I would like to welcome the Minister for Finance, Deputy Bertie Ahern, to the House. I call on the Minister.
Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Bill, 1991: Second Stage.
The main purpose of this Bill, which was passed by the Dáil on 17 December last, is to give effect to recommendations of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector in relation to the expenses of Members of this House and of the Dáil, a scheme of severance payments for TDs and Senators, changes in the pension regime for ministerial and parliamentary office holders, and a system of severance pay for these office holders.
As regards the expenses of Members, this is an area which has given rise to a lot of misunderstanding among the general public. As you know, the remuneration of TDs and Senators, which is described in legislation as an allowance, comprises both a salary element and an element in respect of expenses. This annual allowance is treated for tax purposes as salary notwithstanding that TDs and Senators are expected to meet a large proportion of their working expenses out of it. In recognition of this the Revenue Commissioners treat fixed amounts of the annual allowance as being referable to expenses wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred by a typical TD or Senator and therefore not subject to tax.
The review body considered this arrangement in detail and concluded that it was unsatisfactory in a number of respects. The following extract from their Report 30 — paragraph 9.8 — gives a good indication of their general conclusions:
The way in which the remuneration of TDs and Senators is structured (a single allowance with a fixed component being treated by the Revenue Commissioners as recoupment of expenses and thereby exempt from tax) gives rise to controversy and confusion.
The impression is created that politicians receive particularly favourable income tax treatment; in fact the arrangements are less favourable than those applicable to most employees, (who expect their reasonable expenses to be met in full by their employer and not merely treated as tax-deductible). In addition, there is a natural tendency to regard the full amount of a TD's or Senator's allowance as remuneration whereas only part of it (the so-called salary element) represents remuneration, and the balance represents expenses which must be met out of the allowance...
I think we would all agree with the review body's conclusions in these respects. Few of us have avoided being at the receiving end of critical comments of this nature.
The review body also made the point that it was inappropriate that under the present arrangement the Revenue Commissioners should be placed in the position of being required to determine what is a reasonable allowance for expenses for TDs and Senators. They said:
they regard the present arrangements which attempt to accommodate the unique circumstances applying to Members of the Oireachtas within taxation provisions designed to deal with the circumstances of employees generally, as unsatisfactory.
They went on to conclude that the present arrangements should be replaced by a straightforward system of remuneration for TDs and Senators which distinguishes clearly between salary and provision for expenses.
The review body considered that the ideal arrangement would be one whereby both TDs and Senators would be paid clearly identifiable salaries and would be reimbursed by the State for all expenses reasonably and properly incurred in the exercise of their functions. This happens at present in the case of some expenses, such as travel and subsistence. They felt, however, that it would be administratively very difficult to operate a system of claim and recoupment in relation to all expenses.
The review body concluded that the best approach would be: to fix a uniform sum to meet a reasonable amount of the expenses which are necessarily incurred by TDs and Senators in carrying out their duties and which are not otherwise reimbursed; to pay this sum as a separate allowance distinct from their normal parliamentary allowance; and to provide for this allowance to be regarded as recoupment of expenses and therefore non-taxable and non-pensionable.
The review body recommended in November 1987 that the allowance for expenses should be £3,500 per annum for a TD and £1,750 per annum for a Senator. They also recommended a mechanism by which the rate of the allowance would be increased from time to time. Application of that mechanism would bring the allowance to £4,300 for a TD and £2,150 for a Senator. Rather than provide for specific amounts at a time when the review body are once again examining this whole issue as part of their review of top level salaries, I think it better to make provision for the determination by way of ministerial regulation of the initial amounts of the allowances and of the method of future revision of the allowances. This approach will allow for more flexibility in implementing whatever recommendations emerge from the current review body study.
The review body also recommended that on payment of this expenses allowance the parliamentary allowances should represent salary only and that claims for deductions for tax purposes in respect of expenses against those salaries should no longer be allowed. This is being provided for.
As regards office holders, the review body felt that their expenses were lower in some areas and higher in others than those of ordinary Members.
They concluded that the best and fairest approach would be for office holders to receive the expenses allowance applicable to the House of which they are Members but not to receive any additional expense allowance. As in the case of ordinary Members, it was recommended that salaries should be fully taxable and that no claims for deductions in respect of expenses should be allowed, with one exception. The exception relates to the deduction referred to as the "dual-abode allowance".
The dual-abode tax allowance may be claimed by Members of the Government and Ministers of State representing constituencies outside Dublin, who are obliged by virtue of their duties as office holders and as TDs to maintain a residence both in Dublin and in their constituency. The allowance may be claimed in respect of the expenditure incurred in maintaining one or other residence subject to a maximum allowance of £7,728. The review body recommended that clams for deduction in respect of expenses under the dual-abode heading should continue to be allowed by the Revenue Commissioners because the numbers involved were small and the benefit varied depending on expenses actually incurred. This is being provided for and, in addition, I am proposing that the allowance should also be available to Senators who fulfil the necessary conditions and to the Attorney General on fulfilling similar conditions provided that he or she is a Member of the Oireachtas and has, therefore, two roles to discharge.
In summary, one of the main purposes of this Bill is to implement the recommendations of the review body relating to the restructuring of Members' remuneration. It provides that, in addition to salary, Members will receive an allowance to cover the expenses incurred by them which are not otherwise reimbursed. In that context, it removes the ability of Members to claim deductions under the 1967 Income Tax Act in respect of expenses incurred as part of their parliamentary duties. Accordingly, on the introduction of the allowance for expenses, the present tax deductions of £6,901 per annum for a TD and £3,810 per annum for a Senator will cease, as will the deductions available to office holders other than the dual-abode allowance.
The parliamentary allowance will be designated as salary and will be taxed in the same way as the salary of any other member of the community. The effect of paying the new allowances and removing the present tax deductions will vary depending on individual circumstances. In general, however, TDs and Senators will gain somewhat while there will be a loss for some office holders.
I am satisfied that the system recommended by the review body is a much more satisfactory and equitable way of dealing with the remuneration and expenses of parliamentarians than the present system. It should also help to remove the confusion among the general public about the remuneration of TDs and Senators, and the mistaken impression that they receive special tax concessions.
In Report 30, the review body also examined the position of TDs and Senators who, on leaving office, very often find themselves in severe financial difficulties. These problems can be exacerbated by the fact that, unlike most of the workforce, Members of the Oireachtas — whose security of employment is tenuous to say the least — are not covered by the Social Welfare Acts, the Redundancey Payments Acts or the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act. The review body, while noting that the Houses of the Oireachtas (Members) Pension Scheme is structured so as to take some account of the hazards and uncertainties of political life, concluded that the introduction of a scheme of severance payments for outgoing Members would be justified.
The review body accordingly recommended that Members of the Oireachtas who have at least two years unbroken service, and who are defeated at a general election should, in effect, continue to be paid their parliamentary salaries for a period of up to three months from polling day. They also recommended that the pension scheme be amended to ensure that any pension to which a defeated Member might be entitled does not commence until payments under the new severance scheme have ceased.
