On section 3 (b) where the reckonable earnings for the first six months of the operation of the Bill is 40 per cent between the figures of £14 and £50 the Parliamentary Secretary now intends to do something which we would like to have explained. If a person finds himself unemployed for six months and has to remain in the dole queue for another three months, his pay-related benefit will be reduced by 10 per cent. This seems extraordinary in the light of the information we have finally squeezed out of the Parliamentary Secretary that the pay-related fund is £7 million in the black. The Parliamentary Secretary tried to justify the 30 per cent figure and related the experience with the redundancy payments fund under the ministry of Deputy J. Brennan. We are in a totally different situation here. The Parliamentary Secretary said that 47 per cent of the people who are in receipt of pay-related benefit are in receipt of it because of injury or industrial disease. That means that 53 per cent of those receiving it are doing so because of unemployment. Would the Parliamentary Secretary please explain to us why, if he has so much money available to him, he will not continue the 40 per cent. He has expressed a feeling for the under-privileged as we, on this side, have done and will continue to do despite the Parliamentary Secretary's strictures. If the Parliamentary Secretary can explain this reduction in a reasoned and reasonable fashion, we will accept it. I think he has found us to be reasonable and responsible on all occasions and never more so than on this occasion. All we want is to be dealt with reasonably. We want a decent reason for the reduction of the figure from 40 to 30 per cent.
Private Members' Business. - Social Welfare (Pay-Related Benefit) Bill, 1975: Committee Stage.
I am very surprised at the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary in introducing this Bill on Second Stage did not spell out precisely the figure in the fund, a very relevant matter to any consideration of this Bill, nor did he spell out the reason for the proposed reduction from 40 per cent to 30 per cent. When he was replying to the Second Stage debate the only explanation he gave for this reduction, the point having been raised, was to quote at some length from what was said by Deputy Brennan of his experience in relation to the redundancy payments fund.
The Parliamentary Secretary was asked to give the figures in the fund but he did not appear to be giving them and continued talking about irrelevant matters until pressed, when he said that there was nothing to conceal. It appears to me that he was trying to conceal what was the situation; otherwise, he would have mentioned it in introducing the Second Stage. One of the basic relevant facts of this Bill is the state of the fund, a fund produced by the contributions of employers and employees. Eventually, when the figure was ascertained it emerged that the fund which was in credit to the extent of £5 million on 31st December last was £7 million in credit three months later and that was during a period when there was a heavy demand on the fund.
The Parliamentary Secretary tells us prudence dictates that he ought reduce the proportion concerned from 40 to 30 per cent. If prudence dictates that, it must mean that the Parliamentary Secretary is expecting far more demands on the fund than has been the case up to now, because if during the first three months of this year the surplus increased by £2 million it would hardly be prudent to cut back in this way on pay-related benefits. Even if the Parliamentary Secretary has some fears of this happening, he is not in a position to give an accurate estimate of what such demands would be. It is all very well to talk of his concern, but actions speak louder than words. The action of the Parliamentary Secretary is to reduce payments at a time when the surplus in the fund is growing and, that, at a time when there are enormous demands on the fund. The Parliamentary Secretary owed it to the House to spell all this out on Second Stage. Not having done that, he must spell it out now and tell us why he proposes the reduction.
It is very difficult to reconcile some of the contributions from Fianna Fáil. We have had full-blooded attacks by Deputy Meaney and others in respect of the level of benefits being paid but there has not been any indication of courage on their part to attack the fund, to attack the extension of the period of payment or to attack the operation of the scheme. All of this was done by way of insinuation during the debate, and now we are told that we are trying to avoid revealing the amount of money in the fund although these figures are published.
Where are they published?
In the Book of Estimates.
The Book of Estimates does not show the figures as at March 31.
So far as I am aware this is part of the social welfare fund and the figure is published.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary distinguish the figure for the fund in question?
These figures are published. They are a matter of public record.
The Book of Estimates gives the figures up to December 31.
I am telling the Deputy that the financial position of the social welfare fund is a matter of public record.
As at 31st March?
I did not say what date the Estimates are published for.
The Parliamentary Secretary is changing feet.
That is not true. The Deputy is endeavouring to confuse the issue by saying that I mentioned a date. If he, as a former Minister for Finance, does not know where the figure can be found, he should be ashamed of himself. Surely his back-up service should ascertain the figure for him.
The Parliamentary Secretary is misleading the House deliberately.
I have no intention of doing the Deputy's research for him.
He is saying that the figures as at 31st March are available in the Book of Estimates, but that is not so.
I am not misleading the House. The Deputy should be aware of where to find the figure.
The Parliamentary Secretary is bluffing.
It is not necessary to bluff nor is it desirable to do so.
In what book is the £7 million?
Deputies should remember that the Bill is in Committee and that questions may be dealt with again.
I appreciate that, but may we ask in what book the £7 million is to be found?
I am sure the Deputy will allow the Parliamentary Secretary to speak first and then the Deputy will be entitled to come back to the matter again.
So far as I am aware the figure is in the Book of Estimates and under the heading of the social welfare fund.
If the Parliamentary Secretary is prepared to admit that he made a mistake, we shall not pursue the matter.
The Deputy may pursue as much as he wishes.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the Book of Estimates is relevant to the 31st December? Let him stop wasting our time.
It has been difficult to sit here since 10.30 this morning listening to the Deputies opposite questioning the wisdom of paying these benefits at all, questioning the whole operation of the scheme and of giving adequate support to people who experience prolonged periods of unemployment or illness. After all that, they want to know why we do not maintain the benefits at a higher level. I have explained repeatedly why the Bill is considered desirable at this stage. I was not pushing Deputy Brennan into the forefront. Deputy Brennan explained what his experience had been in relation to a similar fund. He said the proper thing to do is what they are doing, that is, to show prudence and caution. That is why it is 30 per cent.
The Parliamentary Secretary was silent about the amount of the fund. When we dragged it out of him he decided to tell us there was £7 million in the fund. You and your Department and the senior officials in it must expect a very heavy demand on it in the near future.
The Deputy should refer to the Parliamentary Secretary. He must not refer to officials.
