Thursday, 22 November 2007
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 7b, motion re establishment of Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children; No. 7c, motion re appointment of Members to committee; and No. 11, statements on climate change and energy security. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) Nos. 7b and 7c shall be decided without debate; (2) the proceedings on No. 11 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; (ii) the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; and (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes.
Does the Tánaiste propose to make a statement on pensions? There are two reports on the issue but no legislative proposals from the Government. Some €9 billion, or 5%, has been wiped off the value of Irish pensions in the past month and citizens are extremely concerned as a consequence. One should contrast the position on private pensions with that on ministerial pensions. This issue is of grave concern. Does the Tánaiste propose to comment on the matter and are we to have a debate on it?
I have noticed some Ministers and Fianna Fáil Members talking about consensus, particularly in regard to the health service. I understand the Government is to publish legislation on contributions towards nursing home payments soon. The document, Guide to A Fair Deal: The Nursing Home Care Support Scheme 2008, cites a number of examples of the proposals for those entering public or private nursing homes. This matter will be of serious concern nationwide and affect every single household at some stage or other. In the context of seeking consensus, will the Government publish the heads of the Bill about which it is talking in order that members of all parties and none can focus on this issue which is critical for the entire population? Will the Tánaiste agree to this in order that we can focus on the elements of the debate on which decisions will have to be made, given that people accept the principle of making a contribution towards the cost of a health service?
There is no specific debate promised in the House but there is a debate taking place on pensions arising from the detailed actuarial reviews and the Green Paper on pensions. As many as 32 written submissions have been forwarded to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs on foot of publication of that important document. There were over 2,000 hits on the website, which demonstrates people's interest in the matter.
Owing to the complexity and importance of the pensions issue, consultation on the options that should be considered in the coming months represents the best way to proceed. The House can, with the agreement of the Whips, debate this matter at any time deemed appropriate to all Members. A debate has already taken place in the Seanad.
There has been considerable market turbulence in recent months which has affected many sectors. It is a question of ensuring the return of market stability as quickly as possible. That is what we are trying to achieve at European and every other level. Clearly, the issue will ebb and flow as market sentiment changes.
On the nursing homes legislation, the Bill is due to be taken in the House this session. I must speak to the Minister for Health and Children about whether it would be helpful to produce the heads of the Bill at this stage, given that the legislation should be published in full in the coming weeks.
It is due to take effect from 1 January 2008. The Budget Statement will be presented in two weeks. Therefore, time is limited. Obviously, this is an issue, the full details of which every Deputy wants to see. I thought it might be helpful if the Minister provided us with the heads of the Bill, as drafted.
Will the Tánaiste tell us what the problem is in respect of the production of Government legislation? For many in the House during all the years they have been here, there has never been such a dearth of Government legislation as we have seen in recent weeks. Of the 21 hours of Dáil business this week, only two have been devoted to dealing with Government legislation. Only two of the 17 Bills on the Government's list of legislation for this session have been published. The last Bill we saw — the Roads Bill — was in the end finished off through the use of the guillotine. What is the problem? Is it a political problem among the parties in government about the detailed nature of the various pieces of legislation or is there a problem in respect of staffing in the Office of the Attorney General? There must be some problem.
I endorse Deputy Kenny's comments. Will we now see a rush of Bills by the Government in the week or so before Christmas, the debate on all of which will be guillotined, without an opportunity for the House to discuss them properly? The Labour Party and the rest of the Opposition parties have introduced more Bills in this session than the Government parties.
Today, we are again facing a long debate and no legislation. Members on the Government benches are essentially going through the motions of coming in to chat about worthy motions. We could all adjourn to the coffee shop, sit in a few comfortable armchairs and have a chat, but we are here to deal with legislation, not just to have vague chats.
The purpose of Parliament is not exclusively to deal with legislation. In many cases, one could talk about over-regulated areas in the economy. In my honest opinion, the question of the consolidation and repeal of legislation should be as much a part of the agenda as the issue of introducing more legislation.
