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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Jul 1962

Vol. 196 No. 12

Local Government (Sanitary Services) Bill, 1962: Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The primary aim of this Bill is to facilitate and encourage the extension of piped water and sewerage services by both local authorities and private persons and groups. I do not need to remind the House of the extent, difficulty and indeed urgency of the job to be done in bringing our rural areas up to a satisfactory standard in matters of piped water and waste disposal. To mention one point out of many: the rapid development of the bovine tuberculosis eradication campaign throws increasing emphasis on the need for abundant supplies of wholesome water for stock purposes. In spite of an accelerating tempo of activity in recent years, in both the public and private sectors, almost a quarter of a million homes have yet to be serviced. In organising and implementing programmes to perform this task we rely on three separate but complementary types of effort—local authority schemes, private co-operative group schemes and individual installations. If the overall development is properly planned, there can be a fruitful integration of these efforts into a single front. My principal concern since the inception of the rural water supplies programme in 1959 has been to foster co-operation between the various interests involved. In particular, I have been at pains to see that local authorities will co-operate with private initiative towards the solution of their problems. The Bill now before the House will help substantially to further that co-operation.

Section 2 and 3 of the Bill are intended to replace earlier provisions in the Housing Acts dealing with grants for private water supplies and sewerage facilities. The new sections are drawn in wide terms. The details of the grants schemes will be worked out and embodied in regulations, which will be designed to frame a scheme of grants which will stimulate private enterprise, facilitate co-operative group development, and open the way for a much closer tie-up between local authority schemes and private initiative.

The private grants schemes now being operated by my Department and the Department of Agriculture can be availed of in certain circumstances for taking connections from public schemes. I have recommended to local authorities a development of this idea so as to secure that extensions to public schemes would be taken by the potential consumers on a group basis, with aid of State and local grants.

An application of this concept on a large scale is now being worked out in the case of a scheme in preparation by Kerry County Council, and on a preliminary view it offers striking advantages, such as a substantial saving in capital outlay by the county council, and the maximum number of connections with the completed scheme. I would urge local authorities to bear in mind, in the later stages of their planning, the possible advantages to be derived from co-operation with private groups in the laying of the distribution system. Such an approach offers a good prospect of combining the advantages of public and private undertakings for the common welfare.

Local authorities are equipped for the development of large sources, the construction of reservoirs, and laying down trunk mains. Private groups with the assistance of State and local grants and technical advice, can in many cases speedily and economically fill in the distribution network. By this means, the benefits of private initiative may in such cases be brought to bear on the larger type of scheme, and the resources of enthusiasm, voluntary labour and leadership in local groups and rural organisations may be tapped to the best advantage. The beneficial results of this kind of co-operation would more than justify sanitary authorities in adopting a positive approach to the group scheme movement by fostering the formation of groups in areas which are capable of being served by local authority schemes.

I have referred already to two existing schemes of grants for private water supplies. In fact, three Departments of State offer grants for the installation of piped water in dwelling-houses, and local authorities provide a fourth source of grants. The scheme of grants operated by my Department and Roinn na Gaeltachta, and by county councils, include assistance for sewerage disposal facilities as well. The private water supplies scheme administered by the Department of Agriculture does not extend to sewerage facilities, but it provides in certain circumstances for grants towards the cost of piped water in farm out-buildings and fields. It would make for economy if some degree of rationalisation were introduced into the administration of private water supply and sewerage grants, and Sections 2 and 3 of the Bill will provide the necessary machinery for such a step.

I announced some time ago that the Government had decided that the private grants schemes operated by my Department and the Department of Agriculture should be unified under a single administration in so far as they relate to dwelling-houses. Arrangements to that end will be made when this Bill becomes law. The Bill provides, on lines similar to those of the Housing Acts, for a stay of seven years on any valuation increase attributable to the installation of water or sewerage with the aid of grants. Not that it has ever been the practice of local authorities, so far as I am aware, to regard the installation of piped water or sewerage facilities as a reason for revising valuations, and the Bill is not intended to alter that position. Its intention is to encourage people to instal these services in their homes.

