This Bill has a double purpose: it will amend and to some extent consolidate the law. Some of the legislation which it is proposed to repeal has been on the Statute Book for more than a century. For instance, the series of Acts relating to the construction of bridges, beginning with the Bridge Act of 1813, contain a code which is now antiquated, but under which hitherto we have had to operate. Part IV of the present Bill is drafted to replace all these Bridge Acts which, as will be seen from the Schedule, will be wholly repealed. Similarly, in regard to the rating provisions contained in Part II, these will bring about a much needed simplification of the law of rating in urban areas. A new municipal rate will take the place of the various rates levied in boroughs and urban districts and separate poor rates, town rates, sanitary rates, improvement rates and other rates in towns provided for under local Acts will disappear. This, of course, involves the repeal of the law relating to the town rates. The county councils levy one rate, the poor rate. As only a fraction of this rate is now devoted to public assistance or the relief of the poor its name is a misnomer and it is proposed that it shall be known henceforth as the county rate.
The Bill is divided into five parts. The first part is preliminary and general and is confined to definitions and the usual sections relating to bringing the Act into operation, the making of regulations, the adaptation of existing enactments and the repeals. It follows the usual lines adopted in earlier local government Bills and calls for no special comment. Part II relates principally to financial matters and largely to the proposed change in the rating system in urban areas to which I have referred. Before dealing with particular sections, it will, I think, be convenient to refer briefly to the existing position in regard to rates. In the four county boroughs and the borough of Dún Laoghaire, a rate, called the municipal rate, is levied. The only other rate levied in these areas is called the contract water rate, which is a form of charge for special water supplies. In other boroughs and urban districts, at least two rates are levied, poor rate and borough or town rate.
During the 19th century it was not unusual for towns to promote local Acts and many of these local Acts provided for special rates each with its own peculiar incidence. Now, it is sometimes a matter of difficulty in urban areas which have their own Acts to be sure what exactly is the law. For instance, in some urban areas land bears all the rates in full, in others it bears some rates in full, and others only in part. The poor rate I should explain, perhaps, in urban areas is the rate levied in order to meet the demand of the county council. The term town rate, which is in general use in urban districts, means all the rates which are raised by urban district councils to supply the funds they require for their own activities.
It includes the rate under the Towns Improvement Act, 1854, and may include rates for other expenses and rates raised under local Acts. In the municipal boroughs excluding county boroughs and Dún Laoghaire, there is a borough rate. Public Health expenses —expenses under the Public Health Acts—are raised under Section 226 of the Public Health Act, 1878, which contains a number of provisos relating to the nature of the rate to be used and its special incidence. These provisos have given rise to a diversity of practice. For example in the Borough of Drogheda the sanitary rate is a flat rate on all hereditaments whereas in most urban districts land and railways are rated one-quarter of the valuation.
In Galway, and Senators O Buachalla and O'Dea may be interested in this, it is doubtful by what rate or with what incidence the sanitary expenses of the corporation should be raised. The position in several of the towns is similar to that which existed in the county boroughs before the introduction of a single municipal rate by the various City Management Acts. Those Acts altered the position by substituting one municipal rate with one definite incidence for the various rates with different incidence. In consolidating the rates, a difficulty arose by reason of the fact that hereditaments of certain classes had been exempted from some of the older rates and it would therefore have been unjust to require the occupiers to pay the whole of the new municipal rate. The difficulty was met by ascertaining the average amount in the pound paid by hereditaments of each exempted class in the county boroughs or in Dún Laoghaire, as the case may be, over a number of years immediately before the passing of the appropriate City Management Act and the proportion which that amount bore to the average rate in the pound paid in the same period by an ordinary hereditament.
This proportion was expressed as a fraction, and hereditaments of the exempted class were rated to the municipal rate only on a fraction of their full valuation. For instance to take again the example of land if it were found as in the case of Dublin that agricultural land was assessed at a sum that was approximately equal to about half the rate on the full valuation then the fraction for agricultural land was one-half. The present Bill in Part II proposes to do for the urban districts what has already been done for the county boroughs and Dún Laoghaire, that is to consolidate existing rates in each area into one rate. The provisions of the City Management Acts have been adopted to this purpose.
