I would like to inform the House that amendment No. 19a has been ruled out of order as it is outside the scope of the Bill as read a Second Time. Sections 1 to 9 do not have amendments.
Pensions Bill, 1990: Committee and Final Stages.
I move amendment No. a1:
In page 11, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:
"(3) Codes of practice regarding trustees shall lay down minimum standards regarding the appointment or election of trustees, management, frequency of meetings, and the nature and content of information which they are to be supplied with.
(4) In any proceedings under the provisions of this Act, failure to comply with codes of practice shall be admissible in evidence."
It is important that the functions of the trustees, and how they should work, are outlined adequately. Last week we debated at length the role of the Industrial Relations Commission and how they would set out codes of practice for industrial relations in industry, commerce and the public service. Much emphasis was placed, rightly, on the fact that there should be a code of practice to outline the correct way to handle a given problem. A code of practice would be the rules and guidelines issued by the pensions board to the trustees. It should not be left entirely to the pensions board to interpret a given provision, or how their decisions match the intention of the Bill or otherwise. There should be a code of practice to give guidelines to the trustees. For instance, the provision in the Bill for the appointment of member trustees is quite vague. How are they to be appointed? Are they to be selected or elected? The pensions board should have a code on how member trustees are appointed.
There should be a code for mangement committees and pension committees. They exist in many of the better employments at the moment. On those committees management and unions, employer and employee, sit down and discuss the problems and successes of the scheme and the investment procedures. Is there provision for including such committees in the present arrangement? If so, how often should they meet? How often should the trustees meet? Can an unscrupulous employer ensure that they meet only at the AGM, or once in three years or once in five years? Is that adequate? Should there be a code to determine that? What does adequate monitoring of various schemes mean? Should this be outlined to the trustees by the board? In other words, we are proposing that a comprehensive code of practice be set out, similar in approach to what we expect from the Industrial Relations Commission in the industrial relations area. Again, I highlight the close relationship between the industrial relations area and the provisions in the Bill, though the Bill deals with social welfare.
Senators Neville and Manning have proposed an amendment which would involve the addition of two subsections to section 10. I do not consider that the proposed subsection (3) is necessary. Section 62 provides for the selection by members of funded schemes for persons for appointment as trustees. Section 62 is an amendment I added in the Dáil. I am satisfied that it will provide an adequate statutory basis for member participation in the appointment or election of trustees, which is the main concern in this regard and I have already explained the reasons in some detail.
Codes of practice, in relation to the other matters referred to in the proposed subsection (3), can be issued by the board in accordance with section 10 (1) (c) if considered appropriate. The extent to which codes of practice should be laid down in relation to these matters, and the form they should take are, I consider, best left to the new board.
Senators Neville and Manning have also proposed a new subsection (4) which would provide that codes of practice be admissible as evidence. It will be possible for reference to be made to codes of practice issued by the board where relevant in cases before the courts where the exercise by trustees of their duties and responsibilities is at issue. To specifically provide for this in the Bill, as proposed by the Senators would, however, confer a status on such codes which would result in their being treated in effect as quasi-legal instruments. If this type of statutory provision were made the whole purpose and nature of the board's function in this area would be changed. The codes of practice, instead of being drawn up as guidelines in clear, easy to understand language and designed to cover normal cases in the areas to which they apply, would have to be drawn up instead as quasi-legal instruments. They would then not simply be offering guidance but laying down rules which trustees might consider they had to comply with, irrespective of the appropriateness of such rules in relation to cases which would be of an exceptional nature. In this country where there are 25,000 occupational pension schemes there are many such exceptional cases.
I have stated from the outset that I want to avoid over-regulation that could jeopardise the future development of our occupational pension schemes. The amendment proposed would lead, in my view, to such over-regulation, as the board could, in effect, end up having to lay down these quasi-legal rules designed to cover every eventuality in the areas to which the codes of practice would apply.
Therefore, I ask the Deputies to recognise that in the amendment to section 62 we have provided for the trustees and it is preferable to leave the question of the codes under section 10 (1) (c) to the pensions board who can issue the guidelines on the duties and responsibilities of the trustees of schemes and codes of practice on specific aspects of their responsibilities. As I have said, it is quite clear, even at this stage, that there will be a wide variety of schemes. There will be elements of the codes that, obviously, would apply to them all and there will be elements that might have to apply to the smaller schemes for instance. We want to try to apply the codes as widely as possible. Therefore, I ask the Senators not to press the amendments.
This is in contradiction to the approach taken by the Minister for Labour on the Industrial Relations Bill. Does the Minister expect the pensions board to advise trustees of the regularity of their meetings? Does he expect the pensions board to determine the method of appointment of trustees? Will he expect the pensions board to advise on how often the trustees should meet?
I have seen many committees set up for very good reasons that go out of existence or be totally ineffective because the employer was not committed to the success of such committees. It was window-dressing to get over a problem rather than a long-term commitment to the development and objectives of such committees. I have also seen employees being apathetic towards such committees, and because there was no real problem at any one time, failing to operate such committees. I have seen this in safety committees in industry and in other areas. When the problem arises along the way they suddenly realise that they should have operated this committee years before and that it is now too late and the harm is done. I would ask the Minister if he sees pension boards operating codes of practice, bearing in mind that he is unhappy about quasi-legal status.
One of the important points to bear in mind is that this is a very substantial Bill containing 81 sections which provide for a very comprehensive regulation of occupational pension schemes, which are voluntary schemes. The Bill provides a framework within which all these codes of practice will operate. It already provides a huge degree of regulation. The codes of practice will be a matter for the pensions board and it can cover any of the matters raised, like the regulation of meetings and the appointment of trustees. I do not know if the Senator was here when I spoke at length about training——
I was not here but I heard it and took account of everything the Minister said. I hope to comment on it later.
Training will be one of the immediate tasks of the board. Because there are so many schemes it will be a major and important task. The board will know what is needed to further develop codes of practice and they have powers in relation to that. I am satisfied that we are making adequate provision here. A huge amount of regulation is provided in all the sections of this Bill.
I presume the pensions board can see the necessity for codes of practice. What sanctions can be taken against an employer who ignores such codes of practice since they will not have any quasi-legal status? Are we dependent on the goodwill of the employer and the employees to operate boards of management or management committees or trustee committees?
