Amendment No. 16 is consequential on amendment No. 14 and both may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 12, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) Where a person who is a member on a registration date did not have a registrable interest at any time during the appropriate period specified in subsection (1), he or she shall, not later than 30 days after that date, prepare and furnish to the Clerk a statement in writing of that fact.".
The effect of this amendment is to insert a new subsection requiring all Members, including Office holders, who have not held a registrable interest in the relevant period to submit a statement in writing of that fact to the Clerk. Amendment No. 16 changes the reference consequent on the new section.
The thinking behind these amendments is to provide protection to Members who have no registrable interest and to provide for them making a nil return so as to allow the public distinguish between a case where no return has been made because there is nothing to declare and a case where no return has been made because a Member is late in submitting a return.
A more plausible reason for this is that somebody who submits a nil return may be hammered if he or she has told a lie whereas somebody who has done nothing is guilty of the sin of omission. Is that not what we are talking about?
That is a thought which may not have occurred to the Minister and 165 other Members of the House.
It certainly occurred to me.
There were no such Machiavellian thoughts in our minds when tabling these amendments; it is simply tidying up an omission in the Bill as drafted.
As regards subsections (1) and (2) now to be inserted, am I correct in understanding that if I am a Member of the House on the registration date I must submit my return within 30 days of that date but that if I am elected to the House I do not have to do so until the next anniversary? I could get a good 11 month run unregistered. That seems to be the purpose of this. If I am elected in a by-election, I can get a good run unregistered.
That is a fair point and that is how it will operate under the terms of the Bill.
One could get up to ten or 11 months free passage if one is elected in a by-election at the right time of the year. If the Minister is making this stringent provision for someone who is a Member of the House, would she not consider requiring that someone elected to fill a casual vacancy submit a return within 30 days?
Deputy McDowell has made a fair point and we will look at it before Report Stage.
Amendments No. 30 and 61 are related to amendment No. 15 and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 12, lines 8 to 11, to delete subsection (2).
The purpose of this amendment is to excise subsection (2) which states specifically that it is not necessary to specify in the statement the extent of one's interest. I am promoting this amendment because there should be some provision to indicate whether one's registrable interest is nominal or substantial. Elsewhere the section allows the Clerk to prepare or determine the nature of the form to be filled in, the nature of the statement to made or whatever. This subsection expressly provides that he may not look at the question of specifying the amount or the monetary value. Having regard to what we are discussing, there may be a world of difference between having a nominal interest or a substantial one. I am sure there are many people who have not held shares before who are now looking forward to becoming shareholders in the Irish Permanent Building Society.
Under what name?
To suggest those unfortunates would command any clout commensurate with the ruling oligarchy in the Irish Permanent Building Society would be far-fetched. An ordinary person, whether they like it or not, would have an interest but a negligible one. The purpose of the legislation is to draw such a distinction. It should be open to the Clerk in determining the form that a statement be made. I do not require that it be over £20,000, £50,000, £150,000 or whatever but there should be some provision to state whether it is a nominal interest or a substantial one.
I would like to comment on Deputy Rabbitte's proposal. If this goes, it would mean that I would have to state the amount of money I receive as a barrister. It might be of interest to some Members and a source of curiosity to everybody.
I believe I have the support of the entire House for my amendment.
In that regard, I would quibble with what Deputy Rabbitte suggests. He also draws a distinction between a negligible and a substantial interest. However, if one looks at the definition of registrable interests, one finds that remuneration below £2,000 as a barrister, a category to which I might or might not belong——
It is an annual not a daily rate. That covers some of the points raised by Deputy Rabbitte. If one had £10,000 or £20,000 in a building society — some issue shares pro tanto— when looking at registrable interests in paragraph (1) subparagraph (2) of the register of interests, would those shares qualify? Will we have to say what we have in various accounts in our names or otherwise?
I understood that a Member of the House would complete the form stating his interests, including directorships, and ownership of land and property. However, one should not be required to put a monetary valuation on them as one might not be able to make such a valuation. If the property is land its value is subject to fluctuation. Those who wish to know about one's interests can seek such information from the declaration.
I understand that under this legislation a Member is not required to state his or her financial position as this could be a very serious imposition which could seriously damage the credibility of the Member and companies with which he or she is associated. It might also deter people from going forward as candidates for election to the Houses of Oireachtas. This amendment would lead to interference in the private affairs of Members. I have no problem with a declaration of interests as to ownership of companies, directorships and so forth. However, I have reservations about a provision obliging Members to put a monetary valuation on such interests as that could have a detrimental effect on a company which was not the Minister's intention when introducing the Bill.
I also envisage a problem with what I believe to be the unconstitutional provision that Ministers be obliged to provide information about their children's interests. A Minister's son, for example, might not inform his father of all his interests. If he is a cagey man he might decide to say nothing about certain interests. In later years it might come to the attention of the House that the son owned, for example, a parcel of land which was worth £100,000 which, as a result of its designation under an urban renewal scheme, rose in value to £1 million. The Minister might not be aware of his son's ownership although the perception outside the Oireachtas would be that he was. The Minister would find it very hard to steer clear of such speculation.
