Regulation of Banks (Remuneration and Conditions of Employment) (Temporary Provisions) Bill, 1975: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is the second occasion on which I have come to the House with a measure to control the salaries of bank officials. The previous occasion was in 1973. That Act expired by order on 14th December, 1973.

In June last, the Government, with the twin objectives of combating inflation and maintaining employment, took certain budgetary action. The measures included the removal of VAT from clothing, footwear, electricity and all fuels (except road fuels), the introduction of subsidies on most CIE rates and fares, bread and flour, butter, liquid milk and town gas. As a result of these Government initiatives, the cost of living was reduced by 0.8 per cent in the period mid-May to midAugust, 1975. As a Government we sought that, in return for a slowing down of price increases, there should be a corresponding slowing down of income increases. Such voluntary agreement with trade unions was secured in that the third and fourth phases of the 1975 national agreement were revised to link them directly to changes in the consumer price index. The immediate effect of the revision was to cancel the increases due to workers under the third phase of the 1975 national agreement and to provide for indexation in the fourth phase.

The Government's subsidies of June to reduce prices were designed to reduce the cost of living for all—including bank officials. That is why I requested the banks' Staff Relations Committee on 30th September, 1975 to advise as to what proposals the banks had for a comparable revision of the terms of their agreement bearing in mind that all other workers had revised their existing agreements.

The Minister for Finance and I met with the bank employees on 27th and 31st October, 1975, in the hope of securing from them a revision of the third and fourth phases of their pay agreement, in line with the amendments effected in the national wage agreement.

In the discussions with the employees' representatives, we did not seek any sacrifices from them or anything beyond what other workers had accepted voluntarily. The bank employees, however, did not indicate that they would be prepared to amend their agreement in a manner likely to bear comparison to the amendment made by the majority of workers in the national wage agreement.

At a meeting of the Banks' Joint Industrial Council on 13th November, a proposal for the modification of their current pay agreement was considered by both sides. This proposal was subsequently balloted on by the employees but was rejected.

Last Friday I met representatives of the Irish Bank Officials' Association in an effort to avert the need for legislation. I said that if at any time an acceptable voluntary agreement could be reached the legislation would not be activated.

I undertook to withdraw the Bill now before the House on the understanding that I would refer the 1974 and 1975 bank pay agreements to the Labour Court to report on whether these agreements conformed with the 1974 and 1975 National Agreements as revised; for their part, the Irish Bank Officials' Association would agree to a deferral of payment of the third phase increase of their current pay agreement pending such Labour Court recommendation and that they would agree to accept the recommendation. Regrettably, these proposals were not acceptable to the representatives of the Irish Bank Officials' Association.

I accept that bank officials are not parties to the national agreement and in my efforts to achieve voluntary agreement on this matter I respected their wishes that they need not conform with every detail of that agreement but their settlement must bear some comparison with that of the majority. Dáil Members, the Judiciary and many others who are not formally bound by the agreement keep in line with it. This principle appeared to have gained the acceptance of responsible bank employees but their refusal to accept an amendment to their present agreement as other workers have done compels me to ask the House to pass this legislation. If any interest group choose to go their own way they make a mockery of the restraint practised by others, many of whom are suffering much more immediately from the effects of the recession in terms of job insecurity and unemployment. I would hope that on passage of this legislation if any savings accrue to the banks as a result of the Labour Court adjudication that the benefits will be passed on to members of the general public. I have already suggested that consideration should be given to abolition of bank services charges to personal current account holders.

The present recession is longer and deeper than had generally been forecast. Last June the Economic and Social Research Institute predicted a fall of 1½ per cent in GNP for this year. By October they felt the situation had deteriorated still further than had been expected so their revised forecast was for a drop of 3½ per cent.

It is now expected that since the major economies of the world have begun to show signs of improvement by early 1977 a general recovery will be under way. We will be in a weak position to participate in this recovery if we find ourselves with inflation and its counterpart, unemployment at levels above those of our trading partners. In 1976 we must devote our resources, not to consumption but to investment; we must prepare our physical and human assets for a quick return to high growth rates and full participation in an expanding pattern of world trade.

The Bill is on the same lines as the legislation governing pay and conditions in the banks which was enacted in 1973 and I hope, therefore, that all Stages can be taken today. The present measure will come into operation and expire on days to be appointed by order. The Bill contains provisions whereby I would, should I consider it necessary to do so, impose a stay on the salaries and other conditions of employment in the banks.

The Bill also contains provisions which would enable me, by order, to prevent the banks from offering increases in wages or improvements in other conditions of employment in excess of those which the Labour Court would determine as appropriate in the light of the provisions of the national agreements. Contravention or failure by the banks to comply with the terms of such an order would constitute an offence which would render them, on conviction, liable to fines but not imprisonment. There are no penalties of any sort directed against bank employees or their representatives.

I commend the Bill to the House.

This is the second time in his short Ministerial life that the Minister for Labour has introduced a Bill of this nature. I dislike legislation in a situation such as this and I am inclined to suspect here that the reasons for introducing the Bill are connected with a certain amount of incompetence and, possibly, arrogance at ministerial level. My party have for long stood by the concept of national wage agreements and I think one must be allowed for a moment to go back and compare similar situations with the present one if it had occurred in our time. I can imagine the reaction of Deputies like the Minister for Labour and the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs, who is present, to such legislation being introduced restraining certain people from getting increases. To give an indication of what the Labour Party then thought, I think it is best to quote the Leader of that party when he spoke here on the Prices and Incomes Bill, 1970 on 28th October as reported at column 56, Volume 249 of the Official Report. He said then:

As far as this party is concerned and as far as the trade union movement is concerned neither they nor we will ever agree to any measure which takes away from them the right to free collective bargaining.

