Dáil Éireann - Volume 425 - 16 December, 1992

Finance (No. 2) Bill 1992: Committee and Final Stages.

SECTION 1.

Question proposed: “That section 1 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Can the Minister tell us how this section will work out in practice?

Minister for Finance (Mr. B. Ahern): Should IFC companies find themselves in difficulty operating double taxation agreements or the certificates under which they operate they would have to renegotiate with the Department of Finance so that a higher rate of tax is charged. Some of the bigger IFC companies have found themselves in difficulty and were not trying to defraud the Exchequer. We are talking here about significant international companies. For instance, I am aware, as Deputy De Rossa said, that some German companies have found themselves in difficulty in relation to DTA agreements but they were not the only ones. French and Danish companies have also found themselves in difficulty for differing reasons.

To answer Deputy Noonan's question, should they, for any reason find themselves in difficulty they would have to make their case to the Department which would then amend or take back the certificate or enter into new arrangements [303] with the company. We have discussed the difficulties the German companies found themselves in with the European Commission and the German authorities as it is my view, given that we have received the approval of the European Commission for the special 10 per cent rate, that the Department could not make a private deal with a company without seeking the sanction of the European Commission and without there being a clear understanding with the member state; otherwise we could discredit the centre very quickly and it could be associated with the title “brass plate”.

In each case the company concerned would have to make its presentation to the Department which would have to be satisfied that it complies with the terms of this section and the relevant legislation in relation to the certification of IFC companies — a separate section in the Department deals with this matter — and is in line with Community law before it gives the company what, presumably, would be a higher tax rate.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Would this be a matter for the Department or for the Department in consultation with the Revenue Commissioners.

Mr. B. Ahern: The Minister signs every certificate for IFC companies. The Department of Finance will consult with the Revenue Commissioners but each time an amendment is made, or if a certificate is cancelled the certificate will have to be signed by the Minister.

Ms Burton: Would this give rise to a tax liability or to a tax payment?

Mr. B. Ahern: In each case it would have given rise to a tax liability.

Ms Burton: But not to a payment?

Mr. B. Ahern: Not necessarily, but for some companies it will give rise to an increased liability in respect of corporation tax.

[304] Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): As the Minister is aware, a large number of independent management companies operate under one licence or certificate to use his own term. If one of these management companies operating under the general certificate finds itself in these circumstances, how would this matter be dealt with? Would only the certificate holder be able to go to the Minister?

Mr. B. Ahern: As Deputy Noonan has signalled, some companies hold a number of certificates, but this measure would apply only to companies with a special investment certificate; it would not apply to other companies.

Ms Burton: I would ask the Minister again about the question of liability as opposed to payment. In some countries there is a clear move to ensure that the corporate sector has minimum tax payments as opposed to liabilities. Is the Minister confident that this scheme will work?

Mr. B. Ahern: As I said earlier, what is involved is a liability which should lead to a payment, and I do not think there is any way out of that. Companies in other countries are obliged, by DTAs or other such agreements, to pay, say, 20 per cent, which would lead to a tax liability. I cannot see how these companies could dodge payment. Corporation tax liability would be increased.

Ms Burton: Is this an arrangement whereby companies might have a technical liability which they might not their accounts but which they might not pay for a considerable period of time, if ever?

Mr. B. Ahern: No. I can assure the House that if a company has a special investment certificate which indicates that the tax rate is 20 per cent rather than 10 per cent, there would be a tax liability of 20 per cent and the payment would be due at 20 per cent. There is no way the company could carry the liability and just [305] leave it in the books. It would have to be transparent; it would be an increased liability.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Is it not the intention of the section that there would be a lessening of the tax burden on the Irish subsidiary and its foreign parent company?

Mr. B. Ahern: No.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): The explanatory memorandum states that in certain circumstances the giving of tax relief to a company in Ireland could result in an increase in the overall tax burden, including foreign tax, on the company or its parent such that the company would be unable to continue to trade in the State. Is it therefore not the intention of the section to put in a measure which is in ease of the company in its totality rather than to penalise it by an extra tax take?

Mr. B. Ahern: That is not the case. The German argument is that the Irish rate for International Financial Services Centre companies is too low. What we are doing is increasing the rate of the Irish company. In the DTA agreements with Germany, it would tax these companies on its own basis. This measure is a concession to enable companies to continue in business. From our point of view the corporation tax yield will be greater. That is the reason this system will have to be monitored. As the Danish Minister said, if this concession is not sparingly and carefully given people would believe, as Deputy Burton has said, that companies could pay a tax rate of 15 or 20 per cent in Ireland and operate in whatever way they wished. Every case would have to be carefully monitored. Prior to the election I considered this matter very carefully and only a handful of companies are entitled to special investment certificates.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): It is basically a win-win arrangement — the Irish Exchequer gets more tax and the company in its totality gets the benefit. Win-win [306] arrangements under double taxation agreements are always a little suspect.

Mr. B. Ahern: As Deputy Noonan said earlier, one can see what is happening in Europe in relation to the movement of savings and money. At times we are angels in this respect; certainly our system is a tight one compared to that in other countries.

Mr. M. McDowell: Would it be unduly cynical to suggest that there is a risk that some day an Irish Minister for Finance may ring his opposite number in Germany and say “will you apply a little pressure on me in this matter and I will raise the tax rates in the International Financial Services Centre?”

Question put and agreed to.

Section 2 agreed to.

SECTION 3.

Question proposed: “That section 3 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Ferris: Will the Minister say what is the expected loss to the Exchequer as a result of these minor amendments to deposit interest retention tax, which are obligatory and which were signalled by the Minister and his Department during the year?

Mr. B. Ahern: As mentioned earlier this morning, it was £50 million loss and £40 million cash flow. These amendments relate to some issues that have been brought to light. As Deputy McDowell and Deputy Noonan mentioned earlier, as we proceed we will probably need to make more amendments in this area. The question was raised earlier as to the changed circumstances and how we would deal with some of the changes on an ongoing basis. As accountancy and banking groups raise questions we try to deal with them in the Department. The question of pension funds and insurance investments has been raised but this is not a matter that has caused a major [307] problem yet. As Deputy Noonan said, the attractions that originally existed when we discussed this matter in great detail in May may not be there now, but they may arise in the future. The system will have to be monitored carefully. These amendments relate to loopholes that have arisen and I have no doubt that this will continue to be a feature of Finance Bills in the years ahead.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Has it been suggested that arrangements are being made by some Irish banks to open Irish pound accounts in their cross-Border and UK branches whereby the deposit would be in Irish pounds and the interest rates applying would be domestic interest rates, yet there would be no tax liability because they would be foreign accounts for the purpose of British legislation? Is this practice widespread? This is clearly an evasion.

