympathy for the Deputy's situation, even though I have no sympathy for most of his viewpoints. I will do my best to accommodate him so far as any voice I have on the Committee is concerned. That is all I am saying.
I accept that. I will comment only on a few matters that seem disturbing not merely because I am an Independent Member in the House. No matter what group a Deputy belongs to, or whether he is attached to any group, he has equal rights so far as the business of the House and participation in that business is concerned. As a representative of many thousands of electors he is entitled to these rights. This principle should be upheld.
Although Members may find it more accommodating to redraft Standing Orders in order to conform with the normal groupings in the House as we have known them during the years, nevertheless there are many Members in all parties who would not wish Standing Orders to curtail the rights of a Member because he does not belong to a party or to a group of six other Members.
I would make the strongest possible plea that neither the House itself nor any Committee should be allowed to curtail the rights of any Deputy. Every Deputy has equal rights which may not be diminished by the wish of a majority in the House, merely because he does not have the strength of a party. A party can say to the Government: "If you do not do it our way we will be most unco-operative" and can usually bargain their way through.
Something that has been a matter of contention here is the practice whereby a Minister makes a statement and only the Leader of the Opposition or a nominated member of the Opposition may make a reply. Scarcely ever did all Members belong to the main Opposition party though they may not have belonged to the Government. Such Members cannot be said to be represented by either a Minister or by the Leader or a nominated member of the Opposition. This is something which should not be allowed to become a Standing Order. By tradition it has come to be given the weight of a Standing Order. This is wrong. I think it was wrong in its application and that is no reflection on the Ceann Comhairle. I do not believe that the review committee or the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which considered the original review committee's recommendations had the right, nor has this House the right, to say that statements may be made by a Member of the Government and replied to by the Leader or a nominated member of the Opposition, clearly implying that nobody else, no matter how much at variance with what is being said, has the right to express his views and put them on record. This is gravely wrong.
The House should not copperfasten this recommendation and make into a Standing Order that which has already been a denial of the rights of individual Deputies unaligned in this House to speak for themselves. Indeed even a member of the Government party or the Opposition may, on a particular issue, find himself totally at variance with the statements being made by both the Minister and the member of the Opposition. Why should that right be denied even to a member of a party whether in Opposition or in Government? Why should it be implicit that if one does not belong to a party and is not represented by either the Leader of the Opposition or the Minister he is relegated to second class citizenship so far as membership of this House is concerned. It is an entirely wrong approach.
There was heretofore, though it was never used to my knowledge and it certainly was never abused, a provision whereby the making of statements by a Government Minister required the consent of the House. In this way I contend it would have been possible for a independent, unaligned Member of the House to stand up and say: "I do not agree that the Minister should be allowed to make a statement unless I am given the right to have some say after the Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have spoken." That is, I understand, now being taken away. While we had built up by precedent or tradition a practice whereby the consent of the House was necessary—I take it that meant the consent of those present in the House before a Minister might make a statement on any given issue, the right of any Member other than the Leader or a nominated member of the Opposition to speak was denied by the Chair. However, I contend that the right of the independent, unaligned Member was still there to insist that he got his way because his consent was required before the Minister could make the statement. As I interpret what is being proposed this will no longer obtain. Therefore, something is being taken away that may seem extraordinary but, which I believe did exist and should have existed. I do not recall it having been used and I can say with honesty, that it has never been abused.
I would have contended that a private Member at any time if present in the House when a statement was sought to be made by a Minister could, if he so wished, object to it being made and his objection could be upheld. That may be an erroneous interpretation on my part but I believe it to have been the situation. I understand those statements originated from perhaps the announcement of national loans. Very obviously this would be followed by a statement from the Opposition benches wishing the loan well, recommending it to the public and giving it a good send-off from the House. I think this is where it began. It came to be the practice that a Minister made a statement with the unanimous approval of the House and that that statement could only be added to or replied to or contributed to by one other, and that obviously the Leader or a nominated member of the Opposition. It excluded a single or half a dozen independents though they might totally disagree with everything that was said in the House and put on the record as apparently representing the views of the House. They were denied the right to refute the views expressed and put their views on the record too.
I feel most strongly about this. I would put to the Parliamentary Secretary, through the Chair, my very strong plea in this matter. This is a recommendation to make it a Standing Order for all time, beyond yea or nay, that nobody, other than the Leader or nominated member of the Opposition, has any right to speak. Even that right, as I understand the recommendation, is watered down to the point where it would be at the discretion of the Chair.
I am not again sure if that is the proper interpretation because between the cross-references from the review committee's report on numbers of recommendations, the Standing Orders themselves, plus the report which is before us I must say, whether it is after last night's long session or not I have found it rather confusing to know what is and is not really proposed to be adopted here.
