Committee on Finance. - Local Government Bill, 1945— Second Stage.

I move the Second Reading of this Bill which proposes a number of changes in the law relating to local government. Some of these changes are important and will, if adopted by the Oireachtas, alter existing local government practice in several respects; others represent little more than a clarification of the law, as it stands, in order to remove doubts and difficulties in its interpretation. Local authorities now deal with a great diversity of matters and it is inevitable that local government law will reflect that diversity and contain provisions regarding matters whose only relation to each other is that local authorities are in some way concerned in them.

In the past, by reason of this diversity, it has been found convenient in Bills of an appreciable length, dealing with many different subjects, to divide them into parts, grouping the sections according to the subject matter. That course has been followed in the present Bill, which is in five Parts, with three Schedules. Part I of the Bill, I think, does not require any explanation. It is the usual preliminary and general sections containing certain of the definitions forming part of the Bill.

The second Part relates wholly to financial matters, and before referring to particular sections it will be agreeable if I refer generally to the existing position and the changes which are proposed in this Part of the Bill. In every urban district or borough, other than a county borough and the borough of Dun Laoghaire, there are at present at least two rates levied by the urban or borough council as the case may be. One of these is the poor rate, by which the amount of the demands of the county council is raised, the other is the town rate. This term, town rate, is in general use in urban districts for the rates raised to supply the expenses of the urban council in carrying out their own functions. The term "town rate", I may mention, is not statutory. The town rate includes the rates under the Towns Improvement Act of 1854, and may include rates under the local Acts. In a borough there is also the borough rate under the Municipal Corporations Acts. The borough rate is levied on the same basis as the poor rate in the county. The expenses of an urban authority under the Public Health Acts are raised under Section 226 of the Public Health Act, 1878. This section begins by declaring that the expenses of an urban sanitary authority are to be defrayed, in the case of the corporation of a borough, out of the borough rate, and in the case of an urban district council, out of any rate leviable by them as town commissioners over the whole district. The section continues with provisos relating to the nature of the rate to be used and its special incidence. The effect of this is to produce a diversity of practice for which there is no justification. For example, in Drogheda Borough, the sanitary rate is a flat rate on all hereditaments, whereas in most urban districts land and railways are rated as one-quarter of the valuation. In Galway Borough it is difficult to determine by what rate or with what incidence the sanitary expenses of the Corporation should be raised.

A somewhat similar position existed in every county borough before the passing of the several City Management Acts. Those Acts altered the position by substituting one municipal rate with one definite incidence for the various rates with different incidences. In framing the City Management Acts a difficulty arose, by reason of the fact that hereditaments of certain classes had been exempted from some of the older rates, and it would, therefore, be unjust to require the occupiers to pay the whole of the new municipal rate. The difficulty was met by ascertaining the average amount in the £ paid by hereditaments of each exempted class over a number of years, immediately before the passing of the relevant Act, and the proportion which that amount bore to the average rate in the £ in the same period paid by an ordinary hereditament. For instance, if it were found, as it was in the case of Dublin, that agricultural land was assessed at a sum that was approximately equal to about half the rate on the full valuation, then the fraction for agricultural land was fixed at one half.

The present Bill, in Part II, proposes to do for the urban districts what has already been done for the county boroughs and Dun Laoghaire, that is, to consolidate existing rates in each area into one rate. The provisions of the City Management Acts have been adopted for this purpose. As the House knows these provisions have worked in the county boroughs satisfactorily and without confusion. The effect will be that in future there will be only one rating law for all rates. That law will be the existing law relating to poor rate. It may be suggested that the poor rate is not, perhaps, in every respect ideal, but it is more certain and easier to ascertain than any other rating law. No doubt, in time, when the question of valuation for rating has been disposed of a comprehensive rating Bill will be undertaken. That cannot be properly undertaken until the question of valuation has been settled. But any such comprehensive rating Bill will be rendered easier by the present Bill, which will eliminate the divergencies created by local Acts promoted by various towns during the 19th century.

There is, however, one matter in which the introduction of the municipal rate into the urban districts and other boroughs is more difficult than in the county boroughs. As I have already indicated, each county borough was dealt with by its own special Act so that in ascertaining the valuation fractions it was only necessary to consider the incidence of the rates in the particular borough to which the Act applied. This Bill, on the other hand, deals with a great number of areas wherein, as I have already explained, the incidence of the rates is not uniform. The burden of rates on the particular hereditaments could not, therefore, be kept substantially the same in every area, except by the inclusion in the Bill of valuation fractions for each area, as was done by the City Management Acts. I did, I may say, in this connection, for a time toy with the idea of the fractions being fixed by Order of the Minister for each area, but, on full consideration, I decided on the alternative method of applying the same fraction for each type of rateable property that under general law gets partial exemption at present.

There are altogether four different types of property which will get a reduction in valuation when the new municipal rate is being assessed. They are agricultural land, canals, land used as railway and half rents. The first three at present enjoy in most towns exemption from the town rate to the extent of three-quarters of the valuation. The fourth, half rents, is half the annual rent derived by the owner or other person interested in any rateable property which is exempted from poor rate by reason of being used for public or charitable purposes, or for the purposes of science, literature and fine arts. The owners of these half rents are rated to poor rate but not to town rate. It is proposed in Section 22 to alter the method by which commissioners of a town that is not an urban district will obtain expenses and assimilate it to that method by which a subsidiary of the county council obtains funds. At present, as the House knows, the commissioners raise their own rate. They have separate rate books and collectors. Their rate is limited to 2/6, but that limit may be exceeded if the excess is caused by housing expenses and expenses of school meals.

There are 23 of these towns, in five of which elected commissioners are no longer functioning, their business having been transferred to the respective county councils. The total aggregate sum raised in rates in these towns is about £15,000. What is proposed in the Bill is that the county council shall levy on the town the money required to meet the expenses of the commissioners. These small towns are usually unable to employ whole-time officers or maintain the same standard of service as larger authorities. We hope, by relieving them of this troublesome business of levying and collecting rates, they will be freer to attend to other business entrusted to them.

