I understand that it would have been in order for me to move an amendment, but I want to make one small statement. I am not going to propose an amendment to this of the nature that I attempted to propose on the Order of Business, but which did not reach the floor for reasons we need not go into now. They were more to do with mistakes than any malice. Out of deference to the remarks of one of the people in this House that I hold in the highest respect, Senator Jack Harte, I would not have pursued the amendment to the Order of Business that I proposed, because he is a person whose opinions on this House and the operations of this House I greatly respect. That does not in the least bit affect my attitude to the guillotine; but I would have — out of deference to Senator Harte and for no other reason — withdrawn the proposal I made on the Order of Business. He is a person whose stature in this House I hold in the highest esteem and his arguments persuaded me not to pursue that ambition.
At this stage I am more upset than angry about this whole matter. I was very proud of the role this House played in regard to the Companies Bill. As I said when we were discussing the Order of Business, I was proud of it notwithstanding the fact that not a line of what was done was properly reported anyway. This is not a criticism, it is a fact of life. The Committee Stages of complicated legislation are not the meat of detailed newspaper coverage or coverage in the media; but they are the meat of Parliament. In my view that is what Parliament is really about. It is the fundamental role of a House of the Oireachtas, to deal with legislation carefully and in detail. It is important to remember that the discussion of this now-to-be-guillotined Bill when it first time came through this House did throw up a considerable number of anomalies, of errors, of contradictory sections. Our recently elected President played a major part in that debate as did many other Senators. It was a serious debate conducted without as much as a single word of rancour or anger. It was a serious discussion on a serious issue.
I do not understand and I am absolutely flabbergasted — because I know and respect the Leader of the House and have considerable affection for him — why this is necessary. There is no national emergency that I am aware of which dictates that this Bill should be rushed through. Let us remember that this is the Companies Bill, 1987; it is not the Companies Bill, 1990. This has been around for three years. It spent a long time in this House because the then Government took a very long time to be ready for a Committee Stage of the Bill. It is easy to understand the reason. Companies legislation is complex and detailed and it was an education for all of us to go through that experience. It is therefore more hurtful than anything else to have what is and was our Bill that we dealt with — and dealt with considerable responsibility — suddenly rushed through without adequate and proper debate on the amendments.
I will not be participating in the debate on the Companies Bill for a variety of reasons. I am not going to play games. Part of the reason is because the decision to take it today and tomorrow came at rather short notice. I did not actually believe last week that there would be an insistence that it should go through before Christmas, because I could not see the point. I could not see the point last July of another piece of legislation going through, but at least in that one there were timetables inserted in the legislation which dictated that the Bill would have to go through before the Summer Recess. I might have disagreed with them, but there were internal reasons in the legislation. There is no internal reason in the Companies Bill why this Bill could not be postponed and taken, with time and with due consideration by this House, after Christmas.
I am at the stage now of being beyond being angry. I am just disappointed, because every so often things are done to this House in the name of the Leader of the House which are a total contradiction of the attitude of and the way the Leader of the House deals with people. It appears to me that he does these things because he is told to do them by people outside this House. It seems to me that, sooner or later, some Leader of this House is going to have to stand up and say, whatever his party credentials, because it has happened before, "No. I am the Leader of this House. We operate according to the way this House should operate". It is important to put on the record that it is not Government that runs the Oireachtas; it is not the Government who control the Oireachtas; it is the Oireachtas which controls Government. Government is accountable to the Oireachtas; it is not the boss of the Oireachtas. That is the fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy. The Government are accountable to the Oireachtas. They do not own, control or run the Oireachtas. If that principle is turned upside down and make Government the agent or the decider and Parliament the rubber stamp, then you make a mockery of parliamentary democracy.
Unlike perhaps some of my colleagues, even on the Independent benches, I would not like to overstate the significance of Seanad Éireann — it is the secondary House of the Oireachtas. But it is precisely that secondary nature that makes it an appropriate vehicle for proper discussion of issues that are not enormously politically juicy. They are issues perhaps that do not capture the public mind or media attention, but they are issues which are important. This has been shown on many occasions on many issues by the Members here. In particular, Senator Honan from the Fianna Fáil side has been a consistent contributor on the detail of many pieces of legislation both when her party were in Government and when they were in Opposition. Therefore, it is all the more regrettable that we have this motion before us. This is not the sort of legislation that needs or deserves to be rushed through.
I have to say, on a slightly rancorous note, that I find it particularly ironic that it should be legislation being handled by a Minister who is a member of the minority party in Government and which will be rushed through in a way which shows a less than wholesome respect for the role of Parliament. The Progressive Democrats have contributed considerably in their public statements to an assertion of the dominance of Parliament over Government and of the need to restore the balance so that Government is accountable to Parliament, so that Parliament has a genuine decision-making role and is not simply seen as a rubber stamp of Government. It is therefore somewhat ironic, to say the least, that this second exercise of a guillotine in less than six months should be apparently at the behest of a Minister of a party which has made a virtue out of institutional reform. It is particularly ironic that the party with that alleged commitment to institutional reform when it runs up against a minor obstacle — the possible delay in the passing of the Companies Bill for another four to six weeks — forgets all about its commitment to institutional reform and simply says to the second House of the Oireachtas, the secondary House of the Oireachtas: we will decide how much time you must have, we will not bother to wait even until you have time to read the amendments.
