Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 21 Jun 1995

Vol. 454 No. 7

Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill, 1995: Committee Stage.

Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

Section 1, the definition section, refers to the Social Welfare Act, 1994. That Act contains the general provisions, but the rates of benefit in that Act are not the rates recently introduced in the 1995 Act which are devalued rates. Between mid-May 1994 and mid-May 1995 there was an increase in the consumer price index of 2.8 per cent. This means that the 2.5 per cent increase given under the 1995 Act is, effectively, 20p below the rate of inflation. In addition, economists have predicted in the last few days that inflation will increase to 3.3 per cent over this year and, in that event, pensions like the survivor's pension will be effectively devalued by 55p. This leaves a question over the rates that are to apply. The consumer price index is officially at 2.8 per cent while the rate to be applied under the 1995 Act is 2.5 per cent, and economists predict an increase in the consumer price index to 3.3 per cent. The Bill relates to the Social Welfare Act, 1994, and the Principal Act means the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993. Will the Minister tell us if the applicable rates are the devalued rates that are the result of the Government's cutbacks in old age pensions, unemployment benefits and invalidity pensions?

Section 1 provides for the definitions necessary for the purposes of the Bill. I commend and congratulate Deputy Woods on using this opportunity to make a political point in regard to the rates of social welfare which have nothing to do with this Bill which seeks to extend rights to people in the event of divorce that they currently have in relation to social welfare. The Deputy knows from his long experience as a Minister for Social Welfare that the figure on which inflation is based for the year at budget time is the average figure for the full year, not a figure at midyear. The Departments of Social Welfare and Finance are confident that over the full year our prediction of 2.5 per cent will be accurate and the value of what we have provided for in the budget will be delivered. I emphasise as well that despite Fianna Fáil propaganda on the rates, the fact that the general increases are being paid six weeks earlier than they were paid last year is ignored.

The definitions in section 1 are vague. There is no definition of cohabitation. I would like the Minister to give a definition of cohabitation which is an increasing feature of Irish society. We are told by the Minister that this Bill is all about clarity. If there is clarity in not defining cohabitation, I would like to know about it.

The Minister has put the costings of this Bill for the first five years at £1 million, and at £2 million in ten years. The fact that the Minister is paying less than inflation, while refusing to accept that this constitutes a cut, throws some light on the reasons the costings in regard to this legislation are as low as £1 million in five years or £200,000 per annum. It is an unrealistic figure and I do not accept it. What is the definition of "cohabitation"?

I am concerned about the figure of £1 million. What rate of inflation was used by the Department in assessing the cost? The figures do not stand up to examination. It is important to raise this issue as the public are interested in it and will need to know that the figure is realistic. Anyone with a passing interest in the Bill will see that these figures are not correct. People received the increase in their payments this week and it was little over £1. They cannot believe the Minister gave an increase of 2.5 per cent. Fianna Fáil is raising the issue because everyone in the street is talking about it.

Many of the matters adverted to could be more appropriately raised under other sections. Section 1 deals with definitions only. How stands section 1?

Will the Minister answer the questions put to him?

I dealt with the question of costs in my concluding remarks on Second Stage last night. There is no need to go over that ground again. I regret that Fianna Fáil Deputies seem more intent on making cheap political points about social welfare rates than dealing with the detail of this important Bill which guarantees rights to those who will obtain a divorce.

The concept of cohabitation is not unknown in the social welfare code but it is not easy to define. It is a condition of entitlement for a number of social welfare payments, for example, lone parent's allowance, deserted wife's benefit, widow's contributory pension and so on. The incidence of people being disqualified from receiving payment on grounds of cohabitation is rare, for example, only 114 people were disqualified in 1994. They were mainly unmarried parents in receipt of lone parent's allowance. To date this year 40 people have been disqualified. It is not a new concept but has been part and parcel of the social welfare code for some years.

I asked about the rates which will apply. The Minister said it is a political issue. Of course it is. We are politicians and must discuss issues which are important to the people. The Minister said he is confident his prediction of a 2.5 per cent inflation rate will be realised over a full year.

This is not relevant to the section.

I understand the Minister being irritated by the rates which apply.

On a point of order, I am not irritated by them but because Deputy Woods insists on distorting the facts on this very important issue.

We are talking about death benefit, widow's benefit and so on. The Minister said he is confident that the inflation rate of 2.5 per cent will be an accurate one in a full year. The Central Statistics Office has stated that inflation at mid May was 2.8 per cent so his projection is wrong. The Minister gave the lowest increase in 30 years.

That is not true.

He is continuing this——

This is deliberate distortion. The Deputy knows it is not true.

Will you, Sir, ask the Minister to contain himself when the Opposition makes points it believes are relevant?

The Deputy should not deliberately say things in the House which he knows are not true.

Far be it from the Chair to curb debate but I am concerned that these matters be raised under the appropriate sections. It seems quite clear that section 1 is not the section under which to raise these matters. Death benefit, survivor's pension, deserted wife's allowance, etc. are contained in various sections of the Bill and should be dealt with at that point.

I appreciate the point the Chair makes but by discussing it as part of the overall application of the Bill we avoid repeating it on the different sections. I have no objection to dealing with it on each section. The Minister knows an inflation rate of 2.5 per cent will not be achieved. The Central Statistics Office has indicated that the rate of inflation is 2.8 per cent and the predictions are that it will rise to over 3 per cent.

It is virtually impossible to have a debate on definitions.

I am appalled that despite providing evidence to show that the Fianna Fáil statements are wrong, time after time Deputies repeat them. That is pure propaganda and it does not address the issues under the Bill. Deputy Woods said the increase was the lowest in 30 years. That is not true. The increases he gave some years ago were lower than the rate of inflation. I put this information on the record before and it is disingenuous of Deputy Woods, a former Minister for Social Welfare, to repeatedly put on record statements he knows are untrue. I do not intend to reiterate what I said about rates and so on. This important Bill guarantees rights to those who become divorced. That is what we should deal with and not the spurious arguments Fianna Fáil attempts to raise.

I am concerned the Minister should say Fianna Fáil is repeating wrong information. It cannot be wrong because the social welfare books which recipients received this week show they will receive an increase of little over £1 per week. If it is wrong, will the Minister withdraw the books and give the people a proper increase? There is no point in saying the information is wrong. It is there for all to see.

There is no definition of "cohabitation" in the Bill. Cohabitation for the purpose of the Social Welfare Act means when a man and woman are living together as husband and wife pursuant to regulations to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas in accordance with section 4 (6) of the Principal Act, but "cohabitation" is not defined.

