Private Members' Business. - Ethics in Government: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann being of the opinion that it is necessary that there be an explicit, effective and well understood code of ethics governing elected politicians, as well as State board members and senior officials of Government Departments and State companies, and that it is necessary to create a greater openness and accountability in public affairs through freedom of information therefore resolves:

(1) to establish a Parliamentary Ethics Commission (hereinafter referred to as "the Commission") consisting of the Ombudsman, the Comptroller and Auditor General and a Judge of the High Court to perform,inter alia, the functions set out hereunder;

(2) to request the Commission to draw up, after consultation with the Committees for Procedure and Privileges of the Dáil and Seanad, a code of ethics governing MEPs, Dáil Deputies, Senators and Councillors and to make provision for the subsequent enforcement of such a code;

(3) that the code referred to in (2) above will deal,inter alia, with relationships with outside bodies, disclosure, artificial transactions and abstention from involvement where conflict of interest may arise;

(4) to request the Commission to draw up a detailed provision for a register of politicians' interests, on the basis that:—

(a) in the case of Ministers and Chairmen of Parliamentary Committees, the material in the register would be available for public inspection as of the time of their appointment and for five years after their appointment has ceased,

(b) in the case of other politicians, the material would be available at all times for inspection by the Commission, and would be published in any case where the Commission felt this was necessary in the light of its investigation of allegations made to it of breaches of the code of ethics;

(5) that the Government should draw up a scheme for more substantial State funding of political parties (excluding those who support violence directly or indirectly), on a basis of a ratio of the parties' proportionate electoral strengths to the size of Gross National Product, to cover separately ongoing expenses and election campaigns, so as to reduce the reliance of parties on private donations;

(6) that the Commission be requested to make recommendations to Dáil Éireann as to a maximum contribution that might be made by any one individual, organisation, company or group of associated companies to any one political party or to any one individual candidate, and as to a maximum amount that might be spent in an individual election campaign by either a party or an individual candidate;

(7) that all political parties and candidates keep accounts of income and expenditure, and that these be lodged for inspection with the Commission so that the Commission may determine whether there have been any breaches of the provisions outlined above;

(8) that a Freedom of Information Act be enacted at the earliest opportunity so that every Irish citizen shall have free access to official documents, including tapes and database, as a normal democratic right of citizenship, subject only to the restrictions which may be necessary having regard to:

(a) the security of the State or its relations with a foreign State or international organisations,

(b) the central finance policy, monetary policy, or foreign exchange policy of the State,

(c) the inspection control or other supervisory activities of a public authority,

(d) the interest of presenting or prosecuting a crime,

(e) the public economic interest,

(f) the protection of the personal integrity or economic conditions of private citizens and

(g) the protection of the environment;

(9) that where a Minister, or public body, claims a restriction of access, under paragraph 8 above, a citizen shall have right of appeal to the Parliamentary Ethics Commission whose ruling shall be binding on all concerned, subject only to the courts of the land.

I am glad to have the opportunity this evening of moving this important motion in Private Members' time on behalf of my party.

As I made clear in a debate earlier this year on a Bill that was before the House in Private Members' time, Fine Gael though not committed to the precise terms of the Bill, gave strong support to the principle involved.

I should also point out that on 28 November 1990, almost exactly a year ago, Fine Gael proposed the creation of a parliamentary ethics commission composed of the Ombudsman, the Comptroller and Auditor General and a High Court Judge. The Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of Fine Gael, Deputy John Bruton, at his press conference launching the documentIntegrity in Public Life said:

Businessmen who seek help from the State, whether through grants or tax concessions, must know that the same rules apply to them as to everyone else. There should be no chosen champions, no sweetheart deals and no discretionary concessions. The same rules should apply to all and be seen to apply ... Fine Gael believes that this requires that there be legislation to guarantee high levels of integrity in public life.

Deputy John Bruton was certainly very far-seeing in the opening paragraph of his statement almost exactly a year ago, given the events that this House and the general public have witnessed since then. To the many self-satisfied businessmen and private commentators around the country, let me say that it is not only in politics that we need a code of ethics. Indeed it was not politicians who were to the forefront as bad apples in the bag of apples but businessmen and businessmen associated with politicians. As far as it goes we must put our house in order here so that we can make others put their houses in order. We must act as a Legislature to protect the public interest by making sure people who are carrying on sweetheart arrangements, be they businessmen, trade unionists, judges, journalists, politicians or anyone else, do not behave in a way contrary to the public interest while they are in a position to control a market, a marketplace or the supply of goods or labour. The starting place must be here in this House and what I am proposing today is just that.

All the power in a democracy does not lie in any one place. All the political power, according to the Constitution, is spread between the Dáil and the Seanad on the elected side, to the Executive which is answerable to the Dáil, the Judiciary, the President. In recent times, however, we have seen the development of political power outside this House on a scale unprecedented and unforeseen when the 1937 Constitution was written. We have seen power transferred to what is broadly called the social partners. They not only sit in with Cabinet Ministers but sit in with civil servants most of the time and make rules, regulations and decisions which affect the destiny of all of us and indeed of our children, not just in the economic area but in such areas as contraception, tax concessions and social welfare.

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy but I would be grateful if he would indicate to me if it is his intention to share his time.

No, not at this stage.

Will you utilise your 40 minutes?

I expect to. If that changes I will inform the Chair.

The Chair would like to be informed early.

I expect to use the full 40 minutes.

These social partners are not being asked to make a declaration of interest, yet they are in there operating almost like a parliament separate from the national elected Parliament. I have no objection to them being involved. In fact, I think it is a good thing that there should be consensus. However, everybody is being involved in that consensus except the majority of people elected to this House, and I include in that Government backbenchers. What I am saying is that we should start by establishing a code of ethics here, a register of Members' interests, a list of contributions to political parties. Then we should follow it through to all the other power bases in this State and make sure that everybody is honest and above-board so that only one interest is served by us, as a Legislature, setting down rules. After the people, this House is the most sovereign institution. If we get our act right we can compel all those other power bases not to abuse power and to use it only in the public interest.

We reiterate the proposal here tonight to include under this ethics commission the supervision of public representatives, members of State boards and agencies and senior Government officials. In addition, we are seeking the setting up of a register of Members' interests and greater State funding for political parties coupled with restrictions on the level of private contributions that can be made to political parties for political campaigns.

