Finance (Customs Duties) (No. 2) Bill, 1932 (Certified Money Bill—Report Stage.

Friday, 15 July 1932

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 15 No. 22

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Question proposed: “That the Finance (Customs Duties) (No. 2) Bill be received for final consideration.”

Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Connolly): Information on Joseph Connolly Zoom on Joseph Connolly Perhaps I should express my regret that the House had to be summoned at such short notice to meet to-day. One of the sections of this Bill dealt with cut flowers. If the Bill is not made law and had not the signature of the Governor-General before the 18th inst., such taxes as have been collected on imported cut flowers would have to be refunded. I have not yet placed the responsibility for this omission. Obviously if it had been pointed out we could have dealt with the remaining stages of the Bill on Wednesday last. There are two possible explanations. Either the departmental officials overlooked the date on the Financial Resolution which was originally passed or presumed that the House would be meeting on Thursday. There are three Departments involved, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Industry and Commerce, and the Department of Finance. That is the position, and that is the reason the House had to be called together to-day. You, sir, have been good enough to put on the notice sent to Senators a suggestion that the remaining stage might, with the permission of the House, be taken to-day. It is essential that this should be done, and I hope the House will agree to facilitate the Revenue Department in having this done.

Mr. Jameson: Information on Hon Andrew Jameson Zoom on Hon Andrew Jameson Might I ask if this is creating a precedent of any kind? [1248] From what the Minister has said, there is no question but that this is due to some oversight on the part of the Civil Service Department concerned, but we must remember that the Seanad has made recommendations to this Bill, and if the Bill is required to be passed into law to-day one could hardly expect that the Dáil is going to give any real consideration to them. The matter in question here is a small one. I wonder if it is wise for the Minister to ask the House to do a thing like this? Supposing the situation was a difficult one and that some of the more vital duties imposed by the Government required to be validated by the Bill, what would be the position? At present it is only a question of cut flowers or something of that kind. I am sure that a great many of the girls who sell cut flowers in Henry Street would be delighted if the Seanad did not meet, and if they were able to get cut flowers from outside for a month or two. The present instance is a trivial one. If it were not I think the Seanad should be rather slow to do what it is asked to do, because we might really prejudice ourselves by creating a precedent that we could be summoned late at night to attend meetings which would alter the whole balance of opinion. The Senators present to-day are presumably only those who were free to be here at such short notice. If this could be quoted against us that the Seanad had established this practice, and if a Government was placed in a difficulty over such Orders, which depend on being considered by the House, and if the duty in question was an important one, this House would be placed in a very difficult position. I do not know if it is possible for the House to put it on record that this is being done at the request of the Minister, and done in exceptional circumstances which should not be considered in any way as a precedent or that could be followed again in much more difficult circumstances. I do not know whether the Minister would consider that point of view. There is not the slightest question of the Seanad not being willing to accede to the Minister's wishes on an occasion of this kind, but I think there ought to be something on record that it is not to be taken in any way as a precedent.

[1249]Cathoirleach: I think I ought to say something regarding the remarks made by Senator Jameson. The House seems to me to be safeguarded in two ways. First, it is essential that the Cathaoirleach should summon the meeting. He has to be satisfied that there is an emergency and, on being satisfied, summons the meeting. Having received the summons, Senators come here and if they think the matter for discussion is not one which should not be dealt with, then they are free to vote against any proposal which is before them. I do not think any future Government or any body of legislators would take it as a precedent that one Chairman in a particular instance thought this matter one of urgency and could hold it up as a precedent in any other case because all matters of urgency must be dealt with with regard to the whole framework attaching to a particular emergency. Therefore I feel that Senator Jameson's fears are baseless, and in this particular instance I am afraid I must take the whole responsibility for having summoned this meeting, because I thought a position was likely to arise which should be prevented if we in the Second Chamber could prevent it.

