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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Dec 1980

Vol. 95 No. 5

Irish Film Board Bill, 1979: Committee and Final Stages.

Sections 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

Since so much emphasis has been placed on the sale of films and the distribution problems that will be involved, would the Minister not consider writing into the section the word "distribution" so that the first line of page 4 would read: "The development of an industry in the State for the making and distribution of films"? It would give a greater emphasis as to its importance.

There is no doubt that the broad way in which section 4 is drawn gives ample power to the board to engage in the distribution of films. The point was made in the other House that it should be written in as a statutory obligation on them from day one. I found it necessary to resist that, because I do not think they can succeed from day one. They would find themselves in great difficulty in being forced to distribute films that were landed on their desk. The expertise, the knowledge and the contacts which are necessary in film distribution will have to be built up by the board, in conjunction with the two other bodies I have mentioned over and above the period of a year, two years, three years or whatever. When they feel that they have built up sufficient expertise to venture into that area, they would then become involved in a more active way. Of course, under the Bill they are free to do that. In setting up the board, and in giving them general guidelines, I will certainly make clear to them that this is one of the areas in which they can be most helpful when they have acquired that expertise.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 5 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

One of the purposes of the Film Board is to create work in Ireland through all the different technical jobs that will be involved. An effort should be made to, perhaps, screw down more of the film which must be made here rather than just having a vague definition that part of the film should be made here, because that could mean as little as 1 per cent or it could be only one quarter of one of the four reels of a film, if there are four reels. The suggestion is that perhaps the word "mostly" could be substituted for the word "partly" or some suitable substitution of that kind be made.

The first point that I would make in reply to the Senator is that there is virtually no film at all which is wholly made in the State, because there are some aspects of technicalities that go into the making of a film that cannot be done here. For that reason probably no film can be actually 100 per cent made here, although a very high percentage can be done here. In practice, in any event, most films are only partly made here. I do not think it would be feasible to confine it to those that are wholly made here. It would probably mean in practice that only the small short films were being made here. I do not think it would be technically possible to make every possible aspect of a major feature film here.

I am not dwelling on the word "wholly" at all. I do accept that there might be some editing part which has to be done perhaps in America. I am just dwelling on the word "partly". I am suggesting that the section should read "the making of a film wholly or mostly" or include some suitable word like "mostly". We could try and screw down a very——

I will put it this way. There is no doubt whatever that the degree of assistance that the board would render would be, to a great extent, in proportion to the amount of the film that was made here and to the amount of money that the company concerned was prepared to spend here. Obviously a film, only 10 per cent of which is made here, could not expect the same degree of support as one which is 90 per cent made here.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 7 to 11, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 12 stand part of the Bill."

It seems that section 15 determines a quorum for a meeting as being three. Now the film business is a rather dirty business when it comes to control and distribution and so on. A quorum of three is a very small number to make policy decisions in regard to such an important field as films. It is my suggestion that perhaps the number of members on the Film Board should be bigger so that the quorum itself will be proportionately greater. So in section 12 I would suggest that we should have, instead of seven, say, nine or 11 or some figure like that, to get over this problem — and it can be a very important point — of a small section of the board, if that is all that is present, being able to make policy decisions. Three members appears to me to be rather a small number to make important policy decisions.

I deplore the fact that Committee Stage has been taken this evening, and some of us who were at a meeting were quite taken aback to discover that this was being done. In these two important measures which we have been considering, we should have been given the opportunity to defer Committee Stage until next week.

On section 12, it has been suggested, and very wisely I think, that the board should include not only people of artistic qualifications, people who know about filming, but hard-headed businessmen, if hard-headed businessmen is not a tautology. I agree with that, but I think that the Bill should make specific provision to exclude the kind of businessman who has other film interests, who may very well be involved as a shareholder, or whatever, in a profit-making film company either inside or outside the State. Here there would be a grave matter of the private interest conflicting with the public good and I do not see why section 12 should not have included such a proviso.

Before the Minister replies to Senator Murphy, I came into the Chair at a given time and there was no objection to taking all Stages.

I did not intend my remarks as being any reflection on the Chair, Sir, but on those who are responsible for arranging the Business of the House.

Acting Chairman

It was arranged here by the Members of the House.

On the question of the quorum I would point out to Senator Markey that it is not fixed inflexibly at three. Under subsection (7) of section 15 it can be a higher number, if I so direct.

It is unlikely, considering that the basic number is seven members anyway.

Yes. I am looking at a list of State company boards which have seven members which is one of the most usual, NEB, BGE, RTE, IIRS, NET, and the quorum in respect of all of those is three. In the 1970 Bill which was the rather distant progenitor of this one, the quorum is fixed at two, and section 134 of the Companies Act, 1963 states that in the case of a private company two members shall constitute a quorum. So I think it is a usual provision.

