Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 7 May 1991

Vol. 407 No. 9

Private Members' Business. - Ethics in Government and Public Office Bill, 1991: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is the view of the Labour Party that this is a very important and significant item of Private Members' legislation, the fundamental aim of which is to increase the level of public awareness and accountability in relation to standards applicable to the holding of public office generally. I intend to deal with all aspects of the Bill in some detail but first I will summarise the main features.

We are seeking the support of the Dáil for the principle of this legislation. There will be many views in relation to the specifics but there are a few core principles which we want to enact into law and we will welcome the support of all Opposition parties. Should we be successful in obtaining a Second Reading for this Bill, we would welcome comments, advice and suggestions from all parties and from Government members who wish to improve the Bill. We want to set before the Dáil a fundamental set of principles which will reform standards in Government and public life.

The first part of the Bill deals with gifts made and services provided to the holders of certain public offices, principally members of the Government, Ministers of State or the Attorney General. Under our Bill any gift worth more than £200 made to such an office holder by virtue of his office will become the property of the State. At present the practice is that no matter how valuable a gift is it remains for all time the property of the individual who receives it. There is a tradition whereby Presidents of Ireland bequeath to the people gifts given to them as a consequence of their office, but no other office holder is bound by tradition to act in like manner. Our Bill provides that the receipt of all gifts must be reported to the Secretary of the Government who will determine their value. Office holders who wish to claim that the gift was made to them in a personal capacity and not by virtue of their office may make a case and argue that case before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

The Bill provides that it will be an offence for an office holder to fail to report a gift or to provide misleading information. The Bill also makes it an offence for any office holder to solicit or accept the provision of goods or services at a price less than the commercial value. The penalties for these offences range up to £10,000 in fines or two years in jail on conviction on indictment.

Part II of this Bill provides for the establishment of a register of the financial and other interests of Members of Dáil and Seanad Éireann. These registers will be public documents available for inspection. It will be compulsory for every Member of either House to complete this register. Interests which must be reported include the Member's own interests and those of his or her spouse and children. It is a matter of amazement that the requirement exists for members of local authorities. They are required to make a declaration of interests when dealing with aspects of local government which would impinge on their own affairs. No such requirement exists for Members of this House or Members of Seanad Éireann.

The matters which must be reported include company shareholdings, beneficial trusts, ownership of land, company directorships, partnerships, liabilities exceeding £1,000 in value, bonds and similar investments, savings accounts, assets — excluding household and personal effects — worth more than £5,000, any other sources of income of more than £500 per annum, gifts worth more than £200, subsidised goods or services, membership of any organisation, any positions held as a consultant or as an adviser and any other interests where a conflict of interest with a Member's public duties could foreseeably be seen to arise.

The Bill makes it clear that a Member need not set out the monetary value of any item on the register. The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that potential conflicts of interest are made public but not necessarily the details of the total wealth of individual Members of the Oireachtas. Members who fail or refuse to complete the register may be suspended from the services of the Dáil or Seanad for a period on the recommendation of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Part III of the Bill deals with the income of political parties, a timely issue coming up to another series of elections. The provisions make it compulsory for political parties to publish their income and expenditure, a practice currently not engaged in by every political party, and to include the identity of any donor who makes a donation in excess of £1,000 in any one year for the benefit of an individual political party. Where a gift is made to a political party for the use of the national party or any local or subordinate organisation of the party or for the purposes of supporting the election of candidates, every person who makes such a gift must identify the name and address of the person or body on whose behalf the gift is made. It will be an offence for any person to fail to comply with this section. The Bill requires identified agents of each political party to prepare and submit a return of the party's receipts and expenses and to include in that return any gifts worth more than £1,000 which were made for the use of the party or candidates of the party.

I am very glad that the Parliamentary Labour Party have decided to allocate their scarce and precious Private Members' time to this Bill, especially given the fact that this is probably our last chance of Private Members' time in this session, such is the division between the Opposition parties. It is hoped that this Bill will generate a high degree of public and media debate about this crucial subject. There is a great deal of talk about the need for Dáil reform. In our view the most important and necessary reform is to ensure that politicians and political parties are as accountable as possible to the public and to the electorate they serve. Above all else, a greater sense of accountability and transparency is in the interests of all politicians, in the interests of the people and of the institution of democracy.

In Thatcherite Britain and in Reaganite America the issues we are raising are commonplace. Legislators in the House of Commons compile a detailed register of their financial interests and in the United States legislators have been sent to jail for breaches in the ethical requirements of membership of Congress. Here the truth is — and it may be a truth that we do not want to confront — that almost any conflict of interest is possible without the general public knowing.

Conflict of interest could involve individuals or whole political parties but the bottom line is that secrecy is still possible no matter how undesirable that may be. That is the dilemma and the shadow on democracy that this Bill seeks to remove. Frankly, I do not believe it is necessary to make a detailed argument in favour of the principles enshrined in this Bill. This is a principle that is long accepted in most democracies, a principle that finally we will accept and, hopefully, we can do so sooner rather than later.

In the last couple of years we have debated many issues in this House: The Goodman affair, the principle of privatisation, broadcasting, the collapse of the Gallagher bank, the purchase of Carysfort, the refurbishment of the Temple Bar area which was discussed today, the Custom House Docks site and the Finance Bill. They are just examples of fundamental issues addressed in this House in recent years. All the issues I mentioned have one thing in common, they all involve sensitive commercial decisions and they all involve powerful interests outside this House, powerful financial interests and individuals. In other words, we are making decisions, virtually on a daily basis, which can affect the economic interests of a wide range of groups and of many individuals. The potential, therefore, for corruption in that situation is immense. I am not implying that there is corruption in our political system but I believe very strongly that there have been many situations in the past, including some of those I have mentioned, where the political system and, more importantly, the citizens who elect us, would have benefited greatly from the fullest possible transparency, accountability and understanding of all the financial implications and issues involved. We have nothing to fear from such transparency. We have nothing to fear from further accountability. It is only those who have something to hide who will oppose the principles.

