Today's Order of Business is No. a17, motion re Nomination of Member of the Government; No. 4, Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Bill, 1999 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 40, the National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill, 1999, Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that proceedings on No. a17, if not previously concluded should be brought to a conclusion at 1 p.m. The speech of the Taoiseach and the main spokespersons for Fine Gael and Labour, who shall be called upon in that order, should not exceed 20 minutes in each case, while the speech of other Members shall not exceed ten minutes. Members may share time. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment shall be called upon not later than 12.50 p.m. to make a speech in reply, which will not exceed ten minutes.
Order of Business.
Is the proposal for dealing with No. a17 agreed? Agreed.
What has happened the White Paper on Defence? The Taoiseach is very ready to appear in photographs with the Defence Forces and the flack jacket has become the favoured fashion accessory of the Government. In April the Taoiseach promised that the White Paper would be published in July. In October he promised publication in December and in a statement in December he promised it would be published the following week. However, the White Paper has not yet been published.
The question was raised yesterday on the Order of Business.
Deputy Fitzgerald asked the question yesterday and the answer has not changed overnight. We lost a few weeks over Christmas. The White Paper has been circulating in Departments and we hope it will be with the Government the week after next. I did say it would be available in December, and I regret not publishing it at that time. However, it will be available as soon as possible.
Is the Taoiseach aware that he first promised in April last year that it would be published in July of that year? He may have lost some weeks over Christmas for whatever reason, but he did not lose the entire summer. A Government that can lose weeks is quite good at altering time.
Does the Taoiseach intend coming to the House early next week to report progress in relation to the national talks on a successor to Partnership 2000? Does the Government intend having a debate in the House prior to the agreement, if there is one, being put to the various social partners for ratification?
The discussions are ongoing and I do not propose making a statement. Parliamentary questions on the matter have been tabled and I will give an update next week. The normal course is that the agreement is debated at some stage and it will be debated in line with the precedent which has been established over previous years.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Does he agree that, given the evolution of social partnership, the debate in this House should take place before any final ratification is sought from the social partners? In view of the increasing legislative commitments which such agreements entail, does he see a role for the House in expressing its view in the context of the social partners expressing their views?
Yes, and as far as I recall, this is what has happened previously, certainly in relation to the PCW, as I remember contributing to the debate. However, I do not recall the precise timing of that debate. However, the House has a view to express.
In March 1999 I moved a Private Members' Bill on activity centres, the spirit and intent of which was accepted by the Government which did not oppose it. The Minister promised that he would try to have legislation in place before the summer recess last year. Will the Taoiseach raise the matter with the new Minister who will be appointed to the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources and ensure the legislation and regulations are put in place as soon as possible? The Taoiseach might indicate where it appears on the legislative programme.
There was a report on this matter last year and the Deputy is correct about what was stated at that time. The heads of a Bill are being prepared by the Department. It is major legislation which will establish a regulatory regime for safety in adventure activities and provide for the establishment of a statutory authority. The heads of the Bill are expected shortly and it is hoped the legislation will be passed by the middle of the year.
The Minister for the Environment and Local Government is a great reformer and promised the local government reform Bill before the local elections, then subsequent to them, in the autumn, before Christmas and in January. When will the Bill be published?
The Government lost another few weeks.
For the past year and a half there has been much talk about putting in place an effective solution to tackling the deafness compensation claims which have cost millions of pounds. Not £1 has been negotiated in terms of reducing legal fees being charged and neither has effective compensation been agreed to. I raised it on a number of occasions and was informed that there would be no legislation. According to the new legislative programme which has been published, there will be legislation in the middle of this year and this postpones another effective solution for several more months. Will he clarify what is happening in regard to this issue?
The nature of the legislation is not a matter for the Order of Business.
Is there legislation? Has the Taoiseach changed his mind in relation to this.
There is legislation, the Defences Forces hearing loss compensation Bill, which is intended to underpin the decision of the Supreme Court on this matter. The heads of the Bill are expected next month and the legislation in March.
There has been a change in the decision not to tackle the matter.
We have to underpin the Supreme Court decision.
