There was a hope expressed by all of us on the Committee that we might finish Committee Stage of this Bill by the end of May or June at the latest. I would ask the members to bear that in mind. We are beginning today on amendment No. 137.
I would propose, subject to your agreement, that we should aim to complete Part V of the Bill today. This would mean disposing of amendments Nos. 137 to 162, sections 26 to 34. If we were successful in achieving that, we could then look at the next Part, that is, the pre-school Part, at the next meeting. Perhaps with your co-operation we might be able to attain those targets. I move amendment No. 137:
In page 14, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following subsection:
"(1) A health board shall make arrangements with the managers of children's residential centres or with other suitable persons to ensure the provision of an adequate number of residential places for children in its care.".
The purpose of this amendment is to impose a statutory duty on each health board to make arrangements with persons carrying on children's residential centres and other suitable persons, for example, operators of hostels and others, to ensure that there is an adequate number of residential places available to cater for children in their care. While this duty is probably implicit in section 3 which sets out the functions of health boards under the Bill, I believe that the availability of an adequate number of residential places is so important that there should be a clear and unambiguous requirement on each health board to do so. This provision will mean that each health board will have to assess the number of residential places needed to accommodate children in their care. Having established this, the board will have to enter into arrangements with the authorities of the various residential facilities with a view to having an adequate number of places available to meet their needs. Where it is not possible for a board to obtain sufficient accommodation in this way, they will be able to avail of powers contained in the existing subsection (1) of this section to provide residential services itself.
As amendment No. 138 in the name of Deputy Sherlock includes a potential change on the Revenue it has been ruled out of order.
The section says that the health board "may" with the approval of the Minister, and what is being sought is that "shall" would be substituted for "may". It would mean that residential centres would have to be provided.
I do not wish to pre-empt the Minister, but perhaps he feels that amendment No. 137 deals with this. It is just that amendment No. 138 in Deputy Sherlock's name makes it mandatory. According to our standing orders only the Government can move an amendment involving a charge on public moneys.
To allay any worries that Deputy Sherlock might have the purpose of the previous amendment and the whole thrust of the Bill is that residential facilities should be available and flexibility will be given to the health boards either on their own initiative to provide those resources or to go into an arrangement with those who already have those facilities and in co-operation with the health board they would be utilised for children within the care of the board in their area. This is what we need.
I accept that.
We move now to amendment No. 139 in the names of Deputy Yates, Howlin and Sherlock. Amendments Nos. 140 and 142 are cognate. Is it agreed to take amendments Nos. 139, 140 and 142 together? Agreed?
I move amendment No. 139:
In page 14, subsection (2), line 15, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".
Amendments Nos. 139, 140 and 142 basically do the same thing, that is if it is the Minister's intention to make regulations, with the inclusion of the word "shall", he would be obliged to do so. There have been some aspects of this Bill where we have sought to set out what those regulations should be. The minimum we would accept is that there shall be regulations. I would ask the Minister to accept this because if he is serious about providing standards for children in homes, residential centres and so on, then there will have to be regulations, there will have to be a uniform, criterion within which they operate. I would ask the Minister to circumvent debate on this and accept what is his intention anyway.
I support what Deputy Yates has said. It is reasonable to have the word "shall" instead of "may".
While I am advised that the use of the word "may" here is quite adequate, I have no particular difficulty about changing it to "shall" if the Deputies consider it desirable to do so. I want to make it clear, however, that it was always our intention to make these regulations. The regulations in relation to the placement of children in foster care are particularly important and form the basis of our foster care programme. The system simply would not operate without these regulations. I have no hesitation in giving a commitment that they will be made. However, if Deputies are anxious to change the word "may" to "shall" I have no objection to doing so.