For the information of the House, this is a Private Members' Bill. The Second Stage of this Bill is being treated in the same way as a non-Government motion with an overall time limit of two hours. The time allocated to the proposer is 12 minutes and, as agreed on the Order of Business, he will have 10 minutes to reply at the end of the debate. Every other Senator has eight minutes to contribute as usual.
Registration of Lobbyists Bill, 1999: Second Stage.
I move : "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to introduce this Private Members' Bill and allowing a Second Stage reading today. I hope the Government will not oppose the Bill at this stage and will give an undertaking that Committee Stage will be allowed in the autumn session.
This Bill is an important step which will open up an influential area of public affairs which has hitherto remained closed to public scrutiny. The recent affair involving the Taoiseach's former adviser, Mr. Paddy Duffy, raises serious issues and concerns about the role of lobbying and the activities of lobbyists within our parliamentary democracy. In that context, I note the comments made by the Taoiseach in the Dáil on 16 June in his statement on the Paddy Duffy affair, in which he referred to the growth of political lobbying and consultancy. The Taoiseach said "The whole area requires deeper reflection and debate . . . ". In that regard I hope the Government will recognise the positive approach of this Bill and assist its passage into law.
Due to the growth of political lobbyists and lobbying, the Labour Party has decided to publish legislation which would require paid lobbyists – and I stress the word "paid"– who are employed to influence the public policy-making process, to register their activities with the Public Offices Commission.
In my experience as a Member of both Houses, I have become increasingly aware of the extent to which some companies and institutions will go to lobby Ministers, Members of the Oireachtas, senior officials and members of public bodies, to change laws or influence policy and decision making. Powerful national and international interests commit huge amounts of money to this task, so they obviously see it as worthwhile. The public has a right to know who is lobbying the Government, Oireachtas Members and public servants to change our laws and have certain decisions made, reversed or otherwise, and whom they have employed to assist them.
My interest in this subject was provoked by hearings I attended as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children relating to the tobacco industry in Ireland. It became clear from those hearings that the tobacco industry takes a keen interest in deliberations in the Department of Health and Children and its related committees concerning, for example, the control of smoking in public places. It unexpectedly became clear to us, as a result of a presentation made by the Irish Medical Organisation, that the tobacco lobby was privy on occasion to discussions of a committee within the Department of Health and Children that could be regarded as confidential. The problem was that those engaged in such discussions were unaware the lobbying was going on and that their proceedings were being transmitted to the tobacco lobby in Ireland and the United States.
More recently, the influence of political lobbyists has been seen most clearly in Committee Stage in the Dáil of the Electricity Regulation Bill, 1998, where there was literally standing room only in the public gallery due to the large number of public relations and public affairs consultants in attendance.
While some might argue that lobbying should be prohibited, my view is that it should be disclosed and put on the public record for everybody to see and inspect as they wish. Lobbying has become established as a permanent feature of our system of parliamentary democracy. If anything, over the coming years, the practice of lobbying is likely to become more sophisticated and intense and now is the right time to introduce this legislation.
This Bill is not aimed at preventing or stopping the activities of paid lobbyists but it is designed to disclose and open up their activities and their clients in the public interest. If powerful groups in our society are using public affairs consultants to change our laws or influence public policy, the public has a right to know about such activities and those who are behind them.
There are currently no formal rules relating to the activities of lobbyists, yet there are laws on the Statute Book, such as the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, with which Members of the Houses and public officials are obliged to comply. Furthermore, if public and private companies are required by law to declare the names of their auditors and legal advisers in documentation to the Companies Office and in annual reports, there is no reason legislation should not require lobbyists to make similar declarations about those for whom they work and for what purpose.
This Bill will go some way towards removing the perceived notion or suspicion that lobbyists are able to gain unfair advantage for their clients. In addition, it will bring a greater degree of openness to the activity of lobbying and, as a result, will give greater legitimacy to that profession. Put simply, this legislation would require paid lobbyists, that is, those who for payment or reward lobby politicians or senior public servants, to register their activity with the Public Offices Commission where it will be open to inspection by the public. That excludes anyone who comes to us in the normal course of his work on his own behalf, or on behalf of someone else if he is not receiving payment for the activity. The activity comes within the remit of this proposed legislation only if it is paid activity.
In addition to covering those whose business it is to lobby, such as public affairs consultants, the Bill would cover representative and non-governmental organisations which employ in-house lobbyists to seek to influence office holders.
I welcome the initial response by public affairs consultants to this proposed legislation. Mr. Nigel Heneghan of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland said:
As the discipline of lobbying has become the focus of much greater public attention, the Institute welcomes the proposed legislative measures which aim to ensure that professional lobbying activities are the subject of regulation. The Institute will have no difficulty in subscribing to the general spirit of the proposed Registration of Lobbyists Bill. The Institute particularly welcomes the proposed Code of Conduct for Lobbyists.
I welcome these comments and the remarks issued on behalf of the Public Relations Consultants Association.
I do not want to use the time available to me to go through the proposals in detail which are well explained in the explanatory memorandum. However, I wish to draw the attention of the House in particular to the code of conduct for lobbyists in the Second Schedule of the Bill. This is based on four key concepts – that free and open access to Government is an important matter of public interest; that lobbying public office holders is a legitimate activity; that it is desirable that public office holders and the public should know who is attempting to influence Government and that a system for the registration of paid lobbyists should not impede free and open access to Government.
The purpose of this code of conduct is to assure the public that lobbying is done ethically and to the highest standards with a view to conserving and enhancing public confidence and trust in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of public decision making. This code of conduct is similar to the voluntary code which already operates for public affairs consultants. It also contains a set of principles and rules which all practitioners would be obliged to follow. If there is a breach of these rules, the Public Offices Commission could investigate it.
Under these principles of the code of conduct, all lobbyists should conduct with integrity and honesty all relations with public office holders, clients, employers, the public and other lobbyists. They should be open and frank about their activities while respecting confidentially and they should maintain the highest professional standards at all times. Under the rules of the proposed code all lobbyists, when making a representation to an office holder, must disclose the identity of the person or organisation on whose behalf the representations are made. They shall provide information that is accurate and factual to office holders. This is important because some Members of the Lower House who were lobbied about the Electricity Regulation Bill told me that much of the information they got was inaccurate; it was not factual. Lobbyists shall indicate to their client or employer their obligations under this legislation.
As regards confidentiality, the code of conduct provides that lobbyists shall not divulge confidential information unless they have obtained the informed consent of their client or employer or the law requires disclosure. In addition, they shall not use confidential information or other insider information obtained in the course of their lobbying activities to the disadvantage of their client or employer. There are also provisions to avoid conflict of interest type situations. The provisions of the Bill seek to give legal effect to this code of conduct.
I acknowledge that a Private Members' Bill drafted with the limited resources of this side of the House is not perfect and that it will require considerable amendment on Committee Stage if it is agreed here this evening. I would welcome proposals for amendments from all sides of the House and from lobbyists. I ask the House for its support for the general principle of the Bill "to provide, in the public interest, for the registration of paid lobbyists, and, to the greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest in free and open access to central and local Government, for the disclosure of their activities". The Bill is timely and necessary and I commend it to the House.
I noticed with a degree of amusement that Senator Gallagher, Senator O'Meara and myself have the current issue of Magill which features two people, one of whom was, until recently, an adviser to the Taoiseach, but who has now decided that an income of approximately £175,000 a year is inadequate for his talents and has gone out on his own. He is one of a vast number of people engaged in influencing the mere mortals who occupy Leinster House for maximum salaries, in the case of the Taoiseach, of only £100,000 a year. That capacity to jump from one side of the divide to the other and then create an impression that one is worth vast sums of money makes this type of conservative legislation necessary.