Section 5 of this Bill, as introduced in the Dáil, provided for a scheme of severance payments for Deputies and Senators along the lines recommended by the review body in Report 30. However, when the Bill was circulated, many Members expressed concern about the disparity between those severance arrangements and the severance scheme for ministerial and parliamentary office holders, under which payments can be made for up to two years after cesser of office. The Government, having noted these representations, decided that the best way of addressing the expressed concerns of Members would be for the review body to undertake a new examination of the appropriate cesser-of-office benefits for outgoing Members of the Oireachtas, including the benefits available under the Houses of the Oireachtas (Members) Pension Scheme. As Senators will be aware, this approach was accepted by the Dáil, and the special review body examination commissioned by the Government is now under way. The Dáil also approved an amendment to the Bill, replacing the original text of section 5 with a more flexible version.
The tax treatment of severance payments figured prominently in the debate on the Bill in the other House. An amendment was proposed which would have exempted from income tax any severance benefits payable to TDs and Senators. The amendment was opposed on the grounds that it would have preempted the outcome of the review body's examination of the entire issue. That is still the Government's position. As indicated above, the review body have been asked to carry out a full examination of cesser of office benefits and this examination will naturally have to have regard to tax law. Any change in this area considered necessary following publication of the review body's recomendations can be implemented in the Finance Bill.
The Bill also gives effects to the review body recommendations on changes in the existing arrangements governing pensions for ministerial and parliamentary office holders. These recommendations are contained in Report 31 of the review body, which was drawn up following a request in November 1987 from the then Minister for Finance that the review body should examine and report on the allowances and pension entitlements of members of the Government, Ministers of State, the Attorney General, the Ceann Comhairle and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad.
The Minister's request followed the passing of a motion in the Dáil on 28 October 1987 supporting a review body examination of the ministerial pensions issue, which had attracted a good deal of public comment at that time — much of it ill-informed, in my personal opinion.
The review body concluded that the features of the existing ministerial pension system which were most criticised— the absence of a minimum age limit for payment of pension and the fact that pensions were payable when the recipients had left ministerial office but continued to serve in the Dáil or Seanad, arose because the existing system tried simultaneously to address two separate needs of office holders. These are the "long term" need for some degree of financial security in retirement, and the "short term" need to redress the more immediate financial problems which can arise when office holders, who have cut themselves off more or less completely from their previous careers, lose office, usually at quite short notice.
The approach adopted by the review body was that the pension provisions for office holders should focus more on their long term needs, and that their short term financial problems should be dealt with through the introduction of a scheme of severance payments, extending over a period of two years at maximum.
That being said, the review body were fully aware that, overall, their recommendations would represent a disimprovement on existing arrangements and that, over time, the new terms would involve a saving to the Exchequer.
On the basis of this approach, the review body recommended that a new pension regime be inroduced for office holders, the principal features of which are as follows: (a) that a new scale of service-related pension rates apply, with a minimum rate of 25 per cent of salary for an office holder with three years' service, rising at the rate of 5 per cent of salary for each additional year to a maximum of 60 per cent of salary for an office holder with ten years, service of more — the current pension maxima are 45 per cent of salary for a member of the Government, the Attorney General or the Ceann Comhairle, and 51 per cent of salary for other office holders; (b) that pensions not be payable in the normal course before age 55, except in cases of permanent ill-health; persons aged 50 and over to be allowed to apply for immediate pension, but at an actuarially reduced rate; and (c) that pension be abated by 50 per cent so long as the recipient remains a Member of the Dáil, the Seanad or the European Parliament — except in the case of a former Taoiseach.
In conjunction with this new pension regime, the review body recommended the introduction of a scheme whereby a former office holder would receive a proportion of his office holder's salary for a period equal to his last unbroken period of service, subject to a maximum of two years. The proportion of salary payable would be 75 per cent for the first six months, 50 per cent for the next 12 months and 25 per cent for the final six months.
These severence payments would cease if the recipient returned to office and would not be paid at the same time as pension, but a recipient could opt to have the severance payment discontinued at any time to allow his or her pension payments to commence. The review body recommended that separate severance arrangements should apply in the case of a former Taoiseach, because of the special position of that office in the national life.
The review body further recommended that a person who leaves office to take up a position to which he or she is appointed by or on the nomination of the Government — for example, a Minister becoming an EC Commissioner — should not benefit under the severance payments scheme.
The review body recognised that, while the changes recommended in relation to pension entitlements — in particular the minimum age limit for the commencement of pension and the 50 per cent abatement while the recipient remains a parliamentarian — are logical and reasonable in the context of the overall new package, it would be wrong to impose these changes unilaterally on those current and former office holders who have secured pension entitlements by virtue of service already given under the existing arrangements. They, therefore, recommended (a) that a specific future date — referred to in the report as "the operative date"— would be fixed for the commencement of the new pension regime and the new severance payments scheme for office holders; (b) that any person who has less than three years qualifying service on the operative date would be automatically subject to the new pension regime in full; (c) that office holders, or former office holders, who have three or more years qualifying service on the operative date would have a choice — they could either opt for the new pension regime in full, or have a "split entitlement", with service up to the operative date being dealt with under the old system, and all later service being subject to the new regime; and (d) that the new severance payments scheme would not apply to any person to whom the new pension regime did not apply in full.
The review body had suggested that the operative date for the pension changes recommended in Report 31 should be the day on which a new Government was formed after the first general election following publication of that report. However, that recommendation has been overtaken by events, and the Bill provides that the operative date will be the day on which a Government is formed after the next general election. The provisions of the Bill are otherwise in line with the various recommendations in Report 31, subject to some minor variations of a technical nature aimed at ensuring that the new system will operate as fairly and equitably as is possible.
I should also mention that the Bill — in line with the review body report — will extend spouses and childrens pension entitlements, formerly applicable to male office holders only, to benefit the spouses and children of female office holders. I am sure the House will agree that this amendment, which has already been applied to the TDs' and Senators' pension scheme is long overdue, but happily the need for this change has not yet arisen.
The Bill also contains five other provisions which are not directly related to review body recommendations. The first two are enabling provisions which will facilitate certain changes which I propose to incorporate in the Acts governing Members' free travel and telephone facilities. The third and fifth will rectify minor defects in the existing statutory provisions governing ministerial salaries and pensions, which came to light while the Bill was being prepared. The fourth provision will amend the Act governing the pay and pensions of Members of the European Parliament to enable the pension scheme for those Members to be brought into line with the corresponding scheme for Members of this House and the Dáil.
On the matter of telephone facilities, the Bill as passed by the Dáil contains an enabling provision which allows for the payment, subject to certain conditions, of a contribution towards the cost of telephone calls made by Deputies, otherwise than from Leinster House.
Arising from discussions which I had with Members of the Seanad Committee on Procedures and Privileges on this issue, I consulted my Cabinet colleagues and the Government have decided that the scope of the enabling provision should be extended to cover Members of this House also. This decision will require a minor amendment to section 11 of the Bill which will be proposed on Committee Stage.
