Public Service Management (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I have great pleasure in presenting the Public Service Management (No. 2) Bill, 1997, to Dáil Éireann today. It is the single most important legislative initiative affecting the structure of the public service in a generation. There are those who might be forgiven for thinking that the question of change and development in the management of the public services is rather esoteric and best left to Ministers, their civil servants and, perhaps, a few obscure academics. Yet there are few issues which, in their practical effects, have a greater impact across a wider spectrum of our economy and society than the quality and delivery of public services by the institutions of central Government.

Let us reflect for a moment on the importance of the institutions of central Government to the basic realities of life and work. Take for example, the vital role of the Department of Finance, where I am Minister of State. In co-operation with other agencies, including the Central Bank and National Treasury Management Agency, and among a wide range of duties, the Department of Finance ensures the day to day achievement of Government monetary and financial policies. These are manifested in the stability of the exchange rate of the Irish pound, correspondingly low interest rates and inflation, overall control of Government spending and a sustainable configuration of Government borrowing and debt. The Department of Finance also has direct responsibility for public service management and development and is the lynchpin at official level of the new management initiative across the Civil Service.

Government social policies on health, education and welfare make huge administrative and organisational demands, as do the regulatory and supervisory functions of the branches of the public services administered by the Departments of the Environment and Transport, Energy and Communications. How many farmers can be unaware of the functions of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and its many responsibilities, such as its role as an intervention agency with the European Union? Moreover, the fundamental prerogatives of Government in defending the external integrity and interests of the State and internal security and order are given effect through the administration of the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Justice. One could choose many other similar examples.

The Bill will, in essence, provide a structure for high performance management in the Civil Service.High performance management is the key to the successful delivery of quality services, whether private or public. In turn, high performance in public service management and value for money in the delivery of public services can only be assured where highly skilled and well motivated staff are working under the guidance of a clear and consistent strategy using effective and efficient systems of administration. Moreover, these fundamental components of good administration must be brought together within a framework which integrates these various factors. This framework must give coherence to the objectives of the diverse elements of governmental organisation.

There must be a structure at the heart of the public services which is fully in sympathy with our open, democratic and parliamentary system of government. At the same time, it must employ best practice in organisational and management techniques to serve the citizens of this State who are the clients and customers of the public services.The new management structure to be put in place by means of the Public Service Management (No. 2) Bill meets these needs. Getting this structure right is not easy; neither is it a once and for all task. It demands ongoing commitments at both political and official levels. On balance, we have not done so badly in this regard. Notwithstanding some well publicised difficulties in recent years, this country has been well served by our public services.

The Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, embodies the basic statutory provisions affecting the organisation of Departments of State and the responsibilities of Ministers to Dáil Éireann. That this Act has remained broadly unchanged for more than 70 years is a tribute to the wisdom and foresight of those courageous men and women who founded this State. Working with their civil servants under enormous pressures, they crafted the 1924 Act which brought coherence and order to the administrative mess inherited from the British. It reorganised the complex mix of "Irish" departments, sections of UK departments, offices, boards and commissions through which the British governed this country into the basic departmental pattern with which we are familiar today. Although the Ministers and Secretaries Act was drafted and brought through Dáil Éireann in those bitter days during and immediately after the Civil War, the structure and organisation of the Irish public services in 1924 facilitated and supported the democratic and peaceful transition of political power less than a decade later. One does not need to be a lawyer to see how many of the arrangements for central Government in the 1924 Act are exactly mirrored in the 1937 Constitution.

The scale and complexity of Government has increased exponentially since the foundation of the State, especially over the past 30 years. It is time for change. We must be prepared to manage the changes which need to be made within our own sphere of influence and control. We must do this because it is certain changes in the wider world which affect us but arise beyond our power of direction are happening apace. For example, the changes arising from the opening up of the Irish economy have made huge demands on the administration of central Government. The response of the Civil Service to the growing importance of our relationship with the institutions of the European Union is an example of successful change and evolution in the core areas of the public service.

The milestones of European integration loom large in any review of this country's development over the last quarter of a century: accession to the Common Market in the early 1970s; founding membership of the European Monetary System in 1979; negotiating the Single European Act in the 1980s and removing the remaining restrictions on trade within the European Community; designing and managing the implementation of two Community support frameworks under which Ireland has received crucial investment funding from Structural Funds; playing a key role in designing the Maastricht Treaty and, more recently, moving towards full participation in economic and monetary union.

Adapting to the changes brought by these fundamental building blocks of European law has been among the major challenges faced by Irish political leaders and the Civil Service over the past 25 years. The success of the Civil Service in meeting these challenges is indicative of an underlying strength based on competence and flexibility in all Departments of State and offices and at all levels of the organisation. Irish civil servants have made a major contribution in the negotiations at Council working groups on key EU directives, whether on tax law, environmental policy and employment and social policies.

The management of the Presidency of the European Union by Ireland has been recognised widely as highly productive and successful, notwithstanding our limited resources compared to larger member states. During our most recent Presidency last year, the zeal and dedication of officials across the Civil Service which contributed to achieving the goals set by the Government for the Presidency programme was fully appreciated and acknowledged. I am confident the contribution of the Civil Service towards the building of economic and monetary union and the enlargement of the EU over the next few years will be no less competent.

In considering these successes I would not want to ignore the fact that real problems have emerged in relation to some aspects of central Government administration. Given the pace and magnitude of the changes in the environment affecting the public services, it would have been more surprising if difficulties had not arisen. Nevertheless, I remain confident the process of renewal in the public service is being built on firm foundations with respect to basic structures, administrative systems and the skill and dedication of the personnel involved. Much depends on how we respond to the evident difficulties and, in this respect, there are good grounds for confidence.

