Wednesday, 29 June 2005
Interpretation Bill 2000: Report and Final Stages.
Before we commence I would like to remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage except that a proposer of an amendment may reply to a discussion on the amendment. Also, on Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:
"(d) in the appropriate debates of the Houses of the Oireachtas.".
I do not blissfully assume the Minister of State will accept this, although perhaps he might as he is a nice man and can sometimes be helpful. I merely wish to put this on the record.
We discussed the issue of the courts seeking guidance in terms of sections 5 and 6. I believe the courts ought to be allowed to make reference to and seek information in the appropriate debates of the Houses of the Oireachtas, and that is what this amendment endeavours to do. They should not be compelled or coerced. While the courts are utterly independent, we write the rules on how they conduct their business and their superstructure. I move the amendment and propose that the appropriate debates of the Houses of the Oireachtas should be one of the references the courts are permitted to use in endeavouring to construe the provision of an Act.
I second the amendment on behalf of the Fine Gael Party. The subject matter of the amendment is already in place because I am aware that specific reference is regularly made in the High Court and Supreme Court to columns of debate in this House and the other House as a means of supporting or denying a claim made by a plaintiff. If the Minister of State, in respect of subsection (b) refers to marginal notes, an Act of the Houses of the Oireachtas or to the Supreme Court itself, why cannot the transcripts of this House, the other House and committees of the House be given the type of legislative standing that is applied in the courts?
Senator Ryan correctly states there is no automatic application. It is simply that the courts may make use of such matters. It is only consistent that this is put into section 5, which refers to other institutions of the State and their role in providing supporting documentary evidence in court cases.
I also support Senator Ryan's amendment. The Senator has tabled a logical amendment, as he uses the word "may" rather than "must" and it is already taking place. If someone has a doubt about the intent of legislation and is trying to interpret it correctly, it would be correct to examine what was stated during the debates of the House. This amendment is well worthy of support.
We touched on this earlier, and at the time I stated one of our concerns would be that the law would become dispersed if we introduced this. I must oppose it. This area is developing. Mr. Justice Costello considered Dáil debates in the case of Wavin Pipes Limited v. Hepworth Iron Limited, and the courts in England took account of parliamentary debates in Pepper v. Hart. Debates of the House constitute many different views. We would not agree with this provision.
I thank the Minister of State. Perhaps because I am a perennial backbencher I believe the Oireachtas is marginalised. The Oireachtas, as distinct from the Executive, is a central part of our democracy. As the Minister of State has indicated he will examine the amendment I will withdraw it.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials for the time they put into the Bill which, as the Minister knows well, is a long time coming. While it is a technical Bill it is very important. It is important that there is consistency and absolute certainty in the courts in terms of the meanings we put on Acts of the Oireachtas. I stress to the Minister that when it comes to the issue of better regulation, line Departments and both Houses of the Oireachtas have a responsibility to ensure that Acts of the Oireachtas are understood, written in straightforward language and, when passed, that the information is transmitted in a consumer-friendly way. The State has not done that appropriately in recent years. The principal exampleof that is the revised statute. A commitment was given that we would see that published on a regular basis and it is not in a good condition. I ask the Minister of State to examine that issue. I thank the Minister of State and his officials.
I add my words of thanks to the Minister of State. The Bill has been five years in gestation and I welcome the fact that it is before the House. I believe the Bill can be improved and the Minister of State's words are such that we will see it improved before it becomes law.
The objective all of us should have is the one I touched on earlier. I have been a Member of this House for the past 12 or 13 years and I am surprised by the number of people who do not know what goes on in these Houses.They do not appreciate the effort that goes into our work, some of which can be seen here today. Part of our objective should be to make this available to a wider audience thereby ensuring that the citizens of this country understand legislation and may get involved in it. I hope interpretation will make it easier for them to so and I would welcome any changes the Minister can make to the Bill between now and its final consideration to ensure that happens.
I thank the Minister of State for his willingness to accept a proposal from Senator Brian Hayes for a fixed timetable for the introduction of the Bill. As a Member of the House I would appreciate that.
On the issue of records and so on, when my children, who are aged from mid 20s down, say, "I wrote to somebody", they mean they sent them an e-mail. If they wrote a letter and put a stamp on it, they will describe that at length but the term "I wrote to somebody" now means sending an e-mail. We have to catch up in that regard. The Davos World Economic Forum, in putting us a little further down on the world competitive list, mentioned the declining flexibility and agility of State bodies as one of its reasons for doing so. This is a short Bill but in terms of the mountains of paper involved, we are falling behind.
This is a profoundly important Bill which underlines the importance of the legislative role of the Oireachtas. This is a Bill which binds the courts and Governments. It is a widely applicable Bill and I believe it got a thorough discussion here. I am certain that there is not a single person from the media in the House who would have read the Title, not to mention the rest of it.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials. I express the thanks of those of us on this side of the House to the Opposition spokespersons who gave the Bill a good airing at all Stages. A number of Senators have spoken in the past about reviewing Bills and a strong case is made that Bills require to be reviewed, whether it be every three or five years, because problems may arise with legislation we have passed and time will always reveal such problems. There should be an opportunity to review or change legislation.
I compliment the Minister of State on the Bill which, as Senator Ryan said, is important legislation. I welcome the fact that the House passed the Bill this evening and allowed for the extension of time. I got very excited earlier. I was watching one clock which is 20 minutes ahead of the other. We were in real difficulty at one stage but I realised we had some time when I spotted the other clock. I thank the Members.
I will conclude by again thanking the Senators for their sensible suggestion about the fixed timetable and for being flexible in passing the Bill. We were trying to ensure the speedy passage of the Bill through this House and the other House, although I have some work to do to get it moving in the other House.The Senators made some very useful suggestions. I did not expect such a comprehensive debate on a technical Bill but it has been very useful. This House has been very progressive, especially in the area of technology, modernisation of our procedures——