Section 1 provides that the Act will come into operation on such day as the Minister may appoint by order. I would like to know why it is necessary to have provision for the Minister to have power to decide when the Bill will come into effect. If this Bill was not being referred to the Supreme Court — which would be a matter for the President — is there any reason why it would not come into effect when passed, particularly in the light of the urgent situation which the Minister has stressed?
Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Bill, 1982: Committee Stage.
This was not in the Bill as originally drafted. It arises from the introduction of the temporary Bill. It was thought better to bring in this provision and relate it to the temporary Bill which extends to 25 July or when this Bill is signed. As soon as the President signs the permanent Bill I will bring it into force by order immediately on the same day.
If that is the case, then why do we need it? If the Minister is going to bring it in on the same day as the President signs the other Bill, then the President will either sign the other Bill in the normal way when the Bill is sent to him, not before the fifth and not later than the seventh day — whatever the provision is — and it will come into effect then. If the Bill is to be referred to the Supreme Court and that court finds that it is unconstitutional then there is no Bill and the President may not sign it. If the Supreme Court were to find that it was constitutional then the President would sign it and it would come into effect that day. Although this is not a matter of dispute, I still do not see why it was necessary to introduce an amendment giving the Minister this power.
The Bill as originally drafted shows 25 April as the date of operation of this Bill. I felt that by doing it in this way it would avoid confusion between the two dates. I assure the Senator that there is no intention of delaying the bringing into operation of the Bill. It is to avoid confusion that it is drafted in this way. If it is referred to the Supreme Court by the President, and I hope it will not be, then there are 60 days to decide in advance. It is easier to do it this way just to avoid the confusion of 25 April.
So that I may understand the confusion we are avoiding, if the Bill is passed through this House and goes to the President for signature and he does not decide to refer it to the Supreme Court, but decides to sign it in the normal way, and if that happens on, say, 16 April, is the Minister saying that he would not bring this Act into effect until 25 April and he would allow the temporary measure to run its full scope? Or, is he saying that he would bring it in immediately? The time is already extended, so 25 April is no longer a relevant date.
I would bring it in on 25 April at the earliest.
That itself I do not quite understand because 25 April is no longer of much significance in view of the Bill that we passed earlier unless that Bill also is referred to the Supreme Court on the question of its constitutionality. In other words, it seems that this is legislation which all of us want to come into effect at the earliest possible date. We share that concern very much with the Minister. So, why are we introducing a possibility of a discretion in the Minister in delaying that implementation? Normally an Act comes into effect when it is signed by the President.
I accepted amendments in the other House with regard to registration, rent books and other matters that it would not be a matter that the Minister "will" but the Minister "shall" bring in regulations. I want to bring them in before 25 April, at the same time as this Bill will come into operation. The Minister for Social Welfare also has to introduce details of the subsidy to be payable. I am trying to get everything to jell on the one day. Obviously, it is my aim and my desire to have this Bill operative as soon as possible. I would suggest to the Senator that there is no conflict between us on this issue. She is anxious to have it operative as soon as possible. However, I have certain regulations to make and the Minister for Social Welfare has to set down terms under section 23 of the type of allowances and so on to be paid. The date I have in mind at this stage is 25 April. If I can bring it forward a day or two fine but that is the day I have in mind. I can assure the Senator it is not an issue of controversy.
Nonetheless, it has been a matter worth probing because the Minister has neatly and adroitly shifted ground. He is now of the view that the reason why he is seeking to have the power to determine when this Bill, if it is passed, will come into effect is because he needs time to prepare the regulations under it. He also refers to the regulations to be made by the Minister for Social Welfare in relation to supplementary welfare allowances. We can deal with those in relation to separate sections but it is important to have got from the Minister an undertaking, as he has given us, that he feels that it is both possible and is his intention to do this by 25 April. In view of the Bill we passed earlier this afternoon that date no longer has the same significance because we have continued that to 25 July but the Minister is still referring to that date as a reference date for bringing in the necessary regulations in relation to rent books and in relation to the Minister for Social Welfare bringing in the necessary provisions for the allowances.
That is only two weeks away.
Yes. I am interested in that.
And Easter is in between.
Yes and it is the Minister who is taking on the burden. It makes sense whereas his earlier reasons for seeking this power were not entirely clear to me. I certainly would be of the view that it is important if this Bill does pass in whatever form it does pass in this House that the regulations, and they are very substantial and important regulations particularly in relation to registration, rent books and so on——
Standards are very high.
Yes. It is important that the regulations are brought in at the earliest possible date. Therefore, I am to that extent interested and reassured that the Minister feels that he has the capability and the possibility of doing that by, at the latest, 25 April.
On section 2 amendments 1 and 1 (a) are related and amendments 2 and 2 (a) are consequential. For discussion purposes the Chair suggests that amendments 1, 1 (a), 2 and 2 (a) be taken together.
Provided Senator O'Leary has no objection to that. I certainly have no objection to debating these amendments at this stage and then, if necessary, they can be considered separately when it comes to the House determining its approach to them. As the person responsible for amendments Nos. 1 and 2 I should like to debate these amendments.
I move amendment No. 1:
In subsection (1), page 3, line 26, to delete "the District Court" and substitute "the Fair Rents Tribunal to be established by regulations made by the Minister under this Act".
The clear objective in this amendment is one which has been a very important policy objective of the Labour Party for a long number of years. It is fair to say that we are the major political party that has been calling for a fair rents tribunal for the longest period. We continue to call for it and to use an opportunity such as this to say that the forum which must adjudicate on the assessment to be carried out, particularly under section 13 of the Bill, must be a fair rents tribunal. It is because this Bill comes to the Seanad at a fairly late stage and with a certain amount of urgency that it is not possible to draft a broader framework for a fair rents tribunal. I am encouraged by the Minister's commitment to that broader framework. He went out of his way this afternoon to give a very clear and explicit commitment to introduce a fair rents tribunal in a broader context in relation to the assessment of rents in the private sector.
I welcome that and I take his commitment seriously. He has made that commitment on the record and off the record. In both contexts I believe it is a serious commitment and I very much welcome it. However, that commitment does not detract from the immediate position of the Bill before the Seanad or from the opportunity in the context of a limited class of people, a limited class of landlords and tenants but an important class for the purposes of this legislation, a class deserving of protection and also the institutions and procedures which will secure and bring about much greater confidence and hope for these people, particularly for the tenants. I agree with Senator McGuinness that we must not be too one -sided in this. There are circumstances I mentioned this afternoon where it is the landlord who is exploited, or has been exploited, in a situation by a tenant in rent controlled premises who, in fact, could have paid a much higher rent and who has used the law to exploit the comparatively much less favourable position of the landlord.
The objective in seeking to replace the District Court with a fair rents tribunal is to seek to introduce a long desired aspiration of the Labour Party and a long desired objective of the spokesperson for the Environment, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, who spoke eloquently on the need for a fair rents tribunal when the predecessor of this Bill was before the House. This is a relevant amendment which would only introduce the fair rents tribunal in relation to the limited category of tenancies covered by this part of the legislation. It would be a forerunner to the broader proposals that the Minister would have. It might, indeed, be very valuable to have the experience in the short-term of a fair rents tribunal dealing with the specific category of landlords and tenancies under the Bill. I submit that landlords and tenants would benefit from the experience of this tribunal with rather limited powers in the short-term but with a commitment at a political level to expand and enlarge on its scope. Therefore, the approach we are proposing in this amendment is that the fair rents tribunal to be established in section 2 will be done by means of regulations to be provided for in section 3.
