I move Section 1, which enables the Trust to carry out its duties, and provides that it shall only acquire land by agreement.
[ THE DAIL IN COMMITTEE. ] - LAND TRUST POWERS BILL, 1923.
In the case of a Bill that is received from Committee like this, where no amendments are set down for the Committee Stage, would it not be for the convenience of the Dáil if it were given the opportunity of receiving all these stages in one motion, instead of taking it stage by stage? That is not a point of order; it is a matter of convenience.
What is the precise suggestion?
In the event of a Bill being received for Committee where there are no amendments down for any section, that the Dáil should have an opportunity, if it so desires, of dealing with all the sections at once. If there be any objections, then we can deal with them in detail.
When a Bill is received in Committee we can take all the sections at once, but under the Standing Orders we cannot set aside the Committee Stage, I think.
I would like the Minister to give the Dáil what information he has in regard to this Bill, as to the number of houses that are in question at the present time, the number of schemes there may be in preparation, how soon it may be expected that the Trust will get to work, whether the Trustees have been appointed, and whether the nomination that was made and, I think, announced to the Dáil, has been accepted.
I had my attention called to some houses built under this scheme in County Cork, which have not in fact been occupied because the rent called for was beyond the capacity of the prospective tenants to pay, and perhaps the Minister can tell us whether that is a condition of things which exists to any extent in other parts of the country. There has been, of course, a very great demand from all parts for these schemes to be put into operation, and the Ministry has been blamed for withholding sanction and for withholding money. I think it has been said many times in the Dáil that the Ministry does not deserve that blame because they were not responsible. I take it that the Minister has information on which this Bill has been framed as to the number of houses already existing, the number that are unlet, the number of schemes that have been sent forward and approved, and how soon these schemes are likely to be put into operation. It would be of interest to the Dáil and to the country to know what the prospects are for building houses, whether they are likely to be built; and in a general way I think that the Dáil would be interested and is entitled to some further information on this matter. I do not think that there is any desire to seek to amend or to obstruct the rapid completion of the scheme or the Bill, but some further information generally in regard to the intentions of the Trust, or the Government in relation to the Trust, might well be given to the Dáil.
Deputy Johnson allowed the Second Reading to go by without getting all that off his chest, but he will have an opportunity of doing so on the Report Stage. I cannot give any very detailed information. I know that a large number of schemes were prepared by the old Sailors and Soldiers' Department, but it is alleged that the amount provided by the British Government— that is, 1½ millions—would go nowhere near to completing the schemes that have been prepared. I have heard criticisms on behalf of the ex-service men about the smallness of the amount. I am not aware, either, that there are any considerable number of houses unlet. I know that there are a very large number of houses completed and let. In general, I think there would be a tendency to build houses more in the neighbourhood of Dublin and the big cities than was first in view, because there has been a removal of ex-service men from centres where they previously were to other centres. There was, of course, a big scheme near Dublin, and other schemes are in contemplation, but this is a matter that will be solely for the Trust. We will have no control over it. It will be financed by the British Government, who will have the majority of members on the Trust. Of course, no member has yet been appointed, because the Trust has not yet come into being, but it is the intention of the Government to appoint General Sir Bryan Mahon, and he has agreed to accept the appointment. I believe that the Trust will proceed to function immediately. In point of fact, the old Soldiers and Sailors' Department, although experiencing certain legal difficulties, has been going ahead during the interval. Where land has been acquired there was no stoppage. It was really rather held up by the impossibility of acquiring land, and there will be no delay in going on with the Trust. The number of houses to be built would depend on how far they can make the money go. As to whether the regulations to be prescribed by the British Treasury would allow the sale of houses if they can sell houses that have been already built to suitable applicants, and use the money for further building, that is a matter I can give no information on. It will rest with the British Treasury.
I would like to know how far the Trust or Body to be appointed to deal with this scheme in its details are prepared to co-operate and work under the direction of the Department of Agriculture, because I think it is quite possible that both bodies would come in conflict, especially as the two Bills seem to be going together through the Dáil. I have seen cases recently where 39 or 40 houses have been built in Killaloe under the old scheme, and where two acres are attached to each house. In other places, perhaps for better reasons, ex-soldiers seem to have thirty acres attached to their houses. There does not seem to be any general principle upon which this body is proceeding. I think it is desirable, now that the two Bills are going through the Dáil together, if land could be acquired under both Bills that this body, or whatever body will be appointed under this Act, should act in close co-operation with the Department of Agriculture. I would like to know if any scheme has been thought out by the Minister on this plan. I think it very desirable that any scheme such as is sanctioned under this Bill would not bring whatever body is set up under its terms in conflict with the Department of Agriculture.