I answered that question. In 1989 the then Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Woods, provided for a 3 per cent increase——

It was not a 2.5 per cent increase.

The rate of inflation for that year was 4 per cent.

The increase of 2.5 per cent is the lowest in the past 30 years, and the Minister knows that.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

This section deals with the death benefit for widows and widowers. I wish to refute a point made by the Minister. He said that the increase in 1989 was 3 per cent, which is above 2.5 per cent — according to the figures he has supplied to me the increase of 2.5 per cent is the lowest — and he sought to mislead the House by not pointing out that during the same year long term unemployment assistance was increased by 11.9 per cent, the supplementary welfare allowance was increased by 11.1 per cent and short term unemployment assistance was increased by 7.7. per cent. I put those figures on the record to correct the misleading information given by the Minister.

The section states that a pension under subsection (6) shall not be payable for any period after the remarriage of the widower. I am concerned that a pension under this subsection will not be payable for any period after remarriage where a second marriage breaks down. There may be some confusion about this provision and I would like the Minister to clarify it.

This section deals with the occupational injuries benefit scheme. Death benefit is payable on the death of an insured person who dies as a result of an occupational accident or a personal injury or disease due to the nature of their employment. This benefit is payable by way of a pension to a widow who was living with or was wholly or mainly maintained by her husband at the time of his death. Payment of the pension ceases where the widow remarries and she is disqualified from receiving payment if she is cohabiting with a man as husband and wife.

Death benefit is payable to a widower where he was wholly or mainly maintained by his wife at the time of her death. Where a widower is permanently incapable of self-support due to physical or mental infirmity the benefit is payable by way of a pension and where he is not so incapable the benefit is payable in the form of a gratuity. Payment of the pension ceases when the widower becomes capable of self-support. This section ensures that a spouse and former spouse will qualify for a pension.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

There is a fear that the Bill does not accommodate the possibility that a person may divorce more than once. Unfortunately events overtook me and I did not have an opportunity to table an amendment which would have substituted the word "parties" for the word "party" in line 9 so that the section would read "...shall be construed as including parties to marriages that have been dissolved, being dissolutions that are recognised as valid in the State".

Does the Deputy's point relate to valid divorces?

My point is that people may divorce a number of times.

What is the Deputy's query?

The section does not accommodate that point.

Under the Bill the legal spouse of the deceased will qualify for a pension and any former spouse, whether one or more, will also qualify for a pension provided they have not remarried and satisfy the other qualifying conditions. They will be able to satisfy the contribution conditions on either their own insurance record or that of the deceased. Is that the point about which the Deputy is concerned?

I am not clear on the point the Deputy is making.

The Minister's reply does not deal with Deputy Keogh's point, which we also support. The Bill fails to recognise that a person may divorce more than once. The word "party" in line 9 does not fully accommodate this point and it should be amended to read "...parties to marriages that have been dissolved, being dissolutions that are recognised as valid in the State".

This wording has been approved by the Attorney General's office as being sufficient to cover the point made by the Deputies. The term "a party" can be construed in law to mean "parties" and it is not necessary to provide for this in the section.

Will the Minister seek further advice from the Attorney General on this point? I would like to have some reassurance on this as I do not have a qualification in law.

I will be happy to get a note confirming, or otherwise, my interpretation of the wording.

How many people come within this category and what is the projected number in five years time?

I will deal first with the question of widows and widowers. Almost 93,000 people are in receipt of survivor's pension. Widowers became eligible for pensions from 28 October 1994. There are over 5,000 widowers receiving pensions. In 1994 the expenditure on survivor's pension amounted to £306 million and the post-budget estimate of expenditure for 1995 is £341 million. I dealt with the projected numbers for take up in relation to divorce by way of a question in the Dáil a week ago. If I recall correctly there are 55,000 separated people according to the CSO.

That was four years ago.

These are the statistics on which the projection is based. It is assumed that 75 per cent might avail of divorce, that 50 per cent of those might remarry and that 80 per cent of women would outlive their former spouses. Those are the assumptions underlying the cost which I have indicated to the Deputy for the five years. The cost will reach about £1 million in the fifth year and increase to about £2 million in the tenth year. I have made the point repeatedly that it is impossible to be accurate in relation to assumptions of this kind. It is debatable whether three quarters of those who are separated will seek divorce and whether 50 per cent of those who are divorced will subsequently remarry. It is actuarially true that 80 per cent of women survive their spouses. We have to wait and see how divorce actually operates in practice before we can give specific and absolutely accurate figures. My own feeling is that less than 75 per cent of separated people will seek divorce. I do not know whether the 50 per cent who are divorced will subsequently remarry but it seems a reasonable assumption. By and large it is a workable figure.

This is an exceedingly important Bill in the lead up to the referendum at the end of the year. I am disappointed that the Government has so little interest in the Bill that there is nobody here from Fine Gael or the Labour Party. It is appropriate to call for a quorum at this stage as the Government should show more interest in the Bill.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Will the Minister review the figures he has just given the House? In his contribution he referred to assumptions but he could not give accurate numbers regarding the group of people who will be affected by the section. He referred to a figure of 55,000 people being separated but that figure is based on the 1991 census of population. The Minister will agree that 55,000 is not a proper number on which to base assumptions in 1995. The one thing the Minister is concerned about is to remove any sense of threat. I urge him to review the figures he has quoted with a view to accepting that if in 1991 there were 55,000 separated people there is more than likely an increase in that number in 1995. In 1996 he will have to introduce the necessary package to meet this demand. In his Second Stage speech he said the cost is likely to rise to £1 million over the next five years. If the Minister did his sums correctly he would find that his figures are way out. There is a concern over the financial aspects associated with the Bill. The Minister, who mentioned the figure of £1 million, should recognise that in excess of 70,000 fall into this category in 1995. I urge him to produce accurate figures rather than work on assumptions.

While the Deputy has a point on the numbers who may be separated the only figures we have to work on are those produced by the CSO. The Deputy is probably correct when he says that the figures are higher but——

The Minister should delete the word "probably".

The Deputy should allow the Minister to speak.

This is an important matter.

It is; that is the reason the Bill has been introduced. The Deputy has to bear two points in mind. We are working on the assumption that 75 per cent of those who are separated, be it 55,000 or 75,000, will opt for divorce, that 50 per cent of these may remarry and that 80 per cent of women will survive their husbands. If we assume that the figure is 75,000 we would still be talking about an extremely low figure, thousands rather than millions of pounds.

It is wrong of the Deputy to imply that this Bill poses a threat. It guarantees rights: it guarantees that a person who is currently separated and opts for divorce, if and when it is introduced, will still qualify for a widow's or widower's pension if their former spouse dies or even remarries. The greatest proportion or bulk of the cost will arise in connection with survivor's, widower's and widow's pensions.