Given yesterday's Supreme Court judgment in the case brought by Mr. Anthony Coughlan which confirmed RTE's unfair and discriminatory practice of allocating party political broadcasts during referenda, will the Government bring forward legislation to address the issues highlighted by this ruling?
Is legislation promised?
We must and will consider yesterday's judgment.
Yesterday the Taoiseach informed the House that the Finance Bill would be published on 10 February. Is the finalisation of the drafting of the Bill contingent on the outcome of the partnership talks?
The Minister for Finance has already brought forward major parts of the Bill before Cabinet and the entire legislation will be published on 10 February in the normal manner.
That is not the question I asked. Is the finalisation of the drafting contingent on the outcome of the partnership talks?
Every year Finance Bills can be amended along the way. However, if there are no partnership talks or no conclusion, there will still be a Finance Bill.
The Taoiseach is still not answering the question.
I cannot answer the question until somebody puts a proposal.
The answer is yes, maybe.
The legislation will be dealt with in the normal way.
I thought the Taoiseach was in a generous mood. The answer is yes but he cannot let it out.
In the context of growing concern at the rise in racism and racist attacks, does the Government have any plans to review the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act under which it is alleged no prosecutions have taken place since its enactment in 1989? Does it need to be reformed? If so, does the Government have any plans in that regard?
It is a question for the Minister whether there is a review. However, it might be news to the Deputy, but the Minister has launched a campaign to try to curb any racial tendencies that exist. That campaign is receiving widespread support.
By not letting them in.
The campaign would be more effective than amending a law.
Yesterday the Department of Education and Science announced that two Bills were imminent, one to deal with a tribunal for industrial schools and child abuse and the other to establish a teaching council; they will be published within one and two weeks, respectively. Are these firm Government commitments or is it cupboard clearing by a Minister intent on going elsewhere?
Both Bills are due this session.
An fhaid is atá an Rialtas i mbun navel-gazing tá dúlra na tíre á scrios ó lá go lá. I ask a question on legislation, An Bille Fiadhúlra (Leasú), 1999. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, 1999, was introduced before Christmas but seems to have disappeared. Given the Glen of the Downs issue and the fact that Dúchas has been shown to have provided wrong advice, that Bill should come before the House again urgently.
The Deputy is making a statement. He should ask a question.
When will the Bill be reintroduced?
It has already been published.
Published is no good.
It is just a matter of scheduling it in the House.
(Dublin West): In a speech in Ballinasloe during the weekend before last the Minister for Public Enterprise signalled legislation providing for the privatisation of bus and rail services. Has the Government prepared such legislation? Has the Taoiseach any plans to change the name of the Department because if the Minister's enthusiasm for privatisation continues there will be no public enterprises left for her to preside over?
I aim to be redundant.
(Dublin West): She is beginning to make Mrs. Thatcher look like a liberal.
The Deputy is making a statement.
(Dublin West): Legislation was promised outside the House on the issue. I asked the Taoiseach a legitimate question.
There is no legislation.
In light of this morning's announcement to give additional powers to the Labour Court, is the Trade Union Recognition Bill gone?
The legislation is under preparation.
Will the Taoiseach schedule an early debate on the national stadium project? Will he publish all the documentation that informed the Government's decision?
That is a matter for the Whips.
This is a large project and many people think it is a white elephant. It should be debated in the House.
That matter must be decided by the Whips.
Given the unprecedented substance and nature of preparation of the recent DIRT inquiry report by the Committee of Public Accounts, will the Taoiseach outline the arrangements for the debate and whether it will allow dialogue between members of the committee and other Members of the House in order to improve public understanding of the implications of the recommendations of the committee or will it just be a take note debate which tends to get nowhere in particular?
The Minister for Finance, through a number of committees, is examining the report comprehensively to ascertain what legislative and other proposals are necessary and that has been ongoing since it was published. The chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts has spoken to the Government Chief Whip about the arrangements for the debate and I agree that they should be satisfactorily worked out so that the debate is meaningful.
Will the Government Chief Whip consult the Opposition parties formally as well as the committee?