Housing (Amendment) Bill, 1954—Second Stage.

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

The general purposes of this Bill are to continue and extend the policy of encouraging the provision of new dwellings and the reconditioning of existing dwellings by private individuals and public utility societies, with the assistance of State grants and, where appropriate, supplementary grants from the housing authorities.

Section 6 proposes that grants for the erection, purchase and reconstruction of houses and the installation of sanitary services be continued at the present rates for a further two years.

The grants under the 1952 Act terminated on the 1st April but, in order to avoid a break in building operations, it has been arranged to continue the payment of grants in anticipation of the authority sought in the Bill. The Seanad is aware from published statistics that there is at present a satisfactory level of housing activity by private enterprise. The combined total of new house and reconstruction grants allocated in the 11 months of 1953-1954 to 28th February last is higher than the total in any complete year since the war. There are indications that this trend will be at least maintained in the coming 12 months.

The Bill aims to widen the scope of the reconstruction grant provisions of the Housing Acts. It is proposed in Section 14 that even if a previous grant was made for erection or reconstruction of a house, a further grant will be available after 15 years for the carrying out of any approved scheme of reconstruction, whether or not the work includes the provision of a new roof or that additional accommodation provided is essential for the relief of overcrowding.

At present, a grant is available ten years after payment of a previous grant where a thatch roof is replaced by slates or tiles. Section 14 would make this grant available for the replacement by tiles or slates of any type of roofing. Under this section, also, the occupier of a house which had been damaged by storm, flood, fire or other causes outside his control would be eligible for a grant towards re-building it without reference to the period since a previous grant was made.

Section 12 is an important new provision. Reconstruction grants are already available to farmers of up to £50 valuation and agricultural labourers in rural areas reconstructing houses in their own occupation. Members of the working classes and agricultural labourers in urban areas whose valuation does not exceed £12 are eligible for grants for the reconstruction of houses in their own occupation. A grant of £80 is also available in urban and rural areas to persons having control of unfit houses who repair them by direction of the housing authority. All the foregoing grants may be supplemented by grants from the housing authority.

No grants are at present available in urban areas to occupiers over £12 valuation or to landlords, unless the houses are unfit for human habitation and repairs specified in a notice served by the housing authority under Section 19 of the 1931 Act have been carried out.

The Housing Acts require unfit housing conditions to be eradicated. The process is so costly both on private and public account, that it is a matter of national importance to prevent as many houses as possible from becoming unfit. It is also important to discourage haphazard tenementing which quickly adds to the liabilities of the local authorities for the relief of overcrowded and insanitary conditions. In the case of single family houses the state of repair may be reasonably good, but the houses may lack amenities with the result that the owners or occupiers are not inclined to maintain them. The improvement of such houses would be a desirable contribution to better housing standards.

It is proposed in Section 12, therefore, that a grant from State funds not exceeding £80 per dwelling, or one-third of the cost of the works (excluding decoration) whichever is the smaller should be payable to the person executing repair or improvement works whether or not he is the occupier. The grant would be payable for each separate dwelling in the repaired house. The housing authority would be free to pay a grant not exceeding the amount of the State grant, and rates remission would be available. The existing provisions relating to grants for the reconstruction of houses of up to £12 valuation and for the repair of houses by direction of the housing authority would no longer be required as the new grants would embrace the type of reconstruction and repair work hitherto covered by these provisions.

There has been an insistent, though small, demand for lump-sum grants for houses built for letting in place of the grants payable by annual instalments over ten years under Section 19 of the 1948 Act. Section 13 of the Bill would give a trial for two years to the alternative form of grant, which would be of an amount equal to that payable for an owner-occupied house. The housing authority would be empowered to allow rates remission of two-thirds for seven years where a grant is paid under this section. Houses qualifying for these grants would be subject to the same conditions as to resale which apply to houses for which letting grants under the 1948 Act are paid.

Section 7 makes it clear that the recipient of a grant for an owner-occupied house must occupy the house as his normal place of residence, not, for instance, as a holiday or summer home. Section 8 makes it clear that letting grants under the 1948 Act may be made to a local authority—for example, a mental hospital authority— though not to a housing authority providing houses which are otherwise subsidised by the State.

Sections 9, 10 and 11 propose to give effect to representations made to me that housing authorities should have discretion to make supplementary grants of amounts less than the maxima specified in certain sections of the 1952 Act, rather than that some authorities should feel obliged to make no grants at all on the grounds of cost.

