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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 1 May 1992

Vol. 418 No. 10

Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1992: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill represents a very significant expansion of housing legislation in this country. As such, it is a measure of primary social importance. In it we are legislating for the seminal housing reforms enunciated in the Government's Plan for Social Housing which was published in February 1991.

The social housing plan restates the long established objective of Government housing policy of ensuring that every household has a dwelling suitable to its needs, located in an acceptable environment, and at a price or rent that household can afford. The strategy to achieve this broad objective includes: promoting owner-occupation as the form of tenure preferred by most Irish people; developing and implementing a range of measures designed to address the wide and changing range of social housing needs; and mitigating, as far as possible, the extent and effect of social segregation in housing.

The strategy is an overall one which embraces all housing sectors including owner-occupation, local authority, private rented and voluntary housing. The basic elements of the plan were agreed with the social partners in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. The plan is, therefore, part of the agreed national development strategies for the nineties.

The plan introduces new thinking to the ways we, as a community, respond to social housing needs — new thinking that is informed by the changing nature of those needs, the necessity to get the best value for public money spent, the ideal of enabling people to help themselves, the principle of devolution, and perhaps, above all, the lessons of the past. The range of innovative measures included in the plan is designed to provide a broader, more diverse response to social housing needs, to ease the path to home ownership for households of modest means and to improve the position of tenants in both the local authority and private rented sectors.

I want to make it clear that the plan is intended to supplement, not to supplant, the traditional local authority house building programme. Indeed, there is a commitment in the plan and in the Programme for Social and Economic Progress to maintain the local authority programme at an appropriate level having due regard to resources and to the impact of the alternative measures.

The plan does, however, signal for the future a reduction in the historical degree of dependence on local authority house building. It is not the Government's intention to return to the policy of building large schemes of public housing on green field sites on the periphery of cities and towns. There are many compelling reasons to consider a more diverse approach. There are social reasons relating to the need to limit housing segregation and develop more socially mixed communities. There is a need to encourage people towards self-help and co-operative effort by making available appropriate subsidy schemes, to give them a choice about the kind of housing they want. The high costs of the traditional approach to the public purse cannot be overlooked either. Here, I refer not just to the initial cost of providing the houses but, perhaps more significantly, to the ongoing cost burden which maintenance and management of local authority estates places on the taxpayer.

The new social housing measures that could be operated in advance of legislation are already being implemented by the local authorities on the basis of interim arrangements devised by my Department. This approach had a twofold advantage — first, it meant that qualified households could benefit from the schemes without having to wait while the legislation was being processed and, second, the legislation itself should be the better for having working experience of the schemes.

I have to say that the performance of housing authorities in the implementation of the interim arrangements has been uneven. Some authorities have quite a successful record of exploiting the new schemes, others, at least in the initial period, have not. However, the most recent returns becoming available to my Department for the first quarter of this year suggest a substantial improvement in performance generally.

For instance, in the shared housing scheme the total number of applicants for 1991 was 1,209 and it was 530 for the first three months of this year; in the case of the local authority housing improvement work scheme, the total number for last year was 409 and it was 401 for the first three months of this year; the total number of approvals to individuals for housing sites last year was 36, and 107 for the first three months of this year; the total number of mortgage allowances last year was equalled in the first three months this year. I give those figures to the House because there was some resistance from locally elected members who genuinely felt that the traditional methods were the only way to solve this problem.

With understanding of the variety and depth of social consideration that has gone into the social housing plan, we are beginning to see results and I want to urge Members of this House and locally elected representatives to understand that we will not return to the old type solutions of socially segregated large schemes on the periphery of towns without many of the services and facilities which families require and drawing together many people who have little in common but their age group and their need for housing, many of whom are unemployed. In the future we want to have a better mix and the response from local authorities in the first couple of months in this year are a real indication of a positive attitude to the plan at this time.

This year, as the plan measures show significant results, we can expect a substantial increase in the social housing provision — catering for up to 7,000 households compared to just over 5,000 last year. These global figures include local authority lettings and voluntary housing as well as the new measures. The enactment of the Bill, by providing proper statutory authority for these measures, should boost progress on the schemes already in operation by extending the ways in which they can work, including the involvement of the private sector in crucial areas such as shared ownership. It will, of course, also bring to fruition the other measures that it has not been possible to implement for legal reasons.

This Bill will repeal what remains of the 1970 Housing Act. The full corpus of primary housing legislation will then be found within the covers of four statutes, namely, the Acts of 1966, 1979, 1988 and 1992. The Housing Act, 1966, is the foundation stone of modern housing legislation and provided the legal framework within which our modern housing system has developed. The 1979 Act updated procedures in relation to loans and grants and new house prices.

The 1988 Act, for the first time in Irish housing legislation, made statutory provision to address the housing needs of homeless persons. It gave local authorities extensive and flexible powers to deal with homelessness and it revised the law in relation to the planning, provision and allocation of local authority housing. It provided for full assessment of housing needs in a way that ensures that the needs of the homeless, travellers and other disadvantaged groups are taken into account. The fact that, in this Bill, we now have another major measure, relatively soon after the important 1988 Act, shows that in recent years housing policy has been developing at a pace that may not always be appreciated.

The scope of the Bill is broad. There are a number of areas where the Bill breaks important new ground and which merit particular attention. They are shared ownership, improvements by local authorities to private houses as an alternative to rehousing approved applicants, new arrangements for the subsidisation of voluntary housing, comprehensive and flexible lending powers for housing authorities, participation by local authority tenants in the running of their estates, streamlined provisions for the sale of local authority houses and flats to tenants and a new charter for the private rented sector. I will now discuss the Bill by reference to these headings.

For some years, there have been suggestions that a shared ownership system should be introduced to improve access to owner-occupied housing for low income households who cannot afford to buy a house in one step with a conventional mortgage. Following detailed consideration of the best means of giving effect to the concept of shared ownership, the system involving the granting by local authorities of a special type of lease, called a shared ownership lease, was introduced in the social housing plan. Specific legislative provision is needed for it as there has been a general prohibition on the granting of new leases for houses since the passing of the 1978 Landlord and Tenant Act, which prevented the creation of new ground rents. The Bill provides a proper statutory footing for the interim arrangements under which the shared ownership system has been operated by local authorities since last year. It will also open up the possibility of this form of tenure being offered by bodies other than housing authorities. Given the novelty and relative complexity of the shared ownership concept, I propose to deal with it as fully as possible and to cover points on which Deputies have been seeking clarification.

The need to put up, at the outset, 100 per cent of the purchase price, by way of a loan and a substantial deposit, reduces, or even rules out altogether, the prospect of home ownership for many on lower incomes who would see it as their preferred form of tenure. By having to wait until they can afford conventional house purchase, such persons may not be able to go ahead until a stage when the cost might be much greater, or they may find that the opportunity to purchase continues to elude them. This is where shared ownership provides a solution. The Bill will make the acquisition of a home of their own, through the shared ownership system, a viable proposition for households which would otherwise have much less chance of realising their ambition. Shared ownership will give them the opportunity of selecting a house of their choice and going into occupation of it with a minimal deposit and with regular outgoings that are significantly less than under a conventional mortgage.

Basically, shared ownership allows a person to acquire a house by purchasing only a portion of the equity from the owner at the outset. On foot of that initial payment the person is granted a shared ownership lease. This entitles the person to occupy the house during the lease period with a right to buy out the lessor's remaining equity on a deferred basis and on agreed terms.

Section 2 contains the general power to grant shared ownership leases. It allows such a lease to be granted by any person and this would include a housing authority, a financial institution or a developer. It stipulates that the lease period must be between 20 and 100 years and that a payment of between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of the value of the house is made by the lessee for the lease. The lease must also confer on the lessee the right to purchase the lessor's interest in the house on terms determined in accordance with the lease itself.

The basic parameters, both in relation to the term of the lease and the proportion of the equity initially purchased, have been designed to ensure that the exemption from the ban on new leases is not used to facilitate the introduction of new ground rents. Only bona fide shared ownership transactions can avail of the exemption. The initial equity stake of between 25 per cent and 75 per cent recognises that shared ownership is not a realistic option for a purchaser who is unable to raise at least one-quarter of the purchase price at the outset. Conversely, anyone who can put up over 75 per cent of the cost should be able to acquire a house in the ordinary way and should not need to go the shared ownership route.

These general conditions represent the fundamentals of a fair and workable shared ownership concept. The other details in individual cases, where the local authority is not the body granting the lease, will be worked out between the parties involved in accordance with their respective requirements.

Section 3 deals specifically with the granting of shared ownership leases by housing authorities. The detailed provisions of such leases, eligibility, etc., will be spelt out in regulations to be made by the Minister under this section. Deputies will be familiar with the shared ownership system being operated by housing authorities under the interim arrangements already in force. Section 3 provides the framework for that system and is wide enough to accommodate any adaptations of it.

Section 4 provides broad powers for the payment of subsidy towards rent payments by lower income households in shared ownership. Details of the subsidy will be provided for in regulations. Payment of rent is a feature of the system since the occupier under a shared ownership lease has only paid a portion of the value and is not the full owner. Therefore, it is open to the lessor — be it a local authority or other body — to charge a rent for occupation until the buy out of the lease has been completed. The purpose of the subsidy is to bring access to shared ownership within the capacity of households on low incomes and also to provide a cushion for those in shared ownership who may suffer a drop in earnings. Under the current system, a shared owner with an income of under £10,000 is eligible for a graduated subsidy.

Section 4 will enable the Minister to pay a subsidy where a lease is granted by a housing authority. There is also power for an authority to pay a subsidy in respect of a house held under a shared ownership lease granted by another body, with the Minister recouping the authority's expenditure.

Up to 31 March last, local authorities had received a total of over 1,700 applications for shared ownership. Of these almost 600 had received approval in principle with the transactions having been completed in some 70 cases. Progress in dealing with individual cases has, therefore, advanced considerably in the first quarter of 1992. By comparison with the current position, only 241 applications had been approved at the end of last year.

Shared ownership is new to this country but it has worked successfully elsewhere. I believe it can also have an important role in our housing system. I intend to review the operation of the current shared ownership system after we have about two years' initial experience of it. The provisions of the Bill are sufficiently flexible to facilitate any changes that may be considered necessary.

As I have said, the essence of the social housing plan is to broaden the range of possible responses to different social housing needs. In the past there has tended to be the opposite approach, a basic reliance on one solution — the provision of new local authority housing — to meet all needs. This often involved moving people away from areas where they had crucial family support and ties. We are all aware of the social problems caused by the concentration of the most disadvantaged in particular locations.

As many as 45 per cent of approved applicants for local authority housing are from households living in unfit, unsuitable or overcrowded dwellings. Up to now, the option of upgrading or extending some of those dwellings as a socially desirable and cost effective alternative to providing local authority housing has not been available. Section 5 changes that and should, in future, enable many housing applicants to obtain decent accommodation in their existing environment, possibly a lot sooner than if they were to wait to be rehoused.

It is expressly provided that works to provide houses under this section may only be carried out if they result either in a housing applicant being removed from the waiting list or the surrender of an existing tenanted or tenant purchase house to the housing authority. In return for the improvements, the authority may make a periodic or other charge on the beneficiary. They may also enter into an agreement with the owner of the house requiring, for instance, that the authority be recouped all or part of their expenditure in the event of the house being sold. Any such moneys due to an authority will, by virtue of this section, be automatically secured on the property.

Up to 31 March last, housing authorities had identified some 400 houses as being suited to the improvements scheme and work has already been completed in a number of these. The take up rate on this scheme to date has been slower than might have been anticipated but the provisions in the Bill should help streamline the legal procedures which have been a source of delay to some housing authorities.

The voluntary housing movement makes a substantial contribution to social housing output catering for people who would otherwise be dependent on public housing or institutional care. Voluntary housing activity has increased very significantly in recent years. All the indications are that, with the appropriate support from public funds, the voluntary sector can play a greater part in the provision of social housing in the future.

Under the social housing plan, the levels of assistance to approved voluntary bodies providing residential accommodation with the aid of the existing capital assistance scheme have already been increased. This scheme has been particularly successful in securing housing for special categories, such as the elderly or the homeless, and I expect that completions of dwellings aided under it will reach 550 this year. But the limitations of the capital assistance scheme in promoting family housing are acknowledged and that is why the plan announced the introduction of the rental subsidy scheme. This scheme allows approved voluntary and non-profit housing organisations to obtain 100 per cent capital loan finance from local authorities for the provision of social housing, subject to a guideline cost limit of £35,000 per unit. A subsidy is then payable to the body providing the accommodation to make up the deficit between the affordable rent payable by the tenant and the loan charges, with an allowance made for maintenance and management costs.

Section 7 contains the provisions relating to the rental subsidy. Again, these are broad provisions leaving the details of the scheme to be set out in regulations which may, of course, be changed from time to time. The subsidy has been introduced on an interim basis, being payable to voluntary bodies in respect of tenants on annual incomes of less than £8,000, and the response has been encouraging. One project is already finished, three projects containing 27 dwellings are in progress and some 20 more proposals representing an additional 370 units are in planning.

Some of the voluntary groups have suggested certain revisions to the terms of the pilot scheme and I have indicated to them that I will be reviewing it towards the end of the year in the light of experience.

