Statistics Bill, 1993: Committee Stage.
Sections 1 to 9, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, subsection (1), line 32 to delete "extraction and dissemination" and substitute "extraction, dissemination and, where appropriate, evaluation."
I put down this amendment as a way of expressing the concern I was talking about earlier with the purpose of exploring the possibility of seeing how one can use the CSO more effectively in terms of statistical education for public usage. Inserting the words "where appropriate, evaluation" accepts immediately that evaluation in a general way would add a burden to the CSO and responsibilities which it would not be appropriate to expect them to discharge. However, there are areas where some revaluation of the date can be undertaken, its degree of reliability, the functions for which it may be legitimately used and the inferences that can and cannot be extracted from it. I realise it is very difficult to specify those. Nevertheless an almost educational function should, in principle, be available to and at times are requested from the CSO so that one could not exclude the possibility of there being a more evaluative category there from time to time when new data is introduced or if the CSO would ensure that the data it provides is not being used in a way it deems inappropriate.
I fully appreciate the sensitivity which can arise and the fact that a great deal of data can quite legitimately be used for partisan political purposes. That is part of the normal cut and thrust of politics and it would not be my objective to limit in any way the potential for that. I believe that, partly because of our statistical illiteracy and partly because of the pressures of time on us, we do not use statistical material legitimately and that a certain amount of public service time is spent dealing with issues which need not have been raised or which might have been raised in a more sophisticated manner.
That was the purpose of this amendment. I think it is a legitimate purpose but I do not know if this is the most effective way of achieving it. The amendment is permissive; it is not obligatory. It allows a learning process to emerge if it were felt that there is something to be said in this direction, and I am convinced there is.
My initial reaction to what the Senator proposed is to reject it. We all agree that the most important aspect is the independence of the CSO. If the CSO were to stray as the Central Bank has into making economic comment on the activities of the Government, it would quickly become embroiled in party politics of one kind or another.
The Senator will appreciate that the collection of statistics of necessity means that the basic data will be evaluated. I do not think that he is referring to this but to an education process. I suggest that it might be more appropriate if I were to request the views of the National Statistics Board on the evaluation/education process. At present there is an education process for users who are directly involved in the compilation and use of statistics. If we wish to introduce changes we generally consult with the users to get their views. I do not think it is appropriate to insert this amendment in the Bill and am concerned about the effects it would have. The Senator could go directly to the CSO to discuss this matter or I could bring it to the National Statistics Board and ask them to seek views on it and to see how his concerns can best be met.
I will not press the amendment in the light of what the Minister has said. His response was a civilised and appropriate one. I found it helpful. However, the issue is one which deserves to be pursued and I would be grateful if the Minister would bring it to the National Statistics Board. There is a mutual education process involved, the CSO must from time to time—perhaps very frequently — see their material used in ways which never occurred to them. Some mechanism ought to be found to raise the education level of those who use statistics. I am thinking of Members of this House because this in an opportunity to enhance mutual understanding. I appreciate the validity of the point made by the Minister. However, I hope this issue will not be forgotten and that the board will see the most effective way of pursuing it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 10 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 1a:
In page 7, subsection (2), line 5, after "statistics" to add ", including Members of the Oireachtas".
This is part of the same process. The aim of this amendment is to stress that Members of the Oireachtas are among the principal users of statistics, or ought to be. They have been overlooked in everything that has been put on paper or said so far. I wish to link this amendment with amendment No. 3a, if I may, which concerns the composition of the board. If amendment No. 3a were accepted, this would suffice to cover my concern about this matter because, as things stand, there is no provision for even the most nominal recognition of Members of the Oireachtas as users of statistics. I am interested in raising the matter wherever possible. If a member of the board was competent to look after the needs of Members of the Oireachtas as users of statistics — and that person need not necessarily be a Member of the Oireachtas — it would cover most of my concerns.
Is it in order to ask the Minister of State about his response to amendment No. 3a? Otherwise, I am at a loss to know where a specific reference to Members of the Oireachtas, which I wish to see included somewhere, can be inserted?
I support the spirit of what Senator Lee has said. We both come from a similar background and before I became a Member of the Oireachtas I was accustomed to hearing academics speak disparagingly of politicians. It was a revelation to discover the amount of information which conscientious Members of the Oireachtas are obliged to assimilate and evaluate in an enormous range of disciplines and often under great pressure. I always had a high opinion of politicians and was honoured and pleased to become one, but it did not take me long to realise the range of topics that have to be covered and the pressures involved.
