I remind Senators they may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Each amendment must be seconded.
Public Service Management (No. 2) Bill, 1997: Report and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:
"(3) Appeals Officers with independent authority to receive and investigate complaints from the public on any function or matter which has been assigned under this Act must be appointed in each Department or Agency where such officers do not already exist prior to the commencement of this Act".
Many negative things can be said about the concept of ministerial responsibility; I can think of very few positive things to say about it or the manner in which it is operated. However, there is one positive aspect to ministerial responsibility. Despite its many warts and ills, which have been chronicled in every report on public service reform from the Devlin report onwards, a Minister can be questioned in the other House on any item of detail arising from an issue of administration — it is a great tragedy we do not have a questioning process in this House. If used properly, this process provides tremendous protection to the rights of individual citizens. For example, a person who has suffered because of maladministration, undue delay or the refusal of public servants to observe his or her rights can take his or her grievance to the highest political court in the land — the Dáil.
The Bill does not specifically refer to this matter. The Bill gives Ministers the right to allocate specific responsibility for particular areas of administration to civil servants, which I celebrate. The net effect of that on non-commercial State-sponsored bodies is the same as that which currently exists. The concept of ministerial responsibility does not exist in the case of non-commercial State-sponsored bodies, State-sponsored bodies, health boards and local authorities. Therefore, when a parliamentary question is asked on any point of detail in these areas the question is, rightly, ruled out of order by the Chair in the other House.
The Devlin report covered this issue in a most interesting manner in 1969. A sub-group was established within the group which produced the report to look at the area of administrative justice. The group came to the conclusion with which I never agreed, that Ireland was not yet ready for an ombudsman. It suggested that the system of in-house appeals officers with a statutory responsibility to hear appeals, listen to both sides of the argument and give a quasi-judicial view, should be extended.
As the Minister and Members know, we have a very good appeals system in the Department of Social Welfare where officials who are fully au fait with the details of all the schemes in the Department are charged on a statutory basis with operating independently of their Minister and reviewing any cases where a complainant feels he or she is not getting their due rights. This amendment suggests, as the Devlin report did in 1969, a way around the problems which will inevitably arise if one tries to curtail an area of administration and the operation of ministerial responsibility. If we give a Minister the right to delegate an area of administration by statute, as is done in this Bill, we will be left without the current protection the citizen enjoys.
The Minister could argue that things have changed since 1969 because we have an Ombudsman. I will anticipate this good argument because I know the Minister is well briefed. I put it to him that the Ombudsman is currently handling fewer than 5,000 cases per year and is incapable of handling the myriad of cases which arise by way of written parliamentary question. This Bill tries to achieve an objective I support — to modernise our administration and give individual civil servants the responsibility and authority to release their talents and produce the modern administration this State needs. Though this would be beneficial there is a danger that, in so doing, we may create a situation where the current protection which a citizen enjoys through the parliamentary question system, which gives effect to the concept of ministerial responsibility, will be negated or weakened.
I hope the Minister will see this amendment as a positive one, put forward not from a mischievous point of view but from the point of view of strengthening the Bill. In this amendment, I suggest that the appeals mechanism which currently applies in the areas of revenue, the Valuation Office, social welfare and, which applies under statute in a number of specific cases in the Department of Agriculture and others, should be extended. By means of such a statute we should seek to have an in-house, independent and autonomous appeals officer in every Department. The cost of this would not be great. It would be less than the £300,000 per week currently spent on researching parliamentary questions. There would be a significant net saving if we could do that and we would have a first call of appeal which would obviate the need for parliamentary questions on points of detail.
Let me recall some of the issues which have been the subject of parliamentary questions. A parliamentary question some years ago concerned the number of crown newts in the Bourne Vincent Memorial Park; the Minister's predecessor had to answer this question in the Dáil with a serious expression. Another of the Minister's predecessors was asked about the colour of the railings in the district veterinary office in Naas. That is carrying parliamentary questions and scrutiny to the point of absurdity. I recall speaking to the Deputy who asked the question and he defended himself by saying he was interested in the environment.
