Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 34, after "text" to insert "in the English language".
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are contextual, while amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are more substantive. However, the Bill has been translated into a number of languages following the initial draft. This is a technical amendment. The Bill is described as being translated into the English language but the Bill is presented in every major European language and others.
I thank the Deputy for his amendment. As indicated on Committee Stage, I have been advised by the Parliamentary Counsel's office that the Government cannot accept the amendment as the language used in the Bill and the language of the treaty in the Schedule to the Bill is English and there is no need to insert the words "in the English language" in the legislation.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 11, lines 4 to 6, to delete all words from and including "liable" in line 4 down to and including "both" in line 6 and substitute the following:
"liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to a fine not exceeding €500,000 or both".
The Minister of State referred to Committee Stage, which was the first time he was engaged in his new role. Perhaps he could explain what we are debating. He said I was talking about nuclear bombs and explosions on Committee Stage. As I understand it, the Bill is about nuclear devices which are nuclear bombs. He said other types of nuclear devices might be under consideration in this legislation. Perhaps he could outline the nuclear devices that may be covered by the Bill, which are not nuclear bombs or nuclear explosions. I have the notes of the committee meeting. Are we debating a ban on nuclear testing in the context of explosions and nuclear bombs? The Bill is clearly entitled the Nuclear Test Ban Bill, which I interpret, having read the memorandum that arrived late, to be nuclear explosions. The Minister of State said on Committee Stage the Bill covered nuclear devices other than nuclear bombs. Perhaps he will clarify what he meant. I signalled on Committee Stage that I would revisit the issue on Report Stage. What are we debating?
I wish to raise a number of issues. On several occasions, I requested an explanatory memorandum to accompany the Bill, which was never provided. I was given a one-page sheet on the day the Bill was debated on Committee Stage.
The amendments are pertinent to this issue. The facilitation of the Bill has been very shoddy. An explanatory memorandum was not provided when the Bill was published. I requested such a memorandum and the Taoiseach said there would be a memorandum before the Bill reached Committee Stage. It was not provided. We received a one-page note with an outline of the legislation. A memorandum appeared following Committee Stage. However, due to the absence of an explanatory memorandum, I asked on Committee Stage what it was we were discussing other than a nuclear bomb or explosion. The Minister of State is on record as stating that we were discussing nuclear devices other than nuclear bombs and explosions. Will he clarify what the other nuclear devices are? The amendments are drafted in the context of our discussion of nuclear explosions and bombs. If other mechanisms are incorporated in the Bill, they should be considered in light of the amendments.
I will try to help the Deputy as best I can. I understood bombs and devices to be the same in the context of our discussion. We can return to Committee Stage if the Deputy wishes to restart.
I have the record of the Minister of State's discrimination between one and the other. Is he conceding that his current position is different from his position on Committee Stage, namely, that the Bill relates to nuclear explosions and bombs?
With respect, we are discussing this matter due to the Department's failure to provide explanatory documentation. On Committee Stage, the Minister of State referred to another aspect of the Bill. I gave him grace because it was his first outing in his current position. However, I told him that, as he was unable to answer my question appropriately, I would raise it again on Report Stage. It is on the select committee's record.
Given that the amendments are based on my interpretation of the Bill, an unexplained and different interpretation of "devices" means that they cannot be discussed. What are the other devices?
We are discussing nuclear explosions and bombs. I welcome the Minister of State's late clarification because all of us on Committee Stage were of an understanding not shared by him.
The proposition of the amendments is simple. The Labour Party seeks to amend the Bill in two respects. The Bill suggests that a year in jail or a fine of €5,000 is a sufficient sentence or penalty for involvement in the setting off of a nuclear explosion. There has been much discussion of a recession, but even a reduction of fines to €1,000 might be an overstep. The idea that Ireland is proposing to deal with a serious offence by imposing a sentence of one year in jail or a €5,000 fine is a misreading of the situation. The Minister of State was wrong to say on Committee Stage that there is no provision to accommodate the amendment, as other legislation on serious crime, such as rape, disorder, murder, manslaughter and attempted murder, would accommodate it. There are no minor provisions made therein, for example, bringing the matter before the District Court. Instead, a judge uses his or her discretion in making a determination and handing down a sentence. It ill behoves us to limit sentences in this respect.
The sentence addressed by the second amendment — "a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months" — is paltry. While a lesser jail term such as this would be merited in the event of someone who may be a second or third party to the offence, the Labour Party is of the opinion that the penalties and tariffs are at levels far below those merited. We suggest an increase in the jail period to two years and an increase in the fine to €500,000.
I ask that the Minister of State accept the amendments. While I acknowledge that he did not instigate the Bill, we now have an opportunity to identify an obvious anomaly via acceptance of the first amendment and to correct it via acceptance of the second amendment.
