Seanad Éireann - Volume 169 - 19 April, 2002

Order of Business. - Communications Regulation Bill, 2002 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ]: Report and Final Stages.

  An Cathaoirleach: This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, “That the Bill be received for final consideration”, the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged to have copies of those amendments made available this morning. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.

  Question proposed: “That the Bill be received for final consideration.”

  Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): While what we can say has been curtailed and rightly so, according to protocol, I thank the House for agreeing to take the Bill this morning. I am happy and content that it agreed and I thank the Leader and Members for arranging to do so.

  I am here to report on the amendments made in the Lower House yesterday. I refer to the other House in this way because it implies that the Senators are very important, which they are. There was a good debate on the Bill here on [1716] Second Stage. I had to go to Brussels when Committee Stage was taken and the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, took the Bill and, with the great élan which he always exhibits on such occasions, made a great job of it.

  The Seanad agreed two very important amendments in regard to increasing enforcement and on-the-spot fines, which will be useful. The Bill stimulated an equally lively debate in the Dáil yesterday and the contributions from all sides of that House showed a keen awareness of this area.

  Members will be aware that a commission comprising three people will be set up. This business, including postal, communications and various other matters, has expanded greatly. The Bill will provide for the management of public road openings, which has attracted great interest. This is an important sector, as is the regulator's office.

  Section 35 was deleted on foot of an amendment I tabled to take account of recent developments on the enactment of the Competition Bill. Similar provisions were included in the two Bills and as the Competition Bill was enacted prior to this Bill, its provisions took precedence. Those provisions will provide the same strengths and powers included in that section in an enhanced way.

  I thank a Fine Gael Deputy and a Labour Deputy for tabling amendments to this Bill. In response to a Committee Stage amendment tabled by Deputy Jim Higgins and a Report Stage amendment tabled by Deputy O'Shea, a new subsection 12(2)(c)(v) was added which will give the new commission the function of encouraging access to the Internet at reasonable cost to users. Using composite wording of the Deputies' amendments, I tabled an effective amendment, which has cross-party support, on this matter. That shows the strength of Committee Stage debates. A great deal can be done if one approaches the taking of a Bill in an open and consultative way. In the different Ministries I have had, I do not believe there was a Bill in respect of which I did not accept the principle of some Opposition amendments, albeit that the parliamentary counsel and the Department always insist that their wordings are used. I pay tribute to the people who put forward the amendments, in this case from Fine Gael and Labour, which encouraged me to table an amendment to that effect. There will be general support for Internet access at flat rate prices. Minor technical amendments, which are not of great importance in a policy sense, were also made to the Bill.

  I want to welcome the young pupils and teachers in the Visitors Gallery. It is great they are here, seeing how it all happens. There are often greater numbers here.

  This is good legislation. It is great to have seen it through to this stage. I am happy to come back to the Seanad and report on the good debate that took place in the Dáil yesterday. I thank the Members for their courtesy.

[1717]   Mr. L. Fitzgerald: As I am surplus to requirements today, before I take my leave I want to thank the Minister for coming to the House today.

  Mr. J. Doyle: I also thank the Minister for coming to the House to report on the amendments that were made to this Bill, which was initiated in the Seanad. I thank her for her kind remarks about Deputies in the other House who made amendments to the Bill.

  Dr. Henry: I am delighted the Minister is back here with this Bill. I am glad she accepted the principle of the amendments tabled by Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy O'Shea. They relate to an area that is very costly on which I also spoke during the debate in this House.

  I did not mention it at that time, although I am sure it is something the Minister will encourage, that it is important that the new commission co-operates with the regulator in Northern Ireland, as has the current regulator, which has been important. There are areas in the Border regions which will not get broadband unless there is good co-operation on both sides of the Border because there is not the population there to attract people to bring broadband to those areas. I am conscious that the Leader of the House takes a great interest in the BMW regions, although I think that is an unfortunate name for those regions which are said to be deprived. It is important to continue such good co-operation. I have contact with Mr. Courtenay Thompson who is the head of the regulatory commission in Northern Ireland. I know that the people there are most anxious that the co-operation they have had with the regulator here should continue now that we will have a new commission.

  Mrs. O'Rourke: Senator Henry has raised a good point and I thank her for doing so. We will arrange communication with him in regard to this Bill. That will help start that process.

  Mr. Cassidy: I welcome the Minister back to the House with an important Bill for the future of this industry. The general election is approaching and this may be the last opportunity to wish her well. She is someone we in Westmeath have been very proud of over the last few years due to her wonderful work and contribution to Government. She has done excellent work for our county and our political party is privileged that she is its first lady deputy leader. I wish her well and I look forward to her coming back to the Seanad many times as Minister either in this or another portfolio. I wish her all the luck in the world.

  Mrs. O'Rourke: I wish the Senator the same. He should not break his ankle.

  Mr. Cassidy: It is a sore thing.

[1718]

  Mr. J. Doyle: This is a very cosy arrangement.

  Mrs. O'Rourke: I thank Senator Cassidy for his kind wishes, which I reciprocate. I thank Senator Doyle for his kind words and for the recognition of his party's amendment in the Dáil.

  Regarding Senator Henry's point, I will arrange for the Secretary General of my Department to write to the regulator in the North about the Bill. The regulator will know all about it, but we should inform him that the Bill has been passed and encourage close co-operation. Senator Henry made a fine point.

  I thank all Senators and it is nice to be here. My officials dealt with this Bill initially in the Seanad, then in the Dáil and now in the Seanad again. As with all Bills they do much of the work even if they depend on Ministers when the latter are on their feet. The officials work behind the scenes and they have been very fine colleagues to work with.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Bill passed.