Gárda Síochána Pensions (No. 2) Order, 1941. - Expiring Laws Bill, 1941—Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill is a kind of hardy annual, with which the House is familiar. It requires to be enacted before the end of the year, and in enacting it we propose to give statutory force to the schedule of enactments set out in I and II of the Schedule to the Bill. A memorandum explanatory of these Acts and giving the reasons for continuing them has already been circulated. Of the nine Acts affected by the Bill, provision has already been made for the repeal of three. I refer to the Poor Relief (Dublin) Act, 1929, the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923, and the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing) Act, 1925. This latter Act will go when the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing Act, 1939, comes into operation. As it may not be possible, owing to the emergency, to give effect to that Act before 1st January, it is necessary to continue the temporary measure.

As regards the other two Acts, both will be repealed when the Public Assistance Act, 1939, and the Local Government Act, 1941, come into operation, which will probably be before six months. I might add that the Acts appearing in the Schedule are reviewed from time to time to consider whether legislation might be introduced to give permanence to any of them. Apart from the three already mentioned, it is not considered desirable at present to make provision for any one of the remainder. It will be appreciated that the schedule of enactments to be continued has shrunk considerably over a number of years and we are now left with a mere handful of the Acts which used to appear annually in this Bill about this time.

I want to refer shortly to No. 7 in the Schedule—the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923. That Act was designed primarily to protect tenants of houses and tenements who are at the mercy of property owners as a result of the housing shortage that then obtained and still obtains. I want to link up this question to-day with that of the dwellers in tenement rooms in the City of Dublin.

The Deputy should realise that, on this Expiring Laws Bill, the merits of the Acts involved may not be gone into. The reason is obvious. Otherwise discussion would be unlimited. The merits of the legislation do not arise. Whether Acts should be continued or not may be discussed, and the Minister might be asked when new legislation may be introduced.

All I want to do is to direct the attention of the House to this very important fact, that the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act is not functioning, and I want proper steps taken to ensure that the protection intended by the Act will be extended to the parties for whom it was designed. We are re-enacting this Act in the belief that it functions. I want to tell the House that it is not functioning, and that there is a group of persons for whose benefit the Act was intended who are not getting the benefit of it. I want the Minister to tell us what he is going to do to ensure that that group of people do get the benefits we intend to confer on them by re-enacting that Act this year.

And going into the details of the administration of the Department?

No. All I want to say is that the Act is being got around. It ought to be strengthened, or an additional Act ought to be passed, or we are not achieving the purpose we have in view in enacting the Expiring Laws Bill, 1941. There is a large group of persons in this city for whom the Rent Restrictions Act was intended the day it was passed. They are the dwellers in one-roomed tenements in the City of Dublin. These people have sought, in so far as their resources permitted them, to go to court and lawfully and constitutionally to get their rights as against the tenement owners. A series of skilful pleas founded on the original Act has succeeded in preventing these people getting their rents reduced, when in fact the rents fixed by their landlords were in excess of those which could be charged under the Rent Restrictions Act. The Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act relates the rent chargeable for a tenement room to-day to that charged at some relevant date in 1914. I do not think I exaggerate when I say that, in respect of 80 per cent. of the tenement rooms of the City of Dublin, it is impossible to ascertain what the rent in 1914 was.

If the Deputy desires to ask the Minister as to what are his intentions he may do so, but he may not initiate a debate on the rent of tenement rooms. Other Deputies are interested in that problem and would have equal rights to intervene.

Can I not oppose the re-enactment of this Bill on the ground that it is not achieving the purpose the House had in mind? Is not the purpose of this law to prevent rack-rents in tenement rooms? Is that not the purpose of the Rent Restrictions Act? So I understood, and if that is the purpose of the Act, I want to tell the House that that purpose is not being served and will not be served. I want the Minister to say: "Very well; I intend to introduce additional legislation which will stop the loophole which exists in the Rent Restrictions Act." It is a matter of vital urgency, and for this reason——

Urgency does not constitute relevancy. The Chair has pointed out the procedure established over nearly 20 years and consistently followed.

But surely we cannot calmly re-enact this Act when it is not doing the job? Surely Parliament is not going to sit back and say: "Let the tenement dwellers go to blazes—we have passed the Rent Restrictions Act?" I am telling the House that that Act is not protecting these people.

The Deputy is in order in asking the Minister when he proposes to introduce other suitable legislation.

