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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Jul 1961

Vol. 54 No. 14

Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1961—Second and Subsequent Stages.

The main object of this Bill is to obtain legislative authority for the increases in the rates of non-contributory old age, blind and widows' pensions, unemployment assistance, and the married person's allowance in the scheme of old age (contributory) pensions, announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Statement on 19th April last, and for the introduction of substantial concessions in regard to the means conditions for the receipt of unemployment assistance, also adverted to by the Minister for Finance. A number of other necessary or desirable amendments of the law, which with one exception, are referred to in more detail in the explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill, and which Senators will have seen, are also included. I shall deal with these in greater detail in a moment and also with a concession in relation to old age pensions which is not mentioned in the memorandum.

Firstly, I should like to deal briefly with the Budget increases, which, I think, require little explanation. The Bill provides for an increase of one shilling and sixpence per week in all non-contributory old age and blind pensions. According to the means category of the pensioner, therefore, the new rates of these pensions will be 30/-, 25/-, 20/- and 15/- a week.

The increases provided for in rates of unemployment assistance, mean that recipients themselves will get an increase of 1/6d. a week, plus the same extra amount for an adult dependant. If the recipient has dependent children, he will get an increase of 1/- each for the first and second child and an increase of 1/6d. a week for each subsequent child. For example, a man who is on unemployment assistance and who has a wife and four dependent children will get an extra 8/- a week as from 1st August next. In certain cases, as a result of the easing of the means conditions for the unemployment assistance scheme, also proposed, the increases in rates will be further augmented.

Widows' non-contributory pensions are being increased by 1/6d. on the personal rate, by 1/- for each of the first two qualified children, and by 1/6d. for each subsequent qualified child, so that, to give an example, a non-contributory widow pensioner with four qualified children will receive an increase of 6/6d. weekly in her pension.

Contributory old age pensioners who are receiving an allowance in respect of a wife or husband will also benefit. The allowance for a wife or dependent husband which is contained in the old age contributory pension is equal to the maximum rate of non-contributory old age pension, and this allowance normally continues to be payable as a benefit to the surviving partner when a married pensioner dies. Receipt of the allowance, or of the survivor's benefit, disqualifies the surviving spouse for receiving a non-contributory old age pension. Because the maximum non-contributory old age pension is being increased from 28/6d. to 30/- it is necessary to increase the contributory dependant's allowance and survivor's benefit correspondingly. The new rate of contributory old age pension and allowance, for a married couple entitled to the maximum rate, will, therefore, be £3 10s. a week.

The Bill makes substantial concessions in relation to unemployment assistance and some desirable relaxations so far as certain aspects of non-contributory widows' and orphans' pensions are concerned. As members will, no doubt, be aware, there are two yearly means limits for participation in the unemployment assistance scheme. A limit of £72 16s. applies in rural areas and a limit of £98 16s. applies in urban areas. The Bill provides for a single yearly means limit of £100 which will, from 1st August next, apply throughout the State. Applicants for unemployment assistance in urban areas possess little or no means apart from their earnings from employment and since such earnings do not count as means for unemployment assistance purposes, the means limit is of no practical significance. Many rural applicants, however, are smallholders and have means derived from the occupation of land. The means problem is, in fact, essentially a rural one. The introduction of the new means limit will bring into the scheme about 1,200 additional recipients in rural areas—mainly smallholders with means ranging from £72 16s. to £100—who will qualify for payment of assistance at rates ranging from 18/6d. a week downwards, plus 2/6d. a week for each dependent child after the second such child.

The amount of assessed weekly means which is disregarded in determining the weekly rate of unemployment assistance payable in any particular case is also being increased. The first 1/- of means is so disregarded at present. The disregarded amount, will, in future, be 2/- in the case of a person without a dependant and 5/- where the person has a dependant. In easing this condition of the scheme therefore it will be noted that I have made a distinction between persons without dependants and persons with dependants, which, I am sure, will be welcomed.

The concession will enable many recipients—some 16,000 at peak periods—to qualify for higher rates of unemployment assistance than heretofore and it will especially benefit those who have families. The effect will be to increase still further, by 1/- a week for a person without a dependant, and by 4/- for a person who has a dependant, the rates of unemployment assistance payable where the assessed weekly means exceed 1/- and 4/- respectively. The combined result of this concession and the increase in rates in the case of a man with a wife and four children, with means in excess of 4/-a week, will be that he will receive a total increase of 12/- a week in his unemployment assistance as from 1st August next.

Concessions in relation to widows' and orphans' non-contributory pensions are also provided for in the Bill. Under existing legislation, it sometimes happens that a small increase granted in a pension from, say, another government, can cause a greater decrease in a widow's or orphan's pension payable by my Department, the net result being that the pensioner's total income is reduced. The Bill ensures that such net losses of income will no longer occur. An alteration is made by Section 11 in the residence condition for widow's pension. A widow is at present disqualified for receipt of non-contributory widow's pension unless she has been resident in the State during the period of two years immediately preceding the date of her claim. If she has been absent from the country she cannot, therefore, qualify for a pension until two years after her return unless she was in receipt of the pension at the time of her departure. Two years' residence here, at any time, will be sufficient, under the altered condition proposed in the Bill.

Section 19 will allow a considerable concession in assessing the means of a claimant to old age pension who is the older member of a married couple who are living together, where the spouse of the claimant is sixty years of age or over and where the couple are wholly or mainly dependent on each other for their livelihood. The effect of the provision will be to allow up to £165 of the joint cash income of the couple, for example, the earnings of the husband, to be excluded in the calculation of their means for the purposes of the older partner's claim. If they are already entitled to have a portion of their income ignored in the calculation of their means, say, for example, the first £52 of any voluntary or gratuitous contributions or up to £80 of a military service pension, any amounts disregarded under these heads will be regarded as forming part of the figure of £165. Hitherto, a married couple with a cash income of £4 1s. a week approximately would both be debarred from receiving the pension.

This new provision will enable the older member of a couple, eligible for the concession and with cash income up to £7 4s. a week, to qualify for the minimum rate of pension. I have no doubt that this concession will be especially beneficial to married couples where the wife, for example, has reached the age of seventy years and her husband is still working, perhaps as an agricultural worker, or road worker, with wages which, though small, would still be sufficient, without this concession, to debar her from receiving the old age pension. This concession, as I have said already, will enable her to qualify.

I need refer only briefly to the remaining amendments which will improve and strengthen social welfare legislation generally. The power of deciding officers, appointed under the Social Welfare Act, 1952, to decide whether a person is or was in insurable employment, and to give decisions in respect of past events, is being clarified by Section 16. A provision in the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 for the making of regulations providing for notice to be given by registrars of births and deaths to pension officers or local pension committees, of the deaths of persons over 70 years of age, which has never operated here, is being repealed.

The Bill contains a number of provisions which will, it is hoped, help to discourage people from making fraudulent claims and giving false information in relation to unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance claims. Administrative measures against fraud are being reinforced by special provisions in the Bill to help in reducing it to the minimum. Conviction for fraud in relation to an unemployment benefit claim will now carry with it disqualification for the receipt of unemployment benefit for six months immediately following the date of the conviction. Similarly, conviction for fraud in relation to an unemployment assistance claim will involve disqualification for unemployment assistance for six months. Where the offence relates to a qualification certificate, the offender, if convicted, will be debarred from obtaining or holding such a certificate for a similar period. The maximum fine which can be imposed by the court for offences in relation to unemployment assistance is being increased from £25 to £50, the limit already in operation in relation to other social welfare services. The concealment of any material fact for the purpose of obtaining or continuing a pension is being made an offence under Section 58 of the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act, 1935. These provisions, which are contained in Sections 10, 13, 14 and 18 of the Bill, will apply only to offences committed on or after the 1st August next.

Power is being taken to enable current payments of pension to be withheld in recovery of overpayments of old age pension and widows' pension fraudulently received and in respect of which a decree is being sought or has been obtained in court. The Bill will also permit an overpayment of benefit, pension or assistance, fradulently received, to be recovered by withholding all or part of any benefit, pension or assistance which may subsequently become payable to the claimant. Where the overpayment is of non-contributory old age pension, the right of recovery will extend to payments to which the spouse, widow or widower, as the case may be, of the claimant becomes entitled by way of pension, benefit or assistance. The pension, or benefit or assistance to a third party can also, under the Bill, be offset, with his consent, against an overpayment of a non-contributory old age pension due by someone else. In tightening up the law in these ways I am, of course, aiming only at those claimants who dishonestly get, or attempt to get, public money to which they are not entitled.

