Housing Bill, 1965: Committee Stage.
Before we take up consideration of the Committee Stage of this Bill, I should like to indicate that I have ruled that Amendments Nos. 3, 56 and 57, standing in the names of Senators John Fitzgerald and Mary F. Davidson, are out of order.
Amendment No. 3 is out of order on the grounds that it involves a potential charge on State funds and amendments Nos. 56 and 57 on the grounds that they are outside the scope of the Bill.
The Senators have been notified accordingly.
I can understand amendment No. 3 being ruled out of order. I had a motive in putting it down but I quite realise and accept the Chair's ruling. It is hard to understand, however, the ruling on amendments Nos. 56 and 57 but I bow to the ruling of the Chair.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 may be taken together.
I move amendment No. 1:
In subsection (2) before "This" to insert "Subject to subsection (3) of this section".
I put down this amendment because a doubt exists in my mind as to when this Bill will come into operation while I am aware that the Minister has indicated his willingness to bring this Bill into operation at the earliest possible moment, by reason of the fact that already we have some sections of the Act in operation pending the passing of this particular Bill. But there are other sections of this Bill which I feel could be brought into operation immediately because, as Senators will see from section 1, there are still rather vague orders and various things like that which mean the Minister, in his own good time, may bring in some of these sections. We feel, on the passing of this Bill, it should be brought into operation immediately and I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would give a reason or explanation as to why it is not proposed to bring in the Act immediately.
I am not prepared to accept the amendment because of some of the points put forward by the Senator. As he says himself, the Minister has shown his anxiety to have the Act in force as soon as possible. Some grants under the Act have already been paid at the present time; small farm grants within the income limits. It is not simply due to the fact that so many other Acts are being repealed. The Senator can be assured that there will be no undue delay in bringing the Bill into force as soon as it has passed through all Stages.
Again, I should like to know why the Parliamentary Secretary has to bear the brunt of the criticisms which must be levelled at this stage at the Minister who is responsible for one of the most important Government Departments, charged with great responsibility so far as employment is concerned. On this section the Parliamentary Secretary is being asked why it is not possible to be more factual about the actual time of implementation of the Bill. The Minister should be honest with this House. We can say without fear of contradiction that the Minister was anything but honest with the other House. If it was not possible in the Lower House to extract the truth from the Minister with regard to the catastrophic position of the housing programme in the country, it is the duty of this House to do whatever we can, little as it may be, to bring home to the Minister that he has a very grave responsibility to the local authorities who are the housing agents charged with the implementation of this measure.
Within the past week I was present at a local authority meeting at which this new Bill was discussed. The date of its implementation was queried. When that question was raised we discovered to our horror that the Minister was not in a position to give any information on the date of implementation. Not only that, but we were then informed officially by the secretary of the local authority that from 14th April, 1966, no new applications could be considered for new houses, no new applications could be considered for new housing loans, no reconstruction applications or grants could be considered for the improvement or repair of existing houses, and that no new county council houses would be considered for building from 14th April.
What does that mean? It means that the entire housing programme is in a state of collapse, and the local authorities are the people who have knowledge of this. In the other House the Minister sought to suggest that the financial commitments for housing for next year would be as good as the commitments for this year. That seems to have satisfied quite a large number of public representatives, but when we consider that up to March, 1966, financial commitments so far as housing was concerned have not been met at all to the extent to which we were led to believe they would be met, we can see what the picture for next year will be like. The Minister said: "We will see that you will get no less this year than last year." It seems that he did not honour his commitments for last year, and, therefore, we will not get any more than we got last year which was damn all.
The Senator is going outside the scope of these amendments.
I am on the first amendment. I certainly will not disobey your ruling, Sir, but I think we have a duty here to say that we have gone past the stage of thimble-rigging stunting at a fair or a circus, trying to find out under which thimble is the nut or the pea. I want to know which year is the Minister working on so far as housing grants and this new Bill are concerned.
The Bill is not under consideration. It is amendments Nos. 1 and 2 which are under consideration.
Section 1 makes it quite clear that the date of operation will be such date as is fixed by the Minister. That is what I want to extract at this stage. I sought to extract on the order of business what that date was, in the light of the situation that obtains at present. This indicates to me that the Minister is hedging. A very serious situation has been brought about by that hedging on his part, and I want him to tell us honestly so far as next year is concerned that he has not the money available which he pretends he has, and that he is prepared to give moneys, which should be devoted to housing, to widening roads and to other purposes. That is what I want to get home. I want to get home the order of priorities, that housing should be a priority and this section should be a priority so far as the Minister is concerned in this Housing Bill.
I cannot go much further than that within the rules of procedure but I want to make it clear that if funds are available they should be used to implement this Bill. This section is one which is of the greatest importance because if the Minister has funds available for other purposes surely he can transfer these funds in order to implement section 1 of the Bill.
We know he is allocating to various local authorities large sums of money for making what I would call autobahn roads throughout the country. I am not objecting to good roads but I object to giving money to widening those roads when we have no money for housing. That is what I have to say on this particular section.
I think the amendment could be dealt with simply if the Parliamentary Secretary were able, even approximately, to give us an idea as to when it is intended fully to implement the Bill. I think Senator McQuillan would be quite happy if he were told when it is the intention of the Government to implement the Bill.
That is a very simple question.
I like things to be simple and I like to get simple answers.
Senator McQuillan does not want an answer.
I am seeking an answer but apparently some Fianna Fáil Senators do not want a simple question to be put. The simple question is: can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us if the Government will implement this Bill within two or three months after it has been passed or will it be put on the long finger? The amendment asks very specifically that certain sections, such as sections 1 to 5, 7 to 10, section 12, sections 26 to 34, sections 36 to 43, section 49 and so on should be implemented immediately on the passing of the Act.
The Parliamentary Secretary, and presumably the Minister and the Government, are not prepared to accept this amendment. This must be because they want a certain amount of delay in relation to some or all of those sections. The simple question which I would like to ask is how much delay do the Government want or intend in relation to those sections. This is the whole import of the amendment. I am sure Senator Fitzgerald would withdraw the amendment if the Parliamentary Secretary were to say that the Government intend to implement the whole Act within one month or within two months. If they do not intend to implement the whole Act, the Parliamentary Secretary should tell us why it would be awkward for the Government to implement the proposed sections immediately on the passing of the Act.
I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say, if I heard him rightly, that this Bill was of such urgency that he would welcome today getting the Report Stage after he got the Committee Stage. If there is this urgency surely it is reasonable to inquire, with regard to the terms of this amendment, why it cannot be implemented on the passing of the Bill.
You have, as well as that, circumstances in the local authorities, where there is a drastic curtailment in the availability of funds for all operations under housing. The local authorities have been obliged to examine their current proposals, which they had well advanced, and to curtail some of them because of the restricted financial provisions announced by the Minister. If this Bill is immediately implemented, which we all hope it will, then it will entail a reconsideration by the local authorities in relation to the distribution of whatever moneys that are available to them. If those particular sections do not come into operation immediately on the passing of the Bill this will entail further charges on the local authorities.
The position needs clarification if for no other reason. If there is any delay with regard to the implementation of those sections the consequence will be that even the limited funds, which are available to local authorities, will be committed to other housing activities and will not be available for the precise purposes outlined in some sections of this Bill. Consequently, I would impress on the Parliamentary Secretary the desirability of clarifying, here and now, just when the provisions of the Bill will be implemented. If he does so he will, I am sure, obtain from this House every facility on the passing of this Bill so that it may come into operation in as short a time as possible.
This is a very detailed measure and when the Parliamentary Secretary expresses the opinion that it is of such urgency that he would wish for the Report Stage today after the Committee Stage surely we can assume that it will be completely implemented the moment the Bill passes through this House.
In answer to Senator O'Sullivan I do not think that I actually used the words he said I did, that it is of such importance that we would welcome, after the Committee Stage had been dealt with, getting the Report Stage today. When the Committee Stage is completed we would welcome getting the Report Stage. That is the best indication I can give of the importance which the Minister attaches to this Housing Bill. That is the best indication I can give that it will be put into operation as soon as possible.
With regard to the points raised by Senator McQuillan with regard to priorities he seemed to suggest that there was something more important which we wanted to discuss than housing. He proceeded to talk about the Housing Bill and the availability of money and that the Minister misled the people in the other House. I do not think the people in the Opposition in the other House would allow themselves to be misled. We must take into consideration that this Bill was introduced on the 30th June last year. The Second Stage was debated in the Dáil during July and the Committee Stage lasted two months, if not more. It is a fair indication of the discussion which took place when you find that it only resulted in three divisions on the Committee Stage and the Report Stage.
We now have more than 50 amendments to discuss in the Seanad. I do not know how long the Seanad will take to discuss these amendments but the sooner we get them finished and on to the Report Stage the better we will like it because in that way we can put the Act into operation as soon as possible. There will be no delay in dealing with this part of the Bill concerning grants. As I have already indicated, there are already grants being paid under some of the provisions in this Bill and most of the other grants are already being paid under previous legislation that must be repealed before this Bill can come into operation. The House can be satisfied that it is our intention to implement this Bill soon after its passing through this House. I would be temptee to deal with Senator McQuillan's point on the question of money.
I should just like to point out to him that as far as this year is concerned we are spending more money on housing than we did last year and substantially more than we did the year before. The Minister has taken the unprecedented step of informing local authorities beforehand so that they know now the amounts of money available to them under the three different headings—local authority housing, supplementary grants and house purchase loans. I am not suggesting for a moment that this is able to meet the demands or the wishes of the local authorities. How could it? When they feel that there is a scarcity of money naturally they will demand more, but certainly as far as the Government are concerned they are providing more money than last year. The Minister indicated in the Dáil on a number of occasions that, unfortunately, we have not as much money as we have schemes before us at the moment, so we have to cut our cloth according to our measure. It is as simple as that.
The Parliamentary Secretary, if I heard him aright, said that grants were being paid already under this Bill and he went on then to refer to grants under existing legislation as a separate item. How could grants be paid under this Bill which are not based on existing legislation?
There is a new grant in the form of the small farms grant of £450 in existence since October 1963. The grants are being paid and this is now being enshrined in legislation. The ordinary £275 grants and reconstruction grants are covered under existing legislation that will go when this becomes law. The Appropriation Act covers loans and grants to be paid while this is going through before it comes into operation.
The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that the Government are spending more money this year on housing than last year. I must accept his statement, but I would like to know if some areas are being more generously dealt with than others, because to my certain knowledge in Laois we are cut back by almost two-thirds on last year. I cannot see why we must accept this if other counties are getting increased grants.
Is Senator Fitzgerald withdrawing the amendment?
I feel rather disappointed with the Parliamentary Secretary's attitude though I realise that it is not his fault. As I said at the outset, I am as conscious as anybody of the Minister's sincerity in saying, when introducing this Bill, that certain sections of it were brought into operation in anticipation of its passing. I commend him for that, but I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister will agree that there are very important sections that remain to be put into operation and even the passing of this Bill gives us no indication that these very important sections will be put into operation. I think that it is the function of a Parliament to pass a Bill and the Bill should then come into operation, not by order at the whim of the Minister or in the Minister's own good time. It is difficult to see why the Parliamentary Secretary cannot accede to this very reasonable request, but it does not seem that there is anything I can do about it. I do not wish to press it, but I want to express disappointment with the explanation that has been given by the Parliamentary Secretary for non-implementation of these amendments.
What sections are brought into operation by the authority of the Appropriation Act?
The matter has been disposed of and the amendment has been withdrawn.
It cannot be withdrawn unless there is a full discussion and I want to speak on it myself.
Senator Fitzgerald has withdrawn his amendment but an amendment may be withdrawn only by leave of the House.
I understand that Senator Fitzgerald has not withdrawn it and does not intend to do so until there is a full discussion.
I was listening very carefully to Senator Fitzgerald and I noticed with relief that he did not withdraw it. Could I ask him, through the Chair, if he has withdrawn it?
I did not indicate that I had withdrawn it.
I understood that Senator Fitzgerald had done so. I am sorry.
Arising out of what the Parliamentary Secretary said in relation to having to implement some of the provisions of this Bill under the authority of the Appropriation Act, we accept that this was a laudable thing to have done. Are we to assume that the actual sections dealing with what has been implemented are in accord with the operation at the moment of these particular sections? My information is that not alone have the Government commenced operations on the basis as outlined in this Bill but in the light of more experience amendments have been made which are not in conformity with the terms now presented in the Bill.
For instance in relation to the grants for farmhouses with relation to the incomes of people with ancillary employment in agriculture who would qualify for such grants?
The Chair suggests that it would be more orderly to wait for this matter to come up before the House.
Without wishing to be in any way contentious, I should like to comment on what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the Government's provision of money for housing. I do not think that anybody disputes that the Government are providing more money this year than last year, but what is consistently obscured in the somewhat disingenuous statements made on this matter is the relationship between the amount of money provided and the current rate of building. It is true that they are providing more money this year than last year, but what was provided during the course of the last financial year fell very far short of the volume of building, thereby causing a backlog to be carried forward, so that for most local authorities in respect of which I have seen the figures the amount available for this year is barely sufficient to finance houses which have already been built or in respect of which grants are approved, and the amount of further provision available for building this year is in fact negligible—not more than 10 per cent of the total money now voted is available for building in the financial year. The local authorities will no doubt seek to have a normal carry-forward of commitments, but the amount for new building this year will not be more than a fraction of what it was last year.
We should be clear on this. It is not a question of money provided, but of money provided which is not already committed in respect of last year and is available for new housing starting this year. This is a matter that concerns us, and it is quite hypocritical for the Government to say that they are providing more money this year without admitting the fact that what was provided last year was completely inadequate for last year's housing and that, therefore, the rate of new building starts must fall sharply because there is no money for fresh proposals or fresh starts. This should not be obscured. It is much too important. If the economic difficulties are such that the Government were unable last year to provide money adequate for the volume of building in progress or ready to be undertaken, and this year it cannot do more than pay for last year's building and cannot provide funds for fresh building, it is important that this should be publicly stated and admitted so that we all know where we are. To make these disingenuous statements about the money provided this year being more than what was provided last year, which is purely an accountancy calculation and has nothing to do with the amount of building, is unsatisfactory, and I do not think that the Government ought to act in that way in a matter of such public importance. Therefore, this point should be clarified, and the Parliamentary Secretary should not be permitted to leave what I think is a misleading impression on the House.
I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the attempt he made—a genuine attempt as far as I am concerned—to explain the situation with regard to the financial problem that has arisen, but I want to make it clear and to repeat that the Minister did mislead the other House, even though that may have been a tremendous accomplishment on his part. It happened because Members of the other House accepted what the Minister said as being correct. The statement has been repeated here today by the Parliamentary Secretary who said the amount of money to be allocated next year will be greater than in the past year. The Deputies were probably not fully aware of what was taking place or of the fact that the Minister was hedging when he made the statement in the Dáil. Since then the position has become crystal clear and Senator FitzGerald put it much more clearly than I could.
I am dealing with it from my knowledge as a member of a local authority and from that experience I am satisfied that the tempo of building last year was no greater than in the year before or in any other year since the present Government took office. There is, therefore, no question that there was such a tremendous output of building that we needed great extra resources. Next year, in turn, there will be far fewer houses built. The Parliamentary Secretary may try any subterfuge he likes to get something else across on the House but we can tell him it is a waste of time and that this section is a waste of time. The Minister has not the funds he suggested he would have and, consequent on his letter to the local authorities, such funds will not be available to local authorities to do the work they wish to do in the coming year. As in his letter to the local authorities, the Minister cannot now give any indication of the amounts that will be available for new houses, for housing loans, for reconstruction grants, for housing of small farmers with valuations of less than £5, for the building of labourers' cottages. I know that from April of this year there will not be a penny available for those groups.
Is that not a very serious situation? Mine is not the only local authority in that position. The Minister has a queue of local authority members knocking at his door. That has been so during the past week. They have come with demands for money to meet their existing commitments and their new plans. How can we reconcile that position with the statements that are being made? That is why the Minister cannot come here today with a statement as to when the sections mentioned in the amendment now before the House can be implemented. Will the House not agree, therefore, that it is better to tell the people what the true position is in regard to grants? There are people at the moment living in houses under what are termed caretaker agreements. They have been living in those houses for two years and will be living there for the next two years before housing grants will be made available. There are people in housing estates throughout the country paying £3 or £4 a week on a lessee basis, on caretaker agreements. They have been let in as tenants. Why is that?
There is only one answer. There are no funds available. What will happen to small and medium contractors throughout the country who cannot get money for the housing schemes they are building? What are they to do about the workers? Are they being led quietly like cattle to a slaughterhouse, not being told where they are going until the knife is slipped in? Is that the way we are to bring it home to them that it is the end of the road for them—letting it sneak up on them gradually? There are English investment companies in the country saying: "We are ready to lend you money at from 15 per cent to 19 per cent". A number of people are so anxious to build, so anxious to get credit to do so, that they are prepared to avail of these exorbitant interest rates.
That is not a healthy situation from the housing point of view. Most Members know that the fact that the housing programme has been allowed to collapse will have very serious consequences on many aspects of our economy. That is why I wish to bring home at this stage, on this amendment, why the Minister is not prepared to implement this part of the legislation. He should be prepared to say: "I am prepared to make extra money available towards the output of houses. I am prepared to regard housing as of such high priority that I am prepared to spend moneys on housing which would otherwise be available elsewhere. I am prepared to change my plans."