These provisions have been found in the county boroughs to work satisfactorily and without confusion. The effect will be that there will in future be only one rating law for all rates. That law, I should say, will be the existing law relating to poor rate. Let me say that the law of poor rate is not perhaps in every respect ideal, but it is more certain and easier to ascertain than any other rating law in force. No doubt in time, when the question of valuation for rating has been disposed of, a comprehensive rating Bill will be undertaken. Such legislation will be rendered easier by the present Bill which will eliminate the divergencies, to which I have already referred, created by local Acts.
There is, however, one matter in which the introduction of the municipal rate into the urban districts and other boroughs is more difficult than in the county boroughs. Each county borough was dealt with by its own separate Act, so that in ascertaining the valuation fractions it was only necessary to consider the incidence of the rates in the particular borough in which the Act applied.
This Bill, on the other hand, is a much more comprehensive measure. It deals with a great number of areas in which, as I have already explained, the incidence of the rates is not uniform. The burden of rates on the particular hereditament could not, therefore, be kept on substantially the same basis in every area except by the inclusion of the Act of valuation fractions for each area as was done by the City Management Acts. We have rejected the idea of fractions being fixed for each area by Order of the Minister but have adopted the alternative method of having the same fraction for all boroughs and a slightly lower fraction for all urban districts that are not boroughs for each type of rateable property that under general law gets partial exemption at present.
Under the existing law, there are altogether four different types of property which will be rated on a fraction of their valuations when the new municipal rate is being assessed. They are agricultural land, canals, land used as railway and half rents. As I have already explained, the first three enjoy in most towns exemption from the town rate to the extent of three-quarters of the valuation. The fourth class of property, half rents, is half the annual rent derived by the owner or other person interested in any rateable property which is exempted from poor rate by reason of being used for public or charitable purposes, or for the purposes of science, literature and fine arts.
Owners of these half rents are rated to poor rate but not to town rate. Under the Bill, one half of the half rent will be rated to the full municipal rate.
In Part II it is proposed to alter the method by which commissioners of a town that is not an urban district will obtain expenses and assimilate it to that by which a subsidiary body of the county council obtains funds. At present the town commissioners raise their own rate. They have separate rate books and rate collectors. Their rate is limited to 2/6, but that limit, I should explain, may be exceeded if the excess is caused by housing expenses and the expenses of school meals.
There are at present 23 places constituted as towns under the Towns Improvement Act, 1854, but in the case of five of these towns elected commissioners are no longer functioning, their business having been transferred to the respective county councils. The total aggregate sum raised in rates in these towns is small in relation to the total rates levied. What is proposed in the Bill is that the county council should levy on the town the money required to meet the expenses of the commissioners. As the county council will be at some expense in making the levy by reason of poundage payable to the collector and the irrecoverable rates they are also to be allowed to charge certain additional expenses.
The position in relation to these small towns is that they are generally unable to employ whole-time officers or to maintain the same standard of service as the larger authorities. We hope that, by relieving them of the business of levying and collecting rates, they will be freer to attend to the business entrusted to them, and that they will be, from the point of view of the ratepayers, a significant economy in administration.
Part II of the Bill contains two sections, Sections 14 and 23, which are almost identical and which relate to rates on vacant premises. Section 14 relates to premises in a county but not in an urban area. Section 23 relates to premises in an urban area, and both sections, as I think I have already indicated, relate to premises that are unoccupied at the time of the making of the rate. They empower the rating authority to rate the owner who will be able to get a refund in due course if he can show that the premises are unoccupied for the purpose of alterations, or repairs, or because a tenant could not be got at a reasonable rent. In general terms, the sections are the same as corresponding sections in the City Management Acts, except in one particular. In the cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick and the Borough of Dún Laoghaire the amount of the refund is limited to one-twenty-fourth of the rate for each month the premises are vacant. That means that not more than six months rates can be refunded in any one year. Under Section 14 of this Bill the whole rates can be refunded if that course is justified under the section.