Sections 4 and 5 of the Bill will empower sanitary authorities to make or guarantee loans to persons installing piped water or sewerage in private dwellings. In including these sections I have had in mind the need for credit facilities for co-operative groups and I am confident that these provisions will, in combination with the direct grants to be made available under the earlier sections of the Bill, act as a strong incentive to private persons and groups to engage in the installation of water and sewerage services.

Section 6 will empower sanitary authorities to acquire water or sewerage undertakings by agreement, or, if necessary, by compulsory purchase procedure. It will be readily apparent that cases will arise, frequently, perhaps, where the owners of a small group scheme may wish to dispose of their undertaking to the sanitary authority. Such cases will present no problem.

The Bill will enable the initiative to be taken by a majority or by all of the owners in requiring the sanitary authority to exercise their powers of acquisition. Sanitary authorities will be expected to use these powers in the light of their general responsibilities for environmental sanitation and to take over, for integration into their own services, where they exist, such water supply and sewerage undertakings as may be offered to them.

On the other hand, if a private water supply or sewerage scheme serving a number of dwellings should deteriorate or become dangerous to health, acquisition by the sanitary authority might be the only effective remedy, and if the owners of the undertaking were unwilling to transfer it, it would be necessary for the sanitary authority in discharge of their responsibilities, to acquire the undertaking compulsorily.

The procedure envisaged is that applicable to the acquisition of land for housing purposes, as embodied in the Local Government (No. 2) Act, 1960, but certain additional safeguards are proposed. The Minister must be satisfied that acquisition is necessary for the purpose of safeguarding public health or for the improvement of water and sewerage services. In the case of a water supply, provision is being made for the abatement of the normal water charges over a period up to twenty years, so as to take account of the owners' initiative in providing their own supply.

Section 7 proposes to substitute a new type of water charge for the water rates and water rents which can now be levied on consumers under Section 66 of the Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1878. The existing law on this subject is both difficult and obscure, and a number of recent Court decisions have underlined its inadequacies as a working basis for making and recovering charges for water. The new procedure will be more straightforward and will have no connection, as had the old, with rating procedure.

Sections 8 and 9 are intended to assist sanitary authorities in securing the maximum number of connections with water supply and sewerage schemes. As I indicated earlier, grants are now available in certain circumstances to persons wishing to connect their premises with public services. I hope to emphasise this aspect in the new scheme of grants to be made under Sections 2 and 3 of the Bill, so as to make it financially easier to take connections.

Section 9 will authorise local authorities to make connections themselves if necessary, or to contribute towards the cost. Between grants and local authority assistance, there should in future be no case of inability to take a connection on grounds of expense. There may, however, be cases where an owner refuses to make a connection for other reasons. In such cases sanitary authorities will be empowered to serve a notice on the owner requiring him to lay a connection not exceeding 100 feet in length.

Provision is included enabling the owner to appeal to the District Court against such a notice. If his appeal is not upheld by the Court, the notice will become effective and he must, subject to penalties, carry out the work. This is merely a continuance of the power to compel connections which has been exercisable by sanitary authorities since 1878. What the Bill proposes is to substitute a new procedure for one introduced by the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act, 1948, which proved cumbersome and slow in practice.

The second main object of the Bill is the control of atmospheric pollution. There has in recent years been a growing awareness of the need for a clean air policy. The existing law is inadequate and out of date and the time has arrived for more comprehensive and flexible provisions. It is, therefore, proposed to take a power to make regulations controlling sources of air pollution such as smoke, dust, grit or gas; regulating the establishment and operation of trades, chemical and other works and processes which are potential sources of air pollution; and specifying maximum concentrations of specified pollutants in the atmosphere. Regulations may also be made to cover such matters as investigation and measurement of air pollution, and the licensing of persons and premises with a view to controlling the discharge of pollutants into the atmosphere from works or processes.

