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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 7 Jul 1988

Vol. 120 No. 14

Forestry Bill, 1988: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, line 5, after "Finance", to insert "and on foot of an order made under this Act."

It is my view that this technical amendment is needed. There is a technical defect in the subsection.

As I explained on Committee Stage, section 9 (3) is an enabling provision designed to give the company flexibility in regard to its future development while at the same time allowing the Minister for Energy, and the Minister for Finance, in view of their shareholding in the company and their responsibilities to it, a necessary input into this development. The subsection, therefore, embraces the twin concepts of flexibility and, as I described it on Committee Stage, a safeguard in that it is only reasonable that the two major shareholders in the company would have an important say in its general development. The safeguard to which I have referred is thus not intended to prevent anything in particular from happening but rather to ensure that the Ministers in question have adequate powers to discharge this role. A decision to become a public limited company is a major one affecting the development of Coillte Teoranta and should not be left to the company alone. It may be asked why it is necessary to include this subsection in the Bill. It is included because section 21 (2) allows the Minister for Finance to sell his shares in the company. In essence it is, as I have said, a technical enabling provision, no more and no less, to cater for this possibility, with the additional advantage of providing for the consent of the two Ministers before the company could become a public limited one.

It has been suggested that section 9 (3) is designed to facilitate the privatisation of the company. With respect, such a view can only be based on a misreading of section 21 (2). When we discussed the earlier amendment on the latter subsection I made it clear that it was not intended as a means to privatise the company and that it would be unreasonable to put an absolute prohibition, contrary to the generality of State-sponsored body enactments, on the sale of shares by the Minister for Finance. Since section 21 (2) is not designed to privatise the company, it follows that this subsection, which as I have said is a technical enabling provision flowing from the existence of section 21 (2), has no similar intent. I would have to say, therefore, that having accepted the general thrust of the Bill in relation to the future development of the company and the role of the State in regard to it, it would be a regressive step to provide for the involvement of the Oireachtas in what is essentially a technical matter of detail, the possible reregistration of the company. In my view, the State's interest is fully protected in requiring the consent of two Ministers to such an eventuality. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I realise that when we discussed this matter on Second Stage and Committee Stage we recognised that this additional subsection to section 9 was an additional provision which is not included in the now famous Postal and Telecommunications Act, 1983. We were aware that that Act, in the Minister's own words, proved to be deficient in that under company law the Oireachtas or the Minister could not prevent a company set up under this procedure from privatisation and the company would not be required to consult with anybody. This additional provision states: "Nothing in this Act shall prevent the company from availing of any provisions of the Companies Acts enabling a private company to re-register as a public limited company, but such provisions may be availed of only with the approval of the Minister and the Minister for Finance". At least the approval of the Minister with responsibility for forestry and the Minister for Finance will now be needed. This was not the case previously because this additional provision was not included and that was negligent.

The Minister has assured me that this is a positive inclusion. It is now the Minister's prerogative to have this application made to him by the company and he and the Minister for Finance to insert this additional provision so that that would be done on foot of an order made under the Act. If the Minister makes an order it comes before the Houses of the Oireachtas and that gives us a say in the matter. Although I know that the Minister has offered forestries for sale without getting buyers for them ——

That is not true.

——he cannot convince me that he does not have some idea in the back of his mind that perhaps it would be in the best interests of the forestry if it was all sold off. I hope that some element of control is maintained. The Minister has confirmed that control will be maintained and that approval will not be given lightly and I accept that commitment from him. This is an additional safeguard which provides that it must be borne by order and that would give us an opportunity to debate it in the House. If the Minister does not accept this amendment I will have to formally request that my dissent be recorded because the Minister will not accept the amendment on the principle of democracy and consultation with the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Acting Chairman

Is the amendment withdrawn?

No. I would like the names of the Senators who are in favour of the inclusion of this additional phrase in section 9 (3) to be recorded.

Acting Chairman

The names of those Senators will be recorded in the Official Report. The Senators are: Senator Ferris, Senator O'Shea and Senator Harte.

The amendment has not been withdrawn but I am not calling a vote on it.

The provision is a technical one and the Senator is dealing with it on a technical basis.

Acting Chairman

The amendment must be disposed of and, therefore, it is withdrawn, by leave.

No. If you wish to go through the other procedure you can do so.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I wish to thank the Minister for his co-operation with those of us on this side of the House who had an interest in trying to improve the Bill. I thank him for his advice and guidance and his assurances on many sections. It is certainly appreciated.

I too wish to compliment the Minister and his staff on the work which they put into the preparation of this Bill and for establishing the new company. I hope that the discussion was worth while. Everybody participated in the belief that it would improve the Bill and that is why we put forward the amendments. I wish the Minister and the company every success. I am sure that, if they operate to their full potential, they will be a very worth while company.

I compliment the Minister on the introduction of this Bill. He has put great work into it and we found very few flaws in it. I am sure that, after the discussion on Committee Stage, the Opposition Members will appreciate that the Minister has done a very good job with the legislation. We wish it every success.

I thank Senator Reynolds, Senator Ferris, Sentor Kiely and indeed all Senators in the House for their co-operation throughout all Stages of the Bill. We have had a very forthright and open discussion, particularly on the main provision in the Bill. I thank Senators very sincerely for their support. We can all look forward to very good developments as far as the forest service is concerened. I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and your colleagues who have facilitated us in every way possible throughout the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

Will the Acting Leader of the House indicate when it is proposed to sit again?

As the House is aware, this morning we ordered the Local Government (Multi-Storey Buildings) Bill but I understand that the Minister responsible will not be available until Tuesday next to deal with it. It is proposed to meet next Tuesday at 12 noon and take the Killanin report, the Companies (No. 12) Bill and the Local Government (Multi-Storey Buildings) Bill. I understand the Minister who is going to take the motion on the Adjournment is not available yet and I propose that we adjourn the House for 15 minutes.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 3.5 p.m. and resumed at 3.20 p.m.