PUBLIC BUSINESS. - DUBLIN RECONSTRUCTION (EMERGENCY PROVISIONS) BILL, 1924 (REPORT.)

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

The House will remember that this Bill was referred to a Select Committee, of which Senator Brown was Chairman, and it has sent in the report. The motion is that this Bill be considered on Report.

In the absence of the Minister I do not know whether it would be convenient to deal with an amendment which I put in to-day.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I am afraid we will have to get on. If for any reason there is any real objection to this amendment, it can be ruled out when it goes elsewhere.

I move:—

"To delete the new section which appears from the Report of the Select Committee, to have been inserted immediately before Section 2 of the original Bill."

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I want the House to understand that in Committee there was a new Section 2 inserted. You propose to delete that new section.

Yes, simply to delete the section for reasons I will state to the House. The main object of this Bill is to enable the Corporation to take compulsarily certain parts of any area where there has been destruction, for the purpose of widening or otherwise improving the streets. When a body under statutory powers takes lands compulsorily they have got to compensate the owners of the lands. The new section which was inserted in Committee is an amendment proposed by the Government, and inserted on the initiative of the Minister. It deals with the mode in which the Corporation are to compensate, through the arbitrator, the owners of the property which they take under the compulsory powers in the Bill. The section was subject to a good deal of discussion in the Select Committee, and it was only inserted on the understanding that it was to be reconsidered on Report. The section reads:—

2. Where under the provisions of Section 15 of the said Damage to Property (Compensation) Act, 1923, a report in writing in respect of the damage or destruction of any building has been made by a judge to the Minister for Finance, and the site or any part of the site of such building is acquired or purchased compulsorily by the Corporation under this Act—

(1) The arbitrator shall fix and determine the value at the date of the passing of this Act of the estate right or interest in such site or part thereof, and such value shall be the compensation to be awarded by the arbitrator to such person in respect of such compulsory purchase or acquisition.

(2) The Corporation shall be entitled to such site or part thereof after paying to every person claiming to be interested therein the compensation awarded by the arbitrator to such person under this section.

(3) The arbitrator shall, if so required by the Minister for Finance, also fix and determine the value of every such estate right or interest immediately before the damage or destruction in respect of which such report has been made by a judge to the Ministry of Finance, and shall report to the Minister for Finance the value as so fixed and determined.

That at best is a very obscure section. Personally I do not know the object which the Minister had in desiring to have it inserted.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

What is the distinction between sub-sections (1) and (3)?

That is one of the puzzles of the section.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

Sub-section (1) deals with the interest in the site at the date of the passing of the Act.

I think I can explain. I think the value of the site at the date of the passing of the Act is its value now, when it is a tumbled down house or a vacant space. The value of the site in sub-section (3) is the value of the site before the damage, with the house on it. I have no doubt, if he were here, the Minister could explain to us for what purpose he wants the value of the site with the house on it ascertained by the arbitrator. The section is one of great obscurity and I do not know the exact meaning of it. One thing of which I am certain is that it is a section which may do very great injustice to the owners of those sites. To begin with, it is very objectionable in a Bill which incorporates the Lands Clauses Acts to interfere with the principles on which the arbitrator under these Acts arrives at the amount of his arbitrator. Therefore, it is a bad principle to begin with to introduce a section into the Bill which will interfere with the ordinary well-known principle on which the arbitrator fixes compensation to which a man is entitled from whom the property is compulsorily taken. In the next place, it does this in a way which may do very great injustice to the owner of what is called a site under these Acts.

