Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (8, 9, 10, 11, 12)

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

8 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of the OECD report on regulatory reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31080/03]

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Enda Kenny

Question:

9 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the OECD report on regulatory reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1046/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Question:

10 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the recommendations of the OECD report on regulatory reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1282/04]

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Denis Naughten

Question:

11 Mr. Naughten asked the Taoiseach the recommendations in the OECD report on regulatory reform which have been implemented to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1392/04]

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Pat Rabbitte

Question:

12 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the publication of the new Government White Paper on better regulation; and the specific steps his Department intends to take to reduce red tape. [1992/04]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 12, inclusive, together.

As I informed the House in my reply of 15 October 2003, the high level group on regulation has made considerable progress since its establishment in May 2001 following publication of the OECD review on regulatory reform in Ireland. The group has focused on two areas in particular.

The first is the formulation of a White Paper on better regulation. As Deputies may be aware, I launched the White Paper on Tuesday, 20 January. I understand that copies were circulated to all Deputies and placed in the Oireachtas Library. The White Paper sets out six core principles of better regulation: necessity, effectiveness, proportionality, transparency, accountability and consistency. Application of these principles will enable our economy to perform better and improve the quality of public services.

The White Paper also sets out a detailed action plan to translate these principles into how we design, implement and review legislation and regulations. Key actions include the introduction of regulatory impact analysis, RIA. This will be a major improvement to the way new regulations are made. Departments and offices will assess and quantify the likely impacts of major new regulations and will consult more widely and consistently before making regulations, especially with consumers when they are likely to be affected. Consideration will be given to the downstream compliance and enforcement consequences of regulations, including monitoring and review mechanisms where appropriate.

New systematic reviews of existing regulations in key areas will take place and an ongoing series of reviews will be undertaken. This will involve assessing the adequacy and relevance of existing regulations and the regulatory arrangements and agencies that are in place in specific key areas of the economy and society.

Improvements to our approach to sectoral regulation will be made. This will include establishing new independent regulators only if the requirement for an existing regulator can be clearly demonstrated and if responsibility for the sector in question cannot be assigned to an existing regulator. There will also be a review of the existing arrangements for appeal of decisions made by sectoral regulators to try to speed up implementation of important infrastructural projects.

There will be a renewed drive to tackle red tape. Departments and offices will be asked to simplify and streamline their administrative processes and to report specifically on targets and progress in their strategy statements and annual reports.

We will have greater clarity and accessibility of regulation, including publishing new explanatory guides to Acts which have major implications for consumers and citizens. A major programme of statute law revision will be undertaken to bring the Statute Book up to date and make it easier to find the law relating to specific issues. A new better regulation group will be established to oversee implementation of the actions outlined in the White Paper and to report back to the Government on a regular basis.

The second priority of the high level group and a key action point in the White Paper is the development of a system of regulatory impact analysis, RIA, as recommended by the OECD in its report. RIA is a policy tool designed to identify and quantify, where possible, the impact of new and existing regulations. A working group of officials has developed an approach to RIA that would be suitable for piloting in the Irish legislative and policy-making context.

A small number of volunteer Departments will be sought to allow regulatory impact analysis to be piloted in the months ahead. Ultimately, the wider introduction of RIA across all Departments and offices will be supported by the preparation of detailed guidance material and supports and delivery of a programme of awareness raising and training.

The publication of a White Paper on regulation and the introduction of regulatory impact assessment across Departments are two of the commitments on regulatory reform contained in Sustaining Progress. Overall, we are making inroads in the area of better regulation and I look forward to even more progress in the coming years in accordance with the principles and actions outlined in the White Paper.

Again this is very dense and impenetrable stuff. It is very difficult to know whether it will have any tangible impact. Now that the Taoiseach has published the White Paper, which starts with an amazing opening sentence stating that the Government is not "for or against" regulation and that rather the Government favours better regulation, where do we go from here? Are there likely to be statutory instruments or primary legislation derived from the publication of the White Paper?

I note what the Taoiseach said about RIA being a tool to quantify and measure new regulations. What is the practical impact since the publication of the OECD report? What progress has been made in regulatory reform in any of the major areas of the economy? We have deregulated taxis as a result of a decision of the High Court. Is it not the case that the Government has very shabbily treated the unfortunate casualties of that — a small number of taxi plate holders who have suffered serious loss for a variety of reasons? Other than tackling the taxi service operated by working class men generally, where else have we made any steps forward?

What is the situation with regard to the professions, pubs and a number of other areas where action was promised but no action has been taken? We know what has happened recently with telecoms. Do we have any handle on regulation in that area? Is it not the case that the privatisation of Telecom Éireann has been an unmitigated disaster for almost everybody involved? We now have a duopoly that is increasing its tariff rates every time it thinks about it and the regulatory framework does not seem to be able to get a handle on it. Are these not the tangible matters that have a bearing on the economy in terms of competitiveness, etc.? How does the publication of the Taoiseach's White Paper advance those issues?