The parliamentary question device provides protection but if we take an area of administration and ring fence it into an area of the Civil Service which is no longer the Minister's responsibility, we will be taking away that protection. The Minister will be aware from constituency work, as will other Members, that one of the extraordinary frustrations one is faced with is attempting to get information on the detail of how individual cases are handled by a number of our commercial and non-commercial State-sponsored bodies. Such bodies have been given the kind of statutory autonomy which we are going to give to specific executive areas of administration. Many of these bodies behave in a very decent fashion and deal correctly with queries but a degree of arrogance has entered the system in some cases. Such arrogance exists because the protection of the parliamentary question device is not available.
The parliamentary question system has been much abused over the years and the Minister should look seriously at the idea of extending the in-house appeal system across the board. It already applies in the areas of administration which have the most sensitive contact with the citizen, for example, health boards, social welfare, revenue and so on. It would be worthwhile for the Minister to take on board the principle of the amendment.
I appreciate the point made by Senator Roche. This Bill is part of an attempt to streamline procedures within each Department. If procedures are streamlined there will be fewer appeals. The public has recourse to parliamentary questions and can also appeal to the Office of the Ombudsman or directly to the relevant sections of the various Departments. This Bill sets out and achieves what is intended, namely, the streamlining of Departments with a more business-like approach and less need for appeals. This will be much better for the public.
I second the amendment.
I dealt in detail with this matter last week when it was raised by Senator Lanigan on behalf of Senator Roche. However, as it was initially raised by Senator Roche, I will repeat what I have already said.
While it is true that some Departments or offices of State have appeals officers, their function is to adjudicate on decisions made by others which are challenged rather than deal with complaints. They tend to operate in relation to very specific categories of decisions rather than as local complaints officers as Senator Roche seems to envisage. The Bill envisages a more formal assignment and recording of assignment of responsibility than exists at present. Assignments are given from the Minister to the Secretary General and downwards through the hierarchy of the Department or office. The range of matters to be formally assigned includes functions such as giving advice, assuring service quality, value for money, etc.
Taken at face value, Senator Roche's amendment would provide for somebody within each Department to deal with complaints against the Secretary and others in relation to value for money, quality, advice, etc. The Bill provides a formal statutory basis for certain arrangements which have come into being and which have operated on an informal non-statutory basis for many years. It does not give statutory powers to the relevant civil servants which could be exercised outside the purview of the Minister, the Oireachtas or its Committees.
The Bill clearly provides that everybody below the level of Secretary General within a Department to whom a function is assigned is accountable to the Secretary General who, in turn, is accountable to the Minister. Accountability will not be a mere formality, particularly as it is meshed with a system of performance management.
Senator Roche, who has professional expertise in this area, is aware that we have an Ombudsman to deal with unresolved problems between Departments and clients. The Ombudsman has spelled out in his report what he sees as acceptable standards of administrative procedures. My Department is currently preparing a series of amendments to the Ombudsman legislation and legislation on administrative procedures which we intend to introduce as linked legislation or as a single measure.
Senator Roche is particularly familiar with how the Civil Service works in practice. He may believe that each official in the chain of command is so committed to rallying around any subordinate against whom a complaint is made that nothing less than 30 or so independent complaints officers can ensure fair dealing. My own experience as a public representative and in the three Departments in which I have worked does not lead me to that conclusion. I have sympathy for the underlying objective outlined by the Senator but the issue could be more appropriately dealt with in the context of the legislation to which I alluded.
I assure the Senator that I do not think his suggestions in any way mischievous: they were constructive. However, the approach suggested by him is not the most satisfactory and I do not propose to accept his amendment.