Mr. Jameson: Information on Hon Andrew Jameson Zoom on Hon Andrew Jameson As regards the question of voting, everyone recognises that at a meeting summoned overnight like this one, it would be perfectly impossible to consider the voting at such a meeting as being worth anything, because it would be physically impossible for many members of the Seanad to attend. Unless it was a matter upon which a representative vote could be taken it should not go through. If this were a question of voting on an important measure and that Senators were summoned in this way it would upset the balance of things. I grant that in this case it is not a matter to argue about, and I hold that the Cathaoirleach was perfectly right in what he did. If it was ever a question of a vote having to be taken on other measures it would be extremely wrong for any Minister to put the Seanad in the position of having to be summoned by telegram overnight to a meeting on the following day because it would be impossible for many Senators to attend, [1250] and if there was a vote no one could say how it would go. I do not suppose the Minister would do any such thing. If there was any likelihood of a vote having to be taken under the conditions that I refer to no such emergency meeting should be held.

Mr. Farren: Information on Thomas Farren Zoom on Thomas Farren I think you, sir, have answered the point raised by Senator Jameson. The Standing Orders provide that in special circumstances the Chairman can consent to call a meeting of the Seanad. We must have some confidence in the person elected.

Cathaoirleach: And that he will safeguard the rights of members. If representations are made to him in future by any Minister he has to be satisfied whether the matter is of real importance or whether it would necessarily involve a considerable difference of opinion.

Mr. Brown: Information on Samuel Lombard Brown Zoom on Samuel Lombard Brown That is not the point.

Mr. Farren: Information on Thomas Farren Zoom on Thomas Farren The Chairman's consent is necessary for the calling of a special meeting of the Seanad in accordance with the Standing Order.

Mr. Brown: Information on Samuel Lombard Brown Zoom on Samuel Lombard Brown Yes, if there is an emergency created of public importance.

Mr. Farren: Information on Thomas Farren Zoom on Thomas Farren The Chairman must consent.

Mr. Brown: Information on Samuel Lombard Brown Zoom on Samuel Lombard Brown Yes.

Cathaoirleach: I would like to have this matter cleared up. It is really fundamental to the question for which we are summoned. Standing Order 19 (2) reads as follows:—

“The Cathaoirleach may summon a meeting of the Seanad for an earlier date than that fixed on the adjournment, for special reasons to be stated by him in such summons.”

Mr. Brown: Information on Samuel Lombard Brown Zoom on Samuel Lombard Brown I do not suggest for a moment that the Chair was wrong in calling the meeting. My point is that it is for the House to say, when the Chairman has called a meeting, whether this is a subject which they could fairly treat at a meeting like this.

[1251]Cathaoirleach: That is quite right.

Mr. Brown: Information on Samuel Lombard Brown Zoom on Samuel Lombard Brown This happens to be such a subject, but I hope it will not occur again.

Cathaoirleach: I quite agree. These things should not be allowed to occur.

Mr. Farren: Information on Thomas Farren Zoom on Thomas Farren I suggest that there is no cause for the alarm that Senator Jameson fears. That is the point I want to make. The members of this House are safeguarded, in the first place, by the position the Chairman is placed in; and when members come here they have the right to decide whether or not they will proceed with the business on the Agenda. I think Senator Jameson may be quite easy in his mind with regard to the setting up of a precedent. This is not setting up any precedent but is simply facilitating the Government to carry out within the necessary time one of the measures that have been passed dealing with finance.

Mr. Counihan: Information on John Joseph Counihan Zoom on John Joseph Counihan I think Senator Jameson has good reason for raising this question. We do not object to coming here and we do not oppose the Bill. As Senator Farren points out, when the House meets Senators can decide whether the matter before the House is of importance or not. I contend that a majority can manipulate the position in a way that people who would be opposed to a particular measure would not be there to oppose it. For instance, in the present case I got a telegram summoning me to this meeting, and I am only twelve miles from the city. If I was away from home it would be impossible for me to attend. That might occur to several other Senators. It would be impossible for them to attend if they were in Donegal, Kerry or Cork to vote on a particular issue.