The political system as a whole can only be strengthened if the cynicism which is inherent in the attitude of so many people outside this House to politics and to politicians is to be removed. A clear assertion by every Member of this and the other House that we could welcome more openness, more accountability and more transparency would be a very significant step in that direction. That is the proposition the Labour Party are setting before this House tonight.

I should like to deal with the Bill in a little more detail. In Part I we seek to ensure that gifts made and goods and services provided to holders of certain public offices are not seen to be in any way linked to buying favours. The Bill deals with gifts made to holders of certain public offices and also with the provision of certain services and goods to office holders. The office holders in question are Ministers, Ministers of State and the Attorney General.

From the date of coming into operation of this Bill any gift, the value of which exceeds £200, made to an office holder by virtue of his or her office, may be deemed to be a gift to the State. A gift is defined as being made to an office holder unless it is made by a personal friend or member of the family of that office holder or of his or her spouse and for purely personal reasons. Where a gift is made to an office holder which he or she knows or has reason to believe may exceed £200 in value that Minister, or that person, must within 30 days report that fact either to the Secretary of the Government or to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The Attorney General, under the provisions of this Bill, is required to report such gifts to the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Priviliges. The office holder should report directly to the Secretary if he or she accepts that gift which was made by virtue of his or her office. If he or she claims that it was made in a purely personal capacity, he or she is required to report to the appropriate committee of the House and make that case and the final determination will be made by them.

Where the making of a gift to an office holder is reported to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges they are required, under the provisions of this Bill, to arrive at a decision within 30 days as to whether the gift should be considered to be a personal gift and to be retained by the office holder, or, is an official gift and is to be the property of the State. An office holder who has received a gift, the value of which he or she knows or suspects to be over the prescribed limit, and who knowingly fails to make the notification in the prescribed way and within the prescribed time, or who knowingly provides false or misleading information either to the Secretary or to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in connection with that gift, will be guilty of an offence. When the Secretary to the Government receives notification either from the office holder directly or, from the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of either House, he or she shall proceed to ascertain the value of that gift in such manner and in such means as he or she thinks fit, including appointing a valuer. If the Secretary is of the opinion that the value of the gift exceeds the statutory limit of £200 he or she must inform the Government and the gift will be vested, therefore, in the Minister for Finance on behalf of the State.

An office holder may agree to pay to the Minister for Finance the amount by which the value of the gift exceeds £200 and, in those circumstances, the Government may refuse to accept the gift and on the payment being made, the gift vests in the office holder directly.

Part I of the Bill deals also with the making of gifts to office holders by way of providing goods and services at subsidised rates or free of charge. An office holder who solicits or attempts to accept the provision of goods or services for himself or for his spouse, and if he has reason to believe that the commercial price has been reduced greatly for his benefit, would be obliged to give notice under this section. The Bill requires the Government to lay an annual report before the Dáil and Seanad setting out the particulars of decisions made under the section within the preceding year by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, the Secretary to the Government and the Government. As a document laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas it will be the subject of public scrutiny. They, in essence, are the technical procedures we put down to achieve a very simple and straightforward aim.

Our object is to bring us into line with the rest of civilised democracies where large gifts simply cannot be accepted by office holders without reference to anybody. In recent years we have seen gifts of immense value — or purported to have immense value — being given to individuals. It is right and proper that we should fall into line with most other countries. It would be improper for any office holder to accept massive expensive gifts by virtue of their office. It is a simple straightforward principle and it is the principle we are putting before the House tonight.

Part II of the Bill concerns the registration of interests of Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. Again, this is a very important principle on which we are out of line even with local government members. This part requires newly elected Members of each House within 28 days of signing the roll of Members to provide to the Clerk of the Dáil or Seanad, as appropriate, a statement of his or her registrable interests. He or she must provide a statement of any alteration in relation to those registrable interests within 28 days of that alteration occurring.

The statement of registrable interests must be in a form prescribed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and must include all interests of which the individual Member is aware. He or she must include their own interests as well as the interests of his or her spouse and children. The following items would be registrable under the section: company shareholdings, family or business trusts in which a beneficial interest is held, ownership of lands, company directorships, partnerships, liabilities exceeding £1,000 in value, bonds, debentures and similar investments, savings or investment accounts, the nature of any other asset each valued over £5,000, the nature of any other source of income in excess of £500 per year, gifts valued at more than £200 other than gifts received in a purely personal capacity, goods or services provided free of charge or at a price less than their commercial value other than those provided by way of a gift in a purely private capacity or those which would be valued at less than £200. Membership of any organisation would be registrable as would the position of political consultant which is becoming popular now and, perhaps, there are Members who are on a retainer from companies or organisations, and any other interests, where a conflict of interests with a Member's public duties could foreseeably be seen to arise or may possibly arise.

The Bill makes it clear that a Member need not set out the amount or monetary value of his property, of his income or of his benefits. Our objective is not to lay down in some public register the total wealth of individual Members of this House but to have transparency so that we know where somebody is connected, if there is a possible conflict of interest in an issue coming before this House or a committee of this House and the financial affairs of the members of that committee or the Members of this House.

The Clerks of the Houses of the Oireachtas would be required to maintain registers of Members' interests consisting of every statement of registrable interests provided to them under the provisions of section 12 of this Bill. Following upon every general election, the Clerks must lay before each House of the Oireachtas a copy of the appropriate completed registration form. They must also lay before the Dáil and Seanad from time to time as required any notification by a Member of an alteration of his or her interests.

Where the Committee report to the Dáil or Seanad that a Member has knowingly failed to provide a statement of registerable interests within the prescribed time, has knowingly failed to provide the Clerk with any information of alteration of those interests within the prescribed time, has knowingly provided false or misleading information to the Clerk or knowingly has failed to provide the Committee with all the information and assistance necessary for the purpose of investigating a complaint, the Member may be suspended from the services of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Suspension of a Member from the services of the House under this section continues for 12 sitting days after the Committee report that the Member in question is no longer in default of his or her obligations under this Bill. A suspended Member is not entitled under the provisions of this Bill to serve on any select or special committee of the Dáil or Seanad.

