National Board for Science and Technology Bill, 1976: Report and Final Stages.

A number of amendments have been submitted. We will take amendment No. 1 in the name of Deputy Barry Desmond.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

The amendment is not moved. We will proceed to amendment No. 2. This is related to amendment No. 3 and I suggest we take them together.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, line 11, to delete "Ireland's".

This amendment is designed to meet a point made by Deputy Kelly regarding the inclusion within the scope of this subsection of all our natural resources including those of the sea and the sea bed. In accordance with the proposed amendment, the provision would comprehend any existing or future resources of this kind without trying to define at this stage to what extent these are under Irish jurisdiction or control, or under what circumstances we may have access to such resources.

The Minister's way of solving the problem is probably a reasonable one. I see it as a simpler way of doing it than mine and I accept it.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, between lines 2 and 3 to insert the following:—

"(n) to advise and report to the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy on any projects submitted by the Minister to the Board relating to the application of science and technology to industrial, natural resources and energy projects".

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, can No. 4 be moved if No. 1 was not moved, as the two have to be taken together?

No. 4 is consequential on No. 1. The point has been made that No. 1 was not moved.

I was on my way in at 7 o'clock and No. 1 must have been called then.

I could permit the Deputy to debate Nos. 1 and 4 on No. 4.

With respect, a Cheann Comhairle, can we go back to No. 1 having disposed of Nos. 2 and 3?

Amendment No. 4 has not been debated.

I am concerned with the implications of the transfer of responsibility for the board from the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy to the Department of Economic Planning and Development. If the board are to make a decisive impact on the application of science and technology to future industrial natural resources and energy projects it would be best that they should continue to function under the aegis of the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy. It is hoped that major boards such as the IDA, IIRS, ESB and CTT would have a good relationship with the national board. These boards will continue to function under the office of the Minister. Having read through the debate of the special committee, I saw no reference by the Minister that they should be hived off from the Department of Industry and Commerce. It is fair to say that last March I recall Deputy O'Malley indicating to the special committee that the board should have an "industrial bias". At that time he spoke of the need for the practical application of scientific and technological knowledge to industry itself. There is a body of responsible political opinion which does not see any great justification for hiving-off this board to the Department of Economic Planning and Development. I know the Government are hard put to find specific areas of responsibility for Minister O'Donoghue but he himself has indicated on many occasions that he is only concerned with long-term economic strategy.

The Deputy must confine himself to the amendment.

This Bill is being transferred from one Minister to another and we must consider the functions of both Ministers. If the IDA had an outline project of major scientific import and were unsure of their ground, the normal practice for them would be to refer the matter to the Minister. The Minister would then authorise the IDA to act or he might refer the matter to the IIRS. The Minister has responsibility for the IDA and he would be obliged to send it to another Department which in turn would send it to the Board for Science and Technology for their views. If the board are to have a cutting edge and are to be the pivot of the application of science and technology to industry, then they should operate under the Minister's Department.

It is a political fact of life that the Government have decided to transfer responsibility for the board to the Department of Economic Planning and Development. Therefore, I have put forward an amendment which it would not be impossible for the Minister to accept, particularly in relation to specific projects which he may have in mind or which may come under his Department. In relation to these projects there should be a provision whereby the Minister can contact the board and act directly with them. It is not an impossible position for the Minister to accept and it would keep the board at the coalface of the application of science and technology to industry. For these reasons I put forward my amendment and the Minister should not have great difficulty in accepting it.

I am inclined to support Deputy Desmond in his urging of an amendment on these lines. On the last occasion, when the Bill was being discussed on Committee Stage, I expressed a doubt as to whether there was any necessity to transfer the political function of supervising this board to the Minister for Economic Planning and Development. I can see the kind of long-term sense in associating that Minister with it but I agree totally with Deputy Desmond that if the board superintend research or are associated with results that are of immediate relevance—a cold-faced relevance as Deputy Desmond recalls the former Minister describing it—it seems an absurdity that the Minister's Department should not be the first to know about such results. I do not wish to make an issue of this. Essentially, we are talking of the same human beings. The Minister admitted last week that there would be some transfer of personnel from his Department to the Department of Economic Planning and Development in connection with the functions of this board. Perhaps, therefore, it is only a question of that personnel receiving information which they will then pass back but at the very least it can be said for Deputy Desmond's amendment that it cuts the third corner off the triangle. I have no wish to make an unnecessary political point but it is possible that what is being done here is by way of an effort to find something for Deputy O'Donoghue to do pending the economic millenium. It may be that he should be given something to do. Perhaps it is not a bad move to give him this board. I asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy whether this meant that his Department would be shedding all responsibility for science and technology and he told me that that would not be the case.

