I beg to move:—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time." The purpose of the Bill is to increase from three to seven days the period within which an appeal may be lodged against a decision of the Chairman of Dáil Eireann as to whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill, and to extend the right of appeal so as to permit such an appeal to be made on a resolution of a majority of the Seanad present and voting at the sitting at which not less than 30 members are present. It is a very small alteration of the existing Article of the Constitution.
Constitution (Amendment No. 12) Bill, 1928—Second Stage.
I regret the President did not see his way to give a more elaborate explanation of the purpose of this Bill, if for no other reason than to instruct the Deputies of his own Party concerning it. As I had occasion to point out yesterday, we found whenever any of these Constitution (Amendment) Bills were under discussion members of Cumann na nGaedheal were completely ignorant as to what they were doing, although they went obediently into the Division Lobbies and cast their votes in the way they were instructed. As the President did not consider it advisable to inform the members of his Party as to what he is going to ask them to do, I think it is incumbent on me so to inform them.
This is a Bill to increase the power of the Seanad in respect to questioning the decision of the Chairman of the Dáil as to whether a particular Bill is or is not a Money Bill. According to Article 35 of the Constitution, two-fifths of the members of the Seanad within three days after a Bill has been passed by Dáil Eireann can, by notice in writing addressed to the Chairman of the House, require that the question whether the Bill is or is not a Money Bill be referred to a Special Committee of Privileges over which a Judge of the Supreme Court presides. The Bill which is now before us is designed to increase the period during which two-fifths of the members of the Seanad may give that notice from three to seven days and, in addition, to give them new power which it is not proposed to give to members of the Dáil. The power proposed to be given is that by a majority of the members of the Seanad present and voting at a sitting of the Seanad at which not less than 30 members are present, this question relating to a Money Bill may be referred to a Special Committee, and the seven days' period is made to operate from the day on which the Bill is certified by the Chairman of the Dáil to be a Money Bill, or the return of such Bill by the Seanad to the Dáil under Article 38 of the Constitution.
Now we come to the stage in the explanation at which it may be difficult to make the members of the Cumann na nGaedheal understand exactly what they are about to do, because, unfortunately, Article 38 of the Constitution is now in such a condition that it is very difficult to find out exactly what it does, what it implies or what it does not imply. We have deleted already two very considerable sections from it, and as the remaining portion is, consequently, to be read with these sections deleted, it is not easy to explain what the Article of the Constitution provides. In any case, briefly, the Article provides that a Bill which is initiated and passed by the Dáil shall be sent to the Seanad, and, unless it is a Money Bill, can be amended by the Seanad, and the Dáil shall consider such amendments. A Money Bill is sent to the Seanad for its recommendations, not for its amendments. Within a period of not longer than 21 days after it has been sent to the Seanad, it shall be returned to the Dáil, which may accept or reject any or all of these recommendations of Seanad Eireann, and if so passed, or if not returned within a period of twenty-one days, it shall be deemed to have been passed by both Houses. This Article, therefore, intends to alter the power of the Seanad with respect to Money Bills by providing that a majority of the members of the Seanad at an ordinary meeting can question whether such a Bill is or is not a Money Bill, and the Bill shall be referred to the Committee of Privileges. It alters it also as to the time in which this is to be done. Originally that had to be done within three days after the Bill had passed the Dáil. Now they can do it within seven days, seven days after the Seanad has returned such a Bill to the Dáil under Article 38 of the Constitution.
Members of Cumann na nGaedheal will perhaps appreciate that the main design behind this Bill is to strengthen the power of the Seanad in one direction, and in one direction only. That is in the direction of obstructing the functions of the Dáil. This Bill is an obstructionist Bill. It is intended to provide against the day when the Seanad will be called upon to exercise completely its main function of stopping Dáil legislation in any manner which might be considered to be at variance with the wishes of the other signatories of the Treaty of 1921. It is conceivable, in fact, I think with the present majority in the Seanad, it is almost inevitable that after the next general election the Seanad will embark upon obstructionist tactics. I say that the Seanad will embark upon obstructionist tactics although, as I pointed out to the President yesterday, I am not a prophet, but I have enough common sense to realise that after the next general election there is certain to be a change of Government.
Why do you not say after the by-election?
The by-election may help us in that direction. If the Deputy has any doubt as to the result of a by-election in his constituency, I invite him to resign and to have the matter out with us down there. The fact remains, however, that we can reckon upon a change of policy, upon the fact of a change of Government in this House after the next election. That change of Government will take place, as I have already pointed out, without any similar change in the Seanad. The majority of the Seanad will remain the same. I indicated yesterday that that situation might easily give rise to what has been called a Constitutional crisis. Certainly, if the Seanad attempted to exercise the power which this Bill now proposes to give them, such Constitutional crisis would inevitably arise.
