Private Members' Business. - Code of Conduct for Members of Dáil Éireann: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

–aware that Article 15.10 of the Constitution enables each House of the Oireachtas to make its own rules and standing orders, with powers to attach penalties for their infringement, that such rules may extend to matters relating to the conduct and discipline of Members as well as the procedures of the House, but that rules of such a nature have yet to be adopted by this House;

–further aware that recent controversies involving Members of this House have highlighted the absence of such powers;

approves, in principle, the adoption of a code of conduct for its Members;

refers the draft code, as laid before Dáil Éireann on 1 February 2001, to the Committee on Members' Interests for its consideration, both as regards the content of the code and in relation to its implementation and enforcement (including in particular any amendment which may be required to the Standards in Public Office Bill, 2000, in relation to the proposed function of the committee under the code); and

instructs that committee to report its recommendations in the matter to this House not later than 1 May 2001.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Sargent and Rabbitte.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Today my party is proposing, for the consideration of this House, a draft code of conduct for its Members which I hope will be adopted in principle by the House. I wish the House to embrace this motion because it affects us all. I welcome the Government's decision not to oppose it. The motion intends deliberately to give each and every Member of the House ownership of the proposed code of conduct. It is, in that sense, not partisan but it is all the more urgent and necessary for that. It is regrettable that once again Private Members' Business has had to be taken up to address this type of issue. Once again, the Government has been slow to act.

What Labour wants by tomorrow is agreement that such a code is not just necessary but desirable. We want the House to decide in principle that what it advocates for others it is also prepared to consider for itself. We want an agreed timetable for its implementation and we want each party to have an input in agreeing the final wording of the code of conduct.

In recent weeks it has been clear that there has been growing all-party support for addressing the deficiencies in our existing practice. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, indicated to one Sunday newspaper that she intended bringing draft proposals before her parliamentary party. Deputy John Bruton, on behalf of Fine Gael, also suggested that it was appropriate that the House examine precisely this type of issue.

A code such as this is necessary, particularly in light of recent events, to restore public confidence, or at least hope, in the integrity of the individual Members and to restore some degree of the respect and confidence society might properly place in Dáil Éireann as a whole.

It is not necessary for me to spend my time this evening reciting a list of the specific reasons such public confidence has been lost or to go into the details of specific cases. To a great extent, that was last week's business. We are all aware of what has been going on because each of these cases has involved a Member of this House and has, therefore, by necessary implication, concerned the operation of the institution we all belong to and from which we each derive our own democratic mandate.

To the extent that any other Member's behaviour has damaged the reputation of the Dáil, it has damaged our ability to operate, and be seen to operate, impartially and with integrity as elected representatives. We are all, at this stage in the public mind, found guilty by association.

It is time for us to take control of our affairs. There are some standards of practice already in place. Most are governed by the Ethics in Public Office Act of 1995 but they were formulated in the negative. They define what we should not do as much as what we should be doing. The point of a code of conduct, as is the case in other professions, is to establish an agreed set of standards to which we should all aspire.

It is important that we also agree sanctions to address the knowing failure of a Member of this House to meet those standards. Let me be clear about that. Every Member is capable of inadvertently making small mistakes or not meeting standards. If and when the matter becomes clear, most will rush to put things right. The venial should not be used to excuse the mortal.

There are Members who have deliberately and systematically sought to abuse the privileges that attach to membership of this House. The matter recently reached a head in a situation in which one of our number cited this House as a reason he should not co-operate fully with a tribunal established by all of us and, despite revulsion on all sides of the House, we were powerless to do anything about it. When the public expected action most, there was none and the Government, or one half of it anyway, was only too happy to hide behind the inadequate rules of this House. We, as Members of this House, are to some extent responsible because we, or our predecessors, failed at a much earlier date to put in place the sort of regime my party proposes tonight.

If a code like this was in place much earlier, at least an awareness of what was considered to be acceptable behaviour, or behaviour liable to be found out, might have informed the behaviour of those who seem to consider themselves, as public representatives, immune from the considerations and obligations of the office they hold.

I want to set out briefly what the draft code of conduct proposes. It deals with such matters as the obligation of TDs to uphold the law and to co-operate fully with the institutions of the State, including tribunals of inquiry; a requirement to avoid the improper use of any payment or allowance made to Members for public purposes; a requirement not to place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties; an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest legitimate public scrutiny; and a rule against making a statement in the House or its committees which is false or misleading in any material respect.

Of itself, there is nothing to argue against in that. Every Member of Dáil Éireann would agree that their fellow Members should properly comply with such basic requirements. Why then is there the possibility of argument against it? The first reason is an entirely understandable one, which derives from a basic democratic principle. Elected representatives owe their primary responsibility to those who elect them. I entirely agree with that principle. I would vehemently object to the notion that persons elected to this House could be made subject to rules or codes which would oblige them to conform to a set of "in-house" rules that bore no relationship to the basis by which they were elected.

To take some examples, perhaps in this context trivial but there is a reasonable fear that a code like this might give rise to trivial complaints, it is not a function of this House to adjudicate on whether a Member has behaved improperly by supporting or attending a blood sports event, by supporting or opposing the extradition of General Pinochet or by sending his or her children to a private school. There are two fundamental criteria, however, by which the behaviour of any elected representative should be judged and which this House, on behalf of the electorate as a whole, is entitled to examine.

I quote, therefore, from the introduction of the draft code, referred to in the motion, where those two criteria are set out in full. It states: "Individual members are not answerable to their colleagues for their behaviour, except where it is alleged to breach their duty to respect the law and institutions of the State, including the House itself, or to breach rules setting out steps that must be taken to reconcile private interests with public duties."

I stress my adherence to the assertion set out in the final paragraph of that draft introduction, that there are issues of judgment relating to our behaviour which are properly left to be decided by the electors, but when it comes to compliance with the law, which, after all, is the obligation of every citizen, and to telling the full truth to our electors about the reasons for the decisions we take, there can be no reason this House cannot proclaim these as fundamental duties to be performed by public representatives in the course of their duties. If an individual Member knowingly and consistently fails to comply with such basic requirements, I see no reason this House cannot note that fact and sanction that failure. The electorate as a whole demands nothing less.

