Social Welfare Consolidation Bill 2005: Committee Stage.
As members have been notified, the Standing Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills meets today to consider the Social Welfare Consolidation Bill 2005. The Bill consolidates enactments relating to social welfare and has been so certified by the Attorney General. No new law has been introduced in the Bill, nor is it permissible to introduce new law by way of amendment on Committee Stage.
The joint committee has been empowered by order of the Dáil and Seanad, passed on Tuesday, 25 October 2005, to dispose of more than one section by any one question. If members agree, I propose to use this power so that the Bill may proceed as efficiently as possible. Is it agreed that where no amendments are tabled to an individual section, they may be taken in groups, so as to assist the efficient passage of the Bill? Agreed.
I now call on the Minister for a brief opening comment.
I am pleased to bring the Social Welfare Consolidation Bill 2005 before the committee this morning. As the Chairman pointed out, it is unique because social welfare legislation has only been consolidated on two previous occasions, in 1981 and 1993. This Bill is the largest to date, with 336 sections as well as various schedules.
The purpose of a consolidation Bill is to pull together statute law on a particular subject. The only amendments we are permitted to make are those designed to remove ambiguities and inconsistencies, to substitute modern for obsolete or inconvenient mechanisms or achieve uniformity of expression or adaptation of existing law and practice. I propose to introduce a number of mainly technical amendments to ensure that the Bill's contents are up-to-date and that they are as relevant as possible. Substantive amendments, as the Chairman pointed out, cannot be made to the legislation. A consolidation Bill must be certified by the Attorney General. I confirm for the committee that the Attorney General has so certified.
People might ask why such legislation is being introduced if the law is not to be changed. The answer is fairly obvious. The primary legislation is currently contained in the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993 but it also covers a further 26 enactments. There have been 26 social welfare enactments since 1993. In view of the extent of those amendments during the past 12 years, this initiative is appropriate. The intention is to put it all into a single document. It is very important that the social welfare code is easily accessible for people.
Each week, more than 960,000 welfare payment supports, which directly benefit almost 1.5 million men, women and children, issue from my Department. In addition, each month, over 545,000 child benefit payments are made in respect of over 1 million children. It is critical that the statutory provisions that underpin the range of schemes should be as accessible as possible. Since the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993, 18 Social Welfare Acts have been passed by the Oireachtas. These include significant enhancements for carers, farmers, older people, lone parents, widows, widowers and people with disabilities. A programme of specific and targeted interventions, which has proven very successful, has been developed and implemented.
I consider it important that the public at large understands what we are doing. I, therefore, intend to publish a guide to this Bill, when enacted, which will describe its provisions in as simple and straightforward a way as possible. While the guide is not intended to be a legal interpretation of the Bill, I think it will go some considerable way to assist the layperson in understanding what is involved. We have a responsibility, especially in the area of social welfare, to make the legislation and the rules and procedures understandable to people.
There are 13 parts to the Bill. Part 1 contains the Short Title to the Bill. Part 2 contains the provisions relating to social insurance. The chapters in this part cover the social insurance fund, the insurability provisions relating to 2.6 million employees, self-employed persons, voluntary contributors and optional contributors. This part contains the provisions in respect of the range of social insurance-based schemes, primarily the short-term schemes such as disability benefit, maternity benefit, health and safety benefit, adoptive benefit, unemployment benefit, carer's benefit and occupational injuries benefit. In addition, it also provides for the long-term schemes including old age contributory pension, retirement pension, invalidity pension, widow's and widower's contributory pension, as well as orphan's contributory allowance. It further contains the provisions governing treatment benefit, bereavement and widowed parent grants.
Part 3 contains the main provisions regarding the Department's social assistance schemes. Unemployment assistance, pre-retirement allowance, old age non-contributory pension, blind pension, widow's non-contributory pension, orphan's pension, one-parent family payment, carer's allowance, disability allowance and farm assist are all provided for in Part 3. The primary legislative provisions underpinning the supplementary welfare allowance scheme are also found in this part of the Bill.
