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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Mar 1967

Vol. 62 No. 16

Rent Restrictions (Amendment) Bill, 1966: Second Stage.

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

The main object of this Bill is, as the explanatory memorandum states, to encourage the maintenance in proper repair of the present stock of controlled houses and to do this without causing any hardship to existing tenants.

It is extremely important that we preserve as long as possible what stocks of housing we already have, and that we use resources on repair and reconstruction rather than on replacement of such stocks by new buildings. This is true of all houses but it applies particularly to those covered by the Bill, most of which were built before 1919. It is particularly relevant when the demand for new housing continues to exist at such a high level. It is noteworthy that the percentage of our housing stock which was built before 1919 is, at 58 per cent, one of the highest in Western Europe. Only France, which has 62 per cent, exceeds it.

We, therefore, particularly need to provide every encouragement possible to keep our old houses in good repair. The provision of repair and reconstruction grants on a considerable scale has done much in this direction. Over 150,000 houses have been repaired or reconstructed since 1948. These grants are for repairs of a more or less capital nature and not for ordinary running repairs. It is only commonsense to advocate a "stitch in time" policy in the matter of housing maintenance to be followed by all owners of old houses, whether they be owner-occupiers, local authorities or private landlords.

We are concerned in this Bill only with premises owned by private landlords which remain under the control of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1960. A considerable number of rented dwellings are still controlled, though the proportion of controlled to uncontrolled dwellings is continuously declining. This is primarily due to obsolescence of existing dwellings and the construction of new, and, therefore, uncontrolled, dwellings. Figures relating to the subject are hard to come by but in 1961 the percentage of controlled dwellings was approximately 14 per cent.

There is no doubt that controlled rents are far below present open market levels, even when full allowance is made for the fact that many of the dwellings involved lack amenities which are now provided as a matter of course in new houses. And I think there will be no disputing the proposition that, having regard to the increase in the cost of repairs since 1960, when landlords who were liable for repairs were given their last increase of 12½ per cent, landlords who have to carry out such repairs can do so only at a considerable reduction in their net income. This, of course, has led to a disinclination to have the premises properly maintained.

Since 1960 the cost of repairs to house property has increased substantially as a result of increases in building wages and the cost of materials. The increase in building costs is estimated officially at 29 per cent from 1960 to June, 1966, but as the proportion of labour to materials in house repairs is higher than in building operations, the figure for the increase in repair costs would be substantially higher than this. Moreover, the increased incidence of income tax since 1963 on the income from unfurnished lettings has further reduced the net income from controlled property.

It is against this background that I am proposing in this Bill certain measures to encourage the maintenance of controlled property in proper repair and, not only this, but to strengthen the remedies of the tenant against the landlord who fails in his obligation in the matter of repair.

First of all, the Bill proposes to allow an increase of 15 per cent in present net rents, subject to a minimum of 2/6 weekly. This increase is no more than the maintenance of the status quo as in 1960, and it is subject to the important limitation that not only must the landlord be liable for repairs but he must have spent certain specified sums on the repairs in the six years before the 8th June, 1966, when the Bill was introduced. The form of notice of intention to increase the rent, which every landlord must serve to avail himself of this increase, will require particulars of this expenditure to be specified. In other words, only landlords who have actually been carrying out repairs are going to get the increase. Except in the case of landlords with more than 300 houses, this expenditure must be related to each individual dwelling. In the case of these big estates, of which there are very few, the expenditure may be averaged. I think the proposed increase is reasonable, and that tenants generally, who are equally as interested as the landlord in the proper maintenance of their dwelling accommodation, will regard it as such.

The second provision relating to the maintenance of controlled houses is that which proposes to allow a lawful addition to landlords who have to spend more than one-fifth of the current rent in any year on any kind of maintenance. The addition is to be 10 per cent on the excess expenditure. This addition will replace the existing provision allowing the landlord a graduated percentage of his outlay on what might be called "once-and-for-all" expenditure on major repair and reconstruction work. It is at present 15 per cent on the first £100 of the excess expenditure over two-thirds of the basic rent, 8 per cent on the second £100 of the excess and 6 per cent on the remainder. As the law stands, there is no provision for the recoupment to the landlord of what might be heavy expenditure on other repairs, for instance, on the replacement of the water pipes leading from the mains. He has no incentive whatever to incur expenditure on regular outside painting, which is necessary to preserve the fabric of the building itself quite apart from any considerations of decorative effect. The Bill will ensure that, where landlords comply with their obligations to keep the premises in repair, they can no longer say that they will not receive a reasonable return on the expenditure.

As a corollary, the Bill proposes, in section 11, to remove a great deal of the present uncertainties as to the incidence of liability for repairs in weekly or monthly lettings. The tenants of many of these lettings have no written agreements and there is very often a great deal of difficulty experienced in determining who is liable for particular repairs. From now on tenants will be able to pinpoint liability in this respect. The section implies a convenant in such lettings that the landlord will be liable for keeping in repair the structure, including floors, the exterior, including painting, facilities for water, gas, sanitation, etc., and, in the case of flats, the ceilings. This provision, together with the increased powers which section 8 gives to the court to reduce the rent in cases where landlords neglect their repairing responsibilities as well as the increased powers in this regard conferred on tenants by the recent Housing Act, will ensure that tenants can insist on their dwellings being kept in good repair at all times. Tenants have, of course, a number of other remedies against a landlord who fails in his obligation to keep property in repair and the removal of uncertainties about liability to repair will give these remedies fresh significance.

