Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1973: Fifth Stage.

This Bill has had a long and tedious passage through this House. The National Coalition's 14-point programme contained a pledge to set up independent machinery to deal with planning appeals. Accordingly, the present Bill was one of the first introduced in this House after the Government took office in March, 1973. Drafting, naturally, took some considerable time but the Bill was ready for circulation early in 1974.

This is history, I suppose, but when I spoke on the Second Stage of the Bill in March, 1974, I gave an assurance that I would be prepared to give full and objective consideration to any reasonable amendments which Deputies might wish to put forward on Committee Stage. In fact, arising from the Second Stage debate, I myself took the initiative and put down a considerable number of Committee Stage amendments to meet points which had been raised by Deputies. Other Members of the House on both sides also put down numerous amendments with the result that, when Committee Stage began in November, 1974, we were faced with a total of about 140 amendments.

The Committee Stage debate took 11 days and was completed last July. I readily concede that some useful work was done during that debate but I must say that the tactics adopted by some Deputies opposite did not help. A number of very reasonable people sat in all the time but there were some people who did not help at all. May be I would call it a bit of filibustering.

For Report Stage, I again put down a considerable number of amendments designed to meet points raised by Deputies at the earlier Stage. I think I can say, therefore, without fear of contradiction, that my attitude towards the views expressed by Deputies on all sides has been reasonable and that I have fully lived up to the pledge I gave on Second Stage.

The primary importance of the Bill itself is, of course, the new machinery it will provide for the determination of planning appeals. The provisions in this regard are widely known and have received a fairly general welcome not only in this House, but from various individuals and interested groups. What may not be so widely appreciated is the fact that the Bill contains a very large number of other amendments of the 1963 Act. This is a complex Act which has worked reasonably well—I would not say very well—but, naturally, experience of its operation has shown a need for improvement in various respects.

Many such improvements are provided for in this Bill. There are, for example, the new and stronger provisions for enforcement such as the warning notice procedure, the provision for High Court intervention and the higher penalties. There are also important provisions designed to limit the life of planning permissions and to facilitate the variation of development plans and the making of new plans. There are a number of changes designed to assist in control of air and water pollution. Of course, there are the very important and desirable provisions about conflicts of interests. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the Bill's provisions —or even of its main provisions— but it is, I think, sufficient to demonstrate the importance of the Bill and, if implemented effectively, the contribution it can make to better planning in our cities, towns and rural areas will be great.

I would like to thank the Deputies opposite for their approval to the Bill. We have not agreed on all matters but today's debate particularly showed how matters can be discussed in a calm and reasonable way and how the points of view of both sides can be taken into consideration. Again in the main, on Committee Stage a lot of very useful work was done. I freely admit that suggestions made from the Opposition did improve the Bill. I believe that is the object of discussing Bills in Parliament, and if it gets the same consideration in the other House we will have an excellent measure when it is finally enacted.

The sooner this Bill becomes law the better. The responsibility for planning appeals is not something which any of us wants to have for a long time. It causes a great deal of criticism outside, ill-informed in most cases. People do not seem to understand that Ministers do not take decisions out of cussedness. Very detailed reports are made available to them and it is on the basis of those reports that they take their decisions. They have to take criticism, and I suppose that is one of the things associated with being Minister for Local Government. However, the responsibility will now pass on to a new planning board. I hope the decisions of the planning board will be accepted by people outside in a rather more gracious way than some of the decisions which had to be taken by me and by my predecessors over the years. Again I thank the Deputies for the manner in which they have dealt with the various Stages of the Bill.

As the Minister said, this Bill has taken a considerable time to pass through the Dáil. Our complaint was never that the discussion on the Bill was too long but rather that it might have come more regularly before the House since it was first introduced. Exceptionally long periods of time elapsed between the one period of discussion and the next. I would refer specially to the fact that the Bill did not appear in the session before Christmas. I had thought we could have finished the various readings of the Bill before the summer recess. I regret that that was not possible.

There had been criticism that there was too much debate and discussion, particularly on Committee Stage, but I do not agree with this criticism. This is a very important Bill. It affects the lives of all of our people in one way or another in that it helps to shape the environment in which we live and endeavours to ensure that we will be able to live a full life in a world which has been transformed by technological developments. On the one hand, these technological developments have added much to life, but these vast and worth-while improvements carry with them grave dangers in their effect on the environment. The situation the human race faces today is on a par with the moral which can be found in the short story "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs, in which each wish granted carried with it an equally severe penalty.