Second, many Members will possibly resent that we feel the need to put in place and articulate clearly standards that they adhere to in their everyday work. Some may feel that the code of conduct slights them in some respect, as if its very existence slights them. That is a viewpoint I understand, but we should not look at a code of conduct for ourselves in isolation, nor should we pretend that our profession is currently held in good order. As I stated earlier, part of the purpose behind tonight's motion is to assert clearly standards we believe should be lived up to.

We, as legislators and as public representatives, increasingly question and decry the failure of other professional bodies and associations to police the standards that should properly be observed by their members. For example, we recently discussed a code of conduct for public servants. Why do we think we should be any different?

We have done some preliminary research before introducing this draft code. Some aspects of it may remind Members of similar codes from other jurisdictions. I make no apology for that. First, because it brings home to us that we are very much behind the times on this question. We stand almost alone among countries with a similar parliamentary tradition, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, all of which have taken steps in recent years to improve the ability of their parliaments to police the behaviour of their public representatives. Second, because our first effort was to look at what we thought was best practice abroad and to adapt it for use at home.

This is by no means our final view as to what must be in the code. I stress that our motion calls on the House to adopt in principle the notion that a code of conduct should be adopted and then refers this draft to the Committee on Members' Interests for its detailed consideration, not as a prescription but as a draft suggestion for consideration and amendment with an input from the other political parties and individual Members of the House. The Committee on Members' Interests seemed to us to be the appropriate body despite its small size. It has already had experience of dealing with complaints under the Ethics in Public Office Act and we all agree that it has done so carefully and diligently. The ability of this committee to act in a non-partisan fashion vindicates the argument I am making that we can operate a code of conduct among each other without succumbing to party political point scoring.

To deal with some of what are admittedly complex constitutional and legal arguments that may be claimed to arise – but none of which I believe arise in this context – I will set out my understanding of the situation. The first part of Article 15.10 of the Constitution provides that each House of the Oireachtas shall make its own rules and standing orders, with power to attach penalties for their infringement. However, the only rules or standing orders of any practical significance made by this House since its establishment are the Standing Orders that govern public business. They deal with procedural matters – how many Stages a Bill should have, and so on. The only penalty ever attached for breach of those rules relate to disorderly behaviour in the House – disobedience to a ruling from the Chair. During most of the time since 1937 we have made do with standing orders which are largely confined to setting out rules for debate in the Chamber and which do not attempt to regulate any misbehaviour other than "disorderly conduct".

In essence, these are the rules of a debating society, governing the procedure of debate, and they punish Members who defy the rules, but only by expelling them from the debate. I have no doubt, having been advised by those who have studied the 1967 report of the Committee on the Constitution, with whose views the Constitutional Review Group, reporting in 1996, had no disagreement, that, whatever difficulty there may be in interpreting the second part of Article 15.10, the first part empowers each House of the Oireachtas to deal with internal matters both of procedure and of the discipline of its Members.

I stress that I am not including here as a disciplinary punishment the question of expulsion of a Member by vote of the House. However much I and others may on a recent specific occasion have felt it necessary or appropriate to call on another Member voluntarily to resign his seat, I have not ever called for, and do not now call for, a situation whereby a majority of the Members of Dáil Éireann could effectively decide upon the composition of the House by claiming a power to expel those with whom they have a disagreement, no matter how serious the issue. There is all the difference in the world between the moral sanction of a statement of the collective opinion of ones peers and a legal sanction which has legal effect in accordance with its own terms. I would welcome hearing the views of other Members on this matter. As of now I am of the view that the ultimate sanction should be left to the electors in this Republic. However, this is not to say that a range of alternative sanctions, which fall short of expulsion, should not be put in place.

During the Labour Party's last period in Government we supplemented the Dáil Standing Orders with the Ethics in Public Office Act, which governs the disclosure of interests by TDs. By virtue of the means by which that Act came into operation, it effectively has become a rule of the House. Yet the fact is that the Ethics in Public Office Act, while a necessary step, was only a first step. Certainly, it dealt with issues which many Members of the House at that time considered to be intensely private, but it dealt with those issues only on the basis of a duty to disclose interests. It made no rules for the avoidance of conflicts of interest or on the basis of a requirement to behave ethically in the case of a conflict of interest. In retrospect, I have some sympathy with the Parliamentary Counsel who wanted to entitle the Bill the "Registration of Interests Bill".

For all of that, I repeat the claim that the passage of that Act was a necessary step but also only a first step. The fact remains that more than 60 years after the Constitution was enacted we still have no comprehensive code of conduct in place which sets out in an ethical framework the standards of acceptable behaviour which the public is entitled to expect of its representatives. Unless standards are enshrined as rules we are powerless to act when those standards are breached. Penalties cannot be applied unless rules have been broken and, therefore, the public looks at us amazed when we say there is nothing we can do because we have no rules in force that we can say have been broken. The result is that Members of the Dáil, acting collectively, can do nothing when one of their number by his or her conduct brings the House and all its Members into disrepute. Such a failure to act can only add further to public disillusionment with the institution in which we serve.

I fully accept that most Members of the Dáil acknowledge they have a responsibility to maintain the public trust placed in them by performing their duties with honesty and integrity, by respecting the law and the institutions of the State and by using their influence solely to advance the common good. It is precisely because most of us share these aims that we must be in a position to act to ensure the protection of these values.

I am not offering this code as the last word on the matter or on a take it or leave it basis. That is why I am proposing that the Dáil should first approve in principle the adoption of a draft code along these lines. The Dáil would then refer the draft for detailed consideration in committee and should be in a position to adopt a final package as soon as the committee reports. What is at issue here is the competence and capacity of Dáil Éireann to act – not in substitution for any other body, but in exercising the entitlement of any domestic forum – to police standards of ethical behaviour it imposes on its Members. The Constitution anticipates as much and the public is entitled to nothing less.

I expect the House to support this motion. Failure to do so would send out a terrible message to the public. In those circumstances what we have approached as a non-party political matter would become a party political matter. That is not what I want. The onus is on the Government. I welcome its support for the principle of the motion and am happy to accept its amendment. I look forward to its support in ensuring that the House's instructions thereafter, particularly in relation to the timetable agreed, are delivered upon.

