Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 20 Nov 1935

Vol. 59 No. 7

Expiring Laws Bill, 1935—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be read a Second Time. The Expiring Laws Bill, as the House is aware, is an annual measure and requires to be enacted before the end of the present calendar year. The measure continues for another year all the statutes that appear in Parts I and II of the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Act of last year, with the single exception of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, which has been repealed by the Aliens Act of this year.

With reference to the Schedule of the Bill, I might inform the House that two Orders have been added to those shown in the columns of Part II as restricting the scope of the Statutory Undertakings (Continuance of Charges) (No. 2) Act, 1923. One of these relates to the Foynes Harbour (Temporary Increase of Charges) Order, 1921 and the Kilrush Pier, County Clare, Order, 1921. I may say that full consideration has been given to the desirability of enacting legislation to give permanence to Acts hitherto continued by means of an annual Expiring Laws Act. It has not been found practicable this year to introduce legislation to make permanent any of the Acts in the Schedule of the Bill, with the exception of four to which I shall briefly refer.

The first of these will be a Bill dealing with the Poor Law position generally which it is hoped shortly to introduce and which will make unnecessary the further annual renewal of the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923. The second is a permanent measure to amend the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing) Act, 1925. The third is a Bill which is in an advanced stage and which will provide for the repeal of the Harbours, Docks and Piers (Temporary Increase of Charges) Act, 1920, with certain saving provisions and for the repeal of Section 2 of the Statutory Undertakings (Continuance of Charges) (No. 2) Act, 1923. This Bill is a consequence of the Harbours (Regulations of Rates) Act, 1934 and as soon as the Courts of Justice Bill now before the Oireachtas becomes law, the further annual renewal of the Courts of Justice Act, 1929, will be unnecessary. With regard to all these measures, with the exception of the Courts of Justice Act, the necessary legislation will not be ready for some time, and it is accordingly necessary to provide for their continuance for a further period by means of an Expiring Laws Act.

Memoranda explanatory of the enactments which are being continued have already been circulated to Deputies for their information, and if Deputies will be good enough on this stage to raise any matters in relation to these expiring enactments which they think it advisable to raise, their points could possibly be dealt with at greater length on the Committee Stage by the Ministers who are more intimately concerned than I am with the operation of these measures. I do not think there is anything more to say, except to repeat that desirable and all as it might be to dispense with temporary legislation of the kind which is covered by a Bill of this sort, it has not been found practicable and I do not think it will ever be found practicable to do so.

The Minister spoke of a series of measures which will be introduced in the future and which will make several of these annual enactments unnecessary. It occurs to me to inquire why the Government have not taken the occasion of the Labourers Bill to codify the law relating to labourers' cottages and thus render unnecessary the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1883, and certain sections in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1931, and the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1932. I think the Minister will agree that it is undesirable to have the law relating to one particular business distributed through three or four statutes, and that when a comprehensive measure, such as the Labourers Bill, is coming forward, it presents a very good opportunity of codifying the law relating to the matters primarily contained therein.

No. 8 in this explanatory memorandum is "The Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923." That is an Act that was passed when there was an acute housing shortage in this country, just when the State was first set up, or shortly thereafter. While I admit it was necessary then in order to keep rents somewhere near the capacity of the people to pay, there can be no doubt that it had a very adverse effect upon house property as a security and a very deterrent effect on speculative builders, at least on that type of builder who proposes to erect houses for the purpose of renting them. I think it has contributed very considerably to a continuance of the housing shortage in the country. I am wondering when will the time come when the removal of those restrictions on rents will become possible as well as the removal of the restriction on ejectment proceedings which provides that if a tenant can prove that it is more inconvenient for him to move than it is for the landlord that he should remain, he can remain indefinitely in another man's house provided he pays the agreed rent. The result of that proviso is that a great many people who would be building houses, and thereby helping to relieve the housing shortage, are not building.

That was so up to two or three years ago.

My submission is that it is only public authorities and persons who intend to reside in the houses themselves who are building. The Deputy, I think, is fairly familiar with rural conditions. If he is, he will know that in the past it was a common thing for a man who had a comparatively large sum of money to invest to build houses with it with a view to renting them instead of investing the money in stocks and shares. Now, that is practically stopped, and it is stopped on account of the provisions in the Rent Restrictions Act, because the average man in the country, with money, has rightly got it into his head that once a tenant has got into your house you can never get him out of it.

Is the Deputy speaking now of country towns and not of conditions in the cities?

