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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 25 Oct 1966

Vol. 224 No. 13

Rent Restrictions (Amendment) Bill,1966: Second Stage.

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

The main object of this Bill is, as the explanatory memorandum states, to encourage the maintenance in proper repair of the present stock of controlled houses and to do this without causing any hardship to existing tenants.

Deputies will need no convincing on the vital importance of preserving as long as possible what stocks of housing we already have, and on how much more economic it is to spend money on repair and reconstruction than on replacement of such stocks by new buildings. This is particularly relevant when the demand for new housing continues to exist at such a high level. Moreover, this country has a high proportion of old housing. The percentage of our housing stock which was built before 1919 is, at 58 per cent, one of the highest in Western Europe. Only France, which has 62 per cent, exceeds it. We, therefore, particularly need to provide every encouragement possible to keep our old houses in good repair. The provision of repair and reconstruction grants on a considerable scale has done much in this direction. Some 153,000 houses have been repaired or reconstructed since 1948. These grants are for repairs of a more or less capital nature and not for ordinary running repairs. It is only common sense to advocate a "stitch in time" policy in the matter of housing maintenance to be followed by all owners of old houses, whether they be owneroccupiers, local authorities or private landlords.

We are concerned in this Bill only with premises owned by private landlords which remain under the control of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1960. A considerable number of rented dwellings are still controlled, though the proportion of controlled to uncontrolled dwellings is continuously declining. This is primarily due to obsolescence of existing dwellings and the construction of new, and, therefore, uncontrolled, dwellings. Figures relating to the subject are hard to come by but in 1961 the percentage of controlled dwellings was approximately 14 per cent.

There is no doubt that controlled rents are far below present open market levels, even when full allowance is made for the fact that many of the dwellings involved lack amenities which are now provided as a matter of course in new houses. And I think there will be no disputing the proposition that. having regard to the increase in the cost of repairs since 1960, when landlords who were liable for repairs were given their last increase of 12½ per cent, landlords who have to carry out such repairs can do so only at a considerable reduction in their net income and a corresponding disinclination to have the premises properly maintained. Perhaps I might, very briefly, sketch the background to the increase of 12½ per cent given in the 1960 Act. In 1960 most of the controlled property, that is, that built before 1919, was controlled at rents which were 25 per cent above actual 1914 rents and the only additions permitted to those rents were for rates, where the landlord paid them, and for any expenditure by the landlord on improvements, structural alterations, or certain exceptional repairs. By then repair costs were over seven times the 1914 level.

Since 1960 the cost of repairs to house property has increased substantially as a result of increases in building wages and the cost of materials. The increase in building costs is estimated officially at 29 per cent from 1960 to June, 1966, but, as the proportion of labour to materials in house repairs is higher than in building operations, the figure for the increase in repair costs would be substantially higher than this. Moreover, the increased incidence of income tax since 1963 on the income from unfurnished lettings has further reduced the net income from controlled property.

It is against this background that I am proposing in this Bill certain measures to encourage the maintenance of controlled property in proper repair and, not only this, but to strengthen the remedies of the tenant against the landlord who fails in his obligation in the matter of repair.

First of all, the Bill proposes to allow an increase of 15 per cent in present net rents, subject to a minimum of 2/6 weekly. This increase is no more than the maintenance of the status quo as in 1960, and it is subject to the important limitation that not only must the landlord be liable for repairs but he must have spent certain specified sums on the repairs in the six years before the 8th June, 1966, when the Bill was introduced. The form of notice of intention to increase the rent, which every landlord must serve to avail himself of this increase, must contain particulars of this expenditure. In other words, only landlords who have actually been carrying out the repairs are going to get the increase. I think it is a reasonable provision, and that tenants generally, who are equally interested as the landlord in the proper maintenance of their dwelling accommodation, will regard it as such.

The second provision relating to the maintenance of controlled houses is that which proposes to allow a lawful addition to landlords who have to spend more than one-fifth of the current rent in any year on any kind of maintenance. The addition is to be 10 per cent on the excess expenditure. This addition will replace the existing provision allowing the landlord a graduated percentage of his outlay on what might be called "once-andfor-all" expenditure on major repair and reconstruction work. It is at present 15 per cent on the first £100 of the excess expenditure over two-thirds of the basic rent, 8 per cent on the second £100 of the excess and 6 per cent on the remainder. As the law stands, there is no provision for the recoupment to the landlord of what might be heavy expenditure on other repairs, for instance, on the replacement of the water pipes leading from the mains. He has no incentive whatever to incur expenditure on regular outside painting, which is necessary to preserve the fabric of the building itself, quite apart from any considerations of decorative effect. The Bill will ensure that, where landlords comply with their obligations to keep the premises in repair, they can no longer say that they will not receive a reasonable return on the expenditure or that it is unfair to expect them to incur the expenditure while restricting rents below open market levels.