The new management initiative, known as the strategic management initiative, of which the Public Service Management Bill is an integral part, forms the cornerstone of the Government's response to the needs of public service reform and development. This process involves a critical self-examination of roles and mandates, analyses of strengths and weaknesses and, crucially, identification of clients and their needs. Following the formal launch of the document, Strategic Management Initiative, by the then Taoiseach in 1994, three key objectives were set for Departments and offices of the Civil Service: to make a greater contribution to national development; to provide excellent services to the public and other clients and to make best use of available resources. In essence, the strategic management initiative requires each Department and office, under ministerial direction, to take stock of what it is doing, to determine what it should do in the context of its mandate, Government objectives and client needs and to identify what steps or strategies it should pursue to that end. This process of searching self-analysis is intended to ensure ongoing improvements in efficiency and effectiveness in Civil Service management.

This is not a once-off exercise but an ongoing cycle of questioning what public service managers are doing, assessing how well they are performing, asking what changes should be made, setting and reviewing objectives and measuring their achievement. This new focus on a strategic approach to addressing management issues, in conjunction with work carried out a by a co-ordinating group of Secretaries, led to proposals for a major programme of change in the Civil Service. This was set out in Delivering Better Government which was formally launched by the Taoiseach in May last year. It sets down a framework for change within an overall vision for the Civil Service which embraces a series of interacting, interdependent initiatives which collectively will improve the management and performance of the Civil Service.

The fundamental objective is to meet the needs of Government and the public more efficiently, effectively and economically. Under Delivering Better Government, working groups, involving senior civil servants and non-civil servants, have been set up to develop initiatives in the areas of service delivery, openness and transparency, regulatory reform, human resource management, financial management and information technology.A working group was also established to advise on legislation required to underpin the change process. This group provided valuable assistance in drafting the Public Service Management Bill.

I emphasise the importance of this legislative dimension of the strategic management initiative. Earlier, incomplete phases of public service reform lacked the cutting edge of legislation. Legislation is important for many reasons but the primary benefit is that it provides a basis in statute for the assignment of authority and the creation of mechanisms of accountability within the structure of Civil Service management.

As Delivering Better Government states: "It has long been recognised that the existing structures and reporting systems promote a risk-averse environment where taking personal responsibility is not encouraged and, equally, where innovative approaches to service delivery have not been developed". Indeed, it is fair to say that long-standing practice has tended to demand detailed accountability from Ministers in relation to matters in which they may have no direct or immediate involvement. As a result, in some cases the mechanisms of accountability have come to seem almost detached from reality.

A main reason for this lack of clarity is that the role of civil servants under current law, including that of Secretaries, is inadequately addressed. This has given rise over time to a tendency for decisions to be taken at too high a level and for authority to become unduly centralised. This, in turn, has resulted in structures which do not always ensure optimal levels of efficiency and effectiveness. Under the provisions of the Public Service Management Bill this will be changed decisively.

When the new management structures being provided for in the Bill are in place, the ground work for making public service organisations more accountable, more efficient, more effective and more responsive to the needs of the public will have been laid. The purpose of the new management structure is quite explicit: it will enhance the management, effectiveness and transparency of operations of Departments and offices and increase the accountability of civil servants. At the same time the discretion of Ministers in relation to the administration of their Departments is virtually unchanged and the responsibility of Government to Dáil Éireann is preserved.

This qualification is needed to conform to the demands of democratic accountability of members of the Government as provided for in the Constitution. The Bill provides a legal basis for assigning, under a Minister, specified tasks to Secretaries of Departments who are now to be designated Secretaries General. These assignments will allow Secretaries General a greater degree of operational autonomy in the day-to-day management of Departments of State.

The matters which may be assigned to Secretaries General and other civil servants are dealt with in detail in sections 4 and 9 of the Bill. In essence, these core sections provide that Secretaries General will be given formal responsibility for the day-to-day management of the Department. This will involve implementing and monitoring policies, delivering the goods and services of the Department to its customers and clients and giving advice to the Minister in relation to the wider concerns of his or her Department.

In this Bill we are matching the needs of effective internal management in the Civil Service with the constitutional requirement that the Government be answerable to this House and that individual Ministers be "in charge of" their Departments. That has involved, in crucial sections of the Bill, a very careful balancing act between these two requirements. What will be done under those sections will be in the context of ultimate ministerial accountability to Dáil Éireann.

The Bill leaves three areas where the involvement of Ministers will be unmistakable. First, strategy statements will be drawn up in the context of policies set by the Minister. Second, strategy statements will be approved by the Minister with or without amendment and he or she will have the responsibility to ensure that they are adjusted to changing circumstances. Third, Ministers will retain in all assigned matters a power to issue directions in writing. These arrangements ensure that the Bill comes within the parameters of constitutional propriety where ministerial responsibility is concerned. They also identify the points within the administrative process in which the personal input of the Minister is required. The Minister will retain the full legal responsibility for what is done within his or her Department and will remain answerable to this House.

However, we hope that as assignments are made and publicised and other accountability mechanisms for Civil Service management come into play, the House itself may see its way to modify its Standing Orders in a manner which reflects the new structure, but that, I stress, is a matter for decision by the House, not by Ministers.

Strategy statements are unequivocally the key instruments in ensuring the success of the process of change under this Bill. They have a significance not just for civil servants, Ministers and Ministers of State. The strategy statements are also a means of empowerment for Deputies and a form of service guarantee for customers and clients of Departments and offices.

Strategy statements are important for civil servants because they will provide the basis for them to exercise greater initiative in the administration of central Government. Through the strategy statements, staff in all Departments and offices will have a clear and consistent understanding of precisely what is expected of them in their particular jobs. They will give Ministers and Ministers of State a clear and unambiguous account of how the policy objectives set by Government are to be achieved. Members of Dáil Éireann will have laid before them formal statements of strategy from every Department and office across the Civil Service. Together, these will form a comprehensive programme of objectives and outputs comprising the business of the public services.

Most importantly, the strategy statements will provide valid and accessible standards for judging levels of quality and performance in the delivery of public services to the general public. Under the impact of these strategy statements, the new management structure will expose the organisation, role, functioning and operation of the Civil Service to investigation and evaluation and to public accountability, effectively and democratically.

