We all know that members of either House who have to stay overnight have been obliged to carry a heavier burden than those within easy reach of their work. That has been the case for many years and I might be asked why we are dealing with it now. I came to the conclusion that we would have to deal with it sometime, because there is no doubt that the expenses under this heading have been increasing rather substantially in recent years. Whereas it may have been a fairly easy burden 15 or 20 years ago, it has become very much more onerous now.
The members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in the Dáil recommended that this question should be dealt with and that there should be some recoupment of expenses for any member of either House who has to stay overnight, either before or after a meeting of either House. This Bill provides for the payment of these expenses.
The Bill also provides for regulations to be laid upon the Table of the House. These regulations will lay down, first of all, a definition for Dublin, where a Deputy or Senator can stay; secondly, the distance beyond which a Deputy or Senator will be eligible for this allowance; and thirdly, the amount. These will all appear in the regulations.
The next matter dealt with is postage. For many years, the question of free postage for a Deputy writing to his constituents has been under discussion. In fact, it has been going on for as long as I can remember. Nobody ever objected to the proposition in principle but some objection was always raised to the method by which it could be implemented. There was always a feeling that, on one side, we were too restrictive and it became rather offensive to Deputies or, on the other side, that there was too much room for abuse of the privilege. I believe that we have now struck on a method which is not too onerous on the Deputy and which is also free from the danger of abuse. The idea is that Deputies will hand their letters into the office here and they will be franked. Of course, these letters will be letters written on constituency business which will be franked in the office here and sent out.
The next matter dealt with is telephones. Originally, the telephone was free for a Dublin call, but not free for a trunk call. For some time back, we have been considering the feasibility of putting dial telephones into the House. They would be much more convenient for Deputies who could dial numbers directly and who otherwise might be held up if there were a big rush of calls. They would also save a good deal of time and trouble for the staff of the exchange here.
The difficulty arose that we did not like giving free trunk calls and we had to try to make a compromise on that question. The dial telephones will be installed probably during the coming holidays and will be in operation early in the new year. A Deputy or Senator will be quite free to use the dial telephone for calls to any place he can contact by dialling. As Senators are aware, the area for dialling has been extended. If he has to ask the exchange to intervene, however, he is then liable for payment.
Those are all the points with which I wish to deal. I am not in a position at the moment to give an estimate of what the cost will be to the State, because it is very difficult to know how many Deputies or Senators will avail of the facility of remaining overnight and claiming expenses. I do not know yet how many letters may be presented by each Deputy for free postage to his constituents. It will be necessary, however, to bring in a Supplementary Estimate before the end of March to cover that quarter which is the last quarter of the financial year and a fairly close estimate will have to be made at that time. Then we will have a fairly good idea of what the concession will cost.
Every time we have to give extra remuneration to a Deputy, Senator or Minister, it must be done by legislation so that every person in the country knows what we get. Those who criticise us have the great advantage of being able to criticise our remuneration without telling us what they have themselves. We are in the position that we can regulate our conditions of employment by legislation, that we can vote ourselves whatever we think right and just. Even though we have that power, it is remarkable that, since 1923, Minister's salaries have been increased only twice and the salaries of Deputies and Senators three times so we certainly did not abuse that power.