Before this Stage begins I want to inform the House that amendment No. 5 has been ruled out of order for Report Stage as it does not arise out of Committee proceedings. Before we proceed with amendment No. 1, I would like to remind Senators that the proposer of an amendment may close the debate on that amendment but no other Senator may speak more than once on each amendment. Amendment No. 1 is a Government amendment, so I call on the Minister to speak on the amendment.
Child Care Bill, 1988: Report and Final Stages.
On a point of order, in relation to amendment No. 5, which is my amendment, it refers to matters that are at least implicitly referred to in the legislation and that is the question of how——
The only amendments appropriate to Report Stage must arise from the proceedings of Committee Stage. Unfortunately, there is no room for——
If I could explain, Sir. The substance of the Bill is about the promotion of the treatment——
That may or may not be relevant, but unfortunately I cannot allow an amendment to be discussed that does not arise from the Committee Stage of the Bill. The Chair's hands unfortunately are tied and I very much regret that I have to rule the amendment out of order.
I wanted to explain why I thought it should be included on the grounds that what we have here is an amendment that deals with identifying abuses and ill-treatment where they may occur.
I regret that I cannot be more lenient with you but it is not possible for me to allow you to question the ruling of the Chair. The Chair's hands are tied by virtue of the fact that this amendment did not arise out of Committee Stage and the Standing Orders in this area are very clear indeed.
I know that we are stuck for time and I am not going to pursue it any further. Reluctantly, I agree with the ruling and I do hope we will have an opportunity to say something on it on Fifth Stage.
The ruling is absolutely the only ruling I can give.
This amendment is a technical change which has been recommended by the parliamentary draftsman. Its purpose is simply to ensure that any reference in the Bill to the area of a health board would be taken to mean the functional area of the health board.
The House will recall that there was a lengthy discussion about this section on Committee Stage. I promised at that time to look at the section again in the light of the points made. As a result of that consideration I am bringing forward this amendment. The purpose of the amendment is to substitute an entire new section for the present section 5 of the Bill. The essential change provided for in the amendment is the deletion of the pre-condition of paragraph (2) of the existing draft, that a health board must be satisfied that a homeless child is unable to provide or arrange accommodation for himself. I am happy to do this in the light of the case made by Senator Ryan and others on Committee Stage.
The purpose of this amendment is to give effect to a commitment I gave on Committee Stage that homeless children would be among the children whose needs the health board must have particular regard to in preparing a report under section 8.
I thank the Minister. It was an amendment of mine that he responded to in the constructive fashion he has shown all through this debate.
This amendment arises out of a discussion on Committee Stage about the need to circulate these reports to interested bodies. It will enable the health board to make available a copy of a report prepared under subsection (1) to any of the interested bodies referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (3).
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 13, to delete lines 43 to 46 and in page 14, to delete lines 1 to 3, and substitute the following:
"(4) Where, on an application for a care order, the court refuses to make the order sought, a separate application can be made to court for a supervision order.".
The original version of section 18 (4) was the subject of a great deal of discussion in the Dáil and I brought forward amendments on Report Stage to deal with the concerns that had been expressed about it. Subsection (4) as it stands provides that where a health board applies for a care order and the court is satisfied that it is not necessary or appropriate to make a care order, but that it is desirable that the child be visited in his home by the health board the court may instead make a supervision order. I am firmly of the view that this is perfectly sensible provision. It will ensure that where the evidence of the circumstances of the case was not sufficient to justify the making of a full care order, the court will still have discretion to grant a supervision order in appropriate cases. I do not accept the suggestion made by some commentators that this provision would be used as a safe option by the courts and the result would be that health boards would have to settle for supervision orders in circumstances in which a care order is what is required. Over the last few years in particular the courts have developed a great deal of expertise in dealing with child care matters.
I have every confidence in the experience and expertise of the Judiciary to weigh up the evidence before them and to decide on the most appropriate type of order in the particular circumstances of the case. In any event, it is important to bear in mind that if it becomes clear that the supervision order is not working or that it is insufficient to ensure that the child is properly cared for and protected there is nothing to prevent the health board returning to court within days or weeks if necessary with a fresh application for a care order. In view of what I have said, I ask Senator Costello to review the situation and perhaps he might be good enough to withdraw the amendment.
Given the Minister's assurances I will not press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 14, line 7, to delete "or may make a supervision order in respect of,".