Under the Bill, a Secretary General will be responsible for examining and developing means to improve the provision of cost-effective services and ensuring that the Department's resources are used appropriately and with respect to value for money. These latter responsibilities are consistent with the functions of Secretaries General as Accounting Officers, who are required to appear before and account to the Committee of Public Accounts.

A further provision is the requirement that the Secretary General will make arrangements in relation to cross-departmental matters. This is a crucial provision in that it recognises a key structural deficiency in the way we address issues of major political importance and public interest which cut across the responsibilities of more than one Department. Matters such as the protection of children or the drugs issue have raised questions which can be resolved only through the closest co-operation between different agencies, offices and Departments. By giving these arrangements a basis in statute, this Bill will give greater focus and a renewed impetus to policies in these matters.

Subject to existing legislation, Secretaries General will also be given responsibility for appointments, performance, discipline and dismissal in relation to staff of their Departments below the level of Principal. These responsibilities will be exercised in addition to the functions which a Secretary normally exercises at present in the routine management of all staff in his or her Department. Section 9 of the Bill further provides that the Secretary General will assign responsibility downwards through the organisation to other officers or grades of officer in the Department.

The exercise of these responsibilities by Secretaries General and other civil servants will ensure that work done in the various parts of the Civil Service will be performed in a more focused way and in a manner which more clearly delineates the responsibilities of individual civil servants. I have no doubt that over time this new structure will provide better value to taxpayers for the amount of public expenditure allocated to running Departments of State. It will also provide the basis for a better standard of service to the customers and clients of Departments and offices. In addition, and no less improtantly, it will enhance the job satisfaction and, therefore, the performance of civil servants.

Why are we making provision for the appointment of special advisers? We are doing so because the Bill is concerned with how Departments and offices are managed. At the core of the Bill is the arrangement that Secretaries General will be responsible for the internal management of their Departments: staff in the Department will be answerable to them for their work. Without the specific provision under which special advisers are accountable to Ministers or Ministers of State, they would fall within the Secretary General's domain in that respect.

Given that the function of special advisers is to provide an independent and more politically focused source of advice to officeholders — a role which may require them to act as devil's advocate on proposals made by a Secretary General or his or her senior personnel — such a line of accountability seems inappropriate.

The changes introduced by this Bill will have resonances well beyond the core Civil Service and fit into a broader programme of development and renewal. Indeed, as Minister of State with responsibility for public service reform, I have been busy in other crucial areas. One area where real progress is already being made is in customer services in the commercial State sector.

As many Members will be aware, I launched a code of practice on 15 January this year which consists of a commitment by the State companies on customer service in a number of crucial areas. These include quality, consultation, information, choice and proper complaints mechanisms.

The code sets out basic commitments to be met by all of the participating companies who have subscribed to this code of practice. Each State company is different, of course, and their customers' needs vary. Thus, they are free to draw up their own customer charters to cater specifically for the needs of their customers provided they adhere to the fundamental principles set out in this code of practice. Both Telecom Éireann and the Electricity Supply Board, involved in the drawing up of this code, have since published their own customer charters.

My intention is that all the State companies will not only meet but surpass the requirements of this code. I know public companies have the capability to do this. It will mean public companies must take the issue of customer service as seriously as they take that of financial performance.Any company that takes its customer service seriously will perform well. In the private sector it is virtually axiomatic that good companies have high standards of customer service. It is all the more important in the public sector that customer service is afforded a high priority as, in most cases, the State companies are the sole suppliers of the particular service.

About this time last year I spoke here at some length on the subject of customer service in the commercial State companies and promised to return to the House a year later to update Members on developments in this area. I will take this opportunity to elaborate on some of the customer service improvements which have been introduced by State companies.

Aer Rianta has implemented the code of practice in full. Posters and brochures are well placed around airports. New "opinion meters", a computerised survey, are being placed in strategic locations around airports to gauge customer opinion and reaction to the service being offered.

The Electricity Supply Board published a new customer charter in February last — including service guarantees backed by payments to customers where the ESB fails to meet guaranteed service level. A customer complaints procedure and a national call centre are being developed by the ESB in addition to a major network renewal project in rural areas costing £230 million over five years to improve the quality of supply to some 150,000 customers.

Aer Lingus improved seating, gold circle parking in Dublin and the introduction of a premier service on continental European services. All were initiatives introduced in 1996. In addition, a new check-in at Dublin Airport for Aer Lingus commuters will open in July 1997.

Bord na Móna plans to launch a customer service charter in September 1997 and a code of practice has been implemented throughout the organisation. Bord na Móna intends to involve distributors in the formulation of a customer service plan for their retailers and customers.

The Bord Gáis Éireann code of practice has been implemented and improvements effected in all areas. Networks have been extended and its customer service programme strengthened by senior management appointments.

A national computerised customer database is in operation and a national telephone system networked for ease of contact. A directory of services is being drafted and its complaints and redress system is under review.

At present Córas Iompair Éireann is working on punctuality and reliability, cleanliness, customer comfort, information, communications, facilities for people with mobility difficulties and other problems. It is intended that specific targets be set in each area and performance subject to periodic — I suggest annual — independent audit.

Telecom Éireann launched a customer charter in May 1996 which included guarantees on line installation and maintenance with credits to customers for non-compliance by Telecom Éireann. Use of customer panels has been expanded and telephone support has been improved by the use of special access numbers. An appointments system for installation and repairs has also been introduced, in addition to which planned initiatives include the establishment of a fully integrated complaints procedure in 1997, a revamp of the customer charter and further development of the appointment system. I must re-emphasise the importance of these legislative proposals. As the House will be aware, the Bill has already been improved in a number of important respects in its passage through Seanad Éireann. I take this opportunity to thank Senators from all sides for their very positive response to the Bill and for the lively debate on its provisions and fundamental principles enshrined therein. One of the most significant improvements adopted in Seanad Éireann was that in relation to the limitation on the numbers of special advisers appointed by Ministers and Ministers of State under section 5. That provision had not been included in the original text but a very convincing case was made for it particularly in the course of Committee Stage in the Seanad.

