I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.
We are discussing a very important Bill. I accept that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, cannot be here. In his absence I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. However, it would be appropriate to have more Members in the Chamber for the debate. Therefore, I call for a quorum.
Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,
Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 6 are related and may be discussed together.
These are technical amendments which provide for the comprehensive definition of "Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform" in the Bill. They also provide for the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939 to be defined as the "Act of 1939" throughout the Bill. I will not go through all four amendments because they are self-explanatory, but I will be glad to respond to Members' queries.
I have no issue with these amendments. However, it is interesting that one of them refers to the Irish language version of the Minister's title.
This is a very important Bill, providing for the division of the Department of Finance for the first time since the First Dáil in 1919. My colleagues and I agree with most of the Bill's provisions. However, we completely disagree with the manner in which the Bill is being brought before the Seanad. Prior to any debate on the legislation in this House, the Dáil Order Paper already indicates that amendments from the Seanad will be discussed in that House tomorrow. We intend to oppose each section of the Bill in protest at the manner in which this House is being treated, including changes in the scheduling of business which preclude ample time for debate. I appreciate that the Leader has allocated an additional 90 minutes this evening which we intend to use, but the time allotted remains insufficient. I oppose the section on that basis.
To respond to Senator Darragh O'Brien, as I said on the Order of Business and Second Stage, I agree with him and his colleagues that it is less than ideal to have all Stages of a Bill go through the House in one day. I have raised this issue at meetings of my parliamentary party with a view to ensuring it does not recur. As the Minister said earlier, he, too, regrets that this is happening. Unfortunately, it is a matter of timing; it is essential that we get the new Department up and running for the sake of good governance and the reforms we all support. The Minister has pointed out that this is a technical Bill which makes provision for the establishment of his Department, and I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will say the same. We will have more time to debate the substantive issues in this House. The Leader has already allowed additional time tonight to debate the Bill, until 8.30 p.m., if necessary.
On that general point, we want the Bill to be passed and the Minister to have the powers accorded therein. I have made numerous complaints on the Order of Business and in the media about this issue, that the Minister for public expenditure and reform who essentially controls the deficit has no statutory powers and that it is very important that this Bill is passed. On a practical basis, most Members will try to study the legislation and may try to put together amendments. They will try to do a serious job of work in this regard, not by raising irrelevant matters but by debating the most important elements of the Bill and trying to improve it as best they can.
The original schedule of business indicated this legislation would be debated on Wednesday and Thursday, which I considered reasonable. I would not have a difficulty with this or declaring that the debate be limited to three or four hours, as long as Members have time to get through each section and amendment. I do not agree with the proposition that one can speak forever and, personally, I have no problem with the use of the guillotine. However, I do have a problem with declaring on Monday, just after the legislation had been printed but before it had been sent to Members, that it would be taken on Wednesday afternoon. I had received an invitation, for which I was grateful, from the good people of Bellewstown, County Meath to officially open their school this morning. However, I was obliged to leave that function early because of this Committee Stage debate. My point is that Members have commitments and are trying to juggle everything and do a good job. It does not reflect either good governance or public service reform that the first act of the Minister for public expenditure and reform is to state that instead of doing what the programme for Government indicates, time will be provided between Stages of Bills taken in the Dáil and the Seanad, this Bill will be taken on a single day, even though the Opposition was informed only a day earlier that it would be taken over two days. That is unacceptable and Fianna Fáil is laying down a marker in this regard. The Government can use the guillotine which was used by the previous Government, although I note the Government parties then trenchantly opposed its use. I did not fully agree with them and still do not, as there is a role for shortened debates and the use of the guillotine.
On this section, the fact that it comprises a list of Acts for the purpose of definitions highlights some of the Bill's main anomalies and problems. The Bill is not, in fact, a housekeeping measure, as Senator Ivana Bacik suggested; rather, it proposes a massive transfer of powers and responsibilities from one Minister to another without listing in detail what these powers and responsibilities are. In section 10 it provides that any statute, in so far as it relates to the administration of functions transferred by subsection (1), in so far as it relates to the functions of the Minister in sections 7 and 8, is transferred to the Minister without stating what these powers are. While many other Acts are being listed, the Bill also states that if there is anything else the Minister for public expenditure and reform should be doing, that power also is transferred to him or her. That is not a good way to do business and the Bill is a rushed job. Its purpose purely is to facilitate a division of responsibilities and powers between Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the Department of Finance which I believe is one of the few mentioned in the Constitution and, therefore, has a special role. The Minister for Finance is required under the Constitution to be a Member of Dáil Éireann and is thereby given special status in the legal system and the nation. The special status and responsibilities of the Minister for Finance are much greater now in the current economic climate, despite all the talk about the loss of economic sovereignty. The Minister for Finance has a huge role and huge decision-making power, much of which has been transferred to the Minister for public expenditure and reform. It is not acceptable that this should be done in such a generalised and rushed manner.
First, I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate her on her appointment, as I neglected to so do earlier.
This is a fundamental issue. If one considers section 2, Senator Thomas Byrne has rightly raised the number of Acts that the Bill will affect when enacted. It is a broad section which means that, unquestionably, this is not a housekeeping Bill.
I appreciate Senator Ivana Bacik's comments regarding her disappointment and that of her colleagues about the manner in which the Bill has been dealt with. However, the question as to who was responsible has not been answered. Was it the Minister, the Government Chief Whip or the Leader of this House whose responsibility it is to order its business? Who requested that the Bill be taken on a single day? While the Minister for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, expressed his regret in this regard earlier today, who made the decision?
When first published, the Bill was 23 pages long, but it has doubled in length. It is now complex legislation that deserves proper scrutiny and Members will do their best to do this today. It is all the more disappointing, as I believe the Bill has the support of the vast majority of Members, including my party grouping, that it could not have been dealt with in such a way that would have allowed its proper scrutiny. On the basis that, as Senator Thomas Byrne has noted, this pertains to the Minister with responsibility for public sector reform and that complete disregard has been shown for this House and its functions on the Bill's introduction to it, Fianna Fáil Members intend to oppose this section.
I, too, should have welcomed the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and apologise to her for not doing so.
I do not wish to prolong the debate on this issue which Members rehearsed fully on the Order of Business and Second Stage. The Minister for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, expressed his regret on Second Stage in this regard. The debate was originally scheduled to take place over two days and I do not know exactly who decided it should be reduced to a single day. The reason probably is that Government amendments will now be made in the Seanad and I understand there are difficulties in having it signed into law by the President, given her commitments, to allow it to come into force in time for the Minister to assume functions. I am not fully aware of what the timescale is, but I regret nevertheless that as a result, it is being taken on a single day. As I stated, the Government is trying to improve matters by ensuring there will be sufficient time to allow for a full debate on Committee and Report Stages.
I did not mention housekeeping in this context. Earlier in discussing the Minister's functions when his Department was established Members referred to them as being about ensuring the balancing of books and housekeeping. I did state this was a technical Bill to make provision for the establishment of his Department. Senator Thomas Byrne will be aware that the functions of the Minister are set out in section 8. In that sense this is a technical Bill and, as Senator Darragh O'Brien has stated, Fianna Fáil supports its spirit. The amendments are not substantive, in the sense that they go to the heart of the Bill's provisions, and Members can debate them individually.
I call on my two colleagues opposite to stop whining and whingeing and Members to get on with the business in hand.
That is not relevant to the section.
I spoke to the amendment, the section and the Bill and I am quite entitled to so do. I do not accept Senator Ivana Bacik's response that our amendments do not go to the heart of the Bill, as one can propose any amendment one likes to a Bill. Moreover, I do not accept that this has something to do with the President leaving the country because my understanding is that the Cathaoirleach, together with a number of other parties, is able to sign Bills into law in the President's absence.
I will not delay proceedings further, but it is not a question of Members on this side of the House whining. They have put a lot of work into tabling amendments that have been published. I note the Government amendments have also come from its Whips' office. Members take the Bill seriously, as they did when they debated at length the Finance (No. 2) Bill and the Finance (No. 3) Bill.
Please allow Members to get on with it.
Senator Darragh O'Brien to continue, without interruption, please.
My point is that if we allow this to happen, will Members next week be asked to take Bills in their entirety on a single day, thereby not allowing proper scrutiny of legislation? Fianna Fáil Members are laying down a marker. Senator Tom Sheahan need not worry, as they will get on with the business in hand. However, this point must be made and we do so at the outset of Committee Stage.
I acknowledge Members' difficulties in the Bill being taken on a single day. My colleague, the Minister for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has already done so, as have Senators Ivana Bacik and Tom Sheahan on behalf of the Government side. Moreover, at the risk of breaking confidentiality, Senator Ivana Bacik raised the issue at the meeting of the Labour Party Parliamentary Party earlier today. I acknowledge that the point has been well taken and the Government will learn from it.
