Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 25 Mar 1947

Vol. 33 No. 16

National Health Insurance Bill, 1947—Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill is being introduced mainly to give effect to an amendment of the scope of the National Health Insurance Acts. At present non-manual workers are not insurable if their rate of remuneration exceeds £250 a year. When the scheme was first introduced in 1911 the figure adopted was £160 and that figure was increased to the present level in 1920. As members of the House know, there have been increases of wages recently and there has been a great change in the value of money. Numbers of persons have passed out of insurance as a result of increases in wages in the last six months and also through the payment of bonus during the emergency.

These persons who have passed out of insurance could, if they wanted, become voluntary contributors but our experience has been that very large numbers of them have not taken advantage of the sections in the national health insurance code which permit voluntary contributions, possibly because of delay in making the necessary decisions to become voluntary contributors until some months have elapsed after the end of their compulsory insurance, when they would have to meet in one sum the accumulated arrears of weekly contributions. There has been for some time a feeling in the Dáil and everywhere else that the remuneration limit should be raised. The Dáil provided for a maximum of £400 and as a result of what was almost universal feeling in the House this was again increased to £500. The section does not apply to persons employed on non-manual work who, in general, are insurable, irrespective of their rate of remuneration. When we decided to introduce this Bill we thought we would take the opportunity of re-enacting in permanent from the provisions of an Emergency Powers Order made in June of last year. Parts II, III and IV give effect to that decision. Part II contains five sections of which the first is designed to cover cases in which contributions were paid irregularly but in good faith in respect of persons who had passed out of insurance, as frequently happened during the emergency, when emergency bonus brought a non-manual worker's remuneration over the insurance limit.

We have provided in this section that such a person shall be treated as if he were an insurable person in the periods in respect of which the contributions were paid, with the usual rights of benefit. This also has the important effect of continuing the protection of the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts because persons insured under the Health Acts are automatically also insured under the Pensions Act. Section 3 increases the "free" period of insurance from one year to 18 months and arises out of the introduction of a yearly, instead of a half-yearly, card. For the sake of economy in administration and accountancy a yearly card has been introduced. The remaining three Sections 5, 6 and 7, deal with the insurance of soldiers, particularly those soldiers who enlisted for the duration of the emergency, a type of enlistment which was not visualised when the main provisions in relation to the insurance of soldiers were made in the National Health Insurance Act, 1936. Up to now such persons had to have at least two years' service.

Part III gives such effect, as is now necessary, to the merging on 30th September last of the membership engagements and assets of the Military Forces (International Arrangements) Insurance Fund in National Health Society. The state had been then reached when it was pointless, and wasteful in administration, that this small body, consisting of between 1,000 and 5,000 members, should remain apart from the National Health Insurance Society which dealt with the remainder of the insured population. No former member of the fund will lose in any way by reason of the merger.

This covers members of the British forces who served in the first World War and who, because of their medical condition, were not considered as good subjects for insurance by the then nonunified insurance societies. We provide for the continuity of the records through which we negotiate with the British Government on behalf of these people. Part IV deals with persons who are in receipt of pensions from the British Government in respect of disablement arising out of the recent war. Broadly speaking, former members of the British forces who are in receipt of pensions in respect of 100 per cent. disability will not get sickness or disablement benefit until they re-qualify by engaging in insurable employment for prescribed periods and persons in receipt of British civil pensions in respect of war disablement will be treated as if the pension was an award under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. The principle of the provisions is sound. The Acts are framed on the basis of normal incidence of illness and national health insurance funds should be protected against claims for benefit arising directly from war causes, by persons in receipt of pensions in respect of their disabilities.

Part V is the only part containing new provisions. The first two sections of that part are mainly accounting. Section 17 provides that in lieu of the present two-ninths State grant on the expenditure of benefits and administration, the sum to be paid in 1947-48 and in subsequent financial years will be such sum as is estimated would be paid under the old provision.

The amendment arises out of proposals which will be before the Oireachtas when the Estimates are under consideration and is introduced solely in the interests of accounting simplicity. The National Health Insurance Fund will neither gain nor lose under the arrangement. Members of the House know that the Government provides a subsidy of two-ninths of the expenditure for the pensions and administration of the National Health Insurance Society, and if we now arrange for an increase in benefits to be paid by the State entirely, that alters the method of calculation and disturbs the previous arrangements whereby two-ninths were paid. This section is in order to provide for that contingency and avoid a vast amount of complicated accountancy. Section 18 merely enables the Minister for Finance to invest moneys held for the National Health Insurance Fund in any securities authorised by law for the investment of Savings Bank funds. It will be recalled that not long ago the Minister for Finance was enabled to invest moneys in any security authorised by law which would include also temporary advances in Exchequer bills. The remaining section in Part V, Section 19, as already explained, provides the main reason for the Bill. Members of the House will, therefore, be aware that a considerable portion of this Bill relates to implementing and passing into permanent law an emergency powers Order and the remainder relates principally to the proposal to increase the maximum remuneration rate for National Health Insurance Society and widows' and orphans' pension purposes.

As far as I am concerned this Bill would be regarded as entirely uncontroversial with the possible exception of the change that was introduced in the Dáil at practically no notice. As far as the rest of the Bill is concerned it seems to be more or less in practice already. I do not know anything about the accounting changes but I think it is a matter we may leave to the Government without very many questions.

I have an open mind as to the wisdom of bringing in a large number of persons into the National Health Insurance Society. I may be wrong, but I think that in general terms, the figure of £400 reinsured persons who had fallen out before, but who were in very much the same position as far as their income was concerned. That was only a recognition of the change in the value of money and it was not bringing in any very large number of new persons, but when you increase it to £500 you would be bringing in a large number of new persons, and we are given no information in this House at any rate as to any estimate of the number of persons who will be so included. There must have been some good reason why this very wide distinction was made between the manual worker and the non-manual worker. The manual worker has to be insured and the non-manual worker was previously £250. I think the Minister said in the other House that the £400 will be about the value of the £250. It may be that there is a very good case for this additional amount but I think there is no case whatever for rushing it.

I have had a few conversations with people, many of whom are rather against it, and I would suggest that if this was introduced in the Dáil last week and as we only got it here in the amended form yesterday there should be a few weeks between the Second Stage and the Committee Stage to enable us to consult with business organisations—in my own case—and with other bodies and try to find out what the public feeling towards the change is.

I do not know what the exact effect may be. A good many non-manual workers between £350 and £500 were in positions in which if they were out sick for a week or two they did not have their salaries deducted. If we bring them in to a scheme of this kind I do not know what the effect will be, but it is conceivable that they will be much worse off for very little gain to themselves. I am not sure of these things as the matter has been only sprung on me and I am only putting points forward for consideration. I know a case in which the head of one business tried to persuade members of the staff, who through emergency bonuses and so on had exceeded the £250, to remain insured and said that the firm would pay the firm's usual contribution and the majority of them declined. They said that it was not even worth that amount to them. That is probably unsound, and for my part, I have been advised to the contrary, but I think it is rather the attitude of non-manual workers who do not seem to think they are going to gain very much.

Assuming the Government did not accept an amendment of this kind without having figures, can the Government estimate the number of new persons who were not previously insured under the scheme and who would be brought into the scheme now? I would prefer to leave over the Committee Stage for a week or two until this can be considered.

It is not only because of the point about the £500 but as to whether certain amendments might not be required if the figure is to be £500. For instance, what would be the position of a man who, as I know—although I do not know the exact figures which makes my case all the better in that I am not taking an individual case—is acting as secretary to two or three organisations and is paid, I think, £250 in one case, £300 in the other and, I think, £100 in the third? I think, under the insurance code, he will now have to be insured and to stamp his card. I think that is the kind of case which could be exempted if you were going into the £500 figure. I am giving an indication of the kind of case that might be considered. Then you may have quite a few people who have private incomes from part-time or light employment for which they may get £250 or so a year as well as a big salary. I would be inclined to exempt people of that kind if they can prove that their fixed income does not exceed the maximum.

I certainly think the change which was introduced into the Dáil should not be pushed here without further consideration. Before I sit down I would like to ask the Minister a question. I have not all the details but I noticed that a case came before the Labour Court for a claim for increased wages on behalf of the employees of the National Health Insurance Society. It appeared that the Government in making provision for £450 or £500 because of the difference in the value of money, that the case cannot be considered because of a statutory provision—I think, made in 1924—which placed the total amount of wage increase at 4/5.