The positive response of the Government to proposals for improving the Bill in this and other respects indicates that this Bill should not be seen in a partisan or adversarial light. Administrative efficiency and effectiveness concern Members in both Houses. Our citizens have a right to expect the highest standards of management in the operation of the public services. The specific provisions of this Bill, and the wider strategic management initiative of which these legislative proposals form such a crucial part, deserve all of our commitment and support. Collectively, the measures encompassed by the Bill will deliver the most positive and constructive changes in the conduct of the public services in a generation.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome this Bill, particularly its main thrust, which gives greater delegated authority and responsibility to senior civil servants. It is important this authority should filter through Civil Service ranks since it is civil servants who, in practice, undertake most of the work. That is one of the key issues in this area.

The provisions of this Bill constitute very important steps with enormous implications for the country as a whole and its public services. We are very fortunate to have an excellent, intelligent, bright, capable Civil Service whose members have demonstrated their abilities in the performance of their duties, particularly within Europe since we joined the European Community, where they have consistently strongly upheld our stance on various issues as they arose, endorsed by respective Ministers at Council of Ministers meetings. Without their continuous, dedicated work it would have been very difficult for us to have achieved what we have in Europe, to have been recognised or commanded due respect within that wider community forum.

The same can be said about many other spheres of the operations of the Civil Service since the foundation of the State. There is a great need for more openness and interaction with the community, business people and people in the wider public service. A good deal has been done over the years but it is time for a more mature approach. That will require different characteristics from civil servants. In many respects they will be less protected from all the difficulties, even the ethical ones, which will arise as they work more closely with business and the community.Our objectives must be clear and pursued with great vigour.

That we should debate this Bill now is strange. In the past Sean Lemass and TK Whitaker, Secretary of the Department of Finance, worked jointly and openly in developing the Irish Civil Service and in promoting the concept of development corporations within Departments. That was far seeing vision long before its time.

The Devlin report of 1969 attempted to build on that vision and create two separate areas within the service — the Aireacht and the Executive.Almost 30 years later we are putting flesh on the bones of the Aireacht and the Executive and dealing with that issue in a practical and detailed way. It is regrettable that more progress was not made sooner. That is not to suggest Devlin was right in everything he said in his voluminous report which I am sure most civil servants are aware of if they have not read it in detail. Some were not born when he published his report. It was a far seeing report, and looked down the road to what we are doing now.

In the meantime some Departments have gone a long way towards the Executive operation and have hived off many functions to either semi-State bodies or executive operations within the Departments. For example, in the Department of Health the health boards were established and a great deal of the day to day work went to the health boards. The Department of Social Welfare, with which I was particularly familiar, created the social welfare services office to deliver the service and ultimately created a director general of that office and assistant directors. By and large that has worked extremely well. It is an interesting model given our discussions because there are sensitive and important issues we must address in this context, such as access by public representatives to problems and issues which arise. Urgent matters may be raised in the House, and responses will come through to the House. We are aware of the difficulty in relation to commercial semi-State bodies which by and large are overseen in their policy performance but their day to day operation is left to the semi-State body. That is as it should be, but in some areas it is important that we have access to them in the House quickly.

The main thrust of the Bill is right. The delegation of authority and responsibility is particularly important. An important principle in all of this which must not be missed is the principle of co-ordination. That principle provides that where there is authority there must be equal responsibility.That has been one of the problems in the Civil Service. Frequently one has responsibility without having the authority. It is important to maintain a balance between the two. While that may be an important management principle it is often neglected when we come to the operation of our public service because of the hierarchical system and the vesting of so much of the power in the secretary and the top staff of the Department.That inhibits the staff down the line from implementing quickly and effectively the decisions they would take. That issue will have to be addressed.

We refer to the new powers being given to the secretary of the Department — or the new secretary general — but we have to realise that will be of little benefit if we do not equalise the authority with the responsibility down the line. That equalisation would generate a vibrant and effective service which would certainly deliver the optimum service for the citizens of the State.

In most businesses nowadays each individual is a manager and we have to recognise that in the Civil Service. We have highly qualified, skilled and dedicated people at different levels in the service and do not fully recognise that each of these people is a manager of certain areas of activity.

While the general thrust of the report is right and it is important that it be proceeded with urgently along with the whole process of modernising our public service, there are important issues I would like to mention. When making these changes we must make provision to ensure adequate safeguards for the interests of the citizens.We are not simply dealing with a financial return from a business. A business has to have its social concern and most successful businesses exhibit a social concern in one way or another, and try to make a contribution on a wider basis than in its moneymaking operation. However, the public service has a special responsibility to citizens not just today but for the future. Decisions made in the public sector can have a long time-span for implementation. The public service is not chasing the quick buck or the medium term buck, but looks after the interests of citizens from the cradle to the grave. The full effect of decisions one makes today may not be evident for five or ten years. One must therefore be more careful. One must research the position and know what one is talking about. It is a classic difference between business and the public service. In business one makes a decision and gets on with the job. If it goes wrong, one can change direction immediately to another which will yield profit at the end of the year.

The public sector is different because one's decision will influence the lives and well-being of people throughout the country not just for forthcoming weeks but for many years in the future. We have seen that mistakes in the public sector can have devastating effects which can affect people for many years. We do not want to discover that we have become efficient in doing our business and then have our successors discover we forgot the effects which would emerge in the future. People involved in public administration understand that this is an important issue.

It is also important that the buck should stop with the Minister. Difficulty arises if certain activities are hived off. Let us take activities in the area of social assistance, where people live in poverty and under great stress. One might have effective officials who get the job done and deliver results at the end of the year. However, after some time one might discover those officials were leaning hard on people who were not in a position to defend themselves. Our system is particularly effective at picking up such situations and reporting them to the Dáil or to the Department. A good client relationship exists in the Department of Social Welfare. Ministers must address these cases as urgent priorities. A Minister cannot claim to be busy launching a major poverty strategy document if 100 people are in acute distress and need his or her attention. He or she cannot claim they are a minor matter in comparison with the policy document. The Minister will have to account to the House and that aspect of the operation of the public service is crucial.