The second amendment in my name, which is supported by the Labour Party, proposes that the Minister would have what I accept are very far-reaching powers but are also compatible with other far-reaching powers that the Minister has under this legislation. The only reason for giving the Minister such far-reaching powers is that we are in what I could only characterise as an emergency situation. We need to have detailed legislation more quickly than we have time and opportunity in both Houses. That is evident by everything that has been said to date in this House and by the time constraints under which we operate. Unusually and because this is a short-term measure in relation to this provision, as the Minister has already indicated, I move the amendment which states that the Minister shall within two weeks of the commencement of this Bill by regulation establish a fair rents tribunal. This would consist of a President who shall be a judge of the Circuit Court and six other members who shall, because of their particular knowledge or experience, be suitably qualified for membership of such a tribunal.
The power given to the Minister there is a greater power than I would normally be in favour of but it is for the substantial objective of bringing in a fair rents tribunal. Let it be in the Dolphin Hotel. I see no objection to that as a location for it. It will give rise to a certain amount of Dublin humour about dolphin rents and whatever, but there is no harm in that. The Dolphin Hotel is well known to Dubliners, is an accessible venue and there is no reason why the fair rents tribunal would not establish itself in that venue. It is sufficiently adjacent to the existing courts to be a suitable location in geographical terms.
It is not beyond the Minister's energy and resources and those of his officials and advisers, including advisers in the Attorney General's office, to surmount what I do not underestimate — the problems in establishing a tribunal to exercise this kind of power and discretion. If it is helpful to the Minister, the idea is implicit in the name of the tribunal that it would deal with the fair rents question. If the Minister subsequently, as he mentioned — and I appreciate this point — in consultation with the political parties and groupings in the Dáil and Seanad wishes to enlarge the future scope of a tribunal to deal not only with fair rents but also with other issues such as rights to repossession or other matters which arise under this legislation, fair enough. I would be very interested in seeing Government proposals on this, but it goes beyond the resources of an Opposition party to put forward matters of that kind.
It is extremely important to have a fair rents tribunal for the rents of this category of tenants and, indeed, also of landlords. Since June 1981 they have suffered and suffered badly, because of the vacuum created by the judgment of the Supreme Court, a vacuum which we have failed to fill adequately as a Legislature. We must exert ourselves now and use every effort to ensure that this legislation is the best approach we can adopt and not use excuses like lack of time, or opportunity, or the Easter vacation, or whatever, to avoid introducing a rents tribunal.
I did not get an opportunity to welcome the Minister to the House but it is no harm to do so on Committee Stage. I wish him well in his very onerous duties in the future.
I support Senator Robinson in this amendment. We have had many problems over Bills of this type. The exercise we are engaged in at the moment is trying to get through as easily as possible legislation which will be adequate in many areas, not just that of rent control. The Minister, as Minister for the Environment, appreciates the extent of the present demand for private rented dwellings, whether flats, houses, or whatever, and how this demand has been steadily growing. We should not have to wait for some emergency situation to force us to deal with situations. This amendment suggests how we can make the necessary provision. Otherwise, we are going to have agitation on this matter for a long time to come.
This is not a new idea. It was thought of in England about 15 to 20 years ago. I certainly would favour it. We have here a difficult Bill which is not the fault of any individual Minister, Deputy, or Senator. We are all at fault. Over the years we did not look at the changing situation in the whole area of housing. Whether we like it or not, one thing relates to the other; and if we do not tackle this question of a fair rents tribunal, agitation will grow. While we have an opportunity, we should tackle the question.
What is wrong with a fair rents tribunal? Why should there not be a fair rents tribunal and why should its composition not be as proposed here? As Senator Robinson mentioned, the Labour Party, since their foundation in 1912, have been agitating for such improvements in the area of housing. It is nothing new and will not be a great revelation to anybody outside who knows how difficulties occur in the private rented housing area. We are not going to be put to any test of the Constitution by inserting this proposed section in the Bill, particularly having regard to the way it would be framed. It is time we made up our minds. We have had difficulties with this Bill and an amendment could now be conceded that will go a very long way towards alleviating the problems of very many people who have to depend on private rented dwellings. It will give them a little more satisfaction to know that they have some kind of redress, which can be provided in a fair and equitable way.
I am not coming down heavily on the side of the tenant as against the owner of the property. After all, the owner can have redress also. He has property which has an increasing market value and we will, under other sections of the Bill, be able to deal with the question of fair rents from his angle. It is a two-sided thing. I urge the Minister to insert this proposed new section between sections 2 and 3. It will bring about a lot of goodwill on both sides of the House.
Is it in order to discuss my amendments at the same time as Senator Robinson's, or separately?
Yes, they may all be discussed together.
There is no substantial difference between the amendments in the name of Senator Robinson and those in my own name, so it is unimportant which the Minister accepts. I will not be insulted if, having looked at Senator Robinson's amendments, he feels they fit more neatly into his scheme of things. The Minister can rest assured that I will not hold that against him. If, on the other hand, he agrees with my amendments, then Senator Robinson will have the same attitude.
We are in a curiously reversed role position with regard to this Bill. I find myself having to argue the direct opposite to my enforced agreement when the matter was considered on 17 December 1981.
True. So have we all.
I notice that Senator Ryan has a smile on his face. He, too, knows that at the time he argued eloquently for the establishment of a rent tribunal. The real reason was that he anticipated a division between the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party which he was anxious to exploit on that occasion. No?
The party would never be so devious.
Far be it from me.
It is unnecessary, in any case.
It is unnecessary.
I wonder if Senator O'Leary could continue on the amendment.
I invited that kind of interruption from the unruly elements in the House.
When Corkmen fall out.
The position is, however, somewhat different. I realise that I am trying to rationalise my position when I say this. However, things look different on 6 April from the way they looked on 17 December last, and it is not only our physical position in the House. While we on our side of the House at that stage were very unhappy with the speed with which our Minister brought the legislation before the House, that was due to the impending adjournment of the Seanad until after Christmas and the necessity to do something before 31 December. The view of the Fine Gael Party was put very forcibly; we expected that a fair rents tribunal or, as we call it, a private rented dwellings tribunal, would be established by the Government in pursuance of the policy which they had agreed with the Labour Party and under which they entered into Government. That was our policy. The present Minister had eloquently argued for this concept as had Senator Ryan.
As I said in my Second Stage speech, it is a reasonable assumption, it being the policy of every political party who are likely to achieve power or share power, that there would be a rent tribunal of one kind or another, that the officials of the Department of the Environment would, in the meantime, have completed the necessary work to bring such a tribunal before the House. Therefore, the same excuse is not available to the present Minister. I am not blaming him personally for it. It is not available to the present Minister as it was to the last Minister because the Government of the day were clearly put on notice that we expected that, at an early date, a fair rents tribunal or a private rented dwellings tribunal would be established. When the previous Bill was declared unconstitutional there was ample time to introduce into the Bill this new concept, no matter in what sketchy form it was introduced because a rent tribunal of one kind or another will be expected to cover not only this category of dwelling but all the categories of dwellings which are rented in the State, and that the same criteria should apply to them all. That can be seen quite clearly from our consideration of the judgment of the Supreme Court. There is no good reason why this tribunal should not operate even in the same area as ordinary rented accommodation which was at no time controlled by law. The Minister should have been properly advised on this. I am sure the information was available in the Department to include it in the Bill. Therefore, it is right and proper that an attempt should be made at this stage to have it included in the Bill.
