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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 12 Dec 1956

Vol. 46 No. 15

Rent Restrictions (Continuance and Amendment) Bill, 1956—Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

The Bill proposes to prolong the operation of the Rent Restrictions Acts up to December 31st, 1957. These Acts would otherwise expire at the end of this month and it is common policy that they should not be allowed to lapse before the Government have completed their examination of the rent control problem and the Oireachtas has debated and passed into law whatever legislation may prove to be necessary.

The working of the Acts and the question of extending them to furnished lettings was reported on in 1952 by the Conroy Commission. The Commission's Report contains a large number of recommendations dealing with all aspects of rent control. Many of the recommendations are technical in character but the major recommendations raise fundamental issues such as, for example, the recommendation that not only should the existing controls on dwellings be continued, with some increases for landlords who are liable for repairs, but that control should be extended to all dwellings whether furnished or unfurnished and whether now in existence or to be built hereafter. This comprehensive report is of considerable assistance to the Government who are also taking into account the many developments that have taken place since the report was prepared and the difficulties that have arisen or are likely to arise from the present international situation.

Since the presentation of the report some 50,000 houses have been built but very few houses have been built for letting by private enterprise despite the fact that attractive letting grants have been available since 1948 and that there is no statutory restriction on the rents that may be charged. The absence of new buildings for letting from private resources has increased the proportion of rented accommodation owned by local authorities whose tenants do not have the benefit of the Rent Acts. Apart from new building, there has been a large increase in the number of houses being reconstructed and I expect that this trend will be accelerated having regard to the recent increase in the maximum limits of these grants. The combined effect of the new building and reconstruction since 1952 has produced a marked improvement in the supply of houses though there is still a shortage of rented dwellings especially in Dublin and Cork.

Apart from these developments in the housing situation since the Report was presented and the recent worsening of the international outlook, it is necessary to have regard to the large and ever-growing number of complicated legal rights and relationships which inevitably arise out of legislation of this kind, affecting thousands of people either as landlords or tenants, and which makes the task of finding a fair solution to the problem no easy one.

As in previous Bills of this kind, it is being provided that any landlord who puts his premises into a reasonable state of repair during the pair of years 1956 and 1957 and who spends more than two-thirds of the basic rent in doing so will be entitled to the generous percentage return allowed by the Acts on the amount he is out of pocket. This provision enables landlords of the older houses to take full advantage of the substantial repair and reconstruction grants which have been available for some years past and which, as I have said, have recently been increased.

Finally, I should like to refer to the second report presented by the Conroy Commission, that is, the Report on Reversionary Leases under the Landlord and Tenants Acts. I mentioned last year that a Bill was being drafted to give effect to the Report's recommendations and I am glad to be able to say that the Bill has since been circulated and is at present being considered by the Dáil.

For the third year, the Minister has introduced this continuation Bill and on each occasion he referred to the comprehensive legislation which the Government have still under consideration and which he again states he hopes will be introduced within a short time. It seems to me that the Conroy Report will still be under consideration by the Government when this Government leave office without having announced their proposals in this matter. In view of the urgent necessity for fresh legislation, it is difficult to appreciate why the Government have not been able to come to a definite decision before now. After all, the proposals of the Conroy Commission were definite and specific and the Government should be in a position either to decide to accept or reject them. I suggest that is a further indication of the weakness of Coalition Governments and sectional interests.

Oh, no—not on a Rent Restrictions Bill.

Yes, on a Rent Restrictions Bill, as the Leader of the Opposition states.

The Leader of the Opposition? The Senator is getting a bit mixed.

I should say the Leader of the House. This is a most contentious matter because obviously the interests of the landlord who belongs to the better-off class of the community and the interests of the tenant who belongs to the poorer class are extremely different in character and, consequently, there is bound to be a considerable amount of contention. In view of the many houses erected since 1941 and the number of people now living in furnished flats in the cities, it is extremely desirable that this new legislation should be introduced to cover all these cases at the earliest possible time. No doubt, the Minister has recently brought before the Oireachtas technical Bills, such as the Statute of Limitations Bill and the Married Women's Status Bill, but those matters are not contentious in the same way as a Rent Restrictions Bill would be.

