I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, and his officials, Mr. Ned Costello and Mr. William Parnell. Three amendments have been ruled out of order as they involve a potential charge on the Exchequer: amendment No. 14 in the name of Deputy Rabbitte, amendment No. 16 in the name of Deputy Naughten and amendment No. 23, which is jointly in the names of Deputies Rabbitte and Naughten. I also have letters for Deputies Rabbitte and Naughten which they have just received. Members have been circulated with a list of proposed groupings of amendments for the purpose of debate. Can we move straight to section 1, amendment No. 1.
National Training Fund Bill, 2000: Committee Stage.
Before we kick off, I give notice that I have introduced another amendment just now to section 11. I ask the Chairman to agree to its circulation and to it being taken.
That is agreed.
Thank you. Also, Deputy Naughten and I will come to this in due course but the decision to rule out our amendments is somewhat puzzling. Maybe the Chair, the Clerk or the Minister of State can explain precisely why our amendments are a potential cost on the Exchequer. In so far as I understand it, any mechanism the Minister of State puts in place arising from the enactment of the legislation will involve some cost. The only cost I can envisage is the cost of the committee's meeting and surely, whatever the Minister of State puts in place, there will be some cost associated with the committee's meeting. In that sense we are puzzled by our amendments being ruled out of order. This is not the first time this rule has been used. However, when we framed these amendments we did so in the belief that we were inside the rules. It is disappointing because these go to the heart of what is controversial and contentious about a Bill we have otherwise supported in principle. Their being ruled out leaves us in a situation where to some extent we are going through the motions.
I appreciate what the Deputy says and I understand his frustration. As he is aware, I was only advised of the amendments being ruled out of order a few minutes before we commenced. There should be other avenues we can use to assist spokespersons when they have gone to the trouble of tabling an amendment, as the Deputy outlined, which they think is within the parameters and in order. I would like to think we could find another way to assist spokespersons rather than waiting until a few minutes before the meeting begins. I understand some of this is not within my remit nor that of the Clerk but is handled by the Bills Office. That office informs the committee.
I have been handed a note which may address the Deputy's points. Amendment No. 14 in the name of Deputy Rabbitte seeks to provide for consultation with a fund management committee before disbursements are made from the national training fund. At present no such committee exists and if one were to be established its members, in accordance with established practice, would be paid allowances for expenses. Such allowances would ultimately come from the Exchequer so the amendment involves a potential charge on Revenue and must be disallowed.
Surely whatever the Minister of State puts in place to guide him on the disbursement of the fund in question will involve meetings. This seems an extraordinarily rigorous invocation of the rule. Provided the Minister of State picks the people to advise him, which I assume he will do, I am sure he will be happy to agree once Committee Stage finishes. It is an extraordinarily rigorous interpretation of the rule that the cost of a few people meeting is sufficient to remove from the debate something that is considered very important by both sides of the industry. This is not a partisan application. We have had much discussion about social partnership and its merits and here we are wiping out consultative mechanisms as were there, saying the cost of a meeting is a potential cost on the Exchequer to such an extent that it is ruled out of order. It is a very rigorous ruling.
There is a procedure to which we normally adhere in dealing with Bills. The best way is to start at section 1 and to move through the Bill. As Chairman I try to be as fair and helpful as I can to all members. I have just received the information as to why the amendments are ruled out of order and when we reach amendment No. 14 there will be an opportunity for further debate.
Amendment No. 16 has been ruled out of order because it seeks to provide that training schemes under the Bill should have the approval of an industrial training committee. The amendment is consequential on amendment No. 23, which seeks to delete certain provisions from the Schedule and which has the effect of retaining ITCs. The retention of ITCs involves a potential charge on the Revenue and in accordance with the rulings of the Chair, amendment No. 16 must also be disallowed.
Regarding amendment No. 23, jointly in the names of Deputies Naughten and Rabbitte, my note states that this amendment seeks to delete a number of provisions which have been repealed in the Industrial Training Act, 1967. These all concern industrial training committees or ITCs and the members of such committees are currently paid allowances for expenses by An Comhairle pursuant to the Second Schedule of the 1967 Act and An Comhairle is funded by moneys provided by the Oireachtas pursuant to section 16 of the 1967 Act. Accordingly, the amendment involves a potential charge on the Exchequer and must be disallowed.
I want to move on to the Bill, now.
I do not want to delay the committee and the Minister of State can address this later. Amendment No. 23 does not involve a potential charge but an actual charge to the Exchequer, so we are not putting anything new in place. This charge exists. Also, if we are to take such a tight interpretation of potential and actual charges on the Exchequer, should this meeting be held at all? It gives rise to a potential charge on the Exchequer. Maybe we should not discuss the Bill. This is disappointing in that the Opposition spokespersons have facilitated the Department on this Bill, which was only published on 15 November, to ensure that it goes through by the end of the year and consultation with us regarding the amendments being ruled out of order is the least that could have been done. We should have been given notice of that.
I want to give spokespersons as much time as possible on the contentious issues. I gather we may have lengthy debates on amendments Nos. 14, 16 and 23, among others. We could speed up the process where there is no contention and I gather there is agreement, by and large, on other aspects of the Bill. If we could move through the sections quickly we would have more time in the areas where that is required.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, subsection (1), between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following definition:
" 'Collector-General' means the Collector-General appointed under section 851 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997;".
This is a technical amendment to clarify the term Collector-General used in the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 2, 9 and 10 are related and may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 4, subsection (1), line 7, to delete "of 1993." and substitute the following:
'special contributor' has the meaning assigned to it by the Social Welfare (Consolidated Contributions and Insurability) Regulations, 1996 (S.I. No. 312 of 1996).".
In most cases the training fund levy will be collected from employers through the PAYE-PRSI system by the Collector-General. This is currently provided for in section 5(1). However, PRSI contributions in respect of special contributors are paid directly to the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. The intention is that the levy in respect of special contributors will be paid directly to that Department along with PRSI contributions.
We are bringing forward amendment No. 2 to define the term "special contributor" in section 1. A practical example of a special contributor is a worker who would be posted abroad.
We are bringing forward amendment No. 9 to section 5(1) to provide greater clarity between subsections (1) and (2). Subsection (1) provides for the levy to be collected by the Collector-General when income tax falls due for collection in respect of an employed contributor. However, while income tax in respect of a special contributor falls due for collection by the Collector-General, PRSI contributions for that person fall due for collection by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. The proposed amendment will provide greater clarity of the fact that the levy in respect of special contributors will be paid to the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. Reference to the social welfare regulations, which define the term "special contributor", will no longer be required in section 5(2) as the definition will now be covered in section 1. This is the reason for our tabling of amendment No. 10.
There is no reference in section 1, or in the Acts to which the Bill refers, to the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, 1999. Will the Minister indicate whether the National Qualifications Authority, which has overall responsibility for approving training and qualifications, was consulted in relation to the Bill?
I am sure the Deputy is aware that the authority came into being only about three weeks ago and it was, therefore, not possible to consult it because it did not exist when the Bill was being drafted.
What level of consultation took place with organisations and bodies that did exist when the Bill was drafted? I refer here to the social partners in particular. The representations we have received suggest that the social partners were taken aback by some of the excisions or repeals provided for in the legislation. Will the Minister of State comment on that matter?
I am surprised to hear that the social partners were taken aback. I am informed that they fully support the Bill as do the main political parties in the Oireachtas. I also understand that wide consultation took place with IBEC and the ICTU on this matter over a period of time.
Is it the Minister of State's understanding that they support the Bill as drafted?
My understanding is that they support the entire ethos and purpose of the Bill.
I am sure they support the ethos and purpose. Everyone is in favour of training because it is a good thing. However, there is no point in our playing games at this point or we will be here for a long period this evening. It is clear that the social partners, on both sides, are displeased with measures in the Bill that change the status quo which, in some cases, operated extremely well. My query has nothing to do with the Bill being published on 15 November. Prior to that date, were the excisions and repeals to which I refer made known to the social partners.
We have received a request from the social partners for an overseeing committee to be put in place and the Tánaiste has given assurances that this will be established on a non-statutory basis. I understand the social partners are pleased with this development.
Would that not cause a potential charge on the Exchequer?
It is a privilege of Government.
Why is there no reference to the National Qualifications Authority? I accept that consultations may not have taken place but why is there no reference to the authority, that is the body with overall responsibility for approving qualifications and training courses?
I do not know the relevance of the Deputy's point. The qualifications and training legislation was passed only recently and the committee was established only three weeks ago. The authority is concerned with academic qualifications conferred on people throughout the country. We are discussing a Bill which involves human resource training in the context of industry. The Government and the social partners have made it clear that this is vitally important. Major emphasis has been placed on human resource training in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness and the national development plan. We are responding to the need for training by providing a lead in the form of this legislation.
Perhaps I should clarify the point I am trying to make because this is an important matter. We are discussing the National Training Fund Bill which is designed to establish a fund to provide training programmes. Money from the fund will be drawn down with the approval of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, which was passed last year by the Houses of the Oireachtas, brought into force a qualifications system for educational training, including training in the workplace. I would have believed the authority would have had a role in relation to training in the workplace. Will the Minister of State indicate why it is not referred to in the Bill?
I accept the Deputy's point but I do not believe it is relevant. I understand he has tabled an amendment to section 7 in respect of this matter. The process of conferring academic qualifications, etc., was streamlined by the introduction of the legislation to which the Deputy refers. The National Training Fund Bill relates to the entire area of industry and I do not believe, therefore, that the Deputy's point has any relevance in that regard.
The Minister of State holds another junior ministerial portfolio at the Department of Education and Science. There are two elements to the National Qualifications Authority, one of which relates to third level education and qualifications while the other relates to approval of vocational training programmes. The latter programmes would be covered under the type of funding we are discussing in respect of the Bill before us. The further education and training authority will provide awards under the Bill and the money for those awards will be provided from the national training fund. For example, the finance for apprenticeships will emanate from this fund. Apprentices will receive awards from the National Qualifications Authority under the auspices of the further education and training authority. Why is there no reference to the National Qualifications Authority in the Bill, particularly given that it involves the repeal of legislation relating to apprenticeships and levies?
I am sure Deputy Naughten will accept that the National Qualifications Authority is a certification body and has no management functions in relation to training. FÁS will be given delegated authority in respect of certification in its area activity and, in fact, has had such authority for a long period. The work of that organisation relates directly to the area covered by the Bill.