They must be expecting a very heavy demand on the fund. I have no doubt that there will be, in view of the number of redundancies which are now taking place. I now know that the reason for the cut-back is that there will be a very heavy demand on the fund in view of redundancies and closures. I was amazed to hear that the fund had increased from £5 million on 31st December to £7 million on 31st March. I cannot understand why the Parliamentary Secretary shielded that. We dragged it out of him. That is not a nice word but it is the only word I can use.
There will now be a bigger demand on the fund than ever there was, in view of the number of companies who are going into bankruptcy and in view of the increasing costs announced recently which will make extra demands on companies. At the moment the fund is solvent. In three months it has shown a profit of £2 million. Because employers will have to reduce their staff to cover the extra cost of wages, many people will become redundant and there will be more of a demand on the fund. That is why the Parliamentary Secretary decided to cut back on the allowance.
I listened to the debate all day and I was astonished that the amount of the fund was not mentioned in the Parliamentary Secretary's statement. I got the impression that the fund must be low but, at this late hour, the Parliamentary Secretary has admitted that it has gone up by £2 million since December last. Why then is there a cut-back of 10 per cent in the last three months? This is not Government money. It was contributed by the employers and the workers. I thought the fund must have gone down because of all the calls on it but apparently it is improving. If it were below the figure of £5 million the Parliamentary Secretary could refer to the redundancy fund which Deputy Brennan talked about and which went down too low. This fund has accumulated £2 million since December. Unless a catastrophe is anticipated—and we hope it will not happen—why has there to be a cut-back of 10 per cent?
Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would like to answer Deputy Callanan before I make another point. Would he?
Did I understand the Parliamentary Secretary to refer us to the Book of Estimates?
I wonder could the Parliamentary Secretary say where the information is in the Book of Estimates?
I cannot say precisely.
I will help him. I presume the Parliamentary Secretary is familiar with his own Estimate, Social Welfare, Estimate 48 in the Book of Estimates for this year. The first fact which should be pointed out is that the Book of Estimates covers the period from 1st January, 1975, to 31st December, 1975. It is certainly not under subhead A. It is not under subhead B. It is not under subhead C.
The Deputy will find it in the Appendix.
I was coming to that. If the Parliamentary Secretary is referring me to the Appendix, pay-related benefit is given as £11,513,000 in 1975 as against £6,958,000 in the April-December period of 1974. Can the Parliamentary Secretary say what the position of the fund was on 1st January of this year and what it was on 1st March? It is as simple as that. This is all the information we have in the Appendix to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred me. Obviously that is an estimate over a year as compared with a nine-month period in the previous year due to the change in the period of estimation. In those circumstances would the Parliamentary Secretary oblige me by giving me the information which I have asked for with, I hope, all due courtesy?
As the Deputy said, in December there was a surplus of approximately £5 million. At the moment it is estimated that there is approximately £8 million in the fund, not taking into consideration the provisions required under this Bill.
At what date is the £8 million?
I understand 31st March.
How does that differ from the £7 million?
The Deputy will have to permit me to deal with Deputy de Valera first. I am very bad at figures and I get confused easily.
That is obvious.
It might be obvious but at least I have intelligence enough to know it. It is those who think they have the genius with figures and have not are in trouble. I am not.
It is a good comedy act; a million has just disappeared.
There are some straight men in Opposition for that act. When one considers the short period of operation of the fund, the difficult economic circumstances and the fluctuation during the 12 months of operation in unemployment figures, it is not in the best interest of anybody, least of all those who would be receiving benefits, to make hasty and imprudent decisions now regarding expenditure from the fund. We are satisfied that the fund will meet the provisions required by this Bill. Deputies will be pleased to note, in view of the uproar they caused over the increase in the price of insurance stamps recently, that no increase in contributions is called for under this Bill. We are in the happy position of having a healthy fund financially and we are making sure it remains so. The decisions are based with that in mind.
I am appalled at the Parliamentary Secretary's cheek in attempting to boast about the fact that the insurance stamps have not been increased on this occasion. About four or six weeks ago the Parliamentary Secretary introduced the Social Welfare Bill which provided for savage increases in the insurance stamp.
We are extending the period of eligibility by 50 per cent and we are not causing any increase in the amount for the stamp.
As I have often said the Parliamentary Secretary suffers from the vehemence and the arrogance of a former liberal. He should be good enough to give us a break. We are living in a democracy and the Parliamentary Secretary should accept that. I spent months trying to ascertain from the Parliamentary Secretary where the £5 million of the pay-related benefit up to 31st December, 1974 has gone——
It is in the Book of Estimates.
It is not and Deputy Colley has pointed that out.
Deputy de Valera has read that out.
The Parliamentary Secretary is confusing the issue. He gave us a figure of £5 million, added to that £2 million and in the space of half an hour it went to £8 million.
I meant £7 million.
Are we to forget the £8 million?
Knowing Deputy Colley I doubt if he will forget it and he will probably misuse it.
I am trying to get the facts and it is very difficult to get them from the Parliamentary Secretary.
I made a mistake; I meant £7 million.
We now have a surplus of £7 million and the Parliamentary Secretary has said he is maintaining it at 30 per cent rather than keeping it consistent at 40 per cent and urges caution. After six months the Parliamentary Secretary is concerning himself with rhetoric in relation to his concern about the under-privileged. We are concerned about them also. If the Parliamentary Secretary is so concerned about them he should be consistent but he is reducing the pay-related entitlement from 40 per cent to 30 per cent and that seems to be an amazing illogicality. Are people who have been out of work for six months to be asked to take less money after that? Employer and employee have contributed to the £7 million surplus and surely the workers are entitled to the benefit of that surplus.
We agree that it is appalling to ask a man and his wife and children to live on £20 per week. It is appalling when one considers that the rate of inflation is in the region of 32 to 38 per cent in real terms. Some of the economists explain that the real figure is not 25 per cent but 32 per cent. On a compound interest assessment some of them say it is 38 per cent. I would appreciate if the Parliamentary Secretary would introduce an amendment increasing the percentage from 30 to 40 per cent.
The Minister for Finance has told us about the light at the end of the tunnel. I took that to mean that the unemployment situation was going to come to an end. If the Parliamentary Secretary is consistent with the Minister we have £7 million to give out on the basis that unemployment is coming to an end. By not giving out that money the Parliamentary Secretary is admitting that the light has gone out. It is horrifying for the Parliamentary Secretary to abuse the Opposition who have been more than reasonable and patient. When introducing the Bill the Parliamentary Secretary did not refer to the surplus in the fund. That was very unfair in view of the fact that since taking over the spokesmanship on social welfare I have been urging him to explain where that surplus went. We had to squeeze out of him that the surplus is £7 million. It is not good enough for him to refuse to increase the percentage as we have suggested.