From what I listened to yesterday I am pretty sure that the position on this matter of statements by Ministers is on the lines I have indicated. If that is so then I strenuously object to it. I hold it is unfair, unjust and, in fact, misleading to have a situation where this House can, through the front bench of the Government of the day, make a statement and put it on record as representing a view, because there is no other contrary view voiced, or at the discretion of the Ceann Comhairle of the time, make a statement either confirming or in contradiction of the ministerial statement that may be put on the record side by side with it but no other view, apparently, will be given any credence whatsoever. Therefore, I say it is unfair and misleading because naturally if only two voices speak, whether they are two points of view on which there may be a legitimate half dozen points of view in regard to some matter or other, they are of one mind.
I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy but in fact my understanding of this proposed new Order is that it is intended to go some distance to meet the very point the Deputy is making, not to destroy the Deputy's rights but to go some distance to protect them. I will explain that when I get a chance to reply.
Fair enough. I only hope that is so, but as I read it and as I try to interpret it it does not seem so to me. As I said the cross-references from one document to another and on to the Standing Order numbers appear to me to show that whatever strength there was in the hands of the Independent has now been taken away and is put beyond a shadow of doubt, out of his reach to have any say in regard to a contrary view to that expressed by a ministerial statement which, as a result, could be said to be misleading. It could be said that he was present and he did not disagree with it. I am glad if the Parliamentary Secretary finds it is in some way the reverse of my interpretation. If that is the case I will be very glad to hear him on it. If it is not he might take another look at it and send it back to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges who might do something about it.
In the informal committee report on the reform of Dáil procedure, as I understand from the further report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, No. 21 is recommended for acceptance and probably will be accepted. This has to do with the fixing of limits of time in debates on Estimates and Financial Resolutions and at a further stage it lays down the actual times and so forth. If each Member of a large party has half an hour or an hour to speak—the intention is to try to put down a sort of filibuster in the House—this means that in a party of 50, if only six or eight Members speak, they give the full views of that party. One cannot really disagree with cutting down filibustering in the House although it is such a time-worn practice I dislike seeing it ruled out entirely. If one hour or half an hour is given to each speaker this may be more than enough for a party, because those who did not speak will know they have been truly represented in everything that has been said by their colleagues who spoke. This is fair enough, but it is not sufficient for Independents.
I hope it does not mean the Deputy will exceed the time limit laid down.
Not unless I should consider a filibuster in order to try to get my way in relation to some of these things as this is possibly the last occasion on which it may be possible to even attempt it. An individual, let it be one Independent or half a dozen Independents, gets one hour or half an hour each, even on a matter of grave importance, while they may have points of view widely different from others in large parties, although it could be said to be very just so far as time is concerned, I feel it is not sufficient.
The Parliamentary Secretary should give further consideration as to whether in fact an application of an equal amount of time to each individual Deputy, regardless of whether he is on his own or one of a party of 50, is fair. Independents should be given consideration. The point of view I hold might be given consideration although it might never need to be used by an Independent. They could perhaps be given a bit more time than Members of parties who, when added up together, would have more hours than they required or wished to utilise. I hope that aspect can be given some consideration as I regard it of some importance.
One change that I understand is also being proposed is that the number of members who may call for a division is being raised from five to ten— recommendation No. 30 of the informal committee's report. What is the reason behind this? It does not often happen that the question of numbers arises and the doubling of the number from five to ten seems to suggest there is some very good reason for it. I have been here with all sorts of mixtures over a quarter of a century and I have seen a large number of Independents, times when we had four or five parties in the House and I know of no reason to believe there was any abuse of calling for a vote merely because the number required, if the Ceann Comhairle required them to stand up, for a division numbered only five. No case has emerged as to why the number should be doubled, as far as I know, and if no case can be made for it, why should the change be made? If a change were to be made, why go from five to ten? What is this intended to achieve or prevent in future when we have no evidence of any abuse at present or in the past arising from the Standing Order that up to now entitled any five Members to get a vote taken on any issue before the House?
There is another group of amendments proposed by the whole Committee regarding the setting up of Special Committees, particularly for taking Committee Stages of Bills as I understand it. That would be dealt with particularly by recommendations 14 and 15 of the report. In regard to that and the further comment made the other day by the Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy Kelly, in regard to Committees set up whether for the purpose of taking Committee Stages of Bills or, as was advocated here, to deal with particularly technical Bills, I would suggest that it should not depend on the decision of a majority of the House or a selection from the parties in the House as to what the composition of such a Committee should be.
