Tuesday, 23 October 2007
Dáil Eireann Debate
The purpose of this short Bill is to correct a legal anomaly that has recently come to light in the law relating to bail. The Bill addresses a difficulty that has arisen in respect of the acceptance of recognisances by prison governors. Section 22(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 provided that judges of the District Court and peace commissioners could take bail recognisances. Prison governors are also peace commissioners and in that capacity they have been able to accept recognisances from persons remanded in custody pending entry of a recognisance. However, as this function could not be delegated, logistical difficulties occurred given the turnover in governors and the fact that, following an agreed change in work practices, they are not available 24 hours a day. In order to deal with this difficulty, the Prisons Act 2007, which modernised and updated prison-related provisions generally, amended section 22(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act to provide at section 41(2) that prison governors or prison officers designated by the governor could accept recognisances from people remanded in custody by the District Court pending entering of a recognisance. This provision was commenced on 1 May of this year.
However, section 18 of Criminal Justice Act 2007 also amended section 22(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act and removed the reference to peace commissioners. This was done as several references in the 1967 Act to the role of peace commissioners had already been removed in the Bail Act 1997 and it was decided to also remove the reference to peace commissioners accepting recognisances in section 18 of the Criminal Justice Act, in the interests of consistency. This was done by means of the substitution of the entire subsection 22(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 rather than by deletion of the relevant phrase. The new subsection provided for judges to take recognisances but failed to refer to prison governors or other designated prison officers. That section of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 was commenced on 1 July of this year, with the implied repealing of the earlier provision in the Prisons Act.
This has resulted in certain operational implications for the prison system in that recognisances can now no longer be taken by a prison governor or other designated officer with respect to a person in custody. The recognisance must be taken by a judge and this has had serious implications for the Prison Service in terms of provision of prison escorts and the availability of judges at short notice. I wish to emphasise, however, that it has resulted in an operational and logistical problem and does not in any way affect the granting of bail or the conditions under which bail is granted. Any person affected by this anomaly would already have been granted bail by the District Court and remanded in custody pending entering of a recognisance. There is no question that any person has been released who should not have been released; the only issue at stake is the question of who is authorised to receive the recognisance that has already been stipulated by the District Court. Without this amending legislation, practical difficulties are being created and the system of the taking of recognisances becomes difficult as a matter of operations. The Attorney General has advised that the most appropriate response to deal with this situation is to bring forward legislation on an urgent basis.
This Bill will restore the position to that which was in place prior to the commencement of section 18 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007, that is to say, prison governors and prison officers designated by them could accept recognisances from people remanded in custody. On the basis that the taking of a recognisance is essentially an administrative matter, the opportunity is being taken to extend the provision to include District Court clerks in the list of persons who can accept recognisances and also to reinstate peace commissioners as persons empowered to take recognisances.
Section 1 of the Bill amends section 22(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967. It substitutes a new subsection 22(3) for that inserted by the Criminal Justice Act 2007. The new subsection provides that a judge of the District Court, a District Court clerk, a prison governor, a prison officer designated by a prison governor and a peace commissioner designated by order of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, may take recognisances. I have decided to reinstate peace commissioners as persons empowered to take recognisances for practical reasons. However, as the role of peace commissioners in relation to bail matters has changed, I am inserting a provision whereby they must be designated by ministerial order rather than including a blanket empowerment provision. As already indicated, the opportunity is being taken to extend the provision to include District Court clerks in the list of persons who can accept recognisances.
While I appreciate that in an ideal world it should not be necessary to introduce a short piece of legislation such as this in order to tidy up what could be called a loose end, it is the case that sometimes this cannot be avoided. Minor conflicting provisions can sometimes be inadvertently overlooked when multiple Bills are being progressed within a short timeframe. In this case, a reference to prison governors and designated prison officers was inadvertently omitted. I reiterate that the net effect has not been in any way detrimental to our legal system. This accidental omission has resulted in operational and logistical difficulties for the prison service for a short period and for which reason I wish to correct the anomaly, but it has not resulted in any difficulties on a legal basis or in terms of legal interpretation. It has not affected the granting of bail by the courts or the setting of conditions to bail. Nobody is out on bail who should not be. The simple issue at stake here is the question of who is authorised to accept bail recognisances.