When I last raised this matter here in the House the Minister made a point about political party funding and said he was prepared to consider this matter. A Government backbencher said the Minister had not said any such thing or said it in different terms. There seemed to be a consensus between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and I think the Labour Party as well — I see Deputy Howlin nodding — but the people who came out strongest against us on that occasion were the Progressive Democrats. Not only was it the Progressive Democrats who came out against us, it was the chairman of the Progressive Democrats, in other words, one of those non-elected power bases. I think it is wrong that any of us should seek to gain party political advantage in what is a question of national interest. We all know in our hearts and souls that it is time the vexed question of State funding for political parties was addressed fully. We should not seek to gain cheap advantage over each other by putting party political interest before the national interest. It is not, I suppose, a happy task to have to tell the electorate this but the electorate should be told: it is time the State took on the role of funding political parties.

I want to emphasise that in the motion, which appears on the Order Paper in my name and that of the Leader of the Fine Gael Party, we are proposing that not only should the code of ethics apply to elected politicians, it should also apply to State board members and senior officials of Government Departments and State companies. We also believe that the Parliamentary Ethics Commission should be seen to be independent and comprise three persons who are above reproach — the Ombudsman, the Comptroller and Auditor General, who audits State spending, and a High Court judge. We suggest the commission should be asked, after consultation with the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of both the Dáil and Seanad, to draw up a code of ethics governing Members. We feel that the code should deal, among other things, with relationships with outside bodies, disclosure, artificial transactions and abstention from involvement where conflict of interest may arise.

Members may say it is difficult to legislate for and regulate this area. I have to accept that it is not easy to govern legislation in this area but, if we peruse the Register of Members' Interests in the British Parliament, we will find that it lists nine headings under which members must register their interests. These include remunerated directorships of companies, public or private; remunerated employments or offices; remunerated trades, professions or vocations; the names of clients when the interests referred to above include personal services by the Member which arise out of or relate in any manner to his membership of the House; financial sponsorship as a parliamentary candidate where, to the knowledge of the members the sponsorship in any case exceeds 25 per cent of the candidate's election expenses; overseas visits relating to or arising out of membership of the House or where the cost of any such visit has not been wholly borne by the Member or public funds; any payments or any material benefits or advantages received from or on behalf of foreign governments; and land and property of substantial value or from which a substantial income is derived. The requirement is to register the general nature of the interest rather than a detailed list of the holdings.

We suggest that there are ways of listing Members' interest which would meet the objective of declaring interests so as to prevent a conflict of interest or leaving a Member open to the possibility of being asked questions without compromising the right of a Member to carry on legitimate interests outside the House. This, after all, is a very uncertain business as those of us who have had to fight five general elections in the last ten years will know. The turnover in this House during the past few years bears witness to this. Let us be realistic. We do not want to make things difficult or impossible for anybody; public life is difficult enough.

It is not a question of a sword hanging over Members' heads or placing everybody under suspicion but rather of allowing this area, where a possible conflict of interest may arise, to be governed. Members would set down their interests and, in the event of an allegation of a conflict of interest, the Parliamentary Ethics Commission would investigate it. That is as much a protection for Members as it is a taxing of their time and interests.

I have just given an outline of what could be included. The Parliamentary Ethics Commission should draw up a detailed provision for a register of politicians' interests, and we are suggesting that Ministers and chairpersons of parliamentary committees should be treated differently from other Members of the House in terms of the period and level of the declaration. We also feel the Government should draw up a scheme for substantial State funding of political parties to meet not just their ongoing expenses but their election expenses, also on a fair and reasonable basis. We further propose that all parties and candidates should keep accounts of their income and expenditure which should be submitted to the Parliamentary Ethics Commission for examination in given circumstances.

I wish to emphasise that in the opening paragraph we are seeking an explicit, effective and well understood code of ethics governing elected politicians as well as State board members and senior officials of Government Departments and State companies. What influence can we wield which would be of interest to persons outside the House? For instance, we can wield influence when it comes to giving contracts, particularly where the proper tendering procedures are not followed. Sadly, there have been such cases. I have no evidence which shows that there was wrongdoing in any case, but this is one area where politicians can wield influence for which businessmen might be thankful.

It does. We can give examples.

I am laying down areas which are open to abuse.

What about Cork City Corporation?

What about the Department of Health?

Let us hear Deputy Gay Mitchell without interruption.

I am laying down areas which are open to abuse, I am not saying they have been abused, areas of legislation, tax breaks, company law — either in what it contains or delaying it —which might be of benefit not just to businessmen but others outside this House. We could protect State boards from parliamentary investigation at the instigation of the director; we could arrange to ask questions in the House which might embarrass a competitor of a particular businessman, advance the interest of a trade union, an association or group; we could retard parliamentary reform to prevent modern legislative overseeing of the private community. Is it fair to say that, over the years, lawyers who have predominated in the House in the past may have prevented us from reforming the Four Courts in the application of the law? Where there is an allegation of a conflict of interest, if there is a declaration which can be investigated, if an ethics commission are in place, they will be in a position to carry out such investigation.

The reason Fine Gael are using Private Members' time tonight to again highlight the need for an ethics commission, a register of Members' interests and State funding for political parties, accompanied by a restriction on private donations, is that the public have been scandalised by recent revelations of deals, double deals, multi-deals and statements and admissions of private business and political friendships all intermingled, intertwined and interrelated. Even if the multiplicity of inquiries going on at present do not turn up specific instances of conflict of interests, surely it is wrong that such a multiplicity of arrangements and relationships can be in place in the first instance without any public declaration or potential conflict of interests being known to the public or, for that matter, to the public's representatives?

Our primary duty is to protect the public interest; we are entitled to have outside interests and many of us do, but interests should be declared. No such declaration takes place at present on an organised scale. A code of ethics, overseen by a parliamentary ethics commission consisting of the three persons I named, could allow for a public declaration of certain interests and perhaps a private declaration to the commission of others, for example, the interests of a spouse. The latter interest might be made public by the commission only if they could bring the public duty of a public representative — or servant — into conflict with his or his family's private interests. In this way we could overcome the need to declare family interests without unduly interfering with the right to privacy of persons who, after all, are not in public life.

Where allegations of conflict of interest are made it would not be necessary to set up a tribunal of inquiry or to appoint inspectors; it would simply be a requirement that the parliamentary ethics commission examine and report on any allegations of conflict of interests either at the behest of a Member of the Dáil or Seanad, a member of the public or on the initiative of the commission. The ethics commission could set down what should be declared by Members of the Dáil and Seanad in a register of Members interests, such register to be open to public examination. They might themselves keep a private register of the family interests of Members.

