Age of Majority Bill, 1984: Second Stage.

Limerick East): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time”.

I am glad to be able to bring this measure before the House, I regard it as an important as well as a desirable item of law reform in an area of particular significance for young people.

The main purpose of the Bill is to implement proposals concerning the age of majority that are contained in the Law Reform Commission's report entitled "Report on the Law relating to the Age of Majority, the Age for Marriage and Some Connected Subjects (LRC5-1983)". The commission's central proposal is that the age of majority be reduced from 21 to 18 years or the age at which the person concerned marries.

The commission's recommendations were made after a wide ranging investigation in the course of which they reviewed the law as to the age of majority here, in Britain and in various other countries in Europe and elsewhere. They also received and considered submissions from a wide range of organisations and individuals. The results were published in a Working Paper (No. 2 — 1977) and the commission's final report in the matter was published in April 1983. The report was accompanied by a draft Age of Majority Bill.

Before referring in detail to the provisions of the Bill I would like to pay a special tribute to the Law Reform Commission for the work they have done in the comprehensive review of the subject set out in their working paper and in their final report. Those documents have provided us with a wealth of valuable material and background information on the existing law on the subject and on the implications of making the changes they recommended. The proposals in the Bill are based with only slight modifications on the work of the commission and I am sure that other Members of the House would wish to join me in thanking them.

Before going further, I think I should say something about the concept of "majority". The terms "age of majority" and "full age" are interchangeable and are used to describe the age at which a person reaches full legal capacity, that is, the capacity to exercise all the rights of an individual who is not under a legal disability.

The present age of majority is 21 years, as it has been for centuries. It might be supposed that this resulted from the belief that 21 years was an age at which people could be presumed to be sufficiently mature mentally to assume full responsibility for themselves, but that does not seem to have been the case. The emergence of 21 years appears to have had less to do with mental maturity than with physical strength. There is authority for suggesting that it was related to the age at which a young man was regarded as strong enough to wear the heavy armour and wield the heavy weapons that went with knight service in the feudal system. The selection of any age as an age at which people generally can be regarded as capable of assuming full adult responsibility must of course be arbitrary to some extent but it can be said that the proposal of the Law Reform Commission is supported by the practice of many other countries and by developments in our own law, as I hope to show.

Under the common law a person under 21 was treated as an infant — or minor — and was conferred with a special status, that is infancy or minority which made him subject to certain legal limitations, the most important of these being in his ability to enter into contracts or to own property. The limitations on the legal capacity of a minor were not of course imposed to deprive the minor of his rights — the principle was that a minor should be protected from his own improvidence and inexperience, but that this should be done so as not to cause unnecessary hardship to any person dealing with him.

There has been a general trend throughout the world towards a reduction in the age of majority, particularly in Europe. A resolution of the Council of Europe in 1972 recommended lowering the age of majority below 21 years and suggested 18 as a suitable new age. The age was reduced in Britain and Northern Ireland in 1969 from 21 years to 18 years. Other countries which in recent years have made the same reduction are France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden and Turkey.

Clearly there is a growing consensus that transcends national boundaries that young people of the present day are capable of managing their own affairs when they reach the age of 18 years. Many young people have already struck out on their own and are supporting themselves away from home by the time they reach 18 years. Moreover, the Law Reform Commission referred at paragraphs 16 and 17 of their report, to Article 41.1 of the Constitution under which the State recognises the special role of the family in society and guarantees to protect it as the necessary basis for social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the nation and the State. From this, they point out, it is arguable that no legal impediments should be placed in the way of young married persons solely on the grounds of age and that such persons should have the legal capacity to acquire a home and to furnish it.

