I do not think that the first section of the Bill calls for any great explanation in detail. It merely continues for another 12 months from the 1st April last the grants to persons and public utility societies building and reconstructing houses in rural areas. It also extends the time for completing the erection and the reconstruction, as the case may be, of houses in these areas for which grants have been, or may be, allocated.
The provisions of the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1932 relating to the acquisition of houses by municipal authorities with the aid of a grant under that Act and the improvement or enlargement of such houses by municipal authorities or philanthropic societies are also being extended by Section 1 of the Bill for another year.
Up to the expiration of the existing Acts, viz., 31st March last, grants had been allocated to the extent of £3,347,655, in respect of the erection by private persons and public utility societies of over 34,000 new houses and the reconstruction by small farmers and agricultural labourers of over 32,000 houses. Actually on the date mentioned the number of new houses completed under these allocations was over 31,000, while the number reconstructed was over 27,000. This meant that at the closing date approvals were outstanding in respect of approximately 2,700 new houses and over 5,000 houses for reconstruction. To enable persons to avail of the approvals, in the present financial year, it is necessary to extend the date for completion though it is expected that in present circumstances some of them will not be proceeded with.
In the second section of the Bill, namely, that amending the definition of agricultural labourer, I hope to remedy an unsatisfactory position under existing legislation. While it is in itself an important amendment it should not involve any very far-reaching effects. The present law in so far as a person is not actually engaged in purely agricultural work but is working for hire requires that he should be working for hire in a rural district. Cases have been brought to my notice of persons living in villages just outside the boundary of a city but actually working for hire at non-agricultural work within the city boundary. Some of these people though instrumental in having a scheme of labourers' cottages promoted by the board of health to remedy what were deplorable sanitary conditions under which they lived found themselves debarred by legislation from getting cottages because they were working just over the urban boundary within the urban area. People situated as they were, were in the unfortunate position of having no claim for housing on either the urban or rural authority. The definition of agricultural labourer is set out in the first of the Labourers Acts, viz., that of the Act of 1883, in the narrow sense in which the term is ordinarily understood.
For the past few years there has been a strong movement in favour of providing additional moneys to finance house purchase, especially since the Dublin Corporation a few years ago decided to curtail their loans under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts. Up to a few years ago the corporation had advanced approximately £1,500,000 for house purchase. For various reasons it was not possible for them to provide funds for making these loans and at the same time finance their own housing schemes. Section 3 of the Bill is proposed in order to enable building societies to acquire funds to make loans to persons desirous of purchasing their houses. The guaranteeing of loans by local authorities is not the establishment of a new principle. A power of a similar kind was conferred in relation to public utility societies by the Housing Act of 1919, though as far as I can see no actual operations under that Act in respect of the power mentioned took place in this country. The section confines the guarantees to three Dublin local authorities as the area outside Dublin is reasonably met by the facilities afforded under the Small Dwelling Acquisition Acts.
Several conferences took place before the Bill was drafted with the representatives of the banks and the building societies, and the matter was also the subject of correspondence and examination with the representatives of the building industry. The representatives of the banks indicated the co-operation of the banks but, of course, if other lending institutions such as insurance companies are willing to make advances to the building societies they will be free to do so within the terms of the section.