I hope there will be voluntary participation. A large number of the schemes already comply with the kind of requirements we are talking about here. They may be short on funding, which we will have to increase, and there may be other things to do in relation to equal treatment. It will be a matter for the trustees to ensure that the codes of practice are operated within the schemes. The trustees will be there as a guarantor to the scheme members, and the members will either be trustees themselves or will appoint someone to act on their behalf as a trustee. They will be very much involved in that whole process.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 22, subsection (5), line 15, after "lesser" to insert ": Provided where the percentage figure under paragraph (a) exceeds 4 per cent. but does not exceed 10 per cent. an increase of half the excess shall be prescribed to allow for a maximum increase of not less than 7 per cent.".
The Minister has already stated that in subsection (6) he may make regulations to vary the percentage. I accept that. However, the amendment is the proposal of the National Pensions Board, and the idea behind it is that 4 per cent, which will be the norm, is a very low level when one considers the rates of inflation and the major fluctuations that have occurred in the past and will occur in the future. If we have a base of 4 per cent plus half the excess, up to a maximum of 3 per cent, we are not spending on a wild scale but we are giving a reasonable hedge against possible inflation. This amendment would improve the Bill and improve the amount of the revaluation.
I cannot agree with this as I indicated to the Senator earlier on. I outlined earlier at some length the general approach I have adopted in this Bill in relation to laying down statutory requirements. The Senators propose in effect that provision be made for the revaluation formula recommended by the National Pensions Board. Many of the interested parties whom I consulted felt that the board's formula for revaluation would give rise to very real practical problem, for pension schemes, admittedly after the board had gone through the consultative process which we mentioned earlier. It is not possible to make proper funding arrangements for benefits which are to be revalued in relation to a variable rate of inflation. One either funds for benefits at the lower limit and risks underfunding or at the higher limit which can lead to costly overfunding. Overfunding can mean that money tied up in this way would not be available to finance the preservation of the pre-1991 pension rights of current members. It would also not be possible for trustees to purchase a deferred annuity contract from insurance companies which would meet those requirements, as insurance companies are only geared to providing such contracts at fixed rates of inflation. Accordingly, to ensure that they met their statutory obligations, schemes would have to purchase annuities at the maximum rate of 7 per cent in all cases. This would mean that in times of low inflation the pension rights of the early leavers concerned would be revalued at a considerably higher rate than those of members who remained in the scheme. The overall effect of the revaluation formula proposed by the Senators could be to benefit new members of schemes at the expense of current members, many of whom are concerned to have provision made for preservation of pre-1991 pension rights. One of our priorities is to make provision as early as possible for the preservation of pre-1991 pension rights. The revaluation formula, set out in section 32, is easy to administer and the aim is to match any increase in inflation up to 4 per cent. Provision is also made in subsection (6) to vary, by regulations, the 4 per cent ceiling if this is found to be necessary as a result of a substantial increase in inflation. The situation will be kept under review by the new pensions board who will advise me if any such change in the ceiling is necessary.
I would also like to refer to the fact that, in accordance with subsection (1), revaluation will not commence until five years after the appointed date, that is, the year beginning January 1996. This is fully in line with the recommendation of the National Pensions Board in this regard which was based on the need to give schemes time to make adequate funding arrangements for revaluation. I would like to explain exactly what this will involve.
If a person leaves a scheme in the year 1993, the first year in which members will actually become eligible for preservation under the terms of the Bill, he will be entitled to have his pension rights in respect of the two-year period, 1991 to 1992, preserved, provided, of course, he has been a member of the scheme for a total of five years. Revaluation of this preserved benefit will commence just three years later, from 1 January 1996. If a person leaves the following year, in 1994, revaluation will commence two years later and if he leaves in 1995 revaluation will commence just one year later. Revaluation will commence straightaway for members leaving from 1 January 1996 onwards. Accordingly, the five-year waiting period will not have a significant impact either in terms of the amount of pension involved or the numbers affected. However, the National Pensions Board considered that this five years waiting period was essential, from the point of view of funding, and this has been confirmed by the representations I have received from pension experts in the period since the report was published.
There are practical problems, and I accept the Senator only had available to him the report of the National Pensions Board. These problems were raised in subsequent discussions with the industry. In fact, the Senator's colleagues in the Dáil did not press this amendment when we explained where the proposal had come from.
Neither will I.
I move amendment No. 1a:
In page 22, before section 34, to insert the following new section:
"34. —All members on leaving employment shall be entitled to a written statement outlining—
(a) the amount of preserved benefits, both for the member and his or her dependents,
(b) the provision for increases of these benefits,
(c) the date or dates on which these benefits become payable and the procedure for claiming the benefit.
(d) the name and address of the scheme, its trustees and those persons responsible for the payment of benefits, and
(e) a clear description of all rights and options available at the time of leaving and subsequently accruing, including the amount of any transfer value.".
I propose this amendment in the knowledge that many people leave employment — to return to a matter I raised on Second Stage — having paid contributions over the years with a lack of trust that they will get a pension some five, ten, 15 or 20 years later. If this amendment is accepted they will be entitled to a written statement, outlining where they stand on leaving the organisation. It will have legal status and they can be satisfied the State will stand over it. I wish to refer to the unhappy experience of people who, having contributed to a scheme for 30 years, withdrew taking with them the contributions they had made to the scheme with no account being taken of the growth of the fund over the years. The purpose of the amendment is to increase the level of trust among members who would be entitled to a written statement which would have legal status.
I support the amendment as it is extremely important and is in line with the sections in the Bill dealing with the disclosure of information. It refers to the relevant information required by a member on leaving employment such as the facts and figures, the amount of the transfer value, and the name and address of the scheme, and its trustees. Given the abuse in this area in the past when people were left high and dry or sought a refund of their contributions, it is important that people who have made contributions are fully informed of where they stand when they move on to another employment.
I agree with the Senators and can assure them it is one of the points which will be covered in the regulations. The amendment would require members leaving employment to be given a statement of their entitlements to preserved benefits. The National Pensions Board also made this point and felt this should be done. The issue however is one of disclosure of information rather than preservation as such, and it is envisaged that statements of this kind would be the type of information schemes would be required to make available. Section 54 (1) of the Bill gives the Minister power to prescribe the types of information schemes would be required to make available to members. I would like to assure the Senators that a reference to such information, for "early leavers", will be included in the proposed regulations concerning disclosure. The regulations will be flexible and the list can be added to, if necessary.
Even though the Minister obviously accepts the principle of the amendment. I would prefer to see it enshrined in the Bill. Given the Minister's commitment and the approach he has adopted to this Bill to date, I will take him at his word, that the regulations will include a reference to what we have proposed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 28, line 19, after "investments" to insert
": Provided that any such investments in excess of 20 per cent. of the total value of a relevant scheme's net assets shall be disregarded for the purposes of actuarial certification".
