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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 Oct 1953

Vol. 142 No. 2

Private Members' Business. - Valuation Bill, 1953—Second Stage.

Mr. O'Higgins

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This is a Fine Gael Party Bill, introduced by three Deputies of this Party, for the purpose of expressing in a legislative proposal part of the Fine Gael policy with regard to the very important question of valuation and rates. I do not think that there can be any Deputy who does not appreciate how serious a question the impact of local taxation has now become. For some years back people owning property, people livingin ordinary residences, business people and farmers have felt the increasing demand by way of rates imposed by local authorities to be a very serious burden.

Some years ago this House gave various remissions in rates to owners of ordinary dwelling-houses, and such remissions have, of course, to a certain extent alleviated the effect of high rates on new houses. But, although the case was pointed out from time to time, no such relief has in fact been extended to the business community, to traders in this city and throughout the country who own shops, who buy and sell goods, to the producers of goods who own factories and employ labour, and to various sections of the business community who for some years have been struggling perhaps against an unjust code of national taxation, and certainly an unjust code of local taxation. It has also been the experience of Deputies that other sections of the community such as hard-working farmers who endeavour to equip their farms for increased and better production, who reconstruct dwelling-houses or other buildings or enlarge them have felt the burden of local taxation very keenly.

Those are some of the considerations which promoted the Fine Gael Party to table this Bill. Before I advance arguments as to why it should be accepted unanimously by this House, I think I should briefly state what it is proposed to do. The Bill is an extremely short one. As Deputies will see, it contains merely four operative sections. The Bill proposes three reforms in the valuation law. First of all, it proposes that henceforth the valuation of no building, whether it be a dwelling-house, a factory, a pig sty or a shop may be increased at the instance of the local authority or anyone else unless improvements or alterations have been carried out to it. The reason for that provision will be apparent to any Deputies who reflect on the present valuation law. At the moment, under the valuation code, any rate collector can put any building on his annual revision list and call for its revaluation. Mind you, not only canhe do that, but he is bound under pain of committing an offence to do it. If any rate collector in this city or throughout the country has grounds for thinking that any building is undervalued, even if no alterations or improvements have been carried out, he has a statutory obligation to submit that building for a revision of its valuation in the annual revision lists. If he fails to do so, he can be convicted of an offence and fined a particular statutory fine.

That is bad enough. But in addition, at the moment it is open to any ratepayer, one's next door neighbour with whom one may have had a row or any particular disgruntled neighbour that one may have, to go in to the valuation office and submit any particular house, shop, factory or other building for revision in the annual revision lists. There have, of course, been very serious and grave cases in which such revaluations have taken place, where nothing was done to alter the premises. Merely because a building has been submitted for revaluation to the valuation office in the annual revision lists it has been duly revalued. Reform number one proposed by the Bill is——

"Deform number one", the Deputy should say.

Mr. O'Higgins

I am glad to see the Minister is back in the House.

I thought we were going to be spared that. We heard that the Minister for Local Government was to be here.

Mr. O'Higgins

He is refreshed now. Reform number one proposed in this Bill is that in future the valuation of no building may be increased unless the owner has improved it or altered it or enlarged it in some way. The second proposal in the Bill refers to the valuation of business premises. It is proposed by Section 3 that where an owner decides to improve his premises for the purpose of the business he is engaged in, to alter it, or to invest money in developing his premises he is then entitled to a certain remission inrespect of rates. It is specifically proposed that any increase in valuation that may take place can only be attributable to and must be limited by the improvements which such businessman carries out. It is proposed, therefore, in Section 3 of the Bill that where improvements of this kind are carried out to business premises and those improvements are the sound kind of improvements that make the building more suitable for the business carried on then no increase in the valuation shall take place for a period of seven years. There is also a provision in the section that if, in fact, the improvements carried out will only partly add to the business potential of the building then the remission shall only be a part remission.

Section 4 of the Bill is the third reform which we propose and that refers to farm buildings. Before the Minister for Finance jumps up and says that is already there let me tell him that it is not. When the original Valuation Act of 1852 was being passed—and that is 101 years ago—it was even then realised it was essential from the point of view of the agricultural industry that farmers should be encouraged to improve their land and to improve the amenities on their farms for better production. Of course, 101 years ago the memory of the unfair landlord who put up the rent with every improvement was a very fresh memory.

Section 14 of the Valuation Act of 1852, having referred to the question of improvements of land by land reclamation and works of that kind, goes on to provide that where a farmer erects a farm outhouse, office building or any permanent agricultural improvement as specified under a particular Act he shall be entitled to a remission of rates in respect of that building for a period of seven years. That was a very clear provision 101 years ago and I have no doubt that many farmers availed of that section 101 years ago and a lot of farm buildings were built and a lot of them fell down.

They were not rated.

Mr. O'Higgins

No, they are not rated but when they are put up again they are rated and that is what this Bill proposes to prevent. At the moment, under the existing valuations code, if a farmer enlarges or improves existing farm buildings, if he converts a barn into a machine shed or if he does any worth-while building or improvements of that kind on his farm, his name and address are taken by the local rate collector, who is under a penalty of £5 if he does not do it, and the valuation is increased.

