Amendment No. 1 is in the name of Deputy Bruton. Amendment No. 3 is related. Deputy Bruton will move amendment No. 1 and we will debate amendment No. 3 with amendment No. 1.
Finance Bill, 1981: Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 7, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:
"2.—Sections 139 and 140 of the Income Tax Act, 1967 are hereby amended by the insertion of a new subsection ((2A) and (2) in the case of the said sections 139 and 140 respectively) as follows:
`() This section shall apply to—
(a) a claimant being a female person as it applies to a claimant being a male person and
(b) a male relative as it applies to a female relative
and similar words shall be construed accordingly.'.".
These two amendments are concerned with a matter that I raised during Committee Stage in that they indicate that certain allowances which may be claimed by men in certain circumstances may not be claimed by women in the same circumstances.
The relevant sections are sections 139 and 140 of the Income Tax Act 1967. The first is concerned with the question of an allowance in respect of a relative taking charge of an unmarried person's brother or sister. It reads:
if the claimant proves—
(a) that he is unmarried and that he has living with him either his mother, being a widow or a person living apart from her husband, or some other female relative, for the purpose of having the charge and care of any brother or sister of his, being a child in respect of whom a deduction is allowed under this Part, and that he maintains the mother or other relative at his own expense; and
(b) that neither he nor any other individual is entitled to a deduction in respect of the same person under any of the other provisions of this Part or if any other individual is entitled to any such deduction that the other individual has relinquished his claim thereto,
he shall be entitled to a deduction of £165.
There is no mention in this section of anything to indicate that an unmarried woman may claim these allowances in the same circumstances. This is in marked contrast to the position as incorporated in section 139 of the same Act which provides that the section shall apply to a claimant being a widow as it applies to a claimant being a widower with the substitution of the words "her deceased husband" for the words "his deceased wife". Therefore the possibility of there being any discrimination on the grounds of sex was recognised in the context of section 139 of the 1967 Act and to that extent the first part of my amendment referring to that section is not necessary. But in so far as section 140 of the Income Tax Act, 1967, is concerned there is no indication that the allowances that can be availed of by an unmarried man can be availed of also by an unmarried woman.
The Minister may say that the Revenue Commissioners will adopt a reasonable attitude in cases of this kind and will grant an allowance but the fact remains that they have no power to do so, so that if they are acting in this way they are acting in excess of their power. Basically, that is what amendment No. 1 is about.
Amendment No. 3 is concerned with section 3 of the Finance Act, 1969, which, in turn, is concerned with an employed person taking care of an incapacitated individual. The relevant part of this is subsection (1) which reads:
Subject to the provisions of this section, an individual who, in the manner prescribed by the Income Tax Acts makes a claim in that behalf, makes a return in the prescribed form of his total income and proves—
(a) (i) that, throughout the year of assessment, he was totally incapacitated by physical or mental infirmity, or
(ii) that, being a married man, his wife was, throughout the year of assessment, totally incapacitated by physical or mental infirmity, and
(b) that for the year of assessment he has employed a person for the purpose of having the care of the person (being the individual or his wife) who is so incapacitated,
shall in computing the amount of his taxable income, be entitled to have a deduction of £165 made from his assessable income.
There is nothing in the section before us to indicate that the allowance may be claimed by a woman. Therefore, I argue that there is in this section an allowance which is legally available to a man but which is not in precisely the same circumstances available legally to a woman. I should hope that if the Minister in his reply is to plead that while he agrees with what I am trying to do, this can be done or is being done already by the Revenue Commissioners. If that is to be his argument, the best course of action open to him now is to make formal what up to now has been informal so that there will be no doubt in anyone's mind that women, in the stated circumstances envisaged in the legislation to which I have referred, can avail of allowances of which men can avail in similar circumstances.
This amendment is designed, by means of paragraph (a), to enable a claimant who is a female person and who engages a housekeeper to look after her children to claim the housekeeper allowance under section 139 of the Income Tax Act, 1967, in the same manner as a male person. By means of paragraph (b) the amendment is designed to ensure that the housekeeper may be a male person rather than, as is provided for under existing law, a female relative of the claimant or of the claimant's deceased spouse or, if there is no such relative, some other female person.
The amendment of section 140 proposes, in paragraph (a), to enable a female person who is unmarried and who has living with her either her mother, who is a widow or living apart from her husband, or some other female relative, for the purpose of caring for a brother or sister of hers, to claim housekeeper allowance. Paragraph (b) of the amendment is designed to ensure that the housekeeper may be a male person as well as, under existing law, a female person.