Section 23 is designed to deal with a situation which has arisen in recent years where cases have occurred in which inadequate estimates have been adopted, and insufficient rates levied to meet the service of the year. Under the law as it stands—under the normal law—once a rate has been made and assessed, nothing can be done until the following year to correct the position. It is proposed now to allow a local authority that has made an insufficient rate either to revoke their action and make a new rate, or, if that is not a convenient course, to make an additional rate. I think I can say, with regard to Part II generally, that it will be found that, with the exception of the last two sections to which I referred, Sections 22 and 23, most of the remaining provisions in this part of the Bill are adaptations or provisions which the Oireachtas has already approved of in the City Management Acts.

Part III relates to officers and employees and is intended to be supplementary to Part II of the Local Government Act, 1941, which is the principal code now dealing with the staff of local authorities. Section 24, of course, is the definition section, relating particularly to this part of the Bill. Section 25 is a more elaborate provision for amalgamating offices than that contained in Section 32 of the Act of 1941. Section 32 of the Act of 1941 only applied to what are called major offices. This new section, Section 25, applies to all offices. Section 26 is intended to meet the cases of officers whose conditions of appointment required them to retire on marriage, and who have not, in fact, complied with that condition. It will not apply to officers to whom such a condition did not apply on appointment.

The performance of the duties of a particular office by a deputy during absence or illness of the holder of an office is already provided for by the Act of 1941, but in some instances it is doubtful whether the certificate of a deputy or substitute would be valid where the officer cannot act in person. Section 27 is intended to regularise this position.

Some misapprehension appears to have arisen in the minds of some persons who have read the Bill regarding Section 28, which gives the Minister power to make regulations requiring an officer to devote the whole of his time to his official duties. I should like to emphasise in that connection that under this Section there is no intention whatever of converting existing part-time officers into whole-time officers against their will. The purpose of the section is to enable the question of whole-time or part-time service to be settled in the same manner as other conditions of service.

What does the Minister mean by that?

That is to say, it will be laid down as a condition of employment that the officer will devote the whole of his time, whether part-time or whole-time, to his official duties. It was held by some who read the Bill that the object of this was to compel officers to devote the whole of their time to their duties.

Will that be defined?

If the officer is a whole-time officer he will be required to devote the whole of his time, during his official hours, to his office, in formulating the terms for conditions of employment. It is not applicable to persons in respect of whom that was not a condition of appointment.

Does it apply only to future appointments?

Yes, I think so. Under Section 29 of the Bill it is proposed to continue as part of the ordinary law certain powers at present vested in the Minister in relation to the pay of weekly wage earners and other employees of local authorities. It is now generally recognised that it is necessary to ensure that local authorities should not, in the matter of remuneration, get out of step with outside employment.

Part IV of the Bill is intended to replace existing provisions in relation to the construction or reconstruction of bridges in which more than one road authority is directly interested. At present, where a bridge is built between two counties, not more than half of the cost may be raised off either county. This had led to difficulties, particularly where one county held that half the cost was too onerous having regard to the benefit derived from the bridge by that county. The Bridges Acts, 1834 to 1867, provided a procedure to meet these difficulties but this procedure is rather cumbersome and expensive. Moreover, it deals only with inter-county bridges and makes no provision for a case where a bridge, though wholly in one county, would materially benefit another county or counties by improving the road communication of the latter. This point is dealt with in the new procedure in this Bill.

What is proposed in Part IV is that if a road authority is of opinion that the construction of a new bridge, or the reconstruction of an existing bridge, either in or outside or partly in or partly outside its area, is expedient for the purpose of improving road communication between places in such area or between places in or outside such area or road communication through such area, they may make application to the Minister for a bridge Order providing for such construction or reconstruction. The application for a bridge Order must contain proposals for defraying the expenses of the work and of the maintenance of the bridge by two or more road authorities. On receipt of an application for such an Order, the Minister may direct a road authority to submit to him a report on the feasibility of the work, the probable cost and the best situation for the work in the case of a new bridge. In the case of a proposed reconstruction work, the site of the bridge has, of course, already been determined.

On receipt of the Order the local authorities so directed by the Minister must carry out all necessary surveys. After consideration of the report, which under Section 32 is referred to as a preliminary report, the Minister may cause a public inquiry to be held to consider the proposal and the reports of the surveying authority.

After consideration of the report and of the report of the public inquiry, the Minister may make a bridge Order which shall direct a road authority to construct or reconstruct a bridge in accordance with the Order, and may require contributions to be made in a specified manner towards the cost by a benefiting road authority. These contributions may include expenses incurred in the maintenance of the bridge after it has been constructed or reconstructed. The road authority directed by a bridge Order to construct or reconstruct a bridge must submit plans to the Minister for his approval and, when the plans have been approved by the Minister, the work must be carried out by the local authority specified in the bridge Order with all reasonable speed.

Part V of the Bill contains a number of miscellaneous provisions. Sections 45 and 46 deal with the procedure when there is an equality of votes at meetings of a county council or at meetings of a committee of a local authority. Members of the House are no doubt familiar with certain cases in which there has been some difficulty in securing the election of a chairman, particularly after an election, where there has been some doubt as to the chairman's right to vote. The House knows also that, until the chairman is elected at the first meeting of the new authority, the chair is taken by the chairman of the outgoing county council. As I have indicated, it occasionally happens that the chairman is not a member of the new council. The purpose of Section 45 is to ensure that in these circumstances the chairman of a county council who is not a member of the county council has no vote, neither a first vote nor a casting vote. The casting vote of the chairman who is a member is preserved except where it is otherwise provided that the decision is to be taken by lot.

Does that mean that the chairman of the county council has no casting vote?

He has a casting vote if he is elected to the new council. If not, he has no vote of any kind.

