DAIL IN COMMITTEE. - HOUSING BILL, 1925—COMMITTEE.
In this Act save where the context otherwise requires— the expression "local authority" means and includes the council of a county, or borough, or urban district, or the commissioners of any town;
the expression "public utility society" means a society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, 1893 to 1913, whose objects include the erection and reconstruction of houses for the working classes;
the word "person" does not include either a local authority, a public utility society, or the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust;
the expression "Minister" means the Minister for Local Government and Public Health;
the word "self-contained flat" means any part of a building suitable for separate occupation as a dwellinghouse;
the word "house" means a building suitable for occupation as a dwellinghouse, and includes a self-contained flat;
the expression "existing building" means a building in existence at the passing of this Act;
the word "reconstruction" means the conversion of an existing building into one or more houses, and includes the making of alterations and additions for that purpose; and the words "reconstruct,""reconstructing," and other cognate words shall be construed accordingly;
the word "erection" does not include reconstruction, and the words "erect,""erecting," and other cognate words shall be construed accordingly.
I beg to move:—
In line 19, after the word "town" to add the words "or the council of a rural district in the County of Dublin."
The Local Government Act which has just been passed provides for the abolition of rural district councils, with the exception of rural councils in County Dublin. For that reason this amendment is necessary.
Amendment put and agreed to.
I beg to move:—
In line 23 to add after the word "classes" the words "or a Friendly Society registered under the Friendly Societies Acts, 1896 and 1908, or a Trade Union registered under the Trade Union Acts, 1871 to 1913."
The definition clause, second paragraph, says:—
The expression, "public utility society" means a society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, 1893 to 1913, whose objects include the erection and reconstruction of houses for the working-classes.
The Industrial and Provident Societies Acts would not include some societies of a similar character, which may have amongst their objects the provision of houses, and the object of the amendment is to make it possible for societies which have similar functions, amongst other functions, as those referred to in this definition section, such as friendly societies or trade unions, to avail of the facilities. My object is to include amongst public utility societies, friendly societies and trade unions which may have amongst their objects the provision of houses for their members. The matter was raised by me on Second Reading, and I think it should commend itself to the Dáil and the Ministry.
I would be prepared to accept the amendment if it read like this:—
Or a friendly society registered under the Friendly Societies Acts, 1896 and 1908, and especially authorised under sub-section (5) of Section 8 of the Friendly Societies Act, 1896, for the purpose of the provision of houses, or a trade union registered under the Trade Union Acts, 1871 to 1913, whose objects include the provision of houses by way of benefit to the members.
It is slightly more restrictive than Deputy Johnson's amendment, but it brings out the point that the bodies which we would include amongst those to whom grants would be made available would have housing as one of their objects or as one of the provisions of the articles of association or rules. Only to that extent does it differ from the amendment of Deputy Johnson. Personally, I should say that the Government would be more than pleased to see such bodies taking up this matter. I do not know whether it would be possible for bodies which have not yet got such a provision in the rules to have them altered so as to include such matters. If they were in a position to do that, then the amendment I suggest would be almost the same as Deputy Johnson's, except that housing would be specially mentioned in the rules.
I cannot speak offhand, but I think the effect of the President's suggested amendment would be to restrict unduly the advantages that this would give to trade unions. I am doubtful whether friendly societies, and I am more doubtful whether trade unions, are likely to have specified amongst their objects the provision of houses. But the fact remains that they do at present, within their powers, advance money to members for the building of houses. As it is a comparatively recent development for some unions, and as their rules were drawn up in some cases many years ago, and are probably of a wide character rather than specific, if you put in the amendment as read out by the President, then it will require that they should have specific sanction to build houses or to engage in the provision of houses for members. I suggest to the President that if trade unions or friendly societies are at present empowered within their rules, irrespective of any specific authorisation, that the object he seeks is already attained. Some of the older and larger unions have made it a practice to advance money to their members for the purpose of house-building. I am doubtful whether they have specific authorisation under the rules, but I want to secure that a trade union or friendly society which is prepared to advance money to its members might do so as a public utility society within the meaning of the Bill, and that the members who constitute the society are thereby benefited to the extent that the Bill provides for. I am inclined to think that the phraseology of the President's draft means limiting the trade unions unless they proceed to revise the rules, and that takes quite a considerable time sometimes. As a matter of fact, if the unions are, within their powers, able to provide money for housing, then the object that the President seeks is already attained within the present rules, and, if they are registered either under the Friendly Societies Acts or the Trade Union Acts, that should suffice, I think.
Deputy Johnson is introducing a rather dangerous principle in this amendment. We know that trade unions in their operation have a compulsory levy for certain purposes. If the unions are given power to levy members for the provision of houses it would seem to be very far-reaching. It is one that could, I imagine, be greatly abused. It seems to me that it would be quite possible and desirable for trade unions to have housing schemes apart from ordinary trade union funds. In that case the levy would not be compulsory on a member. I think Deputy Johnson's proposals would really be compulsory on a man who might not want to participate in a housing scheme at all. It would be a serious thing to compel members to subscribe towards an object to which they did not desire to contribute. It would be desirable to have a contribution towards the provision of houses, but to make it compulsory would, I think, be objectionable.
I think it would not be wise to allow the Dáil to be misled by Deputy Hewat's statement. I think he must have been sadly disappointed at the intervention of the Prime Minister of Great Britain in a recent debate, and that he has got the compulsory levy on the brain. There is no suggestion here to levy for the building of houses. Friendly societies or trade unions—too few of them—have friendly benefits. They have accumulated funds which are the property of the members and which the members will look some day to get benefit from, if the need arises. It has been the practice of some of the unions to utilise some of these funds for the provision of houses for members. The object of this amendment is to make it possible for any union which does that to take advantage of this Bill in the same way as a public utility society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts. That is the whole purport of the amendment. It does not introduce any compulsion or make any change whatever in the relationship of the union and its members or of a friendly society and its members. It simply seeks to make it possible for a union which desires, and which is in a position to advance money for the building of houses, to take advantage of this Bill in the same way as a public utility society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts. Under these Acts, for instance, a cooperative society would be in a position to take advantage of the subsidy. Some of these other working-class organisations, similar in character, and largely similar in purpose, which chose to register under one series of Acts rather than under the other series, would be debarred under the definition as set out in the Bill. The object of my amendment is to bring the other societies— friendly societies and trades unions— which, I say, are of the same character as some of the societies registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, into the category of the Bill. I do not want to be too definite, but I think the President's suggested draft means limiting the number of friendly societies, and possibly will make impossible the utilisation of this machinery for the building of houses out of the funds of the societies, unless they have very definite and special sanction within their rules. I do not understand the object of the limitation, and I think it would simply destroy the effect of my amendment. In view of this fact I would ask the President to accept the amendment, and then to look up the matter, as well as the effect of his proposed amendment, between now and the Report Stage. If he were to do that, I think he would find that the effect of his proposed amendment would be simply to nullify the effect of my proposition.
I desire to support the views expressed by Deputy Johnson. Societies which facilitate their members in the matter of building houses do so, I think, from a special fund provided in these particular societies. If the President's amendment were insisted on, it would, as Deputy Johnson has pointed out, nullify the administration of these funds to the members. There have been several cases in which grants have been given to members from amalgamated societies. I think if the amendment could be altered to read: "the provision of a housing scheme for its members" it might meet the point or meet the objection that has been raised.
I wish to say that I am delighted at the solicitude which Deputy Hewat has shown for trade union members. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the President should endeavour to limit the operations of anyone who desires to build houses. I am sure that what the President has at the back of his head is to get houses built.
Of course, but if a number of people come together to put up houses, whether they are in a trades union or not, they are, I would say, entitled to whatever help you can give them under this Bill, which, I admit, is a very good effort.
