Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Bill, 1985: Order for Second Stage.

Bill entitled an Act to amend the Health (Family Planning) Act, 1979.

I move: "That the Second Stage be ordered for Thursday, 14 February 1985 at 10.30 a.m."

Is that agreed?

Deputies

Agreed.

That is not agreed. We on this side of the House are opposed to making an order for Second Stage of this Bill and taking the Bill at very short notice tomorrow. We object to the manner in which the Government, for what appear to be nothing more than tactical political reasons of their own, are attempting to rush this Bill through the House in a hasty, ill-considered manner, brushing aside the normal parliamentary procedures. The Parliamentary procedure whereby business is ordered by agreement between the Government and the Opposition is valuable and useful. It enables legislation to be adequately and constructively debated. I acknowledge that there may be times when a Government are justified in setting aside procedures but otherwise it is a duty on the Government to adhere to the established procedures and so ensure the orderly and responsible management of parliamentary business. There is no justification for the Government on this occasion. We on this side are not being unreasonable and we are fully prepared to take this Bill next week even though, as it happens, nobody has given us any good reason why it should be taken. We also believe that there is no public demand for this legislation which can only cause divisions and dissent at a time when 234,000 people are unemployed and all our energies inside and outside this House should be concentrated on solving the grave economic and social issues confronting the country.

People want to know why the Government have chosen this moment to bring forward this legislation and thereby disrupt the most important economic debate of the year, the budget debate. At a time when these grave economic and social issues press with increasing severity on our people, it is irresponsible to throw the national community into the kind of acrimonious divisive debate which is bound to follow the introduction of this legislation. If, as I assume, the Government's case is that this is an important and necessary reform, why is it not being dealt with in the normal manner with plenty of time given to the public to consider its provisions and implications and for interested parties to make submissions to both Government and Opposition? If this legislation can stand on its own merits, why is it not being allowed to do so? It is our wish that this legislation should be dealt with in the House in a dignified, mature and responsible manner, and we hope that it will. We are quite prepared to take this Bill in the normal way next week or the week after, but this attempt by the Government to use their majority to abandon normal procedures to force the Bill through is not calculated to achieve a reasonable atmosphere for the debate. Why is it being done?

The Government are leaving themselves open to two sustainable accusations: firstly, that they are seeking to divert attention from the failure of their budgetary and economic policies; secondly, that they wish to have this Bill safely dispatched through the Dáil before public opinion has focused fully on its provisions and assessed its implications. Are we witnessing another instance of the handling of public opinion, an attempt to put something across? There is no pressure for this legislation; in fact, the reverse is true. There is no valid case for taking it tomorrow. I am asking the Government to adhere to the normal practice and procedures and take this Bill by agreement next week.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

I also am concerned at the haste with which this Bill has been introduced to the House without giving adequate time to us in Opposition to study it and make our case and without time for consultation with various interested bodies outside. I am concerned also that both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs are making the case that it is a very minor Bill and, to use the Taoiseach's own words, very minimal changes are involved in it. The Minister for Foreign Affairs in a statement which was quoted in the leading article in the Sunday Independent stated that the proposed amendment——

I would like to try to make it clear to the House that the only matter before the House at the moment is the date on which the Bill is to be taken. The merits or demerits of the Bill may not be debated at this stage.

I accept entirely what you say, but the case I am making is that that date should be postponed. My concern is that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs either do not understand the implications of their own Bill or were misled at the Cabinet table and do not know what is in the Bill, otherwise they would not go out and tell the public that it is a minimal change and the Minister for Foreign Affairs would not say that there is only one change in this Bill when there are three changes. The one change that the Minister for Foreign Affairs referred to was the removal of the need for a doctor's prescription for non-medical contraceptives. If that were the only change in the Bill then it might not be necessary to have a long time for consultation, but this Bill is a fundamental move away from the 1979 Act. In fairness to the Minister for Health, Deputy Desmond, he will not go in front of the public and say that it is only a trivial Bill with only trivial changes. He recognises the major social change involved in this Bill.

That will arise on subsequent Stages if we get to them.

Yes, but this is important. We are appealing to the Government to extend the time before Second Stage is debated in this House. I am appealing to the Government to reconsider their decision to take this Bill forward tomorrow. It appears from what the Taoiseach said that he does not realise that this legislation introduces a major social change. The 1979 Family Planning Act puts family planning in the area of family health care and it is in keeping with Article 41——

We are now getting into a major Second Stage debate.