Some changes in the Bill have been imported from other countries. The Minister of State has referred to visits to Australia, New Zealand and other countries. Some of the changes were previously imported from New Zealand to the UK by Margaret Thatcher. However, the way we use the changes is most important. We must have our own way of implementing them.

The Bill attempts to separate policy from day to day operations in a Department. That is fine. One does not want the Minister to be involved in daily operations or interfering with the operation of a Department. People must be free to deliver the service and in many cases they are and deliver the service particularly well. The separation of policy and daily operations can improve performance in terms of efficiency. Delegation of authority and responsibility to a secretary general will introduce greater clarity into the workings of Departments. Nevertheless, where Departments deal with highly sensitive matters which affect citizens, the Minister must be in close contact not only with the policy area but also with the practices as they affect people. It is particularly important we do not lose sight of that.

The Minister and Secretaries Act provides that the Secretary is the Accounting Officer or treasurer of the Department. He or she accounts for spending and other financial matters to the Committee of Public Accounts. It is a vital function that is generally well done by the Secretaries. The Minister has the role of managing director while the Secretary has the role of general manager, if one is to make a comparison with the business sector. That means the Minister must be familiar and in touch with everything that happens in the Department. One might claim a Minister cannot do that, but if one is dealing with sensitive areas such as health and social welfare — two Departments in which I served — the Minister cannot operate effectively unless he or she is in contact with the factory floor, as it were.

People who participate in management studies or management programmes in America, Ireland or other countries are always told that top class managers must be in touch with the factory floor. If one is not in touch with the factory floor, one will not know what is happening each day. How many times have management conferences been presented by renowned personalities at international and national venues, which are attended by hundreds of people, in which the lecturer has said simple things such as: "If one is not in touch with the factory floor, one will not know one's business and if one does not know one's business one is not doing one's job"? That applies to a Minister as much as it applies to a business manager because the Minister is given the seal of office and responsibility for the Department by the President.

The Minister of State emphasised that point when she told the House that a Minister will retain full legal responsibility for what is done within his or her Department and will remain answerable to the House. While arrangements might be most effective, I cannot envisage a way in which the Minister is not ultimately responsible for everything that happens in his or her Department.Great effort is being made to separate the functions. It can be done by assigning responsibility and authority at different levels. If a member of the Civil Service is a higher executive officer, for example, he or she has specific responsibilities and authority that cannot be evaded. He or she must, therefore, be answerable for those responsibilities.

However, as far as the people are concerned, the Minister is responsible for overall operations and policy. There cannot be policy without practice and one cannot talk about policy in a vacuum.There is no point is saying the policy is somewhere in Leinster House where the Deputies talk about it and we have plenty of nice reports. The committees can do that, but the Minister's job is to be in touch down the line as far as the customers or clients. In other words, the Minister must keep in contact with the factory floor. The buck still stops with the Minister and that is particularly important. Perhaps the way in which we measure the buck should be more sophisticated. If someone with authority and responsibility at a particular level fails, it will be clear where the breakdown occurred and that must be recognised and identified. This issue will be tackled under the system the Minister of State proposes to put in place.

The Bill will not work unless the Official Secrets Act is changed. Every civil servant has to sign a circular which binds him or her to secrecy. Unless they are freed from this requirement the culture of secrecy and the inhibitions which prevent openness, transparency and an outward looking service will remain intact. If we want an interactive service under which civil servants work with members of the community and business, they should be able to make decisions in their own right and feel free to communicate information without big brother looking over their shoulder and carpeting them when things do not work out.

The Freedom of Information Bill should prove helpful in this regard. The Minister of State concerned, however, ran away from the issue of the Official Secrets Act and said it would be considered later. A committee of the House impressed on the Government the need to change that Act urgently. Unfortunately, the issue has been put on the long finger. Fianna Fáil proposed as an alternative a limited confidentiality list covering essential security and legal matters. This would allow more interactive management and replace the bulk of the Official Secrets Act. The all-embracing circular which civil servants are required to sign is outdated and undermines what the Minister of State is seeking to do in this Bill.

There is a need for greater flexibility. One of the restrictions which prevent the effective operation of the Civil Service is the vertical and hierarchal structures in place. In tackling the major problems of drugs and disadvantage in communities, there is a need to establish interdepartmental project teams. As the Minister of State mentioned, the Bill contains a welcome measure which provides for cross-departmental activities. This is of vital importance as there is a need for lateral thinking. The Civil Service is badly structured for such activities.

I battled for years to have interdepartmental teams established to tackle the drugs problem. Thankfully, that is now beginning to happen by consent and agreement. The support structures, however, are inadequate. This raises the question of promotions and rewards within the Civil Service.Those who do excellent work on the ground are not rewarded. To win the war against drugs and disadvantage there is a requirement to delegate authority and responsibility to interdepartmental project teams headed by a project leader. The Bill must provide for this as well as for performance measurement and rewards based on the achievement of specific objectives. Civil servants who achieve success in developing disadvantaged communities must be adequately rewarded by way of promotion.

There must be assurances that the newly appointed managers will not abuse their powers. Secretaries general will have the right to hire and fire staff. There is a need to clarify the new powers being given to secretaries general, assistant secretaries and principal officers, of which there are 290. There are approximately 31,000 civil servants.There must be adequate safeguards to protect the interests of assistant principals, higher executive officers and all other grades from abuse of the new powers being granted, unfair dismissal and the prevention of promotions in particular cases. These powers will have to be the subject of considerable consultations with the trade unions.

While higher officers will welcome these new powers and argue that this will make for a more efficient service and that certain members of staff are not performing, they will have the power to promote staff — the people they chose. There is a need, therefore, for further consideration before the Bill comes into operation. It is more important than ever before to ensure there is no favouritism or abuse. We have to be aware of the potential dangers.