The Deputy has asked me a number of questions concerning what actions will take place. I will put simply the overall issue before I come to the individual issues the Deputy mentioned. In 1999 following the OECD studies, we started this process to get better regulation. We were one of the first countries to take up this issue. A great number of countries are taking it up now and have done so in the past few years.

The assessments of how it could work better were carried out up to 2001. A number of areas were looked at — professional services, electricity, gas, the liberalisation of pharmacies, etc. This has been examined in several areas. The basis of the White Paper is that whenever we set up any regulation or legislation, we should look to see if there is another way. We should examine whether it is necessary to legislate or have a statutory instrument or whether there is a simpler and more efficient way.

The OECD argued that up to 7% of GDP could be generated in a society where there is a regulatory system that does not just impose burdens and costs. That seems a particularly high figure because every 1% would mean €1 billion to the Irish economy. Regardless of whether that is right, the assessment is correct. When we want to do something, we should not just impose burdens on citizens, be they employers, trade unionists or individuals. We should consider whether there is a simpler way to proceed. That aspect relates to all new legislation, statutory instruments and regulations. It would not be very difficult to achieve and the regulatory impact assessment and the model set out in the White Paper are simple enough to allow it to be done in the future.

The second point relates to all old Acts. The high level group, which will begin its review in this area with pre-1922 Acts, of which there are hundreds that date back centuries, believes that these should be brought up to date. The answer to the Deputy's question as to whether, in the context of the Statute of Limitations, there will be new legislation to regulate these is "Yes". The group is considering if this can be done in a collective way, rather than by dealing with hundreds of Acts individually. It is looking at updating the Statute Book, and keeping it updated, in omnibus fashion but also at getting rid of these hundreds of Acts, many of which are used, in one form or another, in the courts each day. That will be useful for businesses and individuals in terms of knowing exactly what is law in this country.

The third point relates to the areas to which the Deputy referred, namely, telecommunications, electricity, pharmacies, public house and professional services. Work has been ongoing in respect of these areas since 2001. I share his view that while the Competition Authority commenced work on the professional services study in May 2001 by examining eight professions, including those of engineers, architects, dentists and veterinarians, it has been slow in finalising its studies. However, it has produced its reports and is involved in the ongoing discussions. The consultants' report was published last March. Those involved have since been using that report as a basis for their work. The Competition Authority has been engaged in consultations and has issued recommendations on each of the professions. Its reports in respect of these matters have not been produced yet. I may be being unfair by saying that and some of the reports may have been forthcoming but I do not believe that they have been produced in most cases.

Apart from the White Paper, the work in respect of these eight professional areas is continuing and the reports and recommendations relating to them will be published in the summer. I am aware that the paper relating to the legal profession is to be published in May, while others will be published either prior to that date or later.

On electronic communications, there are approximately five directives involving changes currently in existence. With regard to electricity, there are a number of regulations which arise out of this work. In the area of telecommunications, there are directives coming forward. All of that work from the OECD report is being progressed, albeit slowly, by the Competition Authority and the agencies involved. Regulations relating to pharmacies and liquor licences have been published. The final one relating to liquor licences, the codification of the legislation which contains approximately six sections, has been completed. While the work is slow, it is useful.

The regulatory impact analysis does not merely involve publishing the White Paper for the benefit of agencies and Departments in the future and allowing other matters to drift. The high level group has provided a model which must be followed. In any legislative areas where there is discussion or debate in the future, before we arrive at the final process the type of analysis I have outlined must be undergone. This will, I hope, mean that there will be less regulation. It is not a question of deregulation, it is about better regulation or finding an alternative way to proceed. The report points out that the plastic bag levy was not a question of enforcement or penalties but that a policy decision was made and incentives introduced to allow matters to move a particular way. Other examples are also set out in the report.

I accept Deputy Rabbitte's description of it as heavy stuff. However, in Europe and throughout the world, when Governments move away from tax reform because it has worked its way through the system, they use regulatory analysis as a means of achieving greater efficiency and more competition. The work we have done in this White Paper is to gear that towards the Irish model.

I thank the members and officials in the working groups for their work on this. I do not claim to have had any input into the paper but I appreciate the people who have worked on it. They produced a White Paper which is far simpler than some of the contents of the OECD report two years ago.

That concludes Taoiseach's questions.

On a point of order, will the House take steps to regulate the length of the Taoiseach's replies, given that he has effectively blocked questions from other Deputies?

That is not a point of order. The Deputy should take up the matter with the Dáil reform committee.

That point needs to be addressed. The Kyoto Protocol will be difficult to implement if the Taoiseach continues to emit CO2 at that rate.