While I have not sufficient knowledge to express an opinion about the present wages, I certainly think it would be the height of absurdity when a Bill of this kind is going through, to say that the maximum fixed in 1924 should be the maximum now which would prevent an increase if an increase be justified in the present case on the part of the employees of the society.

This is the first measure promoted by the Ministry of Social Welfare and there is not one suggestion in it that the Minister intends to maintain incomes for anybody. As the Parliamentary Secretary has just said, the Bill is concerned very largely with implementing the machinery provisions of an Emergency Powers Order which has been in force for the past two years and for the purpose of raising the insurable limit from £250 to £500. From that angle, the Bill must be regarded as disappointing and unsatisfactory. As a machinery measure, it is probably unobjectionable, although one finds it difficult, in reading the Bill, to discover whether it has any principle. In fact, if we are discussing the principle of the Bill on Second Reading, I am in the difficulty that I do not know what its principle is. It appears to be a document hastily gathering together odds and ends, without any purpose in principle, or any object except tightening up Departmental machinery.

In regard to the proposal to increase the insurable limit from £250 to £500, I think it is safe to say that it was one of those proposals about which there was almost complete unanimity in the Dáil. It is true that certain employed persons would, probably, object to a proposal to bring them into the health insurance scheme but that has been true from the beginning. It was true in 1911, just as it is true in 1947, that sections who had given the matter no consideration thought they were being imposed upon because they were brought into the health insurance scheme.

Everybody knows that to be untrue. What appeals to me most in regard to this proposal is that, by becoming insured under the health insurance scheme, those persons whose income runs between £250 and £500 will come within the widows' and orphans' pension scheme, which will mean a tremendous difference to the widow and the children of a deceased person whose income exceeded £250. The widow and orphan in this case will now be entitled to a contributory pension without the application of a means test, whereas, under the old legislation, the widow and the orphan would become entitled to a non-contributory pension only when they were able to satisfy a means test. I think that the case for extending the health insurance limit is unanswerable and I think that any person who gives the slightest thought to the question will accept the view that it is very proper to increase the insurable limit to £500. To my mind, it was a strange anomaly that the manual worker was insurable, irrespective of his income, notwithstanding this limit in other cases. A docker might be earning 15/- or 16/- a day. With overtime, he might be earning £500 a year. Yet, he was insurable. There was no question as to his income; it was only in the case of non-manual workers that discrimination was made on the basis of income. That seems to me to have been based on certain old and discredited theories. It was linked up with the discrimination in the case of the Workmen's Compensation Acts and all those other services in respect of which it was thought that the person who had a salary, as distinct from the person with a wage, was able to provide for himself or, alternatively, that the relations between the employer and the employed person were such that there was no need to make any provision by statute or regulation for the protection or safety of himself or his dependents. That theory was unsound at all times, and it has been utterly discredited for many years.

It is a pity that, in introducing this measure, the first of its kind introduced by the Ministry of Social Welfare, advantage was not taken of the occasion to make provision for higher rates of benefit for the sick, for those who are entitled to invalidity benefit and for the dependents of persons unable to continue in their employment because of illness. I have in mind, particularly, the case of persons suffering from tuberculosis. Imagine the case of a workman who is advised by his doctor that he must go into a sanatorium for three months, the penalty for refusal being a lingering death. That man realises that the moment he withdraws from gainful employment, his wife and family will be exposed to hardships. He tries to avoid those hardships. He hesitates about entering the sanatorium and tries to struggle on. In struggling on, he is risking his life and, at the same time, he is spreading the germs of tuberculosis amongst his family and his shop mates. We should try to avoid that. I had hoped that that would have been provided against by the Minister for Social Welfare when introducing the first of these Bills dealing with health insurance. I regret that the Bill should have come to us without any provision covering a position of that kind. While we shall agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that it is a great advantage to the insured person to have the free period, or what used to be called the "free year", extended to 18 months, there is a slight suspicion in my mind that its alteration, unless it has been carefully examined, may have repercussions on the benefit fund of the health insurance society which will not be favourable.

Under the scheme of the first world war, 1914-18, large numbers of people were kept in insurance by temporary legislation covering previous years. The result of that legislation was to enable people to maintain themselves in insurance for a meagre contribution of 4/- or 5/- a year. That enabled an unemployed person to obtain all the benefits of the Health Insurance Acts. The scheme was entirely uneconomic from the point of view of the approved societies, and was regarded by everybody as imposing a strain on the resources of the societies that they should not be expected to bear.

I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us, before extending the free period from 12 to 18 months, whether there has been an actuarial valuation in respect to the funds. Apart from the payment of two-ninths of the cost of administration of benefits, the State is giving nothing whatever to people whose insurance is being extended by 18 months. The burden is going to fall entirely on the approved health insurance societies. In other words, the funds of the health insurance society which should be available for additional benefits for those paying full contributions, are going to be mulcted to the extent of the concession under this Bill for those who are normally out of insurance for a period. I should be glad to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary whether the effect of this proposal has been examined closely and, if so, whether any estimate is available as to the amount of burden the proposal will place on the funds of the health insurance society.

That brings me to the question of the finances of the society, to which Senator Douglas referred. The funds of the society are determined by Departmental regulations. There is no limit in the Acts to the amount of income which may be available to the society. There is a provision in Section 53 of the Health Insurance Act, 1911, as amended by Section 70 of the Insurance Act, 1918, which enables the Minister to determine the amount of money which should be available to the health insurance society for this purpose. In the first set of regulations made under the Act of 1911, the Government of the day provided a payment of 3/5 per head of insured members of each society as a fund for administering the approved society. In 1919 that figure was increased to 4/5 per head, and in 1921 it was again increased to 4/10 per annum per head of insured contributor of the approved society.

In 1924, the amount was reduced to 4/5. For what reason? Not because the cost of administration had been reduced, but because the State decided to grab 5d. per member of the approved society's administration fund for the purpose of setting up a scheme of medical referees. The fund out of which medical referees are paid is largely a fund built up out of the normal resources of the approved society which, accordingly, are reduced to the extent of 5d. per head of membership per annum. It is true that when amalgamation took place in 1923 the Government were optimistic that considerable savings in administration costs could be effected. I think they were unduly optimistic, because they ignored the fact that the old approved societies, of which there were 65, had at their disposal a large amount of voluntary or badly-paid labour.

Approved societies with 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 members carried on without the services of a single whole-time official. They were able to do so because some member of the committee, or some active member of the society, particularly if it was a trade union society, was officially interested in health insurance and carried on the secretarial and office duties in his spare time for an honorarium. Of course, that lessened the cost of administration and, in the case of a small society, the figure was almost infinitesimal. In the case of larger societies, many of the staffs were very badly paid. These staffs were transferred to the new society in a period in which nobody knew very clearly what the cost of administration was going to be. They were transferred at low rates of remuneration. These rates have continued low ever since, and they continue low because the Department has refused to increase the appropriation available to the society for the cost of administration.

An application recently come before the Labour Court by the trade union representing the employees of the health insurance society. At that inquiry it transpired that girl typists are paid 20/- a week in the City of Dublin in this health insurance society. As far as I can discover the maximum rate which a girl can hope to earn, unless she is promoted to a higher grade, is 53/- a week, and the highest grade a man can earn, unless he is promoted, is 62/- a week. Some of these men might have ten, 12 or 15 years' service. Some of them might be married. They are entitled to a wage of 62/- a week, plus an emergency bonus of 16/-.

When the application came before the Labour Court, it was resisted not by the society but by the officials of the Government. Two officers of the Government Department appeared before the Labour Court to resist the application of the employees. The secretary of the society, in fact, while resisting the application so far as it was likely to impose a charge on the society beyond its resources, promised that if the court made an award it would be honoured by the society, and honoured retrospectively. That, however, was not the attitude of the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare, who told the court that there was only one of two ways in which the society's funds could be augmented to meet the claims of the staff. One was, he said, to take money away from the additional benefits fund—that, of course, is sheer bunkum. The other was to increase the weekly contributions—that also was bunkum. The only way in which it is necessary to make an adjustment is to increase the appropriation to the society to the figure at which it stood before the 5d. per annum was taken away to provide a fund for the medical referees.