This is balanced legislation. It is not a threat to anyone or an attempt to close down a business. The corporate sector is extremely foolish to pay large sums of money to lobbyists in the most accessible political system in Europe. Each Minister sits in their clinic every week and listens to the stories of misfortunates who could not afford to pay 50p to a lobbyist. They then come to Dublin and meet someone who has paid £10,000 to a lobbyist for the privilege of doing what every citizen can do in the Minister's clinic.
A sum of £10,000 would not get a person far.
He is speaking about Cork.
That is extremely cheap.
Members of the Oireachtas think in extremely small numbers when it comes to the aspirations of other people. I remind myself of Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Kelly, who are 32 and 31 years of age, respectively, who are featured in Magill with their combined salary of £350,000, which is not enough.
We want to make this process transparent, accountable, open and honest. We also want to burst the bubble of lobbyists because they are cunning people. Voluntary organisations, which do not have huge resources but have honesty, integrity, commitment and a good cause, will have more influence on most Members of this House. There are exceptions in various parties who will listen to these types of people. However, an overwhelming number of the people elected to this House have more sympathy for someone who has something genuine to say than they have for someone who is dressed up in the expensive packaging of those who appropriate to themselves the type of salaries mentioned.
This is why the Bill is so important and every reasonable person assumes the Government will accept it in principle. We are not trying to ram it down anyone's throat or cast it in stone, but there are fundamental principles in it. We must know who the lobbyists are, for whom they work and what they are trying to do. Once we do, they will be free to operate. Other issues will arise, such as the role of former Members of the Houses who have access to parts of the House to which no one else has access except Members and former Members, and these will be dealt with by this House, the other House and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. We should ensure our rules state that those who are registered as lobbyists should not be able to carry on that function in areas of the House which are exclusively the preserve of Members and in which they are entitled to privacy and relaxation and to be free from these people.
A number of years ago Senator Manning said my freedom of information Bill was surprisingly conservative. This Bill does not attempt to take away people's livelihoods, to threaten any Member of either House of the Oireachtas or to undermine any principle of democracy. It brings out into the public, which is the only place in which it can be safely practised, a practice which has become a large lucrative business and, therefore, an object of considerable suspicion by the public. It is not just the lobbyists who are suspect. We become suspect because if the public sees people making the type of salaries I mentioned, it will suspect that some of the money floating around will go in this direction.
We do not want only to regulate lobbyists. It is because it is also a necessary protection for ourselves to show that we accept the inevitability of this practice as long as there are gullible people in the corporate sector prepared to fork out vast sums, usually their shareholders' money, to defend themselves. I am reliably informed that the Houses of the Oireachtas were awash with lobbyists earlier this year and late last year when the banks were somewhat embarrassed by the disclosures of their misdemeanours and there was virtually "one for every one in the audience". At one stage there were nearly as many lobbyists as Members of the Oireachtas floating around to assure us of their benevolence and that they never contemplated breaking even the most minor law of the land. That was when most of us realised that something had to be done.
Senator Ross has vigorously supported this Bill from the perspective of somebody who could hardly be described as a left wing radical, and I will not describe him as a left wing radical, who knows the practice of business better than most. Senator Ross sees the point, we see the point and I know my colleagues in the Fine Gael Party see the point, but the question we are all waiting to have answered is whether Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats can accept this in prin ciple, without a division, so that we can discuss the issue in detail on Committee Stage. I can guarantee that Senator Gallagher will be more responsive to the concerns of the Members opposite than the Minister who has taken up most of our time in the past two days has been to the concerns of Members on this side. We believe in listening to other people's views on Committee Stage.
I suggest this is a further step to the rehabilitation of politics and the way the process of democracy operates in this country.
On behalf of the Government I want to indicate a broad welcome for the principles underlying this Private Members' Bill. This House has a fine tradition in promoting reform legislation and informing public debate.
I believe this Bill continues this tradition by bringing into focus the issue of lobbyists and the emerging role played by such interests in public life. It is timely therefore that we should discuss the issue and carefully consider how best to manage the interaction of lobbyists with Ministers officials and others.
Members will remember that the issue of lobbying was virtually unheard of in this country earlier this decade. Some surprise was expressed during the passage of the Ethics in Public Office Bill through the Houses during 1994 as to the inclusion of a requirement on Members to disclose any position held as a paid lobbyist. Clearly time moves on.
Having indicated broad support for the principles underlying this Bill, I believe it is important that proposals for legislation be pursued in a coherent and focused way. It is essential that the regulation of matters affecting public life are practical, focused, carefully researched and considered, informed by public debate and well integrated with other related developments.
By the yardstick of these broad criteria, the purpose and operation of this Bill requires very careful consideration. It is the business of Government and indeed of the Oireachtas to ensure that legislation and policies governing the conduct of public business, and indeed our society, develop in a structured way. There has not been sufficient research and consideration of the issue of lobbying in this country. It is important that legislation be preceded by rigorous analysis of the underlying issues and grounded in the fullest consideration of our public policy needs.
The Bill serves a useful purpose in raising public awareness and debate on the issue of lobbyists. However, it does not constitute a basis for defining public policy at this time. It is helpful in that it initiates and promotes debate on lobbyists, but we are not at a stage where we can proceed to legislation on this issue.
While transparency in lobbying as in other areas of public life would undoubtedly be of benefit to our democracy, I am sure Senators will agree that we must be proportionate in the measures we adopt. We have not yet reached the position which pertains in the United States for instance, where in Washington, I understand, lobbying is the third largest business after government itself and tourism.
Professional lobbying is in its relative infancy in this country. Our approach should recognise this and avoid being pre-emptive. We need to critically assess and define the issues before we prescribe a formula for addressing them.
In that regard I note the Bill does not seek to define what would not constitute lobbying. I would think it sensible to exclude from the definition of lobbying activities such as oral or written submissions to parliamentary committees where there is a public record.
My understanding is that legislation abroad also excludes from the definition of lobbying submissions to an office holder regarding the enforcement, interpretation or application of a law. Similarly, responses to invitations to make submissions to a public office holder for advice are excluded.
The Canadian law, on which this Bill would appear to be largely based, has a code of conduct for lobbyists. This seems to be closely reproduced in the Bill before us. It is worth noting that the Canadian Lobbyists Registration Act, 1995, mandated the Ethics Counsellor to consult with persons and organisation that he considered interested in the code. I understand that following a wide ranging consultation process, the Ethics Counsellor referred a version of the code to a standing committee of parliament and it subsequently entered into force in 1997.
While I can broadly support the principles enunciated in that code, it would be a grave disservice to this House and indeed our democracy to take on board "lock, stock and barrel" a code drawn up after extensive consultations in another jurisdiction and designed to suit the circumstances of that state.
I understand the Canadian legislation provides for three categories of lobbyist. These comprise first consultant lobbyists, individuals who for payment, lobby on behalf of a client. Under Canadian law consultant lobbyists are required to register if they undertake to arrange a meeting between their client and a public office holder and if they lobby for the awarding of a federal contract. Consultant lobbyists may include government relations consultants, lawyers, accountants or other professional advisers who provide lobbying services for their clients. Second are in-house lobbyists who are employees of corporations that carry on commercial activities for financial gain and who lobby as a significant part of their duties. Third are non-profit organisations. This category covers organisations such as associations, charities and so on.
Not all of these categories have been addressed in the Bill before the House today. Clearly, each category would require very careful consideration prior to proceeding to develop legislation for lobbyists.
An area which touches on the issue of lobbyists and which also needs to be examined is the acceptance by former officials of appointments with private companies, including firms of lobbyists. The Minister for Finance stated in the Dáil recently that, as part of a series of initiatives to improve the human resource management function in the Civil Service under the strategic management initiative, a review of the rules and guidelines governing the conduct of civil servants in under way.
A draft code of conduct is currently being considered within the strategic management initiative deliberative process. It is intended that the code will draw together in a single document the principal precepts which should govern the behaviour of civil servants. The code is not intended to be an exhaustive list of guidelines for all possible eventualities but rather will set out the principled framework within which all civil servants should work and the values they will be expected to uphold.
