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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 May 1978

Vol. 306 No. 8

Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies: Motion .

: 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.

Schedule A

Aer Lingus, Teoranta

Aerlinte Éireann, Teoranta

Aer Rianta, Teoranta

The Agricultural Credit Corporation, Limited

Arramara Teoranta

Bord na Móna

British & Irish Steam Packet Company Limited

Ceimicí, Teoranta

Cómhlucht Siúicre Eireann, Teoranta

Córas Iompair Éireann

Electricity Supply Board

Fóir Teoranta

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

Schedule B

Gaeltarra Éireann.

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.

: I am glad to see this committee being set up again. It might appear extraordinary to people outside this House and outside this country that it has taken various Governments over 50 years to have some overseeing role by Parliament on a very significant sector of the economy. That we had to wait 50 years is, I suppose, a reflection on the people in this House, but it is a very desirable measure.

Schedule A of the motion is a most formidable list of extensive commercial undertakings who have served the country well during the past 50 years. They were all set up at different times.

Since I became a Member of this House, and particularly since I was Minister for Transport and Power— many of the companies we are discussing now come under the aegis of that Department—I have been disappointed at the level of debate here on State-sponsored bodies when the Estimate for the Department was being discussed. I thought that Deputies from all sides did not address themselves to the role, the contribution or the effect on the economy of the board in question but instead were grasping at small points of irritation. When in Government I was very keen that this committee should be set up because I thought it would be a tremendous help and benefit to Members of the Oireachtas to have a closer understanding of the difficulties encountered by the semi-State bodies in their daily operations and in their long-term aims. At that time I welcomed the establishment of the committee and I welcome now the reintroduction of the motion to re-establish it.

However, I am somewhat puzzled that we have a debate on the motion. My understanding is that this committee is similar to the Public Accounts Committee and to other committees that are re-established at each new Dáil. All that happens there is that the members appointed are named in this House and the setting up of the committee does not involve a debate. I do not know why the situation should be different in this case. As the Minister for the Public Service has said, some technical changes have been made. There is the addition of Gaeltarra Éireann in Schedule B that was not in the original motion but when the Minister was on this side of the House he urged that that company be included. It is reasonable enough that he should make the change now. Deputies may have differing views on whether a State-sponsored body should be included. However, a start has been made as I understand the committee have met on two occasions. A secretariat has been established and the committee have been given permission to employ an accountant to help them in their work.

When the debate on this committee took place a few years ago there was strong pressure that the policy of the company should be subject to examination by the committee. Quite rightly this was resisted because it was felt that the policy was that of the Minister of the day and that the application of that policy to the affairs of the company would be examined retrospectively by the committee. I presume the Minister for the Public Service will agree now that a member of the Opposition should chair the committee because that was the major point in his contribution on the previous occasion. At that time it was pointed out that this committee was similar to the Public Accounts Committee and, by tradition, that has always been chaired by a member of the Opposition. I presume he will now agree on this point.

Possibly because they have been so successful I do not think that the public or Members of this House have appreciated the contribution made to the economy by State-sponsored bodies. The companies set out in Schedule A are the largest undertakings in the country and I am sure that their assets must be £1,000 million. That is an enormous investment. They do not infringe on the private sector and are not in competition with companies in that area in most cases, except perhaps the Irish Life Assurance Company. That was not on the original list but it is now included and it is right that it should be.

From time to time many of our State-sponsored bodies have appeared to adopt attitudes that did not seem to people near to them but not of them to be conducive to the good of the company or the economy. Many of the boards of these companies would argue that they should be allowed absolute freedom in the conduct of the affairs of their organisation. That is a false idea of the role of the board. They are not an absolutely free commercial enterprise but are there as nominees of the Minister to do what he desires. However, a too close security or a Minister who drives a board on too tight a rein may not get the best from the board or the company.

I was surprised that the Minister for the Public Service did not refer to the present position of salaries of the chief executives of these companies. I should have thought he would have something to say about the present controversy and the statements made by former chief executive officers with regard to salaries. There is always a conflict here. These are not private companies and the boards are not free to the same extent as boards elected by shareholders of a private company to decide internal matters in the company. The object of making the companies semi-State bodies or whatever term may be used, was to allow them a freedom they would not have if they were directly under the Minister or his Department. How much freedom should the Minister allow his nominees on that board to run their affairs? It is obvious, if they want to live up to the responsibilities placed on them by the Minister of operating as near commercially as possible, taking into account their different circumstances, that they will have to pay salaries to their chief executives at a level parallel to that in the private sector. They will have to pay those salaries if they want to attract people from the private sector. I believe it would be very valuable for people in the private sector to spend some time in the State-sponsored bodies and then go back to private industry. If they want to prevent private industry robbing from them some of the very great talent there is in State-sponsored bodies and if they do not want private industry to attract those people away with higher salaries the salaries paid to their chief executive officers must match those in the private sector.

We all know that there are men working for the State-sponsored bodies who are not motivated by money alone and who enjoy the challenge of a State-sponsored body, who feel that it is a patriotic thing to help build up one of those bodies to compete around the world. Aer Lingus and Bord Failte are particularly relevant in this regard but they are not on the list. How do you strike the balance? The Devlin Report in the early 1970s tried to strike the balance. It appears obvious from the comments of some people in the last few months that the level of salary laid down by Devlin is not in the eyes of a few chief executives in semi-State bodies high enough. It is a pity that in one case the Minister found it necessary, if newspaper reports are correct, to cut the salary of the chief executive in question. A salary of £12,000 a year would appear to be very high to some people. That company are essentially a banking company and that chief executive officer has responsibility for putting through the company every year vast sums of money. Would the salary of some person in a similar position in a private bank be higher than £12,000? Would this man's obvious ability be worth more than that sum to private interests? Is there a danger that he and the quality of the firm he had built up over the last few years might now be lost to this company because of the level of salary?

I know the Minister has a difficult job in deciding the level people should be paid at in semi-State bodies. If he fixes the salary of the chief executive officer and does not fix the salaries of those under him there is a possibility that the second rank officer or the third rank officer may earn more than the chief executive officer who, in the final analysis, has to carry responsibility as far as the board are concerned. I do not know how a system can be devised which is fair to the chief executive officer so that it gives him a salary sufficient to retain his services and still recognises that he is not working in the private sector and that the board who pay him that salary are not as free to make decisions in this regard as the boards of private companies. I am not sure if everybody accepts the salary levels in the Devlin Report relating to 1972 and that at that stage they were correct. I believe those salaries need updating more regularly than has been done. The understanding was that they would get the basic salary of the 1972 level and that various wage rounds would be added on. This may seem fair but the value and importance of companies in the semi-State sector may have changed over that period and the salaries of the chief executive officers may need revision at more frequent intervals.

The board of a semi-State company are in a dilemma in this regard. They recognise the value of the man they have because they have very close relations with him, much closer than the Minister who may or may not know him. They have the affairs of that company at their fingertips and they may, apart from the fear of him being enticed away from them, know what is being offered to him. What are they to do in a situation like that? They should go to their Minister and discuss the matter with him. I do not know how many companies have gone to their Ministers and if ways have been found around paying those officers who were quite exceptional and whom the boards felt they could not operate without retaining their services: I believe the wrong thing to do is what happened last Sunday when the Minister threatened the members of those boards on the radio.

The relationship between the Minister and the board of a company under his control and through them the staff of that company, is delicate. It can be frequently difficult because the particular company may unintentionally embarrass the Minister. The board may feel as they were entrusted with the responsibility by the Minister, they are entitled to pursue a course which the Minister may not fully agree with.