Mr. B. Ahern: This practice has been brought to the notice of the Department. It is carried on legally and that is the reason we have 10 per cent accounts. In my earlier months as Minister for Finance the banking groups suggested that if we did not bring in a deposit interest retention tax arrangement of 10 per cent they would be advertising on hoardings that this is what people would do. This practice is going on but to what extent we do not know. However, we are making arrangements to deal with that matter.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I have always debated these matters on the basis that money would move out of the country and into UK accounts and that, effectively, they would be sterling accounts to which sterling interest rates would apply. It has been brought to my attention now that if a person has an IR£ account in Newry the rate of interest in the Republic will apply; yet because it is an account of an Irish citizen in another jurisdiction British deposit interest retention tax will not apply.

[308] Mr. Ferris: The sooner we do away with the Border, the better.

Mr. B. Ahern: The Deputy is correct in that the banks can and will do that. That is part of capital liberalisation.

Mr. M. McDowell: Arising out of section 3 (b), in the case of the justifiable concern to close down back-to-back arrangements which artificially inflate interest subject to special relief, there is a definite danger that these accounts may become unattractive because, on many occasions, people use deposit accounts as collateral for other borrowings. If a person has a sum of money deposited in one account and needs to borrow more money he will be asked to back one up against the other by the bank or to provide security interest for the bank. I do not know what can be done to resolve this problem but whatever formula the Minister proposes should not exclude people using these accounts as security for other borrowings and sub-paragraph (aaa) is somewhat restrictive in that regard.

Mrs. Doyle: What proposals may we expect from the Minister, or from another Minister for Finance early in the new year to rectify the present imbalance in terms of the attractiveness of the risk free deposit accounts and the urgent need for more productive investment to try to create jobs? Could we have an indication from the Minister that he considers this an urgent problem that needs to be rectified?

Mr. B. Ahern: That was dealt with in the White Paper published in November last and I agree that it is an urgent problem.

I will examine the point raised by Deputy Michael McDowell. We have gone to great lengths to try to make such an account as attractive as possible and its operation as simple as possible and at the same time to fulfil the criteria in regard to capital liberalisation. In regard to Deputy Noonan's concern, I am fearful of how people can operate different [309] methods of saving not just here but elsewhere. It is big business and is similar to some of the difficulties experienced in regard to exchange controls. In a European context one must consider the amount of money tied into savings accounts, the number of people involved the numbers involved in the exchange market and the difficulties a single currency could have for many industries. During the past year I met many groups who have been affected in one way or another by border controls and who will not make the same mistakes again. I am sure that during the election campaign every Deputy met people whose lives have been altered because of the currency changes and I am sure Deputy Doyle is well aware of that.

Mrs. Doyle: I assure the Minister that I will deal with that point in the debate on Part 11.

Mr. B. Ahern: As Minister for Finance I had to deal with many problems of customs controls. For example, one must consider what it would mean for many groups if in 1997, five years from today, a Minister for Finance stood up here and said that the single currency will be effective from 1 January 1998. That is why many groups and bodies will be examining various methods of saving and this will be a major part of the ongoing debate on Maastricht.

In response to Deputy Doyle, the special investment accounts will have a tax rate of 10 per cent, provided that a percentage of that is invested in Irish equities. The rate of 40 per cent will apply for the first year, rising to 55 per cent in the fourth year and a percentage will also be invested in smaller companies, rising from 6 per cent to 15 per cent. A special tax incentive will also apply to venture capital. The companies involved wanted a straight rate of 10 per cent on parity. It was because of the logic of DIRT accounts and because the money was kept in Ireland as distinct from elsewhere that it was fair that there should be a quid pro quo, not just on equities but on seed capital for smaller companies. Regardless [310] of what rates or incentives applied to Irish equities over the past few months it would have been difficult to stimulate much activity, but one does not legislate for extraordinary times. I am sure none of us believes that these times will always exist, at least we hope not.

I do not believe that the rate of 40 per cent in the first year is unfair when one considers the figures in regard to pensions, insurance and so on. I do not wish to pick any one section for fear of upsetting the industry. There must be a correlation between the incentives of tax breaks to entice people to at least keep a proportion of money in Irish equities and the help we give small companies. The companies would prefer if they had total freedom in this regard. However, people involved in companies, such as board members, have been very supportive of these proposals. I accept that these are not normal times and I will supply the Deputy with full details of this measure.

Miss Burton: Will the Minister enlighten us further in relation to investment in Irish equities? I welcome the fact that he is trying to achieve a stipulation that there will be some investment in Irish equities but there was reference in the White Paper to a minimum percentage of total investment in smaller Irish companies with the market capitalisation of less than £100 million. Is that the total investment or is it per Irish company? A company worth £100 million would be a fairly large company in our terms. Without labouring the point, the core of the problem is that it is simply too attractive in Ireland to invest in property and make risk free investments as opposed to making job related investments. If the purpose is to try to target investment in job growth areas it is a very restrictive stipulation. Will the Minister expand in relation to the smaller Irish companies?

Mr. B. Ahern: There are only about 12 companies in the Irish Stock Exchange which are worth more than £100 million and they are the companies in which the [311] institutions primarily wish to invest. We are trying to discourage the traditional practice of investing in CRH, Smurfits and the banks and to encourage them to invest in firms worth under £100 million.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Will they be publicly quoted?

Mr. B. Ahern: They do not have to be publicly quoted.

Mr. Ferris: Will semi-State companies be involved?

Mr. B. Ahern: No, we are talking about private companies.

Ms Burton: Is there a stipulation that the investment of those companies should remain in Ireland because it seems obvious that, while you can direct an investment towards a particular Irish company, the company in question is free to invest abroad? I know it is a difficult question for the Minister to answer but it is the core of this whole question of investing for growth as opposed to investing for a safe return.

