I dealt with Deputy Collins' query and the amendment which he tabled which was not allowed because of the financial implications. I covered the point about awards and courses and also section 13 which makes adequate provision for the transfer of the staff. I believe that covers comprehensively the points made by Deputy Collins.
National Council for Educational Awards Bill, 1978: Committee Stage (Resumed).
I move amendment No. 133:
In page 11, subsection (2), line 3, after "require" to insert "in writing".
This deals with subsection (2) which states:
The Council shall supply the Minister with such information regarding the performance of its functions as he may from time to time require.
I believe we will want to be more specific in regard to the latitude which we allow to the Minister in this matter. I feel that any request he makes to the council for information regarding the performance of their duties should be made in writing. That would be a proper procedure. The wording in the section leaves it too open to the Minister to communicate by telephone, if he is peeved and wants to criticise the council in the performance of their functions. When the Minister seeks official information he should be obliged to seek it in writing.
I do not believe this restriction could possibly be acceptable. I do not see why the Minister should be expected to communicate by telephone only in a fit of pique. The telephone could be used for transmitting information about the work of the council. We are actually foreshortening developments a bit because by the end of the century writing may be obsolete and the information could be coming through silicone chips and so on. I do not believe that restricting it to writing is desirable. I do not believe it makes for the efficiency of the council or for the efficiency of the Minister.
What is the Minister's interpretation of "as soon as may be"? He would effectively have some sanction in the matter. Am I right in assuming that the Minister shall lay copies of the report before each House of the Oireachtas at least before the end of the half year following the year to which they refer? This would seem to allow a reasonable time for publication.
The actual formula used is the customary one. I hope that the National Council for Educational Awards, in keeping with their general efficiency, even as an ad hoc council, will be able to report very quickly after the year has ended. I know that on occasion the reports of proceedings, which are required from various bodies, come quite late and this has attracted a good deal of criticism over the years. The formula used in section 15 (1), “as soon as may be after the end of each of its financial years” is the customary one. I hope it will be within three months.
I move amendment No. 134:
In page 11, line 8, after "fit" to insert "and in keeping with the financial requirements of the Council in the pursuance of its functions under this Act."
This is an interesting section in that for the first time there is brought into the picture the Higher Education Authority. During the Second Stage debate this matter was discussed and I pointed out that An tUdaras, as provided for in section 3 of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971, shall, in addition to the specific functions given to them in the Act, have the general functions of:
(a) furthering the development of higher education,
(b) assisting in the co-ordination of State investment in higher education and preparing proposals for such investment...
I argued on Second Stage that the HEA would seem to be not fully involved in the NCEA in regard to development, to policy, to academic matters and to courses in general in the way that the Act provided for. Here we have a section which brings into play the HEA who are now the funding authority for the council. That is a change from the present position whereby the Department fund the NCEA. Perhaps the Minister would be a little more specific on the role he envisages for the HEA in terms of this section. My amendment seeks to specify that role.
What is the position specifically of the HEA vis-á-vis the NCEA? On what basis will the HEA decide to pay moneys to the NCEA? Will they have a right to an input in policy and a right to examine the expenditure of the NCEA? What liaison will there be between the NCEA and the HEA in this matter of grantaiding the NCEA?
It is not correct to say that the council are being funded directly at present. The ad hoc NCEA Council have been designated and are being financed at the moment through An Udaras. The procedure as of now is that the financial requirements of the council in the pursuance of their functions under the Act will be taken into account by the Authority as part of their statutory responsibility under sections 7 to 12 of the HEA Act 1971. The council are obliged to furnish the Authority with periodic statements of their financial position and to supply the Authority with such information relative to the council as the Authority may require. Both sections 7 and 11 of the HEA Act apply that provision. In addition the council must ask the Authority, as a designated institution, for such subvention as they may require and the Authority must examine any such request. That is provided for in section 8 of the Act.
The Authority must include the financial requirments of the council in their own financial planning and must assess the amount of financial provision that they will recommend to the Minister. That is provided for in sections 9 and 10 of the HEA Act. Therefore, the words suggested by the Deputy are pleonastic. They do not add anything to the section
What is the position in relation to having an input into policy making, that is, the overall policy making of the NCEA? The Authority have a function in this legislation in relation to non-university education. Obviously, in section 3 they are being given a very important function in this respect. The Higher Education Authority have a function in the overall development and furtherance of higher education. However, apart from this provision in section 14 where the HEA designate the NCEA, there would not seem to be any function for the HEA in assisting the NCEA in setting down policy or in evolving policy in respect of higher education, though this is primarily an important function of the HEA. It appears that in this Bill the Minister has ignored the role of the HEA in the overall development of third level education. I do not imagine that the HEA are very happy with the present situation. They must regard themselves as being out on a limb. Yet, the HEA Act is specific in relation to their role in education.