And I must ask for the kind of legislation I want. I want legislation which will give effectively to these people the protection which the House meant them to get, but which is being denied them. I am asking that because people are circulating amongst tenement dwellers in this city, telling them that Parliament is not going to do anything for them, that if the Rent Restrictions Act does not solve the difficulty, they can go hang, and urging these people to organise rent strikes and agitations of that character. The dilemma is that those of us who understand how vital it is to maintain ordered government in any community are bound to meet rent strikes with the full resources of the law, but when you go into the merits of the particular case in respect of which the rent strike has been caused, you find that you are actually being asked to put the utmost limit of the law into operation against a rackrented tenant who is being robbed by an unscrupulous landlord. That is bringing the whole machinery of the law into disrepute in the eyes of the people, who, goodness knows, have a hard enough time keeping the law.

I want to make the will of this House the effective instrument for every citizen, however humble, to get his rights, so that if agitators advocate violence, representatives of the community can go to these people and say: "You have a peaceful way to get justice and so long as that course is open to you, it is wrong to resort to violence against the established law." These people have no peaceful way of getting justice and the Rent Restrictions Act does not give them a peaceful way. Surely it is the duty of Parliament to say at once to these people: "We are asking you not to listen to those who advocate violence and civil disturbance because we are going to give the means peacefully to get the justice to which you are entitled?" That is all we are asking. For years it has been common knowledge that the Rent Restrictions Act has broken down in respect of the tenement dweller, and all I am asking the Minister is to say that he is conscious of that fact and is going to take steps forthwith to put that right and to make it clear to the public that we are not all sitting back calmly and saying: "We passed the Rent Restrictions Act, and, therefore, our concern with the tenement dwellers is over."

The only condition upon which we could consent to the re-enactment of the Rent Restrictions Act is that we get an assurance from the Government that they will see that the benefits intended by this House for the tenement dweller will be given to him, whatever legislation may be required to achieve that end. It is a formidable task, and there is no use in a section of this House holding the Minister up to odium for not having done anything sooner, because the problem is one of immense complexity. It is going to be a formidable difficulty to establish fair rents for every tenement room in Dublin.

The Deputy has made his case. He should not now make a speech suitable to the Second Stage of such a measure as would satisfy him.

I am not going to go into details of the difficulty. All that I am now going to say to the Minister is this, and I venture to say it in public because I think it is desirable that it should be said in public: nobody underestimates the difficulties that have to be overcome in the solution of this restrictions problem of tenement rents, but the Minister, I believe, will get from all sides of this House cooperation not only in the passage of necessary legislation but in the preparation of it. I would invite him to search the procedure of this House, if possible, to devise some form of committee procedure whereat a Parliamentary Committee of Dáil Eireann would hear evidence.

Do not let us have another committee, because if so it will never be solved.

Perhaps the Deputy has misunderstood me.

I am not infrequently misunderstood.

This matter has been a subject for committees for 20 years.

I ask the Minister to search the procedure of this House for procedure analogous to that relating to a Private Bill whereby this House sends a Bill not to a general committee of the House, which cannot hear evidence, but to a select committee of the House which can send for persons who are expert in this matter, so that Deputies can get vital information necessary on the Committee Stage of the Bill to insert such amendments as are requisite. Now, I can see all the "old hard chaws" nodding their heads and saying: "Ah! that is hopeless." It is not hopeless. It will be absolutely necessary sooner or later. It has got to be done. That it will be done some time I know, but what is urgent and vital is that it should be done now. Here we all are in this House knowing that if there is a riot in Gloucester Street or in the Coombe it will be done in ten days, but are we to wait until there is a riot? That is what makes me mad. Why cannot we do it before there is a riot? If we were in tenement rooms, could we put our hands upon our hearts and say that none of us would be in that riot if it were started? If I were a tenement dweller and were denied my right to vindicate my rights in the courts, such as they are at present, I would take steps to hurry Parliament up. All that I ask is that machinery be provided forthwith by means of which the residents in tenement rooms can go into the courts and get their rights. That is all. My proposal is nothing more revolutionary than that. I believe that the Tánaiste feels as deeply about this problem as I do. I invite him to say that if the Rent Restrictions Act is passed to-day it is not the last we will hear of it, but that effective steps will be taken to provide the people, before the end of the year, with the remedy they were promised when the Black Commission was set up.

Deputy Tom Kelly would not allow riots in the Coombe.

If the Deputy wants me to speak I am quite ready. The Deputy who has just spoken made the most exaggerated statements. He did that for another purpose, not for the benefit of the people in the Coombe. I could give him an answer.

Hear, hear! Let us have it.