I believe there should be continuous tension between the Minister and the chairman of a board under his control as he may get the best results that way. But that should be a private tension of a nature that can be thrashed out between the Minister and that chairman at regular intervals in the privacy of the Minister's office. To threaten members of boards, as the Minister did last Sunday, does no service—indeed I would go so far as to say is no credit to the Minister—to a group of people who are devoting far more time to the boards of companies of which they are directors than their remuneration would warrant. I think £800 a year is about the level of directors' fees paid on most of the State boards here. This involves people coming from all parts of the country, neglecting their own businesses, 12, maybe more, times a year for full days. Of course a lot of these people feel very honoured to be appointed to these boards. But, having got over the euphoria of their appointment, many of them settle down and make extremely valuable contributions to the operations of those companies, bringing their experience in the private sector, giving it virtually free of charge except for the £800 directors' fees they receive. Many of the companies on this list would not be as successful were it not for this outside expertise which has been made available to the State for a pittance.

For the Minister to threaten them as he did on Sunday last—I think the words he used were that he would have to take further action; I am not sure if he went so far as to say that he would have to fire them if they did not obey his guidelines—may be understandable and perhaps is something a Minister would have to do if a board continued deliberately to flout his intentions and directions; but it is not something which these people, who for very small amounts of money give a lot of their time to the country, should hear on the radio on a Sunday afternoon for the first time. Perhaps I am wronging the Minister in this and, if so, he will correct me. Perhaps he has seen the boards of all of these companies and told them that this is his attitude. I do not know, but I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong in that. The Minister has a real problem here which he should approach in a sympathetic and I hope, from the boards' point of view, understanding way. The boards themselves have a real problem : how do they hold on to their chief executives at salary levels many people would consider were much lower than those of a person doing a comparable job in the private sector?

This new joint committee will be extremely time-consuming for the Deputies and Senators on it. They will need a reasonably large number of professional assistants to help them in their work. But I would hope that the Deputies and Senators who find themselves lucky enough to be on it—and I would say lucky enough to be appointed to this committee because it will give them a great chance of learning a tremendous amount about very important companies here—will not allow these professional assistants do more than provide them with professional assistance and will not allow those professionals to take over what should be the work of the committee of ordinary people elected to this House, with ordinary common sense: examine the Reports and Accounts and overall operational results of State-sponsored bodies engaged in trading or commercial activities referred to in Schedule A...

Many people would hold that as well as the reports and accounts their actual policies—although as I said I do not agree with that point of view— should be examined. The Minister is correct when he says we must first see how this committee operates before we make any further change that may become necessary. I totally accept that point of view, that we are dealing with something new and there may be problems we may be able to see more clearly in two or three years' time. I would guess that there is two or three years' work in that list. When they have gone through that list for the first time we may be able to see more clearly what are the problems involved and what changes may be necessary in the motion to give Members of the Dáil and Seanad a better chance (a) to learn more themselves and (b) to be of help to the executives of the boards of these State-sponsored bodies.

There is one point on which I should like clarification from the Minister and which I do not understand. Paragraph (7) of the motion says:

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.

In his introductory remarks the Minister says they can do this prior to the reports being laid before the Oireachtas. I do not understand the necessity for that or what situation is envisaged in which the committee might feel they need to put evidence taken before them before it comes officially to this House as a report to the Oireachtas. Perhaps the Minister would tell me what is the thinking behind this or why this paragraph was included in the motion.

: On behalf of my party I welcome this motion. I regret the very long delay in having this joint committee established. That has been the responsibility of successive Governments. We have been talking in this House now for nearly five years about the setting up of this committee. We had intensive discussions among the Party Whips early in 1975; finally in 1976 we brought forward terms of reference which were debated extensively in the House and I do not propose to go back over that debate. After 11 months of consideration by the present Government finally we have this committee being established. I hope it will get down to work rapidly because there is a serious need for it.

All of the State-sponsored bodies concerned have in varying ways made a unique contribution to the economic and social development of the nation. There are 26 bodies involved, large employers, now employing between them some 40,000 workers. I would hope that the members of the committee would envisage for themselves a totally different role from that of the Dáil Committee on Public Accounts. If the committee, the seven Dáil Deputies and the four Senators, regard their role as a purely routine one of routine examination and routine bromide observations back to the Dáil on the accounts and operations of these bodies there really would not be much point in setting up the committee. Parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary report can very easily slip into a comfortable groove of routine meetings, routine examination and routine reports in which case it will not produce much of any value in the national interest.

I would hope a more positive role would be adopted. I would hope that the committee would confront the senior executives of the State-sponsored bodies concerned and inquire from them as to their plans for expansion. It is quite obvious the committee will not be able to meet all the bodies every year. I would hope it would select some of the keen and interested State-sponsored bodies initially and get down to work with them and I would hope, as a result of the experience of Deputies and Senators and the expert staff we hope to see working with the committee, that the committee could look forward to expanding the role of the State-sponsored bodies concerned.

There is need now for development in the context of the mixed economy about which I spoke yesterday on the Finance Bill. It is important to examine the way in which public and private enterprise can sustain each other and can expand together over the next decade in order to provide jobs. The task will be to tease out new forms of co-operation between these bodies and private enterprise and the Administration itself so that new structures will contribute to the thrust forward of industrial and natural resources development. Many countries have found excellent ways of involving their parliamentarians in this type of work. The French have done it successfully. There is in France a tremendous liaison between the public and private sector. The Italians, despite all the strictures on them, have done it successfully. The Austrians have been outstandingly successful. So have the Swedes. All have found mechanisms designed for mutual aid and co-operation between the public and the private sectors. I would make that a key role of the committee.

There is the kind of attitude that one needs business people in the private sector. Some rant and rave about the public sector and say the Dáil should examine the work of CIE, Aer Lingus and the tourist board. The argument seems to be that the restrictive hand of parliamentary scrutiny should be imposed on State-sponsored bodies. I do not share that view. Our job is not only to scrutinise but also to give great encouragement to a leap forward in general development. I see no contradiction in setting up this committee and working with it. I see no contradiction in the Government fostering enterprise at all levels. Our job is to ensure that State-sponsored enterprises will make a decisive contribution to job creation.

We should be acutely aware that there is not much scope in State-sponsored manufacturing industry. Only about 5,000 or 6,000 workers are actually engaged in the manufacturing sector which is constituted of public utilities in one form or another. They, of course, perform a crucial and valuable role but in the years ahead, certainly in relation to the development of natural resources, such as oil, gas and minerals, I would hope to see the State-sponsored manufacturing sector expand and develop and I would hope to see this committee showing an interest in that area. There is no reason why State enterprises should be confined to what might be called unprofitable areas in which social needs have to be satisfied and in which non-commercial considerations will continue to apply.

I do not regard the setting up of this committee as a constraining influence on the public sector enterprises because I hope to see this committee encourage these enterprises into making a fuller contribution to economic life. Many of our State companies have shown great imagination and have been quite efficient in discharging their statutory role but there is a regrettable tendency in public debate on State enterprises to publicise those which have operated at a loss or are in a deficit situation. One hears little about the tremendous work done by Aer Lingus, Bord na Móna, the ESB, Irish Shipping, the B & I and the Agricultural Credit Corporation. All these have made great strides. Unfortunately there are always those who are anti-State enterprises. I suppose it stems from the days when people were suspicious of State involvement. There is a tendency to harp on CIE, a State enterprise which must of necessity operate in a social context.

I would hope to see many of these enterprises being given a great push forward by this committee. I would hope the committee would not become bogged down in an examination of accounts and general accountability to the State as a whole. There should be no selective preoccupation. The companies I have mentioned all have outstanding records. They have satisfied their minimum statutory requirements and at the same time, they have expanded into wider fields. Unfortunately, in the manufacturing sector, there are about six public enterprises employing about 6,000 people or 3 per cent of all manufacturing employment. Therefore, there is great scope for this committee to go into the commercial activities of these State bodies and to encourage them to develop along those lines. The committee can do a great deal of work from that point of view.

Outside bodies such as consumer organisations and trade unions who organise employment substantially in semi-State bodies will have an opportunity of putting their views before Parliament, through this committee, in relation to the activities of these bodies. They have never had that opportunity. In the past their only opportunity was to go directly to the Minister. On many occasions we get residents' associations and other national organisations who have strong views about the role of semi-State bodies, and they can now come to the Joint Committee in relation to the 26 bodies specified and make their views known. This will be a form of extension of democracy. In that way we can have regular consultations with, say the trade unions who work in that sector.

