Tuesday, 19 February 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 8. It is also proposed, subject to the agreement of the House, that the following arrangements shall apply in the case of No. 8: (1) the speech of the Taoiseach shall not exceed 40 minutes; (2) the speech of the main spokesperson for each of the groups as defined in Standing Order 89 shall not exceed 30 minutes; (3) the speech of each other Member called on shall not exceed 15 minutes; and (4) a member of the Government shall be  called on not later than 6.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 20 February 1991 to conclude the debate and the proceedings shall be brought to a conclusion at 6.45 p.m. on that day. Private Members' Business shall be No. 27.
Mr. J. Bruton: I understand that the time limits in question have been agreed between the Whips and I do not wish to challenge them at this stage, but I would like to ask the Taoiseach if it is not the case that when he was on this side of the House and was Leader of the Opposition no time limit was placed on his contributions in debates of this kind? Would he agree it is not desirable that the Leader of the Opposition should in a matter of this kind be constrained by a time limit of 30 minutes?
The Taoiseach: I do not wish to get into a wrangle about this. My recollection is that I, as Leader of the Opposition, was subject to time limits the same as everybody else. My speech today is subject to a time limit of 40 minutes, but I am sure the House would have no objection if Deputy Bruton wishes to take 40 minutes. We may not be enthralled all the time——
Mr. J. Bruton: I am not going to get involved in a wrangle on this matter. All that needs to be said about this programme can be adequately said in 30 minutes. It is simply the principle of placing a differential restraint on one side of the House as against the other that I am querying. I do not believe the Government side is entitled to more time, and we will not be agreeing to this sort of procedure in future.
In view of the fact that there is insufficient competition in the banking sector as evidenced by the arbitrary increase in interest rates on credit cards, clearly indicating monopolistic practices within the banking sector, may I ask the Taoiseach when the long promised competition Bill of the Minister for Industry and Commerce will be introduced in this House to deal with anti-competitive practices of this kind? The Minister promises this legislation once a week.
The Taoiseach: The Government recognise that this is very important legislation — it is a major piece of legislation. There is an urgency about it and we are endeavouring to get it before the House as quickly as possible.
Mr. Spring: May I ask the Taoiseach if it is the Government's intention to place  papers before the Intergovernmental Conferernce in relation to economic and monetary union? It appears that question has been asked at Question Time.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would ask for your co-operation in that we should not repeat this ad nauseam. Unless there is promised legislation it is not in order at this time of day. Is trua liom é sin, but that is the order of the House.
Proinsias De Rossa: Would the Taoiseach be prepared to allow time this week to debate the war in the Gulf and the initiative from the Iranian and Soviet Governments, in view of the significant changes which have occurred since the House debated the matter on 19 January and particularly in view of the recent developments? Does the Taoiseach intend to make a statement on the Government's attitude——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy De Rossa, I should like you to bear with me. The Chair is not all that concerned as to how the House spends time if it agrees to alter what has already been arranged. Deputy De Rossa knows that, unless his question at this time of the day refers to promised legislation, it is not in order. How often do we have to repeat that? The fact that Deputy McCartan is nodding his head does not mean that the matter is in order. That is the position, I ask Deputy De Rossa to adhere to it and to allow us to proceed with the ordered business of the House.
Proinsias De Rossa: I tried to raise the matter by way of a Private Notice Question but it was refused. I am simply offering the Taoiseach an opportunity to indicate whether he is interested in having a debate in the House on this matter——
Mr. T. O'Sullivan: Does the Minister for Communications intend to make a statement in the House regarding his discussions with the chief executive of An Post? Concern has been expressed right across the country in relation to this matter, it is an extremely important matter and he owes an explanation to the House.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy O'Sullivan, while undoubtedly the matter to which you refer is very important, you will appreciate that there are other avenues through which you can raise the matter. It is not in order to raise it now because it is not promised legislation.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Item No. 1 on the Order Paper, the Second Interim Report of the Committee of Public Accounts on  the Appropriation Accounts, 1987, has been on the Order Paper for some considerable time now, the best part of a year. There is little point in the House appointing a committee and asking them to make reports to the House if the reports are not debated. I am not aiming my comments at the Government side in particular; the House is letting the committee down in not debating these reports. Have the Whips agreed to allocate a couple of hours to debate this important report?
