Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. a1, Road Traffic and Transport Bill 2006 [Seanad] — Second and Remaining Stages; No. 17, Patents (Amendment) Bill 1999 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 2, Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006 — Second Stage, resumed; and No. 3, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Second and Remaining Stages of No. a1 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: the proceedings on the Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 65 minutes; the speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, which shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 5 minutes; and the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes 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 Transport. Private Members' Business shall be No. 52, motion re: report of the Comptroller and Auditor General for 2005, resumed, to conclude at 8.30 p.m.
In 2002, the programme for government outlined the seven Bills to be implemented in the area of justice legislation reform, of which six have not been implemented. These include matters like the proceeds of corruption Bill, extending the powers of the DPP to permit appealing lenient sentences handed down by the District Court, the single crimes Bill and dealing with fines. In the case of many Bills, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform cannot even indicate a possible date of publication. What has happened to the priority set out in the programme for government in 2002 that such matters have not even bestirred themselves as we approach the end of this Dáil?
I normally answer questions on the Order of Business on the area of justice, as we are trying to complete Bills. We have introduced an enormous amount of legislation. The legal costs Bill and the property services regulatory authority Bill are due. There are the immigration and residence Bill and the judicial council Bill. In this session, we will have the enforcement of fines Bill. There is an enormous amount of justice legislation before the House.
There is also a huge list of legislation in the justice area in various stages of preparation, which needs to take its course. The criminal justice (confiscation orders) Bill, criminal justice (DNA database) Bill and the criminal justice (provisions) Bill are all coming——
I understand that. The Tánaiste is quoted in one of the newspapers as saying that he did not think it was possible to enact that Bill until 2007. Is that purely a question of parliamentary timetabling here or are there issues given rise to by recent events relating to the Privacy Bill and the wisdom of proceeding with the one in the Seanad?
There have been numerous false starts and announcements about the citizens information Bill. My latest information was that it would be published this Friday, 6 October. Can the Taoiseach confirm this and is there any significance that it ties in with Ivy Day? While I know it is due this session, I wonder if we can expect publication on 6 October.
What is the position regarding the minerals development Bill, which was to keep legislation in line with the proposal of delivering better government? Yesterday, Deputy Stagg asked about the broadcasting Bill, the heads of which have been approved and a discussion document has been published. Is the deadline for submissions now extended beyond the projected deadline on the document itself, which was 4 October? From what I heard yesterday, it seems to have been extended to Christmas. If so, what was the reason for extending the deadline for submissions?
The Government approved the heads of the minerals development Bill at the end of June. The legislation has now gone for formal drafting and the Bill is due next year. Regarding the broadcasting Bill, from what the Minister told me yesterday when Deputy Stagg raised the issue, I understand it has gone for e-consultation. He said the closing date was the beginning of December.
In 2003, we passed the Public Health (Tobacco) Act. The provision regarding the sale of cigarettes in packs of ten was not implemented on Monday. Surely the Taoiseach will accept it is inexcusable to have legislation passed by the House and secondary legislation compiled, but when it comes to the very simple measures to protect public health, they simply do not happen because of pressure from tobacco companies. Who is in charge?
That is exactly my point. The Act included a measure to prevent the sale of cigarettes in packs of ten. That provision was due to come into force on Monday. It is to protect young people. However, the Government has not done it and has buckled to the power of cigarette companies——
With regard to promised legislation from the Department of Health and Children, two Bills have been on the legislative programme for some time. The adoption — Hague Convention, Adoption Authority — Bill was repeatedly promised over a series of legislative programmes. In the summer programme, it was expected in late 2006 but now it is due in early 2007. The same applies to the Voluntary Health Insurance Board corporate status Bill, which was expected in late 2006 but is now signalled for early 2007. A pattern arises in respect of both Bills and my question, apart from verifying the Taoiseach's opinion on the current status of their publication date, is whether either Bill will be presented before the general election?
With regard to yesterday's decision in the European Court of Justice on the Bernadette Cadman case concerning equal pay for women and length of service, I understand the Government has requested that, in the event of the court ruling in favour of Ms Cadman, the legal impact of the judgment should be delayed until a specified date in the future to prevent a flood of claims. I also understand it is now part of Irish law. What is the possible impact of this judgment on the legislative programme? Will it have an impact on legislation that is in the pipeline and is it now the law of the land?
The decision was made only yesterday on the case of Ms Cadman versus the UK Health and Safety Executive. The ruling will, of course, be examined in detail by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The initial information available to me is that the judgment clarifies but does not change the law as it has been understood to date. We have to examine it very carefully because equality legislation is an important issue.
The preliminary census figures, which were published during the summer, indicate that the ratio of population to Dáil constituencies is out of line with the limits set down in the Constitution and, therefore, the present constituency arrangements are vulnerable to legal challenge. Two weeks ago, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stated publicly that the Government had decided against introducing legislation to revise the constituencies on the basis of advice received by the Minister from the Attorney General. I had intended to ask the Minister if he would publish the advice he received but the Ceann Comhairle has ruled my question out of order on the grounds that the Minister has no official responsibility to Dáil Éireann for advice which is sought or received from the Attorney General. I ask the Taoiseach whether the Government will publish the advice.
In view of the fact that instructions from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will wrongly delete thousands of voters from the register of electors, will the Taoiseach ensure the matter is addressed in the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2006?
On a number of previous occasions, I raised the matter of providing RTE television signals to the Irish in Britain. The Government agreed to do that but when it examined the matter, it discovered that the legislation establishing RTE was inadequate in respect of ordering RTE to provide the service. RTE could offer a service if it had the will but was not obliged to do so by legislation. I asked that a short Bill be introduced to change the legislation and my request was facilitated through a section which was added to the Broadcasting Bill. On several occasions over the past year, I asked when that Bill would be taken and was advised that it would be published this year. However, I note it is not possible to indicate at this stage when the legislation might be published. I am aware of the problems encountered by the Chief Whip with regard to Ministers seeking time for legislation but that means the Bill does not have a snowball's chance in hell of coming before the Dáil in advance of the next general election. I ask the Taoiseach to consider the matter with a view to determining whether a short Bill could address it.
I will raise the matter with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources because the e-consultation process has commenced in respect of the entire Broadcasting Bill and that process appears to have been extended.
The Taoiseach told us this morning that the Government had not buckled in the face of pressure from the tobacco industry. However, is it not fair to say that it has kowtowed to the alcohol industry by removing the alcohol products Bill from the legislative programme?
Voluntary agreements have been reached with the alcohol and advertising industries and, therefore, the Department of Health and Children wishes to postpone the introduction of the legislation pending the outcome of these agreements.
The Student Support Bill, which is listed for this session, appears to have been watered down from its original intention to address the unfairness of the assessment system for PAYE families. Will no provision be now made in that respect and will the Bill therefore solely pertain to allowing VECs to become awarding bodies? Will the Bill address the issue of fairness of assessment for PAYE families?
I seek direction from the Ceann Comhairle. On 16 July, I put down a question to the Minister for Finance with regard to property owned by the OPW. To date, I have not received a reply, although I have been in ongoing contact with the Department on the matter.
With regard to the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006, which is on Report Stage, a tranche of amendments, practically amounting to a new section, was brought forward yesterday and many more are promised. In view of the current energy situation, will the Minister consider introducing a comprehensive new Bill?
With regard to the mayhem that took place in various parts of the country over the summer, for which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is 100% responsible——