I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".
Private Members' Business. - European Communities (Amendment) Bill, 1993: Second Stage.
I understand there is an agreement that the spokespersons would limit their contributions to 20 minutes and that the Tánaiste would have ten minutes to reply?
That is correct. I wish to allow some flexibility even in terms of my reply. If speakers are offering I will curtail my response.
The European Communities (Amendment) Bill which is before the House provides: (i) for certain amendments to the EC Treaty concerning the Statute of the European Investment Bank; (ii) for the incorporation into domestic law of the European Economic Area Agreement; (iii) for the retrospective confirmation of Ministerial Regulations previously made under the European Communities Act 1972, and (iv) for the transfer of the statutory functions of the former Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The European Council at Edinburgh in December 1992 called for actions to contribute to economic growth and employment. Among these was the setting up of a European Investment Fund (EIF). The founder members would be the European Investment Bank, which would be the major shareholder, as well as the Community and other major financial institutions.
This fund would be a self-sustaining fund to provide financial guarantees for borrowings and so facilitate private financing of infrastructural projects. It would also help small and medium sized enterprises. The fund would consist of two billion ECUs, about 40 per cent of which would come from the EIB and 30 per cent from the Community, the remaining being contributed by major financial institutions. Because of the prudential ratios that would be likely to operate, the two billion ECUs are expected to cover about five to ten billion ECUs in guarantees. This impetus to infrastructural investment in the Community is seen as a significant contribution to stimulating economic activity and so helping create jobs.
Infrastructural works in Ireland are eligible for grant funding under the Cohesion Fund and the Regional Funds. The EIF will be available to Ireland also. It would also apply to stimulate activity in areas which are not Objective 1 regions. Any impetus that could stimulate economic activity in the Community at the present time must be welcome and would enhance the prospects of increased employment in Ireland and throughout the Community. The recent European Council in Copenhagen, as we know, laid considerable emphasis on this aspect.
Ireland has been to the forefront in the Community in pressing for action to stimulate economic activity and employment in Europe. Prompt ratification by Ireland of the instrument that allows the European Investment Fund to operate will give a clear message about the importance we attach to the growth initiative — an initiative which goes much wider than this instrument alone.
The Copenhagen European Council has attached great importance to the growth initiative and developed it further. This includes a significant increase in another EIB facility initiated by Edinburgh. This will be a further stimulus to public and private investment in Europe at a time when there is great need to stimulate economic activity. This other facility, operated directly by the EIB, is additional to the European Investment Fund, which will be set up by the EIB, the Community and other shareholders as a separate instrument.
To enable the European Investment Bank to be a shareholder of the EIF it was necessary to amend the Protocol on the Statute of the European Investment Bank, which is part of the EEC Treaty. The amendment, called the Act Amending the Protocol on the European Investment Bank, was signed by the member states, including Ireland, on 25 March. With a view to ratifying this Act and enabling the European Investment Fund to become operational, it is proposed to add this instrument to the list of treaties constituting the European Communities in section 1 of the European Communities Act, 1972.
It is also proposes to add to the list a purely technical treaty signed in 1975.
This was a technical amendment which it was not legally necessary to add to the list at the time; but, given that the 1993 amendment is being added, it is considered appropriate in the interests of clarity to add the 1975 amendment to the list also.
In relation to the European Economic Area Agreement, Deputies will recall that this agreement was approved by the Dáil on 30 October last. The agreement had been due to come into effect on 1 January 1993 following ratification by all the parties. However, following rejection of the agreement by the Swiss people in a referendum on 6 December, it became necessary to modify the agreement to take account of the non participation of Switzerland. An adjusting Protocol was accordingly negotiated and signed in Brussels on 17 March.
The adjusting Protocol itemises the technical adaptations necessary to exclude Switzerland from the agreement. It also sets out the agreement reached on the adjustments to the Financial Mechanism. This is the fund totalling 1.5 billion ECU in soft loans and 500 million ECU in grants to be provided by the EFTA side for Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal as a contribution towards the reduction of social and economic disparities in the EEA. Switzerland was to have contributed 27.3 per cent of this fund. The agreement in the adjusting Protocol on the Financial Mechanism leaves the grant element untouched while the interest subsidy on the loans will be reduced from 3 per cent to 2 per cent. This involves the other EFTA countries taking up 60 per cent of the burden arising from Switzerland's exclusion from the agreement.
The adjusting Protocol to the EEA envisages entry into force of the agreement on 1 July 1993 provided that all contracting parties have deposited their instruments of ratification before that date. I attach considerable importance to the early entry into force of this agreement, which will provide a more intensive and structured framework for relations with the EFTA countries, with which Ireland has always enjoyed excellent political and economic ties. Four of these countries — Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway — are in the process of negotiating accession to the EC. While the EEA Agreement is separate from the accession applications, it is nevertheless the case that substantial work done through the EEA process on a wide range of the Community's legislation will facilitate the accession negotiations to a considerable degree.
Ireland's trade with the EFTA countries is buoyant and in surplus. Its further growth should be facilitated by the removal of obstacles as provided for in the EEA Agreement. We also stand to gain from the operation of the Financial Mechanism. I am hopeful, therefore, that both the agreement and Protocol can enter into force as soon as possible and that this important agreement can be implemented without delay.