Mr. B. Ahern: My proposal did not stipulate it but the intention is clear. In fairness to some of the companies, in a recent Act — Deputy Noonan probably remembers the details as he dealt with it — there was a concession in relation to bringing money earned abroad back into this country. That system works and considerable resources have been brought into this country, it would be unfair to stipulate otherwise.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 4.

Question proposed: “That section 4 stand part of the Bill”.

Mrs. Doyle: I wish to raise a matter to which the Minister alluded pertaining to [312] Part II of the Bill. Perhaps the Chair would prefer me to raise it later, I will be guided by you. The Minister stated that Part II dealt with customs and excise measures arising from the completion of the Single Internal Market which, as we know, must be in place by 1 January 1993. I had hoped that the Minister would have made provision for an aspect of this measure, if he had, it would have been in this Part or in Chapter II. I should like guidance in regard to this matter. What does the Minister intend to do for the customs clearance and freight forwarders who have been displaced from their employment by the completion of the Single Internal Market? The Minister knows that over 1,000 people will be made redundant from 1 January 1993; they will not even be phased out. What precise plans have the Minister and the Department of Finance to compensate, relocate or retain these people? If we created an industry which employed 1,000 people there would be banner headlines in the newspapers and it would be the first item of news on television and radio. These people will be out of work and will have very little chance of redeployment.

Acting Chairman (Mr. T. Foxe): Perhaps the Deputy may wish to raise this matter on a more appropriate section.

Mrs. Doyle: I will be guided by you. Which section do you suggest?

Acting Chairman: Section 4 is merely a definition section.

Mrs. Doyle: That is why I raised the matter at this point. I am merely speaking to Chapter I as distinct from the section. Perhaps you will allow a little latitude in relation to this matter because we were curtailed on Second Stage and the Ceann Comhairle indicated that he would be reasonable in this regard on Committee Stage.

Acting Chairman: Very well.

Mrs. Doyle: Thank you. We need to [313] know the precise measures which the Minister intends to implement to ensure that these 1,000 people in Rosslare Harbour, along the Border and in Cork and Dublin, where the authorities will have totally changed functions because of our compliance with the Single Internal Market, will be looked after. I understand that the Minister has powers to draw down moneys from Europe and that he has been in contact with Madame Scrivener in relation to compensation. When our farmers had to reduce production and quotas were introduced compensation measures were put in place — they are part of the private sector. When the steel industry throughout Europe over the last 20 years was displaced compensation measures were put in place; the same applied to the car manufacturing industry in certain countries. This is a recognised procedure within the Community. For some reason, only a fortnight before 1 January, after a year's negotiation in this country and two or three years' negotiation in other countries, we still do not seem to have a programme of compensation or redeployment in place for these 1,000 workers who are critical to our economy. I do not have to remind the House that we cannot afford another 1,000 people joining the dole queues. We need to hear precise, specific measures and detailed plans from the Minister in regard to what he and his Department intend to do for these 1,000 people who will be displaced.

Mr. Ferris: I should like agreement to deal with Chapter I because Part II deals with the point raised about the future of our customs and excise officers. We could also deal with the implications of the vehicle registration tax which is also mentioned in this Chapter. I know that each section must be agreed separately but I should like to deal with the point raised by Deputy Doyle. We are very concerned about these officers who have acquired special expertise over the years. I understand that section 15 addresses this problem in a particular way.

Acting Chairman: If the House agrees [314] we may have a general debate on the Chapter.

Mr. Ferris: It would be satisfactory if the Minister was allowed to reply to the points made.

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Ferris: Therefore, I will speak on section 15 because I want to refer to the vehicle registration tax. The common borders will be in place on 1 January and I have already seen documentation from other countries outlining the changes. There will not be green or red channels through which people must pass at customs but they are retaining the right to have on the spot checks at customs offices and throughout the country. This is because we must be vigilant in relation to terrorism, the movement of illicit drugs, video nasties and all the other items specified in previous legislation.

I might add that Deputy Noonan was involved in the passage of earlier legislation that laid down specific roles for Customs and Excise and Revenue officers outside their normal jurisdiction and which if we did not enact would have meant we would have encountered difficulty in that the Garda would not have been in a position to apply the legal rules and regulations. The provisions of section 15 constitutes a move towards the elimination of that dilemma all of us will face on 1 January next. There are many other roles available to these officers who will have been expertly trained over many years. I contend that these provisions will also protect the tax base in some way where the common good is at stake.

I have a few specific queries to put to the Minister in regard to the vehicle registration tax along with a few inquiries made of me by constituents. Of course it has to be said that, whenever changes are effected in this area, there will always be special cases advanced. As my colleague Deputy Burton said, although everybody expressed disappointment they were aware that the State, in this move to a [315] free market on 1 January next, could not ensure that everything would be cheaper on the basis that customs and excise duties and VAT rates would be harmonised within the EC under the provisions of the Single European Act. I think Gay Byrne was the last person to realise that this does not mean there will be free lunches generally available to people.

If the tax base was to be protected some alternative instrument had to be put in place, which is the vehicle registration tax. In recent months, in the knowledge that the position will change from 1 January next, Irish people working abroad who had purchased a car abroad — which they had brought home under the six months regime which allowed them do so — are faced with the decision of leaving the car at home altogether. They will already have notified Customs and Excise that they were bringing the car into the country and intended to retain it here for six months under the old regime. But if they decide to retain the car here indefinitely it will have to be re-registered in Ireland. Having imported that car the question arises whether they will be faced with paying import duty in addition to the new vehicle registration tax, or whether they will have to pay one or the other only. Will there be options open to them or will they have to export such cars before importing them again? I was unable to answer constituents' inquiries as to what was the correct procedure in such circumstances. Those cars are at present in Ireland where I hope my constituents will be able to retain them and have them registered, in respect of which there will be a fee to be paid. The question arises: will they be given retrospective clearance by Customs and Excise officers so that they can pay this vehicle registration tax or, if given the option, will they be enabled to pay the Customs and Excise import duty and register the car under the procedures practised heretofore?