Deputy Desmond's amendment to the extent that it merely requires the board to report to the Minister's Department as to what is going on in relation to matters of immediate relevance to the Minister, is a modest suggestion and I am inclined to support it.

I appreciate the reasons underlying Deputy Desmond's amendment but I am satisfied that the Bill as it stands provides adequately for close collaboration between the new board and the other Departments, including my Department and between the new board and bodies concerned with particular aspects of science and technology. For example, paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section 4 provides that the board shall:

advise the Government or the Minister on the Board's initiative or at the request of the Minister on policy for science and technology and related matters.

According to the advice that I have received from the parliamentary draftsman the Government in this context may be read as comprehending any Minister. Therefore, any Minister has access in that sense.

Section 5 which deals with the science budget provides in subsection (2) for the submission of a statement on the national programme for science and technology with the board's observations and recommendations to the Minister for Finance and the Government. Statements prepared by the board under this provision will cover all areas of science and technology, primary responsibility for which rests with the various individual Departments, institutes or other bodies. In performing their functions under the Bill the board, as a matter of course, will be interacting with all Departments and other institutions in the public sector. There will be a network of committees supporting the board on which the various Departments and other institutions will be represented. This will include my Department in relation to any matters of concern to it, for example, matters relating to industrial development, natural resources and energy.

The basic concept of this legislation is co-ordination through a single channel. One of the principal arguments for setting up the National Board for Science and Technology was the existing fragmentation of the national effort in science and technology.

The inclusion of a provision of this kind proposed by Deputy Desmond would upset the balance that has been achieved after lengthy and protracted discussion with all the Departments and institutions in respect of whose activities the new board will have a co-ordinating function although it is I, as Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, who is being singled out for a special direct relationship with the board in the Deputy's proposed amendment. I am satisfied that there is no need for such a provision and that my interest and the interest of my Department are safeguarded sufficiently in the Bill as drafted.

I have listened carefully to the Minister and while I appreciate his point of view I consider his apologia in defence of the situation to be rather weak and something about which he would not appear to be convinced.

Regarding his remark about his being singled out individually as Minister, he is aware that, for example, there is a section in the Bill that has another relationship. I refer to paragraph (g) of subsection (3) of section 4 which provides for consultation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in relation to international activities in the sphere of science and technology. In relation to industrial promotion and to industrial development of a scientific and technological nature generally, how much more appropriate it would be for them to engage in direct consultation with the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy. I note with rather wry amusement the suggestion of the Minister that such a provision would upset the long process of consultation that has taken place in relation to the giving of the functional nature of the board.

As the Minister knows well it was never envisaged that the board would operate other than under the general auspices of the Department dealing with industry and commerce. Even when the Taoiseach announced the setting up of the Department of Economic Planning and Development there was not any suggestion that responsibility for this board would be given to the new Department. The ESRI were transferred to the new Department to give it, I suppose, some bit of body. Somebody in the Cabinet put forward the idea that the new board also should be placed under the aegis of some other Ministry. The decision is retrograde. During the debate in March last, the Minister made some excellent contributions. I refer him to some of the things he then said, for instance, that the board, despite whatever feelings certain bodies may have, should have an industrial bias, that one of the reasons he welcomed the move was that science and technology had lagged behind. He went on to say that even with limited powers the board would do something in that direction and that he would not apologise to anybody for seeking to have an industrial bias in that respect. Deputy O'Malley said also at that time that he was thinking of the technical advice and assistance that could be obtained from knowledge that the board might be able to obtain through the co-ordination of investment in science and technology, and that could be made available to smaller industries.

All these things can be done. It does not mean that because the Minister for Economic Planning and Development is involved industry is shut out for all time.

The Minister for Economic Planning and Development has responsibility for a national plan, for a 5 per cent wage increase, for a 7 per cent inflation rate and for about 500,000 long-term strategy manifesto problems of the party. The Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy is accepting responsibility for those areas in which the board might make contribution to new industries. He is responsible also for the IDA, for the IIRS, for the nuclear energy board, for the ESB and for a whole cosmos of contributions to industry and to industrial development. Yet, he has shuffled off this other responsibility. But I do not blame him for this because he is much too far-seeing, too sensible and realistic to be held responsible for that. Some guru of the manifesto decided that the board should come within the ambit of the Department of Economic Planning and Development. I do not see the logic of that decision. I predict that the board will drift into a backwater. It will be very hard to rescue it from that kind of involvement. I do not see it being logical. I ask the Minister again to consider the matter. I will quote the previous Minister in this regard. He says in the Official Report of 4th November, 1976, volume 293 column 1180:

Those right at the coalface, if I may use that expression, of scientific discovery or new technological application should be in those institutions, be they third level, be they the pure institutions, be they laboratories in individual departments or be they, as I would wish them to be, in the industrial workshops where knowledge can be used to make a better product, to improve a product, or make a cheaper product, so that the application, participation and practice of the development of science and technology permeates the whole of our economy, industrial, agricultural, public and private.

