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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Nov 1935

Vol. 59 No. 7

Labourers Bill, 1935—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. It is scarcely necessary for me to enter into any detailed review of the legislation dealing with the provision of cottages and plots for agricultural labourers, but a brief review is necessary in amplification of the terms of the Bill now before us. Before these cottages and plots were provided the dwelling accommodation available for rural workers was worse than bad. Many of them were boarded by their employers and their earnings were insufficient to enable them to maintain a separate dwelling. Unlike the urban worker who needed a proper house at a rent below the economic standard owing to his inability to meet the full charge, the rural worker not alone needed a proper house, but he needed it at a nominal rent and with a garden plot large enough to enable him to supply his domestic needs and thus conserve his earnings to acquire such necessities of life as he was unable to produce himself.

The parent Acts (the Labourers Acts, 1883 to 1931) are closely allied to the Land Acts. Earlier legislative efforts were made to place on the farmers the onus of providing proper housing accommodation and allotments for their workers, but without success. Among other things it was difficult to place the onus on any particular farmer in the many cases where labourers worked for more than one employer. The Labourers Act of 1883 brought the local authority into action and initiated the machinery under which cottages and plots could be provided by these bodies for rural workers under loans raised on the security of the rates. The expenses incurred by local authorities were charged as a rate on the sections of their areas in which the cottages and plots were provided. In other words the expenses were shared by all the farmers for whom the labourers might be available.

The development of the Labourers Acts may best be gauged by the alterations made from time to time in the definition of the term "agricultural labourer." At first this definition referred only to persons doing agricultural work for hire. In 1903 the expression was extended to include other persons working in a rural district whose wages did not exceed 2/6 per day and who were not in occupation of more than one-quarter of an acre of land. In 1919 the limit of 2/6 per day was removed and the definition was further extended to include any person who worked for hire in a rural district or any person not working for hire but working in a rural district at some trade or handicraft without employing any persons except members of his own family. The one-quarter acre limit for land holding was preserved.

The area on which expenses of the Acts were charged has also been altered from time to time. These expenses, originally charged on the section of the area in which the cottages and plots were provided, were from 1998 chargeable on the entire rural district and since 1933 have been chargeable on the entire county health district. A more even distribution of the charges resulted from each change. Up to 1906 the provision of cottages and plots was financed mainly by loans issued by the Commissioners of Public Works. With the aid of these loans, the repayment period of which varied from 20 to 50 years, some 20,351 cottages were provided. The burden on the rates, increasing each year as new schemes were carried through, was attaining telling proportions, when in 1906 provision was made for the payment of subsidies from State Funds in relief of the charges on the rates. The periods of most of the pre-1906 loans were extended and an Exchequer contribution was made towards the loan charges. This State contribution amounts at present to an annual sum of £29,205 6s. 2d., which meets about 26 per cent. of the loan charges.

From 1906 loans for the purposes of the Acts were issued by the Irish Land Commission on Land Purchase Terms (68½ years repayment period with an annuity of £3 5s. 0d. for every £100 borrowed). Of the loan charges on these loans 36 per cent. is met by a State contribution which amounts at present to £44,388 per annum in respect of some 21,571 cottages.

From 1925 to 1932 small cash grants were available for the provision of cottages and a limited number of schemes were carried out under these grants with short-term loans raised by local authorities from their Treasurers. About 544 cottages were provided in this way.

Since 1932 the present Housing Programme has been in operation and under it 4,754 cottages have been completed and 3,954 are in progress. The schemes under which the present cottages are provided are financed by loans from the Commissioners of Public Works repayable in 35 years with interest at 4¾ per cent. per annum. The State pays 60 per cent. of these annual loan charges.

In all, about 47,000 cottages and plots have been provided to date at an expenditure of £9,000,000. The cottages are let at rents averaging 1/2 a week for pre-war cottages and 2/- a week for those provided since.

The existing code makes no provision for the sale of cottages and plots to tenants. Two great difficulties in the way of any scheme of sale were:—

(a) the inability of the tenant to pay or repay any sum approaching a market price for his cottage and plot, and

(b) the danger that alienation would follow sale at the very uneconomic price the tenant could afford.

Notwithstanding these serious difficulties the Government felt that the natural desire of the tenants for vested ownership should be met if at all possible. To this end a Commission was appointed by me in 1932 to report on the following matters:—

(1) whether there is a demand from the general body of tenants for vested ownership;

(2) whether the formulation of a scheme of sale acceptable to the general body of tenants is practicable without placing an unreasonable burden of cost on the ratepayers or increasing the liability of the State;

(3) whether the sale of the cottages and plots to the occupying tenants would be advantageous to the agricultural labourers as a class or whether the alienation of the property by sale to the sections of that class at present occupying cottages and plots would tend to bring about ultimately a serious housing shortage for the class as a whole;

(4) whether the average present tenant is in a position adequately to maintain the property in addition to paying a purchase charge and rates should a purchase scheme be carried out?