Ar dtús báire, tá an Comhaontas Glas ag tacú leis an rún seo agus go bhfios dom tá na páirtithe eile chomh maith. Fáiltimid roimhe sin. There is no doubt about the need for a code of conduct in politics, particularly in parliamentary politics. Society in general has been crying out for such a code. It is not just a case of keeping track of misdemeanours and ensuring compliance with the laws we as the Legislature make in this House but also of recognising that democracy itself is in need of protection if it is not to give way to a culture of total populism and image towards which the types of scandals we have been witnessing and talked about here last week are leading us.

From the Green Party's point of view, the coverage of the tribunals and the scandals which are emerging, which was debated here at length last week, is only one of the many reasons we need the code of conduct proposed by the Labour Party tonight. It is often said that the Irish public is passionate about politics, and that is evident from the readership of newspapers and their familiarity with politics, even if that is often in the context of public houses. People's interest in politics goes back for many generations. Although that interest, that passion, is now being turned into a negative interest, often described as cynicism, it is still an interest. It just happens to be expressed in very negative terms. I hope this code of conduct will help, even if only in a small way, to turn that cynicism back into a positive interest and passion for politics once more.

Part of that process is to ensure that the necessary monitoring of procedures are in place and that they are the right procedures. In formulating a code of conduct we must look not just at whether the code is being complied with but at whether procedures are effective or need to be changed and made more effective.

With that in mind I was interested in the Ombudsman's proposal to have a code of conduct for the public service in general. That is something with which I am sure we would all agree. However, that should lead one to look beyond that to parliamentary matters. I hope we can take on board the idea of appointing a parliamentary ombudsman as some other countries have. A parliamentary ombudsman would be an independent institution which would ensure a level of objectivity in handling complaints against or by Members. Although all of us would plead that the bodies set up to deal with transgressions by Members are objective, the system appears to be very much of an in-house arrangement and that sends out the wrong messages in regard to the objectivity of the work that is being carried out.

There is also a need for a parliamentary ombudsman to deal with the effectiveness of procedures, in this House particularly and in the Houses of the Oireachtas in general. For example, we have for many years discussed the idea of reforming the voting system in the House by introducing electronic voting, but very little has been done about it. One issue is of particular concern to me. That is the use of Irish in the House. There seems to be a reluctance on the part of Members to use what appear on television to be quite cumbersome headphones. It would be a simple matter to have small earphones so that Members would not feel they were making a statement either by wearing or not wearing them. Another issue of concern to me and, I am sure, to other Members of smaller parties is the speaking arrangements for smaller parties which, I am glad to say, are working out well tonight but which, unfortunately, do not always work the same way.

In The Sunday Business Post, the journalist, Emily O'Reilly, whom I have heard speaking on this matter before, mentions that the procedures in this House make things extremely difficult for any family, particularly for women in primary child care roles. Given that 1 March is family workplace day, we in this House should try to lead by example, even though our hours are very anti-social. There is no doubt that this is part of a wider issue which it is important to address if we are to deal not just with the symptoms of malaise evidenced in the scandals but the wider issue of making politics relevant, attractive and effective for Irish society in 2001. That is to focus on parliamentary work. However, it has been noted by people observing politics over many years that the dirtiest politics goes on internally in parties. That is a message that carries into society that is generally not flagged too often in this House by the parties, for the sake of maintaining unity and, perhaps, even camaraderie.

I hope you are not having difficulties in the Green Party.

The Green Party would be considered exemplary in the area of harmony.

Is it still recovering from Patricia's mauling?

There is no doubt that the parties trying to deflect attention from themselves by interjecting will find it interesting that the parliamentary ombudsman idea should be more broadly based to encompass more of a political ombudsman, in order to avoid conflicts of interest. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, has some questions to answer in that regard in the context of his fundraising role in Fianna Fáil, which was well flagged on the Order of Business in the past few days. Since we will be reviewing the freedom of information legislation in October, it might be important, as we extend the remit of the freedom of information legislation, to look at its extension to political parties because organisations which come under the banner of being private and voluntary and which receive State funding have to account for themselves. If State funding is involved, organisations should be made to account fully.

In 1984, when the media started to look at the Conservative Party in the UK, Lord Keith Joseph told them to take a running jump by describing the organisation as a private voluntary organisation whose finances were nobody's business. However, it is different when State funding is involved. Then it is important to have accountability. If we are to restore confidence in the political system, accountability is the bottom line. Freedom of information legislation should be in the context of that code of conduct so that we do not just look at the transgressions and the scandals, the things which make the headlines in the newspapers given that they focus on personalities, and that tends to be what makes newspapers sell, but that we use the opportunity to transform the political system so that it will be more attractive, more effective and more relevant to the society in which we all live.

I welcome the opportunity to second the motion by the Labour Party leader, Deputy Quinn, that the House ought to adopt a code of conduct for its Members. I welcome also the acceptance by the Government of the Labour Party motion, with a minor amendment. I regret the Government did not recognise it was its job in the first place to bring forward such a measure. The Labour Party has not tabled this motion tonight because collectively or individually we are better than any other party or Member, but because the diminution in the standing of this House demands that whatever reasonable measures can be taken to restore public confidence in politics ought to be taken. It seems there is a necessity to restore public respect for this House and to restore confidence in the honour of its Members.

As Deputy Quinn said, I do not propose to go over the individual events that gave rise to the necessity for this. They have been well trailed elsewhere. Whether or not we like it every Member has been diminished somewhat by association. That is the verdict of the public. We have not ever in the history of politics got such uniformly bad press. One would get the impression from some of the public commentary that this place and the country is swimming in corruption. That, manifestly, is not true. One can still count on the fingers of one hand the number of Members since 1922 who have been involved in bringing politics and this House into disrepute. Nonetheless, the perception is real. The obligation is on us to restore confidence as best we can, to hope that what we are going through is a phase, that it will prove cathartic and that we can put this behind us after a reasonable time.

There will always be lapses from high standards to which we aspire or ought to aspire. The purpose of this code is not to exact penalties for minor unintentional errors. All Members will recognise a major lapse when they see it. The House has attracted ridicule in the recent past and opprobrium for its Members because of our seeming inability to deal with this kind of issue. Only last year a Member who was banished for 15 days was the cause of ridicule being piled on Dáil Éireann and associations with the rest of us that were unworthy and unjustified at the time because of the rules that govern the House and the legislation that applied in that case. As matters stand, we do not have authority to deal with this kind of situation. Deputy Quinn adverted to the fact that neither he nor this motion seeks to encroach on the nature of the sovereign relationship that exists between the people and the Members, but we ought to have more than the existing Standing Orders to govern the relationship as between the House and the manner in which we are seen outside it.