It is already a requirement that gifts received or made in excess of a given amount — I think the figure is something in the region of £200 although it may be as low as £50, I cannot recall the exact figure — must already be declared in the Appropriation Accounts which are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. If that convention has been departed from it should be reintroduced and where the political head of a Department receives a private gift for himself, his spouse or any of his family, that too should be declared in the Appropriation Accounts audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Once in place this practice could be followed, albeit in a modified fashion, to suit the particular circumstances, by State boards and agencies and by senior officials of Government Departments.

I repeat that if the Houses of the Oireachtas got their act together — the same applies to State agencies, boards and offices — it would then be in order for the Legislature to require others to make similar declarations where a conflict of interests arise which are detrimental to the public interest. I include in that judges, journalists, trade unionists and private business interests. With regard to the latter, I note from the documentResponsibilities of Directors in Ireland — Your Questions Answered published by Deloitte and Touche with a foreword by the Honourable Mr. Justice Ronan Keane, that directors are advised they “must declare to the board when you, or a person connected with you, has an interest in a contract or proposed contract with the company ...” Further on the document states:

The company is required to keep a record of all declarations of interest and make the record available for inspection by the shareholders and others. The record must be produced at every general meeting of the company and any meeting of directors where requested by a director.

The Institute of Directors which, I understand, is at a developmental stage, could do a great public service by bringing their requirements to the attention of directors more vigorously, especially in the public sector. It could be their duty to bring these and other requirements to the attention of directors of State boards. One wonders if the directors of Greencore and their subsidiaries, Telecom Éireann, UPH, Aer Lingus, Aer Lingus Holidays, NCB, Goodman and a host of other companies, are aware of these requirements. If they are, it is a well kept secret.

Much has been said about these issues in the recent past. I am not concerned with seeking to portray only the Government parties' shortcomings. My motion seeks to address shortcomings on all sides of the House. Some time ago allegations were made about the contributions by GPA and Dr. Tony Ryan personally to political parties. There was great surprise all round——

I would much prefer if personalities were not referred to.

It is necessary in the circumstances of my speech. There was great surprise when he publicly declared the extent of his contributions and the parties to whom he had made them. We might well be surprised if others like Mr. Goodman, Mr. Desmond and Dr. Smurfit were asked to make a similar declaration. Perhaps they are not huge contributors to political party funds. However, from all the recent controversy, one thing should be clear, political parties in Government or in Opposition are required to pursue the public interest above all else and should not be beholden in a major way to a small number of large contributors who can always apply the censure of cutting off supplies. Surely it is the State's job to fund political parties in a modern democracy such as has evolved here over the last 70 years?

I am not suggesting that all private political contributions should be stopped; people have the democratic right to support the political party — or candidate — of their choice but such declarations should be limited and declared publicly. This should be accompanied by a restriction on the amount of money which political parties can spend on political campaigns with a further restriction on the amount of money individual candidates can spend at election time or in a period running up to an election.

Other parliaments have strict requirements for members, including Canada and Australia, although there is some dispute about the requirement that a spouse of a member should declare his or her income. Britain has such a system but, despite the details I mentioned earlier, it has shortcomings. Having met recently the Registrar of Members' Interests in the British House of Commons I understand they are updating their register; we do not even have a register to update. They are updating the whole question of contributions to political parties, but we do not have any such guidelines to update. In Britain the restriction on spending at election time is so tight that if you happen to spend money in your constituency, on advertising your clinics or whatever, in a year in which a general election is called it is tough luck on the Member of Parliament because that expenditure is considered as election expenditure and is deducted from the amount they can spend at election time. Therefore, it is not just at election time but also in the run-up to an election that there are rules in place. There are other ways of operating than those we have traditionally used.

I can say with my hand on my heart that if there are a few millionaires in this House they are not all in Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, but is it right that some wealthy Members of this House or candidates should do nothing for four years and then splash out £40,000 or £50,000 on an election campaign while ordinary Joe Soap Deputies who break their hearts in here for four years can hardly scrape together the finance necessary to engage in a campaign? Some people have caravans and all sorts of personal publicity——

That is close to the Minister's heart.

It is close to all our hearts if the truth were known. These matters need to be dealt with if the fairness of the system is to be improved. The public are entitled to know who funds presidential election campaigns, general election campaigns and local election campaigns for parties or candidates. No party or candidate would make this information available voluntarily because it could put them or their parties under scrutiny while the rest of us escape disclosure. All parties and individuals should be required equally and simultaneously to make such a declaration.

The problem faced by political parties at present is not the amount of money they receive but rather the lack of funds. I doubt if there is any major party in the House which is not seriously in debt. That is possibly compromising to the parties in the first instance. Is it right that parties should be dramatically in debt? Is it right that Deputies and Senators should be dramatically in debt? It is portrayed regularly by one or two journalists — most journalists are fair and reasonable people and give us a fair run in this House — that Members of the House are cigar smoking, champagne swilling fat cats on £80,000 a year, with interminable pensions. However, the reality is that some of us receive very few expenses and have huge outgoings. We have fought election after election on an unprecedented scale in recent years. Is it right that Deputies, Senators and parties should be in debt to such an extent, in many cases not because they have mismanaged their campaign or their parties, as is the throw away line to follow? Some of us manage our affairs a lot better than some newspapers manage theirs. Because there has been such pressures on us and our families some of us have not recouped our losses, and will find it difficult to do so — indeed some of us have to write quiz books every year to balance our accounts.

Life is not all roses for people in this House and for parties. Maybe it is time we stopped going to the private sector for contributions. Incidentally, it is not a case of always getting money from the private sector. I referred earlier to the great surprise that parties were not receiving an amount of funds from one particular individual or his companies, when people talk about getting substantial amounts. The reality is that, in some circumstances, Deputies have become raffle ticket sellers and fund raisers on a professional and permanent basis for party headquarters, constituency organisations and their personal election debts. People cross to the other side of the road when they see us coming and refuse to take our telephone calls in case we ask them to buy a ticket. That should not be the role of a Member of Parliament. It demeans Parliament and Members of the House. It is time that something ws done in this regard. Never mind what the chairman of the Progressive Democrats has to say, I will deal with him. If he wants to carry out reform he should look at what goes on in the Four Courts.

Double jobbing.