I do not want to harass the Parliamentary Secretary with figures, but in the Appendix to which he has referred the expenditure estimated for the total year is £150,110,000 and the estimated income is £114,925,000. That includes the complete fund of which the pay-related benefit is only a part. The difference between the two sums is approximately £35 million. The difficulty is that we cannot get the information because, unfortunately, the item of income is not broken down in the same way as the benefits are set out under the item of expenditure. It is not right to say the information can be obtained readily from the Book of Estimates. It would have to be sought in another way.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to clarify what is the fund under this heading. I am not quite clear what he means by "surplus". I accept that there was a figure of £7 million on 31st March but I should like to know what is that £7 million. Is it £7 million of a fund or is it surplus on the portion relating to pay-related benefits? The Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that we have a legitimate difficulty in assessing the financial position in regard to this important question. I am not joining in the debate with regard to what benefit should be given but I should like to know the financial implications of the transaction. It will be found out afterwards, but that may be too late.
I should be glad to help the Deputy as far as possible. When I referred to the £7 million it was in relation to the surplus of the pay-related element.
Does that mean that so far as expenditure in a year is concerned it is related to the £11½ million?
Therefore, what is deducted comes from the contribution specifically related to it? Does it mean there is still £7 million in the fund?
Yes. I do not know how this issue built up. Deputy Andrews tried to imply that this information had to be extracted from me. Deputy Faulkner, the then spokesman on social welfare, got a reply in very specific terms to a parliamentary question. Once a question is answered here, naturally it is the property of the House.
In relation to what date?
In relation to 31st December.
It is now May but the latest figures available are for 31st March——
There is no secrecy about this matter. It is a matter of public knowledge.
Where is it available? Let us get the facts.
This is a very serious matter. I know the Deputy might like some comic relief at this late hour but we have been dealing with the matter in a serious way since 10.30 a.m.——
Where is it a matter of public knowledge?
It is irresponsible for Deputy Colley to come in at this hour and to treat the matter in such a way.
I have told the Deputies that the question was answered in a parliamentary question——
It was up to 31st December. The Parliamentary Secretary should stop wasting the time of the House.
I realise the Deputy is not too good at figures or with regard to economic matters.
He is much better than Richie Ryan, who is bankrupting the country.
Deputies should keep this discussion to a rational debate.
The Chair should direct his remarks to the Parliamentary Secretary.
The Chair is directing them to everyone engaged in this debate.
Deputy Andrews spoke about the unemployment situation and said that the reason for the extension was that the Government were expecting very large numbers of unemployed. There is no doubt that the number of unemployed is great. It has been in the region of 100,000 for some time but this should be put in perspective. During a long period of years, in the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s, Fianna Fáil Governments accepted that it was normal to have 65,000 or 70,000 people unemployed. It was regarded as a normal acceptable figure——
It was never 103,000 in May.
In addition to the 65,000 or 70,000 unemployed, which was regarded as acceptable by Fianna Fáil, 30,000 people emigrated each year.
The Parliamentary Secretary is going back for quite a period.
I know it is not pleasant to face up to realities. Unfortunately we have approximately 100,000 unemployed but we are endeavouring to ensure that they are cushioned——
The Parliamentary Secretary should stick to the section now, be more serious and have some sincerity——
Oh, I am serious. We had a court jester performance from Deputy Fitzgerald and his colleagues all day.
The Parliamentary Secretary should be serious; this is a serious matter.
And they were not even good at that.
We have another lecturer, John Kelly the second.
Test the people and let them judge.
One Deputy at a time.
We have had a general economic debate here on this section, which touched on everything except that which was relevant to the Bill before the House. And, when people try to reply to the issue made, there are howls from Fianna Fáil; they do not like the truth. But the truth is that Fianna Fáil accept 70,000 unemployed as normal, plus 30,000 emigrating each year; that is 100,000 that was acceptable to successive Fianna Fáil Governments.
The Parliamentary Secretary does not believe it himself.
That figure is not acceptable to this Government. We are determined to reduce it.
When we try to unravel the past mistakes of Fianna Fáil we will try to ensure that people who, unfortunately, lost their employment are cushioned against its worst evils. That is what the Bill is designed to do.
We are getting a little more light on this subject, and the more light we get the more sinister becomes the whole thing. The fact of the matter is that the Parliamentary Secretary introduced the Second Stage of this Bill without any reference whatsoever to the state of the fund. He replied to the Second Stage debate without referring to the state of the fund. He was asked then to give the details and, looking back on it now, although he said there was no secret about it, that he was not trying to evade anything, it is clear that that is precisely what he was doing. He then told us that the figure, which we knew, was £5 million surplus at the 31st of December last. And we asked him what was the latest figure. He told us the surplus was now £7 million at the 31st of March. Therefore, we had an increase of £2 million in the surplus in the first three months of this year. When we pointed out that, in view of the fact that there had been a growth of £2 million in the surplus in those three months, there were heavy demands on the fund, it seemed peculiar—to say the least—that he proposed in this section to reduce the relevant figure from 40 per cent to 30 per cent. The Parliamentary Secretary then became abusive. Anybody can make a mistake. I did not hear him say earlier on that he had made a mistake when he had said £8 million instead of £7 million but I accept immediately if he did make a mistake; any one of us can do that. But, if the Parliamentary Secretary becomes abusive in the process of his mistakes, he need not expect to get away with it lightly. When he tells this House that the figures he gave were available, were published, he is misleading the House. He was asked, and given the opportunity to correct what he had said. He was asked where and, in very abusive language and accompanied by abuse of Deputies on this side of the House, he said it was in the Book of Estimates, this, despite the fact that he should have known—and it was pointed out to him—that the Book of Estimates was made up to the 31st of December. Therefore, it could not, and did not, contain a figure of £7 million to the 31st of March, which was the latest figure available according to himself. When asked to say where it was, the Parliamentary Secretary became even more abusive. I am now inviting the Parliamentary Secretary to say where is it published information, where is it a matter of public knowledge, as he subsequently said, that the surplus in the fund was £7 million on 31st of March last? I am inviting him to point out precisely where that information was available and, if he cannot do so, would he mind withdrawing the mis-statement he made to the House, if not the abuse, to the effect that it appeared in the Book of Estimates.