An amendment to the European Communities Act is required to enable Ireland to ratify the agreement and adjusting Protocol. The amendment proposed in section 3 of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill will make the EEA Agreement and acts of the EEA institutions part of the domestic law of the State. The Bill also caters for adaptations and amendments to existing legislation required to enable Ireland ratify the EEA. Future obligations arising under the EEA Agreement will, where appropriate, be implemented by means of future domestic legislation.
Section 5 of the Bill will ensure, in advance of the Supreme Court decision in the Meagher case, that existing Ministerial regulations under section 3 of the European Communities Act, 1972, will, in so far as necessary, be validated retrospectively as from the time when they took effect. The effect of the High Court judgment — subject to the outcome of the appeal to the Supreme Court — in the Meagher case is to declare part of the regulation making power in section 3 (2) of the European Communities Act 1972 to be unconstitutional. Subject to the outcome of the appeal, this judgment creates a serious defect, with implications not only for the present and future but also for the past, in the State's implementation of its obligations under the European Community Treaties. Such implementation depends to a considerable extent on regulations made under the 1972 Act from the time we joined the Communities. Furthermore, the State is about to accede to the EEA Agreement and the implementation of our obligations under that agreement would also depend to a considerable extent on regulations made under the 1972 Act as adapted pursuant to section 4 of the Bill.
If these problems in so far as they affect existing regulations were not addressed in the Bill, questions might be raised as to the propriety of the State's ratifying the EEC Agreement. For this reason and in view of the interests involved it is not appropriate that the position should be left unaddressed any longer. The appeal to the Supreme Court is being heard this month and will be fully contested by the State. In this regard, section 5 (3) makes it expressly clear that the section should not be construed as prejudicing the State's position in the appeal. It should be noted that the section only concerns ministerial regulations under the 1972 Act which are in force at the passing of the present legislation; the outcome of the appeal is, of course, of great importance for the future exercise of the regulation-making powers under the 1972 Act. The provisions of section 5 do not cover this.
The Bill provides that the statutory functions of the former Oireachtas Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation of the European Communities be transferred to the new Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. The European Communities (Amendment) Act, 1973, provided that regulations made under the European Communities Act, 1972, shall have statutory effect unless the Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation recommend to the Oireachtas that a regulation be annulled and both Houses passed a resolution annulling the regulation concerned within one year. The terms of reference for the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs as approved by the Dáil on 28 April provide for the consideration by the committee of regulations made under the European Communities Acts. The Bill puts that role on a statutory basis.
The various measures contained in this Bill touch on a number of very important aspects of EC membership. Three significant issues are covered. Firstly, the capacity of the European Investment Bank to provide development finance is increased. While the European Investment Fund involves a relatively minor aspect of the Community's development effort in Ireland, it is, nevertheless, an important indication of the contribution which the Community makes to our development. The current negotiations on the Stuctural Funds and the Government's very determined stand clearly underlines the Community's position in our strategy to tackle unemployment and bring about economic recovery.
Secondly, the implementation of the European Economic Area shows the importance for the community in the operation of our relations with other European countries. Ireland has substantial economic and political links with the EFTA countries. We hope after detailed negotiations to welcome four of those countries as members of the Community and of the European Union. Implementation of the EEA will benefit the Irish economy. It will send a signal as to Ireland's commitment to the enlargement of the Community.
Thirdly, the Bill transfers the legislative scrutiny functions of the old joint committee to the new Foreign Affairs Committee. The new committee will be in a position to monitor fully all aspects of Irish foreign policy of which EC affairs are an essential component. With the powers given to it under this legislation it will be able to revive and continue the vital task of monitoring secondary legislation. I commend this Bill to the House.
There is something oddly compelling about the legislative potpourri before us tonight. Several of its provisions are simple housekeeping provisions, incorporating two legislative titles in the 1972 European Communities Act relating to the European Investment Bank and the new European Investment Fund and the transfer of functions from the old Oireachtas Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation to the new Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. This Bill is also interesting for its revelation of the Government's attitude towards public accountability and openness in Government.
The Government's records in respect of the implementation of EC directives and regulations has been less than satisfactory. Far too often Ireland has been brought to heel by the European Court of Justice for its failure to implement Community directives. The Government is putting the taxpayer at enormous risk by its failure to implement EC directives promptly. A judgment was issued in November 1991 when a group of Italian citizens took its Government to court for failure to implement a directive on redundancy payments, thereby creating a precedent for other member states in respect of the rights of citizens. This case which is known as the Francowich case represented a landmark case for the Community.
In spite of the fact that this judgment was made in 1991 the Government still continued to show contempt for taxpayers, who will eventually have to pay the legal costs if an Irish citizen is successful in taking a similar case against the Irish Government. This clearly indicates that the Government is taking a casual approach to Community law, particularly in terms of the implementation of EC directives, thereby compounding the alienation the public feel towards Europe generally. The Government is fuelling a growing cynicism among the public through its refusal to open up debate on regulations. This attitude has, unfortunately, led to a decision by the High Court in the Meagher case to throw out all ministerial orders and regulations — the mechanism and process of implementing EC directives — made since 1972.
Ireland has failed to ratify at least 25 EC Directives since June 1991. They range from approving the transparency of gas and electricity prices charged to industrial users, package travel, package holidays and package tours, the approximation of laws of member states relating to trademarks, unfair terms in respect of consumer contracts and various directives relating to the insurance industry. This legislation seeks to validate all ministerial orders since 1972. It is legal voodoo which seeks to make lawful what has been found unlawful in the High Court. It is peculiar that the Government has not waited for the Supreme Court decision to establish if some of the directives are valid or if the exercising of power by ministerial order has been unconstitutional, in which case a referendum to amend the Treaty of Rome may be required.
