Public Business. - Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 1930—Report.

I move:—

"Section 11, sub-section (1). To delete the sub-section."

This is the sub-section which provides that extraordinary plan of a fixed rate in respect of houses which are taken over by the Electricity Supply Board. My amendment is to strike that out, and to let the ordinary rating law apply, namely, that so long as the buildings acquired by the Board are occupied they shall pay the full rates, and when they cease to be occupied they shall pay no rates; and if they are transferred to any other persons, they shall pay the rates when occupied, and no rates when unoccupied. That is the ordinary rating law.

Yes. When the sub-section is deleted, the ordinary law will apply.

What about sub-section (2)? Your amendment is to delete sub-section (1).

I was inaccurate in regard to the drafting of my amendment. I intended it to cover subsections (1) and (2).

Cathaoirleach

I suppose the Seanad will agree to this amendment being altered, "to delete the whole section"?

Leave given to alter the amendment.

There are various objections to the scheme put forward by the Minister, namely, that there should be a fixed amount in perpetuity, whether the buildings are occupied or not, whether they go into ruin or not. That is wrong and is an injustice to the Board. Why should the Board be compelled to pay rates on buildings that are unoccupied and in ruin? I have on another occasion indicated my objections to the rating scheme which the Minister has put into this measure and into the Act of 1927. I shall not go over that ground again. In my view, all these premises should be subject to the ordinary law as to rating, they should be rated when occupied and not subject to rates when vacant. That should apply not merely to the buildings which are constructed by the Board but also to the buildings that are acquired by the Board.

I would like to point out that I think the Senator who has just sat down seems to be under the impression that this section is establishing a new precedent. I should like to inform him that this is by no means a new precedent, and I want to say that I welcome the provision in the Bill. As matters stood a good deal of property was taken over by the Electricity Supply Board which bore rates at its then value. The Shannon Power Works spent a considerable amount of money in developing that plant there, and as it was public money I think it was then a well-established principle that that should not be taxed, especially as the principle on which taxation of hydro-electric projects has heretofore been based is, in my opinion, utterly unsound. I think it is a very fair compromise that the districts, the counties at large, should not lose anything in the rate they got in the past and that they should be guaranteed these rates in the future; but that any improvement that has been created on those lands by the expenditure of public money should not be taxed. I think that that is a section of the Bill which is a very desirable one, and I shall support it.

As I explained before, this is purely an expedient. I do not know how much of what Senator Barrington has said is relevant to this particular section but I agree in the main with what he said —that until we get a special amendment of the law relating to hydro-electrical undertakings, some recasting of the law, we have only to mark time some way. We have to mark time on something like the scheme I have put up. I think that is not unfair to anybody. We give to the local authority who has been in the habit of getting rates, that rate until a new rate is made. I shall deal with Senator Comyn's amendment with regard to the hardships on the Electricity Supply Board when we come to deal with Senator Johnson's amendment later.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move:—

Section 11, sub-section (2). After the word "cesser" in line 24 to insert the words "for a period of twenty years" and to delete the words "a perpetual" in lines 24-25 and to substitute therefor the word "an."

I discussed this question on the last day and the Minister urged that it would be a better and a more satisfactory way to discuss the matter if there were a specific amendment. I then said I was not sure that I would be able to draft an amendment to meet all the legal technicalities that might be involved. But I simply put down an amendment to delete the word "perpetual" and to insert instead "twenty years." I have no reason for putting down "twenty years" any more than "ten years," but it is coming near enough to perpetuity for such a matter as this. I think there ought to be a period fixed. It was undesirable that we should impose on the Electricity Supply Board a perpetual annuity in respect to premises which they may have ceased to occupy, premises which have gone into disrepair, and practically ceased to exist. I think it is unfair that that condition should be imposed on them. I realise, of course, that the Minister said that there is to be within the next few years some recasting of the law regarding the rates on the Electricity Supply undertaking. I recognise that this is probably what the Minister said—a mere expedient. I do not like the word "perpetual" and I do not think it should be there. Consequently I put down the figure of 20 years as marking a limit to the obligation of the Board.

I am not clear whether this limitation only applies to premises that cease to be occupied or whether it also applies to premises which continue to be occupied.

The sub-section deals with premises which cease to be in the occupation of the Board.

The amendment definitely has application only to such premises as the Board may come to have possession of and may thereafter cease to possess. Senator Johnson wishes to have an annuity for a period of twenty years, not a perpetual annuity. That is a case that I cannot make any very strong case against, except to say that I prefer to leave it as it is, leaving it on the Board to take action in the event of some considerable amount of property on which they have to pay rates to a considerable figure, falling out of occupation. It would then be for the Board to urge a case, and they can do it with more cogency when they are handicapped in that way than they can at the moment. I think it is better to leave the Board under this bit of a penalty. At the moment it is not a penalty. It will be a penalty only in the event of the premises rated afterwards ceasing to be of any use to them. The Board will have done a considerable amount of improvement in the meantime, and when it will make its case it will be in the position clearly to point to certain premises on which it would have undue charges to pay. I prefer to weight the Bill a little bit against the Board, leaving it to them in the proper circumstances to make a case so that the two Houses will be brought to the point of passing amending legislation. I say that without advertence to the remarks made previously, that no matter what happens to the Board or the property they occupy, within two or three years all the electricity supply legislation will have to be recodified because there is a definite division of sacrifices to be made as between the taxpayers, the ratepayers, and the electricity consumer. I cannot very vehemently urge anything against this amendment of Senator Johnson's, because "twenty years" and "perpetuity" are rather vague. But, as I have already said, I would rather have the Bill a little weighted against the Board.

I am not inclined to press the amendment except in this way, and from this view, that there is a responsibility upon the Oireachtas, and if we are not carrying out our responsibility, and if we are doing an injustice, then that will reflect on ourselves. That is my view of the matter. However, in view of the Minister's statement, and some promise that within half a decade we shall have a new Bill dealing with hydro-electric undertakings, I shall not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill reported without amendment.
Final stage fixed for Thursday, the 3rd of July, 1930.