European Communities Bill, 1972: From the Seanad.

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in Amendment No. 1:

Section 3: In page 3, after subsection (2), the following subsection inserted:—

"(3) Regulations under this section shall not create an indictable offence."

I gave consideration to suggestions made in the Dáil and Seanad that there should be limitations on the power of Ministers to make recommendations under the Bill. I have explained before that this is not necessary for our Bill, under which— unlike the Act from which Deputies quoted—regulations must be confirmed by statute or they will lapse. Nevertheless, and although it is not logical, I felt that the Bill should contain a limitation on the power to create offences and that this limitation should be related to the weight of the penalty that would be or might be imposed. For that purpose I moved an amendment and obtained acceptance of it in the Seanad, this amendment which I am now moving.

The amendment confines the offences which may be created by ministerial regulation to offences not triable on indictment or in other words to summary offences dealt with by the district courts and excludes offences triable by judge and jury. An offence created by regulation under this Bill could not therefore carry any greater penalty than may be imposed by a district court.

While we are pleased that the Minister has come some of the way he has not yet, of course, answered the main objection which we voiced in this House and which has been voiced in the Seanad. Fine Gael object to new crimes being created by ministerial order. We object to new crimes being created without the necessary law being scrutinised under the microscope of Parliament. We believe it is dangerous to give this power to the Minister.

Quite severe penalties are available in the district courts for non-indictable offences. Those penalties can include imprisonment, fine, withdrawal of certain privileges or licences or other rights and it is no answer to say, as the Minister said again this morning, that it is illogical to even require this because under the legislation the regulations would lapse unless approved by statute. But the offence would, nevertheless, exist and could exist for a period of up to six months. It would be small consolation to somebody who had been punished by a fine or imprisonment to learn subsequently that when Parliament considered the matter they were of the view that the Minister should never have created such an offence. There will be innumerable occasions when people will be suffering or will have suffered the penalties before Parliament could pass the necessary legislation declaring the Minister's action to be without the approval of Parliament.

While we are now in the predicament that we either accept this amendment or reject it we find ourselves having to be grateful for this small crumb. It is nothing of which the Minister should be particularly proud. In our original amendment we sought not merely to require that legislation governing such crimes be put before the House but we also sought to ensure that the Minister could not create new taxation or money impositions by means of regulations. The Minister refused to consider that notwithstanding the constitutional recognition of the importance of Parliament in the imposition of taxation. The Minister has not paid any attention to the obligation which is quite clearly there in the Constitution, in the spirit if not in the letter, which requires that Parliament be fully involved in the imposition of taxation.

Out of the five heads that we tabled in our first amendment governing taxation, crime, making provision that nothing could be declared an offence which was not an offence at the time of its commission and a few other matters which do not come to mind at the moment, the Minister has only accepted one. But even for this small mercy I suppose we can be grateful and we do express gratitude. We are only sorry that the Minister did not go the whole way.

We are in a peculiar position in regard to this because, as Deputy Ryan has said, we can only comment on and accept or reject what the Seanad has accepted as an amendment. There is no way in which we can change it. Deputy Ryan is correct in what he says, that this appears to be just a sop which the Minister gave to the Seanad to give the impression that he was giving a little bit.

Would the Minister tell me what steps he has taken since the discussion took place here that people who may be breaking the law after 1st January will know what the law is? I am sure the Minister understands what I mean. As of now, even the people who administer the law are not aware of what the law is because unless they are fluent French speakers they have no opportunity of studying it. This is a deplorable situation and the small concession which the Minister has given to the Seanad in no way answers the problem.

I spoke to a fairly highly placed legal man in the last few days and he admitted that he did not and could not know what exactly the position would be from 1st January next. The Minister may say that Ministers here will have made no orders by then but if the people do not know of them what will be the position in the next few months no matter what Minister is making regulations? We have treated this as if it was a matter of no importance. It is a matter of very great importance. We will be discussing later on in this House today a very important Bill where we claim that the rights of citizens are being taken away. I claim that they have been taken away by the legislation passed by this House a fortnight ago and by the Seanad yesterday, and which is before the House this morning again. The citizens do not know what has been taken away. The Minister is a reasonable man. Unfortunately, he will not have responsibility to this House in a short time. Perhaps a number of his colleagues will have no responsibility either. I believe the Minister, even if it is the last thing he does as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, should ensure that the people who may be prosecuted for breaking the law at least know what that law is. I would ask the Minister to make some effort to have this done.

