Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1985: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

We on this side of the House have, for the last two weeks, been asking the Taoiseach when discussion on the Second Stage of this Bill could be resumed. It was first spoken about in the Seanad, was then referred to in the Dáil in legislation in 1984 and it eventually had a Second Stage debate in 1985. We are now into November 1986. As spokesman on environmental matters I have had discussions with interested and concerned groups throughout the summer, particularly those concerned about the plight of the homeless in our cities and towns. They are very anxious that we pass this legislation without delay so that the plight of the homeless will be recognised in legislation and serious action taken to deal with it. Consequently I take this opportunity to say that we on this side of the House are prepared to agree to Second Stage.

We are very concerned about many sections in this Bill. However, we on this side of the House will be submitting a series of amendments which will improve this Bill but the key element of this legislation is that it should be passed, that the plight of the homeless receive priority and that the proposals in this Bill, as amended — I hope the Minister will accept our amendments — will improve the lot of the homeless in our society. With that in mind the Fianna Fáil Party will not be submitting any further speakers on Second Stage.

We will be submitting a series of detailed amendments on Committee Stage which I hope will be taken next week so that this very important legislation will be passed before Christmas. In a Christian community, it is a disgrace that we have so many homeless in our society and we want that situation rectified. In view of the attitude we as a party are taking in this Second Stage debate, I hope the Minister will take an enlightened approach to our amendments because there are hundreds of people in our capital city without homes. We hope this legislation will help improve that position.

I congratulate the Opposition spokesman on his comments on the plight of the homeless. I am sure every Member of this House feels the same way and that we will get the same response from everyone on this side of the House. This augurs well for what can be done for our homeless.

I welcome this Bill which has been described, and rightly so, as the new framework which outlines the service the local authorities should give to the following categories: the homeless, the travellers and the aged. We must give additional powers to our local authorities so that they can house our homeless. I am very happy to speak today about the homeless and how we should house them. Not very long ago people with three children did not qualify for a local authority house because of the scarcity of houses, but I am delighted that today we are making houses available for married couples with no children. That makes me very happy. This is a tribute to the Government for the amount of money they have put into local authority housing over the past four years.

Section 2 refers to the homeless person. I welcome the statutory provision which encourages local authorities to make provision for the aged, the travellers and the homeless. Most Members of this House are also members of local authorities and we must ask ourselves what we have done in our own local councils. In my county we housed 60 itinerant families in 1985 and provided a halting site with provision for 12 caravans. Another halting site is almost completed and it will accommodate 14 caravans. That is an achievement. It might not be as much as we would like, but it is a start in the right direction.

We will have to deal with homeless people immediately. Six years ago there were 300,000 homeless people in America; now there are six million homeless people in the States. That is a big jump. The law of averages tells us that we too will see an increase in the number of homeless and we must be ready to cater for them.

I should like to congratulate Senator Ryan who raised this point recently in the Seanad. He had obviously done his homework. He had got his knowledge from the report of a long survey.

While the power of the local authorities to provide housing is broad, in practice the capacity and ability of individual authorities are somewhat hampered because of finance. Financial constraints will not make it possible for the homeless to obtain the kind of accommodation the local authority would like to provide. In our desire to accommodate these people, we must not forget the family unit. Article 41 of the Constitution tells us what the family unit means. In our desire to be generous to the homeless, we must never neglect families with three or four children.

So far, 1986 has been a good year for house building. I would like to give some figures for the amount spent on housing in 1986: new house grants £22 million; house improvement grants £24 million; the £5,000 surrender grants £11,750,000; task force for the elderly £2.5 million; local authority construction programme £178,750,000; house purchase and improvement loans £83 million; Housing Finance Agency loans £86 million; local authority housing subsidies £179 million; mortgage subsidy scheme £24 million; and other housing expenditure £2,831,000. That is a colossal amount of money at a time when it is difficult to get money.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Department of the Environment on the recent house improvement scheme which has meant a lot to many people who would never have been able to get the money for house repairs. Prior to this scheme reconstruction grants were not available. The scheme will cost a lot but it is welcomed by both contractors and tenants. I hope these grants will continue and that the amount of money at present available for house construction will be increased.

I have often noted that irrespective of the amount of house building in a county little local employment is given. I raised this on occasion with Limerick County Council and stressed the advantage local employment would be to many people anxious to work. It must be frustrating for a worker to have to come every Tuesday to a Garda barracks to sign on for the dole while looking at a scheme of perhaps 40 or 50 houses being built within 300 yards of the station. Many people will say that direct labour is expensive but they should consider unemployment benefit, PRSI, the amount of money derived from tax and the things that are important to somebody who is willing to work. Many people are anxious to work and resent having to sign on for the dole. There should be a change in emphasis so that local people will be employed locally on building works. The same thing applies to the Office of Public Works. They are building a school near me and only one local man is employed on that very big school.

I welcome this Bill and congratulate all concerned.

Ba maith liom cúpla focal a rá faoin mBille seo. Thug sé tamall fada é a thabhairt ar ais don Teach. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil sé anseo inniu agus tá súil agam nuair a thagann Céim an Choiste nach mbeidh an t-am chomh gearr is atá sé inniu.

The importance of the Bill is reflected in the number of interest groups which have over a long period lobbied every Member of this House for its introduction and processing as quickly as practicable. I welcome the fact that it has been brought back into the House today. I hope that Committee Stage will be soon and that there will not be the same time restriction on Committee Stage as has been indicated in relation to Second Stage today. I recognise that the 7 o'clock finishing time is probably dictated by the fact that Fianna Fáil have decided not to offer any more speakers on this Stage. It would be unfortunate if that were to preclude any other Members of the House anxious to speak from getting in.

The Bill is welcome in that it attempts to deal with the question of accommodation which has been a serious question for very many people in this State. Various speakers have pointed out that the problem is not a major one when compared with the problem in Great Britain and in the US. That may be true but the thousands of people without accommodation are not interested very much in statistical comparisons between ourselves and the UK. I welcome the Bill in so far as it goes but there are aspects with which I am not at all happy.

Neither am I happy with what I perceive to be a continuing drive by this Government towards effective privatisation of local authority housing. Virtually all the schemes introduced by this Government in relation to local authority housing have been with the specific aim of transferring house ownership out of the control of the local authority into the control of the occupiers. I am well aware that those of the private enterprise wing of politics regard the very high home ownership in Ireland as a matter of pride, and that many Tories in Britain are envious that something like 60 to 70 per cent of our housing stock is privately owned. I have no objection to anyone owning his own home. I own my house in so far as I pay a mortgage on it. The vast majority of people who say they own their own home mean they have a mortgage and have hocked their lives for 20 to 30 years to a building society, bank, insurance company or the Housing Finance Agency.

Home ownership is fine in theory but when the building societies decide to raise their rates one begins to wonder what the benefits are to ordinary people in relation to home ownership. Clearly the Government benefit as their costs in relation to housing are reduced. Recent changes in the allocation of funding to local authorities, the introduction of the £5,000 grant and various other measures resulted in the Minister for Finance when he was Minister for Industry, Commerce and Tourism being able to announce he had been given money from the housing fund to spend on tourism. That is an extraordinary state of affairs as this Bill will put greater responsibilities on local authorities in relation to certain categories of people for whom, heretofore, they were not directly responsible.

Any savings made through efficiency or the reallocation of resources and the moving out of tenants from local authority houses to the private market should be ploughed back into the housing stock and the provision of adequate housing for the categories of people with whom we are dealing today. A major review is being undertaken in Dublin Corporation at present in relation to housing policy. There is a declared intention to wind down the building of local authority accommodation by Dublin Corporation. They will confine the building of houses and flats to within the city boundaries which will have the immediate effect of having the housing output of Dublin Corporation over the next 12 months. I do not want to be unfair to Dublin Corporation because I know they are also bringing other schemes outside the city boundary to tender stage. If they find there is a sudden upsurge in demand they will be in a position to start building right away in other areas outside the city boundary.

