Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 14 Nov 1989

Vol. 393 No. 1

Trustee Savings Banks Bill, 1989: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.

(Limerick East): I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 27, after "provisions." to insert "No order may be made by the Minister, under this section, after the 1st day of July, 1990".

I am glad that the Committee Stage of this Bill is being taken at such an early date. For many decades now the Trustee Savings Banks have provided a tremendous service to small savers and, since 1968, have not operated only as institutions which take savings on deposit but have also operated and extended some other banking services to many of their depositors. In recent years they have established a niche for themselves in the market in providing home loans.

There are now two Trustee Savings Banks only as a result of the recent amalgamations — the Dublin-Waterford and Cork-Limerick Trustee Savings Banks, which means that this Bill is all the more timely.

I am very critical of the manner in which the Minister has decided to legislate in this matter. Of course, I have no objection whatsoever to the intent of the Bill, which is to allow the Trustee Savings Banks to extend other banking services to the general public, to operate on a level playing field with the associated banks and building societies, thereby providing necessary competition in the banking sector. That is the reason I believe there is a certain urgency about the implementation of its provisions. I asked on a number of occassions, on the Order of Business, when this Bill would be introduced. While I remain critical of the manner in which the Minister is legislating here, it would be appropriate that the Bill, as amended on Committee and Report Stages, would be implemented at a very early date.

The provisions of section 2 allow the Minister by order to set a commencement date for the Bill in its entirety or portions thereof as he sees fit. We have had examples in this House of other Bills having been passed by these Houses and of a Minister failing to introduce the necessary orders or regulations to give effect to their provisions.

The purpose of my amendment is to give the Minister the freedom to implement the provisions of this Bill, in whole or in part, over the next seven months. But if he has not implemented its provisions by 1 July 1990 he will have to return to these Houses. Seven months is a reasonable time limit within which the Minister can implement all of its provisions. The precise purpose of my amendment is to put a time limit on the Minister, to ensure that this Bill, which has been in gestation for over nine years, promised by successive Ministers for Finance, requested on numerous occasions in this House, is implemented as soon as possible. The intent of my amendment is to ensure that this be done at the earliest possible date. Mid-summer 1990 affords the Minister plenty of time to do so. I recommend that the Minister accept my amendment.

There are two completely separate and distinct aspects to this Bill. The first is the expansion of the powers of the trustee savings banks, to enable them to widen their range of activities and compete in the marketplace with the cartel banks. At present there is no free competition between the banks; they operate as a cartel and each is supportive of the other. This Bill will give the Trustee Savings Banks the opportunity to provide a complete range of financial services. This aspect of the Bill is very much to be welcomed.

However, there is a second, more sinister, dimension to the Bill which is not to be welcomed at all, that is, the enabling provisions under which the Minister will be empowered to privatise these banks and sell off, without further recourse to the Dáil, these banks to private interests. As I said in my Second Stage speech — I want to assure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle right away that I do not intend to repeat my Second Stage speech here — the Minister's proposals in this regard are reprehensible and cannot and will never be accepted by the Labour Party. We intend to fight these proposals in this House in every way we can.

On that issue, I want to highlight the fact that this Bill is being rammed through the Dáil with unseemly haste. This is quite outrageous. This is a most important Bill involving public assets of upwards of £1,000 million, and containing 65 complex and difficult sections to which 81 amendments have been tabled, some by the Minister and some by the spokespersons of the other parties. We have been told that we will have until 7 o'clock, and a few hours tomorrow morning, to debate the Committee and Remaining Stages. It is now almost 5.15 p.m. and the reality is that there will be no Report Stage and most of the amendments will not be reached. It is a highly suspicious factor that such unseemly haste is being adopted by the Government with the connivance of the Fine Gael Party, who, of course, as we know, go along with and support the whole notion of privatisation, hence their failure to support us when the House divided on the issue this afternoon. That is something which must be highlighted and the public ought to be made aware of what is going on here.

Why is there this unseemly haste? The Trustee Savings Banks have traded in this country for 100 years. Why all of a sudden do they have to be wrapped up and prepared to be sold off to the private interests of the Minister who are waiting in the background to get their greedy and greasy hands on them? Why does this Bill have to be rushed through in two hours today and a couple of hours tomorrow morning? Why can we not debate these issues frankly and fully in this House and tease them out? It is not some trifling, minor matter involving £1 million here or there; we are talking about public assets of £1,000 million plus. The whole matter is invidious and deeply suspicious. We want to debate those issues and we will fight to debate them both inside and outside the House.

So far as anybody buying or selling money deserves commendation, the Trustee Savings Banks demonstrate something of a social conscience, and I regret that the entire thrust of this Bill is to prepare them for privatisation. The enabling provisions to which Deputy Taylor referred are the main purpose of the Bill. We have seen numerous examples across the water of measures which have to be taken in advance of privatisation by the Government of some of the major companies there. If we were considering in isolation the provisions in this Bill to allow the Trustee Savings Banks to enhance their services and loosen the restrictions on them in the competitive market, I would welcome that in the interests of the consumer, the depositors and people who are clients of the Trustee Savings Banks but I believe it is only a prelude to privatisation.

This leads me to the amendment suggested by Deputy Noonan, which in normal circumstances I certainly would be disposed to support. It is unreasonable to put legislation through this House and leave it so open-ended as is suggested in section 2. However, having regard to what I now perceive to be the line up, I am not so sure that The Workers' Party will lose too much sleep about when the Bill will be enacted. It is clear that Deputy Noonan and the Fine Gael Party are very much in favour of the end purpose of this Bill, which is to sell off the Trustee Savings Banks.

Having missed Deputy Noonan's contribution on Second Stage, I read with great interest a rather compelling case — as I read it initially — against major sections but it now seems that when it comes to the question of adequate time being made available to discuss at least a number of substantive sections. Fine Gael have decided to revive the Tallaght strategy and to co-operate with the Government in bringing in the guillotine on the time available for a discussion of this Bill. I regret that that is the case. There was plenty of time during the long summer holidays to devote to matters like this. It is an impossible demand to make of us in the time now available to deal with these 81 amendments in the detail necessary. I regret that the decision has been made to treat the debate in this manner.

I want to say at the outset that the Minister for Finance and the Government are very pleased that we are on the Committee Stage of this Bill. I concur with much of what Deputy Noonan, in particular, and some of what the other Deputies said. We must take into account the background to this Bill.

At present the 1863 Act controls the Trustee Savings Banks and puts them at a complete disadvantage in the financial environment. It was the Government's wish and desire — the former Minister for Finance, Mr. MacSharry, and the present Minister, Deputy Reynolds, did their utmost in this regard — to ensure that the Bill would come before the House as quickly as possible. It is the Government's desire to ensure that there is a level playing field for all financial institutions so that value for money can be given to the citizens of our land.

I have to take issue with statements made by Deputy Taylor in particular, who used the words "sinister", "reprehensible" and "unseemly haste". We are on the Committee Stage and there is no wish by our side of the House to rush the Bill through——

Why then guillotine it?

The Deputy's spokesperson in another section requested a particular debate and has been accommodated with that debate. In order to accommodate that debate it has been necessary to tighten up the amount of time available for various issues.

Be sensible, the House could sit on Friday.

That is a matter for other people and not for me.

To say that the Government's wish is to rush through this Bill so that the Trustee Savings Banks can be privatised is absolutely ridiculous. We are not talking about a State or semi-State body; this is a unique type of structure. We will debate that section when we come to it and there is no point bringing it in at this early stage of the debate.

