Amendment No. 3 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.
Registration of Wills Bill 2006: Committee and Remaining Stages.
I accept the Chair's ruling on my amendment, but the point I was trying to make, which could apply to this section, is the cost to the consumer who might avail of this service and the need to control the cost.
It is not——
I apologise. It is Senator Leyden's Bill. I was trying to get across the idea that there would be some minimum or maximum charges involved so that those involved who wish to make a will would not end up paying extortionate amounts of money or wishing to have their will centrally recorded. Perhaps Senator Leyden would like to comment on this.
I welcome the Minister of State and the Registrar General, Mr. Ciaran Feely, to the House. I am not prepared to accept this amendment, although since it is out of order, it does not arise. I am discussing the section itself.
The amendment has been ruled out of order. We are discussing the section.
The matter of fees generally will be a matter for the Minister if and when the Bill is enacted.
Amendments Nos. 5, 12, 13 and 14 are related to amendment No. 4. Therefore, amendments Nos. 4, 5, 12, 13 and 14 may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, subsection (1)(b), lines 10 and 11, to delete “the required particulars of the will” and substitute the following:
"the particulars set forth in the Schedule to the Registration of Wills Act 2006“.
The purpose of this amendment is to tidy up the Bill in the manner used in respect of other legislation. Senator Leyden has picked up some up of what we have suggested in his own amendment, No. 5. Amendment No. 12 also aims to tidy up matters and insert something that needs to be included in the wording. I do not think there is much more I can say about it. Amendment No. 13 relates to the name and address of custodian of any copy of a will. We are simply inserting things that need to be inserted. Amendment No. 14 proposes to delete lines 10 and 11 on page 11 because they are not required.
I am grateful for the moving of these amendments and the amount of thought Senator Tuffy has given to this Bill. As a qualified solicitor, her input is very important. We took account of her amendments in our own amendment. I was prepared to take on board other amendments as proposed by Senator Tuffy and the Labour Party because I know of her experience. In that regard, we have taken on board her requirements and included them in our amendment.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, subsection (1)(b), line 11, after “will” to insert “specified in the Schedule”.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 8, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) (a) Nothing in this Act shall be used to disqualify, prevent, or otherwise impede an Irish citizen who is resident outside the State, from registering his or her will in accordance with the provisions of this Act,
(b) Insofar as the provisions of this Act shall apply and subject to the laws of the jurisdiction in which he or she is resident, an Irish citizen who is resident outside the State shall be entitled to nominate a jurisdiction in which his or her will shall be executed.”.
This thought struck me on Second Stage. If Irish citizens living abroad wish to have their will recorded centrally, they should be given the option to do so. I do not believe we can go down the road of making it mandatory, but it is an option and the world is a small place. People are constantly travelling and it would be no harm for them to at least have the facility whereby if they make their will abroad, they have the option to record it centrally in Ireland because they may well return to Ireland or, more than likely, will have family living in Ireland. This amendment gives them the option to do so if they wish.
Could Senator Browne indicate the amendment to which he is speaking?
It is section 10, amendment No. 6.
The amendment allows people who make their will abroad to register it centrally.
We looked at this very carefully. The basic principle of the Bill is to have a central registration system confined to the State alone, not outside the State or having any implications outside it. The Bill came about because, at present, there are 2,200 registration systems in Ireland — that is, 2,200 solicitors' offices — but no central registration system. As far as matters relating to what happens outside the State are concerned, we could not contemplate taking action at this point. However, I note the Senator's point. I thank him for putting a great deal of thought into the amendment but I regret I cannot accept it.
I accept what Senator Leyden is saying. It would be easier to enact the Bill and then amend the position at a later date. When the scheme is up an running and, I hope, proves to be a great success, I hope it will be extended. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs recently made changes to the free travel scheme in order that it might apply to those who have been living abroad for many years and who have returned to Ireland. There is, therefore, a precedent of a sort. I accept, however, that we should learn to walk before we run. In that context, we should resolve the situation domestically in the first instance.
The first part of the Senator's amendment simply states that "Nothing in this Act shall be used to disqualify, prevent, or otherwise impede an Irish citizen who is resident outside the State, from registering his or her will". That is the case under the legislation in any event.
