I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 21, inclusive, together.
Progress on the Government programme is kept constantly under review. Deputies will be aware that for every full year of the last Government's term of office, we published an annual progress report. Last summer, we published the first annual progress report of the current Administration and it is my intention to publish a further report this year.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to make a statement to the House on the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. Our programme for Government is both clear in intent and specific in detail. It is the agreed agenda for this partnership Government over five full years. The starting point for the current programme for Government was rooted in a recognition that in an ever-changing world the reform process is never over. As a Government, we are determined to keep driving forward.
In implementing this programme for Government, we will not rest on past successes. Instead, we will build on the solid foundations we have put in place since 1997. In setting out to implement our commitments, we will bring forward and progress the many ambitious legislative proposals. Since the present Government took office on 6 June 2002 to the return of the Dáil for this session, 65 Bills have been published, 58 Bills have been already enacted into law and there are currently 35 Bills before the Oireachtas.
Given the scale of the Government's legislative programme and the large number of specific commitments set out in An Agreed Programme for Government, it would be impossible in the time allotted to fully detail the amount of progress already delivered. The details are, in any event, more appropriate to be addressed to individual Ministers.
The cornerstones of An Agreed Programme for Government are based on our desire to build a better Ireland for everyone and our promises to protect and expand prosperity for all, to strengthen peace and reconciliation, to guarantee improved pensions, to reform and develop our health services and to invest in better public services. Without economic strength, there will never be an Ireland where everyone can prosper and fulfil his or her potential. A key objective of the programme for Government is to sustain a strong economy and keep the finances of general Government close to balance or in surplus. In that regard, an Exchequer deficit of €980 million was recorded in 2003. This compares with the budget 2003 target deficit for the year of €1,869 million.
In the year ahead we will make no apologies for continuing the process of prudent management of public expenditure in order to protect the significant gains we have made over recent years. We know that it is simply unsustainable to continue to increase spending without regard to the resources available to fund it. That is why in the year ahead we will continue to hold firm to a prudent approach and greater prioritisation of spending. This will enable us to capitalise on the upturn in the global economy, signs of which are already evident in the United States.
Our overriding priority as set out in the programme for Government is to secure lasting peace in Northern Ireland and we have worked intensively towards this objective. We will continue to apply all our energies in support of the Good Friday Agreement as it remains the template for political progress.
Other key commitments which have been delivered or where major progress has been made include our commitment to submit the Nice treaty on enlargement to the people in a referendum in a way which addressed the concerns of the people as expressed during previous referenda and in the National Forum on Europe was delivered on last year; our commitment to play a full part in the European Convention and the Europe-wide debate on the future shape of the European Union which is being spearheaded by the Government; our commitment to establish an agency to finance major public projects saw the enactment in December 2002 of the National Development Finance Agency Act 2002, and the Government on 1 January 2003, established the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA; our commitment to address Ireland's infrastructural deficit in a coherent determined way which is the reason the Government has committed itself to capital investment of €33.6 billion over the next five years; our commitment to implement a multistranded approach to addressing housing needs right across the spectrum with up-to-date figures showing that house completions nationally of 47,758 units for the first nine months of 2003 were up by 18.3% on the same period in 2002; our commitment to encourage a better spread of jobs throughout the country and people should not forgot that our rate of unemployment is amongst the lowest in the EU; our commitment to bring forward a programme of fundamental reform of the insurance industry and I refer to the comprehensive set of interrelated measures designed to improve the functioning of the Irish insurance market brought forward by the Tánaiste; our commitment to rural development and, in particular, our delivery on our pledge to widen the CLÁR boundaries as a result of the relevant data from the census; our commitment to ensure the implementation of the penalty points system at an early date and the impact this has made on road safety in the country; our commitment to ensure the putting in place of open access broadband on a national basis and the roll-out of a new €65 million national broadband scheme which will deliver high-speed Internet access to 19 key towns around the country; our commitment to complete the national spatial strategy; our commitment to introduce a proceeds of corruption Act modelled on the proceeds of crime legislation; our commitment to gain the maximum benefit for public patients from private hospital capacity through initiatives such as the treatment purchase fund which has treated over 9,000 patients from its inception in July 2002; our commitment to implement the national health strategy and to significantly reform our health services which has seen the Government announce decisions regarding a new Health Services Executive that will include a national hospital office, a primary and continuing care directorate and a shared services centre; our commitment to ensure that every school building attains modern standards which means that this year the budget for school buildings will be €387 million, in our primary schools, spending on buildings will exceed €200 million; and our commitment to protect the fundamental principles of CAP underlined by the strong stance we have adopted in defending the benefits achieved under the Agenda 2000 agreement in the current CAP reform and WTO negotiations.
On social partnership, the negotiations on the successor agreement to the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness concluded last February and each of the four social partner pillars has now formally ratified the new agreement, Sustaining Progress. The new agreement covers the period 2003-05 in respect of the wider policy framework and provides for an interim pay agreement of 18 months duration.