This is a proposal in relation to the limitation on the calculation of the resources of the scheme. It is similar to what was discussed in the other House in the area of capping, what would be the level of investment that would be included and excluded? I would like to hear the Minister's response.
It is important that the assets of the fund are not invested disproportionately in the employer's own business or too concentrated in any one specific investment or group of investments or in one specific sector or area. If the employer's business had to be liquidated or the value of the specific investments was reduced drastically, the pension entitlements acquired would be in jeopardy. Accordingly, in order to avoid this situation occurring provision has been made in section 46 to enable me, as Minister, to provide by way of regulations that any self-investment or concentration of investment over a prescribed percentage shall not be taken into account by the actuary for the purposes of complying with the minimum funding standard requirements. In deciding on this percentage I will be advised by the new Pensions Board. The board in its report recommended a limit of 20 per cent in this regard and Senators are proposing that this be specifically provided for in the Bill. I consider it is preferable to include this percentage in regulations rather than in primary legislation. This will enable me, as Minister, to alter the percentage if necessary on the advice of the board or have different percentages set for different types of investment.
At this stage I do not envisage that the limit being set would be at a level higher than 20 per cent given the recommendations in this regard of the National Pensions Board but it might be set lower. This is why I want, through the regulations and following the advice of the new Pensions Board to have the flexibility to set the figure.
Amendments Nos. 4, 6 and 7 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 30, subsection (1), between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following paragraph:
"(d) annual report and audited accounts prepared or caused to be prepared by the trustees under sections 54 and 55 respectively, as they arise from time to time, and".
What is proposed is that we insert a new paragraph after (c) whereby we would extend the disclosure of information in relation to the occupational pension schemes so that it would be the duty of the trustees to furnish information in this area; in other words, an annual report and audited accounts would be prepared and would be furnished to members of the scheme. We want the maximum of disclosure on the progress of the scheme so that members can check on the information. Otherwise we are being left with minimum information unless we can get the hard facts and substance of annual reports. That is where the real substance of matters is to be found. I suggest that paragraph would be of considerable benefit in the context of disclosure of information to members.
Amendment No. 6 reads:
In page 32, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) Without prejudice to the generalities of subsection (1), the annual report shall contain and include the following information:
(a) total income including employer contributions, employee contributions (if any) and investment income;
(b) membership breakdown giving number of members by age category, the service spread of members, changes during the year and deferred benefits to members;
(c) total outgoings including pensions payable in full, pensions payable to spouses and other dependents, commutations and transfers, death in service benefits and tax;
(d) general information covering developments since the previous year, changes in taxation, changes in social welfare and legislation affecting pensions;
(e) details of additional voluntary contributions and a review of the pensions environment;
and in all cases, the report shall compare the year in hand with the previous year.".
Amendment No. 7 reads:
In page 32, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) The annual audited accounts shall consist of the actual report of the auditors together with their comments on the accounts. It shall include the accounts, an investment report, a breakdown of assets held and a statement from the actuary.".
This is a reference to the details that are required from the annual report and from the audited accounts.
I support Senator Costello in these amendments. This information would give all members an opportunity to independently evaluate the status of the pension without reference to trustees, employers or anybody else. Such information is important because not all members of schemes are prepared to discuss in detail with people with whom they work their concerns about what their employer may be doing or what their union may be agreeing to. The effect of what Senator Costello proposes is that the individual employees can take the report and have it independently evaluated without reference to anybody, trustees, employer, union or management committees.
This section, together with sections 55 to 58, deals with very important provisions, with the disclosure of information relating to pension schemes. The view has often been expressed by those involved in pensions that many of the difficulties experienced to date in relation to pension schemes result from the lack of information for scheme members. The case involving the Roscrea Meat Products pension scheme is a typical example. Following the liquidation of that company in October 1985 it subsequently emerged that very little had been paid into the pension fund for about ten years. Contributions had been deducted from the workers but were used to pay current pensions. This kind of revelation clearly highlights the need for ongoing disclosure of information about the management of pension schemes, their financial soundness and the security of the members' pensions rights. This part of the Bill is designed to prevent these situations from happening again.
The Bill lays down two broad requirements. First, sections 55 to 57 will make it mandatory in future for schemes to produce annual reports, annual audited accounts and regular actuarial evaluations. Secondly, section 54 obliges the trustees of the scheme to make all this financial information, including a comprehensive range of other additional information about the members' pension entitlements, available to the members, their spouses and their trade union representatives. In practical terms it will mean the members and their trade union representatives in future will be able to check (a) that their contributions and those of the employer are being paid into the fund, (b) details of the schemes investments and (c) the solvency level of the scheme and whether it satisfies the minimum funding standard. They will also have the right to inspect the trust deed and rules for themselves and must be provided with an up-to-date copy of the scheme booklet containing basic information about the scheme. Therefore, it will be seen that the Bill considerably strengthens the rights of members to access to information on the level of funding of their pension schemes and, thus, the extent of the security of their future benefits. It will enable them to satisfy themselves that their schemes are being run in their best interests. I believe it will make employees more aware of their rights under the schemes and the basis on which their pension expectations are founded.
As I have already stated, the purpose of section 54 is to require the trustees of a scheme to disclose, or make available, information to members and others associated with the scheme. The National Pensions Board stated in their first report that the disclosure of information requirements, of their very nature, would be fairly detailed and, therefore, might well not be appropriate to primary legislation as further consideration might be necessary in applying them to particular types of schemes. They recommended that the general requirements should be set out in the Bill and that the more detailed requirements be the subject of regulations made thereunder. This is the approach I have adopted in drafting this part of the Bill. The general requirements are set out in sections 54, 55 and 56 and the more detailed requirements will be incorporated in regulations. This will allow for flexibility in applying such requirements to particular types of schemes.
In the course of my introductory remarks on Second Stage I outlined in great detail the nature of these requirements which are exactly the same as those recommended by the National Pensions Board. I might add that similar requirements in relation to disclosure of information were enshrined in the United Kingdom Pensions Act, 1986, when a similar approach to ours was adopted with the detailed information requirements being set out in regulations. That is what I propose to do. Senators will see that there is more than adequate provision here and, within those provisions, I will be bringing in the regulations, a process which will take place immediately.
Is amendment No. 4 withdrawn?
Do I take it the Minister is saying that the substance of these three amendments will be covered satisfactorily by the regulations he will introduce?