I should like to draw special attention also to the provision in section 7 which enables a tenant to disallow a lawful addition obtained by the landlord for expenditure on maintenance if he satisfies the court that the expenditure was rendered necessary by breach of an obligation imposed on the landlord by contract or statute and that the landlord has not, during the three years immediately preceding the expenditure, spent a reasonable sum on the maintenance of the dwelling. However, in order that landlords may have an opportunity to put controlled property in good repair, it is proposed that this provision will not apply except to expenditure incurred on repairs done in 1970 or subsequently.

What I have said so far deals with the primary purpose of the Bill, that is the conservation of existing controlled property, but the provisions in section 2 for the decontrol of certain houses will also indirectly serve to further that purpose. The proposed decontrol will take place in three ways, in every case with full protection for the interests of existing tenants. First of all, there will be an extension of decontrol on the landlord getting vacant possession. At present there is decontrol on getting vacant possession only in respect of houses exceeding £30 valuation, in Dublin, and £25 elsewhere. Under the Bill this will apply to all houses and also to self-contained flats. This provision, naturally, does not affect sitting tenants at all.

The other decontrol provisions in section 2 relate to very highly valued houses and self-contained flats and also to houses and self-contained flats which become occupited in future by unmarried persons between 21 and 65 years of age. The tenants who may be decontrolled under these provisions are being given by section 13 automatic rights to a twenty-one year lease under Part III of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1931. I should not imagine that there are many of these houses or flats which would be occupied by persons who could not reasonably be asked to pay an economic rent for them but, in case there are, I have made special provision to ensure that no such tenant can be required to pay a rent under the new lease which would cause him or her hardship.

The decontrol will not apply to existing lettings of rooms or non-self-contained flats in houses which are over the valuation limits. Moreover, future lettings of such rooms and flats in houses decontrolled under either of these provisions will still be subject to control, though section 5 of the Bill provides that the controlled rent will be determined on a basis which will not be quite so restrictive as at present. The court, in determining such a rent, will have regard to the rents of other dwellings, not exclusively controlled dwellings.

The final provision to which I should like to draw attention is that which will enable what I might call the "small" landlord to have a fair rent fixed by the District Court, a rent which will be reasonable and which will take into account all the circumstances of the case but, in the words of the Bill, in particular the necessity of avoiding financial hardship to the tenant and the landlord. I am satisfied that this is a fair and just provision to insert in the Bill and that it will help to remove certain cases of hardship under the present code. I have had several instances brought to my notice—and I am sure every Senator will know of similar cases—where the landlord has only one house or a few houses and is in relatively bad circumstances whereas the tenant is very comfortably off indeed. Where this is the case I see no reason why the tenant should not be asked to pay a fair rent for the house, a rent he can afford. It will be observed that this provision applies only to the review of the rents of controlled houses and self-contained flats. It does not apply to any lettings of rooms. These will continue to have the full protection of the Act.

This Bill has been available now for some months and has been the subject of some very useful discussions in the Dáil. I think I am correct in saying that the reaction to it has been such as to give me reason to believe that the Bill will be regarded generally, as I hoped it would, as a reasonable attempt to deal constructively with a matter of vital importance to tenants as well as landlords. From the landlords' point of view, it will make it possible for them to recoup the costs of necessary repairs. From the tenants' point of view it should help to ensure, so far as the law can do it, that they will have properly maintained houses to live in for as long as proper maintenance can keep the houses in existence. I hope that Senators will also see it as being a fair and reasonable approach to the problem.

The Bill itself is, in form, somewhat complex, and necessarily so, because it is mainly concerned with amendments of the provisions of the 1960 Act. For this reason I have had included in the explanatory memorandum, circulated with the Bill, as amended in Dáil Éireann, an Appendix which shows the effect of these amendments on the 1960 Act and I hope that this will be of assistance to Senators. When the Bill becomes law arrangements will be made to have the sections as amended printed in such a way that they can be incorporated in existing copies of the 1960 Act.

Finally, if there are any provisions on which Senators may require information I shall endeavour to deal with them now, and later in greater detail on the Committee Stage.

It is very difficult to come to grips with this Bill because it deals with a very intractable problem and it is another effort within a period of six years to do justice as between the landlord and tenant and to try, at the same time, in the national interest to conserve and perhaps to increase our existing stock of houses. I do not know and I suppose the Minister will not say to what extent that object will be achieved by the Bill. I suppose it is a hope that the Minister has and one which we all share but I do not think it can be anything more than a hope.

It seems to me extremely strange that a Bill of this kind should be introduced by the Minister for Justice. I am always happy to see the Minister for Justice in this House introducing a Bill but it is strange that a Bill which deals with houses, housing, the repair of houses and the rent of houses is one that is introduced by the Minister for Justice whose chief preoccupation is certainly not the building of houses. Why, in this day and generation, we cannot transfer this particular aspect of the Minister's functions to the Minister for Local Government I do not know. Of course, it could be a precedent that in 1923 or 1924 when the first Rent Restrictions Act was introduced it was introduced by the Minister's predecessor in title. It is of interest to note that that particular Minister was the Minister for Home Affairs. At least he had some connection in name if not, in fact, with rent restrictions and the application of rents to homes. We have the crazy situation now where we have the Minister for Justice introducing this particular Bill and presently we shall have a Bill with which the Minister for Justice is intimately concerned being introduced by the Minister for Local Government, that is the Road Traffic Bill. I suggest that these functions should be swapped by the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Local Government after consultation with the Taoiseach to make it regular and that the Minister for Justice should not be put in the position of having to acquire all this knowledge and information and that his Department, theoretically at least, should not have to be keeping all the statistics up to date when it is the proper concern of the Department of Local Government and its Minister.

