Tuesday, 7 June 2011
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 7, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; and No. 3, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 7 shall be decided without debate and Private Members' business shall be No. 25, Spent Convictions Bill 2011 - Second Stage, and the proceedings on the Second Stage thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 8 June 2011.
There are two proposals to be put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 7, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions without debate agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to?
Last Tuesday, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, spoke to the media about legislation on political donations, an issue on which the Taoiseach has promised legislation and which is the subject of Fianna Fáil motion No. 26 on the Order Paper. The Minister made a series of claims for the Bill but did not publish it so we are not in a position to examine it in detail. If this Bill is to be law before the presidential election it must be passed within six weeks at the latest. Given the Government has promised significant intervals between different stages of legislation in my view it is no longer possible to have the Bill passed in time for the start of the presidential election campaign. When the Taoiseach voted down our Private Members' Bill on political donations in April he gave a commitment that the reduced donations limit would be in operation before the presidential election. However, because of the ban on retrospective legislation, this is not possible. When will the House see the Bill? I ask the Taoiseach to outline the exact timetable for its passage.
This matter has been raised before in the House. I expect the Minister will publish his Bill inside a matter of weeks and that it will be processed through both Houses. It is a complex Bill, as the Deputy is aware. It has been brought forward expeditiously. I cannot give the Deputy an exact date but the pressure is on the Minister to produce the Bill as soon as possible and it will be before the House in a matter of weeks.
I note from the Order Paper that the House is to discuss the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011 today, the primary purpose of which is to extend to 67 years the qualifying age for a State pension and to 68 years in 2028. I note also the legislation includes the restoration of the minimum wage. However, would the Taoiseach not agree this legislation should be included in a finance Bill as it is a financial matter? The reduction in the minimum wage was introduced by the previous Government in a Finance Bill. Will the Taoiseach agree to bring in specific stand-alone legislation, given there is almost unanimity in this House regarding the restoration of the minimum wage, bar the exception of Fianna Fáil Deputies? Will this be introduced as stand-alone legislation so we can all support this very worthwhile measure?
On promised legislation, on the day we begin to debate extending the qualifying age for a State pension to 68 years, the programme for Government stated that in future, no retired politician will receive a political pension until the national retirement age. The Taoiseach will be aware the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, introduced by Charlie McCreevy in 2004, brought in an exemption that those Deputies elected prior to 1 April 2004 would be able to receive a pension at the age of 50 years and earlier, so the Bill did not affect them. Do I take from the reading of the programme for Government that all existing Deputies prior to 2004 will not be able to get a pension until retirement age?
What is in order is while the minimum wage deals with finances it is an industrial relations matter. The effective date for implementation is 1 July 2011 and it is being dealt with by the Minister for Social Protection.
With respect to the ordering of Dáil business, the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill contains very important and far-reaching measures, particularly the utterly reactionary proposal to extend the retirement age to 68; in other words, workers now will work until they drop to pay off the bankers. The schedule published last Thursday stated that the Bill would conclude, in other words, be guillotined, at 7 p.m. tomorrow. Will the Taoiseach give an assurance that if there are enough speakers - I anticipate there will be - he will extend that time until everybody is given a chance to speak? The Taoiseach made a promise he would not guillotine any Bill.
The Whips had discussions about this Bill already. There will be an order for winding up of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill tomorrow and this is necessary in order to progress the Bill. It deals with the reversal of the cut in the minimum wage and I am quite sure Deputy Higgins does not wish to see people who have seen a reduction in their minimum wage rate be left with this situation for an indefinite period. For that reason it is important to move this Bill along. The Deputy will have his opportunity to speak on the Bill.
If I could have a bit of ciúnas please. The programme for Government stated the Government would work to create a system of third-level funding which would not impact on access. Labour was represented by the now Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn-----
On the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill I, too, ask the Taoiseach to reconsider seriously this guillotine. This is very important legislation with a series of complex but far-reaching measures affecting pay, social welfare and the retirement age. To have them all lumped in together in the first instance and then to ram them through while allowing for only two days of debate, is really the worst form of cute hoorist politics-----
I ask the Taoiseach to confirm if the Minister has received the report of the review of the fair deal scheme promised for last Friday. Will the Minister afford the opportunity to the House to report on the findings of the review and his intent? Will the House have an opportunity to question the Minister on the intentions of the Government regarding the future of the fair deal scheme?
On another matter, last week it was indicated in the course of questions in the House that statements regarding the demise of the National Treatment Purchase Fund or of it being subsumed within the new special delivery unit, were greatly exaggerated. However, when we see what the Minister has said about the establishment of the special delivery unit, will we have-----
Deputies are complaining and feel aggrieved that they do not have enough time to debate the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. If they keep on being out of order on the Order of Business there is less time available for debate. I am here to protect the rights of Deputies. I ask them to please deal with matters that are in order.
I am sure that Deputy Boyd Barrett is interested in meeting the people from his constituency who had their minimum wage cut and would like to be able to tell them he has spoken in their favour to have the cut reversed. The reason the Government will guillotine Second Stage of the Bill is to move on. As the Deputy is aware, he can continue to voice his concerns on Committee and Report Stages. He will have his chance to speak and vote.
In respect of the fair deal, I expect the Minister to conclude his analysis, report to the House and make a statement this week. I do not know whether we will get a chance to have a discussion with him here this week or next week but he has concluded his analysis and will make public his views as to how, in what circumstances and when the scheme may resume.
On the question of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, the comment I made last week stands. There will of course be an opportunity when the Minister gets the full detail of the special delivery unit to organise a debate on it.
The introduction of a series of local charges will be a complex measure for the Government and the House. They need to be in place next year. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, confirmed they will be in operation by 1 January. What legislation will be introduced and when will it happen?
The Minister is preparing a memorandum in respect of this. It is part of the condition of the IMF-EU deal and the Minister will report to the Government in due course in respect of any legislation that might be necessary. Deputy Cowen and others will be advised of the situation.
It is not a new one. It is party time. It also happens during the week. In regard to noise levels and noise pollution, there was a miscellaneous provisions Bill, a consultation Bill and so on. The reality is that some people have to live beside constant parties. There have been a number of attempts in the House over the years to try to deal with this matter but it is an ongoing problem and God love the people who have to live beside these constant parties.
It is a valid question in respect of noise pollution and it is no joke for people who have to put up with it in housing estates or apartment blocks where the walls are paper thin. I cannot give the Deputy a date for the introduction of legislation but it is a matter of genuine social concern of which I am well aware.
The Taoiseach promised the House would be allowed to consider legislation at drafting stage. When is it proposed to commence that procedure? Has he identified any legislation which would be addressed in that manner?
We want to make a raft of changes that would be implemented from September when the Dáil resumes. The intention is that the committees, which will be set up tomorrow, would be able to consider the heads of Bills as they are drafted and give a political response from Oireachtas committees. I hope that will be in operation from September. The committees will be formed tomorrow with all of the representatives of the parties and they can get on with their work.