I think that is the present position.

He is still entitled to preside at the meeting of the new council although he may not be a member?

He presides only as a directing authority; he has no right to vote. Section 47 is designed to make a local inquiry with its attendant delay and expense unnecessary where there is wilful refusal or neglect on the part of the local authority to comply with an express statutory requirement. The section merely restores the position as it was from 1925 to 1942.

Under Section 48, when members of a local authority are removed from office the members nominated by them to subsidiary bodies will also cease to hold office whether they were members of the parent body or not. Under Section 49 the quorum for the commissioners of a town is being reduced to three. The quorum for commissioners at the present moment is five, which is a larger quorum than is now required for an urban district council.

The purpose of Section 50 is to straighten out a rather involved position in regard to the audit of accounts of public bodies. The effect of the provisions of several statutes has been to give two Ministers similar powers to regulate the accounts and audit of certain bodies. In practice no conflict has arisen in this regard but it is necessary to clear up the position from its legal aspect. Under sub-section (6) of this section, the county manager, who is an officer of the county council, is made for audit purposes an officer of every elected body for which he is manager.

Section 51 deals with traffic signs on roads and amends Section 36 of the Local Government Act, 1935. Under the section the Minister may make regulations as to traffic signs which will now include mechanical devices such as traffic lights. Section 54 clarifies the position of rate collectors in relation to furnishing information which is required for the preparation of the rate. It will scarcely affect the existing practice in these matters but, as I have said, it will clarify the law in regard to them.

Section 55 relates to the conditions to be fulfilled where it is desired to change the name of a thoroughfare. Many representations have been received with regard to this matter asking that the existing law, contained in a Public Health Act of 1907, which required the consent of a majority of two-thirds of the number of ratepayers and valuation in a street before a change could be made, should be modified. It is proposed to repeal the relevant section of the Act of 1937 in this regard and to make fresh provisions by which a change can be made by the local authority, if not less than two-thirds of the persons rated in the street consent. The condition as to securing the consent of occupiers having an aggregate valuation of two-thirds of the valuation of the street has been dropped. I should point out that this change in the name of a street can be made only by the local authority. It cannot be effected by the manager.

Section 56 is designed to give local authorities the same powers as regards investments of their funds as trustees have. The proviso in Section 7 of the Trustee Investment Act, 1889, has become, under changed conditions, so restrictive that in some cases local authorities could not invest in national loans. It is proposed, therefore, to repeal Section 7 and re-enact it without the restrictive proviso.

Under the existing law, a local authority can acquire land only when they intend to use it for a definite purpose. Land acquired for housing, for example, may, through shifts in population or otherwise, cease to be suitable for the purpose for which it was acquired. Nevertheless, the local authority have no power to use it for any other purpose. Again, a plot of land which the owner would be willing to sell to the local authority and which would be suitable for any one of a number of public purposes might unexpectedly come on the market. Under the law as it stands the local authority, having had no opportunity to work out plans for the utilisation of the land, would have no power to acquire it. In order to avoid such anomalies, it is proposed, under Section 57, to give local authorities power to acquire, but to acquire by agreement only, land which they may need at some future time although the specific purpose for which they would use it has not been decided upon. This power to take land in advance of actual requirements will, I believe, facilitate urban planning.

Section 58 excludes loans borrowed by county councils as public assistance authorities from the borrowing limit of one-tenth of the valuation which was imposed in 1898, when they had no public assistance functions. County councils, however, as public assistance authorities, will be subject to the limit of one-fourth of the valuation fixed by Section 57 of the Public Assistance Act, 1939.

Sections 59 and 62 relate to local inquiries that are ordered by the Minister. Some of the Department's general inspectors have in recent years been assigned the duty of acting for local bodies when the members of such bodies have been removed, and also have been acting temporarily as managers when vacancies occur. They are, therefore, not always available to hold inquiries. Furthermore, for certain inquiries it is desirable to have persons with special training and experience. It is proposed to give the Minister power to appoint temporarily specially qualified persons to hold inquiries if occasion requires. It is sometimes necessary, in connection with these inquiries, for the manager of the local authority to have separate legal representation at them. This is particularly the case if his own decisions or conduct are involved. If he is separately represented by order of the Minister, his costs may be paid, subject to any limit the Minister may impose. A similar position may arise in regard to other officers and private persons. If the Minister considers it reasonable that a contribution should be made towards the costs and expenses incurred, he may certify the amount of the contribution and direct its payment under these sections.

The remaining sections of the Bill are concerned largely with slight revisions or amendments of the wording of earlier statutes. Only two of them call for comment. It is proposed that in future the clerks of old age pensions committees shall be appointed by these committees without reference to the Local Appointments Commissioners.

Section 67 is designed to remove difficulties experienced in operating Section 34 of the Local Government Act, 1925, which deals with the cutting of hedges and trees which are prejudicial to a public road. Hedges and trees may shade a road to such an extent as to make it unduly difficult and expensive to maintain, or they may cause obstruction or render the road dangerous to users. Under the section the owner or occupier may be requested to trim the hedge within 21 days. He is, however, given a right of appeal to the District Court for an annulling order.

If he does not comply with the requirements or appeal to the court the local authority may get a court order and if that order is not complied with the county surveyor may have the work done and the cost recovered from the occupier. The Act of 1925 prohibited a county surveyor trimming or cutting hedges or trees between the end of March and the end of September. The effect of Section 67 of the Bill will be to permit a hedge to be cut within that hitherto prohibited period and also a tree to be cut if, but only if, the surveyor is satisfied that failure to have the tree cut involves serious risk of accident. The need for some such power has been represented to me by more than one county council and has been mentioned on a number of occasions at the conferences with the county surveyors which have taken place in my Department.