Let us not lose sight of the issue in this matter. An ordinary individual will get £75, and a public utility society £100. There you have a difference of £25. What is the reason of the difference? I should say that the reason for the difference is, that we contemplate a public utility society undertaking to erect more houses, a great many more houses, than individual members of a society would, of themselves, build. In other words, one of these organisations entering into the spirit of this measure, puts up 20 houses and is given in that case a sum of £2,000. If twenty individual members come to us to put up their own houses, we only give them £75 each. What is the reason for that? It is a simple one, and it is this: That there are a certain number of organisations of persons who have in their rules the provision of houses, not specially for the individual members of their societies at all, but as a general contribution towards the public good. We have such organisations. It is well known that we have one of the finest, if not the finest in the world, in the Artizans' Dwellings Company here in Dublin. They have ceased operations for a number of years, but during their time they did remarkably well. I referred to it here twelve months ago when I was speaking of people who came in to contribute to the relief of the housing problem. At that time, I neglected to mention the name of one noble family that made a real contribution here in Dublin to the solution of the housing question, and that is the family of the Earl of Meath. They did the work themselves, and not as a public utility society. A public utility society undertaking to put up houses will do the work, to a large extent, out of their own funds, and will let the houses to certain individuals, members, perhaps, of their organisation in the case of a trade union, and to others in the case of the various companies or societies that I have mentioned, and in that way they will bring into play, in connection with the construction of houses, their capital, energy and industry.
My objection to the acceptance of Deputy Johnson's amendment is not that I object to a trade union or a friendly society registered under the Friendly Societies' Act of 1898, but that the individualist theory might be persisted in there; in other words, that ten members of an organisation might say: "Put up ten houses for us, and by reason of this amendment we will get £100 each. Lend us so much money, and we will pay the interest." I want more than that. I want to have organisations building not only this year or next year, but continuously, and I want them to bring into play something that would not be put into operation if it were not for the exceptional advantages which are to be derived under this Bill. An organisation might be started with five persons, and it might build five houses for its five members. They are of no use to the State because they stop there. An organisation of ten persons building twenty houses for people other than the ten members who compose it, who do the same thing next year, and let these houses to people who cannot afford to put down the cash themselves, is the sort of an organisation that we are interested in at the moment. We want to bring into play in this question the speculative builder, and those societies and trade unions which will make it a condition not to stop building this year, but will go on putting up houses for a number of years, because we realise it is time that some real effort should be made towards solving the housing problem. If Deputy Johnson will agree to leave over his amendment until the Report Stage I will put down my amendment for the Report Stage. In the meantime perhaps he would have an opportunity of looking into the matter.
I do not want to mislead anyone in this matter. I do not know of any suggestion that trade unions or friendly societies are thinking of entering into the business of building houses in the way that the President has indicated, and in the way that public utility societies will, as he hopes, do under this Bill. The definition speaks of the society whose object includes the erection and reconstruction of houses. Now, there are many societies registered under the I. and P.S. Acts whose main business is not the building or reconstruction of houses, but by whom that work is incidentally and occasionally undertaken. Some of the industrial and cooperative societies registered under these Acts do that, but it is not their main business. They may do it occasionally for their members, but under this definition, by the fact that their objects do include the erection and reconstruction of houses they would get the advantage even though it was not their main purpose.
"Whose objects include"——
But it does not say whose main purpose it is to erect houses.
No, but "whose objects include."
My proposition is that if it is possible for any other society whose objects may include the erection and reconstruction of houses for the working classes, then some definition should be allowed to cover other organisations which may be capable, within their rules, of providing houses, but who do not at all set out to make it their main purpose. So far as putting them on even terms, my purpose would be served if the Minister would add my amendment after the words "Provident Societies Acts, 1893 to 1913." That would mean that either friendly society or trade union, before it could come into this definition, would require that its objects include the erection and reconstruction of houses. That would be one way of meeting the President if he is very strong on the point that the object should be specifically stated. But I think that for the purpose of erecting houses you must have facilities given that may very well mean the erection of quite a number of houses if friendly societies, as well as trade unions, can all be brought into it. Let me illustrate a point that has just occurred to me. The National Health Insurance Commission specifies certain trust funds to which funds of societies may be applied, or invested. I do not know whether under those Health Insurance Acts the health insurance societies may not be capable of spending a considerable share of their moneys in erecting houses if they were allowed under the definition. Instead of investing in railways, they might be allowed to invest in houses, and that might mean a considerable amount of money available for that purpose. Some of those societies are registered as part of the national health insurance scheme, but they are societies registered under the Trade Union Acts, and in these cases it might be well to leave them as free as possible. I think you would have a considerable amount of money available if the societies would be willing to invest it for that purpose.
My few remarks will be directed towards the explanation of the President as to why he is cutting down the grant from £100 to £75 to private speculators and people who desire to build their own houses. The President said that a person who built his own house is not of very much advantage to the State. It was only six months ago that the President stated the direct opposite when he said that a person who built his house was doing good patriotic work, and, as a result of that statement, made some months ago, a number of people set about looking for sites for their own houses. Some of them got sites, but they failed to get people to join in to start a public utility society. They had their plans prepared. I have a case here where people agreed to build houses with the assistance of last year's grant, and where they expected to get £100 apiece. They got their plans prepared, but they are not yet approved by the Commissioners. Having got the land as well as their plans prepared under the Act, they immediately found that they were to get a sum reduced by £50 between the two. They could not get five people to agree. They were to get £100 apiece, now the sum of £25 apiece comes off them, not being a utility society. I think the President would be wise—he has been very gracious upon housing and he has made great efforts to get houses built—to withdraw this little limitation so that private people will be able to build here and there where they can secure a piece of ground. I have a letter in my hand dealing with this matter. It is:—
"Dear Sir,—I have to thank you very sincerely for your efforts to get the maximum grant of £100 for those about to build under the 1925 Act. In my own case it will show you how hard it is to have the grant cut down from £100 under last year's Act to £75 in the new Act. In the middle of last February I had plans, builder, etc., all ready, just going forward to the Borough Commissioners, when the crux arose out of the grant. This has now been got over. I and another are prepared to build a house each, but the loss of £50 is more than we can afford as it means the borrowing of more money, and we have reached the high-water mark of borrowing, so you see it hits us very hard. We are both working people, and the five-roomed houses we were to build were on the Government's approved plan. I am asking if you will continue your efforts in favour of obtaining the £100." And then the letter goes on to mention a few popular Deputies that the writer hopes I would try to see and get them to do the same.
Did the Deputy call to the housing department to know if last year's Act is out of commission?
I would like the President to clear up that and to allow these people to go on with the building of their houses. In the reply he gave to me the other day he did not hold out much hope. These people have a site on which to build, but they have not a public utility society behind them, as they could not get three more people to join them.
Writing wrong letters, or laziness—that is the only thing to prevent them.
They tried to get three more people to join them, but failed.
The public utility society doesn't come in at all at present.
It does. See the Third Schedule, which says that a private individual will get £75.
This Bill was introduced a fortnight ago, but the mere introduction of a Bill does not repeal an Act of Parliament. The complaint of the Deputy is that we have repealed the Act. We have not yet repealed the Act. As I explained the other day, there is £10,000 which is still earmarked under last year's Act. Deputy Byrne's friends concerned themselves writing letters and expressing hopes, instead of going to the fountain-head, namely, the Minister who is the person to apply to. I told the Deputy, a fortnight ago, and again to-day, that there is still £10,000 available awaiting the industry and energy of his friends when they are ready to start business.
I am very glad to hear the President's explanation that he is ready to give £100, but under the new Act the grant will be reduced to £75. I will acquaint these persons with it.
May I point out that when I said a man who built his own house was not much good, that was a relative statement. I was discussing public utility societies and their contribution to the housing problem. Everybody knows that private individuals of themselves will not solve the housing problem. In last year's Act we endeavoured to get more than private individuals, but not to neglect private individuals. Precisely the same thing is happening with regard to this Bill.