Section 4 of this Bill proposes to prevent that. The section is in general terms and it also deals with the construction of new outhouses in order that the remission for both new and improved farm buildings may be contained in the same section. Under Section 4 of the Bill a similar remission for seven years is provided to every farmer who henceforth improves and enlarges the farm buildings on his farm and endeavours to make his farm buildings more suitable for agricultural production. That is the third reform in the valuation code proposed by this Bill.

The second last section—Section 5 —is the section which contains the machinery for carrying out these reforms. In that section it is provided that the Commissioner for Valuation must give his decision with regard to the amount of improvements carried out on any building and he must, in his decision, apportion the valuation accordingly. I think that if the other three main proposals in the Bill were accepted by the House some machinery, such as is envisaged in Section 5, would be necessary to carry it into effect.

Those are, briefly, the proposals contained in the Bill. I do not think it is necessary to emphasise the need for some reform such as we propose. The House will appreciate that in a Private Members' Bill of this kind it is not possible for any group of Deputies in this House to incorporate in any legislative proposal all the reforms that, perhaps, might be desirable. With the resources at our disposal, it is only possible for us to deal with some of the more urgentsteps that we think should be taken in reforming the valuation code.

A case may be made that some of the remissions granted here might or should have retrospective effect. That is a matter that might be considered at a later stage but the important thing at the moment is to get agreement in principle with regard to the steps which we now propose should be taken.

With regard to the business life of the country, I do not think it is exaggerating if I say that rates at the moment are a tax on initiative and a burden on enterprise. At the moment, any businessman who decides to enlarge his business, to make it better and to improve it, realise that his efforts will, as sure as day follows night, be taxed by an increase in his valuation. Every Deputy knows that the existing valuation code—the manner in which improvements are taxed, in the same way as the landlord of 100 years ago taxed a tenant for improving his cottage—is going to continue the "bucket" shop in this country, the hole-in-the-corner factories and all the conditions that our social legislation tries to get rid of, because business people cannot afford to invest money on improving their premises when their investment will be followed by the valuation officer and with new demands for rates. Accordingly, it is quite clear that, in the last four or five years in any event, the effect of the revaluation of business premises has been a very serious curb on expansion. It has, time and again, prevented business people taking advantage of a trend in affairs that should have been taken.

Some years ago, in fact when the Minister for Health in the inter-Party Government introduced the very proper Food Hygiene Regulations of 1950, regulations requiring business people to comply with certain minimum standards in relation to the condition of their business premises, a lot of people realised that those regulations must be associated with a remission of rates. The Food Hygiene Regulations, as Deputies will recollect, empower a local authority to compeleach trader to alter and improve his premises if he wants to continue in business. If he fails to do that, there is power to shut him up and, of course he should be shut up.

Now, when those regulations were brought into force for the benefit of the community it could not have beer expected by the Minister for Health or whatever Minister was in charge, that the result would be a tax on business people who complied with the regulations. We all know that, in fact, that was what did take place. Those regulations came into operations in the beginning of 1951. They are two years in operation now, and in the past two years every single trader who has complied with the provisions in those regulations had had his valuation increased. That is a serious state of affairs.

It was because of that that a responsible association in the country made a case to the Government within the last 18 months or two years, a case confined, it is correct to say, to those affected by these health regulations. That was a request to the Government to grant a remission of rates to traders who complied with the regulations, who spent money in bettering their premises and, generally, in improving the hygiene of the country.

That case was made to the Government in 1951 and in 1952, and it was repeated by various representations that were made to different Ministers of the Government. Apparently, the Government did not find it possible to grant the remission which was sought. On 8th November, 1952, a responsible Minister informed this association that the Government had decided not to grant the remission in rates which they sought. The text of the letter dated 8th November, 1952, was as follows:—

"The Ministers for Finance and Local Government were approached regarding the possibility of introducing legislation to ameliorate the lot of traders whose premises might be revalued to their pecuniary disadvantage because of the food hygiene regulations, and the Commissionerof Valuation was also consulted. It is regretted, however, that it is not considered feasible to amend the Valuation Acts in one particular respect so as to grant concessions for the cases in question."

There the matter might well have ended were it not for the fact that this Private Members' Bill was introduced. It was truly amazing the tonic effect which this Bill had on the attitude of the Government. After the introduction of this Bill, I think some days later, the Taoiseach announced that it "had been decided in principle that a substantial remission of rates for a period of years should be granted on the valuation of new buildings and on the total increase in valuation when premises had been improved and revalued."

Following that announcement by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Local Government issued a statement on 7th August, 1953, informing the country that the Government proposed to introduce a Bill providing for some remission of rates. The regrets that were expressed in November, 1952, had apparently become a conviction in the justice of the case that was then made. As regards the announcement that was made on 7th August, 1953, we have not, of course, seen the Bill and do not know what, in fact, it will contain, but in that statement, in effect, the Government announced that it would give a remission of two-thirds on the valuation of all new buildings. Secondly, where the building was not new, but reconstructed, it would give two-thirds remission of the increase in valuation. Therefore, the Government's statement and their Bill, if it is in accordance with their statement, will contain two things: First of all a two-thirds remission on all new buildings. At the moment a remission is enjoyed in respect of every dwelling-house on which a grant is obtained from the Government and also a variety of houses provided by local authorities, but if a dwelling-house is built beyond the housing limits no remission is enjoyed. The Government proposal is to give two-thirds remission on the valuation of all new buildings and, secondly, where buildings are reconstructedor altered, to give a two-thirds remission on the increase in the valuation, the remission in the Government's case being for a period of seven years and convering such new buildings or reconstructions as may take place in the next three years.

