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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 9 Jul 1996

Vol. 148 No. 11

National Standards Authority of Ireland Bill, 1996: Committee and Final Stages.

Sections 1 to 12, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 13 stand part of the Bill."

I raised on Second Stage the question of laboratory facilities — I am not sure under whose ownership they are now — and such places. Some of them would have been owned by the old Industrial Research and Standards Institute and then would have been transferred to either Forfás or the IDA. Will the existing laboratory facilities and the various pieces of equipment be transferred to the new agency?

I apologise to Senator Daly; I should have dealt with that in my Second Stage reply.

The legislative provisions made at the time of the establishment of the three agencies vested the properties in Forfás. That has now changed. For reasons of practicable functionality, it was found that in terms of everyday business, prospective investors wanted to be able to do business with a single agency, etc. In this case the properties referred to by Senator Daly will be vested in the new Authority which will have its own autonomy and accounting procedures, etc.

Will it have provision to invest?

Question put and agreed to.
Section 14 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

Can the Minister clarify the circumstances in which he considers there might be the need to establish a company outside the State? Section 15 (1) confers power on the Authority to establish a company outside the State. Will the Minister indicate what might be envisaged there and why it might be necessary to do that?

I referred on Second Stage to the fact that the agency already has considerable revenue earning powers. It gets about 70 per cent of its revenue in earned income. For example, a great deal of that is in the United States. It is particularly in regard to the United States that this provision is envisaged, in the necessity to establish a company there to optimise the potential yield from the expertise of the people concerned.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 16 stand part of the Bill."

Subsection (5) states: "The Authority may, with the consent of the Minister, evoke or amend a standard specification." This comes up from time to time in legislation and we always say that succeeding Ministers may not be as enlightened as the present incumbent of the office. Why should the consent of the Minister be required? Why can the Authority not do this job on its own?

The only answer I can give the Senator is that it has always been thus.

A mould to be broken.

Not only have we the provision on the wall of the draftsman's office regarding members of local authorities, now we have found a second provision which must go into all legislation to conform to what the draftsman requires. I do not want to make a major issue out of it but it is superfluous.

At least the Minister is not a revisionist.

The Minister is, for the time being, the repository of the elected wishes of the people. I can see possible difficulties if one devolved to an agency the authority to start revoking standards. There would be no political accountability. The Minister could say it had nothing to do with him, the board did it, etc. There is some merit in it in terms of accountability.

In light of the first amendment from Fianna Fáil calling for 50 per cent of the members of the Authority to be female, I should, of course, have said the draftsperson's office and I apologise to all concerned.

Ownership of the standard is apparently vested in the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 17 stand part of the Bill."

Will certain commodities still require tariffs, such as those meeting European or British standards, for example? Although we have an Irish standard, it will not necessarily mean it is applied to all goods. They may be sold here on the basis of the existing standard. Will this in any way affect those goods or will people who have standards in other jurisdictions now have to apply to have their Irish standards authenticated?

We are not talking about mandatory standards here. In the event of such a standard being registered, it is published in Iris Oifigiúil so that it is brought to the attention of the people who need to know about it. It does not affect voluntary standards.

I am sure the Minister of State is aware there has been a virtual prohibition on the establishment of some new technologies because of the difficulty of obtaining UK standards where commodities have to undergo certain tests. The cost of that is very high and in some cases it prohibited the establishment of small businesses here. I presume the Irish standards authority will not have the facilities to enable some of those procedures to be undertaken here and there will still be a requirement for many new products to go to the UK for standardisation.

How can this be avoided? It is probably not relevant to this section but, as far as I can see, this legislation will not do away with the system which has prevented small Irish businesses from establishing standards for commodities because of the cost involved in taking them to the UK. A number of inventions have been prevented from being put into production here because of the cost of having these tests done in the UK. We will not have the facilities to do tests here, at least in the short term.

