Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) (Amendment) Bill, 1947 ( Certified Money Bill )— Committee (Resumed) and Final Stages.

Debate resumed on recommendation No. 2:—
That before Section 4 a new section be inserted as follows:—
4.—That sub-section (5) of Section 3 of the Principal Act be deleted— (Senator Sweetman).

Yesterday, the Minister had just concluded his remarks in relation to this amendment, in the course of which he suggested that the case I had made regarding the difference between Ministers and Deputies in respect of postal and telephone charges was not correct. I think that the Minister and I were at cross-purposes. I did not suggest and never intended to suggest—if my words could be so construed I regret the laxity in putting them together—that if, for example, Mrs. Aiken happened to be elsewhere and the Minister desired to telephone her, he would get such a call free. I fully appreciate that he pays for such calls in the ordinary and proper way.

In the same way, I am satisfied that the postage on personal letters are paid for by Ministers in the normal way. I ask the Minister to accept my assurance that that was not the type of case to which I was referring. The case I had in mind was such as this: Suppose that citizen Patrick Murphy, of Dundalk, writes to Deputy James Coburn and to the Minister while the Dáil is in session about some goods which are held up by the Revenue Commissioners at the frontier post in Dundalk. Neither Deputy Coburn nor the Minister knows that the other has been approached. Deputy Coburn finds it necessary to telephone to Dundalk in connection with the matter, and the Minister's private secretary, who is dealing with the matter, finds it necessary to do likewise. Deputy Coburn would, obviously, have to pay for the call. In the case of the Minister, I suggest that it would be dealt with as a public charge. It would be quite impossible for the Minister's calls to be segregated in such a way as to distinguish between calls made in discharge of the Minister's public duty as a Minister and his public duty as Deputy Aiken. I do not make any suggestion that it is wrong or improper to have matters that way. The same thing happens in regard to postage. If it is necessary for Deputy Coburn to write about a claim for an old age pension by somebody from Dundalk, he has to pay the postage. The Minister has not to do so; it would be utterly impossible to have it any other way. It is because a Deputy has to meet these expenses that his allowance is paid free of income-tax. A Minister has not to meet that sort of political, out-of-pocket expense, and I think that the whole of his emoluments should be treated as salary. The question raised here is not one of amount. It is merely a question of the method of arriving at the amount. I am perfectly prepared to admit that, if income-tax is to be deducted, the salary must be grossed up to the proper point.

Senator O'Dea raised a point about sub-section (3) of the section. If it were not for sub-section (3), the Deputy's allowance would be added to the total of the salary as fixed. That point is hardly germane to this amendment. There is a desirable principle involved and I do not think that the Minister put forward any real objections to that principle.

I should like to develop what was in my mind yesterday, especially in view of the report in the Press to-day of the Minister's remarks yesterday. I appreciate, that on principle, if the allowances of Ministers are grossed up and regarded as emoluments then, according to practice, any expenses a Minister may incur in the discharge of his duties would be legitimate charges upon the revenue. The Minister suggested that in the position that would arise if the allowances were grossed up a Minister would be in a position to charge for expenses. Following on that, the Minister implied—I do not think he stated specifically—that it would, in the long run, involve more expense to the State because now, of course, any expenses of the office are included in the allowances.

Then he went on to make a statement which rather astounded me. He said that if that situation of charging for expenses should arise it is quite possible that a Minister's expenses would be in excess of the present allowance as a Deputy. I must say that that statement completely puzzles me. I began to rack my brains as to what the legitimate expenses could possibly be. There might be occasional telephone calls from a Minister's home on official business, which would be a charge. All transport is provided for. I think, therefore, we have a right to be told in general terms what further expenses there could possibly be There might also be telephone charges on public business by a Minister while on holidays, but surely they would amount to a very small sum—I imagine £50 in the year would amply cover such expenditure. I cannot see how a Minister could possibly incur a charge for expenses amounting to £480. I feel that it is the principle in this recommendation that should be considered and that the present situation gives a doubly false impression of the emoluments of our Ministers.