We must remember that it is not simply the timetable here that is objectionable; it is the timetable imposed 36 hours after Members got their hands on the amendments that were to be debated here. If somebody had told us that in the middle of January we are going to allocate two days to the Comanies Bill to discuss all the amendments from the Dáil, I probably would have objected — it is the nature of people on the benches I sit on to object. But it would have been reasonable to suggest having a month to consider those amendments, to read them, to read the submissions made — it is important to remember that there is not necessarily anything like a consensus in the business world about the worth of this Bill as it stands. It is important to remember that all of us — not just Senator Norris, he gave that impression when he was speaking — receive substantial representations from many business agencies, many people in the business world, about what is wrong with this legislation. Indeed, we received it before we actually knew for certain in some cases what was going to be done with the legislation. That is wrong. It is wrong that legislation introduced by people and supported by people in front of me and on the other side, who actually claim to be far more pro-business than I am, should now suddenly be rushed through before taking into account all of the legitimate concerns of interested bodies with a considerable fund of expertise.
I found this expertise enormously helpful when this Bill was introduced first in this House three years ago, particularly that of the accountancy profession whose interest in this issue I found enormously useful and also that of the CII and indeed of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions at that time. The accountancy profession's detailed analysis of the Bill as it stood was enormously helpful. I did not agree with all of their views, but it was a measure of the significance of it. We are now in a similar position where we all have a large volume of correspondence. It is ridiculous to suggest that adequate consideration can be given to the Bill as amended, and to the amendments from the Dáil in particular, in the time available, with the short notice available and with the limited period for preparation people have. It would have been appropriate that Members of this House would have gone and discussed these submissions with the various bodies. It has been done before and it should be done again. It works extremely well. We did it on major items of legislation which we initiated in this House and the result was that that legislation was in many cases significantly and dramatically amended. It is entirely wrong that that process is now being short circuited for no reason that I can see.
I can understand, and I have supported, emergency legislation going through this House where people were prepared to indicate precisely why; but nobody has given us a reason why. Let us remember, the Leader of the House stood up and said "I move" and sat down again. That was the depth of his justification for this proposal. The only thing he has elaborated on is to say he thinks it is reasonable. He has not told us why it needs to be passed before Christmas. He has not told us why he has decided that three hours is a reasonable time. He has not told us who it is who told him to pass it before Christmas. We have not been given any reason for this. It is not my experience and it is not my memory of either this House or my knowledge of the other House to suggest that items like this should be rushed through on the nod for no particular reason other than perhaps the impatience of some or other members of the Government.
It is not the business community who want this legislation passed in a hurry. Our information is that the business community are worried about aspects of this legislation and aspects of the amendments passed by the Dáil and want the matters discussed. So who wants this legislation through before Christmas? Not those, apparently, who are most affected by it, because they are telling us what is wrong with it and they want us to talk about it. I am not for a moment trying to overstate our significance. But the business community most affected by the implications of this legislation raised a large number of issues with many Members of this House, probably all of us, and asked us to discuss them. They effectively said: slow it down, talk about and find out what all this means because it is important. It is not the business community who want to have it passed. It is not the Members on this side of the House who want it passed and it most assuredly was not the Members of the other House. They took their time, quite rightly, in a Special Committee to discuss this.
Who is it who wants this Bill rushed through? I do not believe it is Fianna Fáil. I do not believe the Fianna Fáil Members of this House want this legislation rushed through. If they could see the urgency for it they would have explained it to us. If they had a plausible reason that could be put on the record as to the reason for this urgency they would have told us. They are not shy about expressing their opinions. I have to assume that somebody is telling them what to do and they are doing it, presumably most reluctantly. That is not the way to deal with this House. If it is the Minister who is responsible for this, then he is showing considerable contempt not just for this House but for the business community who have made representations to this House about this Bill. It is a rather contradictory view for the Minister responsible for this legislation to take, to talk about the importance of this legislation for the corporate sector and then refuse to allow time to have an adequate debate on the issues raised by them in relation to amendments contained in the Bill.
That is why as I said at the beginning of my contribution that I am not at this stage even in the humour to be angry. I am simply extremely disappointed since this is legislation which I, for one, was very proud of because of the role this House played in its introduction and development. The House showed that it was capable and willing to listen to many professional bodies and they came back to us with their further considered reflections on the amendments, assuming that this House would do the same job again, conscientiously, and without party political point-scoring on an issue on which there is no party political division. Now they discover, this time around that this House is what the public have always been told it is: a rubber stamp. It is a constitutional irritant which many Ministers find tedious and a nuisance. In this case it has been stated quite specifically that we will be given our token time in which to make our token input and then it will all be passed — cheerio, happy Christmas, go home. It is really as bad as that.
The House had reason to be proud of this legislation and now one role at the end of it will be demeaning and almost squalid as a result of the way in which it is being rushed through. The other major concern is the lack of time in which to allow people to prepare for this Bill. Our biggest objection is the short time allowed to discuss it and the even more abbreviated time in which to prepare for this debate because we are not geniuses. Notwithstanding the impression Senator Norris gives from time to time, we are not geniuses on the backbenches. We actually have to learn from other people. Senator Norris may be a genius, but I am not.