Amongst the enactments repealed which are set out in the First Schedule will be found parts of the several Public Libraries Acts. The purpose of these repeals is to abolish the rating limits for libraries. The House knows that from the middle of the last century up to 1920 the limit was 1d. in the £. This was raised to 3d., which in county boroughs may be increased in certain circumstances by another 3d. In most counties the limit fixed has not been reached but library development in Dun Laoghaire, for instance, has been impeded by the existence of the limitation on expenditure. As the fixing of a limit of rates, in my opinion, serves no useful purpose, in present circumstances and in the present condition of public opinion in relation to the provision of public libraries and educational facilities for the people, I propose to ask the House to abolish the limitation.

The form in which this Bill is presented will certainly come as a very serious disappointment to anybody who has anything to do with local government. It simply adds to the rag-bag that is local government legislation. I think the Bill is misdescribed as a Local Government Bill. The best the Minister can call it, in my opinion, is a Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I doubt if any Local Government Bill has ever been such a medley as this is.

In the First Schedule we find we are dealing with bridges, libraries, housing, road traffic matters, rates on agricultural land, Public Assistance Acts, rates, and all through the Bill we come across additional things, such as election expenses, voting, elections of public bodies, etc. I think the Bill will also come as a serious source of annoyance and irritation to people who are dealing with local government. It is particularly disappointing in view of the fact that the public have been led to expect that, the Minister having special legal assistance to help him to codify certain aspects of local government law, having two Parliamentary Secretaries and a very swollen Department to assist him, we might be getting nearer the day when local government law would be got together in a neater handbook than we have been able to have up to the present. Local government law is a thing that should be in handy form for public representatives, managers, officials, and various classes of people interested in local government, and for the lawyers who have to deal with so many different matters affecting the interests of individuals in relation to public bodies.

The Department is notorious in one way or another for delay in dealing with many matters to which public bodies require urgent attention to be given. A very considerable part of the delay I think is due to the rather impenetrable jungle which local government legislation has become, and the Minister, instead of clearing up that, seems to be adding to it. I suggest that that is a matter of great seriousness and that if there is to be an annual adding to the rag-bag of local government law, then it will cause a considerable amount of confusion and expense to a large number of people.

A number of matters in this Bill call for attention. The Minister has referred to Section 28 and I suggest that that section will require, at any rate, to be explained a little more than the Minister has explained it. He has indicated that it deals only with the defining of the duties of officials, on the one hand, and future entrants into the service, on the other. I think the Minister would do well to review the general situation that may be brought about by this addition to the legislation. There have been a very considerable amount of controversy, legislation and judicial decisions with regard to the interpretation of "whole time" for public officials and it would be well if the matter were clearly defined now that the Minister is taking additional powers.

I think Section 47 will probably give rise to a great deal of discussion. The Minister proposes to take power in certain circumstances to wipe out a local authority without an inquiry of any kind. I suggest to the Minister that there may be simply a question of fact to be established and that it is becoming more and more necessary that there shall not be powers to wipe out a local authority or any statutory body without an inquiry and without the report of that inquiry being made public.

The Minister was not very explicit when dealing with the question of auditors and the changes that are being made. If we turn to the Third Schedule we find that the accounts of the Dublin Port and Docks Board are to be audited by the Department. That brings us up against the whole audit position under the Department of Local Government. There is very considerable delay in the audit of the accounts of many local bodies, and that is neither fair to the public interests nor to the officials whose accounts are left for a long period without being audited. Again, the standard of training and the standard of responsibility of auditors is deteriorating. An auditor ought to be in a completely detached and independent judicial position. There is an appeal to the Minister against his decision, and he ought to be a lot freer from the Minister's direction and control than he seems to be at present.

The Dublin Port and Docks Board is a very important body which only recently advertised for a general manager at a salary of something like £2,500 a year. I doubt if it is feasible or advisable to bring the work of that board, managed by a person who is intended to be responsible and independent, and dealing with, you might say, purely business matters, under the rather detailed auditing of the Local Government Department. The manager is likely to find himself in the position in two or three years' time, after taking decisions dealing, perhaps, with small amounts, of facing an audit of his accounts and having to account for sums of 2/6 or 4/9. The Minister was peculiarly silent as to why he was bringing that board, or the Dublin and Cork fever hospitals, under the Local Government Department for the purpose of audit. I think the matter requires a considerable amount of thought and explanation. I should like to know whether the Dublin Port and Docks Board have considered all that is involved in agreeing, if they did agree, to the proposal made in this Bill.

The Minister dealt in a very inadequate way with Section 57 and the question of the acquisition of land. The section proposes that a local authority may buy land at any time and in any place without necessarily having any use for it. I do not know whether the question of town planning was considered in this connection. I do not know whether there is to be consultation with another local authority when land is being bought in its area or how that is being arranged for. There is no provision for it here and there is no provision for publication of the fact that the land has been bought. There is simply a general, slovenly provision by which a local authority can buy land without having any use for it at the time, and if, after a year or two, it makes up its mind that it does not want it, it can proceed to sell it again.

The Minister has indicated that, under Section 59, he proposes that for the holding of certain inquiries he may go outside his inspectorial staff or the staff of his Department and may select some person with special professional and technical qualifications to hold an inquiry. I think that idea is entirely wrong. In any inquiry that will be held by the Minister, even though technical matters may be very prominent in connection with it, there will be more than the mere technicalities involved. Very often it will be more a question of administration and the carrying on of business than of purely technical matters. I suggest that what the Minister requires is power, if he has not got it already, to associate with an inspector of the Department who is carrying out an inquiry, a technical assistant of whatever kind the inspector may want, to guide him or sit with him and to watch the course of events from the technical point of view. I do not think any inquiry carried out for the Minister should be carried out by a man purely on the ground that he had professional or technical qualifications. Apart altogether from its apparent lack of necessity this proposal opens up certain objections.