A policy which urges a cutback in local authority accommodation on the basis of a temporary drop in demand for local authority accommodation while the House is debating a Bill which will place greater responsibilities on local authorities in relation to the provision of housing is a mistaken one. Local authorities in particular should move very slowly in cutting back on the provision of accommodation over the next year to 18 months. I have no doubt the economic situation has played its part in the drop in demand for local authority accommodation in certain parts of the city.

Emigration has hit certain areas very hard and many young people have left Dublin. The grant of £5,000 has also had an effect but, as other Deputies made clear, that grant, while it has given many people the opportunity of buying new houses away from the local authority area in which they were living, has also had serious social side effects because it has created social welfare ghettoes. From statistics provided by Dublin Corporation, it is clear that the people who have availed of the £5,000 grant have been replaced by others, 75 per cent of whom are in receipt of social welfare. That cannot be good for areas such as Tallaght, Darndale, Ballymun, Finglas South and other areas struggling to establish themselves and where unemployment is exceptionally high. Indeed in these cases the grant of £5,000 is exacerbating the situation and huge proportions of different areas are on the dole. I welcome the Bill in the sense that it is attempting to deal with homeless single people but I have reservations in regard to the direction the Government are moving in terms of housing policy in general and the way in which funds for housing are used.

Obviously the new proposals in the Bill provide that local authorities will be responsible for homeless people. However, at least one category of homeless person is not dealt with and for which there is no definition, the battered wife or mother who has to leave her home and in many cases her locality because of violence. Another point which concerns me is that while most local authorities attempt reasonably well to provide accommodation in so far as they can, there is a wide disparity between priorities which local authorities establish. If all local authorities are obliged to deal with homeless single people, there is a need to rationalise the priority schemes which each local authority may have, obviously making allowances for the differences which may exist between urban and rural areas. There should be a national scheme of priorities which would be applied broadly, allowing for local variations. I am thinking particularly of the differences which exist in relation to residence qualifications. In many cases one must be resident in an area for three years before a local authority will accept one on the housing list. This must be dealt with on a national basis so that there is no question of one local authority restricting their implementation of the spirit of the Bill simply because they have a particular priority or access to housing lists.

The other point I wish to make refers to the question of resources. While the responsibility of local authorities is being broadened in relation to the categories they must house, there is no indication in the Bill that the local authorities will be compensated in any way for the additional administrative costs which will be involved or for extra staff they will need to deal with the extra workload. That workload may be greater in some areas than others and clearly a Bill like this cannot fix a formula. There should at least be a commitment from the Minister that local authorities will not have to starve other areas of responsibility in order to fulfil their obligations under this Bill.

My experience in this area is confined to Dublin but I am sure the same applies to other local authority areas. Housing officers are obliged, or because of circumstances are obliged, to act as arbiters in cases of marriage breakdown. Where a marriage has broken down and where either the husband or wife has had to leave the home with or without the children the local authority are faced with the problems of deciding whether it is a genuine breakdown, whether there is the possibility the couple may get back together again and whether new accommodation should be offered to the person who has had to leave the family home. Dublin Corporation have dealt with any such cases I have brought to their attention in a very humane way. To some extent their capacity to do so has been facilitated by the fact that a large number of local authority houses in the Dublin city area have become vacant as a result of the £5,000 grant.

What is going to happen in a year or 18 months time when the slack has been taken up and when the local authority building programme has been wound down, as is the intention and as I am sure is the intention in other urban areas? How are the local authorities to decide on the housing of these unfortunate people whose marriages have broken down? The same question applies to single homeless persons. The only reason the corporation have been able to provide accommodation for single homeless persons, both men and women, and for unmarried mothers, with one child in certain circumstances, is because of the availability which is there at present. However, I would stress that that availability is not going to last forever. The Minister and the various county and city managers must apply themselves to that question.

While local authorities may provide halting sites for travellers this Bill does not make it mandatory on them to do so. Every elected representative faces the problems of housing or rehousing travellers and of the provision of adequately serviced halting sites for travellers. A number of local authorities have done an excellent job in that regard. I would like to compliment Dublin Corporation for the work they have done in that regard over the years. Without any mandatory obligation on them to do so they have played their part in settling many hundreds of travellers.

I would like also to compliment the people of the Finglas area. Finglas was one of the first areas in Dublin to have a halting site and the people there have assisted in every way possible the settling of travellers in that area. Because Dublin Corporation and a few other local authorities have taken their responsibilities to heart and made available sites, chalets and half way houses to travellers many other local authorities have shirked their responsibilities. Because a neighbouring local authority were dealing with the problem they were happy to let the matter reside there and not provide accommodation which would take the pressure off areas like Dublin and Cork Corporations. There should be a mandatory obligation on local authorities to provide halting sites and accommodation for travellers under this Bill.

Under section 20 of the Bill a local authority will be permitted to sell a house that is in poor structural condition. That strikes me as odd. Apart from the fact that this will mean a reduction in staff in local authorities it will mean also that people will be buying houses which are not up to standard. It is odd that local authorities which are duty bound to ensure that accommodation is maintained at a certain standard under this Bill will be allowed to sell accommodation which is of less than a good standard. There is no guarantee that these houses will be brought up to standard subsequently. If the purchaser does not apply for any of the grants which are available he can let the house out in flats, depending on the accommodation they are buying, and so create many more fire traps of the kind which already exist in areas such as Dublin, Cork, Donegal and Galway where private landlords rip off unfortunate tenants who are not able to get on the local authority housing list for one reason or another. The Minister should tell us why local authorities should be permitted to sell accommodation which is not up to standard, accommodation which they themselves would not accommodate people in.

The Bill proposes to take responsibility for housing the homeless in most cases from the health boards but what is to happen when a person moves from one local authority area to another? At present, a three-year rule is applied by many local authorities. Will this rule continue to be applied? Is it intended to introduce a national scheme of priorities which will eliminate those anomalies? Section 4 gives a legal basis to the £5,000 grant scheme. This is a grant which is available to a local authority tenant who wishes to buy a house on the private market, not always a new house, but the grant is not payable unless the house is in a habitable condition. The grant was intended to encourage people to move from the local authority schemes into private ones.

A number of questions arise from that. In order to reduce the prospect of the ghettoisation I spoke of earlier, will the Minister consider allocating the £5,000 grant to tenants who want to buy the house in which they are living? When the Minister recently re-introduced the tenant-purchase scheme I wonder why he did not consider it possible to give the £5,000 grant to tenants anxious to purchase under that scheme. Such a move would have ensured a certain stability in local authority areas, something that is important for a number of districts. The £5,000 grant has resulted in the hundreds of people who had jobs and had been involved in local community activity moving to other areas. The Minister should use the grant scheme as a means of overcoming ghettoisation.

The Minister has a responsibility to ensure that a local authority, faced with additional expenditure on dwellings left vacant as a result of the operation of the £5,000 grant scheme, particularly in what Dublin Corporation term as low demand areas, are given money to refurbish vacant dwellings. I understand that 240 flats in the Ballymun area are vacant and cannot be let because of the damage caused by vandals. Once the flats are vacated vandals get into them and strip them. The corporation have tenants for those flats but they cannot let them because they do not have the staff or the resources to refurbish them quickly enough.

