Insurance Bill, 1983: Second Stage.

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

The purpose of this Bill, which is of general application, is to amend existing insurance legislation by adding to the range of actions which can be taken to deal with situations arising in the event of uncertain solvency of non-life insurance companies.

In 1964 the Oireachtas accepted the principle that the State should not be responsible for the failure of private sector enterprises engaged in the non-life insurance market. At the same time it decided that it would be desirable to establish a Compensation Fund, to which all companies would contribute in accordance with their share of the market, and out of which eligible claims could be met in full. The details are set out in the Insurance Act 1964. Subsequently the United Kingdom Parliament introduced legislation to much the same effect and similar arrangements now exist in other parts of the world.

While leaving the basics of the 1964 legislation unchanged, and it has worked quite well in the case of the collapse of the Equitable Insurance Company, we are now proposing a number of significant amendments. The House will recall that at the time of the Equitable episode, the view was accepted that, while arrangements should be made to compensate people who had claims for injuries or damage to property, those who had simply paid premiums and were going to be out of pocket only in respect of the unexpired period covered by the premium, could be left to fend for themselves. With the greatly increased cost of insurance I feel that a different view ought now to prevail on this question and that people who have paid premiums should, in the case of a company being wound up, be entitled to present claims in respect of the unexpired period of their policies just the same as other claimants on the Compensation Fund. That principle is now enshrined in this Bill.

There is, however, an even more important consideration which arises in this connection and, again, Deputies will recall the experience of the winding up of the Equitable Insurance Company. At that time my predecessor secured an order of the High Court for the winding up of the company as it was clear that their affairs were beyond all hope of redemption. I do not think that any other solution would have been possible at that time.

Nonetheless we must recall what the effects of the winding up order were. The position is that as soon as such an order is made, the policyholders, leaving aside entirely the position of persons having claims against the company for accident, etc., are no longer effectively insured and are thrown upon the insurance market to do the best they can in seeking replacement cover. Even in the case of a small company like the Equitable Insurance Company this caused considerable dislocation, and in present market circumstances, it is clear that the consequences of the winding up of an insurer would be very serious indeed.

Nowadays insurance of certain classes is not something which is immediately available for the asking over the counter. Members of the insuring public are often, because of the cost and other considerations involved, obliged to make diligent enquiries to secure the best deal for themselves. We cannot contemplate the possibility of very large numbers of people, including many whose livelihood depends on having insurance cover, left without insurance through no fault of their own, being sent from Billy to Jack with, possibly, the consequences that a significant increase in the number of uninsured drivers on our roads is brought about, a situation which, as the House is aware, places intolerable demands on all concerned.

It is primarily to deal with this problem that the present legislation has been designed. Its object is to ensure that while the affairs of a company in difficulty are brought within the purview of the High Court in much the same way as those of a company being wound up, their business can nonetheless be continued without interruption on a going concern basis by an administrator appointed by the court.

It is a basic principle of company law that in an insolvent winding up the board of directors becomes defunct and its powers are assumed by the liquidator. This is in recognition of the fact that it is those in control who have the power to do harm. Their removal is therefore almost invariably an essential preliminary to any remedial action and such removal automatically occurs on liquidation.

In this Bill we are proposing to apply this and other winding up principles to the case where an administrator is appointed by the court, and it follows therefore that, for so long as an administrator stands appointed, the powers of the directors will cease. In applying the winding up principles we have been very conscious of the scope for conflict between some of them and the discharge by the administrator of his main duty to maintain the business as a going concern with a view to placing it on a sound commercial and financial footing.

There are obviously certain winding up provisions which would impede the administrator in such a task, and these are being adapted or repealed to remove any doubt there may be about the commercial credibility of an insurer under administration. I think it is important to refer specifically to one particular adaptation the effect of which will be that, contrary to the automatic consequences of a winding up, contracts of employment, transactions, debts, proceedings etc., will not, by virtue only of the appointment of an administrator, be avoided, cancelled, stayed or otherwise affected.

The underlying rationale — and it is important that this should be emphasised and accepted — is that the administrator of an insurer from the outset should be able to carry on business with as much freedom as is reasonable and that as far as possible only normal commercial rules and procedures apply, subject of course, to the entire proceedings being within the domain of the court.

To further facilitate the attainment of the main objective of this Bill, the Act of 1964, as we now propose to amend it, will give the administrator access to the Compensation Fund so that he will have the resources to meet claims on the company and to place it on a better financial footing for the future. The general mechanisms of the 1964 Act will continue to apply, with the Fund's resources being provided as before by way of levying contribution on all non-life insurers.

The limit of £1 million on the size of the Fund established in the 1964 Act is being removed. This removal has been dictated firstly because its significance has been almost completely eroded by inflation in the intervening years and, secondly, it is considered inadvisable to pitch the Fund at a particular level in general legislation when the circumstances in which the Fund would be drawn upon could vary substantially from case to case.

In order to facilitate insurers in their task of providing for their liability to the Fund the Bill proposes that the contribution by insurers will be limited to a ceiling of 2 per cent of premium income in any year. The House will appreciate that a contingent liability of this size could create some difficulties for insurers. It is only right therefore that the insurance industry should not be prohibited from providing for any liability to the Fund in the premium rates which they charge. This is a principle which has already been well established. I think it appropriate at this point to record that the behaviour of the insurance companies in regard to their obligations under the Act of 1964 has been exemplary.

The net result of the new provisions to which I have referred is that policy holders will not need to scramble around looking for alternative cover, as their insurance will be continued, and the rescue of the enterprise can be put in hand under new management with the least disruption to its ongoing commercial activity.

Many non-life insurance companies have connections with other entities, whether by way of subsidiary or dependent companies for property and other investment purposes or by way of other associated entities within an overall group structure. In endeavouring to deal with the fortunes of an ailing insurer it would be inconceivable that the administrator should not also be in a position to exercise control over the affairs of any such entities.

The Bill provides, therefore, for the exercise of such control by the administrator as is considered necessary for the purpose of successfully discharging his primary duties. The ability to act in relation to such companies and the degree of control to be exercised will be subject to the sanction of the court.

The Bill also defines the connection in such a manner that action could only be taken in relation to a body which is significantly linked with the insurer under administration. I must emphasise, however, that the inclusion of this element in the Bill is not to be seen as a vehicle for the extension to such bodies of the appointment of the administrator, with a brief to maintain them as going concerns and return them all, if needs be, to a sound financial footing. That would be totally impractical and unrealistic, and it would be unreasonable to expect policyholders to provide funds to rescue enterprises outside the insurance sector. On the other hand, it seems safe to make the general assumption that where the main enterprise in a group is being rehabilitated, the effects on connected enterprises must be beneficial.