I do not want to anticipate the Minister of State, but perhaps making the board aware of the problems politicians have in this regard and the services they would find useful would meet the case. I support the spirit of Senator Lee's amendment.
I also understand the points made, but we have seen in recent legislation, for example the Industrial Development Bill 1993, specific exclusion of Members of the Oireachtas from membership of boards. I do not see any such exclusion in this Bill. I do not know if it will be possible to have a Member of the Oireachtas on the board in this case.
I do not fully agree with the exclusion of Members of the Oireachtas from the boards of State bodies. It may be unwise. We endeavoured to have some cross-fertilisation between the interests involved in the Industrial Development Bill, 1993, last night — a member of one board can also be a member of another to allow cross-fertilisation between the related activities of the authorities concerned. As there is no specific exclusion of Members of the Oireachtas in this Bill, I wonder would it be possible to have one on the board? I believe that would meet Senator Lee's point.
I argued that the person would not necesarily have to be a Member of the Oireachtas to be competent to represent our needs so I would not haggle over that. However, I appreciate Senator Daly's general point.
I do not believe that either of the two amendments are necessary, because Members of the Oireachtas are not specifically excluded in the legislation. I agree, however, with the principle of the proposal. In relation to amendment No. 1a to insert "including Members of the Oireachtas", we must assume that they are already users of statistics. I believe that adding them to this section is making an unnecessary distinction.
In regard to amendment No. 3a, it would be difficult to accommodate a wide variety of interests on the board without losing its effectiveness, because the numbers on the board would have to be expanded. In relation to the point made, and specifically to the board itself, I will bring this matter to the Taoiseach's attention and ask them to keep it in mind when nominating the board's members.
Perhaps the place to have somebody is on the National Statistics Board which advises the CSO, draws up the programmes and so on. I will talk to the NSB to try to ensure there is somebody on their boards who is conscious of the needs of Oireachtas Members. Perhaps, the Clerk of the Dáil, or other appropriate person working in the Houses of the Oireachtas, would be suitable because they would know what was needed. In my other capacity as Government Chief Whip I know there will be an increasing need to use statistics in the Houses. I accept the principle of the Senator's amendment but, as I have said, I do not think the amendments are necessary.
I will not press the amendment but I would like to respond briefly. I appreciate what the Minister of State has said, but I believe this is a substantive important issue.
In relation to what the Minister said earlier when he suggested that he bring some of the concerns I expressed to the board or that I contact it myself, I consider it unsatisfactory that individual Members of the Oireachtas should have to make their way through such a procedure. It so happens in my own case, I know some of the people involved and can do that, but that is giving preferential treatment to those Members of the Oireachtas who, by chance, know some of the people involved. I do not believe that is fair to those who want to make a conscientious contribution but have not such contacts.
There are deeper matters at stake here regarding the quality of service Members of the Oireachtas can render and the facilities available to them. I am grateful for what the Minister of State has said and accept it in the spirit offered, but I will be returning to the matter on a fairly regular basis during whatever length of time I am here.
This year I delayed the publication of the National Social Services Board policy document for 1993-97 because although all political parties were invited to seminars and to make submissions on it none actually made any formal proposals. At the request of Deputy J. Bruton I delayed the publication of that report to allow parties to make submissions.
Amendment by leave withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, subsection (2), line 5 after "statistics." to add "A register of such users shall be compiled and a meeting of the said users and the Office held once each year to review the activities of the Office and to discuss matters of mutual concern.".
The purpose of this amendment is, first, to recognise the principle of the users' right to be consulted. That said, I know the CSO has been conscientious with respect to, and open to, the users of information. However, we live in an era where consumers' rights need formal recognition. I am also conscious of the remote possibility that the co-operation which exists at present might not always be there. Academics and quasiacademics can occasionally get into conflicts which assume virtually theological proportions at a certain stage. Years from now, there could be disagreement of a fairly fundamental nature about the methodology being pursued by the CSO on the part of some of those who use it. The sort of thing is not unknown. Schismatic movements are not just confined to churches. I am proposing that, as of a right, once a year the CSO would consult with the main users and ask them for their views on what is happening and how things could be improved. There could be an interchange of views and it would be there as of right rather than at the present time where it is there by grace and favour.
I appreciate what the Senator is trying to do in this amendment and I also appreciate the fact that he recognises there is a good relationship between the CSO and the users. The amendment as it is would entail much work and time being used in compiling and maintaining registers. It would divert staff from necessary work. It is important to emphasise that the CSO maintains strong links with the principal users of statistics. The list changes constantly and an attempt to maintain a comprehensive register of users would not be practical or advisable.