The concerns I have in this matter are in relation to the smooth and efficient operation of the courts and of the prison service. As I have noted, there are significant logistical issues for the Prison Service if prison governors or staff cannot accept recognisances and it is in the best interests of the smooth operation of the service that this anomaly be rectified as soon as possible. Section 2 is a standard provision and provides for the Short Title of the Bill.
I thank the members of the different parties for facilitating time this evening to deal with this urgent legislation. I look forward to the support of Deputies and to hearing their views in this matter and I commend the Bill to the House.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I acknowledge what the Minister has said and I believe this legislation can be agreed upon. Fine Gael has no difficulty with the point involved. I accept what the Minister says and I hope the Bill can be passed this evening.
This Bill is neither long nor complex. Its purpose is simply to rectify the incompatibility of the Prisons Act 2007 with the Criminal Justice Act 2007 in respect of recognisances for the purposes of a bail application. However, it is quite significant in respect of its broader implications. During the 29th Dáil the Government bulldozed through an unprecedented volume of legislation in the area of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is true that an overhaul of justice legislation was long overdue but the speed at which justice Bills passed through the Houses of the Oireachtas during the last Dáil flew in the face of democratic norms and what could be considered best practice.
Over the past ten years, Fianna Fáil and its Government partners have proven to be very adept at sidelining Parliament and the Legislature as much as possible, thereby allowing the Executive and the Minister of the day to have virtual free rein. These developments are anti-democratic and represent a most unfair treatment of the Legislature by the Executive and, in my view, represent an abuse of the parliamentary process. As long as the Executive seeks to remove itself and its proposed legislation from parliamentary scrutiny, more and more we will find ourselves in the House late at night to rush through emergency legislation to correct errors and omissions which would have been picked up if due process had been followed initially. Already this year the Government has rushed through emergency legislation to close a loophole to protect children. There was this loophole because the original legislation was not properly debated or adequately scrutinised.
The large size and complexity of most justice Acts passed during the past five years necessitated careful and detailed scrutiny. However, on a regular basis we saw the debate on legislation being guillotined or restricted. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, garnered a dubious reputation for introducing volumes of amendments to justice Bills only hours before they were to be debated on the floor of the House. This left little time for detailed or adequate scrutiny. Whether it was intended or inadvertent, it had serious consequences for the power, role and function of Parliament. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, differs from his predecessor. These practices must be brought to an end for the currency of this Dáil. It is time best practice was restored to the democratic procedures of the House.
Fine Gael is not willing to tolerate or agree to the use of the guillotine or time restrictions, unless the matter in question does not necessitate a lengthy period of debate. We are not willing to sit and watch while, repeatedly, the debate on legislation is guillotined, preventing adequate debate and proper scrutiny. The dangers inherent in rushed legislation were highlighted twice this year. Earlier this month an eminent senior counsel and leading criminal law barrister, Mr. Michael O’Higgins, warned that large portions of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 would result in a serious diminution of human rights. While he predicted the Act would result in more guilty people being convicted, he also stated more innocent people would be convicted. If that is the case, it will have serious consequences for us as legislators. The Law Society of Ireland and the Irish Human Rights Commission are among other bodies which expressed concerns about aspects of the Act. It is serious that a host of leading criminal justice experts voiced such grave concerns about the Act, sections of which are only now beginning to have practical effect. It is worrying that their warnings went unheeded and we are left with draconian legislation, the value of which is dubious and which has, according to many, the capacity to have dangerous consequences.
The reason the Bill is before us is to restrict the necessity for District Court judges to individually adjudicate on and sign the recognisance documentation on all bail applications. Much inconvenience has already been visited upon prison staff and escort managers. It is right, therefore, that we should revert to the pre-2007 position and matters be put right at the earliest opportunity.
As the raft of justice legislation introduced in recent years is tested, we are likely to run into more and more difficulties such as problems relating to the incompatibility of new legislation with existing legislation and with the impact of many measures on the rights of citizens. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Government which must stand over its legislative output will be whether Acts such as the Criminal Justice Act will be effective in reducing crime levels. To date, the signs are not promising. How many anti-social behaviour orders introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 2006 have been handed down to date? Where is the evidence that such measures have been effective in tackling anti-social behaviour? The courts were empowered to hand down ASBOs as and from 1 January this year. I am interested to hear how effective the Minister believes the orders have been in reducing incidents of anti-social behaviour in the many communities which suffer due to the Government’s failures in this area.
