Election of Chairman.

Acting Chairman (Clerk to the Committee)

As a quorum is present I will now call the meeting to order. I will take nominations for Chairman. That is the first item on the agenda.

I nominate Deputy Fitzpatrick.

A Deputy

I second the proposal.

I nominate Deputy Cotter.

I second Deputy Cotter.

Acting Chairman

I am putting the question : "That Deputy Dermot Fitzpatrick be Chairman of the Committee."

The Special Committee divided: Tá, 8; Níl, 7.

Ahern, Dermot.

O'Donoghue, John.

Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

Jacob, Joe.

Quill, Mairín.

McDaid, Jim.

Wallace, Mary.

Níl

Ahearn, Therese.

Cotter, Bill.

Bruton, Richard.

Enright, Thomas W.

Byrne, Eric.

Ferris, Michael.

Shatter, Alan.

Question put and declared carried.
Deputy D. Fitzpatrick took the Chair.

Chairman

Deputies, thank you very much for the vote of confidence. I hope I will not let any of you down. The most helpful note I received came from the Minister. He said this Bill would not be as long, as complex or as difficult as the Child Care Bill, the debates on which went on for years.

On behalf of Fine Gael I would like to congratulate you on your appointment. You will have our full cooperation in the work of this Committee. We fully accept that you were a very good chairman of the Child Care Committee. Like you, we do not envisage that this Committee should be as lengthy a procedure as that Committee. We hope we can complete our work in a good atmosphere and with expeditiousness in teasing out the terms of this Bill. We hope we can rapidly conclude the Committee Stage.

May I congratulate you on your appointment to the position of Chairman and express the wish that the Bill, which in my opinion is an excellent one, will not need a lot of discussion. When we were speaking about it in Private Members' Time in the Dáil our side took the view that it did not need a lot of discussion and could more or less be finished before 5 p.m. this evening, but I am sure it will not happen like that. I wish you well in your position.

Chairman

Thank you all for your good wishes. Somehow I cannot see 5.30 p.m. today being the deadline.

With the permission of the Committee we will proceed to No. 2 on the Clár — Procedure Generally. Standing Orders provide that rules for procedure in the Dáil shall apply to procedures in Special Committees except that, as in Committee of the whole Daíl, a Member may speak more than once on the same subject. Divisions shall be taken by the Clerk of the Committee calling the names of the Members and in the event of there being an equality of votes, the question shall be decided in the negative. The Chairman shall have one vote only and shall not have a casting vote.

There is provision for substitutes. In the event of a Member being unable to attend he or she can nominate a substitute to attend and that substitute will have the same voting rights as the Members present.

In relation to the press and visitors, meetings of the Committee are held in public unless the Committee decides otherwise. Private meetings may be held for discussion purposes. That is a matter for the Committee to decide.

We now proceed to the schedule of meetings.

As I said at the outset, I am very anxious that we process this Bill relatively speedily. I understand, in fairness to the Minister, that is his attitude as well. Normal procedure would be to set a time for the submission of the initial amendments. It would be reasonable that this Committee meet again in a fortnight — 20 March 1991 — with a view to amendments being circulated prior to that date so that we can make progress in processing the Bill. In the context of the amendments, because in a sense it is a Private Members' Bill, we would be anxious on this side to, if possible, have whatever amendments the Minister proposes to circulate by the Friday before that Wednesday, because it may be the case that we may need some time to respond to the Minister's amendments. I would ask that the next formal meeting of substance to start processing the Bill take place on 20 March. I would ask the Minister, if possible, to co-operate with the Committee in having his amendments circulated by Friday week or, at least, the bulk of them. There may be some amendments that he may not be in a position to circulate. I think I am correct in saying that, of course, throughout the course of the deliberations of the Committee Members are entitled to submit further amendments. There is no particular time limit on submitting amendments and, as we tease our way through the Bill, it may become apparent to Members of the Committee that something should be amended that we had not prevously addressed or there might be other matters that should be included in the Bill but which have not been included.