The second part of the amendment seems to be drafted under a misapprehension. If one executes a will in another jurisdiction, it is not a will for the purposes of Irish law but is rather a will for the purposes of the law of the jurisdiction to which it refers. Different jurisdictions have entirely different testamentary arrangements. Some jurisdictions have systems of full registration of wills. Under such systems and in order to be valid, a will must be recorded in a central register. Senator Leyden is not proposing that this should be the case in Ireland.
I am commenting only on the detail of this matter. I do not believe the amendment would be viable in the context of the Bill because it is not clear under the principles of private international law that an Irish citizen can choose a jurisdiction in which a will can be executed.
Is the Minister of State indicating that if the Bill, as it stands, is enacted, an Irish citizen who has made a will outside the State will be able to register it centrally?
This is not my Bill. The Bill is being promoted by Senator Leyden and it is not incumbent on me to provide interpretations in respect of it. Where the Senator uses the word "will" in the first part of his amendment, it clearly means a will in accordance with Irish law. That is how it will be construed. A will is identified as being such under the Succession Act 1965, as amended. There is nothing in the Bill to stop an Irish person abroad who has executed a valid will in Ireland under the Succession Act from registering it. To that extent, the first part of the amendment is superfluous.
The second part of the amendment seems to envisage a will being executed by an Irish citizen abroad under the laws of another country. It could be dangerous for such a will to be registered because it falls to be determined in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which it is executed.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 8, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) Subject to section 7, when the will is registered pursuant to this section, that registration shall subsist notwithstanding any further registration pursuant to subsection (3).”.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 8, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) Information to be registered shall not include any information regarding the contents of the will, the assets or the testator or the identity of the beneficiaries.".
I accept that Senator Leyden intends that the register should not be used to provide information regarding the contents of a will, the assets of the testator or the identities of any beneficiaries. However, it might be worth spelling out this in the Bill. As much as anything, this could be done to reassure people who will use the system. It must be made clear that this is a voluntary system and that it is designed to allow people to find or locate a will. It will be better than the existing system but will not supersede it. Even though a person might use the new system, he or she might be obliged to engage in searches and contact solicitors to ensure another will, which went unregistered, was not made. It might not do any harm to include in the Bill the wording proposed in the amendment in order that people will be clear what is involved. I would like to hear the Minister of State's comments on that matter.
The Bill is being sponsored by Senator Leyden, not the Minister of State. The Senator will comment.
We are making history because this is the first occasion on which a Government Senator has brought forward a Private Members' Bill.
I congratulate the Senator.
We are all new to this procedure, in respect of which there is no precedent. I am glad the Minister of State and the Registrar General are present because it creates an awareness that there is no register of wills.
The first matter I should clarify is that wills will not be deposited at a central location. There is no possibility that the contents of wills will be disclosed to outside parties. The existence of a will will arise when the person who made it dies and his or her death is registered at the Central Registry Office in Roscommon or Dublin. TheRegistrar General's office is located in Roscommon.
As Senator Tuffy, who is a solicitor by trade, is aware, when it is published, the Law Society Gazette contains numerous advertisement seeking information on the existence of particular wills. At present, solicitors are obliged to search throughout the State for wills. People’s mobility is making it more difficult to carry out such searches. In the past, a local solicitor would, when a person died, contact the members of the family and inform them that a will had been made. I have come across numerous cases where a will could not be found. That is the greatest difficulty people encounter.
Disclosure of the details of a will will not arise. Only a person with a valid death certificate can request information in respect of whether a will was made. If the Bill is passed, it will not be possible to release such information before the person who makes a will has died.
Since the Bill was introduced, I have discovered that many solicitors would be delighted if a central register of wills was established. I acknowledge that Senator Tuffy is trying to improve the Bill and I have no reservations about accepting amendments. In this instance, however, the amendment is not necessary.
Will a system of fines be put in place regarding breaches of the privacy of will records? I hope such breaches would not occur. Has Senator Leyden given consideration to the sanctions to be imposed if a breach occurs?