Notwithstanding what the Minister said, the extension of appellant systems throughout the Civil Service would be beneficial. There is an Ombudsman, but there is a limit on the number of cases his office can handle. I still envisage a position where parliamentary questions involving certain issues could be ruled out of order as a result of the legislation. I do not mind that because some of the issues raised in parliamentary questions are inappropriate. However, in future, the Civil Service may have more autonomy in executive areas. While I accept the Minister's comments, that aspect perturbs me. On the positive side, as the Minister is aware, I have promoted the concept of an administrative procedures Bill. This, with appropriate amendments to the Ombudsman Act, would achieve much of what I wished to achieve in this amendment. I accept the Minister's response.
Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 are related while amendment No. 5 is an alternative to amendment No. 4 and all may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed. If amendment No. 4 is accepted, amendment No. 5 cannot be moved.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 8, to delete lines 41 to 50 and in page 9, to delete lines 1 to 28.
The amendment seeks the deletion of the section relating to advisers. I said much about advisers on earlier Stages but I accept there is a case to be made for having individual, independent and politically oriented advice available to Ministers. However, in recent years there has been a proliferation of advisers, programme managers and consultants in the public service. I was not aware in my earlier contributions of the costs in this area but in the period 1995-6, the last year for which there are full accounts, £34 million was spent in the public service on consultants. This sum was in addition to the cost of advisers. What are public servants doing?
The Minister indicated previously that the rule of thumb is three and two. That rule of thumb is not fully observed in the appointment of advisers because I am aware some Ministers and Ministers of State have not utilised their full quota. However, it bothers me that there appears to be an extraordinary growth of public expenditure on advisers, consultants, programme managers, specialist back-up staff and constituency staff in Departments. It is not clear where the line is drawn.
I gave the example the last day of a person paid approximately £45,000 a year and who is canvassing by going from door to door. I regard that as an abuse of the adviser's role; it is wrong. The person is not attached to the Minister's office and I accept the Minister's adviser is doing what he was engaged to do. However, evidence is available that there is an abuse of the system. I pointed out previously that the junior party in Government now has more consultants than Deputies. That is astonishing and total hypocrisy.
Several Members of the House and the Minister were in Cork during the by-election campaign when other political parties were pilloried by Democratic Left. We were made the subject of ridicule because of the mercs and perks which surrounded political parties. Democratic Left also attacked the Labour Party on that basis but it quickly forgot that aspect. However, I have not forgotten its attack, part of which contained a grain of truth that this was an uncontrolled area of public expenditure. There is a good public service and there is no need to spend £34 million a year on consultants.
For example, in 1995-6, the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications spent £12 million on consultants in addition to the cost of advisers, the programme manager and other special staff. That is an unjustifiable scandal because there is also a significant bill for excellent public servants in that Department. What are they doing? Another choice example is that £6 million was spent by the Minister for Social Welfare in his Department. He obviously forgot the Cork by-election. It would interesting to know the number of consultants appointed by the Democratic Left Minister and Ministers of State. They have used their full quota and abused their position.
We do not have sufficient control on this new growth area. The inclusion of advisers mars this fine Bill and this aspect should be removed. The purpose of the Bill is not to give statutory respectability to advisers but to bring about long awaited administrative improvement. I do not know the current full cost or exact number of advisers but the Minister will probably give it to me because he has the brief on it. However, the figure outlined by the Minister today could be twice as big next month or next year. The section writes a blank cheque and there is no need to include advisers in the Bill.
As Senator Dardis correctly pointed out during the last debate, it is astonishing that the positions of advisers or civil servants with long service to the State are not defined in law. The issue of advisers is so ambiguous that it should be removed from the Bill. We should be aware of the full cost involved. If advisers are to be dealt with on a statutory basis, a severe upper limit should be placed on them. This Administration is in its final weeks or months but the Bill will give the next two Administrations carte blanche.
This matter does not involve political point scoring because there was a grain of truth in some of the criticisms made by Democratic Left. However, it went over the top during the Cork by-election. That grain of truth makes me uncomfortable. The Civil Service is well structured and established on a statutory basis. Civil servants are recruited on a non-political basis but advisers are not. By and large, they are partisan. I have no problem with that but I have a difficulty with what is happening in this area.