As the present acting, temporary, resigned Minister for Finance, can the Minister tell me whether we can eliminate [316] the anomaly that has arisen vis-àvis vehicle registration. I will cite for the Minister my experience. It is said at the bottom of vehicle registration booklets issued by relevant local authorities that the name appearing on the registration book is not proof of ownership of the vehicle. May I take the Minister back into the car hire and sales business, to the case of a particular company at present before the courts which I am prohibited from mentioning because the matter is sub judice. That company had a car registered in their name as a demonstration model. Unfortunately, I purchased that vehicle in good faith from a bona fide dealer in whose name the vehicle was registered. I traded in my previous car, paid the price difference, had the vehicle registered in my name, thinking all was in order. Then some four, five or six months later the company from whom I had purchased the car was discovered to be defective, having three or four different financial arrangements for many cars, including the one I had purchased. Had I acquired that car on a hire purchase or other financial arrangement — since there is a facility available to hire purchase companies and to the motor industry — since my car was already the subject of a hire purchase agreement it would have featured in a bureau which would have revealed that it was already the subject of an unredeemed hire purchase arrangement, thereby prohibiting me from entering into such agreement. As the bona fide purchaser of a car from a main motor dealer how was I to know they had already traded that car, without having changed the registration book, to two different owners, one a finance company, the other a bank and, finally, a selfdrive subsidiary company of theirs? I am now being told by the finance company, one of the most reputable nationwide: “that is our car you have there”.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): The Deputy needs to go to a good TD.

Mr. Ferris: But for the fact that I am a public representative the company might well have taken the car from me already. [317] Initially I was told I would be covered under the hire purchase arrangement already obtaining but I find I am not because I was unaware that they had re-traded the car several times without changing the registration book. This is the reason I am raising the matter under this section. I contend we shall have to address the legality of the vehicle registration book so that people will be unable to register a car in their name unless they can prove ownership. This step should be taken to protect people henceforth who purchase a vehicle in good faith from an otherwise reputable dealer. In my case the vehicle was not the property of the garage to sell to me in the first place because it had already been hawked through three or four different finance companies. I can give the Minister the relevant evidence. The company are quoting legal precedents beyond the jurisdiction when people sold cars they had stolen, or people who had bought vehicles on the strength of hire purchase agreements, resprayed them and sold them on, when the law was found to be on the side of the person who had sold the car the purchaser apparently having no protection. It seems the motor industry is protected in this respect, whereas the ordinary citizen — unaware that the product they were buying was not a legitimate one — is not so protected.

We must address that anomaly relation to the vehicle registration book. I do not know what day of the week these people may come and endeavour to take my car from me, for which I have paid, having traded in my previous one to do so. There is a lesson to be learned by everybody from that experience.

We might also examine the anomaly that will arise under the same system when, occasioned by the demand from the Irish tourist industry — not met in peak periods this year but which I hope will be with a good tourist season next year — car hire companies in Britain may have a car in this country temporarily for the purpose of hiring by tourists, especially if such car hire companies have links with other European car rental companies. [318] Will the Minister say what provision will be made for the temporary importation of vehicles here to be used by tourists, being returned to the home base, because I presume they will bear the registration of another country while here.

I hope my experience will serve as an example of the types of difficulties that can be encountered in this area. Having paid for a vehicle, having traded in another, one can finish up without anything, except a demand from a bank to whom one owes nothing, who come looking for their debt in accordance with some obscure law. This was my only opportunity to raise this matter with the Minister. I wanted to do so before the end of the year because I do not know what will be the decision of the courts in the early months of 1993.

Mrs. Doyle: May I indicate that the case I was making was specifically for the customs clearance and freight forwarders, part of the private sector, in Rosslare Harbour — if I may be excused for being parochial for a moment — where the Customs and Excise officials are being absorbed into the vehicle registration tax office to be located there. There could still be a problem encountered in relation to Customs and Excise officials along the Border in other areas with which I am not familiar. Perhaps it was to that Deputy Ferris was referring.

We might now distinguish clearly between the difficulties encountered in the private sector, on the completion of the internal market, and those encountered in the public sector. Quite obviously, the responsibility of the State to the public sector is at a slightly different level from that to the private sector, even though I contend they have an absolute responsibility to the private sector as well, who are being displaced for the greater good of us all, if you like, to ensure that the Community works as intended.

May I add to the catalogue of individual problems which have just been raised by the Deputy on the Labour benches? In my county there is a very [319] vexed case of a priest who was located in Northern Ireland for two or three years and who has now been sent to Rome for two years. When he left the North he left his two-year-old car with his father at the family home in Wexford rather than bringing it to Rome where he would not need it. He is now being asked to pay higher rates of excise duty to have the car registered in the Republic, even though it is a two-year-old car. The man is being treated as if he were a criminal. He is being forced to come back from Rome to appear in person before the Customs and Excise people in Wexford in order to register the car. In the meantime nothing can be done with it. There appears to be a great deal of red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy with regard to honest, decent people who are not trying to evade the law.

We should urgently examine the system of importing cars. Perhaps the Minister can give an assurance that on 1 January there will be a common sense approach to this area so that we will not spend scarce human resources chasing people who are not trying to defraud the State and that we get on with the job of sorting out criminals who are wreaking havoc in our community. I could list five or six incidents.

A member of the London Customs and Excise staff lives in Wexford and commutes via Rosslare. Her husband, an invalid, lives in Wexford. Inadvertently, she left her English registered car with her husband at one stage and the Customs and Excise officers nabbed him, there was a big scene and money was extracted. That person is actually a member of the UK Customs authorities and she had no intention of defrauding the State. If intelligent educated people find themselves on the wrong side of the law, is it any wonder that ordinary citizens who cannot or do not read the small print on the back of some abstruse form get into trouble? I appeal to the Minister to sort out this crazy system in relation to the importation of cars by honest people.

The problem which Deputy Ferris mentioned could be solved if the car [320] registration book, the subject of a transaction with a finance company, was stamped by the finance company so that, before a person purchased a car, he could check everything was in order and the purchase was within the law. We could have a simple system of endorsing what we refer to as the tax book, but which, more properly, is the registration book. Perhaps that could be looked into because it would appear that not only was the last speaker caught, but 300 or 400 others are in the same position in his part of the country. That problem could be rectified very simply.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): While we are on constituency problems, I know of a young Irish emigrant in London who has a car there and who signed on to work for Concern in Africa. He brought the car home to Limerick to put it in his father's garage for 12 months and the customs officers are insisting that he pays full importation VAT and excise or, alternatively, that he sells the car. Such practice does not make much sense.