Yes, that is the position effectively.
Is the Minister saying that, with the information available, an independent evaluation of the scheme can be undertaken without reference to trustees or to any union or employers?
Yes, it can.
Is the amendment withdrawn?
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 31, subsection (3), line 22, to delete "only if so requested by those persons".
This amendment has to do with disclosure of information. I am proposing that the final words of section 54 (3) be deleted where it is said, "only if so requested by those persons". This refers to information to be furnished by the trustees of the scheme to such of the persons specified in subsection (2) as may be specified in the regulations only if so requested by those persons.
The intention of the amendment is to strengthen the section. If we are in the business of ensuring disclosure of information then we should have that information as of right, there should not be limitation on it which would mean it would have to be furnished only if so requested by individuals. I cannot understand the reason for this limitation. It would appear to me to take the good out of the intention to effect full disclosure.
This subsection provides that the proposed regulations shall distinguish between the type of information which should be given automatically and that which should be provided only on request. Briefly, the information which I propose should be given automatically is basic information such as a scheme booklet to every new member and authorised trade union, statements to individual members of benefits which have become payable or of certain rights, options and so on which have arisen. For example, a statement of the amount of contributions paid into the scheme in respect of an individual member, and of his expected pension on retirement, will be given automatically to members. A copy of the annual report will be furnished automatically to each authorised trade union. Otherwise it is proposed that information need be provided only on request. For example, the trustees' annual report should be made available within nine months of the end of the scheme year to which it relates. A copy must be furnished automatically to each authorised trade union within 12 months of the end of the scheme year. However, it should be given only on request to individual members of beneficiaries. This is in line with the recommendations of the National Pensions Board.
The effect of amendment No. 5 would be to require that all information requirements ranging from annual trustee reports, actuarial valuations and individual benefit statements should be furnished automatically which would be impractical. The cost and manpower involved in the preparation of individual benefits statements at frequent intervals could impose an undue burden on schemes. Therefore I would request Senators to withdraw this amendment on the grounds that there are requirements which are automatically necessary; there are others which are not necessary automatically but are necessary at a different level. Obviously, there is a major cost element involved for schemes. In any event the line I am adopting is in line with the recommendations of the National Pensions Board.
On section 55, amendment No. 6 has already been discussed.
On section 56, amendment No. 7 has already been discussed.
I do not know whether this is the correct point at which to raise this matter but the Minister referred to the training of trustees in his reply to Second Stage. Am I in order in raising this on this section?
Actually it is a function of the board.
I welcome the Minister's remarks in this regard when replying to Second Stage.
However, I am concerned about the training of members in general. Are the Government — through the Department of Labour or other agency — prepared to give any support to the training of members, of shop stewards who will have to deal with queries arising from the implementation of the Act, the training of supervisors who will be in the front line answering queries and, indeed, the training of managers who, even when they are financially tuned in, will find it difficult to fully understand the complexities of financing pension schemes?
First of all, I will be explaining what is contained in the Bill. I propose to prepare a reasonably detailed explanation of what it contains and making that explanation generally available. In the first instance, of course, the new pensions board will deal with the training of trustees. The question of having information more widely disseminated is a matter in which the trade unions are very interested and on which they will be holding seminars and organising meetings for their members. I should say that we will provide any information we can on the effects of the provisions of the Bill. Of course, the board will be considering how best this can be done. The House must realise that when one talks about training all the members one is talking about 550,000 people. I hope the size of the task involved is appreciated. Probably it is one that will be undertaken most effectively through trade union groupings and arrangements. Certainly, we will do what we can to encourage the dissemination of such information. This will start with the trustees and the training programmes. We are anxious to get this under way as early as possible. We will be getting information out in the first instance and the trade unions will be doing likewise.
Do I gather from the Minister that the board itself will put on courses for the trustees?
That is what I envisage. We will be pressing the board to provide that training at the very earliest stage. Whoever conveyed the information to the Senator did not convey it all.
I heard the Minister.
That is the idea.
Let me suggest that if the board are putting on courses that this type of course might be made available to shop stewards through the unions and to employers through the Irish Management Institute and other organisations.
We will certainly bear that in mind.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 39, subsection (3), lines 24 to 40, to delete paragraphs (c) and (d) and substitute the following:
"(c) where because of his sex, family or marital status a person is obliged to comply with a requirement, relating to membership of a scheme which is not an essential requirement for such membership and in respect of which the proportion of persons of the other sex or (as the case may be) of a different family or marital status but of the same sex able to comply is substantially higher,".
This amendment is in the context of Part VII which deals with equal treatment for men and women and occupational benefits schemes. All of these amendments, Nos. 9 to 20, arise out of matters raised by the Employment Equality Agency. Their view is that a number of these sections would infringe the provisions of the Employment Equality Act, 1977.
This amendment seeks to delete:
(c) where because of a person's sex the person is unable to comply with a requirement or condition—
(i) in respect of which the proportion of persons of the other sex able to comply...
(d) where because of a person's marital or family status the person is unable to comply...
and that in its place be inserted:
where because of his sex, family or marital status a person is obliged to comply with a requirement, relating to membership of a scheme which is not an essential requirement for such membership and in respect of which the proportion of persons of the other sex or (as the case may be) of a different family or marital status but of the same sex able to comply is substantially higher,".
I am unhappy with the wording as it is in the Bill. It spoils the intention of the Bill which states that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex in respect of any matter relating to an occupational benefits scheme. The words "unable to comply" in the Bill seems to be contrary to the provisions of the 1977 Act. The wording required there is that it would be an essential requirement. If the Minister would accept the wording of the amendment which covers that, as distinct from the wording in the Bill, it certainly would strengthen the Bill in the context of equal treatment of men and women as proposed by the EC directive and the legislation.
This amendment provides for an alternative definition of indirect discrimination along the lines of that contained in the Employment Equality Act, 1977. The 1986 directive requires an end to discrimination both direct and indirect in the scope of and the conditions of access to schemes, contribution levels and benefit rights. Neither this directive nor any earlier directive concerning equality contained a definition of indirect discrimination.
The definition contained in subsections (3) (c) and (3) (d) is based on the interpretation of this term by the European Court of Justice in a number of cases brought before it. In a recent case involving an occupational pensions scheme the European Court held that the exclusion of part time workers from such a scheme where that exclusion affects one sex more than another is contrary to article 119 of the Treaty of Rome unless it can be established that the exclusion is based on objectively justified factors in no way related to discrimination based on sex. The Labour Court has recently adopted this criterion in making determinations in cases involving indirect discrimination in occupational schemes. It is also consistent with the views expressed by the National Pensions Board on this matter.