Are we going to come to it, that is the point.

Please God, with the co-operation of the House.

There is no way we will come to it in the time allocated.

In direct reply to Deputy Noonan, who tabled this amendment and who wishes to limit the commencement of all the provisions of the Bill to 1 July 1990 at the outside, while every effort will be made to implement the Bill as soon as possible, it would not be appropriate to limit it in this way. In any event, as in the case of the recent Central Bank and Building Societies Acts, the normal commencement provisions do not contain any such limit. It is normal in legislation like this to allow the Minister the flexibility to introduce enabling orders to bring in the entire Bill or sections of it as quickly as possible and where appropriate. This amendment, tabled by Deputy Noonan, would limit the power of the Minister to do that and, consequently, we regret we will not be able to accept it.

(Limerick East): I thank the other Deputies for their comments on my amendment. I am quite prepared to debate this Bill for as long as necessary. The time is not ordered by the spokespersons for the parties but is ordered by the Whips. I understand that the Whips had agreed on Thursday last — certainly before many of these amendments were tabled — to a certain length of time and I understand the Whips representing the other parties also agreed. When we in Fine Gael make an agreement we like to stick to it, so on the Order of Business we did not vote against what we had agreed at the Whips' meeting last Thursday. If the other parties feel free to give a commitment on a Thursday and renege on it the following Tuesday, that is their business and I will not cast aspersions on them.

Deputy Taylor has suggested that something sinister is happening and that from his point of view only one section, that is section 58, of the Bill matters. He is afraid we will not arrive at section 58. When I was studying Latin, the word "sinister" meant left. I do not see anything sinister or anything left-wing about the way business is organised in this House, but if that concerns Deputy Taylor and Deputy Rabbitte I am prepared to pull out every amendment up to section 58. I am prepared to do it now if the other Deputies want to do the same. Alternatively, I am prepared to debate sections up until 7 o'clock this evening and to pull out every amendment up to section 58 and we could start on section 58 at 10.45 a.m. tomorrow. I am prepared to talk to any of the spokespersons or the Whips later on tonight, if they feel there is an arrangement between the Government and the main Opposition party to prevent them from debating section 58. I would like to point out to Deputy Rabbitte that there is an amendment in my name to oppose the section, which is the last amendment to section 58. If there is any fear that this section will not be adequately debated, I am prepared to discuss with them later any mechanism they see desirable to ensure that section 58 is adequately debated.

We will take you up on that, Deputy.

(Limerick East): That is fine. I am particularly interested in section 5, which I think is a disgraceful section, and the sections which fail to state clearly how interest rates will be arrived at when the Minister for Finance consults the Central Bank. I am also interested in the section which fails to make arrangements on what proportion of the moneys deposited in the Trustee Savings Banks will be required to be invested with the Minister for Finance, either on deposit or in Government paper. The present arrangement is 80:20 and I would like to debate the section which leaves it wide open for the Minister and the Central Bank to introduce a different arrangement——

We should be in a position to debate all these sections and not have to pick and chose.

(Limerick East): I think we can do so. I know that 81 amendments have been tabled but many are consequential on other amendments. The Minister has tabled a sheaf of amendments, possibly nine or ten pages. I have looked through them and, as far as I could see, there is nothing controversial about what the Minister is introducing by way of amendment. I could wave all the amendments tabled by the Minister through virtually without debate and we could clear the list of amendments very rapidly if we wanted to accommodate each other. Indeed, I will accommodate the Minister further. I had intended calling for a vote on this amendment, but I will not call it now as we are as well off using the time to debate the Bill as calling a vote.

Thank you, Deputy.

(Limerick East): I do not accept, of course, what the Minister states. This is not to ensure that the Minister can exercise his full power in a flexible fashion but to allow the civil servants the necessary time to draft the orders. There is always Civil Service opposition when one decides a particular cut-off point to prevent the Minister from drifting on without bringing in the regulations for a long time. The civil servants in the Department of Finance have a difficult job to do, they are under-paid and overworked and frequently the work falls on a number of expert people. Work is certainly not divided equally in Government Departments and there is often very little regard for hard work. As a compliment to the civil servants in the Department of Finance, if they want the flexibility to bring in the orders to introduce different sections of this Bill at different times as they see fit, then I will withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.

Amendment No. 2 is in the name of Deputy Mervyn Taylor. I observe that amendment No. 3 in the name of Deputy Pat Rabbitte is related, likewise amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are alternatives. I suggest, therefore, that we discuss amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, lines 31 to 37, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:

"(1) The Minister may make regulations for the purpose of effecting the transition from the enactments repealed by section 7 of this Act so far as the same may be necessary to give full effect to any provision of this Act.".

I will discuss amendments Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6 together. The wording of section 4 (1) is altogether too vague and too wide. The powers the Minister is attempting to take upon himself to make regulations under the Bill are too wide. It is perfectly acceptable that a Minister should have power to make regulations on certain specific, defined matters to enable an Act of the Oireachtas to operate in a proper manner to cover the minutiae and the detail that one would not expect to see in the Act itself and which would make an Act of the Oireachtas far too unwieldy. This business has got out of hand and the powers taken by the Executive of Government, by the Minister in particular, have been widened until more and more Ministers are taking on to themselves plenary powers on wide-ranging areas, using vague terms to describe them. That cannot be right. It cannot be good law and should not be accepted by the House.

For example in section 4 (1) such words as "incidental"— what is an incidental matter? —"consequential" and "transitional supplementary provisions" are used. This language is too vague to make good law, too vague to be acceptable, and too vague to meet the broad constitutional principle, that when powers are to be delegated to a Minister at least they should be clear, succinct and specifically defined.

The main thrust of what is intended in section 4 (1) is that transitional matters should be within the ambit of the Minister to regulate. However, I have suggested an alternative to section 4 (1) which is perhaps somewhat more limited, but in my view it is clearer and defines with more certainty and exactitude exactly what power is being delegated to the Minister. It reads:

"(1) The Minister may make regulations for the purpose of effecting the transition from the enactments repealed by section 7 of this Act so far as the same may be necessary to give full effect to any provision of this Act."

I would have thought that would be perfectly adequate to meet all the Minister's needs in the matter of transitionary powers and functions without there being the necessity for him to have recourse to such woolly expressions as "incidental, consequential, transitional, supplementary provisions" and all the vagueness attached to them. One would have to have a High Court or Supreme Court decision before one could start to interpret each of those words. I do not think they are right, proper or appropriate to legislation.

My other amendments, amendments Nos. 4, 5, and 6, are in effect of the same import as amendment No. 3, which will be moved shortly by Deputy Rabbitte, which seeks to ensure — this would be far better law and should become standard practice — that when the regulations and orders are made by the Minister they do not become law or have full effect until both Houses have adopted resolutions approving them and do not become law by a default procedure following the expiration of 21 days. That is a totally unacceptable and unfair provision for the simple reason that the smaller parties in particular do not have the opportunity because of the way Dáil time is structured to bring motions before the House to annual such ministerial regulations, if they were so minded.

You are aware, a Cheann Comhairle, that such a motion could only be tabled in Private Members' Time and nobody knows better than you do how limited the smaller parties are in that regard. The position would be that 21 sitting days would pass without the Labour Party and, a fortiori, The Workers' Party having time available to them in Private Members' time to discuss a motion to annul the regulations. Where is the equity and fairness in that? This is an old chestnut which has been debated many times in this House and I can recall not one but many occasions when Front Bench spokesmen of the Minister's party, sitting on the Opposition side of the House when similar provisions were inserted into legislation by the Government of the day, waxed lyrical about how appalling this was and how it was untenable. It should be remembered that this is a major party in the House who would have little difficulty in Private Members' Time in bringing in motions to annul regulations. Is it not remarkable how views change, depending on whether a party sit on the Government side of the House or on the Opposition side? This is a poor reflection on the principle involved here and the principle shown in controlling these matters.

