Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Over 500,000 homes and businesses across the country are still without broadband and high-speed connectivity, which is having a significantly negative impact on the capacity of rural enterprise to develop and prosper and on the quality of life of many rural households. The original national broadband plan was published in 2012. The procurement process was approved by Cabinet in December 2015. It is now almost December 2018. Progress has been at a snail's pace and many people are deeply frustrated despite all of the political promises made before and after election campaigns.

The procurement process has become mired in controversy. We have the report from the independent auditor, Peter Smyth, which I was reading prior to Leaders' Questions. The extraordinary level of connectivity between Granahan McCourt and the former Minister stands out. There were 18 meetings, nine telephone calls and five dinners. The majority, especially the 12-minute phone call, clearly related to the broadband plan. This is a level of engagement that is without precedent in the context of ministerial involvement with a lead bidder in a tender process. It is extraordinary by any yardstick. One has to ask why Mr. McCourt would feel it so necessary to have such regular engagement with the lead Minister. The auditor acknowledges that those meetings gave rise to concern. He also indicates that he cannot state unequivocally that the broadband procurement process was not discussed during two of those dinner meetings.

It is also important to put on the record that the New York meeting dealt with the character and nature of the consortium. The independent auditor does not deal with this but it seems to us from an objective reading that the lead bidder and the character and composition of the consortium changed. There is a question as to whether the final bidder in the race would have passed the pre-qualification stage. We do not know that because we do not know the criteria. Enet was the lead bidder. That changed with the sale of Enet and Mr. McCourt's investment fund became the lead bidder. An investment fund with a list of subcontractors is now the final bidder in the race as opposed to a number of major telecommunications companies that were involved initially. This raises questions about the capacity to drive this through. Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the final bidder is the same as the original consortium that made a bid and passed prequalification?

I am told an economic evaluation is under way. When did that start and who commissioned it? Who is conducting this evaluation, which is being done in parallel to the tender evaluation process? What are the new timelines and deadlines for the roll-out of broadband to rural Ireland?

I thank the Deputy. A lot of progress has been made on broadband in the past couple of years. When the Fine Gael and Independent Alliance Government entered office, only half of premises in Ireland had access to high-speed broadband. Today, three quarters of homes, businesses and farms in Ireland have access to high-speed broadband. A huge amount of this has been driven by Government policy and actions. However, it means that one quarter of homes, businesses and farms in Ireland still do not have access to high-speed broadband and approximately 500,000 will need State intervention to give them access. We are determined to get this done. Increasingly, public services are available online and we need people to be able to access them. It is increasingly important when it comes to business that people have access to high-speed broadband. We are determined to make sure every home, business and farm in Ireland has access to high-speed broadband. This is what we are trying to achieve.

The report of the independent auditor was published in the past hour or so. The report from Peter Smyth, the independent auditor, indicates that the process has not been tainted. Now we go on to the next step, which is assessment of the final bid. The final tender was received by the Department on 18 September and it is being evaluated. A decision will be made in the next couple of weeks as to whether we can go forward with it. As I recall, there are two evaluations. An evaluation is being done by one of the big firms. Off the top of my head I think it is KPMG but it may be a different firm.

Off the top of my head it may be KPMG but one of the big four firms is doing one evaluation and a second evaluation is being done by an expert panel with international involvement. Once this evaluation of the bid is done, a recommendation can be brought to the Government as to whether we proceed with this particular bid.

There have been changes in the composition of the consortium bidding. This is well known and well aired but-----

This is well known and well aired but the bid still stands. It is worth referring briefly from the report. On pages 18 and 19, it states:

The meetings between the former Minister and Mr McCourt gave cause for concern as they suggest ongoing engagement outside of any formal need for them to engage with each other in the normal course of the Department's business, including the State-led intervention under the NPB ...

Due to the limitations of the review process in the absence of formal minutes or meeting notes for a number of meetings, I am reliant on statements from the former Minister, Mr McCourt and other parties for verification of the purpose and content of these meetings. Therefore, I cannot unequivocally state that the State-led intervention under the national broadband plan was not discussed at the meetings between the former Minister and Mr McCourt outside of the procurement process.