I am most unhappy with that provision. We have seen from previous experience that it would be very hard for a Member to prove that he or she was unaware of his or her children's interests. If the son were summoned before a committee he would have a constitutional case for refusing to attend because the examination would involve disclosure of private interests. He has nothing to do with the Oireachtas or its Members but his father, the Minister, is expected to know about his interests. This issue will not concern me in that context in the future but it will concern future Ministers who should not in this way be put in an embarrassing position.
I oppose the amendment although I saw some merit in it when Deputy McDowell suggested that it might mean revealing his huge earnings as a barrister.
The question is where one should draw the line between what is negligible and what is significant. There is middle ground. The Bill deals in principle with conflicts of interest. If a Member declares an interest — in property or whatever — the interest is established irrespective of the value. If Members are involved in trades, professions or other employments it will be relatively easy to elicit information on their earnings and so forth. It is hardly necessary to delete the subsection for the reasons outlined by Deputy Rabbitte. This matter should not be a major sticking point. The principle of the Bill is to determine the interests of Members in the context of the debates or decisions of the House.
Members should not be obliged to declare the monetary value of their interests. Once the interest is declared the principle purpose of the Bill is fulfilled. People want to know if Members have an interest. I do not see why they should know the monetary value of the interest or how much a Member is earning at the Bar or in other areas. I do not support the amendment.
Deputy McDowell has got the debate off on the wrong foot.
I am looking to my own interest which I do not have to declare.
The excision of subsection (2) does not impose a requirement to specify monetary values.
It is left in limbo.
Under section 1 the Clerk of the Dáil, following discussion with the committee and the commission, will determine the form in which we will make our declarations.
However, there will be no monetary values.
I accept much of what Deputies Connolly and Martin have said. I am sure the Clerk of the Dáil and the committee will also take their remarks into account in discussions with the commission.
However, there is a great difference between the view one might take of legislation which would impact on that society's affairs if one was an unexpected and insignificant shareholder in the Irish Permanent Building Society and the view one might take as a very substantial shareholder by intent. This Bill, as Deputy Martin said, deals with conflict of interest. If I, prior to being elected, have a house courtesy of the Irish Permanent Building Society the fact that my interest in the society will be converted into shares will not influence me greatly in my view of matters that affect the future of that building society. However, if I were a scion of the Farrell family with a large interest in the society I might have a different view on legislation which impacts on the future of that building society. That also applies to other areas.
I suggest to Deputy McDowell that it is most emphatically not the case that ones remuneration from any trade or profession would be required to be stated. I cannot see the Clerk of the Dáil agreeing to this after the consultations which are required under subsection (1). That is not encompassed in my amendment at all. It is important that the Minister draw a distinction between the small shareholder envisaged in Mrs. Thatcher's shareholding democracy and those who own sufficient shares to determine the future direction of companies or land or whatever interest one might care to advance.
Before the Minister replies, since Deputy Rabbitte has mentioned it, I have a big problem with subsection (1) of this section, under which the Clerk of the Dáil will determine the form. Will the Clerk of the Dáil do this independently? Will he be told what to do? Can a resolution of the Dáil tell him what to do? Is he in a position to decide, having consulted with the Committee of the House, what he proposes to do? Is he autonomous in this matter, or is he obliged to do what the House tells him to do? Who is he to disagree with the House? I have the greatest respect for the Clerk, but who is he to insist on a particular form? In what capacity does he make these stipulations for the vast majority of the Members of the House?
I am unhappy about the status of the Clerk's decision, whether it is an independent decision or one which can be made in accordance with an instruction from the House or whatever. It seems to me that the Clerk of the Dáil is hardly in a position to tell the Dáil that he wants one thing if all its Members want another thing. If he is to be independent in fixing the content of the forms to be filled out against the wishes of the House, I would like to see some justification for that proposition and some statutory authority for giving such a power to a person who is in effect the servant of the House.
I share some of the concerns expressed by Deputy McDowell. Earlier we debated an amendment by Deputy Rabbitte in which he sought to have all regulations laid before the House. He questioned the sweeping powers being given to the Minister in the context of regulations in terms of the operation of the Bill on minor matters, yet in the context of this amendment he is suggesting that we give fairly significant powers to the Clerk of the Dáil in terms of determining what should and should not be put on the form and the degree of interest or remuneration that should or should not be put on the form. It is not fair that the Clerk of the Dáil should be given responsibility for that difficult task.
The Clerk of the Dáil should not be the arbiter of what should and should not be declared a significant interest. This amendment calls for the deletion of lines and the alternative is not quite clear. It would need to be considerably tidied up from that point of view. It is one thing to delete the provision, but Deputy Rabbitte elaborated that it would be up to the Clerk of the Dáil to determine what should and should not be put on the form. That is unacceptable. It is a matter which we should deal with in the legislation.