Especially as Fianna Fáil intends to support the Bill.
Exactly. I also thank the Fianna Fáil Senators for their support for the legislation. As I stated, the Government acknowledges the points they have raised.
In one sense, the Bill is technical in that much of its content pertains to the technical aspect of transferring functions. However, as Senator Ivana Bacik observed, the functions are set out specifically in the Bill. Section 10 is a standard provision referring to administration and business; it does not actually transfer functions.
My desire is to get through as many amendments as possible. The House has agreed to devote additional time to the Bill, which is welcome. I understand the Minister will return to the House at a later stage. I acknowledge the points made from all sides of the House and the lesson will be learned in dealing with future legislation.
Amendments Nos. 3, 10, 15 and 27 to 29, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement? Is that agreed? Agreed.
Again, these are technical amendments to tidy up the text. They concern the substitution of items for reasons of specificity and the inclusion of correct references to individual provisions. In the interests of time, I do not propose to go through all of the amendments, but I will respond to questions from Senators.
Are there any questions on the amendments for the Minister of State?
I have no questions.
This amendment provides that section 7 of the Official Languages Act 2003 will not apply to this Bill. Section 7 of the Act mentioned states that, as soon as may be after the enactment of any Act of the Oireachtas, the text thereof shall be printed and published in each of the official languages simultaneously. I must be honest with Senators in this regard. Owing to the large number of Committee Stage amendments made in the Dáil, it is expected the Irish translation of this Bill, when enacted, will not be available for a further month. In the light of this, the amendment provides that the English version of the Bill, when enacted, will be printed and published, with the Irish version being made available as soon as the translation is completed. This will ensure the Bill, when enacted, will be available to the public. I acknowledge that, ideally, both versions should be available immediately, but we want to have the Bill available to the public as soon as possible. The Irish language version will be available as soon as is practically possible.
Do Irish-speaking members of the public not have a right to receive the Irish language version of the Bill? It is not just a question of law or adhering to the Official Languages Act, it is also a question of adhering to the Constitution and the fundamental law and culture of the State. My understanding is that this happened only once during the term of the previous Government and in that case it involved a particularly rushed Finance Bill. The Minister of State has come to the House and blamed the number of Committee Stage amendments agreed to in the Dáil, but the Government amendments were available last week and if she is blaming the Opposition, I remind her that most of ours were only submitted today and yesterday when the Minister's amendments were submitted. Therefore, we will not accept the blame. We will not accept this practice on an ongoing basis. As I said, it happened only once in the term of the previous Government. I think it happened in the case of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill last week. I stand to be corrected on that point, but certainly a reference was made by the Minister. It is absolutely unacceptable that this practice should become routine. The timetable is being chopped and changed and major legislation to deal with the deficit is being rushed through.
The Minister for public expenditure and reform may well become known as the Minister for cuts because his first decision is to cut out the Irish language, which is outrageous. Senator Katherine Zappone spoke yesterday about the social wealth of the country, but we also have to think about its cultural wealth, of which the language is part. It is a constitutional obligation to have legislation published in the official languages of the State. No other country is unable to publish legislation in its official language. I will not put all of the blame on the Department because I understand part of the reason has to do with the fact that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has not been established, although I stand to be corrected on this point.
Fianna Fáil will not accept the amendment. When in government, it introduced the Official Languages Act which has had a positive effect. The people have a right to have their laws promulgated and published in the official languages. Nobody, therefore, should accept the amendment. It is not good enough. This legislation has been delayed already and there has been pressure exerted to have translations completed. The reason most of the amendments were tabled on Committee Stage in the Dáil, which doubled the size of the Bill, was the Government did not know what was happening. We have to rush through this Bill to allow for the division of responsibilities in the coalition Government. It is a political arrangement that is being turned into law, and the first to be sacrificed is the language, which is completely unacceptable.
Caithfidh mé cúpla focal a rá as Gaeilge. Ba cheart dúinn aon iarracht gur féidir linn a dhéanamh chun na doiciméid seo a chur ar fáil sa dá theanga ag an am céanna as seo amach. I hope we have learned our lesson. This is my first time in the House and I hope in the future we will see a version of a Bill in the first language of the country available at the same time. I understand there are enough translators available to make Bills available on the Internet if they are not available in print form at the same time as the English version. I, therefore, ask that the Bill be made available on the Internet in draft form until such time as it is available in print form. It would also be easier to make changes before printing. I ask that this arrangement be facilitated as it would offer a solution to the problem. I understand the Bill cannot be dealt with until the commission is established, which is another issue. Publication in draft form on the Internet would provide a marker that this House will not accept such a situation in the future.
I share the sentiments expressed by Senator Thomas Byrne regarding the Irish language. The Official Languages Act is useful, although I do not agree with all of its elements, particularly when local authorities have to translate county development plans at a cost of €40,000 and €50,000 and not one person reads them. However, in the case of legislation, what is happening regrettable. Will the Minister of State indicate whether it is possible to have this matter dealt with in less than one month? I question why it will take a month to deal with it. To respect the fact that the Irish language is crucial and deserves equality with English, is it possible to speed up the process?
I will take back the suggestions made by the Senators about speeding up the process to see if it is possible to reduce the time it will take to less than one month. I refer specifically to Senator Cáit Keane's suggestion that there might be a way of issuing a draft version of the Bill on the Internet. These are valuable suggestions. I agree that, ideally, the Bill should be presented in both languages on its enactment, but, frankly, the reason has to do with its size. The Irish language version will not be available immediately, but I will relay the suggestions made and we will endeavour to publish the Bill in Irish as soon as possible. Déanfaidh an Oireachtas gach iarracht é sin a dhéanamh.
Ní ghlacaim leis go bhfuil an Bille seo ró-mhór nach féidir é a aistriú go Gaeilge. Is Bille an-bheag é an Bille seo. Is féidir leis an Roinn an cáinaisnéis agus na Billí Airgeadais a fhoilsiú i nGaeilge, ach ní féidir Bille de 40 leathnach a aistriú. D'fhéadfainn é a dhéanamh, agus b'fhéidir go ndéanfadh an Seanadóir Uí Catháin é freisin. B'fhéidir gur chóir dúinn coiste a bhunú sa Seanad chun aistriúcháin Ghaeilge a chur ar reachtaíocht. Tá marcóir á chur síos againn inniu. Ní ghlacfar leis seo inniu nó sa todhchaí. Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí ó Fhine Gael atá ag tabhairt tacaíochta dúinn ina thaobh. Níl sé ceart, níl sé cóir, níl sé cothrom agus níl sé dlíthiúil. Labhair an tAire faoin méid a bheadh "ideal". Tagann an riachtanas seo ón mBunreacht. This is an article of the Constitution. The Official Languages Act merely implements what is contained in the Constitution. If the Government wants to discard the Constitution and parliamentary procedure, we will have nothing left. It might as well abolish the Dáil and the Seanad and just have a few stooges here to rubber-stamp legislation if that is the way we are to go. That is not what the Government stated it would do in the programme for Government. First, it brought in the guillotine and now has indicated its inability to supply a translation of this Bill. To say the State cannot translate 40 pages of text into our national language is an absolute disgrace and we will not accept it. I have never heard an excuse like that offered by the Minister of State, that it is too big.
I do not accept the Senator's argument that this is the equivalent of having stooges passing legislation.
We will not let it happen.
We are dealing with this legislation very carefully in both Houses. We will endeavour to have it published in the Irish language as quickly as possible.
I move amendment 4a:
In page 12, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.—The appointed day for the purpose of this Act shall be 1 July 2011.".
This is a minor amendment. Perhaps the Minister of State could give her views on the day to be appointed. We thought it was slightly vague and that it might be better to insert a date for the appointed day, rather than giving the Government the mandate to do that.
The proposed amendment is that the date should be 1 July 2011 but it is unlikely that it will be ready in that timescale. In any event, the appointed day would normally be decided by the Government. The Government will decide that as soon as possible.
Is the Minister of State expecting that date to be 20 July?
We do not have a date.
Earlier, the Minister indicated it would be 5 July.
Yes. Subject to the approval of the Houses and the President's signature, the Minister has indicated that it is anticipated it will be 5 July.
That is reasonable, if it were to happen, and I certainly hope it does. It might be worth putting it into legislation, so we might try to insert it on Report Stage.
Normally the Government decides the date. I cannot accept this amendment.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 12, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) The Minister shall—
(a) within 40 days of the appointed day lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, a report providing consolidated details of his powers as conferred directly by this Act and any delegation orders, and
(b) within 20 days of the appointed day lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas details of actions and target dates which will fall due during 2011 which he or she views to be significant which relate to the preparation of the annual estimates of expenditure.”.