The difference in the figures is at most thousands, not millions, of pounds. In the context of total expenditure in the Department of Social Welfare, which is in excess of £4 billion and total support for lone parents, deserted wives, widows and widowers which is in excess of £600 million, it is unwise to raise fears that costs under this Bill will be unsustainable because, clearly, this will not be the case. Costs will amount to £1 million over a period of five years: perhaps, £100,000 in the first year, £150,000 in the second year and so on. We are, therefore, talking about small incremental increases even though in the first five years we will have to deal with a backlog.

Instead of working on assumptions we should be more realistic and pragmatic and recognise that the true numbers who fall into this category are much higher. There is, therefore, a need for the Minister to review the figures and provide clarification. Instead of depending on the figure of 55,000 produced in 1991 the general public would prefer him to work on more accurate figures.

The Minister estimates that total costs will amount to £1 million over a period of five years. To avoid misinterpretations I urge him to show how this sum will be adequate. If we were to provide a breakdown we would be talking about pence, not pounds. What is the inflation rate likely to be over this period?

The increase of 2.5 per cent has been the subject of much discussion recently. My party leader raised the issue this morning. The headline "Keep your £1.80" was carried recently in one of the newspapers. Last Thursday when it was paid old age pensioners were disgusted given that the inflation rate is 2.8 per cent——

The Deputy is slipping out of the statesman's mode into the party hack mode.

I wish to draw to the attention of the Minister that old age pensioners are disgusted with the two left-wing parties in Government.

When the Minister was on the Opposition benches he spoke about what he would do when in Government. He let down the people who voted for him.

A letter I have received from a constituent reads:

I am writing to ask if you can help me. I am 77 years of age. Can you imagine what it is like to live on £70 a week. Do the Government understand?

The same applies to every one of the 250,000 pensioners who received the miserable increase of 2.5 per cent. The Minister should take the opportunity to advise the House and those in receipt of State pensions what the inflation rate is likely to be over the next five years.

Is the Deputy serious?

I am. The Minister will not and cannot answer the question.

I graciously accept the Deputy's vote of confidence that I will be here for the next five years.

There is not a chance of that happening but I ask the Minister to answer the question.

That matter does not arise; I will answer all questions relating to the costs that will arise under this Bill.

It is because the Minister knows that he will not be here that he is in a position to give the figures for the next five years but they are very much open to questions. The Minister mentioned that the bulk of the cost will arise under this section. Will he confirm what he means by this? What proportion of the £1 million will arise under this section?

In the region of 90 per cent of the total cost will arise under this section, primarily because people will still qualify for a widow's pension or, in some cases, a widower's pension even where their former spouse remarries. Deputies are confusing the cost of implementing the Bill with the cost arising from a marriage breakdown generally. The Department of Social Welfare already provides funding in terms of marriage breakdown — for example, lone parent's allowance and deserted wife's benefit. What we are talking about here is primarily guaranteeing income and the extension of a person's right to widow's and widower's pension — there are other factors involved also — in circumstances where a former spouse has remarried but, the person claiming has not remarried and is not cohabiting. There will be circumstances where people will get divorced at a relatively early age and the right of a widow's pension will not arise for perhaps five, ten, 20 or 30 years. It is a gradual accumulation of costs that arises, not an immediate cost.

About 75 per cent of those who separate will apply for divorce. If they do not apply for divorce they will not be affected in terms of social welfare, but if they apply and are successful their rights to social welfare are guaranteed. That is the objective of the Bill. I do not understand why there is so much concern about the fact that we have estimated the cost. It is not possible to be precise because we are dealing in many circumstances with the unknown, in terms of the numbers who will divorce following separation, the numbers who will subsequently remarry and the numbers who will survive their former spouses. We do not know how many people will remarry — for example, where a couple divorce both spouses may remarry. It cannot be automatically assumed that one spouse will forever be dependent on the other for their rights in terms of widow's or widower's pension.

Some people outside this House are disappointed that the costs in terms of social welfare are not much higher because they had hoped to use it as a stick to beat the proposed referendum. I am sure that is not the case with Deputies opposite: I know they are seeking this information to reassure people that the amount of money that will be spent on widow's and widower's pensions and support for deserted wive's and lone parents will be minimal — £1 million over a period of five years. Even if that figure is 50 per cent off target we are talking about only £1.5 million over a five year period. It is important to get the message across that we are talking about insignificant sums of money to guarantee people's rights in terms of social welfare in the event of divorce.

This is a very important Bill as it clears the way for people to make decisions in regard to the divorce referendum. The introduction to the Bill states that it provides for the necessary changes in the social welfare code to ensure that no spouse will be disadvantaged in terms of social welfare entitlements as a result of his or her legal status being changed from married, separated or deserted to divorced. In this section the Minister is providing for former spouses who are widows and widowers. The position of the first spouse is guaranteed and there need be no fear about loss of social welfare rights or entitlements. This section provides that regardless of the number of times a spouse remarries, the initial spouse will maintain the rights he or she would have had in the first instance. In that respect this is important legislation in the context of the referendum.

A number of Deputies asked about the costings, and it is important that they be fully teased out. I accept it is difficult to calculate the amount involved but the cost will be much less than people generally expect. The question arises with longer term costs, for example, in ten or 15 years. As the Minister said, even if the figure is 50 per cent off target it will be a relatively small amount of money in social welfare terms, yet it guarantees the initial rights of the first spouse. It is important that the Minister outlines the longer term costs as that issue will be raised. Deputy Callely asked what system has been used in calculating the costings and this issue will receive much attention outside this House.

It is essential that this section is in place before the referendum. The Minister may be somewhat annoyed with us because we are reflecting the views of people outside the House when we talk about the rates for the survivor's pension which effectively is being devalued. That raises the question of whether the Minister will introduce a Social Welfare (No. 3) Bill later in the year if the rate of inflation significantly exceeds that anticipated. It would have been safer if the Government had given at least a 3 per cent increase as that rate would have ensured that benefits accruing to widows and widowers would be higher than the rate of inflation at budget time and its anticipated level. As far as I am aware that is what has been done in the past.

The outturn at the end of the year is a different matter. Things may happen during the year which result in a higher inflation rate than predicated at budget time. We argue that the Government increased the survivor's pension by 2.5 per cent, the lower rate of inflation predicated at budget time.

That is not relevant to the Bill.

It is relevant to the costings. The Chair said these matters may be more appropriately discussed under the individual sections. It is relevant to the survivor's pension.

