It may be helpful to recall briefly the background to both the Bill and the process leading to the Government's amendments. The Bill originated as a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad and received support from all sides of the House. I acknowledge, in particular, the work of the Chairman, Deputy Ó Caoláin, of Senators Gallagher and O'Reilly, and their support of the Bill.
The Bill's primary objective is to deal with what are widely considered the potentially adverse consequences for ground rent tenants flowing from a 2012 ruling of the Supreme Court. The manner in which the court interpreted certain technical provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Ground Rents (No. 2) Act 1978 in the ruling has narrowed the scope of the ground rents purchase scheme. This means that certain ground rent tenants who had been eligible to acquire the freehold title in their properties may no longer be eligible to do so. The Government agreed not to oppose the Bill in the Seanad on the understanding, based on the advice of the Attorney General, that Government amendments would be brought forward in due course to reduce the risk of future challenges on the grounds that the Bill's proposal would, if enacted, be likely to infringe on the property rights of ground rent landlords, which are safeguarded under the Constitution. Following the passage of the Bill through the Seanad, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, established an expert group, with membership drawn from the Office of the Attorney General and the Minister's Department, as well as external experts, including the land law expert, Professor John Wylie, to consider the proposals set out in the Bill and recommend any necessary amendments. The Government amendments we will now discuss seek to give effect to the expert group's recommendation. I regret that many of the Government amendments involve intricate and complex detail but, as members will be aware, that is the nature of ground rent legislation.
I turn to the substance of the first group of amendments, which concerns the issue of rateable valuation. Strange as it may seem, there is no statutory definition of ground rent in ground rent legislation, which is because ground rent can arise in many different circumstances. Instead of a definition, ground rent legislation outlines various conditions that must be met for a rent to qualify as a ground rent and for a tenant to be eligible to exercise his or her right to acquire the freehold title. Section 9 of the 1978 (No. 2) Act outlines conditions that must be complied with, one of which requires further compliance with one of the conditions outlined in section 10. The second condition in section 10, a condition frequently relied on in the case of buildings that may have existed before the lease was granted, is that the lease in question be for a period of not less than 50 years and that the annual rent payable be less than the amount of the rateable valuation of the property on the date on which the application to acquire the freehold is made. Condition 5 in section 10 also contains a reference to a rent lower than the rateable valuation of the property on the date on which the lease was granted. It deals with the complex circumstances arising where a lease is granted in succession to a lease that would have been covered by ground rent legislation if the 1978 (No. 2) Act had been in place at the time.
Similarly, in section 15(1)(d) of the 1978 (No. 2) Act, which relates to yearly tenants, one of the eligibility conditions is that the yearly rent be less than the rateable valuation of the property on the date on which the application to acquire the freehold is made. In short, in the case of conditions 2 and 5 of section 10, and in section 15(1)(d), there is a rebuttable presumption that if the annual rent is lower than the annual rateable valuation, the rent is a ground rent rather than a commercial rent. That being the case, the ground rent tenant has a right to acquire the freehold title of the property. It is clear that the rateable valuation referred to in the 1978 (No. 2) Act is the rateable valuation applying before roll-out of the new valuation system arising from the national revaluation programme under the Valuation Act 2001, which is now well under way. It was against this background the expert group concluded that certain amendments, to both the 1978 (No. 2) Act and the Valuation Act 2001 in respect of rateable valuations, were required to safeguard the operation of conditions 2 and 5 of section 10, as well as of section 15(1)(d), of the 1978 Act.
If the Chairman wishes, I can address the amendments now.