Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund Bill, 1997 [ Seanad ]: Report and Final Stages.

Mr. O'Shea: I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 7, to delete "MAKE AVAILABLE FURTHER" and substitute "APPROPRIATE".
This amendment seeks to clarify that the Bill does not provide new money but allocates or appropriates money from the Vote for the Department of Education and Science. I want to delete "make available further" and substitute "appropriate" to show that this is additional funding. The 1998 Estimates for the third level and further education sector are down £70 million compared to the 1997 Estimates. Yet £70 million in the Supplementary Estimates is bolstering up the outturn this year. I am talking about the recoupment of third level grant money by the local authorities.
The £20 million for the craft deficit in the hotel and catering sector is recycled Structural Fund money which was initially allocated for other purposes. The £250 million for this fund is additional money. It has nothing to do with the reductions in both the capital allocation to the regional technical colleges, institutes of technology and certain vocational education committee colleges and the capital amount for the universities and designated colleges sector. If we take the 1997 Estimates compared to the 1998 Estimates into account, there is a shortfall of approximately £9 million in the capital forecast for regional technical colleges, institutes of technology and certain designated vocational education committee colleges. Is the money being provided by juggling the Estimates each year? Is there a net increase in the amount of money being provided?

I regret the use of the word "juggling" in connection with the establishment of this fund. The £250 million over the next three years is in addition to the normal annual Estimates. It is not true that there is a decrease in the Estimates provision for 1998 compared to the Estimates provision in 1997. The figure for 1997 was £36.7 million, which was made up of £21.45 million from the European Regional Development Fund for the Dublin Institute of Technology and regional technical college sectors and £15.25 million for the Higher Education Authority sector. The comparable figure for 1998 is £41.4 million, which is made up of £25.087 million for the regional technical college, WIT and Dublin Institute of Technology sectors and £16.315 million for the Higher Education Authority sector.

In terms of outturn, I took certain initiatives to purchase land for a number of colleges which was paid for out of the Supplementary Estimates. We did that because requests were made to the Department. Some £2.5 million was made available to Galway Regional Technical College to purchase land because if it was not purchased, the college would not be in a position to expand. The Estimates show an increase on the 1997 Estimates. We also took an initiative in July to allocate an additional £5 million capital to meet the skills requirements mentioned in the Lindsay report which was published in July. The previous Government had made no provision for that. We decided to act by creating approximately 1,550 places in computer software and technician programmes starting in October. To do that we had to introduce a £5 million capital allocation over and above what was provided in the 1997 Estimates, but which was nonetheless required to create additional places to filter through the system.

The amendment is not necessary. I accept the Deputy's desire to ring-fence the fund as additional spending in the Estimate and this is also the Department's view. I assure him the purpose of the fund is to establish clear daylight between the money allocated to it and the annual Estimates process. There would be no point in creating a fund if it was to merely substitute for Estimates. Furthermore, the bottom line in terms of the funding identified by the Deputy for the craft and tourism sectors is that the money was not available to fund urgent capital requirements in them and that is why in the fund we have identified approximately £20 million to be invested in colleges that provide for the catering industry so that we can improve and modernise facilities and create additional places to meet the skill shortages and needs of the tourism industry generally. In many respects the genesis of the fund was in the identification of the skills needs of the economy and the sense of urgency required from the Government to send a clear signal that it was serious about dealing with them.

I do not see how the insertion of the word "appropriate" in the long Title is necessary or why "make available further" should be deleted in terms of achieving the objectives articulated by the Deputy.

The Minister stated that a sum of £20 million was available to finance the craft provision in the hotel-tourism sector. Is the money allocated to it recycled from Structural Funds?

No, I guarantee that.

According to the unabridged Estimates the 1997 forecast outturn is £31.3 million and the Estimate provision is £25.087 million, a reduction of 20 per cent while the recent Supplementary Estimate added £10 million to the subhead. Are the figures in the unabridged Estimates for 1998 accurate? These figures deal with regional colleges and institutes of technology, while under subhead M2, An tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachas, the forecast outturn for 1997 is £19.35 million against the 1998 Estimate of £16.315 million, a reduction of 16 per cent. Do the figures still stand?

Yes, since July we undertook additional capital spending over and above that provided in the Estimate by the previous Government. The 1997 Estimate was for a total of £36.7 million under both subheads — £21.45 million for the regional technical college-DIT sector and £15.25 for the Higher Education Authority sector. The chairman of the Higher Education Authority chaired the skills group, which came forward with recommendations in July just after the Government was formed. It recommended the provision of an annual intake of 1,000 extra computer software engineers and 750 technicians over the next five years and was pressing for action this autumn so that the universities, regional technical colleges and Dublin Institute of Technology could take in people. The Government was faced with a choice and since the previous Government had allocated nothing in the Estimates for skills, we decided, as an initial sign of goodwill, that we would allocate £5 million in capital in July. Even at that stage the institutions were concerned that we would not come back with a serious effort on the skills issue, but we have with the provision of this fund.

In addition, funding had to be arranged for extra land at Galway and Tallaght Regional Technical Colleges and spending in Blanchardstown and Cork Regional Technical Colleges. There was additional capital spending approaching the end of the year which made for a significant outturn on third level expenditure. Prior to this, we identified a fund of £250 million to cover a range of areas where need had been established. If one looks at the capital provision for the third level sector over recent years, next year's is consistent with previous ones for both sectors of higher education and demonstrates that the investment fund is not a substitute for annual Estimates. It is an additional allocation ringfenced for specific areas and needs to modernise our technological capacity at all levels of education.

On the basis of assurances given by the Minister and his advice that the amendment is not necessary, I withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 5, 10, 11 and 12 are related to amendment No. 2 and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

"‘An tÚdarás' has the meaning assigned by section 4(3)(a).".

These amendments were discussed on Committee Stage yesterday with the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy. There was a concern that the provisions of the Bill were diluting or undermining the legal functions of An tÚdarás, the Higher Education Authority. Amendment No. 2 seeks to have a definition of An tÚdarás inserted in section 1 as it would be appropriate.

The first reference to it in the Bill is in section 4(3)(a) which states:

The Minister shall consult with An tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachas ("An tÚdarás") before making such a payment.

Currently the procedure is that an institution will, in the first instance, make an application to the Higher Education Authority and subsequent to that the Minister becomes a player. The use of the term "consult with" caused a great deal of concern and the Minister of State indicated he would come back to us on this.

According to the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971, among the functions of the Higher Education Authority is the funding of universities and designated third level institutions, the development of third level education to meet the needs of the community and it has an advisory role. Consultation is not taking advice. We can consult without any advice passing one way or the other. The subsection I have quoted is in effect a dilution of the statutory role of the Higher Education Authority. Suppose a particular institution approached the Minister directly and the Minister decided he wanted to fund this project without reference to anybody else, there would be an onus on him to consult with the Higher Education Authority but that could mean informing it, and not much more than that. There is no binding obligation on the Minister under this Bill to take advice in this matter. I am concerned about the bypassing of the HEA. I recognise there is a wider remit in terms of the third level institutions and that the regional technical colleges, institutes of technology and so on come directly to the Department but the other role of the HEA, that of providing advice in relation to the third level sector as a whole, could be bypassed. Those are the concerns which were expressed on Committee Stage. I withdrew my amendments to re-enter them on the basis that the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, would be responding.