If I might paraphrase my opening remarks; the primary purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the considered and objective recommendations of an entirely independent review body on the remuneration structure of TDs and Senators, and the pension and severance entitlements of office holders. I hope that its passage will put an end to the misconceived, inaccurate and unjustified criticism of parliamentarians' conditions of employment which has been voiced in the mass media and elsewhere over the years. Finally, I would like to make some concluding remarks about the review body in general, and about the present chairman in particular. When this Bill was debated in the Dáil, a number of Members referred to the paramount position of the Legislature in determining the pay and conditions of its Members. The point was made that the function of the review body is to make recommendations to Government on these matters, but that when it comes to making final decisions, the ultimate authority rests with both Houses.
This is, of course, a fair and accurate statement of the legal and constitutional position, and neither I nor any other Member of the Government would take issue with it. However, we should not and must not understate the crucial role which the review body perform in the decision-making process. There is a danger that at this time — some 20 years after the review body was first established — we may tend to underplay its importance and its value to the Government and to Members generally.
Many Members in both Houses — myself included — have not been in Leinster House long enough to remember the bad old days before the review body when the Government and Members of the Oireachtas were in the invidious position of having to act as sole judges and arbiters in their own case. That arrangement was not only wrong in principle, it also left Members wide open to totally unjustified criticism in the media. I am sure no right thinking Member of either House wants to revert back to that situation.
Although the Oireachtas remains the final decision-making authority on Members' pay and conditions, we must at all times be seen to act fairly and responsibly in exercising that authority. When, therefore, the review body reports to Government on these matters, having examined all argument and evidence placed before them thoroughly and impartially, it is incumbent on us to give full weight to their recommendations. This is not to say that we must always adhere to every detail of review body reports — the review body are not and do not claim to be infallible, and there may occasionally be grounds for introducing some minor modifications when their recommendations are being implemented. I must, however, emphasise that while Members of both Houses have the absolute right to comment freely and openly on review body reports, at the end of the day we would be failing in our duty both to the public at large and to the other public servants who fall within the review body's remit if we were to depart from the substance of those reports as they affect Members of the Oireachtas.
As regards the present chairman of the review body, I want to place on record my own and the Government's deep debt of gratitude to him, and our appreciation for all the time and unstinting effort he has contributed to the work of the review body since his appointment six years ago. I should also mention that while his time commands a very high monetary premium in his own profession, his services to the review body throughout this period have been given without payment, even though as chairman he is entitled to an annual fee of £5,000. His refusal to accept that fee is eloquent testimony to his commitment and his sense of public duty.
I would also like to pay tribute to the other review body members whose ability and dedication to their work have been of the highest quality and are greatly appreciated by the Government.
I commend the Bill to the House.
I thank the Minister for his clear Second Stage speech which gives Members of the Seanad a better understanding of his proposals. In my 30 years' experience as a Member of the Oireachtas there never has been an opportune time for the House, the Devlin Review Group or the Gleeson Review Body to allocate or to propose salary increases for Members of the Oireachtas. If we look at the original ratio 30 years ago, Dáil Members received £1,000 a year and Senators, £750. With the introduction of national wage agreements the Seanad has progressively lost out so that the relationship between salary structures in both Houses has deteriorated through the years. The Minister said the situation has eased since the setting up 20 years ago of the review body, and I think the Devlin report was the first report.
For all kinds of reasons, Members of this House and the other House have not received every pay increase recommended. Many were deferred, some dropped altogether; we probably got slightly more than half the national pay rounds over the last 20 years, mainly because people in the Oireachtas do not have the guts to face up to their responsibilities not only to themselves but to their families. This is a deplorable situation; we only have to compare it to the salary structures and allowances which parliamentarians in the other 11 member states of the EC receive.
I am glad the Minister and Government are looking in depth at the conditions under which the Members of the Oireachtas are expected to work. Democracy is extremely important. In the last couple of years systems that appeared well funded, well publicised and sound have crumbled. The eastern bloc regime was apparently based on a system of equality, but when the curtain finally went up we found that people on the ground did not get a fair deal. In our open system of Government it is important that public representatives be equipped to fearlessly, effectively and efficiently carry out their duty to introduce legislation.
I am glad to see the Minister tackling the cost of the perks and mercs syndrome. Travelling expenses for Members of the Oireachtas is a cloudy issue. The public have an idea that everything in this place is subsidised; that the restaurant services are free; that we live in a land of milk and honey which is far from the truth. I blame the press, who if they run a story on Members' entitlements rarely credit it to the political correspondent; it is usually written by a cub somewhere in the system who likes to write fiction.
Travelling expenses for Members cover trips from their home to the Houses of the Oireachtas and for a few years the number was restricted to one or two trips a week. My constituency is almost 70 miles square, from Monasterevin to Cullohill, Urlingford and across from Carlow to Moate near Athlone. Members of the Oireachtas do most of their travelling within their constituency for which there is no allowance. It was to cover that omission that the original 50 per cent tax free allowance was introduced. Some genius in the Department of Finance had the idea of freezing it at a set level. While they are always preaching about inflation they forget to index link allowances.
We made a mistake here many years ago when we did not tie ourselves to the salary structure of Principal Officers or Assistant Principals in the Department of Finance. Such a tie-in would have given us a built-in insurance.
Politics is evolving and changing and we are slow to adopt new technology. Fifteen years ago, when I had the honour of serving in the European Parliament, we had fax machines and the latest technology available to assist Members in their work. These machines are scarce in this House, although the situation is improving, but it is nonsensical that Members have to walk hundreds of yards to a photocopying machine. I hope the improvements will continue. Members must be facilitated so that they can work efficiently and we cannot do that without modern technology.
An area not enumerated by the Gleeson report is the cost of individual subscriptions to publications. If one wants to be abreast of what is going on in Europe it is necessary to subscribe to a number of imported technical publications such as Agent Europe but it is a waste of time declaring such costs to the inspector of taxes. It is also necessary for the same reasons to attend a certain number of seminars and to pay the entrance fees. If one totals those up in the course of a year they add up significantly and my salary after 30 years here is no more than £15,000 or £16,000 a year taxable other than £3,000 tax free.
The Gleeson review body does not consider an incremental salary scale, which is unfair to many Members with long service and tremendous experience, whose input into debates and the formulation of legislation is significant and for which they receive no paid recognition. The Oireachatas is unique in that respect and I hope the Minister will encourage the review group to look at that again. When I first came into the Seanad I was single and carefree and could live on my salary, but when one has to provide for a family on this salary one would need to be the Holy Ghost to be in a number of places at the same time. It is tiring.
This proposed legislation is generous to Ministers and office holders, and I welcome that. It is less generous to Members of the Dáil. I am glad that the Minister has included the Members of this House in the provisions of section 11 and I would like to compliment him for doing that.
There are always financial difficulties and I cannot remember a Government that was not struggling to balance its books. I compliment the Minister for covering lost ground in this regard. I hope it will be possible to demonstrate that better remuneration and salary structures will attract more people of high calibre to contest elections in future years.