Some further amendments of the supplementary grant provisions of the 1952 Act are desirable. In the Dublin City and County areas, for instance, a high proportion of the applicants under Section 11 have been clerical and similar workers whose incomes exceed £416 and thus render them ineligible for grants under Section 10 of the 1952 Act. Many of these applicants have been rejected by the housing authority on the grounds that they are not of a class whom the corporation or county council, for example, ordinarily re-house.

It is proposed to increase the family income limits in the four county boroughs, the borough of Dún Laoghaire, Dublin County and those portions of Cork County which are included with Cork City for the purpose of the higher loans to borrowers under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts. Housing authorities in these areas would therefore be enabled to make to any person having a family income of less than £10 per week at the time of his application, a supplementary grant graded according to the amount of such income.

No change in the valuation limits set out in Section 9 of the 1952 Act is proposed, as the £35 limit brings in the vast majority of farmers.

Doubt has been expressed as to whether a housing authority which benefits by the surrender of a tenancy can pay a supplementary grant if the tenant builds his new house in the functional area of another authority and it is proposed to clarify the matter in Section 11.

Section 8 of the 1948 Act which prohibits the demolition in whole or in part or the use otherwise than as a dwelling-house of any habitable house, unless with the permission of the housing authority, or on appeal, of the Minister, is extended to 31st December, 1956, by Section 15 of the Bill.

The Rent Restrictions Acts by virtue of Section 3 (2) (c) of the Rent Restrictions Act of 1946, do not apply to houses provided by a local authority, of which the local authority is for the time being the landlord. By virtue of Section 3 of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1931, the Landlord and Tenant Acts do not apply where buildings on any land or premises are provided by a local authority, if such property is held by the local authority in fee simple.

Housing authorities from time to time acquire private dwellings and other buildings for reconditioning or conversion under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts and the Labourers Acts. House property also becomes vested in a housing authority as a result of boundary extensions and otherwise. Arising from a number of court decisions, considerable doubt exists as to whether the housing authorities can be deemed to have "provided" the houses acquired by or transferred to them. It is proposed to remove these doubts in Sections 16 and 20.

Section 17 of the Bill makes provision for the continuance of the Labourers Acts until 31st December, 1960.

Section 18 of the Bill incorporates the principle of the Labourers Bill, 1953, introduced in the Dáil by Deputy Lehane. I would like to have been in a position to propose a wider measure of amendment but the subject requires further detailed examination owing to the complexities that exist in all matters pertaining to land law.

Section 11 of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906, enables housing authorities to treat as absolute owners for the purposes of compensation for acquisition of land, certain persons who have been in possession of the land for not less than six years. The section applies only where the compensation payable does not exceed £60. Because of the fall in the value of money since 1906, it is considered reasonable to increase this sum to £250.

Sub-section (8) of Section 11 enables housing authorities to pay into the Circuit Court compensation not exceeding £100 in certain cases where there are title or similar difficulties. The jurisdiction of the Circuit Court generally in similar matters has recently been increased to £600 and it is proposed to amend sub-section (8) accordingly. The amendment proposed would apply also to operations under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts, to which the 1906 Act provisions were applied in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1931.

Section 17 (2) (d) (iii) of the Labourers Act, 1936, provides that a vested cottage "shall not be alienated otherwise than by operation of law or by sale with the consent of" the housing authority. There is doubt as to whether this empowers a tenant-purchaser to dispose of his interest by will or bequest, and Section 19 of the Bill is designed to clarify the point.

Where advances under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts are made to farmers, some local authorities are prepared to take a charge on the entire holding, while others insist on subdivision for the purpose of protecting their charge in the event of sale of the holding. One of the principal objections to subdivision is that it divorces the occupier's residence from his holding and another objection is that the grant of the advance under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts is delayed.

The proposal in Section 21 is that protection should be available to local authorities in respect of advances on holdings in the same way as protection is afforded in respect of Charging Orders under sub-section (5) of Section 9 of the Housing (Gaeltacht) Act, 1929, in order to encourage local authorities to take a charge on a complete holding without insisting on subdivision. At the same time it would facilitate farmers who object to subdividing their holdings to avail of the Small Dwellings Acts procedure for the erection of new houses.

The time is approaching when the housing code seems incapable of much further expansion or amendment except in matters of detail. The foregoing is a brief summary of some important aspects of housing policy which require early attention and which I, therefore, commend for the consideration of the Seanad.