The first point which strikes me about this recommendation is that it raises a question, as Senator Sir John Keane says, of principle. I consider that the recommendation is defective in its present form and that, if passed as it stands at present, it would not accomplish the purposes Senator Sweetman has in mind. It would have the effect not only of preventing Ministers, the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad from getting certain allowances tax free but it would also have the same effect on the salaries of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil and of the Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad. I consider that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle of the Dáil and the Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad have expenses identical with those of other Deputies and Senators, whatever they may be. The recommendation in its present form is, to my mind, defective and would not accomplish its purposes.

I think there can be no doubt whatever that the salaries originally fixed for Ministers were not liberal I do not, however, know on what percentage basis they were fixed It must be remembered that in 1925, when the Bill of which the Minister speaks was passed, making the allowances of Deputies as well as those of Ministers free of income-tax, Ministers were not supplied with transport. It must be remembered, also, that Ministers and the two Houses had not then the experience they have now. It seems to me that it would be fairer, clearer and more honest if the Ministerial salary were fixed at a proper figure and subject to income-tax with, perhaps, an allowance for expenses. I do not think, from what experience I have and from what experience I have been able to gain either personally or by contacts with other people, that a Minister's expenses can be the same as those of a Deputy. They certainly cannot amount to £12 a week—£624 a year. For example a Deputy gets a letter from a constituent. He writes to a Government Department, post free, and gets a reply. If, as is the practice, he sends that reply to the constituent who wrote to him he has to stamp the letter.

It may seem a small point, but Deputies have often spoken to me about free postage. A Minister has not got to stamp a letter and, therefore, he is free from the expense of postage which would be incurred on public business or to constituents. Deputies are supplied with transport from their residences to town and to their constituencies but they are not supplied with transport in their constituencies. Take, for example, a constituency such as Tipperary which is rather a large county and which is at present all one constituency. A Minister is supplied with free transport inside that constituency but a Deputy is not. Therefore, I think that the expenses of a Minister are not the same as those of a Deputy.

I agree with the Minister that it would be undesirable to have wranglings between civil servants in the Revenue Department and Ministers as to what are suitable expenses. It seems to me, considering that he is supplied with free transport, with an office, with typing staff, and so forth, with which Deputies are not supplied, that there is no case whatever for saying a Minister's expenses are the same as those of a Deputy. It is not for the purpose of decreasing Ministerial salaries that I speak in favour of this recommendation but for the purpose of having an examination in order to have Ministers' salaries fixed at a proper figure which would be ascertained and about which there would be no concealment. I consider that it would be much better if that were the case. The proposal now is that Ministers should have £1,501 a year, subject to tax, plus £624, not subject to tax, plus the use of cars which must be valued for at least £1,000. I think it would be much better if a salary, subject to tax, with an allowance of £200 or £300 for expenses were fixed. That position would be much clearer and much simpler for all concerned. I realise that Ministers have a difficult job. A Minister who does his work has three separate jobs, each of which is, in itself, a big job. He has his Parliamentary work, his administrative work and also the work of keeping himself going in his own constituency—quite proper, quite legitimate and quite difficult work but work for which a Minister has facilities which a Deputy has not. For that reason I think this recommendation calls attention to a situation which needs to be looked into. It is meant to indicate that Ministers should have an inclusive salary clearly set forth, which would be a better system than the present system under which it is difficult to ascertain what the expenses of a Minister actually are.

We have had several debates on this particular aspect of this series of Bills, both in the Dáil and in the Seanad. In approaching the subject as to what increases I should propose to the Government and what increases the Government should propose to the Dáil, I took it that, by and large, a certain differentiation had been made in allowances and salaries for all types of public officials and members of the Oireachtas. I proposed that we should take it for granted that the 1938 level was fair and reasonable. It passed both the Dáil and the Seanad then and, if anybody wished to raise it, it could have been a subject of discussion during the elections that were held since. I take it, therefore, that there was general agreement, that that level was fair and equitable, having regard to all the circumstances.

In 1937, the Shanley Committee went into the question of Ministers' salaries, Deputies' allowances and allowances for the Leaders of the two principal Opposition Parties in the Dáil, and made certain recommendations. One of them was that Ministers' salaries should be £2,250 and that both Senators and Deputies should continue to draw the same allowance of £360. Evidence was given by various types of people, including Ministers and civil servants, and every aspect of a Minister's salary, emoluments, perquisites and services was discussed. It was decided by the Shanley Committee to recommend for Ministers a level of £2,250, all of which would be subject to income-tax, and that the system in operation in regard to Ministers' cars from 1927 should continue, that is, that instead of a Minister getting an over-all sum for travelling, he should continue to draw his transport from an official pool and be accompanied by an armed driver.