The code will address certain standards of probity required of civil servants in the modern Civil Service in relation to issues such as gifts and hospitality. It will also address conflicts of interest which may arise from any business activity or employment of civil servants outside the Civil Service, or payments for work on behalf of outside bodies. Once the strategic management initiative consultative process has been completed the text will be submitted to Government for approval. The code will apply to all civil servants including temporary civil servants and ministerial appointees.
As I have said, the Government has no difficulty in accepting the broad principles underlying the Registration of Lobbyists Bill or the spirit in which it is put forward. However, the Bill, which seems to borrow heavily from abroad and is apparently bases on arrangements overseas, is not the solution at this time.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that there are a number of initiatives in hand which are relevant to ensuring the highest standards of ethical behaviour and conduct and guarding against wrongdoing in public life. Proposals for a standards in public office Bill are being reviewed in the light of the recommendations of various Oireachtas committees and I expect the standards Bill will be published later this year. As indicated by the Taoiseach and the Minister, this will provide an opportunity to consider bringing lobbyists within the scope of the new commission along with other players in public policy making. Separately the proposed prevention of corruption Bill will also be published.
There are a range of initiatives under way within which the activities of lobbyists may be considered. If these are not found to be adequate then the Government will revert to this House with further separate proposals.
Given the legislative and other developments I have referred to, and in the absence of sufficient research and consideration of the lobbyist areas, the Government will be opposing this Bill.
I welcome this Bill. The contents of this Bill go to the very heart of this process. The issue is one of influence. It deals with how decisions in the democratic process are arrived at, what really decided the issue one way or the other and what were the clinching arguments in bringing a Government or a Department to a conclusion which could have enormous financial implications for a number of parties concerned. This Bill is also about accountability and openness which are words and concepts that have become a familiar part of political debate over the past eight years.
As Senators Gallagher and Ryan colourfully pointed out, there has been a huge increase in the number of people acting as lobbyists in recent years. It is true that when a major committee is in session in Kildare House it is difficult to gain access to that building because of the serried ranks of lobbyists pushing a particular case. They have the legitimate right to do that but this set up raises many questions. What requires so many highly paid lobbyists to be in attendance at any given time? What are Members missing out on? What have we not been told?
The growth in the number of lobbyists, the amounts of money involved and the nature of the decisions being taken make all of us vulnerable. There is a vulnerability in the political system. It is one of a number of vulnerabilities that have been tackled in recent years. This Bill goes a long way to address that vulnerability but the Minister's response is disappointing.
The practice of lobbying is as old as politics itself. There is nothing wrong with lobbying. In one form or another it has always been part of our political culture. I remember the late Paddy McGilligan telling me that when he was setting up the ESB – the first big State venture – lobbyists from Germany and America appeared. He said that some of them were not particularly subtle about the offers they were making if they could get the business. The nature of our industrial policy in the 1930s and 1940s was based on protection and that created its own lobbyists. People were lobbying for different industrial advantages. It is only in recent years that it has grown to the extent that we now experience.
Lobbying is an honest and legitimate profession. Most of the people whom I know to be involved in lobbying here try to conduct their business in an honourable manner. Senator Gallagher has been careful not to demonise the profession of lobbyists. He simply said that regulation might be in the interest of lobbyists but was definitely in the best interest of the public.
Lobbyists are often useful for explaining to business people how the political system works. They can tell those people how they can best use the political system to achieve what they want. That is a legitimate activity. Lobbyists are useful because they can explain to Members the nature of their client's interest. They are useful only as long as we know who lobbyists are representing and we can depend on what they tell us. This system helps us make a decision when we have to vote on an issue. Lobbyists can sometimes put forward issues in a straightforward manner but occasionally they make issues sound complicated in the interest of perpetuating their own mystique. However, it is a legitimate and honourable activity which we should treat carefully.
Senator Ryan addressed concerns about this issue. Some of these concerns surfaced during the Seanad's sub-committee debate on standards in public office which was chaired by the Leas-Chathaoirleach. On that occasion questions were raised that needed to be addressed. It was proposed, at the very least, that the same standards applied to civil servants or politicians – all of whom are part of the policy process – should be applied to lobbyists. For some time Senator Ross, as was mentioned earlier, has drawn attention to this issue in his own vivid manner. This is not a new issue. The issue is there and there are concerns.
One of my biggest concerns at present is that a person can retire from a senior position in the Civil Service and take up a post as a major lobbyist the next morning. That person now has to deal with the same issues he dealt with from within the public service up to a few days earlier. Perhaps that person planned his exit. How do we know that he concentrated on the interest of his potential employer rather than on the public service in the previous two or three years? It is wrong for someone to be able to walk out of the public service with a lot of classified and sensitive information and set up the next day as a lobbyist. He then can deal with the people he was in charge of up to a few weeks earlier, using information that no one else was privy to and offer it to the highest bidder. Other countries have a period of decontamination for people who leave as a Minister or a senior civil servant. In other words, they must be sterilised in a policy and influence sense before they can become lobbyists. This is a worrying scenario. The Magill article, which I have not read yet, raises the situation where someone can be an adviser to the Taoiseach, be privy to a great deal of classified and sensitive information, have insider access to it and then suddenly that information is for sale outside. I do not begrudge these people earning a lot of money but this is an issue of genuine public concern.
If this problem is not addressed it will undermine confidence in the integrity of the public service. It also sets an example for people working inside the public service. It puts them under pressure to look for an exit mechanism which will allow them to make use of their experiences and expertise.
I support this Bill but I am disappointed by the Minister's reaction. It is the standard reaction we get to most Private Members' Bills. There is nothing the Minister said which could not be dealt with on Committee Stage. A consultative process before Committee Stage would be helpful to Members. It would give us an opportunity to hear the views and concerns of the people involved in the lobbying industry. We could find out if this Bill is too draconian or misrepresents their position.
We should give this Bill a second reading tonight. It would benefit from a period of consultation. It would also benefit from a detailed Committee Stage debate and then it could go on to the other House rather than waiting for a comprehensive package. This issue is perfect for a Private Member's Bill. We could then tackle it and put it on the Statute Book. This would greatly enhance the quality of public life.
I welcome the principles of this Bill. As Members will know, over the past number of weeks I have indicated on the Order of Business that I would welcome legislation and regulation of this area. This Bill, however, is premature and requires more research and debate. On examination of the Bill it seems that it would cover paid communications with a list of public officeholders, including Ministers, local authority councillors and public officials with a view to influencing the development of legislation, public policy or awarding of public contracts. The Bill includes registration provisions which would require lobbyists to register with the Public Offices Commission details of each lobbying activity in which they engage. The details involved would include the name, position and business address of lobbyists, the client name and business address and, where applicable, the name and business address of any person or organisation that directs the client's activities.
If the client is a corporation, the lobbyists must register the name and business address of the parent corporation and those subsidiaries which directly benefit from the lobbying. Where the client receives Government funding, the amount of that funding must be registered. Subject matters must also be registered, including the specific legislative proposal, Bill, policy or contract sought, the name of each Department or other Government institution lobbied, the source and amount of any Government funding provided to the client, whether the payment is contingent on success of the lobbying, and the communication techniques used, including grassroots lobbying such as mass letter writing or facsimile campaigns.
Lobbyists would also be required to report any changes to information previously submitted, or report if they cease lobbying. Those employees for whom lobbying forms a significant part of their duties would also have to submit the information set out above. Information submitted in registration forms would be maintained by the Public Offices Commission in a public register. The commission would also provide advice and guidance to those covered by the Bill to enable compliance with the legislation.
The Bill envisages the Public Offices Commission conducting investigations of non-minor or deliberate omissions from returns. For the purposes of such investigations the commission would enjoy the same powers as under the Ethics in Public Office Act, such as directing witnesses to attend before the commission. The commission's investigative reports would be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and, where the commission was of the opinion that an offence had occurred, they would be referred to the DPP.
