Health Contributions Bill, 1978: Committee and Final Stages.

SECTION 1.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 18, after "Income Tax Act, 1967," to insert "but without regard to section 192 of that Act,".

On further consideration of the text of the Bill, it transpires that this amendment is necessary. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the incomes of a man and his wife are treated separately for the purposes of this legislation. If we did not make this change, then under the income tax legislation concerned the income of the husband and wife would be treated as one.

I have not been circulated with a copy of this amendment, possibly because of the postal difficulties to which reference was made earlier.

It is on the Order Paper.

The Minister explained that a husband and wife having separate incomes would have the health contribution rated separately.

Yes. For the purpose of this legislation they would be treated as separate people with separate incomes.

For the purpose of the Income Tax Act they are treated collectively.

Under the Income Tax Act the income of the wife is treated as the income of the husband, generally speaking.

There is provision in this Bill that any person earning over £5,000 a year, though the Minister has power to amend that figure, would pay £50 and anyone earning less than £5,000 would pay 1 per cent. By virtue of this amendment, which arrived this morning and which has not been referred to in any previous discussions on the Bill, the Minister now proposes to raise a separate levy on separate income earners if both husband and wife are earning. Surely this is imposing additional taxation upon a couple who are both in employment. It would seem to be a progression of the campaign by the Minister for Finance against well-heeled and articulate women.

It was always intended that a man and a wife would be treated separately in this context and I made this clear at the outset. The Bill as drafted did not make that specifically clear and I want to do so now. I made it clear that a man and a wife with separate incomes would be separately liable for health contributions and separately eligible for benefits. The whole philosophy of this legislation is that one pays a contribution and that is related to eligibility. It was the intention from the outset that a man and a wife with separate incomes would be liable for separate contributions and eligible for services in their own right.

Does this mean that a husband and wife each earning £5,600 must both pay? Who pays for the children? Shall we attach the benefits of the male children to the father and the benefits of the female children to the mother? This is a very serious problem. If a wife is not working, the husband's contributions cover benefits for his wife and his children. That is provided for in the Bill. If the wife becomes a wage earner and has an income over £5,600, she pays £50 for herself. There is an element of discrimination. Whose payment provides benefits for the children?

This Bill is in line with modern thinking in regard to men and women. There is no discrimination. It was made clear from the outset that every income earner would be treated separately for the purposes of this legislation. It will apply to everyone over 16 years of age. Unfortunately the age must be 16 because that is the social welfare qualifying age. Everybody over 16 years of age will be liable for health contributions. The question as to whom the children will be related for purposes of eligibility will be decided when we publish the regulations. I have an open mind on that matter as yet and it is still under consideration. If both parents are wage earners and liable for contributions, the best interests of the children will be taken into consideration in deciding which parent will bring the children in the wake, as it were, for eligibility purposes.

If a man is earning £11,000 a year the maximum amount he pays is £50. If two incomes of £5,500 are coming into the household, the contribution from that household will be £100. There is an element of unfairness there. Will the male children be attached to the father and the female children attached to the mother?

No. I have made the position absolutely clear. It was clearly stipulated at the outset that every income earner would be liable for a health contribution. I do not think Deputy O'Connell can argue that he is on the side of the feminists when he suggests that we are wrong in departing from the income tax principle whereby a wife's income is considered as part of her husband's income. In this legislation we are treating men and women separately, whether married or single. Each will be treated as an income earner where that is the case and will be liable to pay the contribution.

All persons over 16 will be brought within the compass of the legislation. Those under 16 or other dependants will be related, for eligibility purposes, to one or other, or both of the parents. That is a matter which is under consideration. I am examining the position to see what is the best thing to do in the interests of the children or other dependants. That does not arise under this Bill; that will be dealt with by the regulations which will be made under the Health Act, 1970. The Deputy will be afforded an opportunity of going into that at that stage.

The Minister always may have had in the devious corridors of his mind the intention of raising this health taxation on both husband and wife separately if they were earning——

This is not taxation, this is a health contribution.

But it was never before alluded to.

It certainly was. Any time I was asked the question I answered clearly and specifically.

Not in the euphoric press conference, nor indeed in the Bill or in the explanatory memorandum. Several points arise straightaway in relation to this. I identified during the Second Stage debate very clearly that people earning over £5,000 a year would not get the same amount of insurance cover as people earning under that figure. For instance, a man earning over £5,000 a year would still be liable to pay consultants' fees and would still be liable to pay the fees for maternity services in respect of his spouse. What would be the position now?