A nasty tradition had started to develop in the final days of Government, just before the interregnum period, that many people who were employed on temporary contracts were made permanent in the interests of the State. When these people have statutory responsibility, there is no reason they cannot be given contracts which would be expensive to buy out. For example, in the past, a contract was given to a person who was employed from outside the Civil Service. That was a scandal and an abuse because, when that arrangement was reached, the outgoing Administration knew the incoming Government would not countenance the appointment. A cash payment had to be paid to buy out the contract.
The Bill creates the opportunity for further abuse. We have a good Civil Service and the Bill introduces an arrangement to make it better and give it more freedom. There is no need to spend £34 million a year on consultants and many more millions on advisers. It is an excess and the Bill would be improved by removing the section.
I second the amendment. Are we discussing amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 together?
We are discussing amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5.
I understand that if amendment No. 4 is accepted, amendment No. 5 cannot be moved.
That is correct.
May I query that direction? I wish to support both amendments and it appears possible to take both. Amendment No. 4 is worthy and amendment No. 5 does not appear to clash with it. Why does one fall if the other is accepted?
When we come to amendment No. 4 I will advise you further on the matter, Senator.
I understand I can only speak once.
If you wish to speak on amendment No. 5 now is the time to do so.
In that case may I have your direction now? I do not accept that amendment No. 5 should fall if amendment No. 4 is accepted. Both should be accepted because both are worthy. Amendment No. 4 places a control on the number of special advisers who may be appointed but leaves open how many the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste may appoint. At present there are 15 members of the Cabinet and one non-Cabinet member who attends Cabinet meeting. Out of a total of 16, the only exceptions to the rule are the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. It is therefore possible to take amendments Nos. 4 and 5. Can that be accepted?
If amendment No. 4 is accepted the existing line 46 of page 8 of the Bill will be deleted and the new text will be accepted.
We could still urge that amendment No. 5 be taken also.
Amendment No. 5 mentions the word "Schedule", which will no longer be in line 46 but in a different line. It is for a procedural reason that amendment No. 5 cannot be moved.
I have great difficulty with that. Amendment No. 4 shows the Government listened carefully to what was said on Committee Stage. I congratulate the Minister for responding and taking steps to overcome the concerns expressed. However, the amendment leaves a gap concerning the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and on that basis a future Government could allow them appoint many special advisers to a total which could exceed the maximum mentioned in amendment No. 5. In my view amendments Nos. 4 and 5 could be accepted. It may be that amendment No. 5 will be inserted at a different page or at a different line, but we should be allowed discuss it and perhaps the Minister would accept it.
It will require another amendment because the word "Schedule" will no longer be at page 8, line 46; all of the current line 46 will be deleted. Amendment No. 5, which asks that certain words be inserted after the word "Schedule", is therefore an invalid amendment in that "Schedule" will no longer be there.
That may be a technicality but we are aiming to perfect the legislation. I cannot believe that, due to the anomaly that the word "Schedule" is no longer there, the objective of the amendment would fall. I strongly argue that there must be a way around this, although I am not experienced enough to know what it is. Perhaps we can come to a solution.
I am advised that it would require an amendment to the Minister's amendment No. 4 to achieve what the Senator seeks.
Thank you. We will have to consider that because it would be worthwhile to include the intention of amendment No. 5. I am sorry for delaying so long on this point.
I listened to Senator Roche's remarks on special advisers. He argued that this is a worthy Bill and I agree. I congratulate the Minister and we wish to support the legislation. However, the Senator also argued it would be better to omit section 11, concerning special advisers. I hope we can discuss how we can overcome any problem created if the section is removed. Senator Roche suggests that we introduce another Bill or use another mechanism. In withdrawing amendment No. 1 he has shown his willingness to make the legislation work and be worthy of achieving what it sets out to do.
