I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill continues for another year the provisions of the Housing Acts as regards grants to persons in rural areas, grants to public utility societies in rural areas and to philanthropic societies and municipal authorities in certain circumstances. It also applies to reconstruction grants. So far as these matters are concerned, it is exactly similar to the Bill which was introduced last year extending for a year the duration of these Acts.
Opportunity has been taken on the occasion of the introduction of the Bill to include two other matters, viz., the amendment of the definition of the expression "agricultural labourer" and the guaranteeing of sums borrowed by building societies. As regards the former, the term "agricultural labourer" was first defined in the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1883, in a somewhat narrow sense but in the sense in which the occupation is usually understood. It was widened in the Labourers Act, 1885, the Irish Land Act, 1903, and the Labourers Acts of 1919 and 1936, but in certain circumstances it is still found to be unduly restrictive. The amendment is proposed to enable boards of health to let cottages, provided under the Labourers Acts, just outside the boundaries of urban areas to persons who may work for hire at non-agricultural work within the urban area. Such cases will not, it is expected, be very numerous, but under the existing law some hardship is created especially in regard to the county boroughs. Under existing law, it is possible that a person may be quite eligible on his appointment as tenant and during the course of his tenancy he finds himself employed wholly within the urban area. Strictly speaking, he should no longer be allowed to remain in the cottage. The amendment will get over this difficulty.
As regards Section 3 — the guaranteeing by certain local authorities of sums borrowed by building societies — there has been a movement for the past few years by those interested in the building industry to secure the provision of funds to enable people to purchase their houses. Various suggestions have been put forward and examined. These suggestions took various forms — the formation of a new building society or mortgage corporation with guarantees by the State, an extension of the activities of existing building societies and the provision of funds for the making of advances by local authorities under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts. So far as the area outside Dublin is concerned, facilities exist under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts, but in Dublin the operation of these Acts has had to be suspended for the past few years owing to what are regarded as the more pressing needs — the erection of houses for the working classes, to the extent to which moneys can be made available. Accordingly, the scope of the proposal is limited to Dublin City and County.
Conferences took place with representatives of banks and building societies, and it was felt that existing building societies could deal with the situation if moneys could be made available to them, and the law in regard to building societies amended as respects the proportion of the amount secured by mortgage which may be accepted by the societies in the form of deposits on loans. The amendment of the Building Societies Acts is being dealt with by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The proposal for guaranteeing loans, as set out in Section 3 of the Bill, is not altogether the establishment of a new principle. A somewhat similar provision in regard to public utility societies is to be found in Section 14 of the Housing (Ireland) Act, 1919. It is not intended to make formal regulations concerning the guarantees, but rather to deal with the proposals which may come forward, in the light of the circumstances of each case. The representatives of the banks have indicated the willingness of the banks to co-operate, but it will be open to a building society to approach insurance companies or other institutions granting loans. It is expected that the proposal will do much to encourage the development of house purchase through building societies.