On behalf of Deputy Sheldon I move amendment No. 2:—
In sub-section (1), lines 41 and 42, to delete the words "or to have been facilitated by any neglect on the part of".
Vol. 109 No. 4
On behalf of Deputy Sheldon I move amendment No. 2:—
In sub-section (1), lines 41 and 42, to delete the words "or to have been facilitated by any neglect on the part of".
I take it the Deputy is moving the amendment with the permission of Deputy Sheldon?
This amendment would allow a coach and four to be driven through the section so far as the corporations of the different boroughs are concerned. I suggest that the House should not accept the amendment. The section as drafted is the standard section which is inserted in Acts providing penalties for offences which may be committed by corporate bodies. It is to be found in measures such as the Shops (Conditions of Employment) Act, the Hours of Trading Act, 1938, the Emergency Powers Act, 1939, and the Supplies and Services Act, 1946. I think there is no merit in the amendment and I would ask the House not to accept it.
On behalf of Deputy Sheldon I move amendment No. 4:—
To add a new sub-section as follows:—
(3) Appeals under sub-section (2) of this section shall be made within one month of receipt of a refusal of permission and the Minister shall give his decision within three months from the receipt of such appeal.
This amendment proposes that appeals against refusals of a housing authority to allow the demolition of habitable houses or their use otherwise than as dwellings, should be made within a month of the refusal and that the Minister's decision should be given within three months of getting the appeal. At first sight, this amendment might appear to be in favour of the person concerned, the owner of the property, but I do not think it is. From his point of view, he might have a genuine grievance if he were debarred in changing circumstances from making an appeal after the expiration of one month from the making of the demolition order. We may assume that where the circumstances are such that the owner would feel that he had good ground for an appeal, he would make the appeal immediately the order was made. If, however, the circumstances should change and the case for the appeal were strengthened by the change in circumstances, the amendment in the form in which it is now proposed would debar the owner from making the appeal in the new circumstances so that, from the point of view of the owner, the amendment has not at all the merits which I am sure the drafter thought it possessed. Again it would be quite impracticable to limit the Minister's decision in a matter of this sort to three months because many inquiries may have to be made. These inquiries are as a rule made by letter and some time may elapse before the answer is procured or, indeed, becomes procurable. As the amendment stands, I submit that if the appeal were not decided within three months, then the original refusal of the demolition order would stand, so I think the amendment for these reasons should not be pressed.
I should give notice on this section that it is proposed to introduce an amendment on the Report Stage in these terms: To provide that pending the determination of an appeal by the Minister, a person shall not proceed to demolish a habitable house, in whole or in part, or use it otherwise than as a dwelling.
I should like to ask the Minister to consider excluding farm dwellings from this section because I feel they fall into a different category. The House appreciates the Minister's motives in having this section inserted, in order to ensure that houses fit for habitation will not be demolished, but farm houses, I repeat, are in a different category. A farmer may contemplate building a new house and converting his old house into an out-office. He may have actually built the new house and if he were refused permission to demolish the old house it would stand there uninhabited without being used for any other purpose.
Did I understand the Minister to say that he will bring in on the Report Stage an amendment of the amendment suggested by the Dublin Corporation?
We do not think it is necessary, but in order to make assurance doubly sure we propose to bring in an amendment.
I doubt if it is necessary.
As some doubt has arisen, we will make sure that it will not exist any longer. As regards the point raised by Deputy Hughes, I think we may assume that the housing authority, in a case of this sort, will be the county council, and we can also assume that they will not unreasonably refuse permission to demolish. Therefore, if it is proposed to convert an existing dwelling on a farm which is vacated by reason of the fact that another house has been built in substitution for it, we may assume the members of the county council, representing the rural areas, and particularly under the new Local Government Elections Bill, will not unreasonably refuse permission to demolish.
Will it be a reserved function?
It will not be a reserved function.
Then it will be the county manager.
In that case I think you may assume that the county manager also will not unreasonably refuse permission. Anyway, there is an appeal to the Minister.
And the Minister is always reasonable?
The Minister will not be unreasonable and the county managers do not like to operate too stringently any section in which an appeal lies to the Minister.
