Today's Order of Business is Item I to conclude by 1 p.m. If the House wishes, time limits on that item can be agreed. Item 2 will be taken from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. I suggest 20 minutes for spokespersons and ten minutes for each Senator thereafter to allow time sharing. A sos will be taken between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Order of Business.
On the Order of Business can I take it that the item on the Culliton report will not necessarily conclude today if there are more speakers than time available? This is a major issue and will it be left on the Order Paper if that should be necessary?
I want to raise a question which is causing concern to members of my group and that is the new system of committees in both Houses. I do not want to anticipate what will be said in the debate today but the fact is that the new system of committees has largely by-passed this House. It could be said that this House is small enough to allow its Members to participate much more freely in committees than Members of the other House. These new committees will confer extensive powers and influence on the Members who comprise them, especially in such matters as the calling of witnesses and civil servants, the investigation of matters and so forth.
The neglect of this House is a serious matter and steps should be taken but not necessarily to ape what is happening in the other House or to set up structures for the sake of it. We are at the beginning of a session, with many new, enthusiastic Members in addition to older experienced Members. There is a genuine desire on all sides to be included in what is happening. I ask the Leader of the House to consider convening a meeting of leaders of groups, or a small committee, to examine ways in which we could be part of the committee process.
Finally, on a different matter which may have been raised already on the Order of Business, there is concern about the late arrival of Seanad Official Reports. I think there is a delay of almost a month at present. If there is a problem perhaps we could be informed.
I will make inquiries on the matter and let the Senator know.
I want to ask the Leader of the House about the dearth of Government legislation. I note the Bill on refugee status was defeated by the Government in the other House last night. What is the programme for legislation for the next period? It has been indicated to Senators that there is legislation ready to be introduced, but this is not happening. The Suicide Bill was moved from here to the other House because the other House did not have sufficient legislation.
This delay raises two issues. First, what Government legislation is forthcoming? Secondly, Government should be more open to accepting legislation from the Opposition or the Independent benches. Where legislation is in line with Government policy there should be a more open-minded and generous response.
You will have noted, a Chathaoirligh, that last night's two Adjournment matters and one of this evening's are concerned with education. During the previous session there was long discussion on the Green Paper on Education, which through the agreement of the Whips ended with a form of question time. It was then decided that education debates should take place in the Seanad on a regular basis. I put it to the Leader of the House that general discussions could be followed by a form of question time, and that the House should return to the previous agreement to have a major debate on education at least twice a year.
I would like to ask a question of the Leader of the House. One of his colleagues suggested a few weeks ago that Mother Teresa should address this House and he received the support of many Members of the House. I would like to know whether that proposal has been rejected by the Government.
That matter is being discussed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and a decision will be conveyed to the Senator in question.
Item 2 is a very important matter. The time limits placed on speakers are too tight. Would it be possible to get agreement for an open ended debate where Senators could speak for as long as they wished?
The first matter raised was on the system of committees and I will arrange a meeting with Senator Manning. Other points may emerge from the debate this morning, but I would welcome nevertheless a meeting of the leaders of each group in this House to discuss ways of ensuring that this House is not left out of the new system of committees.
In response to Senator O'Toole I will bring the House up to date next week on the Government's programme for legislation between now and the summer recess. I would welcome a debate on education with the new Minister before the summer recess and I will ask the Government Whip to arrange that.
Finally, I would make the point to the Senator that the best debates in this House have featured some control on time. There will be no guillotine on today's debate. However, in the interest of many Senators who would like to contribute today, I would like agreement to restrict speeches to 20 minutes for opening statements and ten thereafter. It would be possible to change that a little, but I believe in the interest of a sharp and constructive debate there should be some time limits on contributions.