The Bill is not a complete innovation however, but rather is the culmination of a continuing process of development in our law. In recent years, our law has increasingly recognised that persons of 18 years of age are capable of undertaking adult responsibilities. The Succession Act, 1965, enabled a person who is 18 years or married, to make a valid will. Previously he had to be 21 years or over. Since the enactment of the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964, a parent under the age of 21 years may appoint a guardian of his child by will. In 1972 the voting age was reduced from 21 years to 18 years following an amendment of the Constitution. It is significant in the context of the present Bill that when the proposal to reduce the voting age was submitted to a referendum, 85 per cent of the votes cast were in favour of the proposal. The Juries Act, 1976, reduced the minimum age limit for jury service in a court or at a coroner's inquest from 21 to 18 years.

It is against this background and having studied the subject in depth that the Law Reform Commission have made their recommendation that the age of majority should be reduced to 18 years. There was widespread support for such a reduction amongst those bodies, including the National Youth Council of Ireland, who made submissions to the commission. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Legislation also endorsed the commission's recommendation in their Report on the Age of Majority of 11 April 1984 (PI. 2321).

The principal areas of law that will be affected are contract, property and guardianship. Full contractual capacity will now be acquired at 18 or, if a person marries before that age, at the date of marriage. I am glad to say that one effect of this will be to remove an obstacle in the way of many young married couples seeking to buy a home. At present, lending institutions will not provide loans for house purchase to persons under 21 years because as a result of the Infants Relief Act, 1874, a contract for the repayment of a loan by a person under 21 years of age is not binding on him. That will no longer be a reason for refusing a loan to a person who is 18 years or who is married.

A person who has attained the age of 18, or is married before that age, will in future be able to buy and sell land and give valid receipts for the purchase money without the intervention of a trustee or other third person. At present land held by a minor is subject to the Settled Land Acts and powers of dealing with it are exercised by trustees.

When the Bill comes into force questions of guardianship and custody will arise only in respect of persons who are under 18 years instead of persons under 21 years as at present. If, for example, on the commencement of this Act a person is a ward of court, he will be discharged from wardship on that date if he has then reached 18 years of age.

Among the other effects that the Bill will have are that persons over 18 years or who are married before that age will be able to sue or be sued in their own names without the intervention of a next friend or of a guardian ad litem— a guardian ad litem is, of course, a person appointed to defend proceedings on behalf of a minor or a person under a disability. They will also be able to enter into a binding compromise of an action without leave of the court. In addition they will be entitled to act on the committee of a trade union, or any other body, corporate or incorporate. At present, for example, a minor may be a member of a trade union, credit union or a friendly society but he may not serve on the committee of such a body.

I do not think that at this stage I need discuss the detailed provisions of the Bill, most of which are technical or consequential — they will all be gone into fully on Committee Stage. I will mention briefly only two provisions.

Section 2 is the principal provision. It proposes that a person will attain full age on the date the Act comes into operation if he has then reached the age of 18 or is or has been married. After the commencement of the Act, a person will attain full age on reaching the age of 18 or on marriage. The section substitutes a reference to full age for any reference to the age of 21 in every statutory provision passed before the commencement save those specifically exempted. The exempted provisions refer to marriage, adoption, social welfare, taxation and certain pensions.

At present under a rule of common law a person legally attains a particular age — I am not talking only about full age — at the first moment of the day preceding the relevant anniversary of his birth. I am sure that not many members of the general public are aware that this is the legal rule. It is a rule that the lay person would probably regard as artificial and against common sense. It means, for instance, that if a person's birthday is on a Saturday, the law regards him as having reached the relevant age at midnight on the preceding Thursday. Section 4 — subject to a saving in relation to the Electoral Acts — will abolish this rule and provide instead that the moment when a person reaches a particular age, not necessarily full age, will be the commencement of his relevant birthday. This is a sensible and desirable change bringing the law into line with popular understanding.

