I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The primary purpose of the Bill is to encourage and assist private building for the classes, other than those already catered for by the local authorities, who most require financial assistance to provide themselves with houses. It will also confer additional powers in respect of housing on the Minister and on the local authorities; and it will amend existing housing legislation in a way which experience has shown to be necessary for the purpose of conserving existing houses and expediting the promotion of new housing schemes.
The Bill has thus two broad aims: to encourage private enterprise to provide houses in relief of the acute housing scarcity and, to remove certain legal and other obstacles impeding local authorities' housing programmes. The housing drive inaugurated in 1932 proved eminently successful until the world-wide diversion of resources of money, manpower and materials from constructive activity during the war years slowed it down. We are resuming, as far as present conditions permit, the partially interrupted realisation of that policy. Our immediate efforts are directed to attain as speedily as possible pre-war production standards and from that to press on to the goal which this Government has always had in mind — the provision of an adequate minimum standard of housing accommodation throughout the country.
There are something over 600,000 habitable houses in the country. Of these, about 140,000 or more than onefifth of the whole have been built or reconstructed since 1932. Everybody appreciates that this was a notable achievement. It is in fact unique in the record of housing endeavour anywhere. A world tragedy, for which this Government cannot be held responsible —even by members of the Opposition— halted that constructive social progress over the period from 1939 to 1945. Each of those intervening years saw a new arrear added to those which had accumulated over the preceding generations. In each of them also not a few of our houses became uninhabitable through decay and obsolescence, against which in the existing world conditions we were powerless to provide. Other factors helped to swell the present demand, among them, and the most important the growth of new families. In the light of these factors we have revised the estimate of our total housing requirements, and we now fix the figure at about 100,000 dwellings. Of these probably about 60,000 are required to meet the needs of those urban and rural classes whose dwellings are normally provided by the local authorities, and the balance of about 40,000 for those of other classes.
To provide 100,000 dwellings at a speed which the acuteness of the housing scarcity demands would be a formidable, task even in normal times. But these are not normal times. The world disorganisation consequent upon years of destructive war manifests itself not only in global shortages of food, fuel, clothing and houses, but in monetary crises, in labour troubles and in losses in production. While we, in this country have been comparatively fortunate, we cannot but be affected in various degrees by economic stresses elsewhere. Not the least important effect is an inability to secure all the skilled labour and materials which our housing effort could absorb. The flow of materials is inadequate and uncertain; there is a continuing scarcity of timber; the fuel crisis of last spring led to a partial interruption of supplies of cement and steel; and rainwater goods and other equipment are difficult to obtain. Even if the building effort were not grievously impeded by these crippling shortages of material, it would be drastically restricted by the present insufficiency of skilled labour.
In Dublin City, for example, the contractors engaged on corporation housing schemes could employ considerably more than the present number of brick-layers, carpenters and plasterers, if such tradesmen were available. In the country areas the position is no better. Of 1,317 labourers' cottages advertised for tenders during the past 12 months or so satisfactory tenders were received for only 245. Because of shortages, work on only 140 of these had commenced by 30th September of this year.
These are the conditions against which we have been struggling and must struggle in getting the housing programme under way. It is evident that no amount of Government activity, or activity on the part of local authorities or private enterprise will enable the programme to be undertaken at the rate we would wish if adequate materials and labour are not available to get the houses built. The housing problem, let me emphasise, is no longer a financial one. Under this Government it never was a financial one. It is pre-eminently one of materials and skilled labour; and as these become available in increasing supply our housing programme will go forward with ever-accelerating speed, for our preparations are well in advance of the present capacity of the building industry to undertake the work.
With such materials and men as we have, however, we are making steady progress, thanks to the continuous urge on the local authorities which has emanated from my Department. The number of local authority houses in course of construction was 2,212 on 31st March of this year; at the end of August it was 2,433; at the end of September, 2,556. In the field of private enterprise the number of grant-aided houses being built on 31st March of this year was 1,394; but at the end of September the figures had increased to 2,041; the corresponding figures for houses in process of reconstruction were 1,932 and 2,019.