Under Section 60, the Minister may, if he considers the matter, change it, but I think it entirely wrong that the Minister should issue an Order that, under particular circumstances, the manager should be separately represented at the inquiry. That section—if it is necessary at all—should read "that the manager may appear separately at an inquiry". The initiative should be left entirely to the manager and it is entirely wrong for the Minister to order the manager to do anything. The manager is a very responsible person, and if there is an inquiry in which he is involved in any way, he should not be made to appear in any circumstances to be subject to an Order of the Minister, except where the Minister has a statutory right to order him to do a particular thing. It may be that the Minister may wish to safeguard the local authority, or the local authority may wish the Minister to safeguard them against elaborate and unnecessary legal expenses incurred by the manager in appearing separately before an inquiry; but I think the idea that the Minister should order the manager to appear separately before the inquiry is entirely wrong. Generally, the Bill is a shocking medley, which will simply add additional trouble and additional confusion to local government law.

There is a good deal in the point made by Deputy Mulcahy regarding the Title of the Bill, which he suggested might better be described as a Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, on account of the wide range it covers. However, I suggest that its general utility is not necessarily destroyed by its title, since there are some beneficial clauses in it, and very obviously there would be times when certain members of the House would chafe at the idea that certain sections should be delayed because they could not be introduced here. So we need not grumble too much about the title. So far as I can see, the Bill seems to be designed chiefly to bring the code of local government throughout the country into line with that at present operating in the municipality in Dublin.

On the general details, there are several points that I might refer to at this particular stage. I notice in the First Schedule the repeal of the entire Section 47 of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898. That is an important section and I cannot discover anywhere in the Bill that a substitute has been provided. That section states:

"(2) A council shall not directly or indirectly apply any part of their county or district fund, or any moneys under their control, for any purpose not authorised by this or any other Act...."

If no substitute is being put in for that particular provision, I would be interested to know the reason for suggesting the repeal.

In Section 6 we have repeated in this particular Bill—it is not entirely an innovation, in so far as it was introduced in the Mental Treatment Act— the question of adaptations of other Acts. That might be dangerous in certain circumstances, and the House would need to be guarded against it. In regard to Section 10, dealing with town commissioners, I listened to the Minister and I find it is proposed now that the charges in this case will be county-at-large charges; but there is a clause in connection with the 7½ per cent. increase and, so far as I know, it is not quite clear as to the ultimate destination of that 7½ per cent.

Section 13 refers to "a" sinking fund. This does not seem to have any relation to the fact that there are several sinking funds in connection with various categories of stock. It seems to refer to "a" sinking fund, as if there were no others.

Section 20 deals with vacant premises and is an improvement, so far as the City of Dublin is concerned. The procedure at present, I understand, is that there is an abatement allowance of one-twenty-fourth. Here it is proposed to make it one-twelfth, so that if the repairs go on for a full period of 12 months the question of the responsibility for the entire rates disappears. No provision is made for any limited time, so far as the repairs are concerned. I suggest there should be at least some restriction on the question of time, otherwise a landlord may, for reasons of his own, prolong a period of that character—and that surely is not in accord with the position we see around us in Dublin at present, where there is an acute shortage of housing accommodation.

Section 23, to which Deputy Mulcahy and the Minister himself referred, deals with the insufficiency of rate. Frankly, I see a certain element of danger in this, in so far as it could bring about slipshod estimating of the annual estimates. I can conceive no reason why the Minister should introduce this in the Bill, other than to make provision for a county commissioner, say, taking the place of a county council that had been disbanded. If we are making provision for a case of insufficiency of rate, whereby the local authority is empowered to send out a further demand after the rate has been struck, and even after the ratepayers have paid their first moiety, I might very easily ask, if the converse case applies, supposing the rating authority found they had overestimated: Would it be possible to give a refund to the ratepayers, in the middle of the financial year? I suggest quite frankly, from my experience of my own city council, that occasions of this character have never arisen. The result has been that the officials responsible, plus the council's members on the estimates committee, are pretty careful to see that all items which it is possible to envisage are included in the financial year, so as to avoid the confusion which, in my opinion, this section inevitably will bring about.

On Section 50, with reference to the audits, for quite a long time I have watched the process of local government auditing throughout the country, and I think members of the House attached to local authorities will agree with me that there are grounds for complaint regarding the times at which the audits are carried out. The statutory period is usually 12 months—or half-yearly—but it is common knowledge that the auditors in many cases are investigating the accounts at a much later period than the prescribed period. It is utterly impossible, and in some cases exceedingly unfair on the local officials, to have to give an explanation, say after a period of 18 months, regarding the circumstances under which a certain decision was taken, long prior to the inquiry. I am glad to say it does not happen in the City of Dublin where the audit is prompt and up-to-date; neither am I reflecting in any way on the personnel of the audit staff, who do their job in their own way and do it well; but it does suggest to me—though I have no information whatever on the point —that the audit staff of the Department is insufficient. There is no reason why the accounts of a county council or of a public health authority should not be audited with the same object in view as in the case of an ordinary commercial concern. The object is the same in each case.

As regards Section 52, which deals with the scales of maximum expenses for elections, I would like to bring to the Minister's notice a point that concerns working-class representatives who happen to be on public bodies. This has relation particularly to members of county councils. They give a lot of their time to the administration of affairs in their own counties. I am not quite sure what is the scale of expenses, or whether it is merely transport expenses. I understand, however, that the expenses are totally insufficient.

You get 4d. a mile if you attend two-thirds of the meetings.

Take the ordinary workman who is a public representative. He has to give up his day's work to attend a meeting and he will lose a day's wages. I think the time has arrived when there might be some consideration given to such representatives in rural areas, where meetings of the county council are held in the forenoon or the afternoon and where a person has to travel a long distance at great personal sacrifice.

Section 57 refers to the acquisition of land. A good deal might be said for the suggestion that this section, as set out here, might lead to a certain form of abuse. The only reason why the House might be inclined to accept it is that put forward by the Minister, that a parcel of land might come suddenly on the market and it might be advantageous for the local authority to have an opportunity of acquiring it quickly. I know of no other reason for leaving the section in the broad form in which it appears in the Bill. Local authorities have sufficient compulsory powers in order to acquire land and the only justification that one could advance is that of quick acquisition.