I should like to raise a matter of concern to the organisations who cater for homeless people, the idea that people are homeless intentionally or that they did not take sufficient steps to provide accommodation for themselves. People have expressed concern to me about that aspect of the Bill and it is my intention to table amendments to those provisions. It is not satisfactory to allow local authorities to decide on their definition of homelessness. It will depend on the number of vacancies they have and is likely to change from time to time, as occurs at present. If accommodation is available local authorities are more lenient in their definition of homelessness, but if it is not available officials tell applicants they are not responsible for them because they made themselves homeless intentionally by not paying rent or by being evicted for causing a disturbance.

In general I welcome the Bill. I am very unhappy with the thrust of the Government's housing policy in that I see it is a major move towards privatisation of local authority housing stock. I welcome the provision in the Bill to deal with the question of single homeless men and women.

The Bill before the House has a dual purpose. First, it gives statutory backing to a number of schemes of grant subsidies introduced in recent years. Secondly, it provides for the establishment of a new statutory framework for the local authority housing programme in order to ensure that it caters adequately for the housing needs of certain people such as the homeless, travellers, the aged, the handicapped and so on. The £5,000 grant scheme announced by the Government in their programme, Building on Reality, has proved very successful. Many people with more than three years tenancy with a local authority, with the assistance of the Housing Finance Agency, and a grant of £5,000 from the Government can go into the open market and purchase a house of their own. It is one thing to surrender a local authority house and buy a private house, but the people who benefit most are those who live in local authority flats. That accommodation is very suitable for young married couples but when children arrive more accommodation is needed. Such families may not have the points to qualify for a local authority house and. under the £5,000 grant scheme they can. with the assistance of the Housing Finance Agency, buy a house of their own.

If they are working.

It is good if it applies to those who are working. The scheme has reduced for the first time in many years the waiting lists and demand for local authority houses and flats. Deputy De Rossa gave the impression that accommodation was available now because of an increase in emigration and so on but I suggest that in the Dublin area it is due to the success of the housing programmes of Dublin Corporation in recent years, supported by successive Governments. The corporation have built a substantial number of houses and their programme has meant that accommodation is available for couples who do not have children and for single parents.

Section 9 provides for an annual assessment by a local authority of the housing needs of the area. Up to now that assessment involved those on the housing waiting list but now local authorities will have to contact voluntary organisations in their areas who are providing accommodation or shelter in order to ascertain the number who are seeking local authority accommodation. This will bring into their calculations people who are in need of accommodation but have not applied to be housed. The section also broadens the categories of persons entitled to local authority housing, the homeless, travelling people, persons living in unfit or overcrowded accommodation, the elderly, the disabled or persons in need of housing on medical or compassionate grounds. Persons who are living in accommodation that is not adequate will also qualify as will those who cannot meet the cost of their accommodation. I am pleased to note that the Minister has included the latter category, those who are unable to pay. It is possible to find young couples paying the best part of their weekly income for their accommodation and under the Bill such persons will have to be considered by local authorities. With the categories expanded under the Bill I am sure there will be greater demand for local authority housing, not the present type of accommodation, but smaller units. This will allow them also to distribute the annual capital allocation to local authorities with due regard to the different categories of need and the housing demands of a particular area.

I very much welcome the new provisions in the scheme of letting priorities. A housing authority may have reason to believe that an applicant has deliberately depressed his housing conditions in order to improve his prospects of obtaining a local authority house. In such a case the authority may disregard the present housing conditions for the purpose of determining priority. For too long there has been abuse in this area. Applicants on the housing list have left good accommodation to live with relatives in overcrowded conditions so as to enhance their chances of being accommodated on the housing list. From time to time people also reside in accommodation that would be considered unfit so as to enhance their chance of priority housing at the expense of honest people who take their turn on the waiting list. In this way I have often seen members of the same family rehoused from the same accommodation using the same method. The provision in the scheme of letting priorities is long overdue.

Under section 12 provision is made for the granting of assistance to local authorities for the reconstruction of low-cost and other local authority dwellings which have suffered serious deterioration due to design or construction defects or because of their age. At this point I must say that low-cost local authority housing was the greatest mistake ever made. It had only short-term advantages. In the long term these were some of the most expensive types of houses ever built. The cost of local authority housing at present is often considered excessive but at the end of the day it will prove to be good value.

I ask the Minister to consider the possibility of allowing local authorities such as Dublin Corporation to use part of their housing construction allocation for the refurbishing of flats within their housing authority area. We are approaching the end of our housing programme outside the inner city. Money could be well spent on refurbishing the existing housing stock, especially flat complexes within the inner city for which there is very high demand.

I now refer to the section dealing with homelessness. This Bill is the first Government attempt in the history of the State to define a homeless person. The Bill places the responsibility for the homeless fairly and squarely with the local authority. This will end years of avoidance of responsibility and the referral of people from one place to another. The day is over when a local authority could turn their back on the homeless and send them somewhere else. This represents social progress.

I am a member of a local authority which has addressed itself to the question of the homeless. Some years ago we met a deputation from the Simon Community and Dublin Corporation decided to allocate a certain proportion of their housing stock to the homeless. Unfortunately this has not been the practice with other local authorities. The Simon Community and other groups have shown tremendous dedication in helping the homeless. Society owes a great debt to the volunteers in the Simon Community and other organisations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul who have addressed themselves to this problem. They have made a number of representations to us about their anxieties concerning certain sections of this Bill.

It is claimed that the definition of a homeless person is too narrow; a person living in a hostel or a caravan beside the road should be included. This is a reasonable proposal and I ask the Minister to consider amending section 2. Secondly, that part of section 2 (2) dealing with intentional homelessness has given rise to a certain degree of anxiety. I understand that a similar clause in the 1977 Homeless Persons Act in Britain has had disastrous effects. Local authorities who are unwilling to house homeless people have simply deemed a large number of people to be intentionally homeless — up to 50 per cent of applicants in some cases. Courts have found a wide range of categories of persons to be intentionally homeless, such as women with no children in private rented flats who become pregnant and are then evicted. They are told they contributed to their homelessness by becoming pregnant. If that is happening in England, it is very sad but it is unlikely to be interpreted in that way in this country.

I looked at some of the representations made in the court cases in England and Scotland brought under that section of the Act. In one case a Scottish local authority found in 1979 a pregnant woman intentionally homeless after she had been evicted. She was told that she was in the situation intentionally due to the fact that she was pregnant and unmarried and had not arranged suitable accommodation in which to live. I cannot accept that would happen here. In another case the court of appeal held that a family had left accommodation under threat of eviction but before the eviction took place and due to that fact the family was intentionally homeless. I think we must expect that people under threat of eviction must be served with a notice of eviction and in some cases the eviction has to take place before they would be regarded as homeless. There have been certain abuses in this area. The local authorities were kind enough in the past to rehouse people who were under threat of private eviction but unfortunately a lot of these cases were false. Now local authorities insist that at least notice be served by the sheriff. All such people are re-housed. In some cases people have accommodation which is tied to their job. If such people lose their job, and thus their accommodation, there is an obligation on a local authority to house them.

Section 10, paragraph 1, also gave rise to a number of representations. It puts the duty on the local authority to provide accommodation for a homeless person. This is a person who is regarded by the local authority as homeless and capable of independent living. There is a fear that the Bill proposes the housing authority should be the judge of whether a homeless person is capable of independent living. Many feel that this is an extraordinary power of judgment to confer on one person, namely, a housing officer. It has been stated that some local authority officials are actually hostile to the homeless. I have never come across that. I have always found housing officers to be very sympathetic to the housing needs of the homeless. Nevertheless, if there is a doubt in peoples' minds it should be reduced as much as possible. I fully accept the principle that there should be some kind of assessment of a person's ability to live independently. This should be a professional assessment carried out by the housing welfare officer who would probably be the best qualified person.