However, based on my ongoing review of the procurement process as Process Auditor, and [having examined]

- the decision register;

- the evolution of the tender documents ... ;

- the evaluation of the process for each submission ... ;

- and the information that could has been available to the bidder through the contact with the former Minister;

I am satisfied that neither the former Minister nor Mr McCourt had the opportunity to influence the conduct of the tender process in favour of Granahan McCourt or otherwise.

I also believe that the decision of the former Minister to resign, thereby removing himself from the process, insulates the process from any apparent bias created by his engagements with Mr McCourt.

The Taoiseach has said it is well known and well aired that the consortium changed. How is that acceptable when someone goes through prequalification, the next two stages and at the fourth and final stage, "Hey presto", a new consortium emerges but that is fine because we all know about it? This genuinely needs explanation. It is not covered or dealt with by the report. It is a fundamental question on how we do bidding processes of this kind.

Let us be clear, the former Minister was aware of the subsidy issue because it is documented on page 17. It states: "The former Minister was in attendance to emphasise that he could not bring the potential subsidy likely to be sought on foot of the bidder's proposal to the Government for approval." He is in there with the officials, which is fair enough in one sense, arguing with the bidder as to the level of subsidy.

I am not casting aspersions on the former Minister but this is the same bidder with whom he was having dinner. It does not stack up, and the report does not deal with those fundamental issues. The level of subsidy is crucial and can be to the benefit of a bidder.

The Deputy's time is up.

Does the Taoiseach accept that the canvassing rules were breached as per the documentation, which is very clear regarding the canvassing protocol? Can he also provide transparency in terms of the cost of the roll-out of the national broadband plan now? He said previously that it will be a multiple of what was originally estimated.

The issue relating to the communications protocol is covered in the second paragraph of the conclusions in Mr. Peter Smyth's report. That is my reply in that regard.

The consortium has changed but it is not a new consortium. It is a consortium that has changed in its composition during the process, not a new one.

We have one fifth of what we had.

We have the report from the independent process auditor, Mr. Peter Smyth. It is available for anybody to read. If people do not have the time, they can read pages 18 and 19.

The good bits.

That is all people need to know. It indicates that by removing himself from the process by resigning, any concern relating to Deputy Naughten's involvement in this or his relationship with Mr. McCourt no longer affects the process.

The same rules applied to Mr. McCourt.

The final tender was received by the Department on 18 September last. It is being evaluated by the Department with the support of external expert advice. As part of the evaluation, all matters will be examined, including the consortium, the deliverability of the project and its cost. When that examination concludes the Government will be in a position to make a decision on whether we can proceed with this bid.

In recent weeks we have heard accounts of homeless families and their children walking the streets of this city at night because they have nowhere to go. Almost 4,000 children will sleep in emergency accommodation tonight. The plight of parents and children in poverty is shockingly illustrated in the picture in today's edition of The Irish Times, which shows young mothers and their children queuing for nappies and baby formula outside the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People in Dublin. These are examples of how the Government is failing in its responsibility to protect some of the most vulnerable citizens in society, namely, our young people and children.

During Leaders' Questions last Thursday, I raised the scandalous waiting lists facing children and families who try to access the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. Barnardos released its winter waiting list report, which illustrates the scale of the problem in the health service in the context of children awaiting care, this morning. The report states that 37,000 children are waiting for health assessments, be they mental health, disability or speech and language assessments. Some 78% of children with disabilities or suspected disabilities are overdue assessments of need to identify their health requirements. That is scandalous. The report also highlights an issue I raised last week, namely, the fact that thousands of children are waiting for mental health assessments to identify their needs. Many of them have been waiting over a year to be assessed. That is another unbelievable figure. However, this is not about numbers but about young lives, real people, families who are at their wits' end and children who are being put at risk. The reason for this, as the Minister for Justice and Equality accepted last week in the context of CAMHS, is that there is chronic understaffing within the system. Approximately half of the positions in CAMHS teams have been vacant for some time, yet when we raise the crisis regarding recruitment and retention that is in full swing - including the issue raised last Wednesday in respect of psychiatric nurses - the Taoiseach dismisses our concerns. What is needed is an immediate response, particularly in areas where the problems are worst. By filling the vacancies and improving the conditions, we can begin to improve services and attract the staff required to ensure that there are proper services. We cannot allow a situation to persist whereby a child or young person who needs care must face an extended waiting period before obtaining access to the healthcare he or she needs.