We will not hear that from the Minister. We are entitled to ask, therefore, why has he allocated large sums of money for widening roads to carry Jags and other big cars at 120 miles an hour to speed tourists on their way all over Ireland while he will not give a penny to a man who wants to build a new house as from April this year at a time when people have been waiting for a number of years, married men with wives and children, living in condemned houses outside which the roads are being widened to two or three times their present width with the help of machines being bought at exorbitant rates charged by foreign companies on the hire purchase system.
The Minister must be prepared to take responsibility for these matters because he has been charged with the implementation of the housing programme and also with the roads programme. If he is to implement a plan which will bring social justice, he must give priority to housing with the moneys available to him. That is why I have taken the opportunity on this amendment to expose the manner in which the Minister has codded the people of this country on the issue of financing the housing needs. I do not, of course, include the Parliamentary Secretary in these remarks. As far as the Minister is concerned, he must be told this is the end of the road.
In relation to the point raised by Senator Garret FitzGerald, the question of whether there was more money allocated this year than last year, is it suggested that lack of money last year caused the activities of local housing authorities——
If I may clarify the point, I referred to the amount of building that took place last year in the local authority sphere and more particularly I was concerned with private building financed by SDA loans—an area to which this point is particularly applicable. Building ran ahead of finances so that at the end of the year the carry-forward of cases where grants had been approved but money not received was very much higher than in any other year, the ratio being three to four times. Consequently, the amount of money the Department provided for this year, or nine-tenths of it, was committed already. I challenged the Parliamentary Secretary to give in relation to the counties and cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick the amount of money given for small dwellings acquisition and the amount already committed to houses already built or being built. So carefully and fully was the allocation carried out that in each case there was a ratio of nine-tenths, leaving one-tenth for fresh building in the year ahead. If I am not right I should like to be corrected and I should like to know the amounts of money allocated and the amounts already committed for grants already approved in the counties and cities mentioned. I should, of course, have said "loans" instead of grants.
The commitments as we have them are the commitments submitted by the local authorities back in February. I do not know whether that is quite general but the local authorities were asked to forecast their commitments. I shall give the figures as I have them. For Dublin city, the amounts were £5,999,990 for new work and £375,000, giving a total of £6,374,990. That is for local authority houses on its own as distinct from house purchase. The amount of money allocated for house purchase in Dublin was £1 million.
Is that not small dwellings?
That would be small dwellings, and £150,000 for supplementary grants, giving a total of £1,150,000. The total allocation to Dublin then would be £1,750,000.
It would be unnecessary to give me more information if the Parliamentary Secretary would answer the one question I put. In regard to the £1 million for small dwellings loans what proportion of that was already committed by the corporation in respect of grants already approved?
I am afraid I have not that information.
The Parliamentary Secretary is very wise not to have the information, as this is the one thing necessary. The fact is that the figure is £900,000 and the ratio applies also to Dublin county, Limerick city and county and Cork city and county.
Senator FitzGerald has not much knowledge, I think, of local authorities. He should know, if he has been any length of time a member of a local authority, that the allocation of money does not mean that it is drawn in that year. There is a carryover.
The carryover in Dublin was last year £350,000. This year it is £900,000.
It is an improvement, therefore, by the Dublin City Council in the allocation of moneys, and the fact is that more people are anxious to avail of this system for providing their own houses.
Senator McQuillan alleged that there was no money available as far as his local authority was concerned. They got £140,000 altogether under all headings.
That is true, but that money will not be available for any building in the coming year, that is, from the 14th April.
All these houses were built.
They were built and people are living in them.
They are not all built, unless the information supplied is incorrect. The local authority indicated to the Department their commitments and the amount of money they wanted for new works. I am not suggesting they got all the money they sought because it was not there. I think it was Senator FitzGerald who indicated that the Government were very generous in their allocation in view of the financial circumstances under the heading of housing.
"Generous" was not quite the word I used.
It is very near it anyway. It means the same thing to me. Under the heading of new works there is £10,000 down for Roscommon. I do not suggest that would be sufficient for Roscommon.
Would the Parliamentary Secretary agree that from the 14th April as far as Roscommon is concerned any new application for a loan for a new house, construction of a council cottage or reconstruction, is out until further notice, that is by way of grants or loans?
There is £75,000 for grants.
The position is that the council will nearly have to hold a raffle in order to find out how they will deal with people who are waiting.
They must be a very good council. I congratulate them if they are prepared to spend £75,000.
I want the Parliamentary Secretary to know that in the last few years the Minister sought from each local authority a list of the condemned houses in every county. Every ganger was sent round to find out how many houses should be replaced. That list was supplied to the Minister and today not one of them will be included for houses in the coming year. What does the Minister think of that position in the rural areas where we have such a high rate of emigration and where at the present time the rate is double that envisaged even for 1970? Is it not essential that we should house all these people? Is the Minister prepared when we give him the oppoitunity to alter the priority of spending? Is he prepared to say: "I have only a limited amount of money. I will transfer that money from things like main roads, from the widening of existing roads, and I will make the money available for housing for the next two years until the position rights itself"—if this ever happens with the present Government in power?
I should like, in view of the Parliamentary Secretary's attribution of the word "generous" to me to make the position clear. I recognised on the Second Reading that the Government made special efforts to increase the amount of money moving from the Exchequer to the local authorities last year. Real efforts were made and priority was given to this matter. I also recognise that it would be difficult for the Government to give more money at the present moment. What I am concerned about is that the Government are trying to hide from the people the problems of the policy they have been forced to adopt and which they have properly adopted. My concern is that this reiteration of statements about more money being available than last year might lead people into not realising that the total amount the Government can give is so far short of what is needed to provide for the underprovision of money last year plus what is needed to get building going at the same rate as last year.
I am not blaming the Government: having got into their present mess, they are doing their best to find a way out of it. The way out means a sharp decline in building activity and the failure of the Government to admit that fact. Planning involves admitting and facing hard facts and dealing with the consequences of them. The failure of the Government and the defensive attitude adopted are dangerous economically. They have done their best as regards providing the money but they are not facing up to the consequences of the situation created.
There are two aspects in relation to the Parliamentary Secretary's remarking and repeating, as the Minister did, that more moneys are made available this year than last year. There are two clear factors involved here. Costs are greater than last year. Everybody knows that if the same facilities and services are to be provided more money has to be provided. Consequently, the voting of a similar amount of money would not indicate that we are meeting the requirements of the unfortunate people who are waiting for houses. It is those responsible for the drastic increase in costs who are responsible for the fact that fewer houses can be built for the same money.
We have repetition and it is regrettable. But, it is not acknowledged that last year, in relation to housing and in particular in relation to the ancillary services—sewerage and sanitation— schemes were delayed in the Parliamentary Secretary's Department to the extent that, when it came to the allocation of this year, councils were then informed that they were restricted to the works capable of completion within a given period. This is a fresh limitation that is considerably restricting the local authorities relative to these works. We are still awaiting an indication as to what the allocations will be relative to the ancillary services for housing which will have an impact on any plans and proposals which any council submits with regard to housing. No council in Ireland knows with any certainty the amount of money which is available for new proposals for the erection of new houses of any kind in the course of the coming year.
The delays encountered in the past have contributed to the fact that we have this extraordinary backlog which had to be met by way of back payments and the amounts of money allocated to the councils have been absorbed, as Senator Garret FitzGerald has said, to the extent of 90 per cent relative to these schemes. In my local authority we have been obliged to carry out a minor warfare between various electoral areas within the housing area to determine who can get the smallest slice of the cake which is left. It will mean the deletion from our programme of schemes which had been prepared and in respect of which we were fully satisfied as to their necessity. Consequently, we have the uneasy and unhappy situation of having so many deserving people requiring housing who cannot be given any hope in the current months that their demands can be met in the year ahead. It is in these circumstances that the whole situation is so fraught with extreme difficulties and frustrations on the part of members of local authorities who had hoped that the allocation this year would be sufficient for them to proceed with the same amount of work as has been performed in earlier years. I emphasise the expression "earlier years".
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Section 1 agreed to.
Sections 2 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 3 is ruled out of order.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill".
As I mentioned earlier, in putting down amendment No. 3 I realised I was infringing the rules and it was likely to be ruled out of order in view of the fact that it would impose a charge. I would respectfully request the Parliamentary Secretary to have another look at this section with a view to this very worthwhile object of increasing the floor area from 1,400 to 1,500 square feet. Where the grants were increased from £300 to £450 in certain sections it was made retrospective to the 1st October, 1963. I would request the Parliamentary Secretary, if it were possible, to also make the retrospection in regard to floor area to coincide with the retrospection in the case of the increased grants. I am sure in the course of the Parliamentary Secretary's dealings with the Department he will have found that now and again some people, in the erection of houses, may in some way have transgressed the square feet area. For one reason or another they were a few feet above the 1,400 square feet level and were, therefore, statute barred from obtaining a grant. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to have a look at this section again with a view to having retrospection made to October, 1963 rather than July, 1965.
Would the Parliamentary Secretary indicate when the level of grants set out in the Table was determined? How far back do they extend?
Some of them extend as far back as 1948 and 1958.
So it would be fair comment to say that they have absolutely no relationship to the present-day costings of the expenses involved in the erection of houses.
It depends entirely on the method adopted. There are very generous grants in some parts of the country. I think the Senator will appreciate that.
If there are parts of the country where there have been no increased costs relative to the erection of new houses I should like to know where they are.
It is not a barrier against the provision of new houses because there is an ever increasing number of people looking for grants.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 16 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 17 stand part of the Bill".
In line 10 there is just one small drafting point. It took me a considerable time to find out how the words "providing a house" got there. Certainly if one looks at the other sections—sections 19 or 20— the drafting is much more suitable. I showed section 17 to another person who said that only for the brackets and explanations which I put in for my own benefit he would never know where the words "providing a house" came from or should go. It is a most extraordinary piece of drafting.
Have we passed Section 16?
I am afraid it went through too quickly for me. I want to develop the point I raised earlier and ask the Parliamentary Secretary if the changes made since these grants were introduced will be embodied in this section now. I understand that an income of more than £900 is regarded as out and that there is a grading in the amount of grant which may be obtained; to move down from the £900 level it is graded.
The amount of grant. I understand that this was a change consequent on the experience gained from the earlier operation of it. This scheme in operation is not set out in this section.
It is the grading which corresponds to the farmers. It is kept in line with the increases to the farmers from £25 to the £40 and £60.
Is it not strange that it is not set out in the same detail? It would leave people under a false impression on looking at the section that they would not be aware that this gradation exists. Would the Parliamentary Secretary consider between now and Report Stage including some grading table such as that which exists in relation to farmers' valuations?
The grant was decided subsequent to the farmers' grants being approved or introduced, and it is in keeping with that increase.
I am not objecting to the grading. I think it is a sensible arrangement but I think this is of sufficient importance to be included in the Bill.
We are properly on section 17. The Chair allowed a question dealing with section 16.
I wonder would you allow another question on section 16? Why is it not possible to allow lines 33 and 34 of section 16 to be included in section 15?
The matter is dealt with under sub-section (2) of section 16, and the opinion of the Minister is related to paragraph (b), where a person is not thought capable of providing a house for himself. It is covered by the earlier part of the sub-section which provides that grants shall be made only if, in the opinion of the Minister, so and so.
Farmers with valuations of less than £25 only are show here. Other circumstances are also included: people who cannot normally house themselves and who would normally be housed by the local authorities. There could be a less generous Minister.
I do not think that is likely to happen.
The Minister does not think we are likely to have a less generous Minister?
As the Minister has just come in perhaps Senator Cole would repeat his question on section 17.
It is more a comment than a question. In the drafting of section 17 in line 10 we have the words "providing a house". I think it would be more appropriate if they were put in after the word "person" as is more or less done in sections 18 and 19. It took me a considerable time to find out where those words should go, or where they came from. It is purely a drafting matter.
What else could it mean? Does the Senator think that confusion would be created?
I am not suggesting that. I am suggesting that it would be a lot easier for a simple person like myself to read if it were properly drafted.
I think the Minister might agree to have another look at the point raised by Senator Cole. There might be some readjustment of the position of the words on Report Stage to put them after the word "person".
If the House really feels we should make this change there is not much necessity to think it over. To me it is six of one and half a dozen of the other.
I have not got an amendment down.
I would agree to changing the position of the words if Senators think it makes it more clear.
Perhaps it would be better to put down an amendment on Report Stage.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 18 stand part of the Bill."
On the Second Stage I commented on this section and I do not think the Minister dealt with it. He dealt so comprehensively with all the points raised that I hesitate to accuse him of not dealing with anything, but I am not sure that he took my point. This seems to be the only section in respect of grants for housing where there is no upper limit on the size of the dwelling. We all accept that it is undesirable that grants should be made available to build large luxury houses, and I do not see why the same principle should not apply to large luxury flats, with the way things are going and the tendency towards luxury flats and extravagant living in flats. I did not put down an amendment because I was not sure of the Minister's attitude on this.
The situation is that there will not be a limit on the actual cost, but control will be exercised on the cost that may go into it. In such a case we shall pay a grant under section 35, and there is a stipulation in regard to the maximum rents that may be charged. That related back to the cost would have the same effect as curtailing the actual price.
Has that to do with rents?
We have that power under section 35.
That does not explain why there is an absence of a size limit for flats. There are size limits for houses. Flats are being built in Dublin which are designed for what could be described as the upper-upper income groups. I do not think this should be left open and that grants should be paid more or less automatically regardless of the size of the flats.
There is a great deal of controversy as to whether this floor limit should be there at all. Since it is there, naturally I agree with it. Since it is not there in so far as the flat area limits are concerned I have no wish to see it there. By and large, flats are not too big, whether luxury flats or not. We are thinking in terms of control which seems to be necessary rather than upper limits. This is in operation so far as houses are concerned, but it is not in operation where flats are concerned.
I do not find that logical.
That explains why I do not follow the logic of it, and I do not follow why it is done. If the Minister suggests that he requires the limit in regard to houses why does he not require the limit in regard to flats? If it is not already there this Bill is a perfectly excellent opportunity for amending this. Surely the Minister should do so now. I am sure he has given long and serious consideration to this matter and, therefore, surely he should realise that the same principle should apply to flats as to houses. The Minister seems to be suggesting that he should not really have the limit in regard to houses. I should like to remove this anomaly. There is no good reason for saying that this is a bad idea but that we should do it for houses but not do it for flats. That is not only illogical but it is not very wise.
When we are speaking of houses and flats, there is a very radical difference between the two in the sense that houses are, to a very large extent, provided for occupation rather than for renting, whereas flats are almost invariably provided for renting rather than for owner occupation. That being so, the control in regard to them is already there under section 35. This must very directly have a bearing on the cost of reconstruction that will have to take place. If you limit the control in regard to rents, then you very effectively limit the actual reconstruction in so far as flat dwellings are concerned. As I said, houses are owner occupied to a very large degree and flats are invariably rented.
The Minister has suggested that section 35 gives power to control rents. After taking a speedy look through it I find that he has also power to control the purchase of houses. It is not confined to rents alone so, therefore, section 35 is already available with regard to this matter.
With regard to this matter, about which the Senator appears to have some doubts, but which I am quite happy about, as I have already said this applies to houses but does not apply to flats and I can find no reason why it should. I do not know whether this is clear to the Senator.
The floor limit in regard to houses exists in law and, therefore, requires abolition if the change is to be made. In so far as flats are concerned it does not exist in law. Therefore, it does not require any possible action if we do not want to do so. As I have said, I do not want to do so.
This is a new innovation. It is the principle of inertia in legislation. The purpose of this Bill is to go into our whole housing code, to improve it and make changes if necessary. The Minister is amending the housing code by this Bill and I would, therefore, ask him to reconsider his position and if he thinks it is wrong to do something about it.
As I have already stated, there is a floor limit in regard to houses but there is no such limit in regard to flats and we do not propose to bring one in.
I should like to consider further bringing in an amendment on Report Stage.
Question put and agreed to.
Government amendment No. 4:
In subsection (2), line 32, to delete "in the house".
This is purely a drafting amendment. Its purpose is really to clarify the position that grants will be paid for accommodation provided for elderly persons. This is a slight elaboration on what was in this section. The spirit and the intention were already there and this is just to clarify the intention rather than leave it somewhat tied up as it appeared in retrospection on looking over it.
I agree with that. There is no minimum limit in regard to housing of this kind for elderly persons.
The situation really is that we have a minimum limit for houses and flats in the ordinary sense of the word. The point is that those are what we might regard as an additional category of housing people. It is very desirable that we should house those people. Our experience in providing housing for the elderly is, rather unfortunately, very limited. Developments are taking place at the moment in regard to prefabricated houses for those people and it is hoped to do much more for them in the future. We do not know enough about housing this type of people. It is a very pressing problem.
I agree with that and this seems reasonable. There is just one question I have in regard to it. Could it include caravans or caravan-type dwellings? There are, in fact, dwellings of this category in Rathfarnham. They are very small prefabricated buildings. They are like caravans without wheels. Would this include those type of dwellings? There is provision in the section for grants of £300 and this would include a very high proportion of the cost of those dwellings. It is not necessarily a bad thing to give an incentive.