Finally, I would suggest — you the Chairman can correct me if I am wrong — that we meet again on the afternoon of 20 March at, perhaps, the same time. It would be best to fix a time at which we stop. Perhaps if we met from 3 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. or 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., if that would be appropriate. It will be necessary to fix further meetings. I am not sure whether we could meet the following Wednesday after the House adjourns for the Easter recess. If it was possible for us to meet the following Wednesday, I think we should. I would suggest that on meeting, either today or on 20 March, we might look at the possibility of this Committee having one or two meetings during the Easter recess, obviously, not Easter week. Then we might either have two half days or one full day processing the Bill, which, I think, would give rise to the possibility of our completing Committee Stage before the Dáil reconvenes after the Easter recess. I am throwing that out as a suggestion to Members of the Committee.

May I ask the Clerk what is the position regarding the availability of rooms?

Chairman

In Room G24 on Tuesday afternoon, the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies meet; Wednesday afternoon, the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities meet and on Thursday morning the Committee of Public Accounts meet. Meetings of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges take place at 4.30 p.m. on Wednesdays in this room.

As I understand it a Select Committee of the House processing Committee Stage of a Bill gets priority in room allocation. I assume that between the different rooms in Setanta House and this room if there is only one meeting taking place on a Wednesday afternoon, there must be a possibility of having one of those rooms available. There are two different appropriate rooms in Setanta House and there is also this room. I do not see that as a major problem.

Chairman, before we decide on a date for holding meetings, perhaps it might be worth hearing from all Members so that we could agree on a date that will suit the majority of Members. I will make myself available on the day that suits the majority of Members. It might be worth hearing from Members whether they would prefer a Tuesday afternoon, a Wednesday afternoon or a Thursday morning.

I am a member of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies and we meet at 2.30 p.m. on Tuesdays, which is not a suitable day for most Members, and there is talk of changing that when more rooms become available. I understand that the position regarding rooms will be slightly better in the coming weeks. Because of the televising of the Dáil the rooms which had previously been available to committees are now not available, but there may be some light at the end of the tunnel in that regard. I find Wednesdays the most difficult because, quite apart from parliamentary party meetings which sometimes run on, my party have subcommittee meetings from 4 p.m. up to 7 p.m. Many Members of this Committee would be Members of those committees. With regard to Thursday mornings, I accept that there might be a difficulty from the point of view of some Members, Members who want to get home. I would have thought Tuesday afternoons, if the meeting could be fitted in somewhere in the region of 4.30 p.m. to 6 o'clock or 6.30 p.m., might be the most suitable. As I said, meetings of the Joint Committee on State-sponsored Bodies might be rescheduled to a Thursday morning in future.

Chairman

May I make a suggestion because we could talk about this for a long time? This room is available on a Tuesday afternoon. Most Deputies would be here, say, between 4 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. and if we allocated two hours, 4.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. on such days?

The problem is our next meeting will be on 20 March because 19 March follows St. Patrick's week-end. I would be quite happy whether it be Tuesday or Wednesday. If we could fix the next meeting for Wednesday and thereafter if it is Tuesday that will be fine.

I agree with Deputy Shatter that this day fortnight for our next meeting and following on that on Tuesdays, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. if that is agreeable.

Chairman

Tuesdays generally are agreeable but on Wednesday 20 March we will have to start at about 2.30 p.m., because this room will be required at 4.30 p.m. Can we set the date for the next meeting for Wednesday 20 March at 2.30 p.m. and thereafter on Tuesdays at 4 p.m.?

If we could have an item on the agenda for our next meeting it might give Members of the Committee an opportunity to look at their own arrangements, to fix, towards the end of the next meeting, a date during the Easter recess period that suits Members, when we could hold a meeting. Members would need prior notice of that. If we could have at least one such meeting for a number of hours on one of the days during the Easter recess it would greatly speed up the work of this Committee.

Chairman

With regard to amendments, how many days' notice is required? It was three days notice on the last Committee I was on.

Naturally, we are all anxious to process the Bill as rapidly as possible and there is goodwill for the Bill on all sides. We want to have the best legislation at the end of the day. We will certainly make every effort to have as many amendments as possible with Members by Friday week, in preparation for the following Wednesday. I agree that three days' notice is sufficient, but it may be that from time to time an amendment may be taken at a meeting. If everybody is agreeable to that at the meeting I do not see any reason why that should not happen.