The major difference between the introductory speech in this case and in the case of the 1973 Bill was that at that time the Minister for Labour was not long in office and he couched his speech then in all sorts of platitudes and nice sounds saying that we were eliminating poverty and creating a completely different social structure. Obviously, even he is now honest enough to admit that the imaginary dreamland he was trying to create in his own mind has not materialised. We have before us a short factual document setting out the basic details of the present situation. I have and always will have a personal preference for cultivating an encouragement situation in industrial relations, not for legislating for them or towards them.

It is an amazing somersault for the Minister to introduce this type of legislation despite the need for it. You could possibly say that he has adopted a responsible role in Government but I begin to suspect especially with this Government that much of their legislation is introduced because they do not explore the possibilities open to them under existing legislation as is the case with some of the measures currently before the House, and that they proceed to do what they think in the easiest way, copy a Bill introduced in 1973 and say that they will make it work this way. I suggest to the Minister that in section 24 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1946 he has adequate power if he moved in time to ensure that what he is trying to cover by this Bill could have been covered without the necessity and the cost in time and unpleasantness of introducing this measure. Section 24 of the Industrial Relations Act says:

The Court shall consider any matter referred to it by the Minister concerning the employment conditions prevailing as regards the workers of any class and their employers and shall furnish a report thereon to the Minister together with such recommendations (if any), as it thinks proper, and the Minister shall consider any report and recommendation so made.

That section should be adequate to enable any Minister for Labour to deal with the situation now facing him. This Bill is untimely because the avenues open have not been, in my opinion, fully explored. I suspect there are Ministers in the Government who, perhaps, are not capable of exploring them or, perhaps, not deeply committed enough to explore them to the benefit of the community at large. That suspicion must be abroad.

This is an inappropriate Bill as well, despite what the Minister tried to convey on the last occasion, because this Bill does, as did the 1973 Bill, interfere with collective bargaining. It is in the national interest, particularly in the present economic climate that, as far as possible, the national pay agreement would be adhered to. I am beginning to think that all the problems we face under this Government are due to the lack of an economic plan, the lack of a structure that can create a climate in which industry, agriculture and business can prosper.

Up to a comparatively short time ago the Minister for Finance told us repeatedly that it was impossible, because of so many outside factors, to prepare such a plan. However, after repeated pressure from this side of the House and after a little experience of Government he now realises that a plan is necessary.

It seems to me that reference to an economic plan is not relevant to the subject matter under discussion.

If you would allow me to develop the point——

I have allowed the Deputy some latitude in that regard, but a debate on the economy or on an economic plan would not seem to be relevant to this Bill.

May I point our why I think the economic plan is relevant to this Bill? If we have economic planning directed in a particular way——

That would be a matter for debate on another occasion but not now.

If you would allow me to finish the sentence, Sir, you would take the gist of it, but if you listen to only half the sentence, it is impossible for you to understand what I am saying.

We cannot allow the question of an economic plan to intrude into the debate.

If you would listen to the sentence to the end, I could explain the matter to you. I referred to an economic plan and its relation to a national wage agreement —which I think is relevant to this— and to the anomalies that can at times occur within the national wage agreement to the detriment of many of our people. For example, in the national wage agreement there is an escape clause that employers are using to avoid having to pay increases to which workers are entitled.

Here we have the opposite situation. A group of bank officials, 8,000 to 10,000 sensible, responsible people, see the reverse situation in the institutions in which they work. Human nature being what it is, it is understandable that they would feel entitled to gain extra money for themselves. This is how I believe the economic plan is related to the problem before us, in the sense that there is under-lending of money available in the banks because of the economic climate that exists.

The Chair has already ruled the Deputy out of order on the question of economic planning.

I am referring to the under-lending situation of the banks.

The Chair has already ruled on that.

Page 4 of the Minister's brief deals with the economic position.

The Chair, in fact, never ruled me out of order. If you want me to confine my argument to the two pages of the Minister's brief, there is no sense in developing this any further. I have not gone one inch outside what we are discussing here.

The Deputy knows his remarks should relate to the Bill before the House.

Page 4 of the Minister's brief relates to it.

Who is ruling on the matter? Deputy Dowling or the Chair?

Surely the Deputy may refer to the brief?

At the time you interrupted me I was referring to the current under-lending situation in the banks. Surely that is relevant. I presume I may continue.

The Chair intervenes when necessary. The Chair tries to keep a debate within the rules of order.

I appreciate that. I do not intend to go outside the rules, but a situation is being created by the under-lending of money in the economic climate that exists, and money lies idle. If the money lying idle was made available for reinvestment the industrial sector could benefit. In page 4 of the Minister's brief he expresses the hope that the benefits of savings will be passed on to members of the public. Has the Minister or the Government made any approach to the banks in this regard? I understand he expressed the same opinion on a radio programme within the last day or two. Surely the Government have approached the banks and asked them to pass on the savings to the general public by way of abolishing bank service charges on personal current account holders. This is very desirable, but is it merely another platitude?

The Minister is directing this measure against a group of people who are organised in their own right. There are other banks in which the labour force is not organised. However, this measure would seem to be the thin end of the wedge and to be opening the door for the continuing introduction of legislation of this nature in order to stifle free bargaining in certain situations. The Minister has the advantage of not having to face an irate Opposition such as a Fianna Fáil Minister in the last Government would have had to face from the then Opposition had he been charged with the responsibility of introducing a Bill of this nature. Instead the Minister is facing a sensible and responsible Opposition who take into consideration the economic factors but who blame the Government for failing to handle the situation that has led up to this whole problem.