The principles on which the arbitrator awards compensation under the Lands Clauses Acts in a case like this are perfectly well known. He gives in the first place the value of the site to the owner—what it is worth to the owner. In addition to that he gives compensation for what is known as severance. That is, if the portion of land taken and the fact that it is taken, diminishes the value of the immediately adjoining property of that owner, he is entitled to be compensated for that. Now, the value of the site to the owner under the present Act at the date of the passing of the Act is much more than the value of the site itself. It is the value of the site itself, and attached to that site there is the certainty of anex-gratia grant from the Government of an amount already recommended in these cases by the Recorder. There is also the advantage attached to the site under this very Bill itself, the advantage of borrowing money at a low rate of interest repayable by easy instalments. Therefore, the value of the site to the owner at the date of the passing of this Act is very much more than the value of the mere site itself, and includes the added value of these advantages which it gets under the Compensation Act of 1923 and under this very Bill itself. Therefore, if the arbitrator was confined, as I think he might be under this new section, to valuing the site merely as a site, he would be doing a very great injustice to the owner. Apart from that, under this new section it is quite clear that he could not give any compensation to the owner of a site for severance.

Senators will observe that the section deals not only with a site but a part of a site, and under this the Corporation can take, for the purpose of widening a street, a strip off a site, leaving the site much too small for any useful purpose. Under this new section as drafted it is quite clear that the arbitrator could not give any such compensation and, therefore, the section might work very considerable injustice in the two ways I have pointed out. I would suggest to the Ministry that it would be far better to allow compensation to be fixed in the mode in which it has been fixed for eighty years under the Lands Clauses Act. It does perfect justice to the owner, if the arbitrator does his duty, as arbitrators have always done, I think. If this section remains in the Bill it will not do perfect justice to the owner or it may not do perfect justice. For these reasons I suggest it would be wise to omit the section altogether and allow compensation to be fixed, as it has been fixed all these years, under the Lands Clauses Acts.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

If this motion was carried, does the Bill contain then any provision dealing with compensation?

I ought to have explained that before this section was inserted, the Bill provided in the schedule that the Minister is to make an order, when the Corporation ask him, to allow them to acquire compulsorily a certain plot of land or site, and he in his order is directed to incorporate the Lands Clauses Acts for the purpose of compensation for the compulsory acquisition of these sites. In that way, indirectly, the Lands Clauses Acts are incorporated in the Bill. As this Bill was drafted, before the new section was put in, compensation would be assessed in the ordinary way by the arbitrator under the Lands Clauses Acts and on the principles defined by these Acts.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

Are you quite clear that if the section is removed altogether, and the only reference as to the mode of assessment is to be found in the scheduling of the Lands Clauses Acts, that it is a direction binding upon the arbitrator to work under the Lands Clauses Acts?

I am quite satisfied of that. I may say that this Bill, in that respect, is an exact copy of the Bill of 1916 which went through a very large amount of practical work.

I take it the motion is to delete the new section?

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

The new section on the Orders of the day. As I understand, in Committee, a new section was inserted before Section 2 of the original Bill. The new section was inserted at the request of the Government, and with some hesitation on the part of the Committee. Senator Brown's motion is to delete that section for the reasons he has given and thereby restore the Bill in that respect to its original form.

That is right. I may add that the new section introduced into the Bill was an alternative section by the Government to a section that Senator Mrs. Wyse Power had given notice of in Committee. If I may say so, Senator Mrs. Wyse Power's amendment was much the better of the two, as she in her amendment fell back on the Lands Clauses Acts.

I beg to second the motion.

I desire to ask for information on the point raised by Senator Brown dealing with the value of the site, that the additional advantages accruing to the owner would not be taken into account. I would call the attention of the Senator to the following reference in the Bill:—"The arbitrator shall fix and determine the value at the date of the passing of this Act of the estate, right or interest in such site." Would not these words, "interest in" cover thisex-gratia grant, and also the power of borrowing money on very favourable terms?

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

The difficulty about that is that the word "interest" there might be read in the legal sense as referring to tenure.

It could be so read.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

When you speak of a man's interest in property, that means whether he holds under lease, or as a tenant from year to year. It is rather the legal definition of the word. The Senator rather refers to the popular definition of the word.

I am trying to arrive at what the Committee had in mind when they used these words.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

The words at present are vague and I am inclined to agree with Senator Brown that the arbitrator may find himself compelled to decide that interest meant the same thing as estate.