I believe, therefore, that this definition which reflects the current interpretation of this term by the European Court is more appropriate than the definition contained in the 1977 Employment Equality Act in relation to equal treatment in employment matters. The definition which we are using in this Act take into account the more recent European Court judgments.
The Minister says it is taken into consideration in the more recent European court judgments and that it is more appropriate. Is the Minister saying then that it is in conflict with the 1977 legislation and that the 1977 legislation is in need of updating in line with the judgments? There seems to be a considerable difference between what is being said and the reference in the 1977 Act to an essential requirement.
I do not want to become confused about different legislations for different purposes. The judgments to which I refer are judgments relating to pension schemes, and they are the more appropriate ones from our point of view. That is why we are pursuing those judgments and their appropriateness in our circumstances. The other legislation is a separate matter.
I understand we have been joined by Senator Jim McKiernan from the Australian Parliament and his good wife from the Legislature. I extend a very warm welcome to them. I understand our representatives were out there some couple of years back and were very warmly welcomed in Australia.
I also would like to put on the record of the House my welcome to the Senator and his wife. If they come here tomorrow morning there will be a much crowded House and probably a livelier session.
Amendments Nos. 10 and 13 are related and can be debated together.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 40, subsection (1), lines 10 to 19, to delete paragraphs (a) and (b).
These amendments deal again with the same aspects of the legislation, equal treatment of men and women in the context of the EC directive. What I am asking here is that the wording in the subsection be deleted as it is also subject to challenge in the context of the Employment Equality Act, 1977. That particular exception raises a question as to why it was there. It is provided that "account shall not be taken", and then there is a list of the areas that are to be excluded. Why are those areas excluded? The first mentioned is any difference, on the basis of the sex of members, in the levels of contributions which members make to the extent that the difference is justified on actuarial grounds. Are we to take it that actuarial can be used as an excuse for paying different benefits to men and women? Is that the meaning of this section? Does this mean we can use actuarial grounds as an excuse for paying different benefits to men and women? I would like the Minister to address that and explain how this is in line with the equality legislation.
To answer the last part of the question first, the actuarial differences can be used only in relation to defined contribution schemes, but in relation to defined benefit schemes the answer is "no". Part VII of the Bill provides for full compliance with EC Directive 86/378/EEC on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women in occupational social security schemes. Section 69 of the Bill provides that in determining whether a scheme complies with the principle of equal treatment under section 66, account shall not be taken of certain specified differences in the treatment of men and women in such schemes. The exceptions provided for are permitted under the terms of the EC directive.
Amendment No. 10 would have the effect of prohibiting the use of different actuarial factors of morbidity, mortality or life expectancy for men and women in the calculation of contributions and benefits under defined contribution schemes. Such differences are permitted under the terms of Article 6 of the 1986 directive. The National Pensions Board in their equal treatment report examined this whole issue in detail and considered that the differences are justifiable. Amendment No. 13 would mean that actuarial factors of morbidity, mortality or life expectancy, which differ for men and women, could not be used in determining the amount of optional benefits secured by members under the scheme — these would be optional extra benefits. This was another area which both the EC Council of Ministers and the National Pensions Boards examined in detail.
The National Pensions Board concluded that this is a specific area where the use of different actuarial factors by reference to sex will give rise to differing benefits for men and women. Examples of such optional provisions are: the purchase of additional benefits by way of additional personal contributions payable on a voluntary basis by individual employees; the voluntary conversion of a retirement pension into an alternative form of benefit such as a cash lump sum; and the voluntary option of retiring before normal retirement age.
The use of actuarial data differentiating by reference to sex ensures that there is neither a financial gain nor loss to individual pension schemes arising from individual members exercising voluntary options under the scheme. The directive — Article 2 (d) — does not apply to voluntary benefits and options of this nature and, accordingly, the differences in terms offered resulting from the use of actuarial data differentiating by reference to sex is not prohibited by the directive.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 40, subsection (1) (c), line 20, before "treatment", to insert "favourable".
I understand it would be contrary to the Employment Equality Act unless that particular wording is inserted. The section needs amendment for that purpose because in the whole area of maternity etc., women have been less favourably treated in those situations in the past. We would suggest to the Minister that it would be better if the particular paragraph was brought into line with the provisions of the 1977 legislation.
Amendment No. 11 suggests the inclusion of the word "favourable" in paragraph (d) which concerns special treatment for the benefit of women in connection with pregnancy and childbirth. I cannot see the significance of the amendment because "any special treatment for the benefit of women" would in my view constitute favourable treatment. It has to constitute favourable treatment because it is "special treatment for the benefit of women", it is not just special treatment, and would constitute favourable treatment in any event.
Is it not the situation that in many circumstances women have been treated specially but not favourably? It seems that women who are pregnant and who are seeking maternity leave have been given special treatment but it has been special treatment and not of a beneficial nature. The Minister has said that special treatment includes the positive element, but I had always thought that special is a neutral word, it can be either beneficial or it can be the opposite. It is just that people are treated in a special way rather than in a favourable way. Is the Minister satisfied that it does include that positive element?
Yes, very much so, because the wording is "special treatment for the benefit of women". That covers the beneficial side of it and specifies it very clearly in this case.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 40, subsection (1), lines 22 and 23, to delete paragraph (d).
Amendment No. 12 relates to survivors and will be covered by regulations. Under survivors' benefits it is recommended that the option to defer the universal application of the principle of equal treatment in relation to survivors' pensions, as permitted by the EC directive, should not apply in the special case of Ireland.
Equal treatment should apply with immediate effect in relation to survivors' pensions under all new occupational pension schemes and under existing schemes in so far as the benefits are deemed to accrue in respect of future service. The scheme should not be required to grant entitlement to coverage for widowers' pensions in the case of former scheme members who have died or who have left service by retirement or otherwise. Schemes should be given up to ten years to provide cover for widowers' pensions in respect of service prior to the date from which equal treatment becomes generally applicable. The accrued rights and expectations of existing spouses who are already covered for widows' pensions should not be compromised in the interest of complying with mandatory equal treatment provisions.
The EC directive permits members states to defer compulsory application of the principle of equal treatment in relation to survivors' benefits until a further directive requires equality in this area. Advantage is taken of this de rogation under section 67 (1) (d). The Commission has already published its proposals for a further directive in this area specifically aimed at removing remaining areas of discrimination. These are at present being considered by the EC Council.
