In amendment No. 7 we are seeking an additional subsection which would enable the local authority to consider a person homeless, or the case of a person who is likely to become homeless within 28 days. I gave the Minister an example of a case in Dublin North-West where such a situation is likely to arise in the not-too-distant future. Amendment No. 8, which I understand we are discussing in tandem with No. 7, also seeks to add an additional criterion which the local authority will take into account, and that is where violence may occur where a person is living with another person in a house or flat or otherwise. We are all aware of situations where people, particularly wives, are battered and have to leave their home and go to refuges of one kind or another because of violence in the home. The local authority should be able to assist such people where this is likely to occur because of a history of that kind of violence or otherwise. I would urge the Minister to take both of these amendments on board.
Housing Bill, 1988: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Final Stages.
There should be some provision to allow for the situation where somebody cannot gain access to their home because of violence. Perhaps this amendment is a little widely drawn. If the Minister cannot accept it he should address the question on Report Stage, because there is a problem faced by a number of people, particularly wives, who have to leave the family home because of difficulties with a spouse. It may also happen that a person has to leave the family home because of a falling out with parents etc. There is just one exception, and we should at least address the question here. In the case of local authority housing, if the wife has difficulty in gaining access to the house because of violence, she then goes to the local authority to seek rehousing for herself and the children only to find that the local authority cannot do that because her husband remains as tenant of a corporation property.
In that situation it is the person perpetrating the violence who should be ejected from the home. If it is not possible to put these powers into this Bill, some machinery should be made available to the local authority, without having to go through months of procedure through the courts, to eject the violent spouse where the local authority are the owner of the home and where a local authority tenant is involved. This problem does occur. What happens then is that when the spouse who is the subject of the violence, let us say the wife, often accompanied by children, goes to the local authority seeking rehousing, the authority says that they cannot be rehoused because the wife is already the joint tenant, or the husband is the tenant of a property. The Minister's statutory instrument should contain powers for dealing with the person perpetrating the violence where the local authority is the owner.
I can see what the Deputies are getting at here. I would like to think that it is very adequately covered in section 2 (a) under people who can "reasonably occupy or remain in occupation." That is very wide. We spent some time in trying to get that right so that it would not be in any way restrictive. It has been deliberately written in that fashion. Further down, the phrase is mentioned "unable to provide accommodation from his or her own resources." We think that that point is covered well there. It can be summarised in this fashion. It is not a requirement that you must be homeless in order to be housed by a housing authority, or local authority. People are often housed in circumstances where they are not homeless. Section 10, in particular, deals with all those kinds of emergency. One has to look at this section in conjunction with section 10.
The main objective of the provisions regarding homeless people is to provide new powers for local authorities for dealing with what, in effect, is a small number of persons who because of their acute needs may require urgent action outside the normal system of allocation for local authority housing. It would most likely be a small number who may be threatened with homelessness and their needs would have to be attended to. Persons in that situation may apply for and be offered local authority accommodation in the normal way without having to become homeless in the process. That is fundamental to my thinking on the matter. The proposed amendments appear to ignore the fact that persons threatened with eviction or homelessness or for any other reason, are and have been for many years past housed by local authorities under existing housing legislation and under previous housing codes. Because we were aware that this type of amendment might come up, the wording is as in section 2 (a) where the final sentence is "unable to provide accommodation from his or her own resources". That was included to get over the point, which is well made.
The fundamental question here is whether we want to make this legislation explicit. The Minister referred previously to the need to remove any ambiguity. That could be converted into a positive argument for the need to state explicitly certain conditions and occasions when people's rights with regard to housing by a housing authority could be invoked.
I shall not repeat what Deputy De Rossa has said on this amendment and broadly support everything he said in relation to the opening presentation of these two amendments. The purpose of this amendment is to make explicit. Local authority practice can vary from county to county, from authority to authority. If people want to be difficult about it, theoretically they could say that, even though persons are threatened with eviction and have a court order to show that they would have to be out within 28 days, or have a letter from their landlord stating that they were to go within 28 days, as of now they are not homeless and therefore cannot describe themselves as such. One can read into subsection (a) that kind of definition if one wanted to. That is why this explicit proposal is contained in subsection (c) and likewise in relation to the question of violence. There has been much talk with regard to violence of one kind or other in the home.
It is reasonable and arguable for the Minister to say that the phrase in line 12 of subsection (a) "can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation", obviously and automatically makes reference to a person who is threatened by violence. However, our worry on this side of the House, as legislators, is that a particular official may not necessarily take it that way. A particular reading of it may not necessarily agree with the prospect that a woman who is threatened with violence from her husband or a father who is threatened with violence by his son, or other kind of inter-family violence is covered in this subsection.
The question is whether the Minister is prepared to accept these amendments. Again, we are adding to and reinforcing the thrust of the Bill, not trying to change its direction or to give additional rights. We are simply extending the explicit categorisation or qualification for the person to be regarded by a housing authority as being homeless. It does not weaken, endanger, or add to the burden, but does make it explicit. To the homeless and those who are working for them, it gives a certain degree of solace and comfort by making explicit something that the Minister and his officials may very well regard as implicit in subsection (a).
I can see what the Deputy is getting at here. An important thing to be remembered, which is not always completely understood and perhaps may be misunderstood, is that if you are threatened with eviction right now it is possible, under existing housing legislation, to be housed. I would also like the matter to be as explicit as possible. It is for that reason that the phrasing is so wide, because of the danger that perhaps an officer in one authority might seek to use the meanings of words to suit a particular situation that he would like to create. It was hoped that using the phraseology that we did —"could reasonably occupy or remain in occupation"— would get over that difficulty.
My advice is that the wording as suggested by Deputy Quinn and others — of "in real and present danger"— would have a limiting effect on the actual words that we have already put in, as distinct from making the position more explicit. That would lead to the very situation which Deputy Quinn is seeking to avoid and which I accept is his whole grounds for making his point. Once it becomes generally known that people who are threatened with eviction or homelessness in that way are covered, we will get the right result, in so far as it is sufficiently explicit. For that reason I would ask the Deputy not to press the amendment.
Is the Minister's request accepted?
The point made by the Minister is well made. However, I want to refer briefly to a point which Deputy Mitchell has made. This is where a tenant who is under threat of violence, or whatever, is a joint tenant with another person in a corporation or local authority house. That other person in occupation should be ejected forthwith or with the minimum legal procedures. I can foresee all sorts of difficulty involved there which would have wider implications for other tenants of local authorities. While I agree with the present procedure for rearranging the tenancies of joint tenants where there is marriage breakdown or violence, nevertheless we should be extremely careful about interfering with the rights of a person to maintain the tenancy.
A person suffering violence or the threat of violence cannot reasonably be expected to remain in their accommodation. I give an undertaking that I will make that point very clearly in the guidelines to the housing authorities when the Bill is passed. I want to get an all-embracing set of terms which will cover all categories involved instead of including specific ones or excluding others which would limit the scope of the Bill and deny what we are all trying to achieve. That is why the words were left as explicit as possible.
I can see the point in Deputy De Rossa's comments, which are not unreasonable. However, it is extraordinary — and it happens quite regularly — that the wife, who is a joint tenant, and children can be expelled from the home by a violent husband and father and that the local authority will then refuse to give them the tenancy of another dwelling. They would have to go through a very lengthy court procedure to regain occupation of the house for the wife and children. There should be some administrative process involving the local authorities which would regain access to the home for the wife and children who are usually offended against. The offending violent father or husband should be turfed out and I make no bones about that. I can see that there will be difficulties but they pale into insignificance compared to the difficulties created for — usually — wives and mothers with young children who find themselves in hostels or on the side of the street.
Did I understand the Minister to say that because of his concern in endeavouring to have the wording cast as wide a net as possible, he has spent quite some time trying to find the most suitable wording for paragraph (a)?
If there is no accommodation available——
If the Minister spent so much time on this it is extraordinary that the wording is identical to that in the 1985 Act.
It was good wording.
I do not understand how the Minister spent so long on it.
I was trying to improve it.
Was the Minister able to do so?
We have improved it by changing some of the wording in the rest of that section, which makes it stronger.
It is identical.
I do not have the 1985 Act here but of course some sections are the same. Some of the thrust in the 1985 Act was good and that has been conceded.
We have dealt with amendments Nos. 7 and 8 to the point where it is no longer fruitful to discuss them further.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 5, subsection (3), line 8, after "house", to insert "which is".
This is merely a drafting amendment. I proffered a suggestion to make more sense of the line which did not seem to read very well.
I thank the Deputy for his effort in that regard. The matter was raised with the parliamentary draftsman and he advised that the amendment is unnecessary.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 6, subsection (1) (d), line 47, after "grant", to insert "or grants".
This is self-explanatory. There might be circumstances where, for a variety of reasons, there might be a desire over a period of years to extend a grant over two periods of grant-aid or a second grant. It is desirable that such assistance would not be prevented by the definition of the grant being singular.
The parliamentary draftsman has advised that the amendment is unnecessary. Under section 11 of the Interpretation Act, unless the contrary intention is indicated, the singular shall be construed as including the plural. The section, therefore, clearly provides that a grant or grants may be paid.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 7, subsection (1), between lines 2 and 3 to insert the following:
"(g) such assistance shall only be rendered when the assisting authority has been provided with evidence that the required assistance could not otherwise be provided or raised.".
The point of this amendment is that where such assistance is being sought and given, it is not unreasonable for the authority making the assistance available to ask that reasonable efforts should have been undertaken to secure such assistance otherwise and that they had already been made. Otherwise, there might be a very ready willingness to ask for such help and there should be encouragement to people to look to their resources or to raise the money by alternative means such as a loan, before appealing for help. It might be no harm to include a reference along those lines because there should be evidence that the person is making an honest effort to try to get the funds before automatically turning to the authorities.
We would regard that as a slightly retrograde step in our efforts to secure a greater role for voluntary organisations and housing agencies in meeting special social needs. Housing authorities assist organisations only after taking due account of the organisation's finances and their capacity to raise funds. It would be an entirely different matter to provide in legislation that a voluntary housing organisation would have to provide evidence that they could not obtain funding, including, presumably, charitable donations from any other source, before they could be assisted by a housing authority. I am concerned that the Deputy's suggestion might be interpreted as trying to stop money going to voluntary housing bodies or telling them that they could only get it if they had a dozen good flag days. That would be going in the wrong direction. I know what the Deputy is trying to get at, that people should make a good effort themselves to raise money, but we should not put into legislation a way of preventing money going to voluntary organisations because — as Deputy Quinn said in relation to another matter — it might be used by a particular authority or agency to take a meaning out of it which would prevent the voluntary organisation being supported. That would be contrary to my wishes in the matter.
Obviously, if it was brought to that extreme, it would be contrary to the wishes of most civilised people, including me. However, it is not unreasonable to expect some organisations to help themselves because some of them have come to assume that an annual grant will be available whereas other organisations who have never been lucky enough to be grant-aided, do not get into the reckoning. It is not unreasonable, in some way or other, to encourage long-established organisations to become somewhat self-reliant if that can be done. I would concur in the view that we should not write into legislation some system that would debar them from getting grant aid. I am trying, if you like, to capture a small degree of the spirit of something here which would help to make more money available to a wider range of organisations by virtue of not locking in some organisations, year after year, who would then take it as their right to assume that they have an automatic grant annually. All of us in this House are in regular receipt of appeals based on that assumption.
I am not prepared to give local authorities a role in controlling the fund-raising activities of voluntary housing organisations or in any way getting involved in what the fund raising activities of voluntary housing organisations might be doing to the benefit of the homeless or whoever. That type of amendment could be used to that effect. I do not think local authorities should have anything to do with the fund raising activities of voluntary housing organisations.
The Minister is taking an extreme interpretation.
I have to.
It is not what was intended by my amendment. I am quite happy to let it rest at that. All I wanted was the merest cognisance of something to be taken by a local authority. For example, the same rationale does not appear to apply to the Minister vis-à-vis an individual citizen when he or she applies to a local authority for grant aid, when they have to produce all kinds of copious documentation. That is just as serious. I have made the point, I am letting it rest, but I think the Minister has taken a very extreme interpretation of it.