Section 6 will permit the Minister to devolve to relevant housing authorities his function in relation to the approval of voluntary housing bodies. This would make it possible for new projects to be dealt with from conception to execution at local level — simplifying the whole process for individual organisations. In addition, the voluntary sector's expanding role is being acknowledged by the new facility in section 26 for the transfer of local authority houses to suitable voluntary bodies.

I have already referred to the particularly successful contribution of the voluntary sector in dealing with certain categories such as the elderly. Against this background, section 26 could prove to be attractive, for example, to residents of elderly persons' accommodation where the voluntary sector has an especially good track record of care and service.

The other side of non-profit housing is the co-operative movement — individuals coming together as a group to provide housing for themselves. Co-operative housing was reasonably successful up to the mid-seventies when about 500 houses were being produced annually but has since declined considerably. However, I believe that the various measures in the social housing plan have the potential, especially if used in a combined way, to revitalise the sector

Section 11 provides for the availability from the local authorities of block loans to co-operatives, as opposed to loans to each individual member, which will enable the co-operative to borrow upfront, for instance, to buy sites or to acquire existing buildings for conversion to housing. Local authorities are already free to dispose of sites to co-operatives at low or nominal cost, subject to certain conditions. The National Building Agency have also been given a brief to assist in the promotion of this form of housing.

Housing authorities have a long history of providing loan finance to persons of modest means. Under existing legislation they are confined to advancing loans to individuals and lack a desirable degree of flexibility. With the primary objective of giving housing authorities broader, more flexible powers in making and administering housing loans, section 11 restates in an improved and expanded form the existing lending provisions. Their lending powers are being widened to include shared ownership, the acquisition of land or sites, the purchase or conversion into housing of a building, the provision of hostel accommodation and even the payment of deposits for the purchase of property for housing. As I have said, this increased flexibility will be of particular benefit to voluntary and co-operative housing bodies. Detailed loan conditions including loan limits, eligibility, types of houses qualifying and matters relating to repayment, etc., will continue to be set out in regulations made by the Minister for the Environment, with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

Under section 11, the Conveyancing Acts will apply to housing authorities in the same manner as other mortgagees. This will enable householders with local authority loans to obtain finance from commercial lending agencies, for instance, for house improvements, on the security of a second mortgage. This is an important facility for many existing borrowers whose incomes would now prevent them getting local authority improvement loans. In addition, the section will remove any doubt about an authority's power to respond flexibly to borrowers in difficulty by capitalising arrears or extending the repayment period.

Another aspect of this section which I should mention is that housing authorities will be exempted from the requirement to pay any residue from a repossession to defaulting borrowers where they let them stay on as tenants, or provide them with alternative accommodation. Authorities will, nonetheless, have the discretion to make whatever financial settlement with such borrowers that they consider equitable in the particular circumstances.

The local authority housing stock consists of about 96,000 individual homes and is a valuable asset with a replacement value of well over £3 billion. My Department have, in recent years, been urging local authorities to manage and maintain this asset effectively to ensure that it provides the best possible living conditions and is conserved to the greatest possible extent. It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that all is not well in this area.

Particularly in the larger urban areas, there is growing tenant dissatisfaction, problems with the letting of dwellings in some locations, and a general sense of alienation which manifests itself in vandalism and other anti-social behaviour. That is in spite of annual expenditure of about £70 million by authorities on top of the £18 million provided by the State for housing remedial works and bathrooms. Clearly, it is time for a reassessment of the approach to the management of public housing.

One of the valuable lessons of the remedial works scheme over the past few years has been the benefits that have followed from increased consultation and dialogue by local authorities with their tenants during the various stages of the planning of projects. Tenant involvement is essential to break down the old "them and us" view and to foster a common interest in the maintenance and well being of the estates and the local environment generally.

Section 9 provides the framework for a progressive approach to the management and maintenance of local authority housing. It requires housing authorities to draw up a written statement of their policy in relation to the management of their rented dwellings, having regard to such aspects as the Minister may direct. This means that each authority will have to review their own performance, set out their targets and plans for future action, and have them agreed by the elected members. This must be done within one year of the commencement of the section but local authorities have already been asked by departmental circular to begin work on these policies.

Section 9 also provides flexible powers to enable authorities to delegate to tenants' representative bodies functions such as maintenance works, environmental improvements and collection of rents. Furthermore, all or part of the rental income may be assigned to such bodies to fund their delegated activities.

I want to make it clear that section 9 does not aim to impose a single system in all circumstances. Rather, the intention is to provide a statutory basis to enable authorities to devise the management and maintenance systems which are most appropriate to their particular requirements but which take full cognisance of the need to involve their tenants as closely as possible.

A principal objective of the Bill is to mitigate as far as possible the extent and effect of social segregation in housing. While steps were taken previously to reduce the density of local authority housing developments and ensure a better environment, this has not done anything to achieve a better social mix which is the root cause of many of the problems.

The Bill as a whole, by diversifying the overall approach to social housing, will create a significant move from one-class housing. It also contains, in section 28, a means, for the first time, of systematically counteracting undue segregation in housing. Housing authorities will be required, to draw up and adopt a written policy in this respect. Authorities have already been requested by circular to begin work on the development of their policy statements and in doing so to: consider purchasing existing new houses, as an alternative to building themselves; avoid large concentrations of single class houses which are inimical to the achievement of a good social mix; make existing lands owned by authorities which are suitable for housing available to individuals, voluntary bodies and co-ops; have regard to stated guidelines in relation to the size of local authority estates.

I expect that the policies adopted by housing authorities will differ, to take account of the incidence of the segregation problem from one authority to another and the need to develop the most suitable solutions to different situations. My concern will be to raise general issues that should be addressed rather than prescribe detailed solutions in every case.

The statutory provisions relating to the sale of local authority dwellings are comprehensively restated in section 26. The general terms of tenant purchase schemes will be set out in regulations and the elected members of each housing authority may then adopt a purchase scheme under which rented dwellings may be purchased by the tenants. The procedure of requiring each sale to be approved by council resolution will not longer apply to sales to tenants. However, the sale of any unoccupied dwellings will be subject to such resolution. In the interests of flexible housing management a housing authority may, subject to resolution of the elected members, also sell or lease tenanted dwellings to another authority or, with the consent of the tenants, to an approved housing body. I have already referred to this provision when speaking about the voluntary housing sector.

Local authority dwellings are sold on an "as is" basis and all subsequent maintenance then becomes a matter for the purchaser. Accordingly, I am taking the opportunity to clarify in this section the fact that once a sale has taken place the purchaser assumes responsibility for the dwelling and no warranty as to its condition or habitability is given by the housing authority.

Section 26 should eliminate the difficulties relating to the treatment of common elements that have arisen in connection with the sale of flats and which were brought to my Department's attention some months ago. These provisions should enable authorities to proceed with the sale of flats under the 1989 scheme without further delay.

While I have no immediate plans to introduce a new tenant purchase scheme, I will be keeping the matter under review. The emphasis now is on getting people into suitable accommodation and on the implementation of the various measures in the plan. The vast majority of existing local authority tenants have, in any event, had the opportunity of applying under the 1988 scheme. Persons leaving local authority accommodation to acquire their own homes can avail of either the £3,300 mortgage allowance scheme or the shared ownership system.

The private rented sector represents some 10 per cent of the national housing stock and is an important element in our housing system. As such, it needs to operate within a balanced legislative framework. This balance must be between the need to encourage investment in the provision and maintenance of accommodation on the one hand and, on the other, the need to ensure that tenants are treated in a fair and equitable manner. An in-depth review of the sector was carried out by my Department during 1990 in consultation with the various interests involved. The social housing plan stated that the review had shown some additional safeguards for private sector tenants to be desirable. These are provided for in the Bill.

The first measure affecting the private rented sector, section 16, deals with notices to quit, which are now to be regulated by statute for the first time. At present a landlord wishing to withdraw accommodation from a weekly tenant can generally do so at one week's notice. This can leave tenants in a vulnerable position without sufficient time to secure and move into alternative accommodation before the notice expires — particularly at certain times of peak demand. A tenant giving similar notice to a landlord may also leave the landlord in an equally unsatisfactory position with vacant accommodation on his or her hands on which he or she has heavy repayments or which is his or her sole means of income.

Section 16 means that in future all notices to quit must be given in writing and at least four weeks in advance. Notice by either the landlord or tenant for a lesser period, or which is not in writing, will not be legally enforceable once this section is in force. This will apply to existing as well as new tenancies. Contracts already requiring written notice of longer than four weeks will not, of course, be affected.

Section 17 empowers the Minister to make regulations obliging landlords to provide rent books for private rented dwellings generally or for particular classes of such dwellings. Rent books will contain documentary evidence of deposit and rent payments, the date of the letting, and the terms of the tenancy, including the rental period and the notice required to terminate the tenancy. This will have advantages for both landlord and tenant and should help avoid disputes. Effectively, the rent book will serve many of the purposes of a written letting agreement. It will also facilitate tenants claiming supplementary welfare allowance and tenants aged over 55 years claiming tax relief on rent paid.

At present, regulations made under section 26 of the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Act, 1982, prescribe minimum standards for formerly rent controlled dwellings on a national basis. In addition, many local authorities have made by-laws under section 70 of the Housing Act, 1966, laying down standards for private rented dwellings in their areas. However, these by-laws are not uniform and they are generally lower than the standards applicable to the formerly controlled sector. It is evident, therefore, that the position in relation to the control of standards is unsatisfactory. Accordingly, it is proposed to replace the existing provisions with section 18, which allows for the introduction, by way of regulations, of a new uniform set of minimum standards for privately let dwellings. Local authorities will have the full powers of enforcement of the statutory standards that they have under existing legislation.

Distress is an ancient common law remedy which entitles a landlord of rented property, without recourse to the courts, to seize the goods of a tenant to enforce payment of rent. I am satisfied that this type of procedure has no place in a modern legal code relating to rented dwellings. Accordingly, section 19 prohibits the use of distress in the case of residential lettings. In fairness to landlords, I must say that distress has been used in only very few instances in recent times. However, in future it will be clear to any landlord taking heavy-handed action of this nature that he does not have the sanction of the law. This section will have no effect in relation to commercial lettings.

Section 20 will make it possible by regulation to require the registration of rented dwellings generally or particular classes of such dwellings.

Taken together, sections 16 to 20 will constitute an important charter of rights for private tenants. There is sufficient flexibility to direct attention at particular areas, avoiding an overly regulated approach that would not serve either landlord or tenant interests.

The provisions in the Bill relating to the introduction of rent books, standards and registration will replace sections 25, 26 and 24 respectively of the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Act, 1982, which have only been brought into effect in the formerly rent controlled sector. There would be practical difficulties in seeking to regulate the private rented sector as a whole under those sections since they make no provision to exempt, for example, mobile homes or to other temporary letting arrangements which clearly should not be subject to them. The corresponding provisions in the Bill will overcome these shortcomings and contain other improvements to make them more effective overall.

As well as section 70 of the 1966 Act, section 114 of that Act is also being repealed. This stipulates that lettings with a rent of under £130 per annum contain an implied liability on the part of the landlord as to the habitability of the accommodation. The section has effectively had no application for many years and there is little point in leaving it in the Statute Book, particularly in view of the comprehensive provisions as to standards and lettings in the Bill.

When these provisions are brought into force, my Department will prepare and circulate a handbook which will act as a layman's guide to the landlord and tenant code as it affects residential lettings. This should ensure that tenants are well informed of their rights and obligations.

Since the explanatory memorandum explains every section of the Bill in some detail, I will confine my remaining remarks to a few of the other measures that warrant special mention.

The major emphasis in the overall programme for the accommodation of travelling people has, in recent times, been on the provision of additional residential caravan sites. However, progress in the provision of sites has often been poor, frequently because of opposition from the settled community to the location of sites. A factor in this has been the tendency for some travellers to continue to remain parked on the roadside in proximity to serviced sites that have been provided for them. In a effort to deal with the problem section 10 provides that where a caravan is parked within two miles of an official halting site the local authority may serve notice on the owner of the caravan requiring him to move it in to the site, if there is a suitable space for it. Failure to comply with this notice will constitute an offence and allow the authority to take direct action to relocate the caravan in to the site. If they are prevented from doing so, they may take it to a place of storage from where it may later be reclaimed by the owner.

Lest there be any doubts about it, I want to make it absolutely clear that this provision is very much pro rather than anti traveller. The basic objective is to ensure that housing authorities are equipped with the necessary powers to deal with a problem that is having an adverse affect on their settlement programmes to the detriment of travellers generally.

The Building Societies Act, 1989, gives the Minister power to regulate the securitisation by building societies of residential mortgages — that is the transfer of the mortgage to another party. In such an event the primary concern would be to ensure that the borrowers' interests are protected. Section 13 of this Bill will extend this power to regulate securitisation of residential mortgages held by all mortgage lenders. The need for the consent of the borrower is central to this provision. Section 14 deals specifically with the disposal of public sector mortgages and the use of the proceeds of such disposals.

Section 15 provides a means of transferring the debt of local authorities on foot of past housing loans from the Exchequer to the Housing Finance Agency, thus bringing it into line with current practice under which all new borrowing by local authorities for housing loan purposes is funded by the Housing Finance Agency. In this way, local authority debt on housing loans could be rationalised and centralised with one source.