It is remarkable that one can be expelled from this House for making an accusation that someone is misleading it, but I cannot recall a Member being suspended for having misled the House, and the House has been misled. Only in the immediate days past, a Deputy from Dublin West was barred from the House and denied the right to speak for, what might be termed, a procedural misdemeanour, but another Member, under privilege of the House, was free to use a scatter-gun effect on all other Members to divert attention from his predicament. That cannot be right and we must address that situation. The Labour Party seeks to do no more than that in this motion.

The purpose of the code is not to inhibit political expression. We are not trying to penalise difference, non-conformism or even eccentricity. If the people of Limerick East want to send the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, back to this House to keep making funny speeches, we must fully recognise their right, however misguided, to continue to do that. That is not the purpose of this measure.

As Deputy Quinn said, there will be some Members who feel we are already sufficiently constrained by various rules and regulations contained in, for example, the Ethics in Public Office Act. Members will have received a form today or yesterday requesting the completion of declarations of interests, property and so on, and there are various other rules and regulations that apply for which we have got little credit in public. One could say the same about the Freedom of Information Act. It is used, quite properly, by the media from time to time to ascertain the expenses of Members, a request for 2000 being the latest one, although my memory is that we have given that information to members of the media three or four times already, but they want somebody in the employ of the State to do the sums for them, to calculate it over 12 months because it is difficult to put it together three times in a year.

Notwithstanding the fact that we do not get any credit for that, it is up to us to renovate the legislation and procedures governing the House as best we can and for the reason that nothing could be more important. I anticipate that Members on the opposite side will say the Labour Party could have found something more important to debate in their Private Members' time. Nothing could be more important than the respect with which this House is held and the manner in which we go about and are seen to go about our work by the people who sent us here in the first place.

There are other matters we would like to table on the Order of Business, but for some reason the Government is backward in coming forward on that type of issue. A certain paralysis seems to infect it when it comes to dealing with that issue. For example, I was looking at an amendment the Government tabled to a motion introduced by the Labour Party prior to the summer recess in respect of which the Taoiseach promised to introduce legislation to deal with the question of lobbyists, standards in public office, whistleblowing and a number of other matters. The standards in public office Bill has got lost and the other matters have not yet seen the light of day.

In that situation, we have to come forward with this legislation, but we would prefer to be dealing with the substance of this issue, which is the suspicion that private money can buy public men. Until we deal with that issue and the issue of corporate donations, something along the lines suggested by the Labour Party, which is neither prescriptive nor absolute, that suspicion – arising from what has happened in recent decades and has been excavated at the tribunals outside this House – that public men or their decisions can be bought by private money will continue to haunt this House. It is not a reply for the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to say what he said yesterday; I do not know whether it was an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent or a considered press release. His response seems to be two-fold, that the Labour Party overspent on recent by-elections and that for the public to fund politics would cost between £5 million and £6 million. How can he say that with a straight face? The £5 million or £6 million to fund politics in this country would not buy the corner flags in the Bertie bowl stadium.

The Deputy is drawing a strange analogy.

It is not at all a strange analogy. The Government is prepared to spend £800 million on that project while £5 million or £6 million would fund politics in this country and remove us from the suspicion that underlies this and many other debates. That would be a small price to pay.

Claims were made about the Labour Party spending £257.62, mistakenly and unknowingly, in the Dublin South Central by-election. The commission found the agent did not knowingly cause an overspend to occur and the amount of the overspend was immaterial. A similar conclusion was reached in the Dublin North case. This is the first time the legislation has been tried and throwing this back and forth, as the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs did in some form of rebuttal of our substantive case, will not wash.

I move amendment No. 1:

To add the following to the motion:

"and in supporting the principles included in the proposed code of conduct before the House and its referral to the Committee on Members' Interests, further instructs the committee that it has power to draft a code of conduct consistent with that envisaged in the Standards in Public Office Bill, 2000, and to consider submissions from Oireachtas Members and political parties, including the proposed code before the House. ".

Given what Deputies Quinn, Sargent and Rabbitte have said, we all accept this is an important issue and one which we want to deal with. We have been doing so for some time under various headings and in various legislative measures. This House has provided good service to the State for nearly eight decades and in that time we have always been able to rely on the integrity, propriety and good sense of Members and public ser vants. We have relied for the proper performance of our democracy more on their sense of duty and public service than on formal rules and codes. Our reliance has, with few exceptions, not been misplaced. We are now faced, however, with a growing desire on the part of Members for the development of a code of conduct. Indeed, we in Fianna Fáil have already acted upon this. Last year we developed a code of principles in public life and instituted our standards in public life committee. We were the first party to institute such a code providing written guidelines and principles for officeholders and candidates with a view to supporting the highest ethical standards within Irish public life.

This desire for a code of conduct for all parliamentarians was noted in the responses of the appropriate Oireachtas committee to outline Government proposals for a Standards in Public Office Bill. It was again apparent in the responses of Members of relevant committees to the published Bill and is underlined by the fact that we are discussing this topic. I do not see this growing demand as an admission of failure or as a reflection on the generally high standards of behaviour and exceptional commitment to the public interest apparent in the House, and previous speakers have rightly acknowledged that. It is rather a response to a rapidly changing, ever more complex society and to the demands of a modern democracy. If there was one word to describe the development of government and administrative systems around the world in the past decade it would perhaps be accountability. That word encompasses the concepts of responsibility, clarity of roles and openness in the performance of one's functions. A response to a world which has become increasingly complex has been to seek to control the complexity through ensuring that people in public life are increasingly clear about their individual roles, about their personal responsibilities within those roles and through making the affairs of such persons increasingly visible to members of the public.

The Ethics in Public Office Act, the Public Service Management Act and the Freedom of Information Act, all referred to previously, as well as the legislation on compellability of witnesses before Oireachtas committees, the Electoral Acts and legislation relating to the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General are the most obvious examples of how these concepts are being reflected in our laws and thinking. However, it would be difficult to find legislation over the past decade in relation to any part of the apparatus of the State which did not reflect this trend.

