It is proposed to take No. 15a, Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2006 [Seanad] — Financial Resolution; No. 23, Building Control Bill 2005 — Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. 4, Defence (Amendment) No. 2 Bill 2006 [Seanad] — Second Stage. It is proposed notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders that No. 15a shall be decided without debate. Report and Final Stages of No. 23 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 12.30 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The proceedings on Second Stage of No. 4 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. today.
Order of Business.
Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15a without debate agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 23 agreed?
It is not agreed. I understand there are 123 amendments to be dealt with on Report Stage. The time afforded to deal with that is not acceptable. While many Ministers wish to place legacy items on their records as they leave office, this is not an acceptable way to do it.
The Labour Party opposes the proposal also. To provide 90 minutes at most to take 123 amendments, most of which have been tabled by the Minister, is to fail to provide an adequate opportunity to debate them. Never in the history of Dáil Éireann has the passage from Opposition to Government wrought so great a transformation on a Deputy as it has in the case of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I hope sincerely that he will not persist in trampling on the right of the House to scrutinise legislation.
If the Minister wishes to find a solution, I draw his attention to the fact that three hours have been provided for debate on the Defence Bill. There is no reason we cannot extend the time for consideration of Report Stage of the Building Control Bill into some of the time set aside to take the Defence Bill. Why should there be a guillotine this evening on the Defence Bill when we could resume its consideration at a time when the Minister for Defence is available to attend the House? He is otherwise engaged today. I ask the Minister to offer additional time to consider the Building Control Bill.
The Building Control Bill is so vital in respect of energy consumption and quality of life for our people that it is a gross insult, not just to this House, but to the wider public to say it can be wrapped up, sealed and signed in a 90-minute period. I previously raised the fact that Sustainable Energy Ireland research states that only 2% of homes in Ireland comply with the basic Part L of the Building Regulations 2002. We are clearly not controlling building in any form or fashion.
I would prefer if the Deputy kept his comments to the business before us. This is purely a procedural motion.
I will desist because I want to get on with business, but I object to the Bill being handled in this way and the reason for my objection is obvious.
As this is just a procedural motion, I will stick to that. There is no reason this debate should be curtailed to 90 minutes or so and I am opposed to the guillotine on this Bill, as I have opposed guillotines on other legislation. We should be allowed the time required to have a proper debate, especially since there are several amendments which require full debate in which all Members of the House can take part, rather than just a Committee Stage debate where Members do not have the opportunity to table amendments unless they are members of the relevant committee.
As Members are aware, this Bill was published in 2005. A number of Deputies, including Deputy Quinn, have urged us to get on with it. We have a duty to pass our legislation in a timely fashion. This legislation is important and the Government has been mindful of constant demands from the other side of the House that we get on with this Bill and not allow it to lag behind.
In those circumstances, it is our intention to get it through all its final Stages today. In deference to the requests made by the opposite side of the House, the Government Chief Whip has indicated that he is prepared to discuss with the Opposition Whips allocating an hour from the debate on the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2006 [Seanad] to this matter if agreement can be reached in this regard.
Is the amended proposal for dealing with No. 4, the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2006 [Seanad], Second Stage, agreed to?
As amended. I will hear the Deputy's comment, but in light of the Tanáiste's comments——
In light of the Tanáiste's comments, it is still not agreed because if one takes an hour from the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2006 [Seanad], one leaves only enough time for the spokespersons so I am opposed to that being brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. Time should be allocated to allow Members of the House to have a full debate on Second Stage.
The Government Chief Whip has indicated that he is prepared to add half an hour to that as well if the Deputy is willing to accept it. I am trying to accommodate the Deputy.
I have no problem. I will get to speak on the matter, but other Members in the House might like to address this important and substantial legislation on Second Stage. I do not want to delay the Bill, but——
An Ceann Comhairle: The question is that the proposal for dealing with No. 4, the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2006 [Seanad], Second Stage, be agreed to.
Second Stage will conclude at 3.30 p.m. so there is no need to change Question Time.
I am sure the Ceann Comhairle read in today's newspapers that 11 groups have placed an advertisement calling on the Government to implement the report on suicide by the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. The trends relating to suicide are well known. A far greater number of people now die by suicide than through road accidents.
Has the Deputy a question appropriate to the Order of Business?
Does the Minister intend to introduce a Supplementary Estimate this year to deal with a cutback in the suicide prevention programme? On two other issues relating to the legislative programme, I notice that the programme for Government contains a commitment to lay down uniform guidelines and principles in respect of the punishment of offenders. There is considerable public concern about the situation whereby sex offenders can be released without any information being provided to victims.
Has the Deputy a question appropriate to the Order of Business?
Does the Minister intend to amend legislation in this area?
The Deputy is allowed to speak on promised legislation.
There is promised legislation in this sphere, but we do not have specific knowledge and I would like the Minister to tell us because this issue is of considerable public concern.
Most people would be very concerned about the establishment of clear ethical principles in respect of the activity of lobbyists. The Government has indicated in the press that it is sympathetic to introducing some capacity for registration of lobbyists. What are the Government's proposals in respect of this and does it favour a voluntary or statutory register?
