I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The Bill continues and extends the policy of encouraging the provision of new dwellings and the reconditioning of existing dwellings by private individuals and public utility societies, with the assistance of State grants and where appropriate, supplementary grants from the housing authorities.
Section 6 proposes that grants for the erection, purchase and reconstruction of houses and the installation of sanitary services be continued at the present rates for a further two years.
The grants under the 1952 Act terminate on the 1st April, and, in order to avoid a break in building operations, it is proposed to continue payment of the grants in anticipation of the passing of the Bill. In the period from 31st March, 1952, to 28th February of this year a total of 10,752 new house grants and 6,380 reconstruction grants have been paid. The allocation of new house grants was 4,910 in 1952-53, and 4,798 in the 11 months of 1953-54, the figure for the 12 months being estimated at 5,198. The allocation of reconstruction grants showed a remarkable increase from 2,852 in 1952-53 to 6,654 for the 11 months to February last. The combined total of new house and reconstruction grants allocated in the 11 months of 1953-54 to 28th February last is higher than the total in any complete year since the war. The total number of new house grants paid in the first 11 months of this year was 4,937 as against 5,815 for the whole of the previous year. Final payments of reconstruction grants numbered 3,948 in the 11 months to the end of February as against 2,432 in the full year 1952-53. These figures reflect a satisfactory level of housing activity by private enterprise which, I hope, will be at least maintained in the coming 12 months.
Reconstruction grants are of obvious importance in the national housing effort, and the Bill aims to widen the scope of these grants.
Section 9 of the 1950 Act enabled the payment of a reconstruction grant for work involving the provision of a new roof or additional accommodation necessary for the relief of overcrowding, notwithstanding that a grant under the Housing Acts had been made at least 15 years previously in respect of the house. As Deputies are aware, the restricted scope of this provision prevented essential work ancillary to reroofing from qualifying for grant and made it necessary to reject applications for grants in respect of the provision of additional rooms which were strictly not necessary for the relief of overcrowding. It will readily be agreed that the State should encourage and assist small farmers and agricultural labourers to carry out all types of reconstruction work which will improve the amenities of their houses, including the provision of additional bedrooms, extra living-room space, kitchens or wash-houses, and that eligibility for a grant for the work should not be contingent on whether the work is strictly necessary or not. I propose, therefore, in Section 14 that even if a previous grant was made for erection or reconstruction of a house, a further grant should be available after 15 years for the carrying out of any approved scheme of reconstruction, whether or not a new roof is put up and whether or not additional accommodation provided is essential because of the number of persons in the house.
At present, a grant is available ten years after payment of a previous grant where a thatch roof is replaced by slates or tiles. I consider it unnecessarily restrictive to make this grant available only in respect of the replacement of thatch and I propose that any man who takes the initiative to replace a roof by durable materials in the form of slates or tiles should qualify for a grant to do so provided he has not received a previous grant within ten years.
Many Deputies will have met the situation where the occupier of a house which had been damaged by storm, flood, fire or other cause outside his control was ineligible for a grant towards rebuilding it for the reason that a previous grant had been made in respect of the house. Section 14 of the Bill enables payment of a grant in such circumstances without reference to the period since a previous grant was made.
Reconstruction grants are already available to farmers of up to £50 valuation and agricultural labourers in rural areas reconstructing houses in their own occupation. Members of the working classes and agricultural labourers in urban areas whose valuation does not exceed £12 are eligible for grants for the reconstruction of houses in their own occupation. A grant of £80 is also available in urban and rural areas to persons having control of unfit houses who repair them by direction of the housing authority. All the foregoing grants may be supplemented by grants from the housing authority.
No grants are at present available in urban areas to occupiers over £12 valuation or to landlords unless the houses are unfit for human habitation and repairs specified in a notice served by the housing authority under Section 19 of the 1931 Act have been carried out.
Houses approaching unfitness or which are unfit, whether or not a repairs notice is served in respect of them, should, in my view, be eligible for repair grants, the housing authorities being free to supplement the grants with local grants. The Housing Acts require unfit housing conditions to be eradicated. The process is so costly, both on private and public account, that whatever steps are practicable to prevent houses from becoming unfit must be taken. Housing authorities have very limited powers in this connection. On the other hand, owners of houses plead high costs, fixed rents and the restrictions on the securing of possession in defence of their failure to check the decay of their property.
Apart from their merits in conserving capital assets, grants for the repair or improvement of dwellings irrespective of their valuation would have the effect of reducing the demand on local authority housing accommodation by encouraging the preservation of existing dwellings and the conversion of houses suitable for the working classes into separate dwellings. The control of tenementing under Sections 11 and 12 of the 1948 Housing Act—and, as a consequence, the control of overcrowding at its source—would be made more effective if landlords carried out conversion works by creating separate dwellings of a reasonable standard of fitness. Single family houses may be in reasonably good repair but may fall below current standards of amenity, with the result that the owners or occupiers are not inclined to maintain them. Grants for improvement works would be very desirable in such cases.