Will the Minister comment on how he envisages this “double zz register” working under section 7? Whether we fully understand it will depend on the regulations the Minister will introduce. He might throw some light on that. Does it mean that any Irish resident in the UK can keep a car here? Is it only confined to companies or does it mean a car could be kept here but not used?

Mr. B. Ahern: On the question of staff concerns and the concerns of agents, we resolved the problems of the 608 customs staff because they were public servants who could be transferred and redeployed. Since the agents are not public servants but work with private companies, nothing could be done for them in terms of redeployment because the functions they carried out were no longer relevant. I have pursued their case with Madame Scrivener for some months now. She was here in June and we discussed this matter and other matters with her. There is a 30 million ECU fund available for distribution through some [321] mechanism to be agreed on a Community basis. In the beginning we did not have a fund but following efforts from countries, including Ireland, the fund is now available. I do not have the up-to-date position on it. The issue was to find a mechanism to use the funds for compensation.

Mrs. Doyle: A compensation fund with direct payments to the individuals concerned?

Mr. B. Ahern: That is what was under examination. Madame Scrivener contacted the member states and we made an input. There have been recent discussions with the Department of Finance but a conclusion has not yet been reached. I assure the Deputy that I will keep her informed on the issue.

Mrs. Doyle: Is it likely to be concluded by 1 January?

Mr. B. Ahern: I do not know. One of the issues Madame Scrivener was considering was making the payments not on the basis of redundancies but as retraining grants. However, the discussions have not concluded. I will try to find out from Madame Scrivener's office at what stage the discussions are.

Mrs. Doyle: They need a lump sum plus one year's salary and that will depend on where they are in the company. Who pays their mortgage in January? They are displaced and their spouses will be displaced if they are at work and have to move. There will be enormous problems. There are half a dozen houses in Rosslare Harbour coming up for sale already because of the difficulty there and this also applies to the rest of the country. I urge the Minister to make every effort to solve this enormous problem. There are 63,000 of these people in Europe and nothing is being done for them except in the Netherlands where they came up with a package. There are 1,000 of these people in Ireland; 35 in Rosslare. The Minister should give this issue all his attention and give these people compensation [322] and a means of living for a year while they try to get other work.

Mr. B. Ahern: Deputy Doyle and others have made a case today. We took this matter up some months ago and other countries have been doing the same. Madame Scrivener has confirmed that there is a 30 million ECU fund. I sympathise with the people I have met. I will let Deputies know the position as soon as possible.

Mrs. Doyle: Thank you.

Mr. B. Ahern: Deputy Doyle referred to unnecessary red tape. Everybody in the House can tell us about individuals who, through misfortune, misunderstanding or taking a chance, got into difficulties. I have come across all types of cases, from those who tried to abuse the system to those who did not understand the law. I accept what Deputies say and I have met people of the highest integrity who seem to walk into trouble and I know they are not all trying to beat the system. Unfortunately, the red tape is necessary. As in all such matters if one were dealing with decent people only there would be no need for red tape. Abuse has been widespread in recent years and it is not new.

Questions were raised regarding transfer of residence and there are EC regulations in regard to this. About 1,200 cars are seized every year. In most cases seizure would not result from a mistake being made. This area, obviously, needs to be tidied up and I shall certainly request my colleagues in Revenue, who are conscious of the issues, to examine the whole matter. Under the new regime we will have to be very vigilant in relation to abuse. In the past year, when I had access to the files, I learned of horrendous cases of abuse and was surprised at some of the tricks people were up to. I accept that there are decent people and there are people who are making life difficult in this regard. In reply to Deputy Ferris, I wish to say that the transitional measure will cater for people already abroad. They may well not be any worse [323] off than under the system operated at present. Retrospective entitlement to the exemption will depend upon whether an entitlement already exists.

I should like to speak on the hire purchase problem also. The existing registration system provides for the use of a log book, which merely records the name of the person using the car based on his or her own declaration. The log book has no bearing on title to the car. The new system will not in any way impinge on those arrangements. In some ways the issue raised by the Deputy is a consumer protection issue and could be considered in that light. I shall certainly take account of the advice offered by Deputy Ferris. I know something about the case involved.

Mr. Ferris: It was very good advice.

Mr. B. Ahern: I am sure it was my colleagues in Revenue who brought the issue to notice. I regret the inconvenience caused the Deputy. I am glad that they were on the ball to try to rectify the problem even a few months after.

Mr. M. McDowell: Will the Minister be in the market for a new car in the near future?

Mr. B. Ahern: I have to confess that a few weeks ago I was making inquiries and checking prices in that regard. I was confident that someone else would be taking over my post. Deputy Noonan would confirm that when I met him some weeks ago to give him a briefing I nearly gave him the keys to my office. Things change.

Mr. M. McDowell: Deputy Ferris may go from having no car to having half a car.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Browne, Carlow-Kilkenny): I do not know whether it is the Christmas spirit or because there is a novice in the Chair that this friendly conversation is taking place but I am sure the Ceann Comhairle would not appreciate [324] it if I did not have something to say about it.

Mr. B. Ahern: Sir, you are the Acting Ceann Comhairle in an acting Dáil. The Ceann Comhairle is the only person who is not working in an acting capacity. I should like to say to Deputy Noonan, on the question raised by Deputy McDowell, that there are very attractive car prices in the market place at the moment.

Mrs. Doyle: We shall wait until the Minister is finished with the VRT measures — the prices will certainly be shoved up.

Mr. B. Ahern: There seems to be no problem in getting 8 per cent off. More than half of the car business has already announced reductions in car prices. As a result of changes made earlier in the year in the budget the prices of trucks, jeeps and other such vehicles have come down. It is not a bad time to think about changing one's car or buying a new one.

Mrs. Doyle: The Minister must be getting a consultancy post with SIMI or a similar group when he leaves his present post.