In general the Trust, I take it, will acquire land by agreement. There may be cases where, owing to the holding out of owners for exorbitant terms and preventing houses being built where they were very much needed, that it would be desirable that the Ministry of Local Government, which has powers under the "Labourers Acts" to acquire land for housing, will be able to exercise these powers on behalf of the Trust. This is money which is given to this country, so to speak—of course it was given in performance of pledges made by the British Government, and it costs us nothing. All we are asked to do, and all the Dáil is asked to do, is to provide facilities whereby the Trust can expend that money in building houses here.
The Minister concerned in this question, I am sure, is aware that a large number of ex-service men from 1920 onwards were fighting against the British Empire during the Anglo-Irish War, and these men have not applied for houses under this present scheme. I would like to ask the Minister if it is likely now if these men applied for them, would their application be considered? Down in Mullingar there are sixty houses, and I understand that under this Land Bill all labourers would be entitled to get a portion of land. Throughout the country there are ranches, and would it be possible to allow some of these men, where there are not sufficient agricultural labourers, to have houses for them built there? I know cases where people in Moate did get land from the British Government, but they have no houses, and the land is at a distance of three and a half miles from where they live. Would it be possible to see that houses are built on this land?
We will be able to see that when the Trust is set up and working.
Will the Minister tell us who is responsible for the decrease in the number of houses that it was originally intended to build?
Of course the British Treasury. The reduction is due to the fact that enough money is not provided. There were claims for a large number of houses, and these were cut down, and cut down to what was regarded as a minimum, and it is now alleged that the one and a half millions provided will not allow for the completion of even that last minimum estimate. Of course, it was because the influence brought to bear on the British Treasury to provide what was regarded as an adequate sum of money did not succeed that the number of houses had to be cut down.
I merely wanted to make the matter clear, as there are a number of people in the country who are under the impression that it is this Government of the Free State that is responsible.
No; we are not responsible.
May I ask the Minister to make still clearer the position with regard to these houses? It is quite true very many people think it is the Irish Government that is responsible first for the holding up of the building scheme, next the holding up of the buildings which have been partially completed and third for the holding up of money to promote further schemes. This idea is very general and widespread, and it is desirable that the Minister should make quite clear that the responsibility is not his, and not even in this case the responsibility of the Minister for Finance. I think it is desirable that this position should be made very clear indeed in the country, so that the country will know where the responsibility really does lie.
That is a matter which should be fairly clear. The work was carried on by a section of the old Local Government Board. When the Provisional Government came into being last year they had to take over the Department on the 1st April, and that section of the Local Government Board was separated from the remainder of what became the Local Government Department. It acted on the directions of the British Treasury. Since the 1st April, 1922, we had no control over its operations and no responsibility for its finances. The matter was entirely one for the British Government. Any provision now made is made by the British Government in pursuance of pledges made during and after the European War that land and houses would be provided for men who served in the British forces during that war. We are simply being asked now to provide facilities for the Trust which the British Government is setting up to administer this fund of one and a half millions to carry on the work with the greatest ease and the least delay and friction, and there are certain provisions in this Bill to facilitate and expedite the work of the Trust. But we have no responsibility beyond nominating one of the members of the Trust. Another will be nominated by Northern Ireland, and the remaining three will be nominated by the British Government. The Trust will carry out its work under and in pursuance of financial regulations made from time to time by the British Government. The first sub-section is intended to enable us to carry on those powers under Sub-section 2 which enables the Minister for Local Government to acquire land for the Trust compulsorily in the same way that he would acquire land for the erection of labourers' cottages under the Labourers Act. Sub-section 3 provides a simple and inexpensive way of transferring land to the Trust. Sub-section 5 removes the time limit. Under the Act of 1919 the power of the Local Government Department to acquire land only extended to three years. This removes the time limit, and the Trust may be operated for a considerable time. Sub-section 5 repeals certain sections which relate to the financial control of the Trust and its accountability to the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and for this provision there is substituted really Sub-section 5 of Section 3 of the Consequential Provisions Act, which says that the British Treasury may make regulations as to procedure for the Trust and as to the application of the proceeds of sale and the auditing of the accounts of the Trust, and generally as to the manner in which the Trust shall carry out their powers and duties. The Trust shall act in accordance with these regulations. The previous powers of the Local Government Board, which had to make rules in this matter, are consequentially revoked. Previously the Local Government Board had power to adapt the provisions of the Labourers Act, so as to allow the work of the Trust to be carried on under them. That power to make the adaptation now rests with the Minister for Local Government and the Trust jointly.