With the exception of section 13 and one or two other items, there is general agreement in this House with regard to the need for the Bill and for the Bill itself. There are difficulties founded on different interpretations of what will succeed. There are various other difficulties, but nothing of a political or partisan nature. Therefore, the proposal that I have before the House that a private rented dwellings tribunal would be established and would take up the duties allocated in the various sections of the Bill allocated to the District Court is a proposal which the Minister said in the Dáil that he shared and he repeated that in the Seanad.
It is not a question of whether a Fianna Fáil amendment or a Fine Gael or a Labour Party amendment would be accepted. Surely it is not a question of pride that we cannot accept an amendment because it comes from the other side of the House? That does not make sense. If it will ease matters, let the Minister put down his own amendment and I shall be delighted to support it. If the Minister wants to go down as the man who introduced the amendment which is necessary to establish the tribunal, let him do that. He will have my support if he puts it down on Committee Stage.
I wish I had had the Senator's support on the last occasion.
The Senator did not have my support on the last occasion but we should take the opportunity which is presented to us today and establish the tribunal.
The Minister rightly said the amendment put down by the Fine Gael Party in the Dáil which, unbelieveably, was not accepted and which is repeated here today under my name and with the support of the Fine Gael Party, is based on an existing tribunal which is operating successfully. I do not see anything wrong with that. It is to be commended that one would take the framework of another tribunal which has been very successful in administering quite a difficult area of law where the rights of employers and employees are in direct parallel with the rights of landlords or tenants.
It is necessary to have a tribunal on this occasion, more so even than on the last occasion because the nature of the Bill is such that the court or the tribunal will be establishing the gross rent and will be taking into account the nature, character and location of the dwelling, the terms of the tenancy, the means of the landlord, the date of purchase of the dwelling by the landlord, the amount paid by the landlord for it, the length of the tenant's occupancy, the number and ages of the tenant's family residing with him, the means of the landlord and the means of the tenant.
This will give rise to the most appalling, complicated formula which is not suitable to the District Court even though the District Court, if asked to assess the amount of the market rent, would arrive at a very fair figure. I made this point on the last occasion and I do so again. The District Court would adequately and properly do that job because, with the benefit of its local knowledge, it would easily arrive at a conclusion. However, it cannot put aside its other work to receive and process information from solicitors and professional advisers which would give rise to an equitable, just and consistent decision under the proposals of this legislation. It is one thing to say market rent would have been proved by one auctioneer or valuer coming in and giving evidence, another valuer giving contrary evidence and the court deciding which of these two is sensible and reasonable. They would arrive at a figure and that would be it. The valuer is only one small portion of the picture; in fact it could be read that the valuer has no part at all to play in it. Assuming that "just and proper" does include at least some element of the market, then that must be discounted by a chartered accountant and the accountant of the people who are making the application and evidence must be heard with regard to the number of children and various other things.
It is a much more involved, complicated process which must be done by a group of individuals acting under central control and authority. That group would arrive at decisions which were consistent so that the number of cases which would appear before the tribunal would be a diminishing, not an increasing, number of cases. The tribunal should be encouraged to arrive at reasonable and just settlements and by doing that encourage people to arrive at their own internal agreements which is the proper thing to do if at all possible.
District Courts scattered throughout the country cannot arrive at the same internal cost-consistent conclusions under the complicated system of calculating the rent chargeable proposed in section 13 (2) of this Bill. For that reason there is an additional need for the private rented dwellings tribunal. It is proper that the tribunal should be appointed, that there should be some one with legal knowledge on it and other people appointed on the basis of having good, sound, common sense. The experience which we have of the employment appeals tribunal should encourage us to appoint this tribunal. The members of such tribunals never have become remote from the problems with which they have been dealing. They have served the country well, as I believe the tribunal being proposed would do. They would be fair to both the landlords and the tenants.
It is also important that there would be provision for appeals against the tribunal, and that is included in the amendment in subsection (11). It is important that the tribunal would have sufficient flexibility to meet in quite unusual places, that they could go very far into the country where the number of controlled dwellings would not be sufficient to justify permanent sittings. For those reasons I appeal to the Minister to accept Senator Robinson's amendment, or mine, or indeed to put down his own amendment. In any one of these circumstances he would have my support and that of all Fine Gael Senators.
The bodies interested in this matter are very seriously concerned about the necessity for a rents tribunal. I accept the Minister's solemn and sincere guarantee that legislation to set up such a tribunal will be introduced within a short time. Of course it is only a matter of enlightened self-interest for the Government to set up the tribunal machinery as soon as possible. However, in the interim, how does the Minister envisage dealing with the matter? How long will the interim be? Is it seriously envisaged that a substantial number of cases can be brought before the courts while the legislation to set up tribunals is being brought into being? The Minister promised us that extra district justices will be appointed in the Dublin area to deal with this work. How many does he hope to appoint? In the interim, will the courts be able to deal with the business arising from the Act?
I should like to say how pleased I am that we are all now in agreement about the necessity for a fair rents tribunal——
We share the Senator's urgency.
I am delighted, indeed almost embarrassed, by the enthusiasm with which Senators Robinson and O'Leary now agree that we should have a fair rents tribunal.
We were wrong, we apologise and we are with the Senator.
I make no apology.
I was particularly interested to hear Senator Robinson talking about the long-term aspiration of the Labour Party to have this kind of tribunal. When the Labour Party had an opportunity to implement that long-term aspiration last December they avoided taking it up. The popular way to describe that is that it was merely a hiccough in their long-term aspiration. However, the long-term aspiration will be achieved shortly. The only difference between the position then and now is that then there was no undertaking, no commitment given by the Minister to introduce such a tribunal. In spite of that, my friends on the other side refused to support my amendment which would have provided for the introduction of a tribunal. Indeed, not only did the Minister not give a commitment, but on reading the report I see that Senator Robinson congratulated him on his high principles——
On his honesty, that is all.
Though the Minister did not give a commitment, and he was specifically congratulated on that, nevertheless Senator Robinson did not see fit to support my amendment which would have led to the introduction of a tribunal. The difference now is that we have a specific commitment that we are to have these tribunals in a relatively short time. In the circumstances it does not give me any trouble at all to refuse to support this amendment. I know the amendment is a gesture to try to have these tribunals introduced, but it is quite clear it could not be included in this Bill in a serious way, and that it is quite unnecessary in view of the Minister's commitment. I do not have any hesitation or feel in any way embarrassed in refusing to support the amendment. I think Senator O'Leary was right when, going at some length to describe the kind of tribunal that is necessary, he described how the tribunal should work. He said this would have to be a comprehensive and sophisticated tribunal that would be able to go into the merits of the issues involved in a very detailed way. But that merely proves the point that it would be impossible to incorporate that kind of a tribunal in this Bill, that the proper way to do it would be, as the Minister said, to have a complete new Bill. As I have said, I am delighted that all sides of the House are agreed that we should have a tribunal, and I am very glad the Minister has given the commitment that such a tribunal will be established in the near future. That gives me a very good opportunity to do what I should have done at the beginning, to welcome the Minister to the House.
I thank Senators Ryan and Harte for their welcome and their contributions. I accept the principle involved in the amendments put down by Senators Robinson and O'Leary. I want to restate that it is the intention of the Government, at party level, at Whip level, or at the level of the Minister for the Environment and his opposite number in the Opposition, the spokesman on Environment, immediately after Easter to get together to discuss the details of the formation of a rents tribunal and the whole scope of that matter. The necessary legislation to set up a rents tribunal will be introduced in the next session.
