Private Deputies' Business. - Labourers Bill, 1938—First Stage (Resumed).

I ask for leave to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make further and better provision for the purchase by the tenants thereof of cottages and plots provided under the Labourers Acts, 1883 to 1937, and for that purpose to amend the Labourers Act, 1936 (No. 24 of 1936) in certain particulars.

Is there any opposition?

I presume the Deputy is aware of the procedure. As the Bill is opposed, the Deputy asking for leave to introduce it may make a brief statement to which a member of the Government, on this occasion, may make a brief reply, and there will be no further debate.

How many speakers are allowed to take part?

Two—one on each side. However, on this particular occasion, seeing how matters are circumstanced, if a Deputy on the Front Opposition Bench desired to intervene briefly, the Chair would be inclined to allow it. It rests with the Chair, but I think it would be rather the proper thing to allow a brief statement if any member of the Front Opposition Bench desired to intervene briefly.

The Bill which we are hoping to introduce is a short Bill consisting of seven sections, and is submitted for the purpose of amending Sections 11, 12, 13, 17 and 24 of the Labourers Act, 1936. The Labourers Act which became law in that year, and which was introduced and carried through by the Government, has not had the desired effect, in so far as labourers have not availed of that measure, and not a single house has been purchased under its provisions. That would evidently indicate that there is something wrong, because nobody can deny the enthusiasm of the labourers throughout the country for many years in seeking for a purchase measure. It is obviously clear then that there is something lacking in the measure which the Government put through this House.

Might I interrupt the Deputy so that he will not proceed on a line which may be taken through a misunderstanding? The Purchase Act is not in operation yet; therefore they could not have purchased.

Why is it not in operation?

I would submit, Sir, that the necessary steps were taken by the Government following the six months' period to have schemes prepared by boards of health. I would remind the Minister also that it was a voluntary question for acceptance or otherwise by the tenants. I am sure that if the communications which have reached the Minister are anything like the representations which have reached me and other members of the Party, he will have to admit that there is no indication whatever of the tenants in my part of the country availing of that measure. There were two outstanding defects which the Labour Party sought to have amended in the Bill which they tried to have introduced before now. It never reached a Second Reading, but it was printed and circulated. Subsequent to that the Minister, in the Housing Act of 1937, was decent enough to take one of the provisions and incorporate it in that Act. We were glad at any rate to see one of our provisions being given effect to. If the Minister had gone the whole hog at that time, and taken the 50 per cent. provision, I think there would not be much difficulty about acceptance of the purchase scheme by the tenants throughout the country. The main provision of this Bill which we are seeking to introduce now is to give effect to the 50 per cent. remission of current rents on the annuity system, and one or two other clauses. The one dealing with the arrears has already been incorporated in the Government Bill of 1937. There are one or two other clauses dealing with the question of terms for eviction in the event of nonpayment, and asking for four weeks instead of one week, as incorporated at present.

The main part of the Bill is dealing with the 50 per cent. remission. The labourers feel that they are entitled to that provision. They feel very strongly about it. We had an expression of opinion in this House when the Government Bill was passing through. From every side of the House there was a unanimous chorus supporting the Labour Party amendment for 50 per cent. The Minister was the only one who said "No." Five Deputies from the Fianna Fáil Benches supported Labour and Fine Gael, but unfortunately, in response to the Whip, those five Deputies voted against their own speeches. That does not alter the position that if something is not done to improve the Bill already passed, something in the shape of what we are trying to do here, it was only waste of time on the part of the Dáil and on the part of the Government draftsman, in having prepared the scheme which is before the country. The proposals in our Bill are quite moderate. They are the minimum which I consider are necessary in order to make the Bill sufficiently attractive to have it availed of. If the House will give permission to have it printed and circulated so that Deputies can study its provisions, we will bring it to a Second Reading, and then if necessary we can amend it further in Committee. I consider it is rather unusual to have this type of opposition offered to the introduction of a Bill. I am at a loss to understand the Minister's ferocity, if I may use the word. On the first opportunity he brought us back into Private Members' time, and now it is opposed again. The Bill is designed to improve the lot of one of the most deserving sections of the community, and to try to bring their purchase rents into conformity with the existing conditions of agricultural labourers. I do not think we were entitled to get the hostility displayed by the Minister, and I trust that even now the House will see its way to enable us to have the Bill printed and circulated, so that we may see what it stands for and the modesty of its demands.