I think I should also, in order to avoid here the confusion which arose in the Dáil, mention that under the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restriction) Act, 1923, the owner of an unoccupied dwelling house to which that Act applied became liable for the payment of rates. In the year 1926, however, an amending Act provided that the owner should not be liable during any period not exceeding six months when the house was unoccupied for the purpose of the execution of additions, alterations or repairs, or by reason of the fact that the owner could not obtain a suitable tenant at a reasonable rent. These provisions, as the House will recollect, were not reenacted in the Rent Restrictions Act of 1946, and have now lapsed. Sections 14 and 23 of this Bill, however, will do more than merely replace these lapsed provisions of the 1926 Act, because the proposed new section will apply not only to uncontrolled premises but also to controlled premises. That is to say, they will apply to all premises which happen to be vacant at the time of the making of the rate. That will not only replace the existing law but will simplify it at the same time. The net effect of the sections will be this, that if an owner holds a house vacant in order to sell it or to keep out competitors, or for some other ulterior motive, he will have to pay the rates. If, on the other hand, the house is vacant because he wants to alter it or repair it, or make an addition to it, or because he cannot get a suitable tenant at a reasonable rent, then, though he will be called upon to pay the rates in the first instance, he can secure a refund as soon as he has shown that he is entitled to a refund in accordance with the section. Let me stress this point, that the onus is imposed in the first place on the owner of unoccupied premises to pay the rates, and that the onus is put upon him in the second place of justifying his claim for a refund.
Section 30 relating to insufficiency of rates has given rise to considerable discussion, and as some of the criticisms directed against the section obviously arose from a misunderstanding of its real effects, I should like to make clear what the section proposes to do. Under the section, if a rating authority determine a rate in the pound which appears to the Minister to be insufficient to meet the expenses which a local authority must legally and properly incur, the Minister, after holding a local inquiry into this question of the sufficiency or insufficiency of the rate, may require the local authority to determine a new rate or, if it is more convenient, a supplementary rate. If the local authority does not comply, or if the new rate or supplementary rate is still insufficient, the Minister may remove the members of that local authority from office.
Now let me point out that this power of removal is one which the Minister has had since 1923 in any case in which the members of a local authority fail to discharge their duties duly and effectually. Failure to make a sufficient rate to defray the legitimate and normal expenses, obligatory expenses in many cases, to be incurred by the local authority is failure to discharge a statutory duty; failure to discharge one of the primary duties of a local authority which is to provide money to ensure that the local services will be carried on satisfactorily and efficiently.
We are not proposing to coerce any local authority to do everything that a prudent body would do but we are requiring them to do the minimum that they ought to do, failure to do which would either involve the local authority in debt or jeopardise the services for which they are responsible. If this section were not in the Bill, we should be faced with a position which would, I think, be most inequitable and unsatisfactory. We have already had experience of it. We have had cases in which, by reason of failure to make the rates, the local authority has been dissolved and the commissioner appointed to administer its affairs on behalf of the ratepayers was faced with the position that he had not power to raise the necessary moneys in the normal and regular way by means of the rates but had to raise them by borrowing from a bank, which, of course, involved the local ratepayers in additional expense
Under the section, as it stands in this Bill, when a rate is found insufficient, the Minister will not proceed to hold an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not the local authority has been negligent in the discharge of its duty but will hold an inquiry upon a narrow issue—that is to say, to ascertain whether the rate, as determined by the local authority, is sufficient or insufficient to enable it to discharge its responsibilities to its ratepayers effectively, efficiently and economically. At that local inquiry, the local authority will be represented. If they have any justification for failing to make a sufficient rate, for failing to meet the demands of their officers, if they urge that these officers themselves have not been functioning efficiently, that they are not satisfied with the services provided by their servants in return for the revenues made available—these issues can all be threshed out at that local inquiry and the Minister will then be in a position to say whether or not the rate, as determined by the local authority, would be sufficient if the local authority's services were economically and efficiently administered. If the case of the local authority be established, it will not be the local authority whose conduct will be reproved but it will be the conduct of the servants of the local authority.
If, on the other hand, it is found that the local authority's services are being administered efficiently, that there is no fault to be found with its servants in the discharge of their duty, and that the local authority has been recalcitrant in its refusal to provide them with the finances to enable them to maintain those services properly, then the Minister can turn round to the local authority and say: "You must give your officers a sufficient revenue to enable them to do their duty not only to you but to the community whom you represent." If, having been given that chance, the local authority fails to comply with it, then the Minister can dissolve that local authority and put in a commissioner to administer its affairs. Instead of having to go to the bank to raise the necessary moneys, the commissioner will be able to raise those moneys in the normal way through the rates.