I should emphasise that no proposals to dispose of publicly funded housing mortgages or to transfer local authority debt exist at present. Sections 14 and 15 are merely enabling provisions that remove existing legal obstacles and make it possible for these options to be considered in the future.

Documentation in connection with assistance given by my Department or the local authorities in the form of loans or grants, and so on usually contains a clause disclaming any liability in respect of the fitness for habitation of the houses concerned. However, there is legal opinion that these clauses would require statutory backing to be fully effective. In addition, a number of the new measures in the Bill, for instance shared ownership and the rental subsidy, will introduce new forms of assistance where it would not be appropriate that public authorities should carry a liability purely on account of being providers of funds. Accordingly, section 22 provides that the granting of assistance in respect of a house shall imply no warranty on the part of the Minister or the housing authority as to the fitness of the house. This does not, of course, affect any liability that may be held to arise out of negligence.

Section 23 assigns all the various housing functions, including the new functions under this Bill, to local authorities in accordance with current practice. This means that county councils and county borough corporations will discharge all the housing functions in their own areas. In addition to these functions county councils will perform a range of functions in respect of urban areas within their boundaries such as preparation of estimates of housing requirements and the operation of the voluntary housing and shared ownership schemes. As in the case of the Local Government Act, 1991, this section also enables the Minister, in the future, to transfer functions between housing authorities where he considers that they could be performed more effectively as a result.

Section 29 expands the powers of the Housing Finance Agency by enabling them to lend to housing authorities and The National Building Agency Limited for any of their housing functions. At present, the Housing Finance Agency may only lend to housing authorities for the purposes of loans or grants for the provision or improvement of houses. They will now play a more comprehensive funding role, particularly in relation to new measures contained in the Bill such as shared ownership. The Housing Finance Agency's borrowing limit is being increased from £1 billion to £1.5 billion. Their power to advance loans direct to the public is being discontinued as they have not engaged in this type of lending since their restructuring in 1986.

The Bill recognises that the delivery of housing services is essentially a local responsibility consonant with the Government's general policy of devolving as much power as possible to local government. Housing authorities are being given responsibility for the operation of all the new schemes of assistance being provided for in the Bill. With its enactment authorities will have at their disposal an extensive range of options for tackling social housing needs.

This in turn implies significant changes in the traditional role of local authorities in the housing sphere. For the future, this role will be broader, more imaginative and more flexible. Local authorities must no longer see themselves merely as direct providers of housing for rent — they must actively promote and facilitate the provision of social housing in all its forms. It is essential that the elected members, management and staff of local authorities appreciate and adapt quickly to this change of role.

From the foregoing it will be obvious to Deputies that the Bill is a significant and wide ranging measure. The desirability of securing its passage as quickly as possible will be obvious in view of the many aspects of housing which it addresses. I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies and I will be prepared to consider any well-founded suggestions for improving the Bill, as we all have a common interest in ensuring that, when passed, it will fully meet its objectives.

I realise that in a debate like this, the temptation will be there to suggest that all these problems will be solved by providing more finance. This matter will be debated in the course of our consideration of all these matters. There is no question about the determination of the Minister for the Environment to seek all possible resources required in these areas. It will also be clear that the proposed changes are desirable and would have to take place even if there were unlimited financial resources available in terms of new house building programmes. The experiences of the past with regard to social segregation and all the other problems that develop from building programmes of that kind are there to be seen and we have to respond to them. It is crucially important, whatever differences in approach we might have, that we determine to solve these problems with a different mix of solutions. That is clearly the right road.

Many other suggestions and proposals may be advanced to be added to the measures contained in this plan. I want to be as open, flexible and fair vis-à-vis these proposals as I can and I earnestly ask Deputies to approach the provisions of this Bill, with a positive attitude, recognising the social change in the housing character as one requiring the proposals we advance. I look forward to hearing from all Members in the debate and to the passage of this Bill, its subsequent enactment and the most positive response possible by local authority members.

I commend the Bill to the House.

We all look forward to this debate.

The tone of the Minister's remarks sums up the lack of a sense of urgency on the part of the Government in relation to housing. The speech he has read, without any conviction, I am sure has been on the shelves of the Department of the Environment for the past year. It did not contain one new comment or new idea the Minister can call his own. Indeed, he did not even acknowledge there was a housing crisis. Clearly he has no perception of the distress being experienced by many people.

For example, he has no idea of the distressing and depressing scenes in the waiting rooms of the housing departments of local authorities. I invited the Minister to visit Dublin Corporation's housing waiting room to see for himself the distress being experienced. This is not, as is the impression created by the Minister's utterances, a waiting room full of wasters who will not make any effort to house themselves although there are some in that category. By far the majority who genuinely and urgently need housing cannot provide it for themselves. Our Acting Chairman, who is a member of Dublin City Council like myself, knows that every hostel in this city is packed to capacity. He will know also that Eastern Health Board officers are approaching landlords in an effort to procure flats for health board clients, thereby increasing the rent subsidy paid by the State and the rent others have to pay. Equally, he will know there are citizens with children in this city sleeping in cars.

The Bill before us, in the main, is an attempt by the Government to pass over their responsibilities to provide homes for the less well off in our community. Since World War II no Government built fewer houses than the present one. For example, over the past five years, an average of 1,000 local authority houses were completed annually compared with almost 7,000 per annum when Fine Gael were in Government.

They did not pay for them; they left the bill after them.

No Government, since World War II, built fewer houses than the present one.

In the course of his lengthy, boring, introductory remarks the Minister never once mentioned the housing statistics. I am not surprised because he ought to be deeply ashamed of them. The Government endeavour to convey the message that the collapse of the local authority house-building programme was caused by a switch in emphasis in housing policy towards private housing. If that was the case I would have no difficulty in supporting it but that is a callous lie, best illustrated by the fact that in the five years to December 1991, under Fianna Fáil, 10,000 fewer private houses were completed than in the preceding five years under Fine Gael. No matter how one examines the figures it is clear that the housing crisis has been induced by Government deed and omission.

The dramatic fall in local authority house completions, and the large fall in private house completions, have been accompanied by the abolition of the house improvement grants scheme which had helped to restore many ageing houses to habitable condition.

Another legacy of the Deputy's Government.

Those policies, in one fell swoop, resurrected a housing crisis which most people thought, by 1987, had been finally consigned to the past and added considerably to our total unemployment crisis. Indeed, the Government, in their housing and employment policies, have managed to defy one of the fundamental laws of arithmetic; that minus multiplied by minus gives plus; in this case, minus housing multiplied by minus employment gives minus social stability to the power of two. As a result, a housing crisis, the likes of which we have not witnessed since the sixties, is in the making.

What is a housing crisis? It is no harm that we seek to define this phrase. I readily accept that the word "crisis" is used all too frequently to describe circumstances which are not in fact of crisis proportions. Therefore, let us examine whether the word "crisis" can be properly and reasonably applied to the present housing position. A housing crisis is representative of circumstances in which every hostel is filled to capacity and when scores of homeless people must walk our streets. I know from my constituency that hostels which until recently could accommodate a mother and children, but not a father, can no longer even accommodate the mother and children being packed to capacity. Does that constitute a housing crisis? A housing crisis is representative of circumstances in which married couples with three or four children — I am not talking about individuals — sleep in cars for weeks on end or, at the expense of the relevant health board, are put up in bed and breakfast establishments for months and left to walk the streets all day. Does the Minister deny that in Dublin city at present, and indeed over preceding months, there are and were couples with children walking our streets, sleeping in cars, and housed in bed and breakfast establishments at the expense of health boards for months on end? Is that an exaggeration? It is not; that is the reality and constitutes a housing crisis.

In addition, a housing crisis is representative of circumstances in which community welfare officers in city health centres — while they must be applauded for their concern — approach private landlords, offering them more than the already large rents, through State subsidy, to take into their flats distraught families who have nowhere else to go. Some of these subsidies are as high as £60 per week. Is this a housing crisis? They are the realities of the housing position today in this city.

The private rented sector is enjoying an inflated boom and demand, much of it being financed by the State, because the State does not understand the effects of its policies. Lack of house completions constitutes just one State policy contributing to these circumstances. For example, social welfare rules, which force young, unemployed people to leave their parents' homes in order to qualify for the dole, is a prime and crazy cause of creating a few landlord millionaires and a shortage of private accommodation. These rules are forcing young people of 18 and 30 years or even older who are unemployed and not entitled to unemployment benefit to leave home. If they apply for unemployment assistance, their parents' means are adjudicated to be their means. If their fathers are working there is no possibility of their receiving unemployment assistance. As a result these people have the humiliating experience of having to depend totally on their parents to provide them with clothing, pocket money, etc.

As I said, young people who are forced to leave home, thus breaking up families, will immediately receive unemployment assistance of £50 per week, a medical card and a rent subsidy which on average amounts to £30 per week. This means the State has to meet the cost of a medical card and rent subsidy as well as unemployment assistance. If the State gave unemployment assistance to young people who are living at home it would reduce the demand for private accommodation and the amount it has to pay out in social welfare benefits. This is a classic case of the Government spending money and causing problems. The Government need to urgently change the system of means testing young unemployed people on the basis of their parents' income.

Another social welfare rule which was well intentioned is the living alone allowance for the elderly. The living alone allowance, free television licence, free telephone rental and the free electricity allowance are causing problems for a large number of elderly people who would benefit from having members of their families living with them. However, they cannot do this as they will lose some of their allowances. If the social welfare rules in this area were relaxed it would help ease the housing problem and reduce the cost to the States of these allowances. An elderly person who takes in a son or daughter, their spouse and children, and thereby return to the State a local authority dwelling, should not lose their living alone allowance or other allowances. The present rules are effectively forcing old people to live alone and are costing the State a fortune. As I said, the social welfare rules need to be relaxed. I estimate that the number of people on the waiting lists for local authority housing could be reduced by 2,000 or 3,000 if the sons and daughters of elderly people, their spouses and families were allowed to live with them, provided they did not lose their living alone allowance or other allowances.

Present social welfare policy in regard to young unemployed people living at home and in regard to the elderly is causing the break-up of families. More importantly, it is crowding out the private sector and jacking up demand which, in turn, increases prices. This is reflected in increased State expenditure in rent subsidies. The average subsidy for a bedsitter is approximately £30 per week. People who buy fairly small houses pay little more than £30 per week in mortgage repayments. The present system is consigning people to bedsitters and this can lead to overcrowding — very often there are eight or ten flats in a house which should have only six. The over use of such buildings often down-grades the areas in which they are located. As I said, social policy in this area needs to be changed urgently as the amount being paid to people in rent subsidy would cover the mortgage repayments for a small house. It is worth repeating that this is a classic case of the Government spending millions of pounds to make problems worse.

I agree with the Minister that the answer to our housing crisis is not to return to the building of large scale local authority estates. Indeed I would even go further and say that there is a strong case to be made for the phasing out of the building of local authority houses as a means of solving our housing problems. There are three good reasons for this: first, the high administration, maintenance, rent collection and assessment costs; second, social segregation and ghettoisation and, third, the concept of house purchase, a familiar one to all people as house purchase is a dream shared by all.

Social cohesion and financial good sense indicate that it would be better for the State to help house the less well off by assisting, to the financial extent necessary, every needy family to purchase their own house. I hope the day is not too far off when such a policy will be accepted not just as the norm but as a socially progressive departure from a 20th century housing policy which has served us proud but which is no longer suitable to prevailing needs, conditions and attitudes.

Many European countries have solved their housing problem without resorting to the building of local authority housing. Since the time of the first Irish Government under the late Mr. W. T. Cosgrave we have given a very high priority to housing. This was more than warranted. Mr. Cosgrave was a member of Dublin Corporation's housing committee, as I am today and as I think the Acting Chairman is. Mr. Cosgrave was a chairman of the housing committee during 1916 and 1917, pre the Independent State. The policies pursued by that committee and subsequently by W. T. Cosgrave as both head of Government and Minister for Local Government set the scene for a housing policy which has been the foundation of our housing policy ever since and which gives us as a State a very proud housing record in the main. But that housing policy is no longer suited to the social conditions which prevail today. Large local authority housing estates were acceptable in the past. They were the only way of solving the truly chronic housing problems which prevailed then. For example, most people were living in grossly unfit tenements and dangerous buildings. Therefore, a very large public housing programme was needed. The fact that successive Governments have in the main continued the policy started by W. T. Cosgrave has provided this State with a social stability which it would not otherwise have in view of the prevailing emigration and unemployment problems which have persisted since our independence. Our housing policy has helped to provide that stability, even with approximately 300,000 people unemployed and some 157,000 having emigrated in the past five years. I do not believe we would have this social stability if it were not for that housing policy and the fact that so many houses are owner occupied.

The type of discipline and moral standards which prevailed during those times prevented many of the social problems which have manifested themselves today. Having a concentration of local authority houses in one area means that approximately 10 per cent of families will have acute social problems. By putting them together we do not just get the sum total of those problems — they have a multiplier effect. Even though the houses are of a high quality, the living conditions in local authority housing estates are unbearable for the majority of the residents. This, in turn, increases alienation. Social segregation and ghettoisation lead to the emergence of problems in the areas of health and education and to social problems and crime.