I trust that when the Minister is replying he will answer the questions that we put to him. For instance, will there be a date set for the coming into operation of this legislation and, if so, will this interfere in any way with equal pay legislation in regard to the banks?

I understand that equal pay is in operation in the banks already.

Are there not some areas remaining where it does not operate? Will this Bill conflict in any way with the introduction of equal pay in the banks?

That would be for the Labour Court to decide.

Assuming that there is a date set for the coming into operation of this Bill, is there a possibility that it will conflict with equal pay arrangements?

The Bill will come into operation as soon as it passes both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Then it will supersede any legislation that has been passed already?

There is no legislation in this area.

I am talking about equal pay. If there are areas in the bank in which equal pay is yet to be introduced, surely the passing of this Bill would supersede previous legislation regarding the implementation of equal pay on 1st January.

The heart of this Bill refers to claims being referred to the Labour Court where they would be examined so as to ascertain whether they conform with the national wage agreement. It would be for the Labour Court to arrive at a figure.

What about sections 3 and 4 of the Bill?

Perhaps the Deputy can wait until I am replying for all this information.

The terms of the two sections I have mentioned are very harsh. For example, section 3 (1) states that:

Where any banks, whether before, on or after the commencement of this Act, pay or agree to pay increases of remuneration to any of their employees or amend or vary or agree to amend or very any other terms or conditions of employment of any of their employees so as to provide improved or more favourable terms or conditions of employment for them...

This section can go far beyond what I believe the Minister has in mind. From my reading of it it would appear that it would not be possible within its terms to procure as much as a new pencil, in other words, that there could be no improvement, no matter how small in conditions.

I would explain to the Deputy that the Bill is based on legislation that was drawn up by the previous Government.

Do not blame us.

I was wondering how long it would take the Minister to decide to make that remark.

I did not wish to get the Deputy into trouble. In this Bill there are no penalties so far as unions are concerned but there were such penalties in the Fianna Fáil measure.

Although the Minister has been in office for nearly three years he is still depending on legislation prepared by the previous Government.

I do not believe in novelty for its own sake. Fianna Fáil had done certain work in this area but what they prepared contained some mistakes which I have eliminated. Some senior Ministers of the previous Government who are no longer on the Front Bench perhaps had a hand in drawing up the measure which Fianna Fáil intended introducing and I pay tribute to their work in this sphere.

On no occasion during the term of office of the previous Government was legislation introduced to deal with the banks situation. On the last occasion on which the present Minister was putting forward legislation of this kind, his mistakes were spelled out clearly in the Seanad by some of his former colleagues in the Labour Party. It is surprising that despite everything said by the Minister during the 1960s when he was on this side of the House, he should be the one to introduce legislation of this kind. The Minister has said that the Bill does not contain penalties. I would not wish to impose penalties on anyone.

I said it does not contain penalties so far as the unions are concerned.

It does not say that.

Who is to pay the £10,000 penalty? The banks will pay if a strike occurs.

In the event of a strike there would be no payment.

Perhaps I should say that the banks will pay only if they so decide.

They will pay if this Bill passes and they break the law.

No one wishes to see a strike situation occurring but in such an eventuality the banks would have the opportunity of making greater profits for the duration of the strike. That is one situation, but another is that if the penalty is imposed on them it would hardly be possible to implement it, so that eventually there would have to be compromise between them and the Government. I cannot see any necessity for this Bill. I believe that will be the situation. It might be worth mentioning that on the last occasion the Minister and his colleagues tried to convey that bank officials were a certain group that were weak to the extent that they did not have the popularity of stronger groups. We have seen the Minister for Finance accused by the Employer Labour Conference of a breach of the national wage agreement. We might well ask why? It was because it was a group strong enough to beat the Minister for Finance.

We have now a situation where the Minister and his party believe that the group in question at the moment do not command much sympathy. That may not be entirely correct. We must realise that not all bank officials are managers, that the vast majority are at a much lower level, earning a decent wage and no more. They are obliged to maintain a certain standard of living because of conditions imposed on them by the management of the banks, not imposed by society or anyone else. Indeed, action can be taken by management if certain standards are not complied with. It is a myth that bank officials will not command the same support as other groups——

I should like to assure the Deputy that I have no antagonism towards people working in the banks, the reverse is the case. Nobody regrets more than I the necessity for this step.

I am glad to hear an expression of regret from the Minister at some stage. I thought there might be such an expression in the Minister's statement. The reality is that the Minister is introducing legislation for this group of people. What can continue from there? We know there are unions who are outside Congress, who have asked to be represented at Congress. There is a danger that this is the beginning of a cycle, that the totalitarian state about which the Minister spoke so glibly and so strongly when he sat on this side of the House is now being created. The greatest supporter——

The Deputy is getting away from the Bill.

We have always been a responsible party and we are showing that sense of responsibility in Opposition. We realise the seriousness of the situation with regard to the national wage agreement. I detest and abhor the introduction of legislation at this stage because I consider it is completely unnecessary. The Minister has failed to cope with this problem and he has not tried to encourage or cultivate industrial relations.

The bank officials deal with the general public. They have improved their services during the years and, from a human point of view, they are entitled to look on the performance of their company. I am not advocating that that is the line of reasoning that should be taken by anyone in wage negotiations. Fianna Fáil created the national wage agreement, we supported it at all stages and this we will continue to do. However, bank officials see the profits being made by the banks, they see the dividends being paid—much of the money going out of the country —and, because of the economic situation here, they see the assets of the banks floating on the London money markets. Human nature being what it is, it is understandable that these officials would like to get what they consider their just entitlement. Admittedly the fact that they are going outside the national wage agreement creates a problem for the Minister and it is a situation that has to be protected. Despite what the Minister has said now and in the past, he has done away with the free bargaining situation, with the rights of the individual to negotiate around a table. I could quote the Minister's own references to the situation but I would only prolong the debate. However, certain comments will be made on the Committee Stage. There are areas in the Bill that are not acceptable to me.