The purpose of this amendment is to give clarity to the role of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The amendment requires that the Minister shall within 40 days — it was 20 days in the Dáil, but we have expanded that — of the appointed day lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, a report providing consolidated details of his powers as conferred directly by this Act and any delegation orders that might be made subsequent to the Act and subsequent to the establishment of the Department.
This amendment is important because the legislation is vague concerning what powers the Minister will have, which is ironic for the Minister who will be in charge of public service reform. The amendment seeks that the public will be told exactly what the Minister is doing and what functions he will have. While the general public might not be too interested in reading a list of statutes or powers, it might be crucial for a citizen of the State who may have an issue with the Department of Finance or the Department of public expenditure and reform, to know what the Minister is doing in the interests of reform, openness and transparency.
I am impressed by the recent work undertaken by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, as a Minister without portfolio. He has sought to reform matters and has been quite radical in some respects. I wonder sometimes whether he is too radical for his own party concerning some of the items that have gone out in correspondence.
Far from it.
What he is doing is important for the future of this country. Nonetheless, people need to understand the Minister's role, what he is going to do and what powers he will have, so that they can contribute to the Minister's proposals. They may, for example, want to take part in the public consultations the Minister has launched, seeking ideas from the public. The Minister has, rightly, taken the idea from Mr. David Cameron's Tories and the Lib-Dems in terms of opening up for discussion the public's ideas on expenditure cuts. I understand the Tories have had some success in this regard.
On Second Stage, the Minister told the Dáil that the Estimates procedure would remain unchanged, but he also said that the procedures would be substantially altered. We need to know what his powers and functions are. The evidence that matters of procedure and responsibility are unclear can be seen in the extent to which the Bill has been changed. The legislative timetable has been chopped and changed, yet other things have not changed although we are talking about having a Minister for Public Service and Reform. The public should know what the Minister can and will do. I think he accepted this in the other House. Therefore, the amendment seeks to implement what the Minister has already said on the record that he agrees with. Specifically, the amendment obliges the Minister to bring together in one document all his powers, responsibilities and duties listing the delegations orders, the substitutions, as they might be called, from the Minister for Finance to him as a Cabinet colleague. It also requires in paragraph (b) that the Minister “within 20 days of the appointed day lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas details of actions and target dates which fall due during 2011 which he or she views to be significant which relate to the ... annual estimates of expenditure”. It requires the Minister to let the Oireachtas and, more importantly, the public know what the Estimates process for next year will be. This amendment should not pose a difficulty. Presumably in any Department there will be almost a family tree of responsibility, as it were, such as site maps on websites, a map of responsibilities setting out who is in charge of what, where it all falls down, and where the powers come from. One would assume that, as a matter of good housekeeping, that such a document would be available internally in the Department to enable it to do its work. We propose that such a document should be published and made available.
In the context of the amendment, it is important that clarification is given, in a reasonable time, on the exact roles, responsibilities and areas of responsibility. Section 3(2)(b) provides the Minister will have responsibility of “a company established under the Companies Acts all of the shares in which are held (i) by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government, or (ii) by directors appointed by a Minister of the Government”. Will the Minister of State clarify whether Anglo Irish Bank and other nationalised banks will fall under the remit of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, on the basis of this provision set down in the Bill? Will the Minister be responsible for Anglo Irish Bank, the State’s 93% shareholding in AIB, Permanent TSB or the 99% ownership we understand the State will have of Irish Life and Permanent? Specifically, will the Minister of State clarify whether Anglo Irish Bank, which is fully nationalised, will be covered under section 3(2)(b), which is relevant to this amendment?
On the amendment, Senator Byrne's first point seeks to have the Minister provide consolidated details of his powers under the Bill and under any subsequent order. I do not believe that legislative change is required in this case but I understand the Minister would be happy to consider making available a further explanatory memorandum when the Bill is enacted, giving an overview of the functions that are transferred. The Minister has indicated that.
It will also be clear from the delegation order which functions are transferring to the Minister for public expenditure and reform and these will be set out in the schedule to the order which will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. There are ways in which the information will be transferred to the public, a point about which Senator Byrne was concerned.
On Senator's Byrne's second point regarding the budget and Estimates process, as the Minister indicated, the Estimates processes are now well established and, as of now, it is not envisaged that there will be a change in the timetable. The timetable for the annual budget and Estimates will remain as they are, namely, that there is a budget in December along with the initial or budget day Estimates followed by a more detailed Revised Estimates volume in February, which is the normal procedure.
The Bill draws a distinction between the role of the Minister for Finance, who will be primarily responsible for overall fiscal policy, including the aggregate expenditure level, and the Minister for public expenditure and reform who will be primarily responsible for preparing the annual Book of Estimates.
With regard to the point raised by Senator O'Brien, all matters relating to banking will remain with the Minister for Finance. Subsection (3)(b) defines a public service body by reference to bodies which have a public service pension scheme in force. Therefore, matters relating to banking will remain with the Minister for Finance.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I support the amendment. I support the establishment of this Department but the concern I have about the Bill is whether we will see genuine root and branch reform of the public service and public spending.
On the amendment, I would question the autonomy in real terms of the Minister's position in the Department because the Department and its staff and much of his decision-making powers will remain under the thumb of the Minister for Finance and the Department of Finance. For example, section 14(3) of the Bill gives the Department of Finance control over selling or procuring property which exceeds €50 million. The Minister is also responsible for managing public expenditure within the overall envelope which has been set by the Government but he is not responsible for the budgetary parameters. That is a concern in regard to the powers the Minister would have. The new Department of public expenditure and reform is housed in the Department of Finance and two thirds of the new Department's staff will come from the Department of Finance. We would have concerns about that.
In terms of accountability and ensuring we measure progress, I have a number of specific questions for the Minister of State. How is it intended to measure that success? What parameters will be used? For me, the most important element is the delivery of services, the service provision. The Minister spoke about this earlier in the context of budgets and finance, but the ethos and approach of reform in the public sector must be how we deliver first class, world class, high quality public services to citizens and their level of interaction with public services, how it is measured and the level of service they get. What built-in mechanisms will there be? What reforms will be in place to ensure there is measurement in terms of the level of success of the new delivery of services under this Bill and the changes that have been brought in?
I broadly welcome the Bill but have concerns about the actual powers of the Minister. The new Department must have teeth and be able to do the job it has been set. I have a concern about many of the responsibilities still resting with the Department of Finance and the Minister not having the autonomy he and his Department will need to deal aggressively with many of the issues with which he will be faced. Will the Minister of State respond to some of those questions?
On a point of clarification, I thank the Minister of State for her response to my question. I used the example of Anglo Irish Bank to seek clarification on this position. I take it the Minister of State is saying that the only companies the Minister for public expenditure and reform will have control of or responsibility for are ones where the State holds the shares and the employees have public sector pensions, and that this will be position in all cases. Those companies will be ones in which there are public sector workers with public sector pensions and that there are no other companies, of which there is full State ownership, over which the Minister will have control unless the employees are in the public sector. Is that correct?
I will reply to that question at the end of this group of questions.
I support the amendments. It is important to ensure this will not just be another Department, not simply the old Department of Finance, with two thirds of its staff being sent to the new Department, because that is why we had to be rescued by the IMF. There must be something different. There must be better accountability. The Wright report which analysed the Department of Finance referred to the need for enhanced ministerial accountability to parliament and the public. As speakers have said, this is not a very good start. That report stated: "a ... poor budgetary process obscured ministerial and government accountability to the Parliament". It also stated: "We recommend major changes in the budgetary process that would enhance Ministerial accountability to Parliament". The Seanad is trying to play a role in this. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, was open to that and it is a pity he did not have time to be with us longer. However, I fear this will be just another failed Department and that is what got us into the trouble we are in. Documents tend not be published. The requirement in the amendment proposed by Senator Byrne should be seriously considered by the Government. We need a new kind of open Department. The old examples are many. I recall a report on rail safety that forgot to mention the collapse of the Malahide viaduct. There is a culture of secrecy in the public service. As the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, wants to correct it, I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will accept the amendment. There must be a different relationship between Parliament and failed Departments, which we are trying to reform.
In response to Senator Sean Barrett, it was not the Department of Finance alone which was responsible for bringing in the IMF. A lack of regulation of the banking sector and poor political decisions, for example, on planning and tax reliefs for property development played larger roles. However, the Senator is right on the need for a restructuring of the Department. We all accept there is such a need, which is the reason the Bill has received broad support.
Senator Thomas Byrne's amendment allows for a useful debate. The Minister acknowledged the need for accountability and transparency in the workings of his Department, but I am unsure whether the amendment presents us with the best way of achieving this. However, we are all in agreement on the end to be achieved. The Minister referred to the website being established by the Department that will make all economic data dating back to 1994 available for scrutiny on a monthly basis. This sounds like a better way of keeping the public informed. To keep the Oireachtas informed, the Bill contains other measures, for example, the requirement under section 16 that information be supplied to Dáil Éireann on decisions made under the section.
