I appreciate the chance to make a few brief remarks about the draft final report of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. I warmly thank the Ceann Comhairle for the work he has done along with all the members of the committee, and, indeed, the Oireachtas Commission staff, in bringing forward the report. In particular, I also thank Deputy Pringle, who represented many Independents on that committee. The Ceann Comhairle has held one-to-one meetings with many Deputies, including myself, in relation to the body of reforms that are coming forward.
In general terms, I welcome the general thrust of the report before us. The proposed business committee is a welcome advance. In the past, opposition, and, indeed, Government backbenchers would find out at a few hours' or at a day's notice what the business of the House was to be. However, when a business committee is established, we will know a couple of weeks in advance and will be able to have an input into that, which is very valuable.
A key element of the report relates to the monitoring of legislation. Bills which come to mind include the sale of alcohol Bill, dating back over perhaps a decade and a half, the noise Bill, dating back over a decade and a half, and the foreshore Bill. These all have been on the clár at different times in my time in this House but they have not been implemented. The idea of monitoring and implementing desirable legislation for the people is important.
Late in the previous Dáil or early in this Dáil, I asked the Oireachtas Library and Information Service to prepare a report on an Estimates committee for Dáil Éireann. Our colleagues in the Library produced a fine report which focused on the failure in this regard. It carried on from the OECD 2015 report which showed up the grave deficiencies of this House in monitoring financial legislation and measures. It showed, of course, that we follow the United Kingdom post hoc system in budgets, that we measure expenditure through the Committee of Public Accounts, which has done fine work over the years, but we have never had an ex ante system whereby a committee would look at possible spending, in this case, for 2017.
Through the years, as the Acting Chairman might appreciate, we have had situations in which we discussed the Estimates for 2016 in the middle of 2017, or for 2014 in the middle of 2015. We were always a year behind in considering Estimates and we were discussing money that had already been spent. It is important we get away from this.
I have reservations about the structure of the budget oversight committee proposed. We will have a sectoral finance committee in this area. One of the OECD proposals, reflected in the report the Oireachtas Library staff carried out, was that an Estimates or budget oversight committee would comprise the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and the heads of the other committees. It was a different type of committee and would have had a major input into the structure of the budget during the preparation of Estimates each spring and summer and the bringing together of the budgetary process in September and October. I am not sure the committee will do this or whether it will be going over the work of the sectoral committees in this area again.
I hope the committee will represent a break with the past and give much more input, for example, this year into the budgetary programmes for 2017 and 2018, and however long the Government lasts. It may not reflect the powerful budgetary committees to be found in the Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, France, Germany, Austria and Italy where they have always had the non-Westminster tradition of invigilating future spending plans of each Department, which I hope the committee will do.
The independent parliamentary budget office could play a major role and there is major emphasis laid on the statutory underpinning of the office. I would make it an independent parliamentary budget supervisor or facility. I think the Parliament should have this role and the fundamental say on the preparation of future budgets through the committee. The role of the office, which was suggested on the independent parliamentary budget, would be proper as part of the budget oversight committee and would be a function of the budget oversight committee, which would have this fundamental independence. I am not sure how it would work or whether it could be another instrument for a Government and powerful interests in society to say certain things cannot happen, for example that we cannot introduce a single-tier health system or a proper child care system given that we do not have the money. I wonder about the independence of the budget oversight committee and putting the independent parliamentary budget officer beside it in a role that might impinge on the work of the committee.
Like other Deputies, I have used the services of the parliamentary legal adviser. It commissioned legal support when Opposition Members were preparing Bills. I welcome the proposal on this, which is valuable. I agree with a previous Deputy on Leaders' Questions. It seems incongruous that a number of leaders for Fianna Fáil could ask questions on Leaders' Questions. It seems to be copper-fastening the idea that Fianna Fáil is both in government and in opposition, which it is. It will be another device to try to help Fianna Fáil to straddle these two roles. It is fair enough that each group or party would have a speaking slot during Leaders' Questions.
Our Dáil has often been criticised as being very family-unfriendly and making it very difficult for families due to the incredibly late hours. The previous Government was famous for holding major debates well after midnight. Major issues have been discussed, usually on Tuesday nights, and have run way late. I wonder about scheduling plenary business up to 10 p.m. I wonder if it could be scheduled much earlier or if the committee meetings could be scheduled for an earlier part of the day, 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., and be finished earlier to give Members who have families, and their partners, a chance to have a more normal style of life.
The fact that the Parliament is in Dublin makes it much more difficult for all our Members. At some discussions, people said maybe we should take the Parliament outside Dublin, that there might be merit in having plenary sessions in Cork, Galway, Athlone and our other great towns and cities. The Chamber is due for refurbishment, as is the Seanad Chamber, which I would have liked to have been permanently closed. There might be an opportunity to explore this. We need more family-friendly working hours.
Earlier comments about the role of the pre-legislative process were very valuable. Maybe there are too many committees in the draft report. There are 23 committees, although some of them, such as the thematic committees, do not meet often. It seems a large number of committees for a reduced Dáil. I thank the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Pringle and others who have worked so hard on the report. The general thrust of it will produce a more democratic, transparent and accountable Dáil.