Only consultancy fees for maternity.

What would be the position now—if that man is earning over £5,000 a year, his wife is earning less than £5,000 a year, and they are both being asked to pay the health contribution separately—will the wife be eligible for cover for all hospital costs, including consultants' fees, and the husband will not be? In a case like that to whom is the responsibility for the issue to be assigned? Will they be covered under the wife's complete cover for maintenance and treatment costs or will they be covered merely under the husband's cover which would still render him in a position in which he would be liable to pay consultants' costs in respect of children? I should have thought that in legislation, in general, the responsibility for the children would have been assigned to the father rather than to the mother.

That might not necessarily be to their advantage.

Certainly it would not be in the case I have just outlined. Surely this single line amendment ought to have been dealt with more extensively further on within the Bill by dealing with this very situation. I must admit that I had no comprehension that the husband and wife who are both earning would be made pay separately.

The position is made clear in the explanatory memorandum. The Deputy need not be acting all this innocence. The Deputy made a false statement a moment ago.

Wait now, may I make the point?

I will call the Deputy again.

I had not finished.

The Minister is entitled to intervene on a point of explanation.

The Deputy made a specific statement that this was not dealt with in the explanatory memorandum. The Deputy should read the document. He should read what I say about these things. It is quite clearly and specifically set out in the explanatory memorandum. Paragraph 2 on the first page of the explanatory memorandum says:

Under the new arrangements all individuals over 16 years of age with an income will, with certain exceptions, be obliged to pay health contributions.

Nothing could be more specific than that—individuals.

Of course I read the explanatory memorandum. Of course I do not accept the allegations about false statements. It seems to be a favourite ploy on that side of the House now, whenever one is embarrassed, to decide that the other person has made false statements. Incidentally in this case the explanatory memorandum is not much more illuminating than the Bill itself because much of it is merely repetition of the wording of the Bill. The explanatory memorandum says:

Under the new arrangements all individuals over 16 years of age with an income will, with certain exceptions, be obliged to pay health contributions.

It could reasonably have been thought—and I certainly thought—that those exceptions would apply to a family where both husband and wife were earning.

Nonsense.

It is a long way away from the Minister's allegation of false statements. Under existing VHI arrangements a husband and wife with no children are covered for all public ward hospital costs for a net expenditure of £59.20 after claiming income tax at standard rate. I asked during the Second Stage debate if these health contributions would be allowable against income tax. I do not think the Minister dealt with that in his reply. If they are not, then in a situation in which husband and wife, without issue, are earning over £5,000 a year each, they will be paying now £100 a year between the two of them. They will not be able to claim it for income tax. As opposed to being insured totally for £59.20 with the VHI, now they are going to discover that they will still not be covered, having paid the £100—because they are both earning over £5,000—for consultants' costs. On Second Stage when we were dealing with the people who gained and those who lost under this Bill—and I endeavoured fairly to point out the people whom I felt had gained under the Minister's Bill as well as those, in particular manual workers earning over £5,000, whom I felt had lost—I did not deal with this category. Certainly this is another category of person who has lost entirely. They will be paying almost twice as much as they were paying to the VHI. They will discover also that they are not covered for consultants' fees which they would have been under the VHI scheme for an expenditure of £59.20 after tax.

The same sort of calculations could be made in respect of a husband earning over £5,000 and a wife earning less than that figure. I am not sure at what stage—because I have not done the exercise—the cut-off point would be. It is quite clear to me now that the majority of couples who are both earning will find themselves paying far more into the State scheme. And if one of them is earning over £5,000 that person will be under the obligation still to cover himself or herself for consultants' fees. Therefore, such people will find themselves in a position in which it will cost them more to pay into the State scheme and cover themselves for some of their consultant's fees with the VHI scheme than it does at present. It would have been far better had the Minister made that clearer from the beginning. No amount of blustering on his part will change the situation now. I am quite certain I am not the only one who has been led astray in this connection.

There are very serious implications in this. I think we have honestly been misinformed on this Bill. These are the most serious implications I have ever encountered in any Bill coming before us. I will tell the House why. The Minister is going to make regulations. We have to take the case of a husband and wife both earning money. If the wife is earning under £5,000 and the husband over that figure—£5,500 as is said—I want to know to whom are the children attached with regard to benefits because this is the most serious aspect of the Bill.

I have already answered that question.

No, the Minister has not.

I will answer again if the Deputy will permit me.

