Tuesday, 7 May 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
An Ceann Comhairle: The only proposal to be put to the House is that Item No. 8 be taken without debate. If this item is to be opposed I will, in accordance with procedure, call on a spokesperson for each of the parties in Opposition to make a brief and relevant contribution.
Mr. J. Bruton: I wish, Sir, to express the opposition of my party to the taking of the Bill in this fashion. This Bill contains measures which are quite far-reaching in  the powers they confer on the Minister for the Environment. There is no urgency in regard to the major part of this legislation. The proposal to initiate debate on the Bill after allowing effectively only one, or at most, two working days for Members to study it prior to its being discussed here; also, in view of the fact that the explanatory memorandum concerning the Bill has been sent to Deputies only this morning it seems to me that it is precipitate of the Government to seek to initiate the debate so quickly. Furthermore, there is no need to insist that the Bill be fully enacted as quickly as proposed. It seems to me and to my party that considerable time ought to be allowed for Committee Stage of the Local Government Reform Bill in view of the many questions that need to be asked and answered concerning individual powers to be exercised by the Minister and by local authorities. We need to have sufficient time for all these matters to be teased out in an unhurried fashion. The experience we have had in regard to time-tables being imposed on Committee Stages of Bills is that only a few sections of those Bills are ever discussed and the remainder of the Bill is not discussed because if one gets into contention on the earlier part of a Bill the latter part is never reached, and that is undesirable. I hope the Minister would accept the case we are making that more time should be allowed for Committee Stage.
Mr. Spring: I will address my remarks to the Order of Business and the proposals made by the Taoiseach for the Order of Business. I want to convey my serious concern to you, Sir, and to the House in relation to the manner in which this Bill is being introduced. Reform of  local government has been promised for a long time. I would say to the Taoiseach and to the Government that they are now showing undue haste in relation to publishing a Bill last Friday and publishing the explanatory memorandum this very afternoon and expecting the House to debate it straightaway. Motion No. 8 on today's Order Paper, which in effect is a guillotine motion, is entirely incompatible with Standing Order 58 (1) of the orders of this House. I am sure you are familiar with that Standing Order which prohibits the Ceann Comhairle from allowing debate on any matter to be curtailed if you consider it to be an infringement of the rights of any minority group in this House. Motion No. 8 is a gross infringement of that Standing Order of the House.
The manner in which this motion is drafted in the name of the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach is a clear breach of Standing Order 143 which I have just quoted. The Standing Orders of this House are a legal instrument, the authority for which is derived from the Constitution, and also they are subject to judicial review. If the motion in its present form is passed and if the debate goes ahead as scheduled by the Government, then the Local Government Reform Bill may be passed through this House on foot of a motion which is out of order and, thus, in all probability illegal. We are on the brink of an acutely dangerous situation. I have done some research into Standing Order 143. I believe it has not been offered as a challenge to the Order of Business prior to this and I would ask you, Sir, to satisfy yourself in relation to the motion before  you, that it complies fully with the Standing Orders of this House, otherwise we may be creating a very dangerous precedent.
An Ceann Comhairle: Do you wish me to reply now or to await what Deputy Proinsias De Rossa may have to say? I can tell Deputy Spring now that in respect of the adequacy of the notice and allocation of time motion before us that the motion does conform with the long-established precedents regarding the allocation of time motions which rarely receive the four days' notice. I am satisfied that Members have had sufficient time to study the implications of this motion. It is on the Order Paper for today for all to peruse and to take note of. There are a number of precedents which actuate the Chair in regard to this matter. I have very many precedents before me today which I can give to the House. On 18 July 1989 we had an allocation of time motion, notice of which was given on the same day; on 23 June 1987——
Mr. Spring: ——I am not referring to the amount of notice given. I am referring you to Standing Order 143 specifically in relation to a motion that can only suspend the orders of the House, in effect, for the day's sitting. This motion before us proposes to change the rules of the House for four days. I am saying that that particular aspect is out of order and not in compliance with Standing Order 143. That is the particular aspect to which I want to draw your attention.
An Ceann Comhairle: In so far as the Taoiseach's motion is concerned, an allocation of time motion is normal practice in this House. The Taoiseach, in announcing the Order of Business, frequently proposes arrangements for the taking of items of business subject, of course, always to the agreement of the House. That is precisely what he is doing here today. I will be putting the proposal to the House, in the usual way, shortly, having afforded the spokespersons for the Opposition parties an opportunity of commenting thereon and the House will decide the issue in the normal way.
Mr. Spring: Would you not accept that, where a motion introduced in the name of the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach is in clear breach of Standing Orders, this House cannot accept that motion? In relation to Standing Order 143 (1) whereas the Taoiseach and the Government may have abridged time for one day, you, Sir, cannot allow them to abridge time and set the debate in this House for four days irrespective of whether it has been done in the past; it is not within the orders of this House. This matter is so serious that you may want to adjourn the House for a period to fully consult in relation to it. It is of great concern that the legislation to reform local government is now about to be put to this House in breach of our Standing Orders.
An Ceann Comhairle: I will not allow my ruling to be challenged in this fashion. I would draw the attention of Members to the preamble to the motion before us on the Order Paper which states: “That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders”.