With respect, Sir, I do not think that matter arises on the amendment.
The Chair was about to point that out. The matter can be raised on the section.
It is necessary for me to repeat my question. The HEA have a specific role as provided for in section 3 and I have no intention of allowing the Minister to wriggle out of answering the question.
I have no intention of wriggling out of anything.
That role of the HEA is central to the whole evolution of the NCEA. Section 3 of the HEA Act gives to the HEA the following specific functions:
(a) furthering the development of higher education.
(b) assisting in the co-ordination of State investment in higher education and preparing proposals for such investment.
(c) promoting an appreciation of the value of higher education and research,
(d) promoting the attainment of equality of opportunity in higher education,
(e) promoting the democratisation of the structure of higher education.
It is clear from that section that the HEA have an input so far as the laying down of policy in respect of all third level education is concerned.
I am aware that there is a bias against the HEA on the part of people working in the non-university sector who may regard the Authority as being too oriented towards the university sector. That may be the case, but if there is a need to amend the legislation, to broaden the membership of the Authority, I should be happy to go along with such amendment. This Bill seems to be by-passing the HEA in this respect and it seems to be cutting out the seeking of advice from the HEA.
The input of the HEA into non-university sector policy seems to have been by-passed by this Bill. We have reached section 16. The HEA are now financing the NCEA. It does not tally in my book. Either there is a HEA that will be effective and be involved in all third level education or there is not. I would like a full explanation from the Minister.
I am delighted that Deputy Collins raised the matter of section 3 of the Higher Education Authority Act.
I am always anxious to help.
He said he did not know how An tUdaras related to the NCEA. He went through section 3 of the 1971 Act and said that An tUdaras shall—that is our old friend—in addition to the specific functions given to them by this Act have the general function of furthering the development of higher education. I submit that in assessing the needs of the NCEA and in allocating money to the NCEA, An tUdaras are furthering the development of higher education.
Under (b) assisting in the co-ordination of State investment in higher education and preparing proposals for such investment, before the ad hoc NCEA were set up the universities practically—I say “practically” deliberately—had the whole field of higher education in their ambit. An tUdaras are in fact, and very much so, assisting in the co-ordination of State investment in higher education by funding the council which deals with the third level sector outside of universities. An tUdaras also have an obligation under section 3 to promote an appreciation of the value of higher education and research.
In assessing the needs of the council and satisfying those financial needs An tUdaras are fulfilling their obligations in regard to third level education and in regard to the promotion of appreciation of the value of higher education and research in a field that was long neglected. I am glad Deputy Collins raised this matter because it gives me an opportunity of underlining the importance of the council and the importance attached to it by An tUdaras when they financing it for this purpose.
As regards promoting the attainment of equality of opportunity in higher education, I do not suppose there is any single council in the whole field of education that is more involved than this council in the promotion of equality of opportunity. Therefore, An tUdaras, having designated the NCEA and having by the very act of designation commended the council, are in fact very much in the field of the promotion of the attainment of equality of opportunity in higher education. As regards promoting the democratisation of the structure of higher education, An tUdaras in assessing the council, in funding it and in designating it as I have said, are helping to spread democratically third level education into corners and areas where it was not available before.
There were some grand words there from the Minister. I am glad he is in good form today. Now perhaps he might answer my question.
That is precisely the answer to the Deputy's question.
The Minister was full of fury signifying nothing, as Shakespeare said. The fact that the HEA fund the NCEA does not necessarily mean that they have an input into the laying down of policy in the non-university sector.
That is policy by its very act.
No, it is not.
The Chair must say to the Minister and to the Deputy that we are discussing another Bill. This section only deals with financing of the NCEA. We are getting into a very deep discussion on the merits or demerits of another Bill.
I take that point but I am trying to elicit, unsuccessfully, from the Minister the depth of attachment of the HEA to the NCEA policy. I admit that the NCEA are being funded by An tUdaras. To what extent does that involve the HEA in policy-making? Prior to sanctioning moneys every year do they examine the expenditure? I am sure the method is that estimates are submitted by the NCEA to the HEA and are examined, questioned and agreed. That is fair enough. That is completely and totally different from the HEA having an input into the laying down of policy and the evolution of policy in the non-university sector. I am not buying the Minister's opinion from his grand reading of section 3—far more dramatic than mine—or the imputation from it that the HEA are involved in evolution of policy. It is not correct.