I will give the Minister the reasons I want to know. If it is decided that the children, for benefit purposes, are attached to the mother's earnings of under £5,000, they get free hospitalisation, including maintenance and consultants' fees. If they are attached to the father's earnings, over the figure of £5,500, they do not get anything; they do not get the consultants' fees, they do not get out-patient services free. We are making sure we are not discriminating against women. There is a great tendency to say that we are not when women have to pay. When they are entitled to benefits it is one thing, but when they are paying there is no discrimination; we let them be equal.

This is a case in point. There is a very serious problem posed here. To whom will the children be attached for the purposes of benefit? It is a very serious matter. If they are attached to the mother and her earnings are under £5,000 per annum it could make an awful lot of difference. If they are attached to the father they will have to pay for everything if his income is over £5,500 per annum. That is the most serious implication of this Bill. The Minister is not spelling it out exactly. He says that he will make up his mind about that in the regulations. But this has very serious implications. It could mean a great difference to what their entitlements are in the case of husband and wife both working, one earning less than £5,500 a year and the other earning more than £5,500 a year. If the Minister would say that he will make a decision that the benefits to the children will be attached to the person earning the lower income then he may help to solve the problem. The other aspect of it is that they are now paying double what was intended. The whole Bill becomes a sham and a farce with the couple now paying £2 a week instead of £1 a week whereas if there was one income earner with the same amount of money he would be paying only half the amount from his household. That is a very serious problem and one that was not made clear to us on the Second Stage of the Bill.

On the contrary, this was made perfectly clear on Second Stage. Deputies should really follow what is happening in the House. I quote from my Second Reading speech "Under the Bill now before the House liability for payment of health contributions will extend to all individuals over 16 years of age who have an income". Could anything be more specific than that? Any time I was asked by trade union delegations or by newspaper men or by anybody else I made it absolutely clear that a man and his wife would be treated separately, as individuals, for health contributions legislation.

Explain the position of the children.

Deputy O'Connell cannot try to ride two horses in this matter. If he is, as I am, in favour of the abolition of all discrimination against women in any shape or form whether they are married or single, he must go along with me in what I am doing in this legislation. To say that a married woman is a person in her own right as far as this legislation is concerned means that she pays her contribution and she gets her eligibility as a separate income earner. There is no argument to that.

Except that one does not have children by the mother and children by the father.

Give me time. I will deal with the children in a moment. Every person over 16 years of age is also treated as an individual for the purpose of this legislation. This legislation deals only with the contributions. I will be making regulations later, before the 1st of April, which will deal with eligibility. Those regulations will have to come before this House positively. They will not be the sort of regulations that go by default unless somebody moves to annul them. I will have to come here and propose these regulations. At that point Deputies O'Connell and Boland will have ample opportunity to go into the eligibility side of things. I said to Deputies O'Connell and Boland that as of now I am considering and examining what the situation of children will be in their interests. I want to make sure that whatever eligibility regulations we apply to children will be to the children's advantage. Will Deputy O'Connell accept that?

Most certainly.

In doing this by regulations I am seeking to work out whatever system will in all circumstances, be to the best advantage of the children, but when I come here with this proposal the House will have an opportunity to go into it further.

Is section 4 of this Bill not particularly relevant to the problem?

There is a certain advantage in treating husband and wife separately. If they are both working all free hospitalisation entitlements stop at £5,000. After that they get free hospitalisation but they must pay the consultant. It there are two people working and they are not treated separately then their wages would need to be very small before they would be covered, because it would be very easy for any two people working to earn over £5,000 between them. Therefore they would have to have voluntary health insurance to cover consultants' fees the same as an individual person earning over £5,000.

If my interpretation of the Bill is correct this Bill means that more people will be eligible to go into what we call the lower to middle income group and will have to have voluntary health insurance to cover the fees of their consultants. This applies if they are treated individually. If they are treated jointly where there are two workers I can see very few people needing to have voluntary health insurance to cover consultants' fees. But the question is to whom are the children attached for the purposes of benefits? I would ask the Minister to let them be attached to the lower income earner, but I certainly agree with treating husband and wife as individuals.

I would like to ask the Minister just one more question in regard to the self-employed person. Take for instance a person who has a valuation of £60 and who has a wife with a £20 valuation. Will such people be treated as being above the £5,000 bracket? I assume that they will be treated the same as people with two separate incomes and will pay two separate contributions.

I cannot follow every single detailed case here but the principle is that every separate income earner pays a contribution.