It was a pity that the Government, having changed its mind with regard to rates and valuation and having come a good bit of the road towards our point of view, did not go the whole distance. We propose full remission for seven years; the Government proposes two-thirds remission. We propose that this remission for seven years will become a permanent part of the valuation code; the Government say: "No. We will only dole it out for the next three years". We propose that valuations may not be altered except buildings are improved; the Government say: "No." They want to continue the existing system in that regard.

Accordingly, the Government proposal, as announced last August, falls very far short of what we propose. It may be, of course, that the Minister for Finance—it probably is, since the Minister for Finance is here; he is generally the most reasonable member of the Government in matters of this kind—was sent in here to announce a total conversion. If that is so, we will willing hand him over this Bill or give him full opportunity of carrying this Bill or its proposals into effect.

That is a laboured piece of humour.

Mr. O'Higgins

I am dealing with a laboured man. I have referred as briefly as I could to what is contained in this Bill, what it is hoped to achieve by this Bill, and the reasons why it should be passed. Finally, may I say again that the Bill is a simple and a short one, but a Bill well worth passing? The proof that it is worth passing is the anxiety of the Government to collar it. The proof that it is needed is the manner in which every Fianna Fáil Deputy representing a Dublin constituency has been jumping over himself to advocate a remission of rates in the last three or four months.

Over the last 12 months, prior to theintroduction of this Bill by the Fine Gael Party in accordance with our statement of policy, there was not a reference from the Government side of the House with regard to remission of rates or anything of that nature. We have at least achieved that by introducing it, and I am certain when the Bill is passed—as I cannot see the various Deputies here, even on the Government side, opposing it—we will have achieved something.

The three things we hope to achieve are that in future the valuation of no building will be increased or interfered with unless improvements are carried out; secondly, where improvements are carried out to business premises the good businessman who does invest money in improving his business will enjoy a remission of rates in respect of the improvement, not for a short period and not for part of the increase but for the full period of seven years, and for all the increase; and thirdly, in relation to farmers who, the Minister or his advisers apparently think, are sufficiently protected at the moment, the Bill proposes that they may with safety knock down the old sheds and put up new ones, increase the amenities of their farms without the danger of their valuations being increased. In these respects, the Bill seems a sound and logical one, and I ask the House to pass it.

I do not regard this Bill as being associated with any particular brand of political thought. I look upon the Bill simply as a device to get certain things done and to deal with hardships, the relief of which might appeal to members of any and every political Party in the country. The present law, or if not the law certainly the practice, in respect of valuation of premises, is outmoded.

Business premises, that is the term.

We will come to that. I knew you would not keep quiet for very long once I started to speak. I prayed this evening that somebody would devise some recipe by which to induce the Minister for Finance tostop talking out of his turn. I pray the recipe may yet be found and given in generous measure to the Minister for Finance.

Before I was disorderly interrupted by the Minister for Finance I was saying that the present practice in respect of the valuation of premises as I understand it is out of date. If a person decides to improve his property, no matter what the property may be, the Commissioners of Valuation assess not merely the improvement that the man has effected in respect of the property but revalues the entire premises. That may or may not be the law but as I understand the situation it is certainly the practice of the Commissioners of Valuation. If a person has a piece of property with one portion decaying and that particular portion lends itself to improvement, an improvement which would benefit the owner and incidentally perhaps improve the amenities and the appearance of the locality, he can get whatever enjoyment is coming to him from that improvement but the premises must then be revalued. When it comes to revaluation, I understand the practice to be that they revalue the entire property and not merely the portion that has been improved.

You may have a situation in which a person has a piece of property and decides to improve one-tenth of it. It is then revalued and the revaluation is not on the improved one-tenth but on the entire ten-tenths. That is a practice which has given rise to considerable complaint. One can see that if followed generally it could give rise to considerable hardships in respect of people sufficiently enterprising to improve their property.

If that is the position as I understand it, I do not think any reasonably minded Deputy can justify a practice of that kind. Not only is it unfair in its incidence but it is putting a definite barrier to encouraging people to improve their holdings. I do not think it will be questioned by any Deputy that it is desirable to encourage our people to improve their property. We have enough ruins without desiring to add to our architectural treasury in that respect. There are enough gaunt,unsightly ruins in the country and unsightly premises in towns and villages, without our wanting to develop a passion for the creation of many more of these hideous buildings. It ought to be recognised by all Parties in the House that it is desirable to do whatever is necessary to encourage people to improve their property without imposing upon them unreasonable burdens and without making it difficult for them to understand that very valuable work.

I look upon this Bill from another angle, that is, from the viewpoint of the additional employment which would be provided if persons were encouraged to improve their property. The more people we can so encourage, the more employment we will provide in the building trade and in those trades which supply the materials for the building industry.

