Committee on Finance. - Vote 71—Food Allowances.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £345,700 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1944, chun Liúntaisí i bhfuirim earraí do Thairbheoirí áirithe fé na hAchtanna um Chongnamh Dhíomhaointis, 1933 go 1940, Achtanna na bPinsean Seán-Aoise, 1908 go 1938, na hAchtanna um Pinsin do Bhaintreacha agus do Dhílleachtaithe, 1935 go 1940, agus na hAchtanna um Arachas Sláinte Náisiúnta, 1911 go 1942 (Uimh. 28 de 1939).

That a sum, not exceeding £345,700, be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1944, for Allowances in Kind to certain Beneficiaries under the Unemployment Assistance Acts, 1933 to 1940, the Old Age Pensions Acts, 1908 to 1938, the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts, 1935 to 1940, and the National Health Insurance Acts, 1911 to 1942 (No. 28 of 1939).

This is the Vote to cover the cost of the food voucher scheme.

Would the Minister be prepared to extend that to those people I referred to a while ago, who live in the suburbs, and cities, and places of that kind?

I could not at the present time undertake to extend the scheme beyond the classes in receipt of food vouchers now.

Will the Minister explain two things to the House that happened recently? There was a short period during which the food vouchers were withdrawn from widows.

They were never withdrawn.

I speak only of my own experience.

They were never withdrawn. The deputy can take that as a definite statement. They were never withdrawn.

I know that I saw widows coming in to me week after week with their food vouchers in desolation and bewilderment, to say that the relieving officer had informed them that they would not get the voucher any longer.

The Deputy is mixing up the food vouchers with the food vouchers that may be distributed by local authorities.

It was a voucher which had endorsed on it in print: "butter and bread" and the grocer who furnished the comestibles filled in the commodity up to the value of 5/- and handed the document to the local relieving officer.

Each local authority is, I think, administering a food voucher scheme of its own for those who are assisted by the local authority. The cost of that scheme is defrayed from Government funds, but it is a matter for the local authority itself whether or not to operate the scheme, or to whom it will apply. It has nothing whatever to do with this Vote. The vouchers which are given as a result of this Vote to persons in receipt of unemployment assistance are those who come under the national health insurance or widows' and orphans' pensions. They have never been withdrawn at any stage since the scheme was started.

These are the ones payable through the Post Office?

They are issued through the employment exchanges as far as the beneficiaries under the Unemployment Assistance Acts are concerned.

Those issued to beneficiaries under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts are issued through the Post Office. I want to ask a question about sub-head D. I understand for a considerable period persons who were in receipt of disablement benefit, as distinguished from sickness benefit, did not in fact get food vouchers. Is the Minister aware of that?

No. The only persons who are in receipt of disablement benefit who are entitled to food vouchers are those who are resident in urban areas and who are in necessitous circumstances. Not every person who is entitled to disablement benefit gets the food voucher. There must be evidence of necessitous circumstances.

I understood that there was a period during which a considerable class of persons who should have come under D did not in fact get the vouchers. It was then discovered an error had been made, and the issue of the vouchers to that class of persons was embarked on. Perhaps the Minister would inquire into that. I was wondering what the reason for this was. I was led to believe it was due to some misunderstanding between the National Health Insurance Society and the officers of the Minister's Department. I assume the misunderstanding has been cleared up now, but I would be glad to know from the Minister that he also is satisfied that no misunderstanding exists.

I would like to get from the Minister some good reason as to why the food voucher scheme cannot be made applicable to persons in these categories who reside in villages and small towns. The hardships endured by such persons living in small towns and villages are as great as those of persons living in the other areas.

The Government gives money to the local authorities to enable them to give vouchers to these persons.

I am afraid the scheme is not being applied in the way it was intended. Many cases have come under my notice.

The local authorities will not give more than the State gives:

We are giving, I think, £200,000 by way of grant to the local authorities to enable them to cover the areas that cannot be covered. One of the reasons, of course, why it was decided not to apply the food voucher scheme to rural areas was the fact that it could not be made to work along the same lines. In the city the person who gets a voucher can get supplies of milk, bread and butter from the shop convenient to his home. We could not guarantee to the person in the rural area that there was anybody there who was ordinarily trading, say, in milk, who would be prepared to give supplies for the vouchers. For that reason, the arrangement was made with the local authorities. So far as unemployment assistance beneficiaries are concerned, they get increased benefits in cash rather than by means of the food voucher.

I am not referring to the particular people who live in the rural areas. I am referring to people who live in the small towns and villages and who are living under the same miserable conditions as those living in urbanised areas and who are in receipt of the State benefits conferred upon them through moneys provided by this Vote. I would appeal to the Minister to consider this matter sympathetically. I do not see any administrative difficulty in extending the scheme to persons living in the small towns and villages.

The Deputy is aware that so far as the unemployment assistance people are concerned, those not getting food vouchers are getting a cash increase in their allowances.

The maximum allowance received by persons who reside in rural areas is certainly not what you could call a living allowance.

So far as dependents are concerned, it was an increase of from 1/- to 2/6 per week—an increase of 150 per cent.

What is the average amount payable to people in rural areas?

Six shillings.

Not at all; that is for a single person. The maximum that can be obtained by a man with the full number of dependents would be 23/-.