I share Deputy O'Shea's concerns in this area. Yesterday the Minister of State was keen to point out that nothing in this Bill changes the role of the Higher Education Authority. Accordingly, I have sponsored an amendment, the import of which is that nothing in this Bill shall interfere with the role and functions of An tÚdarás as set out in the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971. My principal concern on Committee Stage was to maintain the traditional relationship between the institutions, the Higher Education Authority and the Minister, as set out in section 8(1) of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971:

Any request by an institution of higher education for State subvention shall be submitted by the institution to An tÚdarás in such manner as An tÚdarás may require.

In other words, an idea or proposal is submitted to An tÚdarás. Section 10(1) states:

An tÚdarás shall assess amounts of State financial provision, both current and capital, which it recommends for higher education and research or for any part thereof, either in relation to current or future periods.

The proposal is submitted to the Higher Education Authority which assesses how much should be spent on it. Section 11 provides that it can obtain more information from the institution if it wishes to look more deeply into the proposal. Section 12(1) states:

There shall be paid to An tÚdarás, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. .. as may be approved of by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

The order is clear. The proposal comes from the institution, it is assessed for its value by the HEA. The Higher Education Authority recommends to the Minister that he spends so much and the Minister says either yes or no. It is clear from the Bill that a different procedure will occur. Under section 4 the Minister will pay money from the fund to institutes of higher education. By way of clarification, the Minister will consult with the HEA. That has definitely changed the traditional relationship. The Minister is now in a position where he evaluates the proposals and ultimately makes the decision on whether to proceed. The Higher Education Authority has been given the subsidiary role of consultation. The Minister disagrees with this interpretation. That is why he will have no difficulty in accepting amendment No. 11 with the exclusion of the reference to individual sections because it goes right through the Bill. It would then read:

nothing in this Act shall interfere with the role and functions of An tÚdarás as set out in the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 in respect of financial provision to an institution of higher education from the fund.

That would satisfy me but I am not sure whether it would satisfy Deputy O'Shea. Another Minister might have a different intention and the powers which allow him to subvert the traditional role of the Higher Education Authority should not be allowed. That should be put in proper statute, rather than depend on the goodwill of this Minister to leave intact the powers of the HEA. I submit that amendment No. 11 is the neatest solution to this problem. It would give assurances to this side of the House and to the Higher Education Authority that its role is protected. I commend it to the Minister.

I thank Deputies for their concern. The amendments are superfluous in that the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971, stands and is in no way undermined by the Bill. Section 8(1) states:

Any request by an institution of higher education for State subvention shall be submitted by the institution to An tÚdarás in such manner as An tÚdarás may require.

That section is not covered in Deputy Bruton's amendment.

That was an omission.

That is fair enough. I know where the Deputy is heading. Section 8(1) of the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971, still stands. Any institution seeking funds from the fund would have to go through the Higher Education Authority. The Higher Education Authority would then go to Government in the normal way and discuss with the Minister the proposals received from particular institutions under its jurisdiction. Some of the amendments are broadly framed and give the impression of covering all institutions such as the regional technical colleges, the Waterford Institute of Technology and Dublin Institute of Technology. It is envisaged at some stage that they would come under the remit of the Higher Education Authority, in terms of funding. Section 4(3)(b) of the Bill stipulates that all payments from the fund to universities or institutions under the Higher Education Authority must be paid through the Higher Education Authority. That is included to copperfasten and underline the role of the Higher Education Authority in the allocation of money from the fund.

The Higher Education Authority works closely with the Department in processing applications and identifying the needs of various institutions. It is unfair to suggest there is some machiavellian motivation behind the phraseology in the Bill to the effect that there is an attempt to circumvent the Higher Education Authority. That certainly is not on my agenda or on the agenda of anyone in the Department. Clearly the Higher Education Authority has been given considerable status in the Bill as the Authority through which requests will be made in terms of projects they wish to have funded from the fund and in terms of payments to be made through the Higher Education Authority.

The Bill provides that the Authority must be consulted by the institutes of higher education in relation to funding from the fund programmes. Amendment No. 5 would have the effect of preventing the Minister from making any such payment, in any circumstance, unless the Higher Education Authority requested it. The Higher Education Authority should not have that role in respect of every programme funded from the fund. Its jurisdiction extends to the institutions designated under the 1971 Act only; it does not have a role in respect of second level schools, vocational schools, PLC colleges, the regional technical colleges, the Dublin Institute of Technology or the Waterford Institute of Technology.

The amendments are unnecessary and superfluous. The Bill does not undermine or supersede the 1971 Act.

I remind Members of recent modifications to Standing Orders which apply on Report Stage. Members may speak twice but the second contribution shall not exceed two minutes. The Member who moves an amendment has the right of reply. As amendment No. 11 is being discussed with amendment No. 2, Deputy Bruton has two minutes in which to reply.

When I move it will I be able to speak?

No. When amendments are grouped Deputies lose the right of reply.

Perhaps we should not agree to group them.

As the amendments are related, they have to be grouped.

While I accept the Minister's good faith, he is misreading the legislation. Under the 1971 Act An tÚdarás makes recommendations which are approved by the Minister and the money is paid out. The Minister has gone out of his way to tell us that he is providing in section 4(3)(a) of the Bill for consultation. He has already assured us that An tÚdarás will have been at the heart of the process. Either section 4(3)(a) is redundant and should not be inserted because this activity is governed by the provisions of the 1971 Act or amendment No. 11 is appropriate. I do not want to see its role being usurped by another Minister, if not by the Minister.

I am not accusing the Minister of bad faith, I accept his bona fides.

I accept that.

We are focusing on the legislation. There are other matters to which the Minister alluded, including the recommendation in the White Paper that the remit of the Higher Education Authority be extended. That is a matter the Minister will deal with in his own time. I accept the 1971 Act has to stand but it is in conflict with section 4(3)(a)(i) of the Bill. While I take the point that the jurisdiction of the Higher Education Authority does not extend to the institutes of technology, the regional technical colleges, first and second level schools, in respect of the institutions designated under the 1971 Act is it the Minister's advice that the provisions of the Bill which provide for consultation do not damage that Act?

That meets my concern. May I take it that the initiation role of the Higher Education Authority may be enhanced in future legislation?

Yes. It is my advice that all the provisions of the 1971 Act stand.

Why consult the Higher Education Authority then?

The Higher Education Authority will be consulted on the practical details before money is paid from the fund to an institution. We have to ensure payments are in order and that the terms of the proposals are being adhered to.

The Minister approves them.

I am referring to the final payments following completion of the process. One has to provide for double-checking to ensure payments are in order. There has to be public accountability. That is the reason section 4(3)(a) has been inserted. Section 8 of the 1971 Act covers the procedures to be adopted by an institution in seeking funding for a project or an initiative. It would have to go through the Higher Education Authority first. The legal advice is solid, that the 1971 Act is not undermined or eroded by the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, line 10, after "may be" to insert "but not later than three months".