As regards inspectors, I agree with the point of view expressed by Deputy Mulcahy, and that is there should be no necessity to introduce inspectors in the manner laid down in Section 59. If there is any lack of training so far as the various members of the inspectorial staff who conduct inquiries are concerned, that could be removed in the manner suggested, by attaching to them, for the time being, technically trained individuals.

I am surprised at Section 51, which deals with traffic signs on roads. The Minister appears to have allowed his own powers and those of the local authorities to lapse. In that section it is set out that the commissioner may direct the local authority to do certain things. I think the more appropriate way would be to permit the commissioner to make representations to the local authority. To direct them is quite an unusual form and I think that to incorporate the commissioner as the statutory authority over a local authority in the matter of traffic signs is going a little bit too far.

I see that, in Section 55, the Minister has adopted a suggestion which I made here some time ago by way of a Parliamentary Question; that is, in regard to the names of streets. The old order was that you had to have two-thirds in favour. I think the change set out in this section will be much more acceptable to the local authorities. Seeing that the Minister has included in the Bill the suggestion I made here some months ago, might I bring to his notice another matter, a comparatively small matter, and perhaps it might be possible to accept it when we are dealing with the Bill in Committee? It is a matter that affects the City of Dublin particularly, but it is of considerable interest elsewhere. Under Section 76 of the Public Health (Amendment) Act, 1857, county boroughs and other public authorities were entitled to include in their estimates a certain amount for the purpose of providing bands in open spaces at certain periods of the year.

Last year, I had some correspondence on this subject with the Minister. Representatives of city bands came as a deputation to the city manager, and to me when I was Lord Mayor, to see if it would be possible to continue their performances throughout the winter season. These bands are greatly appreciated by the public, but they have no general source of revenue. Some of them will possibly have to go out of existence unless revenue of a stable character can be provided for them. If they are not assisted in some definite way, they may have to go out of existence. My correspondence with the Minister set out that, as the law stands, it would be impossible for the corporation to make provision for winter sessions in halls, as the Act makes provision only for open spaces. I throw out the suggestion that that small matter, which is of considerable interest to people in Dublin City, might get the serious attention of the Minister and his Parliamentary draftsman and he might possibly accept an amendment on the Committee Stage.

We were led to believe here by the Minister or his predecessor some years ago that strenuous efforts were being made to codify the law relating to local government—that in the immediate future we might hope to have the law framed in such a manner that the ordinary man in the street could understand it. Thirty-six enactments are to be repealed in this Bill. If one goes through the Bill as it is presented, it is clear that the ordinary individual who is a member of a local authority and who wants to understand the law relating to local government will still be in a position of great difficulty. If he endeavoured to understand local government law in its present form, his efforts might easily lead him into a mental hospital. This Bill seems to make everything more confused. It even amends legislation that was passed here a few years ago. I refer now to the Public Assistance Act, the Local Government Act, 1941, and the Management Act of that year.

An effort was made to codify some of the law relating to public assistance, but now this Bill seems to make confusion more confused—that is the sum total of it. After saying that, I would like to mention that it may be just like the curate's egg, good in spots. We would like to see what are the good and the bad parts. It is unfair that 36 enactments should be repealed under this Bill when the position is that the officials of local authorities throughout the country do not know fully what the law is, even though they are working within the local government laws all their lives. That is the position—they do not know what the law is and each year local authorities bear a huge sum in legal expenses, through the courts and through the necessity for seeking advice from legal people as to what the law is. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us when it is proposed to codify our local government law.

I may tell the Minister that 36 enactments are being repealed. I have counted them myself. He saw me counting them and possibly that is what put it into his mind.

Section 10 is the section under which a very far-reaching new principle is sought to be imposed on the country. I think the Minister in his explanation of it got over it rather too lightly. It is a proposal to make the county council bear the expenses, subject to the 7½ per cent. provision, of an existing local authority which, since 1848, had funds of their own. I refer to town commissioners. He did not tell us the necessity at this stage of doing away with town commissioners' funds and putting the charge as a county-at-large rate on the county councils. I protest very strongly to the Minister against that proposal. We know that this is the thin end of the wedge; we know that following up this Bill we will have another in a few years making the same proposal in regard to urban councils. We were expecting it in this Bill, but I am sure it is on the way. If this is established as a new principle—it never existed and never was suggested before—we will have urban authorities included—a county-at-large rate bearing the expenses of urban authorities. What is the justification for doing away with town commissioners and letting them carry their own expenses? The expenses of town commissioners are very low compared with those of any urban authority. They had little or no expenses. The county council carried the expenses of sanitation, of water supplies, of scavenging and many other matters in areas under town commissioners. Town commissioners had one responsibility, that is, lighting. Under the 1932 Housing Act, they voluntarily took on the responsibility of building houses in their towns and it is now proposed in this Bill that houses built by town commissioners should become the responsibility of the county council and the county-at-large rate will be expected to provide houses for people in the local towns. If the percentage of 7½ does not cover it, the county-at-large rate must provide funds in respect of losses on rates of local towns in the matter of housing. That is how I read this Bill.

Not alone that, but, under Section 22, a county council must provide, on demand, any funds which town commissioners need. I do not think there is any legislation in operation in this country under which a county council must provide funds on demand. There is a limit to the demand which a vocational education committee may make on a county council. They can only go up to 6d. or 7d. in the £, or whatever figure is fixed by legislation, but, under Section 22 of this Bill, town commissioners may demand any sum whatever. The provision with regard to 7½ per cent. extra is the only safeguard a county council has, and I think it most unfair for the Minister to suggest that the ratepayers, the farmers of any particular area, should provide funds for the amenity needs of any town.