Not in a rural area.

In a rural area, yes. If a man is upon the special register he gets 28/-.

Yes, and there are only 3,500 on that register.

The single man is paid 6/-.

There was no increase in the allowance to single men.

Vote put and agreed to.

Deputy Davin desired to raise a question which the Minister might answer now. I think the matter comes under his jurisdiction, in one capacity or another. There must be no debate on it.

When the Taoiseach made a statement to-day in connection with the arrangements for the general election——

The Deputy rose to ask a question, not to make a speech.

I asked him what provision, if any, was being made for the supply of petrol to candidates other than Fianna Fáil candidates or Ministers in connection with the conduct of the election. It is quite evident that the Government Party, especially the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, will be at a considerable advantage. It has been stated in the Press —but when speaking to Deputy Smith, Parliamentary Secretary, on this matter I could not get him to say that the statement which appeared in the Press was officially correct—that an allowance of eight gallons of petrol would be given to each candidate after the date of nomination. I do not admit that that would be a reasonable quantity of petrol to enable a candidate to get around his constituency between the date fixed for nomination, 9th June, and the date fixed for polling, 22nd June.

Has the Deputy no question to put to the Minister?

I would like to ask the Minister to state here, now, what arrangements, if any, have been made for the supply of a reasonable quantity of petrol to candidates after the date of nomination. When he is fixing the amount I would ask him to make it— I do not say generous—but I would say reasonable.

It has been decided to make an allowance of petrol to each candidate who is nominated for the election. I mean each candidate who is in fact nominated for a constituency, not each person who is at present a prospective candidate for a constituency. That allowance will be eight gallons of petrol. In addition, of course, the major political Parties are receiving at the present time special allowances of petrol as well as permits for cars to enable them to undertake the organisation work that is associated with election preparations by political Parties.

What are these allowances?

These allowances vary, I think, from the case of the Fine Gael Party, which gets the largest allowance, to the smaller Parties that are not represented here at the moment, that are also contesting the election. I could not state from memory what the allowances are. I did not know this question was going to be raised or I would have got the information.

I gave notice to the Parliamentary Secretary.

I did not get the notice until now. There is a number of cars for which permits are granted to each of the Parties and an allowance was granted for the month of May, and a similar allowance will be granted for the ensuing month to these Parties. Now, that allowance given to the Parties as such is over and above the allowance given to each candidate as such. The candidate's allowance will be an individual matter for himself, representing a permit to purchase a stated quantity of petrol, which he can use either in his own car if he applies for a permit for his car and pays the tax on it, or use in a hired car if he prefers to do it in that particular way. It is true that the allowance of eight gallons which is being allowed is not very large, but I do not think the supply position would justify a larger allocation at the present time. It is related to the standard monthly allowance for doctors and other persons who have still got the privilege of using private cars for professional purposes. The amount of travelling that a candidate can do on it will be very restricted, but it is the best, I think, that the supply position would justify.

Would the Minister not consider using a wider discretion and making the allowance available for all candidates? It is perfectly clear that certain Deputies sitting on these benches will be candidates at the coming election, and that they must go around on bicycles until nomination day.

The Deputy will understand that the Department cannot deal with people who are merely prospective candidates. If I were to announce now that the eight gallons would be available for anybody who announced that he was going to be a candidate at the election, it is quite probable you would have 100,000 candidates at the end of the week. No Party would desire that. No one can be regarded as a candidate until his nomination paper and deposit have been lodged with the returning officer. When that has been done, the candidate will become entitled to the allowance. That is the only fair method of distribution. Allocations to Parties have been on the basis of the size of Parties. I felt that it would not be possible to make a flat rate of allocation having regard to the fact that some groups—I am not referring to the groups that at present are represented in the House—will obviously have a much smaller number of candidates and much smaller organisations than the larger and longer established Parties in the House. I may say that the Fianna Fáil Party is getting the smallest allowance of all.

Is it a fact that the allocation to the Labour Party is based on its existing membership in the House, and is not related to the number of candidates it is putting forward?

No. Take the allocation to the Fine Gael Party as the standard, it is very much more than their membership of the House would warrant.

Would there be any use in constituting a Party on these benches in order to qualify for this allowance?

I do not think the A.B.C. Party would qualify.

Would the Minister consider making the allowance available immediately after nomination?

I think that, for administrative purposes, the Department must wait until the 9th. The Deputy will understand the difficulty of issuing permits until we have the full list of candidates sent in by the returning officer. The permits will be issued on that basis.

Could you not request the returning officer to certify the names of the candidates who had been nominated and not wait until the 9th? A good many may be nominated before that date.

A candidate will get no more petrol in any event.

When we have our nomination papers and the £100 lodged, we will get the petrol then.

You can still withdraw your £100.

It is all a question of a suitable date to enable the candidate to get petrol.

The administrative arrangements of the Department will involve the permits going out together.

Mr. Byrne

If a Deputy wants an extra pair of tyres for his bicycle instead of petrol will he be able to get them?

No. I am concerned only with the distribution of petrol.

Would the Minister not consider making more petrol available?

I do not think I could promise that. I should like to leave to my successor, the Minister for Supplies, a sufficient quantity in the tank to enable him to carry on for at least a month.

Estimates ordered to be reported.