Social Welfare Consolidation Bill 2005: Report and Final Stages.

Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Seanad for passing this legislation. The Senators opposite conducted a good debate on Second Stage and I accepted a number of the issues they raised. I hope to reflect as many of them as I can by means of the budget or in subsequent legislation.

I remind the House of the unique nature of this legislation. The last consolidation legislation was enacted in 1993 and the Bill before us, which with 364 sections is the largest to date, puts the legislation of the past 12 years in a single accessible document. Since the passing of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993, 18 social welfare Acts have been passed by the Oireachtas and it is important that these Acts are put in an accessible format.

In response to requests by Members, we intend to publish a guide to this Bill which will express the contents of the legislation in lay person's language. That will prove useful to Deputies, Senators, councillors and the general public because it will specifically address the consolidation of earlier legislation.

I acknowledge the work of my officials with regard to legal services and advice on this legislation. It is clear from the size of the Bill that a significant effort was devoted to it. We are indebted to the people who addressed the many technical and legal aspects of this legislation over the past number of years. Although it was not the most glamorous work in the legislative calendar, it was important. I also thank staff of the Bills Office and the Seanad. This legislation is unique and I am grateful to the House for its prompt passage.

I too want to thank staff for their work on this consolidation Bill. It was a major undertaking and I appreciate the tedious work they endured while drafting the legislation. It is important that past Acts have been consolidated into one document and the fact that this was not done since 1993 indicates the level of work involved. I also welcome the publication of any documents that would make the social welfare code more accessible and easy to understand. It will also help Members to provide information to the public.

While I want the Minister to implement a number of measures in the upcoming budget, I wish to highlight the qualified adult allowance. I ask him to improve the lot of people in receipt of that allowance, many of whom are women, who have fallen into poverty after retirement. A commitment was made in Sustaining Progress to increase the non-contributory payment and I hope the Minister will make the necessary provisions in the budget. That would be welcome and would assist many people.

By paying child dependant allowance directly to the qualified adults concerned, the recipients would be given a sense of independence. The fact that few people have opted for direct payments does not imply that many do not want to avail of this system because difficulties may arise within relationships when people choose direct payments. It would be more helpful if such a payment system is made mandatory.

The Government should meet the commitments it made on child benefit. Many families believe it has fallen behind and that benefits should be increased beyond the promises in the programme for Government.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Minister for bringing this Bill forward. I am happy to support it but I ask the Minister to consider the issues I have raised.

I thank the Minister, Deputy Brennan, and his officials for drafting this legislation. It is important that Acts are consolidated and that a layman's guide is published. As the legislation does not stop here but will be received by a wider audience on conclusion of the parliamentary process, its language should be user friendly and understandable.

One of my constituents suffered severe depression and was urged by his family to seek social welfare payments. Last July, he applied for disability benefit but was refused, after which he applied for disability allowance. The person in question required a great deal of encouragement to conquer his illness, which has affected him for a number of years. His suffering has become more acute since the beginning of this year and, as a result, he has to rely on his family for support. However, his second application was also rejected.

Great courage was required of that individual to visit the social welfare inspector and his doctor, who were not understanding of his disposition, to say the least. I am personally involved in this case, which is now being dealt with by the appeals officer in D'Olier House. It is a sad day when somebody who suffers from such an illness finds the doors of the system closed in his or her face. I have been in contact with the Department of Social and Family Affairs and have received acknowledgements on the matter. The future is bleak for those with this illness but no humane person would allow such a situation to develop. I am aware that the Department is large and deals with many applications but I am concerned that similar difficulties may be inflicted on other people who lack self-confidence.

Thankfully, a medical review of my constituent revealed that he had recovered slightly from his eight months of psychological torment. However, it is unfortunate that, because of bureaucracy, his case was not processed. Checks and balances must exist to ensure that social welfare fraud is investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted but his case was genuine. I have requested an oral hearing so that I may also attend in order to put forward a plea on behalf of my constituent. From a policy point of view, this situation should not be allowed to recur because it is not at all uplifting for the people concerned.

I thank the Minister for attending the House and his officials for their work on the Bill, which must have required the burning of a lot of midnight oil.

On behalf of this side of the House I thank the Minister and his officials for all their work on this legislation. I also acknowledge the fine contributions made during all the debates on this issue, much of which the Minister has taken on board. While he always seems to listen to what is said in this House he does not always do everything we ask. At least he listens and makes some amendments and improvements.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs touches all of us from the minute a child is born to the time of one's death, whether for birth certificates, death certificates, social welfare——

Is the Senator including an insurance policy?

I certainly am not. It is an all-invasive Department in terms of the lives of everybody in the country. A consolidation Bill such as the one before the House makes life much easier for all involved, whether as an employer to ensure one is providing the correct rights and entitlements under maternity protection, adoption leave, carer's benefit and so on or in any other capacity. It is a fine piece of work. We look forward with great interest to the layman's guide to the legislation because those of us who are laymen, and that is where I count myself, often find it difficult to read through the legislation and understand everything.

It is important in the future that the Minister considers the necessity of translating the legislation into other languages. We will find more and more that many of those coming into the social welfare offices throughout the country are EU nationals for whom English is not their mother tongue. There is a huge number of Polish people in Galway and Leitrim and there may be many Africans. Perhaps this is an area in which we can set the standard in regard to how we frame our information. I thank the Minister for his contribution and that of his officials to this legislation.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 11.45 a.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.