Perhaps that is the reason why there is such a refreshing air of frankness about the Minister's statement. He has no delusions whatever as to the gap between housing requirements and the supply of houses in this country, nor has he any delusions as to the manner in which we have failed to keep pace with current and future needs. He has been very frank on that. It was necessary for him to be as frank as he was for the purpose of justifying this Bill and sketching in the background.

Another general comment that occurs to me about the Bill is the criticism that the Minister has already anticipated. I am sure the Minister was keenly aware of the fact that this is most undesirable type of legislation or very badly drafted type of legislation. We have the Rent Restrictions Act, 1960, and the main part of this Bill is concerned with sections 2 to 10 and with amending existing provisions in the Act. May I say that some of the earlier provisions, particularly section 8, of the existing Rent Restrictions Act, are by no means simple and there is no lawyer who can say with certainty what they mean? When to this we add the amendments provided by this Bill, it will not make the position clearer.

This is something that should be borne in mind by the Minister in dealing with legislation of this kind. We are dealing with people who have no incomes, who should be in a position to take up an Act of Parliament relating to their legal position and to read it with some hope of understanding it. The Rent Restrictions Act, 1960, as passed, and as now to be amended, is a hopeless legal mess in so far as its interpretation by the ordinary citizen is concerned.

I should like to say a word of gratitude to the Minister for the efforts which he has belatedly made in, I am sure, realising the situation and in incorporating the amendments in the existing sections of the Bill. I am much obliged and I am sure the legal profession and the public will be greatly facilitated when the Bill is passed.

I must confess that I do not like rent restriction, for the simple reason one can see many cases where it causes injustices to a person whose only source of income may be the dwelling which was left to him by a deceased spouse and which is let out in flats. Some people found themselves actually stuck by having these premises controlled, and being unable after a particular date in 1941 to increase the rents. These are diminishing in number but the problem may be very great for these people.

At the same time, the supply of houses is hopelessly inadequate to meet the present needs. This is borne out in the Housing Progress and Prospects White Paper laid by the Minister for Local Government before the House in November, 1964. If my recollection is correct, the Minister indicated on the final reading of the Housing Bill in this year that although a substantial number of dwellings were built in the past 30 to 40 years, they did not keep pace with the deterioration and the obsolescence of premises, and that a very substantial number were required to be built each year in order to close the gap. I understand that something of the order of 14,000 to 15,000 houses are required every year to meet the needs of the community.

It is against that background we find that housing accommodation is an item in short supply and whenever you have an item in short supply, free market forces, as Senator Garret FitzGerald and others would say, begin to operate. Rents will rocket as high as some of the skyscrapers which are being built as offices around Dublin at the present time. Therefore, it is desirable to exercise control over rents and to provide that the shortage of this particularly necessary commodity will not be exploited, as happened in relation to other commodities in this country in time of war and no less in times of peace. There is an acute shortage of houses. We know what happened in Britain, which has come to be known as Rachmanism there.

It is with mixed feelings that we look at this Bill. There is a case for increasing rents. Some of them are hopelessly low and are a tremendous bargain for the tenants; but there is also a case for ensuring that the rents of properties do not become oppressively high. I am greatly concerned with the fact that as houses become decontrolled, the rents on these premises will become inordinately high and the owners of these properties will be able to exploit the current housing shortage. That is a shortage which will persist for many years to come. If there is a prospect of an increase in the immediate five or six years ahead in the stock of houses available in the country, and particularly in the cities, one would not feel too concerned by the prospect of decontrol. My fears at the present time are that the decontrolled houses will lead to a very definite upward increase in rents, in many cases beyond the point justified by the accommodation offered.

I do not know whether the Minister, or the Government, contemplates at some later stage, or in some other measure, doing anything about the exploitation that will undoubtedly take place if this situation develops. It may be that if the situation gets out of hand, and there may be some difficulty in getting statistics to show what the position is, the Government will have to act at some future time. I should like to know the Minister's, and the Government's, view in relation to that problem if it should arise in the immediate future.

I remember when the Rent Restrictions Bill, 1960, was brought before this House, many of us had mixed feelings about the increase of 12½ per cent given to landlords on the pretext that it was given because they were liable for repairs. As I understand the Bill at the present time, and the Minister,s statement, I think the provision for an increase of 15 per cent will only lead to permissible open proof by the landlord that he has expended money on the repair of premises to justify his getting this increase.

I felt at the time the 12½ per cent was being allowed that it should only be allowed where, in fact, the repairs had been carried out and were continued to be carried out by the landlord. The Minister might consider between now and Committee Stage, before this Bill passes the House, whether we ought to incorporate in the footnotes to the regulations prescribed under the Rent Restrictions Bill, and I presume to be prescribed under this Bill, some reference to the fact that a tenant is entitled to see that these repairs have been carried out, to see the basis on which he is being charged and, furthermore, is entitled to be informed by his landlord of his right to compel the landlord under the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Bill, to carry out certain necessary repairs. There are, unfortunately, far too many people in ignorance of their right to secure repairs on the part of the landlord under the Rent Restrictions Bill, and as a result of propaganda here in this House from time to time, unfortunately, and in many other places, and the general view of the public about lawyers, people are reluctant to go to lawyers to inquire what their rights are. There are many persons who are in rent-controlled dwellings— in fact, I met one such recently—who would not go to any lawyer to find out what their rights are, though many of them would benefit substantially in their dwellings and their way of life, which would be more commodious and agreeable, if they knew that by service of a particular notice on the landlord, with a right afterwards to go into court, they could require him to put the premises in order or to provide the money. They would very quickly avail themselves of it, but they do not know about it. The Minister might consider, and I suppose the House when amending this Bill, making provision that this right to enforce repairs should be brought to the notice of the tenant.

