Agriculture Appeals Bill, 2001 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] – Report and Final Stages.

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

I would like to bring the Chair's attention to a typographical error in the list of amendments before the House. I ask the Cathaoirleach to direct the Clerk under Standing Order 121 to correct this typographical error which is in amendment No. 3. It is the last line of amendment No. 3. The word "adopted" should be "adapted". I would like this to be corrected.

Senators will recall that the Agriculture Appeals Bill was introduced in this House on 8 February last and was passed by the Seanad on 1 March. The Bill was passed by the Dáil on Friday last, 29 June. Today we are discussing the amendments made by the Dáil. I would like to explain the amendments and the reasons for them.

Section 1 of the Bill deals with interpretation. It was necessary to make some minor changes to section 1 because of changes that were made to other sections of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 1 and 5 are a direct consequence of amendment No. 6. Previously, section 2 was the only section that referred to the Civil Service. There is now a reference to the Civil Service in sections 2 and 3. Therefore, the definition has been moved from section 2 to section 1. Amendment No. 5 deletes the definition from section 2 and amendment No. 1 inserts the definition in section 1.

I would draw Senators' attention to amendment No. 6 on the list. Amendment No. 6 refers to section 3, which deals with the appointment of the director. The Bill as passed by this House last March stated that one of the appeals officers would be designated by the Minister to act as the director. The Bill as passed by the Dáil now reads that the director will be appointed by the Minister following a competition run either by the Top Level Appointments Committee in the Civil Service or the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners. The effect of this amendment is that the post of director will be filled by competition and will be open to the whole Civil Service. This is a significant improvement, which will enhance the independence of the Agriculture Appeals Office. The competition will be run either by the Top Level Appointments Committee or the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners, depending on the level at which the post of director will be pitched. This matter is currently under discussion between my Department and the Department of Finance.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 cover the interpretation of "statutory instrument". These amendments are necessary because a new section 14 has been inserted into the Bill. The text of the new section 14 is shown in amendment No. 9. It contains a reference to a statutory instrument. Therefore, we must define what we mean by a statutory instrument. The amended wording of section 1 now contains the standard interpretation of such an instrument.

The new section 14 was inserted on foot of a commitment given by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in the Dáil on 8 March during the debate on the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001, which introduced a new registration system for animal and poultry dealers. The Minister committed to providing for an appeals system for dealers in the Agriculture Appeals Bill. Under the registration system for dealers, the Minister is required to notify a person if he or she intends to refuse to authorise that person or his or her premises for dealing in animals or poultry. If a person is notified accordingly and makes representations to the Minister, the matter must be referred to the director of the Agriculture Appeals Office, who must consider the case and advise the Minister within 28 days. The Minister must have regard to the advice of the director on the case before making a final decision to revoke or suspend a registration. The system proposed in amendment No. 9 is similar to that proposed under the national beef assurance scheme. I draw the attention of Senators to section 13 of the Bill as passed by this House on 1 March. Similarities can be seen between the text of amendment No. 9 on today's list and the text of section 13 as passed on 1 March.

Section 2 of the Bill deals with the appointment of appeals officers. During the previous debate in this House, section 2 was amended to allow appeals officers to be appointed not just from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development but from across the Civil Service. The section has now been further enhanced in the Dáil to allow for competitions to be held by the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners for the purpose of recruiting appeals officers. This change is covered in amendment No. 4. I think the House will agree that this is a further improvement on the changes already made to this section.

Section 7 of the Bill has been deleted by the Dáil. It provided that the Minister could, by order, confer additional functions on appeals officers, but it has been agreed the section was not needed. As a consequence of deleting section 7, it is necessary to amend section 16 and this has been provided for in amendments Nos. 10 to 13, inclusive. The original section 16 contained references to the making of orders and regulations, but now that references to "order" have been removed from this Bill, there is no need to refer to "order" in section 16. Amendments Nos. 10 to 13, inclusive, simply tidy up the text as a result of the deletion of section 7.

Amendment No. 7 refers to section 8, which deals with the right of appeal. The possibility of fixing a time limit within which all appeals must be concluded was discussed both in this House and in the Dáil. It was decided that, as well as giving the Minister the power to issue guidelines to appeals officers regarding the time limits for concluding appeals, the Minister should also have the power to make regulations laying down time limits if necessary. This would allow the Minister to take a flexible approach. There may be a need for very strict time limits for some schemes and less stringent limits for others.

Amendment No. 8 refers to section 9, which deals with oral hearings and adds two new subsections to the section. The new subsection (3) provides that an appellant has the right to be represented by another person at the oral hearing and subsection (4) states that where an appellant is represented by someone else at an oral hearing, the appeals officer will still have the right to put a direct question to the appellant rather than his or her adviser, if necessary. This is important if the appeals officer is to be allowed to make a full assessment of all the relevant facts and contentions in the case. In practice, it is unlikely that this provision will be needed on a regular basis. As in the case of social welfare and our own experience to date, oral hearings will be held in an informal and friendly environment, which will be helpful to the appellant.

Amendment No. 14 refers to the Schedule, which lists the schemes under the remit of the agriculture appeals office. In the earlier discussion on the Bill, both in this House and in the Dáil, the Minister indicated he had no difficulty in adding the bovine TB and brucellosis grants to the Schedule. However, he explained that there is already an appeals system in place to deal with disputes over the valuation of animals under the scheme. We are, therefore, adding the non-valuation aspects of the scheme. This will ensure farmers have access to an appeals system in respect of all aspects of the TB and brucellosis schemes.

All the amendments to the Bill made by the Dáil will enhance the appeals system we are putting in place and I hope the House will have no difficulty accepting them.

I am present because our former spokesperson on agriculture, Tom Hayes, has been elected to the other House. I join in the good wishes to him following his election and I am sure the Minister of State will only too gladly concur with me.

The Bill was initiated in the Seanad and I thank the Minister of State for coming in to explain the amendments made in the other House. I have no difficulty accepting them.

I welcome the Minister of State and concur with Senator Doyle. We have no problem accepting the amendments and I compliment the Minister of State on the way in which he has dealt with the Bill. The amendments will enhance the legislation.

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

I wish the former Senator, Tom Hayes, the best of luck and look forward to working with him in the continuing progress of our constituency.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 12.40 p.m. and resumed at 12.50 p.m.