Does the Minister not think it would be desirable to have some safeguard in this section that will direct the local authority in what particular cases they ought to refuse permission for a demolition and in what particular cases they ought to grant it? I can envisage many cases in which it would be desirable to prevent the demolition of a dwelling-house. The demolition of a good house is an evil that ought to be restricted. It is one of the rights of property which, in the public interest, it might sometimes be necessary to restrict, having regard to the shortage of housing accommodation. In the case of a farmer who provides a new house, as Deputy Hughes said, it might not be desirable to prevent him from demolishing the old one.
Unless the old one happens to be reasonably habitable and could be occupied without causing too much inconvenience to the farmer. If we are to prevent owners in urban areas from demolishing houses that are habitable, or converting them to other uses, then we must put the owners of houses in the rural areas in very much the same position. We must, in connection with rural houses, pay due regard to the circumstances and the convenience of the farmer who has vacated the house. We can take that aspect into consideration, but we cannot say to the owner of a house in an urban area, who might be demolishing it to make available a more valuable building site or, by converting it, to become the owner of a very valuable hereditament: "We will not allow you to do it," while we say to the rural dweller: "If you happen to have a house in the country you can do with it what you jolly well like, whether it is habitable or not, whether it is urgently required for a dwelling-house or not, and whether it could be used as a dwelling-house without causing any grave inconvenience to the owner of the farm". That is an aspect of the matter for which we must have some regard.
There is an important issue at stake. I think the House should agree that, unless State intervention is necessary, there ought not to be any intervention. The freedom of the individual ought to operate where it is not necessary for the State to come in. Obviously it is necessary in towns and villages and districts where you have people living in close proximity to each other and where a housing problem exists. But there is no housing problem on a farm and, if a farmer builds a new house and the old one remains in his farmyard, it is hardly possible to conceive any case where you could put in a tenant in such circumstances so that there would be no interference with normal farming operations.
I am in agreement with control and intervention where that is necessary to preserve for human habitation suitable dwelling-houses and to ensure that they are not destroyed, but I think the Minister is going too far when he wants to operate that principle in rural districts where there is no housing problem or, at all events, where the same problem does not exist as in urban areas. We are now proposing, for the first time, to give a housing authority control over a farm house situated on private property, where there is no likelihood of the old house being used by another family.
In the ordinary course, conditions must be pretty bad when a farmer builds a new home. The old house is usually converted for the purpose of housing animals; it is invariably used for that purpose. My main objection is to the encroachment of the State, this interference with the individual, and the regimentation that inevitably follows from such a course. The man no longer has his freedom; he must ask some authority for permission to do something that ought to be purely his own affair. I object to this proposal on principle.
I agree with the Minister that it is unlikely that the county manager, the county council or even the Minister himself will unreasonably refuse permission, but I object to the principle that is involved. It is only where it is essential in the public interest that you should have intervention and control that we should seek such control. Where it is not necessary to have that control, we should preserve the liberty of the individual.
I am in substantial agreement with Deputy Hughes. There are cases where the public authority should intervene. For instance, a very good dwelling might have been dismantled in a county within the past few years for the purpose of utilising the building materials. The case is cited where a farmer builds a new house and is compelled to maintain the old dwelling. You have the other case where a farmer admires an outside holding on which there is a good dwelling and where it would not be in the national interest if that dwelling were demolished. There are cases in which it would be undesirable to permit demolition. A house might be on an outfarm, on a separate holding, and it could be made available by the owner for letting. It might even be desirable to insist upon him keeping the house in repair for a member of his own family.
We have a Government Department which seeks to establish new holdings and provide houses on them. I have in mind a case where the Land Commission sub-divided a holding and built three houses on it. The three holdings were sold to one man who did not reside near them. Eventually the houses were allowed to fall. That is one case which shows the manner in which this section can be ignored— that is, by permitting an owner to allow a vacant house to fall into disrepair, or assist in allowing it to fall into disrepair by removing the doors and letting live stock enter, or using it for other purposes which may tend to bring it into disrepair. There are certain cases—possibly a very restricted number— in which there should be some power in the hands of some public authority to prevent the demolition of good houses, but I think the power should be sent out in the Bill and there should not be indiscriminate use of the power by some local authorities.