There is another point I should like to make and one that the Minister might consider. I refer to the appointment of the officers and the decision of an authorised officer to inspect bank accounts in certain circumstances. The confidentiality that has been attributed to banks for such a long time can be broken. If an authorised officer inspects a certain area of the bank's activities he may be able to explore much further than that and I am sure there are Deputies on the other side of the House who may be concerned about that situation.

The Minister is in the red so far as ideas are concerned. He is bankrupt of ideas if this is the kind of Bill he has to introduce for a second time. One could understand a young Minister making a mistake on one occasion but to make the mistake on two occasions is too much for Members of this House. The principle behind the Bill—to hold the line—is one thing, but the contents of the Bill are a different matter. In his statement the Minister says that this Bill does not apply to every employee of the bank, but this is not so. It applies to every employee, as is shown in section 9 (b) which states that the authorised officer may:

require any person, being a director or a member of the committee of management or other controlling authority of the bank or an employee thereof,...

This Bill could be described as the Minister's Christmas box for Irish workers, a Christmas box of a battering-ram. Section 5 of the Bill states:

... that payment of the fine be secured by the seizure, entry into possession and, where necessary, sale of the property of the person by the appropriate sheriff...

I am sure that Captain Boycott or the Minister will run out of sheriffs if this Bill is put into operation. The home is no longer a safe place. The innocent parties will be the people affected if homes are seized and sold: the wives and children of the officials or the workers in the banks will suffer. It is the first time in the history of the Houses of the Oireachtas that a person's home has been put at risk. It is a very serious matter when a Minister suggests this course.

This should be a warning to Irish workers. In his statement the Minister has said that a person fined on conviction of an offence under this measure shall not be liable to imprisonment in default of the payment of the fine. This is a farce but the Minister has written it into the Bill for the second time. The Minister is deliberately misleading the House when he indicates that imprisonment is not on.

The Deputy must not allege that the Minister is deliberately misleading the House.

He is misleading the House. I want to quote what he said on 12th July.

Of what year?

1973. As reported at column 822 of the Official Report of the debate on the Regulation of Banks Bill, 1973, the Minister said:

If the bank director obstructed the seizure of his property he would obviously be in contravention of the ordinary laws of the land and he would have no immunity.

Mr. Brennan: He would go to jail.

Mr. M. O'Leary: It is conceivable that he would under the ordinary laws of the land.

Mr. Moore: So we are right all the time.

We are always right.

While the Minister writes these few lines into the Bill, the Bill does not mean what it states. Under this Bill he cannot be imprisoned, but he can be imprisoned under another Act, as stated by the Minister during the debate on the previous Bill. The Minister admitted several times during the course of that debate that, apart from this Bill, there are other Acts under which bank officials or employees could be charged and could be imprisoned.

If the Deputy left the House and assaulted a pedestrian he could be imprisoned.

This is a vehicle of imprisonment, if the Minister likes to put it another way. The Minister has specified that the sheriff will move in, seize a person's home and sell it and, if the man resists the seizure of his home in order to protect his wife and family, he will be caught under another Act. A bank official could be sent to prison. The Minister may have written these lines into the Bill to satisfy his own conscience, but it does not satisfy Members of this House. That is all-important.

One would have thought that the crowbar, which was outlawed many years ago, would not be used again against Irish workers. Apparently the Minister, together with his colleagues, has decided that the battering-ram and the crowbar are the solution to the industrial relations problems of the present day. As Deputy Fitzgerald said, industrial relations are a very serious matter and need to be handled properly. We need men who are experienced in industrial relations, who are conscious of the problems, and who will be guided by the problems of the past and the legislation of the past. If mistakes were made in the past, we should ensure that they do not happen again.

Speaking on the Regulation of Banks Bill, 1973, the Minister said:

The Deputy is aware that his remarks are not related to anything in the Bill.

On that occasion I pointed out exactly what was in the Bill of which, apparently, the Minister was not aware. Section 5 (2) of this Bill provides:

A person who is fined upon conviction of an offence under this Act shall not be liable to imprisonment in default of payment of the fine...

I say that is a fraud. It is misleading because the person can be imprisoned under another Act. Under section 9, a typist, a porter, or a cleaner could be sent to jail. Senior officials of banks give instructions to cleaners, porters and typists. If they are given instructions not to make available certain records, and not to allow personnel into certain sections of the bank, they will carry out those instructions. Section 9 (2) provides:

If any person obstructs or impedes an authorised officer in the exercise of his powers under subsection (1) of this section or does not comply with a requirement of an authorised officer under the said subsection (1), that person shall be guilty of an offence.

Section 9 (1) provides:

An authorised officer may, for the purpose of obtaining any information which the Minister may require for enabling him to exercise his functions under this Act, do any one or more of the following things:

(a) at all reasonable times enter premises of a bank,

(b) require any person, being a director or a member of the committee of management or other controlling authority of the bank or an employee thereof, to produce to him any records, books or documents...

The Minister told us on a previous occasion that the cleaner or the porter could be sent to jail for carrying out his duties as he sees them.

