I move that the Second Stage be taken today.
Industrial and Provident Societies (Amendment) Bill, 1978: Order for Second Stage.
Is today agreed?
No. This Bill was circulated on the 4th of this month. So far as I can assume it reached most members on the 5th which was Thursday last but it reached me on the 6th because I was away until Friday afternoon. I was not given notice by the Department that this Bill was being brought forward at this stage. Since it had appeared only a few days before the Dáil went into recess I assumed that there would not be any special hurry in relation to it but to my surprise I find it ordered as the first item for the first day of the new session. When I called the office of the Government Whip on Monday to inquire whether the Bill might be postponed so that I might have a little longer than two days—effectively, Monday and Tuesday—in order to consult people about it and to test reaction to it, I was told that it could not be postponed under any circumstances, that the Minister had just arrived back from abroad and had directed personally that, in spite of all convention to the contrary, the Bill was to proceed on Wednesday as the first item of substance on the Dáil agenda.
I was Government Whip for more than four years and while it is true that on a few occasions the then Government were obliged in times that were difficult to press ahead with business against the wishes of Opposition spokesmen—and those wishes were related usually to the absence abroad of the Opposition spokesmen, not on official business because they did not have an office to exercise then, but in those days——
What about the guillotine? I recall Bills being guillotined even before they were published.
We are not talking about a guillotine. Neither are we talking about the National Coalition's performance in realising who was in Government and in putting through their programme in the teeth of obstruction of the sort that we got month after month from the then Opposition. Neither are we talking about the bringing to an end of a Bill on which one Deputy was permitted to hold up the House for three weeks.
I am talking about a Bill that was guillotined even before it was published.
I want to protest against the forcing of this House to debate this Bill. I admit that there may be valid reasons for keeping as short as possible the interval between the publication of the Bill and its being debated but when there was a decent Government on the other side of the House the Opposition spokesmen would have been consulted and a draft of the Bill made available to him in advance of the Bill's full publication. As far as I can see, although I have not had an opportunity to consult adequately in regard to it with my party or with other people, it is a non-contentious piece of legislation. It would be my instinct to support it. I have no wish to represent it as a contentious Bill but it is not a one- or two-section Bill. It contains 36 sections most of which are tricky.
The only question before the House is that of whether the Bill should be taken.
There is a motion before the House and I should be obliged if you would indicate the relevant paragraph of Standing Orders which distinguishes this motion from others in relation to the length of time one may speak on it. I may speak until the House rises this evening if I wish.
Provided the Deputy is relevant. All that is before us is whether the Bill should be taken to-day.
The wish I expressed to the office of the Government Whip on Monday was that the Bill be taken next week after I had had an opportunity to do the necessary work on it. Is it not fantastic that in default of a public emergency or perhaps because of the Minister's not trusting me in regard to revealing the contents of the measures publicly before its publication, I should be treated in this way? I am sure that I speak for Deputy Desmond also.
Order. Is the Deputy objecting to the date?
I have made that clear.
If the Deputy is opposing the Bill being taken today the House may divide on that issue but if he is merely making a statement about the Bill being taken, he will have ample opportunity to make that statement during the course of debate on the Bill to-day.
Can the Chair confirm whether there is a motion before the House?
Yes. The motion is that the Bill be taken today.
Is there a rule which restricts the length of contributions to that motion?
Yes. The Deputy may not refer to matter in the Bill. He may refer only to the question of whether the Bill is to be taken today.
I have not referred to anything in the Bill. I have referred merely to its outside shape, to its 36 tricky sections. It is outrageous in default of a public emergency that the House should be forced to debate this Bill today. I might add that up to Monday morning of this week nobody in the Dáil Library had seen the Bill. They were not aware that it had been published. Up to yesterday the League of Credit Unions had not got the Bill and were finding it impossible to obtain it from the Government Publications Office.