Ministers should not be allowed to make or amend legislation outside the democratic process. A ministerial order eliminates the need for full legislative review. Fine Gael believes the ordinary citizens of the European Community are too far removed from decision-making and that they lack power. On many occasions the Minister and others made statements about the need for subsidiarity and removal of the democratic deficit. This Bill provides an opportunity to put in place measures in that regard. Fine Gael will be tabling amendments to this legislation to ensure that all EC directives and regulations will be referred to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs for approval before implementation and that resolutions will have to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, thereby giving us an opportunity to debate issues and ensuring that the public knows what is in the regulations. The European Community already suffers from what has been termed the democratic deficit.
The Minister mentioned the famous £8.6 billion. The Taoiseach is anxious to distract attention from his own political embarrassment in respect of the allocation of EC Structural Funds for the next seven years. On 16 December 1992 the Taoiseach stated to Dáil Éireann on the outcome of the Edinburgh Summit: "the agreement now reached ensures, and I say this with complete confidence, that Ireland will obtain in excess of £8 billion over seven years." In various statements in the last few weeks the Taoiseach clearly indicated that the £8 billion agreed at the Edinburgh Summit was "in the bag". Obviously there is now a gaping hole in the bag. I sympathise with the Minister who was not part of the Government——
I wonder how this matter concerns the measure before the House.
It is a European matter referred to by the Minister in his contribution.
A fleeting reference might be sufficient.
It is certainly relevant to the growth initiatives referred to in the Minister's contribution. It transpired recently that the Taoiseach received nothing more than a wink and a nod from a Community official at Edinburgh and he has been seeking to exploit this encounter as an agreement. While the Taoiseach and Ireland were engaging in an unnecessary general election in November the Spanish Prime Minister was engaging in serious political lobbying in the European Community to ensure that the issues of national prosperity, demographic patterns, the level of unemployment and the needs of rural development were fully understood by his EC members, and he was able to fight a very strong case.
The Deputy is straying considerably from the measure before the House.
Section 2, which is the first substantive part of this Bill, facilities the establishment of the European Investment Fund as part of the European Investment Bank. The new investment fund has been designed to bolster the efforts of EIB investment in viable projects throughout the Community and as part of the EC growth initiative, referred to by the Tánaiste, launched at the Edinburgh Summit and reviewed recently in Copenhagen. The unfortunate weakness of these programmes and initiatives is that they are too meagre to be effective and are working against contradictory national policies. Thus they have no significant impact on either employment or growth. I doubt if the Minister could point to a single job in this country which has resulted from any of these projects.
Unfortunately this reflects our national malaise in which form has replaced substance — something which this Government illustrates all too well. When faced with an immediate and pressing problem, the first reaction of this Government is to appoint a board, a forum, a council or a commission. Instead of effective Government we get ineffectual chatter. If this Government or, indeed, the EC is serious about a Community-wide growth initiative then what is required is a common macro-economic policy and effective wealth redistribution with an economic and monetary union. I wish that was what the Government was now proposing instead of this sticking-plaster approach.
Section 3 of the Bill formally ratifies an agreement between the EC and all but one of the countries of the European Free Trade Area on the creation of a European Economic Area. Rather than bury this critical European development within this legislative measure, the Government should today be providing this House with a serious debate on where it sees future European developments heading. The EEA agreement does not stand alone. It is part and parcel of much wider and critically important developments in Europe. The EEA agreement has implications for the institutional development of the EC, membership applications to the Community, Ireland's position in the evolution of the Community and, crucially, the relationship between the EC and trading blocs throughout the world.
Most of the EFTA states have already made applications for EC membership and are in negotiation with the Commission on the terms of their accession. If the EEA is, as it seems, a half-way house on the road to membership the Visegrad countries — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic — may soon look to the EEA as a logical next step in their membership campaign.
In its presentation of this Bill, the Government has failed to inform this House of the long-range implications of this provision. What is the Government's view on institutional changes necessary to accommodate four new member states as early as 1996 and another four states within the decade? Would the Government support accession to the EEA agreement by the Visegrad states? What steps has the Government taken to ensure that Ireland's absolute share of Regional and Structural funds is maintained in an enlarged Community? Has the Government yet analysed Irish interests vis-à-vis the EEA and other trade blocs such as the North American Free Trade Area and emerging blocs in Asia? None of these issues has been appropriately dealt with by the Government. Perhaps the Tánaiste would take the opportunity on Committee Stage tomorrow, to examine those issues.
Section 6 of the Bill provides for the formal transfer of the statutory powers of the former Oireachtas Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation of the European Communities to the new Foreign Affairs Committee. As Fine Gael Spokesperson for European Affairs, I pay tribute to the members of the former committee for their dedication to a task which lacked great public visibility. The members of that committee took their responsibilities seriously and, in a number of reports, analysed the implications of a number of important European developments.
The task of the Foregin Affairs Committee and its sub-committees will be to build upon the tradition of careful legislative review established by the previous joint committee. The new Foreign Affairs Committee is working very well and I commend the Tánaiste and the Department of Foreign Affairs on the wide variety of documents which have been preesented to the committee for discussion and on the manner in which they have made themselves available for consultation when requested by the committee.