That might be amplified.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

It would be quite possible to amend this section so as to make it include the matters Senator Brown is anxious about. What he has pointed out is that, if this section is removed, there is enough left in the Bill to enforce the carrying out of this arbitration in accordance with the Lands Clauses Acts.

As I understand the position, this Bill gives certain powers to the municipality for the purpose of acquiring land, to widen or straighten streets, or to make new streets. It only relates to the area where destruction has taken place, and really only touches the fringe of the general question. I would be very slow to interfere in any way with the rights of the municipality to acquire land compulsorily, wherever they need it, for the improvement of the City of Dublin. It is quite patent to those of us who frequent Dublin that some of the streets require to be widened and others require to be straightened. In fact, if Dublin is ever to be made a proper Capital, a good deal of reconstruction will have to take place. I would like to hear Senator Brown more fully on the point.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

Senator Brown does not propose to interfere with the rights of the municipality.

If that right is not interfered with it removes my objection. It seems to me that the point Senator Brown has made about the Lands Clauses Acts is met in the schedule. Section 1 of the schedule lays down that where a corporation propose to acquire lands compulsorily under this Act they submit their offer to the Minister. It specifies clauses of the Lands Clauses Acts. Probably there would be no objection to leaving out this section, provided the rights of the municipality are preserved, in as much as power exists in the schedule to make the corporation take advantage of the Lands Clauses Acts.

Senator Brown said he did not understand the new section. If that is so it will be very hard to expect that I should understand it. What I understand happened about it was this: before the Select Committee which considered this Bill a certain new section was put down in the name of Senator Mrs. Wyse Power and myself jointly. This new section was drafted by the Law Agent to the Corporation, and what we understood was that the Corporation was anxious to safeguard the position of the citizens and the ratepayers generally, so that they would not be called upon to pay on the double for one particular site. The position as I understand it is that compensation has already been awarded to persons whose property was destroyed, and if we delete the section it will mean, if the Corporation want to acquire a site for the purpose of widening a street, they will have to pay compensation again to people who have already been compensated. I may mention that in this instance it is only one particular site is required. The intention, as far as I understand it, is to make a new thoroughfare linking up O'Connell Street with Amiens Street. It is proposed to make the new street through O'Connell Street into Gloucester Street, and the intention is to take one particular site so that that may be done. The proposal is to make room for the new thoroughfare. It is proposed not to take part of a site but the whole of a site. The Corporation say that if the ratepayers have to pay compensation to the persons who owned this property, and the Recorder has already given very liberal compensation in most cases, that when they come to acquire a mere site they will not have to pay for bricks and mortar that were not there.

As compensation has already been given for the property destroyed, and as the Corporation only require the site, it would not be fair that the ratepayers should have to pay on the double when the site merely is required. The ratepayers are being taxed pretty heavily to pay compensation for the property already destroyed, without having to pay on the double for the same property again. I understand that this section is framed for the purpose of seeing that a fair value is paid for the site, and that this value should be fixed by the arbitrator. The section that was put down in the name of Senator Mrs. Wyse Power and myself was withdrawn on the suggestion of the Minister, on the grounds that the amendment submitted now meets the point and satisfies the position better than the section which was prepared by the Law Agent for the Corporation. I think the Seanad ought not to accept this amendment in view of the fact that the Minister responsible for this Bill is not present. I think we ought to postpone it in order to allow the Minister responsible to be present, so that we could hear his views on the matter.