I am not so familiar with the conditions obtaining in the cities as I am with the conditions obtaining in rural Ireland. I am speaking of what I know by reason of personal experience. Doubtless, other Deputies who have more intimate knowledge than I of urban conditions will address the Minister on that aspect of the situation. Of course, we are all agreed that the restrictions contained in our legislation are necessary so long as a housing shortage obtains, but we are informed now that the housing shortage has been almost overcome. If not, I want to know when we may expect to have a suspension of this legislation for the reasons that I have explained.

No. 9 in the explanatory memorandum deals with "The Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing) Act, 1925." My experience of that Act in operation is that it has contributed very little indeed of value to local administration in this country. It may have been conceived and put into effect in order to remedy abuses that obtained in 1925. Of that I am not qualified to speak, because I had no experience of local administration at that time. But now I find that it is hindering the economical administration of local affairs and, further, that it is giving rise to situations that I find it very difficult to explain. Recently, a local body, of which I am a member, had before it a memorial from its county surgeon to say that he had been obliged to buy instruments from a certain person designated by the Department of Local Government and Public Health, that the instruments were no good and asking leave to order new instruments from another firm saying that he would not be responsible for the health of his patients or for the administration of his hospital if he was compelled to continue buying surgical instruments and supplies from this firm which the Department of Local Government and Public Health had appointed contractor under this Act. Well, now, either a local authority is competent to purchase its own requirements or it is not. If it is not competent to carry out the everyday contracts of purchase on behalf of the ratepayers, it ought not to be there at all, and if the Minister makes up his mind that a local authority is abusing its power in making contracts and is extravagantly expending the funds of the county, he ought to dissolve it and send down somebody who will do the job properly.

This Act does seem to me, in practice, to have been a complete failure. I raised this question last year and the Minister said that the difficulties I submitted to him had no real existence in fact. But, since, I have every reason to believe that, in practice, they do obtain, and that they do obstruct people very much indeed. There is some provision in this Combined Purchasing Act which requires that you will either buy from the firm mentioned in a list provided by the Department of Local Government and Public Health, or, that, if you purchase a trivial thing locally-made it shall not be at a price in excess of the price quoted by the contractor approved by the Department. That may sound a perfectly simple provision but, in fact, it is most unworkable because all local authorities have a series of sub-committees. Some of them are local committees concerned to look after some very small purely local undertaking, such as a waterworks or a local electrical supply installation for which the board of health is responsible. They may want in an emergency a washer for a tap or a few screws or some trifle of that nature costing, perhaps, 6d. or a 1/-. They buy it locally, and there may then arise a protracted correspondence as to whether they have not paid more to the local hardware merchant for the screws than they could have been bought at in Limerick or Cork. Time, temper and money are wasted ascertaining whether the screws should have been bought for 6d. or 4d. If the responsible official to the board of health can get going quickly enough you are prevented getting the screws until you have satisfied him that the price you propose to pay for them is in accordance with the rules laid down by the Department of Local Government and Public Health.

To my mind that is useless obstruction. It may be that we do not know what facilities the Department are prepared to place at the disposal of local authorities in matters of that kind, but, if that is the case, I invite the Minister to take this occasion, or to make the Committee Stage of this Bill the occasion, to state clearly what is the position of a local authority wishing to purchase a trivial commodity, what inquiries should first be made and what discretion vests in it as to price, conditions and so on. I also suggest to him that the time has come to dispense with the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing) Act altogether. I do not think that it has been a success. I do not think that it has saved any money and it has involved a lot of busy people in a great deal of inconvenience.

Deputy Dillon, in advocating the total removal of the existing rent restrictions, says he is doing so to encourage speculative house builders to build more houses and, incidentally, to improve the price of privately-owned house property. I am amazed that Deputy Dillon, who is generally given credit for being of a studious disposition, should display such ignorance regarding the present position of speculative house builders. If he had made any study of the operations of these individuals, particularly around our principal cities, he would have found that they were getting more out of the Housing Act of 1932 than any other section of the community. I am sure that Deputy Dillon has not studied the existing restrictions on houselords or he would not advocate the total removal of these restrictions. I had hoped, in view of the many declarations by the present Government regarding the rights of town tenants, that they would not be coming forward, after four years in office, asking us to continue in operation a measure introduced in 1923—a measure which, to the knowledge of members of the Ministry, imposes considerable hardships on the poorest section of our town tenants. I have been reliably informed—I understand that the local papers will bear me out—that President de Valera promised, at a public meeting in Castlerea, before the General Election of 1932, that one of the first Bills he would introduce would be a Bill to meet the reasonable demands of the town tenants. I was amazed to find that Deputy Cormac Breathnach, at a meeting of the Dublin Corporation less than a month ago, said that the Fianna Fáil Party had given careful consideration to the grievances of town tenants, and he regretted that the Party had decided not to have legislation introduced dealing with this matter. The Minister for Justice, in a statement issued to the "Irish Press" on Monday or Tuesday of this week, says that the Party have taken no such decision. Are we to understand from that statement that the Party have done nothing and intend to do nothing in connection with the rights of town tenants? I should like the Minister for Justice to say, when dealing with this matter later, whether it is a fact that a Committee of the Fianna Fáil Party was set up over a year ago to deal with this subject and has not, so far, made any progress. I understand that an InterDepartmental Committee has also been sitting for some time in connection with this matter. I suppose it will continue to sit until the Government goes before the electors again, when we shall probably have a repetition by the Minister for Finance and his colleagues of the promises made so far back as 1932.