I intervene merely to say that it is rather a pity the Labour Party did not submit a memorandum on this measure. The information which has been given by Deputy Keyes is scarcely sufficient to enable one to form a judgment on the proposals contained in this measure.

On a point of order, the Labour Party would have done so if they had information that it was to be opposed on the First Reading.

I think the Labour Party cannot complain that they did not get notice. On the occasion of the introduction of the measure by Deputy Norton it was objected to. The normal course in a case of that sort is to put it back to Private Members' time, and that has been done. In the period from the date of the refusal of the First Reading down to to-day, which was certainly a week and possibly a fortnight, the Deputies had plenty of opportunity for submitting a memorandum.

We understood that the objection was to its being taken in Government time.

No, the usual course was taken. It was to come on in Private Deputies' time, and to take precedence over other business. I thought the Deputy knew that. He is long enough in the House to know it. A measure sponsored by the Government was passed two years ago, but it has not yet been enacted. Deputy Keyes said there was something lacking in it. It struck me from the introduction of the measure that the occupants of labourers' cottages would have been as well off without purchasing, if they got greater fixity of tenure and some other privileges that, I observe, are not, in certain cases, conferred on them by statute. I propose, however, to favour the motion to have this Bill read a Second Time, and, at least, to allow it to be introduced. I was not satisfied with the Government measure dealing with the purchase of cottages. I would be in favour of bona fide agricultural labourers getting their cottages on even more favourable terms, although I am still convinced that it would be a mistake on their part to purchase them. Some of these houses are 40 years' old, and the cost of repairs would be heavy. If the tenants had fixity of tenure, in their own interests, I think purchase would be a mistake. There is a case for giving some concessions by reason of the Local Loans Fund being finished. On the last occasion it was not finished. The Government measure was overweighted with conditions. The present occupants of labourers' cottages are not, in all cases, agricultural labourers. In the event of certain persons having got cottages during the last few years, who are not bona fide agricultural labourers, it appears to me the State or the House has no right to transfer the cottages to them. These cottages were built originally for agricultural labourers and that is the section of the community that has a right to them. Even if some other persons are in possession, labourers should not be deprived of these cottages, and, to that extent, I prefer to vote for the introduction of the measure, to see if it will not be possible to improve it and to expedite matters generally.

The Bill that the representatives of the Labour Party propose to introduce would, if passed, make two important changes in the scheme that has been before the House for the last three weeks. The reason for the delay is that it was a very tedious, difficult and troublesome operation to get all the information that was required. As was pointed out on the discussion of the 1936 Bill, many of the documents dealing with the Labourers Acts, and with the building of labourers' cottages, disappeared in the fire at the Custom House in 1920. It was only within the last two months that the schemes were finally adopted by the various boards of health, confirmed by me, and laid on the Table of the House. The bigger of the changes proposed to be made was the reduction of 50 per cent. in the rent when the tenant first occupied the cottage, instead of the 25 per cent. reduction proposed in the Act of 1936. The second change proposed is that the period in respect of which the annuity would be paid is 50 years instead of 35 years. As Deputy Keyes pointed out, there are minor changes in the Bill he proposes. I would not have introduced the Bill, and asked this House to give local authorities power to enable tenants to purchase their cottages, were it not for the persistent demand from tenants in every county. I had to argue the matter before I agreed to ask the Government to allow me to introduce that Bill. I met deputations of tenants and representatives of various districts, and I put up arguments something on the lines that Deputy Cosgrave mentioned. These people were fixed in the view that they had a right to purchase the cottages, and that they felt they would be better off: I must say that at that time they did not have the terms of the Bill before them. It may be easily said that if they had known the terms, they might not have been so enthusiastic, but the fact remains that, in the last six months, I have received resolutions, frequently from cottage tenants and organisations, asking why I was not putting the Act into operation, and giving them the opportunity that they looked for. I received these resolutions from organisations, political and otherwise, representing cottage tenants. I am satisfied that there is a strong demand from the tenants to be allowed to buy the houses. We set up a commission and the recommendations made by it are embodied in the Act passed in 1936. The tenants were strongly represented on that commission. There were seven or eight members on it, and four were direct representatives of the tenants. Their recommendations were put into the Bill.