Under the Bill to knowingly make a false or misleading statement in any return would involve, on summary conviction, a fine not exceeding £1,500 or one year's imprisonment. On conviction on indictment, a fine or imprisonment of up to two years would apply.
I welcome the broad principles of the Bill and the Government should introduce regulations or, preferably, legislation soon. The Bill is an initiator of debate and consideration of this growing aspect of Irish public life and should be welcomed on that basis. Debate on issues of public interest and consideration of Bills is the life blood of parliamentary democracy and a key function of this House.
With these functions come responsibilities and this is why we need to further consider this issue. We need to carefully consider the position in this State and not simply graft overseas legislation onto our Statute Book. The business of the Oireachtas is to ensure the development of the best statutory arrangements to meet the needs of this State and its people. Proposals for legislation need to be fully researched, carefully considered and well focused. It is not proper or correct to simply take a piece of legislation from another state, Canada in this case, and transpose it into Irish law.
At the very least we need to research the lobby industry in Ireland to see exactly what we are proposing to regulate. It seems obvious that we would be legislating in a vacuum if we were to accept this Bill at this juncture. Of the 80 or so entries for public relations firms in the current IPA directory, less than 20 mention activity in the governmental arena. However, this does not take account of corporate in-house lobbyists, accountants and other professionals who may from time to time engage in paid lobbying, nor does it cover officers of various pressure groups, charities, etc., who are active in lobbying. We need to get a handle on the dimensions of the industry in all its manifestation before considering legislation. The need for legislation must be informed by public debate and be supported by critical analysis of what is involved. We must also be clear as to the objectives and outcomes of legislation. Any proposed legislation must be aimed at maintaining and, if necessary, restoring confidence in the decision making process in central and local government.
There has been a growth in political lobbying and consultancy. This area requires further consideration and debate, including whether a proper and transparent divide should be put in place between public and private employment where a special knowledge or a regulatory position would give an inside advantage. This point was alluded to by Senator Manning. Answers are not readily available in this area if we were to believe in the interaction of the public and private sectors for the common good. There is a feeling that there should be more interaction between these two sectors and we need to deal with that issue before introducing legislation.
Public policy making must be coherent and integrated. There is also an obvious need for better integration of public policy initiatives of this nature. Members of this House will be aware of recent developments, such as the preparation of the standards in public office bill and the Prevention of Corruption Bill. The heads of the Bill are before the Committee on Finance and Public Service.
In its report on the Government's proposal for a standards in public office Bill, the Dáil Committee on Members' Interests recommended that consideration be given to bringing lobbyists within the ambit of the proposed new Public Offices Commission. It seems sensible to await the outcome of the Government's deliberations on these legislative initiatives before rushing into legislation on lobbying.
While I welcome the publication of the Registration of Lobbyists Bill because of the opportunity it presents to promote and deepen debate on this issue, I believe it would be premature to proceed with legislation at this time.
I congratulate Senator Gallagher and his colleagues on the introduction of this Bill which is particularly timely but I cannot believe the reception it received from the Government. I am utterly staggered by the fact that the Government has decided to oppose this Bill on Second Stage and the arguments put forward by Senator Finneran are unconvincing to say to least.
If, as it claims, the Government approved of the broad principle of the Bill, it would accept it on Second Stage. That is what Second Stage is about. Senator Gallagher rightly said that he is prepared to accept amendments to the Bill and even stated that it needed such amendments. However, it is obvious that the Government's opposition to the Bill is utterly disingenuous and leads one to conclude that it is never possible, even in the most dire circumstances, for Fianna Fáil to change its spots. Fianna Fáil is running to protect nebulous ethics. It is so defensive about everything these days that it cannot accept a Bill to which it could happily agree. Its opposition would lead one to believe it has something else to hide in these circumstances. I do not believe that to be true, just that its instincts are so bad it is taking an indefensible position. The Minister of State's speech was peppered with platitudes about consideration, discussions and about being in favour of all principles. He then gave us a lecture on the Canadian situation which was irrelevant. I do not understand why he did not accept the Bill. We should consider it and proceed from there.
I can guarantee one thing. For all the words spoken by its members, Fianna Fáil has no intention of introducing a Bill along these lines. The party has decided for some reason best known its members to kill this Bill here and now. It is very disappointing because it is a Bill obviously introduced with goodwill, good intentions and without any malicious or ill intent. It is not aimed at the Government but at the good of the democratic and parliamentary process which is threatened by lobbyists.
I have no objection to lobbyists but there is a question to be asked on a general level about big business buying influence. That is a question we should ask and should not be apologetic about asking. There is no doubt that big business is buying influence in Ireland. It would not pay the vast sums of money it does unless it at least thought it was. Let us find out if it is, what it is up to, who is getting what and what big business is getting in return. That is a reasonable thing to find out.
Lobbyists may be doing nothing wrong but there is a moral question about whether they should be allowed to do what they do anyway. Many Members referred already to the disabled people at the gates of Leinster House. Do they have the same access as the banks to Ministers? I am talking about access to Ministers and the people who make decisions and not to us because we do not matter. The answer is no. Senator Ryan mentioned banks at the time of AIB's problem. They paid lobbyists large sums of money at the time to lobby Ministers. Is that right? We should know at the very least if the banks are paying people much more than £10,000 a year in retainers to lobby the Government, what these people are doing and who they represent, and it should be on a register of interests as suggested by Senator Gallagher.
We have serious problems of principle and practice. Senator Manning rightly said it is not just paid lobbyists per se who are professional lobbyists. People who left public office should also have to make declarations and should also have to go through what is called a decontamination period. There are people who not only think about to where they will jump next and what information they will take with them but invite to be recruited by public relations firms seeking lobbyists. It would be very difficult, if they and their interests are not registered and they do not have a decontamination period, to stop this because public relations firms seeking to gain the maximum value out of what they do and to advertise their wares have targeted and will continue to target people in key political positions and pay them enough to work for them because such people have political influence due to the fact that the Government for which they worked is still in power. That is happening. I do not know whether they or Ministers deliver, but these people have access and we are inviting the continuation of this.
The phenomenon cuts across party lines. There are companies which target people from various parties and pay different people when Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour are in power. They do so because they know that some people have access to Fianna Fáil Ministers and others to Fine Gael Ministers. They pay both and that is buying political influence. If I have any criticism about Senator Gallagher, it is that he is too moderate, generous and conciliatory about this. What I have just outlined is what is going on and it is what we want to know.
What is important is transparency. What is not important is to vilify these people. We need to remove the mystique and the feeling among the public that something sinister is going on and that there are people lurking around these corridors doing something they should not. However, if nothing sinister is going on, why does the Government oppose the Bill? That is the mystery and that is what puzzles me. I welcome the Bill but the Government has made a terrible mistake. It is giving the impression it has something to hide and that it opposes transparency on this issue. It is sending out all the wrong signals in the current political atmosphere.
Senator Gallagher is to be commended on bringing forward this legislation for consideration. It is an issue which is widely debated and something about which there is general concern, so it is important and appropriate that the House give it detailed consideration. There are defects in the Bill which I will point out and there are certain parts of it inappropriate to Irish conditions. I go along with the Minister of State's proposition of the lock, stock and barrel approach being inappropriate for consideration or use here.
Lobbying has been going on since time began. It is wrong to believe it is a modern phenomenon. It was part of the court system in Europe. Nowadays it is more sophisticated and more visible. I accept the proposition that it is appropriate within a democratic society and that the Government and Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas should be accessible not just to their electorate but to people representing various points of view on behalf of organisations, various bodies, even banks and large public companies. That is part of our democracy and long may it remain so.