Let me put to the House an aspect of this matter which was not sufficiently stressed in the preceding debates on this section. Apart from his general duty to see that the local authorities carry out the functions assigned to them, the Minister for Local Government and Public Health is concerned in another respect when a local authority will not provide by rates the revenue they require from that source. If they refuse to provide the necessary finances out of the rates, then, if the local public services are to be carried out, borrowing will be inevitable. But the lenders—the treasurers of the local authorities— cannot give overdrafts or temporary loans without the sanction of the Minister. The Minister's sanction is accepted, I think, by the lenders as evidence that the loan is being raised in anticipation of some revenue which will enable the borrower—in this case the local authority—to extinguish the debt. If, in fact, there is no revenue in sight—it cannot be in sight if the local authority refuses to raise it— then the Minister's sanction to borrowing becomes meaningless. In fact, he cannot give his sanction, in my view, and the local services must come to a standstill.
The business of local authorities is a subsidiary business. It is a delegated business—delegated by the central authority, under statute, with a view to carrying on the local services. Not one of those local authorities functions in its own right. They function under the Acts of the Oireachtas. They function as subordinate, administrative bodies in the State and their duty, and their sole reason for existence, is that they carry on those services which the State and the community consider necessary for the common welfare of the people.
If they fail, as I have said, to carry on those services and to pay their way from year to year, then the Minister for Local Government, charged with responsibility to the Dáil to ensure that local administration be carried on economically and efficiently, would fail in his duty if he allowed the local authorities to involve themselves so deeply in debt, in order to defray the cost of the local services, that they threw on future years and on other ratepayers an undue burden of taxation. That is the justification for Section 30.
Section 31 of this Bill relates only to the present year. This is the last year in which town commissioners will levy rates. In future years, the rate will be levied, as I have explained, by the county council, on the demand of the town commissioners. It is important that that fact should not be overlooked. The county council will levy no more on the town than is necessary to meet the demand of the town commissioners and the cost of collection of the rates. At present, six members, out of a total of nine members, of a town commission have to sign the rate book for the town rate. This is a requirement of a section in an Act of 1847 which will be repealed by the present Bill. It is proposed, under Section 31, that non-compliance with that section will not invalidate the rate this year.
Section 32 of the Bill has been inserted to meet a position which arises in a few counties this year. As members will be aware, an increased allocation from the Road Fund was announced after the rate had been determined in some counties. Certain of the councils in these counties altered the rate which, under the existing law, they had not power to do. This section will give them the necessary legal authority in the matter for this year only.
Section 33 relates to the division of districts for the purposes of rate collection. The division of a rated area into collection districts is at present a matter for the manager. It is a subject on which differences of opinion have arisen between some councils and managers and it is proposed in Section 33 that the Minister shall be responsible for any variations in these areas that need to be made.
The final section in Part II—Section 34—is designed to place the occupiers of small dwellings owned by State authorities in the same position, as regards rates, as occupiers of dwellings that are not small dwellings. That is to say, that in the case of occupiers of houses which are owned by State authorities, the occupiers will be rated and not the owner.
Part III of the Bill relates to officers and employees of local authorities and is intended to be supplementary to Part II of the Local Government Act, 1941, which is the principal code dealing with the staffs of local authorities. Section 36 is a more elaborate provision for amalgamating offices than that contained in Section 32 of the Act of 1941. Section 32 of the Act of 1941 applied only to offices designated major offices. The new section applies to all offices. Section 37 is intended to meet the case of women officers whose conditions of appointment required them to retire on marriage and who have not, in fact, retired. I should like to emphasise that it will not apply to officers to whom such a condition did not apply on appointment. The performance of the duties of a particular office by a deputy during absence or illness of the holder of an office is already provided for by the Act of 1941, but in some instances it is doubtful whether the certificate of a deputy or substitute would be valid where the officer cannot act in person. Section 38 is intended to regularise this position.
Some misapprehension appears to have arisen regarding Section 39 which gives the Minister power to make regulations requiring an officer to devote the whole of his time to his official duties. There again I should like to emphasise that there is no intention whatever of converting existing part-time officers into whole-time officers against their will.
The purpose of the section is to enable the question of whole-time or part-time service to be settled in the same manner as other conditions of service. The term "whole-time" which has been used in Superannuation Acts since 1865 has of course a strictly legal meaning. It does not imply that an officer must devote all his waking hours to official duties. In practice, it means that an officer cannot engage in other occupations during the time he is required for his official duties. That is the spirit in which the section will be administered.
Under Section 41 it is proposed to continue as part of the ordinary law certain powers at present vested in the Minister in relation to the pay of weekly wage earners and other employees of local authorities. Section 41 requires that any increase above the level of August, 1942, shall be sanctioned by the Minister. It does not prevent increases—increases have in fact been granted—but ensures that they shall be examined in the light of all the circumstances affecting them.