There are altogether in the employment of the society a clerical staff numbering 270. Of these, only 20 are earning £5 a week. There are 35 men in the Grade B group, whose salaries commence at 64/- and reach a maximum of 80/-. The ages of these men run from 26 to 40 and about half of them are married.

Is that 80/- inclusive?

No, there is 16/- bonus. There are 15 men on Grade C, who start at 80/- and go to 100/-, plus bonus. There are 118 women clerks on the Grade A scale, who are paid a maximum of 52/- a week plus this emergency bonus. That is being done at a time when all kinds of organisations in Great Britain are advertising in the Irish papers for clerks and typists and offering £5 to £7 a week. A young girl whom I know left Dublin last month —she had got married and her husband was transferred to a position in London—and in London she saw an advertisement for a typist. She answered it and was engaged right away at £7 a week. To-day she would get £3 5s. 0d. or £3 10s. 0d. here. These are the conditions under which we expect people to administer one of our social services. If the attitude adopted by the Department in relation to the application made on behalf of the staff of the National Health Insurance Society before the Labour Court represents the reflected view of the Government, then the social services in this country are going to become a byword.

I would urge very strongly that the Parliamentary Secretary would convey to the Minister that the gravest dissatisfaction exists because of the manner in which the claims of the staff of the society are being met. The last increase in wages granted to the staff was at the end of 1939 and the negotiations for that increase commenced in 1937. It took two years' negotiations to extract from the society a paltry few shillings a week. After the termination of the emergency, the staff at this time having become members of a union, the demand was made for an increase of 50 per cent. on the wages payable in 1939. Now, that is not an outrageous application. The cost of living has increased by 70 per cent. The staff were looking for 50 per cent. and if they were conceded the whole of the demand, they would still be in a worse position than in 1939.

It should be noted that, when similar applications were before the Labour Court in respect of comparable employment, advances running as high as 60 per cent. were conceded. Members of the House are probably familiar with the award made by the Labour Court in the case of the application made by the staff of the Electricity Supply Board. It amounted to something like this: Anyone who was in receipt of £2 a week or less in 1939 was to get a 60 per cent. advance; those with salaries based on the 1939 figures running between £2 and, I think, £3 were to get 55 per cent. advance; on salaries between £3 and £4 the award was 50 per cent. and on salaries over £4, it was 45 per cent., I think. Therefore, in asking for a flat rate increase of 50 per cent. on the 1939 standard, the staff of the society were not out of step with their colleagues in other comparable employments.

I do not want to weary the House with many details, although they are interesting for the purpose of making comparisons with the rates paid in other similar employments. I think it might be said that, in the case of the Electricity Supply Board in respect of which an award was made recently by the Labour Court, the rates are about double the present standard of the Health Insurance Society. In fact, it would be very difficult to find any kind of employment in the City of Dublin where the rates are nearly so low as they are in the case of the Health Insurance Society.

This, as I have already said, is not due to any desire on the part of the committee of management to maintain a low standard of salaries and earnings for their staff. It is due to the fact that the appropriations made to the society are insufficient to bear a reasonably decent scale of salaries. It is true, of course, that there are claims on the society's funds above and beyond the claims of the staff.

During the past seven or eight years the society has paid out of its reduced appropriation of 4/5 the sum of £200,000 in respect of new buildings, and of superannuations, pensions, and gratuities given to the officials of the old approved societies which were dissolved in 1933 or 1934. Now, it is easy for the Government to be generous with other people's money, and the Government were rather generous when the 1933 Act was going through both Houses in awarding pensions and compensation to the former officials of the approved societies. It did not make it clear, however, at the time that every penny of this compensation was to come out of the reduced appropriation made available for the administration of the National Health Insurance Society. I am not in a position to say what this House thought of that at the time, but what I imagine is that the House did not understand when the Bill was going through in 1933 that it was the lowly paid employees of the Health Insurance Society who would eventually be called upon to pay the compensation then made available for the staffs of the old approved societies.

There is a rather novel proposal in this Bill which I want Senators to note and scrutinise with great care. It is another financial proposal. I refer to Section 17 of the Bill, which the Parliamentary Secretary passed over glibly, by saying that it was a simple thing: that it was going to deal with the supplementary sum which will be made-available to pay additional benefits. I do not accept that statement. At present, the State is required by the Act of 1911, as amended subsequently, to refund to the Health Insurance Society two-ninths of the society's expenditure on benefits and two-ninths of its expenditure on administration.

That has been the law for 35 years. It is important to bear in mind that the British Parliament, when enacting this legislation, set down clearly the liability of the State to pay certain sums. It limited the liability within the confines of the Act. The Minister's proposal in this Bill is to take away all these limitations. Under Section 17, he proposes that the obligation on the State to provide two-ninths of the benefits and two-ninths of the costs of administration shall be taken away. That obligation will no longer continue if Section 17 is passed in its present form, but instead there will be paid to the society, as from the 1st April, 1947, such sum as the Minister for Finance may think fit. That is, roughly, what it amounts to.

This is a case where the Minister for Social Welfare has capitulated and thrown up his hands. Instead of defending the claims of the society and of the insured persons, he is simply saying: "I am going to accept anything which the Department of Finance thinks fit to make available." I do not think the Oireachtas should pass legislation giving a blank cheque to the Minister for Finance to pay as much, or as little, as he thinks fit in respect of this service. It has not been the practice heretofore to do that. The obligations of the Minister in respect of unemployment insurance and of other services are set out clearly in the statute creating these services. That is so because the House, obviously, must have a means of checking up on what has been done, and so the House wants the Comptroller and Auditor-General to audit the books and the accounts of that Department with regard to its statutory obligations. Once we pass Section 17 the only thing that the Comptroller and Auditor-General can do is to see that none of the money is stolen. He will have no function whatever to say that the Minister paid too much or too little, because there is neither an upward limit nor a lower limit so far as this section is concerned. Above all, this House will have no say whatever in respect of national insurance once this Bill becomes law in its present form.

It is true that the Dáil may, on the appropriate Estimate, raise questions in respect of administration and of the provisions made in the Act. Their adequacy, or otherwise, may be challenged in the Dáil, but that function does not rest with this House. We have no opportunity of discussing the Estimates or of discussing administration because, at least, one Minister has repeatedly said here that he is not responsible to this House for the administration of his Department. This House should, therefore, be very slow to give its imprimatur to a proposal such as this which sweeps away any pretence to control that Parliament may have over the appropriation of public moneys. I want to protest as strongly as I can against that proposal. I want Senators, irrespective of the side of the House on which they sit, to take note of what is being done and to ensure that there will be good and sufficient reasons given for a proposal which takes away from Parliament any control over finance: which, in fact, takes away from the Minister responsible for administering this Bill any control over the financial structure of the Bill, and hands that over to the Department of Finance without any guidance, control or check whatever.

Mr. Hawkins

A Leas-Chathaoirleach, I, like Senator Duffy, welcome this Bill. It is some years ago since I advocated some of the points brought into the Bill. I think first of all it would be right for me to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Minister, when introducing this Bill in the Dáil, made it quite clear that this was but a temporary measure pending the introduction of more comprehensive legislation to cover national health insurance. The Bill is very simple. The first important change it proposes is the raising of the wage level from £250 to £500. Anybody associated with-national health insurance in any way, either as a worker or as an employer, realises that this change is absolutely essential. There has been a number of increases in wages given in recent months and many of the workers found as a result that their salaries having been raised above £250 were not regarded as insurable workers and, consequently, not entitled to benefits. Senator Douglas mentioned cases of workers objecting to the ceiling being raised to £500. I could well understand this if this Bill was not introduced, because those people would not be entitled to any national health insurance benefit except those who are entitled to receive widows' and orphans' pensions. Now, under the new Bill, they will be entitled to all the benefits and I feel that salaried workers of this type will not have any serious objection to becoming insured workers.

