Private Business. - Social Welfare Bill, 1991: Committee and Final Stages.

I wish to inform the House that amendments Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, have been ruled out of order as they involve a potential charge on the public revenue.

Sections 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 5.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

My party are opposing section 5 on the basis that the new allowance of £22.90 for the fourth, fifth and sixth child, etc., should apply to all children. It should apply to the first, second and third also. I will not go into any further detail. We oppose this section on the basis that we must apply equality to children.

This gives the benefit to some 400,000 children. I explained at the conclusion of Second Stage that it is part of a package directed particularly at children and it must be taken in addition to the child-related tax exemptions for which £14 million has been provided currently by way of assistance. That is the direction in which the Government are going at present. I hope that Senators understand what we are doing in that regard.

The Committee divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 11.

  • Bennett, Olga.
  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Byrne, Seán.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Conroy, Richard.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Fallon, Seán.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán F.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Michael.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • McKenna, Tony.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ormonde, Donal.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Kennedy, Patrick.
  • McDonald, Charlie.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Toole, Joe.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Wright and S. Haughey; Níl, Senators Cosgrave and Neville.
Question declared carried.
Section 6 agreed to.
SECTION 7.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Section 7 agreed to.
Sections 8 to 10, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 11.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 11 stand part of the Bill."

On Second Stage the Minister indicated that the purpose here is to provide for the introduction of a new minimum weekly payment of £5 for young people with an unemployment assistance entitlement whose only means are derived from board and lodgings in their family home. I believe that so far as the assessment of the means of single persons living at home, the majority with their parents, is concerned such persons should be assessed as having such means as would entitle them to a weekly unemployment assistance payment of not less than £25. The proposed £5 for young people living at home is a miserable allowance and an insult to young people. We are opposing this section.

Question put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 11.

  • Bennett, Olga.
  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Byrne, Seán.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Conroy, Richard.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Fallon, Seán.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Haughey, Seán F.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Michael.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • McKenna, Tony.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ormonde, Donal.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Kennedy, Patrick.
  • McDonald, Charlie.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Toole, Joe.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Wright and S. Haughey; Níl, Senators Cosgrave and Neville.
Question declared carried.
Sections 12 and 13 agreed to.
SECTION 14.
Amendments Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive not moved.
Section 14 agreed to.
Sections 15 to 34, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 35.
Amendment No. 9 not moved.
Section 35 agreed to.
Sections 36 to 40, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 41.
Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, not moved.
Section 41 agreed to.
Section 42 agreed to.
SECTION 43.
Question proposed: "That section 43 stand part of the Bill."

Perhaps the Minister would explain the overlapping benefits?

There is a general principle in the social welfare code whereby only one social welfare payment may be paid concurrently to a claimant, but there is a number of exceptions to this rule. Half rate disability benefit may be paid to certain recipients, for example, those in receipt of widow's pensions or deserted wife's payments. Disablement benefit may be paid in addition to any other social welfare payment. The legislative provisions relating to the concurrent payment of more than one social welfare payment are contained in sections 130 and 131 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1981, and the Social Welfare (Overlapping Benefits) Regulations. Under the various provisions of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act a person may, because of his or her circumstances, have concurrent entitlement to more than one social welfare payment. Section 130 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1981, however enables regulations to be made to provide in cases where more than one social welfare payment is payable to a person, that such payment may be adjusted and this may include the disallowance of any such payment. The overlapping benefits regulations specify the various combinations of payments which cannot be made concurrently. The High Court has recently ruled in the case of Susan McHugh v. The Minister for Social Welfare, that the regulatory provisions limiting the payment of disability benefit to a recipient of unmarried mother's allowance is ultra vires in that the regulations purported to take away an entitlement conferred by way of primary legislation. This ruling has major implications for the Social Welfare (Overlapping Benefits) provisions and is being appealed to the Supreme Court. The purpose of section 43 is to give statutory effect to the provisions regarding concurrent payments which are at present contained in regulations and thereby substitute the previous provisions contained in sections 130 and 131 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1981. Provision is also made to include certain payments under the health Acts in the overlapping provisions. Section 130 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1981, is being amended so as to provide that where a person is entitled to receive more than one social welfare payment or increase of payment in respect of the same period, only one of the those payments shall be paid concurrently. Provision is also made so that disabled person's maintenance allowance or infectious diseases maintenance allowance, payable by health boards, cannot be received concurrently with a social welfare payment.