As a corollary, the Bill proposes, in section 11, to remove a great deal of the present uncertainties as to the incidence of liability for repairs in weekly or monthly lettings. The tenants of many of these lettings have no written agreements and there is very often a great deal of difficulty experienced in determining who is liable for particular repairs. From now on tenants will be able to pinpoint liability in this respect. The section implies a covenant in such lettings that the landlord will be liable for keeping in repair the structure, including floors, the exterior, including painting facilities for water, gas, sanitation, electricity, etc. and, in the case of flats, the ceilings. This provision, together with the increased powers which section 8 gives to the court to reduce the rent in cases where landlords neglect their repairing responsibilities as well as the increased powers in this regard conferred on tenants by the recent Housing Act, will ensure that tenants can insist on their dwellings being kept in good repair at all times. Tenants have, of course, a number of other remedies against a landlord who fails in his obligation to keep property in repair and the removal of uncertainties about liability to repair will give these remedies fresh significance.

I should like to draw special attention also to the provision in section 7 which enables a tenant to disallow a lawful addition obtained by the landlord for expenditure on maintenance if he satisfies the court that the expenditure was rendered necessary by breach of an obligation imposed on the landlord by contract or statute and that the landlord has not, during the three years immediately preceding the expenditure, spent a reasonable sum on the maintenance of the dwelling. However, in order that landlords may have an opportunity to put controlled property in good repair, it is proposed that this provision will not apply except to expenditure incurred on repairs done in 1970 or subsequently.

What I have said so far deals with the primary purpose of the Bill, that is the conservation of existing controlled property, but the provisions in section 2 for the decontrol of certain houses will also indirectly server to further that purpose. The proposed decontrol will take place in two ways, in each case with full protection for the interests of existing tenants. First of all, there will be an extension of decontrol on the landlord getting vacant possession. At present there is decontrol on getting vacant possession only in respect of houses exceeding £30 valuation, in Dublin, and £25, elsewhere. Under the Bill this will apply to all houses and also to self-contained flats. This provision naturally does not affect sitting tenants at all. The other decontrol provision in section 2 is that which provides for the decontrol of houses exceeding £40 valuation, in Dublin, and £30, elsewhere. The tenants who may be decontrolled under this provision are being given by section 12 automatic rights to a 21 years lease under Part III of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1931. I should not imagine that there are many rented houses in these valuation categories which would be occupied by persons who could not reasonably be asked to pay an economic rent for them, but, in case there are, I have made special provision to ensure that no such tenant can be required to pay a rent under the new lease which would cause him or her hardship. The decontrol will not apply to existing lettings of rooms or flats in houses which are over the valuation limits. Moreover, future lettings of rooms and non-selfcontained flats in houses decontrolled under either of these provisions will still be subject to control, though section 5 of the Bill provides that the controlled rent will be determined on a basis which will not be quite so restrictive as at present.

The final provision to which I should like to draw attention is that which will enable what I might call the "small" landlord to have a fair rent fixed by the district court, a rent which will be reasonable and which will take into account all the circumstances of the case but, in the words of the Bill, in particular the necessity of avoiding financial hardship to the tenant and the landlord. I am satisfied that this is a fair and just provision to insert in the Bill and that it will help to remove what I consider to be an anomaly in the present code. I have had several instances brought to my notice—and I am sure every Deputy in the House will know of similar cases—where the landlord has only one house or a few houses and is in relatively bad circumstances whereas the tenant is very comfortably off. Where this is the case I see no reason why the tenant should not be asked to pay a fair rent for the house, a rent he can afford. It will be observed that this provision applies only to the review of the rents of controlled houses. It does not apply to any lettings of rooms or flats, which will continue to have the full protection of the Act as regards the restriction of rents.