There will be a need for criticism in relation to certain of those bodies. For example, if the committee had been set up 11 months ago and if I had been in a position to serve on the committee, as a member of Dublin County Council and Dáil Éireann I would have had an opportunity to ask the NBA about the collapse of a major firm in the construction industry. I would have asked that they be brought in and we could have inquired what the agency had done about that. That is a legitimate area of scrutiny.

RTE are another body included. It would be interesting to hear from the senior executives of that organisation what the current situation is regarding the second channel. This is an area of overall policy which in terms of operational results comes within the terms of reference of the new committee. In my ten years of work in the House I have never had an opportunity to talk to senior executives of the VHI, for instance. I should like to hear their views on the development of the health services. Now we can have them before the committee. The Government are about to announce by way of a Green Paper, without any public inquiry, the go ahead to a nuclear power plant. If the committee had been in operation during the past couple of years we would have had an opportunity to discuss with the ESB the role they envisage for nuclear energy.

I welcome the assurance by the Minister that sufficient staff will be provided for the committee. In regard to the original proposal to set up the committee there was a serious problem in this respect. As the House is aware, a secretary was appointed but further staff will be required. For instance, the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities have an administrative staff composed of a secretary and two assistants at senior clerk level. For this committee we will be asking the Minister, in consultation with the Civil Service Executive Union, to sanction additional staff.

The committee will be imposing on the day-to-day work of Deputies and Senators, but I am increasingly depressed at the large number of Opposition and Government Deputies who do not make any contribution virtually to the day-to-day running of the Dáil and the work of Dáil Committees. It seems to be a fact of life that about half of the Members of the House spend 90 per cent of their time exclusively involved in constituency work. The extent to which they come in here and offer to sit on committees and do the work for which they were appointed by the electorate is a matter of profound regret. I have always felt strongly about this. A Deputy has to take a conscious decision to ration his time between his constituency and his domestic life. In relation to a large number of Deputies, constituency work predominates. I hope this committee will give the 11 members of the Oireachtas an opportunity to make a contribution. We have Deputies with wide experience and talent who can make a distinct contribution to the work of this committee. I therefore look forward to the committee being set up rapidly and getting down to work before the summer recess. We have a secretary already appointed and there should not be much difficulty in convening the committee in a matter of a couple of weeks and the laying out of future strategy.

I should like to comment on the chairmanship of the committee. Although I share the views of Deputy Barry, I recall a flaming row I had in my own party during the last Dáil when I suggested that we should allow Fianna Fáil to have the chair of a committee. I was eaten alive. The outcome was that the chairmanship went to the Government of the day.

: That is where this one will go.

: I do not know if the conscience of Fianna Fáil is any better than ours in this respect. Whether it is the chairmanship of the Nationalised Industries Committee of the House of Commons or the equivalent committees in France or Sweden, the Opposition chair such bodies. Who am I to talk with my parliamentary tongue in my cheek and suggest to the Minister——

: The Deputy has taken the words out of my mouth.

: ——that he should agree the Opposition would chair this committee? I recall the work of Deputy de Valera as Opposition Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, and the work of distinguished Members of the House, particularly Fine Gael, on that committee. I always felt it was a useful exercise to have a Member of the Opposition as chairman. We have continued that practice in the EEC Joint Committee. I suggest we should do the same here. I held that view when I belonged to a Government Party and I hold it still as a member of the Opposition, and I have no doubt that this time I will be overruled by Fianna Fáil who have 20 or 30 hungry backbenchers who want some status, and who am I to prevent them from having it?

: I welcome the motion to reactivate the Joint Oireachtas Committee on State-sponsored bodies. In the past a great deal of time went into sorting out procedural matters and I trust this will all have been settled by now so that the committee, once established, will be enabled to get down to work urgently. This is important at this time. We have a tremendous task. At the moment 50 per cent of our population are less than 25 years of age and among our EEC partners we have the highest level of youth unemployment with a percentage of 43.6, the average for the EEC as a whole being 36 per cent.

We have debated frequently in recent times the problems we will be facing not only in the next few years. as is the case in the EEC, but for many years beyond that. For the next 15 or 20 years we will have a large population of young people. We have a very special problem here.

I would like to give due credit and recognition to the Members of both sides of this House who in the past contributed to the establishment, running and working of the semi-State bodies as we know them today. If we look back to those early years when the semi-State bodies were established, often after considerably heated debate, we see that these bodies have made a tremendous contribution to our economy and the life of the country. In many respects we may disagree with them in their present shape and form, we may have points to raise about them, we may criticise them in one way or another, but in my view it is unquestionable that they have made a very considerable contribution to the development of our economy at a stage when this development was of great importance to us.

When we look back we see that semi-State bodies have made a considerable contribution to this country. This raises the question of the future objectives of these bodies and what general principles should underline the areas of activity for these bodies. If we look at the areas of the involvement, we realise it is quite timely to review them. Obviously, where a semi-State body has been functioning for ten, 15 or 20 years, there must come a time when the overall objectives and principles and consequently the broad strategies for these bodies must be reassessed. In this respect the bodies themselves might frequently welcome such discussion and review. The original brief given to any State body was given in the context of an existing economic and social situation. Obviously our tasks, problems and targets of today differ considerably because of the development which has occurred in the interim period. Consequently there must be areas in which semi-State bodies can make a contribution which, by virtue of their own rules and regulations, they might not feel that they are empowered to undertake.

Two things come to mind immediately in the practical manufacturing and distribution spheres, and the sphere in which we can diversify the products and extend the operations of such bodies. One obvious example is the whole question of Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann Teoranta and their involvement in the manufacture of machinery, particularly machinery dealing with agriculture. Over the years they have had some outstanding successes in their design and development of machinery largely initially for their own purposes but subsequently finding that such equipment and machinery was very much in demand elsewhere. They have developed considerable expertise in this area. The question arises as to how far should such a company go in developing this expertise and in helping to create the jobs which could result from that. Should they be involved in joint ventures in the private sector? Should they be hiving off such activities to the private sector or should they go wholeheartedly into the development of these opportunities? These are the types of problems that can arise when a semi-State body has been in operation for a number of years under a particular brief or under the expected interpretation of that brief as may often be the case.

Bord na Móna were given the brief of raw material manufactures. The provision of energy and fuel was one of their major tasks and they have done this in an outstanding way and have been copied by many other countries who are developing their peat resources. Around the late fifties and early sixties they began to diversify some of their products particularly in the horticultural area, and to develop peat products of various kinds. The question arose then as to what their brief was—it was principally raw material manufactures. This is a problem I personally had because I was involved in the research area. There was considerable heart-searching on their part as to whether they would use the new formulations which had been developed in the Agricultural Research Institute or if they would pass their raw material to the private sectors here, in England and elsewhere. These people would then develop the diversified consumer-type products which we all know well because in the interim period many companies have gone into that business and have used the basic information developed in this country.

This is the kind of problem that arises for a semi-State body which has been in operation for some years. The Oireachtas have a responsibility to give these bodies a clear-cut direction in this respect and to revise their briefs, if necessary. If it is found by this committee that a revision of the brief is necessary to allow a semi-State body to pursue certain lines of action, it is very important that we do not hesitate to revise such brief. I say this bearing in mind the enormous task the Minister is tackling. I believe he can use this committee to give him further insights into the very complex activities which are now undertaken by the semi-State bodies.

It is important that we speak to the people who are guiding and directing our semi-State bodies and ask them what obstacles there are to their development, what impediments there are particularly in relation to their briefs and what impediments there are in relation to risk-taking. This is another area which will become very much a part of our lives and of our economy. Unless we are prepared to take risks there is little prospect of us developing the number of jobs we desire. In his budget the Minister gave the green light to risk-taking. The Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy has done likewise, in relation to the enterprise development. Nevertheless, when you consider semi-State bodies as a whole, the question of how far they should go in their risk-taking role is something they cannot determine so readily. They must be given some backing. Somebody must be prepared to take the responsibility ultimately because when we take risks we must have failures. Unless we are prepared to have failures and to stand behind them, we will not achieve the goals we aim for. In relation to risk-taking, the standards which have to apply to semi-State bodies could be examined critically.