The Bill also provides for special accommodation for the handicapped and I welcome this proposal. Dublin Corporation have always provided a limited number of units for the handicapped in each housing development. I am glad to see that this is progressing.

I welcome this Bill as a step in the right direction towards housing the homeless. Deputy De Rossa spoke about the priority scheme, saying that it should be nationalised in some way so that the same scheme would apply to all local authorities. When this Bill becomes law I would like to see the definitions being interpreted in the same way by all local authorities. A number of amendments will have to be made on Committee Stage. I look forward to it and I intend to table some amendments.

Because of the urgency of getting this Bill through the House and the many other pieces of major legislation which are waiting in the queue, I shall not take up the time of the House unnecessarily. Many of the points to which I shall be alluding briefly have already been made in greater depth and at greater length in this and the other House. As Deputy De Rossa, Deputy Doyle and I am sure many other Members have said, the important stage of this Bill will be Committee Stage when the House will examine it section by section, dealing with interpretations and wording which may need defining more clearly, or perhaps amendment.

With regard to the principle and the underlying objectives of the Bill, like everybody else in this House I welcome the Bill. It is overdue. I should like to place on record my thanks to and appreciation of the organisations outside this House who have shown tremendous commitment, energy and perseverence in sending in much documentation with regard to the amendments they would like to see, coming from their expertise and experience in this area. I also appreciate the efforts of the people I have met. These people are working with a group who, it is very often forgotten, are part of our society. Part of the problem is that we isolate the homeless. We certainly marginalise them. Added to their defeatism and their sheer fears is society's custom of not seeing them as the norm or as part of society. The homeless are only homeless through accidents and circumstances which could happen to any of us. There must be an acceptance that homeless people are not abnormal, that they are not outside the boundaries of society.

Recent difficulties in our economy and in our society have increased the number of people rendered homeless through no fault of their own. In general, one of the points made by Sister Stanislaus, who is well known inside and outside this House, regarding the homeless people with whom she and her staff work daily is that we are insensitive to the fact that nobody in our society wishes to be known as or accepted as homeless. Everybody has come from a home and everybody dearly wishes to be part of a home. It is one of the most fundamental, emotional securities. Everybody should be assured of a home. It is even questionable to use the term "homeless". We thereby put people without housing into a special category or class. Then we can ignore them, or blame them for the circumstances in which they find themselves. One of the great lessons I have learned from Sister Stanislaus is that these people do not wish to be marginalised and put into their own category. They wish to be part of the normal interflow of relationships within society. That people should find themselves without a roof over their heads is bad enough, but that we should add to this and exaggerate it by treating them as less worthy and not part of our society must hurt and isolate them to an extent that we must take very seriously.

I should like to think that the philosophy underlying this Bill will bring about that awareness in Members of the House and in society as well. Until we start focusing on this area it will not be apparent how these situations can come about. Experience shows that homelessness can happen through lack of health, through very young people being forced out of the home, certainly through unemployment and not having the necessary financial income to enable people to make the same choices we all wish to make. We pride ourselves on having the highest house ownership of any country in Europe, but we do so at a price by regarding people who have not this much prized house ownership as lesser people, not worthy of the same privileges that the rest of us have. There are many categories of people who fall into this area.

Section 2 of the Bill is absolutely fundamental. We must tease out the problems within this forum and ensure that nobody is excluded from being designated as in need of housing because of the narrow interpretation that could be put on section 2. This has been raised previously but I want to put it on record.

Section 2 (1) states:

Subject to subsection (2), a person shall be regarded by a housing authority as being homeless for the purposes of this Act if—

(a) there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority, he, together with any other person who normally resides with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of; or

We come to a subjective, or even selective, way of deciding who shall be deemed as needing housing and who shall not. This is dangerous and is expecting too much from individuals in authority who have to make that type of decision without clear guidelines and without a full definition of whose opinion, what guidelines, whose standards?

Section 2 (2) states:

Notwithstanding subsection (1), a person shall not be regarded as being homeless for the purposes of this Act if the housing authority are of the opinion that he has deliberately or without good and sufficient reason done or failed to do anything (other than an action or omission in good faith) in consequence of which accommodation is not available to him which it would have been, or would be, reasonable for him to occupy.

This is invidious, certainly for the person who would be seeking to make a case but also for the person who would be expected to make the decision. The only way to reach a consensus as to the needs of people who are to be housed would be to define that subsection much more clearly. As of now, section 2 does not include any appeals mechanism and we all know how important such mechanisms are with regard to arbitrary decisions, particularly in the case of those who might be less articulate and less assertive. It is absolutely essential to have an appeals mechanism so that these people can not only make their case but be supported in making it, if necessary.

There is another definition which needs to be spelled out much more clearly, that is, the application of section 2. Several speakers have referred to categories of vulnerable persons in our society. I will put them on the record again. In the case of single pregnant women, it has been alleged in other jurisdictions that a woman would deliberately become pregnant in order to make herself available for housing. That is a very high price to pay in order to get a roof over one's head. The thought of the long term responsibility of bringing a child into the world being used by a single woman to enable her to get housing is a reflection on our society and on the kind of support that we give single pregnant women. There is an awareness in our society, a greater sense of justice and a less prejudiced attitude to single pregnant women. It has been brought to my notice that in some housing authorities single women have not alone been treated with scant courtesy with regard to their rights for housing for themselves and their children but where a single woman becomes pregnant a second time it has been suggested by certain local authority officials that one mistake is allowed but a second mistake is not a mistake. It puts the woman in a category which leaves her less eligible and less justified for housing. That is appalling. If we get anything from this Bill it must be the raising of our consciousness and awareness that people should not be punished or social stigmas attached to them because they are in circumstances where they desperately need housing. They are not considered to be as moral or as good as the rest of the people who apply for housing.

Unfortunately, the number of separations in marriages is rising. Deputy De Rossa was right to point out that not alone do we have separated wives but we also have separated husbands. With the break-up of the family home there is a crucial and urgent need for rehousing of one or other of the partners. There is an increasing and more public acknowledgement of the difficult and dire circumstances in which women find themselves as a result of violence. What housing arrangements are being made for women to enable them to move out from refuges where they have fled from violence? What support is being given and what special conditions are being made for those women who have come through an unbelievably traumatic and damaging time with their children?

Another category which are very often forgotten about or excluded is older single women. I am particularly aware of this because of the numbers that I have met down the years. We are all familiar with the demands made on the single unmarried daughter to stay at home and look after the ageing parents. We demand that sacrifice from the woman while giving her very little in social welfare contributions and without valuing her work in the home. We then compound the injury by not allowing her to ensure that she has some independent housing of her own. The case arises again and again where a woman in her forties or fifties gives up her independent means, her means of social welfare and the possibility of renting or buying a house. On the death of the parents the family home suddenly becomes the home for all the children. I have known cases, and I am sure a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that you have known them as well, where the married children who have contributed very little in those later years to the ageing parents of the family home come back and demand that the house be sold. If there are four children of the family the woman who has given up her life and her chance of having her own house and her own security is left with one-fourth of the price of her home. There are very little employment prospects for her so she is denied any kind of decent accommodation. If that woman had an opportunity of working, the very low wages she would get would probably not enable her to buy her own house or even get a mortgage.

I am delighted that in this Bill, as in social welfare Bills, the case of those women who have given so much and do not get the acknowledgement much less the financial security of the housing accommodation that they deserve can be brought forward again. On section 2 we are discussing the various groups of people who need the kind of housing security that they deserve. These women should be high on the priority list.