In general, the Bill is being put forward by me as a reasonable attempt to deal with a matter which is of vital importance to tenants as well as to landlords. From the landlord's point of view it will put him in a position to maintain the premises properly by enabling him to recoup the costs of necessary repairs. From the tenant's point of view it should help to ensure, so far as the law can do it, that controlled tenants will have properly maintained houses to live in for as long as proper maintenance can keep these houses in existence. On this basis I believe that it will be regarded, by tenants as well as by landlords, as being a fair and reasonable approach to the problem, and I hope that in principle it will commend itself to the House.

The Bill itself is, in form, somewhat complex, and necessarily so, because it is mainly concerned with amendments of the provisions of the 1960 Act. For this reason I have had included in the Explanatory Memorandum, circulated with the Bill, an Appendix which shows the effect of these amendments on the 1960 Act and I hope that this will be of assistance to Deputies. I considered the possibility of repealing the 1960 Act entirely and its re-enactment in amended form but I think that, on balance, the course which has been adopted is the better alternative. When the Bill becomes law arrangements will be made to have the sections as amended printed in such a way that they can be incorporated in existing copies of the 1960 Act.

Although on this Stage we are concerned with matters of principle, I shall endeavour to clarify any particular provisions on which Deputies may require further information. As to the principles themselves, I feel sure that every Deputy will be interested in seeing that the existing housing stock is properly maintained and that tenants have full facilities to avail themselves of their remedies against landlords who neglect their repairing responsibilities. I want to say that I shall give very careful consideration to any suggestions which may be made in the course of the debate towards enabling these objects to be more effectively achieved. On this basis I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

I move:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute "Dáil Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill on the grounds that it is not appropriate to do so until the Government provide an adequate number of houses to deal with the present acute housing shortage and thus enable the Rent Restrictions code to be revised in a manner equitable to houseowners and occupying tenants".

The object of this amendment is to do a number of things. Firstly, it is intended in relation to the Bill the Minister has introduced to pinpoint the extremely grave and acute housing shortage which exists throughout the country at present. It is also intended to emphasise the responsibility of the Government in this matter and to try to jerk the Government into a realisation of their responsibility in the matter and of the urgent nature of the problem which faces the unfortunate people in far too many areas throughout the country, and not merely in the city of Dublin. Finally, as the amendment makes it quite clear, we want to record our view of how inappropriate it is to introduce a measure of this sort, whatever may be said about the merits of it. I agree with the Minister that a lot can be said as regards the merits because I do not speak at all as an admirer of the rent restrictions code, but whatever may be said regarding the merits of the proposed legislation we want to record our view that it is inappropriate to introduce it at this time.

The Minister and most Deputies will agree with me that scarcity conditions, where the demand far exceeds the supply, constitute the classical conditions for inflated prices. Deputies on all sides will agree that so far as housing is concerned at the moment, and this has been so for some time, those classical inflationary conditions exist. Demand far exceeds supply and, therefore, it seems to us that those are the conditions in which the Minister should not introduce legislation designed to raise rents of tenants of controlled dwellings, whether they are sitting tenants or new tenants coming in, on the one hand, and, secondly, to bring about a fair measure of decontrol which is going to take a certain number of these houses—whether it be large or small is not particularly important to my argument—out of the market and make them unavailable for renting at the same controlled rents at which they have been available up to the time of decontrol.

As I say, so far as housing is concerned the classical conditions for inflation exist. It is true of all commodities that where demand exceeds the supply, you get inflated prices. I think that is true of everything. It is particularly true of the commodity which most people will agree is the essential commodity, that is, the commodity which keeps the roof over a person's head.

I am moving this motion in the belief that those two propositions are true, firstly, that it is reasonable that in the year 1966 reasonable housing conditions for all our people should be regarded as a realisable aim and that we should accept that our people are entitled to seek such conditions and to regard them as a necessity. I do not believe that proposition will be disputed by most Deputies.

The second proposition is that far too many of our people are, today, not enjoying those conditions because of the acute and grave housing shortage which exists. If the House is prepared to accept those propositions as being true, then, to my mind, it follows logically that nothing should be done by us in our legislation here to make it more difficult for any section of our people to achieve reasonable housing accommodation at rents which the tenants can afford to pay.

