I beg to move Section 1, which gives power to the Commissioners of Public Works to examine and acquire premises for the accommodation of the Civic Guard.
DAIL IN COMMITTEE. - CIVIC GUARD (ACQUISITION OF PREMISES) BILL, 1923.
I beg to move Section 2, which prescribes the notice to be served by the Commissioners on the owners of premises acquired.
How does this Section apply to premises that have already been acquired? I understand that the Civic Guard have taken possession, in some instances, of premises hitherto occupied by the military. I would like to know exactly what is the position of tenants in such cases?
The position is clearly defined in Sub-section 2 of Section 1. It says: "Such premises shall be deemed to have been in the possession of the Commissioners under this Act as from the date on which members of the Civic Guard or the Commissioners (as the case may be) first entered into possession or occupation thereof."
Does that mean that the Civic Guard, when taking possession of a house hitherto occupied by the military and where there is a dispute with regard to rent or any other aspect of the occupation by the military, will undertake all liabilities not discharged by the military?
It does not. It means that the Civic Guard will be deemed to have been in occupation under the terms of this Bill as from the date of their entry. Business prior to that date will lie with the Minister for Defence.
I beg to move Section 3, which prescribes the terms on which premises may be acquired by the Commissioners.
The Minister for Home Affairs will observe that, in deference to his suggestion on the Second Reading of this Bill, I refrained from putting down any amendment limiting the class of premises which may be acquired by the Civic Guard. I thought that the case he made was, in a sense, reasonable, that if exemption was sought for one class of premises, many people might come in and seek exemption for other premises. I trust the Minister will bear in mind the undertaking that he gave to me in regard to schools especially. This section provides for reasonable compensation to be granted to an occupier who is disturbed in the occupation of his premises. That may be very well for the lessee or proprietor of the school, but for the boy who is turned out in the middle or at the beginning of a term, and who is unable to find similar accommodation in some other school for, perhaps, three months or a term or two, he is injured in a way for which compensation can scarcely be provided in this Bill. It is impossible to give compensation, and the loss might be almost irreparable. I do trust that when the Minister comes to put this Bill in force he will hold his hand, or direct his Commissioners to hold their hands, whenever they suggest to him the acquisition of a school that is in the actual occupation of masters and pupils.
I have no hesitation in giving the Deputy an undertaking that special instructions will be given departmentally to keep off schools where at all possible.
I would like some information as to the power of the Commissioners. Perhaps it is customary, but it is very interesting to note that the persons who are to acquire the premises for the Government are to fix the price to be paid failing an agreement. Whenever the Commissioners of Public Works, who are the Commissioners referred to, "acquire any occupied premises under this Act, the occupier thereof shall be entitled to reasonable compensation for disturbance, the amount of which shall, in default of agreement, be fixed by the Commissioners." The section also says that the Commissioners may make all such alterations as appear to them to be necessary, and they shall pay such compensation as shall be agreed, or, in default of agreement, as they themselves may decide. Section 5 provides, undoubtedly, that any person aggrieved by a decision of the Commissioners may appeal to one of the panel of referees appointed under Sections 33 and 34 of the Finance Act, 1910. Unfortunately, we are not able to refer to that Act, and I would ask the Minister if he would give the Dáil some information as to that panel of referees to whom the aggrieved person may appeal provided the Commissioners' decision as to the sum to be paid is not satisfactory. Has the panel been set up? Is it one to be set up ad hoc? Who is to set it up? Has the aggrieved person, or any representative of the aggrieved person, any choice or say in the matter as to whether such a person is prejudiced against him already? I think that, although we are, perhaps, dealing with Section 5 in advance, Section 3 very largely depends upon Section 5, and I would suggest to the Minister that he should give us some information about the panel of referees referred to in Section 5, so that we might be better able to come to some right judgment in regard to Section 3.
The fixing of a price by the Commissioners in default of agreement is, of course, a purely technical fixing. In order to have an appeal you have to have something to appeal from. The basis of the Bill is that the State, in the overriding public interest, takes power to take over certain premises. Every endeavour will be made to arrive at a rent by agreement, but in default of agreement those who have taken over the premises will name the rent that they are prepared to pay. That gives to the owner of the premises a figure to appeal from to this body named in Section 5. The panel named in Section 5 is a panel of referees prepared by the following persons:—The President of the Surveyors' Institute, the Master of the Rolls, and the Chief Justice, and a referee is to be selected from that panel for the purpose of particular cases coming under the Bill. It was a known body, and it was considered a convenient body to deal with such cases as may arise under the provisions of the Bill. It already had statutory existence under the Finance Act of 1910, and it was considered suitable.
Was the panel appointed, and is it an existing panel?
It is an existing panel.