This amendment amazes me, particularly as the phrase in question was inserted in the Bill on Report Stage in the Dáil with the full agreement of all sides of the House. The purpose of the provision is simply to enable the court to make a supervision order during the period when an application for a care order is being considered. As the House will appreciate, it may take a few weeks before a decision on a care order is reached. This provision enables the court to place the child temporarily under the supervision of the health board in the meantime. This is a useful provision which we should retain in the Bill. In view of this I would not be able to accept this amendment.
This amendment is in response to a request made on Committee Stage that there should be uniformity in the penalties under this section and under sections 41 and 44. I am delighted to accede to that request.
I welcome the amendment to this Bill.
In accordance with Standing Order 94 amendment No. 9 is recommitted.
On Committee Stage I was urged by a number of Senators to look into the possibility of bringing forward an amendment on Report Stage to provide for the appointment of guardiansad litem for children in care proceedings. I have examined the matter in detail. I had several consultations with the Attorney General, the Minister for Health, officials in the Department of Health and they, in turn, with officials in the Attorney's office. I sincerely thank everybody who has been of such assistance to me with this Bill but particularly with this section. I have come to the conclusion that such a provision would have much to commend it. Accordingly, I am pleased to bring forward this amendment.
Subsection (1) will empower a court, in proceedings under Part IV and VI of the Bill, to appoint a guardianad litem for the child in any case when the court considers it necessary to do so in the interest of the child. Subsection (2) provides that the expenses of a guardian ad litem shall be paid by the health board involved in the proceedings. Subsection (3) will entitle the health board to apply to the court for an order requiring the expenses of the guardian ad litem to be paid by any other party to the proceedings. Subsection (4) provides that an order appointing a guardian ad litem for a child shall cease to have effect where the child subsequently becomes a party to the proceedings. The detailed provisions regarding guardians ad litem will be dealt with by way of rules of court. I am advised that it is not necessary to provide for this in the legislation itself.
I am sure that this amendment will be welcomed by all sides of the House. I, for my part, have at all times been prepared to take on board any worthwhile proposals which would enhance the legal framework we are putting into place and I commend this amendment to the House.
May I express my pleasure and satisfaction that the Minister has taken this on board? As the Minister will recall, there was a lengthy debate on this. I spoke at some considerable length on Second Stage and then tabled amendments very close to this which were ruled out of order because they created a charge on the Exchequer, which is not permitted. Subsequently I had discussions with the Minister and I am extremely grateful to him.
This is a very significant step that we have taken today. I am glad the Minister is prepared, after discussion with the Attorney General, to go through the stage of recommittal. It shows that the Minister is very anxious to make this a very good Bill and to use this House as it should be used and take on board the amendments tabled. None of us is being a dog in the manger. The fact that this is a Government amendment rather than one that has my name on it is a matter of total indifference to me. All I can say to the Minister is well done. This will be a much better Bill as a result of this. The various organisations that gave me and other Senators meticulous briefings in this area will be very pleased indeed that the Minister has shown himself broad-minded and flexible enough to take on board this very good amendment.
Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are related and can be discussed together.
I withdraw amendment No. 11 because the Minister has met my problem with his own amendment and I am quite happy to defer to the superior knowledge of the parliamentary draftspeople.
I thank the Senator for withdrawing amendment No. 11. Amendment No. 10 will be welcomed by Senators from all sides of the House who are concerned to ensure that a technician or other employee, who physically transmits material which contravenes this section, will not be criminally liable for so doing. The amendment places it beyond doubt that it will be the owners of the broadcasting station who will be responsible in the matter, together with any person having functions in relation to the programme corresponding to those of an editor of a newspaper. In view of this, I am happy to be able to put forward this amendment and I am grateful to Senator Ryan and the House for their tremendous co-operation.
This amendment is in response to a concern expressed on Committee Stage that the definition of a written publication might not be enough to cover computer discs. The amendment will ensure that such discs come within the scope of the definition. The wording is based on a provision in the Companies (Amendment) Act, 1977 and I commend it to the House.
I know exactly what the Minister is referring to. It was Senator Ryan who pushed this. May I say on a mildly humorous note, that I am glad to see it now clearly covers me as well because my writing is illegible. Even my writing is now covered by this. It means not only in legible form but in illegible form.
A terrible admission.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 21, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
"(4) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (3), regulations under this section may—
(a) prescribe requirements as to the maintenance, care and welfare of children while being maintained in centres,
(b) prescribe requirements as to the members, qualifications and availability of members of the staffs of centres,
(c) prescribe requirements as to the design, maintenance, repair, cleaning and cleanliness, ventilation, heating and lighting of centres,
(d) prescribe requirements as to the accommodation (including the amount of space in bedrooms, the washing facilities and sanitary conveniences) provided in centres,
(c) prescribe requirements as to the food provided for children while being maintained in centres,
(f) prescribe requirements as to the records to be kept in centres and for the examination and copying of any such records or of extracts therefrom by the Minister.".