There seems to be a fixation with monetary or commercial interests in the Bill as a whole. There has been no talk of other forms of interest. People can have considerable interests in the media, for example, without significant remuneration which is of great significance in a political context in terms of wielding influence. Throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s we had very serious allegations about the degree to which the national media and the broadcasting station was infiltrated quite considerably by political interests. How is it possible to get to the bottom of that? Where is there a framework to find out who has interests where and has control in certain sections of the media?
I wish to reassure Deputy Connolly about the constitutionality of the Bill. We have checked this line by line with the Government's constitutional legal advisors and I am very satisfied as to the constitutionality of the Bill. Deputy Rabbitte in his amendment makes a reasonable point on the difference between small interests and large interests. We have attempted to address this through applying thresholds. Interests which we consider to be too small to provide any significant influence to a Member are excluded under the second schedule.
I would be glad to have another look at the point he raises on building society shares where deposits are converted overnight into shares. We can see if there is some reasonable way of dealing with that because it is not intended that bank or building society deposits would be declarable under the second schedule. I can have a look at that when we come to the second schedule.
In regard to the general principle of the Bill, we are following general practice abroad, which is that a Member declares that he or she has an interest, in other words, the fact that he or she has shares in company X may possibly influence his or her discussions in relation to that company. We do not concern ourselves with the value once it is above the threshold limit. Many of the Members have given reasons why this House should not concern itself with the value of any individual's holding.
In regard to the other points on the role of the Clerk the House will pass a resolution giving effect to Part II of the Bill, conferring certain powers on the Clerk in drawing up forms to apply the second schedule which the House will enact. The Clerk will have to consult with the Committee or the Commission in the light of the second schedule, and if any Member has any doubt as to how he should interpret the second schedule or the forms which he or she is asked to fill in by the Clerk, that Member can consult the Committee of the relevant House and ask for guidance. If the Member acts in good faith in regard to that, we have covered that position in the Bill. The role of the Clerk is very much a consultative role in this, but it is a clerical function to draw up the forms. It will be done through a consultative process and in line with directions given by this House in enacting the legislation and bringing the part of it in relation to Members into force.
Deputy Martin may have a reasonable point. Maybe I should have specified thresholds, but I deliberately did not do that. I welcome the thrust of what the Minister has said as I understand it, which is an acknowledgement of the difference between a casual unanticipated minority interest and a substantial or controlling interest. Some provision ought to be made for that. Deputy Martin may have some suggestions on it.
Broadening the debate to include the media is a very good example of influences in politics. If a minority viewpoint is represented in the media, it is infiltration, but if a majority viewpoint is represented it is acceptable. If a large group of newspapers contemplated seeking a franchise in the telecommunications area they might be tugging the forelock to the dominant political force in the country or to the Government at the time. That is considered to be acceptable, but if anybody questions that, it is infiltration.
Deputy Martin has introduced a very relevant note into this Bill and maybe the Minister would take it on board on Report Stage. On the amendment, I do not agree with Deputy McDowell that the untrammelled powers he envisages for the Clerk of the Dáil are enshrined in section 5 (1). As I understand it, the Clerk will, after consultation with the committee in the first case and the commission in the second case, decide the appropriate form for this registration. It is most unlikely that the Clerk would seek to impose parameters which would be unacceptable to either the committee or the commission. I have no objection to specifying it but it is important in the example I have given, if one never sought to be a shareholder in a particular company but ends up as such, to have a look at the registry of interests. Deputy Connolly, who has left the House, will not mind me referring to him as a gentleman of means and substance compared to someone like me. To think that the Deputy and I would appear on equal terms in this registry of interests as having an interest would be absurd and I am sure the Deputy, if he were here, would be the first to acknowledge its absurdity.
The Deputy should not make remarks about Deputy Connolly if he is not here to defend himself.
He will appreciate them.
He may be listening on a monitor somewhere.
We are back to definition of interests. People are made differently. Someone, because of changes in the Irish Permanent Building Society, may acquire shares. One can be a very mean person. Certain decisions of the House, no matter how small, could benefit such a person and involve significant interests. For generous people, like Deputy Connolly, it could mean nothing but for mean people it could mean a great deal. I read "Silas Marner" for my Leaving Certificate examination.
This is a point which we should take on board.
Is the Deputy suggesting that Deputy Rabbitte is mean?
What is likely to influence one directly relates to what one has. If one is a man or woman of super wealth, the kind of bribe which would affect Deputy Rabbitte and I would be of no interest. Fixing monetary values is a little artificial in those circumstances.
With all due respects contributions are straying from the amendment.
We should call it the "Ger Connolly amendment."
The Minister has said she will look at this issue between now and Report Stage.
I am prepared to look at the Irish Permanent type of situation regarding shares. We do not intend to catch deposits in banks or building societies. If such deposits are converted into shares, we will look at the definition in the Second Schedule.
We could end up with the peculiar situation that the only people in the country who are obliged to admit whether they have or do not have money in building societies are TDs and Senators.