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure the details of payments made from the fund are placed in the public arena rapidly after the end of the financial year. I am seeking to ensure that as soon as may be, but no later than three months, after the end of the financial year, 1998, and each subsequent financial year, the Minister shall submit the accounts of the fund to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

This amendment was the subject of much discussion on Committee Stage yesterday during which the Minister of State referred the members of the select committee to section 8 of the Bill which states:

As soon as may be, but not later than 3 months, after the end of the financial year, 1998, and each subsequent financial year, the Minister shall prepare a report with respect to the operation of the Fund during that financial year and shall cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and published.

It is not clear from that section whether a report will be prepared within the period specified. I am seeking to ensure the details of the allocations made to institutions from the fund will be placed in the public arena at an early date after the end of the financial year. In politics nowadays we operate on the basis of transparency and accountability. This is not an unreasonable request. It is not beyond the ability of Ministers and Departments to make financial reports available within three months of the end of the financial year.

How long after the end of the last financial year was the annual report of the Department published? What is the most recent report available? This is germane to the issue.

This is a reasonable amendment which I propose to accept. In fairness I should say that "as soon as may be" was intended to be "as soon as may be after the end of the year". I do not have any difficulty with its thrust, to ensure that within three months the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General will be made available to all concerned.

I was away until late last evening but I will obtain the information Deputy Bruton has requested.

I thank the Minister for having responded so constructively and accepted my amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, line 21, after "account" to insert "and the account with the Office of the Paymaster General".

This simple amendment goes to the heart of the concept of what the fund is about. I imagine the Minister will be very pleased to accept it because it would have the benefit of adding perhaps £30 million to his fund. It provides that, when the Minister for Finance agrees to pay over his £100 million early in January next, that money will be invested by the National Treasury Management Agency, the interest earned thereon accruing to the benefit of and for the purposes intended by the fund. This will mean that, if the Minister finds not sufficient projects are being submitted quickly enough and his money remains invested in State securities, the interest thereon will be rolling up to his advantage and purposes, namely, the promotion of scientific and technological education and research. That is what was understood by the public when the Minister announced the establishment of this fund. It certainly came as an enormous shock to me to discover that, once the Bill had been passed, in January next the Minister for Finance would issue a cheque to the Minister responsible for the fund, lodged not to the fund but back to the Minister for Finance who would pocket it, with the interest accruing to the benefit of the Minister for Finance and not for educational purposes. That condition is tucked away very subtly in the Bill. For example, section 2(5) reads:

Moneys standing to the credit of the investment account which are not, for the time being, required for the purpose of making payments out of the Fund under section 4 shall be invested by the Minister for Finance in securities issued by the State.

That sounds great but then one discovers from the definition of "the investment account" that that is interpreted as not being all the moneys in the fund but a tiny proportion only, namely, the private contributions. Effectively this means we are asking the private sector to dip into its funds, which will lead to very substantial debt in the case of those companies, which will have to increase their borrowings to contribute to the fund. They will do so, we hope, in good faith. Their contributions will accumulate to the fund and its investment earnings will be ploughed back into the fund.

The Minister for Finance will behave in an entirely contrary way and will not allow any money to be taken from the Exchequer until a project is submitted and approved. As far as the Exchequer is concerned, there will be no money there and any potential investment income will not exist because what the National Treasury Management Agency has been told to do is just treat this as though it were something to be used to reduce the national debt. Therefore, the cheque will issue on day one, come back in on the same day, having been processed through the National Treasury Management Agency, with a chit somewhere saying "Minister for Finance owes the fund £100 million" but there will not be moneys accumulating there. That is a huge disappointment.

When I heard the Minister's initial announcement I understood this was to be a fund to which both private and public sectors would contribute, that those moneys would accumulate and be available for projects and would not be invested immediately. If the Minister wants to get best value from this fund, he should endeavour to spend as speedily as possible because he will be reaping the advantage of its early expenditure. We should give the Minister a proper fund because, if he has to await the submission and approval of appropriate projects, he should be earning interest on his money, perhaps reaping £30 million over the full period.

I predict the Minister will be very pleased to accept this amendment since it promotes the cause he advocates so eloquently. I hope the Minister for Finance will see that that is what the public expected when he announced the establishment of an education fund.

The same surprise descended on me yesterday as on Deputy Richard Bruton in regard to how this fund would be operated. My recollection of what we were told yesterday was that effectively the fund would be managed by the Minister for Finance who, in turn, would delegate that function to the National Treasury Management Agency, which body would handle the moneys to maximise the benefit to the taxpayer as distinct from maximising the benefit to the Department of Education and Science; in other words, that any interest accruing would not be to the benefit of the Department of Education and Science.

We want to help the Minister in the belief that he should benefit from all moneys accruing. I can see where the Minister for Finance is coming from regarding financial management. I note that section 4(1)(e) states:

such other scientific, technological or vocational education and training programmes (howsoever established) as the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, considers appropriate

This means that particular projects can be considered for appropriation, representing an intrusion into areas proper to the Minister for Education and Science. In terms of the various institutions that may avail of these funds, or of an allocation or payment therefrom, the real say should rest with the Minister for Education and Science.

I support Deputy Richard Bruton's amendment on the basis that, if accepted, additional moneys would accrue to the fund.

While accepting the good intentions of my fellow Members that I should have more money to spend, at the outset it was made clear that there would be two separate accounts. The State's contribution of £250 million would be held in an account for the Office of the Paymaster General, the account into which Exchequer contributions would be made and, second, a private donations investment account would be established into which private donations might be paid, drawing a clear distinction between the two. Anybody who reads my press releases at the launch of this fund or my Second Stage speech would acknowledge that it was made absolutely clear that was the intention. We put it up front, for the reason that the private sector needs to know that whatever it contributes to the fund is not a substitute for Exchequer funding, with a clear distinction between private sector and public sector contributions. The fund was established initially to send a clear signal to the private sector, to anyone who might wish to donate to third level institutions or to education generally, that the Government was absolutely up front and committed to investing in the skills needed in our economy by the creation of such a fund. The demonstration of that commitment would facilitate investment by private companies either into institutions or via the fund mechanism. If we were to invest the Exchequer contribution of £250 million in securities, it would represent an inefficient use of the financial resources of the State. The State would stand to gain more by the National Treasury Management Agency managing the Exchequer money rather than letting a lump sum lie idle in an investment account.

We will have many projects coming on stream. There is no shortage of projects seeking money from this fund. The genesis of the fund was that, having read the files on the technological sector, the regional technical colleges, Waterford Institute of Technology and Dublin Institute of Technology, and having realised it was starved of capital, there was a huge mismatch between press releases and articulated policy and resources to meet that policy. People were saying we must invest more in Waterford Institute of Technology and Tallaght Regional Technical College, and construct a new regional technical college, for example, in Blanchardstown. All these press releases were being made over the past 12 or 15 months, yet the existing regional technical colleges, built 20 years ago, have double the number of students for which they were originally built, their equipment is obsolete in many instances and they were starved of resources. Clearly something, over and above the annual provision in the Estimates, had to be done and that is why the fund was created.

It was clear the PLC sector was short of capital investment; it had never had meaningful capital investment since its establishment many years ago.