I answered the question when I instanced the whole procedure that An tUdaras, by their own statute, must go through in relation to the council.
There is no formal mechanism in section 16 for An tUdaras to have an examination of policy of the NCEA. There is no formal clause, sentence or paragraph in the Bill which formally links the setting down of policy within the NCEA to the role which the HEA have and are deemed to have by virtue of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971. There is not one wisp of truth in what the Minister says, that the HEA are carrying out their functions under section 3 by virtue of section 16 of this Bill.
I repeat that Deputy Collins has not listened to the answer.
If the Deputy had, and if he had read the Higher Education Act, he would see what the involvement was. From his last statement it would seem to me that he is demanding some form of direct interference by the HEA into the activity of the council. If he demands it there, why does he not demand it for any of the other designated institutions? Why should the HEA want to interfere, or have the power to interfere, with the activities of the council any more than they have with the universities? I am puzzled by the thinking behind this. Why should the council have to have a different relationship with An tUdaras than any of the designated institutions? It seems to me that Deputy Collins is picking out the NCEA and trying to force some kind of unnatural marriage between them and An tUdaras, a marriage, that he refuses to the other designated institutions.
We are having a very big debate on a very small section that only deals with grants.
It is a major section. It is the method of financing——
It only deals with grants.
This is what Committee Stage is for. We are doing fine.
I agree, but we must be relevant to the section.
I should like to take up the Minister's ridiculous suggestion that I am trying to interfere. It is not to be expected from the Minister. I should certainly like to see some form of co-operation or link between the Higher Education Authority and the National Council for Educational Awards. I submit that the link which the Minister is using in section 16 is entirely inadequate. I am seeking nothing special for the NCEA and I am not trying to isolate this body from other designated institutions. Other designated institutions are going along a certain well-known path, of which the authorities are fully aware. However, the NCEA are in a peculiar position in that they themselves are laying down policy in an area which will become greater than the whole university sector. The result of this Bill will be that the Higher Education Authority will not really know what the policy is in the non-university higher education sector. That is the point I am making and that is the point that I feel is being neglected here by the Minister.
We are talking about the use of resources. We are talking about the financing of these resources. If there is not formal co-operation between the Higher Education Authority and the NCEA we may end up with a duplication of resources in some disciplines, which is surely to be avoided. I am quite sure that the Higher Education Authority are not too pleased with the Bill in its present form in so far as there is no formal linkage into the NCEA. This is a serious omission and the superficial linkage of paying their annual bills—and administration bills, really—does not at all comply with the HEA Act requirement which our party introduced in 1971-72, I think.
The university sector is controlled by the HEA and the non-university sector is controlled by the NCEA, and Peter does not know what Paul is doing. In fact, we are in a worse situation than that, where we have the so-called Dublin Institute of Technology running off on its own canter, under the control neither of the HEA nor of the NCEA. The Minister is closing his eyes to these major problems. I am quite satisfied that in framing section 16 the Minister is neglecting the Higher Education Act. Be it on his own head.
The Chair must say we are going very wide of the section. There is no use in having a debate on everything under the sun on a section that deals only with grants.
It is a vital section.
It is not. I have two comments. First of all, the Deputy's definition of a superficial connection between An tUdaras um Ard Oideachais and the National Council for Educational Awards is the funniest definition of superficiality that ever I heard. An tUdaras are charged with the responsibility of assessing the financial need of the council and of allotting to the council adequate finance for their activities. Anybody who is naive enough to think that is a superficial link must not know how these things work.
The Deputy's second point was on the possibility of duplication in the whole third level area. The strength of An tUdaras um Ard Oideachais is that, as far as the designated institutions are concerned, An tUdaras see the whole scene and assess the needs and allocates the resources in accordance with the expertise they have developed in considering those needs. That is one area where there will not be duplication because An tÚdarás assesses the needs and demands of each institution and these demands are often very high.
Would the Minister agree that An tUdaras have no right to control non-university sector needs? They only pay the bill for the cost of the council and have no right under this Bill to examine the evolution of policy of the NCEA.
I repeat that a designated institution, when it is so designated, comes under the survey of An tUdaras. Section 7 of the 1971 Act says that an tUdaras may, annually or at such other intervals as it may determine—which could be every month if they so wanted—require any institution of higher education to submit a statement of its financial position to An tUdaras and it shall be the duty of every institution of higher education to comply with any requirements which are imposed on it under this section.
The following sections all deal with that and the Deputy cannot say that An tUdaras cannot assess aspects of the policy of the NCEA because they can, and they have to finance them in the end.
I do not think so.
That is not policy; it is theology.
The Deputy has not been listening too closely.