If there are to be Special Committees, involving a curtailment of size, as against a Committee of the whole House, to consider particular matters and they are expected to reach agreement and report back, having put the points of view of their respective parties, unless some provision is made if that practice were to grow there would be a further watering down and lessening of the rights of Members of the House, in particular of unaligned Members carrying no strength by way of party tag.
I am not sure how this could be overcome. It struck me that the one way in which this could be avoided if Committees were to be appointed from Government and Opposition parties as such, would be to give independent, unaligned Deputies the right to attend any such Committees and be heard in them if they wished. I do not know if there is any other way. If you think in terms of expediency and representation and if you remember only that you are dealing with parties and not individual, elected Members regardless of party tag, you can and will, I think, lose sight of the principle that I uphold strenuously that each Deputy is as the other in regard to rights. It is vital that this principle should be protected.
On a point of order—I wish to raise the subject matter of Question No. 84 on the Order Paper of Thursday 18th July on the Adjournment.
I shall communicate with the Deputy.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to have another look at the Special Committees or whatever they may be called. Regard should be had to the manner in which non-aligned Members are to have their views represented on such Committees, bearing in mind that if such Members were to become members of all such Committees, this in itself would create a problem—they could not be in two or three places at one time which would, to an extent, curtail the usefulness of such Committees. I am not blind to the difficulties but I am convinced that some way of providing for the attendance at and membership of Special Committees for non-aligned Deputies is a right and not something one might plead for. It is a principle that should not be denied merely because it is more convenient to do it the other way. I know that is so, that if you had no non-aligned people and were dealing only with Whips you could make arrangements more readily.
In response to the Parliamentary Secretary's earlier offer I shall not go into detail on many other matters as I might have done but I shall avail myself of his offer to communicate with him, giving my views on some other matters that are recommended and some that are not and which I might through him, put before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges now that we are trying to update, as has been the intention for the past two or three years, the Standing Orders of this House to make them more workable.
Is there any means whereby last night's performance should not be capable of being repeated? I am speaking about the performance or the scandalous exhibition that was the discussion on the Committee Stage of the Finance Bill. We have now passed the Bill at 9.15 a.m. this morning. That exercise was totally and absolutely unnecessary as was the manner in which it was carried out. Even if it were necessary by virtue of the time that we have had over the last month or so which we could have used usefully on the Bill there was plenty of time next week, or next month, to go through the details.
The Deputy knows the realities of August.
That affects the staff of the House as well as the Members. From what I heard last night I do not doubt for a moment that when the Parliamentary Secretary made that particular interjection with regard to concern for the staff he made it in all good faith.
They would sooner sit up for the night than come back for another week.
The Parliamentary Secretary should have been talking to the range of staff with whom I spoke last night, from the ushers to the waitresses, to the people working through the House. They were not consulted until after a decision had been reached between the Whips at 8 p.m. Even the waitresses in the restaurant did not know until 9 p.m. that many of them would be required through the night.
I will deal with that.
The realities are that if the Parliamentary Secretary is sincere in his concern about the staff and the necessity for getting off next week, he should have had that regard a month ago and we should have sat on days and at hours so that we would have had time to go through the Finance Bill. We had a protracted discussion throughout the night and there was far from sufficient time to discuss every ramification of the Bill.
There was sufficient time if it had been properly used.
I do not agree. I was here last night and I have no doubt that we could have taken three or four full days of any week to discuss the Finance Bill properly and reasonably and without protracting it merely for the sake of protracting the debate or putting the Minister on a spot.
We should forget about the Finance Bill now. It has been disposed of.
It is like a bad dream.
We are discussing the revision of Standing Orders and the recommendations of the Committee. We should not mention the Finance Bill.
Am I not in order while discussing the proposals of the Committee in regard to Standing Orders to do as others have done and discuss what they would not recommend? I am not talking about the Finance Bill. I am merely instancing the situation as regards the Finance Bill as one that should not be capable of happening merely at the whim of one, two or three of the Whips. It should be a matter of gravest importance and of a critical nature which would lead to such a night. You, a Cheann Comhairle, as custodian of the general behaviour of the House should be enshrined somewhere in the Standing Orders so as to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen unnecessarily or for the wrong reasons in the future. I say that with all due regard to everybody. I will say no more about it but it should be considered very thoroughly. It is not a good operation nor one which would commend itself to anybody, even though the Finance Bill has been got through at 9 a.m. this morning. The Bill had to be put to the House without discussion. I take your point, a Cheann Comhairle, about discussion of the Finance Bill. I have no intention of discussing it but I am merely using it as an example of what should not be allowed to happen. I would commend this point to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges with a view to making a Standing Order to prevent such happenings in the future.