The most offensive part of this Bill is nearer to the end of it. Section 5 provides for the retrospective validation of all ministerial orders which the Meagher decision in the High Court has ruled to be invalid. At the risk of paraphrasing complex legal issues, the High Court found that the Government's translation of EC Directives into Irish law by using ministerial orders was invalid as each provision which either created new laws or amended previously passed legislation must, in law, be approved by the Oireachtas.
What we have before us is an ill-conceived attempt by the Government to patch over a gaping hole in our legislative process. We have been found wanting with regard to the manner in which we have examined recent EC Directives. This legislation represents a sad, pathetic attempt to make lawful what has been deemed unlawful. I understand the haste with which this must be done, particularly having regard to the EEA, our goodwill towards the processs emerging there and the promises that the Tánaiste and the Irish Government have given in respect of our agreement to that process in July 1993, but the Government must not be given the luxury of arguing that this is either a hiccup in the process that has served the country well in the past or that this is a requirement of EC law.
A number of legal scholars have been insisting for some time that the use of ministerial orders to bring EC rules into Irish law was not necessary and was potentially unsound. Mr. Anthony Whelan of Trinity College, Dublin, for example, raised this issue some time before the Meagher case arose. He argued convincingly that the Government has taken a dangerous path of least resistance in this regard — leaving itself open to precisely the sort of legal challenge that the Government now faces.
Instead of soberly and seriously addressing itself to the real issues raised by the Meagher case the Government has spun on its collective heel and cobbled together a legislative illusion. The provision before us makes everything legal that the High Court has declared to be illegal, while at the same time insisting in its own legislation that this effort is unnecessary because in the Government's view everything the High Court found to be illegal is, in fact, still legal. With this kind of legislation emerging from his Department it is, frankly, a wonder that the Tánaiste's head has stopped spinning long enough for him to enter this House. Even more seriously, this legislation fails to address a fundamental issue.
Did the Deputy read the opinion polls?
I will address the opinion polls on another occasion. I will deal with the fundamentals of the legislation tonight. The Tánaiste has enough to worry him at the moment, although he is doing a good job in that he has kept everyone in line on the Aer Lingus issue.
The legislation fails to address the fundamental issue that Ministers should not be allowed to make or amend legislation outside of the democratic process. A ministerial order eliminates the need for full legislative review and it is undoubtedly a swifter, surer method of lawmaking than tedious sessions in this House. I urge the Tánaiste in his quest for open government to seek to amend this legislation to ensure that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs will have the ability to examine and approve the various EC Directives and so that this House will get an opportunity to debate the legislation in order that people outside the House will have some indication of the way in which European law is being transposed into national law and will have some indication of the contents of the Directives before they are implemented.
The Progressive Democrats support this Bill. Sections 1 to 4 are unexceptional as far as we are concerned. Section 5, which deals with the result of the Meagher decision, is right in parts and questionable in other parts but the reality is that the judgment of Mr. Justice Johnson in the Meagher case in the High Court is open to debate and as we speak it is being argued before the Supreme Court. It is a finely balanced argument and it is not one on which I would care to hazard any of my money. The State is correct in seeking to have the European Community regulations made under the statute validated retrospectively.
It is a source of worry that we have not taken on board some of the lessons we ought to have learned and anticipated in the context of the decision handed down in the Meagher case and the proceedings which gave rise to that case. When the Single European Act was debated in this House — I was a Member of the House at the time — my party, the Progressive Democrats, proposed that the words "necessitated by" should be replaced with the words "consequent upon" in the section of the Constitution which allows the ratification of the European Community Treaties.
The then Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, introduced the legislation which led to Ireland's accession to the European Community. The original text stated that acts done "consequent upon" our membership of the European Community should have the force of law in the State. It was Dr. Garret FitzGerald, on behalf of Fine Gael, who led the crusade against it on the basis that the Government would be allowed too much flexibility and that it would allow the creation of a common foreign policy without there being a need to refer the matter to the people. In order to achieve interparty consensus, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, narrowed the scope of the original referendum proposed by him to necessitated obligations.
During the debate on the Single European Act Deputy O'Malley and I drew attention to the probability — we have been vindicated thus far — that somebody some day would take the view that necessitated obligations were different from consequential obligations and some of the things done on the presumption that they were necessitated were not necessitated but merely consequential and optional so far as the State was concerned. By using the term "necessitated obligations" in Article 29 we have imposed an unduly restrictive constraint on Ireland's membership of the European Community. We do not take any pleasure in saying "we said so" because the Supreme Court may say that we were wrong, but at least we have been vindicated as far as the High Court is concerned.
It strikes me that the more important question is not whether all the regulations made under the European Communities Act, 1972, should be validated retrospectively but rather what we propose to do in the future. It is made clear in the explanatory memorandum and in the Minister's speech that that matter is not being decided today. Despite Deputy Hogan's encomium for the former Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities, it is nonsense and untrue to suggest that any legislation of the European Community has been adequately vetted or that a committee is capable of vetting adequately what has happened on the foot of the use of ministerial powers under that Act.
I remember what happened. The regulations relating to unit trust funds were one inch thick when delivered in 1988 or 1989 and were immensely detailed. As far as I am aware, they were not the subject of a worthwhile debate when presented to the Members of the House.