I take that point, it was the one I instanced. I do not think that this is the extent of the amendment. One accepts the principle of it or one does not. If someone in Deputy Martin's party willed me 1 per cent of the shares in the Irish Press Group, I would take a very different approach to media legislation in the House than if I were a more substantial shareholder in that group. There is a principle here which has to do with more than building societies. I thought the Minister said she acknowledged that there ought to be some thresholds and that there is a difference between a negligible minority interest and a substantial or controlling interest, notwithstanding Deputy Martin's playing with words. I am sure he would accept — it is accepted in "Silas Marner"— that there is a difference.
Not psychologically. We are talking about people and humanity.
Very little in politics in this area, as Deputy Martin knows, functions on the basis of psychology.
Arithmetic seems more appropriate.
I did not come here to give effect to an amendment in respect of building societies. It is good that the Minister has taken on board the thrust of the arguments I made by way of illustration, drawing on the prospective flotation of the Irish Permanent Building Society. In terms of a Bill about conflict of interest, there is a world of difference between being a minority shareholder and a substantial or controlling one. There should be some provision in the system of registration to manifest this. If Deputy McDowell's party is successful in privatising water I could see myself buying some shares but I would not like to think that I would have any overriding interest as a result of being a 0.001 per cent shareholder.
The Minister could get over this by stating that interests worth less than £500 do not have to be declared. The Irish Permanent shares about which we spoke are worth about £300. To a certain extent Deputy Rabbitte has a point with regard to examples like the Irish Permanent. The Minister could easily get out of this by saying one does not have to declare interests under £500. I do not see why people must declare the monetary value of their interests in shares, businesses or whatever.
Will the Minister reply to these points?
The Minister has replied on two occasions.
This does not exactly create a precedent.
I think the Minister has replied clearly. She may want to clarify the matter again.
The approach we have taken is that interests below a threshold value will not be declared de minimus non curat lex. To use Deputy Rabbitte’s analogy, I could have a 1 per cent holding in IBM. If this was worth a few million pounds I would have a very healthy financial interest in the outcome of any dealing involving that company. On the other hand, I could have a 50 per cent holding in a company which is worth £50. Our approach is to take the cash value. If this value of a person’s holding is below a certain amount, it does not have to be declared. If it is above that threshold amount, it must be declared because any change in the value of the company as a whole is of financial interest to that person.
If I had 2,000 shares in Guinness or another public company I might have to declare that interest and I would appear on the register as having an interest in those shares. If I have a contingent interest in a large company as a result of its directors saying to me that if I pilot certain proposals through the House and make sure that my party supports them they will give me options on something else, will I have to declare this as a separate interest? Will I have to declare that my shares will be given a rights issue and that I have a separate interest in such a context? We are now flying on auto pilot. If I had a share in a shopping centre and this was well known and was also given a promise by my fellow directors that my share would increase substantially if I piloted and got my party to support measures in the House, would I have to state this separately?
I agree with the hypothesis put forward by Deputy McDowell that there would be a strong material interest——
If I declared a material interest——
——which obviously will not have a cash value.
Yes, but it is not an option, it is a promise.
There is nothing in the legislation to cover such an eventuality. That is the problem, is it not?
If I say that I have an interest in a large land rezoning in west County Dublin with a shopping centre in it, and that is on the register, what is relevant is whether the outcome is likely to materially enrich me. If I have a private arrangement whereby my wealth will be substantially increased by the decision, I am worried whether in that context one can effectively evade the Act by putting down a small interest, declaring that one owns x number of shares, while nobody will know that one also has a contingent interest which is vastly different and corrupt in nature.
The answer is no.
We should make haste slowly because this is important. I realise that Deputy Martin is impatient but we are talking about the registerable interests we will have to declare for however long we remain Members of the House. It is important that we get it right. Take the example that Deputy McDowell gave; there are some former employees of Guinness who are Members of the House and who may or may not have a few shares in the company arising from the workers' share scheme. As I understand the Minister's Bill now, they would appear on the register of interests along with somebody who has a significant interest in the future direction of the company and any legislation that might come before the House relating to it. Both parties would appear as having an interest in such a major private company even though one is of such a negligible nature as to be almost inconsequential.
I do not know if Deputy Martin made the argument seriously or not. However, if they had £50 worth of shares in the company and if some legislation goes through the House that causes the shareholding to be worth £60, if one is of such a mind, one might think it to be of some value.
It will not be £50. The £50 will not be on the register.
If one is in the league that Deputy McDowell posited then one would have an interest of a different order. There ought to be some provision to make that clear on the register, otherwise the register will be meaningless and not transparent. I am not bringing it to the absurd levels of £300 that Deputy Ryan suggested. I have not even thought about it, but obviously £300 would be ridiculous. £2,000 is the figure in the paragraph relating to the registerable interests section. Something like that may be acceptable but I do not know.
£2,000 is down there.
The only reason I am giving that example is because, as far as I know, that is what people were offered. You are the one who brought up the example of the Irish Permanent Building Society.
Only by way of example.
I am aware that it was an example, but the fact is that people were offered around £300. I am just giving the figure and saying that if it was under a certain amount, which I gather is in the Bill, it does not necessarily have to be registered. The purpose of this Bill is to register an interest, not necessarily to find out exactly the monetary value of it. I do not see why people should have to put down the monetary value of their interests. Once they declare an interest in something, and people know, then it is up to people to come to their own conclusions. That is what people want to see. They do not necessarily want to see exactly how much money people in political life have.
