Estimates 1992. - Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Bill, 1992: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No.3:
In page 3, line 17, before "sat" to insert "ordinarily"
—(Minister for Education.)

We were debating section 4 which deals with examinations outside the State. We have two amendments, one tabled by the Minister and the other by Deputy J. Higgins. Would the Minister clarify in what way his amendment differs from Deputy Jim Higgins's amendment or if they are achieving the same purpose.

I must tell the Deputy that it differs fundamentally. The Deputy forgot to mention that Deputy Higgins's amendment is deemed out of order.

On a point of order, as you correctly pointed out, my amendment is out of order and the reason it is out of order is that it seeks to broaden the scope and, therefore, would possibly impose a cost on the Exchequer.

If the Minister similarly introduces an amendment to take into consideration qualifications and terminal examinations from the EC, is he not also by implication broadening the scope of the Bill and thereby also imposing a charge on the Revenue?

That is the function of the Government if they so desire.

Just for clarification, I said I had received representations that the provision that examinations must be sat outside the State was too restrictive and would not allow the Minister to take any special circumstances into account. Because of that my amendment, proposing the insertion of the word "ordinarily", would allow such particular circumstances to be taken into account.

Amendment put and declared carried.

We come to amendment No. 5 in the name of the Minister. This was discussed earlier with amendment No. 3.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 3, line 22, before "sat" to insert "ordinarily".

Amendment put and declared carried.
Section 4, as amended, put and agreed to.
SECTION 5.

We come to section 5 in respect of which all amendments tabled have been ruled out of order.

Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill.

This is the section in respect of which most serious disagreement arises. Section 5 (1) states:

Section 2 (1A) of the Principal Act (inserted by section 3 of this Act) shall apply to mature students who have secured places to commence courses in approved institutions in the year 1992 or subsequent years.

As was indicated in the course of Second Stage, all parties on this side of the House indicated that we were tabling amendments to this section to ensure that the relevant grants would apply to existing mature students attending courses in universities and colleges who would otherwise be eligible for such grants in October 1992. I accept your ruling, a Cheann Comhairle, that the amendments are out of order. In the letter you sent me, you stated that they must be adjudged to be out of order as they involve a potential charge on Revenue. To some extent I anticipated that ruling.

In the course of Second Stage I implored the Minister of State to reflect on what was being said by Members on this side of the House, requesting that he introduce an amendment on Committee Stage to the effect that grants would apply to existing mature students. That case was made from all sides of the House. Indeed, when responding the Minister said he had some sympathy with it but unfortunately sympathy will not put bread on the table. I very much regret that the Minister turned down the request from all sides of the House to extend the grants scheme to existing students. Incidentally, I also regret that the Minister for Education — who has been so prominent within the past 24 hours in taking credit for and praising himself for improvements in the higher education grants scheme — has not thought it worth his while to spend another hour in this House after Private Members' time to deal directly and personally with this very topic. That is very disappointing.

In the course of Second Stage debate we indicated it was unfair to have circumstances prevail in which existing students would not benefit from the grants, that there were many students who had commenced courses because of the promise given in theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress at the beginning of 1991 that a scheme of grants would be introduced for mature students. Various promises were given. All the signals from Ministers and others in the intervening period suggested that those students who had embarked on courses last autumn would qualify for student grants, many of whom will have to withdraw from their courses if they are not covered by such grants next October. That is the simple fact of the matter, communicated to me by a number of students who have said they have encountered great financial hardship in their first year in college and in no way can they continue in the absence of a grants scheme.

The Minister contends it will cost additional money to include them in the scheme. Then, by implication — because I listened very carefully to his response to Second Stage — he implied that the reason the scheme is not being extended to mature students is that the increase in the eligibility and means test limits will apply only to students registering for the first time in October next. He implied that if he extended the grants scheme under this Bill to mature students he would then be under pressure to extend the eligibility limits for the grants scheme to existing students.