A new Rent Restrictions Bill, I suggest, should have precedence, therefore, in view of the fact that the Minister stated that the Conroy Report on rent control affected tens of thousands and because of the fact that this report was issued away back in the year 1952. Until such time as the proposals of the Government are announced, landlords are deterred from letting premises and consequently houses are permitted to fall into a state of disrepair and decay. In my opinion, that is one of the reasons why the demand for local authority houses is so great. It is obvious to me, however, that local authorities cannot erect houses as economically as private individuals. Local authorities have to rent their houses at a very uneconomic rent, because of loan charges, the cost of supervision of the erection and construction of the houses, and administrative costs generally. Therefore, the rent that the local authorities can charge for these houses is frequently less than half of the economic cost.

At any rate, at the present time there is great inequality between the landlord and tenant in respect of houses built prior to and subsequent to the year 1941. Speaking in this House on the 24th November, 1954, as reported at column 258 of the Official Debates, the Minister stated that the Judge Conroy Report had been subjected to a thorough examination by the Department and that the proposals were being considered by the Government. Further on in the same column, he stated that an effort was being made to have the proposals ready for introduction the following year. Two years have elapsed and we are still informed that the proposals ready for introduction the following year. Two years have elapsed and we are still informed that the proposals are under consideration by the Government. It has been said that the law is proverbial for its delays, but I suggest that the delay in bringing forward proposals for a new Rent Restrictions code shows that it could very aptly be applied in this case, where there has been far too long a delay.

Ba maith liomsa, leis, milleán do chur ar an Aire agus ar an Rialtas mar gheall ar an moill atá le feiscint maidir le Bille iomlán do thabhairt isteach. Ní hé seo an chéad uair gurb éigin dúinn rud den tsort seo a rá. Maidir leis an mBille eile sin, a bhíodh fé díospóireacht againn, a cuirtear isteach anseo in aghaidh na bliana, An Bille Solátháirtí agus Seirbhísí, bhíodh an rud céanna le rá mar gheall air. Faghaimíd geallúint go bhfuil Bille imolán á ullmhú sa Roinn, agus sin é an deire: ní cloisimíd a thuille mar gheall air.

I would like also to arraign the Minister and the Government for not giving us the long promised comprehensive legislation dealing with rents and rent control which we have been expecting. There is no more complicated branch of the law than that which deals with rent and rent control and with landlord and tenant relationship. It was because of that, I take it, that a special commission was set up to examine all the aspects of these problems and the services of a Circuit Court judge were enlisted to preside over the deliberations of that commission. Everybody must admit, of course, that that commission did its job well and presented a very enlightened report. They went about their business in a very thorough and painstaking way and presented the report to the Government. When the report was presented, it was not the present Government that was in office. As we remember, the then Minister for Justice was blamed for not having brought in comprehensive proposals right away. Here we are now, a period of four years after the presentation of that report, and we still find that the Government has given it no consideration.

The present Government has been blamed by many people for having set up too many commissions and committees, but sometimes there is something to be said for referring a problem to a commission of people who have expert knowledge. I myself must admit that. At the same time, it can be carried too far. The situation is very bad entirely when a commission, having examined every aspect of the case, presents a well documented report to the Government and the Minister concerned runs away from it and says that the Government has not yet considered its implications. Why have they not considered it? I submit that this whole question is a very important and pressing one not alone as regards houses built prior to 1941 but also as regards those which have been built since then.

One of the recommendations of the Conroy Report is that all the houses built since 1941 and to be built in the future should be brought in and should be considered in one comprehensive scheme. When, I asked, are we to have this comprehensive scheme? Are we to meet again here after another 12 months and be told the very same thing, that the Government has not had time to consider this problem? It has had time to consider things not half as important or as pressing. Therefore, but for the fact that certain repercussions would follow, I would be inclined to oppose this measure, to call a division and throw it out. It is not right that we should be told year after year that the comprehensive proposals are not yet ready. The question is: when will they be ready?