Such breaches are covered under the Official Secrets Act and other relevant Acts. Total confidentiality applies in the Registrar General's office. There are sanctions in place in the Civil Service which it is not necessary to repeat in the Bill.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 9, before section 13, but in Part 3, to insert the following new section:
13.—(1) The registration or non-registration of any wills, including codicils, pursuant to this Act shall not be evidence of and shall not provide any presumption of—
(a) the existence or non-existence of any wills, including codicils, whether registered or not registered pursuant to this Act,
(b) the validity or non-validity of any wills, including codicils, whether registered or not registered pursuant to this Act,
(c) the execution or non-execution of any wills, including codicils, whether registered or not registered pursuant to this Act,
(d) the revocation or non-revocation of any wills, including codicils, whether registered or not registered pursuant to this Act,
(e) the revival or non-revival of any wills, including codicils, whether registered or not registered pursuant to this Act,
(f) the republication or non-republication of any wills, including codicils, whether registered or not registered pursuant to this Act, or
(g) any of the particulars entered in the register of wills, specified in the Schedule.
(2) The registration or non-registration of any wills, including codicils, pursuant to this Act shall not be used to consrtue any wills, including codicils, whether registered or not registered pursuant to this Act.".
This amendment provides that the register of wills shall not be used by a court to construe or interpret any wills. This is important to make clear that the purpose of the legislation is to register wills not to change or affect the laws in respect of succession. There is a typographical error in the amendment, the word "consrtue" should be spelt "construe".
Amendment No. 10 is important because the gist of it is that we cannot presume from the registration of a will or otherwise under this system that it is the only will or that the will still exists, as set out in the various subsections to the new section. It is important for that to be clear. While Senator Leyden's Bill is welcome, problems surround it. Senator Leyden said he had received correspondence from the Law Society to the effect that it opposed the Bill. If so, it does that with serious intentions. This amendment is an attempt to address the society's concerns.
The Bill is a good idea, which I hope will be implemented but we should not overestimate the number of people who will register their wills. Many do not make wills for superstitious reasons. As a solicitor I dealt with many people who did not make wills until they were older or, in the case of a couple, when they bought a house and had children. Even in those circumstances, however, many do not make wills. I tell people it is not the end of the world not to have a will.
The Minister of State does not appear to be listening and I wonder should I bother saying anything on this topic?
I am listening.
It is Senator Leyden's Bill.
It is Senator Leyden's Bill. I have no function here.
I do not think Senator Leyden was listening either.
Senator Leyden must answer all queries.
Senator Leyden is the king-maker and king-breaker.
This is a good amendment but there are problems in the Bill. I say that in good faith because I welcome the fact that Senator Leyden has brought it forward. The Minister of State's father played a major role in the Succession Act which is very good legislation. If people do not make a will the spouse and children are provided for because of our legislation for people who die intestate.
I welcome Senator Leyden's amendment. I understand there is a "make a will" week. My parish priest reminds people at least twice a year to make a will but that cannot always be included in legislation. We could, however, insert something to remind people of the week designated for that purpose. I support Senator Leyden's comments.
The Law Society's views are welcome and it studied this section, but the society is a vested interest. Many solicitors have mislaid wills, and wills have been stolen. There is no control on the 2,200 solicitors' offices, some of which are competent and some of which are shoddy. Offices may go out of business and close down but what happens to their files? Many issues arise.
If the Law Society was not a self-governing organisation I would have more respect for its views. I am not particularly concerned by its views because I receive information from solicitors in my area who advised me on the Bill and were very helpful. This amendment makes clear that the registration of a will does not provide any presumption, evidence or proof of the existence, validity, execution, publication, revival or republication of any will. It also provides that the registration of particulars in the register does not provide any presumption, evidence or proof of these contents. This is well covered because I received good advice.
I wish to outline the views of the Government on the Bill because this seems an appropriate place to do so. Senator Leyden has made a valiant attempt in this amendment to make clear that the register will not provide any presumption about the existence or non-existence of a will or the validity or non-validity of a will.
The amendment states "The registration or non-registration of any wills, including codicils pursuant to this Act shall not be evidence of and shall not provide any presumption of" any of the particulars entered into the register of wills specified in the schedule. Under this amendment no presumption attaches to any of the particulars registered with the Registrar General.
The Government has reservations about this legislation which are somewhat similar to that outlined by Senator Tuffy. There is a lack of any evidential basis in the register such as in the register of deaths where the evidential basis is established by the fact that a medical practitioner or coroner must provide a certificate and the register must be signed by a relative of the deceased. In general when births, marriages and deaths are registered they are based on the supply of information by a person authorised to give that information to the registrar and Parliament has generally provided that a presumption attaches to the document evidencing the facts of registration, that the facts are as stated in the particulars.
