The President, in introducing the Second Reading of this Bill, said that it differed slightly from the Bill of last year. I think it differs essentially, and differs in a very great degree, and in such a way as, I think, while probably producing houses, will not go very far towards solving the urban housing problem. I was one of those who doubted the efficacy of last year's Bill, and I venture to say that some of these doubts proved to be well founded, notwithstanding the President's optimism in the matter. The figures which he has given to us prove the truth of that statement. The houses that have been built as a result of last year's principal Act have been mainly rural houses—2,467 rural as against 515 urban houses. The criticism which we levelled at the Bill last year was that it was not going any distance to solve the problem of housing for the weekly wage-earner. That, I think, has been proved in the result. The later Bill, a Bill empowering local authorities to borrow, may go a little further in the direction of assisting wage-earners, but not, I think, to any great distance. This Bill, so far as I can read it, is not going any distance towards solving the housing problem for those people who really are in need of houses. Perhaps that is stating it too strongly, because many people, even of the better-off class, are really in need of houses, but the urgent, clamant need is for houses for the weekly wage-earners earning anything from 30s. to £4 a week when working.
Last year's Bill gave grants, first from the State and secondly from the local authorities, on certain conditions, the conditions being that the houses were not to be sold at a price exceeding, in the case of a five-roomed house, £400, and a rental of 12/3½ per week. It was thought by that means that there would be an opportunity for the better-off wage-earners to get possession or occupation of houses, but these restrictions are removed in this Bill, as the Minister indicated, because he thinks that they have operated against the building of new houses. As a means of stimulating the building trade I think this is quite a good Bill. It will certainly help to stimulate the building of houses, but it is not going to help to stimulate the building of houses which will be occupied by the working classes. This is a Bill for the better housing of the middle classes, or it is a Bill to provide subsidies for speculative builders, but beyond that I cannot see how it is going to have any material effect upon solving the overcrowding problem in the towns and cities of the Saorstát.
The proposition is to pay a subsidy in the case of a five-roomed house, having a certain floor space, of £150 to £200 per house. Then the builder may do what he likes with it. He may let it at its competitive rent; he may sell it at its competitive price. It may be any kind of house within defined limits of space. It may be a shooting-box. It may be a most elaborate house built by a rich man and, provided he does not exceed the floor space, he will get his subsidy. It is probably going to have the result of building a large number of bungalows on the outskirts of the towns and cities and the letting, or selling, of these bungalows to the better-off classes. There is foreshadowed in this proposition—the President can give his ideas on the matter—the repeal or the non-renewal of the Rent Restrictions Act when the present Act expires. The effect of this Bill will be to create competition amongst those people who need houses in the price of houses, whether in rent or in selling price. It will mean that the builder of a house, having got advantage of the £150 or £200 subsidy, will take the most possible out of the tenant. One might suggest to the Minister for Finance that he should keep a careful watch on the effect of this, and possibly succeeding Bills of a like kind, upon ground rents and the increase of incomes of ground landlords due to the activities of the Government and the subsidies paid by this Bill to builders.
I do not know for certain whether it is intended by sub-section (3) of Section 10 to provide for the repeal of Section 4 of last year's principal Act, whether it is intended that in respect of all or any of the houses built, or begun to be built, under last year's Act, the restrictions in regard to selling price or rent are to be removed. Perhaps we could learn whether in respect of houses built under last year's Act the restrictions will be maintained, but that in respect to this year's Act they will be abandoned. The answer to that question will be rather interesting, because I can imagine, following last week's debate and discussion upon a cognate question, that the persons who built houses under last year's Act will be coming forward and looking for some kind of compensation, or, at least, a repayment of some kind, because they were induced to build under restrictions which their successors under this year's Act will not have applied to them. Last week, following the pleadings of the President, the Dáil decided to make a present of certain remission of rates to those who built during the last two or three years. Now, are we to understand that people who built under last year's Act, or even people who built a month or two months before last year's Act came into operation, are to be left in a worse position than the people who will be building under the new Act? Or is last week's precedent to be applied by the Ministry, or by the President, when applications from bungalow-builders for remissions come in?
I foresee that, as a result of the passing of this Bill, there will be a good deal of building trade activity. It is apparently the Ministry's policy to stimulate the building trade within the next two years to its absolute maximum. With the stimulation promised last week in respect of the larger buildings, and with the stimulation under this Bill for bungalows and middle-class houses, we shall have the building trade pretty active. But, except very indirectly, we are not going to do anything under this Bill to ease the situation for the over-crowded citizens of Dublin or Cork or Limerick or Waterford, or any of the larger towns. There was a restriction last year of 12/3 per week in rent plus rates for a five-room house. It is alleged now that that restriction was too severe and militated against speculation on the part of builders, so that houses were not built in the way it was hoped they would be built. But if we remove that restriction, what are we to expect? We must expect that the weekly rental of these houses will be higher than 12/3, plus rates, or if they are sold that the price will be higher than £400, plus the subsidy. In that case, who can expect that the average wage-earner in the city or town is going to be assisted at all in getting houses under this Bill?