If we place a limit on the number of advisers that maximum may become a minimum but even with that danger it is better to include a limit. Parkinson's law states that work expands to fill the space available — in other words, if there is space for another desk a person will be employed simply because the space is there. If we specify that a Minister may have two special advisers, they will automatically employ that number. The same point arises concerning amendment No. 5 — if we specify a maximum of 100 we will have that number.
I am stunned by the number of special advisers, consultants, programme managers, etc., who have been appointed in recent times. Senator Roche said there had been expenditure of £34 million on consultants alone, apart from the cost of special advisers and programme managers. Over the years our Civil Service has been strong and loyal and has operated with high integrity. We are now in danger of adding people to that system and giving them a freedom which this House will not be able to control. Ministers of Finance have had trouble controlling outside experts, not just in this Government but in the past. I urge that we find a solution.
I second Senator Roche's amendment No. 2 because there is a better way to deal with the issue than by including it in this Bill. I am not convinced that we have found a solution and I look forward to the Minister's remarks on how we solve the problem of special advisers. We require a solution but what is proposed in the Bill is not ideal. The Minister's amendment No. 4 helps, as will amendment No. 5, but we have a long way to go before solving the problem. The objective of Senator Roche's amendment No. 2 is to remove special advisers from the Bill to see if we can find a better way of dealing with the matter.
I am in your hands procedurally, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Amendment No. 5 is in my name and Senator Quinn has kindly agreed to second it if that is permissible. I wish to speak to the general issue. I do not wish to trespass on the prerogative of the Chair but if, because of a technicality, we were unable to discuss an amendment to a public service Bill of all Bills, it would be most unfortunate.
You are in order to discuss it.
I wish to insert the words "total maximum of 100". It would focus our minds on where we are going, very much in the spirit of what Senator Quinn has just said. The last day Senator Quinn said the present number of advisers is 79. If another six were added for the six Schedules it would bring the number to 85, and one for each Minister would be a further 15, which would bring the total to 100. Such measures appear to be very modest and, therefore, attract no public scrutiny. I suggest a ceiling of 100 so that another debate would be required if there were an attempt to breach that maximum.
Like Senator Quinn, I thank the Minister of State for tabling his amendment because it responds to a number of the anxieties expressed here the last day. However, it excludes the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and, as it delicately puts it, the leader of another party who is a Minister. If we had a coalition Government which was of full rainbow hue, as distinct from part rainbow hue, God knows how many special advisers could be launched into orbit under this legislation.
While I welcome the spirit behind much of amendment No. 4, it still leaves a grey area where the uncontrollability of the number needs to be teased out further. I did not know about amendment No. 4 when I tabled amendment No. 5, but my thinking along those lines induced me to insert the figure "100" to see how it would focus minds.
I listened to Senator Roche today and the last day speaking about special advisers. He is right in that we need controls, not just for this Administration but for all future Administrations. The Minister of State told us the last day that he was not totally familiar with this Bill, which we accepted. He told us he would advise us further on it on Report Stage and, in fairness to him, he has tabled an amendment which will place controls on special advisers.
We all agree there are areas where Ministers and Ministers of State need advice and expertise. The Minister of State agreed to look at this matter for Report Stage, which he has done and on which I congratulate him. Amendment No. 4 will provide the necessary controls.
It is necessary for the Bill to accommodate the advisers because it is deals with chains of command and responsibility. It is important to spell out in the Bill that there are categories of staff who are not accountable to the Secretary General but to the Minister.
I was very taken by some of the arguments made last week. Senator Roche has embellished them somewhat today by broadening the discussion to include consultants, who are not covered by this Bill. I am concerned, as is the Minister for Finance, about the habit of some Departments calling in consultants rather than thinking through a problem. I have seen the results of that in the Department of Finance.
Some consultants' reports, which cost a great deal of money, are blatantly bad value. The reason they often rest on dusty shelves is that they are no good. I share Senator Roche's view on the drift towards getting consultants to look at problems. I am sure Senator Quinn is familiar with that in his business. It is often a cop-out for management rather than taking on the difficult job of solving a problem. However, as I said, that is not covered under this Bill.