Mr. B. Ahern: In case SIMI read this debate, I must point out that I realise it is a very difficult time for the car business.

Mrs. Doyle: It is.

Mr. B. Ahern: Deputy Noonan inquired about the special register. Such facilities may be offered to visitors to the State purchasing new vehicles for export from the State or to visitors who temporarily bring vehicles into the State but do not wish or are not in a position to display their domestic registration plates, for example, for security reasons. That provision reflects the current legislative provision.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Is the Minister saying that tourists will have to use new registration plates?

[325] Mr. B. Ahern: No, for tourists who use their own cars there will be no change.

There is also the issue relating to the number of cars needed for hire during the peak tourist season. I was involved with this issue last year. The industry rejected temporary importation as the way to deal with this seasonal problem. The car industry support very strongly this approach.

Mrs. Doyle: The tourist industry does not.

Mr. B. Ahern: Special provision was made by way of a grant scheme, which I introduced in the 1992 budget, to alleviate the shortages. The scheme seems to have been successful in increasing the number of cars available.

Mrs. Doyle: How many cars were bought under that special scheme for tourist cars?

Mr. B. Ahern: I do not have that figure. The issue will be raised again next year.

All the scare stories heard in the spring about the major shortage of cars proved unfounded. In the summer I heard only from a few very irate car dealers and car importers. The importation of Japanese cars was also availed of. Some car dealers acted on the basis that the scare was real. As Deputies Ferris and Noonan may be aware, one such person in the Munster region was left in August with 400 to 500 cars.

Mrs. Doyle: Tourists did not use hire cars so much because of the availability of fly-drive holidays. People did not have to book one from the other end. Those who came had a car, it is those who did not come we should be worrying about.

Mr. B. Ahern: I do not believe people were not coming over because they could not get a car. There were other tricks of the trade as well. Some tour operators were flying tourists into Dublin and then providing the best coach tour they could [326] to Newry, where people would pick up a car and then head off to Killarney.

Mrs. Doyle: That is correct.

Mr. B. Ahern: The matter will again be reviewed in 1993. In reply to the question asked by Deputy Doyle, the bulk of the £1 million available under the special scheme was allocated. Approximately 2,000 extra cars were purchased.

Mrs. Doyle: I thank the Minister for that information.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.

SECTION 7.

Question proposed: “That section 7 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Will the Minister explain section 7 again? I am not clear about it in that everything seems contingent on regulations being brought in by the Minister at some stage.

Mr. B. Ahern: New paragraphs (e) to (i) to be added to section 131 (1) of the 1992 Finance Act give the Commissioners the power to set up and maintain a special register for vehicles of persons visiting the State, where those persons require temporary registration facilities. Such facilities may be offered to visitors to the State purchasing new vehicles for export from the State or to visitors who temporarily bring vehicles into the State but do not wish or are not in a position to display their domestic registration plates, for example, for security reasons. This provision reflects the current legislative position.

This new paragraph (c) to be added to section 131 (2) provides for notification to the Commissioners whenever certain particulars relating to a registered vehicle are altered so that the permanent register is kept up to date.

New paragraph (c) is a purely technical [327] amendment. Under paragraph (d) provision is made for a system whereby registration numbers may be reserved on payment of a fee. In reply to a question raised earlier by Deputy Bruton, at present there is no centralised official system in operation for allocating “cherished numbers” but motor taxation offices around the country issue those on an informal basis. The placing of this facility for the public and motor trade on a statutory basis has become feasible as a result of the new centralised and automated registration process being created.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 8 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 15.

Question proposed: “That section 15 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I understood the Minister to say he will not give Customs officials Garda powers under the section and that the actual code of practice required to operate the section will be held back and brought before the House at a subsequent date.

Mr. B. Ahern: Yes. Regardless of whether we clear it in some informal way we will certainly bring it before the House.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I think a serious issue arises here. In the last Finance Act a whole lot of new powers were conferred on Customs officers in respect of enforcement of the tax code. Now the powers of the Garda Síochána are being extended to customs officials in respect of car tax. I have no problem with the customs officials being empowered to enforce the requirements of the vehicle registration tax but for ordinary road tax I wonder how it will work in practice. For example, if somebody is driving home can a customs official in civilian clothing wave them down and ask them to produce the book, and check their car [328] tax? Can they caution them in the normal Garda manner and would a summons issue? That is a very serious matter in respect of something like that. Obviously, they could dip the tank to check whether the proper fuel was being used. Can they check for bald tyres, tail lights and so on? How far does their power extend?

Mr. B. Ahern: I should like to assure Deputy Noonan that none of these things are considered and there is no question of customs officials waving down or stopping vehicles. Revenue now has an involvement in vehicle registration tax but previously they were responsible for excise tax and they did wave down vehicles. Only in relation to vehicle registration tax would they see themselves as having a role. From reading the section it appears that their role would be broader than that. I am happy that no operational regulation can be introduced under the Act until their functions are clear. Revenue do not want to be involved in the task of road blocks — that is not their function — nor do they wish to be involved in controversy concerning their powers. They want to work with people, to comply with regulations and do not wish to be seen as hostile. Before section 15 is implemented we will bring forward regulations and state precisely how they will have an involvement. Revenue's own observation is that it may be beneficial if they could issue a summons but not be involved directly in consultation as that is not a task in which they would wish to be involved. That could be made clear in regulations.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): With respect, that is not what the Minister said on Second Stage. I am not relying on interpreting the section. On Second Stage the Minister said:

It is envisaged that, as part of their functions in enforcing the new vehicle registration tax, officers of the Revenue Commissioners would also have a role in relation to the enforcement of road tax. This new role, which will [329] supplement that of the gardaí in this area, should give an additional impetus to curbing road tax evasion.

It is quite clear that that is an extension of customs officers' powers.

Mr. B. Ahern: Those are uniformed customs officers' powers which operate at present. There is no question of a Revenue official going out on to the road and waving down cars as the Deputy has said.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): A garda out of uniform can do that at present, so I cannot see where a distinction is made.

Mr. B. Ahern: Quite frankly, I would not accept that. Certainly I would not give a civil servant from Revenue the power to go out and wave down cars.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): That is the power the Minister is giving them in the section.