There are many people I approach before elections to ask them to allow their names go forward for nomination. Hardly an election goes by when after explaining the salary structure fine young people say they cannot afford to take a drop in salary to fight a Dáil election. Perhaps the Minister would consider allowing people who opt to stand for a Dáil election to come into the House on their former salary if that salary is higher than the salary being offered in the Oireachtas. That should not be difficult in the Seanad situation, since the Seanad is based on a vocational structure. It is important that we have people whose contributions are valuable. The weight of their experience in their chosen field is important and we need people who can help ensure that legislation, when passed, will stand up to challenges in court. Unfortunately, over the years the Oireachtas has, whether through indolence or whatever, ceded much of its power to the courts. They are not slow in usurping any power they can get to lay down the law. More careful examination of legislation here would avoid many court challenges. We cannot provide that examination unless we can attract people of wide experience in various professions and ways of life.
The Minister mentioned that the operative date for this legislation will be the date on which the next Government takes office after the next general election. Does that mean that the present Oireachtas will not benefit from the provisions of this Bill? I would like the Minister to clarify this point. I hope that, while payment may be effective from the date the new Government after the next election takes office, Members of the present Oireachtas will have the opportunity of benefitting from the new provisions vis-a-vis severance payments and pension schemes as laid out in the Bill.
Under section 5, I am glad that the Minister is seeking to alter these conditions in the future by regulation. I have never been in favour of ministerial regulations, but it will be more efficient in this case to make regulations so that the Minister for Finance can alter them from time to time. I doubt if there will be an annual review of the regulations but there is always apprehension when Ministers for Finance, irrespective of their Government or the make-up of that Government, come before the Oireachtas with measures of this kind. Therefore, the facility under section 5 will make the lives of Members of the Oireachtas and of their families a little easier.
By and large, the Bill is fairly comprehensive. I would have liked if the Minister had looked more closely at the situations prevailing in other countries. One of my last tasks in the European Parliament some years ago, just before preparation for direct elections to the Parliament, was a review of the living and working conditions of members of the confederate parliaments, in the US Congress, in Ottawa, Canada, in the canton system in Switzerland, in the Soviet Union and so on and I think that the Minister should have taken a closer look at the competition. We are so entwined with our colleagues in Europe at present that we must not be placed at a disadvantage to them. We must be able to compete with them. I served for four years in the European Parliament-US Congressional Joint Committee. Even a freshman Senator in the US Congress would have a minimum of 18 research staff. It is hard to compete with that when one has to go down to the Library here and do one's own research. I am not complaining, as we have always got by; but if one thought too much about it one would be paralysed at a meeting. At least doing one's own research helps one to know exactly what one is talking about after slogging through it.
In comparison with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, European Community and other international bodies we are ill-equipped. We have to make our mark and we have quite a contribution to make. There should be a more generous approach from the Minister and his Department towards facilitating and financing the structures of Parliament. We are either a parliamentary democracy or we are not. Why should this always be the last institution to be funded? The Department of Finance have a stranglehold on every activity of the Oireachtas. One is sometimes led to believe that they are anti-democracy.
I hope in his new role that the Minister will bear in mind that this is a parliamentary democracy. Democracy is a delicate flower. We must at all times strive to be equipped because we can arrive on a slippery slope quite suddenly. While I do not accept that this should be a holiday camp, nevertheless we should be equipped and prepared to undertake any task that the House may entrust to us. We should have adequate resources and back-up services to uphold the dignity and integrity of the country as best we can.
Since we are taking all Stages today, it might be more appropriate to tease out some other questions on Committee Stage. I support the Bill.
I welcome the Minister to the House and express my delight that he has retained his portfolio when many other colleagues lost theirs.
He is one of the few survivors.
He has a major conribution to make to this country. I am glad that he is at the helm in Finance and particularly glad to see him introducing a Bill here today that will improve the conditions of all Members of the House.
In looking at this Bill we must have an open mind. We must ask if it is fair, reasonable and in the public interest; and, on the other hand, if it is equitable and just to those affected by its provisions. There is a general public perception that Senators and TDs are being treated in a special and more generous way than those in other sectors of the economy. We can argue here that this is not the case, but suffice it to say that no matter what effort we put into clarifying the position it will not wash with the general public. It is reasonable that Members of the Oireachtas be paid fixed salaries and be reimbursed by the State for all expenses reasonably and properly incurred in the exercise of their functions. While this happens in respect of some expenses such as travel and subsistence, it does not cover a multitude of other expenses incurred in the course of a Deputy's or Senator's normal constituency duties. While the allowance of £4,000 for a Deputy and £2,000 for a Senator has been the result of a mechanism introduced by the review body, a majority of Senators will legitimately claim that it is insufficient in view of the fact that very often Senators incur the same expenses as TDs. The allowance to TDs and Senators was cut off some years back and there has been no improvement in that position. I understand that if the allowance had continued, a TD by this time would be in receipt of an additional tax free allowance of £13,500 while for a Senator it would be in the region of £7,000.
I think it is only fair and reasonable for us to suggest that while we welcome the allowance of £2,000, we feel it is inadequate in the circumstances. Under the review mechanism that is now open to the Minister, we would ask him to keep this in mind in the future. This is a step in the right direction and we must be satisfied with it, given the times we live in. Some Senators, given the tax bracket within which they operate, may not gain from this latest provision. I would ask the Minister to keep this in mind.
TDs and Senators leaving office often find themselves in severe financial difficulties. I understand this as I was a Deputy in 1987 and I was one of those who lost their seats in 1989. My salary was cut off immediately and I found myself with the added expense of fighting a Seanad campaign. That is a terrible dilemma to be in for anybody who has a family. While I understand that this Bill deals with severance arrangements for Ministers, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for referring this matter back to the review body.
We appreciate that very much. The tenure of office of Members of the Oireachtas is tenuous. We are not covered by the Social Welfare Act, the Redundancy Act or the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act. It is therefore reasonable for us to suggest that a scheme of severance pay for outgoing Members is justified. While the review body recognise that a TD or Senator having two years continuous service will get three month's severance pay from polling day, this compares very unfavourably with the findings relating to Ministers and Ministers of State for whom a two year payment has been recommended. Again I want to express my pleasure at the fact that the Government have recognised this and that a special examination is now being undertaken by the review body.
I also welcome the Minister's promise to introduce more flexible provisions under section 5 of the Bill which will allow the Government to implement the review body's decision and do away with the necessity for further legislation.
I am emphasising the role of the Senator because when this Bill was in the Dáil the Members there spoke eloquently on their own behalf. It is not easy to be a full-time Senator. The demands on the time of a Senator equates with what a TD has to do, yet Senators are expected to exist on a salary of £15,000 per year. Some Senators can exist only because they have other means, but many of them rely on their Senator's salary. The basic salary should be sufficient to enable a person to live in some comfort, given that this is the Upper House of the Oireachtas. I would also remind the Minister that, not too many years ago, a Senator's salary was 75 per cent of that of a TD. Because of percentage increases over the years, through national wage agreements, this gap widened with the result that their salary is now only 50 per cent of a TD's. While I understand that this is not part of the Bill, I am glad a worthwhile submission has now been lodged with the review body and hopefully, as a result, this gap will be significantly narrowed.