So far as the claimant is concerned, subsection (1) of section 139 allows a claim only by a widower. Other subsections extend the right to claim relief to a widow, a married man whose wife is not living with him, a married woman, whose husband is not living with her and an unmarried woman.
Section 139 does not confirm entitlement of an unmarried man to claim housekeeper allowance. It is understood that some cases have come to notice where unmarried men have responsibility for the care of children and consideration will be given in connection with next year's Finance Bill to extending section 139 so as to make them eligible for the allowance. That should explain the position adequately to the Deputy.
In relation to section 140, paragraph (a) is unnecessary as the claimant, by virtue of section 11 (b) of the Interpretation Act, 1937, may be either a male or a female person. Section 11 (b) of the Interpretation Act, 1937, provides that every word importing the masculine gender shall, unless the contrary intention appears, be construed as if it also imported the feminine gender.
As regards paragraph (b) of the amendment, there may be cases arising under sections 139 and 140 where a male housekeeper is engaged to look after young children. This matter will be examined in the context of next year's Finance Bill.
Amendment No. 3 is based on the assumption that there is a discrimination against the wife in granting a housekeeper allowance under section 3 of the Finance Act, 1969. Where a person is employed to take care of an incapacitated spouse, the amendment is designed to remove such discrimination. The position under existing law is that, where a husband and wife are jointly assessed to tax under section 194 of the Income Tax Act, 1967, by virtue of the provisions of section 195 of that Act, the housekeeper allowance under section 3 of the Finance Act, 1969, is accorded, in common with the other personal reliefs, to the husband. If the husband is incapacitated and has no other income the entire allowance will be granted in assessing the wife's income. If both spouses have income which is jointly assessed and either opts for separate assessment under section 197 of the Income Tax Act, 1967, the relief under section 3 will be accorded under paragraph (a) (vi) of subsection (1) of section 198 of the Income Tax Act, 1967, to each spouse in the proportions in which they bear the cost of employing the housekeeper.
Accordingly if the wife, where separate assessment is claimed, bears the full cost of employing the housekeeper to take care of an incapacitated husband, she will be accorded the full allowance under section 3 of the Finance Act, 1969. There is, therefore, no discrimination against the wife in section 3 where a housekeeper is employed to take care of an incapacitated husband and accordingly the amendment is unnecessary.
The first point I should like to make to the Minister is that he has conceded that there is a need for the amendment proposed in so far as beyond all doubt male housekeepers may not be employed and claimed as the basis for an allowance in the relevant section. The Minister said he would look at this between now and next year. If he accepts that it is necessary and discriminatory, why does he not accept my amendment? There is no need to think about this matter. The Minister has had longer opportunity to look at my amendment than I have had to look at his in regard to development land. Therefore, he should be prepared to accept my amendment rather than wait until the matter has been considered between now and next year.
The Minister made the point in regard to the question of a housekeeper allowance that the same result can be achieved if the persons use separate assessments. Therefore, I do not believe it should be necessary for them to use separate assessments. There should be exactly the same facilities available to them to claim allowances as would be available to other people if the situation was reversed as between the roles of the husband and the wife who are free claim the allowances whether or not they are opting for separate assessment. In that situation there is clearly still an element of discrimination in that certain steps have to be taken in the situation where it is a woman who is making the claim whereas such steps do not have to be taken in the situation not have to be taken in the situation where it is a man who makes the claim. The Minister has not met the case I made. He referred, rather quickly, to section 11 (b) of the Interpretation Act, 1937. I have not had an opportunity of perusing that section.
The Deputy should do his homework.
I must, therefore, rely on the text read out by the Minister. That text indicates that a male denominator shall be interpreted as a female denominator where the intentions is that it should be so interpreted. I would argue that in section 140 of the Income Tax Act, 1967 there is no indication that such an intention exists and, therefore, there is no reason to assume that the Interpretation Act applies in this case. The Minister has not met the case and I am pressing my amendment.
I can recall that when I was on those benches in opposition the same Interpretation Act was quoted to me from this side of the House.
The Minister does not have any right to reply to the Deputy.
I move amendment No. 2:
2. In page 7, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:
"3.—Section 11 (2) and (3) of the Finance Act, 1971 is hereby amended by the insertion of`, deaf or otherwise disabled' after `blind' wherever it occurs.".
We will debate amendment No. 5 with amendment No. 2.
These amendments are concerned with extending the allowances which at the moment are available and may be claimed by persons who are blind in respect of their tax to people who suffer from other disabilities. The disability of deafness is specifically mentioned in the amendment but other disabilities are indicated without being specifically named. The purpose is to recognise the fact that while there is a justification for giving a special tax allowance to people who are blind and who, therefore, in earning a living or perhaps having a living made available to them from a pension fund or some other means of support do have additional disabilities by virtue of their handicap which deserve to be compensated for by means of a special allowance.