Parts 4 to 6, inclusive, provide for payments under child benefit, respite care grant and family income supplement, respectively, and Part 7 provides for the continued payment for qualified children schemes. Part 8 provides for the payment of island allowance to recipients of certain payments from EU member states. Part 9 contains the general provisions governing social welfare payments and insurability, including those provisions relating to claims and payments, the appointment and duties of social welfare inspectors in addition to provisions relating to offences, penalties and legal proceedings under the code.
Part 10 contains the provisions governing decisions and appeals regarding social welfare and the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, while Part 11 contains the provisions governing overpayment, repayment and suspension of payments. Part 12 contains the provisions regarding liability to maintain the family and related measures such as payments under attachment of earnings orders. Part 13 contains the necessary provisions relating to the commencement, repeals and continuance provisions of the Bill.
There are seven Schedules to the Bill. Schedule 1relates to employment, excepted employment and excepted self-employment for social insurance purposes. Schedule 2, which is in tabular format, sets out the range of social insurance benefit payment rates as provided for in Part 2. Schedule 3 contains the rules on the calculation of means for social assistance schemes as provided for under Part 3. Schedule 4 sets out the range of social assistance payment rates. Schedule 5 contains the list of bodies specified to use the personal public service number as a unique identifier in accessing public services. Schedule 6 contains the provisions which have not, to date, been commenced. Schedule 7 contains the list of enactments it is proposed will be repealed by the Bill.
This Bill, when enacted, will be of great benefit to the members of this committee and to everyone else with an interest in the area of social welfare. I would like to take this opportunity to thank, in particular, the Parliamentary Counsel in the Office of the Attorney General and officials in my Department. I have come to see how consolidation Bills are put together. The amount of work done is awesome and the amount of detail involved is tremendous. The officials are to be commended in doing all of that on top of their daily work load. I salute those officials who took many weeks, months and years to bring us this far. It is not headline work but it is critical for the thousands who depend on welfare as a lifeline.
Before we begin, is the grouping of amendments and Schedules, which has been circulated to members, agreed? Agreed.
Section 1 agreed to.
Amendment Nos.1, 2 and the amendment to amendment No. 2 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No.1:
In page 27, subsection (1), line 13, to delete "either".
This amendment removes the word "either", as it is considered unnecessary. Its removal brings enhanced clarity to the structure of the provision.
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 27, subsection (1), lines 14 and 15, to delete all words from and including "the" in line 14 down to and including "Overseas" in line 15 and substitute "Development Co-Operation Ireland".
The organisation known as the Agency for Personnel Services Overseas appears to have been subsumed into Development Co-operation Ireland. My amendment brings some formality to that fact.
I move the amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 2:
To delete "Development Co-operation Ireland" and substitute "the Department of Foreign Affairs".
I thank Deputy Penrose for raising this matter. My officials have made inquiries with the Department of Foreign Affairs and it has been confirmed that the function of APSO regarding the placement of volunteers overseas ceased with effect from January 2004 and has become part of DCI, which is a unit of the Department. Accordingly, the correct reference is to the statutory body itself, which is the Department of Foreign Affairs. I propose an adjustment to Deputy Penrose's amendment to provide for that.
Amendment to amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 2, as amended, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 30, subsection (3), line 3, to delete "for the purposes of this paragraph" and substitute "satisfies one of the following conditions".
The purpose of substituting the phrase in question is to clarify the additional conditions attaching to the definition of a qualified child.
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 30, subsection (6)(c), lines 36 to 42, to delete all words from and including “subsection—” in line 36 down to and including “pension)” in line 42 and substitute the following:
"subsection, ‘institution of education' has the meaning given to it by section 148(2)”.
The definition of relevant payment already appears in subsection (4) on page 30. This amendment provides for the removal of the unnecessary repetition of the term.
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 31, subsection (7)(b)(ii), line 12, after “dissolution” to insert “in or”.
The Minister stated that consolidating Acts is a major achievement and I would also like to compliment his staff and the staff of the Parliamentary Counsel in the Office of the Attorney General for the work they have done. It is extremely important for the general public as well as for legal people. As divorce was not available in this jurisdiction when the 1993 legislation was enacted, all reference to divorce recognised in the State refers, by definition, to divorces outside Ireland which the State recognised. The legislation clearly requires amendment to refer to divorces granted in the State.
