I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission came into existence on 1 January 2004 under the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003. The founding commission legislation in 2003 led, in summary, to two consequences. The first was that the commission became the sanctioning authority for expenditure, for deciding on staff numbers up to the grade of principal officer, and for the provision of services and related matters to the Oireachtas. The second was that the system for the allocation of budgets to the Oireachtas changed from the annual Civil Service Estimates and Vote procedure to a different process involving a three-year budget drawn from the Central Fund. The new budget is set every three years following negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The budget is approved at political level by the commission and the amending legislation is passed by both Houses.
Under the terms of the inaugural commission Act, a three-year budget covering the period from 2004 to 2006 was provided for the commission. Further Acts were enacted in 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015. A new Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act is now required as a matter of priority as the financing provided under the 2015 Act expires as of 31 December next.
As Members will be aware, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission oversees the provision of services to the Houses and their Members by the Houses of the Oireachtas Service - the parliamentary administration - in accordance with the commission Acts. The primary functions of the commission are to provide for the running of the Houses of the Oireachtas, to act as governing body of the service, to consider and determine policy relating to the service, and to oversee the implementation of that policy by the Secretary General. The commission is not responsible for the management and day-to-day operations of the Houses. The Secretary General has overall responsibility for these functions in accordance with the commission Acts. The commission does not set the level of remuneration payable to Members of the Houses. Salaries, pensions and allowances are determined by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The commission is accountable to the Parliament and presents annual reports of its work to both Houses together with Estimates and accounts of its expenditure.
The Houses of the Oireachtas Service is the public service body that administers the Houses of the Oireachtas on behalf of the commission as the governing authority. The functions of the service are set out in legislation. They can be broadly summarised as the provision of professional advice and support services to the commission, the Houses and their committees and Members of the Houses.
The primary purpose of this Bill is to make available the funding for the commission over the coming three years. The Bill proposes to make available to the commission a sum not exceeding €422.27 million to carry out its functions for the three-year period from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2021. This sum has been agreed between the commission and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and takes into account foreseen expenditure over the three-year period. The figure of €422.27 million over three years comprises €149 million in 2019, €136 million in 2020 and €137 million in 2021 and represents a €53 million or 14% increase on the 2016 to 2018 allocation.
The major elements of the increase sought relate to a once-off general election allocation of some €9 million; supporting Dáil reform measures, which resulted in an increase in staffing and for the extension of the committee support; the provision for financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, pay restoration measures; and the delivery of a three-year Oireachtas digital transformation programme, which has been costed at €22 million. The Estimates for 2020 and 2021 show a decrease from the 2019 levels due primarily to a reduction in general election related costs.
While the funding issue is, as I have said, the primary purpose of the Bill, this opportunity is also being taken to have a number of amendments of a more technical nature made. I will now provide Deputies with details of the amendments involved. Section 1 defines the principal Act as referred to in the Bill. Section 2 amends the definitions of "Officer of the Houses of the Oireachtas" and "Oireachtas Committee" used in the principal Act.
Section 3 contains a number of amendments to section 4 of the principal Act. These include the clarification of the current position regarding amendments to the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) Act 1962, which enables the granting of secretarial facilities to Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and a provision to enable the commission to make fiscal and economic advice and information available to members of the Oireachtas and to Oireachtas committees. This is to provide a statutory underpinning for the work of the Parliamentary Budget Office, which provides this service as part of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service under the commission. Other amendments include a provision for a review of An Caighdeán Oifigiúil, which is the official standard of the Irish language to be used in legislation, to provide for a maximum review period of ten years, and a new provision that enables the commission to initiate, defend or seek to participate in legal proceedings without the prior authorisation from the Houses of the Oireachtas in specified circumstances.
Section 4 amends section 5 of the principal Act to provide funding for expenditure incurred by the commission during the period of three years from 1 January 2019. The amount of funding for that period is capped at €422,270,000.
Section 5 provides for the establishment within the Houses of the Oireachtas Service of an office to be known as the Parliamentary Budget Office.
Section 6 provides for the establishment within the Houses of the Oireachtas Service of an office to be known as the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers.
Section 7 amends Schedule 1 to the principal Act so as to include the single public service pension scheme for members of staff of the commission and Members of the Oireachtas.
Section 8 sets out the Short Title, collective citation and commencement date for the Bill which I commend to the House.