The Taoiseach: If you will allow me to be disorderly, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I understand Deputy Mitchell's anxiety in regard to this matter and he has raised it a number of times. I will make another approach to the Whips to see if something can be done.
Mr. Deenihan: It is now over two years since the Taoiseach promised the Irish Farmers' Organisation that he would bring forward legislation governing trespass. When will the Government introduce this legislation?
Mr. Gilmore: I have two questions to ask either the Taoiseach or the Minister for the Environment. Is it intended to allow time in the House to debate the so-called action plan on social housing announced by the Government? When is it intended to bring in the Housing Bill promised in that action plan?
Mr. Gilmore: That is the point. Major statements on policy in this area were made outside the House and all our efforts over the past couple of weeks to raise them in the House failed because the Minister for the Environment refused to respond to questions. Perhaps the Taoiseach will now agree to discuss the matter in the House.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Sin ceist eile. If there are inadequacies, as far as the Deputy is concerned, he cannot have them altered at this time of the day when we are discussing the Order of Business. Unless it refers to legislation promised in this House it is not in order to ask questions on it now.
Mr. Howlin: I support Deputy Gilmore. Last week at Question Time the Minister for the Environment took 40 questions together and he indicated that a new housing Bill would be introduced. Therefore, as it is on the record of the House it is a reasonable question.
Mr. Howlin: It is increasingly difficult for us to operate on these benches. Last week, in advance of the announcement in relation to social housing, I asked if a  statement would be made in this House because every policy decision of any importance is now made outside this House and we are fast becoming irrelevant. If a commitment is made in the House in answer to parliamentary questions, surely that is evidence?
The Taoiseach: If it is a borderline case — I am not suggesting that it is — and while we should agree to the House consistently accepting your rulings with regard to promised legislation, nevertheless there is some suggestion that this is a borderline case and I can tell the House that it cannot be taken this session.
Mr. Quinn: This is a farce. So that we do not have a problem in regard to order and that you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, are not placed in the unenviable position  of having to rule in these matters, may I respond to your question in the following way? Last week, subsequent to the publication of the A and B legislative programme list of the Government, the Minister for the Environment, grouping 40 separate parliamentary questions together, said that most of their content would be the subject of a Housing Bill which he proposed to introduce shortly to the House. The following day, in the Custom House, he released an expansively printed document outlining the contents of that Bill. Surely it is in order for any Deputy — on any side of the House — to ask when the mere minions, the elected Members of this House, will see the Bill?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy McCartan, the Chair will not take any dictation or briefing from you. If what Deputy Quinn said is true, the Chair suggests that there should be a new mechanism whereby what is regarded as promised legislation will be established for the Chair.
Proinsias De Rossa: On the basis of your ruling that only legislation promised on the A and B list can be taken as promised legislation, we could not raise anything because those lists have not been read into the record of this House. They were published outside the House.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy  McCartan, the Chair will not take a contribution from you when you are not in order and in a seated position. I ask you to refrain from interrupting when we are endeavouring to establish what might be a better position than the chaos which exists, not resulting from the Chair but from Deputies who refuse to accept order.
Mr. Howlin: We have arrived at an extremely important position from the Opposition's point of view. The list circulated by the Government Chief Whip before a session starts represents a guiding line in relation to proposed legislation and encompasses the statement that any other legislative proposals which may arise during the session may also be taken. We would find ourselves extremely limited if the legislation included on that list was to be the only legislation which constituted promised legislation and we would simply be unable to operate.