Subsection (1) of section 4 is drafted so as to exclude its application to provisions of the Constitution — in other words, it will have no relevance for any constitutional provision which specifies a particular age expressed in years. Also, because of subsection (3) it will have no relevance for the Electoral and Referendum Acts mentioned in that subsection, all of which reflect the constitutional provision about age for voting. This merely means that if any question were to come up about the interpretation of these constitutional or electoral provisions it will fall to be decided in its own context and without regard to section 4.

The Bill does not provide for the implementation of recommendations in the Law Reform Commission's report in relation to certain ages for marriage and the effect on the validity of marriage of failure to obtain the consent of parents or guardians to marriages below a certain age. This does not mean the Government are opposed to the implementation of these recommendations but that they consider that they constitute a separate subject from the age of majority to be assessed separately. Indeed, the Law Reform Commission themselves clearly distinguish between the two although they deal with both in the report. The commission's proposals in relation to the minimum age for marriage and the effect of the failure to get parental or other consent for certain marriages are not, of course, directly related to the question of what the age of majority should be. The Government considered that it is better to deal with the question of the appropriate age for marriage as a separate issue and that it would in any event be advisable to await the report of the Oireachtas Committee on Marital Breakdown before proceeding further with amendments of the law of marriage.

Other proposals of the Law Reform Commission which are being left over for another day are those relating to an increase from 16 to 18 as the age up to which parents can be obliged to maintain a child under the Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Orders) Act, 1930 and the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976, and as the age at which a parent ceases to be liable to maintain a child for the purposes of social welfare legislation. These proposals are not directly related to a reduction in the age of majority and will be dealt with separately. Similarly, the commission's proposals in relation to certain ages for the purposes of adoption are not included in the Bill which specifically excludes the Adoption Acts from its effects. The two relevant aspects of age in relation to adoption — minimum age of adopters and maximum age of children to be adopted — have never been directly related to the concept of majority. Any changes in this area are more appropriate for consideration in the context of the recently published report of the Review Committee on Adoption Services established by the Minister for Health rather than in the context of proposals for a change in the age of majority.

The Bill will not affect social welfare or taxation legislation. The exemption of social welfare legislation will ensure, in particular, that persons who are at present entitled to social welfare in respect of children between 18 and 21 who are in full-time education will not become disentitled by reason of this Bill. The exclusion of taxation legislation will ensure that a taxpayer will not lose his entitlement to any tax allowance that he might be eligible for at present in respect of a child up to 21 years because of the change in the age of majority.

This Bill is an important piece of legislation which will affect our society in many ways and will, I believe, have significant effects for our young people by enabling them to take responsibility for the conduct of their daily affairs. I understand that there could be as many as 200,000 young people affected by the change in the age of majority, not to mention many others who are approaching that age who will be affected soon after. The Bill will also have important results for young married couples. In the period 1975 to 1980, the most recent years for which figures are available, there were over 38,000 marriages registered in which at least one of the parties was under 21 years. The change in the age of majority will be of particular benefit to them. The Bill recognises that these young people, as a result of developments in education and communications, are reaching maturity at an earlier age than in former times and that they are more capable nowadays of assuming the responsibilities of life than, perhaps, young people were in former times. I believe that this Bill is a timely and worthwhile reform in our civil law and I am confident that it will be widely welcomed.

I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

I welcome the Bill in general. Like the Minister, I consider it represents and reflects social changes and political developments in our society that have had to take account of the earlier attainment of maturity and responsibility in young people in recent generations. To some extent this earlier maturity has been a product of education and greater equality of opportunity. To another extent it is due to the fact that in recent years all politicians have had to come to terms with the needs and demands of the large percentage of our population who are under 25 years — approximately 50 per cent of our population. In itself this is having an effect on our laws and it has had an effect on the thinking in relation to this legislation.