The number of people who will stand to benefit under this Bill is in the region of 220,000—old people, persons who are blind, widows and their children, and the unemployed and their wives and children. The increases in non-contributory pensions and in assistance rates announced in the Budget will cost £768,000 in a full year. The relaxations in the unemployment assistance means conditions and in relation to widows' pensions will cost an additional £81,500 a year, while the cost of the easing of the old age pension means test for certain married couples will be of the order of £20,000 a year, so that the total yearly cost of the proposed increases and concessions in social assistance comes to the substantial sum of £869,500. In the current financial year the cost will be £580,500 apart from the £19 million already provided for social assistance requirements. The increase of 1/6d. in the old age (contributory) pension married person's allowance will cost in the region of £49,000 in a full year, or £33,000 in the current financial year and will be met out of the social insurance fund. I would remind members that this is the third successive year in which non-contributory old age and widows' pensions and unemployment assistance rates have been increased and it constitutes the fourth general increase in the non-contributory assistance schemes since the beginning of 1957.

I feel confident that members will welcome the increases and concessions provided for in this Bill and it gives me great pleasure to recommend it to the Seanad.

As far as the concessions and increases are concerned, we welcome this piece of legislation, but with the decreasing value of the £, they are the normal increases one would expect. There are no large increases at all. The only large increase in social benefits is the increase from 28/6 to £2 in contributory old age pensions. It is still true that our old and our poor are not as well looked after as we would like them to be. We find very meagre the increases to which the Minister has drawn attention.

The Minister himself is a most conservative man. In his various Ministries and various terms of office, that has been quite obvious. He must be the most popular man in the Fianna Fáil Party with whatever Minister for Finance is in office when he is in other Ministries because of his very small demands on his colleague, the Minister for Finance. It is in keeping with his character, his approach to things, his ultra-conservative being, that he should tighten up on offences that may be committed by applicants for pensions.

As a person who in a country area gets a lot of social work to do in the preparation of cases for pensions, I can assure the Minister that many times it is not just a case of black and white. Many applicants are neither black nor white but in the grey category. In fact, concealment of means or representing means as less than they are in applying for a pension can be regarded as a matter of interpretation rather than a deliberate attempt to defraud.

The Minister in introducing the new sections said: "Leave it to the courts." Take an old age pensioner about whom I have had correspondence with the Minister in the past fortnight. The woman was receiving money from her sons and daughters towards the housekeeping. It all went into a pool and thence the family expenses were paid. At the same time, the woman had some other small funds of her own. I contend that the woman is not in receipt for her own purposes of the funds for the housekeeping and that the officers of the Department were incorrect in considering her as being in receipt of the total amounts her sons and daughters gave her for running the house. Perhaps that lady will be liable to conviction and a fine.

In going to law, you get a solicitor who employs a barrister and you make the best case you can. It is all a question of how you shade the evidence and I do not view with equanimity this decision that concealment of funds should be made an offence. My experience has been that the utmost stringency is applied to unfortunate applicants for all kinds of assistance and it is only after the most energetic representations by politicians, who should not be brought into this at all, that the decision of the Department's officers goes to the appeals officer who often decides in favour of the applicant. I do not like this trend of stringency.

Now, if a man makes a wrong statement to obtain unemployment benefit or benefit under the health provisions, he is disqualified for six months. Imagine a man who is sick and there is a difference of opinion, as there often is, as to whether he is in fact sick or not. He is disqualified automatically from national health benefit for six months because he has made a wrong statement. Imagine the stringency of that sentence.

He is disqualified only if he is convicted of fraud. That is not just making a wrong statement inadvertently.

I accept that it is not automatic. A man without the benefits of the education the Minister has and most of us have may make a wrong statement and find himself on the wrong side of the law. He is convicted of fraud when the Department of Social Welfare sues him in the local court. Then for six months his wife and children are left to the tender mercies of the assistance officer. That is a pretty severe sentence but, in my opinion, it is in keeping with the Minister's ultra-conservative view.

My experience in dealing with these matters has always been that there has been too much stringency and that the heavy hand of the Department of Social Welfare laid itself upon its officers down the country who, willy nilly, had to object to any pension being issued if there was the slightest possibility that a person was getting one while outside the regulations. Therefore, I do not like that sort of approach at all. I would ask the Minister, in quoting the £869,500 in a full year and £580,000 in the present year, as the cost of these increases, if he has taken into account the extra monies that will be forthcoming from the increased revenue from insurance stamps?

That does not come into it at all.

Therefore, in fact, it is a net figure. I do not want the Minister to take it that I am being deliberately antagonistic or anything like that. I do not want him to feel that we do not welcome the proposal. However, I should have preferred if this had been given with a good heart and if these new stringency measures, such as disqualification for six months and tightening-up as the Minister said of the investigation of claims, and so on and so forth, had been left out of it.

There had been far too much tightening up, as it was. That reminds me of a saying in my part of the country: "May you or yours never know the coldness of charity. "I do not think the Department of Social Welfare has very often been defrauded. I do not think there is any evidence that there is general defrauding of the Department of Social Welfare. The old conservatism as evidenced in those sections of the Bill runs right down to the lowest paid officers of the Department of Social Welfare in the smallest village of the country.

It would have been better to give these things, which are only increases as a result of the decrease in the value of the £, with a hearty hand and a good wish rather than to bring in these stringency measures at the same time.

The increases given under this Social Welfare Bill are welcome. We are glad the Minister included the aged, the blind, those in receipt of unemployment assistance, non-contributory widows' pensions, and so on, but we still feel we must act as Oliver Twist did and keep on asking for more. Seeing that P.A.Y.E. has proved such a valuable money getter, the Minister should have given something more to these classes of beneficiaries. None of us likes to pay our income tax but I think much of the pain of parting with our money would be eased if we felt a good deal of it was being used to aid those who are unlucky enough to be widowed early and to have the task of bringing up their families on non-contributory widows' pensions, or that we were making life easier for the unemployed, the sick, the blind and the aged.

In the case of the contributory old age pension, this is something we all welcome. I know it has brought a great deal of happiness to many persons who were existing on small industrial pensions which were insufficient to maintain them but with the addition of the contributory pension have a new independence that restores their self-respect. I would again, however, say that the amount here also is too small having regard to present-day costs particularly where it is the only money coming to the pensioner. This contributory pension was a very good innovation. I must not be taken as disparaging it. I only want to keep the Minister striving to increase the amount.

On the topic of the contributory pensions, I again want to press the Minister to aim at a lowering of the age limit. In an age when we talk of better education, culture and travel as a means of broadening our outlook on world affairs, in an age where there is a trend towards a shorter working week and an increase in leisure time, it is strange that our people must wait until they are 70 before they can get their old age pensions.

Particularly in the case of women, 70 is far too old, as I mentioned on a previous occasion. It is difficult for a great many women to remain in industry up to 70 years of age simply because, in most of the occupations open to women, employers will not give them employment. I have in mind hotel work, shop work, machine work, and so on. It is well known that employers just will not give work to elderly women. This means that a very large number of women will be debarred from receiving the full contributory pension of £2. I would ask the Minister to keep in mind the age limit question because, particularly to women, it constitutes a real injustice.

I should like to support Senator Donegan on the subject of the penalty for fraud which I admit takes place. I admit there are cases of possibly deliberate fraud. I feel that in this day and age to deprive a person and his dependants of unemployment assistance is not the penalty we should inflict. You might send him to prison or send him there for a longer term but we should not inflict a penalty which in fact would be a penalty on his dependants more than on himself. We may say he can get public assistance or that the dependants can get it. In rural districts, it takes time before a widow or her children can get in touch with the county council or a county councillor and get some relief. I fear we could have a very severe and savage penalty in these clauses. In this modern age we should resort to some other means to punish those who commit fraud under these sections.

One does find, as a Senator, that old age pensioners have means which, under the Department's regulations, are means. In other words, they have money in the bank. We have had several cases in quite recent years where old age pensioners have money in the bank. For their own sake, and for the sake of the country—I do not know if it is beyond the scope of the Minister's Department to do so—they should be informed that they can get considerable interest on their money if it is invested in our national loans, for example. Either they are not conversant with investment at all or they do not invest. They leave their money in the bank.