Amendment No. 135 has been ruled out of order.
I move amendment No. 136:
In page 11, subsection (2), line 16, to insert "to the Comptroller and Auditor General" before "for audit".
This is a drafting amendment to make clear that the accounts of the council are to be submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General.
This section says:
The Council may charge, receive and recover fees for any approval given by it in relation to an examination or other test of knowledge or ability or any approval given, or any assessment made, by it as regards a course of study or instruction.
I would like more information on this section. Does it mean that the council may set fees for colleges or institutions for courses, or is this restricted to fees in respect of entrance for examinations? I accept that there is a need for fees for examinations, to cover the administrative costs and so on. I would not be niggardly about that point. However, if we are talking about fees to pursue courses, I totally reject this in this form, in so far as I am aware that the regional technical colleges and colleges of technology set their own fees for courses and have tried to be as reasonable as possible and not to charge too much. They are now in conflict with the Minister, who sent a letter on 31 July instructing all third-level university institutions to increase their fees for new students by 25 per cent forgetting, of course, that the colleges and the RTCs probably set their fees last February.
The Deputy is now getting away from the fees mentioned in this section.
I should like the Minister to be slightly more specific about the range of fees which the council can charge.
It is very unclear as of now what these fees refer to. Personally I would be against the charging of examination fees by the NCEA to students sitting for examinations for qualifications recognised by the NCEA. If there are costs involved here, they have to be included in whatever fees are charged at the initial level of entry to the course by the institution concerned. We all have our different views about the appropriate level of such fees, but it seems to me to be niggardly and extraordinarily timeconsuming in administrative terms for examination fees to be charged on top of course fees. If that is what the section has in mind I, too, oppose it, but if what is in mind is simply that the NCEA can charge the institutions concerned for some services they provide in relation to validation, then I suppose there is not much difficulty about it. Certainly, the section as it stands is unclear.
To take up the last point the Deputy made, he is perfectly right that the course assessment fee is paid by the institution and not by the students concerned.
That is what is meant by part of the section?
Section 18 reads:
The Council may charge, receive and recover fees for any approval given by it in relation to an examination or other test of knowledge or ability or any approval given, or any assessment made, by it as regards a course of study or instruction.
What about the question of the examination fee to be paid by the student?
There is an examination fee. There are certificate, diploma, degree and repeat fees. The income of the council at the moment from fees represents about 8 per cent of their total income. There has never been a tradition of charging fees which would cover the costs of examinations, for example. Indeed, in this case the fees charged for the assessment of courses would not cover the cost of the assessment.
There is a principle that a fee should be paid and while the fees are small which are charged both for the institutions and the examinations, we think the principle should be maintained. In view of the cri de coeur of Deputy Collins for the HEA, it is interesting to note that the HEA are pressing the council at the moment to increase their fees for assessment and for examination.
The section does not relate to course fees. It is fees paid by the students at the commencement of the academic year.
That is matter for the institution. The council is not involved in that at all.
Am I right in assuming that section 18 effectively covers only approvals in relation to examinations or tests of knowledge, or does it also give the council the statutory authority to charge the examination fees I referred to to an individual student?
It does. Would the Minister kindly explain what the principle behind the examination fee is, if it does not go anywhere near meeting the actual cost of the examination? Is it a kind of rap over the knuckles for the students concerned? Surely it must cause a considerable extra amount of administrative work. Does the Minister not think this can be built into whatever course fees are charged by the institutions?
The fees are the normal fees the Deputy paid when he did his intermediate certificate and leaving certificate. They are paid in the normal way. The basic principle is that you are getting a service and you pay something towards the cost of that service.
Probably the Minister would be more in agreement with the statement that many of these fees are really historical relics and, in terms of the administrative nonsense they create, they cause far more problems than they solve. In relation to the intermediate and leaving certificate examinations, for example, they seem to militate against the principle of free education. That is by the way and we will hardly get into that argument. I will not press the point. I just ask the Minister to look again at the multiplicity of miniscule financial and administrative transactions which disfigure our educational system.
I move amendment No. 138:
In page 11, after line 44, to insert a new subsection as follows:
"(3) Where an order under this section is proposed to be made, a draft of the order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the order shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each such House.".
This amendment relates to orders made by the Minister under the section. Under section 20 (2) the Minister may revoke or amend an order. There is no direction that such an order should come before the Houses of the Oireachtas, as I understand all ministerial orders must do. In my amendment I used the phrase, "a draft of the order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the order shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each such House." The other phrase refers to the draft order becoming an order after 21 sitting days. I put down the amendment to bring it to the Minister's notice that there is nothing in the Bill which obliges him to come before the Houses with the draft order. It is proper procedure that any order the Minister makes should come before the House and should be brought to the attention of Members of the House. It is a procedural question and I do not think the Minister should let this pass.