A series of other consequential amendments is being effected to the Act of 1964 for the purpose of facilitating the successful application of the scheme I have outlined. The opportunity is also being availed of to repeal certain provisions of the Act of 1936 relating to the ownership of shares in, and the nationality of directors of, insurers. The existing provisions are discriminatory in the light of our obligations under the Treaty of Rome, and while they have not been applied against nationals of other member states in recent years, their continued presence in the Statute Book is not warranted.

I think it only right at this stage to inform the House that it is my intention, as soon as this Bill becomes law, to petition the High Court for the appointment of an administrator to take over the management of a certain insurance company whose affairs are in a state of considerable disarray. Since these proceedings are imminent and the relevant petitions have already been prepared, it would be inappropriate for me to go into further detail at this stage, but there will, presumably, be other occasions on which this matter can be debated in the House.

When one looks at the recent history of insurance business in Ireland, one is, I think, entitled to ask certain questions. Indeed, events now happening in other countries also have their relevance. In our own case we had in the late 1930s the mismanagement of a number of life companies whose funds, on actuarial valuation, were shown to be inadequate to meet future liabilities to policyholders. To deal with that situation the Irish Life Assurance Company was established by the State and I think we are entitled to say that it has been a resounding success. In 1963 the Equitable Insurance Company collapsed and it was clear that the most serious offences had been committed in carrying on its business. The 1964 Act resulted from this. We are now faced with a third problem.

To be fair, I am obliged to say that the affairs of insurance companies are, generally speaking managed by responsible people who are fully cognisant of their duties to the insuring public. They co-operate fully with the Department in filing the returns required by law and in answering any questions which arise in connection with them. This is all very well as far as it goes, but it has to be recognised that, so far as the supervisory authority is concerned, the system still depends largely on the competence and honesty of those who prepare these returns and, even more so, on those professional people who certify the returns. Unusual vigilance is called for and, partly because of the complexities of Irish law, the process is not an easy one. Directly and indirectly, the various powers provided by the Oireachtas in regard to the supervision of insurance companies have been availed of relentlessly by myself and my predecessors in office and the case which is now pending is the end result of the exercise of these powers. One can, I think, take it as a certainty that if the supervisory powers had not existed and had not been used, we would in due course have been confronted with a disastrous situation which would have been extremely difficult to deal with. What we need now is effective remedies to deal with certain situations brought to light by the supervision process.

The Bill now before the House provides a very desirable addition to the range of options available to the insurance supervisory authority. It provides an option which avoids the disastrous consequences of winding up and, although confined to a large extent within existing winding up law, it creates an environment which should allow of the resuscitation of an insurer while carrying on business in a normal fashion.

I would now ask Members for their co-operation in carrying this Bill through the House. Although it is a Bill that is not large in physical dimensions, a great deal of work has been put into it and I think that it meets the requirements and aspirations of all parties in the House. There are people out there to be looked after and the object of this Bill is to do our best for them.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Opposition for facilitating the speedy passage through both Houses of the Oireachtas of this very necessary provision. Because there has been some speculation in the media and some gossip, I would like to reassure the public that, irrespective of which company may be involved, if this Bill passes both Houses of the Oireachtas and the application to the court for the appointment of an administrator under the provisions of this Bill is successful, people who are covered at the moment will continue to be covered and they are in no danger.

In facilitating the Minister in this business it was established to us that it was of a very urgent nature. In fact, it was stated to be a matter of something of an emergency, and, while I might not be too familiar with the precedent for emergency legislation in the House, I would venture to say it is a pretty rare occurrence in legal terms to have emergency legislation brought in to deal with any aspect of life. Consequently, we take this to be of very significant importance. While this Bill is framed in general terms for general application, there is no doubt at all from the reading of the Explanatory Memorandum and from listening to the Minister that he has one particular insurer in mind. He refers in his Explanatory Memorandum on at least two occasions to an insurer, therefore we take it that this legislation is being framed to deal with one insurer operating in the field of motor insurance in this country now.

One can conclude from the Minister's speech that a very large number of persons are involved. I take it that they are the insured. He makes reference also to uninsured drivers. Therefore, irrespective of what other business the insurance company are involved in, it is obvious that this is a major motor insurer. Indeed, while there might be some restriction on the Minister, because of his involvement in court proceedings which he has suggested in the latter part of his Second Stage speech, naming any insurance company — he says the matter could be debated here at another time — I take it that the same restriction is not on me, and I can only draw the conclusion that this insurer is a well-known motor insurance company in this State. I would like to know if it is possible, without the Minister breaking any rules that might apply to any subsequent action he would take in his imminent court action — obviously tomorrow — for him to state what insurance company he has in mind. It is very important today when considerable agitation and uncertainty prevail outside this House to know what company is involved, what the responsibility of the Minister will be subsequent to his imminent court action and what fate awaits those who have paid insurance premiums to the company involved. Obviously, if the Minister is taking this action against an insurer he must base it on certain reports that have been made available to him. Perhaps he would be good enough to indicate to the House what reports he has which necessitate this action on his part and whether it is a report or reports. Would he be agreeable to indicate to the House in this emergency situation what access those people who prepared the reports for him had to the computer print-outs and the necessary information which they needed in preparing their submission to him? We on this side of the House would be very interested to know the names of these companies who carried out these investigations and if they had the proper experience and expertise to deal with matters which concern motor insurance. What was their remit and what were the details of their job specification in bringing forward these reports?

Could the Minister indicate to us, before he takes this imminent court action to appoint an administrator to carry on the work of a major Irish insurance company, if he considered any other alternatives, what options were made available to him and if he gave them due consideration before taking this penultimate step? Were the insurance company contacted since the decision to take court action and appoint an administrator who will, according to the Minister, relieve the board of directors and others of their position in the company? I would be particularly anxious to know if the Minister, in considering any other option which might have been available to him in dealing with this emergency matter, contacted other insurers in the same way of business to see if they had any options which might prevent the necessity of the Department of Trade, Commerce and Tourism virtually nationalising an insurance company to-day? My main concern at this stage would be for the policyholders, and I agree with the Minister that it is very important that they be left in no doubt this evening from this House that they are going to continue to be in cover, that there is no risk to their insurance cover and that they will not, as the Minister said, have to run about looking for an alternative in order to drive their cars home from work this evening.

