Let me begin my discussion of this amendment by outlining briefly what it contains.
The Reform Party proposes that the minister should report to the House how much overpayment benefit money is forgiven each year. That is a simple request. The minister should make recommendations regarding how much he should be permitted to forgive in the upcoming year. The Reform Party believes that the minister has a crystal ball and knows exactly how many cases are going to appear before him and his ministry. Therefore, he should be able to make such a judgment for the future 12 months.
Reform proposes that a parliamentary committee should set limits on how much may be forgiven in a year. Again we have to use the crystal ball. The proposal also suggests that no amount may be forgiven until the committee sets the yearly total and no amount may be forgiven once that total has been reached.
When I first heard the motion, I could hardly believe my ears. The Reform Party is supposed to be the party which believes that less government is better government. Yet that very same party introduced the motion which would add extra processes, extra time, extra layers of bureaucracy and extra costs to the administration of the old age security program. It really is amazing.
Motion No. 7 betrays the Reform Party's fixation on the minute details of the OAS program. Members opposite seek to micromanage the program and the minister at great cost and for no benefit whatsoever. It would like to have complete control over every minute detail, every tiny aspect of the entire program.
As usual, it is instructive to look at the facts surrounding the motion. It is also worth while to note that these facts are at the disposal of the Reform Party, as they are at the disposal of all members of the House.
The Minister of Human Resources Development currently forgives something less than $1 million in old age security overpayments each year. As we have noted in debating other motions, the minister is responsible for that amount but does not have carte blanche to forgive overpayments. Certain conditions must exist before the overpayment can be forgiven.
As the old age security program pays benefits in the order of $18.5 billion each year, the rate at which overpayments are forgiven is something in the order of five one-thousandths of one per cent of the benefits paid. In addition, the amounts are already reported to Parliament in the context of the annual main estimates and public accounts. I will repeat that for the benefit of Reform members. These amounts are already reported to Parliament in the context of the annual main estimates and public accounts. Hon. members already have the opportunity to examine all of the figures in depth.
The motion by the Reform Party would create a duplication of these processes, and to what gain? So that Reform members can micromanage the minister's use of his discretion to forgive overpayments which amount to something in the order of five one-thousandths of one per cent of the program's expenditures.
If the motion were adopted, it could lead to disaster. Imagine a committee setting a small limit on the amount which could be forgiven. If that amount of money were used up in eight months time, let us say, what would happen to the cases which occurred
in the final four months of the year? The government would have to tell those individuals that they must repay their debts even though their circumstances were similar or worse than someone who was overpaid a few months earlier. I do not consider this a fair practice and no one else in the House does.
With regard to the motions to amend Bill C-54 moved by the Bloc and the Reform Party, the government finds itself right in the middle. In one of the motions the Bloc Quebecois demands the minister be required to forgive overpayments without regard to the ability of the client to repay the amount. In Motion No. 7 the Reform Party seeks to prevent the minister from using his authority to forgive benefit overpayments compassionately by placing limits which would have to be respected no matter what the ability of the pensioner to repay the overpaid amount.
On one hand we have a party that says never collect any overpayment and on the other hand we have a party that says never forgive any overpayment. The government recognizes the need to recover moneys where warranted and to forgive repayment where appropriate. I also believe ministers must retain responsibility for the administration of their programs and that this responsibility should not be removed, as would be in the case of either Motion No. 6 or Motion No. 7 if adopted.
I firmly oppose Motion No. 7. I urge all hon. members in the House to do likewise and to move to the speedy passage of this legislation.