I have no difficulty with the Minister's thinking as outlined in the social housing policy, in this Bill and in his speech today. I would go further and say that the Minister is not being radical enough. I share his view that we should not continue with inefficient public housing expenditure.

The Minister referred to high administration and maintenance costs. I would be interested to hear what is the current weekly subsidy for local authority dwellings — I know it is a frightening figure. When I was a member of the Government the figure was over £90 per week, but that figure has been reduced to about £70 per week per dwelling. We must remember that some of these are one room dwellings while others are one, two, three and four bedroom dwellings.

The average subsidy is frighteningly high — if my latest information is correct it is between £70 and £80. I would like the Minister to say what was the subsidy on the latest date for which figures are available. Since it is higher than the average mortgage repayment, tenants are not getting the benefit. The position is so chronic that it would be better to tell every local authority tenant we are giving them a gift of their dwelling and £40 a week to maintain it. I know it is not as simple as that, because we would still be left with the past debt to service but there is something chronically wrong with the efficiency of public housing expenditure and I agree with the Minister that we should not resort to additional public expenditure on housing.

The Bill proposes to transfer the debts of local authorities in respect of housing to the Housing Finance Agency but I wonder why the State is involved to such an extent in direct funding of housing and why we have not resorted more to guaranteeing borrowing in the private sector.

When I was Minister — although I was not Minister for the Environment — I put forward a proposal for a 50-50 shared option scheme. This scheme differed in a number of respects from the one proposed in this Bill. There would be only a nominal rent for the rental part of the purchase, which would make the option more attractive for people on the housing list. Second, it proposed that it would be funded by the building societies and banks with a guarantee from the local authority. Of course, some people would default, but servicing those defaults would be less than servicing public authority borrowing; it would reduce the total public sector borrowing requirement and the total national debt as well as collection costs. The more houses that are funded through private financial institutions the more it relieves local authorities of the requirement to collect money. As well as reducing collection costs, it would alleviate the need for staff to assess rents. The more people who buy their houses the fewer depend on local authorities for house maintenance, which is very costly.

I am surprised the Minister has not gone further in the direction of private funding. When I was Minister, before I made a submission to Government I discussed my ideas with people from the building society sector — I did not discuss them with the banks because at that time they were not as involved in providing house mortgages as they are now. It seemed that if 10 per cent of building society funds were set aside for this purpose it would provide as much as £400 million a year, which is very significant funding.

I would be much more adventurous than the Minister in securing private funding for housing as a solution to our housing problem. I would not opt for additional public funding, which is very inefficient in this area. I acknowledge that in providing social housing for those who cannot provide it for themselves, purchase rather than rental of houses involves higher risk. Therefore, the borrowings in this case would have to be guaranteed by the State. As I have said, some people will default, but servicing those defaults would be much less than servicing excessive borrowing by the State and over time it would eliminate the need for very expensive administration and maintenance, to which the Minister referred in his speech.

I criticised the Minister at the beginning of my contribution, but that is not to say that I do not see merit in many of the provisions in this Bill. The Minister and the Department are to be complimented for these new ideas and dealing with matters which, for much too long, have been left unattended. I will have detailed comments to make and improvements to suggest on Committee Stage. There are some areas which are either omitted from the Bill or which might be developed further, and I will briefly refer to them.

There is no mention in the Minister's speech or in the Bill of sheltered housing. Three categories come to mind in this regard: the very young who seek independent housing for various reasons; the old who have no family to look after them and who need sheltered accommodation and those with a slight mental handicap or a related problem. One thing that greatly distresses me as a public representative is the fact that many young unmarried mothers, as young as 16 or 17 years of age, have to seek housing because they are forced out of their homes. There is pressure on local authorities to give priority to these people but, because of the family size and the acute shortage of housing, they usually get a flat in what are euphemistically called low demand areas, areas with massive social problems. By putting young girls in such accommodation it often accentuates their problems.

There is need for new thinking on how to provide for young unmarried mothers in these circumstances. There are some models that should be considered, such as the Focus Point accommodation in Stanhope Street in my constituency, a form of semi-sheltered accommodation, which could be the basis of a remedy to this problem. I ask the Minister to examine this problem urgently. Because of my experience I would go so far as to suggest that local authorities should not allocate tenancies to people under the age of 21, except in sheltered accommodation. I would put the onus on the local authorities to provide sufficient sheltered accommodation — similar to that in Focus Point in Stanhope Street — for young mothers and other young people who for one reason or another have no home or who have become alienated from their family. They are at further risk if they are left on their own. Very often they are exploited by unscrupulous people and may be dragged into further pregnancies or into using drugs. Indeed very often their homes become the focal point of distress in the community.

Likewise we have to cater for the elderly, although we have attended to this problem in a significant way. More and more old people are living longer. As the role of the extended family is not what it used to be, it is acknowledged that there will be a need for more accommodation of one form or another for the elderly. We owe it to the elderly to ensure they live in a comfortable place in a safe environment. Our growing social problems and the rise in the crime rate make this difficult. The local authorities in conjunction with the Department have done a great deal of good work in this area but we need to do more. We need to come up with a variety of options. Again I advocate Focus Point as a possible model.

We have also to cater for those in the community who are socially inadequate or have a slight mental handicap. Frequently people who are living in hostels or institutions are not capable of fully independent living and are therefore condemned to unsatisfactory living arrangements. Many of these people could survive in semi-independent accommodation such as sheltered housing. I believe there is a great gap which has not been provided for in either this Bill or in any other legislation. Will the Minister between now and Committee Stage consider making provision for regulations in the future to allow for sheltered housing or semi-independent housing.

Another area which is inadequately dealt with in the Bill and also in the Minister's speech is the question of travellers. I acknowledge the Minister referred to the plight of travellers but he omitted to make the key point that the provision of housing for travellers cannot be addressed in isolation from their other needs. Because of their nomadic nature and cultural traditions, the housing needs of travellers must be considered in conjunction with their economic, educational and health needs. One of the defects in our approach to housing travellers is that we look at their housing needs in isolation. A criticism I have of Government — and not just this Government — is that housing needs and housing costs are frequently looked at in isolation from the other social costs which arise depending on the housing option chosen. We now have huge, amorphous suburban sprawls in the outer suburbs because we were told at the time that the unit cost of a house in the suburbs was half that of a house built in the inner city. Of course, it was forgotten that roads, schools, health centres, post offices and so on would have to be built in the outer suburbs, as the churches, post offices, health centres and Garda stations in the inner city were made redundant. At last, we are not just looking at the unit cost but at the overall national cost of providing the necessary infrastructure and the trend has been reversed.

Likewise we cannot look at travellers housing needs in isolation. We must also consider ways of supporting the economic activities they engage in and take account of their culture, tradition like tinsmithing etc. For that reason if Fine Gael were in Government we would establish a National Travellers' Commission. We are also in favour of setting compulsory targets for each local authority. It is one of the scandals of public life that we politicians baulk at almost every proposal for new sites for travellers. I think that is a mistake. I accept there is huge public reaction from the immediate neighbourhood where it is proposed to locate a new site. Most public representatives defer to the huge public outrage and as a result progress in making provision for settling travellers is much slower than should be expected in a Christian community.

I had two key experiences in this regard. When I was Lord Mayor of Dublin, at the first meeting I had to chair there was a proposal to situate a travellers' site right in front of my own house. As First Citizen of the city I felt bound to vote for it, much to the distress of my neighbours in Nutgrove, Rathfarnham. That was 15 years ago and I can now tell the House that that particular settlement has turned out to be a great success and has not had the awful adverse consequences predicted at that time. The young travellers have done well at school. The families who started in caravans and moved on to tigíns are now living in proper bungalows. It is a joy to see the families integrating in the local community, and I am very proud that I voted for this.

In Corduff, Blanchardstown, there was a very heated public meeting attended by several hundred people. Of the nine public representatives present, eight opposed locating the travellers' halting site at Snugsboro. I begged to differ and supported the proposal at this very heated meeting, but my vote in Corduff more than doubled in the subsequent general election because people respected me for being honest. I make this point not just to blow my own trumpet but because I believe that a great many public representatives under-estimate the public. I am not saying the people have no justifiable fears when it is proposed to locate a halting site in their area. Of course people are concerned about untidiness, dirt and health hazards and these are acute problems, but the travellers themselves have formed organisations such as the Dublin Travellers' Education and Development Group, who are working very well to alert the settled community to their prejudices and adverse attitudes — the "negatives" as they call them — and also to make the travelling community more aware of their negative attitudes to the settled community and the understandable reservations that the settled community have about travellers.

Nonetheless, I believe a national travellers commission which would deal with housing and with economic, social, educational and health needs of the travelling community, is a necessity. The commission should set clear targets for each local authority, including the number of halting sites in each local authority area. That is necessary because, by their nature, travellers move around. If one local authority — and this is often the excuse used — try to be conscientious and provides more travellers' sites, this results in a migration into the area with the result that the position does not improve. If, say, County Louth is conscientious about the problem, there can be a drift of travellers from counties Meath, Monaghan and Dublin. There is need for a national policy and, in this context, we will have to think about setting quotas and requirements for local authorities.

The Minister referred to house maintenance costs, and I should like to develop that point. I have asked a number of questions in the House about the total cost of house maintenance and the figures I was given are frightening. The Minister mentioned £70 million at one point, plus £20 million. These are enormous sums. I accept some of those maintenance costs include unavoidable cyclical maintenance and unavoidable heating costs in places such as Ballymun, St. Michael's Estate and high rise flats. We need to disaggregate the figures to get at the real avoidable cost.

I do not know the average cost of the installation of a sink unit but if I were to have such a unit installed in my house it would probably cost £200 or £250; I guarantee the cost to instal such a unit in a local authority house would be four or five times more expensive because of gross inefficiency. Items such as sink units are needed in certain houses, especially for a new tenancy but the tenant should be responsible for a certain amount of maintenance. We have induced a certain dependency and expectation among tenants who will ask to have certain maintenance works carried out.

There is a strong case to be made for reviewing our approach to housing maintenance. I should like to suggest a few ways to deal with the problem but, of course, these will have to be teased out in greater detail. We could say this is a classic case for privatisation, that the present system of direct labour repairs is too expensive and we cannot afford it; obviously something has gone wrong when we are not giving the tenants the service they need. We have had cases where the front and back doors of the homes of elderly people have been broken down and they cannot be repaired for months on end. In the meantime people are living in draughty accommodation and many of the repairs could be done cheaper by the tenant.

I suggest the Minister look at what An Bord Gáis and Dublin Gas have done. They ceased the direct installation of gas appliances and drew up a list of approved contractors, setting out required standards. Any contractor who meets those standards can apply to become an approved gas installer and people can get estimates for the work from approved contractors. If a contractor is not doing the work properly or at an affordable cost or, if his charges are higher than somebody else's, his services can be dispensed with. Such a system would be a significant improvement in the service we are providing for our tenants.

Another alternative is to get out of house maintenance altogether and halve the rents. In Dublin city and county we are now spending a great deal more on maintenance than we receive in rents. It would make more sense if we were to halve the rents and make tenants responsible for their own maintenance. Many people have said that could not be done because the housing stock would deteriorate. What about the 70 per cent or 75 per cent of the housing stock already tenant purchased? Part and parcel of this change would be say, that tenants would have an obligation to keep their dwelling in a proper state of maintenance which would be subject to a maintenance audit at least once every five years by the local authority who would then point out certain work that needed to be carried out. One may ask how poor people can afford to pay for such work. That would be a problem but I suggest the local authority would pay and charge the tenant for it by a supplement in their rent for the following five years. That would be more satisfactory and it would make sense. I am putting that forward as a suggestion to be teased out. There will be pros and cons and there will be exceptional cases, but it could be the basis of a better approach than the present system.

I would ask the Minister to consult the Minister for Health and the Minister for Social Welfare about the living alone provisions. These provisions were motivated by the highest considerations. The cost of lighting a fire is the same for one as it is for two, three or four people. However, this provision has had the unintended effect of ensuring that if elderly people take in any of their family to look after them, they lose a great deal. I would ask the Minister to examine the suggestion that, where a son or daughter gives up a local authority dwelling to return to live with a parent, that parent would not lose the living alone allowances.

The Minister did not mention homes without bathrooms. There are approximately 21,000 such homes in the country. This is unacceptable in the closing years of the 20th century. Perhaps the Minister would agree to a suggestion that we set a date by which all homes must have bathrooms, say, this day five years, and that we would introduce policies to facilitate that provision. It is unacceptable that there should be so many homes still without the basic facilities of bathrooms, and in some cases indoor toilets and running water. If we can ease the calls on public expenditure by privatisation in the manner I suggested, there may be extra resources for this type of work. I would go so far as to say that any home without an indoor toilet or a bathroom should be automatically deemed unfit for human habitation after 1997. That is not too ambitious a target.