The Lindsay report identified a £50 million need for technicians and for skills in computer software. We have increased the sum available to £65 million, if one counts the £5 million we spent in July and the £60 million in the fund.

The genesis of the fund was the need for skills in the economy. The technological sector was undercapitalised and there was an urgent need at primary and second level to allocate funding to provide information and communications technologies to schools. We are behind in that area.

The key point is that we will be able to move on these projects quickly. We will be in a position, once this Bill is enacted, to start into a multi-annual medium-term framework for spending so that we can sanction projects in the first couple of months. The realisation of the cost of those projects may occur in the second or even the third year because there is a lead in time to the start of capital projects, that is, a period between construction and the ultimate payment of the cost.

The major mould-breaking nature of this fund is that we can now start planning over a medium term. Up to now, one had to allocate money on a year to year basis. Once the Bill is enacted and the fund is in place, we can start sanctioning projects and telling institutions they can move forward. We can do that in the first year even for a sum in excess of £100 million because the £250 million is there over a three year period. That will save the Exchequer money too because there is greater value in medium-term planning as opposed to sanctioning projects on a year on year basis.

The NTMA has been superb in managing Exchequer moneys. Deputy Richard Bruton is shaking his head, but it has done a good job overall. This is an imaginative use of funds and the NTMA. We will be able to draw down money subject to a limit of £250 million over the next three years when requested and we can process projects on the basis of that sum.

The truth is coming out now, that this is really no more than a multi-annual budget. It is not a fund. We are already introducing multi-annual budgeting. Essentially the Minister is saying he has a multi-annual capital budget over the next three years, which will consist of £100 million in the first year and £75 million in each of the subsequent years. It is a good measure and I am all in favour of it. However, to call it an investment fund is a misnomer.

The Minister told me to read his press statement and I have it with me. In it he stated that the investment fund will comprise £250 million to be allocated to capital programmes; that there will be an initial £100 million; and that the investment fund will be enabled to receive donations from non-Government sources. He did not state at any stage that there will be an investment fund consisting solely of private donations and a separate multi-annual capital budget. The only money the NTMA is investing is not the £100 million which the Minister is providing; it is whatever he receives in private donations. That is the reality.

No, it is not.

The NTMA has nothing to invest because the Exchequer will not release any money to the fund until——

We have a debt of £30 billion, with all due respects.

I am just saying——

Minister, I would ask you not to interrupt the Deputy. He has only two minutes to contribute.

——the Minister tried to make out that he made the nature of the fund very clear. He did not. On reading his statement, everyone saw there would be a fund for education purposes in an account and that it would comprise £250 million from the Exchequer and private donations and would earn interest. However, it is a multi-annual capital budget and a separate private operation which is the investment fund.

To achieve that, the Minister had to introduce this strange definition of the investment account. Did Members notice that? Everybody thought the investment account was the whole sum of money but it is just the account of private donations.

To call this a fund was a bit of a cod. I commend the Minister for spending the money because it is needed, but it is a deception to treat the private sector contributions differently from the State money. The State money will not be contained there. The private money will be contained there accumulating interest.

To be honest, it is a bit of a let down.

I find it extraordinary for Deputy Bruton to use the word "deception". Investment means investment in education, and this is the single biggest investment in education since 1965 when the late Donogh O'Malley introduced free second level education. It is unworthy of the Deputy to say there is nothing significant in this.

The Minister is deliberately seeking to misconstrue what I said.

The Minister without interruption, please.

I am not. He was there as Minister for Enterprise and Employment and he knew how serious the skills issues were. As Minister for Enterprise and Employment, he must have been in touch with IDA Ireland, Forfás and Forbairt.

The Minister should address the amendment.

The Minister without interruption.

What did his Government do? Nothing.

On a point of order, am I entitled to insist that the Minister should address the amendments rather than using the valuable time to go off on a political rant?

With respect, it was Deputy Bruton who went off on a political rant. He should be more generous and acknowledge it.

On my point of order——

The Deputy is not entitled to decide whether I am in order.

May I hear the Chair's response to my point of order without interruption from the Minister?

The Chair has no control over the Minister's reply. The Minister was in possession and is entitled to reply. Following his reply, the Deputy, as the proposer of the amendment, will have another opportunity.

On a point of order, if I choose to embark on discussion of issues which are not relevant to the amendment, would you pull me up, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

Why do you then allow the Minister to go on wild goose chases?

In this instance, the Minister had only commenced his reply.

Is he not obliged, as I am, to stick to the point we are discussing?

On a point of order, I submit that my points are entirely relevant to Deputy Bruton's amendment.

They are entirely irrelevant.

I will respectfully accept your judgment on it. I am not in the Chair and neither is Deputy Bruton. He should not aspire to be there.

It proves the point that interruptions from either side are disruptive.

It is unworthy of the Deputy to make the allegation that at some stage of this process we were not upfront about the identification of the investment accounts for private donations. From day one we made it clear that there would be two separate accounts. One of the problems experienced by the private sector and those who donated to universities over the past number of years was the perception that they were doing the State's job. There was a perception that the State was substituting private donations and contributions for State funding and that we, as a State, were not playing our part in matching those funds or giving a commitment to the sector. That is why the two separate accounts were put in place. We are not proposing anything additional to what has always been the case in terms of the financial management of the country.

The Department of Finance has always had a key role in agreeing to sanction any spending, particularly from a fund as large as this. The Department of Education and Science has not had any difficulty with the role of the Department of Finance in this. We worked closely with the Department of Finance in the preparation of this legislation and appreciated the support we received from the Minister for Finance and his Department. It made sense to those of us on the education and science side that the NTMA should be the appropriate body to manage the Exchequer's contribution. This £250 million is a tremendous contribution by the Government which surpasses anything the previous Government attempted in this area.

I formed the same impression as Deputy Bruton from what I read in the Bill and my recollections of the press statements. The net point is that if money is accruing from the investment of the £100 million it should be to the benefit of the Department of Education and Science. I accept the strategy of how matters are managed and the question of what is to the benefit of the taxpayer, but I am concerned about what is to the benefit of education and to the students attending our colleges and schools.

If the Minister responds to amendments and a serious debate on issues that will affect the future of this country by delving back into the past and criticising the service of his predecessors, he will have a rough ride in this House. I carefully read and I have all the Minister's announcements on this. I also have the statements made by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. I read them carefully, but not one of them referred to the existence of two funds. No one said that there would be two funds, one of which would accrue investment income to the benefit of education and another in which that would not occur. That was never stated. One could read those statements until one is blue in the face, but would not discover that to be the reality. It was only when we studied this Bill we discovered this. It is disappointing that was not made clear. As the Minister said, it was made clear that private money would not be substituted for public spending and that is important, but it was never made clear that there would be two funds. That is the point I am making. It was not made clear that private donors would be treated differently from public donors. They will have to talk to their bank managers to make a contribution to the fund at a cost to themselves, but the Exchequer will not be required to contribute to the fund until suitable projects are proposed in respect of which it will expend money. That is the reality. I am disappointed that is the route being taken by the Minister and that is why I tabled this amendment. If this amendment is accepted, the Minister would have more money to spend on projects which the House would agree are worthy of expenditure. I propose to press this amendment.