Concomitant with all this, every effort is being made to ensure that the local authorities' share of total building activity will match the predominant housing needs of workers both in town and country. For instance, we are investigating the possibilities of prefabrication as a means of by-passing labour shortages in the execution of housing schemes. Again, as a means of getting ahead with our programme, local authorities are being encouraged to carry out housing schemes by direct labour; and I have recently asked them to lay in stocks of timber for use in future schemes. Some of the larger authorities indeed have been asked to buy other materials and equipment, as well as timber.
I cannot on this Bill speak about the arrangements which will represent what I may describe as the "new norm" of local authorities' housing finance. There is not yet sufficient evidence of stability in prices or other factors which would enable the Government to make "normal" arrangements. But since May, 1946, we have established the Transition Development Fund, and the local authorities have been aware also of the Government's intention to reduce to 2½ per cent. the interest rate on issues from the Local Loans Fund, and to extend to 50 years the repayment period for such loans. In these several ways the local authorities were made aware at an early date that the Government were prepared to make their due contributions towards the added cost of their housing projects, and since then there has been, I am glad to say, a continuous acceleration in the progress of local authority schemes.
I have given this preliminary review of the general housing position in order to impress upon the House that, though the deficiency in accommodation is great and growing, the effort to reduce it is well under way and is gathering momentum. I should like to stress also that because of the shortages of materials and skilled labour to which I have referred, the costs of house building are extremely high, and that the Government is sensible of the fact that these now bear most heavily on the middle income classes, whose efforts to provide themselves with homes are at the moment unaided. And, finally, while the housing shortage affects every class of the community, it is recognised that it is most acutely felt by particular sections, such as newly-married couples. Some of the financial and other provisions of this Bill are designed to deal with these matters.
So far as the existing system of private building grants is concerned, it is admitted that it is quite inadequate to meet present-day needs, and the Government has decided that a new scheme of grant in aid of certain kinds of private building should be introduced to replace it. Heretofore grants to private persons ranged from £40 for reconstruction work to £70 for new buildings. These grants have been differentiated in amount on the basis of occupation; in rural areas up to £60 or £70 was paid for new houses for agricultural labourers and small farmers, while others might receive £45. Reconstruction grants were limited to agricultural labourers and small farmers. Grants of £70 to £80 could be made to public utility societies building houses for occupation by agricultural labourers and small farmers. In urban areas a public utility society building houses for letting to members of the working classes would qualify for a grant of £150 for each house, or two-ninths of the cost, whichever was less. Such grants were payable as to two-thirds by the State and one-third by the urban authority.
Finally, grants might be paid both by the State and the local authority to persons reconditioning houses in urban areas in pursuance of a repairs notice served on them by the urban authority, the grants being payable only in respect of houses suitable for occupation by members of the working classes, and being limited in amount to £40 or one-quarter the cost of the work, whichever is less, from either source.
The grants under the new scheme will be considerably larger than under the old, and they will be payable in respect of houses built in both urban and rural areas. But, perhaps, the first thing to be emphasised in regard to them is that no grants will be made to the purely speculative builder, i.e., the man who builds houses for sale to purely chance customers. To qualify for grants under the scheme, the houses must be built by a public utility society for its members for letting, or to the specific orders of individuals for their own occupation. With the present acute and widespread housing shortage the speculative builderper se requires no encouragement, for he is operating in a seller's market where he can very largely demand his own price.
For new building, the grants will range in amount from £125 for a three-roomed house erected by a private individual for his own occupation to £400, payable over a period of ten years, in respect of a five-roomed house built and let by a person or company. Within this range, grants of differing amounts may be made according as the house is being built by or on behalf of a private person for his own occupation, or by a public utility society for a member, or by a person for letting, and depending on the size of the house and the presence or absence of piped water and sewerage facilities. For details of the grants, I would refer Deputies to Part III of the Bill, and to the Second, Third and Fourth Schedules. It will be noted that the grants to persons building houses for letting are to be payable in instalments over a period of ten years.
The amounts payable in respect of houses built for owner-occupation will, as I have said, be differentiated on the basis of the availability of piped water supply and sewerage. The reason for the differential, which amounts to £50. is that houses incorporating plumbing and sanitary fittings, bathrooms, wash-hand basins and other amenities, customary in houses which can be connected with water supply and sewerage systems, are more costly than houses of the same size and type, built in districts not so serviced. The differentiation will also tend to rectify the effects of dissimilarities in building costs in urban and rural areas.