I intended to rise merely to put Deputy Byrne's point in order. As I gather, the President's objection to Deputy Johnson's amendment is that under its operations members of trade union societies might join together to utilise their trade union as a public utility society —ten people, I think, he took as an illustration, would combine to obtain houses. Each of the ten who promoted the building would occupy his own house. In that way they would have gained twenty-five pounds as members of a public utility society, which, as individual builders of their own house, they could not have obtained. I wonder am I correct in that summary of the President's argument? In other words, the President's objection to Deputy Johnson's amendment is a difficulty created by the President himself in the present Bill, because it is to my mind, with all respect, an arbitrary proceeding to limit the private builders' subsidy to £75, whereas in the Housing Facilities Act and in the Housing Facilities (Amendment) Act the figures for a three, four and five-roomed house were, respectively, £60, £80 and £100. A differentiation of £75 and £100 is introduced for the first time in the present proposal. How can that be a fatal objection to Deputy Johnson's amendment? I heartily concur with Deputy Wilson in the point that as we are all concerned in getting as many houses built as possible—no doubt, as the President interjected, "Cheaply, efficiently and rapidly"—every agency that could be employed for the purpose should be joined in the work. I think we could understand the position better if the section of the Act quoted could be read to us, for what its specific enactment is I do not think the House is fully acquainted with.
If I may say so, Deputy Johnson's amendment amounts to this—namely, he wants to make the building of houses a trustee investment; in other words, to utilise the funds that in an ordinary way would be subject to certain limitations as to investment, and to make them available for building houses. That is a rather far-reaching proposition.
The trade unions at present provide money for building houses. I am not asking for the powers to be extended. They do these things at present, and all I am asking is that they may be able to take advantage of this Bill.
If the unions have already the right to do it, there is nothing in this Bill that will take away that right.
It is not giving them the advantage which you give to public utility societies.
No, but Deputy Johnson referred to the funds of health insurance societies. Those funds, and, I presume, other funds of that sort, are subject to be called on at any time; in other words, they are trustee funds.
That, so far as I can see, is the main isue. If any body of men desire that funds which are raised for other purposes shall be used for building houses, it may be a meritorious thing, but Deputy Johnson wants to put that in the Bill.
The Deputy has taken my reference to health insurance funds in a way which I did not intend. I only brought that forward to illustrate a possible source of house-building money, but those funds are only allowed to be used for a special purpose by permission of the Health Insurance Commissioners. I do not know if the Commissioners could, within their present powers, or would in any case, allow funds of a health insurance society to be invested in the building of houses. I threw that out as a possibility. In any case, the funds of trade unions or friendly societies are, within their present rules, in many cases used for the building of houses for members. All I am asking is that any society of that kind which has powers to build houses for its members may be able under this section to take advantage of the subsidy in the same way as a public utility society will be able to do. That is the whole object of my amendment.
Deputy Professor Magennis does not appear to appreciate the distinction drawn between the £75 grant this year and the £100 grant last year, or between the £75 grant this year to individuals and the £100 grant to public utility societies. I thought I explained that a public utility society, such as we contemplate operating under this section, will construct houses and will let them at rents to people. There is a remarkable difference between that sort of activity in connection with housing and an individual who has a couple of hundred pounds, and who is able to have a house built for himself. In one case a number of persons coming together provide houses that will be let at a rent, and in the other case an individual having money is in a position to get a house built. The people who can afford to pay rents must get a little more assistance from the State. People who can afford to put up three or four hundred pounds for the construction of a house are not so greatly in need. That is the distinction between the two. It was discovered last year that local authorities could operate this Bill. I thought first that it would be possible to interest companies and societies so that local authorities would be relieved of that duty. They asked it to be extended and we have extended it. They occupy much the same position as public utility societies. £150 —supposing a local authority gave £75 and the Government gave £75—is a much larger contribution than is paid in any of the countries near us.
How does the President get away from the possibility that people who combine to take advantage of this scheme may be wealthier than a particular individual who seeks to get the benefit of it? If a number of wealthy people come together they will get the £100 per house, even though they have more means than the single individual.
Twelve houses as against one.
If people who have thousands of pounds band themselves together they can get the £100, and only £75 is given to the single individual who may not have much means. I do not think the argument of the President is a sound one.
I do not understand the hesitancy of the President in accepting Deputy Johnson's amendment. I think the members of trade unions are the people the President should like to see taking an interest in the building of houses. We have heard complaints here from time to time that the people engaged in the building trade do not seem to be concerned at all with the people who will have to inhabit the houses; that is to say, that they are drawing too much wages and have no regard for the interests of the people who will have to occupy the houses. To my mind, if the President permits trade unions taking advantage of the Bill, and if he accepts the amendment, then they will be brought into direct touch with the question of building, and they will be called upon to take an interest in the question of providing houses, especially for the working classes, all over the country. It has been alleged that there is overcharging in connection with the building of houses. If the allegation that the wages are too high in the building industries is true, and if the working classes find in practice what the difficulties are, there will be an easing of the position. I think the President ought to accept Deputy Johnson's amendment, because really the best thing to do is to get the people concerned, the workers, to build for themselves.
I only ask that they include among their objects the provision of houses; if they do so I would agree.
Deputy Johnson is asking you to permit trade unions who take part in the provision of houses for their own members, and the people generally. If they are allowed to come into close contact with the problem of supplying houses it might perhaps become apparent to them that it is impossible at present to build houses at an economic rent, and if that does become apparent there may be an easing of the situation.
If my amendment is passed there is nothing to prevent them extending the rules of their societies so as to allow them to make provision for the building of houses.
The President does not quite appreciate the difficulty of a trade union or a friendly society with regard to extending its rules. There is a great deal of formula to be gone through, and it takes months and sometimes years to have rules altered. Societies are very loath to get rules changed; in fact, some societies quite deliberately make a provision within their rules that there shall be no change in their rules within two years because of the expense involved in getting the rules changed, notices of all kinds having to be made, and a great deal of formula to be gone through. I think that applies to friendly societies to a greater degree even than to trade unions, and the cost of two or three houses would probably be eaten up in getting the necessary changes made. They simply would not go to that trouble and expense, and if you make that a condition it will prevent trade union activity in that direction.
I ask Deputy Johnson to withdraw his amendment and to bring it forward again on the Report Stage. I will consider it in the meantime.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Before you go to the next amendment, would you permit me, sir, to ask a question as regards a definition that intervenes? The words "self-contained flat" mean any part of a building suitable for separate occupation as a dwellinghouse. Who is to determine the question of suitability? In Section 4 of the present Bill provision is made for an official, who is to be known as an appointed officer, who is to inspect the erection and decide whether or not it has been completed in a proper and workmanlike manner, but I cannot find either in this Bill or the original Act a reference to an officer whose duty it will be to declare that the place is suitable for use as a dwellinghouse. Now, it occurs to me that if the suitability is dealt with only at the stage at which the question as to allowing the grant or subsidy becomes actual, that is rather late, and consequently is unfair to whoever undertook the enterprise. There should, I suggest, be some provision made for permitting those who undertake the alteration of an existing building for reconstructing it into flats to know what would be deemed suitable and what would not. There are in the First Schedule a number of provisions in regard to area, but the thing was even more detailed in the new Housing Order, 1925, but still we are not told that the mere provision of minimum space constitutes suitability.
This question will come on the section.
With all respect, I suggest that in the section at present under discussion we have to read the clause that defines "a self-contained flat."
We have to dispose of amendment No. 3 before we take up the section.
On a point of order, if we are going beyond that clause I cannot return to it. I can merely raise the question of suitability in regard to houses. If you prefer I would do it at that stage.
I think it would be better.
In line 31 to delete the words "a building suitable for occupation as."
It appears to me that any old stable or building of any sort could be converted into a dwelling-house, and the person who reconstructed it would be qualified for the grant. I may be wrong in that, and I would like to hear the Minister's views on the matter.