It must be remembered that occupational pensions are voluntary arrangements between employers and employees. Additional costs will in any event arise for many schemes in implementing the new requirements in relation to preservation, funding and disclosure. It would be difficult at this stage to justify the imposition of signficant extra cost to provide for equal survivors' benefits especially when EC member states are permitted to defer its compulsory application under the directive.
The Government are fully committed to the elimination of all forms of discrimination between men and women in occupational schemes. Accordingly, it is the Government's intention to keep this matter under review particularly in light of any future development in relation to further EC directives in this area.
Subsection (3) gives me power to make regulations providing for the equalisation of survivors' benefits between men and women at a future date. As I stated during the course of my Second Stage speech, in the absence of any developments at EC level in this area I intend to make regulations before the end of 1992 requiring schemes to provide for equal benefits for widows and widowers. The amendment I made to section 69 covers the point made by the Senator. This point was also made in the Dáil and subsequent to that I made the arrangements to which I referred in my Second Stage speech.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 40, line 42, after "employees", to insert ", including part-time employees,".
This is an important amendment. Section 70 provides:
An employer shall comply with the principle of equal treatment in relation to the manner in which he affords his employees access to an occupational benefits scheme.
My amendment proposes that the same treatment should be afforded to part-time employees. I raised this matter on Second Stage because it is becoming more pertinent in the context of pension rights particularly with the rapid growth in recent years of part-time employment, job sharing and temporary employment. The problem is that many part-time employees do not have the same pro rata rights as permanent employees. We need to provide for full pro rata rights for part-time employees in terms of pay, conditions, holidays and so on. Likewise, they need to have similar pro rata rights in the context of pensions because many people who are working year in and year out in a temporary, part-time or job sharing capacity may end up with no pension rights and become a burden on the State.
Many part-time employees who get permanent employment find they do not qualify for a full pension in the long-term. This is something which affects women in particular because they seem to be employed in part-time jobs to a greater degree than men. This is happening to a great extent in the teaching profession where it is virtually impossible to get fulltime employment at present. Ideally, those rights should be part and parcel of employment at present and a pension scheme should be built into it. Certainly, at a minimum an employer should afford all his employees, whether part-time or permanent, access to an occupational benefits scheme. That is an extremely worth-while amendment.
The amendment proposes to insert the words "including part-time employees" after the word "employees" in section 70. I am advised the amendment is unnecessary because the definition of "employee" contained in section 65 includes part-time employees. The problem arises somewhere else. We all agree there is a problem in relation to cover for part-time employees generally but we will not be able to alter that by changing the definition in section 70; the definition of "employee" in section 65 includes part-time employees. However, I should like to point out that the occupational pension schemes are voluntary agreements negotiated between employers and their employees to provide benefits in the event of retirement or death. The scope of coverage, the conditions of access and the benefit and contribution formulae are entirely a matter for those concerned. There is no statutory obligation on employers to introduce such schemes or to ensure that certain categories of workers are covered.
The provisions of this section and those in relation to indirect discrimination could be particularly relevant in the case of part-time employees who are excluded from membership of most schemes both in the public and private sector. As I mentioned earlier it is a wide problem. Where part-time workers are predominantly of one sex there will be an onus under section 68 of the Bill on the employer to provide objective reasons for their exclusion from any pension arrangements in force in the employment. Therefore, there is a new situation in relation to that. The National Pensions Board as part of their remit will be specifically examining the occupational pension entitlements of part-time workers. This is included in their terms of reference and, I mentioned earlier, they hope to report on that towards the end of the year. I am advised the amendment is unnecessary.
I want to get clarification on one point. The Minister said that part-time employees are included in the definition of "employees" in section 65 and this includes all part-time and permanent employees. If a part-time employee in a factory or school wants to become a member of an occupational pension scheme and goes to the employer and says "as it is a voluntary scheme, I would like to volunteer to become a member of it and I want to make my contributions", will there be an onus on the employer to accept that employee into the occupational pension scheme? Is that the correct interpretation of the section?
The amendment is not necessary but I elaborated on it by way of giving further information. There are two elements involved here. First, if part-time employees are included in the scheme there will have to be equal treatment for men and women. The other question arises from the recent judgment, that is, if part-time workers are predominantly of one sex then there will be an onus on the employer under section 68 of the Bill to provide objective reasons for their exclusion from any pension arrangements in force in the employment. This is a new situation which will have to be examined. In fairness, it is a widespread question which effects everybody in the private and public sector. Given the recent judgment, the report of the National Pensions Board will be very valuable and interesting in this regard.
Can I take that as a "yes" or "no"? I know the point is really about equal treatment for all the employees, both male and female. In the context of broadening the provisions of the Bill, will part-time workers be in a stronger position to get occupational pension fund scheme rights? Has the Bill strengthened their position?
I have outlined the position and the interpretation will have to be developed. We are talking about a current situation. The report of the National Pensions Board which is due later this year will be relevant in this regard. In that sense, I think it is fair to say that things are moving fairly rapidly in that regard. The judgment will have implications in cases where the majority of the people concerned are of one sex or the other. A lot of questions will arise as to how things should be done and what sort of arrangements should be made. Therefore, it is appropriate that we should have asked the National Pensions Board about a year and a half ago to examine this issue in detail and come up with very detailed recommendations in their final report.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 41, lines 11 to 18, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:
"(3) The trustees of a scheme shall take the measures referred to in subsection (2) to equalise cover in respect of rights accrued or obligations incurred before the commencement of Part VII of this Act, within a period of not more than 10 years from such commencement.".
I introduced an amendment along those lines in the Dáil. Section 70 (3) provides the Minister with the power to introduce a transitional period not longer than ten years for the retrospective application of equal treatment, to be brought into effect by regulations.
The retirement age for women is 60 years and the retirement age for men is 65 years. This is especially the case in longer established pension schemes. I know of schemes where, in the last ten years the female retirement age is 65, but for employees who entered the scheme prior to that it is 60. A corrective measure has been put in. Under section 71, will everybody have to retire at 60 years of age instead of 65? If so, it would have serious implications for many companies.
It will be a matter for the individual scheme as to whether the retirement age will be 60 or 65 years, but there will have to be equal treatment. We have been informed that the percentage of schemes which would be affected in that way is relatively small. I know the Senator may have experience of a number of them. In Britain, of course, it is a very major problem because it is an extensive question.