I have been listening to some of the Deputy's other comments on this matter heretofore. The Deputy wanted to drop housing authorities altogether in deciding who would be regarded as homeless under the provisions of section 2. I do not want to go into reverse in regard to trying to control the fund raising activities of voluntary housing organisations. The Deputy should realise that he cannot have it both ways.
Lest the Minister would encourage Deputy Keating to continue on amendment No. 15 can we have his agreement to move on?
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 7, between lines 2 and 3 to insert the following subsection:
"(2) For the purposes of this section `management' shall be taken to include, where appropriate, caretaking, maintenance, and suitable social support services.".
The purpose of this amendment is to extend or provide a partial definition of "management" in this section so as to make it clear to a housing authority, if and when they make assistance available to an organisation for the management of accommodation referred to in section 5 (1), the term "management" would be defined as sufficiently wide to include such facilities as caretaking, maintenance services and, most importantly, the social support services which are very often necessary and which were referred to in our earlier discussions today. In some cases certain organisations will be providing not just housing or accommodation but will be aware also of the necessity to provide back-up social support services. They are anxious to have it made clear that the enabling power given to housing authorities in section 5 is sufficiently wide to enable an authority to grant aid for such purposes.
I have examined this amendment and do not regard it as absolutely necessary. The concept of what was involved in the housing management is constantly developing as the Deputy himself has recognised on a number of occasions. It would be desirable that legislation should allow this to happen without attempting definitions of what it should mean. The management of housing and the expression used in this section always has been interpreted and seen in the broadest possible terms. Certainly it has been taken to include caretaking, maintenance and all other necessary support services, including social ones. That is its widest interpretation even now.
I might add that section 58 of the 1966 Housing Act, under which local authorities look after all aspects of the operations of their housing estates, uses the word "management" to embrace the various items mentioned in Deputy Boland's amendment, including, for example, warden support for elderly persons. Similarly, section 13 of this Bill speaks of the management of residential caravan sites for travellers. The power given there is designed to include such facilities as caretaking, maintenance and other support services, including social workers whose salaries are recouped under the provisions of section 6.
To sum up, exactly what Deputy Boland wanted to have included is already contained in two sections of previous Acts and anything done otherwise would be restrictive rather than being seen in the broadest possible sense. That is the advice I have been given on the matter of management under the existing laws on housing.
The amendment does not constitute a restrictive definition. I referred to it as a partial definition. I deliberately wrote the amendment in such a way as to suggest that "management" would be taken to include, "where appropriate", rather than that "management" would be confined to the three areas of caretaking, maintenance, and suitable social support services.
Does the Deputy accept that section 58 of the 1966 Act covers it in the broadest possible sense? I have no objection to having it as broad as possible but I am advised that the original Act in so far as housing is concerned, namely, the 1966 Act, covers that aspect adequately.
Actually I would not, because section 58 refers only to management. If the Minister is telling the House that the operation of section 58 has been interpreted to include those services, then I would accept it but, on a quick perusal of section 58 of the 1966 Act, it does not appear to me that that section makes any attempt to set out the parameters as to what "management" entails. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that.
While not setting out parameters, it has always been taken to include the aspects Deputy Boland raised in so far as caretaking and maintenance are concerned, including support services, and I take "support services" in the widest possible sense.
And the intention is similar in relation to "management"?
Added to under section 13 of this Bill.
I will accept that.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 7, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) A decision to provide assistance under this section shall be a reserved function.".
The purpose of this amendment is to repeal sections 12 and 42 of the 1966 Act. One of those sections provided that the taking of decisions in those matters ought be a reserved function. This section is identical to section 5 of the 1985 Act except that, for some strange reason, sub-section (3) of section 5 of the 1985 Act — which contained the same working as my amendment, providing that a decision to provide assistance under this section would be a reserved function — has been removed from the present Bill. I cannot see the reason for its removal. I contend it would be as well that we return to the original intention of 1985.
In the past the provision in section 12 of the 1966 Act, that assistance to voluntary housing organisations was a reserved function, led to delays in the approval of projects. Such delays could have a critical impact on the tight financial budgeting of a voluntary housing organisation undertaking a given building project. In addition, the Department meet the full cost of assistance given by housing authorities to voluntary housing organisations under the voluntary housing schemes.
Therefore, on balance, I consider that the amendment cannot appropriately be accepted for the reason that I consider it would cause delays and, in effect, because of the new funding arrangements to voluntary housing arrangements, the Minister is responsible for the overall funding anyway. It could cause delays and it might not be wise to pursue it for that reason. That is the only reason I ask the Deputy to reconsider his position.
The point at issue is that there are very few functions reserved to the elected members of local authorities. This is one of them, set out in the 1966 Act with the intention that this would be repeated in the Bill in 1985. Is the Minister saying that he has decided that the elected members are not to be trusted in this matter? The excuse that this function retained as a reserved function would lead to unnecessary delays does not wash and the likelihood is that elected members of the local authorities would make a decision far earlier than would the Custom House. That is apparent to anybody who has been a member of a local authority and it should be doubly apparent to anybody who has served in both places.
If the Minister is saying that he does not trust the councillors generally, bearing in mind that the bulk of the local authorities are controlled by the Minister's party, and that that is why he is withdrawing subsection (3) from the 1985 Bill, let him say so.
The contrary is the position. I am a great defender of the right of members of local authorities to be involved in all matters concerning local authorities. Before this Bill is completed today, Deputies will see what I mean. Under the new funding arrangements for assisting voluntary organisations engaged in projects like this, they will be funded virtually 100 per cent by the Minister. If a voluntary body get agreement in relation to funding and subsequently go to the Minister to be backed up, I am happy about that. All I am worried about is to get the thing done as quickly as possible.
This is a function at present reserved to the elected members. The intention of the last Government was that the elected members would continue to have that function and for reasons which the Minister has not clarified to the House, he is removing one of the few reserved functions from the elected members. It is not right and I do not accept it.
The only reason I recommended that to the Deputy was to avoid a possible delay in voluntary organisations being funded, when eventually the local authority would recoup the money from the Minister and the Department. If the Deputy, having considered everything, sees his way as being a better way, I will concede the point to him. My suggestion was in an effort to hurry up the process as distinct from anything else, but I will concede the point to the Deputy if he presses it. I am not advised to do that but if the Deputy feels that somehow I am leaving out the elected members, then I will concede the point, but the voluntary organisations have to get funding as quickly as possible.
Even the smallest local authority meet once a month. Most of the larger housing authorities would meet more frequently. The maximum delay would only arise if the officials of the authority, in an absolute stroke of brilliance, came to a conclusion to make a recommendation for funds to be made available on the day on which the authority met, so that they were unable to put it on the agenda for another full month. However, it is much more likely that a recommendation would be made which could be considered at a meeting of the authority within the next week or ten days.
The elected representatives are correctly jealous of guarding the reserved functions they have. I suspect that the Minister is conscious of that concern of theirs. I would not be properly representing the interests of the legally elected members whom I represent in this House were I not to press this amendment.
If the Deputy puts it in those terms I will concede the point although I think there could be some months delays in getting a matter cleared for the voluntary organisation, and I hope my acceptance of this point does not come back on us. If the Deputy wants to press the matter I will concede it unless some other Deputies consider that my point of view is stronger than that of Deputy Boland. In that case I would ask the Deputy to reconsider the point. As far as the reserved functions of elected members are concerned, they are paramount. I am not trying to diminish them. I am only trying to speed up the situation whereby we can address the giving of money to voluntary organisations as quickly as possible. If there is a danger that that could be delayed by a couple of months by a chain of circumstances somewhat like those suggested by the Deputy, then we might be doing a disservice to the local authorities.
I support Deputy Boland, if that is of any help to the Minister.
All right, then I will concede it.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 7, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) A body approved by the Minister under this section shall include non-profit making or voluntary housing organisations.".
Amendment No. 21 is related so for the purposes of discussion we will take amendments Nos. 18 and 21 together.
This amendment, and presumably Deputy Quinn's, arises out of the concern expressed by some of the voluntary organisations that the reference to "body" in subsection (1), ought to be clarified to make it crystal clear to every housing authority that the voluntary housing organisations which operate on a non-profit making basis are the type of bodies being referred to.
My point is the same as Deputy Boland's so I will not take up the time of the House.
I regard the two amendments as being unnecessary. Section 5 applies in very broad terms to anybody approved by the Minister for the purpose of the section. While all of the organisations already approved under section 12 of the 1966 Act would arguably come within the broad descriptions contained in the amendments, I do not consider it desirable to move from a general provision towards providing in the Act descriptions of bodies which may be approved. This type of description is much more appropriate to circular letters and guidelines and that is the way it should be done. It may have a limiting effect in the broadest sense in years to come. It is for that reason I am asking that this amendment be not pressed. It would run contrary to some of the things we have already been talking about in relation to having this as broadly based as possible.
The history of voluntary housing associations and housing co-operatives in this country, by comparison with those in other European countries, is not very good. There is a great deal of ambivalence in the attitudes of different local authorities to the activities of such bodies. While the climate has considerably improved in recent years there is a residual ambivalance. The reason for my amendment, couched in terms similar to those of Deputy Boland, is to try to remove any ambivalence.
In relation to the financing of some associations and their access to corporate funds from lending institutions, their rights are much better ensured and specified in the form of enacted legislation than in the form of a circular which can always be withdrawn or modified and which does not have the force of law. I would ask the Minister to take this on board because not only is it making explicit law and reinforcing, something that is already there, but from a political point of view we are sending out a political signal in relation to the area of voluntary and co-operative housing and the Second Stage contribution from the Minister of State clearly made substantial reference to this area. I would ask the Minister to consider this. Perhaps he would come back on Report Stage with a slightly altered wording, if he has a problem with the specific wording. He has two choices between Deputy Boland's proposal and my own. The net effect is to call for the explicit inclusion.
We are not trying to be awkward but we are afraid that the amendments will try to qualify line 36 on page 6 and I do not want to do that now. I can see what Deputy Quinn is getting at so far as he would like things to be absolutely explicit in print but is it not more appropriate that this matter could be changed in the guideline? I know it can be changed but it can also be added to. One of the beauties about the guideline in the circular is that it can be added to and subtracted from whereas if it gets into the Bill and it is subsequently discovered that it is limiting in any way then we are back to amending legislation. I would much prefer to amend guidelines which can always be brought to the notice of the Minister, either by Dáil action, representation or whatever. In a situation such as this where we would be at one so far as the thinking is concerned, it would not cause a hassle by doing it that way. If something is put in now that might seek to replace section 12 of the 1966 Act in many ways, rather than leave it substantially whole, we might not be doing what we intend to do. For that reason I do not think Deputy Quinn would want to press the amendment.
How can wording which states that a body shall include non-profit making or voluntary housing organisations in any way limit the definition? If that is so, why does section 5 (1), when referring to other housing authorities, choose to put in brackets the words, "including the commissioners of the town"? We all know that town commissioners are very rarely — I do not think they are in any case — housing authorities.
They are not normally housing authorities.
Lest commissioners of a town have old housing stock and where there might be a need for the substantial housing authority in the area to give them grant-aid in order to maintain that housing stock, the clause "including the commissioners of the town" is included in section 5 (1), as it was in the 1985 measure. In the same way the reference to "body" if it was to have been included in the Bill that a body included non-profit making or voluntary housing organisations would not limit the definition of "body"; in fact, it widens it.
Deputy Boland has made the point and I do not really want to add to it. I think the Minister should take this point on board. I know the permanent Government of this land — like the permanent government of other lands — hate to see Acts changed after they have spent years at getting it right, or so they think. We are dangerously on the edge of Sir Humphrey territory here. The Minister has put forward the argument which was given to him and he has added to it. With all due respects, I do not think it stands up. Deputy Boland has made the net point that if it specifically includes a particular body it does not, by logic, exclude every other body and that is the net point being argued by the Minister.
