I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to introduce the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004. The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the management of the Civil Service to meet modern needs and requirements. Its main aim is to give Ministers and heads of office specific formal authority for the management of Civil Service staff.
It is a key requirement of any approach to management that those who are charged with directing an organisation or enterprise must have control over it. There is no point in expecting organisations to be efficient in the use of resources or effective in meeting their objectives, unless the managers of those organisations are in a position to supervise all aspects of the organisation and the work of the people employed in it.
The Civil Service Regulation Act, the legislation governing personnel management in the Civil Service, is nearly half a century old. The structures it established in the 1950s for control of the Civil Service by Ministers and the Government have served their purpose well, but they were framed in a very different world from that of today. The time has come for change. It is no longer tenable to require that Governments must take a decision to dismiss every civil servant, regardless of how junior, and to involve the Minister in charge of a Department in every disciplinary proceeding, whether it is a serious or a relatively minor matter.
Chief executives in private sector employment perform these personnel functions and a system of industrial relations law and practice is in place to provide reasonable checks and balances. The Civil Service should be brought into step with practice elsewhere in the economy, taking account of the special circumstances that apply to public service employment. Senior managers in the Civil Service should be allowed to exercise the same kind of authority and responsibility in the human resource area to make sure that their Departments and offices serve the public interest. This is the purpose of the present Bill.
The Bill is one of the last milestones on the road to implementation of the human resources programme set out in Delivering Better Government under the strategic management initiative. Under SMI, it was agreed that the public service must make a substantial contribution to national development, be efficient and effective in delivering high quality services to the public and establish a strategic approach to planning service delivery. The policy document Delivering Better Government expanded on this framework and extended the modernisation process from the Civil Service to the broader public service.
The framework of management of staff which will be put in place by this Bill was first identified in Delivering Better Government and sketched out, in principle, in the Public Service Management Act 1997. We are now in a position to give effect to the scheme of management which was first contemplated in 1996. The enactment of this Bill will throw the switch. However, it must be stressed that significant progress has been made in modernising the public service. The evaluation of the progress of the strategic management initiative in the Civil Service by PA Consulting in 2002 concluded that the Civil Service is a far more effective organisation today than it was a decade ago and that much of this change can be attributed to the initiative itself.
The planning and management system presented in the 1997 Act has played a large part in achieving this. For example, the introduction of strategy statements based on the development of business plans for Departments has clarified their roles and objectives, and has allowed them to allocate staff and other resources to meet those objectives. This has given organisations a much clearer view of how they should go about their business. However, the evaluation by PA Consulting also concluded that implementation remained incomplete and that accelerated progress was required, particularly in human resource management. The Bill makes a strong contribution in this area by implementing the key changes in personnel management originally presented in the 1997 Act.
The framework for the Bill has come from the senior managers in the Civil Service. The implementation group of Secretaries General established under the strategic management initiative endorsed a set of human resource policies which set out a comprehensive strategy to modernise human resource management in the Civil Service. Much of this strategy has been put into effect by administrative means. However, two important elements required legislation because of the nature of the changes required. The first, the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2003, was signed into law by the President recently and will enable the modernisation of recruitment practice in the Civil Service. This Bill is the second and final item of legislation. With its enactment, the Civil Service will have in place the range of reforms which the senior Civil Service has identified as essential to the effective management of Departments.
It is important to stress that the Bill, with the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2003, was agreed with the Civil Service unions in Sustaining Progress. In drawing up the proposals for legislation, the public service unions have been fully consulted about the measures. I am sure that the unions will work in conjunction with management to implement the reforms and make them fully effective. I also stress that the changes being introduced in this Bill are another clear indication that the benchmarking agreement set out in Sustaining Progress has been worthwhile and that real, practical changes are being made in the way the civil and public service operates and will continue to operate in the years ahead.
There have been complaints that there has been no reform in return for the implementation of the report of the benchmarking body in the Civil Service. The charge is that the unions took the pay increases and were asked for nothing substantial in return. The introduction of this legislation, a central part of the modernisation programme in Sustaining Progress, is one of the central elements in response to these criticisms. The other elements are verification of co-operation with flexibility and ongoing change, satisfactory implementation of the agenda for modernisation, maintenance of stable industrial relations and the absence of industrial action in respect of matters covered by the agreement. The Government sought and obtained real reforms as part of the price of the benchmarking awards. These reforms are now coming on stream. I am confident the Government and the public will see real dividends from the changes being put forward in the Bill and the other measures in the modernisation programme.