There are various other factors, such as the encouragement of mobility among some of the many well-skilled and trained staff in semi-State bodies into other sectors of the economy, because they have developed a tremendous pool of expertise. There is the question of their marketing operations and functions which are crucial to the economy and the expansion of that role where feasible.

As I said at the outset there is the question of hiving off the functions of semi-State bodies where this is desirable. This is something we need to look at. There will be a very great problem in starting people in young and new enterprises, especially young people. This is an area where semi-State bodies may have a particular contribution to make in assisting young people to become established, perhaps even to become established on their own, in the private sector. The question of cooperating with the private sector is something which might well be reviewed. Fundamentally, we should not be looking at the role of semi-State bodies in the past but at how semi-State bodies might be altered to meet the challenges and targets of the 1980s. This means that we must all face changing situations. In this respect I welcome the motion to reactivate the Joint Oireachtas Committee on State-sponsored Bodies and I hope it will have a major impact on the development of our economy.

: Some weeks ago I asked the Taoiseach about the restoration of this committee because I felt it essential that the work which was commenced by this committee in the last few months of the Coalition Government should be continued. This committee will have to look into the accounts of semi-State bodies but before that we should first try to get our own House in order. If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will bear with me——

: I do not like that approach, but we will see what is coming.

: There is a situation here where we are a year behind in examining the accounts of Government Departments so we must come, a little tongue in cheek, to examine anybody else's accounts.

: Is the Deputy referring to the Public Accounts Committee?

: No, to our discussions here in regard to Government Departments.

: The Estimates?

: Yes. That situation has continued since I have been a member of the House and I presume it has gone on since its foundation. We should endeavour to ensure that we are not a year behind; we should be dealing with the current year. In fact we should be able to examine the situation before it occurs.

: Having said that, the Deputy should come to the motion.

: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the latitude given. This motion has been fully debated so far. I go along with what Deputy Peter Barry said in relation to the salaries of the chief executives of semi-State bodies. There was considerable controversy in the last few weeks in relation to one person who had to take a serious cut in salary. We must take into account that throughout the semi-State bodies there has been no productivity agreements or special pay awards for senior personnel. These productivity agreements and special pay awards have been given to other people right across the board in semi-State bodies. There has been blatant discrimination against senior officials and executives. It must be put right and if the Devlin Report, as has been suggested by the former chief of Telefís Éireann has been put in the waste paper basket, that is the place for it. If we are to retain our top management people in the semi-State bodies it is essential that a balance is restored and this is the responsibility of the Minister. The Minister should be aware that a lot of senior officials are paying the top rate of income tax and that there has been a drop in their standard of living as compared with everybody else. This is not good enough.

Deputy Peter Barry referred to directors of semi-State bodies and I also spoke about that matter on the Agricultural Credit Bill when I dealt with directors' salaries in the semi-State bodies. A person would have to be in a serious financial situation to accept a directorship in some of these bodies because the salary is only a mere pittance. These salaries have never been kept in line with inflation. We have top-class people in the ACC, the Sugar Company, Bord na Móna, the ESB and so on and it is important to continue to get top-class people. We must seriously try to ensure that the calibre of the directors is kept up and to this end the salaries situation must be looked into.

We must look into the role of our semi-State organisations. We are all aware that in these organisations we have excellent management expertise that can hold their own with any management in Europe. We have experts in technology, expert engineers, chemists, scientists and so on in all our semi-State bodies. We have very high levels of investment in plant and equipment and we have excellent distribution networks in regard to sales from semi-State bodies. We must realise that the semi-State bodies were set up a long time ago. Looking at the advances they have made we are all agreed that they are capable of taking additional responsibility. They are capable of taking on additional lines of production but the semi-State bodies have not the power to digress into different lines. It is a great pity that the semi-State bodies are limited as to how far they can diversify. Semi-State bodies have proved themselves commercially successful and have proved that they can orientate themselves towards different projects. We in this House and in this committee must enable the semi-State bodies to diversify as much as possible. It is important to look at some of the work of the semi-State bodies and to point out how successful they have been. I admit that most of them have a monopoly situation which gives them a wide open field, but irrespective of that we must compliment some of our more successful bodies such as B & I, Aer Lingus, Bord na Móna which has continuously shown a profit over the years, the Sugar Company which has also shown a profit and the ESB which did not show a profit but which was successful in reducing the charges by 2½ per cent in January and there will be a 5 per cent reduction in charges in the next issue of accounts.

: The ESB did better than most in that they buried some of their profits.

: They have reduced their charges, which is important. Over the years Bord na Móna have continuously shown a profit and so have many more of them. When they are able to show profit in all this it indicates the talent that is available and this is most important. We must try to achieve a situation of diversification. This is essential. If, as an ordinary Deputy, I could make but one suggestion on this Bill it would be that the CEOs of each semi-State body should consider their own semi-State body and see where they can expand lines of production in conjunction with private enterprise. I put this to the Minister and to each semi-State body. I do not know if this is a novel idea or whether the Minister or the semi-State bodies will agree with me but at this time when we are all talking about job creation there are two things that should be done—one, expand the terms of reference of semi-State bodies to enable them to diversify and two, every semi-State body should be charged with the responsibility of trying to expand their activities and co-operate with private enterprise to see if they can diversify and help private enterprise while private enterprise helps semi-State bodies. This can be done because the expertise is there, the structure for distribution, plant and equipment and investment are already there. The technological manpower is there and the management expertise. Now is the time to move ahead. If the opportunity is lost now it may be lost forever. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to aim at achieving a situation of co-operation between private enterprise and semi-State bodies. This is essential and it can be done : there can be a good mix of the two.

May I give an example to the Minister and those in the semi-State bodies of what I have in mind? There has been massive investment for years past, particularly in the past five or six years, in Bord na Móna in regard to engineering facilities which have been expanded considerably in the mechanical field. They are still capable of further expansion. Each year, as the Minister is aware, we are importing, according to statistics——

: It is quite in order to make suggestions about what the proposed committee will discuss with the State bodies but going into great detail would not be in order.

: I shall certainly accept the Chair's ruling and I am not going into detail. The figures are set out on page 33 of the Trade Statistics of Ireland. They show we are importing each year a total of £82,294,000 of agricultural machinery comprising machines for preparing and cultivating the soil, harvesting, threshing, sorting, cream separation and so on. On the other side, we are exporting a considerable amount also but overall we import more than we export. Bord na Móna are capable of manufacturing machines. They have manufactured draining and levelling machines for levelling bog surfaces, ditch-making machines and large discs for opening drains and so on. In its own way this machinery is just as sophisticated and as difficult to make as any agricultural machinery. Deputy Dr. Woods also dealt with this situation in regard to the Sugar Company in Carlow. Some years ago they made beet harvesters on which they are to be complimented and, as the Chair who is personally involved in agriculture will be aware, they have succeeded in obtaining a ready market for the export of many machinery items. This is brilliant enterprise on the part of our State bodies to be able to involve themselves in this kind of work. It is exactly what I have in mind.

I would hope the committee would be able to project ideas and encourage the expansion of the scope and expertise of different semi-State bodies to develop a process such as this by branching out into different lines. With a proper mix of semi-State bodies and private enterprise this situation can be achieved. Even if private enterprise is not agreeable about coming into this, I believe that Bord na Móna and the Sugar Company in their respective fields should be given power to diversify sufficiently to go into these projects on their own. Manufacturing agricultural machinery may be a far cry from the purpose for which they were set up—and I am not specifying agricultural machinery; any type of machinery, electrical or mechanical but the potential is available; it is now only in the infant stage. Derrinlough, Birr, is an example of what I have in mind where some of this machinery is being produced. In all our semi-State bodies the scope, the ability and intelligence are present and where private enterprise for any reason fails to do the job, the committee investigating semi-State bodies should try to promote a situation of maximum employment and maximum involvement of people and maximum exports. The potential is there if properly developed. It will mean that the functions and aims of the semi-State bodies will have to be expanded but I think everybody would agree to that.