The Commission were also requested to suggest a scheme of sale if such were considered by the Commission to be practicable and advisable.

The Commission's report has been duly published. It shows the Commission's findings:—

(a) that a demand from the general body of tenants for vested ownership exists;

(b) that the formulation of an acceptable sale scheme was practicable without placing an undue burden on the ratepayers or increasing the liability of the State;

(c) that the sale of the cottages and plots to the occupying tenants would be advantageous to the agricultural labourers as a class and, with adequate provision against alienation outside the class, need not lead to a housing shortage; and

(d) that the average present tenant is in a position to maintain his small property in addition to paying a purchase charge and rates.

The Commission suggested the following scheme of sale:—

(1) tenant to pay an annuity, the equivalent of 75 per cent. of his present rent, exclusive of rates, during the unexpired period of the loan under which the cottage was provided;

(2) tenant to bear in future the cost of all repairs and to keep and maintain the property generally to the satisfaction of the local authority;

(3) annuities to be collected in quarterly or half-yearly instalments;

(4) cottage to be put into repair by the local authority before sale;

(5) Vesting Order to provide against alienation to any person except a member of the purchaser's own family or to another agricultural labourer.

The Commission also recommended that the legal successor of a tenant or a person who was an agricultural labourer when he became tenant but had ceased to be an agricultural labourer owing to economic changes, might be permitted to purchase in the normal way, and that a person who was never during tenancy an agricultural labourer, but had been in occupation of the cottage for a considerable period, might be permitted to purchase on an assessed value of the holding.

The Commission's report and recommendations have been very carefully examined and it is with the object of giving effect to them, in the main, that the Bill now before us has been introduced.

It is intended to fix the purchase annuities on the basis recommended by the Commission, viz. 75 per cent. of the present rent, save in cases where it is found that the amount of the present rent is unreasonably in excess of the rents generally prevailing for similar cottages and plots in the district. There are cases of cottages provided under short term loans in which the rents were fixed with some regard to the high loan charges payable on the cottages and these cases will have to be reviewed.

As to repayment periods, it is felt that full acceptance of the Commission's recommendation, that the period in each case should be the unexpired period of the loan under which the cottage was provided, would lead to serious inequities from the points of view of both the tenants and the local authorities.

There are actually cases in which loans have already been paid in full or have only a few years to run, although the cottages provided under them are not as old as other cottages on which there is a substantial part of the loan period yet to run. This is due to the varying loan periods in respect of pre-1906 cottages and to the short-term borrowings between 1925 and 1932. In such cases the tenant would get his cottage free or on a very short purchase period, while in other cases, where a long term loan was raised, the tenant would perhaps have a 30 years purchase period for a cottage of the same age or perhaps considerably older. From the local authority's point of view there would be the inequity of giving away a cottage free or on very short purchase period just because the ratepayers, by meeting heavier annual loan charges, funded the loan in a shorter period.

The Bill, as drafted, enables all such inequities to be removed. If the Bill is accepted each local authority will be required to formulate its sale scheme. The basis I intend to put to the local authorities to determine the purchase period in each case is as follows:—(a) for cottages and plots provided under pre-war schemes: the equated period of all loans raised in respect of such cottages and plots in the area of the local authority from which is to be deducted in each case the age of the cottage; (b) for cottages and plots provided under post-war schemes: 35 years from which is to be deducted in each case the age of the cottage.

As to pre-war cottages, if we assume that the equated loan period in a local authority's area is 65 years, then the purchase period for a cottage 30 years old would be 35 years, and for a cottage 40 years old, 25 years. In this way inequities will be brought to a minimum. In the case of post-war cottages the purchase period is based on the present repayment period for loans under the Labourers Acts. The basic period for repayment period calculations is much shorter than the basic period for pre-war cottages, but the rents in which the annuities are to be calculated are correspondingly higher.

Purchase schemes under the Bill will require the approval of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, who may modify a scheme or direct the preparation of a new purchase scheme. Each approved purchase scheme is to be laid before the Oireachtas.

It has not been found possible to accept the recommendation of the Commission that persons who were never agricultural labourers during tenancy be permitted to purchase, but the Bill proposes an amendment of the definition of agricultural labourer which it is believed will bring in all deserving persons. The Bill does not, in itself, affect the tenancy of persons who were never agricultural labourers during tenancy, but it is, and always has been, the duty of local authorities under the parent Acts to conserve the cottages and plots for agricultural labourers.