I was interested in the Minister's reference — I had also come across it — to the basis on which the age was decided in the long and distant past. It was more related to physical strength and here young girls and women were at a disadvantage if they had to prove they could ride around like a knight in shining armour and carry the full weight that was required. The Minister's research has been very detailed and I congratulate him on his Second Stage speech. In fact, if he had provided it for us earlier I would not have had to do as much work as I did. Perhaps that indicates one of the odd situations in the House. In the early days it was a question of physical strength and, as the Minister has said quite rightly, that has changed. As a society we are changing rapidly and young people are beginning to want to take part in all aspects of society. The educational opportunities that have been available in recent years have helped in this area, although perhaps some people might not recognise that so readily.

As a party we recognised the need some time ago. I refer to the Succession Act, 1965, to which the Minister has referred. When Fianna Fáil were in Government they introduced that measure which provided that any person who was of sound mind, who had attained 18 years and who was or had been married could make a will. We also recognised this development in the Guardianship of Infants Act, 1964. In that case a section was enacted enabling a person under 21 years to appoint a guardian by will.

The single most important reduction in the age of majority was brought about by the Referendum (Amendment) Act, 1972, which resulted in reducing from 21 years to 18 years the age at which a person had the right to vote in Dáil and Presidential elections. The proposal that was put forward by our party then received overwhelming support. Out of a total vote of 856,353 valid votes 724,836 were in favour of the amendment and 131,514 were against it. The proposal reflected our party's determination at that time to have recognised the role of young people in politics and their right to express their views on political issues.

I appreciate that there is a similar commitment in the Bill as there is generally in other legislation that has been discussed here. According to the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill its purpose is to implement the proposal relating to the age of majority as put forward in the report of the Law Reform Commission. The Bill proposes to reduce the age of majority from 21 to 18 or earlier, depending on marital status, but this is done in a selective way. In this respect we are being left with the situation in which, though a person will be regarded as an adult at the age of 18, there will be two majorities. In other words, we are being left with in many ways a job only half done. The Minister recognises this as indicated in his speech this morning.

On the question of the law relating to the age of majority and to the age of marriage, the Law Reform Commission set out in the appendix to their Working Paper, 5/1983, the main heads of the Bill. In the accompanying explanatory memorandum we read that the main proposals put forward by the commission and included in the Bill are, first, that it is proposed to reduce the age of majority from 21 to 18 or the age at which a person marries; secondly, that a marriage solemnised between persons, either of whom is under 16, should be void and, that a marriage solemnised between persons, either of whom is under 18, should be void unless there has been obtained first the consent of parents or guardians or of the courts. The Law Reform Commission envisaged these proposals as being incorporated in the one Bill.

The Minister has suggested that the age of consent for marriage is an entirely separate subject. He referred to the work done by the commission and I should like to join with him in paying tribute to them for the detailed and exhaustive work undertaken by them in this area as in other areas. Their report tends to highlight the fact that the fault rests with politicians because of their not doing something earlier about the work of the commission. In their working paper, 2/1977, relating to the age of majority, the commission set out a good deal of detail. Their work has been very valuable. I find it most useful when examining legislation. I take the view that the question of the age of majority and that of the age of consent for marriage should be taken together and incorporated in the same Bill. They are similar matters.

The Minister has pointed to other questions which he would regard as not being similar in their general intent but the two matters I am speaking of are closely related.

The Bill is selective in that seven statutes which rely on the question of the age qualification of 21 years are excluded from its operation as also is any statutory provision to provide for the payment of pensions or other allowances to such children up to the age of 21. In relation to Irish marriage law, the Bill contains a specific element of exclusion. It does not include the commission's proposal that the free age for marriage should be the same as the age of majority. This will mean that it will continue to be necessary for people between the age of 18 and 21 to obtain the consent of parents, guardians or the court before being permitted to marry. It seems illogical that such an exception should be continued when it is accepted that a young adult has a right to acquire or to dispose of property or to enter into contractual arrangements with third parties and to be responsible for the legal obligations that arise therefrom. The same young adult, without reference to his parents, to his guardians or to the courts can enter into a contract with a building society in respect of a mortgage.

