Wednesday, 18 February 1981
Seanad Eireann Debate
That, in the period ending 31st December 1981, notwithstanding anything contained in Standing Orders and unless the Seanad shall otherwise order, if the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities lays before the Seanad a report containing a request for a debate thereon in the Seanad, one hour-and-a-half shall be set aside for debate on a motion. That the Seanad take note of such report, on the first day on which the Seanad shall sit after
Mr. Alexis FitzGerald: On a point of clarification, the Joint Committee referred to is, I presume, the existing Joint Committee and in the unhappy event of there being a change in the composition of the two Houses I take it that that existing Joint Committee dissolves. That seemed to happen the last time. Certainly the reports of the two Joint Committees are in different series, which seems to suggest that the view is taken that they are separate Joint Committees. The question really would then be how  long does this survive for? Presumably the Committee survives long enough to take any report which comes for debate before this Seanad expires, which I think does not happen until the day the first Senator is elected to this House. Until then existing Senators retain office. If there are meetings after a general election and there is such a report, we can in fact debate pursuant to this resolution. That is, of course, if it happens before 31 December, on which date the resolution expires. Am I correct in my understanding of the situation?
Mrs. Robinson: Before that question from the Chairman of the Committee is answered — and I shall also be interested in the answer — I would just like to welcome, as I have done on previous occasions, the continuance of this provision for debate in the Seanad on reports of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities where the Joint Committee have called for a debate and drawn attention to the importance of a report.
I would also like to take this opportunity to say that I feel, as a member of the Joint Committee — and I have written to the Chairman on this line — that apart from a facility to debate the reports in this House the Committee also need to have legal expertise on their staff and to have the capacity to look for professional expertise in relation to some of the measures. I am not going to take much time on this because I appreciate that it is at least marginally outside the ambit of this motion but it is an opportunity to draw the attention of the House to a number of the reports that the Joint Committee consider are of very complex legal content.
We have just been examining, over a number of meetings, the draft directive on product liability which has immense legal implications for the insurance industry and for law generally in this country in regard to negligence actions. We have a proposal to look at a draft measure, both a regulation and directive, in the area of trade marks. Again this is extremely important but not at all an easy area. The Joint Committee require as a  matter of urgency the capacity to have as a permanent member of the staff of the secretariat of the Committee somebody with legal expertise. We had this legal expertise in the former Clerk of the Committee, but it is now lacking in the Committee itself. We also ought to have——
Mrs. Robinson: I am concluding, a Chathaoirleach. We ought to have the possibility, apart from the general legal expertise, to call for professional back-up and expertise in relation to specific proposals. I very much welcome the tabling of this motion by the Leader of the House. I commend him on having been prepared on successive occasions when it was necessary to do so to table the motion. It is one that can at times interfere with Government business in that once the motion from the Joint Committee has been tabled by a Member of this House then the provision is automatic. Time must be given by the House and giving that time can, I am sure, be inconvenient for the Leader of the House from time to time. Therefore I welcome it.
Like Senator FitzGerald, I would like clarification as to what will happen if a general election is called, in which case the Joint Committee is dissolved. If there were a report and if it were sufficiently urgent for the Seanad to wish to debate it, would this motion extend to enable us to do that? That is an issue I would be interested to hear clarified.
Mr. E. Ryan: Possibly the Joint Committee in question need legal advice from time to time. I would have to seek legal advice myself to answer some of the questions being asked here today. I think it is fairly clear that any power this House gives itself only relates to the lifetime of this House and consequently it would expire whenever the House ceased to exist. If a Joint Committee is set up again and if there is a general election and if this House meets again in a new form, then it would have to give itself the same power as has been given here today.
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