Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
It can absolutely be characterised as an extension or variation of an existing activity of the Government and, therefore should not, and in my view does not, require a money message under the Constitution. This is a point that clearly has broader significance beyond this Bill for all sorts of Private Members' Bills where the Government is increasingly raising concerns about costs, which are purely incidental, if they can even be characterised thus, and minimal.Again, one looks back at the Government's language in 2006 concerning that explanatory memorandum - the costs would not be significant and, therefore, no money message was required. Nor does a money message appear to have been required with regard to the 2013 expansion, to which colleagues have referred, where the entitlement was raised to 18 weeks. It is very hard to see, therefore, how the money message cost argument can have any substance in this context.
I am grateful to Deputy Shortall with whom we have, again, corresponded on this issue. She points out that the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill went through the independent assessment - the financial implications review by the Office of the Ceann Comhairle - in April 2018. If a significant cost was attached to the Bill directly, the Bill would not have been allowed to proceed beyond Second Stage in the Dáil but the Bills Office and the Ceann Comhairle determined that there was no significant cost arising from the Bill. I know the Minister of State has said that this became apparent later but procedurally, it is hugely important to point that out.
That determination is clearly in keeping with the precedents to which I referred, namely, the precedent from the 2013 extension and the precedent in 2006. Deputy Shortall has told me that a full review of parental leave carried out in the early noughties also did not identify any significant costs associated with such proposals. Patently, as other colleagues have pointed out strongly, the only significant cost that anyone incurs as a result of unpaid parental leave legislation is incurred by parents taking the unpaid leave, which is why so many parents take the leave in terms of a day off per week rather than in the full block because most people cannot afford to take a full block of a month or two, three or four months of unpaid leave. That is the significant cost to be incurred, which is why the argument about cost and a money message is not borne out, particularly when one looks at the language in Article 17.2 of the Constitution and the impact of that.
This is incremental. It simply represents a relatively modest extension of an existing entitlement and to that extent, we certainly do not agree that any money message is necessary and are concerned about the raising of this point, particularly at this time. In any case, that should not be in any way an impediment to the Bill passing swiftly through the Seanad. Clearly, if these amendments are passed here or if the Minister of State brings forward amendments on Report Stage here that are passed, it will have to go back to the Dáil in any event. That might be for another day.
Regarding the point about pre-legislative scrutiny, I was happy to serve on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality when the Minister of State was an excellent Chairman. We carried out a significant amount of work on pre-legislative scrutiny that was very valuable but the committee decided that pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill was not appropriate. Again, this is probably the correct assessment given how modest the Bill is and the fact that it builds on an existing statutory framework and that no new policy decision is made within the Bill. It simply expands on existing entitlements for parents.
I am sorry to have gone on somewhat but I did want to address some of the points raised by the Minister of State fairly. The Minister of State has asked us not to press these three amendments. We will press them. I hope the Minister of State will not oppose them strenuously because it would be a shame to divide the House on what are technical amendments at a point where we have all agreed, both Government and Opposition, that we are very much in support of the general principle of this Bill and want to see it passed as swiftly as possible, so it would be a shame to divide the House. We will press these amendments. Deputies Shortall and Catherine Murphy to whom I, again, pay tribute for their enormous work on this Bill, have asked us to put down these amendments. We need to do so to ensure the Bill will be effective.
I note the Minister of State's comments about the amendments he proposes to bring forward on Report Stage. We will all have a look at them when we see the text. We have not yet seen any text. We must see what they propose to do. We are all very concerned to ensure that there is no significant watering down of the principles of the Bill. Again, that is a matter of significant concern and urgency for the many parents who are hoping and waiting to see this Bill passed. As currently drafted, the Bill provides for a three-month phasing-in period so whenever it is passed, it will already be provided for that section 4 will not come into effect until three months after the passage of the Bill, which is very important. I note the phasing the Minister of State has just told us about. I think he said it would be phased in in two tranches, the first of which will commence on 1 September 2019 while the second will commence on 1 September 2020. I can see that this is a more generous phasing in than the phasing in proposed by IBEC in its letter last night so that is welcome but, again, we must all consult and along with my Labour Party colleagues, I would hope to speak to Deputies Shortall and Catherine Murphy to see whether it would be acceptable to compromise on this. In this regard, we will consult with others and other parents. We all want to work constructively to ensure the Bill passes swiftly. That would be my main aim but I do not want to see it watered down in any significant way. That is as much as I can say about the amendments the Minister of State proposes to bring forward. We will press these amendments and we ask all our colleagues in the Government and on the Opposition benches to support them.