It is not possible to exaggerate the very substantial contribution which could be made towards the provision of employment in the house building industry, by encouraging persons to undertake the improvement or reconstruction of property. We have only to look at the figures from the employment exchanges, or to read the reports of building trade unions, in order to realise the growing numbers of building trade workers who are unemployed. We have only to inquire at the employment exchanges to find the number of such workers leaving this country for England, where regular employment awaits them. We have only to go to the offices of the building trade unions to get confirmation of these stark facts, which do not brook denial. The plain truth is—as anyone who has had experience of the industry knows—that the building industry has been sagging for the past two years and all the indications are that the sag will continue. That is caused partly by reasons into which I need not enter now. But let us face this fact, that the more we provide our people with the much needed houses and the more we satisfy the housing demand, the less employment there will be in the building industry in the erection of dwelling-houses. What are you going to do then? A large number of the building tradeworkers will be on our hands. Are we going to offer them employment in Britain, or are we to try to maintain a building construction programme which offers the prospect of continuous employment for the skilled craftsmen who are a credit to the country?

I look upon this Bill, therefore, as something which in its own way, will encourage the improvement and adaptation of premises and so contribute towards employment in the building industry. The very fact that it has proved possible in this Bill to secure the easement in valuation which this Bill contemplates, not merely in cities and large towns but throughout the country, would help to spread these improved employment prospects right through the length and breadth of the country.

After all, there is nothing very revolutionary in this Bill. In so far as a person will pay additional rates, even after seven years, the local authority will benefit. It may be that as a result of the improvement they will not benefit by additional rates for a period of seven years, but they will not benefit in any case if you make it impossible for the property owner to improve his property because the valuation would become too high. In that case, the local authority gets nothing. If the man can be tempted to do it, even on a promise of remission for seven years, then at the end of that period several things will have happened. The property, which is a national asset, will have improved; the amenities in the district may well have improved; the sightliness of the buildings will be improved; and the local authority henceforward will have additional income in the form of rates. It will not get that income so long as the person is deterred by increased valuation charges from undertaking such reconstruction work.

Therefore, even from the standpoint of the local authority, a measure which will ultimately enable them to garner increased rates has a good deal to commend it. If we encourage a person to undertake reconstruction work which he would not undertake under our present valuation practices, we will be doing something useful toprovide additional employment and to add to the rateable valuations of the local authority.

I do not deny that there are deficiencies, some serious deficiencies, in the Bill. For example, it does not seem to make any provision for an easement of additional valuation charges where a person improves a dwelling-house.

I think it is covered.

If it is covered, I, frankly, cannot see it.

You would need a pretty large magnifying glass to see it.

Where it is covered in the Bill.

I did not say it is covered in the Bill. I said it was already covered. Now, do not jump into something you do not know anything about.

The Minister is bursting to kill this Bill, straining at the leash now.

The Deputy is doing much more to kill it than I am.

It does not seem to me that there is any provision for easing the increased valuation which would follow an improvement in a dwelling-house. I know, of course that if you build a new dwelling-house at the moment, you get remission for a certain period of years; but that is not the problem. Where there is an existing dwelling-house and where a person decides to improve it to such an extent as to invite the commissioners over to revalue the premises, he gets the full impact of the increased valuation on the entire property, under the present practice. Under this Bill he would continue to get the full impact of that increased valuation. I do not see any provision here whereby you extend to the ordinary owner-occupier of a dwelling-house the facilities which are provided in the Bill for other sectionsof the community. I think that is a serious flaw and one which, if the Bill escapes of erodent tactics of the Minister for Finance, might be remedied on the Committee Stage. For example, a man who has a house for ten or 15 years, who decides that his family is growing and that he wants to build an addition to it, finds that his entire house is revalued. If he does that under this Bill, there is still no relief for him, as I read it at present.

I do not think he should be excluded from getting the benefit of this Bill especially at the time when house purchase is extending. I do not think that any owner of property whether situated in a working-class area or elsewhere should be denied the benefits which this Bill would provide for classes which would be much more well-to-do than the owner-occupiers of modest working-class houses. Take the case of the labourers' cottages. In 1936, a Bill was passed to enable tenants of labourers' cottages to purchase these cottages and since then, thanks very largely to the substantial improvement in annuity terms a number of tenants of a labourers' cottages have bought their cottages. If they want to add a room or two to the cottages—as they are now entitled to do as owners—they run the risk of having the entire property revalued merely because they desire to add a room or two to a small dwelling-house such as a labourer's cottage. I do not see any provision in this Bill whereby in a case of that kind they would get the remission in respect of valuation which is provided in this Bill, and I do not know of any reason why tenants of labourers' cottages who have purchased the cottages themselves and want to extend them should not get the benefit of the provisions of this Bill in the same way as the owners of much more majestic property. I think that is a flaw in the Bill, but it is not a flaw that is utterly incapable of remedy. If the Bill goes to the Committee Stage I think it is possible to insert provision in the Bill to extend coverage to the owners of dwelling-houses—I am concerned in the main with the owners of small dwelling-houses and labourers' cottages—in thesame way as the Bill is providing that cover for other and better-off people.