The measures in this Bill will be effective because they are straightforward. The Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2004 will amend the 1956 Act to allow the heads of Civil Service departments and offices to manage the middle-ranking and junior staff of those departments and offices without reference to Ministers or Government. It achieves this aim by specifying disciplinary powers in the human resources area in a clear and direct manner. I will shortly outline the main elements of the Bill for the benefit of Deputies, but the essence of the Bill is contained in the proposal to make the Minister the appropriate authority in disciplinary matters for the grades of principal officer and above and to make the head of office the authority for the grades from assistant principal and below.
On the one hand, it could be argued that this is not a significant change. Of course it is the case that civil servants can be dismissed and disciplined. However, instead of these steps having to be considered by officials, Ministers and, in the case of dismissals, the Government, in what can often be a lengthy and complex process, the changes in the Bill will mean that both the responsibility and the necessary power lies with individual office holders. This is a simple but significant change. The delegation of disciplinary powers to senior managers in the Civil Service is a step which lies at the heart of the measures in the Bill and it is this which will ensure real progress in the way Departments manage human resource issues.
It must be put clearly on the record that most civil servants work well and efficiently in the public interest. In Ireland, we have a Civil Service with a long tradition of honesty, impartiality and integrity which is exercised for the benefit of the country. Every working day, I am conscious of the huge commitment of the staff I meet in Departments and offices. This is my experience of staff at all levels of the Civil Service. I am sure Deputies will endorse this view. However, where it is clear that there is a problem, underperformance must be tackled quickly. The Bill will allow managers to apply appropriate sanctions to the small number of civil servants who do not perform their duties to an acceptable standard. I do not want to give the impression that the point of this Bill is to allow Ministers or Secretaries General to discipline or dismiss people without fair and reasonable procedures being followed. There is a wider human resource dimension to the measures the Government is now introducing that must be taken into account.
A modern, professional Civil Service requires professional human resource management. A working environment must be created which allows staff to perform to the best of their ability. In line with the best human resource practice, staff must be encouraged and supported in their work. Much has happened in this area. The introduction of the performance management development system is now well advanced in reviewing work done and planning what must be done in light of the Department's business plan and strategy statement. Following the agreement in Sustaining Progress, discussions are under way with the staff unions on how best to use PMDS in assessing individual performance. In line with best HR practice, the full introduction of PMDS will help to create the systems and procedures needed to support management in implementing the new powers contained in this Bill.
In cases where underperformance is an issue, the aim of Civil Service management will be to address it, in the first instance, by training or development. Indeed, the Bill stipulates that the manager may not proceed to apply sanctions unless he or she has tried and failed to raise performance to a specified level by means of training or development. However, if those measures are unsuccessful, the person may be subject to a wide range of sanctions, including reduction in pay, demotion and dismissal. I am sure Deputies will agree that an approach of this nature is essential to the effective functioning of any organisation.
I will now set out the main provisions of the Bill to give Deputies a broad overview of what is being proposed. The Public Service Management Act 1997 introduced the framework for modern management practices in the Civil Service. That Act established a framework within which, subject to the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956, managerial responsibility, including powers of dismissal, for staff below the level of principal officer would be given to Secretaries General. The Public Service Management Act 1997 also envisaged that Secretaries General could delegate most personnel functions, other than dismissal, to senior civil servants. However, the practical implementation of these powers and functions is constrained by the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956, which reserves most disciplinary functions to Ministers. In the term used by the Act to describe the person who exercises the powers set out in the legislation, the Minister is said to be the appropriate authority.
This Bill will remove the constraint on the implementation of the Public Service Management Act 1997 framework by making each Secretary General the appropriate authority for civil servants below principal officer level. This will mean that he or she will be responsible for managing all matters pertaining to the appointments, performance management, discipline and dismissal of those civil servants. The Minister in charge of the Department will continue to be the appropriate authority for civil servants at and above principal officer level. To protect those civil servants who are dismissed by a Minister or a Secretary General, the Bill will extend the scope of the Unfair Dismissals Acts to those officers. In view of the changes being made in the Bill, it is appropriate that civil servants have the same right of appeal against dismissal as a person employed in the private sector. In addition, in order to remove inconsistency between the rights of civil servants and the rights of private sector employees, the Bill will bring civil servants within the scope of the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts. This initiative will give civil servants the same rights to notice of dismissal as private sector employees.