Senator Daly is right that it does not come under this section but I know the point he is making. It is more of a commentary on the past than on the present. The whole thrust now — the next stage beyond mutual recognition of standards and so on — is towards a common standard, for good or ill. We have to be careful to recognise the consumer dimension of this. Senator Dardis spoke on Second Stage about the dangers to consumers of products coming on the market which do not comply with standards which are generally applicable in the European Union. I am not so sure that progress towards common standards is that oppressive on small business any more because it is pretty widely recognised now.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 18 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 19 stand part of the Bill."

I will probably ask the same questions on section 22 because there seems to be a correlation here in relation to the false use of standards. I am not sure whether the section refers to the illegal use of standard markings for counterfeiting purposes. Retail products are ordinarily manufactured to a high degree and have the standard marking to enhance that credibility, but that could be open to abuse. The Minister of State referred to monitoring, but how will the counterfeiting of standards be monitored? What procedures will there be for implementing this section on false representation?

If this legislation is to be effective it is very important that if someone sets out to make a false representation he is deemed to be guilty of an offence. That is essentially what the section seeks to do. The Director of Consumer Affairs will have a role in the policing of this. The counterfeiting phenomenon, to which Senator Mooney referred, is probably appropriate to trademarks law primarily. The recent Bill on trademarks which I introduced to the House sought to deal with the question of counterfeiting. Senators will note that one or two major seizures were made very recently. Representations were made to Members by the anti counterfeiting group in respect of the point raised by the Senator. However, it is more proper to trademarks law.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 20 stand part of the Bill."

Section 20(3) states:

A standard mark shall include the words "Caighdeán Éireannach" or the initials "C.É." and may include the words "Irish Standard" or the initials "I.S." or any other mark.

That is quite desirable in terms of the national language being the first language and so on. However, in terms of establishing the mark as something in which consumers can have confidence and which is readily identifiable, it strikes me that it is the wrong way around. It should read that it "shall include the words ‘Irish Standard' or the initials ‘I.S.' and may include the words. ...". It is rather like the coat hangers with the words "An tSualainn tír a déanta" written on them.

I assume that exported goods conforming to the standard will have the Irish standard stamped on them if the exporter so wishes. In those circumstances, it would be preferable if the mark was in English rather than Irish. If I am reading the legislation correctly, irrespective of whether it is written in English on the product, the Irish wording has to be included. In other words, the English wording would be additional to the Irish wording. That strikes me as unnecessarily complicated and not very consumer friendly. I suppose in England they might take "C.E." to mean Church of England.

Speaking of the church, while God remains in the Constitution, I figure Irish will remain the first national language.

I heard what Senator Dardis said. It is a matter of taste, to some extent. That is the structure recommended by the parliamentary draftsman, as is the construction of words used. There was considerable discussion in the other House about that. There is a separate section which refers to provision to deceive in terms of the use of the word "standard" and so on. It is somewhat like the discussion we had on the Title of the Bill. I do not know whether it might remind one of the Church of England. The argument is that it is very distinctively Irish.

It is more important than that. I accept that Irish is the first national language and I share the desire to revive it. However, an aggressive exporting country such as Japan does not put Japanese symbols on its products, as far as I am aware — they almost always use English. We have to accept if we are trying to sell goods on international markets and to establish that our standards are good ones which we can stand over, it would be preferable from a commercial, rather than philosophical, point of view to have it as the "Irish Standard".

From my reading of it, the section seems to allow the authority to devise its own brand — be that a harp or something which is distinctly Irish — to use in conjunction with the proposed wording. Senator Dardis referred to a particular standard which will quickly become identifiable as the Irish quality mark. As I understand it, some form of Irish mark will be developed which will readily identify a product as being Irish manufactured to a particular quality.

Senator Manning is correct. The NSAI's mark is the main one. There may also be a European logo or mark but it will not have the same significance. We entered into a similar discussion on the Title of the Bill and there is a pin, which represents the main logo of the NSAI. My officials have confirmed that Senator Manning's comments regarding the authority devising its own brand or mark are correct. Ireland will not be solely dependent on the Caighdeán Éireannach symbol for selling goods to other countries.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 21 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 22 stand part of the Bill."