The arguments last week on numbers were very compelling, which is why I tabled amendment No. 4. I misled the House slightly, particularly Senator Lee, in regard to numbers. I said "three and two" when I should have said "two and one". I was including personal assistants, who are a type of secretary, in the adviser category.
The norm at the moment is a special adviser and a programme manager for a Minister and a special adviser for a Minister of State. We propose to include in this Bill what has been the practice of this and the last Government, which is that a Minister has two advisers and a Minister of State has one. In the case of two Ministers of State who are required to attend Cabinet meetings on a regular basis, namely, the Chief Whip and, in the present Government, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, they are entitled to the same number of advisers as a Cabinet Minister.
It would be unreasonable to attempt to cap the number of advisers of the three party leaders in the same way, in that they have a much wider remit than that of a Minister. Excluding those of the three party leaders, at present there are 43 special advisers and programme managers. The Taoiseach and the leaders of the other two parties have, in total, approximately 12 advisers, although there are one or two grey areas. Therefore, the current total is 55 advisers.
It would be imprudent to attempt to cap the number of advisers to the Taoiseach and whatever other party leaders might be in Government. The norm has been recorded here and if a Taoiseach or other party leader went completely berserk, in the manner outlined by Senator Roche, it would lead to huge public criticism and comment and I doubt they would get away with it.
I have gone a long way towards meeting the concerns. I am grateful to the Senators who raised the issue because we would be open to serious public criticism if we had left it as it was.
In regard to amendment No. 5, it is possible to have both. I defer to the Leas-Chathaoirleach in that regard but it is possible, with a rejigged amendment, to have such a capping. However, specifying such a number would encourage the notion of having 100 advisers, which I would rather avoid. Specifying numbers encourages the notion of getting up to the figure of 100 as if everybody was doing nothing unusual. I would rather avoid it. While under my proposal there is not 100 per cent control, there is significant control and clear guidelines have been set down. I ask Senators to accept amendment No. 4 and not press amendments Nos. 2 or 5.
I did not acknowledge that, in indicating a ceiling, the Minister of State has picked up one of the main points in my proposal. This is an improvement, but it is only the second best option; the best would be to delete the section. However, it would be churlish not to confirm that he has acknowledged the argument. I see the point, made by him implicitly and explicitly by Senator Quinn, regarding unease about the concept of a maximum total of 100. However, maxima always become the norm. When the issue of the advisers is well established there will be pressure on Ministers to make appointments. It is, therefore, a good idea to impose a maxima as this will prevent them from having their arms twisted.
We still do not have the full costs of advisers and the Minister of State was right to differentiate between advisers and consultants. Successive Ministers for Finance have taken the view that there is an extraordinary abuse of the system whereby consultants are engaged in the public service. Decisions to appoint teams of consultants tend not to be political but rather are made because people are frequently too lazy to produce ideas or else they fear that they will not be able to fight their corner against the Department of Finance. The appointment of consultants is therefore advised. They are given tight remits, are very costly and produce consultancy documents which, in many cases, lack intellectual rigour and are usually copies, incorporating the prejudices they wish to serve. This is all then presented as a fait accompli to the Department of Finance as an argument in favour of a specific policy or change. It is an abuse which is not new, but it must be brought it must be brought to an end.
I fail to understand how the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications could conceivably spend £12 million on consultancies. The Department of the Marine spent £2.4 million on two separate consultancies. Price Waterhouse was engaged, and spent £910,000 reviewing the management of the organisational structure of the fisheries service. KPMG was engaged to undertake a separate study of the restructuring of the Irish white fish fleet. Both should have been done together. While I accept the Minister of State's proposal is an improvement to the Bill, it is a mistake to include the issue of advisers in the legislation.
There is a misprint in the first line of amendment No. 4. The words "1 to 6" should read "1 or 6".
Amendment No. 5 is an alternate to amendment No. 4 and cannot be moved.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 9, line 17, after "Finance" to insert "subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas".
