Military Service Pensions (Amendment) Bill, 1960 (Certified Money Bill) — Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

Le hAlt 1 tugtar údarás reachtúil le haghaidh na méaduithe ar phinsin faoi Achtanna na bPinsean Seirbhíse Míleata, 1924 go 1953, i leith fianas sa tréimhse 1916 go 1923, a deonadh le héifeacht ón lú Lúnasa, 1959, ar údarás Meastacháin Bhreise le haghaidh pinsean a ritheadh i nDáil Éireann ar 22 ú Iúil, 1959. Meastar £34,000 mar an gcostas bliantúil agus tá na méaduithe de réir mar a deonadh do phinsinéirí Stáit i gcoitinne agus a údaraíodh ag an Aire Airgeadais ina Ráiteas ar an gCáinaisnéis in Aibreán, 1959.

Le h-Alt 2 den Bhille is feidir tuarascálacha diúltacha a rinne an Réiteoir do cheartú i dhá chás ar leith inar léir é a bheith ar intinn aige tuarascálacha dearfacha a dhéanamh— beart go ndeonfaí deimhnithe seirbhíse agus pinsin dá bharr faoi Acht na bPinsean Seirbhíse Míleata, 1934. Cuireadh an dá chá sin de láimh an tseachtain dheireanach de shealbhaíocht oifige an Réiteora le linn dó bheith tinn sa bhaile agus cur-as a bheith déanta dá dhroim sin don ghnáth-chomhar idir an gCoiste Comhairlitheach agus an Réiteoir. Idir an dá linn, fuair an Réiteoir bás agus is é a beartaíodh sa Bhille ar dtús an tAire a cheartú an dá earráid sin le comhaontú beirt chomhaltaí den Choiste Comhairlitheach a bhí ag cabhrú leis an Réiteoir agus na cásanna á scrúdú. Le hómós, áfach, dá raibh molta ina thaobh seo le linn an Dara Léamh i nDáil Éireann, tá aontaithe agam le foráil a chur isteach trína bhféadfar na ceartúcháin a dhéanamh ag breitheamh den Chúirt Chuarda nó ag abhcóide a bhfuil cleachtadh deich mbliana ar a laghad, aige.

Ní dóigh liom go mbeidh aon deacracht ann do Sheanadóirí aontú leis an mBille.

Section 1 of the Bill gives statutory authority for the increases in pensions under the Military Service Pensions Acts 1924 to 1953 in respect of active service in the period 1916 to 1923 which were granted with effect from 1st August 1959, on the authority of a Supplementary Estimate for pensions passed in Dáil Éireann on 22nd July 1959. The annual cost is estimated at £34,000 and the increases are in accordance with those for State pensioners, generally, authorised by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Statement in April 1959.

Section 2 of the Bill provides for the correction of negative reports made by the Referee in two cases where it was clearly his intention to make affirmative reports which would have resulted in the award of service certificates and pensions under the Military Service Pensions Act, 1934. Both cases were dealt with in the last week of the Referee's tenure of office when he was ill at his home and when the normal working of the Advisory Committee with the Referee was, therefore, disorganised. The Referee has since died and the original proposal in the Bill was that these two errors should be corrected by the Minister with the concurrence of two of the members of the Advisory Committee who assisted the Referee in the investigation of the cases. In deference, however, to representations which were made on the Second Reading in Dáil Éireann, I have agreed to a provision that the corrections may be made by a judge of the Circuit Court or a practising barrister of at least ten years' standing.

I do not think that Senators will have any difficulty in agreeing to the measure.

I should like to ask the Minister one question. He said, in defence of the smallness of the increase in disability pensions, 6 per cent., that those people had in fact got an increase in, I think, 1956. I think I am right in saying that these people, under this Bill, who also get an increase of 6 per cent. have had no increase since 1953. Should this 6 per cent. therefore not be greater?

They were left out in 1956. Of course, these pensions are not and never were intended to be subsistence pensions at all. In many cases, they are very small, purely nominal amounts, purely a recognition of service. They do not by any means pretend to be pensions that would maintain the people or have any significant effect on their standard of living.

What I said on the previous Bill would apply to this one. The Minister's explanation of the point raised is a trifle strange. Say a person were given £20 a year in 1949. Whether that is merely a recognition or whatever it is, it is £20 a year Is the Minister suggesting that because the amount of the pension is small, the Government are not obliged to maintain the purchasing power of the pension as already fixed? That is what I understood the Minister to say and if it is, it is a most pernicious idea that will not be accepted by anyone in this country.

I agree entirely with the last speaker. I am sorry that this Government did not follow the example of the previous Government and give higher increases to those in the lower bracket.