It is possible that a stable might be reconstructed, but it is not possible that an insanitary stable, or a stable in a congested area, would be passed by persons authorised by the Minister to inspect. The Inspector has rules and regulations concerning these matters, and it is most unlikely that any building unsuitable for reconstruction by reason of being insanitary, or for some other cause, would be passed by the Minister or his official in this connection. The same thing applies to Deputy Professor Magennis's statement about self-contained flats. There have been cases in which the Minister has accepted certificates from qualified persons not in his service, but only in respect of new buildings, and not in respect of reconstructed houses, and the inspection, and the regulations, rules, and competency of the persons appointed to make these inspections, render it impossible, or as nearly impossible as is conceivable, that an unsuitable house could be passed for reconstruction.
I think the Minister is in duty bound to tell us whether in the Bill there is any restriction on the class of house which may be reconstructed. He assures us, of course, that the Minister's officer would only allow a house to come under a subsidy if he were satisfied that it was a satisfactory one. We may have complete faith in the judgment of that officer and the Minister, but there is nothing in the Bill, so far as I can see, which would ensure that the direction given to the officer would be such as to limit the kind of house which he would allow to be reconstructed. In the original Act last year the definition of a house was a dwelling-house. In this definition of a house it is put down as a building suitable for occupation as a dwelling-house. That obviously leaves a discretion to the officer as to what is suitable, and there is nothing else in the Bill to ensure that any conditions as to suitability shall be applied. The Minister will prescribe rules, and if last year's Act is taken as a guide, those rules may be quite satisfactory; but this Bill does not contain any clause requiring that houses should be of a certain kind or quality. I think this Bill, as it stands, may allow grants to be paid for the reconstruction of premises which are quite unsuitable for being turned into houses.
I suppose it is really intended that the word "suitable" there should mean "suitable in the opinion of the Minister." Would it not be advisable to insert those words, and that possibly would satisfy both the objections?
Surely, in addition to that, there should be some officer by whom the suitability should be examined and reported upon. There is no provision made to prevent someone from altering the existing building, say a stable, or some derelict building. A man may then, having spent his money in reconstructing, apply for his grant, and his application would be turned down. Of course that is wildly improbable, I dare say, in the mind of the Local Government official; but still things that are wildly improbable in the imagination of an official can happen, and have happened. Besides, we are now making legislation, and the thing ought to be made as watertight as it can be made. Here, again, I raise the point of a definition clause which includes an undefined term that might be dealt with under regulations. I have looked into the Bill and the original Act, and I do not find in the present Bill provision made for laying down regulations to that effect. It would be obviously the duty of some inspector to report upon the proposal to reconstruct a building so as to make it suitable.
Similarly, it ought to be the duty of some official to say that the proposal to construct a house is a proposal to construct one that is suitable. There are obviously regulations as to the site and the aspect. Even such things as facing the sun and getting the greatest measure of sunshine upon the greatest number of rooms are provided for in the regulations under the 1924 Act. Such things as minimum floor space, the character of the ventilation, and other items like that, that have an important effect conditioning the hygienic value of the house, have not been exhausted in this Bill, while they were provided for in the last Act. It seems to me that the definition clause could be improved upon. Where a vague phrase like "suitable for a dwelling-house" occurs, it might be made more definite and more determinate.
I would like to follow that up by pointing out that there is a complete absence in the Bill of any reference to conditions such as surroundings, convenience, aspect, or position in regard to other houses, and so on. The definition says that the word house means a building suitable for occupation as a dwelling-house. "This Act shall apply to every house which complies with the rules set out in the First Schedule to this Act, and with any other rules or regulations prescribed for that purpose." We are, therefore, bound to rely entirely on any other rules or regulations prescribed. In the absence of any such rules or regulations, the position is that the word "house" means "every building suitable for occupation as a dwelling-house, and includes a self-contained flat." That complies with the First Schedule.
There is nothing in the First Schedule dealing with the quality of the house. You are therefore left entirely dependent on rules which the Minister may make. There is no hint in the Bill of a direction to the Minister as to the kind of rules he will make. That is the defect. Deputy Nagle's amendment does not go very far in the way of definition; but it indicates that a house shall be a dwelling-house, not a building suitable for occupation as a dwelling-house. One does know something of what is meant by a dwelling-house. If you say that a broken stable —now that a man has a motor car, and does not want a stable—is suitable for John Smith as a dwelling-house, under the Bill there may be a subsidy given for the reconstruction of that, and I think that is not desirable.
Section 11 makes provision for such regulations as may be required for carrying this Bill into effect. It is open to the Minister to make regulations dealing with such matters in the same way as he made them last year.
Can the Minister explain why there is a change made in the definition of the word "house" as compared with last year's Act? Was last year's Act too close or too tight, and is it the intention to make it more loose and easy for a worse building to be converted?
That is not the intention.
I would refer you to Section 1, the definition section of last year's Act.
The word "house" in the case of the present Bill combines the two; that is, a flat suitable for occupation, and a dwellinghouse—a building suitable for occupation as a dwelling-house.
The President relies on Section 11. There is only one portion of Section 11 which can be made applicable to these cases. Section 11, sub-section (1) reads: "The Minister may by order prescribe all such rules, regulations, conditions and other matters as are in this Act referred to as being or to be prescribed." There is nothing clear as to suitability being prescribed.
The Deputy did not read what I read.
"And such other regulations as may be required for carrying this Act into effect." That is the only portion of the section which will serve his purpose.
It is quite obvious when that was put in by the draftsman, what he had in view was all these regulations set out in full in the Housing Order, with regard to the payment of grants by instalments on certain conditions and so on, and that one of the things required for carrying the Act into effect is that an officer should inspect in the case of a house to be reconstructed and should report, and failing a favourable report that it should not be deemed to be suitable. That is not included in this phraseology.
So far as a comparison can be made with the Act of last year, I think that the present Bill is better than last year's Act. In last year's Act it is stated "the word `house' means a dwellinghouse." In this Bill it is stated: "The word `house' means a building suitable for occupation as a dwellinghouse and includes a self-contained flat."
The great advantage of the term "dwellinghouse" is that there are innumerable legal decisions. When it is stated that "house" means a dwellinghouse, one can go immediately to the decisions of the law courts and have light in the matter, whereas, qualifying the word dwellinghouse with a limiting condition "suitable for occupation," immediately requires that someone should determine whether or not it is suitable. Who is that person? I presume it is the Minister. But how and by what procedure? Are those who have in prospect the reconstruction of a new building, not to know from the beginning what is likely to pass as suitable for reconstruction?
I understood that the reason the section was opposed by Deputy Johnson was that there was a weakness in the Bill. I find out now from Deputy Magennis that it is too strong.
I did suggest that the present Bill in its definition of "house" was weak.
The Bill, in many respects, is weak, but we are not dealing with the Bill; we are dealing with the amendment to the provision which states that "the word `house' means a building suitable for occupation as a dwellinghouse." If you accept the amendment the definition will read: "The word `house' means a dwelling-house and includes a self-contained flat." Surely that is a more workmanlike phraseology and definition than to enlarge this word "house" so as to mean a stable suitable for occupation as a dwellinghouse, or any building, including a stable, which the officer may think is suitable for occupation as a dwellinghouse and includes a self-contained flat. Surely, if it were satisfactory in the last Bill with regard to the definition, there is no objection to re-enacting it, unless some case can be made for the alteration. So far as I can understand it, the alteration is going to enable the poorer class of building, the building which hitherto has been thought to be unfit for habitation, to be reconstructed and turned into a dwellinghouse. I am afraid that is going to be the consequence of this definition.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Question—"That Section 1, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Section 2 put and agreed to.
3.—(1) The Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, make grants out of moneys to be provided by the Oireachtas to—
(a) persons or public utility societies erecting or reconstructing houses to which this Act applies; and
(b) local authorities erecting or reconstructing houses in pursuance of the Housing of the Working Classes (Ireland) Acts, 1890 to 1921, or of the Labourers (Ireland) Acts, 1883 to 1919, in accordance with schemes approved by the Minister.