The current structural provision is clear. It states that the dissolution of the marriage must be recognised as valid by the State. It is also clear that there is no particular geographical boundary within which such a dissolution must have occurred. For this reason, there is little merit in inserting the phrase proposed as it does not add, in any qualitative way, to the provision. The advice I have received is that the Deputy's concern is addressed by the key phrase "must be recognised as valid by the State".
I am satisfied with the Minister's response.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 3 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 37, subsection (4)(b), lines 3 and 4, to delete all words from and including “and” in line 3 down to and including “determine” in line 4 and substitute the following:
in the manner and at the times the Minister may determine".
This amendment corrects a formatting error which occurred during printing and ensures that the phrase "in the manner and at the times the Minister may determine" applies to paragraphs (a) and (b).
Amendment agreed to.
Section 7, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 8 to 12, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 42, subsection (11), line 12, to delete "such" and substitute "any".
The amendment substitutes the more modern word "any" for the obsolete form "such".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 13, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 14 to 34, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 55, subsection (2)(b), line 12, after “on” to insert “his or her”.
Legislation previously used the masculine form for descriptive purposes and this was interpreted as referring to both genders. As part of the consolidation process, this form of reference was removed and a gender neutral format adopted. Members will have noticed references to both masculine and feminine forms in the Bill. The amendment corrects an instance of omission to use this form.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 35, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 36 to 46, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 64, subsection (5)(c)(ii)(II), lines 29 to 31, to delete all words from and including “confinement:” in line 29 down to and including “day” in line 31 and substitute the following:
but if the beneficiary dies, the benefit shall not be payable for any subsequent day".
This amendment also corrects a formatting error which occurred during printing and ensures that the phrase "but if the beneficiary dies, the benefit shall not be payable for any subsequent day" applies to the entire paragraph.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 47, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 48 to 57, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 71, subsection (4)(b)(ii), lines 11 to 13, to delete all words from and including “death,” in line 11 down to and including “day” in line 13 and substitute the following:
but where the beneficiary dies, the benefit shall not be payable for any subsequent day".
The amendment corrects a formatting error which occurred during printing and ensures that the phrase "but where the beneficiary dies, the benefit shall not be payable for any subsequent day" applies to the entire subsection.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 58, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 59 to 81, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 11 in the name of Deputy Penrose proposes a substantive change of statute law and has been ruled out of order. The Deputy has been notified to this effect.
I am somewhat surprised by the ruling. The reason for the difference of wording between sections 81 and 82 is unclear. Section 82, as worded, appears to imply that a woman would be disqualified, whereas a man would not be disqualified. That is the reason I tabled the amendment.
I will give the Deputy the details of the note I received regarding the amendment. Amendment No. 11 seeks to delete section 82(7) and replace it with a new subsection applying section 81(3) and (4) to a pension payable under section 82. Section 81 deals with death benefit for widows and widowers, while section 82 deals with death benefit for parents. Section 82(7) applies specifically to a pension payable to a woman. The effect of the amendment would be to apply the conditions for receipt of death benefit under one scheme to the receipt of the benefit under a different scheme. In doing so, it would extend the category of recipient for death benefit under section 82 to include men. The amendment is in the nature of a substantive amendment to statute law and is, therefore, judged to be out of order.
Amendment No. 11 not moved.
Sections 82 to 108, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 12 in the name of Deputy Penrose has been ruled out of order because it constitutes a substantive amendment to statute law and must, therefore, be judged to be out of order. Amendment No. 12 seeks to amend section 109 dealing with the conditions of receipt of old age pension by deleting the phrase "this Act or the National Health Insurance Acts 1911 to 1952" and replacing it with the phrase "the National Health Insurance Acts 1911 to 1952 or Acts replacing those Acts including this Act". The effect of the amendment would be to extend the conditions for receipt of the pension to include provisions of additional legislation.