In contributing to the discussion on section 19, I indicated that section 22 was similar. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify what is the difference between "false representation" and "unlawful use"? It seems that these terms correlate with each other. While I accept the Minister of State's comments in relation to section 19, are his replies as pertinent to this section?

Everyone hopes that the standard mark will become important and will identify the country of origin in a positive and upbeat manner but it may also attract the attention of criminal elements. With regard to retail products, there is no doubt but that there will be, not so much counterfeiting, as misuse and illegal use of the mark which will have been licensed by the Minister.

Senator Cassidy and myself are involved in the music industry. We know that significant pirating of video and audio cassette tapes is occurring in Dublin and throughout the country. Irish manufacturers of such products will seek to obtain the standard mark. With the export of the ethnic Irish music product overseas, they may believe that use of the mark will enhance their credibility. There is no doubt that this is becoming a multi-million pound industry.

I am not suggesting that the Minister of State has all the answers or that the Bill will go any way towards addressing the problem. However, it is past time that there was a stronger response to pirating of products. The Minister of State correctly referred to the seizure of cigarettes in this regard, but more effective action must be taken. The Garda Síochána state that it does not have the requisite resources to deal with the problem. Equally, under current law, people suspected of such nefarious activities must be caught in possession of illegal goods. These people only take a small amount of such goods onto the streets for sale. They place them on a baker's box and can walk away if an attempt is made to apprehend them. They will not run away taking the product with them because they are aware that they can be charged once they are caught in possession of it.

I do not want to broaden the debate, but there is need to provide for more effective monitoring. If we are to establish the standard mark in the manner in which it is being debated, we must also consider the other side of the coin. We must look at effective measures to prevent or at least minimise illegal use of the mark.

I concur with Senator Mooney's comments about the standard mark and an effective monitoring system. Three weeks before Christmas 120,000 pirated video cassettes were discovered in County Louth. These items were not being manufactured by someone from the Republic or Northern Ireland, but by a citizen of another country. This type of activity causes enormous damage to employment. In Ireland, as elsewhere, 80 per cent of the turnover in the music business is earned in the five weeks before Christmas. This industry must be protected because it is a tremendous asset. Irish musicians abroad are great ambassadors for this country. A standard mark is a must in the effort to put a stop to piracy.

From a personal, not a political, point of view, I have always admired the work carried out by the Minister of State. I request that he investigate this issue as a matter of urgency. Piracy is one of the top five offences in Scotland. Perhaps the Minister of State's officials would consider the Scottish regulations and laws dealing with this issue. This would help the music industry, among others, which is under much pressure.

I will not quibble about this issue but both Senators have used the section to make an entirely separate point. I cannot say that I have never done so myself. Having referred to trademarks law, we have moved to copyright law. I have good news for Senators Cassidy and Mooney in that I am currently preparing a major Bill to deal with the issue of copyright. Unfortunately, it runs to over 500 sections and work on it will be adversely affected as a result of personnel from my Department being diverted to help with EU Presidency work. The area of intellectual property is very detailed and specific, and development of the proposed legislation cannot progress until the relevant expertise becomes available. I hope to publish the Bill in whatever time is remains to me as Minister of State.

Before the next general election.

I hope it will deal effectively with the phenomenon described by Senators Mooney and Cassidy. I do not know if Senator Mooney was serious, but the difference between sections 19 and 22 is, as he is probably aware, that one relates to "standard specification" while the other relates to "standard mark".

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He digressed slightly from the debate and I hope I will be allowed to briefly travel the same route. I am pleased that he indicated his intention to publish a new copyright Bill. Will the Minister of State give serious consideration to introducing that Bill in this House? In case he feels a Bill with 500 sections might be too onerous, the Companies Act, which ran to almost 400 sections, was introduced in the Seanad. The Minister of State made a valid point about expertise. I am not suggesting that as Members of the Upper House we have a monopoly on expertise in this area, but this complex Bill deserves reflection by the Seanad before it is placed before the Dáil. I am making a political point.