I do not believe in relegating important debates in plenary session when there has been so much criticism about the volume of activity delegated to committees of the House. Given the criticism that there was very little coverage of committee sessions during which Deputies worked away at legislation and discussed important issues of State or policy, many Members validly believe that we should in plenary session discuss important issues such as climate change and energy security, key strategic issues not only for this country but also for Europe and the wider world. That is a good development.
That the efficacy of the House is determined by the level of legislation dealt with, be it good, bad or indifferent, is a very narrow view of the role that this Parliament can play in leading national debate. A considerable number of bad and indifferent Bills have come from the Opposition.
I have asked the Tánaiste several questions on a particular issue. In the programme for Government the Government promised to introduce a carbon budget or, as the Tánaiste described it, a carbon report, to be followed by the production by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of a detailed carbon budget.
Will they tell us how it will be laid out?
I have a question about the legislation which relates to the crash in the stock market. The Government promised to introduce the financial services regulation Bill to simplify financial regulation. In many cases, persons approaching retirement who hold pensions and have AVCs, in which the Government encouraged people to invest, are seeing their savings being vastly reduced. This country has the highest charges on investment and financial services products of any country. Does the Tánaiste propose to regulate the industry in the interests of orderly economic development rather than those of the "masters of the universe" of the banking world?
If there has been an example of the successful modernisation of the country it has been in the financial services sector. This party is very proud to have been the author and implementer of that policy which has resulted in the creation of tens of thousands of well paid jobs in this country and enhanced our reputation internationally as a place in which to do business.
The financial services legislation referred to by Deputy Burton is about a full modernisation and consolidation of legislation introduced over many years. Having completed the preparations during the course of next year, I hope to bring it to the House for enactment. In the meantime, I have set up a working group which will liaise with the industry and wider interests to ensure this exercise will improve the business climate for the further progression and expansion of financial services.
The regulatory regime in place, which was introduced by my predecessor, is a model of how to modernise regulatory arrangements in Ireland and is seen to apply best practice. There are many considerations which must be very carefully managed and handled. This Parliament's record of enacting modern legislation is second to none.
I hope that when there is the opportunity to do so, the Tánaiste's welcome for relevant debates in the House will stretch to entertaining Opposition proposals for such debates and that he is not just citing scripture when it suits him.
Everyone is concerned about the worrying international trends in recent days and weeks. In the light of this, will the Tánaiste revise any of his pre-budget forecasts in respect of the economy? Will we know this before budget day because, obviously, it will be of importance in framing the appropriate budget we should have?
My second question relates to the statement issued yesterday by the Data Protection Commissioner that he has serious doubts about the quality of data security measures in Irish public bodies. This comes after the huge security breach in the United Kingdom. Will the Tánaiste look at the existing legislative framework to ensure there will be tighter auditing and reportage of standards in order that we can have an assurance that there will not be such a breach in Ireland?
It is true that the Deputy has always been a proponent of holding more debates in the House, yet there are members on the Opposition benches who would regard the holding of more debates in the House as in some way a dereliction of the duty of the House and consider that we should have more legislation all the time. When the Opposition co-ordinates its position, it will help us figure out what it wants.
As the Deputy is aware, the last pre-budget outlook outlined the then position based on the available evidence. The next time we will make public our position will be on budget day, as normal. I do not anticipate the outcome but, obviously, we will take into account all relevant considerations and updated data that become available between now and then.
In respect of personal data security, public service bodies, like any other organisations and individuals holding personal data, are subject to the requirements of the Data Protection Acts 1998 and 2003 which provide for the appropriate compilation, storage and use of personal data held by them. Among the requirements placed on organisations and individuals in respect of the management of personal data is the need to keep them secure against unauthorised access. Specific statutory provisions provide that appropriate security measures should be taken against unauthorised access to or unauthorised alteration, disclosure or destruction of data, in particular where the processing involves the transmission of data over a network, and against all other unlawful forms of processing. Organisations and individuals holding personal data must register annually with the Data Protection Commissioner. This registration involves the giving of details of the personal data held. Under our legislative framework, organisations must also designate a data controller who will have statutory responsibility for compliance by organisations with the provisions of the Acts.
