Dáil debates

Friday, 14 July 2017

Legal Metrology (Measuring Instruments) Bill 2017: Second Stage

 

3:50 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am presenting the Legal Metrology (Measuring Instruments) Bill 2017 to the House for Second Stage discussion. This technical Bill is required to transpose Articles 1 and 3 of Directive 2014/32/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 on the harmonisation of the laws of the member states relating to the making available on the market of measuring instruments. The remainder of the directive will be transposed into Irish law by way of ministerial regulations under the European Communities Act 1972.

The purpose of the directive is to establish the requirements that measuring instruments have to satisfy with a view to their being made available on the market and-or put into use. The Bill applies to the putting into use of measuring instruments that are set out in the Schedule to the Bill. These instruments are: water meters; gas meters and volume conversion devices; fuel dispensers, for example, for petrol; measuring systems on road tankers; measuring systems for loading road tankers; measuring systems for milk; automatic weighing instruments; taxi meters; material measures of length and capacity-serving measures; and exhaust gas analysers.

For all these instruments, the requirements of Directive 2014/32/EC apply for the putting into use for the purpose of levying taxes and duties and fair trading, except for exhaust gas analysers, which is for the purpose of protecting the environment. There is not any change in policy, and the Bill is merely required to transpose the recast directive into Irish law. These measuring instruments are the same ones that are currently subject to this type of regulation. The deadline for the transposition is overdue and, in light of that, the Bill was prioritised in the legislative programme.

The Department has also consulted with the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which decided on 21 June last that it would not undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. I thank the committee members for their input.

By way of background to the Bill, the Attorney General's office advised that the optional provisions in Articles 1 and 3 of the directive must be transposed separately through primary legislation by means of a stand-alone technical Bill. A Schedule is attached to the Bill, setting out the categories of measuring instruments and prescribed uses to which the directive will apply. The other articles of the directive however, can be transposed by way of a ministerial statutory instrument by making regulations under section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972. The Bill and the statutory instrument should both come into effect on the same date.

In relation to legal metrology itself, it is primarily concerned with measuring instruments used in trade which are themselves legally controlled, and the main objective of legal metrology is to assure citizens of correct measurement results when used in trade and commercial transactions. This is a short technical Bill to transpose Articles 1 and 3 of the directive. There are no technical changes arising from the Bill affecting the instruments concerned. The aim of the recast directive is to improve compliance with existing legislation relating to harmonised products in this area. The only additional burden on operators will be the requirement to have a more detailed and standardised itinerary of instruments.

We have been in contact with the European Commission on a regular basis to update it on the transposition of the directive. We are making every effort to transpose the directive into Irish law as soon as possible. As I outlined, the Bill and the statutory instrument should both come into effect on the same date. I hope Deputies will support this Bill, which I commend to the House.

4:00 pm

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I do not think I have had an opportunity to congratulate the Minister on her new position. Metrology is a topic to set the heart racing, clearly in a measured way. Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill. I acknowledge the role of the library and research service. The more I read into it the more excited I got - perhaps excited is to overrate it a little, but it is the final day and a day is a unit of measurement which is accepted by everybody. The Minister's speech was delivered in an accepted formal structure, namely, an A4 page, which is an international measurement. There were sentences of a particular length using font and other measurements. The whole world is kept ticking over by metrology.

I again thank the library and research support function in the Houses of the Oireachtas. As I read the information which was contained in a reference link I came across an example of metrology at work using different measurements. Apparently, our body only contains about 5.5 l of blood but our heart pumps more than 7,500 l of blood, which is about 2,000 US gallons, which is enough to fill almost 48 oil barrels. That is metrology at work in different international understandings and measurements.

I have one you will be interested in, a Cheann Comhairle. Apparently, the average adult speaks about 16,000 words a day.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I hope the Deputy is not going to do so today.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Metrology does not measure the usefulness of the words. It is interesting because the recent article about speaking time in the Dáil in The Irish Times seems to accord a high priority to those who have spoken the most. I am a reasonably new Deputy and I have heard a lot of Deputies speak here - I mean this respectfully - who have spoken a lot, and quite a number of them have repeated the same speech every day.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is quality as well as quantity.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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It has to be quality as well as quantity.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Others who have spoken very little have made very significant contributions. We know metrology is the science of measurement. Apparently, it is the oldest science in the world. I came across an anecdote in the Bills digest from ancient times which indicated that:

The death penalty faced those who forgot or neglected their duty to calibrate the standard unit of length at each full moon. Such was the peril courted by the royal site architects responsible for building the temples and pyramids of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt, 3000 years BC. The first royal cubit was defined as the length of the forearm from elbow to tip of the extended middle finger of the ruling Pharaoh, plus the width of his hand. The original measurement was transferred to and carved in black granite. The workers at the building sites were given copies in granite or wood and it was the responsibility of the architects to maintain them.

