That, in accordance with the recommendation of the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform under Standing Order 107(1)(a), the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business be amended in Standing Order 149 by the insertion of the following paragraphs:
‘(3) The Committee Stage consideration of any Bill which falls within Articles 127(4) and 282(5) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (in this Standing Order referred to as a “relevant” Bill), shall not be taken by Dáil Éireann, or any Committee thereof, unless and until the outcome of consultation with the European Central Bank, as outlined in this Standing Order, has been reported to the Dáil.
(4) In the case of a relevant private member’s Bill, the relevant Select Committee under Standing Order 84A, shall–
(a) consult the European Central Bank and in so doing shall specify a time limit for submission of the Bank’s opinion to the Committee as provided for in Council Decision 98/415/EC (in this Standing Order referred to as “the relevant Council Decision”), and
(b) consider any advisory opinions received from the European Central Bank and report on such consideration to Dáil Éireann.
(5) In the case of relevant Government Bills, the outcome of the consultation shall be reported to the Dáil in the course of the Second Stage speech of the relevant Minister: Provided that if the report is not made in the course of that speech, the Minister may lay a report before the Dáil with the outcome of the consultation.
(6) Where the European Central Bank requests an extension of the time limit specified by a Select Committee, as provided for in the relevant Council Decision, the Select Committee shall give the request due consideration.
(7) Where the time limit specified by a Select Committee for submission of the opinion of the European Central Bank (or any extension of time granted by the Committee under paragraph (6)) has expired, the absence of an opinion from the Bank on the expiry of such time limit shall not prevent the Committee from proceeding with its consideration of the Bill: Provided that any opinion received thereafter shall be brought to the attention of the Committee and shall be laid before the Dáil by the Chairman of the Select Committee.’
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion this evening. It is fair to say that the need for it arises because of the nature of the Oireachtas since the last election. We all accept that we are operating in a new politics and Standing Orders must evolve to deal with situations which would not have arisen in the past. The particular issue being addressed in this motion arose in the context of the Central Bank (Variable Rate Mortgages) Bill 2016 put forward by Deputy Michael McGrath and the obligation to consult the European Central Bank, ECB, on legislation of this nature. The House will recall that the Minister for Finance undertook to consult with the Attorney General on the topic. The Minister subsequently wrote to the Ceann Comhairle regarding the matter and this motion to amend Standing Orders is the outcome.
In summary, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union confers an advisory function on the ECB with regard to draft legislative provisions within its fields of competence and an obligation on legislators to consult the ECB. The relevant articles of the treaty are clear. Among other things, Article 127(4) provides, “The European Central Bank shall be consulted by national authorities regarding any draft legislative provision in its fields of competence, but within the limits and under the conditions set out by the Council in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 129(4).” Article 282(5) provides, “Within the areas falling within its responsibilities, the European Central Bank shall be consulted on all proposed Union acts, and all proposals for regulation at national level, and may give an opinion.”
The ECB has issued a useful guide on the topic which is available on its website. The guide makes it clear that national parliaments have to decide on the basis of their own rules of procedure how to comply with the obligation to submit for the ECB’s prior opinion on draft legislative provisions which have been proposed by one or more of their members and which fall within the ECB’s fields of competence. This motion provides for an amendment to Standing Orders which will ensure parliamentary consultation with the ECB as obliged under the EU treaties. The ECB guide notes that the obligation to consult is designed to operate as a preventative system to forestall problems of potentially incompatible or inconsistent national legislation with EU treaties or the European System of Central Banks Statute. However, it should be noted that ECB opinions do not have binding force. Nevertheless, the consultation must take place when the legislative provision is still at a draft stage and, more particularly, at a stage when the ECB’s opinion can usefully be taken into consideration by national authorities involved in the preparation and adoption of legislation. Accordingly, it is considered that prior to Committee Stage is the appropriate stage to consult with the ECB.
As Deputies are aware, usually with a Government Bill the consultation will take place when the Bill is being prepared and section (5) acknowledges this. However, in the case of a Private Members' Bill, to date there has not been a process in place which would ensure that the ECB is consulted when appropriate. Therefore, the amendment sets out a process which ensures that a Bill which has passed Second Stage is not given Committee Stage consideration until the ECB has been consulted.
It ensures that the relevant committee will undertake this consultation and provides it will specify a time limit for the ECB response, preventing unnecessary delays in the consideration of the Bill. It should be remembered that the obligation is on the country and the national authorities to consult.
I consider that the motion is a proportionate response to the new political reality that Private Members' Bills have a greater chance of being passed into law. It puts in place a process to ensure that our obligations to consult with the ECB are met. When the ECB has responded to the committee, the committee will consider the opinion of the ECB and report on this consideration to the Dáil. Once this report has been made, Committee Stage of the Bill can proceed.
I consider that this amendment to Standing Orders should ensure that Bills are better developed and considered when they come to Committee Stage and that a broader perspective will have been achieved, as well as actually ensuring that our obligations are met. I commend the motion to the House.