I appeal to Senators today, not from a party political point of view — there is not a party political point between us on this because we all agree about the need for rent tribunals. I disagree with all sides about the use of the word "fair". The Supreme Court decision ruled out the use of the word. It should be a rents tribunal, not a fair rents tribunal, but that is a matter for another day. As I have said, I appeal to all sides of the House to consider that in an area as complex as this the last thing the people of this country need — when it is such a sensitive area and has this history of involvement with the Supreme Court — is legislation by regulation. What Senator Robinson's amendment asks me to do is to accept that I will set up by regulation rent tribunals within two weeks. I think we would be doing a major disservice to the tenants if we set up that type of tribunal by regulation. What is needed is substantive legislation which can be debated at leisure without the time constraints that we have before us because of the decision of 25 April. What we need is to set up these tribunals in a constructive way so that they will meet the legitimate demand of all Political parties and of the tenants involved.
I hope Senator Robinson and the Labour Party will agree that the worst thing from a democratic point of view is legislation by regulation. It totally negatives the operation and effectiveness of the Dáil and Seanad because we do not have the opportunity to tease out the detail that is so necessary. But we should have these substantive discussions between ourselves as parties. Surely there has not been a more gracious and a more committed offer for some time, even if I say so myself. But it was originally made by the Taoiseach, so I do not feel embarrassed about saying it. I refer not to my commitment but that of the Taoiseach, which was a very gracious offer and shows the way to tackle this major social problem. I hope the Senators will accept my good faith in this matter and the good faith of the Taoiseach.
As far as party political manifestoes on this issue are concerned, all parties share this aspiration for the creation of rent tribunals, but it is a question of setting them up in the best form. We are discussing a number of amendments. This highlights the need for discussion, and it highlights the difficulty and the danger of doing it merely by accepting an amendment put down by any party. The amendment put down by Senator Robinson is direct, using more or less my own words when I put down an amendment in December when we were discussing the Bill in the Dáil. On the other side, Senator O'Leary has his own quite legitimate ideas on it. There is merit on both sides, but I do not think this is the forum for doing this. What we are faced with is trying to protect the interests of those tenants who will find themselves without protection after 25 April if the continuance Bill is found to be unconstitutional and if the President has referred it to the Supreme Court in the meantime. We are going to have a time lag of two months while waiting for the decision of the Supreme Court and the tenants are left without protection. That is something nobody in this House wants to see.
I accept totally the point made by Senator Harte with regard to the demand for rented dwellings. There is this demand and it has to be met. It is my intention, as it was my predecessor's intention, to introduce before the end of the year a White Paper on housing. We have not had one since the sixties. It is my intention to devote a considerable amount of my time and energies to the private rented dwelling sector because it is going to become an even more important area in the future than it is at the moment.
I appeal to Senators for their co-operation at this stage. I want to give Senators an idea of the time scale that I have had to face on this. Senators asked why, when this Bill was introduced last December, we have not had the time to set up the tribunals. The general election was on 18 February. The decision on the referral was on 19 February. The new Government came into office on 9 March, and today is 6 April. In the time at my disposal I have tried to cover as many of the points of issue and of concern that were causing so much distress to the tenants — for example, the issue of confirming that subsidies would be available, and that is written into section 23 of this Bill. Some would say that the regulations should be clearly spelt out. I have not had the time to do it and the Minister for Social Welfare will be doing it before 25 April. I appeal to the Senators, not from any party political point of view, not from Government embarrassment — if the Seanad decided to put through the amendment in one form or another the Dáil would have to come back to discuss the matter — but for the sake of the protection of tenants and for the peace of mind of those tenants who are already sorely distressed by the present situation. I have not had the opportunity, it was not possible in the time that I have had available, to set up a complex and what for Ireland is a totally new administrative structure, involving the recruiting and training of staff for a new institution, a rents tribunal. It would take considerable time before such an operation could be properly working and there is no possibility that such a tribunal can be set up in the time scale we have on this legislation. I am asking for the understanding of the Senators. I was not present for that debate last December. I gather from the comments made on both sides of the House that it must have been a fascinating debate. Having read some of the comments of various Senators there have been certain contradictions in everybody's point of view.
All the debates are quite interesting here.
I accept that. But there have been statements made by all sides that were not necessarily the same as those made last December. I can understand there is a certain temptation to score points. I also understand and accept that the amendments before us are not in any way point-scoring. The comments might be but the amendments are well-intentioned and are in good faith. I would make a special plea to the House to accept my good faith, as I accept the good faith of this House, that in the time I have available I cannot set up the tribunals asked for. I honestly believe the tribunals that will eventually come out of the all-party discussions will be in the greater interest of the people of Ireland than the type we are thinking about here tonight, because there are contradictions between Fine Gael and Labour on it. If Senators just wanted a rent tribunal, I am giving the firm commitment that by summer recess the rent tribunal legislation will be introduced into the House resulting from the discussions that will take place. That is of greater concern to the tenants, and the passing of this Bill is equally of greater concern, than the amendments before us. It is not my usual form to appeal at such length and I do it not from my point of view or the Government's point of view, but strictly from a tenant's point of view and because the common good will be better served by doing it in this way.
Senator Murphy asked me about the operation of the Bill. There will be two District Court justices appointed. Sometimes tenants, landlords and older people are not used to the atmosphere of a court and as the greatest numbers will be in the Dublin area, we will be appointing two District Court justices there who will sit in what was the Dolphin Hotel. That is the intention at present and the Minister for Justice is working on it. In Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, the major cities, I am also looking at the possibility of having special sittings of the District Court away from court buildings, in as informal an atmosphere as possible. I am not in a position tonight — I do not want to mislead the House — to give the exact details but pending the tribunals — and I emphasise pending — in the short interim period between the coming into force of the Act and the setting up of the tribunals, it is my intention to meet the need and legitimate anxiety of both landlords and tenants to get away from the atmosphere of the court. I can go no further than that.
How short does the Minister envisage the time will be between this Bill coming into operation and, therefore, the courts coming into play, and the time the tribunals will be effective?
The time on the Bill is 25 April. That was the time on the original Bill when I introduced it but because of the points made on Second Stage today by both Fine Gael and Labour spokesmen I decided to introduce further temporary legislation despite the fact that I have already expressed reservations about it. Now there is the situation in which I can bring this Bill into force by regulation pending the decision on signature by the President. The earliest date I could do it would be 25 April. I should like to do it earlier but I have to prepare the regulations with regard to registration and so on and also the regulations for the subsidies which under section 23 are paid to tenants who find they will not be in a position to pay whatever increased rents are agreed. However, if the President refers the Bill to the Supreme Court, they have 60 days in which to make a decision. It would be during those 60 days that our discussions would be going on and the Bill would be prepared and introduced. Now we find ourselves in a situation in which we are talking about the middle of June. If the Bill comes into force in April, I hope the tribunals will be set up by the summer. That is my goal at this stage and the legislation will be introduced in the next session. I can assure the House of that.
As regards the form and the agreement in the informal discussions that will take place, they may go through immediately or there may be an extended debate. I do not know at this stage: that awaits the form of discussion that takes place between the parties. I am talking about the legislation being introduced into this House before the summer break.