So far as Dublin is concerned, it is important that this section should be retained, more particularly while the present housing shortage lasts. I had a particular case a short time ago on the north side of the city where the owner of a number of houses in a reasonably good state of repair wanted to demolish these houses and to dispossess the tenants so as to set out on some grandiose housing scheme. That would have involved an undoubted hardship for quite a number of people concerned and it was with a considerable amount of difficulty that the owner was dissuaded from his purpose. It had to be done without having the backing of the law, as is envisaged in this case. I do not know what may be the application of this provision elsewhere, but I do know from personal experience that we in Dublin welcome this section.
I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan and Deputy Cogan. Would it be possible for local authorities to purchase such houses from private owners with a view to having them put into a proper state of repair for tenants? It is unfair that a farmer should be compelled to keep a house in a proper state of repair.
A house in his yard?
On his land, on any portion of his holding outside. My suggestion is that where such houses are adjacent to the public road, the local authority be authorised, with the consent of the owner, to purchase such houses and put them into a state of good repair for tenants.
We cannot go as far as that in this Bill. Let us look at this matter in a broad way and let us not try to draw a distinction between country and town which suggests that country people and townspeople are natural enemies. If this principle is a good one in present circumstances and if it must be applied in present circumstances because of the dire housing shortage, then its application should be general because, while it is quite true that the housing situation is not as acute in the rural areas as in the urban areas, there is, neverthless, a rural housing problem as well as an urban problem. We require at least 17,000 houses in the rural parts of Ireland, and, so long as that deficiency exists, are we justified in allowing any person to demolish or convert a habitable house in the countryside while, at the same time, we would refuse the owner of that house, if it were situated in an urban area, the right to demolish it? We have to be just and we cannot make fish of one and flesh of another.
If, as everybody, including even Deputy Hughes, admits, we are justified in preventing the demolition or conversion of dwelling-houses in urban areas in present circumstances because of the housing shortage, we shall have to face up to the unpleasant fact that we must also take power to prevent the unjustifiable demolition or conversion of a habitable dwelling-house if it happens to be situated in a rural area. There is no escape from that, if we want to be just one with another, and, as Deputy Cogan and Deputy Heskin, and others who apparently take a somewhat broader view of this matter than Deputy Hughes is prepared to take, have pointed out, there are cases where houses are unoccupied which could be tenanted without causing any grave inconvenience to any person. In these circumstances, I think we shall have to apply the principle generally and rely on the good sense of the local administrators to ensure that the principle will not be abused by unreasonable application.
No person is going to take up an unreasonable attitude in relation to this matter. We do know that in the case of a residential holding, if a farmer happens to be living there, and if he has vacated the old house and built a new one immediately adjacent, probably when he set out to build that new house—with the help of a Government grant—let us not forget that—he had in mind the conversion of the old dwelling to some other use or, perhaps, its demolition and, as Deputy Hughes has told us, a farmer very seldom builds a new house unless he is unable to live with comfort or in a healthy environment in the old house. We may assume from that that he only vacates the old house when it becomes uninhabitable and, therefore, in general, the section will not apply. There may be cases, however, in which, in the public interest, it should be applied and I suggest that the power should be given to the local authority.
The Minister has overlooked the fact that there is no power to compel the owner of a house to let it and, if that sort of thing is persisted in, the house would stand empty and would not be used for any purpose. The place I envisage is the home in the centre of the farm away from the roadside. In that respect, there is no case for intervention of any sort. The old house is becoming dilapidated, the farmer is pushed financially to provide an alternative residence and obviously in that case the house is not demolished but used for the housing of animals. Why should the local authority step in and exercise any control?
Because there are selfish individuals in every community.
There is justification in the other case. The Minister has made a good case for intervention in relation to house property in urban areas, but this is an invasion of the rights, the freedom and the liberty of the individual, so far as his occupation and utilisation of land are concerned. I do not think the Minister has made any case for it. I am going a long way with the Minister in giving him power to exercise control and to ensure that a good house is not demolished, but I have suggested that that control should be exercised only where necessary and no case has been made for the exercise of that control, or for intervention, where it is not called for.
