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Houses of the Oireachtas (Laying of Documents) Bill, 1965: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Thursday, 27 January 1966

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 220 No. 3

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Minister for Finance (Mr. J. Lynch): Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The principal object of this Bill is to strengthen Parliamentary control over statutory instruments by prescribing that documents laid in accordance with provisions in which the period for Parliamentary intervention is not clearly expressed shall lie before the Oireachtas for a minimum period of four weeks in each of which the House in question sits.

In the case of most statutory instruments, the statute under which the instrument is made prescribes a specific period during which the document must lie before one or both Houses of the Oireachtas. The enabling statute usually provides that, during this period, the instrument may be annulled or prevented from coming into force.

In some statues, however, the period is loosely expressed in terms such as “days” instead of “days on which the House sits”. In such cases it could happen that the period for Parliamentary intervention could run its course when neither House was sitting. To avoid this, the present practice is to treat the period as commencing on the day on which the House concerned next sits. Despite this, however, Parliamentary control could still be largely ineffective because a sitting day could be followed by a lengthy period of non-sitting days. Section 3 of the present Bill will strengthen the powers of the Oireachtas in such cases by prescribing a definite period of four sitting weeks during which the instrument will be before the House concerned. I should like to emphasise that this will apply only in cases where the existing statutory period is uncertain and therefore unsatisfactory. It will not affect the great majority of instruments for which the period is precisely expressed.

[351] A further object of the Bill is to define what is meant by the laying of a document before a House of the Oireachtas. Section 2 of the Bill states that this means either the action specified in the Standing Orders of the House concerned as constituting the laying of a document, or, if no such action is specified, the procedure followed and accepted by virtue of the practice of that House.

Advantage is being taken of this Bill to clarify the period during which orders prescribing the fees to be taken in the Registry of Deeds must lie before they can come into force. The fees in question are prescribed by orders made by the Minister for Justice under section 35 of the Registry of Deeds (Ireland) Act, 1832 and section 9 of the Land Transfer (Ireland) Act, 1848, as adapted. The presentation provision is contained in section 1 of the Registry of Deeds (Ireland) Act, 1875. On one view of the existing provision, such orders could not have effect until they had lain before both Houses of the Oireachtas during 40 sitting days, a period which might well run for more than a year in the case of the Seanad. There will, I feel sure, be general agreement that such an extended and uncertain waiting period would be quite unbusinesslike in the case of a fees order.

The provision in section 4 of the Bill will enable the Minister for Justice to specify in the orders themselves, as in the case of court and Land Registry fees orders, the date for the coming into force of Registry of Deeds fees orders. So that adequate notice will be given to all concerned, it is being provided that an order shall not come into force earlier than three months after it is made. The present provisions of the law requiring presentations to both Houses are not affected by this provision nor does it curtail in any way the existing right of either House to pass a resolution annulling a particular order.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins The Bill, of [352] course, is acceptable to us and we appreciate its object, namely, as the Minister says, to strengthen Parliamentary control over statutory instruments. It is true that in recent years it has from time to time become problematic as to what is meant by a stated number of days in relation to the laying of documents before the Houses of the Oireachtas and in so far as this Bill removes the difficulties in that regard and defines sitting weeks and sitting days, it certainly is a step in the right direction.

May I raise one matter with the Minister, that is, the growing tendency which is carried forward in this Bill to invite this House to legislate with a blindfold over our eyes? I do not understand why it is necessary, in drafting legislation, to compile together a section such as section 2 in this Bill. I have looked at section 2. I have turned it upside down, backwards and forwards and I can only accept that it is intended to mean what the Minister in his speech has said it does mean. It seems to me extraordinary that we should have to use phraseology of the kind used in that section and it seems remarkable that more and more drafting of this kind is creeping into our legislation here.

I have mentioned this before. I think it particularly unfortunate that it should occur again in a Bill put forward by the Minister for Finance. There is a great danger, if those responsible for drafting do not try to seek clarity in the words they use, that we, in this House, will become inoperative as examiners of legislative proposals. The language, in my view, is unduly obscure. It is couched unduly in phraseology which is not familiar and it represents a tendency which I think should be curtailed. That is only by the way. The main purpose and policy of the Bill, in so far as one gathers from the Minister's speech, appear to be acceptable and will certainly have our support.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully Zoom on James Tully We also support the Bill. Indeed, we think the present form of the words used “before the [353] House” is preferable to the one which, up to recently, was in operation, “on the Table of the House”. I was amazed to find, when the Trade Agreement was put through, that somebody did revert to the original: it may have been a case of days gone by or maybe it brought them back some years. I agree with Deputy O'Higgins about the terminology in this and in many other Bills. We have the example of people framing Bills which nobody except themselves and the Minister, who is using a brief, appears to understand. I do not know why that should be so. Dean Swift is reputed to have made a comment on this type of thing in his time. If he were here today he would be horrified. It is bad enough for the ordinary members of the House who are supposed to know what they are dealing with but people outside this House are horrified when they find documents passing through Parliament which cannot be understood by most people in the country. The fact that the Minister himself can produce a brief which explains in a reasonable way what is meant is proof that there is no reason why archaic phraseology should be used in this Bill, as well as in other Bills. That is my only objection to the measure.

Deputy Dunne remarked recently that we would require a sizeable lorry to carry away the documentation issued from this House if we were to take away with us all the documents that are presented, and for that reason I would not suggest that all the matters laid before the House should be sent to Deputies. I wonder how many Deputies have been years in the House before discovering that on the Order Paper there is a list showing the documents currently before the House. If we checked on the Members of the present Dáil, I am sure it would be found that quite a few of them are not aware that that information is listed in that way. Whether we should have a different system of notice to Deputies is another matter and where exactly the document can be studied and whether or not there are enough copies for a number of Deputies—on occasion, it has been found not to be so—are [354] matters. I should like the Minister to consider while he is attending to this particular Bill.