I agree with the proposal to enable 18 year olds to enter into mortgage agreements and to undertake other commitments, but it is important that we take into consideration the matter of the age up to which consent for marriage must be obtained.

The Minister says that this matter should be left until we have the report of the Committee on Marriage Breakdown. That report is due on 1 December which is not very far away. Consequently, it should be possible to incorporate in this legislation those proposals which generally are agreed. The Minister will have the full support of the House in regard to the inclusion, along the lines suggested, of the question of the age at which a person can marry without consent. He has given good reasons for other aspects being dealt with separately but this is one which should have been dealt with.

The fact that there is inconsistency indicates that the Bill was rushed. This is undesirable particularly since the other reports will soon be available to us. The Minister may say that there is other legislation designed to protect a young person from his own inexperience and improvidence. We recognise that in the life of a young person there are different stages of maturity and intelligence. If that is the case one wonders about the logic of continuing the law as it stands which permits a young person of 17 years of age to be executed for a capital offence but does not recognise that he is an adult until he is a year older. That is an aspect the Minister might have given attention to in the Bill. We must look at the different implications in relation to the age of majority.

What is the logic of permitting a person to take out money from funds in court as a right at the age of 18 but at the same time excluding him from the benefit of trust moneys until he is 21 years of age? That indicates that it is desirable to look in a wider context at the age of majority and make amendments. The funds lodged in court may far exceed those lodged in a trust fund, yet 18 years is the majority age in the first instance and 21 years the majority age in the second instance. I welcome the change to 18 years in the first case but why not look at the age in the second case? As far as the trustees are concerned the young person continues to be a minor until 21 years but as far as the court is concerned he is an adult with full rights at 18 years. It is all very well to say that the trustees will have powers under the Bill and that it will be at their discretion to pay out money to somebody aged 18 but the reality is they will have to continue to exercise discretion in favour of that person until he reaches 21 years of age when he can take out the trust money as a right. What is the logic behind allowing the trustee such a right until the person reaches the age of 21 years when the same right is refused to the court when the person reaches 18 years? This is an indication of the further work that needs to be done on this Bill.

The Minister has not a clear concept of when a young person reaches adulthood or of what the consequences are of giving a right with one hand and taking it away with the other. It would have been helpful if the Minister had dealt with that issue in the Bill rather than keeping the Bill as narrow as he has. If he had made such a definition he would have been able to explain why there is a distinction between funds in court and trust money and between full legal capacity for commercial contracts at 18 years and restricted legal capacity for marriage contracts until a person is 21 years.

It is clear from the Bill that the Minister is setting aside some of the recommendations contained in the report of the commission. Obviously it is not because the Minister regards the period between 18 years and 21 years as a period of limited rather than full majority. What is the reason? The Minister is satisfied that a person is mature enough to be a member of a local authority at the age of 18 and vote at that age but he or she is not mature enough to stand for election to the Dáil at 18 years of age. I accept it would require a constitutional change to enable a young person to be elected to the Dáil at 18 years or under the age of 21 years. The Minister had an opportunity to address this issue. If a person is considered to be an adult at 18 years of age should he or she be eligible to stand for election to the Dáil? Such a person is eligible to stand for local elections. The Minister did not refer to that issue.

The Law Reform Commission's Working Paper, No. 2 of 1977, provided the background information on that subject. As regards standing for election to various legislatures, in Canada the age is 18 years; British Colombia, 19 years; Austria, 25 years; Germany, 18 years; Greece, 25 years; Luxembourg, 21 years; New Zealand, 18 years; Norway, 20 years; Sweden, 18 years; Switzerland, 20 years and in the United Kingdom, 21 years. We must address ourselves to this matter.