It is in this context that I would invite Deputies to consider the proposals the Government have introduced in this amending Bill. I do not think the Minister will disagree with me when I say that the main features of the Bill are firstly that there will be a mandatory 15 per cent increase in rents of controlled dwellings. I know the arguments the Minister has advanced in favour of that and in other circumstances I would go a long way in agreeing with the Minister that there is justification for this, that prices have increased, wages, labour and so on have increased, and consequently the cost of repairs has gone up. However, one of the principal provisions of this Bill is to impose a mandatory 15 per cent increase in rents. Secondly, that mandatory 15 per cent increase in rents will be imposed on tenants of controlled houses, irrespective of their arrangements with their landlords. This increase is not one which it is intended to apply only to tenants coming into controlled dwellings. It will apply to all tenants of controlled dwellings, irrespective of what arrangements they have made already with their landlords.

The next main feature of this Bill is, of course, that which the Minister has referred to, the further extension of decontrol. I think I have already indicated to the Minister that I do not regard either of those steps as being intrinsically bad. In other circumstances, I would be prepared not only to concede that the Bill and the particular steps I have referred to have merit but I think I could see it within me to urge their desirability on the House. A condition precedent to that, to my mind, in any event, would be the availability of sufficient houses at least to ease the present crisis conditions. Until the Government are in a position to say to this House that they have brought about some fairly dramatic improvements in the housing conditions, a Bill of this nature is premature.

As I said, I am not, and never have been, an admirer of the rent restriction code. As the Minister in his speech pointed out, it is a code which goes back to 1914. In fact, I believe it is true to say that the first Rent Restrictions Act was introduced as an emergency war measure at the beginnig of the First World War at a time when people were coming from the rural areas into the cities and towns where accommodation consequently was becoming short and the demand was growing. In other words, you had very much the same kind of conditions, in relation to housing, as you have at the moment. You had this shortage of accommodation and overcrowding, and in those circumstances the first Rent Restrictions Act was brought in, as I said, as an emergency measure, intended, I think, to last only for the duration of the First World War and a period of six months or thereabouts afterwards.

In fact, it was found necessary to continue the code in the 1920s and in a number of other Acts. The most recent, so far as this House goes, was the Rent Restrictions Act of 1960. The 1960 Act, of course, brought in a fairly large measure of decontrol. It also contained similar provisions to the provisions which the Minister is introducing here with regard to increases of rents. The only thing is that six years ago when the 1960 Act was introduced, the rent increase was limited to 12½ per cent. Now, six years later, we find the Minister adding another 15 per cent to that so that in fact over the past six years the increase in rents which is being imposed in a mandatory, arbitrary way, on tenants, is a total of 27½ per cent.

I do not make the case that that cannot be justified by the increase in the cost of repairs and I agree with the Minister regarding the importance of trying to preserve the existing stock of houses. One of the faults which I saw in the rent restrictions code from the very beginning was that it fell down on the question of repairs, that there was nothing in the code which clearly imposed obligations regarding the repair of premises in such a way to ensure that repairs would be done and that by the repairs being done the houses would be preserved.

Consequently the Act of 1960, when it was introduced, allowed a 12½ per cent increase in rents and when it was argued in that connection that this increase was necessary on account of repairs, we pointed out at the time from these benches that the provision was a bad one because it was making a mandatory increase in rents which was to be payable where the landlord had responsibility for repairs or part repairs, but that there was no provision being written into the Bill to ensure that the increase would operate only provided the landlord carried out these repairs. I have a quotation here but I shall not bore the Minister with it. I remember arguing strongly on the occasion of the 1960 Bill that if these mandatory increases were to be imposed, there should be something in the Bill which would make them payable only in the cases of landlords who not alone were responsible for repairs but who actually carried out these repairs. I think it is right to say that I do appreciate the fact that in the present Bill that situation has been remedied and the receipt by the landlord of the increase in rent will be dependent on the repairs being done.

It is something of an anomaly that some 50 years after the introduction of emergency war legislation we should still be carrying it forward, but I do not think we are in a position yet to get rid of it, and I do not think we will be in that position until the Government of the day are able to point to the fact that sufficient houses have been erected to make the rent restrictions code no longer necessary. In fact, what is done by the rent restrictions code is that the private landlord is required to subsidise tenants. That, to my mind, should be the job of the Government operating through a local authority, or however it is done, but, in any event, the emergency conditions which necessitated the introduction of the rent restrictions code are in no way lessened today. I do not remember the time of the introduction of the first rent restrictions code but I have no doubt that the present housing conditions are every bit as acute as in 1914 or 1915 when the first Act was introduced.

Ah, no; we have improved a bit since then.