Yes, but we are discussing the certification of training——
——and this Bill relates to the funding of that training. There is no point in the Minister of State making available funds for the provision of a training programme which is not approved by the National Qualifications Authority. The Department of Education and Science's White Paper on Adult Education, Learning for Life, refers to recognition for training programmes. In that context, and given that people will want to be conferred with recognised qualifications, why is no reference made to the National Qualifications Authority in the Bill?
The NQAI is a certification body. The Bill before us relates to industrial training. If the Deputy is suggesting that all industrial training programmes must be approved by the NQAI before they proceed, we would face serious difficulties. Under the Bill we will enable training to take place, by the provision of new resources, across a range of areas in industry. We will be able to rely on the expertise of the various organisations involved such as FÁS and others and it is important that they can respond to the demands on them by an industrial sector at any given time, rather than having to refer to the NQAI for certification. If a course was to be streamlined or made available as a mainstream training programme, then they would be obliged to refer to the NQAI. However, we must allow for situations where training can proceed as required without delay. We cannot create an overly bureaucratic system which would impede the provision of training.
The power to decide on which programmes will be funded is being removed from FÁS. The Minister of State should take note of that.
FÁS will have delegated authority.
It is important that some organisation should be responsible for approving and recognising qualifications. In this country, like others throughout the world, people want to receive recognised qualifications for training they have undergone. Perhaps the Minister of State will consider that point before we address it at a later stage. However, it is disappointing that the National Qualifications Authority is not referred to in the Bill.
I am sure the Minister of State would not like to inadvertently mislead the committee. He stated that, in terms of consultation, the Tánaiste intends to establish, on a non-statutory basis, an advisory committee comprising, presumably, hand-picked representatives from both sides of industry. Will the Minister of State acknowledge that the representations he has received refer to a statutory advisory committee? In addition, he did not refer to the displeasure of those on both sides at the abolition of the industrial training committees. When the Minister of State indicates pleasure on the part of the social partners about the ethos, purpose, etc., of the Bill, that pleasure is greatly restricted as a result of the serious flaws to which I refer.
We can discuss this matter further when we come to deal with amendment No. 16.
That is fine. There is a definite need to return to this matter later because the Minister of State appears to be somewhat unsure of his information in respect of it. I would like him to focus his mind. These are important issues and we do not want to undermine the value of the Bill by spoiling it for "a hap' orth of tar", so to speak.
Amendments Nos. 14, 16 and 23 all relate directly to this matter.
I wish to clarify a matter of procedure. To the best of my knowledge we cannot discuss those amendments because they have been ruled out of order.
We can discuss the relevant section.
But not the amendments?
No. When we come to deal with that section, I will provide as much time as is necessary to discuss this matter.
Surely a person who completes a course of training is entitled to a piece of paper which shows what he or she has achieved. Will that happen?
Who will approve such awards?
Those matters are all technicalities.
Can we just——
I wish to make one final response in respect of the points raised by the Deputies.
It is important that the Minister of State be allowed to do so, Chairman.
The social partners have been aware of the thrust of the Bill, the dissatisfaction vis-à-vis industrial training committees and the reservations that have been expressed about them. A discussion document published last January was discussed by the social partners over a number of months. There are mixed views among the social partners about the dissolution of the industrial training committees. Some people agree with disbanding them, while others do not. I accept that those with vested interests do not want to see change taking place. However, the industrial climate here is changing and we must move forward with it.
We must do so in partnership as well.
In partnership and in harmony.
Amendment No. 3 is an alternative to amendment No. 2a and the two may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 2a:
In page 5, subsection (14), lines 27 and 28, to delete "in such form, in such manner and at such times" and substitute "on an annual basis, in such form and in such manner".
We agree with the thrust of amendment No. 3 in the name of Deputy Naughten. The advice available to me is that for clarity of reasoning a slight amendment to the Deputy's proposed wording would be helpful. Consequently, I have moved amendment No. 2a in response to his proposal.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 5, subsection (14), line 32, after "Oireachtas" to insert "and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise and Small Business".
This amendment is self-explanatory and proposes that the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General shall also be referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. I am concerned that the report, when it is laid before the Houses, could be referred to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service rather than to this committee. It is for that reason I tabled this amendment. This committee should be responsible for dealing with that report and discussing its implications.
I agree with Deputy Naughten that the appropriate Oireachtas committee should have the opportunity to review accounts of the fund and the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is intended that the list of supported schemes and the amounts of money allocated to them should be published as an annex on the Vote of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and that the fund should be reported on as part of the Appropriation Account. The committee will, therefore, have the opportunity to review the fund annually. However, as regards Deputy Naughten's amendment we need to take account of the fact that the titles of Oireachtas committees may be subject to change. It would not be appropriate to reference a particular committee in the legislation. On that basis, we cannot accept the amendment.
Will the Minister of State give a commitment that the accounts will be referred to this committee or its successor?
I would have no difficulty with that. However, I cannot dictate to future Parliaments or Governments the type of committees they should establish, the titles they should confer on them, the membership of those committees or the functions they should perform.
Will the Minister of State give a commitment that either this committee or its successor, regardless of its title, will be responsible for discussing the accounts and the Comptroller's report?
I can give a commitment that the appropriate committee will deal with them.
I tabled the amendment in order to define what will be the appropriate committee. Will the accounts and the report be referred to the Committee on Finance and the Public Service rather than this committee?
I cannot predict the titles that will be conferred on future committees. This committee is relatively new and I served on two committees which no longer exist. I cannot predict what committees will be put in place in the future. Obviously, however, these matters will be referred to the appropriate committee.
All I am seeking is a "yes" or "no" answer.
I can only inform the Deputy that the matter will be referred to the appropriate committee.
The Deputy must realise that this committee could become known as the "Committee for Finance and Enterprise".
That is correct.
Yes, but then it would be the successor to this committee.
I believe that is what the Minister of State indicated.
He did not.
He does not know what this committee might be called in the future.
I know that. However, perhaps he could give a commitment to refer the matter to the committee which succeeds this one?
I am positively disposed to having the matter referred to the appropriate committee.
The answer to Deputy Naughten's question is "yes".
Section 2(2) states that the fund shall consist of both the current account and investment account. Will the Minister of State indicate why there will be an investment account and elaborate on its function in relation to the current account and the drawing down of funds for training?
The purpose of the investment account is to allow any surpluses to the fund, above and beyond the requirements of a particular year, to be invested properly in order to ensure that they can be utilised, at the appropriate time, for the benefit of those in training.
Is it expected that there will be a surplus?
One can never predict such matters. However, we are optimistic that there will be a surplus if the economy continues at its current rate of growth.
Amendments Nos. 5a and 5b are related to amendment No. 5. Is it agreed that we discuss amendments Nos. 5, 5a and 5b together? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 5, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) In the contribution year during which this Act comes into operation, the levy imposed by subsection (1) shall apply only to reckonable earnings of an employee earned after the date on which the Act comes into operation.".
This amendment relates to the levy provided for in section 3. As I understand it, the contribution year is not the calendar year but the tax year, that is, April to April, and the Bill appears to suggest that it would be retrospective in terms of collecting backdated payments of 0.7% to April 2000. Is the Minister satisfied there is adequate definition in the legislation of which contribution year the Bill will affect? Does he not think there is a necessity for some form of transitional arrangement to make that clear in the Bill?
Deputy Rabbitte has correctly established that section 3 could create an anomalous situation whereby, due to the Bill being introduced towards the end of a contribution year, employers might find themselves retrospectively liable for a full year of levy contributions. Employers will have already paid the full 12% rate of PRSI and there is no intention that they should pay a levy as well. Amendment No. 5a has been formulated to address Deputy Rabbitte's concerns and to put it beyond doubt that in the first contribution year the levy is only due in respect of payments made after commencement of the Act.
We are also putting forward amendment No. 5b to address another potential anomaly which is in a similar vein to that which I have just described. In this case the point at issue is the PRSI ceiling. The Bill as drafted could create a situation whereby during the initial contribution year an employed contributor exceeds the PRSI reckonable earnings ceiling which currently stands at £36,600, yet the employer might still be liable for a levy. This amendment effectively provides that during the initial contribution year, in so far as the PRSI ceiling is concerned, earnings already paid to the employee will not count as reckonable earnings for the purposes of the ceiling on which the levy is payable or, as the amendment puts it, the levy will be deemed to have been paid in respect of those earnings. Therefore, once an employed contributor exceeds the PRSI ceiling, no levy will be due during the initial contribution year.
Do amendments Nos. 5a and 5b cover your concerns, Deputy Rabbitte?
They do. My peasant background suggests that the drafting of the parliamentary draftsman is superior. Otherwise, I would press my amendment. The point is covered, however, and I will withdraw my amendment.
I move amendment No. 5a:
In page 5, between lines 44 and 45, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) Nothing in subsection (1) or any other provision of this Act shall be construed as requiring levy to be paid in relation to a payment of the kind referred to in subsection (1) that is made before the commencement of this Act.".
I move amendment No. 5b:
In page 6, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following subsection:
"(6) For the purposes of the application of subsections (4) and (5) in relation to the contribution year during which this Act is commenced, but only for the purposes of that application, there shall be deemed to have been paid in respect of the reckonable earnings of the employed contributor concerned in so much of that year as falls before that commencement, the levy that would have been paid in respect of those earnings if this Act had been in operation at the commencement of that year.".
Will the Minister discuss the mechanics of transferring the money to the fund? Will it happen before 31 December?
It will happen before 31 December. Once this Bill is passed there will be a transfer of £130 million from the Department to the Minister to create this fund. That is the reason for the urgency of the Bill.
That transfer will take place within this financial year?
Is the contribution year the tax year, April to April?
Yes. The new contribution year will begin with the commencement of the tax year.
Amendment No. 7 is related to amendment No. 6. Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 6, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following subsection:
"(6) Regulations for the time being in force under section 29A of the Act of 1993 shall apply in relation to levy as they apply in relation to employment contributions.".
Amendment No. 6 provides for the refund of the levy to employers in respect of certain seafaring employees. There is already provision in social welfare legislation for a refund of employers' PRSI contributions for such employees. Regulations made under section 29A of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act, 1993, provide for the return of PRSI contributions paid in respect of seafaring employees on board ships used for carrying passengers or cargo and which are registered in a European Union member state.
