The purpose of the Bill is to provide that the superannuation conditions of employees of local authorities and certain other local bodies will, as in other branches of the public service, be regulated by superannuation schemes. At present the detailed provisions governing the superannuation of local authority employees are set out in enactments, principally the Local Government (Superannuation) Act, 1956. As things stand, therefore, any changes in superannuation conditions can only be effected by way of amending legislation. This in turn gives rise to a dilemma. Either the improvements in pension conditions, which have been agreed with staff interests and may be needed to avoid hardship, are postponed until the legislative process is completed or, alternatively, local authorities are authorised by the Government to introduce the improvements in anticipation of amending legislation. The latter alternative has been followed under successive Governments but I think the time has come to put matters on a more secure basis. The present Bill will enable changes in the conditions to be dealt with in future by statutory schemes supplemented where necessary by regulations.
The change to the system of superannuation schemes was recommended by a working party representative of employer and employee interests set up by the then Minister for Local Government in June 1976 to carry out a general review of the superannuation arrangements applicable to local authority employees. The working party furnished their recommendation in an interim report in June 1977 in which they also recommended a number of significant improvements in superannuation conditions which were accepted by the then Minister and have since been implemented by the Minister for the Environment. As the House is aware, procedures for the setting out of superannuation terms in statutory schemes rather than in legislation are already in operation in the public service generally including the Army and Garda Síochána, and in the case of the secondary and national teachers, and it is also being applied in the case of civil servants by way of the Superannuation and Pensions Act, 1976. The Bill, therefore, is essentially an enabling measure in line with the recommendations of the working party under which the more flexible approach to the administration of superannuation benefits already in operation in the civil service can be extended to local authority employees. The memorandum circulated with the Bill provides a brief explanation of its various provisions. I would like to refer to certain of the main features of the Bill.
Section 2 is the heart of the Bill and is the section which will enable the Minister for the Environment, with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service, to make schemes setting out the rules governing superannuation conditions. It will also enable the making of amending schemes. Thus, it will not be necessary to go through the elaborate procedure of legislation every time it is found necessary to introduce changes or improvements in the superannuation code, although under a later provision, in section 5, every scheme must be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and may be annulled by resolution of either such House. Initially, schemes, together with regulations made under section 3, will provide retrospective authority for improvements already introduced. The ultimate aim is to have a comprehensive or consolidated scheme or schemes containing all the pension terms relating to local authority employees and on the making of such consolidated scheme or schemes the existing superannuation enactments will be repealed under section 11 of the Bill. As and from that time, future changes found necessary in the superannuation code will be effected by amending schemes.
Section 3 will enable the Minister for the Environment, with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service, to make regulations to amend or repeal the enactments which are listed in the First Schedule to the Bill or any statutory instrument made thereunder. These regulations may be made only in the period between the passing of the Bill and the repeal of the existing enactments which will be effected when section 11 is brought into operation. In other words, they may only be made in the interval before the consolidated scheme is made and are, in effect, a transitional device to provide retrospective authority for improvements already introduced and facilitate the making of the initial schemes in the interim period before the repeal of the existing enactments.
This cover by regulation will be of a temporary character and is necessary because of the inevitable delay involved in the complex task of replacing the entire existing pensions code by way of a consolidated scheme. Under subsection (3) there is provision for the making of regulations extending the list of enactments contained in the First Schedule to the Bill if this should prove necessary. This provision is essentially precautionary but, since it would involve an extension of the scope of the First Schedule, subsection (5) provides that regulations effecting such an extension must first be laid before each House of the Oireachtas in draft form and would require the positive approval of each House.
Under subsection (9) of section 2, the present position whereby the local authority superannuation code also applies to employees of health boards is being continued. In the subsection there is also a provision under which other health bodies administering public health services may be brought within the scope of the Bill if they are so designated by the Minister for Health with the consent of the Minister for the Environment. In addition, sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Bill provide for the continuance of the position whereby the local authority superannuation code may be applied, with or without modifications, to the employees of certain other statutory bodies.
As a general principle, superannuation awards are made in respect of pensionable service. However, under section 4, regulations may provide for the granting of retirement gratuities in respect of non-pensionable service in appropriate cases. Section 6 provides for the saving of pension rights under existing legislation.
Taken in conjunction with subsection (4) of section 5, it provides that where changes are being made in superannuation conditions an employee of a local authority will have the right to exercise an option to come under such new superannuation conditions or alternatively to decide to remain subject to his existing conditions if he deems these to be more favourable in the circumstances of his particular case. Section 12 includes provisions relating to the commencement of certain sections with retrospective effect. This is necessary in order to ensure that retrospective effect can be given to the improvements in superannuation conditions already referred to.
Before concluding there is one additional feature of the Bill to which I must refer. That is, its use of the common term "employee" replacing the terms "officer" and "servant" in the existing legislation. I am sure the House will agree with me that this is a welcome change from the present position. I commend the Bill to the House.