In this country the air pollution conditions which these regulations are intended to control are at present very localised. I have already initiated the measurement of air pollution in a number of centres. The results indicate the existence of pollution in varying degrees. Measurement will be continued until we obtain a reliable picture of the extent and nature of the problem. While it may not prove to be serious at present we must take account of pending industrial development which may in future alter the position as we know it now. A flexible procedure enabling controls to be instituted where and when required is, in these circumstances, the best approach and the Bill provides this by enabling regulations to be made to meet a wide variety of special air pollution problems according as they may arise.

The remaining provisions of the Bill are of a routine character. The only point calling for comment is the proposed inclusion in the Schedule of the repeal of a small portion of the Open Spaces Act, 1906. This is being done at the request of the Society of King's Inns and with the consent of the Commissioners of Public Works, in order to permit of a part of the Society's property at present used as a public park to be maintained by Dublin Corporation.

The Bill as a whole is designed to bring those parts of sanitary services law which most urgently need modernisation into line with present-day conditions and needs. Work on the consolidation of a far larger body of statute law dealing with the powers and duties of sanitary authorities is at present in progress.

Perhaps the Minister could give us some indication as to when we may expect the more permanent amending and consolidating legislation to which he referred at the conclusion of his speech? Anybody who has any knowledge of or contact with the law in relation to sanitary services will agree whole-heartedly with the Minister when he says it is a complicated field and one that very definitely requires modernisation and simplification. The task of consolidating and amending the whole field of such legislation is not a simple one, but it is one very urgently necessary if it is to be possible for local authorities as well as private individuals to know exactly where they stand in this regard. I hope the Minister will be able, when concluding, to assure the House that such a consolidation Bill will be introduced at an early date.

While this Bill is in the circumstances a temporary Bill, an interim measure, it is at the same time a complex enough measure to have warranted the circulation of an explanatory memorandum. The Minister must be criticised for failing to circulate with the Bill an explanatory White Paper that would enable the ordinary person, such as one Deputy I see over there taking thought unto himself, to understand the measure. Even for those of us who have some experience of reading legal documents, such as Deputy Seán Flanagan and myself, it is far from easy to construe and understand this Bill in its statutory form. It would have very greatly facilitated the consideration of the Bill by the House had there been an explanatory memorandum circulated. It would have very greatly expedited the passage of the Bill on the Committee Stage if we had had such a memorandum. As matters stand, it is inevitably going to mean that on the Committee Stage there will have to be some elucidation of certain points that do not appear clear beyond question.

All of us on every side of the House will agree that it is highly desirable that development be carried out in rural areas, particularly in relation to the provision of water services. We have got to face the situation that, if we do not make the ordinary amenities of life available in rural parts, people will not stay in rural Ireland. Unless we are prepared to ensure that the housewifes in rural Ireland have the ordinary facilities of water in their homes, they will not be content to stay there. It was in the acceptance of that principle that Deputy Dillon, as Minister for Agriculture, first introduced the scheme whereby for the first time grants were made available for the provision of a piped water supply to the farmer's kitchen.

I note the Minister indicated in his speech that the scheme under the Department of Local Government and the scheme under the Department of Agriculture are to be amalgamated in the future. I should like the Minister to give us some greater indication of the manner in which such an amalgamated scheme will be administered in the future. Is is to be solely under the administration of Local Government or will there still be an element of agricultural development in it? Apart from the scheme for the supply of piped water to the farmer's kitchen, there is also available the scheme under Agriculture for the provision of water to out-offices. That, I presume, will remain with Agriculture? Very often the supply to the out-offices comes from the same private water supply or pump as the piped connection to the kitchen.

In his speech the Minister divided the provision of water supplies into three different sectors: local authority schemes; private co-operative group schemes and individual installations. As far as individual installations are concerned, we are all at one that it is desirable to facilitate and provide the incentive for those in so far as we possibly can. In relation to the second class, the group schemes, many of us have seen cases where a group scheme has been provided which brought amenities into an area in a manner that had not been previously contemplated.