The Deputy is endeavouring to create a political spin on this for party political purposes.

Under Standing Orders the Minister is not entitled to respond. Deputy Bruton has the last say on this matter.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.

We now come to amendment No. 6, amendment No. 7 is related and, therefore, amendments Nos. 6 and 7 will be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 5, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

"(iv) a college within the meaning of the Vocational Education Acts, 1930 to 1970, or

(v) such other colleges as the Minister may from time to time approve,".

Under section 4(1) a number of colleges are listed to which funds will be given for the provision of scientific, technological or vocational education. That list is currently confined solely to the universities, the regional technical colleges and the Dublin Institute of Technology. This amendment provides for the inclusion of colleges within the meaning of the vocational education Acts and such other colleges as the Minister may from time to time approve. I strongly believe that all colleges should have equal access on similar terms to the fund being established. We have seen the quality of education provided by the vocational education committee sector, particularly in the PLC area, where those colleges have pushed out the boat dramatically and are now providing significant scientific and technological education. Colleges, such as Coláiste Dhúlaigh in my constituency and the Ballyfermot college, are doing excellent work. They deserve to be treated on as fair a footing and be held in the same equal esteem as other traditional colleges. If anything they should get a boost and be held in higher esteem because they are catering predominantly for children who come from poorer families than those who attend the regional technical colleges and universities. The Minister will know that from data in his Department. We should treat those students fairly.

The Minister will no doubt say that such colleges could be included under other provisions. They could be included under paragraph (b) if the Minister decided there was a special need to be catered for. He could decide that PLC colleges should have a role in providing teleservice courses, but that would be only on the basis of he deciding that. He will put them on an ad hoc funding basis compared to the universities and regional technical colleges. It is only if he decides it suits the occasion that they will be included on similar terms. He may designate the provision of teleservice courses to vocational education committees because there is a skills shortage, but he is not allowing them to develop a coherent set of courses in a long-term strategic way with the possibility of access to this fund on the same basis as universities and regional technical colleges. That is not fair.

The Minister will probably also advert to section 4(1)(e) which provides that such other scientific, technological or vocational education and training programmes can be provided with the consent of the Minister or the Minister for Finance. The Minister is long enough at this game to know what that section means. It means that the Minister for Finance will have to individually approve any idea emanating from these colleges and the likelihood of that happening is next to nil.

I am concerned not only about the vocational education committees, which are a lead contender, but also private colleges which should have access to the use of this money on an equal basis if they show they have a good project. I was disappointed that when the Minister concluded the competition initiated by the Government in respect of those who would provide training, software, engineering and other such courses, private colleges were not included in that provision. I was surprised by that because, from my knowledge of some of the private colleges, they were providing very good education on a basis that would have been competitive with the universities.

I fear that what may be behind the reluctance of the Minister for Finance to sign up to private colleges is that he sees it opening up the possibility that fees and maintenance would have to be paid in private colleges in the longer term. That reluctance to open up a new vista is giving private colleges unfair access. That is the reason they have not been listed for consideration in the first instance, and they will have to come through some other more difficult route.

The Minister should have a list that is equitable to all educational institutions in paragraph (a), which lets them all in on a fair basis. He will be seen to be fair in particular to colleges catering for those from lower income backgrounds. If we want to see the scientific and technological revolution become deep-rooted, it should not be predominantly middle-class children who get to regional technical colleges and universities. It must apply throughout the workforce. The Minister should reconsider this amendment which is not a dramatic one but it opens up the possibility of him using the fund freely to promote long-term strategic development in the vocational sector.

I call Deputy Sargent whose amendment is being discussed with amendment No. 6.

Deputy Bruton put forward many of the arguments I would cite in support of my amendment which is to include, in the remit of this funding, youth organisations recognised and grant-aided through the youth work grants scheme and other such schemes, as administered by the youth affairs section of the Department of Education and Science.

As it stands the Bill comes across clearly as a middle-class school enhancement Bill. The Minister will talk about the overall equity of his thinking on it, and I do not doubt his bona fides in the matter, but when the Bill becomes law it will have to stand on its own merits. The intention of the Minister will not be known to those reading the Bill and, in particular, to those not accustomed to the current trends in IT education.

I ask the Minister to consider how the Bill will read when it becomes law. It comes across as being restrictive in terms of its concentration on formal education. For good reasons, formal education does not need to be updated in regard to IT education. That is not in dispute. However, the Bill does not explicitly deal with the need to target disadvantaged areas of education, although I do not doubt the Minister's intention in that regard. I ask the Minister to examine the Bill as somebody who has never seen it before and make the case I make that the two tier level of education, which mirrors the two tier level of society in general, must be given priority in legislation so that it can be tackled.

My amendment recognises the need to give the public an opportunity to see at first hand the Minister's breadth of inclusion in this legislation. It also takes into account something of which the Minister will be aware from yesterday's newspapers, namely, the growing trend of people bypassing college and taking up immediate employment, regardless of the long-term prospects. People are tempted to get out of the education system when an opportunity of employment arises.

As the people in Clonmel can testify, those who have left the formal education system may wish to examine their options anew. When employment is no longer available to them, education becomes an option. The way education is administered now is much broader than in the past. Distance learning and the youth organisations to which I referred have a role to play.

For that reason I ask the Minister to give favourable consideration to this amendment, which is not attempting to add something that the Bill does not already have. From what the Minister of State said yesterday, however, I believe the Minister may refer to paragraph (e) which refers to such other scientific, technological or vocational education and training programmes, however established, as the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, considers appropriate. That paragraph has merit but it does not come across in the Bill as being inclusive. It does not give the clear message that the Minister will examine a proposal on the same footing as the proposal explicitly allowed. As Deputy Bruton said, that creates a two tier evaluation in its own way. That should not be encouraged because the powerful lobby groups, such as the universities, are very good at lobbying TDs and making clear they have a case, which they often do, but other organisations are not so good at that. We should try to help them in every way we can.

In an earlier contribution the Minister referred to the need for institutions to be engaged in medium rather than short-term planning. I agree with him in that regard. These amendments ask that the provisions of the Bill be more specific which will assist the type of institutions Deputies Bruton and Sargent spoke about and the need to embark on the medium-term planning that is desirable.

Section 4(1)(e) refers to education or training programmes, however established, as the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, considers appropriate. The consideration of whether the programmes are appropriate does not tie the Minister to anything in particular. It should be made clear that certain institutions are not excluded, particularly the youth organisations referred to by Deputy Sargent.

In the Seanad the Minister referred to a provision of £20 million for capital purposes in the PLC apprenticeship area. Will the Minister expand on that? Does this mean that FÁS will benefit from the fund in terms of apprenticeship provision or is it specifically an apprenticeship provision?

Deputy Bruton raised the issue of private colleges. I tabled an amendment, which was pushed to a vote, on this issue on Committee Stage. As things stand there is nothing to prevent private colleges benefiting from the fund. However, I have a number of reservations. Private colleges should only benefit when there is equality of access for all students. In that context, the amendment I tabled on Committee Stage sought that the private colleges which will benefit should already be in receipt of a modicum of public finance. It also stipulated that the colleges should meet the requirements set down, particularly those relating to taxation. It is the Labour Party's view — I believe it is also the Minister's — that equality of access to education should be a fundamental plank of policy.