Take the case of a farmer who builds a new house and who has another house fit for habitation, provided certain repairs are carried out. Would the owner of that house, after carrying out certain repairs, qualify for a grant or will the valuation point debar him?
No. If the purpose of reconstructing the house which has been vacated is to make it habitable, to make it fit for occupation by a person of, say, the working classes, he will secure all the benefits of the reconstruction grants under this Bill.
I want to be clear on the point. Suppose a man's valuation is over £36 and he has a house suitable for habitation, after having certain repairs carried out, will he qualify for the grant in that case?
I am afraid I went rather outside. I was not quite correct there. The house would only be eligible for a grant where it was inside an urban area. It would not be eligible in a rural area, I regret to say. That suggests a frame of thought to me which I may give effect to in another Bill later. In any event, the position is that if a person allows a dwelling to fall into disrepair the local authority can compel him to put it into repair, provided it is a house which is suitable for occupation by persons of the working classes, under Section 19 of the Act of 1931.
I think Deputy Heskin's point is, can the farmer qualify in those circumstances for a second grant? Assuming he lives in the new house and reconstructs the old house to become a habitable house, can he qualify for the second grant?
I do not think so— not in those circumstances. I must confess that I am a little bit puzzled myself about this because, under Section 19 of the Act of 1931, a local authority, on representations made to it by its officers, if they are satisfied that a dwelling house which is of the type suitable for occupation by persons of the working classes is in any respect unfit for habitation, can serve upon the person having control of the house notice requiring him within such reasonable time as may be specified in the notice, to execute the work specified in the notice in order to make the house fit for human habitation.
I was under the impression that, where such notice was given, the local authority would indemnify the person in respect of some part of the cost. I may be wrong in that and therefore I may have misled the Deputy when speaking to him. However, it does appear to me that if we are going to compel the owner of a house of that type to put it into habitable condition we, perhaps, ought to try to help him to do it. The position, in any event, in relation to the general question which Deputy Heskin and Deputy Coogan have raised as to what was going to happen where a house is vacated and is being allowed to fall into disrepair is, as I have pointed out, that the housing authority has power to compel the person who owns the house to put it into habitable condition. In any event, in present circumstances, with the present housing shortage, a person who had a house which he did not want and which he was not prepared to maintain, would probably try to dispose of it and would have little difficulty in disposing of it.
Would you amend the section to the extent that local authorities could purchase such houses?
I think that would be an entirely new principle which would carry us a long way outside the ambit of this Bill and, if I were to consider that at all, I think I would want to consider it as an entirely new feature in the housing code. I could not commit myself to a principle like that in a rather extemporised discussion like this. I think, too, in relation to the whole of this matter that Deputies ought to advert to amendment No. 5 on the Order Paper, which will limit the duration of the section to the 31st December, 1950, that is to say, the section will only be operative in its present form for three years and by that time, perhaps, the position will have so much improved that we may be able to drop the provision.
We have to remember in connection with all this—and I have to say it in relation to a point which Deputy Hughes has raised—that, after all, if we are going to ask the community to help a man to build a house and if as the result of getting a grant from the State he goes out and builds a house, I think the community are quite entitled to say: "Well, if we are helping you to build a new house for yourself, we think we ought at least to allow the old house to stand to house another family that is not nearly so fortunate as you are." There must be an element of give and take in all this matter. As to the farmer about whom Deputy Hughes has been speaking, we ought to remember that he will not build a house out of his own unaided resources, that the community is coming in behind him to a very considerable extent and that, taking it by and large, there is no grave injustice done in trying to restrict his right to do what he likes with the old house, to this extent, that if it is in habitable condition it will not be demolished or will not be converted to another use as long as there is an acute need to use it as a dwelling-house. That is the position.
It may stand locked up.
