Procedure

The first item on the agenda is discussion of a timetable for the conclusion of Committee proceedings on the Bill. The reason I put that down as our first matter for discussion here for our first session since the Easter recess is that I think it is common ground among all Members that, after 16 meetings of fairly full and long detailed discussion on every section and every amendment, and in view of the importance of the Bill being passed as quickly as possible, we try and balance detailed consideration with the efficacy of getting the Bill finished and getting it on the Statute Book as soon as possible. Probably the best way to do that is, I would suggest, if we could agree on a couple of long sittings — all day sittings if necessary — to try to bring the matter to finality. We find that two-hour sittings are not long enough to report progress at the end of the day, regardless of how high the quality of discussion may be on the few sections we are dealing with.

I am open to suggestions from Members so that we can get some clear idea as to when we can finish the Bill, put a date on when we can finish it, and fit in our schedule to meet that date. Otherwise, we could be continuing for a considerable number of sittings, which was not the intention when this Special Committee was set up. We have to have a balanced view on it. I would ask for constructive suggestions from all sides as to when we might be able to finish it over a set period and fix our meetings here and now and proceed from there. I have already discussed this matter informally with certain Members of the Committee to try to get a consensus to bring it to a finality. Has anybody anything to say on the matter?

Chairman, I certainly would go along with you as far as possible on this matter. We would be very anxious to have the Committee Stage passed during this session of the Dáil. I am not sure when the recess will take place, probably early July, but if it is not finished before the Dáil goes into recess, it will give us more time to have full-day sessions. I appreciate the pressure on Deputies on all sides and, indeed, on you as Chairman and all our other commitments, including the Finance Bill, on which there have been votes every so often, today and yesterday. There were complications this week because of the death of Cardinal Ó Fiaich and the funeral arrangements. Nevertheless, from here on in I would certainly be anxious to look at any arrangements — I speak on behalf of Minister O'Malley in this regard — that we can come to that would expedite the passing of this Bill. We have made a certain amount of progress but there are important sections coming up at the moment. We have quite a number of sections to go through. I believe we need longer, uninterrupted sessions. We could achieve those, possibly, when the Dáil is in recess. I appreciate that Members of this Committee will be taking a break also. I certainly would be prepared to consider sitting for a full day on a Wednesday or Thursday for the next few weeks to try to get as much of this Bill completed before the Dáil goes into recess.

On that point we should set a timetable for the completion of the Bill before the recess. That would be my intention. I do not see any reason that we could not organise our meetings on that basis.

I find it extraordinary that I am here sitting in on the Committee Stage of the Companies Bill and I have an invitation from a factory in my constituency which is being opened this afternoon by the Minister, Deputy Desmond O'Malley. I am sitting here as a Member of the Committee dealing with a Bill when he is opening a factory in my constituency.

We discussed this, Deputy, yesterday and I brought the viewpoint expressed at our last meeting to the attention of the Minister. The Minister has told me that he will try to attend any meeting he can. You, as a former Minister, will be more aware of the constraints on a Minister's time than I would as a humble backbencher. To accommodate Deputy Barrett we are finishing at 4.30 p.m. to allow him to get out to his constituency. We should get down to the substance of the discussion. We should make a decision, stick with it and get on with the work. That was my reason for putting it down for discussion today.

Personally, I am not against all-day sittings. We tend to make more progress if we have a good run at something. I would have some reservations about all day sittings on Wednesday because we all have party meetings on Wednesday, at least Fine Gael do. We tend to have meetings of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on Wednesdays, of which I am a member. If you are talking about all-day committee meetings the truth is that you are probably talking about non-sitting days or Tuesdays or even Thursdays, but certainly not Wednesdays.

Can I take a proposal then for Thursday sittings as proposed by Deputy O'Dea? Is that agreed?

Deputy Barrett and I have a problem in that our front bench meets at 12.30 p.m. on Thursdays to consider the following week's business, but they are not usually long meetings. If that could be accommodated we could agree to Thursdays.

