We resume on amendment No. 13 in the name of Deputy Rabbitte. As Deputy Rabbitte is not present, the amendment cannot be moved.
I will move the amendment.
The Deputy cannot move the amendment on Deputy Rabbitte's behalf. The Member who tabled it is the only person who can do so.
It is an important amendment.
To what amendment are we referring?
We are referring to amendment No. 13 in the name of Deputy Rabbitte. However, Deputy Rabbitte is not present to move it.
I want to speak about Deputy Rabbitte's amendment which was not moved. It deals with regulations made under section 3 (6) which proposes to give members of the Executive the power to make regulations under the Act. As this concerns every Member of the House and is central to our methods of work and so-called ethics, regulations brought in to deal with those topics should be considered in the House in advance, rather than us finding out about them after a Minister has made a regulation. I cannot see any reason, if we have respect for ourselves as legislators, why we should not demand as a right to see proposed regulations in advance and to ensure that they command the support of all Members in the House, rather than leaving it as a matter of Government policy at any given stage.
It is easy to envisage future coalition Governments in which a Minister with responsibility under this statute might represent a small fraction of the overall number of people in the Dáil regarding the outlook on the subject of this Bill. For example, if a Labour Party Minister or a Progressive Democrat Minister proposed to make regulations under this Act, it would be fair to consult Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in advance on those regulations. They should know what they mean and what the implications are for every Member of this House. The regulations should not be made unless and until the majority of the Members of the House have an opportunity to consider the regulations in detail, to make real proposals to alter them and to submit amendments before they come into effect. I am not speaking from a partisan point of view, but from the point of view of every Member of this House. We have a right to know in advance what type of regulations are being made to our so-called ethics, without finding out in the newspapers that decisions have been made for us which can only be reversed by using Private Members' Time within 21 days after the House has sat.
I appeal to Government backbenchers to consider what I have said. We are entitled to this as a right, not as a matter of grace or favour from a particular Minister. We should be consulted in advance and regulations should not be made under this Act unless the House has considered them in advance and decided whether they are appropriate or inappropriate.
I agree with the views expressed by Deputy McDowell. In my time in the House, I cannot recall any occasion when the formula suggested in a Bill was actually invoked by the House. I cannot recall any circumstance when regulations were promulgated by a Minister and the House subsequently voted to abrogate the regulations.
As Deputy McDowell said, this is a matter which affects every present and future Deputy. As all of these sections are drafted, it is within the remit of the Minister to bring a regulation forward. He or she need not necessarily go to Cabinet because the Act will empower the Minister to bring the regulations forward. By the nature of Government, once a Minister brings a regulation forward on behalf of a Government, the majority supporting that Government will simply support the regulation. In circumstances where it might be injurious to the interests of Members of the House, the Government parties — whoever they are — will find themselves locked into a situation of automatic support for the Minister's regulations, even if they substantially change matters which are quite transparent now.
I am putting my view forward in a non party political way because this legislation will affect us all and those who will succeed us. There is a tendency to take parliamentarians for granted and there is a great deal of cynicism about them. One need only recall the recent outcry about very small increases in TDs' salaries, both in the national media and on local radio, to realise the kind of push that can be put on, much of it ill-considered.
In such circumstances we should have some control over additions to this legislation. This formula is simply to give the notion that there is accountability to Parliament. However, in fact, I cannot recall a motion ever being tabled to negative regulations brought forward by Ministers and it is very unlikely to happen in the future.
Before I call Deputy Rabbitte I must point out that we did not agree sitting times. It has been suggested that we break from 1 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. and then sit until 5.30 p.m. If Members wish we can take a break at 4 p.m. for 15 minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I apologise for being late and, therefore, unable to move my amendment, the substance of which I heard Deputy Noonan (Limerick East) address. I will signal to the Minister that I will seek to re-enter it on Report Stage, if that is permissible. I do not know if the Minister has given any indication of her disposition on the matter but I would have thought that it is the kind of reasonable amendment which would recommend itself to her and that she might take it on board. As a principle, it is bad that so much of our legislation is now made by way of regulation which most Members of the Legislature are not even aware of and which is virtually impossible to be aware of.
In this case, for all the obvious reasons — I do not want to trace Deputy Noonan's arguments again, they are the arguments which caused me to table my amendment — it is important that in respect of the sweeping powers being suggested in section 3, regulations should not be introduced without first being approved by a resolution of each House. That is the minimum which is required and I do not think such a proposal runs any risks from the point of view of the Minister or the Government.
The Members of the House ought to have the opportunity in advance to consider whatever aspect of a regulation which might be contemplated by the Minister. As Deputy Noonan said, presumably the majority's view will prevail. However, it is a core principle that we ought to have the opportunity to discuss the regulation in advance.
As far as I know, the Minister of the day can lay the regulations before both Houses. It is then open to any party or Members of the Oireachtas to table an amendment to them. Never in my time as a Member has an amendment opposing regulations been tabled. Would the Minister clarify if the proposed regulations will be laid before the House for 21 days and if there is no amendment be brought into law? If that is not the case and if the Minister is to have blanket authority in regard to the regulations, I would have a reservation in regard to the type of regulation which would be tabled.
Also, as far as I know, if the regulations being laid before the House are important, they go before Cabinet. For example, the Department of the Environment would know if the regulations amended an Act. Out of courtesy one's colleagues in Cabinet are notified.
There is no intention that regulations will be made over the heads of Members in relation to their situation. As I outlined in the debate, Part II of the Bill is enacted by each relevant House in relation to itself in line with the provisions of Article 15.10 of the Constitution, that each House shall regulate its own affairs. The Parts of the Bill which directly relate to Members will, in fact, be enacted separately by each House of the Oireachtas.