Certain important restrictions will govern the payment of the new grants. Let me emphasise again that they are limited to persons building for their own occupation, to public utility societies building for occupation by their members (which, in effect, is the same thing) and to persons or public utility societies building for letting. As I have already said, there is no provision in the schemes for grants to persons building houses for sale. Furthermore, the grants will be payable only in respect of houses containing at least three rooms, having between 500 and 1,250 square feet of floor area, and which are begun after the 1st November of this year and completed before the 1st April, 1950. There is, I might mention, one exception from the general application of the last condition: in the case of houses built by persons for letting, grant may be made in respect of houses begun after 1st November, 1945. The grants-in-aid of houses for letting will be made jointly by local authorities and the Minister. I thought it appropriate that local authorities should assist directly in the work which is so nearly related to their own housing activities. Private individuals, companies and public utility societies who erect houses for letting at moderate rents are, in effect, assuming part of the heavy burden which local housing authorities have to carry, at the moment, practically unaided.
Reconstruction and repair grants, whether for urban or rural houses, will be doubled in amount, and in the case of those payable to agricultural labourers and small farmers, the qualifying valuation limit is being raised from £25 to £35.
In accordance with existing practice with regard to rates remission on grantaided houses, houses in respect of which grants have been made by the Minister, but not by the local authority, will be assessed to rates at only one-third of their valuations for a period of seven years, and this will apply likewise to the valuations of reconstructed premises.
The Bill furthermore contains a provision, similar to that embodied in existing housing legislation, that no grant may be paid where it is shown that, in the erection of an otherwise eligible house, labour has been employed on terms less advantageous than recognised trade union standards for the district.
These proposals should go far to encourage and assist persons with moderate incomes, a class whose needs are not served by the direct housing activities of local authorities, to provide houses for themselves either individually or in combination with others as members of societies. The proposals should also encourage persons who may have the capital to provide houses for letting at reasonable rents, and thus co-operate to a greater extent in this very essential part of the housing programme. The province of the local authority in the sphere of housing, the vital function it must discharge, is the rehousing of the worker who is badly housed, the replacement of old unhealthy working-class dwellings with new houses, and, in a word, the establishment of a basic standard of adequacy in the housing accommodation of the economically weakest section of the community.
The private grants scheme formulated in this Bill is intended for the man who can and will pay a moderate rent for a house, but who cannot buy one; or, alternatively, who might be able to build or buy a reasonablypriced house, but not one at present-day prices. The class I have in mind includes the white-collar wage-earner, low-salaried employees and small middle-man and tradesman; but it also includes the better paid artisan, the small farmer, the comfortably-off rural worker and the middle income group generally.
Building is, of course, going ahead already to the limit of our resources in materials and manpower, but this new scheme of grants is intended to stimulate, within the limits set by the capacity of the building industry, the production of the smaller and cheaper type of house. Our aim is to divert, if we can, a large part of the present private house-building activity to the provision of homes of a size and price-range suited to the pockets of the intermediate class. For the person building a house for his own occupation, the grant will reduce the capital cost to an appreciable extent and help to bridge the gap between the cost of the house and the proportion of that cost which he may be able to borrow. The grants should also provide an incentive for persons and public utility societies to erect houses for letting at reasonable rents and thus to re-enter a field and share a responsibility which has been too long and to much too great an extent left to local authorities. I might add that the Minister for Industry and Commerce will give a high priority, in the issue of building licences, to houses for which grants will be payable.
In urban areas the proposed increase in the repairs grants payable to owners should aid in conserving existing dwellings suitable for workers, and in reducing correspondingly the overwhelming demand on local authority houses. In rural areas the proposed grants to small farmers and agricultural labourers should have a somewhat similar effect; a house properly reconstructed is given a new lease of life, so that to prolong its habitability in present circumstances is a practical alternative to the erection of a new house.