I thank the Minister of State for the cogency of his clarification on the previous occasion. I would have used a different number if I had got it right. However, I accept the reasoning about maxima becoming minima and I defer to his and Senator Quinn's judgment on that.
This amendment seeks to ensure that there is some control over what is happening and specifically over expenditure. I hope the Minister for Finance considers that it would be of assistance to accept it because it would serve to draw attention to numbers in the Department of the Taoiseach, the Office of the Tánaiste or elsewhere if, even under the new dispensation, they were to begin to rise at a rapid rate. It is intended to be of assistance to the Minister for Finance to discharge the responsibility imposed upon him here.
I second the amendment. It is an effort to help the Minister for Finance to control costs and what happened in the past with regard to the proliferation not only of numbers but of the amount paid to special advisers. It is worthy of consideration and will, I am sure, be accepted by the Minister of State.
I support the amendment because it is an improvement and brings the issue of advisers out into the open. The Oireachtas should be more conscious of what is happening. This is especially the case with regard to the Dáil, which has power over the public purse.
The growth in consultancy is frightening and has happened under this and previous Administrations. Debate focuses attention on the issue, which in itself operates as a constraint. If the Minister of State accepts the amendment it will improve the Bill because it will ensure that the issue is periodically debated in public.
It is only because I do not consider that the amendment would improve the Bill that I am not inclined to accept it. The amendment proposes that the Minister for Finance be empowered to fix the terms and conditions of special advisers appointed under the Bill made subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is a novel proposition. Various enactments regarding civil servants, office holders, members of State boards, etc., confer on the Minister for Finance, or some other Minister with his approval, power to fix terms and conditions of pay. Ministers for Finance have exercised those powers responsibly over the years without any intervention by the Oireachtas, often to the annoyance of their colleagues.
I do not see why that power should be curtailed in this specific and limited case. There has not been, in the life of the Government or in the terms of previous Governments, any diminution of the rigour with which Ministers for Finance have approached these matters, simply because those whose terms they regulate are close to Ministers.
The regime which currently applies, and has applied for some years, involves the application of a specific formula to advisers to Ministers and Ministers of State. They are paid their existing salaries plus 10 per cent, provided the total does not exceed the maximum of a specific Civil Service grade. That maximum is, in the case of a Minister the maximum of the Principal Grade I scale, now £45,525, or, in the case of Ministers of State, that of Assistant Principal Grade I, now £35,493. A few staff assigned to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs are paid marginally in excess of these limits. That topic regularly attracts detailed questions in the other House and considerable media attention. Therefore, the possibility of inappropriate deals being concluded by stealth can virtually be ruled out. In these circumstances, I am inclined to regard the proposal as a cure for a disease which does not exist. I also have reservations in terms of the practicalities. Prior approval may remove the scope which has to exist for dealing quickly with exceptional situations. Appointments may arise during lengthy parliamentary recesses and negotiations may have to take place which take account of individual's earnings and skills and the needs of individual Ministers.
This is a well motivated proposal but I do not accept it. The Minister for Finance exerts strong control on these and many other issues. In many cases, Ministers and Ministers of State have come to me and said that six months or longer after they had taken on their advisers, they were still not able to obtain agreement because of the rigidity of the Department of Finance. There is strict enforcement with absolute impartiality.
I am not imputing inappropriate deals or stealth. Special advisers are not necessarily overpaid. If they are as good as they should be, there are possibly underpaid. However, I will not make an argument for raising the amount of money spent in the area. I am concerned there should be rigorous scrutiny in the Oireachtas of the thinking behind the appointment of people at particular times. It should serve as a continuing review of the effectiveness and usefulness of this type of appointment. Amendment No. 4, which we agreed, may make it more difficult for the Minister for Finance to exercise the type of rigorous control he did in the past.