I would hope that the double grants, from the local authority and our own grants, would do that. I also think that on this particular matter of limits there might be this disadvantage when we are talking to some extent with regard to units that may be contained within a group building scheme where you might have the ancillary facilities, that, therefore, to apply any sort of dwelling area space specifically in that case would tend further to restrict us.
It is not defined anywhere what is "a body" that could possibly be building what Senator FitzGerald was talking about, simply shacks. An application possibly could be made to build things that were not very suitable. Would the Minister define what is a responsible body? Could two contractors get together and call themselves a body and get grants?
Subject to regulations that I may make, if I could get two contractors or any other sort of people to come together who felt that they were capable of doing this I certainly would not be in any way dilatory about approving of them doing something all of us have so far pretty failed to do. The bodies we mean in this provision are philanthropic bodies, but this does not preclude some newly emerging bodies coming along who wish to do this and who are capable of doing it. The regulations will deal with the type of body or the people we will bring in. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which any body coming along who genuinely were quite able to do this and were prepared to do it would be thrown out by me if they wanted to do something to help these people.
As a commercial proposition somebody might build a very inferior building.
The quality of the building would be governed anyway in the normal circumstances by examination of any proposal, and anything which was a new departure would have to be minutely examined, so that the danger would be no greater in the case of any proposed new type of structure than in the ordinary type of dwellinghouse. I would not have any fear there. That would be covered in the normal way by examination and evaluation.
If it were to be done perhaps at the seaside and proper use was not being made of it?
Many people might tell me that they wanted to build a house in Donegal and then they would leave it and I would have a summer shack.
This is a thing that we shall have to do some thinking about which it would perhaps be as well not to say what it is at this juncture because the wide boys would find a way around that one. If people genuinely want to house elderly people at some particular point, if it should be at the seaside or near a community centre, if it makes sense we will agree to it, if one person for some obscure reason that would not make sense to anybody else wants to build such a building, if after the death or the passing on of the first occupant it has an attraction for somebody else. Assuming that the attraction of the place was such as to genuinely attract the first occupant we could take it that prospective occupants thereafter might also be attracted and it would be worth considering whether or not these requests should be granted for building in this particular place. If it attracted one it might attract another. There would be nothing wrong about that.
The Minister will accept the possibility that the very high ratio of grants to the total cost could leave this open to abuse, if people want to make a profit or perhaps even to profiteer out of housing elderly people. This will require to be carefully watched.
Would the Minister not agree that the specifications are so high that nobody need fear profiteering, and unless the specifications are very low nobody will make a huge profit?
My point was that the grants provided would be a very high proportion of the total cost and the remainder would be so small that somebody could well charge not necessarily large rents and yet make quite substantial profits out of elderly people. While we all want to do everything to encourage housing for them we do not want the wide boys, as the Minister said, to get into this business.
We should get back to the basic point, that it is philanthropic bodies that we are aiming at. If some other organisations emerge we might think about them if there would not be any exploitation or profit making concerned. For the moment we are dealing with philanthropic bodies of standing and of known reputation. This is what we will be aiming at in the first instance. It would be better to leave further developments in that direction until some other body emerges that wishes to do this job and we can then examine it in detail. I do not think that there will be any rushing in of organisations to do this, and we must encourage those who are there now to participate.
A local authority could use this section?
Yes. They also have discretion within the general proposals in the Bill relating to the grant or subsidy available to local authorities to do housing for the elderly which was not hitherto there. They could approach it from either direction. Under the grants system they would be paying half the grant themselves and getting two-thirds subsidy in the other direction. It is most unlikely that the local authority will go for the grants rather than for the subsidy when they will get more money or have to pay less, but they could do it if it were felt desirable.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 19, as amended, agreed to.
Section 20 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 21 stand part of the Bill".
Perhaps the Minister would consider increasing reconstruction grants. We in my county had a considerable number of applications for reconstruction grants—in fact, they numbered about 401. There are a large number of houses classed as unfit without considerable repairs. On the Second Stage of the Bill I quoted figures showing that about 89 or 90 people in a year ending last October or November built new houses and about nine or ten of them did not ask for any loan from the council and the other 80 had borrowed £60,000 from the county council. To my mind a great deal of that could be avoided in future housing if the reconstruction grant was something more. I am going to get away from the Opposition with their usual "we are house-ier than thou" attitude. I am advocating that the Minister should not so much encourage new houses on small farms where there are reasonably good houses as that larger grants for reconstruction would be given which would make old houses more comfortable than they were and would make them durable for a number of years ahead. This would also leave the farmers with reasonable amounts of capital with which to carry on their farming economy.
That point is very important. I have seen a great number of new houses situated on small bits of land with nothing reasonable around them in the way of outhouses and the land, perhaps, being badly neglected because of the money put into the new houses by those people. I do not wish to deprive anyone living in a dilapidated, cold, damp old house of the opportunity of getting a new house if we could afford to give it to him, but I suggest that where reconstruction would make a good house out of a dilapidated old house, we should encourage reconstruction by increased grants. These grants have not been increased during the years. They should now be increased to encourage people living in substantial old houses to reconstruct them and, if necessary, to improve them by way of including water and bathrooms. If these grants were increased we might save the people concerned considerable amounts of capital and we might save the local authorities and the Department to the advantage of all three interests.
I should like to support Senator Cole in this. I think there is a good deal to be said for greater emphasis on reconstruction. We must have a greater construction of new houses also but anything we can do to conserve houses will be a good thing. We do not place anything like enough emphasis on the preservation of houses and in my personal view rent control legislation has inhibited this and in this respect it is a disincentive. As I have said, sufficient emphasis has not been laid on the preservation of existing stocks of houses. This is one way in which you can remedy this situation.
Another point in favour of Senator Cole's remarks is that many young couples who in recent years have had recourse to the provisions of the SDA for the advancement of moneys to purchase existing houses are precluded from such moneys as a result of a recent decision. I do not know how they will acquire money to purchase such houses but if we restrict loans to such a category it is more difficult for them to put the money together for the reconstruction of these houses when they can buy them. Consequently, Senator Cole's suggestion is desirable, particularly bearing in mind the increased costs of getting work done. It is necessary to put this legislation in line with presentday costs. If we were to compare the amount of the grants made available by the Department of Agriculture under the housing of animals provisions with the relevant provisions in existing legislation for the housing of human beings we should come in for a rude shock.
Question put and agreed to.
It is proposed to discuss amendments Nos. 5 and 6 together.
I move amendment No. 5:
In subsection (1), line 17, before "a grant" to insert "including boundary walls".
I mentioned this matter on the Second Reading. It came to my attention as a result of very serious damage done in Anglesea Road in Dublin but this problem is not one confined to this area because damage to boundary walls must be a phenomenon of flooding in all areas. Deputy Costello said in the Dáil that his car was caught in a flood and he had to evacuate it. In a quarter of an hour the boundary wall collapsed and the car was flung into a field. The problem is an acute one. In this instance, 524 yards of boundary walls and fences were swept away. Some of those were very substantial walls. The engineering evidence is that since then the situation has deteriorated because the flooding so affected the bed of the river that a flow of water 40 per cent of that experienced on the last occasion could cause similar damage again pending the initiation and completion of major work on the river bed which, apparently, it is not proposed to complete within three years. It will be three years, therefore, before even partial control is possible.
In addition there is the hardship that the people cannot insure against this damage. I have a letter from an insurance company to a resident saying that the company were unable to continue issuing comprehensive insurance on account of the claims proposed. They were, the letter said, prepared to continue insuring for fire risk only. The person concerned has written to say that she has been insuring with this company during the past 30 years and pointing out that all the claims were for things beyond her control, owing nothing to any negligence on her part.
These people are in a position where they cannot insure against this damage which is outside their control. The walls were substantially built— some of them much more substantial than the average boundary walls. Moreover the maintenance of boundary walls is normally required under leases, so that those people have no alternative to reconstructing them. They are caught on that hardship as well. I should point out that the houses in question are not large houses lived in by prosperous people. The people living in them are exclusively of fairly limited means so there is no question of public money being diverted to people living in a very well-off area.
There is confusion as to what is the position in regard to this matter. In a letter from the Department, comfortably lodged in O'Connell Bridge House, one of the new office blocks the Government are renting, it is stated:
It will be noted that these grants apply to the repair of dwelling houses only and consequently would not be allowable for the renewal of boundary or garden walls.
It is now quite clear that the legislation in its present form does permit these grants to be paid.
Deputy Costello made this point in the Dáil and expressed the opinion on legal grounds that a house includes boundary walls and that the Minister was entitled to give the grant. A change of tone on the part of the Minister since seems to indicate that Deputy Costello carried some conviction because on 24th February last the Minister said the grants were intended for houses but he did not attempt to refute the statement on the legal position. I might ask how the Minister knows what legislation is meant for, as distinct from what it says. A communication from him to one of the residents on 25th March last states that the Minister appreciated the arguments but was afraid he could not see his way to giving grants for the repair of walls, an implication that the power is there but the Minister does not see his way to exercising it.
It is in the interests of clarification that I have put down the amendments. The Department thought they had not got the power. The Minister has not made his position explicit though he appears to have changed his ground. There was a genuine doubt and it is to remove doubt that the amendments have been tabled, despite the Minister's discouraging attitude on Second Reading. In the meantime he has had an opportunity to consider the matter. His discretion would still have to be exercised and in exercising it he would be answerable to the Houses of the Oireachtas. There should be no doubt left of his having this discretion and it is to remove any such doubt that the amendments have been put down.
The situation is by and large as the Senator has outlined, except in so far as the letter he has quoted here is concerned. Listening to what was read from that letter I do not agree that the only interpretation of it is that made by the Senator. Something was said in that letter about grants not being allowed.
It is the Department's letter.
I do not think there is any conflict in the letter with what has already been said by me, nor do I think there will be any conflict with what I have said in the past and what I shall say now. Within these grants moneys are provided for houses and particularly in times like these, when there is growling all round that there is not enough for houses, I do not feel I would be justified on any grounds in giving moneys for the erection, repair or reconstruction of garden or boundary walls.
Further in regard to this matter, the grants are for houses. Nobody can genuinely challenge this matter at all. The only question at issue is what is a "house". A "house" was clearly defined in the time of Elizabeth the First to include, in fact, boundary walls and other areas closely attached to the house. Therefore, when the Minister says the grants are for houses we thoroughly agree. But the Minister seems to have some doubt as to whether boundary walls are included despite the legal position as established over the centuries, and in order that we should not be in any doubt about that we put down the amendment. Whether the Minister decides to exercise his power in this, giving grants for boundary walls, and so on, is a matter for him. He can make his own decision and then answer for it in the Dáil and Seanad and subsequently on other occasions.
What we want to make clear is the definition of "house", that which it has always been and which the Department's letter made perfectly clear. It is not believed or agreed that "dwelling house" includes boundary walls. We think the Department are in error on this and it was only to reassure the Department and Minister the amendment was put down. Nothing the Minister has said has given any reason whatever for not accepting the amendment. He has given possible reasons of dubious validity to justify himself but he does not seem to be quite clear on the point.
I should like strongly to support this amendment I should like to point out that we have a definition of "house" in the Act. Section 2 says:
...except in Part V of this Act, includes any outoffice, yard, garden or other land appurtenant thereto or usually enjoyed therewith...
In section 22 (1) (b) we are told that if—
the works are occasioned by something (other than the matters referred to in paragraph (a) of this subsection) outside the control of the person aforesaid and the works are certified by an officer of the Minister to be urgently necessary for the conservation of the house,
This includes the yard, garden and so on. How does the Minister conserve the yard, the garden or the outoffices of a house if he is not prepared to rebuild a boundary wall to keep the river out? In what condition will the land be preserved around the house if the Minister says: "I cannot help you to rebuild the wall?" We have in the definition of a house, it seems to me, the necessity for conserving the garden, the yard, and so on. I do not see how it can be done without being prepared to grant money for the rebuilding, if necessary, of the boundary walls. Most Senators will have seen pictures of what happened in Anglesea Road. It also happens in many areas in the country. Immense damage is done once the boundary wall is gone and this will be repeated unless the boundary wall is rebuilt. I myself, living in the heights of Terenure, nevertheless, know what it is to have six inches of water in the ground floor of our house because the Corporation decided to pipe the river too small. Consequently, when there is much water in the river it comes into our ground floor. I know the damage that can be done by six inches of water in an ordinary house. I know the appalling damage from these pictures of Anglesea Road.
The boundary walls must be rebuilt in such a way that they will not be levelled again by the river. This amendment gives an admirable opportunity to the Minister for recognising that these boundary walls are, of course, included in what might be considered urgently necessary for the conservation of the house as defined in section 2, as including garden, lands, outoffices or yard. If the Minister does not consider it is necessary to rebuild the boundary wall after flooding in order to conserve the garden and the yard, I am not sure how he will keep the water out.
There is no doubt about the legal definition of "house". My view may be rather loosely put because I am not legally trained. In so far as my description is concerned, I am dealing with grants for a house and not for that which surrounds it. If that runs counter to what is regarded as the legal definition of a house, which takes in all these other things, I cannot do anything about it. I am merely restating what I have already said, that the money I have for grants goes to the house, the part within which people live, the part of the house which is roofed. That is what it would really mean. In the legal sense it is only part of the house. It is not just the four walls and the roof and that contained within. But it is the four walls and that contained within I am concerned about. For that purpose I propose to continue to use the money made available for grant purposes, whether it be for reconstruction, repair or what you will.
As to whether there is any doubt in our mind, there is no such doubt inhibiting us at the moment, nor have we had any doubts in regard to what we may or may not do. The doubt arises in so far as I have been saying what I shall and shall not do as distinct from what I may and may not do. That which is proposed to be capable of being done under the amendment is already capable of being done if it were decided to do it. I do not belive it should be done. I, therefore, do not believe it should be decided to have this sort of work included. I do not believe we have reached the point where we have sufficient money to utilise through housing grants for the reconstruction or repair of gardens and walls attaching to dwelling houses. I would say, however, that what would appear to be necessary in some of the cases quoted would be retaining walls or embankments rather than garden walls. If we were operating grants which did apply to repair and reconstruction of these walls, the type of wall that has been there in the past and has been regarded as sufficient to meet normal circumstances would not be sufficient to qualify for a grant.
Here we are being asked to supply grant money for the building of a wall which an insurance company would not insure against the elements. I do not think grant moneys should be stretched that far if we had grants. Even if we had, so little significance would such grants have in relation to the overall cost of building these very strong retaining walls that I do not think it would be worth the trouble of going to the Department looking for them. Let me say again, with regard to the money for grants we have, I do not propose to use it and I do not see we would be justified in using it for the helping out of those who wish to rebuild or reconstruct their garden or boundary walls. Much though this might be desired I cannot see that I am in a position to utilise this money for that purpose.
I am not really satisfied to hear the Minister say that he is not talking about the word "house" in its legal meaning but in its ordinary commonsense meaning when, in fact, he has a definition of a "house" in this Bill.
I am sorry but I am afraid we must say to the Minister that he must take the meaning in this Bill. It amounts to saying that I am asking you as a legislative chamber to accept a definition which I intend to ignore if it suits me. If the definition is valid, then I am afraid the Minister is bound to accept that it includes yard, garden and so on. Furthermore, if he says I am not prepared to give help for the rebuilding of walls damaged by flooding and so on it leaves it open to the tenant, presumably, to say: "All right I will not rebuild it, all I have to do is to apply to the Department for a further grant because boundary walls do not count." The house is flooded again and the Department will become flooded with a far greater number of demands. Therefore, I think the Minister is standing on quicksands here and it would be far better to build some kind of retaining wall.
The Minister is entitled to exercise his discretion as he wants but what he is not entitled to say is that, having defined a "house" in the Bill, he does not accept the definition.
The record will determine which of us is correct in that respect. The reference to insurance companies not accepting the risk, and the Minister's statement that he will not give a grant for reconstruction of a wall that they will not insure, has no logic in it whatever. The very fact that an insurance company would not give cover is one of the reasons why the Minister is giving grants for the reconstruction of the dwellinghouses themselves. However, this brief debate has clarified the position a good deal because in all the previous discussions the Minister's position has been obscure. His Department wrote the letter from which I quoted as follows:
It will be noted that these grants apply to the repair of dwellinghouses only and consequently would not be allowable for the renewal of boundary or garden walls.
It applies, it is available and the Minister can authorise it, but simply will not, for his own good or bad reasons. The Department did not know their legal position. They now understand their legal position; this has even penetrated to the Minister and the Minister now is clear that he has the power and it is clear to us and to the people of Anglesea Road that he simply is not prepared to exercise it. As the position is now perfectly clear, I do not think it is necessary to press the amendment. We are all quite clear that the Minister has the power but for his own reasons is not prepared to exercise it. The money is provided for housing grants— housing grants as defined in this Bill. The Oireachtas have provided it for houses, not the houses of the Minister's loose talk but houses as he has defined them in the Bill. It is provided for housing grants, for houses as defined, and is provided to include the purpose of repairing boundary walls. It is there for this purpose. The Minister has so drafted this Bill in its present form that he has written this into it. For him to come along then and say that this money cannot be diverted from housing grants to other purposes is just nonsense. I do not think that kind of talk can be carried on when the definition is in this Bill. Loose talk of that kind is quite inappropriate in these circumstances. The Minister has provided in the present proposals, in this Bill now before us, for houses as defined, including boundary walls, but the Minister's evasive answers and the contradictory statement by the Department had confused the issue. Now that the Department's statement has been withdrawn and the Minister has clarified his position and we see that this Bill does include boundary walls, there is no need to persist with the amendment. We are providing money here for houses, including boundary walls.