I ask the Deputy to consider one further point that occurs here. All bodies seeking recognition have to be approved by the Minister. The Minister examines the credentials of each body which applies to be approved for the purpose of this section before he can approve them. Once they are approved their bona fides are established. Consequently, it is not a question of my trying to delimit those organisations that would be recognised in that way; they have already sought approval, have been examined and have been granted it. They would have been covered and that was the intention, as I understand it, under section 12 of the 1966 Act. I can well understand that people do not like changing something which has stood the test of time for so long and so well. I would have to be convinced that what was intended in the list of bodies, under section 12, had in some way been faulty or had failed to satisfy the requirement. It would be then wise to make a further addition to the list as concluded in section 12 of the 1966 Act. Failing that, I would not see any good reason for it. Why seek to alter it for the sake of getting more explicit when the explicitness of the Act already stands up to scrutiny?
The net point is that we want to make explicit in the law that a bona fide voluntary housing association has in the written law of the land the right to be included and considered as qualifying and benefiting from the provisions of section 5 and the rest of the housing legislation.
Once they have been approved.
They obviously have to be approved.
That is the point, their bona fide has been established.
The Minister's position is that their entitlement would rest exclusively with their being approved by the Minister and in that sense by the permanent secretariat within the Department which would put up a recommendation. What we are seeking is the right in their own right for a voluntary housing association to be included. If a particular association which was clearly a voluntary housing association — and it would have to seek approval from the Minister to qualify for other provisions — for some reason or another was not in good standing or about which the Minister had reservations, he would then have the power in law not to approve it——
That is right.
——but his reasons for not approving it would have to be made explicit. We are giving rights in law to voluntary housing associations and I suspect this is the reason there is a reticence to accept the amendment. This is a political amendment put in to send a political signal to the voluntary housing associations that if they are properly incorporated and set up in a bona fide manner then they are entitled to participate in the provisions of section 5. If for whatever reason the Minister, or his successor, saw fit to refuse to approve such a body, they would at least be able to argue that they were unfairly treated.
What the Deputy is concerned about is that if the approval is not forthcoming for whatever reason they would have stated explicitly the reason they were not regarded as bona fide.
Exactly, that would be one concern.
Why would the Deputy require that to be enshrined in legislation? Anybody who seeks the Minister's approval to be included as a voluntary housing organisation would in normal circumstances, and natural justice would require that at least you would respond and tell them where they had failed so that they would have an opportunity of correcting it and thereby gain their bona fide status. I do not think that should be enshrined in legislation.
I am conscious of the time constraints; we are on amendments Nos. 18 and 21 and we have approximately 73 left. First and foremost, this is a political declaration being written into law that voluntary housing organisations specifically are included in this section. It is a political message. Successive Ministers for the Environment and Ministers of State, including the Minister and his colleague, would be able to state at various conferences that specific provision is now being made in law for direct assistance to be given to voluntary bodies, more so than was the case previously. It gives them autonomy and rights which they would not otherwise have. Retaining exclusively the right of approval to the Minister is a limitation which I do not think is necessary. That is the point I am making.
All I can say is that the descriptions contained in the amendments are already covered in existing legislation. Will the Department accept that from one, through the Chair?
Therefore why define them to any broader sense if they are already included in existing categories as outlined in existing legislation? That is my difficulty. If there was a good reason over and above that, I would be prepared to say that I would be prepared to think about it between here and the Seanad or something to that effect. I will if that is requested but I can see no good argument being pursued to a conclusion that suggests that these organisations are not there in the broadest sense as outlined in the definition of "organisation" in the 1966 Act. For that reason it seems superfluous. The question about giving them a decent reply if they are refused approval is an administrative matter which could be pursued at any level other than by legislation.
Deputy Quinn's ready acceptance of the Minister's suggestion that voluntary and non-profit making organisations are already defined in law under the generic term of "body" baffles me. I am equally baffled that the Minister will suggest that the use of the word "body" in any legislation has already been interpreted to include voluntary or non-profit making housing organisations. If the Minister is to continue to refer to Section 12 of the 1966 Act he would be well advised to get himself a copy of it. Section 12 of the 1966 Act makes some attempt to define "bodies". It provides:
(2) This section applies to the following bodies:
(a) a body whose objects include at least one of the following:
(i) the provision of dwellings for elderly persons,
(ii) the provision of dwellings which will help to secure one or more of the primary objectives to which a housing authority are required by sub-section (3) of section 60 of this Act to have regard.
(iii) the advance of money for the provision (including reconstruction or purchase) of dwellings,
(iv) the conduct in relation to housing of research or the provision of training.
That section which the Minister hopes the House will agree to rescind, to repeal, in the Schedule to this Bill, section 12, itself made an attempt to define the qualifications necessary for a body which was to be grant-aided. It seems eminently reasonable that, rather than use this term "body", which various Ministers might interpret as they saw fit, there ought to be included a specific reference to the main bodies, which we all assume is the main purpose of the use of the word "body". I dislike having to say this, but the voluntary bodies have said to me that they accept the bona fides of the present Minister in his attitude towards it but they were concerned that if no attempt is made in this section to include them specifically, successors to the Minister might not have the same benign attitude towards the bodies and might choose to interpret the non-expanded term "bodies" in section 5 (1) as not being intended to include the voluntary or non-profit making housing organisations. For that reason alone, the bodies are anxious and are putting forward what I think is a very reasonable case, that they ought to be included as a part definition of "body" without in any way limiting what "body" might be taken to mean but widening what "body" is to mean if the amendment is accepted.
It should not be a matter of what any Minister wishes or does not wish.
I am reinforced in my view that that has not been the case. No political message is being given in so far as this is concerned, I say to Deputy Quinn. Over 100 bodies have already obtained approval through various Ministers. The innate fear in bodies as suggested by Deputy Boland that they might somehow be sidestepped does not bear scrutiny and no good argument has been made for me to alter my opinion in this regard. If there were specific cases, or if such a limited number of bodies were already approved as to suggest that somebody was deliberately limiting the exercise of the widest interpretation of this arrangement heretofore, I would have to go down the road with the Deputy, but if more than 100 bodies already have been approved, and they generally include all the bodies that might have a usefulness in this type of arrangement, I do not see the case. However, so that we can get on with the business, I will think about it a little more before we talk about it in another form.
An Leas-Cheannn Comhairle
Amendment No. 19 to be moved by Deputy Michael Keating. Amendment No. 20 is related so for the purpose of discussion we take amendments Nos. 19 and 20 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 7, subsection (4) (a), line 18 after "such assistance", to insert "plus appropriate interest on the overdue amount".
I make what I suppose is a kind of public expenditure point. Section 5 (4) provides that if a housing authority have assisted another housing authority or body subject to a condition of providing such assistance and part of that condition has been that the money should be repaid and it has been so repaid; I feel the facilities should be there not just to recoup the amount but to recoup the interest on the amount. I think that is reasonable.
I must come in here. I am disappointed with these amendments. They are more than just unnecessary. Only in very rare circumstances would the housing authority have to seek recoupment of assistance given to either a voluntary housing organisation or a housing authority, and it is most unlikely that only partial recoupment of assistance given would be appropriate because the services will have been provided for some time. The overall thrust of section 5 is to encourage voluntary housing organisations and not put in place severe penalties for non-performance. I would be very upset about anybody trying to pursue these amendments. We do not want fines and penalties imposed on voluntary housing organisations trying to do their best.
If they are trying to do their best.
If recoupment was necessary in the final analysis and had to be followed through I would not be the one to put it into a statute that we will be seeking a penalty clause or interest approved after services have been given for a period of time. Genuinely I ask Deputy Keating not to contemplate pursuing this matter further.
I am going to pursue it only to the extent that I want to assist the housing authorities who have been genuine and, to use the Minister's words, have done their best. Those who have done that will comply with the conditions of such an advance and those who do not should be open to being asked for interest on the sum outstanding. That is my view and it is consistent with the broader philosophy about these things. It does not go down the road of easy populism in these matters. It also seeks to express a recognition and appreciation of those who play by the rules.
Can I take it that Deputy Keating is less than enthusiastic about pressing the amendment?
I did not expect it to be accepted. I make the point.
I want to make a brief contribution with regard to the question of one local authority assisting another local authority. A very unsatisfactory situation pertains in the Dublin region at present and something should be done through housing legislation to prevent it from continuing or arising again in either the Dublin or any other region. Somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 units of accommodation built by and under the management of Dublin Corporation are in the administrative area of Dublin County Council. The people who live in those houses and flats have nobody to complain to about their rent, repairs, or any difficulties they might have with estate management. They elect county councillors who have no say whatsoever in the administration of the housing estates in which they live, particularly in places like Tallaght and Clondalkin which have enormous social problems.
It seems absurd that I, as a councillor for the Crumlin district of Dublin Corporation, should have a say in the administration of such an enormous housing stock in Dublin county, particularly in the Clondalkin and Tallaght areas where there are huge problems and the elected representatives for that area have no say whatever. Where a local authority build in the administrative area of another authority there should be some provision in the housing legislation for the handing over of that housing stock to the other local authority. In this case, provision should be made for Dublin Corporation to hand over the housing stock to Dublin County Council whose elected representatives and management would be responsible for the management of that housing stock. The present position is an absurdity. It should not be allowed to continue or happen again. There should be a provision to hand over the housing stock to the authority in whose administrative area they are sited.
We must also bear in mind that there is the whole question of other services, apart from housing, provided by Dublin Corporation in county council areas. We need to look at the system under which the greater Dublin area is divided into at least three local authorities. Indeed, there are parts of other counties involved, such as Kildare and Wicklow. They have taken the overflow of population from the Dublin city area. If the Minister is to give serious consideration to the question of how overflows are to be dealt with he must also look at the structure of local government.
Co-operation on the housing needs of local authorities should not require legislation. The Bill represents the first serious attempt for fresh thinking on co-operation between local authorities and housing authorities. The need for co-operation and consultation runs through the Bill but I must stress that it should not require legislation. Certainly, legislation should not be required as far as housing the homeless is concerned.
This does not concern housing of the homeless. Is the Minister aware that councillors on Dublin County Council for the Tallaght district do not have any status in City Hall or in the civic offices where the administrative decisions regarding the maintenance, rents and so on of houses in their area are made? Is the Minister aware that between 10,000 and 20,000 units of housing are dealt with? We should not allow this absurdity to continue. It is creating terrible problems and the people elected to represent Tallaght do not have any say in regard to the massive problems that face the people they serve.
I concede that some problems arise and, perhaps, Deputy De Rossa is right in stating that there is a need to do something as far as structural reorganisation is concerned.
Local government reform?
That is correct. It is in that area that the matter will be solved to the satisfaction of all. I am sure that is what Deputy De Rossa is referring to. However, the legislation addresses the question of co-operation between housing authorities in so far as needs and requirements for certain people are concerned, particularly those on housing lists.
Amendment No. 22, in the name of Deputy Keating, has been ruled out of order in so far as it involves a potential charge.
I should like to make the point that I do not know what criteria were used to make such an adjudication. Deputy Boland had an amendment earlier which was not ruled out of order on those grounds although it clearly embodied a significant degree of charge on revenue. I do not intend arguing with the Chair but that point will have to be addressed in relation to a later amendment. I do not accept that what is proposed would incur an additional charge on the revenue but I will accept the ruling of the Chair on this occasion because I am anxious to progress to more meaty and weighty matters. I do not want that to be taken as a precedent, that I am going to be compliant all the way.
The Chair appreciates Deputy Keating's acceptance of the ruling, under duress.
We now move to amendment No. 23 in the name of Deputy Keating. I am suggesting to the Deputy that amendments Nos. 24, 25 and 26 are alternatives, that amendment No. 32 is related, and that, for the purposes of discussion, we should take amendments Nos. 23, 24, 25, 26 and 32 together.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 8, subsection (1), lines 26 and 27 to delete "may, at any time that appears to them expedient, and shall, as may, from time to time, be" and substitute "shall make an annual assessment, or on such other occasions as they may be".
