First, I should like to say what a welcome surprise it was to me to hear the speeches of welcome and of approval which were made from all sides of the House. I do not want to attempt to talk about emigration or whether or not men are willing or unwilling to work. I merely recommend this measure to the Seanad because it is a Bill which will enable local authorities to do good work and work which may be productive and also because it is a Bill which will provide employment for many people—many of whom, I have no hesitation in saying, need it at present and have needed it not alone this year but for a long time past.
This measure has not been introduced, as some Senators would have us believe, as a relief scheme or as a measure which is in substitution for the cut which was made in the road grants. I do not intend to dwell upon the question of the road grants except to point out that grants were made available from the Road Fund to local authorities, for the repair, maintenance and the making of roads, on a generous scale during the last four or five years —as long as the money which accumulated during the war years was there. Apart from that, I do not intend to say any more except that the grants are being made available for roads to the local authorities on the same basis. In other words, the moneys which are collected into the Road Fund are still entirely devoted to the repair, maintenance and the making of roads.
Some Senators expressed fears as to the effect this Bill might have on the finances of the local authorities. I think Senator O'Reilly made that point too. He talked about the further responsibility that was being placed on the local authority. I should like to stress that this Bill does not put any responsibility or any obligation on a local authority to do anything or to incur any debt whatsoever. This is an enabling Bill. This is a Bill which allows local authorities to do certain works to protect their own property, to relieve it from such things as flooding, landslide and subsidence, and it allows them to do similar types of work in respect of property which is not their own if and when they consider that it is in the public interest to do so. On this point it might be well for me to say that in my opinion this is a Bill which will, in effect, be the property of the local authorities themselves.
This is a Bill which they may or may not operate and it is a Bill of which I think anybody, if he or she glances at it, can say that it contains the minimum amount of red tape. We have heard a lot about red tape lately but I think most of us agree that there must be a certain amount of it. I think I am safe in saying that safeguards are usually referred to as red tape. This is a simple Bill of six sections, and I think no local authority will be reluctant to carry out any works under the terms of this Bill. Many times in the past we have had examples of legislation enabling local authorities to carry out certain works, but unfortunately, when the local authorities got the actual measure into their hands they discovered that they would have to go through such complicated and lengthy procedure that they did not think it worth their while if it would take one year or two years or three years before they could actually put a spade into the ground, or put one brick upon another.
As evidence of the fact that this is a simple Bill and one that can be given effect to immediately, I would point out that in the last three or four months local authorities have been collecting certain works or schemes which they may do under this particular Bill and which they will put into operation immediately this Bill becomes law. I think we have even travelled a little further than, perhaps, in other circumstances, either of the two Houses would allow us. We have had consultations with the county engineers of the different county councils. We have had very frequent contact with the officials and, I might say, with the elected representatives on the local authorities and the indications are that the schemes which they have prepared can be put into operation immediately this Bill becomes law. Therefore, I do not think that Senator Hawkins—I think he was the first to raise the matter—need have any fears in that respect. Most of the schemes which the local authorities have prepared can be put into operation as soon as this particular Bill is put on the Statute Book.
I think it might be no harm to point out that schemes approved by the Minister for Local Government will be given a 100 per cent. grant for the actual execution of the works. That is not at all ungenerous, especially when one remembers that a deputation from the General Council of County Councils approached the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance asking for certain help to carry out works which are specifically mentioned in Section 2 of the Bill. In asking the Minister for help and for powers to carry out such works they merely asked for State assistance to the extent, I think, of about 60 per cent. of the cost of the actual execution of the works. The Minister for Local Government has gone further and has promised the local authorities a 100 per cent. grant which, as I say, is not ungenerous. Therefore, I do not think a great case can be made for asking for the full amount of the compensation as well. In respect of practically all the schemes that have been received in the Department of Local Government, there is an extremely small percentage in which the local authorities contemplate any compensation whatsoever. I do not think it is unreasonable to expect that local authorities should have some little financial responsibility in the carrying out of schemes under this particular Bill but, apart from that, inasmuch as the Bill is intended to do good—inasmuch as the Bill is intended to do good for the ratepayers generally in a county and inasmuch as it is intended, in another respect, to do good for farmers and for landowners—I do not imagine that there will be the great number of claims for compensation that many Senators and other people think there may be. This is a Bill which, I believe, will be worked entirely on a basis of co-operation between the landowners and the local authority and, if you like, the officials of the local authority. Where the local authority intends to do good I do not think there will be such a tremendous amount of claims for compensation.
Whilst there may be some questions to be answered on particular points, I think the members of the Seanad are agreed that there are adequate safeguards in this Bill for the ordinary individual and for the public generally. Certain questions were raised by individual Senators and if I do not refer to each one specifically I am sure that I will be pardoned. Senator Stanford, in dealing with Section 5—the compensation section—rightly mentioned that that particular section had been amended in Dáil Éireann. The original section read:—
"Where any land sustains damage..."
This section, on amendment, provides that:—
"Any person who suffers damage by reason of any interference... with any land owned or occupied by him or any easement, profit-a-prendre or other right belonging to him shall... be entitled to be paid compensation..."
I do not think that similar sections which provide for compensation in other Acts of Parliament are any wider than that. That particular section covers practically any type of damage or loss that an individual may suffer.
In this particular Bill, "land" need not have a definition, as it is defined quite adequately in the Interpretation Act of 1937, as follows:—
"The word ‘land' includes messuages, tenements, and hereditaments, houses and buildings, of any tenure."
Senator Stanford also asked about compensation for injury to persons or live stock. In respect to such damage, such a person or owner of live stock can proceed by way of ordinary civil action.
Senator Séamus O'Farrell raised the question of non-co-operation by a local authority or a number of local authorities. The evidence is to the contrary. Local authorities, officials and public representatives, have welcomed this Bill and by their sending up of schemes from every single county have shown that they are prepared to co-operate to the fullest. We have been in touch with the local authorities by way of circular and have advised the county manager in each case to consult always the elected representatives as to the best type of schemes to send to the Department for approval. We have every reason to believe that this procedure is being adopted and we have every evidence that all local authorities are co-operating to the fullest extent. Senator O'Farrell also asked about rates on flooded land, but I do not think he expected me to engage in any discussion on that, as it is a matter which might very suitably be discussed on the Valuation Acts.