When we were discussing this amendment on the last occasion I was pointing out that cases will arise in which the granting of permission in material contravention of a development plan is justified because, for example, of changed circumstances since the plan was made. What we were talking about the last day was the problem of devising a proper procedure to be followed in cases where it is proposed to allow contravention. I have already argued that the procedure suggested by Deputy Molloy is not the most appropriate one. Possibly it could be changed around. I am prepared to have another look at the whole problem before Report Stage to see if there is merit in the proposal.
Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1973: Committee Stage (Resumed).
Am I to take it then that the Minister is offering to consider the amendment I have on the Order Paper, amendment No. 25 to section 13, and may I also take it that, if he considers the amendment reasonable, he is prepared to put forward a similar amendment on Report Stage?
I tried to be very clear about this on the last occasion and I want to be very clear again now in the words I use. What I am saying is that I shall have a look and if I find something like this will improve the legislation then, of course, an amendment will be necessary. If, however, I am satisfied it would not help, then I will not be prepared to introduce an amendment. I do not want to give the impression now that I am guaranteeing introducing an amendment because I am not saying that. I thought it was accepted on the last occasion that it would be sufficient to deal with this matter in the way I have suggested in relation to it and, indeed, to other suggestions made earlier on in the debate on that occasion and, I am quite sure, there will be more on this occasion.
The Minister's reply puts us in a difficult enough position. I do not wish to labour this but, if we got a similar reply to all the amendments we have tabled, we could agree to withdraw our amendments in the hope that the Minister would bring forward his own amendments on Report Stage. The Committee Stage having been completed, and finding on Report Stage that the Minister has not in fact brought forward any of these amendments, we would be allowed to make only one contribution on the Report Stage debate. It would be much more open, if the Minister feels he cannot do what we want in this case, to tell us in clear terms what his objection to the amendment is. Possibly, having a look at it later, he might find there was some merit in it and might bring forward an amendment on Report Stage, but that is a very vague way of dealing with legislation. He has had the amendment before him for quite some time and he has had adequate time to consider the legal and administrative implications; he should be able to give us a fairly clear indication now of how his mind is working from the point of view of the inoperability of the amendment or the impracticability of complying with it, and he should state clearly what his objections are. Could he give us any indication why he feels he cannot accept the amendment now but is prepared to consider it again?
Deputy J. Lynch and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach have just been arguing about long sittings. Sometimes I feel it is a pity we cannot start a Bill and continue right through with it. If Deputy Molloy reads the last few pages of the Official Report on the last occasion on which the Bill was before the House he will find all the answers he is now asking me to give him. I went into great detail and I rather thought that Deputy Molloy himself objected to the detail into which I was going in explaining why I was not prepared to agree the amendment was necessary. I can assure Deputy Molloy I have been very busy since then and it was not possible for me to consider this and I am not, therefore, prepared to go any further now. At column 168 of Volume 277 of the Official Report I said:
Deputy Molloy made a case for going back to local authority elected representatives. This is not specifically stated even in the amendment. I will have a look at it—I will not promise anything— and see if there is something which could be done which would strengthen it. Every protection should be given but, if something is being done, we would want to ensure, number one, that it is the elected representatives, for whom I have the greatest respect, number two, that there is a time limit.
Later on I said I would not like to hedge around the new planning board with too many regulations which would make the board unworkable. That is what will happen if we put in too many little bits of amendments here and there. At column 169 of Volume 277 again I said:
... I did not say it prevents it from being brought forward...
I do not believe that Deputy Molloy's amendment would mean that the elected members of a local authority would be notified of what was happening. The matter would go back to the planning authority and the elected representatives would not see it. They could be shown it, but they would not have to see it under the amendment Deputy Molloy suggests. It does not spell out that the elected representatives should be the people. In addition to that, I do not want to build in a great number of technicalities which would result in holding up the planning board. They might spend days deciding on a material contravention instead of doing some other work. That is something none of us wants to see happening. We want a good board, a board that works. That is the spirit in which the Bill is being debated and that is the spirit in which I am telling the Opposition that I am prepared to have another look at this and, if I consider there is merit in it, then I will be prepared to introduce an amendment. As Deputy Molloy said, a Deputy may speak only once on Report Stage. I trust he was not suggesting that I was resorting to this device for the purpose of preventing him saying what he wants to say on an amendment.
It is a weakness which hits the Opposition more than the Government.
I well appreciate that.
In his consideration will the Minister have special regard to the special amenity orders as distinct from the general type of material contravention of a development plan?
Would Deputy Haughey like for instance some special amenity orders which he feels will be affected if we do not do that? Sorry. I was trying to be clever. No special amenity orders are made under the 1963 Act.
They should be.
There is a strong likelihood that there may be one in the Dublin area.
Likelihoods are funny things. Sometimes they come to pass and sometimes they do not.
I would hope that there would be special amenity orders. Off the top of my head I can think of a number of places and situations which would merit them. While accepting that none has been made, in the context that the Minister is looking at this again, all I am suggesting is that he should make different provisions in regard to a material contravention by the board of a special amenity order as distinct from a general development plan.
The reason why none has been made in the 11 years in which the 1963 Act has been in operation is that special amenity orders as defined in that Act are so inflexible.
The Minister is changing them later on.
Either we want to retain them as they are or make them less inflexible. If we retain them as they are there is a possibility that no local authority would be anxious to have a special amenity order. This suggestion has been made in an effort to improve the whole position.
I mentioned this the last day. I am saying it in the light of the fact that the Minister is proposing later on in this Bill to change the general provisions in regard to special amenity orders. What he does here as a result of his consideration will apply to a new type of special amenity orders.
I accept that that is so.
Has the Minister any further comments to make on section 13?
I think not. We discussed it very fully on the last occasion and I do not think there is any reason why we should go over it again. We will be having a very detailed discussion on it on Report Stage. If we are introducing amendments we will be discussing it and, if not, I am sure Deputy Haughey and Deputy Molloy will have something to say about it.
Am I right in thinking that section 13 does not make any change in the substantive law and that, in fact, it just transfers all those powers which the Minister has at the moment to the board.
That is correct.
It does not alter them in any way?
Amendment No. 35 is related to amendment No. 26 and I suggest that they be taken together.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 8, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following section:
"14. —(1) A deposit of £10 shall be lodged with the Board by an appellant with his appeal and any appeal to the Board which is not accompanied by such deposit shall be invalid.