During that time their healthcare and, in some cases, their lives are at risk. We need to see dedicated action to attract new staff, to keep the excellent staff we have within our system and to reduce waiting times. Promises were made last year that the staffing gaps in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, CAMHS, would be addressed. Those promises have come and gone. I ask the Taoiseach to recommit to ensuring that it happens this time. Will he acknowledge that under his Government, the State is failing these 37,000 children?

Deputy Doherty referred to child poverty. Child poverty is a scourge on our society, but the Deputy did not mention that child poverty in Ireland is falling and has been falling for several years now. The Deputy does not need to believe me on that, he can look at the statistics from the Central Statistics Office and the survey of income and living conditions. It rose dramatically during the recession but has been falling for several years. This is because of increased employment, and 97% of people in employment and their families avoid poverty. It is also because of the fact that incomes are rising again and because we have made real improvements in social welfare from the family income supplement-----

The Government does not care about lifting 100,000 children out of poverty.

-----to improvements for lone parents and increases in the child dependent allowance, including further improvements that will kick in during March, presuming that this House supports the social welfare legislation. Levels of child poverty remain far too high and there is more to be done, including further increasing employment, focusing on households where there is low work intensity, improving people's incomes and continuing to reform and improve our welfare system

With regard to CAMHS, the Deputy will know that under our mental health services as of September 2018 there are some 10,000 staff. In the past six years 2,000 posts have been approved, of which 1,500 have now been filled. The budget next year for mental health will be €1 billion, which is the biggest budget for mental health in the history of the State. We have difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. All countries in the world have difficulties recruiting and retaining staff currently because there is a shortage of these people. It is not the case that there are huge numbers of unemployed qualified staff looking for jobs here or in any country. There is a huge shortage of people with these skills and it is a problem for our next door neighbour, for almost every country in Europe and for every western country. We are managing to add to the staff, with 1,500 extra staff in six years, as I said, and with 114 assistant psychologists and 20 psychologists being hired recently. This will help us to focus on especially complex cases. The Deputy will also be aware of the expansion of the Jigsaw services.

It is noteworthy from the Barnardos report, which is worth studying, that currently there are 2,621 children on the waiting list for CAMHS, waiting to see a mental health professional. For speech and language services, over half of the children are waiting fewer than 16 weeks. I do not know the figures for mental health but it is quite possible that more than half could be waiting fewer than 16 weeks, but it would still leave more than 1,000 who are waiting more than 16 weeks, which is not acceptable. The Barnardos report also shows that the figure for those who are waiting a very long time, for more than one year, has actually fallen by 15% in the last year, out of 327. The report also shows huge regional variation, which concerns me. Unless I am mistaken, the funding and resourcing is roughly the same across the different regions per capita-----

I thank the Taoiseach.

-----and, for example, the figures for those who are waiting for that prolonged period are 0.6% in Dublin, 0.6% in Donegal and the Border area, but it is 29% in Cork and Kerry. I will certainly be looking for a report on a comparison between resources, staffing and outcomes. I do not believe that resourcing and staffing is so much lower in Cork and Kerry to have nearly 30% of people waiting over one year-----

The Taoiseach's time is up.

-----when in other parts of the State it is 0% or less than 1%.

It is clear that nearly eight years into Fine Gael's time in office it is failing these children spectacularly. The Government will miss its own targets when it talks about child poverty, and miss its own target of lifting 100,000 children out of poverty. That is a fact. There are 37,000 children being failed by the State.

I listened to him. This is just one example of many. One parent said their seven year old son has no coping skills and is crying out with sensory issues but here they are again on a waiting list. The child began his journey on a waiting list in 2015 and is still waiting for services he should have received years ago. That is the reality. When we deal with CAMHS it is not just in terms of sensory issues, it is in terms of mental health. The system is broken. The promises that were made in terms of resourcing the system have not been fulfilled. In community healthcare organisation area, CHO 4, the Tánaiste's constituency, there are over 700 children waiting for an initial assessment for mental health services, a third of whom have been waiting over a year. The Taoiseach says he does not have the figures on speech and language but I can tell him what the report outlines in that regard. Between March and August of this year there was an increase of 50% in those waiting over a year for initial assessment or to receive therapy. By any stretch of the imagination the Government is failing these children. On behalf of all those children and their parents, I ask the Taoiseach when he will step up to the mark and make sure there is a service fit for purpose after eight years of Fine Gael in government, such that we do not have children waiting month on month and year on year for basic services to help them reach the potential they should all have a chance to reach.