There are also difficulties with regard to young persons who are driven from home by conflict or tension within the home. They get no recognition or understanding as to why they should not return home. One young woman who applied to the housing authorities and other outlets that might help her when she was homeless and roaming the streets of Dublin was told that her place, at 17 years of age, should be under the family roof. That young woman, sensitive and traumatised already, did not wish to tell officials that she had been forced out of that home through incest. There are so many reasons why people do not come under the categories that we are talking about. We should have the sensitivity, the compassion and the understanding to realise that people do not render themselves homeless for the luxury of it or in order to get some kind of second rate accommodation. Section 2 must be applied with a sense of justice and compassion to the categories and groups that I have spoken about and those which I have not spoken about.

I particularly welcome, as everybody will, the fact that in section 6 of the Bill there is taken into consideration the need for and the engagement of the services of social workers in connection with the accommodation of travellers. If travellers are to be integrated into the settled community they need all the support, understanding and advice of social workers. I ask, as would certain groups who are working with other homeless persons in our society, that the support of social workers would be extended to cover other categories such as the elderly, disabled, or persons who are unemployed or just out of prison, who are not yet equipped to deal with the realities that the rest of us have been conditioned to deal with.

We must ensure that where this type of support is needed we do not confine it just to travellers. It is to be welcomed for that category but other categories need it desperately too, and if they get that support at the time they need it then probably they can be integrated into society much more easily and independently.

The whole thrust of this Bill and of all the legislation we will be bringing into this House is to enable people to live as independently, fully and in as developed a sense as possible. Where conditions obtain to harm or damage that kind of independence we should seek by all means possible to give people the support needed and give them the sense of retaining that independence so that they can live the full, non-dependent life that all of us would wish.

Section 11 of the Bill provides that:

(2) A scheme under this section shall—

(a) provide that the housing authority may determine from time to time, as they see fit, to set aside for persons or such class or classes as the authority may decide, a particular number or proportion of the dwellings...

This is a matter of wording. Our language is loaded with all kinds of symbolism and emotionalism, particularly such as this. We should stress that in no way will we be using words, no matter how inadvertently, that might categorise or place again into classes people whom we wish to bring back into society rather than marginalise them. I am sure the Minister will take cognisance of the fact that it has been suggested a less emotional, less stigmatised phrase such as "category of persons" might be used instead. I hope that you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, will not think I am obsessed with class. However, a great number of our decisions and attitudes are based on certain conditioning we have with regard to the standards people have in this life. We all realise this is terribly important with regard to our housing. Some local authority housing has been successful. Some local authorities are to be congratulated on their vigilance when, in preparing schemes for letting priorities or tenancy allocations they always ensure that people who are without houses or cannot afford to think of independence with regard to housing, as more privileged people can, are not put into any kind of ghetto, segregated or given a lesser quality with regard to the house itself and also with regard to the environment around it. Therefore, our housing provision must be about making sure we have mixed housing and that we do not create ghettoes.

Deputy De Rossa has spoken with regard to section 4 of the Bill and grants. Grants have had a tremendous positive effect and have given opportunities to people to buy their own houses, and such opportunity should be afforded to people who wish for it. At the same time, we do not wish to segregate into certain areas people who cannot afford to take advantage of that and who will be left in a certain kind of area, causing a deterioration of their well-being and a loss of their sense of pride. We should not allow that to be perpetuated.

We have allowed tax relief against mortgage repayments and those of us who are paying mortgages welcome that but if we want a real sense of mixed housing, if we do not want to decide people's status on whether they own a home independently or rent one, surely we should be thinking of some way whereby people who rent accommodation should also be allowed some tax relief. This is the only equitable way. Otherwise, we will remove from them what would seem to be the privilege of people who can afford tax relief on a mortgage. In discussing this Housing Bill, we all, from the Minister down are endeavouring to ensure that nobody who needs to be housed will not be. We must make sure we open up as many housing choices as possible and that in no way should people who are in rented accommodation or in non-ownership be made to feel less privileged or less secure as a result. People try desperately to pay over a large portion of their lives for the security of feeling that "this is my house and nobody can evict me or get rid of me" as long as they keep up the repayments of course. A tremendous motivation for people to sacrifice a great part of their income towards paying for house ownership is not motivated by a great sense of property but by the fact that occupancy of rented accommodation and its maintenance are not as secure as when the house is one's own. I know the Minister for the Environment who has brought about so many reforms will look at this.

Perhaps we should look again at the whole area of the security of tenants within their homes, of the landlord not having so much power that people believe they cannot live securely in rented accommodation or in flats. We all have our horror stories about that. Certainly I spent many years of my single life moving from flat to flat and meeting many different kinds of behaviour and insecurity while I did so. A great number of houses seem to come on-stream in different local authority areas and are desperately needed to house people for whom this Bill is intended.

However, because of the back-up of maintenance work to be done in such houses and perhaps lack of maintenance staff to meet the demand of maintaining and refurbishing those houses, might it be accepted that where tenants or people who wish to be tenants of such houses would not be held up for months on a housing list if through their own efforts they could give an assurance that they would maintain, refurbish or redecorate the houses themselves, perhaps with some grant funding from the local authority? Perhaps we could legislate for this? It would mean that such people could move into the houses much sooner and would give them a sense of working in their own house and of value for that work. It would also ensure that the backlog of houses in certain local authority areas waiting to be maintained would come on stream much more quickly than at present. I know people who are desperate for housing, people with energy, youth and expertise on their side, who just want enough grant funding to get them the decorating materials to do the work themselves. That might be one way of easing the housing queue.

I wish to turn to sections that have been taken up again and again. We will be coming back to these on Committee Stage. I refer to the settlement of travellers by way of group housing schemes or halting sites. In talking about halting sites we are talking about halting sites with all the facilities of lighting, heating and sanitary conditions so as to ensure that these would be seen as housing in the real sense for travellers who do not wish to live in houses. The halting sites would be such as to give them that sense of hygiene and wellbeing that we who live in houses feel we are entitled to and are privileged to have.

I conclude on that note. We will be coming back to these points on Committee Stage. I welcome the Bill and I welcome the fact that the Minister is here to respond at this stage.

As Deputies are aware this Bill was introduced by my predecessor, Deputy Kavanagh, Minister for Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry. My reply to the Second Stage debate also affords me my first opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I should like to thank Deputies who earlier contributed to the debate and to express my appreciation of the welcome the Bill has received from all sides of the House. A number of helpful and constructive comments and suggestions have been made and I look forward to taking up some of these on Committee Stage so that the Bill can be improved and strengthened.

There have been many statements recently regarding the homelessness provisions of the Bill and allegations made to the effect that in the absence of this Bill homeless persons cannot gain access to local authority housing. I would like to clarify the present position regarding the provision of accommodation by local authorities. The supply of local authority accommodation relative to demand has never been as favourable thanks to initiatives taken by the Government. Single persons in need of accommodation are now regularly and routinely housed by local authorities. In many of the recent statements on this issue that fact has not been acknowledged. That is regrettable. I would like, therefore, to point out to Deputies that in 1985, some 14 per cent of all allocations made by Dublin Corporation other than those to elderly persons were to single persons without dependents. This means that over 450 persons were housed by Dublin Corporation last year and already this year over 600 single persons have been provided with accommodation by the corporation. Other major housing authorities are also housing single people in significant numbers, a thing unheard of some years ago. This has obviously brought about a considerable easing of the problem of adult homelessness and shows that the authorities are very much aware of and responding to the problem of homeless persons.