(2) As soon as may be after an appeal to the Board is either withdrawn or determined, subject to section 16 (3) of this Act, the Board shall return the deposit to the appellant."
There is a very specific reason for this amendment which proposes the insertion of a new section requiring a deposit of £10. In the Bill as drafted, section 28 (1) (a) (ii) would have enabled the Minister to make regulations providing for the payment of fees or deposits by appellants. The intention was that these powers should be held in reserve until it was seen if other provisions were sufficient to deter vexatious appeals. It has now been decided to dispense entirely with the idea of fees for appeals and to have a uniform requirement in regard to lodgments. It is very difficult to determine what amount of a deposit would be likely to deter vexatious appeals. The man who has genuine grounds for appeal will not mind making a deposit and £10 might be regarded as a reasonable compromise. Subsection (2) of the amendment provides for the return of the deposit. Amendment No. 35 to section 16 will provide for forfeiture of the deposit to the board where the board are of opinion that the appeal is vexatious, and they can so direct.
One of the things about appeals which really annoys me—and I am quite sure annoyed various Ministers since the Act was passed—is the fact that it is not uncommon for an appeal to be lodged, usually on a small matter, and an oral hearing requested, and the person who makes the appeal does not even turn up at the oral hearing. Time is wasted and annoyance is caused to decent people. There is no provision in the existing legislation which will allow the Department to refuse to prepare to hear a second such appeal after the first one has been made and treated in this way, and even a third, or fourth, or fifth appeal. There are on record appeals submitted by one person which were submitted out of some misguided sense of humour, I should imagine, or to annoy the neighbours, or something like that.
This is simply for the purpose of ensuring that, when an appeal is lodged, the person who lodges it has good reason for lodging it. I have always believed that if something is free it is not valued very much. People will not spend a sum of money unless they are satisfied that they have a grievance and that they are entitled to go ahead with the appeal.
Amendment No. 35 reads:
In page 8, between lines 40 and 41, to add to the section the following subsection:
"(3) In case the Board in determining an appeal is of opinion that the appeal is vexatious, the Board may direct that the deposit lodged in relation to the appeal shall be forfeited to the Board."
This amendment is related to amendment No. 26. If it is the opinion of the board that an appeal is vexatious the deposit shall be forfeited to the board. I grant the argument that this may impose on the board the responsibility of deciding whether an appeal is vexatious. But something like this will have to be considered to ensure that we do not have a continuation of vexatious appeals which hold up the work of the board. They may not be very numerous but even a small number of them can cause a lot of disruption. There are difficulties in trying to arrange suitable times and suitable venues for oral hearings. It is very annoying to find that, when all the elaborate machinery has been put in motion, the person who lodged the appeal does not bother to turn up.
Did the Minister say that if this amendment were accepted it would involve the deletion of some other provisions in the Bill?
As drafted, section 28 (1) (a) (ii) would have enabled me to make regulations providing for payment of fees or deposits by applicants. It was my intention that these powers would be held in reserve until we would see if the other provisions were sufficient to deter vexatious appeals. I propose to withdraw that now and to provide for the lodgment of £10 which will be returned if the appeal is a normal one. If somebody makes an appeal and, having made the appeal and paid the deposit—I doubt that he will do this —then does not turn up because he made the appeal to annoy somebody, he will forfeit his deposit.
Most of the Minister's case is based on the arrangements involved in the settling of an oral hearing, but the £10 will apply to every appeal whether it is an oral hearing or not.
There are two sorts of appeals. In one case a citizen submits an application to the local planning authority to be permitted to build a house, for example.
If the local authority turn down that person and the appeals to the Minister against the decision not permitting him to do something, that is one situation. It is difficult to envisage vexatious appeals in that type of case. These arise more in the case where a local authority have granted something and some third party or outside person decides to appeal to the Minister against the local authority decision to permit or allow something. I am putting this point to the Minister. Is it fair in the normal case of the citizen who wants to do something—extend his house or build a new house—to ask him to pay a £10 deposit to stop the possibility of vexatious appeals when such appeals are almost impossible in that situation? I can readily see the need for the deposit in the case where permissions are granted and appealed against. Vexatious appeals could arise in that situation and I see the necessity for a deposit but there is a difference in the two types of situation.
There can be vexatious appeals. Deputy Molloy may remember some of them coming in and being repeated over the years and they are still coming to me. These could be regarded, perhaps, as vexatious appeals, appeals by somebody who does not realise the facts are as they are. On the other point as to whether it is an oral hearing, one would not know on the application whether it will be an oral hearing and it would be difficult to differentiate between one and the other unless somebody asks for an oral hearing. Either we put in some type of fee or we do not. I may mention that amendment No. 78 proposes to amend section 28 (1) by the deletion of the provision in it for fees or deposits.
I am not anxious to prevent people appealing against some planning permission which has been granted. It has been suggested that I am attempting to do this by putting in a provision like this. There is no such intention. It is simply an effort to make the Act more workable. I believe this will help considerably in achieving that. I am open to comment from the Opposition.
Could we be absolutely certain of the sections which the Minister said he was withdrawing? In the case of section 28 is he withdrawing the whole or part of it?
I am amending it by amendment No. 78.
The Minister mentioned the word "withdrawing" as if he were withdrawing part of the section.
I am withdrawing the part about the fees and I am putting in instead:
In page 16, subsection (1), lines 48 to 53 and in page 17, lines 1 to 5, to substitute the following paragraph for paragraph (a):
"(a) providing for,
(i) the payment to planning authorities of prescribed fees by applicants for a waiver notice under section 25 of this Act,
(ii) the publication by planning authorities of specified notices with respect to applications for permission under the Principal Act to develop land or for such a waiver notice,"
The Deputy's amendment was:
In subsection (1) (a) (i), page 16, line 49, after "fees" to insert "which shall not exceed the cost of inserting public notices,"
That was the Deputy's amendment and I think he will find this is very similar.
Yes, the Minister is meeting us there. The only point that remains is one which I suppose we cannot solve here, choosing a figure. The Minister has taken £10. To some appellants that may be a substantial sum and to others a trifle. I realise there is the problem that you cannot draw up a scale of sums to be applied in different cases when dealing with an abstract thing like a planning appeal. Basically, we will accept the Minister's amendment and thank him for coming so far to meet our point of view because we would strongly oppose the charging of fees and that is to be withdrawn. That removes one aspect of the Bill which we would have vigorously opposed. Not being able to decide whether £10 is the right figure and having no other suggestion to make, that leaves us no option but to accept the Minister's amendment as it stands.