On this section I want to pursue a point I have already made on Second Reading and I would again urge the Minister to consider it in some detail. First, in order to understand Section 7, one has to go back to the definition in Section 2. Again, I would draw attention to the fact that Section 2 defines a habitable house as a house which, in the opinion of a housing authority, is fit for human habitation. So, when we are dealing with any house described as a habitable house in this Bill we have to take it as a house which, in the opinion of a housing authority, is fit for human habitation. There is a question of an opinion of a local authority there first of all. I think that is a very wide discretion to give to a local authority and in practice I suppose what will happen is that the county manager will exercise that discretion. "Housing authority" has been defined but on a last analysis it comes down to the county council in most cases or the council of an urban district. I take it that this is possibly an executive function and that in actual fact it will be the county manager who will exercise it. Otherwise, I presume the whole battery of formalities will have to be complied with to have the corporate opinion of the county council on such a matter which, I understand, would not be exactly feasible or, if it were feasible, I would strongly urge on the Minister to alter it.
But, even granted that it is going to be some officer such as the county manager who will exercise that discretion, I think it is highly undesirable that the appeal from him should be to the Minister because the county manager is under the control—the very definite control—of the Minister in many respects, and there is only a show of an appeal in such provisions. The Minister's decision can be final. For that reason, I would again urge on the Minister the desirability of considering an appeal provision in the case of such a section as this as is provided in Section 27 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1931.
I am not so much concerned with the demolition provisions because it will be only in exceptional circumstances that the demolition provisions will be invoked and the demolition of a house is a sufficiently big thing to draw such attention as will give it publicity and prevent any injustices. Though I sympathise completely with the Minister on his intention—and I hope he understands that my criticism is directed towards helping him to achieve the end he wishes—the part of this section I do not like in its present wording is where it says "in whole or in part or use otherwise than". The words "use otherwise than" can cover a multitude of matters. A general power—which admittedly gives the Minister the power he seeks, but which, I am afraid, gives him a great deal more power than the power which he overtly seeks here before us—coupled with the provisions which gives the county manager discretion to decide, coupled with the provision that the only appeal therefrom is to the Minister, makes this section much more sweeping than he intends. Whereas I am quite prepared to take from the present Minister the assurance that he does not intend to do more than he says, on principle I think it is bad to legislate in this way on such open terms, which conceivably at a later stage of our history might do damage. It is better for us to be explicit in our legislation. I have not put down an amendment, but I would ask the Minister to modify the words "use otherwise than as a dwelling-house".
Take the case of a professional man who is a local doctor and who uses his house as a place from which he operates his business, he has a surgery and he sees his private patients there and might even perform small operations there. Take the case of many country solicitors who have offices in various towns, but who may have, in their own private house, what amounts to a local office. Take the case of many commercial travellers who would have some of their wares in the house. These cases, within the strict wording of the section as it stands, could be held to be using the premises otherwise than as a dwelling-house and therefore it would be competent to have the permission therefor refused. It would be competent for a county manager to say: "No, you may not do your solicitor's business in the house"; or "You may not have your surgery in that house and may not see your patients there"; or "You may not keep your samples in that house and may not have a typist there to look after your correspondence."
That illustration in itself is sufficient to show the danger of the section, as worded. We all sympathise—at least I do—with the Minister and we approve wholeheartedly of what he wants to do. He wants, first of all, to prevent demolition. That is clear. There is no danger, so let the county council or county manager decide that, with an appeal to the Minister in each case. My objection there is on principle rather than in apprehension of results. What I do not like is the one provision about "use of house". Many of us who carry on our business partly in our houses might suddenly find ourselves confronted with such a decision, which would be, in the last analysis, completely at the whim of the people given that power.
I would ask the Minister, purely as a matter of drafting, first of all, to modify that all too sweeping phrase, "or use otherwise than as a dwelling-house" and to define precisely what he means in his own mind; and, secondly, that on the question of appeal, the appeal should be to an independent judicial tribunal as was provided in the 1931 Act. Again I am not worried on the demolition question. Those are single big acts that will get publicity, where nothing can go wrong; but in that case an appeal to an independent tribunal is again essential. Therefore, both on the principle in general and on the potentialities of the particular section itself, I think the terms of the section—notwithstanding the Minister's amendment, which brings in a compulsory review in 1950—deserve reconsideration and the Minister would be well advised to reconsider the drafting. What he wishes to do is perfectly clear and legitimate, but these things take on a different complexion when they are considered purely as questions of law.