Senator Duffy, in his statement, overlooked a very important part of this Bill, namely, the increase in benefits. Sickness benefit is increased from 15/- to 26/- a week and disablement from 7/6 to 15/- a week and all those increases are going to be borne by the National Health Insurance Fund. This brings us back to the line taken by Senator Duffy in regard to the old system of grants by the Government. Here we have provisions made for increasing the benefits. There is no provision for increasing the contributions, therefore, in my view, the increased benefits must be met by Government grants which must be sufficiently large to cover the additional benefits for the additional number of people who will be brought in under the Acts. I welcome the Bill, as I have said, and I want to make this point. Recognising that it is a temporary measure I ask the Parliamentary Secretary and the Department to bear in mind when drafting the more comprehensive and permanent measure, these suggestions. I feel that greater benefit should be made available for married men with families than for single workers. While there is an increase in the benefits under this Bill I feel than when the new Bill is being drafted serious consideration should be given to the advisability of increasing the benefits for married men with families. Senator Duffy did refer to married men suffering from tuberculosis who might have to be sent to sanatoria. There, again, I understand that under the Public Health Bill provisions will be made for those people but it is in the case of the worker who contracts some illness other than tuberculosis that I am interested at the moment and for whom I think increased benefits should be made available. I know it is not possible to do that in this Bill but it will be possible to do it in the more comprehensive measure which will be before the House shortly.

I feel that the most that can be said for this National Health Bill is that it is a slight improvement on the Act that it replaces. By raising the figure that brings certain classes of workers within the provisions of the Acts, from £250 to £500, great numbers of workers not now covered by national health insurance will be brought within the purview of the present Act. I agree with Senator Hawkins that even though increases in sickness benefit are provided for by this Bill, increases from 15/- to 22/6 a week, this is not enough in the case of married persons. In the new Bill which is to follow I hope, with Senator Hawkins, that this point will not be overlooked by the Minister. Much greater increased benefits for a man with family responsibilities who happens to be sick should be provided. It is a pity in a scheme of national health insurance that in certain eventualities beneficiaries will have to have recourse to poor law or home assistance. Take the case of a married man. Even though he will be provided with 22/6 a week under this Bill he will not have enough to maintain his family and he must apply for home assistance to supplement the national health benefit. There is another aspect in which this Bill is at fault and that is it does not provide for free medical assistance. In the event of a sick beneficiary having to request the services of a doctor, unless he is able to pay the doctor for his services, he will have to apply for a red ticket. This means that we still have the old poor law assistance supplementing this scheme of national health benefit. I feel that a more comprehensive Bill is necessary and that if the Minister could wait until the Public Health Bill becomes law, a more comprehensive measure could be provided. As I have said, this Bill is just a slight improvement on the existing system and I feel that even though it is not mentioned here, beneficiaries in certain eventualities may have to apply for home assistance to supplement their benefits and where the services of a doctor are required, they will have to go to an assistance officer or to a warden for a red ticket.

The Earl of Longford

I think we all recognise the necessity for the Parliamentary Secretary's promoting this Bill. I think we all wish to see better benefits for the sick and better conditions for the workers all round. I do agree, however, with Senator Douglas that there are certain cases where this Bill may have rather surprising results. I am referring particularly to the most important clause, the sting in the tail of the Bill, which raises the limit from £250 to £500 a year. I want to talk for the moment about a class of people of whom, I am sure, Senators know very little—the members of the theatrical profession. The greater numbers of the actors in Dublin with the exception of the beginners get salaries of between £5 and £10 a week. It does arise in the case of my own company, the Gate Theatre, that there are a round dozen of them —practically all—who get salaries of this amount, and the bringing in of this measure will be a very serious increase in the weekly bill of a concern which is carrying on under great difficulty and I think the same applies to most of the other concerns in Dublin. We might gladly pass this if we were quite convinced that it was going to be of any practical value. Actually, I am quite certain that the actors themselves would hotly deny that it was of any benefit at all.

There was a practice which was probably quite illegal carried on up to a couple of years ago under which, in Dublin at any rate, actors were tacitly exempted from national health insurance. The employment of actors is exceedingly irregular—a man may work for a week or two and then perhaps not work again for months. That is quite common in the profession and they were tacitly exempted. I am not saying that was a good thing. In fact in the case of some actors, I think it was a bad thing. Then, suddenly, I think, certain actors applied to be put under the scheme and the scheme was enforced. We, the managers of the Dublin theatres, tried to find out from the National Health Society whether or not actors were included under the scheme. For two years we were not given any answer at all. Then, suddenly, we were informed that we were liable for arrears. That matter was fixed up not very satisfactorily but in some way or another, and the scheme was then enforced in a most extraordinary way. There are a number of people about the stage and you would not call them actors. They appear in small parts, and in many theatres they are not paid at all. It is the custom in our theatre to pay them a guinea a week. It is not meant to be a wage but to cover their expenses. Then, you are now asked to pay a contribution for them. That all means an increased expenditure in the case of a business where the majority of the employees get between £5 and £10 a week and are irregularly employed and many of them will not go on with it for their lives.

I would point out one other thing: many of the regular employees get benefits from the company far exceeding anything that will be paid under this scheme. Very often you will find that actors who are sick for weeks are paid their full salary, getting £6 or £7 a week. As Senator Douglas suggested, this sort of thing can hardly continue if they are brought under the new scheme. There are a number of anomalies which do arise and I can see why it tacitly but illegally happened that they were exempted from the national health scheme. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to consider this matter. I am sure there are many other professions in which the scheme is a hardship rather than a benefit for the workers. I want to see the workers well-treated and getting every benefit which they possibly can get and I want to see everything being done for their good but I do not want to see hardship inflicted either on myself or anybody else. I would like to be assured that the worker is going to benefit in all cases by the raising of this exemption figure from £250 to £400. I agree with Senator Douglas that the matter should be very carefully considered. So far as the workers who are to benefit are concerned, I do not want to stand in their way but let us be sure they are really going to benefit before anything rash is done.

I suggest to Senator Lord Longford that according to the works of Shakespeare, if his suggestion were adopted, there would be no one at all insured. I think it was Shakespeare who said, "Men and women are merely players." If we apply that generally no one would be insured. Actors are a comparatively small section of the community and the number involved in the new arrangement would be comparatively small. The hardship would not be great. As to the people who are working for a guinea a week, that is only pin money. Therefore, I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary would be very much concerned about that matter.

I want to say I am very disappointed that the new Minister for Social Welfare did not consider it worth while to come into the House for this Bill. There were a lot of things I wanted to say.

On a point of explanation, I should say the Minister is not at all well and it is necessary to pass this Bill before the end of the financial year. It is quite impossible for him to speak at all to-day and I am quite certain that otherwise he would be here.

If it is necessary to pass it, it should have made its appearance before this.

I am very sorry to hear the Minister is not well. I am not in any way disparaging the Parliamentary Secretary. We had Parliamentary Secretaries on this job before and we did not care a lot about them. The point here is that this national health insurance is a very serious and very important part of our national life and up to now it has not got anything like the consideration or the encouragement that it is entitled to.

The present National Health Insurance Society was originally organised by the man who is now President of Ireland and apparently he picked his team very well—too well for some people, I believe. He chose Dr. Dignan as chairman and with nearly ten years' experience of Dr. Dignan I am perfectly satisfied that a more competent or a more earnest chairman never presided over the national health insurance business. I say that with very long and varied experience of people controlling the business of institutions. I see the chairman looking at me——

He did not say anything at all. Carry on.

It is very difficult for me to speak when I know what is going on behind the scenes in the management and control of the National Health Insurance Society. I want to say that during the chairmanship of Dr. Dignan the funds of this society went up enormously and at one time we were told that we could not pay additional benefits until the reserve fund was in or about £12,000,000. This was a matter of contention between the committee of that time and the Department. We could make no impression whatever on them. That did not lead to harmonious working. For that and other reasons, when Dr. Rowlette, one of the trustees of the society, died, he was replaced by a civil servant. In my opinion, the idea behind this appointment was to put the committee of the National Health Insurance Society in much the same position as the committee of Cork Street Hospital—to label them spendthrifts and incompetent people. Fortunately, in this case, a very competent and very able man was appointed. He was also a very conscientious man. After a thorough investigation into the management and control of the society, he certified that it had been run in a most efficient and economic manner—that it could not be run more economically. The excuse for getting rid of certain people on the committee was, accordingly, lost. But another means was found. The chairman had the audacity to publish proposals for a much better and more comprehensive scheme of social insurance than that of the National Health Insurance Society. For that, he was cast into oblivion.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We are not discussing those proposals to-day.