Anybody who has ever seen the pyramids knows it is an absolutely astonishing work of metrology never mind architecture.

As we know, other measurements came about as a result of conquest. The British were particularly good at it and that is from where we got the imperial system. Apparently, in 1875, things had advanced to a point where the first diplomatic treaty on the metre was signed by 17 countries in Paris. The Minister adverted to the fact that every day in our personal and business lives we engage with metrology, from measuring the coffee in our morning cup to weighing ourselves on bathroom scales - I think the metrology in my weighing scales at home is dodgy. I am suspicious of, in particular since I was elected as a Deputy, metering our electricity and gas usage. I will not mention water. Metrology is also vital to science – measuring temperatures among other things.

As the Minister pointed out, the activity of metrology we are covering today is legal metrology which covers not just legal measurements but scientific measurements, dealing with the organisation and development of measurement standards and with their maintenance; and industrial metrology. Legal metrology originated from the need to ensure fair trade, specifically in the area of weights and measures. These issues affect us at a domestic level. In the context of bin collections, constituents have asked me who oversees and checks that the weight of refuse for which they are being billed is correctly weighed by the bin collection companies. I understand those companies come under the remit of the NSAI, the National Standards Authority of Ireland.

The global economy relies on measuring instruments and weights such as petrol pumps and taximeters and we need to know they can be trusted, are internationally accepted and do not form a barrier to trade. I have lived with three currency systems. The euro was one of the greatest exercises in metrology, as was the dollar originally in the United States. The euro is an internationally accepted form of financial exchange across the European Union and a form of exchanging money for goods.

Legally controlled measuring instruments should guarantee correct measurement results under normal working conditions, throughout the whole period of use and within given permissible errors. In the Measuring Instruments Directive, MID, 2004/22/EC, the European Commission in 2011 stated:

The MID applies to around 345 million units of measuring instruments sold annually in the EU [which is a phenomenal amount of measuring units] with a total sales value of around €3.25 Billion. Around 900 manufacturers operate in the 10 sectors covered by the MID not including the large number of SME operating as distributors, importers or providers of repair services. The number of employees in the sector [we use metrology to do this] is around 175,000-205,000. Around 20-25% of measuring instruments in the EU27 are imported while 25-30% of measuring instruments produced in the EU27 are exported to third countries.

One of the reasons we are dealing with this issue today is that the EU undertook to review the legislative framework some years ago to see whether the harmonisation of existing legislation had worked. The conclusion was that, overall, harmonisation had been largely positive but a number of shortcomings were identified. They included a significant number of non-compliant products reaching the market.

To remedy these shortcomings a new legislative framework, NLF, was introduced in 2008. That is our CE brand, which people will know, although I do not think many members of the public would know what the CE mark attempts to guarantee.

The manufacturers are declaring that the product with the CE stamp complies with the essential requirements of European health, safety and environmental protection legislation. It indicates to government officials that the product may be legally placed on the market. It ensures free movement of the product within the European free trade area and EU Single Market. It permits the withdrawal of the non-conforming products by EEA customs and enforcement authorities. These are really safeguarding issues for the consumer.

A main objective of the European Commission, and the reason we are dealing with this Bill today, is to bring product harmonisation legislation in line with the reference provisions of a decision of the EU in 2008 on a common framework for the marketing of products. As the Tánaiste pointed out, the directive regulates the marketing and use of ten categories of measuring instruments. She has outlined what are the categories. In terms of everyday use, they include gas meters, water meters, taxi meters, automatic weighing machines and so on. It is interesting for the public to know that there are methods of measuring what they are using and being sold and that those methods are accurate, and also that there are penalties for those who mess around with these standards of measurement.

The Bill digest provided by the Oireachtas library and research service gives two very reassuring examples of legal metrology court cases, which it is important to put on the Official Record. One took place five or six years ago in respect of overcharging for petrol, where the NSAI investigated a petrol station in Dublin and levied a significant fine. In fact, the inspectors went back a second time on foot of complaints from consumers. They found that the fuel pumps were significantly under-measuring petrol and diesel sold to consumers and prosecuted them on that basis.