My amendment seeks to deal with a fairly fundamental point. I will be brief because time is against us. The essence of what is contained in the amendments listed by the Chair is the relative vagueness with which section 8, as initiated, facilitates a housing authority making the assessment referred to in the section. It would appear that section 8 allows a housing authority to make the estimate of housing requirements whenever they like, having regard to certain criteria. From the point of view of some form of national consistency, that is undesirable because we will get varying degrees of attention and efficiency in that respect. Therefore, there will be varying degrees of speed with regard to housing people.
In principle, it is unfair to the housing authorities to allow that vagueness to arise. It is not unreasonable to be more specific bearing in mind that we are talking about an exercise which at its heart will be a fundamental barometer of how well the legislation works. In theory, I could be five or six years down the road before we get any return. Indeed, in theory it could be much longer than that before we will get what I would call an integrated pattern arising out of the assessments by housing authorities throughout the country.
From every point of view I am concerned to ensure that there is a time limit within which housing authorities have to make such assessments. I am suggesting in my amendment that there should be an annual assessment but I will be happy to accept some other time-frame if the Minister considers one appropriate, provided there is that kind of regulation. I do not want to hear in three or four years time of councillors, or officials of the Minister's Department, asking local authorities if they had carried out a housing assessment. Such authorities would be able to blithely reply, "That is under review, but there is no obligation on us to carry out such an assessment within a set time-frame". That is a weakness in the Bill and it would help the Minister, those who want the Bill to succeed and local authorities, if we were more specific.
This section, and the following one, essentially replace sections 53, 54 and 55 of the 1966 Act. Frankly, it is an unnecessary division to have a possible requirement that there should be an estimate of housing requirements and to have, separately, housing assessments. In my view it would have been better if the intention of sections 8 and 9 had been rolled into one because is is somewhat difficult to distinguish between an estimate of housing requirements and an estimate of housing needs. Section 53 of the 1966 Act, in relation to inspection and assessment of adequacy of supply and condition of housing, required the authority to carry out a review at least once every five years. It seems to be a retrograde step to remove a specific requirement that the authority would have to carry out reviews after a maximum period. Certain authorities may decide, for whatever reason, that they do not want to carry out either an estimate of housing requirements under section 8 or an assessment of housing needs under section 9. I will have more to say about section 9, and similar amendments which I have down to that section, when we come to it. My amendments would have the effect of requiring the authority to carry out an estimate of housing requirements within a year of the section coming into effect and thereafter not less often than every three years. It is reasonable that that ought to be so.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, if you want to take amendment No. 27 in conjunction with these amendments we could do so because it is related. If the authority was required to carry out the review within a year of the section coming into effect and then every three years thereafter, the items set out in amendment No. 27 would also have to be addressed by the Authority at least every three years. That was part of the intention.
Is it agreed that we take amendment No. 27? Agreed.
Amendment No. 27 is modelled on section 54 of the Housing Act, 1966, which the Minister also proposes to repeal. It seems it would be a very good discipline on housing authorities to require them when doing their estimate of housing requirements to also set out the cost of the management and maintenance of their current housing stock, the income from their current housing stock and the anticipated cost of the building programme which they would set out as being necessary, having completed their estimate of requirements. It would concentrate the minds of the members of the housing authority, the Minister and presumably the Members of this House as well as the general public on the mammoth cost of the provision, maintenance and management of housing. Indeed, most effectively of all, it would have the effect of concentrating the minds of the officials of the housing authority on to the expense of the operation in which they are engaging. From that point of view it would be retrograde if section 54 of the 1966 Act was to be repealed by this Bill and not replaced in some form. The form I had suggested was to change the five yearly provision in section 53 to a three yearly provision. I am not particularly hung up on whether it is three or five years but there should be a requirement that the estimate be carried out within set time frames. Within those time frames it would be well worth while that the housing authority would turn their minds to the cost of their operations and of what they are proposing.
What we are seeking is to have written into law the requirement that on a regular basis the local authority, as the housing authority for the area, would be obliged to prepare an estimate and to have it published or made available. The wording at the beginning is extraordinarily weak and is a haven for somebody to hide behind — lack of staff, resources or even management commitment. What concerns me is that while some local authorities may proceed to provide for themselves an estimate of housing requirements, other local authorities will not and we will then be prevented from getting an overall national picture — an integrated pattern was the phrase used by Deputy Keating.
Section 8 (1) states: "A housing authority may, at any time that appears to them expedient, and shall, as may, from time to time, be directed by the Minister, make as respects their functional area...". Either they have total control and are told they will have to carry out a review on a regular basis or the Minister gives a direction. His response to this may very well be that he has the power anyway under that section to give a direction. He may even go further, because he has been very accommodating verbally so far, and say that he is prepared to give a direction for annual review, but that is not law. The Minister will probably be in the Department of Finance by the end of the year, anyway.
I hope he will remember Deputy Quinn when he is.
Third time lucky. The incumbent is going on holidays.
He is taking French lessons.
Let us get away from Old Moore's Almanac and get down to the section.
While the Minister's assurances are in no way doubted they are no substitute for the making of a specific and exact provision in law and I think he will accept that. That is the net point. The points Deputy Boland added by way of amendment No. 27 are well made and will fall into place along with it. I would go so far as to say that if there is a reluctance in the Department to take on board this amendment because of resource implications, the preparation of the first report, properly stored on a personal computer and capable of being updated and upgraded, would considerably minimise much of the dogsbody work that would have to go with this. The logistics involved in such a task are not as daunting in modern times with the new technology that is available to local authorities, as was the case in the past. I urge the Minister to accept this. It is a reasonable amendment.
The earlier amendments, Nos. 23, 24 and 26, are broadly similar in their intent in that an effort is being made to require local authorities to make an annual assessment of housing requirements. As I understand it, the purpose of section 8 is to ensure an assessment of housing requirements generally and section 9 is an assessment of the requirement which will be on the local authorities to provide housing. Clearly they are two distinct functions.
I have two amendments down to section 8, amendment No. 26 which seeks to put a requirement on the local authority to have a yearly assessment of requirements and amendment No. 32 which seeks to ensure that there is at least a five yearly assessment of the condition of the housing stock in the State. It seems it would be almost impossible to plan for the development of our housing stock, the modernisation of it and the provision of sufficient units of accommodation for the population at large unless we know the condition of the present housing stock, the major repairs that are required to it, its age, when it is likely to become obsolescent or what parts of it are going to become obsolescent, as well as the actual numbers of dwellings available. As I understand it, between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of our current housing stock is pre-1940 and about a quarter of it is pre-1900. In addition, the core of many of our cities and towns has housing which pre-dates the twenties: between 40 per cent and 60 per cent pre-dates the twenties. It appears that major work will have to be done in modernising that housing stock and ensuring that it is maintained in proper condition. There is no way we can ensure that unless a regular survey of the condition of the national housing stock is carried out.
When deciding on the requirements for housing, the question of overcrowding should be taken into account. There has been considerable debate about the definition of overcrowding. The local authorities currently use definitions of overcrowding which do not match the recommendations made by the NESC. There are other definitions of overcrowding used in other jurisdictions which are not applied here and which would give a far different picture of our housing problems. I would like the Minister to address himself to the following questions. When local authorities are talking about overcrowding, what definition do they use? What definition does the Minister use? Will all local authorities use the same definition? Does the Minister intend to take on board the NESC report in this regard, and so on?
The importance of a regular condition of our housing stock cannot be overestimated. There has to be an obligation on local authorities to carry out such a survey; otherwise it will not happen. In recent years the Department of the Environment appear to have given local authorities a derogation from section 53 because, to my knowledge, no housing condition surveys have taken place in recent years. I would ask the Minister to address himself to that particular point.
Another aspect of the question of housing conditions and how a local authority assess the requirements of housing is the furnished private rented sector. While there may well be X number of units available in the private rented sector, to what extent will local authorities be obliged to take into account the sanitation provided in these units? To what extent will they be required to take into account the fire precautions in these units? In other words, will local authorities be obliged to ignore accommodation, or close accommodation, which does not meet with specific sanitation and fire precaution requirements? That will have a major impact on the outcome of any assessment for housing requirements around the country. This is not just a Dublin problem. The private rented sector problem is widespread in the major towns.
I am arguing in favour of amendments Nos. 26 and 32 because I feel strongly there must be an obligation on local authorities to carry out regular assessments and a housing condition survey.
There are a few points I want to make on the contributions made. It appears some Deputies do not fully appreciate what might be involved under section 8. What is involved is a major assessment of housing requirements, both local authority and private, one every five years under section 53 of the Housing Act, 1966. Even this five-year timetable was not strictly adhered to. Deputy De Rossa was quite right when he said that for various reasons, mainly because of the sheer scale of the undertaking. It is essential that all housing authorities carry out their estimates of assessments at the same time using, as far as possible, and this is very important, consistent assumptions so that there would not be any disparities between the various authorities.
The results of these local authority estimates provide the key element in estimating national housing requirements. However, the demographic, economic and housing stock data underlining the calculations of housing requirements do not change significantly from year to year and an annual estimate of overall housing requirements would, in present circumstances, be wasteful and unnecessary, and might even be unnecessary once every three years. There is not much point putting into legislation that something must be done every year when the requirement under the 1966 Act for a five-year assessment has not been complied with. Let us not perpetuate a requirement which has not been complied with. This is an enormous task. It is not just a matter of counting empty houses. The assessment we are talking about is a very detailed process, a huge undertaking and the scale has intimidated some local authorities in the past.
Amendment No. 27 deals with the proper procedure for the consideration of maintenance and management of local authority houses. That matter is scrutinished at estimates time in the local authorities. I want to tell Deputy Quinn that it is not my assurances that matter one whit. That is the reason for including the words that from time to time, as directed by the Minister, certain things can happen. That is a very important element of this legislation because any Minister at any time can say to a local authority under this section — and this applies probably more importantly to other sections — that they must do certain things. Including that element in the section must put housing authorities on notice that from now on they can be directed to do a particular thing to satisfy a requirement so far as housing is concerned. This is a fundamental issue——
The Minister already has that discretionary power under section 53 of the 1966 Act.
I understand all that, and that is why it is being retained. It is a fundamental part——
It is wrong to say from now on.
It has not worked up to now.
It will not work now either.
That is why I am not asking that we put something into legislation for the sake of showing it in type. I take the points made by the Deputies that we should carry out this assessment once anyway, and I would be prepared so far as amendment No. 24 is concerned to include the words "within one year from the commencement of the section". It is reasonable to expect that once this major new legislation is in place we should set the base line. I recommend that we should consider an amendment that would say "within one year of the commencement of this legislation we will carry out a major assessment of housing requirements, local authority and private". However, it is an enormous task, but if I put it into legislation the local authorities must carry out a major assessment.
Is the Minister accepting Deputy Boland's amendment No. 24?
I would be prepared to accept that and leave the rest of it stand because it is strong enough to achieve what we want to do. Let us have a look at this later. I recommend that to Deputy Boland, if he is prepared to accept it.
I will accept it.
That is progress but all it does is create a baseline. The section has not worked.
No, it has not.
If we are to expect regular assessments, whether annually, five yearly or every decade, we should be fairly insistent on them. Let us not simply pretend they are happening. The acceptance of the amendment is a collective admission that the old system did not work. I cannot understand how the magic formula of putting it into legislation will make it work. Apparently it has not worked since the 1966 Housing Act. How will a housing authority decide of their own volition to undertake such an assessment?
It only took place as authorised by the Minister, according to section 53 of the 1966 Act. Let us not perpetuate something which did not work. Let us provide for a major assessment after the passage of this legislation. If the Minister wants to have it carried out every year or every five years, that is his prerogative. I do not believe it will happen every year because the demographic situation does not change that fast. We need to have this case study done.
Is the Minister satisfied that the local authorities can do it?
I am. It is a mammoth task and it will represent a watershed in regard to housing legislation. Finally we will know what we have in the private, rented and local authority housing sectors. Then we can talk about what to do.