Recently the codification of the criminal law was referred to by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He noted the idea of initiating a project to codify the Courts Acts had been mooted for many years but had not been acted on. I welcome his admission that Governments in the past ten years had failed to take appropriate action in this area. He also referred to the Department’s enthusiasm for a 2004 proposal from the Law Reform Commission to co-operate in undertaking this task. The time has come to begin this complex but extremely important task and we should do so during this Dáil. It is three years since the commission generously undertook to assist the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in this initiative. We have waited long enough to accept that offer of help. Matters should be progressed.
We are here to rush through legislation to close a loophole which would not have been there if the Act was debated appropriately when it was brought before the House earlier this year prior to the general election. During the past ten years successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments showed a disdain for the procedures of Parliament. Use of the guillotine was invoked repeatedly by the Government to hinder scrutiny of its proposed legislation. This results in stifled debate.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I accept and take great note of what the Leas-Cheann Comhairle states. The Ceann Comhairle has embarked upon a public relations exercise to amplify the role and functions of the Dáil. He has undertaken to go out onto the streets and bring people from the streets into the Dáil. The best action he could take to achieve his goals is to assist the House in the debating procedure and ensure, in so far as the impartial office of the Ceann Comhairle can, that we do not succumb to rushed legislation and the use of the guillotine at the behest of the Government. We have done this in the past and this Bill shows the reason we regret doing so.
The Opposition is not willing to tolerate the repeated use of the guillotine. We require a reasonable period of notice of legislation for the Dáil Order Paper, together with a reasonable time lapse between the various Stages of Bills from Second Stage through to Report and Final Stages. It is fundamentally unfair of the Government to treat the Legislature in a way which sees legislation passed hurriedly and without the opportunity for adequate scrutiny. We will not allow the Government to push through laws about which serious questions are raised. As this Bill involves a mere technical amendment, I have no difficulty in completing all Stages between now and the close of business. However, we must learn from it and ensure it marks the end of the Government’s efforts to hinder Parliament from carrying out its constitutional role. I hope the Minister’s tenure will signal a return to good practice in the justice portfolio.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: This is not a matter of any great moment. It is a technical matter that ought to be put right since no longer can prison governors take recognisance from people granted bail in the District Court and remanded in custody pending the entering of a recognisance. It is not the substance of the Bill that deserves treatment this evening, but rather how this situation should have come about that this logistical difficulty for the Prison Service has been inadvertently created.
I know it is not customary for ministerial colleagues to reflect on each other in terms of the discharge of their legislative functions in the House; it is especially unlikely when they are colleagues from other brethren in another place. I notice that the present Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform manages to do it but in that very sophisticated and euphemistic way one might miss unless one reads carefully his text. This is what he has to say about his predecessor, Mr. Michael McDowell:
That is the present Minister’s view of his predecessor — these minor conflicting provisions can sometimes be inadvertently overlooked when multiple Bills are being progressed within a short timescale. This evening I was reading what the Leas-Cheann Comhairle said in terms of the legislative style of the previous Minister. Expressed somewhat more trenchantly than the Minister expressed it, that is exactly what he said about the legislative style of the former Minister, Mr. McDowell. That is the main lesson to be taken from this. This is not the first time this has happened. It happened in the sexual offences Act also. Who knows as the year goes by whether some of the other legislation rushed through will not similarly be shown to have been fallible in some way.
It is remarkable that it should come to this so quickly. The former Minister, who was a very considerable parliamentarian, especially when on this side of the House, when he changed sides, changed his view of the role of the Oireachtas. He began to see the Oireachtas as an impediment on the way to him enacting legislation that he knew was right and good for us. He thought the role of parliament was to rubber stamp the latest Bill he decided to bring before the House. That was very regrettable. As you remarked, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, when holding the post I now hold, he often brought in more amendments to a Bill than sections in the Bill to start with. As I said on a previous occasion about the explanatory memorandum, the Minister never stood still long enough to create an explanatory memorandum in the case of much of the legislation he introduced. I wonder if this will be a lesson to us.
Precepts were laid down here for the legislative process whereby one got two weeks’ sight of a Bill before one was required to address the broad principle on Second Stage. There was a similar period before Committee Stage and a short period between the end of Committee Stage and Report Stage. It is equally important that the opportunity is available at the end of Committee Stage to reflect before Report and Final Stages.  As Shakespeare would have said, that was “more honoured in the breach than the observance” in the last parliament. That was a great pity and it leaves one lacking in confidence about some of the legislation that was rushed through. That is more especially the case when one has to agree with Mr. Michael O’Higgins SC, quoted by Deputy Flanagan, that one suspects that some of it was put through for political motivation close to a general election. That was not a sufficiently good reason to bring in dramatic changes to the criminal law.
