Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill 2019: Report and Final Stages

Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 14, to delete “Section 14” and substitute “Sections 4 and 14”.

I mentioned at the end of Committee Stage proceedings last week that I would be bringing forward these amendments on Report Stage to address matters arising from a Supreme Court judgment which found that provisions of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 relating to the entitlements of prisoners were unconstitutional. To put it in the simplest terms, the court found that the automatic disallowance of entitlement to benefits when a claimant is imprisoned is unconstitutional since this represents an extra-judicial punishment. The issues involved are complex and challenging and significant engagement with the Office of the Attorney General and with senior counsel has been required to arrive at a solution that is compatible with the Constitution. The outcome of all the deliberations is that a dual-stranded approach is needed which treats separately the position of those people who are of working age, that is, those who are aged under 66, and those who are of pensionable age, those who are aged over 66.

The measures contained in amendment No. 3 relate solely to working age payments and are concerned with the qualifying conditions for various illness and disability related payments. It is a core principle of eligibility for these working age payments that unavailability for work is as a direct result of a physical or mental illness. In other words, the customer is not in receipt of a payment for the illness or disability itself. What is being proposed through this amendment is the reinforcement of this eligibility principle in the conditionality requirements attaching to each of the working age payments concerned to make it explicitly clear that the claimant would be available for work were it not for the illness or disability and to reinforce the point that the illness or disability is the sole and principal reason the person concerned is not available for work.

The sole effect of these amendments is to provide that where a person is in receipt of one of these working age benefits but becomes unavailable for work for a secondary reason such as incarceration, that person will no longer fulfil the eligibility conditions for the payment.

I want to emphasise that these changes will have no impact on the accessibility of the schemes to the overwhelming majority of claimants and that the changes are designed to ensure that there are no circumstances in which a person could claim a continued entitlement to an income support payment, for instance, when they are incarcerated.

It is worth making the point that a kind of strict conditionality already exists for some of our other schemes. As an obvious example, it is a requirement that a claimant must be available for full-time work in order to qualify for a jobseeker's payment. Similarly, a person claiming a carer's payment must be in a position to provide the care. Accordingly, the principle of availability is already clearly established in those schemes and no change is required for these.

It is also worth making the point that disability allowance will continue to be paid, as it is at present, to persons who are detained in a medical setting. That includes people who are detained by reason of a mental health condition in the Central Mental Hospital or in any of our other acute hospital settings.

Before I conclude, I want to take the opportunity to explain what the approach will be regarding the pensionable age, although we are not dealing with that matter specifically today. It is a core principle of the social welfare system that it is there to support people on a maintain once basis. In other words, our system provides financial supports for people whose basic needs are not already provided for.

As part of the Supreme Court case, the State had argued that it was legitimate to provide social welfare payments on a maintain once basis. As prisoners have their basic needs met by the State, in terms of care and sustenance, the State argued that there should be no obligation to provide a pension payment as well. I think everybody knows we lost that case in part because of the legal basis for applying the maintain once principle was not clear enough.

A great deal of work has been undertaken in our Department, as well as with other relevant Government Departments, in seeking to define the policies and principles which should underpin the maintain once approach and to assess the implications for those persons in State care who are entitled to the payment of an age related pension. Unfortunately, the work was not completed before the closing date of the Report Stage amendments but there is work ongoing. We will continue to engage with the Office of the Attorney General and senior counsel and bring forward that amendment at the next possible time.

I thank the Minister for her explanation of this new amendment which did not appear on Committee Stage. I look forward to the future amendment regarding old age pensions.

I do not want to delay proceedings unduly but I wish to check one point with the Minister. Is amendment No. 3 proposing a new section specifically directed at people who at the time they were in receipt of illness benefit were incarcerated? Does it have a general application to a person applying for illness benefit? For example, paragraph (b) of section 46A (1) of the principal Act states that in order to qualify for illness benefit a person must have "a profound restriction on his or her capacity for work" etc. Section 118 of the principal Act goes on to state where a person "is permanently incapable of working in insurable employment" etc. Does this have general application? If it does, does it in some way tighten the eligibility criteria for illness benefit?

Perhaps I am not as sharp as I thought I was but I am finding it difficult to follow some of this. I am aware of the Supreme Court case and these amendments have been landed before us as a direct result of that. Obviously, efforts were made to try to refine this. I understand the principle behind the incarceration element in trying to deal with Supreme Court judgment but, like Deputy O'Dea, I would say this is drafted very widely and it provides for an almost all-encompassing aspect to the legislation. I would like to have more time to review it. We will be guided by the Attorney General's advice. There is no better advice than that. Obviously, that office has an external senior counsel who has some proficiency in dealing with social welfare issues in this area.