Can one imagine the reaction were the Minister for Agriculture and Food to announce a scheme of grants for farmers which would apply only to farmers who bought land after a certain date? Can one imagine an employer deciding to grant an increase of pay to his employees, stipulating that it would apply to new employees only, or were the Minister for Social Welfare — I must say I am reluctant to tempt him — to announce, say, an increase in old age pensions which would apply only to people who reached 65 after 1 October 1992? Clearly the Minister's proposals in regard to mature students are absurd and unfair. In replying to Second Stage debate I know the Minister indicated he was unable to take our requests on board.

This will be the central issue of difference on this otherwise welcome Bill. Most of us have been quite generous in the course of the day in welcoming improvements in the student grants scheme announced in recent times but it really spoils its provisions and is very unfair to those students at present within the system to exclude them in the manner being done. If the Minister is not prepared to amend this section, either on the floor of the House in course of Committee Stage or perhaps on reflection when we deal with Report Stage immediately thereafter, I will have to indicate my intention to oppose this section.

I pointed out this morning on Second Stage that in this context paragraph 6 of the explanatory memorandum, to some extent, was misleading, in that, in the second last line, it states: "... students who secure places in approved institutions for 1992 and subsequent years". There is no mention there of students commencing but merely a reference to students securing places, although I concede that in the Bill the word "commence" is included. I had tabled amendment No. 9 — which has been ruled out of order — seeking to insert, after the word "commence", the words "or to continue to pursue".

It is regrettable that the Minister will not give way on this issue. In essence, the Bill has been welcomed on this side of the House. I might briefly repeat the arguments I advanced this morning. For example, when theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress was published, the document of agreement drawn up between the social partners approved by this House, mentioned grants for mature students. There was nothing incorporated in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress stating that the grants would be applicable from the beginning of the new academic year for new students only. I read out a letter in the House this morning indicating that it was quite clear that students accepted places, as mature students, for one year at great expense, inconvenience and sacrifice on the justifiable expectation — on the basis of information then available — that at the commencement of the 1992-93 academic year, their second year in college, they would qualify for mature student higher education grants.

There were varying estimates of the cost involved in including mature students. The estimate of the Mature Students' Association claimed that of approximately 1,200 students, an estimated 350 would qualify for a mature student grant; in other words, of the 1,200 at present within the system 350 would qualify for grants. Therefore we are talking about a small number of students and not a very large sum of money.

The suffering that will be caused to many of these people is not acceptable. It is certainly not justifiable. In anticipation of my amendment being ruled out of order because it would constitute a potential charge on the Exchequer, I asked the Minister to bring in his own amendment on Committee Stage. The Minister has not done so but Report Stage is yet to come. I plead with the Minister again to bring in an amendment on Report Stage to remove this injustice. It does not require a great deal of money to rectify this anomaly but in human terms it would have a very wide and positive effect.

We welcome the Bill on this side of the House. It is progressive. It was developed in discussions with the trade union movement, the Government and the employers. This movement towards expanding the range and quality of second chance education available to people, particularly those who are not very well off, is to be welcomed. However, the benefit comes to those who come into the system in the 1992-93 academic year. The people who pioneered this process, who have shown the way and demonstrated that people will go down this road of improving their qualifications and their employment potential at very great sacrifice to themselves are the very group that is being penalised by this legislation. Once again I plead with the Minister inasmuch as Deputies on this side of the House are precluded from doing so, to bring in an amendment to rectify this anomaly. The niggardly approach that is being applied here is just not good enough. In the absence of a positive response from the Minister at the end of Committee Stage, the Labour Party will be opposing the section.

I would like to join with the remarks made by Deputies Gilmore and O'Shea on this section. It is extremely unfortunate that when we are marking a milestone in relation to higher education grants the whole atmosphere should be sullied by what is nothing more than a scrooge-like approach on the part of the Minister.