I have special responsibility for the Freedom of Information Act, which Deputy Rabbitte referred to, and it is a particular feature of the trend towards greater transparency in government. The Act has ensured that members of the public directly, through journalists, as was said earlier, through special interest groups or through Members are in a public way to be informed about the inner workings of Government and State bodies. We as politicians are increasingly doing our business in the light of this legislation. The public is more aware of our activity and we are more aware of each other's activities than heretofore. Over time we and the public will benefit from this transparency.

I am working hard to ensure that the positive changes in the culture of the public service which have been reinforced by this legislation are underpinned and extended. I am also anxious we continue the ongoing programme of extensions of the Freedom of Information Act, which has characterised our approach over the past three years. Almost 30,000 freedom of information requests have been received since the Act commenced in April 1998. Thousands of members of the public have received unprecedented access to public records, very often regarding the treatment of their individual cases. However, more than half the requests are for non-personal information and are made by journalists, business people Members and other members of the public. Hundreds of newspaper articles are written every year based on information disclosed under the Act. Over the next few weeks I expect to seek Oireachtas approval for the next phase of extensions to bodies in the industrial development sector in particular. I am also consulting with Departments about further extensions thereafter.

None of the legislation I have mentioned will in themselves change the nature of our governmental system. Each one is an incremental step but taken together they form a substantial programme of change, supported over the years by all parties. We are continuing with this work, as we must. These legislative initiatives have done much to ensure that members of the public know how the organs of the State conduct business on their behalf, but the public continues, rightly, to demand the highest standards of transparency and probity from public servants and public organisations. It is apparent that there is considerable work to be done in maintaining public confidence in Government and in persons in public life. That confidence must be supported by appropriate structures, legislation and rules for the conduct of public business and public servants and representatives and by high standards of public integrity and probity among those public servants and representatives.

We all know from experience that a few people with low personal standards can undermine and weaken our democratic institutions and we all share a desire to reform the system we work in to reinforce these institutions. It was with this in mind that the Taoiseach made a substantial statement in December regarding the Government's approach to this reform process. A number of legislative initiatives are currently under way in this regard. For example, it is the intention of the Government that politicians and candidates for election will be required to maintain separate accounts for political donations and that all such donations be channelled through such accounts. As part of an overall modernising and tightening of anti-corruption legislation, amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Bill will allow for an inference of guilt to be drawn from failure to adhere to the proper arrangements in certain circumstances.

As Deputy Rabbitte said, whistleblower legislation will provide for protection for persons who bring to light breaches of the law in public and other bodies. Protection will also be provided for persons who report corruption or who make complaints to the proposed standards in public office commission. The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is working to develop legislation for the registration of lobbyists and for greater transparency in their activity. Deputy Rabbitte can take that as being the position as it stands. We want to bring this before the House as quickly as possible and the work is under way.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government is bringing forward legislation to ensure greater probity and transparency in the operation of local authorities and the planning process, while the Minister for Finance has published the Standards in Public Office Bill and is working on a number of amendments to it on foot of the work done by various Oireachtas committees over the summer recess. I will deal with some of these issues in more detail later.

In relation to political donations, there is now a transparent regime for disclosure of donations which applies to political parties, Oireachtas Members, MEPs and councillors. Each political party and each Member of the Dáil, Seanad and European Parliament is required to furnish to the Public Offices Commission each year a donation statement indicating whether any donation exceeding a specified value was received during the previous year. Unsuccessful candidates are also obliged to furnish a donation statement within 56 days of polling day. The specified value for disclosure is £4,000 in the case of a political party and £500 in the case of a Deputy, Senator and MEP. Particulars of any such donation must be given as well as details of the person by, or on whose behalf, the donation was made.

In addition, companies, trade unions and certain other bodies are also required to disclose certain donations in their annual reports. Any individual donor who makes donations to several members of the same political party in the same year which, in aggregate, exceed £4,000 is required to make a donation statement to the Public Offices Commission. Anonymous donations in excess of £100 are not permitted and, if received, must be remitted to the Public Offices Commission.

Similarly, at local authority level, legislation was introduced by the Government in 1999 requiring disclosure of donations over £500 and expenditure in respect of candidates in the local elections. Part 15 of the Local Government Bill, 2000, provides for an ethical framework for the local government service and includes provision for an annual written declaration of interests by councillors and staff; a public register of interests; disclosure of interest in any matter which arises in the course of a person's duties in which he or she or a connected person is involved; and a requirement to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest.

While this body of legislation provides a sound framework for the conduct of politics and public affairs, the Government is not standing still on this issue. As I mentioned, the Taoiseach announced in December that the Government will introduce further measures in relation to political donations. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, will, therefore, introduce amendments to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000, to require every public representative to deposit donations received for political purposes into a special account.

Not offshore.

I agree with the Deputy. This requirement will also apply to political parties at all levels and it will be an offence not to pay money so donated into such an account. In addition, public representatives will have to certify on an annual basis that all donations were lodged in that account and were used for legitimate political purposes.

Further amendments to the Bill will introduce limits on the amount an individual candidate or public representative or political party can receive from one source in any given year. The amount of a donation any political party can receive from a single source in any given year shall be limited to £20,000. The amount any individual public representative or candidate can receive from a single source in any given year shall be limited to £5,000.

The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, which is awaiting Committee Stage, aims to combat bribery and corruption by updating earlier anti-corruption legislation. The measures in the Bill will root out corrupt behaviour and impose severe penalties on those found guilty of offences under it. The Bill will also enable Ireland to ratify a number of important conventions dealing with corruption drawn up by the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OECD. This will ensure that our laws against corruption and the penalties for infringements are among the most stringent and that they will apply to the private and public sectors alike.

Under the Bill, the categories of persons who will be subject to its provisions will be wide, including employees of public bodies, Members of the Oireachtas, the Attorney General, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, judges and any other person employed or acting on behalf of the public administration of the State. It will also apply to members of the Government and national or regional parliaments of any other state, a Member of the European Parliament, European Court of Auditors and European Commission, foreign public prosecutors and judges and judges of any international court established by agreement to which Ireland is a party. It also includes employees of international bodies and foreign administrations. It is a most comprehensive list.