If the central thrust of what is proposed is to deal with people who end up being incarcerated on the basis of payments, like Deputy O'Dea I also was reading paragraph (b) of section 46A (1) of the principal Act. I would like clarification as to precisely who is covered or what does that incorporate. It looks pretty wide or it might provide a foretaste of the next amendment that might be brought forward so that this is covered in a wide enough way to incorporate a future amendment that may well be engaged regarding this aspect of the legislation. For clarification purposes, the Minister might clear that up for us.

To answer Deputy O'Dea's question specifically, obviously it involves the guiding rules. We are changing the principle conditionality of the schemes of working age, whereby there is a specific set of conditions today - a new condition - notwithstanding that with respect to the scheme for which one would be applying, one would be otherwise available for work. The core principle of working age payments, which is clearly set out in the conditionality requirement, is now attaching the relevant condition to the working age payments. Therefore, working age payments, for example, will not be subject to a disqualification in respect of a legal detention but rather the person in legal detention will not be able to satisfy the conditions of the new scheme. If the Deputy is asking me if a person's payment will be taken from them if they are no longer available for work and should that conditionality be attached to it, the answer to that question is "yes", that is the purpose of it. Currently, somebody potentially could be in receipt of any working age payment, become incarcerated and continue to maintain that payment.

A new condition of the payment is that, notwithstanding the working age payment in question, including illness, disability or invalidity payments, if one did not have that condition, one would be available for work. If people are incarcerated, they are not available for work. That is the condition we are adding.

I appreciate that, but we are asking about people who are not incarcerated.

There will be no change in that regard.

This new conditionality does not apply to general applicants.

That is fair enough.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 8 to 10, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Amendment No. 9 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 8.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“Employment contributions

3. (1) Section 13(2) of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following paragraphs after paragraph (db):

“(dc) Subject to paragraphs (dd) and (de), where the Minister has made an order under subsection (1A) of section 10D of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000, he or she may, by order, vary the amount of reckonable earnings specified in subparagraphs (i) and (ii) of paragraph (d).

(dd) An order under paragraph (dc) shall come into operation on the same date as the order under subsection (1A) of section 10D of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 to which it relates.

(de) An order under paragraph (dc) shall, in so far as practicable, provide that the same proportion of the reckonable earnings of an employed contributor is subject to the rate specified in subparagraphs (i) and (ii) of paragraph (d) on and after the date on which the order comes into operation as it was subject to immediately before that date.”.

(2) The amendments effected by subsection (1) shall come into operation on the passing of this Act and shall cease to have effect on the date on which a recommendation under section 10C of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 is next made to the Minister.”.

As I explained on Committee Stage, I am bringing forward two amendments relating to the minimum wage in direct response to the amendment tabled by Deputies Penrose and O'Dea. The first of these, amendment No. 2, will ensure that when the order to implement the increase in minimum wage is signed, I will also be able to provide for parallel increases in the PRSI earning thresholds. This will ensure employers are not doubly hit when the minimum wage is increased. The weekly earnings of an employee determine the rate of employer contributions paid on behalf of that employee. Currently, employer PRSI is charged at a rate of 7.8% on weekly earnings between €38 and €386, and at a rate of 10.5% on earnings in excess of €386. When the minimum wage is increased from €9.80 to €10.10 per hour, I will also adjust the €386 earning threshold to ensure that, as in previous years, the same proportion of the employer's contribution is paid at the lower rate.

The second amendment amends the National Minimum Wage Act 2000, which is necessary to provide for the increase to the minimum wage. I reiterate that the Government has accepted the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission in their entirety and we wish to provide for that increase of the minimum wage to €10.10 as soon as possible. We discussed this on both Second Stage and Committee Stage. The amendment also provides that these measures are a once-off and will cease to have effect once the next report of the commission is published. The sunset clause applies to the power to introduce the order to increase the minimum wage and the power to adjust the rate of the PRSI earning threshold. I hope Deputies Penrose and O'Dea find the effect and intent of their amendment is fully met by these amendments, which were prepared with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, and that they are in a position to support them.