Perhaps we may have an opportunity in the near future of talking about further amendments to Standing Orders. I would like to have discussed further details. They have not received attention. That is not really important at the moment. The House is asked to consider the report before it and Deputies to give their views. I have made some cross-references. I am not represented on the reform committee, nor can I have my views expressed on that committee. Nobody represents me on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but by various cross-references and perhaps as a result of last night's long session I may have got over my points. On the other hand, I will take up the offer of the Parliamentary Secretary. It is generous. I take it to mean that I can and will convey my thoughts to him. I will tell him my views in regard to Standing Orders. There are three or four points which need special consideration.
There are a considerable number of points in the report. I would like to comment favourably on the decision to limit speeches in this House. The first time I spoke in this House I said that I never speak for very long. I mentioned that nobody would buy television licences just to watch Question Time. I have waited many times one-and-a-half hours to speak. I remember waiting six-and-a-half hours on one occasion. I am not against any particular person. The speeches may be amusing and we may get "crack" from them but that is not doing the business we are paid to do.
I have been in various organisations all my life. We were always told that we should say as much as we can in as few words as possible. Here the rule seems to be to speak as long as possible and say nothing. I have been here only a short time and I have been disappointed. People may say that I am "cocky" to be talking like this. I am delighted that a limit on speeches is recommended. Anyone who is not able to put his point of view before the House in 45 minutes, if that is the correct time——
That is right.
Anybody who cannot put the point across in 45 minutes is not capable of putting his views across at all.
In my view what happened last night should never have happened when there is serious business to be considered. I am a member of a number of committees. On one of those committees we had a very good chairman and after four hours' discussion he adjourned the meeting because he said that nobody could think clearly after four hours.
The Finance Bill is the most important Bill to go through this House in the year. There were various points I wanted to speak on in the early hours of this morning but I let the opportunities pass because I just did not have the energy to speak. The Dáil met yesterday at 10.30 a.m. and adjourned this morning at 9.15. I admire the Minister and the Fianna Fáil front bench for the way they discussed the Bill here last night, item by item.
They did not succeed in doing that.
I mean that what they did discuss was discussed in detail. Half of the Bill was not discussed at all.
If I remember rightly they discussed up to section 28.
As I was obliged to say earlier, the debate on the Finance Bill is over.
I am sorry if I am delaying the House. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges should have made some recommendations about the ordering of business. We spent a very long time last month discussing subjects which were not as important as the Finance Bill. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that it would be very unfair to expect the staff to stay here another week or even longer.
I recommend that the House adopt the suggestion that speeches should be limited to 45 minutes, because if a man cannot say what he wants to say in 45 minutes he should not be in this House.
That is very hurtful to Deputy Lalor, who spoke for two hours on the Contraceptive Bill.
Some of the Parliamentary Secretary's colleagues spoke for six or seven hours.
It was the best two hours I ever spent. Did I not convince the Taoiseach?
In my short reply I should like to thank the Deputies who contributed to this discussion. I am sorry Deputy Lalor did not contribute, because he is a very important member of the Committee. He is looking very fresh and well this morning, unlike the rest of us, and I hoped we might have heard from him.
I agree with much of what Deputy Callanan said. I may have left him under a misapprehension. It is not now proposed that all speeches should be limited to 45 minutes. This only refers to speeches in Estimate debates. In other words, there is no such proposal in regard to speeches on the Second Stage of a Bill or on a motion.
I wish there was.
This is a valuable restriction which will stop filibustering. I hope it will be recognised that filibustering on Estimates debates can be more advantageous to the Government than to the Opposition because it enables them to carry a debate through and pass the point at which a Vote might be taken at a time when it did not suit them. I hope it will be recognised also that this rule, which the Government absolutely acquiesced in establishing, is one which deprives the Government of a certain measure of flexibility in suiting themselves in regard to the taking of Votes.
Deputy Callanan and Deputy Blaney referred to yesterday's late night sitting. I do not want to be contentious or cantankerous, but it should be understood that it was agreed three weeks ago that the Second Stage of the Finance Bill would be taken on the day or days when it was taken and the remaining Stages would occupy a Tuesday and a long Wednesday sitting. It was never envisaged that there would be any question of sitting all night. That question arose when the progress was very slow on the Committee Stage of the debate. Two hours were spent on the first amendment which was not nearly as important as some of the later material in the Bill. It was because of the snail's pace at the beginning of the Committee Stage that the House was constrained to opt either between sitting into August or have an all night sitting.