I understand that there are many insurance companies operating here in so far as motor insurance is concerned. There are nine Irish companies, all told — this is information from the famous Blue Book — and in 1981 of those nine Irish companies two were controlled from outside the State, and there were 14 foreign companies companies operating as well. The Minister refered to a very large number of insured people, which narrows the field considerably. It is obvious that the insurance company which must be in the Minister's mind and with which he is concerned in the imminent legal proceedings tomorrow morning must, in fact, be the PMPA.

On a point of order, I would like to make this point quite clear. As I explained in my opening speech, this Bill has a general application It could apply to all or any insurance company. For reasons which should be obvious to everyone, as I have indicated also in my opening speech, it is my intention to apply to the courts for any company to be named, and possibly for the hearing to start here in the Oireachtas could be prejudicial to the outcome of that case. I am talking on this Bill in its general application. I cannot be responsible if others wish to speculate.

I understand the Minister's position. Of course, this legislation is for general application, but there would not be an emergency situation unless it was intended to apply the legislation to a particular insurer in the immediate future. It has been confirmed by the Minister that he intends to use this legislation in the immediate future to deal with an insurer. Obviously, the Minister will be moving in the court tomorrow against an insurance company and seeking a petition to have an administrator applied. I believe that the company which the Minister has in mind in dealing with the immediate as against the general application is the PMPA. For that reason, I am particularly concerned that the 300,000 people who hold insurance cover by way of motor insurance with that company are protected, and that they are left in no doubt this evening that they will continue to be covered today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. I would also be very concerned about the staff of any company involved under any court action which the Minister might take nor of in the future. The particular company to which I refer has a general staff of about 2,000. This also will have tremendous implications for the financial and commercial activity of the country and for other insurers. That is what makes it a very serious and important matter.

The Bill itself deals with considerable powers which will be available to the administrator once the petition has succeeded. He will also be in a position to deal with related companies and subsidiaries which the company have under their control, which further reinforces my belief that we are talking about the company of PMPA.

The amendment of sections 7, 8, 9 and 10 of the Insurance Act, 1964, will give the administrator access to the insurance compensation fund. The Minister states that that fund now stands at £1 million. It would be interesting to know if that money will enable the administrator to deal with any difficulties which have arisen concerning the company against whom he intends to move. Obviously not, and that is why the limit has been increased and we are talking now about considerable sums of money being drawn from other insurers. If we take the total motor insurance premium at roughly £500 million, one per cent would be £5 million, so that the 2 per cent maximum limit at £10 million would have to be passed on to other insurance policyholders. This will have a considerable impact on the insurance rates which will be applied by other insurers subsequent to the administrator getting his hands on the fund.

The nine Irish and 14 foreign companies operating here in the field of motor insurance are conducting other forms of non-life business as well. It is important to remember that the seven Irish based and controlled companies correspond to about 65.9 per cent of the total premiums paid in 1981 and the two active foreign controlled would amount to about 3.3 per cent. When one considers the importance of the position of the major wholly Irish owned motor insurance company, the PMPA, we see the impact which this will have on insurance generally and on an enormous number of policyholders. We must understand that an insurer, whatever the name, cannot carry on business without a licence issued by the Minister. The licence has certain requirements attached to it concerning minimum capital, the question of registration in Ireland or in other EEC countries. For the company to operate, they must operate under the closest scrutiny of the supervisory authority, namely the Minister's Department, and any company dealing in insurance must submit detailed annual returns of their business and before they get the licence initially must have a scheme of operation which satisfies the Minister. I take it that this company, when it got its licence, had a scheme of operation which then satisfied the Minister, but when the reserves fall the insurer is entitled to bring forward a scheme of operation to restore the position. I would be very anxious to know if the Minister has confronted the insurance company involved with the task of bringing forward a scheme of operation which would restore their solvency, if insolvency is the reason for taking the imminent court action against them. How did the company maintain here their technical reserves corresponding to their underwriting liabilities here? Was this done unknown to the Minister? How long has this matter been left unattended?

The Minister's responsibility is clear. He sets down the administrative rules under which insurers carry on their business. He prescribes the nature of the spread of the assets the company must have. They must accommodate themselves to an adequate solvency margin. While the Minister may not be able to answer these questions this evening, we are being asked to accommodate him with emergency legislation to enable him to go into court tomorrow morning to move the directors of a major insurer and surely the Members of this House and the public are entitled to know what basis, what reports, what insolvency, if any, exist and to what extent, and whether the matter could have been dealt with under a range of options other than the one he now proposes.

Were the company given an opportunity to restore their solvency, if it needs restoration? We do not know. We accept the Minister's good faith and that he has certain reports, but we have to know who made the reports, and what experts compiled the facts which led the Minister to take this very grave step which requires emergency legislation in Leinster House.

As I understand it, the solvency of an insurer depends on the transfer of some of the liability to reinsurers. Over the years if there was a shortfall in the assets available to a company, to their technical reserve and to their cover by reinsurers, this must have been known on an annual basis to the Department, and what steps they should take to rectify that matter. Insurers must lay off a proportion of their risk. That is common practice with all insurers. Has that been complied with in this particular company against which the Minister is to move? Obviously the Minister is of the opinion that this company are capable of continuing in business and carrying the cover and the risk for their large number of insured people. Otherwise the Minister would be moving, as happened on a previous occasion, to a winding up situation. That is not necessary on this occasion, which suggests to me that there must be options in the Minister's mind which would accommodate the carrying on for the foreseeable future of the business of this insurer.

Why were not these steps taken in advance of emergency legislation being brought in here to accommodate the Minister? If the Minister is satisfied that all these things have been considered he has an obligation to put matters right. Instead of the House being rushed into an emergency situation he should have considered other available options.

Management will be displaced. There is no doubt about that. Large numbers of people will be displaced. There will be considerable inconvenience. The reassurance given by the Minister that nobody covered at this time by the insurer need have any fear of their cover this evening or for the foreseeable future is welcome. At the same time, there will be continuing unease in the market place until the full facts are known. There is no doubt in my mind that, if reports were prepared at the Minister's insistence, they form the basis of his reason for seeking court action tomorrow.

Did he discuss the details of those reports with the insurer? In common justice and equity one would expect that the insurer who had been giving insurance cover in good faith over a long number of years would have been contacted on the question of what steps the Minister proposed to take against the company. Perhaps nothing could be done. Obviously if the company have been engaged continuously for the past while in the insurance business, they will resist the petition, and if they resist the petition successfully what is the situation for the hundreds of thousands of insured people?