(2) The amount of any grant made under this section in respect of any house shall not exceed the sum specified in Part I. of the Second Schedule to this Act as appropriate to such house.
(3) The aggregate amount of the grants to be made under this section shall not exceed the sum of £300,000.
(4) The Minister shall not make a grant under this section in respect of—
(a) a house in respect of which a grant was made by the Minister under the Housing (Building Facilities) Act, 1924;
(b) a house erected in accordance with a reinstatement condition within the meaning of Section 10 of the Damage to Property (Compensation) Act, 1923 (No. 15 of 1923);
(c) a house which is erected on or on any part of the site of a building in respect of the destruction of which compensation has been awarded under the said Damage to Property (Compensation) Act, 1923, or in respect of the destruction of which a report has been made under Section 15 of the said Act;
(d) a reconstructed house where compensation has been awarded under the provisions of the said Damage to Property (Compensation) Act, 1923, in respect of damage to the building before reconstruction or where a report has been made under Section 15 of the said Act in respect of such damage.
Amendment 4.—In sub-section (3) to add at the end the words—"of which sum not more than £50,000 shall be made in respect of reconstructed houses."—(Tomás de Nógla)—not moved.
I beg to move:—"In sub-section (4) (a), line 12, to delete the word ‘Act' and substitute the word ‘Acts.'"
Amendment put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 3, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Section 4 put and agreed to.
During the period from the passing of this Act to the first day of October, 1925, every county council shall have, in respect of the area of the county exclusive of every borough and urban district situated therein, the powers conferred by the Labourers (Ireland) Acts, 1883 to 1919, on a rural sanitary authority or a rural district council in respect of their rural sanitary district or rural district, and the said Acts, with the necessary adaptations, shall apply to the exercise by the county council of the said powers.
I beg to move:—
Before Section 5 to insert a new section as follows:—
(1) The Small Dwellings Acquisition (Ireland) Acts, 1899 and 1919, shall apply to the acquisition of a house to be erected under this Act as they apply to the acquisition of an existing house, subject to such necessary adaptations as may be made by regulations prescribed by the Minister.
(2) The regulations to be made by the Minister under this section may include adaptations of Section 4 of this Act.
The proposition in the amendment is to apply the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts with the necessary adaptations. There are certain provisions in the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts which would make it impossible, I think, for any local authority to use these Acts under the present Bill. While I am not suggesting that local authorities in any general way are at present likely to be in a position to take advantage or to give the advantages to citizens of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts, I think it is well that there should be an opportunity, if any local authority were in that position, to provide such advantages as these Acts give with all the necessary adaptations. These Acts enable local authorities to lend moneys for the purpose of buying houses subject to a limit of £800; 90 per cent. of the value of the house is the maximum advance and fifty years is the maximum period for repayment, but the advance can be only made for the advantage of persons resident in the house. The proposition is that it should be possible for the Minister to adapt that by rule and to make it apply to a person who intended to reside in the house. The Northern Government passed a Bill of that kind and adapted these Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts, in this way, by a regular series of sections. In putting down this amendment, I have tried to avoid that long series of amendments which had some back reference clauses, and I leave it to the Minister to make certain adaptations. I do not know whether any objection can be raised to this proposition, and I would like to hear the views of the Minister.
The objection to it is that it is unnecessary. The Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts really apply to these houses. If there was any limitation it was in respect of the sum. I think that in England they sanctioned something like £1,200 under these Acts, whereas the amount here is £800. The whole trouble about the matter of utilising the Small Dwellings Acts is that the Local Loans Fund is no longer available. Even if it were, the interest would be very high at present. The Government would not be in a position to lend money at a lesser price than that at which they were able to borrow themselves. Pre-war it was possible for a local authority to get money at 3½ to 3¾ per cent., and they charged about 5/- per cent., which enabled a person to get £300 or £400 at 4 per cent. That is not possible at present, and until the Local Loans Fund can be put into commission, I do not think, even though these Acts do apply at present and will apply to this Bill, that any useful purpose would be effected by having the advantage of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts. I should say that it does not appear to me to be likely that a local authority would lend 90 per cent. of the market value of one of these houses. I take the market value of the house to be somewhere about £600, of which approximately £150 would be put up by the local authority, or by the Government. It would not be reasonable to expect a local authority to lend 90 per cent. of the £600.
I had in mind the thought that under the Bill the workman who wanted to build would require to have at his command a considerable amount of money, whereas under the amendment it might be possible—I do not anticipate that it would be availed of or that local authorities would, in general, be in a position to avail of it—for local Councils to advance money to a workman who had a much smaller sum than would otherwise be required, and that some advantage might possibly accrue to those people who desire to build houses under this Bill. I note the fact in any case, whether it is possible here or not, that similar provisions were made in the Northern Ireland Housing Act, and I consider it at least desirable that powers should be taken to adapt the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts in case a possibility arises for using them.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
To add a new sub-section as follows:—
"(2) This section shall not apply to the council of the County of Dublin."
This is consequential on amendment No. 1.
Amendment put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 5, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
(1) A local authority may with the consent of the Minister assist the erection of houses to which this Act applies in their functional area in any of the ways following, that is to say:—
(a) make to a person or public utility society to whom a grant is payable by the Minister under this Act in respect of a house situate within the functional area of the local authority, a further grant not exceeding the amount of the grant payable by the Minister in respect of that house;
(b) make to any person or public utility society to whom a grant is payable by the Minister under this Act in respect of a house situate within the functional area of the local authority, a loan not exceeding twice the amount of such grant, provided that every such loan shall be repayable, with or without interest, by instalments or otherwise within a period for which the local authority can themselves borrow money, and shall be secured by a mortgage or charge on such house and on the hereditament upon which such house is situate;
(c) grant, sell or lease any portion of any land, in the possession of the local authority at the passing of this Act, to any person or public utility society, subject either to a covenant that such person or society will erect on such land a specified number of houses to which this Act applies, or to a covenant that such land will be used solely as additional garden space for a reconstructed house to which this Act applies, and in the case of a sale or lease the price or rent to be paid by such person or society may be less than the price or rent which could be obtained for the sale or lease of such land in the open market;
(d) Execute any works necessary, or incidental to, or tending to promote the development of land suitable to the erection or reconstruction of houses to which this Act applies.
Provided that the total value, as determined by the Minister, of the assistance granted by any local authority under this section towards the erection or reconstruction of any house or houses to any person or society shall not exceed the total of the grant payable to such person or society in respect of such house or houses by the Minister under this Act.
(2) In this section the expression "functional area" means—
(a) in respect of the council of any borough or urban district or the commissioners of any town— the area of the borough, district, or town as the case may be;
(b) in respect of a county council—the area of the county exclusive of every borough, urban district, or town situated therein: provided that if the commissioners of a town, with the consent of the Minister, resolve, at a meeting specially convened for that purpose, that their functions under this section be transferred to the council of the county in which such town is situate, and the said council at a meeting specially convened for the purpose agree to the said transfer, the functional area of the said council shall thereupon include the area of such town.
(3) Any local authority may with the consent of the Minister borrow money for the purpose of the foregoing sub-section and moneys borrowed for those purposes shall not be reckoned as part of the total debt of such local authority for the purpose of any limitation on borrowing imposed by or under any statute.