I know that there are Deputies in this House who do not like the prospect of a Constitutional crisis on any issue. I am sure that the upholders of law and order who sit on the Independent Benches will be prepared to take the opportunity which they now have of lessening the danger of such a crisis by the rejection of this Bill before it goes any farther. It is only in its Second Stage now. If the members of the Dáil accept it in principle, then they are accepting, in principle, something which may operate in the very near future in a manner detrimental to peace, order, law, stability and public morality, and all those other things which the President talks about at election times.
In the discussion upon Deputy Thrift's Bill here the other day, there came, as an incidental point, the matter of the power of the Dáil over the public purse. This is a Bill which affects very seriously the power of the Dáil over the public purse. It deals, specifically and definitely, with Money Bills. No other type of Bill is concerned in this proposal except Money Bills, or Bills in respect of which there is reasonable doubt as to whether they are Money Bills or not. If a Bill is a Money Bill, and the Chairman of the Dáil declares it to be such, the Seanad has no power to amend it.
It goes to the Seanad undoubtedly, but the Seanad only makes recommendations which the Dáil can accept or reject as it likes, and the Bill becomes law irrespective of whether these recommendations are accepted or rejected by the Dáil. If the power is given, as undoubtedly we think the power should be given, to a minority of the Dáil to question the Chairman's ruling in that respect, we think that any danger of unconstitutional action being taken is obviated.
In the original Constitution two-fifths of the members of the Dáil had power to question the Chairman's ruling as to whether a Bill was or was not a Money Bill, and to have an order made that such a Bill would be referred to a committee of privileges, consisting of three members of each House and a Judge of the Supreme Court as chairman, and the decision of that committee would be final and conclusive. That power is still retained by members of the Dáil under this Amending Bill, and the extension of time also operates to the benefit of the Dáil. We think that that is sufficient, and that it is not necessary to give a similar power to the Seanad; that if two-fifths of the members of the Dáil can question the legality of the Chairman's ruling upon any Bill, that should be sufficient to safeguard the position of the taxpayer, who is, of course, primarily concerned when a Money Bill is under discussion. This Bill, however, actually proposes to give to members of the Seanad powers which the members of the Dáil do not possess with respect to Money Bills, because not merely can two-fifths of the members of the Seanad exercise all the powers which two-fifths of the Dáil can exercise, but, in addition, a majority of the members present and voting at a sitting of the Seanad can also exercise the same power, provided there are thirty members present at the meeting. Consequently, although two-fifths of the members of the Dáil are required to question the Chairman's ruling in respect to Money Bills, sixteen members of the Seanad can do the same thing—that is a majority present at a sitting at which no less than thirty members are in attendance.
We think that it is decidedly objectionable that we should give to sixteen members of the Seanad power to hold up indefinitely vital Bills affecting the lives of the people, because we can take it that any Bill which, in the opinion of the Chairman of the Dáil, is a Money Bill, is one which does vitallv affect the lives of the people. It certainly affects the interests of the taxpayer, whether it is a Bill to increase expenditure on Government services or impose a burden of any other kind.
According to the Constitution:—
A Money Bill means a Bill which contains only provisions dealing with all or any of the following subjects, namely, the imposition, repeal, remission, alteration or regulation of taxation; the imposition for the payment of debt or other financial purposes of charges on public moneys or the variation or repeal of any such charges; supply; the appropriation, receipt, custody, issue or audit of accounts of public money; the raising or guarantee of any loan or the repayment thereof; subordinate matters incidental to those subjects or any of them. In this definition the expressions "taxation,""public money" and "loan" respectively do not include any taxation, money or loan raised by local authorities or bodies for local purposes.
In any case, the definition is sufficiently clear to enable even members of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party to realise that a Money Bill is one which is of serious importance, and to give to sixteen members of a body not elected by the people, not representative of any class of taxpayers— members who secured election by nomination in some cases, who were elected in other cases, and halfelected in the remaining cases— power to hold up for an almost indefinite period Bills dealing with matters contained in the definition I have read is a most undemocratic and, in fact, an amazing proposal. We hope that even at this last stage Cumann na nGaedheal members will attempt to defend the elemental interests of their constituents by rejecting this Bill.
What happens if it is rejected? The Article of the Constitution which it proposes to amend will remain in operation as heretofore, and under that Article two-fifths of the members of the Dáil will still have power, within three days after a Bill has been passed by the Dáil, to question the ruling of the Chairman. That is not a power we would give them, but it has been there since the institution was established, and if this Bill is rejected, and the Constitution remains as heretofore, they will still have that power. I suggest seriously to Cumann na nGaedheal members that that power is quite enough for them, in view of the fact that two-fifths of the members of the Dáil have the same power, and I am sure that they have not lost hope so completely that they cannot at least reasonably expect that in the new Dáil, after the next general election, they will at least be able to muster two-fifths of the members if they are of opinion that unconstitutional action has been taken by the Chairman. Apparently, however, they have not got that hope. My personal view is that there should be, as a maximum, about two-fifths.
We have not reached that yet.
We are going strong; we are constantly progressing in that direction; we will be one up in two weeks' time.
That is where the saddle hurts.