The provision covers passenger ferries and cargo ships but not fishing vessels, most tugs or vessels which are primarily used as floating platforms. The refund of PRSI contributions is in keeping with trends in European Union member states to provide support for the shipping industry in a difficult international environment where alternative forms of transport are plentiful. Employers in the sector pay employers' PRSI contributions in the normal way. At the end of the contribution year they can claim a refund from the Revenue Commissioners in respect of all seagoing employees. We are tabling this amendment permitting the refund of the national training fund levy to ensure that the relevant employers do not incur additional costs because of the introduction of the levy.
Amendment No. 7 allows for the levy to be regarded as though it were a PRSI contribution for the purposes of collection. This will reduce bureaucracy for employers who can remit the levy as one with their PRSI contributions rather than having to identify and remit it separately. The amendment will avoid having to redesign forms such as the P35 form which employers are required to complete each year for the Revenue Commissioners.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 6, between line 16 and 17, to insert the following subsection:
"(7) Levy shall, for the purposes of the collection and recovery of it under section 5, be regarded as an employment contribution.".
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 6, subsection (8), line 25, after "Fund" to insert "and shall only be used for the development of training within the sector from which the levy was collected".
This amendment relates to moneys which have been accrued by FÁS from the levies collected from various sectors of industry, for example, the construction industry or the chemical-pharmaceutical industry and so forth, for training or apprenticeships. The apprenticeship levy has been repealed. These employers paid levies over and above their PRSI contributions to ensure they would be used for the sole purpose of training apprentices who would work within their sectors and sustain employment and satisfy the demand for skilled labour in that sector. Now the rug is pulled from under them. The moneys they committed to FÁS for that purpose are being put into a general purpose fund from which money can be drawn for various sectors. They believe this funding should be ring-fenced for their sector. In other words, if they paid into it, they should get the benefit from it.
In the case of one scheme, the safe pass scheme, funding has been paid by the construction industry to get it up and running early in the new year. Employers believe that since the moneys are being amalgamated into an overall fund, it threatens the safe pass programme. The programme introduces safety at work training for every construction employee.
All Members will agree that this is badly needed given that approximately 18 people have been killed in the construction sector in the past 12 months. The industry is tackling this problem by providing this funding but it believes the funding will be threatened if it is not ring-fenced.
FÁS has a fund of approximately £6 million on deposit. Most of this money has been dedicated to particular programmes but it will now be drawn into the Department and the Department will decide how to distribute it. It is important to provide that FÁS retains control over these moneys given that they were collected for a particular purpose.
Deputy Naughten has made a reasonable case for the sectors that contributed this levy to benefit from it. It ought not be sucked into the maw of the general fund. It is difficult to see how anything other than that could be justified and I look forward to the Minister accepting the amendment.
I appreciate that the Deputies wish to confine the use of surplus levies to the sectors from which they were collected. This approach would be over-restrictive, however. An essential part of the policy underlying this Bill and industrial policy generally is that State support should be directly linked to the development needs of the firm. In training policy we also wish to ensure that the developmental potential of the individual is addressed. Deputy Naughten emphasised this on Second Stage.
This focus on the individual is part of the lifelong learning agenda. We believe, therefore, that surplus levy moneys should be treated on the same basis as income accruing to the fund from the national training levy, that is, it should be applied to relevant schemes and to identified needs rather than have predetermined restrictions placed upon it. There are a number of schemes currently in operation which have been funded from the surplus levies. These schemes will continue in operation in the course of the coming year and will be reviewed in light of the continuing review of enterprise training programmes in which the Department is currently engaged. The opportunity will be available to continue with them, review them and allocate funds as requirements and priorities demand.
Will the Minister address the matter of the safe pass scheme for which funding has been provided by the construction industry? What is the position of that scheme with the amalgamation of moneys into the overall fund?
The Minister might have misinterpreted my remarks. The amendment provides that the moneys would be ring-fenced for the sector. It does not seek to put any restriction on how it would be spent within that sector except with regard to schemes whose implementation might be pending and in respect of which moneys have already been paid, for example, the safe pass scheme.
If, for example, the textile sector provides funding through a levy to FÁS for training people who will be employed within that sector, I do not see how the Minister could stand over those moneys being used for some other sector. The first problem with it is that moneys would be diluted from the sector that provided them. Second, the Department would provide training in some other sector which would then draw staff away from the textile industry. It is understandable that the textile sector would be extremely annoyed. It has paid into a fund but the fund will now be used to take staff out of its sector and to provide funding for training programmes for other sectors.
There is no reason these funds cannot be ring-fenced. It would not impede how they should be spent within that ring-fence and what programmes should be involved. I agree with the Minister's point with regard to the individual. The lack of consultation is fundamentally important in that regard but we will discuss that later. Why can the funds not be ring-fenced for the sector which contributed them?
There must be a redistribution of funds for the purpose of training. I assure the committee there is no threat to the safe pass scheme. The scheme will continue and we have no intention of interrupting or obstructing it. In addition, the majority of funds in the surplus levy are derived from firms which failed to submit a self-rating of training, that is, firms that could not prove that they trained in the first place. There was never a concept of "justice retour", in other words, use pound for pound for individual firms under the surplus levies. It is not a situation where a firm puts in a pound and gets back a pound.
There must be redistribution. Funds are allocated according to what is put forward as a training concept, what application there is for it and what commitment the firm will give to it. That is most important. We must increase the emphasis on training and the fund will give it a new impetus and ensure the human resource in the economy gets the training it requires.
Why is the Minister making a meal of this? I do not understand his point. Nobody is trying to oblige the Minister to spend the money a certain way on an enterprise level. The issue is that the rules of the ball game are changing at half time. Moneys already collected ought to be disbursed among the most appropriate targets in the sector. That is the point. It is difficult to see how the Minister can fail to recognise the merit of that argument and take it on board.
Taking Deputy Naughten's example, the Department should not distribute moneys collected from the textile sector to the building industry. Nobody is trying to oblige the Department to spend the moneys on a particular enterprise. However, if moneys are collected in the construction industry, for example, they ought to go back to that industry in accordance with whatever criteria exist there. There should not be a fuss about this.
Did the Minister indicate that the amendment would be too restrictive?
Deputy Rabbitte makes the point well. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure funding goes to appropriate targets and sectors. Any sector that makes an appropriate case will get funds but it must make an appropriate case to qualify for them. That is necessary to ensure we get the funds to the appropriate targets.
The Minister might be misinterpreting me again. I agree with the point he makes. However, I am referring to the funding that has already been paid into FÁS by various sectors and which was channelled by FÁS into training schemes within those sectors. It was used, for example, to train apprentices such as electricians, carpenters and so forth in the construction sector or to provide training in the textile sector. Now the Minister is saying he will take the money these sectors paid as a specific training levy for their sectors and distribute it wherever the need arises.
People are needed in the construction sector at present. The Minister will take the money provided by the textile sector and upskill textile workers to take up employment in the construction sector. In effect, these manufacturers have paid moneys to the State so the State can close them down by starving them of employees to take up positions in their sectors. That is what the Minister of State is telling us. Will he look again at the amendment and realise that it is important that where an industry or sector has provided moneys for training people within that sector, those moneys should be spent within that area to provide the skills required?
The Minister of State made the point regarding employers who had not provided training and I am not in dispute with that. Whether the money goes back into that particular factory or to that particular employer is not the issue, but the money should stay within that sector from whence it came because it was collected for a specific purpose.
Deputy Naughten, you have made your point. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, respond on ring-fencing? Is it possible to ring-fence the sectors as outlined by Deputy Naughten?
Of course it is possible, but it would not be appropriate. To look at this in a broader context, let us look at the textile industry. There is a major haemorrhaging of people out of that industry. There is a major attrition in that area. Is Deputy Naughten saying that only money collected from that industry should be spent on training people in that industry?
I am talking about money which has already been collected. I am not talking about the new fund which is being established. I am talking about the moneys which have been paid already to FÁS. These people paid money for a specific reason, that it would be targeted at their industry, and the Minister of State is now telling us that he will take their money and spend it elsewhere.
Is the Deputy saying that we should reward these firms who paid money because they could not be bothered to submit a simple assessment that they had done training?
If not, then he his tying our hands.
The fund will pay in excess of £55 million for apprenticeships alone. One must leave the fund with the flexibility to address the sectoral problems, retrain people to take them out of a particular sector where there is a problem and put them into a new sector where there is opportunity. Surely such flexibility is vitally important to any training fund.
We are talking about two separate funds here. I want to clarify that. We are talking about the new fund that is being established which will draw money through PRSI. I have no dispute with that whatsoever, regarding when that money is collected and where it is distributed, because it is being taken from the employee.
Yes, the employer. I have no dispute with that. What I am talking about is the funding to date which has been collected by FÁS. The employers paid it for the training of staff within their sector. That was the reason the levy was established. The employers were told that if they paid this money, FÁS would provide training within that sector.
I am not talking about which particular employers actually paid the money and which did not. I am not in dispute with the Minister of State in that regard. If the Minister of State is now saying that the money from the construction industry, for example, which was paid on the assumption that it would be used to train staff within that sector, can be spent elsewhere, that calls into question the sole reason for establishing the levy in the first place. We are talking about moneys which have been collected to date, not moneys which will be collected in the future.
The Deputy is attempting to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There is about £11 million in the fund to which he refers and we will spend £55 million on apprenticeships, that is 400% more.
It is 20% of that fund.
Yes, but it is 400% more than that present surplus. I have no difficulty responding to the different sectors once they provide the appropriate documentation and show that they have the training requirement. The Deputy can take it that there will be a generous response to them. We are increasing this fund for apprenticeships to £55 million and, therefore, as a result of this decision there will be a major benefit to all the sectors in all areas of activity. This is positive investment in people and in sectors and in industrial activity, that is training.
Therefore, there should be no difficulty in ring-fencing 20% of that for the sector from whence it came.
There may be no difficulty in doing it but it is something we will not do. We will not ring-fence it.
I will withdraw the amendment but I reserve the right to re-introduce it on Report Stage. I ask the Minister of State to think about it prior to tomorrow's Report Stage and reconsider his position.
I will certainly do that.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 6, subsection (1), line 28, after "contributor," to insert "other than a special contributor,".
