Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - White Paper on Social Welfare Schemes.


asked the Minister for Social Welfare if, having regard to the need for greater public understanding of all that is involved in Ireland's application for membership of the EEC, he will publish a White Paper showing all schemes of social welfare, including health, in Ireland, Britain, EEC countries and applicant states, and the steps which will have to be taken to bring Ireland's welfare services into line with those of the EEC.

There is no provision in the Treaty of Rome requiring the adoption of a common form of social welfare services for the EEC as a whole. There are, in fact, considerable differences between the systems in operation in the Member States. While as recorded in Article 117 of the Treaty the Member States agree upon the need to promote better conditions of living and of work so as to lead to their progressive harmonisation and improvement, there have been no developments under this head which would call for immediate changes in our social welfare system on our entry to the Community. In the circumstances I do not propose to have a White Paper prepared as the Deputy suggests, but if he so wishes I can arrange to place in the Library two recent publications giving information about the social security systems of the EEC countries. I would also refer him to Chapter 10 of the White Paper on the European Communities issued in April.

Does the Minister not recall a speech which he made prior to the local elections in which he said he was contemplating the improvement of the social welfare schemes in order to bring them into line with those of the EEC countries?

I do not know that I used the word "improvement". I said I was examining the social welfare systems of the different countries with a view to ascertaining what provision would be necessary here to bring us into line with any harmonisation that would eventually be required.

Would this not involve an improvement in our social welfare schemes?

It would be very difficult to say at the moment. There is so little progress being made in regard to harmonisation within the Six, that no one could lay down any particular line on which we could develop.

Would the Minister say in which of the Six they have a worse social welfare scheme than we have?

It depends on what type of comparison is made. There is a tremendous variety of schemes in the different countries. The information can be made available to anyone who wants to examine it. However, apart from the possibility of our entering the EEC, I should like to have our schemes examined from the point of view of the development of our services in the future. As far as the EEC countries are concerned, there is no direct guideline as to the form harmonisation will take.

Are we to take it that in respect of our old aged, sick and unemployed, entry to the EEC of itself does not mean an improvement in the lot of those classes of people?

Our policy, which I hope to pursue as it has been pursued in the past, will always be towards progressive improvement in social welfare services, irrespective of whether we join the EEC or not.

The question is related to the EEC, and I want the Minister, in so far as it is possible to do so, to dispel this illusion fostered by some of the propagandists that our entry into the EEC will mean a substantial and generous improvement in payments to the old aged, the sick and the unemployed. I want the Minister to confirm—he has already said so, but I want him to confirm it specifically—that this is not so.

Would the Minister not agree the present system is very like the three-card trick?

I do not know whether the Deputy is referring to our system or the EEC system. There is a variety of systems; collaboration is the thing towards which they seem to be working at the moment. It would be impossible to outline a scheme for our Department because we do not know yet what is the line on which harmonisation or collaboration is taking place.

When can we expect the result of the investigation to which the Minister referred?

In regard to the investigation of the conditions in the EEC countries, I should like to keep in step with developments, but, as I have already stated, we cannot at the moment anticipate on what lines we should concentrate but general improvement, as I have said, is our ambition, irrespective of what happens elsewhere.