The Taoiseach: May I endeavour to be helpful here? It is my understanding that “promised legislation” has been defined as legislation promised by a Minister in this House during the tenure of this Government.
The Taoiseach: With regard to this contretemps which has arisen over the Minister, Deputy Flynn's statement in reply to 40 questions, I shall endeavour to ensure that whatever legislation is promised in that way is brought to my attention and to your attention, a Leas-Cheann comhairle.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick East): I am sure the Taoiseach is aware that the changes in the business expansion scheme announced in the budget have caused widespread concern. Would he, therefore, tell us when the Finance Bill will be published?
The Taoiseach: The people know exactly where they stand under this good Government and they are very happy about the steady and consistent programme of law reform being followed by the Government and the very considerable reductions in direct and indirect taxation implemented by the Government. In an effort to help the Deputy who may not be as happy as the Irish public in general, I would like to tell him that the Finance Bill will probably be published in accordance with precedent around the middle of April.
Mr. Kenny: As the Taoiseach will be aware, the brown trout in the rivers and lakes again have begun to rise to the bait. In that context, when does he propose to introduce the amendments to the Fisheries Act?
Mr. Creed: Last Tuesday in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress I asked the Taoiseach the status of the promised milk agency Bill. I am sure he had the opportunity over  the weekend, in preparing his 40 minute script, to study the commitments entered into. Would he now tell us if it is his intention to honour the commitment to introduce that Bill this session?
Mr. Gilmore: Since we are not apparently going to get the Housing Bill until next session may I, again, ask if we will be given an opportunity to discuss in this House the Government's plans on social housing in view of the fact that over 20,000 people are on local authority waiting lists, or is the Minister for the Environment afraid to bring his plan into the House to have it debated and discussed?
The Taoiseach: May I offer another helpful suggestion? The debate we are now about to embark upon on the Programme for Economic and Social Progress offers an opportunity to any Deputy to discuss this matter.
Mr. Gilmore: The details of the plan on social housing could have been contained in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress but they were not. They were contained in a separate document which merits a separate debate in this House. If it is sufficiently important for the Minister for the Environment to invite a large number of people to attend a press conference, it is equally important to have it debated in this House given that he pointedly refused to answer questions on those very topics less than a week ago.
Mr. Gilmore: It is becoming extremely difficult to have any relevant matter debated in this House. We have put down motions and questions and have raised them on the Order of Business, but the Government are silent when it comes to social housing. I repeat my question to the Taoiseach: will he make time available for a separate debate on the plan on social housing, or are the Government afraid to have this plan debated and teased out in the House?
Mr. Currie: To follow up the point made by a number of Deputies, that important announcements should be made in the House, and in view of the widespread and apparently inspired speculation that an announcement is to be made on a matter of concern for Members on all sides of the House, will the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications take the opportunity to tell us if he intends to give a directive to An Post concerning the recent viability plan in relation to the closure of 554 post offices and other matters?
Mr. G. Mitchell: Earlier I raised the question of the second interim report of the Committee of Public Accounts, which has been on the Order Paper for some time, and had three questions disallowed. I was not advised of this in writing until this afternoon. There is growing discontent at the fact that Private Members, be they Government backbenchers or members on the Opposition benches, are finding it difficult to raise issues in the House. Would you ask the Ceann Comhairle to call a speakers' conference to look at the operations of this House to make it more relevant because, by the day, it is becoming increasingly irrelevant?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The House will have got the impression not, today but on other days, that the Chair would welcome such an arrangement and understanding if, for no other reason than that it would obviate the need for the Chair to remind the House what is already agreed and planned and what is not. The Ceann Comhairle will have heard what you said but I will remind him of it and hope he will respond.
Mr. Farrelly: Last Friday night six vehicles were stolen in Navan and later found in a dump in north County Dublin. I wonder why it is considered that this matter lacks urgency and would like to ask the Minister for Justice what can be done to prevent a recurrence?
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