I would like to see this Bill do something more but I think that in recent times the Commissioners of Valuation have gone off the rails in regard to the valuation of labourers' cottages. I am afraid the commissioners have now got the view that a labourers' cottage is a miniature castle when it is being valued. Cases have been brought to my notice in rural areas recently of labourers' cottages without any conveniences or amenities associated with life in the large urban areas, having a valuation of £7 or £10. That is an outrageous valuation to put on a labourer's cottage, especially at a time when the rates in some places are 30/-in the £. It is absurd to expect the tenant of a labourer's cottage to pay £15 a year in rates for a small cottage and a half-acre of land.

That does not seem to arise on this Bill. The system of valuation is not under discussion.

Except, of course, in this way, Sir. As you know, on the Second Stage of a Bill I am entitled to point out what should be in the Bill and what is not in it. On the Fifth Stage I am only entitled to refer to what is in the Bill, but on the Second Stage I can say I see all these shortcomings. I think on the Committee Stage I could be entitled to move an amendment fixing the valuation of not more than £2 for a labourer's cottage. If that can be done on the Committee Stage then I can refer to it on the Second Stage.

The Deputy is discussing the system of valuation.

No, Sir, I am not. I would keep the House here for a week if I wanted to do that. What I am discussing is related to the imperfections of the Bill, and one of the imperfections to which I am referring is the fact that here we are going to grant some relief to property owners who own houses, and I am calling attention to the fact there is a class in thecommunity represented by the tenants of labourers' cottages—there are about 80,000 of them in the country—and they have had fixed on their property valuations which I think are most unfair, just as I think it is unfair to increase the valuation of the entire property if a person merely improves 10 per cent. of it. On the Committee Stage I would try to get an amendment in to provide for a ceiling valuation of these cottages, and that ceiling will be related in some way to the capacity of the tenants of these cottages to pay these valuations because I think these people are much more in need of relief than any of the classes mentioned in the Bill. Therefore, on the Committee Stage I will endeavour to——

Did the Deputy say on the Committee Stage? Surely your speech has killed the Bill?

I am sure you are relieved.

What I want to say is that on the Committee Stage I will endeavour to get an amendment which will prevent tenants of labourers' cottages having to pay the present outragous valuations, because I think they are more entitled to relief than the more well-to-do classes. I think it is absurd to ask the tenant of a labourer's cottage to pay, say, £15 a year rates, which is about the same rates that would be paid for a castle in the prairie in Deputy Blowick's constituency. That is obviously an anomaly with which Deputy Blowick will sympathise.

In view of the general extension of house purchase to workers of the artisan and craftsman class and the possibility that they may improve their houses—a laudible thing to do—I think it is desirable that we should encourage them to do so but by abandoning the present and past practice of increasing the valuation of the entire property merely because they make a small addition to it or improving the dwelling-house in some particular way. While I think the Bill has its imperfections I do not think that they are of a kind that are impossible to remedy and I hope on the Committee Stage ofthe Bill to be able with the assistance of all sides of the House to have amendments inserted which would meet what I think are the worst cases of the imposition of the penal valuation system which we operate at present.

As for the Bill itself, so far as it encourages persons to improve their property and provide work in doing so I think it has much to commend it.

I must compliment Deputy Norton on the manner in which he has seconded this Bill.

I want to correct the Deputy's statement for the record—I did not second it.

I do not know then whether the Deputy is supporting it or not. Is Deputy Morrissey suggesting I am not entitled to speak now?

I am suggesting that as I offerred with Deputy Briscoe I was entitled to be called on when my name was on the Bill.

As I understand it, when a Bill is introduced by some member and another seconds it you obviously give way to them, but when Deputy Morrissey did not offer I considered he was not seconding the Bill; otherwise I would have followed the previous speaker. However, I do not think Deputy Morrissey has any grievances.

I have a grievance, but I am not pressing it If the Deputy would like that point cleared I will put it as a point of order. Perhaps Deputy Briscoe would sit down for the point of order?

Yes, certainly.

On a point of order. I want to put it as a practice and procedure of this House that, if I offer to speak to a Bill which is introduced under my name, I am entitled to be called before any other Deputy. I was on my feet before the Minister.

The Deputy did not offer himself.

I was on my feet and I only gave way because I thought the Minister was going to speak.

Is it not very clearly laid down in Standing Orders that the Chair calls speakers from each side of the House alternatively?

It is not.

It is sufficient for the Deputy to be disordely in Strasbourg without trying to indulge in the same tactics here.

Deputy Morrissey is well aware that it is the duty of the Chair to call on different opinions.

Very well. If that is the way it is, I do not mind. I shall have plenty of time on Friday.

I listened to Deputy O'Higgins introducing this Bill and I must say that I hope the Government will have no hesitation in rejecting this Bill. I will give my reasons for saying that. It is very easy to see what is behind the introduction of this Bill.

I think Deputy O'Higgins more or less announced it. He said that in 1950 the then Minister for Health introduced certain health regulations which, now that these regulations are being carried out, have caused an increase in rates on those who have had to improve their premises in order to comply with the health regulations. He said that subsequently representations were made and that the Minister, when introducing these regulations, did not realise the impact they would have on the people affected.