I move amendment No. 27:
Before section 14 to insert a new section as follows:
"Where the Board is of opinion that a request for an oral hearing of any reference or appeal to the Board is ill-founded or vexatious, but not otherwise, the Board may refuse such oral hearing."
In this amendment we are suggesting that the Board should not have the right to refuse an oral hearing unless they are satisfied that the appeal is a vexatious one or an ill-founded one. They should be able to state their reasons for so deciding. Section 14 of the Bill states that "The Board shall have an absolute discretion to hold an oral hearing of any reference or appeal to the Board." This gives very sweeping powers to the Board. I am suggesting that before that, the amendment in my name should be inserted. I think that would ensure that whatever decision would be made by the Board would be fair and that all citizens could be assured that they would be treated equally and fairly before the law.
Giving the board this absolute discretion is a new departure. One of the strenghts of the old planning Act was that any citizens with a grievance against any decision of a local planning authority could appeal. There have been cases which were frivolous and may have delayed development unnecessarily and they may have been entered for that purpose but, on the whole, I think that right on the part of each citizen was appreciated and this was one of the finest characteristics of the 1963 Act. That will be seriously curtailed if we allow the board absolute discretion in the holding of an oral hearing. The case as between oral hearings and ordinary decisions through written submissions may not seem to have great significance to the ordinary person but there can be individual cases where the facts can be much better presented when each side to the appeal confronts the other across the table. The oral hearing granted that concession but now it will only be granted at the discretion of the board.
I suggest to the Minister that there is a strong temptation to give the board this power because it has been argued that oral hearings have delayed the issuing of some decisions. It has been argued that they have slowed up the appeal decision machinery in the Department of Local Government and that there was an increase over a period in the number of persons applying for oral hearings. It was deemed by some people who deal with appeals to be a bad thing. I am not so sure that it is a bad thing if people seek the right to present their case orally. To deny them that right will greatly diminish public respect for the Bill. This right is not being denied to them totally but it is being denied inasmuch as that this new board will have a discretion which the Minister did not have.
We concede that in order to enable the planning appeal machinery to proceed efficiently the board should have the right to withdraw an oral hearing or to forbid such a hearing to be held but in doing so the board must be satisfied that the reasons for seeking the oral hearing were ill-founded and vexatious. I would go further and suggest that the board should give their reasons in writing. I should like to hear the Minister's views on this matter. I accept that the Minister had some heart-searching before he agreed to include this because of the denial of a right which had existed under the old Act to the ordinary citizens. The section in my view diminishes public respect, to a certain extent, for the Bill and for planning. Both sides of the House agree that the board is more desirable than having an individual political figure making these decisions but we must be conscious, in deciding on balance in favour of this board, that there is the danger that we are dealing with a body which will not be answerable directly to this House as the Minister was.
I see nothing wrong in this provided we can put in adequate safeguards to ensure that they are obliged to provide relevant information on some major decisions which they will be making. I consider that denying a person the right to an oral hearing can be a major decision in certain cases. I would put the restriction on the board which the amendment suggests.
I can see the point in Deputy Molloy's amendment. One thing I found in the Custom House was that people required, as far as possible, a reasonably quick decision. This may not be possible where major issues are involved. It is amazing all the people who had the idea that an oral hearing was what they required for the erection of a single house, the carrying out of repairs to a house or the reconstruction of a dwelling but these people soon realised that requesting such a hearing resulted in great delay in obtaining a decision on their application. The time it takes to deal with oral hearings has improved but the number of oral hearings has increased enormously. In 1968-69 there were 1,886 of which 297 or 15.70 per cent were requests for oral hearings. From April to September, 1973-74 the number had gone up to 4,050 of which 776 were requests for oral hearings which amounts to 19.2 per cent.
Oral hearings take much longer. The position is that while in 1970-71 the average for written cases was 36.9 weeks the average for oral hearings was 48.2 weeks. This has improved somewhat because in 1973-74 written cases took 28 weeks while oral hearings took 33.7 weeks. The time it takes to deal with oral hearings, some of them relating to small matters, is far too great. We must also take into consideration the amount of time taken by staff who deal with such hearings. Unless we are prepared to give a sizeable increase in the number of staff employed on planning if the pattern as it is now continues it will not be possible to give everybody who wants an oral hearing such a hearing unless he is prepared to wait a long time.
Many people have told me that they would rather get a decision in three or four months, even if was a refusal, rather than have to wait for up to nine months. Some cases which involve millions of pounds take up an inordinate amount of time at oral hearings and I accept that oral hearings for these are still necessary. In my view there is no injustice to people, who are allowed to make a very elaborate case if they wish to in writing for or against a project, in preventing them from having an oral hearing if it is not possible to permit them such a hearing.
I believe that the board should have this right while Deputy Molloy says that unless it is a vexatious appeal they should not have the right. I have not been convinced that I have taken the wrong line. The decision was not taken without a lot of heart-searching. There is a lot in the right of people to be sufficiently heard but I believe they are being sufficiently heard under the terms of this Bill. I would rather have it in this way than reach a situation where the board would come back to the Government and say that they could not find time for all the oral hearings within a reasonable time. Then we would have to substantially increase the staff and return to this House and inform Members that the Planning Act was not operating as it was hoped it would.
These are fluid ideas. I am not copper-fastened on any particular idea like this but I want to ensure that we have a Bill that will work. My best advice and my own inclination is that this is the way to do it.
The Minister seems to be suggesting that the board should have the right to refuse an oral hearing in an arbitrary way without having to justify their decision. The amendment I have put down is reasonable and I ask the Minister to consider accepting it. Where the board is of opinion that a request for an oral hearing of any reference or appeal to the board is ill-founded or vexations but not otherwise the board may refuse such oral hearing. The right to appeal is a property right defended in the Constitution. The right to give oral evidence on an appeal is a very important constitutional right of any citizen of this State. It is most unsatisfactory to deny citizens that right without stating the reasons or the grounds for so doing and it must be opposed by the Fianna Fáil Party. I would ask the Minister if he intends putting this to a vote because we shall have to vote on it. There is a great principle at stake.
It is not a constitutional principle. The Constitution is not involved.