It is not relevant to the Bill. This is nonsense. The Deputy should speak to the Bill.

Our major difference with the Minister is that we know from Government statistics that what we were told at budget time is incorrect. In mid May a 2.8 per cent inflation rate was recorded. The food element is that rate is 3.1 per cent, an aspect that greatly affects elderly people and those trying to manage on the survivor's pension. The Minister will have to face up to the fact that he took a decision we believe is wrong. He said he was increasing the survivor's pension by paying the six weeks in advance. The pensioners were surprised at the small amount of a lump sum they received and now they are back on the basic rate which is totally inadequate as it is not in line with the rate of inflation. It is unfortunate that the Minister and the Government chose to cut back in this area in a good year when money was available.

We query the manner in which inflation is considered in the Minister's calculations. Calculations should be made in a manner that ensures we have the best possible estimate, particularly in terms of the next ten years. We will be happy if the Minister can assure us that it will be a reasonable cost so that we can be confident that what we are doing is not only right as it is protecting the rights of the first spouse, but it can be well contained in the costings.

We also believe that the manner in which the rates are being treated this year is wrong. As Deputy Wallace said, people throughout the country have found that they are getting very low increases at a time when inflation is demanding more in terms of outgoings.

I am becoming increasingly concerned by the Minister's comments on the Bill, particularly this section. He said 90 per cent of the cost arises under the section. In reply to Deputy Callely he said we are discussing four year old statistics from the Central Statistics Office in terms of the 55,000 people who were separated four years ago. The Minister said that it cannot be assumed that a former spouse will not remarry and he has obviously taken that into account in the minimal cost he is applying to the Bill. However, it cannot be assumed that a former spouse will remarry. That relates to an earlier point regarding the words "a party". The more we debate the section the more I am concerned about those words. Deputy Keogh suggested that the words "a party" should read "parties to marriages". This matter is all the more important if the Minister agrees that it cannot be assumed that a former spouse will remarry.

If a man divorces his former spouse and remarries and his spouse does not remarry, I presume she will be entitled to a survivor's pension. If her former spouse divorces his second spouse and remarries, his second spouse may not remarry. In that context the words "a party" does not describe that man's first and second spouses. It is essential then to change the term "a party" to "parties to marriages that have been dissolved" otherwise we are assuming that one or both of those people will remarry and we cannot make that assumption. We must assume there is a strong possibility that both those women will not remarry and both will be entitled to a survivor's pension. On that basis it appears essential that the term "a party" should be changed to "parties to marriages that have been dissolved" to ensure we recognise both situations.

The debate on this section has been interesting because it has teased out the issue. When replying to the earlier part of the debate the Minister was at pains to point out that the question of costing here is minimal and indicated that it would still be minimal if they are 50 per cent out. It is important to be clear about the costings. As the Minister rightly said we are not referring to a major proportion of the social welfare budget, but it is important in the context of the divorce debate to be as precise as possible regarding costings. It is valid to raise queries about statistics and to raise the matter of remarriage. As Deputy Wallace said, we must recognise that people may divorce more than once and in this regard to a great extent we are into the realm of speculation. Where possible it is essential to tie down costings and to be as exact as possible.

I want the Minister to reconsider the use of the term "party" on Report Stage. If the bulk of the costings are to be expended on the provisions of this section, the Minister must be as precise as possible and use the best available statistics. If costings are based on old figures, people will not be reassured. Are the costings based on the rates of increase this year or is there provision for a further increase next year? Having regard to the criticism levelled at the Minister about this year's increases, how valid are the costings he has indicated?

If I gave an estimated figure for separations, I would be accused of not using CSO statistics. Even though they are 1991 CSO statistics, I used them because of their validity. We can extrapolate from that and try to argue that a certain number of people are currently separated, but even if the figure is 50 per cent more than we indicated, we are not talking about a great deal of money. I am not critical of Deputies for raising the question of costings, but Fianna Fáil Deputies have used this debate to score cheap political points about this year's budget figures. This is far too serious an issue to become embroiled in that type of debate and argy bargy across the floor.

In regard to the capacity of the State, through taxpayers and the social insurance fund, to support pensioners and widows in the future, the estimated costings indicate that the burden will be extremely limited. I must again draw attention to the fact that we are already supporting a significant number of separated people through deserted wife's benefit and lone parent's allowance. A married person whose spouse dies is entitled to a contributory or non-contributory widow's or widower's pension. The Bill extends that provision to a divorced person on the death of a spouse. If one of the spouses remarries the other may then qualify for a contributory or non-contibutory pension. We are talking about a relatively low cost in the context of the global expenditure of the Department. We currently spend £630 million on payments to widows, widowers, deserted wives and lone parents and the estimated cost under this section will be approximately £1 million in the first five years. People who are separated or become separated or divorced should not be concerned about losing their social welfare entitlements. This Bill guarantees that right and the cost involved will be minimal.

Deputies Wallace and Keogh stated that line nine of section 3 should refer to the plural, but I do not consider that necessary. Part III of the Interpretation Act, 1937 states:

The following provisions shall apply and have effect in relation to the construction of every Act of the Oireachtas and of every instrument made wholly or partly under any such Act, that is to say:—

(a) Singular and plural. Every word importing the singular shall, unless the contrary intention appears, be construed as if it also imported the plural, and every word importing the plural shall, unless the contrary intention appears, be construed as if it also imported the singular;

Therefore, the Deputies' concerns are groundless. In any case, in practice the married couple would have divorced and the spouse would qualify for a widow's or widower's pension because they were married. The right to such a pension under current social welfare legislation is not being interfered with. This Bill guarantees that if one of the spouses remarries, in the event of the death of the first spouse, the second spouse would also qualify for a widow's or widower's pension. We are adding another right and providing for a multiple widow's or widower's pension based on either contributions or means. The Interpretation Act, 1937 clarifies the concerns the Deputies expressed about this matter being referred to in the singular. There is no genuine cause for concern in that regard.

I am not concerned about the second spouse, I am concerned about cases involving a third spouse. The Bill provides for an existing or former spouse, but does not provide for a previous former spouse and this is where the plural is important.

It may be clarified in this way, the section does not attempt to limit its application to one, two, three, four or five; it says "a party to a marriage" and does not impose any limitation on its application. If a person had married and then divorced, in the event of death their former spouse would qualify for a widow's or widower's pension as the case may be. If that person had married a second time the surviving spouse would be "a party to a marriage" and, therefore, would qualify. Even after the death of a person who had married for the third time nonetheless a valid marriage would exist and the surviving spouse would be deemed to have been "a party to a marriage". Therefore, the Deputy's fear in this respect is groundless.