On this subject there is one topic in the midlands at present that is very relevant. I think it will be relevant in Deputy Callanan's constituency in a few years time, cut-away bog.

: I fear it is not relevant to the motion, whatever about the constituency. We can only deal with matters that the proposed committee may discuss with the semi-State bodies.

: I rarely disagree with the Chair——

: But the Deputy rarely does what the Chair wants; however, we shall hear him.

: I want to make one brief point. Many semi-State bodies have responsibility in regard to this matter, especially Bord na Móna. As a committee we shall have to look at the structure of Bord na Móna to see if they have personnel qualified to examine the matter of cut-away bogs. It should be realised that we are talking about an area which is the equivalent in size of County Louth.

: It is in order for the Deputy to suggest that this is a matter which this committee could discuss with Bord na Móna but it is not in order for him to develop the point here.

: It is my view that we are entitled to examine the different roles of the semi-State bodies and say if we are satisfied with what they are doing. I am speaking of a tract of land which will become available shortly and I want to know if Bord na Móna have a policy in relation to that land. It is my view that this is relevant.

: It is in order for the Deputy to suggest that the committee should consider that matter but he cannot go into detail. Such matters could be dealt with on the Estimate.

: We are not permitted to discuss Bord na Móna or other semi-State bodies on the Estimates. Basically, we cannot ask questions about them. In fact, we are very restricted in relation to such bodies. We are dealing with a unique situation which will never arise again. I cannot see how I am transgressing the rules of the House by expressing a view in relation to Bord na Móna policy. I cannot see how I am doing anything wrong in asking if Bord na Móna have the personnel to deal with certain problems. There must be some investigation carried out by the committee as to what will take place in regard to our cut-away bogs as they become available. This is an important matter. We must ask if Bord na Móna have sufficient skilled personnel to look after this work. We must be made aware of Bord na Móna's policy in relation to vegetable production and if it is the intention of that body to go into the export market. Is it the intention of Bord na Móna to go into sheep rearing? Such matters must be closely investigated by the new committee.

The committee will also have to look into the question of allocating the land to local smallholders or restoring it to the former owners. This is an important issue at present. The situation is developing where we will have a 33rd county consisting of old bogs. That land will be on the market shortly and we must be prepared for this situation. If the land is to be handed over the semi-State body involved must see to it that it is given to those who will look after it. Bord na Móna must respect the rights of those people who have looked after the land.

I should like to know what the purpose of the committee is. Basically, we all agree that it will be a type of watchdog committee to ensure that the vast sums of money that semi-State bodies have the power to borrow and spend are controlled. I accept what the Minister said, that the directors are satisfied with the setting-up of the committee and it is my view that a lot of the bodies will welcome it. Therefore, we must try to strengthen the power of that committee. In this regard I disagree with the Minister and Deputy Peter Barry. The committee should have more power in regard to policy decisions of semi-State bodies. I do not know if I am in a minority of one on this issue but the committee with investigative rights but without power to suggest policy will not be very strong. I accept that the decisions of the committee will be placed before the Minister for Finance but the committee will not have the right to formulate policy.

It is essential that the committee be in a position to formulate policy because taxpayers' money is involved. A problem does not arise where a semi-State body has proved successful but the committee should be able to suggest policy to the semi-State body that is not successful. I should like to know what the position will be in relation to recommendations which the committee will make. Is the Minister obliged to act on those recommendations? I do not think he is. There was nothing in the last motion on this or in this motion. The committee should be in a position to insist on the recommendations being acted on or if they are not carried out to ask the Minister why he has not done so. It appears to me that the committee can only investigate the accounts of such bodies. I hope they will have a controlling influence on some of the semi-State bodies. They could help to formulate policy in different ways and give an input of their ideas about State bodies. As elected representatives dealing with the taxpayers' money, we should be given that right.

I notice Bord Fáilte are omitted from the list of State bodies. This is somewhat of a surprise to me. As spokesman on tourism for Fine Gael, it strikes me as being strange that the body in charge of tourism are not included. Is there a specific reason for this? If so, would the Minister let us know what it is? There must be some reason. Is he satisfied they are 100 per cent efficient, or is he so worried about them that he thinks it would not be wise to investigate them? I believe they are working well, but Members of this House should know why they are not included in this motion.

Tourism is one of our biggest industries and we should have the power to investigate the workings of Bord Fáilte. This is essential in regard to Bord na Móna as well as Bord Fáilte. Many people say Bord Fáilte are very much Dublin-orientated, that many of the staff are from Dublin and have not got the common touch of the people down the country. As the Minister is aware, there will be Deputies and Senators on this committee from all parts of the country. They will provide an input of ideas into Bord Fáilte which I am confident will help tourism. Many Deputies and Senators are on the Council of Europe and other EEC bodies. They travel a great deal and many of the ideas they bring back in relation to what is happening in other countries could be of great help. All of this can be contrasted with what is happening at home. It seems remarkable to me that Bord Fáilte are not included. I suggest they should be included. If not, many people in the tourist industry throughout the length and breadth of Ireland will wonder why.

The previous committee were barely getting off the ground when the election took place. We were working well. There was a very harmonious relationship on all sides. We were getting down to the appointment of staff. This was a slow process but the committee were working well. I hope a sufficient number of staff will be appointed to this committee to enable them to do their work. With proper personnel, which I have no doubt will be provided, with goodwill on all sides, and with the co-operation of the semi-State bodies, from the chief executive down to the humblest person employed, the committee can do a great deal of good. Up to now we have not had the full benefit of democracy in the semi-State bodies. When this committee are established, people working in the semi-State bodies will see the Parliament of Ireland working at first hand, how it conducts itself and goes about its business. Taking all these factors into account, I hope a great deal of good will be achieved by this committee.

: I welcome this committee very sincerely. Since I came into this House, any time I spoke on the Estimate for the Department of Transport and Power, and on the question of CIE, I looked for such a committee. It is not that we distrust the directors of these companies, but a large amount of public money is spent on State companies and I agree with Deputy Desmond that the State should be more involved. Fianna Fáil were the party who got the State involved down through the years in setting up some of those very fine companies mentioned by Deputy Enright. We want to ensure that they are efficient, and that those running them and the committee see to it that they are run efficiently.

It is very important that we should have a proper back-up group for this committee and a secretariat who will be able to do research into the question of running State bodies. Deputies and Senators are very busy people and many of them have practical experience. Nothing annoys me more than to hear of such-and-such a genius being appointed to a committee, or a board, who reads it all out of a book and has not the remotest idea of the practical implications of his theory. So far as I know, all Ministers have been very conscientious about the qualifications of people they appointed to boards. There is a little too much emphasis on theoretical qualifications, and not enough on practical qualifications. I should not like to be appointed to the board of Aer Lingus. What do I know about flying airplanes? Nothing whatsoever. I have seen people with theories appointed to agricultural boards without the remotest idea of the practical implications of their theories. While I respect theory very much, I also believe you should know the implications of putting it into practice.

The constitution of this committee should vary widely to represent different sectors. I mentioned Aer Lingus who are very important and doing very well. Bord na Móna were also mentioned. Deputy Enright was right up to a point in what he said. It is very important that practical men should know how far Bord na Móna should go in diversification. I mention this in passing. People with practical experience of land know there are hundreds of acres which could become reasonably good land given the proper direction from people with practical experience, not theoretical experience.