In pursuance of the general recognition that to-day speculative building is not in need of any adventitious aid, grants to persons building houses for sale to others will be discontinued as from 1st November, 1947. However, the old grant of £45 per house, which was limited to houses being built in rural areas, will be paid in respect of houses begun prior to the 1st November, 1947, and completed before 1st April, 1950. The Bill also provides for the discontinuance in the same way of other grants which are at present payable in respect of house building and reconstruction, with the same reservation in respect of work begun before the 1st November, 1947, and completed before the 1st April, 1950.
As the law stands, a grant, though promised to be paid in respect of a house begun in a rural area which later becomes included in an urban area through boundary extension, cannot be paid. This is a manifest hardship and the Bill contains provisions to remedy it.
While I am on the subject of private enterprise housing, I should perhaps mention certain amendments of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts which will be found in Part VI of the Bill.
The Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts at present authorise local authorities to advance money to persons intending to build or buy houses, for their own occupation, the market value of which does not exceed £1,000. This limiting value has hitherto been set by statute and was fixed at its present level by the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1931. The original Act, passed in 1899, fixed it at £400 (four hundred pounds). Section 56 of the Bill incorporates a new procedure for determining the maximum market value for houses coming within the scope of the Acts. Under this procedure the figure will be fixed in future by Order of the Minister for Local Government, with the consent of the Minister for Finance. This method will enable the market value limit to be more rapidly adjusted in accordance with a rise or fall in building costs, house prices, and other factors. I may say in this connection that it is my intention, as soon as the Bill becomes law, to raise the maximum limit from its present level to £1,750, and I have the assurance of the Minister for Finance that he is prepared to concur in such an Order.
The interest rate for the purposes of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts is fixed for each local authority by Order of the Minister for Local Government, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance. The rate is almost invariably fixed at ½ per cent. over that at which the local authority has borrowed for the purposes of the Acts. New Orders must be made with every fluctuation in the latter rate. It is proposed in the Bill that the lending rate should vary automatically with the borrowing rate, with a constant margin of ½ per cent. between, which should cover the normal running expenses of the local authority under the Acts.
Section 9 of the Small Dwellings Act, 1899, provides that where in any local area the excess of annual expenditure over income under the Acts involves a charge on the rates greater than ld. in the £ in an urban area or county borough, or ½d. in a county, the operation of the Acts shall be suspended for at least five years. In certain areas the local authorities have had to suspend the operation of the Acts because of the fact that, while the Acts allow advances to private persons to be repaid before the agreed time, local authorities themselves cannot as a rule make excess repayment of principal without premium or fine. During and after the war many house-purchasers found themselves in a position to repay outstanding loans under the Acts, and a number of local authorities accumulated capital repayments which were used in effecting a corresponding reduction in their own indebtedness. The fines exacted by lenders, however, increased the local authorities expenses under the Acts with a result that in particular years the statutory limit was exceeded. It is proposed that in future these fines should not be counted as expenses, so that existing suspensions will be abolished and the Acts again become operative.
The Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts have been, especially from 1932 onwards, a material factor in the solution of the housing problem. They provide a means whereby credit-worthy borrowers of limited means can obtain capital advances on reasonable terms for the purchase or erection of the smaller type of house. They have particularly benefited that class of the community which, while ineligible for local authority houses, finds that house provision through the commercial lending agencies is beyond its resources. The usefulness of the Acquisition Acts should be considerably enhanced by the new power to adapt the scope of the Acts to the requirements of the market situation and by the reduced rate of interest; so that persons wishing to become owner-occupiers should find in the Acts, as now amended, a very considerable measure of help.
I turn now to the general housing programme of local authorities. Both the Government and the local bodies themselves are alive to the importance of the part those bodies have to play in the solution of our housing difficulties. As early as 1943, all local authorities were asked (a) to survey the extent of the housing deficiency in their areas; (b) to proceed with the acquisition of suitable and sufficient sites for the coming housing drive; and (c) to push ahead with the preparation of contract documents for post-war schemes. They were asked also to consider getting development works under way in good time. As a result of this appeal for the exercise of foresight, approved sites have been acquired for 17,339 dwellings; roads, water and sewerage services are available on many of those sites. Plans have been approved and are ready for contract for 5,673 dwellings; and plans are well advanced for 1,480 dwellings. In short, preparations have been made for as many dwellings as could be commenced with reasonable prospects of completion in the next two or three years.