The range of possible disciplinary sanctions, which now comprise reduction in pay, reduction in rank and dismissal, will be broadened to include suspension without pay. Civil Service managers considered that this was an important and appropriate addition to the range of measures available. The penalty of suspension without pay will be distinct from the current power to suspend a civil servant pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation. That power will continue to be used in cases where allowing the accused officer to remain at work while the investigation is under way might prejudice the operation of a Department or office. One notable change, which will be effected by the Bill, is that the hardship payments made to civil servants who are on suspension without pay pending an investigation may be varied or halted. This is being done to ensure the appropriate authority can change or stop the payment if circumstances justify that. The full range of disciplinary sanctions, which may now be used only in cases of culpable misbehaviour, will be available in cases where underperformance cannot be remedied. Every effort will be made to raise performance to a satisfactory standard, but the sanctions will be available where these measures fail. Detailed procedures will be issued by the Department of Finance for the use of sanctions against underperformance, and these will be discussed with the unions representing Civil Service staff interests. The Bill will also increase the options available to Civil Service managers. It will allow managers to engage civil servants for fixed terms and specific projects.
In addition to these major reforms which will have universal application in the Civil Service, I take the opportunity presented by the Bill to make a number of legislative changes which will improve administration in specific areas of the Civil Service. To this end, the Bill will amend the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 to facilitate the delegation of authority in matters relating to appointments, performance management and discipline of staff in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions from the Taoiseach to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Given the new framework being outlined in the Bill, it is no longer appropriate that the Taoiseach should be the authority for staff in that office and the Bill will rectify this.
The Bill also amends the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 and the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 to transfer responsibility for local State solicitors from the Attorney General to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Most of the work of these solicitors is done on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions and it is a more rational assignment of responsibility to have them report to the DPP than the current arrangement. This arises from a recommendation of the Nally report in 1999 in which the study group found that the vast bulk of the work carried out by local State solicitors was prosecution work. The Bill will also amend the Presidential Establishment Act 1938 to change the title of the "secretary to the President" to "Secretary General to the President", and the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 to effect some minor drafting and technical amendments to that Act such as the listing of Eirgrid.
I will describe the Bill's provisions in detail. Section 1 contains provisions naming the Act as the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2004 and requiring that the Act be read as one with the previous Civil Service Regulation Acts. As the Unfair Dismissals Acts and the Minimum Notice Acts are also amended, there are similar provisions for those Acts.
Section 2 provides for the commencement of the provisions of the Act. The Act, other than Parts 6 and 7, will come into operation in whole or in part on a day or days appointed by order of the Minister for Finance. Part 6, which relates to the Director of Public Prosecutions, will come into operation on such day or days as the Taoiseach may appoint by order or orders. Part 7, which relates to pensions provisions, is deemed to have come into operation on 1 April 2004.
Sections 3 and 4 define terms which are used in the Bill. Section 5 allows the Government to designate a person to be the head of a scheduled office in a case where one has not been appointed and provides that only the Government may dismiss a head of a scheduled office.
Section 6 replaces section 2 of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. The effect of this is to delegate the power to discipline civil servants, with the exception of those who are appointed by Government, from the political to the administrative level. In general, Ministers in charge of a Department or office will be the authority for staff in that office at and above the level of principal officer while the administrative head will be the authority for staff below that level. An important exception will be the personal staff of Ministers. Regardless of their grade, these staff will be subject to the authority of the Minister they serve. This is being provided because these assistants and advisers are personally appointed by Ministers and it would not be appropriate to involve senior civil servants in the application of discipline in these cases.
The powers which are delegated to Secretaries General under this section may be delegated, in turn, to other civil servants within the Department. This is already provided for in the Public Service Management Act 1997. Whether and how to delegate is a matter for the Secretary General but it is not difficult to envisage the circumstances in which it would be reasonably appropriate. Many Departments and offices are large organisations in which thousands of civil servants work in dozens of locations. Deputies will see that there will be a need to delegate disciplinary authority to a manager closer to the individual civil servant than the Secretary General of the Department in terms both of physical location and position in the management structure.