Part IV of the Bill, as I indicated in the opening of this statement, is intended to replace existing provisions in relation to the construction and reconstruction of bridges in which more than one road authority is directly interested. It provides, as I have said, an entirely new procedure which is more direct and expeditious and presumably will be less expensive than that laid down by the code which has been in existence since the year 1813, with modifications, the latest of which was made in 1867.
Under the new procedure where a bridge has to be built between the functional areas of two or more road authorities, the work will be undertaken by one of the road authorities and the cost will be contributed by all the road authorities concerned in proportions to be determined either by agreement among the road authorities or after the holding of a local inquiry.
Any road authority, under this Part of the Bill, being of opinion that the construction or reconstruction of a bridge is expedient for the purpose of improving road communication between places within their functional area or between places within and places outside that area or for the purpose of improving road communications through that area, may make application to the Minister for a bridge Order. This, I should like to emphasise, will be a reserved function of the local authority. That is to say, it will be a function which will be reserved to the elected body and cannot be discharged by the manager. The application for this bridge Order may make proposals for the defraying of the expenses of the work and of the maintenance of the bridge by two or more road authorities.
The Order when made will determine which road authority will carry out the work and the proportions in which the expenses of the work and of future maintenance will be met by the road authorities concerned. As I have said, it is possible that the road authorities may agree among themselves as to the terms in which a bridge Order is to be made. Failing agreement, one of the road authorities may be called upon to make a preliminary report including any necessary surveys after which a local inquiry must be held before a bridge Order is made.
Under the Harbours Act, 1946, provision is made by which the Minister for Industry and Commerce may authorise harbour authorities to carry out works. The purpose of this provision is to obviate the need for private Bills on each occasion on which it is desired that a harbour authority should carry out a work. Under Section 55 of the present measure Part IV will be applied to any harbour authority which is being authorised to construct or maintain a bridge. Certain other provisions of that Part of the Bill will apply to railway companies and other persons other than road authorities who were required by or under any Act to construct or maintain the bridge in respect of which a bridge Order is sought.
Part V of the Bill contains a number of miscellaneous provisions which could not be appropriately placed in any other part of the Bill. They refer to a number of vexed questions which arose from time to time, matters about which there is some uncertainty in relation to the present law and matters in respect of which some amendment of the present law is required. Sections 61 and 62, for instance, deal with the procedure to be followed when there is an equality of votes at meetings of the county councils or of committees of a local authority. Under Section 61, the chairman of a council will not have a first vote or casting vote if he is not a member of the council. Somebody may say: "When can a chairman of a council not be a member of the council?" It might happen that at the first meeting of the council held after a triennial election the outgoing chairman would not be a member of the new council; he, nevertheless, continues in office until the new chairman is elected, that is until his successor is appointed. While it is true that a chairman who was not an elected member of the council and who chose to preside at the first meeting of the council after a triennial election would not have a vote or a casting vote, the casting vote of the chairman who is a member of the council is preserved except where it is provided that the decision is to be taken by lot and that is the significance of the reference to Section 43 in the Act of 1941.
Section 63, is designed to make a local inquiry with its attendant delay and expense unnecessary where there is a wilful refusal or neglect on the part of the local authority to comply with an expressed statutory requirement. This section merely restores the position as it existed in the period from 1925 to 1942. Under Section 64 of the Bill, when members of a local authority are removed from office the members nominated by them to subsidiary bodies will cease to hold office whether they were members of the parent body or not. Under Section 65, the quorum for town commissioners is to be reduced from its present figure of five to three.
The purpose of Section 66 is to straighten out a rather involved position in regard to the audit of accounts of certain public bodies. The effect of a few statutes has been to give two Ministers similar powers to regulate the accounts and audits of certain bodies. In practice this has not caused any difficulty because there has been no conflict of opinion as to which officer should audit the accounts, but it is necessary to clear up the law, to clear up the position from the legal aspect and to give to one Minister only the responsibility of ensuring that the accounts of local authorities are properly audited. Under sub-section (6) of Section 66, the county manager who is an officer of the county council is made, for audit purposes, an officer of every elective body for which he is manager.