If the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the leader of another party in coalition are the people whose numbers are not specifically controlled, it will put extra pressure on the Minister for Finance. There is no reason the Tánaiste or the leader of another party could not be the Minister for Finance. I suspect, in a changing scenario, this proposed amendment may become more potentially useful for public accountability in the broadest sense of policy formulation. Will the Minister of State give weight to the reflection I expressed as the Bill progresses?
Amendment No. 8 is related to amendment No. 7 and both may be discussed together, by agreement.
These are technical amendments.
On Committee Stage I accepted an amendment from Senator Lee which would result in the office holders being empowered to take decisions in regard to assignments within the offices of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the applicability of the processes set out in the Bill to that office would be the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. I did so after explaining to the Senator my preference for a formula such as "the Ceann Comhairle after consultation with the Cathaoirleach" but he clearly did not like that and I understood why.
Since Committee Stage there has been an opportunity for my Department and officials in the office of the Houses of the Oireachtas to discuss this formula. I am advised that it could pose practical and legal difficulties. This amendment uses a different formulation from my original proposal and that of the Senator which I accepted. I am satisfied it protects the rights of each House in its respective domain by providing that the office holder in regard to the exercise of function directly affecting Seanad Éireann will be the Cathaoirleach. He or she will be the sole exercising authority.
I have also taken the opportunity in this amendment to substitute the titles of "Chairman of Dáil Éireann and Chairman of Seanad Éireann" for "Ceann Comhairle and Cathaoirleach" which are those by which they are currently known in statute and in various statutory regulations.
I thank the Minister of State for his explanation. I was puzzled why the change had occurred in terms of linguistics or semantics. I hoped it was not a ringing declaration about reducing our rich and distinctive native culture.
I was also surprised.
It is a little unfortunate but I accept the reasoning of the Minister of State. He stated that the Chairman of Seanad Éireann would have exclusive responsibility for those functions relating directly to the business of Seanad Éireann. The authority of the Chairman of Seanad Éireann is limited specifically and explicitly to the business of Seanad Éireann. The authority of the Chairman of Dáil Éireann could just conceivably be stretched to include Seanad Éireann as they are not phrased in the same way.
My understanding is that it applies in regard to functions relating directly to the business of Seanad Éireann. It would not be a joint authority in that case. He or she would be exclusive in that area.
If that is the case, I have no problem.
Níl a lán Gaeilge agam ach is féidir liom cúpla focal a rá whenever the occasion arises. Why is the terminology being changed from Irish to English? The Minister of State may have referred to this in his reply before I came in. I understand he found that previous regulations referred to the Chairman of both Houses. When and why did this happen? Why was it necessary at any point since the foundation of the State that the terminology should be changed? It has always been accepted practice that official terminology was in the first language. I am concerned about this drift towards change. I anticipate the answer of the Minister of State will be that there is a precedent for it but I am concerned that we are continuing down this road.
I value the Irish language and I do not see why we should continually change it. If one examines Part I of the Schedule of the Bill the only references in Irish are the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach. All other offices are in English. I do not like this; it is not right. When was this decision taken?
The parliamentary draftsman's advice on this amendment was that we should stick with the description in earlier Acts, in particular the Act introduced by Eamon de Valera in 1938. I too was surprised, but this was done on the advice of the draftsman and we ignore that advice on such matters at our peril. I agree with Senator Mooney. It has a resonance with which I do not feel comfortable.
We will have to agree on how we feel about that resonance.
I thank Senators who participated in this debate, particularly Senator Roche and the Independent Senators. Their contributions have improved the Bill, particularly as it relates to advisers and it is a better Bill as a result.
I compliment the Minister as 30 years is a long time to wait for public service reform. I hope we have done a good job but it will not be the Minister's fault if we have not. He has proven himself flexible and willing to listen, which are unusual commodities in a Minister.
I support Senator Roche. The Minister has given an open, impressive performance, and some of us may now feel it is worthwhile to make proposals. The manner in which he responded has been very encouraging.
I add my words to those of the previous speakers and congratulate the Minister of State for the manner in which he listened carefully to the Committee Stage debate and returned with amendments to satisfy our concerns.