I am interested in the Minister's views in respect of the private colleges. Deputy Sargent raised a number of points in respect of disadvantage and yesterday's ESRI report. A large section of the population requires either second chance or continuing education. It is the view of the Labour Party that a significant amount of the resources provided by the Department should be targeted in a positively discriminative way toward the long-term unemployed. There is a clear pattern that those with low skill levels, except in exceptional circumstances, cannot attract employment which provides any real quality of life or a basis on which these people can fully realise their talents.

I support the thrust of the amendments. It is important to make clear, beyond reasonable doubt, that the organisations which can benefit under the fund will be encouraged to develop innovative plans, etc., in respect of providing assistance to people who are "below the line" in terms of their skills and abilities to play a worthwhile and meaningful role in the economic system.

I share many of the views articulated by the Deputies in respect of the need for inclusion and the further need to ensure that we improve the skills base and provide proper education and training to people among the ranks of the long-term unemployed and those who are not adequately catered for by the formal system of education. In many ways the section is worded flexibly to allow for innovative submissions and projects to be made to the Department and the Minister of the day in terms of such social inclusion measures.

The difficulty with including further definitions sought by the amendments is that others will become excluded. For example, in the post-leaving certificate sector, the vocational education committee colleges are predominant in providing the majority of courses. Other second level colleges — voluntary secondary schools, community schools and comprehensives — also provide some PLC courses, particularly in the regions. It is very important in any given townland or region if there is a PLC component in second level schools. It would be wrong if the intention of amendment No. 6 is to ring-fence the PLC sector within the vocational education committee colleges alone. Other second level schools have developed this capacity in respect of valid post-leaving certificate courses and they should be equally entitled to make applications under the provisions of the fund. For example, this might be done in respect of the areas of teleservices or electronics where a skills need may exist.

On Second Stage in the Seanad I made it clear that £20 million will be allocated in respect of apprentices and PLCs. This is deliberate because, if one considers the evolution of the PLC sector, no real capital provision has been made in terms of the capital needs of colleges such as Coláiste Dhúlaigh, the College of Commerce in Cork, St. John's Central College or Whitehall College. Many of the PLC colleges developed without the provision of capital equipment and a number of them are now short of space and cannot accommodate existing student numbers. There is a clear need to provide capital funding and that is why £20 million is being allocated.

There is also a shortage of apprentices in key areas. In that context, the regional technical colleges, which predominantly provide apprentice training, will be given additional resources to improve facilities and provide additional places. The funding for apprentice training will be directed toward the regional technical colleges, the Waterford Institute of Technology and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

I accept Deputy Sargent's concerns in respect of informal education but it is not fair to label the Bill "middle class", because it is concerned with identifying skills needs. The Department's ICT plan — Schools IT 2000 — contains a clear priority to deal first with schools in disadvantaged areas. Funding for that plan amounts to £50 million, £25 million of which will come from the investment fund. The plan clearly sets out the need to bring ICTs to disadvantaged areas. It is designed to ensure that children in these areas are not further disadvantaged by a failure to embrace ICTs or to have access to computers and the best of equipment in their schools.

The fund will provide the resources to tackle disadvantage, in both the formal and informal context. In the informal context, a good model exists in the form of the area partnerships which work with schools, youth services and health boards and take a multi-agency approach. Those responsible for the area partnerships may inform the Department that, in order to change the skills profile of a given area and provide young people with training, a certain line of action should be taken and a process of investment put in place. Taking account of the type of plan an area partnership might bring forward, that investment could be directed toward the informal or formal sectors or a combination of both.

I am trying to consider this issue from the point of view of someone reading the Bill for the first time. However, the Bill must also be considered from the point of view of those who framed the it. Legislation is not framed to exclude anyone. It is often framed to give a Minister significant room for manoeuvre and flexibility in terms of application of the money at his or her disposal. Therefore, good projects which may be brought forward from the informal and formal sectors will not be excluded.

All primary schools and second level schools — irrespective of whether they are vocational schools, comprehensives, community schools or voluntary secondary schools — are adequately catered for under paragraphs (b), (d) and (e). It is our intention that these schools should be catered for equally.

Private colleges are not excluded from putting forward projects in respect of the skills area. On the last occasion, only one college applied. I intend to meet the HECA in January to discuss a wide range of issues about which it is concerned in respect of private colleges. Those colleges may come forward with projects in the skills area. I have no ideological hang-up about private colleges putting forward projects to meet skills needs. I am open to anything which generates competition between the public and private sectors to achieve value for money. As to the provision of places in the skills area, one has to be careful how one proceeds. One reason for growth in the private sector is the lack of public sector spaces. That is also why people travel to the UK and Northern Ireland. I hope the provision of the fund will in itself generate a minimum of 7,000 extra places in computer software alone. That will provide genuine equality of access to young people who wish to attend third level.

I am disappointed the Minister is not willing to accept these amendments. The arguments used by the Minister of State yesterday were repeated today. Given the shortage of time I do not intend to pursue the matter, except to say the Minister misread the amendment when he said I did not envisage second level colleges providing PLC courses as being possible beneficiaries. I deliberately provided that the Minister may from time to time approve other such colleges to allow him that flexibility. I regret that the Minister is not agreeable but c'est la vie.

I also regret that the Minister mistakenly feels my amendment would have the effect of excluding others. I cannot understand how he reached this conclusion, given that my amendment deletes nothing from the Bill and he said the provisions would include whatever institutions were appropriate. I was trying to extend the "fast track" consideration — some applicants would be mentioned in the legislation and, therefore, would be more inclined to take an interest in what the Bill is trying to achieve. The amendment neither deletes, excludes nor restricts anything — it does the opposite.

Whereas I understand the Minister has plans for disadvantaged areas in other aspects of his remit, this Bill must stand alone and will apply to any future Minister. To that extent it must be read in and of itself. I was trying to improve it and I am sorry he has not seen fit to accept my amendment.

I accept the Minister's remark that the provisions of section 4(1), particularly the three paragraphs to which he alluded, are of a catch-all nature and on that basis do not exclude. However, there is another agenda to be addressed, which is that organisations should have a signal that they are welcome to apply to the fund or investment account, rather than a general provision such as this. There is no enabling section which would allow the Minister, by way of statutory instrument, to provide lists of the institutions at first, second or third level which could benefit from the fund.

We are engaging in semantics to some degree. Section 4(1)(b) covers "scientific, technological or vocational education and training programmes, the primary objective of which is to equip the persons participating in such programmes with skills for which, in the opinion of the Minister, there is a special need". Paragraph (d) covers "programmes the primary objective of which is to improve the ability of students and teachers at primary and post-primary schools, including vocational schools, to use computers and other types of information technology". Paragraph (e) covers "such other scientific, technological or vocational education and training programmes howsoever established as the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, considers appropriate". We are deliberately being flexible enough to catch any conceivable project or innovation which may emerge from both the informal and the formal sector. Our ICT programme is geared to disadvantage and the fund contains £25 million specifically for disadvantaged areas, including provision for proper training of teachers and youth workers. I feel we are catering for Deputies' concerns. If we were to mention everyone we could fill another page with names of every organisation which could be included.