The limit in the Bill is £2,000, below which one does not have to declare. Deputy McDowell has given a number of examples and we could spend the next week going through all sorts of examples as to how people could evade the spirit of the law or the law itself. They could avoid having to abide by the legislation and behave in an unethical manner. No matter what legislation we end up with and no matter how precise it is, we are still largely dependent on the behaviour of Members, that they will be honest in filling in forms and declaring their interests. If certain Members want to be dishonest, then it is a function of the regulatory authorities and the House to find that out and punish them. A person owning land which may be subject to rezoning would first and foremost be a matter for the county council or the local authority.
Urban renewal might be closer to home.
The Deputy's legal experience has obviously given him greater insight into the potential for evasion in this Bill. God bless my naivety, but every second I am learning.
You are obviously not in the inner group.
I am learning quite a bit, I can tell you, from what has been said so far. Anyone who has land for example——
With 26 year old toilets.
If one declares ownership of land it is evident that one will benefit materially from any change in zoning without any secret deal with the co-directors or co-owners. Deputy McDowell said that someone may potentially enrich themselves further by some secret deal, but the bottom line is that it will be evident from the declaration of interests form that one will benefit significantly and materially from any rezoning or the passage of legislation that might affect the property one has or the business one is in.
We can go overboard in terms of thinking up lovely schemes by which people can behave in an unethical manner, but the Bill is about declaring one's interests. It is dependent ultimately on the good faith of all Members who enter the House and sign the forms.
The Bill is about creating confidence in the political system and removing any wrong perceptions of it. All the points have been made. Everyone agrees that it is not necessary to show the exact monetary value of a job, profession or even a shareholding. There is some merit in the amendment regarding shareholdings and land. Even if one does not have to show the exact value, could there be two or three categories of shareholding as there is a huge difference between a small shareholding and a major one. I would like to see categories so that people could ignore those who are shown as interested parties when their interest is meaningless.
I did not state that the purpose of the amendment was to find out exactly what Members of the House own or earn. The amendment does not say that at all. It seeks to excise subsection (2). I understood the Minister's original intervention meant that she would look at the business of thresholds, or categories as Deputy Ahern said. In doing so, this would deal with the point which Deputy McDowell raised about whether the Clerk of the Dáil may devise a form which would not meet with our approval. The amendment does not seek to find out what people earn or what their interests are, as Deputy Ryan said. I would like the Minister to take it on board, to think long and hard about it and to come back with a solution, rather than putting my amendment, which may be defeated.
Deputy Martin should reflect on the purpose of the amendment. We should examine the large private company and forget about building societies — I am almost sorry I mentioned them. If someone becomes involved in a large private company and, as a result of a progressive industrial relations environment in that company, he has a handful of shares in it, but someone else owns the company or is a substantial shareholder, they will both appear on the register of interests as having a similar interest in that company. That is absurd.
Would it not be evident that if someone owns a company that the person is the owner of the company?
Shares are owned by solicitors.
We had an example recently in this House where in answer in a parliamentary question someone argued that everybody "knew this fact". It took about a month of controversy to find out that this person had a 41 per cent shareholding. One cannot work on the basis of a discussion in the definition stage about direct knowledge. A number of people here now and in the past had an aura of being wealthier than they were and things were being imputed to them which may or may not have had any basis in reality. We are talking about precision, about making law and about devising a form where we are required to indicate our interests as defined by registrable interests in the Schedule to this Bill. There should be some distinction drawn — and I am going no further than that — between having a Mickey Mouse interest in land, shareholdings or private companies and having a substantial interest. I would like the Minister to address this point. We should not get bogged down in the details regarding the flotation of the Irish Permanent Building Society, which I am beginning to regret I mentioned.
As regards building societies, economists and Ministers for Finance want people to invest in the Stock Exchange and in Irish companies.
If someone invests £2,000 over a 20 year period, he should not have to pay capital gains tax if he has a shareholding in a company after five years. I raised this point in discussions about various budgets to try to get it changed. Many elderly people in Ireland have turned small investments over a 20 or 25 year period into a considerable shareholding in that company. Politicians who invested in a company may own a considerable amount of money on paper when they are 60 years of age. If this goes into the public domain or if this person has a shareholding worth £60,000 or £70,000, people may say he has large sums of money or ask how he bought those shares. The perception might be that this person has £60,000 or £70,000 worth of shares in a particular company. It should be enough to declare one's interest. It is a small investment if it is below £2000. If it is above that figure, one must declare an interest.
Everyone inside and outside this House knew that the person in the example Deputy Rabbitte gave owned or had a substantial shareholding in that company. It is ridiculous for Deputy Rabbitte to say it took us a month to find out that this person owned a certain number of shares in the company. Everyone, including Deputy Rabbitte and Deputy McDowell, knew this. If a prominent family is involved in a prominent company, people will know they have a large interest in it. It is enough to declare the interest.