I may now deal with those parts of the present Bill which affect the powers, duties and responsibilities of local authorities as providers of working-class houses. I would first refer to an important new power sought in Section 26 of the Bill which will enable specified local authorities to be required to provide houses to be reserved for a particular class. What I have in mind is the erection of houses specially for newly-married couples.
The problem of providing housing accommodation for this class has assumed serious dimensions in recent years. The marriage rate took an upward trend during the war years and continues at a relatively high level; the amount of new accommodation becoming available has, on the other hand, declined sharply. While the scarcity of suitable houses and flats affects all classes it is most keenly felt by workers beginning married life who have no homes of their own; these cannot readily look to private enterprise to furnish them with the moderately priced accommodation they want, nor, under the law as it stands, to the local authorities who are catering mainly for larger families living in overcrowded or unhealthy conditions.
It will not, I think, be contested that some part of the resources of local authorities might with great advantage be devoted to the housing needs of newly-weds. It is desirable that as many as possible of these young couples should begin married life in proper surroundings; a good house, a house in which the young couple can take a certain pride, would be a potent factor in the eradication or prevention of that slum mentality which bad housing conditions so easily engender.
Since needs are greatest in the cities, it is proposed, as a beginning, to require only the local authorities in the Cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford and the Borough of Dun Laoighaire to provide the special houses. Two types of house are envisaged: Class A for tradesmen and workers generally who are in a position to pay an inclusive and economic rent of about £1 10s. 0d. weekly; and Class B for less well paid workers. The rent in the latter case would be about £1 per week. The proportion of Class A and Class B houses would be determined by the number of applications received for each class. The houses would contain two bedrooms and have the most up-to-date equipment.
No subsidy either from the State or the rates will be given in the case of the class A house. For class B houses it is proposed to meet the deficiency between the capital cost of the house and the capitalised value of the net rent by lump sum grants from State funds up to a maximum grant of £250 per house.
In order to prevent overcrowding of these special houses (which, as I have said, will have two bedrooms) it is proposed that a certain number of ordinary local authority houses would be made available to which the tenants would be transferred after a specified period (say, five years) subject to their having given satisfaction as tenants of the special houses. These ordinary houses would be eligible for State subsidy up to 33? per cent. of loan charges on £450 in the county boroughs and the borough of Dún Laoghaire.
The number of special houses built in any year must be limited by reason of the urgent need to re-house families living in unfit dwellings and it is accordingly intended that special houses should, for the present, let me emphasise that—for the present, be restricted to about 15 per cent of the local authority's annual output. As the capacity of the industry grows the proportion of reserved houses may be increased, provided the experiment has justified itself. In the case of Dublin the number on this basis of reserved houses should be roughly 150 in the coming 12 months. I contemplate that the scheme would operate for a period of five years in the first instance.
Assuming that the Dublin Corporation built an average of 2,000 houses a year over the next five years, the total number of special houses available would amount to 1,500 at the end of that period, and may be more, and will, I hope, continue to increase as time goes on, until want of a house is no longer an impediment to an early and provident marriage. During the subsequent year—during the sixth year after the initiation of the scheme — an average of about 20 per cent. of the special houses would, we estimate, become vacant for further newly-weds. Allowing for deaths, unsatisfactory tenancies, etc., the number of ordinary corporation houses required to rehouse the persons to be transferred after a five-year tenancy from the special houses would amount to from 15 to 20 per cent. per annum. But naturally the whole question of reserving ordinary houses will be reviewed from time to time in the light of the experience gained in the operation of the experimental scheme.
Part II of the Bill contains a number of provisions which will enlarge the powers of local authorities in relation to the preservation of dwelling accommodation in their areas, and in relation to the tenants or prospective tenants of houses provided by the local authorities.