I agree with Deputy Callanan and Deputy Blaney that this is not a satisfactory way of doing business. I would like to call the attention of the House, and if it is not disorderly to do so, of the Press and the public, to the fact that the debate last night was unsatisfactory because the Opposition made a horse's collar of it.
I thought the Parliamentary Secretary said he did not want to be contentious.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary inviting comment?
If I had Deputy O'Malley or Deputy Molloy opposite I might moderate my speech a little because I would realise I was inviting trouble. But I know I will not get it from the three Deputies opposite or from Deputy Callanan. I am sure the Deputies will allow me to say, with reasonable good humour, that the Opposition made a horse's collar of the Finance Bill.
If the Parliamentary Secretary insists on leading with his chin he is bound to be hit.
I might duck.
The Deputy might find himself a victim of the trick-o'-the-loop.
An Opposition with a limited amount of time to discuss certain matters ought to parcel out that time sensibly. If, as is true, only one-third of the Finance Bill was discussed last night in Committee, that was not the Government's fault. Many important sections were left undiscussed. I will make the Opposition a present of the information that the section which dealt with the obligation on solicitors to make certain disclosures was a section on which some Members of the Government parties had strong feelings of an unfavourable kind. I am one of them.
I would prefer if we dealt with the matter directly before us—the recommendations of the Committee in respect of Dáil procedure—rather than dwell too long on a measure which has passed through this House.
I respectfully accept the ruling of the Chair. Because this matter was raised by two successive Deputies without any substantial interference from the Chair, I thought I might be allowed to reply. When matters like this are raised, unless they are adequately dealt with from the Government side in reply the idea goes out that the Government, who are blamed for everything, are also to blame for this.
The Government are not to blame for the fact that although something like 35 hours were spent on the Finance Bill, only one-third of it was properly discussed. That was not the Government's fault—that time was recklessly squandered on the earlier sections of the Bill and the later sections, of which I have just given an instance, were not reached at all. For example, the section about which Deputy O'Malley has promised he is going to break the law—the section which he has publicy promised to disobey—was not even reached.
Deputy O.J. Flanagan said the same thing. Let us not be selective.
Let us get back to Standing Orders.
I am sorry; I am not being selective. I did not realise that Deputy O.J. Flanagan had said that, but I accept it, and I think it is a pity the House did not get as far as discussing that section. I believe it perfectly possible that, had it been discussed, the Minister for Finance might have been made to think about it again. The Opposition, by not doing their job and sorting out their time, deprived the people of Ireland——
On a point of order, if we are going to have a discussion on the Finance Bill I think we should all be allowed take part in it.
I sought to ensure that we got back to the item under discussion, Standing Orders. I must say further, in respect of the procedure in relation to the Finance Bill, it was carried out as a result of Resolutions of this House and these decisions should not be reflected upon.
Certainly not by the Whips.
Let there be no further reference to the manner in which the Finance Bill was dealt with in this House. I want now to deal specifically with the report on amended Standing Orders of this House.
If I may go back to what Deputy Blaney said——
On a point of order, I certainly wish to have it conveyed and recorded that I do not subscribe to nor will I accept from the Parliamentary Secretary that I was here last night and during the small hours merely squandering the time of this House. I was here because I was desperately interested.
That is not a point of order.
I am sorry if Deputy Blaney took that as a reflection on him personally. Of course it was not so intended.
We cannot have a rehash of the Finance Bill; it must not be reopened in any fashion. Let us get back to Item No. 11.
I want to deal briefly with some other matters raised by Deputy Blaney and by Deputy O'Malley yesterday. Deputy Blaney said that he hoped membership of Special Committees would include unaligned Members or, in other words —and I hope I am not doing him an injustice if I interpret him as meaning that—if such Committees are formed he would have a chance to serve on them. The relevant Standing Order is No. 73; Special Committees are appointed by the Committee of Selection. I have no doubt that the Committee of Selection would take into account the fact that there are two Independent Deputies in the House and that if either of those Deputies made strong representation that he wished to take part in the work of a Special Committee, it would be considered with a completely open mind. I do not know whether or not that satisfies Deputy Blaney but I completely sympathise with his situation. I accept that it is a special situation; but there is nothing in what is before the House at the moment which would exclude the possibility of the Deputy being asked, invited, or, if he puts himself forward, being accepted for service on a Special Committee.
In the political organisational set-up that constitutes this House, has done and probably will do for some long time to come surely the realities of the situation are that an Independent Deputy has no likelihood of being put on any of these Committees and must go begging, cap in hand, saying: "May I serve on this or that?" rather than as of right.