I welcome the Minister's willingness to take on board amendment No. 24, but the section is still weak in so far as the local authority will be required to carry out an estimate of housing requirements. Under section 8 (2) (a) the information on which it will be based will be derived from any survey of all or a sample of the housing in the area, or otherwise as the Authority see fit. This will not give the baseline we are talking about. It will give us a rough guide as to what is going on with regard to our housing stock, but it will not deal with the high proportion of the housing stock which is obsolescent or almost so. It will not give the local authority or the Department of the Environment the necessary information to enable them to decide how best to assist with the maintenance of dwellings which are obsolescent or nearly obsolescent. The steps the Minister has taken in the past year with regard to remedial works schemes indicate his anxiety to ensure that the existing housing stock is maintained and upgraded. How is this to be done unless we know specifically what needs to be maintained and upgraded? That is why I am suggesting in amendment No. 32 an obligation on the local authority to carry out a housing conditions survey rather than an estimate of housing requirements, so that we can plan not only for the building of new houses but for the maintenance and upgrading of existing houses.
I regard section 8 (2) as dealing in a global way with all the matters which have to be taken into account in the survey. It will be very comprehensive and will include the points raised by the Deputy. All matters relating to the housing stock will be considered, including places that are unfit or unsuitable for human habitation. A reasonable compromise has been reached in this matter.
I do not accept the Minister's response to amendment No. 32. There appears to be an attempt to escape from what we are supposed to be doing with regard to the housing stock. I and other Deputies argued on Second Stage that there was a need for a White Paper on housing to give us some idea of the direction of housing policy. Even with the Minister's acceptance of amendment No. 24, we are only tipping the edges of the problem. While I acknowledge that the formulation of amendment No. 32 is not as precise as it should be, I wish to press it.
I wish the Deputy would not press that amendment because there is no merit in it. It proposes an estimate of housing requirements which would be separate from and require much less comprehensive information than the overall estimate which we agree shall be carried out within a year from the commencement of this legislation. It makes no sense. The Deputy is asking for less than we have agreed to in the compromise. I do not think it should be pursued.
That is not factual. Section 8 (2) leaves it open to each local authority to pursue their own means of estimating housing requirements. We could get a totally disparate set of results which would not be comparable or scientific. It would be better to have one thorough and comprehensive evaluation of housing stock than to have a number of sample surveys carried out on a different basis by individual local authorities. Deputy De Rossa's point has strength. It is wrong to suggest that what he is asking for in his amendment is less than what is provided? The provisions of subsection (2) may or may not be satisfactory. If local authorities have the option, they will opt for sample survey areas. Are the criteria set out?
I will ask Deputy Quinn to come to my assistance in this matter. Sample surveys are the internationally recognised way of getting information on unfit accommodation or overcrowding in the housing sector. I am not asking for anything more or less than the normal modus operandi internationally.
This is a joke.
Section 8 (2) provides for what would be regarded by any reasonable person as a proper assessment by way of survey of the housing situation. There is no other way of doing it. That must be obvious.
Let me draw the attention of all of us to the fact that we have yet to reach amendment No. 30 and there are over 70 amendments. To illustrate my bona fides in this, from amendment No. 50 on, only three of them are mine, but with the progress we are making the last amendments after amendment No. 50 will not be discussed.
I agree with the Minister that the provision in 8 (2) (a) is sufficient. In fact the wording in Deputy De Rossa's own amendment No. 32 is substantially covered in section 8 (2) (a).
In view of what the Minister and the other Deputy have said I will not press this amendment but I still believe we are skirting the problem and that we will be back here in a few years time wondering why it is that we are not dealing adequately with the housing problem.
Will the Minister be in Finance?
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 8, subsection (1), line 26, to delete "may," and substitute "shall, within one year of the commencement of this section and thereafter".
Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 33 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 8, subsection (1) line 33 after "prepared" to insert "and published".
This amendment proposes that the report which is referred to in amendment No. 33 would also be published or available for publication, otherwise the report would be prepared but not accessible to anybody and that clearly would not be in the interest of the public good.
The report is obviously of a major nature. Indeed the extent of the report has been graphically described by the Minister to the House. The intention of my amendment would be that the report, having been prepared, would be adopted by the housing authority which would in itself be the same as having it published. The adoption of the report ought to be a reserved function which is referred to in the related amendment No. 33.
I would be agreeable to that.
I accept that the report and the estimates etc. should come before the elected Members.
And be adopted by them.
I would have regarded that as being the normal practice.
Then the Minister accepts the amendment?
Let me see the wording. I would accept the amendment. I accept that the report should be adopted but I am not anxious that the word "housing" would appear there. This is in Deputy Boland's amendment No. 29. I think it would read better and the draftsman would prefer it if it were to read "adopted by the authority" as opposed to "adopted by the housing authority". In considering this matter I think these matters should be for the consideration of the elected Members. It is a reserved function and they are the people who should adopt it. As for publishing it, I would not agree with that, because once it appears at a public meeting that is the same as publishing it.
I am quite happy with that. It is the same thing.
The Minister is accepting amendment No. 29 with the word "housing" dropped.
I would like to go a little further. I would like to include what is in amendment No. 33 and I would like the Deputy to propose that the adoption of the report would be reserved function. That should be the way that a housing authority should proceed and I would be pleased to have that amendment stand.
There is a neater way of doing it.
I would ask the House to agree to the removal of the word "housing" from amendment No. 29
It is necessary that the Deputy move the amendment without the word "housing".
We need to deal formally with amendment No. 28 first.
I am prepared to withdraw amendment No. 28 in view of what has emerged here.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 8, subsection (1), line 33, after "prepared" to insert "and adopted by the housing authority".
Would the Minister now move that in amendment No. 29 the word "housing" be deleted.
I so move:
It has now been agreed that the word "housing" be deleted from this amendment.
Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 9, subsection (2), between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:
"(b) the extent to which there is unused residential accommodation above commercial and/or retail space in buildings,".
Again this is self-evident. I would like the Minister to take it on board. It extends the point I was making on Second Stage. There is a a lot of residential accommodation on the first, second and third floors of buildings in the cores of towns around this country that is underutilised or unused and was formerly available for residential use. In an effective assessment of accommodation this should be specifically included. The reason I specifically wrote it in is that it could in many cases be considered not as residential accommodation but as commercial property if there was nobody living in it at the time. If there had been nobody living in the accommodation it might not be included by the local authority and that is the reason I have proposed it.
The purpose of my amendment is wider than the amendment proposed by Deputy Quinn and The Workers' Party Deputies. It would have the effect of obliging the Authority, in carrying out the review to identify to what extent there was private rented accommodation available in their area and what the likely demand for that accommodation might be. It is one of the strange phenomena in housing in Ireland over the last 50 years that in the twenties and early thirties the bulk of private housing was private rented accommodation. The trend moved very sharply away from private rented accommodation to home ownership with the result that, as we have discussed here in the House on another occasion, we have one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world. It is suggested by many people that there will be a return to private rented accommodation and in any estimate of housing requirements, and especially in an estimate which the Minister has now agreed will have to be carried out by all housing authorities within a year of the passing of this Act, it would be germane to that estimate that they establish the extent of private rented accommodation within their functional area. That is the purpose of amendment No. 31.
I take the points made by the two Deputies that unused residential accommodation is potentially an important factor in the calculation of the housing requirements. However, the type of accommodation specifically referred to by Deputy Quinn is only one example of vacant and unused accommodation. Indeed the type of accommodation the Deputy is talking about is peculiar to urban areas. Under subsection 2 (a) housing authorities are required to have regard to information on the housing conditions of the area which obviously would include the amount of vacant accommodation both in the housing authority's stock and in the private housing stock. Subsection (2) (f) provides that the housing authority should have regard to such other matters as the Minister may from time to time direct and this provision can of course be used to draw the specific attention of housing authorities to the need to have regard to vacant housing accommodation in the estimates of their housing requirements and I propose to tell them to do that.
The Minister is suggesting that under the provisions of section 8 (2) (f) he would direct authorities to take into account of the extent of vacant accommodation that might be available for letting.
The effect of my amendment is wider than that. It would suggest that the Authority would need to assess the total extent of rented accommodation within its functional area whether let or available for letting and that is something that would be appropriate in a survey of the type which has been discussed here. That ought to be addressed.
What is in section 8 is related to overall requirements. That is the important issue here. It also relates to how the requirements should be met, whether through local authority house building or private housing for owner occupation, voluntary housing or private rented accommodation. That is a separate matter entirely. We are talking about the overall position. I suggest that the Deputy's amendment is inappropriate and that in those circumstances it should not be pursued. We are talking about a requirement which is covered perfectly in section 8, with the rider that I would make it known through regulation or guideline——
The Minister can suggest as much as he likes. I do not think the amendment is inappropriate, although I think that it is unlikely to be accepted.
Whichever interpretation the Deputy likes to put on it.
I think that the answer is no, one way or the other.
The answer will be the same, sportingly conceded.
A rare flash of honesty and candour.
Deputy Boland has not done badly.
We come now to amendment No. 34. Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 are to be taken together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 9, subsection (1) to delete lines 28 to 32 and substitute:
"(1) A housing authority shall make an annual assessment of the need for the provision by the authority of adequate and suitable accommodation for persons—".
This an echo of what we are talking about a little earlier. Basically its source is to try to put some degree of order on the housing assessments which housing authorities should carry out. Section 9 as it stands suggests that the housing authority, within one year of the commencement of the section and thereafter as the Minister may from time to time direct shall make in accordance with the section an an assessment of the need for the provision by the Authority. It would be preferable if the occasions thereafter on which such assessments were to be carried out were more specifically delineated. I am sure the Minister will point out that there is a great deal of work involved in assessments but if a good baseline job is done initially such assessments need not be as extensive or as fundamental thereafter, except at perhaps irregular intervals. Then they would have to be made as on the first occasion. In principle, I take the view that if you are going to allow an arbitrary decision by local authorities to make such assessments, on balance the outcome will be unsatisfactory generally speaking, because of the pressure of other business and so on.
The assessment which is implicit in section 9 as it stands is mandatory only once and thereafter it is purely at the discretion of the Minister. I am not too happy about that because it is not the kind of structured arrangement which should exist in a Bill such as this. Regular assessment should be the norm and it should be incumbent therein upon the housing authority not just to do such assessment but to take into account and have consultations with the agencies and bodies that have expertise in the area. Accordingly, I move that there be included in the section a reference to some form of annual assessment, although I would accept that it need not be quite as fundamental as the first one which the Minister has opposed in the section.
Whatever about the merits of the Minister's argument in relation to the similar amendments that the task of carrying out an overall assessment on housing needs, public and private, in the functional area of the Authority was a major one and would demand much of the resources of the Authority — some of these arguments being well taken by the House — it does not hold water in relation to an authority estimating — or assessing is the word used — the extent of housing which they feel they would need to provide for people who cannot house themselves. They have that basic information on their housing application lists. They need to assess how many of the people on those lists are in real need of housing and also to assess how many other people in their functional area there may be who have not yet applied for housing but who are likely to apply.
It is interesting to reflect that this provision was contained in a similar section in the 1985 Bill. It was set out at section 9 (1) of the 1985 Bill. This read "...the housing authority shall make an annual assessment of the need..." etc., and went on identically as in this Bill. I have heard of cutbacks but this is ridiculous. The marginal note to the 1985 Bill, section 9, mentioned an annual housing assessment. For some reason or other, this Administration have changed section 9 (1) to remove the word "annual" out of the section but apparently — I presume in some effort to save money — have used the same piece of typescript in the marginal note. Therefore, the marginal note still reads: "Annual housing assessment". The section is wrong, the margin note is wrong, or the Minister is wrong. I suspect it is the latter.
I kind of thought the Deputy would.
Given a choice of those three.
The buck stops here.
I could bet the Minister will blame the parliamentary draftsman.