I also want to refer to the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923. I am very sorry that this code is once more going into the limbo of forgotten legislation. We are being asked to continue for another year an Act that was passed in 1923, an Act then regarded as only a temporary one to deal with certain circumstances and facts that existed at that time. Anyone who has had anything to do either with the administration or interpretation of this Act will have realised that there are very grave injustices operating under it, both in favour of landlords and of tenants. In the explanatory memorandum that has been circulated, I was sorry to see that there was no indication of an intention to introduce any amending legislation at an early date. There is a reference to the report that has been presented to the Government. It is stated that the report is under consideration. If the Minister cares to make inquiries, in places where inquiries may properly be made, as to the working of the code at the present time, he will find that it is one of the codes most urgently in need of review. Since the Act was passed in 1923 a number of judicial decisions have been given on the interpretation of it which have created very serious injustices, both as regards landlords and tenants. It was obvious, when the Act was passed, that it was only intended to operate for a certain time, and that, presumably, there would be some amendment of it at the end of a period. It has, however, been continued from year to year, and during all the time it has been in operation, I think there has been only one amendment made to it. It is, I think, the duty of the Government to investigate this aspect of our legislation.

I do not wish to go into details now, but I could give to the Minister at least 20 illustrations of injustices that are operating under the Act at the present moment. If the Minister cares to inquire from associations representing tenants or landlords, or from the law officers of the Government, or from people engaged in the courts, he will find that what I have said is quite true, that this legislation is badly in need of amendment. The Dáil does not meet very often, and this is a matter that affects the welfare of the people. I hope that by this time next year it will not be found necessary to deal with this type of legislation in the lazy way that we are dealing with it to-day.

I am sorry that we have no indication from the Government that they propose to introduce amending legislation to deal with the question of rents, and particularly the rents charged for rooms. I have some knowledge of houses in Cork and of the rents charged for rooms in them. I am not at the moment thinking of tenement houses, but rather of houses that were occupied by professional people in the years gone by. It is quite common, in the City of Cork, to find a person renting a house at 20/- a week and letting rooms in it to as many as three families, the tenant receiving up to 35/- or £2 a week for these rooms. You may find a man and his wife with two or three children paying 12/- a week for two top rooms, while the tenant in the lower portion has the house for 11/9. I could quote many such cases. I am sure the Minister and the members of his Party must be aware of all that through the activities of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and of other societies that help the poor. As a member of the Cork Board of Assistance, I often feel that we are simply dishing out money week after week to poor people simply to enable them to pay landlords exorbitant rents for rooms in tenement areas. That is how a great part of the assistance given to them goes. When we are taunted sometimes about the failure of democracy, we surely must hang our heads in shame when such things as I have stated can happen. It can, at least, be said that democracy is not functioning so far as those poor people are concerned. I am sorry that we have been given no indication that the Government propose to introduce amending legislation to deal with this matter. I hope that the Minister, with the knowledge and sympathy he has so far as this problem is concerned, will prevail on the Government to bring in legislation to deal with the points raised by Deputy Dillon.

Mr. Byrne

Quite recently, in the columns of one of our newspapers, an advertisement appeared for sale of a tenement house in the Mountjoy area and, as an inducement to purchasers, the rent-roll was disclosed at amounting to £300 a year. That was in a Mountjoy tenement area. That works out at about 12/- per room for every room in the house, from top to bottom. Something should be done in cases of that kind. Another injustice often occurs in these landlord and tenant cases. Where a tenant goes into court as defendant or claimant and has no legal aid, his case is not put forward in a proper way. Hardships have been inflicted on tenants in that way, particularly on tenants who find a decree given against them because nobody has stated their case. Many legal gentlemen have told me it was a pity that certain cases of this kind were not defended, because the decision would, in that event, have been the other way. When the Minister is amending the Act, he ought to consider the points put forward by Deputy Hickey and Deputy Dillon. I need say no more than "ditto" to the case made by Deputy Dillon and Deputy Hickey. I agree with every word they said.

Reference is made in this document to the simplification of the preliminary procedure in relation to the acquisition of land. I wish the Minister would do something inside his Department to simplify the acquisition of land for labourers' cottages. The average cost of the land in a poor district for this purpose would be £18 or £20 an acre. It would not be higher than £30 in any case. The boards of health are bound to insist on a strict title. They must get a good fee-simple title from the person selling. In many cases, that requires a very costly investigation of title and the boards of health are responsible, I think, for the costs incurred by the vendor as well as by themselves. The cost of making title, in some of these cases, to land worth £20 amounts to £20 or £30. Apart from legislation, something might be done to remedy that, as has been done in the case of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Land Trust. In those cases, the occupier gives a statutory receipt and that provides good title to the purchasers irrespective of anything else. This matter may seem very trifling, but where there are 500 or 600 cottages erected in a rural district, the imposition on the rate is considerable. It might be arranged that, when the board of health require an acre plot, the person whose name appears as rated occupier should get the £20 and sign a receipt for it. That should end the matter so far as the board of health is concerned. If anybody else has a claim, let him deal with the person who got the money from the board of health.

