: I move:
(1) That it is expedient that a Joint Committee (which shall be called the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies) consisting of 7 members of the Dáil and 4 members of the Seanad (none of whom shall be a member of the Government or a Minister of State) be appointed to examine the Reports and Accounts and overall operational results of State-sponsored bodies engaged in trading or commercial activities referred to in Schedule A hereto and the trading and/or commercial aspects of the Reports and Accounts and overall operational results of the State-sponsored body referred to in Schedule B hereto and to report thereon to both Houses of the Oireachtas and make recommendations where appropriate.
(2) That, after consultation with the Joint Committee, the Minister for the Public Service with the agreement of the Minister for Finance may include from time to time the names of further State-sponsored bodies engaged in trading or commercial activities in the Schedules and, with the consent of the Joint Committee and the Minister for Finance, may delete from the Schedules the names of any bodies which he considers no longer to be State-sponsored bodies engaged in trading or commercial activities.
(3) That, if so requested by a State-sponsored body, the Joint Committee shall refrain from publishing confidential information regarding the body's activities and plans.
(4) That the Joint Committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records and, subject to the consent of the Minister for the Public Service, to engage the services of persons with specialist or technical knowledge to assist it for the purpose of particular enquiries.
(5) That the Joint Committee, previous to the commencement of business, shall elect one of its members to be Chairman, who shall have only one vote.
(6) That all questions in the Joint Committee shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting and in the event of there being an equality of votes the question shall be decided in the negative.
(7) That the Joint Committee shall have power to print and publish from time to time minutes of evidence taken before it together with such related documents as it thinks fit.
(8) That every report which the Joint Committee proposes to make under this Order shall on adoption by the Joint Committee be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas forthwith whereupon the Joint Committee shall be empowered to print and publish such report together with such related documents as it thinks fit.
(9) That 4 members of the Committee shall form a Quorum of whom at least I shall be a member of Dáil Éireann and at least 1 shall be a member of Seanad Éireann.
Aer Lingus, Teoranta
Aerlinte Éireann, Teoranta
Aer Rianta, Teoranta
The Agricultural Credit Corporation, Limited
Bord na Móna
British & Irish Steam Packet Company Limited
Cómhlucht Siúicre Eireann, Teoranta
Córas Iompair Éireann
Electricity Supply Board
Industrial Credit Company, Limited
The Irish Gas Board
Irish Life Assurance Company Limited
The Irish National Stud Company, Limited
Irish Shipping Limited
Irish Steel Holdings Limited
Min Fhéir (1959) Teoranta
National Building Agency Limited
Nítrigin Éireann Teoranta
Óstlanna Iompair Éireann Teoranta
Pigs and Bacon Commission
Radio Telefís Éireann
Voluntary Health Insurance
I do not intend to spend too much of the House's time going over matters which have already been discussed at length a fairly short time ago. The motion before the House provides for the reconstitution of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on State-sponsored bodies which lapsed on the dissolution of the previous Dáil.
I should say at the outset that the present motion is substantially the same as the one which was passed by both Houses late in 1976. A number of minor, mainly technical, amendments have been incorporated in the present motion to take account of developments which have occured since the original committee was established. I shall be giving details of the amendments, and the reasons why they are being made, later.
The essential reason why the Government have decided not to make any major changes in the joint committee's terms of reference at this stage is that the previous committee had little or no opportunity of getting off the ground; it had not got beyond considering procedural matters. There was, in the event, little opportunity to see how the committee would perform its task within its existing terms of reference. The Government have, therefore, decided that the best way of determining whether any substantial alterations should be made to the committee's terms of reference would be to observe how it works in practice under its original terms of reference with slight modifications.
While it may not be necessary to do so, I would like to emphasise that the Government's decision to re-establish the committee should not be interpreted as a criticism of State-sponsored bodies. On the contrary, we are very conscious of the important work done by State-sponsored bodies and their contribution to national, economic, and social progress. Because of this widely held view, the State-sponsored bodies, I am sure, recognise that they have nothing to fear from a closer relationship with Parliament. Indeed, I think it would be worth mentioning in this connection that a number of chief executives of State-sponsored bodies have expressed the view that they would welcome parliamentary review of their organisations' activities in the interest of better understanding of their role and functions and of stemming possible inaccurate and uninformed criticism of them.
The whole State-sponsored body area of Government is now very large. In the period since 1927, when the first State-sponsored bodies were established, there has been an enormous growth in their number and scale of operation; by reason of the numbers of people and the capital they employ and the size of their output of goods and services, they now play a major role in the national economy. Yet these bodies have not been established as part of any grand design; instead, they have been established as solutions to particular problems as they arose. It might be worth while, therefore, if the committee began its work by considering whether any general principles should govern its examination of the State-sponsored bodies. This might be a more satisfactory and ultimately more productive approach than to become involved too quickly in the examination of specific bodies. However, its procedures will be a matter for the committee itself and I am sure that all worth-while approaches to its task will be considered.
I have pointed out on several occasions in the past that the demands on the time and energies of Deputies and Senators are already very great. To help them make the best use of the time which they will have available to devote to the work of the committee, it is essential that the committee should have available to it a good secretariat to sift through and analyse relevant data. My predecessor undertook to make available resources of his Departments to help the committee in every way possible. I can do no better than to pledge the same.
I have already mentioned that the motion before the House differs in several minor respects from that passed late in 1976. The first is that an alteration has been made which will formalise the practice which has developed of calling the committee "the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies" by incorporating this title in the motion.
The second is the omission of the reference to "Parliamentary Secretary" and the substitution of the term "Minister of State". This change is obviously necessary because of the passing of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No.2) Act, 1977, which established the office of Minister of State and abolished that of Parliamentary Secretary.
The changes in paragraphs 5 and 6 relate to the election of a chairman of the committee and deal with the resolution of questions in the committee by vote. These changes are in line with those adopted for all other joint committees pending the revision of the Standing Orders of the House.
Some misgivings have been expressed about the previous committee's inability to publish information or documentation on receipt, or disseminate documents other than those given to it. To rectify this, the committee's powers are being suitably extended in paragraphs 7 and 8 to permit it to publish what it deems fit, subject to the qualification that the committee may not publish material if a State-sponsored body so requests on the grounds that publication of confidential information would be injurious to its business or commercial interests. In addition, the committee will now not have to wait until a report is presented to the Oireachtas to publish information but may do so at any time.
The final change is that the Diary Disposal Company Limited has been removed from Schedule A of the bodies to be examined as it is in the process of winding up its affairs and its commercial involvement is now practically negligible.
The Government are firmly convinced of the merit of parliamentary review of State-sponsored bodies. The commercial bodies which this committee will examine are creations of Parliament and, though they need a great measure of independence from rigid control to innovate and expand, they must ultimately be subject to a degree of public accountability through the machinery of Parliament. The desire that State-sponsored bodies be accountable to Parliament has often been expressed over the years both in this House and elsewhere. At last the potential for an effective response to the question is at hand. The committee, if it functions well—and I have no doubt that it will—can help Parliament to steer State-sponsored bodies more closely in the direction it wishes them to proceed. It can also enable the bodies to enlist parliamentary understanding and support for the activities which they pursue and the problems which they face and more sympathetic public appreciation of their role and their difficulties. Better harmonisation and closer communication between the aims and aspirations of the citizen, Parliament and State-sponsored bodies cannot but be in the interests of national progress, of democracy and the democratic process itself.