I should like to respond to a number of the contributions made on my two amendments. I begin by responding in full measure to the very generous approach adopted by Senator O'Leary in relation to the amendment which he has put forward, which is an alternative proposal for a tribunal. Like him, what we are looking for is a commitment from the Minister, slightly different from the one he is giving. In devising the tribunal to be included in this Bill, it is quite clear that the Minister is in the best position to do this, if he has the political will. He has his expert advisers to assist him in drafting the appropriate amendment and he would get the full support of this House. That could be done extremely quickly.
Before I turn to the Minister's contribution, I should like to respond to the reference by Senator Eoin Ryan to the previous debate on the predecessor to this Bill and to the record of the House on that occasion. I recall that occasion very vividly because I had to take a decision for which I had to pay a price on that occasion. I recall that Senator Eoin Ryan moved an amendment to include in that Bill a fair rents tribunal. He spoke eloquently and, indeed, strongly in favour of a fair rents tribunal. I also recall being disappointed with the lack of a firm commitment in that regard by the then Minister of State who was in the House. It was for that reason that I congratulated him on his honesty but could not congratulate him on anything else. He, at least, did not pretend that he had had an early intention of introducing the legislation and I remember being disappointed at that. But then, when Senator Eoin Ryan called a vote it is fair to say, as Senator O'Leary has done, he did it because he knew there were differences between the two parties because of the contributions made by, for example, Senator Ruairí Quinn, Senator Harte and myself. When he called it, I recall that I felt so strongly about it that I abstained, which, as the Senator will know, is a very substantial step to take for a Senator on the Government side. I hope to have reciprocity if this matter goes to a vote from Senator Eoin Ryan in the light of his eloquent commitment in the context of a Bill last December which was under exactly the same time constraints.
Let us remember that when that Bill was being debated exactly the same constraints were there. The continuance Bill had been continued for a few months. It was envisaged that the Bill would probably have to be referred to the Supreme Court. The whole framework and the whole urgency of it were there and yet in this House, the Leader of the Opposition at the time, Senator Eoin Ryan — I think he is the longest serving Senator in this House, somebody who has been Leader of the House on successive occasions — proposed and eloquently argued for and called for a vote on having a rents tribunal in the preceding legislation. The Minister has admitted a spokesperson in the other House, which we are not allowed to refer to except peripherally, put forward and fought for a similar amendment. Does one rule apply if you are in Government and does one rule apply if you are in Opposition? I suggest that this is a situation in which the Minister is hoist with his own petard. If he was doing it as the spokesman for the Fianna Fáil Party last December, he must accept now that it is possible because surely he would not have put it forward and Senator Eoin Ryan would not have pressed it to a vote, if they did not believe it was possible and feasible to include a rents tribunal from the beginning.
This is not academic. It is very important. We will add to the strain and worry, worry to the point of sickness of some of the elderly tenants who have approached me on the matter, at the prospect of going into a court. This may be difficult for some of us and particularly some of us lawyers to comprehend. The idea of going to court is of itself terribly alarming. They would almost rather vacate their dwelling and go somewhere else or fall on the resources of Dublin Corporation or whoever the local authority is than go into court. We must be concerned about that.
I appreciate that the Minister would have a very difficult fortnight ahead of him, and his officials likewise, but he must have given considerable thought to the form of this tribunal when he proposed it when in Opposition and the officials in the Department must have seen the writing on the wall for a considerable time. For that reason, I believe it is possible in the context of the particular kind of private rented accommodation we are talking about, the controlled rents, to have an amendment made to this Bill. Like Senator O'Leary, I would prefer if the Minister would introduce precisely the kind of amendment he is looking for. But in the absence of that, the proposal to establish a rents tribunal contained in my amendments is a perfectly adequate one. In perfect conditions, when we had plenty of time to consider these matters, I would not be in favour of giving the Minister the discretion which he will have to introduce by regulation but, as has been said on both sides of the House and by the Minister, frequently in the course of the debate on these measures this afternoon, we do not have the luxury of time. However, we have the responsibility to bring in the best legislation we can in the circumstances, and we will not bring in the best legislation we can unless we face up to the need for a fair rents tribunal from the beginning. This tribunal must be based on ministerial regulations pending the introduction of full-scale legislation on this on the basis of all-party discussion. The Minister has undertaken to do this before the Houses rise for the summer and I am glad to have that commitment on the record. It is important and I welcome it. I pay tribute to the Minister for the fact that he has given that expressed commitment and certainly he will have the support of the Labour Party in pressing for and advancing the general tribunal.
The Minister said in his response on the amendment that you cannot call it a fair rents tribunal because, following the judgment of the Supreme Court, there is no such thing as a fair rent in that sense. That is interesting and it brings me to what we will consider at much greater length later in relation to section 13 of this Bill. What is the difference between a fair rent and, in the wording of section 13, a just and proper rent? What is the difference between a fair rent, a just and proper rent and a fair market rent? We will have to go into these at great length because the Minister has put on the record of this House one of the great difficulties in that he appears to share the view, interpreting the Supreme Court's judgment in the case, that it is not open to the tribunal or to the District Court to ascertain what is a fair rent. Yet section 13 of this Bill proposes that the District Court ascertain what is a just and proper rent. Must we bring out the dictionaries in order to ascertain what words mean? What is the difference in the use by the Minister of the words "fair" and "just and proper"? This would be crucial to the role to be played whether by the District Court or some other body if this amendment or Senator O'Leary's amendment is not accepted, or if the Minister will not bring in his own amendment. Some body, be it the District Court or a tribunal, will have to determine rents. What language, what words are we using? What did the Minister mean when he said that it is no longer open to all to consider fair rents because of the Supreme Court's ruling in the cases on this?
I have very little more to say on this because I have already explained clearly my position to the Seanad. I have appealed for the understanding of the Seanad on it. I do not want to be controversial or political on this, but Senator Robinson mentioned that the time constraints in this Bill are exactly the same as they were in the December 1981 situation. That is not quite correct — in fact, it is not correct at all. At the time the Senator's party were a part of the Government which came into power on 1 July. The Bill was introduced on 9 December. We have been in power for less than four weeks and I am trying to do what I can with what I have in the period available to me. The Senator makes the point that I put down an amendment at that time. I accept that I did so, and I did it in good faith. I stand over it. On the basis of that amendment and the amendment that Senator Ryan had here in the House that divided the House, I give my unreserved commitment to this House, as I did to the Dáil, that the rent tribunal will be set up after the Easter recess following discussions of all parties. I do not want to go into that again. However, I remind the Seanad that the new Dáil discussed this issue at great length last week and divided on it and a substantial majority were in favour of the Government's position on that. The House might recall that the majority was eight or ten. The Government's decision was confirmed and recognised and many Deputies who voted on that issue did so on the basis of the commitment given by the Taoiseach and myself with regard to the introduction of the rent tribunals after the Easter recess.
With regard to the words "fair", "just and proper" and so on, fair rents go back to the old British rents tribunals mentioned by Senator Harte in his contribution earlier and they are pretty well accepted to be 20 per cent or more under what would be the market rent. We have here a just and proper rent with specific criteria set out for its decision in section 13 (2), which we will be discussing probably in five or six minutes time.
Would the Minister like to bet on that?
They are the just and proper rents and the criteria are set down for deciding on the just and proper rents. This again is one of the issues which will be discussed between the parties. We all know what we want to get. We want to get a tribunal who will decide on rents. Whatever criteria are decided, we have our own criteria here which have been accepted by the new Dáil. By the way, the House did not divide on it, it was accepted by parties on all sides of the House. The only division in the Lower House was on the setting up or otherwise of rent tribunals and the new Dáil at that stage decided by a majority of about ten to accept the commitments given by both the Taoiseach and myself.