The ministerial regulations will make it quite clear what offences are being created and where a law is being repealed by ministerial regulation it will be specifically repealed, and clearly declared. It will be made clear what the change is. In answer to the other point, it is essential, and even this modification of our original proposal will cause trouble for the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, functioning in relation to the common agricultural policy, to have penalties quickly available. I can see the desirability from the point of view of the House if time were available to legislate first rather than afterwards. This is still open to the Minister dealing with the situation.

As regards the ministerial regulations, they will be quite clear about the penalty. As regards community regulations which have direct effect, we have had a search done by the Departments. They have found the legislation which is affected. In some cases it will be up to the courts to decide if the implied appeal exists in a particular case. Knowing the legislation which is affected the people concerned with the law will be able to follow that course. In the beginning the Departments will give every assistance to people having problems in finding out whether there is conflict with direct community legislation and with previous domestic legislation.

Ignorance of the law will be no excuse for breaking it?

In terms of regulations made the people will be quite clear about the offence that is being created and what is being provided for.

Will they be clear by the 1st January next?

Ministerial regulations will be required to catch up with the back-log. Some of these will be required on the 1st January and some may not be wanted for a few weeks. The offence will not exist until the regulations are made and it is clear that the offence is there.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 2:

Section 4: In subsection (2), line 35, "a majority" deleted and "at least one-third" substituted.

This amendment is to delete "a majority" and substitute "at least one-third". It relates, strangely enough to the recall of the Dáil. It was an amendment put down in the Seanad. The provision which I had in the Bill was taken from previous legislation. It provided that a majority of the Dáil could seek the recall of the Dáil. It appeared to Senators, and they impressed me, that this for the most part would mean that if one had a majority in the Dáil you are the Government and, therefore, if you make a regulation and want to change it you could recall the Dáil anyway, being the Government. It seemed to be an unnecessary section. It was proposed that we should accept that one-third of the Members of the Dáil could recall it. If only one-third want to recall the Dáil because of a regulation they could not change the regulation because they will not be in the majority in the Dáil which they recall. Either way, it seems to me that it will not be a very effective section, or used very much.

It was felt in the Seanad that it would be desirable that a smaller number than the number creating the majority in the Dáil should be able to recall the Dáil if a particular regulation was offensive to them or they were worried about it. I accepted the amendment on that basis.

I was waiting for the Minister's cheek to burst with the tongue that was sticking out through it.

This amendment is an ease on the Executive and of assistance to Parliament. The effect of section 4 of this Bill is that a regulation made by the Government would lapse unless Parliament were recalled. The Minister, even if he is in difficulties, or if any Minister is in difficulties with members of the Government abroad, say, on the Riviera or elsewhere, about recalling the Dáil he can probably hope to have one-third of the Members at home who can be got to sign something for the recall of the Dáil. This is what this amendment brings about. We almost fell into the same trap and due to the wisdom and sagacity of Deputy Tully we were saved from that particular fate and we withdrew our amendment, but I do not think a situation is likely to develop in which members of an Opposition might be seeking to recall the Dáil in order to keep some Governmental regulation in operation. The Minister suggested that they might want to amend it. I understand that we will have no power to amend. We will either confirm the regulation to keep it in existence or we might decline to do so or fail to do so and the regulation would collapse. Our power to amend will not exist. That is why I felt that the Minister's tongue was protruding through his cheek as he was talking.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 3:

Section 5: In page 3, before section 5, the following section inserted—

"The Government shall make a report twice yearly to each House of the Oireachtas on developments in the European Communities."

During the course of the Report Stage, or one of the Stages in the Dáil, Deputy Ryan had an amendment which provided for twice-yearly reports by the Government to the Oireachtas on the development of the European Communities. I thought at the time it was not unreasonable to have such a debate twice a year. Under the Bill we will have by the sixth month confirmatory legislation three debates a year. There is also the question of setting up a committee. This is in hand between the Whips of the different parties. I have looked at this and since the committee has not been established I put down this amendment in the Seanad. It was accepted there that we should have twice-yearly debates in line with the thinking of Deputy Ryan. This should not be taken as excluding the setting-up of a committee.

We welcome this amendment and think it is sensible. The fact that reports are made to the House does not mean that there will be debates. I would expect that there would be debates when Members of the House would feel there was some matter worth debating or some matter of significance occurring or about to occur within the Communities, or if the House felt that some development should occur they would be able to have a debate to impress the Government of the day with some particular point of view. It is a worthwhile amendment. It certainly still involves the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas in this business and that is the general intention of all our amendments to this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Amendments reported and agreed to.
Ordered; that a message be sent to the Seanad accordingly.