I want to go through one of the points made by the Minister that I have not already referred to. I agree with the concept of shared ownership; I produced a paper on it when in Government in 1985-86. The Minister says the option of rent chargeable on the rentable sector could be changed. I would like him to clarify that. I hope it will be an option for the local authority to charge a lower or nominal rent for the rental part where local authorities are involved, because the combination of a mortgage plus rent may mean that the basic weekly cost would be far above what the less well off people could afford, and that would be in direct conflict with the purpose of shared ownership. I would go so far as to say that the rent should be nil, or a nominal one of £1 or £2 a week in addition to the mortgage. I know the Minister's comments on the flexibility of the scheme where the combination does not have to be 50-50; it is right that there should be as many different permutations as possible. I have no difficulty with that. I will be going into more detail on this subject on Committee Stage to try to improve the Minister's suggestions.

The voluntary housing provisions have in the main, worked quite well. However, in my own constituency, senior citizen's dwellings were provided at Sarsfield House at The Ranch in Inchicore. Three-quarters of the allocations were made in consultation with the local authority, but one-quarter were made by the priest in charge. That was fair enough, but it led to a certain amount of public scandal — maybe unjustified — because local residents saw a number of people allocated dwellings who were believed to already own their own dwellings. If this was a local authority decision we, as public representatives, could have queried the allocations to see if this were the case. However, because these allocations were not made by the local authority, we were unable to establish the facts and allay public concern. We need to refine the rules and make it clear that where people are offered accommodation, the cost of which is largely covered by public funds, there are some rules in relation to the ownership of other homes. This should be done carefully because I would not like to see a situation where a person who owns his/her home cannot be housed in local authority accommodation. There are situations where life at home becomes unbearable for an elderly parent because he or she is not getting on with the daughter-in-law or, indeed daughter, and just has to leave home. The easiest thing in such circumstances is to give them a senior citizen's flat. We must provide for such cases. We must also provide for cases of marital breakdown where the wife or husband must leave the family home, although they are the owners of that home. What I have in mind is the situation where a person being provided for under the voluntary housing provision can then sell their own home and make a handsome profit. I do not think that was intended and the rules need to be refined.

There is an income limit of £8,000, but that means different things to different people. This is one of the causes of our unemployment problem. Means testing takes into account the gross income of those employed but not what they get into their hands. If I am working and have an income of £11,000, after tax, PRSI, travel costs, etc, I get about £7,000 into my hand. However, the man on the dole may have a total income of £7,000 or £7,500 and, even though he has a few hundred pounds more than I in disposable income, he qualifies for many benefits and I do not. I do not get the medical card, and I pay a higher differential rent. This is one of the great anomalies. To eliminate poverty traps, the Government need to make a decision taking into account net pay, not gross pay; "net pay" means what is available to the person after tax, PRSI and reasonable travel costs associated with going to work, trade union contributions and pension contributions. These reasonable costs are readily identifiable.

I do not believe that, just because an idea was tried before and failed, it has failed for all time. However, we must learn from experience. I have spent more time on the issue of co-operative housing than on any other single issue in my 22 years in public life. The Ballyfermot housing co-operative collapsed. Many people had put money into it and only half of them were housed when it collapsed, but that half included all the committee and many people were left out to dry. Years of savings were lost. What happened to the Ballyfermot housing co-operative was due to inexperience and not to any malice or wrongdoing.

There is a need to help co-operatives by drawing up rules and providing legal and accounting advice. The principle of co-operatives is a good one. It means that people are getting together to solve their own problems and the State should be in there helping rather than continuing to induce dependence. In this case people are trying to provide the accommodation themselves and they deserve our help. Indeed, there may well be a need to make legal changes, for example, stamp duty, to facilitate developments in this area.

While I have mentioned sheltered housing I have not referred to hostel accommodation. Regrettably, as in the case of housing for the elderly, there is a growing need to provide hostel accommodation because of the number of single people who for various reasons find themselves without a home. The local authorities are not in a position to offer accommodation to single people in the full of their health. In most cases there are sad family circumstances, such as marital breakdown and so on.

In the provision of hostel accommodation we have a duty to ensure, in relation to the lay-out and design of these hostels, that we do not further alienate those who are compelled to use them. Having said that, hostel accommodation has been greatly improved in recent years and I wish to commend those bodies which provide hostel accommodation in the city but we have to be mindful of the fact that some of our hostels induce alienation. We therefore need a clearer policy in relation to the development of hostels.

I would like once again to refer to a practice that the local authorities engaged in up to about 15 years ago — the Minister did not refer to this aspect in his speech — and that is the practice of building houses for sale. I do not know of any local authority which now builds houses for sale. When I first became a member of Dublin Corporation they engaged in this practice whereby they would build a scheme and sell the houses to those who were in a position to buy with the assistance of a local authority loan or grant.

This form of endeavour could be used in resuscitating our inner cities. However the local authorities should not be confined to building what is described as social housing only. It is not sufficient to bring people back to the inner cities by providing large scale social housing schemes — indeed this would be inimical to one of the key objectives of the Bill. The local authorities, because of the special circumstances involved, should be allowed to build larger and more select houses in the inner cities for sale as we must have the proper social mix to remove the stigma and avoid ghettoisation.

The local authorities could fulfil a social role in bringing people back to the inner cities and by providing a proper social mix. I say this because initially the private sector may be apprehensive as they have no control in relation to the environment of the inner city whereas the local authorities do. The local authorities could draw up an overall plan which would make provision for the type of housing to be provided and other factors such as parks and open spaces in surrounding areas. I would therefore like the Minister to start building houses of a different size for sale, not just for people on the housing list, to provide a proper social mix in our inner cities.

In his speech the Minister said:

I am taking the opportunity to clarify in this section the fact that once a sale has taken place the purchaser assumes responsibility for the dwelling and no warranty as to its condition or habitability is given by the housing authority.

Since the 1988 tenant purchase scheme was introduced, once a tenant makes an application to purchase a house the local authority are precluded from carrying out repairs. I do not know if this has a statutory basis but this has been the practice in the Dublin Corporation area since 1988. In some cases tenants have been paying rent for four years and in reality this should be set off against the purchase price because they are not responsible for the delays and, in relation to maintenance works, they are regarded as tenant-purchasers.

Would the Minister clarify what is meant by the words "once a sale has taken place" and confirm that local authority tenants are entitled to have repairs carried out up to the day they sign the contract for the house or, alternatively, the rent that they have paid between the date the application was submitted and the date the contract is signed credited against the purchase price? I believe that the State is susceptible to a legal challenge which could cost it millions of pounds.

During the years there have been long delays in the local authorities completing housing sales with the result that people continued to pay high rents — sometimes this was higher than the purchase price — for up to two to three years, four years in this case, when in reality it should have been credited against the purchase price. They were purely administrative delays.

I would like to refer to the £5,000 grant scheme. The conventional wisdom is that while this scheme was of help in providing many houses it also had serious adverse social consequences and that it was right to abandon it. I think that was an overreaction and that the scheme should be reintroduced on a selective basis as it may well be the case in certain areas of towns, cities or counties that the local authority need to create vacancies. Such a scheme, if implemented on a selective basis, could be a very useful and cost effective instrument which might not have the adverse social consequences that it had in so many large local authority housing estates. I suggest that the Minister consider making this scheme available to be implemented on a selective basis in areas where there is a high demand for housing.

I welcome the provisions dealing with landlords and tenants but I should say that they are laughable having regard to the way in which the present law is being applied. The reality is that many landlords do not serve a notice to quit or avail of legal procedures; rather they use harassing techniques, in which they are well versed, to make life unbearable for tenants. These include changing locks, disconnecting the electricity and water supply, verbal abuse and so on. They make life impossible for tenants with the result that they leave in despair.

I welcome the well meaning provisions in relation to rent books and standards. Will the Minister say whether the rent book provisions in the Bill will be any more enforceable than the housing by-laws of Dublin Corporation, which are not enforced because the local authorities do not have staff? They must also turn a blind eye to housing by-laws because of the housing crisis. These multi-occupied dwellings meet such a pressing need that, in reality, the corporation do not have a leg to stand on as a public authority. Because of the pressing need, as I said earlier, we are asking the owners of these houses to take in unmarried mothers and we offer them £50 per week. I know a number of community welfare officers who try to help in many distressing cases. Landlords have been amazed by the procedures adopted. The provisions are well meaning but they are in the classical mode of Irish legislation, we enact it but we do not make adequate provision to enforce it.

Section 22 provides that the granting of assistance by the Minister or a housing authority in respect of a house shall not imply any warranty on the part of the Minister or the authority, as the case may be, in relation to the state of repair or condition of the house or its fitness for human habitation. It is like legalising prostitution, we are legalising poor housing standards. I will oppose that section because I want to ensure that there will not be a rent subsidy or assistance for low standard dwellings. There should be an onus on the local authorities to ensure that if they assist a person to acquire accommodation it must be of minimum standard. The housing by-laws should be part of the law and enforced, otherwise the whole thing is a joke.

The subject of housing has been dear to my heart for 22 years. I have more experience of the subject than most Members of this House. I could go on for hours about this, I am sorry for detaining the House because I know Deputy Kavanagh is anxious to get in——

It is also May Day.

This is a welcome opportunity for the House to discuss a very major issue for many people. However, it is not the sort of issue about which sermons will be delivered from the pulpit and there will not be headlines in the media; yet it is one which needs urgent attention in relation to many less well off people.

I listened to my old colleague in Government, Deputy Jim Mitchell, ranging far and wide over the shortcomings of this Bill and I will repeat quite a lot of what he said.

In his speech the Minister suggested that we should take an enlightened view of the problem but I can only talk about things as I find them and the Government's record over the last five years. People on the huge housing list are looking for a proposal in this Bill which would meet their needs in a relatively few short years. Deputy Jim Mitchell also referred to Fine Gael Governments and their performance in relation to housing. I must correct him in that regard because I do not remember a Fine Gael Government in office, apart from perhaps Cumann na nGael many years ago. I was in a Coalition Government with Fine Gael and some of my earlier colleagues were in coalition in 1948.

I remember great housing drives in the following years and many Labour Party Ministers solved housing problems, Tim Murphy in the forties and fifties and Jim Tully in the seventies. I also produced a house building programme, particularly in relation to local authority tenants, in the eighties which not only solved the housing crisis but left us in a position in which if there had been a house building programme for potential local authority tenants over the last five years, we would not be in the present crisis. Nevertheless, we got full co-operation from our colleagues in Government to allow us to pursue those programmes and I give them credit for that.

The Housing Bill which we are debating, despite its length and complexity, is relatively minor legislation. Essentially, it seeks to give legislative underpinning to the plan for social housing published more than one year ago. However, the plan is already a fiasco. The Minister said in his speech:

I want to make it clear that the plan is intended to supplement, not to supplant, the traditional local authority house building programme. Indeed, there is a commitment in the plan and in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress to maintain the local authority programme at an appropriate level, having due regard to resources and to the impact of the alternative measures.

Sadly, he went on to say that the plan signals for the future a reduction in the historical degree of dependence on local authority house building. I presume the Minister was referring to the mid-seventies and eighties because if there is any reduction in the number of local authority houses which have been built over the last five years none will be built.

A great deal of the Bill is taken up with providing a legislative and administrative framework for the concept of shared ownership which was introduced in the plan for social housing. It is already clear, from experience, that every local authority have found that shared ownership has proved to be so cumbersome and unworkable that it has attracted almost no interest.

The Minister alluded to an upsurge in interest in the last three months and towards the end of last year. I assure him that the only reason for that is the fact that normal local authority house building has been so lamentably low that every avenue to provide houses is being explored. Many people come to local authority housing offices to find out what shared ownership means. A document produced by the Department of the Environment and available in most local authority offices, Housing Choice — New Options under the Plan for Social Housing, tries to explain the workings of the shared ownership scheme. However, I note from the Bill, and the Minister's speech, that since the release of that document — it was received in the Dáil Library on 2 October 1991 — an important change has been made. Under the heading, “What will Shared Ownership cost?”, the document states that in the first place a deposit of £1,000 must be paid to the local authority and that that deposit and the mortgage will go towards the purchase of a minimum 50 per cent share in the house. The position has been eased today in that the scheme provides for the opportunity to purchase between 25 per cent and 75 per cent. That provision was amended because of the lack of interest in the shared ownership scheme or perhaps because the example set out in the document was not very helpful.

The document details arrangements applicable to the purchase of a house costing £31,000 and breaks down monthly outgoings in the first year in the instance of a 50 per cent share being purchased from the start. The Dáil Library has the 1991 annual housing statistics, another publication produced by the Department of the Environment. An examination of the cost of houses shows that it would prove very difficult, particularly in Dublin, to buy a house for £31,000. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is nearly impossible to buy a new house in Dublin for £31,000. The statistic that suggests that 4.5 per cent of all houses built in Dublin could be purchased for about £30,000 is difficult to accept.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and Deputy Mitchell, have more knowledge of the cost of houses in Dublin than myself but, from my reading of newspaper advertisements for new houses, I would say that there are precious few houses in the city available for £30,000 or thereabouts. The cost of houses in my constituency would be much the same, if not greater. It would be very difficult to find a house in my area for that price. An auctioneers' term is often used when referring to low cost private houses, they are called "starter houses". Houses falling into that category are fairly basic and pretty small, with a floor space of perhaps even less than 800 feet square. Perhaps some houses in that category would come within the £30,000 range. If one were able to purchase a house for £31,000 it would certainly be at the lowest end of the market. On that issue alone, I argue that the information given to local authorities needs to be updated. The information in the document on mortgage repayments was based on low cost houses. The example should have been based on a house costing about £40,000. On such a cost the mortgage repayment due, at 10.75 per cent, would be £215 per month and rent payments for the first year would come to £100 per month, bringing the monthly outgoings for a family buying a house under the shared ownership scheme to a minimum of £315. There should be an immediate review of the example given.