Under the Bill the following tenants may purchase their cottages and plots:—(1) an agricultural labourer, or (2) the widow of a deceased agricultural labourer who before his death was the tenant of such cottage, or (3) a person who, when he first became such tenant, was an agricultural labourer, and provided no rent is due by the tenant in respect of his tenancy. Where application to purchase is made, the local authority shall make an order vesting the cottage in the tenant in fee-simple, subject to the payment of the purchase annuity.

To enable the vesting of fee-simple interest in each case provisions are included in the Bill to facilitate the speedy acquisition by local authorities of fee-simple interest in cases where this is not already vested in them. A limited number of cottages on State lands cannot be included in the Bill, as the alienation by the State of such property is prohibited by the Constitution.

It is provided that a purchased cottage shall not, during the payment period, be used for any purpose except the accommodation of:—(1) the purchaser; (2) on the death of the purchaser, his widow; (3) an agricultural labourer. Provision is also included to prevent the alienation of the cottage other than by operation of law or by sale with the consent of the local authority.

Before sale the local authority must put the cottage in good repair and sanitary condition and thereafter it must be maintained in good repair and sanitary condition by the purchaser. The local authority is empowered to enter and repair at the expense of the purchaser in his default. A cottage which has been purchased may not during the payment period be mortgaged or charged.

Provision is included to enable resumption by the local authority on breach of the statutory conditions, but, to avoid hardship, the local authority is empowered, with the consent of the Minister, to suspend for a period any statutory condition which restricts the purpose for which a cottage may be used.

The Commission recommended that where the purchaser of a cottage and plot becomes the vested owner of land under the Land Commission the entire holding should be consolidated, and provision to this end is included.

On the question of alienation I should like to point out that the Commission's suggestion was that provisions prohibiting alienation should operate for all time. This, however, is entirely foreign to the fee-simple title it is proposed to vest in the tenant and its continued enforcement would be practically impossible. The matter has been met in the Bill by applying the statutory conditions, including that prohibiting alienation, during the repayment period, and it is not intended, save in the case of consolidation under the Land Commission, to empower purchasers to redeem their annuities so as to free themselves of the statutory conditions. In the case of a consolidation the position is, of course, entirely different. The owner of the consolidated holding has ceased to be an agricultural labourer, and the statutory conditions are no longer required. In any other case, however, it is felt that provision enabling redemption of the purchase annuity and, in consequence, release from the statutory conditions, would provide too great a temptation to redeem and dispose of the cottage and plot for profit.

Certain representations were made by the Commission on matters which do not fall within the strict scope of this Bill, but which are allied to the general question of the welfare of agricultural labourers. They relate to the allocation of land to agricultural labourers, to the provision of cow-parks and turbary rights for them. I have drawn the attention of the Minister concerned to these representations, and I am informed that they do not require further legislation.

The Commission suggested that where cottages are being provided in an area where land is of poor quality, such cottages should be provided with plots of not less than three acres. This suggestion has been fully considered, and it is difficult to see how it could be given effect to. The price of land varies to a considerable extent throughout the country, and it is regulated more by the use to which farmers in different areas put their land rather than by the quality of the land. In parts of Counties Louth and Galway land is very nearly as dear as in Dublin County. In Meath it is only half the Dublin price in many cases. In North Tipperary it is only about half the Meath price. The price, therefore, does not give much indication of the quality of the land. If the quality of the land has to be taken into consideration as the factor determining the quantity to be acquired for each cottage, endless disputes are bound to arise as to the quality of land proposed for acquisition.

It is also likely that applicants may tend to seek quantity rather than quality in the selection of sites, and land-owners may succeed in ridding themselves of useless plots where with a more careful effort on the part of local authorities suitable sites on land of good quality could be found. The position would probably resolve itself into an effort throughout the country to secure as much land as possible at the cost of an acre in Dublin, where the price is highest, and local authorities would find themselves in the position of having to spend £70 or £80 on land in areas where rents approaching the Dublin rents could not be obtained. This would increase the loss on local authorities in the provision of cottages. The present policy of my Department is to insist on the selection of sites on good land, and this is more beneficial to the applicants.

A "separate recommendation" was made by four members of the Commission regarding the reduction of 50 per cent. in land annuities payable by Land Commission tenants and suggesting "favourable consideration" of the position of existing tenants of labourers' cottages. The suggestion is made without a full appreciation of the position. It is often overlooked that the tenant farmer and the cottage tenant are not in comparable positions. The former had heretofore paid the full annual charges on the purchase price of his farm. The rent at present paid by the latter, after allowing for cost of repairs, insurance and collection, meets only about 20 per cent. of the annual charges on capital expenditure in the provision of the cottages, while the gross rent meets only about 35 per cent. of the total annual charges in respect of the cottages (made up of annual charges on capital expenditure, cost of repairs, insurance, collection and other charges). It will be seen that the cottage tenant is and has always been much more handsomely treated than the Land Commission tenant is now.