I am a bit disappointed that in a Bill like this that obviously has raked over every section of the Act there is not some clarification of what is the law in the present Act in relation to furnished lettings. If certain lettings are furnished they may be controlled if the amount of the rent attributable to the furniture is equal to or less than one fourth of the rent. The Minister, I am sure, is aware of this, that nobody knows how you are to assess what the portion of the rent is attributable to the furniture which is let. There are two different decisions by the Circuit Court in this country, and neither is entirely satisfactory. If it is possible within the rules of the standing orders of the House to amend subsection 2 of section 3 paragraph D we ought to give some rule of thumb which would enable the amount of the rent attributable to furniture in a furnished letting to be calculated quite readily.

Experienced auctioneers and valuers in my experience, have great difficulty in making up their minds what the position is, and nobody is certain about it. Equally so before the Rent Restrictions Act nobody was certain what was meant by "a member of deceased tenant's family". Happily in the enactment of that Bill we got down to defining what the deceased tenant's family was. A great deal of time was wasted in determining whether a son-in-law who was living in the house was a member of the deceased tenant's family, or if his sister, after he died, was a member of the deceased tenant's family. All that kind of worthless litigation has been avoided by defining what the Legislature thinks ought to be the position. I can see different ways of defining this particular value to be attributed to furniture let in a so-called furnished letting. There are particular ways of doing that. If it is at all possible it should be done.

There is a section in the Bill and I must confess that it fills me with apprehension and alarm. Most civil servants will have heard of the notorious Finance Circular 44 of 1924. This subsection 4 of section 2 is an echo of that. We are now introducing a new principle into rent restrictions. We are introducing what is called in the Civil Service marriage differentiaton, and we are going to provide that a bachelor or a spinster between the ages of 21 and 65 years of age are to be less favourably treated than a well-to-do married man who has a wife and no children or a married widower with no children or a widow with no children. The introduction of that kind of distinction between citizens on the basis of their status whether married or single is a quite hopeless one and on principle I would object to it most strenuously.

Many people in flats have grown from what one would call lovely young girls into their thirties and forties, and they have done that because they have stayed at home to look after an ailing father and mother or to support a widowed mother, and they may be one of the spinsters between the ages of 21 and 65 whom we are going to single out for unfavourable treatment. We ought to observe the constitutional provision that all citizens shall as human persons be equal before the law in the matter of rent restriction equally as in other matters. I do not know of any defence that can be offered for discriminating against people who are bachelors or spinsters, some by choice which they are entitled to exercise, and some by necessity, through social necessity or for family reasons. I should like to hear the Minister's justification of that. I do not know how anybody can justify subsection (4) of section 2, and, mark you, this is going to apply only to those persons who become tenants after this Bill is passed. I am not concerned with that. I am concerned with the principle that we ought not to discriminate against people who are very worthy and admirable members of society and who have remained or been obliged to remain bachelors or spinsters, some through misfortune and some through motives of family benevolence.

The Minister has very rightly referred to the age and to the shortage of houses in his speech on the Second Stage here in the House. This is the kind of thing that puzzles me. While we are concerned about the shortage of houses and trying, in fact, to make available a greater flow of dwellings for the community, we are proposing to loosen restrictions and free from control a number of houses that are at present controlled, but at the same time the Minister's colleague who should be dealing with this Bill, in my view, the Minister for Local Government, is making an order under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act that permits persons to knock down perfectly good houses, perfectly fit for use as dwellings, without even seeking planning permission or permission from anybody else.

It seems to be quite absurd to say that on one hand we recognise that there is a housing shortage and that we are proposing to permit landlords to increase rents because there is a housing shortage, and at the same time to permit perfectly good dwelling houses to be demolished without reference to anybody. To my mind there is something that has a ring of Marie Antoinette here—"if they cannot get bread let them eat cake"— about the permission that is given by the Planning and Development Act to people to demolish houses while there is such an acute shortage—a shortage so acute that the Government are prepared to ask this House by legislation to increase the cost of housing to the citizens by permitting certain increases in rent. I think that the Minister for Justice, who has no responsibility for the stock of houses in this country, and no responsibility for the administration of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, should in the exercise of his collective responsibility within the Government get in touch with the Minister for Local Government and say that on the one hand it is crazy to say that there are not enough houses and on the other that we are permitting speculative builders who are coming in from England to demolish houses which are perfectly good and could well be used for the purpose of housing people who are badly housed. There is no escape from the obligation on the Government to prevent this unbridled licence to demolish, incorporated in the planning regulations and, at the same time, saying we must increase rents in accordance with the increasing stock of houses. As the Minister has indicated, this Bill is largely a Committee measure.

Before I conclude, I should like to ask the Minister if he would have a look as subsection (3) of section 10. I should like to know if we are not, in that particular subsection, resurrecting the ghost of sections 10 and 18 of Deasy's Act which I thought we had laid peacefully to rest in the Grounds Rents Bill recently? I have not gone into it very deeply but perhaps the Minister would deal with that in his reply. In addition, perhaps he might clarify another matter for the benefit of existing tenants: what is the present liability, under section 39 of the Rent Restrictions Act of 1960, of the landlord for repairs? Section 39 of that Act provides:

For the purposes of paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of section 10 and sections 14, 15 and 40 of this Act, the landlord shall be deemed to be responsible for any repairs for which the tenant is not under any liability, whether expressed in the contract or implied under section 42 of the Landlord and Tenant Law (Amendment) (Ireland) Act, 1860.

