It is proposed to take business in the following order: Nos. 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Proceedings on the Bills being restored to the Order Paper today will commence if reached on the conclusion of the proceedings on item No. 9. The Bills will be taken in the order in which they were restored. Private Members' Business will be item No. 24. By agreement, proceedings on item No. 24 will be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. today if not previously concluded. The contribution of the opening speaker shall not exceed 20 minutes, other speakers shall not exceed 15 minutes each and the concluding speaker shall be called on not later than 8.25 p.m.
Order of Business.
Are the arrangements regarding Private Members' Time, as announced, agreed?
In view of the grave public concern over recent events in regard to telephone tapping, bugging and so on, does the Taoiseach intend to make a statement to the House or to make time available for discussion of this matter of great national concern, a matter which is of grave concern to each Member of this House?
At this stage I think I had better clarify the position in regard to the Order of Business as I understand it, in order to avoid misunderstandings. Unless the Order of Business is controlled by Standing Orders and well established precedents it will degenerate into chaos which will not bring credit on this House or on Members of this House. Standing Order No. 25 provides that the Taoiseach announces the order in which Government business is taken each day.
There is no motion before the House and no room for debate. Strictly speaking, even questions would not be in order. One of my predecessors has ruled that, on the Order of Business, the only questions which may be permitted must relate, first, to the business of the day, secondly, to the taking of other business on the Order Paper and, thirdly, the taking of business which has been promised and which therefore can be anticipated, and fourthly, arrangements for sittings. Another of my predecessors has ruled that the Chair cannot and will not accept matters being raised on the Order of Business which are not relevant. If this gets out of hand, any Deputy could raise any matter he or she thinks fit, which is not permissible. For example, Deputy Mac Giolla, in all good faith, has raised a matter which could take up the time of this House for hours and perhaps days. That would not be permissible or in order. I hope that I have made the position clear as I see it and as I intend to try to conduct the Order of Business. I earnestly appeal to each Member of the House to co-operate with me.
Before we go too far with this matter, first, I would be grateful if the Chair would give us a copy of the document from which he has read, which outlines the matters.
If it would help the Leader of the Opposition, the first quotation is from Volume——
Could I have the document for some consideration in due course? I hope the Ceann Comhairle will give us an opportunity to return to this matter on some other occasion. I agree that it is very important. I cannot help remarking that the Ceann Comhairle, when on these benches — and, indeed, his own party — when we were in Government, availed of the device of the Order of Business to have many a protracted debate in this House. However, if the Chair decides to reform us, even from the malpractices in which the Ceann Comhairle, with all due respect, indulged on many an occasion, then we from this side of the House can promise that he will have our co-operation. We would be anxious that he discuss this matter with us a little further. The Ceann Comhairle might have given us knowledge that he was proposing to make this outline of the ruling today so that we could consider it with him. I will waive that and, now that he has made this initial announcement, I assure him that in principle we agree with what he is hoping to do, but we would like to have an opportunity of discussing it with him in some detail before it, as it were, becomes finalised. There is one thing in what the Ceann Comhairle has read out which does disturb me as an initial reaction, which is that questions would not be in order. Surely the Ceann Comhairle does not intend to maintain that particular stance?
My predecessor ruled — and succeeded, I think in getting the House to accept — that questions would be allowed on the business of the day, on other business appearing on the Order Paper, on business which had been promised by the Government and which, therefore, could be anticipated, and on arrangements for sittings. One of my predecessors so ruled at Volume 326, columns 541 and 543.
I do not know if Mr. Mac Giolla has concluded his question.
If not, I shall give way to him, and I wish then to raise some question.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his explanation of Standing Orders, with which I am not very familiar. I raised this question merely because I believe that the credibility of this House is at stake and also because it appeared, from the manner in which two questions which had been addressed to the Taoiseach were deferred, wrongly I believe, to the Minister for Justice, to be an attempt to gag this House. One specific question was definitely related to the Taoiseach and referred to an action taken by a previous Taoiseach, asking that the present Taoiseach take the same action. The fact that that question was deferred and will not come up for a couple of weeks seems to be an attempt to gag the House. I hope that the credibility of this House will be upheld.
The transfer of a question from one Department to another, from one Minister to another, is not a matter for the Chair. The Chair is notified that this has been done, but the Chair is not consulted beforehand nor has he any control over the matter.
Statements have been made outside this House, not by the Taoiseach but by the Minister for Justice, relating to the retirement of two senior Members of the Garda and this House is not being allowed to discuss this matter.