Senator David Cullinane referred to the Minister's relationship with the Minister for Finance. The Bill envisages a close working relationship, which is clear not only in section 15, whereby the consent of the Minister for Finance is required in respect of large amounts of money, but also in section 16, which contains a reference to consultation.
What the Bill is seeking to do and what we all want to see occur is provide for a delegation of some functions from the Minister for Finance and a change in the way the Department of Finance works under its old guise. The Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin's comments on recruiting for his Department a new Secretary General who has experience from outside the public service and his plan to appoint a director of reform are important in terms of changing the way the new Department will work and mark a radical departure from the workings of the Department of Finance.
It is clear that the banks are not covered under section 3. Subsection (2) refers to the definition of "relevant body" in subsection (1). Like the Minister, I do not know how this could apply to banks.
That was disappointing. We are seeking a change in the way the Government does things. There have been many promises and leaks to the media, as well as much talk. What we want is action. The public needs to know exactly what the Minister can do. From reading the legislation, it is impossible to know his full list of powers.
They are listed in section 8.
Not all of the statutory functions being transferred to him are listed. There is no comprehensive list of what he can do. We do not know what is contained in the delegation orders, as they will be signed after the enanctment of the legislation.
The amendment seeks to let the public know, by way of this document, how the new Minister will do things differently. The process would be transparent and there would be accountability. The public would know what the Minister had to do and could judge him accordingly, as could the Oireachtas. It has nothing to do with the provision of economic data, which is a separate matter. Rather, it has to do with what the Minister claims he will do. We want change.
The two Government parties agreed in the programme for Government that they would split the Department of Finance. There was a row over personnel, but that did not matter. They wondered how they could split the Department. They published a Bill, then realised they had forgotten about this aspect and that they needed to make changes. The Bill was substantially altered on Committee Stage in the Dáil. It was supposed to be debated in the Seanad for two days, but that was shortened to one. This is not reform, change or how matters should be handled. The Government refuses to tell us exactly what the Minister will do. It refers to how he might or should do something and states it is great and new, but it will not accept a simple amendment. The website could contain something like a site map of the Minister's Department. Most business and departmental websites contain "About Us" and "What We Do" sections. That is all we seek. It is a simple matter. The Minister says he will do something, but he would be better acting with statutory power, whereby the Houses could tell him what they wanted him to do and legislate to ensure he did this.
Transparency is all we seek. It is a reasonable request and everyone seems to agree it is a great idea. The previous Government, for all its faults and failings, used to accept reasonable amendments from the Opposition when they were well considered, well argued and genuinely meant to improve legislation. It is difficult to believe the Opposition cannot be treated in the same way. Did I understand the Minister of State correctly when she stated the Estimates process would not be changed? As that is not what was promised, she might be able to clarify the matter. If everything is to be as it was — an Estimates process followed by a budget in December — there will be no change in the fundamental function of the Minister, yet he promised it would be changed substantially. When it is the Minister of State's turn, she might discuss this matter again.
The Minister committed to publishing a second explanatory memorandum, which would be helpful. I encourage him to ensure it will contain as much detail as possible and cover the important changes made. I also suggest the Irish version be published simultaneously.
The Department of Finance was not fit for purpose. Light regulation and supervision led us down this path. That the entire banking section of the Department has been replaced by one that will drive change and reform, coupled with the Bill's proposals, is welcome. Public sector reform is essential. We need to be able to see government through a clear pane of glass and total accountability. For this reason, I suggest to the Minister of State that the proposals regarding the website and the further explanatory memorandum are essential if we are to ensure the Bill's provisions will be understood by everyone.
Most Members agree with the thrust of the amendment. In many instances, Departments or Ministers, including former Ministers in the Governments of which my party was part, do not want to be tied down by legislation. Perhaps it is the timeframe of 40 days that the Minister of State finds objectionable in this instance. However, Senators have stated the new Department should be different. Like any other Department, I assume it will report to the Committee of Public Accounts, be open to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General and, importantly, its Secretary General will be the Accounting Officer to the committee, but this will not be enough. No committee can oversee what occurs in a Department of this size.
It is important that there is clarification of the Minister's roles and responsibilities. I appreciate Senator Ivana Bacik's clarification of the State companies to be covered by the Bill, but outlining what they will be is important. As far as the public is concerned, it is fine that responsibility for banking policy will stay in the Department of Finance, but we need to state specifically that, while the State owns institutions such as Anglo Irish Bank, they are not covered by this legislation. That information would be helpful, given that Anglo Irish Bank is a wholly owned State company.
Accepting the amendment and having a report within 40 days would set out the position clearly. This should be a new Department. However, it will not be wholly new, as many of its staff will come from the Department of Finance. I asked the Minister how many from outside the public sector would be employed within the Department.
Part 1 outlines the Acts to be changed by this legislation. While that is a much less important element of the legislation in the context of the Department it is crucially important to set out clearly the functions and responsibilities of this Department. I welcome the proposed website. However, I will give an example of where this did not happen. The current Government broke with protocol of ten years in funding the jobs initiative, previously termed the jobs budget, when it refused to publish the advice from industry on the levy of 0.6% on private pensions, raising €1.8 billion in taxes, and the negative impact it will have on pension provisions and the pensions sector. That is probably the most significant initiative this Government has taken in its first 100 days. While we welcome many of the initiatives of the jobs initiative we are concerned about the manner in which it is funded. None of the advisory data on that has been published.
It is important, as provided for in Senator Byrne's amendment, that the requirement to do so is tied into the legislation and that this is not left to the whims of Ministers, be they current or future, to do so. I support the amendment.
Senator Barrett asked earlier if this is really a new Department which will bring about the type of reforms we all want or if it is but an extension of the Department of Finance. I mentioned earlier that approximately two thirds of staff in this Department will be staff moving over from the Department of Finance. The Secretary General of the new Department has worked in the Department of Finance since 1993. The Minister for Finance will continue to advise the new Department on the apportionment of current and capital expenditure. Some of the functions which will be transferred to the Minister for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Howlin, may only be performed with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Again, there is real concern that this Department is but an extension of the Department of Finance, that it is not anything new and will not have the powers or autonomy to do what needs to be done.
I am sure I will disagree with the Minister when he brings forward proposals on public sector reform. However, I agree with the need to achieve savings in public spending, getting value for taxpayers money and ensuring we have high quality public services. We need a new Department with fresh thinking to ensure this is done. The more I listen to this debate — I listened to the debates on this in the Dáil — the more I am concerned that this Department will not have teeth or the autonomy it needs. If this Department is to be under the thumb of the Minister for or the Department of Finance then it is not new. Like my colleagues in Fianna Fáil, I fail to understand why this amendment cannot be accepted. It is not a big deal. This is a simple amendment which could be accepted by the Government. I do not accept Senator Bacik's argument in regard to what the Minister said about the website. The amendment is more specific in terms of what the Minister should do.
Senator Byrne spoke about the possibility of the timeframe being an issue. I fail to understand why this amendment cannot be accepted.
I am surprised at Members opposite who stated this morning and this afternoon that they support the Bill and are now saying it contains nothing new and there is no change. It is——
We support the establishment of the Department. That is different.
It is called Committee Stage.
——evident that this new Department will put an end to the use of slush funds by Ministers to get re-elected, as was the case in previous Administrations. There will be another series of checks and balances in regard to public expenditure.
Where does the Bill say that?
Funds will not used as slush funds by Ministers such as in the area of sport.
Is there not an Estimates process?
There will be no sweetheart deals for Independent Deputies to keep minority Governments in place.
What is Senator Sheahan talking about?
There will be checks and balances between the two Ministers, which will be open and transparent.
I ask Members to speak to the amendment. I call Senator Walsh.
The general sentiment in the Seanad is a welcome of the principle of the Bill, which is to create greater focus on public expenditure. There has not been at any time a great record of control of public expenditure. Those who were around in the 1980s will recall the Government, led by the former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, failed to arrest public expenditure resulting in the country being brought to its knees. That problem was arrested from 1987 onwards through very difficult political decisions which impacted upon people. We all recall the cutbacks in heath services and so on which occurred at that time and were necessary.
What we are trying to do is ensure this legislation is not all about optics or sharing out the important financial portfolio between Fine Gael and the Labour Party; that there is more substance to it than that. This morning, I welcomed the appointment of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to his new portfolio. I specifically stated that while he had the intellectual capacity to do the job I was not certain he would do it. I am conscious that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, was the man who in the mid-1990s abolished water charges which took away a revenue stream of £600 million from the country to save the seat of the now Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton.