That, to my mind, is the kind of legislation which is most unhelpful to people who want to ascertain their rights and liabilities and, in the context of increasing rents, where the landlord is to be entitled to an increase because he carries out repairs, I should like the Minister to indicate—perhaps this is a question on which he should have more notice and if he does not do so now, perhaps he could at a later stage—what is the liability of tenants, having regard to the provisions of section 39 of the Rent Restrictions Act of 1960. It is extremely difficult to ascertain as the whole of the law is not to be found in section 42 of the Landlord and Tenant Law (Amendment) (Ireland) Act, 1860, because there are some decided cases which deal with the position at common law and the whole thing is extremely vague. In a Bill of this kind, where we are dealing with people of modest incomes, we ought to try to set out clearly—if it can be done within the Standing Orders of the House—what is the liability so that anybody can know and we will not have to have test cases to ascertain the position.

Having said so much, I do not intend to offer any welcome to the Bill, because I view it with misgivings; I have mixed feelings about it and much depends on the examination we shall make of it on Committee Stage as to whether—at the end of the day—we shall say we have done a good job for housing, for landlords and tenants in passing the Rent Restrictions Bill of 1966.

I should like to make up for the fact that Senator O'Quigley is not prepared to welcome the Bill: I am prepared to do so. I think this is a very necessary Bill which deals with the problem set out for us by the Minister in a very resonable way. The figure given of the number of houses in the country built before 1919—I think it was 58 per cent—certainly illustrates the fact that we have a very large number of houses which must be in constant need of repair and which will become quite useless in a relatively short time, unless they are maintained very diligently and repaired, when necessary. It proves the necessity for giving landlords some financial incentive to carry out the repairs which are necessary.

I do not think anybody in the House would wish unnecessarily to remove or to decrease the amount of protection given to tenants but, in the circumstances outlined to us by the Minister, it is quite clear there must be some decrease in the amount of protection given, in order that these repairs should be carried out. The very high rise in the cost of building—mentioned at 29 per cent—and the even higher cost of carrying out repairs certainly make it quite clear that considerable financial incentives will have to be given to landlords if they are to be encouraged to carry out these repairs.

Most of the Bill is, of course, more a matter for Committee Stage than for this Stage and I do not propose to go into any of the sections in detail but I should like to comment on what the Minister said in regard to the fact that when the Bill had been passed, he hoped to make arrangements to have the sections printed in such a way that they could be incorporated in the 1960 Act. This is a very useful suggestion and an arrangement which I hope the Minister will carry out.

I had a discussion recently with one of the German diplomats accredited to this country and he discussed with me the Income Tax Consolidation Bill which was in the news at that time. He was particularly interested in this question of consolidation because, he said, that as far as Germany was concerned, consolidation legislation was something they did not have. He said the reason for this was that as each Act was passed in Germany—which amended a previous Act—the previous Act was immediately printed again, incorporating the amendments which had been made. Consequently, there was no necessity for going back through various Acts to see how they were affected and amended by the latest Act. As each Act was passed, it was incorporated into the old Act and one could, at any time, know all the law on a particular subject by looking at the up-to-date edition of the Act dealing with the particular subject in question.

The Minister for Justice has been introducing quite a lot of legislation in recent years, and will probably continue to do so. I would suggest to him that he might look into the question of introducing a system, something on the German lines, for Acts in this country. It is something which would certainly be of great benefit to practitioners and to the public generally if the law were brought up to date regularly as each new Act was passed.

In the meantime, as this seems to be a rather ambitious change in the practice in this country and something which it might not be possible to introduce immediately, I would ask him that when amendments are made in Acts, instead of passing amendments which merely say that a section shall be amended or altered in the following way, the amendment be made by way of deleting the section in the previous Act and substituting a completely new section, so that at least it would not be necessary to carve up the whole section, put in new words or take out other words, as the case might be. It certainly would be a step in the direction I have suggested: it would be a great help if amendments were made in that way—that sections would be entirely deleted by amendment and a new section incorporated and the change required put in its place.

Giving it a rebore, like reboring a car. I suggest to the Minister that he might even do it in this Bill because it is already available in the Appendix.

That really is all I have to say on the Bill at this stage.

I have just a few brief observations to make, additions to what my colleagues, Senators O'Quigley and E. Ryan, have said. We can appreciate the Minister's difficulty and anxiety in introducing this legislation. His anxiety is shared by many who are concerned about the maintenance and the state of repair of our houses and about doing justice as between landlord and tenant. The Minister referred to the fact that a substantial proportion of our houses are controlled by comparison with those of other countries, with the possible exception of France.

In the interests of the appearance of our buildings, this Bill should certainly be welcome because it offers to landlords an incentive which had not been previously available to them— compensation for external repairs. All of us concerned with the general appearance of country towns in particular and the tenement areas in our cities must welcome an attempt to deal with that problem, Senator O'Quigley rightly pointed out that the Bill would be very acceptable, were we guaranteed or assured there would be an adequate number of houses available. This is something on which we cannot be helped by present experience. We all appreciate the need for providing an adequate number of houses at reasonable rents and prices for those who are not able to make provision for themselves. In putting these tenements, as one could call them, on the open market and allowing the rents to be determined by the market demand, the Minister is taking a calculated risk. It is certainly one that is warranted in the situation. If it appears that market rents are inflated and are more than those in need of such accommodation can afford, it is quite open to the Minister to come back and review this legislation.

This is not by any means comprehensive legislation. It decontrols a substantial number of types of controlled property but it does not close the door to the introduction of amendments to the amendments introduced in this Bill. This has been the tradition in rent restriction legislation and even though it may make the legislation more sloppy, more difficult for lawyers to understand, at the same time this is hardly the first consideration. If further amendments appear necessary in the light of experience, I feel sure the Minister will feel obliged to introduce them.