Why does the Minister not do the right thing on this occasion and show that he is prepared to listen to reason, fairness and fair play and enable the smaller parties to exercise their democratic right and parliamentary functions? By accepting these amendments, he would give them that right and that is, after all, the theory and basis behind our parliamentary democracy. Deputies of the smaller parties, who are elected through the democratic process and who have an alternative philosophy and position to offer in this House, should be given the opportunity to express themselves when these important ministerial regulations are made. If we fail to do this we will be denying in effect true democratic representation to the smaller parties. I am sure the Minister would agree that would be very unfair and I hope he will see his way to accepting these amendments.

I wish to move amendment No. 3, which seeks to delete subsection (2) of section 4.

The Deputy may speak to his amendment but he may not move it now. Only one amendment can be before the House at any given time. Deputy Taylor's amendment, amendment No. 2, is before the House.

I support the amendment moved by Deputy Taylor which I submit is a more definite, precise and certain statement than the one contained in the existing subsection (1) of section 4. In keeping with our earlier discussion, I do not want to take up the time of the House in reiterating the arguments advanced in favour of it but I submit it is necessary that we argue in favour of precision and that there is a certain amount of deliberate uncertainty and lack of precision in the present wording.

As you have suggested, a Cheann Comhairle, my own amendment follows on from that amendment. Again, I do not wish to dwell on it for too long but it is the view of my party that the Minister should take this amendment on board. In the past we have moved similar amendments on other legislation for the very good reasons which have already been adverted to. For example, we believe the requirement that regulations be laid before this House and that a resolution annulling those regulations be passed by either House within 21 days to be a negative approach which is of almost no value, especially to the smaller parties. In practice, this is pushed into Private Members' time. Under the regulations pushed through the House, The Workers' Party may not get such a facility within 21 sitting days. Therefore, this default mechanism or negative construction provides no facility whereby we can contest a particular order or regulation. Indeed this has been shown to be the case in the past. Over the past decade my colleagues have unsuccessfully attempted to challenge such regulations on a range of matters in the social welfare code and this facility was not given. I see no good reason the Minister cannot approach this matter in a positive fashion and require that any given regulation must have the positive approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I submit that accepting this amendment, which would require the Minister to lay a draft of the regulations he proposes to make before the House and which seeks to ensure that those regulations would not come into effect until a resolution approving them has been passed by both Houses, is the democratic way to approach this matter, where the Minister feels it is necessary for a number of reasons as instanced by Deputy Taylor to bring regulations before this House. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will have due regard to the rights of the smaller parties in this House and facilitate that positive construction.

(Limerick East): There is a common misunderstanding both inside and outside this House that there is primary and secondary legislation and that what we do on the Floor of this House has a force in law which is stronger than what is done by way of ministerial regulation. That of course is a total misunderstanding of the position. What the Minister does by way of regulation has a stronger force in law and is as enforceable in the courts as anything we do on the Floor of this House. It is not a matter of little consequence when we are discussing what powers should be properly vested in a Minister to regulate under specific provisions of the Bill.

Section 4 starts "Without prejudice to any specific provisions of this Act". Once one leaves out the specific provisions of the Act, section 4 is all right as drafted, because the really important parts of this Bill are covered by sections where the Minister has regulatory powers other than those incorporated in section 4. In section 5, for example, there is specific power to regulate to modify the Bill in almost any way the Minister thinks fit for a three year period. In section 6 there is power for the Minister by regulation to incorporate into this legislation any provision of related legislation, of the Companies Act, the Building Societies Act and so on. The section causing the most anxiety is the one under which the Minister may incorporate the Trustee Savings Banks, by leaving a draft order before the House in accordance with the provisions of section 58 of this Bill where there is a provision for an affirmative resolution, which is exactly what Deputy Rabbitte has requested here.

Ministerial resolutions are necessary precisely for incidental, consequential, transitional and supplementary provisions but they are not necessary and should not be used for matters of principle. Whether we should proceed to fetter the Minister either by affirmative or negative resolution is a point worthy of debate. When matters of detail arise directly from the provisions of the Bill, the veto of the House by negative regulation is sufficient, because when it comes to regulations we are not talking about the principle of the Bill or the principle of the section but about details arising from a section. It is probably sufficient for the House to have a veto in matters of detail.

The difficulty arises when the Minister seeks to deal with matters of substance by regulation. The House is unhappy about that and feels that a veto is not enough and we need a provision whereby the Minister is obliged to bring a regulation on to the Floor of the House so that we can debate it. That is an understandable feeling on the part of Opposition Deputies and on the part of all committed parliamentarians. When one thinks about it, however, it does not really answer the problem because the difficulty with regulations is that one is not opposed to the principle of the Regulations but one wants to get at the detail of the regulations. One cannot get at the detail of regulations in an affirmative resolution or in a negative resolution in the form of a Second Stage debate.

It is irrelevant whether we have an affirmative resolution or a negative resolution to cover section 4, because once it comes on to the Floor of the House we will not be able to get at the detail of the regulation and on behalf of our parties we will make statements — Second Stage type statements which do not meet the issue. What we need is a mechanism where we can search the detail of the regulation, rather like Committee or Report Stage where amendments can be proposed by the Opposition, and the Minister can come back to us. If that kind of mechanism were put in place it would be a distinct reform of Parliament.

I have no objection to what either Deputy Taylor or Deputy Rabbitte proposed; but in the context of section 4 it will be ineffective, whichever way the resolution ultimately comes before the Dáil, either by negative resolution where we can exercise a veto, or by a positive affirmation introduced by the Minister.

At least this way we can get a Second Stage debate. The other way we can get no debate at all.

I have listened with interest to the contributions. I take particular note of what Deputy Noonan says regarding primary and secondary legislation and the misunderstanding there will be about it. In response to Deputy Rabbitte, I would say that the function of Government is to bring forward and improve legislation, and the function of the Dáil is to debate and ensure that it is the best possible legislation for the common good. Legislation is not brought in to suit large parties. It is up to each party to treat legislation in whatever way they think fit. Legislation introduced is looked at in an overall way and not in a miniscule way that would deprive Deputies of the opportunity to take appropriate action within the rules and regulations of Dáil Éireann.

Section 4 is a standard provision dealing with the making of regulations and the giving of directions to give effect to this Bill. The section calls for every regulation made under the Act to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and allows for the giving of directions by the Central Bank to the Trustee Savings Bank in relation to the business carried on by the bank. Subsection (1) allows that any regulation made by the Minister under this Bill may include whatever incidental or minor provisions might be necessary to give full effect to the Act.

It does not say "minor", the word "minor" does not appear.

Well, incidental or minor, we are taking the two together.

Incidental matters are not necessarily minor matters. It does not say that.

It depends, that is a matter of opinion.

The Minister should not import words into the section when they are not in it.

This is a standard provision necessary to avoid any legal or technical difficulties that might arise in the making of the regulations. Deputy Taylor wishes to restrict the power to make the regulations under this section purely transitional provisions following repeals of other Acts under section 7.