Will this abuse of parliamentary process end here? It happened frequently and not only with the former Minister, Mr. Michael McDowell, whose energy I admired in the last parliament. Other Ministers did it too. One has to conclude that it is part of the growing disdain for this House, the Oireachtas and the parliamentary process that the Executive knows best and the Executive arrogates to itself all power.
If there is one dominant party in permanent office it lends itself to that abuse of parliament. There are inevitably people, given that they are intelligent, in the permanent Government who begin to look to see which side of their bread is buttered and they tend to act to acquiesce in things that they would not acquiesce in if there was a healthy alternative Government elected by the people. One cannot blame the permanent Government for that, one has to blame us on this side of the House. It is an unhealthy situation where on the hoof a Minister can be facilitated and backed up to make changes in the law, on inadequate reflection and insufficient consultation, creating in this case this type of logistical difficulty for the Prison Service. There is no doubt it could be of greater consequence.
The Minister tells us that the only issue at stake here is simply the question of who is authorised to take a recognisance, that the terms or conditions of bail are not at issue and there is nobody on bail who is not properly entitled. I take it all of that is true. I would like to hear the Minister say when this came to light. The change in the Act that reversed the earlier provision is effective since 1 July. When did it first come to notice? Can we be sure that recognisances were not accepted by a person not appropriately designated under the law as it has stood until today? Was there any incident where a District Court judge could not be found at a weekend or whenever to comply with the law as it has been up to today given the impact of the reversing of the earlier terms? It seems somewhat remarkable that there should have been no incidents of inconvenience caused to the Irish Prison Service when a District Court judge could not be found and there was no alternative arrangement in place.
It should give us all pause for thought on the notion that legislation is the solution to all our difficulties in today’s criminal environment and the difficulties that are daily reported in the newspapers. The law must change to accommodate and acknowledge the changes taking place in society, which are inevitable. However, it must change after a period of adequate reflection, consultation, discussion and public debate. There will always be a necessity to change the law and modernise it to enable it to combat new developments in the criminal underworld for example. However, the biggest issue confronting us at the moment is the issue of law enforcement. According to the figures the Minister gave to Deputy Shortall, of some 137 murders since 1998 there have only been 20 convictions, approximately 15%. That is clearly a cause for concern and the detection rate for gun murders has been falling. One of the new breed of vicious criminal overlords would draw the conclusion of having a reasonably good prospect of escaping detection and paying the price for such criminal activity. That ought to be the focus of the Minister and others in the House. I am not suggesting that where legislative change is necessary we should not make that change.
Regarding enforcement and all that goes with it, I started this morning with a meeting about anti-social behaviour in my constituency. The extent of the phenomenon of anti-social behaviour that ordinary law-abiding people must put up with is of great concern. In that case the people in Jobstown are extremely upset that the commitment to install closed circuit television will not proceed because of an underestimate in the budget. As the funding is now somewhat short the system cannot be installed, which is a great pity because of the extent and scale of anti-social behaviour in that area. Regarding the community policing of the area, one person has been taken off and another has been injured, which means there is scarcely any effective community policing in the area. I suspect that is repeated in many urban areas — the circumstances are somewhat different in certain rural areas. However, if we have that kind of difficulty with the enforcement of the law, the reforms introduced are either not yet working or were not sufficient in themselves, which also needs attention.
I agree with Deputy Charles Flanagan on the lesson of this particular late-night legislating. As the Minister said, in an ideal world this type of thing should not happen. One wonders how it did happen. We will hear that story in four or five years. Are the people concerned with the drafting so different and separate that there was no comparing of notes? Was the rush such that they did not have time or was it purely an accidental omission? I accept entirely the Minister’s word that nobody is on bail who should not be on bail and that no substantive issue exists here. However, I find it very difficult to accept that this has not impacted on incidents where recognisance could not be entered because of what has happened here.