The comprehensive motion placed before the House tonight by Fine Gael is not an end in itself; it is a beginning. We are proposing that a parliamentary ethics commission oversee the introduction of an ethics code which would cover not only the public service and public agencies but might spread to the private sector so that public and private business and related affairs can be carried on in an above-board manner and be seen to be so. Furthermore, Fine Gael do not believe that allegations of impropriety should be made against public representatives, public servants or members of a State board in any light or throw-away manner. It is a serious matter to make such allegations. They should be made only where there is aprima facie case for making them. In such circumstances the ethics commission which we propose would be in a position to investigate these matters, to get to the truth of the matter and, if necessary, show up for what they are those who make cheap or false allegations. Let us leave the holier than thou mantle to one side for the moment. It is in all our interests, and particularly in the public interest, that a parliamentary ethics commission be established, that there be a register of Members' interests, State funding of parties together with a control on private contributions and the level of expenditure of parties and candidates. None of us should be afraid to say so.

It is time to consider including in the Constitution an oath of office for you, Sir and for Members of the House. We ran away from the old oath of office for various reasons. However, the Constitution proposes an oath of office for members of the Judiciary. Article 34.5.1º states:

In the presence of Almighty God I ...do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my knowledge and power execute the office of.... without fear or favour, affection or illwill towards any man, and that I will uphold the Constitution and the laws. May God direct and sustain me.

That would be difficult to do.

Very difficult in this House.

Is it not time that we considered introducing an oath of office along those lines for Members of this House? If we do that, as the lower House of the Legislature, we can require everybody else to do the same. I commend this comprehensive motion to the House and I hope it gets support from all sides.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

notes the Government's determination as set out in the recently published Programme for Government to ensure the highest standards of ethical behaviour in the conduct of all State and commercial business dealings and fully supports the specific proposals set out in that Programme including:—

—the introduction of a register of material interests for all members of the Oireachtas as from September, 1992;

—the introduction of regulations which will include provisions to apply to State bodies, to regulate business standards, including provisions that:

—Board members and any persons involved in the management and/or control of such companies will be required to disclose any direct or indirect personal interest in the company's business,

—There will be severe penalties for non-disclosure, including forfeiture and recovery of all clandestine profits or personal gains made at the company's expense;

—the requirement that persons proposed for appointment to Boards of all State agencies and companies should make a declaration of any interests relevant to their membership of such bodies;

—the introduction of an appropriate code of conduct for employees in each State company, together with an adequate system of internal audit;

—the putting in place of firm procedures to apply to State companies the principle of competitive tendering required under current Government contract procedures in the Civil Service, these procedures to apply to both works contracts and to supply and service contracts;

—the taking of steps to ensure the better regulation of those offering investment services;

and further notes that the question of freedom of information is a matter which the Government intend to examine carefully with a view to the framing of appropriate legislation.

Deputy Gay Mitchell finished on a very conciliatory note — we will all be friends and we will not hurt each other in any way.

Charity begins at home.

The Deputies proposing this motion will not be surprised to learn that the Government are substituting a counter-motion to highlight certain aspects of the recently published Programme for Government, which address and supersede several of the points raised in the present motion. The remaining parts of the motion are misconceived, if not, indeed mischievous, in some respects. The motion as put down seeks to draw together a number of matters which are at best, loosely related and, in some cases, totally unrelated. It ignores the very significant initiatives taken by the Government. It has all the appearance of a motion which is aimed at attracting media attention rather than attempting to deal with the real issues which have given rise to public concern in recent times.

I will comment later on the specific areas and functions proposed in the motion but, first, I must address the very concept of the new body which it is proposed to establish — the parliamentary ethics commission. The Government are faced with very stringent budgetary targets in the period up to 1993. The achievement of these targets will require very tight control of public expenditure. Yet it is clear that Deputies Bruton and Mitchell envisage the establishment of yet another State body in the shape of a parliamentary ethics commission. It seems inevitable that the commission would need a secretariat which, on past experience, will grow of its own accord unless tight control is exercised. But because of the sensitive nature of its operations, such a secretariat would be almost immune from any interference by the Legislature. This is a recipe for increasing the Exchequer pay and pensions bill and adding yet another layer of bureaucracy. Deputy John Bruton, when he was in Government, spent a lot of time talking about cutting back on what he called quangos, but now he wishes to create another one.

Altogether apart from the financial considerations, I am most surprised that Deputies Bruton and Mitchell are proposing that the function of ensuring that proper standards of behaviour prevail among Members of this House be handed over to an outside body, however honourable and worthy its members may be. The role proposed for the body would clearly overlap with and undermine the Committees on Procedure and Privileges. It seems to me highly questionable that any outside body should be involved in the running of the internal affairs of the Oireachtas. Article 15.10 of the Constitution gives the Houses of the Oireachtas the exclusive right to determine their own rules and procedure. To have an outside commission interfering with the rights of Members would seem to be quite inconsistent with the spirit of that provision.

Article 15.10 reflects a very basic and long-standing principle which is fundamental to our Constitution and with which I am sure the Deputies are familiar — that is, the separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The maintenance of a proper balance between the three branches of Government requires that each branch must accept responsibility for its affairs and refrain from interfering in the affairs of the other branches. I cannot see how the imposition of the proposed commission would be consistent with this fundamental concept in our Constitution.

If there are things in the behaviour of the Members of this House which are upsetting Deputies, why do they not bring such matters to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which would seem the natural forum for such concerns? To suggest, as the motion clearly does, that this House is not capable of administering its own affairs, in effect, is an insult to every Member of this House and to those who elected them. Is it being suggested that the electorate have elected a Legislature which is so corrupt that we cannot order our own business or regulate our own Members? There is not one jot of evidence to support such a contention and I am sure the electorate, no matter what their party leanings, would not accept such an insult to their capacity to decide who will represent them. Of course, there may be some in this House who feel that their expert knowledge entitles them to say what kind of people the electorate should choose, who would like to appoint such people directly without the bother of elections. We reject such arrant nonsense. We have been elected to do a job, must do it and I have total faith in the electorate to exact the penalty if we fail.

Deputies may argue that the proposed commission would consult the Committees on Procedure and Privileges and that this should allay any fears. This would not be good enough. As I said earlier, I am not satisfied that the machinery of State requires any further layers of bureaucracy but, even leaving aside this fundamental point, consultation between the Committees on Procedure and Privileges and the commission would not guarantee agreement on recommendations. Once the consultation had been completed, the commission would be free to exert pressures on the Members of this and the Upper House to such an extent that we could be reduced to shadow-play.