Am I misinterpreting the provision which states, "...the provisions of this Part and the more favourable treatment accorded by it to persons of the one sex shall be accorded by it to persons of the other sex"? That suggests that the more favourable treatment will apply.
This is under the section of non-compliance and compulsory levelling up but the option will be there to change it. In other words the scheme could be altered to bring about equality of treatment. If they do not, and the compulsory provisions come in, that is the approach which would be involved.
Does that mean if employees insist on levelling up — or levelling down in this case — to 60 years of age, that the employer will have to accept it? If a union decide that this is a medium by which they can reduce retirement age and permit employees to draw a pension at 60, could they insist on so doing under the section?
No, that would have to be done by negotiation. The fund could only carry certain costs anyway so the pension benefits, or its limits, could be affected.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 43, subsection (1) (a), lines 32 and 33, to delete ", other than an occupational pension scheme,".
This amendment seeks to delete "other than an occupational pension scheme" from paragraph (a). This section provides two different ways of determining a dispute in relation to discrimination, one by the board and the other by an equality officer. I wonder if that is the best way of going about it. It could give rise to confusion and the Minister should explain why we should exclude an occupational pension scheme from this section.
Section 75 provides that any dispute between members of an occupational pension scheme and the trustees concerning possible breaches of the principle of equal treatment in the rules of the scheme shall be dealt with in the same way as disputes governing the application of other provisions in the Bill, such as preservation of benefits, minimum funding standard and disclosure of information. Accordingly, such disputes will be determined by the proposed pensions board following the application made to them by an interested person or persons. The board's decision shall be final except on a point of law. Failure by the trustees of a scheme to comply with the legislation will be an offence under section 3 of the Bill and will be punishable by a system of fines.
Section 76 on the other hand provides that disputes concerning the application of the principal of equal treatment to other types of occupational benefit schemes, for example, occupational sick pay schemes, will be determined by the equality officers of the Labour Court. Disputes between employees and their employers in relation to access to occupational schemes will be similarly dealt with. The effect of the amendment proposed by the Senator means that all such disputes would be considered by the equality officers and the Labour Court.
At present two Acts govern equal treatment in the employment field, the Anti-Discrimination Pay Act, 1974, implements the principle of equal pay for equal work as enshrined in Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome. The Employment Equality Act, 1977, provides generally for equal treatment between men and women in relation to conditions of employment other then pay and occupational pension schemes. Disputes concerning the application of both these Acts are determined by equality officers of the Labour Court. Since 1974 the Labour Court have interpreted the definition of remuneration in the Anti-Discrimination Pay Act, 1974, as encompassing occupational benefits. The court have a number of important determinations in this area over the years and these determinations have had a profound influence on the extent to which occupational schemes already comply with the principle of equal treatment.
The question of how the principles of equality of treatment might best be implemented was examined in detail by the National Pensions Board in their equal treatment report. The board made a number of important recommendations in this area. First, they recommended that there should be clearly defined legislation dealing with equality matters in occupational pension schemes. In this context they considered that the Anti-Discrimination Pay Act, 1974, which formed the basis for all Labour Court determinations in this area, was not sufficiently definitive to adequately provide for the implementation of this principle. Secondly, they proposed that there should be a statutory agency to effectively monitor and enforce compliance with the new legislation in which to provide clear and consistent interpretations of the relevant legislation. Thirdly, procedures should be established for the resolution of disputes between trustees and members of schemes and disputes involving employers and employees.
The board concluded that these objectives could best be achieved by incorporating the relevant legislation in the Pensions Bill, giving the responsibility for monitoring the legislation and enforcing compliance with it to the new pensions board as part of their overall remit to regulate occupational pension schemes. They recognised a number of advantages in this approach; for example, it would be easier to achieve and maintain consistency between all the regulations and rules envisaged for occupational pension schemes. It would ensure more effective monitoring and enforcement of compliance by all occupational pension schemes, thereby reducing the incidence of disputes in this regard between members and employers and-or the trustees of the schemes. The board did, however, envisage some role for the equality officers of the Labour Court.
The board recommended that there should be procedures for the resolution of disputes between employers and members as distinct from trustees and members, including provision for protecting members against retaliatory dismissal. Many such disputes could involve issues which would not entirely concern pension scheme rules such as indirect discrimination in relation to access to a scheme. They would also consider that the statutory board would not have the competence to deal with cases involving retaliatory dismissal of employees by an employer. Accordingly, they recommended these matters should be the concern of the Labour Court but that the court should, if requested by either party to a dispute, seek a ruling from the statutory board on questions concerning the interpretation or application of the legislation. Following publication of the report, my Department discussed the feasibility of implementing this recommendation with members of the Labour Court. The overall conclusion of these discussions was that this arrangement would not work in practice. In particular serious problems could arise where bodies differed in their interpretation of the legislation. It was concluded, therefore, that a more appropriate solution would be for the board to determine disputes concerning discriminatory provisions in the rules of pension schemes and the Labour Court to determine (a) disputes between employers and employees in relation to access to pension schemes — section 68 cases — and (b) disputes concerning other types of occupational pension or benefit schemes. The Senator asked me why we were taking the line and I think I have explained it fully.
Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 46, subsection (1), between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
"(c) award compensation of such amount as it thinks fit having regard to all the circumstances of the case,".
These amendments refer to the operation of the court and provide that in pursuance of a determination in relation to discrimination, a decision can be made. The rule of the scheme is referred to and complies with the principle of equal treatment. What is proposed here is that a power of the court would also be to award compensation of such amount as it thinks fit having regard to all the circumstances of the case. It seems a reasonable proposal and I wonder why the Minister will not provide that if the court finds that serious discrimination has taken place, compensation can also be awarded.
Amendment No. 18 provides that the penalty of £1,000 will be supplemented by a further fine not exceeding £100 for every day during which the offence is continued. Could the Minister comment on those points?
Amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 19 are related.
This amendment would, if adopted, provide for the award of compensation by the Labour Court to an aggrieved person following an appeal of a dispute to the court. A similar provision is contained in section 22 of the Employment Equality Act, 1977, in relation to disputes concerning discrimination in relation to access to the conditions of employment. However, no such provision is made in relation to equal pay disputes under the 1974 Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act. That Act provides that the Labour Court may, by order, direct the employer to do such things as will in the court's opinion result in the determination being implemented, that is provide the person concerned with equal pay. It is considered that a similar approach should be followed in this Bill in relation to benefits under an occupational scheme as applies in relation to equal pay.