I will close with a plea that we should revert to good practice in terms of addressing the heavy legislative schedule on the Minister’s plate. In fairness to his predecessor, he put through much legislation. It must be a very heavy onus on the departmental officials. However, in this area we are dealing with life and death, freedom and imprisonment, etc. It is scarcely an area into which we should rush without permitting the kind of public debate that can tease out some of these more difficult issues rather than finding ourselves having to deal with the legislation after it has been enacted by this House. I hope the Minister at the outset of his career as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform feels that he is able to say to us that the normal good legislative process will be observed in this House in the future. I do not anticipate any party on this side of the House wanting to withhold from the Minister the kind of consent we gave on this occasion if there is a necessity to put urgent legislation through the House for a genuine purpose. However, in the normal course of doing our business here we ought to be given time to reflect, take professional advice, consult and hear inputs from community and professional organisations that wish to comment about the operation of the law.
Deputy Michael Ring: I have been in this House for 13 years. I hope this Government will change its attitude from that of its predecessor of having no respect for this House. It would be very interesting to submit a freedom of information request to the Department so that we could see the notes, if any, the officials gave the Minister at the time and, if observations were made on the Bill, the identity of those who made them. The last Government was the most arrogant Government since the foundation of the State.
Deputy Michael Ring: No, I do not remember them all. However, members of the Government are still at their old arrogance. They never learn. They are as arrogant now as they ever were. They think they know everything, which is why we are in here tonight rushing through legislation. If I had my way, were it not for the recent approach by the spokesmen, I would have opposed the Bill tonight. I do not suggest it was wrong to correct the stupid mistake that was made. This was serious legislation. I want to put it into layman’s terms because I am not a solicitor. This meant that we needed judges on call 24 hours a day whereas in the past a prison governor, who was a peace commissioner, could sign the documentation. I hope the departmental officials will be able to advise how much it cost the taxpayer to escort prisoners around the country looking for judges to sign documentation that could have been signed by a peace commissioner. I cannot believe the former Minister, who lectured the Opposition, the country and the Garda every day when he was in office, is making a fortune in the Four Courts finding loopholes in legislation he may have created himself. I hope the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle stop rushing and guillotining legislation in the House. How many times has legislation been rushed through which has had to be amended later? This is not the first time a Minister has had to return to the House to correct bad legislation.
A total of 24 committees with 24 chairmen, vice chairmen and convenors will be set up shortly. We will have a lot of talk at these committees and I hope when legislation is sent to the committees, Ministers and their officials will go through it so that simple provisions are not left out of serious legislation. If the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or departmental officials worked in the private sector as chief executive of a company, they would be sacked. However, nobody will ever be sacked in Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil rewards those who make mistakes. It does not matter what kind of mistake a party member makes because he or she will be rewarded. Nobody takes responsibility or is accountable because they are always right. They are not right in this instance and they have cost the taxpayers a great deal of money.
The only reason the legislation is before the House is District Court judges contacted the Minister and his officials and told them to get their act together because they would not be available on Saturday and Sunday nights to sign a document that an ordinary peacemaker could sign. It was stupid legislation because it was rushed and I hope that will not happen again. I also hope the Minister, when taking legislation, will listen to the Opposition. I am glad he does not have the same temperament as his predecessor, who knew everything, and he was backed up by the Fianna Fáil backbenchers when he was wrong. He thought he was a god and he could never get anything wrong. I am sure we will be in this position again because he rushed a great deal of legislation through the House. His colleagues and friends in the Four Courts are going through that legislation and we will be back in the House to close other loopholes that were missed when the legislation passed through the House.
Deputies Flanagan and Rabbitte referred to legislation that has been introduced. While there is a great deal of legislation on the Statute Book, crime and murders have increased and we have no control over anti-social behaviour. I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister last week regarding closed circuit television systems and the reply highlighted the measly amount spent by the Department on them and the number of towns that need such systems. Deputies Rabbitte and Flanagan mentioned crime in the cities but I assure them we have the same problems with anti-social behaviour in rural Ireland as people in Dublin and we do not have sufficient gardaí. We have plenty of Acts but the Garda does not have the manpower to deal with them. It is time resources and support were given to the Garda and that the legislation that is in place was implemented to restore law and order. We need more order than law because while we have never had as much law, we have never had less order.
I am glad the Minister is amending the stupid legislation that was enacted. We had a bright and eminent person on the Government benches who knew everything. When he rose in the morning, he could not be told anything on the Order of Business because he was right, he knew everything. Was it not simple legislation he introduced without a provision for a simple peace commissioner to sign the documents? Instead vans had to be escorted from prisons to appear before District Court judges on Saturdays and Sundays to sign documents that could have been signed by a peace commissioner and that cost the taxpayer a fortune. That does not show me there was a lot of brains on the Government benches in the last Dáil.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Brian Lenihan): I am glad all speakers welcome the principle of the legislation. The poor old peace commissioner vanished under the earlier Act and is being restored as part of this legislative measure. I share Deputy Rabbitte’s view that my predecessor had enormous energy. He has an impressive legislative record and he put much fine legislation in place.