At the beginning, Deputy Rabbitte did not seem to have support for this amendment. However, as the discussions advanced and his attitude became clearer, the support increased. It is not possible to cover every eventuality. We can be too intrusive and people's curiosity is tremendous in certain circumstances, but we are not in the business of satisfying it. Deputy Rabbitte said he was sorry he introduced the issue of shares in the Irish Permanent Building Society. I will illustrate how every eventuality cannot be covered. Supposing I do not have any shares in a building society, but I am aware that an old acquaintance, either a distant relative or a former girlfriend, has made a will so that when she kicks the bucket I will be the recipient of a considerable number of shares in the Irish Permanent Building Society, when a measure comes before the House I will vote according to my self interest in anticipation of this old doll dying. We cannot cover all eventualities.
The central point Deputy Rabbitte is making is that there should be a distinction between significant and small shareholding. I accept this point. The Minister said she will look at it. I hope she now appreciates that it has more importance than I and perhaps she originally thought. I support this point and I hope the Minister will also.
None of us want disclosure of amounts. Deputy Rabbitte now wants a system where for example, if one has £3,000 worth of shares, that should not be confused with having £3 million worth of shares. That is a reasonable point. I am advised it is possible to cover that on the basis of voluntary declaration. We can look at this point again.
I despair of that reply. I have serious doubts about why we are here. I have no regard for voluntary declaration. What is the point in passing this Bill if it is to be on the basis of a voluntary declaration? We spent late hours in the summer debating this Bill and now we will spend days debating it when there are approximately three loopholes in it which allows anyone with a tither of wit deserving of getting them into this House, to evade their responsibilities. As Deputy Currie said, I do not care what thresholds the Minister agrees to or if she accepts Deputy Ahern's suggestion but there is a big difference between being a negligible shareholder and having a major shareholding and between a minority or a substantial interest. Deputy Ryan continues to come back to the point that I am seeking to establish the extent of shareholding, but that is not what I am arguing for. Whether we say the threshold is 5,000, 10,000 or 6,000,000 above that, I am not seeking to establish what the extent is. However, I am saying that a distinction ought to be drawn between minor and major.
Notwithstanding all of the eventualities which we can envisage, that is a sensible point of principle. It ought to be possible to require the clerk by law to provide for it. What in heaven's name is the merit of a voluntary declaration? Presumably, the very person who would have an interest in not declaring is the person who would not make the voluntary declaration and he is not breaking the law.
One might as well propose the establishment of a sodality in these Houses.
It is either treating the amendment with contempt or the Minister is not serious and does not understand it. Quite frankly, I am annoyed about it.
If there was a situation where a person in Government or on the backbenches received some information, speculated with it on the Stock Exchange and then sold the shares within that time period, would they have to declare that interest or that they did this?
Under the Second Schedule, there is a general catch-all provision for any other material interest. This would cover the situation described by Deputy Ryan and situations such as those outlined by Deputy McDowell earlier. If there is a material interest it is covered.
In general, I understand Deputy Rabbitte's point in terms of categorising or differentiating between what constitutes a substantial interest or a negligible minor interest. However, that can be a hard definition to make. It is valid to state that £50,000 could mean much to one person whereas £200,000 would not have the same degree of value to another, depending on the means of both people. It is hard to define interest in specific monetary terms. There are many other variables which must come into play. Nevertheless, I take Deputy Noel Ahern's point that perhaps there could be a category A or category B, but that would involve more legislation and definitions. It is possible that we would then discover more loopholes.
The amendment seeks to delete an item from the Bill without replacing it with something that is defined and clearcut. It was only as we debated the issue that Members began to come up with alternatives to what is in place. I made the point that certain people are very mean and would anything to gain. Irrespective of the amounts involved, they would see it as in their interest to pursue certain legislation, even it only improved their lot meagrely. This is a possibility and it brings into focus the degree to which we can control human behaviour by legislative means. We cannot do it in an absolute fashion and we should bear this in mind in the context of this Bill and other similar legislation. If people wish to behave unethically, they will find means to do so. However, we must try to insert as much control and regulation as possible. The Bill makes a fair effort in that regard. It calls for the declaration of interest and so forth.
The Minister has undertaken to examine the position in the context of Report Stage. In terms of those seeking alternatives to the existing situation, it may be that we come up with further room for debate and an increasing number of examples or illustrations of more loopholes and potential for evasion. At least on fundamental issues, one must declare one's interest in a given property, shares or whatever. This is a good starting point.
This subsection goes to the core of the Bill. As it is framed at present, it negatives the expressed intent of the Bill. My position is clear. The Bill is an unnecessary load of codswallop. Most people involved in politics suffer financial loss as a result. Trying to pander to a strand of public comment which suggests otherwise does nothing for the profession of politics.
However, if we are to have a Bill, we should have one which is effective. The Bill has gone through Second Stage in the Dáil and it is the expressed wish of the majority of the Dáil to have it. Those who promoted it did no service to politics. It is pandering to a section of the public which does not have a full appreciation of——
It is a fig leaf for the Labour Party.