I would be happy to accept the advice of the parliamentary draftsman on this when the difficulty to which I referred is catered for.

In explaining this provision the Minister reverted to the 90 per cent of the £1 million to be applied to the provisions of this section. In doing so he referred to the question posed by Deputy Keogh, to the effect that many of the people for whom he is costing under the provisions of this section are already in receipt of a deserted wife's or lone parent's allowance. I do not know if that is facing reality. We must learn from the experiences of other countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America where divorce was introduced when one is led to the definitive conclusion that marriages may not remain intact after the successful passage of a referendum on divorce. This means one must allow for an increased incidence of marital breakdown.

In his thinking on funding the provisions of this Bill the Minister is assuming that all these women are at present in receipt of a deserted wife's or lone parent's allowance, that, therefore, he need worry only about surviving spouses and that 90 per cent only of the relevant cost relates to this section. That concerns me because, in his costings, the Minister does not appear to have allowed for reality if a referendum on divorce is passed. Is the Minister saying that 90 per cent of the costing relates to those widows, that he is at present of the opinion that the topping-up of the deserted wife's allowance and lone parent's allowance will be minimal, assuming that such applicants' marriages would already have broken down before the introduction of divorce here? The Minister appears to say that 10 per cent only of the £1 million relates to deserted wives, lone parents and all the other categories but that does not withstand such analysis.

It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that because he said that the bulk of the £1 million costing over the next five years will relate to a survivor's pension under this section and, when responding further, said that in his estimation the bulk of the cost would be 90 per cent. If 90 per cent of £1 million relates to the provisions of this section then the remaining 10 per cent over those same years must relate to the remaining sections. I assume that is the point the Minister was making.

My general point, which relates as much to the overall debate on divorce as to this Bill, although it is pertinent to it, is that it would be a mistake to look merely to the United Kingdom and United States of America to see how divorce and marital breakdown developed there and predict that that is what will happen here. When one examined the opposition in other European countries with a similar religious background or ethos to ours, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the trends are not similar to those in the United Kingdom and USA.

It is my understanding that when divorce was introduced in Spain, there was a huge backlog of separated couples — as there was no divorce when General Franco ran the country on behalf of the Roman Caholic Church — but on the cessation of his dictatorship the Spanish Government introduced divorce legislation, when there was a huge take-up by couples who had separated. It is also my understanding that there has been a tapering off in the rate of divorce there in recent years.

The point I am making is that it is a mistake to examine statistics in relation to the United Kingdom and USA only because, in the case of divorce, one is dealing as much with peoples' religious convictions as with marital problems. Therefore, it would be a mistake to extrapolate United Kingdom and USA statistics and compare them with the situation here because I do not believe they are comparable.

That was why I made the point earlier on the assumptions we are making of the numbers of people likely to divorce here following separation, who are likely to remarry and the numbers who will survive their husbands. There is a question mark over the numbers likely to remarry given our religious ethos — I may be wrong — but I am doubtful that the incidence will be as high as in the figures complied for Members. I wanted to make the point before dealing with the substantive issue of cost.

The Census of Population 1991, volume 2, indicated that the number of married persons in Ireland had increased by 2 per cent in the five years between 1986 and 1991 and, in the same period, the number of separated persons increased by 48,000 to 55,143. We should bear in mind that that figure comprises individuals, not separated couples — one must presume that would represent approximately 27,000 couples. Of those persons categorised as separated in 1991 43 per cent were deserted, 24 per cent were living apart informally, 11 per cent had had annulments and 20 per cent were legally separated. One third only of those living apart from their spouses had been either legally separated, divorced or had had their marriages annulled.

I have a table which gives a breakdown of separated population by gender in the years between 1986 and 1991 showing that most of the increases in the numbers of separated persons between 1986 and 1991 took place within the deserted and legally separated categories. This table also shows that there were in excess of 50 per cent more separated females than separated males both in 1986 and 1991. For example, there were 2,584 deserted males in 1986 and 6,781 in 1991. There were 9,038 deserted females in 1986 and 16,904 in 1991. I do not know if the Deputy wants all the statistics but the number of marriages annulled for males in 1986 was 443 and 449 in 1991. The figure for females is 540 in 1986 and 722 in 1991. The number of males legally separated is 3,229 in 1986 and 5,178 in 1991. The number of females legally separated in 1986 is 3,888 and in 1991 it is 5,974. In regard to others separated, the figure for males for 1986 is 6,090 and 5,787 in 1991. For females the figure is 6,972 for 1986 and 7,195 for 1991. In the category of persons divorced in another country, the figure for males is 2,222 for 1986 and 3,105 for 1991. The figure for females is 2,169 in 1986 and 2,998 in 1991. Over one-third of separated persons were aged between 34 and 44 years.

Can we have a copy of those figures?

I will try to get a copy of the figures for the Deputy. A further quarter of separated persons were in the age group of 45 to 54 years. There were 21,350 separated males and 33,793 separated females equivalent to 3.1 per cent and 4.8 per cent respectively of the corresponding total of married males and females, excluding widowed persons. Presumably a large proportion of the separated people not accounted for are domiciled abroad. In the same period, the marriage rate per thousand of the population had dropped from 5.2 to 4.8 per cent while the proportion of births outside marriage had risen steadily and now accounts for 18 per cent of all births.

In relation to the take up of, say, widows' entitlements, we must take into account the extent to which women will increasingly become part of the labour force and qualify in their own right for various entitlements. As Deputy Woods admits, it is extremely difficult to be precise about the figures. We cannot be absolutely certain of the costs in five or ten years time but we have indicated what we see as the most likely cost over the next five and ten years. Even if our estimates of the numbers currently separated are out by 50 per cent, we are still only talking about the difference between £1 million and £1.5 million in year five. In the global context of our total costs, we are only talking about 0.02 per cent of the total social welfare expenditure this year. The Deputy will see that is not a burden which the taxpayer, Deputies in this House or people outside it who may be separated and who may be concerned that their former spouse might divorce them, will have to sustain. Because of the negligible cost involved, there is no question but that the State will be able to sustain the costs involved.