That kind of concept does not set up as an advisory board the National Board of Science and Technology merely to advise the Government and the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, so that he can have a few choice paragraphs in the national plan next January in relation to science and technology. Rather I see the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy having regular consultations with this board and saying: "Here is a scientific project. Assess its merits. Let us not spend £70,000 or £80,000 in employing consultants in London to assess it. You are getting the money to do it under my Department. It will be the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy who will be at the back of the project now, and the IDA can come in on it directly". As the Minister well knows, matters of this magnitude are often matters of the utmost confidentiality. Shuffling them over by messenger from the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy to the Department of Economic Planning and Development means another Minister has his fingers on it then. The Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy in many ways is a man of great energy and capacity.

There is nothing to stop me from doing all those things.

The Minister will in no way have departmental responsibility for the board. I would wish to see it reside with him, not just because of individuals involved but because the Minister's Department is the Department which is more germane to the future prospects of this board.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, after line 10, to insert the following:—

(5) The Board shall not engage in or promote any activity of a primarily military relevance without the prior approval of the Government.

This amendment speaks for itself. I raised with the Minister on Thursday last the question of areas of scientific research which were not of purely industrial relevance but which, under the Bill as it stands, the board seems to have capacity to enter into. I gave two instances. One was the question of military research. From reading the debate as it appears in the published report it seems that the Minister does not understand the point I was making. Perhaps in the heat of the moment he was confusing it with a point which Deputy Desmond was making. I said nothing about nuclear research in the question of the capacity of, for example, the Timoney armoured personnel carrier to withstand nuclear attack. That was not in my mind. I mentioned the Timoney carrier only because the Minister when he was on this side of the House mentioned it in a debate earlier in the year. He devoted much of his speech to questioning technological research and work of a military kind. It is a most conspicuous instance in which we have moved into the world of technology in a quarter where we were not previously prominent in the economy. He gave us an instance of the personnel carrier which at that time apparently could not be produced in commercial quantities in Ireland and could only be put on to an assembly line in Belgium.

I might be able to shorten the matter for the Deputy. I will accept this amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 9 and 10 are consequential on amendment No. 6 and therefore these amendments may be taken together.

I move amendment No. 6.

In page 4, line 42, after "number" to insert "of ordinary members".

These are the only drafting amendments. I concede freely that they are of no serious importance to a serious board. The section as it stands is not entirely perfect from a pure drafting point of view. Section 9 (1) reads:

The members of the Board shall be a chairman and such number (not being more than ten) as the Minister may from time to time determine.

Therefore even the chairman is a member and the references in the later subsections to a member, if those subsections are taken in isolation, must include the chairman as well. The specific references to the chairman in the intervening subsection make it obvious that he is not intended to be comprehended by the latest subsection but it does seem that there is a minute failure in drafting. I will not press the point, but if the Minister sees anything in it he might accept these amendments; otherwise he might think about them between now and when the Bill goes to the Seanad.

I have thought about them. They are obviously tabled in the interests of clarity but in reality they do not seem to improve on the present provision which the draftsman is happy adds to its clarity. As far as the amendment in subsection (7) is concerned it could be regarded as preventing a chairman whose term of office has expired by the efflux of time from being eligible for reappointment. As it stands subsection (7) embraces all members of the board.

I see that.

Deputy Kelly's amendment was limited to ordinary members only.

Yes, but the chairman is specifically described in subsection (2) as being appointable from time to time as the occasion demands. I thought, therefore, that he was not contemplated in subsection (7). However, if the Minister is happy with it I do not mind.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 9 and 10 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 11, 12, 13 and 14 are related and may be taken together.

I move amendment No. 11.

In page 8, line 9, after "is" to insert "or has been".

Amendment No. 13 is also in my name. Both of these amendments are intended to strengthen the section on the lines suggested by Deputy Kelly on Committee Stage. They are intended to prevent disclosure by persons who have left the service of the board of confidential information required by such persons in the course of performing their duties to the board or as a result of having performed their duties to the board.

I accept both the Minister's amendments and ask that mine be withdrawn.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 8, line 12, after "performing" to insert "(or as a result of having performed)".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 14 not moved.

Amendment Nos. 15 and 16 are consequential on this and may be taken together.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 8, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:—

(2) No person shall, knowing that such disclosure is a breach of the foregoing subsection of this section, receive any such information as is referred to in the foregoing subsection.