First of all, I wish to join with Deputy O'Sullivan in an expression of appreciation for the introduction of this section in the Housing Bill. We in Dublin appreciate it very much, for the reason that there have been so many evictions brought about as a result of the demolition and conversion of various kinds of houses. I suggest to the Minister that in the case of this appeal, which has been dealt with on the same lines by Deputy de Valera, there should be some provision to prevent demolition pending the determination of the appeal by the Minister, so that a person shall not proceed to demolish in whole or in part any such premises or use them otherwise than as a dwelling-house.
Notwithstanding the legal approach to this matter which Deputy de Valera has made, I think we must look at it as practical men of affairs who have to deal with a very practical problem. If we were to concede the principle which the Deputy has urged, we should find ourselves from an administrative point of view in a completely impossible position, since we should deny the utility of an appeal to a Minister in any circumstances in relation to any statute. We should say that, where a local authority performs an executive function which seems to militate against the private interest of any individual, the only appellate tribunal open to him would be the courts of the land and not, as hitherto has been the case in matters of administration, the Ministerial and responsible head of the Department concerned. I think that would make normal administration in this country quite impossible, as everybody would have the right of appeal to the district justice, to the Circuit Court or High Court.
So far from the aggrieved person being benefited, he would probably find himself at a very great disadvantage. Whatever may be said about the merits or demerits of an appeal to a Minister, at least it is a cheap and comparatively expeditious procedure. In general it does not cost the appellant anything more than the time taken by himself to state the grounds of his appeal and the cost of a postage stamp. It could be far otherwise if the appeal had to be carried to the Circuit Court. There he would, of course, have to appear in due form, represented by a counsel, instructed by a solicitor, and pay all the expenses incidental to the litigation. If we were to accept as an established fact the principle that there is no reality—that is what underlies the suggestion—in an appeal to a Minister, we should apply it in relation to every other provision in every other statute enacted or adopted by our legislature in which a similar right of appeal is given.
Deputy de Valera is under a complete misapprehension as to the position of the county manager. County managers are not the officers of the Minister. The county manager is the officer and servant of his local authority. He is there as the executive officer of that authority; he is there to exercise the executive functions of that authority, and it is to that authority, and not to the Minister, that the county managers are responsible. They are, in certain circum- stances, responsible to the Minister. If the Minister, having held an inquiry, is satisfied that their administration has been mal-administration, if he is satisfied that their acts have been ultra vires the law, then, of course, he may deal with them by suspending them or by dismissing them.
Similarly, if the local authority are satisfied that the manager's administration is not what it ought to be, and has not been in the best interests of the ratepayers, they may, by resolution, suspend him, and may ask the Minister to confirm that; but the manager is the officer of the local authority. He does not take orders from the Minister and, wherever it is possible, I have reprimanded those managers who have not been prepared to accept and to discharge fully the responsibilities of their office, and who have tried to constitute themselves officers of the Minister. We do not want that type of county manager. The man who acts thus, in my opinion, is not fit for his job, and that has been conveyed very forcibly to the existing body of county managers. Nor, is it true to say either, that an appeal from the manager, or from the local authority, to the Minister is a mere formality. There must be Deputies — members of local authorities — who have knowledge of town-planning cases, and of other cases, where an appeal has been taken from the decision of the county manager to the Minister, and they must be well aware of the fact that the appeal has been upheld, and the decision of the County Manager reversed by the Minister. There must be Deputies sitting on all sides of the House who are members of local authorities and who must know that to be a fact.