The property rights of each citizen are protected under the Constitution and the right to appeal can be deemed to be a property right. The Minister is restricting greatly the appeal procedure of any citizen if he allows a board, who are not answerable to the Parliament of the country, to make a decision which will restrict and curtail the form which that appeal takes. We would go a lot of the way with the Minister if he would protect the citizens by ensuring that this power was exercised only where it was deemed that the request was a vexations one or was ill-founded. That is simple, clear-cut and reasonable. I would ask the Minister to reconsider his decisions. In fact, I am not sure whether or not he has finally made a decision on this as yet.
As I told Deputy Molloy, I have put proposals to the House. I believe that a Bill like this should be debated in the House so that we have the best views of everybody incorporated in it but it is not correct to say that there is a constitutional right to an oral hearing.
I did not say that. I said that the property rights of each citizen are protected under the Constitution and the right to appeal is the property right of each citizen.
Of course. Each citizen has the right to appeal but it does not say that each citizen has the right to appeal and have an oral hearing.
I did not say that. I said the form of the appeal is now being restricted by the Minister's amendment of the original Bill.
But the Deputy did suggest there was a constitutional right to an oral hearing.
No, I do not think so. I said there was a constitutional right to appeal and the Minister's amendment of the original Act will restrict that right of appeal; the form that it takes, will limit it to written, formal submissions and citizens' rights hitherto of presenting their cases orally will be withdrawn if the Minister's proposal stands.
I think Deputy Molloy is slightly mis-stating the fact. There is a constitutional right to protection of property and this is safeguarded by the right to appeal in this case. Both of us are agreed on that. Where we differ is that Deputy Molloy says that the board should not have the right to refuse an oral hearing except where they consider it to be vexatious. Again, the property right comes along because, if it is applied in one instance, it would apply in all. Therefore, as far as the question of refusing an oral hearing is concerned, Deputy Molloy agrees with me that in certain circumstances, the board should have that right—the right to refuse an oral hearing in a vexatious case. What I am suggesting, in addition, is that in relatively minor cases, oral hearings are being asked for very often because of the fact that the people who ask for them do not seem to understand that they do not improve their position but, perhaps, delay the matter further. What I am saying to Deputy Molloy is that the right of the individual is protected fully by giving him the right of appeal. I am saying that it will improve his chance of having a reasonably early decision by having an ordinary written appeal rather than an oral hearing.
Again, I am always a little puzzled when I hear reference to a board which is not answerable to this House because this is what we have all been clamouring for for the past three to five years. We have been looking for a board which would not be answerable to this House. Now that we are putting it on the Statute Book that such a board should be set up it is suggested at the same time that having almost achieved that, there should be some particular brand on it, that it should be answerable to the House and that if it was so answerable we would trust it a lot more.
The only point I was making there was that because it is a board not answerable to the House, there is need for greater safeguards in the legislation controlling it.
At present we have all the safeguards of a board answerable to the House which provides for the rights of people who are not satisfied with that particular attitude to planning. However, let us not get away from it. What we are doing is attempting to introduce a board which will deal with this idea. The written procedure does, in fact, protect fully natural justice. There is no question about that. I am afraid the suggestion that there should be a board which should deal objectively with cases, that there should be an oral hearing is again suggesting that there is something peculiar about it. It must be an oral hearing. It must be seen that the board is, in fact, meting out justice. We have already agreed that the chairman of the board will be either a High Court judge or a former High Court judge so he will be somebody eminent in that field. I suppose such people can make mistakes like the rest of us. But we are setting up a board which will, as far as possible, do a good job. I would not be as doubtful about it as Deputy Molloy appears to be. While Deputy Molloy has come a long way towards us by saying vexatious appeals, if it is decided by the board, are not entitled to an oral hearing, I would ask him to let it go further and say that if, in the view of the board, an oral hearing is not necessary then an oral hearing is cannot be insisted upon. Let me come back to my original argument. My main reason for putting it in is that I believe that if we do not we will be unduly delaying the work of the appeals board.
The Minister is suggesting the addition of the words: "if, in the view of the board, an oral hearing is unnecessary"?
Section 14 says:
The Board shall have an absolute discretion to hold an oral hearing of any reference or appeal to the board.
That means the same thing.
I could not see any difference between that suggestion and the wording of section 14.
It is not intended to be different.
Can the Minister not see, even in his own words there, that this would be done only where there were minor appeals, where there was not any important question at issue, that the board in such circumstances would decide not to grant an oral hearing as that would be unnecessarily cluttering up the appeals system and delaying decision-making?
As the Bill the Minister has brought forward is worded, there is no guarantee that the board will exercise this power only in minor or unimportant cases. There is no guarantee that the board will exercise that power only for good and just reasons. They can use it in an arbitrary fashion in any case that comes before them. I think that is too sweeping a power, that it does infringe on the rights of citizens, that one group should have a right to decide differently between equal groups of persons, without stating the reasons and without being confined, in the legislation, to having to consider any particular reason for refusal. They can merely make a decision: "We are not allowing an oral hearing in this case. That is our decision" and they have every right to do it under the Bill, if it is passed, amending the 1963 Act with which we are now dealing. I think that is too broad. I would appeal to the Minister to reconsider it and to limit the exercise of that power to certain cases where it could be easily identified that the appeals were in fact minor, ill-founded or vexatious. In doing so one could not deem that the exercise of this power by the board would in any way infringe property or constitutional rights. The case is an obvious one and I do not wish to continue labouring the same points but if the Minister wishes I shall elaborate further. Briefly, what I am asking the Minister to do is to limit the exercise of this power to certain cases which could be identified as being ill-founded or vexatious. The inclusion of those words would leave all of us happier with the Bill.
It is understood that the board will consist of reasonable people will take decisions. Therefore, is it too much to expect reasonable boards to decide whether certain appeals can be dealt with justly by way of written submission rather than by oral hearing? We are to trust the board to decide on appeals but, according to the Deputy's amendment, we are not to trust them to decide whether appeals are vexatious. I would trust them to do that. We expect to appoint a board of the right type of people and, consequently, that trust should be placed in them. I am not disagreeing with the general sentiments expressed by Deputy Molloy but I am endeavouring to see the common ground between us. I am prepared to agree that the board, having been given a good deal of trust, could be trusted to decide whether an appeal should be heard orally or whether it could be dealt with adequately otherwise but it seems to be Deputy Molloy's opinion that they should not be trusted that far. If I am misinterpreting the Deputy, perhaps he will correct me. In my opinion the wording, as it is, is adequate. However, if it is the Deputy's opinion that it should be tightened up in any way I shall consider that. Either we give to the board absolute discretion on the question of oral hearings or, else, we must spell out the areas in which we think they should have discretion.