No; it is most comfortable, as a matter of fact. I am serious in suggesting that if this Article of the Constitution is to be amended, it should be amended not in the direction suggested in this Bill, but in an opposite direction. The question as to whether a Bill is or is not a Money Bill is one to be decided, and should be decided, by the Dáil. The Chairman of the Dáil would normally exercise that function, but two-fifths of the members have power to question his ruling, and if that provision is in the Constitution, that is all that is necessary. The Seanad should be made to accept the decision of the Dáil in this matter. We should not leave it possible for that institution to hold up indefinitely a Bill which, by either imposing or remitting taxation, does seriously affect the vital interests of the people. I ask Deputies to realise that there is nothing in this Bill which places a time limit upon the period during which the Committee of Privileges would consider the matter. The question is referred to this Committee, consisting of three members of each House, with a Judge of the Supreme Court, able and willing to act, and they can deliberate on that Bill almost indefinitely. In fact, there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent them taking ten years, or even 100 years, if the members survive, to decide the question. If the Constitution is to be amended at all, let us try to improve it; we are not improving it by this Bill. We can at least provide that if the Committee of Privileges do not arrive at a decision within, say, two months after the question is referred to them, then the decision of the Chairman of the Dáil shall automatically become effective, and the decision shall be taken out of their hands. I am suggesting that to the President as an improvement in his Constitution, which he might consider the advisability of inserting on the Committee Stage. I am not at all sure whether he does want to improve his Constitution. I believe myself that he has succeeded to an extent that we, in our wildest moments, never hoped for, in making the Constitution ridiculous and inoperative by these Bills which have been before the House in the past, and which will come before the House in the next few days. I think I have given sufficient reason, even to Cumann na nGaedheal members, to induce them to consider seriously the advisability of telling the Party Whips that they are not going to be bullied in this matter, and that they will go into the Lobby for the purpose of having this Bill rejected.
I seem to remember that when the Fianna Fáil Party came into the Dáil they announced their intention of devoting such portion of their allowance not required for necessary expenses to useful purposes. I think I have now found out one of these useful purposes. They have endowed a Chair of Constitutional Law and they have invested Deputy Lemass with the professorship, and in the kindness of their hearts they have set him up to lecture and instruct the members of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party. That is very kind of them and we appreciate it; only I feel that Deputy Lemass, in the zeal of his new function, was led into the trap of following the pirate captain in "Peter Pan," who made his dying speech lest that when dying there would be no time for it. Deputy Lemass made all his Committee speech on Second Reading, presumably thinking that there would be no Committee Stage, or if so, that there would be no time for his speeches. I do not propose to go into Committee points, and I shall deal with the principle of the Bill.
Deputy Lemass, in his study of constitutional law, seems to have overlooked the fact that it is well known that it is possible to abuse the provision which gives the popular House the sole control of finance. There is a practice known to constitutional lawyers as "tacking," that is, adding to a Money Bill certain provisions, so that the Money Bill may also contain certain other very serious provisions not appropriate to a Money Bill, and which might reasonably come under the purview of the Seanad. I can imagine Deputy Lemass, or any other Fianna Fáil Minister, bringing in a Bill of two sections. Section 1 might provide that "the allowance paid to members of the Seanad shall cease from the date of the passing of this Act." That would make it a Money Bill. Section 2 would provide "The Seanad is also abolished from the date of the passing of this Act." That is very convenient and simple, and the Seanad is to have no say in it at all. It is precisely because these difficult controversies arise as to what is a Money Bill and what is not, and because it has been known that unscrupulous Ministers, if there are any such——
They will not last long.
There have been some, and there may be some in the happy future of which Deputy Lemass has spoken. Unscrupulous Ministers do tend to use what is nominally a Money Bill with financial provisions to achieve other purposes than the proper purpose of a Money Bill. That is why this Bill is necessary. It is possible for the occupant of the Chair of the Dáil, like anyone else, to make a mistake, and he would in any case be placed in a very difficult position if such a controversy were to arise. Then, indeed, the crisis which Deputy Lemass feared would come into being. There you would have the Dáil on the one side, and the Seanad on the other, each contradicting the other, each engaged in heated debates, headlines in the papers, the national funds going up and down, and all the apparatus of a crisis. The proposal in this Bill is to remove controversy of this character from the heated atmosphere of debate to the calmness of the Committee room, to the consideration of three Deputies from the Dáil, chosen from the three parties, and, presumably, because they have some common sense, and three Senators, also, I hope, chosen upon the same grounds, and possibly because they have some knowledge of constitutional law, so that Deputy Lemass might not feel lonely. Then, to make the atmosphere even cooler it is proposed to set over the assembly a judge of the High Court. This is machinery to remove a crisis, not to create one, to get away from the violence of party to the more reasonable atmosphere of people sitting round a table presided over by a judge of the High Court. I believe that is a necessary condition of the Constitution, and in spite of Deputy Lemass's missionary endeavours I am going to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill.