The third issue dealt with in this legislation, the third principle that the Labour Party seek support on is the register of income and expenditure of political parties, which is particularly appropriate and suitable to the times we live in, as we approach yet another election. It is of great interest to the general public when they see fortunes being spent on election campaigns to find out where the money is coming from. In my view the electorate have the right to know who is paying the piper so that they can make a proper evaluation of the work of political parties here.

Part III of the Bill provides for the publication and registration of the income and expenditure of political parties to include the publication of the identity of those who make donations in excess of £1,000 in any one year to any individual party. That is a reasonable requirement. It is reasonable for the public to know if any person, or company, is making contributions in excess of £1,000 to the benefit of a political party.

The Clerk of the Dáil should be the registrar of all political parties. This is an office which he or she already holds under section 13 of the Electoral Act, 1963. Under that section registration of a political party is voluntary and its only consequence is that a registered party are entitled to have the name of the party appear on a ballot paper at Dáil elections. Section 13 of the 1963 Act will be repealed by this provision and replaced in this Bill by Part III.

Our Bill requires the registrar to prepare and maintain the register of political parties in which he or she must register every political party, which is in his or her opinion a genuine political party organised to contest an election or elections within the State. He or she must enter in the register in respect of every registered party, all particulars which are required to be reported to him or her under this provision. As soon as practicable after the coming into force of this Bill, and twice yearly thereafter, the registrar is required to lay before the Dáil an extract from the register setting out all particulars which were reported to him or her under this Part in the preceding six months. An appeal against any decision of the registrar in relation to the registration of any party may be made to the High Court.

In this Part, the Bill provides that every registered party must within 30 days of this Bill coming into force or within 30 days of the party becoming a registered party, whichever is the later, report the following information to the registrar: the name of the Leader of the party, the address of the headquarters of the party, the name or names of the officer or officers of the party authorised to sign certificates authenticating the candidates of that party, their normal fiscal period, the name and address of their financial secretary, the name and address of their agents appointed by the party and the name and address of their auditor. Under this Bill a financial secretary of a party is entitled to appoint a person or persons to act as agents for that party. If appointed, an agent shares certain duties which are assigned to the financial secretary by the Bill in relation to the receipt of donations.

Section 22 of this Bill applies to any gift made, (a) for the use of the national organisation of a registered party, (b) for the use of any local or subordinate organisation of members of a registered party, for example, a constituency youth organisation or women's organisation, and (c) for the purpose of promoting the election of any candidate of a registered party, the value of which exceeds £1,000. "Gift" is defined as including the donation of money, goods or services and also the provision of goods or services at a price which is less than the commercial value.

Every person who makes a gift as defined under section 22 will either make that gift in his or her own behalf out of moneys or property which he or she is entitled to, or give notice in writing to an agent of the party of the name and address of the person on whose behalf the gift is given. He or she must also make the gift — or, in the case of goods or services, give notice in writing of the fact that such gift has been made — to the agent of that party and a person who fails to comply with the provisions of this section is guilty of an offence.

The Bill requires agents to maintain a record of all gifts made or notified to him under section 22 setting out, (a) the purpose for which the gift is made, (b) the name of the person who made the gift or on whose behalf the gift is made and (c) the date on which it is made. The records maintained under this section are to be made available to the financial secretary and the auditor of the party. An agent who maintains a record of which he or she knows or ought reasonably to know contains false or misleading information or who fails to make a record containing substantially the information required is guilty of an offence.

In essence, there are three fundamental principles laid out in this Bill which will bring an element of transparency and accountability and openness into the affairs of national politics in this country which does no exist at present and which is considered to be the norm in most democracies and in most developed countries.

It is not some radical notion or radical rush of blood that motivates this Bill. It is a genuine response to a disquiet that exists among the general public in relation to national affairs. Members of this House may find cause to disagree with the specifics laid out. They may feel that the limit imposed on gifts to office holders is too stringent or the mechanism too cumbersome or the monitoring too difficult or awkward. If that is the case, we would welcome contributions to that effect and in particular we would welcome amendments. What we substantially want is to set before the political parties represented in this House three fundamental principles.

If we accept these three fundamental principles we can accept this Bill at Second Stage. The first principle is that it is wrong, immoral and generally unacceptable for office holders to receive substantial gifts in a personal capacity by virtue of their office. The second principle is that it is right and proper that there would be a register of the financial dealings and interests of each Member of the Oireachtas so that the public would be aware should any potential conflict of interest arise. It would mean that when somebody gets up to argue a case here and there is any financial benefit accruing to them from the passing of legislation, etc., the public would be aware of it. The public have a right to know and the Labour Party are asking this House to agree to that. The third principle is that of accountability in relation to the funding of political parties. It is a cause of serious scandal in the country when fabulous sums of money are expended on election campaigns which, in essence, is to buy votes. In the most open-market, laisez faire economy in the world, the US, there are limits on what can be expended on elections to public office. We have no limits here. A candidate can pump in as much money as he can get his hands on, as much money as is needed, even if it bankrupts the party that puts up the “for sale” sign at its general headquarters.

The reality is that the public demand that large scale contributions to political parties should be made public, and I think most people accept that contributions in excess of £1,000 are not insignificant. There is an argument for the State funding of political parties. It is something that I personally would agree with but it is separate from this Bill. Until we get to that position, which is accepted in many democracies, what we need is transparency and public accountability in relation to the current situation where sizeable sums of money can be paid over to political parties or individual candidates without public knowledge and public scrutiny, with people left to draw their own conclusions on the effect that contribution, gift or service has on the operation of the elected member or the performance of the political party.