The specific intention of section 14 is to limit the number of oral hearings.
That is so.
Having had some experience as Minister for Local Government I know that the staff in the planning section of the Department would be very happy if there were a discontinuance of oral hearings on planning appeals because this would mean much less work. An oral hearing requires a great deal more preparation beforehand than would be the case in respect of written submissions and it also necessitates a lot of work afterwards.
If this right is to be given to the board solely for the purpose of cutting down on the number of oral hearings, we are doing a disservice to the people because they should be entitled to present their case orally when they would be confronted by the other side so that the case could be argued openly with a representative of the board acting as chairman and recording the views of both sides. I have had experience of several cases of persons who did not request oral hearings because they were not aware of the availability of that right and there were others who thought they would be dealt with fairly without having recourse to an oral hearing but who complained afterwards that the inspector from the Department who visited the site in question made no attempt to contact the applicant or to hear his views.
If we allow this matter of oral hearings to be pushed aside, the board might say that there are too many requests for oral hearings coming forward and that they would discontinue granting oral hearings for, say, six months. They would not have to justify their decision and could go ahead and clear up the backlog of applications with the attitude that all the people want are decisions. We should not allow that sort of situation to develop. I must take a rather extreme view in speaking of the dangers involved although I may be accused of exaggerating but I have had many complaints from people to the effect that they did not have an opportunity of making their views known to the persons who were to write a report for the Minister. If we were to give to the board the right to decide on the question of oral hearings a person with a grievance such as I have outlined would have to redress if the board decided against an oral hearing. While it might be the opinion of the board that in some cases oral hearings were not justified, that might not be the opinion of the person making the application. The worst situation that I can foresee is that the board may reach a decision to cover a certain period of time in order to allow them decide one way or another on the planning appeals in the Department.
My amendment asks that the board be given this power only where the request is deemed to be ill-founded or vexatious. The word "vexatious" was used by the Minister in amendment No. 35 which reads:
In page 8, between lines 40 and 41, to add to the section the following subsection:
"(3) In case the Board in determining an appeal is of opinion that the appeal is vexatious, the Board may direct that the deposit lodged in relation to the appeal shall be forfeited to the Board."
There is an instance where the Minister agrees that the board are competent to decide when an appeal is vexatious and in such cases we have agreed that the board would have the right to forfeit the deposit of £10. We could argue both sides of the case at length but I hope the Minister will accept the amendment in the form in which it is here or that he will give me some reasonable assurance that he will place some limitation on the board's right to exercise this very wide-sweeping power which he wishes to give them under section 40.
In decisions given at present there is involved the question of natural justice but if a decision is considered to be unjust there is provision for an appeal to the court. I had an appeal which involved a technical matter and the appeal was upheld in court. Under what we are proposing here that right of appeal would remain and it would not be very costly to have recourse to the court.
The ordinary citizen is very slow to bring the Minister or board into court.
They might be slow enough to bring in the Minister but I imagine they would bring in the board more quickly because they would have the idea that it was not the nation they were fighting if they were fighting the board.
It would be the nation's money.
Some people are very "flahoolach" with the nation's money. I do not know how many appeals Deputy Molloy looked at, although his Parliamentary Secretary was responsible for them as is my Parliamentary Secretary. It is interesting to find out about the case being made. A man could complain that somebody came to his site in the middle of the night and then did not give the correct report to the Minister, but that would not be quite correct. The appellant is entitled to make a number of very full statements on appeal. When looking at these appeals I was amazed to find that many of these people may not have been very highly educated but they were able to state the facts of the case better than some people who took silk. You would be amazed if somebody has an interest in something and wants to make a case how well he can do it. Good luck to these people. That is their right. They are entitled to give evidence. Often people have prepared wonderful words of wisdom but when they go in to appeal they get tongue-tied. After appealing people have often come to me, maybe 12 months later, and said they regretted that they had not made an ordinary appeal. I believe that most of the people who appeal make a very good case.
I do not want to see the time of the appeal board wasted. A lot of the time of planning authorities is spent on oral hearings when they should be doing something else. It is not a question of putting those who are appealing and those who are objecting on opposite sides of a table and having somebody referee while they slag each other. They make statements and, while it is on record that on occasion they have been allowed to ask relevant questions, in the normal course of events those appealing state the facts as they see them, those opposing state the facts as they see them, and from that a report is made.
It is not a case of question and answer. Deputy Molloy suggested it was like the Labour Court where the two sides meet and argue, and both sides are allowed cross-question each other and the court acts as a referee. This is not so. I cannot see what else we can do. This way the board can see the people who are appealing and objecting. There might be something in that. I am not tied down to the wording of the section. I want the best possible wording when it becomes law. While I felt that the section as worded:
The Board shall have an absolute discretion to both an oral hearing of any reference or appeal to the Board.
was adequate, I would be prepared to see if there was some way we could decide that certain applications for oral hearings should not be refused or, to put it the other way round, that only minor or not so important requests for oral hearings might be disallowed. I would be prepared to have another look at it because I am not satisfied. I am not trying to claim that the fountain of all wisdom is here and therefore what we say must be exactly as it will be. That is what discussion in this House is for.
I can see some of the points made by Deputy Molloy but I cannot agree with him on a number of them. If he would agree to let it go at that I will see what I can do. There might be an argument in favour of ensuring that only certain appeals can be refused apart from those being put down as frivolous. We have had experience of applications for oral hearings and from people who had appealed against sizeable housing schemes—and this is where difficulty would arise, as Deputy Molloy asked what size of appeal—and then did not even turn up at the oral hearings. I would be very careful about the wording of this section so that people who do this sort of thing will not get away with it even once. I have had experience of people who have done this four or five times. There was nothing in the 1963 Act which prevented them from doing that.
I would like to insist on my amendment. What would be the position with regard to section 14 if my amendment were carried? What effect will it have on section 82 (2) of the Principal Act which states that:
Regulations shall be made under this section providing
(a) for oral hearings of any reference or appeal in respect of which oral hearing is requested by any party.
That would have to be amended.
There is no reference to an amendment to section 82 in the Minister's amendment although it cuts across it.
The reference is to section 82. There would have to be an amendment to this section following the passing of section 14.
There is no amendment dealing with section 82 in the amendments circulated.