When the Government approved the introduction of this Bill the major objective was to secure access of single homeless persons to local authority housing because for many years their needs had tended to be overtaken by the needs of families living in unfit or overcrowded conditions. Now, in a situation where such a high proportion of allocations by the largest housing authority in the country are to single persons and in the light of the views expressed by Deputies and others I will look carefully at sections 2 and 10 in advance of Committee Stage.

A good deal of recent media comment has concentrated on the problem of homeless children and there appears to be some confusion as to the responsibilities of local authorities and the provisions of the Bill in this area. This Bill does not deal with homeless children who are and should remain the responsibility of the health boards. The Bill deals with the responsibility of the housing authorities. The allocation of local authority housing would not be a solution to the problem of homeless children and it would not be appropriate nor is it proposed to provide in the Bill that housing authorities become responsible for the accommodation of homeless children.

In this connection I welcome the initiative announced yesterday by the Minister for Health to establish a task force to provide an alternative service for homeless boys to replace the HOPE hostel. The task force which includes a representative of the Eastern Health Board has been charged with arranging the establishment of an alternative service within one month. The Minister for Health has also indicated that whatever funding is required for the new service will be made available.

There has been some criticism of the term, "capable of independent living", particularly in the context of section 10 dealing with the statutory obligation on housing authorities to ensure accommodation is made available for homeless persons. However, I would point out that the ad hoc group on homelessness which reported to the Minister for Health concluded that there were among homeless persons some who for medical and other reasons were not capable of living independently in a dwelling and that such persons should be the responsibility of the health board rather than of the housing authority. If the requirement that a homeless person be capable of living independently was removed from the Bill local authorities would be statutorily obliged to house all persons who happened to be homeless. This would include those whose acute needs required in the first instance medical or psychiatric attention and not housing accommodation and who the working group concluded should be the responsibility of the health boards. Deputies will, I believe, recognise that the imposition of a statutory obligation on local authorities to house individuals must be limited to those whose needs is for housing and not primarily for specialist care and attention.

I would also point out that the requirement of being capable of living independently in a dwelling does not apply exclusively to homeless persons as has frequently been asserted. If this was the case I accept it would be invidious; the requirement, however, also applies under section 9 in relation to all applicants for local authority housing. This matter was referred to particularly this afternoon by Deputies Doyle and Barnes, and I intend to give consideration to the wording of both sections 2 and 10. In relation to the remarks the Deputies addressed to the question of allowing the decision as to the definition of "capable of independent living" to be left to local housing officers, it is my intention that the guidelines to be issued under the Act would require housing officers to consult with the relevant medical and social personnel on the difficult decision regarding the capacity or otherwise for independent living. The framework for that procedure has already been drafted by a working party representative of my Department, the Department of Health, the health boards and the local authorities.

Deputy De Rossa suggested that the definition of the homeless person in section 2 should not include battered wives. However, I would like to point out that where a person cannot occupy their accommodation due to violence, they would be covered by the definition in so far as they "cannot reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of" their accommodation.

Deputy De Rossa also queried the procedure being provided in section 20 which would allow local authorities to sell houses without, in certain cases, carrying out what would be regarded as the normal pre-sale structural repairs. That was in contrast with the point being made by Deputy Barnes that in certain circumstances local authority accommodation should be let to people on the local authority waiting list in advance of necessary repairs being carried out, to allow them to do the repairs themselves and to have an interest in their tenancy.

What is intended in section 20 is that, in cases such as those I have outlined, the sale would be carried out only with the consent of the tenant purchaser and the sale price of the house would be adjusted to take account of the fact that structural or other repairs were needed. This would mean that potential tenant purchasers who had the capacity to carry out a certain amount of the repair work themselves would benefit through having the home offered at a reduced price. It is intended that that provision will be carried out on a trial basis. It is thought this may have particular reference, for example, in the sale of isolated rural cottages.

The Bill will provide a new framework for the provision, management and letting of local authority dwellings and I note the welcome given by Deputies to the provisions relating to schemes of letting priorities.

Section 9 of the Bill will require local authorities to undertake an annual assessment of the need for the provision of accommodation for various categories and section 11 will require local authorities to adopt schemes of letting priorities in accordance with the needs identified at the assessment under section 9. The assessment must have regard to the needs of the homeless and of travellers. It is my intention that within the revised framework created by the Bill all local authorities will have a systematic and formal approach to approving applicants for housing and that this will be updated on a regular basis. In this way local authorities will be aware of the level of categories of needs within their areas and will be required to provide and let dwellings accordingly.

The 5,000 surrender grant for local authority tenants and tenant purchasers has proved highly successful since its introduction in October 1984. In 1985, 5,373 applications were received under the scheme; 1,950 payments were made at a total cost of £9.75 million. This year I expect that some 3,800 applications will be received and about 3,600 payments made.

It has been suggested that the scheme be extended to cover members of the Garda Síochána and to elderly owner-occupiers of private houses who might wish to surrender their houses in exchange for being allowed to rent a senior citizen local authority dwelling. Regrettably, I cannot accept these suggestions.

The £5,000 grant was extended to lower ranking members of the Permanent Defence Forces primarily because substantial numbers of these personnel require housing by the local authorities. An important consideration is that the pay and conditions of the Permanent Defence Forces personnel eligible for the grant are generally less favourable than those of the gardaí. While I appreciate the motive behind the suggestion that this grant be extended to elderly owner-occupiers, this does raise serious difficulties.

The available stock of specialised local authority housing for the elderly is limited and it has been my Department's policy to conserve the stock by, for example, excluding such dwellings from sale schemes. However, further consideration will, I believe, need to be given to the problem of elderly owner-occupiers who are unable to maintain their existing private houses and it is possible that local authorities may need to develop a role in this area. I must point out that already it is open to local authorities to purchase private dwellings and, indeed, I have been encouraging them to do so, with very limited success so far. Local authorities may, therefore, where they consider it appropriate, acquire a private house from an elderly person.

The type of housing needs is changing and this is an area where we will have to review our housing policy and local authorities will have to carry out some fundamental re-assessments of their medium and long term housing needs. I know one major local authority has already identified that area. Due to trends forecast by some of the relevant agencies, it now appears that there will be a fundamental change in the composition of local authority housing lists in the medium and long term, and that an increasing number as a proportion of the entire housing list will consist of elderly or old people. That will require a major revision on the part of local authorities and central Government in deciding on the mix and type of dwelling to be provided in the future.

There is no gainsay of the fact that in recent years tremendous strides have been made in the provision of local authority housing generally. As I mentioned some time ago, at one time it was said regularly that we had a housing crisis but we now have adequate housing for those in need. This is an ongoing matter which is dealt with by the local authorities. In no way can the present position be described by any reasonable person as a crisis. In fact, in most local authorities housing does not represent a problem with a capital P.

It is interesting to reflect that at the end of 1985 the figure on the housing list for the Twenty-six Counties was 22,000 applicants which compares very favourably with the figure for one inner London borough of 26,000 applicants. That has been achieved through a combination of factors — the continuing high output of high quality local authority houses by the Government over a number of years, the introduction of the £5,000 grant scheme, the introduction of the Housing Finance Agency loan — and lately the restructuring of the Housing Finance Agency loan — the increase in the income limit for SDA loans, the increase in the amount which can be borrowed under the SDA system and the introduction of a third type of loan. This means that many of those purchasers who might otherwise be on local authority waiting lists or purchasers who are vacating local authority houses now have the opportunity to opt for one of three different types of loan — the traditional annuity type loan under the SDA scheme, increased to a limit of £25,000 in loan size and an income limit of £10,000; loans under the Housing Finance Agency of either £21,000 or £27,000; or, under the Housing Finance Agency system, a loan which is income related in the first five years and which is convertible to annuity after the first five years of operation. The combination of these incentives has meant that the target of making 9,000 dwellings annually available for letting, which was assessed in the national plan Building on Reality as being a target which should be striven for in order adequately to meet housing needs, has been exceeded comfortably in the last few years. Through a combination of the high output of new local authority dwellings completed and the impact of the £5,000 scheme, last year there were 11,500 dwellings made available for letting by the local authority which was considerably in excess of the target. The indications are that for this year we will again comfortably exceed the target set out in the national plan.