Mr. B. Ahern: Uniformed customs officials had that power, but I do not believe ununiformed customs officials ever went around waving down vehicles. I have never heard of it.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Of course they did not. The Minister is making no distinction in the section but is extending the powers of customs officers and is giving them the same power as the Garda in respect of the enforcement of road tax. Garda powers in respect of road tax do not relate simply to stationary vehicles. They man check points, wave down vehicles and inspect tax and insurance. The manner in which the section is drafted suggests that customs officers are given the same powers. I do not see how a code of practice will change it. The Minister may issue some instruction to Revenue not to do that but still they will be legally entitled to do so. I am prepared to hear the case but I do not think that what is effectively emergency legislation, to meet an end-of-year deadline, [330] is the appropriate place to do that kind of thing.

Mr. M. McDowell: I do not know whether a non-uniformed garda is entitled to hail down traffic. That may or may not be the case. From memory a garda may have to be in uniform before he can wave down a car but I would not contradict Deputy Noonan on that point. A question occurs to me and it is one I had not thought I would be raising this morning. I am aware there has been controversy recently involving customs and excise officials in the country who were in a position to impose on-the-spot penalties in respect of people whom they found driving cars and with whom a cash transaction took place on the side of the road under threat of seizure. I know there was some controversy about this matter and this power. Apparently teams of Revenue officials around the country are coming to immediate arrangements with people. Does the care and management provision set out in section 29 — which we have not yet reached — extend to the right of vehicle registration tax officers of the Revenue Commissioners to arrive at immediate compromises with people. The reason I raise this matter is that in another context it has been the subject of controversy. Allegations were made that some officers took kick-backs or made soft settlements for cash with people. It is very undesirable that teams should be roaming around the countryside making on-the-spot cash transactions with people, as part of the care and management provision which exposes individual officers to temptations that such procedures could create.

Mr. B. Ahern: Apparently, in that regard customs officers can come to a settlement but the individual has the right to refuse the settlement and that has always been the practice.

Mr. M. McDowell: In those circumstances the car is seized. It is most undesirable that teams of people can go around the country and reach cash settlements with people about their cars. I am [331] in favour of simple, practical solutions but I am opposed to the idea of three people flagging down a car or finding your car in a pub carpark, telling you that unless you give them £500 on the spot they will take the car away, and issuing a receipt for such money. Those are circumstances in which corruption charges will be made and the temptation to be corrupt will be there.

Acting Chairman: In case section 29 comes under discussion we are dealing with section 15 and I would appreciate if the Minister gave a brief reply.

Mr. B. Ahern: That position has always existed. The quick settlement is based on a formula and it is not arbitrary. I accept the Deputy's point that somebody may get greedy; I cannot answer for everybody who is on the road. The reason for the quick settlement is to try to avoid the position of garages and warehouses becoming totally clogged up in the system. As I said earlier to Deputy Noonan, there is no question of Customs officers or Revenue officers in plain clothes stopping vehicles. Deputy Noonan has a point in saying that the issuing of a letter does not exactly solve the problem. To avoid confusion I will ensure that a regulation is brought before the House stating precisely how this will operate.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 16 agreed to.

SECTION 17.

Question proposed: “That section 17 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): This section is a technical amendment to enable disabled drivers get a remission from vehicle registration tax rather than a rebate to correspond to the excess in VAT rebate they receive at present. Does the Minister envisage bringing in [332] regulations to amend the regulations which control rebates to disabled drivers? How would this work in practice? What period of grace will a disabled driver have from the time of purchase of a car to the making of arrangements to get a remission? The seven day time limit seems to be very tight for the able-bodied and very restrictive as it applies to disabled people.

Mr. B. Ahern: This is an enabling provision; I am not sure about the time limit. The necessary regulations will be made when the new registration system is sufficiently developed to cater for remissions at the point of charge. The Deputy asked how long disabled people would have to wait before the regulations are introduced.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): If a disabled person wishes to change his car next January, how will he stand?

Mr. B. Ahern: He will get his repayment, as he would have up to now.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Will he get a rebate of the registration fee?

Mr. B. Ahern: Yes, and the VAT charged.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 18 to 27, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 28.

Question proposed: “That section 28 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I take it that this is the section that will abolish the 3 per cent levy on insurance companies? Will the Minister read his briefing note on this section?

Mr. B. Ahern: This section gives the Minister for Finance power to abolish the 3 per cent duty levy on investments in life assurance policies and collective investment undertakings. This power is being [333] taken to enable the new Government to make whatever changes it feels necessary to the taxation arrangements of life assurance companies in collective investment undertakings. Unlike the other taxes which apply to these investments, as I said this morning the levy is an upfront charge on the money invested. Therefore, it cannot easily be abolished retrospectively. This section will enable the new Government to indicate, by way of statement, the changes it intends to make in this area. The levy can then be abolished by order and the other necessary changes can be introduced retrospectively in the 1993 Finance Bill.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): The original package in the Bill by way of the White Paper in November seemed to tie in with the provision of the new equity 10 per cent funds. Section 28 (3) gives the Minister power to bring this section into operation on such day or days as he shall decide by order. Will the Minister outline the intentions in respect of bringing this section into operation? Will it be introduced as part of the package with the equity fund and so on? Does the Minister think there is any urgency in bringing this section into operation so that the distortions in the savings market which the insurance industry claims will occur from the first week in January do not occur in a way which adversely affects them?

Mr. B. Ahern: I think the intention is that it will be brought in as part of the package. The new Government will have to look at the package again to see if it is happy with it. As the Deputy knows, much negotiation took place on the terms of the full package and I would very much like to have included it in this legislation. Companies dealing with pensions, the insurance industry, people in the stock market, the banking world and others were involved in the discussions. There are some major proposals in the package and it is a matter for the new Government to change it if it wishes.

As the Deputy knows, because the 3 per cent levy is paid upfront we would [334] have to deal with hundreds of individuals if we tried to change it retrospectively. This section provides that an order can be brought in on the appropriate date. All the other provisions contained in the November White Paper can be brought in retrospectively. It would be unfair on the industry to operate the 3 per cent levy on a retrospective basis.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Whatever decision the new Government makes about the package, the insurance industry claims, and I would like the Minister to comment on how valid he thinks this claim is, that if it has to wait until the 1993 Finance Bill the first five or six months of the year will have gone by and the distortions in the savings market which it fears will have already have occurred and money will have been diverted into the special DIRT accounts. Will the Minister comment on this?