I thank the Minister for the change in section 1 dealing with telephone allowance and his decision to provide a telephone for Senators as well as TDs. This is of extreme importance to us. Once again we can make the case that the same level of allowance should be given to TDs and Senators. There are people here who have legitimate aspirations to become Members of the Dáil and I believe Senators and TDs carry out the same functions and operate in the same way in the constituencies. Above all, they have a second electorate among whom are county councillors over the Twenty-six Counties. In the case of Independents, their electorate — the University graduates — are all over——
I think a fair case can be made for the same allowance to Senators and TDs. If we fail to maintain contact with the electorate we know what will happen to us.
I would like to bring to the Minister's attention the fact that persons holding responsible positions in this House and in the Dáil are not given due recognition. In this House there is a provision for the Cathaoirleach but none for the Leas-Cathaoirleach, the Leader of the Seanad, the Whip, Assistant Whip or Opposition Leaders. This issue should be addressed. An allowance of at least 50 per cent of that made to the Cathaoirleach should be provided for the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I would urge the Minister to consider making an ex gratia payment to others in this House who held responsible positions. It is strange that no allowances are made to chairpersons of Oireachtas committees. In that regard, I ask the Minister if it is not time for a Senator to be made chairperson of one of those Oireachtas committees. I ask him to keep this in mind. If Oireachtas Members were represented by a trade union, this situation would not be allowed to continue. In the circumstances, I ask the Minister to have regard to these facts and to ensure that the anomalies are removed.
With regard to length of service, there are at present two categories with entitlements. Those with under five years' service have an automatic refund of contributions, while those with between five and eight years' service have a choice of refund of contributions or a preserved pension at 60 years of age. I would suggest that an amendment be made to allow for only one category with preserved pension entitlements, and the abolition of any refunds of contributions, except for a person with less than one year's service to whom a refund should be made. There seems to be an anomaly here where a Senator also had service in the Dáil and where Seanad service preceded Dáil service. I suggest that Seanad service should be equated with Dáil service for pension purposes. I do not know if that could be done straight across the board or if there is a mechanism which would allow one to buy in, but I am asking the Minister to review it.
At present payment of pension ceases when a widow in receipt of an Oireachtas pension remarries. If the second husband dies, God forbid, without making proper provision there is no formal way for the Oireachtas pension payments to recommence. I suggest that this scheme be amended to allow her to receive the pension on compassionate grounds.
Having said that, I am very conscious of the excellent provisions in this Bill and I am very pleased to commend it to the House.
I welcome the Minister's initiative in bringing this Bill before us. It is a fair reflection of his attitude to workers, that they should get proper allowances and so on. I and my Independent colleagues welcome this initiative.
The problems relating to Ministerial, TDs and Senator pensions and allowances fall at their door. I have no sympathy for the Members of either House for what they have allowed to happen to their salaries. Any trade union leader who operated like that would be out of a job very quickly. There is no reason, Senator O'Keeffe should not join another union; I know he is in a very decent trade union in another field. There is no reason his arrangements in this House should not also be looked after in a professional, trade union manner. That is why I felt I should speak here.
People in politics are afraid to talk openly about their salary and expenses. If there is any mention of them on the radio, television or news, nobody wants to talk about them. That has been one of the problems, but there is nothing to hide. From my involvement in the general trade union scene, I can tell the House that Members of either Houses of the Oireachtas are not particularly well paid; Ministers and Members of the Government are deplorably badly paid. It leaves the whole area of politics wide open to all sorts of approaches from people in the private sector regarding consultancy or support services. I am not saying this is happening because I have no evidence of it, but, in effect, it allows the private sector to intervene and perhaps create hostages to fortune of people in very high places. This should not be allowed to happen.
I recognise that the support services in this House are only peripheral to the Bill but, when I was elected here in April 1987 the first thing I looked for was a fax machine, as I wanted to send out a press statement. Nobody in this building knew what a fax machine was. It brought home to me very quickly how badly supported politicians were, although they were supposed to be writing speeches, responding to legislation, reviewing and modifying legislation, creating new areas for discussion and responding to national and international incidents and developments. Research and support were not available and still are not there. This is a matter that needs to be looked at. It has not been dealt with in this Bill.
I am glad that this Bill deals with tax allowances for Members of this House. There is a belief outside the House that Members have subsidised food and that the subsidised bar must be great. I do not contradict them any more, I agree and say yes, it is great. I have given up arguing this point. At a recent meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges we discussed the need for a PR person to run the affairs of this House and Members were surprised. You cannot run a serious organisation in this day and age without a person to deal with the press. The two least admired groups in Irish society are trade unionists and politicians, and God help you if you are both. Nobody loves you. That is the reality. This arises from the fact that we do not say what we are doing. People tell me they would love to get into the Leinster House bar to get some of the cheap drink. I always insist on bringing them in and allowing them to pay.
The other issue which irritates the electorate is the tax allowance for Members of the Oireachtas. The Minister clearly explained how that came to be, but that is no excuse for maintaining the status quo. It was inexplicable to the ordinary punter. I am delighted we are addressing it here.
Questions were also raised about ministerial expenses. The present arrangements are questionable. The Minister outlined those issues which were referred to by the review body. It is important that they be dealt with by formula and the more involved the formula the better. The objective is to have a fair, sustainable and defensible mechanism which can be explained openly to anybody who wants to know about it. I always ask people who talk about politicians to indicate the salary level they think they should be paid. Should they be paid more or less than a teacher, more or less than a doctor? What about a Minister? Should be be paid more or less than the managing director of a medium sized company?
As a group of workers — to use a generic term — we have not fought for better conditions of service. I say freely and openly that I would not be able to survive on the salary and allowances paid to me in the Seanad. If people who are determined to make a full-time career in politics, they attempt to do that in the Seanad they will find great difficulty in having an acceptable quality of life. In the past ten days I paid £200 for raffle tickets and for tickets to functions I cannot attend. That is not unusual. I am not saying it happens every week, but it is not unusual. Any of us have the same experience. There are justifiable expenses which must be responded to in some way.
Members of this House have a job to do and they should be paid to do that job. I disagree with all my Independent colleagues in that I see nothing wrong with Members of this House aspiring to be Members of the Dáil. I am not in that position. I have no aspiration to take on that role and never want to do so, but I have no difficulty with people wanting to do that. Some of my colleagues have occasionally adopted the attitude that a Member who aspires to be in the other House is somewhat less of a Senator. I do not go along with that thinking, in spite of the fact that I have often been quoted, on the other side, as holding that attitude. It is not my point of view.
Members should be paid a decent wage. They are not being paid that at the moment and one of the reasons is because they are afraid to shout for it. Disgraceful decisions were taken in the early 1980s not to implement salary awards. Three or four years ago the ICTU called for the immediate implementation of the increase which had been awarded to senior civil servants and was also due to people in this House and the other House. There was nothing in it for me, but any group of workers is entitled to be paid. People pander to the public and the media because they are afraid of the publicity. That is the other reason people in politics are badly organised. If they cannot defend increases they are not entitled to get them. They should be prepared to take it on and explain it. Senior public servants are in the same position; they are ridiculously badly paid in many cases and they do not address the problem. Something needs to be done.