I support Deputy Linehan. A sum of £1,700 was paid for land for this purpose, in my experience, and the solicitor's bill of costs amounted to £1,180. After these costs were taxed, he got £875 in respect of a transaction amounting to £1,700. I am thankful to Deputy Linehan for letting down his profession sufficiently to bring this point to the notice of the House. I am sure he would not stand for that particular bill of costs.

The South Cork Board of Health do not appear to know their business. Anybody with experience knows what is going to happen in respect of bills of costs on taxation. No solicitor is going to draw a bill of costs which will not pass taxation. But Deputy Corry's figures are nonsensical.

These expiring laws used to be very numerous and complicated. When many Deputies saw one of these bills for the first time, it contained pages of schedules and references to a variety of Acts which required re-enactment. It is now a much more slender Bill than it was 10 or 12 years ago. A number of Acts which required renewal every year have been dealt with otherwise. Many new Acts have been passed and laws have been codified, making it unnecessary to renew a number of the Acts formerly included in the Bill. The Acts requiring renewal now are very few. Some of them will, probably, remain during our life time. One or two are crying out for codification and for treatment which will bring them up to date. One of these is the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923. As Deputies know, hardly anything in law is more complicated than rent restriction and the rights of town tenants in general. The last Government and this Government brought in amending legislation dealing with town tenants, but even now nobody is satisfied. I think I am not exaggerating in saying that. After great pressure for further legislation, we set up a tribunal of inquiry three years ago. Evidently, the judge who presided over that tribunal and the other members found the question so complicated and found it so difficult to propound remedies for the problems presented by witnesses that every member of the tribunal furnished a report in addition to the main report.

If you wait for any more inquiries the problem will be still more complicated.

I think that the Deputy is right.

It is not impossible to deal with it.

It is merely impossible to procure agreement.

The Minister made many speeches about it 12 years ago. He saw no difficulties then.

The Government of the day will have to take a line on the question. We know that we shall not get agreement and we shall simply have to bring in proposals and get them passed. The situation at present is not satisfactory. One of the unsatisfactory items is the control of rents in what are known as tenement areas. It is not quite correct for Deputy Dillon to say that the Rent Restrictions Act is not operating. It is operating to some extent. There are cases in the courts from time to time but it may not be operative so far as certain classes of tenement property are concerned.

That is mentioned in the report—the alleged flat.

It is a long report and some of the minority reports are also long. It will take some time to examine them but they are being examined. Deputy Dillon raised this subject on the 12th November and got an assurance from the Minister for Justice that the problem was being examined. I cannot say any more than the Minister for Justice said. I shall call his attention to the remarks made in this debate regarding the urgency of the problem. I have not heard anything about revolutionary movements or riots in relation to rents in tenement areas, such as Deputy Dillon, I think, forecast. I have heard rumours of organisations coming into existence to have rents re-examined and revised in respect of houses owned by local authorities.

The corporation?

The corporation and similar bodies. There is no comparison between the rents charged by local authorities for houses with good accommodation and amenities and the rents charged for certain classes of tenement dwellings.

The Minister will agree that there should be no justification for anybody rioting in this country for any reason.

There should be no justification. The problem is frightfully difficult and I do not think that, with all the goodwill in the world, this House could forthwith amend the Rent Restrictions Act so as to satisfy anybody—tenement dweller or anybody else. If the special committee, or commission, the Deputy recommended were set up, it would have a laborious job. It would be this time 12 months before they could report and you would not have anything like unanimity in such a body as to the type of amendments which would be satisfactory.

That should not deter you from doing the right thing.

I said already that the difficulties should not deter us from trying to get the law amended and brought up to date. I know that the Minister for Justice is sympathetic and is having this whole problem examined. I do hope that he will find it possible at an early date to tell the House what decision he has come to.

A rent of 8/- or 10/- is being charged for the houses where the revolutions were threatened.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take the remaining stages of the Bill now.
Sections 1 and 2 and Schedule to Part I agreed to.

On the Schedule to Part II, I take it that all the stages of this Bill are being given to the Minister on the understanding that the Minister for Justice will take a reasonably early occasion to communicate to the House his views as to the possibility of legislation to deal with this very narrow, though complicated, problem of the tenement-room rent.

I shall bring the discussion to the notice of the Minister for Justice.

Schedule to Part II agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Will the Minister look into that question to which I referred regarding the title to plots for labourers' cottages?

I certainly shall, but I think it would require legislation.

Even if it does, it should be done. Deputy Corry thinks I am running down my own profession. I do not know any solicitor who wants to make that kind of title in a £20 case.

The Minister for Finance will remember that these facilities were given him when he is thinking of giving Private Members' time.

Question put and agreed to.