Senator Walsh should stick to discussing amendment No. 7.
They are being reintroduced.
What we are trying to do is ensure that this legislation achieves not alone what we want it to achieve but what the public are crying out for it to achieve. If we fail to do that, the consequences will be horrendous.
This year, we will borrow €18 billion to meet the deficit which children of future generations will be saddled with paying. If this legislation is not about achieving a balanced budget as quickly as possible then we are wasting our time discussing it and this effort is purely for electoral optics. The amendment before us, which I believe is eminently sensible, seeks to ensure that this Bill, which has no measurement of performance or identifiable targets will oblige the Minister and, in particular, his officials to provide specific targets in a whole range of areas.
This Bill deals with pay and public service numbers. I mentioned this morning that pay in respect of the public service increased from £7 billion in 1997 to €20 billion in 2009, with a respective increase in numbers from 220,000 to 370,000, an increase of 150,000. I was and remain critical of this. I do not believe anyone here could say the service to the public improved commensurately with that increase in numbers or resultant cost to the taxpayer. We must learn from that and ensure this does not happen again and that we return the economy to a sustainable level.
There has been much discussion about banking and a range of other issues. The one area the Government has direct control over in the current cataclysmic banking, fiscal and economic crisis, which is a global issue, is that of public expenditure. I want to ensure there is a commitment to this area. This amendment is a litmus test for the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and the Minister, Deputy Howlin, with regard to whether they are serious or whether in fact this is dressing up a means of splitting a Department which will be as ineffective as the Department of Finance has been over the past decade. I ask that the Minister would deal with this issue.
There is also the issue of privatisation. Why would we not have specific targets in regard to privatisation? As one who earned his living in the private sector, I know people do not need to be afraid of privatisation. I saw initiatives taken with employees in my company, whereby employees were set up with their own companies and took on mechanical machinery which we sold to them and then hired back. They made many savings which, as a company, we could not get them to achieve. For example, they travelled to Northern Ireland to get spare parts for the equipment. It was a success story for them and for the company.
For too long, the taxpayer has been picking up the tab for inefficiencies and waste right across the public service. There is not a small office of the public service anywhere that is not capable of achieving savings of a minimum of 10% to 20%, which would go a long way towards correcting the budget deficit we have today. If we are not serious about tackling this, we are failing as politicians and failing to respond to the confidence which the people have placed in the current Government, which has the largest majority of any Government in the history of the State. However, that brings responsibilities, which must be faced up to.
On privatisation, a speaker made a comment earlier——
We are dealing with the amendment.
I am discussing the amendment, which is about setting targets. I am dealing with targets on privatisation, Jody. With regard to the issue of privatisation, a speaker referred to the dysfunctionality of the public service. Within recent days, staff at the Passport Office have been too busy to answer telephones due to a backlog. "Please call again" is the request. This has gone on for days but one cannot get through to them. If ever there was a candidate for privatisation, it has to be the Passport Office. If one wants to make a query on citizenship with the Department of Justice and Equality, one is asked to put it in writing and told there is a 26 month delay in dealing with appeals on citizenship. If one wants to make a claim for invalidity pension with the Department of Social Protection, one will find the waiting list is too long and that it will take more than nine months to process the claims.
This is our public service today, not last week or last month. If we are serious about tackling the issues, we must set specific targets. Anyone who has ever worked in business knows that nothing is achieved by aspirations. Somewhere in this Bill, we must promote value for money. It should be mandatory. People who are paid good, six-figure salaries in the public service should have targets that they must achieve if they are to continue to be employed. This is what happens in the private sector.
With regard to procurement, there is no target for what will be saved. It is stated that it will be looked at, but there is no target. This is the point I am making. Ministers should be setting that target and it should be known.
What did increments add to the pay bill since 2008? The increments have continued as if this country was not in a state of financial collapse. What about overtime? It is paid throughout the public service to people on all salaries. I was amazed to find out that people on six-figure salaries are actually getting compensation days for overtime. It is extraordinary.
As one of the significant employers in the country, State Street, which employes several thousand people here, staff who earn below some €33,000 a year will get overtime. Those earning above that amount work overtime, and there is a pretty regular pattern of having to work overtime, but there is no payment, no time off in lieu and no compensation. We are in the middle of an economic crisis. Unless we are all prepared to make the sacrifices and to up our game by at least 150%, and the capacity is definitely within the public service as well as the private sector to do that, we will not extricate ourselves from the position we are in.
The reason these clear-cut targets and objectives should be set is that, as a fundamental principle, if one wants to achieve change in an organisation, one must have clearly defined objectives that are well understood and appreciated, and known to and subscribed to by all the employees. Where that exists, there is a dynamic within the organisation for reform and change. Where one operates on an aspirational basis, which this Bill seems to set out to do, one will achieve nothing other than dividing up the personnel within the Department and creating a few more senior positions for promotion.
What we are about here is outputs. We do not have time to lose. It is quite possible we will be faced within a matter of 12 to 24 months with having to consider devaluation. Our only way of avoiding this, in my opinion, is by correcting as quickly as possible the budget deficit. We do not have control over the global financial markets or over global financial trade, which is beginning to stagnate and is a concern, and there are many external issues which will impact negatively on us. For God's sake, let us do the things we can do. Let us be brave enough to set the targets. If the Minister is brave enough to do that and he fails to reach some of those targets for justifiable reasons, I believe everyone here, including the Opposition, should be big enough to commend him on setting the targets in the first place.
We need a change of ethos and a change of mentality. I do not see it coming, however. I regret this because, unfortunately, we and, above all, our children will suffer as a consequence of our generation not taking up the baton, doing things right and ensuring their future will be better than ours.
I remind Senator Walsh, who is a long-standing Member, that it is most inappropriate to mention any of the officers of the House.
On a point of order, I apologise for doing that and I do not usually do it. However, it annoys me extremely when I hear whoever is in the Chair being prompted by an official. That is not the job of an official.
That is not a point of order. It is most inappropriate. On a further point, the last three speakers have wandered all over the place. Senator Byrne has tabled an amendment but most Members are not speaking to the amendment and are wandering over different avenues. I ask Senators to concentrate on the amendment, not make a Second Stage speech. I am being most tolerant. I call Senator Bradford.
I wish the Leas-Chathaoirleach had not given me that advice, which will make me feel guilty as I possibly do a little wandering myself.
You did a fair bit yesterday but we will see how you get on today.
I wanted to speak about yesterday's debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. On a number of occasions, we mentioned the sunset clause, whereby we put in place amendments to the PRSI code and if, by the end of 2013, they were not seen to have worked, we would reverse them. We should set ourselves a similar challenge in regard to this Bill, which is putting in place a new Department of State which we all hope, for the sake of the country and our economic survival, will work and produce results. We should be brave enough to declare that, in a few years time, if we can see that the Department of public expenditure and reform has not worked and has not done what it says on the tin, we are willing to shut it down.
The last time there was a major departure in the creation——
For such an important debate, there are insufficient Members on the Government side, especially as the Government wants to rush the Bill through. I suggest a quorum of Members be present.
Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,
We will resume business.
Can we have a quorum of Fianna Fáil Members?
That is irrelevant to the workings of the House.
I am interested in what caused the Member to seek a quorum. I was speaking to——
The Senator should speak to amendment No. 7.
I was speaking to it and the thinking behind it. The point I was trying to make before a quorum was demanded was that perhaps we should try to learn in terms of from where we have come politically. I believe I am correct in saying the last person to create a major economic Department which was seen as futuristic and novel was the late Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, when he created the Department of Economic Planning and Development. Professor Martin O'Donoghue, who was newly elected to the Dáil, became the Minister in charge of that Department. There was much expectation about what it would do and how it would generate jobs and change budgetary policy. I do not have the expertise of some of my colleagues to identify what went wrong, but much went wrong and the Department did not do what it had set out to do. The new Department of public expenditure and reform must do "what it says on the tin".
I know from where we are coming politically and that the amendment will not be accepted, but we must try to take on board the spirit of what is being said and a way of thinking which is reflected not only on the opposite side of the House but throughout society. We are at an economic precipice and can watch what is happening in Greece on television. I am not an expert on its economy, but I know that the system of politics, economics and administration has failed and that we in this republic are not a 100 miles away from it. The political structure the new Department will create must work, but we must also set targets and challenges and have high ambitions.
The Minister of State will probably say she is not in a position to accept the amendment, as drafted, and if the roles were reversed, it would be the same tune but with different dancers. However, it is important that we try to take on board the spirit of what we all must believe, namely, that the Department must work and that we must give it the tools to enable it to do so. We must also set strong challenges and have high expectations. I hope, therefore, that the Minister of State will be as responsive as she can be. While the amendment will probably not be accepted, we should have some political mechanism, whether through the committees of the Houses or otherwise, to regularly monitor what the Department is achieving.