No such presumption attaches to this register. That would be the case whether the Seanad agreed to this amendment or not because the Bill does not attempt to regulate the general law on wills. For that reason, the registration does not provide an assurance that a will is valid or the last will of a person has been revoked, amended or superseded.
Senator Leyden makes that clear in his amendment but the reality for the general register is that the registers maintained by the General Register Office enjoy a presumption of accuracy and reliability. The creditworthiness of the register would be somewhat undermined when those who had registered their wills realised that no reliability can attach to the registration. That is the Department's position on the Bill.
The Bill raises an important issue of principle and I welcome the fact that Senator Leyden has introduced it. I know that it commended itself to Senators on Second Stage and that the Seanad has approved the Bill. It raises important questions and seeks to address the mischief of the disappeared will. In some jurisdictions there is provision for a central register of wills much as we have a central register of land transactions, such that if one wants a valid will one must register it in a central location. That has not been the tradition of our law which has always allowed a testator to make his or her will as he or shepleases.
There is a half-way house solution which could be proposed, namely, that there should be a central depository of wills and that once a will is executed, it would be deposited there. Again, that would be a matter for legislation amending the Succession Act and would require the assistance of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I speak to this Bill which purports to amend the legislation relating to births, marriages and deaths. I simply state the views of the Government on the narrow issue of whether it is appropriate to amend that legislation for this purpose.
The reason for no presumption or evidential basis is so that the law of succession is not amended. The purpose of registration is so that mislaid wills may be found. The register is meant to be an aid to finding mislaid wills. That is the fundamental issue. A Council of Europe recommendation exists in this regard but it has not been ratified by the State. It promoted the idea of a Europe-wide registration system. Few countries have registration systems.
I am most grateful to the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the General Register Office for their views in this regard. They have a responsibility and expertise in this area. I suggested the Probate Office as a possible vehicle for the registration system. The Land Registry is another possible vehicle for a registration system. I am concerned about the overall principle. The filing arrangements are matters that can be decided should the Bill reach Dáil Éireann. I am open to re-examining the location of such a depository. I was initially attracted to the Probate Office being the location, although not all Bills are probated.
The public's attention has been drawn to the need for wills. I thank Senator Kitt for his suggestion re a wills week. I must confess that I have not made a will. The reason I have not done so is that there is no central register——
Senator Leyden is waiting for the Bill to be passed.
I was waiting for the Bill to be passed.
I do not want my last will and testament to be lost, mislaid or misplaced and anyone to be deprived of the meagre——
My considered advice to the Senator is to execute a will.
I read a very good article in a magazine this week. I very much appreciate the expertise of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who is a senior counsel, and the General Register Office in this regard. I considered all the aspects of the matter. I was attracted to the idea of the General Register Office as the location because it is located in my constituency in Roscommon town, but the Land Registry has also been relocated to County Roscommon.
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is capable of accommodating this measure. The Minister, Deputy McDowell, examined the proposed legislation and was impressed by it as well. I am grateful the Government considered the Bill at all. At this stage we have alerted the public to the need to make a will. The savings attached to having a will are significant in so far as death duties are concerned. I accept the Minister of State's point. I have taken his advice on board in bringing this amendment to the House.
We do not know how many people will register, should the Bill be enacted. The Minister of State said he would consider setting up a register for guardianship agreements. Such a register exists in Scotland and hardly anyone registered those agreements. Registration systems can be problematic in that sense.
I referred to the superstition people have regarding wills. Part of it is that they do not want to tempt fate. People may have even greater reservations about registering their wills. I consider it a positive measure but one should not overstate how successful it may be.
Even if people do not have wills, they are covered by the Succession Act. Provisions are made for spouses and children in the disposal of estates. Many people may not be aware of this fact. This information should be made more widely known. People tend to think it is terrible if wills have not been made but it is not as straightforward as that.
In outlining the position of the Government on the Bill, I should have said the Government considered the Bill on its own merits. No representations were received from the Law Society in regard to it. I understand Senator Leyden has been in correspondence with the Law Society about this measure. He is correct that the Law Society should not have a conclusive view on legislation of this type. I accept we must act in the public interest and do what is best in that regard. The concern of the Government is that the well-established reliability which attaches to the documentation issued by the General Register Office could be undermined were we to legislate that wills would be registered there without any assurance of their validity or contents.