It has been a very commendable record of achievement for the Government that local authority housing has been virtually revolutionised. Figures were reported in the national newspapers recently which suggested that the total waiting list for Dublin Corporation housing was 3,500. The corporation has in one form or another in the Dublin area 2,900 vacant dwelling units. Of those on the corporation waiting list some 40 per cent have turned down accommodation at least once and in some cases two or three times because they were waiting for the construction of a Dublin Corporation estate in an area with which the applicant had connections or in an area near their work. That is an extraordinary turnabout in the housing situation. When I first became involved in politics almost 20 years ago the provision of adequate housing was the question in the minds of most public representatives, certainly at local level. None of us could have foreseen circumstances in which the housing lists would be diminished and the demand would have been successfully met as it has been in the last two or three years.

This afternoon Deputy De Rossa suggested that the £5,000 grant should be paid to tenant purchasers to enable them to buy their existing homes. That suggestion shows a lack of appreciation of the basis upon which that scheme was introduced. If a local authority tenant purchases a private home and in turn gets the benefit of the £5,000 grant and if purchasing a new house also gets the benefit of a new house grant, the unit he vacates becomes available to the local authority for reletting. If the grant were paid to the tenant to assist him in purchasing the local authority dwelling then the unit would not be freed for reletting. The remissions and grants available under the tenant purchase scheme should be borne in mind. In many instances a person opting to purchase a new home would get the equivalent of the grant of £5,000 off the value of the house. The tenant is entitled to a 3 per cent reduction in price for each year of tenancy up to 10 years so that in certain cases where a tenant has occupied the house for 10 years he can enjoy a maximum reduction of 30 per cent. In addition, there is a discount of £2,000 off the purchase price of the house, that being the equivalent of the new house grant. There is a discount also in relation to any rates which might have been paid on the house had it been occupied prior to 1977. In the new scheme which I introduced some months ago I allowed tenants the option to have the gross price of the house before discounts assessed at either the market value of the house or the original all-in cost of the house updated, with the option for the tenant to accept the price most favourable to him. A tenant purchaser now opting to purchase his home under the new tenant purchase scheme has the assistance of the Government in a reduction of many thousands of pounds. In the majority of cases tenant purchasers get discounts and grants amounting to more than £5,000.

Section 3 of the Bill deals with the mortgage subsidy scheme which will be phased out over the next five years with the replacement of the scheme by the new £2,250 new house grant. It has been suggested that recent trends in interest rates undermine the case for the phasing out of the mortgage subsidy scheme. I do not accept that. Trends in interest rates are temporary. Events of the last day or two have served to validate that contention. At any rate, even the most pessimistic commentator does not suggest that mortgage interest rates are likely ever to approach the unsustainably high level of 16¼ per cent which they reached in 1981 when the mortgage subsidy scheme was introduced. Recent increases resulting from unsustainably high interest rates, given that inflation is now at 3 per cent, are of a temporary nature and will not hold over any reasonable period. The problem of borrowers who are experiencing difficulty with their loan repayments under the SDA scheme is one to which local authorities generally should adopt a sympathetic approach. Normally a mutually satisfactory arrangement can be devised to resolve problems. County managers are expected to use considerable discretion in dealing with cases of arrears. It would be wrong of the Department to suggest that there is one right way to deal with all of these cases. This difficulty is a good example of a situation where local knowledge and judgment exercised by the housing authorities are most likely to obtain a satisfactory result.

Deputies, including Deputy Barnes in the last 15 minutes, referred to poor planning and design of local authority housing schemes and to the need for improvements in existing local authority housing stock. In 1982, my Department issued a very comprehensive memorandum to housing authorities setting out standards of planning and design for local authority housing schemes. In recent years there has been improvement generally in the standard of layout and design of local authority housing estates. We have moved away from the rather stark military lines of houses without a focal point, or adequate provision for community recreational or other facilities.

The requirements of the Department expect local authorities to have schools, churches, health services and other facilities within a reasonable distance of new housing schemes. Where playgrounds or open spaces are not already available in reasonable proximity, provision must be made for them in the scheme. In the national plan to which I referred a section was included which introduced a major new scheme to enable local authorities to come to grips with the problem of some of their older local authority houses and what were known as low cost housing schemes. Under the new scheme councils can obtain a subsidy of up to 80 per cent for necessary works to those houses. So far, 30 schemes suggested by local authorities have been approved by my Department for remedial work. I want to assure Deputies it is my intention to increase investment in this type of work over the coming years.

In relation to my remarks earlier regarding the satisfactory meeting of the needs of those on national housing waiting lists, we must look carefully at the question of the older stock of local authority dwelling units, houses or flats. In that regard, I have been anxious for some time that Dublin Corporation, who have a very high number of flats as part of their housing stock, should look more actively at the question of refurbishing and redesigning quite a number of those flat blocks. I am not sure if it was advisable for the corporation — I am not saying this in a critical way — to continue to build at the rate they did, with the agreement of the Department, new housing in green fields on the outskirts of the city up to very recently while, at the same time, they have quite a number of flats in inner city locations which fail to live up to what I and most people regard as an adequate standard in relation to sanitary and other facilities. There is a need to look at a major redirection as to whether it is better to consider concentrating a large part of the resources of housing capital towards lifting the standard of older local authority dwellings which were provided initially without basic facilities or which, because of their construction, have become fairly run down and require major works of a remedial nature.

We have sanctioned 30 remedial works schemes around the country and a further 18 schemes are before us at present. The carrying out of those major remedial works in estates will increasingly occupy the housing section of my Department in the coming years. Because of the success of meeting the housing demand by many local authorities, they should now look at their existing stock especially in relation to the major authorities in urban areas, many of whom have an older stock of flats. They should pay particular attention to seeing what can be done in that respect.

Deputy Barnes also spoke about the need to have a proper mix of houses to ensure that the provision of new local authority housing does not merely result in the creation of different types of ghettoes. The Deputy was also very concerned regarding the use of words or titles which she suggested might stigmatise certain areas. We all know to what the Deputy is referring and perhaps in the past, in the enthusiasm of trying to meet genuine housing needs, sufficient attention was not always given to the need to blend different types of housing and to ensure it was done in conjunction with the provision of all the facilities which are needed to create proper new communities.

Deputy Barnes mentioned two other areas which are not the responsibility of my Department, one in relation to the question of security of tenants in their relationships with the owner of the dwelling. That area is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and the question of tenancies arise in regard to my Department only in relation to tenancies of local authority houses.

Comments were also made regarding the housing needs of the elderly. While the provision of dwellings for the elderly has been fundamental to the local authority housing programme for a number of years — one and two bedroomed dwellings have become an increasing feature of new housing estates to the extent that over 10,000 have been provided since 1972 — it is relevant to realise that because of demographic changes it will be necessary to consider the needs of the elderly to an increasing degree in the years ahead. In addition to the new dwelling units provided for the elderly, assistance is also provided through the essential repairs grant scheme and the special task force on housing for the elderly. The essential repairs grant helps to prolong the useful life of dwellings in rural areas and the task force gives grant aid for necessary work to houses owned by elderly people throughout the country. The essential repairs grant scheme lets many elderly people in rural areas to remain in their homes instead of having to move to new local authority houses, perhaps quite a distance away. The task force on housing aid for the elderly, which is funded by my Department, is operated by the regional health boards and ensures that those who have day-to-day contact with the elderly, especially the public health and welfare staff, can see that necessary repairs are carried out to houses occupied by elderly people. That arrangement has proved to be very satisfactory and the scheme has been tremendously successful in improving the living accommodation of many elderly people in different parts of the country.