I have said previously in this House that one of the great failings of the State in the past 70 or 80 years is that we have not changed sufficiently how Departments of State have been set up. The way some have been set up has not changed since they were established 70 or 80 years ago. From time to time there is a need to change the way they have been set up and to create new ones to deal with new challenges. If a new Department such as this one is created, let us try to ensure it will not become the Department of Economic Planning and Development of the new millennium because, sadly, 40 years ago that Department did not work. Perhaps the expectations were not high enough and the necessary mechanisms were not put in place to monitor it. Will the Minister of State try to ensure what all of us want to see happen, namely, a Department working, comes to pass, that we will be able to monitor it and that there will be checks and balances, which is crucial in the interests of the taxpayer and the country?
It would not be acceptable to simply provide an explanatory memorandum because it would only relate to the Bill. The report we propose in the amendment should be provided. The Bill must include a reference to the delegation orders which are separate and any other statutes not mentioned in it but which relate to functions of the Minister for Finance. We are talking about billions of euro of taxpayers' money and a new Department in charge of spending it. The amendment mentions "40 days", but any business in charge of spending billions of euro would have a business plan setting out exactly what it would do before it started in business.
The refusal to accept the amendment, when its spirit is accepted by Members opposite and the Department, indicates things have not changed, nor will they. This does not give us much hope there will be change in this Department. Will the Minister of State clarify whether the Minister will be in the House for Report Stage or later on Committee Stage? We might decide not to press the amendment now and perhaps change it slightly for the Minister before Report Stage. Perhaps the Government could work on an amendment to be tabled on Report Stage to cover some of our concerns. It would make public what the Minister intended to do and the exact list of his powers.
I understand the Minister hopes to be back in the House later this evening. I reject the suggestion that this is not substantial legislation providing for substantial reform. For the first time——
Listening to Senator Paul Bradford, it was not——-
We have reformed functions and created a new Department, the business of which will be to reform the way public business is done. Senator Jim Walsh is right that we need to learn from what happened in the past and the appalling mistakes made in recent years. That is the clear intention of the Government in its programme for Government, this legislation and the statement the Minister made that he intends to substantially reform the way the public service works.
The amendment is not particularly substantial. The first part simply suggests the Minister should provide a report detailing his powers, delegation orders, etc. The second part is specific to targets set in the budgetary process of 2011. Very good points have been made by both sides of the House in having targets and being clear about the functions of the Minister, but the amendment does not suggest targets the Department should achieve into the future. Targets are needed, but the amendment does not cover them. It is specific to the budgetary process of 2011 in regard to targets, functions and powers. It is not as broad-ranging as suggested.
What we need is ongoing evaluation of the work of the Department and I have no doubt that this is the Minister's intention. It will certainly be the intention of the electorate, a point made by Senator Paul Bradford. The electorate will watch to ensure the Department does the job it has been set up to do. The Minister has said he intends to be vigorous and ensure the Department will be strong in reforming the way the public service works. We must save money and reach targets. That is the Minister's intention.
There is the specific issue of functions of the Minister of the new Department and the Minister for Finance, which was raised by Senator Cullinane and others. The Bill specifically gives function to the new Minister and indicates certain areas where the consent of the Minister for Finance will be required. There are other areas where there must be consultation with the Department of Finance. That is appropriate. Senator Cullinane specifically asked about property exceeding €50 million, and such issues have a significant impact on the Exchequer and require the attention of both Ministers. That is appropriate because of the roles of the respective Ministers. There are other specific functions falling under the power of the Minister responsible for public expenditure and reform.
Senators raised a couple of other issues. Senator O'Brien raised the definition of a public service body at the beginning of the debate on this amendment. He is correct that a public service pension scheme must be in place before the body is within the definition of a public service body.
In an earlier intervention Senator Byrne asked about the Estimates process. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, and I have already stated that it is envisaged that the timetable for this year will be as outlined. It is the normal timeframe for a budget in December, followed by more detailed Revised Estimates in February. In the future that may well change and it will probably do so. Apart from anything else, there are budgetary processes across the EU which will affect us as well as other European Union countries that may affect the process into the future. For this year the intention is that the process will remain as it is.
There have been very good points and the amendment has thrown up a very good debate on the need to ensure that this is an effective Department and that there are targets and measurements. The work of the Department should make a real difference with regard to public sector reform and delivering economies. We must get the country and budgetary processes back on track and this Department will be key in doing so. The amendment is quite specific and does not cover the broad range of areas that Senators on all sides of the House are correctly concerned about.
It is incorrect of the Minister of State to say she will not accept the amendment on the basis of the debate here going beyond the terms of the amendment. Perhaps the debate has gone beyond the confines of the amendment but I have not gone beyond the confines of my simple amendment. It seeks within 40 days a report listing consolidated details of the powers conferred directly by this Act in any delegation orders. That is a list of the powers of the Minister, and it may then be for others to judge whether the Minister is doing his or her job properly on the basis of that list. We are just seeking the list in the amendment, which would lead to a bit of transparency. The list should be provided before the Department is set up. We are looking to consider what the Minister will do, which is perfectly reasonable.
It is in another section.
It is not. For example, section 10 transfers any powers under statute relating to the functions of the Minister in broad terms in so far as they relate to the administration of the business of the Department.
On a point of order, section 10 refers to the functions transferred by sections 7 and 8, which are set out.
That is not a point of order.
Section 10(1) refers to that but section 10(2) states: "References to the Department of Finance contained in any statute or instrument under a statute in so far as they relate to the administration and business transferred bysubsection (1) shall, from the appointed day, be construed as references to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.” We do not have a list of specific statutes.
The section refers to sections 7 and 8.
We will speak about this further. There is even a provision for the Taoiseach to intervene if the Ministers cannot decide who has a particular function. If there could be a list of powers under the Act and any delegation orders, we would not need the Taoiseach to intervene on whether a job can be done by the Minister. I reject the criticism of the Minister of State, who indicated the amendment was not substantial. There is no requirement for an amendment or provision of legislation to be substantial.
I said it was not as broad as the debate.
On consideration of substantial amendments, I reject the Minister of State's criticism. We are seeking a list to set out the functions of the new Department. The Government has argued it will work differently but is that the reality? The amendment does not go further and I did not claim that it did. If people want to target the Department on the basis of the information they get in order to judge performance, that is well and good but we must get that list. There may be people involved in litigation or particular areas of society who need such information.
Is the Senator pressing the amendment?
I would prefer to bring it back on Report Stage if there could be a guarantee that the Minister would be here to discuss it.
Unfortunately we cannot give that guarantee, although we hope he can be present.
I move amendment No. 7a:
In page 12, between lines 42 and 43 , to insert the following new subsection:
"(5) The Minister shall be a member of Dáil Éireann.".
The amendment requires that the Minister be a Member of Dáil Éireann. While that might seem to be an unusual amendment coming from a Member of Seanad Éireann — as far as I am aware, this was not pushed by my party in the Dáil — the Constitution requires that the Minister having charge of the Department of Finance, together with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, be a Member of Dáil Éireann. The Constitution provides that two Ministers can be Members of Seanad Éireann.
It seems that when functions from the Department of Finance, as it existed at the time the Constitution was written and for most of the lifetime, practice and interpretation of the Constitution, are being transferred substantially to the Department of public expenditure and reform, it would be constitutional that the Minister having charge of that Department would not be a Member of Seanad Éireann but would only be a Member of Dáil Éireann. It might be relevant to put that into statute in case any Taoiseach would get a flight of fancy and decide to pick any of the good Senators on the other side of the House to be the Minister for public expenditure and reform.
We do not have that kind of imagination these days.
I want to query whether the amendment is in order. Are we merely replicating in legislation where we are?
I ruled on the amendments and it is in order.
I will happily sit down so.
It is quite interesting that a Member of the Seanad would wish to be excluded from being the Minister in this case. Article 28.7 of the Constitution provides that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the member of the Government who is in charge of the Department of Finance must be Members of Dáil Éireann. The Constitution does not include a similar provision in the case of other Ministers and it would be inappropriate for this reference to the Minister for public expenditure to be included in the legislation. I do not propose to accept the amendment.
It would be important that I raised the issue were it to arise again. I cannot see how it might arise in practice. It would seem to me that the Minister for public expenditure and reform is in effect a Minister for Finance or has charge of the Department of Finance under the Constitution, but I accept what the Minister of State says.
I move amendment No. 7b:
In page 12, between lines 42 and 43 , to insert the following new subsection:
"(5) The Minister shall within 20 days of the appointed day lay before the Oireachtas an account of all actions taken by him in relation to the functions of the Department previous to the appointed day.".