If a man marries a wife who has some property and he also has property then for all the usual purposes they are treated as one. What I want to know is are they in this legislation treated as two individuals the same as two salary earning people?

Everybody over 16 years of age who has an income is treated as a separate individual. That is the principle.

Does this apply whether they have property or not? I want to clear that point up because I have been asked by people if this refers to people with property as well as people with a direct salary.

The Minister said in his speech that an income value will be put on property or income that a farmer had other than his valuation.

In this Bill land will be translated into income as far as self employed persons are concerned.

Because of the unusual problem involved in this would the Minister not consider that a subsection in section 4 which is the section relating to the obligation to pay health contributions would be desirable because that places an obligation on payment in respect of each individual over the age of 16 years? Possibly an addendum to that section or to section 5 might be used to clarify the position in relation to the children?

If anything like that is necessary I will do it.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 1, as amended, agreed to.
Section 2 and 3 agreed to.
SECTION 4.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

This section refers to payments which have been made by or in respect of each individual who is over the age of 16 years. I am at a loss about the position in regard to persons over the age of 16 who are not in employment. How can health contributions be exacted from them?

This is purely a generic provision, an omnibus section. Sections 5 to 8 spell out how each category will be dealt with.

Section 5 sets out the situation in regard to people with reckonable earnings, section 6 sets out the position in regard to those in receipt of emoluments other than reckonable earnings and section 7 refers to those in receipt of reckonable incomes other than emoluments, but where in the Bill is there provision in regard to people without incomes of any sort?

There must be an income before contributions are payable.

Section 4 clearly states that every person over the age of 16 years shall either pay or have paid in respect of him a health contribution. I am asking about persons who have not an income of any kind.

If they are under the age of 16 years there is no health contribution payable. All over the age of 16 years are dealt with in the subsequent sections. There are three categories included, and if the Deputy goes back to section 2, the definition section, he will find that the Minister may by regulations define reckonable earnings, reckonable emoluments and reckonable incomes. Reckonable earnings relate to those people in the PAYE classes who are insured under the Social Welfare Acts. Emoluments other than reckonable earnings cover persons who come under PAYE but who are not insured, and reckonable incomes other than emoluments will apply to everybody else, including farmers, self-employed people, and company directors. Proprietary directors in receipt of fees will come under section 6. Everybody is covered in some way or another. It is complicated, but sections 5, 6, and 7 take in every body.

I will take as an example a middle-aged or elderly spinster who is living with relatives and who might be in receipt of some small income or allowance from the relatives. Would a health contribution have to be paid on her behalf?

Not unless it is an income assessable to income tax.

I am talking about people who might be classed as dependent relatives, living in family homes and being given small amounts of money to support them.

That would not be taxable and therefore would not attract health contributions.

I appreciate that, broadly speaking, sections 5, 6 and 7 cover most categories in the community who have incomes of one sort or another, but there might be other circumstances.

Will the Deputy accept my word that if there is no assessable income there will be no health contributions chargeable? Section 4 makes it clear that payment of contributions will be subject to the Act and regulations made under the Act.

But is it likely that somebody else who is supporting such people might have to pay contributions on their behalf?

No. The only person who would come into that category is an employer of persons with medical cards.

I should like the Minister to explain the position in regard to an old age pensioner who would have a small pension from, say, CIE. I know hundreds of such people. Does this not make them liable? They get small pittances from CIE plus their old age pensions, they pay small amounts weekly by way of income tax, perhaps 90p or £1.30. Will they be liable for health contributions?

Theoretically they might but, in fact, they will not. Anybody with a medical card will not be liable.

Existing guidelines in respect of medical cards bear no relation to the situation today. I should not be taken as disgressing from the Bill, but food subsidies have been removed and people have been compensated in some way, and because they receive small amounts by way of compensation they have been removed from eligibility for medical cards. More than 27,000 of them have been disqualified for medical cards simply because of the small amounts being given to them by way of compensation for food subsidies. If the food subsidies had been retained those people would still be eligible for medical cards. Because of the small sums of compensation they receive will they not become liable for health contributions? This is a serious problem for those people. Some of them are assessed for up to £17 per year income tax on their old age pensions and the pittances they receive from former employment in CIE. Now they will have to pay health contributions as well.

I can assure the Deputy this is largely theoretical. I admit there is a theoretical problem but I am examining it closely. It would not be my intention that old age pensioners would be liable for health contributions. Of course, if an old age pensioner has a fairly substantial income it would be different, but the Deputy may take it that I will watch the situation closely.

