INCREASE OF RENT.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS

The motion which stands in my name deals with a question that is cognate to a matter which has already been dealt with, but is not included in the scope of that, and I suggest that after the matter has been briefly discussed, the best way to deal with it would be to include No. 5 within the scope of No. 1 on the Orders of the Day. The subject is that of the increase of rents and inasmuch as my motion does briefly recite the arguments in favour of itself, I will read it:

"Inasmuch as wages and salaries of workers that had during the period of the European War been increased on the pre-war scale, are now everywhere being decreased as the result of a general effort to reduce costs of production; and

"Inasmuch as the increase in rents, in excess of standard rents, allowed by the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, and the increase in rents, in excess of standard rents, allowed by the Decree of this Dáil of the same year, were both based on the increase of wages and salaries prevailing at the time of the passing of the said Act and the said Decree, and are now out of proportion to the decreases that have since then been effected; and

"Inasmuch as this disproportion is the cause of much of the present discontents, besides being injurious to any attempt to reduce costs of production; and

"Inasmuch as the said Act, being now the law in effective operation in Ireland, will, unless otherwise provided, continue in force until the twenty-fourth day of June, nineteen hundred and twenty-three, and the said Decree has no stated term within which to run:

"To MOVE that the Ministry be desired, without further delay, to amend the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restriction) Act, 1920, and to amend the said Decree of this Dáil, and to bring them into conformity with each other, with a view to changing the increase in rents, in excess of standard rents, allowed by the said Act and the said Decree, to such other, lower figure, or to disallowing the increases altogether, as the circumstances may seem to warrant."

It is perfectly clear that during the period of the war the value of money steadily decreased and the relative value of commodities steadily increased. It is equally clear that salaries and wages that were paid during the period of the war mounted higher and higher, and in order to keep pace with that continual mounting up it inevitably followed that rents were increased. As those rents increased from time to time and from stage to stage, the increases were marked by a series of Acts passed in the British Parliament and that became of force and effect in Ireland. The first was in 1915, within one year of the European War. The next was in 1917; the third was in 1919. In that year it will be recollected there were very remarkable and rapid increases of the kind. Another Act was passed and finally in the following year, 1920, the Act was passed which is recited in the resolution, the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restriction) Act. When that was passed it touched as it were high water mark of all the increases that had been made since the beginning of the War. The matter was brought to the attention of the First Dáil. It was taken under review and as a result, the First Dáil passed a Decree on August 6th, 1920, very shortly after the passing of the Act. The Decree of the Dáil and the Act of the British Parliament do not agree. I assume, without definite knowledge to that effect, that the Decree of the Dáil, enacting a lower figure than the Act of the British Parliament, was passed partly for political reasons, but also partly because it was felt that the increases registered in the English Act might have been just in England, because of the rapid increases of salaries and wages there, but was not just for Ireland, and therefore the Dáil stated a very much lower figure. Members who have had to go into this matter will be aware that the differences are too complex in each to be assessed in either by one uniform figure: but generally speaking, it is known that a published figure has been taken for one, and another figure has been taken for the other, and these figures are 40 per cent. increase for the English Act, and 15 per cent. increase for the Dáil Decree, it being felt by the Teachtai in the first Dáil that the 40 per cent., quite conceivably just for England, was not just for Ireland. What has happened since is owing to the enactment of the Treaty the English Act is of full force and effect to-day. It practically was since the beginning. Some of us who served as Justices had occasion to administer the Dáil Decree, but we know in a much larger number of cases adjudicated upon the English Act was enforced, not the Dáil Decree. The argument that is true with regard to the English Act, is equally true with regard to the Irish Decree, that argument being that in 1920 in Ireland as in England, though not of the same degree, salaries had touched high-water mark, wages had touched high-water mark and therefore it was felt, to correspond with that increase rents should also touch high-water mark. Since then salaries have decreased and wages have decreased. They have very seriously decreased. Rents have not decreased because they have been assessed upon a legal basis that has not allowed for their decrease. My attention was called to this matter as a matter of prime interest by a large employer of labour, and in a dispute that occurred in Dublin last week, by a remark was made across the table by one of the leading employees in his Firm. He drew the attention of this employer to the fact that in 1914, he was getting 36s. a week, and he was now getting £4 3s. 5d. The man replied that 36s. a week in 1914 was better worth while to him than £4 3s. 5d., although he thought both an insufficient wage. I think if a careful estimate be made it will be found there is a very great deal of substance in that. I wish to confine myself to the obvious justice of the case I am making. It was not intended by the British Act or the Dáil Decree that the figures stated should be more than a maximum to correspond with the maximum of salaries and wages. From that maximum of salaries and wages the country has since then gone back a great distance, and, to correspond with it, rents should also go back, and until this be done, one of the greatest difficulties in the way of the last subject of the discussion—that is the provision of employment—cannot be satisfactorily answered because it is agreed— we know it is the case—that English contractors are engaging in work here in Ireland and undertaking it at a much lower figure than Irish firms. That is an undesirable thing, for, though manual labour employed in Ireland by English contractors might be the same as by Irish contractors, there is a great deal of other work of a clerical nature diverted from this country to other countries, and the reason why English contractors can deal with the situation in a more satisfactory way than the Irish can, is that they have a lower scale of living altogether, and in Ireland, it is necessary that that lower scale should also prevail. We are dealing with the matter, so far as food and drink are concerned, but I suggest that, in order to keep the thing in parity, we should deal with the matter so far as housing is concerned, and let this question as to what the lower figure should be, or if there should be any increase whatever on the 1914 rents, be dealt with directly by the Government, or if the Government preferred, it could be referred to a Committee proposed early in the proceedings of this day by the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