How about the guillotine?
There was no guillotine.
There was a guillotine. There was an agreement between Whips in the Lower House.
I would like to clarify that. There was no guillotine. There was an agreement because all parties in the Dáil recognise — as I know they do here — that the greater good of the tenants is above everything else that we are considering.
With regard to——
We are talking about landlords also, because this is a balance between both.
The Minister puts us in a very difficult position, or at least he puts himself in a difficult position when he talks about the necessity for this legislation. He talks about not accepting an amendment as if it will put in jeopardy the position of the tenants. I would not put anybody in jeopardy. We have passed a Bill here today which, no doubt, will be signed by the President in due course and will extend the temporary provisions until 25 July. It makes no difference to us whether the Dáil comes back next week. That is not our business. All we are interested in is the Bill before us.
The Minister said that dire consequences might be the result of this being referred by the President to the Supreme Court. There might be a difficulty, but the introduction or non-introduction of a rents tribunal or private rented dwellings tribunal will not be the basis on which the President will refer a Bill to the Supreme Court. Therefore, the acceptance or non-acceptance of either of them will not improve or affect adversely the possibility of the reference by the President. Appealing to the better nature of the Senators on the basis that a difficulty would arise in the event of a reference by the President to the Supreme Court is not relevant on this section of the Bill. This section does not give rise to any constitutional problems, so far as I am aware.
If the Minister is aware of any constitutional problem that my amendment gives rise to, I would be anxious that he would tell me. If it gives rise to a constitutional problem I would be very anxious to change my amendment to overcome that problem. As far as I am concerned, the amendments in my name and that of Senator Robinson do not in any way conflict with the Constitution, do not in any way give rise even to a suspicion that a Bill containing either of these amendments should be referred to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality on the basis of these amendments. If the President in his wisdom decides, on the basis of other provisions of the Bill, that has nothing to do with either of these amendments.
I want to take up the Minister's suggestion that it is not a question of imposing a Fianna Fáil point of view or of our imposing a Fine Gael point of view. We appreciate that. I am not pushing this on the basis of seeking to defeat the present Government in the matter, because it is not a matter of us against Fianna Fáil; it is us against the administration, because the great deadening hand of the administration is to be seen in this. The administration is a very powerful body and the administration is not happy with the concept of a rents tribunal at the moment. That is the real problem. Both this Minister and the last Minister found themselves constrained by reason of the reluctance of the administration to produce the necessary legislation in the right time.
The Minister in the course of his contribution said that this was not the right time to introduce an amendment to set up the tribunal. I do not know of any other except this present time because we are here, we are available, we can give the matter serious consideration and I do not believe we could give the matter any more serious consideration in six month's time. There is really only one thing lacking and that is that the amendment has not come from the Minister. The Minister might criticise my amendment — and I am sure he could point out many points of criticism in it — and he could criticise the amendment put forward by Senator Robinson but his Department have all the necessary information to bring forward such an amendment now rather than in six months' time. I am quite sure that is an accurate projection of the position. If the Minister really wanted to put forward an amendment, if he really wanted to upstage my amendment and have it withdrawn, he need only bring forward a simple amendment himself and it would be done automatically.
I do not think that the Minister should represent to the House that the courts will commence adjudicating on these matters on 26 April. They will not. Even if the Bill is signed by the President and comes into operation on 26 April, cases relating to this matter will not be heard by any District Court before the month of September. That is reality. First of all, there will be the process of the parties seeking to arrive at an agreement and that will be a fairly protracted business. Parties are not going to decide overnight to refer the matter to the court.
There is another point with regard to when the courts will decide that the order will take effect and the clearing up of that problem is something we will be considering later on. It can be assumed that there will be discussions between the landlord and the tenant, that the landlord will approach the tenant, that the tenant will approach his or her legal adviser, that the legal adviser will be in correspondence; they will both get valuers, they will discuss the matter, they will arrive at an agreement or they will fail to arrive at an agreement and that is going to take a matter of months. Then the matter has to go before the courts. The court is not going to list it the following day; it will have to take its place with a lot of other things. The situation might be somewhat different in Dublin if they are going to set up special courts. The cases might be heard in June or July, but in districts other than Dublin there is no way that the cases will get as far as the District Courts before the month of September.
Therefore there is plenty of time for the Minister to recruit the chairman suggested in subsection (2) of my amendment. There is plenty of time for him to recruit the five vice-chairmen and to appoint the 12 to 15 ordinary members, to bring them together and talk to them and get them to discuss among themselves the criteria which they are going to use. There is plenty of time between that and the time they will actually be called upon to hear their first case. What we are trying to do before 26 April is to make sure that there is not a legal gap between the expiration of one piece of legislation and the commencement of another which would allow landlords to get unjustified or exorbitant increases during that period of time, or to have tenants put out on the side of the road because of that problem.
The Minister is quite right in saying this if he is going to introduce this provision before the summer recess — there is no guarantee it will be passed before the summer recess — the actual tribunal would not come into operation until September or October, so there would be a necessity in those circumstances on the proposal of the Minister to have it temporarily referred to the District Court.
I cannot believe, even with the best will in the world — and I know the Minister is 100 per cent honest in this — that established temporary district justices in Dublin are going to be unestablished after a period of two months work in this area and new people are going to be trained to take up the adjudications under the Act next September or October. It is quite obvious that if the District Court is operating and gathering expertise, the Minister will have an enabling measure in the Bill which will enable him to bring the Bill into operation as and when he thinks fit. Even the Bill that would be introduced in July need not necessarily come into operation when it is passed and that is what I feel would happen. If we establish temporary district justices in Dublin and if they get expertise, then they will not be easily disestablished. On the other hand, if we impose the load on the district justices throughout the rest of the country then it will be September or October before they deal with these cases.
Perhaps the Minister has not thought this matter through completely but the establishment of a tribunal would still give him some period to recruit the necessary personnel, to make arrangements for the housing of the tribunal in the Dublin area and to make arrangements for places to visit and to sit outside Dublin. The Minister should understand that he has plenty of time to make the tribunal operational and for that reason the amendments before the House are worthwhile. I think the Minister should consider it carefully for a few days and put down his own amendments. That is really the solution to the problem and honour is satisfied all around if the Minister does that.
I had asked the Minister to clarify what he meant when he used the word "fair" in relation both to fair rents and to a fair rents tribunal and his answer to a considerable extent crystallises a great deal of the problem behind the fact that this is the fifth attempt to introduce legislation in this House to pick up the pieces of the situation following the Supreme Court judgment in June 1981. As I understand him — and I do not want to say anything that is not paraphrasing what he said — he said that he used the word "fair" because he meant it in the context of the fair rents tribunal legislation in the UK, which is in existence for a considerable time and under which the rents fixed by the fair rents tribunal, bearing in mind all the social criteria and the matters that should be borne in mind, is, as he estimated, approximately 20 per cent below the market rent. It is very interesting that in the context of a written Constitution which proclaims and protects the rights of the individual, which affirms that the courts are there to protect the individual, the Minister is of the view that we could not have a fair rent or a fair rents tribunal in that particular context in Ireland.