It is in all our interests that we remove every shadow of suspicion, every taint of contamination because when suspicion rests on one Member of this House it contaminates us all. I ask this House to accept the three principles I have enunciated which have broad support among the electorate and in the community. I hope all the Opposition parties will see their way to supporting this Bill and that the Government themselves might see fit to accept the principles and, if they cannot accept all the detail outlined in the Bill, incorporate the principles in Government legislation in the immediate future.

At the outset, I have to say that the Government do not think the introduction of legislation to deal with the topics referred to in this Bill is either necessary or appropriate. It also considers that one of the items covered, the registration of Members' financial interests, is a matter which could more appropriately be dealt with in the context of House rules and procedures rather than on a statutory basis.

I hear Deputy Howlin tut-tutting. The introduction of this legislation leads me to remark on what a remarkable change of direction the Labour Party have taken in Opposition compared to what they advocated when in Government. What a remarkable about-turn. When the principles he tries to espouse here in legislation were discussed ad nauseam not only in the 1981 period but in the longer period of Government afterwards, nothing was done about them. The same acceptance of principles by the party then in Government——

On a point of order, is the Minister giving details of Cabinet discussions, because I have no knowledge of those?

That is hardly a point of order, Deputy. Let us hear the Minister without interruption.

It is a serious breach of Cabinet rules if he is.

Deputy Howlin was heard without interruption. Let us afford the same courtesy to the Minister.

It is well known what the Labour Party advocated and what was and was not done when they were in Government. They should take their medicine and not try to pretend they are something in Opposition that they were not in Government.

Rumour and innuendo is the coin of their politics.

I propose to comment on the three parts of the Bill, beginning with the sections dealing with gifts to office holders. In broad terms, the Bill proposes to put limits on the value of a gift to the following office holders, given to them by virtue of the office they hold: members of the Government, the Attorney General and Ministers of State. It would introduce a detailed procedure, involving the Secretary to the Government or the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, and entailing valuation of gifts, including the appointment of a valuer where necessary, and arrangements whereby the office holder concerned could offer to pay the Minister for Finance the amount by which the value of a gift exceeds £200. It also provides for an arrangement whereby gifts could be vested in the Minister for Finance as State property.

In so far as the acceptance of gifts is concerned, the introduction to the elaborate procedures proposed in the Bill might lead a casual observer of Irish politics to conclude that gift-giving to politicians was a widespread and corrupting feature of our political life, as well as being a matter of pressing social concern. The observer might also be led to believe that the problem, in so far as it actually exists, could be formally regulated in a mathematical, legalistic way.

From my perspective, I would have to take issue with both assumptions. I acknowledge, of course, that there is a long-standing tradition whereby Ministers may give and receive gifts when visiting foreign countries or when receiving foreign dignitaries. It is also a common occurrence for a Minister to receive a memento on the occasion of official openings. However the scale of the problem implied by the Bill simply does not exist. Furthermore, the circumstances in which gifts may be offered will, in the nature of things, vary considerably as between one case and another, reflecting the personal bond that may exist between donor and recipient in each case. It would not be possible, or desirable, that the making of gifts should, in effect, be reduced to the level of a commercial transaction, with the appointment of a valuer to calculate their "commercial price".

I do not understand how any reasonable person could require an elaborate, statute-based scheme on the lines proposed in this Bill. Deputy Howlin appears to see a bribe attaching to every gift and avaricious Ministers grabbing everything that is offered to them, but that is not the reality. Every Minister, on coming to power, is given a copy of the Government Procedure Instructions, which spells out a code of conduct on gifts and conflicts of interest. Ministers are fully aware of their position and of the duties and responsibilities of their offices. They are emphatically not easy prey to approaches and inducements attempting to influence the exercise of their powers and functions. On the other side, companies and individuals know full well that even to attempt to offer such gifts may have very negative consequences.

The benefits of our democracy include a free press and free comment and any slight suspicion that there may be abuse is fully aired. Moreover, every Taoiseach and Minister has to win and retain the confidence of the Dáil, and the electorate are given regular opportunities to make a definitive comment on our standard of performance every few years. Office holders carry out their duties under continual scrutiny from Parliament, the media and most importantly, the people of Ireland, who have the sovereign right to decide through the ballot box, whether or not they should continue in office.

However, even if the Members of this House were to leave these considerations aside, and were to decide that there is a need for an elaborate system of checks and balances governing the receipt of gifts — and this is of course extremely unlikely — I do not think that the present Bill would meet that requirement.

Deputy Howlin has an exaggerated view — I know he has not had the experience of office — of this whole area of gifts. I think he has an illusion that if he became Minister it would be the key to Aladdin's Cave or that everywhere he would go he would be showered with very valuable gifts, but I will give him the benefit of my experience, and I am sure many people in the Opposite benches will corroborate what I am saying.

I do not think the Minister knows Deputy Howlin.

Maybe I do not, but if the Deputy ever gets the opportunity of being a Minister he will find out it is not the glowing world he thinks it is. Such gifts, when they are given, are relatively small mementoes to the event, and this is usually engraved on the item. Therefore even if you thought in terms of using them subsequently for another purpose the engraving would eliminate that. The people who make such presentations are well aware of what the customs are, and they are too intelligent and too well mannered to embarrass any Minister with an inappropriate gift. An inventory of the type of memento involved would include such smaller items as prints of local scenes or drawings of factory premises, commemorative booklets, scrolls or brochures, small crystal vases or ornaments or designed pens which you would normally use or which would be whipped from you in the Dáil, in Brussels or elsewhere.

If the Deputy has expectations of becoming a Minister and thinks that most of the gifts he would receive on various occasions would amount to close to £200 he is in for a shock and he will be very disappointed indeed. If he was in office for a few years he might cover a few small spaces on a mantelpiece with some of the mementoes he would get, but no more. It is well known in political folklore that the late Sean Lemass had a problem with trowels. He opened so many factories and received so many trowels that the mantelpiece was not big enough to hold them, but I think nobody would worry about that type of development. The question of gifts is over-elaborated by Deputy Howlin. I am sure he knows the reality of life as well as I do. If he was less hyprocritical about our views on the Labour Party and what they stood for in previous years he might be presenting a different case. Maybe he did not know what they stood for then.

