Business of Select Committee.

I welcome the Minister for Finance, his officials and officials from the Revenue Commissioners. The select committee will consider Committee Stage of the Finance Bill, 2001, in accordance with the timetable agreed in the Dáil on Thursday, 1 March. If proceedings have not been concluded by the stated time they shall be brought to a conclusion by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance or a Minister of State nominated as substitute on his behalf. When a division is claimed other than on a question put as provided for in paragraph (1) of the order of the Dáil of 1 March, the taking of such division and the putting of any question contingent thereon shall be postponed until (a) immediately before the time next appointed for the putting of a question in accordance with paragraph (1), or (b) in the event of such question not being put when proceedings in committee on the matters which would have been decided by the putting of such question have been otherwise completed.

I ask for the co-operation of members in dealing with the chapters or sections of the Bill as indicated. With the agreement of members, the select committee will take a sos from 1 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. and shall conclude at 6 p.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We will start tomorrow, Wednesday, 7 March, at 10.30 a.m., take a sos between 12.30 p.m. and 2 p.m. and conclude at 6 p.m. We will start on Thursday, 8 March, at 10.30 a.m., take a sos between 12.30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and conclude at 6 p.m. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The list of amendments has been circulated.

I protest strongly that there are 81 pages of ministerial amendments which we received only late last night. This is what is wrong with Dáil Éireann. This is rushing through legislation without proper scrutiny. It will not be possible to properly scrutinise these proposals.

I want to give notice that in future my party will agree not to taking Committee Stage of the Finance Bill the week after Second Stage. It is greatly unsatisfactory. Such lack of care, attention and analysis contributes to the need for tribunals. We could not possibly consider the implications of everything the Minister is proposing here.

In any event, the idea that the Minister has tabled 81 pages of amendments to his own Bill clearly indicates that this Finance Bill was not properly considered in the first place. This is very unsatisfactory and I want an assurance from the Minister that it will not happen again if he continues to preside over that Department.

I feel like a broken record saying this again but each year it takes my breathe away. I did not get the amendments late last night because I was not here beyond 6 o'clock. Therefore, I got this mound of amendments this morning. I do not have the remotest idea what is contained in these amendments. It will not be possible for me or anybody on my behalf to scrutinise these amendments with anything like the sort of care they deserve before we begin to discuss them.

This cannot be a sensible way to do business. We must consider setting down statutory time limits. A time limit of two or three days must be agreed, which would give us at least the minimum time to consider the amendments.

I accept that, in the nature of things, if one has until the last minute to table amendments, one will take until the last minute to do so. The Opposition parties probably do likewise when preparing our amendments but ministerial amendments obviously stand a far greater chance of becoming law. The fact that we pass this legislation without any discussion on Second Stage, because generally we do not know what will happen subsequently, and without any serious discussion on Committee Stage cannot be satisfactory.

Have we had an opportunity to scrutinise the Opposition's amendments? I also received this document only this morning.

Deputy O'Flynn is correct.

It is unsatisfactory of course that there is not more time to circulate these amendments and have them discussed. We understood the Bills Office would be in a position to print and circulate these amendments, particularly the ministerial amendments, last Friday. There was a further delay in getting some of the Opposition amendments and it took a little longer, but I now understand the Bills Office did not get around to producing the amendments until some time yesterday and this morning.

I agree with Deputy Mitchell that it is unsatisfactory. I think we will be able to reschedule next year's Finance Bill to allow a longer period of perhaps a week between Second Stage and Committee Stage, and that might resolve the problem. I am afraid this has normally been the case in my time in Government and when I was Opposition spokesperson, but we did endeavour last Friday to give "the blacks" on the savings incentive proposal to the Opposition parties. That was supposed to have been done by the Bills Office.

I think we got them yesterday afternoon.

Did the Deputy get them last Friday?

I did not get them until yesterday afternoon.

They were supposed to be given out by the Bills Office. I suppose that office is under pressure like everybody else. I will endeavour to improve the situation next year. As Deputy Mitchell suggested, if an extra week was provided for, it might improve matters.

The point made by Deputy O'Flynn is also correct. Government Deputies have not had time to consider our amendments. That is because Second Stage finished last Thursday, my party had its conference over the weekend and we were also supposed to draft amendments. There should be gap of a minimum of two weeks between Second Stage and Committee Stage. I realise there are constitutional deadlines where that is concerned but we must get our act together in order that Second Stage is scheduled to provide a gap of a minimum of two weeks between Second Stage and Committee Stage in future.

I would not like to give a commitment that there would be a gap of two weeks, but I will try to ensure a gap of one week, which should be sufficient for everybody concerned. As Deputy McDowell said, the more time people have, the more likely they will continue right up to the deadline. It is like having to commit oneself to writing an article - even if I got two months advance notice, I always left it until the night before. I think a week would be sufficient.

There are statutory time limits. Second Stage must be passed within 84 days of budget day and all Stages in the Dáil must be passed within 120 days. We will try to provide next year that there will be at least one week between Second Stage and Committee Stage. I honestly think that would provide sufficient time for the Department and the Opposition to do their business.