Deir an tUachdarán ná fuil sa Bhille seo ach athrú beag—rud nár bhfiú leis a mhíniú don Dáil. Ta gábhadh leis an míniú san toisc gur deineadh altanna áirithe a bhaineas le h-alt a 35. Sé mo bharamhail gur mór an t-athrú atá i gceist agus nár mhisde don Dáil a bheith aireach in a thaobh. Dhéanfadh an Bille seo comhacht na Dála do laghdú. B'shin a thiocfadh as comhacht an tSeanaid do mhéadú.
An taobh is measa don scéal, sé gur cúrsaí airgid atá i gceist. Bunadhas na comhachta atá ag aon Phairliméid, isé ciste an Stáit bheith fé n-a smacht. Bhí cogadh agus ár i Sasana agus i d tíorthaibh eile chun an scéal san a shocrú. Is ceart smacht do choineailt ar Chiste an Stáit.
Cad is Bille Airgid ann? Do réir Alt a 35 de'n Bhunreacht, tá comhacht ag an gCeann Comhairle an cheist sin do shocrú agus tá comhacht ag dhá-chúigiú de'n Dáil no de'n Seanad cur in a choinnibh dtaobh istigh de thrí lá. Is ceart an comhacht san a bheith ag an Dáil ach ní ceart é a bheith ag an Seanad. Dá réir an Bhille seo, beidh comhacht ag mór-chuid sa tSeanad ma tá 30 Seanadóiri i láthair, cur i gcoinnibh tuairim an Chinn Chomhairle—isé sin 16—ach ní bheidh an chomhacht cheudhna ach ag dhá-chúigiú sa Dáil—sé sin 60 Teachta. Deirim-se gur náireach san. Rud eile, beidh seacht lá chun cur i gcoinnibh tuairim an Chinn Chomhairle feasta gidh nach raibh ach trí lá go dtí anois.
Is léir ón méid adubhairt an Teachta Cooper go raibh sé ag cainnt le daoine eile ar an gceist seo. Táimíd buideach de mar gheall ar an nod a thug sé dúinn chun an tSeanaid do bhriseadh—gan aon liúntas a thabhairt don Tigh eile agus é a bhriseadh ar an gcuma san. Táimíd buideach toisc toradh an mhachtanimh a nochtadh dúinn. Is leór nod don eolach.
I think it is rather a mistake for the President to conclude a debate on the Second Reading of the Bill without giving every member of the House who is interested an opportunity, as Deputy Cooper has said, of learning as much constitutional law as he can. We are coming near the end of those Constitution Bills now, but I do not think the President need be unduly harried as to his majority. He will be able to carry it. For that reason I think it is rather a pity that he should try to hasten the discussion. The Free State is founded and has its Constitution. If it is going to last, what objection is there to having the fullest and freest discussion on these matters? I regard this Bill as one of the most important of all the series because of this question. It is an attempt to forestall a crisis and to provide beforehand machinery by which differences of opinion as between the two Houses may be adjusted. I do not agree with Deputy Cooper that this proposed Committee of Privileges will necessarily be, as one of my colleagues suggested, a freezing chamber in the way of providing a cool and reasoned atmosphere for the discussion of these questions. It may be a freezing chamber in so far as they will be able to put questions into cold storage and keep them there for an indefinite period, but you are going to have three members of the Seanad, three members of the Dáil, and a Supreme Court Judge upon it. If it is a legal matter, why not leave it to the judges of the courts, why not leave it to the Seanad themselves who, after all, are the chief party concerned after ourselves in the initiation of legislation? Are we to take it that this Committee, representative of both Chambers, which sat a few months ago, is the very last word, and that the results of its inquiries, which lasted only a few hours, and which were submitted here, are to be regarded as the last word in constitutional law?
Not a single argument has been brought forward by the Government in support of this measure. There is no proof that this Committee which will be set up will come to a definite and final decision when and if that crisis arises. In my opinion it is likely that it will end in the way in which the Boundary Commission ended. It may issue a decision, but there is no proof that it will be binding on this House. If a Supreme Court Judge by a single vote is to be put in the position of upsetting the declared policy of whatever Executive Council may be in power, and of holding them up in regard to works involving Money Bills, you will be putting on the Courts the task of the initiation of policy, and you will put on the shoulders of one single judge the responsibility of practically combating the judgment of the majority of this House. I think there is no haste in this matter, and, as previous speakers pointed out, there is ample and sufficient safeguard in the present Constitution. There is the supposition that the Committee will conclude its business in a certain time. We have no proof of that. There is the supposition that you will be able to get a judge to take this matter up. I doubt very much that that is the proper course to pursue. I think it would be better to try and envisage more clearly what will happen and the circumstances that will arise. At present we are just told that a crisis may arise. We have not had a definite illustration given as to how this proposed court would work.