We feel convinced that the cottage tenant himself will be the first to admit that this Bill affords him immeasurable social advantage. We have approached this problem solely from the point of view of meeting, if at all possible, the natural demand of the cottage tenant for vested ownership.

I would like to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the invaluable work done by the Commission of Inquiry. They have shown us the way in which this natural demand could be met. If the Bill is accepted by the Oireachtas it is completely in the hands of the cottage tenants to make a success or a failure of the measure. I personally feel that it will be a great success and that we shall never have cause to regret the extent to which we have gone in this proposed legislation to make the rural worker a better citizen.

The Minister has now raised the curtain on the third miserable act of the great Fianna Fáil swindle. The first was set in the faraway days of the Fianna Fáil promises. The second act was set on the interim report about which so very few of us heard anything recently, and now we are at the third act. In the third act we are asked to consider a Bill here which the Government Press tells us is introduced following the consideration of the report; that is, the consideration of the final report of the Commission of Inquiry into the sale of cottages and plots. The Commission was inaugurated on the 1st October, 1932, and they were asked not to delay longer than six months making their reports. About 11 days prior to the polling for the general election, which took place on the 24th January, 1933, very little over three months after the Commission had been set up, we got in the columns of the "Irish Press" an interim report, or rather a description of the interim report, by the political correspondent of the Government organ. Not a single Deputy has ever seen the interim report; it has never been produced nor printed.

Some time in March the majority report was signed, and in April the minority report was signed. But it was not until about July, 1933, that Deputies had a chance of handling the final report. Now just a few words about the second act. As part of the second act, 42,000 people, we were told, were going to purchase their cottages at a saving of £32,000. The local authorities who bear the burden for some of the loan charges for these cottages, were told they were to be relieved of £50,000—quite an excellent second act, something which was rather different from the outlook to the third act, and something which will be very different from what will be the outlook to the fourth act when the local board of health and the tenants of those cottages come to discuss the terms upon which savings will be made and full possession by the tenants is going to take place. Forty-two thousand people were promised that they would have their cottages in full possession and that they were going to save between them £32,000 a year. And the farmer ratepayers of the country were promised that they were going to save £50,000 a year. All this we were told at the time in words that were quoted by the political correspondent of the Government organ as being the words of the Commission, but expressing no doubt the Government's mind. We were told all this would be done for them because "the Commission is of opinion that giving the cottager ownership and security will impart to him a new sense of citizenship and pride and that it is due to him to recognise his work as a citizen and member of a class that is a mainstay of every democratic State.

Again we do not find these splendid words in the final report. We only find them in the columns of the Press with special priority to the Government Press! We are not able to know whether this was the spirit in which the Commission approached the occupiers of these cottages. That is what was promised; and Deputies now have in front of them the final report. They see from the majority of the members of the Commission what was going to be done, and they have some reflexion upon the general position as put forth in the minority report. Taking the report of the majority at its best, it is interesting to see what they thought could be done. At the time, considering the number of cottages that the Commission were in a position to deal with, on the 31st March, 1931, we find from the majority report that the cost of that position is as follows:—The tenants pay £129,356 a year in respect of rent only and the local authorities the sum of £141,432. That includes repairs, £50,138; insurance, £2,451; cost of rent collection, £16,367; other outgoings, £9,806; and deficit to meet loan charges, £62,670. The total that fell upon the local authorities was £141,432 and the annual cost that fell upon the Government was £73,593.

Now the majority suggest a certain redistribution—that the loan should be reduced by 75 per cent. and that repairs should be borne by the tenants, and that the tenants should bear the cost of the rates. The resultant position with regard to the tenant would be that the rent would be reduced approximately to £97,000; that if he was to bear the cost of repairs the amount yearly would be £50,138. If that was done the resultant position would be that the tenant would have to bear the cost of these two sums, that is £147,138 in addition to £17,782; so that so far from being relieved, as the interim report, which none of us have seen, stated, and the details of which we have to take from the political correspondent of the Government organ—so far from the tenant benefiting by a reduction of £32,000, on the presentation of the facts by the majority of the commission the tenants would have to bear £17,782 additional.