I noticed something in this Bill today of which I was not aware. I did not realise a Member of this House could become a Minister of State. Obviously that is the case because section 4 refers to a Minister of the Government, the Attorney General or a Minister of State being a Member of the Dáil or a Member of the Seanad. I knew Members of the Seanad could be made members of Government but I did not realise that they could also be made Ministers of State. Had I known that I might have been hanging around here when the new appointments were made a couple of weeks back.
You would have been wasting your time. They did not even look here. They are not even aware we are here.
You never know. All this talent was available, we did not realise it. The decision to change the original section 5 is welcomed by everybody in both Houses. It is now being looked at and presentations are being made to the Gleeson Committee at the moment. I hope they will come up with acceptable proposals at the end of the day.
When the Gleeson report is finally issued I do not want to see politicians being coy and hiding behind the Minister for Finance in defending the results of that report. People should either say they agree with it or disagree with it. Either we are entitled to get an increase or we are not. If we are entitled to get it we should say we welcome it. As a trade union leader, if my members get an increase I welcome it and say it is not enough, as the Minister well knows. I just see it as a down payment for the next period of negotiations.
I see this Bill as a negotiating document, to get us up and running so that we can get to real money in the future. In the meantime I have been careful not to go into the details of the Bill because they have been dealt with very fully by the Minister. I have no complaints about it. We had a difficulty with the original wording of section 11 where it referred to the telephones, and so on. I am glad to see it has been corrected.
I accept that a strong case can be made that Members of the Dáil should be paid more than Members of the Seanad. I do not, however, accept the ratio that exists at the moment. It is not correct. Senator O'Keeffe mentioned that it was 75 per cent some years ago. That should be restored and very quickly. It would have the same impact on pensions, severance pay, etc., afterwards. The Bill meets the needs at this point and the vague provisions of section 5, when they finally manifest themself in a more concrete and articulate form will be addressed and considered at that stage.
Section 3 (5) refers to regulations. I disagree with that method of dealing with regulations. Every regulation should be put to the House and dealt with by the House. I favour a positive, affirmative process of regulation where they are presented to the Houses by the Minister and approved by both Houses. I know it might suit us to do things quickly and it facilitates easy administration but I think the negative procedure appears to hide something. Papers are laid before the House every day; I make this point repeatedly. Nobody even reads them. Nobody even knows what a vague statute of some State body refers to. A change in the restaurant regulations, some aspect of fruit farming regulations or some move on an EC directive might as well be written in some ancient and lost language for all the effect it has on Members of either House. I regularly call into the Library on the way to the Chamber for the Order of business and ask for one of the papers. I get the most obscure item I can find and ask the House, "Did you know that today you are agreeing to the following: that restaurants from now on must have a door between the men's toilet and the women's toilet?" or whatever it might happen to be on a particular day. This is one of the reasons I object to the negative process of regulation.
I welcome this initiative from the Minister. My reason for speaking was simply to go on the record. I have nothing to contribute to the debate beyond that. We should respond in a positive way and we should also respond when there are further developments, through the Gleeson report, and in other places. I thank the Minister for bringing this before us. It improves conditions for many of our Members, most of whom, as far as I can see, are in pretty dire financial straits. This goes some way towards addressing some of the problems they have been facing.
I join with other Members of the House in welcoming the Minister for Finance to the House and I thank him for having the understanding and the courage to include Members of this House in the review. It is right and proper.
As Senator O'Toole said, we have only ourselves to blame. We have allowed an unrealistic public perception to prevail for too long. People will say we have good jobs and travelling expenses. We are the subject of public envy for a long time.
I have been in the House for 22 years and I am entitled to say what it has done for me financially. I have had a number of experiences I would like to describe to the Minister. First, the salary I get, after I pay my tax, is lower than what I could get on the dole. That may shock Members of this House. It is an embarrassment to say it, but somebody must say it. It is a fact. We talk about the public and their reluctance to come off the dole and take a job. If I were to walk out the door this minute and sign on the dole I would get the same amount per week, in addition to allowances, that I get as a salary after tax, in this House. That must be wrong.
I question the deduction of PRSI. Will the Minister tell Members how we benefit from PRSI? I found out the hard way that no Member of this House benefits from PRSI if they are hospitalised or in need of medical treatment; it is of no value whatsoever and I say that from personal experience.
Senator O'Toole mentioned how slow we are to introduce technology in this House. This matter was raised at a parliamentary party meeting a couple of years ago and I said there was more technology in a little village between Glenties and Ballybofey called Brockagh than there was in Leinster House. Not many people in either House know where Brockagh is; it is a small village with a shop and a pub. A very important fair is held there once a year. I saw a word processor there when we did not have one in Leinster House.
We are not extravagant but we allowed the perception to grow that this was a cosy club and once you got in here all you had to do was keep yourself in the House and you were financially comfortable for the rest of your days. That is not true. I have high travelling and other expenses, for example, hotel and subsistance in Dublin, motoring expenses including replacement of the car, wear and tear, and maintenance and depreciation of my car.
Most Oireachtas Members are also members of local authorities. That is a non-stop job — Saturday, Sunday and even Christmas Day. We use our home telephone extensively from 8 a.m. to midnight. I installed a fax at my own expense to keep in touch, otherwise I would be a very unsatisfactory representative. When a person reaches that stage he should gracefully bow out of politics. I maintain that as public representatives we must incur certain expenses and they should be covered in this Bill.
Not long ago, a local person asked me to make representations on his behalf about back to school grants. When I calculated that family's income I found they had all the perks — a medical card, fuel allowances etc. In fact, I was making representations on behalf of a person whose income was higher than my own. I did not say that to him but I did not feel to good about it.
Recently a couple of prominent people in politics in a blaze of glory handed back their pensions and announced that to the press. What people did not realise was that what they were giving back was the part on which they were paying tax. They misled the public. As Senator O'Toole said, we have nobody to blame but ourselves for the public's perception of politicians. When people said that being a Member of the Oireachtas was like being a member of a cosy club we did not challenge that statement. For as long as I have been involved in politics and in public life, I have been very close to a number of Deputies and Ministers and I know that by the time they have contributed to all the worthy causes, attended funerals and dinners etc., they do not have enough money left to accumulate wealth; in fact most of the families had financial difficulties. Most public representatives do a fair job of hiding their financial problems; that was our mistake. We gave the public the wrong impression.
This is an opportunity for Members to stand up and thank the Minister for his courage in recognising that there is a problem and that there are Members who find it difficult to pay their way. I have said this before, but 90 per cent of members will be unable to replace their car without borrowing. I say that from my knowledge of Members' finances. Very few Members can put their hands in their pockets and pay cash to replace their car. Members of the Oireachtas are not in the high income bracket. For too long we have allowed that perception to go unchallenged. I am glad I had the opportunity to say this because I have felt very strongly about it for a long time. I am delighted the review body included Members of this House because most of us are also members of local authorities.
