Metrology Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I stated on 14 March that we are quick off the mark when we look for financial aid from Europe, and rightly so. However, our case would receive a more sympathetic hearing if we did not delay so long in dealing with non-financial European matters. Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to pass this on to his Government colleagues. The principal proposal in the Bill is that within Forbairt there should be a legal metrology service with a chief officer known as the Director of Legal Metrology. The position may be filled by open advertisement. The Bill further provides that the board of Forbairt will appoint the director, with the approval of the Minister, for a specific duration with a remuneration specified by the board and with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance. There appears to be an overlap between Forbairt and Forfás; perhaps the Minister will clarify this. It seems that all future staff will come from Forfás under Forbairt terms and conditions. The staff will report to the Director and the Chief Executive of Forbairt as set out in section 2 (1).

As the Minister knows, my party is concerned about the proliferation of bodies officially promoting enterprise. As their number now exceeds 80, I question the principle of putting the new metrology service under the umbrella of Forbairt. If it is to have its own director, why does it need to be part of that body and why must it be located in Dublin? The Bill and the explanatory memorandum do not refer to the location of the proposed office.

The Bill does not specify what will happen to people who will not voluntarily transfer to the new unit. I support the concept envisaged in the Bill of staff dealing with weights and measures in Dublin Corporation and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council with the existing small staff in the quality control section of the Department of Enterprise and Employment and Garda inspectors dealing with weights and measures being voluntarily transferred to the new section. These transfers are to take place under conditions no worse than existing conditions including pension rights and entitlements. The Garda inspectors involved have expressed grave concerns and dissatisfaction about the proposals and I will table amendments to deal with this situation.

A problem may arise in that the six people coming from Government Departments, the six people coming from Dublin Corporation and the 20 members of the Garda Síochána involved in weights and measures already operate under different pay scales and conditions. Their retirement ages vary from 57 to 65 years. What scale or grade will apply to new recruits?

I strongly believe in the concept of centralising this service. I believe equally strongly that it should be located outside the capital. Successive Governments have decentralised the public service away from Dublin. It appears that the new office will be started in Dublin and later transferred. While worthwhile, this will involve disruption and transfer costs. Bearing in mind the size of the office, an ideal location would be Mallow or Athlone.

Existing regulations are enforced efficiently and regularly, particularly in respect of the licensed trade and meat plants. Does the Minister intend to make the new office self-financing? To what extent will existing charges have to be altered to make it so? People in trade are concerned about the outcome.

I have read the old weights and measures legislation and District Court reports and I am not aware of any infringement of the regulations. Could this be due to a lack of resources or technology? It would be nice, but difficult to believe, that everybody is behaving properly in this area. The enforcement and effectiveness of this legislation will depend to a great extent on the director appointed. It should be a requirement of the position that the candidates hold a suitable third level qualification. Why must the director be an employee of Forfás?

My main concerns about the Bill relate to the people working in this office. The director should be suitably qualified. Serious consideration should be given to the Garda members who refuse to transfer to the new service. The office should be located outside Dublin. While I believe it should be self-financing, I would like to know the additional costs which may be imposed on people in business and trade.

My party welcomes the proposed legislation and I am happy to work with the Minister in improving the Bill. I ask that there be further consultation with the members of the Garda Síochána involved and the existing weights and measures staff because they are not satisfied. I have received several representations from them to this effect. Many of them have only a few years of service remaining and they should be given consideration. They have given loyal and unstinting service and there have been very few infringements and court cases in the weights and measures area. It is obvious their work was excellent, they knew their business and worked closely with trade. They should be given recognition and sympathy during the changeover and I will table amendments dealing with this area.

The Bill implements an EU directive, which is important. However, some directives do not improve the situation and in some cases may disimprove it. I am talking specifically about BSE. If there had been high standards in the feed industry, we might not have had the problems in the late 1970s and early 1980s when standards were reduced, probably as a result of the EEC. There are many good things in this country and we should not dilute them or implement EU directives. We should take what is good and reject what is bad. We should not always have to accept EU directives in their entirety. We should have a similar system to the one in the US, where states can interpret directives from the federal Government. The problems which arose in the late 1970s and early 1980s had grave effects on our economy, the farming community and the business sector.

As I indicated during the debate so far, two main issues are being addressed — outdated legislation and the fragmented organisational structure. Traditionally, legal metrology was seen purely as a consumer protection measure. However, in recent decades there has been a decisive shift in that greater importance is now being given to its impact on industry. With the proliferation of mass production, it has increasingly been accepted that the interests of consumers can, to a large extent, be protected by confidence in the measurements of manufacturers and suppliers of goods and services. There is still a need for a third party system of verification to guarantee consumer protection. This will continue to be provided by a regime of inspections to ensure confidence in measuring instruments in use and in the quantities of goods offered for sale.