The Parliamentary Secretary was keen to range far and wide to cover up, firstly, the misleading of the House in which he had indulged and, secondly—quite clearly—the fact that there has been an attempt to cover up what is happening in relation to this fund and in relation to this section. Having disposed of the question of where precisely is the information as to the latest figure in the fund, I would then invite the Parliamentary Secretary to explain, not merely to the House but to the public in general, on what basis he says it is prudent to refuse to continue the 40 per cent in view of the fact that there has been an increase of £2 million in the surplus of the fund in the first three months of this year.
That is a reasonable request, one that goes to the root of this Bill; a matter with which one would have expected the Parliamentary Secretary to deal when introducing the Second Stage of the Bill and certainly when concluding the debate on the Second Stage. However, since he failed to do so and since we had to extract the information from him—considering it is vitally relevant to any consideration of a Bill proposing to extend the period of payments from the fund and also to this section proposing to reduce the percentage from 40 per cent to 30 per cent—it is not an unreasonable request to the Parliamentary Secretary that he carry out his normal duties, explain to the House the financial considerations involved and the method or reasoning by which it was decided it would be prudent to reduce the figure from 40 per cent to 30 per cent, having regard to the increase of £2 million in the surplus of the fund, bringing it to £7 million in the first three months of this year.
Certainly it is conceivable that the Parliamentary Secretary would be able to produce figures to us to show the demands over a certain period and to show why he considers it reasonable and prudent to reduce this figure. He has not yet done so and I am inviting him to do it now.
As I have explained repeatedly to Deputies opposite, the fund is in operation for a limited period of time. Again, may I say it is not prudent to play fast and loose with money in the fund.
Could the Parliamentary Secretary be more precise than that?
We propose here to extend the benefits for a further three months, from a six-months' period to a nine-months' period.
For instance how much extra will that cost; can the Parliamentary Secretary give us that kind of information?
That is actually in the brief if the Deputy would care to look at it.
It is only one element in the calculations. We want the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us how he arrived at the decision in this section.
I know what the Deputy wants. Apparently he wants me to act as his back-up service and I am afraid I cannot do that.
We want the Parliamentary Secretary to do the job for which he is being paid.
Fianna Fáil are not doing too well with what they have; I might even be an improvement because, were one to judge by the level of contributions made by Deputies opposite on this Bill today, if that were to be the level of the back-up service they have been getting, I am beginning to feel somewhat sympathetic towards them.
It is not possible to elaborate any further on what I have said. I have given the reasons why this approach has been made. We feel it is in the best interests of all concerned. Deputy Brennan had the honesty to stand up here and actually commend this approach, from his experience as a former Minister for Social Welfare and Minister for Labour, who had a similar fund in operation which he over-extended, with the best possible intention and motive, and found then that, from a very healthy surplus, the fund was in financial difficulty.
We are talking about this fund.
And, on the basis of that experience, he commended the approach we are making in this extension.
But he did not know the amount in the fund.
I am not, as I said earlier, interested in seeing what effects this will have. I am neither criticising nor commending. A few minutes ago I gave the total estimate for the year. I want to find out how the fund is going for the year. Would the Parliamentary Secretary tell me? Under the heading "Pay-Related Benefit" for 1975 there is the figure of £11,513,000 as against £6,958,000 for April-December, 1974. Under the heading "Income Pay-Related Scheme" we have the figure of £17,980,000 for 1975 as against £9,075,000 for the April-December period 1974. The difference between the two is £6,467,000. Would the Parliamentary Secretary please relate these figures and the difference I have quoted over the 12-month period I have quoted to the figure he stated at the end of last year and at the end of March? Would the Parliamentary Secretary be able to tell me what is the relationship of the figures he has given to these figures? These are the only published figures we have.
I have given, to the best of my ability, the financial standing of the fund. It is not possible for me to give details of the fluctuations in the income and expenditure of the fund. Any information that has been sought in relation to the fund has been given and I have nothing more to say.
I invited the Parliamentary Secretary—he will recall he told us the figures he had given were in the Book of Estimates—and I am inviting him again now to say where in the Book of Estimates they appear.
And I have quoted what is in the appendix to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred me. Would he now please answer my question?
The Deputies have sought information about the financial standing of the fund. That has been given. With regard to quoting various figures, that is, as far as I can see, a matter of adding and subtracting.
What does the £6,467,000, the difference between the two figures I have quoted, represent?
As I explained earlier, it would appear it is a surplus.
This is an estimated surplus for the whole year. If it is anything it is an estimated surplus for 12 months, not three months.
Up to when?
This refers to an estimate for the full year 1975.
I can only tell the Deputy the estimated income and that I have already given the Deputy. That is all I can do.
(Dublin Central): Income up to the end of the year.
No—one up to December and the other figure I gave was up to 31st March.
I am surprised at the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary in dealing with the objective approach taken by this side of the House to this question. The Parliamentary Secretary scoffs and jeers and sniggers. It is quite obvious to me that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he said, "You will find it in the Book of Estimates", was acting on the advice he got from his staff because it is quite clear to me that he really does not know what he is talking about when he talks about an appendix in relation to the Social Welfare Estimate for 1974-1975. When Deputy de Valera asked him about the figure of £6,958,000 he said that was the surplus in the fund as at 31st December last year.
One of the reasons I came into the House was that I heard the Parliamentary Secretary tell Deputy Colley that, when he wanted information of this nature, he should know where to find it; he, with his experience of Finance, should know——
I have given the information——
——where to get information of that nature.
——that was sought and I do not feel any obligation to act as a back-up service for Fianna Fáil Deputies.
The Parliamentary Secretary has a responsibility to the House though.
First of all, the Parliamentary Secretary refused to give the information——
Deputies can do their own homework.
——and then proceeded actually to lecture us as to where we would find it. This sent me frantically searching in my drawer for the Book of Estimates because I could not imagine this information was there and that is why I came in with the Book of Estimates to hear the Parliamentary Secretary himself utterly confused because he was not able to make up his mind whether the fund at present was £8 million or £7 million. He contradicted Deputy Colley and informed Deputy de Valera it was £8 million and found himself having to apologise subsequently for his mistake. I pay tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary in so far as he makes it very difficult to make a serious contribution here with his sneering, his jeering, his scoffing and his laughing.