Surely if the Government have gone into this question and examined Constitutional crises that arose in other countries, they ought to tell us why they fixed on this freezing-chamber method of disposing of such matters. I think that Deputy Cooper, in his references to unscrupulous Ministers and to the possibility of a future Government attacking the Seanad and trying to reduce it from its present position, has somewhat given the show away, and that really the object of the Government is not to strengthen the Constitution and place it on such a basis that any Government afterwards could say: "This is a Constitution which in its fundamentals represents the considered view of the common people of Ireland." Their attitude seems rather to be to put as many obstacles as possible in the way of future Governments, although a future Government, if it has a majority in the Dáil, will, on the statement of the Chairman of this House that a Bill is a Money Bill not be deterred by the opinion of 16, 20, or 30 members of the other House, and will not be held up in its operations. Whatever mandates it may have from the country to carry out, it cannot and will not be held up by the obstacles which you are now proposing to put in its way.
I also would like to emphasise the sentiments which have been expressed by Deputy Derrig as to the inadvisability of anything like undue haste and hurry in matters of this kind. I am glad that we have here to-day the Minister for Local Government, who, in a most eloquent and most able speech on one of these constitutional amendments, laid down very carefully the attitude of mind in which the House should come to the consideration of legislation, especially fundamental legislation of this kind. He asked for pause and full consideration. He asked for delay. He asked for caution. He asked for argument and discussion, and suggested that before serious matters of this kind should be decided, every possible opportunity should be given for the fullest possible consideration of every one of the details and implications of legislation of this kind and that, instead of doing rash things and then having to mend our hands afterwards, instead of doing things in moments of heat and passion, we should come to the consideration, especially of Constitutional Bills, in a spirit of men who are desirous of building broadly and firmly. It is in that attitude of mind, and with that sense of responsibility, which this Sovereign Assembly has to the future generations of this country in relation to any action that may be taken in matters of vital constitutional change, that I would appeal to the President, and to the other members of the House, to take advantage of the opportunities which they now have of sitting at the feet of Deputy Lemass and learning that which they did not and which they ought to know, and which, I submit, they ought to know, not from the lips of a member of the Opposition, but from the lips of one whose business it is to oppose this particular outrage on decent, democratic government, and from the lips of those whose business it is to expound such matters.
I want the House now to cast its mind back to the speech in which this matter was opened to it by the President. I want it to compare that speech with the speech which was delivered by Deputy Lemass, and to ask itself whether Deputies did receive from the President of the Executive Council that instruction in a constitutional matter which they ought to have received and which, in fact, they had to wait for Deputy Lemass to give them. Is it not an extraordinary position, does it not go right down to the base of the whole principle of the consideration of these Constitutional amendments, that no exposition whatever of the nature, purport, and intent of these amendments should be received from those who are responsible, that the pig in the poke which you have to buy has had to be dragged out squealing by Deputy Lemass and exhibited in all its young and naked beauty by him and not by its progenitors? I, personally, am grateful to Deputy Lemass. Naturally, members upon this side of the House do take their duties and responsibilities in relation to this matter more seriously than members opposite because, after all, those who are going to live continuously in a house have more responsibility and more interest in it than a weekly tenant, and the time at which these Constitutional amendments in their relation to the Government of this country will concern, at any rate the Front Bench opposite, is coming very rapidly to an end.
If I might carry that simile a little further, the spirit in which they are closing their tenancy is the spirit of a man who is going to sell his landlord's furniture before he is put out. This Bill is one of half-a-dozen which represents testamentary benefits madein articulo mortis. There is an atmosphere to make friends with the Mammon of Iniquity while you are in the way to sit quietly and to write twenty-eight days instead of three. How can they tangle in barbed wire the paths of their successors? That seems to be the whole philosophy of those Bills, and more especially of this Bill, whose purpose undoubtedly is to entangle their successors in embarrassments for the benefit of those who have supported them up to the present in the Seanad, and who have supported them with subscriptions in the general elections, to tangle in barbed wire the unwary feet of those to whom they are going to hand over a bankrupt Treasury and a barren Constitution.
About the Bill.
That is the sort of atmosphere in which we come to the consideration of this Bill. It is suggested no doubt that the purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the control over and increase the caution in relation to a Money Bill, to provide another means by which it shall be difficult for, I think the word was used, unscrupulous Ministers to waste the nation's money. Well, I have no hesitation in saying that we, upon this side of the House, when we come to deal responsibly with the nation's money, will be about as anxious and as careful in relation to the nation's money as the President was last night in relation to his own. Deputy Lemass has done a very great service to this House in the attempt which he has made, and I am not sure that it has been a wholly unsuccessful attempt, to educate Cumann na nGaedheal, because it is essential to the stability of this country, essential to the smooth and orderly working of this Dáil in the new Parliament, that Cumann na nGaedheal Deputies should be educated into that elementary knowledge of consitutional law and form as will enable them to exercise with some reasonable degree of efficiency the duties of an opposition.
The Deputy has not yet spoken about the Bill.