I propose that on a Thursday we begin at 11 a.m. until 12.30 p.m. and from 2.30 p.m. until — as some Deputies have to go to get trains, we would not be getting a full day.

I only attended one previous meeting of this Committee. According to the statistics, in 16 meetings we dealt with roughly nine sections per meeting. There are 60 sections remaining; that would mean another six meetings. There are approximately five or six weeks before the Dáil recess.

The point I would make is that there is consensus that we make most progress on a long meeting. We should go for a long meeting. We all have commitments on a number of committees. Deputy Bruton set out his problems for a Thursday. We all have these types of problems. I would like to sit for a long meeting and get the business done. Personally, I think Tuesday is the best day. We could meet at 2.30 p.m. on a Tuesday and stay here for four or five hours and get the business done. We have done this in the past and we have made progress. If we sit from 2.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. we could meet for three or four Tuesdays.

Next Tuesday is Industry and Commerce questions.

Can we take next Thursday, then, for an all-day session and the following two Tuesdays for a full day sitting? Thursday of next week, Tuesday of the following week and Tuesday of the following week. Is that agreeable? Thursday next would be from 11 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Are you talking about the 29th?

Tuesday 29, from 2.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. and the following Tuesday from 2.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. Is that agreed?

Next Thursday from?

From 11 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 2.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.

At the meeting of the Special Committee on the Companies (No. 2) Bill, 1987, on Tuesday, 3 April 1990, the question arose as to the validity of decisions arrived at on division in the absence of a quorum. Two divisions took place in the absence of a quorum, i.e. a division on amendment No. 212 to section 149 and a second division on section 149. At that meeting I undertook to make a statement in relation to the matter.

This situation has not arisen previously in a Special Committee and, as I stated at the last meeting, there are no specific Standing Orders covering this issue in Special Committee. Standing Orders Nos. 19 and 68 relate to the taking of a division in the absence of a quorum in the whole Dáil and Committee of the Dáil. At the last meeting I ruled that these Standing Orders, as they stand, cannot be applied to a Special Committee. However, in the interim I have examined the matter in more detail and have decided, after careful consideration and on examining the implications involved, that for the avoidance of doubt, the spirit, if not the letter, of the Standing Orders should apply, and an attempt should be made to standardise procedures between the Dáil and Special Committees even in the absence of a directly applicable Standing Order. In view of this, I am of the opinion that the validity of the decisions arrived at on division in the Special Committee in the absence of a quorum are open to question. I would recommend that the Committee decide again on amendment No. 212 and section 149. I emphasise that decisions arrived at without a division even in the absence of a quorum are valid and that a Member may not subsequently challenge these decisions. This is currently the practice in the Dáil as evidenced by Rulings of the Chair.

I reiterate that Standing Orders are not unambiguous on this point and my decision to recommend that we retrace our steps on the two decisions involved is made for the avoidance of doubt.

For the information of the Committee I would like to take this opportunity to outline procedure generally in relation to a quorum in Special Committee. Again I would emphasise that Standing Orders are deficient in this area and I am attempting to follow as closely as possible the position pertaining in the Dáil while adapting to the conditions of a Special Committee. If it becomes obvious on the result of a division that a quorum is not present, the decision arrived at is invalid and I will either suspend the meeting for a specified period to allow a quorum to assemble or adjourn the meeting to a later date.

Is it agreed by the Committee that the decisions in respect of amendment No. 212 and section 149 be null and void? Agreed.

I will proceed to put the relevant questions again without debate.

The question in relation to amendment No. 212 to section 149 in the names of Deputies Bruton and Barrett is "That the amendment be made".

The Special Committee divided: Tá, 4; Níl, 7.

Barrett, Seán.

Carey, Donal.

Bruton, John.

Durkan, Bernard.

Níl

Cowen, Brian.

Leyden, Terry.

Flood, Chris.

O'Dea, Willie.

Kitt, Tom.

Roche, Dick.

Lawlor, Liam.

Amendment declared lost.
Section 149 agreed to.