We had a long discussion less than an hour ago on the need to have considerably greater detail in terms of the ministerial regulations under section 37 to deal with children's residential centres. Having listened to the Minister and accepted that health boards should not regulate themselves, it appears the only way to deal with the children's residential centres under the control of health boards is to have the Minister responsible for the standards. I am simply suggesting in this amendment that the Minister be required standards. I am simply suggesting in this amendment that the Minister be required to prescribe the same sort of standards in the same areas for health board children's residential centres to those that are currently prescribed for non-health board children's residential centres.
I second the amendment. It is quite clear that in order to make it work and ensure standards are maintained the buck has to stop with somebody. In this case it is quite clear that the buck stops at the Minister's desk. The Minister will be required to ensure that standards are maintained. This helps the Minister to ensure that standards are determined and thereafter insisted upon.
I add my support for this amendment. We discussed it in detail about an hour ago as Senator Ryan indicated. We would like to see standards, criteria and regulations provided which would standardise provisions for all centres whether they are private, public or under the aegis of the health board or a Minister. This amendment would specify quite clearly that the Minister would take on responsibility for ensuring that suitable standards are laid down. This would considerably enhance the provisions that are laid down for certain areas in child residential centres.
I support the amendment. It can only enhance the Bill. I am at a slight disadvantage in that because of meeting a local delegation I missed the first few minutes of discussion on the amendment. It seems eminently sensible that there be regulations in all the areas concerned and that the number of qualifications of staff be prescribed. What is involved in subsection (d) in terms of space would seem sensible. This amendment is worthwhile and sensible.
I add my name to those supporting this amendment. I discussed it with Senator Ryan and indicated to him that he had my support after some discussion. I am not going to repeat the arguments because, as has been pointed out, it is clearly less than a couple of hours since we discussed it. It would be absolutely pointless for me to say again everything I said earlier but I would just like to be recorded as having been consulted by Senator Ryan and having agreed to lend my name to it.
I wish to indicate that there is merit in the amendment. If the Minister could see his way to accepting it, he would please all sides of the House.
This amendment seeks to insert an additional subsection in section 37 which spells out some of the matters that may be dealt with in the regulations. It is based on provisions contained in section 60 (2). I have already indicated that the regulations under section 37 will be broadly similar to those under section 60. I am, therefore, prepared to accept the amendment but there is one slight error which might be amended by agreement. Perhaps, with the agreement of the Chair and the House, we could agree to change the second last line to read: "any such records or of extracts therefrom by officers of the Minister". That would cover the Minister and his staff. I hope we can have agreement on that.
We must thank the Minister. Very early on Committee Stage I accepted the goodwill of the Minister and stopped having arguments with him about the philosophical values of this Bill because we were on the one side. This allays a doubt of many people outside the House about the intent of the Bill. I am quite happy to be corrected about the drafting of the amendment and I thank the Minister.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 22, line 5, after "regulations" to insert "taking into consideration the long term needs of the child".
One of the primary purposes of this section and of the regulations to be made by the Minister under it is to ensure that the long term interests of children in care are protected and promoted. Section 3 provides that in the performance of its functions under this legislation a health board must regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration. It follows from this that a health board, when reviewing the case of each individual child in its care, must taken into consideration the short term as well as the long term needs of the child. Having regard to what I have said, I hope Senators will accept that the amendment is superfluous and that it will not be necessary to pursue it. Perhaps Senator Costello would withdraw the amendment?
Amendments Nos. 15 and 17 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 25, line 26, after "health boards" to insert "provided that the aforesaid pre-school service is provided for more than two children and is not provided by a relative of the children".
Since the Minister's amendment does, with considerably greater clarity, what I set to do I am quite happy to withdraw my amendment and leave it to the Minister.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 26, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(3) A person who gives notice under subsections (1) and (2) shall include in such notice a statement that the service will be provided in accordance with the terms of sections 48 and 50 of this Act.".
This is an amendment I am not prepared to withdraw. Amendment No. 16 deals with the process whereby people who are provided pre-school services are required to notify the health board. The Minister will be aware that I took issue with my colleagues on this side of the House about the requirement of registration. What I am concerned about is that whatever is done should work. I did not think the process of registration as entered into last week was correct and I voted with the Government on the amendment — fortunately nobody noticed——
We were very grateful for the support.