The Minister who introduced the blind persons' allowance in 1971 took a very enlightened and progressive step. In pointing out that the allowance as then drafted is inadequate in that it only recognises one handicap, namely blindness, and does not extend the same facility to handicaps such as deafness or other equally debilitating handicaps, I am in no way criticising the original decision to introduce the allowance. It was an enlightened step. However, in this the Year of the Disabled it is appropriate that we should consider ten years later going somewhat further in extending this allowance than did the Minister in 1971. I am, therefore, arguing that the same allowance which has been available to people who are blind should also be available to people with other handicaps. I sincerely hope that the Minister, in view especially of the year in which we now are, will consider favourably the granting of this allowance. The objection put forward by the Minister on Committee Stage to the introduction of an allowance for people who are deaf, for instance, was that while blindness was something one could relatively easily determine the handicap of deafness, or any other handicap, is not easily determinable. That may have been so in 1971 with the standard of medical expertise available at that time when the blind allowance was introduced, but it is not so now. Medical science has advanced to the stage that it is possible to determine degrees of deafness and whether deafness is such as to represent a degree of handicap which would be justifiable. Indeed, the conditions which must be met by a person who is blind are laid down in considerable detail in section 11 of the Finance Act, 1971 and it is not beyond the wit of the Minister in this Year of the Disabled to determine equally exact requirements on the basis of modern medical evidence as to the relevant degree of handicap required in respect of other handicaps such as deafness. In order to give the House an idea of the degree of precision which applies in defining blindness for the purpose of this existing concession I will quote section 11 (1) of the Act of 1971. It says:
In this section "blind person" means a person whose central visual acuity does not exceed 6/60 in the better eye with correcting lenses, or whose central visual acuity exceeds 6/60 in the better eye or in both eyes but is accompanied by a limitation in the fields of vision that is such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.
If it was possible to define blindness with that degree of precision in the Finance Act, 1971, it is surely not impossible in this Year of the Disabled, ten years later, with the considerable advance in medical knowledge now available to us since then, to define deafness and other handicaps with equal precision so as to ensure that there is no abuse of whatever allowances are made available. I can see that the Minister might have some problems in extending this to all disabilities because some disabilities are ones with which we are not yet familiar to the same degree as we are familiar with the age long, age old, age known handicap of blindness, but I believe that there is a very strong case for making this allowance available to people who are deaf or dumb. The numbers of people involved, as the Minister will be aware, are not significantly greater than those already suffering from the handicap of blindness.
There has been a lot of talk in this, the Year of the Disabled, about what should or might be done, and what society, that amorphous body upon whom we are all too ready to deposit all the problems that we are not prepared to tackle ourselves, could do about improving the situation of the disabled. Now I present to the Minister in this amendment something that he himself can do, something that we ourselves here in this House can do, practically and directly without preaching to anyone else, about assisting people who are handicapped. I argue that the Minister should in this of all years accept the amendment that I am putting forward which is concerned with extending to people who are deaf or suffering from other disabilities the tax allowances that are already available to people who are blind.
Taking amendments Nos. 2 and 5 together as proposed by the Deputy, the intention of these amendments is to extend to deaf and other disabled persons the income tax allowance granted to blind persons under the provisions of the 1971 Act as he mentions and increased by me in section 2 of the present Bill. Apart from any other considerations, the amendment could not be recommended for acceptance because of the absence of any valuable definition of "deaf or otherwise disabled". In this connection it will be noted that "blind person" is defined in specific medical terms in that Act to which the Deputy referred. Part of the difficulty of extending the blind allowance to other handicapped persons has been the problem of categorising and defining the handicaps which should qualify for the allowance. One cannot easily define deafness — the Deputy, I am sure, is aware that there are an enormous number of different categories and in addition a vast number of other disablements of various sorts — and then provide suitable rules for medical assessment and so on for enabling the allowance to be administered properly. Very serious difficulties would arise.
Another major argument against the allowance is that the relief would not help those who need it most, that is those with little or no income, and that is a very important point. It would not help those who need it most——
The Minister is considering the blind allowance, as to whether it is necessary to increase it.
—— those with little or no income. It is arguable that such resources as are available for the relief of handicapped persons would be utilised more effectively by direct subsidy to this latter category in the form of cash grants rather than by an income tax relief which could not be directed to those most in need.