Question. Not 50 per cent. of them.

There is an addendum in the report asking for a 50 per cent. reduction. The report was signed by all, including the cottage representatives. The recommendations are embodied in the measure. I refer the Deputies to the report, as it will show that what I am saying is correct. Repairs to these cottages cost a considerable sum now, but in the report it was stated that the tenants would be better off, if they carried out the repairs, as they could carry them out, perhaps, with greater personal satisfaction and at less cost. It has to be remembered that boards of health are bound to put all cottages that are purchased into a proper state of repair before they are handed over. I thought that Act met the situation fairly. I based it on the report I got from a commission on which the tenants were strongly represented.

Did you not ignore the recommendations of the cottiers?

I did not ignore them; I gave them consideration.

Did you give them effective consideration?

That is not ignoring them. If the Deputy reads the report he will find that all the members signed it. They did not make any exception to any of the recommendations, including the one to reduce the charges by 25 per cent. They did not withdraw from that. I think it was fair to the cottage tenants and fair and just to the ratepayers, because there was a burden on the ratepayers before the campaign started in 1932 or 1933 to build more labourers' cottages. That burden was already heavy, amounting to about £144,000 a year. Since then 13,000 labourers' cottages have been erected. Deputy Corish will be able to tell Deputy Keyes what a burden was placed on the ratepayers by the building of these additional cottages. What I am afraid of is that if the burden is too heavy no more cottages will be built. I want to see every labourer getting a chance of having a cottage. The one great fear I have is that if the burden is being constantly added to— and no one will deny the burden on the Exchequer—and thrown on the local authorities, they may stop building, although there are many thousands of cases to be provided for. I do not want these people to be left unprovided for. That is the main reason I do not want to give way now. It would not be just to the ratepayers. The cottage tenants are getting a fair and just deal under the Act. They have been treated justly and generously, and can purchase the pre-1931 cottages, of which the average rent would be 10½d. a week.

That is going to make a weekly increase on their present outlay. The alleged 25 per cent. reduction will really mean an increase.

In my opinion, it will not.

It will, with the responsibility for repairs.

They will save in one way and they probably will not have to spend as much in repairs. The cottages will be put in a proper state of repair before they are handed over to them.

When will that be?

It is hard to tell what the cost of the repairs will be. When the repairs are being looked after by the tenants themselves they will be able to keep a better eye on them. Many of them will do them themselves. They will probably be able to do them better than the local authorities have been in the past.

Is it not a fact that the repairs will have to be carried out to the satisfaction of the local authority?

Of the local authority and of the Minister.

Until the end of the annuity period.

There is just another point that I should like to mention. I have received letters and representations from different people that, as farmers got a reduction of 50 per cent. in their annuities, it would be only fair that the labourers should get a similar reduction. The two cases are not on all-fours, because the farmer paid the full economic rent of his holding.

He did. He paid the full economic rent of his holding.

I shall continue to say yes, and you can say no.

It is humbug to be talking like that.

There is a good fund of humbug in the Deputy.

It cost £4,000,000 per year to pay the interest and sinking fund on the annuities and the farmers paid £3,000,000.