This important amendment was lodged at a very late stage, not to inconvenience staff in the House or in the Department but to make the point that if the Government is prepared to use procedures to thwart the actions of democracy and the way Parliament works, then the Opposition is entitled to use whatever legitimate ways it has, of which there are few, to make a point that the debate should not be held in the way it is being held today. We will continue to make that point. I think the Minister of State has got the message and I am grateful for that. Apparently the Minister, Deputy Howlin, said the same. I apologise to staff if tabling this amendment at a very late stage inconvenienced them, but it is within our rights and it is important that the rights of Opposition Members, who represent a substantial portion of the population and have an important role in these Houses, are recognised within Government in order that legislation can be improved as a result and that in certain instances the Government would agree with us.
We ask that: "The Minister shall within 20 days of the appointed day lay before the Oireachtas an account of all actions taken by him in relation to the functions of the Department previous to the appointed day." This is a point I have been making over recent weeks on the Order of Business and in the media. The Minister has been acting as Minister without portfolio, effectively without powers. He has launched the first progress report on the Croke Park agreement. The Minister's Secretary General, Mr. Watt, who is an excellent individual, of whom I had limited experience when I was a Government backbencher, and whose appointment to the position I was happy to hear because I think he will do a good job, presumably on the Minister's instructions, has issued a fairly detailed radical and interesting letter to all Departments which will provoke debate there. Perhaps officials, when they receive the letter, will start panicking because it invites them to look for outsourcing, which means private companies, to do their jobs. It is a radical letter which will cause shock around the place. Those are merely a few examples of the actions the Minister has taken.
My understanding is that while the Government is responsible and accountable to Dáil Éireann under the Constitution, the Minister himself has not been accountable to Dáil Éireann and has not been the subject of parliamentary questions because he has been working as a Minister without portfolio. While the Minister may not have been signing orders or taking official actions because those actions have been taken by the Minister for Finance, he has been carrying out the functions of the Minister for public expenditure and reform and the functions that are transferred by this Bill and he has been doing much good work, much of which we would support. I certainly support the Minister in any kind of radical thinking that will get us out of the mess we are in. Radical thinking is needed and the Minister needs to be supported in that, especially by his own backbenchers. In the debates in this House on privatisation and the outsourcing that will come inevitably, the Minister will encounter many difficulties on his own side. When we are talking about reform, it is important that, where a Minister who has been acting without power over recent weeks and months and who has not been accountable to the Dáil during that period when he should have been because of this legislation not being implemented, there would be a new way of doing things whereby he would set out what he did before this legislation was passed and would do so 20 days after the appointed day. That is reasonable. It is important that the Minister would be accountable, that we would know exactly what he has done and that the Minister would acknowledge that he has been a substitute for the Minister for Finance over recent weeks and months.
I understand what Senator Byrne is seeking to achieve here. The functions of the Minister were undertaken by the Department of Finance previous to this because the new Department did not exist. The new Department is being set up under this legislation. As it did not exist, the functions carried out by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, prior to this were carried out by the Department of Finance. In that sense, it is not possible to accept the amendment.
That is not what the amendment seeks. The amendment seeks an account of the actions taken by the Minister. It matters not which Department, whether it is the Department of Finance or not. Section 9 states the functions of the Minister are to formulate and develop proposals to modernise and develop the public service, to make proposals to Government for the implementation of these policies, to co-ordinate the implementation of such policies, to conduct regular and periodic reviews of the implementation of such policies and to promote value for money. Those are the jobs the Minister must do under this legislation. It is fair to say that the Minister has been doing much of that up to now. What this amendment seeks to achieve is that the Minister would account to Parliament, the Dáil in particular, for what he has been doing on those functions up to now. The Minister of State's note is not related to the amendment. It does not matter where the Minister has been doing them. We know he is a Minister. He is a Minister under the Constitution appointed by the Dáil. We want to know what has he been doing because he has not had to answer parliamentary questions or answer for the work he has been doing. That is reasonable. It is not a question of which Department.
I wish to inform the House that I have received information that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, will be here later this evening. He may have an opportunity to clarify what he has been doing. I would again stress the point that the Department being established under this legislation did not have any functions prior to the legislation going through and whatever work the Minister, Deputy Howlin, has been doing was carried out under the Department of Finance up until now. That is why we cannot incorporate this into the legislation.
I will raise this with the Minister, Deputy Howlin. No one is questioning that he is doing a good job. No one is questioning that he is doing it in the Department of Finance. That point is not relevant. Perhaps the officials did not read the amendment correctly when they were preparing the Minister of State's brief. They had only a short period to do that. It is not relevant. We are merely looking for the Minister to be accountable for the good work he has done. Let the people know what he has done over recent weeks and months. It is a reasonable request of a Minister who has been acting without portfolio and without power up to now.
If I may clarify again, I understand what Senator Byrne wants and the Minister, Deputy Howlin, will understand what he wants. It is merely not appropriate to put it into the legislation of a Department that does not yet exist until such time as it has been passed through the various processes.
Is the amendment being pressed?
No. I will withdraw it on the basis that I can re-enter it on Report Stage.
Yes, you can.
Is that re-entered now or is there a paper procedure?
The Clerk will inform the Bills Office that you wish to have it resubmitted.
Can I take it as done?
It is not an important point and I do not expect the Minister will do this. Is there a provision on where the Department will be located or should it be done under statute? Is it appropriate to set down in the statute that the Department shall share offices with the Department of Finance? I assume this will be the case. Will the Minister of State provide some clarity on this? It is relevant to the section because we are establishing a new Department. It is certain there will be some costs in terms of headed paper, name plates and so on and we will allow some costs for that. I assume offices will not be rented, that there will be some joint servicing of the Department in terms of information technology and such items and that we will not be setting up whole new functions of support within the Department which could be done easily by the set-up in place in the Department of Finance. Can the Minister of State enlighten us on the practical issues of setting up the buildings and offices and how it will work?
As the Senator stated, at the moment it is within the Department of Finance. That is appropriate. There is a great deal of co-operation between the two Departments and there will be in future. As of now, I understand there are no plans to rent offices or to incur any excessive expenditure. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, will be able to better clarify the matter for the Senator at a later stage.
We may include an amendment to allow the Minister to discuss it on Report Stage. Is it open to me to draft an amendment on this?
We may do that. We accept the good faith of the Minister of State but it is worth probing further in terms of the practicality and the costs.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 12, subsection (1)(a), line 45, after “the” where it firstly occurs, to insert the following:
"setting of certain revenues as may be established by order to be collected and the".
This is an important amendment, the purpose of which is to try to include wording which reflects the powers which, we understand, the Minister will have under the Bill. The Bill provides in principle that the Minister will have control and power, in so far as a Minister has power subject to legislation, in respect of the expenditure of revenue and tax through the Estimates. I understand the Minister will have power relating to appropriations-in-aid. We believe it is appropriate that the definition should include "revenue". We cannot accept a definition of expenditure in this case that does not include "revenue" because it is part and parcel of the Estimates process. The Minister stated in the Dáil that the term "certain revenues" was too broad. There is provision here to allow an order to be made to specify that and to give the Minister more scope. The Minister is entitled to define his powers under the order as narrowly or as broadly as he sees fit but we should not leave in place a definition which relates purely to expenditure when, in fact, the Estimates process relates to revenue as well.
The Minister stated in the Upper House that he will have full control of the Estimates process including revenue raised through appropriations-in-aid but the legislation is not so clear. The Oireachtas research office provided this side of the House with some information in this regard. The Minister's officials informed the office that the power is implied through the Minister's role in delivering the net Estimates and that there would be a series of delegation of powers between Ministers. However, we do not have the explanatory memorandum for the Bill as amended in the Dáil. This is a shame because the Bill has changed dramatically and we should have be given an explanatory memorandum at this stage. The Minister referred to the gross Estimates. I was not here for Second Stage and I have not had the opportunity to read what was said. Perhaps the matter was clarified but Appropriations-in-Aid, which are part of the Estimates, add up to approximately €11 billion and include, significantly, the social insurance fund. It is an important part of the Estimates. It is not appropriate that there is no clarity over whether the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure, in this case, the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, will have these powers because it relates to so much money. We cannot imply powers in respect of billions of euro. If the Minister has power over appropriations-in-aid it should be clear in the text. The Minister should accept that he is taking over what are effectively tax raising powers in respect of the social insurance fund. If the Minister does not have control over appropriations-in-aid and if he is wrong then he is in a ridiculous position whereby he has power over gross Estimates but not net Estimates. Will the Minister of State provide a view? It is an important point because it relates to billions of euro.