There are numerous examples of accuracy in trade measurements which benefit the consumer and trader. In the agricultural sector the accuracy of milk meters and weighbridges, to which Deputy Ned O'Keefe referred, is seen as vital to farmers and agri-businesses. Equally, accurate meters in oil delivery trucks and petrol pumps create the confidence of oil delivery companies, many of which are small businesses and the ultimate consumer. Traceability of measurements to national measurement standards is a prerequisite for quality system approval in manufacturing. In the packaged goods sector a system of average fill of packages rather than the minimum fill system operated prior to 1980 facilitates the manufacturer, the packer and the consumer. Arising from the advances in technology in the sector, increasing emphasis is placed on the technical competence of field staff. This will be given particular attention in the new service.

I thank Deputy Ned O'Keeffe for his valuable contribution. With regard to the recommendtaions of the 1970 Conroy Commission on the civilianising of the Garda weights and measures function, efforts to reorganise the service were made in the late 1970s and the mid-1980s but, for various reasons, including inadequate resources, they were not successful. I am sure the House shares my surprise at reports of dissatisfaction among members of the Garda Síochána with the transfer arrangements. I say "surprise" because agreement on the terms of transfer was reached with their representative association, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, through the recognised negotiation procedures, the Garda Síochána conciliation council, last January. In recent weeks clarification on a number of points raised by the Garda is being considered.

I wish to refer specifically to the question of secondment of gardaí to the new service. That is primarily a matter for the Department of Justice which has been consulted as a result of representations made to me by a number of Deputies including my colleagues Deputies Eric Byrne and Ned O'Keeffe. The formal position of the Department of Justice, as communicated to me in recent days is:

The terms and conditions of transfer to the new service have been negotiated and agreed with the AGSI at the Garda conciliation council. The question of secondment was ruled out early in these negotiations. One of the main reasons for this was due to the fact that these sergeants would remain subject to the Garda Síochána Acts and Regulations and answerable to the Garda Commissioner, yet he would have no control over their day to day activities. The Department of Justice does not propose to review the position regarding secondment to the new service.

I wish to correct any misunderstanding which may exist in regard to the origins of the Bill. It does not give effect to EU law. The restructuring has been an objective, as Deputy O'Keeffe said, since the Conroy Commission reported in 1970. However, because of the lack of resources down through the years the facilities necessary to operate the service to modern standards had not been provided, hence a worthwhile restructuring only became feasible when resources were applied to effect a modernisation of facilities.

Recognising the unequal competency levels between metrology services throughout Europe, the European Commission launched a funding programme aimed at modernising metrology infrastructures known as the Prisma OP. The time limits set under this programme effectively determine the timing of the modernisation programme here. Purchase of new equipment and provision of new facilities, including buildings, commenced in late 1992.

In addition to modernisation elements, the programme entailed negotiation with staff interests on the transfer of existing staff to the proposed new service and the enactment of necessary legislation to give effect to a new structure.

It would have been quite wrong to proceed with the modernisation without addressing the fundamental organisational and legislative deficiencies of the service. All the equipment purchased is in good order and will be fully utilised when the new service is established following the enactment of this Bill.

Unification of the organisation and its modernisation, as well as locating it within the existing Forbairt metrology structure, will ensure a much improved structure to industry, particularly small industry, and consumers. I am sure the debate on Committee State will afford ample opportunity to deal with all the issues involved and I look forward to a constructive discussion with Members of the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy.

On Deputy O'Keeffe's queries about the director of legal metrology and the overlap with Forbairt and Forfás, the staff concerned will be employees of Forfás. The legal metrology service will be part of the National Metrology Laboratory in Forbairt which I had great pleasure in opening last week.

We did not get an invitation.

I wonder why.

I would be delighted to accompany Deputy O'Keeffe there and show him around it.

Fees will be charged for the services provided by the legal metrology service. However, because of its infrastructural nature it is not envisaged it will operate on a purely commercial basis. This would require increases which could place fee levels beyond the capacity of many small traders. So, essentially a balance will have to be struck between the fee income that undoubtedly will be raised and whether in all cases what would be considered commercial fees will be charged.

As regards the points raised concerning staff negotiations and the role of the Garda, the sergeants concerned will, of course, retain what they have on a personal basis for the remainder of their service. Negotiations with Impact on behalf of departmental and local authority staff are still under way.

Question put and agreed to.