I really think Senator Garret FitzGerald is confusing a very simple issue with a great deal of sound and fury. First of all, there is one thing on which we can all agree that obviously we have a great deal of sympathy for the people of Anglesea Road and a great many other places where, in fact, people have had to withstand the damage done by flooding. There are a great many places and obviously we all agree on having the utmost sympathy with these people but that does not mean it is necessary in a part of a housing Bill to deal with matters of this kind.
Perhaps there could be a good case for saying that legislation should be brought in to deal with flood relief for damage done to garden walls and to furniture. I met a man from Anglesea Road who said he had lost £2,000 worth of furniture through flooding. He lost a great deal more than those who had damage done to their garden walls. Furthermore, he had great difficulty in getting insurance. Obviously, one has the greatest sympathy with people of that kind, but I do not think matters are helped by suggesting that there should be grants for flood relief by means of housing legislation.
Senator FitzGerald read a letter from the Department saying that housing grants were not allowable for damage to garden walls. When he read it, it struck me that it did not bear the interpretation that he was putting on it. It was not a legal decision. It meant that no sensible Minister could possibly allow a situation to arise where grants for the reconstruction of dwellinghouses could be diverted to the repair of garden walls.
What grants are confined to the reconstruction of dwellinghouses?
These grants are subject to regulations made by the Minister. I got a reconstruction grant once. The Minister's inspector came and looked at the house and he said that before he would pay any grant I would have to re-erect the chimney. That cost as much as the grant, but looking at the chimney I had to concede that it was in a dangerous condition. I had it repaired. That came under a regulation made by the Minister under which these grants can be paid.
The Minister makes these regulations, and one can object to them or agree with them. It is perfectly obvious that the Minister is not merely entitled to make regulations but has a duty to make regulations in regard to reconstruction grants.
Would the Senator tell us what regulation he is talking about under which the Minister is confined to the word "house" meaning a dwellinghouse? I do not think we should talk about regulations in this House unless we know what these regulations are.
Surely Senator FitzGerald is prepared to concede that housing grants are paid subject to regulations made by the Minister. Surely Senator FitzGerald with his knowledge will not suggest that anyone should be entitled to say to the Minister: "Give me a grant."
I suggested no such thing. The Senator has suggested that some regulation of the Minister's has confined and narrowed the meaning of the word "house". To what regulation is the Senator referring?
I am not suggesting that. I am suggesting that the Minister pays grants in accordance with regulations he makes laying down the conditions under which grants are paid. This is not new. In the other House the Minister said exactly what he has said here today. He knows he is entitled to pay reconstruction grants for the repair of garden walls which are knocked down by flooding, but he says he is not going to do that because he considers that he should reserve these housing grants for the repair of dwellinghouses. Senator FitzGerald is entitled to think that decision is wrong. I think it is perfectly right.
The Minister is entitled to take that decision in accordance with the regulations he lays down. That does not mean that one has not got the utmost sympathy for these people, but Senator FitzGerald, instead of trying to divert a grant intended for one purpose to another purpose, should press for a general piece of legislation to deal with flooding relief. There are many cases, not merely in the cities but also in the rural areas, of serious damage done and serious losses suffered by many people because of flooding. In many cases the damage in the rural areas is greater than in the suburbs of Dublin. There may be a case for saying that the State should intervene and provide money through some relief legislation, but there is no justification whatsoever for suggesting that housing grants should be diverted for this purpose.
I want to intervene to ask if Senator Yeats has read paragraph (a) of this subsection which reads: "the works are necessary because of damage caused by wind, rain or flooding." Senator Yeats says it would be improper under this Act to provide money to repair damage caused by flooding. Do I take it that he is opposing this paragraph?
My point is that these grants are for dwellinghouses.
Would the Senator give the authority for that statement? What clause of the Bill authorises that? The definition of the word "house" includes garden walls.
The grants payable under the Bill are subject to regulations made by the Minister.
Senator Yeats tried to justify the letter from the Department which stated that these grants were not allowable because of some mythical regulations under which this could not be done. Perhaps I should not say "mythical," but I have never seen them. The Minister has never said he is bound by regulations. In the absence of some more authoritative reference to regulations I do not think we should accept Senator Yeats' suggestion that there are regulations somewhere under which the Minister is confined to a narrow definition of the word "house" and that, therefore, the Department were right in saying that these grants would not be allowable.
Does the Senator suggest that anyone should be able to brandish the Act and say to the Minister: "Give me a grant?"
I am not suggesting anything of the kind. I am suggesting that it is inappropriate for the Department to say that a grant is not allowable if it is available under the Act and the regulations then prevailing. If, in fact, the Minister has made some regulation under which the grant is not allowable for this purpose it would be polite of him at this stage to refer us to that regulation and let us know about it and discuss it. I shall sit down for the purpose of allowing the Minister to tell us whether there is any such regulation.
I have no intention of telling the Senator that.
Then I shall stand up again.
Not while I am on my feet. Confusion is being created in a legalistic way. I do not think it will do this housing legislation any good if we wrangle as if we were in the Supreme Court about the ifs, the buts and the ands.
Only about the word "house".
Senator Sheehy Skeffington quoted the definition of house as it is in this Bill but the definition of "house" which is in operation at the moment is that of the 1952 Housing (Loans and Grants) Act, which is:
"...any part of a building suitable for occupation as a dwelling."
I have yet to hear that the people in Anglesea Road are living at the foot of their gardens, particularly at night.
Does that mean that the Minister is rejecting his own definition?
I am trying to play the same sort of game as is being played to me. The matter at issue in the amendment has nothing to do with the discussion that has been taking place. These amendments relate to section 22 which has nothing to do with the normal reconstruction grants that are payable and that will become payable in future. They relate solely to second reconstruction grants. You have to have a first reconstruction grant before you can get the second. The Senator seems to think that we in the Department of Local Government should take our dictates from him and others who feel they can tell us where we are going legally and otherwise, but I should like to get back to base and to the subject matter of section 22 and the amendments.
This bears no relationship to the normal operation of the grants which are, in the main, 90 per cent first grants, and only ten per cent second grants. It is the ten per cent we are dealing with here. I want to clarify the situation for the House about the definition of the word "house" in the law that is operating at the moment and not the one which it is proposed will be operating if and when this particular proposal in the Bill is passed.
Does the Minister suggest that the present definition in the Act now in force excludes boundary walls?
Not at all. Quite honestly, I am trying my best to tune in on the wavelength the Senator is transmitting from. It passes me by.
I would say that is true. However, the situation would seem to me to be this. We are here using legal arguments, and using the words which are strictly not of very great sense to a Minister who is not a barrister or a solicitor. That may be OK so far as legal jargon is concerned but it would not make it possible for ordinary mortals to communicate with each other if we had legislation the same as it was in the law of Elizabeth, so far as housing is concerned. I am trying to sort things out by referring no further back than 1962, which is the law at the moment.
If we want to talk about definition we must talk about the law at the moment and as it will be when this Bill comes into operation. I wholeheartedly agree with what Senator Yeats says, that there is no contradiction in what I have said nor is it to be taken into consideration that such and such a thing is not allowable. It does not say it is not allowable in law. It says it is allowable but not in law. If we want to get back to this thing again I must come back to the question of letters. When we want to write letters we can do so equally as well as anyone else but if we were to tie ourselves down to having a legal adviser with regard to every letter which went out there would not be many letters going out from the Department. God knows there are enough letters going out at the moment.
With regard to the association which was mentioned I want to say that a letter went out through my offices to the Residents Association in regard to this matter a considerable number of weeks ago. I am quoting from the letter when I say:
I appreciate your arguments and comments to me about any difficulty I have as Minister for Local Government but I am afraid I cannot see my way to giving grants under housing legislation for the repair of the walls in question.
I am not saying that they could not be brought within the terms of a house and dwelling. That is what was written to the Association. I do not agree that what I said then, what I have said since or what I say now conflicts in any way with my Department's official letter which went out saying that grants are not allowed.
It may well be they are allowed for several causes or reasons. We do not say that the law precludes us and in other words they are not allowable because the law says they are not allowed but they could not be allowable on the regulations which I have made and which I have power to make. If those regulations were made they would preclude the Minister and his Department from actually making grants. That is one good reason why they were not allowed.
Another point is, so far as the future is concerned and so far as this particular Bill is concerned, the law will not be, if this becomes law as Senator FitzGerald suggests, that the Oireachtas will have given money to the Minister for Local Government for grants and laid on them as to why they got this. It will be provided under those new provisions, and in particular under section 21, which we have already dealt with, that the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, make grants from the money provided under provisions that will be derived from this particular legislation.
It is not a question of defining a house, defining dwellings, including garden walls and then saying that gardens are there for the reconstruction of dwellings and that the definition includes garden walls and, therefore, the grant must be paid. The Minister for Local Government of the day may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, pay any or all of those grants for any or all of those categories. We must not confuse ourselves into believing that grants will be paid for particular things because the law is capable of condemning what we are doing and, therefore, that it must be done. That is not so. It has never been so in housing legislation and it is not proposed to do so in the future. The House will also note that the Minister for Local Government may not pay those grants without the consent of the Minister for Finance. Even I, if I so wish, may not pay those grants if the Minister for Finance does not agree. Presumably, if we had a row and we did not agree we would ultimately have to go back to the Government to find out who should do what Subsection (5) of section 21 states:
In this and in the next following section, "reconstruction" in relation to a house includes any works carried out to the house (whether for the purpose of extending, enlarging, improving or repairing the house), that, in the opinion of the Minister, are reasonably necessary for the purpose of rendering the house more suitable for human habitation, but does not include decoration, and cognate words shall be construed accordingly.
This carries a fair amount of discretion. If the circumstances permitted certain things could be done. I do not agree if the circumstances permitted it, that money should be spent by way of making grants for the reconstruction of garden walls or that this is a matter of urgency in so far as housing is concerned. I would say in regard to this matter that it is rather a local one. It was raised as a local matter in the Dáil. I would say, with regard to the Dodder area, Anglesea Road and such places along there, that it is, without doubt, a drainage question.
It is not to my mind a question of the garden walls merely. The broken down garden walls are merely the direct or indirect result of a drainage problem that exists as far as the Dodder and points west of it are concerned. There are proposals at the moment affecting the remedy of this situation. Certain works have already been done to alleviate the situation. The full job has not yet been undertaken. When it is, the question of renewing garden walls will, I hope, no longer be a problem left under my control.
There are other parts as other Senators have said, where damage from flooding directly or indirectly has occurred and where the control problem exists. Though it may be related indirectly and in some cases almost directly to the question of housing accommodation, if it is drainage I do not think it can be truly said that it should be dealt with within the limited sphere of grants, particularly reconstruction grants which are quite modest in their amount and are intended, as I have already said, and have always been applied to the actual structure of a house in which people reside. While that is so I feel that discussing the matter much further would not get us any further. I hope that we have cleared some of the misconceptions that appear to have existed in regard to it.
The first misconception which the Minister has cleared up, with my assistance, is Senator Yeats's misconception about mythical regulations. The Minister tells us that a letter from a Government Department which says that something is not allowable means that it is not legally allowable but that the Minister does not want to do it. This is a very interesting point which we have cleared up. Though the Minister wants us to use words in their ordinary common sense with regard to the word "house" he has rejected the word "allowable" in the ordinary and common sense. I do not think that anybody who received a letter from a Government Department saying that something was not allowable could possibly think that it meant that the Minister had the power to allow it but he was just not damn well going to do it. That is not an interpretation that any common-sense person would put on that sort of a letter from a Government Department.
You are new here, and if you had 20 years' experience you might not be so surprised!
I accept the statement that I have not been here long enough to have much experience, but in the nine months that I have been doing my duty here I have never heard more unconvincing flannel than we have had from the Minister on this issue. Despite his pathetic plea that we should not take any legalistic attitude about an Act of Parliament we have clarified the position a good deal. One thing emerged from his reply— talk about this only being the second application. The purpose of this is to make provision that where flooding occurs and a person seeks a reconstruction grant in the ordinary way because of flooding, then where there is further flooding the limits on second applications which would normally apply to reconstruction grants will not apply where there is flooding because flooding is beyond the control of the person concerned. The Minister is not, I trust, suggesting that you cannot get a first grant for flooding under section 21 and therefore cannot get a second one under section 22. Even he would hardly suggest anything quite as nonsensical as that. I am not quite clear what his reference is to section 21. I take it that a person could get a grant for reconstruction because of flooding under section 21 and if further flooding occurs can seek a second grant under section 22. In the "legalistic" meaning of the words used, the matter is defined in this Bill which the Minister has introduced, for which he has taken responsibility, and these grants are available for this purpose and he has asked this House, with a capital H, to give grants for the reconstruction of a house, with a small h, and to define a house, with a small h, as including gardens and boundary walls. This House has already passed that section at his urgent request and we have agreed on that meaning. Now we are discussing grants under sections 21 and 22 and because we take the definition which the Minister has already asked us to accept in the words of the Bill, he is saying that we are being legalistic. To ask us to accept that is nonsense. The position is quite clear. He has asked us to give him power to make these grants while informing us that in the exercise of this power he does not propose to use it for the purpose of certain parts of houses legally defined in this Bill, that he is doing this in his own discretion and that in any case coming before the Minister he does not want to use the power for that purpose. It has been worth while having this fact established even though it has taken an inordinate amount of time to do so.
Would the Senator not agree that section 21 refers to dwellings? Does that make a difference?
My reading of section 21 is that the Minister may make out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas grants for the reconstruction of a house——
In respect of each separate dwelling.
I am coming to that. He may make grants in respect of each separate dwelling forming part of the house. It seems to me—I am open to correction by Senator Sheldon with his longer experience, or by the Minister, who is more authoritative than myself on this—that that does not mean that this section does not apply. The word "house" is defined in the Bill and this House having accepted the definition in the Bill should be able to know that it is being applied. If this is not so, we should go back to section 21.
The Chair is more in favour of going on to section 23.
I should imagine so. I do not think we should leave the record just so summed up as Senator FitzGerald would like it. We have had experience here of the proposed definition in the proposed new legislation, and we have been having an outcry about a letter from my Department relating to it instead of it being related to the definition that is contained in the 1962 Act, which is the law at the moment. If one thing emerged from what Senator FitzGerald said in so far as I am concerned it is that he was applying a definition of the proposed legislation to the terms of the letter written under existing legislation.
I asked the Minister specifically whether he was saying that existing legislation excluded boundary walls, and he assured me that he was not.
During the comparatively short time in which I have had political contact with the Senator, on practically every occasion that we have come across each other he has shown complete disregard for what the Minister has to say, whether he is quoting from a book or ad lib. The situation is that section 21, subsection (5), is the section relating to what we may or may not do. Quite wide discretion is given to the Minister. The words in the section are those on which I or anybody else operating in my position will rely for their general authority and the commonsense way in which in all the circumstances the aids and grants we are disbursing should be disbursed.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 6 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 22 stand part of the Bill."
The grants under this section are secondary, and I would like to have an assurance from the Minister that it is possible to add the type of works provided for in paragraph f of subsection I in some other way. You do not have to reconstruct a house before you add a couple of rooms and get a grant to provide for elderly people or something of that kind. In section 17 power is being sought to give grants towards the building of a second house on a holding. Under section 22 I hope that it will be possible also to provide for a second dwelling, not necessarily a second house.
I do not think the Minister was present when reference was made to a type of dwelling in Switzerland where they added to the existing farmhouse a small house which is separate in one way but joined by a passage. I do not know whether that is allowable under this legislation. It is not legally possible to regard it as a second dwelling because it is connected by a passage, nor is it an addition to the existing house because it is connected by a passage. I am also disturbed by the question of additional rooms. One would have to get a grant to reconstruct the original dwelling before getting a grant to add rooms for the purposes of paragraph (m).
I should like to raise two minor points. Paragraph (a) refers to works necessary because of damage caused by wind, rain or flooding. Why is fire not included as a contributory factor to the creation of a problem requiring rectification by a grant? I regard it as harsh that under paragraph (d) a person providing a bathroom should be required to add to the floorspace. Often it is easy to divide an existing room to provide a bathroom but the requirement that additional floor space be provided entails such additional expense that it will quite frequently prove prohibitive.