I am sure we have improved since then, but I want to call the Minister's attention to an interesting figure given by his colleague, the Minister for Local Government, in a debate in the Seanad earlier this year when he pointed to the fact that between 1946 and 1961, we built some 125,000 houses, but that in that period the total housing stock grew by only 14,000 units; in other words, 125,000 houses were built but the housing stock increased by only 14,000 units. He said that the balance disappeared through obsolescence, demolition, change to other uses, and so on. So, when you have that kind of situation where even the erection of some 100,000 houses gives a net addition of only 14,000 new houses, it does show that the problem is very slow of solution.

What I am suggesting to the Minister is not that the rent restrictions code should be regarded as something sacrosanct to be upheld by this House but that until we are in a position of having available to our people a sufficient number of houses to take away the emergency atmosphere, to take away the danger of inflation, until that time arrives, we should not do anything which will, or be likely to add to the problem and worsen the already grave housing shortage.

If this Bill gets a Second Reading and goes into Committee, there are a number of matters, as the Minister has indicated, that may require detailed discussion. One of the matters which certainly should be considered very carefully by this House, if we reach the Committee Stage, is that we are here in 1966 once again, six years after discussing this matter in the 1960 Act, going to impose mandatory increases on sitting tenants. I believe there should be a differentiation in this respect between sitting tenants, people who are there already and who have already come to arrangements with their landlords, and new tenants of controlled premises. If we are going to amend the code at all, we should consider also something on the lines of a fair rent tribunal which could mete out a measure of justice both to the landlord and the tenants. I am quite well aware that the last rent tribunal, the Conroy Tribunal, did not favour the idea but, personally, I believe it would be workable and could work not only in relation to rents but in relation to decontrol.

So far as the landlord is concerned, the most irksome thing in the rent restrictions code is not necessarily that he is tied in regard to rent but the fact that he is excluded from getting possession of the premises. As I said before, one of the faults of the code was that it failed to deal with the question of repairs. Naturally enough, the tenant who is never likely to be the owner was not going to concern himself with laying out money for repairs and, likewise, the landlord who was kept out of possession by virtue of the restriction against possession in the rent restrictions code was not going to concern himself with the question of repairs. I think possibly that slack is being taken up a bit now, possibly a bit too quickly.

The point I want to make is that in regard to the landlord, very often the question that concerned him most acutely was not being able to get possession of his own house. As I see it, some type of tribunal which could go into questions of greater hardship between the landlord and the tenant, not only rent questions but possession questions, might be of considerable assistance. I do not propose saying anything further at this stage in relation to the Bill.

We do not think the Bill should get a Second Reading, not because we particularly favour the code as it stands, but because it may create a very difficult situation for many people who are seeking reasonable living accommodation at reasonable rents, if legislation of this sort is passed at the moment during a period of acute housing shortage.

I second the amendment and reserve the right to speak later.

I have been trying to analyse this Bill and find out if, in fact, any useful purpose can be served at present by introducing a Bill of this kind. Like Deputy O'Higgins, I feel that the suggestion that simply by introducing a Bill in this House and getting it passed through while there are so many people who need houses and who will have to compete with those already in possession of housing accommodation means that the Bill can have very little effect at least for some time. We are all in sympathy with the person who owns a house and is receiving a very bad rent for it and who, because of that, is not prepared to carry out repairs but ownership of property must carry a certain responsibility and if those people deliberately allow their property to fall into bad repair rather than expend some money on keeping it in repair, then I feel the State should not be in such a hurry rushing to their assistance.

As it stands, most people who want to repair houses can obtain a very substantial State grant to do so. This may not meet the full requirements, particularly where larger houses are concerned. In fact, I know of somebody who wanted to carry out repairs to a house and asked the Department of Local Government to give an estimate of the cost of the necessary repairs. They came up with a bill for something around £5,200. In view of the fact that the house had been bought a few years previously for £4,000 this looked a little ridiculous.

I am afraid that the Bill, as it is worded at present, will be accepted by property owners as an excuse to attempt to raise rents one way or the other and, if they must do repairs, to do the bare minimum of repairs necessary. Costings or finding out what the repairs actually cost or whether or not the repairs were all that was necessary in order to qualify for raising the rent will mean that either their word will have to be taken for it or a contractor's word or a horde of officials will have to be employed who will go around checking on facts or supposed facts. For that reason I think this Bill is likely to be just another gimmick which gives the impression that it is doing something but is, in fact, not doing anything at all. If it means anything at all it means that the authority to increase rents is being considered.