I know one man who had £900 in the bank. He did not know anything about investing that money. Nobody had suggested it to him. Nobody told him of the advantages of investing it. He never read any of the circulars of the Minister of Finance about the new loans, and so on. The money was of practically no use whatever to him. A great many pensioners are in the same position. It would be well worth while, for the sake of the pensioners, if it were pointed out to them that there is 5 per cent. interest on that money waiting for them if it is invested. That is happening time and time again, particularly throughout the country districts. They think their money is safe in the bank. They are getting no value whatsoever for it. They keep it there. They do not spend a penny of it. They do not invest it and it is wasted.

There is a point which I should like to bring to the Minister's attention and which I feel is relevant. This Bill is a fairly comprehensive measure. It deals with people in receipt of pensions and on that account, I welcome it. Like other speakers, I am disappointed that the increase given to the non-contributory widows is not greater. I feel we should have been a little more generous. Because it was their misfortune that their husbands were not insured workers they should not be victimised for the rest of their lives. The type of people to whom I should like to draw the Minister's attention, who are only small in numbers, are the mentally deficient and those who, through illness, are unable to provide for their own maintenance. These people are maintained by their own families. After a very rigid means test, they now receive 22/6 per week. If those people were sent to institutions, it would cost at least £4 a week to keep them.

I would earnestly ask the Minister to have these cases looked into. As I say, the numbers are small, thank God, but in every district, you will find one or two of those people who are unable to provide for themselves. They are a burden on their parents, or on their families. In the kindness of our people, the majority of families maintain such people at home. I feel the burden on the State would be small if the Minister agreed that these people should receive at least £2 a week. The amount of capital involved would be very small but the benefit to the people would be wonderful. The type of case I refer to is not included in the Bill but I make that earnest appeal to the Minister.

An old age pensioner will receive a contributory allowance of £2 a week and where he has a wife, he will receive £3. 10. 0. At 70, that old age pensioner may be able to do some useful work in or around the home. He may even be able to earn a little money, but the type of person I refer to is not able to provide for himself in any way. I hope that the Minister before he leaves office will recommend to the local managers that these people should receive an allowance of at least £2 a week. I am a person who wants to help those people who are least able to help themselves. Every member of this House, and the Minister, will agree that the type of person to whom I refer, the invalid, the mentally deficient and the semi-invalid, are the most helpless and the most neglected people in the country.

There was no copy of the Minister's speech on this side of the House, but despite that, his loquacity was sufficient and I welcome this Bill.

I am sorry about that.

There is only one point I want to make, that is, to observe that certain further powers are being vested in the Minister for Social Welfare with regard to the recovery of amounts which the Minister or his officers allege have been wrongfully paid to recipients of assistance, old age pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions, and the like. I have seen a number of these cases and the Minister should direct some attention to what happens. As far as I can see, no real opportunity is given to a person who is alleged by the Department of Social Welfare to have been paid money to which he was not entitled, to establish that he was entitled to the money. There is a very elaborate procedure laid down in the Social Welfare Act, 1952, with regard to these matters and it may come as a surprise to some people to find that the official referred to in the Act as the deciding officer is a very minor civil servant, of no higher rank than the first clerical rung in the Civil Service ladder. The most junior type of official is a deciding officer. Whatever he decides determines the livelihood of widows and orphans and old age pensioners.

There is an appeal provided for in the Act to an appeals officer. The appeals officer under the regulations is a distant official who sits in the Department's building in Store Street and to whom the appellant has no access whatever, except of course, through representations on a piece of paper which is supplied as a form. I do not think that that system enables justice to be done between a person who contends he has not been paid an amount to which he was not entitled and the Department of Social Welfare official. I want to emphasise this point, that in spite of the fact that—of course this is a point which will not appeal to the Minister—the Supreme Court decided that the appeals officer was to exercise judicial functions in a judicial way, I am aware of cases in which the appeals officer has not exercised his functions in a proper manner.

No opportunity is being given at present to people who are accused of having been paid amounts in excess of the amount to which they were entitled to make a proper case. Far from making new penalties in Section 7 and Section 20 and providing new means of recovering amounts alleged to have been wrongfully paid, the Minister should be directing his attention to reorganising the whole system of deciding claims and the system of appeals from the decision of the appeals officer. I cannot at all welcome these sections in the Bill. They smack very much of the ruthless bureaucratic system under which the State must always be right, first, last and all the time. Unfortunate widows and old age pensioners may, by the stroke of a pen of a deciding officer or an appeals officer in Dublin, be deprived of their whole livelihood and may be compelled under Section 20 to accept deductions from the pensions to which they are entitled for debts due by their husbands or by deceased spouses. I do not think that fits in with ordinary conceptions of a liberal welfare code decently and fairly operated as between the community and the supposed recipients.

Mr. O'Dwyer

I should like to call the Minister's attention to the case of very old persons who have reached the age of 80 or so. In any future legislation, it would be well if they could be provided with extra pensions. A person who has reached 80 is in a much weaker condition and requires more care than a person of 70 and lower. It would cost the Exchequer very little to provide a little extra which would make his remaining years happier. Again, at the age of 70 an old age pensioner is often quite lively and able to work, but under existing legislation he is afraid almost to go outside the door for fear that he may be penalised. If things were not so strict, persons in country districts especially could have some employment and it would be a great help in old age if they were able to earn something. I would ask the Minister to look into this matter in any future legislation.

He will not have the opportunity.

I am surprised at the number of responsible members of this House who are quite prepared to condone frauds of which their fellow citizens and themselves are the victims.

Would the Minister mention the names of those irresponsible members? I am not one.

Do not pick up the cap and try to fit it before I ask you to put it on. We have heard a great deal about these unfortunate individuals who are going to lose their entitlement to unemployment benefit, for a period of six months. Senator O'Quigley would lead one to believe that this penalty, which is severe and is intended to be severe in order that it may be an effective deterrent, is a punishment which will fall upon them at the stroke of a pen of an appeals officer. Of course that is not the case. I refer the Senator to Section 10 of the Bill, paragraph (b) of which reads:

"the insertion of the following subsection, namely, a person convicted of an offence under this section."

Whatever else an appeals officer may do, he cannot convict a person of an offence, and it means that if a person has been found by a court to be guilty of fraud on evidence submitted to the court and accepted by the court——

And sentenced by the court.

Of course. These, however, are two quite separate functions.

And two separate punishments.

The whole function of finding whether or not a person is guilty as separate from assessing the punishment for the offence.

He is going to be punished twice.

This section makes certain that he will be punished at least once.

He will be punished by the court and by you.

All we are concerned with is that he has been convicted of fraud.

I am concerned about his wife and children.

We shall hear about his wife and children later. The Senator appears to be very indignant, but it is a pity that his indignation arises rather from ignorance than from knowledge. If he will just listen, I shall tell him of the sort of cases we are out to get, or at least prevent occurring. In Section 14, paragraph (b) provides for the insertion "of the following subsection, namely, a person convicted of an offence under this Section." Section 18 similarly provides for a person convicted of an offence. There is no question here of victimising any person who has not attempted to victimise others, or of punishing any person who has not attempted to do wrong to others. On the other hand, I was surprised, as I said, at the number of responsible Senators who were prepared apparently to condone fraud on their fellow citizens, on the community as a whole. The community is not an impersonal thing. It consists of honest and hard-working people who would not defraud their neighbours, and all our tears and our sympathy should be for the honest folk who are prepared to work and maintain themselves, and not for those "fly boys", slick customers, who are out whenever they can to do their neighbours. The Senator was quite wrong when he assumed that these penalties apply to persons who have been in receipt of disability benefit, that it is a benefit which is payable in respect of illness. The sections to which I have referred relate only to those who have secured unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance by fraud. I think I made that quite clear in what I said.

I am sorry that, as Senator Carton reminded me, a copy of my statement was not available for members of the House. I apologise, and I understand and readily appreciate the difficulties under which they have been criticising this Bill because of that.

The only people who are affected at this stage are mainly people who have received unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance by making fraudulent and untrue statements. Persons who are in the habit of doing that are very seldom people who are in truth unemployed. Most of them are in reasonably constant employment, but can make an arrangement with or without the actual connivance of their employers whereby they are able to turn up at the labour exchange on the appointed day and sign on and then go off and draw remuneration for work which they are able to do.