It is existing and the people that possibly may be aggrieved under this know even now whom that panel consists of? Is it a small panel or a large panel? What I mean is that the persons who may object to the price that the Commissioners name ought to know something about the constitution of the Court to which they shall appeal. Is it a Court of men of judicial training, or is it a Court of merchants, or what kind of a Court is it? Can the Minister help us in that?
The fact that the President of the Surveyor's Institute seems to be the person largely responsible for the panel would point to the panel consisting of engineers and people peculiarly suited for the valuing of property of this kind. The appeal will lie to one of the panel. Presumably the aggrieved person may carry his appeal to any one member of this existing panel. The panel is an existing and a known one. It is already set up, and any person writing to the Secretary of the Board of Referees can get a complete list.
Section 3 states:—
"The Commissioners may make all such structural and other alterations in any premises acquired by them under this Act as appear to the Commissioners to be necessary or expedient in order to make such premises suitable for the accommodation of members of the Civic Guard."
I have in mind at the moment a case where premises were taken possession of by the military at four hours' notice, and where the parties who owned the house were advised to go to the hotel, and that they would be compensated later on. The premises were in occupation of the military for twelve months, during which time they were not, to say the least of it, treated in a proper way, and as a result a considerable amount of destruction has been done both to the furniture that was taken over and to the house. I understand that the military have given up possession of the house, and that the Civic Guard are about to take possession. No definite agreement or arrangement has been arrived at either as to the rent to be paid for the period of occupation or the destruction caused by the military during the time they were there. I want to know from the Minister whether, in such a case, the Civic Guard, in order to make the premises more suitable—and I presume they would require to be more suitable in this particular case at any rate—would make such structural alterations and do such repairs as would put the premises into the original condition in which they were handed over to the military. If they decide to do so it will save some compensation later on, if and when the military decide to give compensation to the parties who were disturbed. In this particular instance the question of rent has not been settled, but I understand that a short time ago £50 was paid on account by the military. That does not settle the case. The sub-section says: "Whenever the Commissioners acquire any occupied premises under this Act, the occupier thereof shall be entitled to reasonable compensation for disturbance." The words "reasonable compensation" are very vague and elastic, and it is no satisfaction to those disturbed when there is a dispute going on for twelve months, and who may, perhaps, have an overdraft in the bank owing to this long-drawn-out dispute, to know that probably the military or the Civic Guard will not make any reasonable attempt to compensate them for disturbance or destruction to their property. As I have given the Minister some details, I would like to know what is the position of the Commissioners of the Civic Guard when taking over premises in that condition—whether it is the intention to restore at once the structure to its original condition and deal with the tenant, who has not up to the present been dealt with in a reasonable and satisfactory way, before they proceed to occupy the premises under such arbitrary powers.
I trust that the Deputy does not propose to raise on this Bill all his grievances against the military, real or imaginary.
That is a real one.
We will see that the Deputy does not do that.
I assure him that it takes me all my time to carry my own sins, and I would prefer to confine myself to them in considering this Bill. I also think there is very little to be gained by going into all the details of every specific case that may happen to be known to Deputies. The Bill in broad lines lays down that the Commissioners may acquire premises compulsorily for the accommodation of the Civic Guard. It provides that premises occupied up to the present by the Civic Guard may be deemed to be occupied under the provisions of this Bill, and it lays down machinery of arbitration in the matter of rent and in the matter of compensation.
If the Deputy will read Section 5 very slowly and carefully, he will see that "any person aggrieved by a decision of the Commissioners under this Act fixing the amount of any rent or compensation or the terms of any tenancy, may appeal from such decision to one of the Panel of Referees appointed." I think that answers his question. As for structural alterations carried out by the Civic Guard, these will, of course, vary. We could spend quite a long time imagining all kinds of structural alterations that might be carried out, but I do not think it would be profitable.
Arising out of the Minister's reply, I would like to draw his attention to Sub-section (2) of Section 1. If I understand the Minister correctly, the suggestion is that persons such as those mentioned by Deputy Davin, if they have a grievance against the decision of the Commissioners, can appeal to one of the Panels. It seems to me, on reading Sub-section (2) of Section 1, that the Panel will decide against them, because they would claim that those premises were unoccupied premises, and that, naturally, whatever decision was come to, and whatever compensation or rent is fixed by the Commissioners, there will be a discrimination between unoccupied and occupied premises when taken over by the Civic Guard. It seems to me that, according to the Act, the Panel will be bound to be weighted against the claimant and in favour of the decision of the Commissioners, against which the claimant is appealing.
The Deputy is not right. There is specific mention of compensation for disturbance. There could be no mention of compensation for disturbance if the words, "deemed to be unoccupied" were to be strictly applied; and if all the premises taken over by the Civic Guard were held fully and strictly to be unoccupied, the question for disturbance would not arise.
