Chemicals (Amendment) Bill 2010: Report and Final Stages

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, lines 11 to 15, to delete all words from and including "(including" in line 11 down to and including "2007)" in line 15.

This issue is of fundamental importance. It has been a part of Labour Party policy for a significant number of years that amendments to primary legislation should be introduced through Bills that go before the Oireachtas, except in cases of extreme urgency. I appreciate this Bill has a degree of urgency but it is not of such extremity that we would permit amendments to primary legislation in the way which is to be effected through the format set out in the Bill.

The Government has for a long time pursued the opposite policy to that of the Labour Party and is creating even wider powers to make regulations and allow Acts to be amended with the stroke of a ministerial pen. I have a deep aversion to this practice. We need to halt the proliferation of powers to amend primary law through regulations and to ensure, in so far as is possible, that any amendments to primary law should come before the Oireachtas for debate and scrutiny. Very often, if legislation is amended in that fashion, widespread and significant implications that go beyond the tenor and thrust of the original legislation may slip into being. Laying legislation before the Oireachtas is one thing but permitting an appropriate and comprehensive debate which would permit it to be amended in whatever form is another.

We dealt with this in regard to the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill in 2000 and 2001. While it has nothing to do with the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, the Government gave a commitment that the 1966 Act would be amended and that codification and consolidation of the two Acts would take place. They never took place. Therefore, commitments given on the floor of the House may well be frank but they are less than wholesome in that everybody knows there is such pressure on the Parliamentary Counsel that, eventually, nothing happens. I particularly call to mind the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill because I was deeply involved in it and put forward amendments that curtailed draconian measures that were to be implemented, although significant measures had to be implemented at the time in the national interest, on which we all agreed. It is of grave concern to me that an opportunity would be availed of to implement a measure that is remote from the original intention of the Bill.

It is in this context I move the amendment. It is to send a signal that enough is enough. If we were in Government tomorrow, perhaps that is how matters would still happen, which I accept. However, I have a deep aversion to this, as the Minister of State will be aware, having spent time in committee with me. Given the Labour Party motion is before the Dáil at this time — it was moved by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on behalf of the party — this issue has to be taken on board in the context of ensuring the primacy of the Dáil in the introduction of the various legislative amendments. While it is easy to let them become merely a piece of paper and to nod them through, it is important that Members would get an opportunity to scrutinise and debate the issues. If we have to sit through the night, that will be done to ensure the will of the people is reflected in any measure that is brought forward.

I know the Minister of State would hold that view. He is introducing this Bill, although he may be going on to greater things and will leave this behind. I am sure the Minister of State will reply in his usual forthright fashion and say my concerns are not valid and are perhaps exaggerated. They are concerns, however, and he is not the first Minister or Minister of State to whom I have relayed them.

Deputy Penrose's concerns are certainly valid but they are catered for. As I said on Committee Stage, the checks and balances of the Oireachtas oversight of the regulations to be made under this Act are provided in section 36 of the primary Act, which requires and lays out that regulations and orders under that Act have to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas by the relevant Minister. Section 3B of this Bill has the effect of amending just one word of that Act by substituting "section" for "Act". The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel drafted this in such a way as to ensure the Act will be robust enough to enforce EU legislation on chemicals and to ensure the scope of regulation making powers under the Act cannot be extended. The scope is limited by section 5 of the principal Act and can only be changed by primary legislation. A Minister will only be empowered to make regulations where they are necessitated by a directive of the EU concerning chemicals. The limits to regulation making powers, which are provided for specifically in section 5(3)(a) of the principal Act and repeated in section 3(b) of this Bill, make it clear that any regulations made cannot amend the European Communities Act.

The Minister of State made sure he came well armed to defeat my arguments on Report Stage, although I think I raise a valid point. I will be withdrawing my amendment because he made it clear that the principal Act ensures the writ does not run large in terms of implementing European legislation. We are supposed to have a significant role under the Lisbon treaty in terms of parliamentary scrutiny of directives before they are put on the Statute Book but I am not sure the system is particularly effective in practice. I am concerned that we would continue to have an input into decisions made at European level.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.