In reply to what Deputy Blaney has just said, may I take the example of the Special Committee on the Planning Bill which I mentioned when I was speaking here yesterday and which the Opposition—for reasons which seemed to them to be good—did not want to have. If Deputy Blaney was interested in serving on such a committee I can see no reason in the wide world why he should not be given a place on it; none whatsoever.
Except that there is no provision for such; that is the problem.
I agree that there is no automatic provision for the inclusion of Independents but there is no automatic provision for any special inclusion of anyone. If the Deputy looks at the Order, he will find that the composition of these Special Committees is left to the Committee of Selection and it does not say anything about the proportions in which places are to be awarded.
I am talking about realities; not theories.
I must confess that I did not advert to this problem before. If the Deputy is worried about it and sees some solution to it in the shape of an amendment to the Order—and if he will put it in writing to me—I will bring it before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges next time it meets.
Deputy Blaney inquired why the number of Deputies who may call a vote was being raised from five to ten. Frankly, I must say I do not know the reason for that. I am sorry to have to make such an admission to the House. I must have been momentarily absent from the Committee while this Order was under discussion. But I take the reason to be to prevent the Opposition from just leaving a very small or nominal team behind and keeping a Government team there in full strength; in other words, something more than a merely nominal gesture is expected from an Opposition. I take that to be the sense of the proposed new Order—in order to justify the taking of a vote. I may be wrong in that. Perhaps Deputy Lalor knows more about it or remembers more about the discussion, in which case I should be glad to give way to him. But I take that to be the reason.
The question of the length of Estimate speeches was raised also by Deputy Blaney. Obviously he feels that a Deputy in the special position in which he is placed might not have enough time on certain Estimate debates if limited to 45 minutes. All I can say in that respect is that if we legislate, in Standing Orders, for all individual Deputies, we will be in serious difficulty about getting work done expeditiously. Again, taking the matter from the personal perspective of the Deputy, if a particular Estimate were to crop up on which the Deputy —for reasons of his political outlook or the people he represents, whether in his own constituency or elsewhere —felt he was not going to get a fair chance with three quarters of an hour, I, for one, would be very disposed to agree to vary the Order, by agreement of the House, so as to allow him an hour or an hour and a half. I am completely open to the idea that a Deputy who, for reasons good or bad has put himself in a special position, is still a Deputy and deserves consideration. Perhaps the very special nature of his situation intensifies that merit. I cannot really see how the Order could have been drafted in such a way as to make allowance for what Deputy Blaney wants without wrecking the purpose of the Order generally. If the Deputy ever finds himself in the position of wishing to go beyond the three quarters of an hour mark, he will certainly not get opposition from this side of the House. There would be no anxiety to closure him.
The last thing I want to say in regard to Deputy Blaney's contribution is that his interventions here during ministerial statements or statements by the Taoiseach and the reply by Deputy J. Lynch, his attempts here in the teeth of the Ceann Comhairle's ruling to get in on a debate always woke a certain sympathy with me. I do not suppose there is anybody in the House whose political views are farther away from Deputy Blaney's than are mine. But he does represent, not only in his own constituency but elsewhere a thin, but nonetheless perceptible slice of people. I think it far better that he be allowed to speak his point of view in a decorous and seemly fashion in the House than that we should have these unseemly and indecorous shouting matches which are the rule whenever this matter comes up. It was in order to give the Chair a discretion for this very purpose that the new Order has been drafted. It may not be as obvious to the Deputy, but I understood the purpose of that Order to be two-fold: to prevent an individual Deputy from inhibiting a ministerial statement and reply on the one hand and, on the other, to give the Chair a larger discretion than it has, by convention, now in regard to admitting further statements. I hope that is how the Order will work. Perhaps it is disorderly of me to express a view as to how the Chair ought to conduct itself and, if so, I hope I will be forgiven. But I would be glad pensonally if the Order worked out in such a way that we had no more of these unseemly exchanges.
We all have our views on how the Chair should go about its work. I must thank the Parliamentary Secretary for making the ground for me because I have something to say on that before the day is out.
Will the Deputy have a chance of saying it? Is he in possession?
I should be glad if we were to have no more of these unseemly shouting matches in which the Deputy becomes involved with the Chair and if something arises which involves a statement from the Taoiseach and one from Deputy Lynch, I would be glad that Deputy Blaney be given a reasonable opportunity of speaking his mind without having to do so amid the clanging of the bell. That, I thought, was one of the purposes of this Order.
I shall not comment on Deputy Desmond's remarks because to do so would be to rehash a series of ideas with which I am mainly in agreement but I would like to make a few remarks in reply to Deputy O'Malley's response to my opening statement in opposing the adoption of this report.