Section 33 reads:
(a) the substitution in paragraph (a) of section 82 (2) of "appeal to the Minister, or in relation to an oral hearing held pursuant to section 76 of this Act, as amended by section 34 (1) of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1974," for "reference or appeal";
(b) the insertion in paragraph (a) of section 82 (3) of "or the Board, whichever is the person by whom the reference or appeal falls to be determined," after "the Minister";
This will deal adequately with the matter to which Deputy Molloy is referring. Earlier we were talking about appeals and decisions under the Social Welfare Act, 1952. When a person appeals to a Minister against a decision on a claim the matter is referred to an appeals officer. If he is of the opinion that the case is of such a nature that it can be properly determined without an oral hearing, the hearing can be dispensed with and a decision can be made summarily. This means that already there is an explanation which——
No. That may suit the application of social welfare legislation but even social welfare officer's powers are qualified. This is quite open to be used in an arbitrary way. No reasons and no justification have to be given by this board as to why they are witholding the right to an oral hearing.
Would Deputy Molloy accept similar wording?
No, I think that may suit in the case of social welfare. It would not satisfy me in relation to planning. I believe this is a device inserted by the Department of Local Government to try to cut down on the number of oral hearings and planning appeals. There is no other good reason for it and it is infringing basic human rights. Article 40.1 of the Constitution provides:
All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.
Article 40.3.1 provides:
The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal right of the citizen.
Article 40.3.2 provides:
The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen.
I have been advised by those whom I have consulted in the legal field that the right to appeal is a property right. In my view this section which enables the board to discriminate as between one citizen and another brings about a situation where citizens may be held unequal before the law in respect of their property rights which the State in the Constitution binds itself to vindicate.
We feel strongly about this amendment and if the Minister cannot see his way to accept it we will have to push it to a vote.
The alternative to this is that a person should have the right to go to court. I do not know whether there is such a right but even if there is it would be very expensive, especially if the case were against a wealthy person who might afterwards take it to a higher court. This is the ordinary man's form of legal appeal. It existed under the 1963 Act and it is a mistake to take away this right. It is very useful and it is not expensive. The aggrieved person may, if he wishes, bring his solicitor or such other qualified person along but he does not have to employ a solicitor. The Minister is now taking away a right from the ordinary person. I object strenuously to what the Minister is doing. I agree, having had the experience of dealing with planning appeals over almost three years, that mischievous and frustrating oral hearings are requested. It can be a delaying tactic. However, it would not be right to remedy one wrong by taking away the right of all and sundry to an oral hearing. It comes very badly from a Labour Minister for Local Government to take away this right of the ordinary person.
I suggest that Deputy Cunningham might continue the debate on the level on which Deputy Molloy and I have been discussing it.
That is very unfair.
I will take dictation in this House from the Ceann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle only. The Minister should not set himself up as arbitrator, judge, jury and Ceann Comhairle in this House. He has been trying to do it on all occasions but we do not mind that.
Deputy Haughey is in now. He may put a little bit of sense into your head.
I am as recalcitrant as the next.
I was delighted to hear Deputy Molloy say he is prepared to challenge this in a division. I am of the same mind.
You have arrived and, therefore, we can have a vote.
I am sure it has been the Minister's experience, as it has been mine, that most of the representations made on the Bill were on this section. People feel they should have the right to an oral hearing, that that is sacrosanct. I can see that it is not always the best thing to happen but people feel they should be able to at least request an oral hearing. Perhaps the Minister would look at it again.
I have offered to do that.
Looking at it again would not satisfy the Fianna Fáil Party. We accepted that on the last one and on others but here there is a very big principle at stake. We must take a stand on it. We cannot accept the Minister's offer to consider it and that he might bring in an amendment on Report Stage. That would not be satisfactory where there is a matter of great principle involved. This is one of our strongest objections to this Bill. We all agree basically on the establishment of the board. What we are dealing with is the mechanics of how the board will operate. This is giving the board powers which the Minister did not have under the 1963 Act. We, as an Opposition, must be very vigilant and must examine carefully the reason behind a change such as this. The board is being given much greater powers than the Minister has at present under the 1963 Act, powers which we think seriously interfere with the rights of ordinary citizens. If a person decides that he wishes to present his case orally in the machinery already established for that purpose under the 1963 Act and carried out by officials of the Department, if the citizen wants to avail of that machinery with the board replacing the Minister, that right should be continued and he should not be denied it. We can quote instances to show how important it is that the right be available.
The Minister said this right will only be exercised by the board where a minor appeal is coming up and where it is not very important. The attitude is to get rid of it quickly by refusing to have an oral hearing because it might add a few days to the length of time the appeal is awaiting decision in the Department. This is not a good, sound reason for granting this power to the board.
The real reason has come out quite clearly in the Minister's words, that the only purpose of this section is to cut down drastically on the number of oral hearings of planning appeals in the Department. If that is the only reason we consider it an arbitrary reason and one that cannot be justified. If the board are to be given any power of this nature, they must have terms and conditions laid down within which they can operate.
We are suggesting that a fair and reasonable condition is to require that this power can only be exercised by the board where, in their opinion, the granting of an oral hearing would be given for vexatious or ill-founded reasons. The Minister has already conceded in the terms of his amendment No. 35 that the board are competent to decide what is vexatious. There is a meeting of minds and words between the Minister and our party on that, but we object very strongly to withdrawing the right of any citizen to an oral hearing where he can show good and just cause for the right to present his case orally.
Perhaps we might take the example of a large industrial concern, for instance, an oil refinery or some other type of refinery about which there are divided local opinions, where the majority of the people in the area concerned are absolutely against such a development. If the local authority grant permission the decision on appeal rests with the board. The people in that area will be very unhappy if a decision on a matter that will affect their lives in the future is taken behind closed doors because they cannot make their views known apart from correspondence on the matter.
In this age of civil and human rights it is crazy for a Minister to attempt to put back the clock. A right has existed since 1963, one that gave individuals the right to attend a hearing with their advisers, irrespective of how poor the people concerned might be. It is bad to deprive an individual of that right but it is worse to deprive a community who, collectively, want to put their case, perhaps through a legal representative or architect, by way of deputation, or by people who voluntarily back up what the group are trying to do and who offer their services to the group. The abolition of the right of people to request an oral hearing, to get it and to be heard, is a retrograde step. It is a change in the existing law and it is one to which our party cannot and will not agree.