Mr. B. Ahern: The purpose of this section is to allow the new Government to make a decision. I am not suggesting that the Government decision should be left until the 1993 Finance Bill. All I am saying is that the 3 per cent levy for the insurance industry will be abolished on whatever day the Government decides to implement the new package. If that is 1 February, so be it. All the other changes will be implemented retrospectively in the Finance Bill. Because the 3 per cent levy is paid upfront, next May when the debate on the 1993 Finance Bill has been concluded in the House we would be trying to collect the 3 per cent paid to the hundreds of agents around the country. It would be totally unreasonable on the insurance industry to do that. I agree the decision should be taken sooner rather than later. In normal times the decision would have been made by now and the Bill would have been passed by the House so that it would be ready to be enacted by 1 January. In addition, the provisions in relation to the DIRT tax and the special investment accounts would have come into operation on 1 January or thereabouts.

[335] Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): I agree with and understand what the Minister is saying but it still does not meet my point. The point I am making is that since the beginning of the year the insurance industry has been extremely worried about distortions that will occur in the savings market once the new arrangements in regard to the DIRT tax are brought in on 1 January. In the autumn, after negotiations, the Minister brought out a package which went, depending on who one was talking to, some distance towards meeting their concerns and fears. The Minister is now saying that everything can be done retrospectively in relation to the insurance industry except the 3 per cent levy. Does he envisage a situation where the insurance industry could proceed during the first week in January with putting in place the special equity funds and the incoming Government would give retrospective legal status to those funds?

Mr. B. Ahern: Yes, providing the incoming Government makes that decision. I would like to have brought forward the full proposals in November. I would prefer those proposals to be implemented sooner rather than later, and certainly not at the time of the 1993 Finance Bill. As soon as the Government makes its decision, say, on 1 February, the Minister for Finance would by order allow the abolition of the 3 per cent levy and all the other matters outlined in the White Paper of 13 November, as amended by the new Government, would be enacted and retrospectively approved in the 1993 Finance Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 29.

Question proposed: “That section 29 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. M. McDowell: I raised a question about the intention of the Revenue Commissioners to maintain teams of inspectors roaming around the country looking for breaches of the Act. I presume that [336] will continue. I suggest that some proper procedure be put in place to ensure that there are no accusations of misbehaviour where Revenue officials confront a car owner who is suspected of breaching the Act. I would ask the Minister to outline how he sees the abolition of border controls operating. Will there be literally nobody at the port of Rosslare when a car drives off the boat? Will there be a Garda checkpoint? Will people be employed to record the numbers coming off the boat or will there be a complete right of free penetration into Ireland until one mets a checkpoint or something of that sort?

Mr. B. Ahern: It is outlined in detail. With the exception of security arrangements mainly related to drugs, there will be nobody. All the existing staff of 600 people have been redeployed, some into totally unrelated customs areas, others into vehicle registration and sections dealing with international statistics. More people will be involved in carrying out checks in order to protect the revenue base. I see the validity in the Deputy's questions. If there are not to be customs officials and we have to protect revenue through the vehicle registration tax, more people will have to be involved in carrying out checks around the countryside. This cannot be done at Rosslare but there will be spotchecks throughout the country. There are new arrangements for security. This week the Revenue Commissioners are to announce some new proposals in relation to criminal aspects.

Mr. M. McDowell: Is it consistent with free movement principles to video record people travelling in and out of the State? Is that envisaged? The video recording of vehicles would be of some use in making this tax work.

Mr. B. Ahern: There are new arrangements with the Department of Justice regarding illegal drugs. That was negotiated during the Irish presidency. I am not quite sure what is permissible. This aspect of the Single Market was a contentious issue because we did not want [337] some customs officers to claim they suspected everyone of carrying drugs. There is a limited check. The normal controls have been removed, including the green and red channels with which we are all familiar. The paperwork has been eliminated. The arrangement is entirely new, but there is a security context involving the Department of Justice. I will arrange for a note to be sent to Deputy M. McDowell in relation to this matter. There is some provision with regard to drugs.

Ms. Burton: Will it not be necessary to have arrangements in relation to the movement of vehicles from non-EC countries? I find the idea of there being no customs presence whatever a little strange. There could be substantial vehicle movements from non-EC countries within Europe.

Mr. B. Ahern: Third country arrangements will still exist at certain locations.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): We find this strange because we have a frontier mentality, living on an island with a border just north of Dublin. Ten years ago I remember driving across borders on the Continent and certainly on lesser roads there was no check. Sometimes there was a hut but usually it was not manned after 5 o'clock. The frontier now will be a European one. I presume the check on people or vehicles from third countries will occur only when they first cross the EC frontier. For traffic from Eastern Europe that would be somewhere along the German-Polish border, rather than Rosslare. The only third country traffic at Rosslare would be from the United States or Scandinavia, not from within the Community.

Mr. B. Ahern: I accept what Deputy Noonan is saying. As recently as last October I met some hauliers from Rosslare and other docks who told me that they get a tough time at frontiers. They are looking forward to the change in January.

[338] Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 30.

Question proposed: “That section 30 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): Is there any plan to consolidate the tax code once more? There are thousands of pages of tax law.

Mr. B. Ahern: We will leave that to the new Government. The changes in recent years with regard to the Single Market, and the pressure involved in dealing with the huge number of regulations on tax issued by the EC, have taken up a great amount of time and very little work has been done on consolidation.

Mr. M. McDowell: Butterworth's Tax Guide amounts almost to a single tax code.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. B. Ahern: In a matter of a few days we have put through the Appropriation Bill, the Finance (No. 2) Bill, the Supplementary Estimates, the Exchange Control Bill. I want to thank those Opposition Deputies, particularly Deputies Noonan, McDowell, De Rossa, Quinn and Burton, who have handled the Bills for their parties, for their co-operation in getting the Bills through in such an extraordinary short time. I would like also to wish them a happy Christmas.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

Acting Chairman: The Bill is certified a Money Bill, in accordance with Article 22 of the Constitution.