I would like to make one point in that regard. From our side of the House we will not specifically be tabling amendments until we see what it is in specific terms the Minister has in mind. We would not be happy if we were only to get the Minister's amendments on the Friday. I fully accept that the Minister needs that length of time. Certainly from our side we would want to be free to circulate any amendments we may deem necessary, be they amendments to the Bill or even amendments to the Minister's amendments, right up to the time of the first meeting. Obviously, if something of major significance arises that cannot be fully addressed at that meeting, it will go into a further meeting. I would not be happy with the idea that we had a three day stop on us if we will only see the Minister's amendments on the Friday. Of course, on Committee Stage in the House it is not unusual that amendments are literally submitted half an hour before they are addressed.

The problems with this Bill will not be as great as the Child Care Bill. One of the reasons for the three day rule on the Child Care Bill was that it was so lengthy and complex and amendments often impacted on a whole series of sections in different parts of the Bill. It was necessary to deal with the Bill that way. I would suggest that for the time being it be agreed that amendments can be submitted to sections or to amendments proposed right up to the time of dealing with them. That may give rise to a problem for Members of the Committee but we can discuss it at the time. I am sure Members will be amenable to adjourning consideration of an amendment to a following meeting to allow people to consider its implications.

While I would like to facilitate Deputy Shatter it would be better for everybody if amendments were circulated three days before a meeting. I take the point that from time to time there may be reasons why we would agree to taking an amendment up to the meeting but to ensure that proper research is done it is in everybody's best interests and certainly in the best interests of better legislation that there be as much time as possible for amendments. From our side we would be anxious to give the Deputy, and his colleagues, as much time as possible with any amendment we will be submitting.

I accept that to a limited extent. I am simply saying that if at 5 o'clock on Friday week the Minister's Department circulate amendments that might not be received by some of us until the Tuesday in the post because of the bank holiday weekend it is not practical for us to table amendments to amendments the Minister may table, if that arises, for the Wednesday meeting. If they were circulated at that time and we got them the staff of the House would be gone off for the bank holiday weekend and there would be no practical possibility of us circulating them. This may not arise but if it does I do not want to have a wrangle at the next meeting whether amendments were submitted in time or not. I would suggest that the Minister be reasonable on this by us agreeing that in the context of the meeting on Wednesday fortnight we do not agree any definitive time by which amendments must be submitted but that when we see what we have in front of us on that day we give further consideration to that issue.

If it were not for the complication of the bank holiday weekend it would not be a major problem but I do not want to create a situation where on the Tuesday prior to the Wednesday, having given consideration to the Minister's amendments, with all the backup he has in his Department — we may regard some of them as ones we would like to accept but we may see reasons to amend some of them — I do not want us to be in the position where our amendments will not be accepted because of some timescale agreement. That is not in the interests of processing the Bill.

Standing Orders provide for this. Under Standing Order 95 it says that they be notified in due time and arranged in proper order but, at the discretion of the Chair, amendments may be moved without notice. If the Chairman interprets that sensitively we would not have any problems.

I do not see a difficulty. We should try to facilitate each other by having the amendments circulated as soon as possible and not at the last minute. It would depend on the nature of the amendment whether it would cause a difficulty for the Committee or not. If we submit an amendment the next day it may well be that there may be some wording that the Members would see as improving it. I would not see any difficulty with that but if it is a substantive amendment it is different. In the interests of better legislation it is important that either side on the Committee have the amendments circulated to them and have an opportunity to do some research on them. What we are talking about is if an amendment submitted can be improved the Chairman should have the discretion to accept it. I see no problem with that but the general principle should be that we should try to facilitate each other by having the amendments circulated as soon as possible.

I agree with that. I do not want us to impose a rule on ourselves that is more restrictive than Standing Orders. That would not be right.

Chairman

There will be very little restriction from the Chair. It is not the way to get legislation through Committee. I will recap on what I understand we have agreed. The date of the next meeting will be Wednesday, 20 March at 2.30 p.m. in this room. Amendments, if possible, will be circulated on the Friday prior to the following meeting, the following meetings we hope will take place between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon and at the next meeting we will discuss when we will meet during the recess and for how long. Agreed.

Progress reported; the Special Committee to sit again.
The Special Committee adjourned at 3.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 20th March, 1991.