Mr. O'Farrell: Information on John Thomas OFarrell Zoom on John Thomas OFarrell I do not think this is a matter for judging the wisdom of the Chairman in calling the meeting or not. The Standing Orders provide that the Chairman can call a meeting when requested. Personally, I should not like it to go forward that we acquiesced in this form of legislation. We have consistently and persistently [1252] objected to this form of last-minute rush during the period of office of the late Government. A mere change of Government is no justification whatever for this sort of thing in the future. Senator Farren, I think, tried to put that point of view——

Mr. Farren: Information on Thomas Farren Zoom on Thomas Farren No, I did not. I ought to be allowed to make my own speech. My statement was that this Bill had been before the House for at least three weeks. That statement was made in regard to this measure. I was not dealing with the flood of legislation that is coming at all.

Mr. O'Farrell: Information on John Thomas OFarrell Zoom on John Thomas OFarrell I can see that. Senator Farren told us what exactly the position was. We could decide here and now not to go on with this Bill. We do not want to be placed in that position. I do not suppose there is half the House here. The first intimation I got of this meeting was about ten minutes to ten o'clock this morning. In fact, the post had arrived before the wire came. What I would suggest to Ministers is that they should be a little more careful with a view to ascertaining what business requires to be put through. Obviously, there has been some oversight in the Department. They overlooked the fact that this Bill had to be passed before a certain date. Probably, no great importance attaches to the matter with which we are now dealing but the question might be of great importance in certain circumstances. A position might arise where only the Dublin members of the Seanad could turn up. They might come to a decision which would be in conflict with what would be the view of a full meeting of the Seanad. That could easily happen here to-day on a very important measure and you would have going forth from this House a decision which would not be arrived at if all the members had an opportunity of attending. There is no safeguard at all, as suggested by Senator Farren and by you, a Chathaoirligh, in a matter of this kind because half the House, or one-third of the House, may not have an opportunity of attending. Consequently an opportunity is not [1253] given to the Seanad to decide by a majority what in its opinion is the right and proper thing to do. I am not opposing the passing of this measure now. It would be ridiculous to do that in the circumstances, but I want to emphasise what the position is and to show that a very serious position might arise in the future if a similar emergency were to occur.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Joseph Connolly Zoom on Joseph Connolly I do not defend this action at all. I do not think it is a desirable proceeding. When this difficulty was pointed out to me last night, my immediate reaction was to say “Well, if an official or officials of any Department have let the Ministry down as regards the date of the passing of this measure, let it go and if we have to refund the money let it be done.” On this Bill, as a Bill, there is very little to be said. The Bill was passed through Committee Stage last Wednesday. It was fully discussed. Several recommendations were made which will go to the Dáil in the ordinary way. I do not think there is any possibility of the situation that arose being taken as a precedent for future action. The House has always the option to refuse to discuss a measure in these circumstances or to refuse to facilitate the Government. There is a great deal in Senator O'Farrell's point, that a House called together on such short notice might not have all the members present who would want to be present. That was my feeling instinctively and immediately when I heard of the difficulty. On reflection, I realised the difficulty. Even now, I almost wish it were possible for the Seanad to refuse to do this, so that an example could be made of those who were responsible for any let-down in the Department. That is one's feeling against one's judgment. The House has always that option but there are the difficulties which Senator O'Farrell points out. I do not know anything I dislike so much as to put up a proposition like this. Emergency legislation has to be carefully watched. Even of emergency legislation adequate notice can be given. We will have emergency [1254] legislation which will require attention on Monday. Notice has already been given of that. This Bill is in a different category. I feel that the Seanad will agree that there is no vital principle in it. It is simply a question of providing that moneys collected under a tax should not have to go back to those who have paid the tax. I have every sympathy with the House and with the views expressed. While the Seanad is in existence and while there are rules governing the Seanad, those rules should be applied. At the same time we must appreciate the Chairman's position in the matter. He was faced with this proposition yesterday and he considered the question in all its aspects. While we have a Chairman, and while we have confidence in that Chairman, I think it is only right to show approval of his action and to appreciate the difficulty he was in. I think we should be agreed that he exercised his discretionary powers wisely in doing what he did.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take the Fifth Stage now.

Question—“That the Bill do now pass”—put and agreed to.

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