I see these cases. They come before me because I have to sign the certificates necessary for prosecution. Recently I had before me the case of a person who is engaged in constant employment in a large firm. His conditions of service provide that, when he works five days, he is paid for the sixth as well. He is off the sixth day but he gets payment for it. He discovered it was possible to go down and sign on that day and he did. He alleged that he was unemployed and he claimed and received a certain sum. He is being prosecuted. He may be fined £1 or something like that by the judge. He will probably not repeat the offence but in any event I want to make it quite clear that if he does repeat the offence, he is off unemployment benefit for at least six months. That will make him pause the next time the bright idea enters his head that he can defraud the public with impunity. That is what is happening and what I want to discourage.

The same thing occurs in relation to unemployment assistance. I cannot see why we should feel that we are treating anyone harshly if we are making it quite clear to them that so far as fraudulent recourse to the social assistance code is concerned, the game will not be worth the candle. We all know what was happening a year or two ago before we embarked on that tightening up of the administration, which is being complained of here.

We all know the bright story of the farmer's sons living side by side. It was quite easy by putting 13 stamps on a card to draw unemployment benefit for a six months' period. This will make sure that that will not happen again. That is one of the things which we are out to stop. The difficulty about the position is this. The social welfare code in our country, with our scattered population, lends itself so readily to fraud by dishonest people that we have to be severe in the measures we are taking to stamp it out. While we are increasing these benefits, it is necessary at the same time to increase the deterrents against fraud, because every time unemployment benefit goes up and every time unemployment assistance goes up, there is an increased temptation offered to these people to defraud the community.

I think it quite reasonable to argue that, when we are taxing the community and taxing it heavily, as, no doubt, the people and the Seanad will be told when the Appropriation Bill is discussed here, we are bound, as responsible legislators, to take steps to tighten up the administration in a certain way and make it quite clear that any person who sets out to defraud the community by fraudulently claiming unemployment benefit, unemployment assistance or widow's non-contributory pension, and who is convicted of fraud—that means convicted in court by a judge, an independent tribunal, on evidence—will have imposed on him by law this fixed penalty.

There are certain disadvantages in that. Perhaps it might be more difficult in certain cases to secure a conviction. It will mean that the district justice, or whoever he may be, will certainly weigh the evidence very carefully before he finds the person guilty. The mere fact that he does weigh the evidence carefully and then finds the person guilty surely justifies the imposition of the disabilities which are proposed in this Bill?

There is another thing. Let us not forget that it is not always the really ignorant person who conceals real means when he is claiming a non-contributory old age pension, or she a non-contributory widow's pension. There are some very astute people who do that. They get away with it until they make a mistake. When they make a mistake, they are caught. We probably catch only one in 20, if even as many. When we do catch them, surely we are entitled at least to recover what they have wrongfully obtained? If they have passed their property over to some other person and if their relative or spouse should happen to be in receipt of a pension from some other source, surely we are entitled to recover that amount from him since he has enjoyed without any doubt the fruits of the fraud which was being perpetrated on the community?

I see these cases. I saw a case a few months ago of a person who had claimed a widow's non-contributory pension. She made one slip-up which put the investigation officer upon her track. She was found to have had at least £1,800 in cash. Will Senator Donegan contend that the Minister for Social Welfare was not justified in recovering from that woman the moneys which she had wrongfully obtained? She was convicted in court and allowed out, if you please, under the Probation Act.

Could you not seek an order in court?

There is provision in this Bill for doing that. This is one way of getting at them. It is one way that will not misfire.

It is not democracy.

It is, of course.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator can speak on the section.

Let us consider Senator Donegan's concept of democracy. Democracy, according to Senator Donegan, consists in taxing every industrious person and with the proceeds of the taxation, proceed to subsidise fraud and crime.

Not at all.

Of course, it is.

Go to the courts for your money.

Would the Senator go to the courts for his money, if he could get it some other way, if a person had defrauded him?

Most certainly, he would.

I should not address the Senator personally in this way but he made this a sort of probe. I am prone to answering back when some person probes at me. I cannot help it.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

There is no harm done.

There is no harm done and we are friends.

I was talking about this lady who had £1,800. Take another example: an old age pensioner died about two and a half years ago with a full non-contributory old age pension but when the estate duty office got the documents, they found that she had property to the value of over £4,000. Of course, according to Senator Donegan, the poor woman did not know what she was doing when she filled in her application form and concealed the £4,000. She forgot all about it. The difficulty about it was that administration had to be taken out and the facts were disclosed in this particular case.

You got your money back.

We did in that particular case, but there were some cases where we did not, because we found that the administration had been taken out so quickly and the assets distributed so expeditiously that we could not recover. It is not then just the simple sort of thing Senator Donegan would like to believe.

On the general question, Senator Cole referred to people having savings which they did not properly invest. That is not the aspect of the question which I wish to touch upon. But if people have savings, they are expected to maintain themselves out of these savings and not preserve them at the expense of the community. That is the reason for having a means test.

It is very unfortunate that that happens to be a fact. The persons who did not save, who dissipated their means, benefit by it. I am not blaming the Minister for that but it is an unfortunate situation.

They may to some extent benefit but they have not got the security behind them that a person has who has property or, rather, possessions.

I did not mean property; I was thinking of savings.

All property is generally acquired by savings, either the person's own or his progenitors. He never gets any, I suppose, from posterity.

I am thinking of a nest egg.

People who maintain themselves honestly very often cannot build up these nest eggs. You can make a facile case that the nest egg should not be touched, but if a person has a substantial sum, say, £1,000, and reaches the age of 70, he can purchase an annuity for himself. We should expect that he would do that but one of the reasons why many of them do not disclose their means is that they wish to hold them to pass on to their children. That is all very well. It is a laudable ambition, provided it is an ambition which is not fulfilled at my expense or at the expense of the people who are taxed to find the money to pay these old age pensions.

I am sorry I have spoken at such length but some questions were raised in the discussion which go down to first principles and when we are dealing with these social welfare schemes, we must not, in the discharge of our duty and obligations to the people we represent, allow our hearts to run away with our heads. We have got to think. What is behind all social welfare measures is this: we are taxing people who are earning, people who are producing, in order that we may give something to people no longer in a position to produce for themselves. But there is a limit to what is fair and just in these matters and I think we have gone to the limit, having regard to the resources of the community, in the benefits which we do provide for the poor and the needy, the aged and the infirm.

Senator Donegan said that the benefits in this Bill would compensate only for the rise in the cost of living.

The drop in the value of money.

That is reflected in the rise in the cost of living. If the Senator wishes to make a point of it, I will say that the rise in the cost of living reflects a great deal more than a mere fall in the value of money. It does in this country at any rate reflect the rise in the standard of living, the standard which we wish to enjoy. Nobody wants to go back to the conditions which existed in 1948 or before the war but that is not the point.

Let us see what exactly the facts are regarding the fall in the value of money. That fall is reflected to some extent in the increase in the cost-of-living index figure. If we take mid-August 1947 as the datum line, and the base as 100, we find that in mid-May, 1961, the index figure is 150, an increase of 50 per cent. over 1947. But the increase in old age pensions is just double the increase in the cost of living. In 1947, the actual amount paid in mid-August, including the supplement, was 15/-. Today we are by this Bill increasing the old age pension to 30/-, so this Bill does a great deal more than merely compensate for the fall in the value of money.

I am not saying that it is as much as we would like to give, but certainly it is as much as this country can afford. We must remember that we have a very tough future ahead. We see a country on the other side of the water where these social welfare benefits were dished out freely and look at the position which the people there are in today. We do not want to get our economy into that situation. Therefore, despite the temptation to yield to the specious arguments used here and elsewhere, we must say that we will give as much as we can afford to give without doing injury to the whole economy and that is what we have been doing.

Senator Tunney raised a point regarding the disablement allowances. These are already provided for under the Health Acts and last year I increased the maximum from 20/- to 22/6d. People may say that is not enough but it has to be considered in relation to the circumstances of this community. It is already costing us over £800,000 a year and it would be a great deal more if we raised the figure to 40/-. Again, remember, this disablement allowance is not intended to provide full maintenance for any person in receipt of it. It is merely intended to assist the members of the recipient's family, particularly the immediate members, to discharge their family responsibility. They cannot divest themselves of that responsibility and place it altogether on the shoulders of the community. The community are doing a great deal to help the people who have to bear the cross of having some member of their family in a position that he cannot maintain himself but beyond that I think we are not entitled to go.

Question put and agreed to.

There is an agreement to take the remaining Stages today.

I had some points to make. Are we to have no opportunity of putting down amendments?