My colleague, Deputy Currie, has summed up the position. Now that the Bill has the support of the majority in the Dáil, it should at least be effective. If we are to have a statement of interests by Members, I do not see how it can be in any way relevant unless the amount or monetary value of interests is expressed in it. I appreciate there are difficulties about valuation, and that the value of stocks and shares may change from day to day. However, one can have an approximate value on the date of making the statement. That will ensure one of the many loopholes in the Bill will be closed.
As it stands — I say this as somebody who has been involved in politics for a long time and as a lawyer — one could drive a coach and four through this Bill. As we are discussing it on Committee Stage we must ensure that at least one obvious loophole is closed. If the Government parties are interested in producing a Bill which is even partly effective, then this amendment must be accepted.
I do not accept that there is a loophole or a gap in this Bill. If someone has registrable interests above the threshold amounts, they will be legally obliged to declare them under this Bill. There are sanctions for nondeclaration. The Bill is clear in this regard. Deputy Rabbitte made a case for banding and I regret that he misinterpreted what I said earlier. I am prepared to look at the case for banding, although there are practical problems, which Deputy Martin alluded to. However, I will return to this on Report Stage.
I do not believe any Member has any objection to declaring interests in companies, directorships, ownership of land, etc. However, the kernel of the matter is in the financial arena and that is my only reservation. On disclosing of any interest which an individual may have, if I understood Deputy Rabbitte correctly, he wants us to declare if we have £5 in the prize bonds. He is scraping the barrel in that regard.
The House was the poorer of the short time which Deputy Connolly was absent. However, I assure him that I was not seeking declaration of the——
Deputy Rabbitte is a national lottery man.
——little interest on a £5 prize bond nor, I repeat for the umpteenth time, did I seek any precision in terms of monetary amounts or anything like that. I simply sought to draw a broad distinction between the requirement imposed on Members to declare whether the interests they are expressing are substantial or major interests or minor or insignificant ones.
How can Deputy Rabbitte define that? It is indefinable because land today might be worth more than it was years ago or shares might have collapsed.
Two methods were suggested during the course of the debate which are not exclusive. Deputy Ahern argued for categorisation, or what the Minister described as banding, while the Minister introduced the notion of thresholds being established.
Is Deputy Rabbitte talking about a grade A and a grade B Dáil Member? One grade to apply to him and another to others.
In Deputy Connolly's absence I made the point — I was bold enough to suggest that he would not mind — that it would be wrong for Deputy Connolly and I, whatever about the categorisation of Dáil Deputies as A and B which I would not agree with, to appear on the Dáil register as Members of similar interests and standing. It would be a grave injustice to Deputy Connolly.
It would be a grave injustice to Deputy Rabbitte also because I see a bright future for him down the road.
I do not underestimate Deputy Rabbitte in any way and many would agree with me.
With all due respect, Deputy Connolly, today is the day for dealing with the Bill and not for a side show. Anything you have to say to Deputy Rabbitte may be said in another place with the same amount of jest. Is amendment No. 15 being pressed?
As Deputy Martin said, we have come a long way on this. If the Minister is saying that she will take on board on Report Stage the idea I tried to promote all morning, I will not press the amendment. However, that is a different position from the one she took initially when she took on board specifically the matters I raised in respect of building societies, for example. I am making a general point of principle which would apply to buildings societies or any other expressed interests. Having regard to the fact we are talking about a potential conflict of interest, it is sensible that some distinction should be draw between a Member of this House in Cabinet office, for example, who would have a major interest in a decision which he or one of his or her Cabinet colleagues is about to make or somebody with a negligible or inconsequential one. Otherwise it is not meaningful. The Minister seems to be saying that she will use her expertise, and that available to her, to frame an amendment. Deputy Martin's objection seems to be based on the fact that I am excising a subsection and not putting anything in its place. That is a fair criticism. I did not seek to put anything in its place nor do I seek to establish specific monetary amounts.
We could have many arguments about £50,000 meaning something different to two people and so on. However, money is one of the objective yardsticks in the society in which we operate. That is definite and common to all. Some people bring a different attitude to bear on that by not buying their round, by going through the Members restaurant picking up a chip here and vegetables somewhere elsewhere but that provides for vagaries of human nature which are not intended here. Money is an objective yardstick of measurement in this society——
It is perceived as such.
——and it is perceived as such. With all due respect to Deputy Martin, and his holiday reading of Silas Marner, I do not believe there is anything in that book which changes my attitude in that regard. If the Minister is saying that she will come back with something on Report Stage, I will accept that.
I would like to put two questions to the Minister which may affect my thinking in relation to this and other clauses in the Bill. May I raise them now?
The Deputy must decide if they are relevant to this section.