I have never walked away from my responsibility, even if it meant holding the line for the parliamentary draftsman. Amendment No. 34 proposes to reinstate the specific provisions which were in the 1985 Bill. Amendment No. 35 is basically to the same effect. The 1985 Bill was unduly restrictive in this regard. Under the provisions of that Bill referred to by Deputy Boland, local authorities could face legal challenge in regard to the letting of dwelling if an assessment had not been carried out on the anniversary of the previous assessment. The proposals in this section are a major advance as local authorities have never previously been required to review their waiting list on a regular basis. The intention is that these assessments would be carried out on a regular basis and as far as possible on an annual basis, but it is desirable that some small discretion be retained in the timing of the assessments. It would be wrong to provide in law for a situation whereby the allocation of local authority housing would be challenged if the assessment were late; in other words, that it had not been done on the anniversary, to the dead day, of the date on which the original assessment had taken place. I do not think that is necessary.
Nobody has suggested that.
It is suggested if the amendment is taken on board.
I am saying that what is done here means we will have the assessment carried out on a regular basis and as far as possible that it will be as close as makes no difference to an annual basis.
With all due respect, that is the greatest load of hokey-boloney——
But the Minister said it well.
——of an excuse to put forward, that if an authority does not to the day——
The dead day.
——carry out an assessment that they are required to do annually, they are open to legal challenge.
What is hokey-boloney?
What we have just been listening to. There are requirements scattered all through the statutes requiring all sorts of public bodies to do things annually.
The Deputy should keep his temperature down.
As we all know, many of those bodies manage to produce their annual reports three or four years afterwards and sometimes in batches, like CIE buses. To suggest that an authority is at serious risk of a legal challenge if they do not carry out their assessment annually to the day on which they carried out the first assessment just will not wash.
That is not proposed either, by the way.
The Minister, as we have probably noticed earlier in the day, has been inclined to give definitions to certain things which are not, in fact, intended by them. That is the definition he has now given to these amendments. The House has been very reasonable with the Minister when he has been reasonable, forthcoming and honest with the House, but that explanation just is not correct and is not a fair one to expect the House to accept. I dislike saying this, but it is especially not a fair one to put to the House which contains two members of the previous Government who were involved in discussions before the 1985 Bill was adopted——
Let us not go down that road now.
We never bugged each other.
We both know very well that there was no question whatsoever of any liability or potential liability falling on the authorities if they did not carry out the assessment to the day. The Minister has not adverted to the last point I made. How can a marginal note describe the assessment as an annual housing assessment when the section does not provide for or insist on annual housing assessments being carried out?
There is an annual housing assessment every ten years.
The marginal note has no standing in law.
The marginal note is intended for the guidance of the public and those who will use the legislation. If the Minister now intends to abuse the intention of marginal notes to justify his error, so be it. It is not part of the law but it has certainly never been used by any Minister to mislead people.
I will not abuse the parliamentary draftsman. I am simply stating that marginal notes have no standing in law.
What has that to do with it?
Nothing except that the Deputy is suggesting that in some way the marginal note is in conflict with the text. The text is what matters, the marginal note has no reference to it.
Why should there be a marginal note then?
At the moment Holland are leading England by two goals to one and the match is far more entertaining than what is happening here.
I do not know if we are here to be entertained. We are here to deal with a new Housing Bill. Why not give a little discretion in the timing of assessments? Is that agreeable?
What is the Minister suggesting?
There should be a degree of discretion in so far as the timing of assessments is concerned.
Deputy Boland made a fair point regarding the marginal note. The Minister said that the marginal note is in total conflict with the section. Will he accept that the net issue in the amendments is to propose a regular assessment——
The wording of the section is all that matters.
The Minister said that there might be a possibility of a challenge because the assessment would have to fall on the same day every year. I do not know how the Minister came to that conclusion, it could not be true and it is preposterous to suggest that it is. Will the Minister accept the incorporation in the section of a requirement that there will be regular assessments but that there will be an assessment at least every three years? The Minister could do this on Report Stage or in the Seanad. We are trying to achieve a regular assessment, it does not have to be every year. Will the Minister agree to a reference to not more infrequently than every three years?
That is fair enough and will satisfy me.
That was the intention and the marginal note does not give the right——
I do not know what the Minister is doing now.
I have agreed something with a colleague on the Opposition benches with whom the Deputy is not too friendly——
If the Minister would care to explain it to the House perhaps the rest of us would understand the remarks which the Minister tossed backwards and forwards while remaining in his seat.
I am discussing the matter with my colleagues in the House.
Who is in possession? Is the speaker required to rise?
The Minister, in response to the debate so far, has undertaken to amend the relevant section so as to provide for an assessment of not less than every three years.
I am now in possession. The matter was put to me by Deputy Keating and I conceded the point. If Deputy Boland had been a bit more attentive he would have understood my remarks without seeking to convolute them.
I am still no wiser as to what the Minister intends to do as he has not told the House.
I am prepared to agree that there should be an assessment at not less than a three year interval.
Is the Minister prepared to table an amendment to that effect during this debate?
He is agreeable to doing so.
It would be better if the Minister explained what he intends to do——
He has already explained it.
I was listening and all I heard was someone accepting a half promise.
Just because we are losing the soccer match——
Our match is not until this evening. Holland are leading England by three goals to one.
I am prepared to amend amendment No. 35, to delete "annually" and to substitute "not less frequently than three years".
Should it be amendment No. 34?
Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 are being taken together and I am prepared to amend them.
Is the Minister referring to after the word "thereafter" in line 29? Is the Minister suggesting inserting "not less than three years"?
I will be amending amendment No. 35.
That wording means that it does not take place for three years and that it can take place any time after that.
The Minister agreed to introduce an amendment but he could do so in the Seanad.
The Bill will go to the Seanad shortly and if there is agreement in this House I will introduce an amendment there.
There should be assessments not more infrequently than once every three years.
If it is agreeable to the House I will introduce such an amendment in the Seanad instead of doing it here now.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Amendments Nos. 37, 39, 40 and 41 may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 10, subsection (2), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
"(f) young persons leaving institutional care or without family accommodation,".
Amendments Nos. 37, 39, 40 and 41 being discussed together would be an agreeable means of dealing with them.
Is it agreed that amendment No. 37 be made?
I am proposing it. It is up to the Minister to say whether he is accepting it.
We are not dealing with amendment No. 38? Is that correct?
No, we are not.
We are dealing with amendment No. 37 in connection with young persons leaving institutional care or without family accommodation?
We are talking about young persons leaving institutional care. Perhaps we can leave it at that.
We are dealing with amendment No. 37 and we are discussing with it amendments Nos. 39, 40 and 41, as they are related.
I have been looking at these amendments. I do not think amendment No. 37 will enhance the provisions of the Bill or render them any clearer. But a good case was made when Deputy Quinn, in particular, and others spoke about this before. I think it is appropriate that I should accept amendment No. 37. I just want to re-examine the wording for a moment to ensure that I am not giving an undertaking on which I will have to renege later. Anyway, the essence of what we are talking about there is good as far as I am concerned and I am prepared to accept amendment No. 37.
Might I direct the Minister's attention briefly to amendment No. 40, subparagraph (j) which is a variant of the same thing?
No, I do not think it is the same thing.
Well, a variant of it.
It is, but the point made and that which I wanted to concede was that in relation to young people, because there had been some reference to them earlier by Deputy Gay Mitchell as well. I think I should like to have that included as a specific stipulation in this section. Otherwise, it could be passed over and not given the same relevance as other aspects. Therefore, I am prepared to accept amendment No. 37.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 10, subsection (2), between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
"(h) are single,".
We are now talking about assessment, not necessarily the housing of people. In the assessement of housing needs by a local authority at present, I should say that the local authority of which I was a former member, Dublin Corporation — whose functional area is located in my constituency — do not consider single people under the age of 50, formerly under the age of 60 but now effectively under the age of 50, as being eligible for housing. In some cases I contend they should be considered because of the changing nature of housing demand. Whether or not they are able to house them, they should certainly be included in their assessment figures. That is my point.
I might reinforce what I said earlier. Certainly the question of single people being housed needs to be addressed. Some lower age limit needs to be examined in the case of individuals seeking permanent accommodation normally let or rented by a local authority. For example, some people of 15 or 16 years of age coming out of care simply may not be able to cope if they are housed in that type of accommodation. While I agree with the argument that single people be considered for housing, some lower age limit should be considered.
I put it to Deputy Quinn that persons who are in need of housing and unable to provide it from their own resources, are eligible for inclusion in an assessment under the provisions of section 9 whatever may be their marital status. It is important that that be understood. It might be wrong to identify single persons as a particular category of housing need over and above the consideration of whether they are homeless, living in overcrowded accommodation or otherwise in need of housing. Simply put, "single" means that one is not married but it does not mean that one is homeless. I was rather taken by the fact that Deputy Quinn, of all people, would be promoting that kind of categorisation. It did not seem to me that it was appropriate to introduce something appertaining to marital status in legislation. I would be opposed to that in principle. Consequently, I would hope that the Deputy would not press his amendment.
I will not necessarily press it. However, I might tell the Minister that, in my dealings with the housing section of Dublin Corporation on numerous occassions I have had requests for housing from people who simply cannot afford to house themselves, who have had the misfortune to be above the age of 18 and under the age of 60. They have been excluded from even being considered by the local authority because of the fact that they are single. I am not going to make a great point about it. But there are single people who should be assessed in the assessment process and deemed to be homeless, whether or not the local authority house them. They are specifically excluded at present.
They are eligible for inclusion in the assessment about which we spoke earlier — that is important — because it covers the point being made by Deputy Quinn. They are eligible at least to be included in the assessment whether or not they get in on the act afterwards but, once in on the assessment, they are a category, but not distinctly so on account of their marital status. That is the reason.
I understand what the Minister is saying and, obviously, that was not my intent. I am not sure that I necessarily agree with him; perhaps we can revert to it later. My understanding is that a person who is single in Dublin Corporation's functional area, from the point of view of that local authority, will not be eligible for inclusion on their housing list, and will not form part of their assessment of people in need of housing by a local authority, unless they are over the age of 50 and have some medical problem.
Unless they are over 55.
Am I correct?
Deputy Quinn is partly right and partly wrong. I do not have the relevant booklet with me but my understanding is that marital status does not enter into the consideration at all. Rather it is a question of whether it is an individual, single person rather than a person who is single.
That is right.
The policy of the local authority, in this case, Dublin Corporation, obviously is to use all available accommodation to best advantage. In other words if they have a three-bedroomed house available they will not necessarily put a person on their own into that house. If they have a one-bedroomed maisonette, flat or whatever available, with no applicant family, whether it be a marital or non-marital family——
But, in the assessment, age enters into it.
Age does, to some extent. My understanding is that Dublin Corporation do not refuse applications on the basis of age, but, nonetheless, do not actually allocate.
Correct. That is a different matter.
That is a matter to which we need to address ourselves.
Housing authorities do house single people who are not necessarily elderly. It would be fair to say that a number of them are reluctant to do so but that is a different matter. They are included in the assessments——
The fact of the matter is that I have had specific examples in recent times of people who applied to go on Dublin Corporation's housing list, in their single capacity, irrespective of their marital status; in fact in some cases they had been married but were now separated. By virtue of the fact that they were single, which was evident from their application, they received a rejection slip from Dublin Corporation and were not even put on the list. That is really my point.
Amendment No. 41 has been disposed of already.
Amendment No. 41 was not discussed.
I am dependent here on notes before me which say that "amendments Nos. 39, 40 and 41 are related and may be taken together by agreement."
We began to discuss amendment No. 37 and were disposed to discuss amendments Nos. 39, 40 and 41 with it but the discussion on amendment No. 37, as the Minister was accepting it, moved into an immediate discussion on amendment No. 38 without dealing with the others.
Is Deputy Boland anxious to move his amendment No. 41?
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 10, subsection (2), between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
"(i) are likely to leave hospital or similar institutional care without having suitable alternative accommodation available to them, or".