The Senator can discuss any amendments when he comes to the appropriate section.

Would it not be possible to take the Committee Stage tomorrow?

I think there was agreement to complete this Bill this evening.

Is there any particular reason for rushing the Committee Stage?

I understand there was agreement that the Bill would be disposed of this evening. More than that I cannot say.

This Bill must be law before 1st August. One may say it should have been before the Seanad earlier——

I think there was some agreement on that.

In the event of agreement, I shall not raise any further objection to taking the remaining Stages now.

Agreed to take remaining stages today.

Bill considered in Committee.

Sections 1 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 7 stand part of the Bill."

The section bears a certain resemblance to Sections 18 and 20. In my view, it interferes with the court. A person can be prosecuted in law and the decision of the court is binding. This sort of legislation whereby the Government decide to issue automatic penalties is entirely incorrect, improper and undemocratic. I shall discuss the matter further on later sections on which I think it would more properly arise.

Is there an instalment order against a person for repayment to the Minister of a sum paid in excess of what the person was entitled to by way of old age pension and the Minister subsequently has funds against which he could exercise the powers vested in him under this section? Will he exercise the powers vested in him under this section, notwithstanding the fact that there is a court instalment order against the person?

The position is a normal one. Under the section in the 1911 Act, any overpayment of pension may be recovered by withholding the pension, under the Acts, to which a person becomes entitled. Wherever a court judgement has been obtained for the amount of the overpayment, plus the costs, I am advised that the Minister's only claim is under the judgment and there is no other right of recovery of money save the judgment. The position is anomalous, I suggest. The Minister would have to continue to pay pension to a person even when the court decided he had been overpaid and should repay.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 8 and 9 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 10 stand part of the Bill."

I would refer to the point I raised before. Take a person with an adult dependant and two or more dependent children. In an urban area, they receive 52/6d., plus, and, in a rural area, 42/6d., plus. That person is convicted—rightly so, I agree. Perhaps he is sent to prison—rightly so, I agree. However, for the next week or two, who are the sufferers in that case? Are they not his wife and children, more than himself? It happens.

The Minister may say they are entitled to assistance but they do not get it for perhaps weeks. That is an actual fact. For instance, if the Department decided — and probably rightly so—that a man was defrauding they would bring him into the courts. That will take a little time. They are not paying in the meantime and he is convicted. He may be let off under the Probation of Offenders Act or perhaps he is sent to prison. The wife and children decide to look for home assistance. It takes some little time before that comes through. There should be some way of providing for them at once. They have probably spent every penny of the previous week's money: we may take it that they have. I know cases where that is the position. The time lag between getting some sort of assistance elsewhere can cause grave hardship. I find that frequently the small shopkeeper is the person who fills in in the interval.

What can I do? I am in this difficulty. The person has been convicted. If he is sent to prison, he cannot draw his unemployment assistance. If he is not sent to prison, he is convicted, but only because he drew unemployment assistance fraudulently, when he was working, when he was in employment. Therefore, if he is deprived of unemployment assistance, it does not necessarily follow— and in most cases will not follow— that he loses his job as well. I assume that the people for whom he has been working will be quite prepared to continue him in employment. The only thing is that he has lost his right to unemployment assistance for six months. I suppose that will make him a little more anxious to keep his job.

Take the contrary case. Let us assume he loses his job as well as unemployment assistance. Then he has just to fall back on home assistance, as many honest people in this country have to do. We cannot be too considerate. There is not any justification for being over-considerate in cases where fraud is concerned. We have to teach people that fraud does not pay. You have to do that by being stern and strict.

Can the Minister not make some arrangement? Suppose he goes to prison—and I agree he should go—will his dependants get assistance under the Act?

Under the Act as it stands, even if this section were never passed, he would not be allowed nor would his dependants be allowed, to draw unemployment assistance.

That is what I consider a terrible mistake in all this, namely, that his dependants are suffering for a certain space of time.

The dependant of every man guilty of a crime generally has to suffer. It is the hard way of the world. There is nothing we can do to stop that. Most home assistance authorities have an arrangement whereby a person can apply for provisional assistance. They will be given home assistance immediately. Certainly, in any case where a fellow has been convicted and has gone to prison, or was convicted and lost his job, I do not think there would be any difficulty whatever in providing something immediately for his wife and dependants. I think very little time would be lost in coming to a decision in that case.

The Minister obviously has no experience, notwithstanding his long period in politics, of social work. Take an Assistance Officer who has done ten years' work in the job. The man at the top has to make the decision whether the person should get home assistance or not. He has had such an over-surfeit of people making demands upon him—I should be glad if the Minister would listen to me: it would help—that he becomes hard in his heart. I have found that the home assistance officers, the nicest people you can meet in ordinary life, become so hardened in their hearts that they do not view an empty plate or an empty stomach with the same sympathy as an ordinary person would view it. So many people of low character try to get home assistance from these people that the unfortunate wife of the man in jail could for the first couple of weeks get short shrift. The position which Senator Cole is worried about is a very unfortunate one indeed. I do say that there would be a delay and that there would be trouble and hunger.

Senator Donegan is all wrong in this matter and he can very easily find out the position if he goes to some home assistance officer in his own county. If an officer fails to provide provisional relief when it is required, he will lose his job immediately. Any person who requires provisional relief to-night or to-morrow must get it immediately or the home assistance officer is not doing his job. He may not give the money until he inquires into the position but he must provide the necessaries of life. It is the law of the land.

I do not know whether this applies in the country but I know that in Dublin there is a court benevolent fund and I have seen where a detective in charge of a case has recommended that a contribution be given from that fund. We always argue that the State cannot provide for everything. There is also the St. Vincent de Paul Society and I have known these two funds to operate very successfully in cases of distress. You cannot frame the law to alleviate distress like this but there are other voluntary benevolent organisations.

You cannot legislate on the presumption that the St. Vincent de Paul Society will look after it.

Senator O'Sullivan replied to the point made by Senator Donegan. My experience is that the home assistance officer will provide vouchers immediately and until the money is provided. I have seen several cases in my own area where the home assistance officers provided these for the wife and family and I never heard of one case yet where they did not.

I suggested that there would be a delay and that was Senator Cole's case also. I am quite satisfied that year for year I have done as much social work as the next politician. I do not say I have done a lot more than any other politician but I will make that modest claim and my experience has been that there is a delay. I sincerely believe that these sections of this legislation are utterly intolerable. I am not saying that because I am on this side of the House. I believe they are intolerable and no Minister of State, except the Minister for Social Welfare, for whom in many ways I have a regard, would put them through.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 11 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 12 stand part of the Bill."

This is the section which empowers the Minister to deduct from a widow's pension to which she becomes entitled, any sums which she may previously have been paid and to which she was not entitled, in discharge of the debt due to the Minister. I think I am right in saying that that is the purpose of the section. When a woman becomes entitled, through lack of means, to a widow's pension, then because she owes a debt to the State, because she got a pension at a time when she had some means, she is not to get the pension.

No, that is not so. This is to recover over-payments.

I wonder would the Minister clarify the position?

It is very much the same as the section which we dealt with on old age pensions. This section provides power for the recovery of certain over-payments, that is, payments already made to widows or orphans in non-contributory pensions, and it is similar to that in Section 7 of the Bill in relation to non-contributory old age pensions. The same position applies. Under subsection (2) of Section 57 of the Widows and Orphans Pensions Act of 1935, an amount of pension which a pensioner is held liable to repay may be recovered by withholding the pension until the debt is liquidated, or suitable proceedings may be instituted. Doubt has arisen as to whether if a decree is obtained, power to recover can still be exercised. It is not, as the Senator said, a case of trying to recover a debt when a pension has been granted for the first time. It is the power to recover an over-payment made in respect of a widow's or orphan's non-contributory pension.

The Minister has clarified the matter. He has the same view as I had. The position is when a woman was paid, say, a pension of 25/-, she was perhaps entitled to only 15/-. Therefore, and I want to make this point quite clear, a deciding officer, or perhaps an appeals officer, on appeal, decided she was entitled to only 15/-. Perhaps she then had means which disqualified her from receiving the 25/-She uses up these means and becomes entitled to a pension of 25/-, but now, at a time when she has no assets and becomes entitled to the higher pension, she has to repay the over-payment made to her previously and she is tole: "You will have to go without a pension because you were over-paid at a particular time." The position is that when a woman really requires money, it is deducted from the pension to which she was entitled. We should consider where we are going.