Regarding the subject matter of amendment No. 4, will the Minister of State explain why the fine is only €5,000 and the jail sentence is only six months? These are low. The Labour Party amendment would increase the former substantially. Were we to know the reasoning behind the €5,000 figure, we might be clearer on what it is the Government is trying to achieve.
We have been advised by the Parliamentary Counsel's office that the Government cannot accept these amendments because the fines are not commensurate with the prison terms. There needs to be greater proportionality and harmony between the two aspects.
I am considering tabling amendments on Committee Stage in the Seanad to address the circumstances envisaged by the Deputies. I will ask the Parliamentary Counsel for advice on the best approach.
Deputy McCormack has raised a good point. I will examine the matters referred to by Deputy Ciarán Lynch, namely, a fine not exceeding €5,000 and a prison sentence not exceeding six months. In section 2(4)(b), the legislation provides for a maximum prison sentence of life. While the fines and prison sentences in the proposed amendments are not commensurate, I would like to re-examine the issue on Committee Stage in the Seanad.
I will be succinct. The Minister of State's response had positive aspects and he identified problems in the legislation. While I welcome and take on board his comments concerning Seanad amendments, will he provide further information on them this afternoon?
Amendments Nos. 3 and 4, while similar, are separate. The former's removal of a part of the Bill would rectify the issue and allow a judge discretion to deal with a scenario. I will propose a fair compromise. Were the Minister of State to accept amendment No. 3, the Labour Party would be prepared to withdraw amendment No. 4 and allow the relevant issue to be examined in the Seanad. I take on board the point that there must be a correlation between the size of the fine and the period of imprisonment. This matter could be resolved in the Seanad.
I am sure the Deputies would accept that liability to a fine not exceeding €500,000 or imprisonment for a term of two years are not commensurate. Similarly, Deputy Ciarán Lynch would make the point, with which I would agree, that liability to a fine of €5,000 fine or imprisonment for a term of six or 12 months are not commensurate. I will address the circumstances that were raised by Members on both sides of the House and bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage in the Seanad rather than put forward a very high or very low figure in this respect. That is my proposal.
I might clarify the position, given it appears from the Minister of State's response that we seem to be in agreement and working towards resolving this matter. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are being considered together. I accept the Minister of State's point that the level of a fine and jail sentence in the subsection must be commensurate or comparative. If he is saying that this issue will be dealt with during the debate on the Bill in the Seanad, I will accept that.
The substantial issue in the Bill is covered in amendment No. 3. I propose that we proceed on the basis that the Minister of State accepts amendment No. 3 and we will withdraw amendment No. 4 pending further examination of the matter during the debate on the Bill in the Seanad. If that proposal is acceptable, we will have accomplished a good day's work in resolving these outstanding matters.
I am repeating myself, but in amendment No. 3 the level of the fine and the prison sentence proposed are not proportionate.
Amendment No. 3 relates to the first part of the Bill, which deals with the substantive issue of a nuclear explosion, and it proposes a jail sentence of one year or a fine of €5,000. Amendment No. 4 relates to the associated relationship to the crime, a second or third party relationship to the event. What is proposed in amendment No. 4 can be further examined in the debate on the Bill in the Seanad. However, amendment No. 3 addresses the case of a person directly connected with the setting off of a nuclear explosion in the State being liable, as proposed in the section, to a fine of €5,000 or one year's imprisonment. The Labour Party amendment proposes the deletion of certain lines of the section, which would allow a judge presiding over such a case to determine the sentence to be handed down and that we would not engage in determining the sentences in lesser crimes dealt with by District Courts or anything else. That is the procedure in the case of any serious offence, whether it be manslaughter, murder, riotous behaviour, rape or sexual assault. There is no provision in the Bill for a minor offence. It is incorrect to proceed with the provision of a minor penalty for such a serious offence as the setting of a nuclear explosion in the State.
I have a difficulty, as I outlined previously, with amendments Nos. 3 and 4. I propose to bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage in the Seanad to deal with the points Deputy Ciarán Lynch and I have raised. I cannot go any further than that.
I take it the proposed Government amendment would apply to what is covered in both amendments Nos. 3 and 4 and that, therefore, it would replicate what is covered in amendments Nos. 3 and 4, but it would be the Minister of State's version.
I indicated on Committee Stage on 21 May 2008 that I proposed to include a minor technical amendment to the Third Schedule of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 in the Nuclear Test Ban Bill when the Bill reached Report Stage. Following further advice from the Attorney General, I will not now introduce any amendments to the Freedom of Information Act by way of the Nuclear Test Ban Bill. It is now proposed instead to introduce any amendments to the Third Schedule of the Freedom of Information Act in respect of my Department's legislation in the environmental (miscellaneous provisions) Bill currently being prepared.