I should like the Minister to indicate clearly why he is not adopting all the recommendations of the commission's report and particularly the draft Bill in its entirety. The report of the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown is due shortly. The first draft is being prepared at present. There are two majority ages in this Bill — an 18-year-old will have full commercial liability for his contracts without protection of the Infants Relief Act, 1874 whereas a 20-year-old will still have to go cap in hand to his parents for permission to marry. He or she can enter into substantial commitments for the purchase of a house or business without such consent and theoretically without the benefit of parental advice and guidance. If we follow the Minister's logic a young person of 18 years of age will be able to resist the power of commercial advertising loan sharks and be well able to understand the consequences of such transactions. On the other hand, the 20 year old who may have acquired a degree or who may be fully qualified in technical or business areas will still be unable to marry without his parents' consent. The Infants Relief Act, 1874, was a compromise between a desire to protect infants and a wish to safeguard the interests of traders. From now on only persons under 18 years of age will be protected in their commercial dealings with other people. Is the Minister satisfied that it is safe to exclude some form of protection for young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 for their commercial contracts or dealings, especially when one thinks of loan sharks and hire purchase arrangements which people can be so readily pressed into without realising the implications?

When the age of majority was reduced to 18 in New Zealand, provision was made for the intervention by the courts in certain circumstances where contracts were entered into by young adults between the ages of 18 and 21. That element has been protected in our legislation up to now. I agree with the step being taken in the Bill but we should consider on Committee Stage whether there is any need to provide some form of protection in the period between the ages of 18 and 21. I cited as an example that this approach was taken in New Zealand when the age of majority was reduced to 18.

I am sure the Minister is aware that a male juvenile offender may, under the Criminal Justice Act, 1960, be sentenced to detention in St. Patrick's Institution instead of being sentenced to penal servitude or imprisonment. Under the same Act the court may, when a person is convicted on indictment and is not less than 16 or more than 19 years of age, sentence him to detention instead of penal servitude or imprisonment. Is it now proposed to reduce the age of 19 to 18 for that purpose on the grounds that the Minister is satisfied that a person is a fully matured adult at 18 years of age? If that is the case will that have implications for the committing of persons to prison and the mixing of young people with older, more hardened criminals in Mountjoy and other prisons? I should like the Minister to clarify this in his reply.

Is the Minister also considering a reduction in the age of criminal responsibility? At present there is a rebuttable presumption that a child between the ages of seven and 14 has not the mens rea necessary to establish criminal responsibility. Is it considered that the age of adult maturity is now reached at 18 years of age instead of 21 years of age? Has the Minister considered the age of full criminal responsibility? Will that be reflected in a reduction to the age of 12? Looking at the question in global terms, how should we approach this problem? It tends to indicate that the Minister is developing one aspect above another. However, the Bill will give us an opportunity of considering these matters.

The Minister has not told us why distinctions such as these are made and in some case have to be made. That indicates the absence of a co-ordinated or consolidated approach by the Minister to this difficult problem. When we talk about these changes taking place, such as a change in the age of maturity, we must consider the consequences and interactions of that very complex legal area. I have tried to outline some of them here. I accept that there will always be certain categories of persons, not necessarily minors and young adults, for whom special safeguards will always be necessary, whether by the intervention of the court in certain circumstances or by other measures. However, while the Bill is a very valuable advance, it will not give young adults full legal rights and obligations. It should be a much more widely embracing attempt at reforming legislation.

There are various different categories of maturity in adulthood in present legislation but the Bill does very little to deal with these and to bring them into some form of cohesion. For instance, if we were tackling these problems the Bill would have amended the 1947 Act, in particular section 2 (1) thereof, whereby a person aged 16 and over is treated as an adult. He is free to choose his own doctor, obtain a medical card in his own right, give consent for an operation and apply for a disabled person's maintenance allowance. In this legislation we are not tackling social welfare and other implications. The obligation of a parent to maintain a child under family law ceases when the child reaches the age of 16. If we were consistent we might have amended that to 18. We should look comprehensively at the implications even of this one aspect of the question of maturity and its relationships.

