"That in the opinion of Seanad Éireann the Government, in order to make better use of the Seanad, should so order Parliamentary business (1) that advantage would be taken of Article 20.2.1º of the Constitution which provides that Bills may be introduced in the Seanad; (2) that business would come from the Dáil to the Seanad at reasonably regular intervals; (3) that there should be an end of the practice of presenting Bills to the Seanad at times of the year when no effective consideration can be given to them."
I am glad to see the Taoiseach here this evening. I am grateful to him. It shows that he considers this matter to be a serious one. The motion on the Order Paper is rather narrowly drawn but it is clear that every serious student of politics is dissatisfied with the existing parliamentary machine, both here and in Great Britain. With the ever-widening scope of Government action and State power, Parliament as it was conceived is proving unable adequately to perform its functions. The parliamentary machine is creaking under the strain of conditions never contemplated by the people who gave us the type of Parliament we have.
This motion, however, it not concerned with the powers of the Seanad, the personnel of the Seanad or the method of election to the Seanad. What I propose to do if I can is to take the Seanad as it is and to prove that it could be made far more useful than it seems to everybody to be. If the Seanad is not used to the utmost, if its members cannot take a reasonable share of work and responsibility, then I think the Seanad should be abolished. The House could be given more work to do and could be made to do that work more effectively. I want to suggest some method by which that conclusion could be reached if the Government, perhaps with some co-operation, were willing to adopt these schemes.
In the first place, it seems to me that the Government in arranging its Parliamentary programme should take the position of the Seanad into consideration and endeavour to see that the Seanad will get a fairly constant flow of business. I know that there are difficulties about that and I am not suggesting that the Seanad could be made to meet as frequently as the Dáil, but if instead of laying out a programme for the Dáil and when the Dáil is finished, throwing Bills sporadically to the Seanad, the two Houses were to be considered beforehand, it would be possible to give us a fairly constant flow of business.
More Bills should be introduced in the Seanad. A considerable number of Bills are suitable for introduction in this House instead of in the other. Such introduction is permitted by the Constitution and, in my judgement, is desirable.
When I speak of the arrangement of business, I mean that the position is that normally from now until the summer recess the Dáil is occupied, in the main, with the Estimates and other financial business. Ministers bring in a certain amount of legislation. That legislation is dealt with by the Dáil, with various interchanges and threats between Governments and Opposition —I am speaking now in a non-partisan spirit—that they will have to meet into September, but the Dáil always concludes in July by passing a certain number of Bills, apart altogether from financial measures. When the Dáil adjourns in July, a whole spate of Bills come over to the Seanad, appear on the Seanad Order Paper and have to be passed through all Stages in the Seanad very rapidly, so in the nature of things, they cannot get proper consideration. That situation could be avoided with some forethought.
With regard to the relative number of sittings of the Dáil and of the Seanad, the Dáil in the nature of things sits more frequently than this House because the Dáil has to do Estimates. It is not for us to criticise the Dáil or give them any advice. They do Estimates, all the Estimates, every year —this year they were not able to conclude the Estimates so they took another Vote on Account and postponed consideration of some of the Estimates until the Autumn. Normally, the Dáil sits three times more frequently than the Seanad. In 1962, the Dáil sat more than four times as often as the Seanad. But although the Seanad sits so infrequently and allowing for the fact that it has no Estimates to consider, it still has to pass all the Bills which the Dáil passes. When it gets a spate of Bills in the autumn, it naturally has to pass them perfunctorily.
I have, for example, a list of Bills on the Order Paper for August, 1961. On 2nd August, 1961, there were seven Government Bills on the Order Paper for Second Reading and there were four more on the following day, 3rd August, 1961. It is not a desire to go home on holidays that makes the Seanad dissatisfied with that state of affairs but that Bills are thrown at this House—I should not say that because Ministers of any Party are delightful to meet in the month of August. They are full of charm and reasonableness. They say they are not responsible for this position, they cannot help it and occasionally they say the Opposition are to blame. They regret very much that the Dáil has adjourned but they always tell us that there is power to recall the Dáil. There is of course power to recall the Dáil but no Government have done it and I do not think that any Government will ever do it. Seanad discussion of Bills at that time of year is unreal and unsatisfactory.
It cannot but be unsatisfactory as I have said. It is a humiliating procedure. It is quite futile and, indeed, as I have suggested on more than one occasion, it would be more honest procedure and certainly from the point of view of the Minister for Finance cheaper to pass all Bills through all Stages in one hour and go home. But certainly no House of a Parliament should be asked to consider a list of Bills such as this in a hurry. It is not avoidance of work at all but the fact that you are considering something that you cannot amend because Ministers will accept no amendment and the Dáil, in fact, will not be recalled; that is one state of affairs which I think could be avoided. I know that there is no magic wand which this Taoiseach or any other Taoiseach could wave, but a way to avoid it would be to consider the two Houses and not one House when Parliamentary business is being arranged. I have thought that that state of affairs could be brought about only if there were a moratorium on legislation, if the parliamentary draftsman were let alone and if Bills were not introduced. I have held the view —a personal view—that we have too much legislation because every Bill which is passed means more expense and very often more interference with ordinary people's lives.