Section 4 (1) as drafted is a standard provision allowing the Minister to make the regulations to implement the Act. It is essential to the Act and it is included, for example, in the 1976 and 1979 Building Societies Acts in this form. Subsection (2) is standard in relation to the making of regulations. This negative resolution procedure will apply to all regulations made under this Act and it is not thought that the positive resolution procedure would be required in respect of any regulations to be made under this Act.

Deputies Taylor and Rabbitte have amendments which would require prior approval by the both Houses for any regulations under the Act. Again, this subsection is standard for this type of legislation and should not require regulations to have prior approval. Consequently, I regret that I will not be able to accept these amendments.

With respect, the Minister has not addressed the points I made. As Deputy Noonan rightly pointed out, the regulations the Minister brings in have the force of law just as an Act of the Oireachtas. We are not talking necessarily about minor matters. The Minister let that word slip, but that word does not appear in the subsection. It could well be that matters within the contemplation of section 4 could be of some importance.

Deputy Noonan was talking about matters of substance and matters of detail and drawing a distinction between those two categories. That is fair enough up to a point but in between those two broad categories is a large grey area where opinions might differ as to what is a matter of substance and what is a matter of detail. I might regard as a matter of substance what Deputy Noonan might regard as a matter of detail. Consequently, I might wish as an elected Member, in common with 165 others, to have an opportunity to say something about that. I thought we were elected to the House for that reason. To deliberately devise a mechanism under which not only an individual — I shudder to think of the position of the Independent Members who do not have any Private Member's time — but parties which have an appreciable number of seats are denied an opportunity to have an input into a debate, if they see fit to do so, even if it is a Second Stage type debate, is wrong. I agree with Deputy Noonan about teasing out provisions on Committee Stage. However, we do not see that much in the amendments. It is our democratic right, which should not be denied us by the Government, that if we are minded to have something to say in a general way on a Second Stage type debate we should be permitted to do so.

Even if by a quirk of coincidence it happens that the meagre allocation the Labour Party receive, and the even more meagre allocation The Workers' Party get, slots into the 21 working day period it is a bit much to suggest that they should give up that precious Private Members' time to be used for the purpose of attempting to annul an order.

Will the Deputy accept that he may be theorising a little beyond Committee Stage?

I am speaking exactly to the terms of the amendments before us. I do not take the point raised by the Chair.

Deputy Taylor is an experienced Member but I have not heard him in my presence directing himself to what is in the amendments. Rather, we are talking about Private Members' time and the rights of Independent Members.

May I explain myself?

The Deputy does not have to explain.

I think I do.

If the Deputy considers that he is proceeding specifically in order with Committee Stage requirements I will listen further for the conviction I do not have. The Deputy should continue.

May I explain to the Chair the thrust of what I am trying to say?

I shall listen very carefully in an effort to decide if I have misunderstood the Deputy's telling contribution.

Section 4 (1) (2) provides that if the regulations made by the Minister are to be annulled that will have to be done in a negative fashion by resolution of the House. I was making the point that the only way a party can do that would be to use up their meagre allocation of Private Members' time. That is the relevance of my reference to Private Members' time. If, by coincidence, it so happens that the Labour Party or The Workers' Party have an allocation of Private Members' time it would be unfair and unreasonable to expect them to give that up for the purpose of seeking to annul a regulation made under this section. That time is meant for weightier matters and it is a very scarce and precious commodity to the smaller parties. The more likely outcome is that they would not have the opportunity to have an allocation of Private Members' time within the 21 working days.

I should like to ask the Minister to explain to the House the purpose of including the provision, of appearing to give a semblance of a democratic provision under which the House could be enabled to move a motion to debate and annul a regulation made by the Minister on an important matter when the practicalities of the operation of the House are such that Members will not have the opportunity to do that. Will the Minister explain to the House why such a provision has been included? Are we attempting to give a semblance of democracy while denying the reality to Independent Members and the smaller parties?

I was a bit taken aback by the Minister's riposte to the amendments to this section. He said that legislation is not brought before the House to meet the needs of any particular party. The whole point at issue is that the Minister has designed a section that seeks to give the appearance that the House can do something about the regulation that it does not like. The argument being made is that the negative mechanism adopted for so doing leaves effectively two parties comprising the Opposition in the House without realistic access to using that negative mechanism effectively. I take Deputy Noonan's point that there can be a difference between a matter of principle and a matter that falls within the meaning of section 4. Certainly, if one were to refer to the extraordinary and unprecedented powers being sought by the Minister in section 5 one would see that that difference becomes very evident.

Deputy Noonan will have to accept that his belief that the power of veto should be sufficient when it is not a matter of principle, that in a circumstance when we are talking about banks — we seem to be in agreement that the purpose of the Bill is to prepare those banks to be sold off in part or in whole to the private sector — it is perfectly within the remit of committed parliamentarians to approach that question from different philosophical standpoints. The banks we are talking about are effectively in public ownership. I am aware of the trustee arrangement and so on but it would have been just as easy to bring legislation before the House to devise a form of public ownership that would go some way to releasing some of the restrictions on the functioning of the banks at present.

It is disappointing, if the Minister accepts that there is a different philosophical approach to that question, to hear him say that we have a facility by veto in a manner described in section 4 to challenge any regulation or order brought by him before the House. That is completely unrealistic. It has been explained that if such a facility should accidentally fall to either the Labour Party or The Workers' Party during the period of 21 days it would be accidental. There is no precedent I can find in the eighties where such a regulation by a Minister was effectively challenged. The facility simply does not arise and we are merely engaging in legislative window-dressing to suggest that the negative mechanism set out in section 4 copes adequately with that. From the Minister's point of view I cannot see what has been conceded. I suggest to him that in order to allow us to move through what I concede are more substantive sections he should consider taking on board at least the import of the amendments, one of which has been moved.

(Limerick East): The reason I do not have much difficulty with section 4 is that its provisions are the normal regulatory provisions one would find in a Bill of this kind and they are without prejudice to any specific provisions of this Act.

Deputy Rabbitte has talked about approaching this from different philosophic standpoints and has used that as a basis for an argument that we should have a positive form of endorsement of the regulations. If there is any section in the Bill which allows the Minister to privatise, it is section 58. In section 58 (11) a draft of any order proposed to be made should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Order shall not be made until the resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each of the Houses. That is an affirmative resolution so it is not necessary to put it in here in section 4; it does not apply to section 58 anyway. Neither does section 4 apply to sections 5 and 6, because there are specific provisions within those, certainly in sections 5 and 6, and in regard to most of section 58, the one with which the Deputy is most concerned. In section 58 (11) there is a provision for a draft to be placed before the House and it cannot be enacted until we all discuss it here, and it has to be introduced by affirmative motion by the Minister. That is not my problem with it. What is sought to be done by regulation under section 4 is acceptable. What is sought to be done by regulation and by draft order elsewhere is totally unacceptable whether the Minister proceeds by a positive order or by negative order. If we give him this regulatory section, which is a normal section anyway, and take our stand where he is looking for power which is not proper to regulate on anyway, it would be more to the point.

We have teased this section out pretty well. Deputy Taylor stated that this section dealt with matters of some importance. Of course, that is so. Otherwise we would not be seeking any change whatsoever, nor would we have this section inserted. Deputy Taylor said that weightier matters have to be dealt with in Private Members' Time. I accept that that is the prerogative of the Deputies taking up Private Members' Time. The same applies to this Bill, in that section 4 is dealing with minor matters and section 58 deals with weightier matters. I cannot understand why we are having such difficulty with section 4 because regulations under this section would not be dealing with matters of principle. It is precisely because a matter of principle is involved in regulations under section 58 that we have provided for prior approval. I hope this section, which is very explicit and clear so far as I am concerned, can be accepted by the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 10 are consequential on amendment No. 7 and it is proposed to discuss them together, with the agreement of the House.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 6, subsection (3) (a), line 45, to delete "Central Bank" and substitute "Minister".