Deputy M.J. O'Higgins made a comment—I do not think he was thinking too clearly when he made it—that a 12½ per cent increase in 1960 plus a 15 per cent increase now means an increase of 27½ per cent. Twelve and a half per cent on 1960 rents with a 50 per cent increase on top of the revised rents means very much higher than the increase suggested, inadvertently, I suppose, by Deputy M.J. O'Higgins.

On the basic rent which was the same.

Mr. Tully


Fifteen per cent on the basic rent.

There is a new basic rent.

On the original basic rent if we go back to that. I cannot see where the justification is for that over a few years because it means that those who succeded in getting a 12½ per cent increase in 1960 will now be applying for a further increase by claiming to do certain things.

There is another section of the Bill which makes me a bit nervous about the whole thing. The Bill says that the release from the terms of the Rent Restrictions Bill will, of course, apply where a tenancy is ended. Does the Minister not consider that this will raise an issue where certain people who own property will attempt to break the existing tenancy? We have at present under orders from the Minister for Local Government local authorities attempting to break the tenancies in order to increase the rents of labourers' cottages. If it can be legally done by a Department of State surely we will have quite a lot of it done by private individuals who will only be too anxious to avail of any loophole that may arise.

It is all right for those who own houses to say that, of course, they must get some money back. I recently had a case brought to my notice of somebody who was getting 5/- a week for a house. The house was not in good repair. The landlord asked me "What do you expect me to do? I am paying 8/- a week rates on the house and getting 5/- a week from the tenant. I am paying out more in rates than I am actually getting in rent from the tenant. Why should I be expected to carry out repairs?" The result is that that person got the local authority to condemn the house and to pull it down and got the tenants rehoused in a local authority housing scheme. If the Minister is moving to prevent this sort of thing happening and trying to encourage property owners to repair their houses and thereby to make more houses available, I can go a long way with him.

That is what it is all about.

This Bill, to me, does not seem to do that. That is what it may be supposed to be about but in the Bill itself or in the White Paper or even in the Minister's statement I see far too many loopholes to accept that it will achieve that. It may be that the net result of this will be that a certain number of people will avail of an Act of this House for the purpose of putting out tenants or breaking longstanding tenancies in order that they may raise rents and that there will be all sorts of dodges and tricks tried for the purpose of trying to have rents increased without the necessary repairs being carried out.

If we go to any house which is occupied by a tenant for a number of years and ask the tenant what repairs he thinks are necessary to put the house in good repair we will get a list of repairs. We can then go to the landlord and ask him the same question and see whether the two lists coincide. The Minister is well aware of the fact that what the landlord thinks is necessary and what the tenant thinks is necessary are two different things.

That is human nature, is it not?

There is no provision in the Bill to deal with this. Who decides what the necessary repairs are? Will we have a new Department of State whose sole function will be to check on old houses and find out whether or not they need repair or whether or not the repairs which the tenant claims are needed are the repairs which should be carried out or the very much smaller number of repairs which the landlord feels are sufficient should be carried out before rents can be increased?

This is the type of Bill which will have to be discussed at length in committee. I am quite sure that before it goes through this House, if it does, quite a number of amendments will be introduced and discussed both from our Party and from the other Parties. I would ask the Minister to be very careful about the wording of a Bill of this kind because I know that at present there are sections in this country who are writing to Deputies and pointing out that the Bill means a certain thing which I cannot find in it, and another group of people writing pointing out that certain safeguards they wanted are not included in the Bill. From my reading of the Bill, they were there all the time. Therefore, this is the sort of legislation the lawyers love to have coming up because they can argue two ways about it——

They hate it.

——with due apologies to my colleague. But at the same time, as the Bill stands at the present time, it is far too loosely worded and does not mean what it is supposed to mean, according to the Minister's statement. For that reason, I would ask him to have another look at the Bill before he asks this House to give it a Second Reading.

I thank the Minister for only one thing in this Bill. Deputy Tully has suggested that lawyers welcome legislation of this kind because it is so intricate. May I say the only reason I welcome this Bill is that in future, whenever a lawyer is consulted by a client to calculate what the rent ought to be after repairs, he will have one sum only to do whereas heretofore he had five? That, in itself, is something for which to be grateful but it is about the only provision, in present circumstances, which we in the Fine Gael Party can welcome.