They are relevant because Part II, section 5, deals with Members. It has been made clear by the Minister, and the Government, that the Ethics in Public Office Bill does not stand alone. It is one of a number of measures designed to improve the standing of Members of this House among the public and to ensure that certain standards are maintained in public office. We were told that an electoral Bill would be introduced quickly. The Taoiseach said that the electoral Bill, which will cover such issues as election donations and curtailment of expenses during elections, would be introduced in tandem with this Bill. On 21 July the Minister told the committee that the legislation was substantially completed and would be ready before September. It is now September and our attitude to the ethics Bill will be largely determined by the content of the electoral Bill. What is the present situation in relation to that Bill? Will we discuss the electoral Bill — which I hope I will be able to support — before we complete our discussions on this Bill?
I thought that the Minister might have introduced more amendments today in the aftermath of the report of the beef tribunal and——
The beef tribunal is not relevant to this committee's business.
It is relevant.
It is not.
The Government made it clear that one of the reasons for the introduction of this Bill was the number of abuses highlighted by the beef tribunal.
We had three days of debate on the beef tribunal. I will not allow it to be debated in the context of this Bill. This is the Deputy's attempt to see how much latitude I will allow him. The question is: "That section 5, as amended, stand part of the Bill".
Are no ethical lessons to be learned from the debate on the beef tribunal?
Deputy Currie's question is reasonable. Can the Minister inform us of the latest position regarding the electoral Bill? The Taoiseach promised the House on a number of occasions and the Minister promised this committee on 21 July that we would be able to judge this Bill in the context of the electoral reform Bill and that they could be discussed in tandem. We are proceeding with this Bill but we still do not know the content of the electoral reform Bill.
It might have been a reasonable question if the Deputy had sent a note to the Minister two or three days ago informing her that he wished to raise it today. The Minister might have found out what the position is with regard to the introduction of the electoral Bill.
I can understand that the Minister might not know because the electoral reform Bill is a matter for the Minister for the Environment. I accept that the Minister might not be able to answer my question until tomorrow. However, my question is relevant. It was raised on 21 July.
It is not appropriate——
There is no need for Deputy Martin to join our colleagues in trying to confuse and delay the passage of this Bill. I am aware that the question was raised in the House on numerous occasions.
It was raised on 21 July.
This committee must deal with this Bill. The Minister can ask the Whips when the electoral reform Bill will be introduced and that information can be conveyed to Deputies at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Minister might have the answer.
If the Minister already had the answer she would have intervened and told the Deputy so.
Perhaps, Chairman, you did not give her an opportunity to intervene.
Perhaps the Deputy did not give me an opportunity to deal with this section of the Bill.
I gave the Chairman notice this morning that I wished to ask a couple of questions. I have waited until now. This appeared to be an appropriate time to raise these questions.
The first I knew that the Deputy wished to raise questions was when he raised them at the end of our discussion of section 5.
I said it first thing this morning.
The Chairman's memory is faulty. Deputy Currie's first intervention was made to indicate that he wished to raise two matters. The Chairman told him that he would have to wait until the section was being discussed.
That occurred during our discussion of an earlier section. At the conclusion of the section the Deputy did not raise the matters. It was during discussion of amendment No. 13 to section 3. It was not on section 5. Deputy Currie did not raise his question at the conclusion of our discussion of section 3, so we continued to the next business.
Is it the right of every Member of this committee to raise questions at any juncture on Committee Stage and debate them? Surely our purpose is to debate the legislation. We cannot continue like this. We could have a lengthy debate such as occurred at the beginning of our meeting. This is crazy.
That is my point. We could have several hours of debate on something outside our control.
If the Chairman had allowed me to make my point we would have concluded it by now and continued our business. Did no ethical considerations arise during the debate on the beef tribunal report that would require the Minister to give greater consideration to elements of this Bill?
I am sure if the Minister felt that issues had arisen as a result of the beef tribunal report which should be dealt with in this Bill she would deal with them on Report Stage.
If that is the case the Minister should say so. I am sure she does not rely on the Chairman to do so.
I do not expect the Minister to rely on me. The Deputy is long enough a Member of this House to know how the House works. No further amendments were proposed by either the Government or other Members since this committee last met. If amendments were considered necessary they would have been submitted either by Opposition spokespersons or by the Minister.
That is the system.
I attended this meeting today half expecting that the Minister would have introduced amendments. In the course of her speech on the beef tribunal report the Minister was extremely critical of what had happened in Government. What happened was, in my opinion, unethical. If this is an ethics Bill those matters should have been dealt with.
Deputy Martin sought to give the impression that Deputy Currie was raising a matter that is extraneous to this debate.
I do not think that was meant to be——
I am referring to the electoral reform Bill.
I was asking about procedure.
Yes. However, it is important to acknowledge that the electoral reform Bill was to be discussed in tandem with this Bill.
I know. We debated that for one or two hours during our first meeting on this Bill. My question is whether I can, during discussion of, for example, Deputy Rabbitte's amendment, raise a general issue regarding the Bill. We will never get through our business expeditiously in that manner.
It is difficult to judge some sections of this Bill in the absence of the electoral reform Bill.
We should deal with the whole section.
Where it is felt that the electoral reform Bill would be relevant to certain sections, it can be raised by Members on the relevant section.
What is the relevant section?
It is up to the Deputy to decide that.
I thought that a section which referred to Members' interests and a register of those interests was the appropriate place to raise this matter.