It is proposed in Section 12 that a grant from State funds not exceeding £80 per dwelling or one-third of the cost of the works (excluding decoration) whichever is the smaller should be payable to the person executing the works whether or not he is the occupier. The housing authority would be free to pay a grant not exceeding the amount of the State grant, and rates remission would be available. It is proposed that the existing provisions relating to grants for the reconstruction of houses of up to £12 valuation and for the repair of houses by direction of the housing authority should be continued. The new grants would embrace the type of reconstruction and repair work hitherto covered by these provisions, but would not be contingent upon the execution of repairs at the direction of the housing authority or upon the grantee being in occupation of the house and the total valuation being less than £12.
It has been represented to me that more houses would be provided for letting if lump-sum grants were available in place of the grant now payable by annual instalments over ten years under Section 19 of the 1948 Act. In Section 13 of the Bill, I propose to give a trial for two years to the alternative form of grant, which would be of an amount equal to that payable for an owner-occupied house. The housing authority would be empowered to allow rates remission of two-thirds for seven years where a grant is paid under this section. The grant would be available to a builder who prefers to let a house rather than sell it, to investors who purchase new houses for letting, or to any firm or group who provide houses for letting to their employees or to others. If a farmer builds a house for letting to a workman, he also can qualify for the grant. Houses qualifying for these grants would be subject to the same conditions as to resale which apply to houses for which letting grants under the 1948 Act are paid.
Section 7 makes it clear that the recipient of a grant for an owner-occupied house must occupy the house as his normal place of residence, not, for instance, as a holiday or summer home. Section 8 makes it clear that letting grants under the 1948 Act may be made to a local authority—for example, a mental hospital authority —though not to a housing authority providing houses which are otherwise subsidised by the State.
Section 9, 10 and 11 propose to give effect to representations made to me that housing authorities should have discretion to make supplementary grants of amounts less than the maxima specified in certain sections of the 1952 Act. It is better that this discretion should be given than that housing authorities should be prevented from awarding any grants on grounds of expenditure.
Section 10 of the 1952 Act provided for the payment of supplementary grants by housing authorities to persons with family incomes not exceeding £416 per year. Section 11 provided for supplementary grants irrespective of income to an applicant who is a tenant of a local authority house or is accepted by the housing authority as eligible for selection as a tenant of such a house. In the Dublin City and County areas particularly, a high proportion of the applicants under Section 11 have been clerical and similar workers whose incomes exceed £416 and thus render them ineligible for grants under Section 10 of the 1952 Act. Many of these applicants have been rejected by the housing authority on the grounds that they are not of a class whom the corporation or county council, for example, ordinarily rehouse.
It is proposed to rectify the position in favour of those with low income by increasing the family income limits in Section 10 from £208, £312, £365 and £416 to £260, £377, £442 and £520 respectively. The increased limits would apply only in the four county boroughs, the Borough of Dún Laoghaire, Dublin County and those portions of County Cork which are included with Cork City for the purpose of the higher loans to borrowers under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts. These housing authorities could, therefore, make to any person having a family income of less than £10 per week at the time of his application, a supplementary grant graded according to the amount of such income.
Section 9 of the 1952 Act provides for supplementary grants to farmers in grades of valuation up to £35. No change in the present valuation limits is proposed as a relatively large number of grants have been allocated under the section and the £35 limit brings in the vast majority of farmers.
Cases have arisen where the tenant of the housing authority has provided himself with a house in the area of another housing authority. Doubt has been expressed as to whether the authority which benefits by the surrender of the tenancy can pay the supplementary grant and it is proposed to clarity the matter in Section 11. The section would enable Dublin Corporation, for example, to pay a supplementary grant to the tenant of a corporation house who surrenders his tenancy to the corporation and provides himself with a house in, say, County Dublin
Section 8 of the 1948 Act prohibited in the period up to 31st December, 1950, the demolition in whole or in part or the use otherwise than as a dwelling-house of any habitable house, unless with the permission of the housing authority, or on appeal, of the Minister. By virtue of Section 19 of the 1950 Act, the section was continued to 31st December, 1955. It is considered that while substantial grants are available for the provision of new houses, the provision should not lapse. The extension to 31st December, 1956, proposed in Section 15 will permit of a further review in the next Housing Bill.
The Rent Restrictions Acts by virtue of Section 3 (2) (c) of the Rent Restrictions Act of 1946, do not apply to houses provided by a local authority, of which the local authority is for the time being the landlord. By virtue of Section 3 of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1931, the Landlord and Tenant Acts do not apply where buildings on any land or premises are provided by a local authority, if such property is held by the local authority in feesimple.