I thank the Minister of State for his view.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 11, to delete lines 4 and 5 and substitute the following:
"Section 70 of the Act of 2004 is amended—
(1) by the insertion of the following after subsection (1):
(1A)(a) All fines under subsection (1) shall be index-linked to the annual inflation rate as set by the European Central Bank, and such fines shall be altered accordingly on the 1st of January each year, beginning with the 1st of January on the second year after the signature of this Act.
(b) In this section, “European Central Bank” means the organisation established by article 8 of the consolidated (2002) version of the EC Treaty.
(2) in subsection (2) by the insertion of "(4A)," between "(4)," and "(5)".".
This is a repeat amendment which the Fine Gael Party has long been pushing. Its purpose is to index-link fines. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking for all of us and things rapidly go out of date. The Government appears to have a problem with this notion. It took a year for this Bill to advance from Second Stage. I am not sure how long it will take for the Bill to come before the Dáil and be enacted but, more than likely, two years will have elapsed before the legislation is up and running. Accordingly, the provisions will be at least two years out of date from the original publication of the Bill. It makes sense for fines to be index-linked so that they have some bearing on reality. Recently, we witnessed the crazy scenario whereby the legislation governing fireworks dated back to 1845 and the maximum fine for having a firework was £5. That shows how ludicrous the situation can become. To prevent this situation recurring, the Fine Gael Party intends proposing this amendment to all Bills going through this House. It may not be for Senator Leyden to answer this point but the Government should take it into consideration on all Bills.
The Bill relates to the registration of wills. The main body of legislation deals with fining and any changes to the system of fining should be left to the Minister. I agree with the overall principle outlined by Senator Browne. I support the index-linking of fines in any legislation the Minister intends to bring forward. The principle is a good one and avoids the need to amend legislation purely for that purpose. I commend Senator Browne's recommendation to the Minister of State but it cannot apply in this regard because we cannot introduce a money Bill in Private Member's time. On that basis, I cannot accept the amendment.
I thank the Minister of State for attending this session. We have created a precedent. I express my thanks to the Leader, Senator O'Rourke, who encourages Members to use a function, which is open to Members of both Houses but is especially active in this House, to bring in legislation. Successful legislation has been tabled in this House. Members will recall the Suicide Bill tabled by the then Senator Dan Neville. Other Bills have been acted upon by the Government. The then Senator Mary Robinson tabled Bills as well as other Members, including Senator Norris, Senator Browne and others.
It is unusual that I, as a member of the Front Bench of the Government side, was given permission to publish a Bill and have it passed in this House. This is an historic occasion. This Bill will alert people to the need to make a will and solicitors to be careful about where they store it and that executors should be informed.
That latter issue does not require legislation. A person should be informed immediately by the solicitor that he or she has been appointed an executor of a will rather than informing him or her in the future. The Bill contains a number of provisions which I will draw to the attention of the public.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and expressing his point of view. I also thank the Registrar General, Mr. Kieran Feely, for his assistance. Nothing the Minister of State said is against the principle of the registration system. The kernel of any reservations the Government may have is where the registration system would be located. I take that point on board. I express my thanks to Senator Browne and Senator Tuffy for their contributions and for tabling amendments which we considered. I should say to Senator Tuffy that were it not for time constraints, I would have accepted some of her amendments.
We have been given the opportunity to introduce Bills and I have availed of that opportunity. As a Minister of State I used to come to the Seanad regularly and brought much legislation through the House. I remember particularly debates with the then Senator Mary Robinson. This is the first opportunity I have had to bring a Bill to the House and I thank Members for their unanimous backing for it. I thank the Fianna Fáil Senators who gave me the authority to print the Bill and the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party which approved it last year.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the opportunity to contribute. I followed the debate on the monitor and have been very interested in it. I say, "Well done", to Senator Leyden. Any Deputy or Senator has the right to table a Private Members' Bill and this is what he has done. That certainly marks a milestone for which we applaud him and thank those who helped him. With the most worthy of motives, Ministers of the highest and lowest level bring forward legislation to the Houses of the Oireachtas. Often the language in the Bills is complex and not understood by ordinary folk. However, people understand matters such as wills because they are of everyday interest. The lesson in this for legislators is that if they want to engage with the public, they must ensure the legislation is understandable, simple and appealing to the people.