Section 2 (2) of the Bill excludes any gifts made to an office holder by a personal friend or member of the family of that office holder or of his spouse and for purely personal reasons. Any gifts from such friends for personal reasons would be exempt from the provisions of this Bill and were an office holder disposed to act in an unethical manner, all he or she need do is claim that a donor is a personal friend motivated by personal reasons.

We should I think also have regard to the general implications which the contents of this Bill would have for Ireland's role in Europe. This country is a fully committed member of the EC and is intimately involved in all aspects of Community activities. In this context, Irish office holders, are constantly meeting their counterparts in the other member states. While these contacts may begin as simply business arrangements, it is inevitable that in many instances genuine personal friendships will develop. If it should transpire that gifts are exchanged by office holders in the course of these contacts, we could have the embarrassing position, were this Bill to become law, of an office holder having to declare that one EC Minister was a personal friend whereas another was not. This would hardly be conducive to amicable relations with all of our European partners.

To summarise on this section, I do not see any need to change in the existing situation and even were changes needed, this Bill's provisions would be so easily evaded as to make it worthless in the prevention of unethical conduct.

The second section of the Bill proposes to create a register of the financial and other interests of members of the Dáil and Seanad. I have stated in this House on previous occasions, and I am still of the same opinion, that we do not require legislation for such a register. A nonstatutory scheme covers the same ground in relation to members' interests for instance, in Westminster. While that scheme does not have statutory penalties, the House of the Commons itself has power to take appropriate action in relation to any member who does not register or furnishes false or misleading information. I believe that if the Members of this House would wish to see such a register, the most appropriate approach would be to take it up under House rules and regulations.

The Deputy's party have already raised this matter in the Committee on Procedures and Privileges. Due to other parties' need to consult and consider the matter further, there has been little progress on the proposal as yet. However, I understand that the matter remains on the agenda and should the Deputy wish, it can be raised again at an appropriate time. I cannot, of course, anticipate that the different parties represented in this House would favour the establishment of such a register but I would see it as more likely to be given full consideration in such a context rather than as part of a Bill which, I believe, is unacceptable in whole or in part to the majority in this House.

There is a further reason that this area should not be singled out for regulation on a statutory basis. I am not at all satisfied that the proposed section accords with the provisions of the Constitution dealing with the Houses of the Oireachtas. Under Article 15.10 of the Constitution each House of the Oireachtas has the exclusive right to determine its own rules and procedures. Questions concerning Members' private finances are covered by that Article. While other matters pertaining to Oireachtas Members, such as the electoral system, Members' allowances, et cetera, are governed by legislation, the basis for such statutory control is explicitly laid down in the Constitution. To enshrine provisions governing Members' private financial interests in a statute rather than in the rules of the House concerned would run the risk of being in breach of the spirit — if not the letter — of the Constitution.

In the short time available we ran a check for the benefit of the information of the House and, of course, it is totally at variance with the picture which Deputy Howlin presented in this House as to where this registration is in being. In Australia, the European Parliament, Germany, in the Bundestag, Israel, Japan and in the United Kingdom in the House of Commons, the registration is specified by resolutions or rules of the appropriate House. The system in the Netherlands is voluntary and was introduced by a decision of the Chamber's presidium.

The register of political parties' finances is the third part of the Bill which proposes to create a register of political parties' income and expenditure and to identify those who contribute more than £1,000 to a political party in any one year. At the end of his contribution Deputy Howlin referred to the whole question of funding of political parties, which is irrelevant to the Bill, and I will not be out of order in not dealing with it.

As I said at the outset, the Government do not accept that there is any pressing need for legislation in this area. The Deputy may have a keen interest in the financial support which the various political parties represented in this House obtain from their Members and from private individuals. However, there is no evidence that the Deputy's interest in this matter is shared by the public to whom we are all ultimately accountable through the electoral process.

I also note that under the Bill — another long-winded way of dealing with this aspect — the Clerk of the Dáil would be charged with responsibility for (1) preparing and maintaining a register of all "genuine" political parties; (2) keeping records of annual returns made to him by all registered parties containing detailed information on each party's income and expenses, including auditors' reports and (3) making a report to Dáil Éireann every six months giving particulars of the information furnished to him by the parties.

The Deputy has not made a compelling case for the additional functions proposed in this Bill regarding registration of political parties. To the extent that the Bill ignores this issue and focuses only on the narrow question of disclosing personal contributions to parties, it is, on a fair examination, seriously defective. There may be a case for taking a broader look at the financing of political parties, preferably on an all party, non-partisan basis. My colleagues and I would be happy to consider constructive proposals on these lines from the Opposition parties.

I ask the House to join me in rejecting this Bill which, on close examination, is seriously defective. It is more appropriate to deal with this matter under the rules of the House through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and I suspect they will be involved in an item in the Bill which is also part of the present agenda.

Fine Gael will be supporting the Second Stage of this Bill; the Labour Party asked for support in principle and we will be giving it in principle. However, there is a case for not having the code of conduct or these matters dealt with in legislation and perhaps there is a case for having it dealt with by the rules, regulations and Standing Orders of the House. We will be supporting the Bill because we believe that, in principle, there should be some disclosure and way of making known situations which could give rise to a conflict of interests.

The first task which should be undertaken in relation to this matter is the preparation of a code of conduct which would define what constitutes a conflict of interest or an improper decision on the part of an elected politician. Arrangements in regard to disclosure of interests and the regulation of the funding of political parties are part of the supportive arrangements to ensure that such transgressions do not occur. The first task is that of preparing a clear and unambiguous code of conduct and relatively little work has been done in this area. As a first step, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, on an all party basis, should by regulations set down a code; perhaps they could do this with the assistance of the Attorney General who might bring together a team of officials to advise the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in that regard. The code should apply to all Members of the European Parliament, Dáil, Seanad and local authorities and should cover such matters as relationships with outside bodies, disclosure of interests, artificial transactions and abstention from involvement where a conflict of interest might arise.