Will the authorised officers have special badges? How will they be identifiable? Is there any protection for the other employees or "an employee thereof"? Section 9 provides that a person shall be deemed to be guilty of an offence. I am sure some of the porters and cleaners are members of trade unions. This is an attack on the weaker sections in the bank. On a previous occasion the Minister agreed these people could be sent to jail, notwithstanding the fact that he has written these lines into this Bill. This is a very serious matter which needs further consideration by the Minister if he is sincere.

As reported at column 109 of the Official Report of 7th June, 1966, in the course of debate on the Electricity (Special Provisions) Bill——

1966. I want to contrast the Labour Party attitude in Opposition with the Labour Party attitude in Government. They are bringing in the crowbar now but their attitude in Opposition was quite different. Deputy Corish said:

I believe that industrial relations should be cultivated rather than legislated for.

What we are talking about here today is the fundamental right to sell your labour in the best market, and not to sell it if you do not get the best price. Deputy Corish went on:

It is relatively easy to write this Bill but its operation will be another thing.

Would the Deputy give the column number?

Column 110 of the Official Report. I now want to quote the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Tully. As reported at column 140 of the same volume, Deputy Tully, now Minister for Local Government, stated:

... I assure the Minister that as far as we are concerned in the Labour Party, every time this sort of measure is introduced here, we shall oppose it tooth and nail.... I would say this, that those in the Fianna Fáil Party who have been carrying trade union cards and displaying them at election time had better think very carefully before they cast their votes on this Bill, because I know they will not be allowed to give their views but they are going to cast their votes on this and before doing so, they should remember that there is another election coming and they will not be able to claim the protection of that card when they are going around working class areas.

That is what the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party stated at that time: they would oppose this type of legislation tooth and nail. Deputy Coughlan, at column 222 of Volume 223 of the Official Report for 8th June, had this to say:

In a matter such as this, it tries the patience of any human being where coercive legislation is being introduced and is being clouded and woolled over. It is our duty on these benches to shear that wool aside and to lay naked and bare the situation as it is presented and will be carried out by the Fianna Fáil Government. We take our stand in this issue because we believe that coercion will solve nothing.

That is what Deputy Coughlan had to say. Deputy O'Leary, now Minister for Labour, at column 240 of Volume 223 of the Official Report for the same date, stated:

The Bill brings us a step nearer to the totalitarian concept of the State.... This morning the Government took a step towards the totalitarian concept where the State no longer stands neutral in the struggle between employer and employee...

The Minister at that time was concerned about legislation that tended to coerce. Deputy Cluskey, at column 282 for the same date, had this to say:

There is one comment I wish to make, that is, that it is terribly important that we should realise exactly what we are doing here today. It is particularly important that Fine Gael should realise what is being done. The democratic rights of a comparatively small number of people are being taken away. This amendment would suggest to me that Fine Gael have come to the conclusion that democracy is all right when it suits but when it does not suit, it should be suspended.

I hope these members of the Labour Party who are now on the Government benches will once again give us the benefit of their wisdom and ensure we fully understand this Bill because they understood other Bills that, they argued, interfered in some way with the relationship between employer and employee.

It was a different Bill.

They are on record speaking about interference between worker and employer, interference which was not in the interests of good industrial relations. As Deputy G. Fitzgerald said, I am quite sure that if the Minister kept his hands out of this situation the matter would probably have been resolved long ago. The Minister unfortunately has seen fit to interfere, as he interfered on previous occasions, and he has found out what the response is from these very responsible officials. The Minister cannot say bank officials are not responsible people but, reading this Bill, one would think they were completely irresponsible. I am quite certain the people referred to, the persons whose houses and property can be seized, are responsible people, people who will listen to reason and will reason with reasonable men. But the Minister was sent along. It is true it is no good sending a boy on a man's errand. This is a job for a mature industrial relations officer who fully understands the problem and who can communicate, not in a dogmatic way, but in a reasonable and sensible way.

The Bill in itself does not contravene the national pay agreement and the Minister has admitted this but he has indicated clearly that this Bill is based on that agreement. The increases are examined on a parity basis and as a result of that examination this Bill is presented to the House. As I said, the Minister is incorrect when he says the Bill is not directed against bank employees or their representatives. If that is so who are the people against whom penalties are directed? I have read section 9 several times. The controlling authority of the bank are the employees thereof; that is quite clear in section 9. Perhaps the Minister did not read section 9. Perhaps he does not know it exists. In a previous debate the Minister told us that the employee, be it the porter, the typist or the cleaner, could be sent to gaol.

The Deputy's logic is a most astonishing exercise in verbal gymnastics.

The Minister has very cleverly emphasised the fact, particularly in section 5, that they shall not be liable to imprisonment in default of payment. Under another section the employees and all the other people concerned can, in fact, be sent to prison. As Deputy Fitzgerald said, the principle is our first concern. The composition of the Bill is another matter. It is up to Members to point out the defects, the coercion and the brutality of the Bill. This is the first time to my knowledge that the sheriff can be called upon with the battering ram to take possession of a man's house and cast his wife and children out on the roadside. This is a very serious matter. For years our people resisted this kind of intrusion. Captain Boycott and others got their answer.

I would ask the Minister to reconsider some sections of this Bill if he wants to ensure fair play for Irish workers. This Bill will affect all workers, whether or not they are trade unionists. Under section 9, supposing records were destroyed before the arrival of the authorised officer, what will be the position then? It would appear it is all right to destroy records. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate it is not, so long as the authorised officer gets access to whatever is there. The Minister must ensure that no employee will be liable to imprisonment in any circumstances.