We are told in the Government's White Paper that the main object of the Bill is to encourage the maintenance of the present stock of controlled houses. That may be the object of the Bill but one immediate consequence of this Bill is to reduce the stock of controlled houses available and, when that has been done at a time when there are 10,000 families known in Dublin city to be in urgent need of housing accommodation which they have not got, it is unforgivable. As Deputy O'Higgins has pointed out, it is a time of scarcity, of demand and inflation, and, if we allow a large body of houses to become decontrolled in the way in which the Minister will allow under this Bill, then we will put these 10,000 unfortunate people in the position of being unable to rent any houses in the private sector because of the demands which landlords can make.

The Minister will answer, no doubt, that the decontrol will apply only to houses where the existing tenant vacates the premises. That is true, but what greater or moral right has a person, who is fortunate enough to be in a house at the moment and to have had that good fortune for the past 20 or 30 years, to have the protection of the law than one of the unfortunate 10,000 families; because the Government will not give the local authorities authority to build the houses urgently needed? Surely these unfortunate 10,000 families looking for houses are entitled to get the same protection as people who, because they happened to be born before them, are tenants of a house for the past ten, 20, 30 or even 50 years? I cannot comprehend the reason for this at all—to say that the existing tenant has a right to claim the protection of Parliament but that people whose housing needs are just as acute, whose housing misery is worse, are not entitled to any protection from Parliament. That is the proposition we are asked to accept and bless in the Bill. We of the Fine Gael Party find it entirely unacceptable. That is why Deputy O'Higgins has asked that the Dáil decline to give a Second Reading to the Bill on the grounds set out.

The Minister is treating this matter much too lightly, this question of the obligation we have to ensure that people have houses made available to them at reasonable rents. The Minister ignored that part of it in his introductory speech today. He has also ignored in his introductory speech any reference to section 9 of this Bill, which is the section which seeks to amend section 29 of the 1960 Act, the section to which reference was made recently in the House when, on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I introduced a Private Member's Bill seeking to have section 29 amended. The Minister promised us that day that the matter would be dealt with very fully on this Bill.

In the course of the Minister's remarks on the last day, discussing section 29 of the Principal Act and the Fine Gael amendment there to, he said that what the Fine Gael Party were seeking to do was to impose an obligation on the courts to find alternative accommodation for people who were to be dispossessed of houses by developers who wanted to knock them down. The Minister knows that was never the intention of the Fine Gael amendment. The Minister knows that no lawyer, or even a non-lawyer with reasonable intelligence, could read such a meaning into it. What we are seeking to do, and what we will put down an amendment to this Bill to seek to achieve, is to impose an obligation on a developer who wants to demolish a perfectly good house and to put a family out of it to provide alternative accommodation for that family, similar in regard to accommodation, condition and rent to the house out of which the person is being put. The Government would have us understand that existing tenants have rights which are antecedent and superior to the rights of anybody else seeking a house. Yet that principle which they seem to regard as sacrosanct is being offended against in section 29 of the 1960 Act and again in the amendment which it is sought to achieve here in section 29.

Until 1960, a developer could not put a person out of a controlled dwelling unless he was able to rehouse the person in similar circumstances; in other words, to tempt the person out of it. I cannot see that there is anything wrong in that. If a person wants to make more money in the future by knocking down houses to build offices, supermarkets or petrol pump stations, we should not stop him doing it as long as he does not inflict misery on people by so doing. That is not progress; it is not progress to evict people from their houses, give them a paltry few hundred and say: "There you are, that is what Parliament says we need do". Yet, that is what has been happening ever since the 1960 legislation. But mind you, when the 1960 legislation was going through, there was then a reasonable prospect that people being evicted in those circumstances might get accommodation from a local authority.

But that was six years ago. At that time we still had some kind of a prospect of housing these people because there were houses available but now there is no possibility of any family of four people or less, who are evicted in those circumstances, being housed by Dublin Corporation for at least two or three years to come, if not more, and that is being optimistic about it. Ever since the 1960 Act, we have had land grabbers, profiteers, land owners and property owners without conscience. We have had foreign enterprises; we have had people whose antecedents in any country in the world could not be traced coming in here and evicting Irish families from their homes with no compensation being made available, other than a paltry few hundred pounds, insufficient to buy even a caravan, build a lean-to shed or a garage.

The Minister, when we introduced a Bill to stop this social scandal last week, said he would meet it in section 9 of this Bill. Under section 9 of this Bill what the Minister proposes is that in future, when the courts are fixing the compensation to be given to tenants who have been put out by developers, the courts are fixing by way of compensation a sum which will be sufficient to enable a tenant without incurring hardship to secure appropriate alternative accommodation.