The motion envisages that the proposed commission would determine rules of conduct for Members of the European Parliament. I imagine that the European Parliament could have serious reservations about the prospect of a distinguished but unelected trio making rules for some of its Members. The Deputy's party like to talk about their commitment to Europe but, when it comes to a concrete issue like this, there seems to be a distrust of Europe. For the Government, I can say that there is no hesitation in leaving the regulation of Members of the European Parliament to that Parliament.

With regard to councillors, I wonder what right a parliamentary ethics commission would have in interfering at local level. Local councillors already make a declaration of their interests. This declaration should be sufficient to prevent any hidden wrongdoing but if there is a need for further safeguards, it is hardly a matter for a parliamentary commission.

As to the register of Members' interests, I am afraid that this motion seems to betray total ignorance of the contents of the recently published Programme for Government. If I might quote directly from it:

A register of Members material interests will be established from September 1992, and available in the Oireachtas Library.

In fact, I think this provision goes further, in the case of backbenchers, than the proposals in this motion. The details of the operation of this register will be worked out in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and any comments which the Deputies may have on this matter might more profitably be directed at that committee.

On the question of public funding of political parties, once again the main Opposition party have attempted to link this question with the general issue of ethical standards in public life. I suspect a degree of opportunism here, in effect that they are trying to carry this proposal through on a wave of enthusiasm for new procedures concerning standards of individual conduct. We are not prepared to go along with this linkage. The proposal would involve significant additional expenditure at a time when constraints on public expenditure are affecting many public services. I am not at all sure that the taxpayer would welcome being forced to contribute to political parties. This is, in any event, a complex question, the pros and cons of which would have to be debated at length. We are not prepared to allow this matter to be rushed through without proper consideration nor are we prepared to defer action on improving standards in public life while it is properly considered.

As regards State bodies, I would like, first, to give some background on the different types of bodies which exist under this heading, how and why they have come into being, and the manner in which they are answerable to the Oireachtas.

State bodies are broadly of two kinds, commercial — sometimes called trading bodies and non-commercial — or nontrading — bodies. The commercial bodies fund the major part of their operations from trading revenue without current Exchequer subvention, while the non-trading bodies rely on the Exchequer for the major part of their income.

The process by which the commercial State sector evolved was essentially anad hoc one, based on responses to various needs at various times. Considerations of national policy and the unwillingness or inability of the private sector to undertake certain tasks were the main factors contributing to their development. Because they are providers of goods and services in the marketplace, commercial State bodies operate with normal commercial freedom subject, of course, to the overriding consideration of the public interest. The accepted practice is that, while the appropriate Minister is responsible for their overall policy, the bodies themselves have independence in conducting day-to-day operations. Management is under the control of a board appointed by the appropriate Minister or the Government. The commercial State bodies play a significant role in the Irish economy and are represented in many key sectors.

The non-commercial sector consists generally of organisations established by the State to carry out promotional or regulatory duties. These bodies were established so that functions which would normally be performed by Government Departments could be better performed outside the Civil Service structure. Because of this, while the appropriate Minister is accountable for policy, day-to-day activities are matters for the bodies themselves. I would make the point, however, that non-commercial bodies are subject to closer and more regular supervision than their commercial counterparts. This is because their functions are mainly akin to those of Government Departments and their funding comes largely from the Exchequer through voted moneys.

Despite the emphasis on providing goods and services for the marketplace, commercial State bodies differ from firms in the private sector in several significant respects, namely: they are in public ownership, having been established or acquired with public funds; a substantial proportion of total national resources is under their control; some enjoy monopoly or quasi-monopoly positions in strategic sectors of the economy and some are required to engage in activities of a social or non-commercial nature, having regard to wider national considerations.

As the ownership of State bodies is vested in the State, the ownership rights exercised by a Minister are on behalf of the community as a whole. The interest of the body is essentially, therefore, the public interest and the directors are obliged at all stages to have regard to considerations of public policy in their operations. Such considerations do not arise so acutely in the case of private sector bodies, which are predominantly profit-oriented. Directors of State bodies are accountable to the appropriate Minister for the proper discharge of business within the relevant policy framework. The Minister is, in turn, answerable to the Oireachtas for the general policy and performance of any State body for which he is responsible.

The reports and accounts and operational results of the commercial State bodies are subject to examination by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies. The committee may also examine common issues in relation to board responsibility, structure and organisation, accountability and financing, together with the relationship with central Government and the Houses of the Oireachtas. The chairmen and chief executives of such bodies are normally required to appear before the Committee to answer questions in relation to the affairs of their organisation.

In the case of commercial State bodies there are, broadly speaking, two types of legal entity. A State body may be constituted as a statutory corporation, or board, by its own separate statute. Such a statute usually sets out the powers and functions of the entity, restrictions and obligations on it, the manner of appointment of its board and staff and so on.

Alternatively, a State body may be formed as a limited liability company, an ordinary company registered under the Companies Acts, in which all or almost all of the shares are held by a Government Minister. The tradition has been that the shares are held by the Minister for Finance, because of his powers and functions under the Constitution and the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, although in a few cases the shares are held by the Minister under whose aegis the body in question operates. In nearly all cases of this kind, however, a specific statute is also enacted. This gives the Oireachtas an opportunity of debating the policy issues relating to the mandate of the body in question.

Non-commercial bodies can be established on either a statutory or a non-statutory basis. The statute will usually provide for the appointment of directors and staff and deal with the question of funding. In the case of non-statutory bodies, authority for Exchequer funding is provided solely by the Appropriation Act and the normal conditions relating to the payment of grants-in-aid apply.

So much, then, for the background to the State sector, both commercial and non-commercial. It is important that we know what precisely we are talking about when discussing this subject. Considerations that apply to commercial plcs do not always apply to boards or authorities. Commercial State bodies give rise to issues which may not arise in the case of their non-commercial counterparts.

I should like to make a comment about the supervision of these bodies. There are already in existence a number of mechanisms designed to assist both the Department of Finance and parent Departments in exercising their supervisory roles in this area. In carrying out this role, however, care has to be taken, particularly in the case of commercial bodies, that the principle of the autonomy of these bodies in their day to day operations is not diluted. There is a fine balance to be drawn here, and this is why I was at some pains to point out the particular features of the various kinds of State bodies which we have.