The Minister is——
The Deputy is continually interrupting. Obviously he has not done his homework. In this budget, which I would describe as being one of the most acceptable budgets that ever went through this House, I was proud and pleased to be able to provide a sum of £2 million towards the disabled in this year. I am not saying that that is adequate or that it fulfilled all the needs, but it shows what has always been the social concern of this party in Government over the years for those in our society underprivileged because of illness or for any other reason. Determining the cost of accepting the amendment is hazardous as statistics indicating the number of disabled persons with sufficient income to come within the tax net are not readily available. However, the report on training and employing the handicapped suggested that there might be as many as 100,000 adult handicapped persons in the country, and then one has to classify how many are in the various categories of income or otherwise. I think that I should bring to the Deputy's notice the concern and commitment of this Government to provide assistance directly to those most in need. Already we provide a wide range of assistance to the handicapped through the social code and, continuing in office as we will be, we will continue to improve the availability of such assistance to those people.
Let me inform the House about some of the aids that are available directly to those most in need. Walking supports and wheelchairs are given without charge to the disabled in the lower income groups. If we look at long-term illness, persons suffering from any of the following conditions can obtain without charge the drugs or medicines prescribed for the treatment of that condition.
The Minister would appear to be getting into the health field. We are dealing with taxation.
No, I am merely explaining to the House what is available directly to those most in need and why I believe that the Deputy's amendment is not the best way to help people. I am telling the Deputy what other aids are available to the people he refers to in the blind and other disabled categories. The availability of drugs and medicines for the treatment of conditions in the mentally handicapped, mental illness, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida——
(Cavan-Monaghan): We learned at Question Time today that the Minister would not give a health card to a child suffering from cystic fibrosis.
I am not aware of what happened at Question Time today——
The Chair feels we should not debate health services on the Finance Bill. It is a taxation measure and we should deal only with taxation.
I accept the point the Chair is making. Perhaps I should not overdo the list which is exhaustive and comprehensive. Through that mechanism, again in this year's budget, I provided very substantial improvements in aids to many groups in our society which needed them. Continuing in office, as we will, we will improve and honour the social commitment that has always been a vital part of this party's programme in Government. I have adequately replied to the point which the Deputy made.
(Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister, apparently, in this year's Finance Act has increased the allowance under the income tax code to people who are blind. It is raised from over £300 to £400. One would have thought that the Minister would have availed of this year — the Year of the Disabled — to add some categories of otherwise disabled persons to the small list, a list of one apparently, who qualify under the income tax code for a special allowance. Lip service is being given to the disabled this year——
Perhaps the Deputy did not read my budget speech——
No interruptions, Minister, please.
(Cavan-Monaghan): Nothing much of a tangible nature is being done under the income tax code, which is extensive and all-embracing. I was rather amused to hear the Minister using the only argument he had, that “deafness” is not defined, nor was “otherwise incapacitated” defined. The Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Finance should be the last in the public service to claim that this or that had not been defined. Did the Minister ever look at an income tax return form? It seems to be wide and all-embracing enough to cover anything that could possibly be thought of to cover gains and incomes of every possible description. Surely it should not be outside the capacity of the Minister for Finance to draft a definition of “deaf” or “some otherwise incapacitated group” who would benefit for an income tax allowance this year? The Minister boasted of what he did in the past. He went on to say on a couple of occasions that they would continue in government. The Minister will remain in government if the Taoiseach holds a general election and if Fianna Fáil win it, which is extremely unlikely. I think the Taoiseach and the Government are doing a very bad service to the country by having created the impression, some considerable time ago, that a general election is imminent and would be held——
We did not create that situation.
We cannot debate the possible dates for a general election.
If the Deputy's party expected an election, we are not to blame.
It has nothing to do with the Finance Bill. The Minister should not interrupt and the Deputy should not deal with the possibility of a general election.
They cannot even make up their minds about that. They will set up a commission to decide whether to have a general election.
(Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister, the Taoiseach and the Government have created the impression that a general election is imminent and the country, for some considerable time past, is operating in a state of uncertainty and great expectation. We are ready for a general election.
Would the Deputy please get back to the amendment?
(Cavan-Monaghan): The Taoiseach should either hold an election now or say it is not going to be held.
The Deputy is under pressure. He is getting a bad feedback. The Cavan-Monaghan constituency is not going so well.
(Cavan-Monaghan): My constituency is going very well.
Will Deputy Fitzpatrick please deal with the amendment? If the Minister stays quiet we will be able to continue. Forget about the election.
(Cavan-Monaghan): I believe it is very important that the country, the economy and the business people should know where they stand in relation to this. It is not a game that politicians play——
Deputy, please, this has nothing to do with the amendment before the House. Would the Deputy please get back to the amendment?
The Minister introduced it.
I do not know who introduced it but the Deputy is really going to town on it.