Section 67, it will be seen, deals with traffic signs on roads and amends Section 36 of the Local Government Act, 1925. Under the new section the Minister may make regulations as to traffic signs and these signs will now include mechanical devices such as traffic lights. The position in this regard, perhaps, might require some explanation for the Seanad. Under the section, a county or county borough council or an urban district council will provide traffic signs for any road in their charge at the request of the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana. The Commissioner will specify the number, nature and position of the signs and the bodies themselves may provide the signs with the consent of the Commissioner. The position up to this was that the Commissioner could make bye-laws for the safety and control of traffic under the Road Traffic Act, 1933, but that Act did not make adequate provision for the erection of signs showing that a bye-law was in force in relation to a particular place. With the enactment of this new section the erection of a traffic sign will be an indication that a road regulation within the meaning of the section is in existence. The Minister can, under the proposed new enactment, prescribe by regulation the nature of the sign, but he no longer prescribes the place where the sign is to be put up. That becomes the function of the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana who is responsible for the general safety of the public in regard to road user.
Section 68 will enable road authorities to require any person, who by or under any Act is charged with the duty of maintaining a bridge or its approaches, to carry out specified works of maintenance. In default, the road authority may carry out the works and recover the cost from the person who fails to carry out his statutory obligation in this matter. Provision is made under the section for appeal to the Minister. Section 69 of this Bill will supplement Section 161 of the Harbours Act, 1946, which authorises harbour authorities, with the consent of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, to make and carry out agreements with other persons to undertake work jointly and pay a proportion of the cost. Section 69 gives similar powers to road authorities, with the consent of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, to undertake works jointly with harbour authorities.
Sections 70 to 72 are unimportant sections. They relate to the question of election expenses, insurance and the duties of rate collectors in regard to furnishing information which is required for the preparation of the rate books, and are intended merely to clarify the law. They will scarcely affect the existing practice in these matters.
Sanitary authorities can at present in areas in which Part VI of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1907, is in force provide or contribute to the expenses of a band of music in a park or pleasure ground. The new provision in Section 73 differs from the existing law in allowing county councils the same powers as urban authorities and in not confining the performances to parks or recreation grounds. It will therefore enable local authorities to arrange for band performances in public in the winter time if they so wish.
Sections 74, 75 and 76 deal with the changing of names of towns, townlands and streets. Senators may be aware, from certain recent discussions, that the existing law is in many respects unsatisfactory. There is power to alter certain place names but no power to alter others. Some authorities have, in fact, passed resolutions purporting to alter names and these resolutions, having no legal sanction, had not the effect intended. This has created some confusion in many cases, as both the old name and new name are in use. In fact, I have been told of places where the local authorities adhere to the old name, while strangers and people outside the area use the new name. Sections 74 to 76 provide a clear procedure which will ensure that alteration shall be made only after full deliberation and after the wishes of the people in the area have been properly ascertained. Provision is also made for consultation with authorities who have specially studied the subject of place names. In regard to street names the general law at present is that the consent of two-thirds of the ratepayers and valuation of the street is necessary before the name can be changed. It is proposed that henceforth this change can be made with the consent of four-sevenths of the ratepayers only. It will not be necessary to consider the valuations.
The law as contained in the Trustee Investment Act, 1889, limits to an unreasonable degree, having regard to existing conditions, the field of investment open to local authorities, by giving them less freedom than is allowed to trustees generally. Section 77 will remove this discrimination.
The purpose of Section 78 is to ensure that receipts of the nature of capital moneys will not be treated as revenue by local authorities but will be invested for the permanent benefit of the inhabitants of the area to which they accrue.
Section 79 enlarges the power of local authorities to acquire land. Local authorities have been given power under many statutes to acquire land which is necessary for the purpose of carrying out statutory duties which they are about to discharge. It is now proposed that they may acquire land by agreement—I would emphasise that it is by agreement— which they may require at some future time although the purpose for which they will use the land has not been determined. It is hoped that the power thus given in Section 79 will facilitate those authorities who are anxious to take advantage of and adopt the planning Acts.
The method of the disposal of land is regulated in Section 80. At present borough councils can dispose of corporate property in the manner provided by the Municipal Corporations Acts. I would like to emphasise that not all land held by local authorities is corporate property. Section 80 deals with the disposal of land which is not corporate property, land which the manager at present may dispose of as he thinks best and without consulting the members of the local authority. The new section will ensure that, before a manager disposes of such property, the members of the local authority shall be notified and given an opportunity to veto the proposal if they think the property should not be disposed of or should be disposed of on different terms to those proposed.