The regulations on issues such as monetary amounts must be directly approved by the Oireachtas. Other regulations have to go through the normal 21 day procedure, as outlined by Deputy Connolly. We envisage the regulations applying to the designation of positions in public bodies. It is intended that, in line with Programme for Government commitments, all directorships in the commercial and non commercial semi-State bodies will be designated initially as will all senior executive positions in such bodies. It is also intended that positions of Principal Officer and upwards will be designated under the Bill.
It is intended, for example, if there is somebody in a more junior grade working in a very sensitive commercial position to apply the provisions of the Bill and that such a position be designated by regulation. Such regulations would be prepared in the normal way and would not be brought before the House. The substantive concerns of the Members are addressed by the provisions and we see no need for Deputy Rabbitte's amendment.
The Minister mentioned the intention. However, under the 1956 citizenship Act, the Fine Gael Attorney General assured the House that a person would not ever be given citizenship of Ireland for investment in a commercial venture. It was stated that this was a preposterous idea and the Fianna Fáil Deputy who suggested that it would eventually happen under the rubric of Irish associations was almost laughed out of the House. An intention and what actually happens is often a different matter as time goes by. On this matter I understand the Minister's view. However, with regard to section 3 (1) (a) and 3 (1) (b), she is arrogating to herself——
Much legislation has changed since the 1950s.
Deputy McDowell without interruption.
My point is that one must consider a person's intention on the day he introduces a Bill. That was only an example, which I read recently, and I am not making any more of it. However, it stuck in my mind that the House was assured that one Fianna Fáil——
It sticks in my mind that the Progressive Democrats actively supported that scheme in Dublin.
I am not making an argument against it, simply pointing out that the House was assured and a Fianna Fáil backbencher was laughed at for suggesting what would happen almost 40 years later.
Section 3 (1) (b) deals with the power of a Minister and states that a Minister may:
make regulations generally for the purpose of giving effect to this Act and, if in any respect any difficulty arises during the period of two years after the commencement of this section in bringing into operation this Act, by regulations do anything which appears to be necessary or expedient for bringing this Act into operation.
Subsection (2) states:
Regulations under this section may contain such incidental supplementary and consequential provisions as appear to the Minister to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of the regulations.
The Minister correctly stated that under subsection (3), for example, there is a power to prescribe, in respect of certain public bodies and positions in public bodies, categories of State employment to which these regulations will apply.
We must remember that the power to make regulations also contains a power to reverse regulations under the Interpretation Act. If the Minister announces that officers of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry dealing with sensitive matters, must make conflict of interest declarations in the future, it is open to her successor to revoke that by a regulation which has immediate effect. If one examines the proposed text of subsection (6), the regulation can be annulled by a motion of the House "but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder". One Minister can exempt categories of people which another Minister thought should be covered by the obligation to register their interests. There is nothing the House can do about it except reverse it. However, that will only take effect 21 days later.
I accept that subsection (4) means that we must be consulted in advance on a number of matters, which are of much closer interest to Members of the House. However, subsection (3) contains significant powers. The power of a Minister to repeal an obligation on certain categories of people holding public office to register their potential conflicts of interest is extensive and sweeping and should be approved in advance. On subsection (4), I note that the Minister must consult with other Ministers of Government but not with Members of the House. If a Minister makes it obligatory on certain public office holders or people employed in public offices to comply with this Act, the House should be told in advance of any proposal to vary that position. The House should be given an opportunity in advance to agree or disagree with any such proposal.
Section 3 confers sweeping powers on the Minister of the day. I do not dispute the Minister's intention in this matter but she will not always be the Minister. I do not understand that she has any argument against what is framed in my amendment and what is enshrined in the last two or three lines of subsection (5) (c). It only relates to the matters encompassed by subsection (5) (a), (b) and (c), requiring that the regulation cannot be made until a resolution approving of the draft is passed by both Houses.
What objection could the Minister have to, for example, a draft Order being laid before the House and after 21 days a motion appearing on the Order Paper stating that the House shall adopt Order No. 23? I am sure that in more instances than we can think of, it would go through on the nod. However, it is an important precaution that should exist. Members should have the opportunity of it being brought to their attention that a certain regulation in is the Library if they wish to examine it. I cannot see a reasonable objection to that.
Do I understand that all matters with regard to any new regulations, introduced by any Minister, will be laid before the House? I want confirmation that this is the position. To many Members, it may be important as there is a perception that if Members of the Oireachtas are involved in anything there is a cloud over them. I resent this because I can stand on my two feet in any arena, whether public or private.
A Minister could consider an Order or an amendment unimportant. However, it could be of great importance to other people. This is the only reservation I have and I want confirmation that all amendments to regulations will be laid before the House.
I am more concerned with the new interpretation of existing legislation. There are no safeguards in this area in terms of changes of Government, civil servants and administration staff. Recently, there have been new interpretations of certain regulations but no Oireachtas Members were informed unless they sought information. Will the Minister cover this matter in her reply?
Section 3 (1) (a) and (b) and subsection (2) are standard provisions designed to deal with unforeseen technicalities and without such provisions, the operation of the Bill might be impaired and the will of the Oireachtas frustrated. They are fairly standard provisions which are contained in a number of Acts.
In reply to Deputy Connolly, section 3 (6) provides that every regulation made under this section, other than subsection (5) which must be directly approved by the Oireachtas, must go through the 21 day procedure, be laid before the House, which will have the opportunity to annul it within 21 days.