Not stating a vested interest?

I take the Minister of State's point about the distinction between the two sections.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 23 to 27, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 28 stand part of the Bill."

On Second Stage I mentioned the Minister's power to make regulations. Can he make regulations which would provide for a standard at funfairs? We have had numerous instances where people have been seriously injured or killed by the equipment used at funfairs. There has been serious criticism because funfairs can be set up without any standard or supervision by local authorities. It is not clear whether such activity could be covered by a standard.

The Minister is enabled to make such a regulation but he is required to consult with the Minister who has the remit in this area.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 29 stand part of the Bill."

I take it that the copyright is vested in the Minister and that anybody who has not been granted a licence and who uses the mark would be in breach of copyright.

It is vested in the Authority rather than the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 30 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 31 stand part of the Bill."

In view of the debate we have had on contravention and the fact that huge sums of money would be involved in the illegal use of the standard mark, the fine of £1,500 might not be a sufficient deterrent for big business.

I agree the penalty of £1,500 or imprisonment seems to be small in what could be a sizeable case. If a person's patent or licence is interfered with, thousands of pounds could be involved. There is no provision for somebody to claim damages from a third party who may be in breach of the legislation. While a person can claim expenses, there is no provision to claim damages if they have been denied a livelihood because of actions taken.

There is a difficulty among honourable members of the Bench when reading such sections, as if only a £1,500 fine or a short term in prison applied. Both penalties can apply and 12 months imprisonment is not trivial. The essence of this is the question of speedy access to justice and to the jurisdiction of the District Court. I do not foresee the major counterfeiting scams which we discussed earlier and for which we had penalties of £0.5 million. Therefore, speedy access to justice and to the jurisdiction of the District Court is important. There is no provision in this Bill for damages, but there is nothing in it which deprives the litigant of the right to prosecute for damages under the civil law.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 32 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 33 stand part of the Bill."

The Bill should include a provision to cater for damages. The Minister should look again at the section to see if it might be desirable to table an amendment to cover people who are financially damaged and who perhaps lose their livelihoods.

It is not that this issue was not considered. My advice is that it is not necessary and that civil law provides for such a situation. I do not believe one is likely to be presented with the circumstances which Senator Daly anticipates.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 34 to 38, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 16, line 50, after "members" to insert "of which 40% shall be women".

We have already discussed the reasons this amendment should be accepted. It is in keeping with the Government's guidelines in relation to the percentage of women appointed or nominated to semi-State boards and boards to which appointments are in the gift of the Government. The precedent I cite is the Heritage Council Bill, 1994, introduced by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. That council comprises 14 members, so it was relatively easy for the Minister to provide that not less than seven members should be women. We have some difficulty with this legislation in that the board of the Authority shall consist of not more than 13 members. We tried to be Solomon like, but we could not split the baby in half. Rather than opt for a specific figure, we suggest that not less than 40 per cent of the new authority shall consist of women. The argument has been well made so I will not repeat it ad nauseam. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment.

In technical terms, the Senator has split the baby in half. The amendment states that not less than 40 per cent shall be women. If the authority is to consist of 13 members, then it would require 5.2 women, which is impossible unless we are talking about a combination of a hermaphrodite or an androgynous person. I agree with the sentiment, but the impossibility of implementation gives rise to concern.

The Minister said: "The Bill follows the common international approach to the requirement that only those persons who are already directly interested and involved in standardisation should be considered for representation on the board." Some people would not fulfil that requirement. Would that be a dilemma for him?

Senator O'Toole's point, conceded by Senator Mooney, shows the folly of trying to make law on the hoof, which is not an appropriate metaphor in this case.

Or on high heels.