I have nothing but respect for the Irish Mature Students Association. These are the people that hassled, harried and lobbied and put together a very strong argument. They collated all the statistics and made such a case that it was inevitable that we would capitulate. The finished product is the Bill before us. It puts in place a positive scheme of arrangements for third level grants for people who, because of their income at the time they left secondary school, were not able to avail of the opportunity of going on to third level education. They did not have the money or the resources. At some stage subsequent to that they have found it possible to get into the third level mainstream.

It is ironic that the people who did all the ground-work, who presented a cast iron case, who made the submission that was the crunch point in relation to this breakthrough and who pioneered the movement are the people who will be left on the education sidelines. All the benefits of this Bill will be enjoyed only by the people who "enter" third level in September. One would not mind if there was to be a knock-on effect, if it was to be a recurring charge, if it was something that would permeate the system for the next number of years or as long as the scheme was in operation. However, as was said by Deputy Michael D. Higgins on Second Stage, this is a once off payment to 350 students. Even if it was not the case, surely there would be an argument for making a grand gesture to the people who did the ground work. A relatively small amount is involved. Already tonight, £1 million has been saved on ESF grants by the introduction of means-testing. By means-testing ESF grants the Minister is saving more than he is giving by way of increases in the thresholds.

It has been said tonight that the Minister will face an extra charge costing about £4 million as a result of increasing the thresholds by 50 per cent across the board. However, by means-testing ESF grants he is saving about £10 million. I reckon that at the end of the year, when all of the debits are put in place, there will actually be a saving to the Exchequer by means-testing ESF grants. It would be an acceptable gesture if the Minister would take £1 million of that and transfer it to those 350 students. I appeal to the Minister of State to introduce on Report Stage, his own amendment to rectify this anomaly, this injustice.

I agree with Deputy Gilmore that the Minister should be in the House for the debate on this section. We agree with the basic thrust of the Bill. It is going in the right direction. However, we are now at the nub of the problem of whether the people who fought the case, who launched the crusade, who took it to its finality, are going to be left on the education sidelines or if there will be a grand gesture recognising their entitlement to be here. I hope the Minister will see the light of what we are trying to achieve and the injustice of what he is doing by not recognising the right of these people to be included.

I also agree with Deputy Gilmore that this Minister has taken unto himself the skill of involving himself in high profile popular events which are in the full glare of the media and of ducking the more unpalatable, more unsavoury and more unpopular measures. We could all be song and dance routine people if we wanted but the kind of person we need in the Ministry is somebody who can take things on the chin as well as enjoying the benefits and fruits of praise. I wish that when the unpopular things are being discussed here the Minister will come in and face the music.

I made the point on several occasions that the Minister of State at the Department of Education and other Ministers of State, are being wheeled in here night after night to deal with Adjournment debates or grievance time debates. Since he became Minister for Education we have not seen this Minister in the House for one Adjournment debate or grievance time debate. We have seen Deputy Kenneally and others but not the Minister.

In this context, the Minister of State, Deputy Aylward, has been left out on his own tonight, without any civil servants and the Minister. Therefore, he does not have the power or discretion to make a decision. If I were in Deputy Aylward's place I would draft my own amendment. If he does that he will have the gratitude of everybody and will have struck a blow on behalf of the junior Ministers who very often are worked to the bone while the Ministers take the credit for what is good or what is popular and attractive.

The Chair has allowed a great deal of latitude on this section. What we are having are more like Second Stage speeches. Members should confine their remarks to the section.

I will. It is a mark of our frustration that the only important amendments in regard to the unfortunate 350 people are being ruled out of order. These people have been given the red card after they played the match entirely on their own. I plead with the Minister to see the justice of what we are trying to do by removing this anomaly.

At this stage it is important to point out that every attempt has been made in this House by all parties to make the case for having mature students treated equally after next September. I do not wish to waste the time of the House because I already adverted to this point in my Second Stage contribution. I ask the Minister to take on board the points I have made and to think of the demoralisation which will ensue for the people who are being excluded. Trying to get over the hurdle of continuing in college next autumn is not an abstract point. Having been disappointed in their expectations, many mature students have already dropped out of college.