I am somewhat confused by the ruling, although I bow to the superior knowledge of officials — of whom I know one or two — working in the Office of the Attorney General. The wording of the provision is odd in that it refers to the former National Health Insurance Acts and this legislation, while omitting to mention the 1981 or 1993 consolidation Acts. The amendment proposes to insert a more general wording which would incorporate both these Acts. I appreciate the reason for the advice given to the Chairman and do not propose to cause any difficulty. Will the Office of the Attorney General examine my submission before Report Stage to ascertain whether the provision needs belt and braces tightening? Although I am bound by the Chairman's ruling and do not dispute it, given the technical advice available to him, I wish to ensure that this provision incorporates the 1981 and 1983 consolidation Acts. The current wording is somewhat odd. I ask that my amendment be noted.
We have noted the Deputy's comments.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.
Sections 109 to 118, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 117, subsection (3)(b), lines 11 to13, to delete all words from and including“312 days,“ in line 11 down to and including “260” ” in line 13 and substitute the following:
subsection (1)(a) shall be read as if ‘156’ were substituted for ‘260’”.
Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 correct two formatting errors which occurred during printing and ensure that the phrases, "subsection (1)(a) shall be read as if ‘156’ were substituted for ‘260’”.” and “subsection (1)(a) shall be read as if ‘208’ were substituted for ‘260’”.”, apply to paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsections (3) and (4), respectively.
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 117, subsection (4)(b), lines 21 and 22, to delete all words from and including “312 days,” in line 21 down to and including “260”” in line 22 and substitute the following:
subsection (1)(a) shall be read as if ‘208’ were substituted for ‘260’”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 119, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 120 to 151, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 152 be deleted."
Section 152 carried forward from 1992 a measure that provided for the integration of the single woman's allowance with the pre-retirement allowance scheme. As the provision is now spent, this amendment provides for the deletion of the section from the consolidation Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 153 to 178, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 30 to 32, inclusive, are consequential to amendment No. 15 and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 146, before section 179, but in Chapter 7, to insert the following new section:
"179.—(1) In this section—
‘Act of 1993' means the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993;
‘Act of 1996' means the Social Welfare Act 1996;
‘relevant payment' means—
(a) deserted wife’s benefit under Chapter 18 of Part II of the Act of 1993,
(b) deserted wife’s allowance under Chapter 7 of Part III of the Act of 1993, or
(c) prisoner’s wife’s allowance under Chapter 8 of Part III of the Act of 1993, as the case may require.
(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of Part V (relating to one-parent family payment) of the Act of 1996, a woman who, immediately before the commencement of section 19 of that Act, is in receipt of a relevant payment, the said relevant payment shall be payable for the duration of the woman's continuous entitlement to the relevant payment in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1993 and regulations made under the Act of 1993.
(3) Where, immediately before the commencement of section 19 (relating to repeals) of the Act of 1996, a woman whose claim for a relevant payment has not been finally determined, and who would, but for the commencement of the said section, have become entitled to the said relevant payment, the relevant payment shall be payable for the duration of the woman's continuous entitlement to the relevant payment in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1993 and regulations made under the Act of 1993.
(4) Notwithstanding the provisions of Part V of the Act of 1996, where a woman has ceased or ceases to be entitled to benefit under Chapter 18 of Part II of the Act of 1993 by virtue of no longer having at least one qualified child residing with her, she shall, on reaching the age of 40 years, where but for the said Part V she would be entitled to the said benefit, again become and continue to be entitled to the said benefit, for the duration of her continuous entitlement thereto, in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1993 and regulations made under the Act of 1993.
(5) In the case of a person to whom subsection (2), (3) or (4) applies and who is disqualified for receipt of a relevant payment by virtue of section 251(1)(a) or (14), where but for that disqualification she would be entitled to the said relevant payment, she shall again become entitled to the said relevant payment at the expiration of the disqualification in any case where the period of disqualification does not exceed 12 months.
(6) Notwithstanding the provisions of Part V of the Act of 1996, in the case of a woman who—
(a) was in receipt of deserted wife’s allowance under Chapter 5 of Part III of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1981 and transferred from that scheme to the lone parent’s allowance scheme under Chapter 5A (inserted by section 12 of the Social Welfare Act 1990) of Part III of the said Act following the commencement of that Chapter in 1990, and
(b) ceases or has ceased to be entitled to one-parent family payment under Chapter 9 of Part III of the Act of 1993 by virtue of no longer having at least one qualified child residing with her,
she shall, where but for Part V of the Act of 1996 she would be entitled to a relevant payment under subsection (1)(b), become and continue to be entitled to the said payment, for the duration of her continuous entitlement thereto, in accordance with the Act of 1993 and regulations made under the Act of 1993.”.