The Minister would have survived without it, however grateful he was. The public need some assurance and I propose in this amendment that when a person is giving notice under subsections (1) and (2) of the section they must include in such a notice a statement that the service will meet the standards specified under section 48 and 50. Section 48 is the section under which the Minister prescribes regulations and section 50 is a general statement of the duty to provide a service of an acceptable standard. It seems reasonable that if anybody writes to the health board and say: "I give notice that I am providing a pre-school service" the person should say: "I undertake to meet the standards specified in sections 48 and 50".
The idea behind this section was to take pre-schools out of garages, back gardens, back kitchens and various other unsuitable places and environments in which they were held until now. There was a genuine concern at educational and social levels that people would comply with regulations. All aspects of the Bill have been considered in great detail. It would be ridiculous to allow it to fall at the final fence.
Whereas ignorance of the law is never an excuse in the eyes of the law it cannot assumed that people would go into this business without making themselves aware of the provisions of the Bill. It is quite likely that people will say: "That is a grand room and I will use it" just as they have done until now. The reality is, and precedent after precedent has proven the fact, that it takes an awareness of the law to change attitudes. The equality legislation is a prime example. People continued with their own process of appointments, etc., until they suddenly found a case was being brought against them. Then they had to make themselves aware of the requirements of the law. The same will happen with this legislation. I do not believe that people setting up in this business will make themselves aware of what is required of them under sections 48 and 50 unless we require them to do so. This amendment requires them to check it out.
The matter has been debated at length. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment as it is clearly in line with his own thinking.
I support this because it emerged from the debate that we had on the question of notification versus registration, where Senator Ryan jumped ship and argued with the Government against the amendment I put down. He has very skilfully excised for us the principle we were looking at that we should not allow the eruption of fly-by-night operations. I am very happy that Senator Ryan has taken on board the principle of what I was arguing for. I accept that my amendment was defective. He has done what I would like him to do and I urge the Minister in a spirit of uncharacteristic humility to accept the correction to what we were trying to do earlier.
I fully support the amendment. It is something we in the teaching profession would like to see. Pre-school services are operating in anad hoc way at present without proper monitoring or standards. It would be excellent if we could tighten the provisions under section 49 (1) and (2), which is the reference to giving notice, tie it up with the registration requirements. This amendment would considerably enhance the provisions, ensure that the criteria are adhered to and the law is fully implemented.
I understand the genuine motives behind the amendment. Unfortunately the wording of the amendment is technically defective.
Let us correct it.
The amendment could only apply to a person who proposes to carry on a pre-school service, that is, a person to whom subsection (2) applies. It could not apply to a person who is already carrying on a pre-school service and who is required to give notice under subsection (1). I assure Senators Ryan and O'Toole and others who have spoken that the points they are trying to address in this amendment will be dealt with when the manner in which notice of a pre-school service is to be given to a health board is being prescribed by regulations under section 48. On the basis of this assurance and having regard to the fact that the amendment is significantly defective, I would be sincerely grateful if my colleague would withdraw the amendment. I assure Senators we will take it into account when we are drawing up the regulations.
Did the Minister say that what we are looking for will be a requirement of the regulations?
I thought we would have a small disagreement on this at the end but since the Minister is being so reasonable I have no option but to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to Senator Ryan for withdrawing amendment No. 15. The House will recall that on Committee Stage Seantors Honan and Ryan expressed concern about the possible application of the requirements of Part VII to relatives minding children on behalf of parents. The purpose of this amendment is to make it absolutely clear that the provisions of Part VII do not apply to the care of pre-school children undertaken by a relative or a neighbour of the parents. The whole thrust of Part VII is to regulate facilities such as playgroups and crèches which cater for groups of young children from different families. It was never the intention to interfere in arrangements made by working parents with a relative or a neighbour of theirs to look after their children for them. This amendment would place this beyond doubt.
Paragraph (a) exempts a relative or his or her spouse from the requirements of Part VII. Paragraph (b) exempts a person taking care of children of the same family only in that person's home. Paragraph (c) exempts a person looking after not more than three children of different families in that person's home. I consider that three children of different families as a reasonable threshold and if a person minds more children the arrangement should constitute a pre-school service which should be subject to supervision and regulation. The exemptions provided for in the amendment are both reasonable and desirable and I hope the House will accept it.
The Minister has made a number of improvements in virtually all the areas I was concerned with. There are two areas that I would still have some concern about and one is the area of financing. The Bill has many financial implications and no provision is made for those in theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress, the budget or any other forum. In relation to the question of identifying children who are at risk, we have put in place a considerable apparatus and there are marvellous improvements made in this legislation in relation to that area, but we still have a problem in terms of identifying those who are at risk. Who will have responsibility for this? I would like to put on the record of the House that my union, the Secondary Teachers' Union, representing 12,000 teachers, have agreed that teachers should have a legal duty within the terms of——
Unfortunately, on Fifth Stage only what is contained in the Bill can be referred to. However, the House on the Order of Business today decided to conclude this busines at 6 o'clock and the Chair has no option but to put the question.