I appreciate the position of Senators opposite. Naturally, they are making hay while the sun shines. First and foremost, Senator Walsh over-simplifies the matter when he says the landlords and tenants are naturally a bone of contention because landlords are rich and tenants are poor. All the landlords are not rich and all tenants are not poor.

Owing to the uncertainty at the moment, landlords have not the same security as they should have.

I see. I thought it was the tenants the Senator was worried about. I did not think it was landlords.

That is in reply to the Senator's point.

It is not as simple as that. I know landlords very far from being rich and I know tenants very far from being poor. This is a matter of very great importance and complexity. It would be no harm to point out that the report of that Commission was in the hands of the previous Government for nearly two years.

No, not two years. The Senator's imagination is running away with him.

Was the report not made on 20th June, 1952?

That is not two years. What happened was that the Minister asked for a period of 12 months, to give the public an opportunity of examining it.

The report was made in June, 1952 and when the Fianna Fáil Government went out in 1954, about two years afterwards, they had done nothing about it. I am not saying they were wrong; I am merely stating the fact. It is a very important matter and I am sure they were giving it very grave consideration. At any rate, in two years, they had done nothing about it. The present Minister has had it for two years and he is still considering it; and it is not for the pot to call the kettle black.

Let me give another example, of a case where Governments are slow to take action on certain things. I can remember hearing a Minister for Defence in 1924——

That is a long way off.

——promising a comprehensive Defence Forces Act. When Fianna Fáil came into the Dáil in 1927, they protested against the delay in bringing in such an Act. They got into office in 1932 and in 1939, seven years later, there was still no Act. The Defence Forces Bill, a very comprehensive and large measure, was not introduced until the war was well over, until 1946. All Governments tend to be slow about doing certain things.

I do not begrudge Senators opposite having a little fling when there has been a certain amount of delay, but the importance of this matter—and it is a very important and very complicated matter—justifies the Minister. Its very importance makes it imperative that it should be carefully considered before anything is done. As the Minister has pointed out, one of the matters is being dealt with now and we will have an opportunity of dealing with it here later on. Of course, there is no use in Senator Kissane telling us he wants to throw this Bill out. He could not—and he does not want to do so, either.

I would like to know why local authorities are not covered by this Bill. I have an idea as to the reason but would like to hear it explained by the Minister, as to why they are not covered.

Because they would have to raise their rents.

I have listened to both Senator Kissane and Senator Hayes and I do not think there is any justification at all for the statements they make. There should not be such delay in bringing in a Bill to deal with this matter. I am quite satisfied that, were it not for the vested interests on one side, we would have had a Bill long ago. I suggest that it is no excuse to say that the matter is under active consideration for two years. We should have something more positive done than has been done up to the moment in regard to a Rent Restrictions Bill.

In reply to Senator Hickey, as to why public bodies do not come under rent control, he is well aware that they are more generous than some of the landlords and the tenants are fairly fortunate, because the public bodies do not put on any excessive increase in rent. Does the Senator want me to bring in a Bill at present and recommend the Government to bring in permanent legislation dealing with this very important matter, when we do not know what will happen from one week to another? The Government has given this very careful consideration.

Did they disagree on it?

Fianna Fáil Senators want me to bring in a Bill, in the interests of the landlords, to increase the rents on the tenants. Is that not the position?

Nobody said that.

Did the Government disagree on the Conroy Report?

Senator Walsh made the very point that it was in the interest of the landlords.

I made no such suggestion.

We have to be just to all sections. We have consider both the landlord and the tenant. I agree with Senator Hayes that some tenants are in a better position than landlords. I am speaking from personal experience. However, no responsible Minister could come before this House at present and decide on permanent legislation, when he knew that within six or seven months we might have to change the whole legislation.

We have to consider the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Local Government in this question. Since 1952, over 50,000 houses have been erected and, with the generous contributions for reconstruction grants from both Governments, over 20,000 houses have been reconstructed and the landlords in such cases are entitled to an increased amount for their out of pocket expenses in that connection. That is most generous. Having dealt with that problem since 1952, since the Conroy Report, the Government must consider it in the light of the facts, before the 50,000 extra houses and the 20,000 extra reconstructed houses, which are practically as good as new, are brought in.