Housing authorities, from time to time, acquire private dwellings and other buildings for reconditioning or conversion under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts and the Labourers Acts. Sometimes existing dwellings in good condition are acquired for the purposes of the Acts. House property also becomes vested in a housing authority as a result of boundary extensions or otherwise. Arising from a number of court decisions, considerable doubt exists as to whether the housing authorities can be deemed to have "provided" the houses acquired by or transferred to them. It is proposed to remove these doubts in Sections 16 and 20. For the proper management of their housing property, housing authorities should be free from the statutory restrictions in the Rent Restrictions Acts on recovery of possession and should be enabled to adjust rents without incurring the expense of having lawful rents determined. Houses acquired or transferred should, as far as the Landlord and Tenant Act is concerned, be subject to the same conditions in regard to leases, improvements, etc., as houses built by the housing authorities under the Housing of the Working Classes and Labourers Acts. Sections 16 and 20 would clarify the position of such houses also.
The 1950 Act continued the Labourers Acts in force until 31st December, 1955. The Expiring Laws Act of 1952, which does not include the Labourers Acts, continues in force until 31st December, 1960, the laws referred to in the Schedule to that Act. There is no recurring Bill in which the continuance beyond 1955 of the Labourers Acts could be included, and Section 17 of this Bill, therefore, makes provision for the continuance of the Labourers Acts until 31st December, 1960.
With regard to the proposal in Section 18 of the Bill, I would like to refer the House to the Private Members' Bill introduced by Deputy Lehane on this subject. The principle of the Labourers Bill, 1953, is met in the section. I would like to have been in a position to propose a wider measure of amendment. The subject is, however, highly technical like most land laws where title is involved and will require further examination before the way is clear to tidy up a number of complexities that exist.
Deputies who have had an opportunity of refreshing themselves on the debate on the Labourers Bill, 1953, will remember that Section 11 of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906, enables housing authorities to treat as absolute owners for the purpose of compensation for acquisition of land, certain persons who have been in possession of the land for not less than six years. The section applies only where the compensation payable does not exceed £60. Because of the fall in the value of money since 1906, it is considered reasonable to increase this sum to £250.
Sub-section (8) of Section 11 enables housing authorities to pay into the Circuit Court compensation not exceeding £100 in certain cases where there are title or similar difficulties. The jurisdiction of the Circuit Court generally in similar matters has recently been increased to £600 and it is proposed to amend sub-section (8) accordingly.
The amendment proposed would apply also to operations under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts, to which the 1906 Act provisions were applied in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1931.
Section 17 (2) (d) (iii) of the Labourers Act, 1936, provides that a vested cottage "shall not be alienated otherwise than by operation of law or by sale with the consent of" the housing authority.
It is not an uncommon practice as the House knows for a tenant in whom a cottage is vested to bequeath it by will to a friend or relative who may not have been living with him at the time of his death. Experience has shown that in the majority of such cases the person to whom the cottage is willed is an agricultural labourer who would normally be eligible for tenancy. There is doubt, however, as to whether the law empowers a tenant-purchaser to dispose of his interest by will or bequest and various housing authorities have received legal advice that the proper procedure in such circumstances is for the council to take proceedings in court for the recovery of the cottage in accordance with Section 24 of the Act and to reallocate it, if they so decide, to the beneficiary if he is otherwise eligible for tenancy.
It was not contemplated that the Act should purport to deprive a tenant-purchaser of his right to dispose by will of his interest in a vested cottage and the proposal in Section 19 of the Bill is designed to clarify the point.
Where advances under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts are made to farmers some local authorities are prepared to take a charge on the entire holding, while others insist on sub-division for the purpose of protecting their charge in the event of sale of the holding. One of the principal objections to sub-division is that it divorces the occupier's residence from his holding and another objection is that the grant of the advance under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts is delayed.
The proposal in Section 21 is that protection should be available to local authorities in respect of advances on holdings in the same way as protection is afforded in respect of charging orders under sub-section (5) of Section 9 of the Housing (Gaeltacht) Act, 1929, in order to encourage local authorities to take a charge on a complete holding without insisting on subdivision. At the same time it would facilitate farmers who object to subdividing their holdings to avail of the Small Dwellings Acts procedure for erection of new houses.
A local authority is required, under sub-section (1) of Section 18 of the Labourers Act, 1936, before making a vesting order to carry out all works necessary to put the cottage into good repair and sanitary condition. Sub-section (2) of that section provides that the Minister shall determine any doubt, dispute or question which may arise as to whether or not a cottage was in or was put into good repair and sanitary condition before vesting.
It has been the experience that local authorities generally fulfil their obligations under the section satisfactorily. Owing to the extent of housing operations requiring the supervision of departmental technical staff, a considerable period often elapses before an appeal can receive the necessary personal attention. Vesting of cottages is delayed in such cases pending determination of appeals. Having regard to the improvement in numbers and standard of local technical officers, it is considered that all questions relating to repairs could reasonably be left to be dealt with locally and, with this object in view, the First Schedule to the Bill proposes the repeal of sub-section (2) of Section 18 of the Labourers Act, 1936.
The proposals I have outlined relate to the more immediate aspects of housing which require early consideration, and I, therefore, commend the Bill in its present from for the earnest and speedy consideration of the House.