The section sets out in paragraph (c) that a local authority may grant, sell or lease any portion of any land in its possession to any person or society, and in the case of a sale or lease the price or rent to be paid by such person may be less than the price of rent—I think that that "of" should be "or"—which could be obtained for the sale or lease of such land in the open market. That may be—I think it probably is—a very desirable provision, to allow a local authority to sell or let its property for this purpose, provided it is quite clearly understood that it is for this purpose. But there is a danger that I think we should guard against, that a local authority, or more likely, if I may be allowed to say it in the presence of the Minister for Local Government, and also in the presence of Deputy Connor Hogan, the single person who is appointed a commissioner may be induced to part with municipal property at an inordinately low price for a consideration, or perhaps not for a consideration but as a favour, to make himself popular with the person to whom he sells or leases it. My proposition is to include the provision, as we desire to amend it, which the Combined Purchasing Bill contains regarding the audit. It is as follows:—
In sub-section (1) (c), line 35, after the word "market" to add—"but if the auditor is satisfied that the price or rent was fixed at less than that which could have been obtained in the open market for any fraudulent or improper purpose or object or without due regard to their duties by the members of the local authority fixing or authorising the fixing of the same, he shall charge against such members jointly and severally the amount of any loss caused to the local authority thereby."
That is the provision proposed by the Minister for Local Government in the Combined Purchasing Bill, except that we require the auditor to be satisfied that it was for a fraudulent purpose, and I think that some safeguard of that kind is required for fear that any commissioner may be persuaded or tempted to dispose of municipal property at an entirely too low price or rent. I therefore move the amendment.
Does the Deputy say there is a misprint in the amendment?
I think the word "of" in line 34 of the section is a misprint for "or."
Yes. Would it not be well to have that amended?
Section 6, sub-section (1) says:—"A local authority may, with the consent of the Minister, assist the erection of houses to which this Act applies in their functional area in any of the ways following." In that case the Minister must be satisfied, I should say, that the particular proposition in question is sound, that there is nothing fraudulent about it, that it is for the provision of houses; and granted that the Minister and the local authority are both satisfied that it is a good bargain, I think that the services of the auditor for the purpose of seeing whether or not the price or rent fixed was either fraudulent or improper would scarcely arise. It is actually mentioned in the last few lines of paragraph (c): "and in the case of a sale or lease the price or rent to be paid by such person or society may be less than the price or rent which could be obtained for the sale or lease of such land in the open market." That is with a view to helping the distribution of land to intending builders. It is solely and entirely for the purpose of not letting it be a bar to the letting or sale of land. When the Minister has to give his sanction to it, the amendment suggested by Deputy Johnson would be unnecessary.
I noted that point, but I am not sure that the sanction of the Minister is required in respect of the terms on which any sale is made or lease granted. If I thought that was the case, I would not consider that there was any need for my amendment. I question whether it means that the Minister has to be satisfied with the price or rent, or that he has even to consent to the price or rent.
In any way that the local authority may endeavour to assist in the erection of houses, the consent of the Minister is essential.
If that is quite clear, my purpose is served, because I take it then that the Minister has to be a party to the price or rent that is to be charged.
I take it that this transaction will have to be submitted to the Minister. Is that the position?
I take it that is the position at the moment?
It is, and it has been the practice.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No. 9:—
In sub-section (3) to delete the words "the foregoing sub-section" in line 62, and substitute therefore the words, "this section."
Amendment put and agreed to.
I beg to move amendment 10, which is consequential. It reads:—
To add a new sub-section as follows:—
(4) In this section the expression "local authority" shall not include the council of a rural district in the County of Dublin.
I would like to get some information from the Minister as to this clause and as to how it affects the County Dublin. As far as I can gather, the effect of this amendment would be that if there was a house built in a rural district close to the borders of the city or of the townships, the Government grant would be given, but there would be no assistance obtainable from the rural district council. It may be that the county council can give facilities, assuming the abolition of the rural district council. But there is a doubt, I think, as to whether the section would allow the county council to make this grant in lieu of the rural district council. I think if the county council is not in a position to give the extra facilities then a person within the county who might desire to get the assistance of a local authority would be unfairly discriminated against. I would like to have that matter made clear.
For the purposes of this section the county council will be the local authority for the County Dublin.
Where is that stated? Is it stated in the section?
The situation, as I understand it, is that pending certain developments, though rural district councils will cease to exist, the rural district councils in the County of Dublin may for a time appear to continue in being; and during that interim, provision is made in the Bill that they shall not exercise any of those functions regarding the building of houses.
Perhaps the Minister for Local Government will tell us what will be the position of the rural district councils in Dublin without further legislation?
The rural district councils in the County of Dublin will not be interfered with under the Bill. They will have to be elected. They will be in the same position as heretofore.
That is my case. The rural district councils in the County Dublin will not be able to provide any assistance to any person who desires to build a house. The county council is not, in respect of the County of Dublin, doing the work henceforward of the rural district councils in the same way as in other counties, so that we are in the position, if this amendment is carried, that the local authority in respect of the County of Dublin will not have any power to assist the house builder as it will have in other counties.
No; it will not exist in the other counties.
It will not exist in the other counties. There will be county councils, but in Dublin the rural councils will continue; the county council will not have taken over their functions. But the amendment that Deputy Duggan is moving says that this section shall not apply to the rural district councils in the county of Dublin. The result will be that no local authority will have power to advance money for the building of houses in the County of Dublin. That is the position, as I understand it.
The point I was trying to explain, and I apparently made it more confused, was—"in this section the expression `functional area means' in respect of the council of any borough, or urban district, or the Commissioners of any town situated therein." In the case of the County Council of Dublin there will be, for a time, rural district councils, whereas in the case of the other counties, when the Local Government Bill has gone through, there will not be. Consequently, the functional area of the County of Dublin, as provided here, will mean the area of the county exclusive of every borough, urban district or township situated therein. This amendment of Deputy Duggan says that the local authority shall not include the council of a rural district in the County of Dublin. Therefore the local authority that is referred to in sub-section (3) of this section is declared not to be a local authority for that purpose in the County Dublin. I think if you add these two together you will find it means that the whole function is to be discharged by the county council.
I take the opposite view. Assuming that Deputy Duggan's amendment is inserted, sub-section (3) says "any local authority except the rural district councils in the County of Dublin may borrow money," and so on. But the county council is not authorised to borrow money for the purpose of building houses for the inhabitants of a rural district.
The local authority in this case for giving local assistance under the Housing Bill will be the County Council of Dublin.
Amendment put and agreed to.
Will the Minister explain a little more clearly how he arrived at that proposition? This is a long section, and I have not been able to see how the County Council of Co. Dublin is to act in this manner.
In the first place in this Bill, save where the text otherwise requires it, the expression "local authority" means and includes the council of a county or borough or urban district. Then the amendment sets out that "in this section the expression `local authority' shall not include the council of a rural district in the County of Dublin."
Deputy Johnson overlooks the significance of sub-section (b) in sub-section (2) of Section 6. In this section the expression "functional area" means, in the case of a county council, "the area of the county, exclusive of every borough urban district or town situated therein." Therefore the county council's of Dublin functional area will be the whole area of the county, except the Borough of the City of Dublin and the urban districts. Consequently the County Council of Dublin functions over the area that is now describable as the area under a rural district council. There is no failure of power. There is nothing unprovided for. Then when any local authority is mentioned, in sub-section (3) the precaution is taken that still surviving rural district councils are not to be deemed local authorities within the meaning of this sub-section.
Deputy Johnson is probably mixing up the inclusion which has been made of the rural councils. They have still to discharge their functions under the Labourers Acts.
I imagine wrapped up in this rather long and involved section, the meaning may be as explained by Deputy Magennis or the President, but yet it is not clear to me.
Before we take the section, there is an amendment to line 34 to substitute the word "or" instead of "of." It should be the price or rent instead of the price of rent.
Amendment to delete the word "of" and substitute the word "or" in line 34 put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 6, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 7 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
(1) Any local authority having power to levy rates may, and when required by the Minister shall, in every of the first nineteen local financial years after the valuation for rating purposes of a house in respect of the erection of which a grant shall have been made by the Minister under this Act to a person or public utility society, or after the first revaluation for rating purposes of a building in respect of the reconstruction of which a grant shall have been made by the Minister under this Act to a person or public utility society, remit a portion of the rates leviable in respect of that house in that year by the local authority.