What is the reason for the urgency? I have no intention of delaying the Bill but why can it not be left until next week? Alternatively I would like some explanation from the Minister, even if only by way of an apology, that is, if he can force himself to that degree of graciousness, as to why the convention I understood existed here whereby in cases like this an Opposition spokesman was given an advance copy of a Bill, has not been adhered to on this occasion. We should have some explanation for this combination of speed and discourtesy.
I have rarely heard so much fuss about so little. The Bill was published a little more than a week ago and as it was circulated on Tuesday night last, all Deputies had it by Wednesday.
That is not so.
I did not interrupt the Deputy. On Thursday of last week the Government Whip arranged in the normal way with the Opposition Whips that the Bill be taken today. They agreed readily but if Deputy Kelly is not in communication with his Whips or if he is not in agreement with them, the blame can hardly be laid at my door. It is the Deputy's affair.
Deputy Kelly will realise that the nature of the Bill is such that it is desirable that there be the minimum delay between its publication and its ultimate passage. It has been pointed out to me in communications from the Central Bank that this should be so. So far as I am aware the Bill is not controversial in any way and there is no opposition to it on the part of any substantial or significant group of people. It is extremely desirable legislation. Several times during the past 12 months I indicated my intention to bring in such a measure. I see from the record that in April last I was supported in that view by Deputy Desmond who urged that the legislation be brought in and passed as soon as possible because of the obvious desirability of it. More than seven days' notice has been given of this noncontroversial Bill. Without straining my memory too much I recall Bills that one could scarcely describe as noncontroversial but which I while in Opposition was forced to take after two or three days' notice. The same happened so far as many of my colleagues were concerned. One piece of legislation that had to be taken at very short notice—a matter of days—was the Bill which became subsequently the Bula Act. However, I found that I was able to speak adequately on the Second Reading of that Bill although I had considerably less notice than Deputy Kelly has had on what is a totally noncontroversial Bill.
Is it agreed that the Bill be taken today?
The Minister is not correct in stating that the Government Whip consulted with the Opposition Whip on this matter. There was no consultation with me either on this item or on any other item on the Order Paper for this week. When I contacted the Whip's office on Wednesday last I was informed by his secretary that the Government had instructed that the Bill be taken to-day. I expressed reservations on the short notice being given and said it would be difficult for our spokesman to take the Bill in such circumstances.
There seems to be some misunderstanding on the other side of the House on this issue. I wonder whether, in the circumstances, the Bill could be deferred to give Deputy Kelly ample time to prepare for the debate.
The point the Chief Opposition Whip has made is that he was not in direct personal contact with the Government Whip. I want to get this thing cleared up. The Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy said that the Opposition accepted on Wednesday of last week the business for this week. I do not think it makes that much difference whether that was done through my private secretary or myself. The situation is that my private secretary arranged the business with Deputy Creed. The indication was that we were taking this Bill. He expressed his reservations but in view of the fact that our advice was that this was a Bill where the minimum of time needed to elapse between its publication and discussion it was generally agreed that it be taken. In fact, Deputy Kelly accepts that particular point.
I do not think there is a lot at issue in-this. I do not want to get involved in a dispute as to who tells the story best between Deputy Creed and myself. The message was clear that we were taking this Bill this week. I do not want to be involved in any disagreement with Deputy Creed because we get on quite well.
The message may have been given by the Minister of State that the Government wished to take it this week but, as Deputy Creed said, he expressed to the Minister of State's office reservations and indicated that Deputy Kelly would have difficulty in taking it this week. The matter was not settled and should have been pursued further between the Minister and Deputy Kelly.
The matter was settled.
There seems to be a genuine misunderstanding at some point. In those circumstances perhaps the Minister would be willing to give a little more time.
Could I say that whatever difficulties there may have been, as adverted to by Deputy FitzGerald, the fact is that it is in the public interest that the shortest interval possible should elapse between the publication of this Bill and its discussion and enactment. In view of that, I appeal to the Fine Gael Party, in particular to Deputy Kelly, in the public interest, to agree to the acceptance of this Bill now.