I still maintain that the farmers paid the economic price of their holdings.

The Deputy is entitled to say no, but what further will that get us? On an average, the labourer paid 21 or 22 per cent. of the economic rent, and that is a big difference. The Government and the ratepayers paid the balance. It cannot be said that they are similar cases and that the labourers are entitled to equal treatment.

I did not make that case. I substantiated my case. If I get an opportunity on Second Reading I will tell you a different story.

That is the case against those who say that the labourer is not getting a square deal in comparison with the farmer. On an average, the labourer paid from 20 to 22 per cent. of the economic rent. The fear I have is that if we go ahead in the way the Deputy suggests, adding further to the load on the ratepayers, the local authorities will stop building cottages and I do not want to see that happen.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 34; Níl, 60.

  • Benson, Ernest E.
  • Brennan, Michael.
  • Broderick, William J.
  • Brodrick, Seán.
  • Byrne, Alfred (Junior).
  • Coburn, James.
  • Cogan, Patrick.
  • Corish, Richard.
  • Cosgrave, William T.
  • Davin, William.
  • Dockrell, Henry M.
  • Doyle, Peadar S.
  • Everett, James.
  • Giles, Patrick.
  • Hickey, James.
  • Hughes, James.
  • Hurley, Jeremiah.
  • Keating, John.
  • Keyes, Michael.
  • Linehan, Timothy.
  • McFadden, Michael Og.
  • McGovern, Patrick.
  • McMenamin, Daniel.
  • Mongan, Joseph W.
  • Murphy, Timothy J.
  • Nally, Martin.
  • O'Higgins, Thomas F.
  • O'Neill, Eamonn.
  • O'Sullivan, John M.
  • Pattison, James P.
  • Reidy, James.
  • Reynolds, Mary.
  • Rogers, Patrick J.
  • Ryan, Jeremiah.

Níl

  • Aiken, Frank.
  • Bartley, Gerald.
  • Beegan, Patrick.
  • Boland, Gerald.
  • Bourke, Dan.
  • Brady, Brian.
  • Brady, Seán.
  • Breen, Daniel.
  • Brennan, Martin.
  • Breslin, Cormac.
  • Buckley, Seán.
  • Fuller, Stephen.
  • Gorry, Patrick J.
  • Harris, Thomas.
  • Hogan, Daniel.
  • Humphreys, Francis.
  • Kelly, James P.
  • Kelly, Thomas.
  • Kennedy, Michael J.
  • Killilea, Mark.
  • Kissane, Eamon.
  • Lemass, Seán F.
  • Loughman, Francis.
  • McDevitt, Henry A.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • Maguire, Ben.
  • Meaney, Cornelius.
  • Moran, Michael.
  • Morrissey, Michael.
  • Mullen, Thomas.
  • Cleary, Micheál.
  • Cooney, Eamonn.
  • Crowley, Tadhg.
  • Derrig, Thomas.
  • De Valera, Eamon.
  • Dowdall, Thomas P.
  • Flynn, John.
  • Flynn, Stephen.
  • Fogarty, Andrew.
  • Fogarty, Patrick J.
  • Friel, John.
  • Munnelly, John.
  • O Ceallaigh, Seán T.
  • O'Grady, Seán.
  • O'Loghlen, Peter J.
  • O'Reilly, Mathew.
  • O'Rourke, Daniel.
  • O'Sullivan, Ted.
  • Rice, Brigid M.
  • Ruttledge, Patrick J.
  • Ryan, James.
  • Ryan, Martin.
  • Ryan, Robert.
  • Sheridan, Michael.
  • Smith, Patrick.
  • Traynor, Oscar.
  • Victory, James.
  • Walsh, Laurence J.
  • Walsh, Richard.
  • Ward, Conn.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Keyes and Corish; Níl, Deputies Smith and Kennedy.
Motion declared lost.