Deputy Breathnach, in his speech at the Dublin Corporation, was obviously dealing with the question of the excessive rents being charged by slum landlords in the City of Dublin. He indicated that it was useless for that responsible body to appoint a deputation to interview the Minister for Justice in connection with this urgent and pressing problem. I understand that Deputy Cooney, who, I am glad, is in the House, made reference to these matters at a meeting of a Fianna Fáil branch in Dublin within the past week. I should be interested to hear from him in the House, which is the proper place for such statements, what are the Government Party intentions regarding the complaints made by his own constituents in connection with the excessive and exorbitant rents being charged by slum landlords and what he knows—if he knows anything—as to the intentions of the Government in connection with this important matter. I hope I shall not cause any annoyance to the Minister for Finance and his colleagues when I remind them that, in connection with the Landlord and Tenant Bill of 1931, he and his colleagues, who were then in opposition, moved and supported no fewer than 87 amendments. If they have forgotten all about the genuine grievances and claims of the town tenants, might I ask them to appoint some Deputy or Minister who has not much work to do to read up the discussions on that Bill and see how far they can fit in their present views with the views expressed by them on that measure.

Perhaps the Deputy would relate his views to the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act.

Perhaps he would also bring the meetings of the Fianna Fáil Party into order.

One very important section in the Rent Restrictions Act of 1923 is very unfair to town tenants. Section 2 deals with the determination of the standard rent. Any tenant who thinks that he 2is being charged an unfair rent is entitled under that section to come before the court and make the best case he can. In order to prove that he is being charged an exorbitant rent under that section, he is compelled, I understand, to produce a rent book or rent receipt or other documentary evidence showing the rent he was paying in August, 1914. A very important test case dealing with the application of that section was tried before Judge Shannon in the Circuit Court. This is known as the Donnelly case. Judge Shannon, in giving his decision against the tenant in that case, said: "Where the rent payable in August, 1914, cannot be proved, the court cannot, in my opinion, assist the tenant." He also said that he arrived at that decision with regret, and hoped that a higher court might be able to decide otherwise. I suggest to the Minister for Finance and his colleagues that cases of that type should be carefully and sympathetically considered, and that in any amending measure dealing with the Rent Restrictions Act of 1923, it should be made clear that the onus of disproving the statement regarding the rent paid in 1914 should be placed upon the landlord. The landlord must, in such cases, be in possession of documentary evidence as to the agreement arrived at with the tenant, and he should be in a position in other ways to show what rent was paid him by the tenant in occupation in August, 1914. The onus in such cases should be placed upon the landlord, because, if there are many cases similar to that decided by Judge Shannon, a great hardship is being imposed upon tenants who are being charged exorbitant rents by slum landlords and other houselords.

Another section of this Rent Restrictions Act enables, with subsequent amending Acts, landlords coming into possession of houses over a certain valuation to charge double the rent of these houses or of separate rooms in these houses. I give all the credit that is due—everybody of impartial mind will do the same—to the Minister for Local Government for the way in which the Housing Act of 1932 is being administered and for the way in which many of the slums in our cities and towns are gradually disappearing.

I would, however, warn the Minister for Local Government that new slums are being brought into existence in other parts of our cities and towns. We have houses in Baggot Street, Mount Street and other fairly respectable streets in this city, and in cities and towns throughout the country, which the owners have turned into self-contained flats, and there is no restriction whatever under existing legislation on the rents that can be charged by these new slum-owners to the tenants who must occupy these flats because they have no other suitable accommodation. I appeal to the Minister for Local Government to look into that matter because it is going to create a problem in the course of the next few years. I think that people who turn houses of £20, £30, or £40 valuation into a number of self-contained flats should be restricted in some way as regards the exorbitant rents charged by them to-day.