In respect of suicide and the Deputy's inquiry as to whether a Supplementary Estimate is intended, I would ask him to put down a question to the relevant Minister. I am not aware of any proposal to introduce a Supplementary Estimate in that regard.
In respect of sentences, the Courts Service has initiated a project for dramatically improving the knowledge base and database for sentencing decisions among the judiciary and that a working party is well advanced on its work in respect of that. It is not intended at this stage to introduced lobbyists' registration legislation.
In light of current controversy concerning the alleged existence of a paedophile ring and the abuse of a young boy in this city, is it the case that soliciting and importuning a child for the purposes of sex was an offence under the criminal law but that arising from the legislation put through by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform last summer——
That question should be directed to the Tanáiste in his capacity as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is not appropriate on the Order of Business. It is not omnibus Question Time to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
We have not heard the question.
Arising from the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006, the offence of soliciting or importuning a child for sexual purposes has been excised. According to my legal advice——
We are discussing legislation that has been passed by this House. Has the Deputy a question on promised legislation?
According to my advice, it is now——
Deputy Rabbitte cannot come into the House and ride roughshod over the rules of the House. It is a question that should be addressed to the Tanáiste in his capacity as Minister of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
It is no longer——
We cannot have omnibus Question Time on the Order of Business.
There is nothing omnibus about this question, which is very pointed and particular.
Five minutes ago, Deputy Rabbitte was complaining about 90 minutes being insufficient to do the business of the House.
Does the Minister agree with me that it is no longer an offence to solicit or importune a minor for sexual purposes and can he tell me whether any legislation is contemplated to shut off the loopholes left as a result of last summer's rushed legislation?
Deputy Rabbitte is abusing the Standings Orders of the House. I ask him to raise this matter in another way. If, for example, he wishes to raise it on the Adjournment this evening, the House will facilitate him.
The Government approved the heads of the Criminal Law (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill 2006.
Hold on a second. Can I answer please?
So Deputy Rabbitte is correct.
The Tánaiste is not in court now.
Last July. That Bill is currently being drafted in the Parliamentary Counsel's office.
Is that the promised legislation?
That is the promised legislation. I am dealing with that.
When will it be published?
There are also provisions under section 2 of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act which deal with any information being used on the Internet in respect of implying a child is available to be used for the purpose of sexual exploitation within the meaning of section 3, irrespective of how or through what medium the representation, description or information has been produced, transmitted or conveyed. The 1998 Act also covers the sharing of information indicating or implying a child is available to be used for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The sexual exploitation of children is an offence under section 3 of the Act. Section 5 also deals with the distribution of child pornography.
Regarding the question of whether one particular offence has been repealed by the legislation which this House passed last year, I am not in a position to answer the Deputy at this point.
Whatever offences arise in connection with the Internet, I have double-checked that it is the case there is no offence under our criminal law at the moment for soliciting or importuning a minor for sexual purposes. What the Tánaiste has referred to is the draft scheme of a Bill. No Bill has yet been published. Given that there is no protection under criminal law for what is normally known as soliciting or importuning for the purposes I have described, will the Tánaiste indicate whether in the lifetime of this Dáil such a Bill will be published and enacted by the House?
I am grateful to the Deputy for raising the issue. I have not examined it at all. This is the first time the issue has been raised with me. I know the Garda believes it has an adequate legal basis for conducting inquiries into matters which are currently the subject of public concern. If there were any requirement for a change in the law, as the House is aware, in the next couple of weeks we will be publishing a major criminal justice statute and I will deal with the matter in that context.
I wish to ask about two items of promised legislation. First, given the Ceann Comhairle's ruling — which I respect — in regard to Standing Order 31, it might be an opportunity to ventilate some of the concerns of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement if we had the Company Law Consolidation and Reform Bill; however, I do not see any date for that. Perhaps the Tánaiste can indicate whether there is any hope of this Bill being published.
Second, given the concern that has been expressed——
What Bill is the Deputy talking about? I did not catch what he said.
I beg the Tánaiste's pardon; it was the Company Law Consolidation and Reform Bill. The second item of legislation——
The Tánaiste to reply on the legislation.
If the Ceann Comhairle does not mind, I said I wished to refer to two items of legislation. The second item of legislation relates to the concerns that have been voiced already by the other Opposition leaders. I have asked about it previously.
The Deputy should refer to the legislation. The Chair is very conscious of the comments made by Members of the House about wanting to get on to the next item of business.
We can measure the time you are taking to talk and how long I am taking.
I ask Deputy Sargent to be brief.
The situation with the release of a well known sex offender — a former swimming coach — has brought to light again the lack of registration in regard to information. We have a register which does not have——
I am sorry, Deputy. We will have to move on if the Deputy does not refer to the legislation.
I am reading the title of the Bill, a Cheann Comhairle, which is a register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children Bill. There is still no date for publication.
That issue has already been raised by Deputy Kenny.
Would it be possible for the Tánaiste to look beyond the restrictions——
The Tánaiste to reply on the two items of legislation.