When we come to the provision of schemes by local authorities, however, we are on a different class of ground. As regards the built-up areas, it is clear beyond doubt that a local authority scheme for the provision of water is the desideratum for that. Looking at the returns for taxation, one will find that, in relation to its size, Kildare has, with the exception of County Dublin, invested more money in that type of water scheme than any other county council. While I accept without question that regional schemes of that sort are desirable for built-up areas, I do not accept at all the view indicated by the Minister some time ago, in respect of which he was rather silent when introducing this legislation, that regional schemes are the most economical way of providing water for rural Ireland. I do not think they are. There are many cases where it would be far more economical and far better to give wider grants to half a dozen individual people to provide water supplies of their own, rather than that we should have a very expensive local authority scheme running along an area where ample water can be obtained by sinking wells and where the population is not sufficiently dense to justify the cost of these regional piped lines.

The development of electricity and the distribution of electricity throughout the country are now such that virtually in every area where there is an adequate water table, small pressure pumps can provide the water required at a very economic cost. It would be more advantageous to the State as a whole that the grants for such installations should be increased rather than that we should have long miles of pipes laid by the local authorities where there will be few connections because of the small distribution of the population in the areas along which such supplies are delivered.

There are, of course, certain areas in the country where it is virtually impossible by sinking a well to get a proper water supply, or a pure water supply. Of course, in relation to such areas a different mode of approach must be adopted compared with the other areas where the supply is ample and only awaits tapping. I think I sense in the Minister's speech more of an approach to the method of solving this problem which we advocated than the one he advocated some 12 months or so ago, and which shocked everyone by the staggering cost that would be involved.

I should like the Minister, when concluding, to give us some indication of the group schemes so far provided throughout the country. Some have been provided here and there. I am not quite clear under what statutory recognition they have been provided without the powers contained in this Bill, but, perhaps, it was in anticipation of legislative sanction that they were provided.

Does the Minister intend that the powers given to a sanitary authority by Section 6 will apply to group schemes that at some future time may be taken over by a sanitary authority, or to a scheme which may be built now under a co-operative process and then later taken over by a sanitary authority, or does he intend that section in relation to sewerage undertakings and waterworks to apply to existing schemes? If he does, perhaps, he would give the House some indication as to whether they are private waterworks bodies, or private waterworks schemes operated by companies or friendly societies in the same way as county councils and other local authorities operate as a sanitary authority? I am not aware of any such.

I am not quite clear—and I would be grateful to the Minister if he would also indicate when replying—what is intended by the difference between Section 2 and Section 3 of the Bill. I appreciate that Section 2 is the section which enables the Minister to pay grants while, on the other hand, Section 3 enables the sanitary authority to pay grants. Is it intended that the existence of these two separate sections will provide a means by which the sanitary authority can pay a supplementary grant in addition to the Minister's grant, or is it intended in certain cases that grants paid by the sanitary authority should be in substitution for Departmental grants? That, for example, is one of the queries that probably would not have arisen if an explanatory memorandum had been furnished with the Bill.

I cannot understand why there are the two sections, when one takes into account that under subsection (3) of Section 3 the Minister apparently will repay to the sanitary authority the grant which the sanitary authority has paid. If the Minister will repay that grant by a free grant to the sanitary authority, surely it would have been better that the total grant should have been paid in the first instance by one or the other body and that there should not be duplication?

I had at first believed that Section 3 was to cover the provision of loans by the Minister to the sanitary authority to enable the sanitary authority to make grants charging the repayment of the loans to its ordinary funds.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,

As I said, I believed that the purpose of Section 3 was to enable the Minister to provide the funds to the sanitary authority out of which supplemental free grants could be paid, and that the sanitary authority would repay the amount so provided by the Minister by means of charging it on its ordinary revenue. In other words, I believed that Section 3 was the authorising section but it would appear, having regard to the provisions of Section 4, that that understanding of mine was mistaken.