I share Senator O'Quigley's inhibition in relation to the fact that apparently bachelors and spinsters will be treated differently from other members of the community. Senator O'Quigley has indeed made a fair case for what is a very exceptional problem, that of a spinster in the city of Dublin or elsewhere—there are many such—who finds herself in difficulties —"difficulties" is a reasonable word in the circumstances—for voluntary reasons and sometimes for involuntary reasons—I suspect more often for involuntary reasons.

And therefore deserving of our pity.

In so far as the Legislature should be concerned with pity, I cannot see why we are making provisions for our bachelors and spinsters. It may be intended to ensure that those people who have not dependants, in the same way as married men and women, by virtue of their status will be asked to pay somewhat more. That may be the general thinking behind it but I foresee experience may prove that the purpose, while apparently being justified, may not justify the result because this could amount to a restraint on marriage. If we are to see "No married couples" notices going up all round because landlords feel they will be in a more advantageous position with bachelors and spinsters, we shall find ourselves coming back quite quickly because married couples will find it more difficult to be accommodated.

There is only one other doubt I have and I think it is one the Minister may be able to clear up. Under section 13—the one which gives the right, where a tenancy has become uncontrolled, to obtain a new 20-year lease— the right appears to attach not to the tenant but to the premises, and it appears to me—I may be wrong— that a tenant could go into a premises which had become decontrolled, a new tenant who never was a controlled tenant, and could rely on the right to a new tenancy under this section. I may be taking a very drastic view of this but I am not satisfied as I read it that the right does not attach to the premises rather than the tenant. If this were so, it would be a very unfair restriction on landlords and would confer an unfair right on tenants, who could come from as far afield as America, Africa or some other continent—students or otherwise—and find themselves in the position of uncontrolled tenants. That can hardly be what the section was intended to mean but it is open to that interpretation as it stands.

Unlike other Senators who have spoken, I am not at all too sure I can extend a warm welcome to the Bill. Certainly any welcome we could extend to it would be qualified. The Minister admits that the measure is very complex. It is obviously the type of Bill which you would want to have a very close look at before you could say that you approve of all its provisions. From the examination I gave to the Bill so far I am left with the impression that there are certain aspects of it which are quite discriminating. This is something which my colleagues and I want to have a look at. We may have something more to say about that on Committee Stage and we may have some amendments to the Bill.

The other aspect of the Bill on which I should like to comment at this stage is that the Bill provides better housing for certain people. You talk about incentives here but we should keep our feet on the ground in this regard and bear in mind that any incentives in this Bill will be provided at the expense of a lot of people who in many instances are the very people who will be subjected to increased rents. The Minister and the Government are taking a grave risk at the moment in assuming that any section of people to whom this class of housing would be a direct concern, are in a position, under present circumstances, to pay anything in the line of increased rents.

That is a feature of the Bill which requires very serious study by every Member of this House. I suggest that if there is any calculated risk involved here of a further fairly substantial contribution towards another upward jump in the cost of living for a lot of people this is something which we should look into very carefully. The next impression I am left with, on my reading of the explanatory memorandum, is that the Bill appears to be nibbling at the whole complex problem of housing in this country. I am not at all satisfied that this is the type of legislation we should be dealing with when, in fact, we are making any approach to this problem.

I should like to say at this point, on my own behalf and on behalf of my colleagues, that the responsibility for a dynamic housing policy rests fairly and squarely on the Government. I do not think that the problem of housing will be solved by measures of this kind. Because of the complex nature of the Bill the Labour Party propose at this stage to study the measure. On Committee Stage we may have a lot more to say about it and we may, indeed, have some amendments to propose.

I was rather relieved to hear Senator O'Quigley and Senator O'Kennedy coming to the rescue of the bachelors and the spinsters. It is outrageous in this day and age that we are going to differentiate between those sections when it comes to housing. Very often spinsters and bachelors have had to retire from business or from their profession due to illness or other causes. The circumstances may not be equal in any way to the commitments which they may have to meet in their rents. I hope that by the time we come to Committee Stage the Minister will have made provision to delete that section from the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill, as the Minister pointed out, is to help to conserve our stock of houses. He states it would be better to preserve it by building new houses. Most of those houses he states were built before 1919. The lack of housing at the present time is causing people to pay rents far in excess of what they can afford. It is a question of getting a roof over your head and waiting until such time as you may get a site to build a house of your own. Unfortunately, there are landlords whose consciences are a bit elastic and who are prepared to charge rents in excess of what they should. I think the cost of repair and reconstruction of some of the houses people are living in at present, especially in the cities, would almost equal what they cost to build originally.

There is another problem in this regard and that is town planning. Many of those houses are being allowed to fall into disrepair because it was suggested at some stage or other that they would be demolished for street-widening or something else. We had an example in Dublin out in Ballsbridge where big old houses were reconstructed and huge sums of money spent on them. They were made into luxury flats and people are living in them quite happily. Now hanging over their heads is the threat that those houses will be demolished to make room for the Kennedy Memorial Hall. There is a terrible lack of liaison between the various Departments in this regard. Money is being spent where demolition will take place and money is not being spent in case demolition will take place. That problem is being aggravated rather than relieved. As some of the other speakers said we can deal with this better on Committee Stage but it will take a lot of cleaning up to make me welcome this Bill.

(Longford): There is one aspect of this matter which should be referred to, that is the basic reason for the introduction of this Bill. Now, it appears that nobody is over-happy about it. The Minister did not seem over-happy but he made it apparent to the Houses that it was necessary to have a wider freedom in regard to the control of houses in order to ensure that houses would be kept up to a higher standard in view of the housing shortage.