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 6, subsection (2), lines 30 to 32, to delete "within the meaning of the Social Welfare (Consolidated Contributions and Insurability) Regulations, 1996 (S.I. No. 312 of 1996)".
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 7, subsection (6), line 1, after "Collector-General" to insert "or the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs".
Section 5(6) will allow for provisions such as the inspection of records, the estimation of amounts due and the furnishing of information, which apply to tax and PRSI, to apply to the levy. The subsection would give powers to officers of the Revenue Commissioners to inspect records, raise estimates and collect levy from employers where the levy is to be collected by the Collector-General. Amendment No. 11 ensures that similar provisions also apply to the collection and recovery of the levy by the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs from special contributors.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 7, lines 3 to 13, to delete subsection (7).
This section is about the collection of the levy. My amendment seeks to delete lines 3 to 13, inclusive, that is, subsection (7), for the following reason. The section provides for a departure from normal natural justice. It gives sweeping powers to the Collector-General for the Revenue or to the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs in so much as it provides that proof by certificate alone is adequate. In other words, if the certificate, purportedly signed on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners, states that a specified amount is due or payable, it is taken as evidence that that amount is indeed due. My amendment seeks to draw attention to the fact that such proof is undesirable.
This involves giving sweeping powers to the Revenue. I can see no reason for departing from the usual requirement to produce and hear a witness. One cannot cross-examine a certificate. It is inevitable that there will be legitimate disputes about the amounts of money due.
Subsection (7) refers to where proceedings are initiated. In that case, I contend that certificates are unfair, one can only cross-examine a witness and there is no reason a witness ought not be called to prove the matters to which the section refers.
Separately I am advised that a constitutional challenge might arise in respect of the Supreme Court decision in the case of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, and that this may be unconstitutional. In any event, it is desirable that where there is a dispute, the witness ought to be heard and ought to be open to cross-examination. I do not see why we should depart from normal procedure in that regard.
I understand Deputy's Rabbitte's concern that a certificate cannot be cross-examined in court. However, this is a long-standing, standard provision designed to ensure that officials of the collector general, the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs or any other Department, are not required to spend excessive amounts of time attending court proceedings in order to attest that the levy is due to be paid and that they are the bona fide issuers of the certificate in question.
This matter would be handled in court by the State solicitor for the area and officials would be called if the judge felt it necessary. If the solicitor for the defendant felt it necessary for officials to be present, I am sure he or she would request that the court should not make a decision until they were present.
It is normal in legislation that the certificate is issued on behalf of the State. It is a bona fide document which is handed to the State solicitor for the functional area who prosecutes the case on behalf of the State. The judge will hear the case and call witnesses, if necessary. If no witnesses are called the matter could be resolved. This is a standard provision and, on that basis, I cannot accept the amendment.
This provision does not generally apply in law. The Minister of State is probably referring to the fact that this facility exists in the tax code but it does not apply generally in law. He seems to be conceding that disputes will arise about whether X amount of money is owed or whether the amount of money alleged to be owing is correct. This ought to be proved by witnesses rather than certificates. I regret the Minister of State cannot accept that argument as reasonable.
Apart from the tax code, there is a similar provision in subsection 2(24)(7)(a) of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993 and in section 10(b) of the Industrial Training (Apprenticeship Levy) Act, 1994. This highlights that this provision exists in the tax code and two other Acts. The Deputy may have been involved with one of those Acts.
That does not make it right. We are making law and if we go along with the Minister of State's approach, his successor will be able to state that this provision is also included in the National Training Fund Act, 2000, and that we should go down such a road. That is not a good argument even though I understand why the bureaucracy would like it that way.
For example, if a judge outlines the way things will be done in a particular case, that may be very unsatisfactory from the point of view of the company involved. I understand the bureaucracy's wish to tidy up court procedures and revamp the law of evidence to facilitate evidence to be given by certificate, but I am not sure it is a desirable trend.
I have been concerned about this in terms of the Revenue Commissioners in another capacity in recent times. The Revenue Commissioners tend to argue they have inadequate powers. That may be the case in limited areas but, otherwise, they have extensive and far-reaching powers. The Minister for Finance also gave them significant additional powers in the Finance Act, 1999. I do not agree with the notion in this Bill whereby a certificate produced in court can be treated as evidence but is manifestly not open to cross-examination on behalf of the company.
My initial response was to the Deputy's suggestion that this provision is new. The point I am making is that it is in legislation for at least eight years. It is not new, it is standard. At the end of the day it will come down to the evidence produced in court by either side before a decision is taken. If evidence is not to the court's satisfaction the judge will decide to adjourn and have people summoned or to request further information.
The most practical approach is that once a certificate is issued from a State authority it should not be necessary, at least in the first instance, for people to be present in court to produce the certificate. In such cases a law officer, highly paid by the State, handles the case on behalf of the State and has a certificate produced by a reputable State agency available to him or her.
There is not much point in persisting as the Minister of State has made up his mind. I did not suggest this provision was new, but that it was not generally found in law. I said it was included in the tax code and the more small victories such as this we chalk up the more the Minister of State's successors will be able to argue that such a provision is general.
Based on the Deputy's comments, I am prepared the reconsider the matter overnight if he withdraws his amendment. I will inquire into the legal position.
That is a reasonable proposal.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 8, subsection (1), line 1, after "may" to insert ", after consultation with such organisations as appear to the Minister to be generally representative of employees and employers within the State,".
This amendment refers to the disbursement of the fund and goes back to the earlier discussion in which the Minister of State seemed to indicate a disposition on the part of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment about this matter. This amendment seeks to insert wording to the effect that moneys would be disbursed in the manner described in the section but only after consultation with such organisations as the Minister considers generally representative of employees and employers.
I would not have thought that, in 2000, it would be incumbent on me to make a lengthy submission on why this is desirable and in keeping with the spirit of social partnership the Minister of State and the Government frequently praise. It is important that this advice is available to the Minister.
I am a little shocked and puzzled by the notion that there should not be an advisory committee. I have great respect for the Minister of State's officials but they are not the depository of all knowledge. I do not know how they would agree on disbursements from this fund without the advice of people on the ground who know about the situation and the needs of particular sectors of industry and so on. Such people work with these problems and study and plan for the future of the industry. Surely these are the kind of people we desperately need in terms of the future shape of industry, the maintenance of competitiveness and so on.
I am unhappy the Minister of State is seeking to draw a distinction between what would in effect be a statutorily-based advisory system, if my amendment is accepted, and what he is now saying is the Minister's disposition which involves some kind of non-statutory, hand-picked group, presumably reflecting the bias of the Minister of the day. I am not complaining about that as it is the fortunes of war, but it assumes the Minister will have a bias. Some Ministers just want to be Ministers and do not have any bias or views on anything, but that is a different story. However, the Minister wants us to settle for a situation in which a few people will be hand picked on which basis moneys will be disbursed. This is not a good idea and I press the Minister of State to exercise his autonomy. The Minister has devolved full powers to him and he is his own man and free to make decisions.
The Deputy can be assured that I am my own man.
The Minister should demonstrate it by taking this on board and saying, "I am sorry Minister, but I allowed them to talk me into this and it is a good idea".
Or talk me out of it.
We are not trying to talk the Minister out of it. If he thinks about it, I think he will agree with us.
I support the amendment, which is along the same lines as my two amendments which were ruled out of order as they involved a potential charge on the State. Luckily, Deputy Rabbitte's amendment does not involve a potential charge. If a similar attitude had been taken in another area, I wonder if social partnership would ever have got off the ground.
This comes back to the fundamental point about the Bill, that is the lack of structures for consultation on the distribution of the moneys from the fund and the programmes to be funded in the various sectors. The Minister referred to a figure of £55 million. It is fundamentally important that the people who are directly involved in the industry and various sectors have a role in this area. The people who will receive the training should also have a role in relation to the distribution of the money and the programmes which are targeted. Yet the Government is not prepared to put in place any formal structures.
The National Qualifications Authority, which will have an overall umbrella role in relation to qualifications, has representatives of IBEC, ICTU and the participants who will be involved in the training. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment.
The amendments tabled by Deputies Rabbitte and Naughten to section 7 relate to the absence of structures under the Bill to provide for consultation with the social partners. Before dealing with the specifics of the amendments, I wish to make some contextual points.
The Minister is concerned to ensure that an appropriate consultative structure is put in place. This was adverted to on Second Stage. It is proposed to address this issue as follows. A national training advisory committee will be established. The mandate of the committee will be to ensure that we have a co-ordinated overall strategy for employment-related training. The national committee will inform the Minister of emerging developments in relation to employment-related training to ensure that our provision is in line with best international practice. It is envisaged that the committee will, as part of its remit, make proposals to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in relation to areas to be funded from the national training fund or offer advice on the direction of existing schemes under the fund. It is intended that the committee shall have the strongest possible expertise drawn from the stakeholders in training, enterprise and human resource development.
It is not necessary or appropriate to put the committee on a statutory footing. The committee should be a dynamic structure capable of evolving over time as developments take place in training and the enterprise environment generally. Department officials have begun informal discussions with the social partners on the structure and operational remit of the committee. It is proposed to pursue the matter formally with the social partners and other stakeholders in training such as the State agencies in the new year. The aim will be to have the new committee operational as quickly as possible.
I wish to deal with the industrial training committees, the ITCs. Deputies tabled several amendments, the thrust of which is to retain the ITCs. I wish to amplify on the reasons the provisions covering the ITCs are being repealed. On Second Stage the Minister addressed the issues as follows:
The framework of the 1967 Act is based on the concept of designating sectors, establishing statutory industrial training committees to oversee training in these sectors and imposing sectoral levies to fund that training. This framework is increasingly at odds with the developments I have described. It is too rigid, ignores inter-sectoral and value chain linkages which are increasingly important to competitiveness and creates an artificial distinction between firm-specific and sector-specific assistance. It is too focused on manufacturing to the detriment of the services sector.
As regards the artificial distinction between firm-specific and sector-specific assistance, I refer Deputies to the situation which prevails in FÁS where individual ITCs are responsible for schemes funded through the surplus levies, while the training support scheme operates on a functionally separate basis. This is not a good basis for the effective deployment of scarce resources. In addition, following the transfer of responsibility for training in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sector to Enterprise Ireland, we have an ITC on engineering operating in FÁS, while responsibility for direct assistance to engineering companies and manufacturing and international services is the responsibility of Enterprise Ireland. This is hardly the best way to serve the needs of clients. We also have a situation where FÁS operates a combination of statutorily defined ITCs in areas such as chemicals, print and paper and others. It also operates training advisory committees in sectors such as contract cleaning and retail. At a minimum, this must cause one to question whether there is a real need or benefit to define some committees in legislation when others which do the same job can be set up under a general enabling provision.