Various statutes governing the activities of State bodies give the Minister concerned, and in many instances the Minister for Finance, an important role in crucial areas of operations. These include the appointment of directors; borrowing by the body concerned, with or without State guarantee, receiving annual reports and accounts; the formats of these accounts as well as the establishment of subsidiaries in some cases. Capital budgets are examined in the context of the public capital programme, while major capital projects, whether involving Exchequer funding or not, are subject to scrutiny. The corporate plans of the bodies concerned are also subject to examination. Indeed, the usual complaint from the State sector is that Departments and Ministers interfere excessively in their affairs.

It must be recognised, however, that while procedures can be refined and improved, perfection is elusive. One cannot legislate against dishonesty. All that can be done is to put in place the best possible systems, including systems of internal audit, to discourage unacceptable behaviour and impose strict sanctions where such behaviour occurs.

The revised Programme for Government contains a number of pledges relating to the State sponsored sector, in particular in relation to the issue of disclosure of interests, and to the operation of the bodies in question in accordance with the highest standards of ethics and behaviour.

As well as the question of directors'/ management disclosure of interest, employees' codes of conduct, internal audit functions and the issue of competitive tendering are all mentioned.

Every one of these issues is, in fact, addressed in a report which has recently been completed by the Secretary of the Department of Finance on the principles which should govern the relationship between Departments of State and the State bodies under their aegis, together with subsidiary and associated companies of the bodies in question. This report and its findings are now under active consideration by the Government.

The examination conducted by this eminent public servant was designed to ensure that the traditional standards of integrity and conduct which are appropriate to the public service are maintained and that the interests of the community and the State, as owner of these bodies, are fully taken into account in their operation. Among the questions examined were, as I mentioned earlier, tendering for contracts, the monitoring of acquisitions and reporting and accountability. The question of appointing civil servants to the boards of State bodies is also examined in the report. When they have completed their consideration of the report it is the intention of the Government to prepare and implement appropriate guidelines for State bodies based on their findings.

I should like to say a brief word now on the specific issue of codes of conduct and disclosure of interest. The public sector in Ireland has always had a high reputation for ethical behaviour and fair dealing. In many cases decisions about what is ethical or fair are clearcut and will always remain so to any reasonable person. In certain circumstances, however, an element of doubt or ambiguity may arise. To help in these situations and to protect both the organisation and the individual, it is desirable to have a written code of conduct. Such codes are, in fact, already in place in many organisations, both private and public.

A very important element of such a code is disclosure of interest. This is a necessary protection if decisions are being taken at the board of a company or among senior management. It is also a safeguard for the person involved in protecting his good name and bona fides. When it is standard procedure it normally gives rise to very little difficulty.

The report of the Secretary of the Department of Finance on guidelines for State bodies, which I mentioned, addresses the question of disclosure of interest and makes certain recommendations in the matter. While these are still under consideration by Government, and I would not wish to anticipate their findings, I can state at this stage that the recommendations are in no way at variance with the proposals in this regard contained in the revised Programme for Government.

In a democracy such as ours, Government exists to serve the people. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that the citizen should be granted reasonable access to the records of their Government. The Government's attitude in this regard was clearly outlined by the Taoiseach in his address to the last Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis:

A truly open society is one whose citizens have access to as much information as possible on the way they are governed, consistent with the right of individuals to privacy and the ability of the Government to function effectively in sensitive areas such as security, foreign affairs, taxation, and budgetary policy — as well as in day-to-day administration. The Government are considering the provision of greater freedom of information and the reform of present official secrecy provisions. Freedom of information legislation would of course require a fairly fundamental change in the working habits of public administration and necessarily will take time. All aspects of such legislation must be examined, in the light of the experience of the limited number of countries, where it is already in operation.

The existing law on official secrecy is almost 30 years old. It has served the country well in most respects. The Government are, however, concerned that, in its provisions dealing with "authorised disclosures", the current legislation is unnecessarily biased towards the withholding of official records and does not accord sufficient rights to the citizen to be informed of the workings of Government.

Change in the area of freedom of information will represent one of the most farreaching reforms of our system of public administration since the foundation of the State. Once legislation is enacted, official files, save in a few particularly sensitive areas, will be freely accessible to the general public. One of the trends with which Government Departments have been faced in recent years is ensuring that their communications to the public are concise and intelligible. While this applies to the internal communications within a Government Department, or between Government Departments, officials are entitled to assume that when they write or the Ministers, whom they brief, have a familiarity with relevant legal and bureaucratic phraseology. If it was necessary to ensure that such communication was to be as readily intelligible to any concerned citizen who wished under freedom of information to read the file, the impact of the change would be such as to be revolutionary. How far public servants can move in this direction without sacrificing efficiency and speed in administration will be a very interesting test in the years ahead.

The Government are committed to reform in the area of official secrecy. This does not mean that we are prepared to be pressurised by any individual or group into precipitate action. The experience of other countries in this matter underlines the necessity for detailed research and consideration on the part of Government before publishing any draft legislation. In the United States, legislation in this area was first enacted in 1966; subsequent experience there gave rise to the need for further legislation in the area to remedy the perceived inadequacies of the 1966 Act. In Australia, a Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1982; this was amended somewhat by subsequent legislation. As the Taoiseach indicated, the area of freedom of information is very complex. It might be helpful if I outline briefly some of the areas which will require particularly sensitive handling.

While we endorse the private citizen's right to access, we must also ensure that such access would never diminish the equal right of the citizen to ensure that his properly private dealings with Government remain private and do not come into the public domain. We, in this State, must be particularly vigilant to ensure that any right of access to official information can never enhance the ability of undemocratic, subversive or other criminal groups to take on the forces of law and order. In the commercial sphere, it would be intolerable if new found access to official files could enable an individual or company to steal a march on a business rival. Finally, we must not fool ourselves that reform of this nature will not give rise to significant costs in terms of the processing of applications for disclosure of documents and the inevitable disruption of work involved. The Government do not regard the cost factor as a reason for inaction in this area. However, the current state of the public finances would not allow us to ignore the cost dimension in deciding on the precise form which freedom of information should take. I mention these problems not to suggest any weakening of our commitment to reform but rather to underline the necessity for care and thoughtfulness in the drafting of the necessary legislation.