On the points raised by Senator Sheldon, we rely on section 21 in the first instance as the section most likely to apply in the greater number of cases—in first cases of reconstruction grants. Section 22 deals with second or subsequent grants. He had in mind the question of whether a connecting passage between a few rooms or a small house, connecting it to an old house, constitutes a second entity. By and large, where the rooms so provided do not come within the main walls of the existing house and where the link passage, therefore, would be constructed to connect the old with the new—I do not wish to commit myself absolutely; it could be thrown at me at a later stage—where there is a break in the link between the two, the new portion would be regarded as a separate entity. Where the addition is continued within or immediately adjoining the existing main walls of the house, no matter what purpose it serves within the house, we would have to regard it within sections 21 and 22 for the purposes of reconstruction grants. If it is in the back of Senators' minds that these sections are directed towards the re-housing as it were of the old couple in a house in substitution for the provision of a dowerhouse grant, I should like to say we would tend to bring that within the ambit of the two sections. Where it is not desirable that there would be additions or extensions not necessarily removed from the main house, the dowerhouse grant is there to cater for that problem. This was mentioned in the Dáil and a statement was made to remove any doubts. That is the intention, that is what we say is capable of being done within the legislation. In addition to the provision of the dowerhouse grant, there is a widening of the scope of the reconstruction grants, both first and second, to encompass this type of situation.
Senator T.J. O'Sullivan asked a question in regard to subsection (1) (a) of section 22 as to why fire was not included. Fire, in a great deal of cases, is covered by insurance but I refer the Senator to paragraph (b) which states:
the works are occasioned by something (other than the matters referred to in paragraph (a) of this subsection) outside the control of the person aforesaid and the works are certified by an officer of the Minister to be urgently necessary for the conservation of the house,
That, together with a fair percentage of cases that would be covered by fire insurance, ensures that those having fire damage would be in a no less advantageous position than those treated under paragraph (a) in regard to wind, rain or flooding. The Senator asked a second question about requiring additional floor area to qualify for a bathroom grant. We have a special bathroom grant and if one utilises that £50 grant he would naturally have to build a bathroom, not just convert a room in the house. We insist that there must be an addition to the floor area and I think this is only right because the making of a bathroom where you already have a room is a small matter by comparison with providing a room for which you must provide the bath and all the facilities that go with it. That is the distinction between the two.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 23 to 25, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 7:
In subsection (1), line 6, to delete "made" and substitute "approved".
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that where a grant is made by the Minister for the Gaeltacht, or the Minister for Local Government, the local authority may subsequently make a supplementary grant. In this connection it might help if the word "made" were eliminated and replaced by the word "approved". I feel it would be an asset if local authorities were enabled to pay grants on approval. In other words, when the Department of Local Government indicate to the local authority that they are approving a grant the county council, or whatever the local authority may be, could then on approval pay their share of the grant rather than, as at the moment, having to wait until the Department pay their instalment of the grant before the local authority make a supplementary grant. I think it is a worthwhile improvement, and might speed up the payment of grants.
There may be some misunderstanding of the use of the word "approved" as we understand it in the Department. We approve grants subject to work being done to a certain standard, a certain plan or specification, and so on. We do not pay on approval ourselves. We only promise to pay. This is the actual approval as we issue it. We say that subject to this, that and the other we will pay so much of a grant. Now, we do not pay it; we could not possibly pay it because it is subject to the work being done up to a certain standard and in a certain way. It would be going beyond all reason if we were to put in here that the local authority may, or should, pay their grants on our approval. Our approval means little or nothing other than it is the OK to the applicant to go ahead and do the job he submitted he was going to do. It obliges him to do nothing, and some of them never do anything; they never build the house or do the reconstruction job for which the grant was asked. To pay a grant from the local authority on foot of that could be a complete and absolute throwing away of money for something that would never be done.
The grant is capable of some adjustment even subsequent to approval.
That may be so in the case of a grant that is not the full maximum grant in, say, a reconstruction job. It could well be, and it very often emerges, that if applicants have got down to a job at all they find they have to do more reconstruction than they thought. The approval may have to be revised or amended and perhaps a few more pounds may be incurred by us and the local authority. Is it the intention of the Senator——
Perhaps I did not make myself quite clear. When an applicant completes his application forms and applies to the Department of Local Government for a reconstruction grant, he is visited by an inspector from the Department who makes an estimate of the cost of the work and also notifies the applicant that he is entitled, for example, to £140 on completion of the work. The applicant may then complete a form, make an application to the local authority for a supplementary grant and in many cases, practically all cases, a supplementary grant is the same £140 from the local authority subject to the two-thirds stipulation.
I feel it would be a help to many of those applicants if the local authority engineer could examine the job on behalf of the Department of Local Government, just as at the moment the Department of Local Government inspector comes out, has a look at the job and is satisfied that the applicant is entitled to £70, for example, for a proportion of the work done, and the local authority could pay the £70 perhaps before the Department of Local Government paid it. The position at the moment is that it cannot be paid by the local authority until it has been certified by the Department of Local Government. I agree there may be some difficulties that I do not envisage, but I feel it would enable a number to get paid up much more quickly when they undertake a job of reconstruction.
I think we should realise that if we are not to have a dual inspection for the same purpose——
You could take the local authority engineer.
No, this is the point. We could do either that or do what we are doing. With no reflection on the local authorities in any way, we feel, and I think rightly so, that we operate these grants and provide the money, through loans, to finance the supplementary grants. We have people specifically working on this type of work day in, day out. This is their speciality and the local engineering staff have enough to do, in most cases too much to do. To add this to their chores and have us rely on their certificate, and taking one county with the other and taking differing circumstances in counties, would be unsatisfactory. Counties would not perform uniformly and we would be carrying the can for the lot and the applicant would not be any better off in the long run.
There are two sides—whether we do it or whether the local authorities draw their engineers into the job, to add to what really is a multiplicity of jobs at the moment, and all of them to behave uniformly both as to expedition and quality demanded. I think that of the two that which we operate is preferable, without any reflection on anyone. It may have its faults and probably has.
In so far as getting money quickly is concerned, it is quite likely that in the average run of cases, as the Senator suggests, even if we were to change over and have the local authority do it, it could be slower, although in certain cases it might be faster. That would depend on the particular engineer and the energy of the local councillor in getting after the engineer. Indeed, it could come down to whether the engineer got on well or badly. I think that in this Bill we have the added asset, from the applicant's point of view, that, where instalments are paid by the central Government, the local authority may in future, pound for pound, pay instalments also. So, in some degree we are going further than has been the practice up to the moment. If we pay part we are making it possible for the local authority to pay part as well.
In some cases it might not speed it up. I feel that in many cases it would. There is the situation in which an applicant undertakes a job and he spends so much money and then wants to get money from somewhere. At the moment he notifies the Department of Local Government that a percentage of the work is completed. An inspector gets the file. He does not merely go out to John Smith immediately; he has a number of files and is out for a week or two. He comes back, having examined those jobs, makes his report and on his report a cheque is made out and sent to the applicant. I believe it should be done the other way. The initial inspection should be carried out by a local engineer, and the initial payment made by the local authority with the final instalment being paid by the Department on the Department engineer's inspection. I think that in a very high percentage of cases that would speed up the payment of money to applicants.
That is desirable. I think and I have always held that it is better to rely if at all possible on the one inspector. Whoever takes it on at the beginning should remain. Sometimes it is not possible. He could be sick or have gone away but by and large, the principle of having the same inspector continuing from beginning to end is a good one, in the sense that, particularly, in reconstruction jobs he sees the state of the house as it stands. He sees it all the way through, what has been done and at that final stage there may have emerged a further reconstruction which was not the intention, or required, at the first inspection. So there is a lot to be said for not dividing, where it is possible, the inspections between two different people whether they come from the Department of Local Government or the local authority. That does not interfere with my argument at all. I say whoever starts it should continue it.
I say further—and emphasise it— that the people who are inspectors in my Department do not do anything else. If they do not know enough about it when they come in we hope they will know enough after they have undergone the training given to all those who come in unless they are very experienced people. This could not be effectively carried through by the local engineering staffs. You could not expect the county engineer to include it with his other duties. If you break it down and give it to each of the district engineers it would appear to be a method capable of being put into effect, and you would have 50 per cent or 75 per cent who may indeed have been inspectors in my Department. But there would be another 25 per cent of them who, though qualified, have not had experience in connection with housing, reconstruction, or anything else.
Over all, it would be throwing a burden on the local authority engineering staffs they do not want and which, if they were to do it properly, would take up too much of the time they so badly need for other matters of a more urgent nature. The very councillors who would feel that they could get quick service for the benefit of the application would be the same councillors who would have to kick up a row shortly afterwards and ask why this other job was not done. This, though good service to the community, would not be very good service to the county councils and ultimately would not serve the community either even if it were hidden in the salaries paid to the local authority engineers. Quite candidly, I do not think it would work out.
I have always invited Members of both Houses who are aware of flaws in our system to come forward and tell us of them. I or my officials do not resent this. By getting this information from you people we can improve the system and we are glad to improve it and do not resent people who come to tell us how it could be improved. If they come and tell us how they think it could be improved and it does not work out, then there is nothing we can do about it. However, I think our present system, taking it all round, is a good one. If it has flaws these can be rectified and, with the information you people have from all over the country, if furnished to us, we may be able to rectify some of the things with your assistance. I would ask you to continue this assistance by way of information any time you may have it.
I want to assure the Minister that Senator Miss Davidson and I, in putting down this amendment, intend no reflection on the inspectors of the Department of Local Government. I realise the type of task they have to perform and it was with a view to speeding up the payment of grants that this amendment was put down. In spite of the very weak case against the local engineers made by the Minister, I think they are the people who might be able to operate it in the most inexpensive way.
There was an appointed officer system which I am sure the Senator remembers well without going into the past. It was the first thing I abolished when I went into the Department—they were local people.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Business suspended at 6 o'clock and resumed at 7.30 p.m.
The Chair suggests that amendments Nos. 8 to 13 be taken together.
I move amendment No.8:
To add to the section a new subsection as follows:
"( ) The making or amending of a supplementary grants scheme shall be a reserved function."
In putting down this amendment we feel it would give authority to make or amend a supplementary grants scheme to the members of the local authority rather than having it as a managerial function as it is at the moment. The amendment is designed to ensure that the county manager will not introduce a restriction and that a proper scheme will be implemented. We feel that this change would hasten housing.
We are not accepting the amendment because we feel from our experience in the past that most local authorities are operating supplementary grants schemes. The scheme itself may have been prepared by the manager in his capacity as such, but the money to implement the scheme is provided by the local authorities, and the supplementary grants schemes are operated in keeping with the wishes of the members of the local authority. We do not see any advantage in giving the elected representatives the powers now sought by Senator Fitzgerald.
I cannot say I am impressed by the Parliamentary Secretary's reasons why this should be a managerial function. I agree that, in the main, supplementary grants are set out by members of the local authorities, but you can have examples of interference by the county manager which would nullify the wishes of the elected members. I feel this should be a reserved function of the local representatives rather than of the county manager.
What does the Senator mean by interference?
At the moment the local authorities can pay up to 100 per cent of the supplementary grant, but I wonder if in all counties 100 per cent is being paid.
That might not be the fault of the county manager.
It might. We think it would be better if it were made the responsibility of the elected representatives rather than the responsibility of the county manager.
The Senator will appreciate that the elected representatives are the people who provide the money for the payment of the supplementary grants. He makes the point that a county manager may submit a scheme to the local authority that would not be 100 per cent in keeping with the State grant. If the local authority have very strong feelings about it they can direct the manager to bring in a scheme in keeping with their wishes. They provide the money.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 26 stand part of the Bill".
Where changes are effected relative to the grants for farmers and those employed in ancillary industries, will the local authorities be notified of those changes so that they can budget for them?
Where an applicant would have qualified for an increased grant?
Could there not be a general sheet available informing the local authorities of such changes?
Have they got it for the increased grants?
They have not got it for the change I referred to earlier this afternoon.
As soon as the extended grants are paid in full the local authorities are informed of the increased grants.
They should know from the point of budgeting in advance so that they will know what is likely to be paid.
I think one way and another most local authorities know such a scheme is in operation.
Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 9 not moved.
Section 27 agreed to.
Amendment No. 10 not moved.
Section 28 agreed to.
Amendment No. 11 not moved.
Section 29 agreed to.
Section 30 agreed to.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.
Section 31 agreed to.
Amendment No. 13 not moved.
Section 32 agreed to.
Section 33 to 38, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 14:
To add to the section a new subsection as follows:
"( ) Repayment of a loan under this section in respect of a house may be secured by:
(a) an instrument vesting the ownership of the house in the housing authority subject to the right of redemption by the borrower,
(b) by charging the house under the Registration of Title Acts, 1891 and 1942, with the repayment of the loan (together with interest payable thereon),
(c) by deposit with the housing authority of the land certificate issued under the said Acts, in relation to the house, or
(d) where such ownership is already vested in a person other than the borrower subject to the right of redemption of the borrower, an instrument of further charge charging the repayment of the loan (together with the interest payable thereon) under this section on the house and making the said right of redemption subject also to the repayment of the loan (together with the interest payable thereon) under this section."
In this amendment we are seeking proper power for county councils to extend the loan to county council cottages. As we see the section I think it is not definite enough. This amendment should be accepted because it really defines that a labourer's cottage that is vested can be included for a loan if somebody wishes to purchase the house. At the moment that is not so. While in this Bill power is provided to enable the subdivision of vested cottage plots, and the making of a loan for a house built on that subdivided part of the plot, if, at the same time, the cottage is put up for sale a loan cannot be obtained on that vested cottage because of the annuity that has to be paid. A second mortgage cannot be advanced. A number of people would like to buy those houses if a loan could be obtained on the vested cottages.
I take it that the Senator wants local authorities to be empowered to make a loan available for the resale of vested cottages similar to the SDA loan. We feel the amendment is unnecessary because section 98 covers this where a second mortgage can be obtained. That was the only obstacle heretofore in regard to this matter.
I am not satisfied that section 98 covers the actual cottage. I am open to correction on this but, to my mind, section 98 covers the portion of the plot that is subdivided. Does it cover the other portion where the annuity still remains?
I understand that section 98 actually covers the cottage and plot and this, therefore, would meet the point made by the Senator.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 15:
To add to the section a new subsection as follows:
"( ) Notwithstanding regulations made by the Minister under the Act of 1962 (namely, S.I. No. 130 of 1964 and S.I. No. 137 of 1965) or regulations to be made under this section, any person who is qualified to receive a supplementary grant from a housing authority under section 26 of this Act shall not be disqualified from receiving a loan under section 39 (or by reason of any Departmental or administrative decision) where the applicant's income enables a housing authority to make a supplementary grant."
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 16:
To add to the section a new subsection as follows:
"( ) The fixing of the rate or rates of interest to be charged by a local authority in respect of a loan advanced under this section shall be a reserved function."
The purpose of this amendment is to enable the local authority to fix a rate of interest that they feel would be equitable rather than the rate of interest that is laid down in the Local Loans Fund. As I mentioned on the Second Stage, in Meath, we have a scheme whereby we make loans available to people, who would be normally housed by the local authority, at 4 per cent interest. I feel if something of this nature were to be written into the Bill it would enable local authorities to help people, who are anxious to avail of the Small Dwellings Act loan, but due to the high rate of interest, that is applicable at the moment, it is not possible for them to do so without becoming rather deeply involved in interest repayments.
I gather from Senator Fitzgerald that Meath County Council are already subsidising in regard to this matter.
Would that not mean that if Meath can do this other local authorities could also do it? Cork city did it at one time and then they had second thoughts. When Meath are in a position to do this I do not see why any other local authority, who want to do this, cannot operate this themselves.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 17:
To add to the section a new subsection as follows:
"( ) In this section ‘house' includes a cottage included in a purchase scheme under the Act of 1936 or a house included in any housing authority purchase scheme."
I should like to see in this section the word "house" include a cottage included in a purchase scheme under the 1936 Act, or a house included in any housing authority purchase scheme.
This is an amendment similar to an earlier one we had, and we still feel that section 98 of the Bill covers the point.
We shall have something to say on it when we come to section 98.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 39 stand part of the Bill".
Subsection (2) provides for the loaning of money to a person for the purpose of acquiring or constructing houses. We have the situation that developed in the recent circular to the local authorities indicating that in the opinion of the Minister except in exceptional circumstances local authorities should refrain from lending money for the purpose of acquiring existing houses. I regard this as an extremely retrograde step. Many of those houses have come on the market and in the past have been sold by auctioneers on the basis that those who were bidding for their purchase were likely applicants for SDA loans.
It has been accepted by those disposing of the houses that they could safely dispose of the property to them. Many young people are inclined, if they can at all rise to the occasion, to purchase their own homes. In the town where I reside in Bandon and in the neighbouring town of Kinsale there are very many large houses in the occupancy of single people in advancing years and they are only very partially occupied by the present owners. Quite often those old people do not wish to live alone at a more advanced age but they wish to go to reside, perhaps, with a married family or other relatives and to dispose of this type of property. Anything that would militate against the acquisition of those houses by young couples desirous of marrying is a very bad thing. It may save the expenditure on loans for a very short period, but it will inflate the demand on local authorities to provide houses for this class of person. I know a number of instances in the town in which I reside where property was disposed of by auctioneers on the basis that the loans would be forthcoming. I know that there was a condition that the sanction was given provisionally to the moneys becoming available, but this was interpreted as of a merely temporary character and it was not foreseen that an instruction would issue which is being pursued very actively by county managers advising local authorities in every way possible that they would confine the provisions of the SDA loans to new houses next year and in the years to come.
