Private Members' Business. - Oireachtas (Miscellaneous Provisions) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Bill, 1996: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

In this section "the Dublin area" means such area inclusive of the county borough of Dublin... Does it include the areas falling within the remit of South Dublin — including the Belgard area — Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown local authorities?

My understanding is that it includes the four county areas which, for purposes of GAA representation and others, are still described as County Dublin. I am informed it is a 21 mile radius, approximately 33 kilometres.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 3.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill".

The Minister nodded furiously when I made the points about the telephone allowance, the GTN and Lotus Notes. It may be presumptuous to speak on behalf of all rural Deputies but I feel strongly about these matters. As a Deputy who has experienced both situations — my constituency secretary used to be here and now she is in the constituency — I know the difference. Can I have a commitment from the Minister that he will examine seriously the three points I made: the difference in the cost of calls, the GTN service and Lotus Notes?

Yes, I give a commitment to specifically look at the possibility of linking every Deputy to the GTN facility. With regard to research facilities and other matters, I will come back to them later. Since section 3 refers to telephone allowances, with the agreement of the Whips, where a Deputy has an office in his constituency, I will look specifically at the possibility of making the GTN service available.

(Laoighis-Offaly): I endorse Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn's point in relation to computer access. There is no point in having it if one cannot afford to use it.

I echo that sentiment. I understand the GTN system is available to a number of Ministers in their constituencies. Section 3 (a) refers to secretarial assistants. Will the Minister outline briefly the up-to-date position on the current negotiations? The secretarial staff are interested in what is taking place here.

In relation to the telephone allowance, certain issues have not been addressed. For example, some of us have constituency offices away from our residences and have to pay the rent on those phones out of our pockets. It is anomalous that Deputies in areas with 5,000 or 6,000 local subscribers where the remainder involve trunk calls receive the same allowance as those in an area with 600,000 local subscribers and all the Government Departments only a local call away. I am bitterly disappointed that this matter has not been addressed. Many Deputies have telephone bills amounting to £6,000. A Deputy is allowed £1,000 for personal use, is given £2,000 and must pay £3,000 out of their pocket. They need to earn £6,000 to pay that bill because they are being taxed at the rate of 50 per cent. It would be better to tackle it in a fair and realistic way. Much has been done, but much remains to be done. I know of no business people who, after tax, have to pay for expenses necessarily and solely incurred in the course of their business.

I take the point made by the Deputy.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
SECTION 5.

My colleague, Deputy Dempsey, made the point about sharing the parliamentary leaders' allowance. While we recognise there must be positive discrimination in favour of the smaller parties and Independents, for the reasons outlined some amendment could be put in place which would give more money to the larger parties. In that regard I put it to the Minister that a reasonable compromise could be achieved under section 5 (c) (c) which states: "in respect of more than 10 members but not more than 50 members of that party elected to Dáil Éireann at the last preceding general election as a member of that party... £10,000 in respect of each such member,".

I suggest an amendment along the following lines: In page 6, line 22, to delete "50" and substitute "70".

If I had my way I would not be as lenient with the Minister as Deputy McCreevy. We have no problem with the principle of tapering the allowances or with smaller parties getting an advantage, but under the proposal larger parties are disadvantaged. The position would be improved by the acceptance of Deputy McCreevy's proposed amendment. I am not making a formal proposal, but will the Minister consider paying the annual allowance of £25,000 to the first 15 members as opposed to five members? This would facilitate smaller parties. It would cost more money but I do not apologise to anybody for seeking improvements for all Members.

I support the points made by the other Deputies. If there is a problem with the amendment I ask for the forbearance of the Chair and Deputies as the Bill was only circulated this afternoon and we did not have an opportunity to draft it properly.

We are masters of our own rules, within reason, on this issue. I wish to advise the House of my intention to amend section 4(1)(b) on Report State by deleting the word "Offices" and inserting the word "Office".

I am not in a position to accept Deputy Dempsey proposal that we increase the base figure as this would affect every party in the House and would have a disproportionate impact on the cost. As Deputy McDowell said, in our efforts to ensure a bias in favour of the smaller parties we may have gone too far in respect of the largest party in the House — it has been the largest since the 1932-33 general election. Subject to the agreement of the House, I will increase the figure of 50 in section 5(c)(c) to 60. Any subsequent amendments would be consequential.

Will the figure in paragraph (d) also be increased to 60?

Yes. This will have the net effect of giving an extra proportion of the money to the largest party in the House. The Deputies opposite proposed that the tapering should start at 70 but I suggest the figure should be 60.

On a point of clarification, does paragraph (a) apply to the first five members of every party, paragraph (b) to the next five members and paragraph (c) to the next 50 members?

I thank the Minister for going along with the proposal and for putting forward a reasonable compromise of 60 members.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, lines 22 and 28, to delete "50" and substitute"60".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 5, as amended, agreed to.
Section 6 agreed to.
SECTION 7.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

We come into the House as elected Members and good fortune——

And occasionally misfortune.

——may shine on some of us from time to time. However, when one holds office one is not sure if it is good fortune. Nevertheless, it is a great civic, republican, democratic honour which I am proud to hold.

I agree with Deputy Dempsey that this House should have control of its budget. As Minister for Finance I will formally entertain a proposal that the Vote for the Houses of the Oireachtas be voted separate from and outside the Book of Estimates provided that the salaries, terms and conditions of the members of the permanent Civil Service who work for this House are in line with the normal Civil Service provisions. In other words, the salaries of, and provisions to, staff will be dealt with in the normal way and anything above and beyond that will be dealt with separately. Ultimately we are the only people who have to go through the hazard of a general election and be accountable. I will bring a proposal in this respect to Government and, hopefully, I will be in a position to make a statement to this effect in next year's budget.

I thank the Minister for putting forward this proposal which will be of benefit to all Deputies.

The Minister's proposal represents major reform. The Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs put forward this proposal in its budget submission. This reform will be a major step in ensuring more accountability by the Government. Under this reform we will control our budget, which will be an agreed percentage of the national budget, and decide what advice and research assistance we need and how we can keep the Government on its toes.

Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.

We now proceed to Report Stage.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 13, to delete "Offices" and substitute "Office".

Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.

I move: "That the Bill do now pass."

Question put and agreed to.