I hope the various proposals to delete "Central Bank" and insert "Minister" are consistent through the various sections. Theoretically there should be no difficulty about giving these powers to the Central Bank in the various subsections of the section but I am afraid, as we remarked on Second Stage, that too often bodies set up to regulate become prisoners of the people they are designed to regulate in the first instance. I see no reason the Minister should not retain the authority here, which would, in addition, give a role to the Oireachtas which, in all probability, would not be the case if the functions listed under these various sections were developed on the Central Bank.

(Limerick East): The proper regulatory authority is the Central Bank and I have no objection to the way this is drafted. I share some of Deputy Rabbitte's fears in regard to the difficulty he identified. One of the problems with the powers and the independence of the Central Bank is that when they deal with third parties there is no way of raising the issue in the House. I presume if this section goes through as drafted it will not be possible to put down a question to the Minister for Finance about directives by the Central Bank to the Trustee Savings Banks because it would be ruled out of order. I wonder if Deputy Rabbitte had the same concern and if he would consider putting in an amendment on Report Stage to provide that the Central Bank, in consultation with the Minister, may give a direction, because then we would be in a position to question the Minister in the House about the activities of the Central Bank and we would not have taken from the Central Bank its authority as the financial regulatory authority in the country.

I support the thrust of these amendments. I presume the intent of them is, as Deputy Noonan says, that there should be an answerability here in the House for the affairs of the Trustee Savings Banks. I agree with Deputy Noonan that we are talking here about a State institution, and it is right and proper that it should be possible to raise questions as to the conduct of such an institution here in the House.

I do not mind the Central Bank being the regulatory authority so far as the banks are concerned. That is its function, but I would say that the Minister also must have a role in this. It should not be acceptable that the Minister should neatly sidestep his answerability in this House for the affairs of such a major State company. Not only in this country but in other parliamentary democracies all over the world, Ministers, the executive branch of Government, like nothing better than to be able to say in their House of Parliament that they are not the persons answerable when awkward questions arise affecting a major semi-State company, matters affecting possibly hundreds and millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, the savings of the old, the young, of widows etc.

We in this House should have a caution and a care before we allow that to expand and extend more than we have to do. I would have thought the way to handle this aspect would have been to provide for either the Central Bank or the Minister, rather than Deputy Noonan's suggestion of the Central Bank in consultation with the Minister. In other words, give a power of direction both to the Central Bank and the Minister where certain matters of policy or whatever in the Trustee Savings Banks would arise, for the purpose and in the intent that the Minister would be answerable for doing something or not doing something which could have dire consequences for members of the public. I have tabled other amendments with a similar intent in connection with other sections, but the idea behind this is precisely the same, to try to ensure that there would be responsibility on the Minister to answer in this House in connection with the affairs of so substantial a semi-State company.

The Deputies have expressed concern vis-à-vis the fact that responsibility would pass from the Minister to the Central Bank. Subsection (3) empowers the Central Bank to issue directions to the Trustee Savings Banks, which would be in the interest of proper and orderly regulations to the Trustee Savings Banks. This is in addition to the bank's specific powers set out in other sections of the Bill and provides for those circumstances where the Central Bank might have to issue a direction to a Trustee Savings Bank not originally envisaged at the legislative stage. Subsection (4) sets out how a Central Bank direction shall be made and given to a Trustee Savings Bank. It also ensures that the flexibility provided for in subsection (1) in relation to regulations will apply too, to Central Bank directions and allow for revocation and amendment of Central Bank directions made under this Bill.

Deputy Rabbitte wishes to substitute the Minister for the Central Bank in the giving of directions to the Trustee Savings Banks. The Central Bank as the supervisory authority for the Trustee Savings Banks as proposed in the Bill is the appropriate body to give directions under this section. All the other financial institutions are under the supervision of the Central Bank and I see no reason when we have the Central Bank, whose statutory function is to operate a supervising authority over other financial institutions, for not including the Trustee Savings Banks in that supervision.

Because this is a State institution.

It is not a State institution as such. It is set up——

Look at the Minister's Second Stage speech.

You cannot say it is a State institution similar to other State bodies. It is a unique structure set up under specific legislation with specific, clear guidelines. If we are to create a level playing field environment for all financial institutions, surely the supervision must be fairly uniform and standard, and it is only reasonable to expect that that supervision be given by the authority which already controls and supervises the other institutions. Consequently, I regret I cannot accept these amendments.

It is not merely a question of answerability, although that is obviously a very important dimension of it. I was looking for a quote earlier but I have not been able to find it. I was anxious to use it because it comes from Milton Friedman who said something to the effect that regulatory bodies end up being captured by those they are supposed to regulate. I thought that might commend itself to the Minister and maybe even to Deputy Noonan because I think that is what has happened in the case of the Central Bank. The obligations placed on the Central Bank by, I think, the 1942 Act, have not worked always in the interest of the community. Effectively, policy of the Central Bank is made by directors drawn exclusively or almost exclusively from the private sector and to a significant extent from the commercial banks. Here we are not talking about institutions like the building societies or the commercial banks. Whatever about this distinction between trusteeship and public ownership, this is a bank with a difference. It is not to be made analagous to either the building societies or the banks where the regulatory authority is the Central Bank. There is a point of principle here.

On the question of answerability, there are conceivably many areas where Members of this House would like to be able to question the Minister for Finance but the proposal to transfer the responsibility from the Department of Finance to the Central Bank would prevent that. For example, one section of the Bill contains the words "nothing in this Act", implying that the State, the Exchequer or the Minister is responsible for underwriting any loss suffered by a depositor. My understanding, naive though it may be, is that the meagre savings of the public are underwritten and protected by the Exchequer. I am sure that is also the view of those who are depositors with Trustee Savings Banks. Deputy Noonan has dealt at some length with this point and instanced what happened when a run was caused on the bank and the then Minister for Finance assured the public that this was indeed the case. In such event again or in the event of any individual having a grievance, I am convinced that, once the authority is transferred to the Central Bank, the answer to any question that might be put here to the Minister would be that he was not responsible.

Deputy Noonan and Deputy Taylor have made suggestions on how at least some of the thrust behind these amendments might be incorporated in the Bill. These suggestions could be debated at Report Stage.

Is amendment No. 7 withdrawn?

I want to make a couple of brief comments in response to the debate so far on this amendment. The Minister says, quite correctly, that the Central Bank is the regulating authority for Banks. Then he goes on to ask what is the difference between the Trustee Savings Banks and the other banks in respect of which the Central Bank is the regulating authority. He asked what the distinction is here. There is a very vital and important distinction. The Trustee Savings Bank is a completely different animal from all the other banks that operate in this State. The Minister made that quite clear in his Second Stage speech when he said that the Oireachtas has the power to dispose of the assets of the Trustee Savings Banks or to alter their status as it sees fit. That comment applies to the Trustee Savings Banks and the Trustee Savings Banks alone and not to any other bank that operates in this State. Therefore, when you ask what the difference is between this bank and all other banks, I say in reply that that is the difference, and a very important and vital difference. It leads one inevitably to the consequence that where public assets or assets under public control, which means the control of this Oireachtas, are concerned there must be an answerability here, and that can only be from the Minister in this House.