On the procedural question I sympathise with the spirit of Deputy Collins's amendment. I agree that the order should be tabled before the House but I do not think it is necessary that every such order should be the subject of a positive affirmation. I certainly believe that every such order should be subject to a positive-negative affirmation, if my contorted syntax can be followed, in the sense that it will become effective unless a motion negativing it shall have been passed with certain specified number of sitting days.
I would be happy with that.
If the Minister would think in terms of introducing this sort of an amendment on Report Stage, we would be disposed to consider it.
With regard to the one specifically before the House rather than the suggestion from Deputy Horgan, to want a resolution of each House of the Oireachtas would be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and would be wasteful of the time of the Houses. There would also be considerable delay which would not be helpful. I did not quite keep with Deputy Horgan in his formulation.
I was just proposing an alternative formulation which says that the Minister has to bring any such designation before the Houses, that it would be up to any Member of the Houses to put down a motion to disallow such designations within a certain number of sitting days, and that if nobody brings forward any such designations, which would be a most unusual occurrence and would not be done for malicious reasons or for vexatious reasons, then the Minister would have to present his case, but only then.
The Minister said that the procedure suggested in my amendment would be cumbersome but the wording of my amendment is the same as the wording in section 3 (3) (b). According to the subsection the Minister may by order assign to the council such functions relating to technical, industrial, scientific, technological or commercial education as the Minister thinks fit. Section 3 (3) (b) provides for the order to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and for the order not to be made until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each House. I have used the same wording in my amendment. I do not care for this procedure because I think it is cumbersome. I would prefer the procedure whereby a draft order is laid before the House and is confirmed after a certain number of sitting days. When he makes a ministerial order, there is an obligation on a Minister to come before the House with it in draft. As this is provided for under section 3 it should also be provided for under section 20. Designating an institute or college is important and we should have notice of it in the House.
It can be done without the institution's consent.
There should be an order as under section 3 (3) though I prefer the other formula.
At this stage I oppose the amendment before me.
While the Minister is reading section 3, might I suggest that I would not support the formulation given in section 3. What is involved in section 3 is the adding of a power to the NCEA which would immediately affect every institution which is designated under it. Therefore, it is quite valid that such a power should be the subject of a positive order tabled in the House. In relation to the further designation of an individual institution, which is most likely to be a non-controversial decision, it seems that the negative order mechanism would be a simpler one than that. If the Minister will give an undertaking to look at the matter between now and Report Stage, we need not delay any further.
Without any commitment, I will look at the matter between now and Report Stage.
Does the Minister not agree that where he is making an order designating a college that the order should come before the House in one form or another? I have used the formula because the Minister used it in section 3, but I would prefer the formula where it would automatically become a confirmed order after a certain number of sitting days. Does the Minister not think it desirable that an order should come before the House?
We can look at it on Report Stage.
Amendment No. 141 is in the name of Deputy Collins and amendment No. 142 in the name of Deputy Horgan is an alternative amendment. Deputy Collins to move amendment No. 141 and we can discuss amendment No. 142 with it.
I move amendment No. 141:
In page 12, line 10, to delete "eight" and insert "twelve".
There are 23 members of the council including the director. I contend that a quorum of eight for a meeting of the council is too low as it is only slightly over one-third of the membership of the council. I have suggested a quorum of 12 and Deputy Horgan has suggested a quorum of ten. I think we are both in agreement that a quorum of eight is too low. I would be appalled to think that only one-third of the membership of a council appointed by the Government would attend a meeting. That situation is not desirable and should not be allowed. We must increase the quorum so that the members themselves are conscious of their responsibility to attend meetings. A quorum of 12 is more realistic than a quorum of eight.
We had difficulty enough in finding a quorum of 20 out of 148 Members this afternoon. Nevertheless I feel that eight out of 23 is too low a figure. I propose a quorum of ten and I believe that the Minister would not be sabotaging the work of the council if he were to accept either my amendment or the amendment of Deputy Collins.
The total council is composed of 25. The normal fraction used is one-third, which is the fraction I have decided on. As Deputy Horgan said, there is at times the difficulty in all organisations of having a quorum present. The dilemma is that we do not want to make it too high as this can be impractical and we do not want to make it too low so that the views of the council become contorted by a low number. The figure of one-third seems to be reasonable. It is a percentage that is used in many organisations and I do not see any need for making the quorum any bigger.
Would the Minister split the difference and make it nine?