Deputies Ring and Rabbitte asked about the practical effect of this issue. It was brought to the notice of the Department on Thursday, 11 October by the Courts Service. The Department sought the advice of the Attorney General immediately and alerted the Irish Prison Service to the difficulty. On 15 October the Irish Prison Service was instructed to cease the arrangement whereby prison governors or designed prison officers took recognisances from prisoners. Following discussions between officials of my Department and the Courts Service and Irish Prison Service, it became clear the issue, if not addressed urgently, would create considerable logistical difficulties for both services. Furthermore, the Attorney General advised that the only solution was legislative. In view of this, I decided a short Bill should be prepared without delay. I obtained Cabinet approval earlier to publish the Bill and, subject to Oireachtas approval, for its earlier signature by the President. I arranged sufficient time for Members to table amendments and the Upper House will be free to consider the Bill and amendments tomorrow.
Deputy Rabbitte asked how the issue has impacted in practice on the courts and prisons. The practical effect of the difficulty addressed by the legislation is that all prisoners seeking to enter recognisances must be brought before a District Court judge. That has been the position since 15 October. This creates operational and logistical difficulties for the Irish Prison Service and has placed additional strain on the prison escort service. The Irish Prison Service is faced with difficulties regarding the availability of District Court judges, particularly at weekends, as Deputy Ring pointed out. In so far as the courts are concerned, I am advised that the impact has been minimal but, while these difficulties are manageable in the short term through the co-operative efforts of the Courts Service and the Irish Prison Service, it is not feasible to allow this to drag on. In view of the number of prisons involved — approximately 3,900 per year — the implications for the cost of the prison escort service in bringing prisoners to court, the potential for increased tensions in prisons due to the delays in releasing prisoners ready to enter recognisances early and the potential for an increased number of inquiries under Article 40 of the Constitution to the High Court, urgent legislative action is necessary and I am glad the Opposition has facilitated the passage of the legislation. On the issue of increased availability of judges, the Courts Service has made arrangements that will suffice in the short term until the legislation is enacted.
I refer to the wider issues raised in the debate. Every Minister is accountable and responsible to the House but, above and beyond that, in the consideration of legislation, it is important that Members are given time to consider the details and principles of proposals and to take soundings on them. It is not the function of the Ceann Comhairle to dictate to the Government how time is allocated. Under Standing Orders, this is something the Government proposes or decides and that this House disposes.
However, I accept the point made by Deputies Rabbitte, Flanagan and Ring that proper consideration should be given to legislation. A substantial proportion of the legislation that comes before the Houses originates in my Department. It can be as high as one third of the total amount of legislation. The Minister of this Department is in a unique position to observe the parliamentary process. I am not sure whether I am free to speak in general terms about that process. Nevertheless, I contend it is a remarkable fact that Seanad Éireann, which is the revising Chamber and viewed as such in our constitutional arrangements, seems to be able to dispose of legislation with dispatch. Members of that House are able to conduct a Second Stage debate that focuses on the principle of the legislation and to give Bills considerable reflection and suggested amendment, a significant amount of which is accepted by Ministers in the Chamber. Progress is made smoothly to Report Stage and to the enactment of the legislation or its submission to this House if it is initiated in Seanad Éireann.
Since Members have raised the legislative process, I observe that an inordinate amount of time is spent in this House on Second Stage in considering the general principle of legislation and that a significant number of the speeches made have no great purpose other than to fill a quota of parliamentary time or delay the exercise of legislative power by the House. This is something we must address on an all-party basis. I am not sure whether it originated in the practice of allocating rigid 20-minute slots to every Deputy. This proceeds on the assumption that every Bill is worth 20 minutes for each Deputy. In reality, some are worth in excess of that while others deserve far less. As Deputy Rabbitte reminded us, Committee and Report Stages are of particular importance in the detailed consideration of legislation. It is on those Stages that the type of legislative error we are addressing today tends to be discovered and corrected.
On the basis of the co-operation extended to me today, I will be conscious of the need, in proceedings in this House, to afford all Deputies the opportunity to consider legislation in detail. This is an important objective to which we should all subscribe.
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