When this Bill was last before the House the Minister for Finance made what most of us will admit was, from his point of view, a very clever, but from the point of view of the promoters of the Bill and those whom it will interest, a very misleading speech. He stated that a number of the speeches in support of the Bill dealt with questions of administration and were in the main a plea for the more sympathetic administration of the existing law. That is not the purpose of the Bill. This Bill does not ask for a more sympathetic administration of the existing law but seeks to amend the existing law so as to ensure that the cases of applicants for the old age pensions will secure that sympathetic consideration to which they are entitled. I agree with the Minister that no matter what the law may be you are bound to have complaints about its administration from time to time. The position that at present prevails is that when these complaints are raised in this House or when they are brought directly to the notice of the Department concerned the answer invariably is that that Act is administered strictly in accordance with the existing law and that therefore a number of cases of hardship which this Bill proposes to remove cannot be considered at all because to consider them would mean that the Department would have to disregard factors which they must, under the existing law, take into consideration and that therefore they would be guilty of an illegality.
We seek in this measure to secure that certain of these factors which at present have to be considered will no longer have to be taken into account. I said the Minister made a misleading speech. He attempted to prejudice the case at the very outset by mentioning a figure which is altogether ridiculous and which has no relation whatsoever to the proposals contained in the measure. This Bill deals entirely with the question of means. It seeks to ensure that certain elements which now enter into the calculation of means of the applicant will no longer be considered. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the question of the age limit. Yet the Minister in his opening remarks coupled those two factors together, and stated that if the qualifications as to means were to be abolished and the provisions as to age were to be amended, so that the age limit might be reduced, the total cost to the State of pensions would be from one and a half million to two million pounds.
I might just at this stage institute a comparison, and if I were to argue that a good case can be shown for a reduction of the age limit of the applicant and for the abolition of the means qualification altogether on the plea that the level of the social services of the Twenty-six Counties in Ireland should not be permitted to fall below the level that obtains in the Six Counties or in the neighbouring country of Great Britain, in view of the fact that life in those countries should not be made any more attractive to our people than it is at the moment, I could defend that proposition by saying that under the existing law the total amount paid by way of pensions under the Treaty and in respect of civil war services is all but two million pounds. In actual fact, in the present Estimate the House will be asked to vote £1,191,227, mainly to able-bodied persons, either in respect of services rendered to the late British Government in this country or services rendered to the present Government during the civil war. I would say there is much more justification for abolishing the means qualification altogether, and for reducing the age at which people become entitled to the old age pensions, though they cost the State anything from one and a half to two millions, than paying £1,191,227 in pensions, mainly to able-bodied people.
The Minister in the course of his speech, attempted also to prejudice the case by instituting a comparison between the cost of old age pensions in this country and the cost in Great Britain. I submit that there is no parallel whatsoever. Our conditions here are wholly different. We have, as the Minister himself admitted, a much larger percentage of aged people in our population than there is in Great Britain. The average wealth of our people is very much less and, therefore, when they become old they have greater claims and greater need for assistance from some public source. As a matter of fact, I think this State owes a special debt of obligation to its aged poor because they are people who, for one reason or another, have resisted inducement to emigrate from this country. They remained here, laboured in the service of the people and contributed to the wealth of the community as a whole. Therefore, in this country they have much more claim on the State than in Great Britain and the State has a greater obligation to them.
Another argument which the Minister used against the Bill was that if we had £300,000 to spend we could spend it in better ways. The Minister, though he said that, did not attempt to substantiate the statement. He left it as anobiter dictum which this House could accept or reject, but we think if he feels there are better ways of spending this money he ought to have exposed them to the House. He said that the really hard cases are among those who have no means whatsoever. The fact that the Minister knows that there are really hard cases amongst those who have no means whatsoever I suggest makes it incumbent on him, by securing economies in other Departments of State, to meet these really hard cases. But if these hard cases exist there is no reason why the proposals contained in this Bill should be rejected. From the speeches which have been delivered in support of this Bill from all parts of this House, it is clear that the Bill will deal with a considerable number of cases of great hardship occasioned by the present regulations and the present restrictions. Therefore, whilst we think that this Bill will confer the most general benefit and whilst the speeches prove that great hardship exists under the present regulations, I say that unless the Minister can give to the House categorical proof of the truth of his statement that the money could be better expended in other ways, those who are considering their attitude in regard to this Bill should reject it and give a vote to remedy the actual cases of hardship which have been brought under their notice.