Proinsias De Rossa: The difficulty with item No. 8 arises for us in that the Government are proposing that the  guillotine procedure be dealt with without debate. My party oppose the procedure of guillotining it without debate I suggest that the point raised by Deputy Spring be dealt with in that debate and the House could then make up its mind whether it regards the matter as in order. The Government may even have second thoughts about whether the matter was adequately debated here in the House.
It is totally improper to have a Bill brought before this House at such short notice effectively giving something like 35 hours in total for debating a Bill which has 55 sections. The effect of the proposal in relation to Committee Stage, is to provide less than ten minutes per section. That is totally inadequate, particularly if it is to live up to the claim of the Minister for the Environment that this Bill is a major reform of local government. It seems to me that the mess which will be created as a result of this Bill will haunt this Government in much the same way as the Broadcasting Bill haunted this Government and continues to haunt them. The Minister could, if he wished, solve the problem he has with regard to postponing the elections to UDCs and of town commissioners by an order under the Local Government Act, 1973. He does not have to rush this Bill through the House by 17 May to achieve that. I urge the Government to withdraw their guillotine motion even at this late stage and let the House debate this Bill in the way it should be debated.
First, let me deal with the question of the adequacy of the time, which is the primary concern. The Government Chief Whip has proposed that we allow 26 hours for the Second Stage debate. That is a very considerable amount of time——
The Taoiseach: ——an unusually long  time for Second Stage. Furthermore, the general intention is that roughly 18 hours will be given for the Committee and Final Stages in the following week. I have not the slightest doubt from my long experience in this House that for a Bill of this kind that is more than adequate and is, in fact, a very generous allocation of time. I understand, a Cheann Comhairle, that you do not permit us to deal with the merits of the Bill itself, therefore I shall refrain from doing that. Perhaps I would be allowed make the comment that it is not by any means anything in the nature of major revolutionary constitutional type of legislation.
The Taoiseach: It is a significant piece of legislation but no more complex or far-reaching than a countless number of other Bills that we have dealt with in this House in a much shorter space of time. The Opposition are constantly complaining that we are not bringing forward enough legislation but when we bring forward legislation like this they do not wish to take it.
The Taoiseach: If you think that rude and ignorant barracking of me is a substitute for reasonable argument, then I shall sit down. I am entitled to make the point that the proposals in this Bill have been in gestation for over two years.
The Taoiseach: The Government  offered the Opposition parties an all-party committee to make recommendations for local government reform. For nine months the Opposition parties did nothing about that offer from the Government.
The Taoiseach: I am sorry, I beg your pardon, it was the Fine Gael Party. Sometimes I get preoccupied with the Opposition, I have to look to my left occasionally. The Fine Gael Party held us up for nine months——
The Taoiseach: ——and then we had to go ahead. We tried to get the maximum possible participation in this process by all the parties in this House and it is only at this late stage two or three months after we had made a statement on the report of the commission indicating what we were going to do and now we have the legislation before us. It is perfectly ordinary reforming legislation. This House should be quite capable of dealing with this legislation. We are allocating 26 hours to the Second Stage debate and 18 hours to the Committee and Final Stages.
The Taoiseach: A Cheann Comhairle, as I said at the outset, I do not believe there is any justification for these complaints by the Opposition parties. I believe we should legislate for this modest reform before the local elections so that the new councillors can go into new structures.
Mr. J. Bruton: On a point of order, would the Chair not agree that it is unfair that the Taoiseach be allowed to make a lot of extraneous comments about other parties in the House when the contributors from this side of the House asked him questions which he did not answer? Is this not the fourth time that this Government have attempted to introduce legislation after long months of gestation and then asked the House to deal with it without having had adequate time to prepare for it?
Mr. Spring: On a point of order, Sir, I have the same reservations and concerns as those expressed by Deputy Bruton and Deputy De Rossa on the lack of notice but I am particularly concerned about a remark you made in relation to a point I had made on Standing Order 143. You seemed to indicate that the preamble to the notice of motion: “That notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders” meant Standing Orders did not apply but in reality we have to have Standing Orders and to be governed by them. I would again like to draw your attention to Standing Order 143 — I cannot see how we can take the business as before us because in effect Standing Orders can only be modified or suspended for the day's sitting.
Mr. Spring: We must be subject to Standing Order 143 notwithstanding the fact that we are about to suspend Standing Orders. I must put that point to you again, Sir. You have not explained how you can order the business for four days when, in effect, our Standing Orders do not permit us to order our business for  four days. I am alerting you to this because of its serious implications.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Spring, I have no doubt in the matter and the Deputy need have no doubt about it either. There are many precedents whereby an allocation of time motion governs more than one day's sitting——
An Ceann Comhairle: As I have already stated, the preamble to item No. 8 states “That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders ...” and allows for this, and Standing Order 143 does not apply in this instance. I would remind the Deputy that the House is master of its own affairs in such matters.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
de Valera, Síle.
Fahey, Jackie. O'Connell, John.
O'Toole, Martin Joe.
Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
Haughey, Charles J.
Kitt, Michael P.
Morley, P. J.
Nolan, M. J.
Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West). Roche, Dick.
Wilson, John P.
Belton, Louis J.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Farrelly, John V.
|Higgins, Michael D.
Sheehan, Patrick J.
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