If this principle is to be adopted, we will have urban councils to-morrow making the same demand on the Minister, who will then come to the House and ask for approval of legislation making the provision for urban authorities a county-at-large charge. When you reach that stage, you might as well put a roof over the whole country, because that is what it amounts to. There is no good reason why a county at large should provide the funds for any local authority whatever. It is town commissioners under this Bill, and I suppose it will be urban councils under some other Bill. The Minister should seriously consider the matter and not decide on this in a light fashion.

Anybody living in the country and working on a local authority can see the trend of things. We can appreciate that it is probably in the interests of a county manager to a certain extent to have this done. If he has only one fund for all the local authorities within his area, his position will be much easier, because he will have one compact staff under his direction to operate all the funds of the local authorities within his area. We can see also that the tendency is for county managers to become county commissioners to a great extent, and that is how the whole thing will work out. It is something which should not be allowed to pass without special regard being paid to it.

With regard to that section which enables local authorities to strike and to collect a second rate in the year, I hope the Minister gave full consideration to the matter before suggesting that it is feasible. At present 99 per cent. of local authorities make a serious effort, after advice from their officials and managers, to strike a rate adequate to their needs for the year, and to give them power at this stage to strike and collect an additional or separate rate within the rating year means that all the people who pay rates will be driven insane. Why not strike an adequate rate, or why not allow a local authority to have a deficit within the year, as they are empowered to have at the moment, and collect the amount in the coming year? They have power at the moment, if they find any service for which they need to provide funds, to provide the necessary funds by way of overdraft and collect the amount the following year. To suggest that two rates should be struck in the one year is most unfair. It is wrong in principle and will not work out.

But you will vote for it when told to do so.

Provision is made in Section 17 for the cesser of existing rates of urban councils. I do not understand what the Minister means by that. I suppose it is necessary to make the provision, but I wonder what is the necessity. Is it also a matter of convenience? Section 25 provides for the amalgamation of offices. Is it proposed to amalgamate the offices of different local authorities within a county council area? Can the Minister make an Order under this section amalgamating, say, the office of an official of an urban authority with that of the county manager? I believe it is possible under the section and I should like a statement from the Minister as to whether it is proposed to amalgamate such offices. If so, I suggest that we should take note of it.

If the Deputy reads sub-section (3), he will find it fully explains the matter.

Sub-section (a) seems to cover it.

"Such one of the local authorities concerned".

Any local authority.

If there is a Fianna Fáil chairman in Leix, he will do it, and if he is in Offaly, he will do it.

Deputy Allen might be allowed to continue.

He said he did not understand the section. I was explaining it to him.

I should like the Minister also to explain Section 28, which is bound to give rise to controversy and trouble unless it is fully clarified. A large number of officers of local authorities are part-time officers. Dispensary doctors are part-time officers at the moment, and, under this section, the Minister could, if he wished, decide that these part-time dispensary doctors in any area should be full-time officers, and similarly with regard to mid-wives.

In addition, you have the case of engineers to local authorities. They are now under the county councils. Some are only part-time officers, just as they were when previously employed by the boards of health. They are paid small salaries. I do not think the present arrangement is a desirable one. I think that the engineer of a local authority should be a whole-time officer, and should be paid a salary sufficient to remunerate him for his services. Under the present system they must engage in some other work. From the local authorities' point of view, it is not satisfactory to have them as part-time officers. I think it would be well if this section were more clearly defined as to what officers it covers, whether existing officers or only future officers. In many cases that I am aware of, the existing officers should be whole-time officers. If put in that position they would, of course, require to be better remunerated than they are at present. I think that the section is likely to be a very controversial one unless its provisions are more clearly defined than they are in the Bill.

With regard to Part IV, which deals with construction of bridges, I would like the Minister to bear in mind that some local authorities have already gone very far in the matter of the erection of bridges. This section, I take it, will apply to all bridges in the future. The existing legislation deals only with the Bridges Act which made provision for the erection of a bridge by two or more adjoining counties. I take it this part of the Bill will apply to all bridges within the area of a local authority. I am aware that some local authorities have already spent a great deal of money in arranging for competitions for the preparation of plans for the erection of bridges in their area. They incurred that expense in good faith, and it would be a serious matter if all the expense and trouble they have gone to were to go for naught. It would be too bad if, when this section becomes law, the Minister were to be in a position to tell the local authority that they would have to go over all that work again, especially in view of the fact that some of them have spent some thousands of pounds in getting plans prepared. That has been so in the case of the large bridge which the Wexford County Council propose to have erected outside the town of Wexford. I hope it will not be necessary for the county council to have to spend more money in having new plans prepared and in getting borings made.

Section 47 proposes to give the Minister additional ground for the removal of members of a local authority. I think that the Minister has sufficient ground already. I hope that in future very full consideration will be given to the matter before the members of a local authority are removed from office. I know quite well that the members of local authorities very often deserve to be removed from office. As I have said, I do not think the Minister should look for additional powers in this matter, or that the Dáil should give them. I repeat what I said before in the Dáil, that it is very easy for the members of a local authority to remove themselves from office. What I mean is that local elections are held every three years. It takes at least five or six years for many members of a local authority to get the slightest idea of local government law.

After an election it very often happens that quite a large number of the members elected to a county council are new members. They may have in mind the idea of reducing the rates because they feel that the ratepayers in their county are too heavily burdened. The trouble is that they do not know how to go about the task they have in mind, and in that way get themselves up against the manager and the Minister. In the end they find themselves removed from office. I would ask the Minister to be sympathetic to the members of local authorities in that respect, and to understand that the officials, the manager and the secretary of a local authority have it largely in their own hands to have a council removed from office. I know that from experience. On the other hand, if you have a sympathetic manager and a sympathetic secretary to a county council who understand what the members mean, they can help them and in that situation you will have very few councils removed from office. But, as I say, it is in the hands of the officials of a local authority, at any time, to have a council removed from office. I firmly believe that if the officials of a local authority want a council removed from office at any time they can do so.