One must remember that the students who will qualify and those who are being excluded come from the same pool of people. It will be incredible if these mature students are excluded from the scheme. This is the core issue in the Bill. It will be seen from the Book of Estimates that the sum of money required could be very easily found — it is non-recurring expenditure. The appropriate course for the Minister is to seek authority from the Minister for Finance to accede to our request so that all students can be treated equally.

As I have said on several occasions today, I have great sympathy for the sentiments behind the Deputy's amendments. There is always the problem when introducing improvements in the grant scheme that students who do not qualify for a grant the previous year feel they are unlucky or hard done by. I should like to explain the present situation and perhaps dispel some misunderstandings.

There is no ongoing higher education grants scheme as such. The 1968 Act allows local authorities to submit annual schemes for approval by the Minister for students entering college during that year. Consequently, higher income limits and, for example, the reduction of the educational qualifications from four honours to two honours come into effect from the year of proposal. As I said, I have great sympathy for the sentiments behind these amendments but I am afraid that any concession might create a whole range of anomalies which could not be ignored.

Students do not qualify for grants every year on the basis of the income limits for that year but on the income limits set for the following year. This Bill is mainly designed to cater for mature students but the application of amendments to the scheme does come into question. Up to this year local authorities could not submit a scheme to the Minister which did not remain within the confines of the 1968 Act. This Bill will allow them to submit a scheme for the 1992-93 academic year which will take into account the circumstances of mature students.

I have endeavoured to take on board the genuine concerns expressed by Members of all political parties, including Members of my party. Accordingly I intend to insert a new subsection (3) in section 5 which will provide that:

The Minister may, by regulation, from time to time, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, extend the scope of section 5(1) in relation to mature students.

I will circulate the text of this amendment before Report Stage. I hope this meets the concerns expressed by the Deputies.

I am sure the existing mature students are consoled by the level of sympathy expressed by the Minister about their plight, but it does not change the circumstances. This is a great pity because in the main this Bill was welcomed by Members on all sides of the House. As has been pointed out, the exclusion of mature students from the scheme is a serious omission. The Government are being nothing short of mean in excluding mature students. Many speakers have commented on the absence of the Minister, but we are all human. How could he sit here and not be embarrassed about introducing legislation which will exclude a mere 350 students from the scheme? I believe the Minister is embarrassed to come into the Chamber tonight; after all, he is in the building.

We are debating this legislation primarily because of the work done by the Irish Mature Students' Association. In other words, they fought the battle but are being excluded from the victory. There is no financial or logical explanation for excluding them from the scheme. The Minister has tried to justify their exclusion by pointing out the changes introduced in the eligibility guidelines for higher education grants over the years. Those are only changes in eligibility guidelines and we are dealing here tonight with new legislation which will introduce grants for mature students for the first time. The existing mature students are being excluded not on grounds of eligibility but because they are existing students.

It is very unfair of the Minister to assume that those students who, at great cost to themselves, are pursuing courses at present will be able to continue their education. We all realise from discussions with mature students that they work from year to year and have to raise the necessary finance. If they are excluded from this scheme many of them may not be able to continue their courses. It is extraordinary that the very sincere views expressed by Members on all sides of the House about the exclusion of these students have not been taken on board by the Minister. I believe this is a mistake which he will live to regret.

I wish to respond briefly to the Minister's earlier remarks. He is being somewhat pedantic in trying to suggest that there is no ongoing higher education grants system, that there is an annualised scheme. As we have been repeatedly told all day, this scheme has been in existence for 25 years. Therefore it is a bit late in the day to tell us that the scheme is operated on a year by year basis.