On speech and language, I do have the figures. There are about 8,000 children waiting on initial assessment but most of those are waiting less than 16 weeks. There are 14,000 waiting on further therapy and again most of those are waiting between zero and 16 weeks, and 16 weeks or four months is the target waiting time. When we see those big figures it is important in terms of accuracy to divide them roughly by half because half the people are waiting less than 16 weeks and others are waiting more than that. No matter how good a system we have, we are always going to have people waiting two, three or four weeks.

The same thing would apply if they were going privately. That does not make it acceptable that there are any children waiting more than four months.

As is often the case, the Deputy presents the easy answer, the easy solution which probably does not work - more staff, more resources, more money. That is what we have been doing for three or four years. There is a record budget next year for mental health of €1 billion, 10,000 staff, with more than 2,000 added to that in the last six years.

Half the CAMHS teams are empty.

The Deputy pointed to the Tánaiste's area and I see that here too. I see huge variations in the amount of time children who need these services are waiting from one region to the next.

Thank you, Taoiseach.

I ask myself why that is the case and this is something I am going to look into because I do not believe there is such a dramatic variation in staffing and resources from one region to the next yet we can see enormous variations-----

This has been going on for years.

This is going on for years and the Taoiseach is only going to have a look at it now. There are 37,000 children and the Taoiseach is only starting to look at it now.

Deputy, please.

Did the Taoiseach's Deputies in Meath not tell him? It is far worse.

For years we were in a financial and economic crisis when budgets were being cut back, services were being cut back and staff were being cut back.

Thank you, Taoiseach.

So it is okay for kids to die.

We have had the reverse for three or four years now, massive increases in resources-----

I am sorry, Taoiseach, time is up.

-----and increases in staff but we are not necessarily getting the results that patients, children and families deserve. This Sinn Féin solution of more of the same is not necessarily the answer and that is why we are trying to do things differently.

Fill the CAMHS teams. Half of them are lying empty. The Taoiseach promised to do that here. He failed to do it.

For example, when it comes to speech and language therapy, in 150 schools we are introducing a pilot programme in speech and language therapy because we need to do things differently.

That is not the same.

We have seen real success in reducing waiting lists for people waiting on operations. Most people waiting on an operation or a procedure now wait less than six months.

These lists are growing and the length of time people are on the lists is growing.

The reason that is happening is because we have done things differently through the NTPF system, so perhaps the Deputy is wrong. Perhaps it is not just more of the same. Perhaps we need to do things differently.

Talk to the parents.

Deputy Doherty, please. Could I bring it to everybody's attention, not for the first time, that we put a clock on the wall in order to assist people to comply with Standing Orders. The rules of the House lay down the amount of time that is available to ask and to answer questions. People routinely ignore them. When you routinely ignore the Orders of the House, you are being disorderly. The public at home is watching what is going on here. I urge Deputies please to behave. I call Deputy Howlin.

The cancer treatment drug pembrolizumab, Pembro, has received much public attention because of the Government's decision to make it available to survivors of the CervicalCheck scandal, the 221 group, people like Vicky Phelan.

Vicky Phelan has spoken publicly about how pembrolizumab has had a significant effect onher tumours and has given her a much better quality of life. The drug has been shown to have a significant impact on tumours in some cases. The Government owes a duty of care to those women who have been failed by our health services, but this decision risks setting a dangerous precedent if the Government does not make the same drug available to all cervical cancer patients.

Article 40 of the Constitution holds that all citizens shall be held equal before the law. The State cannot unjustifiably or arbitrarily discriminate between citizens. However, that is what is happening in this instance because the Government has decided to provide a treatment to some patients but not to others on the basis of dubious legal grounds. It is not for the Government to determine who does and does not deserve the hope of a longer life and a better quality of life than others who are suffering from same fatal illness. How can the Government decide that Vicky Phelan from Limerick should have a chance to prolong her life, but not Áine Morgan from Galway as we saw on last night's "Claire Byrne Live"? Either a treatment is so prohibitively expensive that it cannot be provided or else it must be made available to all; there is no middle ground.