I will come now to Deputy Cooper, who entered into competition with my colleague, Deputy Lemass, as to which of them was delivering bromides to the country. They are perfectly well agreed that a constitutional crisis should be avoided and the competition between these two Deputies is as to which is really trying to avoid the crisis and which is really trying to create it. Personally, I am of opinion that Bills of this kind introduced as I saidin articulo mortis and for the purpose of buttressing up and increasing the vested interests and power in the Seanad to obstruct the Dáil, will, if those Bills are attempted to be made operative, under the new conditions when the Dáil and the Seanad do not represent the same opinion, produce conditions of crisis. You are bound to get under those circumstances a hard-shell crash between the two. During the few months, at any rate, in which we are engaged in smashing up the Seanad as at present constituted, you will get undoubtedly a clash in this matter, and this is asking for a clash.
Personally I would like to see the Seanad fading away nicely and gently and not explosively. As you know, a condition of this kind did arise in another country in relation to two Houses—the House of Commons and the House of Lords—and it had a rather curious foundation in law and a rather curious consequence in fact. The House of Lords held up a Budget. The House of Lords had the power to hold up a Budget but what the House of Lords did not know was that you only have the right to the exercise of a power if having exercised it you can continue to exercise it. In the single attempt of the House of Lords to exercise the power of interference in money matters, they destroyed that power and in my opinion, any attempt, on the part of the Seanad in the new Parliament, to hold up on any definition they like a Money Bill or to interfere in any way with money matters in this country in the face of a Dáil which was hostile to their interests will produce a clash in which not merely these little powers of the Seanad will be removed but the Seanad itself also will be removed and removed with a speed and possibly with a virility, if I might use the term, which possibly might not be desirable.
Of course Deputy Cooper prophesied otherwise. He sees headlines in the paper; he sees startling speeches. I have no doubt. Well, Deputy Cooper is a poor prophet. If we are simply to go on the ground of prophecy there is probably no one less entitled to that name. I can remember a prophecy of his previously that last autumn we were going to go for a loan. I do not see that prophecy having yet survived the test of time.
It was Deputy Flinn's prophecy.
No, sir. I was told——
It was an irrelevant prophecy anyway.
I quite agree. Again I am going to ask the House to follow the good example given them by Deputy Lemass, to consider carefully what they know about the Constitution, to lay carefully before the House for its understanding an examination of the implications of this Bill, to make themselves perfectly and fully sure, by the fullest possible investigation and discussion, that there is no point in this matter which shall have escaped their careful observation before they allow this Bill out of their hands. I am perfectly sure when they have done so, they will see that this, a Bill further to increase the vested interests of the Seanad in the power to interfere with and oppose the will of this House, is a Constitution Bill that should not, in the interests of this country, be passed by this House.
In my opinion the proposition before us in this Bill is one that should be taken very seriously by members of this House. It is not a matter to be dealt with lightly. The proposition here set forth is one that has in it the seed of grave and important possibilities for the future of this country. I do not profess to be an expert on Constitutional law, but like everybody who takes an interest in his own country's affairs, who watches the proceedings in other countries, who reads a little, I have seen, noted and read of the difficulties that have arisen in other countries over matters with which we are now dealing. I know a little of the Constitutions of a few countries. I know something about the Constitutions of America, England and France, and I have watched their legislatures and Constitutions in operation. I do not think it will be denied that these countries have Constitutions—in two of them, at any rate, modern Constitutions—which secure for the common people control over their own finances to ensure that the will of the majority of the people will prevail, and in these countries the complete power of the purse is reserved to the Lower House. Attempts have frequently been made in some of these countries by the Upper Houses to increase their power, and in some of these countries the representatives in the Upper Houses are elected by the people, by direct or almost direct vote. Nevertheless, although that is so, the attempts that were made to encroach on the privileges of those who were elected directly by the people, and directly responsible to the people, the members of the Lower Houses, were very definitely and very bitterly fought, and in all of these countries the final decision as to the control over matters of taxation, matters of money, control over the purse of the nation was reserved to those who were directly elected and responsible to the people.
That is not in dispute.
I beg your pardon. In my opinion this gives the superior control to a House that is not directly elected by the people. There is greater control proposed to be given by this Bill to Seanad Eireann than is possessed by this House.
Would the Deputy point that out?
I think an instance has been pointed out by more than one speaker that where sixteen members of Seanad Eireann, a majority of a meeting of that House, wherein thirty members are assembled, so decide, according to the proposed sub-section (b) of Section 1: "A majority of the members of Seanad Eireann present and voting at a sitting of Seanad Eireann, at which not less than thirty members are present, so resolve," the question whether the Bill is or is not a Money Bill shall be referred to the Committee——
That is, the question whether it is or is not.
They resolve the question, and if they decide that it is a Money Bill, or whichever way they decide, they have power to hold up, to refuse to recognise the decision of the Ceann Comhairle or the Chairman of Dáil Eireann, as he is called in this Bill, and to refer it to a Committee. I think it was a strange omission in the original Constitution that no term was suggested during which that Committee should report. The Bill says:
The question whether the Bill is or is not a Money Bill shall be referred to a Committee of Privileges, consisting of three members elected by Dáil Eireann, three members elected by Seanad Eireann, and a Chairman, who shall be the Senior Judge of the Supreme Court, able and willing to act, and who, in the case of an equality of votes, but not otherwise, shall be entitled to vote.