I compliment Senator Leyden and his staff on the preparation of this excellent Bill. That the Senator has exercised his right to produce a Private Members' Bill is an inspiration for the rest of us. If the working group on pre-nuptial agreements has its report ready by 31 March and the House is still in session, I hope to table a Private Members' Bill on pre-nuptial agreements which is somewhat related to the Succession Act.
The Senator will not get a woman if he goes on like that.
Love is blind.
I hope I get as honest a backing as I gave to this Bill. It is important to acknowledge the role Senator Leyden and the Leader have played in facilitating this important Bill. It is important from three points of view. First, people are wealthier and have assets they would not have had in the past and, second, people are more mobile and on average move every 11 years. There is potential for wills to get mislaid. A third reason is that people live longer and can outlive their solicitor and that can cause problems. The three goods reasons for the Bill centre around wealth, mobility and longevity. It is great to see Senator Leyden following in the footsteps of former Deputy Alan Shatter who led the way in family law matters by having Private Members' Bills accepted in the Dáil. That is the way it should be.
I contend that the Succession Act is out of date in the context of the increased affluence in the country and the economic and social changes, an issue I will highlight in my pre-nuptial agreements Bill which is similar to the Bill in terms of the background. I was not aware the Minister of State's father was involved in that Act.
People should make a will. I know of two people who died as a result of no will being made. The father died intestate. There was a division in the family.
I remember reading about that case.
One member of the family decided to sell the farm and another member did not react well. When the land was purchased by a third party, he was shot dead. His brother escaped with his life by a whisker. The person who carried out the shooting then committed suicide. That is the stark reality of not making a will. Everyone owes it to his or her family to make a will. There should be no ambiguity about this. Everyone should make a will.
Dealing with a death, especially a sudden death, is traumatic and the last thing a family needs is to be torn asunder afterwards, as has happened in a village in Kilkenny where a pub is closed. The reason it is closed is that the deceased died without making a will and there is chaos with nephews and nieces fighting over it. That should not happen but it does. People should make a will. I would go so far as to say it should be mandatory. As soon as one owns any kind of property or reaches a certain age, one should make a will.
I urge the Minister of State to ensure this Bill is put through the other House quickly in the new term and is enacted without delay. I hope those who have wills made can record them retrospectively in the central register because it makes great sense.
Does that mean Senator Leyden will be back in the Dáil to take this Bill?
I disagree slightly with Senator Browne on the point he has made about wills. I made the point earlier. There is nothing wrong with not making a will. There are advantages to making a will. As a result of the reforming legislation brought in by the late Brian Lenihan, one is provided for fairly even when there is no will. It is important to say that. When a will is made there are huge advantages for the testator to control what happens and it reduces the procedures and the costs. There is nothing wrong in not making a will. There can be as many problems in families after a will has been drawn up. There can be family differences in the same way as if no will was made.
That said, the legislation is a good idea. It is an issue that affects people's lives as reflected in the support for Senator Leyden when he had the initial idea. The calls to radio stations reflected a huge interest because the matter is obviously an issue of concern. The principle is good and the question is how to implement it. Senator Leyden has shown that we should bring forward legislation. We do a great deal of work on legislation by amending Bills and so on but none of that is recognised by the media and the public at large. I commend Senator Leyden on the Bill.
I am pleased to support the Bill, as the Government spokesperson on health and children, and I commend Senator Leyden on his initiative. As I said on Second Stage, I have a clear reason for supporting it because in a certain section of the family, where there is a large farm, the owner died intestate. By the time the land was eventually sold, it was very much in debt because the family could not agree who should have it. One section of the family wanted to sign away its share to the eldest son who had no interest per se in agriculture. There was a spinster sister and bachelor brother at home who also could not agree. By the time the property was disposed of, the head was not worth the washing. There were only hundreds of pounds left because it ran into debt and was subject to compound interest. While it is fine to claim that the Succession Act provides in the event of a will not being made, nevertheless the case has been well made by the practical experience of people, not alone in this House but also outside it.