The amendment is incapable of implementation, although the argument is well made. I draw the Senator's attention to subsection (4), in particular the clause that reads "taking into account guidelines issued from time to time by the Government". The guidelines issued by the Government are precisely those for which Senator Mooney argues. Without being in breach of Cabinet confidentiality, I can tell Members that the Minister for Equality and Law Reform raises them each time a Bill comes to Government. I am sure he will do that in this case and I hope, despite the point made by Deputy Sherlock about the specialist nature of this board, we will be able to find the requisite number of women — approximately 40 per cent.

The motive behind tabling this amendment has been more than justified by the short debate that has taken place and the Minister's response to it. I take the point that it is not pleasant when one is hoisted on one's petard in the context of the breakdown of numbers, but the figure of 40 per cent has been put forward because that is stated in the guidelines. I accept Senator O'Toole's point that legislation should be specific and, if it was, it would be the opposite of a Solomon-like judgment because Solomon did not split the baby in half. In the circumstances the Minister's reply is perfectly acceptable. I hope legislation will be more specific in future rather than, as the Minister quoted, "taking into account guidelines issued from time to time by the Government". A Government may be 100 per cent male chauvinist and may decide to debar women. The legislation should reflect the gender breakdown in society and should be specific in that regard.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 16, line 50, after "members." to insert "One ordinary member shall be appointed on the nomination of such organisations as the Minister considers to be representative of consumers."

I have fascinating thoughts on the previous amendment. Sometimes males are spoken of as old women and perhaps there are men who are 20 per cent female. That would allow us conform to the 40 per cent requirement.

I raised the point covered in this amendment on Committee Stage and the Minister of State conceded it to an extent and accepted that the composition of the board of An Bord Bia had been improved by a representation of the consumer interest. The amendment before the House is the same as that contained in the An Bord Bia Bill. It gives the Minister discretion to designate organisations or to seek nominations from organisations he considers represent consumers. The Consumers Association of Ireland is one that springs most readily to mind. Given the thrust of the Bill, it would be desirable if one person was designated as representing consumer interests. That provision improved the An Bord Bia Bill and it could improve this Bill. I commend this to the Minister who made the point that he was glad the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry accepted this proposal, one which we tabled originally to the 1994 An Bord Bia Bill which had not been passed at that stage. The inclusion of this provision is desirable. The more consumer confidence there is in bodies of this nature the better, and the more it will give authority to the standards established by the board, the more confidence the consumer will have. For that reason I strongly commend the amendment to the Minister of State.

Senator Dardis is right. I accepted the argument at an early stage when this was under discussion. Subsection (4) was pointed out to me at that stage. Without any single interest predominating, the expectation is that there will be multiple consumer interests on the board. Perhaps Senator Dardis is making a provision for a specific consumer organisation, but that is not stated in his amendment which refers to such organisations. I am persuaded of the merit of the argument, but in practice there will be considerably more than one representative on this board and for reasons of economy I am prepared to give Senator Dardis an absolute undertaking that if I am the Minister of State at the time the board is appointed I will undertake to ensure there is at least such a nomination requested from the consumers organisation that Senator Dardis has in mind.

I thank the Minister of State for his commitment. Section 2 (4) of the Schedule provides that the interests are ones that are involved in the process of standardisation and certification of commodities, processes and practices. While I accept that no one interest should predominate, that does not include consumer interests. Under the terms of that subsection it would be possible to exclude the consumer interests. As we pointed out in respect of an earlier section, not every Minister will be as enlightened as the present incumbent. It would add substantially to the authority which could be conferred on the authority, to use a tautology, if the consumer was represented.

To some extent I accept the distinctions drawn by Senator Dardis. However, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I know Senator Dardis is considering consumers in the sense of consumers represented by the Consumers Association of Ireland which, as Senator Henry said, are the type of people who will shop for those products who tend to be predominantly female. In the circumstances the only way in which I can deal with them is to give that assurance in respect of the specific organisation that Senator Dardis has in mind and to invite them to make a nomination.

Question put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 17, lines 29 and 30, to delete paragraph (11).