Perhaps we might hear from the Minister whether the restriction as to the selling price, which was contained in last year's Act, has been enforced as a matter of fact, or if it is intended that it should be enforced in respect of houses built under last year's Act, because it has come to my hearing that quite a number of houses which have been built, or are in course of building, under last year's Act, and a subsidy for which has been paid, or partially paid, have been transferred at prices higher than the price indicated in the Bill. I cannot substantiate that. It is more or less a well-authenticated rumour, but I would like to have it made clear by the President whether the restrictions under which grants were paid under last year's Act are to be enforced, or whether they are to be repealed and the owners of such houses, whether under last year's Act or under this Bill, to be free to get any prices they can in the market for new houses, or to let them at any price they can get from weekly tenants.
I am not going to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, because it is going to assist the building of houses. It will mean the building of a good many houses, to be occupied by the better-off classes and, consequently, there will be a certain easement in the towns and cities, but it will be so very slight that the workers will not get any appreciable relief. As a matter of fact, I would hazard to guess that the amount of building will hardly meet the increased natural demand for new houses, owing to the excess of the marriage rate over the death rate and the decay of certain classes of houses. I do not believe that this method of treating the housing problem is going to do what is required to any degree at all. I do not think you are going to relieve the problem of Dublin City. The amount is £300,000 per year—that is to say, £300,000 under last year's Act and £300,000 under this Bill. Suppose that £300,000 per year goes on for ten years, is it going to be as effective, is it going to produce the same kind of organised building of houses, as a £3,000,000 loan, with a ten year programme, would produce? I believe that if you were to proceed by way of a housing loan for a period of ten years, you would probably get much better results, because you would induce working to a programme, and people could look ahead and organise for future years.
A question was raised by Deputy Byrne respecting the Public Utility Society and the preference given to that Society over the individual. There may be a very good reason for that. But I would like to make a suggestion, which the Minister might consider before the Committee Stage—that the definition of "Public Utility Society" should be enlarged so as to include friendly societies and trade unions, some of which have schemes by which houses can be built for their members. That is a Committee point, but, perhaps the Minister would consider the suggestion between now and the Committee Stage. A more serious point in the definitions arises from the difference between the definition in this Bill of what a house is and the definition in last year's Act. Under last year's measure, the word "house" meant a "dwelling-house." This year the word "house" means a building suitable for occupation as a dwelling-house." and includes a self-contained flat. Under that description—"a building suitable for occupation as a dwelling-house"—I am afraid we may have the reconstruction of stables, lofts and very poor premises indeed to serve as "houses," according to what the Minister or his advisers consider suitable. Perhaps that point is a point for Committee too, but I would not like it to be thought that we are proceeding in this Bill to pay subsidies to people who turn their rather dilapidated stables into dwellinghouses—though many of the stables, such as they are, are better than some dwelling-houses.
There is an omission in the schedule to this Bill which would require some explanation. Last year there were two separate parts in the schedule and two separate lists of amounts to be paid in respect of houses, some of which applied to houses where sewers and water mains were not available and the others to houses where sewers and water mains were available. In the present Bill there is no such distinction made and I take it that the subsidy will be paid whether sewers and water mains are available or not.
There was some question in the debate last year as to the period during which houses were to be built under that scheme. The first proposition was twelve months. I think that was extended to eighteen months, with the possibility of a further four months. Now it is extended to twenty-two months, with the possibility of a further four months. We have learned, by the answer of the Minister to a question to-day that the actual number of houses completed up to date, both urban and rural, under last year's Act, is 167. It is now eleven months since the Act was passed, and while a good deal can be done in the fine weather which we hope will come, and while we had a great deal of bad weather which militated against building during the past few months, it is quite clear that the longer period that was asked for last year was required.
I feel, in regard to the Bill, that it is likely to be good in its effect upon the building trade. It may mean a very considerable demand for building trade labour, skilled and unskilled. It may, perhaps, mean a demand for new kinds of skilled labour, and, in that way, it might be a very good thing for the building trade. It will certainly be a very good thing for the building trade employers and speculators, and I have no doubt it will get a great deal of support from them, and from other persons who are in a position to enter the market for building houses either for themselves or for speculation. Undoubtedly, it will mean the building of another 3,000 houses—perhaps 6,000 houses in the long run. But I wonder will the President tell us seriously that he believes that any considerable proportion of those houses are likely to be occupied by any man earning less than £4 per week.
I anticipate that we shall have a demand from the outer areas of Dublin, Cork and Limerick, from shopkeepers, schoolmasters and that class generally, but I think we are going to provide but a very small number of houses, if any, under this Bill for the rehousing of the working classes, in the commonly accepted use of that term. I think until we begin to apply our minds seriously to the problem of rehousing the overcrowded dwellers in the towns, not merely in Dublin, but in other towns, we cannot be said to be tackling the housing problem with anything like seriousness.