That is quite clear. According to the Book of Estimates, the amount of actual expenditure under the pay-related benefits scheme for the period April-December last year was estimated as £6,958,000. The income for the same period into the pay-related benefits scheme was £9,075,000 according to the appendix. That means that the excess that should have accrued to the pay-related benefits fund during the course of that nine months period was £2,117,000. This is where the Parliamentary Secretary says that the Book of Estimates will show a credit fund of £5 million. Obviously, £3 million must have come into that nine months Estimate year, because the income exceeded expenditure, according to this Book of Estimates, by £2,117,000 last year. This means a sum of £3 million was somewhere, perhaps coming in as balance last April.
We now come to the present year where the amount of envisaged expenditure under the pay-related benefits scheme is £11.513 million. I take it that the expenditure by the end of this year will far exceed that because of the increased number unemployed. I also feel that the income into the pay-related scheme, which was estimated at £17.980 million, according to the Book of Estimates, will show, during the course of 1975, a surplus of £6.467 million.
I assume in this regard the Parliamentary Secretary will have, arising from, as Deputy Andrews said, the increase in the pay-related contributions amount, an overall increase in the income. On the other hand, the Parliamentary Secretary said today that the estimated additional cost, provided things did not disimprove, would be somewhere in the region of £1.8 million. On the basis of the difference between the 30 per cent and the 40 per cent there will be a 10 per cent increase on that amount. That will not seriously rock the boat as far as the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister are concerned.
The ridiculous statement by the Parliamentary Secretary that the figure in the fund of 31st March of this year could possibly be in the Book of Estimates prompted me to speak. I believe he should have a lot more to say in reply to the questions that have been raised here than simply apologising for his mistake about the £7 million and the £8 million. It appears to me he is suffering from what a man suffers when he gets too much favourable press comment.
I should like to draw attention to another matter relating to figures. The Parliamentary Secretary stated that the information is available. I would like to remind him that the Appropriation Accounts for last year are not available yet and the Appropriation Accounts for this year probably will not be available until after the end of this year. We are virtually confined to the Book of Estimates and to such answers as Ministers will give.
I have tried to be as objective as possible on this, but I would like to register the strongest possible protest at the attitude of certain Ministers who will not assist the House with information or the furnishing of documents. The public should know there is great arrears in having information available. We have had no opportunity of discussing these matters and we now do not know the position of this fund. I have had occasion in another place to go into these matters and I am afraid that I must say that the Parliamentary Secretary does not know what he is talking about.
In relation to the Parliamentary Secretary's suggestion that in some way Deputy Joe Brennan, a former Minister for Labour and also a former Minister for Social Welfare, is allegedly supporting his approach to caution on the 30 per cent, that is the reduction from 40 per cent to 30 per cent, I want to make it quite clear that the money available to the then Minister for Labour, Deputy Joe Brennan, in the redundancy fund was considerably less than is available to the Minister in the social welfare pay-related fund. We are talking about £7 million here and it is money which belongs to the people who paid into the fund, the employers and the employees.
Deputy de Valera and Deputy Colley have touched on other very important areas on this particular section, which is one we appear to be stuck on. We will continue to stick on it if the Parliamentary Secretary continues to treat the House, as distinct from the Opposition who are collectively responsible to the House, with contempt. It is not good enough for him to come in here and state that he will not act as a back-up service to the Opposition. We do not want him to do that under any circumstances because his display here tonight quite clearly indicates that he would not be even a member of a back-up group to provide back-up services for Fianna Fáil.
We want the Parliamentary Secretary to be a back-up group to the House as an entity. I believe the House is entitled to it as a totality of individuals who were sent here by the people as public representatives. This is what we believe should be made available. We do not want, as an Opposition, to dissociate ourselves from the totality of the number of Deputies who are elected to make up this House. The information is not forthcoming. We are entitled to legitimately pursue the Parliamentary Secretary within the democratic process until we receive answers in relation to the matters we have brought to his attention.
I want to nail the attempted lie that in some way the former Minister for Labour, Deputy Brennan, is allegedly supporting the Parliamentary Secretary's approach to caution on the matter of the 30 per cent. It is a piece of spurious argumentation which does not bear examination. We certainly do not accept his interpretation which is selective and prejudiced in regard to what Deputy Brennan said. He spoke from his own experience as Minister for Labour but he also spoke from his experience in relation to the fund which was considerably less, as we understand it, than is now available to the Parliamentary Secretary in a far different set of circumstances.
At the time Deputy Brennan was concerned employment was going well, everything was going well. We now find ourselves in an employment situation where unemployment is increasing on a daily basis or even on an hourly basis. I described inflation as an infinity of inflation, which goes on and on. Under all those circumstances, surely my case is made even stronger. With inflation at 25 to 32 per cent on an annual basis, offering people 30 per cent after six months, people living on the breadline, and reducing their living standards by 10 per cent is unfair and unjust. It becomes even more unfair and unjust when one realises that the Parliamentary Secretary has £7 million available to him that we did not know about coming into this debate. I do not think he was trying to conceal it. I do not think he was aware of the amount at his disposal. Perhaps that is the reason he could not give the information. He has £7 million available to him. In view of the stress of unemployment, the inflationary situation, the difficulties housewives face when the breadwinner is on social welfare payment, it is most unfair to reduce the 40 per cent to 30 per cent. I want to make an appeal to him to increase the figure to 40 per cent. I hope this is only one of a number of such appeals which will be made until the Parliamentary Secretary agrees.
There are other points to be made in relation to this section and to the Bill and those who will make them are well able to do so.
While not wanting to divert from Deputy Andrews' main argument, I said something when the Parliamentary Secretary was out which I would not have said if I had noticed that he was absent. I said that the Parliamentary Secretary did not know what he was talking about. I do not want that to be taken in any personal sense. What I am beginning to be afraid of is that if that is the case— both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary should take note—if Ministers are themselves not in a position to judge for themselves, if they are merely echoes for their Departments and of briefs given by the Departments, where are we going? I am afraid that is what is happening. I am afraid the real ministerial direction is on the other side of that barrier. I am not making any personal accusations here. This is because we have not got the information. This is because we are behind time in publishing the information. This is because this House is not given the information to enable us to judge. We are all becoming puppets for a bureaucracy. When I said the Parliamentary Secretary did not know what he was talking about, I did not mean it personally but I am afraid that is where this Government have got now and it is high time that all the information is made available.