I have just mentioned some examples of inconsistency in existing legislation but there are others. If the Minister and his advisers had taken the time to examine these, they might have been able to put a more comprehensive Bill before us without getting unduly complicated and without leaving on the Statute Book a number of measures which could readily be amended in the House.

I welcome the principle of reducing the age of majority but we should have given it more attention. Perhaps we can do that on Committee Stage. This is an urgent matter and Members of the House must ensure that the rights of young people and their standing as citizens compare favourably with all sections of the population.

There is no doubt that at an earlier age young people are attaining considerable maturity and that the step we are taking in making 18 years the age of majority is the right step. It is being done at the right time. I compliment the Minister on that. We should look more comprehensively at the meaning of this maturity and the other implications, some of which I have pointed out. I ask the Minister between now and Committee Stage to do some more homework on the Bill and to come back with a more comprehensive approach. I will look at the Bill in that light and see if we can make some suggestions on Committee Stage which will help to improve the Bill.

The Minister may feel that he can come back again with another Bill in the not too distant future, or that some other Minister could do so, for example, the Minister of State dealing with family law reform, Deputy Fennell. All these things take time. The Estimates are produced and have to be debated. The budget is introduced and then there is the recess. I think we are all agreed on the age of consent for marriage. The Joint Committee are due to report on 1 December but they will report soon after that date if the report is not ready on that date.

On Committee Stage we can consider the inclusion of the recommendations which are likely to come from the committee. They have been fairly well broadcast and I think most of us agreed that 18 years should be the age of majority and the age of consent. The Law Reform Commission prepared their own Bill. Between now and Committee Stage we can do more work and try to bring that element into it also, and deal with some of the other anomalies which relate to the question of majority. I ask the Minister to consider these suggestions when he is replying and also when he is preparing for Committee Stage of the Bill. I will do that myself.

Having campaigned for some years now for a change in the age of majority, I am glad to see this Bill before the House today. With certain reservations, most of which the Minister referred to, I welcome the Bill. It resolves the slightly ambiguous position in which young people find themselves. On the one hand they are entitled to vote at elections and on the other hand they are denied the legal status of adults.

It is arguable whether this Bill is a reaction to the social realities of the day or whether it gives us a positive lead in initiating social change. It is something of both. There is no denying the fact that young people of 18 years of age are anxious and willing to assume the privileges and obligations of adulthood. It is absurd that graduates and young people who have had years of gainful employment, and some of whom are married, are classified in law as infants. I am glad this Bill will resolve that conflict. As such, it is an answer to the social realities of our time.

This Bill has the potential to create a change of attitude in our society. Young people over 18 years of age will have to be more responsible for their actions particularly in contractual matters. This is good. It encourages maturity. It is not satisfactory that 19- and 20-year-olds can enter into contractual agreements which cannot be enforced against them. This encourages a great degree of irresponsibility. The Bill will create an atmosphere in which young people will see themselves in a different light and will respond in a mature way as full adults.

I believe in the idea that every right carries a responsibility. For that reason I should like to outline briefly the obligations of adulthood. There is the right to own land without the intervention of trustees, but there are legal obligations to respect the land of others by looking after boundaries, keeping animals secure, and so on. There is the right to borrow money, but there is the obligation to repay it with interest. There is the right to receive an inheritance without the intervention of trustees, but there is the obligation to discharge the requirements of the representatives of the deceased.

There is the right to sit on a trade union or on a co-operative, but there is the obligation to carry out the legal duties of adults on such bodies. It is well to remind our 18 year olds that this Bill confirms the legal status of 18 year olds as adults. It gives the rights, the responsibilities and the obligations of adulthood and it creates expectations of maturity.