It is also important to point out in relation to the Bill generally that at the moment the National Statistics Board is non-statutory but will be on a statutory basis under the legislation. It will represent the broad sectors using the statistics. In preparing the board's strategy for statistics every five years, there is an extensive consultation process undergone beforehand with the users and suppliers of data. As I mentioned, over 200 persons and organisations, including international organisations — though unfortunately, not political parties — were contacted by post in 1992. There were also a number of seminars, liaison groups and so on involved in the preparation of that report. Since the users and their interests are so diverse, it is considered preferable that one would have sector meetings rather than large meetings. The seminars and meetings are better when they are small.
Last year, three seminars were held by the CSO as part of the input to the board's strategy. There was one held on the systems of national accounts, another on the labour market statistics and another on demographic statistics. The seminars have been well attended which bears out Senator Manning's point that there should be a good flow of information and consultation between the groups and that the users of the statistics and the suppliers of the data take a keen interest. I take it that is the real reason the Senator proposed the amendement. At each seminar there is a brief presentation highlighting the main issues of importance to the major users of statistics. This is followed by a free flowing open discussion and a question and answer session. Proposals are made and taken on board.
Section 11(2) will require the office to maintain close and regular contact with the principal users and suppliers of the statistics and the precise details of those consultations can be left to the CSO and the National Statistics Board. Senator Manning is highlighting another point in the amendment which is that the CSO would do a little more PR for itself and get out more. I can assure the Senator that will be done.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 11 agreed to.
There is a printing error in amendment No. 3 in the amendment list which has been issued. It should read "In page 7, subsection 5, line 18..."
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 7, subsection 5, line 17, after "the" to insert "Civil Service Commissioners Act, 1956, and the".
The amendment is a technical one. Section 12 relates to the Director General while section 9 relates to members of the staff of the office. The reason for this amendment is that the powers of the Taoiseach in section 12(5) in relation to the Director General should match his powers as set out in section. 9(3) in relation to the staff of the office. Subsection (5) should refer to the Civil Service Commissioners Act, 1956 as well as the Civil Service Regulations Acts. Under section 12(3) the Director General shall, in common with the staff of the office, be a civil servant of the State.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 12, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 13 to 17, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 3a not moved.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, subsection (3), to delete all words after "office" in line 31 down to and including "him" and substitute the following "for a period of four years."
The wording here is the wording recommended in the report upon which this Bill is based. I do not regard it as a major point but I do not understand precisely what is meant by a period from two to six years. Is it that some members would be there for two years and others for three, four, five or six years? As it is now, it strikes me that it will be a sort of a rotating membership. I am not sure if this is a great idea because sometimes when that happens one can have people who are there virtually forever and a particular way of thinking develops. Sometimes it is important that a board be almost cleared out completely and replaced with a totally new board. If it was for four or five years that could be done. I am not overly concerned but I would like the Minister to explain the thinking behind it.
It is for precisely that reason that we are talking about periods of two and six years. It is felt that it would not be a good idea, particularly in an area like this and that it would not lead to effective functioning if one was to clear out a board every four or six years. The idea is that the Taoiseach can appoint members for a specific period of two, three, four, five or six years and that one will have new people coming in at various stages rather than having a clean sweep at the end of a four or six year period. From a political point of view, following a change of Government one could also have a situation where the board became due for reappointment. Although they will not be appointed politically, everybody on the board would go and one would lose continuity. I appreciate the point the Senator was making but I think this is a better way of approaching it.
I note the word "him" at the end of subsection (3), although we spent yesterday gender proofing the legislation. However, there is a fundamental point. It seems to me this is an area where there are different ways at looking at statistics as they reflect the representation of the genders. I do not believe in axiomatic representation but there should be a commitment in the Bill to some female representation on the National Statistics Board. Perhaps it is there already, I do not know, but it is a valid area for taking that perspective into account.
I can assure the Senator that with regard to the National Statistics Board, as with all other Government agencies and organisations, there is a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government that at least 40 per cent of the board members of these organisations should be female.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 18 agreed to.
Sections 19 to 22, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 23 stand part of the Bill."