I venture to suggest that in a properly run Government with a united Cabinet every effect which might arise from legislation is discussed. If the particular Government in 1950 passed legislation without realising the impact it would have that is the fault of Deputy O'Higgins and his Government. An attempt is now being made to remedy that situation in a particular way, but the remedy is incomplete. Furthermore, Deputy O'Higgins says that the Government's announcement recentlywas in the nature of a panic resort because of this Bill. I never saw Deputy O'Higgins' Bill.

Mr. O'Higgins

You are not a member of Government yet.

The Deputy will bear with me. I never saw his Bill but I have been present and have announced in another place, in common with a number of the elected representatives of the Dublin Corporation, that in order to try to stimulate the building industry and work therein, pending an examination of the whole system of valuation and the possibility of getting an agreement on revaluation, certain things should be done; one of those things is that on all business premises there should be a remission of rates where new premises have been erected for a period similar to that which obtains in relation to dwelling-houses.

The Deputy made that statement at a corporation meeting a week after this Bill was introduced.

That is not so.

I will get the reference and the date.

I was talking about this matter months before that because we members of the corporation were concerned as to what we could do to stimulate employment.

I will get the Deputy the date and the reference.

The Deputy may get his date. I will get another one. It was also suggested that if additions or reconstructions had been made in connection with existing premises, either dwelling-houses or otherwise—I would like Deputy Norton to remember that that was included—there should be a postponement of increased rates resulting from such improvements. It was hoped that during the period of postponement or remission there would be a proper examination of the whole system of valuation throughout the country.

How long would that take?

Deputy Davin might help and in that way we might get the work done quicker than he thinks it could be done. The City of Dublin has expanded in all directions. Certain areas that contained some of our best streets some years ago now contain some of our worst streets from a trading point of view. Some streets which were of very little importance are now the centre of built-up areas and the properties and business premises in those streets were valued at a time when their valuation was not at all comparable with the value of the premises to-day. Some of us in Dublin believe that revaluation should take place and property should be valued from the point of view of its present worth.

The announcement made by the Government is only a stop-gap arrangement. In time I believe we will be able to deal with this matter in a proper way. We need a formula, for instance, in relation to revaluation and new valuations in the case of premises that have been reconstructed or to which additions have been made. If the premises are comparatively new we believe that revaluation should be based on the increased cubic capacity and not arbitrarily fixed on an obsolete formula. I do not go the whole distance that Deputy Norton goes. I do not believe that when a modern extension is made to an old building, that whole building is revalued on the basis of the new addition. I understand the Commissioner of Valuation must take into consideration, when revising rates, general deterioration in the older part of the premises. Nevertheless, I go so far as to say that there are a great many people who do not understand the yard-stick by which the Valuation Office measures the value of property. The time has come when we must consider the possibility of revaluation and, in relation to that, a method or yard-stick that can be understood by everybody.

Has the Deputy heard about Buncrana?

I do not know anything about Buncrana. Deputy O'Higginsseems to forget that a lot of things exist already, things that he suggests would arise as a result of this measure.

Mr. O'Higgins

Such as? Give us one of them.

He will not.

The proposed remission of rates announced by the Department of Local Government will have included in it a remission of rates in relation to premises affected by the hygiene regulations to which the Deputy has referred. I think the Deputy will admit that that is so.

Mr. O'Higgins

We must see the Bill first.

That announcement has been made and when a spokesman of this Government announces that something will be done it usually is done.

Mr. O'Higgins

Is it?

The announcement is a two-thirds remission.

May I make a friendly interjection? Would the Deputy mind telling me what happened the Valuation Bill which the present Minister for Finance introduced some years ago, through the medium of which he was going to deliver Dublin from economic thraldom by a revaluation.

The Labour Party killed it as they killed all progressive legislation.

Deputy Norton prefaced his remarks by saying that they were nothing other than a friendly interjection.

I was really playing the Minister for Finance.

I could not possibly believe the Deputy would be anything other than friendly.

I was playing the Minister for Finance. Observe that he played up.

I will deal with that when I am on my feet.

You cannot discuss the principles of taxation which we were not allowed to discuss.

You will be surprised.


Deputy Briscoe should be allowed to make his speech without interruption.

Deputy Davin as usual asks a number of questions, but when one gets to the point of answering them he usually runs out.

Never when you are speaking.

Always. I never knew an occasion when the Deputy did not run away when we began to answer his questions.

Do not forget that we have only a limited time to discuss this subject.

There is no limit to the debate.

There is the limit of a Private Members' Bill.

The Deputy should read the Standing Orders.

I knew them before the Deputy ever came into this House —long before he came here, and I will know them long after him.

Perhaps Deputy Briscoe would be allowed to continue.

Deputy Morrissey knows the order so well that he is able to carry out this discussion in a most disorderly fashion.

He also has the advantage of listening to Deputy Briscoe.

Deputy O'Higgins talked when he was introducing the Bill of proposals or reforms, and I do not know which he meant in the end.

That is certainly the Minister's note in his hand.

Whether it was a proposal, or a proposal to reform, I do not know, but a proposal by itself is not always a reformation.

You are not doing so badly, short and all as it is in your hands.

Mr. O'Higgins

Do not be playing the obvious now. Tell us what you have to say.