The decision of the Committee on the question shall be final and conclusive.
If the matter is referred to a Committee at all, I suppose it is right to say that the decision of the Committee shall be final and conclusive; but it appears a strange omission that there was not put into this Constitution some time limit, whether it be a month or a year, at the end of which the Committee must report.
Will the Deputy read the whole of that?
I have read the part referring to the Committee.
It is not for my benefit but for his own.
I will read it for you again if you wish. "A Money Bill means a Bill which contains only provisions dealing with all or any of the following subjects"—this was already read by Deputy Lemass, but if the President wants it read again I will do so—"namely, the imposition, repeal, remission, alteration or regulation of taxation; the imposition for the payment of debt or other financial purpose of charges on public moneys or the variation or repeal of any such charges——
I am sorry that I misled the Deputy. It was another Article I meant.
As a matter of fact it is the same Article but another paragraph.
In this definition the expressions "taxation,""public money" and "loan" respectively do not include any taxation, money or loan raised by local authorities or bodies for local purposes.
The Chairman of Dáil Eireann shall certify any Bill which in his opinion is a Money Bill to be a Money Bill, but, if within three days after a Bill has been passed by Dáil Eireann two-fifths of the members of either House by notice in writing addressed to the Chairman of the House of which they are members so require, the question whether the Bill is or is not a Money Bill shall be referred to a Committee of Privileges consisting of three members elected by each House with a Chairman who shall be the senior Judge of the Supreme Court able and willing to act, and who, in the case of an equality of votes but not otherwise shall be entitled to vote. The decision of the Committee on the question shall be final and conclusive.
Would the Deputy now look at Article 38?
Or what is left of it.
Like Deputy Lemass I have not collated the changes already made in Article 38 with the Article as it appears here, but I will see what it says here. I have read it before many times, but I do not remember any such terms being put into this Article.
Every Bill initiated in and passed by Dáil Eireann shall be sent to Seanad Eireann and may, unless it be a Money Bill, be amended in Seanad Eireann and Dáil Eireann shall consider any such amendment; but a Bill passed by Dáil Eireann and considered by Seanad Eireann shall, not later than two hundred and seventy days after it shall have been first sent to Seanad Eireann, or such longer period as may be agreed on by the two Houses be deemed to be passed by both Houses in the form in which it was last passed by Dáil Eireann.
The point is in the next paragraph.
Provided that every Money Bill shall be sent to Seanad Eireann for its recommendations and at a period not longer than twenty-one days after it shall have been sent to Seanad Eireann, it shall be returned to Dáil Eireann which may pass it, accepting or rejecting all or any of the recommendations of Seanad Eireann, and as so passed or if not returned within such period of twenty-one days shall be deemed to have been passed by both Houses.
Now the Deputy may see.
I do not claim to. I do not believe that, as that stands there, it covers the point.
It does not, certainly specifically, and I do not think even impliedly, cover reference to the Committee. It is not clear and definite, and it ought to be made definite. There is no reference here to referring that to a Committee, or as to how long a Committee may sit. There is no clear implication. It is not definite, and it is not even implied, that if that committee does not report within twenty-one days, or within twenty days, to give the Seanad an opportunity of considering the report, the committee could report; and if the committee does not report, the suggestion may be there that the two Houses can act. But that is very vague. I was astonished, and I am still surprised, that with this opportunity, when this Constitution is being studied for the purpose of being torn up, altered, amended, or repaired, somebody did not suggest that the original omission should be made good. I would not like this amendment to be taken in anything but a serious way. I do not think it is a matter to be dealt with lightly at all, and I say that even although the Ministry opposite might remain in power until lá Pilib na Cleite, and that is a long time— longer than I think they themselves would like to stay. It is quite possible that with this Bill, if no change in administration ever took place, a grave difference of opinion might arise between the two Houses on the interpretation of a Money Bill, or as to what was a Money Bill; and if that does arise, I claim that the right should remain with this House, directly with the Deputies elected by the people, to decide what is a Money Bill and what is not a Money Bill.
I take it that if the will of the people is to be recognised at all to decide the destinies of their own country, primarily that will is expressed by the power of the purse. If the power of the purse is taken away from this elected body, this body which derives its powers directly from the people and in no other way, then you take away the will of the people from this House. That is my interpretation. I object in principle to any outside authority, unless in an advisory capacity, such as in the case of a judge of the Supreme Court, having authority to set aside the will of the publicly elected representatives of this House. That is proposed in this Bill—it is already in the Constitution, but it is emphasised in this Bill —and an effort is being made to increase the power to be given to two different authorities, one Seanad Eireann and the other a Supreme Court judge, to take out of the hands of this House, and therefore out of the hands of the people, certain grave authority and responsibility that it now holds. That proposition is one which I think everybody, irrespective of Party, who takes a serious interest in democratic rule and constitutional government ought to give very serious consideration to.