My first concern is for the policy holders and, after that, for those in employment in the insurance company. I am deeply concerned about the implications on business generally. While the Minister might be restricted in naming the company, he should be able to put us at ease about many of the other matters I raised.

I will not take too long, because the manner in which this Bill has been introduced has given me no time to prepare a considered response to it. I welcome the fact that the House can respond to an emergency situation like this quickly. To expect a Deputy who gets the Bill at 1.30 p.m. today to respond to it in any realistic way at 4.30 p.m. is not reasonable. Can the Minister let us know at what point he became aware that this crisis was about to arise? Was it in the past few days? Was it during the recess, or before the recess?

Because the Bill was brought in at such short notice we must accept at face value the assurances the Minister has given us, and also to some extent the explanatory memorandum. Unfortunately, previous experience has shown that an explanatory memorandum often hides as much as it explains. For that reason I will be anxious to hear the debate on the various sections of the Bill to see precisely what they will entail for the future.

I am particularly gratified that the Minister tells us he is ensuring in the Bill that those who are insured at the moment will remain insured and those who have contracts with the company he intends to move against will be protected. I wonder has the Bill been fully considered. The Dáil was in recess for about three months and would it not have been better to recall the Dáil for one day or two days to discuss this very important matter of insurance?

Introducing the Bill the Minister said that in the thirties the Irish Life Company was established and that it has been very successful, which is true. I understand that company is owned as to 97 per cent by the Minister for Finance, that is, he holds the shares for the State in that company. Has the Minister given any thought as to whether the State should adopt a similar approach to the question of general insurance? Motorists are required by law to be insured, and would it not follow that the State should ensure that the cover which motorists are bound to have by law is provided by the State?

As I said, it has not been possible to go into the Bill in too much detail. I hope the time available to us will be spent in discussing the details of the sections.

Anything one might say about this unhappy Bill before us now should be headed: "The chickens have come home to roost", because they have. It is no harm, in the course of the necessarily brief remarks I will be in a position to make here this evening, to give some of the history of the long, drawn-out and tangled events that have led to this unhappy day.

The first thing that should be said is that while this is described as emergency legislation, the House should carefully note that it is permanent legislation. It does not relate to just one company; it relates to every non-life company established in the State now or to be established at any time in the future, both motor and non-motor. It will form part of our legislation for all time, or for as long as it remains unrepealed. Without any reference to individual companies or their difficulties, it is major insurance legislation.

While I can understand the Minister's difficulties and fully sympathise with him, I must say it is a great pity that circumstances are such that this major legislation has to be debated in a rushed way. It will be impossible for anybody in this House, including the Minister, to put down amendments. This legislation is technical, difficult and hard to read. It has to be read in conjunction with three or four very complicated Acts to understand it properly. I doubt if there is anyone in the House who had an opportunity since the Bill was published at 10.45 a.m. today to collate this Bill with all the other Acts referred to. Even if we had the power, which we do not have, to put down amendments today, I doubt if we could put down meaningful amendments, and certainly not without consultation with people outside who are experts in this complicated field.

This is permanent legislation, unlike emergency legislation which has been brought into this House from time to time. I remember doing it myself when there was a riot one night in Mountjoy and I had to produce a Bill the following day. We had a time limit of 12 months in that case and, if I recall correctly, that expired within the last 12 months. This shows that things done in a hurry often tend to last for a long time. We are doing something in a hurry now which will last for a long time. This is permanent insurance legislation to cover all companies and ideally, it should be catered for more satisfactorily than this.

The extent of the emergency can be gauged from the fact that we got our Order Paper in the post in the normal way this morning, and there is no reference to this Bill on it, although it is the first Bill with which we are dealing, but we got a Supplementary Order Paper with the Bill typed on it. This is obviously of the greatest urgency because, as the Minister said, he proposes in respect of one company to make an application to the High Court early tomorrow morning, assuming this House and Seanad Éireann pass this Bill and that sometime tonight the President will sign it, which, I presume, in the circumstances he will. We are in a very unsatisfactory position because the Minister is the principal person involved in this debate and because of his position has felt constrained from naming the company concerned. Deputy Flynn, quite properly, does not feel subject to the same constraints, but the Minister is a party to the proceedings which will be taken tomorrow morning and no other Members of the House is. Therefore, other Members have reasonable freedom.

The first thing that should be pointed out is that this is not a State rescue in financial terms. This is not being paid for by the State. This "rescue" is being paid for by every non-life policy holder in the country, and at great expense. It is not just motor policy holders; every non-life or general policy holder will have to pay a levy of 2 per cent on his premium, on top of the levy of 1 per cent he is already paying to the Exchequer, making a total of 3 per cent. That includes people who do not have and never had a motor car. It includes people who want to insure their houses or to take some other form of general insurance. They are being penalised and will have to pay a levy of 2 per cent which, at current rates, will amount to £10 million a year. This will be paid into a fund which the administrator will use, in conjunction with the cash flow he hopefully will generate, to pay the claims that are, or will be, due by the company in question.

The House should advert to the fact that this is open-ended. There is no date of cessation in this Bill. It may go on forever, and that would not be fair. The Minister has not yet given any indication if it is his intention to instruct the administrator when he gets the affairs of this company under control, to wind it down as opposed to winding it up. Does the Minister consider that it would be advisable to wind it down, or is he prepared to see the situation go on indefinitely? Alternatively, if the administrator is lucky enough to be able to put the affairs of this company back on a sound commercial and financial footing, will it be handed back to the owners or the present management? That would be very unsatisfactory.

These matters need to be spelled out, because I do not think it is proper or appropriate to have this huge imposition hanging over policy holders or insurance companies for an indefinite number of years, or perhaps forever. This is going to do considerable damage to the Irish insurance industry. Unfortunately, because of the difficulties now encountered by this company, the Irish insurance industry is damaged severely. It is six of one or half a dozen of another as to the manner in which it is damaged. It is better that proper control is seen to be exercised in relation to the affairs of the company concerned.

In relation to the company mentioned, there has been concern for a number of years. I first became Minister in July 1977 and towards the end of that year I had reason to begin, in a very limited way, to feel certain concern. During 1978-79 my concern deepened and arrangements were made by my Department to have the provisions which were made in the accounts of this company for claims to be examined by an expert. It was found necessary to do that in three successive years. In the third year the expert drew my Department's attention to the fact that he was unhappy. That caused further inquiries to be made and that culminated in the situation we find today.