Section 7 replaces section 5 of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. The new section provides that the Government is the dismissing authority for all established civil servants but provides that the Government may delegate that authority. In general, the Minister in charge of a Department may dismiss a civil servant at or above the rank of principal officer on the written recommendation of the Secretary General of that Department. The Secretary General may dismiss any civil servant below the rank of principal officer. The personal staffs of Ministers are an exception. Regardless of their grade, these members of staff will be subject to dismissal by the Minister they serve. Another exception is the chief executive of the Courts Service who will be subject to dismissal by the board of the Courts Service. As the Constitution requires the strict separation of Executive and judicial powers, it is necessary to ensure the dismissal of the chief executive of the Courts Service should not be a matter for decision by either the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the Government.
Section 7 also provides for the appointment of civil servants for a fixed term or for the duration of a particular project. This will allow Secretaries General the flexibility to engage people for specific periods or jobs. It is an important new flexibility in the management of the Civil Service.
Section 8 allows for the recruitment of persons over the age of 65. While civil servants recruited before 1 April 2004 have a mandatory retirement age of 65 years, this provision will allow them to apply for jobs in the Civil Service after they have retired. If they are successful, they will be subject to the same terms and conditions as any other civil servant recruited after 1 April 2004, that is, they will have no mandatory retirement age. The sole exception to this rule is the Prison Service which will remain subject to a mandatory retirement age. The section will also allow any other person aged 65 and over to apply for positions in the Civil Service. The removal of arbitrary restrictions on the employment of people because of their age alone is an important reform which will generate opportunities for people over the age of 65 and increase the pool of expertise at a time when there are increased labour market pressures.
Section 9 allows Secretaries General to vary or stop a subsistence payment which is being made to a civil servant who is suffering financial difficulty during a period of suspension without pay while a disciplinary investigation is being conducted. This discretion is necessary because circumstances can change in the course of a suspension. For example, if it becomes clear that an officer under investigation has significant additional income, it will obviously be right to stop or vary the subsistence payment. If an officer under investigation were to be subject to increased hardship because the investigation went on for longer than planned, then it would be right to increase the level of the payment.
Section 10 provides the range of disciplinary measures available to management. Currently, these measures are limited to demotion and reduction in pay. This section will add suspension without pay to that list. This measure is distinct from the suspension which precedes an investigation in that it will be a penalty in its own right. It will give managers the option of removing disruptive influences from a workplace and of imposing a penalty which gives a clear and public signal within the workplace that an infraction has been dealt with. The section also provides that penalties may be mitigated or stopped at the discretion of the appropriate authority. The civil servant on whom it is proposed to impose a penalty has the statutory right to make representations on his or her behalf before the penalty will be imposed. In addition, a disciplinary code is in place in the Civil Service which ensures that accused officers get a fair hearing, adequate representation and a chance to have any disciplinary proceedings reviewed by an independent appeals board which can recommend that the proposed penalty be amended or dropped. The Civil Service disciplinary code is currently being reviewed and it will be the subject of discussion with the unions representing civil servants in the course of the review. The purpose of the review is to ensure the code offers management an effective set of procedures for investigating allegations of misconduct while ensuring the accused officer gets the benefit of the highest standard of natural justice.
Section 10 will also allow managers to apply disciplinary measures against staff who underperform. These measures may only be applied when coaching, training and other developmental tools have failed to achieve a significant improvement.
The intention is to provide a set of measures that can be used as a last resort, not to relieve managers of their obligation to support and encourage staff in working to the best of their ability. When these sanctions are being applied, it must be clear that managers have done their best to manage their staff before the question of sanctions arises.
It would be unreasonable to expect management to exercise the new power without adequate guidance. Accordingly, new internal procedures will be put in place to assist managers in tackling underperformance. Work has begun in the Department of Finance on this. The issues will also be discussed with the Civil Service unions. However, I stress that the procedures will be issued quickly. We cannot allow a situation develop whereby powers on the Statute Book cannot be used because discussions on guidance documents drag on.