The Minister of State has a well-trained and adept legal mind, as has Senator Tuffy. They both have first-hand experience of what it means not to have made a will. It makes sense to do so. I am delighted this House has again shown itself to be progressive and innovative in proposing legislation. It will be incumbent on us all to use our membership of the House to introduce legislation when its absence impacts adversely on the communities we all serve. I again congratulate Senator Leyden and all sides of the House that have supported the Bill.
I wish to place on the record my admiration for the leadership of Senator Leyden in introducing this Bill. He has put his heart and soul into it in the past 18 months to get it here today. I thank the Leader, Senator O'Rourke, for paving the way and making the road easier. Senator Leyden is a very experienced politician, having served as Minister of State in four Departments, Posts and Telegraphs, Transport, Health, and Industry and Commerce. The seriousness with which Senators Tuffy and Browne took this legislation is one of the best accolades Senator Leyden could get.
I commend Senator Leyden and his advisers on their industry in the preparation of this legislation. It was my sad duty to indicate to the House the reservations the Government has about the measure. That said, the Bill seeks to address a wider legitimate concern that wills can be lost, removed, stolen, suppressed or interfered with.
Senators mentioned that it is important to make a will. As Senator Tuffy has stressed, the Oireachtas has provided for the distribution of assets in the event that no will is made. Clear rules exist for the distribution of assets on intestacy. Most people are aware that if a person dies with only a spouse and no children surviving, the entire estate vests in the spouse. If a person dies with a spouse and children surviving, two thirds of the estate goes to the spouse and one third is divided among the children. If a person dies without a spouse and with children, the estate is divided equally among the children. Those are simple rules that most people understand. Beyond that simple area of operation the rules become more difficult to understand. It is certainly true that any single person is well advised to draw up a will.
That said, the debate was useful. Concern was raised about succession arrangements generally. Senator Tuffy was very kind in her reference to how the Succession Act 1965 was enacted. It was a consolidating and codifying measure, which introduced many changes in the law of inheritance at the same time. One issue that arose in the debates on the 1965 Act and arose again this evening relates to the privacy and confidentiality which testators wish to have in the execution of their intentions in a will. One of the problems with any system of public registration, which was hinted at in some of the amendments tabled, is that testators want a zone of confidentiality to attach to their operations in this regard, which makes the designation of a public register for these instruments very difficult. I have expressed the views of the Government on the Bill and I thank the House for the attention it has given the measure.
Senator Leyden is up again.
I do so on the basis that this is setting an historic precedent. I concur with Senator Tuffy's comments about the Succession Act, introduced by the late Mr. Brian Lenihan Sn. It was the most innovative succession Act anywhere in the world. Up to that time, spouses were often thrown out of their houses which were left to children or strangers. When a husband died, the widow had no rights. That was changed by the then Minister, Mr. Brian Lenihan Sn., whom I had the honour of serving as assistant director of elections.
I thank those who spoke, including Senator White for her very nice comments, which were much appreciated. I also thank Senator Glynn, our spokesperson on health and children, who supported me in introducing the Bill, and Senator Feeney, the deputy spokesperson. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence.
I was advised on this Bill by the barrister, Wesley Farrell. I have served in four Departments and I found his assistance in preparing this Bill equal to if not better than any advice I got from departmental officials. I express my thanks to him and wish him every success in the future. Any Department would be fortunate to have his services available to it in preparing Bills. Two of his colleagues are in the Seanad ante room working on the Bill's amendments for me. I thank Bríd Miller, a solicitor in my area of Castlecoote, who advised me on the Bill initially and was very helpful.
I thank my former secretary Sinéad Leyden, who was responsible for the research on the Bill. She obtained research regarding the Council of Europe through the Internet. I was surprised to find a Council of Europe directive that has not been ratified by the State. I hope we may move on that idea. I might encourage the Government to ratify that provision. I thank my present staff, Stephen Brophy, my secretary, Alma Byrne, an intern who assisted in recent days, and my new secretary, Karl Whitney, who will be taking over from Stephen Brophy.
How many members of staff does the Senator have?
They have all been very helpful.
The Senator is not supposed to refer to individuals.
It should be allowed on the day that is in it.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach must admit this is an unprecedented situation in the history of the State.
I must apply the rules of the House.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House.