——of the Good Friday Agreement which are claimed to be an impediment here and get the information? The register is already in place in Britain. It is not a question of waiting until we have a level playing pitch.
I am sorry, Deputy, but other Deputies are offering.
In regard to the Company Law Consolidation and Reform Bill, as I understand it, the company law review group has provided heads for a major restatement of company law in one statute. The group has submitted its report to the Department which is now considering it and preparing its position to bring the matter to Government. That will be a major step forward in the consolidation of company law. The group, under the chairmanship of Dr. Tom Courtney, has finished its work and presented it to the Department.
In regard to the register of persons, as the Deputy will appreciate, that matter is currently under very careful review. One of the issues that arises relates to soft information which we are debating in this House. It is not possible to finalise that legislation without clearing the deck, so to speak, constitutionally, to make the exchange of soft information possible.
It already exists in the North.
It is in Britain and it is in the North.
The Tánaiste should be allowed to speak without interruption.
Yes, but, unfortunately, the Deputy may not be aware that in the North they do not have a written constitution which causes problems of this kind.
So that is our problem.
When will the necessary legislation be introduced to allow tenants of local authority apartments to purchase them? I refer to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
That Bill is due to be published in the early summer.
Is that before or after the election?
It depends on the weather.
I call Deputy O'Shea.
That is a very important distinction.
It is not possible to answer that question.
I wish to clarify whether it will be before 1 June or after. What is the early summer in the Tánaiste's calendar?
After the Seanad elections.
The Tánaiste does not have an answer.
The first of May.
Deputy Dermot Ahern is very smart.
I call Deputy O'Shea.
Regarding the Local Government Act 2000, Waterford city has a great need to extend its borough boundary. Does the Government intend to enact the sections dealing with the setting up of a local government commission to deal with this issue or has the enactment of these sections been abandoned by the Government?
From what the Deputy said, I think he is referring to statutory instruments under existing legislation. In those circumstances he will have to table a question to the relevant Minister.
It is in order.
Secondary legislation is allowed on the Order of Business.
On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle. Whoever is acting for the Taoiseach on the day is also responsible for answering about statutory instruments.
Secondary legislation is quite in order.
One can make the excuse that one does not know and that the information will be sent to the Deputy. One cannot say a question should be tabled to a Minister.
Under the standing order a question on secondary legislation may be deferred to another day in the same way as questions on European legislation.
I will have to defer it. I am not in a position today to answer Deputy O'Shea's question.
The Tánaiste got it wrong.
Kilkenny is still intact.
I will be brief. I wish to ask a question about the national authority dealing with funding of organisations and initiatives and also policy delivery in regard to domestic violence which was promised by the Ministers of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputies Fahey and Brian Lenihan, in recent days. When will the legislation be introduced to give effect to that or was it just a pre-election promise?
The Tánaiste to reply on the legislation.
The legislative implications of what was announced yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, have yet to be finalised. No promise has been made in respect of this legislation.
That was a good idea.
Given that the purchase of alcohol is readily available to under age teenagers, when is it proposed to introduce the Sale of Alcohol Bill and does the Tánaiste propose to deal with it during the lifetime of this Dáil in order to try to deal with this major problem that exists throughout the country?
It is promised for this year.
The Tánaiste has expressed grievous concern to the effect that the Mahon tribunal is ultimately likely to cost €1 billion. I tabled a question on this matter which the Ceann Comhairle kindly allowed. The Tánaiste then——
Does the Deputy have a question on legislation? The Deputy's colleague would like to ask a question but he may not have an opportunity.
It has emerged in recent days that the Tánaiste was having discussions with that other ministerial luminary, Deputy Roche. My question is whether the outcome of their discussions will ultimately lead to the cessation, suspension or curtailment of the tribunal in any way.
That does not arise on the Order of Business. I call Deputy Timmins.
This is of serious importance——
The Deputy should allow Deputy Timmins to speak.
——to the public and the taxpayers who have paid for it.
I tabled a question to the Minister for Education and Science, seeking the pupil-teacher ratios in a number of schools. They are not available yet even though we are six months into the school year. Can the Tánaiste raise it with her so I can have those figures to demonstrate how the Government has failed to live up to another commitment? Can we have the figures before Easter? Will the Tánaiste arrange to have them sent to me?
Is the Tánaiste aware that over 500,000 people live under management companies in houses and apartments? Where is the promised legislation to regulate management companies in the interests of residents living in difficult circumstances?
I am aware of the situation and have organised a number of events to consider the options. The Deputy's party was invited to participate in a major seminar at which the options were canvassed. A Bill dealing with a property services regulatory authority is being prepared. A decision will be made whether to vest a supervisory role in that body or vest it in the Private Residential Tenancies Board. The matter is being studied closely. Regulation of management companies is desirable but we must decide which body will be vested with this function, one of which already exists and while the other will exist shortly.
When will the promised legislation be published? We do not want a seminar, we want legislation.
We cannot have a debate on it. If the Deputy has a problem I suggest she submit a question.
The Bill dealing with estate agents will be published this year. If we vest this function in a different body we must publish separate legislation for that purpose.