I am pointing out how this committee could be very useful. At one time there was the question of the Sugar Company going into agricultural machinery. I remember when they were congratulated on having the best beet harvester in the world. This was the achievement of Irish brains. This committee should be able to report back to the Dáil. I do not know whether they could be given all the power sought. Somebody must be the boss. The buck must stop somewhere. The committee must recommend to the responsible Minister, and the buck stops there. Any responsible Minister will have to give serious consideration to the findings of this committee about any State body. I thoroughly agree with the points made by Deputy Enright when he spoke about diversification. I was astonished to find out that certain State companies, who were losing money and thought they should diversify in an effort to make money, were controlled by statute and could not diversify. We must get away from this situation. If State bodies are to make profits they should be allowed to change from uneconomic lines of production to economic ones. I believe there are certain ties on semi-State companies. I heard a member of a semi-State company saying that they did not have the authority to diversify. The committee should consider these matters in detail.

CIE have closed some lines and many men at the bottom have been made redundant. I often wonder whether some of our State companies are top heavy with higher officials. We never hear of any of the higher officials in these companies becoming redundant. If some of these companies are top heavy that may be the main reason why they are losing money. There may be too many officers for the number of men under their control. I cannot understand why CIE have closed so many lines. I know they have expanded their road transport business.

The ESB should be congratulated on being run so efficiently that they were able to reduce their charges. The Minister should ensure that this committee has a broad base and that its membership includes people with great expertise to deal with the various State bodies. In yesterday's debate it was suggested that the State should become more involved in the creation of employment and I agree with that. We are very proud of our semi-State companies but some of them could be run more efficiently. The committee should have a back-up group to investigate and report to them. I have been involved in the co-operative movement and I know that we had to have people to do secretarial and research work for us.

I am expecting great things from the committee. I am worried that Bord Fáilte have not been included. They are a large organisation and spend a great amount of money. I am not saying that they are doing a bad job but tourism is an important industry and it would not be any harm if the committee checked on how their money is being spent. If the committee is to be successful it must have a proper back-up group and it must go into the details of the workings of these companies. I have no doubt that the reports of the committee will be seriously considered by the responsible Ministers. Many people say that the committee has no teeth, but if any member of the committee thinks that the Minister is not accepting good suggestions he can always raise a question on the matter in the House. Once you establish a parliamentary sub-committee you are handing a heck of a responsibility to the Members of this House. I have always objected to the setting-up of too many independent boards because they can do what they like without reporting to anybody else. If the committee make a useful recommendation and the Minister does not insist that it is carried out, questions can always be put down and the Minister will have to answer them.

I do not give two hoots what a man's political opinions are once he knows what he is talking about and is a capable member of a board, but it is disgusting to have someone on a board who does not know anything about the business of the company. I have never known politics to be an issue on boards and co-operatives, as the previous Minister for Agriculture said about the general council: that politics only comes into it on the day of the election of the chairman. As far as I am concerned, the main thing is that a person knows what he is talking about and not that he is a member of the Labour Party, Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. The people who sit on the board should have a knowledge of the business in which they are involved. The State bodies should benefit from the work of the committee. I hope the committee are given sufficient staff for research work.

: I, too, welcome the establishment of this committee. In common with the present Minister for the Public Service, I was a member of the previous committee when I was a Member of the other House. I am sure the Minister would agree that there was a certain regret among the membership of that committee that we did not have time to meet as often as we would have liked; indeed, that we did not meet more often before the end of the last Dáil. Nevertheless, a certain amount of preliminary work was done and I believe that the experience and the benefit of that preliminary work will mean that the new committee, when established, will be able to head off into their work with the minimum delay.

I seem to recall that, at one of the meetings of the previous committee, the present Minister gave evidence of an attitude towards the staffing of that committee which was somewhat frugal. I hope that the experience of Government has mellowed him and that he will now heed the very urgent and valid pleas made by Deputy Callanan and other Deputies, including myself, for as full a degree of staffing as may be needed to enable the committee to carry out their work properly.

There is need for expert staffing for this committee. It is not like the Committee of Public Accounts who basically examine the appropriation accounts of Government Departments which have had a set form for a long time and whose general framework, outline and so on are widely appreciated and known by Members of this House. This committee will be going into territory which is largely uncharted, complex and very difficult. Back-up service or no back-up service, any member of this committee who plays his full part in it is going to be very busy indeed.

I am not sure that I agree with suggestions made on both sides of the House about the advisability of including Bord Fáilte in the bodies to be examined by the Committee. It is not that I do not believe that Bord Fáilte are important; far from it. As far as I am aware, our tourist industry contributes a higher proportion of our gross national product than does that of any other European country except Austria. I tend to the view that tourism would be more appropriately handled by a Minister with sole responsibility for such a major area of our national growth and development and that it would fit rather uncomfortably into the list of companies included in the motion before us today.

The kind of investigation which this committee will be carrying out is long overdue. This is not to say that we in this House believe that there are deep and hidden scandals to be rooted out, nepotism to be exposed or all sorts of dark and horrible deeds to be brought to the light of day. We do not believe that. It is overdue simply because the semi-State sector of our economy has now been in existence for a considerable time. I have not been able in the time at my disposal to check the dates of the foundation of each of the semi-State bodies in the Schedule, but you can take it that many of them are in existence for a very substantial period of time. Their growth in each case since their establishment has been perhaps haphazard. It has not perhaps been co-ordinated enough.

The reason why this debate on the re-establishment of this committee is overdue is not that we suspect any dark deeds on the part of any of the people who organise and run these semi-State bodies, but that they have been there for so long and, it is now generally accepted, without adequate parliamentary scrutiny, and perhaps without adequate overall co-ordination of their aims and activities. I am not passing judgment on any semi-State body when I say that perhaps some of the initial impetus in some of these semi-State bodies has been diluted by time. One aspect of the work of a committee like this would be to give back to all of these companies a renewed sense of the vision with which they were founded, of the job they were asked to do and of the efficiency and dispatch with which they were urged to do it.

A number of points made during the debate are very relevant to the workings of this committee, and I will refer to them briefly. The first is in relation to policy and to the question of whether the committee will be enabled to examine the policy of these semi-State bodies. This is not so much of an issue as some speakers so far have made it out to be. Paragraph (1) of the motion, which replicates the all-party motion which was passed under the previous Administration, calls on the committee: 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....

The key words here are "overall operational results". When a similar motion was being debated in the other House I made the point that you cannot examine results as if they had arrived on tablets of stone from the top of a mountain. Results do not exist in a vacuum. The results are the result of something. They are results of plans made to achieve targets which are based on policies. It is, therefore, impossible to discuss results without discussing plans, target and policies. I made this point very strongly to the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Ryan, and I am glad to say that he accepted the logic of this argument and that the work of the committee in a very substantial measure necessarily included some kind of oversight of targets, plans and policies of the semi-State companies concerned as an indispensable part of examining the results.

One of the amendments I would like to mention is that referred to by the Minister in relation to publication. He pointed out that the committee's powers are being suitably extended in paragraphs 7 and 8 to permit them to publish what they deem fit. I welcome this extension of the committee's powers. Some committees have more teeth than others, but the right of a committee to publish is one of the most important sets of teeth that any committee can have. I endorse fully the action of the Minister in extending significantly, however slightly, the right to publish which is given to the committee by this motion. The right to publish, of course, is not absolute.

The Minister went on to say that this right existed subject to the qualification that a committee may not publish material if a State-sponsored body so request on the ground that publication of confidential information would be injurious to the business or commercial interest of that body. This point was also raised by me in the debate in the Seanad and there was a certain amount of concern, which I share and believe to be legitimate, that the person or body who decides whether or not the publication of any material would be injurious is the semi-State body themselves. At that time I sought and got from the previous Minister for Finance an assurance that if the committee at any point came to the conclusion that the executives of any State-sponsored body were being unreasonable over a period of time in relation to the projected disclosure of items of information which the committee thought would be reasonable to disclose, the Government would have another look at the terms of reference of the committee with a view to determining whether the final authority for deciding on the right to publish should not rest solely with the semi-State company concerned as is the case in this motion and which was the case also in the motion put down by the last Government. The previous Minister for Finance gave that assurance and I am satisfied that it was given in a genuine spirit of willingness to see how the system worked. We have no evidence that any semi-State company or that the executives of any semi-State company would be in any way unreasonable in their requests to a committee of this sort not to publish confidential information. However, we should like an assurance from the Minister that there will be a mechanism whereby there will be continuing oversight by the Minister and the Government regarding the operations of the committee and that should the committee report to the Minister that this section of the motion is preventing the publication of information that they consider to be in the public and national interest, he will have another look at the situation.