Regarding the issue raised about their adequacy, in October the Government decided that all Departments and Offices should review the systems and procedures in place to protect the confidentiality of personal data and prevent its improper release. My Department is asking all Departments to report on these reviews, detailing the general systems and procedures in place, the arrangements for the transfer of data and the audit facilities accompanying such systems and procedures and how these procedures are reviewed and how it is ensured they are followed properly. These reviews should be completed early in the new year.
I hope I receive as comprehensive a reply. It is a few weeks since the Taoiseach told the House he had sought the advice of the Attorney General on whether a referendum was required on the reform treaty and the circumstances in which it would happen. Has the Attorney General furnished the Cabinet with a reply? What are its terms and will the Government publish the advice?
There has not been a formal discussion or formal advice provided for the Government but the Taoiseach has indicated, subject to the formal advice being provided, that it is likely a referendum will be held, based on previous experience and case law. A formal decision has yet to be taken.
In reply to a question from my colleague, Deputy Burton, earlier this year the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform gave a breakdown of the numbers of employees and volunteers submitted for vetting. Only three sports organisations and fewer than 1,000 employees were included. What happened to the Garda vetting Bill? It has disappeared from the legislative programme.
Regarding promised legislation, in view of recent rumblings of unrest, when will the Electricity (Transfer of Transmission Assets) Bill be debated in the House? To what extent have discussions taken place? Has the Cabinet discussed the heads of the Bill?
My second question concerns possible promised legislation. It has not been promised yet but is about to be promised.
——to the effect that legislative changes are pending with regard to waste management. Is it intended to revise or repeal the Waste Management Act? I hope the Minister will clarify the matter. It could have serious implications for the rest of the country. I hope the Minister is not hugging incinerators this morning.
I invite the Tánaiste to respond on the Electricity (Transfer of Transmission Assets) Bill and the Waste Management Act. When will the Electricity (Transfer of Transmission Assets) Bill be introduced and is legislation promised to amend that very fine Act, the Waste Management Act?
That was introduced by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle when Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It had the full and unambiguous support of Government Members at the time but things change.
The Bill referred to by Deputy Durkan was one I wished to raise. In the light of the fact that thousands are attending public meetings, trying to get some information on the health implications of the proposed interconnector between counties Meath, Cavan, Monaghan and Tyrone, stretching 138 km——
We do not know the health implications but many health experts are telling us what they are. It is time for the Government to come clean. When will the Health Information Bill be published in order that we can discuss the matter? When will the Electricity Regulation (EirGrid)(Amendment) Bill be published to afford us the opportunity to discuss the matter in the House? I asked for time on Tuesday to discuss it. I do not mind how it is arranged, as long as we have time to discuss this serious issue which is causing much rancour. This House seems to be irrelevant.
The Health Information Bill will provide a legislative framework for the governance of information in the health sector. Work has commenced on the drafting of a discussion document in preparation for the regulatory impact analysis and public consultation on the proposal. The matter is at a preliminary stage.
Regarding the Electricity Regulation (EirGrid)(Amendment) Bill which will provide for a statutory underpinning of EirGrid plc to build and own an east-west electricity interconnector, analysis of all the issues involved is under way in the Department. The strategic importance of a North-South interconnector, in view of the debate on energy security, will be discussed in the House today. I ask Members to desist from unwarranted raising of hares in respect of the matter, particularly given the contention that placing the interconnector underground could increase the cost by up to ten times compared to the provision of pylons in the normal way.
Since the Tánaiste makes it clear that we will have further debates in this House, probably at the expense of legislation, can we have a debate on the White Paper on energy? There is a new Government and a vote by workers in the ESB threatens industrial action. We also have a change of view on the part of the European Commission regarding the break-up of national utilities. There was no mention of the break-up of EirGrid and the ESB in the Green Paper on energy. A debate seems timely.
No. 15 in the Government legislative programme, the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, is expected to be published before the beginning of next session. Its purpose is described as establishing an officials compliance committee regarding the OECD Convention on Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. The difficulty is that the Government's White Paper on aid commits to ratification of the UN convention against all corruption. Is it the Government's intention, as declared in the White Paper on aid, to ratify the UN convention, or is the proposed legislation a substitute?