I thought you would come to that. It is very difficult for me, knowing as much as I do, to restrain myself in this matter.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Perhaps it would be wiser if you did.

I shall try, but I claim as much latitude as previous speakers received and I hope I shall get it. I shall keep myself within the rules of debate—a job which is difficult enough. What is the position now? Some two years ago, those proposals by Dr. Dignan were published. We were told that they were not worth while, that the Government had a more comprehensive and a better scheme to put before the people. We are still waiting for the Government's proposals. So far as we know, nothing is being done. Every organised body which has spoken on this matter has declared in favour of a comprehensive social insurance scheme. When are we to get it? Is the Parliamentary Secretary in a position to tell us when we may expect a a comprehensive social insurance scheme? This measure is very insignificant when compared with a complete scheme of social insurance.

I thoroughly agree with the proposal to increase the insurable limit for non-manual workers to £500. These people should have been insured long ago. Remember, they are coming into a perfectly solvent insurance society, well able to cover their contributions. In three years they will be in a position to enjoy the additional benefits— dental, optical, hospital treatment, and so on—which are very substantial. They will certainly be in a position to get value for their money. In addition, they will help the other members of the society and I hope that, in the future, when we have this all-embracing measure which we have been promised—a measure better than anybody else has suggested, better even than the Beveridge scheme—people having £1,000 per annum will be insured.

The National Health Insurance Society gives an opportunity for employment to the workman's son and daughter. The standard for the examination is the leaving certificate of the primary schools. Consequently, the ordinary national schoolboy or schoolgirl has an opportunity of getting what ought to be fairly good employment. One of the speakers mentioned that the minimum wage was 30/-. At the time I left, it was 35/-. When the committee took over, it was 22/6 a week. The committee were extremely economical and ran the insurance society on the lowest possible figure. It has already been mentioned that the amount allocated for administration, generally, plus payment of compensation in connection with the amalgamation, plus payment for all the buildings, had to come out of the 4/5 allowance. That has not been increased and, consequently, the employees in this institution have wages much lower than those in similar employment elsewhere. Mention may be made of the Electricity Supply Board and others. I do not know what standard of education is required for entrance to the Electricity Supply Board, but I suggest that the people employed in this society are very efficient and very competent. In saying that, I speak from experience. They are not paid the wages they should be paid.

In connection with the recent approach to the Labour Court, mention was made of an increase in wages which took place in 1940. That increase had been the subject of negotiation for nearly two years. Ultimately, when conceded, the committee, feeling that the employees were so badly treated, granted them two annual increments to compensate for the long period during which they were denied this increase in salary. When the matter was before the Labour Court, this was taken as a war increase, plus the emergency or war bonus of 16/-, and it would appear then that these people had not got such a raw deal. That was shrewd work on the part of the representatives of what I might call the new Ministry. The position to-day is that these people are being paid salaries that are not comparable with what is paid in private employment. The Parliamentary Secretary can put me right if it is not a fact that the 4/5 could be increased by Ministerial Order. The 4/5 is entirely inadequate to meet the commitments necessary to pay salaries that the staff should get which would keep them in ordinary frugal comfort. I tell the Parliamentary Secretary that he may have very serious trouble on hands in the near future, if he does not give these people some assurance as to when their grievance is likely to be remedied, or when their position will be brought somewhat on a par with similar employees, not only in the City of Dublin but all over Ireland.

I hope the Minister, through the Parliamentary Secretary, will give the matter serious attention. Nobody wants trouble. Certainly from what I know of the staff of the National Health Insurance Society they are not anxious for it. But there is a limit to human endurance and they certainly have an outstanding grievance as regards salaries. The matter has been going on for a long time. They have been looking forward to some improvement. As far as they know there is to be no improvement in their position. I tell the Parliamentary Secretary that something should be done at once concerning the 4/5 allocated for administration. It simply cannot be done on that amount. The claims on the 4/5 are so great that the reserve funds have been used up. There is going to be an increase in income from £170,000 or £175,000 to £250,000. That was hardly ever contemplated by ordinary contributors to the society. There might be an opportunity now to do something for those who have to administer the society.

I hope the Minister will take serious notice of the position he is faced with there, and that he will see that any comprehensive scheme here will compare with that in countries in the immediate neighbourhood. If the social services here remain so much behind those of neighbouring countries the barrier created will be hard to get rid of. That is all I wish to say on this Bill now. Otherwise, I might say something that might not be in accordance with its terms.

I should like to deal with this Bill oh a rather different basis. I agree that it is a temporary Bill. It is also a Bill that was prepared in great haste, prepared apparently without much thought. I have seen a great many Bills, but I have never seen a Bill drafted like this. Having been drafted we are told that it is wanted before the end of the financial year. This is March 25th, next week is Holy Week, and next Tuesday is April 1st. The position is really extraordinary. The Bill is not a comprehensive one. I hope when a comprehensive Bill is about to be brought in, that the promise given on one occasion to a member of this House, that when Bills of this kind, which are of a non-political nature, are brought in, a White Paper will be tabled to give an opportunity of discussing them. I hope that there will be an opportunity of discussing national health and social insurance.

The position of the staff of the unified society has been mentioned. I repeat the question that Senator Foran asked. Is it not the case that the Minister for Social Services can by Order increase the 4/5 per person out of which the cost of administration comes. If he can, he certainly should do so, because the salaries paid are not good or even passable in comparison with other salaries.

Another point is that when this Bill was originally introduced in the Dáil it raised the figure for compulsory insurance to £400. The Minister's line was that £250 in 1939 corresponds roughly to £400 now, and in the Dáil, rather light-heartedly and without any consideration, he made the figure £500. Having made the figure £500 we are now invited to pass this Bill. While I agree with Senator Foran that in certain circumstances the figure might be made £1,000, these circumstances have not arisen. When you are going to make an important change of this kind you should start off by hearing what the persons concerned think about it. At first flush I would be entirely in favour of giving benefit to people who got no national health benefit. There are more sides to the story than one. A great many people who will pay will never receive any benefit at all. I agree that that is not a very bad thing.

Let me look at it from another aspect. Why is this Bill wanted in a hurry? It consists of 19 sections. On Section 11, Sections 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15 and 16, are retrospective. Eleven sections end with a different date like Section 3, which consists of two sub-sections. Sub-section (2) of Section 3 reads:—

"Sub-section (1) of this section shall be deemed to have come into operation on the 14th day of June, 1946."

If that is so about 11 sections what is the hurry? Section 17 is the one to which Senator Duffy objected because of the Minister's power to make any grant he felt inclined—not necessarily two-ninths—as from the 1st April, 1947. If we pass this Bill on April 15th or May 15th that section could be amended so as to be ante-dated to the 1st April, 1947. Section 19 is the one which raises the limit to £500 and is to come into operation on a day to be fixed by the Minister. Therefore, I am baffled to understand why there is any hurry about this Bill. There is no hurry that I can see. There has been some suggestion that the Minister for Social Welfare has to estimate but the Estimate can be passed without passing this Bill, and most emphatically the benefits purported to be given can be ante-dated as they are in the Bill.

This is not a political matter. It is one in which we are all interested. We are all interested in seeing social services properly conducted and proper benefits provided. We must be also interested in public discussion. This is a Bill that must be discussed when a decision has been reached to make an important change, such as raising the limit to £500, and making the Minister liable to pay such sum as he might determine. That may be good or bad. Certainly we should not rush a Bill of this kind. There is no case whatever for asking us to pass the Bill to-night or to-morrow. If there is a case, the Parliamentary Secretary will have to make it in greater detail and for a greater contingency than we have heard of so far. I know there are things in the Bill which are good, such as increased benefits, but the Bill is a temporary one and is not a comprehensive Bill. It is a stop-gap Bill and there is no reason in the world why such a Bill should contain very important provisions and be rushed through on grounds which seem to me to have no reality at all in them.

Business suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.