I welcome the provisions under which a limit will be placed on the number of special advisers who may be appointed. I accept the points made by the Minister of State in this regard.

This is interesting and important legislation which is vital to the achievement of our objectives.I hope the incoming Government will carry on the good work as the country as a whole will benefit.

I am taken aback by the Bill. It is not as great as the Minister of State claims. Its terms raise many more questions that they answer. The Bill does not herald the new golden age for the public service implied by the Minister; rather it could imply a very serious set of problems for the public service.

There is no doubt that the public service needs to be reformed but it is beyond dispute that we are putting in place a "model" of public service reform which is less than satisfactory. We should have looked to New Zealand in devising a proper system of accountability, reform and performance in the public service. The New Zealand state services commission has a very different role vis-á-vis its public service than is thought appropriate for this country. New Zealand and Ireland are similar economically and culturally and we have similar legal and parliamentary systems. Yet it has gone down a completely different route in relation to public sector performance and accountability.

In New Zealand the public services commission, on behalf of the public, does a deal with the management of a Department, sets out performance criteria, is involved in the appointment of heads of Departments, demands compliance with the contract and remunerates the head of the Department and his staff in accordance with the level of compliance with specified targets in the contract. We need a similar system. We do not need a strategy document drawn up by the Minister, we need a much better system under which, say, the management of the Department of Social Welfare work to a contract entered into with it on behalf of the public by a body which sets performance criteria and remunerates the head of the Department according to his capacity to discharge his contractual obligations. That is the type of radical reproach we need.

The Bill is a terrible disappointment and does not go down this road. We would have had a much better Bill if the New Zealand model had been followed. This would offend the ideology of the left wing parties who decide every matter in Government but it is the only way to turn around the role of the public service in society and remunerate and reward well those in the public service who do such a good job, as the great majority of public servants do, on behalf of the public. I am profoundly disappointed with the Bill.

Sections 3 and 4 will not have the effect canvassed for them. The Bill is not a charter for ministerial responsibility for the 21st century. Section 4 will prove problematical and difficult for Ministers.It is worth quoting the provisions of section 4(1):

Except as otherwise directed by the Government or provided by or under any other Act, the Secretary General of a Department or Head of a Scheduled Office, as the case may be, shall, subject to the determination of matters of policy by the Minister of the Government having charge of the Department or Scheduled Office or by the Government, have the authority, responsibility and accountability for carrying out the following duties in respect of the Department or Scheduled Office.

These duties include management, the provision of advice, the preparation and submission of a strategy document and the carrying out of disciplinary and staff employment functions.

It will not be easy for a future Minister to take control of his Department when the legislation is enacted. Despite the provisions in section 3, Ministers will be pushed to the edge of their Departments.This will be regarded by the secretary general of the Department as a mandate for autonomy. I accept that the Bill provides for written directions — I will deal with this point in more detail later — but I am not happy that section 7 is an adequate statement of what I should be in a position to do if I was in a Department.

By giving the secretary general of a Department the very extensive disciplinary and personnel functions set out in sections 4(1) (h), immense power is centred on one person. This power may yet come back to haunt us. By creating a structure of this kind where the secretary general is effectively the boss of the Department with hire and fire powers over the lower echelons there will be a reign of terror in some Departments and those who want to blow the whistle or believe that what the secretary general is doing is not appropriate will not be able to have the matter reviewed by Dáil Éireann.

It is interesting that the directions the Minister can give to his secretary general under section 7 specifically exclude any direction in relation to a disciplinary matter. This means a secretary general will effectively be in the position to dismiss civil servants or threaten them with disciplinary action against the wishes of the Minister. This is a very serious matter. Section 7 provides that the Minister can give directions to the secretary general of a Department. However, what obligation does a secretary general have to comply with these? Why does section 7 not include a subsection which states that the secretary general shall comply with the directions given to him? I am surprised that this provision has not been included in the Bill. The Minister can give directions but there is no statutory obligation on the secretary general to comply with them. The formalisation of written directions will, in certain circumstances, create a very poor working relationship between Ministers and secretaries general and will enable secretaries general to bully Ministers by, for example, saying "put it in writing, Minister". I am not happy with this position.

The Minister should be the boss of the Department and somebody "beneath him" should not be beside him or above him. We are doing to the Civil Service what the county management legislation did to local authorities. We are creating an autonomous Civil Service and pursuing strategy documents which are laid down from time to time when full political accountability should be the hallmark of the public service. I believe in old-fashioned political accountability.

I listened to Deputy O'Malley speaking on the radio this morning about the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the different agendas pursued by that Department, even to the point of giving Ministers misleading information for which they had to make personal statements in the Oireachtas and its committees. Whose agenda is being served in such circumstances? What is the relationship between a Department and Ministers when they are misled by their own civil servants into making misleading statements in the House? The corporate agenda of the Department not to be embarrassed seems to take precedence over the political imperative of truthful accountability in this House.

This Bill is a charter for a bad relationship between Ministers and their Department, one in which the Department's position is encrusted with autonomy. Ministers will be like jockeys getting up on very wilful horses. They will find out in future that running a Department is a process whereby the boss is no longer the boss. The Bill is a sad response to the issue of strategic management.Ireland did not get it right in regard to the strategic management initiative. The New Zealand notion was a better one.

This Bill is a rather sad response to the whole question of performance in the public service and accountability of Ministers under the 1924 Act. Far from reforming the public service, the Bill will deform it and make it less accountable. The relationship between Ministers and Departments will be problematic hereafter if the Bill becomes law. It needs to be extensively tested in a good debate in a committee of this House and not rushed through as if it were a good measure in its own right. Many Members of this House should apply their minds to the contents of the Bill and tease out the implications of every section. The idea that it could have gone through all Stages today because it is uncontroversial is a worrisome notion. I am glad it seems to have been hit on the head.