The people involved in such activity need to be regulated and to have a code of conduct and I welcome the code in the Bill. There must be a system whereby the interests of those lobbying are known and a certain standard to which they operate defined and laid down. Whether that should be laid down by legislation or by a voluntary code of conduct is something which could be debated. In the absence of a voluntary code of conduct, it is something which should be considered by way of regulation.
One of the difficulties I have with the Bill relates to office holders. The definition of office holders is drawn very widely and I believe does not accord with our domestic definition of what constitutes an office holder. That said, perhaps there is some merit in considering local authorities. The Bill mentions a person who occupies a position of employment in a public body. That might indicate a person such as a county manager. That is an area which could be examined in more detail.
However, the Bill is very narrow in its definition of the activities in which lobbyists are engaged, such as communicating with an office holder or arranging a meeting between them and another person. It should be more widely drawn. However, there is another and more basic difficulty relating to bodies such as the Irish Farmers' Association, IBEC, the Small Firms' Association and others of that nature which have been effective lobbyists for some time.
As I understand it, the Bill requires someone such as the general secretary of the IFA to make a statement and a return to the commission. I am not sure that this is necessary because when the general secretaries of the IFA, the Small Firms Association or IBEC come through the front door of Leinster House, everyone knows the reason for their presence.
On a point of information, that is not correct. I will respond to the Senator's point in my reply.
That brings me to the question of voluntary bodies. Reference was made to the degree of passion these bodies bring to their lobbying activities which makes them particularly effective. It is the experience of most Members that they do display such commitment but these organisations are also extremely sophisticated and effective lobbyists in their own right. They know how to operate politically and they are well versed in doing so. Is it a requirement that the secretary or president of a voluntary body would be obliged to make a return to the commission? In the event that they do not, why should they be treated differently from the general secretary of the IFA or some other professional body?
I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Manning's comments about public servants and Government Ministers, in terms of their leaving their positions and immediately obtaining well-paid jobs in the private sector. It is unquestionable that this can lead to conflicts of interest in the period before these people leave Government or the Department for which they work. In other words, a Secretary General of a Department can be responsible for making major decisions which could be influenced by virtue of the fact that he or she will immediately be launched on to the board of a particular company when they leave their current employment. That is wrong and it should not be allowed to happen.
We should given consideration to the many mechanisms in place in other jurisdictions which prevent this type of behaviour. Obviously one would not wish to curtail people's earning capacity but the people to whom I refer have been given generous pensions by the State and I fully support suggestions that a "decontamination" period should be put in place in respect of these people.
These matters have been given careful consideration and they have not cropped up overnight. As Senator O'Toole is aware, the Joint Committee on Finance and Public Service has given detailed consideration to a number of these issues which are all related to the standards in public office Bill. That Bill is due before the Houses shortly and it has already been the subject of consideration by the Joint Committee on Finance and Public Service and its sub-committee. Reports on the Bill have been prepared by the Select Committees on Members' Interests of both Houses. Therefore, a full debate on these and related issues has been taking place for some time.
To return to the "lock, stock and barrel" approach, I believe there are defects in the Bill which make it more appropriate to other jurisdictions rather than to ours. However, there is an additional aspect of the Bill to which I wish to refer and perhaps Senator Gallagher will deal with it in his reply. I refer to the activities in which lobbyists engage in an attempt to influence various things which happen within Government in terms of legislation, etc. One of the single biggest lobbying operations of the entire parliamentary year takes place in advance of the budget. Voluntary bodies, statutory bodies, Uncle Tom Cobley and all come to the Houses to lobby all the political parties in an attempt to influence, change or moderate various aspects of the budget. From my point of view, that matter has been excluded from the Bill. I hope Senator Gallagher will provide clarification as to whether that is the case.
We must treat former Members, former employees of political parties, former public servants in a different way from that in which we might treat Secretaries General or paid officials of lobbying organisations such as the IFA. A code of conduct should be introduced and these people's activities should be regulated. Senator Ross was wrong to state that the Government has no intention of introducing legislation in this area. The work of the committee to which I referred and the other work which has been going on for a considerable period indicates the reverse, namely that the Government wants to introduce a Bill and that this aspect of lobbying will be part of a greater corpus of legislation which will include the rights and responsibilities of Members, public servants and others.
I welcome the introduction of this important legislation and I congratulate the Labour Party and Senator Gallagher on bringing it forward. The Bill is timely in its impact because there is a need for politics to become even more transparent. People are concerned about the political process but thankfully the vast majority of politicians behave in an honourable manner. However, the fact that there are two tribunals sitting in Dublin Castle indicates that something is wrong at the core of Irish public life. That is something I regret and it is an issue about which members of the public are deeply concerned.
When you first enter Leinster House, you know the identities of members of Government parties, your own party, etc. However, you do not know what is happening in the corridors of power. When you enter politics, you do so for the purpose of representing the people by whom you were elected. The primary role of a public representative is to represent his or her constituency. However, when legislation is being debated, a budget introduced, etc., it is only right and proper that the consultation process engaged in should be as wide as possible. It is also right and proper that politicians should and must be lobbied by interest groups such as the trade unions, the Irish Farmers' Association, commercial groups, etc. Everyone accepts that this process is above board.
In my opinion members of the public will accept the general principle behind this Bill, namely, that anyone who wants to lobby Members of the Oireachtas should be registered. We should know who these people are and who they represent. In many instances, the people to whom I refer may represent a number of interest groups or companies.
The fundamental issue at stake here is the question of our democracy and how it operates. That democracy must be seen to be transparent and open and anyone who wishes to discover the identity of a person lobbying in favour of or against should be able to do so by consulting the register of lobbyists. They should also be in a position to discover the identity of the individual or group on whose behalf a person is lobbying.
Lobbying is a good aspect of the political process but it must be regulated. I agree with speakers on this side who stated that the Government is reneging on its responsibility in this area. In my opinion, the Government is actually running away from that responsibility by not accepting the principles of this Bill or by not providing a firm and absolute commitment to introduce real legislation in respect of this area. That is not good enough and I condemn the Government for the significant lack of action on its part.
We must accept that all politicians are subject to outside influences. For example, earlier today we discussed the broadening of competition in the electricity industry. It is important that the ESB or Northern Ireland Electricity will come to the House to debate their viewpoints with public representatives. The Bill sets out that the people who represent these companies should be registered and that information should be provided about the work in which they are engaged and the level of remuneration they receive in respect of it.
As already stated, I welcome the Bill. There are very high standards in public life in this House, but there must be seen to be transparency in lobbying activities. It should be known who every lobbyist who comes into this building is and for whom they are lobbying. That would clarify the matter for the public and would increase public confidence in the administration of public life.
I congratulate Senator Gallagher on introducing this legislation. It is timely, necessary and a Bill the Government should support. It is mealy-mouthed and mean-minded of the Government not to support it. There is no good reason for not supporting it. The public interest would be better served in a variety of ways if it were supported.
There has not been any potent argument against accepting this legislation. An argument we have heard and made many times ourselves has been put, that there are aspects of this Bill with which Members disagree. There are four further processes in which that can be dealt with. Following Second Stage, there is Committee Stage, Report Stage and Fifth Stage. There is also a process of re-entry, which has been used on occasion.
Departments of State are just that – they have a job to do. They have no authority to say to anybody that because they do not like some measure in a Bill they will reject it completely. That is not the way we do business in this House. If the thrust, trend and direction of the Bill is correct, we support it. We raise the issues concerned on Committee Stage, we set about making the changes and we expect proposers of a Bill to be open about the reason he or she brings it forward. Senator Gallagher has made it clear that he is open to Government amendments or to amendments by Members of the House. That is the way forward.
From another point of view, it would also be regrettable if this Bill were not accepted by the Minister of State. For once it could show that the Government is able to deal with proposals put forward by people other than from one of its Departments. That has been a consistent problem, which we have not made progress in addressing.
