I had almost concluded my remarks when I moved the adjournment last week. I want to set out briefly my position on this Bill. While I am attracted to the underlying concept of setting up a pension fund which would supplement both public service and social welfare pensions, at a time in the future when it seems that there may be a difficulty in funding such pensions and a particular burden on the taxpayers, there are elements of the Bill which the Minister must clarify before I would be prepared to even support it on Second Stage.
There is now a reserve fund in place, arising from legislation we passed in this House a year ago, in which the bulk of the proceeds of the sale of Telecom Éireann have been lodged. That reserve fund also contains the first two tranches of 1% of GNP, which is the formula being used to decide how much money will be lodged annually in the fund. The amount in the research fund is in excess of £5 billion and that will be added to each year by way of 1% of GNP being lodged in the fund.
Those are enormous amounts of money, amounts about which an Administration, even five years ago, could have only dreamed. While we are blasé now in times of surpluses, that has not been the financial pattern in this State. I was in Cabinets where Ministers debated and argued for a long time on the expenditure of £0.5 million or a few hundred thousand pounds on some occasions. Dealing with an amount of £10 million was a big decision. If one of those Cabinets was deciding on £10 million in cuts, that was a major decision. We are now making a decision that will tie our successors for the next 25 years by initially putting £5 billion into a fund and then requiring our successors to supplement it by annual tranches of amounts in excess of £600 million and rising as GNP rises. This is a decision of import. While there is no problem now in deducting £600 million from a surplus heading for £3 billion, if we return to balanced budgets or if when the business cycle changes we go into deficits, the setting aside of such a vast amount becomes a serious political decision as well as a serious financial one. The choice in the future may be between putting £600 million into a pension fund or closing down a hospital to provide that money, having no social welfare increase or cutting back on child benefit or have further lengthening waiting lists in hospitals or not building a school that is required. I have no doubt those hard political choices will face a future Government. The formula being used by the Minister is far too inflexible. He, as a Minister, like all of us were and hope to be again – birds of passage in Administrations that pass – purports to tie his successors for 25 years in respect of some aspects of the Bill and for 55 years in respect of other aspects of it. The timeframe is very long.
The Bill is based on demographic projections made by the Minister, which he assures us will turn out as he predicts. All projections of any sort are based on a premise. I have seen the type of projections on which the Minister is basing his predictions. It is a given that, because we know what the population is now, we have a fair idea of the number of people in excess of 65 years of age there will be in the population in 25 years' time. We can make a rough estimate of that, but that is not the calculation on which this should be based. It must be based on the number of persons on social welfare pension and on public service pension in proportion to the active taxpaying labour force. That is the only way it makes sense. It is not possible as we enter the fifth or sixth year of an economic boom to project that with any accuracy. One would have different inputs and a different premise than applied in the case of calculations made four years ago.
The most astounding development in this economy and the factor that explains almost everything else is that seven years ago there were more than 1 million at work, now 1.7 million are at work. A little over an extra 600,000 people are now in the labour force. They are trying to establish a stake in the country. They are building houses, buying cars and getting credit because they are coming from schools or colleges or off social welfare or are immigrants and do not have other resources. That explains a good deal of the consumer boom and much of the pressure in the economy. Given that is happening, there is a large base of young workers paying tax. That is evident from PRSI receipts and tax receipts. Much of the additional tax and PRSI receipts do not accrue because people are paying extra tax and PRSI but because substantially more people are paying tax and PRSI.
Our population has increased by approximately 40,000. Immigration is running at the level of 26,000 or 27,000 people a year. If one takes an immigration figure of 30,000 people a year and projects it forward for 25 years, that would give a figure of 750,000 people. Because of the nature of immigrants, they come into the labour force at a young and active age. I would like the Minister to justify his projections when what he is proposing puts the handcuffs on subsequent Administrations and will force them into positions where they will have to make very difficult decisions if we enter a phase of deficit budgeting. The choice may be to close a hospital or reduce the efficacy of the health service because we decided to put away money for the rainy day. The rainy day may come but there may be no rainy day. I would like to hear the Minister's argument on this point.
The formula is far too tight. I would much prefer a formula which gave discretion to the Administration of the day to put a sum of money into the fund over a range of contributions in accordance with fiscal circumstances if, for example, there was an absolute obligation to put 0.25% of GNP into that fund and that amount could be increased to 1.5% or 2% of GNP in times of major surpluses. At present there is no reason we could not put 2% of GNP into the fund. There is surplus revenue and it might as well be put into such a fund as used to clip down the size of our debt or for some other purpose. The surplus, effectively, is not being used at present. The requirement to make stated investments in this fund will be a very serious issue for subsequent Administrations. I know that anything that is passed by the Dáil can be repealed by it, but it would take a Minister for Finance with an awful lot of bottle to say he or she was standing down the pension fund because the revenue is needed elsewhere. That is the type of political decision that is nearly impossible to make. I would much prefer if a range of options were given in respect of the contribution.
I have no problem about future receipts from the sale of State assets being put in the fund. That is a good idea. Such proceeds could be used for that purpose or to pay off our debt. The receipts of State assets should be considered to be spending money for pet projects as such receipts are the value of the asset owned by the people realised by the Exchequer. The value of that asset should be used for the people in general rather than for one project in one constitutency or for one item of current expenditure or capital investment. That is not the way to proceed. We should proceed along the lines suggested. I have no difficulty with that. I would like the Minister to justify what he is doing.
Another area of difficulty is the prohibitions against investing any of the fund in Ireland. It is not put that way in the Bill, but the Bill stresses and the Minister reaffirmed that the investment must be made on strictly commercial criteria. I am advised by fund managers that investing here on the basis of strictly commercial criteria at present would mean that not more than 1% of the fund would be invested in Ireland. We are talking about a fund of £5 billion that would be increased in tranches each year having to be invested abroad. Two points arise from that. Investment of that fund in Japan, in the United States or elsewhere in Europe will provide jobs for persons of other nationalities. It will help to build up their infrastructure and capital stock, but of all the OECD countries and particularly of all the European Union countries, Ireland has the most depleted and run down infrastructure. These enormous amounts of money would be set aside in a pension fund and could not be spent in Ireland. The Minister has to re-examine this. I would like to hear his reflections on what regulations he intends to put in place to ensure that the fund is not invested in companies which the majority of our citizens would regard as being engaged in non-ethical practices. Irish pension fund money should not be used in the armament industry or in manufacturing land mines which blow people apart in sub-Saharan Africa. The Minister should clarify this in his reply and if I am not satisfied with the clarification I will seek a division.