The Bill makes it an offence for such a person, or any other person, to corruptly accept or obtain, or agree to accept or attempt to obtain, whether for personal benefit or for someone else's benefit, any gift, consideration or advantage as an inducement or reward for acting or refraining from acting in accordance with his or her position. It will also be an offence for any person to corruptly give, agree to give or offer any gift or consideration for the like purpose. Indirect corruption, for example, where one person receives a benefit with the intention of influencing the person who has authority to exercise certain functions, will also be an offence.

The increasing complexity of international business and the opening up of national economies should not result in opportunities to avoid prosecution for offences involving corruption. Accordingly, the Bill provides that a person may be tried in Ireland for the offence of corruption once any element of the offence took place within the State. It also contains a new offence of corruption in office aimed at any act or omission by the office holder done with the intention of corruptly obtaining a gift, consideration or other advantage either for himself or herself or any other person. Furthermore, it provides that responsibility for an offence of corruption by a body corporate can be attributed, where appropriate, to certain of its officers and/or members. In this way, individuals as well as the body corporate can be held liable for the offence. This would cover instances where individuals within a body corporate can contribute to such offences whether directly by consenting to or conniving with the commission of an offence or by wilful neglect of their responsibilities.

As further evidence of the Government's intolerance of those who fall below the high standards which we demand of those in public life, the Bill provides that the penalty to be imposed on those convicted on indictment of an offence of corruption will be either an unlimited fine or up to ten years imprisonment or both.

In response to the Taoiseach's December initiative, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, outlined a number of measures to further strengthen the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill. These are provision for a presumption that a public representative has acted corruptly where there are proceedings in being for an offence of corruption and where it is proved that the public representative has failed to disclose a political donation as required by law and has acted such that the donor receives a benefit; provision for a presumption that a public official has acted corruptly where there are proceedings in being for an offence of corruption and where there is proof that the person received money or other benefit from another person who had an interest in the way certain functions were exercised by the public official; provision for immunity from civil liability for persons who report, reasonably and in good faith, suspicions of corruption; and provision for the granting of search warrants for the proper investigation of offences of corruption. Taken with the other measures proposed by the Government, these will contribute significantly to ensuring the highest standards in public life.

As I stated, the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Tom Kitt, is currently progressing legislation relating to persons who, in an employment context, reveal otherwise confidential information in the public interest. This will be done by way of amendment to an existing Labour Party Private Members' Bill introduced by Deputy Rabbitte.

In putting the motion into context, we should consider in particular the Standards in Public Office Bill and the impact it will have in ensuring greater integrity in the political and administrative systems. Before dealing with the issue of codes of conduct directly, I wish to describe the contents of the Bill in relation to complaints about breaches of ethical standards among Members and office holders. This is relevant to the motion.

The Standards in Public Office Bill provides for the establishment of a new Standards in Public Office Commission. This commission will take on all the current functions of the Public Offices Commission. In addition, however, it will have wide investigative powers in relation to complaints about persons in public life, for example, the case of a Minister or other office holder, or a public servant, in relation to whom a complaint is made concerning what the legislation refers to as a "specified act". A specified act is an act or omission of such a person which is inconsistent with the proper performance of the duties of the relevant position or which would be inconsistent with the maintenance of public confidence in that performance.

To be a specified act, the matter complained of must be of significant public importance. Therefore, it is not anticipated that the full rigours of a commission investigation will be used in relation to minor matters. Generally, in deciding whether to investigate a complaint, it will be a matter for the commission to decide whether it deems a matter to be of significant public importance, but it may deem a matter to be significant if it relates to a benefit or potential benefit allegedly received by a person where the value exceeds £10,000. The commission will have the services of an inquiry officer to make preliminary inquiries in relation to a complaint so as to establish whether a full investigation is warranted. This screening process should ensure that frivolous and vexatious complaints are dealt with appropriately, but there should be no doubt that the Standards in Public Office Commission will have very significant powers. Its very existence should help to ensure appropriate standards of behaviour by persons in public life.

As reflected in the motion before us tonight, however, Members of the Oireachtas have a special constitutional status. For that reason it is not intended that the Standards in Public Office Commission will receive complaints regarding Members of the Oireachtas, other than office holders, directly from the public. Complaints about Members regarding specified acts will be received by the Clerk of the relevant House. The Clerk can do some initial screening of frivolous and vexatious complaints, but generally complaints will be passed on to the Committee on Members' Interests and it will be a matter for it to consider the complaint. However, the committee will, if it so wishes, have the option to pass a matter to the commission and thereby use the commission as its agent in investigating a complaint. This is an important point. In that way, the Standards in Public Office Bill will give substantial underpinning to the role of the Committee on Members' Interests in ensuring appropriate behaviour among Members of the Oireachtas.

The Standards in Public Office Bill also makes provision for tax clearance requirements for persons elected to the Oireachtas and others. Persons elected will be required to make a statutory declaration of tax compliance, and the making of a false declaration will be an offence. They will also have to produce a tax clearance certificate. There will, therefore, be considerable policing of tax compliance of Members.

Let me turn now to the Standards in Public Office Bill's proposals regarding codes of conduct. The importance of the standards Bill in this regard is that it provides not only for the development of a code of conduct for Oireachtas Members, office holders and other public ser vants but that it does so in the framework of an overall investigative mechanism.

A code of conduct under the standards in public Office Bill will indicate standards of conduct and integrity appropriate to the person to whom it relates. A person covered by a code of conduct will be expected to have regard to the code in the course of the performance of his or her duties and to be guided by it. Where appropriate, a code of conduct will be admissible and can be taken into account in court proceedings or in proceedings before the Committee on Members' Interest of the relevant House, or by a tribunal or the Standards in Public Office Commission. This means that a code of conduct under the Standards in Public Office Bill is to be a substantive and important document, and the persons to whom it relates must regard it as such.

As regards Members of the Oireachtas in particular, the Bill provides that the code of conduct for Members, other than Ministers and other office holders, will be drawn up by the Standards in Public Office Commission, in consultation with the relevant Committee on Members' Interests. This treatment is in line with what was suggested in a report of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service regarding the Government's original outline proposals for the standards Bill. Given the special constitutional status of the Oireachtas, the code of conduct would not, however, have effect in relation to either House of the Oireachtas in the absence of a resolution of the relevant House bringing it into force. Indeed, the Bill as a whole will not have effect regarding the Oireachtas until a resolution is passed.