Under section 8 the authorised officer will be appointed by the Minister? In what manner will he be appointed? From what Department will he come? Will he come from the Department of Finance, the Department of Labour or what Department? The Minister is aware that to inquire into the private affairs of a firm is a serious matter and in the case of a bank where confidential records are maintained an officer may exceed his duty. Confidential information, particularly the appointments from the Department of Finance or other Departments, other than the Minister's own department——

These matters are matters of detail which the Deputy can discuss on Committee Stage.

Will the Minister indicate the method to be employed in the selection and appointment of these authorised officers? How will they be identified and from what Department will they come?

In section 10 the Minister is most generous in telling us that a bank official may not take action against a bank for failure to implement the agreement. Deputy Fitzgerald raised the important matter of up-dating the conditions of employment which has been ruled out by section 4. The Minister must be aware that there is a need for constant up-dating of conditions of employment. It is possible that there are bank officials who are working under conditions which are not as good as those prevailing in other banks. It may be that those officials have been applying pressure for a considerable period for the up-dating of these conditions, but, irrespective of how bad the conditions are, how outmoded or outdated they are and how well the bankers may wish to up-date them, they cannot be improved because of section 4. The Minister should reconsider this section because, as we all know, the up-dating of conditions is all important; it is an on-going matter because what is acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow. Standards, attitudes and personnel are changing daily and for that reason an injustice can be done by section 4.

Throughout the Bill pressures are being applied in a dangerous way. I am sure the trade union will look at the Bill on this occasion—if they did not do it on the previous occasion— and see the pattern the Minister is pursuing in relation to the wider aspect of industrial relations and how he intends to block such matters. I should like to know if section 6 applies to building societies and credit unions or does it only apply to a particular type of bank. The answer given by the Minister to this question on a previous occasion was most unsatisfactory.

The Minister told us that the Government, with the twin objectives of combating inflation and maintaining employment, took certain budgetary action but they have not been very successful. There are now 108,000 unemployed, substantially more than last June, the month the Minister was referring to. In no area have the Government been successful. Deputy Fitzpatrick was developing this point when he was ruled out of order.

Surely the Deputy does not wish to follow what has already been ruled out of order?

I was referring to the Minister's speech and surely I am allowed to refer to that.

Not to a matter that has been ruled out of order.

It is in order to deal with the question of VAT on clothing, footwear, electricity and fuel?

That is not in order. What is in order is what is in the Bill, or might be put into the Bill, and the general principles of the Bill.

The Minister indicated that the measures taken by the Government included the removal of VAT from clothing, footwear, electricity and all fuel, the introduction of subsidies on most CIE rates and fares, bread, flour, butter, liquid milk and town gas. The Minister said that as a result of these initiatives the cost of living was reduced by 0.8 per cent. I should like to know what the present position is. We were told that those initiatives would reduce the cost of living by 5 per cent and the fact that it has only reduced it by 0.8 per cent shows that they were a disastrous failure. I can understand a Government so confused like the present Government bringing in an irresponsible Bill like this.

The Minister told us that on Friday he met representatives of the Irish Bank Officials' Association in an effort to avert the need for legislation. He said he told the representatives that if at any time an acceptable voluntary agreement could be reached, the legislation would not be activated. The Minister has aggravated the situation and as a result may have to activate this legislation. I hope the Minister will look at the aspects of the Bill I mentioned and endeavour to make the Bill more acceptable. To hold the line is important in relation to wage claims and the national wage agreement. The officials are not in conflict with that agreement but it was not agreed that the matter should be examined by the Labour Court.

The Minister suggested that any savings that accrue to the banks, as a result of the Labour Court's adjudication, would be passed on to the general public. Will the Minister insist, if this Bill is passed, that the savings that accrue are passed on to the general public or is this more upholstery for the Minister's brief? Is the Minister prepared to ensure that the savings that accrue are used for the benefit of the general public? The Minister is not correct in stating that there are no penalties of any sort directed against bank employees or their representatives. They can be guilty of an offence and have charges brought against them and the Minister told us this on a previous occasion. I hope the Minister will examine the position to ensure that we will have a more responsible package to present to responsible people who we would expect to take it in a responsible way. I am sure they will if the Minister can project a responsible image.

The first matter I should like to have confirmed is one which, if contradicted by the Minister, would alter to a large extent the comments I would make on this. It is the word "banks" and its subsequent definition in which the impression is given that this legislation refers to all establishments known to the public as banks. On the other hand, in his speech the Minister referred specifically to the banks where the employees are represented by a particular organisation known as the Irish Bank Officials' Association. If the Minister could remove any doubt which exists there, I would be much happier about the legislation. I take it that the fact that the Minister is not indicating that the legislation refers to all banks, in itself may be taken as proof positive that it refers only to banks where the employees are represented by that organisation.

It refers to all banks.

Is the Minister indicating now that we can take it absolutely that it applies to all types of bank whether they are represented by IBOA or not? As far as I am concerned, the IBOA operate and negotiate on behalf of employees of certain banks only, and how can the Minister now indicate that the legislation refers to all banks when in his speech there is no indication of the position in regard to other banks?

I will clear up that point when I am replying.

That means I must proceed assuming that it refers specifically to those banks who are organised. That is what makes the proposed legislation obnoxious. Here we have the Minister for Labour in this House allegedly because of his interest in organised labour, with a piece of legislation directed, we can assume, solely against those banks where labour is organised. Surely the Minister, realising the importance of that issue, would have had a clear mind coming into the House and would have had no hesitation in enlightening us in regard to this point. I am trying to establish that this piece of legislation is aimed at and is prejudicial to organised labour, according to the Minister. On that premise I will refer to section 1 of the Bill which states:

If the Minister is satisfied that in order to maintain, in the national interest, general adherence to the National Agreements it is necessary for him to do so.