As regards inter-sectoral and value chain linkages, we have the skill nets initiative under which a wide range of training networks have been established. The basis for a network can be sectoral and can also be on the basis of geographical location, firm size or a common cross sectoral training need. The very valuable wider networking concept could never have emerged from the ITC structure as it was much too rigid. Up to now individual ITCs in the area of apprenticeship had an advisory role, while there are also separate central governance and advisory structures operating in FÁS.
Deputy Rabbitte recently tabled a parliamentary question on the special task team on apprenticeship proposed in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. In her response the Minister indicated that the Department would shortly complete a review of apprenticeship. That review addresses the issues of governance, structures for apprenticeship and the lack of clarity and potential for duplication that currently exists. The current structures make it difficult to address horizontal issues such as the need for an overall review of apprenticeship curricula and the associated question of the uniform duration of apprenticeship across, for example, the crafts. The Department proposes to address this issue by working with FÁS to develop a single management committee for the apprenticeship system.
In addition to the rigidities and potential for duplication, it is also important to recognise that issues which were once the province of the ITCs are now being addressed in other fora. For example, a central role of the ITCs was the drawing up and management of the levy-grants schemes for their respective sectors. This role is now defunct with the abolition of the sectoral levies. The proposed national training advisory committee will have an advisory role in respect of the new fund. The sectoral skills requirement function resides with the expert group on future skills needs. Given the increasingly tight labour market, it is important that sectoral skills analysis takes place in the framework of an overall analysis of skills and labour requirements; otherwise one may be simply robbing Peter to pay Paul by providing increased education and training places for one sector to the detriment of another. This goes back to my earlier point. Here again, a collective approach is better attuned to the current situation.
It is important to reiterate that FÁS and Enterprise Ireland have the statutory capacity to establish advisory committees. We are not against the establishment of such committees where there is a clear basis of need. What we are seeking to do under the Bill is to remove the existing rigidities and ensure that future structures are flexible, practical and appropriate. The key point about ITCs is that policy and structures have evolved and the structures we employ need to take account of this.
The amendment proposed by Deputy Rabbitte would require that payments from the fund could be made only by the Minister following consultation with such organisations as appear to be generally representative of employees and employers. This provision would be almost impossible to implement in practice since it would require widespread consultation before each payment was made from the fund. It is intended that the proposed national training advisory committee would, inter alia, exercise an advisory role in relation to the schemes which are to receive subvention from the new fund. In addition, in the case of many schemes, these will already have been debated and formulated by the boards of the implementing agencies, so third party advice will already have been obtained in this situation. Consequently, I cannot accept the proposed amendment.
Will the FETA be a member of the national training advisory committee?
The committee will consult as appropriate.
Will it be a member of it?
We cannot give that assurance at this stage.
This comes back to the fundamental point of this debate. We are talking about the need for consultation within various sectors. The most fundamental need of all is that if a person participates in training he or she should obtain a recognised qualification, whether that is a certificate or diploma. That is what the White Paper on Adult Education, produced by the Minister's Department, is all about. The backbone of it is a recognition for training in which people participate, but the Minister cannot tell me whether the FETA will be on the advisory committee. Who else will be on the committee? We are talking about establishing an advisory committee, yet we do not know who will be on it.
The NTCA does not exist yet. It has not even been created.
Yes, but neither has this fund.
No, the fund——
The fund has not been created, either. The FETA has been part of the NQA which was passed by this House last summer 12 months. Whether or not it is established, is an issue for the Minister's Department, so perhaps the Minister could take it up with his senior Minister.
Maybe I have taken it up.
Does the Minister agree that giving the recognition it deserves is fundamentally important to any training provided so that people can use it as a passport? That is the backbone element of the Department of Education and Science's White Paper on Adult Education. The social partners have bought into it and there has been wide consultation about it. What consultation will be put in place, however, concerning programmes that will be introduced in future? For example, a training programme for general operatives in the textile industry may be agreed by the NTAC, funding will be provided, it will be run by FÁS and various employers will be involved. The Minister will then force this on the employees who have not had any consultative role in the structure of the programme. This relates to an amendment we will deal with later concerning the social element to ensure that people can buy into this. We are not giving them the opportunity to do so, however, when these programmes are being formulated and funds are being distributed. We expect them to buy into it, yet we do not give the national qualifications authority or the FETA an opportunity to ensure proper structures and balances are put in place.
I wanted to make some of the points that Deputy Naughten has just made. I will not labour them, however. The Minister gives the impression that the composition of the national training authority is being made up as he goes along. It seems to have come about as a result of representations he has received because of displeasure with the lack of consultative mechanisms in the Bill as published. The Minister quotes what the Tánaiste said on Second Stage, as if it makes a compelling and final case, but the more I look at it, the less I see that to be the case. Deputy Treacy now says what the Tánaiste said, which is:
This framework is increasingly at odds with the development I have just described. It is too rigid. It ignores inter-sectoral and value chain linkages which are increasingly important to competitiveness, and it creates an artificial distinction between firm-specific and sector-specific assistance.
Does it, or need it, do so? It is rigid if one wants to see it and play it that way, but I am puzzled as to where the rigidities come in. For example, where does it ignore inter-sectoral and value chain linkages? It seems to me the Minister will now repose all competence in the skills group which will be the experts on everything and nothing. Modern industry is quite complex, as the Minister knows. It may well be that those industrial training committees have not functioned uniformly well. It may be that some of them have seen their time but some of them have functioned, and are functioning, well. They have made a significant contribution towards getting us where we are. We are heading into an investment programme the likes of which the State has not ever seen, when this type of coal-face advice and work will be more essential than ever. I cannot see why the Minister cannot use the skills group, or whatever mechanism is put in place, to create these inter-sectoral synergies he is talking about. It does not seem to obviate the necessity for sectoral committees that have acquired the necessary expertise over the years. They are not mutually irreconcilable. It is a pity change is being made for the sake of change. Why fix something when it is not broken?
The Minister must know of the work of some of these committees in certain areas where people have acquired expertise over the years. No matter where the Minister's discussions go with the social partners, there is no framework or mechanism in the Bill to facilitate involvement by the people concerned. An ideological view has been taken but I do not think it is for the better. The Minister's researchers will tell him that it is similar to what Mrs. Thatcher did some years ago in Britain, and that British industry had to lobby to change back after a number of years of inept performance.
This matter goes to the heart of the Bill. There is no point in giving us lectures or answers about the ethos and thrust of the Bill. Nobody is complaining about the general direction or the necessity to modernise our training capacity and to upgrade the skills of people currently in the work force. Nobody is arguing about that, so there is no point in wasting our time in having such a discussion. We are talking about delivery, the absence of consultative mechanisms, performance and the evaluation of performance. What performance evaluation has been done? Can the Minister give us some reference material?
Can the Chairman remind me of when we will go on to Report Stage?
That is almost unique, as I am sure you would agree, Chairman. Like me, Deputy Naughten, when contacted, indicated a willingness to co-operate and facilitate the Minister in having this legislation enacted this year, but it is an extraordinary position to be in. The Bills Office has hardly had time to print or reprint the amendments for Report Stage, never mind the Minister having time to take any advice on some of the issues being raised here. It is not desirable. The Minister of State must be embarrassed about coming in here in Christmas week and taking Committee Stage today and running it through the House on Report Stage tomorrow when important issues are being advanced here. If rigidity is the appropriate term, it applies to the Minister of State's side of the table because if he reflects on it, there is some good in the system we are now throwing out. We are throwing out the baby with the bath water. It is time to reflect. It would be a shame to undermine the value of this Bill for the sake of a couple of essential amendments, such as this one.
I have listened again with interest to both Deputies. As a politician for the past 18 and a half years, I accept there are advantages and disadvantages in every system. If the advantages are equal to 51%, then everything should be all right. The Deputy asked what evaluation we had done. What evaluation have the ITCs done and where has it been over the years?
There has been evaluation.
That is right.
The evaluation has shown some of the committees in a good light.
It has been an evaluation of their role and effectiveness. We will press the new National Qualifications Authority of Ireland to develop the framework of qualification as quickly as possible. The Minister has nominated the national director of certification in FÁS to the board. We have shown our strength, continuity and commitment and that is important.
We must take account of the major industrial changes in society and of the state of our economy. There is a need for a more flexible attitude than the rigidity of the past. The ITCs have done a great job since 1967. Professional people have given of their time to do that job and we deeply appreciate that. However, the evolution of economic performance requires a major change. We are now creating a new fund to ensure flexibility and a response to the sectors, firms and demands within the economy. That is important.
Both the Minister and I have given assurances that the advisory committee will have representatives of the stake holder We have also given assurances that we will talk to the social partners formally and our officials have already begun those talks. However, we want to structure it so it is flexible and takes account of the interest of the stake holder rather than having a rigidly defined structure. That has worked well in recent years and I do not see any reason it will not work better in the future.
We have spent a great deal time on this amendment.
I would like to ask the Minister of State two questions.
I would like to dispose of the amendments and deal with the section because that would give us an opportunity to have a broad discussion on this contentious issue.
If you want to dispose of the amendments, Chairman, I cannot see what is wrong with amendments Nos. 13 or 14. I ask the Minister of State to repeat that line again about the Minister having to engage in diffuse negotiations with every Tom, Dick and Harry. The two organisations are ICTU and IBEC. What arrangements IBEC or ICTU makes in terms of the representatives it appoints is a matter for it. One would think the Minister of State did not hear in his Department how to contact them. They are in the back door most of the time. What is the problem about consulting them in this regard?
The Deputy's amendment is not specific like that.
I have done a belt and braces job here. What does the Minister of State think "consultation with such organisations as appear to the Minister to be generally——
"Such organisations" covers a gamut.
The Minister of State should not jump at such a phrase. I am giving him time to absorb the sense of what he is saying. He should allow me to speak and he should listen. I am totally puzzled as to how he could put that construction on it. Is there a problem with the phrase, "consultation with such organisations as appear to the Minister to be generally representative of employees", in the Ireland of today?