This raises the question as to who is now the controller and the person with responsibility for giving directions to the Trustee Savings Banks. Who has that been since the Trustee Savings Banks were established? The Minister is that person at this time, not the Central Bank. The Central Bank at present has no responsibility for the Trustee Savings Banks, does not even license the Trustee Savings Banks so far as I know, but has responsibility for controlling them. Therefore, this is not just some cosmetic change that is involved here; this goes to the root of the matter, and it is a very important change. I for one would be totally opposed to relieving the Minister completely from that responsibility. As I said, I have no objection to a supervisory role and a licensing role perhaps being put on the Central Bank as well, but not to let the Minister off the hook, not to take away from the Minister that responsibility he has to be answerable.

Where answerability is concerned there also has to be responsibility. I hope the Minister will still be shaking his head in the same affirmative manner when we come to the amendments dealing with that subject because the concomitant of saying that you control an institution and that you have the responsibility, power and authority to issue directions is that if you get that wrong and you do not control it in a proper manner to the extent that people lose, whether you are the Central Bank or the Minister you must pay for your mistakes the same as anybody else must pay for their mistakes. If people lose their savings or investments as a result, then there should be a concomitant responsibility on the Central Bank and or the Minister.

Do I take it from Deputy Rabbitte that the concern articulated in these amendments can be better accommodated under a later section and that he is not pressing them now?

I would like to look at the possibility of the Minister redrafting the amendments for Report Stage.

I take it that Deputy Rabbitte is withdrawing amendment No. 7.

Amendment No. 7, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

I would like to ask the Minister to clarify a point in section 4 (3) which states:

A person who fails or refuses to comply with a direction under this subsection shall be guilty of an offence.

Section 4 (3) states that the Minister may give a direction to a Trustee Savings Bank in relation to any matter and they are then obligated to carry that out. Does it not appear rather strange that it says that "a person who fails or refuses"? Should it not say "a bank or a person who refuses"? Directions under section 4 (3) are not addressed to persons or to individual trustees; they are addressed to the bank. Should it not be the bank in addition to an individual who should be made amenable if they fail to comply with the direction from the Central Bank or the Minister as the case may be?

A person could include a trustee or a manager or the bank itself. It would cover what Deputy Taylor refers to.

Would it include the bank?

Yes, it is deemed to include it.

Is the Deputy happy?

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment No. 11 is in the name of Deputy Noonan (Limerick East). The proposal to delete section 5 is an alternative so we will take for discussion purposes amendment No. 11 and section 5 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

(Limerick East): I move amendment No. 11:

In page 7, line 30, to delete "3 years" and substitute "6 months".

I would like to withdraw my amendment No. 11 and to give notice that if we have a Report Stage I will be re-entering it there. You will notice from the list of amendments that I am also opposing the section. Obviously, if I am opposed to it in principle at this stage, the question of modifying it is something that will arise subsequently. I would like to speak on the section since we are taking them together. This is an extraordinary section. When I challenged the Minister on it at Second Stage he said there were precedents and he quoted the Building Societies Act as a precedent. That is rather like the boy in school using his previous bad behaviour for justifying his present bad behaviour because, of course, it was the same Minister who sponsored the Building Societies Bill.

Of course, it was the Environment spokesman who was handling that.

(Limerick East): It is extraordinary that any Minister should come before the House and say: “I am putting certain proposals before you. These proposals may not work. These proposals may be entirely wrong. These proposals may not deliver on the intention of the Bill, and because I am fearful about the inadequacies of my Bill I want power under section 5 to change this in any way that is necessary when my original proposals run into difficulty, because I half expect that they might”. That is an extraordinary approach for any Minister to adopt when coming into the House. Section 5 states:

If, in any respect, any difficulty arises in bringing any provision of this Act into operation or in relation to the operation of any such provision, the Minister may by regulations do anything which appears to him to be necessary or expedient for removing that difficulty, for bringing that provision into operation, or for securing or facilitating its operation, and any such regulations may modify any provision of this Act so far as may be necessary or expedient for carrying such provision into effect for the purposes afore-said ...

Then the saver, he can only swing the machete for three years. God help us, that is some saver. What does that mean in layman's language? It means that if the Minister finds that the powers he has given to himself and the Central Bank are not sufficient to regulate the Trustee Savings Banks or to do with them what he considers to be necessary over the next three years he may issue regulations to change this legislation, he can drop sections or he can cancel the whole Act because he can say we got it totally wrong and a difficulty is arising from the very nature of it and he has to bring it back in. I know the Minister of State will say that is not the intention and that it is only for minor matters, but this is only a saver in case things occur in the middle distance that we would not be sure of. I say this advisedly; it is outrageous for a Minister for Finance to come into a House of Parliament and look for power to modify, in any direction he sees fit, a piece of legislation which is being enacted by the Houses of the Oireachtas, and to seek to exercise that power for a period of three years is a further outrage.

If the Minister finds that the legislation he is proposing is inadequate he can redress it by bringing in amending legislation. That is the way things have been done since the foundation of the State. That is the way things should be done. If the Minister and his advisers got it wrong then they have an obligation to come back to the House and say so. Then they can say they are introducing the Trustee Savings Bank (Amendment) Bill, 1990, there will be a full five Stage debate on it, and then it will be sent to the Seanad. That is the way to behave but not in the fashion described in this Bill, especially in matters of such consequence.

In legislation to a large degree we are giving away the power to scrutinise the activities of the Trustee Savings Banks. As my two colleagues have already pointed out, the regulatory provisions are to a large extent vested in the Central Bank and the Central Bank is not answerable to this House. Yet the Minister may, by regulation, modify, to any extent he sees fit, any provision of this Bill. I think it is an outrage. I am opposed to it in principle and I will be calling a vote on it.

I support every word Deputy Noonan has said on this issue. It is outrageous to bring forward such a section. Let us look at the wording for a moment. It states that any such regulations by the Minister may modify any provisions of this Act. The enormity of what we are saying there is mind boggling. The Minister is taking to himself power to modify an Act of the Oireachtas. I have grave doubts as to whether this is constitutional.

The Constitution sets out the separation of powers as between the legislative branch of Government, which is the Oireachtas; the executive branch, which is the Government; and the interpretative branch, which is the Judiciary. Here the executive in the form of the Minister is taking upon itself the function of the Oireachtas. It is extremely serious to purport to do that. How is the Minister limiting himself? There is a guilt in his mind, in the mind of the parliamentary draftsman and in the minds of the Minister's officials. They are not quite happy about it; they feel a bit uneasy and know it is not quite right, so they put in a cut-off point after three years. If it were right there would be no need for such a provision. The guilty conscience comes through, so the Minister puts in what he considers to be a saver, to the effect that it applies only for three years. That does not fool anybody or pull the wool over anybody's eyes. The naked grasp at power in the Minister's hand alone, without reference to this House and the Seanad, is absolutely appalling and untenable.

It is wide-ranging, too, not just limited or specific. It is stated that any such regulations may modify any provisions of this Act, so far as they may be necessary or expedient. The Minister's idea of what is expedient and what may facilitate him in operating the Act is not something that should entitle him in a democracy to sit down with his officials and write out a list of regulations which have the force of law when he signs them. That should not be. It is going back to the time of Henry VIII when government was by royal decree. The Minister is making himself out as if he were Henry VIII, promulgating decrees without reference to Parliament. There are to be royal decrees, as it were.