The Law Reform Commission recommended that the Illegitimate Children (Affiliation Orders) Act, 1930, and the Family Law Act, 1976, should be changed. That does not appear in this Bill. The basic recommendation in both cases is that the age of 18 years be substituted for the age of 16 years, so that the obligation to provide financial support would continue to the age of majority. There are great merits in those proposals and I urge the Minister to consider them very seriously. These two recommendations on the age of majority could be enacted in this Bill. Otherwise an anomalous situation will continue to exist.

My major regret about the Bill is shared by Deputy Woods, that is, that it does not deal with the age of consent for marriage. The present position about the age of consent for marriage leaves a lot to be desired. The minimum age for marriage is 16 years, with a provision enabling the President of the High Court to grant an exemption. Persons over the age of 16 years but under 21 years may marry but only with the consent of parents or guardians. If the parents or guardians refuse consent there is a provision for application to the High Court.

The Law Reform Commission reported twice on this and they finally concluded that the age of 16 years should be the absolute minimum age for marriage and that any marriage contracted prior to that age should be considered null and void. Between the ages of 16 and 18 years a marriage would be valid only if the consent of parents or guardians was obtained. There would be a right of appeal to the High Court, but not unless both parents refused to consent. From the age of 18 years people would be allowed to marry without any restriction. It seems to me that these recommendations are very worthwhile. It appears that agreement has been reached by the Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown that the minimum age for marriage should be at majority, which is 18 years. The committee indicated that between the ages of 16 and 18 years there should be provision for an appeal to the High Court.

As Deputy Woods said earlier, the committee have not yet reported but will be doing so on 1 December next. We have waited so long for this Bill and it would be an asset if we could include in it a change in the position regarding the age of marriage. Great difficulty will be created between the ages of 16 and 18 years. In Article 41.1 of our Constitution the right of the family is protected. Yet, a married couple one or both of whom are 18 will continue to suffer the legal disabilities of being minors. For instance, they will be unable to take out a mortgage policy or an insurance policy. Perhaps the Minister would consider this point and refer to it on the next occasion.

It is important that the general public be informed of this new law. The Department of Justice could issue a pamphlet for circulation to schools, colleges, youth organisations and other interested bodies. This would create public awareness of the change and would allow young people to know that the full age of majority is 18 years. In the light of that, 21st birthday parties will have to change to 18th birthday parties.

The Minister did not deal with the social welfare code or the Taxation Acts. While he points out that if he changed the Social Welfare Acts the parents of those between 18 and 21 who are apprenticed or continuing education would not qualify for children's allowances. On the other hand, many people of 18 years who leave school and find themselves on the dole queue are not treated as independent. Their means are assessed on the basis of the family income. This often leaves 19 year olds with £2 or £3 a week, which is very unfair particularly when we are now about to confer on them, having reached the age of majority, the full role of adulthood.

Anomalies will also arise in the taxation Acts. The Law Reform Commission have recommended that in those Acts the figure "16" should be deleted and the figure "18" substituted. This would remove some of the anomalies but would not apply, for instance, where people under 21 are incapacitated or totally unable to look after or care for themselves. I feel strongly that people of 18 years should be allowed to stand for election to Dáil Éireann. That is particularly relevant in this country which has a huge young population. It would be good if the views of youth were reflected here and they would be best reflected by people of that age. It would be a tremendous asset to have in this Dáil two or three Members aged between 18 and 21 years. They have ideals and opinions which need to be reflected in a Legislature which is supposed to reflect the views of all the people. It is true that older people can represent younger, but I firmly believe that young people are articulate and are best able to represent themselves.

While I welcome this Bill and think it is a step forward, bringing us into line with our European partners and many steps beyond, I ask the Minister to consider the points which I have raised and to deal with them on Committee Stage. I trust that this is only the first piece of legislation of a social nature which we may expect in the coming years.

Debate adjourned.

Before Question Time, Sir, I would like to say that I will be seeking your permission to raise on the Adjournment the question of the newlyweds from whom the disability and mobility allowances were withdrawn.

The Chair will communicate with Deputy Tunney.