The effect of Deputy Bríd Smith's amendment is to delete section 23, which would make it impossible to provide any increase in the minimum wage in 2020. I do not believe that is what the Deputy wants. I think she wanted to register her displeasure at us not having already increased the minimum wage, which I understand. If we were to accept her amendment, none of us would be able to do anything about the minimum wage, and nobody would get an increase next year.

We raised this issue in the course of the debate on this Bill and I thank the Minister for taking note of the points made. They were not made for any political purpose, but rather to ensure the law works as was intended when the Low Pay Commission was established. Every party in this House might be in government at some stage. We wanted to take the politics out of it. That was very important, and the Minister has recognised that.

The minimum wage is another example of the burden this Brexit budget will place on the lowest paid in society. Brexit has become a convenient excuse, though I hope that is not what is happening here. Hopefully, regardless of what happens in the British election, those low-paid workers can look forward to some small increase in January. I got so excited about this earlier that I said 1985 rather than 1980. The minimum wage should be increasing much more. However, I take the point that many small businesses cannot afford such an increase. A condition in the Bill allows businesses to make that point, so I urge businesses which find this increase difficult to utilise that mechanism. They are at the bottom of the low-wage market. It is not acceptable that people must wait for a modest pay increase to offset inflation and the significant cost of living.

There was a real danger that unless the Minimum Wage Act 2000 was amended, the ministerial discretion to stall the minimum wage could become a permanent feature of the law. We went to great pains to set up the Low Pay Commission in order that the minimum wage would not be subject to partisan politics from whatever party or source. That comment does not refer to the Minister or anybody else. We have now removed that feature and in fairness to the Minister, she also increased the PRSI threshold. There is always the law of unintended consequences, which is why rushed legislation is a disaster. The Minister stalled the Bill and wrote us a letter, for which I thank her. We are delighted that the amendment has been taken on board. The Minister's concomitant amendment to deal with the PRSI threshold is absolutely vital as well, which we acknowledge.

I appreciate that the PRSI threshold has also been increased. The amendment put forward by myself and Deputy Penrose had a particular objective, which the Minister's amendment appears to achieve.

When is it intended to increase the minimum wage? The Minister said she would do so as soon as practicable. However, I thought it was the Government's intention to bring the increase to the minimum wage into force on 1 January 2020, after the British general election. The Minister will agree that the danger of a crash-out Brexit has eroded. If the Conservative Party wins the election in the UK, then presumably the Brexit deal agreed by Boris Johnson will be passed. If the Labour Party or a combination of other parties come into office, there is the possibility of another referendum, which might, hopefully, take Brexit off the table completely. Can the Minister be more specific about when she intends to trigger this increase, which has been recommended by the Low Pay Commission?

I will comment on amendments Nos. 2, 8, and 10. As my colleague, Deputy Brady, said on Committee Stage, Sinn Féin is totally opposed to what Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and now the Labour Party are proposing for the minimum wage this year. It is an insult to workers to propose a 30 cent increase in the minimum wage at some unspecified future date at the will of the Minister, which it seems is what will happen. The Minister's earlier response did not, unfortunately, give me any additional comfort. Workers need an increase in their wages now.

I refer to the Brexit excuse. No hard Brexit has occurred, so the Minister blaming Brexit for this minimum wage decision carries no weight whatsoever. It is a total red herring. Does the Minister realise that over 100,000 workers are currently living in poverty? How can she justify making these workers and families wait even longer for an increase in their wages? These workers and families need the Government's support now. I noted the Minister's contribution on Committee Stage in which she stated that our opposition to the Government's minimum wage plan would have meant workers would not get any increase next year. That is simply not true. If Sinn Féin is on the Government benches in the new year, as I hope we are, we will bring forward legislation to introduce a living wage of €12.30 per hour as a minimum for all workers. A living wage is a real change that would make a huge positive difference to thousands of workers and their families. A motion was passed in the Dáil in mid-October condemning the minimum wage decision by the Government and calling for a living wage to be introduced next year. That motion was supported by Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party, but they have now done a U-turn and are facilitating this unjustified minimum wage decision by Fine Gael. It is quite bizarre, particularly from the Labour Party. I do not understand its thinking on this issue at all. Perhaps it is trying to position itself favourably with Fine Gael ahead of the next general election.

Sinn Féin will not be supporting these amendments to the Government's minimum wage proposals. We are totally opposed to the Government's mean approach and we have set out how a living wage of €12.30 per hour could be introduced. If we were in government, we would introduce a living wage. We will not facilitate this Government penalising low-wage workers by delaying a small increase in the minimum wage. The Minister has not clarified when she will increase the minimum wage, if she does so.