Everybody in the Seanad will, I think, join with me in welcoming this Bill. It extends the number of beneficiaries under the Housing Acts, and for that reason it is generally welcomed. There is just one point in the Bill which I would like to draw attention to in the hope that the Minister might consider making a further extension of the class of people to benefit under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts. The Bill does extend in Section 2 the number of people to receive grants under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts, and it increases quite substantially the grants above the 1952 figure. The cost of living has risen since 1952, but not by as much as the grants in the Bill. Therefore, I think that the figures in the Bill do represent a substantial increase in the number of people benefiting by the Housing Acts; it not merely increases the number but brings the present situation into line with the rise in the cost of living.

I suggest to the Minister that if there is a means test in this Bill, as there is, that it is not perfectly logical. If the means test is based on the gross income of people as defined by the 1952 Act, then some allowance should be made for the burden of dependent children when allowance is made for the benefit derived from the presence in a house of non-dependent children who are earning their living. Under the definition of gross income in the 1952 Act, provision is made for taking into account all persons living in the house and contributing to the family income. That, no doubt, is proper, but it seems to me, on the face of it, unfair if that principle is not extended in the other direction so as to make some allowance for dependent children living whose presence in the house takes away from the net income rather than adds to it.

The first of the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts in force to-day came into operation in 1948. A number of people, for one reason or another, have been unable to take advantage of that Act or of the subsequent amending Acts. A number of salaried employees, those who are now known as the white collar classes, found it very difficult during the war years from 1939 until 1948 to save sufficient out of their incomes to obtain a house. Houses were in short supply and money was short. The incomes of a great many salaried people were pegged down much below the rise in the cost of living during that decade, so that a number of people were unable to obtain a house because of the fact that it was not possible for them to put aside enough money which would act as a deposit for a house when houses became more plentiful and cheaper after the war. The fact is that in those years a number of people were not in a position to put anything aside and, therefore, were not able to take full advantage of the Act of 1948. Many of these people have since been married and now have dependent children. The result is that, with the rise in the cost of living, they still find themselves unable to get enough money together to form a deposit for the purchase of a house. There are many people to-day with £700 a year or more who are not at all as well-off as people were when the original Act was passed in 1948, even though they had a much lower money income.

I do not myself see an answer to the point which I am making, that if children who are earning and adding to the family income are to be taken into account in assessing the eligibility of a parent to obtain a grant, the fact of children subtracting from that family income by being a charge on it should not have its effect in the opposite direction. The Act of 1952 makes it perfectly clear that if children are bringing money into the house it must be taken into account. The result of taking it into account may be that the family ceases to be eligible for a grant under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act. On the other hand, there are other families where the children are, say, just two years younger and, instead of bringing money into the house they are a charge on their parents. Their education, their upbringing, their nurture and the provision of clothing for them all add up to reduce the net family income, so that those children, instead of being an addition to the income of the house constitute a burden on their parents. In that way, they make it extremely difficult for the parents to accumulate a deposit to help them to purchase a new dwelling.

The proposal which I am putting forward to the Minister for his consideration is, I suggest, a very reasonable one, that is that every person with dependent children should have the same allowance for this purpose as he has under the income tax code. For example, under Section 10 of the Bill the maximum income that a person may possess to be eligible for the supplementary grant under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act is now raised to £520. If a married man with one dependent child had an income of £600 and was given the same allowance for this purpose as he would be for income-tax he would be brought down to the £520 bracket. If he had a child over 16 years, let us say, who was bringing in £100 a year the presence of that child might make him ineligible for the grant under the Bill. What I suggest is that every person's income for this purpose should be the net income for income-tax purposes. That would be a very simple method of applying a logical means test instead of a means test which seems to me at any rate to cut in one direction but not in the other.

The present position is, as I have said before, that a man whose children have grown up finds himself excluded possibly from eligibility owing to the fact that his children are bringing something into the house. I suggest that it is a logical corollary of that principle that when a man has dependent children who are a severe charge on him at the present time, he should be brought into the eligibility bracket as a result of the presence in his family of those children. The simplest way of doing that in practice would be to extend the income-tax code to the eligibility provisions in this Bill. That is the only criticism I have to make of the Bill and I hope the Minister will not dismiss my suggestion without full consideration.

I welcome the provision in this Bill to extend for a period of two years the present payment of grants to persons who are building and to utility societies. I particularly welcome the encouragement in the Bill to those persons who are prepared to build houses for letting purposes and I think we should devote all our efforts in the next two years to encouraging our farming community especially to build such houses. The fact that provision is being made in this Bill to give a lump sum grant to those persons who are prepared to build houses for letting purposes, should be an inducement to our agricultural community, particularly to those people who are employers of agricultural workers, to provide housing accommodation for their agricultural workers.