I do not wish to interrupt Deputies, but there is machinery within Standing Orders under which this type of matter can be raised. However, the Order of Business is not the forum for raising it. If we were to have this sort of impromptu or instant Question Time every day, or frequently, on the Order of Business, it would simply be bad for the House.
We are simply trying to find out if the Taoiseach is prepared tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, to put on the Order Paper a debate on this whole question of telephone tapping, and particularly the question of whether TDs' phones are tapped.
The answer is that they always have been and they are now.
My difficulty is that, if I were to allow that question, no matter what the answer it would probably provoke a debate or a further question. I would not see any great objection to that, if that question were asked, and answered, full stop.
On the Order of Business, is it not simply asking the Taoiseach, who decides the Order of Business, when the Order of Business will be taken?
What has been happening here in the past, is that a hare is raised——
In the language of the gamekeeper.
—— by asking the Taoiseach to make a statement on a subject and then that hare is followed from all sides of the House and there is a scene. That is not good.
Could I have a final word on this? It is most unfortunate that the Taoiseach is sitting silent in his seat and refusing to make any comment at a time when the dogs in the street are talking about it.
No better man.
If the Standing Orders and precedents are as I have stated and the Deputies are not satisfied with them, they will have an opportunity, even this day if we can get on with the business, of raising the matters on Item No. 9 which proposes reform of the Dáil.
I wish to ask a question which I think comes within the terms of the Standing Orders which have been read out. It is about the Book of Estimates. I was somewhat surprised to learn from the Minister of State, in the course of answers today, that the Book of Estimates has not been finally settled. What is the exact position at the moment? The Taoiseach knows that my Government produced the Book of Estimates. There is a statutory or even, I think, a constitutional obligation on the Government to produce them. Is it the position that the Book of Estimates produced by us is the Book of Estimates or will there still be a further Book of Estimates or some variation of them to be published?
The position is that the Book of Estimates produced by my predecessor is the Book of Estimates required to be published under Standing Orders and, arguably indeed, under the provisions of the Constitution. However, at the time when the Government changed, the Government then in office had not reached the stage of taking policy decisions in respect of all of the Estimates which were published. I have no doubt that they would have done so and validated the Book of Estimates in due course by so doing, had the Government not changed or the election not taken place. This creates the situation that our Government have been left to take policy decisions involving £151 million in the Book of Estimates in respect of which no decision has been taken by the preceding Government as to how the Estimate is to be brought down to the level published. This situation is without precedent. Obviously we must decide whether, and to what extent, the particular Estimates can be validated by policy decisions in a particular area, or whether there are other policy decisions to be taken.
We are considering how, in those circumstances, we can present the data to the Dáil, because the normal situation in regard to a budget is that there may be a few changes, a few policy changes, to be announced in regard to the Estimates which can be fitted into the budget statement. That may not prove adequate in this situation and we are considering, when we have completed the process of taking the decision which the previous Government had not concluded taking, how we can present the data to the House during the budget in a form which will facilitate debate and ensure full information.
I totally contradict the Taoiseach's statement that the previous Government had not taken the necessary policy decisions to validate the Estimates. That is not the issue here, but we can deal with it on another occasion. I am concerned now with the technicalities. Are the Government accepting our Estimates as published and will they now proceed to decide how in their view those Estimates should be adhered to and implemented, which is perfectly within their jurisdiction — I am not disputing that? On the other hand, do the Government intend actually to alter in some way, apart from budget changes, the estimates as published by us? The Taoiseach will realise there are two separate matters: the first is the implementation of the Estimates by administration and the other is the Estimates themselves. Perhaps the Taoiseach will give me an indication of the position in regard to both.
If we were to arrive at a precise figure in regard to the Book of Estimates as the final figure to come before the Dáil we would have to take policy decisions in regard to £1,540 million of expenditure. The question of the final shape of the budget is something to be disclosed in the budget speech. It is normal practice for the Government to announce in the Budget speech additional expenditure or cuts in expenditure in respect of individual Votes. The difficulty we are in, given the scale of the operation we have to undertake in regard to validating the Book of Estimates as published, is that it is possible that the figures in respect of a number of subheads and Votes will be different from what is in the Estimates. The scale of that may go beyond anything that occurred previously. If that is the case it obviously poses a problem because the budget speech could be a very long one involving endless detail, and we are considering how best to present such changes, because of their scale in order to facilitate the house on budget day.