Is the Minister aware that the quorum for local councils is half of the membership.
I think each council decide their own quorum.
The quorum for the Waterford Corporation, of which I am a member, is eight out of a membership of 15. I think one-third is far too low.
I move amendment No. 152:
In page 12, Article 4, line 23, after "meeting" to insert ", other than the Director".
This amendment is in relation to the schedule which affects the operations of the council. It is designed to ensure very simply that the director should not be among those members of the council who are empowered to act as chairman in the absence of the regular chairman. I should emphasise that there is no personal animus or feeling in this whatsoever. It is exactly the same point I made in relation to an earlier section. If the director is to be a servant of the council he cannot at the same time be the chairman of the council. That is a simple point and I would urge it on the Minister.
I support Deputy Horgan. It seems completely out of place that the director should be chairman even in the context of the Minister's remark this morning that the director is directed by the council. It seems to be a complete antithesis in that the chairman could turn out to be the director himself and have a casting vote.
I am amazed by this line now because Deputy Collins in particular has been championing the council and the powers of the council and the freedom of action of the council. He is being unnecessarily sensitive to the role of the director in the council as defined in the Bill and now in the very unusual circumstances of the chairman being absent and the deputy chairman being absent he is going to refuse the council the power to elect their own chairman if they decide to elect the director.
The director cannot create himself as chairman if he is not voted in by the members of council. What Deputy Collins is advocating now is depriving the council of the right to choose the chairman it wants for a particular meeting.
The Minister is being extremely facetious.
I am not. I am deadly serious.
In the first instance the Minister is fully aware that it is my opinion that the director should not be a member of the council at all.
I am saying that the Deputy is pressing for the council to be deprived of the power to select a chairman. How else can he become a chairman except by the will of the council?
Does the Minister not accept that I said in this House that the director should not be a member of the council?
I accept that.
I cannot conceive of a position where a director who is a paid servant of the council and who acts only on the direction of the council, because he is made a member of the council, should turn out to be the chairman of a meeting of that council. If that is the Minister's position it is a very illogical one. The director could have a casting vote on a very crucial issue of policy on which he might be biased because he himself might have submitted the report to the council for consideration. That is not sound procedure. It is not a correct attitude for the Minister to take and it is altogether out of place for a director to be elected or eligible for election as chairman of a meeting. It is a serious issue.
In the course of what he said Deputy Collins spoke of the director acting on the direction of the council. That is what he is doing specifically when he acts as chairman in the unlikely event of both the chairman and the deputy chairman being absent and unavailable to chair a meeting. There is no way he can get into the chair against the will of the council and if he is in the chair it is with the will of the votes of the members of the council and if he as chairman has a casting vote it is by the will of the members of the council. I see a total lack of logic in what Deputy Collins has said.
I do not want to go too deeply into the argument between the Minister and Deputy Collins on this but I do want to refer to the question that we are here infringing in some way upon the council's competence as the Minister has suggested. It is not as if we are releasing this council like a bunch of lunatics to do what they like wherever they like and whenever they like. This council is set up under an act of the Oireachtas. Its functions, its powers and everything about it are delimited in very many ways by this act of the Oireachtas.
Section 8 of the schedule that we are discussing points out that subject to the provisions of this Act the council shall regulate by standing orders or otherwise its procedure and business. All we are suggesting is that among the provisions of this Act should be one to provide that the director should not be in the unduly privileged position of being both a director of the council and chairman of the council on a special issue on a special occasion. We are not introducing a new principle here. The principle is that the council works within the limits set down by the Act and there are many such limits. We are simply adding one minor and, I would suggest, administratively important parameter to those limits.
I cannot accept that a director who is, according to the definition in this Bill, a full member of the council should be delimited in any way as distinct from any other member of the council. He is, in accordance with the provision of this Act a full member of the National Council for Educational Awards. We are here talking of an eventuality which would be very rare, the chairman and deputy chairman absent and an ad hoc chairman chosen for a specific meeting. The chairman who is proposed, seconded and elected to the chair is the chairman who in the opinion of the experienced members present and voting on that council is the best able to chair that particular meeting. Now I can see no danger whatsoever to the running of the meeting. It has not been suggested that he would not be competent to direct the meeting. He is a full member of the council. He is in the chair by the will of the members. He is the person they say is best able to chair that meeting. I cannot see how anyone could justify his exclusion by statute.
Is the Minister aware of any precedent for this peculiar arrangement.
Is the Deputy referring to the peculiar arrangement of refusing the Deputy's amendment?
No, indeed. That is not the least bit peculiar. I am talking about the peculiar arrangement of setting up a council whose director may become its chairman.