In 1938, however, the Government turned down the idea of Ministers' salaries being increased from £1,700 to £2,250 and they recommended to the Dáil and Seanad that they should continue to draw the £1,700 and that the Deputy's part of the allowance—or the Senator's part, if a Senator should be a Minister—should continue to be free from income-tax. That was accepted by the Dáil. It was accepted by the Seanad, with one dissentient. We will have to take it for granted that it has been accepted by the people, as otherwise if some people wished to raise it as a major issue, they could have got a majority Party in favour of some other scale, if the majority of the people approved.

Let us go back to this suggestion of making portion of a Minister's salary, that portion represented by the Dáil or Seanad allowance, subject to income-tax. Let us not forget that that system was tried before, between 1923 and 1925. The 1925 Act was introduced to the Oireachtas by the then Government because it was found that the evils which had been created outweighed the advantages. In 1925, not only was the old system abolished for the future—the payment of income-tax on the Deputy's or Senator's allowance contained in a Minister's salary— but retrospectively it was made law that whatever deductions had been made would be repaid. It was not for nothing that was done and I take it that it was not for nothing that the Seanad approved of it without a single dissentient.

The suggestion now is that we should go back to the system in operation prior to 1925. Senator Hayes says it would be clearer, fairer and more honest if we made the portion of the Minister's salary represented by his Dáil allowance subject to income-tax. I do not think anything could be more clear or more known to the country, since it has been the subject of a thousand and one speeches and a thousand and one editorials in various papers. It is well known to the country that that portion of a Minister's salary is income-tax free. Anyone in the country knows, if he becomes a T.D. and a Minister, what his salary will be, the portion of it which will be income-tax free and what other emoluments and facilities he will be entitled to as a Minister. No one has tried to conceal any of this at any time. These things have been the subject of speeches and editorials and of public reports by committees of inquiry. This particular document I have in my hand, the report of the inquiry into Ministerial and other salaries—generally known as the the Shanley Committee Report—was published in 1937 and has been adverted to publicly a million times since. Therefore, there is nothing secret about this business, and we are enough grown up politically to discuss it without diffidence or shyness.

It has been accepted generally that the scales in existence up to 1938 and to date were fair and equitable in relation to 1938 conditions. Owing to the recent increases in salaries all round, in the State service and outside it, something had to be done to enable the representatives of the people to give the same standard of service to their constituents and to the public generally as the 1938 level of salaries and allowances enabled them to give. It has not been proposed for Senators, for Deputies, for Ministers, for the Ceann Comhairle or the Cathaoirleach, or for any other officer of the Oireachtas, that they should be fully compensated for the increased cost of living or the decreased value of money since 1938. The additions proposed correspond to the supplements to the salaries that have been granted to other public servants and do not represent in full the increase in the expenses of members of the Oireachtas, the Oireachtas staff or members of the Government. We could re-introduce the system in regard to Ministers that the Deputy's allowance part of their salaries should be subject to income-tax. If we did that it would be open to Ministers to start a practice which has not been in operation since 1925 of claiming from the Revenue Commissioners freedom from income-tax on that portion of their total salaries that could be held by them to be wholly and inevitably portion of the expenses connected with their office either as Minister or as Dáil representative or as member of the Seanad. I suggest that if that were started it might be found, in certain cases at any rate, that the amount claimed for exemption would be more than the level of the allowance given to Deputies and Senators.

There are a thousand and one expenses that a Minister has that could quite properly be claimed—I do not know whether the Revenue Commissioners would agree with it all or not—as expenses wholly, necessarily and inevitably connected with his membership either of the Dáil or of the Government. I do not want to get into the position of having Ministers contest that with the Revenue Commissioners. Neither do I want Ministers, whose whole attention should be devoted to matters of public policy, concerned with the making and keeping of notes of expenses for the purpose of making a claim to the Revenue Commissioners for freedom from income-tax on portion of their salary. I think that the Minister's whole energy and concern should be with the public pounds rather than with the personal pence of claims to the Revenue Commissioners.