The Minister said that the proposals in this Bill will benefit a considerable number of people who are at the present moment maintained in luxury. Since there is a means qualification, and since the title to a pension is not a general title, we do not wish that this Bill should operate to maintain any person who is not in need of State maintenance or State assistance, and we would be perfectly prepared, I think, in the Committee Stage of the Bill to consider the introduction of a monetary limit which would provide that all those people whose present privileges exceed a certain very definite amount might be debarred from benefit under the Bill. Admittedly, if people live in luxury, or are maintained in luxury out of filial affection by their relations, the State possibly ought to have the advantage of those very praiseworthy qualities and, accordingly, we would be prepared to consider the insertion in the Bill of some provision to debar cases such as the Minister has mentioned from benefiting under the Bill. But those cases are comparatively few. I doubt whether if the Minister's Department made an investigation he could come to the House and say, if this Bill passes, there are 500 people at present living in luxury who will benefit in consequence of the Bill. What we do know is that if this Bill goes through a considerable number of people will benefit, and we ask that the good of the greater number should be set against the cases which the Minister has cited in opposition to the Bill. The Minister said that, according to the present practice, in the case of those who are maintained under the average conditions of a working-class family the question of means did not enter. That is an extraordinary statement, because just on the day the Minister made the speech in the House I received a letter from a constituent in which he said that he was now 75 years of age. He was working as a boot repairer and had been employed all his life. He applied for the pension at the age of 72. His average earnings then amounted to £1 per week, and the amount of pension he stated given to himself and his wife was one shilling per week. It is quite obvious that in the case of these two people the question of means must have been considered, and the question of the maintenance of the wife must have been considered. The fact that her husband was earning £1 per week at the age of 72 years militated against the claim of the wife. I am not arguing at the moment that the old man himself, who had actual earning capacity, should have got a larger pension, but it is quite clear that the total means of the wife, if we are to take it as half the total means of the husband, was £26 per year, and therefore she was entitled, unless she was in receipt of some other benefit or privilege, under the present Act to something like six shillings per week, while in actual fact she was only in receipt of one shilling per week pension, showing that some benefit or privilege which the Minister holds is not taken into consideration at all in the case of working-class people must have been taken into consideration in her case.
The Minister also objected to Section 3 of the Bill, because of the anomalies that would be created. But the existing law creates anomalies. We are all familiar with them, and I have just cited one. Every law which proposes to confer financial benefits of this sort—in fact, one would say every statute which does anything in the State—creates certain anomalies because within the text of a Bill no person could make provision for every possible variation of circumstance which will be affected by it. Therefore it is no argument against the Bill or against Section 3 to say that certain anomalies will be created.
The Minister himself in the course of his speech referred to the fact that when one came to consider the position of a person of 80 years of age who was deprived of his life's partner, it was not desirable to alter the pension in such a case. We are asking the House in the case of a married couple, both of whom must have been over 70 years of age in order to be in receipt of a pension at all and in order to come under the proposals contained in Section 3 of the Bill that if one dies the State shall not inflict upon the survivor the increased hardship of reducing the income which formerly went to maintain that household. I believe when Deputies think that over as human beings, leaving out of account the figure of one and a half millions or two millions, which the Minister introduced into this debate, in order to prejudice the House and to create a wrong impression in regard to the Bill, that they will agree with the Minister that, based upon ordinary principles of humanity, it is not desirable to alter the pension in the case of one who is 80 years of age. We say that it is equally not desirable to reduce the pension in the case of a person who has reached 70 years of age. The expectation of life of a person at 70 years of age is still comparatively small. I believe that, since the Minister admits that it would not be desirable if the person had reached the age of 80, then the House should force him to concede that it is equally undesirable to reduce the pension in the case of a person who has reached the age of 70 years. That is the difference between us and the Minister. The Minister considers that that is the principle that we should apply to persons of 80 years of age. We are asking the House to apply it to persons of 70, and I think that ordinary humanitarian principles are on our side and ought in this matter to prevail.