The consequence of this has been that in a number of instances that I was involved in the houses have been withdrawn from the possibility of purchase by those young people, and they will now go into the ownership of that class in the community who could put the money down for them and do not have to have recourse to SDA loans or any other type of loan. Many of these houses are capable of being transformed into flats, and many young couples in the past have used portion of such a house and developed the remainder as flats for people in a similar category to themselves, making flats available, a very helpful and healthy development. It meant that more of this class of young person was housed in very quick time.
Even though in section 39 we are providing for the authority to lend money to such people we have the distinct policy directive to the local authorities that they are not to do it. If this section had not been included I would be moving its inclusion. My purpose in speaking on it is to point out that the section is contrary to stated policy at the moment. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary whether we can hope from the inclusion of it that the present directive is merely of a temporary character, and that those local authorities who wish to pursue the policy they pursued in the past and which worked so well may be able to do so.
(Longford): I agree that a good argument could be made on one side for having moneys available under the Small Dwellings Acts for the purchase of existing houses, and other people could strongly argue that, particularly when capital is scarce, moneys should be retained solely for the erection of new houses. I do not want to enter into the argument upon which any two brothers, any two parties or individuals, could hold different views, but I want to point out that this is not the first time that this has happened. I was a member of a local authority and I remember that for what may have been quite good reasons a one-time Minister for Local Government gave a direction that in all circumstances the money available to be lent under the Small Dwellings Acts was to be lent only for the erection of new houses. As far as I recollect the Minister who gave that direction was Deputy Murphy from Cork. That situation obtained for some time, and then it was changed again to the situation where moneys were available not only for the erection of new houses but also for the acquisition of existing dwellings.
I think that in the long run the situation at a particular time would have to be borne in mind and the Minister should be entitled to give a direction in general terms to local authorities, but local authorities should have some elbow room or leeway in a matter like that. While we all seem to want the Small Dwellings Acts to operate primarily to provide capital loans for new houses we seem to have forgotten the simple fact that the Small Dwellings Acts were passed subsequent to the passing of the Local Government Act of 1898. It was then intended by the legislators to provide money for the purchase of houses as between landlord and tenant only, with a view to creating a situation in which as many as possible would become owners of houses which they held from landlords on a rental basis.
That was the original intention of the SDA but it has served as a very useful tool in our times in creating a situation in which local authorities could lend money to individuals proposing to build new houses. Its greatest merit has been in the building of new houses. By and large, because it has been such a useful tool in that respect, it serves now, when a temporary situation arises, for a Minister or a local authority to decide whether to lend money to tenants to buy houses from landlords or for the erection of new houses. I am inclined to come down in favour of channelling the money into the erection of new houses.
On the point raised by Senator O'Reilly, while we agree it is desirable to see new houses being erected, we should also be conscious of the fact that if a house has been erected and comes on the market and there is somebody in need of a house—many of those houses come on the market, passing out of the hands of the people for whom they were originally intended—those houses are on the market because heretofore there was no legislation enabling people to obtain loans for their purchase. Now that we are assured loans will be available in the future, we should all press on the local authorities as far as possible and in spite of finance limitations to ensure that money is provided for the purchase of houses as soon as possible.
(Longford): There is also the fact that there are other lending authorities. You have a situation where banks will lend money.
(Longford): I know banks do not lend money in all circumstances. There must be reasonable security.
(Longford): It has been said that banks lend money only to those who do not want it but in Cork and elsewhere people get money who do want it. While I agree substantially with Senator Fitzgerald, I know it has happened in similar circumstances that a Minister for Local Government gave a firm directive. He was entitled to do so but local authorities and their managers need not necessarily obey the Minister. Of course, some county managers may have their eyes on the Custom House, on the office responsible for their appointment, but if you have a good county council, where a case arises which should be treated on its merits, despite any Ministerial directive a loan will be given under the SDA.
There would, of course, be special circumstances in which a county council would and should give money for buying a house. For example, a tenant wishes to buy out his landlord's interest and has no money to do so. In the ordinary course of events, it is bad national policy if money is appropriated towards the buying of houses rather than the building of houses. I do not believe there is a single housing authority in the country that could honestly say everybody requiring housing in their area is housed, despite the fact that every house in their area fit for human habitation is already occupied. Therefore, the crying primary need is that there should be new houses.
From a national point of view it is bad, while in particular circumstances it may be good that loans should be made available for the buying of houses because the local authority were prepared to give a loan of 90 per cent of the purchase money. While that meets the point for a number of purchasers who can get for the asking 90 per cent of the purchase price, it creates an artificially high value on the houses and that, in turn, creates an artificially high value on building itself. It is also bad from the national point of view because many of those old houses are really not properly fit for reconstruction. They will be slums themselves in 25, 30 or 40 years. They are bought at artificially high prices and they are really creating a situation where slums and tenements are being let in flats not properly constructed. Despite what has been said by Senator D.J. O'Sullivan, I know many of those flats are not properly constructed. They pass for the moment but they are not fit for human habitation.
I disagree entirely with Senator O'Reilly in connection with getting loans from banks to buy houses. No bank will give a person a long-term loan to buy a house.
(Longford): I meant building societies.
They will not entertain such people. They will not entertain the ordinary working-class people, though they may consider professional people. The ordinary person must depend entirely on the SDA. The term SDA in itself is sufficient to tell us the loan is long-term. It has been said people can get 90 per cent of the value of houses and that this puts an artificially high value on such houses. I do not agree. The person buying a house will bargain with the person selling it so that he will have to borrow the least possible amount of money. He may buy a house and get 90 per cent of the cost and it may not have all the amenities a house should have at the moment —water and sewerage—and when he purchases it he is in a position, despite the fact that he is repaying an SDA loan, to reconstruct the house and put in water and sewerage. If he can do that he will have a reasonably good house which will last not only for more than 10 or 15 years but as long as any of the new houses now being built. I know people who approached the banks for loans but the banks would not consider in any circumstances the giving of long-term loans. It is, therefore, essential that people wishing to purchase houses should have access to SDA loans over a long period of years.
At the moment this section is, of course, an enabling one. It is completely ineffective in the absence of finance. Senator O'Reilly (Longford) quite rightly mentioned that the idea of the Small Dwellings Acts was to enable people to purchase their homes, and was not for the purpose of providing newly built dwellings. It was for the purpose of building dwellings that were habitable. This section of the Bill permits that, but we are in the situation at the moment that there is no finance at all available for any kind of house development, whether it be local authority housing or by way of private development. There is a limited amount of money available at the present time and any there is is foreign capital which has been somehow or another secured only by certain individuals.
In County Dublin the situation is so bad that, in fact, no money at all can be provided for any house built in the year 1966. The authority will be hard set to pay during the present year for houses built up to the end of 1965. I am sure that is a situation which arises in many other places. Contracts for approximately 300 cottages have been accepted through Dublin County Council and not a penny is available to permit these contracts to go ahead.
Senator O'Reilly (Longford) mentions that there is a temporary shortage of money. How long will this temporary shortage last? There was plenty of money last year when support was being sought at election time. Letters were even written promising houses to people, which the county council cannot even get started. It all resulted from a certain amount of fiddling with the national finances. I do not believe that this can be described as temporary, as people might be led to believe. It will be quite a while before we can resume the kind of development that was in force certainly about 10 years ago and even in more recent years and up to the last election.
Until the Government make up their mind that they will use money properly they will not be entrusted with money in future. Last year the banks were left short of £31 million by the stroke of a pen. This occurred during the newspaper strike. This year we hear from the Minister for Finance in his Budget that he proposes to take in £28 million from the banks.
I do not think this matter relates to the section.
I am referring to the fact that this section of the Bill cannot be effective at the present time. It means nothing unless money is available to implement what the Bill proposes to do under the section. Even this year there is another £28 million to be taken from the banks. If money is taken in this way from the banks we cannot expect it to be available to the private sector and to private enterprise, and we cannot expect finance to be available for house purchase organisations, which were advancing money readily in previous years towards the cost of purchasing newly built houses other than local authority houses. There is a complete stoppage in relation to houses. There is no finance to meet it. All we can say is we are leaving this section in the Bill until some future date when the powers in the Bill can be availed of.
Senator O'Reilly (Longford) said that alternative sources are available where credit can be obtained by the class of people about whom I am concerned. Apart from the SDA loans, I should like to know where they are. In the Cork Southern Housing Committee we embarked on a formidable scheme of cottage repairing prior to vesting and we had secured from one bank a sum of £900,000. There was no problem at all about it but in order to maintain the men we had in employment on this work we sought an additional sum of £45,000 but we would not get a brown penny, despite the fact that a formidable deputation went to the bank concerned. Can anybody contend when, with the authority of such a body as the Cork County Council with a purchasing power of £5 million and who obtained the credit necessary down through the years, we could not get a sum of £45,000, how any unfortunate young couple seeking to buy a home can obtain it?
It is a question that is now conceded in many quarters, and that has been obvious to some people for a long time and was developing rapidly but nobody would listen. We were rapidly approaching a situation where stringency of this character would be inevitable unless action were taken. No action was taken and we are now reaping the whirlwind. The fact is that there is expenditure in other regards that could be directed into the fields we are discussing.
The Chair has allowed a good deal of latitude on the amendments and now we are repeating the discussion all over again.
I do not intend to repeat but in the other House this afternoon, while we were discussing this question here, £80,000 was indicated as the amount spent months ago for the reconstruction of one office for one minor section of a Department here in Dublin and it has not yet been occupied. If £80,000 can be lavished on that kind of expenditure surely the Minister has sufficient influence with the Minister for Finance——
This matter should be raised under some other heading.
The section dealing with loans by housing authorities for the acquisition of houses is, I think, one of the most important sections in the Bill. Looking to the future and to our great housing problem, which we have in common with all other countries, this problem can only be solved by much greater use of this section. In other words, private enterprise, with the person concerned bearing the responsibility for ultimately acquiring his own house rather than having public housing provided, is much more in keeping with advancing economy. I gave some figures on the Second Reading and it would seem that we have been progressing too slowly compared with Germany and other European countries. We are lagging behind on the private side and we would want to use every encouragement and use the cheapest means we can in house finance; in other words, the people should bear a fair amount of the burden themselves.
This comes in under section 39. Unfortunately, the most important part of section 39 is, of course, subsection (2) which deals with the regulations governing the classes and types of houses which are to come under this section and also the various repayments for loans and the inducements that can be offered to the people to avail of these loans. I appreciate, of course, the Minister's point in making those subject to regulation. The real solution to the problem of providing houses and the shifting of the burden of public housing is to frame the regulations in such a way that they encourage the young people to save before marriage. They should be encouraged to utilise these savings to provide part of the down payment necessary to acquire a loan under this section and subsequent payments should follow the same pattern. I think also that the regulations should be drafted to lessen considerably the burden of repayment. It is not doing a kindness to any person to saddle him with a period of 35 years or even 50 years for the sake of making what is really a very small reduction in the amount of the yearly payments. There is so much interest content in a 35-year loan that it is almost tying a person to a perpetual interest, whereas a slight increase in the sinking fund would enable provision to be made to have this brought down to a 20-year period. Of course, a 20-year period is a very significant one for a family because 20 years after marriage generally a family is beginning to reach its maximum expense period and it would be a great relief to the householder if his loan payments were over at that time and he was thereby able to give additional help to his family at a time when they are reaching their costliest stage.
I would appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary and, through him, to the Minister to see if, in the drafting of these regulations, some of these principles could be kept in mind.
Senator D.J. O'Sullivan referred to the circular issued to local authorities recently informing them of the capital allocations for the coming year and he referred to a suggestion of the Minister's that the local authorities might review their policy regarding the availibility of money for the purchase of existing houses. Earlier today we had quite a lengthy discussion on the capital allocations and it was pointed out here that there was not sufficient money at all to meet the needs of local authorities. The Minister is satisfied, of course, that the amount of money allocated this year is not as much as the local authorities would wish to have. To conserve as much of that as possible for the provision of new houses, the Minister has suggested to local authorities that they might refrain, for a temporary period, from providing loans to people who would be anxious to buy existing houses. It would not be true to say that this would upset things to the extent Senator D.J. O'Sullivan suggested because the most recent figures indicate that about 10 per cent of the moneys spent in this particular field went in the purchase of existing houses. Senators can take it that purchasers if they are at present tenants in local authority houses, would qualify for and get the loan, or if they are people who would normally qualify for a local authority house so it does not necessarily mean that nobody in a local authority area will be allowed a loan for the purchase of an existing house.
I am sure Senators will agree that, at this stage, with the shortage of housing in the country we should try to conserve all the money we have for the purpose of providing new houses. When we have got over our temporary difficulties, then we can get back to the stage of last year and the year before where money was made available to people who saw a secondhand house going on the market which would satisfy their needs and went to the local authority to get the necessary funds under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts. With the position as it is at the moment, I think there is nothing more we can do. The Minister's suggestion to the local authorities was that they might consider this. In so doing, I do not think we shall create a lot of hardship, particularly in view of the fact that only 10 per cent of moneys have been spent in recent years in that particular line.
Senator Rooney, of course, had to have his little bit of play. It is well worth nothing that even though he did say there was no money at all at one stage he said there was not enough at another stage. Dublin Corporation got £970,000 this year as against £825,000 last year so there is money available. We are not saying there is as much as local authorities would wish to have. However, we would not like it to go abroad that there is none. We would hope, with the co-operation of the local authorities, the best use possible will be made of such money as is available at the moment. We look on this as a very temporary business. I think it was Senator D.J. O'Sullivan who asked if there was any hope of a relaxation on this. We would all hope that the Minister could relax on this within the present year if at all possible.
I have tried to answer the points raised by Senators on this section and I promise to bring to the Minister's notice the points raised by Senator Quinlan.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 40 to 48, inclusive, agreed to.
Government amendment No. 18:
In subsection (2), line 37, to delete "the said subsection (1)" and substitute "subsection (1) of this section".
This is a simple drafting amendment and does not involve any change of substance.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 49, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 50 to 52, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 19:
In subsection (1) to add new paragraphs as follows:
"( ) to what extent provision has (or has not) been made for the objectives in sections 55, 56 and 57;
( ) to what extent persons eligible to be housed by the housing authority are obliged to acquire houses or accommodation beyond their means with or without the loan facilities under section 39."
This amendment is moved to ensure that an adequate inquiry can be carried out. I am not satisfied with subsection (1) of section 53 which reads:
It shall be the duty of a housing authority, within such period after the commencement of this section as may be specified by the Minister and thereafter either at least once in every five years or at such intervals, being less than five years, as the Minister may direct from time to time, to inspect the houses in their functional area and to ascertain—
They are to ascertain (a), (b) and (c). It would appear to me that an inquiry of that kind is completely inadequate, because we do not know when this section will commence. I presume that on its commencement it will be obligatory on the local authorities to carry out this survey. Having carried out the survey, it appears that it would be sufficient to have the next survey carried out in at least five years' time.
Five years is a very long period. Conditions change a lot in five years. Any survey that is carried out would have to cover a very wide field. If the local authorities had been providing an inadequate number of houses it is obvious that there would be a housing problem in their area. It is also obvious that a number of people, as I already mentioned, would have to avail of very high interest loans to provide housing accommodation, the repayments on which they could not afford. At the time of the survey they might find themselves in serious financial difficulties. There is also the type of person who might have to rent a house or a flat. They might find themselves committed to a very heavy outlay.
This is a very important section. We feel that if this amendment were accepted by the Minister it would have a very beneficial effect, and I am afraid if it is not accepted it will have a very detrimental effect on sections 55, 56 and 57, which are also very important sections.
I take it the Senator is not satisfied with the section as it is.
With the scope of the inquiry.
The Senator is worried about people who are in non-local authority rented houses, and he thinks the local authorities, in compiling this information, should try to find out the rents which these people are paying.
I do not want to make the point that the information should be sought.
It might be given without being sought.
If people were prepared to volunteer the information I do not think there would be any objection by the local authorities to accepting it, but I do not know whether they should set out to go into these details in carrying out a survey. We feel that the section as it stands covers this sufficiently. Paragraph (c) provides for such other matters as the Minister may specify. These are matters that the Minister can indicate to the local authorities as points that should be taken into consideration in the survey. In that way we will be able to cover most of the points raised by the Senator and, therefore, there is no necessity for the amendment.
I am afraid I am not altogether satisfied. It appears to be that we have been anticipated in any suggestion that we might make to improve the Bill. There seems to be very little use in attempting to introduce something which I feel might improve the Bill. Paragraph (c)—such other matters as the Minister may specify from time to time—is window-dressing only, because while the Minister may specify many things in legislation they should not be left to the whim of anyone. They should be spelled out in the section and should not be left to what any Minister might like to specify from time to time. We should all realise that there are many problems in connection with housing and also in connection with these surveys.
At the moment a man might be living in a house and paying £2 a week. He might have a very low income and be trying to rear a family, but because the house is marked down in the survey as a good and suitable house he is considered to be housed, and he would not qualify for a local authority house. That is one very good reason why the position should be examined. You could have a number of people in their employers' houses and a number of people in rented houses, and when a survey of this kind is made they are found to be suitably housed and do not come within the scope of those who need to be rehoused.