The amendment also states "and employers within the State". Is there any difficulty identifying which organisation represents employers in the State?
There are at least four organisations.
What is the difficulty about that?
The Deputy said there were only two and they were coming in the back door regularly.
No. To what is the Minister of State referring? Is he referring to the Small Firms Association, for example?
There are organisations such as IBEC, the chambers of commerce, the Small Firms Association and ISME.
That is a little disingenuous. The Minister of State knows the chambers of commerce have an entirely different and distinctive role in our society. The Small Firms Association is a sister organisation of IBEC and it does not have any difficulty offering representatives as appropriate. ISME has its own focus and identity, the origins of which are known to the Minister of State and to his people on that side of the table.
What about CIF?
If a claim is being made on the fund by the Construction Industry Federation, one does not go to ISME or the Small Firms Association.
That is the point I have been making.
I know, but that is why I worded it the way I did in amendment No. 14, which refers specifically to ICTU and IBEC. If the textile industry, for example, is making an application on the fund, one does not go to CIF. The Minister of State knows that as well as I do. However, the Minister of State is putting it forward as being a mélange of organisations through which his officials would find it difficult to make their way because they do not know which is which. It is well established in this economy.
Perhaps amendment No. 13 could be amended to read: "employees and employers within the relevant sector", rather than "within the State". That may help to resolve the confusion.
The Minister of State made the point that the national director of FÁS——
I said the national director of certification in FÁS, not the national director of FÁS.
The national director of certification in FÁS is on the board of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland. That is another reason to ensure the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland has a say in what type of programmes are funded because that responsibility has been taken from FÁS. We do not know the structures of the national training advisory committee because we are buying a pig in a poke. I am sure the Minister of State understands our reasons for making that assumption.
The Minister of State mentioned Enterprise Ireland which provides funding for training in the engineering and international services sectors. I know FÁS provides funding in the engineering sector, although I am not sure if it provides it in the international services sector. Perhaps the Minister of State could clarify that. I am sure the Minister of State is aware that Enterprise Ireland does not deal with every employer in each sector and that there are certain types of companies, including small firms, with which it does not deal. We need an overall structure to ensure that proper training programmes are put in place.
Another concern for people in that because a body like Enterprise Ireland will be calling the shots within a particular sector, funding for training for other industries in that sector would be starved and they would not get the opportunity to facilitate and receive funding for training within that sector. Funding is required for training within all sectors. It is not particular to any one sector, a small number of sectors or elements within sectors. As the Minister knows from his own document, that is the basis for ensuring that we can provide training and ensure a stable economy into the future. All people need to be up-skilled. We need to up-skill the work force in general. Each area has certain niches that need to be developed but they are not specific to certain niche sectors within our economy. That appears to be the interpretation I am getting from the Minister but I hope I am incorrect in that.
Can we bring the discussion on this amendment to a close?
Deputy Naughten has certainly misinterpreted me. There is no need to convince me of the need for training and retraining. In recent years the Government has made clear our absolute commitment to that. That commitment is obvious from the national development plan, the budget and the attitude of the Minister and the Department. The Deputy talked about the involvement of the national certification body and being consulted pertaining to the disbursement of these funds. It is important that it does its job and there is not a conflict of interest between its job and the disbursement of funds for training in another area.
I am talking about co-ordination. That is fundamentally important.
Yes, consultation and co-ordination will be the hallmark of this whole process.
That is why FÁS is represented on the NQA, and it should be vice versa.
The Deputy talked about an overall structure. That is the reason we are setting up the national advisory committee.
A pig in a poke.
The Minister is not giving us any structures. He is not telling us who is on the advisory committee.
The Deputy can take it we will have top class professional people representative of the different sectors, professions and bodies. It will be a national organisation anybody would be proud to stand over.
The Minister is not giving us any structures.
- Boylan, Andrew.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Currie, Austin.
- Durkan, Bernard.
- Higgins, Joe.
- Naughten, Denis.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Doherty, Seán.
- Fleming, Seán.
- McGuinness, John.
- O’Flynn, Noel.
- Treacy, Noel.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 8, subsection (2)(b), line 8, to delete "employment." and substitute the following:
(c) to provide information in relation to existing, or likely future, requirements for skills in the economy.".
This amendment provides for the addition of a third purpose under which schemes may be approved for support under the fund, namely to provide information in relation to existing, or likely future, requirements for skills in the economy.
I referred to the role of the expert group on future skills needs in this area and the fact that the skills analysis function formerly carried out by the ITCs is now being undertaken on a co-ordinated basis by the group. This work was formerly funded from the surplus levies which are now being subsumed within the fund. This amendment provides that such work may now be subvented by the fund.
Amendment No. 16 has been ruled out of order.
I may table a similar amendment on Report Stage.
The Chairman ruled amendment No. 14 out of order. If there is sufficient time, I may also table a similar amendment for Report Stage. However, I would be conditioned in that regard if the Minister gave an assurance that he will observe the democratic outcome of the committee and not seek to undo the decision taken earlier.
Is the Deputy referring to amendment No. 13?
I believe in democracy regardless of whether it is in Tallahassee or Dáil Éireann. Once a vote is taken, it stands.
I appreciate that.
The vote was taken and the amendment was made. I have no intention of amending the Bill.
I appreciate that and I will take that on board in respect of amendment No. 14.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 8, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) The scheme referred to in subsection (1) shall-
(a) include in any training programme a social module which takes into consideration the personal requirements of participants of any such programme;
(b) received the approval of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland.".
This amendment seeks to ensure there is a social strand to the training. I elaborated on this matter in detail on Second Stage. In addition to the training being of benefit to the employer, a social contract should be included to enable employees to buy into the system. For example, this could involve improving an employee's literacy skills or providing basic computer skills to an employee. This would enable the employee to buy into the social contract.
The best example of what I am trying to achieve is the information technology training provided by the Department of Education and Science to the teaching profession. This was agreed to by the profession without a large amount of discussion and implemented by it. Teachers felt they could buy into the system and they could use the skills they gained in teaching pupils but also on a personal level. We should ensure that a social element is provided. The best way to do that and to ensure it is incorporated into any training programme is through consultation with employees.
The second point relates to the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland. Consultation should take place with the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland because it should be an integral part of any new training programmes. I am concerned that when we talk about training we are talking about narrow sectoral interests without looking at the broader aspect of training, which contradicts the White Paper on adult education. This amendment seeks to complement that. I have elaborated my reasons both on Second Stage and here today. I ask the Minister of State to accept the amendment.
Deputy Naughten spoke about social skills during the Second Stage debate. I agree the issue of these skills is an important one which should be looked at in the context of the wider concept of basic skills. My Department and the Department of Education and Science are currently working with the UK, Denmark and Portugal to see what can be done in this area in a European Union context arising out of recommendations made by the Lisbon summit. FÁS is also focusing on this issue and the development of programmes to address the needs of its people who are currently outside the labour market and who wish to find employment. Some of these schemes will fall within the ambit of the fund. However, I cannot accept the amendment since this would make the proposed social module mandatory in all training programmes supported under the fund. Programmes should be based on the needs of the clients, not on pre-ordained and narrowly defined criteria. I appreciate the issue raised by Deputy Naughten but I cannot accept this part of the amendment.
I am also grateful to the Deputy for raising the issue of certification and his amendment's reference to the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland. My Department and FÁS have long been advocates of the benefits of certification and have been working with the Department of Education and Science on the establishment of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland. Similarly, my Department is concerned that functions of the authority and its two subsidiary councils, the further and higher education and training councils, respectively, should be cognisant of the importance of the world of work. However, work is now only getting under way in the development of a national framework of qualifications and it will be some time before the new structures will have dealt with the existing training schemes. In addition, while certification is desirable, it may not always be possible to provide it if one wishes to be responsive to the needs of the clients.
There may continue to be programmes which have certification other than that provided by the NQAI. For example, in the highly technical area of aircraft maintenance, there are external industry-wide certification models which might continue to apply. I assure the Deputy and the committee that the Department will continue to promote the importance of certification. However, I regret I cannot accept this aspect of the amendment.
As regards industry-wide certification, my understanding was that that would be incorporated in the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act. I thought that legislation was passed to put formal qualifications structures in place where there had been informal or sectoral training in the past. It is even more important, given that a decision has been made not to put a formalised consultation structure in place, to ensure it is part of any criteria for the distribution of funding. The Minister of State said that consultations are taking place with similar bodies in Denmark and Portugal about their procedures. Can he clarify if they have formalised consultation structures for discussing with employers and employees the implementation of such programmes?
I accept the Minister of State's point about paragraph (a) of my amendment. However, it is important to include a social element. It is important to accept this amendment because we do not know what formalised consultation structures will be put in place. The Minister of State has not given us the opportunity to assess how the new national training advisory committee will be formulated, how it will be represented and what it will take into consideration. I tabled this amendment to ensure consideration of these elements which are of fundamental importance to the development of training and which tie in with the legislation already passed and with the White Paper on adult education.
I do not have the information on the other countries. I said those other countries, along with my Department and the Department of Education and Science, are working on a basic skills model. We have put the NQAI in position and it has work to do to put its structures in place. We must move on with the training aspect. We cannot afford to pass legislation which would curtail the progress required in the training area at this time. Consequently, it would be unwise to include the amendment now.
The Minister of State is setting a dangerous precedent in his role which spans both Departments. He, not I, should have tabled this amendment in relation to the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland. He is supposed to be the conduit between both Departments which have a responsibility for science and technology and training. I am disappointed he is not prepared to ensure that this legislation ties in with the other Act I mentioned. Training, in terms of qualification and certification, is not being given a proper structure. The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland should have a functional role in this fund. I will press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 8, subsection (4)(a), to delete lines 43 and 44.
Amendment No. 18 will have the effect of deleting section 8(4)(a)(iii). After consultation with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, this paragraph is not considered relevant as no levy is due to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment which is paid to the national training fund.
Amendment No. 19. Amendment No. 20 is an alternative. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 may be discussed together by agreement
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 9, lines 3 to 6, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:
"(5) Notwithstanding section 10(4) of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851, summary proceedings for any offence under this Act may be instituted-
(a) at any time within 2 years from the date on which the offence was committed
(b) at any time within 12 months from the date on which evidence that, in the opinion of the person by whom the proceedings are brought, is sufficient to justify the bringing of the proceedings, comes to that person's knowledge, whichever is the later, but no such proceedings shall be instituted later than 5 years from the date on which the offence concerned was committed.".