The Minister in that connection, dealing with Section 4 of the Bill, cited two cases. Section 4 is the section which proposes that "the yearly value of so much of the capital value of the said property as exceeds the sum of £25 shall be taken to be one-twentieth of the capital value thereof." I must remind the House that prior to the Act of 1924 the proposal contained in Section 4 of this Bill was the proposal which was then operative in the Old Age Pensions Act, but that the Dáil provided by the Act of 1924 that instead of taking one-twentieth of the capital value of the property, one-tenth should be taken into account. The Minister in dealing with that proposal cited the case of a bachelor who had £250 in the bank and no other means, and said that he has now his income assessed at £22 10s. per annum and he is awarded a pension of 7/- per week. Under the proposed change his means would have to be calculated at only £11 5s. per annum and he would get a pension of 10/- per week. The Minister cited the case which is most favourable to his own argument. Let us consider it a little in detail. Supposing this bachelor with £250 applied for a pension. Under the law as it stands, his means are calculated at £22 10s. 0d. per annum and he gets a pension of 7/-. Under the Bill, his means will be assessed at £11 5s. 0d. and he will get a pension of 10/-. Let us consider the annual income of that man. At one-tenth of the total, with the pension calculated upon the present basis, the income of that man, assuming that each year he consumes £25 of his capital and that he receives interest at 5 per cent. on the balance and a pension of 7/- per week, will be £48 4s. 0d. per annum. Under our Bill, the total annual income under the same conditions would be raised to £56 0s. 0d. I submit that £56 is the very minimum—it is possibly below the minimum—that would be required to maintain a bachelor, if proper provision were made for clothing, feeding and sheltering him. Assuming, as the Minister has chosen the case of a bachelor, that he has no relative, and, assuming, as we must, that he is going to consume his whole capital, under this Bill the amount which he would receive would be barely sufficient to maintain him, to feed, clothe and shelter him, as he would have to pay rent and buy food, which he would possibly have to cook himself, and he would have to live in a condition of almost absolute squalor. If he is a bachelor without any relative to assist him to maintain himself, he would find it very difficult to live on £56 0s. 0d. per year, particularly in the city, whatever it might be in the country.
Let us consider the cost of the Bill as a whole. The Minister states that the total cost of the provisions contained in the Bill would be something between £250,000 and £300,000. I submit that that is a mere bagatellc, considering the total pension bill of this State, and that under the Treaty we are committed to the sum of £1,783,000 in pensions, mainly to able-bodied persons who are still in a position to earn their own livelihood, and who doubtless after receiving pensions will proceed to add to their annual income by following some form of private occupation. The total provision to be made in the Estimates for the current year for pensions of all kinds other than old age pensions is £2,320,000. As I have said, the total Treaty and civil war pensions amount to £1,991,000. The total pensions for the Post Office amount to £223,000; Army pensions to £208,216, and judicial pensions to £30,511. Taking all these facts into consideration, and also the fact that this Bill has been supported from all parts of the House by Deputies who have intimate knowledge of the hardship which the present law inflicts upon applicants for old age pensions, the fact that if this Bill becomes law an additional sum of £250,000 or £300,000 will have to be found is no argument against it. I say, taking all these facts into consideration and putting this additional £250,000 against the £1,991,000 which we already pay, as I said before, and which I emphasise again, to able-bodied pensioners, if we can afford to pay that, is it not a duty put upon the Dáil to find by some form of economy the quarter of a million which is required for the new Bill if it becomes law?