In reply to Senator Donegan, the Minister made great play on the orders of the court and judicial procedure, and so on. I want to be quite specific on this. The House should realise that in a case where it is decided that a widow was over-paid a pension, it is not as a result of any procedure in court. It is the result of a decision by a deciding officer or it may be the result of a decision of an appeals officer. I want to be quite clear on this. There is no semblance of justice or fair play in many cases in the manner in which decisions of appeals officers or deciding officers are made. The circumstances in which they are made could not conduce to fair play or justice.

Hear, hear.

They are open to challenge.

It is not the fault of the deciding officer or the appeals officer. It is the fault of the machinery under which he gets a bundle of papers by way of reports in a file without having an opportunity of a full and adequate explanation by the person whose income is being affected. The deciding officer decides that Mrs. XY is no longer to receive a widow's pension of 15/- and she gets nothing. That is the gravamen of the charge, the serious injustice perpetrated on a greater scale under this section by reason of the administrative procedure employed in the Department of Social Welfare, and if the Minister had any conception of justice and fair play, he would not attempt to defend that procedure.

That is a very eloquent statement but it just does not happen to be right. That is the only difficulty. Let us remember whom at a long distance the Senator is attacking. He is attacking the Oireachtas which passed the Act of 1952 under which the appeals officer procedure was instituted in order that justice might be done to the claimants and that there would be no question of political influence being brought to bear upon him so that he might give a decision contrary to justice. To suggest, as the Senator has done, that there is no justice in this procedure is surely to deny to the servants of the State, the people upon whom this responsibility is imposed, the ordinary sense of fair play and justice.

I am not going to believe that an appeals officer does not decide these cases fairly, and decide them, as I have seen so often when I have asked for the record of the proceedings, with a positive bias, if a bias can exist, in favour of the applicant. No appeals officer wants, if he can avoid it, to refuse an application which is well founded and reasonably established. Why should he? If he were to do so, then the case could be debated on the Minister's Estimate and, if necessary, a motion could be put down on the subject or a Parliamentary Question, followed of course by supplementaries. No civil servant that I know of wants to find himself the target of Parliamentary proceedings, so, as I have said, if there is bias at all, it is bias in favour of the applicant. It is not true —it is very far from being true—that any appeals officer, most of whom are chosen because they have a sense of responsibility and fair play, would act wilfully and deliberately unjustly in a case like this; but supposing he does, as the matter stands at the moment the applicant can ask for an oral hearing.

After six months.

It does not matter. The time element does not matter very much because if, after hearing, the appeal is decided in favour of the applicant, then of course the payment is retrospective and very often much more welcome for that reason because it comes in a good solid lump sum.

Slim in the meantime.

That is not so. The Senator cannot get away with that sort of suggestion: that people are destitute because they do not get public money just at call. Let us consider what the situation is. We are now in the position that, as matters stand, the Minister, if the oral hearing has gone against the applicant, can proceed to deduct from the pension rightly payable to that widow the amount which she has received as an over-payment in excess of what she was rightly entitled to. He does not, of course, appropriate the whole of the pension. He can deduct a certain portion of it. Therefore he is in this situation, that if there is any question of a doubt where he might think that it would be in the applicant's interest that he should take court proceedings to recover, he is not going to go into court because he knows that he may find himself in a worse position, even if he wins the proceedings. What we are doing here is to make it easier for the Minister to go to court, if recovery is warranted.

The Minister is the court.

No, the Minister is not the court.

He is judge, jury, punishment, the lot.

Would Senator Donegan please read the section? What the section provides is where proceedings have been instituted in court for the recovery of sums which the person is liable to recoup to the Minister, so that the Minister is not the court referred to in this section.

He is another court.

The court is the court established by the Constitution and the law of the land.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Now we have gone a long step ahead. We now see the sort of respect for the judiciary which Senator Donegan has. Senator O'Quigley has already said that the Minister and his officers have no sense of justice. Now Senator Donegan says that the courts are not free from bias, that it is Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Your statement is Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Do not start waltzing from one to another.

Let us stop. You have made a mistake.

Not at all.

Oh, yes. To use a colloquialism, you are barking up the wrong tree.

Not at all.

That is the situation, and I would suggest that you should not assume that the Minister has a sinister intention when he brings in an amendment of this sort.

I want to be very clear. The Minister is very adept at distorting what people say. It may be that he is not on the proper wavelength and that he does not hear things correctly. I want it to be quite clear that what I had to say was in reference to the circumstances in which injustices and unfairness are done. I do not say that any officer of the Minister would deliberately do an injustice or be deliberately unfair. I did not say anything of that kind. What I did say was that the procedure involved within which they have to work in taking a bundle of papers and deciding upon these would not permit them in a great many cases to do justice or give fair play. That is what I said, and no amount of adapting that to the Minister's purpose can change it.

The Minister is trying to confuse himself and the courts and thereby to imply that Senator Donegan because he lacks respect for the administrative tribunal also lacks respect for the judicial tribunal. Of course Senator Donegan has drawn quite a clear distinction between them. We want to be clear that it is the Minister's administrative tribunals, the deciding and appeals officers, who make the decision that a person was wrongly or unlawfully in receipt of a pension. That is a decision from which there is no effective appeal, and that is what I protest against, for in those circumstances an injustice is done.

The Minister tells us that a person can have an oral hearing after six months. That is a new conception, I must say, of the liberal welfare policy. First of all, Senator Ó Donnabháin says that people can survive on the court poor box or the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

I did not say anything of the kind.

Those are the new columns of the liberal welfare State which Fianna Fáil are building. The Minister now says that people can go on a long fast for six months.

Do not ascribe to me a statement made by Senator Donegan.

The Minister said they would get an oral hearing from the appeals officer after six months.

I did not say so. When Senator Donegan interjected: "Yes, in six months," I said: "The time element does not matter."

The Minister said you would get an oral hearing and Senator Donegan——

I will carry my indiscretions on my own shoulders.

The Minister has a heavy burden.

Of course, he has.

Let us be quite clear in our mind. It is a most shocking piece of injustice that we are continuing in this section.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 13 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 14 stand part of the Bill."

It is obvious that we must be extremely careful just how we frame things as the Minister is going to be quite selective. He is going to pick us up on anything he can. A statement was made that the Department officers were never ultra-conservative, never hard on people and were always fair. I do not think they have always been like that. In my experience, I have found them ultraconservative and extremely hard on people. I will give one instance now of a female officer of the Department of Social Welfare who arrived at Mullacurry Races a few years ago. She walked round every fence on the racecourse and took a good view of the men standing at the fences. All they got from the Louth Hunt for standing at the fences was 10/-. She went down to Ardee employment exchange the following morning and disqualified the lot of them from receiving unemployment assistance. Is that hard? Is that unfair? Is that ultra-conservative? I say it is.

It is a police state.

I charge that female officer of the Department of Social Welfare with being hard, unfair and ultra-conservative. That is one instance. I will give another one where the same female officer did what, in my view, was a most uncharitable thing. I should like the officers behing the Minister to look into that matter, see their files and write to me to say whether it is correct. I am ready to apologise if it is not correct.

The position is that a person in receipt of unemployment assistance will be automatically disqualified, according to the second last section of the Bill, for six months from the receipt of such unemployment assistance. Earlier in this debate, I referred to the fact that there was such a colour as grey. It is not always black and it is not always white. The Minister actually twisted this suggestion of mine. My suggestion was that a person might be adjudged by a court to be guilty, while at the same time the justice might desire to fine that person a penny. That is true of any legislation. It is true of any conviction that takes place in a court. You can find a man technically guilty of a crime but at the same time morally innocent. There is many a case where an unfortunate person in receipt of unemployment assistance might be found by a court to be guilty but the justice would desire to impose a fine of 1/- or a penny.

The provisions, as I understand them, of the social welfare code for share fishermen are that share fishermen are allowed to fish a certain number of hours per week before they are regarded as employed. That is my understanding of it but perhaps it has been changed. A share fisherman on the Boyne and other rivers might, perhaps, fish a few hours in the week owing to the weather. The scales might be balanced one way or another as to whether he was entitled to apply for unemployment assistance or not. If the Department of Social Welfare, through the activities of an overzealous officer such as the officer who went to the Mullacurry races, brought that person to court and the court found him guilty, that person might be just guilty by a shade. He might be a person in dire want. He might be disqualified for six long months and his wife and children would be thrown upon the tender mercies of the home assistance officer because of what was really only an offence in name.