In my opinion a period of five years is altogether too long. Paragraph (b) refers to overcrowding existing in an area. Overcrowding can correct itself in a shorter period than five years. A house that was not overcrowded at the beginning of a five-year period could be completely overcrowded subsequently, and a house that was overcrowded at the beginning of the survey might house the father and the mother only at the time of the next survey. There is nothing in Ireland that solves itself as readily as overcrowding. A house might be overcrowded and in a few years there might be no one left except the old pair.
There is something very ambiguous about paragraph (a): "To what extent there exist in the area houses which are in any respect unfit or unsuitable for human habitation." There would need to be some explanation as to when a house could be described as unfit or unsuitable for human habitation. One medical officer of health might say that a house was unfit or unsuitable for human habitation because there was not a back door, because there was not water and sanitation, because it was under the level of the road, or because there was not a damp proof course. That has happened in my own county. Houses were described as unfit or unsuitable for human habitation for the reasons I have given.
When those houses were subsequently reconstructed they stood up just as well as new houses which were built. I should like the Minister to specify the type of house he would consider unfit or unsuitable for human habitation, and also when he would consider a house was overcrowded? At what stage would he consider a four-roomed house was overcrowded? At what stage would he consider a five-roomed house was overcrowded? Those are matters which every medical officer of health in this country should know. A good medical officer of health will be aware of the houses that are unfit for human habitation. You will find they vary very much from county to county. It is up to the Department to give a direction as to what they consider are unfit houses for human habitation and what they consider are overcrowded conditions.
Senator McAuliffe referred to the period of five years. The survey must be carried out at intervals not exceeding five years. It does not mean that it has to be every five years. It can be at much shorter intervals.
There was only one survey carried out within the last 15 years. We had no real survey during that time until last year.
The recent survey was carried out through the initiation of the present Minister. The Senator went on to make the point that the change in circumstances in a five year period can be great. I agree entirely with that. You could have a young married couple going into a house and that house could be overcrowded. That is one of the reasons why we should have "subject to the needs as experienced". Senator Fitzgerald seemed to think that we should spell out the change in circumstances. We could have, as I have said, something that might appeal to us now for the purpose and in five years' time that would be gone. Therefore, the Minister would want to be in the position to indicate to the local authorities the reasons they should carry out the survey. Senator Fitzgerald has a particular problem of a man who cannot afford to pay £2 a week for a house. That is really a social problem. It is not really a housing problem.
It should be dealt with in some way other than under this Housing Bill. Senator McAuliffe can be quite happy with regard to the five year period. It is not exceeding a five year period that those surveys must be carried out. If we succeed in that we will be doing a very good job particularly in view of the fact that the one we had recently was the first one after a long time and it was on a national basis. The Senator referred to the question of overcrowding. He asked when would the Minister or the local authorities consider a three-or four-roomed house was overcrowded. This is covered in section 63 of the Bill. We can elaborate on that when we come to that particular section.
I had no intention of asking the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope I did not convey that impression, for the withdrawal or deletion of the subsection referring to such matters as the Minister may specify from time to time. I consider this is an excellent subsection to have there but it would be a better one if the Parliamentary Secretary, or the Minister, was prepared to accept the amendment which I have put down.
I would like to mention, in connection with this matter, that this survey could result in a number of houses being condemned. It has been the practice with a number of local authorities to issue demolition orders in respect of houses which appear to be quite sound, before they would grant tenancies or grant houses to the families which needed houses from those condemned houses. It seems to be a routine practice on the part of some local authorities to do this, whereas a small family could be put into some of those sound old stone dwellings instead of having demolition orders issued automatically just because a family has been selected to go into a council house where there is greater accommodation. There could be disadvantages in this survey if houses are condemned and demolition orders issued without necessary steps being taken to ensure that the occupants of those houses would be properly housed elsewhere. This creates a number of difficulties if dwellings are condemned and demolition orders issued against them.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 53 stand part of the Bill".
The provisions of this section seem to me to lack uniformity in that the inspections called for and the reports issued extend to houses in the area and state whether the houses are suitable for human habitation. This seems to me to be something on which it is very important to have national standards. It would seem to me that the survey called for should be carried out by a national team attached to the Miniser's Office or to the Building Research Centre or some other group in co-operation with the local housing authority. It is only then that you will get a report that is properly balanced from the point of view of national standards.
We want to know what is overcrowding? Are we to have different standards as to what constitutes overcrowding for all housing areas? Surely what we want is a relevant picture as to how conditions in one area compare with conditions in another area and what are the obvious failings. A national survey can compare one housing authority area with another and perhaps better area in the country. Consequently, the Minister should amend the section to ensure that the survey is carried out by a national survey team nominated by the Minister attached to the Minister's office in conjunction with the local housing authority.
I think Senator Quinlan wants this survey to be carried out on a national scale by a team of engineers or architects, as the case may be, operating from the Custom House rather than the system we have at the present time. There would be a certain amount of duplication in that. We have county engineers and county architects. We have many other professional men in each county. Every one of them knows their own areas and they know exactly the state of the houses in that local authority area. If we had a survey on a national basis this would seem to me to be a duplication of professional people particularly at a time when we find in certain local authorities that we have too many engineers for the amount of work we have for them. We also have the local medical officer who knows the needs in his own particular area. Uniformity is defined in section 63 of the Bill. The question of fitness is also covered there so there should be complete uniformity in determining the state of any particular house in any particular local authority area even though it might be different people who would inspect the house. I think it would be an unnecessary expense to establish a new section in the Department of Local Government to carry out this work at least once in every five years as we shall have to do.
Seeing that the survey must be carried out roughly every five years, I do not know how many housing authority areas there are but there would not be more than, say, 30 or 32. That means roughly an area every two months, and a very small team, probably not more than two people, would be sufficient to do it in conjunction with the local authority and you would avoid duplicating services or increasing expenditure, and would actually cut down the time required. A small survey team of two or three people would know exactly what they were looking for. The local engineer in charge of housing could put them in the local context and supply information quite quickly, and together they could prepare a report giving a picture of that area in the national setting. No one person in his own area can report on his area and give a report that is properly balanced in the national setting. I would appeal to the Minister between now and the Report Stage to consider this suggestion. There is certainly no additional expense involved, there is no additional duplication, and it would result in more uniform standards and much more helpful criticism for the local authority than can be provided otherwise.
This suggestion of Senator Quinlan would not work at all. If I am right he is suggesting that a team of two from the Department should go around and deal with one housing authority area every two months. The result would be that if he started now in Cork city you would have the position in Cork city as in April 1966 compared with conditions in County Mayo, for example, in April 1971. It would be no comparison at all and there would be no advantage in it. The point about the local authorities doing the survey is that they have all the information relative to a particular period of, say, two or three months and you could have the same basis of comparison between different parts of the country. To ask a team of two or three to take the 600,000 houses in the country over a period of five years would vitiate completely any comparison.
I think that Senator Quinlan is being completely unrealistic about this. How could two people come down, say, to Cavan and make a survey or any check on all the houses there?
In conjunction with the local authority.
The last survey in Cavan showed that there were something like 3,500 houses that were in some way defective. How could two people come down and in two months inspect those houses? It would need a Department to do it on its own.
I am afraid that both Senators are misunderstanding me. Nobody suggests that two people are going to re-do whatever has been done by the local engineers. The local engineers have over the preceding three, four or five years compiled a list showing the situation of houses they have condemned as being unfit. The survey team accepts these facts but in consultation with the local people can pinpoint exactly what we are looking at on the national level. Senator Yeats takes a very poor view of the intelligence of our engineers and investigators if he visualises that they are not people who would update themselves with the times as they progress along. They would make an appalling mistake to bring a team to Cork in 1966 and to County Mayo in 1971.
That is what the Senator himself suggested. I did not suggest it. The Senator suggested that they would take two months for each area, and if they were to start in Cork, which is a good a place to start, five years hence they would be finished, and unless they went to Cork and started again they would not be able to update any national picture.
I think Senator Quinlan was worried about uniform standards?
Yes, to get information of the national picture.
We have got one survey, the results of the first survey, and will be obliged now to have one every five years. We could make a point with regard to standards that there would be uniform standards if some of our officials would speak in the local areas so that we would have the same type of approach. In that way we might meet the point.
That is essentially what I am asking for. It would be both of assistance to the local people to know what you are looking for and also it would shorten the work considerably in that there would be fewer questions to be asked back, the whole thing would be available, and if it were desirable rather than have a survey team going around continuously and spending a certain time in each place, if you wanted to concentrate it within six months in which to have the whole lot a survey team could push on the local people in co-operation, planning the national approach that is required.
On the question of these surveys, is there any chance that they will be published, or is it to be private information for the Department? There would be a great deal of public interest in the information.
I think it is known within each local authority area.
That is grand for the people in the local area, but on a national basis would there be any sort of comparative figures for the country as a whole?
We could put it in the Department's annual report.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 54 stand part of the Bill".
I was precluded on the last section from discussing this really very important point that needs to be co-ordinated, that is, a review of the costs of housing services. Here surely the services of somebody who has an overall picture, or a couple of experts who are highly conversant with housing costs and how corners can be cut and what is being done in other places, would be both a consultant service to the local group and would ensure a very critical analysis. This section reinforces my plea on the previous section.
If I read this properly it gives the Minister power to review the cost of housing services in relation to the income accruing from dwellings. Does this not hinge around the rents to be paid by the tenants? This is going to hit the people who are paying differential rents. There is a proposal here in Dublin Corporation to charge as much as £6 a week for houses which were subject to an economic rent of perhaps £2 5s. in the past.
The purpose of the section apparenly is to ensure that people living in local authority houses will contribute not alone to the economic cost of the houses and of the housing services but also towards the cost of building further council houses. We are presented with a situation by this section where Dublin Corporation or any local authority will have power to put up rents beyond the economic level in order to secure finances from the tenants towards the cost of building more houses to be occupied by people in the same class. The contrary argument on behalf of the tenants is that the economic rent was decided at a certain date in relation to those houses. Take a 1950 house. The maximum economic rent was calculated at that time and the cost of bulding that house has been determined once and for all. The rent could not be related to anything but the original cost of building that house. The cost of providing water, sewerage and possibly maintenance might have gone up but the figure for the original building of the house could not change.
I think the Senator is making a mistake. He is going wide of the section. This is a question of a review, of supplying information.
It says here that in preparing a review of the cost of their housing services the authority shall have regard to the income accruing from dwellings provided by the authority under the Act, whether from rents purchase annuities or otherwise.
I cannot see it giving them any power to increase rents.
I think it does. Paragraphs (b) and (c) state they shall have regard to the maintenance, management, administrative or other expenses incurred in respect of such dwellings and the anticipated cost of the authority's current or proposed building programme. It apparently gives them the power to adjust the rents to the anticipated cost——
I cannot see it. It merely asks for a series of data.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to contradict me if I am wrong. I read in paragraph (c) that the anticipated cost of the authority's current and proposed building programme—the rents of the houses—shall be adjusted in relation to the anticipated cost of the building programme or of future building programmes. Am I wrong?
I think so. This is merely asking for data. There is no question beyond that of a review. The Senator is wide of the section.
Would it not be difficult for a housing authority, for example, to comply with paragraph (a) —the income accruing from dwellings provided by the authority under the Act, whether from rents, purchase annuities or otherwise?
The section obliges a local authority to have a review at least once every five years of the cost of their housing programmes. That is the sum total of the section.
How would the authority be in a position to provide the information requested by the section before they had even built a house, not mind allocated it to a tenant?
Based on their existing houses.
Their income from existing houses.
Their income from existing houses would be rent or repayment of loans. For instance, houses might be set at different rent structures or money might be lent at different rates of interest.
The State subsidy would come into it.
The explanatory memorandum bears out what I have been saying. It says the section is to ensure that building programmes are not frustrated by lack of funds. What about the building programme for 1967? Housing authorities are apparently to examine the income accruing from dwellings already provided under the Act and then to ensure that building programmes are not frustrated by lack of funds.
Paragraph (c) of the subsection refers to the anticipated cost of the authority's current or proposed building programme, not 1967.
That is the very point I am making.
It provides for a review every four or five years of the cost of housing services generally so that they will know where they are going and the programmes they can afford.
Question put and agreed to.
I move amendment No. 20:
In subsection (3), before paragraph (d), to insert new paragraphs as follows:
"( ) the extensions of existing dwellings to provide suitable housing accommodation for elderly or disabled persons (or to relieve overcrowding);
( ) the provision of serviced sites for temporary dwellings and the provision of temporary dwellings."
I suggest that the provision of an extra room or two to an existing house might solve the problem rather than the provision of a new house for an elderly person.
That can happen. We can do that under the Bill.
Where is it stated? Subsection (3) (a) states that a housing authority may have regard to the repair, closure or demolition of houses which are unfit or unsuitable for human habitation. They can repair a house but the subsection does not say extra rooms may be built. I know there will be available loans and grants to provide extra rooms but the subsection does not state that the local authority can provide——
Subsection (3) (d) mentions the provision of adequate housing accommodation to meet needs and the previous paragraph mentions elderly or disabled persons.
That is the provision of houses.
Housing accommodation, which could mean an extension to an existing house.
I can see this being interpreted in the Custom House with the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary far away. I can see it being pointed out to Deputies and others interested who have said that the Parliamentary Secretary gave us an assurance—I assume the same assurance was given in the Dáil—that the local authority can provide extra rooms in the same way as they can provide houses. There is not one word about the provision of extra rooms and this can, in fact, be so interpreted inasmuch as there is nothing in the Bill on it.
You cannot provide two extra rooms to that small house.
Could the Minister provide a grant for a one-roomed house? There are people living in one room and they have applied for an extra room and have been refused a grant. They have a livingroom where they sleep and they need one to add on.
There is a repair grant scheme that will cover that.
We are not dealing with that section. The Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me that it has proved a bit of a failure. The answer is that where there is an essential repair get a pre-fab and erect it. It is the cheapest way. Councils are throwing away money on essential repairs.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 21:
In subsection (3), page 38, to add new paragraphs as follows:
"( ) the provision of temporary or emergency accommodation for persons rendered homeless due to storm damage, fire damage or eviction;
( ) the provision of reserved accommodation for newly-weds."
This amendment is self-explanatory. I feel that if more serviced sites had been provided in the past much more houses could have been erected by local authorities before we got caught up in the credit squeeze. Be that as it may, I think there are a number of local authorities which may have sites available at the moment. Such sites are not serviced and there may be other local authorities who have sites which are serviced and it is not intended to erect houses on them in the coming year. I wonder would it also be possible to enable local authorities to provide serviced sites so that temporary dwellings can be made available until the credit restrictions are removed and house building can get under way again. I speak with a knowledge of my own area where a site has become available to the local authority. At the moment it appears a pity that the development of this site has not taken place. Were it possible to do this it would provide much needed accommodation either by way of caravans or other type of houses, which would enable the local authority to provide accommodation of a kind for people until they can get on with the scheme of housing.
Subsections (3) (c) and (d) of section 55 cover the matters raised by Senator J. Fitzgerald, in that the housing authority in preparing its building programme shall have regard to the matters about which the Senator has spoken. Therefore, preparation of the programme including consideration of these things would cover the intention of these amendments. I think we have had something similar to this in the Dáil and we went into it fully. I do not remember the outcome but I am satisfied that subsection (3) (c) and (d) of section 55 by the authority it gives and the requirements it demands from the local authority in a building programme adequately covers that about which Senator J. Fitzgerald is concerned. If it is not taken care of as a result of that the fault is with the council. If the council does not want to do these things the Senator will be the first to admit that the mere fact that he wrote it down in this House would not make them do it. A willing and co-operative council is sufficient to ensure that as far as the Seanad is concerned everything will be taken care of in future if this Bill becomes law.
I thought we were dealing with the second part of amendment No. 20—the provision of serviced sites—at least that was what I spoke on.
The Chair assumed that the whole of amendment 20 had been dealt with. If the Senator wishes to raise a point, however, he may do so now.
I am speaking on amendment No. 21
Senator J. Fitzgerald is raising the second new paragraph of amendment No. 20.
I thought I was dealing with the second part of amendment No. 20. I am sure I need not be unduly worried about amendment No. 21. The amendments are practically the same. I was amused at the glib way in which the Minister so nicely said that all the writing he could do, or all the sections put into a Bill, would not make the local authority do something if they had not the will to do it. The Minister will agree with me that all the will in the world will not enable the local authority to provide those sites or service them unless the £ s. d. is available. I know there is a shortage of money as far as certain local authorities are concerned for developing sites, or acquiring sites for housing. I do not think we should really say that anything I wish to see done, or any other Senator wishes to see done, is not done through the fault of the local authority. With all the will in the world a local authority cannot provide serviced sites without the necessary capital.
This is the second part of amendment No. 20. It is somewhat relevant, or irrelevant—I do not know which. Saying "with all the will in the world" is a glib way of getting over it. Does it follow that in all cases the central government should be the only provider of money for all these things? Is it not a fact that over a number of years when there was no question of money being available and when there was work to do a great deal of local authorities were not at all alert in getting on with jobs, as now appears, and possibly that is a consideration that should be kept in mind when we talk of shortage of money at the moment?