Therefore, I think it is quite wrong to try to create the impression in the public mind that the right of appeal which is given in this section, and the rights of appeal which are given in other statutes, are mere formalities, put in there more or less to hoodwink and deceive the public. That is not so. I would like to hope that no Deputy is under any illusion as to what the real position is. When the Minister approaches these cases— many of them come up for personal Ministerial decision — he realises that he, in fact, is in the last resort the guardian of the rights of the individual citizen and that, if there is any doubt in the matter, so far as this Minister is concerned at any rate, it is the individual citizen who will get the benefit of the doubt. I think, judging by what I have seen of the decisions of my predecessors, that is the general principle upon which Ministers act. We realise that appeal provisions of this sort are inserted in statutes primarily for the protection of individuals, to ensure that no injustice is done to them and, therefore, unless it is quite clear that the public interest is the paramount and predominating interest and must prevail on its merits, not merely of its nature——
Will the Minister relate that to demolition?
Certainly. What I am saying is highly relevant to the case which Deputy Hughes has been making. I am pointing out that if an appeal comes to the Minister under this section——
From the county manager.
We are talking about an appeal to the Minister. I am sure the county managers would also act reasonably, but if they do not, and an appeal is taken to the Minister, I am pointing out here that, in my view at any rate, it is the Minister's duty first of all to consider it judicially, and if there appears to be a complete balance of interest then, since a decision must be given one way or the other, I think that the rights of the individual should prevail. The position, so far as I am concerned, is that if there is an equal balance of merit and a decision has to be given one way or the other, then in my view, by reason of the fact that an appeal provision is put into the statute for the protection of the rights of the individual, the Minister must decide in favour of the individual. Therefore, an appeal from the county manager or from the local authority is a reality and is not, as Deputy de Valera has suggested, a mere formality put in to copper-fasten the decision of the local authority.
I think, furthermore, that Deputy de Valera's apprehensions in regard to the wording of Section 7 are not justified by experience. In the explanatory memorandum it was pointed out that what was being done here was to revive certain powers which were vested temporarily in local authorities by Section 6 of the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919. That is to say, there is nothing novel being done under this section. The fact is, so closely does this section correspond with the provisions of the Act of 1919, that exactly the same words have been used: that is to say, we have the same phrase "in whole or in part or use otherwise than as a dwelling-house". The phrase which is to be found in Sections 7 and 8 of this Bill is to be found in precisely the same terms, with one minor exception, in the Act of 1919. In the Act of 1919 we have the same phrase —"in whole or in part"— the only difference is that where we use the singular they use the plural —"or uses otherwise than as a dwellinghouse". Now, there have been no cases, so far as I know, or at any rate very few cases, in which there have been appeals under the Act of 1919. After all, we have to assume that, as we would act reasonably in our everyday affairs, so would authorities who are entrusted with the administration of a provision of that sort act reasonably. They sometimes, I concede, may not, but in general they do. We know that hard cases make bad law. We cannot legislate just simply for the hard case or for the abuse of authority. We are legislating here for a position which is very general; we are legislating for a position which has to be dealt with expeditiously because, as has been pointed out by those concerned with that position and with the state of affairs as it exists in Dublin, the Corporation of Dublin have been presented with an aggravation of their housing difficulties by reason of the fact that people have been demolishing dwelling-houses or converting them to other uses.
As I said, we have to take these powers and give the authority and power to prevent that sort of thing. Having put a general stopper on it, if any person who wants to do it is prevented unreasonably and appeals to the Minister to be allowed to do it, if he wishes to do it reasonably in the existing circumstances, he will be permitted. I suggest that we cannot assume in view of the history of this type of legislation that it is going to be abused now or in the future. I do not believe that anybody will say that it has been abused in the past.
Before I pursue these points further, I would like to make it quite clear that I am in complete agreement with the Minister's intentions on this section. I agree, however, with other Deputies that while the prevention of demolition is highly desirable, the county manager and the Minister, under the County Managerial Acts and the structure of the local government law, are cogs in one administrative machine. Whatever the formal relationship of the county council may be, the manager is independent in a number of his functions of the county council. He is answerable to the Minister through the prevalent condition in Local Government Acts that the sanction of the Minister must be obtained and that many matters are subject to the sanction or approval of the Minister. According to the Managerial Act, whatever the formality the county manager is explicitly independent of the county council. Those are the facts. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong but I am arguing on principle that it would be desirable to make the appeal independent of the administrative machine. I do not want to be misunderstood and I am not in any way disputing what the Minister has said, but on principle I would like to see an independent appeal. In regard to the mechanism of appeal the Minister by the very words he uses "may come for personal Ministerial decision" betrays the weakness inherent in it. "May come" but why not all? For the reason that so many of those people are not included. This appeal is therefore exercised, as far as the public is concerned, by an anonymous civil servant. I cannot see anything wrong in the system as it is worked, but time goes on and the principle is wrong and I think in a situation like that that the machinery provided under Section 27 of the old Housing Act is preferable. Let us take the facts at their face value.