Fine Gael consider it will be necessary to underpin this code with regulations governing disclosure of interests, the funding of political parties and of election campaigns. My party believe that, as an initial move, Ministers and parliamentary committee chairmen should make a full disclosure of their assets, liabilities and income an appointment during their period of office and for a period thereafter. The disclosures should be made to a parliamentary ethics commission consisting of the Ombudsman, the Comptroller and Auditor General and a judge of the High Court. It is the view of my party that, in normal circumstances, those disclosures and the material disclosed to such an ethics commission would remain confidential. This commission would, however, be required to oversee compliance with the code and to investigate all allegations of breach of the code of conduct referred to them. Having completed their investigation, if such a commission were to decide that there was a breach, they could publish part or all of the report containing the contents of their findings on their investigation and the matter could be sent to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to be dealt with.

Fine Gael strongly favour the funding of political parties by the State on the basis of a ratio to the number of votes obtained by the parties in the previous general election. Far from parties being able to draw in money left, right and centre, I am a member of a party which had to put up the "For Sale" sign, sell and lease back like any business would have to do simply because there have been five general elections since 1981. I have been elected five times since 1981, we have had local elections, we are now facing into our third, there have been two European elections, a number of referenda, including the Single European Act, and the Presidential election and we have fought them all as the main Opposition party. Far from having people falling over themselves to make a contribution to the party, I should like to inform the House that while we do get contributions from many people they are usually small. Occasionally people make large contributions and sometimes they can be persuaded to bail out a party, a constituency organisation or a candidate in an election. That is about the size of it.

As someone who has had to fund personal overdrafts, constituency overdrafts and national party overdrafts, I want to put it on the record of the House that I am sick and tired of writing begging letters to people asking them if they will contribute yet again, purchase a £10, £20 or £60 ticket for a draw or contribute to a certain campaign. It has got to the stage — we should be open and honest about this — where people cross the road when they see a TD because they are afraid they will be asked to make a contribution to party funds.

That only happens to Fine Gael TDs.

We should be honest about this. We might all say it only happens in the case of somebody else's party but the fact of the matter is——

Most Fianna Fáil Ministers address lunches.

——that all political parties are finding it hard to keep their heads above water financially. The same is true of Members who have been elected to this House five times since 1981.

A strong case can be made for the proper funding of political parties by the State. Like Deputy Howlin, who I think said this, I agree that a strong case can be made for restricting the amount of money which candidates can spend in any one general election. This, again, could be done by way of a code, an agreement or even legislation — I have no objection to which way it is done. This is an issue which could and should be properly addressed.

We should be very clear that it is not just financial contributions that are involved. One has to get halls for public meetings, perhaps a printer will throw in a couple of thousand leaflets and someone else might provide a few cars or vans so that people can be brought to polling stations. Other people may provide ladders or staplers. We have to ask people for these things. We also have to ask them if, for example, their friends or brothers will contribute something. We all have to do these things to keep parties going. However, it should be done on the basis of the number of votes a candidate gets in an election and if a candidate gets a larger number of votes in the next election it can be increased on a pro rata basis. Some system should be worked out whereby the State by and large would fund political parties. The State should fund democracy. It has got to the stage where it is impossible for TDs in multiseat constituencies, no matter how hard they work, to fight someone who wanders into an election campaign and squanders £20,000 because he is wealthy enough to do so or has enough wealthy friends. Such people may do nothing between general elections except turn up here——

What about putting a limit on the number of TDs per family?

There should be a limit on the number of TDs whose surnames begin with the letter M.

A limit should be put on the number of sons who can inherit seats from their fathers.

This is a serious matter which needs to be addressed in this House. However, it is not being addressed in this House because we all give the impression that everything is hunky-dory. All is not hunky-dory and it is time that the matter of funding political parties was properly addressed here.

I want to refer to Part IV of the Bill. As a Member of the House who acts as a parliamentary adviser to an organisation of composers — this is a matter of public record which I made public — I believe it is only right that such matters should be disclosed in some way other than in Deputy Ted Nealon's book. I could have told that organisation I would act as their accountant, tax adviser, business adviser, etc. and nobody could have said boo. There is a question here which I find difficult to accept in terms of someone who acts in a professional capacity as an adviser or someone who is involved in business outside this House. Would it be correct for a solicitor, accountant, auctioneer, barrister, doctor or trade union official to disclose in this House details of business interests, etc. which might somehow put his client relationship in doubt? If we were to allow the Fine Gael proposal and set up an ethics commission comprising the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Ombudsman and a High Court Judge to whom all of these matters could be disclosed, if there was a breach or an alleged breach of conduct, they need only disclose publicly what they found the person to be in breach of. One could confidentially disclose all one's interests to such a committee. If I wanted to act as an adviser to somebody I could simply say to them "I will act as your company accountant, management accountant, business adviser or tax adviser". I practised as a management accountant and tax adviser and if the person for whom I was doing a job asked how he could go about doing something I did not tell him to ask somebody else, I told him how to do it. Such people would not be trying to do anything wrong. If a Member wants to act as an adviser or consultant to someone outside this House he can do it by calling himself whatever he wants. There should be nothing wrong in doing this provided there is some way of disclosing this information and there is no conflict of interest. It should not be disclosed to the Clerk of the Dáil who would have a long list of information, particularly as he would have to disclose liability in excess of £1,000. My overdraft which is much more than that goes down a bit when my pay cheque goes through but goes up again very quickly. One would have to disclose this information on a constant basis. I agree in general that there should be a form of disclosure.