I am somewhat surprised and disappointed at Deputy de Valera.
It was not personal.
It was not personal to me. I am a public representative. I have no objection to political attacks being made on me—none whatever.
I am not attacking anyone.
I have no objection to them. They are quite legitimate. I strongly object when it is implied in the House that officials, civil servants, in the Department of Social Welfare are exercising or attempting to exercise authority which rightly they would not have. I can assure the Deputy and the House that this has not happened and I would like to make it quite clear that there has never been any attempt by the civil servants in the Department of Social Welfare in my experience to exercise any authority which would not be proper to them. I think on reflection that Deputy de Valera would wish to withdraw the reference to civil servants.
I am being invited to withdraw something. My whole record here has been defending the civil servants and pointing out that this House has thrown the whole burden on to them and that this Government in particular have thrown it completely on them. It is anything but a slur on the civil servants. It is a slur on the Government that do not see that the information is available to enable them and us to do our job. It is the same with the unfortunate Revenue Commissioners. We are throwing the whole burden of work, responsibility and everything else on the civil service. I have had to make that point here before. It is anything but a slur on them. If it was not for them the whole thing would have blown up long ago, the country would not be running, because of the incompetency of the Government. It is the civil servants who are keeping things going.
It is high time that you briefed yourselves with the information you should have and could talk from your own knowledge and not have to lean over and get notes the whole time, lean over to get the answer, and then to get confused as the Parliamentary Secretary did. Do not misrepresent me like that. Every time the Parliamentary Secretary has to lean over to get a note. He tells us there is stuff published and it is not. He referred me to a book where it is not. He cannot even reckon a year. Do not try that. I will be reasonable enough but if you want that kind of thing you will get it.
Whether the Deputy is reasonable enough or not is a matter for his own judgment. Do not attempt to threaten me.
I am not threatening you.
I would not take threats from Deputy de Valera.
I got up as a courtesy to tell you that it was not a personal slur on you and you twisted what I said.
I am not going to take it from Deputy de Valera or any other member of his party.
I got up to pay you a courtesy and you twisted it.
Deputy de Valera obviously has a better insight into the operation of past Administrations than I have——
I am talking about the present one.
——and seems to have spoken very authoritatively on how they operated——
On what he saw happening tonight.
——and their competence to run the Departments. Deputy de Valera is trying to carry over the same standards as applied then to the present Administration. I can assure Deputy de Valera that as far as knowledge of the working of one's Department is concerned anyone in this Administration compares very favourably with anyone in the last Administration. If Deputy de Valera has personal knowledge of that experience——
He saw it here tonight.
——of a Fianna Fáil Government, he was very well positioned to have made that observation but it is only right to assure him and to assure the House that if that was his experience of past Administrations it does not apply to the present one.
We have heard——
Could we get back to the section?
Yes. I am getting back to the section and the previous discussion. One of the matters that caused Deputy de Valera to say what he did was the following: the Parliamentary Secretary said quite sometime ago that the figure he had given us of £7 million as the surplus at 31st March last was a matter of public record. I asked him a few times and I am asking him again, where is it a matter of public record?
Deputy Colley persists in trying to misrepresent the situation. I do not intend to pursue Deputy Colley down that particular cul-de-sac. I have given the information that was sought. I can do no more.
Does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that he stated that the information was a matter of public record? Does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that he stated that information was a matter of public record? Did he say that? Does he agree that he said that?
I know the Deputy has some legal experience but I am not being cross-examined in a court of law. If the Deputy would give me an opportunity I would endeavour to give him the information.
Does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that he said this was a matter of public record?
The Estimates for the Department——
Does he disagree?
Does the Deputy want me to answer or not?
I am asking the Parliamentary Secretary does he agree or disagree that he said that £7 million as the surplus at 31st March this year was a matter of public record? Did he or did he not say that?
It is a matter of public record.
Right, he said it again now. Would he say where is it a matter of public record?
I have stated it here in the House. That is a matter of public record.
And that is what the Parliamentary Secretary is relying on?
As far as the Estimate is concerned the Deputy knows where it can be found.
There is no Estimate for that amount.
The Estimates for the Department are published. There has been no departure whatever, so far as the publication or availability of information is concerned, from what has been practised right down through the years. There is no attempt at concealment because fortunately with this Administration we never had to resort to concealment as to what happened to public funds.
Nobody said anything about concealment.
We did point out to the Parliamentary Secretary on a number of occasions that the Book of Estimates to which he refers deals with the calendar year and not the 31st March. He gave information——
I have given the information.
——which we dragged out of him. He then stated that it was a matter of public record, that it was available in the Book of Estimates. Would he now agree, so that we can get on with what is really relevant, that what he stated was not correct?
I am very glad to see that the Deputy has now recognised that what he has been engaged in for the last three-quarters of an hour was not relevant. I am extremely glad he has acknowledged that.
It was not personal abuse as it was from the Parliamentary Secretary.
The Deputy asked for two sets of figures—up to 31st December and up to 31st March. I gave these and I gave them some considerable time ago—at approximately a quarter to nine.
On a point of order, is it not a rule of this House that when a Member addresses the House he is required to stand?
Yes, but there has always been a certain amount of——
Dignity in the House.
——informality at Committee Stage.
There is very little left.
I can assure you, a Cheann Comhairle, it was not meant either as a discourtesy to you, or to the Deputies opposite.
I have been here since——
Since you came in.
You have enough to do to look after Limerick. The Parliamentary Secretary was not aware of the amount that was in the fund until his senior advisers in the Department of Social Welfare passed him a note telling him what was in it.
Were they not devils to give me information? They are terrible men altogether.
More luck to them. If the Parliamentary Secretary did not have them to back him up he would be in a bad way.
They should have slipped it to me.
The Parliamentary Secretary was not man enough to give it to the House.
The Deputy does not know what is under discussion.
Reference to or reflection on public officials must not be made. The Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister are responsible for their Department. There must be no reference made to officials as such.