Regarding amendment No. 15, the Social Welfare Act 1996 provided for the introduction of a new one-parent family payment that would subsume the variety of schemes applicable to persons rearing children alone. While that Act repealed the provisions governing the deserted wife's benefit, deserted wife's allowance and prisoner's wife's allowance schemes, a saver clause provided for ongoing payment to certain persons for the duration of their continuous entitlement to the scheme.
The Bill, as initiated, provided for the continuation of the special provision by ensuring that the saver clause was exempted from the repeal of the 1996 Act, as provided for in Schedule 7. However, in line with my commitment to regulatory reform and in the interests of transparency, I have decided that the text of the saver provisions should be cited in the main body of the Bill. This amendment, therefore, provides for the insertion of the text in the relevant chapter. The remaining three amendments are consequential on the insertion into the text of the Bill of the provisions allowing for the continued payment of the deserted wife's benefit, deserted wife's allowance and prisoner's wife's allowance and provide for the necessary adjustments in Schedule 7 to the Bill.
I strongly support that measure because it is absolutely critical that it be put beyond any doubt that the saver remains part of the legislative framework. By the sin of omission, we could have created a legal nightmare — a quagmire that would have caused extreme difficulties. I commend the Parliamentary Counsel and the Minister's staff for ensuring that this was included. The consequential amendments, as Deputy Stanton informed me, are absolutely critical to ensuring compatibility in the Bill. They follow the insertion of this saver amendment regarding payment of the deserted wife's benefit and so on. I certainly strongly support this.
I acknowledge that Deputy Seán Ryan alerted us, in very strong terms, to this issue in the Dáil.
That is a great hobby of his. I assure the Minister that the Deputy will be back in contact with him in respect of the budget.
I acknowledge his input, which was important to us.
Amendment agreed to.
Sections 179 to 194, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 16 in the name of Deputy Penrose is out of order. He has been notified that the same is true of amendment No. 17, since it would constitute a substantive change to statute law.
Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 sought to amend section 195, which deals with the conditions governing receipt of supplementary welfare allowance. The section allows for a deciding officer to determine that a person is not entitled to supplementary welfare allowance, with some exceptions. The amendments sought to insert a qualifying phrase into the section, the effect of which would be to restrict further the categories of person who may be refused supplementary welfare allowance. The amendments are in the nature of substantive amendments to statute law and are therefore judged out of order.
As the Chairman said, this section allows for the introduction of conditions governing receipt of supplementary welfare allowance. However, the draft allows for employment-related conditions to be attached to all applicants rather than only to those capable of work, which our amendment sought to insert. Contrary to the interpretation in the legal advice available to the Chairman, I was trying to loosen the matter rather than tighten it. As an accountant, the Chairman will be well aware of this situation. From my perspective, it allows employment-related conditions to be attached to all rather than affecting those capable of work. I request that the draftsmen consider whether my submission is right in the matter. I accept that my interpretation could be wrong. The Chairman's advice was that I might be going the other way but that was certainly never my intention. It is a matter of interpretation and shows why there are judges. Lawyers can make a case for either side and I would like to ensure that it is not as restrictive as it appears. However, the Chairman is saying that the insertions might lead to a restriction.
I accept that the amendments have been ruled out of order but I ask that my comments be noted.
The Deputy's comments will be noted.
Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.
Sections 195 to 202, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 157, paragraph (b), lines 30 to 33, to delete all words from and including “thereof” in line 30 down to and including “allowance” in line 33 and substitute the following:
"thereof, had been paid during that period, the excess supplementary welfare allowance shall be treated as payment on account of that allowance".
This amendment corrects a formatting error that occurred during printing and ensures that the phrase "the excess supplementary welfare allowance shall be treated as payment on account of that allowance" applies to paragraphs (a) and (b).
Amendment agreed to.
Section 203, as amended, agreed to.
Section 204 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 158, paragraph (c), lines 19 to 21, to delete all words from and including "Executive," in line 19 down to and including "payment" in line 21 and substitute the following:
the Executive or deciding officer may request that competent institution to deduct the amount of the excess from the relevant payment".