I should say at this point that it has been suggested in meetings of Oireachtas committees in relation to the standards Bill that it would be more appropriate that the code of conduct be drafted by Members and that the commission be involved only in a consultative capacity. I would agree with this view and I understand that the Minister for Finance intends to bring forward appropriate amendments on Committee Stage.

The motion we are considering tonight, however, gives not even a consultative role to the proposed commission. This is not surprising, of course, since the Standards in Public Office Commission does not yet exist as such but, given its proposed investigative role and the fact that it will also be consulted in the drafting of codes of conduct for office holders and public servants, it would seem appropriate to provide for consultation regarding the Oireachtas Members' codes also. I am sure Deputy Quinn would probably agree with that. That is, I think, what he meant by putting all this to the committee to see what comes out of it, but the strength of the Bill I have been outlining is that it will marry many substantive and fundamental issues. Such consultation does not bind the Oireachtas in any way nor does it prevent the work on a code from commencing, in anticipation of the passing of the Bill and the establishment of the commission. Indeed, the Bill already provides for the possibility that a code will be in place before its passage and where it is considered adequate to meet the provisions of the Bill, the pre-existing code need not be superseded. That makes that point clear.

It will be seen from my in-depth description above that the Standards in Public Office Bill contains very significant provisions regarding the behaviour not only of office holders and public servants but also of Oireachtas Members. That Bill will progress through the usual Stages, and the Government is anxious that Members will consider it in depth and contribute to its improvement, where appropriate, on Committee Stage, but it should also be apparent that the drafters of the code of conduct must have regard to the shape and contents of the Bill as it stands. The investigative structures, the mechanisms for handling complaints and the general standards provided for in the Bill, as well as the provisions proposed regarding office holders and public servants generally, must all form a part of the necessary considerations in drafting the code of conduct for Members of Dáil Éireann.

It is in that context that the Government wishes to amend the motion. The intention is not to stifle or inhibit this House and one of its committees in exercising its prerogatives under Article 15.10. Indeed, it is clear from the wording of our amendment that the Government supports the principles underpinning the proposed code. However, no code of conduct should be drafted without regard to the context in which it will operate and the Standards in Public Office Bill will form a more important part of that context than is perhaps reflected in the motion and draft code as it stands.

It may be worthwhile to consider what makes a good code of conduct. As I have already noted, the Standards in Public Office Bill provides that the proposed code will indicate standards of conduct and integrity appropriate to the person to whom it relates. A person covered by a code of conduct will be expected to have regard to the code in the course of the performance of his or her duties and to be guided by it in the performance of his or her functions. The code of conduct, therefore, should be drafted in such a way that it will form a reference point for Members, providing them with greater certainty at moments when they may have to grapple with difficult decisions.

In providing this basic reference point, a good code of conduct will foster trust in the institutions of Parliament and, taken together with all the other initiatives under way, reinforce public confidence that public representatives navigate through difficult passages guided by a reliable ethical compass. Members themselves will be reassured that there is a common set of standards provided by the code and that they can be entitled to expect their colleagues to respect those standards.

It is important, of course, that a code of conduct be clear and capable of being operated and that it should be operated in a transparent and impartial fashion. Tonight we are taking a small step towards the development of a sounder system of government in our country. In years to come, such small steps may be more telling than many grand gestures.

As regards the draft code itself, as put before us tonight, there is of course much to be applauded in it. I do not propose to go through the Labour Party draft code on a paragraph by paragraph basis; that is precisely the kind of work that a committee should do. However, I will say that Members on all sides are likely to have views on the content of a code of conduct, and there are examples of such codes in other jurisdictions which might also be worthy of consideration. The committee will be able to consider in detail the draft code appended to this motion and will also be able to take into account other suggestions and proposals from committee members.

I note from Deputy Quinn's published statement regarding this motion that he is not "claiming any monopoly of wisdom in regard to the provisions that should be included" in a code of conduct and that he is happy to have the issue of a code submitted to the Committee on Members' Interests for wider consideration. I am sure, therefore, that the Deputy will be pleased to find that the Government is happy to ask the committee to draft a code of conduct and that he and his colleagues will accept what I believe is a sensible Government amendment.

The Minister for Finance believes it would be good to appoint a former politician of good standing to the commission. That would bring to the commission a particular perspective and the experience of what it is like to operate in public life which would be of benefit to it. It is a provision all of us in the House would welcome.

That brings into perspective and context in great depth and detail all the Labour Party motion has set out to do but also recognises that there is a collective will in the House to move forward. No specific element of it stands on any specific moral ground. The Government is very committed to this and we have demonstrated that we have delivered. Much more remains to be done but we can move on collectively in this regard.

I propose to share my time with Deputies Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) and McCormack.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Fine Gael supports in principle the establishment of a code of conduct for persons in public life. Accordingly, we are glad to support the Labour Party motion and we are also glad that it has put the principle centre stage and has given us a draft which contains ideas as to what should be included in such a code of conduct.

The first thing that should be said is what a code of conduct will not do. Like other Members, I have been horrified by recent revelations of what appears to amount to corrupt practices on the part of some Members. Having a code of conduct will not prevent such practices. On the other hand, it would serve as a useful reference point for Members as to what behaviour is acceptable and it would be a standard by which to measure a person's actions. In that situation it would be considerably broader than purely criminal matters or matters already covered by the Ethics in Public Office Act. I agree with the point that the scope of any code should not extend to personal behaviour. Therefore, I envisage that the ethics committee would have a role in censuring Members for non-criminal action, such as breaching the proposed code of conduct.

That gives rise to two points. There is a danger of Members going overboard on the issue of a code of conduct. There is no need for the vast majority of Members to put on sackcloth and ashes as regards their conduct as Members of the House. I have been a Member for a number of years and I have learned during that time that almost every Member with whom I have come in contact has carried out his or her duties to the highest standards of integrity. That is what I would expect. I do not say that as a compliment to them. That should be the normal standard for people in the House. The fact that the profession of politics has been besmirched recently to some degree by a few bad apples should not affect the position of ordinary Members who are not affected by such conduct or who do not involve themselves or indulge in such conduct.