There is one passage in Sub-section (1) of Section 3 that seems to me to involve the Civic Guard authorities in difficulty. Between this and the next stage it might be altered "All premises acquired by the Commissioners under this Act shall be acquired for such term of years and at such rent as may be agreed between the Commissioners and the occupier, immediate landlord, or owner (as the case may require), and in default of such agreement, shall be taken by the Commissioners on a yearly tenancy, terminable at the end of any year of the tenancy by either party on giving three months' previous notice in writing, and subject to a yearly rent to be fixed by the Commissioners."
It seems to me, if the Civic Guard take premises, and the immediate landlord or owner, as the case may require, refuses to come to an agreement with them, they are then landed into a yearly tenancy in respect of which the owner, who has already refused to come to an agreement, can continue to serve three months' notice to terminate the tenancy at the end of the year. I suggest the tenancy should be terminable by the Commissioners on the giving of a three months' notice. It does seem to me to be rather excessive to say that the owner who has refused to come to an agreement should be allowed to continue unending trouble by a succession of notices to quit. I suggest the matter might be looked into before the next stage. As far as the Panel is concerned, I do not think there is good ground for complaint against the personnel. Panels were introduced originally for the protection of land owners and proprietors of mineral rights, and they have been functioning in this country to a certain extent under some other Statutes which enabled land to be compulsorily acquired. I rather think when a County Council takes a quarry for public purposes that the appeal lies to a referee appointed under this Panel by the President of the Institute of Surveyors and other people. It is not a very large Panel, but it is thoroughly qualified to deal with the class of cases arising under this Bill. No question of law is involved; it is merely a tribunal for fixing compensation, and the members of it are specially selected by their experience and capacity for dealing with compensation in cases of compulsory acquisition of property of this kind.
Sub-section (4) of Section 3 sets out that the Commissioner shall be bound to keep all premises acquired under this Act in as good repair and condition during tenancy as same were in when so acquired. I would like to know from the Minister if he really is quite serious in his intentions that these premises acquired by the Civic Guard will be kept in as good repair as when taken over, and that when handed to the tenant they will be in as good a condition as when they were occupied. I quite agree the Civic Guard has done wonderfully good work, and I would like to see them housed in a proper and healthy manner. I think the Minister for Home Affairs could do better for the Guard than by handing in a Bill seeking power to commandeer houses. If he set about re-building destroyed barracks I am sure he would have the majority of the country with him. In any place I visited through the country there was a welcome for the Civic Guard, and there are requests for members of the Force from various parts of the Saorstát. Wherever members of the Guard are stationed they are undoubtedly a credit to the present Government. At the same time, I do not think it is either right or just on the part of any Government to request a tenant, who may be living in a house for twenty or thirty years, to leave it simply to have the place turned into a barracks.
The Deputy should have made this speech on the Second Reading. He cannot go any further with it.
I demand an answer as to whether the Minister will supply alternative accommodation to people requested to leave their houses. It is only fair that tenants asked to leave should be supplied with alternative accommodation. When the Minister last replied to the question he mentioned that the matter would be taken into account, but I would like to see some reference to it in the Bill.
Deputy FitzGibbon's point was that portion of the Bill prescribes that the yearly tenancy is terminable at the end of any year by either party giving three months' notice. Section 4 of the Bill prescribes that "the power of acquiring premises and the powers ancillary thereto conferred on the Commissioners by this Act shall only be exercisable during one year from the date of the passing of this Act." It was considered proper when seeking rather drastic powers of this kind that the period should be limited. If it is found necessary at the end of twelve months to prolong these powers, then a case will have to be put up for that to the Parliament then existing. The Department and the Civic Guard Headquarters are satisfied with the Bill as it stands. Regarding Deputy Lyons' question as to whether we were quite serious in putting down Sub-section 4 of Section 3, I can assure him that we were. It is not the kind of Bill that one cracks jokes about or indulges in flippancies over. That particular sub-section merely provides that the premises will be kept in good order and will be handed over substantially in the same condition as when they were acquired. It might possibly happen that they would be handed over in a better condition than the condition they were in on being taken over by the Civic Guard, because certain repairs might be found necessary and might be carried out, and the general condition of the premises might be improved.
On the general question, I thought that the principle had been accepted that in the face of great public need, where you have people clamouring for police protection and clamouring to have the Civic Guard sent to their particular district, that the strict rights of individuals would have to be modified and qualified. That is the principle on which the Bill is based. The rapid distribution of the police force throughout the country will play a big part in restoring normal peaceful conditions—conditions more creditable to the country and more beneficial to its inhabitants than the conditions that have prevailed for months. We have no apologies to make on that head. On the question of compensation, there are provisions in the Bill that the Deputy should find satisfactory.