I have spoken already about the aspect of the terms of reference of the committee which enables them to examine the results of semi-State bodies but the preceding phrase is just as important, that is, "be appointed to examine the reports and accounts". I spoke earlier of the fact that this committee would need expert help because they will be sailing very much into uncharted territory and there is virtually no territory less charted than the accounts of some of our semi-State bodies. It is extraordinary that we know less about many of the most fundamental aspects of the financial operations of some of our semi-State companies than we know about almost any public company. The reason for this is that the accounts of public companies are covered by the Companies Acts which are extremely strict in relation to the type and to the amount of information which public companies must provide and indeed with the frequency with which they must provide it. Traditionally, our semi-State companies have been given a much freer hand with the result that we do not know as much about them as we would like to know. For instance, we need to know more about their capital structure and perhaps about their borrowing obligations. Last week's Central Bank Report indicated that the total accumulative borrowing of semi-State companies is now beyond £200 million. We need to know more about the financial structure of our semi-State bodies since these bodies account for such a large sector of the economy. Not only do we need to know more about them but we need to get the information in a form that will enable us to make meaningful comparisons. By and large it has been the practice for semi-State companies to engage private firms of accountants to do the accounts. It is extraordinary that these bodies which are effectively in the public sector should go to the private sector for a form of accounts. One of the negative results of this has been that it is not easy to compare the accounts of any two semi-State bodies because the likelihood is that they will be working with two different sets of accountants and, consequently, will have two different formulate for presenting their accounts to the responsible Ministers. I am aware that there is a responsible Minister in all of this and that the accounts must be presented in a form that satisfies the Minister but perhaps the committee would consider this unnecessary variety in accounting practices and would ask whether the Comptroller and Auditor General might not have some kind of role to play or some kind of advice to give to the committee about the best way of approaching this knotty problem.

I say this because it will not be possible to have a proper examination of the results of these companies unless the results are presented in a form that is easy to understand and which compares with similar results in other companies, whether in the public or in the private sector. We must also, of course, have the accounts on time. There are several occasions on which accounts from semi-State companies have been unduly and perhaps even unnecessarily delayed. If these companies were in the private sector they would be in breach of the Companies Acts by not submitting accounts on time. Therefore, we should ensure that not only are the accounts available to us in clear form but that they should be on an up-to-date basis so that we do not spend the time of the committee in 1978 discussing the accounts of a semi-State company for 1975 or 1976.

I see the role of this committee as pivotal in a sense because the committee exist at this point at which two sets of accounts for a semi-State company must be presented. There are the ordinary accounts—the cash accounts, the profit and loss accounts, borrowings, the capital structure, wage policy and so on. There are also the social accounts because we expect many of our semi-State bodies to perform two roles, first, the role of trading successfully and, secondly, the role of providing a social service. In this context CIE are a classical example. We do not take cognisance often enough of the fact that these two roles are in many cases very necessarily in conflict and that the trading activities of a semi-State body such as CIE, for instance, must be balanced against their role of providing a social service in the widest sense and against a particular aspect of that role which is the redistributional aspect. Some semi-State companies do not exist merely to trade and to provide social services. They have a role in relation to the redistribution of income and resources. Any committee set up under this motion who are doing their job will have to pay attention not only to the financial but to the social balance sheet of many of the companies involved.

In relation to the activities of the committee I would recommend that they operate simultaneously on two levels. Obviously, this is a matter for the committee to decide at an early date. Those semi-State bodies listed in the motion should be grouped in relation to the type of activity in which they are engaged, and on a medium-term basis the committee should study these groups as groups. The committee should ensure also that they retain capacity to examine individual accounts and individual situations, perhaps even on a very short-term basis. I should like to think that the committee would set themselves the target of examining the accounts of every semi-State body mentioned in the motion at least once every two years.

My final point relates to the statement by the Minister 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 interests of better understanding of their role and functions and of stemming inaccurate and uninformed criticism of them. This is a very realistic statement. The work of this committee need not be seen as an intrusion and I do not believe that it will be seen as an intrusion by the semi-State bodies. It can be seen equally validly as a way of increasing public understanding of their role and function. It can also be a protection against pressure for the executives of semi-State bodies, whether of the political or the commercial type. Some of these semi-State companies are very big businesses and it would be strange if some of their executives were not subject from time to time to pressures, urging them to take decisions that may or may not be in the interests of the semi-State bodies concerned. The public accountability system which we are setting up is the best possible protection and the only ultimate protection that such people will have against unwarranted intrusions and pressures aimed at making them take decisions which may be inimical to the public interest and to the particular interests of the companies which they control.

I should like to think that this committee will have as their main role the positive support and active development of the entire semi-State sector. If they do this properly they will not only be charting new fields for these companies but will be rekindling the vision with which they were originally established.

: As a member of the last committee, I welcome the reconstitution of this committee. There is a clear indication of the need for it and many good contributions from both sides of the House have highlighted this. It has been spelled out that we are not instituting a witch hunt or expecting to unearth hidden secrets. There was a degree of frustration because Deputies requiring information were not always able to elicit this information to their satisfaction, though moneys required for semi-State bodies were readily voted through the House without Deputies having the scope to question from time to time the operations of these bodies.

This committee will give the House an opportunity to examine various aspects of semi-State bodies. They have been set up at various times since 1927 in order to meet particular needs and they now have a very high employment content. Many of them give a great social service. It is now time to examine in toto the operations of semi-State bodies. As well as examining individual companies, the global aspect should be considered in order to avoid the possibility of overlapping. Semi-State bodies operate independently of one another and the committee may be able to bring them together. Some enterprises may have a lot in common and may be able to complement one another in their activities where previously they may not have been inclined to co-operate.

It is important to examine the terms of reference of semi-State bodies and to update them to ensure that there is nothing impending them from expanding into other fields. If we are serious about State participation, there should not be any constraints whatsoever. The State side should be able to compete with the private sector. Having said that, they must compete on a par and should not be seen to have any advantages over the private sector. This would eliminate fears among the private sector.

I would hope that we would see in the not very distant future a semi-State body dealing with posts and telegraphs. This is long overdue and I would welcome it as something which would be of benefit to our society and to the development of our economy. While such a body is not now being set up, I look forward to seeing it in the coming years.

Semi-State bodies can play a major role in the development of employment. This is one of our major problems. Since semi-State bodies are such big employers, this committee should examine with them areas of further development. I have no doubt that there are many such areas and the task of this committee will be to create some degree of unified State enterprise. One might call it a State enterprise committee to examine various developments.

It is important that we develop the State-sponsored bodies. The committee can do this by ensuring that there are no impediments in their terms of reference. For instance, in the peat generating stations there are vast cooling towers with large quantities of hot water that is run off. We have large open spaces of cutaway bog and here there is a great potential for the glasshouse industry at a relatively low cost. The committee could examine such areas and try to get that kind of co-operation. Many of the State-sponsored bodies consume vast amounts of imported energy and this adds enormously to our import bill. Perhaps the committee could ensure co-operation between the semi-State bodies in order to develop some kind of policy in this area? This is where the committee could come forward with reports on such matters, thus helping to achieve some savings in order to create a better economic climate.

This committee will be a very busy and challenging one but they must have the necessary back-up services and expertise at their disposal. If the committee require a certain kind of accountant or engineer they should be able to second such people when necessary. Otherwise they will not have the right type of personnel. I should like the Minister to take note of that. I know he is making available the back-up services as promised but it is no harm to give him a reminder on the subject.

When this committee get off the ground they will have a tremendous and dramatic effect on the State enterprise sector. The committee will investigate and encourage and will back up the State enterprises in any of their undertakings. If the State sector moves into certain fields of activity the private sector may lobby against it. That is all right because that is part of political life, but I am sure the committee will throw their weight behind any real development and will support it in this House.