One aspect that is clear from a reading of the Bill and which gives the lie to much of the argument that has been put forward from the other side of the House is that lobbying is a paid activity. A person becomes a lobbyist when he or she accepts payment and enters into a contract, which is provided for in an early section of the Bill. It is irrelevant, specious and spurious for Senator Dardis to raise issues like the IFA or any other group or the INTO or another trade union. The general secretary of the Irish Farmers' Association is a defined office holder who has the job of promoting the interests of that organisation, which is registered with the Registrar of Friendly Societies, which must comply with certain regulations, a strict code of practice and is under the rule of law. That organisation can only change its rules with the agreement of the Registrar of Friendly Societies.
It is also wrong to say this Bill will impact on the broad general masses of people who congregate and lobby to bring about change through the budget on an annual basis. Members of the Centre for Independent Living who congregated outside the gates of this building today were trying to bring about change. They are trying to lobby. They have not accepted a contract from anybody in order to bring forward that change. They are working for themselves publicly and openly. It is also wrong to say that we are talking about people such as those people. That is a red herring. That is not what this Bill is about; it is about something that is very clear.
In the course of the work of one of the joint committees of the House on which I serve, when dealing with the declaration of Members' interests etc., we examined the operation in many other democracies throughout the world. I have read up on many of them on various occasions. It would do the Government good to read the strict and clear rules and regulations dealing with the US Congress. There is a one year decontamination period following the resignation of a Government adviser or a person working close to an elected person. For that one year period he or she may not involve himself or herself in a lobbying activity of that description.
Another issue on which we must be clear is that this Bill does not deal with consultancies. There is a clear difference between a consultancy and a lobbyist. A consultant is a person who sets out to advise and to help a group to devise a policy and a strategy on the basis of a knowledge of public affairs. That is a normal practice for people. It does not involve bringing the views of the person who is being advised to Government. That is a separate issue and that is where lobbying and lobbyists come into being.
Another important point that has been made by a number of speakers, including Senator Manning, is that lobbying is an important activity in the affairs of State. It can be a significant cog in the democratic progress and a significant wheel in moving forward progress towards good legislation and good Government decisions, but it only becomes that when we all see the game that is being played, know who is speaking for whom, know what is being attempted and who has who's ear, etc. If we revert to secret societies and work towards people meeting each other with strange handshakes, winks and nods, that more than anything else is what helps give oxygen to those people who hold public representation in poor regard. It is in the interest of Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas to make sure this is done in an open way that people can understand. There is nothing whatever wrong in other professions for a trade union to put an official working on behalf of a member or a group of interests. There is nothing wrong with a person getting a lawyer to represent him or her in the law. There is nothing wrong with a person approaching the medical profession. In all professions people do their business openly and correctly and they are subject to regulation. Part and parcel of the development of any profession is that it goes down the path of regulation.
I regret very much and resent, to a certain extent, that the Government could not find it in its heart to let the Second Stage of this Bill go through. If it comes to Report Stage of a Bill and one fails to make the changes one wants to make to it, that is the time to bury it and no one would argue with that. The idea of throwing out the baby with the bathwater at this stage is counterproductive, regressive, unacceptable, anti-democratic and it does not do anything to replace trust in public life and public activities.
This is important legislation and it is disappointing to note the Government's reaction to it this evening. It is necessary legislation at this time because of what emerged in recent weeks, which has given us an indication of how lobbying at a certain level needs to be regulated by law.
We have an open democracy in the sense that access to public representatives is so open in this country that public representatives and those involved in politics in other countries are stunned when they hear how easy it is to meet a Minister or an elected representative. That is as it should be.
The Duffy affair of recent weeks has shown us that legislation must be in place to cover a particular level. There must be regulation in terms of paid access or paid lobbying and there is a need to regulate the relationship between paid lobbyists and Government decisions of the day. Clearly the Taoiseach knows that. It is clear from his comments on the Duffy affair, minuted as they have been, that he is aware of the difficulty which has arisen from it. It is clear that Mr. Duffy and Mr. Dillon knew about the problem as soon as it emerged. It is also clear to Members of this House that legislation is necessary, which is why the Labour Party has brought it forward. The Government's rejection of it on the basis that not enough research has been done is flimsy to say the least and disappointing.
I find this debate slightly amusing as I have worked as a journalist and ministerial adviser. Shortly before I entered politics two years ago, a journalist acquaintance asked me if I would go into public relations and said I could make a great deal of money having worked closely with the Tánaiste's office and having dealt with important legislation. I could have done that as I have some insight into how lobbying works, particularly in this city. Dublin is a very small town and there is easy access to Government. I have wondered, as have others, including the journalist who wrote the article in the current edition of Magill, why bog standard PLCs pay £1,000 a week to public affairs companies.
There is nothing wrong with bogs.
I have no problem with bogs, I was reared near one. Why do large companies and multinationals such as Lever Brothers and Mars pay large amounts of money to public affairs companies? Is it to buy influence and access by any chance? Speakers referred to lobbying by the IFA, the Combat Poverty Agency, various trade unions etc. as open and transparent, as it is. I assume that under the Freedom of Information Act one could quickly find out who has had access to, or correspondence with, any Minister who is drafting legislation.
However, there is another side to it. I chose not to go into public relations or a public affairs consultancy, even though I could have. In my limited experience of politics, I know of small communities, such as those in the Silvermines who are faced by multinational waste management companies who undoubtedly have the resources to pay public affairs companies to advise them on not only how to deal with local authorities but how to deal with local communities, the media and government. I bring my skills and experience to helping those communities. If I did that in a professional capacity, which is clearly not the case, I could charge a huge amount of money for my skills and experience. Those communities do not have access to professional advice and do not have the resources to pay for it.
That raises one of the questions which this Bill seeks to address – how our democracy and access to it can be protected. This ease of access has been and continues to be our great strength. Members spoke about their concern about the preponderance of lobbyists in this building. I would not want to create a situation where it is impossible to reach us, as Members of this House. However, we must recognise there is a need for regulation and protection because that openness is potentially open to abuse. If that abuse creeps in, politics, decision making and confidence in our system will be devalued. Hardly a week has passed in this House since I became a Member less than two years ago in which we have not bemoaned the reduced confidence in our democratic system and politics.
This legislative proposal is important, valuable and timely. We cannot afford to lose any more time in bringing forward this Bill and similar legislation. Research may be needed but that is no reason to vote down this Bill at this stage, as other speakers on this side of the House have clearly and cogently argued. It is not only a pity but raises questions as to why the Government is defeating this legislation when it is clear that it knows it is necessary.
I am happy to support this Bill which is an important initiative on the part of the Labour Party. I congratulate my colleagues in the Labour Party on introducing this legislation. I agree with Senator O'Toole that it is a great pity the Government has not seen fit to allow this Bill go to Second Stage. If flaws of a substantial nature are discovered in the Bill subsequently, it is within the power of the Government to vote it down on following Stages. At least we would have a proper opportunity to ventilate the matter.
The use of Private Members' time for this is a device but it is so restrictive that it is not what is required for the consideration of a serious legislative proposal. Despite suggestions that this is modelled on Canadian legislation, it is a serious and clearly thought-out proposal. It ill behoves this or any other Government to say an idea is taken from Canadian or UK legislation – it is at it all the time itself. For years I fought against the idea that the handiest thing to do when confronting a legislative situation is to pull down the nearest United Kingdom equivalent Bill and trot it out directly.
And put a green harp on it.
Exactly, without the crown which should accompany it when it is pinched from the UK. It is a pity and I know many Members on the other side of the House feel this Bill should be given the full treatment in this House. However, they are under the constraints of the Whip and are told what to do, which is, of itself, not frightfully democratic. During discussions on legislation earlier today, we saw how the operation of powerful American lobbying interests try to ram legislation through. We had a classic example of it. Nobody knew they were in the field, although we had our suspicions, until, with disarming honesty, some of the Senators on that side, particularly Senator Mooney, let it all out of the bag. It is a pity this Bill will not be accepted. The Government should accept the Bill and amend it if necessary.