These matters have to be considered very carefully by the Government. I would be the first to be criticised here, even by my friend, Senator Kissane, if I attempted to bring in a Bill at present to deal with landlord and tenant questions. I would be told the time was not opportune. I would be asked why I did not wait for another six months, as I had waited two years; I would be asked what the position would be in another six months. We do not know but that building materials and various other things may increase still further and a Bill brought in to-day may not be just to one side or the other six months hence. With the Government, I have given very careful consideration to the whole problem. We brought in the other Reversionary Leases Bill to try to meet one situation. I know some are claiming that we should bring in a Bill to deal with ground rents. That is another problem.

It is long overdue, too.

It does not affect the position in my area, as we have a democratic, Labour-controlled, public body which is most generous in allocating sites for housing, with a guaranteed renewal of the lease. That has been there for 100 years and has been always the custom. The ground rent is £1 a year and after 75 years the most by which it can be increased is 25 per cent. on the £1. There is a big problem in connection with ground rents and I would like to be in a position to deal with it when the other Bills are being brought in. I am sure Senators will agree that the Department of Justice—one Bill was mentioned by Senator Walsh—have done something in the last 12 months, by bringing in 12 very important Bills to reform laws that were not necessary. Therefore, I ask the Seanad to accept the position that we are doing everything possible. I promise I am not going to be put into the position of recommending the Government at the present time to bring in permanent legislation to deal with this very important problem, until things are more settled.

Question put and agreed to.

I would ask for the remaining Stages now as the Bill must be law before 31st of December. Agreed to take remaining Stages to-day.

Bill considered in Committee.


Question proposed: "That Section 1 stand part of the Bill."

The operation of this continuing measure comes to an end on 31st December, 1957. In his opening statement, and also again in his closing statement, the Minister referred to the international situation. He told us that that was one of the reasons, if not the chief reason, why the Government have held up the comprehensive measure we have been promised. I do not see any justification for that statement. I do not see what the international situation has to do with this measure, good, bad or indifferent. It could not have anything to do with it and there is no use in any Minister trying to shelter behind that statement. If there is no change in the international situation in the next 12 months, the question arises——

What has the international situation got to do with Section 1?

The Bill is to be continued until 31st December, 1957.

I do not see one mention of the international situation in Section 1.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Kissane, to continue.

Is this a pretence? I can call it nothing else but pretence. Will we be confronted again with the reference to the international situation in 12 months' time, if the position is then the same as it is now? I submit that the international situation has nothing at all to do with this Bill.

Actually, the report on rent control, page 19, mentions the international situation:—

"The present international situation which almost certainly affects the building industry cannot be overlooked."

The position is that one must do one's best in the circumstances. There are national as well as international circumstances that are very uncertain. They all have to be taken into consideration. At any rate, the date 31st December, 1957, ensures that, next year, if nothing has been done in the interval, the Senator can make the case that the Government is slow——

There will be many changes by then.

In that event, the Senator's own Party can bring in the Bill. Somebody will have an opportunity.

The Minister said the international situation may permit further legislation in six or seven months' time. I would refer the Minister and the House to the debate which took place here on the 24th November, 1954, as reported at column 267 of Volume 44, No. 3, of the Official Report. On that occasion, the Minister said:—

"I can assure the House, therefore, that I will do everything I can to have the Bill next year if I possibly can with the approval of the Government."

In view of that statement, the Minister would require to be a little more explicit as to what happened between November, 1954, and December, 1956, to postpone the matter in that period. Certainly, during all that period, the international situation could not have been responsible for the delay.

The Minister also suggested I was anxious to have new legislation in order to cater for the landlords. Certainly, I did not intend to convey any such impression. In actual fact, all houses erected since 1941 are not subject to the Rent Restriction Acts and, consequently, a landlord may charge whatever rent he likes in respect of those houses. It is only to control the rent which landlords charge for such houses, apart from others, that I am anxious that new legislation should be introduced at the earliest possible date.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 2, 3 and Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.