The President has for years emphasised, in every word he spoke in public, that he always stood for the will of the people, that he always stood for the absolute control of the Government of the country by the majority of the elected representatives of the people. As I read this proposition, he is taking that authority out of the people's hands. I think that that is a very serious proposition for him to bring in, and to bring it in in this form, which might easily escape being properly understood by Deputies. I think that they do not fairly realise the implications in this proposed amendment of the Constitution. Deputy Flinn has told us of an effort made in England, I think about twenty years ago, to take the power of the purse out of the hands of the elected representatives of the people. That was the famous case of the Lloyd George Budget when the British House of Lords held up a Money Bill and provoked a crisis, which in England, constituted as it is, was overcome without danger to life or limb. But the Constitution of this country, and its recent history, are such that if a crisis of that kind arose here, even without any change of Government, then I say in all seriousness that it might not be got over as easily here, and it is well to bear that in mind.
Undoubtedly changes in the Constitution will be necessary from time to time. We, if we came into power, would propose very serious changes. As has been said here often, we would propose the abolition of the Seanad. Probably that would provoke a crisis, but I hope that when such a proposition is made that it will be debated here, whatever House exists then and however it may be composed, and fought out inside the representative assembly; and that the results, whatever they are, will be carried through without danger or difficulty. But, whether we come into power at an early or a remote period, it will undoubtedly be necessary that changes in the Constitution must take place. We would ask that whatever the changes proposed now or hereafter may be, that they would get the very serious consideration of members on all sides, and that no opportunity should be lost by members of any Party to learn what the implications are in any such suggested amendment to the Constitution. At all times, I think, all parties should agree that the principle that has been debated and fought out in a constitutional way, and in unconstitutional ways in countries the world over, the question of the right of the common people to control the destinies of the country through control of the purse ought, if proposed for consideration here, to receive very serious thought and consideration from all the members of the House. The change here suggested does, to my mind, raise that constitutional issue. It raises the question: who is eventually to decide the financial future of the country? That being so, I think members ought to give the best of their thought to it with the view to preventing unnecessary trouble arising in the House or outside of it in the future.
In dealing with this Bill, I am sure I need scarcely remind the House of the importance of retaining absolute control over the public purse and over the finances of the country.
What part of the Bill deals with that?
I do not know whether the President himself is familiar with it, but this Bill relates to Money Bills, and, therefore, though it may not be immediately concerned with the public finances, it certainly will be concerned with legislation which one way or the other affects the public finances. In view of the secondary effects of the measure, I feel that I am entitled to remind the House of the important functions which it discharges.
Your consideration of it was not long enough?
The speech will be.
I know that, unfortunately, possibly because of the experience which the House has endured during the past five or six years, that it has treated this matter of its powers with scant respect, and often with little ceremony. The fact that the Opposition here was always up against a secure majority, which could invariably enforce its will, has even among the members of the Dáil itself, spread a feeling rather of contempt for the powers, duties and responsibilities of the House.
The Deputy is going very well.
I feel now that the financial position of the country is such, that every penny which is expended ought to be severely scrutinised. Every measure which in any way proposes to curtail or to restrict or to define the powers which this House has over financial legislation ought, for that reason, to be very severely scrutinised and examined. Now, the first thing which occurs to me is this: that often financial matters have to be dealt with with great expedition. I understand that next week the Government will be coming to this House with a Vote on Account. After that, we will have the Central Fund Bill. Now, it may be argued, and probably will be urged upon our representatives on the Committee of Procedure and Privileges, the body which is more or less charged with the duty of arranging Parliamentary business, that too much time cannot be given to the discussion of this measure, which is a very important one, by reason of the fact that after the Central Fund Bill leaves the Dáil it will have to go to the Seanad and be considered by it. We will be urged, therefore, to deal with the Vote on Account, and with all the stages of the Central Fund Bill with the utmost expedition.
The thing which occurs to me, in connection with this Bill, is that the Government are proceeding on diametrically opposite principles. They are, first of all, to enable the other House, by a much smaller proportion of its members than is required of the Dáil, to hold up financial legislation coming from here. Under proviso (b), the majority of the members of the Seanad present and voting at a sitting, at which not less than thirty members are present, may so resolve that the question as to whether a Bill is, or is not, a Money Bill shall be referred to a committee to be set up in a particular way. Now, I do not know whether the point has been stressed before or not; but it occurs to me that, under that proviso, 16 members of the Seanad, or something very nearly approaching one quarter of the total membership of the House, can obstruct the passage of a Money Bill by simply asking that it should be referred to a Select Committee or to the Committee of Privileges.
Perhaps the Deputy would now move the adjournment of the debate. I hope, when the debate is resumed, to be able to explain to the House what the Bill is really about.
The President ought to have done that first.
I move the adjournment of the debate.