I wish to concentrate on the amendment the Minister proposes introducing on Report Stage. I seek clarification on whether he is putting this amendment before us now or on Report Stage. If I understand the Minister's amendment correctly — he only read it once and we have not been circulated with the text — it is that the Minister may, by regulation, and with the approval of the Minister for Finance, extend the scope of section 5 (1) of this Bill. I should like the Minister to tell us in plain language what his intentions are. This may well be a formula for making progress on this issue but I should like to have it clarified by the Minister. Is it his intention to seek the approval of the Minister for Finance to make regulations to extend the scope of section 5 (1) to allow existing mature students to qualify for student grants? That is the bottom line and we need to know the intention behind the amendment.

When one reflects on the Minister's proposed amendment one can see that it has the merit of improving the legislation by giving it flexibility. Therefore, it could have the merit of not only dealing with the existing problem but also of anticipating any further anomalies which may arise. It will enable the Minister for Education of the day, with the permission of the Minister for Finance, to rectify any anomalies which may arise.

Perhaps the Minister of State would clarify the position with which we are concerned under section 5, that of existing mature students, and state whether their case is being recommended by the Minister for Education to the Minister for Finance for resolution. If that is the case it means that when the second Finance Bill of 1992 comes before the House in the autumn we will be able to support the request of the Department of Education to facilitate a resolution of this problem and that would clarify matters enormously.

I do not wish to go over the ground already covered but it was disappointing to read about means-testing for ESF grants. In this case means-testing will not apply to existing students. I have met representatives of students who were particularly impressed by various Ministers who encouraged mature students back into the education system. There are two categories of mature students: the person who cannot get a job and goes back to college and those who have a job and make tremendous sacrifices to better themselves. Considering that of the 75,000 people in third level education only 350 are mature students, they represent less than 0.5 per cent of the total. This is a very vulnerable sector. The Minister told us of the provisions that "the Minister may, from time to time, in relation to regulations" take certain action. On Report Stage the Minister should tighten up that provision. He should redress the unjust position that prevails by conceding that these people be included in this Bill.

I congratulate the Minister of State for taking our advice and agreeing to bring forward his own amendment — I know he has done so without consultation with the Minister or anybody else. We welcome what the Minister is trying to achieve but, unfortunately, he does not go far enough. Nonetheless it is a cautious advance. The wording proposed is that the Minister may, subject to the consent of the Minister for Finance, extend the scope of section 5 (1). Therefore it gives him power but the problem is that if that power is not acted upon, it is meaningless. The Minister should make a clear and unequivocal statement in relation to what he proposes to do, what order he proposes to make and how he sees this measure as a remedy for the case advanced by all of us of the 350 people who are caught in a vacuum and will not benefit from this legislation.

I compliment the Minister on taking on board the arguments from this side of the House and coming up with a progressive formula. The Labour Party will not oppose section 5 on Committee Stage but will await the exact wording on Report Stage of the additional subsection proposed by the Minister. Could the Minister give a specific assurance that it is his intention to use this section to ensure that the 350 people, about whom all of us are concerned, will be catered for in terms of qualifying for grants in September of this year, subject to the other conditions being met? These people should not be excluded on the basis that they are not new entrants into the system. If the Minister gives an assurance on that point progress can be made.

I have tried to meet the genuine concerns of Members on all sides and, as I indicated, I am prepared to add a new subsection, the text of which I have circulated. It states that the Minister may, by regulation, from time to time, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, extend the scope of subsection (1) in relation to mature students. Deputies will appreciate that that proposal has been made in the spirit in which this debate has taken place.

It is probably fair to say that many of the 350 mature students who might qualify for a student grant embarked on their course of study as a result of what they read in theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress and the promises they received that a scheme of student grants would be introduced for them. They accepted the nod and wink that they would be fixed up, but that has not happened. The Minister is now asking this House to accept this proposal in a somewhat similar vein. He proposes to include in the primary legislation an additional paragraph which will enable him to make regulations with the approval of the Minister for Finance, but there are no assurances that the Minister for Finance will give his approval. The Minister is intimating that it will be all right in October, but it was not all right for the students who enrolled last October and it does not appear as if it will be next October. We need more specifics from the Minister before we can make a decision on the section.

