The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to two of the changes in the structures and functions of Government announced by the Taoiseach in Dáil Éireann on 11 and 13 December 1979. The Taoiseach, in those statements, outlined an integrated package of changes most of which have already been effected by Government orders. These particular changes which, as I say, have already been implemented, refer to changes in the titles and functions of Ministers and Departments of State. The two remaining elements of the package, namely the proposals, on the one hand, to bring the Department of Labour and the Public Service together under one Minister and, on the other hand, to increase the number of Ministers of State to 15 require amendments to existing legislation and hence the introduction of this Bill.
I will deal first with the proposal to bring the Departments of Labour and the Public Service together under one Minister. The present position is that section 3 (3) of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act, 1973 provides that the Department of Finance and the Department of the Public Service shall be assigned to the same person. This provision must be repealed in order to permit the appointment of a member of the Government who is not also the Minister for Finance to be Minister for the Public Service. Senators will be aware that, in present circumstances, the Taoiseach's intentions are that the member of the Government having charge of the Department of Labour should also have charge of the Department of the Public Service.
This is a considered reaction to the emergence, since the setting up of the Department of the Public Service in 1973, of the successful management of industrial relations as one of the main requirements for national progress. The needs of Government are never static and our structures must always be flexible enough to cope with changing circumstances. Certain needs existed in 1973 which determined the setting up of a separate Department of the Public Service. First, the Public Services Organisation Review Group had recommended the setting up of such a Department which would be assigned to the member of the Government who would also be the Minister for Finance.
Secondly, it was felt that a separate Department was necessary in order to ensure that adequate attention was given to and adequate skills developed in the important areas of personnel management including industrial relations and organisation. Prior to 1973 these matters had been dealt with in the Department of Finance where they were inevitably subordinated to wider economic considerations. It was possible to cater for these needs by setting up a separate Department which would be assigned to the same member of the Government as the Department of Finance.
However, in the light of developments in regard to industrial relations, we have found it necessary to look again at the structural arrangements in this area. The Government have a twofold role on the industrial relations front. The Minister for Labour is concerned with fostering a constructive climate in the industrial relations field and for providing all the legislative basis and much of the institutional framework for industrial relations matters. The Minister for the Public Service is responsible for a co-ordinated approach to industrial relations in the public service. The Government are the largest employer in the State since over a quarter of the work force and well over a third of those employed on the basis of a wage or salary are public servants. Obviously then, movements in the public service exercise a major influence on the whole economy. In recent years, it has become more and more evident that trouble in the public service means trouble for the country. At present, therefore, it would seem logical to co-ordinate the Government's two roles at ministerial level. This will strengthen and deepen the existing cooperation between the two Departments concerned. No one is going to pretend that this is the answer to all industrial relations problems. It is, however, a visible move on the part of the Government to illustrate their determination to get to grips with such problems and to ensure that there is a fully co-ordinated approach.
Before I move on to the other major aspect of the Bill, I want to make one thing very clear. This change in ministerial responsibility does not, in any way, imply diminished commitment to the existing programmes of the two Departments concerned.
This House has always had a healthy interest in the work of the Department of the Public Service in relation to the various programmes for the reorganisation of the public service in terms of structures and personnel policies. The learned and enlightening contributions to the debate, in November 1978, on the fourth report of the Public Service Advisory Council are adequate testimony to this. I want to assure the House that there will be no change in the priority to be accorded to these programmes and of my own determination to see that, under my aegis, an adequate rate of progress is maintained consistent with the development of more effective and efficient administrative machinery. Neither will the change mean any diminution of the priority to be accorded to very important work of the Department of Labour in those areas not directly related to industrial relations.
I want to move on now to the second major provision of this Bill. The present position is that section 1 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1977 restricts the maximum number of Ministers of State to ten. This Bill provides for an increase in that maximum to 15.