I want to say this, and I am trying to say that I hope this Bill will be rejected and that in time we will have introduced in this House a Bill which will be sufficiently comprehensive to deal with every aspect, as I mentioned before, and I believe there are some people in the House who will agree with me that revaluation is necessary. It is all very well for Deputy Norton to talk about some unknown labourer's cottage valued at £7 or £10 in an area where they are paying 30/- in the £ in rates and the man living in the cottage in paying £15 a year or something in rates. I do not know where that particular cottage is. It certainly is not in County Dublin, the nearest area to me where those type of cottages exist, and I want to say this to Deputy Norton——

What is the valuation in County Dublin?

I want to say this to Deputy Norton—there are some cottages in County Dublin, the area we took over from the county, where what is paid in rental, rates and rent together, do not reach £15.

They were built 70 years ago.

It does not matter. They are rated to-day and the rates are there. What I want to say to Deputy Norton is this: the State pays out of the taxation raised from the community as a whole almost if not exactly half of the taxation in social services——

What has this got to do with valuation?

——and the local authorities have to spend a considerable amount of the rates collected on social services.

What has this got to do with the Bill before the House?

It has got to do with the valuation——

Social services have nothing to do with this Bill.

——and with the ultimate result of the valuation to the community—what amount of rates are collected and on whose backs they will fall. Deputy Norton wants them to fall exclusively on the owners of the big palaces and premises. He wants an amendment to this Bill which I take it he will introduce, or would have introduced it if it ever saw the Committee Stage, limiting, he said himself, valuations on cottages to £2 a year. It does not matter where the rest will come from.

On a point of order, I did not say that in fact. What I said was that I could do that. Whether I will even make it £2 or £3 is another matter.

Getting cold feet now, Deputy.

If the Minister had a cool head he would be better. The trouble with the Minister is that he has a hot head and hot feet. What I did say was that I was within my rights to talk about the valuation of labourers' cottages, but Deputy Briscoe is now being allowed to develop it much more than I was.

Discussing social services now.

Social services on a Valuation Bill.

I think we are at liberty to consider here on a Bill of this kind what the Bill is all about. It is about the amount of money therated occupier has to pay by way of rates on the premises for the local authority to meet certain expenditure, and if that is out of order this Bill is out of order.

Mr. O'Higgins

The Deputy is out of order.

The Bill seeks to give certain limited remissions to certain particular types of people, and I say that the Bill is hastily drafted for the reason, now that Deputy Morrissey says he is the sponsor of the Bill, that Deputy Morrissey now wants to make amends to those whom Deputy O'Higgins says have become affected by the Health Bill which was introduced in 1950.

In the name of goodness what does all that mean? I do not believe you know yourself what you are talking about.

I certainly do.

He cannot read the Minister's notes, that is the trouble.

Deputy Briscoe is entitled to make his speech without interruption.

Deputy O'Higgins made a reference to the Health Bill, 1950, introduced by the then Minister, in which he pointed out that resulting from that Bill which is now an Act certain expenditures which arose in the reconstruction of premises have resulted now in the revaluation of those premises, and he read a letter, he said, from some group or organisation reporting—I do not know to whom the letter was addressed but it reported a visit by representatives of that organisation who went to a Minister.

He did not. It was an extract from a letter written by a Minister to an organisation.

I do not know to whom the letter was written that Deputy O'Higgins read.

It was written by a Minister.

Very well, it was written by a Minister, then, but he did not say so.

He referred to this particular situation to which I am referring but Deputy Morrissey says I do not understand what I am talking about because he does not understand what I am talking about or does not seem to want to know that he himself is guilty of what happened.

You are a master of lucidity. There is no doubt about it.

Any properly ordered Cabinet, any Government in any country, would recognise that if one Minister came with a proposition it was the responsibility of the Ministers of every other Department to see what effect its administration was going to have on their Departments and apparently nobody considered what was going to happen until those people drew the attention of Deputy O'Higgins and Deputy Morrissey to the sad result from their legislation; and they think that this Bill is going to remedy the situation and get rid of the troubles and ills and evils in connection with our system of valuation and revaluation of premises. Section 4 of the Bill: Section 14 of the 1852 Act refers to improvements and revision of poor law valuations of every kind.

You have the Bill there.

We have the Act here. You have only the Minister's note.

It does not matter.

You have the Act. Read it.

There is a section there which deals with improvements to farm offices of any kind, and they arenot entered in the valuation lists for seven years—so that, in effect, under that Act they do——

Mr. O'Higgins

Will the Deputy bear with me?

Very well.

Mr. O'Higgins

I endeavoured to point out that Section 14 relates to the erection of farm buildings. It does not refer to reconstruction or enlargement or improvement of existing buildings.

Section 14 of the Valuation (Ireland) Act, 1852——

Mr. O'Higgins

——states :—

"No hereditament or tenement shall be liable to be rated in respect of any increase in the value thereof arising from any drainage, reclamation, or embankment from the sea or any lake or river, or any erection of farm, outhouse, or office buildings, or any permanent agricultural improvement as specified...."

etc., etc. There is no reference in the section——

What is an "erection"?

Mr. O'Higgins

That is a building.

What is an "enlargement"?

Mr. O'Higgins

Would the Minister advise the Valuation Commissioners along those lines? That would end the trouble.