There was a reference to a former member of the Taoiseach's staff. I know it was not malicious but I regret these references have been made because it is the tradition of the House not to name someone who is not in a position to defend himself. I feel strongly about this, because, unusually, I happen to know this person fairly well. He is a recently appointed board member of the James Joyce Centre and is a man of wide culture who has a completely honourable approach to life. I would be most surprised if he engaged in anything dishonourable. In fact I do not believe it. However, sometimes the appearance of these things leads to a situation where people must resign. I would not like the reputation of that man, who has added considerably to Irish public life, to be tarnished.
I have always felt it was a mistake made by various parties to attack programme managers. The Labour Party introduced them and they were marvellous. It was a grave mistake on the part of Fianna Fáil to attack them and it would be a pity if this side of the House did the same.
I understand from Senator Gallagher that his motivation for the Bill came from his understanding, through various committees, of the operations of the tobacco industry. It is one of the strongest lobbying groups, not only here but in America, where it bought people off, poured money into lobbying in Washington and rigorously suppressed information which should have been available about people's health. People have died because of the malign intervention of the US tobacco industry.
Those are the professional, well heeled operations. Senator O'Toole referred to the people outside the gates of Leinster House from the Centre for Independent Living. We have entertained them here in the past and some of us have promoted their cause. They are what lobbying is all about and should be encouraged. They bring issues into public life. We, as public representatives, are asked endlessly to lobby on behalf of groups. I have just come from my office, where I spent the past hour or so dictating letters lobbying on behalf of individuals or groups in which I believe. This is part of my responsibility as an elected public representative.
However, I have one caveat, which has not been raised extensively, on the question of former Members of these Houses acting as lobbyists. One cannot preclude people from paid employment, simply because they have lost or resigned their seat. However, we should not encourage a unequal playing field in this manner. They have unlimited access to the House, Members' Bar, Library and restaurant. Not only do we need to have an abstract of such people's activities in a register but lobbyists who are former Members of the House should have something similar to Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, who had the letter “A” branded on her forehead as an adulteress. I am not suggesting they should have the letter “L” branded on their foreheads—
It could be a green harp.
Absolutely. Visitors to the House, some staff members, relatives and so on are given different coloured tags to wear. Why not have a vivid orange tag, or some other easily recognisable colour, for these people?
I have only recently discovered that this type of activity is taking place. I was wondering about the recent rush of sentimentality shown by all these former Members who persistently show up at the trough here for lunch. I have now discovered that some very remarkable people are lobbying for the most unlikely agencies. I will mention one for which I did not think any Member would have the stomach. At least one person is representing the interests of that unspeakable maggot, Rupert Murdoch. I would not touch him with a barge pole and I am amazed—
While the Senator's contribution is most interesting, he has just one minute remaining.
At least I got to make reference to Murdoch, which I have always wanted to do.
There are enormous amounts of money to be made in lobbying. I noticed in a magazine I was reading this afternoon, and to which reference has already been made, that two young lads, who were making only £350,000 per year and felt this simply was not adequate remuneration, left the company they were involved in and are now making £750,000 per year. This is astonishing stuff, particularly when Senators earning about £22,000 were described as rather overpaid by a fat cat from the Bank of Ireland, or wherever he came from, who was earning £750,000 plus tax rebates, share options and the whole works.
Perhaps we should resign en masse and become lobbyists. I heard someone say the other day “I am not going to vote, I am resigning my vote – that will teach them”. However, if we all resigned en masse it might teach us more than it taught the electorate and we might be left, in the immortal words of James Joyce, where Jesus left the Jews.
How does one follow that? I am delighted to support this legislation. The case for it was elegantly put by Senator Gallagher in his introductory remarks and also by Senators Ryan and O'Meara. It has received support from all sides of the House. The Minister of State also supported it in principle and his opposition was rather tentative and half-hearted. I think that, in his heart, he would like to support the Bill but a diktat has come from on high that it is not to be supported. I am disappointed by that because everything he said seemed to point towards support for the Bill, until he said he is looking at some other proposals, that it will considered in a wider sense and that it seems to take many elements from other legislation. However, as another speaker pointed out, our parliamentary draftsmen are very forward when it comes to copying legislation from abroad. If the British Parliament were to examine the corpus of legislation we have published in this House, it would find that a good 50 per cent of it originated in the British House of Commons and House of Lords.
This is an appropriate time to introduce this legislation for a number of reasons. We had circulated to us today the third annual report of the Public Offices Commission, which gives a very good outline of disclosure of interests, spending and so on by Members of these Houses. We are getting our act together, in terms of being upfront, having a code of conduct and ethics by which we must abide, establishing standards and having a commission which can look into all these matters. Why should we not ensure that people engaged in lobbying public officer holders are subject to the same standards? It is not only desirable but necessary.
This has come to our attention in a meaningful fashion only in the past number of years. Other countries might find that incredible, particularly the United States where, at present, paid lobbyists are, as the Minister of State said, the third largest business after government and tourism. This is clearly a growing business in this country. It is time we looked at it and put in place structures and a framework to regulate it and ensure it is operating to the highest standards. It is desirable and necessary that we do so.
What we need, as the Bill outlines in some detail, is not a draconian measure to demonise or penalise people engaged in this profession. We are proposing to put in place structures and principles of conduct. We need to know who is lobbying, who is paying them and why they are lobbying. Most of the lobbyists within the confines of this House are former Members. As Senator Norris eloquently described, we see such people everywhere in the House as they have privileged access to the House, Ministers, public servants and Members. We must have standards in this respect. It is desirable to put such standards in place at the outset, both in the public interest and for the future development of this profession.
The professionals themselves – I have heard no one say otherwise – would not welcome structures which would provide parameters to their activities. The Minister of State and the Government have not, to date, provided any initiatives or proposals in this respect. The Minister of State's address did not contain any significant or detailed response to the Bill and he has not indicated, other than in the broadest terms, why he is dissatisfied with the Bill. The obvious thing to do is to accept Second Stage of the Bill and take it to Committee Stage. The principle of the Bill has already been accepted. The purpose of Committee Stage is to tease out any inadequacies in it and to improve the legislation. This House does that with Government legislation on a daily basis. The Minister should welcome an initiative which provides a worthwhile framework. If he finds measures with which he disagrees or considers inadequate, provisions which do not go far enough or go too far, then the Government can come back with amendments to the existing Bill and Senator Gallagher and the Labour Party will accept them as long as the substance of the Bill is accepted.
This is desirable legislation. We are disappointed that the Minister did not give a more positive response. We are pleased, however, that the Leader of the House saw fit to let us introduce this legislation at such short notice in Private Members' time. He has been very generous.
We would like to see the Minister being far more specific on proposals for alternative legislation if he feels this Bill does not meet the standards he seeks. Otherwise we ask that he accept the Bill, allow it to go Committee Stage and then it can be amended in this and the other House.
In his concluding remarks the Minister of State mentioned that a draft code of conduct is currently being considered as part of the strategic management initiative. It is intended that such a code will draw together in a single document principal precepts which should govern the behaviour of civil servants and everyone else concerned.
Other Members mentioned public representatives who want to become Members of Parliament, who have retired from Parliament or who have been unlucky enough not to be elected at election time. Seeking election is an ideal opportunity for someone from the media to further their experience and to open the doors needed to become a Member of Parliament. If a person has been a Member of Parliament and wishes to pursue a career in the media and become a lobbyist, it is an excellent opportunity because that person has gained expertise and contacts as a Member of Parliament which are also necessary for a lobbyist. As someone who was involved in the media before becoming a Member of Parliament, and who will return to the media when I retire from Parliament – rather than be retired – I hope that I will be able to come in here and make my case on behalf of the industry in which I was bred, born and reared. If a politician is an expert on farming, industry, commerce or any other line of business, and that expertise is paid for, he should not have to apologise to anyone for coming here to make his case.