I am surprised the Minister has inserted this section. I think the Minister knows my views on planning matters. He is giving to faceless men power he has not got himself. He is responsible to the people and if he does anything wrong he will have to account to the people in Meath. However, the board will not have to account to anyone. They are being given power that will allow them to make, behind closed doors, decisions that affect ordinary people throughout the country.
When I became interested in planning matters I found that local engineers would visit an area precisely when the people concerned were not there to meet them. Our only hope was to go to the Minister and to ask for an oral hearing; in fact, I have gone to the Minister and to his predessor on occasions. When the application for an oral hearing was granted the people concerned could explain if alterations were to be carried out. In Galway we are making it a requirement that the local engineers meet the people. Human beings are entitled to be consulted. It is a retrograde step to abolish oral hearing and, on principle, I could not agree to it. I am not the Opposition spokesman but I will be obliged to force this matter to a vote.
I must apologise to the House because I had to leave to attend a committee meeting. I am glad I got back in time to discuss this section because it is a crucial one. When I read the Bill first I was conscious of the fact that a great deal of our debate would centre on this provision. I am in full agreement with my colleagues who have spoken in their attempt to persuade the Minister to abandon this proposal.
The Minister will see from the Order Paper that my proposal was to delete section 14 and that would have meant that the board would have no authority in any circumstances to refuse an oral hearing; in other words, the present situation would continue. I have been persuaded that perhaps some in-between situation might be better, that some medium position would be preferable. On the face of it the suggestion of Deputy Molloy is very reasonable.
None of us wants vexatious oral hearings. They could nullify the whole effectiveness of our planning regime and the machinery could be fouled up by an excessive number of vexatious requests for oral hearings. I think all of us would agree that the Minister and his advisers are right in directing attention to the situation with regard to oral hearings.
Deputy Callanan has said very clearly what I was going to say, namely, that whatever about the Minister as an elected representative and a Member of this House and subject to questioning by us here— perhaps unlike the Minister for Education—having the right to decide whether there should be an oral hearing, we are totally against letting a board who are not answerable to this House in their absolute discretion decide not to have an oral hearing.
I should like to tell the Minister that very shortly after this piece of legislation was published I was speaking to a very eminent lawyer. The one thing he said to me about this legislation was: "Oppose section 14". He gave me that advice on the basis of his experience and his understanding of the judicial and legal process. He felt it would be a very retrograde step to abolish this right of the aggrieved party in a planning matter to have an oral hearing.
I want to point out to the Minister that there is some discrepancy in his approach in this regard because in the Motorways Bill he very rightly and very sensibly provided where it is proposed to put a motorway through a particular area or region there would be a public hearing before the matter could be proceeded with. All those people affected by the motorway would have the right to come to that public hearing and go fully into every aspect of the proposal, put forward their objection and cross-examine the various experts involved. The Minister was right in his approach in that regard.
I cannot understand why he is going in the opposite direction here. I am particularly strengthened in my dislike for this section by the fact that involved is a board which is not answerable to us in any way. I agree that, perhaps, there is a need for some provision in regard to ill-founded or vexatious requests for oral hearings. It is important that we should have some safeguard against that type of situation. Deputy Molloy's amendment is one formula and I think it is a reasonable one. The right to an oral hearing would not be absolute. It would be tempered by the provision that the board could reject ill-founded or vexatious requests. It is going very far to leave it to the board's absolute discretion.
I do not know if some other solution to the problem could be found along the lines of the board being able to refuse a request for an oral hearing by applying to the Minister for permission to refuse it or some such safeguard built into section 14. I say all that on the basis that my original approach, from the point of view of the ordinary citizen, was to give him an absolute right to an oral hearing and delete section 14 altogether. I am permitting myself to be persuaded because of the danger of the machinery for planning being nullified through vexatious and ill-founded requests for oral hearings to have some restriction on the right for an oral hearing but certainly I am not prepared—I agree fully with my colleagues who have spoken in this regard —in any circumstances to give this new board absolute discretion in refusing this very important fundamental civil right to the ordinary citizen.
The Minister might have a look at this between now and the time the question is put to the House. Deputy Callanan and Deputy Haughey referred to the faceless men. The Minister must remember it is always the big fellow who does not want the oral hearing. The small person who is affected by a planning application will go to the oral hearing. A recent example of this was where the Minister gave an oral hearing and the developer at the last minute made a very reasonable offer to the residents opposing the matter. If there was no oral hearing that would not have happened. As Deputy Haughey puts it, the citizen should have the right to go to the highest tribunal with his appeal. I agree you get vexatious appeals. You get people who are vindictive but the common good demands that the greatest access to the council of decision must be given. I fully support Deputy Molloy's amendment and also what Deputy Haughey said. I believe most Members of the House will see the reason behind their opposition to this section. I hope the Minister will see it before the question is put to the House.
The Deputies can put it to the House if they like. If that is the way the party opposite want it, then they are right to challenge a vote and I certainly will not stand in their way between now and 6 o'clock if they want to do it or after that. I am sorry everybody was not here. I can understand they have reasons for being elsewhere but Deputy Molloy and I have been discussing this. I suggested to him that possibly we could find some other form of words which would limit the type of case on which an oral hearing could be refused. I have great respect for legal luminaries, particularly when they go around handing out free advice. Usually outside the courts they are able to give excellent advice on some things but maybe if we were inside they might not be so anxious to give the advice.
The situation as I see it is that at the present time, as I stated earlier, we have an increasing number of people looking for oral hearings. There are over 19 per cent looking for them. It is also not correct to say that there is any question of natural justice.
Would the increase in the number of oral hearings arise out of the fact that planning authorities are to an increasing extent sending matters on to the Custom House rather than deciding them themselves?
I would not be aware of that. They refuse applications and then the people have the right to appeal.
What is the percentage of oral hearings requested?
I am sorry Deputy Cunningham was not here when I gave the most recent figure. In April/ September, 1974, there were 4,050 appeals and 776 requests that is 19.2 per cent of oral hearings requested as against 15.7 per cent requested in 1968-69.
It is a staggering increase.
Yes, except for the fact that in 1968-69 there were only 1,886 and 297 requests. There were three times as many appeals last year.
That is the point.
Yes. I am not trying to beat the Opposition over the head as has been suggested by saying: "We want this and we will trample on the rights of the people." Deputy Cunningham said that I as a Labour member was doing this. This is not so.
The Minister is not like those Fine Gael fellows.