An unbiased eye, reading a report of what I said here yesterday, would not discern a particle of aggressiveness, of contentiousness or of party feeling; but no sooner had I sat down when, true to form, Deputy O'Malley made a contribution which, while being well argued and well thought out, was sneering and hostile in its tone. Deputy O'Malley would appear to be a cradán who is unable to argue any point except in terms of the argument being a bitter assault on him. Nothing that I said here yesterday could have justified the tone in which he replied. I am sure that that unfortunate aspect of his temperament creates difficulties for him in his dealings with his own party also.
The Deputy went out of his way to ignore deliberately qualifications which I had made very carefully. When mentioning the recommendation in regard to the greater use of Special Committees I did not suggest that the House should be buzzing with Special Committees sitting simultaneously. Of course I take the Deputy's point that a small Parliament from which increasing numbers of Members are being absorbed in outside activities, such as the EEC, cannot service or man a large number of Committees, but I have never suggested that we should be all running around from one Committee to another. All I did was to make the humble and reasonable suggestion that we might try out a committee system on a sample trial Bill. My blood runs cold when I think of the nightmare that is ahead of us in the form of the Committee Stage of the Planning Bill when we shall have the Minister for Local Government here and Deputy Molloy on the other side dealing with 111 amendments.
The original Act of 1963 absorbed three months of parliamentary time on Committee Stage, and might I add that there was no division involved?
I did not realise that. But I shall not at this stage advert to the subject of wasting time.
We had a reasonable Minister for Local Government on the occasion of the last Bill going through.
Perhaps I have not got the stomach for long drawn out Committee Stages.
The reason why the Planning Bill has not been proceeded with since the conclusion of the Second Stage is because it is obvious that it would absorb so much of our time that we would get no other work done. The list of legislation which the Taoiseach read out here six weeks ago and which Deputy Brennan commented would keep us here until September has been largely disposed of. The responsible behaviour on the part of the Opposition has been helpful in that respect but no such progress would have been made had we been dealing with the Planning Bill. I regret that it takes no more than a suggestion from me to turn on Deputy O'Malley's hostility glands, but I hope that the Planning Bill will be dealt with by a Special Committee so that the body of the House may be left free to proceed with other work. However I would regret that that suggestion be turned down merely from a desire, which I thought I detected in Deputy O'Malley's attitude yesterday, not to agree with any suggestion emanating from me.
I think that the Parliamentary Secretary is too thin-skinned for this game.
Perhaps that is so but Deputies must take me as they find me.
Deputy O'Malley chaired the Committee that made those recommendations.
Yes, but subsequently he shot down one of his own recommendations because it did not suit him once he was in opposition.
That was understandable.
Yes, but he was claiming credit yesterday for having chaired the committee concerned.
The Parliamentary Secretary is anxious to have the voting system abolished.
The Parliamentary Secretary, without interruption.
What I want to have abolished are useless, childish votes. Yesterday we were here for the best part of 24 hours and I have lost count of the number of divisions that took place during that period. What was the point in having those votes? While Deputy Lalor had a day off in Offaly, Deputy Browne and I were working like clockwork mice in our endeavours to get people into the lobbies. While we did not come within three or four votes of losing any of the divisions, what difference would it have made had we lost a vote as a result, say, of a Deputy or Deputies being asleep?
When the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to go so far as to abolish votes, why bother to have a Parliament at all?
The Deputy is raising a very big issue which I would be prepared to debate at another time. The system of lobby votes in the way in which they are carried on here is indefensible.
Would the Parliamentary Secretary accept a recommendation to have Deputy Oliver Flanagan act as chairman?
As chairman of what?
Of the Committee that the Parliamentary Secretary is advocating we have instead of Parliament.
We shall talk about that another day.
At least, then, the people would be kept informed of what is going on.
I heard the other day from a gentleman who was the private secretary to a predecessor of mine during the first Coalition of 25 years ago that divisions were very rare events then and that the spectacle of the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach tearing around the House day after day whipping in grown men like sheep into a dipping tank was unknown.
Our Whip never has to do that but the Parliamentary Secretary runs up and down the stairs as if he had ants in his pants. Is it because he does not trust his own side that he does not wish there to be votes?
It is out of no consideration for my own dignity that I complain about this system. Regardless of whether I were Whip my opinion in this respect would be the same. The system is one which is foolish beyond words, and it is no credit to the three gentlemen opposite that their only reaction is to laugh because they are part and parcel of a childish system. When eventually that system is abolished, as it will be, they will have to explain to their grandchildren why they were so abject as to submit to it.
The Parliamentary Secretary is advocating the end of democracy.
