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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 Dec 1940

Vol. 24 No. 28

Expiring Laws Bill, 1940—Second and subsequent Stages.

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

This Bill may be described as a kind of hardy annual. It has to be passed before the end of the calendar year. The Schedule, containing the list of Acts which it is proposed to continue in force for another year, is the same as that which was in the Bill passed by the House last year. I think that a memorandum explaining the nature of the Acts in the Schedule has already been circulated to members. It is the intention to replace by permanent legislation two temporary Acts which appear in the Schedule, the Poor Relief (Dublin) Act, 1929, and the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923. The enactment of the Public Assistance Act, 1939, has made it possible to dispense with the renewal from year to year of the Poor Relief (Dublin) Act, 1929, but the superseding Act has not yet been put into operation, pending the passing into law of the general Local Government Bill, 1940, which, if enacted, will supersede the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923. A permanent measure repealing the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing) Act, 1925, has also been enacted, but as it may not be possible, owing to the emergency, to bring this Act into operation before 1st January, 1941, it is thought necessary to continue the temporary Act. I may add that consideration has been given to the desirability of enacting legislation to give permanence to the Acts hitherto continued by means of the annual Expiring Laws Act, but it is not considered desirable to do so except in the cases to which I have referred.

I want to take this opportunity of pointing out to the Minister the hardships that now exist under the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923. This Act has been continued year after year for 17 years, and a number of changes have taken place during that time. The whole matter is somewhat technical, and I do not intend at this stage to inflict the details upon the House. An organisation representing property owners has sent a memorandum to the Minister for Justice, pointing out the hardships under which property owners now suffer, and I may mention that one of the hardships is that, under a ruling of the courts, in certain cases the ground rent has been taken to mean the standard rent. The effect of that in one case I know of is that the maximum rent that could be charged on a house which would let normally for £96, is £6 5s. Od. a year. The outgoings in rates and taxes on that house are £14, so that the unfortunate owner is out of pocket £8 on the ownership of that house.

Another difficulty is the lapse of 26 years in ascertaining what was the rent payable in 1914 which normally is the standard rent. There are other grievances, and legitimate grievances, under which owners of property are suffering, and I am sure that the House will recognise that owners of properties, however unpopular they may be, are necessary to the stability of the State, and are entitled to at least elementary justice. I hope the Minister will give an undertaking that the matter will be inquired into with a view to an amendment of the Act during the coming year.

This is one of the Bills we have every year which I have never been able to vote against, and which I have never approved of, because no one could possibly propose suddenly that there should be such changes in the law, even if there was a majority in the House, as would prevent all these laws which have been in existence for so long from operating any further, though it seems to me that it is one of the bad principles which we have taken over from Great Britain, and that it is time we amended it. The whole case for annual Acts is that they are of a temporary character and it is the height of absurdity that, both in Britain and here, we have an Act since 1868 which presumably has been renewed every year pending the period when somebody finds time to revise it in order to make it permanent. Either it is a satisfactory Act and should be permanent, or we should have got rid of it. The same applies to a lesser extent to most of the Acts set out here. I think I am correct in stating that, during the last ten years, the list has somewhat shrunk and I hope that, by next year, it will have shrunk still further and that there will be an effort made to get rid of it altogether.

I entirely agree with what Senator Sir John Keane says. I think there are many respects in which this Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923, is quite unsuited to present conditions. That, to a certain extent, cuts both ways. It is very largely unworkable and it gives a good deal of dissatisfaction. One of the difficulties about this Expiring Laws Bill is that it comes always to us in December and no Senator as yet, and so far as I know, no Deputy, has had the energy or courage to do what I think he would be quite entitled to do, that is, to proceed with a full list of the amendments of all these Acts which he would like to see carried out. If someone had the courage to do it, it would probably mean sittings for a considerable time in December, but just possibly it might give us a remedy for, and perhaps the only method of remedying, the system of having an Expiring Laws Bill every year.

I do not think there is anything that one could seriously object to in principle in the idea of an Expiring Laws Bill. We have had such a Bill ever since the Oireachtas was established and we probably will have it as long as the youngest member of this Oireachtas lives because we will always find some reason for continuing some enactment for another year. As Senator Douglas has said, the Schedule to the Bill has diminished very considerably over a number of years. When I first took an interest in it, the Schedule ran into several pages. It was reduced gradually by the last Government and by this Government, and there are at least two Acts in the Schedule this year which will probably not be in it next year, but the others, I think, will remain for some time. This Government and the previous Government found it difficult to bring in permanent legislation in respect of some of them, owing to the circumstances under which these Acts were originally passed and circumstances which have continued more or less in a state of flux over these years.

I have a good deal of sympathy with the remarks of Senator Sir John Keane. I know that there are considerable anomalies relating to the Rent Restrictions Acts, but the present is not a good time to bring in legislation. I do not say that it would not be a good time to consider legislation, but I cannot speak for the Minister for Justice. I have not discussed this matter with him, but I shall call his attention to the Senator's remarks. I do know that the subject is one which has, in recent months, caused anxiety to the Minister. I happened to be in the Dáil on more than one occasion when questions were addressed to the Minister on the subject and on the subject of the report of the tribunal which was set up a couple of years ago which has not yet been received. I know the matter is receiving his attention, but I cannot, as the Senator asked, give a promise that legislation will be introduced this year or next year. I shall call the Minister's attention to the Senator's remarks.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining stages to-day.
Bill considered in Committee.
Question proposed: "That Section 1 stand part of the Bill."

The first two Acts mentioned in the memorandum are the Parliamentary Elections Act, 1868, and the Corrupt Practice Commission Expenses Act, 1869, and the reason for their continuance is that the two Acts relate to the trial of election petitions and should be continued pending a revision of the whole law relating to election petitions. That, surely, is a joke. Meantime, I have no objection to their being continued.

Question put and agreed to.
Schedule and Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Question—"That the Bill be received for final consideration"—put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I want to take the opportunity to make one remark in answer to the statement which the Minister has just made. The Minister said the present is an unsuitable time to embark on fresh legislation. No time is suitable to stereotype injustice and, in this case, I suggest to the Minister that a serious injustice is being perpetrated under the Act to which I have referred.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be returned to the Dáil.