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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Dec 1932

Vol. 45 No. 6

Trade Agreement between the Irish Free State and Dominion of Canada. - Expiring Laws Bill, 1932—Committee.

The Dáil went into Committee.
Section 1 agreed to.
Question proposed—"That Section 2 stand part of the Bill.

Does that include the Schedule?

On the First Schedule, I mentioned on the previous Stage that I would like some information from the Minister, if he had time to look into the Bill in the meantime, as to what the policy of his Government is in connection with the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Minister will remember that a Committee was set up some years ago by his predecessors in office to deal with this measure and the recommendations of that Committee have not been acted upon.

What we in commerce object to in this measure is that the rates allowed to persons who meet with an accident under this particular Act were based on wages which were paid in 1923. It will be within the knowledge of all the members of the House that wages at that particular time were very much higher than they are at present, and the rates payable to insured persons were based on those rates. The rates at the moment payable in this country to insured persons are 5/- a week in excess of the rates paid to similarly insured persons either in Northern Ireland or in Great Britain, so that those who are engaged in industry here have to carry this increased burden. The reaction of that particular rate on industry is this: the Minister will understand that agricultural labourers come into the building industry, which is an insured industry, and at other times they are working as agricultural labourers. If they happen to meet with an accident while in the building industry they are getting a rate of wages while they are out of employment far in excess of what they would earn in the ordinary way as agricultural labourers. The result is that the accidents are more numerous and the malingering is much longer. Those facts were enquired into, and they are further borne out by tables prepared by the Department of Industry and Commerce, to which the Minister can have access. In those circumstances this Act is at present a considerable burden to industry in this country, and I would be glad to know if the Minister could give us some information as to what the policy of his Government is in connection with this particular Act. I take it that I can deal with Schedule 2 when that schedule is under consideration.

I think it is rather peculiar to hear Deputy Good's particular attack on the labourers of this country as evidenced by his statement here. First of all he complains that an employer has to pay 5/-more in this country than he has to pay in England or Northern Ireland if his employee gets injured, and he follows that up with an attack on agricultural labourers who come into the city to work.

I did not say anything about the city, nor did I make any attack on agricultural labourers. I was simply stating facts.

His statement was that agricultural labourers coming into the city to work are not insured.

No—coming into the building industry.

Coming into the building industry, we all know what that means. Well, so far as my knowledge goes practically every farmer at the present day insures his agricultural labourers against accidents, and I would not for a moment believe that the general body of labourers—even those who go into the building trade—are of the type that Deputy Good suggests, the type who would deliberately get injured in order to draw insurance money from the poor unfortunate bankrupt builders of this country. I think it is very unfair of Deputy Good to make in this House that attack on agricultural labourers who come into the building trade to work. I, for one, would not for a moment, from my knowledge of agricultural labourers, believe it, but it is, of course, what one should expect from the type of Deputy Good.

I should like to ask the Minister, when he is dealing with this question on the Schedule, if his attention has been drawn to a difference between our insurance system and that prevailing in England and Northern Ireland in respect of persons who were accidentally killed in the course of their employment. I think I am right in saying that in England wilful misconduct or gross negligence has ceased to be a defence where the relatives of a man who was killed in the course of his employment sue his employer for compensation by the amending Act of 1923. I do not think that that amending Act applies in Ireland—to be quite frank, I do not know.

A Deputy

It does not.

I was going to suggest to the Minister that if it did not he might when opportunity offered examine the question and see if the time has not come to follow Great Britain in that amending legislation. It is unnecessary for me to argue the question, as the Minister is more familiar with it than I am, but in the accumulation of business that point might escape his notice. I would be very grateful if, at the earliest opportunity, he would examine that question. I feel sure that if a Bill of that kind was introduced into the Dáil it would be assured of a speedy passage and would not in any way obstruct the public business.

I should like to ask the Minister one question. Would he tell the House what his policy is with reference to the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Restrictions Act of 1923, which is one of the Acts——

That is in the Second Schedule?

I thought we were taking the whole thing together.

I take it the intention is to take the two Schedules separately.

It is immaterial to me.

They must be put separately.

Before the Minister replies I would like to say that on the matter of workmen's compensation I did not wish to make any attack whatever. I just want to make clear that it is retarding the progress of industry. A man who was employed in the ordinary way as an agricultural labourer, when he goes into the building industry, as everybody knows, gets a higher rate of wages. Then if he gets injured in that industry it is only human to expect that the period he will be out, as he gets a higher rate of wages than he will when he is working, will be made as long as possible. That is only human. What I object to in this measure, as it stands at the moment, is that it has not been adopted to existing requirements. That was the point I wanted to stress.