There is a free page at the back.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 5, to delete lines 32 to 35.

We spent a good deal of time on this yesterday and the Minister of State undertook to come back on Report Stage. There was concern on the Opposition benches that the Minister for Education and Science was not the best Minister to engage in venture capital exercises, which is essentially what the provision covers.

The section promises that the Minister will make funds available to commercialise research — he would fund commercial ideas resulting from research work in the colleges. I am all in favour of seed-funding such ideas as are capable of commercial exploitation but that is not the function of the Minister for Education and Science. If he wishes to do that from the fund, there should be a separate section whereby such moneys would be allocated by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, who would in turn consult Forbairt and the IDA and appoint a venture capital manager to look at these investments.

It is not appropriate that the Minister for Education and Science should be drawn into this sort of exercise. It is always possible that the money will get lost and the Minister will come under pressure about keeping a lame duck in operation. It is not the Minister's area because he does not, to my knowledge, have any venture capitalist in his Department to manage this for him. This is also the most risky end of the venture capital market — ideas coming fresh from research laboratories. The Minister for Education and Science should not do this but I am not opposed to him drawing up a separate section, should he so decide, to provide that money from the fund could be administered by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which would seed-fund research ideas which are capable of being commercialised.

One has to do this with one's eyes open, knowing that this is a risky area. There are venture funds under Forbairt and the Minister will know we have been extremely careful to arrange that taxpayers' money is matched by similar moneys from private institutions and that the fund is managed privately, with tough criteria as to what represents a good investment. I hope the Minister's officials, reflecting overnight in consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, will think better of going ahead with this provision.

I regret I am not in a position to do what Deputy Bruton wants. I do not believe we should exclude universities or third level colleges from such enterprises.

The Minister may have misunderstood me. I did not say that we should prevent them doing so but that it should not be the Minister for Education and Science who decides what is a good commercial investment.

That is clearly a venture capital undertaking best done by those who are experienced. Some of those people are in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment but more are in the IDA, Forbairt and other institutions further down the line.

I hope we are not witnessing the emergence of old turf wars between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Education and Science. The notion that industry and education should not be involved in very active collaboration, even in commercial enterprises, is flawed. There is no reason they should not collaborate. Yesterday I met a professor, the Vice Chancellor at the University of Surrey, an Irishman, who explained that his university is the least dependent on State resources in the UK because of successful involvement in commercial enterprises, in a satellite company and a massive industrial park which has benefited the university, the region and the local economy. We should, therefore, think carefully before agreeing to delete sections of a Bill and thereby exclude such possibilities in the future. I accept that the best expert advice should be obtained in advance of any decision. The Tánaiste and I are co-chairing a forum made up of industry and State agencies involved in enterprise and employment, the Secretary General of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science and a skills implementation group. There is obviously considerable expertise to ensure that checks and balances are put in place.

The Universities Act gives considerable autonomy to universities in terms of the management of their affairs. What we are talking about here is the utilisation of fund money. There is a need to have very strong synergy between education and industry and between industrialists and the educational world, and the notion that a Minister for Education should be completely divorced from any such activity and should have no input is flawed. In Europe there is a merging of education and training and of research and innovation and development. It is very hard now to draw lines as rigidly as they may have been drawn in the past. We should think carefully before we exclude the possibility of money from the fund being used in such enterprises. There should be no difficulty because Forbairt already works with universities and other third level institutions. Section 4(1)(c) facilitates support for research activities undertaken by or on behalf of a body, college or institute. We are endeavouring to be flexible enough to facilitate funding of collaborative efforts between colleges and business and between industry and educational institutions.

The Minister may misunderstand me. I am not saying that we should prevent the emergence of business and educational partnerships for the exploitation of commercial results. The amendment I withdrew made it clear that we should encourage that. However, with the best will in the world, the Minister for Education and Science should not engage in venture capital activities. Essentially the investment of money in high risk commercialisation of research is not a proper function of the Minister for Education and Science. The Minister's Department is not equipped to deal with and has no experience in venture capital management. This is a highly risky area. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has no experience in this area either. That is why it has had to set up specialised funds at considerable arm's length from the Department, bringing in particular expertise from the private sector to sufficiently ringfence taxpayers' money and have it properly managed independently. That was the right way to go. The Minister should accept this amendment, forget about this for the time being and, perhaps, come back with a new section next year with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment taking a role.

If the Minister will not do that, he should, at the very minimum, agree to amendment No. 13 — which we may not reach — which provides that guidelines should stitch into the record that there will be private management of this fund, that it will be done on the very elaborate terms that have been worked out in respect of venture capital investments elsewhere by the State, and that the Oireachtas should be satisfied with those guidelines before we give them the go-ahead.

I am not happy with the attitude the Minister of State adopted to this amendment and the related amendment No. 13 yesterday in Committee. To give him credit, he agreed to consider it overnight with the Department officials and to come back today with a more refined position. However, the position has not really been refined. It is a similar position to the one we heard yesterday. The Minister may be making a mistake in the context of the long term.

I accept the bona fides of the Deputy's concerns. Section 4 provides for the making use by or on behalf of a body, college or institute, for commercial purposes (including by way of any process of manufacturing), of the results of any research and development.

I am not trying to stop them doing that. I would allow them to do it, but not with these funds.

I do not agree. It would not be right to delete the section from the Bill and to exclude that possibility in the future. Some colleges, in advance of the publication of this Bill, have successfully developed commercial activity through the normal processes. There are risks, but we should not exclude this possibility. Obviously there would be considerable checks and balances in advance and considerable expertise brought into play in terms of the assessment of any money paid out in this area.

This is a complex area on which I would like some clarification. If, for example, the faculty of food science at University College, Cork, developed a line of cheese that seemed to have market potential, would funds from the selling on of the manufacturing technology accrue to that institution?

Campus companies are not always successful. In the context of campus companies interfacing with the private sector in terms of any research and development that is undertaken there would, obviously, be a heavy level of scrutiny of projects by the Department where capital moneys are involved. There are certain provisions in the regional technical colleges and Dublin Institute of Technology legislation but I am not quite sure of their legal status. I understand campus companies can operate at the universities. Is there a need for guidelines in relation to that?

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I forgot that we are on Report Stage, so I have to take a different line. The Deputy has two minutes, after which he must cease.

A proper evaluation of projects is vital to ensure that the benefits accrue to colleges and students. In the case of funding provided by the Department of Public Enterprise and the Department of Agriculture and Food the focus is on the project and what emerges. The bottom line must be that the research and development funded under this fund is of benefit to students.

We receive much funding from Europe for research and development. However, many companies use this funding instead of investing their own funding in research and development. Industry is not investing the proper resources in research and development. One of the problems is that industry will not invest in the fund but will wait for the State to invest the money and then cream it off. This amendment will ensure that the fund will benefit universities in that money can be taken back from industry. Very few companies fund research in universities. Most companies wait for the research to be published and then use it to develop a product without giving any acknowledgement to the university. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment.