To answer Deputy O'Dea's question, it is a difficult issue. I appreciate that the Deputy may think he knows what the outcome of the UK election will be on 13 December.

I am not as confident as the Deputy regarding the outcome of the election and the choice of the British people. When I know what is the result and am in a position to be able to make a decision-----

It is a binary choice.

The difficulty is that although the Deputy may expect a Conservative Party majority, I do not know what the electorate will choose. The Deputy believes that if the Conservatives do not get a majority, there may be a referendum. All I can base my decision on is the fact that we are three years down the line from the British public first deciding it wished to leave the European Union and there is still much confusion in the minds of parliamentarians and the electorate. The British public will have the opportunity to decide on its future on 12 December. As soon as we get clarity on that choice, I will be able to make a decision. I am not trying to be evasive. I am not as confident as the Deputy that we can predict the outcome of the election.

I am dismayed that Deputy Quinlivan supports an amendment that would lead to no increase for anybody next year. I do not believe that is his intention or that of Sinn Féin. It is not the intention of Deputy Bríd Smith. I understand his frustration which all Deputies share; the Deputy does not have a monopoly on it. I wish it had been possible for me to make a decision on the day. Similarly, I am sure the members of the Low Pay Commission who deliberated on this issue for many months would have preferred to make a more definitive decision. They decided to increase the minimum wage in the event of an orderly Brexit. Unless the Deputy knows something that no one else in this Chamber does, we must await the election. We have agreed to increase the minimum wage if there is an orderly Brexit. I hope it is orderly and that we will be in a position to increase the minimum wage on 1 January.

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 5, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“Entitlement to benefit or allowance

4. The Principal Act is amended—

(a) in section 40, by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):

“(1) Subject to this Act, a person shall only be entitled to illness benefit in respect of any day of incapacity for work in this Act referred to as “a day of incapacity for work”) which forms part of a period of interruption of insurable employment, where—

(a) the person is under pensionable age on the day for which the benefit is claimed,

(aa) he or she is incapable of work,

(ab) the reason for the period of interruption of employment is as a direct result of the person concerned being incapable of work and for no other reason, and

(b) he or she satisfies the contribution conditions in section 41.”,

(b) in section 46A(1), by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (b):

“(b) has a profound restriction on his or her capacity for work in relation to the capacity for work of a person of the same age who has no restriction on his or her capacity for work, and the reason for which restriction is as a direct result of the person concerned being incapable of work and for no other reason,”,

(c) in section 118—

(i) in subsection (1), by the substitution of the following paragraphs for paragraph (a):

“(a) is permanently incapable of working in insurable employment or insurable self-employment, and the reason for which incapacity is as a direct result of the person concerned being incapable of work and for no other reason,

(aa) would be available to work in insurable employment or insurable self-employment were it not for this incapacity, and”,

and

(ii) in subsection (3A), by the substitution of “engage in insurable employment or insurable self-employment” for “engage in work”,

(d) in section 161A, by the substitution of the following paragraphs for paragraph (b):

“(b) the reason for the person’s incapacity to perform any insurable employment or insurable self-employment for which eyesight is essential or to continue his or her ordinary occupation is as a direct result of his or her blindness and for no other reason,

(bb) were it not for this incapacity he or she would be available to work in insurable employment or insurable self-employment,”,

and

(e) in section 210—

(i) in subsection (1)—

(I) in paragraph (b), to substitute “Health Act 1970,” for “Health Act 1970,

and”, and

(II) by the insertion of the following paragraphs after paragraph (b):

“(ba) subject to subsection (10), the reason for whose substantial restriction in undertaking suitable employment is as a direct result of the person concerned being incapable of work and for no other reason,

(bb) who, were it not for the substantial restriction, would be available to work in insurable employment or insurable self-employment, and”,

and

(ii) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (9):

“(10) A person shall not be disqualified for receipt of a disability allowance while engaging in a prescribed course of education, training or development.”.”.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 14, after line 35, to insert the following:

“Report on current and projected future increases in carbon tax

23. The Minister shall undertake an impact assessment on the current and projected future increases in carbon tax on low income families and shall bring forward a report on same within six months of this Act being signed into law.”.