I have been advised by the housing section of Wicklow County Council that of those who come to the council to have the shared ownership proposition explained to them those who can understand the workings of it persist for a while but many say that the scheme would not apply to them. From the example given, a prospective purchaser's income must be less than £12,000 and, as Deputy Mitchell said, it is to be assumed that that refers to gross income. Therefore, there is no point in suggesting that many of those people would be paying tax at the standard rate, if they have a young family, and would be able to avail of a £30 or more tax deduction in their annual tax bill. The example given is very optimistic. The effect will be almost total rejection of people looking for any way out of the housing crisis.

The Bill aims to provide a legislative and administrative framework for the concept of shared ownership. It is clear from the experiences of other local authorities in Ireland that shared ownership has proved cumbersome and unworkable and attracted almost no interest. Six months after the concept was introduced to local authorities not one transaction involving shared ownership with a local authority has been completed. One has to seriously question the concept of shared ownership. The scheme is already a white elephant.

The remainder of the Bill consists largely of enabling provisions that will modernise or streamline local authority housing arrangements. Included are some welcome measures aimed at improving the position of tenants in the private rental sector. What is missing is a philosophical commitment by the Government to seriously address a housing crisis that has festered since 1987. To pass the Bill without dealing in detail with the housing crisis would be akin to a consultant surgeon putting sticking plaster over injuries that required major surgery.

In the past few years we have become used to Government Ministers denying the existence of crises — in 1989 the former Taoiseach said that there was no health crisis; then Minister O'Malley said that there was no jobs crisis and Minister Flynn, and his successors, said there was no housing crisis. Like the brass monkeys of Irish politics, they see no crisis, they hear no crisis, and they speak of no crisis. There is a crisis. The Government's response is understandable only as long as we realise that the housing crisis has been generated by the deliberate choice of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Coalition Government. The facts speak for themselves and we can all see clearly that there will be no great, just society under this mean and uncaring Government.

During the past four years the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Coalition have systematically cut back council house building to an all-time low. At precisely the same time, private house prices have rocketed. Based on recent figures, it now takes an annual income of £22,000 to be able to afford an average house in Ireland and an income of £25,200 to afford an average house in Dublin. That is the affordability trap. The gap between council house building and affordable private houses has never been wider in the recent history of the State. On average, a mere 1,000 council houses a year are being built at a time when the official waiting list stands at between 20,000 and 30,000 families. Annual council house building under the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Coalition is only one fifth of the average annual figure for the last 25 years. It is only one seventh of the 7,000 new council houses provided by Labour in Government in 1984. In the last three years average house prices rose from £40,000 in 1987 to £63,600 by the end of 1990 in Dublin city and county, and from £37,900 in 1987 to £51,600 at the end of 1990 in Ireland as a whole.

Fianna Fáil have always deprived those in greatest need of their chance of owning or renting a decent house and have always cut back on council house building, depriving tens of thousands of construction workers of jobs and tens of thousands of families of houses. Now in partnership with the Progressive Democrats the attack on those in need had reached its most cynical. Now council housebuilding has come to a virtual standstill in all our major cities. In Dublin, with over 4,000 families on the waiting list, the corporation in 1989 built six houses, in 1990, 35 houses and last year's figures showed that the gap is widening all the time. In Dublin county, with nearly 1,000 families on the waiting list, only 33 houses were built in 1989 with a further 45 in 1990. The Fianna Fáil control led council added to the land rezoning scandal by failing to allow time to decide where to build houses in 1991. Half way through that year there was still no official house building programme and not one penny of the miserable 1991 budget was spent. I would remind the House that in 1984, Labour, in Government built 684 houses in Dublin city and 1,717 houses in County Dublin. In Cork, with over 1,000 on the waiting list, corporation housing was cut back from 235 in 1984 to an incredible single house in 1989, with only 14 houses being built in 1990 and about the same last year. In Limerick with over 250 people on the waiting list, in 1989 only five houses were built, and in 1990 29 were built. This compares with the construction of 202 houses in the city in 1986. In Galway a total of 126 houses were built in 1986, only two in 1988 and 20 in 1989. There were over 300 families on the waiting list in 1989. In Waterford with over 400 on the waiting list in 1989 not a single house was built in that year and only 16 houses were built in 1990. In our five major cities there were over 6,000 families in need of housing. The most recent assessment of housing needs has shown that figure to have increased by nearly 50 per cent. The response from the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Coalition was to cut house building to an insultingly low 35 houses in 1989, and to restrict it to 94 in 1990 in those five major cities. In 1991 not only was a dent not made in the need but it increased by one third. Labour in Government built in the same five cities 1,155 houses in 1984, 1,007 local authority houses in 1985 and 1,065 local authority houses in 1986. This was housing led urban renewal at its best, providing houses for families in need, giving jobs to building workers and putting the heart back into our main urban centres.

With nearly 7,000 council houses without a bathroom or an indoor toilet, our local authorities are among the worst landlords in the country. Last year Labour identified these bad landlords and targeted the top ten in that context for attention of the general public. Dublin Corporation, Cork Corporation, and Dún Laoghaire Borough Corporation headed the national table as the three worst landlords. At urban council level Tralee, Bray an Dungarvan are the top three offenders. I was sorry to see a town in my county head that list but that council was dominated by members from the Fianna Fáil Party. That structure changed somewhat in the last local election so I hope to see changes in the figures I have just read out.

In Dublin city it is impossible to establish how many houses are without indoor toilets because the corporation will not publish figures. The reason cannot be that there are no houses without bathrooms. Could it be that there are just too many houses without these basic facilities for the corporation to admit the number? From the figures available our No. 1 bad landlord is Dún Laoghaire Corporation with one rented house in every four being without a bathroom or indoor toilet. All these local authorities are renting houses which are statutorily unfit for human habitation. They are often rented to elderly tenants. Their existence in 1992 is a national scandal. The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Coalition Government provided a totally inadequate £2 million to meet this urgent provision last year and the same this year. With this mean rate of funding it will take over 30 years to provide this basic sanitary facility. We cannot ask any council tenant, especially an elderly tenant, to wait until the year 2,020 to get a simple bathroom or indoor toilet. Providing such basic facilities is a housing priority for the Labour Party. In the past we demanded an all party agreement to meet this case in a five to ten year crash programme. I am repeating that demand. I am issuing a challenge and an invitation to all political parties on this issue. It is unacceptable to the point of being uncivilised that one of the 30 richest countries in the world is prepared to tolerate nearly 7,000 houses being without the basic amenities. It is a matter of political will to allocate the resources and to end this scandal.

The main Fianna Fáil contribution to council houses was to build low cost houses favoured by previous Fianna Fáil Ministers. I hope the new Minister has put that idea aside. In the seventies during the time of Deputy Neil Blaney and Deputy Molloy my constituents were allocated more than their fair share of those low-cost-type houses. At that time we had such an acute housing problem in the country that, when we sought allocation to provide normal local authority-type housing, built with bricks and mortar, we were informed the only type that could be provided was low-cost, and that was one of our biggest housing disasters of the past. Today many thousands of tenants and tenant/purchasers are being asked to pay half the cost of repairing those houses. In the mid-eighties the relevant cost in Greystones was in the region of £10,000 for the repair of each of those houses which had been built originally for around £4,000 in 1970. That mistake was repeated in Bray, in the "white city" there, where refurbishment schemes continue to date at huge cost to the Exchequer. On coming into power, the then Minister, former Deputy Jim Tully, in 1973 ceased the building of such houses. It then became my responsibility to carry out the very extensive repairs needed in the mid-eighties.

It can clearly be seen that low-cost housing is a very expensive mistake. It would be my hope we have seen the end of it. Thousands of families were sold houses with basic structural faults, having bought them in good faith with their hard-earned money, believing them to be structurally sound, and they have since proved to be structurally defective. For example, typical faults range from defective chimneys, defective structural panels, defective waterproof joints to faulty roofs. When in Government at that time the Labour Party put a stop to their construction and introduced some of the highest quality local authority houses ever built here between 1982 and 1987. In addition we have pressed and continue to press for a proper structural guarantee for all local authority houses purchased.

Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are right about one thing, that is that there is no crisis at the top of the housing market; their housing policy has seen to that. For those with money to pay there is an ever-increasing supply of very expensive houses, with luxury houses to meet every demand, satisfy every taste and cater for every indulgence. But, outside the luxury bracket, there is the real world in which most of our people live where there is an acute, rapidly growing housing crisis. Certainly it represents a crisis for young people who simply cannot afford a home. It is also a crisis for the elderly living alone in unsuitable, often totally unfit accommodation. It is a crisis affecting tens of thousands of families dependent on local authorities for housing. Such people now face an acute shortage of housing and the endless despair of ever-increasing housing waiting lists. Indeed it can rightly be described as a crisis of homelessness and bad housing.

I fear the provisions of this Bill will not address that crisis, having been drafted by a Government committed to doing everything on the cheap, a Government who do not appear to recognise the human issues involved in this housing crisis or that many of our citizens require basic shelter, a right it would appear these citizens cannot enjoy under this Government. Until we begin to recognise there is much more to housing than mere administration and/or bureaucratic responses we will not be seen to be taking the issue very seriously. For example, the deterioration in the overall housing stock since 1987 is one of the worst reflections on this Government. Of course, one could list very many other issues that reflect no great credit on this Government.

The Bill before the House contains a range of minor provisions to which, by and large, I have no objection. However, I am afraid the philosophy underlying its provisions is that of turning a blind eye. No matter how the Government may wish to present it the truth is the Bill will do little or nothing to help the thousands of families living in misery, the Government having turned a blind eye to their basic needs and rights.

There are many provisions I welcome and for which members of my party had been calling. I was interested to hear some of the Minister's introductory remarks. For example, he informed us there would be no new tenant/purchase scheme. Fianna Fáil have had a very strange approach to such schemes when, on the one hand, there was the great give away in 1988 when houses were sold at half their real value, no more having been built but rather the current housing stock having been sold off. Now the Minister admits that that was not a very wise thing to do and informs us he does not intend to have another such tenant/purchase scheme. For example, he had this to say:

While I have no immediate plans to introduce a new tenant purchase scheme, I will be keeping the matter under review.

Local authority tenants who have had to maintain their houses, who may have lost the opportunity of availing of tenant purchase schemes or who may have bought new homes, have been inquiring of members of local authorities and public representatives when it is proposed to introduce a new tenant purchase scheme, a tradition continued over many years, indeed which was a cost-cutting scheme for Governments in that they did not have to maintain houses bought under the provisions of such schemes. I am disappointed the Minister has informed us there will be no such scheme in the immediate future. When replying I hope he will inform the House when he intends reintroducing such a scheme.

Like Deputy Jim Mitchell I am concerned that so little attention has been devoted to the problem of housing travellers. Some years ago, when there was a contribution to local authority houses, houses for travellers were built with the help of a 100 per cent subsidy and were not normally included in any local authority housing lists. Since the Department have been providing 100 per cent finance for local authority housebuilding, the requirements of travellers have fallen into the same category. This means they now figure in the demands for the very few such houses built and must compete with, say, newlyweds, single parent families and others on the relevant housing lists. This means that, whenever five or six such local authority houses are built and the relevant authority endeavour to allocate one to a traveller in their area, inevitably there will be strong reaction against that family and that decision, it being felt that they are taking a house away from the traditional applicant. That is rather unfortunate. I hope the Minister can assure us that all local authorities will, as a priority, provide a statutory number of houses for travellers in their respective areas where the need is shown to exist. Such action would take pressure off members and officials of local authorities who know the statutory obligation to provide housing for travellers. Otherwise, whenever, say, six local authority houses are being allocated in a rural area, when there may well be 75 applicants — as happened in the case of one village in my constitutency — and the local authority suggest that one be allocated to a member of the travelling community, life will not be made easy for that travelling family if they are successful. I hope such competitive elements will be eliminated from the provision of housing for travellers.

While I welcome the provisions of section 10 dealing with the travelling community, suggesting that halts for travellers will be sited in every local authority area and implying that it will be easy to remove a caravan from, say, the side of a road and place it in a travellers' halting site, this will not be the case. This section will not have the beneficial effect the Minister wishes to achieve because many communities are opposed to the building of halting sites in their areas.

When I was a member of Wicklow County Council I endeavoured to establish four halting sites in my constituency. Indeed arguments are still going on over the location of a halting site in Bray. It is proposed to build a halting site outside Wicklow town. There was some resistance to this proposal and the public representatives from the area had to convince the county manager of the need for such facility. It seems that this halting site will be built and that the travellers from the Bray area will be transferred to it. However, this will not solve the problem. We need to build travellers' halting sites in various areas so that the problem can be shared by the various local authorities and not confined to one. People can get very hostile to travellers if they think they are the only ones with a halting site in their area. We have a social conscience about this issue but we cannot expect one area to carry the social conscience for an entire county. I ask the Minister to take on board my suggestion to put some pressure on local authorities to provide these halting sites.

