asked the Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism the number of occasions on which the informal committee to consider the proposals in the documentNew Technology for Leinster House has met; if it has yet produced any recommendations; if the recommendations have been accepted by the Government; if so, when they will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Ceisteanna—Questions Oral Answers - New Technology for Leinster House.
Since the first meeting of the steering committee took place on 17 May 1984, it has met formally on three occasions since. However, I understand that a number of informal consultations also took place between Members, officials of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the secretariat.
The steering committee has produced an interim report in which it recommends the areas which should be given priority in the application of new technology. This interim report is now to be considered by the Dáil and Seanad Committees on Procedure and Privileges.
Until such consideration has been completed it would not be appropriate for me to disclose the contents of the interim report. However, I can tell the House that the priority areas identified are: the improvement of Library and research facilities; a computer-based information system on Oireachtas procedures and practices, library material, Oireachtas debates, legislation, etc., the sound system, word processing in the reporting of debates, preparation of reports, structuring of the Order Paper, etc. The Deputy will appreciate that the initial steps in the introduction of new technology must be carefully planned to ensure that any new systems introduced are both effective and capable of accommodating likely future needs.
The Minister has indicated the major task the Committee on Procedure and Privileges has in relation to Question Time, hours of business and new technology. How often does the committee meet?
The Committee on Procedure and Privileges?
It meets at least fortnightly and possibly more often depending on the flow of business.
When does the Minister expect that the committee will agree to the recommendations concerning new technology?
I do not know. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Barrett, is chairman of the committee. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges has not yet considered the report but I am sure it would be anxious to make decisions as quickly as possible. I have outlined in detail the subject matter covered in the report and if Deputies wish to make suggestions in respect of the application of new technology, bearing in mind the contents of the original report which has been published, I am sure such suggestions would be very welcome in either of the committees.
As regards the purchase and implementation of new technology, can the Minister tell the House how much was provided for this in 1984 or what is provided for it in 1985?
No separate provision is made in respect of new technology and other forms of expenditure by the Houses of the Oireachtas. These proposals will be taken very carefully into account in setting priorities for the use of the money to be voted by this House for the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Would that indicate that 1985 does not appear to be the year in which this House will make a heavy investment in new technology?
Not necessarily. As the Deputy will be aware the Government have been quite forthcoming in regard to funds for the activities of the Houses of the Oireachtas. There has been a large increase in the consultancy budget for committees. The Government are generally very favourably disposed to the use of new technology here. However, we need to be sure we make a good investment and that is why this report procedure is necessary. It would be premature to talk about figures until we have decided on priorities and costs.