The Minister should state his intentions. I wish to put a number of specific questions to him. If the Bill is passed in the amended form he is proposing is it his intention to make regulations following the passage of this Bill to provide that the scheme of higher education grants will apply to mature students who are currently on courses? If we receive a positive and clear answer to that question it would help us greatly on this side of the House. However, if the Minister's intention is ambiguous, that would raise certain doubts in my mind. This whole problem has arisen as a result of the ambiguity that arose following the adoption of theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress. If the Minister gave a clear statement of his intention in this regard it would help us greatly.

In an attempt to achieve a resolution of a difficulty, towards which I detect sympathy from the Minister, I wish to make a very important point. If we pass the legislation this week — the last week's sitting before the recess — the position will be changed in a clear way for mature students applying for this grant for the first time in September.

Once again there is the problem of the uncertainty of the people who are within the existing system. I will not labour the point but already many have more or less thrown in the towel. They have to make their plans the same as anybody else, before September. It is only reasonable for the Minister of State to go beyond his amendment and to simply say that it is the view of the Minister for Education and himself that such a regulation would be in place to enable those 350 people not to be excluded from the terms of the legislation. The Minister would then have the benefit of dealing with the specific problem and of having made the legislation more flexible in relation to dealing with future situations that may arise. If on the other hand we finish this legislation after the next Stage without this matter having been resolved, we will have left a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the people who have made the strongest representations for amending the legislation. I can appreciate that the Minister of State cannot give an undertaking on behalf of the Minister for Finance, but he can give an indication that it is the policy of the Minister for Education that such a regulation would be in place at the same time as the legislation taking effect in order to ensure that the 350 people for whom we have been making a case are not excluded. With such an assurance we can reconsider our position in relation to the Committee Stage and section 5.

I agree with the basic thrust of what the other Opposition speakers are saying. We are onto the only major obstacle in relation to our acceptance of this Bill. We are tantalisingly close to agreement. We are grateful to the Minister of State for introducing his amendment at this stage. The Minister of State has asked us to accept his good faith and assurances, but what we are trying to do is defend the interests of those 350 people. We would love to accept at face value what the Minister of State is saying but we need the Minister of State to interpret, to specify and to be crystal clear in relation to the intention. We are not asking the Minister to enshrine the exact words "that 350 people shall benefit". We are asking the Minister to stitch into the record of the House, not into the legislation, what he means by the spirit of introducing this amendment at this stage. If the Minister stitches it into the record of the House that this is his intention, subject to the agreement of the Minister for Finance, we will accept it. I know the Minister cannot guarantee the agreement of the Minister for Finance but if he does this we can accept his bona fides. The problem is that the amendment says that the Minister "may" by regulation, but the Minister may and he may not. The Minister could decide to decline the invitation to do what he proposes to do in this instance. If the Minister could be a little more clear with regard to his intention we could satisfactorily resolve the matter within a very short period.

Now that we have the wording of the proposed amendment for Report Stage, there is one technical point which I would like clarified. Section 5 (1) clearly states that the section shall apply to mature students who have secured places to commence courses in approved institutions in the year 1992. The word "commence" is clear and unequivocal. The proposed new subsection says that the Minister from time to time, with the consent of the Minister for Finance can extend the scope of subsection (1). There may be a difficulty here. We are talking about extending the scope of a subsection which only covers people who commence courses in 1992. How can this new subsection be used to cover the situation the Minister wishes it to cover? The Minister has introduced this amendment in the context of the spirit of the debate here, but I am concerned about the legality of this. Obviously the Minister cannot give us an undertaking that the consent of the Minister for Finance will be forthcoming, but he can give an undertaking that the Department of Education will endeavour to have this implemented. Section 5 (1) refers to students who have secured places to commence courses. I do not see how the new subsection can apply in the way the Minister of State wishes it to apply and in the way which we wish it to apply.