These are simple things. On the unemployment benefit section, I am going to cite a worse case where the same officer was involved. It was a far worse case. I do not think there is any case for a Minister to take unto himself automatic powers. The Minister himself or his successor might not desire, looking at all the evidence of a particular case, to disqualify a man for six months. He might desire to waive that disqualification. As I understand this legislation, he cannot do it. I am not absolutely sure whether or not I have described the situation in relation to the share fishermen adequately but there is very little in it. Perhaps I have given an example which the gentlemen behind the Minister managed to explode. There are other examples, too. Had I studied this Bill as well as I should have studied it before it came to the House, I could have produced many such examples. I did not do so. That is my own fault, I admit. These sections are absolutely intolerable.

It is a great pity that Senator Donegan did not study this Bill.

You can talk about Senator Donegan, if you like.

He has been talking eloquently about fence watchers at Mullacurry races but Camptown races have as much to do with this Bill as Mullacurry because this section does not relate to employees at all. This section concerns offences by an employer so there you are. This deals with one who aids, abets, counsels or procures. I will read the section of the 1938 Act as it is amended:

Where a person, in this section referred to as the employer aids, abets, counsels or procures a person (in this Section referred to as the employee) employed by him to commit an offence under Section 29 of the principal Act (as amended by Section 14 of the Amending Act) or conspires with the employee for the commission by the employee of an offence under the said section 29 as so amended, the employer shall be guilty of an offence under this section and shall be liable on summary conviction thereof to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or, at the discretion of the Court, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three months.

It has got nothing to do with Mullacurry.

It has, in Section 2 (a).

That imposes a further disqualification upon an employer.

That is only a technicality.

No, it is not a technicality.

It is a technicality of procedure in this House.

This relates to the employer, not the employee, and that is why I said Camptown has as much to do with it as Mullacurry.

I do not accept that.

That is also the reason why I said it is a very great pity that Senator Donegan, instead of wasting the time of the House rending the heavens with his indignation, did not read the Bill quietly because then we would have had a useful discussion. He would not have dragged in the share fishermen because the share fishermen have nothing to do with this. A share fisherman can go out and fish any day he likes, provided he has a qualification certificate and as long as he has a qualification certificate, he can draw unemployment assistance.

It is all very well for the Senator to sneer when he is found out, but that is the situation. If he goes out fishing every day and secures a good return, his qualification certificate may be called in question, but so long as he holds his qualification certificate, he is not deprived of unemployment assistance, no matter how many days he may go out fishing. There you are. There is the truth. We heard the Minister attacked. Sure, of course, the Minister is well able to stand it. He is accustomed to this. His skin should be thick after 40 years. It is no longer skin. It is a carapace. Nevertheless, Senator Donegan would have felt much less foolish at this present moment if only he had read the Bill before beginning to talk.

The Minister may think he will get rid of me on that but he will not. Section 14 (2) (a), as I understand it——

Without reading it.

——provides for a disqualification of six months. Perhaps technicalities of the Bill have disturbed me a little and led me astray, but I do not accept the Minister's statement as completely true. My remarks were relevant regarding disqualification of a person from unemployment assistance. If I have digressed, it was up to the Cathaoirleach to say whether I was in order or not and if I was not in order on that section, I was not in order on Section 10. With regard to the disqualification of a person in receipt of unemployment assistance, I quoted the case of unfortunate men of the town who were unemployed. They were going out to earn ten shillings each at a sports meeting——

The Senator is going outside the scope of the amendment. He has been informed that the section refers to employers. He should accept that.

Well, he does not.

Of course the Minister does not realise that some of us came here prepared to speak only upon the principles of the Bill. Unfortunately an arrangement was made which precluded us from examining the sections in detail.

I am sorry and I apologise. I have realised that now. I am glad my attention was called to it.

You may exculpate Senator Donegan.

I fully exculpate him.

Call in the stewards.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 15 to 17, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 18 stand part of the Bill."

It is quite true that we expected this to go through the Second Stage only but the position is that a person convicted of an offence of drawing unemployment benefit when he should not have done so is disqualified for six months. Again, I am going to give the Minister and the gentlemen behind him a case.

The Senator may not refer to persons who are not in a position to defend themselves.

I will not refer to them by name.

It must be in a very general way. Persons should not be capable of being identified.

I know. I will not give the name of the person involved whom I know. This is the case of an official of the Department who was going around inspecting persons in receipt of unemployment benefit to see were they properly entitled to that benefit. Having called at the house of a recipient, he was told he might get her at the local convent. In this convent, certain country girls remain for the day. There are many young nuns who could have stayed to make tea for them but this old lady who was thrown on the winds of the world was asked by the reverend mother to do this for which she got her lunch and a few shillings a week. The reverend mother could not find it in her conscience to say that this was charity. If it had been charity, I understand the old lady would have been all right. But she was disqualified for benefit or assistance.

Which is it?

That does not apply to this section.

Section 18 relates to unemployment benefit. This woman was in fact in dire want for a period of six months.

I think I understand and appreciate the disabilities under which the Senator has been speaking but this relates to unemployment benefit. The person concerned must have been an insured person.

She could not have been because I do not think her cards were stamped. The reverend mother could not find it in her conscience to say it was charity. Well, it may have been employment but she was not an insured person. It may have been that without being an insured person she was drawing unemployment assistance without holding a qualification certificate. That, I think, is the position. While it does not arise on Section 18, I do not think there is any section on which the Senator can raise it. There it is. A person is supposed to make a full disclosure. The probabilities are that if she did make a full disclosure, she would not have forfeited anything, if she was getting only a few shillings a week.

At the same time I think I have made my case about the officers in the Department of Social Welfare and that there are many cases where people in unfortunate circumstances are dealt with in the most conservative manner.

Perhaps the Senator would send me particulars of that case.

It is too long ago. It is three years ago and I have straightened it out.

That is an admission which blows up everything the Senator has said.

No. I straightened it out after the unfortunate person was hungry for nine months.

Having survived.

Having survived. I straightened it out.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 19 stand part of the Bill."

Could the Minister tell me why a distinction is drawn between a debt due to the State on account of receipt of old age pension and a debt due to the Minister—line 15 of the Bill?

I think the Senator is quoting the wrong section. Perhaps his text of the Bill is not "As passed by Dáil Éireann." There was an amendment.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 20 stand part of the Bill."

I repeat my question to the Minister on this section. What is the difference between a debt due to the State and a debt due to the Minister?

There, quite frankly, it is not so easy perhaps to make a distinction. It may be possible that something may be owing to some other Minister or may be owing to the State.

Would it be for the purpose of legal recovery of moneys owing?

The person may be in receipt of a contributory pension. If he receives a contributory pension he receives it out of the Social Insurance Fund. It would not be a debt if he received an over-payment in respect of —no, that is not the explanation.

Does a debt arise by reason of receipt of pension under the Old Age Pensions Acts? Is some distinction drawn between debts which were payable under, say, the Old Age Pensions Acts, under which there might be debts due to the State, and old age pensions under the Social Welfare Act, 1952, so that thereafter, debts might be due to the Minister? There must be some reason for the distinction. Is it possible now to go back ten or twenty years? Debts due to the State perhaps may be—I speak without having looked up the matter under the Statute of Limitations——

I think I have the explanation now. The phrase was inserted by the draftsman. I think it is to take into consideration the payments which have been made, before the Department of Health was established, under the old age pensions code when it was under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health. I imagine that that is the purpose. That would not be a debt due to the Minister.

This is one of the reasons why it is unsatisfactory to deal with Bills on Committee Stage at such short notice. There is a clear distinction drawn in our system of jurisprudence between the entity known as a Minister of State and the State. There is quite a distinction between the Minister for Industry and Commerce, let us say, who somebody might think is representing the State and the other juristic entity known as the State. I have some doubt as to whether or not the State in this context has any meaning. It may have: I do not know. But this kind of legislation— if not in the dark certainly in the twilight, perhaps even the twilight of this Government—is not to be recommended.

Never fear.

I do not think there is any satisfactory explanation. At any rate, there it is in the Bill. We have enacted more unsatisfactory legislation than this Bill at this time of year on other occasions with perhaps a great deal less justification. I want to come to the substance of this section. I observe that it is the intention to enlarge the powers of the Minister for Social Welfare to recover over-payments of old age pension from a widow who is entitled to an old age pension but whose husband before his death received an over-payment. That is what we are doing in this section. The widow herself had no hand, act or part in perhaps any of the concealment or even in the fraud perpetrated by her husband.