This is a major move away from that principle enshrined in the 1979 Act. Also I would like to know why the review body's report was not circulated to Members of this House It would be very useful in our deliberations. I would like to ask the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health what consultations were held before this legislation was introduced. When Deputy Haughey was Minister for Health he consulted with 18 different bodies over a period of months before introducing legislation to the House. I would like to ask if consultations took place with the chemists, with the IMO——

This is clearly a Second Stage debate and the Chair cannot allow it.

It is very relevant because in this new legislation it is proposed that the health boards will have a major role. Are the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health aware of a recent decision of the Midland Health Board——

All these are matters for Second Stage and Committee Stage debate.

I am sure I will be repeating this on Second Stage but it is very relevant to try to get this Government to delay the introduction of Second Stage so that proper consultation with the appropriate bodies can take place. It is usual when legislation of this nature takes place that it would be circulated to the health boards, the chemists the medical organisations. What about the maternity hospitals? There is a major change in this Bill in relation to the maternity hospitals.

I am ruling that line or argument or debate out or order.

If they were not consulted I would ask the Government at this stage to ensure that there is sufficient time for proper consultation with the interested parties so that we may have a meaningful and rational debate on the Bill.

Dún Laoghaire): The House should be advised of the arrangements put by the Government to the Opposition with regard to the taking of this Bill. The Bill was published on Thursday last. The Opposition spokesman was contacted on Wednesday evening. It was made clear that the Government's wish was to take the Bill as soon as possible after the Opposition had had sufficient time to examine it. Deputies opposite may scoff but we all know why another weekend is needed — so that the Bill can be examined.

Is that the reason for rushing it through?

(Dún Laoghaire): The people opposite do not wish to know the truth but we all know why another weekend is required by them.

What are the Government afraid of?

(Dún Laoghaire): The Government recognised that the Opposition Front Bench would need time to consider the Bill, that their Parliamentary Party also would require time for that reason, and that was why we suggested that Second Stage commence this afternoon. I stress the word, “commence”. There have been attempts to suggest to the media that we wished to guillotine the Bill or to force it through the Dáil whereas all we requested was that Second Stage would commence with no restriction as to the amount of time allowed for that stage. The reality is that we wished to have the Bill debated here in Parliament and not on the streets where people are being confused every day of the week.

The Government are afraid of public opinion.

(Dún Laoghaire): The sooner the Bill is begun here the better the opportunity for eliminating the scare tactics being put forward.

On a point of order——

(Interruptions.)

(Dún Laoghaire): I did not interrupt Deputy Haughey.

Order, please. Deputy Haughey on a point of order.

I would draw you attention to the tenure of the remarks of the Minister of State and would ask you if that is in keeping with the ruling you expressed to Deputy O'Hanlon — that the only matter to be considered is the question of the date for taking the Bill. The Minister of State is straying outside those rather narrow confines and is adopting a political approach to the Bill.

A failed political entity over there.

(Interruptions)

Has the three-day Attorney General something of importance to say?

He had nothing to say at the Forum and he has nothing to say here.

Obviously, the Opposition have not been listening to Deputy Kelly.

Fianna Fáil have only one guiding principle——

Order, please. Deputy Haughey has raised a point of order and the least one would expect from the House would be that all sides would allow the Chair to answer. I will keep an ear to what the Minister of State says but so far as he has gone he has been dealing with attempted arrangements for the taking of the Bill and that to the Chair appears to be in order.

I accept that.

(Dún Laoghaire): Having heard from the Opposition that they needed more time to discuss this matter and in view of their Parliamentary Party meeting taking place today, the Government decided that in fairness to the Opposition they should be allowed time to discuss the taking of the Bill. It was put to them then that we postpone the commencement of Second Stage until tomorrow, Thursday, so it is not correct for anyone to suggest that we have attempted to rush the Bill through the House or not to give the Opposition ample time to consider it.

We have attempted at all times to give maximum opportunity to the Opposition to consider the Bill. I would remind the House that we are talking about a three section Bill but a Bill which consists mainly of one section. It is not a long technical piece of legislation. I agree that there are principles involved, but it is a matter for people to decide for themselves. I am dealing with the arrangements and I wish the House to be aware that the Government did not fail at any time to accept the fact that the Opposition needed time to consider the Bill. In view of the arrangements we put to the Opposition regarding the taking of the Bill, I do not think we can be accused of acting with undue haste.