Many Senators are also local representatives. I represent a fairly big county and have to travel over rough terrain. I believe if any Member opposes this Bill — perhaps he represents a narrow section of the community, such as a university — it will show that he is totally out of touch with the average Member of this House. If a person takes his political career seriously, he cannot successfully manage a business, but there is not mention of that in this Bill. Even if we add the increases and improvements such as the telephone allowance it is still not a gift wrapped present.
The recommendations in this legislation are long overdue because the personal finances of Members have been allowed to deteriorate. The salary and expenses paid to Members of this House must keep abreast with the salary and expenses paid to our European counterparts. If we take our business seriously, we are entitled to be properly remunerated, only then can we do a better job and serve the public better. The Minister is doing a good job and has had the courage to stand up for justice.
I welcome the Minister to the House. He has a very powerful position in this Government. I congratulate him on the main thrust of his speech.
There is consensus on the report of the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector. I am very pleased to note that, since the debate in the House, in certain areas where assistance will be given to TDs, the same assistance will be given to Senators. That is extremely important. It is difficult to make a speech on an issue like this because there is a danger of repetition in the area of severance pay, home phones, expenses and the necessity to distinguish between salary and genuine expenses.
I was a Member of the Oireachtas from 1973 to 1982 — I was out of politics for a number of years — and I can look at this fairly dispassionately and without self-interest. I have no apology to make to any member of the public when I speak in this House in support of better conditions.
When we look at the history of the people who have been involved in Irish politics and their background, we realise how many of them came from a business background — and they were members of every political party — we see the problems their political careers raised for their families. Look at the business people who decided to dabble in politics and ended up spending a huge amount of time in the public sector minding everybody else's business and neglecting their own. There are other reasons Members of both Houses should have salaries and conditions comparable to other sectors in the economy.
One weakness in this country compared to other countries, is that in other countries membership of the Parliament is considered a great honour and a most important job. There is substantial participation by professional people who have a price in the marketplace outside Parliament and can demand an income as engineers, accountants or lawyers. Here people with an independent income would not entertain being Members of either House because the electoral system is structured through proportional representation, with which I have problems, and until recently because of the appalling conditions under which Members worked. It is very sensible to distinguish between salaries and expenses as recommended by the report. There were stories about Members getting non-taxable income. That perception was a little unfair. Members have to meet very high expenses.
Senator McGowan spoke briefly about Donegal and I can speak about west Mayo. Due to the reduction in population the boundaries have been extended into part of Galway. To drive from Blacksod Bay in west Mayo to Caherlistrane near Galway city is about 115 miles; the round journey is about 230 miles. To go to a funeral could involve me in a journey of 180 miles. This involves considerable expense. Nobody in normal business life would be expected to personally meet that type of expenditure. We are not talking about private remuneration or profits, but recouping the actual expenses incurred.
I approve of the proposals on severance pay and pensions but there is one area that is not covered, and I can understand why since it might not be deemed to be relative to the narrow interpretation of pay and conditions. I am delighted the Minister is present because I want to bring this matter to his attention. Let us look at the function of the Houses of the Oireachtas today. We were elected to do one of the most serious jobs in the country. Until February 1973 we were, to a large extent, masters of our own destiny within the two Houses of Parliament. We had a political system, a structure for the election of Government, an Executive, and two Houses of Parliament; in other words, we had sovereignty, the process was contained in our own country. However, major shifts have occurred because we joined the European Community in early 1973 and there has been a change as far as power is concerned. We are a member of the European Community and must have due regard to European Community Regulations. Ministers spend a great deal of time in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe. We have EC Regulations in such areas as tourism, industry and agriculture. The future of Irish agriculture, no longer depends on Executive decisions made by a Minister for Agriculture and Food in an Irish Government. Today we are dependent on the thrust of policy and the decision-making process in Europe working through the institutions of the European Community the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers. That is where real power lies.
Governments are very strong because the Executive is funded to liaise with Brussels. If the Minister wants to consult with his fellow Finance Ministers or send people from his Department to follow up areas of concern to him, there is instant access of course to Europe, there are travel allowances, etc., paid to those people. The European Community is becoming more and more powerful and there is a massive European input into virtually all the major economic issues we discuss, including justice. In terms of knowledge and access to information, the gap is widening rather than narrowing between the Executive and the Members of the Houses of Parliament.
A Member of the Dáil or Seanad who has a serious interest in tourism, marketing, finance, European Community political issues, agricultural policy etc., but who has limited resources cannot begin to take on the Executive in a challenging debate. In the Dáil, a backbencher can question a Minister or a Government, which is his right in a parliamentary democracy. Take, for example, a Deputy from north Cork, a strong farming area. He has views on the Common Agricultural Policy and Europe. In the context of preparing a speech on the Estimate for Agriculture or putting down questions to the Minister for Agriculture and Food he believes it is necessary — and I would support him, no matter from what political party he came — to go to Brussels for two days. He wants to meet the Commissioner and Members of the European Parliament. Under our system of remuneration no structure exists for compensation for as little as the air fare not to mind the cost of bed and breakfast. That is a weakness. I can see why the Review Body on Higher Remuneration would not deal with this but it is an issue which I ask the Minister for Finance, given his authority and power in the land, to examine.
The reason I mention it in the context of the Irish Government is because I know there is no other source where such funding can come from. The Commission has no regular procedure for that except occasionally. I support the idea of telephone assistance because heavy expenses are incurred. Other legitimate expenses are also incurred. I support this Bill.
I thank Senators for their kind remarks and for their various comments. Senator McDonald asked me quite a number of questions. He referred to deferral and non-payment of wage increases over the past number of years. Many payments were deferred and increases were not paid in line with a number of Government decisions when public finances were particularly bad in the early and mid-eighties. In any event, the rates recommended by the review body in 1987 have been paid in full. They attracted standard increases to other public servants since then. When the former Deputy, John Boland, was Minister for the Public Service he made certain amendments to legislation. In 1983, they changed that system around. While payments might have been deferred it would be incorrect to say they were not paid at all. The payment dates were deferred.
Reference was made by some Senators to the fact that the proportion of a Senator's salary has fallen from 75 per cent of a Deputy's salary over the years. The review body, after its independent examination of this matter, recommended a ratio of just under 60 per cent. That is where that figure actually comes from. Senator O'Keeffe referred to the salary of the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad and to the salaries of chairman of Oireachtas Committee. The Leas-Chathaoirleach has additional remuneration of a figure which I am sure the House is familiar with. The review body are at present looking at the question of additional remuneration for chairmen of Oireachtas Committees. The question of who actually chairs Joint Oireachtas Committees is one over which I have no power to decide.
The Minister could put in a good word.
I have no objection whatever to putting a good word particularly for my good friend, Senator Honan. If I could get the job for her I would be very glad. Senator O'Toole said he was not aware that a Senator could become a Minister of State. I would go along with the view that he would be an unlikely candidate but is not prohibited by the fact that he is a Senator because under the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1977, the Government may, on the nomination of the Taoiseach, appoint not more than ten persons from either House of the Oireachtas to be Ministers of State.