This Bill, which has as its object the handing over of the Minister's power relating to appeals to a board and the orderly development and protection of our amenities, is one which could not be rushed through the House by limiting debate on it. The very fact that the Minister has accepted so many of our amendments is proof in itself of the need for careful examination of the Bill. I would like to take this opportunity of expressing our appreciation of the fact that the Minister has accepted so many of our amendments either in their original form or as resubmitted by himself. He has met us very fairly on many points. There are, of course, other points which we would like to have had accepted, and perhaps the Minister would reconsider some of them in the Seanad.

All in all, therefore, I feel the Bill as it now stands is a very much improved and worth-while one which will be appreciated by the people. The Bill provides for a basic change relating to appeals, and when it becomes law the Minister's power will pass to a board, and planning appeals will in a sense pass out of the political arena. I am glad that because of some sections of the Bill it will still be possible to question the Minister in this House particularly in relation to policy.

What is important in regard to the Bill is that the discussion yielded results, and this has proved that legislation is not just a matter for Departments, drafting and such like but is moulded and brought to fruition by the contributions of the Members of the House who have a practical knowledge of the problems and who are the people's representatives. We can all commend the Bill, and again I would like to express my appreciation of the Minister's attitude towards the amendments we put forward.

Before the Bill leaves the House, could I add my few words as well? I spent a long time in the House in dealing with the Bill since it was first introduced by the Minister and I think that any criticisms of the number of days that were spent debating it are certainly not valid and cannot fairly be made by any person who is aware of the facts. The Minister stated we were 11 days on Committee Stage. That is not a lot of time to spend on the Bill out of a period of sixty weeks between November 1974 and now. The justification for the length of time we spent on the debate can be seen in the final product that is leaving this House now and going to the Seanad. The Bill leaving the House is substantially changed from the one that was originally introduced by the Minister, and it has benefited greatly from the contributions made by both sides of the House during the course of the debate and the amendments which the Minister has accepted on Committee and Report Stages.

The Minister in thanking us for our contribution, which we acknowledge, was a little unfair in not giving some recognition to the fact that much of the work done in preparing this Bill had been done before the Minister moved into the Department of Local Government by the previous administration. He should have given recognition to the fact that we had committed ourselves to the establishment of a board completely removed from the political sphere. The Minister made his contribution to the Bill, most of which we welcome and accept here. The House has made its contribution and none of us will be sad to say farewell to this measure now as it leaves this House. With it we hope will go whatever political influence there had been in the whole planning structure with the involvement of the Minister, under the previous Act, as the person who was charged with deciding appeals. One can argue for and against it. I think we have made a wise decision. I hope that practice will prove that that is so. We look forward with interest to the time when the Bill is in operation.

Lest I be considered ungracious, I want to add my voice to those of my colleagues, Deputy Faulkner and Deputy Molloy, in commending the Minister for his attitude to the House and the Bill. This has been a first-class exercise in parliamentary debate, and while I would claim that on this side of the House we put a great deal of work into the Bill and its provisions, had it not been for the open and co-operative way in which the Minister met the Opposition in regard to our comments and proposals, our work would have been in vain. It is very satisfactory when one puts a lot of work into legislation of this sort to receive from the Government the sort of co-operation which we received on this occasion from the Minister, and I want to compliment him on that.

Lest there would be any doubt about whether I objected to the long debate, let me say I did not object to it. Long discussions did contribute to making a better Bill of it. The reason I gave the dates was to show that it had, in fact, been a lengthy debate, and that was as it should be. One of the things which I prevented from happening was the Bill being brought in for breaks which could have brought us in and out of the House over a lengthy period. I did not believe this was the proper way to deal with it. I insisted that we get a fairly lengthy continuous period as we did today, in order to deal with it properly. Possibly if we had dealt with the Committee Stage in a different way, we might have dealt with it more easily.

Deputy Molloy said that he was sorry to see it leaving this House. I am not sorry to see it go, possibly for a different reason. I have very sad memories of the Committee Stage debate which I would not like to have before me again. It is true a Bill was partly prepared before my time. Work was put into it by my two predecessors. Mr. Boland prepared the original amending Bill. It was changed by his successor and changed subsequently by me. The bones of the Bill were there from that time, and it is only fair that I should say so. When we took office I was instructed by the Government to change this Bill and I endeavoured to do that with the full co-operation of the Opposition. As I said at the start, I am satisfied that this is the way legislation should be dealt with in this House. Reasonable people who are prepared to discuss the matter in a reasonable way can achieve great things.

When I was in Opposition I always felt that previous Minister, whether Coalition or Fianna Fáil, often felt they were the fountains of all knowledge. That is a great mistake and because of that I said at the beginning that I was prepared to accept any reasonable amendment at any time. I thank the three Deputies for their comments.

Question put and agreed to.