I made my impassioned plea to the Minister on Second Stage and this is the end result of that contribution. I made the argument and in fairness to the Minister he indicated a window of opportunity in this regard in his response at the end of Second Stage.

I listened to the earlier debate and when I glanced through the Bill this morning I did not pick up this point and, if I had, I would have raised it on Second Stage. I feel aggrieved on behalf of local authority members. The Minister of State said this is almost a tradition in the sense that it appears in legislation time after time in regard to Members of the Oireachtas and so on. That type of utterance indulges begrudgery. Those people have a begrudging attitude towards those who give of their time in local democracy. It diminishes the overall importance of local government, the subject of much debate. If I might draw a parallel with the present debate on crime and getting the fundamentals right from the beginning, attitudes to local government have been deteriorating since the 1977 general election which diminished the powers of local authorities and abolished rates.

People should be encouraged to participate in local government. I have no intention of doing so myself and never had any intention of being a candidate, but I do admire those who give of their time serving on local authorities, be they county councils, urban councils or town commissions that form a very important part of the overall democratic process. In other European countries it is very common for people, perhaps in their fifties, who have been successful in their careers, businesses and professions, to become candidates for membership of local authorities, it is almost perceived as an honour.

I am afraid our attitude to county councillors, town commissioners, those who serve on urban councils and so on, is very negative, the attitude appears to be that it is very bad for the democratic process. Indeed, people's distrust in public representation is manifested in young people's reluctance, perhaps on the verge of a career, to participate in public life at any level.

This provision that board members shall not be members of a local authority within the meaning of the Local Government Act, 1941, is gratuitous and can emit one signal only, that somehow such people are not to be trusted, perhaps are not the right calibre or whatever; all this is very negative. I have no doubt that that was not the intention of those who drafted this provision. Nonetheless, it demeans participation in local government representation and encourages cynicism. In addition, it might rule out people with a commitment to public service whose energies would be expended for the common good, giving of their services for the betterment of society generally, who might be appointed to this board through a different route.

While acknowledging that it is unreal to expect the Minister to accept an amendment at this stage, we must send clear signals to members of local authorities that we value their contribution to the community, that we wish them to continue and give a similar signal to those they represent, that those they elect are valued by the electorate. It is fundamentally wrong that they should be excluded.

Senator Mooney in his Second Stage contribution expressed the view that this provision might be unconstitutional. I do not believe it is but I certainly agree with the point he made that, as drafted, it is very difficult to accept. I regret its inclusion and wish we were afforded an opportunity to omit it even at this late stage. I make this point in the hope that this type of provision will not be incorporated in future legislation.

I want to be associated with other Members' comments on this Part of the Bill. For some time there has been strong feeling among members of local authorities that the will of the electorate is not being heard or implemented by those elected at local authority level. A person in my area, unsuccessful in a local election, now holds a position of enormous importance. In my view that does not represent democracy or correspond with the will of the people. I am totally opposed to the provision that a board member shall not be a member of a local authority within the meaning of the Local Government Act, 1941.

There is at present no encouragement for people to enter public life, to participate in our overall democratic structures or to engage in the hard work undertaken voluntarily by members of local authorities nationwide. In all justification, this House, which selects almost 50 of its Members through the ballot box, cannot allow this Part of a Bill be passed. It is a disgrace; it demeans members of local authorities and is a provision with which I cannot associate myself as a Member of this House for the past 14 years. I am totally opposed to it, as I believe are most Members, if not the Leader. This provision must be seriously re-examined. We should all like to think that future politicians would have a training ground within which they could represent members of their respective communities, make their way through the democratic process, as all of us here have done. Indeed, most Members of both Houses will already have served as members of local authorities before being elected and it is through that privileged will of the electorate we can offer our views on this Part of the Bill.