Sometimes we refer to the British constitutional tradition as being less protective than ours because we have a written Constitution that protects the rights of people. This appears to be an example, if the Minister is correct and I am sure he has been advised on this, where the absence of a Constitution means that the Parliament at Westminster can establish fair rent tribunals which adjudicate on rents and which come up with rents which are below the market rent for very understandable and very proper social criteria and social priorities. Is the Minister then saying that we cannot have a fair rents tribunal in Ireland because of the decision of the Supreme Court in one or other or both of the cases? Is he saying that we cannot have a fair rent in the sense of a rent that is to any extent and to any percentage below the market rent? If he is saying this, what is the difference between a just and proper rent, which is the language used in section 13 of this Bill that we will come to at a later stage on Committee, and a market rent? Can he estimate whether the just and proper rent will be above the market rent, will it be equal to the market rent or will it be marginally below the market rent?
I think these are issues that are of very real importance. They reflect back to the principles we are discussing, to the role of the Legislature. It is something we must ponder on, if it is correct, as the Minister appears to have informed the Houses, that because of the Supreme Court's decisions in these cases we cannot apparently have a fair rents tribunal in Ireland in the sense of a fair rents tribunal which can fix rents at a percentage below the market rent. If I am wrong in interpreting what the Minister has said, I would be certainly pleased to give him an opportunity to clarify what he said. It appears to be his interpretation that we cannot have a fair rent and a fair rents tribunal and that may be something which may have to come back to us in a legislative sense. This time we may have to bite the bullet and decide that we do perhaps need an amendment of the Constitution itself if that is the advice that he has received on the outcome of the litigation. The Labour Party have always wished to have not only a tribunal that is accessible and less intimidating than a court but also as a social policy the possibility of fixing rents, bearing in mind social circumstances which would be to some degree below the market rent. It is fair rents in that sense that the Labour Party are pressing for. It is important that this issue be clarified.
I have nothing further to add other than to say that the points that have been raised by the last two speakers mainly come up under section 13 and I will be delighted to discuss them at length on that section.
Will the Minister explain how the passage of either of these two amendments would disimprove the position concerning the referral of the Bill to the President and the problems that might arise if that happened?
I have dealt with every point I intend to deal with.
I wish to press the Minister on this. It is important if we ask a question there should be some response to it. The Minister made quite an emotional statement on the basis that we were in some way putting tenants at some disadvantage by pressing amendments at this stage on the question of the establishment of a tribunal. I would like to ask the Minister how the House by passing such amendments is putting the rights or the protection of the rights of tenants at risk by that action?
I have answered all the points.
I appreciate the Minister may feel that progress on Committee Stage is not going as fast as he would wish but the point that I raised, and on which I must press the Minister and hope he will respond, is directly relevant to the amendment that I have put forward. This amendment is seeking to substitute a fair rents tribunal for the District Court. Initially the Minister used an argument about time and about a promise to do this before the summer break. He is now saying that in any case we cannot have a fair rents tribunal in Ireland because we could not have a tribunal which would fix a rent below the market rent. He referred to the fair rents tribunals which have existed in the UK for a considerable time and he pointed to the fact that the fair rents tribunals there fix rents at, it is estimated, approximately 20 per cent below the market rent. It is crucial to my understanding of why this amendment is not acceptable and, therefore, crucial to this amendment for the Minister to explain what he meant when he said that you could not have fair rent tribunals in Ireland. He specifically criticised the title of the tribunal which is the subject of this amendment. He has not answered me on this point and I think I am entitled to a very clear explanation of why the Minister has said this and why the very name of the tribunal that I am putting forward in this amendment would not be acceptable itself. The Government do not feel able to accept a proposal for a fair rents tribunal because following the judgments of the Supreme Court we apparently cannot have a fair rents tribunal. It is of the utmost importance to clarify this, not at the later stage when we are talking about fixing the rent but at this stage when we are talking about an amendment calling a tribunal by a particular name. I must ask the Minister to have patience with my concern in this matter and, as he has done I think very courteously and very liberally so far in this debate, to take the time to explain why the amendment calling a tribunal a fair rents tribunal would not be acceptable on that ground alone, on the ground of the title. This is an extremely important point.
I did not say that it would not be acceptable on the basis of just the title alone. What I said was that there are two amendments: one is for a private rented dwellings tribunal, another is for a fair rent tribunal. All I am talking about are titles. I have given to the Senator and to the other Senators who have spoken, a commitment which was not there in December last when the Senator herself made a contribution. She has referred to me as being forthcoming and gracious. I do not see I am getting it back from the far side, but I do not expect a return. If I could remind the Senator of what she said at the time that this legislation went through last December, that it was reasonable at the time——
Is the Minister quoting from the record of the House?
——to use the District Court as the forum because it was there and because it was geographically accessible. She went on to indicate her support for the 1981 Bill on this understanding——
From what document is the Minister quoting? He is purporting to quote me from a plain sheet of paper.
I am not quoting the Senator from anything. I am giving the general gist of what she said. I do not want to get into any further controversy. I have tried since 2.30 p.m. to avoid controversy on this issue. I have given the House as great a commitment as I am sure this House has got with regard to forthcoming legislation. I cannot go any further than that. I have appealed to Senators for an understanding approach to it in the best interests of the tenants and landlords involved — that the type of tribunal we want to set up is the best tribunal possible, that it should not be done by regulation but should be done by legislation. I honestly believe that I can go no further. I honestly believe also that I am not going to satisfy the two Senators involved. No matter what arguments I put up what I say will not satisfy the Senators. If there is to be a division, let there be a division but for God's sake let Senators be sure they realise that the elected Members of Dáil Éireann, the Deputies elected by the people on 18 February last, discussed this issue in the Dáil last week and came to their conclusions with regard to the amendments down there. Surely the elected Members of 18 February have a mandate and are entitled to expect some consideration on that issue.
I can appreciate the Minister's concern and commitment with regard to this legislation but it is unfair of him to adopt an attitude which could be construed as lecturing and domineering. It is very clear to anybody who has been listening to this debate that there are serious problems in this legislation. As I said, we are trying, as far as possible, to avoid difficulties. If we can succeed — the Minister, the administration and both sides of the House — in producing legislation which is workable, will not be challenged in the courts and will not cause all sorts of difficulties of interpretation when it gets to whatever forum it will be executed in, then we will have done a good day's work. But if we rush through this legislation, as there is good reason to believe the other House did, we will only create nine times as much work for ourselves and for our seccessors. The Minister referred to two Senators but there are more than two Senators who are concerned about this and we are anxious to get a decision and proper legislation on this matter.
I, too, deprecate any suggestion that this House is being obstructive, or that it is less conscious of its obligations in considering very sensitive and important legislation than the other House. I am concerned about the argument of District Courts versus tribunals. I accept the Minister's commitment but I am a bit worried as to the volume of business that will descend on District Courts in the interim. From what Senator O'Leary said, it seems that there will not be any interim, that it will be the Autumn before the courts come to consider any cases or before the Minister's proposed tribunal will be set up and functioning under legislation. If there will not be any substantial time gap, what is the point in the amendments before the House?
That is a reasonable point which I knew, when I mentioned it, would give rise to this type of discussion. It will take some months before the volume of work will come before the District Court. There is no point in pretending it will come before the District Court in May because that will not happen. The Minister's commitment, as far as I understand it, is to introduce legislation in the Oireachtas during the coming session; it is not a commitment that the legislation will actually pass during that session. When the Minister introduces this legislation it will probably include many other things — rent tribunal type operations over and above the simple small section of the market with which we are concerned here today. I can understand that the Minister's proposal, even with the best will in the world, might not necessarily reach the Statute Book before the autumn. In the case of the Dáil and Seanad that means October or November, and the District Courts resume work in September. This means there will be a period when the District Courts will be called on to do the work.