Deputy Cunningham made the point that I was a Labour member and he did not think I would be involved in things like this. I want to assure the Deputy that I am not like that. I am as anxious as he is, and, perhaps, more so, to protect the right of the individual. The situation is that I have been asking the House to agree to the proposal which I put into the Bill, that we should give the authority to the board to restrict the number of oral hearings. A number of Deputies have got up here and used certain phrases. Deputy Moore used the expression, which all of us from time to time use when we want to hit at somebody that we do not like, when he referred to the board as "faceless men."
I used it.
I give the Deputy credit for having used it. If the Deputy has the copyright for it, Deputy Moore may pay him damages. Inside and outside this House there was a request for a board to deal with this matter. For goodness sake, let us get away from the idea that now, when we are having a board appointed to do the job, we are now saying: "Maybe it was not the right thing."
Nobody is saying that.
A number of the Deputies over there appear to be trying to have it both ways. All I am saying is that the phraseology used in my section: "The Board shall have an absolute discretion to hold an oral hearing of any reference or appeal to the Board" was put in there for the purpose of allowing them to decide. Deputy Molloy came a good way with me because he says: "Where the Board is of opinion that a request for an oral hearing of any reference or appeal to the Board is ill-founded or vexatious, but not otherwise, the board may refuse such oral hearing."
Later during the discussion—again if I am misstating what the Deputy said, perhaps, he will correct me— he was prepared to go along with me to the extent that even other types of not so important appeals might also be dealt with by the board. This is where the phraseology of the section comes in, whether or not we should use this or I should, as I suggested, have a look at it and see if we could phrase it in such a way that it would do in the main what this House wants it to do. Immediately I was threatened with a vote, for which I am ready, as I will be, until the Bill finally goes through, at the end of every section.
Therefore, I am again making the offer: I am prepared to consider whether we can tighten it up so that it would not give absolute powers, although, in reference to the legal luminary—again Deputy Haughey referred to the person who gave him the advice—it will be a High Court judge or an ex-High Court judge who will be in charge of the board and he will have recourse to his previous experience in the courts. I do not think anybody on the board will do something just for the purpose of doing away with a right.
While it is true that the 1963 Act guaranteed the right of an oral hearing on request, the previous planning Act of 1934 did not give any right whatever, and there were no cases about taking away the right of the individual or a breach of the Constitution or anything else. There is no breach of the Constitution involved in this. I am prepared to listen to what Deputies have to say and if I think the section can be improved I will do so, or if the Fianna Fáil Party want it to go to a vote I am prepared to allow it to go now.
There are two matters I want to raise. One is irrelevant to what is under discussion but relevant to the general discussion. I shall deal with the first point first. As spokesman here for Local Government I am in a little difficulty with the numberings of the various amendments that have been put in. I will accept the answer that if I had kept each one and filed it exactly as I got it and changed the numbers I would have an exact replica of the Bill and the amendments circulated from time to time. There have been sheets of amendments circulated at different stages. Today I visited the Dáil General Office and asked for an up-to-date copy of the amendments that had not been dealt with yet. I was given this document here for which I am very grateful to the officials, but the Minister has already mentioned an amendment which I cannot find in my papers and which was not included in the full list of amendments which the Dáil office gave me. I am not criticising the officials. I did not give them much time; I just went in there about 4 o'clock. I would ask the Minister if he would ask the Dáil office to circulate an up-to-date version of the amendments.
I take the Deputy's point.
It is just crazy. I have failed to find section 33 (a) to which the Minister referred when he was making a reply to me, when I questioned him on section 82, subsection (2) (a) of the 1963 Act. That is the first point, which I am glad the Minister has taken.
The second point brings us back to the amendment before the House. Strange as it may seem, the Minister circulated an explanatory memorandum when the Bill was published and the explanation given in that memorandum for section 14 of the Bill is a better explanation of my amendment to section 14, which would involve the deletion of the section, than it is of the Minister's section 14.
The Deputy drew up the amendment afterwards.
If what is in the Minister's explanation is what he intended by section 14, then I submit that the amendment I have down meets the case the Minister himself was making in his explanatory memorandum. I would further submit that section 14 in the Bill does not meet the case made by the Minister in explaining section 14. I want to write the explanation of section 14 on to the record of this House. Before doing so I wish to read section 14 as it is written in the Bill:
The Board shall have an absolute discretion to hold an oral hearing of any reference or appeal to the Board.
The definition given by the Minister, and circulated in the explanatory memorandum, to section 14 was as follows:
This section gives the Board absolute discretion to hold an oral hearing of any reference or appeal. This will help the Board to deal expeditiously with cases, particularly——
——where an appeal appeared to be ill-founded or vexatious (see also note on section 16 below). The Act of 1963 required the Minister to accede to the request of any party to an appeal for an oral hearing and it seems clear that the provision was being abused in certain cases.
Any person reading that would logically come to the conclusion that what the Minister intended by section 14 was to deal with abuses and to deal with ill-founded and vexatious requests for oral hearings. But as he has worded the section it is broad and gives sweeping powers, and is not restricted to cases of abuse, ill-founded or vexatious or otherwise.
Our amendment clearly limits it to the purpose for which the Minister states the section was being inserted. The only justification for the section is to limit abuse, to deal with abuse and with those persons who were using the right to ask for an oral hearing as an instrument to delay development and as an instrument in certain cases of spite towards their neighbours, knowing they could delay the matter further by requesting an oral hearing. This may have been the case, and if that is so, then certainly the House would agree to deal very effectively with persons who would abuse the appeal rights under the 1963 Act in such a way.
However, in trying to catch those few cases the Minister has decided to give this new planning board sweeping powers, and he has let the cat out of the bag in the course of the discussion here this evening. The real purpose of the Minister inserting this is to cut down dramatically on the number of oral hearings or planning applications. That is being done to convenience the planning staff who are dealing with planning matters in the Department. It is to remove the obstacle and urgency of oral hearings and the bother that places on officials. Whatever inconvenience and difficulties are experienced by officials because of oral hearings, it is something which will have to be tolerated in order to preserve the right of each citizen to have his case heard openly and orally as heretofore. I am fully conscious of the abuse that can occur under this section. I am perfectly well aware of the arbitrary fashion in which appeals will be decided. They can be issued without very much consideration and no explanations have to be given in any great detail for the decisions. The sole reason approval is being sought for this is because it is argued decisions will issue expeditiously. If decisions are not seen to be fair and if they are not given in an open fashion it is not proper that the House should be asked to agree to this format.
I propose, a Cheann Comhairle, to take amendments Nos. 32 and 42 together.