The amendment arises out of proceedings on Committee Stage. There is a legitimate debate to be had on whether increasing carbon tax will achieve the desired objective. It was decided that it would and the relevant legislation has been put in place. The increase will impact on low income families. It will not solely affect those on social welfare; tens of thousands of working people on low incomes are living on or below the poverty line. The attempt by the Government to compensate people by increasing the fuel allowance by €2 per week is rather pathetic. Tens of thousands of social welfare recipients, probably more than half of all recipients, are not entitled to fuel allowance and will receive no compensation. If the Government or a future Government commits to continuously increasing carbon tax, it will disproportionately impact the poorest in society because the smaller one's income, the greater the proportion of it one must use to cover the cost of an increase in tax on a basic item such as fuel. A detailed analysis of the impact of the carbon tax should be carried out to guide the Minister and her successors such that they know what countervailing measures the Department should put in place to mitigate any increase in the tax.

The amendment tabled in the names of Deputies Brady and O'Dea is similar to an amendment tabled by Deputy Brady on Committee Stage. Sinn Féin considers it to be of great importance. No consideration was given to the impact on low income families of an increase in the carbon tax. No impact assessment was carried out before the budget, although that should have been done. The carbon tax is a regressive tax which will hit the most vulnerable in society the hardest. The Government needs to start taking the issue of fuel poverty seriously.

The amendment arises from two amendments separately tabled by Deputies O'Dea and Brady on Committee Stage. The only suggestion I made on that Stage was that six months rather than three months should be allowed for the preparation of the report in order to give the officials in my Department some space. Certain other amendments also call for reports to be compiled. I am grateful that the Deputies agreed to the six-month period to prepare the report, which I am happy to facilitate.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 14, after line 35, to insert the following:

“Report on appropriate State pension age

23. The Minister shall conduct research, including examining pension ages across the European Union, engage with key stakeholders, including trade unions and make recommendations and report on all aspects of the most appropriate age at which a person should become entitled to receive the State pension and that the report shall be presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection within 6 months of the enactment of this Act.”.

The amendment arises from on an amendment tabled by my colleague, Deputy Brady, on Committee Stage. The Minister was concerned about the cost associated with public consultation and, as such, we have made changes to the amendment as agreed with the Minister. We cannot dismiss engagement with stakeholders, particularly trade unions, as to so do would mean that their important views would be lost to any report. Pension age is an important issue which we must get right. The Minister committed to accept the amendment once the requested change was made.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute on the important issue of the pension age. We are on target to have one of the highest ages in Europe at which people can access the State pension, despite Ireland having the youngest population in Europe and the third highest fertility rate. The latter two facts mean that in 50 years' time, Ireland will still have the lowest proportion of older people in the EU, with nearly 20% less than the EU average. As such, the percentage of national income spent on public pensions will only rise by 3 percentage points from its 2016 base of 8% over the next half century.

In many respects, we should have one of the lowest pension ages in the EU but the opposite is true. It is obvious that the Government intends to push ahead with increasing the pension age to 67 by 2021 and 68 by 2028. In contrast, the average EU pension age will rise to 66 years of age by the middle of the century. It is unnecessary for Ireland to do more than that. The decision to increase the pension age was made at a time of unprecedented economic hardship and has no validity now that the economy has recovered. Why should those who have spent their lives working pay the cost of financial recklessness?

The change is being pushed through without consultation with Deputies or the relevant economic, political and civic stakeholders, including the trade union movement. The supposed savings are unclear as the Government has failed to publish a detailed analysis of the impact of the proposed increase on the public finances. The report proposed in the amendment could be vital in that respect.

Approximately 30,000 people will turn 66 in 2021, but a substantial number of them will have been required under their work contract to retire at 65 and, as such, will have spent a year on jobseeker's benefit. The extension to the normal jobseeker's benefit rules means that it continues to a person's 66th birthday. Will it continue to a person's 67th year if the Government extends the retirement age to 67 in 2021? How many will be affected by this change? These are people who have worked and paid taxes all their lives. For a single person, there is only €45 difference per week between jobseeker's benefit and the pension. Increasing the pension age will result in a meagre saving for the Government, especially if one takes into account the extra administrative burden created by people having to first apply for jobseeker's benefit and then for the State pension. A far greater degree of loss will be experienced by the affected individuals and their families. The increase would entail a loss of up to €2,400 a year for a single person or up to €6,000 for a couple. That is a massive cut, particularly in light of the cost of living and inflation. All that pain will be caused to individuals in order for the Government to save a mere 0.2% of national income in pension payments by 2021. The Social Insurance Fund which pays for pensions will have a surplus of nearly €4 billion by the end of this year. There is a problem there.