I understand that the Minister for Justice was good enough on a recent occasion to grant an interview to a deputation representing the town tenants' organisations. Having heard their grievances, he took up the very peculiar attitude of suggesting that these organisations should unite and submit for his consideration typical cases of hardship. Indeed he went so far as to suggest that they should submit six typewritten copies of every case of hardship they could lay their hands upon. This is a new method of discharging the responsibilities of government by pushing the responsibility on to some other body that has not the same machinery or perhaps finance at its disposal to do work which can only be done in a proper way by a Government. They are to go round this city and every other city and provincial town and pick up the story of every town tenant who thinks he has a grievance. They are to do that without having at their disposal information which only the landlord can give or be compelled to give. That is not, I suggest, a serious way of dealing with the grievances of town tenants. If there is any desire on the part of the Government to deal with the grievances of the town tenants they should make up their minds that the only people who can deal with these grievances in a proper way are the Government, who have the power to do it if they have the will to do it.

The Minister suggested that these two bodies set up a committee of five, and he said that he should be presented with a statement in writing, drawn up in suitable form and vouched for as correct by some committee representative of town tenants generally, setting out in detail, with names and addresses, exact figures and dates, a large number of cases, distributed as widely as possible over the country, which could be relied upon as typical examples of the hardships complained of. He also said that it would be well that the statement should be typewritten and that six copies should be presented. Surely no responsible Minister can suggest that bodies such as the town tenants' associations can do the work which the Minister requires to be done in this way. They have not the machinery at their disposal, even if they had the will to do it.

I cannot do better than remind the Minister and his colleagues of the promise made by President de Valera at a public meeting in Castlerea in 1932. I have reason to know, from a limited knowledge of the President's attitude in these matters, that the President is very particular about carrying out his promises, and I hope it will not be necessary for those of us who may take a passing interest in the grievances of town tenants to remind the President personally of the promise made in Castlerea in 1932. At any rate, that promise is certainly not being carried out by the attitude recently adopted by the Minister for Justice in making these suggestions to the deputation from the town tenants' associations.

I could, of course, deal with many other matters affecting town tenants contained in the measure which we are now asked to re-enact. I hope the Minister for Finance and his colleagues will not come to this House again and ask us to re-enact the powers contained in the existing Rent and Mortgage Restriction Act of 1923 and the subsequent Acts which amend in some respects that measure. I hope they will have the courage and the pluck to face up to the promise made by the President at Castlerea and realise that there are genuine grievances from which town tenants, particularly in the slums, are suffering, and that, before it becomes necessary to pass another Expiring Laws Act, a genuine Town Tenants Bill will be passed, and that, therefore, there will be no necessity in 12 months' time to re-enact a measure of this kind, which to my knowledge imposes considerable hardships on the poorer section of town tenants.

Deputy Davin has made one or two very remarkable statements. One thing he said seems to me very remarkable indeed. He called attention to the owner of a house in Mount Street, say, who has turned the house into flats and is charging any rent he likes for these flats. Deputy Davin finds very serious fault with that. Yet, some six months ago or so, when the Minister for Finance proposed that the value of such a house should be increased by 25 per cent. for income tax purposes, Deputy Davin and his leader almost went wild with annoyance.

It was the value of the newly-built houses I was dealing with.

They went into the division lobby on every occasion against this "mad proposal." It is a pity that Deputy Davin was not a bit more explicit in regard to his main grievance. Is it his proposal that every urban rent in the country should be fixed and controlled by the State? That is a pretty tall order. It would require, I should say, a tremendous extension of the Civil Service and of State activity. One would like to know if it is put forward as an item of policy by the Labour Party that that should be done. Presumably, if it is done in Mount Street, it should be done in Wicklow Street, in Rathgar, in Dun Laoghaire, in Bray, in Mallow, and all over the country. It is a pity that the Deputy did not tell us the full extent of his proposal and the lines on which he expects advance to be made.