Mr. Barrett: Anything that tends to give greater control over this type of legislation to the House is relevant. I join with Deputy O'Higgins and Deputy Tully in regretting the obscure manner in which this Bill expresses itself. This is a Bill which is of peculiar interest to each Deputy because it refers to a right which a Deputy has to assert Parliamentary control over control which might be looked upon as bureaucratic in the form of a statutory order laid on the Table of the House.

If the Minister would have regard to section 2, I think he would agree that it is rather obscure in its terms. I am very surprised that an explanatory memorandum was not issued with the Bill. It would have been in the interests of each Member of this House that he or she should have been made aware of the contents and the intent of the Bill. I discussed this section last night for some time with Deputy O'Higgins and neither of us, lawyers as we are, could quite understand what the Minister was after: I do not know if the Minister himself knows. In his speech, where he purports to explain section 2, all he does is to repeat it.

Section 2 (a) really explains itself. It means that delivery of a copy of the document to the Clerk shall be the laying of the document before the House. I should be glad if the Minister would explain to the House what other manner there is of laying a document before the House because, from subsection 2 (b), it would appear to me that Standing Orders do not always specify what laying a document before the House means. There is evidently some other practice. From a perusal of Standing Orders, one would take it that there was only one way of laying a document before the House, that is, by delivery of a copy of the document to the Clerk. If that is not so, I should be glad to know what other alternative methods there are. According to Standing Orders, there is one way of doing this and, if Standing Orders are so precise, why is it that other practices, either alternative, or contrary to Standing [355] Orders, have been drawn up in the meantime and have been accepted by the House? Have they ever been explained to the House or have Standing Orders been amended by agreement amongst the Parties?

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch The point raised by Deputy T.F. O'Higgins and Deputy Barrett is a reasonably good one in that it is not absolutely certain—in fact, I think it is most unlikely—that Standing Orders take account of the laying on the Table procedure at all. However, if Standing Orders do, then subsection 2 (a) will take care of the procedure. If Standing Orders do not, subsection 2 (b) will refer to the practice in each House. I think the best way of getting over that would be for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to examine Standing Orders in this respect and, if they can define a precise method by which this ought to be done, then subsection 2 (a) will apply. In the meantime, if there is not any precise procedure laid down in Standing Orders, then subsection 2 (b) will continue to apply until then. I think no great difficulty will arise and that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will ensure that there is a precise method laid down in Standing Orders. If they do, subsection 2 (a) will apply and, if not, subsection 2 (b). I should imagine it is a matter mainly for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

With regard to the point raised by Deputy Tully, I suppose it is possibly true that very few Deputies go to the trouble of consulting documents which have been laid on the Table of the House. I should imagine it is the first duty of any Deputy to read his Order Paper.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully Zoom on James Tully All of us?

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch He should not confine himself to letting his eye slip down to see the questions to which his name is appended. I think there is a greater duty on each Deputy because there is a lot of information on the Order Paper, not only questions, but legislation pending, activities of Committees and a full list of instruments which have been [356] laid on the Table of either House, as well as Messages from the Seanad. The Order Paper is not a very long document; you certainly do not need a lorry to bring it away and it is supplied to the hotel or home of each Deputy every day. There is a duty on each Deputy to know what is happening in each section of the House. I do not know if any other procedure could be defined, unless we employ a town crier in the corridors of Leinster House.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

Bill considered in Committee.

Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2.

Question proposed: “That section 2 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Barrett: I do not think what the Minister has said is quite satisfactory. I think the House would like to know is there any such practice as is referred to in subsection 2 (b) of this section. Does this refer to a past practice or to some possible future practice and, if a practice has grown up, what is it because subsection (1) of Standing Order No. 139 says:

Where a document is required to be laid before the Dáil the delivery of a copy of the document to the Clerk for that purpose shall be deemed to be the laying of it before the Dáil.

That to me would appear to be sufficiently specific to cover all cases and I do not know how any other practice could have grown up alongside Standing Order 139. If a practice has grown up, I think the Minister should tell us what it is and how it has grown up. I do not think we should leave subsection 2 (b) without ascertaining this. I should be glad if the Minister would be more precise before we finish dealing with that particular section.

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch Deputy Barrett seems to be satisfied that Standing Orders do specify the manner in which a document may be laid before the House.

[357]Mr. Barrett: If the Minister is satisfied with what I say, would he tell us why subsection 2 (b) is there?

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch I am not certain I am satisfied. That is why I suggested that if there is any uncertainly attaching to it, Standing Orders could easily be amended to ensure that subsection 2 (a) will be absolutely applicable and not subsection 2 (b). In other words, Standing Orders could say that no other method of laying a document on the Table of the House shall apply except in so far as is provided herein. Would that not put an end to it?

Mr. Barrett: Are we legislating a future practice in the House?

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch I am advised that subsection 2 (b) is there just to make sure that there is no loophole.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Why could we not legislate that it shall be either in accordance with Standing Orders or the practice of the House? Is that not the object of it?

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully Zoom on James Tully Surely it should be done in a specific way and have one way of doing it?

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins The language used here defies interpretation.

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch It has not been brought so forcibly to my notice before now. I will see if something can be done to tidy it up and make it more precise.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins In the Seanad?

Mr. J. Lynch: Information on John Lynch Zoom on John Lynch Yes.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 3 to 5, inclusive, agreed to.

Title agreed to

Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.


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