I support the concept of the commercialisation of the activities of universities. However, this is not the point at issue, it is the necessity to safeguard public moneys. Forbairt has a venture capital fund of more than £60 million, yet it is proposed to use the scarce resources of the Department of Education and Science to duplicate work. I would not like people to think I am against the commercialisation of the activities of universities and of the results of research which can be used to create wealth and jobs.

However, at a minimum the Bill should provide that the guidelines will be published in conjunction with or after consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Forbairt, the IDA etc. This would ensure that safeguards are in place for the future and prevent duplication. The resources made available to the Department of Education and Science should be protected and used for the many other things which have to be done. I strongly recommend to the Minister that he consider building into the legislation a requirement that there must be consultation before the publication of the guidelines.

Section 4(5) provides for the establishment of guidelines, while the section dealing with consultation with Ministers gives priority to consultation with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in regard to payments out of the fund. The level of funding available within colleges for research and development has been low and the investment fund envisages up to £15 million being made available for this purpose. Deputies are concerned about the need to safeguard public moneys. This is why the Bill contains a provision dealing with the establishment of guidelines prior to payment. Obviously people need to know the guidelines before they seek funds.

I am endeavouring to develop innovation within colleges. It is important to adopt a balanced approach when prodding colleges and institutions in the direction of research linked to industry and business which can be used for commercial purposes. There are risks attached to projects and not all of them are successful. There will be consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and State agencies. The idea behind the joint forum between the Tánaiste and me is to develop the strong connection between enterprise and employment and education in this area. The Tánaiste is very anxious that we use the forum to develop the debate on the skills issue, etc. The deliberations of the forum and of the implementation group chaired by Mr. Chris Horn will have an impact in terms of how the money is spent. The Bill provides adequate safeguards in the areas about which the Deputies are rightly concerned.

I do not agree that this is a very good development. However, I will withdraw my amendment on the understanding that the Minister will accept my amendment No. 13 which essentially proposes that he lay the guidelines before the Oireachtas, subject to the usual provisions.

Subject to my amendment, I will accept the Deputy's amendment No. 13.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 6, line 21, before "for" to insert "and laid before the Oireachtas".

I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 13:

In page 6, line 21, after "paragraph" to insert "and the Minister shall cause copies of the guidelines to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas within 3 months after they have been issued".

We will not be able to rescind the guidelines as the 21 day rule will not apply but given that we are so close to Christmas and in a spirit of co-operation I will accept the amendment.

We will consult the Deputies before the guidelines come into effect. My desire is also to get it right.

Amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 13 agreed to.
Amendment No. 13, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 14 and 16 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 6, between line 24 and 25, to insert the following:

"5.—(1) The Minister shall from time to time publicly invite applications for financial support for some or all of the monies in the Fund from eligible bodies for qualifying purposes.

(2) The Minister shall publish the criteria and procedures by which he shall select projects, which shall include inter alia the extent to which:

(i) the proposals are innovative in conception and/or in delivery,

(ii) embrace a number of partners,

(iii) generate a local contribution to the cost,

(iv) contribute to regional development, and

(v) contribute to supporting equality of opportunity.".

This amendment proposes that the Minister should hold competitions for at least some of the money. In other words, he should invite proposals which would then be open to evaluation by him or a team appointed by him. I refer the Minister to the experience of Horizon, NOW and other EU initiatives under which there was a huge upswing of activity in communities who put forward ideas the traditional institutions and the Department might not have thought of. Advertising the fund and allowing people to put forward proposals would be of great benefit. If the Minister is agreeable to going down this road he should follow the procedure proposed in my amendment. If he did he would be surprised at the wealth of new ideas put forward even for a small slice of the fund. I strongly recommend this amendment to him as similar procedures have worked very successfully.

The second amendment proposes that in the operation of the fund regard should be had to regional disparities in educational choice and regional development needs. If the Deputy from south Kerry was here, I am sure he would warmly applaud this amendment as an addition to the fund. In many parts of the country, particularly Border counties, which are disadvantaged there has not been an impact from science and technology, firms are not strong and educational institutions need an extra fillip. It should be set down in the Bill that, in allocating money, consideration should be given to regional needs, to spreading the advantages of technology and science in terms of high quality jobs to regions that hitherto found it difficult to encourage high tech companies to establish there.

The amendments are not necessary. I agree with the latter point on regional distribution of funds. Approximately £80 million has been allocated to the regional technical college sector, the Dublin Institute of Technology, Waterford Institute of Technology and so on.

Perhaps the Minister will agree to the amendments which would do no harm.

In recent times regional technical colleges have made perhaps the most important contribution to regional equality, particularly in the education field. They certainly caused an improvement in the level of participation in third level education in the regions — there is evidence of correlation between the location of an Regional Technical College and participation in third level education in that region. They allowed for a massive uptake in third level education generally. In the PLC sector approximately £20 million has been allocated. PLCs will play an extremely important role in the regions. The Deputy mentioned Border counties. In Cavan and Monaghan, for instance, there are strong PLCs and I would like the fund to improve the capacity and facilities in those regions. The business industry indicates that PLCs have a major role to play in meeting the needs of local and regional industry and businesses.

Projects from various sectors will be invited to apply for funding. A sum of £60 million has been allocated for the skills package. Universities, Regional Technical Colleges, the Dublin Institute of Technology and PLCs are entitled to apply for funding, and that will be made clear to them. That does not need to be provided for in legislation. The amount of money provided could be spent in the morning in terms of the need in particular sectors. The decision to set up this fund derived as much from the need for innovation and new ideas as from the needs that had been identified over many years. There was a great need in the regional technical colleges sector for capital investment. For example, in the regional technical college in Carlow the number of students is double that for which the college was built.

When I came to office I found there was a crisis in terms of capital needs of regional technical colleges, and many of those colleges will not be slow in seeking funds. I would not be opposed to ringfencing £5 million or £10 million for a development scheme or imaginative idea. The amendments, however, deal with operational matters and need not necessarily be included in legislation. I would have difficulty with the criteria referred to in the amendment in terms of generating a local contribution to the cost. Everybody would not be in a position to generate a local contribution.

They are criteria to be considered, they are not all necessary.

Acting Chairman

Since the time permitted for debate has expired——

On a point of order, I understood the Minister was accepting the amendments.

There is no need to accept them.

Acting Chairman

——I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day: "That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed".

I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate and the research in which they engaged. I look forward to the Bill meeting its objectives in terms of education needs.

I regret it was not possible for the Minister to accept further amendments. Some were put down to improve accountability and some to improve procedure. While the Minister may say those improvements will be made, we want to ensure they are made and it would have done no harm to accept some of the amendments. Nonetheless, I thank the Minister for his courtesy in dealing with the issues. Since this is a minority Government there should be more openness on Committee and Report Stages to consider amendments from the Opposition.

Five amendments were accepted in the Seanad, which made a good input to the Bill.

They are not substantive amendments. Some of the amendments put forward could have been accepted. If the Minister was a little more constructive it would be worth our while investing time in Committee Stage.

I welcome the Bill, which is an important measure. I hope some of the technical difficulties to which attention was drawn and which were not dealt with by the Minister do not cause difficulty in future. I wish him well in the discharge of the funds.

Question put and agreed to.