However, the other side of the coin is that, where it is proved that Members have not adhered to these ordinary, not high, standards, we should establish procedures whereby real penalties are put in place. My approval for a code of conduct is dependent to some degree on ensuring that breaches are examined and investigated fairly and, if found to exist, result in real penalties. I found as a member of the Committee on Members' Interests that, in considering issues brought before it, it was constrained by the Act, the range of penalties under which is very limited. My strongest recommendation is that that range of penalties should be extended considerably in any amendment to the Act.

That raises a further issue as to the Committee on Members' Interests. The current system for nominating people to the committee should also be examined. One of the nominees of the Government to the committee subsequently resigned, that nominee being Deputy Lawlor. It is not my business to point the finger at any individual, but I use it to highlight the point about the manner in which a committee of the House is selected. I am not sure that the nomination to such a committee by party leaders is the correct way to put such a committee together. There is a case for some procedure involving all Members proposing and agreeing the appointment of senior and trusted Members to such a committee rather than the existing procedure of leaving nominations to party leaders which, in my experience, has left something to be desired.

I quibble with the motion on one point and do so as a member of the committee which is expected to return to the House with recommendations by 1 May. I question whether that is feasible. I say that in the context of the fact that the Committee on Members' Interests is dealing with a specific complaint which is taking up a great deal of its time and also in the context of the serious difficulties other jurisdictions have had in agreeing codes of conduct. It is fine in principle to go along with the notion of a code of conduct but, as has often been mentioned in other areas, the devil can be in the detail.

I, with my colleagues, Deputies Browne and Howlin, and others, had the opportunity to examine the code of conduct in Australia. It has different jurisdictions in the form of the different states. I recall the investigations in New South Wales where there had been considerable allegations of corruption. They spent some years producing enormous tomes and reports on this issue with very detailed, complicated and specific codes drafted and laid down. I am concerned that, if we follow the same process here, we may put together a web of guidelines which will strangle Members in the course of their normal work.

I have examined the drafts produced by the Labour Party and I wonder whether we should go into the detail envisaged by it. I emphasise that the draft proposed is a useful basis for discussion. However, do we really want to lay down a guideline along the lines that Members must be as open as possible about the decisions and actions they take and that they should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly so demands? This is just one example of the rules proposed in the document attached to the Labour Party motion.

We will have to consider carefully what will be included in the code of conduct. I am taken by the brief ten point document finally agreed by the Parliament of New South Wales which covers very broad principles rather than going into the detail envisaged in the Labour Party motion and discussed in other parliaments. However, that is for another day.

The Labour Party has done a good night's work in placing the issue before the House and enabling us to discuss the principle and touch on the detail. The finalisation of the detail will be a matter for another day.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I welcome the motion reluctantly, it is unfortunate that such a motion has to be tabled because of past events. Those of us who serve the public should not need guidelines to tell us what is right. I am sure many of our predecessors would turn in their graves if they knew it was being suggested that their successors should be given directives on how to behave.

The proposed code would lay down standards and introduce guidelines for us, the first of which would be that "in common with all citizens, Members have an obligation to uphold the law". That would be dangerous in the sense that it would suggest that we were above the law. We must all uphold the law. If we have to be reminded of this in a code of ethics, we should not be here.

The second guideline would be that "Members should avoid waste, abuse and extravagance in the provision or use of public resources". There would be a danger that this would be open to interpretation. Many members of the public are of the view that we waste a lot of money. What we may consider as very valuable work, many members of public may regard as wasteful. My colleague mentioned some extreme examples in New South Wales where the ethics committee was self-perpetuating, cost a fortune and kept investigating minor breaches of the regulations which led to resignations. The Committee on Members' Interests should carefully consider whether such a guideline should be included in a code of ethics.

To show how unified the Fine Gael Party is, my colleague, Deputy O'Keeffe, stole my thunder in dealing with some of the problems confronting the Committee on Members' Interests, on which we both serve.

We are of one mind.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Una voce. The Ethics in Public Office Act which blazed a trail in setting the standard for us needs to be reviewed. We took a lot of stick in one particular investigation in respect of which journalists, clearly, did not bother their heads looking at the regulations in place. Lest I forget to mention it, the committee is still in place.

The second judgment we have to make is whether a breach occurred inadvertently, negligently, recklessly or intentionally. This amounts to a splitting of hairs. The only penalty available is that of suspension. While it is a major blow when a person is suspended by their colleagues, there is the valid criticism that suspending someone with pay for up to 30 days, depending on the seriousness of the breach, is not a severe punishment. While one needs to be fair in determining the length of suspension, there is a need to look again at the Ethics in Public in Office Act.

The discussion of the establishment of a code of conduct should not start in this House, rather it should start in the home and be continued in school and our place of work, whether it be the Houses of the Oireachtas or elsewhere. In other words, we should be brought up with a proper code. Because of the breakdown of such a code in society, attention is being focused on us, as public representatives, because of the extent to which we are in the public eye. The discussion should, therefore, start at the earliest opportunity with our children or grandchildren.

Deputy Rabbitte regrets the fact that the Government did not moot the idea of a code of conduct. I very much regret the fact that it is necessary to discuss the introduction of such a code. As Deputy Browne said, we are reacting to an impression that our profession lacks a code of conduct. We should defend our profession. It should not be necessary to introduce such a code, but should it prove necessary because of the actions of certain members of our profession – perhaps the same could be said of members of any other profession – I would support the motion tabled by the Labour Party.

It is impossible to legislate for a code of conduct. One simply has to have one's own personal code. A Bill or motion would only cover the cracks to give the public the impression that there was a code of conduct to which we should live up. I have no doubt that 99.9% of Members have a code of conduct to which they live up and respect in their public affairs.

The Minister of State referred, among others, to the Ethics in Public Office Act, the Public Service Management Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the legislation on compellability of witnesses before Oireachtas committees. He also said that 50% of requests under the Freedom of Information Act are for non-personal information and are made by journalists and other members of the public. Like other Deputies, I received a letter last week informing me that a journalist had sought information on the expenses of Deputies in the last year. The reproduction of such figures should be subject to a code of conduct. Let me take my own constituency as an example. It is represented by a Minister and two Ministers of State. The two remaining representatives – Deputy Higgins and myself – are in opposition, but only information on our legitimate expenses is published. Information on the expenses of Ministers and Ministers of State is not published. It is not right that selective infor mation is supplied about some representatives of a constituency under the Freedom of Information Act and not about others. There should be codes of conduct in places other than the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Debate adjourned.