SECTION 143.

I move amendment No. 204:

In page 116, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) The registrar of companies shall keep for public inspection, a register of all officers of companies declared insolvent or wound up without discharging debts during the previous ten years.".

I do not want to be accused again here of saying that all officers of insolvent companies are criminals or even that there is a presumption of guilt in cases involving insolvency. Nonetheless, it appears where companies are declared insolvent and where substantial debts have not been discharged it is reasonable to require that the Companies Office have this information available. As I understand it, the Companies Office is in something of a mess at present. Because of the shortage of staff it is virtually impossible to get any up-to-date information. This amendment deals with a distinctly different situation than that envisaged in section 143, as it stands, and would insert a new subsection which would require that this information be made available to anybody doing business with a particular company or wanting to trace the performance of any combination of directors who have come together again and so on. You can draw your own conclusions in the circumstances as to whether any blame attaches to them in respect of the previous insolvency, but I cannot see any reason why the information should not be publicly available for inspection.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Rabbitte and thought that under existing legislation or regulations that is the case. Perhaps the Minister might clarify that point.

This section provides that certain information be furnished by court officers to the Registrar of Companies in a number of circumstances covered in this Part of the Bill. The matters which will be notified to the registrar are (1) where the court makes a disqualification order; (2) where the court grants relief from a disqualification order; and (3) where the court convicts a person of an offence which has the effect of providing that he be deemed to be subject to a disqualification order, or for acting while disqualified, or for acting under the directions of a disqualified person.

In addition, under the new section 130 the obligation is placed on a liquidator of a company to notify the Registrar of Companies where a court has made a declaration under the new section 129. Thus the Registrar of Companies will be in receipt of full information in regard to actions taken by the court in respect of declarations made by the court under section 129 and disqualifications and convictions under Chapters 2 and 3 of Part VII.

Section 206 of the Bill allows the registrar to compile the information he gets in any form he thinks appropriate. For example, the registrar may in due course choose to make available to members of the public an alphabetical list of company directors in Ireland and he might take the further step of highlighting in some way those on the list who have been the subject of declarations under section 129 or disqualification orders under other sections of Part VII of the Bill. Indeed, he may decide to compile a separate list of such directors.

There are a number of aspects of Deputy Rabbitte's amendment that I would take issue with. In the first place, it places a compulsion on the Registrar of Companies as to how he must maintain records. I am happy that the appropriate way forward is to leave it as I have just mentioned, relying on section 206, and I do not consider the registrar should be compelled to draw up a separate list if he considers some other method more appropriate.

In the second place, amendment No. 204 provides that records be kept of officers of all companies declared insolvent or wound up during the previous ten years and I do not consider the registrar should be compelled to draw up a separate list if he considers some other method more appropriate.

In the second place, amendment No. 204 provides that records be kept of officers of all companies declared insolvent or wound up during the previous ten years. In this regard, by virtue of amendment No. 175, new section 129, the restriction on the director will be for a period of five years. On the other hand, while an initial disqualification under section 135 will also be for a period of five years, a conviction under section 136 (3) involves a disqualification for a further ten years. Thus, ten years may or may not be appropriate time limit. In fact, I am of the view that it would be better not to have a time limit.

The Deputy will gather from this that I would not be prepared to accept his amendment. At the same time, the committee will recall that last week the Minister agreed to think further about the whole question of lists being kept by the Registrar of Companies. On this basis, perhaps, the Deputy might consider withdrawing his amendment at this stage and I will undertake to put further thought into this question before Report Stage.

I am inclined to think that this amendment and, indeed, the Minister's rather considerate conclusion towards it, implies that we should reintroduce the stocks so that anybody who ever fails in business can be put on public display to have rotten apples thrown at them. It is tantamount to that. I do not agree with this philosophy at all, as I said before.

This section does not make any reference to the new section 129, where somebody goes to court. Forgive me if I am wrong, but my reading of it is that it only deals with section 135. We are back to the argument we made when the Minister was introducing amendments Nos. 175, 176 and 177, which is section 129 now, where the blacklist is kept. How in God's name does one get off that backlist if one is entirely innocent? This section makes no reference to somebody who uses the court to clear their name and there does not appear to be any obligation on the court to furnish that information to the Registrar of Companies under section 143.

I resent the use of the term "blacklist" but an undertaking was given by the Minister to review the whole question of lists.

It is a very frequently used term.

Under the new section 130 which was agreed and which was amendment No. 176, the liquidator of a company to which Chapter 1 applies shall, within seven days from the relevant date, notify the Registrar of Companies of the name of every person to whom paragraph (a) applies. Since an undertaking has been given to review the question of lists of the names of persons, it might be better to leave it until such a review has taken place.

It is not only dealing with the Bill that one has to find a balance; one has also to make a judgment as to the balance in terms of the response to this amendment. The time limit to which the Minister referred is not central to the amendment at all. Since she replied I have been reading section 206, which concerns the classification of information and gives to the registrar the authority — I was going to say the obligation but it is not clear that it is an obligation — to classify as he considers appropriate such information and may assign symbols of identification to persons or classes of persons to whom such information relates. Depending on how that is interpreted, it probably would meet some of the requirements of the amendment I have advanced.

I do not know whether Deputy Bruton has raised the question of enforcement with regard to earlier sections. Is the Minister saying to us that if we are to go along with this and all the rest it presumes that the company's office will be allowed, permitted and enabled to function efficiently, which to my knowledge most certainly is not the case at the moment? It is all very well permitting the registrar the freedom to apply such a system of classification as is envisaged in amendment No. 206, but I know — and I am sure Deputy Bell also knows and recalls from his days as a trade union official — that if one was seeking out certain information in the Companies Office when involved in negotiations with a major private company or whatever, in terms of getting any up-to-date information it would usually be tantamount to useless. I do not know whether the Minister is giving an undertaking that if we enact this legislation ultimately that situation will be changed.

It is not for me to say this but the position has changed. That office is now completely computerised and the access to information is now extremely rapid.

That is very recent.

Yes, and it is as a result of a major investment in computers which was authorised by a Coalition Government of a different composition to the present coalition.

On the basis that, as has been outlined in the reply, a review is being taken on this question of lists of whatever colour, is the Deputy prepared to withdraw the amendment and come back on Report Stage? There is no point in our discussing it until the Minister has sorted out his mind as to what his position is on it. Is that agreed?

Yes, I take the point and I reserve my right to have a look at it on that Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 143 agreed to.