Phrases like "official secrecy" conjure up visions of a state in which those who govern and those who serve them directly carry out their functions in isolation from the community they were appointed to serve. It is important to keep a sense of perspective about this. We in this State always have been able to take it for granted that our Governments are answerable to Dáil Éireann; that individual Members of the Dáil can question Ministers about their actions and those of their civil servants. These are, and must remain, the bedrock of a democratic society. In recent years we have built on these foundations a new openness — by arranging to have Dáil and Seanad sessions broadcast on radio and television; by expanding and making more public the meetings of committees of these Houses at which civil servants are called on to explain official actions; by setting up an Ombudsman with full access to official files; and by getting Government Departments and offices — particularly those which have regular dealings with large numbers of citizens — to produce information booklets or establish information offices and by training civil servants at all levels to become more informative and user friendly. If areas of darkness remain in our public administration they attract attention because of the degree to which the administrative process generally has increasingly been brought out into the light. This Government's approach to the issue of freedom of information is designed to ensure that the light of public scrutiny reaches even those darkened corners.

While Deputy Gay Mitchell endeavoured to explain in detail the justification for Deputy John Bruton tabling the motion before the House, having listened to some of the difficulties and problems; above all, having listened to my explanation of the actions taken by this Government in recent times and those proposed to be taken under the Programme for Government, I am quite certain that tomorrow evening Deputy Mitchell will entice his colleagues not to vote in favour of it.

May I ask the Minister of State to formally move the amendment.

I have not seen the amendment.

No, Sir, nor have I; I have just received it from the Clerk. Am I in order in beginning, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I presume it is not necessary for me to invite the Minister of State to read out the amendment since copies are available.

It has been circulated.

Before beginning I was about to ask the Minister of State whether he was going to move the amendment because, before you came into the House, Sir, the Ceann Comhairle made reference to it whereas the Minister of State, in his script, made no reference whatever to it.

I have asked the Minister of State to formally move the amendment.

On a point of order, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, not only did I formally move the amendment, as requested, but I did so before beginning my prepared speech.

Obviously the amendment is properly before the House. The point at issue is that I have never come across the practice — and admittedly, I have not been in this House very long — of a Minister proposing an amendment and making a speech without making any reference whatsoever to that amendment. I have now received a copy of the amendment from the Clerk. It is a measure of the ill-preparedeness of this Government to address this issue that, despite adequate notice in terms of the issue having been on the agenda for a very long time, a detailed amendment was not argued on the floor of the House this evening by the Minister of State responding on behalf of the Government. In fact, I would have to say that the Minister's response was very disjointed. It appears to be the work of three different word processors and typescripts, and neither began nor ended with any logic or coherency. That is unfortunate in addressing an issue as fundamental as this.

It is not as if this issue had parachuted out of the sky this evening. I have a sense ofdéjà vu addressing this issue. People might properly ask if we had discussed this issue before. I thought we had made progress on this issue because most Members were present when we debated a Bill some months ago, a night of great tension, Members might recall, one on which the full Cabinet were present to hear the conclusion of that debate.

Let me recall the history of this issue for the House and the Minister of State because it becomes quite frustrating for somebody, particularly from this side of the House, who seeks to achieve to put into legislation or into rules of this House something that by common consensus is agreed in principle. We appear to have an inability to put those principles into effect. Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion that that inability to legislate or to implement rules and regulations stems from a fundamental reluctance to have those rules applied to ourselves in this House.

This issue was first put on the agenda in a letter to the Ceann Comhairle by the Leader of the Labour Party on 19 October 1989. In that letter the Leader outlined draft regulations on a declaration of Members' interests, and other matters, and sought that regulations would be enacted into the rules of this House. There was no response in terms of progress so I, as Labour Whip, wrote to the clerk of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and sought to have the matter listed for debate by the committee.

The proposals involved a requirement that, upon election, every Member of this House should declare his or her interests and the financial affairs of his or her spouse to preclude the possibility of a conflict of interest. If legislation which would impact on a business or on a sector of the economy were before the House and a Member had an interest in the company by way of being a shareholder, a director or adviser to that company, the House and the public would be aware of it. There was to be a public register with general access. It was a four or five page document which sought to bring this Parliament into line with the majority of parliaments in Europe and in the developed world by providing for transparency in the way we do our business. That is hardly a revolutionary proposition but the response of the committee was to bury it. It was referred first for discussion by the party Whips but got nowhere. When I raised it again it was referred to the parliamentary parties but, again, got nowhere. All this was designed by both major parties to take the matter off the agenda.

So seriously did the Labour Party regard this issue that, since we could not enact it by way of regulation because of the blocking tactics of the two major parties at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, we decided to do so by way of legislation. We published the Ethics in Government and Public Office Bill, 1991 on 26 February of this year. It was a more comprehensive statement. We felt that the principles set out in our original motion should be broadened and put into legislative form.

The contents of that Bill are well known. There were three fundamental principles. The first was the requirement of a register of Members' interests. We wanted that enshrined in legislation. The second and third principles were new. One related to the receipt of gifts by Members. We required that Ministers of State and the Attorney General should have to surrender gifts of a value of greater than £200. The third principle enshrined in that Bill was fundamental to the conduct of public life, namely, transparency in relation to the funding of political parties. We sought the disclosure of all moneys received by every registered political party and sought to exclude the possibility of any individual or company subscribing more than £1,000 to any political party in any given year. We believe they are fundamental principles which would bring a level of respectability to public life which has been sorely eroded in recent times.

It was like King Robert Bruce of Scotland trying again, having been struck down on umpteen occasions, when we brought that Bill before the House in Private Members' time on 7 May this year. On that auspicious night, what was the response of the then Minister for Finance to those principled proposals which sought to have a measure of transparency in public life and high office? In the shadow of the debate that very day in relation to the beef industry inquiry, the then Minister for Finance responded that he did not feel it should be dealt with by way of legislation. He said it should be dealt with in the context of House rules and procedures rather than on a statutory basis. When we had proposed it by way of regulation, it was buried in a private committee where there was no public scrutiny and no members of the Press present. When we brought the proposal to the floor of the House we were told the issues were too complex to deal with in legislation and that it should be provided for in the rules of the House. The then Minister had the good grace to admit that the Labour Party had gone down the road he had suggested, but unfortunately he did not admit that the efforts of the Labour Party to effect the changes had been frustrated by his party on several occasions.