Paragraph 64 of the report, at page 60, says: "It may be considered that the cottagers would be unable to bear this burden, but we would point out that they will not be called on to meet this charge in full, as will be explained later." I am sure the Minister must have looked, until he was black in the face, through all the subsequent pages of the report to see the part of this report which later explained how the tenant would not have to bear the total cost of the full burden of repairs, because it seems to be clear from the details which have been given in the minority report that it is most unlikely that the cost of repairs to labourers' cottages throughout the country as a whole can be reduced every year. In a previous paragraph the majority directed their attention to that, and the only thing they say is, in paragraph 53, that "the cottager can, with ordinary care, prevent the necessity for many of the repairs which at present cost the ratepayer very considerable sums. With his own labour and such local assistance as he can procure he can do the necessary repairs with very little cost in money." The Minister, having considered this report, and introduced this Bill and outlined some of the ideas that he had in his mind with regard to the way in which the boards of health ought to work out their scheme, has very carefully refrained from dealing in any way with the position in which the tenant is likely to find himself, when—although his rent may be reduced by one quarter— he is going to have the total cost of the repairs borne by himself, as well as whatever he may have to bear for rates. The local authorities are told in this famous interim report that the rates can be relieved to the extent of £50,000. The only suggestion which the majority make in their report as to the way in which the rates can be relieved is that the cost of the repairs can be taken from them; that possibly £6,000 of a reduction in the cost of collecting rents may be brought about; that their outgoings may be reduced by £5,000, although they gave no indication as to what those outgoings are or how they may be reduced; and they intimate that in order properly to cover the insurance of the cottages, which they recommend, there should be an increased cost of £749 for insurance.

However, if all the suggestions of the majority were able to be carried into effect the cost falling annually on the local authorities would be reduced from £141,432 to £113,399, or a reduction of £28,033, so that whereas in the interim report it was possible for the majority of the Commission to write such stuff—in a report signed I suppose on the 12th or 13th January—as persuaded the political correspondent of the Government organ that the rates could be reduced by £50,000, when it came to March had they modified their position? At any rate, in their report signed in March they are not able to show, by the greatest stretch of their imaginations, that the rates under this general scheme could be reduced by more than £28,033, and the Government bears the same cost as in the past, that is, £73,593. We are dealing with some 43,216 cottages, and the Minister has indicated that the figure of 42,000 people who are going to be affected by this is a myth. The Minister has made no attempt to tell us how, in fact, on his examination of this report, the tenants are going to be affected in the matter of a saving of their outgoings, or how he considers that the local authorities are going to be saved money in respect of these 42,000 odd houses. I submit to the Minister that it is not stretching the description of the matter to say that this is just one of Fianna Fáil's political swindles; that they have drafted a measure here which throws back on the local authorities the whole question as to what may be done or what can be done in regard to how the tenants may become owners of their holdings. Who are the people that this measure is supposed to help? The Minister pretends that through this measure he proposes to confer on the agricultural labourers and other tenants occupying those cottages immeasurable social advantages. So immeasurable are they that the Minister has made no attempt to measure the additional cost. At any rate, they were told on the 13th January, 1933, that they were the class which were the mainstay of every democratic State. What we have to consider first is the extent to which, if the tenants purchase, this is going to increase the amounts they have to pay. We are speaking in round figures here. We do know, from the information in the minority report, that the incidence of the cost of repairs is going to fall in an unequal way on various tenants; some tenants may escape any serious increase as a result of repairs, but that only means that the bulk of the repairs are going to be thrown on the backs of others. From the figures published on page 21 of the minority report we can calculate that, when the repairs are added to the reduced rent, the average total outgoings of the tenant in respect of rent and repairs, but not including rates, are going to be increased from 1/2 to 1/4, that is, they are going to be increased by one-seventh. They are going to have to pay, on an average, an additional 2d. per week. As I say, some people will have to pay less, but other people may have to pay considerably more. What is the particular class of people which, at this hour of the day, the Minister attempts to fool into thinking that he is going to better their position by something which the board of health will work out for them under this scheme? There is not a single agricultural labourer from one end of the country to the other who has not had his wages reduced, as a result of the general policy pursued in this country since 1931, by much more than the whole cost of rent and rates and repairs. If the Minister will consult the particulars issued by the Minister for Industry and Commerce he will see that over the whole province of Leinster the wages of permanent male agricultural labourers over 21 years of age have been reduced by 3/3 per week, when we compare July, 1935, with July, 1931. That is the condition to which in Leinster that part of the community has come—that part which the Government, and the Commission, according to their interim report, regards as the mainstay of every democratic state. Their wages are down by 3/3 per week in Leinster, more than twice and very nearly three times the new increased outgoings of the tenant. Three times would be only very little more. In Munster, the mainstay of every democratic State has had his wages reduced, between July, 1931 and July, 1935, by 3/5; in Connaught by 2/9, and in the three counties of Ulster by 2/6.