(2) The amount of the rate leviable in any such year as aforesaid which may or shall be remitted by a local authority under the foregoing sub-section shall not exceed the proportion of such rate specified in the second column of Part II. of the Second Schedule to this Act opposite the number of such year in the first column of the said Part II.
In sub-section (1), line 11, to delete the words "and when required by the Minister shall."
In connection with this amendment it would be well perhaps to take it with its context. Deputies will notice what the section proposes to do. It gives power to the local authorities voluntarily to remit the rates on any houses constructed under this Bill, or any houses in respect of which a grant for reconstruction has been made. That is after the first revaluation. I am not quarrelling so much with the principle of giving for a reasonable period a remission of rates in respect of new buildings, but when it is made mandatory on the local authorities I submit it is scarcely fair. It is, to a certain extent, superseding them in their functions and depriving them of a certain amount of money which would accrue. If they are willing to forego rates in respect of those houses it is their responsibility, but I submit, in justice to the ratepayers, that if any county council or local authority opposes the idea of remission of the rate it is scarcely fair for a Minister to come along and exercise the arbitrary powers this section confers on him. It is scarcely fair to the local authority and is unjust to the ratepayers that the Minister should have power to come along to a council and compel them to remit rates. It would mean a redistribution of the incidence of local taxation. What I say in connection with this amendment is applicable to the subsequent amendments I have down to the section. There is an idea abroad which is a reversion to the feudalistic theory of a single tax, which inferentially means a land tax.
We propose to forego the rates on houses which have been constructed under the Bill. In addition, in this section we are taking powers to say that houses reconstructed after being revalued shall likewise benefit and the Minister shall have mandatory powers over local authorities even to forego the rates or that portion of the rates which this schedule sets out. The revaluation perhaps may not mean an increase beyond ten, twenty or thirty per cent. I doubt if in any case it would mean fifty per cent. It is scarcely equitable to the local authority that they should be allowed to forego the rates, because this thing would mean a very serious monetary loss to them and they would be compelled to redistribute the incidence of taxation. We debated this question the week before last very fully and I may still say with reference to the principle that it is not just that houses, whether reconstructed or erected, should be allowed to forego their responsibility to the extent that this section would require. The fact is that you would be bringing into the country a certain section of irresponsible voters who will not have regard to extravagance or otherwise in local taxation, and who, because they find their own rates lower—they will be low for a long period of years under this section—will permit gross abuses to flourish. We should take long views on this point. We should not demoralise the civic spirit, but as far as possible we should develop it. When we supersede the local authorities, when we divest them of their direct responsibility to the people, we are doing something which we ought not to, and which I submit is detrimental and prejudicial to the best interests of the ratepayers.
Deputy Hogan seems to read the clause as if it were:
Any local authority having power to levy rates shall, as required by the Minister ...
He has missed the point, I suggest, with all respect to him.
Any local authority having power to levy rates may——
It is left in their discretion, with this slight limitation on their discretion—
and when required by the Minister shall ...
That is, if and when. Consequently, the pressure will be put upon the local authority only when a sufficient case has been made to the Minister as against a refusing authority. Deputy Hogan takes high ground in the matter and makes this a constitutional question. So far as there is a constitutional principle involved in it, I am entirely with him. It brings us to the question as to how far the central Government—the National Government—is to interfere in local government; how far the direct representatives of the people administering local affairs are to be under the absolute direction of the central Department. Deputy Hogan is right in his principle. I am not quite so sure that he is right in the way that he has applied it, because he will see, on reflection, that this housing question is a matter of great national policy. It is not something that concerns one district of the nation and not another. It is a matter that most materially affects the well-being of the nation in the future—and in the immediate future, too. It affects it vitally. If some local authority, through a mistaken conception of its duty to the ratepayers to keep rates low, were to attempt to block this policy, it is necessary that there should be this machinery of appeal, on the part of those aggrieved in that locality, and that they should be able to make their petition to the Minister. I assume that the Minister would go into the merits of the case and, if he found that there was good cause for coercing the local authority, then he would have the power to do so under sub-section (1) of Section 8. If the local authority were ordered to do it in all cases, and to an unlimited extent, then Deputy Hogan would have an unanswerable case. But the limits are laid down as regards remission and the period over which the remission is to be granted is determined.
Then, again, as I pointed out in the beginning, the Minister is not invested with absolute authority in the matter. It is only as and when he is appealed to that he exercises this authority, so that I see no trace of bureaucracy in the matter, that we who are so adverse to bureaucracy might be suspicious of. So far as Deputy Hogan speaks in the interests of the ratepayers in a locality and stands for the right of the local authority as the representative trustee of those local interests, we ought to support him. But when the clash comes, as in his case it has come, between the purely local interests of a smaller rate or a different incidence of taxation and the national policy for the betterment of the whole nation, then, I think, the demand of the nation is paramount.
I am not convinced by Deputy Magennis's argument. I think if he had concluded by saying that the Minister shall require of all local authorities, in all cases, to remit those rates, because of the national emergency, he might have come to a logical conclusion. But when he says that only in such cases as there may be appeals will he intervene, then the case for the national emergency and the national need seems to fall, because the amount of the grant that is to be paid does not vary from town to town. The case for the section would be stronger, I think, if we knew what is the policy of the Ministry in this matter. I think we ought to have some information as to the requirements of the Ministry under the last Act. Under Section 7 of last year's principal Act the Minister had those powers. £300,000, or thereabouts, has been allocated. Have the local authorities been required in any case or in all cases to give this remission?
There has been no compulsion.
It has been quite voluntary? Then we must bear in mind —we cannot avoid referring to the schedule—that in last year's Act there were certain limitations of rents and of prices at which these houses could be sold. There is none now under this Bill, and the prices will rise or fall according as to whether or not the local authority is making these remissions. So you are going to place in the hands of the Minister power to add still further to the market value of the house which is built with this subsidy, and which may vary according as to whether the local authority is prepared to grant these remissions or not, or as to whether the Minister, in making the allocation, requires the local authority to make these remissions or not. One may say that, within this section, the Minister may require a local authority to make remissions in the case of one housing scheme but not in the case of another housing scheme. That would certainly be an unsatisfactory consequence of this section. I am inclined, on the face of it, to agree with the amendment of Deputy Hogan, especially in view of the removal of any limitation of the price at which houses may be sold or the rents at which they may be let. Apparently, it is assumed that the local authorities will, in all cases, make these remissions in future as they have done in the past. In the case of any local authority which refuses, the Minister will require it to do so. I think that is the conclusion we have to arrive at, that the intention is, in all cases, that the Ministry shall require the local authority to make remissions unless it does so voluntarily. Unless the Minister can bring forward very cogent arguments, I shall vote for the amendment.
May I point out that Deputy Johnson overlooked that rich man, or one with private resources, to whose case the President referred earlier in the debate. While it is the national policy to promote building the President refuses—and he is the Housing Bill in every sense—to consider that every case of house-building is a promotion of that great national policy.
I explained that the statement was made in that connection in comparison with another statement.
Supposing "B.," who has, to take the President's illustration, £200 or £300 of his own, wishes to build a house. He applies for and is to have a subsidy. It is conceivable that the local authority, inflamed with holy zeal for its own rates, might say in a case like that:—
"We are not going to put the Act into operation in regard to a man of this type," and he might very well feel aggrieved. He would then appeal to the Minister. The Minister would have to consider that case in reference to the whole local conditions. That, I suggest, is what Deputy Johnson overlooked when he wanted me to draw the logical conclusion. I refuse to draw the logical conclusion when the conclusion is at variance with the actualities of life, following my favourite formula: that life is larger than logic. Deputy Johnson thinks that because the Minister is invested with power to compel, he must exercise it always. The discretion is given to the local authority in the first instance. Those who are aggrieved by its exercise appeal to the Minister. Then the Minister has his discretion in the second instance. There is no reason to suppose, in the very improbable event of a local authority unfairly refusing, that the Minister would not put on the screw. To that extent I think Deputy Johnson is right in the prophetic attitude he adopted. On the other hand, suppose a good case is made in the particular instances why the local authority should not, then presumably the Minister, exercising natural justice, ordinary equity, would not put on the screw. Consequently, I read the section to be in effect that "any local authority having power to levy rates may (that is, in its own discretion) "do so-and-so, and when required by the Minister shall." That "when" means in the legal phraseology "if and when required by the Minister," but that is not an arbitrary power given to the Minister. It is the case that is usually in contemplation for example in all these Acts where "shall with the approval of the Minister for Finance," and so on, occurs. It always has in view that the case is gone into and considered and the reasons for and against well weighed.