The second case concerned the over-exploitation of fish stocks in March of this year. A Donegal fish processing plant and a company director were fined a total of €45,000 for offences against the Metrology Act 1996by the Donegal Circuit Court. One of the individuals was given a six month suspended prison sentence. This followed a joint investigation by the NSAI and Sea Fisheries Protection Agency, which found that flow scales used for weighing incoming fish catches could be knowingly switched off using a fitted electric switch. This allowed the fish to pass over without being weighed.

As I said to the Tánaiste, although it may be hard to believe, the more I delve into this, the more interested I get. I am capable of speaking at considerable length about the topic.

4:10 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is clear.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am going to restrict myself to just another few minutes.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Lahart must not lose the run of himself.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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The emissions scandals in respect of Volkswagen and Audi in the United States show that these are really big consumer issues. Products were advertised as offering particular and significant emissions reduction features to the consumer. That is, if one dickies up the emissions measuring system or has software capable of bypassing that system when it is being tested. That is what they did and they absolutely conned consumers.

Metrology is a really interesting topic. It is the last day of the session and I meant to criticise the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, for taking so long to bring this metrology legislation to the Dáil. The deadline has well passed. The Tánaiste may consider herself reprimanded by the Opposition on that issue. I have read in her notes the reasons for the delay and the exceptions leading into it. I reassure the Tánaiste that Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill. It is very important legislation.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I am delighted to be here to speak on the Bill. When I started looking at the issue of metrology I did not know much about it. I read the digest provided by the library and research service. I commend the researchers for what is an excellent digest. It was a very good read. Deputy Lahart took the best line out of it, which I was going to use myself. I might still use it anyway; we will see how we get on.

While it is not the Minister's fault, I want to raise the concern about the delay in producing the Bill, which has turned its passing into a matter of urgency. This is why it has come before us today as the final Bill of this session of the Dáil. Quoting directly from the Bill digest:

The deadline for the transposition of Directive 2014/32/EU was 19 April 2016 and as this deadline was not met, the European Commission issued Ireland with a formal infringement notice on 26 May 2016 and with a Reasoned Opinion on 8 December 2016 giving two more months to transpose. If not transposed urgently, Ireland may face fines from the European Court of Justice.

Can the Minister confirm whether Ireland was served with a fine or any other sanction due to the delay in progressing this Bill?

People might wonder what this Bill is about. I do not think it was in any of our election manifestos or anything we spoke to the public about. Although not the most thrilling legislation, it is really important. It transposes two sections of an EU directive into Irish legislation relating to the legalities of measuring instruments. What is metrology? As Deputy Lahart said earlier, citing the Bill digest, it is the science of measurement and is one of, if not the oldest science in the world. This anecdote from ancient times may explain the topic and highlights its importance through the ages: the death penalty faced those who forgot or neglected their duty to calibrate the standard unit of length at each full moon.

Each day in our own lives, we engage in metrology, from drinking a pint or watching the pump as we fill the car with diesel to weighing ourselves on the bathroom scales and monitoring our electricity and gas usage. Metrology is also vital to science, measuring temperature changes due to global warming, earthquakes and their aftermaths, and pollutants in the air, water and soil. This law will ensure that inaccurate measuring instruments are prevented from reaching the market for sale in Ireland. The Metrology Act 1996 established a legal metrology service which currently provides consumers with reassurance that measuring instruments in everyday life, ranging from taxi meters to petrol pumps, are regulated and legally accurate. This legislation will extend protection for consumers in this area.

It is a very short piece of legislation and is needed to transpose two articles of the directive that cannot be transposed through a statutory instrument. It will bring Ireland into line with European standards in this area. I know the lateness of the Bill is not the Minister's fault. For future Bills, I ask her to ensure they are brought to the House before EU deadlines run out to ensure that the committee has time for pre-legislative scrutiny and to allow adequate time for debate, regardless of how technical or controversial the Bill is. I remind the Minister of my question as to whether Ireland was served with any fine or sanction due to the delay in progressing this Bill.

I wish the Minister the best over the summer recess. While the Dáil will be in recess, I am sure she, like the rest of us, will be working really hard. I hope she gets to spend some quality time with her family and friends and comes back refreshed in the autumn.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you, Deputy Quinlivan. In light of the unanimity around this matter, may I take it that the question is agreed to?

Question put and agreed to.