The Bill sets out the way in which local authorities will deal with temporary dwellings, caravans etc. which are placed near a halting site. In such cases the owner can be asked to remove his caravan. Section 66 of the Roads Bill — I presume this section contains such drastic provisions in the interest of safety — provides that if caravans are parked on national primary roads which are the responsibility of the new Roads Authority they can be taken away, sold off in some circumstances, and costs imposed on the owners. This Bill simply refers to "a place" while the Roads Bill refers to national primary and national secondary roads. I do not want to go into the provisions of the Roads Bill in detail but there will be some measure of conflict for local authorities in implementing the provisions of both Bills.

A few months ago an unofficial halting site was set up on the Newtownmountkennedy bypass — caravans and vans were parked along the side of the road. I made inquiries of the Garda Síochána about relocating these caravans because I was concerned that young children were playing near a very fast motorway. I was told by the Garda that they would move the caravans if I told them where they should move them to. In any event the problem was solved when the travellers moved to the Glen of the Downs. There has been some controversy about this because the travellers are living on a side road which is adjacent to the N11. This problem cannot be solved by the provisions made in the Roads Bill. The Minister will have to include a provision in this Bill which will ensure that members of the travelling community who do not have a home and are unlikely to get one will not have to continually move from place to place.

Section 23 deals with the definition of a housing authority and the transfer of functions. Those of us who live in urban areas know that because of changes in various Ministries and pressure within the Government, urban councils will be abolished by this Government. They have refused to hold local elections and it seems as if some members of urban councils will hold the record as the longest serving members of local authorities. I am sure they do not mind this but in a democracy urban council elections have to be held so as to enable the electorate to pass judgment on their public representatives. Like me, the Minister and the Acting Chairman believe in democracy and realise that we have to face the public at some stage. The only reason I can see for not holding these elections is that the functions of urban councils are being taken away from them under various pieces of legislation.

Section 23 will further slowly erode their functions. Consideration was given by the Government to the reorganisation of local authorities but no agreement could be reached. This became a very hot potato during last year's local elections. One way of doing away with urban councils is to do away with the functions which they carry out, a policy which is being pursued by the Government. The Bill provides that a number of the statutory functions carried out by urban councils at present may be carried out by county councils in future. Some urban councils have responsibility for areas which are quite large, for example, Arklow which has a population of approximately 9,000. Greystones, one of the largest towns in my constituency, has only a town commissioners, which was set up by me — they had nothing before then. People in these areas have a great interest in local affairs. I hope the Minister will give us his views about the continued existence or otherwise of urban councils sooner rather than later. The Labour Party are totally in favour of the retention of urban councils. We need to know the position in regard to these bodies, what is to happen to them in the future. Their functions, authority and power have been whittled away over the years under various Bills.

The Labour Party totally support the sections dealing with minimum notice to quite, rent books and standards for rented houses. These provisions will ensure that landlords meet their responsibilities to their tenants. I have no difficulty with these provisions. Some of my colleagues in Dún Laoghaire Corporation have been seeking improvements in this area for some time. The Minister proposes to remove from landlords power to use the distress clause. I welcome that. The Minister said in his speech that he sees no need for such a power, that it is a practice which has far outlived its usefulness. In very exceptional circumstances it has been used in the recent past to remove from houses and sell furniture, televisions and so on. Perhaps the Minister would consider, in the case of commercial rates, removing that power from rate collectors also. If it is wrong in one area it is wrong in another. If I may digress I would refer to a job I carried out for several years and whereby if people did not pay what they owed a notice was pinned on the door of their commercial premises, the bailiff arrived and goods were taken from the premises and sold at an auction for a very small price. That practice was quite wrong——

It did not affect the Deputy's popularity.

No, because in the 12 years I worked in the job in question I never followed that procedure. I preferred on occasion to get a judgment mortgage and to register that in court — I only got two of those in 12 years. I believe I did that job particularly well. I do not know whether people would agree that I am doing as good a job in my present position but they have left me here for a long time. The Minister should consider removing that power from all areas in which it operates at local authority level.

We will be debating this Bill at length on Committee Stage. As an addition to housing legislation, it is reasonably welcome. I repeat what I said in very trenchant terms, that this Bill in no way meets the housing crisis that exists. Perhaps in replying the Minister will admit that this is the most serious housing crisis the country has ever faced. He should tell us why he cannot adequately tackle the problem, at least over a period of years. Let us not get the impression that this Bill will meet the chronic needs of young people and others who, with the assistance of local authorities, try to house themselves. As spokesperson on the environment for my party I will raise this matter in the House at every opportunity. We have used our Private Members' time to highlight this problem in the recent past. I hope the Minister will advert to my comments on the housing crisis. As he said in his speech, the traditional method of building local authority houses is not the answer. I hope that he will give some hope to the tens of thousands of people who seek housing at present.

I welcome the opportunity that at long last the presentation of the Housing Bill gives us to debate what is now an extremely serious housing crisis. I would like to take up the last point made by Deputy Kavanagh in that regard. One omission from our discussions on housing up to now has been an acknowledgment from Government that there is a housing crisis. It seems that there is a number of dimensions to that crisis. The first, which has been referred to already, is the enormous number of people on housing waiting lists in various local authorities — up to 30,000 nationally. The fact that the number is so high is bad enough but it is even worse that people on those housing lists can entertain little or no hope of ever being allocated a house, certainly in the foreseeable future.

I am sure that many Members of this House can quote example after example of cases of young families living in over-crowded conditions with in-laws or relatives, young families living in appalling conditions in private rented accommodation, sometimes paying very high rent for very poor accommodation. These people are on local authority housing waiting lists but have no hope of ever getting a house. The same applies to people living in substandard or inadequate accommodation allocated to them by local authorities, people living in unsuitable flats and in accommodation without basic facilities. These people have been waiting for years for a transfer to a place they can genuinely call a home of their own.

This is in many ways a hidden crisis. The problem of unemployment is to be readily seen at employment exchanges and one is regularly informed about it with the release, on a monthly basis, of the number of people unemployed. There are many social problems that are evident but the housing problem is a hidden problem, a problem that is not evident unless you experience it or unless you are a member of a family who experiences it. It is a problem that is hidden behind the four walls of houses. Young couples, in some cases with one or two children, live in appallingly over-crowded conditions, with bunk beds, clothes stacked high against walls and so on. This is a problem that cannot be seen from the roadside and the figures are not regularly published but it is a growing problem and one that leads to increased frustration for those concerned. It is a problem of explosive proportions which should be addressed urgently by the Government. People can tolerate those kinds of living conditions only for so long. There are enormous implications for the families concerned. I know of young families who have separated because they have not been able to cope with the stress of living in these over-crowded conditions. I know of families where, for example, one generation has fallen out with another because of the stress imposed on them due to the over-crowded conditions in which they have to live. The most awful aspect is that people are now losing hope.

Up to a few years ago, even after the Fianna Fáil Government began to discontinue local authority house construction in 1987, there was some prospect of people being housed, but there is now little or no prospect of that. For example, in Dublin County Council, of which I am a member, there are 700 applicants on the south county housing list but nobody is housed unless they have been homeless for the past 12 months. The fact that a person might be at the top of the priority list means nothing anymore. People who would have been housed four or five years ago with half the number of points now find they have no prospect of being housed. A similar situation obtains in other local authorities. That problem arises directly because the Government have been cutting back on the expenditure on local authority housing for the past five years. It is compounded by the price of housing in the private sector.

In the area I represent it is out of the question for a young family on low income to contemplate paying £50,000 or £55,000 for a new house which is the cost of the average semi-detached house in that area. What is happening is that people are driven into private rented accommodation and increasingly they are being exploited. The Government are not saving money by ignoring the housing crisis because the cost of accommodating people in private rented accommodation is subsidised through the rent allowance schemes of the health boards.

The fourth element of the housing crisis concerns the condition of houses. Deputy Kavanagh spoke about the bad landlord syndrome in a number of local authority areas — indeed in the area of one of the local authorities of which I am a member — and of appalling 19th century houses which were not modernised, do not have bathrooms and, in some cases, indoor toilets. That is a dreadful condemnation of the Government's position on housing. The housing crisis has been ignored since 1987 when the Fianna Fáil Government took office.

The Minister, like some of his predecessors, has a habit of giving the impression that in some way the eighties were spendthrift years in relation to housing. It is interesting to compare the allocations in the eighties with those of the nineties. Let us compare the allocations to local authorities in 1982 with those of 1992 without any reference to inflation or the increased cost of housing in those years. For example, the housing construction allocation to Carlow County Council in 1992 is £436,000; the corresponding figure for 1982 was four times that figure, £1.325 million. The allocation to Dublin County Council — a local authority with 2,000 applicants on the housing list — for 1992 is less than £2 million; in 1982 it was more than eight times that figure, £19.8 million. The allocation to Dublin Corporation in 1992 is £5.34 million; in 1982 it was 12 times that figure, £66 million. The allocation to Tipperary North Riding in 1992 is £626,000; in 1982 it was £1.35 million.

Admittedly, in terms of proportions, they have done marginally better, for some strange reason, than some other local authorities. Nevertheless, in money terms, they are receiving half the 1982 allocation. If one takes into account the level of inflation and the increase in house prices there is no relationship. The allocation for local authority housing in 1992 is now a minuscule proportion of what it was ten years ago. That is the reason we now have 30,000 people on local authority waiting lists, an enormous housing crisis, and why so many young people are frustrated as they wonder whether they will ever have a house or a flat they can call their own. This should not be new to Ministers for the Environment because it has been brought to their attention repeatedly over the past number of years.

The first contribution I made in this House, following the 1989 General Election, was on the debate on the Estimate for the Department of the Environment which took place a few days after the formation of the Government. On that occasion I stated it was my belief there was a housing crisis. On many occasions in Adjournment debates, at Question Time and during budget debates I raised the housing crisis. I have not been alone on that as Deputy after Deputy has drawn the attention of the Government to this problem. Yet, over the years successive Ministers have simply ignored the problem.

Last year in the run-up to the local elections we had the famous announcement of the plan for social housing. I support many aspects of the plan which are good and exciting. It is a good idea to adopt different approaches to tackling the housing problem. The Government should recognise that the vast majority of people, sooner or later, end up owning their own home or, at least, attempting to own it through some mortgage or loan scheme. Therefore, the State should, as early as possible, assist people to buy their own homes. The plan for social housing was an inadequate response to the housing crisis because it ignored one very important element — the need to commit resources to tackling the housing crisis. The most important element missing in the plan for social housing, and which is missing in the Bill which seeks to give legislative effect to the plan, is the provision of resources.

What the Government are attempting to do in the plan for social housing, and by implication in this Bill, is to inject new thinking in relation to housing. I have no problem with such new thinking except that that contained in the plan and in the Bill suggest, "let somebody else solve the problem". The plan for social housing and the Bill is an attempt by the Government to absolve themselves from responsibility for housing. What the plan and this Bill are beginning to put into legislative effect is a withdrawal by Government from housing. That is what is happening in every area.

The Government are not providing the resources to provide housing in the first place. Many of the fine ideas in the Plan for Social Housing— I propose to deal with some of them individually later — are not backed up by resources, both financial and staff, which would enable them to be implemented. Some of the ideas, though welcome in themselves, for example the management of local authority housing estates, are the beginning of the State's withdrawal from the provision of housing.

If there is a case to be made for the State's withdrawal from the provision of housing the Minister should come in and make a case for it. What appears to be behind Government policy is that the Government will have as little as possible to do with the provision of housing. Instead of the Minister coming in here and trying to convince us of the Government's battery of ideas and policies on housing — as his predecessor attempted to convince the public by the publication of the Plan for Social Housing— he should say that the Government have decided to pull out from the provision of houses because in practice that is what is happening. We should then have a debate on the advisability of this and its social implications for the many families who are on the housing waiting list.

It is regrettable that it has taken over 12 months for the legislation to implement the policy document the Plan for Social Housing to surface in this House. This is indicative of the Government's lack of urgency.

The headline in every newspaper when the Plan for Social Housing was announced was that this policy would generate 5,000 additional housing units every year. That was the objective set out in that Department but when the Minister's predecessor was challenged in this House he acknowledged that the target was probably unachievable in the first year and that the realistic target might well be of the order of 700, a figure I suggested at the time. But we were told that when the plan would be fully operational the target of 5,000 would be met. It is interesting to compare the achievements set out in the Minister's speech with the target number. We are told, for example, that 70 units have been approved under the shared ownership scheme; that work has been completed on a number of units where improvement works were carried out in lieu of the provision of a new house, but the number has not been specified so we can take it that this means that a handful of projects were completed; 550 voluntary housing units have been built but we have to take account of the number of voluntary housing units that would have been completed if there was no Plan for Social Housing. Three projects comprising 27 dwellings are in progress and they will be eligible for the rent subsidy. In all of the schemes, with the exception of the voluntary housing sector, which was a three digit figure prior to the plan, the number is in two digits. A year after the publication of the Plan for Social Housing the net number of housing units generated by the plan is at best a couple of hundred — so much for the thousands of housing units we were promised.