This amendment corrects a formatting error that occurred during printing and ensures that the phrase "the Executive or deciding officer may request that competent institution to deduct the amount of the excess from the relevant payment" applies to paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).
Amendment agreed to.
Section 205, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 20 in the name of Deputy Penrose is out of order. The amendment seeks to amend section 206, dealing with the burial of certain categories of persons by the Health Service Executive, by deleting "may" and inserting "shall, unless it is satisfied that other arrangements for burial will be made", thereby imposing a legislative imperative on the executive to provide, making the amendment a substantive one to statute law.
I have no doubt about that interpretation and that was why I proposed it. It is not clear why the HSE may, rather than shall, be required to bury those who would not otherwise be buried. The Chairman may say that such things would not nowadays happen in Ireland but there is always someone at the end of the line who might not have anyone or any means. It should be a statutory duty to ensure that it happen. I accept that it is always done. In the event, however, that someone gets up one morning with a flea in his ear and refuses to do so because the person had assets of his or her own but did not provide for the burial, this provision is necessary. For various health and environmental reasons, that should not arise. I accept the interpretation on this occasion.
Amendment No. 20 not moved.
Sections 206 to 208, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 209 be deleted."
Section 209 provided for certain arrangements in regard to supplementary welfare allowance that were necessary during the transition from the public assistance authorities to the establishment of the health boards on foot of the Social Welfare (Supplementary Welfare Allowances) Act 1975. As these provisions are now spent, this amendment provides for the deletion of this section.
Question put and agreed to.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 160, lines 3 to 8, to delete subsection (1).
The Minister has tabled an amendment to delete the section but we will deal with Deputy Penrose's amendment first.
I propose the deletion of subsection (1) because it allows the Minister to amend the legislation by order. I am strongly of the view that this is unconstitutional and it worries me when Ministers are permitted to amend legislation by order. Statutory instruments and other types of secondary legislation are laid before the House without discussion and can be to used to effect provisions never intended by the Legislature when it debated the primary legislation. In addition, this subsection refers to pre-1977 legislation which is surely well tested by now. That is probably one of the reasons the Minister now proposes to delete the section.
The Deputy referred to statutory instruments and legislation by order of the Minister. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, I have established it, as a matter of form, that the committee receives all relevant statutory instruments in sufficient time to allow us to respond. I understand this is not the common practice for other committees but it should be.
I agree. I notice the departmental officials are writing furiously.
It took some effort to establish this practice but I now insist that all such secondary legislation is passed to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service.
It is an issue that has been raised by my colleagues on other occasions and one that is likely to explode some day.
I do not contend that all Governments or Ministers are guilty in this regard. I am not pointing any fingers.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question, "That section 210 be deleted," put and declared carried.
Section 210 deleted.
Sections 211 to 250, inclusive, agreed to.
Deputy Penrose has been notified that his amendments Nos. 22 to 24, inclusive, would constitute a substantive change in statute law. They seek to amend section 251, which deals with disqualification for benefits as a result of absence from the State or imprisonment, by deleting reference to penal servitude. While this is an obsolete expression and a punishment to which people are no longer sentenced, there are still some persons in custody who were sentenced to penal servitude prior to the removal of this sentence from use. I use the word "sentence" in the grammatical rather than the imprisonment sense. Removal of these references could, therefore, result in a change in the existing law by allowing such prisoners to qualify for benefits.
This poses a question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform as to how many such prisoners exist. I am amazed by this because I believed there was no prospect of anyone being imprisoned under such a sentence. It is an anachronism. We should be grateful there is no longer any such punishment as servitude for life. However, I accept the Chairman's point.
Amendments Nos. 22 to 24, inclusive, not moved.
Sections 251 to 253, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 in the name of Deputy Penrose are out of order because they seek to amend section 254, subsections (5) and (6), by adding a reference to subsection (1)(e) in each case. The effect of these amendments would be to apply the penalties outlined in subsections (5) and (6) to persons guilty of an offence under subsection (1)(e) as well as those under subsection (1)(d). This would involve a substantive change to the statute law.