I would like to say, first of all, in connection with the observations of certain Senators, that there is nothing sinister in this Bill. There has been some suggestion that we are trying to put something across the House. The Bill, apart from certain enactments which are to be put in permanent form on the Statute Book, is essential in order that the plans of the Minister for Social Welfare, for increasing widows' and orphans' pensions rates and national health insurance benefits on a temporary basis, can be put into effect in a manner which is equitable and which will suit the workers of the country. The financial year begins on April 1st and the Estimate will be moved in the Dáil before that date. Unless this Bill is passed, the State will continue to pay a two-ninths proportion towards the administration and benefit expenses of the National Health Insurance Society. It is desirable, therefore, that the Bill be passed, in order to pay, in addition to the two-ninths which will continue to be paid, an extra sum representing the cost of the increased allowances.

At the same time, we have been made aware that very large numbers of persons have been going or will go out of insurance, consequent on recent increases in wages awarded as a result of negotiations between employers and trade unions. Senator Douglas raised the general question as to why we increased the maximum remuneration for national health insurance and widows' and orphans' pensions from £400 to £500. The answer is quite simple. We did it at the unanimous. request of the members of the Dáil and did it because of representations made to us on every side.

It should be unnecessary for me to go into the general question as to why social insurance is established and what classes of workers it should cover. The members of the House are as well aware of the sociological and philosophical principles underlying social insurance as I am or the Minister. The general basis is one of providing collective responsibility by the community at large for the interests of those who suffer from sickness or through loss of the breadwinner. If the State makes a contribution towards such insurance schemes, the less well-paid section of the community will benefit thereby and there will be a greater sense of security among that section of the community who have very little of a surplus with which to counter the effect of sickness or widowhood.

The £400 limit originally proposed was arrived at in this way. A calculation was made as to what the salary of a worker who, in 1939, was receiving £5 per week was likely to be in 1947, allowing for normal increments, for the bonuses that have been paid since that date, and the awards recently made by the Labour Court or through negotiation. The salary estimated was, roughly, something less than £400. That is a very approximate calculation. One could argue about it and suggest that it was a most difficult calculation, but, as I say, it is only approximate. I think that in general the tendency is to include a larger and larger section of the community in social insurance schemes. Members of the House will not disagree with me when I say that people who have an income of in or about £500, and who have family responsibilities, are no longer in the position of persons who can provide entirely for both sickness benefit and for widowhood by means of voluntary insurance. It has been found, in fact, that private insurance companies so far have not suffered in any way from the growth of social insurance directed by the State. In fact, it has become more and more necessary to insure a larger group of workers in this way. I myself think that if I had been Minister for Social Welfare I might have suggested the figure of £400, with the very definite idea in my mind that I would increase it if there was any pressure brought to bear on me in that direction. I think the figure of £500 is reasonable, having regard to all the circumstances. The number of persons who will be affected will be between 40,000 and 45,000. The number of workers insured as a whole is over ten times that number.

Senator Hawkins referred to the desirability of increasing the benefits for married men with children. The Minister for Social Welfare, in the course of his Second Reading speech in the Dáil, said that he was considering a system of comprehensive social insurance to cover all types of benefit, including all income and maintenance services, and that he hoped to increase the contributory factor. He said that he would certainly consider the question of children when examining the whole of our social insurance legislation. The members of the House are aware of the very great task confronting the Minister. There are so many codes in which the statutory benefits, the duration of benefit, the time-lag between the cesser of insurance and its recommencement differ, and in which the systems of inspection differ, that it will be some considerable time before the Minister can bring forward a scheme for consideration. In the meantime, the Minister for Social Welfare has lost no time in considering what could be done in the interval. It is because he desires to provide temporary increases at the earliest date possible that he is asking the indulgence of the House to have this measure passed as rapidly as possible.

Senator Foran spoke about disputes that have taken place in the past in regard to national health insurance with the Minister for Local Government. I do not intend to discuss that matter. I would, however, like to make it clear that the present Government yields to no one in its claim to consider the needs of social insurance in this country. The present Government inaugurated widows' and orphans' pensions and children's allowances. It unified the national health insurance societies. It agreed to certain additional benefits being paid to national health insurance contributors, and it agreed to an alteration in the manner in which the reserves were considered from the standpoint of the National Health Insurance Society. In connection with a great deal of social insurance legislation and social service legislation in general, the present Government yields to no one. In fact it has been in advance of many countries in Europe. During the war, we had other matters to consider. Some other nations of the world have adopted principles of social service and social insurance that are as elaborate as ours. The proposals in this Bill are part of the Government's policy to continue and improve social insurance, and to see that everything is done to increase the security of the worker.

Senator Ruane mentioned the question of medical assistance. The Minister for Social Welfare made it quite clear that the question of health services is being kept separate from income maintenance services. They are part of a different code. Senator Lord Longford referred to the position of actors and the members of the theatrical profession in Dublin. There may be a number of other professions similarly affected where contributions in connection with pensions may seem to be burdensome. The actual contribution of 8d. per week amounts to 34/- per year in the case of each person and even in the case of those who, as Senator Foran says, are paid pin-money of a guinea or so a week, for taking part on the stage, it should not be beyond the genius and capacity of the Senator's fellow-workers to find a solution. Senator Duffy referred to the question of whether the health insurance fund would be adversely affected by increasing the free period from a year to 18 months. The Minister is satisfied that this burden can be borne for the short time that will be involved pending the enactment of social legislation of a permanent and comprehensive kind.

Senator Duffy and Senator Foran too, referred to the question of the wages paid to the employees of the National Health Insurance Society. I do not propose to discuss this matter at the present time. I think it would be most inadvisable to do so. The question of wages is one for the management of the society and the workers concerned. The Minister's duties are those of ensuring that the relation between expenditure and administration of the benefits is reasonable and wisely conceived. I would like, however, to make one point clear and it is this: from the year 1939 to the year 1946 salaries and wages expenditure of the National Health Insurance Society increased from £80,000 to £120,000—by 50 per cent. Suggestions have been made to the contrary. One Senator, at least, gave the impression there had been no such increase. I am just mentioning this now. As I said before, it would be most inadvisable for me to say more about this question of wages at the present time.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary say whether the Minister is satisfied that the present figure of 4/5 is a just figure?

In reply to the Senator, the question of 4/5 is a matter which would naturally come under consideration. In view of the increases that have taken place it would be most unnatural for the Minister in exercising general supervision, so to speak, over these contributions and the administration and expenses, to limit the rate in an inequitable manner. I say it is a matter largely for the management of the insurance society and the workers to decide what the equitable wages should be. Senator Hayes referred to the desirability of issuing a White Paper when matters of this kind are being discussed. Senator Hayes received two White Papers, one on national health insurance and one on widows' and orphans' pensions.

I think the Parliamentary Secretary misunderstood me. What I did say, I think, was that when we come to discuss the general question of reorganising public health and social services we hoped to get the opportunity of discussing a White Paper, first of all.

The Minister has already stated that an elaborate White Paper will be available for the more comprehensive measure. Senator Duffy has some fear that the State guarantee of two-ninths contribution might, in some way, be affected by the section of the Bill which provides for increased benefit. That is not the case. The two-ninths contribution will remain under present national health legislation. The status of the National Health Insurance Society and the contribution it receives from the State are in no way prejudiced.

Is this contained in this Bill, because I have not been able to find it?

It is implied. The existing law is in no way affected by Section 17.

The section dealing with the two-ninths contribution is not being repealed. Is that not the position?

Yes, that is the position. I think I have dealt with the points raised by all the Senators who spoke on this measure and I want to conclude by saying that there is nothing sinister in the Bill.

No one said that.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary deal with the point made that all the sections appear to be retrospective and will he accept my conclusion that it matters little when we pass the Bill?

I suppose this applies to sections which implement permanent legislation but any sections dealing with the increases in allowances by the society and the section increasing the remuneration limit are new sections.

I put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary which he has not answered. Is it possible for the Minister by Order to vary the 4/5 allowance?

It is possible.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Committee Stage be taken to-day."

I object. I have already handed in three amendments.

Apart from the question of amendments, we do not generally quarrel over the question as to when we will take a Committee Stage of a Bill. Is it necessary to pass this Bill to-night? Supposing we adjourn until April 16th what will the Minister lose? Personally I do not understand it.