Did not Hitler in his early days make a statement similar to that of the Parliamentary Secretary?
Leave Hitler out of this. I am all for democracy.
Let us get back to the Adjournment Debate.
If, by tomorrow, I have recovered from my late night I shall speak on the Adjournment Debate. The idea that this voting system we have is in some way essential to democracy is false and the sustenance and maintenance of it reflects small credit on ladies and gentlemen on all sides of the House.
In response to my suggestion to committing the Planning Bill to a Special Committee, Deputy O'Malley said that he considered this Bill to be totally unsuitable for such treatment. What is so unsuitable about it? He said that the large number of Deputies who wished to contribute to it would not be facilitated by having a Committee in some hole or corner of the building where facilities would not be adequate. I will make a simple suggestion. What is to stop that Committee meeting on Thursday mornings and sitting in the Seanad chamber? The Seanad do not often meet on Thursday mornings and the business done in this House on Thursday mornings is usually of a fairly somnolent kind. There is no reason why a Special Committee, perhaps with 20 or 25 members—and with this number there would easily be room for Deputy Blaney——
It is significant that the Parliamentary Secretary has spoken about Thursday mornings.
During the Deputy's absence yesterday I was trying to explain to the House the ostensible objections to the Special Committee system. Of course there are objections if the sitting hours of the Committee clash with contentious business in the Dáil.
The Parliamentary Secretary is doing his very best to hold up the Adjournment Debate——
When I suggested to Deputy Lalor that the Planning Bill might go to a Special Committee his reply was that a large number of Deputies were interested in it. In fact, the number of Deputies who spoke on the Second Stage was 12 and I agree that is quite a substantial number for an average Bill. I should imagine that at the maximum perhaps 25 Deputies might have been anxious to contribute to the Committee processing of the Planning Bill.
Deputy Lalor and his two colleagues are not doing themselves or their party any credit by laughing at what I am saying. I appeal to the Deputy to give the system a chance, and I suggest this Bill should be sent to the Committee. What is the use of restricting the system to Bills dealing with company law reform or some similar topic? How often do we have a company law Act? There was one seven years ago, but when will we have the next one?
What is the use in making pious recommendations that more Bills should be sent to a Committee when Deputy O'Malley says we should send only Bills of a legal technical kind? The recommendation will be useless if it will only mean that. I would urge Deputy Lalor to seriously consider this matter and to give the system a chance. If it is not a success, if we cannot get a quorum, if the Press pay no attention to it, or if Members who wish to contribute cannot get on to the Committee, then we will drop the idea. At least we will be able to say we tried out the Special Committee on the Planning Bill but that it was a flop. In a completely non-party way, I appeal to the Deputy about the matter and would ask him to see if he can persuade his front bench colleagues to agree.
With regard to my ideas in connection with sitting hours, Deputy O'Malley threw scorn on what was said simply because it came from here. In a bitter rhetorical question he asked if we were seriously suggesting that the House should be treated like an office, or that people here should be treated as though they were doing an office job. What is wrong with an office job? What is so despicable or contemptible about office jobs or the hours worked in such jobs? If the convention in an office is that all people, from senior executives to typists, work from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. it is because that is the natural time of the day to work, not up to 10.30 p.m., not to speak of all night——
Everyone knows there were Deputies here last night whose health was not improved by the experience. I have already tried to exonerate the Government for responsibility for the late sitting. I do not want to throw political mud around; I have been forbidden to refer to the matter again. I would point out it was not at the instance of the Government, nor was it the wish of the Government, that the late sitting took place. There was no option short of sitting next week, which nobody wanted——
It was because of the delay in the Finance Bill.
Most people have their day's work done at 10.30 p.m. and they want to rest at that time. That goes with particular force for Deputies, and with even more force for office-holders. The three Deputies opposite have been office-holders and they know exactly what I mean. I would expect something more than titters of laughter when I make a serious point——
Who is laughing?
Deputy O'Malley was doing that yesterday.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is not referring to us?
I admit there are three very long faces on the benches opposite. Deputy Barry Desmond pointed out that this House has a system of very rigid procedures on which only a tiny inroad is being made by the recommendations produced by the Committee. The fact that we have these rigid procedures is no credit to us. Deputy O'Malley blamed me for "canvassing" my points of view, the inference being that, having being rebuffed once, I should pipe down once and for all on the matter. My points of view may be false but I should like to hear other ideas on how business might be made more rational and how existence in this House, particularly for office-holders, might be made more humane.
I am sorry if the Deputies opposite think I have been deliberately holding up matters. I assure them that is not the case. I wish to thank them again for their contributions and I recommend the adoption of the report to the House.