There are at least 20 international instruments that Ireland signed at the United Nations awaiting ratification.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is the lead Department in respect of most of these instruments. By way of being positive, is it the Tánaiste's intention to create the capacity within Departments to draft legislation rather than having it done by the Attorney General's office? In light of the recent paucity of legislation, is the Government considering farming out the drafting of Bills in order that we might have a realistic legislative programme for forthcoming sessions?
We have been down this road with previous administrations and the same old reply, namely, that additional resources have been made available to the Office of the Attorney General, is always given. There is no point in avoiding the central point that a problem exists in the context of the drafting of legislation and this is apparent in each Department and in the Government's legislative programme.
If, for example, the Government intends to abandon the ratification of the United Nations Convention against Corruption in the same way it abandoned the ratification of the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants and Members of their Families——
I note the Deputy's continuing interest in this area, which involves trying to close the timescale between not necessarily the ratification but rather the adoption of or agreement in respect of certain conventions and their transposition, where appropriate, into national law. As a former Minister, he will be aware that in light of the issues that take priority in Departments, these matters are sometimes not given the prominence he might desire.
The Deputy will also be aware that ministerial colleagues on many occasions give other legislation a higher priority.
The Deputy also inquired about the prevention of corruption amendment Bill, which is designed to strengthen the law in the context of preventing the bribery of foreign public officials, combating corruption in the private sector and establishing an officials compliance committee in respect of the OECD Convention on Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. I am not an expert in this area but it seems that the Bill may not specifically relate to the UN Convention to which the Deputy refers.
The heads of the Bill have been approved and it is expected to be published this session. Perhaps the debate on the Bill will enable the Deputy to elicit the more detailed information he is seeking in respect of the instruments to which he refers.
The Deputy raised this matter on a number of previous occasions. There has been some improvement in the number of instruments that have been adopted since he first raised the general problem regarding how we might close the gap.
In light of the bullying tactics adopted by the HSE in respect of pharmacists and its intention to breach the terms of the pharmacy contract, which will take effect from 1 December, when can we expect the pharmacy Bill to be introduced?
It is not possible to indicate when the pharmacy Bill will be taken. However, it is hoped that every effort will continue to provide a framework within which matters can be resolved in a satisfactory manner to ensure that we avoid any interruption of the provision of services. Goodwill will be required on both sides to achieve that objective.
I am a new Deputy who is still learning the ropes and I beg the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's indulgence for a moment. Last night I raised a matter on the Adjournment, in the context of an article that appeared in one of the newspapers, regarding a problem, the abuse of drugs, that is proving a scourge in our cities and communities. I went home very disappointed. I spent a great deal of time preparing what I had to say and the Minister, in her goodness, listened to my comments before reading a prepared statement on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Carey. As a newly elected Deputy, I was extremely disappointed that, following the amount of time I spent preparing, the Minister did not have an opportunity to reply in her own right. That is a shame.
The Deputy's input is very important and I am sure her party's representatives on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, who are present in the Chamber and listening to her words, will take action on her behalf to ensure that the procedures of the House are appropriately amended to meet her requirements.
Yes, but I hope the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will allow me some latitude. My question relates to the decentralisation of the Irish Coast Guard station at Valentia Island to Drogheda. I was informed, in reply to a matter I raised on the Adjournment last night, that the Minister for Transport's recent decision——
Will the Minister be making a statement in the House in respect of PPPs, particularly as there has been a call for a new tranche of PPPs in the area of transport? Will we be obliged to wait until the budget to discover what is the position?
PPPs are part of the public capital programme. A robust framework is in place to ensure that they are used, where appropriate and where it makes sense to employ them. Decisions in respect of them are made on a case-by-case basis. They can be considered in the context of some very heavy front-loading of capital expenditure, particularly in respect of major transport projects. This is a matter which should be examined.
In light of the legal opinion received by wholesalers representing pharmacies, with which the Attorney General agreed, to the effect that the HSE cannot negotiate with representative bodies, is there any proposal to introduce legislation to amend the position?
That is a matter for the Whips to consider in the first instance.
With regard to Deputy Byrne's earlier point, I understand that another debate on the misuse of drugs will take place in the House next week. That debate will afford her with a further opportunity to make her view known.