The Minister for Industry and Commerce tells us that if we take the country as a whole, the reduction is 3/-. Members of the Labour Party and others in the community will tell us that the Minister for Industry and Commerce is putting it mildly, because when he tells us that the wages of agricultural labourers throughout the whole country have been reduced by 3/- per week in these areas, he also tells us that what happened was that they were reduced from 24/3 in July, 1931, to 21/3 in July, 1935. I have here, however, extracts from the "Clare Champion" and the "Mayo News" in which, having gone into the situation of the agricultural labourer throughout the country, the Irish Labour Party, through some section of their organisation, point out that when they went into it, they found that in County Wexford the wages of agricultural workers generally were as low as 14/- per week; in Kerry, from 12/- to 18/-; in County Westmeath from 10/- to 12/-; in County Cork from 15/- to 18/-; in County Galway from 15/- to 18/-; in Roscommon from 15/- to 18/- in Tipperary from 15/- to 20/-; in Waterford from 12/- to 18/-; in Meath from 12/6 to 16/-, and in County Sligo from 10/- to 15/-.

What is the Deputy quoting from?

I am quoting from the "Clare Champion" of 30th March, which embodies a statement on the position of agricultural wages which is issued by the Administrative Council of the Irish Labour Party. So we have evidence from the Irish Labour Party that the Minister's figures as to the amount of the agricultural labourers' wages in the country are fantastic. We have also other evidence. On 19th November, 1934, there was a letter published in the "Irish Independent" which read:—

"I have been a farm labourer for 47 years. Up to 1932 I have always managed to live in comfort and contentment. Since then my lot has been daily harder and harder. In 1932 I was earning 30/- a week; I am now getting 17/-. I don't blame my employer. No one knows better than myself that he can't afford even that, as things are now."

That is an individual case showing a fall somewhat more than 3/- a week.

The County Committee of Agriculture in Wexford, I have repeatedly said here, reviewed the situation in February and in March, and, I believe, in April, at the beginning of this year, and at a meeting of that Committee the whole question of agricultural labourers' wages was discussed. One of the members of the Committee said that the average wage of the married agricultural labourer in his area was 8/- a week, with his support. That was stated at a meeting which was reported in the "Wexford People" of February 2nd. They were at that time pointing out the condition of agricultural labourers' wages in the country and showing that it was such that they thought the free beef scheme should be extended to agricultural labourers in Wexford. A month afterwards they were reiterating the position, and another and different member of the same Committee, at a meeting which was reported on 2nd March, 1935, when they were discussing the paying of a bonus by the Government towards agricultural labourers' wages, stated that he would like to include in his motion a request that the wage be brought to 14/- a week—a subsidy of 6/-. It was there reiterated that the average wage was 8/- a week, and that a Government subsidy of 6/- a week was required to raise the agricultural labourers' wages there to 14/-. We have further confirmation. The Minister can refer to things that must have come under his own notice, such as the cottage rent collector in South Tipperary, who had to report to the Commissioner administering the county that he could not collect the rents because some of the agricultural labourers there had only 8/- per week, some were out of work and some were dependent on outdoor relief. On 18th June of this year, the Bishop of Cork, speaking at Water-grasshill, said:

"It would be well for the Government to realise that there are many labourers with families who are not getting more than 10/- per week."

One final bit of evidence is taken from the "Irish Independent" of 18th November, 1935. It is:

"Yardman; good milker, early riser; excellent references; 7/- (indoor), anywhere."

That is the position to which the class of person, so beautifully described by the Commission in its interim report and for whose benefit the Minister introduces this measure, has been reduced. The Minister must know that the position is as bad as that, and he must know that through the administration of his Department he is going to make it worse. Publicity has been given within the last few days to certain proposals with regard to relief work. I admit that they have been hatched in the Office of Public Works, and a couple of years ago an attempt was made to try them on contractors for the Board of Works in the City of Dublin. An attempt was made to casualise the regular employees of contractors who work for the Board of Works, but it did not come off. Now it is going to be worked on the county councils, and the Minister knows that we are going to have a position very shortly in which road workers—and many of them occupy these cottages— who have in the past had as part of their regular domestic economy four or five months' wages on the road coming in to them, are going to be deprived of that; are going to be thrown in with the other men in the area who are out of employment at present, for reasons which the Minister can estimate, and are going to be casualised in such a way that they will lose the greater part of what was their normal income through work on the roads.

What is the Deputy's authority for that statement?

My authority for that statement is the fact, and if Deputy Davin were really concerned with choking in its infancy the attempt of the Board of Works to casualise the ordinary employment given through Board of Works contractors of a couple of years ago, he will keep his eye on the road schemes that are being boosted so much in County Limerick and County Clare and other places throughout the country.

The Deputy is now referring to relief schemes.

I am referring to the proposal that is going to casualise the road workers of this country.

Says who?

A proposal to casualise road workers seems to be far away from this Bill.