I wish to ask the Minister of State about the collection of statistics on suicide. It is generally accepted that the recorded number of suicides is two or three times lower than the actual number of suicides. When suicide was a crime, questions of criminal liability could not be considered under the Coroner's Act, 1962. Now that suicide is not a crime, I understand that the coroner can determine that a suicide has taken place. I wish to know what action will be taken to ensure that coroners look at this.
There is a problem with providing evidence in a coroner's court if a suicide took place which can interfere with the statistics. The present position, I understand, is that the investigating garda reports his opinion as to whether an incident was a suicide to the Central Statistics Office. I would like the Minister of State to comment on the updating of the approach and if anything can be done to improve the gathering of statistics on suicides. The psychiatric services and so on are concerned about obtaining proper data, especially on increasing levels of suicide.
I know the Senator has a particular interest in this issue and has championed the change in the suicide laws. There are ongoing consultations with the Department of Health to ensure that we have the best possible coverage of statistics in this sensitive area. On a general level, the increased powers in the Bill, putting the CSO on a statutory basis, etc. will help in the co-ordination of statistics. We hope more accurate information will be available from now on.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 24 to 28, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 29 stand part of the Bill."
This section worried me because it appeared to confer almost draconian powers on information collectors which would put them on a par with staff of the Revenue Commissioners who were involved in specific incidents recently. Clearly, the collection of information of this sort should never be accompanied by forcible entry of a home or business place. I am worried that this legislation seems to be conferring powers which could be abused, for a purpose which would not warrant those powers.
I am not too comfortable with this either. The Minister of State might consider a small amendment, to insert into the section the words "other than a person's private residence". I do not have any great difficulty with an official seeking information at a person's place of business but I would have reservations about providing a facility which could give officials access to private dwellings. An amendment along those lines might eliminate some of Senator Manning's concern.
I appreciate Members' concerns in that regard but I think they are reading too much into the section. Section 29 confers the right of access to officers of statistics for statistical purposes. Subsection (a) provides that an officer of statistics may enter a premises to personally deliver a notice. It is required, for example, in the case of a census of population where an officer needs to deliver a census form to a tenant in an apartment block or house of flats which the owner might otherwise be able to prevent.
Subsection (b) relates to the delivery of forms and questionnaires. These forms are often collected in obligatory and voluntary business inquiries by officers of statistics. The CSO has a permanent team of eight field officers who visit firms for this purpose. Temporary teams of field officers are also recruited for large scale inquiries. This was done, for example, for the 1988 census of services and the 1987 household budget survey.
Subsection (c) provides the right of access for the purpose of making inquiries authorised under the Act. That covers a situation where, for example, a statistics officer, such as a census of population enumerator would have to enter a premises to determine if a person or undertaking relevant to some inquiry was resident or, perhaps, even existed.
The phrase used is "at all reasonable times". It is intended to ensure that the access is made at a time which is convenient to the person in charge of the premises in question. The officer must be reasonable. Senator Manning mentioned other people who have powers and I do not think they are constrained by that; they can arrive at any time after giving notice.
I want to make it clear, because everybody is concerned, that the section does not provide any right of forcible entry. The offence of preventing entry for statistical purposes at a reasonable time is defined in section 37. A person found guilty of such an offence shall be liable to a fine as set out in secton 44. There are also sections in the Bill which prevent the officer from abusing his power. While I understand the fears expressed, I want to reassure the House that this Bill is not designed to give an officer a right of forcible entry. Any of these examinations, filling out of forms, handing out forms and so on, must be carried out at reasonable times.
Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Section 30 agreed to.
Amendment No. 6 not moved.
Section 31 agreed to.
Sections 32 and 33 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 6a:
In page 14, line 28, after "statistical" to insert "and scholarly".
This point has been touched on in general discussion. I should have used the words, "for statistical and research purposes only" but I am prepared to be reassured in a sense by the Minister's comments earlier. Can the Oireachtas in some way convey to the Director General its intention, if it is its intention, that this should be interpreted in a constructive manner for genuine research purposes? As it stands it would be open to the Director General to impose such charges, conditions and restrictions that would make it impossible to operate effectively. I accept the Director General is totally independent and I do not know the procedure in order to intimate to him that one would wish him to respond in a particular way. If there could be some indication of that, it would allay the type of fears that I, Senator Manning and perhaps others have in that respect.
The difficulty with the amendment is defining a word such as "scholarly" or "research". I candidly admit to the Senator that I do not know what the procedure of putting this matter to the Director General. However, I will indicate that it is the strongly held view of Members of this House, and I presume of the other House, that fees would not in any way be prohibitive for genuine research purposes.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 34 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 14, line 36, to delete "100 years" and substitute "50 years".