I do not agree this will not be a burden on the State. I want to refer to the specifics of the figures the Minister has given us because the more we tease them out, the more concerned I become about them. I want to do a simple sum for the Minister and I would like him to tell me if he agrees with it. The Minister told us that £1 million would be made available over five years, 90 per cent of which would go towards the survivors' pensions. Therefore, 10 per cent will go towards the lone parent's and deserted wife's benefit. Obviously, 10 per cent of £1 million is £100,000. If one were to divide £100,000 by five, the figure is £20,000 per annum. A lone parent with one child receives approximately £70 per week. In regard to that £20,000, we are talking about providing additional benefit for four people at most, or five people if there is a child involved, per annum. Is it correct to say that if divorce was introduced here, we are only talking about an additional four or five people per annum in terms of lone parent's and deserted wife's benefit? The figures do not stand up. If a person is receiving approximately £100 per week, that amounts to £5,200 per year. Multiply that by four and the figure is £20,000 but the Minister is saying it will cost £100,000 over five years. The Minister stated that 90 per cent of the £100,000 over five years will go towards the survivors' pensions, therefore, 10 per cent will go towards the other areas. When we get down to the nuts and bolts of the argument and the fact that we are talking about a person in receipt of £70 or £100 per week, it is obvious that the Minister's figures do not stand up. The Minister said there would not be any burden on the State, and none of us want that, but we have to be realistic because if we are not realistic in this House, the public will not be slow to give us their assessment of the costs involved. We must try to be fair in this regard but it is wrong of the Minister to say the cost on the State will be negligible. Can the Minister give me any assistance in regard to the figures?

I have been following this debate both within the Chamber and from my office and there are certain aspects of it about which I am concerned. It is legitimate for the Opposition to look for costings of any proposal, particularly a social welfare proposal, but one cannot have one's cake and eat it. In 1986, I recall Deputy Woods, who is participating vigorously in this morning's debate, warning people not to vote for divorce because they would lose their social welfare rights.

Members cannot validly criticise the Minister now extending social welfare rights which will protect divorced spouses. Whereas Members are entitled to raise financial queries, it is becoming something of a camouflage in the debate on this section. In the context of the principal issues the legislation seeks to deal with, the Bill should have preceded the 1986 divorce referendum and should have been passed ten years ago. If that legislation had been on the Statute Book, unfounded fears would not have been created at that time. It was suggested then that if the referendum was successful deserted wives would have voted away their social welfare rights. This Bill seeks to protect those rights.

Much of the discussion on the Bill is based on the fact that it is supposed to lay the foundation to protect people's social welfare rights in the event that the divorce referendum will be successful. However, the Bill does more than that, it fills a lacuna that should have been filled many years ago. It seeks to ensure if someone gets divorced outside this State and we recognise that divorce in this State, the person's social welfare rights will be protected. Implicit in a number of sections is the recognition not simply of the validity of a divorce granted in this State but the recognition of a foreign decree of divorce. The Minister gave statistics on the numbers of people in this country who are parties to foreign decrees of divorce. This raises two problems. Even if the divorce referendum was not imminent, this legislation would be necessary to protect the position of the deserted wife whose husband sets up domicile in the United Kingdom, divorces her there and whose divorce we recognise. Under our social welfare legislation that wife ceases to be a spouse and can be disentitled from a variety of allowances and benefits that she would otherwise obtain if she had remained a spouse. In the context of deserted wife's allowance and benefits, that has been a difficulty for some years. We have tried to overcome some of those difficulties administratively in dealing with deserted wife's allowance and benefits but not in the context of widow's pension and other areas.

Recently there was a very lengthy and tortuous court case in the High Court in which there was a 99 page judgment on whether a person was entitled to a widow's pension. It arose because the Department in its wisdom decided not to recognise the divorce decree granted in England. In this case following a decree of divorce granted in England, the woman remarried and lived in Ireland with her second husband. When he died the Department refused to recognise the validity of her divorce and second marriage. She then had to involve herself in extremely expensive and lengthy High Court proceedings to assert her right to the widow's pension. Ultimately she was successful. This is already a problem we have not properly addressed. What is needed in this Bill is a simple procedure when the Department of Social Welfare cannot work out whether to recognise a foreign divorce whereby it seeks judicial clarification that does not involve the State and an old age pensioner or a deserted spouse in lengthy and costly litigation. When the adoption board runs into similar difficulties it can state a case to the High Court — a simple and inexpensive procedure — to clarify a legal issue to determine a matter of eligibility.

There is a need to amend this legislation to provide where a dispute arises as to the recognition or validity of a divorce, that the Department of Social Welfare can state a case to the High Court for a determination as to whether a divorce is recognised and remarriage is recognised. Those who are aware of how the court works would know that a case stated is a very simple procedure and someone can respond to it in a matter of weeks rather than months or years. It is not a lengthy or expensive High Court procedure and it should be part of this legislation.

I am in favour of the principle of this Bill, but I want to see it work logically. Let us suppose in the case to which I just referred things had happened the other way round and the wife had died after this legislation had come into force, and let us assume she had made a number of relevant social welfare contributions and that her first husband in England had not remarried. Have we addressed the issue of the extra territorial effect of the Bill? Could we have created a situation where, say, a couple, couples, who did not contribute to the social welfare system, who were originally domiciled in a foreign state, who obtained their divorce there and one of whom returns and marries someone in this State and establishes residence here, can, on the death of a spouse, claim a widow or widower's pension, occupational payment or any other payments that arise by way of this legislation? The extra territorial issue has a relevance to costings to some extent. We are not talking about large numbers but in addressing an issue that must be addressed I do not believe we should create that type of anomaly. If this aspect has not been considered I ask the Minister to consider it before Report Stage.

My next point is probably more relevant to another aspect of matters here. We are trying to provide for equality between husbands and wives in the context of entitlement to widow's or widower's pension when a spouse dies. I fail to understand why, in the context of deserted wife's benefit, we continue to discriminate against deserted husbands, particularly those taking care of young children. The Minister gave us a statistic that there were 6,000 deserted husbands in this State in 1991. The figure has probably increased now. In my experience in my work in the area of marriage breakdown, there are more husbands in situations of marriage breakdown who have custody of and are caring for children than there were during the 1980s. There is a distinct shift in that area. Where the social insurance contributions have been paid, a deserted wife with two children and a deserted husband with two children should be treated equally under our social welfare code. There is no reason to provide a benefit to the wife, which I acknowledge should be paid, and not provide it to the husband whose eligibility criteria have been complied with and who is operating as a single parent, often trying to run a home and hold down a job at the same time in order to make ends meet.

The discrimination within our social welfare code in this area is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and will ultimately be so found. We have already faced major difficulty in regard to social welfare arrears arising out of what happened between 1986 and 1988. In that, Sir, I should declare an interest, because it was my own law firm that brought the Cotter and McDermott case which sought to ensure that husbands and wives were treated equally under the social welfare code and which, through the judicial system, ensured change in that area. I sounded a warning in this House many years ago about that issue but no one took me seriously. I am raising it today. I am saying that in all equity and humanity, leaving aside legal rights, all children left in the care of a deserted parent, whether husband or wife, have the same needs. The single parent, whether husband or wife, incurs the same expense in running a home when taking care of children. There is no reason to continue to maintain a discrimination against husbands within our legal system, particularly in the run up to a divorce referendum.