The second point that needs to be made is that the notion that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs is competent to deal with unit trust funds legislation is ridiculous. Likewise, it is nonsense to suggest that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has a special competence to deal with regulations relating to angel dust and thyrostatic substances. I have attended that committee and I agree with Deputy Hogan that it functions extremely well, but I do not think that Deputy Hogan, Deputy De Rossa and I could legitimately claim we have any expertise to deal with the vast panoply of subjects to which secondary legislation applies. It is absurd that that committee should have to review regulations relating to angel dust.
Last night I spoke about how good the committee was but it is self-deception of the worst kind to suggest that that committee is in a position to scrutinise secondary legislation of the European Community. If regulations relating to angel dust were to be presented before that committee tomorrow I do not think that it would be any more capable than any other committee of this House to deal with them. If the committee took its job seriously it would soon snag up and fail to function.
That brings me on to the main point. I agree with Deputy Hogan when he says that regulations should be circulated some time in advance so that the views of those Members who wish to make an input in regard to unit trust funds or angel dust which are different from, helpful or complementary to the views being expressed in the draft regulations can be taken into account before the regulations are made. I would stake my life on it, subject to contradiction, that no regulations have ever been reversed by this House. If that is the case, why do we find ourselves in a position where substantial decisions on the content of domestic law fall to be decided by ministerial fiat? The Legislature which is supposed to keep an eye on what is happening is not consulted in advance and is given a negative veto to be exercised through a mechanism which is ineffectual. I have never read in the newspapers that regulations were annulled by the House except perhaps in a case where an error was made.
I think the Deputy is on safe ground.
If the Legislature is to take itself seriously — I agree with Deputy Hogan on this point — it should have a role in relation to draft regulations and if this committee is to take itself seriously it should ask to see draft regulations before they are made rather than say that it will see them when completed and that we can annul them if we are dissatisfied. That is common sense and for the life of me I cannot imagine why such a pre-consultative role is excluded.
Deputy Hogan's suggestion that consideration should be given to the introduction of such a pro-consultative role is entirely sensible. The committee in question should not deal with these issues. The committees of this House, which have been established to deal with broad areas of public policy, should in general have these regulations allocated among them on the supposition that they are reservoirs of expertise in particular areas rather than the contrary.
Section 5 (4) offends me on the basis that it provides:
Notwithstanding section 10 (4) of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851, proceedings in respect of offences committed after the passing of this Act under regulations (whether made before or after such passing) under the Act of 1972 may be instituted at any time within two years from the date of the commission of the offence.
I know precisely why this has been done. As the explanatory memorandum says, it is to deal with a specific point raised by the plaintiffs in the Meagher case and canvassed by them. With respect, why should there be a two year commencement period for proceedings imposed on us by Europe while the ordinary norm in respect of Irish criminal law is that summary proceedings should be commenced within six months? These are proceedings in which the rights of the individual are at stake in many cases. With regard to the angel dust cases, about which I know something, the idea that one can commence such a prosecution two years after the detection of the substance in a beast on somebody's farm is offensive to reason and should not be done. I do not believe there is any logic in deciding that because an offence is created under a European rubric, the State, the prosecutor in most of these matters, should have a two year lead-in period whereas every other Joe Soap should have a six month lead-in period. It is offensive to my reasoning that such a distinction should be made on a blanket basis. As I said, I know why this has been done: it is specifically tailored to the Meagher case, but it is indefensible.
I do not believe the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs is the proper place for any of this supervisory work: it is obviously the wrong place. I have been a member of that committee in recent times and it is working well, but it has no special expertise in the areas with which it will have to deal under this Bill. It will carry out the duty this Bill and the 1972 Act confers upon it in a cursory way and without any sense of particularity in what it does. I do not accept Deputy Hogan's point that heretofore the committee has executed its functions admirably or at all well. On a few occasions it has examined particular areas, but in general terms it has let most things drift past it. Instead of the rubric now being proposed for us, it would be much better if we had some pre-consultative role whereby the parties in this House would get even one month to express a view before a regulation is made. The parts of the Bill to which I have referred are a somewhat lazyminded response to a real problem in this House, that is, its inadequate capacity to deal with the legislative load which has been cast upon it, not only by the Constitution but also by the European Community.
This is something of an omnibus Bill; it deals with a number of issues which are broadly related to European affairs. It is unusual to have all these issues incorporated in one Bill and presented to us in a way and at a time when very little detailed debate can take place on them.
It can be argued that the European Economic Area proposal was already dealt with by the Dáil and therefore what we are doing here is simply approving the changes made in the European Economic Area Agreement as a result of the decision by Switzerland not to proceed with its membership of that body. However, this is not purely and simply a technical matter. I have read some of the opinions of the committees of the European Parliament on this matter and they have expressed concerns not just about the technical aspect but also about the political and legal aspects of the withdrawal by Switzerland. One opinion states:
In the areas of police and customs co-operation, Border checks and the fight against transfrontier crime, Switzerland's withdrawal from the EEA also give rise to problems of a technical and (partly) political nature.
It goes on to state:
In its latest opinion, the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs recalls that it originally accepted the flaws in the EEA Agreement with regard to legal and political co-operation between the EEC states solely because most of the EFTA countries, including Switzerland, were expected to be accepted as full members of the EC within the not too distant future, which would automatically resolve the shortcomings mentioned. This does not now apply to Switzerland, which increases the need to implement measures at Community level to take into account the existing differences between the national legislation of the EC countries and Switzerland with regard to the fight against transfrontier crime, particularly economic crime.