Could I ask the Minister to make a comment on my point, which was that somebody specifically having a film interest should be disqualified from membership?

I would not accept that at all. The very contrary is constantly being urged on me, that there should be people who have film interests, because if they have some connection with the industry and they are to be disqualified I think one goes to the other extreme. I was talking in my reply to the Second Stage about the undesirability, as I saw it, of having a board where everybody was there in a representative capacity, representing some identifiable sector of the film industry to which he or she was going to be held responsible. The suggestion had been urged on me that we should, for example, have a much bigger board and that every little sub-group that exists within virtually every sector of the industry should have a representative. I think that is going too far in one direction, and I said that I thought that people who did not have a great deal of vested interest, or who were not answerable to others, were obviously more satisfactory members of a board because they were able to take a broader view. What Senator Murphy is urging is really the direct opposite, that anybody with any connection with the industry be ineligible, and that would do as much damage as the proposition that every particular interest should be represented. I think the truth and the best solution lies in the middle and that one has a mixture of such people.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 13 to 16, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 17 stand part of the Bill."

This is in consequence of the point raised by Senator Murphy. If the Minister is not willing to exclude a person who has an interest in some aspect of the film business from membership of the board perhaps he would add to section 17 a prohibition on him from taking part in any decision taking. According to section 13 he has to disclose his interest before the matter is discussed but it still does not prevent him from taking part in the decision taking. Perhaps the Minister would consider this.

In practice the usual procedure is that where somebody makes such a disclosure he withdraws from the remainder of the meeting which discusses such a matter. It is a matter for the chairman of the board, under the normal procedures for the running of boards and board meetings, to request the person concerned to withdraw. I think he has power to do that under the general law anyway. He does not need to be given power to ask the person to withdraw. This statute does something which would not, perhaps, necessarily be part of the general law, in providing that a disclosure would have to be made.

I have difficulty in understanding how such a member can be compelled to state his interest if he is not so inclined to do. Are there sanctions in that regard? It is provided that a member shall disclose his interest to the board, but who is to compel him to do so? If he does not do so are there conditions for expelling him?

I am advised that this is a standard section used in similar terms in many other Bills.

So it is, but that does not answer the question.

It does not answer the question. In other Bills, at times, that point may well be covered by a general offence section towards the end of the Bill. But there is none in this Bill. I suppose it is contemplated, in spite of Senator Markey's views, that nobody in this delightful industry would be capable of committing an offence. The Senator has a good point. Section 17 seems to be a moral exhortation rather than a substitute of law in the circumstances.

It also includes my point that there is no obligation on a person to withdraw and there is no obligation on the chairman to request such a person to withdraw. The chairman himself may have an interest in a particular aspect of the business. So there are two points there where we are depending on moral obligations.

I am not an expert on the Companies Acts but I think the chairman of the board would probably be able to exercise the powers that a chairman of a company could exercise under the Companies Acts. I would imagine that those powers accrue to him except in so far as they are excluded by this Act.

I do not know. I wonder if we could have some advice on that?

It has been suggested to me that the sanction may be section 12 (6) which says that the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, may at any time remove a member of the board from office.

I see no organic connection between section 12 (6) and——

There is no organic connection but there may be a very practical connection.

But section 12 (6) does not state the reason for which the Minister may remove a member from the board, and certainly not specifically for not disclosing his interest.

He can remove him for any reason that to him seems proper.

I think section 17 should have more teeth than it has.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 18 to 24, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 25 stand part of the Bill."

Let me suggest that the Minister throw out this section of the Bill altogether. If the people, as we are told, are going to have such a moral commitment and a moral obligation on their part to act wisely and judiciously under sections 17 and 18, I think they can be entrusted with any profits from such a high risk business like film making. Whatever profits there may be, and I do not expect they will be considerable or even large in the early years in any case, the decision can be left to those people to decide what to do with that money which, in all probability will probably be to plough it back into the business. That section could well have been left out.

I would go so far with the Senator as to say that I regard the section as fairly academic. If it does not achieve anything, at least it does no harm. It might aid employment for some printer for a couple of months in printing the last four lines of it. Outside of that its value is limited.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 26 to 28, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 29 stand part of the Bill."

There may be something to be said for the Minister's principle that one of the features of drafting legislation is giving employment to printers. Nevertheless, I would like to query section 29. I think it should be dropped from Bills generally. The Minister said apropos of section 17, that it is a stock feature of most Bills. That is precisely my point. As a newcomer I think a lot of legislation goes through and a lot of legislation is drafted by just repeating slabs because it has been there all the time. There is a story told about a soldier standing guard in St. Petersburg over a spot which apparently marked nothing and the bureaucrats began to get curious about why one sentry after another there was appointed to guard a blank piece of earth. It was discovered in the archives that long, long ago Catherine the Great had planted a particular flower there which she was very fond of and which had long since withered. I suspect that many clauses in Bills are there simply because no one ever bothers to question their presence.