I am bringing forward amendment No. 19 in response to amendment No. 20 by Deputy Naughten. As I understand it, Deputy Naughten's amendment is intended to ensure that the bringing of proceedings would not be precluded due to the effluxion of time between the commissioning and the discovery of an offence. Amendment No. 19 seeks to achieve this effect and is based on advice from the parliamentary counsel. This amendment goes further than that proposed by Deputy Naughten in that it allows proceedings to be instituted up to almost five years from the discovery of the offence. I ask the committee to accept it on this basis.
I object to section 9. It comes back to the fundamental issue we have been debating concerning the legislation and to the point that no formalised structure is being put in place concerning this fund to provide consultation with employees who will have to buy into and participate in this training programme. It puts no proper adequate consultation programme in place for employers who will require the training involved. It will take powers away from FÁS. This section is fast-tracking fundamental changes in training policy without undertaking adequate consultation. Earlier, the Minister said consultation had taken place with ICTU and IBEC. A letter from Congress to the Taoiseach, which Deputy Rabbitte read out on Second Stage, strongly contradicts that point. Both Congress and the employers' bodies are concerned over the repeal of section 9. It is of fundamental importance for such consultations to take place.
Because powers are being taken away from FÁS, the call as to where the funding goes will now be on the new training advisory committee. Does the Minister intend to implement the Fitzpatrick report which recommends the privatisation of FÁS? This looks like the first step in the development of that process. I would like the Minister to comment on that. The White Paper on Adult Education should be the backbone of this legislation but, sadly, it is not. On page 128, the White Paper mentions the word "partnership". I can go into intricate detail, if the Minister so wishes, about the concept of training within the workplace being pioneered through partnership. The document talks about partnership throughout, including on page 10 where the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, mentions "the need to bring Government, education, training providers, business, trade unions, communities and voluntary organisations, including individuals, together to bring about the concept of life-long learning and make it a reality".
This legislation flies in the face of the Government's White Paper on Adult Education which was accepted by the Cabinet and published by the Department of Education and Science. The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, has responsibility for science and technology, yet the Bill flies in the face of the White Paper by failing to provide any formalised structures for consultation or for developing programmes which employees can buy into. The Minister should examine this matter. What will happen if employees do not feel part of this programme? We have discussed partnership and the Taoiseach has spoken ad nauseam about the issue with which we all agree, yet we are doing a complete U-turn by not establishing any formalised consultation structures. I oppose the section on those grounds.
I do not want to repeat points unnecessarily, but I concur with what Deputy Naughten has said. In many ways, this matter not only goes to the heart of the Bill but to the heart of the arrangements we have put in place in the economy in the past 12 or 13 years. I have not been persuaded by the arguments advanced by the Minister that these matters are either necessary or desirable. I greatly regret that we find ourselves looking down the barrel of a legislative gun, in so far as the opportunity does not present itself for the Minister to reflect upon amendments, or for us to reframe amendments for Report Stage. It is not the way to pass legislation. I do not know what is the explanation for this legislation only having emerged a couple of weeks ago. There is, I presume, much legislation in the pipeline and, presumably also, the Chief Parliamentary Counsel's office is under pressure, but this matter was announced in the 1999 budget speech of the Minister for Finance. He presaged this, yet 12 months later we cannot deal with it adequately, and the Minister cannot afford to consider arguments being advanced, because his riding instruction is to make sure he comes out with an Act before Christmas. Therefore, the Minister's hands are tied and he cannot be open to the arguments that are being made. I wonder if the rescue operation mounted for the PPF would have been so successful if trade Unionists concerned, for example, with the industrial training committees over the years, were aware of what was happening? I am quite sure, in fact I know, they were not aware. They will wake up to find that in the legislative week before Christmas we have put through a Bill that abolishes everything, irrespective of the individual merits of committees.
The Clerk to the Committee has kindly informed me that the Bills Office has struck again in connection with section 9. The reframed amendment is also a potential charge on the Exchequer, apparently, although I am completely bemused as to how that can be the case. We talk about Dáil reform but it is remarkable that an amendment like this could be deemed to be a potential charge on the Exchequer. I would ask the Minister, or yourself, Chairman, to explain that to me. That amendment essentially sought to examine the day of invocation of the Act. In other words, the Act must come into force on a given day and my amendment seeks to say that the Minister shall reserve the right to implement different sections of the Bill on different days, and not until he is satisfied "that appropriate transitional arrangements have been made for the continuity of operation of existing training programmes funded by FÁS from the former levy grant scheme". That gives the Minister complete control over the situation, but it asks that he or she be satisfied that adequate transitional arrangements are in place. That gives him time to consult the social partners and others as he thinks fit. It does not bind him to anything, or oblige him, but it gives him time and space that he does not have before Report Stage tomorrow.
I am completely bemused as to how that is a potential charge on the Exchequer. Somebody is presuming on the outcome that the Minister might do this and draw a different conclusion. It makes it difficult, however, to discuss legislation on Committee Stage if at every hand's turn one finds oneself bound hand and foot because an amendment might constitute a potential charge on the Exchequer, which in the context of this legislation is a nonsense for the reasons stated. One is talking about meeting the expenses of the people who comprise these committees. One may as well say that the cost of biros is a good argument for ruling out an amendment. As Deputy Naughten said, it is profoundly dispiriting. It is running against the grain of partnership and consultation which has operated for good or ill - most people think that by and large it has been for good. Why should it not apply in an area where it is critical that employees regard themselves as stake holders? It escapes me why they should be discounted and somebody, on the basis of making a telephone call from Kildare Street, will fix these matters in future.
The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, is a past master at confusing different questions. If one asks him too many questions, he will roll them up into one and answer the one to which you know the answer. If the Minister of State agrees, as he says he does, that some of these committees have functioned well, surely there must be some mechanism open to us to extricate them from the abolition hanging over them because the Tánaiste has been misreading Professor Potter's book on future competitiveness in the Irish economy. Surely it must be possible for us to save the committees which have been seen to be working efficiently and making a productive contribution to the competitiveness of their own industry.
Deputy Rabbitte, in response to your question about the amendment which has been ruled out of order, I do not have the Bills Office's note, regarding the basis on which it was ruled out of order, to which I referred earlier. I presume that note will be made available and I will ask the Clerk to the Committee to ensure that you will receive that by Report Stage tomorrow, which might give you an opportunity to look again at the issue you wished to raise.
The Bills Office is the only agency of State of which I am aware which is not open to appeal. If the Bills Office states it is out of order, then it is out of order. I intend to re-submit this on Report Stage tomorrow. When the Minister of State gets time to look at it, he will see that the committee puts all the power in the Minister's hands. The amendment states "if the Minister is satisfied" not "if the Opposition or Dáil Éireann are satisfied". The power is invested in the Minister in this amendment. I would ask the Minister, if the Bills Office persists in its ruling, to introduce on Report Stage an amendment which allows for the rescue of some of the committees considered to be functioning well and productively. Surely it is possible for us to agree some mechanism to evaluate which of these has a relevance in modern times and which of them has little or less relevance.
We strayed a little from section 9 and perhaps we should adhere to normal procedures. To be helpful, I will try to get the note regarding your amendment, amendment No. 21a. I hope to have that for you prior to Report Stage tomorrow. I draw to your attention that I have been advised by the Bills Office that the previous amendments are ruled out of order and must be disallowed. When that is suggested to me, it is a ruling of the Chair. I say that in order that we clearly understand the position. I am in a difficult position. I must be guided by the information available to me. Otherwise I might find myself in a more difficult position. I hope you appreciate my position.
The last thing I would want to do is make your position any more difficult, Chairman. That goes without saying.
Thank you. Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, do you wish to comment on some of the outstanding questions on section 9?
Yes. Deputy Rabbitte raised the issue of this terrible rush to conclude before the Christmas recess. There has been a long consultation process and I hope the Deputies on the opposite side are not confusing consultation with agreement. Consultation does not mean one can get agreement. One informs and discusses and one eventually reaches a consensus or otherwise and then the Government must respond and come forward with the legislation.
We then had a problem getting a time slot for the Bill. We must hit the target to make sure we can draw down the money and make sure the funds are available for training.
With respect, one cannot get a slot for a Bill one did not publish.
The Bill was published in November.
As soon as the Minister published the Bill and contacted Deputy Naughten and me, we said "yes".
The Bill was published a month ago.
It has not been published a month. We facilitated taking Committee Stage of the Bill which was published at short noticed, and taking Report Stage tomorrow and we should be given consideration for that. I will not dispute the fact that there was consultation but the Bill was only published on 15 November. There has been legislation published last June from the Department of Education and Science which still has not completed Second Stage. We facilitated this Bill in every possible way. The Minister of State's comment is unfair.
Deputy Naughten is misinterpreting what I said. There is a huge raft of legislation in the pipeline and it is virtually impossible to get a slot for the legislation. To meet the legal and legislative timeframe to include the £120 million in the training fund out of this year's figures, we must get the Bill passed in this Dáil session. Surely that is a major gesture to everybody committed to training. I commend everybody for that.
I introduced the Bill in the first week of December 1999 and it is still before the House; it is not concluded yet.
Why was the Bill not published in July, September or October? The Bill was announced more than 12 months ago in the budget.
I am not responsible for the publication of the Bill.
That is a new doctrine. Whether he likes it or not, the Minister of State is responsible.
The Bill was announced more than 12 months ago.
It has taken until 15 November for it to be published.
All I am saying is that we had the consultation and the Bill was published. We appreciate everybody's co-operation to get the Bill through. We are all doing a good job together and I believe in collective effort. This is what it is all about.
Deputy Naughten raised the point about the Fitzpatrick report, which looked at how one could open up the market for training in educational services. The report was undertaken in the context of Structural Funds and a decision has not been taken on it.
There is nothing in the Bill which provides for the privatisation of any part of the public sector. We are fortunate to have a mixed sector and it has worked well. The privatisation of an organisation like FÁS never was, and is not, under consideration. That organisation has done an outstanding job as the national training organisation and we can be proud of the work it has done.