Subsection (3) provides that an increase in the health allowance in respect of an adult or child dependant may be treated as a distinct payment or as an amount payable to that person. There is a great deal more which I could tell the Senator, if she so wishes, but that is generally what it is about.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 44 to 47, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 48.
Question proposed: "That section 48 stand part of the Bill."

In terms of his new definition of the word "spouse" in section 48 (1) and the change in relation to couples co-habiting did the Minister consider whether two men or, indeed, two women living together would come under these provisions?

Subsection (1) of section 48 provides that the recipient of social insurance payment if one of a married couple living together, or one of a co-habiting couple, would be entitled to payment of child dependant increase at half rate where the recipient's partner is in receipt of social welfare payment in his or her own right or has earnings in excess of £55 a week.

Subsections (2) and (3) of section 48 make similar provisions in relation to unemployment assistance and the carer's allowance. They do not cover the situation mentioned by the Senator but the household review group is considering the question of households and the report of that group is due to be available perhaps around the middle of April. There will have to be a whole consideration of how to treat households following that report and how households should be treated for the future. These problems have arisen to date and no matter what way you try to pay money and deal with households, there are difficulties. So we have a group of experts considering that question. They are the best experts available in the country and their report will be available shortly.

Does the Minister accept that a cohabiting couple could be two men and that this matter will have to be faced up to fairly quickly to regularise the situation in terms of their entitlement to payments?

I will wait for the review group report before considering that.

Could the Minister give us some indication as to the status of this review group? Is it merely a group of people who are there to advise him so as to put off having to take any decision on this matter or is it a group with some sort of status whose views have to be taken into account?

The chairman of the review group, Mr. John Curry, was the chairman of the Commission on Social Welfare and the members of the group are very distinguished people in their own right. We set up this group to advise on the direction for the future in relation to all these matters. They have been working on it for quite some time and it has proved to be a great deal more complex than even they anticipated. In addition to the chairman, the members of the group are Dr. Finola Kennedy, an economist, Dr. Claire Carney, Department of Social Science, UCD, Mr. David Byrne, senior counsel, Mr. Tony McCashin, social policy analysist, NESC, Mr. John Hynes, Assistant Secretary, Department of Social Welfare, Mr. Michael Guilfoyle, principal officer, Department of Finance, and the secretary of the group, Mr. Eoin Ó Broin, assistant principal, Department of Social Welfare. Their purpose is to examine all aspects and the current EC legislation in relation to this matter and future developments in that area. They have to indicate where we might best go in future. It is obviously going to be a matter of very considerable discussion once the report is available but it will deal particularly with questions of the treatment of individuals within the same household and how that is to be handled in the future.

If we allow the same allowances cohabiting couples and to married couples does the Minister not think that this is anti-marriage or anti-family? It defines the family in a new dimension.

Following from the Hyland case, which was decided in the Supreme Court, it was decided that married couples cannot be treated less favourably than co-habiting couples. The issue raised in that case is that one of a couple is in receipt of unemployment assistance and the other is in receipt of another social welfare payment. In that case the married couple were limited to the married rate whereas cohabiting couples could get two full personal rates. This defect was remedied, following the Supreme Court case, in the Social Welfare (No. 2) Act, 1989. But, when that measure was taken, we set up the review group to examine the wider implications of that decision. In sections 45 to 48 we are addressing other areas of the social welfare system where similar discrimination exists. They are very minor areas; in fact, the numbers of people in these areas are very small. One effect of it will be that cohabiting couples will be entitled to claim family income supplement whereas they had not been so entitled heretofore. In the other cases their rates will become similar to those applicable to married couples. The more fundamental question of the treatment of households generally is a matter for consideration in the context of the report of the household group.