It is an eventuality which might not occur in a hundred years. It is simply that we do not want to impugn his membership of the council, to make him in any way less a member of the council than any other member. Right through the discussion there seems to be the idea that he should not be a member of the council at all. This was put forward in several amendments by Deputy Collins and I think by Deputy Horgan as well. This amendment is of course in keeping with that view and the Deputies are entitled to their views on it, but I take the opposite view that it would be important for the director because of his all-round commitment to the work of the council to be on the council as a full member. If he is on the council as a full member any delimiting of that, such as would take place as a result of the acceptance of this amendment, would make him less than a full member.
Is the Minister satisfied that a director who is a paid employee of the council but who, because of the Minister's wish, is a full member of the council may, in accordance with section 10, submit to the council for consideration a controversial document, could be chairman of the meeting to consider that document and could have a vote which would sanction and adopt that controversial document?
I am satisfied that if one has a council of 25 and two are absent, the chairman and deputy chairman, and the 23 present decide in their wisdom that the director is the person to chair the meeting, there should be nothing in-this Bill to frustrate their will and wish.
I move amendment No. 154:
In page 12, to delete lines 31 and 32.
The effect of this amendment is to delete paragraph 7 of the First Schedule which states:
The Council may perform such of its functions as it may deem proper through the Director.
I do not know why paragraph 7 is included in the First Schedule. I thought that the question of the relationship between the council and the director had been adequately dealt with under section 10 (2) where it is clearly set out, yet for some reason or other it is repeated here. This seems to be superfluous and repetitive and I should be grateful if the Minister would explain it.
Paragraph 7 of the First Schedule states:
The Council may perform such of its functions as it may deem proper through the Director.
In section 10 of the Bill the director is described as the chief officer of the council and among his responsibilities, in accordance with the direction given to him by the council, is the responsibility to control and direct activities and staff. Paragraph 7 is a reciprocal provision whereby the council may perform such of its functions as it may deem proper through the director. Notice where the power lies to make this decision. It is provided that the council may delegate its functions to the director in a specific case or for a specific purpose. The chief executive may delegate still further down the line. The provision for delegation by a statutory body is standard in an Act setting up such a body. Frequently such provision specifies that the body shall perform such of its functions as it may deem proper through or by its officers or servants, duly authorised on that behalf. That provision exists in paragraph 23 of the Schedule to the Higher Education Authority Act. In drafting this provision, the draftsman argued that it was more appropriate that the council should delegate in the first instance to its chief officer, who would in turn, according to his duties and responsibilities, delegate to other staff as necessary.
I move amendment No. 156:
In page 12, after line 46, to insert:
"10. Each member of the Council shall have access to all information necessary for his efficient functioning as a member of the Council.".
I am asking the Minister to insert a new paragraph 10 in the First Schedule to give the right to every member of the council to have access to all information necessary to his efficient functioning. I am trying to ensure that there will be openness in the workings of the council and that the director cannot deny any member of the council access to a certain document. It is proper and commendable that there should be openness between members of the council and the administrative side.
The only reason I am not accepting this amendment is that it is not necessary. Any fair reading of the Bill will show that it is implicit that members of the council will have access to all the information in the possession of the council. After all, the council itself is the important body and it will be in control of its staff. Consequently I cannot see how any information could be denied to a member. There is no verisimilitude in the Deputy's suggestion. The council will be doing its work with all information available to it and all committees it sets up will be answerable to it. It is self-evident that all information will be available to the council.
Amendments Nos. 157 to 160, inclusive, are related and amendment No. 165 is consequential on amendment No. 160. These amendments may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 157:
In page 13, Article 1, lines 3 and 4, to delete "shall consist of the Director and" and substitute "may include the Director and shall consist of".
I am surprised we are not taking amendment No. 161 as well as it seems to be related.
If the Deputy wishes we will include amendment No. 161.
I would be happy to include amendment No. 161. I do not propose to take up the time of the House because if we were to go into these amendments we would be doing no more than thrashing out the same arguments again. I can put my position on this and the other amendments quite simply. The basic problem goes back, as the Minister said, to the fundamental wrongness of appointing the director as a member of the council. If there are 25 directors in a company and they all have an equal shareholding but one of them is managing director and the other 24 are not, is there any real doubt that effectively the managing director has far more authority than the other 24, even though his shareholding may be identical and he may have no greater rights than the other directors? Effectively we know where the power lies.