When we look at the type of person who occupies these cottages, we find that in South Cork— I am quoting from page 25 of the Minority Report—where there are 610 tenants, 171 are road workers. That is just a sample. The same will be found in various parts of the country. As I say, it is merely one of the additional things which are coming down on the unfortunate people who are tenants of these cottages and which will make it impossible for them to bear the additional burdens which this scheme would bring into operation.

The Minister is so solicitous for the position of the ratepayers that when there was an election atmosphere it was possible to read this into the majority report that the rates could be relieved to the extent of £50,000, but if everything that could possibly be done, according to the committee, were put into operation the rates could only be relieved to the extent of £28,033. It has been pointed out that the ratepayers in the country are staggering this year under astounding burdens that they never contemplated they would have to bear: that, in spite of the promises that were made to them, they are paying £310,000 more this year on normal assessable expenditure for the year than they were paying in the year 1931-32, that they have £240,688 as well to make up in excess of arrears over the 1931-32 period, and that they have to make up £159,884 in respect of unpaid land annuities, not to talk of what is taken out of their pockets in respect of land annuities that have not been included in the assessment. From the ratepayers' point of view the position is even worse.

There is only one other point, and that is with regard to the tenant. Would the Minister say if he has any explanation to offer as to the astounding rise in the amount of arrears on labourers' cottage rents. The arrears on the 31st March, 1932, were £34,519, and on the 31st March, 1935, they amounted to £53,949. The arrears had, therefore, risen by 53 per cent. In Clare they had risen by 44 per cent., in South Cork by 57 per cent., and in Kerry by 32.5 per cent., the increase in the amount being £4,148. In the County Limerick arrears had risen by 95 per cent. or by the sum of £3,072. They had risen by a comparatively small amount in South Tipperary. Nevertheless, they had risen by 100 per cent. or by a sum of £598, in spite, I am sure, of the vigilant care and hard work of the Commissioner. As far as Limerick is concerned, the Minister will have seen the extent to which the Limerick Board of Health is endeavouring to go in squeezing the rents out of the tenants which, in many cases, the courts have decided they have not got. At the present time it is stated that, where they have 4,500 cottages, court proceedings are being taken against a large number of defaulters, and that the board have no alternative, in some of these cases, but to collect the arrears. There is one particular case of a man who was summoned for the possession of his labourer's cottage. He said that the amount due in this case was £5 5s. 3d., but that the council owed him £24. There were other cases in which the council owed the occupiers of these cottages additional sums. Therefore, you have the position that the Limerick County Council is at the present moment struggling under its own financial difficulties in such a way that, I suppose, as was so often the case before, the payment of the road workers' wages is outstanding for a considerable time.

The Minister spoke of the new cottages. I take it from his remarks that the new cottages are going to be dealt with under the purchase scheme, although it was not suggested in the report that they would be. From the point of view of the State, and of the ratepayers generally, we ought to look a little at the position of our general housing finance. We are only dealing in those figures here with 42,000 houses. The Minister has already told us, I think, that by the 30th of June last 4,292 additional cottages had been built. He told Deputy Norton that by the 30th October, 1935, there were 4,754 new cottages erected, 2,848 in course of erection and 4,711 approved, in all 12,313 additional cottages built and subsidised by the State under the terms of the 1932-33 Housing Acts. Let us examine for a moment, in just a few brief figures, the whole position of our housing finance.

The question of housing finance is only relevant so far as it relates to the purchase of these cottages.

The purchase of these cottages involves the purchase of the 4,754 cottages erected up to the 30th October. The terms of the Bill suggest that it involves the purchase of the 2,848 in course of erection and the 4,711 approved and whatever other additional cottages will be built to meet the needs of approximately another 100,000 agricultural labourers in the country. I am not going to weary the House with what these figures would be, but I am going to present to the House the commitments that have been undertaken by the State as well as the expenditure under the Acts passed in the last few years. I will only deal with the amount of these commitments which relates to labourers' cottages. I only want to put to the House the general housing figures—the background of the labourers' cottage figures—because I think they ought to be there. They are not very many. Under the Minister's recent Housing Acts, the figures that I have are only up to the 30th of June, 1935. These are the last figures that we have been able to get by means of Parliamentary question. According to these figures, there have been 4,292 labourers' cottages built. The State has assumed responsibility for a capital sum of £170 in respect of each of these cottages. The result in State debt is £729,640. There have been built in urban areas 3,108 non-replacement houses. The State accepts responsibility for £151 on the average for each of these houses. The result in State debt at the moment in respect of them is £467,282. There have been 5,739 replacement houses built in respect of each of which the State shoulders responsibility for £227 on the average. The result in State debt in respect of these is £1,300,613, or, in respect of these 13,149 houses, a total debt of £2,497,535. In addition, the State has paid out in grants £601,770 towards the construction, by private persons, of £9,856 houses. That gives a gross total of 22,955 houses with a total cost, so far as the State is concerned, of £3,099,305.