In regard to section 29 I still have to find a satisfactory answer to the question of why should a Member of the Oireachtas be excluded, ex officio, from membership of such boards? I put the question last week to the Minister for Education and he more or less, within the constraints of party propriety, told me I was right. Why should I, for example, who have no film interests, no oil interests, or whatever, be excluded from a board of this kind? There may be other reasons why I should be excluded, but I should not be excluded because I am a Member of the House.

It seems extraordinary that this provision is put in, but the other one, that someone with what may very well be self-interested motives as a businessman is allowed to sit on the board. Obviously I am not asking the Minister to change section 29. It is a stock feature of legislation. But I would ask Members in general to consider whether in fact there is any real wisdom behind this.

This type of section, which is on all fours with dozens of similar ones in other Bills of this kind, has appeared now for the last ten years or so in all these Bills. I cannot really remember what the reasoning behind it was, but I suppose it was thought at the time that there was a certain impropriety in a Minister putting Members of the Oireachtas on certain types of boards. Maybe there were some celebrated cases of that nature in the past. It was the kind of thing that used to excite people a few decades ago. I do not know whether the members of this board get paid, but even if they do I can assure the House that they are not going to acquire much material benefit from their membership.

The Senator rightly says that he is not, of course, asking me to take it out, because I cannot. I cannot remember why it was ever put in in the first place. But I know the Department of Finance or of the Public Service or somebody insist that this section goes into all Bills because they want uniformity between all these bodies.

Subsection (5) of this section reads to me — correct me if I am wrong — that if an employee of the Film Board is elected to either House of the Oireachtas he is thereby disqualified from reckoning the period of membership in the Oireachtas for any superannuation benefits. Does that mean that if there is a superannuation scheme within the Film Board he cannot continue paying towards the superannuation scheme of the Film Board? Does it also mean that his term of membership of the Oireachtas is not reckoned as part of his service in the Film Board for superannuation purposes?

I understand the Senator to ask if somebody who is employed by the board, rather than on the board, is elected to the Oireachtas, does he lose his pension rights from the board in respect of the period. As far as I can see the answer is that he does lose his pension. On the other hand he does not lose his right to re-employment. He just stands seconded, or whatever, from the board.

I think this is different. There are other pieces of legislation relative to other semi-State bodies where a person can continue paying towards the superannuation scheme of his ex-semi-State employer and thereby does not break his service for superannuation benefits even while he is a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas. So there is a difference here. I think it is a bit unfair. It could well give him the same opportunities that exist in other cases.

Although this does not repair the principle, if the principle is wrong — and I am not positive I know whether it is or not — there will be very few employees on this board. It is a purely administrative board.

Even if there are only one or two, it can still be unfair.

It does not repair the principle of it if the principle is wrong but——

The Minister could be keeping down good talent.

I would recommend to people who view a career in the Oireachtas as a possibility that they would not apply for employment to this board if they want to keep their superannuation right. Enthusiastic young people never worry about their pensions anyway.

I do not know of any other State body where a member of the board has the benefit of a pension. I know if one is a member of the board and joins the Oireachtas one has to resign before one actually joins the Oireachtas.

It is not a member of the board. It is an employee, or officer or servant of the board, which is a different matter.

On section 29 I do not share Senator Murphy's reservations about this membership of boards by Oireachtas Members. It is perfectly correct that the Members of the Oireachtas should not be members of semi-State boards. Whether the principle was established ten years ago or not, it was a very good principle. I would like to go on record as supporting that principle and I would hate to see it being departed from. I am sure other Members of this House might have been in the position that I was in when I was elected to this House when I was a member of another board and was about to resign from it when my term was up; unfortunately just before I put in my resignation the Minister fired me anyway. But, as a matter of principle, notwithstanding the flower of Catherine the Great, this principle is a good one, and I am glad to see it in this Bill and I hope that it will remain in all such Bills.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 30 to 35, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I want to address the Minister because when I was making my contribution the Minister of State was present. I would like to have brought in amendments but it would be pointless in the circumstances. Now that the Bill is about to be passed, my reservations, briefly, are that public money has been thrown away on film studios and that independent film producers are not people out for loot, by and large. They are people who want to make a living in their own country, doing their own thing. They are deserving of public support, and the fact that it was their work and not anything out of Ardmore that was displayed and won acclaim at the "Sense of Ireland" speaks for itself. I respectfully ask the Minister while he is in Government and in this office to bear these points in mind.

Question put and agreed to.