I want to emphasise again that this is nothing new and I want to emphasise that the other system proposed, or which Senator Sweetman has in mind, was tried by another Government and that after due consideration, after trying it out for a few years, after having experience of the difficulties between Ministers and the Revenue Commissioners in connection with expense sheets, they decided to recommend to the Oireachtas that the Ministers should be given the Dáil allowance free of income-tax and that that should be generally accepted as the limit of the claims of a Minister for expenses in connection with his office.

I think the Oireachtas would be very unwise to adopt the system which is now suggested of saying to Ministers, "We will not give you a certain stated allowance for expenses but we will increase your salaries by a further amount in compensation." I say that from the point of view of the public interest it would be much better for the Oireachtas to say to Ministers, "Your salaries will stay as they are but you will get the Dáil allowance free of income-tax." I think a Minister's energy should be devoted to his public work rather than to keeping personal accounts for the purpose of making a claim to the Revenue Commissioners at the end of the income-tax period. Every business man who knows what is involved in keeping accounts of that kind will appreciate that if his time and energy could be spent on his business, it would be more profitable for him to give a certain sum to the Revenue Commissioners than to go to all the trouble of keeping these accounts.

In the modern world a Minister's whole time, whether he is in the Dáil or in the Seanad or in his office, by and large goes either in carrying out public functions or in thinking about public problems. I do not think that any professional man would do the work that a Minister does, simply looking to the reward that a Minister gets in the way of salary. I do not think that the salary attached to the post would attract the service from an ordinary individual that Ministers give.

That is an improvement in the Minister's outlook now anyway. Experience has taught him that. He did not always think that. I agree with him entirely on that point now. We are in agreement now, at last.

Wait now for a second. I am quite prepared to debate this.

Admit it and have finished with it.

We are tired debating it.

I am just going to reply to that interjection. I am not going to hurt the Senator's feelings.

You could not. It would not be possible at this stage.

I am glad to hear that. We did adopt the attitude in 1932, and prior to it, that the public services should be run at the lowest possible cost and that Ministers and others should set the headline. Not only did we preach that but we actually practised it.

You did not. That is the point. You said you did, but you did not.

For how long?

There was a wangle in that.

There was no wangle in it.

There was.

Not at all.

Yes; there was a wangle in that.

Admit it.

However, let the Minister go on.

Senator Sweetman and others like him have the idea that, although they do not believe in a policy of retrenchment in salaries, they can go to the public and complain about the level of Ministerial salaries and think they will get the same result in 1947 as they think we got on that particular line of policy in 1932.

That is a grievous mistake. It is a good argument. It is a very grave mistake if anyone thinks it.

Nobody will get it.

Of course not.

Our criticism of Government expenditure at that time was a small fraction of the policy we put to the people.

It was well publicised, though.

If Senators think, or if anybody else thinks that they can go to the people with this as a sole issue, with no backing of economic, financial or social policy behind it, they are making a big mistake and I am giving the Senators that warning, free, gratis and for nothing.

They will probably be as disillusioned as you were about it.

I am giving that warning free, gratis and for nothing, because I believe it would pay the country to have an Opposition that would be compelled to use their brains to suggest alternatives to the Government's financial, social, or economic policy, rather than to rely on that particular line of argument.

That is a lovely, long road we have come.

Senator Sweetman, I think, is a young man who has certain ambitions. My advice to him is that, before moving amendments of this kind in future, he should make certain that they are pretty well in line with the policy of the particular group with which he wishes to become associated.

Wishes to become associated?

Wishes to become associated as the Government of this country. This particular amendment of his runs counter to everything that Fine Gael, Cumann na nGaedheal and whatever other names they had, did.

The Minister will have to let the Senator be the judge of that as well as himself.

It is all written down. The amendment is on the Order Paper, and the 1925 Act is on the Statute Book.

Surely the Minister does not think that I am going to swallow hook, line and sinker everything that Cumann na nGaedheal did. If he thinks that he is making a tremendous mistake.

All that I am suggesting is that the Senator should not regard as a Fianna Fáil plot something that was introduced and passed by his political progenitors.

Illustrious predecessors.

Senators may try to put me off my track. This thing hurts a little bit. Senator Sweetman was caught out in one of the biggest political blunders that has been made by a young man in politics for a long time in the case of this particular amendment.