There is another thing which could be done. In July, 1962, there were five Bills on the Order Paper and on 1st August one more Bill was added. I think that is a state of affairs which should be avoided. It ought also be possible, it seems to me, to introduce here a great many Bills, including a number of those of which I have spoken, which are introduced in the Dáil and clutter up the Dáil Order Paper. It would be an advantage to the Dáil to receive Bills from this House. The suggested procedure, first and foremost, is completely constitutional. It is not undemocratic. It does not take in any way from the powers of the Dáil. Whether it is introduced in the Dáil or in the Seanad, the powers of the Dáil under the Constitution over the Bill are absolute. But it would save Parliamentary time and would be an advantage not only to the Government but to the whole Oireachtas. Two Bills, for example, which we had recently here could easily have been introduced in this House and discussed: the Official Secrets Bill and the Hotel Proprietors Bill.
There are many Bills which could not and should not be introduced here. Money Bills are one set, and there are also Bills which in the main are concerned with money such as the Bill I find here on the 1961 Order Paper, the Tourist Traffic Bill. One might say at first sight that that seemed particularly suitable for introduction in the Seanad, but it was only a short Bill increasing certain grants and that is the prerogative of the Dáil. I do not begrudge that to the Dáil and I am prepared to accept all these limitations.
Of course, apart from Money Bills or Bills mainly concerned with money, there are also certain types of Bills that could not be introduced here. One obvious example at the moment is the Electoral Bill, dealing with the electoral law, which is so much the business of the Dáil.
In the first period of office of the inter-Party Government from 1949-50, a considerable number of Bills were introduced in this House, and the present Government did introduce here the Bill setting up the television service. I think that proved to be a very fruitful and satisfactory procedure from the point of view both of the Government and of the Minister concerned. The Minister certainly was pleased with the reception the Bill got here and with its good discussion, and from every point of view, it was a satisfactory arrangement.
The Seanad Standing Orders provide that when a Bill is introduced in the Seanad and comes back from the Dáil, it is considered on Report, so if we got these Bills even late in the year instead of having the usual Stages, we would have only one effective Stage, the Report Stage. We would then be in the same position, therefore, as if the Seanad had previously considered it, had sent amendments to the Dáil and had received these amendments back.
There are other advantages about discussion first in the Seanad. If a Bill is introduced here, it brings the matter to the notice of the public, and leaves time for interested bodies to make representations first in the Seanad and later in the Dáil. I should like to suggest to the Taoiseach and to interested parties that that is a better scheme for them than making representations in the Seanad after they have read the Dáil Debates. It would be a great advantage because when the Dáil has given its decision, like every other body it is reluctant to alter it.
There is also this, that in spite of the number of ex-Deputies here, the atmosphere here is different from the atmosphere in the Dáil. If I were asked to explain that, I would not be able to give a proper intellectual explanation, but it is so, and we give a different kind of consideration to a Bill from that normally given in the Dáil. Again, very rarely—I am not speaking of any particular Minister or ex-Minister in this—very rarely do we vex Ministers here. My friend, Senator L'Estrange, may be occasionally successful in that operation, but he is not typical in that particular matter.
I think the proposed procedure, then, would be helpful to the Minister and to the public and would certainly serve the interests of the people involved in the Bill. For example, our experience has often been that Ministers who resist amendments in the Dáil accept them here. In the case of a recent Bill, we actually found that members of the Oireachtas came under the provisions of the Bill and the Minister agreed to an amendment taking them out.
There is another point that comes up frequently, that is, the question of the urgent Bill. I am sure the Taoiseach shares my point of view that there is hardly any such thing as an urgent Bill, except perhaps dealing with finance and public order. But that is not the Ministerial view generally, and when I use the word "Ministerial", I mean the Minister of any Party and any Government Department. A Government Department takes years sometimes to produce a Bill—sometimes ten years—but the moment a Bill is produced, it becomes urgent; the moment it comes into the Dáil it becomes not only urgent but also sacrosanct. You cannot change a word of it. It is very important. They want it in a hurry and exactly as it is. I believe that is all humbug.
I am not putting this motion down in the form of an attack on the Government. I do not think that any particular Government have been alive to this problem more than another. There are certain types of Bills that are very necessary but uncontroversial which could get good consideration first in the Seanad—consolidation Bills and Departmental tidying-up Bills. I am anxious to see that the best value should be got in the interests of the country from our parliamentary institutions.
The change I suggest might need co-operation from all sides. I think that co-operation can be got in this House. As far as I am concerned, either in the position I occupy now or on the other side leading the House, I do not think the House has ever had any reason to complain of Ministers. Ministers certainly from the very beginning as far as my experience goes have always been ready to attend and to come into the House. I have no complaint about that. I think that it could be carried a good deal further. No Parliamentary system at all can work without intelligent co-operation. We have had that here in this House all the time. I do not want to occupy the time of the House any longer on the matter but taking this Seanad as it is, with all its faults, and I suppose we all agree that it has some faults, I think that steps could be taken to make more use of it. The changes would be for the good of this House, the other House and the State.
A rather human feature which I suppose former Deputies have noticed and which I have noticed elsewhere is seen here, that the less you give people to do, the less they want to do. People who have attended the Dáil regularly and become Senators sometimes seem to want to come here at 3 o'clock and to leave if they could at 4 o'clock. Without any diminution of the Dáil's power and any derogation of the sovereign status of the Dáil or any change in the Constitution, steps could be taken to give more work to this House, to make it more truly a part of our parliamentary institutions.
I would like to end as I began, by saying that if that cannot be done, then the case for abolishing this House altogether is overwhelming.