I thank the Senators for having me back in the House. We will try to get this Bill near the end of its passage today, if possible.
On this space, Senator Boyhan and I have a lot of common ground and we do not need to force a vote. I certainly would not want to force the Senator to vote. It is not in my nature to make anyone vote. We will try to find a compromise if we can. As the Senator will be aware, we have been trying to work on that over the past couple of weeks. There has been much engagement around this as well. We are on Committee Stage, we have yet to get to Report Stage and I see no reason the Senator would need to go that route. Of course, that is entirely up to him, but I would never force anybody, certainly not the Senator who is much bigger and stronger than I am, into a vote.
I consider amendments Nos. 42 and 43 a little unnecessary. As we already discussed this year, we have made provision, in section 10(a) of the Bill, for the waiving or reduction of fees to the making of submissions or observations by elected members in planning applications. It is important that they do that. We all recognise the right of councillors to make such submissions and that they would not be charged. We have expressed that already. The wording in section 10(a) of the Bill will explicitly give effect to one of the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal. Accordingly, it should not be changed.
We still disagree on whether it should be in regulation or in legislation. We would be strongly of the view that it is better done in regulation. Senator Boyhan is of the view that it should be in legislation and we have been debating that. To be clear, in case there is any doubt about this, we all are at one that it is not necessary to have a fee. I am happy to restate clearly for the record that we agree on the zero rate. It has been said previously but I wanted to say it again because this Bill has gone on for so long that people are forgetting where we are with the discussion.
The section 10 provision is essentially an enabling power for the Minister to make regulations under section 33 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, to provide for the payment by a councillor of a reduced fee or no fee rather than the current €20 fee for making submissions or observations on planning applications. In this regard, it should be noted that all planning-related fees applied by the planning authorities are provided for in regulations and are not in primary legislation. That is the space in which we have been doing this. Senator Boyhan is asking that we would change that, for this particular bit, to primary legislation. I do not believe it is necessary. The Senator does. He made a strong case for it. We can still tease it out a little further before we get to Report Stage. There is no need to divide on it today. I am still not sure why Senator Boyhan thinks it must be in primary legislation but I am happy to engage with him further in that space and we will try to work it out.
Furthermore, I indicated in response to remarks by Senator Lombard on Second Stage that my Department is currently reviewing generally the planning fees, which have not been changed since 1998. Accordingly, it is appropriate that the issue of the rate of fee to be applied in respect of the making of submissions or observations by elected members on planning applications should be considered and provided for in the context of the regulatory review of planning fees, which is currently being undertaken. There is a process to do this and that is what we are trying to do. We have been clear at different stages of debate here that we intended to do that and to move to the zero rate as well. However, I am open to the notion of applying a zero fee in respect of written submissions and observations on planning applications by elected members but this might be more appropriately limited to elected members from the municipal district or local area committee representing the area to which the planning application relates, as more or less suggested by Senators Boyhan and Grace O'Sullivan in amendment No. 43.
Senator Kevin Humphreys, previously and again today, made a strong case for why it should not be restricted to applications in the municipal area the elected member is from. The Senator is probably correct in what he states about councillors owning the development plan. That is the argument and the Senator made a strong argument on that as well. We can look to see if we can reach some compromise on that. We felt that having it completely open to a county councillor across the board might be too wide but I buy in to the Senator's argument that it is his development as a councillor and he wants to be able to defend it, respect it and ensure it is judged correctly as well. We can look at that in the next week or two and try to come to some agreement with the Senator.
The perspective of city councils and county councils is probably quite different. I ask Senator Humphreys not to nod his head and let me finish first. Maybe we can find agreement here of how we deal with that. The geographical area of a county council compared to that of a city council can be massive. The Senator made a good case and I am prepared to tease it out with him a little further. The Senator need not force it today. I would like us to reach agreement on this. It is better if we all agree when it comes to planning matters. By all means, it is up to the Senators. It is agreed we will have Report Stage in a couple weeks when we could tease it out a little further.
In amendments Nos. 42 and 43, the Senators want the same as a zero rate. We agree on that. It is only a matter of agreeing whether it is in regulation or how far it stretches. We could continue the debate because even among the Senators, who get on well as colleagues, there is a bit of a disagreement on that as well.