My colleague, Deputy Kelly, has raised this issue repeatedly. Many patients and their family members have contacted us. Some of them are paying privately to access pembrolizumab. It is unsustainable for them to continue to pay privately. In some cases, the drug may be all that is keeping people alive. Leading oncologists, Dr. Fennelly and Professor Crown, have contacted the Minister for Health with a proposal that pembrolizumab be made available on a trial basis. Surely the Government can come up with some arrangement with the Irish-based drug company that is making this drug in Carlow to provide it to those who could materially benefit from it now. We need to have a plan in place to ensure equity in accessing this drug for all who need it and time is not on the side of the many people dependent on this treatment. My question is very simple. Will the Taoiseach, as head of the Government, provide legal clarity on the availability of pembrolizumab? Will he give a timeline as to when the drug will be available to all cancer patients who can benefit from it?

We all appreciate the reasons the Government took exceptional actions and put in place exceptional measures for the 221 women and their families who were affected by the CervicalCheck audit scandal. Those measures included, for example, the provision of medical cards regardless of income, counselling and a refund of out-of-pocket medical expenses. While pembrolizumab is not specifically referenced in that package, it is counted as an out-of-pocket medical expense if a consultant prescribes it for a woman who is affected. While this medicine is licensed for some conditions in the European Union, it is not licensed for the treatment of cervical cancer and that creates a difficulty for us. It is licensed for other cancers, but not for cancer of the cervix.

The Deputy is correct that this has created an anomaly - an inequity - in that women who are part of the group of 221 can have that particular medicine refunded through the out-of-pocket expenses system, whereas others whose doctors may wish to recommend it for them and prescribe it for them cannot. I accept that we need to try to resolve that anomaly. The Deputy's suggestions are helpful. This could be done by means of a trial or perhaps as is done in other countries but is often resisted by pharmaceutical companies here, namely, by means of a payment-by-result system whereby the reimbursement happens if the medicine actually works. This does not happen much in Ireland but it has been done in other countries through a risk-sharing system. We have made contact with Merck Sharp & Dohme about this in the past. We will renew our contacts in that regard.

In resolving one anomaly or inequity, we need to be careful not to create another. Often we do these things with the best intentions of resolving one issue but, as a result, create a new inequity.

If it is the case that we will reimburse the cost of medicine that is not licensed for the treatment of one cancer, will the same issue then not arise for other cancers? There are many cancers other than cervical cancer and there are many unlicensed medicines that we do not reimburse. In resolving this inequity, as the Deputy describes it, we have to be careful that we do not create a new one. That is part of the dilemma.

I welcome the Taoiseach's response and I thank him for it but he and I both know that the current position where women suffering from the same form of cervical cancer are treated differently is not sustainable. It is only a matter of time before they or their legal representatives will go into the court to demand that the constitutional requirement for equal treatment be vindicated. Will the Taoiseach tell the House today that he will sit down with the Minister, Deputy Harris, to instruct the HSE to begin to negotiate with the drug company mentioned to ensure that all women who suffer from cervical cancer and whose clinicians determine that Pembrolizumab would be of benefit to them will have that drug made available to them? If there is a knock-on from that in respect of other cancers, that is something we can deal with. However, this is a form of cancer and the Taoiseach cannot look two women suffering from the same disease in the eye and say that the State will provide potentially life-saving treatment for one of them and not the other. He knows we cannot do that.

I have sat down with the Minister, Deputy Harris, about this issue. As the Deputy can imagine, he is very aware of it. We have had contact with the manufacturer about it in the past couple of months. It will be a difficult one to resolve but the ideas the Deputy put forward, either the Government funding a clinical trial or a cost-sharing or risk-sharing arrangement with the company, could provide a solution. However, we would need to have the company, and the clinicians, on board to do that. That is something we will pursue in the next couple of weeks.

We have come through the Finance Bill process but some outstanding issues need to be further addressed if we are concerned about our reputation. We know how sensitive we are when somebody suggests that we are a tax haven. However, there are examples of each positive step that we have taken being accompanied by a negative one. For example, it is positive that there was an independent review of Ireland's corporate code, a public consultation, engagement, recommendations and further consultation. That was all part of the bigger picture relating to the EU's anti-tax avoidance directive and the new controlled foreign companies, CFC, rules but, on the other side, there were two options for Ireland to take in implementing the CFC rules. There was model A, which most European countries chose, as it would ensure optimum effectiveness, or model B, which Ireland chose and was one of the few European countries to do so. However, model B is reckoned to do little, if anything, to address corporate tax avoidance. It simply applies guidelines which we are supposed to do anyway under current legislation on transfer pricing.

