I move amendment No. 98:
In page 33, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
“Amendment of Agriculture Appeals Act 2001
34. The Agriculture Appeals Act 2001 is amended-
(a) in section 5-
(i) in subsection (1), by substituting “Schedule 1” for “the Schedule”, and
(ii) by substituting for subsection (2) the following:
“(2) The Minister may, for the purpose of?—
(a) the reorganisation of schemes,
(b) deleting spent schemes,
(c) giving persons an appeal in respect of applications under schemes that may come into existence, or
(d) in the case of any enactments or statutory instruments, giving persons an appeal in respect of applications under enactments or statutory instruments that may be passed or made (and not for the time being set out in Schedule 2),
amend by regulations Schedule 1 or 2, as appropriate, by adding an item to, or deleting an item from, either of those Schedules.”,
(b) in section 7(1) by substituting “Schedule 1” for “Schedule”,
(c) by inserting the following after section 14:
“Establishment of Forestry Appeals Committee and its function
14A. (1) The Minister shall establish a committee, which shall be known and is in this Act referred to as the Forestry Appeals Committee, consisting of a chairperson and such and so many other members (not being less than 2) as the Minister determines.
(2) The function of the Forestry Appeals Committee shall be to hear and determine appeals specified in subsection (4).
(3) An officer of the Minister shall be eligible for appointment as a member (including as chairperson) of the Forestry Appeals Committee but, in a case where a majority (or all) of the members of the Committee are such officers, a majority of such officers shall be of a grade senior to the grade of the officer who made the decision, the subject of the appeal to the Committee.
(4) Where a person is dissatisfied with a decision made by the Minister or an officer of the Minister under an enactment or statutory instrument set out in Schedule 2, he or she may appeal to the Forestry Appeals Committee against the decision and, on the hearing of the appeal, the Committee may confirm, cancel or vary the decision as it thinks fit.
(5) The decision of the Forestry Appeals Committee on such an appeal shall, subject to subsection (6), be final and conclusive.
(6) Any person dissatisfied with a decision of the Forestry Appeals Committee may appeal that decision to the High Court on any question of law.”,
(d) by renumbering the Schedule as Schedule 1 and inserting the following Schedule after it:
Section 7 of the Forestry Act 2014
Regulation 3 of the European Communities (Forest Consent and Assessment)
Regulations 2010 (S.I. No. 558 of 2010) Regulation 3 of the European Communities (Aerial Fertilisation) (Forestry) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 125 of 2012)”.”.
This amendment to sections 5 and 7 of the Agriculture Appeals Act 2001 involves technical changes to allow for the ongoing updating of the list of schemes that come within the remit of the agriculture appeals office and to extend the office's remit to include, in a new Schedule 2, appeals against felling and aerial fertilisation licence decisions and consents that are not covered by the various forestry schemes. While this is a lengthy amendment to the original text of the Bill, it is important to stress that it does not alter in any way the purpose of the original provision which is to have all forestry appeals dealt with by the independent agriculture appeals office.
The only distinction being made is that scheme applications, including afforestation, roads and woodland improvement, will be dealt with by the agriculture appeals office in the very same way as most other agriculture scheme appeals, while appeals against licence and consent decisions will be dealt with by a forestry appeals committee appointed by the Minister, as provided for under section 14A, under the auspices of the agriculture appeals office. Similar committee systems already operate on an ad-hoc basis to deal with various aspects of the single payment and disadvantaged areas schemes. This committee system has worked effectively and efficiently for such appeals and I envisage that the forestry appeals committee will operate equally well. The chairman and members of the forestry appeals committee will be appointed by the Minister and while it is not specified as to who should be chairman or who should serve on the committee, the appointment of officers of the Department is not precluded. The composition of the committee may comprise a mix of departmental and private individuals as was the case with the single payment appeals and disadvantaged areas scheme appeals committees. Decisions on such appointments will be made at the appropriate time and I will keep an open mind as to the composition of the membership of the committee and the appointment of its chairman.
Members may ask why we are distinguishing between scheme applications and such licence applications. The reason for this relates to the original purpose for which the appeals office was established, which was to consider and make determinations on appeals in respect of applications for entitlement under various schemes operated by the Department. The extension of the Agriculture Appeals Act proposed in the amendment will for the first time bring under the remit of the appeals office the consideration - on appeal - of licence applications. It is the view of the appeals office, in light of its experience with the operation of committees, that these appeals would best be considered within the context of a committee which can deal efficiently and effectively with complex issues and draw on the necessary expertise from other resources.
As regards amendment number 99, section 6 of the Agriculture Appeals Act 2001 provides that "Appeals Officers shall, subject to this Act, be independent in the performance of their functions". As a result, there is no need for the amendment because the matter to which it refers it is already adequately provided for in the 2001 Act.