Mr. J. LYONS

I second that.

Mr. K. O'HIGGINS

Gracefully to emphasise the obvious is a fine art, and the Deputy who has spoken will allow me to say he is a fine artist. There are, at the moment, two Decrees bearing on this question of increase of rent, one being the English Act of 1920, and the other, the Dáil Decree of 1921. I remember when the Dáil Decree was passed, and I remember how it was passed and how it was framed, and it was framed in a hurried interval between two sessions by a couple of men who were asked to look over the British Act and see in what respects it might be amended, to suit conditions here. It is obvious that the matter needs consideration, and it is obvious that we must have a single ruling here on the question. I have had a memorandum prepared showing the differences between the British Act and the Dáil Decree, and all the material will be ready to decide on a figure and pass an Act here in the first Parliament of Saorstát Eireann fixing the matter definitely. The Courts, as Deputy Johnson said, some time back, are at present in the difficult position of having two distinct rulings on the same question, and I am in the difficult position that what is and what is not the law of the land is a question of fact that only the Courts can rule on. That position can be very speedily terminated, once the Constitution is passed and all the material is ready for framing an Act, and legislation will be introduced at an early stage of the next Parliament. It cannot well be introduced before the next Parliament. Our functions are purely administrative, and while we can pass legislation, we ought not to pass legislation, stretching out beyond the date of our own lifetime, and, seeing that the interval between the present and the first Parliament of the Saorstát is so short, I think that the matter might well be left over for them. In the meantime the question will be considered and the material made ready for the preparation of an Act.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS

May I ask the Minister one question? He did not make it quite clear which of these should be the figure. It might easily prove that both figures were too high. I hope that matter will also come under review.

Mr. K. O'HIGGINS

It might prove that both were too high, and it might prove that one was too high and one was too low. I have not arrived at any fixed opinion myself on the matter, but I have had a memorandum prepared and the question is still under consideration. I would not commit myself to Deputy Figgis's motion to the extent of taking it for granted that it would be a lower figure than the Dail Decree.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS

I think the statement of the Minister practically meets the case. He informs the House that he is amending, or is causing enquiries to be made with a view to amending.

Mr. KEVIN O'HIGGINS

I accept your motion, except in so far as it seems to commit one to a lower figure than is in the Dáil Decree. The figure we put forward may be lower, but I would not commit myself definitely to saying it will be lower. I would suggest those words: "or to such other figure as the circumstances may seem to warrant."

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS

I am quite agreeable.

Question: "That the Dáil do now adjourn to Wednesday, 25th October," put and agreed to.
Dáil adjourned accordingly to Wednesday.