I agree with the Minister when he states that we are now sufficiently politically grown up to discuss this matter without diffidence or shyness. I had not intended to speak on this Bill, but in view of the Minister's remarks, I think I had better state my candid personal views on it. I think that nearly all the changes that took place, whether in 1925 or now, or at any other time, have been largely due to the fact that at no time since the State was set up have our Ministers of State been properly paid. A good many of the changes have taken place because Ministers have discovered—I include political reasons and I include the thinking which they are paid to do—that neither their opponents nor themselves have ever been paid on a proper basis. Personally, I think a Minister should be paid £4,500 a year, and that he should deal with his income-tax in exactly the same way as the businessman does. He should, of course, get any allowance that he would be entitled to under the law, but after that he should pay income-tax or surtax. The salary, however, should be on a basis which would show the standard we ought to expect from our Ministers. They should be free from any possibility of worry, and the salary should be such as would enable them to keep up what would be a high standard for this country.

I have always felt myself that it was rather ridiculous to pay Ministers less than judges. That is a purely personal point of view. I am not quite satisfied with the amendment as it stands, and I hope it will not be pressed. There is a good deal in what the Minister has said. I disagree with him if he imagines that the ordinary businessman goes to the trouble of keeping personal accounts in the hope that the Revenue Commissioners will make up the cost to him in the way of allowances off his personal income. I think it would be a good thing if all Parties agreed to pay Ministers a substantial salary. If the rate of income-tax was low the Minister would get the benefit of that, and if he were liable to surtax he should pay it the same as everybody else, and I think it would be a good thing that the people of the country should know that he was doing that. I hope that some day we shall have the courage to deal with the matter in that way.

I supported the previous amendment on this Bill because I think the position of Deputies and Senators is totally different from that of a Minister. When you ask a man to become a Minister of State you stipulate that he cannot engage in any other business activities. After spending a number of years in office all that he is entitled to in the end is a small pension. I think that during his term as Minister he should be adequately paid. I believe that you will get the best service by doing that. I think we should try and forget old political arguments, whether they were used at any time either by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, and agree that Ministers ought to be properly paid. That is my personal point of view, and I have just intervened lest my attitude on this question might be misunderstood.

In view of the publicity given twice to the Minister's remarks and his references to the payment of income-tax on a Minister's allowances, it is desirable that our intentions should be made clear. What was suggested was that the allowances should be grossed up, and that the tax should then be paid on the gross sum. I am sure the Minister did not intend to mislead. I feel it necessary to make this point clear because the public might feel that we were endeavouring to reduce Minister's allowances. That is not so. If this recommendation were accepted the only thing additional that a Minister would have to pay would be a small sum possibly in surtax.

The point that Senator Sir John Keane has just dealt with was made clear by me. When I proposed this amendment I knew that it would have to be followed by a subsequent amendment in the other Bill. I could not, of course, move an amendment that would increase a charge on the Exchequer. When the Minister was speaking a few moments ago I felt that he had travelled quite a long way along the road that I had referred to earlier—that is since some 15 years ago. In his last sentence I felt that matters were perhaps getting under his skin so much that he wanted to be a bit sharp. The Minister must know that I was aware that this was in operation under the Cumann na nGaedheal Government. I knew that before I put down the amendment, and if I did not know it Senator Hayes told me when I showed him the amendment. Therefore, there was no stupidity about the matter as the Minister seemed to think.

I think that we have discussed this in a way that the Minister would not have discussed it if he were in opposition. We discussed it in a way that the Minister did not like, and he felt that he had to get a crack at some Party. However, as Senator Hayes said, we are quite used to that sort of thing. Senator Hayes has, without question, put his finger on a definite flaw in the amendment. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Leas-Chathaoirleach have the expenses of Deputies. There is no question whatever about that. I am not quite clear whether the same applies to the Cathaoirleach and perhaps this is not the right place to discuss that. On account of that flaw, and for no other reason, I am prepared, with the leave of the House, to withdraw the recommendation.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 4 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Agreed to take the remaining stages now.
Question: "That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Question: "That the Bill be returned to the Dáil"—put and agreed to.
Ordered: That the Bill be returned to the Dáil without recommendation.