Is that the freedom and the authority henceforth we are to give to a Minister—that if he feels because of A, B, C or D, because of what he regards as something which is not in the national interest, he can prevent increases in wages and salaries being given to organised employees?

If legislation like this is taken on its superficial or face value and if, as is indicated in the Minister's speech, we want to organise public feeling against the alleged position of the bank officials, it can be done more readily than in the case of others. There are not many bank officials living in my constituency but notwithstanding that there is very little political gain in advancing a case of bank officials, I must admit I have a certain amount of sympathy with them in their present position. By the very nature and responsibility of their profession, bank officials may be dismissed by the banks unless they observe what are called certain standards. Surely these standards cannot be maintained on what might be regarded as low wages?

If the Minister is concerned here about the position of the country, the banks and bank officials, and in pursuit of his interest in employees and trade unionists, perhaps he should at some later stage discuss with the banks the standards which they require from their employees. Perhaps he should discuss with the banks whether the standards they require can be met by paying lesser salaries to their employees. This, however, is not the point I intend to develop.

I want to establish that the Minister is misreading the feeling of the public towards bank officials as his basis for the introduction of legislation which is aimed solely at restricting organised labour of all kinds. If and when this Bill goes on the Statute Book, it will be used as a basis. This will be the basis on which other Ministers will move against other branches of organised labour.

The Minister referred to a consultation he had had on Friday last with the Irish Bank Officials' Association when he indicated to them that he would withdraw the Bill, which saw the light of day on Thursday last only, on the understanding that the agreement of 1974 could be referred to the Labour Court. I must admit to a certain lack of overall comprehension in the matter of the attendant legislation. It seems to me rather strange that on Friday last the Minister should be requesting an association appearing before him to hold back on an agreement made in 1974. Was it not possible for the Minister under the 1946 Act to have referred that 1974 agreement to the Labour Court? If it was, why did he not do that or was the Minister awaiting the economic recovery he tells us did not occur in 1975 and is not likely to occur in 1976?

Although he said it would.

Although he said it would. Why is it that so late in the day he put a proposition to the Irish Bank Officials' Association in respect of a 1974 agreement?

I am mentioning certain points which make me suspicious of the intention of the Minister. In continuing to do so, I refer to that part of his speech where he said:

... Dáil Members, the Judiciary and many others who are not formally bound by the agreement keep in line with it ...

That may be so. If the Minister were making a balanced preparation of the case, he might have informed the House that in respect of classes other than Members of the Dáil and of the Judiciary under the clause dealing with anomalies—higher civil servants, teachers, Army officers, garda officers— all those sections benefit additionally to an extent of 5 per cent.

I want to get a clear picture of the reason for the proposed legislation. Is it that in respect of the present claims or agreements made on behalf of bank employees there is an element which is equivalent to that 5 per cent? If so, is the Minister not prepared to concede that right away? This concession has already been made. Nobody is objecting to it. I, as a member of a teachers' organisation, welcome it and would be prepared to argue, if required, for its justification. If allowed to those sections, broadly speaking comparable with bank officials, is it being accepted as an element of the two agreements to which the Minister refers?

I shall continue to quote the Minister and refer to tones I do not like in his speech. Talking about bank employees he says:

... their refusal to accept an amendment to their present agreement as other workers have done compels me to ask the House to pass this legislation...

Taken superficially that may be a good reason for doing something but will it form the basis of future legislation in respect of organised labour? "... their refusal to accept an amendment to their present agreement as other workers have done" is a rather vague statement. What other workers? What is the basis of comparability? Is this the great precedent we are getting from the archangel of the Labour and working classes—that in future if a Minister decides that any group of workers are not behaving in the same fashion as some other unmentioned group, he can decide to introduce legislation in this House compelling them to do not what they think is fit and proper for them in the matter of negotiations but that which he thinks they should do in what he described earlier as the national interest? I am not happy that the Minister for Labour is the best man to interpret for me or, indeed, for the people of this country what is best in the national interest. I am not prepared to accept that he is the best man in this country to adjudicate as between the merits of one group of workers and another. I am very hesitant to agree to legislation being introduced by the Minister which would give him that right.

The essence of this Bill is too serious for any form of gimmickry. It is too serious for off-the-cuff expressions as we have had already from the Minister in his speech. Again, we get this playing to the feeling that the Minister thinks people have towards bank officials. I hold no special brief for bank officials. I get the same rough ride from them and their managers as do other people in this House. I have no direct or indirect connection with them but I am fearful of this legislation.

On page 4, paragraph (1), the Minister said:

I would hope that on passage of this legislation if any savings accrue to the banks as a result of the Labour Court adjudication that the benefits will be passed on to members of the general public.

The Minister hopes that if any benefits accrue to the banks that they will be passed on to the general public. That is false. He claims to be introducing this legislation because bank officials are getting more than they deserve and to restrict the amount the bank official gets. From that I take it that there will be profit to the bank, the employer. There should be no "if" in his statement. He inserted that condition—"the benefits will be passed on to members of the general public"— because it gives him a way out. There is no such guarantee in this Bill. Why has it been introduced? I suggest it was introduced to cloud the position and muddy the waters.

The Minister knows that responsible people in the field of organised labour will be carefully watching what he is doing. People will say: "Great, he is taking from the bank officials who have too much and giving it to us." That is the impression he is giving, but he is not promising it. Therefore he can never be accused later of having said it, if and when he is challenged. The Minister suggested that consideration should be given to the abolition of bank service charges on personal current accounts. I asked him to whom he suggested it? Is he guaranteeing that the public will benefit from this saving if the bank officials do not get increases which have been negotiated and to which they think they are entitled? Is this another part of the policy of the distribution of wealth? Is he now going to distribute the surplus wealth of the bank officials among the rest of us? If so, why does he not say it? He seems to forget that he holds the office of a responsible Ministry which was held in great respect when Deputy Brennan and Mr. P. Hillery were in office. At that time we did not have the poppycock the Minister is now dishing out to this House.