Deputies in this House who have taken an interest in this matter in particular may remember a Committee was set up some years ago —I am not sure whether it was in 1928 or 1929—to examine into the question of workmen's compensation and to report thereon. That Committee did report, and arising out of the recommendations made, a Bill was drafted. I do not know exactly when this Bill was drafted, but I think it was drafted during the period the late Government were in office. On inquiry I have discovered that, while the terms of the Bill have been examined by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, he is not satisfied that he has yet had time to examine the matter as thoroughly as the importance of the subject would call for. He has been, as you know, fairly well occupied since he came here with various matters, and while he realises that this question of workmen's compensation is one which needs early attention, he has not been able, up to the present, to give it that serious examination he would wish to, but he hopes to do so at an early date.

I believe that the subject mentioned by Deputy Dillon is one of the matters which is receiving the attention of the Department. It is admitted that the law as it stands is not up to date, and it is the determination of the Government to bring in legislation on the matter as soon as they can conveniently do so. I think when the Bill is brought in it will be found that the conditions that will exist then between the Irish Free State and the other part of the country will not be very material.

With regard to the point Deputy Good made the other day, perhaps I had better not refer to it as he might have something further to say on the matter.

Quite so.

We will deal with it on the Second Schedule.

Schedule 1 agreed to.
Question proposed—"That Schedule 2 stand part of the Bill."

On the question of the Rent Restrictions Act, I also gave notice to the Minister that I would raise this point at a later stage. I was anxious to know what was the policy of the Government with regard to this particular Act. It was mentioned by the Government's predecessors in office some three years ago that they intended to discontinue the Act in the near future, but since then the Act has been continued for a period of three years, and I was wondering whether it was the intention of the Government to continue it from year to year. The Minister is aware, of course, that under this Bill a considerable depression arises in the building industry. Housing, or the building of houses in the past, was a form of investment availed of by a great many citizens of this State, and as a result of it being a form of investment there was a considerable demand for houses for the purposes of investment. Naturally, that gave a considerable amount of employment in the industry, but when the Rent Restrictions Act was brought in it shook confidence in housing as an investment, and consequently it ceased to be a popular form of investment. This matter has been mentioned from time to time in this House that there might be further legislation along the same lines. Some members of the Dáil are optimistic enough to think that the future will see further legislation somewhat of the same character. I want to point out to the Minister that this uncertainty with regard to future legislation and also the effects of the Rent Restrictions Act have stopped investment being put into house property, and that, of course, has its reaction on the industry. I was anxious to know from the Minister if he could give us any indication of policy which would tend to restore the confidence which has been shaken and so enable us to get in this country more money put into this particular form of investment. I need not point out to the Minister that there are not many investments in this State in which people can safely invest their savings, but housing was always in the past looked upon as a very safe form of investment. I am anxious it should be restored into that particular category, and if the Minister could help us at all in that direction with a statement of policy, I am sure it would be much appreciated by the industry.

On the Second Schedule and on the point raised by Deputy Good and by Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney, I am afraid, much as I would like to be able to state definitely if a decision had been come to, that in this as in the last matter all we can do for the present is to carry on with the legislation that is in existence with regard to this. We cannot amend the Rent Restriction Act by the Expiring Laws Bill. The only alternative we have then is to carry on with the legislation that we have for another year until we get an opportunity of examining the question more fully or of dropping the Act. As the Departments concerned have not had an opportunity of going into the matter fully enough to warrant them dropping the Act at this stage, we have decided to carry on for one year more with the legislation at present in existence. I quite agree that it is possible that the dropping of the Rent Restrictions Act might give a fillip to the housing industry, but I doubt if it would be a very great fillip. I am aware that Deputy Good knows a considerable amount about this subject, perhaps a considerable amount more than I know, especially as to the effect of the Rent Restriction Act on building. But, would he not agree with me that any injurious effects that may be acting on speculative house building in general may be altogether nullified as a result of the bounties and the grants that at present are being made by the Government to house builders of all classes. I will not say to all classes, but to special classes.

The bounties are limited to houses of a certain size, but as the Minister must know there is a demand for houses of a larger size. These latter would not be covered by the Rent Restriction Act. If the Minister has any statement of policy that would restore the confidence that is necessary in order to get people to put money into that particular class of house it would be very advisable to have it.

The Rent Restriction Act does not operate in the case of houses with a valuation of more than £30.

I agree.

The grants that are given by the Government at present to house builders cover that class of house, houses with a valuation of £30 down, so that I cannot see that the dropping of the Rent Restriction Act would give any great fillip or have any great effect. It may be so, but it is a debatable point. At the moment I do not think it is a very urgent matter. All that I can say now is that the Government have not had an opportunity of examining the matter as fully as would warrant them to take the decision to drop the Act at present. Therefore, we are asking the House to continue it for another year.

Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Agreed: That the remaining Stages of the Bill be taken now.