A certain wastage of dwelling accommodation takes place through the demolition of habitable houses to make way for other structures, or through the conversion of houses into offices or factories. It is desirable, therefore, in present circumstances, to give local authorities, who are responsible for housing accommodation in their areas, power to check this process. It is, therefore, proposed in Sections 7 to 9 of the Bill to prohibit, under penalty, the demolition, or use otherwise than as dwellings, or habitable houses, unless the written permission of the local authority has been obtained. Provision is made for appeal to the Minister in the event of refusal, and for excluding from the scope of the sections houses whose demolition or conversion is required by statute or for a statutory purpose. In 1919, when the housing situation was broadly similar to what it is now, similar powers were vested temporarily in local authorities by Section 6 of the Housing (Additional Powers) Act of that year.
Sections 10 to 13 implement a recommendation of the Dublin Housing Inquiry Committee, 1939-1943, regarding the licensing of houses let or to be let for occupation by more than one family. It is proposed that the section giving effect to these recommendations should apply not only to Dublin but to the County Boroughs of Cork, Limerick and Waterford, and to the Borough of Dún Laoghaire as well, and that its provisions may be applied to any other area by order of the Minister for Local Government.
In connection with the new provisions I might mention that the Dublin Corporation's by-laws do impose a duty, under penalty, of fine, on the owner of a house to notify the corporation that he has let a house to more than one family; upon which the corporation can specify their requirements as regards repairs, sanitation, etc., in connection with the building and dwelling, as registered. But apart from the fact that many owners fail to register, the system is not effective in improving tenement conditions inasmuch as the corporation's powers can be exercised only where the house has already become a tenement.
It is intended that the new provisions should apply to all unfurnished lettings, irrespective of rents, and to furnished lettings where the inclusive rent does not exceed what a person of the working classes might be likely to pay, as determined from time to time by the local authority. The local authority would be empowered to attach conditions regarding prior repairs, etc., to the issue of a licence. Licences would come up for revision annually.
Section 14 proposes to empower local authorities to secure information from tenants or intending tenants of their houses. The type of information envisaged is that which would be required in connection with the introduction or operation of differential renting system. It will enable local authorities to judge economic circumstances of tenants and their families.
Systems of differential renting whereby the rents of houses are adjusted to the means of the tenants are in operation in a large proportion of corporation houses in Cork County Borough and to a limited extent in a few other areas. The Committee of Inquiry into the Housing of the Working Classes of the City of Dublin, 1939-1943, recommended the introduction of a differential renting system or, more accurately, a system of differential rent rebates, in Dublin County Borough.
There are many difficulties attending differential renting and the question of introducing such a system in Dublin would be decided only after full examination of its probable effects on existing and future tenants, on the financing of housing schemes, and on the corporation's housing programme as a whole. It is essential for the purpose of this examination that an accurate picture should be obtained of the rent-paying capacity of the present occupants of corporation houses, and this is the object of the present proposal.
Sections 25 and 31 propose to give comprehensive powers to the Minister for Local Government to make regulations to secure the proper letting and good management of local authority houses. Existing powers relate mainly to houses provided after 1932. It is desirable that local housing estates should be treated as units and that a single code should be framed applying uniformly to all the houses provided by a local authority.
It is also intended that in the letting of houses due regard shall be had to the character and industry of applicants, as well as to their occupations, family circumstance and housing conditions. The regulations would also enable local authorities to revise, in the case of re-lettings, rents fixed under old regulations; and to reserve a certain proportion of their houses for a particular class, such as newly-married couples, and for tenants called upon to vacate their reserved houses.
The priority for single-room families laid down in the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1932, has been preserved, so far as is compatible with the new proposals contained in the Bill. This priority will be found in sub-section (5) of Section 6 of that Act, which requires a preference to be given wherever practicable, to families in single-rooms where a member of the family is suffering from tuberculosis or one or more of the children are over 16 years or where the dwelling has been condemned as unfit.
It is proposed that the regulations made in respect of cottages provided under the Labourers Acts should ensure that farm workers will have first preference in the allocation of tenancies. This provision has become necessary as a result of the gradual widening of the legal meaning of the expression "agricultural labourer" to cover practically every type of worker living outside a town. As a consequence the greater number of claims to cottages are put forward by persons who, though technically within the meaning of the term "agricultural labourers" do not do agricultural work; and where as hitherto the urgency of the claim is determined almost entirely by the housing conditions under which the applicant lives, it may and does occur that the genuine agricultural worker is passed over in favour of some claimant doing less essential work or no work at all. The importance of agricultural production to our national economy justifies insistence on the priority for agricultural labourers which it was the intention of the original Labourers Acts code to accord.