It was politically correct in the early 1980s to favour wives, and there are many organisations seeking to redress the inequality in our laws relating to wives. We have inbuilt inequalities arising out of that period which detrimentally impact on men, on husbands, and on families constituted of husband and children where the husband has been deserted. I appeal to the Minister not to miss this opportunity to correct this issue. If he does not he is creating an injustice, but he is also laying the foundation for another social welfare problem of arrears that some future Government will have to confront as a result of judgments emerging out of Europe if not out of our own Supreme Court.

There was a judgement in this area at some stage in the High Court — and I declare my interest — which found against the husband. However, from my personal knowledge of that case, it is one that should have been appealed and, I believe, would have produced a different decision if not at Supreme Court level then at a higher level, had the matter been taken further. It could not be done because the husband who had the burden of looking after his children died before the High Court delivered its initial judgment in those proceedings. In all justice and equity and in the context of this legislation, in preparing the ground for the divorce referendum let us recognise the reality of the problems of marriage breakdown for all families whether composed of mothers and children or fathers and children, and let us provide for true equality. If we fail to do this, we are sowing the seeds of further problems and financial burdens for this State in the future.

Before dealing with the points raised by Deputy Shatter let me finally deal with the issue of costs and the confusion that has arisen about the estimates we have made. We are not arguing that £1 million is the cost of marital breakdown or the support that would be required for people who are deserted or separated. We are already providing funds under various schemes for situations of marital breakdown. What we are providing for here is the additional costs of providing for a second widow's or widower's pension in circumstances where a former spouse has remarried and dies and both surviving spouses, the former spouse and the existing spouse, qualify for a pension on a contributory or non-contributory basis — a non-contributory pension would obviously be means-tested. Bearing that in mind, we are already providing certain supports under the existing provisions of the social welfare code. These supports are provided primarily through the lone parent's allowance and deserted wife's benefit and allowance schemes. It is important to realise that under the existing provisions a man or woman who is separated from their spouse can qualify for survivor's pension on the death of their spouse. The fact of divorce does not impinge on that if neither remarries, even though they may have been separated for many years.

This Bill ensures that a divorced person whose former spouse dies will not lose entitlement to a survivor's pension. This does not give rise to any additional cost as the person would have qualified for pension in any event if they had not become divorced. Some additional costs will arise, however, on the death of a divorced person who remarries and where his or her spouse and former spouse qualify for a pension. The Bill also provides that a deserted wife may continue to be regarded as deserted for the purposes of the deserted wife's benefit and allowance schemes. These provisions will not give rise to any additional costs as under the present arrangements divorce in itself does not affect entitlement to these payments. It was considered necessary, however, to include explicit provision in this Bill.

Similarly a divorced person can qualify for lone parent's allowance under the present arrangements. They can do so on the basis of being an unmarried parent, but under the provisions of the Bill they will be recognised under the social welfare code as a divorced person. It is simply a question of recognising them as belonging to one category rather than another.

The Bill will also enable a divorced person on low pay who is supporting his or her former spouse to qualify for family income supplement. In practice, however, it is extremely unlikely that a person on low pay would be in a position financially to maintain two households. The former household would, in any event, qualify for support if its income is below a certain level. It will be evident, therefore, that for these reasons the additional costs arising from this Bill will be relatively low. Hence the estimated costs of £1 million by year five following the introduction of divorce and about £2 million by year ten. While £1 million is a substantial sum it must be put into perspective in terms of representing 2 per cent of overall social welfare expenditure, which this year will amount to £4.2 billion. That is after five years. The costs are insignificant and it is important to distinguish between providing for social welfare benefits in circumstances of divorce and the cost to the State in social welfare terms of marital breakdown. The grey area is trying to predict the rate of marital breakdown. Whether cases of marital breakdown will end in divorce is a matter of judgment. I have expressed my reservations on that. Additional costs will only arise in cases of divorce and will be primarily related to survivor's pension and widower's pension.

Deputy Shatter raised the issue of deserted husbands. The principal involved in the case he referred to was a personal friend of mine. Although he died in the meantime I was very sad when the judgment found against him. I will introduce a social welfare (No. 3) Bill in the autumn to provide for a unified lone parent's allowance. It will apply to all parents, male or female, and will relate to the number of children the parent is caring for and to the parent's financial circumstances. That Bill will eliminate the distinction between supporting deserted wives and deserted husbands.

That will not eliminate the distinction in relation to benefit.

It will provide for support to be given to a person caring for children whether the person is separated, divorced or deserted and will eliminate the concept of having to prove desertion in order to qualify. It will be necessary to show that one is living alone and supporting children. Irrespective of whether one is male or female, one will qualify on that basis for social welfare support.

As regards judicial determination of cases, at present the chief appeals officer can refer a question of law to the High Court. I am not sure how often this is done but I am willing to look at the issue raised by the Deputy and consider whether it is necessary to include it in this Bill.

I accept that we are talking about additional costs. Where divorce becomes available there will be an increase in marital breakdown, but it is difficult to determine the rate of increase. The Minister and the Department assume that if the referendum on divorce is passed the only extra cost in terms of deserted wife's allowance and lone parent's allowance will be £20,000 per annum. He only expects four or five people to be caught in the second payment. I do not understand how the Minister estimates that the number will be so low. I am concerned that the Department's figures are way off the mark. I wish that what the Minister said about the country's religious ethos were true and that divorce would have no effect on marriages, but we must be practical and realistic. Divorce will affect the rate of marital breakdown. It is not realistic for us, in the cosiness of the Dáil Chamber, to say it will cost £20,000 per annum and that only four or five people will be involved. I need to be satisfied on this point. I am sure I represent many others who ask the same question.

Acting Chairman

Will the Minister clarify that aspect?

The Deputy seems to be assuming that the introduction of divorce, per se, will result in increased marital breakdown. I do not accept that.

I wish I could believe that.

The figures given by the Central Statistics Office indicate that there is significant marital breakdown in this State. A significant number of unmarried people are in relationships. There is a decline in the marriage rate and an increase in the number of children born to unmarried parents. There is a significant change in family structures in Irish society. It is a mistake to presume that the introduction of divorce will result in increased marital breakdown. The availability of an option to end a marriage does not encourage people to end it. Marriages end for many reasons — the love in a marriage might die, one of the partners might be so violent that it is necessary to end the marriage, men and women are deserted by their spouses, people obtain foreign divorces, etc.