I can only repeat what I have already stated, that the Minister proposes to pay the increased benefits and the Estimate will come before the Dáil. It is desirable that all those who come in under the Bill and the contributions made on their behalf should be known before the beginning of the financial year. It would be impossible for the Minister to introduce the Estimate to-morrow unless the Bill is passed.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary really in earnest in telling me that? I know a little about Estimates but this is a new one on me. Does he seriously think that the Minister cannot estimate the contribution by the State? Suppose you passed the Bill on the 16th April you could put in an amendment to Section 17 to say this comes into operation on the 1st. There is not anything in it really.

Is it not a fact that the Dáil is rising this week until the middle of April? Then it cannot be brought into the Dáil.

And is not the Minister ill? Presumably nobody else can do his Estimate. I do not want to hold up this measure but is not the State provision for increases and benefits retrospective?

In the Estimate, this Bill is mentioned and unless the Bill is passed the Estimate will have to be withdrawn. It is most undesirable to have the increases in benefits and the changed status of the workers not altered within the financial year. I can assure the Senators that there is no special motive.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary say why it is undesirable?

The Senator should know what "undesirable" means.

The Minister desires that this should be passed before the end of the financial year as I have already explained. He wishes this Bill to come before the Seanad and be passed to-day.

The little dictator. That is what he means by undesirable —the Minister's will.

There is nothing in this at all. If we met on the 16th April and passed this Bill we would know when we were discussing it in Committee what the people would think of certain things in it. If we gave him all stages of this Bill on the 16th April, he could do his Estimate on the 17th. I am not a betting man but I would not mind making a wager that he would not do the Estimate a moment earlier than that. Apart from this question of the Estimates it is most undesirable that at the end of a session a rather big Bill which is full of references to other Acts is brought along and the Seanad asked to pass it in one night. Even if I agreed with all of the Bill— and I do agree with most of it—I would like to consult certain people about it and have certain views on it. But now we get no opportunity. I think if the Minister got the Bill on the 16th April he would not be damnified.

Nobody wants to hinder the Parliamentary Secretary.

I quite understand the position but I assure the House that the Minister cannot possibly proceed with the Estimates for increased benefits unless this Bill is passed. I cannot say anything stronger than that.

Surely that is not so. Can the Minister proceed with them if he is ill?

Mr. Hawkins

Here we have a Bill which the Dáil was in agreement on and there was no division of any kind. There was only one amendment brought in in the Dáil and that was accepted.

There are three amendments with the Clerk of the Seanad.

Mr. Hawkins

I am talking about the Dáil. There was only one amendment put down by Deputy Norton and accepted as a Ministerial amendment. That was done, I would say, to expedite the passing of the Bill because the ceiling at that time was £400. I do not see any good reason why, when we are here in agreement with the general principle of the Bill and when we have the assurance of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary that there is a comprehensive Bill coming along—I do not see why we should not facilitate the Minister, by at least passing the Bill this week, so that the provisions of the Bill may be implemented by the 1st of April.

Is Senator Hawkins' point of view now that the Minister should be given the Bill to-morrow or next day whereas the whole case before was that the Minister wanted to take his Estimates into the Dáil? Let us be consistent, whether we like it or not; on all sides of this House, we have got certain responsible duties to carry through. We were sent here to do a job of work and that job is to consider legislation that is put before us. If we are not to consider it, then the sooner we get out of this House the better. It is utterly fantastic and farcical to suggest that the Bill of some 19 sections is going to be seriously considered between 5.30 and 10 o'clock on a Tuesday night and go through all the stages at that. Let us be honest with ourselves and if we are going to treat legislation like that let us not delude the people that we are doing our duty. Let us tell them that we are just rubber-stamping everything that is brought in here.

I have no objection to the Committee Stage or other stages being taken to-morrow, but I have repeatedly protested in this House against all stages of a Bill being taken at the one sitting. I think it is desirable that having heard the explanations on the Second Reading there should be an opportunity for members to consider what amendments they should put down and what lines they should take in regard to them. I think there should be an interval between. I have no personal objection to the Committee Stage being taken to-morrow, and if the Committee Stage is passed, no objection to the remaining stages. My objection is that the Bill should not go through all its stages at one sitting.

I should like to ask for the co-operation of the House to a greater degree. The Minister is very anxious that these benefits and increases should be paid as soon as possible.

We do not want to hold up that.

The Minister is working against time to improve the social services of the country. He does not want the increases and the benefits of national health insurance deferred for what might be a month. It is his earnest wish that they should be paid as soon as possible, at the beginning of the financial year, and that is why we have suggested that the Bill should pass all its stages to-night. I should have thought the House would be sympathetic to the Minister's idea and anxious to co-operate. Part of this legislation, as I have said, is only temporary. The Minister is considering comprehensive social insurance and should any undesirable effects arise from the increase in the maximum remuneration margin to £500, those could be discussed when the comprehensive scheme is introduced. The only section in the Bill which is not retrospective in character is that which deals with the two-ninths contribution and the section re the insurability limit. That is a very important section of the Bill and relates to the Estimate. I would ask the indulgence of the House on this occasion.

I dislike the kind of approach the Parliamentary Secretary has just made to this. We are as anxious as the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister that these benefits should be made available but what we want is that they should be made available in the ordinary way through legislation which we have a fair opportunity to study. We do not want to fix something in legislation even though we are told that it may be only temporary without an opportunity of knowing the people's reactions to this. If the only way to make benefits available to some, is to do something to other people that may be unpleasant or disagreeable for them, we ought at least know that. I cannot yet get clear as to what the Parliamentary Secretary means by the Minister wanting to have this Estimate passed. I do not understand that.

I must say that I am at a loss to know why it is necessary for the Minister to get the Bill to-night. By means of the Bill, you can make provision for these payments in such a way that the people concerned will not have their benefits curtailed by reason of the fact that sufficient time has been given to the study of the measure. Senator Hawkins will admit that every Minister is facilitated here, not alone from the point of view of being shown consideration but also by the fact that a considerable amount of labour is put into the tasks of this House by rather a limited number of persons. Account should be taken of that. I beg those who will support the Government by vote to take that into account. If there be a certain number of persons here who leave their mark on the legislation of the Oireachtas, they ought to have a reasonable opportunity for considering what step they will take next. We do not want to handicap the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary. We do plead that they should have an appreciation of the fact that we are in a certain position. We should like to know through what gap we are being pulled or pushed.

On this matter, we are asked to be indulgent to the Minister. As it happens, the present Minister for Social Welfare is a Minister whose relations with this House have always been peculiarly happy. I have no objection to facilitating him or to facilitating the Parliamentary Secretary, for that matter. The Parliamentary Secretary will himself realise that the argument he uses to-night is an argument that can always be used regarding this type of Bill. When the Government bring in legislation which is going to help somebody and when they ask to have it passed in haste, they can always say: "If you do not pass this Bill to-night, Paddy Murphy will not get his benefit on the 1st April, 1st August or 1st November, as the case may be." That is a specious argument and the Parliamentary Secretary knows that. It is specious in that it applies to all sorts of Bills, irrespective of their merits, provided somebody is to get something out of them. We do not object to people getting increased benefits but we do object to this House being made a mockery. This is a Bill of 19 sections. Eleven of them are retrospective, one of them is important, according to the Parliamentary Secretary, and all contain references to other Acts which are difficult to follow. We are told that the Minister for Social Welfare is only beginning and that this is a temporary Bill. But the Parliamentary Secretary who is in charge of the Bill to-night has been there all the time and, if the matter had been thought out, the Bill could have been introduced long ago. Therefore, there is no excuse for this haste.

I see no difference between discussing the provisions of this Bill in Committee to-night and discussing them to-morrow. I am not basing my objection to these provisions being discussed now in Committee on any kind of technicality or on Parliamentary usage but on practical grounds and on principle as well—namely, that we should discuss intelligently and intelligibly the measures which are put before us and that we cannot discuss the sections of this Bill to-night or to-morrow afternoon on that basis. There is no reason for haste. If the Parliamentary Secretary will accept an amendment from me, that the Committee Stage be taken on the 16th April, he can get his Estimate passed the following day—17th April—and he can pay the benefits from the 1st April. Of that, there can be no doubt whatever. There is no difficulty in passing an Estimate on the 17th April, payment under which may begin on the 1st April. Nobody will have got the payment earlier, if I know anything about this matter. I can refer to only one example. A maid in my house had appendicitis. She went into hospital. She was in hospital for 11 days. On coming out, she stayed a week in my place and then went home to Kerry. When she came back from Kerry, she received her insurance benefit. That is a fair example. If anybody is to get benefits as from the 1st April, the Minister for Social Welfare is just as well off with an Estimate passed on the 17th April as he would be with one passed on 26th March. The Minister is ill and will not be able to have his Estimate passed, in any event. We are not asking the Parliamentary Secretary to do anything that is unreasonable and we are not preventing anybody from getting increased benefits.