I am somewhat surprised by certain features of the Bill. Section 10 states: "The Secretary General of a Department or Head of a Scheduled Office or any other officer of the Department or Scheduled Office who is designated for the purposes of this section by the aforesaid Secretary General or Head and to whom the relevant responsibility for the performance of functions has been assigned, shall, when requested to do so in writing by a committee of either or both of the Houses of the Oireachtas authorised in that behalf to make the request in connection with the subject-matter before the committee, appear before the committee...". One might think that should be the end of the matter, but it is not. Section 10 further states: " relation to any strategy statement that has been laid before each House of the Oireachtas under section 5 (2) in respect of the Department or Scheduled Office".

I thought we were moving towards a compellability mode but we now see that the Secretary General or a designated officer shall appear before a committee in respect of one item, that is, the strategy statement. Why is that being specifically provided for? Surely people will come before a committee and answer questions extensively.I am concerned about section 10. I do not know how it marries with the compellability provisions already in place or with much of the debate that took place in the select committee on the compellability Bill.

I do not know the reason section 11 is cast in the terms it is, but I strongly object to the proposition that the number of special advisers in the case of a Minister, other than the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or the leader of a political party registered in the register of political parties, shall not be greater than two. What is that all about? What is the limit on the appointment of special advisers to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or Minister De Rossa, since this is obviously tailor-made for him? Why are ordinary Ministers being limited when the heads of political parties can have their own kitchen cabinet or "politburo" of an unlimited size to advise them? Has that been teased out? The provisions in section 11 (2) as to the functions of a special adviser, while they appear to be enabling, are meant to be delimiting. Are they such a great step forward?

I do not know the purpose of giving corporate status to the office of the Tánaiste, but it is a ridiculous idea. What is the function of the office of the Tánaiste? The existing office of the Tánaiste should be abolished. The Tánaiste is supposed to be a Deputy Prime Minister, not a second Taoiseach.Why is it proposed in the Bill that a body with corporate status and a seal should be established for the office of the Tánaiste? What kind of empire building is going on here?

The implications of these bodies corporate have not been clearly thought out. For instance, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is being given corporate status in the Bill. Anybody who knows anything about the prosecution of offences is well aware that we need a unified prosecution system, not a further development of the autonomy of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I do not know the reason being tendered for corporate status.

The Minister of State departed from the usual form of Second Stage speech by not detailing and justifying each section of the Bill. Instead we had a great deal of flimflam of an introductory kind followed by much flimflam in the peroration about codes of practice. The contribution was, at best, a light dab of the feather duster on each of the issues that arise in the Bill. If this was the answer to the problems of the public service I would welcome it, but it is not even part of the solution and may create more of a problem. I would be quite happy to have a strong secretary general running a Department if there was a New Zealand arrangement whereby that person made an agreement with the State by which remuneration and tenure of office were decided. If there is to be a strategy statement for a Department, it should not be put in place by the process envisaged in this Bill. This is the wrong way to approach it, and I am very fearful that the Bill is being pushed through in the last minutes, in terms of parliamentary lifetime, of this Dáil without adequate consideration as to its terms. It should not be rushed through, and there is no reason to do so. It should be extremely carefully considered. A number of other possibilities should be considered by the committee which is given the task of revising the detailed content of this Bill. There is no hurry to have this legislation in place. There is every reason for having the most far-reaching debate on each and every provision as to functions of secretaries general, for instance, and in relation to the mode of delegation of such functions.

I am strongly of the view that this Bill is a Trojan horse. It appears to be all about improving public service management, but it is in fact about making management by the political head of a Department more difficult and making the Department less responsive to the person who should be in charge, the Minister.

Something that ought to be considered is the creation of ministerial cabinets which have a definite relationship with the Department and are not solely centred around the Minister. The Devlin model, although it may have had some deficiencies, may have had something to be said for it. The least I would expect is a proper debate on whether to go for cabinet style delivery of services by Ministers who are politically responsible in exchange for what is proposed here.

I do not think this Bill was written by political people who want to govern the country but that it was written largely by public servants who want to govern the country without too much interference from politicians. It goes in the wrong direction. I strongly believe in the old-fashioned notion that somebody who is elected by the people in a democracy, who, under the Constitution, is given charge of a Department of State and who has an individual responsibility for that Department should be seen not merely as somebody who lays down broad strategies and occasionally communicates directions in writing to his secretary general but as somebody who is in fact the boss in terms of delivering services, taking responsibility for what happens in the Department and making sure the Department does a good job. I do not see this Bill as strengthening political accountability but as diminishing it. I do not see the Bill as enriching the relationship of a Minister with his Department but as one which will estrange the Minister and the top public servants in his Department and put them at arms' length in which the loser will be political accountability.

I am dismayed by the contents of this Bill. If it is supposed to be the charter for a revolution in the management of our public service, I do not see that it is a very significant revolution. It is a revolution in a cabbage patch, as was stated about the Fenian rebellion. It does not deal with the fundamental issue of how to get public servants to perform to decent standards. What the New Zealanders did was to put in place something which exacts performance from the public service.This is aspirational. The strategies are set out in the usual anodyne vague-minded language of all strategic documents; they are mission statements, the usual waffle and, at the end, there is no mechanism to ensure compliance, no method for setting targets, no method of ensuring compliance with targets and no personal accountability.This is a tired legislative gesture on a fundamental problem. It is nothing to be proud of. There is much to worry about in this Bill. I must record my deep sense of disappointment with it. It is not a charter for something better. It is an excuse for something which needs to be made a lot better.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions in response to the Bill, which were quite different in tone. Deputy Woods wants assignments to go down the ranks, and I agree with him. If the SMI is to provide the benefits we are seeking from it this will have to be done, and the Bill imposes an obligation on the secretary general to do so. We are meeting the need for transparency of responsibilities already in publishing as my Department has a directory setting out who does what and those strategy statements which have been published in advance of this legislation give similar details.