I did not mean it as a discourtesy to them. The Parliamentary Secretary was not aware of the amount in the fund. If he was aware of it why did he not mention it in his speech? He did not do so until we dragged the amount out of him. Does the increase in wages not mean that there will be extra money coming into the fund, but that may be counteracted by the redundancies and the closures that are about to take place? The Parliamentary Secretary can smile all right. He must see the writing on the wall when he has decided to reduce the breadline by 10 per cent on the pay-related benefit. His advisers in the Department——
This is not in order.
My apology if it is not. Because he reduced it from 40 to 30 per cent he must have some indication that there will be an extra demand on it. We on this side thought that with the very heavy burden on it in the last three months it would not show an increase of £2 million on 31st March. In a calendar year this would mean a gain of £8 million in addition to the £5 million which would be £13 million.
The result of good management by this Government.
He does not think it will happen. He knows it will not. If he thinks it will why did he not leave it at 40 per cent? He must have an indication, with the redundancies and closures that are taking place, that there will be a very big demand on the fund. We are all aware that there is about to be a collapse in the industrial field. Nobody can deny that.
Can we stick to section 3?
When companies go into liquidation and let employees go they turn to pay-related benefit. I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary was not aware of the amount in the fund. I believe he was badly advised by the Department on the amount in it because if he had known the amount he possibly would not have reduced it by 10 per cent. Did the Parliamentary Secretary know when he started here this morning, what the total amount in the fund was or did he have to be told? I have no doubt he had to be told.
Does the Parliamentary Secretary know how much money is due to the Department of Social Welfare from State and semi-State organisations which have not been stamping insurance cards for their employees up to date? It has come to my notice of late that some very important State and semi-State organisations——
——have not been stamping insurance cards up to date and that people who seek unemployment benefit, pay-related benefit or disability benefit from the State have got letters back from the Department of Social Welfare to say that the Department are sorry but that they cannot pay those benefits until such time as the 1973 insurance cards are handed in and it is only after considerable inconvenience——
This cannot be related to the section.
The people go back again to their employers, whether they are State or semi-State bodies or health boards, and it is only when the employers stamp their cards and send them to the Department of Social Welfare that they are paid the benefits due to them. It is a well-known fact that there is an understanding between the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Finance and the State and semi-State organisations that the insurance cards should not be stamped in order to save money for those organisations and that it is only when employees require the benefits that the cards should be stamped.
I fail to see the relationship——
Give him a chance.
The Deputy must listen to the Chair. I fail to see the relationship between what he is saying and the section. I must ask him to relate his remarks more closely to the section in respect of which the question of stamps does not arise.
It arises in so far as pay-related contributions are concerned.
I am asking the Parliamentary Secretary whether he is aware of thousands of persons whose cards in respect of pay-related benefit have not been stamped up to date by the employers concerned.
This will affect the fund.
This is a very important point, one which has been articulated well by Deputy O'Leary but surely it is unfair of the Parliamentary Secretary not to reply. No doubt the Deputy has made his allegations on good grounds. In a situation in which the semi-State organisations are not paying their contributions to the social welfare pay-related fund it is hardly proper that we should be talking here of a surplus fund of £7 million. A considerably larger figure would be involved. Therefore, would the Parliamentary Secretary be good enough to reply to Deputy O'Leary's clearly stated case which has a relevancy to the Bill?
If the Deputy has evidence of what he is alleging, he should let us have it.
I am prepared to give the evidence to the Parliamentary Secretary either in the House or outside.
I did not think Deputy Andrews would wish me to pursue that point. I understood there was agreement that all Stages of this Bill be taken today. As I explained, a delay in passing the Bill would involve a loss of the provision of extending the benefit to recipients.
That can be remedied easily.
I suppose Deputies opposite can dismiss it in that way.
I said the situation can be remedied.
The Parliamentary Secretary should be allowed comment without interruption. Let us have orderly debate.
If that understanding is not to be honoured——
There was no such understanding.
Obviously, the Deputy is not aware of it.
I am not.
There was an understanding to that effect.
Did the Whips agree to that?
If that undertaking is not to be honoured, would the people opposite please let us know? If it is to be honoured, there would need to be no further delay.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach say whether he agrees with the statement made by Deputy Cluskey in regard to their being an agreement?
There was an understanding between the Fianna Fáil spokesmen and myself.
Although not willing to be cross-examined by Deputy Colley or by anybody else, I am prepared to put on the record, since I have been invited to do so, what was the position in regard to today's business. I arrange every week's business in full consultation with the Opposition. Frequently I arrange the sequence of business in response to suggestions from them. Very often business is ordered in almost the way suggested by Deputies Browne and Lalor. I have no complaint personally against either of these two Deputies. Last week I discussed the arranging of this week's business with Deputy Browne. I told him on Wednesday and confirmed with him on Thursday that the Government wished to give Tuesday and Wednesday of this week to the Committee Stage of the Capital Gains Tax Bill.
Was there an agreement to take all Stages of this Bill?
The Deputies do not wish to hear of the arrangement.
In justice to Deputy Browne, had he foreseen this situation where we would be departing from Standing Orders in order to keep the staff of the House, the Deputies and members of the Press here for a 12-hour day I do not believe that the Bill, which both he and I thought would have been disposed of in an hour, would have been ordered for this morning. This is in no way a reflection either on Deputy Browne or Deputy Lalor. I do not minimise the importance of this Bill but the business of the day has been held up deliberately.
This was due to the arrogance of the Parliamentary Secretary.
Where was the arrogance?
The Parliamentary Secretary was not here for it.
I will not be bullied by Deputy Colley.
We will let the people know who is delaying the Bill.
And who is reducing the payments.
I am surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach has come in on the Bill at this stage. When we discussed business last week I said that this Bill should not take very long. There is no question about that but there was no guarantee as to the length of time it would take.
I accept that.
I have been listening to the debate for hours and I am amazed that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare came into the House not knowing the amount of credit in the fund.
The Deputies have been told repeatedly what the amount is.
After it was dragged out.
Surely when the Parliamentary Secretary was not able to give the amount in the fund or even an estimate of it, he should not try to put a Bill of this type through the House. The first information that should have been supplied to the House was the extent of the fund. This is what has caused all of this row. Although I have listened to the debate I still do not know how much is in the fund. If we can get an unequivocal answer to this question, much of this trouble could be avoided.
