National Oil Reserves Agency Bill 2006: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, line 7, to delete "1,000" and substitute "500".

Does the Minister of State agree that the new figure inserted by the amendment is more reasonable in this instance? I look forward to hearing his comments.

This amendment, which is not accepted, was proposed and rejected in the course of the Bill's passage through the Dáil. Section 2 defines an oil consumer as a person who, in the proceeding calendar year, imported into the State, acquired by purchase or otherwise from an oil company in the State, or held in storage in the State 1,000 or more tonnes of petroleum products exclusively for that person's own consumption in the State and not for resale or disposal to a third party. The definition of oil consumer is linked to the provision in the Bill that provides for a levy on disposals of petroleum products by oil companies and oil consumers.

Under the 1995 regulations, a National Oil Reserves Agency levy on disposals of petroleum products applies to oil companies and those major consumers who in the preceding month purchased not less than 1,000 tonnes of petroleum products. The regulations provide that oil consumers may claim an exemption from the monthly levy if they held during the previous month volumes of oil equivalent to at least 55 days' consumption. The proposal in the National Oil Reserves Agency Bill 2006 envisages continuation of both the levy on petroleum products and the provision for exemption from the levy.

To accept the amendment proposed by the Senator would make smaller oil consumers liable for payment of the National Oil Reserves Agency levy. It is accepted that those operators could claim a levy exemption provided that they held stocks equal to or in excess of 55 days' consumption. However, smaller oil consumers often operate on the basis of just-in-time deliveries and so are unlikely to wish storage facilities capable of handling significant volumes of oil surplus to operational requirements. In such situations, they would not be able to avail themselves of the levy exemption.

I am satisfied that the figure of 1,000 tonnes should remain, and the amendment is therefore not accepted.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 2 agreed to.
Sections 3 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 11, subsection (6)(a), line 18, after “opinion” to insert the following:

"and subject to confirmation by a medical practitioner".

I am sure, not being a medical practitioner, that the Minister of State will accept the provision in the Bill does not seem reasonable. We would normally respect the Minister of State's opinion. However, as it relates specifically to someone not being able to perform his or her duties through ill health, might it not be reasonable to make it subject to confirmation by a medical practitioner? I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response.

I do not propose to accept this amendment, which was also proposed, but not accepted, during the Bill's passage through the Dáil. The wording used in subsection (6)(a) of section 14 is the standard text used in legislation pertaining to the removal of directors from State bodies and is included in legislation setting up other agencies, for example, the Sustainable Energy Act 2002 and the Digital Hub Development Agency Act 2003. The fact that the text has not presented any difficulties convinces me that the amendment proposed by the Senator should not be accepted.

A board member's relationship with his or her doctor is confidential, and the nature of a doctor's relationship with a patient would prevent his or her disclosing information about a patient's state of health without the latter's consent. The context of removal from office provides no inducement for the director to provide such consent.

Having considered the proposed amendment carefully with the benefit of advice from the Office of the Attorney General, I am satisfied that, rather than improving outcomes, accepting the amendment would present practical difficulties for a Minister who wished to remove a director on the grounds of ill health. Accordingly, the amendment cannot be accepted.

Where there is agreement between the parties, there is no difficulty. I assume it is envisaged that the said person would normally offer to retire on the grounds of ill health. However, if there were a dispute, no one would like to see a Minister remove a director without ill health being apparent. I accept what the Minister said regarding confidentiality between the director and his or her doctor, but might there be an independent referee if there were a serious dispute?

That does not sound particularly pleasant. While I understand the Minister of State's logic regarding confidentiality, perhaps there might have been provision for an independent medical practitioner in the context of a dispute. If there were no dispute, for example, where a director was seriously unfit through ill health, he or she would offer to resign. If the standard wording has not led to any difficulties, has that scenario been the norm?

The wording used in subsection (6)(a), as it stands, is a standard text which has not caused any difficulties up to now. As regards the practicalities, a director’s physician would not necessarily know the duties a person is expected to perform as a director of NORA. The provision of a medical certificate by a physician does not mean that the director is unable to perform his or her duties. For example, a director diagnosed with an illness such as cancer could still be able to perform such duties. We have considered the matter carefully and sent it to the Attorney General who stated that what the Senator proposes would make things more difficult and that we should remain with the text that has been standard over the years.

It has stood the test of time, so to speak.

It has, so far.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 14 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 12, subsection (4), line 23, to delete "Oireachtas" and substitute the following:

"Oireachtas, and he or she shall arrange for a short debate thereon".

Section 15(4) states:

As soon as practicable after approving a strategy statement, the Minister shall cause a copy of the statement to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

This reasonable and practical amendment proposes to delete the word "Oireachtas" and substitute the following: "Oireachtas, and he or she shall arrange for a short debate thereon". In this House, and I am sure in the Lower House, there are often calls for debates on relevant subjects. In this case, when the Minister is making a strategy statement, it would be reasonable to have a short debate on it.

The text of section 15, as passed by Dáil Éireann, provides for NORA strategy statements, the finalised documents, to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Similar provisions are set out in legislation setting up other bodies, for example, the digital hub. I do not consider that specific issues pertain to NORA which require that a more stringent provision on strategy statements should be applied to the agency.

Section 15 sets out the information to be included in strategy statements. Such information must include key strategies and activities of the agency, outputs the agency aims to achieve and against which its performance will be checked, and staff resources and expenditure proposals necessary to pursue the agency's strategies.

The House should note that section 31 provides for the examination of NORA's chief executive officer by the Committee of Public Accounts and select committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas. This section requires the chief executive officer to provide evidence on expenditure by the agency to the Committee of Public Accounts and to account to committees of the Oireachtas for the performance of its functions. Therefore, I am not disposed to accept the proposed amendment to subsection (4).

The Minister of State has largely responded to the question I was going to ask. We have established a system of Oireachtas committees and so it is appropriate that many such matters should end up there. I recall from the debate on Second Stage, to which the Minister of State referred, that section 31 provides an opportunity for NORA's chief executive officer to appear before Oireachtas committees, including the Committee of Public Accounts and the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. After all, the people who will take any active part in such a debate are the spokespersons from the various parties. It would be better to do so in committee rather than in the Houses. The matter is largely covered in the legislation, so I would have thought the amendment was unnecessary.

Acting Chairman

Is the amendment being pressed?

No. I take Senator Kenneally's point and accept what he has said. The matter can be discussed in committee and I am sure that, in this House, as is our custom, we can seek a debate on it. In fairness, such debates are practically always granted.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 15 agreed to.
Sections 16 to 67, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister of State, his officials and the Opposition spokespersons, including Senator Coghlan, for their co-operation in bringing this Bill through the House. The legislation is largely uncontentious and was well debated in the Lower House. I am glad that Senators have been able to get through it as quickly as they could, which suited everybody. I thank everyone for their help in this regard.

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for their work on this Bill. It is necessary legislation which, as Senator Kenneally pointed out, was not opposed in any way, other than those few amendments. I thank the Minister of State for his explanations, including the detailed outlines of his reasoning, which are accepted.

I thank Senators, especially the Government and Opposition spokespersons, who participated in debating this Bill during its passage though Seanad Éireann. I am satisfied the amendments in the Lower House improved and strengthened the Bill which will provide Ireland with a better structure in the future for ensuring robust security of national, strategic oil stocks. I thank Senator Coghlan for his co-operation and support during this debate.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 5.10 p.m. and resumed at 5.45 p.m.