The expression "agricultural labourer" though extremely wide in its application has not included hitherto farm workers who work otherwise than for hire on the family holding, and a considerable class of agricultural labourers is, therefore, cut off from the benefits of the Labourers Acts.
It is proposed to rectify this anomaly by extending the definition of "agricultural labourer" for the purpose of the Acts to include male persons who habitually work on the family holding. Whenever the farmer leaves the family dwelling to his son he can then be appointed tenant of a labourer's cottage under the scheme. It is hoped that this provision may thereby contribute towards the removal of what is recognised to be one of the major obstacles in the way of early marriages in rural areas.
Workers on the family holding are not, I should however emphasise, to be regarded as "agricultural labourers" for the purposes of a purchase scheme under the Labourers Act, 1936. The cottage built under the section in the present Act should be available for an ordinary agricultural labourer in the event of neither the farmer nor the farmer's son continuing the tenancy.
Certain sections of this measure which will be found in Part III of the Bill have a bearing on the important question of local housing finance. As Deputies may be aware, housing subsidy is paid by the State to local authorities in the form of a percentage of charges incurred by them in repayment of loans raised for housing urban and rural workers. Under Section 6 of the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1932, the subsidy can be so paid for a period of not more than 35 years. As announced some time ago by the Minister for Finance, it is intended that housing loans issued from the Local Loans Fund should in future be repayable over a period of 50 years. It becomes necessary, therefore, to extend the subsidy period to bring it into line with the new loan repayment period. A proposal to this effect is contained in Section 19 of the Bill. That section also provides for certain adjustments in relation to the payment of subsidy on some old housing loans.
Up to the year 1935 many loans obtained from the Local Loans Fund by urban authorities were repayable over a period of 37 years, during the first two of which interest only was paid. Subsidy, however, was paid in respect of this two-year period in accordance with determinations made by the Minister under Article 7 of the Housing (Loan Charges Contributions) Regulations, 1932. As the total subsidy period was limited by law to 35 years, these local authorities would have to bear unaided the loan charges in respect of the last two years of the 37-year repayment period. It is proposed in this Bill to make the extension of the subsidy period retrospective so as to enable subsidy to be paid for the full repayment period of 37 years in these cases. Urban authorities borrowing from the Local Loans Fund under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts pay interest charges only on advances during a "waiting period" of two years immediately following the date of the mortgage deed, by virtue of Section 1 (2) of the Housing of the Working Classes (Ireland) Act, 1908. This concession is not available in connection with loans obtained otherwise than from the Local Loans Fund. Now that the rate of interest payable in respect of loans issued from the Local Loans Fund has been reduced to 2½ per cent. and an extension of the repayment period is proposed, the "waiting period" can be discontinued. Section 1 (2) of the 1908 Act to which I have referred has accordingly been included in the list of repeals in the First Schedule to the Bill.
Section 19 also makes some amendment in the conditions attaching to housing subsidy, in order to provide that the assistance payable in respect of houses erected for persons displaced by demolition orders and other operations of the local authority under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts will also be payable in respect of the re-housing of persons displaced from houses condemned under certain enactments dealing with dangerous buildings, or which have collapsed or otherwise become suddenly unfit.
Section 37 contains a proposal for the exemption of local authorities from the requirements of Section 201 of the Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1878, for certain purposes connected with housing. That section laid down a number of rules to be observed by sanitary authorities in the making of contracts. Those rules govern contracts entered into for housing, including the purchase of materials. The form of contract is outlined, and requirements as to advertisements and so on are laid down. These requirements are wise and useful in the case of ordinary contracting, but they unnecessarily hamper a local authority in the execution of urgent work in present circumstances. In the carrying out of a housing scheme by means of direct labour, quick decision and action are necessary on the part of the local authority in connection with the purchase of large quantities of materials. The question of having a certain proportion of housing schemes carried out by direct labour has been given a good deal of consideration.