With regard to the question of reports being printed, I should like some of these reports, if not all of them, to be debated here. It is not enough for a committee merely to meet. From time to time we should have a full debate in this House on a particular State enterprise if that is necessary and either side of the House should be able to put down a motion to have a report discussed fully. That would be helpful and it would be good for the State enterprise concerned. From what I know of them—I have been part of a State enterprise—I know they are anxious to work with the committee.

Generally our involvement in State enterprise has been very successful. Not only do the ESB operate in this country but they are selling their expertise abroad and are helping to develop other countries. This is prestigious for this country in its relations with other nations. It is another role in which the State-sponsored bodies are participating. Bord na Móna have been playing their part also, as have Aer Lingus. There is no reason why other semi-State bodies should not do likewise. For a young emerging nation this kind of development is very heartening. It is gratifying that after a comparatively short time we have developed our skills to such an extent that we can help other countries. That is due to the dedication of the staff in the industries concerned.

We should not be too worried about the Devlin Report with regard to salaries. If you want the best you have to pay and only the best is good enough for State enterprise. We should be in the market for the best. If we are seen to hold down salaries or to cut them, there will be a drift from the semi-State bodies to the private sector and we will lose valuable management and expertise. While it may not be lost to the economy it will be lost to the State and that is unfair. That constraint should not be on the semi-State bodies. They should be able to pay their executives the going rate; otherwise in time they will fall behind and become inefficient.

I have always advocated and supported State enterprise. I hope that sector will expand. I look forward to its further development because it will prove valuable for the country. Most of the bodies that have been established have been a shining example both inside and outside the country. I am sure the committee will improve the situation. When something goes wrong semi-State bodies should not be the whipping boys. They should be regarded as playing a major role in developing our economy and our employment. It is important that this committee receive the full support of the House.

: I, like other Members of the House, welcome this motion. I believe that semi-State bodies have got a bad name. A lot of people associate them with strikes and industrial problems. We all know there is a problem in that regard in the public sector. That is not very fair because the companies in this motion who have problems are very few. The principal one is CIE.

CIE, probably the largest semi-State body, have an appalling image. They are constantly being attacked mainly because they return every year ever-increasing losses. This year we are talking about losses of £40 million. They are only so-called losses because much of the work CIE do is a social service and not work for a commercial enterprise. If this committee examine the role of CIE and other semi-State bodies and identify which part of their roles are social services and recommend that those roles be paid for as a social service and not reported as losses, we will immediately achieve much greater morale in the semi-State bodies concerned.

How can management in CIE have any sort of morale with the constantly increasing losses they are bound to report, the constantly reducing services which those losses dictate and the bad industrial relations which the low morale produces? I strongly urge this committee to look at this matter. If it is established that much of the work of CIE is a social service and should be paid accordingly I believe we will be doing a good day's service not alone for CIE but for the country as a whole and for the semi-State bodies.

It is not clearly spelt out in the terms of reference for this committee but I hope that they will look at what gives rise to bad industrial relations in the public sector, where that arises. I believe that has a bearing on what comes out in the accounts of those companies. The committee should examine the causes of bad industrial relations where they exist. Most of the companies listed in the Schedule have excellent industrial relations; they have excellent success stories, but there are some with problems. Deputy O'Brien said he hoped to see before too long a semi-State body dealing with Posts and Telegraphs. I would also like to see that happen. The areas where there are continuing problems of bad industrial relations should be examined. This has a lot to do with the accounting procedures and the operations of those companies.

In regard to salaries it stands to reason that people with ability will follow rewards. Semi-State bodies are working under a very distinct disadvantage. The heads of semi-State companies, with budgets of perhaps millions of pounds, are paid far less than their counterparts in private industry. As long as that is the case private industry will always attract the best people. It is false economy to be penny pinching in relation to the salaries of the directors and the chief executives of semi-State bodies.

I believe the industrial relations problem is very relevant to the matter we are discussing. We will have to become much more involved in the semi-State area. We will have to create semi-State bodies to produce certain goods or services in order to produce employment. Very often what is feasible for the State and makes economic social sense for the State does not make economic sense for private enterprise. Private enterprise must be encouraged. I believe, however, that the Government, in placing all their eggs in one basket, have made a mistake. I believe the semi-State sector can play a major role in creating the real jobs we so badly need. In order to sell that point of view, to give that popular acceptability, we have to get across to people that semi-State bodies are, and have been, largely successful. The failures of two or three get a lot of notice for particular reasons to which I have referred already.

In some semi-State bodies the question of profit does not arise. In others, especially the ESB, they have been doing their damnedest to avoid producing a profit. That is a very sad state of affairs.

I hope this committee will review the role of semi-State bodies. It should not be out of the question or be a dirty expression for semi-State bodies to be able to make a profit. In Great Britain the semi-State body which runs the post office, I believe, declared a profit of £350 million last year. Of course the beneficiary of that £350 million was the State. Deputy F. O'Brien referred to the ESB and Aer Lingus earning money abroad, which they have been doing very successfully. Is it right that we in this House should restrict the level of service they can provide abroad because they are statutorily forbidden from making a profit, or are we right in allowing that restriction to continue any longer?

: Which company is statutorily prohibited from making a profit?

: I understand the ESB are.

: They must balance their revenue and receipts every year.

: Apart from that, it is in order to suggest what this committee may consider and deliberate on but it is not in order to go into the activities of these bodies.

: No, Sir, I quite agree with you. Perhaps I have wandered a little more than I should. I raised these points because I believe these are areas the committee should be examining, not merely examining or anticipating the report and accounts and commenting thereon. The committee have a role to play in examining the legislation governing semi-State bodies. They have a role to play also in investigating problems which arise within semi-State bodies which produce losses, causing low morale or other problems.

I hope the committee will have staff at their disposal to carry out the necessary research and vetting in the public interest.

: It is notable that every Deputy who contributed to this debate agreed with and approved of the motion before the House. Therefore, I do not have to deal with the principle involved but rather with some of the points raised, points of detail more than anything else.

The first point raised by Deputy P. Barry suggests to me that he is under some misapprehension because he thought I had been responsible for the addition of Gaeltarra Éireann to the list. That was on the list put in, to a limited extent, by my predecessor, as the Deputy said, as my urging when I was where he is now. I did try to indicate that I was adopting the resolution, as passed by the previous Dáil, with some technical amendments, each of which I referred to in my introductory speech.

As for Deputy Barry's and, indeed, I think Deputy B. Desmond's expectation that I would now insist on the chairman of this committee being provided by the Opposition, there are a number of views I expressed on this matter when it was before the House in the last Dáil and on which I have not changed my mind. But, in an effort to avoid what I felt might be unnecessary argument, I have been prepared to accept what was passed by the last Dáil, to give it a trial, to let us see how it works, subject to the technical amendment I have indicated already.

: It was the Minister's eloquence that persuaded me he was absolutely right about the chairman.

: I appreciate that, but there are some other aspects of it which I was urging the last time and I noticed that the Deputy did not mention them. I will refer to one or two of them as I go along. I still believe that the committee could operate more effectively if certain other changes were made but the Government took the view that the House, in the previous Dáil, had agreed on certain things; the committee really had not had the opportunity to test them out. Therefore the attitude was: let us try it; let us see how it works; we can change it if necessary. On that basis some changes I would have preferred have not been made. I would hope they will not have the effect of holding up, impeding or interfering in any way with the effectiveness of the committee but, if they do, the changes can be made.

Deputy P. Barry and others raised the question of paragraph (7) which reads.

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.

The position is that, under the previous resolution, the joint committee had power to publish evidence only in conjunction with a report. Following discussion at the committee it appeared that that committee anyway felt it should be able, if it saw fit, to publish evidence as soon as possible after each meeting at which evidence was taken. The purposes of this amendment is to enable that be done. That was the desire of the committee as it was constituted. It may be that the new committee may not want to exercise that but that is a matter for it.

Debate adjourned.
Business suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.