I understood that offences under subsections (1)(d) and (1)(e) are similar. It is illogical that a person guilty under one should be tried on indictment while a person guilty under the other is summarily tried. The thrust of the amendments is to ensure both are treated in the same way. If the offences are the same, why is the treatment different?
That is my point. It is somewhat surprising.
I will provide Deputy Penrose with my speaking notes after the meeting to allow him examine the issue further. I have been given advice that these amendments are out of order and I am proceeding on that basis.
Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 not moved.
Sections 254 to 285, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 27 in the name of Deputy Penrose is out of order. The Deputy is having no luck with his amendments.
This amendment proposes to amend section 286 by replacing the term "by way of benefit" with that of "under this Act". It is not clear why benefits but not allowances are disregarded for the purposes of calculating means under the Debtors (Ireland) Act 1872. Why is there a different purpose in regard to the calculation of means in that benefits are disregarded but allowances are included?
Amendment No. 27 seeks to amend section 286, which deals with the assessment of means for the purpose of the Debtors (Ireland) Act 1872, by deleting the phrase "by way of benefit" and inserting "under this Act". Benefit is defined under section 242 and it is this definition to which the wording of this section applies. The effect of this amendment would be to redefine the sums not to be included in calculating a person's means. To include some payments not currently included in the definition of benefit in section 242 would result in a substantive change in statute law.
Amendment No. 27 not moved.
Sections 286 to 325, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 217, subsection (1)(a), line 24, after “section 325,” to insert “of entitlement”.
This section confers powers to conduct reviews in regard to the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. The purpose of the amendment is to clarify that it is entitlement to the allowance rather than the allowance itself which is subject to review.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 326, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 327 to 361, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 29 in the name of Deputy Penrose is out of order. It seeks to amend the reference to the Interpretation Act 1937 in section 362(2) to read "Interpretation Act 2005".
The Interpretation Act 1937 was replaced by the Interpretation Act 2005, enacted but not yet commenced. The reference to the 1937 Act is replaced by the reference to the 2005 Act. There is a possibility that the provisions of section 362 would be in doubt in the period between enactment of this legislation and the commencement of the Interpretation Act 2005. In any event, the Interpretation Act 2005 replaces the Interpretation Act 1937 and the amendment thereof is a substantive change. It is a timing issue. The Deputy is ahead of himself on this.
I am. I thought the Interpretation Act 2005 had been commenced. The Chairman is correct in that the amendment seeks to update the reference to include the new Act. I urge that the new Act be commenced. Why enact legislation if it is not to be commenced, particularly an interpretation Act which plays a significant role in assisting the Judiciary in its interpretation of all instruments which are passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas? I am somewhat taken aback by this. The Act is also an aid in helping people to understand their rights and I am shocked to learn that it has not yet come into force. I appeal, at this late stage, that the provisions of that Act be commenced.
The point is well made. However, the amendment is, for the reason I have outlined, out of order.
Amendment No. 29 not moved.
Sections 362 to 366, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedules 1 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 275, lines 48 to 52, column 3, to delete all words from and including "sections 1(1)" in line 48 down to and including "XI)" in line 52 and substitute the following:
"sections 1(1) and 2 (insofar as it relates to the definition of ‘the Act of 1995') and Parts X and XI)".
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 276, lines 8 to 12, column 3, to delete all words from and including "sections 1(1)" in line 8 down to and including "VIII)" in line 12 and substitute the following:
"sections 1(1) and 2 (insofar as it relates to the definition of ‘the Act of 1998') and Parts VII and VIII)".
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 276, lines 14 to 18, column 3, to delete all words from and including "sections 1(1)" in line 14 down to and including "35)" in line 18 and substitute the following:
"sections 1(1), 2 (insofar as it relates to the definition of ‘the Act of 1999'), 34 and 35)".
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the speedy passage of the Bill. I particularly thank Deputy Penrose who went to much trouble in ferreting out issues, many of which are legalistic, of importance to people and we will take careful note of them. I thank my officials for their hard work on the Bill.
I stayed quiet during the discussion on the Bill because I wanted to give it fair wind. Also, given the type of legislation it is there was not much point in tabling amendments that would not result in change. I agree with the Chairman that it would be useful if any regulations made by the Minister were brought before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs chaired by Deputy Penrose.
