Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Ceisteanna — Questions

Legislative Programme.

11:00 am

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the legislation committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27529/07]

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The Government legislation committee which I chair is an ad hoc body that has operated since 1985. It assists me in a practical way in compiling accurate information about the current status of legislation in preparation so that I can report to Government through the Taoiseach. It enables me to plan each Dáil session based on reports and information from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and Departments. Prior to the beginning of each Dáil session the committee, in consultation with Departments and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, assists me in preparing the legislative programme for that Dáil session, which is then approved by the Government and published. The programme is the main output of the committee.

The committee also assists me on an ongoing basis in discharging my functions in regard to implementation of the legislative programme in ensuring a steady flow of legislation in the Houses. A key function of the committee is to identify and remove any blockages that may occur in the drafting and other preparatory stages. Through the work of the committee I am in a position to provide up to date information to the Taoiseach so he can respond to the many requests he receives from Deputies in the House about progress in the drafting of promised legislation. The committee does not address the substantive issues of the legislation, which are matters for the sponsoring Departments.

The committee, which meets every few weeks, comprises the Attorney General, Chief Parliamentary Counsel, programme managers for each of the parties in Government, the Leader of the Seanad and a principal officer from the Department of the Taoiseach. Other officials and advisors attend as appropriate and, from time to time, Ministers attend to clarify their legislative priorities.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply, which referred to meeting on an ongoing basis and ensuring a steady flow of legislation. Does the Minister of State not agree we have had anything but a steady flow of legislation before this House since the general election last May? In fact the contrary is the case. Can the Minister of State tell us, as he has suggested, that the committee meets on an ongoing basis to assist the Minister of State in prioritising legislation and addressing barriers to legislative progress? When did it last meet? How often has it met since the publication of the legislative programme for the current session? How many times did it meet between the resumption after the summer recess and the Christmas break? What exactly does "ongoing basis" translate as?

Can the Minister of State confirm that the committee recommends to Cabinet which legislation should receive priority? If that is the case, can the Minister of State clarify that when Deputies use the opportunity on the Order of Business to appeal, urge and highlight the need to have legislation speeded up because of specific need, greater demand or urgencies presenting that these calls by elected representatives are noted and addressed by the legislative committee? If not, why not?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The Opposition has responsibilities regarding the processing of legislation and the speedy passage of legislation through the Dáil. From time to time the Opposition wants to give additional time to certain Bills, for very good reasons in most cases. The Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill is a good example. The Labour Party sought additional time to debate it and we granted it. As Chief Whip I could give many examples of debates on Bills where I granted additional time following requests from the Opposition. One must also consider the committee process and Seanad involvement. The length of time given to Bills is not simply a question of responsibility of the Government.

I have already answered the Deputy on the beginning of a new Dáil. Ministers must prioritise their legislation. In the last Dáil we enacted 209 Bills. Coming back to Government with new partners we had a clean sheet environment and this is part and parcel of a certain degree of the preparation that took place in the first session. We are now into a free-flowing system of legislation. It is not my job to list the Bills that are being taken but they include the Student Support Bill, the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill and the social welfare Bill. Many more have been outlined and we intend to publish them this session on section A of the Government legislative list. This will be dealt with on the Order of Business if required. A clear system of information is available to Opposition Deputies, who can ask questions.

I cannot give the exact number of meetings of the committee. We meet as necessary and I keep a close watch on that. My reply refers to meeting every few weeks and it is certainly very regularly. I can provide the Deputy with the information if it is of interest to him. The purpose is to keep legislation flowing and keep Ministers focused. They address the committee when required. My job is to keep it going and I am satisfied that we are in that situation now. I am conscious that I must work closely with Ministers but there is a good degree of free-flowing legislation and there is more online.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Does the Minister of State accept that making the claim that the Government came back after the 29th Dáil with a clean sheet is absolute nonsense? Does he not accept that there is a continuing delay in respect of health legislation? I do not need to list them but the nurses and midwives Bill and the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill are from the last Dáil and have not been addressed 12 months later. Does the Minister of State accept that these are urgent requirements that the legislative committee should be highlighting? That is urgent and the committee should press the Department of Health and Children and the Minister, Deputy Harney, to have this legislation brought forward. Like every other Deputy, I would like to know the number of times and the dates of the sittings of the legislative committee in order to understand its work.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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While we accept it is the Government's prerogative to propose the business of the House and the legislative programme, the 209 Bills passed by the last Dáil gave rise to a record number of guillotines being applied to standard, and not emergency or special, legislation. Half of the number of guillotines used since the foundation of the State were used in the last seven years. Given that there are flaws in the system and that people such as the Opposition Whips are left out of it, will the Minister consider including them in the planning of the legislative programme for the year, rather than for a week? It would give an opportunity to the Opposition spokespersons to prepare and would perhaps result in better informed debate in the Chamber. That is not to suggest that the debate is not well informed but there would be improved debate arising from better planning.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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With regard to the number of Bills passed by the last Dáil and the use of the guillotine, we used the guillotine where necessary. Invariably it happened towards the end of a session. I accept that we should try to avoid the use of the guillotine as far as possible and I have endeavoured to do that. We have listened carefully to Deputy Stagg, Deputy Paul Kehoe and Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh at the Whips meetings regarding the need to give extra time to legislation and, indeed, debates on various issues. We are doing that this week on the pharmacy issue.

With regard to giving notice about what is scheduled for the next few weeks, I gave the Deputy an undertaking that we will consider that. At present, we give the Whips notice of what is scheduled for the following week but priorities change from time to time.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is very generous; that is a week's notice.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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We give notice on the basis that it is important for the Opposition spokespersons.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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We know on Thursday what is coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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However, I will examine the matter and we will discuss it at the Whips meeting.