(Cavan-Monaghan): I am not even going to a village on it. In the Year of the Disabled the Minister should have recognised it under the income tax code by accepting Deputy Bruton's reasonable amendment. If he thinks deafness should be defined, as of course it should, I suggest he requests his parliamentary draftsman, in conjunction with the Department of Finance, to draft a definition of deafness which would satisfy him and make sure that only people who were incapacitated by deafness to some considerable extent would benefit under this proposal.
I was amazed to hear the Minister for Finance using the argument against this amendment that because it was a tax allowance that was proposed, it would tend to be availed of to a greater extent by those who are better off among the handicapped. If that is how he looks at the matter, why is he increasing the allowance for the blind because, of course, that allowance will also be availed of only by blind people who have a taxable income? The more taxable income they have, obviously the more the allowance will be worth to them. If the Minister feels it is bad that an allowance such as this should be available to a greater extent to people the better off they are, why is he increasing the blind allowance if he will not increase other allowances? That is not an argument because it is so inconsistent with what the Minister is doing in regard to the blind allowance that it does not even deserve to be entertained.
The idea that the Minister seems to have that the best way to help handicapped people is to give them money to stay at home or to give them money whether they work or not is not the best way of approaching the problem. The advantage of a tax allowance is that it encourages handicapped people, to take a job and earn a taxable income. Giving an allowance of this sort to other handicapped people, as is already available to blind people, would encourage people with those handicaps to take a job, earn an income and not have a situation where handicapped people, in common with other people, very often find that because of the extent of the burden of taxation they are better off to stay at home and not work.
This amendment seeks to have a tax allowance for handicapped people on the basis of an allowance already available for blind people. It is the right thing from a social point of view because it will encourage the handicapped to go out to work. If handicapped people have allowances available to them at home whether they work or not they are less likely to go out to work.
There is a need to tilt the balance for handicapped people in favour of working so that they may develop themselves to the maximum extent. For that reason I contend the Minister should have accepted the amendment. I concede to him the point that there is not a detailed definition of the handicap of deafness or other handicap in my amendment. My answer is that the Minister was able to present this House this morning with a nine-page amendment on development land and it should not be beyond his ability to put before the House a definition of deafness for the purpose of the amendment if he wished to accept it. It would certainly be a more simple drafting matter than the nine-page composition we were presented with this morning for a debate this afternoon.
At least the Deputy admits it was out this morning.
I believe strongly that the Minister should accept the amendment to indicate his support and the support of this House for the idea of a tax allowance for handicapped people.
- Barry, Peter.
- Barry, Richard.
- Belton, Luke.
- Boland, John.
- Bruton, John.
- Burke, Joan.
- Byrne, Hugh.
- Cluskey, Frank.
- Collins, Edward.
- Conlan, John F.
- Corish, Brendan.
- Cosgrave, Liam.
- Cosgrave, Michael J.
- Crooty, Kieran.
- D'Arcy, Michael J.
- Deasy, Martin A.
- Desmond, Barry.
- Donnellan, John F.
- FitzGerald, Garret.
- Fitzpatrick, Tom (Cavan-Monaghan).
- Gilhawley, Eugene.
- Griffin, Brendan.
- Harte, Patrick D.
- Keating, Michael.
- L'Estrange, Gerry.
- Mitchell, Jim.
- O'Donnell, Tom.
- O'Keeffe, Jim.
- O'Toole, Paddy.
- Taylor, Frank.
- Timmins, Godfrey.
- Treacy, Seán.
- Tully, James.
- White, James.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Kit.
- Allen, Lorcan.
- Andrews, David.
- Andrews, Niall.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Barrett, Sylvester.
- Brady, Gerard.
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- Browne, Seán.
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- Colley, George.
- Conaghan, Hugh.
- Connolly, Gerard.
- Coughlan, Clement.
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- Crinion, Brendan.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Davern, Noel.
- Doherty, Seán.
- Farrell, Joe.
- Filgate, Eddie.
- Fitzgerald, Gene.
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- Fox, Christopher J.
- French, Seán.
- Gallagher, Dennis.
- Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
- Haughey, Charles J.
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- Killeen, Tim.
- Killilea, Mark.
- Lawlor, Liam.
- Lemass, Eileen.
- Leonard, Tom.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Loughnane, William.
- Lynch, Jack.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Moore, Seán.
- Morley, P.J.
- Murphy, Ciarán P.
- Nolan, Tom.
- Noonan, Michael.
- O'Donoghue, Martin.
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- O'Leary, John.
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- Smith, Michael. Tunney, Jim.
- Walsh, Seán.
- Woods, Michael J.