Section 4 also enables the sanitary authority to make advances to persons who are providing the necessary supplies or facilities. I should like to know whether it is clear beyond question that the powers of the sanitary authority in Section 4 include the making of advances to a person owning a vested cottage. The reason I mention that is that when we come to the wording of a similar section in the Housing Bill it will be found that the provision in that Bill is such as to specifically mention a vested cottage which is not specifically mentioned in this Bill. I cannot at the moment put my finger on the section where I noticed it, but there is in one section a phrase "including a vested cottage" and I notice that phrase is not included in Section 4 of this Bill. I should like the Minister, therefore, to give a specific assurance that the powers contained in Section 4 do enable the sanitary authority to make these advances to the owner of a vested cottage who is installing water and sewerage.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,

I must confess that I thought I could put my finger on the section without the slightest difficulty but, notwithstanding the assistance given to me by Deputy McQuillan's break, I cannot find it.

Section 10, subsection (2).

The Minister is, no doubt, aware of the exact section to which I am referring and there will be ample opportunity between now and the Committee Stage to verify the reference. The same argument also applies to the guarantees provided by Section 5, particularly in the case of the small works required to be done by a vested tenant. In Kildare, there will be a number of cases where the farmers for whom such vested tenants work will be only too glad to assist their employees by advancing moneys to enable houses to be made more comfortable by the provision of a proper water and sewerage system, provided the local authority is empowered to guarantee the payments in such cases. That would be an inexpensive way of doing things because, in 99 cases out of 100, no question of interest would arise at all. It seems to me also that the provisions of Section 5 rather follow the provisions of the 1956 Housing Act, provisions which were often derided by the present Government. I am glad to see that by the provisions of Section 5 they have now, by implication at any rate, agreed that the principle of guarantees is a wise one.

Power is being taken in Section 7 of this Bill to provide for disconnection of the water supply where accounts have not been discharged. We can understand, of course, the necessity for that power, but it is a power that will have to be used with the greatest care. If we are not careful, we shall find exactly the same problem arising as arises in relation to the disconnection of electricity. We have had on many occasions protests in this House, and difficulties arising elsewhere, because of the manner in which the E.S.B. were accustomed to disconnect electricity without an adequate warning system. That provided unnecessary expense on occasions on the consumer. It also gave rise to considerable inconvenience and some hardship. But, in relation to the disconnection of water supplies, the position would be far more serious. It could very easily give rise to the danger of an outbreak of disease or epidemic if there were no water for the flushing of the water closet. For that reason the very greatest care must be taken to ensure that every possible step will be taken before the water supply is cut off.

There should be in Section 7, and particularly in subsection (9), clear-cut provisions outlining the steps the sanitary authority must take before disconnecting the water supply to ensure that there will be no disconnection where payment is humanly possible and, secondly, the steps that must be taken after disconnection to safeguard against disease or epidemic. Such an outbreak might affect not merely the premises disconnected but nearby premises as well. People going on holiday might overlook the first demand. The second demand might arrive while they were on holiday and might not be forwarded to them. They might find themselves, on their return, without having time to discharge their liability, suddenly disconnected. Such disconnection would be attended by all the inconvenience normally experienced by people who are accustomed to running water and a proper sewerage system, particularly where there are no alternative facilities of a temporary nature. We must be very certain, therefore, in enacting this legislation that the powers laid down in subsection (9) of Section 7 are hedged with adequate restrictions on the sanitary authority to guard against any possibility of the outbreak of disease or epidemic following disconnection of supply.

I think people will be rather shocked to learn that under subsection (11) of Section 7 it will in future be illegal for them to water their gardens with the local authority water supply. It will also be illegal for them to wash motor cars. While it is undesirable that local authority water supplies should be used for industrial purposes, nevertheless, that surely does not extend to the ordinary amenities of domestic life? Everybody is anxious that the amenities in housing schemes should be preserved. An important amenity is the addition of a garden. Facilities to water a small garden, such as that normally attached to local authority housing, should not, I suggest, unduly tax the capacity of the local authority water supply.

Debate adjourned.