At the same time as the Minister is doing this, he and his colleagues in the Government are ensuring that alternative accommodation is not available to those people. Alternative accommodation which would not impose hardship would be accommodation which would be similar and which was rent controlled, but there will be no vacant accommodation in future which will be rent controlled. So the situation is that the courts are being asked to assess a figure by way of compensation in respect of something which is not available, and will not be available because of the very steps the Government are seeking to implement through this legislation.

In case I am talking at a level at which some people may find it impossible to apprehend the seriousness of the problem, let me bring it down to an actual typical case.

Does the Deputy suggest that if a person is evicted from one house and gets a new house, he should get it at the same rent?

That is perfectly reasonable. If we say here that people are entitled to live in controlled dwellings and if we say that existing tenants have certain rights and privileges, I do not see how they can be obliterated as soon as a wealthy person enters on the scene and says: "I want you out. You are affecting my profits. I want to build an office block or supermarket, and because of that, you can get to hell"—or to use the Persian phrase, Burrow Bejah Nam.

Surely those expressions are unparliamentary?

That is a philosophy which we in Fine Gael are not prepared to accept. To get down to a concrete example. In the suburbs of Dublin a number of families have received notice to quit from a developer who in recent times bought a large scheme of small two or three-bedroomed cottages. This notice to quit has been issued by the person who proposes to demolish these cottages— some 30 or 40 in number—and to build a supermarket, a petrol station and a car park. Some of these houses are to be demolished to provide accommodation for motor cars. The remainder of the cottages are to be demolished to provide landscaping, a petrol station and a supermarket, in an area where there is already a superfluous number of retail outlets.

The majority of these tenants comprise families of four people or less. The cottages are occupied mainly by elderly people who in most cases succeeded to the cottages when their parents died 40 or 50 years ago. These unfortunate people are now in a situation in which the only compensation which will be awarded to them by the courts will be in the region of £300 or £400. They are being benevolently treated—if I dare use the word—by this developer who, in order to avoid the delay of litigation, is offering them £600, provided they get out by a certain date. If they accept the £600 they must be out within a month, and if they do not accept it, they will be awarded compensation of £300 or £400 by the courts. These people are paying rents from 12/- to 15/- a week for these two or three-roomed cottages which have little or no modern amenities other than those which they have provided themselves. Many of them have erected bathrooms and provided flush toilets and other amenities.

For their purposes these houses are perfectly adequate. They are situated in a community in which they hoped to be able to live out the rest of their days. There is no use in saying we can compensate a person in those circumstances by giving him £300, £400 or £600. That would not pay the additional rent they will be required to pay even for a year for accommodation with similar floorspace. That kind of accommodation is next to impossible to get, and if we pass this legislation, it will be worse than next to impossible to get. It will be impossible to get because these small cottages in the back lanes of Dublin and in the suburbs which are regarded by many people as adequate for their purposes will no longer be controlled under this legislation, and because of the colossal housing demand, there will be people who will be tempted to pay rents of £4, £5 or £6 for these cottages.

At present a young married couple with one child or two children find it next to impossible to get accommodation in Dublin from private landlords because the private landlords will not have children in houses which are let in flats. Such young couples will be driven in desperation to offer rents for the small cottages which are left which will be far beyond their real capacity to pay, with the result that whatever prospect they ever had of gathering sufficient money for a deposit on a new house will be completely wiped out. People who might some day have bought their own home will be unable to do so because they are paying so much in rent and they will be thrown in even greater numbers on to the waiting lists of the local authorities.

I mention the case of these unfortunate people because I do not think there is any Deputy who when faced with the problem of such a young family—or of an elderly couple— would not have complete sympathy with them. There is no Member of this House and no decent person in Ireland who would not have every sympathy for people placed in such circumstances. The way we can help them is by refusing to give this Bill a Second Reading and by refusing to permit the Government to make a bad situation worse.

The Minister mentioned in his introductory speech and in the White Paper that the main object of the Bill is to encourage the maintenance in proper repair of the present stock of controlled houses. I do not differ from him in his desire to do what he proposes, or in his method of maintaining the stock of controlled dwellings. I agree with him that the tenants have suffered as much as the landlords from the inadequate provision in the existing rent restriction code.

Debate adjourned.