Deputy Woods mentioned the lost opportunities of the past, Lemass, Devlin. We are now revisiting what they proposed in the light of experiences such as his in the Department of Social Welfare. We have also looked at and taken lessons from what has gone wrong in Departments and State bodies, and we are still retaining the essential overlordship and answerability to this House of the Minister. I agree with Deputy Woods that that is essential.

This Bill is part of a larger exercise, the fundamental requirement of which is that staff at all levels know what they are doing, why they are doing it and, most of all, are clearly told what is expected of them. Because we are moving this Bill simultaneously with the system of performance management, which in his last remarks Deputy McDowell appears not to be cognisant of, we are giving all our staff an opportunity to benefit from it and an incentive to work the new arrangements.

Deputy Woods is correct in identifying the need for greater interaction between civil servants and business. The Culliton group indicated a particular need to ensure a greater degree of familiarity with the business world within Departments with responsibility for industrial policy. Several Governments have tried for some time now to have greater mobility between civil and public service and the private sector, the business world, a two-way flow. What has happened in effect is that the private business sector has cherrypicked the best brains from the public sector, and we have been less effective, perhaps because of our pay structure or career paths within the public service, in cherrypicking the best from the private sector and bringing them into the public sector. The theory is good but in practice I am not sure that the public service is benefiting as much as the private sector. I take the point that we need people who are fully versed and experienced in the business world generally particularly in industrial policy areas within the public service.

The Public Service Management Bill is directed towards providing a more dynamic and accessible structure which will be open to the tough commercial world of business. I agree with Deputy Woods about three fundamentals. We do not see the preparation of the strategy document as the end of the matter. It must have a focus on the short or medium term and the longer term. We are imposing statutory obligations in this regard. We are not going along with the rigid policy-execution divide advocated by Devlin. We have made modifications to ensure the Minister has an input at crucial stages and he or she will have a clear power to intervene. Secretaries have a clear statutory obligation to provide a quality service.

Deputy Woods said the Bill would not work unless the Official Secrets Act is changed. We have on the Statute Book a Freedom of Information Act and my Department, under my direction, is about to launch an internal programme within the Civil Service to secure its effective implementation. The directories and guides which that Act requires Departments to produce will, over most of the Civil Service, break down a culture of secrecy, which has already started to crumble.

Deputies Woods and McDowell referred to the question of dismissals. At present all Civil Service dismissals go to the Government. That delays action and leads to attempts to personalise or politicise decisions in this area. When this arrangement commenced decades ago, such were the numbers that it was possible for Ministers to know virtually all their staff and their work, but expansion has changed that. Today Ministers may know only a small number of their staff, generally those at higher management levels of Departments.Transferring the functions of dismissal to secretaries general will not remove the protections which have been given to staff by the courts, by employment law or under the Constitution. There is no change in those areas. There will be consultation with staff interests and the arrangements will not come into place until the Civil Service Regulation Act, 1956, is amended.

Deputy McDowell commented on the risk of a reign of terror by a secretary general who cannot be directed by a Minister in this area. The Deputy is aware of the strength of public service unions and of accessibility of the courts to aggrieved employees, including civil servants. He suggested the Bill will cause problems for the Civil Service and said we should look to the state services commission in New Zealand as an alternative model of public service reform. The Deputy surprises me. We have most certainly looked at developments in New Zealand and elsewhere, including New South Wales in Australia, Canada, the United States and Britain. I hope we will be in a position to piggyback on the experience in other jurisdictions, particularly those which are basically similar to our "Westminister" model, which would be most suitable in terms of the type of administration with which to compare.

We have looked at developments in New Zealand and examined the lessons to be learned, of which there are many, from their experience of reform. Some good resulted from that examination.New Zealand took the "big bang" approach to reform and it was carried out in the teeth of fiscal disaster when they literally could not write cheques to pay civil servants. The operation of a reform programme in the teeth of financial disaster may concentrate the mind in that if a person is told he will not be paid on Friday his choices are different from those that exist during "peace time" when a more planned and programmed approach may be adopted to change. That does not mean the radical or "big bang" approach will not occur in a selective way. Despite the best efforts of those involved and the labour relations machinery that exists, difficulties will possibly arise in some areas and there will be a battle of wills.

If the progress of reform is reduced to an unacceptable pace, if we are not moving forward at a realistic pace, as a Government we will not be shy in pursuing a selective radical approach in certain areas. That has the benefit of sending a signal if one is needed — I doubt it is — that the Government is serious about public sector reform. Ideally reform in peace time — I use that term in the sense that we are not reforming in the face of fiscal disaster — is carried out in a planned and programmed way, with full consultation with unions and staff involved. That system has progressed extremely well, and I thank public sector unions for their support to date. Much more consultation is needed, particularly in the area of performance measurement, to which Deputy McDowell alluded. Without a performance measurement system in place this measure will not work, but that is not what we are discussing.I agree fully it is an essential tool for the legislation to be effective.

I have every respect for the decisions made by other Governments in terms of their public sector change programmes, but I do not accept the New Zealand approach provides the way forward for us. Unlike New Zealand, we are an independent, sovereign and constitutional State. The role, duties and functions of members of the Government are set out specifically in the Constitution. Our Constitution requires that a Minister is in charge of his or her Department. It further requires that a Minister should be responsible for administering his or her Department. That is a right and proper basis for democratic accountability.

It is not the purpose of this legislation to try to take the Minister out of the loop, which is definitely part of the New Zealand approach advocated by Deputy McDowell. To advocate the New Zealand approach while expressing concerns about accountability seems slightly contradictory. Creating accountability mechanisms, as was done to try to detach the Minister in New Zealand, did not work, as was made clear by visiting New Zealand academic, Professor Jonathan Boston, in presentations made last week to the IPA.

Deputy McDowell referred to section 12. That section specifically excludes the Office of the Tánaiste from the section as it provides that the Government may declare any office to be a corporation sole. Having referred to performance management, which is an essential tool for success in public sector reform, I have broadly answered the questions raised.

Question put and declared carried.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday, subject to agreement by the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 29 April 1997.
Sitting suspended at 2.22 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.