There was a major change made by the company in the presentation of their accounts in 1978. Unlike other companies, from that year onwards they ceased to make annual revisions of their provision for claims. Instead, they provided in their accounts what they described as a global float. That gave rise to concern by officials in the Department and people in the industry and caused further and more careful examination to be made. The situation did not improve. I found it necessary on a number of occasions to have interviews with the managing director of the company concerned and they were not among the friendliest of social chats I have had in my life. I expressed the opinion that many of the investments which that insurance company were making were unwise and unsuitable for an insurance company. I was told, as indeed were officials of the Department and other people who were advising experts from outside, that we did not know anything about the business and we should mind our own business. I was faced, as the Minister is, with the difficulty that I was the supervisory authority for insurance here and as the situation developed I found myself in the unhappy position, as did the Department, that there were certain fairly drastic steps open to me but if I took them I was going to precipitate the very thing I was trying to avoid.

It was unsatisfactory that under the 1936 Act it was, to a great extent, all or nothing. One could wind up the company by bringing in a liquidator but short of that one was dependent on the co-operation of the company concerned. It must be said that in my five years in that Department the co-operation of the company concerned was not forthcoming. I have no reason to believe that it was forthcoming before my time, nor have I any reason to believe it was forthcoming afterwards. In the Minister's position one is faced with a serious difficulty: does one precipitate the very crisis one is striving to avoid? In the absence of co-operation it is not easy to avoid precipitation.

One other power that was open to the Minister for Industry and Commerce under the Insurance Act, 1936 was to appoint inspectors but I was advised — I accepted the advice as realistic — that even to appoint inspectors for a large insurance company here would itself precipitate a crisis because it would be seen as belief on my part that the company was insolvent or heading for insolvency. In June 1982 I appointed inspectors in all but name. They were not formal inspectors under the 1936 Act, they were not called as such and they did not have the statutory powers as such but they acted as such. They were asked to go in and report on the claims provisions estimates of the company concerned. Unfortunately, they took a long time to report. I am not blaming them for that because they did not get any co-operation. From the time they were appointed they took until August 1983 to produce a report which they felt was detailed, accurate and which they could stand over. I am not privy to what was in the report but I believe it expressed considerable concern about the situation. I believe the findings of the report were cross-checked by another group of expert consultants from outside the country and I understand that in recent weeks they came up with what was essentially confirmation of the original findings. After that I believe the Minister acted quickly and produced the Bill before the House.

I do not know if the Minister needed to wait for a second report but, on the other hand, perhaps if he did not he may be accused of rushing the gun. I am not going to argue about that now. The Bill before the House is by no means ideal and is obviously unsatisfactory in many respects. However, the situation underlying it and causing it is grossly unsatisfactory. It is one way of dealing with a dreadful problem that is no more unsatisfactory than any other one. If we had some weeks or months to debate this measure I am sure we would be in a position to come up with alternatives for the Minister but, in all honesty, at a few hours notice on a matter as urgent and as fundamental as this, I am not in a position to suggest detailed alternatives. The obvious alternative is to let the company concerned go into liquidation but the consequences of that are pretty horrendous. If the worst consequences of liquidation can be avoided by this procedure then I wish the procedure well.

It is worth noting that the company concerned is part of a group that is very much more than just an insurance company. I believe that is part of the root of its trouble. The basic root of its trouble is bad management over a long number of years and failure to take advice, but that is accentuated by the extent of the group of which it forms a part. I understand that in that group there are at least — the number may be higher but it is certainly not lower — 74 different companies. They are all intertwined or interlinked one into the other to one extent or another but all 74 of them are interdependant in one way or another, some totally so and some only partially so. Among those companies there is an industrial and provident society which has operated since about 1973 or 1974 as a bank. When it came to notice in 1977 that there were 15 or 20 such industrial and provident societies operating as banks the Government decided that this was very undesirable and there was a loophole being used to circumvent the Central Bank Act, 1971 whereby very strict controls were put on the issuing of bank licences. Unfortunately, that Act did not apply to industrial and provident societies because nobody at the time, the Department of Finance or the Central Bank, foresaw that industrial and provident societies would endeavour to carry on banking. They were intended as small operations for local or co-operative effort.

They were carrying on business as a bank, and quite a substantial one. They held about £15 million in deposits from the public and other companies. There were other industrial and provident societies at that time but their deposits and assets were smaller and their liabilities to the public were smaller. I introduced in the House in 1978 a Bill to run those down gradually. It was passed in November 1978 and gave a five year period for the running down of such banking type industrial and provident societies. As I recall from my time in the Department most of the societies made a genuine and fairly speedy effort to run down their affairs and most of them did so without any difficulty. There were difficulties with one or two and I believe one of them had to be sorted out in court but, as far as I can recall, the depositors did not lose out. However, there was one society which defied the will of the Oireachtas for five years and continues to defy it to this day. It has refused to make any effort to run down its industrial and provident banking society. That society is directly related to the insurance company we are talking about today. As I understand it it continues to defy the will of the Oireachtas in this respect. That type of attitude is typical of my experience — I know it is typical of the experience of others — in dealing with the group generally.

If a co-operative and reasonable approach had been taken by the principal people involved in the company, and in the group, this difficulty would never have arisen. The Department, and various Ministers, gave advice and made suggestions from time to time, and outside experts gave advice and made suggestions. They were not just rejected but were rejected in angry, peremptory and arrogant tones. One of the disturbing features of this is the fact that property investments have continued to be made over a number of years which were clearly undesirable from the point of view of any company but particularly undesirable from the point of view of an insurance company, with its necessity to have a fair degree of liquidity and to have property of which it was relatively easy to dispose. We have seen in the public press some of these property investments and their consequences. One was, of all things, an investment in a newspaper which is not generally regarded as a goldmine, certainly not if it is not long established, as was the case here. Another was a drapery store in this city that nobody else wanted, and which I understand nobody else still wants. Another aspect was investment in garages all over the country, many of which have been closed for some time and are unsaleable.

Another aspect that gives me grounds for concern and which has caused me concern for some time past but I was partly powerless to deal with it, although I dealt with it up to the point I could, was the fact that the group concerned has continued to sell shares in the group to gullible members of the public. I understand the Stock Exchange removed the listing of the company about a year ago, and quite properly so, and of an associated company that was also quoted as a public company. Nonetheless, the group concerned, through its industrial and provident society, continued to peddle shares to gullible members of the public. They have been selling them up to the past week or so at 40p or 42p each when, of course, it is now clear that the shares were valueless. It was clear to prudent investors over the past few years that the shares were valueless. The unfortunate people who invested in them were not institutional investors or others who were in a position to take institutional or professional advice. They were very small people buying a few hundred shares at the time because they were offered gimmicky cut-price offers on their insurance policy. Presumably that is outside the jurisdiction of the Stock Exchange and presumably it is outside the jurisdiction of the Department also but it is something that should not be allowed to continue. In calmer days when this is all over, the Minister should consider introducing legislation to prevent share offers of that kind.