Politicians are first class people. Politicians have the economy where it is today – the envy of the world. We make no apology, no matter what party we are from. We are an exemplary group of people in Ireland, all 226 of us. No company in the world has achieved what the successful bunch of parliamentarians elected by the people to Leinster House, Dáil and Seanad, have achieved over the past 15 years. Who better to represent people, whether by lobbying or by their professional services, than the people who have been at the cutting edge and at the top of their profession when they were in public life?
I welcome the thrust of this Bill. By allowing it to be debated in Private Members' time, the possibility of its coming before us in the near future is enhanced. I thank Senator Gallagher for introducing the Bill and planting the thought in the minds of Senators and Ministers. It has opened up the debate and informed the Minister and his officials of the various views of the Seanad on the proposed legislation which the Government will bring before us.
We welcome openness and transparency. We have all learned in the last few years that openness and transparency will always win. Truthfulness, honesty and integrity are the main qualities of 95 per cent of parliamentarians. We can hold our heads high when we say that we were TDs, Senators, Ministers of State and Ministers who served our State honourably and well, and we are entitled to play a part in the future life of commerce or as lobbyists if we so wish.
I thank the Leader of the House for allowing us the opportunity to publish this Bill last week and debate it this evening. The least we might do is stimulate debate to ensure that the Government will be more forthcoming in the future than it has been tonight.
I thank the 12 Members of the House who spoke, an indication of the interest in the subject, and thank the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, for his speech. I realise that there are many demands on Ministers' time but this is a serious proposal which is being considered by this House. I regret that it was not possible for a Minister from the relevant Department to engage with us this evening on the subject. I also thank my colleagues, Senators Ryan, Costello and O'Meara, for their support.
Having listened to the Minister's contribution, the only logical conclusion which could be drawn from his comments is that the Government is not opposed to the general principles of what we are trying to achieve with this Bill. The Minister said that the Government has no difficulty in accepting the broad principles underlying the Registration of Lobbyists Bill or the spirit in which it was put forward. As I understand the procedures for legislation, that is an indication that the Bill is not opposed. The Minister did not explain adequately why the Government has decided to vote against it at this stage. I accept that it is not perfect and I would be prepared to see it amended. The Minister, however, has not given a cogent explanation for the Government's voting against it. Unfortunately a Minister from the Department of Finance is not here to tell us why the Department made that decision.
The Minister's response was inadequate. That is not just because he has not given us a definite promise of legislation. He talked about a range of measures being considered for the standards in public office Bill. As I understand it, such a Bill would apply to public officeholders and what they and we do. We are talking about what lobbyists, who are not public officeholders, do. It is more logical to have a separate provision for lobbyists rather than to try to include them in legislation which may come before us. It was only in the event of that legislation being found inadequate that the Minister even countenanced the possibility of bringing forward governmental legislative proposals in this area.
Much research has gone into this proposal. I outlined the origin of my interest in the area which arose from a concern about the influence of the tobacco lobby on Government policy in this and other countries. This matter was discussed at length, as Senator Glynn will know, at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children. It was agreed by the committee that I should undertake a task of work, that is, to prepare legislative proposals to register paid lobbyists and their activities. It has received considerable discussion and attention at committees of these Houses and it begs the question as to what attention is given by Ministers and Departments to the proceedings of committees.
It does a disservice to my efforts and those who assisted me in drafting this legislation to say that it has been taken lock, stock and barrel from Canada – nothing could be further from the truth. I looked at what was on the Statute Books in many countries, including federal and state law in the United States, provincial and federal law in Canada and, closer to home, provisions in many European countries, in particular the provisions which apply in European institutions such as the European Parliament where lobbying activity is recognised as legitimate but is declarable and done in an open fashion. I expected the Minister at least to address the situation in more than one other country.
Various categories, such as paid consultants, in-house lobbyists and the voluntary and community sector, received consideration. I draw the attention of the House to section 5 which relates, in particular, to the activities of in-house lobbyists. I made a judgment call that lobbyists working on a paid basis for the voluntary sector should be treated no differently from paid lobbyists working for any other sector of the community. If other Members feel differently, it is open to them to propose otherwise at a later stage, which we will obviously not reach on this occasion. Who is lobbying the Government not to accept this Bill? In whose interest is it not to accept at least the general principles of the Bill? That question is not being answered.
I thank Senator Manning for his support and the point he made about the need for a cooling off period for people who leave Government employment. I considered that point very carefully and judged that this was not necessarily the place in which to deal with it, but I would defer to other views if that was the case. The terms of employment and the contracts of those people should be used to limit any future participation in anything following the termination of contract of Government employment. I was particularly anxious to ensure that those who work as temporary civil servants as advisers to Ministers who are in office should not be disadvantaged by singling them out compared to provisions which might apply to other permanent civil servants, many of whom also leave for employment outside the service. I agree strongly with what Senator Manning said about the value of a consultative process should the Government have a late change of heart and agree to allow the Bill to go further.
I welcome Senator Finneran's support which reminds me of the planning Bill which my colleague, Deputy Sean Ryan, introduced as a Senator. It was accepted by all sides of the House as being good but the Government decided to vote it down. I did not hear one thing in what Senator Finneran said which would go against the principles of this Bill. On a point of clarification, a range of offences is not proposed in the Bill. I have been criticised for not including more offences but there is only one offence of not mak ing a correct report or registration with the Public Offices Commission.
I thank Senator Ross, in particular, for his eloquent and forceful support. Like the Senator, I cannot believe the reception which the Government has given this Bill. As he said, the Bill is aimed at the good of the democratic process. It begs the question as to who is calling the shots in deciding to vote it down. I particularly appreciate Senator Ross's comments because of his intimate knowledge of the business world.
I am sorry Senator Dardis is not here for my response because he asked many questions about matters which are contained in the Bill. Local government and members of local authorities are included in the Bill. Senator Dardis said the definition of lobbying should be widened, and it would be open to him to amend that on Committee Stage. In relation to in-house lobbyists, section 5 would provide that the person who is employed by a company or organisation to carry out the lobbying activities would be obliged to register, not the president of the IFA or the chairman of the organisation as the case may be. Unfortunately, Senator Dardis did not give a cogent or good reason the Progressive Democrats are not supporting this Bill. It is an indication of their current weakened position in Government.
I thank Senator O'Dowd for his support and agree with him that the Government response is not good enough. Senator O'Toole said clearly that no potent argument has been put by the Government against this legislation and that it is regrettable it cannot show that it can deal with well meaning proposals from this side of the House. If the Government wishes to bury the Bill, it may do so at a later Stage. It should allow the Bill to go forward for further consideration.
I take up a point made by Senators Norris, Ryan and Cassidy in relation to former Members. I have no problem with former Members using the skills they have accumulated, as practised politicians, to advance or represent causes once they cease to be Members of the House. I do not agree with calls made by people outside this House to limit access to them and so on. As Senator Ryan correctly pointed out, that is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and not for legislation such as this. A Member of this House or any citizen acting in a paid capacity as a lobbyist should register that they are so doing in the same way as any other citizen and not be treated differently in that respect.
Should the Government have a late change of heart, I would not press it unduly to move on to Committee Stage. I would welcome the opportunity for wider consultation. If Second Stage of the Bill is passed, it would be the Government's call as to when Committee Stage would be taken. The fact that it would have moved on from Second Stage would allow us to remind the Ministers and civil servants concerned not to forget it. We could perhaps assist in bringing proposals back which the Government would support and which would ensure this area, which everybody has acknowledged needs regulation and to be open, is properly dealt with. I appeal to the Government at this late stage for a change of heart and not to oppose the Bill.
Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Avril.Doyle, Joe.Gallagher, Pat.
Hayes, Tom.Manning, Maurice.McDonagh, Jarlath.Norris, David.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Meara, Kathleen.O'Toole, Joe.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnFarrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Walsh, Jim.