There is another positive regarding corporate tax residence rules, which is the shutting down of what was known as the double Irish. Why was that not done straightaway? Why are we waiting until 2021? Why was there a lead-in of ten weeks, which allows multinationals to set up a double Irish structure to use until 2021?

It is also positive that we were one of 24 jurisdictions to have been fully compliant on tax transparency and exchange of information by the global tax forum but, while Ireland requires countries to report tax information on a country-by-country basis, the information remains confidential. If it were public where countries are making profits and paying their tax, that data would show where tax reform is needed to ensure fairness.

Another positive is that we undertook the spillover analysis but it only examined 6% of transfers so the analysis was not comprehensive. Will a second more comprehensive analysis be undertaken on such corporate tax avoidance? If we do not, it will have effects on developing countries, some of which are our partners. We also give aid to some of them.

A further positive is that we agreed to the EU directive for a common mandatory reporting regime for certain tax advisers and companies. We were one of only three EU member states to have a mandatory disclosure regime in place prior to agreement on the directive, but there are questions about its effectiveness because there are so many exemptions to it.

Base erosion and profit shifting was a good first step. We were in a group which signed that multinational instrument at the first opportunity, but we chose not to sign article 12, which is key to ensuring no tax avoidance by multinational companies.

Small steps are being taken, but why are we not taking the big steps that will make a real difference to tax avoidance?

I thank the Deputy for a comprehensive and detailed question. I have read up on these areas but I am no expert. I remember reading in detail about why we opted for model A rather than model B, but it might be best to ask the Minister for Finance to explain that or to give a more detailed answer because I do not remember the exact reasons, although it made sense when I read the memo at the time.

On a more general point, Ireland is a pro-business, pro-trade and pro-enterprise country. It has worked for Ireland and it is one of the reasons we are approaching full employment, incomes are at a record high and we are a relatively prosperous country. Part of our economic and industrial policy is having low corporation profit tax. It is one of the reasons so many multinationals base operations in Ireland, although it is not the only reason. It is also one of the reasons our companies are so successful and are able to grow and expand.

It is very much my firm view that large and small profitable companies should pay their fair share of tax in full, where and when it is owed. Ireland is not a tax haven and nor do we wish to be perceived as one. We have done much work to correct that perception if it has existed in the past couple of years. This has involved phasing out the double Irish, to which the Deputy referred, and getting rid of the whole concept of stateless corporations, which is no longer permitted or at least not in our jurisdiction. It has also involved information exchange, and we were one of the first countries to sign up to that. Our Revenue Commissioners will tell their counterparts in other countries how much tax was paid here in order that we can see whether companies are paying tax in other countries. On the night of the budget, we introduced the exit tax, and in the next couple of weeks we should have a solution to the issue of the single malt.

The Deputy will also be aware we collected all the moneys the European Commission says are owed by Apple. It has been collected and is being held in an escrow account until the European courts determine who owns it and how it should be apportioned.

I could give some more examples of where we lead with one foot because it is positive but then take it back with the other foot because it is negative. We have chosen to implement the weakest options at the latest available date under the anti-tax avoidance directive, but we could do more. While there is no problem with being pro-business and pro-trade, there must be fairness. I sometimes wonder how much weight is given to the submissions and recommendations from non-governmental organisations, NGOs, such as Oxfam Ireland and Christian Aid, because it is obvious that other organisations carry much greater weight. It is damaging our reputation, and we have a strong reputation in humanitarian work and human rights. To take another example, which is about intellectual property, a figure of €300 billion was moved into Ireland between 2014 and 2017, but did it bring any relief? Was any tax paid on it?

Given the Taoiseach's predecessor, Deputy Enda Kenny, committed to climate justice at one point, will this Government commit to tax justice?

I assure the Deputy we always listen to the views and opinions of NGOs on taxation policy, tax transparency, international development aid or any issue, but it is a mistake to make the NGOs' opinions one's own opinions, which people do sometimes. An NGO will say something, for example, and it becomes a politician's opinion or policy, but the public deserve better than that. While we need to listen to NGOs, we also need to listen to other opinions, whether they are given by independent expert academics who are not part of any campaign, other political parties, business interests or our civil servants. We take all of these factors into account in the round and that is how we determine our policies.