One would imagine that the increased benefits were to be paid out on Thursday morning. The increased benefits cannot become payable until the Estimate is passed and the date for payment fixed. That should be fixed in the Estimate. The number of persons who will actually have come into benefit and who will require to be paid retrospectively will be very small, indeed. For that reason, there is every argument for delaying the further consideration of the measure and there is no administrative case to be met. There is no administrative difficulty in getting what is required done. The argument which the Parliamentary Secretary puts up is one that could be used in the case of every Bill. I have said over and over again that that argument is not peculiar to this Government. It is a type of argument which was used before by other people and will be used again by other people. I heard it in the Dáil and in the Seanad and in my office when I was Ceann Comhairle. The Minister concerned always regarded his Bill as all-important and urged that he wanted it immediately.

I should like to move as an amendment, that the Committee Stage of this Bill be taken on 16th April. On that date, I shall be breast high for giving the Minister all the other stages and no harm will have been done to anybody.

Under this Bill, I take it that it is only cases reported after the 1st April which will come into benefit. Insured persons do not get insurance benefit for the first three days of their illness or perhaps, for a week, at most. Therefore, the question will not arise during the first week of April. You will have your Bill passed and your Estimate ready before these people can come into benefit.

If the Minister's intention is to increase the benefits by 50 per cent., it is not just so easy to make out a case for deferring the further stages of the Bill. The old claimants would receive benefit on the 1st April. If we were unduly to delay the measure, it would be contended that the Seanad was responsible for keeping claimants under the national health insurance out of 50 per cent. of their benefit.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will accept Senator Hayes' amendment. This Bill has been described as a stop-gap and as a temporary measure. Under Section 19, it is proposed to take a very big step and that step requires consideration. That section proposes to bring, as the Parliamentary Secretary has admitted, about 45,000 additional persons into national health insurance.

I suppose we cannot inquire as to the feelings of those people who are being forced into the scheme but we should like to know whether the machinery of national health insurance, as it exists, is fitted for dealing with this greatly increased number. The statutory benefits are to be increased by 50 per cent. I am concerned about the additional benefits. When the right of those new entrants to the additional benefits matures—I suppose in three years—the period for actuarial purposes will still be running. We used to have to put a stop to additional benefits for a certain period. I should like to know, in respect of those 45,000 persons whom we are taking in by the hair of the head without asking them their view and without considering the implications of our action, whether there will be full provision for them and whether they will get some good out of national health insurance. To a man with £500 a year, the statutory benefits, sickness benefit and disablement benefit, would not be very satisfactory. We were hoping that, when the promised Social Insurance Bill came along, the needs of different classes would be considered. We must see that when the additional benefits mature they will be available. Will the additional hospitalisation be available? Are we hurrying on the provision of hospitalisation so that when the benefits accrue people will get them? These are matters for consideration. We cannot bring 45,000 people into this scheme in half an hour without consideration. That is why I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will accept the amendment of Senator Hayes and give more time to consider the matter.

If this Bill passes to-night there will have to be an interregnun before it is presented to the President for signature, and I suggest that it cannot be presented before Saturday next. This House will rise on Thursday or Friday and no Estimate will be presented before April 16th when the Dáil meets again. Accordingly it does not matter whether the Bill is passed to-night or not. There will be an Act before Easter. There will be no Estimate until there is an Act and there will be no additional money until the Estimate is passed. Actually we were misled when told that somebody would be deprived of benefit on April 1st if the Bill was not passed to-night.

The benefit can be made retrospective.

No one will get benefit at the week-end. As a matter of fact I would be inclined to think that additional benefits will become payable at the beginning of the next insurance year, the first Monday in July. The insurance benefit year commences in July, and the insurance contribution year in January. Would additional benefits be payable before the next insurance year? They cannot be payable on 1st April. I believe they cannot be payable before July 6th.

I hate wrangling of this kind. It is a waste of time and a hateful way of doing business.

Mr. Hawkins

As Senator Baxter pointed out, we have had a great deal of agreement from time to time in this House, and the Government has been facilitated in every way. But I am afraid Senator Hayes wants to extend the time for this Bill too long. I appeal to him to accept the suggestion of Senator Duffy, and to give the Committee Stage.

It would not do any good.

Mr. Hawkins

If it does no good it will not do any harm.

That is a weak argument.

Mr. Hawkins

The Parliamentary Secretary says that the Minister expressed a wish to get this Bill and I do not think we would be justified in holding it up, seeing that that is the desire.

I want to ask for the goodwill of the House in this matter. I am aware that the principle of rushing legislation through the Seanad is not a good one. I accept that entirely. It is absolutely true to say that the Minister has been going at tremendous speed in regard to this legislation, but I think that is natural on his part, in order to pay the additional benefits at as early a date as possible. There are 23,000 widows' pensions books ready for issue, and we are very anxious that the increased benefits should commence, if possible, by 1st April. I think the Minister believes he could get the Bill signed by the President in time. We hope to conclude the Estimate in the Dáil this week.

Can you deal with the Estimate before the Bill is signed?

As long as the Estimate is passed before 1st April.

Can the Estimate be dealt with before the Bill is signed? I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say earlier that the Estimate could not be dealt with in the Dáil before the Bill was passed.

It will be sufficient if the Bill is signed by the President.

Has the Estimate for the additional benefits been introduced in the Dáil?

Yes, it is due to be dealt with to-morrow. I suggest that the House might accept the compromise suggested by Senator Hawkins, and that these two Bills be taken first business to-morrow, when there will be a further opportunity of considering them. Senators have had the opportunity of reading the Dáil Debates and studying the Bill. Another 24 hours would be a reasonable compromise.

It is not the 24 hours I am concerned with. The Parliamentary Secretary misunderstands the position. I think he understands that he is arguing a bad case and when you are arguing a bad case you argue badly unless you are peculiarly skilful. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary is not peculiarly skilful in arguing a bad case. No case has been made to convince anybody who knows anything about law or Parliamentary procedure that anyone will lose one farthing by postponing this Bill until 16th April. Nobody is going to lose. I should like to go further, and say that it is low politics to suggest otherwise, and it has no relation to truth to say that if the Bill is not passed someone will lose something. As regards passing the Bill, if I were going to give it I would like to give it to-night, but if we are going to be hanged we might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. There is no case whatever for taking this Bill before 16th April. No case has been made for doing so and nobody will lose a farthing. The Widows and Orphans Bill can be taken through all stages to-night.

The motion is:—

That the Committee Stage of the Bill be taken to-day.

To that motion an amendment has been proposed by Senator Hayes:—

to delete the words "to-day" and substitute the words and figures, "Wednesday, 16th April."

I am putting the question on the amendment.

Question—"That the amendment be agreed to"—put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 12.

  • Baxter, Patrick F.
  • Concannon, Helena.
  • Crosbie, James.
  • Duffy, Luke J.
  • Foran, Thomas.
  • Hayes, Michael.
  • O'Donovan, Timothy J.
  • Ruane, Seán T.
  • Smyth, Michael.
  • Sweetman, Gerard.
  • Tunney, James.


  • Clarkin, Andrew S.
  • Hawkins, Frederick.
  • Kehoe, Patrick.
  • McEllin, John E.
  • O Buachalla, Liam.
  • O'Dea, Louis E.
  • O Siochfhradha, Pádraig.
  • Nic Phiarais, Maighréad M.
  • Ruane, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Michael J.
  • Stafford, Matthew.
  • Summerfield, Frederick M.
Tellers:— Tá: Senators Crosbie and Sweetman; Níl: Senators Clarkin and Hawkins.
Amendment declared negatived.
Main question put and declared carried.