Local authorities also provide housing for the disabled as an integral part of their housing programme. They have been encouraged to provide special dwelling units to meet the needs of the disabled. The guidelines of the National Rehabilitation Board published in 1981 set out particular standards of design of housing for the disabled and were circulated by my Department to county councils requesting them to have regard to the recommendations of the board.

As part of the house improvements grant package announced a year ago, I am pleased that the recoupment by my Department in respect of grants for disabled persons was increased to £2,500 which means that local authorities can make grants of up to £5,000 available to build on an extra room or to undertake necessary work to make a house more suitable for a disabled person.

A number of very important points were made by Deputies and many comments and submissions have been made by various interested groups since this Bill was published. The Bill sets out to meet a number of particular, not necessarily conflicting or competing, objectives. It is the first major housing Bill introduced since the Housing Act, 1966. As such, it behoves the Government to examine the various aspects of responsibility and to charter a course for the future with regard to the responsibilities of housing authorities. To some extent, some of the comments that have been made with regard to the provisions of the Bill have been made by groups who have a particular concern for a particular sector who are in need of housing accommodation. We must ensure that the statutory conditions lay down the ground rules in such a way that housing authorities can, in equity and in practice, provide adequately for the housing needs of those who are not in a position to house themselves. Deputies expressed a degree of over-apprehension about the safeguard provisions which have been included in the Bill. If a Bill were being introduced to provide specifically and exclusively for the housing needs of particular sectors or groups it might not be identical to some of the provisions in this Bill.

This Bill sets out to up-date the 1966 legislation and to provide a charter for housing authorities. In doing so, it has to recognise the problems which have to be tackled and solved. It also has to recognise the pragmatics of the situation facing individual housing authorities. For example, problems which may be more relevant and more likely to occur in urban areas must be provided for within the statute but in such a way as not to put unnecessary demands upon essentially rural housing authorities. What caused a degree of concern in certain areas, unnecessarily I hope, is that the Bill set out to ensure that a statutory obligation be put upon housing authorities to provide adequate housing accommodation for those who cannot house themselves. At the same time, it was recognised that irrespective of whatever scheme is introduced there will always be a certain number of people who will identify clearly the composition of the scheme and its restrictions and who will then set out as carefully as they can — often with a surprising degree of ingenuity — to devise ways to get around the restrictions and take themselves to the top of the list for that particular sevice.

The statute and the operation of the provisions have to be designed in such a way to ensure that not only is there an attempt made to provide for equity but that safeguards are introduced so that individuals cannot set out successfully to upset the intention of the statute in a way which benefits themselves, and in a way which was not intended, perhaps to the detriment of other more deserving cases. Endeavouring to meet those competing objectives is a difficulty which always faces those who prepare complex, far-reaching and important legislation.

I welcome the submissions which have been made by the various groups, mainly voluntary bodies, in connection with this Bill and the points made by Deputies. I have experienced a slight difficulty in that I did not introduce the Bill. Therefore, this is a Bill which I have not lived with from its inception. This debate is particularly useful to me in that I can evaluate the points made by Deputies and I can reflect upon the perspicacity or otherwise of those who decided to reserve their comments so that they may fall upon us like rays of enlightenment at a later stage. This debate also gives me the opportunity to examine the submissions which have been made by the various groups in the light of the discussion which has taken place in the House today and earlier and to see in what way on Committee Stage either we can improve or strengthen the provisions of the Bill or merely in certain cases clarify for people some of the provisions about which they are unnecessarily apprehensive.

The Bill is primarily one which will usefully be teased out on Committee Stage. I look forward to the debate and to an indication of this new school of thought on housing which is apparently being prepared by the Opposition. From time to time one comes across Bills where a political party will say that the debate can be more usefully expanded upon on Committee Stage.

It is rather unusual to discover the Opposition indicating that they are so anxious to have a Bill debated that they are not going to participate in the debate at this stage so as to allow the debate to expand at a later stage. That is intriguing my mind and I wait with eager anticipation to see how the Opposition will endeavour to help us improve and enact the Bill.

The question is: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

We agree that the Bill should be read a Second time and we will not force a division. As I explained earlier, we are very anxious that we should proceed as soon as possible to Committee Stage and get down to debating the nitty-gritty of the Bill. The Minister appears to have some difficulty in understanding that strategy but we are responding to a request from those who are deeply involved in this area, particularly those representing the homeless, in adopting this approach. The Bill was introduced in 1985 and we want to move to the Committee Stage debate as soon as possible. That might have happened today had the Minister not gone on for almost 45 minutes.

Question put and agreed to.

Cathain a chinntear an Coiste a thógáil? When is it proposed to take Committee Stage? We need a date.

I am not sure if the Opposition were indicating a moment ago that they were prepared to start Committee Stage today.

We will have to fix a date.

Is the Opposition spokesman now indicating that he is prepared to allow Committee Stage of the Bill to start today?

Our attitude is that we want the Bill passed as soon as possible. Those concerned with the homeless in our society, particularly the Simon Community, have forwarded to us a number of amendments they would like debated. I am prepared to consider them and, if necessary, put them forward in the House. It is not appropriate at this hour to start a Committee Stage debate. I suggest that Committee Stage be ordered for 3.45 p.m. on Tuesday next.

I want to establish whether the Opposition were prepared to take Committee Stage today but it appears that they are not. I suggest that Committee Stage be ordered for Tuesday, 18 November, subject to agreement between the Whips. I would like some time to consider points raised.

Will the Minister agree to the House taking Committee Stage next Tuesday? I must point out that many Fianna Fáil members wanted to contribute to the Second Stage debate but, following representations from the Simon Community and others who are concerned about the homeless, we agreed to let the Bill collapse today. The Government adopted a different attitude and put in a number of backbenchers to speak on the measure. We are anxious that the Bill be passed soon and for that reason I suggest that Committee Stage be ordered for Tuesday next, subject to agreement between the Whips.

I will be in the House all day tomorrow and I will not have an opportunity to consider the points raised or prepare amendments to meet the points and have them before the House before next Tuesday. For that reason I suggest Tuesday, 18 November.

The Bill was prepared in 1984, debated in the House for the first time in 1985 and now, heading into 1987, we have advanced to Committee Stage. I appreciate that the Minister will be engaged in his parliamentary duties tomorrow — I will be involved in the same Bills — but I should like to ask him to agree to Committee Stage being ordered for Tuesday next, subject to agreement between the Whips.

I must put the question in relation to this?

Will the Minister agree, subject to agreement between the Whips to take Committee Stage on Tuesday next? I do not wish to divide the House on this matter. If the Minister feels he cannot agree to my request, that is his prerogative because the Government are responsible for the business of the House. I must point out that we let the Second Stage collapse on the understanding that there would be an early Committee Stage.

I appreciate the Deputy's submission but in my view his point is well met by establishing Tuesday, 18 November for Committee Stage, subject to agreement between the Whips. If we have our amendments prepared earlier, and if the Opposition amendments are tabled earlier, it may be possible to take Committee Stage earlier. I am endeavouring to be realistic in suggesting Tuesday, 18 November.

That is subject to agreement but, hopefully, it will be taken next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 18 November, 1986.