Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106)

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

213 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the steps which have been made towards implementing the recommendations contained in a report by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel entitled Explanatory Memoranda: An OPC Perspective, which has been submitted to the Chief Whip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1054/04]

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Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

214 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the length of time it takes to fully train a draftsperson. [1055/04]

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Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

215 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the system of formal structured training which has been put in place for the recently recruited parliamentary counsel. [1056/04]

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Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

216 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the measures which have been put in place to ensure that members of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel take cognisance of the decisions of the superior courts involving statutory interpretation and the constitutionality of legislation. [1057/04]

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Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

217 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the reasons the drafting manual relating to the Acts and the drafting manual relating to secondary legislation has not been published. [1058/04]

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Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

218 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the reason the fully resourced and staffed Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has failed to discharge its functions in the transposition of secondary legislation to such an extent that a precedent has been set by engaging outside counsel. [1059/04]

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Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

219 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the plans he has in conjunction with decentralisation to dissolve the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in order to allocate at least one parliamentary counsel to each Government Department. [1060/04]

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Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

220 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach if, as a direct result of benchmarking, there is likely to be an increase in the number of Bills being produced by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. [1061/04]

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Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 213 to 220, inclusive, together.

The document entitled Explanatory Memoranda: An OPC Perspective, was prepared in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government in response to the Law Reform Commission report, Statutory Drafting and Interpretation: Plain Language and the Law. The paper examined explanatory memoranda to Bills and contained a set of draft guidelines to assist Departments in the preparation of explanatory memoranda.

It has always been recognised that it takes a considerable period of time to train new parliamentary counsel but in recent years the period has been much reduced. To further aid the process, the office put in place in December 2002 a training plan which is being implemented in respect of the five drafters recruited since August 2002. The plan is comprehensive covering competencies, training topics, guidelines for on-the-job training, checklist for reviewing drafts, induction checklist, relationship between advisory counsel and parliamentary counsel on drafting files, training log and on-line legislative drafting resources.

The office, in conjunction with the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, has put in place a knowledge management strategy, an element of which ensures that parliamentary counsel are informed on a range of issues, including European Union law, European Convention on Human Rights, international law and decisions of the Supreme Court in respect of statutory interpretation and the constitutionality of legislation.

Copies of Statutory Instruments: Drafting Checklist and Guidelines, prepared in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government, were issued to Government Departments and offices in March 2003. A copy of the drafting manual containing guidelines and precedents to assist drafters was placed in the Oireachtas Library in September 2003. These documents were not published as they were prepared for officials involved in drafting statutory instruments and for parliamentary counsel and are subject to review.

The primary function of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government is to draft Bills and Government orders. It is a matter for Departments and offices to submit statutory instruments to the office for settling or drafting. The engagement of outside counsel did not arise from any failure in the service provided by the office but rather by a desire to enable Departments to tackle within a short period of time a backlog of EU measures which awaited transposition. In that context, the initiative was very successful and the European Commission last week complimented Ireland when figures were released showing us as meeting the 1.5% target for implementation of the EU Internal Market laws. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel produced 17 Bills during the period commencing the last parliamentary session and the commencement of this session.

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which forms part of the Office of the Attorney General and is organised into three groups each servicing a number of Departments, is very effective. It would not be efficient to have it dispersed among Departments. Parliamentary counsel work in close co-operation with advisory counsel in the Office of the Attorney General in the preparation of legislation. The Attorney General advises the Government on the constitutionality of legislation and in relation to other legal issues that arise.

The number of Bills enacted in recent years has increased dramatically as is evidenced by the following table.

Primary Legislation

Year

No. of Acts

Pages

1984

27

300

1989

23

588

1994

34

815

1999

35

1,166

2000

42

1,531

2001

57

2,269

2002

34

991

2003

46

1,824

This involves both advisory and drafting staff in relation to the preparation of Bills but also in the preparation of amendments which can be considerable, complex and time-consuming.