The flagship project in the Plan for Social Housing, to which this Bill gives legislative effect, is the shared ownership scheme. As I said, I think it is good that people are given the opportunity to purchase their own homes as soon as possible but there are two problems with the scheme which have not been adequately addressed. Let us say that a couple sign on to purchase a 50 per cent share in the dwelling and they take out a mortgage over 25 years for their half share. However at the end of the period of the loan, they still have to buy the remaining 50 per cent but the problem is that they will have to pay the then market price. The market price in 20 or 25 years time may well be three or four times the present cost. If a couple buy a house under the shared ownership scheme in 1992, they must take out a loan for half the cost of the house, and you will not find many houses in my constituency for £40,000, but in addition to repaying a loan of £20,000 they have to pay rent for the remaining part of the house. However when they come to buy out the remaining 50 per cent of the house, the market value of it may be £60,000 and one ends up having to pay more for the remaining 50 per cent than the house cost originally. That is not a very attractive proposition from a financial point of view. I have come across many couples who explored the idea of availing of a shared ownership scheme but they have been put off the idea by the potential huge cost of buying out the remaining 50 per cent in the future. This has the effect of dissuading many applicants from proceeding with the idea. Notwithstanding that, there is a fair amount of public interest in the scheme particularly among those on the housing waiting list. I disagree to some extent with some of my colleagues who suggest that there is not general interest in the scheme. It may well be, however, that this interest is fuelled by the fact that those concerned have no hope of being housed in any other way and so might as well explore the idea of shared ownership.

The shared ownership scheme is dying on its feet. When it was announced in the Plan for Social Housing it received a certain amount of public attention and there was initial interest in it. However, when people wished to explore the scheme they found that the local authorities had not received clearance from the Department as the legislation was not in place. Indeed those working in the local authorities were confused about the legal position in regard to the scheme. For the first seven or eight months of the life of the shared ownership scheme, local authorities were not even in a position to issue application forms to people raising questions about it.

The second problem with it is carrying it out. In practice, if somebody is provisionally approved under the shared ownership scheme, puts a bid in on a house and goes back to the local authority to put down a deposit, from there on the local authority act as purchaser of the house. Most people purchasing a house move rapidly because if they do not, the house may be bought by somebody putting in a higher bid and the person selling the house may have certain time limits because he wants to move to another house. However, local authorities are moving at a snail's pace.

As recently as today I came across somebody who has a house on the market and is moving into another house; he has to conclude the sale of his house to be able to move into the other house and was advised by his auctioneer not to, under any circumstances, entertain the idea of selling his house to somebody who is applying to buy it under the shared ownership scheme because he would never get the house sold.

In the last few weeks an applicant, one of the first people to express an interest in the shared ownership scheme, went to the local authority and was first delayed because the local authority did not have the forms, then got an interview and was given provisional approval and went out to look for a house. This was the second time round for this applicant who had gone to look for a house before getting provisional approval and the deal fell through because the applicant did not have that provisional approval. The second time round this applicant found a house, agreed the price with the seller and, on 20 February, went back to the county council to lodge a deposit. It took the county council six weeks to arrange an inspection of the house. I inquired why it should have taken six weeks to arrange an inspection and was told that the county council are short of the staff required to do the work. The inspection having been carried out, I am told that it is only in the last week that clearance was given to the law department of the county council to proceed with the purchase of the house. Here we are, two and a half months after the applicant placed a deposit with the county council to purchase a house under the shared ownership scheme, and it is only now passed to the law department of the county council to go ahead with the purchase of the house.

That is not uncommon. I know of another local authority where people began making inquiries after this scheme was announced and they still have not had even the preliminary interview for the granting of provisional approval. I know of another local authority where no interviews of applicants have yet taken place in regard to the shared ownership scheme.

The flagship of the Government policy on social housing, the main element in the Bill before us, the shared ownership scheme, is dying a death because it is simply not being put into practice. I made inquiries why this should be. Could it be that local authorities are unwilling to operate the shared ownership scheme? I do not think that is the case. I think local authorities and their housing departments recognise that the shared ownership scheme will be a major element in the Government's approach to resolving the housing problem. However, the problem is that the local authorities simply do not have the staff or the resources to enable them to go ahead with this work.

The shared ownership scheme is a very new idea but, if the Minister wants local authorities to put the shared ownership scheme into practice, he will have to provide the staff to do the purchasing. If he wants to turn local authority housing departments into mini-estate agents, which is basically what this scheme will do, he will have to give them the staff and the resources to proceed with the work.

Dublin County Council have three-quarters of a member of staff in terms of total staff time to do the inspections required under the scheme throughout the entire of County Dublin. It simply cannot be done. What is happening now is that the shared ownership scheme is getting a bad name with people who might otherwise be interested in it because they feel, and indeed their friends and colleagues tell them, that there is no point, that they could be waiting for months and that nothing happens. They will have a couple of bad experiences house hunting with no results and eventually they will give up. This scheme is getting a bad name in the housing market among auctioneers who are beginning to advise their clients to steer away from it and it is getting a bad name among people who are putting houses on the market. It is dying a death, and it will die unless sufficient resources are provided to enable it to be operated in practice.

The Minister emphasised promoting owner occupation. He spoke about his objective of easing the path to home ownership for people of modest means. It is extraordinary that, having committed himself to that policy objective, he does not then take the opportunity to introduce a new tenant purchase scheme but flatly rejects such an idea. The last tenant purchase scheme in 1988 has been described as the sale of the century. I am not sure that it was as great a bargain as it was made out to be because previous schemes took into account the rent people had paid and there was provision for carrying out essential works to the structure of a house if it was felt that it was not up to standard. This provision did not exist under the 1988 scheme.

Four years on, many local authority tenants would like to purchase the house in which they are living but they cannot do so because there is no sales scheme in operation. Many of the relatively small number of people who have been allocated houses in the intervening period, and some of those who missed out on the 1988 scheme, would now like to buy their homes. I am aware of cases where the Department of the Environment adopted an extremely rigid approach and applications which had not been submitted by 31 December 1988 were not considered, regardless of circumstances.

I know of one family who, because of a bereavement, did not get their application in on time and as a result their application was not considered. Even though the local authority were sympathetic, the family were told the Department had made it very clear that any application received after 31 December 1988 would not be considered. I know of another person, who is illiterate and did not understand the forms that were sent out, and by the time they understood what the forms said, they had missed the deadline. Many of those tenants who missed the deadline by a few days would now like to purchase their own homes.

There are other people whose circumstances have changed in the meantime — in 1988 they may have been unemployed or on low incomes. Perhaps they should have taken the precaution of submitting an application but they probably felt they should not waste the time of local authority officials and did not submit an application — but now they would like to buy their own homes. I am aware of other cases there people are paying more in rent than they would if they were purchasing their houses and, for obvious reasons, they would like to buy their own homes.

Like other Deputies, I have asked the Minister on several occasions to introduce a new tenant purchase scheme but his standard answer is that he has to wait until the remaining applications which were submitted under the 1988 scheme are processed before he can consider introducing a new scheme. As I understand it, the only applications outstanding under the 1988 scheme are those which were shelved because the applicants were not in a position to buy or did not want to proceed. I think that is an excuse, and the real reason the Government are not introducting a new sales scheme is that they are hoping that local authority tenants who might avail of an opportunity to purchase their houses under a sales scheme will surrender their dwellings under the mortgage subsidy scheme which will form part of the plan for social housing; they wish to force out of tenancy tenants who might otherwise be willing to purchase their homes.

I do not think it is necessary to have separate sales schemes — this matter ought to be looked at in greater detail on Committee Stage — or that local authority dwellings should only be sold under a scheme where tenants can apply within a fixed period of time when the Minister announces a scheme following which the shutters will come down for perhaps another four to five years. I fail to understand the reason there is no permanent tenant purchase scheme given that we now have 20 years experience of sales schemes. It should be possible to introduce an ongoing tenant purchase scheme so that if tenants circumstances change, they can apply to the local authority to purchase their dwelling and have their application processed. This would be preferable to the stop-start approach to the sale of local authority houses. I intend to return to this matter on Committee Stage.

The very good provision in the Bill that will allow tenants and local people to become involved in the maintenance and management of local authority housing estates is welcome and long overdue. In many local authority estates the residents became alienated from the local authority of which they are tenants when it came to the question of the maintenance of houses, landlord-tenant relationship, and rents. It is a good idea, therefore, to establish a formal mechanism to provide for the involvement of local authority tenants in the maintenance of their estates. As I am not clear how this will work in practice, perhaps the Minister will explore it further on Committee Stage.

In most local authority estates at this stage there is a mix of tenants and tenant purchasers. Indeed, in most older local authority estates there is only a handful of tenants and in many cases the houses have been sold a second time. To all intents and purposes, therefore, they are now private housing estates. As I said, I am not clear how this provision, which will allow tenants to become involved in the maintenance and management of local authority estates, will work in practice, in particular in those estates with this kind of mix.

I am worried about the intention behind this proposal which we will have to explore in more detail on Committee Stage. It appears that the Government's intention, laudable though it may be, is to withdraw from the maintenance and management of local authority estates. If that is the case it should be stated honestly and not dressed up and presented as a great new idea to give the impression that the Government are giving something to tenants. It seems that the Government are giving away a headache which is what many local authorities consider the maintenance and management of local authority estates to be.

We may be witnessing the beginning of the privatisation of the maintenance and management of local authority estates. This idea surfaced in a different form in the neighbouring state where it was promoted by the Conservative Government in the past 12 years. The motivation there behind the idea of allowing tenants to become involved in the management of their housing estates which is a good idea, was to privatise that operation. I am concerned that what may be behind what on the surface appears to be a good idea is a hidden attempt at privatisation.

I am very pleased that an attempt is being made, however limited, to address some of the problems encountered in the private rental sector. This is very important given that so many people are being driven into that sector due to the shortage of local authority housing. I will raise a number of matters not addressed in the Bill on Committee Stage.

Earlier reference was made to the condition of local authority dwellings and I should like to say a few words about this. Deputy Kavanagh is quite right. The area which I represent has the worst record in this regard. In Dún Laoghaire borough — an area generally regarded as extremely wealthy — there are over 600 local authority dwellings without bathrooms and over 200 without an indoor toilet.

In many cases these dwellings were built by the British in the last century and, after 70 years of this State's independence, they are still there. Some of them are a stone's throw from the Black-rock Clinic, just across the road. Off George's Street in Dún Laoghaire there are dwellings, some of which were built in the last century, still without basic amenities. They have no hot water supply, just one tap and sink in which to do all the family's washing, dishes, clothes and bathing. Quite clearly, this is unacceptable in 1992.

It is not as if the local authority have been ignoring the problem. I have been a member of the local authority since 1985 and I have always paid particular attention to this area. The corporation submitted refurbishment and renewal schemes for all those houses but, unfortunately, many of the schemes submitted are still awaiting sanction from the Department of the Environment. We were told that money would be allocated in 1992 to build 20 bathrooms, although these schemes were supposed to be given priority. Many of those dwellings are occupied by elderly people who, unfortunately, will not live to see a bathroom installed in their dwelling. It should not take 30 years for the Government, the Department of the Environment and local authorities to address this problem. It is not an unreasonable objective for the Government to commit the necessary resources so that public housing in the 21st century will have the basis amenities of bathroom, toilet and a proper water supply.

I am glad that at long last we are debating this Bill but I regret that it has taken over 12 months to come to the House. I hope on Committee and subsequent Stages there will not be an attempt to guillotine the debate, which has been the case with so much legislation which has come before this House. Having waited for so long for the Bill to be introduced, Members of this House should now be given the opportunity of going through it line by line, section by section, so that all areas covered by it can be properly and fully debated.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The Minister indicated that the Bill represents a very significant expansion of housing legislation. I have no doubt that it will expand the existing legislation but it will not do anything in relation to the housing stock. There are good provisions in the Bill but it is a camouflage to try to play down the housing crisis; there is very little in it to give hope to people of getting houses. I was vice-chairman of the housing authority committee in 1973 and our major problem then was the lack of housing. I thought that it would not be solved in my lifetime but it was. Indeed, in a way, it was too well solved in the sense that one could nearly get a house on demand. That was over-generous and I would be the first to admit it. However, we solved a social problem at the time but in the last five years the Government have done nothing in this regard. I do not object to them cutting back on housing development but to abandon it altogether is unacceptable because they are recreating a problem which we spent years eradicating. We now have people in the sorry plight of homelessness being forced into substandard accommodation because a reasonable housing programme was not maintained. If it had, we would not have today's problems.

I would have expected Members who sit on local authorities and who know the problems to speak about this matter. In the normal course of events, I would not have been next in line to speak; someone from the Fianna Fáil benches should have spoken. It is ironic that nobody on that side of the House is prepared to defend this Bill. I know that many of them, especially those on local authorities, could not stand over this Bill. They cannot tell their constituents. in their clinics or advice centres over the weekend that this Bill will solve the housing problem, that we intend to build houses and provide a means whereby people can get housing.

There is nothing wrong with shared ownership. I am in favour of looking at all aspects of housing, which is not just the simple solution of building more local authority housing. Shared ownership would cater directly for people on the housing list by grant-aiding them to put a deposit on a house.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 4 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 5 May 1992.