The overall situation is one which does not so much indicate a shortage of money as an unpredecented demand for new work. It is misleading to push this too far. The amount of money to be provided is the greatest provided in any year for this purpose. It is not enough and, in my estimation, not nearly enough. It is not only shortage; it is that the demand has so increased the availability of money has not kept pace with it to such a degree that though we are providing more, the demand is growing every day. That this will not be a continuing factor I think we are all agreed. The very least any of us can do is to hope it will not be a continuing situation and that this legislation we are now processing in this House will be a much more permanent matter than are the shortages or financial difficulties of the present time. Therefore, we have got to look at this a little further ahead. Assuming that what we are referring to would be regarded as normal circumstances where moneys would become available for practically all of these demands—as indeed it was available until a year ago—I say councils can do things they are permitted to do by law but no law can really make them do things they do not want to do. I am referring to circumstances somewhat more normal than the present juncture when the amount of money is not sufficient to go round all the jobs we want to do. In this regard and in reply to the actual second part of amendment No. 20, I would say that subsection (3) (e) of section 55, which is the part which refers to the provision of adequate and suitable sites for building purposes, would be the enabling part in so far as the provision of sites for temporary dwellings is concerned. Again, section 57 would also come into play in empowering the housing authority to provide developed sites. I think the provisions are adequate to cover the provision of developed sites for temporary dwellings in so far as this particular housing matter is concerned.
Again, we should not merely regard this Bill as legislation as of this moment but rather as legislation under which we will be operating for a considerable number of years to come. The temporary difficulty we have encountered at the present time cannot really be used as a yardstick when measuring what we are doing or what we will do under the particular enactment.
I am always very conscious of the fact that when the Minister is referring to local authorities he is referring very often to the members of local authorities.
Before the Senator goes too far, the Chair would point out that it has been lenient in allowing the discussion on this particular amendment to cover the ground as to the extent to which advantages have been taken in the past of certain specific grants. It would be undesirable to have a long debate on the subject.
I should like to point out to the Minister, who has now just admitted that because of the efforts of local authorities more schemes have been presented now than ever before with the result that while there is more money being spent and made available to housing, there are more schemes which does disprove the Minister's contention that local authorities are not doing their duty.
I would also suggest to Senator J. Fitzgerald that there was a great deal of work done over the years to bring this situation about and it is unfortunate that we should have run into financial stress in the meantime. Otherwise, we would be going well at the moment.
Might I make a point on these last two amendments?
I think the Senator should confine himself to the last amendment.
They seem to be quite useful additions to what local authorities are permitted to do. I do not find very convincing the Minister's reply to this that there is no good putting things into the law which local authorities may do because if a local authority does not want to do it it will not do it. After all, this could apply to a great deal of this Bill. All of this is permissive. These are two very valuable additions to what can be permitted to local authorities.
On this particular matter, I keep forgetting I am in this particular assembly where you are much more astute in picking up remarks than in the Dáil. In so far as these amendments are concerned my own view is that what is already there in the section is far more compelling, far broader than anything that these two amendments could do. The fact is that under the proposal we have before us, without amendment, the real point is whether or not people need re-housing or housing. It is their need which is the essence of the case in the future regardless of who they are or what they are. It will be the need which will determine whether or not they are the obligation of a local housing authority to house. Nothing we could add to that will in any way make it better or more embracing. In fact, I think anything we might attempt to do could only have the effect of being superfluous, which is not something we should seek to do. Indeed, if we were not careful in adding amendments to something which is already adequate we might find we were restricting what is intended by the addition of unnecessary amendments. It is the need provision, which is the really important determining factor in this matter, we will be relying upon. The whole purpose is that the matter should be determined by need whether or not people are entitled to be housed and it is not under other circumstances which may have operated in the past but rather the genuine need of the person for re-housing, whatever may be the circumstances of the person or who they are.
The Minister has indicated that the wording as it stands is better than the proposal by Senator J. Fitzgerald and the word "need" is stressed. Need will be the consideration of the county councils when houses are being allocated but I think the purpose of Senator J. Fitzgerald's amendment is to compel county councils to allocate, under this section, reserved accommodation for newly-weds. The Minister can say that, of course, the council also has power to reserve accommodation for newly-weds. But while there is a pressing need on the part of families with several children in overcrowded rooms and unfit dwellings, newly-weds have no chance of getting any of these houses when these needy classes are competing for them. It seems to me that if this compelling clause was incorporated in the Bill it would compel local authorities to provide for and not leave them with the option of providing for. The local authority, of course, will try to ensure that people living in difficult conditions and in overcrowded conditions will be given priority. The councils will not depart from that unless they are compelled to do so. The idea behind this clause is to ensure that people intending to start married life can be provided with proper housing accommodation instead of having to live with in-laws or under very difficult conditions for a number of years.
I should make it clear that when I talk about need being the primary qualification this is in relation to the responsibility of the local authority and the permissive legislation which will enable them to house people who in the past they may have been precluded from housing. This question of categories and definition of categories as we have known it over the years, and which probably served us quite well, is going by the board and the need for housing is taking its place. That is not to say that they must rigidly insist on a complete revaluation regardless of any other circumstances to the exclusion of all and sundry, such as newly-weds.
Section 60 deals with priorities for letting housing accommodation. In that section discretion is given designedly to the local authorities in drawing up their priorities for letting purposes. A percentage of the houses coming off the completion line may be reserved for newly-weds or for some other group which the local authority are responsible for housing. That is not to say that I would advocate that newly-weds should be housed to the exclusion of all others. That would be just as wrong as to say that newly-weds should not be housed at all. In drawing up their priorities the local authorities will have regard to all these things and the freedom which they will be given in this legislation should be useful to them.
There will be flexibility which was not noticeable in the past. Each local authority will be able to deal with their own problems in the way they feel would best serve the community as a whole. We will not seek uniformity from housing authority to housing authority in their priorities, in the manner in which they will approach them, in the emphasis they may give them. The idea of change here is to give them flexibility to suit their own conditions. Newly-weds are included in a later section. They are taken care of and due emphasis is given to them after a proper revaluation by the local authority having regard to the overall circumstances, the need for housing, how far they have got with their programme, and how soon they expect to get to the end of the backlog. All these things will be covered. I feel that the local authorities will be only too glad of the freedom they will now have in regard to these matters.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 22:
Before subsection (5), page 38, to insert a new subsection as follows:
"( ) A housing authority may, by resolution, require a county manager to employ such additional staff (as may be specified in the resolution) to carry out the building programme within a specified time and the manager shall forthwith carry the resolution into effect as soon as possible."
This amendment is self-explanatory. We want to ensure that county managers or officials of the local authorities cannot delay or hold up schemes or building programmes which members of the local authorities wish to put into effect immediately, on the excuse that there is insufficient staff. I think it is desirable that this amendment should be accepted and written into the Bill. I think it will be agreed that for far too long we have heard this excuse of there being insufficient staff to make surveys or to expedite the acquiring of sites or land for development and for the erection of houses.
Section 55 which we have already been discussing on other amendments imposes a statutory obligation on the housing authorities to prepare a building programme at least once in every five years. Having imposed this obligation by law, it follows that having adopted their programme as a result of this exercise brought about by section 55 it is for the chief executive officer, in other words the county manager, to put it into operation. If through his reluctance to employ staff or should I say through his lack of knowledge—which I doubt—of the staff requirements he has to come back and say: "We did not do this because we did not have sufficient staff," I would expect the council to take a very poor view of him. I do not think those circumstances are likely to arise. The manager would have failed to take the necessary steps to carry out what they had adopted as a programme and which was obligatory on them under the law, and there are ways by which the council could deal with such a matter, rather than that the council should draw up the programme and then try to evaluate the additional staff necessary and direct the manager to employ them. Unless we went further and said that by law he could not dismiss the extra staff, if he thought they were not necessary he would dismiss them the week after. I do not see where that would get us. It would be an admission that the manager in such a case was not fit to be the chief executive of the council and was not fit to carry out the duties assigned to him.
If we apply this it means that no matter what little thing is proposed the manager can be directed to employ one or two more staff, whereas he might be quite capable of doing it with the staff he had. If he fails to do it he cannot really defend himself by coming back and saying that he did not do it because he did not have enough staff. It is up to him to do it. If he finds himself in the position that he cannot do it because he had not got enough staff he cannot go back to the council, if he has not asked them for staff, and say he could not do the job because he had not sufficient staff. If he asked for staff, and the council refused him, then he has a water-tight defence for failing to do the job. That is not what is envisaged here. If you draw up a programme, and the council recommends what staff is required, then it is up to the manager to get the staff. If the manager is not capable of getting the staff required for the job then he is not fit to be a manager. That is the way I feel about this.
I agree with the Minister that the bottleneck is through the manager. There are many controls with regard to staff. There does not seem to be any necessity for this amendment to exercise that control. The real bottleneck in the carrying through of the programme is the failure to recruit proper technical and professional staff at county level. This comes right back to the door of the Minister, which is the failure of the Government, as a policy, to treat professional people in the proper way especially in regard to the engineering profession for many years. There has been real discontent among the engineering profession for a long time. The increases given about one and a half years ago have been whittled away already so once again the engineering profession, at county level, is away below other positions. It is away below what people get in an administrative position. I feel, in the future, unless the Minister sees the light in this we will have the situation where the housing programme, and all the rest, will fail, due to the fact that there are not sufficient numbers of engineering staff to carry out the job.
Senator Fitzgerald has his answer.
I am not satisfied with the answer because I happen to be a member of a local authority. There are many people here who are also members of local authorities and there are a number who are not. Therefore, I speak with a certain amount of experience. I do not wish, while saying that, to imply that I have an axe to grind, that any particular county engineer did not do his job or is responsible because a certain number of houses were not erected, in any particular area. The thing I am really concerned with here is, as the Minister has pointed out, that the manager is responsible for staff. The manager may, if he thinks fit, after a resolution has been passed by the local authority requesting more staff, try to make do with the existing staff. He may try to draw up schemes, clear sites and have sites developed with the staff he has. This may happen with the manager's staff and it may happen with the office staff. The truth of the matter is that if extra work is being provided, and if the local authority wants to get on with the housing scheme, it should see that extra staff must be provided to enable that scheme to be expedited in the quickest possible time. It is for that reason that I would like to see written into the Bill that while the manager is responsible for staff if he gets a direction from the local authority to employ more staff, to ensure that the job is got on with more expeditiously, then he should have to carry out the resolution of that local authority.
I would also like to point out that there are councils in which they have to ask the manager to keep down the staff.
I am surprised at Senator Cole subscribing to that view.
When I said that Senator Fitzgerald had his answer it was not what I said I was referring to. It was what Senator Quinlan said.
Times are changing when you are so particular on that matter.
I am not but I felt the Senator would appreciate that. Let that be' as it may, I still feel that what I said generally in regard to the manager's responsibility still stands. My own experience, with regard to managers, is if the council wants some job done and they are unanimous or the vast majority are pressing him to do it, to the exclusion of other work, or in addition to other work, the first thing the manager will do is to come back and say that if that work is to be done it cannot possibly be done without additional staff. He will say that it cannot be done unless an extra head or two heads of staff, technical or otherwise, are provided for a year or whatever time is necessary. That is my experience although my experience is not as long as that of Senator Fitzgerald.
The situation is that where a manager is being pressed by his council to do something, for which he has not got enough staff, he will certainly put it to them that he must have more staff if he is to carry out this job. It is part of the job of the manager to see that he has sufficient staff to carry out a particular job. I feel, from my experience, if the manger has not sufficient staff he will very quickly say that he needs an extra engineer, an extra clerical officer or an extra typist in order to do the job or otherwise he will have to leave something aside. The manager can ask for temporary staff in order to do the particular job. If he fails to do that, and if he fails to inform his council that there is a shortage of staff and he cannot complete a job, such as the building programme, then that may be regarded as a dereliction of duty on his part. He could be told so by his council and probably suspended by his council for not doing what he should do. This is really the way to do this job and I think it will very often happen, as Senator Cole has said, that some councils far more often have to ask the manager to keep down the staff, despite what Senator Quinlan has just said.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 55 stand part of the Bill."
Subsection (3) (b) provides for the elimination of overcrowding and paragraph (c) of this subsection provides for the provision of adequate and suitable housing accommodation for certain persons. I raised this matter on the Second Stage. The Minister may not have been here when I raised it. I referred to particular sites for houses and cottages in the country where they are a bit apart from where the ESB supply runs and they have great difficulty in getting a site that will not be too expensive for them so far as light is concerned. I know one particular case where the site was given for a cottage which required I think three poles to bring it from the nearest house. The charge I think was £6 10s. every two months. Probably the ESB would answer that that was the actual cost to them but this is an impossible charge to meet and the result is that the site could not be accepted. People tend to go to perhaps another unsuitable site where the ESB wires are running overhead. Could the local authority through the Minister in some way allocate a grant in those cases that would pay for the capital charge of the ESB?
Transport and Power, or transport and no power—I do not know which it is.
This is quite a problem for even private houses, of these enormous charges which there is no end to unless perhaps another house is built nearby and the charge is reduced.
We are, of course, encouraging the grouping of houses, though I am not one of the advocates who believe that there is nothing good in a house if it stands in isolation. I do appreciate that in certain counties, Cavan for one, the availability of lighting at a reasonable rate that the person who goes in is capable of paying can be quite a problem. I am not passing the buck when I say that the method of overcoming this would not lie normally at all through my Department, through housing legislation or any other sort of legislation, since the Department of Transport and Power contribute very substantially towards the capital cost of the ESB network. If something were to be done in this direction it would be an addition to what they are now paying, and this would be a more appropriate action than any question of trying to fix it as an additional aid to a housing Bill. While the case can be well made, as it has been made by Senator Cole, it is along the track that I have mentioned and not a matter for a housing Bill. It should be addressed to Transport.
You will get no satisfaction from them.
Subsection (3) of this section refers to a question that I raised when the Minister was not present on what seemed to me to be a most important objective for future housing. That is encouragement of the provision of houses for owner occupation. We should devote much greater effort to increasing the percentage of our housing under this head. I would like to know if the Minister has any special plans for increasing this percentage. It would seem that to increase the percentage depends on savings, made in the pre-marriage days.
Could the Minister introduce some of the excellent savings schemes that have played such a part in housing in Germany and Switzerland, where young people from their very first day in employment are encouraged by all forms of inducements by way of loan schemes and attractive interest rates and so on to save with housing companies towards their future housing needs? Has the Minister in mind any schemes that would make all our young people more conscious of this fact and increase the volume of savings that they are making before their need for houses materialises?
As to any net sort of scheme that would be regarded as revolutionary in this country towards the end the Senator has mentioned I have no such scheme, but I would say that our progressive increase in the outturn of private housing is fairly well indicative of the attractions of the various schemes of loans, grants and other facilities including remission of rates that have been afforded up to now. There has been a quite spectacular rise in the number of private houses output in recent years. The figure for output in our most recent year is probably an all time record, and the previous year is also remarkable. We have come up by a very great percentage in the last five years in private housing outturn. Another figure that is encouraging is that in 1946 42.7 per cent of all dwellings were rented and in 1961 this percentage had gone down to 35.6. I would say from our outturn of new houses and from our knowledge of grants, payments and so forth that this trend is going to continue. That is not to say that we may not find something by way of inducement and encouragement. I am not at all sheering away from the point made in Senator Quinlan's speech, that if we could find some way in which to harness the young people into a savings campaign directed to the time when they would seek a loan to build their own house in addition to the other aids we are already giving it would not only be a very good thing for them but it would be a good training for those young people to put their spare money into houses at a very early age and would be a guide to them in later life.
This is something we can think about in the meantime. I have on several occasions, and no later than today, made an appeal to all people who have half crowns or thousands of pounds available for investment to go to our building societies for the simple reason that this is one vehicle readymade that serves the community in addition to serving the individuals. Those who pay it in may themselves require aid in the future. If they do not they are putting it in with the knowledge that it will give a stimulus to all house-building and will particularly serve the building industry and the provision of a greater number of houses. I am not satisfied that there is no more we could do, and if Senator Quinlan has any further detailed ideas in this direction I would be very glad to have them. We might find a scheme that would be attractive for the future.
Thank you. I would also think that some effort should be made to cut the period for the loans. The 35 year period is an unnecessary imposition, and by paying a little more these loans could be cleared off in a 20 year period.
There is no real difficulty about shortening the period, but the pressure all the time is to extend it, to bring down the weekly payments. Thirty five years is a long time but many people are advocating 50 years. There is no barrier to a shorter period provided that it is within the capacity of the people who borrow.
I would be happy to feel that the Minister's statement does good, and I would say the pressure should be exerted as far as possible in trying to cut down the length of the period.
I do not think that Senator Quinlan is doing a good service to those people at all. It is far more satisfactory, surely, to borrow money at the present rates and repay in 35 years' time with a considerably devalued currency. I do not think the suggestion would be doing a good service to those borrowers at all.
(Longford): I always understood that there is nothing to stop a borrower under the SDA paying back part of the capital sum, say X hundred pounds, at any given point in the repayment period. Supposing a borrower comes into a bit of funds and thinks this is a good way of investing it, he can go to the local authority and say so and immediately a situation exists, by reason of the fact that a substantial amount has been paid to reduce the capital sum, wherein the repayment amounts are altered. I always thought that was so and I should like to hear the Minister say so.
Question put and agreed to.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
The Seanad adjourned at 10 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 4th May, 1966.