It is notorious that some husbands do not disclose to their wives their financial affairs or dealings with outsiders. A widow may have had no hand, act or part in the fraud committed by her husband. Nevertheless, when she becomes entitled to her old age pension, the old age pension which was unlawfully secured by her husband, being a debt due to the State, is deducted from the pension to which the widowed old age pensioner is entitled. I do not think that that is legislation about which we can be very enthusiastic. I doubt if any Senators opposite will say that that is a provision which they welcome. I do not think it is.

We shall strive to uphold the rights of the individual and the right of old age pension widows to live notwithstanding the sins of their deceased husbands. That is what I see objectionable in this — that the sins of a deceased husband who was an old age pensioner are to be visited on the innocent old age pension widow. I wonder if the Minister fully realises that that is the implication of that section?

I think I detect some note of perturbation in the Minister whose humanity in matters of this kind is beyond question. I wonder if we are wise, in the circumstances? This section is quite different from other sections we have criticised. I wonder whether it would not be wise to delete this section and to give the matter further consideration on some other Bill?

Since the Old Age Pensions Act was introduced in 1908, we have soldiered without this provision. In 1961, in a somewhat more liberal age, when people have different ideas, I do not think we ought to inflict such a dire punishment upon an innocent widow in recipt of or entitled to receive an old age pension.

Not for the first time, the Senator has got it the wrong way around.

Yes. He has, in this case. The need for this section was brought home by a case of deliberate fraud on the part of a lady who was granted a pension in 1952 and concealed the means of herself and her husband to the extent that she received an overpayment of £309. Then she died. The fraud was discovered. In the meantime, her husband became entitled to a contributory old age pension, a pension for which he had not paid one penny. He was then asked if he would allow the deductions to be made from his contributory pension at the same rate as his wife's pension and his allowance.

Supposing he had agreed, could he have survived?

He could. He refused bluntly to discuss the matter at all. That is the case. It is not the case of the poor widow. It is the case of the widower who benefited by his wife's fraud and was not prepared to make restitution.

Let us consider another case, the case of a husband who conceals from the pensions officer that he is in receipt of, say, a British Army pension, something that dies with him and something about which the Government have no prior knowledge. He dies and it is found out that he had this British Army pension and that he had defrauded the Department of a large sum of money. His wife had never enjoyed this pension because he drank it all. You can get a parallel in any village in the country—the husband who drinks and the wife who does not. She becomes liable then for the deduction from her old age pension because of her husband's fraud. I do not think that is fair or right or proper.

The Minister talks about the rascally old husband who benefited by his widow's fraud and that that is the man he wants to get at. He says that it is not the widow the Department wants to get at. If that is the case, why is the widow included?

Because the reverse might happen.

It might happen. Does the Minister not conceive circumstances in which the widow would be completely innocent of perhaps even a technical breach of the law by her deceased husband, or be entirely innocent of a flagrant breach of the law by her husband? There are such cases. The Minister proposes to take power to strip the widow of a pension to which she becomes entitled, the more so because she is a widow and over 70. I think if the Minister realised the implications of this—he has given only one example—we would not have this kind of thing in the Bill. I would urge the Minister to leave this over to another time. If there were a provision or any assurance given by the Minister here that this section would not be operated so as to leave the widow, who has a sense of self-respect and pride, in dire want and having to go, an innocent woman, in her old age to the home assistance people, and that she would be allowed to retain so much as——

That is the general practice.

If the Minister will give that assurance, that a liberal part of the pension will be left to her and only the principle invoked in cases of this kind, I think we will have achieved something.

Having listened to Senator Donegan and Senator O'Quigley, I realised that I never knew there were so many innocent people in the world. I knew about this innocent widow in my own parish who died worth £2,500 and she had drawn £357 wrongfully from the State. She left that money to relatives in America. She had drawn a full pension for many years. The social welfare officers and assistance officers have been assailed here to-night for doing their job, and probably for doing it in a mild way, whereas they could have done it in a harsher way. Senator Donegan and Senator O'Quigley did not tell us about the people who get away; they only tell us about the people who are caught.

As I understand the workings of the Department of Social Welfare and the duties of the officers and the instructions given to them, the position is that the letter of the law is complied with. That is the instruction.

It must be.

So that if this rascally husband had been in receipt of a British Army pension and drank it and the wife had not enjoyed it——

When did this happen?

This is a hypothetical case I am putting. The man died and the position, according to law, is that all the money of which he defrauded the Department of Social Welfare must be deducted from his wife's pension. I do not hold with that sort of legislation and I will be recorded as dissenting.

We all know something about social welfare as well as Senator Donegan, and more so than Senator O'Quigley. Senator Donegan is basing his argument on a drunkard. He reduces everything to the level of the half-barrel in this House and——

He does not.

——pretends that the unfortunate widow would not have the gumption to get an instalment order in court against her husband. It is a hypothetical case: it has no basis in reality. It is made to look apparent, the same, of course, as the Fine Gael programme for the coming election. This is only filibustering to hold up the Bill. This argument has no basis in fact; it merely rests on fiction. We all know that we meet cases every day of the week and we are very hard put, when we get cases such as this, to try to put up an argument. We usually find that we have no basis for our argument when the case is proved.

There is of course none of the tyranny which the Senator speaks of administered by the Department of Social Welfare. We all know that. The Senator's colleagues know it. For that matter, if the Senator is so liberal about fleecing the taxpayers under the guise of benevolence, he is of course not responsible for administering the Vote. It is easy to get up and put forward a hypothetical case which of course has no basis whatsoever in fact.

I am fully aware that the Old Age Pensions Acts operate on the basis of the joint income of husband and wife, and therefore I suppose there is something in the argument that the wife did benefit to a certain extent before the death of the husband, but it is no fiction to say that all over this country, in every street, in every village and in every parish, there are husbands who took a few drinks more than they should and there are wives who probably have not had any share in that.


That is so, and this is not reducing this House to the level of the half-barrel or anything else. My case is that the unfortunate wife, because the husband did not declare the income during his life, must now suffer after his death, and it is at death that these details become known, for various reasons. This fraud—and in many cases it is a very minor fraud— continues until death, and then this unfortunate woman who has nothing, perhaps, to live on and who had hoped for the full non-contributory old age pension, finds herself with the pension reduced to half. I say that the interpretation by the Department of Social Welfare officials has always been that it is their duty to pay the minimum according to law, and the minimum is through deduction from the old age pension.

Well, well, well! The Senator has not got the opportunity, of course, of reading the other Bills referred to in this measure, but he could have read the section, and this section is a permissive section. It merely permits the Minister to make a deduction. It does not say that he shall—it is not mandatory. Senator O'Quigley asked me for an assurance which I can give him quite freely that the widow will not, as he said, be stripped. A modest deduction will be made in order to recover the over-payments of which she may be presumed to have had the benefit.

I was satisfied until the Minister qualified himself in the concluding part of his sentence. What I thought he was going to say was that it was permissive legislation and that in hard luck cases he would waive——

I did not say that at all.

I agree that the Minister did not say that. He showed his hand in the last part of the sentence when he said that they would see to it that the deduction was taken slowly. This comes back to what I said, that the principle of the interpretation and the carrying out by the Department of Social Welfare will be preserved, namely, that the full deduction will be made, whether in small or large instalments. On that basis, I wish still to be recorded as opposing this section.

There is only one further matter I want to raise.

I hope that it is not something which has already been said.

I am not given to repetition, as the Chair knows. The Minister says that this is permissive legislation, but that is not the whole story. The Minister knows very well that the Social Welfare Fund, and indeed all the other accounts of the Department of Social Welfare, are subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General, who can take out the file relating to Mrs. XY and the Minister's officers may be called on to answer why they did not in this case exercise their power under Section 20 of the Social Welfare Act of 1961. To say that it is permissive does not mean everything, because hanging—and very rightly so, for it is a great safeguard of democracy— behind the head, not over it, of every person in charge of public funds is the knowledge that there may be an audit query from the Comptroller and Auditor General and thus in every case they are impelled to exercise powers which people would prefer not to have to do.

Now the Senator is advocating that we should have no Comptroller and Auditor General in future.

Senator Carter knows that I have made no such ridiculous suggestion.

I wish to be recorded as opposing the section.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 21 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration, and passed.