It is not going to be substantial.
I do not know how substantial it will be, but there will be a period during which they will be called upon to do a certain amount of work.
There is a tradition in this House that we do not refer to the other House in a derogatory fashion or to the Members of the other House or their functions or duties under the Constitution. Similarly, I would expect that a Minister, appointed by the other House and coming in here, would recognise that, within the limitations set out in the Constitution, we are a House of the Oireachtas and make our decisions on the basis of what we think is right, not on the basis of whether we think the legislation will ultimately be carried by the other House. We may if we want, in our individual capacity, take that into account, but in my opinion that is not a proper matter for consideration.
I am upset that the Minister should see fit to draw a distinction between the legislative authority under the Constitution of the elected Members of the Dáil and the Members of the Seanad, no matter how they come to be in Seanad Éireann. We are all Members of Houses of the Oireachtas, deriving our power and authority under the Constitution, adopted and enacted by the people. We all have a democratic base. It is most unfortunate that the difference between the Houses should have been mentioned because we are as entitled to our considerations as the other House. As the Minister quite rightly said, this matter was pushed to a division in the other House. It is not up to me to speculate why the other House voted the way it did, but I have reason to think that in a repeat situation the vote might not be exactly the same.
If it is any consolation to the Minister I anticipate this will be my last intervention on this amendment. I feel it necessary to make it clear that the Minister introduced a particular problem by stating that it would not be possible to call the tribunal a fair rents tribunal — that is what it is called in this amendment — because it would not be able to do the same as in the United Kingdom where fair rents tribunals fix fair rents, that is, approximately 20 per cent below the market rent. It may be very irritating for a Minister to have to spend time discussing points in detail, but it may be of very real interest to Threshold, the Private Tenants' Association and others to know that we cannot have fair rents in this country, that we cannot have, in that sense, rents which are below the market rent and that we cannot have a fair rents tribunal. We are not just talking about titles. I believe the Minister's last intervention dodged the issue. He sought not to answer the very awkward question why he is advised and has reached the conclusion that we cannot have, in that sense, a fair rents tribunal and the fixing of fair rents under our Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court.
In the absence of any explanation from the Minister as to why it is not possible to call the tribunal the Fair Rents Tribunal, and since it is clear that the Minister is not going to give an explantion this evening, I have no alternative but to press the amendment. I believe we need a fair rents tribunal. This has been a part of Labour policy for a number of years and is what most people, when talking about a tribunal, have in mind. If the Minister will not explain at greater length and if he says we can debate this issue when we come to section 13, then I will await that stage. In the circumstances I cannot act reasonably and I suggest that I bring an amendment on Report Stage changing the name of the tribunal since I do not know, and the Minister has singularly failed to develop this point, why he would find the title "Fair Rents Tribunal" unacceptable.
The amendment is therefore defeated and amendment 1a is not moved.
Are you not putting my amendment to the House?
I understood that my amendment was pressed and was defeated. I did not call a vote on it. I did not understand that Senator O'Leary's amendment was put.
The first amendment was to delete the words "the District Court". That amendment was defeated and that means that your amendment cannot be moved because it proposes to delete the same words.
What was the question put to the House?
The question was: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the section."
I would like clarification of the word "landlord" on page 4. Landlord is defined as meaning "the person for the time being entitled to receive (otherwise than as agent for another person) the rent payable in respect of a dwelling". It will be very important, for the subsequent provisions in relation to the obligation to register the whole provisions in relation to safety and standards to which the Minister has already referred, and liability, that "landlord" be very clearly and fully defined because we are not always dealing with a person. I say that knowing that "person" can and in this context may very well include a limited company. Nevertheless, since the word "landlord" is being used in the context of pinning the accountable person, since we are not necessarily meeting the point simply by having the word "person" mean what it means under the Interpretation Act in the normal context of a person meaning a natural or legal person, we may want "person" in the form of a landlord to mean something more specific in the definition section because of the responsibilities being placed on landlords and the standards and regulations which the Minister will make. The Minister has very wide powers to make those regulations. Is the Minister fully satisfied that the definition of "landlord" will cover every eventuality in which the matter would arise?
I can assure the Senator that the draftsman has advised that this brief form of what appeared in the 1980 landlord and tenant code covers everything with which she is concerned. Companies are included.
What about the church body that Senator O'Leary referred to? Would that be fully covered?
Does "the court" mean the District Court? On the actual mechanism by which the District Court will be brought into this, could the Minister explain whether regulations are going to be made to enable the District Court to operate quickly in this regard? I am aware, in regard to the District Court, that in the past regulations had not been made which meant that the District Court had been unable to act even though they had statutory authority in the area and statutory responsibility. You give a duty to the District Court and unless you set in motion at the same time a process by which the court can put that duty into operation, the court is put in the position of not being able to do anthing. Have the necessary arrangements been made to have the rules amended?
The District Courts have not yet been approached but they will be.
The Minister will be aware of the problem that arose in the other regard and that was not his fault. I do not think we should allow the same thing to happen here.
It will not arise.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 2 (a) not moved.
This is the section where it is appropriate to raise the Minister's reference in his opening speech to the allocation in the budget of £6 million.
This is all for administrative expenses.
It will come in later on the social welfare allowance provisions.
I would like some explanation of the precise terms of this section because it appears to be quite a significant departure from the normal service of legal documents on persons. It seems to equate a regulation made by the Minister with any legal document notice or claim under the Act. Perhaps there are examples of this but I cannot recall at the moment any other areas where this had happened. It seems to depart from some of the existing rules in relation to service and the proof of service through an affidavit of service and provisions for substituted service. To impose a new system could give rise to certain problems. For example, section 4 (1) provides that a notice or claim under this Bill or any regulations made thereunder — in other words, ministerial regulations, or statutory instruments — to be given or to be served on a person should be addressed to him and should be given to him or served to him in one of the following ways and so on. Where it is addressed to him by name it should be delivered to him. We ought to understand precisely what is meant by delivering it to him in this context. Under (b) — by leaving it at the address at which he ordinarily resides or in a case at which an address for service is being furnished at that address — this appears to be some departure from the standards in relation to service which may apply in relation to legal proceedings, for example, the service of a notice to quit under present law. Some of these notices would have parallel significance in regard to it. The third possible alternative is sending it by post in a prepaid registered letter at the address at which the person ordinarily resides or, if the address has been furnished, to that address.
I should like the Minister to explain why a decision was taken in this Bill to put on the same level as the legal notices and claims under this Bill ministerial regulations which are normally available to the Stationery Office or which a person, a lawyer, perhaps, might acquire. Likewise, if Threshold wants to get hold of ministerial regulations or if individual landlords or tenants want to get them, they can obtain them from the Stationery Office or from the relevant Department or whatever. This seems to be a departure from the pre-existing position and perhaps the Minister could explain what the background to that was.
It is a question of the service of the notice under the regulation and not the regulations themselves. This is the format used here. It is the same as the Planning Acts and the landlord and tenant legislation. So far as we are concerned in relation to the difficulties that might be envisaged with regard to finding the address, there is obviously no difficulty in finding the tenant because you know his address. There will be no problem in finding the landlord because for the first time ever we will have a register of the landlords. Before they can increase or set a rent they will have to register in the local authority offices.