That is the opinion of the Committee of Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs of the European Parliament and also, I believe, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, which acts as a clearing house for the various opinions of other committees of the parliament in order to speed up the process. I am not an expert in the areas to which they refer, but it highlights the fact that we are not given a serious opportunity to deal with queries which could arise. It may well be that these reservations will not have any serious effect on Ireland, but we are ratifying an agreement as part of the Community and therefore we must take seriously the reservations which are expressed by members of the European Parliament.
When debating the European Economic area agreement in October of last year I indicated my broad support for it. I referred to the nature of the parliamentary provision in the agreement; it did not provide for representation of the 12 national parliaments and I suggested it might be possible to address the issue in the context of any changes to the agreement which might be negotiated in the future. I did not expect the agreement to be negotiated so quickly following my remarks. That issue was not addressed in the renegotiations. This is important because the EFTA members we are talking about are applicants to the EC and some of them have serious reservations about continuing their applications. I am talking about reservations among the general public; clearly the administrations of those countries are going ahead full steam.
A newsletter which I received from the Swedish Embassy dated 30 June stated that an opinion poll which had been carried out in May in Stockholm on the proposal to join the European Community found that only 28.2 per cent of voters would have voted in favour of a referendum if it had been held at that time. That is a clear indication of unease at the way the European Community is operating. I know that among Swedish women there is a significantly strong feeling of unease about the operation of the social provisions. In brief, the European Community has still not come to terms with the fact that most of the unease arises from the lack of transparency and the democratic procedures involving citizens for the Community in its decision making. If we continue to ignore that reality we will be stoking up serious problems for the future.
We are ratifying the procedures to incorporate the EIF, which was agreed at the Edinburgh Summit in the treaties of the Europen Community. It seems that we are again trying to deal with a massive economic problem of the Twelve member states by applying a band aid. The fund — and the additional funds provided at the recent Copenhagen Summit — are grossly inadequate. There is a palpable sense of panic in the Community at the situation in which we find ourselves. The Commission believes that approximately 50 million citizens of the European Community are living below the poverty line — this is based on the number of people living on 50 per cent of the average EC income. An estimated 17 million people are unemployed and the number is climbing. The expected growth rate in the Community will be -0.5 per cent.
At the G7 Summit in Japan they are frantically trying to come to an agreement to reflate the world economy. Yet the approach in the Maastricht Treaty is based on the now discredited free market thinking of Reagan and Thatcher which has clearly driven the European Community and the world economy into recession. It is interesting to read in The Irish Times of Friday, 2 July 1993 that the German Finance Minister, Mr. Waigel, believes that Germany will be unable to join a European Monetary Union in 1997 or 1999 but argues nevertheless that, of course, we must stick to the criteria set down in the Maastricht Treaty. We are like lemmings heading for the cliff. There seems to be an unwillingness to address the fundamental flaws in the Maastricht Treaty to which I drew attention during the referendum. There were echoes of that in the Minister's statement tonight when he spoke about giving a clear signal by ratifying quickly the instruments for the EIF to deliver a clear signal that we fully support the EC and want to ensure it is successful. Those who voted in favour of the Maastricht Treaty — I did not — did so on the basis that what we had to deliver a clear signal we were good Europeans who must not be critical of the terms set down in it. We are now reaping the whirlwind and will continue to do so until we press for change in the terms of the Maastricht Treaty. It will destroy the Community economically. Common sense should prevail and indeed it could prevail given that the Leader of the Labour Party is Minister for Foreign Affairs and, in theory at any rate, his party is committed to an interventionist approach to the economy.
However, it should not be interventionist in the old sense because Irish Governments have intervened traditionally by throwing money at the problem and expecting private enterprise to pick up the pieces and provide jobs. Clearly that has not worked and is not likely to work in future. There must be a planned approach to intervention and we must ensure that investment is directed to areas where jobs can be created and the economy reflated.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has responsibility now for the areas dealt with by the Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation. As has already been pointed out, this committee worked passively. My recollection of it — I was a member briefly at one stage — is that it dealt with matters that had long since been decided at European level. We debated matters which had already been agreed and we had no influence over the content of what we were being asked to approve.
Certainly, I am not aware of regulations to implement EC directives or of decisions being reversed. As far as I am aware, regulations were reversed by the Government, an Opposition party did not manage to have one reversed. I understand that only twice in the past 15 years did the Opposition manage to get a debate on a regulation which the Government tabled on what is termed a negative order. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs will have neither the time nor the numbers to deal adequately with the material from the European Community or in such a way that it can be tapped into at an early stage. Proposals are initiated either by the Council or the Commission and in the normal course it takes about two years before decisions become regulations or laws. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is about to establish a sub-committee on European Affairs. With the best will in the world I do not see how that sub-committee, comprising ten members, will be able to deal with the amount of work sent to it unless, of course, the Government decides to allocate the resources and back-up required to deal with the work in terms of consultancy and staff. At present, as previous Members indicated, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is working quite well but, generally speaking, matters are discussed in a general and global way and we are not getting down to detail. We are getting things off our chests but I hope we will get down to the serious work of preparing position policies.