The Senator's amendment seeks to confer statutory authority on the Minister with responsibility for expenditure and public reform in the setting of certain revenues. As the Senator is aware, appropriations-in-aid are receipts that accrue directly to Departments or their agencies and which may be retained by those bodies to offset the cost of delivering services rather than submit them to the Exchequer. The level of appropriations-in-aid is determined in the context of the annual Estimates process. It is intended that functions of the Minister for Finance relating to appropriations-in-aid will transfer to the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform. This is reflected in two ways. Under section 15(5) the annual approved expenditure is a gross amount, including appropriations-in-aid. The transfer of the functions of the Minister of Finance in other legislation in respect of fees, charges, etc., to the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform will take place mostly in the transfer of functions order.
The proposed amendment would transfer explicitly to the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform functions relating to the setting of certain revenues. It is essential that there is no ambiguity in respect of the functions of the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform and the Minister for Finance in regard to matters relating to revenue. The proposed amendment is somewhat ambiguous since it does not specify or clarify the certain revenues which may be established by order and for which the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform might be responsible. For this reason I do not propose to accept the amendment.
Will the Minister of State clarify the section to which she referred?
It was section 15(5).
Will the Minister of State point to the page it is on?
It may be an incorrect reference. Perhaps it referred to the Bill before it was amended. It is section 16(5). The earlier reference was an error. Does the Senator wish me to outline it?
The Minister of State made the point. It does not seem to be altogether clear in the legislation that the Minister has this power. I do not accept that our amendment does not give sufficient scope. It allows the establishment by order of what certain revenues refer to. This relates to the social insurance fund which amount to €7 billion, the vast majority of appropriations-in-aid. It is unusual for the Minister for Finance to be in charge of tax but the Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform to be in charge of PRSI. This creates an anomaly and I do not accept the legislation is clear or that section 16(5) makes it clear. However, I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 8a:
In page 15, subsection (1), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
"(g) to develop policies in relation to combatting the high levels of salary and pensions of senior employees of public service bodies and of excluded bodies, and
(h) to maintain a published record of all purchase orders in respect of the procurement of goods and services by and on behalf of Departments of State and other public service bodies.”.
This is an important amendment which reflects the type of work the Government has, in fairness, been doing reasonably well. Colleagues and I pushed hard at meetings of our parliamentary party before the election for action on high rates of public sector pay. The last budget included a provision to impose a limit on salaries in the public sector and it is good that the Government has continued that initiative.
The first part of amendment No. 8a proposes particular power and functionality for the Minister for public expenditure and reform to develop policies for combating the high salary and pension rates of senior employees of the public service bodies and of excluded bodies. The second part of the amendment proposes “to maintain a published record of all purchase orders in respect of the procurement of goods and services by and on behalf of Departments of State and other public service bodies”. The programme for Government includes a commitment that purchase orders above a certain amount — €20,000, as I recall — will be published by the relevant Department. The provision in this amendment offers a statutory basis for that commitment and makes it a function of the Minister for public expenditure and reform.
As Senator Jim Walsh said, we should not simply talk about value for money or formulate policies in that regard; we must take action to ensure we get value for money across the board. One of the ways in which that can be achieved is to examine the very high salaries that pertain at the highest levels of the public sector. This level of remuneration takes account neither of the economic reality of the public finances nor of commercial realities. People in similar jobs in private sector bodies are paid far less, and I am sure the bonus culture does not apply in companies with massive debts and where there have been losses for years. I concur with those who have observed that it seems to be a case of the elite looking after the elite.
The amendment seeks to set down in statute that the Minister will deal with this matter as part of his or her functions. It is also important that the Oireachtas sends out a message that we want the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to tackle this issue as one of the core functions of his Ministry. Public service reform is about ensuring services work better for the citizen. It is also about demonstrating that those who are paid from public moneys are in touch with citizens and are not intent on ripping off the system with unjustifiable salaries, which makes all of us lose faith in the public service. In that context, it would be helpful if the Minister would maintain a record of all purchases in respect of the procurement of goods and services by Departments and public service bodies. This would help to restore public confidence because everybody will be able to see what is being bought and whether value for money is obtained. If that information is available on a website, people might be in a position to telephone their local Deputy or the relevant Department if they know how a product or service can be obtained at a cheaper price. This would be greatly advantageous to Departments. That type of system is already in place in Britain. The Minister, fair play to him, is following the Tory playbook and getting a lot of ideas from that party. One idea the Government has taken from its British counterpart relates to the use of ministerial cars, an issue I promoted in my own parliamentary party but which was not acted on. However, the Tories went further than the current Government by getting rid of cars and drivers for almost all Ministers. The Government has not even done that and, moreover, it has appointed its friends and colleagues to driver positions rather than allocating those posts to members of the Garda Síochána. It is a win-win situation for Ministers in that they received public acclamation for taking action while securing a certain benefit for themselves.
The setting up of a website detailing all Departments' purchase orders would represent a major move towards the transparency and openness promised in the programme for Government. We are calling for action on that promise by giving it a legislative basis in the functions of the Minister.
It will be interesting to listen all afternoon to Senator Byrne putting forward his amendments and prefacing each by saying how important it is. I am sure they are all important, but they are also tenuous. The proposal in amendment No. 8a regarding purchase orders is clearly accounted for in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The provision regarding levels of salaries and pensions in the public service is not related to this Bill at all but to legislation which will be brought forward by the Minister in due course. Are we sure these amendments are in order? I already posed this question and was ruled out of order myself, but I am obliged to ask again. If they are in order, they are tenuous, to say the least.
Senator Thomas Byrne hit the nail on the head when he said the last Government talked about these types of reforms. It spoke about them for many years, but this Government is acting on the reforms that were proposed. That is why we are dealing with this legislation today. I suggest that we let these reforms go through and let a breath of fresh air go through Government. Rather than talking about reform, we seek action. This legislation represents one aspect of the action that is required.
I support the comments made by Senators John Gilroy and Maurice Cummins. The Minister for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has already acted on one of the issues to which Senator Byrne referred.
I acknowledged that.
Committee Stage debates in the Seanad are very important. This is clearly a very important Bill which establishes a vital Department for the provision of the key reforms we need to deliver better governance in this State following the disastrous mess made by the last Government. However, we should not abuse Committee Stage. I look forward to discussing some of the amendments, particularly those from Senator Barrett, and I hope we will get to them. However, some of the proposals involve a degree of repetition. In regard to amendment No. 8a, the Minister has already taken commendable action in terms of combating high rates of public sector pay.
I presume no Member of this House would question the right of any other Member to put down amendments on Committee Stage. If these proposals are out of order, we should let the Chair, through the officials, rule on that. I take grave exception to Members' comments. I have complimented the Minister, Deputy Howlin, on what he has done. However, to say we cannot propose additional functions for the Department is unacceptable.
The Tory Government is certainly not the inspiration for the Minister's actions. As far as the Department of public expenditure and reform is concerned, all information on public expenditure belongs to the public and should be available for public use. The Department's aim is to put Ireland at the leading edge in terms of openness and transparency of public data. The Department's website already includes general information on all aspects of public expenditure and reform, including an overview of general expenditure trends since 1994 and an outline of the main priorities for public service reform.
Senator Thomas Byrne and others rightly observed that the Minister has already moved swiftly on the issues encompassed in the first part of this amendment. In particular, the Government has agreed on the introduction of a general pay ceiling of €200,000 for future appointments to higher positions across the public service and a general pay ceiling of €250,000 for future appointments to chief executive officer posts within commercial semi-State bodies. We have also taken action in regard to Government pay.
The second part of Senator Byrne's amendment, in regard to procurement purchase orders, requires a more substantial response.
The Department has now launched a new databank website that provides comprehensive information on every aspect of Government expenditure during the year. The Department plans to make available further information in the near future and over time. The Department of public expenditure and reform will place all appropriate information in the hands of the public via the new databank. In addition to historical and annual information, it is intended that monthly Exchequer data, general Government expenditure data and the purchase orders made by each Department and Government agency will be made available for public scrutiny. This approach will encompass the information the Senator is seeking. Therefore, I do not consider it appropriate to agree to the necessity of accepting the proposed amendment.
Will the Government adhere to the commitment contained in the programme for Government on the publication of such expenditure data? This has not happened and will entail considerable work. While one can have transparency in respect of spending figures, Estimates and so on, I understand it took the Tories in England one year to get down to providing the details in this regard. Obviously, it is not only the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform——
The Senator is obsessed with the Tories.
I am merely highlighting some measures. I must admit I have never been a fan of the Tories, but I hope to highlight helpfully——
Do not forget the Liberal Democrats.
——the inspiration the Minister has received from Mr. David Cameron and his colleagues.
There is a list of worthwhile measures which have been copied directly, the most surprising of which is privatisation, the headline Tory policy from the era of Maggie Thatcher. Will the Government follow through on the commitments made in the programme for Government?
Yes, of course; it will follow through on all elements of the programme for Government.
As it is now 5 p.m., the debate must be adjourned until 7 p.m.