This point has been well covered on Second Stage. The Minister expressed an open attitude to this in his reply. He made the point in his speech that the 1911 census data is one of the most frequently used data banks in the national archive. I am sure the Minister would agree that 100 years is unduly restrictive. He mentioned the objection, which is the same situation as might occur with Garda files, that information might prove embarrassing to people who are still alive. The Minister suggested that he did not have any great objection in principle; I propose a verbal amendment at this stage which might meet the Minister's objection and the point I am trying to make. This might allow the Minister to do what we should do and yet safeguard interests.
Would it be possible to change 100 years to 50 years and after the word "census" insert "save in the case of data deemed by the Director General to be of a sensitive or classified nature"? We accept that the Director General is a person of total integrity in this matter and we are giving him or her discretion to release data which could be of great value to researchers and scholars without interfering with the rights of living people where embarrassing material might become available. I am not sure of the proprieties of this but I am proposing this amendment and perhaps it could be incorporated. It would meet both the Minister's reservations and the objective that I, Senator Lee and others seek.
We all agree on this matter. It is just a question of underlining the difficulty which may arise for people regarding confidentiality. Is the Senator dropping the 50 years or is he leaving that in?
I am leaving 50 years in in addition to the rider "save in the case of...".
I do not wish to quibble with the Senator but may I suggest 70 years for the purpose of the discussion. I suggest this because 70 years is the average lifetime and then put in the rider "save in the case of data which may be deemed by..."
Seventy years means we wait two or three years for the 1926 census. We have waited this long so I would accept 70 years.
There may be some specific difficulties with this. May I ask the House that, rather than changing this as it stands, some time would be given to consider it? This would mean that it would probably be brought back to the House to enable the introduction of what is deemed to be a reasonable change. The spirit of what the Senator has proposed has been agreed here but technical and other difficulties may arise. Could it be left as it stands at the moment and by the time it is moved in the other House there will be an amendment and it will be brought back to the Seanad?
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 35 agreed to.
Section 36 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 37 stand part of the Bill."
This section deals with prevention of access. I noted the points made by Senator Manning and the point made by the Minister in reply. I ask the Minister of State in his capacity as Chief Whip to be wary of powers granted to deal with access. I have great reservations about such powers as they entitle a person to enter a home or a business premises. I accept that there are no such problems at present but there will be a problems in the long term where somebody, for one reason or another, does not want another person to enter his private house to collect information. There is a real danger that we are heading down the road of "Big Brother" with this type of legislation going on the Statute Book.
Senator Manning compared the powers confered on an officer of statistics in section 29 to those conferred on officers of the Revenue Commissioners. These powers include access to property and delivering documents. Whether we like it or not, section 37 confers very real powers that I would be wary of putting on the Statute Book. I am not extreme in my views, but I feel strongly about this type of legislation. Before it goes to the Dáil I would ask that its powers be diluted because they are too extensive. Under this section a person has power to enter a house and obtain documents and if he is prevented from doing so, the person who stopped him is guilty of an offence. These are extreme powers.
I agree with what Senator Enright said on section 37. There are real powers and while our fears were allayed earlier, the "Big Brother" scenario pops up again. What is a "reasonable time" for entering a premises? The person who owns a house is the one who should define what is a reasonable time. I would like the Minister of State to clarify this.
I note what the Members are saying but section 29 is specific and says:
An officer of statistics may at all reasonable times, on production of his certificate of appointment if demanded, enter any premises for the purposes of—
(a) delivering a notice under section 26 of this Act, or
(b) delivering or collecting forms questionnaires, records or information or,
(c) making any such inquiries as he is authorised to make under this Act.
This is hardly the ogre of "Big Brother", it seems to me to be the normal function of the officer's duty. If somebody is interfering with an officer carrying out his duty, it is deemed to be an offence. I would not share the view that this is "Big Brother 1993", I think that is overstating it. Section 29 is specific on what the officer can or cannot do. It does not seem to pose the threat Members are suggesting.
I can understand the fears people have if they look at similar powers other Stage agents have, in particular officers of the Revenue Commissioners. However, we are talking here about the right of access for an officer to deliver forms or to officially question a person for statistical purposes and for nothing else.