I do not know whether Deputy FitzGibbon is quite satisfied with the Minister's reply. It seems to me that the Minister's reply does not meet the point. The section he refers to confines what I might call the exercisability of the Act to a year from the date of the passing of the Act, but the first sub-section of Section 3 contemplates an agreement as between the owner or occupier and the Commissioners for a tenancy extending over a number of years. I presume that it is quite possible under the Act, which will probably expire within twelve months, to come to an agreement for a period extending far beyond that period. I think, therefore, that Deputy FitzGibbon's point has not been answered. I was about to raise it myself when he raised it. It was a question that, if no agreement is reached between the owner and the Commissioners, the Commissioners may take the premises on a yearly tenancy terminable at the end of a year on notice from either side. What, then, would be the position of the Civic Guard if at the end of twelve months the owner gave three months' notice?
Now, to return to the point that I was making earlier, I must say I am not quite satisfied with the Minister's reply. Perhaps I do not understand him fully, or perhaps he did not understand me fully. My point was this: The Bill speaks of the acquiring of occupied premises and the acquiring of unoccupied premises. Now, I understand quite well that under the section which arranges for reasonable compensation for disturbance there will be, presumably, compensation for disturbance as well as arrangements about the rent in the case of unoccupied premises, or what are defined as unoccupied premises. Nevertheless, I think it is a fair presumption that reasonable compensation in such cases as unoccupied premises will not come to as big an amount as it would in the case of occupied premises. Take a case in which the owner was living in a large shop and conducting a business there, and found that his business was practically destroyed by the compulsory acquiring of his premises and business. I think it is a fair presumption to say that unoccupied premises should not be as well compensated for as occupied premises. If a dispute or if a grievance is felt by the owner of these unoccupied premises, and he takes his appeal to the Panel, I am inclined to think, unless the Minister can assure us to the contrary, that the point that I originally made stands—that the Panel would be bound under the Act to decide rather in favour of the Commissioners than in favour of the person making the appeal.
I should like to raise, in connection with this, the question of the retrospective effect of the Bill. The section says that when the Commissioners acquire occupied premises under the Act, the occupier thereof should be entitled to reasonable compensation for disturbance by the Commissioners. But, as I pointed out before, this Sub-section 2 of Section 1 speaks of premises which are in the occupation or possession of the Civic Guard. The Bill is an attempt to regularise that and to put these premises in the same position as any premises that may from the passing of this Act be taken over by the Civic Guard. Are we to take it for sure that the people whose premises have already been taken over or whose business may have been put out of existence as a result of the compulsory acquisition of these premises will be paid this compensation for disturbance, and will this clause operate?
The Deputy may feel absolutely confident that the Bill is in reality, as well as in intention, retrospective both as regards the provision for rent and the provision for compensation. The concluding portion of Sub-section 2 of Section 1 provides:
"If premises are so acquired, such premises shall be deemed to have been in the possession of the Commissioners under this Act as from the date on which the members of the Civic Guard or the Commissioners (as the case may be) first entered into possession or occupation thereof."
That would throw back the whole effect of this Bill to the date on which either the Civic Guard or the Commissioners on their behalf took over the premises. Now, the circumstances existing on that date would be circumstances with regard to which compensation for disturbance would be made, and circumstances that would be outside the factor with regard to rent. The part in brackets, "for which purpose such premises shall be deemed to be unoccupied premises," is confined merely to the question of the taking over, and will not, I believe—and I undertake to look it up for the Deputy —affect the question of rent or compensation, but merely provides that the necessity for accommodating the Civic Guards is such that we would be justified in getting premises that had been already taken either by the military or taken by powers that were in places little short of compulsion. Certainly it was not the intention. I had hoped to move this Bill through all its stages to-day, but I will look it up and see if that portion of Sub-section (2) would in any way affect compensation for disturbance. The Deputy's point, I think, is that if a case were brought to arbitration with regard to this special case of premises already acquired by the Civic Guard, the Court would be bound to rule out any claim for compensation for disturbance. Is that the point?
I do not think that that is the case, but I will make more certain before the Report Stage.
As I read Section 1, the effect is that where the Civic Guard are in occupation to-day they need only give a week's notice of their intention to remain, instead of a month. I think that that is quite clear, and I do not think it applies to a question of compensation at all.
A considerable number of cases of hardship would result if it did not apply. I am glad to hear the Minister say that he will have the matter looked into and assure us that it is all right. I know one man in a small way of business, and it was his case that I had in mind when I raised the question on the Estimates of the Board of Works, but I will be satisfied with the assurance of the Minister when he looks into the matter.