Does the Deputy suggest that these are amongst the cottages that we propose to deal with in this Bill?

The Deputy is professedly painting the background, and I suppose we will get the foreground in due time.

The background is there in that figure of £3,099,305 in State money. The sum of £601,770 has been spent, and the remainder has been left as a burden of debt on the people of the State. I have pointed out already that in the case of the 24,000 odd houses built before the Minister's administration, when the taxation and revenue of this country were much smaller than they are now, that every halfpenny of money that was given to help housing was given out of revenue. So much for the background. Let me now confine myself to the labourers' cottages erected, to those in course of erection and those approved up to the 30th of October, 1935. The total is 12,313 at a figure of £170 per cottage. The State is raising money, and leaving it as a debt on the taxpayers of this country in respect of these 12,313 cottages to the extent of £2,093,210.

The local authorities in whose areas these cottages are being built are saddling the farmer ratepayers of these counties with a debt of £738,840. The Minister seems to question the reasonableness of referring to the appalling burden of debt that is being put on the taxpayers in dealing with this question of housing. If he is so sensitive with regard to the taxpayer, I shall be satisfied if he deals only with the ratepayer. I should like him to tell us if he is going to continue the procedure he has adopted in respect of the labourers' cottages that are now being built—the procedure of burdening the taxpayer with £170 and of burdening the ratepayer with £60 and handing over the cottage to a new tenant for a capital sum of £58. The report tells us that the cost of cottage and plot in pre-war days was £155. Now, the average all-in cost of the cottage—I am not clear if the plot is included but for the moment I shall presume that it is—is £288. How many more of the £288 cottages is the Minister going to arrange for at the cost I mentioned to the ratepayers and to the State? If the labourers' cottage scheme was introduced, as the Minister says, to help unfortunate agricultural labourers who had not decent houses, he must be aware that there are—to put it mildly—50,000 agricultural labourers as badly off now as the others were before the labourers' cottage scheme was introduced. Where does he think the money is to come from to put these agricultural labourers into occupation of their cottages?

That takes us up against the general situation in the country. The general situation is that the people who are to be asked to pay these rates and the people who are to be asked to pay these taxes are being impoverished right, left and centre by the choking down of the real source of production—that is, the agricultural industry, for the service of which these additional cottages are required. I take it that the Minister would tell us that the only reason why additional agricultural labourers' cottages are required is that we want them to serve as equipment for the better assistance of the agricultural industry. The labourers' wages have fallen, since 1931, from the point at which this committee examined the position with regard to agricultural labourers and their wages. The burden of rates has gone up on the people upon whom we are depending both for rates and taxes to pay off these loans and to provide the capital that will enable an agricultural labourer to get a £288 house and plot for £58. They are being prevented from earning what would ordinarily keep them in decent circumstances by the general policy pursued from 1931 to 1934. The farmers' income from the market he used to have——

Every measure which comes before the House may not be made the basis for a discussion on the economic war.

The farmers are being asked in this Bill to make provision in the future for having £288 cottages built in order to give them to the tenant at a capital cost of £58 and to foot, through the rates warrant, a bill for £60 and, through their taxes, a bill for £170.

They are getting rid of the cost of repairs.

I should like Deputy Davin to address himself to the cost of repairs.

I thought you were forgetting about it.

I should like to ask Deputy Davin if he thinks that the agricultural industry can make provision either through rates or taxes for putting an agricultural labourer in this country, so beautifully described by the commission in its interim report, into decent housing if the earnings of the farmers from a big part of their market are being wiped away.

What is this Bill going to cost?

Anything at all. I have told the Deputy what it is going to cost the tenants in respect of the 42,000 houses that are dealt with by the commission. I have told him how much the ratepayers are going to save on these 42,000 houses if everything the commission suggests is going to work. Surely Deputy Davin, of all persons, does not think that, as regards providing houses for agricultural labourers and rural workers, we are going to stop at the 42,000 mentioned in the report or at the 12,000 mentioned in the reply given by the Minister to Deputy Norton the other day.

I move the adjournment of the debate.

Can the Minister say if the Bill will be resumed to-morrow?

I ask the Minister at this stage to circulate to Deputies copies of the scheme which he has read in the House. After all this is only an enabling Bill.

The Deputy will get it in the Official Debates.

Next Wednesday.

We are discussing an enabling Bill and we ought to have some particulars about it.

If the Deputy were here he would have heard all about it.

I was here.

Debate adjourned.