Senator Farren has really explained what happened at the meeting of the Select Committee. We were all just as much in a fog as, I think, the Senator himself confesses to be in now. As regards the amendment, we did see that it could be used to the detriment of the individual and to the advantage of, let us say, the Corporation or the State. During the whole discussion we were anxious to take care that such rights as the individual owner had now should not be interfered with. As far as I understood the matter, it was left over for the Minister to get an amendment drafted which would preserve to the individual owner the rights which he now has. I think Senator Brown has made it quite clear that the amendment, as it now stands, does not preserve to the owner the rights which he had, and I agree with Senator Farren that before we agree to do anything finally on this amendment we should have the Minister here. He knew that we had a long discussion about it, and that we were very hazy about it. He knew that even we, who sat on the Committee, would have to get the amendment explained to us when it came before the Seanad. Now we have nobody to advise us on the subject. There is really nobody here capable of answering Senator Brown's statement, which seems to be perfectly clear as far as the effect of the amendment is concerned. With that state of affairs in front of them, it is for the Seanad to say whether they are going to postpone this Bill to-day. The idea of setting up the Select Committee was to expedite the passage of the Bill. Here we are now being held up. The Seanad is ready to pass the Bill if we were once satisfied about this amendment, but I do not see how the Seanad can refuse to consider the aspect of the matter that has been put before us by Senator Brown. The Minister knew that the matter would be dealt with to-day, and he knew that we had a good deal of discussion about it. It would be well, I think, if he were here to give us some information before we come to a final decision on the matter.

I think that every member of the Select Committee who has spoken has really put himself in the dock. They have told us that they had a full discussion in regard to this at the meeting of the Select Committee. This amendment was evidently carried unanimously at their meeting, but as far as one can gather, they all come here now and tell us that it embodies something which not one of them understands. They come along now and they ask us to relieve them of their responsibilities. Senator Mrs. Wyse Power's amendment does not seem to me to clear the air very much. At the same time it would seem as if some amendment were necessary if a lot of litigation is to be avoided. I think a lot of the arguments that have been put up to-day should have been put up before the Select Committee before this was agreed to. Personally, I am not in favour of adjourning the matter for the attendance of the Minister. If his attendance is necessary here it is his business to know that, and he should be here. We cannot be holding up every little amendment that requires Government attention for the attendance of a Minister. If he does not think it worth his while to attend, then I do not think we should adjourn this. I do not see any great danger in the amendment as it stands, because it does not prohibit the arbitrator from taking into consideration the interests which Senator Brown has mentioned. In other words, it will provide to have taken into consideration the question of consequential loss, which is not provided for under the Property Compensation Act. No compensation in respect of consequential loss arising out of destruction during the trouble has been allowed for, and I do not know if it is the intention to make allowances of that kind.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

The difficulty in the section as it stands is this: it is not that the arbitrator shall fix and determine the estate, right and interest, but it is the estate, right or interest. In other words, interest there, I think, is plainly used in its legal sense and refers to the extent and nature of the ownership—the quality of the ownership whatever it may be. What Senator Brown is anxious to include in it is not merely his interest or title, but any other interest he may have in the matter, such as an award on the question of severance. That is not covered by the section though it may have been the intention to include it. I do not profess to be able to tell you offhand what is the legal effect of the section at all. Certainly it is not clear as it stands.

Would not the logical course then be to amend the amendment rather than to delete it?

I did my best to amend the section in some way so that it would carry out the intention I had in mind myself. The intention I had in mind was to protect the owner in such a way that he would get what he would be entitled to under the Lands Clauses Act. But I was unable to put in the section words that, in form, would carry that out. In the alternative section proposed by Senator Mrs. Wyse Power, there was an express section or sub-section excluding the right to give any compensation owing to the fact that an award had been made for the destruction of the premises. The alternative section I have referred to actually excluded that, and it is that that makes me look on this present section with still more suspicion.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

I think it is only fair to the Minister that I should say that I have received notice to the effect that he is engaged in the Dáil defending his own Estimates. That is an explanation of his absence from this discussion.

I think we ought to give the Minister an opportunity of attending this discussion. This is a very important matter and personally I would be very glad if we could have the Minister here for the discussion on it.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

The discussion on this matter will therefore be adjourned for the attendance of the Minister. We can now take up the final report of the Committee on Irish Manuscripts, and when the Minister arrives discussion on this Reconstruction Bill can be resumed.