That debate was rather truncated because we had the interruption of a long debate on the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry into the beef industry. The second Government speaker was the Minister of State who is present this evening. Before he spoke my colleague, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan, in response to the reluctance of the Minister for Finance to accept the legislation, made a proposal on behalf of the Labour Party. In his speech on 14 May he said the Labour Party were prepared to withdraw their Bill and not to force it to a vote if there was general agreement in the House that gifts to senior office holders, together with the issue of Members' financial interests, should be referred for consideration to a sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, that the sub-committee should be representative of every group in the House, that it should meet in public session like any other informal sub-committee and that the Minister for Finance should agree to commence discussions immediately with representatives of other political parties on the issue of the funding of parties, with a view to drawing up guidelines which ultimately might be encompassed in legislation.

They were the proposals my colleague put to the Minister of State. Predictably, the offer was rejected. Instead the Minister of State, Deputy Vincent Brady, suggested that the whole issue be referred back to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. He invited that committee to undertake a detailed examination of the issues involved. We were on the merry-go-round again. It was a very interesting night when we offered to build, in whatever way the Government and the majority of this House wanted, the fundamental principles of accountability and transparency in public office and public life into rules or legislation by way of consensus. We were fobbed off again. The Minister of State wants to refer them back again to the committee they established 18 months before that.

They are still there.

The Minister of State has the temerity to tell us again tonight that they are still there. It is a mark of shame on both the Government and this side of the House that they are still there after almost two years.

They are on the agenda.

They have been on the agenda since I requested that they be put on it nearly two years ago.

They are part of the Programme for Government.

There is no question but that we are being obstructed in our desire to have these principles enacted by the Government side.

When the division bells rang on 14 May last the Bill proposed by me on behalf of the Labour Party was defeated by two votes. Unfortunately, it was defeated with the support of the Progressive Democrats who had, we thought, some commitment — indeed they expressed this privately to many Members of the House, including me — to the principles enshrined in that Bill. However, the Progressive Democrats on that fateful day had already fired their one shot and demanded that the Government set up an inquiry into the beef industry. They could not be macho twice in the same day so, unfortunately, they had to back down on that issue. They virtually apologised to the House and individuals for their inability to support the Bill.

The Minister of State informed us tonight that there is now a new mood in the Government parties, that the knocking of heads which occurred before the confidence vote a couple of weeks ago has brought about a change of view and that the principles we wanted enshrined in legislative form last May and in rule form 18 months before will be enacted by the Government who want it all of a sudden because it has been agreed in the Programme for Government.

I now want to deal specifically with the motion before us. The Minister of State singled out two specific issues. He spoke about a register of Members' interests. I fundamentally feel that a register of Members' interests should be by way of statute and not regulation. The Minister put forward a proposal tonight in regard to a register of Members' interests about which we are supposed to cheer. He said that, as to the register of Members' interests, he was afraid that the motion seemed to betray total ignorance of the contents of the recently published Programme for Government. He went on to say that the Programme for Government stated that a register of Members' material interests would be established from September 1992 — should the Government survive — and would be available in the Oireachtas Library. Why would any person want a declaration of Members' interests postponed for another year unless it enabled some people to offload interests or change their circumstances? I do not understand the logic behind postponing that fundamental issue for another 12 months.

I want to make a very interesting comment on the funding of political parties. I make this point by way of defence of the Fine Gael Party. On the question of the public funding of political parties, the Minister of State said that once again the main Opposition party had attempted to link this question with the general issue of ethical standards in public life. To be frank, the issue of the funding of political parties was first raised by the second speaker in the debate on the Ethics in Government Bill. I never mentioned this issue when I proposed the Bill. It was not in any section of the Bill. It was the then Minister for Finance who dealt with it at great length in his contribution to the Bill — he was the second contributor to the debate before any Fine Gael Member spoke——

That is correct.

Many speakers commented on this issue subsequently. On a radio programme the following morning the chairman of the Progressive Democrats had his tuppence worth to say on it but it had nothing to do with the Bill. If it is being described as a red herring it was raised by the Minister for Finance. It may be that, because he was charged with the financial running of his party as well as the country at that time, he introduced it. It is very disingenuous of the Minister of State to suggest tonight that once again the main political party have attempted to make that linkage. It was one of the first issues the Minister referred to in his speech on 7 May.

The Minister of State also said tonight that neither are the Government prepared to defer action on improving standards in public life while the funding of political parties is properly considered. There is a certain cheek in the statement that the Government are not prepared to allow the issue of accountability and the registration of Members' interests to be put on the long finger by linking them with the funding of political parties. They initially made the link.

For 18 months they have repeatedly obstructed the principle of establishing a register of Members' interests. I am afraid their hypocrisy on this matter is very transparent.

I hope we will stop going on the merry-go-round on this issue once and for all and that the parties in Government will accept the motion before the House. I have many criticisms of the motion but, as I appealed in May for support from all sides of the House for the principles in the Ethics in Government Bill, I am willing to accept the principles on behalf of the Labour Party enshrined in the motion before us. We should stop talking around the issue, finally address it and put into place the sort of safeguards, transparencies and accountability which are the norm and are commonplace in every other respectable Parliament in the world.

I welcome the motion. However, I regret that it will not have a statutory base. This is unfortunate. We have come a long way and I thought a legislative measure would be clearly binding on Members and ensure that people who default or people who are less than forthright in their declarations would be accountable to the laws of the land and the enforcement agencies of the law the same as every other citizen. That would have been an improvement. If I had my way I would prefer the issue to be dealt with by way of legislation.

The proposal to establish a parliamentary ethics commission is an interesting one. As I said, the Labour Party do not think this would be the ideal vehicle because there are issues which have to be addressed in relation to the separation of powers and the rights of this House. I have long believed that we have denigrated ourselves in this House. We have allowed the Judiciary and other outside agencies to impact on the affairs and workings of this House. This is a sovereign Parliament of this Republic. We are elected by the general public in universal franchise to represent their interests here. We have not vindicated that right effectively in recent times.

The whole methodology on which legislation is enacted denigrates individual Members of this House. It is agreed in Government, unless you have the goodwill of the Minister, substantial or significant changes will not be agreed on the floor of the House. Unless the Minister is well disposed towards change, Government backbenches or Opposition Deputies will have no impact on legislative proposals. In terms of reform we have a long way to go. I am not sure that the proposition to have a commission of the kind described is the correct way to proceed. The Labour Party will vote on this issue because of the principle involved, and it is on the principles I hope all Members will decide the matter.

I should like to talk about State funding of political parties.

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy. The time has come to deal with other business.

Debate adjourned.