It gives me no pleasure to recall this, but in fairness to myself — and often I am a bit less than fair to myself — I should recall that in July 1982 there was a week's sustained abuse of me printed in the newspapers by the managing director of this company. I could have quietened him and put an end to it in ten seconds flat by coming out and telling the truth but in interests of the company I could not come out and tell the truth. This is a difficulty a Minister finds himself in from time to time. I just had to grin and bear it, or not grin and bear it. It was very unsatisfactory that in the short-term the public were being given the impression that this company was everything it should be and that this unreasonable and terrible Minister was interfering in a most untoward way with it and trying to damage it. I could have put a stop to that in ten seconds. The answer to what was said in July 1982 is the existence of this Bill today and the fact that it has to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and signed by the President tonight, although it was only published at 10.30 a.m. today. That is the answer to what went on in July 1982.

I noticed, as did others who were interested in these matters, that the 1982 accounts of the company concerned have not yet been published although it is a public company and they are obliged to publish them. In itself that is a very significant matter. Since we had not seen the accounts by mid-October, I was expecting that something was going to happen. Whether we will ever see the accounts now is another matter, because I presume the administrator is not under an obligation to publish them.

I have mentioned many things that are relevant to this whole affair. There are many other matters of which I am aware that are equally relevant but which I have chosen not to refer to because I do not think it appropriate to do so at the moment. However, I can refer to them on another occasion if the necessity arises.

While this Bill is all right as an emergency reaction to a drastic situation in the very short-term, it is not really satisfactory for the longer-term regulation of companies. I agree with the point made by the Minister that up to now it was a case of the whole hog or nothing and that what was needed were some intermediate steps, that this is an ad hoc, intermediate step that is only appropriate to the situation of one company today. In quieter times perhaps this Bill could be repealed or repealed in part and a more elaborate Bill, showing a series of intermediate steps and not just one intermediate step, should be enacted.

As I mentioned earlier I was very conscious of my relative powerlessness. I disliked what was going on and I knew it was going to end in disaster but if I took the only step open to me under the law I would have caused the disaster. It is better that the disaster happened in October 1983 than if it happened in 1980 or 1981. I used to have limited problems when I was in the then Department of Industry and Commerce, much less than I had in other Departments and one of them was this company. I once said to an official of the Department, "when X insurance company goes under, please God I will not be sitting in this seat". Thank God I am not.

I am calling Deputy Allen and then Deputy Prendergast. Both speakers must have concluded at 5.25 p.m. and the Minister will reply to the Second Stage debate.

I do not have the benefit of ministerial experience but I should like to give a contribution based on some information I picked up from the press and the last two reports on the motor insurance industry.

I should like to commend the Minister on the decisive way in which he has intervened in this problem. He has done so in the interests of the motorists who may be in a vulnerable situation and the staff of the particular insurance company that I do not choose to name. I agree with Deputy Flynn that many people will be affected by the decision that will be taken tomorrow. From reading the Bill it appears that one insurance company is involved. The Bill is designed to cater for the needs of people who may be affected, both the staff and the motorists.

Unfortunately it has taken emergency legislation to deal with the problem. It continues to amaze me that on a serious matter like this people still resort to scoring political points. It does not take an expert to state that the motor insurance industry is in a quagmire. Recent reports of annual general meetings of some of the British-based motor insurance companies indicate that the motor insurance market here is in a state of chaos and is totally unattractive to these companies.

The Bill will make the market even less attractive. I must say that conscious of the fact that the Minister in his short nine months in office has done more in that time than any of his predecessors. He acted recently on the 1982 report on the motor insurance industry by bringing forth 17 proposals on top of a previous decision to reduce the VAT and tariff area, which was one of the recommendations in the report. I presume that, being the kind of man he is, he will act on the other recommendations in the 1982 report. He will have to work on a great many sacred cows and a great many vested interests in order to implement some of the proposals. As I said in a submission made to him earlier this year, there has been a lack of political commitment and will down through the years in relation to implementing the long overdue reforms necessary. I made this submission in the belief that he would carry out the necessary reforms, and I am awaiting further proposals from him. However the whole sad affair poses the question as to whether we would be having to introduce emergency legislation here now had the recommendations of the 1972 report been implemented. We had ample opportunity to introduce those recommendations but that report was totally ignored. None of the recommendations was implemented. Coupled with this Bill there is now an added responsibility on the Minister to ensure that the Irish motor insurance market becomes attractive once more to major companies.

I am not one normally in favour of the nationalisation of industry. Neither do I like giving off the top of my head solutions to problems. This problem has arisen overnight and it is because of that we are here now dealing with this Bill. In the third last page, paragraph five of Appendix five of the 1982 report it is stated, dealing with profitability of motor insurance, that "nonetheless we submit that it is evident overall that the 12 companies included in their calculations"—they are named—"did make a profit in 1979, 1980 and 1981". As I said earlier, the whole business is in a state of chaos and I would ask the Minister seriously to consider the position. The debate today is very limited. This is a major issue and time should be allowed for a more comprehensive debate on the whole motor insurance problem. We looked for such a debate earlier but due to circumstances we did not get an opportunity to have such a debate.

In connection with the 2 per cent levy, will that be on all insurance companies or will it be levied just on motor insurance?

Non-life insurance.

I welcome this Bill. It is both necessary and timely. I commend the Minister's concern in introducing the Bill. I am particularly gratified that it is a Labour Minister who is introducing a measure designed to protect, in the first instance, the policy holders in a company which may find itself in the unfortunate position adumbrated in the Bill. The Bill is also designed to protect the jobs of workers who could be thrown out of employment at 12.00 on a given day in a situation in which their rights would be ignored, rights given under earlier legislation introduced by Labour Ministers in the Coalition Government from 1973 to 1977 — for example, the Minimum Notice in Terms of Employment Act, 1973, the Protection of Employment Act, 1977, the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977. Were an insurance company to collapse at a minute's notice not alone would the policy holders find themselves in a position in which they might not be able to drive their cars home from wherever they happened to be but the accumulated rights of the workers would be negative and the workers would be naked before the law. It is precisely to remedy that kind of catastrophe that this Bill is introduced. It is a most timely measure. While these matters were talked about in the past nothing was ever done. A loophole is now being filled.

