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.