I know the Minister has the best intentions, but I have seen our best intentions in the House applied differently in the administration of the legislation. I can cite particularly the deserted wife's allowance which we in the House gave with the best intentions. The Minister for Social Welfare at the time, the present Ceann Comhairle, had the best intentions about permitting a degree of flexibility but the people who implemented the legislation did not allow the degree of flexibility that we had intended. Can we ensure that in some way there will be a minimum amount below which people will not have to pay health contributions? I should like to see some such provision in the Bill, and perhaps the Minister could produce such a provision before the Report Stage.

It can be done in the regulations.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 5 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 9.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

As Deputies know, £5,000 was originally set down in the general context of the Bill and I indicated that I would confirm or adjust this before 1 April, having regard to the latest statistics. The sum of £5,000 was arrived at by taking the average earnings in the transportable goods industries as at September 1977 and multiplying by one-and-a-half. That gave us £5,000. In November last the average earnings in the transportable goods industries for March 1978 became available and on that basis, taking one-and-a-half times the average industrial earnings, we would arrive at a figure of about £5,187. However, there have been strong representations from the trade unions to increase that amount. The trade unions are concerned primarily with increasing the ceiling for eligibility from the health point of view. One sympathises with them though they ignore as, perhaps, they are entitled to ignore, the social welfare side. But I must concern myself with the whole package. The scheme is an integrated and a complicated one with the health and social welfare aspects dovetailing —social welfare contributions and eligibility and health contributions and eligibility. Therefore, taking everything into consideration I consider the sum £5,500 to be reasonable at this stage. It is considerably more than one-and-a-half times the average industrial earnings figure at March 1978 would indicate.

For the benefit of Deputies there is one further point I should like to make in this context, that is, that the ceiling limit for health eligibility will be operative a year in arrears. In other words eligibility and payments in 1979-80 will be determined on the basis of income in 1978-79. There will always be that time lag in income levels but in the regulations I shall be fixing a figure of £5,500 across the board in respect of both social welfare and health contributions and health eligibility.

We should not legislate on the basis of administrative convenience. It would be very wrong to act in that way. I consider a figure of £5,500 to be unrealistic. The ICTU who have been calling for free hospitalisation but realising the problems in that respect are asking that £6,500 be accepted as the ceiling. Such a ceiling is not unrealistic. The Minister realises that changes are taking place even while this Bill is going through the Dáil but before he reaches a final decision I appeal to him to consider this higher ceiling. I appreciate that there are problems in regard to consultants who, naturally, will wish to ensure that their interests are protected but it would not be stepping too far out of line to fix the ceiling at between £6,000 and £6,500. This would not jeopardise the VHI who are planning to introduce a new scheme and it would ensure that the civil servants and other people who are on the border line would not suffer considerable hardship as will be the case if the Minister leaves the figure at £5,500. I do not consider the question of dovetailing the health aspect with the social welfare aspect to be a valid reason for rigidity in this matter. It should be possible without too much administrative inconvenience to separate the two. If the Minister were to weigh whatever administrative inconvenience there might be against the hardship that would be caused to those on the border line I am sure he would agree that it would be better to put the administrative side into shape.

I am not sure that I am impressed with the case being made by Deputy O'Connell for different limits in respect of social welfare and of health and presumably also for redundancy payments. That would seem to me to be not merely administrative inconvenience but the administrative nightmare, not particularly for the Departments involved but for employees in trying to calculate the level of their liability.

Having heard the long preamble from the Minister before announcing the changed figure I was surprised to hear the extent of the change. For the sake of an extra £500 it was hardly worth making any change because such a small change will not be likely to make much difference.

As I said on Second Stage, £5,000 was too low to have pitched the upper ceiling at initially. I was inclined to agree with the unions that a more realistic figure would have been nearer to £8,000. For a number of reasons the £5,000 ceiling is too low because it will exclude from cover for consultancy services quite a number of people who are earning more than that amount. These people will find it necessary to reinsure expensively with the VHI. The figure is too low from the point of view of the State. It is clear from all the figures that the yield from this scheme will be infinitesimal in comparison with the health costs in general. The Government have become committed to the concept of insurance that has been advocated by this party down through the years. I should have preferred, though, that the Government dealt with the situation properly and with the eventual aim of having the insurance contribution cover a large part of the out-goings. The entire costs of the health services are such that there is no way in which contributions will ever be meaningful in terms of covering those costs.