The figures requested were given repeatedly. One Deputy says they were not given at all and Deputy Lalor now mutters "reluctantly". They were given repeatedly. There is no secret about them.
They are a matter of public record.
The first figure Deputy Faulkner got by way of parliamentary question some considerable time ago. That is on the records of the House. The second figure was given when it was requested.
What about the third figure?
What third figure?
The figure of £8 million was given and then the figure of £7 million.
I knew that if anybody made a mistake and apologised, that would be used by some Deputies on that side of the House.
If the Parliamentary Secretary had admitted his mistake and apologised, there would have been no trouble.
I made a mistake. I corrected it. I apologised to the House. Now that is being used against me. If those are the tactics Fianna Fáil want to employ, fair enough. I have no objection if they want to employ those tactics. If they want to oppose the Bill, they should do so honourably and openly. There is no retrospection in this Bill.
Why? Why not put it in?
If this Bill is not passed tonight—it has to go to the Seanad—the only people who will suffer are the people we heard Fianna Fáil express concern about.
Why not put in a retrospective clause?
This is a relatively small Bill with five sections, one of which would appear to be contentious. I do not believe it actually is, but if Fianna Fáil want to give that impression, fair enough, let them give it. It has been debated at considerable length. If they want to challenge it, they should challenge it and have a vote. I do not object to that.
We want the Parliamentary Secretary to justify reducing the 40 per cent to 30 per cent.
They should be honourable about it. If they want to oppose the passage of the Bill they should do so honourably. They know what the consequences are of delaying the passage of this Bill. They know who will pay the price if it is delayed, the recipients.
Why do you not put in a retrospective clause?
Why do you not grow up?
On a point of order, I want to say that had not the Government Chief Whip and I agreed last week that we would take this on Wednesday morning it would be taken tomorrow. Therefore, the urgency which the Parliamentary Secretary is talking about does not arise. We would not have taken it at all today if we had not reached agreement last week to take it this morning to try to relieve the pressure on the people dealing with the Financial Bills before the House.
It was anticipated that there would be a short debate.
I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach will agree with that. We will be here in the morning. I am sure we will finish the Bill in the morning if the Parliamentary Secretary is agreeable. That is when it would have been taken in the ordinary course.
I cannot give the House an undertaking about tomorrow's business which would involve turning upside down what the Opposition and I arranged last week and what I told my own Deputies would be taken. I do not exclude it, but I cannot arrange it off the top of my head. I accept that Deputy Browne did not give a guarantee that the Bill would go through in an hour. I am not accusing him of not being perfectly straight about it, but he knew that the Government intended to give today and yesterday to the Capital Gains Tax Bill. He knew that had we foreseen that this Bill, which I understood was not contentious, although it has not turned out like that, would take all day today, it would not have been ordered for today.
As it happens, the Minister for Finance has to go to America so he cannot be here to take the Capital Gains Tax Bill tomorrow. He is going to America in the public interest. It is a severe nuisance to him and to his programme that we did not get to the Bill at all today, and obviously we are not going to do so. I am not accusing the Opposition of a breach of faith in regard to the ordering of the business, and I hope this will not damage my own relations with them, because it is of value that we should arrange the business by agreement rather than by dictation. I hope that as long as I am in this position it will always be like that.
Because of some factor which I cannot put my finger on, which has carried the Bill through the day although it was supposed to be non-contentious—and we have not had a single vote on a principle—the business which the Government intended to do today has had to be put on the long finger until next week. I do not accuse either Deputy Lalor or Deputy Browne of the slightest degree of guilt about that or, indeed, anybody else, but I want to put on record the expectations which have been disappointed through no fault of our own. If there is any fault it is not on this side of the House.
The Bill cannot be all that urgent if it was not to be ordered until tomorrow.
Deputy Colley and I have been waiting here to deal with the Capital Gains Tax Bill.
We are ready. We have it here.
We were trying to get information from the Parliamentary Secretary. I made a remark in his absence. I would not like him to take it personally but he tried to misrepresent me as making an attack on civil servants.
Which the Deputy did.
I did not.
Yes, you did.
Let us not get back to that subject.
I accept the ruling of the Ceann Comhairle wholeheartedly and I wish to support him completely. There should be no reference to that. If the Parliamentary Secretary had been in a position to give the information and had not behaved as he did, there would not have been any trouble. The delay is due to the behaviour of the Parliamentary Secretary. I want to make it perfectly clear that that one remark should not be taken in any personal sense. His behaviour alone is responsible for the delay.
I want to make it clear that we are not trying to hold up this Bill. The reality of the situation is that the Parliamentary Secretary is attempting in this Bill to reduce from 40 per cent to 30 per cent the figure to be paid on reckonable earnings for the three-months' period under discussion. The Parliamentary Secretary has not told us why he intends reducing this figure from 40 per cent to 30 per cent. He has not justified the reduction of that figure having regard to the amount of £7 million or thereabouts in credit in the fund. He has not justified the introduction of section 3 (b) of the Social Welfare (Pay-Related Benefits) Bill, 1975.
It is a piece of hypocrisy for him to come in here and attempt in some way to suggest that the Opposition are deliberately trying to deprive people of benefit in view of the fact that he is reducing the figure from 40 per cent to 30 per cent. He has £7 million in the fund. We got this information in the past hour-and-a-half only. If the Parliamentary Secretary is so concerned about the rapid passing of this Bill, the House is entitled to be given some reasons for the reduction of 10 per cent. This figure has not been justified. The Parliamentary Secretary has not given any reason for it. He has not once replied to Deputy Colley's very reasonable questions about the amount of the fund.
This is a major filibuster by Fianna Fáil.
It is not.
It is a filibuster pure and simple. What about the unfortunate people at the labour exchanges?
The Parliamentary Secretary wants to cut down the pay-related benefit. This is what is holding up the Bill.
It is a major filibuster.
It is not a filibuster.
The Opposition ganged up tonight to deprive the unfortunate people of money which this Government have provided for them.
The Coalition have put them out of work.
The Coalition put 5,000 people out of work in Limerick, Deputy Coughlan's constituency.
The people will judge the Opposition for what they are and, as they did before, will return us.
What about the cheap suits?