I, too, support the amendment and do not believe this subsection should have been included. There is an inference to be drawn from all of this — that somehow members of local authorities are unfit to serve on boards of this nature. Senator O'Toole is right when he says it is demeaning and indicates to the general public that somehow members of local authorities are unfit and/or cannot be trusted. I could see a reason for its inclusion if the potential existed for a conflict of interest. I contend there is greater potential for conflict of interest through the appointment of somebody from a large commercial concern than in appointing a member of a local authority.

When one thinks of the number of bodies nationwide on whose boards members of local authorities serve, such as universities, county enterprise boards — to which members of local authorities make a significant contribution — in addition to vocational education committees, while there are exceptions, generally members of all those bodies serve in the interests of the common good and refrain from politicising them. In the case of the County Kildare Vocational Education Committee, of which I am not a member, my experience has been that they are not political and all cooperate in the interests of the community they serve. It is in that spirit of public service that most people approach membership of a local authority and is the reason they stand for election; this should be encouraged. For all those reasons I believe this provision should be deleted.

I shall not repeat the arguments made by my colleagues because I find myself in agreement with every word uttered. Rather I should like to endeavour to be helpful because striking down this one provision — which probably would not affect many local authority members — might not be particularly helpful. It is a much wider issue this type of subsection which finds its way almost automatically into every Bill being the problem. As Leader of the House I would be very happy to raise the matter with the Government, conveying the views of all Members that this is an issue which must be examined by the Attorney General and parliamentary draftsmen, in an endeavour to ascertain why this provision is included in Bills of this type, obtain an answer, thus ensuring that this type of subsection is not automatically included in Bills.

There may occasionally be a conflict of interest, although in most cases there is not. As a Seanad, given our electorate, we should examine this. Starting at tomorrow's meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, I will be happy to look at this question over the summer and go to Government with our proposals. Our case should be made in a reasoned way. I guarantee it will be if I can get all-party agreement. Rather than striking down this issue tonight in one Bill which may not be relevant, it would be better to make the general point for all future legislation and, possibly, a Bill which might repeal sections of existing legislation.

I appreciate the intervention of Senator Manning and would wish him to do precisely as he suggested. Nevertheless, we are faced with having this in the Bill. Senator Mooney and I came to the conclusion that any attempt to amend this would make it worse and that the easiest way to deal with the matter would be to delete the subsection. That is what we are proposing.

We had agreed to finalise this Bill this evening, but if the Minister is adamant about not changing it, we will have to consider our position on Report Stage.

I am adamant about nothing except that I agree with the view which has been expressed. Senator O'Toole said he did not pick it up when he went through the Bill. I am ashamed to say I did not pick it up either, nor, with respect to my colleagues on the other side of the House, did their colleagues in the other House. I took on board a number of amendments advanced by the Opposition in the Dáil. This point was not adverted to at any stage and I sat through the entire proceedings. I do not think it was the intention to demean anyone. It is unfortunate that this is an automatic importation into Bills nowadays.

Not all of them.

I do not agree with it. To be brutally frank, if the other House had not risen, I would not have the slightest compunction about accepting the amendment, even though I do not think it has much reference to this Bill. However, we are in the twelfth hour in more ways than one. The other House has risen. This has certain implications in terms of having to go back before the other House in the autumn, and that has certain implications in terms of the purpose of the Bill. In the event, as Senator Manning says, it does not impact on this Bill particularly because of subclause (4) to which we adverted earlier. I agree with the arguments made and I have no compunction about putting my views on the record. If the matter had been brought to my attention earlier I would have been only too happy to comply with the request.

I am very grateful to the Minister. I fully appreciate his dilemma and I welcome Senator Manning's intervention. The other House will be coming back on 25 July, albeit for a specific purpose. This relates to the removal of but one subsection of the First Schedule which I contend would not be a contentious issue in the other House and would be welcomed by the Members there. In those circumstances, I can hardly stand back from falling in line with the Minister's desires and the view expressed by the Leader of the House because this is an issue that goes to the core of local democracy. It is an issue that is constantly debated wherever councillors meet. They see this type of legislation as the thin end of the wedge.