That tempts me to raise a question in the hope that I may get an answer. Perhaps it may not be the correct answer or I may not get any answer. I should like to inquire if we have any notion at all as to the length of the useful life of our housing estates throughout the country, having regard to the capital investment in housing estates. I should like to inquire if we have comparative figures in relation to any other country. I raise these matters because it occurs to me that, as a people, we would need to pull up our socks in regard to the question of maintenance and repair. I suggest that in regard to motor cars and machinery of all kinds our capital investment is substantial. I also suggest that because we are not machine-minded or perhaps because of our lack of care we obsolete our capital investment in motor cars more rapidly than other countries.

To what event does that apply to our housing? It appears to me that it is the basic reason for the Minister having to introduce the Bill. Speaking of machinery, this applies very much to farm machinery. I believe our national loss from failure to maintain properly our farm machinery is very great and that there is a large area of national wastage in that regard. Perhaps that also applies to our houses. The Minister is introducing this measure in the hope of enticing people to do more maintenance and more repair. "Repair" is the word, maintenance is carried out daily, weekly and yearly. Repair is a different thing. Our failure to maintain and repair creates a major problem in regard to reconstruction of houses.

I shall not enter into a discussion upon the different things that have been referred to by other Members, Senator E. Ryan, Senator O'Kennedy and Senator O'Quigley, in regard to the question of differentiation. This measure was passed by the Dáil. Without going into the merits of it, I would find it hard to accept that if it is anti-social no member of Dáil Éireann saw fit to raise it.

That is why we are here.

(Longford): I have not a firm view on that. Just as we obsolete our national capital too quickly on motor cars so we are inclined to do the same in regard to housing and it is regrettable that the Minister has to bring in this measure because it contains certain risks. There is always the risk that some people might suffer severe hardship or exploitation as a result of decontrol in certain circumstances. I am afraid, however, we must face up to the fact that it is necessary with a view to maintaining our national estate in housing. It would be far better if we adopted a better attitude to maintenance so that the money we invest in housing would last longer and houses would have a longer useful life and not in a very short time become drab, unkempt establishments. Many of our housing estates in the private and in the local authority sectors leave room for improvement along that line and it is only if we keep an eye on that that there will be hope for improvement.

The discussion in the Seanad has been a constructive one. The Bill, as is obvious, is largely a Committee Stage Bill. There are two main principles in the Bill which are the main subject of Second Stage debate. They are (a) the greater degree of decontrol which is introduced and (b) the increased rent which we are now permitting the landlord to get having regard to repairs carried out by him since 1960.

The main purpose of these two aspects is to ensure that the stock of houses which we have by way of controlled premises do not go into disrepair and so cause not alone loss to landlord and hardship to tenant but greater loss to the country as a whole by reducing the available stock of houses and so compelling the community to invest at far greater expense in new houses. It is necessary to ensure that we preserve our existing stock of houses. A measure of this kind does it by providing a greater degree of decontrol where that does not cause hardship and also by providing for increased rents in order to ensure the proper maintenance and repair of houses by landlords.

Of course, in any measure of this kind one must preserve a balance between the interests of the community, the interests of the landlord and the interests of the tenant. This marks a step away from control which was introduced originally as an emergency measure in the first world war, and extended in the second world war. The policy now is to move away from that degree of control which was initiated during two emergency periods.

The 1960 Act marked a substantial step away from control and this amendment of the 1960 Act marks yet another step away from the rigid control which was involved in the original emergency legislation. At the same time, we are ensuring that we step away from control in such a way that justice is done to tenants and no hardship caused to people in the process. I see this as a continuing process and indeed this was set out in the Second Programme for Economic Expansion as being a desirable development because there is no point in having a substantial corps of houses subject to control which will go into disrepair due to inadequate rents or over-rigid control. One must maintain a balance to ensure that one goes away from the principle of control gradually while, at the same time, not causing hardship to tenants in the process.

This is the thinking behind the Bill in general principle. In detail, of course, there is much to be discussed on Committee Stage as, indeed, there was discussed on Committee Stage in the Dáil so as to ensure that this Bill, when grafted on to the 1960 Act, will work as we intend it to. The whole field of rent restriction legislation is, to put it mildly, a very complicated one.

As I mentioned in my Second Reading speech, one idea which we are bringing in here for the first time in this Bill is to set out in the Appendix to the Memorandum the sections in the 1960 Act which are being amended. This is for the convenience of the general public and practitioners. I should mention that when this is in final form for publication I propose to have each of these pages of the Appendix bare on one side. At the moment they are written on two sides but I propose to have them bare on one side so that a complete section can be seen. For instance, if one looks at page 9 of the Appendix one has there a major part of section 3. I would like to see that with nothing on the back so that it can be grafted straight away on to the original 1960 Act. This will mean that the pages on one side can be lifted from the Appendix and pasted on to the 1960 Act. Then one has the amended 1960 Act in one complete document.

Would the Minister take the bold step of doing what Senator Ryan suggested?

I am coming to that. This is a matter which I am having considered at the moment. The reason why I took the immediate practical step of doing what I have just described is that there are certain complications in regard to parliamentary procedure in going any further. But I am having these complications examined with a view to having as a permanent feature the system which exists in Germany of grafting on in printed form amending enactments to existing measures.

We have in recent years embarked on a fair amount of consolidation measures in this country. This is an appropriate time to consider how we can organise the publication of a printed edition incorporating both the amendment and the original provision. I understand there are a number of difficulties in regard to this but I shall not go into them at the moment. I thought the practical measure of the Appendix would suit and when this explanatory memorandum will be in final form it will enable the practitioner and members of the public to paste it on to the original statute and thus give the full picture.

In regard to a number of matters which were raised by Senators and which I think are largely of a Committee stage nature, I will have them examined between now and Committee Stage. I might reply in general terms now to them.

