(Cavan-Monaghan): When the debate was adjourned I had said most of what I wanted to say on the general principle of the Bill and on the principle involved in introducing retrospective legislation to authorise or to make payments. I pointed out that it is provided in section 12 that sections 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10 shall be deemed to have come into operation on such day or days prior to the passing of the Act as may be fixed therefor by order of the Minister.
I think I am correct in thinking that these sections have the effect of giving authority to the Minister to make superannuation schemes for local authority employees. Section 2 gives that specifically. Section 3 gives the Minister power to amend schemes regarding existing local government superannuation. Section 4 authorises the payment of gratuities to certain local government employees for non-pensionable service. Section 9 amends an Act passed in 1971, the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act, 1970.
As I said on the last occasion, I am very much against this type of legislation which legalieses actions that have been taken, payments that have been made and schemes introduced some considerable time ago, presumably on the basis that they will be ratified in due course by Dáil and Seanad. I think it is setting up an extremely bad precedent which, if allowed to drift on, will lead to trouble in the future. There can be little doubt about that.
My argument is based on the fact that the Minister now in office, and I presume his predecessors, have assumed that Parliament will ratify these types of payments. In the past we had the Department of Local Government, and the various local authorities were confronted with such things as the innovation of the five-day week and the lifting of the marriage ban. Both made it necessary to operate schemes in a different way, and my understanding of the situation following the introduction of the five-day week is that all sorts of assumptions had to be made. Particularly it had to be assumed that if an employee had the opportunity to do so he would have worked on the sixth day if work were available on that day. Of course there was not any guarantee that the employee would have worked on the sixth day. Local authorities drew up a scheme on that basis, and we are now being asked to authorise the Minister retrospectively to bring in a scheme to cover that sort of situation.
If the Bill did not contain these retrospective provisions a lot could be said for it because it makes the law regarding superannuation schemes much more flexible and it allows alterations to be made, if the need occurs, in respect of the instances I have been speaking about, the five-day week and the lifting of the marriage ban. It also gives authority to introduce categories of employees who had not previously been covered into schemes and authorises local authorities to alter the conditions of qualification for superannuation or lump sums.
In considering the Bill it struck me that the simplification of the formation of schemes might lead to frequent changes in them. Indeed perhaps even superannuation and the conditions for qualification could be used as a bargaining weapon either by the official side of local authorities or by the employees and that too frequent alteration of these schemes could lead to confusion.
Certain sections of a number of Acts will be repealed when the Minister makes the necessary order, Acts such as the Local Government Act, 1925, the Vocational Education Act, 1930, the Agriculture Act, 1931, the Pensions Abatement Act 1965, the Health Act 1970; the Local Government (Superannuation) Acts of 1948 and 1956 which are being repealed in toto. In section 6 of this Bill the rights which have accrued under sections of Acts which are being repealed are being preserved to the employees. In other words, it is stipulated in section 6 that the repeal or amendment of any enactment by or under this Bill shall not operate to reduce any pension and so on, that it shall not operate to take away any rights which have accrued already to employees. It is very important that a liberal interpretation be exercised when deciding what rights have and have not accrued. Everything is not white and black in the measures which are being repealed; there are certain grey areas. For example, I understand that certain questions could arise as to the rights of officers of local authorities who get married and who retire after marriage. I think it is under an Act of 1956 an official of a local authority can retire after marriage if that officer has not opted for the new scheme. I believe the question can arise as to whether a lady officer of a local authority could remain on for several years and then decide to retire and qualify for the retirement lump sum. One interpretation is that if a lady officer has five years' service, if she intends to retire and claim the lump sum, she must do so within two years. I understand that another interpretation is that, in certain circumstances, the officer could remain on for many more years and then decide to retire. I should like to know from the Minister which interpretation he intends putting on the various sections giving rise to that situation.
The Bill, as drafted, also makes provision for the granting of gratuities for non-pensionable service. This is an improvement on the present situation but I should like the Minister to say whether that will cover, say, a person who has been employed for several years on rates, as they are known, but who is employed for virtually most of the year on a temporary basis. Will that type of officer qualify for a gratuity in lieu of a pension? Also what will be the position of veterinary surgeons employed by local authorities over a long period but who do not qualify for pension? Will they qualify for the type of lump sum mentioned here?
Those are some of the questions that occur to me and that we shall be raising on Committee Stage. I can sum up my attitude to the Bill by saying that in so far as it is a retrospective measure going back over a period of several years, meant to ratify schemes that have been operated, pensions that have been granted and lump sums paid out without any statutory authority, I am dead against it. I am sure there have been no abuses. Nevertheless, in the sort of parliamentary democracy we have— which is the best type of government, bad and all as some people think it, yet found—it is necessary that authority be sought from this House and not as sumed or taken for granted. If I am correct—and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—this Bill, and particularly section 12, is so drafted as to ratify things that have been done over several years, certainly since the introduction of the five-day week and the lifting of the marriage ban. Therefore, so much for the principle of retrospective legislation.
As far as the individual sections of the Bill are concerned, I have raised in a general way the points that I would like to raise in more detail when we come to Committee Stage.