We are very near agreement. I hope it is not a case of "so near and yet so far". The problem is that we want the Minister to outline clearly the intention implied in this amendment. We want the Minister to tell us whether or not it is his intention to include existing mature students for eligibility for grants. We want a specific commitment from the Minister. That is understandable in view of our deep concern in this regard. We cannot really be satisfied with an amendment which says that the Minister "may" because, as my colleague pointed out, the Minister may not. If the Minister is not prepared to outline the intentions of this amendment more specifically perhaps he would agree that we proceed and conclude Committee Stage and get on to Report Stage where we can discuss this in more detail.

Might I deign to be of some assistance? If a Report Stage amendment is circulated to change the word "commence" in line 28 to "pursue" it would leave it totally flexible. It means that the section with the Minister's amendment can apply to existing mature students. All that is required, and I am sure it is not contentious, is a Report Stage amendment simply replacing the word "commence" with "pursue". If that is done the Minister's amendment will be consistent with the section and it will resolve the legal difficulty.

I am prepared to accept that suggestion from Deputy Higgins.

Thank you, Minister.

I understand that Deputy Higgins suggested that the Minister would circulate a Report Stage amendment to replace the word "commence" with "pursue". The Minister has accepted that. Is that correct?

Section 5 agreed to.
SECTION 6.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 3, to delete lines 35 to 44, and substitute the following:

"9A—Where it is proposed to make regulations under this Act a draft of each regulation shall be laid before each of the Houses of the Oireachtas and shall not come into effect until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each such House.'.".

This amendment deals with the way in which regulations are made. The formula proposed in the Bill when dealing with regulations is that they would be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and be implemented unless a resolution annulling the regulation had been passed in either House within the following 21 days. As we know from experience, rarely if ever does this House get an opportunity to debate a motion to annul regulations. We rarely debate regulations in this House. What I was seeking to do in my amendment was to make it a requirement that where it is proposed to make regulations under this Act, a draft of each regulation shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and shall not come into effect until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each House. In other words, the Houses of the Oireachtas would have an opportunity to debate regulations. We have already had one example and that is the amendment that has been proposed here relating to the making of regulations extending the scope of subsection (1).

The detail of any such provision should be discussed by this House. There is also a reference to the making of regulations, for example in relation to the manner in which the means test may be carried out. During an earlier part of the debate we discussed this matter and the Minister referred to the guidelines he would issue to the local authorities in relation to means testing. As things stand we will not get the opportunity to debate those regulations in the House, whereas I think the House should have the opportunity to debate secondary legislation such as this.

Section 6 as it stands in relation to regulations is in line with other third level legislation in general, for example the Regional Technical Colleges Bill, 1992, and the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill, 1992, which were recently passed by this House have the same provision in relation to regulations. Given that there is provision whereby either House could annul any such regulations I do not see that the provision in section 6 should cause any problems and I am not, therefore, prepared to accept this amendment.

I do not propose to delay the House on this amendment but I regret that the Minister is not prepared to accept it. There is a great deal of talk about reforming the Dáil and I believe this area will have to be addressed sooner or later. We are constantly passing primary legislation enabling the Minister to do this, that or the other by way of order or regulation. The Minister then makes the regulations and, in practice, this House never gets the opportunity of debating the matter. I shall withdraw my amendment rather than take up the time of the House further on it. However, I think we should return to the issue during a general debate on proposals to reform the Dáil.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 6 and 7 agreed to.

Is it proposed to circulate the Report Stage ministerial amendment before we begin the Report Stage debate?

I understand the amendment has to be circulated before the Report Stage debate can commence.

Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.

In accordance with the Order of the House today, the Fourth Stage must be taken now. I propose we adjourn until such time as the appropriate amendment has been circulated.

Sitting suspended at 9.55 p.m. and resumed at 10.5 p.m.