Senator O'Keeffe raised a number of points relating to the pension scheme. The review body is looking at the scheme. Senator McDonald asked if Senators could benefit under the new scheme because it does not come into operation until after the Government have been formed after the next general election. Only those provisions relating to Ministerial pensions and severance payments take effect after the next election. What will happen then is that outgoing Ministers with three years service or more who came back at that stage into the next Dáil or Seanad will then have to decide whether to adopt the new system of pensions and severance which will have its drawbacks. For example, under the new scheme they will not be able to get their pension until 55 years. I think that is a good example. Also, they will get only 50 per cent while in the Oireachtas the old scheme also has a number of advantages and disadvantages. It will be up to every member to decide on which scheme they opt for.
In 1987 the argument was that some people could serve their three years and be in a position to get pensions of 25 per cent at quite a young age. I know of one Deputy who is not a Member of either House now so it would not be fair to mention his name but his case was used as an example of what was wrong with the system. There is one Minister in the Cabinet who is only 32 years. If he served over three years, under the old system he would be entitled to his pension, as long as he was no longer an office holder. Under the new system, that Member would have to wait until he was 55 years of age before drawing the pension. I just take that as an example to show that when the Gleeson report gets rid of the anomalies and tidies up the position, people will still have to decide on a system taking into account age and other grounds. As regards Deputies' and Senators' severance pay section 5 does not have a fixed operative date — that date will depend on the review body's recommendations.
This Bill has been under consideration for some time. I took it over in November. Since then we have looked at a number of issues and both the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of the Dáil and of this House have examined various aspects of it. I will take on board a number of issues Members raised. Things are improving rapidly. We have had the the benefit in this debate of hearing the views of Senators McGowan and McDonald who between them have been in this House for over 50 years and have considerable knowledge and experience. It is important that we all listen to them. In the past ten years, the improvements made have been quite remarkable and we should continue on that road.
I remember coming from the position of a hospital accountant to the Dáil in 1977. I agree with many of the comments that have been made here today and I take great heart in agreeing with them. A number of us came in here in 1977 as new Members. We met the then Taoiseach, who was newly elected. We explained to him what we considered were matters that should be addressed. The key matter at that stage was that there were 12 of us, Deputies and Senators, in one office on the fifth floor. We had two outside telephone lines. Eight rural Deputies and Senators had one secretary and we had great difficulty finding where she was in the building. We located her after several months. She was working in this end of the building and we were on the other side of the House.
A photocopier was something one queued up for for a half an hour. Fax machines had not have been even invented. The idea of research was only relevant to Trinity College and UCD. Things have dramatically improved.
Some of the longer serving Senators will remember that in 1982 I had the pleasure to be the Whip who was involved in bringing in an agreement of a different Taoiseach — the previous Taoiseach. The arrangements were that we would have one secretary for every TD and that three Senators would share a secretary. There has been no improvement in that position since I brought in those changes in July 1982. It was also in that month, when the Taoiseach came back from his holiday home, that we had a meeting at which it was announced that the College of Engineering would move out of the buildings they were in — they were in what are now Government Buildings. That is when all the plans for the conversion of that building started. It took us practically ten years to complete that task but it gave Members a lot of extra accommodation. More people now have their own individual technology.
There are many other aspects that should be looked at on a personal note. This is why I am pushing fairly hard with the review body. There are special aspects in regard to chairmen of committees. It is a fact of life that some people are more active than others, or want to be more active than others. Some Members have other interests. People aspire to different positions, whether to the Upper House, the Lower House, Government level, European level or whatever. It is only fair that those people who take on additional duties such as the Chair of committees and office roles in the Houses should get some benefit.
I have served in hung Dáils, minority Governments, in Opposition, on the back benches, on the front benches, and as a Minister of State. I have held most positions in the Dáil in the past 15 years. This requires a huge amount of work. I have always had great affinity with those who hold the position of Whip because I have been one myself. These remarks apply to the Chair of committees also. These are the issues we must discuss. They are easy to identify.
A number of Members asked about the Information Office. In 1982 and 1983 I worked very closely with the present Leader of the main Opposition party, Deputy Bruton. We got approval from the Department of Finance: I want to say that I do not agree with any of the remarks made about the Department of Finance. Over the years they have been very helpful concerning the various review bodies. They actually approved the position of Information Officer for the Houses at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at that stage. As I said, I dealt with Deputy Bruton then. We had an agreement about getting the post through. We drew up terms of reference. We got a good salary scale. We went to see if we could get a suitable taker for the post. We advertised it. We co-operated with the Seanad but there was nobody there who wanted the job. At the time we went to the political correspondents and senior people who understood the House to see if we could get a defender of the democratic system from among their ranks. In the end, the job just went by default. I am sure we could have got the job filled but not by people whom we thought had relevant experience and expertise. I recall we tried three times. I remember spending many hours trying to convince people; I remember head-hunting but nobody wanted the post. I cannot blame them because it is not a particularly easy job. We are always fair game for these attacks.
I am sure Senators will recall the old system. We can thank ex-Deputy John Boland for getting rid of it. Senator O'Toole is not here now, but I am sure that what I say will be brought to his notice. He could not come in this morning because he had another meeting. He was talking about the way we should handle orders. I want to give him my considered view of that from my practical experience. Under the old system when a salary and wage increase was approved for the Houses of the Oireachtas it was announced at one level, and then it was laid in front of the House for 21 days, after which it came into effect. The evening papers used to have three headlines within the space of about six months.
I went into the House to back John Boland on the day on which we brought in the Bill. We had the 19 per cent headline, but we got three headlines of 19 per cent in the space of about ten weeks. It was like the cheap drink, the non-excise drink, in the bar, as well as the free lunches, the free newspapers and everything else that Members of the House are reported to get but which we have never seen in all our years here. It is impossible to explain to the public that we did not get 19 per cent increase three times. The headlines in very reputable newspapers, submitted very senior journalists, said the Government gave themselves 19 per cent increases and there was nothing any of us could say in either House. That is what would happen if we followed the system put forward by Senator O'Toole. If he can find an alternative mechanism that avoids that, I would be prepared to look at it.
I was asked about the allowance and whether, if the allowance comes in people could lose money on the tax rate. I am not too sure what would have happened before I simplified the tax rates; we are not here to discuss the Finance Bill today but I want to assure the House that that cannot happen. Under the new system the value of the present tax arrangements for Senators and TDs cannot be worsened by the new arrangements. I am not saying they have been substantially increased, but at least they cannot be any worse. I know Senators would accept that it is in all our interests that we follow the recommendations of review bodies but it would be entirely inappropriate if Members, who are in the privileged position of legislators, were to vote themselves the salaries, and be judge and jury in making changes in our conditions. These things can only be done on the basis of independent assessment and reports. That is the mechanism we have to follow.
There were other good points made by Senators, including Senator Staunton. I want to assure the House that I will look at some of these points and see what we can do to improve the matters raised. I want to thank the Seanad for giving time to this Bill. I would also like to thank them for remarks regarding the changes in allowances to Senators in respect of telephones in their homes. Because of what I have said with regard to the pro rata entitlements, that has to follow in this case also. It is an improvement and we are going in the right direction.