I want to make the point that this amendment is different from amendment No. 37 in that it attempts to deal with the position of people who are likely to leave hospital or other similar institutional care without having suitable alternative accommodation available to them irrespective of their age. The Minister was disposed to accept amendment No. 37 because it specifically related to young people but amendment No. 41 is different in that it envisages local authorities endeavouring to assess the extent to which they are likely to have people, of whatever age, leaving hospitals or similar institutional care and who would not have accommodation in the outside world to go to. I was interested to note the reason the Minister was not prepared to accept what appeared to me to be an eminently reasonable category.
In the hope that we would pass along more quickly I accepted amendment No. 37. I was advised that the others were not suitable. Accepting amendment No. 37 means I was catering for the intention in the related amendments.
Why should young people who leave institutional care and do not have accommodation be regarded as a housing category when older people who leave institutional care and do not have accommodation are not so regarded?
I did not intend accepting any of these amendments but in response to the strong case made by Deputies Mitchell and Quinn I accepted that these were special people and that their circumstances would not normally apply to other age categories. I do not think the amendment will enhance the Bill but, because it satisfied a wish of Deputies Mitchell and Quinn, I accepted it.
I move amendment No. 42:
In page 10, subsection (4), line 21 after "fit" to insert "including voluntary or non-profit making organisations engaged in the provision of housing accommodation in the functional area of the authority or".
The housing authority is obliged under subsection (4) to give one month's notice of its intention to make an assessment to various organisations, other housing authorities, the relevant health board and such bodies as the authority sees fit whose purposes include the provision of accommodation, shelter or welfare. In my amendment I am seeking to specifically oblige local authorities to make voluntary non-profit making housing organisations operating in their functional area aware of the intention of the housing authority to make an assessment.
The effect of the amendment could be to restrict notification solely to voluntary and non-profit making organisations and would exclude other organisations whose purposes include the provision of accommodation, shelter or welfare. I do not think that is what the Deputy intends. The point could be met if the words "or other organisations" were inserted at the end of the Deputy's proposed amendment. I have no objection to accepting the amendment on that basis. It would clearly identify what Deputy Boland wishes in that regard. Is he agreeable to that change?
Subsection (4) (c) would then read:
(c) such bodies as the authority sees fit, including voluntary or non-profit making organisations engaged in the provision of housing accommodation in the functional area of the authority or other bodies——
"Other organisations" would be better.
Is the Minister suggesting that if I verbally move an amendment to my amendment to include the words "or other organisations or" it would be acceptable?
If it is appropriate I should like to move such an amendment now.
Ordinarily we would leave such an amendment to Report Stage but, as we have little alternative, we will take the amendment.
If there is a difficulty about this the Deputy could accept my word that I will have the necessary adjustment made in the Seanad. Such a move might sort out a lot of the drafting difficulties that may arise subsequently. The intention is as stated by the Deputy. He wants the subsection to be made clearer and not to be seen as restrictive. I concede the point to the Deputy.
The suggestion is that the amendment should be amended with the addition of the words "or other organisations or".
We now move to amendment No. 43 in the names of Deputies Quinn, De Rossa, Mac Giolla, Sherlock and McCartan. Amendments Nos. 44 and 71 are related and, for the purposes of discussion, we will take amendment No. 43, 44 and 71 together.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 10, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following subsections:
"(7) Each housing authority shall furnish to the Minister an annual report on its activities under this Act giving details of its existing housing requirements, its prospective housing requirements, the number of persons provided with housing in the course of the year, the number of applicants refused, the number of persons provided with housing who did not formally make an application, information available in relation to housing conditions in its area, the number of houses unfit or unsuitable for human habitation, overcrowded, shared involuntarily, or which are expected to be lost; information on the numbers of people homeless or living in temporary or moveable accommodation; expected changes in the size and structure of the population in the area; the number of people edlerly, disabled or handicapped, who are not reasonably able to meet their accommodation needs themselves, and any other information which the housing authority thinks fit to include.
(8) The Minister shall present to each House of the Oireachtas an annual report compiled from and containing all the material contained in the reports furnished to him by housing authorities and any other information he thinks fit to include.".
We have had a discussion on this matter earlier.
Amendment No. 71 in my names states:
In page 20, before section 30, to insert the following new section:
30.—(1) Each housing authority shall furnish to the Minister an annual report on its activities under this Act giving details of the number of persons provided with housing in the course of the year, the number of applicants, the number accepted for housing, the number refused, the number of persons provided with housing who did not formally make an application, and any other information which the housing authority thinks fit to include.
(2) The Minister shall present to each House of the Oireachtas an annual report compiled from and containing all the material contained in the reports furnished to him by housing authorities and any other information he thinks fit to include.".
I did not get involved in the discussion on annual assessments by local authorities because I am more concerned about annual reports to the Houses of the Oireachtas as referred to in this section. Housing should be the subject of annual reports to the Houses. For instance, when does the House get an opportunity to highlight facts in relation to housing? In this year of Dublin's millennium there is in the housing stock of Dublin Corporation 1,200 homes which do not have bathrooms. That was never reported to the House but it is the type of matter that should be monitored here annually. Of the 16,000 local authority flats which are the responsibility of Dublin Corporation, about 1,000 are lived in by senior citizens and are in good order but of the remaining 15,000 about two-thirds are, in my view, unfit for human habitation. No Member would like to live in them. They are dark, dank places, often smelling of urine from cider parties and are strewn with discarded needles from drug abuse. When did we debate the condition of such accommodation? We should be debating it regularly.
The long waiting lists are under control although they may get out of control very soon because of the fact that the Government are not building houses but we have not dealt with the deplorable quality of housing stock in the ownership of Dublin Corporation. If the Minister, or his Minister of State, were from the Dublin region they would appreciate what I am talking about. I suggest to them, if they can find a moment to listen to me, that they should take a tour of St. Teresa's Gardens, Bridgefoot Street Flats, Oliver Bond Flats, Dolphin House Flats or Marrowbone Lane Flats — they are all within one square mile of each other — to get a picture of the problem. The condition of such accommodation should be the subject of annual reviews in the House.
We do not know the figures in regard to homeless. An assessment was made by voluntary bodies but I understand that they are not sure if those figures are correct because there has been a big movement of people to the UK where they sleep under bridges. They are now homeless in the UK. I had a meeting with the director of the Irish Centre in Camden Town earlier this year and he advised me that the problem was pathetic, that there are huge numbers of people from this country homeless in London. Those problems should be the subject of annual reports to the Houses of the Oireachtas so that they can be examined. I should like to ask the Minister to accept my amendment.
Information on the operation of the provision of this measure, or the rest of the housing code, may be obtained through housing authorities without recourse to a statutory provision such as that proposed. The amendments are unnecessary. They could, in fact, be harmful to the extent that they could weaken the Minister's position in obtaining information which was not specifically referred to in the subsection or which, for example, the housing authority did not see fit to include in its annual report to the Minister. If they decide to dodge me I am stymied and for that reason I do not wish the Deputies to pursue these amendments.
Furthermore, the bulk of the information sought by the Department from housing authorities is got on a quarterly basis and not on an annual basis. A substantial amount of that information on the programmes and activities of housing authorities is already published in the quarterly and the annual bulletin of housing statistics and in my Department's annual report which is quite a voluminous document. The publication of additional information on particular aspects of local authority housing programmes could be considered as necessary or appropriate but I have to conclude that it would not be appropriate to accept the amendments for that reason and I am expecting that they will not be pursued.
I do not want to disappoint the Minister but it seems to me that any Minister worth his salt would not accept that this section would restrict any local authority from supplying information reasonably requested by the Minister or his Department. This is a parliamentary democracy that we live in. That parliamentary democracy requires the Executive, by Constitution, to answer to this House for its actions. The whole area of housing, and particularly the examples I have given of 1,200 local authority tenants of Dublin Corporation being without bathrooms, and 10,000 flats offering sub-human accommotion and the position of the homeless, which I have outlined, should be reported to this House annually and should be reviewed annually. The second part of amendment No. 71, in my name, is perfectly reasonable. It is something which the House should have no difficulty whatsoever in accepting. I hope the Minister will rethink and will accept this amendment.
The Deputy defeats his own argument. He has trotted out statistics which are readily available to him.
As a member of the corporation.
I understand that.
I want an opportunity in this House to put it right.
But those statistics, and all the relevant statistics, concerning housing and everything in the public domain are reported on. I get those reports on a quarterly basis. I do not think we want elaborate and restrictive reporting arrangements. We have enough information and it comes already by way of arrangements between the Department, the local authorities and the housing authorities. We publish the statistics on a regular basis, much more frequently than an annual basis. I am not particularly anxious to allow a local authority to decide on what they will report and what they will not report. They report to me and to the Department everything that is required so far as the statistics are concerned and we do not want any restriction put on them in that way. For that reason I recommend to the House that we do not accept these amendments.
I am pressing this amendment. The Minister does not want the local authority to tell him what they should and should not report. I do not think the House should allow the Minister to tell us what he will or will not report. He should be required to make this annual report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is a perfectly reasonable suggestion. The Government, and Government agencies over the years, have got too used to not reporting to Parliament and it is time we said no. This is a very serious situation as far as I am concerned and I am pressing the amendment.
Deputy Mitchell appreciates that, strictly speaking, amendment No. 71 has not yet been moved so we could not put the question on that amendment until we would have reached it in the normal sequence.
Deputy Mitchell does not accept that. You said we would take amendments Nos. 43, 44 and 71 together.
In that case when it comes to 7 o'clock and when all the amendments are put I will press it to a vote.
Before that happens I would like to say that I do not like the inference that in some way the Minister or the Department are trying to hide any statistics. That has not been the case. The statistics are available to everybody. I report to the House several times each year not just on the Department's work, but we have the Estimates debate, the budget debate and Adjournment debates. Bulletins are printed which are available and statistics are published on a quarterly basis. What more can be required in that regard?
I do not think it needs to be pressed any further.
There is one matter about which I am a little concerned and I beg the indulgence of the Chair for a moment. I am worried about a matter that was concluded before you came in.
Could we have the attention of the Deputies for the Minister who is making some point of clarification?
I would rather it be clarified now rather than have it said later that I misled the House. I will refer back to the discussion we had on amendments Nos. 34 and 35, in the names of Deputies Keating and Boland. There seems to be some confusion as to what was agreed in relation to the three yearly housing assessment. The idea was that amendment No. 34 would be withdrawn and that we would amend amendment No. 35 by deleting the word "annually" and substituting "not less frequently than every three years".
I understood that to be the position. I understand clearly that what we have agreed is that there would be an assessment within a year of the commencement of the legislation——
——and subsequently not less than every three years thereafter but the amendment to the amendment was not made. I agreed to that but the amendment was subsequently withdrawn. In case it is said after that I was acting in bad faith because it could not be a part of the legislation subsequently I would like that the matter be rectified now. What we agreed will, in fact, be permitted to be introduced into the legislation rather than what was withdrawn and now does not exist.
We are saying to the Minister that we accept what he has said and ask that he resolves it before it goes to the Seanad along the lines suggested and agreed here. That is perfectly satisfactory.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Perhaps I could pursue this matter a little further. If it necessitates it coming back from the Seanad, could we not get over that difficulty now by agreeing the wording.
Yes, if the Minister has got it.
If we can have, as we had earlier, a revised amendment and the agreement of the House to it then it can be accepted now.
I do not think it is that urgent that we must have a formula for agreeing it in advance.
The Minister has already advised us as to what it is.
Is it possible for me to formally move an amendment to amendments Nos. 34 and 35?
Yes, with the agreement of the House.
I would like to formally move the amendment by deleting "annually" and substituting "not less frequently than every three years". I understand that the net result of that would be that there would be an assessment within one year——
And thereafter every three years. That is agreed.
I move an amendment to amendment No. 35.
Amendment No. 35 has been amended to read as follows:
In page 9, subsection (1), line 29, after "thereafter" to insert "not less frequently than every three years and".
In the interests of accuracy the marginal note which also will be the note on the front of the Act when enacted — which are used by people for guidance — ought to be changed to accurately reflect what the section means.
The point is well taken. The Deputy is not going to let me away with it.
Section 9, as amended, is already agreed to.