I welcome the Minister's suggestion that a document be produced which would make this legislation accessible to members of the public. It is important that is done and I encourage the Minister to do it as soon as possible. I also draw the Minister's attention to the need for Members of the House to receive from the Department updated pamphlets and leaflets regarding various schemes on a regular basis. It is important that each Member of the House should receive a number of these leaflets when they come on stream as they are useful for distribution to members of the public. Perhaps the Minister would arrange for each Member to receive a pack of the most up to date leaflets currently available and for their replacement as new ones come on stream. Many of the leaflets currently available are out of date and we are not informed when they are updated.
That is a good idea. I will do that.
I thank the Chairman and secretariat for the efficient manner in which the meeting was conducted. I also thank the Minister, his officials and parliamentary draftspeople for their work on this important legislation. It is easy for me, given I have a legal background, to understand this legislation. I have not been successful today in having my amendments accepted but that is because an interpretation has been placed on various matters by other lawyers. A lawyer will always argue his or her case. I appreciate from where they are coming and understand the rationale behind their decisions on various issues in terms of their impact in a substantive way on the legislation.
As Deputy Stanton stated, we were aware we would have little success having amendments accepted given this legislation merely consolidates earlier legislation. It is extremely important that legislation is accessible to the ordinary members of the public. The Minister has done a good job. It is important people's rights are set out as clearly as possible, particularly in relation to the deserted wife's allowance, an issue on which Deputy Ryan was particularly vocal. I concur with Deputy Stanton that it is important Members receive packs of leaflets as soon as they become available. It is often people like us who are the first port of call for the public. I congratulate the Minister and his team, which includes a number of people with legal nous, on producing this seminal legislation. I have had many battles with them in the past and look forward to working with them in December when their task will not be as easy.
I join in my colleagues' remarks. It is fair to say that social welfare has had its fair share of criticism in terms of who is eligible for what and so on, as reflected in the amount of legislation and regulations introduced. While the legislation must be tidied up legally to ensure it can stand up in law it must nevertheless be accessible to the public. We have all been frustrated by legislation down through the years, a frustration which arose in the main, though not entirely, from a lack of understanding and clarity. It is heartening to hear the Minister speak about transparency and to read about his recent initiatives to ensure that clarity will be given bearing in mind the need for some degree of legal language. It is important to reiterate that this should be done. The programme to make things clear, simple and accessible to those with low levels of literacy is extremely important. I commend the Minister on his ongoing efforts to have the provisions stated simply and clearly.
My second roll of thunder was stolen by Deputy Stanton. For politicians who are daily meeting recipients or those who are applying for social welfare, it is vital to be up to date with the package of what is available and who is eligible, in order that having spoken to people, we can send them away reasonably satisfied that we have clarified the case, rather than having them give grief to the Department as well as other colleagues in the constituency
I wish to be associated with the remarks of commendation to the Minister and the Department made by both my colleague. However, when I spoke on the Bill in the Dáil last week, I also praised the efforts of Deputy Penrose. I repeat it this morning in case it was not brought to his attention. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, I am happy to put on record that he is fair to all members.
There will always be a need for up-to-date information. I am not being patronising when I state that the Department of Social and Family Affairs is better than most Departments and if other Departments took a leaf from its book, we would be all be better informed. At the end of the day it is about looking after the client. That is not to say that clients do not come to us with problems. On Monday a young man came to me to discuss his dilemma. The Department claims that he is not looking for work, whereas he claims he is. This is an issue that comes up frequently.
During my contribution in the Dáil last week, I stated that the Minister, Deputy Brennan, had revolutionised the Department and I praise him and his staff. This morning the Minister gave credit to Deputy Penrose for his efforts on the legislation. There must be some brave soul in the Department who has been spending long days and nights going through every line of the Bill. We should not be afraid to applaud such effort.
I remain on the side of the Minister and wish him well. Unlike some of my colleagues on the left, I am very confident the Minister will deliver on the last Thursday and Friday of December.
At this stage we will adjourn
Not before we ask the Minister, Deputy Brennan, to intercede with the Taoiseach to ensure that preferment will be given to Deputy O'Connor at the next available opportunity.