I thank the Minister for his elaborate but somewhat evasive reply — I do not mean that in any pejorative sense — in that he is holding fire until the report comes to hand. Will he address the question of what will happen, as indeed is the case at present where there are households where the couples concerned are both of the same sex, when they may claim the type of benefits that are considered there? Is this something which is under review by the household group? Does the Minister have a view on this?

Within the social welfare provisions, for instance in the case of fuel grants, one grant only is paid to the household. In the case of some other arrangements where there are two independent people, if they are related in a family they are treated as part of a family and their incomes are aggregated in assessing means. If they are completely separate individuals they may get two individual payments. The question is: what is the best system for the future? That is why we set up the household group whose purpose is to ascertain whether it is possible to arrive at a solution which is equitable, fair and meets all the requirements. My approach would be to let the expert group produce their report. Then we will sit down and take decisions following receipt of their report.

Has the Minister any concerns about a constitutional challenge when we are redefining our understanding of the word "spouse" to mean the non-marital man and wife? Would the Minister have any concerns in this regard as a matter of interest?

What we are doing is in response to a Supreme Court decision.

I accept that.

So, in that sense, we are just meeting the requirements as set out by the Supreme Court in that decision.

Would the Minister have any concern about a constitutional challenge?

We take the advice of the Attorney General in matters relating to the Constitution. In relation to the report of the household group obviously we will take the Attorney General's advice.

I do not want the Minister to misunderstand me; I do not disagree.

As yet I do not think any country has solved the problem; that is the basic problem. We want to come as near to solving it as possible, and as fairly as possible. The Commission on Social Welfare mentioned the figure of 60 per cent in respect of the dependent spouse, or a dependent person. In the increases proposed we are at least maintaining that relationship which was proposed by the Commission on Social Welfare although some cases might be a little above. We set up the group to decide where we should aim in the future. The commission did not actually resolve this problem at the time. It was a matter left to be considered further.

In view of the fact that we have teased out the section at some length has the Minister taken the advice of the Attorney General regarding its constitutionality?

Yes, of course.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 49 to 52, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 53.
Question proposed: "That section 53 stand part of the Bill."

Why is the Minister stipulating that an old age pensioner must notify the Minister rather than the social welfare officer?

The section provides that the old age pensioner will notify the Minister. This stipulation is to simplify the administration. We want to decide matters more directly and centrally as far as is possible. In time I would visualise us even going further and letting people know what they are entitled to and asking them to sign to the effect that they agree with the assessment.

Question put and agreed to.
SECTION 54.
Question proposed: "That section 54 stand part of the Bill."

I would like to ask the Minister a point I raised on Second Stage this morning, that is, given the legislation of last week and the sections of the Social Welfare Bill that go to equalising treatment of those in non-standard employment, for instance those in part-time or temporary employment compared with those in what we call standard or fulltime employment, how does he see the family income supplement being treated in such cases? In present circumstances the family income supplement is intended for people working more than 20 hours a week. Now we have got rid of the 18 hour cut-off for the A1-J1 classification of insurability, so that anyone earning over £25 a week is fully insurable. What are the implications for the family income supplement? Will we be extending it to all those now working more than eight hours or earning more than £25 a week in non-standard employment?

That would be a question for further consideration. Incidentally, it does not arise on this section.

This is budgeting in relation to social welfare payments so, broadly speaking, it could be.

Very broadly. This section provides power to the Minister to make deductions from payments and pay bills for people if they want them paid. That is a question that will have to be considered further. I am very much in favour of the family income supplement but, as the House will know, the commission recommended that it should be abolished in the event of other things being done. I would be quite interested in developing it further as we examine it in practice. Certainly we will examine it further given developments in respect of part-time workers. It is meant to supplement the income of the main household earner but if the main earner turns out to be a part-time earner that is another matter. A number of questions arise there including one about which I know Senator Doyle was concerned, that is the question of the self-employed. It is very complex to involve the self-employed. It may necessitate a rearrangement of the family income supplement. We will be examining it further.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is section 54 agreed?