It would be wrong for the spouses of Members to have to make disclosures in the same way. I think this happened in Australia and involved, if I am correct, the wife of the then leader of the Australian Labour Party who received more income as a model than her husband. She told them to hump off and would not give any details of her income. She said the same thing to the High Court and there was nothing they could do about it. The reality is that our spouses are not part of our property. Both our spouses and children suffer very badly because we are in public life and they are somehow dragged into public life. However, if a spouse was involved in some form of holding which conflicted with the interests of a Member in some way, particularly if a Member put items in his or her spouse's name, that would be a matter of evasion. If there was a parliamentary ethics commission to whom these matters could be disclosed confidentially and who would only adjudicate on these matters publicly if there was a conflict of interest then these matters could be addressed.

I accept in principle the issue which the Labour Party have properly raised here. If, as Deputy Howlin said, they want support for their Bill on Second Stage then we will give it. However, there are many weaknesses in the Bill which could be addressed and the Bill made more realistic. It is hard enough to get people to go into public life. Most people outside this House who have a decent income will not be attracted to come into this House. If we put unrealistic and unfair barriers in place, then people will not come in either.

While I am at it, I should like to take a swipe at the commission who review the conditions of Members of this House. It is totally unacceptable that the commission should set the salaries of Members of this House who work such long hours with no security and who are constantly in public view by journalists who give the impression that we all earn £60,000 or £80,000 a year plus unlimited expenses, at £26,000 while in the same report they set the salaries of district justices at £36,000 and upwards of that for any other judge. These people have total security, receive part of their salary tax free, work much shorter hours, have great holidays and their spouses are not dragged into public life.

There should also be some sort of panel to whom judges should declare their own or their spouses' interests. Businessmen who are appointed to State boards should do the same thing. Trade union officials in a position of influence, senior civil servants and Government advisers who influence policy should also be asked to make reasonable disclosures. Members of this House whose total turnover before tax is £26,000 to which they can add a few daily attendance allowances and other expenses are told that they have to run their cars and constituencies on this amount. No business in this country could run on that sort of turnover. That is the reality of the situation. Those of us who do not have any significant income outside of this House bar the odd quiz book——


If one does not write a quiz book, one cannot balance the accounts. That is the reality for most of us in this House. It is time we put this on the agenda. We should have access to a union who could independently argue our case for us. Those issues are relevant to the question of whether Members of this House have to look outside for income. If Members have a substantial outside income is there not an argument for defining Members as part-time or full-time Members who could be remunerated separately having regard to whether they were part-time or full-time? We will not attract a person paid above the level of a HEO into his House at the rate we are going. Perhaps there should be proper remuneration, proper resources for full-time Members and reduced incomes for part-time Members who have substantial outside income. That should be considered.

The companies, or former companies of Ministers, Ministers of State or TDs who do business with the State should be declared in some way. A company who gain substantially from State contracts should, as part of the contractual arrangement, undertake not to make major contributions to any political party or politician. If, they make such a contribution they should forfeit the contract and pay a sufficient penalty. The Minister is probably right in saying that much of what needs to be done could be done by regulation or through a code of practice, as in other parliaments.

In relation to gifts, if Ministers receive anything like the gifts the Lord Mayor of Dublin receives, they would want a separate museum in which to put their little bits and pieces on show, and nobody would be interested in seeing most of them. However, there should be some code of practice for dealing with major contributions made to individuals.

I support the Bill in principle. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges should lay down a code of conduct, perhaps on the advice of a team led by the Attorney General, and there should be an ethics committee. The Clerk of the Dáil should not be required to do this job. There should be an ethics committee comprising the Ombudsman, a High Court judge and the Comptroller and Auditor General who is the State's auditor.

Far from having people queueing to contribute to my party, I was not too pleased with the business community who told us what wonderful fellows we were after the Tallaght strategy and then put their money somewhere else. Our problem is getting people to contribute. There have been great pressures on TDs and on parties since 1981 due to a record number of elections, general, local European, Presidential and referenda. Many parties have been left in considerable difficulties after these campaigns. If there is to be an ethics committee, and a code of conduct, we should not only look at State funding for parties. I appeal to the House to look at the question of State funding for parties. We should also look at imposing restrictions on the amount of money which can be spent during election campaigns by individual candidates. Some of the money spent in election campaigns is wasted in any event. We put three posters on a lamp post because another party puts them on for the same reason. Far from influencing anybody we run around in circles spending money which only benefits the printers. The State should put a restriction on the amount of money candidates can spend in an election and should initiate a spot check on campaigners to ensure compliance.

The Labour Party have done us a service in introducing this Bill. I hope there will be an all-party approach to dealing with it. At a future date we might look at other elements of society to see where other conflicts of interest might arise. Fine Gael will support the principle of the Bill on Second Stage.

On the surface a Bill to regulate ethics in Government and public life seems entirely wholesome, welcome and even admirable. The three elements of the Bill, gifts, their giving and, more importantly, the potentially corrupting influence of their receipt, political parties, their registration and the registration of their incomes, donations and expenditure, and the registration of the interests of Members of the Dáil all seem like issues which should be addressed, in particular in so far as there is any evidence as opposed to gossip, speculation and innuendo that these are areas where there has been a problem.

The issue of gifts was topical some time back. The matter related to the potential to corrupt, of a bejewelled dagger. I should have thought that the danger which springs to mind when daggers are at issue, is their being inserted in the back or perhaps, their being drawn forcibly somewhere between the chin and the Adam's apple, but the potential of the receipt of an elaborate and exotic gift to corrupt would not have struck me as something that requires to be addressed in law.

The Bill is very interesting on the issue of gifts. It would seem that the Labour Party's concern about the potential of gifts to corrupt, or deprave or simply to divert, applies only to politicians. I am surprised that Deputy Mitchell did not pick this point up because he is, for all his many faults, an exponent of the rights of politicians. The office holders defined in section 1 are all political office holders. The concern of the Labour Party does not apply to all in political life, let alone all in public life. It applies to those in public life and, more particularly, to those who have already reached the highest levels in the land and, who are therefore in the public eye more than anybody else Ministers, Ministers of State and the Attorney General.