There is a third category of people who would be involved. I refer to those who invest their savings in ancillary companies attached to an insurance company. It has been said that the biggest investing element in the insurance industry is what is described as the lower middle class. It is that type of socio-economic group who are most vulnerable in the event of a collapse. With regard to the 2 per cent levy it must be pointed out that this is not just a tax. There are those who might be tempted to man the barricades and say that this is just another form of taxation. Quite categorically it is not. It is a fund set up under the 1964 Act designed to meet the type of contingency we are trying to cater for in this Bill.

I have here a press release which was issued in conjunction with the Minister's recent statements on his proposals to implement recommendations of the advisory committee of inquiry into the cost and methods of providing motor insurance on 30 December 1982. He said then, relating to the general problems of the motor insurance industry in the country, that the incidence of uninsured driving creates a direct loss for insurers and the insuring public in terms of premium income and through the need to compensate the victims of uninsured drivers by means of the insurance industry funded mechanism of the motor insurance bureau. He said the Government will examine the means of having a proportion of the increased fines for uninsured drivers paid direct to the MIB. He also went on to say that he recognised that the problems of the motor insurance industry required ongoing consideration and he proposed to establish a representative board to advise him on matters including premium rates, loadings and the availability of insurance cover. He said he was also conscious of the need for adequate and up-to-date statistics to be kept by motor insurers to assist in the task of framing measures to meet problems which arise and he intended to take up this matter immediately with the industry.

The question of uninsured driving is a very serious problem in this industry. The figures we have available to us suggest that in France the figure is only 2 per cent of all drivers, in Sweden it is 1 per cent, in Italy, Spain and Switzerland the figure is practically negligible and in Germany, out of a total of 30 million drivers only 3,000 have been established as being uninsured. In Ireland the situation is vastly different and amounts to a scandal, where there is an estimated 4 per cent of the total number of vehicles on the road uninsured. It is difficult to verify those figures but the industry believes the figure is in that region. I believe motor insurance should be compulsory and it should be a social insurance like occupational injuries where people are covered automatically. We have very good examples in other countries where there is so much put on the price of a gallon of petrol to cover all accident victims. This means that all motorists are obliged to make a contribution. Even uninsured drivers are caught in this net. That might be one way of ensuring that the criminals who are evading the law by driving uninsured vehicles make some kind of contribution to offset the damage they cause.

People will object to a 2 per cent levy being required from the other companies in the industry. We will all be involved to some degree in this. Is it not better to introduce that type of insurance to protect the hundreds of thousands of policy holders and the thousands of workers who could be caught in the collapse of a company and the small-term investors who would also be caught overnight? It should be pointed out that the administration envisaged by the Government will have greater advantages than a liquidator or a receiver. As a trade union official I have often been involved in cases where we were told that workers were out of jobs at a given hour on any one day without any prior notice. A receiver was sent in and he was obliged under his mandate to put the company back into profitability. That did not protect the workers. In a liquidation situation areas of a company can be disposed of or sold off quickly to meet the obligations of the liquidator without much regard for the workers' rights in terms of employment. I am not talking about their rights as preferential creditors in such a situation.

I wish to thank the Minister for his foresightedness in this situation and for moving in to protect policy holders, workers and small shareholders or investors in insurance companies and their ancillaries in the country. It means that those people can sleep easy in their beds tonight or any night because of the results of this Bill.

I would like to thank the House for the very responsible manner in which they have reacted to this Bill and for their understanding of the necessity for this somewhat unusual procedure with regard to having all Stages taken in both Houses today and the request to the President to sign the Bill before the normal, five day lapse takes place.

Deputy Flynn in his opening remarks referred to the urgency of the Bill and questioned it. He stated that it was obvious that the Minister had some particular company in mind. I clearly indicated in my opening speech that it is my intention on the passage of this Bill through the Oireachtas to move immediately in respect of one particular company. I am glad to say that it is appreciated by the House, and spelt out in clear terms by Deputy O'Malley, that as I will be a party to that application to the courts, it would be, to say the least, inadvisable and inappropriate that I should name the company or follow others down the road in the speculation that has been engaged in. All my remarks on the discussion that has taken place are on the basis that the Bill as presented to the Oireachtas has general application. Naturally, what applies to one company under the present law applies to any other company engaged in this type of business.

My primary concern, when faced with this situation, which necessitated the introduction of this Bill to the House with the request that it be dealt with urgently, was the following: Under the law as it stands now and as Deputy O'Malley, very fairly, in a very balanced way and without attempting in any way to take political advantage of this situation, pointed out, the options open to me as the Minister responsible are very limited indeed. Not only are they very limited but they can have disastrous effects on a large number of people who are absolutely blameless in this situation. That is what I was faced with when this matter arose. Over recent times we have all seen people being the victims of liquidations who had absolutely no hand, act or part to play in the policy pursued to bring them to that point but they paid the piper, and I was quite determined, and the Government agreed with me, that as far as humanly possible that situation would not apply in the case that I will be putting to the court tomorrow or in any other case that may arise that is covered by this proposed legislation. The result of operating purely on the basis of the present law would be that a large number of people who in good faith had paid their premiums, who had coverage, whether car coverage or other types of non-life coverage, and may have paid them only last week or last month, would find themselves overnight without cover. As I said in my Second Reading speech, one of the difficulties that has confronted this society and the insurance industry is the large number of people who are driving uninsured cars and that has a direct relationship to the cost of the premiums of motor car insurance, and the Government on the recommendation of a committee set up by the National Prices Commission adopted a considerable number of measures in the recent past to try to cope with that situation. Can we envisage what the circumstances would be if people were to find themselves overnight, through no fault of their own, without coverage?

On the other aspect of insurance companies depending on the volume of business, there is a considerable amount of employment. By the approach which I am proposing to the House now it is more than likely that that employment can be saved — not guaranteed but the prospects of it being retained increase immeasurably if this legislation is passed and if the courts see fit to appoint an administrator under the terms of this legislation.

Deputy Flynn asked the valid question, if an administrator can go in and operate this company and bring it back to a healthy, viable position, why cannot the present administration of the company that I have in mind do the same thing? There are two reasons. If they were doing the right thing we would not be in the position we are in now, and also surely there is no suggestion that we should create a compensation fund levy up to a ceiling of 2 per cent on all non-life policy covers and make that money available to a management of a company for whom I, under the obligations placed upon me, see fit on the basis of the information available to me to go into court tomorrow and ask that the administrator be appointed. Surely that would be to take an unreasonable approach.