Deputy Dillon's speech also was somewhat remarkable in the sense that he found fault with this Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act of 1923 on the ground that it had restricted speculative building. In order to make that assertion, Deputy Dillon had to pretend to be very innocent—he only knew the country; he would not attempt to speak for the cities. Of course, Deputy Dillon knows very well that for several years past speculative building has been extraordinarily active and that there can have been no restriction whatever—that this Act has had no restrictive effect so far as the principal towns in the country are concerned. Otherwise, there would not have been the great boom in speculative building that has taken place in the cities. I think, however, the Deputy is right in regard to the mere fact of there not being much building activity in country towns, whatever the reason has been. There is a great shortage of houses in a lot of our towns, and it is a curious thing that you have such a contrast between the cities and the great bulk of the country towns, that, while speculative building in the cities has been tremendously active, you have had practically nothing done in a great number of the small towns. In the town of Baltinglass, for instance, it is said that there has not been a new house built, except it was built by a public authority, for almost 100 years. Obviously, it cannot have been the Act of 1923 that prevented building there, but it would be worth while inquiring why it is that there have not been people to avail of the Government aid for building in the country towns what we might call middle-class houses.

Very many people, such as civic guards and so on—married civic guards—are often in great difficulties as to how to get a house when they are moved from one town to another. In many cases they find that no house of the kind that would suit them is ever vacant. I would not say for a moment, however, that the Act of 1923 has much to do with it, and I rather think it would be an advantage to have rents so stabilised as they are in country towns. I think nobody has much of a grievance in that connection and, so far as depriving householders of any legitimate income is concerned, it seems to be rather the other way, because wherever an agitation has sprung up in recent years in regard to rents in country towns, it has nearly always resulted in considerable concessions to the tenant. If what Deputy Dillon alleges were the case—that property owners are very severely hit by this Act—they could not afford to give the concessions they have given in very many country towns. With regard to Deputy Davin's case in connection with town tenants, I gathered from the Ceann Comhairle that it is not in order.

He did not say so.

Deputy Davin, however, has managed to say sufficient at all events to misrepresent the Minister for Justice in a very decided way. The Minister for Justice asks people to put down clearly what their proposals are, and to support their proposals with examples. That is not much for a Minister to ask a big national organisation to do.

The Minister has that information. It was furnished in the report.

When that national organisation is claiming to represent all the town tenants of Ireland, it is not too much to ask them to give the main headings of this Bill they want to have passed.

The Minister has them.

It is not too much for the Minister to say to that organisation: "Give me some examples of the grievances of your members, with which to support me in putting this Bill through." I do not think that is an unreasonable request.

He has all that information.

I am entirely sympathetic with certain grievances of the town tenants so far as they have been outlined to me, but I think that their organisation could be a lot more definite. They could get down to facts, and it seems to me, too, that a lot of the grievances of town tenants are covered by the Landlord and Tenant Act and that that organisation has never troubled to ascertain the possibilities of that Act.

What about the 87 amendments to that Act that you voted for?

That is a very cheap argument. It is unworthy of a statesman like Deputy Davin.

Oh, good Lord!

I am glad to hear, Sir, that the Combined Purchasing Act is to be made a permanent measure, and I think there will be a good deal to be said with regard to that Act when the new Bill comes along, but I gather from the Minister that it will not be exactly on the lines of the present Act. I could agree with a good deal of what Deputy Dillon said on the subject, but I think it would not be just, at the moment, to take up time discussing the existing Act, seeing that we have the promise of the Minister that it is going to be amended by a new Bill in a short time.

I should like to know if the Minister can give us some assurance on this point. There has been complaint as to the position the Government is in with regard to its work and that, at this particular time of the year, we are only meeting two days a week. The Minister indicated, in introducing this Bill, that there is certain additional legislation that it is proposed to introduce that will have the effect of removing some of the Acts from the schedule. Will the Minister assure us that these proposed measures will not be dumped down on the House in the spring, when the House is dealing with its financial business? The whole dignity and decorum of the House was destroyed and undermined and prejudiced during last spring, principally by reason of the fact that Deputies from all sides of the House felt that they were not getting a proper opportunity of dealing with the very important financial measures that were then before the House. It would be disastrous to the prestige of this House if the same thing were to be repeated in the coming spring. As the Minister has mentioned that new and important legislation is to be introduced in order to get these Bills off the schedule, I should like him to assure us that the House will not be asked to deal with these measures at a time that ought to be devoted to very important financial business.

I think I can give the Deputy that assurance. I am not in a position to say exactly what these Bills are but I think I can give the House an assurance that it will not be asked to consider these measures when, in the words of the Deputy, we ought to be concerned in dealing with very important financial business. I do not know, Sir, that there is very much for me to say on this. I think that the criticisms that have been offered of some of the measures that are included in the Bill have cancelled each other out. It is quite clear from the long speeches we heard from Deputy Dillon and Deputy Davin, in regard to the Rents and Mortgage Restriction Act of 1923, that there is a great deal to be said on either side, and I do not propose to confuse the issue by adding any remarks of mine.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 27th November.