The Deputy is arguing that I am ignoring the fact that divorce will lead to an increase in marital breakdown. I do not accept that thesis. If we were the first country to introduce divorce the case could be proven one way or the other but we have not had divorce in this State since 1937 when the Constitution was introduced — we had divorce before then — and we have still had marital breakdown. Over the past 20 years or so the State has supported people who have found themselves in those circumstances.

I want to give an example to support the point I am making. The number of recipients of deserted wife's benefit increased from 5,165 in 1985 to 13,662 in 1994. There are probably thousands of people whose marriages have broken down who do not come within the social welfare net and these figures relate only to the number on the books of the Department of Social Welfare. There has been a very significant increase in the level of marriage breakdown since 1985 and it would be a mistake to argue that the legal procedure for regularising desertions and separations will cause marriage breakdown. This is not a logical argument.

This section seeks to preserve the right to a pension of a person whose former spouse remarried and subsequently died and of the second spouse. The Department of Social Welfare estimates that this additional support or guarantee will cost £1 million in the fifth year and £2 million in the tenth year. I have already set out the basis on which that estimate has been constructed. It is based on the CSO 1991 figure of 55,000 separated people and the assumption that 75 per cent of those may seek a divorce, that approximately 50 per cent of divorced people will remarry and that 80 per cent of the women involved will survive their spouses. These assumptions are reasonable and even if they are 50 per cent off and there are 75,000 separated people one is talking about the difference between £1 million and £1.5 million in year five: one is still talking of thousands of pounds, not millions of pounds. As a proportion of the total Social Welfare Estimate, this is still a tiny fraction. I presume the Deputies are mainly concerned about our capacity to support widows. There is no reason to worry about our capacity to support them because the indications are that the cost of what we are proposing is minimal.

The Minister said that we are mainly concerned about the capacity of the Department to support these people. Our main concern is that we are debating a Bill which proposes many changes in advance of a referendum on a very important issue. At the time of the 1986 referendum people were not satisfied that the legislation was clear or that all the necessary legislation would be put in place after the referendum. As the Minister for Equality and Law Reform has said, the legislation must be clear so that people know what they are voting for. It is in this context that I have raised these questions. If the legislation is not clear people will not be happy and may vote "no" in the referendum.

I accept the points made by the Minister but divorce will lead to a change in culture. When young people of 18 years get married in Ireland they know that marriage is for life. I would like to think that there will be no increase in the number of marriage breakdowns after the introduction of divorce. However, if the referendum is passed young people whose marriages are not working out will know they can get a divorce. If we are realistic we must accept that this change in culture will lead to more than four or five extra cases of marriage breakdown per annum.

Women and children cannot be left without support and we will have to find some way of paying for these changes. My main concern as a Deputy is to ensure that we enact legislation which will stand up so that we are in a position to say we have investigated the matters thoroughly and the Minister and his Department have given us realistic figures. In terms of lone parents and deserted wives, if divorce is introduced people will not accept that we are talking about an extra four or five cases per annum.

Acting Chairman

We have already been over that ground and I think the Minister answered that question.

It is unhelpful of Deputy Wallace to continually refer to only four or five cases per annum. I have never used that figure. It is a figure that Deputy Wallace has constructed out of a misunderstanding of how the legislation will work and about the fact that we are already providing for people who are deserted or separated and who cannot support themselves or who because of contributions by themselves or their former spouse we are obliged to provide support. The idea of four or five new cases per year is a figment of Deputy Wallace's imagination and has no bearing in reality. I have already indicated that the number of recipients of deserted wife's benefit has increased from 5,165 in 1985 to 13,662 in 1994. There is no point in explaining this if nobody on the Opposition is listening.

We are listening.

I know the Deputy is listening but the Deputies who raised these questions are not listening.

We are listening. The number of recipients has increased from 5,165 to 13,662.

The four Fianna Fáil Deputies are in a huddle trying to figure out whether they should call a vote.

I am still waiting for an answer from the Minister on his figure of £20,000. What does the Minister think the £20,000 will be spent on? I have clearly said the figure is £1 million and 10 per cent of £1 million is £100,000 over five years. When that figure is divided by five it amounts to £20,000. On what will the £20,000 be spent?

Acting Chairman

As I understand it Deputy Wallace is saying — and perhaps I should not intervene — the cost will be £1 million over five years. I understood the Minister to say £1 million in the fifth year. I think that is the difference in interpretation.

That means it would be even less than £20,000 in the first year.

Acting Chairman

Will the Minister address that issue?

I will read this note slowly for Deputy Wallace so that she can write it down. A sum of £1 million is not the cost of marital breakdown.

I did not say that, the Minister is misinterpreting it. I am simply asking the Minister to explain what the £20,000 means. If the Minister does not explain it to the people now he will have to answer questions on it in the autumn.

This £20,000 is a figment of Deputy Wallace's imagination.

Divide the——

Will the Deputy accept that £1 million is not the cost of marital breakdown?

That is half the battle. The costs of marital breakdown are already being met by the State and the social insurance fund under existing provisions of the social welfare code. These supports are provided primarily through lone parent's allowance and deserted wife's benefit and allowance schemes. These benefits — lone parent's allowance schemes and deserted wife's benefit and so on — will be paid and will become due regardless of whether there is divorce. We are talking about the additional costs that arise in relation to claimants whose spouse divorced, died or deserted or were in receipt of a family income supplement.

We are talking about 10 per cent.

The primary cost arises in relation to survivor's pensions because we are already providing for lone parent's and deserted wife's allowances in the social welfare code. In the normal course on a year on year basis the Department of Social Welfare, in tandem with the Department of Finance, will predict for the coming year how many lone parent's or deserted wife's allowances will be paid that year. In the next few months I will examine how much we might expect to pay in deserted wife's allowances and when we introduce the unified lone parent's allowance, how many claimants we expect will come on to our books in 1996. We have to make those estimates every year and we do so on the basis of the numbers of the previous years. It is an annual projection, separate from this Bill and deals with the broad general support which the State provides to people rearing children on their own. The unified lone parent's allowance, when introduced, will go to a person regardless of whether they are divorced, separated, deserted or unmarried and rearing children. They will receive this support from the Department of Social Welfare provided their means are within certain limits.

The question of the cost of this Bill does not arise in terms of the numbers of people who will become deserted or divorced but only in relation to where a person qualifies because their former spouse remarries. It guarantees that the surviving spouse and the former spouse — if he or she survives them — will qualify for a widow's contributory or non-contributory pension. That is where the bulk of the cost will arise.

Acting Chairman

A quorum has been called.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.