Deputy Flynn also raised the question about what kind of investigation was done, who was informed and whether I approached other insurance companies and discussed this matter with them. I would like to make it quite clear beyond all doubt that I have had no discussion of any kind or nature with any other insurance company. There is continuing contact between the officials in my Department and all insurance companies in day-to-day business, and in respect of certain insurance companies there are meetings at ministerial level depending on the degree or the nature of the matter to be discussed, and Deputy O'Malley as a former Minister gave indications of his relationship with a particular insurance company.

I emphasise again that I am talking in general terms as this Bill applies generally to the whole industry. If Deputy Flynn — rightly, and he would have a responsibility to be so — is concerned that the rights of any individual or any groups of individuals were not being given proper cognisance by me, as Minister, he can rest assured. I have not the power to appoint an administrator. I have not the power to put a company into liquidation. All I can do is make an application to the court, who will take everyone's interest into consideration before they decide on this matter. I think we can all safely rely on the courts in considering any application which may be made in respect of a company to take everyone's interest in a fair and equitable way into consideration. I am sure that all Members of the House would agree with me that if I am told that a company is in a state of insolvency and if there is clear expert evidence to that effect, for me to take any action before having this type of legislation passed in both Houses which would minimise the effects of such an event would be irresponsible in the public interest in so far as all sorts of things could happen between that event and the application and the hearing by the court, and to my mind none of these happenings would be in the best interest of the Irish public.

Also on the question of what I did and what other people did in the past to ensure that proper supervision of insurance companies was carried out, again speaking from his own personal experience, although he was relating it to a particular company and to general terms, Deputy O'Malley pointed out that there were very definite inhibitions on any Minister taking certain courses of action which might be open to him by virtue of the fact that in taking such action what he was trying to avoid as the final outcome would be precipitated. This proposed legislation is necessary to avoid total disaster for very many people in the event of matters going beyond the point of recovery.

There is also another extremely important aspect. While the Department and the Minister have responsibility for supervising the solvency of insurance companies, that responsibility can only be discharged effectively and properly if the professional people who are charged with making returns to the Department on behalf of these companies do so in both a competent and an honest manner. This may not always be the case. Because it is such a crucial chain in the supervisory process in which the Department must engage, we must take a very close look indeed at those charged with this responsibility, to see how they discharge their obligations.

I want to make it clear that my Department get co-operation from the vast majority of people in insurance with whom they have to deal and a sense of responsibility and a compliance with the necessary rules and regulations. However, there are exceptions, and these could lead us into the difficulties with which the House is faced.

I wish to convey to Deputy O'Malley my appreciation of his forthright, honest approach to this legislation. He said quite rightly that it is regrettable that this form of legislation should have to be dealt with in such a short period of time. It does not give a full opportunity for the normal debate and querying that one would like in respect of legislation of this nature. I agree that this is a major, radical change. However, it is not possible under these circumstances, without possibly doing untold damage, to have a full debate at this time. I do not regard this as the ultimate in legislation to deal with the whole insurance field. There will be further opportunities in the not too distant future for the House to have a less hurried and urgent discussion of the many difficulties existing with regard to the insurance business. I would be only too happy to facilitate such a debate.

The Deputy asked about the position with regard to subsidiaries or businesses connected with the main insurance body. I shall quote what I said in my speech on Second Stage in connection with the administrator using the funds for other than non-life business—

That would be totally impractical and unrealistic and it would be unreasonable to expect policyholders to provide funds to rescue enterprises outside the insurance sector.

The following is the part I wish to emphasise:

On the other hand, it seems safe to make the general assumption that where the main enterprise in a group is being rehabilitated, the effects on connected enterprises must be beneficial.

One of the dangers of having to take hurried measures like this, particularly when one cannot go into the entire background of all the factors in relation to a particular company at this stage, is that the city is rife with rumours. I heard many while going along the corridors. My main objective here is to ensure that the policyholders will not be affected in any way, irrespective of what company it is that I am seeking to deal with in the courts, if the appointment of an administrator is accepted. The purpose of this approach is to ensure that they are not affected and are not only not affected now but that they can reinsure with confidence with the same company because it will be run by the administrator answerable to the courts and will have available to it the resources of the compensation fund.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but would like to ask him if he could explain to the House what would happen if the courts do not appoint an administrator?

I do not anticipate that outcome.

Or if there is a delay?

The court may consider that they would not want to appoint an administrator for a long period of time, and there is provision in the Bill for the court to appoint a provisional administrator for a period of time which would allow them to hear other interested parties and to have a full presentation of the case, before making a final decision. On the legal advice available to me, I am confident that the court will adopt the course embodied in this legislation when passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I sympathise with the Minister and commend him for what he is doing here. However, in deference to existing companies who have not come under his notice, is it wise to be searching for anonymity when everybody knows that we are speaking about a specific company? Would it not be better, so that the rumours to which the Minister refers and the uncertainty that may occur would not extend to genuine, bone fide companies, that the statement, if it is the case, might come from the Minister himself? Otherwise all other companies would be tarred with the same brush.

Personally I find it frustrating and inhibiting in dealing with this subject that I cannot do as the Deputy requests. I accept the validity of the point he is making that it is somewhat up in the air for a limited period of time and that that is very unsatisfactory. That is why I am at such great pains to say that, irrespective of what company it is, the chances of the retention of employment and the assurance that the policies of policy holders will continue to be honoured must be emphasised.

I am advised that, because I will be a party to the application to the court, it could be a factor that would militate against a successful court application were I to name a particular company at this point.

Is the Minister in a position to say that at the moment there is no company other than the company that will be named tomorrow?

Because of the possible legal implications, I want to be very exact in what I say. To be quite clear I will repeat what I said in my speech. I said I think it is only right at this stage to inform the House that it is my intention as soon as this Bill becomes law to petition the High Court for the appointment of an administrator to take over the management of a certain insurance company whose affairs are in a state of considerable disarray.

If there is an application——

These questions can be raised on Committee Stage. We have overrun the time.

If the application is contested tomorrow and it goes on for a couple of days, what happens to the policy holders in the meantime? Are they OK? There are many policy holders involved.

Acting Chairman

I am putting the question.

Do you want me to answer, Sir?

This is a very important issue to many people who are insured. I am asking for clarification.

Acting Chairman

I am putting the question.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.