Amendment No. 45 is out of order. Amendment No. 46 in the name of Deputy Michael Keating. No. 47 is related. It is proposed to discuss amendments Nos. 46 and 47 together. Agreed.
I move amendments Nos. 46 and 47 and comment that I intend to have a fairly fundamental view about the whole section in the light of the ruling out of order of the proposed amendment No. 45. I ask the Minister to accept amendments Nos. 46 and 47 in that they give greater power to the local authority than the section as presented does. I hope to have a chance to say a few words about the section in toto.
On a small point of clarification to avoid a misunderstanding that may have arisen from here on, strictly speaking we can never have more than one amendment before the House. The others are taken with the discussion. Technically speaking you can at any time have only one amendment.
I move amendment No. 46:
In page 10, subsection (1) line 41 after "person" to insert ", or".
I take it amendments Nos. 46 and 47 may be discussed together.
We have agreed to that.
It is not clear what these amendments seek to achieve. If it is to impose a statutory obligation to house homeless persons, I have already indicated that an approach which puts an obligation on the local authorities to house one category of persons over all others, no matter how pressing that category's needs may be, is not a sound one. The Government's approach is a combination of providing extra resources to voluntary bodies and new powers to local authorities as provided for in section 10 of the Bill. These powers provide local authorities with a range of alternatives to deal with individual cases of homelessness. They are, of course, additional to the use by the authority of their own housing accommodation to meet the needs of individual homeless persons. As has been mentioned in the debate, local authorities, particularly the large urban ones, have quite an amount of accommodation becoming vacant which is available for homeless persons and emergency cases. I foresee also that local authorities would enter into arrangements with voluntary bodies to provide accommodation on a regular basis for homeless persons, and this is precisely why the Government are assisting the development of voluntary housing accommodation with grants of up to 95 per cent of costs.
To summarise, local authorities have always their first power, the power to provide a house.
In the interest of expedition and to get to the substantive issue in the section, I would like to withdraw amendments Nos. 46 and 47.
On behalf of the nominees I am withdrawing amendment No. 48 likewise.
We assume that amendment No. 49 in the name of Deputy John Boland would have been discussed with amendment No. 48. We have had no discussion on amendment No. 48, so you are at liberty to proceed.
I move amendment No. 49.
In page 12, subsection (11), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
"(e) Minimum standards of accommodation which may be provided under subsection (1);".
Are you withdrawing it?
I would like to hear what the Minister has to say.
I can summarise what I want to say about this if it would settle things, as distinct from giving a long treatise on it. My personal opinion is there is no shortage of standards for private rented accommodation. That about sums it up. I do not see it necessary to proceed with that amendment.
If this provision operates there is a danger we will see here what we read about in England from time to time of homeless people being put up in very substandard, inferior bed and breakfast type of accommodation of the worst possible sort and very often being forced to sleep in overcrowded accommodation. Whilst that was an attempt in Britain to represent a temporary solution for that category of people, it has become a scandal in its own way. The purpose of the amendment was to endeavour to ensure that if there was a tendency towards that the Minister could by regulation set out minimum standards of accommodation which would have to be subscribed to. Perhaps the Minister would bear those points in mind in any regulations or guidelines he migh afterwards issue when the Bill is enacted.
Perhaps to settle the matter, let me say by way of clarification that the Department have issued standards for the provision of voluntary housing accommodation, including hostel type accommodation, under the voluntary housing scheme. Housing authorities should have regard to these standards when arranging accommodation for homeless persons. The provision of accommodation in a night shelter or similar institution would not be a permissible response to the needs of a homeless person under section 2. With regard to private rented accommodation, virtually all relevant housing authorities have made by-laws relating to minimum standards under section 70 of the 1966 Act. In addition regulations have been made under the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Act, 1982, governing the standards of formerly rent controlled dwellings. I think that was what Deputy Boland was anxious would be controlled.
The point is taken.
The Minister makes the point that there is adequate Statute governing private rented accommodation. Whether that is true or not, would he agree that whatever Statute is there, local authorities are extremely reluctant to pursue landlords of private rented accommodation and in many cases the conditions under which elderly people and sick people who are being taken out of our institutions and euphemistically cared for in the community are living in accommodation which is far below the standards we would expect for ourselves? If we are going to enable local authorities to rent accommodation as we enable the Eastern Health Board and other health boards to rent accomodation, we must insist that the accommodation renting is of a proper and adequate standard.
You do not want to monitor annually——
No. Our amendment, which was in the names of a number of Deputies, proposed to make this a statutory duty. I am not going to query or argue with your ruling, Sir, that it imposes a charge. It seems to me to be in conflict with a previous ruling elsewhere. Be that as it may, since we cannot formally move the amendment, I, on behalf of the Labour Party, am opposed to the section as it stands because I do not think it meets the fundamental objective of providing people with the right to shelter. This has had a substantial debate on Second Stage and I do not propose to go over the ground again having regard to the time. As far as the Labour Party are concerned, the provision was in the 1985 Bill. It was a good provision. It recognised all the constraints that were there. It has been taken out; it has been unnecessarily removed. Since we were unable to debate that net point in relation to amendment No. 45 I am opposed to the section.
Deputy Keating indicated I should have called him earlier. I regret that.
Unfortunately, I have to adopt a broadly similar approach. Naturally, one has to respect the ruling of the Chair but I found it difficult to understand why the amendments which sought to place some degree of obligation on the housing authority were deemed out of order on the grounds that they involve potential charges on the Revenue. We took other amendments today which expressly did so and we debated them. However, the essential issue is that the section as proposed provided that "a housing authority may, subject to such regulations,..." etc. Our contention is that this Bill is one of the very rare occasions on which we get an opportunity to address the problems of homeless people. The view of very many public representatives and of all of the voluntary organisations in this area is that that section as proposed is not nearly sufficiently strong. That is my view. If the section allows the local authority any option that option will be availed of and, unfortunately, people who might get accommodation will not so be offered. Some of the reasons of that evasion will be good reasons; financial constraints, lack of staffing and all the other things that time does not allow us to go into now. We wished to see put into that section — and I still wish to see it — an obligation of some kind on a housing authority along the lines that the housing authority shall take these things into account and shall make arrangements. I accept that nobody here would wish to place an absolute obligation of an unqualified nature on a housing authority to take up anyone who came to the door. I am not suggesting that. I suggest that subject to the reservations made by the Minister and subject to other constraints in the priority and letting systems operated by the local authorities as set out by the section, and applying to the categories listed in the Bill, the housing authority would be obliged to do their best to deal with homeless people. I appeal to the Minister to consider this as probably the last chance this House will get during the life of the current Dáil to deal with the problem of homelessness and possibly it is the last chance the Minister will get as Minister and the last chance we might get as Opposition spokespersons. Will the Minister consider bringing to bear some form of obligation on those local authorities so that they cannot simply say that all that the Bill asks of them is that they may take this issue into account and that therefore they can choose not to for reasons which they can justify? That is a fundamental weakness in the Bill and I appeal to the Minister to redress that problem in whatever way he sees fit and which is acceptable to the House. This should be done urgently in the interests of people for whom this Bill should be a major watershed but which unless this problem is addressed will become just another missed opportunity.
I support the position taken by the previous two speakers in this section. The debate of recent years on the question of homelessness has hinged around this question of an obligation on some authority to provide accommodation for people who find themselves homeless. As the wording of section 10 stands it seems that a housing authority may, subject to regulations that may be made by the Minister, provide accommodation, assistance and so on. This is not strong enough and I would urge the Minister to take on board the amendments proposed although ruled out of order, or some variation of them.
I had nothing to do with the ruling out of order of the amendment which was ruled out of order because of the potential charge on the Exchequer inherent in it. I know that is no comfort to the people who wished to move the amendments. In any event the amendments were both defective in their intention and in their meaning and would have made nonsense of what they were seeking to achieve. I will not waste the time of the House in giving the details as to how that transpires. No doubt I will privately tell the Deputies that this could not have been done even if the amendments had been allowed.
I do not want Members to minimise what has been done in this Housing Bill. This is a big advance. It has been recognised inside the House and outside the House that it is a big advance. I have taken a number of soundings from people who on a daily basis are operating in the housing area in the provision of housing and the consensus advice to me is that I should proceed in this way, as it is the best way in the long term.
Section 10 provides very considerable additional powers to housing authorities to secure accommodation for homeless people. These powers are additional to the basic response of housing authorities to the problems of homelessness which is and will remain the direct responsibility of local authority housing. It the amendments were accepted a housing authority would be obliged to secure accommodation for a homeless person through a voluntary organisation, provide financial assistance to that person or arrange private rented accommodation for him. The basic response of providing a local authority house would be ruled out in the case of homeless persons and the Deputies would have defeated their purpose.
We do not agree with that at all.
I do not accept that.
Anyway, it is not for discussion here because it has been ruled out of order. If the provision of a local authority house was included in section 10 as one of the alternatives, the proposed amendment would still be defective in the light of the 1985 Bill which was presented by the previous Government. The first difficulty with this type of statutory obligation is the necessary provision against abuse. Section 2 (2) of the 1985 Bill had such a provision which was seriously criticised by various organisations campaigning on behalf of the homeless. The second fundamental difficulty was that some homeless persons might primarily require medical or nursing care up to and including hospitalisation. This was specifically recognised by the committee on homelessness which reported to the Minister for Health in December 1984 and which identified a category of homeless persons who were primarily the responsibility of the health boards. The distinction would be important in providing a proper response to the individual needs of the homeless person and it is a distinction which is ignored in the proposed amendment. The enabling provision in section 10 will provide the necessary flexibility for housing authorities to determine the most appropriate response in individual cases. I would also envisage that housing authorities should work closely with health boards in this regard. Section 10 gives additional powers to housing authorities to deal with the whole question of homelessness and I would recommend it strongly to the House. My soundings with all those who have been very closely associated with housing of all categories of people, and not just the homeless, was that this is the best way to proceed and it gives the best chance of dealing effectively in our circumstances at this time with the needs of the homeless and all the other deserving categories as well.
- Abbott, Henry.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Andrews, David.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Matthew.
- Brennan, Séamus.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Doherty, Seán. Ellis, John.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Fitzgerald, Liam.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- Flynn, Pádraig.
- Foley, Denis.
- Gallagher, Denis.
- Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
- Haughey, Charles J.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lawlor, Liam.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lynch, Michael.
- Lyons, Denis.
- Mooney, Mary.
- Browne, John.
- Burke, Ray.
- Byrne, Hugh.
- Calleary, Seán.
- Collins, Gerard.
- Conaghan, Hugh.
- Connolly, Ger.
- Coughlan, Mary T.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Davern, Noel.
- Morley, P.J.
- Moynihan, Donal.
- Nolan, M. J.
- Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
- O'Dea, William Gerard.
- O'Donoghue, John.
- O'Hanlon, Rory.
- O'Keeffe, Batt.
- O'Keeffe, Ned.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Rourke, Mary.
- Power, Paddy.
- Roche, Dick.
- Smith, Michael.
- Stafford, John.
- Swift, Brian.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Walsh, Seán.
- Wilson, John P.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wright, G. V.
- Bell, Michael.
- Clohessy, Peadar.
- Colley, Anne.
- Cullen, Martin.
- De Rossa, Proinsias.
- Gibbons, Martin Patrick.
- Gregory, Tony.
- Harney, Mary.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Keating, Michael.
- Kemmy, Jim.
- Kennedy, Geraldine.
- McCartan, Pat.
- McCoy, John S.
- Mac Giolla, Tomás.
- Molloy, Robert.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- Pattison, Séamus.
- Quinn, Ruairí
- Spring, Dick.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Taylor, Mervyn.
- Wyse, Pearse.
I am now required to put the following Question in accordance with the order of the Dáil this day: "That the sections undisposed of are hereby agreed to, that the Schedule and the Title are hereby agreed to, that the Bill, as amended, is hereby agreed to in Committee and is reported to the House, and Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed". Is the question agreed?
I oppose the passing of the Bill on the basis that the Minister did not allow——
I am putting the question formally.