With regard to Section 51, I want to say that in my opinion if there is any direction to be given to a local authority for the erection of road signs that direction should be given by the Minister and not by the Commissioner of the Gardaí or anybody else. I do not think any outside body should have that power. It should not be in the power of anybody to give the direction except the Minister. In my opinion it would be undesirable that anyone other than the Minister should have the power to direct a council.

As regards Section 55, which proposes to give power for changing the name of a street, I think it is a pity that, while the Minister has gone a certain distance in the right direction, he did not go further. There is no reason why, because certain types of people live in a street and probably do not see eye to eye from the national point of view with the Government, or with the members of the local authority or with the general mass of the people, they should have the power to prevent a street name being changed: that they should be able to prevent that street being given a good national name in accordance with the views of the mass of the people in a town or district.

I think that the Minister, without putting in any proviso, should give a local authority the power to change the name of the street where the members of the local authority desire to do so. After all, they are the elected representatives of the people. They are in a responsible position and should have that much power without being obliged to get the views of the ratepayers in any particular street. I suggest to him that he should go further in this section and give that power to a local authority.

I would urge him to go still further and give the local authority, the county council in this case, the power to change the name of any village or townland in their county, if they think it well to do so. I think the time has arrived when a council should have that power. This, I suggest, is an opportune time to give county councils that power. It is a power that county councils have been seeking for quite a long time, and it was expected that the Minister would have made provision for it in this Bill. I know, for example, that 99 per cent. of the people in a village in County Wexford desire that its name should be changed to its old Gaelic name. The county council has not the power to do that at present. I believe I would be correct in saying that 99.9 per cent. of the residents in that village would desire to have that done. The official name which the village has at present is not the name that the mass of the people desire it should have. Their desire is that it should have the old Gaelic name.

What village is that?

Bunclody, which is called, officially by the Government and everybody else, Newtownbarry. The residents of that village strenuously object to that name. It is called officially Newtownbarry, and there is no power in law for the county council to change that name to its proper national name, that is, Bunclody. I hope the Minister will amend this section in order to give local authorities power to change the names of villages, and towns also. The local authority of a town should be given power to change the name of their town if they wish. If the local authority in Dublin wanted to call this city Baile Atha Cliath instead of Dublin, there is no reason why they should not have power to do so.

How often should they be free to change it?

The new name should last for ten, 20 or some number of years, but they should have power to change it if they so desire. Those local authorities will not make very many mistakes if they are given power to change the names of towns when they think it desirable in the national interest. Those changes of names should not depend on the will and pleasure of any of the citizens who live in a particular town or village.

Why not go further and deal with surnames too?

Certainly. Give them that power, if they wish——

The local authority?

I think the Taoiseach mentioned here in the Dáil some time ago——

He would. He would indeed.

——that if the people desired it there would be nothing wrong about it. With regard to the section giving the Minister power to make an Order instructing the manager to be separately represented at a local inquiry, I wonder under what strange circumstances that would happen. Would it be on an occasion when that particular county council or urban council was in the dock, and an inquiry had been ordered by the Minister as to whether or not it should be put out of office? It would be very bad in principle to have the manager of a local authority ordered by the Minister to go before a court of inquiry to give evidence against his own local authority. I hope that is not proposed in this section. It is a dangerous procedure. The Minister has power to order the manager to be represented, at a local inquiry, separately from his own council. He might be called upon to give evidence against that council. That is a dangerous procedure, and I suggest to the Minister that he should reconsider that section. He has power also to compel the local authority to provide funds to pay for the legal advice the manager may need.

I agree that it is necessary to amend Section 67 with regard to the cutting of trees or hedges, but I think the Minister might have left it to the local authority or to the manager or the county engineer to determine at any stage of the year that the trees or hedges might be cut. Those are all responsible men and they will not cut any hedge or tree unless it is necessary in the public interest to do so. It should have been left to their discretion to cut any tree or hedge at any time of the year. I would go further than that. I think it is opportune that the law should be changed in respect of roadside fences. Under the law as it stands a roadside fence is the property of the person who owns the land inside it. I think the roadside fence, or at least half of it, should become the property of the road authorities. In the case of many county roads it will be found that the road engineers are not free to trim the hedges as they should, because the local landowner owns the whole fence. I think the front of the roadside fence should be the property of the road authority, and that they should be allowed to treat the full frontage of the fence on the roadside just as if it were portion of the road. We have not gone far enough in the section in giving the road authority the power that they need to keep roadside fences in proper condition. In my opinion, the powers taken here are too limited.

The Minister did not refer to the Second Schedule of this Bill at all. I do not see any section in the Bill dealing with valuation. There does not appear to be any section that has reference to the Second Schedule. Certain Schedules are being amended, and I am just wondering how local rating will be affected. Are the rates on the railways to be reduced under this? Are the railways to get a portion of the agricultural grant for the future? Is that what it means? I should like the Minister to explain what the Second Schedule means. Is the agricultural grant to be distributed to a wider section? Is it to be made applicable to the railways? I hope the Minister will give a further explanation to the House as to the new principle that is covered up by a whole lot of provisions in this Bill, making the county at large responsible for maintaining town commissioners.

That is a new principle that is embodied in this Bill, and I expect that we will have further instances, as I said before, of making the county at large responsible for urban authorities. This is the first step in that direction. We can see the trend quite well. As soon as you do that, you may put a roof over the whole country, because nobody will live in the rural areas. They will all come in to avail of the amenities of the towns. That is the direction in which such legislation is heading. If the ratepayers of the county at large are going to pay for the maintenance of any town, the tendency will be for those rural dwellers to take full advantage of the amenities provided in any town area. I hope the trend of our legislation will not be in that direction. All our efforts should be to try to keep the people on the land. That is why another Minister has provided that in the future every rural dweller will have the benefits of electricity. It is bad in principle to ask the ratepayers of any county to pay for the amenities in the towns, and I hope the Minister will not do so.

I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.