Section 81 will authorise road authorities to dispose of land severed by road operations to enable the land to be used economically and to prevent it from becoming derelict. Small parcels of land become severed when existing roads are re-aligned or when new roads are constructed. In connection with the re-alignment of existing roads, lands forming the sites of roads or of parts of roads which are no longer required for the use of the public tend to become derelict and wasted. The Local Government Act, 1925, provides for the abandonment of roads, but abandonment of a road under that section does not affect the right of way of the public over the surface of the road, Furthermore, it often happens that there are entrances to private property on the portion of the road that would be abandoned. Section 81 will authorise the road authority to acquire such lands if not already in their possession.
The road authority will be authorised to sell or transfer gratuitously such land or part thereof to any person who is the owner of the land which adjoins it, and is situate on the same side of the road for the purpose of providing that person with alternative means of access to the road or for the purpose of enabling the land to be used economically or for the purpose of preventing the land becoming derelict. The road authority may make the sale or transfer subject to such conditions (including conditions requiring the land to be fenced with other lands and to be permitted to be occupied with other lands) as the road authority thinks fit. Provision is included in the section for extinguishing public rights of way with the consent of the Minister, and for extinguishing by agreement rights of entry to adjoining property through the land.
Doubt has arisen as to the powers of urban district councils to borrow for the purpose of the construction of roads and bridges. Section 82 will clarify the position.
Section 83 excludes loans borrowed by county councils as public assistance authorities from the borrowing limit of one-tenth of the valuation which was imposed in 1898 when they had no public assistance functions. County councils as public assistance authorities will be subject to the limit of one-fourth of the valuation fixed by Section 57 of the Public Assistance Act, 1939.
Section 84 is a re-enactment in modern form of the existing law in regard to the issue of stock by local authorities. The only difference is in the addition of the words "on such terms" to sub-section (1) and the requirement in sub-section (3) that the Minister for Finance will be consulted.
Sections 85 to 88 relate to local inquiries that are ordered by the Minister. Some of the Department's general inspectors have in recent years been assigned the duty of acting for local bodies when the members of such bodies have been removed and also have been acting temporarily as managers when vacancies occur. They are not always available to hold inquiries. Furthermore, for certain inquiries it is desirable to have persons with special training and experience. It is proposed to give the Minister power to appoint temporarily specially qualified persons to hold inquiries if occasion requires.
Occasions have arisen on which it would have been very desirable for the manager of a local authority to have separate legal representation at inquiries. This has been particularly the case where his own decisions or conduct are involved or impugned. If he is separately represented by order of the Minister under this section his costs may be paid subject to any limit the Minister may impose. A similar position may arise in regard to other officers and private persons. If the Minister considers that the evidence before the inquiry is in the public interest and that a contribution should be made towards the costs and expenses incurred, he may certify the amount of the contribution and direct its payment.
The remaining sections of the Bill are largely concerned with slight revisions or amendments of the wording of earlier statutes. Only two of these call for any comment.
It is proposed in the first that in future the clerks of old age pension committees shall be appointed by these committees without reference to the Local Appointments Commissioners.
Members of the House with knowledge of the amount of remuneration paid to these clerks will appreciate that it is unnecessary to apply the machinery of the Local Appointments Commissioners to their appointment. We propose, in future, to dispense with that cumbersome and expensive procedure.
Section 93 of the Bill, whilst retaining the prohibition against the surveyor trimming or cutting a tree in the period April to end of September unless he is satisfied that failure to do so will involve serious risk of accident, will permit a hedge that is prejudicial to the proper maintenance of the road to be cut by the surveyor in that period.
Amongst the enactments repealed which are set out in the First Schedule will be found parts of several Public Libraries Acts. The purpose of these repeals is to abolish the rating limits for libraries.
Part I of the Second Schedule relates to boroughs other than county boroughs and Part II to other urban districts. In these boroughs, as I have already explained, arable land and market gardens, etc., will be assessed on three-quarters of the valuation and in other urban districts on three-fifths of the valuation. In the case of land in urban districts in respect of which relief is at present paid out of the agricultural grant there will be a transition period in which the assessment will begin at 6/20ths of the valuation and rise by 1/20th each year to 3/5ths as provided in Section 21. The agricultural grant will be paid into the municipal fund as provided in Section 26 of the Bill.
This, Sir, covers practically all the provisions of the Bill. The House will see that they all tend in one direction, as I said earlier, to consolidate the law and to clarify it and to make it a more efficient instrument to ensure that the standards of our local administration will be high and correct.