The object of this suggestion, as adverted to when debating this last week, is to make criminal any act of accepting disclosure of information. The disclosure itself is made criminal by the section. It ought in logic to be criminal also to receive that information knowingly. Of course if it is wished on someone and he has to take it inadvertently no criminal liability could arise unless it were spelled out in absolutely clear language by the Oireachtas, and that would probably be undesirable. In the practical situation which we have to envisage a consultant who, as a result of his association with this board, is in possession of material which the board has classified as confidential and is the product of research which the board has paid for or instituted, is forbidden to disclose it. If he arranges to disclose it and hands over a sheet of paper or a formula or something of that sort, it seems that for the person who receives it knowing that this is an illicit operation on the part of the person communicating the information, it should be equally criminal. I am not sure, looking at the thing in cold print, that my amendment is a very happy one. It was intended to encompass the recipient of this information which ought not to have been disclosed.

I could not accept the amendment. It is reasonable to apply sanctions to people in the employment of a semi-State board who disclose confidential information but it seems draconian to extend such sanctions to the public at large for receiving such information. In any event, it may be unnecessary if it is possible to prove receipt of such information. The source of the disclosure must also be fairly easily proved. The existing provision covers those disclosures.

The proposed amendments could operate in a way that an innocent member of the public who would voluntarily receive such information would find himself liable to prosecution. I feel that the provision, as already amended by my amendments earlier and by my amendments on Committee Stage, provide adequate safeguards in relation to the protection of confidential information.

I am not entirely happy with that explanation. I take it that the Minister has talked to the draftsman and to the people in the Attorney General's Office. If that is the case, I will not take up the time of the House. I deliberately designed the amendment in such a way as not to encompass an innocent member of the public. It is designed to encompass somebody who arranges to get information which he knows he ought not to have.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 16 not moved.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 8, line 14, after "liable" to insert the following "on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding £5,000 or".

I looked at this subsection again and it seemed to me that the limit of £500 which can be imposed by a district justice on a summary prosecution would not really meet the seriousness of any case which we might have to envisage in the future. It seemed to me that an industrial consultant, an engineer, a biologist, chemist or somebody whose work might have a very important industrial association would regard £500 as a flea bite. He is not dealing in £500 of anything which would scarcely pay for a holiday but in material which would be a serious target for industrial piracy or espionage.

I believe, without wishing to be accused of being draconian, that to make the thing merely a summary offence triable in the same tribunal as an offence of a very minor kind in connection with road traffic, for example, is not appropriate. I do not ask the Minister to do this before the end of this Stage but he might consider between now and bringing the Bill to the Seanad if there might not be a very serious dimension to an offence under this section and whether in that case it might not be right to impose a much heavier penalty for which, of course, a trial on indictment in the Circuit Court with a jury or in the Central Criminal Court will be necessary.

I feel that the creation of a summary offence here and the provision of a fine up to £500 which has increased tenfold over what was proposed by my predecessor on summary conviction is a greater deterrent against disclosures of confidential information. The parliamentary draftsman advises that provisions for indictable offences are rarely, if ever, included in this type of Bill for this type of offence.

It should also be borne in mind that the £500 penalty is only a minor part of the consequences of conviction for this offence of disclosure. Loss of employment would also follow immediately which could be a very serious matter for the person concerned. It is an immeasurably heavier penalty than the fine proposed of £500. I do not think it is necessary to create an indictable offence here. Most Bills of this kind do not have this sort of provision. It is generally felt that the sanction of possible loss of employment is adequate. Of course, that sanction is there in addition to the monetary section which is referred to here and for that reason I do not think it is necessary to create an indictable offence.

I see the Minister's point of view and if the parliamentary draftsman so advises I would be slow to contradict him. At the same time, the main burden of what the Minister has just said is not applicable to the case which I have primarily in mind. Of course, it is quite true that a servant of the board, such as an official who is employed and gets a monthly pay cheque from the board, will be much more heavily hit by dismissal than by a £500 fine.

The case which I instanced is not that of an official or servant of the board. It is the case of an outside consultant employed by the board, the sort of person who might think it proper to disclose some process which had been reached by research and by work the board had sponsored. He is not amenable to discipline of this kind. His contract to the board is perhaps terminated. We have just provided by an amendment of the Minister that past consultancy or past service with the board renders one liable. It seems to me that it is somebody like this one really needs to deter.

I quite see that loss of employment is a far more serious thing. I would like to see there being two offences under which a relatively trivial breach would be a trivial offence which would be triable summarily. In the case of an industrial consultant, an engineering consultant, a biochemist or somebody like that who will make big money out of disclosing what he should not disclose the fine would be a real deterrent. That is the only deterrent which the board can effect against him.

I realise we can only speak once on this Stage and I do not want to hold up the House. I ask the Minister in good faith to think about this point again between now and bringing the Bill to the Seanad and, perhaps, see if the draftsman might have second thoughts or possibly even consider recasting the penal provisions of this section following the analogy of some appropriate provisions in the Official Secrets Act.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill received for final consideration and passed.