The Bill before us could have been productively referred to a committee such as the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in advance of coming to this House. I argued in my submission on Dáil reform that we need a secondary legislation committee which would look generally at the regulations which at present this House approves on the nod and rarely looks at. It is worth looking at this in a general way to see whether we can improve the manner in which this House deals with the mountain of legislation which we have to deal with. The leisurely days of legislation, which I believe applied in the early days of this Dáil, no longer exist. Even sitting the hours we do here and establishing the committees we have established, it seems to me that the whole nature of this Dáil will have to change if we are to be legislators in the true sense, knowing and understanding what we are passing and being able to make informed contributions to the legislation coming before us.
In relation to the proposal to retrospectively approve of about 500 regulations which are now in question as a result of the Meagher case, I always understood whenever I proposed amendments in this House over the years that retrospective legislation was not the thing to do, that one could not——
That applies only to Opposition amendments.
It is all before you.
Obviously, there is a need to regularise the position; but again we are being asked to do it in a way which seems odd. We have the Government in court at the moment appealing the Meagher High Court case decision and at the same time bringing forward a Bill here which seeks retrospectively to regularise the position as regards regulations from the EC on the basis of that High Court decision. The Government can say that they do not want this to jeopardise or influence the Supreme Court's decision on this matter, but I wonder if that is the case. I am struck by an article in today's Irish Times by a Mr. Ken Murphy, who, it says, is a partner in the EC and competition law department of A & L Goodbody, solicitors. He suggests that when this Bill is passed, and I quote:
Imaginative lawyers might pose more intriguing questions, however, such as whether all fines ever paid for criminal offences created under the ministerial regulations in question should now be repaid by the State? Should fishermen who had nets seized say ten years ago now have those nets returned or compensation paid? Should the Beef Tribunal be discontinued as some of the legislation of which alleged breaches are being investigated may never have been in force?
These questions are intriguing and I am sure will make small fortunes for lawyers of various hues and colours. It is an example again of legislation being brought through this House in a way where adequate attention is not given to the detail. Increasingly guillotines are used on important Bills, which prevent the calm and quiet consideration which Bills need. The Government will argue that they have given us three hours for this and five hours for that and so on; but oftentimes consideration of legislation takes time. You need to sit down and look at it, talk about it and come back to it again in a week's time in order to really tease these things out. The committee system, if it works properly, will do that very effectively.
I want to make a point related to the economics of the EC and Ireland's role in it. That is the whole debacle of the £8.6 or £8.7 billion which the Tánaiste's flexible friend and colleague, the Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, has claimed — not once but a number of times — is in the bag. I understand the £8 billion which the Taoiseach claimed to have got last December, allowing for devaluation, should now be around £8.6 or £8.7 billion, give or take a few hundred thousand pounds, a minor matter. We are told now that the Commission has offered us £7.5 billion and we may come out with £7.8 billion. I have no doubt that if we do come out with £7.8 billion or even £8 billion, it will be claimed as a victory, that we got the £8 billion we were promised and so on. Of course, we will not have got the £8 billion promised in December. We will still be short.
You are on overtime already.
I am saving the Tánaiste the embarrassment of having to bring in his Minister for Social Welfare and his Minister of State to deal with the Statistics Bill and the compendium Bill on Social Welfare, so if he likes to sit down we can bring them in.
I want to make a point about the various figures that have been bruited about. In the Maastricht referendum Jacques Delors came to Ireland and said we were going to get £6.5 billion over the next five years. As I understand it, the Masstricht offer, taken over the five year period, was about £1.8 billion per year. The Edinburgh offer reduced that to £1.3 billion for the same period. The Brussels offer, which we have got recently, reduces that still further to £1.08 billion. Assuming we get £7.8 billion — and I am working this out on the original five year period that was talked about in Maastricht — that will probably give us roughly £5.6 billion in all for 1993-97. No matter whether the Taoiseach or the Minister comes back next Monday with £7.8 billion or even £8 billion in his pocket, we are still going to be seriously below the figure originally promised in the Maastricht Treaty and which was used as the carrot to encourage 70 per cent of the population to vote for Maastricht — we were told that if we did not vote for Maastricht we would not get this money.
I think we are going to be bamboozled with figures over the next few weeks. One will need to be a fairly competent mathematician to keep tabs on the Taoiseach when it comes to claiming what he has got and what he has not got. I would like to draw the House's attention to the fact that even if we come out at the end with £8 billion, we are still seriously below the figure we were promised not only by the Taoiseach but by Jacques Delors in the Maastricht campaign.
I would like to make some brief remarks in response. First, I thank the Deputies opposite for their contributions. I hope the technical points in relation to the various sections — for example the six months vis-à-vis the two years in bringing prosecutions — can be dealt with on Committee Stage where it would be more appropriate to deal with technicalities.
In the generality of the Bill we must accept that EC membership has changed political and economic life here in this country in a fundamental and far-reaching way. The European Communities Act is fundamental to the way in which our membership of the Communities is given expression and today we are dealing with certain aspects of this diversity.
Various Deputies have raised points in relation to the fact that this is a global Bill, a jumbo Bill, dealing with three separate but equally important aspects involving the Community. In that respect had time permitted it could have gone to Committee and we could have had a long and detailed discussion on Committee Stage. Despite the fact that we were not able to do that on this occasion I hope we can put other legislation affecting my Department into Committee for longer consideration. In the time available to us and given the superb skills of the Deputies opposite in relation to processing legislation we will give this Bill a good reading and we can go through it in detail. The European Investment Fund will enable the EIB to become a more active performer in the European Economic Arena, leading to investment and growth.