The Dublin Housing Inquiry Committee recommended that the Corporation should establish an organisation for the erection of houses by this method. I am satisfied that in Dublin and other local areas direct labour would at present provide a valuable alternative to the usual contract method for erecting houses for the working classes. In a number of districts contractors are very slow to tender for this class of work. Accordingly an expansion in direct-labour building schemes has become imperative if the execution of our housing programme is not to continue to be impeded by the present inability of private enterprise to meet the demands upon it.
Interest at 5 per cent. is payable on the compensation money where, in the case of lands compulsorily acquired for housing purposes, the local authority enters on the lands before the compensation has actually been paid. It is proposed under Section 27 of the measure to reduce this rate to 3 per cent. as being more in keeping with the present-day trend in interest rates. I should mention that 3 per cent. is the rate specified in recent statutes such as the Tuberculosis (Establishment of Sanatoria) Act, 1945.
The existing provision for the remuneration of solicitors for work done under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts is contained in Section 48 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1931. It has been found to work out somewhat expensively in the case of registered land. And Section 28 of this Bill will replace Section 48 of the 1931 Act, and will rectify that position. Local authorities have powers of entry on lands which are in process of compulsory acquisition. The powers of rural authorities, vested in them by Section 4 of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1896, are less effective, however, than those of urban authorities and it is proposed in Section 32 of this Bill to assimilate rural to urban powers in this regard.
Certain doubts have arisen about the validity of county council's borrowing powers under the Labourers Acts for certain purposes connected with those Acts. It is proposed in effect under Section 33 to re-enact the old borrowing provisions, but to define them more comprehensively.
I should like to draw attention to the fact that the repeal of the old provisions, Section 17 of the Labourers Act, 1883, carries with it the removal of the old limits on the poundage in the rate which might be levied for rural housing purposes. Rating limits of this kind have practically all disappeared. The latest to go was the limitation on the libraries rate, which was removed by the Local Government Act, 1946. I might mention, in order to remove any misunderstanding, that there is no statutory limit on the rate which may be levied for urban housing.
Section 38 and 39 contain a very important proposal to enable the Minister to divide compulsory purchase Orders under the Labourers Acts into opposed and unopposed parts with a view to having the unopposed part of an Order proceeded with at once. Compulsory purchase Orders under these Acts commonly cover a large number of sites, and, heretofore, where an objection has been lodged to one or more of these sites and pursued in my Department or in the courts, the whole Order has been held up while the necessity for, or validity of, the Order as it affects those sites is investigated and decided. Protracted delay has occurred and, if left undealt with, might continue to occur on this account, and I propose to bring in this procedure in the interests of speed. A similar provision was embodied in the old compulsory acquisition procedure under the Labourers Acts, which was replaced by a new system in 1932.
I have outlined the main features of the Bill, and summarised the reasons which lie behind its most important proposals. I would ask the House to give the Bill speedy consideration, so that there may be as little delay as possible in utilising its provisions and in effecting its enactment. I should have wished that time would have permitted of a thorough overhaul of the present mass of housing legislation, and the preparation of a codifying measure em bodying what is worth preserving of the multitude of provisions which has accumulated over the past half-century or more, together with such new provisions as might commend themselves in the light of our experience, but I am sure the House will agree that it is more advisable that an interim measure like the present Bill should be introduced now when aid is most sorely needed, than that we should wait for the preparation and enactment of a more comprehensive measure. Consolidation, moreover, should aim at some degree of permanence, and that is a quality which the uncertainty of the present situation with regard to housing costs and house building capacity renders it exceedingly difficult to capture. A transition period like the present demands transitional methods, a more flexible attitude to housing problems, and a rapid adjustment of means and methods to the exigencies of a developing and evolving situation. The time must come, however, sooner or later, when the housing code must be re-fashioned, unified and modernised to suit what will emerge as the normal conditions of the future.
By way of forecast, it is my intention to publish at an early date a White Paper, in which the whole position regarding housing and the various parts of the programme now projected for the provision of new houses, will be reviewed in detail. It will include a convenient summary of all the facilities available for local authorities and others erecting houses, including the new scheme of grants provided for in this Bill.