We discussed the phrase "reasonable time". To me "reasonable time" is when the householder says. Section 37 has an important role to play also in the protection of State officers. If a State officer has a job to do, a duty to fulfil, he should not be subjected to physical or other threat. We must have a penalty in law for, as it appears in section 37, "any person who prevents an officer of statistics from entering at a reasonable time. ..". You are talking about an officer of the State being physically prevented from delivering a census or other form. We have to keep a balance. In line with what Members have said, I will have another look at it to see if we can be more specific and deal particularly with the case of a private dwelling.
As Senator McGennis said, I think Members may be reading too much into this section. I explained under section 29 that we were talking about a situation where there were blocks of flats or apartments. For instance, somebody may have a block of flats or bed-sits that are not in good condition, and a census officer or an officer from the Central Statistics Office wants to gain access to compile information for the census of population. Supposing the landlord has not declared the number of flats he has. That is not the business of the statistics officer, but the landlord could say that a Stage agent was prying and as he would report him to the tax officers, he will not let him inside the door. We must keep a balance, and this section provides penalties for people who do that. I accept the concerns Members have expressed and I will have another look at it, particularly as it relates to private dwellings.
I heard what the Minister said on section 29 and I appreciate what Senator McGennis said that this is not a major provision in itself, but it appears that more and more powers are being accumulated which affect the right of the individual. Section 29 (b) deals with "delivering or collecting forms, questionnaires, records of information". It does not state for how long the specific records of an individual company being collected can be kept. There are also problems for someone who, because of health, staffing or other problems may be unable to furnish statistical information on a business; those people should be safeguarded. My overriding worry is that this is a continuing process. I am concerned because under section 36 it will be an indictable offence to refuse or fail to provide information requested in response to a direction from the Director General and under section 44 a person on conviction on indictment shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £20,000. I would like to alert the Minister of State in his capacity as Chief Whip that his is a worrying trend.
I do not agree with Senator Enright. I do not think powers are strong. I know of cases where people gathering statistics have been refused entry to a house. Is Senator Engright proposing that the person collecting the statistics should go away and forget all about it? There has to be a penalty for not allowing people onto premises to collect legitimate statistics. You cannot have it both ways. A person collecting statistics has to get the information and if they are refused entry what are they supposed to do? Are we not to impose a penalty? Are we to forget that person and not try to get the necessary statistics?
I think Senator Fitzgerald is aware that if somebody fails to return a census form they can be summonsed and prosecuted. That is a separate offence. Up to now, the census official has not had the right to enter a house to collect the form. Senator Kelleher mentioned the "Big Brother" syndrome. Remember that once those powers go on the Statute Book they are there permanently. That is why I am concerned.
We are probably losing sight of the good side of this legislation. We have had debates on EC Structrual Funds and the National Development Plan but we have to look at the bigger picture. If we are going to plan properly in accordance with demographic changes we must be in a position to gather that information. We are heading into an area this legislation is not intended to address — the heavy handed approach, what we are talking about is empowering officers to do a job. If we were discussing a specific function to be carried out by a member of the Garda Síochána, would we be debating a person's right to refuse? There have been-ludicrous and unacceptable situations where people evade officers who are issuing a summons. While I understand the Senator's concern I do not believe a threat arises.
There is much concern about white collar crime and so on, but attempts to address such problems tend to be heavy-handed. If it transpires that the Senator's fears are well founded there is the possibility of amending the relevant legislation. However, that is not the intention of the measure. Its purpose is to create a proper balance which will allow for planning based on accurate data such as population trends.
This aspect is of interest to me in that the satellite town where I live must have a population of at least 100,000 to qualify for additional grants and infrastructure such as a town centre and regional college. It is vital, therefore, to ensure that statistics are accurately maintained to allow for planning and development in an area such as mine. I do not feel threatened by this.
Having considered both sides of the debate, perhaps it will be possible to facilitate Members. There is concern that officers will be able to work efficiently and there is also concern among all Members, including Senator McGennis, in regard to forcible entry and perceived invasion of privacy. In view of this I propose that the wording of section 37 be amended to read: "Any person who prevents an officer of statistics from carrying out his or her duties as allowed under section 29 of this Act shall be guilty of an offence". This avoids problems with invasion of privacy and so on while ensuring that the officer of statistics will be able to undertake prescribed duties.
I take it Members agree to the proposal by the Minister to introduce amendments in the other House and then come back to this House.
When will Report Stage be taken?
It will be possible to put this proposed amendment down for Report Stage.
This will mean adjourning proceedings while the amendment is prepared for Report Stage.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 38 to 45, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.
Sitting suspended at 1.25 p.m. and resumed at 1.35 p.m.