It is a pity because I want to congratulate the Minister——
I quite agree but I must put the question.
There is one slight reservation. We started late through no fault of Members of the House. It seems a little unfair that we should operate rigidly at one end when we did not operate strictly at the other end. All the Members and the Minister were here at 5.20 p.m.
May I continue?
The question has been put. The Senator would have been allowed to continue if he had kept with what was in the Bill but he steered into a Second Stage speech which the Chair could not allow.
I would have liked to look into the whole area of mandatory reporting to a greater degree and teased out its desirability or undesirability. We have put in place excellent legislation but have not put any onus or duty on anybody in terms of identification. The teaching profession is the one area where there is a closeness with children for seven or eight hours per day.
Part II, section 3, puts the onus on the health boards.
That is at a certain stage but the health boards are not in daily contact with children.
No, they are not. The only people who are in daily contact with children are teachers because they go to school for seven or eight hours per day.
Teachers, parents and professionals.
The Chair is alarmed that the Senator is getting into an argument.
I will not pursue it any further. I congratulate the Minister on this fine legislation and on the very positive attitude he displayed in discussing this Bill.
I thank the Senator for his co-operation. If Senators would like half a minute at this stage the Chair will agree to that.
I thank and compliment the Minister and, through him, his officials for a fine piece of work. It is a great pity — I am one Member of this House who cannot complain about the publicity I get so therefore I am not talking about myself — when people write smart-aleck articles in newspapers about politicians that they do not sit down in that empty gallery and report on the work that goes on here week in, week out, day after day, in this case in the interests of vulnerable children. I compliment the Minister and Senators for their contribution to this important legislation. It is matters like this that prove the validity of having this House as a second Chamber. We had an intelligent, dispassionate and totally non-political debate on an important issue.
On behalf of my party I express my pleasure at the civilised way in which we conducted our business. I also put on record my appreciation of the Minister's receptiveness to constructive amendments. It is important that parliamentary democracy be seen to work and that we deal with matters intelligently. Anything else is not in the interests of the people whose taxes keep the Seanad in operation.
I compliment the Minister and his advisers on the very open-minded way in which they dealt with the entire matter. They were prepared to discuss and consider material, take it away and reflect upon it and them come back with their own considered amendments. I am particularly grateful that the question of the guardianad litem which is very important has been accepted and also that the question of notification versus registration has been met by a kind of accord between all the minds working together in the House.
This is a genuine example of how a legislative chamber could work together efficiently in a non-confrontational way. There was agreement all around the House and it was reached by teasing out arguments. We have very fine legislation of which the Minister and his advisers can feel proud. We can feel that we played our appropriate constitutional role by bringing forward proper amendments, which were brought to us in some cases by external sources. There is quite a lot of work involved in reading through a Bill like this and reflecting on the amendments and so on. It is a very good day for this House and I commend the Minister.
Aontaím leis an méid a bhí le rá ag an Seanadóir Brendan Ryan mar gheall ar na páipéir nuachta. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Aire agus mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis agus leis na daoine ar an taobh eile den Teach as ucht an chomhoibrithe a thug siad don Aire maidir leis an mBille seo.
I take this opportunity to congratulate and compliment the Minister and his officials for the manner in which they have dealt with this important legislation. Senator Brendan Ryan was quite enthusiastic about the Bill and about the manner in which the Minister reacted to his approach and to the amendments that were put forward. I have no doubt that the commitment which the Minister has shown to this Bill is well acknowledged throughout the House. I am quite certain that it was a very wise decision to leave the Minister in charge of this Bill when he moved from the Department of Health to the Department of Justice. He is doing a fine job in there too. As a result of our discussion we have better legislation and I thank all concerned, the Minister and his officials and all Senators who contributed to it.
I thank Senators for their co-operation. We started work on this Bill in the autumn of 1989 and we went into Committee in November 1989. We have worked very hard and assiduously on it since then. I sincerely thank Seanad Éireann for once again making a major contribution to improving legislation. I was deeply grateful for Senators' wonderful co-operation and outstanding enthusiastic participation. I want to record my gratitude and thanks to the wonderful officials in the child care section of the Department of Health who played a key role and did trojan work in putting this together so that we as parliamentarians could fine tune this most important and progressive social legislation.