Senators O'Quigley, O'Kennedy and Malone mentioned a point which probably caused the greatest discussion here and, mind you, which escaped comment in the Dáil. From the comments made by the Senators concerned I can see some validity in what they say. What we are proposing to do in section 2 in regard to unmarried parties between the ages of 21-65 is that we are taking them out of the controlled category and giving them the protection of the Landlord and Tenant Act. The thinking behind that is that you have, again in accordance with the general thinking behind the Bill, many cases of under-occupied houses throughout the country, where you have a spinster or a bachelor living in a house which can be occupied by a large family. While they remain in occupation because of the operation of rent control it does appear an under-utilisation of the house or houses concerned. This was the thinking behind the section. However, it could operate as a hardship in the case of a small house.

Certainly in the case of a flat.

Or in the case of a self-contained flat. It occurs to me in regard to what has been said that we might consider between now and Committee Stage restricting this provision to houses and excluding self-contained flats and excluding houses under a certain valuation.

(Longford): Valuations vary from place to place.

Let us not get too technical. Justice might be done by the general principle which I have in mind. We might ensure the greatest utilisation possible of our stock of houses and also avoid hardship towards people in the category mentioned. A balance might be achieved by excluding self-contained flats and by limiting the provision to houses over a certain valuation.

Would the Minister consider in making the best possible use of houses, going the distance of persuading his colleague the Minister for Local Government to prevent the automatic demolition of houses that is permitted——

That is another day's work.

Let us ride one hobby horse at a time; that has nothing to do with the matter under discussion.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Minister to conclude on Second Stage.

Senator O'Quigley mentioned another technical point concerning a definition of "furnished letting". That has been a vexed question for a long time, not alone because of this Bill but because of the 1960 Act and preceding Acts as well and this is a matter to which I have already directed the attention of my advisers. There are court decisions in regard to the definition of furnished lettings. The difficulty is that any change you might make in regard to a definition could adversely affect existing tenants who have benefited by reason of these decisions. You might bring in a definition which might decontrol them where they have up to now got away with it under the court decisions. Still, it is not satisfactory and it is a matter we are looking into with a view to seeking a more precise form of definition.

The whole question of over-definition under the Rent Restriction code is an awkward one. For instance, Deputy Dillon in the Dáil thought we should have a more precise definition of "self-contained flat". This has been a subject of discussion over the years and it is probably better, having regard to the very nature of furnishings, the very nature of flats, whether they are self-contained, or not self-contained not to have precise definitions. It is often undesirable to over-define matters of this kind because of their very nature and may be better, on balance, to leave it to the courts.

I do not mind leaving it to the courts to determine whether a flat is furnished or unfurnished or self-contained. The real difficulty is in trying to calculate the amount of rent that is attributable to the letting value of the furniture. What figure do you take? This is the difficulty the courts have and there are two different decisions by the Circuit Court and these have never gone to the High Court. There is nothing in the Bill to say how you calculate the proportion of the rent that is attributable to the letting value of the furniture.

Again I understand that valuers at the moment have a formula which works pretty well in the courts. It is a formula without a statutory basis but, in practice, it works out all right. It is certainly important that we should look into this because I would prefer, as Senator O'Quigley prefers, a more precise form of definition, but it is not an easy matter. It is one which we will examine.

As regards section 10 (3) I do not think Senator O'Quigley need have any worry about our bringing back the provisions of Deasy's Act which we repealed under the Ground Rents Act. The subsection only relates to restrictions on assignments outside the tenant's family. This is desirable having regard to the new principle in the Bill which prohibits assignment of controlled premises to any person outside the family. It is only fair to landlords. A number of cases have come to my notice where tenants have made a substantial sum of money by assigning their controlled interest to a person outside their family, to the detriment and prejudice of landlords existing on very small rents. If there is any merit in such controlled tenancy passing on, such merits would only lie in the case of a transfer or assignment to a member of the tenant's own family. What has come to my notice in meeting various people concerned with this Bill, and indeed with the Grounds Rent Bill, is that, contrary to popular mythology, there are a number of poor landlords —very poor and small landlords, and a number of landlords with one, two, three and four houses deriving their income from controlled rents while the tenants living in their controlled houses are far better off, far wealthier and in receipt of far higher incomes than the landlords concerned.

What struck me very forcibly both in connection with representations on this Bill and on the previous Bill, now an Act, was the quite large number of such people who exist. These are unorganised people; they do not form any pressure group. They are quite ordinary people, and every person has a right to write into the Minister for Justice or to make representations. I might say that a substantially large number of representations to me, both by letter and personally, showed the greatest hardship to landlords. Since this Bill was published some months ago, I had no representations or complaints from any tenants in regard to increasing the rent. I had, naturally, representations from big landlords. One would expect this, as they are organised. But the representations that struck me most personally and on a humanitarian basis have come from quite small landlords—elderly people, widows or widowers or people in that category, who are in receipt of quite meagre incomes out of quite a small number of houses which are controlled. That is why we are bringing in here a novel provision, which has not received much comment here in the House, whereby small landlords are now to be permitted to apply to the court to have a fair rent fixed. This is only right and proper, because it has always been the concern of the House when passing legislation to ensure that justice is done to all citizens. We are providing that landlords with six houses or less of a valuation not exceeding a total of £60, will be able to apply to the court to have a fair rent fixed, just as at present the tenant may apply.

I do not think that there is anything more that I should speak about. We have had much constructive discussion on the principles of the Bill. I take it that that constructive discussion and our thoughts on the matter between now and Committee Stage will lead to the framing of amendments by myself and by Senators on which we can again have a useful discussion.

As has become customary with the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 5th April.