The Minister told us that he hopes the banks will give the money to the public and not their employees, but he can give no such guarantee. He knows that the profit, instead of reverting to the Irish public, could be very easily lodged outside the country. Why does this great saviour of labour, this Minister who for so many years championed the cause of the worker against the banking institutions, not say that his concern from now on will be that the profits made by the banks will be kept at home and distributed among the Irish people? Why is it that when the case of the bank employees comes before him, in an effort to thwart them he holds up this emotive alternative: do not give it to the employees and I will try to get it for you? Why does he not boldly address himself, as he did in the past, to the question of profits made by banks? In this proposed legislation it will be an offence for the banks, if they contravene certain sections, to give certain salaries to their employees. In other words, the banks and their employees will be breaking the law. I am not a legal man but it seems strange that such a right should be given to anybody or any institution.

My final point refers to the authorised officer. We all know the confidentiality which exists between the banks and their clients and how well that confidentiality has been guarded up to now. I know there is legislation under which a bank is obliged to give the Department of Finance certain information. But this is the only legislation I have ever seen where any Department—in this case the Department of Labour—may appoint its own authorised officer to go into a bank, allegedly in pursuit of information, get that information and remove it from the bank. Is this the forerunner to what is going to happen next year or the following year, when another Minister, perhaps the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, will bring in similar legislation authorising their officers to enter banks and get information about the earnings of farmers or anybody on the land?

This legislation is contrary to the spirit of collective bargaining which has developed in the country through the years. It is legislation acting against individuals who are members of an organisation. It excludes individuals in banks who are not members of the organisation. It gives civil servants the right to enter banks and extract information. On both of those grounds, apart from others, I find this legislation most unwelcome. It needs much more explanation and many more guarantees than have been given to the House.

Deputy Tunney did one good job today when he got the Minister to admit that he is not clear on some of his own legislation. The Minister has kindly consented to try to sort out the confusion in his own Bill before the next Stage is taken. It is so ill-prepared that on its Second Reading today Deputy Tunney was able to come forward and point out the confusion. The Minister had to leave the Chamber and probably he is now engaged with his officials trying to sort out the confusion in this frightful piece of legislation which has been so ill-prepared and is a complete reversal, for the second time, of the Minister's stated avant garde socialist beliefs.

The principle is abhorrent to anybody who believes that we live in a state of free enterprise and free collective bargaining. The big danger is that the Government are to blame: when they see an incompetent Minister who cannot lead his Department and give a headline in industrial or human relations he is not punished; he is simply permitted to bring in legislation to cover up his mistakes by suggesting that because the bank officials will not toe the line like the rest of workers legislation should be brought in to penalise them. No matter what our callings are all of us should, in the pursuit of the common good, accept principles laid down by a competent body. In this case the Minister is not competent.

This Bill is a warning to every worker, whether he is a bank official or employed by a local authority sweeping the streets, that the days of Big Brother are almost here and if workers do not toe the line all the time the Minister will bring in suitable legislation to force them to do so despite the fact that it is the Minister who is at fault. A few years ago the Minister started off with a grandiose promise of the new down in the socialist State of the 1970s. Now we have a situation where 108,000 are unemployed. Far from having a charter for the improvement of workers we are given here a piece of legislation which is badly drafted, unprincipled and confused, as the Minister has admitted.

Perhaps the best thing the House can do is get rid of this Bill and let it be tested in the courts whether or not it is repugnant to the Constitution. It will be adjudicated on in the Supreme Court by competent people, whether or not one agrees with them. I cannot accept that the Minister is competent to bring in this legislation or to discern where the fault lies in our system. We have a national wage agreement adopted by the vast majority of workers, but we find that because a certain organisation have objections to it the Minister brings in this legislation.

Deputy Tunney asked the question: does this Bill apply to members of the banking organisation only? Those are the only people mentioned here. Suppose there is a housing committee or a staff association who are not members of this bank officials' association, will they escape the legislation? Will they be penalised? Will they claim that under this Bill they are quite free to opt out and not be penalised? Is this an overt attack on a trade union called the Irish Bank Officials' Association?

We must warn the House and the people that the Minister in his clumsiness may have to embroil every section of workers. I mean by workers all people who earn their living, whether by salary or wages. That is why I refer to the coming of Big Brother. In section 8 of the Bill the Minister is given power to appoint people to go in and inspect the bank accounts of an official. A bank official or a bank manager who contravenes the Bill could have lent money to a parochial or charitable society. He could be penalised by the Minister and the money taken from the parochial society. Section 5 (2) (b) spells out the organisations to which these men who are sent from the Minister to inquire into what the man did with his money can go. We all know that in many parishes there are what are known as tontine societies, which are run purely for parochial purposes. Now we will find that State officials will be sent into small parishes and the local nominee of the parish priest will be called on to produce the books to show how much money the bank official has lent to this society. He may be getting no interest on it, but the Minister will go after the man who lent the money to his local parochial society and if necessary seize that money in payment of the fine which the Minister hopes will be imposed on that official. This is the type of legislation we are getting. As one who had to listen to the Minister pontificating some years ago on the glorious epoch we would have in the seventies, I am amazed to find the same individual introducing penal legislation as I have pointed out in regard to section 5.

Debate adjourned.