The question of how the Government will proceed is a matter of the greatest importance to us. I accept that on practically every occasion the budget would make alterations, with either additions to or subtractions from the Book of Estimates as published. Can we take it that the Book of Estimates will be before us, subject to such additions or subtractions?
I appreciate that we will be having a debate on Dáil law reform later. The problem referred to by you today has been outlined again and again. You quoted Standing Orders and I know from my experience as Government Chief Whip in the last Dáil that you know Standing Orders better than most Deputies. To arrive at your findings today you referred to the conclusions of previous occupants of the Chair. The problem is that if you followed their line I could very easily quote the last Ceann Comhairle and the way he handled the Standing Orders that you have referred to. He handled the matters completely differently from the way you did. If you were to give, instead of the Standing Orders which you referred to, your understanding of the position it might have been better. On a number of occasions I tried to get agreement with the Opposition Whips on this point and I failed to do so.
Standing Order No. 25 reads:
Every sitting of the Dáil shall be governed by a printed Order Paper which shall be prepared under the direction of the Ceann Comhairle. The Taoiseach shall have the right to determine the order in which Government business shall appear on the Order Paper and, by announcement at the commencement of public business, the order in which it shall be taken each day.
That is it. That does not allow for any debate or comment. The other announcement I made was my understanding of the precedents here over the years. They are precedents which I propose to adopt and do my best to enforce, with the co-operation of the House. I am prepared to accept the invitation of the Taoiseach to discuss the matter either with the Whips or with the Leaders, or to have the matter discussed with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I appreciate the frustration of Deputies in this matter. I do not want to anticipate the imminent debate on Dáil reform but I suspect that in that debate this is one of the issues that will be raised. Some ideas were floated in the last Dáil with a view to overcoming this frustration. If proposals are to be made in the ensuing debate to tackle this, the Government will take steps to implement some of the proposals as rapidly as possible without waiting for the completion of a whole programme of Dáil reform. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges could look at this problem when they have been appointed.
I agree with the Chair's view, which I think is the consensus in the House, that this is a basic reform we should initiate. We are grateful to you for having given a lead on it. Arising out of what Deputy Mac Giolla has said, and just to get confirmation from the Taoiseach, I take it that the matters referred to by Deputy Mac Giolla will be part of the terms of reference for a judicial inquiry.
I will not allow this matter to be raised in a backhanded way because it is much too wide.
It has been promised by the Government.
I should like the Taoiseach to indicate whether the Minister for Fisheries will make a statement to the House on the common fisheries policy which came into operation last night, and if time will be given to Deputies to debate fully the agreement which has been signed.
I do not think there is any question about the judicial inquiry.
I am not clear as to which question you will allow me to answer.
Deputy Daly asked, without notice, whether time will be given for a discussion on the common fisheries policy.
With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, if the Opposition wish to have a discussion on that it is a matter the Whips can consider.
Within the guidelines laid down might I ask the Tánaiste when he intends to restore to the Order Paper the Urban Areas Authority Bill and the Dublin Inner City Authority Bill?
I am at present reviewing the matters referred to by the previous Minister for the Environment. I would hope to have them restored at an early date.
When will the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs restore to the Order Paper the Bill to establish An Post and An Bord Telecom so that the House can take the Committee Stage, the Second Stage having been finished?
I hope to be in a position to make a statement on that matter in the next two weeks.
Perhaps I might ask a further question by way of clarification. Deputy Mac Giolla asked a question here about the bugging affair and it was ruled out of order by the Chair. Another Deputy put a question to a Minister about a matter arising outside the House — the common fisheries policy — and the Taoiseach replied to it. Why is one question deemed to be in order and the other not?
I understood that Deputy Mac Giolla sought to raise the matter for discussion now.
He asked specifically whether the Taoiseach would be willing to make a statement on the issue or allow time for a debate on it. That is all we want to know. Is the Taoiseach willing to allow this in the Dáil? We could make this House more relevant outside by simply——
I will allow the Taoiseach to say "yes" or "no" or to say a few sentences.
If it is desired that such a debate should take place that is a matter for discussion between the Whips and we are quite prepared to discuss the matter with the Whips of the Opposition parties.
On the Order of Business might I ask the Minister for Justice if he would make a statement — not necessarily today but at an early date — on the current position in regard to the dispute between his Department and the officials of the District Court. It is a very serious matter——
No, I am afraid that is not——
May I ask your permission then, Sir, to raise it on the Adjournment?
The Chair will communicate with the Deputy.