In this regard I would like to draw attention to the fact that over a number of years a suggestion has been made by the head of the State that we might have provided in this country what we would term a second house. The Minister has gone some small way in encouraging the provision of that housing accommodation. If a farmer feels that he is about to get in a lump sum what in the ordinary way would be spread over a number of years, it will encourage him to erect a house either for an agricultural worker or for the young family that may grow up after him. That is a step in the right direction.

In regard to the encouragement of local authority housing, I would direct the Minister's attention to something that has grown up, particularly in urban areas. Most urban authorities have co-operated in housing the people and have encouraged development of house building on virgin soil in new areas. Having done that, however, they have left derelict sites behind them and these in many cases have been turned into storage of one kind or another. I have in mind such sites in Galway City. That is a bad thing and I would ask the Minister to avail of whatever powers he has—and if he has not power, to secure it immediately—to ensure that premises which were originally occupied as dwellings, and from which people were removed to accommodation in other areas, would not be turned into storage areas, particularly in the centre of a town or in the centre of a city like Galway. That is one of the things to which immediate attention should be given.

We make very generous contributions to the local authorities to provide houses for those who cannot pay an economic rent. There is not sufficient inducement given to the local authority to provide houses for those who are in a position to pay an economic rent. We should encourage local authorities more than we have done in the past to engage in this type of work. A very heavy burden has been placed on them over a number of years and they now find they are compelled to provide houses for persons who could and should contribute more to the provision of such accommodation than they do under present circumstances. I would like to see provision in the present Housing Bill for a contribution to local authorities whereby they would get at least the contribution the private individual would get when he provides such accommodation for himself. That is only fair, but I understand that it is not the position at the present time.

This Bill extends the facilities for the improvement of houses, more than any other Bill in the past. Grants are being made for reconstruction otherwise than by providing a roof. There is also an extension of the conditions where the normal circumstances could not be taken into consideration, that is, for flooding, fire, and so on, rendering a dwelling unfit for habitation. We have provision here for a grant in such circumstances. That of itself is a very great advance. Under former Acts if you provided a new roof, if you substituted a tiled roof for a thatched roof, you were entitled to a grant provided you had not received a grant inside 15 years. Now, whether it is a new roof or an extension of accommodation, you are entitled to a reconstruction grant. These are all things in the Bill that we should appreciate. During many discussions on these matters here and in the other House, we have heard many tributes to the Minister. No doubt the Department of Local Government has contributed its share to the encouraging position we have arrived at to-day. The local authorities also have done their bit and, though there are some lagging behind, in most cases they have done what was expected of them. That entails acceptance of the responsibility for ensuring that the people are housed. It means placing a heavy burden on the rates in that particular year.

There is one section of the community about which, so far, I have not heard any appreciation from any person or society for their contribution to this great housing effort. It is in particular to express my appreciation of their contribution that I have risen here to-night. The people I refer to are the builders providers. Without their encouragement and assistance, the Government, the local authority and the utility societies throughout the country could not have achieved what they have achieved. It is the builders providers, it is the local merchants, who of their own accord have accepted credit notes from the utility societies. They have accepted the credit of the particular applicant and the credit of the local authority which has guaranteed to pay a grant in a particular case. When we take into consideration that the acceptance of such a grant over a number of cases—particularly having regard to the high cost of materials at the present moment—may mount up to some thousands of pounds in very small cases, we must realise that these merchants have made a very serious contribution to the solution of the housing problem.

I would like to add my appreciation of what they have done over a number of years. They made that contribution even during the war years. I have known merchants, particularly in Galway, who have refused to accept cash clients in order to give preference to people with credit notes from a utility society. In that way the builders providers have shown their appreciation of the position and have made their contribution to the drive we are making to solve this great problem. Without their co-operation and assistance in the past—and which we hope to have in the future—we could not have achieved the objects we have achieved.

Senator George O'Brien in his very brief statement referred to the Small Dwellings Act. His suggestion was that it was something that was passed by the Dáil or Seanad in 1948. I have gone to the trouble to look that up— it was not very much trouble, as I am very familiar with all these things in relation to housing. The Small Dwellings Acts was first passed by a British Parliament as far back as 1891, not 1948.

The Minister, to conclude.

I do not know how to meet briefly the point that has been made by Senator O'Brien, but I will start in this way. There are three sections in the Act of 1952 that are being continued in this Bill. Section 9 deals with farmers, land owners, and sets out the valuation limits inside of which the local authority may pay supplementary grants. Section 11 deals with persons who are in occupation of local authority houses or who are accepted by the local authority as people for whom houses should be provided. Section 10 was designed to meet a lower income type of applicant, irrespective of whether or not he belonged to the class or classes for whom a local authority was obliged to provide housing. That being the case, it is only natural that the income limits would be low. The income limits as set out in the Act of 1952, Section 10, and as amended here, are low. There is no need for me to attempt to justify these limits or to analyse the arguments adduced by Senator Professor O'Brien, to show the justice or injustice of what is proposed, for the simple reason that these are permissive sections; the local authority may, if it so desires, adopt them.

