I thank the Regional Group of Deputies for moving the motion in the House this evening. I am pleased to inform the House that the Government supports the motion and is fully committed to enacting the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 as soon as possible. The importance the Government attaches to this legislation is reflected in our commitment to enact it in the current programme for Government and I look forward to working with all Deputies in the House in delivering on this commitment.
It would be remiss of me to refer to the successful passage of this important Bill through the Houses to date without acknowledging the considerable contribution of former Senator, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and his team. As principal sponsor of the Bill when it was introduced to the Seanad as a Private Members' Bill at the end of 2018, he worked tirelessly and co-operatively with my predecessor the former Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and other stakeholders in steering the Bill through the Seanad with cross party and Government support. It is also important that I acknowledge the valuable contribution of the former Minister, Deputy Flanagan, in moving necessary amendments to the Bill and allowing it to be moved in the Dáil through its adoption as a Government Bill at the end of 2019.
The Government has been supportive of the Bill to date, in the Thirty-second Dáil and Thirty-third Dáil, and I assure the House the Government and I will continue to accord the Bill the importance and priority it merits by working to achieve its enactment as soon as possible. In this connection, my officials have consulted widely with other Departments and offices on this Bill and we are working with the Office of the Attorney General on preparing proposed Committee Stage amendments. These are mainly technical amendments to references in the Schedule to the Bill and I look forward to bringing a memorandum to the Government on this matter in advance of Committee Stage.
As the Deputies may be aware, Committee Stage was initially scheduled for the Bill in the Dáil on 22 January but the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Thirty-second Dáil on 14 January 2020. Now that we have formed a new Government, I am delighted to confirm the Bill has been restored to the Dáil Order Paper and that it has full Government support regarding the prospect of its early passage through the House to enactment.
Of course, notwithstanding the eagerness I share with Deputies here this evening in speedily progressing the Bill, the House will appreciate that the Government and I will need to be mindful of the advice of the Attorney General in ensuring the Bill holds up to legal scrutiny as we progress it through the outstanding legislative stages.
In terms of the motion before the House, I should also note that the establishment of a select committee is a matter for the relevant House and the priority given to Committee Stage of a Bill is a matter for the relevant committee and chairperson. That said, I wish to place on record my support for the early establishment by the House of a select committee on justice. Moreover, in accordance with the motion before the House, I would welcome any decision by a newly-established select committee to afford priority to the Bill in determining the scheduling of its business in the autumn session.
It is never acceptable to lie on oath or, for that matter, when undergoing any formal legal proceeding, and the Bill is a significant legislative mechanism that will not only provide for considerable penalties against those who commit the offence of perjury or related offences but also have a substantial deterrent effect regarding the making of fraudulent claims or statements by those persons who may be minded to do so. Historically, we know the offence of perjury has proven difficult to prosecute under the common law and the number of successful prosecutions tend to be in single figures in any given year. However, history also tells us, and Deputies have clearly pointed to this, that all too frequently some people have deliberately made false statements or lied in official legal proceedings which has materially affected the course of justice. I join with Deputies throughout the House in championing the Bill as a bulwark against such deceitful and fraudulent conduct and actions.
When enacted, the Bill will provide a clear definition of perjury and, simply put, it should enable this offence and related offences to be more easily prosecuted in the courts.
The Bill will provide clear direction to the courts in respect of the necessary penalties to be applied regarding the nature of the offence that is being prosecuted. The penalties in the Bill are in line with those of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 regarding false evidence and fraudulent claims. Assuming the Bill is enacted, the maximum penalty on summary conviction is a class B fine or term of imprisonment of up to 12 months. The maximum penalty on indictment for which a person may be liable on conviction under this legislation is a term of imprisonment of ten years and-or a fine of €100,000. This sends a clear message to any potential abusers of court time that making deliberate false statements across legal and other proceedings, if it is proven to be the case, will not go unpunished and may result in serious consequences for the individual concerned. I am confident that this Bill will go a long way in deterring those who may be considering providing dishonest evidence during legal proceedings. It should be noted that the penalties provided for in section 13 of the Bill are penalty and sentencing maximum ceilings and they serve a judge in determining an appropriate sanction. The judge clearly has a discretion to impose a sanction on a person convicted under this legislation below that ceiling, depending on the judge's view of the gravity of the offence.
The Bill also consolidates other relevant legislation in the area of perjury and knowingly making false statements in formal legal proceedings. The deterrent effect of the legislation, which Deputies have mentioned, is likely to be considerable and a very welcome development, especially in the insurance area. This is one of a number of measures dealing with insurance issues, insurance fraud and exaggerated claims. Concentrating on insurance reform is one of the key priorities of the Government and for me as Minister, and addressing this area is one of the core elements of the programme for Government. The Government is keenly aware that insurance costs at present are a very significant issue for businesses, motorists, households and a range of sporting, community and voluntary groups. The Government will continue to prioritise reform of the insurance sector with particular emphasis on motor, public liability and employer liability. Recently, a number of Ministers led by the Tánaiste met with representatives in these areas to progress tackling the insurance issue across the Departments it falls under, including the Department of Justice and Equality.
The House will be aware that the programme for Government commits to establishing a Cabinet sub-committee to deal urgently with insurance reform. More specifically regarding the matter of insurance fraud, in which prosecutions may be brought upon enactment of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill, the Government has committed to increasing co-ordination and co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the insurance industry. We will seek to expand the Garda Economic Crime Bureau which deals with fraud and we will ensure the relevant fraudulent claims are forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Additionally, insurance fraud data will be published to allow us to analyse this area with a view to taking the appropriate actions to address any pertinent issues. The Bill, when enacted, will be an important measure in countering insurance fraud and the compensation culture and high cost of insurance that it fuels. Hopefully, it will support many in our constituencies who have been impacted by this in recent months.
Of course, it will also have a general application in other areas where statutory statements and declarations are required. It will serve as a clear message to anybody engaged in legal proceedings that the person must be mindful of the need to tell the truth and that any deliberate departure from the truth may have serious consequences in terms of the level of sanctions and penalties that will be at the judge's discretion to impose.
I reiterate that the Government and I share the sense of importance and priority that the Regional Group, through the motion before the House, attaches to this Bill and its early enactment. I share the objective of seeing Committee Stage scheduled and passed before 31 October this year, subject to parliamentary scheduling decisions, and I look forward to the enactment of the Bill before the end of this year.
With regard to the Labour Party amendment that has been put forward, I have no difficulty if the House wishes to support it. It calls for the inclusion of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 with the current Bill proposed here this evening. That Bill has been progressed by Deputy Howlin and there has been constructive engagement with Deputy Howlin and the Labour Party on it. I would like to see this enacted too as a matter of priority before the end of the year. However, I stress that the establishment of the relevant committee is obviously not in my gift, nor is how a chairman of that committee might identify what is first, second or third on the agenda, but I strongly support bringing forward both Bills to Committee Stage and their enactment before the end of the year.
I thank the Regional Group for tabling this important motion. It has the Government's support and I look forward to updating the House on future developments on this and many other areas, in particular with regard to our objectives in tackling insurance concerns.