The Government's commitment to partnership on training is not in doubt. It is shown in the establishment of the Skills Nets, which is representative of the business, trades unions and employers, and the representation on the lifelong learning task force which was established by my Department. We have given a firm commitment on the consultative and representative nature of the proposed national advisory committee. I am confident we will appoint excellent people on that committee and that they will do a good job, give excellent advice to the Minister and ensure that the funds are disbursed in a fair, equitable and practical manner, taking into account the demands required in any sector by any firm.
In response to the Minister of State's comments on partnership and lifelong learning, I have in front of me a letter which was submitted to the Taoiseach on 30 November, 15 days after the publication of the Bill. In the letter, Peter Cassells stated that this is clearly unacceptable to Congress and is at variance with the approach to lifelong learning contained in the PPF. The letter further states that the National Competitive Council in its most recent statement on skills recognises the fact in recommending that employers and trades unions be represented on the management structure of the national training fund. This would mean there would be places for the National Competitive Council, the PPF, which is supposed to be contradicted by this, and ICTU who are supposed to be the partners in the partnership process. However, the Minister of State seems to be contradicting the representations received by Deputies on this side.
This amendment repeals sections of the 1967 and 1994 Acts. We are abolishing those two Acts in two lines. The 1967 Act is extremely detailed and goes into many of the elements involved in the partnership process. It was before its time. Deputy Rabbitte correctly stated that some of these committees have done excellent work, yet the Minister of State will fly in the face of that work.
This section also threatens the national development plan and the process of ensuring that skills are there to deliver the plan. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, is very concerned that the NDP will not be delivered on time and this amendment will not help that situation.
Will the Minister of State come forward with an amendment on Report Stage regarding appropriate structures for the National Training Advisory Committee? Will he provide some kind of formalised structure for the committee if he is not prepared to allow for consultation on the ground? This is a fundamentally important issue. People working in education or training will attest that consultation and partnership are fundamentally important to the development of any programme, yet the Minister of State's proposals on section 9 fly in the face of that approach.
I assure the committee we will consult with FÁS and Enterprise Ireland on the best consultative structures below the level of the proposed overall national committee. There may be a need for certain advisory committees and, if so, they will be provided. I will take up Deputy Naughten's request that I further consider the National Training Advisory Committee before Report Stage.
Will the Minister of State introduce an amendment?
I will consider the matter further.
Will the Minister of State also table an amendment on structures for FÁS and Enterprise Ireland?
We will consult with FÁS and Enterprise Ireland but I cannot pre-empt that consultation process.
The whole point we are discussing involves consultation with employers and employees.
The statutory basis for the creation of any of these committees exists under the relevant Acts so there is no problem.
The Minister of State will ensure the passing of this Bill through the use of the guillotine tomorrow. The Opposition will find it impossible to delay the Bill on Report Stage due to the threat of the guillotine. However, I do not have to remind the Minister of State that, without effort, we could keep him here until well after midnight on Committee Stage. We have tried to avoid this so far and do not want to engage in such practices. If we wanted to do so wewould not have agreed to pass the Bill before Christmas.
Deputy Naughten asked the Minister of State to understand and acknowledge that we are not trying to obstruct the Bill. He has the freedom we do not have to frame an amendment before Report Stage which leaves open the facility to retrieve some of the better-functioning committees. The Minister of State has said several times tonight that he acknowledges that some of the committee have done an excellent job. I agree with him so I am at a loss to understand why we should not frame an amendment which leaves him the facility to retain some of these committees after the Bill is enacted. That is what I was seeking to do in amendment No. 21a which left control with the Minister in terms of being satisfied that the transitional arrangements were satisfactory. In that situation, the representations of the social partners are met. Changes will inevitably come about and no one on this side is trying to obstruct change. However, we are arguing that the Minister of State ought to allow for a facility whereby he can retrieve those committees which are, by common consent, manifestly well-functioning.
At what point are we, Chairman?
We are discussing the question, "That section 9 stand part of the Bill." I intend to put the question when the Minister of State responds.
My difficulty in responding is that it looks as if amendment No. 21a is similar to Deputy Rabbitte's proposal.
We are on section 9. We will deal with amendment No. 21a when we reach section 11.
We are not repealing the powers of the Industrial Training Act, 1967, under section 7 of which, the power to establish training and other committees exists. The power is still there and there is nothing to stop FÁS and Enterprise Ireland re-establishing these committees in consultation with the National Training Advisory Committee we propose to establish. It is a matter for consultation, discussion and appraisal. We are not repealing this measure.
The Minister of State is repealing sections 24, 25 and 27(2) of the 1967 Act. The only effect of this will be to abolish the committees. Why are we abolishing the committees if the Minister of State is arguing it will be open to people to re-establish them?
We are abolishing the committees as they stand, but that does not mean they cannot be restructured and recommitted in another way.
If that is the intention, why, in her speech to the House, did the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment not indicate this facility was open in the case of committees which have played a valuable role? Why abolish something if one is going to re-establish it? We are trying to facilitate the Minister of State and the situation if he is prepared to come forward with an amendment. This section marginalises unions and employers and will cause problems down the line.
We cannot discuss amendment No. 21a, Chairman, as it has been ruled out of order. Therefore, this is the only opportunity we have to discuss this matter.
That is not quite correct, Deputy. When an amendment is ruled out of order one cannot discuss it. However, one can discuss the section involved.
I am aware of that, Chairman, but we cannot discuss the amendment.
That is correct.
The content of the amendment is fundamentally important as regards section 9 which we are discussing.
Amendments may not be moved by reason of the ruling if they are out of order. However, they are clearly relevant to the subject matter of the Bill and the section. Accordingly, a Deputy may make his points on these amendments when the sections to which they relate arise. Members will find me more than accommodating.
I hold up my hands, Chairman.
The net point is not to dwell on it. I also want to see a conclusion to tonight's meeting as we all have other things to do. It would give the Minister the opportunity to have a council of war in his Department at 8 a.m. with his colleague Ministers and bring forward a Report Stage amendment which leaves control in the hands of the Minister and also leaves the facility to retrieve from the new situation such committees as are considered to be meritorious and worthwhile.
Based on the experience of Deputy Rabbitte and the enthusiasm of Deputy Naughten, I will consider the proposal overnight.
That is a conciliatory move.
There is nobody more conciliatory than the Minister but I have learned to appreciate the nuance of "I will consider that" and "yes, the Deputy may well have a point and I am minded if I can to do it". They are two different things.
That is speech to which I am not used.
The Minister said he will consider the proposal but once he gets us in the Chamber tomorrow on Report Stage he will hold a guillotine over us and that will be the end of it. The Minister has said that he will consider the proposal and I accept him at his word.
The Minister is a man of his word.
However, I have had no indication from him that he sees any merit in saving some of the committees which have worked better than others.
I will put it this way to the Deputy. There are 350,000 people in manufacturing industry and they have been served by these committees. There are 1.5 million people in the services area. Is it not time that we created equality of opportunity in terms of the diffusion of professional advice across the whole area? That is why this change is proposed. Based on this, I am prepared to look over night at the strengths of these people and whether we should return to this glorious committee system and, if not, I will tell the Deputies the de facto position.
I am not urging the Minister to ignore the requirements of the new workers in the economy——
The Deputy is urging me to provide for a rigid position.
That is not fair. I am merely saying that some of the 1967 committees have done a damn good job. This is by common consent.
Why is the Deputy not happy——
The evaluation which the Minister said did not happen did happen and it showed this. I am not asking the Minister to apply that prescription across the modern economy. I am merely asking him to leave in the place the facility for a rescue operation for those committees which are deemed worthwhile.
The Deputy does not seem to be happy with the enabling provisions on the creation of these advisory committees. He does not seem to trust the provisions.
A famous leader of the Minister's party once said——
All our leaders are famous.
That is correct. The Minister will recall my quoting to him before his remarks when he was asked about the Conference of Major Religious Superiors.
I remember the statement very well.
He said he found it difficult to put his trust in anything with the words "major" and "superior" in the title. I have a similar difficulty in trusting all of this to the great bureaucracy and assuming that it will come right on the night. We have an opportunity on Committee Stage to agree the principles and framework. I do not understand why I cannot get from the Minister the clear statement, "I have set my face against any of the old committees", if that is what he is saying. He does not seem to be saying that and, therefore, I am asking him——
I have not set my face against any of the old committees. What I have set my face against is the structure which is there. What we want is change and there are fine people within the committees and I am confident they will permeate into the new environment.
We are not putting in place any structures to replace the ones being abolished and to ensure these people and the committees——
We have already discussed this issue. I have gone through all this.
Those people who have the skills and abilities are a part of the structures which will be abolished. It flies in the face of the committees which have worked well that this will be the be-all and end-all of it. The Minister is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Some of the committees may not have been successful and may need to be reformed. We were not disputing the need to look at the service and the broader aspect of the issue.
I will look at the matter over night and come back with a further proposal tomorrow if I deem it positive to do so.
I do not want to look a gift horse in the mouth but I want to put a specific point to the Minister. He will be well familiar with the time honoured tradition we have invoked time out of number where legislation signed by the President does not have to be invoked on the same day. There are any number of examples of a tranche of a Bill coming into effect on 1 January and a further tranche coming into effect on 1 May. Does the Minister see anything wrong in putting section 9 in abeyance until such time as he has an opportunity, in consultation with the social partners, to examine the appropriateness of the transitional arrangements?
I will look over night at that situation as an option.
Thank you, sir.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 9, before section 10, to insert the following new section:
10.-(1) The expenses incurred by any Minister of the Government (other than the Minister for Finance) or the Revenue Commissioners in the administration of this Act shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.
(2) The expenses incurred by the Minister for Finance in the administration of this Act shall be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.".
This is a technical amendment which is designed to account for the fact that the Bill, as drafted, only provides for expenses incurred by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the administration of the Act to be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. Other Ministers, such as the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, as well as the Revenue Commissioners, are likely to incur expenses in the administration of the Act.
This amendment simply provides that these expenses may be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. As is normal practice, these expenses would be subject to the sanction of the Minister for Finance. The amendment also provides that any expenses which the Minister for Finance incurs, for example, in the management of the investment account provided for in section 2, may also be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 9, to delete line 27 and substitute the following:
Number and Year(1)Short Title(2)Extent of Repeal(3)
This is a technical amendment to account for the fact that in the Bill, as drafted, columns numbers were omitted from the Schedule. These numbers are necessary for the correct interpretation of section 9 which deals with the repeals mentioned in the Schedule.