I am sure Deputy Taylor would wish to restrain somewhat the comparison he has made.

I think it is fair enough because this is harking back to the days when the struggle went on between the king and Parliament on these kinds of issues. The king said he did not need Parliament and would rule by decree. That is what the Minister is trying to do here. He offers a section to the House, backed by the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat parties, which refers to any difficulty which may arise in bringing any provision of the Act into operation. He is supposed to know what difficulties there will be; that is his job and he has a big enough staff of civil servants, assistants and advisers to think this through. There are enough of them, all paid at public expense, to work out now what those difficulties might be and to address them in this Bill so that we might tease them out as we are supposed to be able to do in the fullness of time in a Committee Stage debate. The Minister should not take the easy way out by putting in a provision that if any difficulty arises he can do anything he wishes. He may by regulation do anything which appears to him to be necessary or expedient. He can simply bring in a regulation.

People throughout the country, be they companies, savers or borrowers with the Trustee Savings Bank, are entitled to know what they are dealing with, with whom they are dealing and how matters will evolve. They should know their position and not be forced to buy a pig in a poke. That is what the law is for. Under this Bill the Minister may, by a back door arrangement, bring in modifying arrangements under his seal and signature, where he considers that a difficulty has arisen. It is one of the most outrageous provisions I have ever seen. It is dangerous, the thin end of the wedge. What next? The next time the Minister will insert a wider provision for amending an Act. It is a creeping development which must be stopped short. It must be recognised that a trend is developing here which is an infringement of true democracy. If we do not put our foot down and step in at an early stage it will extend and expand and before we know it we will be passing enabling Acts for the Minister to deal with subject X or matter Y. He will deal with matters by means of regulations and the House will become no more than a rubber stamp.

(Limerick East): It would be a handy way to bring in a Finance Bill.

It would be a very handy way to do anything. That kind of procedure can extend on a gradual basis, each step being no more than a shade stronger than the preceding one. Once you open the door to that kind of thing, it is not a big step to extend.

There is a vast difference between section 5 and the powers the Minister is trying to take from this House and the normal kind of power taken by a Minister to make regulations. The House should recognise that now. I will be calling a vote against this section. I hope the Minister will reconsider, even at this late stage.

I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed on this section by Deputies Noonan and Taylor. I do not have the equivalent experience in the House of either Deputy but I am amazed that a section of this scope could be brought before the House. I am certainly very dubious about the constitutionality of giving such all-embracing power to the Minister, enabling him to do anything which appears to him to be necessary or expedient.

I find it extraordinary that we need this kind of section in a Bill which has been nine years in gestation. If the Bill has been contemplated for some nine years this is not some last minute, hurried insertion to protect against situations which the Minister cannot foresee. In view of the negotiations which have taken place, I cannot understand the necessity to seek such all-embracing powers. Deputy Taylor quite reasonably suggested that even in its construction there is some evidence, niggling doubt and residual concern on the part of the authors of this section about its implications so that we will have it in force for a limited period of three years only.

Another suggestion could be that the Minister is in possession of some knowledge which we do not have. Could it be that the purpose for which this Bill was advanced in the first place will effectively be executed within that three year period and that whatever lobby has caused the demand for the disposal of the bank to the private sector should be facilitated? Does that lobby feel that the groundwork is laid and that the work can be done inside three years? If that is not so it is very hard to understand why a Minister who is so anxious to divest himself of his current responsibilities to the bank — to pass on some of these responsibilities to the Central Bank — wants to retain in this Bill the power to effectively set the Bill at nought if he so chooses. It seems to be a power without precedent and if this House is to accept this kind of precedent being established in the case of the trustee savings banks, where will it all end? It is extraordinary to bring before the House a Bill that must have taken much painstaking compilation and then to put in an all-encompassing section which says that the Minister may do anything which appears to him to be necessary or expedient and that he may bring in any such regulations that may modify any provision of this Act as far as may be necessary or expedient. It is an all-embracing power which this House should not accept as a precedent to be established for serious legislation. I will be opposing this section and calling for a vote.

I noted the very strong language used by the speakers in relation to this section. Deputies Noonan and Rabbitte — and maybe Deputy Taylor — said that the Bill had been nine years in gestation. We all accept that there is a need to update the legislation in relation to the Trustee Savings Banks. Members of the House and the public have been clamouring for these changes for many years. Obviously this legislation has not been rushed as there is nothing concealed, latent or residual in the Bill and there is no reason to conceal anything pertaining to the Bill.

Section 5 provides that if any difficulty arises in bringing any of this Act into effect, the Minister is empowered to remove that difficulty by way of introducing regulations which may also modify the legislation to such an extent as may be necessary to facilitate its enforcement. This power will lapse after three years from its date of enforcement.

Deputies Noonan, Taylor and Rabbitte are opposing this section. Deputy Noonan wanted the three year limit changed to six months but then he decided to leave a proposed amendment in this regard to Report Stage. A similar provision in the recent building societies legislation give rise to some adverse reaction in its passage through the House. For that reason it is important for Deputies to be quite clear regarding the purpose and intention of this section.

The section provides that if any difficulty arises in bringing any provision of this Act into effect the Minister is empowered to remove that difficulty by way of regulations which may also modify the legislation to such an extent as may be necessary to facilitate its enforcement.

The existing Trustee Savings Banks legislation is antiquated and labyrinthine and this Bill is the first major reform of that legislation. There is a strong possibility of unforeseen technical difficulties arising in giving effect to the provisions of the Bill and this provision is to enable the Minister to deal with them. The advice is that this power can effectively be exercised only within the context and intentions of the Bill. There is no possibility of the provision being used to subvert the intention of the legislation and there are precedents for it.

Attention should be drawn to the time limit of three years in this section and to the fact that, as provided in section 4, any regulation made under this section would be placed before both Houses of the Oireachtas, who would have the power to annul the regulations within 21 days if they so wished.

That would be a big help.

The precedents for a provision of this type can be found in the Social Welfare Act, 1952, the Farm Tax Act, 1985, the Canals Act, 1986, and the Valuation Act, 1988, which I piloted through the Oireachtas. The Building Societies Act, 1989, has a three year limit and a similar limit is appropriate in this case. Limits in the other cited precedents vary. In the case of the Social Welfare Act it is one year. In the case of the Farm Tax and the Valuation Acts the period is two years and in the Canals Act it is three years.

Regarding the scope of any amendments, all the precedent legislation referred to limited the scope of amendments under this section to the Act in question except for the Canals Act, which allowed for the possibility of amendment to any other enactment. The advice available to the Minister for Finance is that this section can be used only in a relatively limited context despite the apparent breadth of the wording.

I am confident that all Ministers for Finance will take careful, measured and judicious decisions based on the best available expert advice. I hope the House can accept the necessity for this section.

(Limerick East): I am surprised at the claim of the Minister of State that there is nothing concealed, latent or residual in this Bill because, where it really matters, everything is concealed, latent or residual. The provision as to how interest rates will be arrived at is latent, as it is to be discussed between the Minister and the Central Bank.

There is a provision in the Bill in regard to the designated proportion of depositors' funds which will be invested with the Minister either on deposit or by means of Government paper. That is also a residual matter which is left for discussion between the Minister and the Central Bank. It is concealed latent and residual, to use the Minister's own words. Section 58, which deals with the prospective incorporation of the Trustee Savings Banks, is concealed, latent and residual. We do not know the Government's intent, the Minister's intent——

We have our suspicions.