The early ratification by Ireland of the amendment to the EIB Protocol, to enable the European Investment Fund to come into operation, will be a clear signal of our support for efforts to stimulate economic activity and jobs in the Community. I do not think anybody would object to our wanting to do that, given the pressure not only on this country but on the rest of the Community. After a long time, unemployment has become the number one item on the Community agenda.
The entry into force of the EEA Agreement will lead to the enhancement of relations with our closest neighbours in Europe, several of whom will soon be members of the Community. It will reinforce the strong links which exist in the political and social spheres and will increase the already high level of trade and mutual investment.
It is very important that this Bill be passed before the summer recess. We had indicated that we would do so and it is important that we honour our obligations in that respect.
It has been accepted by all Members of the Committee as well as the House that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has got off to an impressive start, with meetings taking place on enlargement of the Community, meetings on former Yugoslavia and meetings in relation to Somalia. It is right for Deputies to point out that the committee will not be able to do everything. Over a period it will define for itself the amount of work it can take on. I want that committee to be effective. It is a two-way process between myself as Minister and my officials, and, indeed, Members who wish to make a contribution to the evolution of foreign policy for this country. I would like to see that as being the role of the committee. It is open to the committee to bring in expertise. I take the points made by Deputy De Rossa and Deputy Michael McDowell in regard to resources but obviously that is a matter for the House. If I can assist in that respect I will. It is important to have open and considered debate on all issues in relation to the foreign policy area, the creation of foreign policy, the evolution of foreign policy and legislation from the European Community, regulations and the effect they will have on the public generally.
Deputy Hogan made a valid point concerning the importance of adequate debate before the legislation comes into effect so that the public are made aware well in advance of the impact it will have on them. Deputy Hogan raised the issue of the implementation of EC legislation. We rank very high on the list of our Community partners who have implemented EC Directives in that we have implemented about 80 per cent of the Directives. During the past six months this matter has been raised regularly by the Taoiseach in Cabinet. He wants EC Directives implemented and there is a regular check on Departments to ensure we are implementing them.
Deputy Hogan criticised the Government's record on openness. I believe the establishment of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in relation to the work we are doing this evening is an obvious example of openness in relation to the discussions we can have in terms of foreign policy matters and legislative scrutiny of foreign policy matters in the Community. There is a very strong commitment by the Government to honouring that pledge of openness in relation to the Committee.
The question of Structural Funds has been raised by all Deputies who spoke. Deputies will be aware of the negotiations which took place on Friday of last week and continued into Saturday morning. Those negotiations are continuing. It is important that this House send a strong signal that we want our £8 billion and that the funds are very important in terms of the development of this country for the next six to seven years and in the context of the creation of the national plan. We will continue those negotiations on the basis of getting our entitlement of £8 billion.
The question of institutional implications of the current and future enlargement of the Community was mentioned by Deputy Hogan. In relation to the current accession the Lisbon European Council agreed that no new institutional measures are required to cater for the four new countries but I expect they will be required if we extend the Community to Eastern Europe. This will obviously be done in the context of 1996 in the review of Maastricht. There would be little point in having an institutional debate at this stage until we have the ratification and implementation of Maastricht and the enlargement completed. That should be done in the first instance otherwise we leave ourselves open to more confusion.
Deputy Michael McDowell and Deputy De Rossa raised the question of the Foreign Affairs Committee and its ability to deal with the amount of work now before it. I would like to think I can assist the committee in looking at its own work procedures. My officials, the committee and myself can discuss the question of reviewing draft regulations when they are put forward. I would have no difficulty with the committee examining these draft regulations. Ultimately many of these matters will depend on the time available to the committee or a sub-committee of the committee.
The whole question of whether we afford ample time to the examination of legislation going through this House, whether through the committee system or through a full sitting of this Chamber, is a matter for the House. Invariably, towards the close of this session there is much legislation we want to get through before we recess. We have commitments to the European Economic Area and we are setting out to honour those.
The committee system generally, which obviously has a bearing on other areas of legislation, will result in a significant improvement in the manner in which legislation is processed through this House. Time has to be provided. Obviously the sittings of the House have been extended and the committees will sit through the remainder of this month. As I understand it, the committees have a good deal of work for September which can be done and processed before the Dáil resumes. That will improve the quality of legislation and the way in which legislation is dealt with. Notwithstanding that, Deputy De Rossa made the point that legislation would not be challenged if we had more time to deal with it. Invariably, there will be occasions for challenge, given the skills of the Law Library and solicitors firms in this town, notwithstanding the amount of time which has gone into it.
A strong point has been made concerning the obligation of Members of this House to act as legislators. It is important that we are well informed on the content, quality and the impact of legislation that goes through this House. In the past, people did not regard it with the same seriousness as is now being shown in the committees. Deputy McDowell made the point that adequate briefing should be available — we shall try to assist in that regard — that there should be a facility for the committee to call in consultants. In the context of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs there is a facility to call in experts from any Government Deparment on the various areas of legislation. As Deputy McDowell mentioned, there is no obvious expertise in relation to angel dust on the committee. I am sure we could provide experts from other Departments on that matter and indeed on other matters as they come forward. Many will have very little to do with foreign affairs or foreign policy but if we want experts from other Departments they can be called in.
On Committee Stage we can deal with questions raised on specific sections of the Bill. I will try to ensure that we have as much time as possible to do that tomorrow evening. Because of the general tenor of the contributions made here this evening we can co-operate on this legislation and get it through the House without great difficulty.