Section 10 introduces a new safeguard for civil servants who have been subject to some disciplinary sanction by protecting the superannuation benefits they accrued before the imposition of the sanction. At present, if a civil servant is demoted or has his or her pay reduced and he or she is not restored to his or her original rank or rate of pay before resignation or retirement, pension entitlements are based on the lower rank or rate of pay. It is unfair to deprive officers of entitlements they have earned prior to behaviour or performance that has merited sanction. Accordingly, it has been decided to introduce this protection which will ensure that the benefits and entitlements earned up to the date of the sanction are preserved.
Section 11 inserts a Schedule into the Civil Service Regulation Act which will provide for the operation of the amended Act in the Courts Service and the Houses of the Oireachtas. The effect of inserting the Schedule is to treat the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and the board of the Courts Service as Ministers of the Government for the purposes of the Act. That is to say, they will be the appropriate authority for civil servants at and above principal officer level. This is being provided because it would be inappropriate to involve Ministers in the administration of the Courts or the Houses.
Sections 12, 13 and 14 amend the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959 and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003 to bring their procedures into line with the general scheme of authority set out in this Bill. The amendments provide that the commission will be the dismissing authority for officers at principal level and above in the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas and that the Secretary General of the Houses of the Oireachtas will be the dismissing authority for officers below principal level.
Section 15 revokes provisions in other legislation for the delegation of the powers exercisable by a Minister of the Government under the Civil Service Regulation Acts 1956 to 1996. In general, the effect of these delegations will be achieved by the commencement of the Bill.
Section 16 introduces transitional arrangements to provide for the continuation of any proceedings, procedures or measures already commenced under sections 5 to 9, inclusive, and 13 to 16, inclusive, of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. Those sections relate to dismissing, reverting, retiring, suspending, disciplining and withholding remuneration from civil servants. This provision will ensure that any proceedings which are in train on commencement will continue as if the Act had not been commenced.
Sections 17 and 18 of the Bill provide for the extension of the Unfair Dismissals Act to civil servants who were not dismissed by Government. This will give those civil servants the right to appeal their dismissal on the same basis as employees in the private sector. Decisions of Government to dismiss civil servants are excluded from this extension because it is inappropriate to subject the decisions of Government to review by a tribunal that is equivalent to a lower court. However, this does not mean that those civil servants dismissed by Government will not have an avenue of appeal. It is a feature of our legal system that civil servants have the right to seek a judicial review in the High Court of an administrative decision that affects them. Nothing in the Bill will affect this right. Accordingly, a civil servant dismissed by Government will continue to be entitled to seek to have that decision reviewed by the High Court. The same is true of civil servants dismissed by a lesser authority than Government, although they must make a choice of pursuing their appeal through judicial review or the Unfair Dismissals Act. They may not use both channels.
Sections 19 to 22, inclusive, apply the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act to civil servants. This means that civil servants will have to be given between one and eight weeks' notice of their dismissal, depending on their length of service.
Section 23 provides for the changing of the title of Secretary to the President to "Secretary General to the President". Section 24 amends section 6 of the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 to provide for the transfer of responsibility for local State solicitors from the Attorney General to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This reflects actual managerial responsibility in that the State solicitors work under the aegis of the Director of Public Prosecutions rather than the Attorney General. Section 25 amends section 3 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 to reflect the transfer of responsibility effected by section 24 of the Bill. Section 26 provides the Director of Public Prosecutions with the power to direct local State solicitors to perform, on behalf of the director, any particular function of the director in any particular case. Section 27 provides the Director of Public Prosecutions with the power to appoint the staff of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Section 28 is a technical provision amending the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 to clarify the original wording of a provision in that Act. The section also inserts "EirGrid" into the bodies listed in Schedule 1 to that Act as a body to which the definition of "public service body" does not apply.
I emphasise that the Bill brings the management of the Civil Service into the 21st century by introducing a modern framework of administration. It is not an isolated initiative but a significant element of the programme of public service modernisation which was agreed with the public service unions in Sustaining Progress. It is a central part of the changes brought about by that agreement. For too long, the Civil Service has had to work with a legal framework designed for a different era. This Bill heralds an entirely new approach. I look forward to seeing the Civil Service implement these changes. I am confident that the improvements in human resource management will be noticeable and rapid and that the measures in the Bill will bring practice in the service into line with the best human resource methods that apply elsewhere in the economy. I welcome the Bill as an important public service modernisation measure and commend it to the House.