(Limerick East): There are provisions for incorporation which will have a majority ministerial shareholding — and indeed provisions for incorporation which would have minority ministerial shareholding — in the same section. When one legislates for absolutely opposing contingencies it is concealed and latent and are there not residual powers in the section which have not been made clear to the House? The Minister chose a very unfortunate phrase when he said there was nothing concealed, latent or residual in the Bill.

My main objection to this section is that the Minister may, by regulation, modify matters of principle in the Bill. I contend that regulations should be confined to consequential matters and not matters of principle. I accept the Minister's assurance that he will not move to subvert the principle of the Bill. However, in addition to the overall principle of the Bill, there are principles proper to specific sections. There is the principle involved in specific sections and that may be modified at the Minister's say so. It is not merely a matter of technical difficulties, as the Minister has contended or endeavoured to point out. In section 5 the Minister is taking power to change sections, matters of principle in regard to sections. Indeed, matters of substance in the Bill can be modified by these provisions. It is the intent of the section to allow the Minister do so.

I am not casting any aspersions on the Minister, or on any of his predecessors or successors; that is not my intention. We like to operate on the basis of all of us being men of good will. Nonetheless there is a balance between the Executive and the Houses of Parliament and that balance is now being upset. I accept that there are precedents, as the Minister has outlined, but it is about time we stopped creating such precedents because in matters such as this there should be certainty. I know that the trustees, management, staff and depositors of the Trustee Savings Bank have been awaiting this legislation a long time. In their anxiety, perhaps their desire to scrutinise its provisions has been somewhat lulled. I can assure the House that were this a company in which I had an involvement I would not accept that kind of provision without fighting it because there is no certainty in this Bill and that makes an uncertain Bill even more uncertain. There will be no trustee or manager of a Trustee Savings Bank who will be able to return to his depositors, saying: we have a new Bill now governing the Trustee Savings Bank and this is what it means, because we do not know what it means. We do not know what will be the main provisions. Worse, the Minister is here taking power to modify even those areas in which there is certainty.

For a limited period.

(Limerick East): For three years. I was going to begin by saying this is the East German provision; now might be the time to say it. Do we know what will happen to Europe in three years? Three years is a considerable length of time affording enormous scope to do good or evil. If the Minister has not made up his mind within three years as to the power he and the Central Bank need in controlling the two remaining Trustee Savings Banks, then it is my belief he will not make up his mind at all. I contend that a period of six months is even dangerous. The only reason I have tabled “6 months” in my amendment is that it constitutes my second line of defence, in that we would be hoping to stop the Minister on the detail if we cannot stop him on the principle, when he rolls those famous Progressive Democrats through to add to the 77 his party has, the cohorts of democracy, the six honourable men——

The Deputy's party are pretty good at rolling themselves.

(Limerick East):——roll in behind the Minister to make it 83, when the great reformers of Parliament will roll in behind him, with the Government Assistant Whip guiding them through the lobbies.

Let us get back to the section before the House.

(Limerick East): We are opposing this section.

May I put one question to the Minister? Can the Minister give the House an example of the sort of circumstances he would envisage arising under the provisions of this section?

I have to be honest and say I have not got any example to give the House. However, I will do my utmost to have something by Report Stage. The Deputy will appreciate that the Minister for Finance can find himself in circumstances in which he must take a decision, one that may be necessary in the interests of, say, depositors, interest rates, or in the interests of parity and equity. All of those things have to be taken into consideration. Perhaps certain decisions would have to be taken at very short notice depending on what might arise. I am merely giving them as personal examples.

After all, the Minister of State must realise it is the responsibility of the Minister for Finance.

I will come back to the House on Report Stage if we can get some examples.

The Minister has purported to answer my question but, if I may say so, that is not good enough. It is not good enough that the Minister is not in a position to give an example of what he has in mind when he takes upon himself such a wide-ranging amending provision within the terms of the Bill. He should be in a position to give examples when he comes into the House. He should be in a position to give such examples now. It is no good his saying he will come back on Report Stage and give an example of the sort of thing envisaged because if he thinks a difficulty will arise of which he has knowledge it should be included in the Bill, not just in his mind or some figment of his imagination. It merely highlights the point I have been making about how outrageous is this provision. This is the time to consider what difficulties may arise and deal with them now when the Bill is before the House.

As has been said, this has not been rushed legislation, it has been on the stocks for years. There has been plenty of time for the powers that be to have examined all the ins and outs, all the possibilities, and have them included in this Bill so that we might examine them here and not have them dealt with privately in the smoke-filled rooms in the back offices of the Minister's Department.

Smoking is a dying practice.

(Limerick East): I should like to give the Minister of State an example of circumstances in which I envisage the Minister for Finance or his successors could act. At present the statutory provision is that deposits made with the Trustee Savings Banks are deposited with the Minister for Finance. He restores 20 per cent, so that there is then an 80:20 ratio. The provision in the Bill is that this will be a matter for discussion between the Minister and the Central Bank to decide what will be the designated proportion in the future. Suppose the Minister and the Central Bank fail to agree on a designated proportion; then there will arise a difficulty in regard to the implementation of the provisions of the Bill. Under this section the Minister may, by regulation, come back to this House and modify the provisions in respect of that section. He may say: the Minister has now decided that, say, for reasons of shortages in the Exchequer rather than loosening up the 80:20 ratio, it will be restricted; it will now be a ratio of 90:10. Are we are going to have a ratio of 75:25, or we are going to adhere to the 80:20 ratio because there is a difficulty being experienced in the implementation of the provisions of this section? I do not know whether the people who run the Trustee Savings Banks have thought of that contingency but it would appear to me that is not what they would be expecting, yet this section allows the Minister to act in that way.

Would that kind of provision fall within the limited context about which the Minister is speaking?

(Limerick East): Of course it would.

Deputy Taylor has happened on a question that highlights the bizarre nature of this section. It had been my belief at least that the Minister must have a number of such circumstances in mind in which it might become necessary to invoke the provisions of this section. It is stretching credulity too far to expect us to accept that this provision was inserted as an afterthought, as a catchall section, in the event of unforeseen circumstances arising. Surely one does not include an all-embracing section such as this unless there are some specific difficulties anticipated by the Minister? I was not aware of the precedents the Minister read out. Certainly I should like to have an opportunity to examine them to ascertain whether their adoption in the example he gave will have the same potential implications in this case. After all, we are talking about a unique banking facility available to the public. I would very much regret if it is about to be parcelled up and sold off. Is it that the Minister envisages there may be last minute difficulties in the way, so that he may invoke the provisions of this section to remove those difficulties? It is not sufficient to leave us hanging and be expected to believe it is some kind of safeguard against the unexpected arising.

I do not visualise circumstances arising in which the provisions of this section would be invoked to add to the restrictions already imposed on the Trustee Savings Bank. We know the 80:20 ratio obtains. If we have to invoke the provisions of this section to prop up the Exchequer, there would be no point in the passage of this Bill; there would be no sense to it at all.

(Limerick East): I am not saying the Minister will; I am saying he could, that the provisions of the section give him that power.

Basically, this section is to deal with any unintended defects. If they were clearly foreseen they would be clearly provided for and clearly outlined. The effect of limits on the exercise of any powers under this section cannot undermine the procedures set out in section 58 on the conversion of the Trustee Savings Banks to company status. It is in this context that the Minister needs these powers to deal with any unexpected or any unintended problems.

Does the House require me to put the question now or shall we move to report progress?

(Limerick East): Put the question.

We would like to have an opportunity to look at some of the material overnight.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.