I am concerned that if we continue to pass legislation of this nature, which is a blocking mechanism for locally elected members, people of merit and credibility will no longer see the option of elected office as an attractive option and will throw their considerable energies into the fast growing non-elected voluntary sector. That is already happening. There is no one measure I can point to that has diminished local authority elected members in the eyes of the public. It has been a slow drip effect over many years. If the mind set of Government and of the parliamentary drafts people, whenever they are faced with legislation of this nature in the creation of new boards, is to automatically exclude local authority members for no logical reason, I cannot stand over that. The Minister and the Leader of the House have asked, rhetorically, why this is in legislation and say they will attempt to find out but the absence of a formal response, I will tell the House. It is there because there is a diminution in the perception of the work of local authority members. The higher one goes, the more one looks up and the less one looks down. That is part of the reason. That may sound unfair to parliamentary drafts people and to civil servants, but there is a feeling in Government, irrespective of party, within official Ireland — to use that terrible term Éamon Dunphy uses — that somehow local authority members are less important than others.

The prospect of names like that being dredged up at this hour of the night is more than I can take. In order to end this Chinese torture, I will accept the amendment.

On that basis, will the Minister reconsider the earlier amendment?

I thank the Minister. It is what I would have expected from him. I also thank the Leader of the House for his timely intervention.

Amendment agreed to.
First Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Second Schedule be the Second Schedule to the Bill."

I thank the Minister for conceding the earlier point. It was a magnanimous gesture on his part. To underline the argument, the Second Schedule deals with the people who would be seconded from the staff of the authority, and membership of a local authority would not require one to stand seconded. One could be a member of staff and be a member of a local authority. It was not considered desirable to have someone who was a member of a local authority as a member of the board.

Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.
Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I moved an amendment earlier which I put to a vote and perhaps it would have been better had I not done so. Can anything be done to insert that provision because my reluctance to press the matter earlier was because I was trying to facilitate the Minister in not having to bring the Bill back to the Dáil, but I believe it should be in the Bill.

Senator Dardis did precisely that and I appreciate it. You cannot win in this business. Rather than listen to Eamon Dunphy being adduced as some kind of evidence for local authority members not being excluded, in order to attend the Cabinet meeting I accepted the amendment and I ask Senator Dardis not to spoil his earlier gracious co-operation by now asking me to go back and accept an amendment on which he quite rightly made a strong argument, the thrust of which I accepted.

In deference to the Minister I retire.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I compliment the Minister on this Bill. Earlier he said he put his stamp on part of it and I am very glad he brought forward effective legislation and had the courage to face up to the Seanad amendments. Overall he has done a very good evening's work and I thank him and his staff for their co-operation.

I concur with my colleague's remarks. The Minister and his staff were very much on the ball throughout this debate. We put abstract and difficult questions to him. I am delighted he has accepted the amendment not only because of the merit of the argument or the fact that he had to get to a Cabinet meeting, but because he has set an important precedent. We will never again have to subject this House to our earlier arguments.

The Minister is to be congratulated for accepting the amendment particularly as it will create difficulties for him in bringing the Bill back to the Lower House. Last week he was referred to as the meejum Minister but this evening he has confirmed that he is more.

I concur with Senator Daly and Senator Mooney. I hope when the Minister goes to the Cabinet meeting that he will tell them that no other Bill will now come into this House with a similar provision. That is a great day's work for local authority members.

I concur with everything that has been said.

I thank Members for their courtesy during the processing of this Bill. I earnestly appeal to the Leader of the Fianna Fáil group to use his authority and connections to ensure that his colleagues facilitate the taking of this Bill on 25 July. On that day there is one item on the agenda the House knows about. I am sure nobody in the other House would object to what the Seanad has done and I would be grateful if this Bill could be taken without debate in the Dáil. There are matters of staffing, investment, money and reputation of standards at issue. It will take considerable time after 25 July to put the structure in place and it is important that we are permitted to get on with it.

I thank the House for its co-operation.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2.30 p.m. tomorrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.5 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 July 1996.