Additional Estimates, 1964-65. - Army Pensions (Increase) Bill, 1964 —Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

This Bill is designed to give statutory effect to the increases which were awarded in pensions and allowances under the Army Pensions Acts arising from the 1963 Budget. On the authority of a Supplementary Estimate, which was approved on 28th November, 1963, payment of these increases commenced with effect from 1st November, 1963 and this Bill contains the formal legislative provision for what was done then.

In the cases of officer pensioners whose disablement pensions are related to pay the increases apply to those who retired before 16th December, 1959 and the effect of the increases is to bring the pensions up to the level appropriate to an officer who retired on that date. Disablement pensions which are not related to pay and married pensions are increased by 5 per cent as also are allowances payable to widows, children and other dependants of deceased persons.

Gratuities which are payable where the degree of wound disablement is less than 20 per cent—as well as remarriage gratuities payable to widows —have not been increased since 1956 and this Bill applies to them the several percentage increases granted since that year in respect of pensions and allowances. The aggregated additions amount to an increase of about 40 per cent in these gratuities.

A flat increase of £4 per year is being provided in special allowances. In addition increases in certain social welfare benefits and in certain service and disability pensions are being disregarded in the assessment of means. The latter arrangements are not of course mentioned in this Bill as they are made by way of changes in the joint directions which are effected in agreement with An tAire Airgeadais.

The net extra annual cost to the Exchequer of the increased benefits for which the Bill provides is £28,000. Improvements in special allowances account for £14,000 net of this figure and the balance of £14,000 represents the annual cost of the increases in pensions, allowances, etc.

I should mention that this Bill applies only to the 1963 Budget increases; separate measures are being taken to provide for the increases authorised in this year's Budget which will not become payable until 1st October next. If there are any other points on which clarification is sought, I will be glad to deal with them when concluding.

We have no objection to this Bill and we are prepared to collaborate in passing it through all Stages today. In the concluding paragraph of his statement, the Minister says:

...this Bill applies only to the 1963 Budget increases; separate measures are being taken to provide for the increases authorised in this year's Budget which will not become payable until 1st October next.

What are the separate measures he has in mind? Is legislation necessary to give effect to them or can they be given effect to by regulation?

Yes; as the law stands. There is a provision in this year's general Pensions (Increase) Act permitting increases by order or regulation of the pensions under the immediate direction of the Minister for Finance. We are hoping that it may be possible to extend that innovation to the pensions administered by the Department of Defence.

So the Minister intends that the provisions scheduled to begin on 1st October will in fact begin on 1st October, even though legislation of a specific character has not been passed by the House because the regulatory power may be sufficient to give effect to the Budget proposals?

Yes, it would be a repetition of what is happening in this particular case.

I should just like to ask a question. This is a very complex code with which Deputy MacEoin usually deals on our behalf, and one with which I am not wholly familiar but on reading the Bill, I notice that we speak, in Part II, of wound pensions for soldiers, and we speak of a 100 per cent degree of disablement and fix the rate of pension for a soldier so disabled at £4 17s. 6d. a week. Does that mean that if a serving soldier, quite a young man, in the course of his duties meets with injuries which render him unfit to undertake any other remunerative employment, the maximum pension payable to him is £4 17s. 6d.?

There is an addition of a married pension and also the children's allowance.

I am fully appreciative that I am not speaking to an unsympathetic ear, but does it not seem rather out of date to say that a single man of 26, 27 or 28 years of age, because of an accident or injury received in the discharge of his duty as a soldier in the Army, is to live on £4 17s. 6d. a week for the rest of his life until he qualifies for the old age pension? What I am puzzled about is that if a man working for you meets with an accident while in your employment and it is determined by the court that the accident was of a character that rendered him unfit to undertake any remunerative employment whatever for the rest of his life, that he was suffering from 100 per cent disability, the courts under the workmen's compensation code would award him a very much more substantial pension.

£4 10s.—there is a limit.

I see. What I am really thinking about is negligence accidents. They would be a matter for common law. But under workmen's compensation, he would only get £4 10s. a week. Do we not all agree that it is high time to review that?

Yes, indeed.

I am glad that it should fall to me to raise this matter generally in respect of the soldiers. My mind always goes back to the days of the early part of the War when we had the rather unusual spectacle of the present President and myself campaigning in the country for recruits for the Defence Forces.

The Deputy is making all our wounds bleed.

I remember being on a platform in Ballina with the then Taoiseach and one thing about which we were quite certain when we spoke to those who joined the Army, was that their subsequent service would not be forgotten when the emergency had passed. I often think that in dealing with members of the Defence Forces, we are too much inclined to take them for granted and to forget that some of them do suffer disablement and that there is a very special duty on the Government to see that they are properly looked after in respect of their disablement. Under this scheme, they are to receive £4 17s. 6d. for total disablement. Under the workmen's compensation scheme, a man in employment would receive £4 10s. I understand that the workmen's compensation scheme is under review for the purpose of bringing the weekly compensation for people suffering 100 per cent disablement more into line with something approximating reality. I should be interested to hear from the Minister, if he is free to tell us, if we may assume that in any revision of the compensation rate which it is proposed to provide under the workmen's compensation code the soldiers' pension rights will be brought into line with the new standards fixed for the workmen's compensation code?

There is one other question I should like to ask the Minister. What is the position of a soldier who does not, I think, stamp any social service card, in regard to a contributory old age pension or contributory widows' pension under the social service code? Is he simply getting army allowance and nothing else? You have a situation in the Garda Síochána in which a garda widow gets a pension, but she becomes entitled, I think, to a non-contributory pension, whereas if the Gardaí stamped cards, or were deemed to have stamped cards, the garda widow would get, in addition to her garda pension a contributory pension. Have we ever considered the desirability of either stamping cards for military personnel or deeming them to be paid up members under the social service code, or what is the present situation? If we have not, does the Minister think it would be desirable to consider doing that, or have we made reasonable provision, if we leave them out of the social service code, for bearing in mind the fundamental differences that now exist between the social benefits available to those who belong to the social service categories as distinct from those who are purely on a non-contributory basis.

I can tell the Leader of the Opposition that the members of the Army for whom the Vote for Defence provides the insurance contributions are entitled to their contributory pension in the same way as any other pensioner.

They are like the Garda.

I think that meets the point. I welcome the sympathetic remarks in respect of cases of soldiers who have suffered disablement. I think what is happening in this country is there is now a general tendency, as our ideas progress, to give everybody a lift and the overall restriction on it is, of course, the problem of finance. I think it reasonable to assume now from all the various arbitrations that have been going on in the country that a suitable and proper relativity is certain to be established and I take it the members of the Defence Forces will benefit from that as well as any other section of the community. The overall cost to the Department of Defence of these personnel benefits, whether pension allowances or pay, have certainly very often been brought home to me. The global sum asked for by the Department of Defence is very often referred to and some good citizens are inclined to sneer at the value we give for it.

We have these two extremes and we try to strike the best compromise possible between them. I do not want to say here that disabled people who have served their country are getting enough. I should like to see them getting more. Taking all the circumstances into account, I think we have at any event not shown any lack of sympathy for their claims. Personally, as far as any influence of mine will go to bring about an improvement of their lot, it certainly will not be wanting.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.