Is it not rather odd that the quest for purity applies only to those who are arguably the most scrutinised in public life? The public service are not included in this Bill although they might be the recipients of gifts and they might have their heads turned or their opinions or their actions influenced by gifts. Furthermore, humble backbenchers who, as we all know, have no influence and chairpersons of Oireachtas committees, as pointed out by Deputy Mitchell, as well as the Leaders of the Opposition parties, who may not have much influence either, are excluded. Why is it that the Labour Party are concerned only about the potential corruption of political figures? Is the answer that their period in office was so disillusioning?

The odd thing about this part of the Bill is that not only is it aimed at public office holders who are the most visible in terms of their profile but also at those who are already governed by a code? Public servants, other office holders in the State and political office holders within this House are not covered by any code but, as the Labour Party are aware, each member of the Government on entering office is presented with a code of practice and a set of principles which they are required to apply while in office. These principles are contained in the Government procedural instructions booklet which is handed to each member of the Government on entering office.

Has the Deputy read it?

I have. It is not a bad little booklet either. I am getting ready.

We would never have noticed.

I am not holding my breath. It establishes basic ground rules regulating, among other things, the receipt of gifts; and more important sets out instructions, the manner in which Ministers are expected to fulfil their duties and their responsibilities. Ministers are cautioned in particular against putting themselves into a situation where there might be a conflict of interest or where might their actions be prejudiced through the receipt of gifts.

Given the narrow focus of the Bill which concentrates on those already at the centre of public, media and political attention — perhaps this was an oversight — did the drafters of the Bill, when they sat down to draft the legislation have in mind an agenda other than one effecting an improvement in the way political offices are filled? Could it be that they wanted to make political meat out of a faint concern about political ethics?

There is another major flaw in the Bill which has already been adverted to by the Minister for Finance. Section 2 (2) contains a peculiar provision. That subsection provides that "any gift made to an office holder is made to him — or her — by virtue of his office unless the gift is made by a personal friend or a member of the family of that office holder or of his spouse and for purely personal reasons". It strikes me that any office holder who is sufficiently venal to abuse office by soliciting or receiving valuable gifts for real or imagined favours has a ready made bolthole in this section through which to escape censure. If this Bill were to be enacted it could prove a real gift to members of the legal fraternity.

To secure a prosecution under the Bill, given the provisions of section 2 (2) it would be necessary, first, to prove that a gift was given; second, that its value exceeded the statutory limit of £200; third, that the gift was not properly declared; fourth, that the donor was not a relation of any kind — a 13th cousin once removed on the mother's side or related in some obscure way by marriage would hardly be considered a relation — and finally, that the donor and recipient were not on friendly terms when the gift was given. Incidentally, "personalfriend", necessitated to trigger the defence mechanism in section 2 (2), is not defined in the interpretation section and this surely must be an oversight. Perhaps the Labour Party when replying will deal with this matter and I for one will be fascinated to learn when this exemption would apply. Would it be limited to the person with whom one has the odd jar or the odd round of golf or would one have to have a closer and more intimate relationship before one could be considered to be a truly personal friend and could avail of the provision in section 2 (2)?

Deputy Howlin argued with great force and not a little passion that it is necessary for this House to get into line with every other civilised democracy on this issue of gift giving. Other than Tasmania and Malta, there are not too many civilised or indeed uncivilised democracies which operate the single transferable vote multi-seat constituency system to which Deputy Mitchell referred. I wonder if, in these circumstances, Deputy Howlin and the Labour Party would accept, given that we are out of step with civilised democracies on the issue of the STV multi-seat constituency system, that there should be an automatic acceptance on all sides of the House that we should move to a more logical well structured and more rational voting system? I think not.

I have no great problem with the registering of the interests of Members of the Dáil and Seanad. Indeed, I believe that we will have some form of registration system in the not too distant future. Anybody is welcome to have a look at my assets, humble as they are. They would certainly not indicate a profligate or profitable life as a politician.

It is interesting to note that the programme for Government for the period 1981-86 included a section dealing with Dáil, Seanad and Civil Service reform. Paragraph 6 provided for the introduction of legislation under which Members of the Dáil and Seanad would be required to enter on a special register a list of enterprises or activities in which they or their spouse had a financial interest. That was put forward in 1981 as one of the great changes that would come about but there is a heck of a difference or distance between political aspirations, as expressed in programmes, and political performance.

I had a closer relationship with the Civil Service then than I do now but my clear recollection is that it was only a matter of months before Ministers in the administration led by Deputy FitzGerald took a radically different view on the need for registration of Members' interests. I have no doubt that Deputy Spring will remember this well but it is a fact, after this matter was touched on on a number of occasions in Cabinet, that they took a radically different view and changed——

On a point of order, I wish to point out to Deputy Roche, a former civil servant, that I was not a member of the Cabinet in 1981-82.

I know that, Deputy, but shortly afterwards you were close enough to know something about the change of view of the Labour Party. The Deputy is now a prominent member of the party.

He is the Leader.

Deservedly so. If Deputy Spring were to cast his mind back he would undoubtedly remember that the advice the Cabinet got at that time was that it would be far better to introduce a register in the Dáil under the rules of the House and not on a statutory basis. Deputy Spring is also aware of the constitutional provisions relating to the Members and the rules and procedures of this House and is aware just as well as I am that the best way to achieve this purpose — it is not a bad purpose — is to change the rules and procedures. As members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges are aware, this matter has been before that committee for some time and it is not the fault of Deputy Spring's party that proposals have not been made but I would suggest that it would be more appropriate to deal with this matter at that committee. I do not believe it would be appropriate to attempt to achieve this purpose by enacting a statute. To do so would involve fundamental problems.

Debate adjourned.