To give an idea of the justification for the limit set out, all I need say is that until recently very few local bodies adopted them, low as they were. It was only recently that Dublin Corporation got the idea of giving supplementary grants. The same applies in the City of Waterford, the City of Limerick, the City of Cork, and all the boroughs. If there had been any inclination on the part of local bodies to give supplementary grants, they would have given them immediately on the passing of the 1952 Act.

I know what Senator O'Brien is complaining of, but I am trying to show that there is not much justification for it. Low as the limits have been, local bodies were slow to give supplementary grants even within these limits. If we raise the limits sky-high or if we remove the limits, what would it mean? It would mean that there would be permissive sections, that the sky would be the limit and local authorities would be so afraid that they would not give any supplementaries at all.

One can play about with arguments that, if the family income is to be determined on the basis of the earnings of the head of the family plus the earnings of members of the family living in the house, there should be a reduction in respect of those who are a charge upon the head of the house, who have not reached the stage when they are capable of earning—in one case you add; in the other case you deduct. One can play about with these arguments to show that some injustice is being done here but, in designing these three sections, we had to bear in mind that, even without this additional burden, local authorities have tremendous problems to discharge, that rates are high and that local authorities were hesitant to give supplementary grants within the framework of these three sections and therefore would be frightened of giving grants if there were no limit at all in respect of classes of persons for whom they had no responsibility in the matter of providing housing.

I do not think I need go any further than that. I could make the same sort of case as Senator O'Brien has made. I could see the arguments he has made. To some minds they may appear forceful, but we are dealing here with machinery that is being handed to local bodies to implement and we must think in terms of their difficulty. In raising the limit to a maximum of £10 a week, I know that that will not bring in quite a number of very deserving people but I also know that, if I do not have a limit somewhere near that figure, I am being too generous, in the knowledge that the local authority will not implement it, for the reasons I have given.

It would cost the State nothing to be generous about this. I need not argue about this. I could simply say that I would eliminate the limit but that would not get us anywhere. We have gone this far in order to provide for a type of person who belongs to the lower income group who would not be covered by Section 11. We have inserted Section 10 so as to ensure that persons in the lower income group, irrespective of the class to which they belong, can be given a supplementary grant, if the local authority decides to give it. That is a very substantial reason for our taking this line.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take the next stage?

If Senator O'Brien has an amendment, he should be given an opportunity of tabling it.

We could discuss it now. In fact, we have been discussing it.

I do not wish to incommode the House or the Minister. I have made my point and if the House and the Minister are prepared to take the amendment now, I have no objection to going on with it.

If we take the Committee Stage now, when we come to the appropriate section Senator O'Brien could read out the amendment.

This is very awkward. I had a notion that perhaps I might put down an amendment or two. I do not want to cause any inconvenience. The points I have to consider are not of any great importance.

Would the Senator care to raise them on the sections?

If the Committee Stage were postponed I would be able to put down my amendments in the ordinary way.

Is there any difference for the Minister between now and the 21st April?

We are endeavouring to convenience the Minister.

The only thing is that we are paying grants at the moment without legal sanction of any kind.

Legal sanction will be forthcoming.

I do not want to pretend that it is a serious matter.

Mr. P. O'Reilly

A fundamental objection to our not passing this Bill to-night is that there is a fair amount of uneasiness among people down the country. Apparently it has got around that the 1952 Act has expired and that there is no legal sanction for the payment of any further grants. As a matter of fact, only yesterday I attended a funeral in County Leitrim and, at that funeral, a man asked me about current claims in respect of reconstruction grants. He said that people feel there is a doubt about the matter and, with a general election pending, they wondered if an enabling Act such as this would be passed in time. They fear they may be debarred in respect of payment of grants to which they are entitled. So long as there is this un-easiness——

The Senator can take my opinion to the man in County Leitrim that it will be all right.

Mr. P. O'Reilly

They take an intelligent interest in public affairs there, Sir.

We should have a fundamental objection here to putting Bills through almost as a matter of form and we should be enabled to consider things fully——

Could we not take it tomorrow?

Amendments to be handed in before——

We will leave it until the 21st of this month.

What will the men in Leitrim do in the meantime?

Mr. P. O'Reilly

I shall have to tell them that the Bill will be passed. That is all.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 21st April.