They did not give any.

Yes, they did. You know that the cost of living stands at an all-time high record of 147 points. If the Government deliberately increase the cost of living, I think in justice there is no use in giving a miserly increase of one shilling, 2/- or 3/- a week to people who have only £2 or £3 a week pension.

As in the case of the other Bill, these increases have been payable since last August. Again, I must say that we would certainly like these increases to be more. We are told that they cost £34,000. A case was made in this House for an increase in pensions and it had no effect. I do not mind what Government is in power or who gets the credit, provided these people are dealt with as generously as possible. For every concession they get, I assure you we are grateful.

In the matter of Section 2, I remember making a previous case here that there should be no time limit for a man or woman applying for a service pension to which he or she was entitled beyond yea or nay. If they were entitled to it in 1924, 1934 or 1954, they are still entitled to it in 1964. They have rendered pensionable service and they are therefore entitled to a pension according to that service. If it should happen that a man or woman turned up in this country from foreign parts at any time, there should be some machinery by which that person could claim the pension to which he or she was entitled. Now such people are completely shut out. I know I should be very embarrassed if a pal of mine who is entitled to pensionable service turned up here and said: "Can I now get my pension?" There is no machinery whatever in the Department of Defence by which it could be done.

I know of a couple who have not turned up in this country yet to look for them and Section 2 reminds me of them again. I see that the Minister has agreed that, in correcting errors, in two cases mentioned, a circuit court judge or barrister of 10 years' standing with two members of the advisory board can decide the matter. In the event of any of those people I mentioned turning up, they should not be locked out completely and some arrangement could be made similar to that suggested here to deal with such cases.

In view of my remarks on the Courts of Justice Bill, it would not be right for me to let this Bill, or certainly this group of Bills, pass without saying something. Broadly, the cost of living has gone up by 20 per cent. since 1953. I do not hold myself out as being gifted with prescience when I say that it will go up another 6 per cent. this year, 1960. The whole of the increase therefore will be wiped out this year so that these men are left with a back-log of 20 per cent. which is not to be made up to them at all. I do not know why the ordinary social method is not applied: when the pension is a very small, a bigger increase should be given than when it is comparatively large. I know that it puts a heavier burden on the Exchequer but the Exchequer has ways of defending itself. I do not think we need weep too many bitter tears for it. In a year when it is as certain as any matter can be in economics that the cost of living will rise by 6 per cent.—in the year 1960— we are giving them an increase now which will absolutely be wiped out by the end of the year and we shall leave them with this back-log which, if my recollection is correct, was fixed up in part in 1956. My recollection is that the Bill was under consideration: I remember discussions about it. I am quite certain it was under consideration in relation to this matter at the time. In other words, this group of people will be in a position in which their pensions will in fact be cut by 20 per cent.

I am sure Senators who have over the years been interested in these matters will be glad of the change of heart in this matter on the part of Senator O'Donovan and Senator L'Estrange.

This is the first time I ever spoke on it.

They are now, particularly Senator L'Estrange, apparently under the impression that very large increases should be given to military service pensioners. It is in very striking contrast with the attitude of the Government which was supported by those Senators and which, when increases were given to State pensioners generally in 1956, deliberately excluded military service pensioners.

Now, military service pensioners are being given the increase given to State pensioners generally in the Budget of 1959. That is in distinct contrast with what happened in 1956 when they were, despite appeals from those members of the Oireachtas who were interested in the matter, excluded from the increase given to other pensioners.

Senator Ted O'Sullivan raised the question of the time limit for applications for military service pensions. It is very reasonable that there should be a definite time limit. It is difficult to verify the facts in these applications. If we have not the applications in by a reasonable period, we shall reach the stage when it will be impossible to verify them.

This matter has been reopened on a number of occasions already. I think everybody with the service has had a reasonable opportunity to apply. I cannot see that there is any good case for reopening the whole question of these applications again. In this Bill we are merely taking steps to correct two clerical errors which were made in the last week of the Referee's tenure of office. The Bill specifies these two cases and applies to them and to them only. There is no question of reopening applications for military service pensions generally.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take the remaining stages today.
Bill considered in Committee.
Question proposed: "That Section I stand part of the Bill."

Can the Minister indicate the average pension which will be increased by 6 per cent. under this section?

I have not got the figure. I cannot give the average figure. Some of them are very small. I think the average would be only about £20 or £30. Some of them, as I said, are merely token amounts. The average is very small.

They are so small that one can hardly see them.

Would the Minister have a coinage with which to pay weekly pensions?

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without recommendation; received for final consideration; and ordered to be returned to the Dáil.