If Deputy Callanan were here he would be asking the Minister whether, in deciding to change the upper limit of £5,000 in respect of income earners which had been related by the Minister to a valuation of £60 for farmers, it has been decided to make any change in respect of this valuation.

Except that the £60 is now related to £5,500 and the multiplier will be calculated on that basis.

The Minister and his colleagues must now be operating about four different types and levels of multipliers in relation to farmers. It is no wonder everyone is dizzy looking at them and the Government running around each other. We had the £60 valuation equated to an income of £5,000 in all the discussions leading up to this. Now, without even a blink of an administrative eye, the Minister decides to equate £60 valuation to £5,500 income.

That is a minimal change. The Deputy realises the important thing is the £60 valuation.

On the basis of the multiplier the Minister was using equating £60 valuation at £5,000 income, on a quick calculation, the same multiplier equating to £5,500 income would be £66 valuation. It is not infinitesimal. There is a great deal of difference between agricultural property at a valuation of £66 and property at a valuation of £60.

The Deputy is looking at it the wrong way. I am not changing the £60 valuation.

I know the Minister is not and that is the point I am making. All the farmers in the band between £60 and £66 valuation will be liable to pay for consultants' fees whereas if they were brought into this they would be covered.

The Deputy wants more farmers brought into it?

If they were brought into this they would be covered for consultants' fees.

As a member of a health board and as someone who is interested in matters pertaining to health, I would like to express my great disappointment at the low level of income of £5,500 as announced by the Minister today. There has been a great fanfare and public discussion on the impending new Health Act. The Minister has adorned himself with the mantle of a caring Minister and I regret to say that there seems to be a lack of concern about the number of people being left out of the new health scheme because of the low income.

Lower paid workers?

I did not interrupt the Minister. Too many people are being left out. As I said before publicly, there may be pressure on the Minister from a section of consultants to ensure that some of the cream would still be left for them and that not too many people would be taken in. This Bill has been given a lot of publicity and even with the amended amount it is not acceptable to the trade union movement and PAYE workers. The question of the VHI looking after these people should not come into it. If the Minister is a caring Minister he will cover these people. I do not accept that £5,500 is sufficient because of present-day costs. The Minister's health scheme will fall on this low level of income.

I take it, Minister, that this figure will come up for discussion on the regulations. There is really no figure as far as I can see in the section. It is only because the Minister mentioned it that we are discussing it.

That is correct. The House will have another opportunity to debate that when the regulations are made. It is very easy for Deputies to demand this and that and to express disappointment. Does the Deputy realise that what I am doing, right across the board, in social welfare and health is all in aid of and easement for the lower paid workers? Hundreds of thousands of lower paid workers will gain substantially from what I am doing. The Deputy might pay some tribute to that. This is a major recasting——

Does the Minister consider that a person earning £5,500 is a highly paid worker? I do not.

That is not the point. I am talking about lower paid workers. If the Deputy is talking about caring he should be concerned about getting this scheme into operation primarily for the lower paid and poorer sections of the community. This measure represents a vast improvement as far as they are concerned.

I accept that.

I do not. The Minister promised them a £1 differential——

The Deputies who are speaking here have lived with the situation where a large number of people were on £3,000 per annum for eligibility purposes for a long time. It is perfectly legitimate for me to ask them to compare £5,000 a year with £3,000 a year. It has been practically doubled.

I appreciate that.

This is a major recasting of our social welfare and health services no matter what way one looks at it. It is a major advance, particularly in the health services. We will have, for the first time, a health service which covers every single member of our community to a greater or lesser extent. Put the package as a whole together and look at the extension of benefits we are giving, the new deal which the VHI are bringing in and the vast improvement in the situation of lower paid workers and earners and it will be found that it is an acceptable package. It is fair and reasonable. I am not saying this is the last word. We have to bring this scheme into operation. My predecessor failed to get his scheme into operation at all. If we can get this scheme working we will have made a major advance as far as health and social welfare are concerned.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 10 to 20, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.

What about the discussion we had earlier about the difficulties concerning two-income-earning families?

When is it proposed to bring in the regulations?

They will be brought in before 1 March.

There was a suggestion that that particular circumstance might better be dealt with either in sections 4, 5 or 6 of the Bill. I understood the Minister to say he would have a look at that suggestion.

I will. I was thinking of the Seanad in that connection. It is hardly worth holding it up just for that.

When will we discuss the question of the £5,500?

On the regulations.

They will be in next week?

The Minister said 1 March.

That was an error. It should have been 1 April.

Agreed to take remaining Stages to-day.

Bill reported with amendment and passed.