The President said in answer to a question by Deputy Johnson that the local authorities have all agreed to this particular section. I do not think that is a fair answer, because I am of opinion that 80 per cent. of the local authorities have not considered the section at all in its true aspect. For instance, very few of the local authorities have put up schemes. Deputy Magennis said that the local authorities have a discretion in the matter. I do not think that is a fair statement either, because it has gone broadcast through the country that local authorities should remit a certain portion of the rates, and it is taken for granted that it is mandatory upon them to do so. It is all very well to talk about "may." I am inclined to think that it is a "vaccination" may, because all through the Vaccination Act we have "may," and when we come to get an interpretation of that "may" it means "shall." That is what it is in this Bill. The case that could have been made for such a section as this during the progress of the last Housing Bill through the Dáil has fallen completely to the ground because of the fact mentioned by Deputy Johnson, that restrictions have been removed now The incidence of rating and taxation various very much in different localities. No matter what the remission of rates may be, all the people should be liable for poor rate in full. The country is in such a state at present that no person should be relieved of his responsibility owing to the distress prevailing. There should be no exception so far as the poor rate is concerned. In Wexford we have a special Act of Parliament which permits of us making the assessment on the landlord for certain rates; the borough rate and water rate. He, in turn, must recover from the tenant. We had a case in the courts this week in which we succeeded in getting the rate from the landlord. Now, the restrictions are removed. Supposing a house is built for which the economic rent would be 12/- or 13/- per week. The landlord may charge the tenant 17/- or 18/-. In particular areas he would be liable for the rate. He has carried out a certain amount of speculation and he gets off scot free so far as his rates are concerned. He is making a good thing out of the building of the house after being subsidised by the Government. This whole matter, in view of the restrictions being removed, requires closer examination, and we should not be asked, without further consideration being given to it, to pass this section. The same case cannot be made now as was made during the progress of the last Housing Bill through the Dáil.
We know what the President will have to say on this amendment. The Dáil agreed to a somewhat similar principle on a former occasion. I want to say, in reply to Deputy Magennis, always so subtle in the use of words, and sometimes trying to make us believe that things are that are not——
It is all right to say that the Minister may not use his power and authority, that rather he will use his discretion. It seems to me that what the Minister will be confronted with under this section will be something like this: We will have down the country people availing of the facilities afforded by the Bill, and building houses. If the local authority is not satisfied to give the remission in rates these people, if wealthy enough, can come up here and interview the Minister and put their case to him, and the Minister "shall" compel the local authority to change its mind. That is the power we are giving the Minister. He "shall" compel that local authority that is responsible for finding money to carry on the administration of local affairs, to allow one body of citizens residing in a certain area not to bear their burden of local taxation but put it on to others. I suggest that, in plain terms, that is what it means. Whether Deputy Magennis thinks that that is a principle that ought to be accepted, particularly in rural districts where the burden of local taxation is too heavy, I do not know. It is a principle that cannot be accepted in the rural districts. In these districts we believe that everybody ought to bear their fair share of the burden of taxation. We believe that, when the State is prepared to make a grant to a man to build a house, that man ought to carry his burden of local taxation. For the rural population, certainly, the building of a house and the remission in rates will mean a benefit conferred, not on this, but on coming generations.
Farms do not change hands as often as other businesses. A remission of rates in accordance with this Bill would mean a benefit not to this generation but to coming generations, when things may be altered. We believe it is not fair to the ratepayers in rural areas that the Minister should have authority to come along, on certain representations that may be made by a minority, and command the representatives of the people to take the burden of taxation off one section and put it on another that is, perhaps, less able to bear it.
Is the President not going to reply?
There is nothing to reply to. I heard much the same story for the last fortnight or three weeks, and the Dáil turned it down. The case made for this amendment is the poorest case that I suppose I ever listened to. Does anyone know anything of the housing conditions in the country? Apparently we have lost sight of them, and do not realise there is a housing problem. The Government gladly give £75 or £100. The contribution from the local authority does not mean a loss, as we are increasing the rateable valuation of that local authority and not imposing on that local authority any expenses. Take the Deputy's constituency. If we build ten houses in Clare what expense is there on the local authority by that? Do any more people go to the workhouse or use the roads than before? Are they providing sewerage or are they providing water? What are the expenses that the local authority will be groaning under by the addition of ten houses to the valuation list?
Lunatics may come out of new houses, but I have not seen any of them. If they do come from new houses, I do not think they come in any larger numbers by reason of the construction of new houses. The Deputy says we are going to demoralise the citizenship of people by reason of the remission of rates. What is the nature of the demoralisation? The valuation of one of these houses will be about £16, and with a rate of 10/- in the £ the ordinary rates that would be collected, if it were not for this section, would be £8. We proposed to collect only 5 per cent., or 8/- in the first year. The next year it will be 16/-, and the following year 24/-. Is it not likely that the owner will take particular pains to know what is the reason for any increase, and that he will watch every expenditure incurred by the local authority, knowing that as time goes on he will have to pay not one-twentieth, two-twentieths, or three-twentieths, but twenty-twentieths of the £16? In my view, it differs very much, but I suppose I have not the experience of the Deputy.
It is apparent that I have not. If I had his experience I suppose I would also have his views. I am glad I have not his experience.
Deputy Magennis, in a lyrical passage, said that the interests of the nation are paramount. I can rejoin with every show of truth and ask him when did he become the vocal medium of mob psychology. This idea that the interests of the nation are paramount, I submit, has its genesis in mob consciousness. Although I say that, I am not disputing the fact that the interests of the nation are paramount. I agree with the principle, but I differ as to its application. We are told that there is a great housing problem. I agree. I know also, and I believe the President has an internal consciousness of the need of maintaining public solvency in matters of local administration. You have two problems before you, the housing problem and the difficulty of maintaining your public services. Does any Deputy, or does any Minister deny that at the present time the ratepayers throughout the length and breadth of the country, particularly the agricultural population, are hard pressed to meet the undue proportion of rates they have to pay. The President stated that there will be only ten houses built in my constituency under this Bill. That is possible, but let me remind him that what we are dealing with is not a Bill for this year. This is the third proposal to remit rates that has come before the Dáil. I doubt if it will be the last. We passed an identical Act a year ago. In the Seanad an amendment was inserted in the Local Government Bill giving a remission of rates on houses or premises erected from 1920 to 1927 inclusive. It was the last straw that broke the donkey's back. Will the President say that this subsidy of £300,000 will be the last to be given by his administration to relieve the housing shortage? I doubt it. You have established the precedent of the State coming to the aid of housing, and I submit from the phraseology of this section that when you say nineteen years you contend that the housing shortage will extend for the greater part of nineteen years.
The claim will be made on the Exchequer that you have to give a subsidy, an incentive and a fillip to build and at the same time relief from rates. Will a Government which has to depend very much for its majority on the urban areas resist it? I deny it. I say that the whole burden of maintaining local services will fall on the land. It is true that these buildings will bear a growing volume of the burden, but the proposal in the section will mean that for ten years they will escape scot free or only give what is equivalent to a contribution for the maintenance of local services. I submit that that is scarcely fair. I move to report progress.