Have there been any further attempts on the part of the Minister, his Department or any review group to resolve the anomaly obtaining in respect of the self-employed who came into insurability, as it were, with less than ten years to go before obtaining pension entitlements? I know there is a sense of grievance felt among different sectors of the self-employed who will be for nine, eight, seven or six years. At the end perhaps they will be able to recoup their payments but, at most, they will be eligible for non-contributory pension. Have there been developments in this vexed area?

Obviously pro rata pensions could have some bearing on certain cases. The widow's pension the Senator referred to will come into operation from April of this year. In relation to the other question, the total cost of extending the benefit to people within that group is of the order £757 million and from that the Senator can see the size of the problem. I will keep that matter under review because, if possible, I would like to see more people brought into it and to get away from the means tests as far as possible.

Maybe the Minister would rather pay the years they are missing?

That is the net cost even taking that into consideration. So far as the pension is concerned we will keep it under review. We will be looking at it in relation to the structural developments in Europe as far as farmers are concerned anyway.

Retirement pensions and so on.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 55 and 56 agreed to.
SECTION 57.
Question proposed: "That section 57 stand part of the Bill."

What is proposed in this section?

Section 57 provides for the regulations relating to entitling part-time workers to unemployment benefit, disability benefit and invalidity pension and regulations relating to entitlement to old age contributory pension or retirement pension of persons with a mixed social insurance record which require the sanction of the Minister for Finance.

I want to read section 57 for the record. Never again should a Minister come into this House with a section in a Bill like this. How in the name of God can anybody make sense of 57 which states:

Sections 3(4) of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the substitution in paragraph (a) for "19 (4)" of "19 (1) (4)", for "30 (4)" of "30 (1) (4)", for "79 (7) (9)" of "78 (5) (6), 79 (7) (9) (14)", for "84 (3) (4)" of "83 (6) (7), 84 (3) (4) (6)", and for "89 (4)" of "89 (1) (4)".

That is a section of the Bill. In the name of God will the Minister put that in English the next time he comes in here with a Bill.

Perhaps the Senator would talk to his eminent legal friend next to him and ask him why they make the law so complicated. That is the work of the parliamentary draftsman and it should be read in conjunction with the explanatory memorandum and the Minister's speech.

It is some memorandum.

The Minister for Finance has to sanction all of that.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 58 to 60, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 61.
Question proposed: "That section 61 stand part of the Bill."

In his excellent reply to Second Stage the Minister put much emphasis on the importance of pensions. I would like to ask him why members of the Defence Forces should be exempt from the requirement in the Bill governing preservation of benefits. Why are the Defence Forces excluded?

The short answer is that they are dealt with under legislation which is the responsibility of the Minister for Finance as public servants. If the Senator wants the long answer I will give it to her.

Those in the public service are outside the preserved benefits because they have preserved benefits of their own. This legislation relates to occupational pension schemes in the private sector.

I do not intend to delay the House but why include a section stating that they are being excluded? That is as much of a humbug as the section read out by Senator Manning.

They should not be there in the first instance. The intention is to exempt those public service schemes which provide preserved benefits on standard public sector lines and participate in the public service transfer network. They are covered under the public service network for these benefits which were not provided for the private sector. The legislation did not exclude that one group although it excluded the public sector otherwise. This is an amendment to keep them all the same.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 62 to 64, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedules A to D, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill reported without amendment.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The question is: "That the Bill do now pass." On that question is a division being challenged?

No division.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is the question, "That the Bill do now pass" agreed?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is the question, "That the Bill do now pass" agreed?

The Bill has been passed twice now.

Question put and declared carried.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

It is proposed to sit again on Wednesday, 17 April at 2.30 p.m.