I am self-employed, as some other Deputies may be. I am delighted with some of the changes that have been made in favour of the self-employed. The extension of jobseeker's benefit to the self-employed is wonderful. It will cost €31 million. People have pointed out that I am arguing against my own best interests in this regard. The self-employed only pay 4% in contributions, compared with the rate of 14.95% paid by employees.

Those fortunate enough to have a private pension will get it at an earlier age than their peers who must wait for the State pension. That will reinforce yet another two-tier system within our society. I note Deputy O'Dea raised related concerns last week in the media. There is a significant amount of work to be done.

There is a gender aspect to this issue due to the historical gender pay gap and the difference in the duration of time spent in work. Women at retirement age are less likely than men to have a private pension and their pension package is worth on average 22% less than their male counterparts.

What is the point of increasing the pension age? It makes little financial sense and involves no sense of fairness towards those with a lifetime of work behind them. That is why at our recent party conference the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Howlin, outlined our intention to campaign to stop the rise of the pension age to 67 for the lifetime of the next Government. There is sense in that proposal. In light of the country's changed circumstances, we should revisit decisions such as this.

There is a joint motion. I was not at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection in the middle of 2017. I believe Deputy O'Dea might have been there. The motion proposed that the Minister should review the disparity between the retirement age and pension age, and that the proposed increases in pensionable age should be suspended. That was a call by all parties, including the Minister's. It is now time to follow through on this and give those approaching their pension age what they have earned.

We must continue to seek the reversal of these measures, the increase in welfare payment indexed to inflation and an increase in the minimum wage and subsequently a living wage. That is what we had set out. There is no withdrawing or resiling on the part of the Labour Party in this area. We have been fighting for this for a long time. We need to get those at the earliest opportunity. The Deputy is right about the need to make the amendment in the National Minimum Wage Act. I explained in law, after I sat down as a barrister and reviewed it, that if we did not make the change that has been made here today, the whole thing would fall flat in 2020, which would be a catastrophe for people.

This is a change from the amendment proposed on Committee Stage. That amendment included public consultation, which the Minister said would be somewhat expensive. The information sought here about comparative pension ages etc. throughout Europe would be very interesting, particularly given that the pension-age increase to 67 will kick in in 2021. Of course, we as a Parliament can change that. We do not have to implement it. The information sought would be very useful in our considerations on that matter. I believe the Minister indicated that if the consultation element was dropped, she would be disposed to accept the amendment and I ask her to do so.

I thank the gentlemen for their contributions. I had suggested on Committee Stage that the only issue I had with the amendment then was that it required public consultation costing tens of thousands of euro that I do not have. I asked for the public consultation element to be taken away but for us to do the comparative research, engage with the stakeholders and look at examples throughout the European Union, which I am very happy to do. Therefore, I am accepting the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 14, after line 35, to insert the following:

“Review of qualifying conditions for Fuel Allowance in respect of certain social welfare payments

23. The Minister shall conduct a review and lay a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas on the current qualifying conditions in place in order for those in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance and Supplementary Welfare Allowance to qualify for the Fuel Allowance and that the report shall be presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection within 6 months of the enactment of this Act.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 15, to delete lines 3 to 26 and substitute the following:

“Amendment of section 10D of National Minimum Wage Act 2000

23. (1) The National Minimum Wage Act 2000 is amended, in section 10D (inserted by section 8 of the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Act 2015)—

(a) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (1):

“(1A) Where the Minister—

(a) having received a recommendation and report submitted to him or her under section 10C(2), having considered the report and recommendation and, having had regard to section 10C(3), has declined to make an order in accordance with subsection (1)(b), and

(b) has, in accordance with subsection (2)(b), prepared and laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas a statement of his or her reasons for declining to make such order,

the Minister may by order declare a national minimum hourly rate of pay in the terms recommended by the Commission or in other terms.”,

and

(b) in subsection (2)—

(i) in paragraph (a), by the deletion of “or”, and

(ii) by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (a):

“(ab) by order declares a national minimum hourly rate of pay in accordance with subsection (1A), or”.

(2) The amendments effected by subsection (1) shall come into operation on the passing of this Act and shall cease to have effect on the date on which a recommendation under section 10C of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 is next made to the Minister.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.
Bill reported with amendments, received for final consideration and passed.
The Dáil adjourned at 6.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 28 November 2019.