As far as I can understand the section, and as far as the Deputy has read it out, it provides for a remission for a period of years in respect of certain improvements or erections.

Then the Valuation Commissioners are breaking the law.

They are not.

They are increasing the valuations. Can any Fianna Fáil Deputy from rural Ireland say thatvaluations have not been increased in respect of improvements in the past 12 months? It is done every day.

Can you give evidence in support of that statement?

Mr. O'Higgins

Does the Minister say that no increases in valuation by reason of improvements to farm building have been made?

I have not said that. They have not been entered in the list for seven years and, in practice, the erections, enlargements and improvements are still considered as new buildings.

Mr. O'Higgins


Give us an instance.

People are afraid to apply because of that.

The Minister has refused to say that they have not increased the valuation in respect of improvements.

They come into effect after seven years.

Would it not be better to have the evidence instead of saying "Nonsense".

Go back to Strasbourg.

Do not do Biddy Moriarty, now.

You did it all right.

That is one of the drafting blunders the Deputy made on this Bill. There are a few more.

We shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say when he is making his speech on Friday.

The Deputy was very anxious that I should speak a few minutes ago.

The Minister will wait a long time.

Perhaps the Deputy would be a bit patient.

You have learned more about valuations in the past ten minutes than you ever knew about the matter.

Deputy Morrissey knows about valuations from one end of the stick and I know about them from the other end. Let us put it that way.

Fair enough.

I think we ought to concede that both of us know something about this subject.

I must say that, before you spoke, I thought you knew more about the subject than, in fact, you do.

I am speaking about it from the administrative point of view. I have in mind the responsibility of a Government and local authorities to the community, as a whole, to ensure that at least there will be some equity with regard to a matter of this kind. That is the approach we want. I do not want to say that I know the valuation of a particular house in a particular street, or what an improvement to the house would be likely to result in by way of increased charges. I am not an expert in that. My concern—and I believe that it is the concern of most of us here—is to ensure that whatever we do will have some degree of equity, if not full equity, in it. Deputy O'Higgins talked about rates. This is a phrase he used—and it could only come from a Deputy O'Higgins: "Rates are a tax on enterprise". Does that mean that, as far as enterprise or business is concerned, rates should be removed entirely? He also said that the present system of valuation was conducive to a continuance of backstair or underground factories and business premises. I see that Deputy Davin is on his way out of the Chamber. I thought that he would leave before I finished.

I will sit over here and listen to the Deputy.

Has Deputy Davin not borne a lot already?

When Deputy O'Higgins walks around his constituency or any constituency, or even the City of Dublin, does he not see a large number of magnificent new factory premises which were built in the past 20 odd years and does he not also see that, in many cases, improvements and remodelling of old factories has taken place? Does Deputy O'Higgins not realise that industrial policy will dictate whether or not you have need for industry? Does he not also realise that rates, though they may be substantial, are only incidental in the costs of a reasonably well-run and reasonably sized manufacturing concern?

Something trivial, in fact, according to the Deputy.

I said "incidental". Take, for instance, the factory with a turnover of £100,000 or £200,000 per year and making profits of some thousands a year. If that concern has to pay, say, £400 or £500 per year in rates, that will not be—as Deputy O'Higgins says—a tax on enterprise. Most people either in business or in industry want a service for the rates they pay, and most of the people who pay rates realise that the payment to local authorities of the very considerable amount of money collected is for the social services and not for actual civic administration. Deputy Morrissey laughs at that. I invite Deputy Morrissey to look up the account which the Dublin Corporation have to meet, by way of statutory payments, for the upkeep of institutions such as Grangegorman Mental Hospital——

That is the Deputy's third time bringing in social services on a discussion on a Valuation Bill. The Deputy has only about two minutes to go and then he will have carried out his allotted task.

I rose to speak on this Bill because I am interested in the subject of valuations.

That is what you were put up for.

The Deputy said that some time ago he read some statement which I made with regard to the remission of rates. If the Deputy has any intelligence at all he must surely realise that the very fact that I made that statement indicates that I had some thoughts on the matter of valuations.

The statement was made by the Deputy a week after the introduction of this Bill.

Of course, every good idea that the Fianna Fáil Government ever got—including the Constituation—was as a result of ideas which they got from the people who are now sitting on the Opposition Benches.

Not all of them.

The trouble is that when the people opposite were on these Government Benches they were unable to carry out the things which they say they were able to get us to do. They could not do it themselves. I want the Minister—when he is replying to this debate——

Mr. O'Higgins

He will not be replying.

——to indicate to the House whether the Government are prepared to consider the introduction of a Bill to deal with this whole question. I want him also to indicate whether he would be prepared to consider including in that Bill a formula which will be a yardstick for ordinary people so that, before they make certain alterations or certain additions, they will know what they will have to pay by way of additional rates arising from an additional or new valuation of their premises.

Mr. O'Higgins

May Deputy Davin leave now?

That is a thing which we want to get done. Deputy O'Higgins keeps on interrupting. Does he want me to move the Adjournment?

Mr. O'Higgins

May Deputy Davin go now?

The silken thread by which Deputy Davin is bound to me is now thrown over to him. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 22nd October, 1953.