It is only a little more than two years ago since this House debated in great depth the many issues arising from the creation of the office of Minister of State. There was general acceptance in the House of that measure. Some reservations were expressed as to the adequacy of the number of offices being created and indeed one Senator with prophetic insight forecast that it would not be long before another increase became necessary. Prior to the creation in 1977 of the office of Minister of State the business of the Government was allocated between 15 Ministers of Government who had the assistance of seven parliamentary secretaries. This situation had existed for 40 years despite the ever-growing range and complexity of Government business. When we introduced the 1977 Act we made two fundamental changes. First, we abolished the office of Parliamentary Secretary and replaced it with a new office of Minister of State which would have greater responsibilities. Secondly we increased the number of posts available to lend assistance to Ministers of the Government from seven Parliamentary Secretaries to ten Ministers of State.
After two years, this issue can now be judged from experience. The demands giving rise to the 1977 Act have certainly not diminished, indeed, they have grown. We have had the continuing growth of responsibilities in relation to all aspects of EEC matters. There has also been a continuing increase in the demands made on Ministers on the home front. There has also been a dramatic increase in the demands being made on politicians generally and Ministers in particular, by the general public in terms of the service the public require. We are now dealing with an electorate that is more articulate and better informed than ever before. Such an electorate demands a more sophisticated level of service from its elected representatives. The House will be aware of these developments. The results of the combination of these factors can be seen in the expansion of the roles, functions and activities of the various Government Departments.
We must also consider the question of the role and influence of the Oireachtas. It is difficult to answer criticisms that because of the increasing complexity of the business of Government the institutions of the State are not sufficiently answerable to Parliament. Some measures have been taken to correct this. We have an active Joint Committee of both Houses looking into the affairs of the commercial State-sponsored bodies; a Bill to establish the office of Ombudsman has been introduced. We see the present measure as a further step which will bring the number of people answerable to the Oireachtas for the management of Government business to a realistic level.
There is, of course, as Senators know, a constitutional limit of 15 on the number of Ministers of the Government. We must look elsewhere for ways to meet the needs I have been talking about. In the case of some Departments of State, it will mean the assignment to them of more than one Minister of State because of the scope and complexity of the business they discharge. The process of Government is becoming an increasingly sophisticated one. We can no longer hope to respond in a piecemeal manner to the challenge being posed. Neither can we expect to share out ever-increasing burdens among a constant number of hard-pressed individuals without affecting the level of service being delivered. Our experience in the last two years or so has convinced us of the necessity of having the number of Ministers of State increased to 15.
This measure, together with the rationalisation of functions at ministerial and departmental levels already announced by the Taoiseach, will mean that we are moving into the new decade with a full strength team equipped to meet the challenge ahead. It has been said that, if we had brought forward this measure before our Presidency of the EEC, it would have received more widespread support but at least our experience now stands to us in that we can be absolutely confident of the need for the measure.
The opportunity afforded by this amending legislation required to provide for increasing the maximum number of Ministers of State and for having a person other than the Minister for Finance appointed as Minister for the Public Service is being availed of to make certain other technical amendments to the Ministers and Secretaries Acts. First, the 1977 Act makes no provision for the termination of the appointment of a Minister of State on his becoming a member of the Government nor for his resignation for any other reason. I am proposing that such provision now be made.
Second, section 7(4) of the 1939 Act provided, in the case of the office of Parliamentary Secretary, that his appointment or tenure of office would not be affected where another member of the Government was nominated to act for the Minister having charge of the Department where he was assigned. I propose here to make a similar provision for the office of Minister of State. Finally, as regards technicalities, section 2(1)(6) of the Statutory Instruments Act, 1947, still contains a reference to the obsolete office of Parliamentary Secretary. I am proposing that the office of Minister of State be substituted in the relevant section for the office of Parliamentary Secretary. These are minor technical amendments and I do not wish to dwell on them at this stage.
I would like to conclude by saying that I have every confidence that the measures set out in this Bill, when taken in conjunction with the other elements of the package announced by the Taoiseach last December, will make a major contribution to providing this country with more effective and more efficient Government machinery. The electorate have the right to demand and expect the best from the machinery of Government. We are committed to seeing that they get it and I will be continuing to strive for this in my capacity as Minister for the Public Service.