In this situation we are creating something analogous, in that we are having among the council one member who is more than just that because he is the director. That enhances and magnifies his powers as director. It also magnifies his significance as a council member. We are now proposing to put him on every board of studies; the word "shall" is used, not "may". I am not for a moment proposing that he should be barred from being a member of the boards of studies. I am just saying that if we put him on every board of studies the man will not see his chair in his office from one end of the week to the other. I do not know how many committees the Minister is on but I know how many committees I am on. Every time I am asked to go on another committee—it happens about once a fortnight—I refuse for the reason that I will not allow myself to become a member of any committee to which I cannot give a real commitment in terms of time and work. Even if the director of the NCEA were Superman, I do not think he could give the kind of commitment that is involved in his membership of so many parts and subsidiaries of the organisation. For the sake of his health, even if for nothing else, I appeal to the Minister to make this a non-mandatory section so that he can go on a board of studies he wishes to go on and which the council want to put him on.
I concur entirely with what Deputy Horgan has said. This is the obverse side of the director being chairman. The Minister is anxious that if the council so wish they may elect the director as chairman. Surely that also goes for the board of studies? If the council so wish to put him on a board of studies they shall do so. Why give him super powers in relation to the boards of studies? By specifying that he shall be a member of all such boards are we not making him a more important member than the other members?
He will certainly be more overworked.
Is it not a fact that if the council wish to appoint him to a board of studies they may do so? In this Bill the Minister has made the director a superman. I believe he was wrong to do so. It may be detrimental to the overall esprit de corps of the council in that the shadow of the director will be over all their deliberations and this may mean that members will always have to consider what the director may say.
It is my belief that the director should not be on any board of studies. They are relatively technical boards. For instance, they may be assessing a course in electronics and I do not think the director should be expected to be au fait with all theories and practices in the area of electronics. The director will be out of place on a board of studies. His proper function is assessing the recommendations of the board and it appears to me superflous to have him on such a board. As Deputy Horgan pointed out, it would be physically impossible for the director to be on all such boards. What would be the position if he were ill and unable to attend meetings for a long period? Would that invalidate the proceedings of the boards? I do not think it would. I am satisfied that the inclusion of the mandatory “shall” in the Second Schedule is completely out of place. It will put undue pressure on the director. Primarily his role is not to participate in all such boards but to assess their recommendations and conclusions. The inclusion of the director is another manifestation of the attitude of the Minister in the Bill to the role of the director but obviously we are not going to get anywhere on this point.
First, I should like to take up the analogy of a company or corporation which Deputy Horgan used. I do not think the analogy between the managing director of a manufacturing company and the director of the NCEA is acceptable. On this council we will have 24 members in addition to the director. Each of them has his own expertise in the educational area, particularly with regard to educational assessment and the granting of awards. While I will accept that the system of part-time directors in a company helps to build up a managing director, I do not accept that 24 people on the NCEA would in any way think they were dealing with a superman or allow their activity to be clouded by one particular individual. I do not think that is a real danger. I am sure Deputy Horgan knows enough about people in the academic world to realise the truth of the old proverb omnis comparatio clandicat—all comparisons limp a bit. This one limps in that he is not comparing like with like.
I take Deputy Horgan's point that the amount of committee work is very heavy and must be very wearing on anybody who takes it on. However, there are people—the Deputy himself is one of them, as are Members of this House, members of the Government, members of semi-State bodies and people in the public service—who really work themselves to a standstill in the public interest. While the director could not be expected to attend every meeting of every board, what the legislation is doing, even with the use of the word "shall", is seeing to it that ex officio he may attend a board meeting.
The Minister could have said that.
His absence would not invalidate the activity of the board or its conclusions. Perusal of the handbooks of third level institutions will show that there is an ex officio membership, for example, of the president of University College, Galway on all committees. It does not mean he has to attend them all but ex officio he is entitled to attend them. I think it important that the director of the council should have this power. There is a limit to what a human being can endure and I am sure the director will not be able to attend all board meetings. That is self-evident unless he wishes to kill himself when he is very young.
I move amendment No. 166:
In page 13, after line 23, to insert:
"6. A member of a board of studies may resign by delivering a letter of resignation to the chairperson of the Council."
This is a relatively simple amendment which need not detain the House. I am merely providing a mechanism for a member of the board who wishes to resign. It is not specified in the Second Schedule and I merely suggest that the method of resigning should be by a letter of resignation delivered to the chairperson of the council by the member who wishes to resign. This is probably non-controversial.
It does not strike me that there is any need for the provision of a statutory procedure for the resignation of a member of the board of studies. The member can resign without carrying the weight of a statute behind his resignation.
When is it proposed to take the Report Stage?
On 8 November.
All right, subject to the Whips' agreement.
Go raibh maith agaibh.
Is mian liom mo buíochas a ghabháil leatsa.