The fact that the Opposition wish to have the Bill commenced on Tuesday rather than today defies logic and I would remind the House once again that we asked for the commencement of Second Stage and said we would wait until Thursday evening to consider how the Second Stage debate was progressing and that, if necessary, we would order it to be resumed next week. We did this so that everybody here would have a right to speak and express their opinions on the Bill. I wish to refute the allegation that is being heard generally that we are endeavouring to guillotine the Bill and to deprive people of their right to speak on it. We did not have at any time any such intention. I trust that those who are considering whether the Bill should be moved today with Second Stage being ordered for tomorrow will recognise that we have endeavoured to be considerate towards the Opposition and to allow them plenty of time to examine the Bill.

I rise merely to point out that when Deputy Haughey speaks about this side of the House he is not speaking for all of us.

I gladly accept that.

Is he speaking for his own party?

Regarding the subject matter of the Bill, which has been a matter for discussion since 1979, if Fianna Fáil or others have not made up their minds by now they will not reach a decision in another week or two weeks or even in another ten years. I see no reason for the Bill not being taken now and disposed of tomorrow or next week.

In reply to the points made by the Minister of State, we were advised first of this Bill late on Wednesday evening last. At that stage I was informed also that the Government wished to have the Bill through the House by Thursday evening. We objected to that.

(Dún Laoghaire): On a point of order, I have outlined what took place.

That is not a point of order.

On behalf of my party I sought more time to discuss and consider this matter. We agreed that the Bill could be taken on Tuesday of next week but following that proposal the Minister of State informed me that the Bill would be moved on Wednesday morning and that the Second Stage would commence on Thursday morning. I wish to make it clear that the original intention of the Government was to have the Bill out of the House on Thursday evening, to complete Committee State on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest, so that little or no discussion could take place.

What does the Deputy mean by the words "out of the House on Thursday"?

A guillotine.

In fairness to the Minister of State, the word "guillotine" was not mentioned but it was made clear that the Government wished to have Second Stage completed this week and to complete Committee Stage next week so that debate outside the House could not continue. Therefore, the situation as outlined by the Minister should be corrected.

(Dún Laoghaire): On a point of order, I must correct that. I did not at any stage say that we had to have the Bill completed by next week. I do not tell lies, as anybody who has been dealing with me as Whip will realise.

Order, please. Any suggestion that anyone is telling lies should be withdrawn.

Deputy Molony should be asked to withdraw the remark.

I heard someone say, when asked if something was a suggestion that someone was telling lies, that it was. I do not know which Deputy said that.

The Chair should look at the young Deputy who is blushing.

(Interruptions.)

The Minister for Health, Deputy Desmond, to conclude.

I want to assure the House and the Leader of the Opposition that the normal parliamentary procedures in relation to this Bill have been and will be meticulously observed. As soon as the Government decision was taken to publish the Bill I contacted the Government Whip and made a particular point of speaking briefly to the Fianna Fáil spokesman on Health prior to the publication of the Bill and assured him that as soon as I had a proof copy I would, in the normal manner, make a proof copy available to him that evening. Deputy O'Hanlon had to leave the House but was available first thing the following morning. That procedure was observed.

Did the Government have a proof copy?

So limited is this Bill that the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party apparently have been able to come to a conclusion on it without even holding a Parliamentary Party meeting.

A Deputy

There is nothing new in that.

In fact, so definitive is the Leader of the Opposition's view on this Bill that within one hour of its publication his party spokesman was able to publish a statement assuring opposition to the Bill.

The Deputy said that he would recommend that.

I would suggest that far be it from the Government to examine their hearts in this matter when the Leader of the Opposition needs a bit of cardio-visual approach in respect of his own procedures in this matter.

(Interruptions.)

A Deputy

Why are the Government imposing the Whip? What medical school is the Minister attending?

I would object to that.

Finally, on numerous occasions Opposition spokespersons have approached us inquiring when we are going to publish this Bill. Now that we have published it they do not want to debate it.

On a point of order, I think it only fair that it be recorded in this House that on no occasion did I approach anybody to know when this Bill would be published.

I would be interesting to define what the Government have done now.

I might also add that my statement last week said that I would be recommending, as I shall be this morning, that our Parliamentary Party oppose it.

In conclusion, this measure has been foreshadowed by the Programme for Government which indicated that the 1979 Act would be reviewed and that appropriate amendments would be brought into that Act. That process has gone on over the past few years. It should therefore come as no surprise to the Leader of the Opposition that the Government have so decided. The Bill has been published. I accordingly move that it be taken at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow morning. I look forward to a constructive, reasonable response from the Leader of the Opposition and his parliamentary spokesman to this.

I am putting the question that the Second Stage be taken tomorrow

Question put and agreed to.

A Deputy

The price of power.