Amendment No. 18 proposes the imposition of additional fines on an employer who has been convicted by the courts of failure to implement a Labour Court determination in relation to equal treatment disputes involving an occupational benefit scheme. The amount of the fine proposed is £100 for every day the offence is committed. A similar provision is contained in the Employment Equality Act, 1977, which provides for a fine of £100 on summary conviction only. The fines provided under this Bill for failure to comply with equal treatment requirements are far more onerous. They comprise a fine on summary conviction of up to £1,000 or up to one year imprisonment, or on conviction on indictment a fine of up to £10,000 or two years imprisonment. This level of fines should act as a real deterrent for employers in relation to non-compliance. As I said earlier, these fines were increased in the Dáil by amendment. The fines are more than adequate.
Is the House agreeable to take amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 19 together?
The Minister has not addressed amendment No. 19.
Is the Minister addressing amendment No. 19?
I did address amendment No. 19.
Amendment No. 19a is out of order. It is not relevant. It deals with taxation.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 50, paragraph (8) (1) (a), line 32, to delete "one" and substitute "three".
This amendment to the First Schedule relates to the ordinary members of the pension board. I propose that we delete "one shall be a trade union member" and substitute "three shall be trade union members". It is important that we have appropriate and proper representation on the board. We are talking about a pension board who would operate as a supervisory, monitoring and advisory body covering a large range of functions which are laid out here. They would be advising the Minister but would be dealing particularly with the supervision of all the pension schemes that are in operation.
Trade union members, workers and employees will be contributors. They are the people who will be paying the funds into those schemes. Therefore, it is appropriate that the representational body who are responsible would be very strongly represented. It is in the interest of the trade union movement that their members be fully and properly represented to ensure that nothing can go astray and that the assets of the members which are being held for the future are managed properly. I commend this amendment to the Minister.
I am quite surprised that this amendment was accepted as being in order. Had I thought a similar amendment would be in order I would have asked for a subparagraph (i) to include the Institute of Personal Management. During the Committee Stage debate on the Industrial Relations Bill I proposed that the membership of the Industrial Relations Commission be extended to nine members and this was ruled out on the basis that it would increase costs. Senator Costello's amendment would increase the costs to the Exchequer under paragraph 16 of the First Schedule. I accept that the amendment should be made and I welcome it. If I thought that such an amendment was acceptable——
It is a different Bill, Senator.
But the principle is surely the same.
No, it is not.
I fail to understand that, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I take your ruling, but a State or semi-State board is paid for out of the coffers of the State. The only thing I can conclude from this, is that industry, through the levies on funds, will pay for the pensions board, and I would totally object to that.
This is a balanced board that is the result of a balanced discussion. There is one trade union member, and one employers member nominated by the organisations concerned, as well as a number of people who represent the various professional interests. Everyone accepts that these very important interests should be represented. We had a lot of other representations for extra members but decided to keep the board as tight as we can.
My amendment in the Dáil following discussions provided scope to appoint three additional representative members. I will certainly consider the various representations which have been made both in the Dáil and the Seanad when it comes to completing the 12 ordinary members of the board. That will leave some scope for considering other possibilities.
I welcome the Minister's reply and thank him for committing himself during the Second Stage debate to considering the inclusion of a representative of the Institute of Personnel Management on the board. The Minister must accept that such a representative would be an asset, bringing the skills of personnel practitioners to bear on the deliberations of the board.
I certainly will bear the Senator's suggestions in mind in that regard.
Would the Minister be a little bit more explicit. Will he bear in mind my suggestion?
I will certainly bear the Senator's proposals in mind. I have noted what he said and I will keep them in mind.
I thank Senators for their contributions to this debate which has enabled me to put some important elements on record. I thank Senators for the quality of their contributions. I will certainly bear in mind the points they have raised in relation to regulations and other matters.
Ba mhaith liom i dtosach buíochas a ghlacadh leis an Aire. Thug sé Bille breá os comhair an Tí inniu agus sílim go raibh fáilte ag chuile thaobh den Teach roimh an mBille. Gabhaim buíochas speisialta leis os rud é gur tháinig sé féin go pearsanta go dtí an Seanad leis an mBille agus chaith sé an lá ar fad agus bhí sé ann i gcaitheamh na díospóireachta uilig.
Ba mhaith liom chomh maith buíochas a ghlacadh leis an bhfoireann a chuir comhairle air, Tim Quirke, Gerry Mangan agus John Hines. Is dlí toirtiúil atá ann agus ba mhaith liom chomhghairdeas a dheánamh leis an Aire as an míniú iomlán cuimsitheach a thug sé ar an gcéad dul síos ar an Dara Céim agus ina dhiaidh sin ar na leasuithe a bhí molta.
I congratulate the Minister on this fine historic legislation introduced in the House today which has now passed all Stages. This is very important legislation to protect the citizen, ensuring equality of treatment, and in setting up a pension board. I thank the Opposition for their contributions and for the positive way they approached this Bill. It might not be heralded by trumpets in public, but it is something that our citizens will be grateful for in years to come. Arís ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas freisin a ghlacadh leis an Aire. I compliment the Minister on the way he handled the Bill here today, for the time he gave us and for his comprehensive replies. As Senator Ó Cuív said, it is an historic and important Bill. I am pleased to have contributed to this Bill and to the Industrial Relations Bill last week, both of which will have profound effects on the future relationship between employers and employees. The Minister is to be commended for the detail of the Bill and for bringing it to fruition during the session. The Bill was debated comprehensively and in great detail and did not require the guillotine to finish it this evening.
I also thank the Minister. It certainly has been a long day and he was here for a number of hours before he came into the Chamber when we were discussing the guillotine. We may have abolished the death penalty but we brought back the guillotine this week.
I am delighted that the Minister is here. It is very important for the Members of this House to see the relevant Minister here rather than somebody else. This is a fine Bill — I praised it on Second Stage. It is historic legislation and will be seen in the years to come as making a major contribution in the area of pensions. I congratulate the Minister for the work he has put into it, the courteous way he dealt with it here today and the clarity of his answers. I also congratulate his advisers and staff in the Department on preparing such good, comprehensive legislation.
We look forward to a similar input tomorrow from the Minister.
I would remind the two previous speakers that we are dealing with an Allocation of Time motion.
What is the difference?
I would like, as Leader of the House, to restate the vote of thanks to the Minister for Social Welfare and his officials. I listened attentively to most of the debate on the monitor and I was very impressed. It is obvious that the Minister has a great feel for the Bill and performed excellently in the House. I also thank and congratulate the Senators who took part in the debate.