The real point of the difficulty is "may come for personal Ministerial decision". Appeals are multiplied not only under the new section but under the old Acts providing for Ministerial appeal. If the Minister is going to deal with them all in that way there are bound to be delays and I am informed that even at present the Department has difficulty in dealing with the appeals which come in. There is going to be no choice in the matter of expedition as between the appeal to a court or to the Minister. The only way that the Minister could speed matters, when the number of appeals does multiply, would be to divide them among the officers in the Department, and that, I think, would be objectionable. I am taking this opportunity of bringing up the principle on this Bill. I have nothing to say in regard to demolition.
Now, in regard to abuse, I agree with the Minister that nothing has happened up to date, but time goes on and circumstances change in regard to the interpretation of the law. The danger in making legislation like this is that it opens up the way later to tighter controls. The fact that there has been no abuse up to date is not, to my mind, a sufficient safeguard for the future. Here is a case in which I would be definitely apprehensive. Suppose that you have an area in the City of Dublin where the housing problem is acute and where the housing authority is trying — as they have been in many cases — to get people into every room and to use all the available floor space. Now there is a serious temptation for a commercial or professional man, who is using his dwelling in part only, to make the other part available for housing. Would that temptation be resisted? The Minister has said that no such situation was intended. Again, I repeat that my criticism is directed to the question of draftsmanship. I am not contesting what the Minister says.
In fact I am in complete agreement with him.
On the question of appeal — and here I am thinking of legislation in general — it would be wiser, in my opinion, to make use of the judicial machinery which is already in the State rather than to hamper the Administration by giving it a judicial function which it could not discharge any more expeditiously than the courts, if the volume of appeals is increased.
At the outset I suggested that the Minister's powers which are to be exercised under this section should be defined. Everything which Deputy de Valera said confirms definition of those powers. "Coming events cast their shadows before" and the Deputy's speech would appear to me to be a sort of practice, or rehearsal, for his position as an active Opposition Deputy. He certainly has put the case against the managerial system very precisely.
There is no use in going into the whole managerial system now.
The county manager is a cog in the administrative machine.
He is the whole works.
He may be the whole works in regard to the local authority but he is a cog in the State machine. As a cog he may — and does occasionally — grind the unfortunate grain which happens to be the citizen and we should not be altogether at the mercy of this cog.
From my personal experience, I agree with Deputy de Valera against the Minister and I think that the Minister appealed to Deputies who had experience in local administration. It is perfectly true that the county manager in his executive functions is largely independent of the local authority. The local authority only provides the necessary finances and the manager has the power to expend them provided that he expends them under the proper sub-heading for which they are provided. The Minister knows that very well. The manager is a servant of the Minister and carries out the Minister's policy. In this particular matter, as far as demolition is concerned, if an appeal went to the Minister the Minister would be almost certain to sanction the decision of the manager because the manager would be carrying out the Minister's policy. I think that a very good case has been made by Deputy de Valera to have the appeal to an independent tribunal. That should be a part of the machine.
There would not be very much difference in a managerial decision and a Ministerial decision because they would both be part of the scheme. We are all aware of the fact that managers are occasionally called to the Custom House. There they get full information about Ministerial policy. That is why I say they are carrying out the Minister's policy. In this particular matter the manager would be carrying out the Minister's policy. There might be an issue as to whether the demolition of a particular house would be advantageous or beneficial to a district from the local point of view. The county manager would be concerned with pleasing the Department and the Minister. That would be his first concern and, in that respect, he would carry out the policy of the Minister. An impartial decision on an appeal in such a case could not be given so far as the Minister is concerned. He could not turn down his manager if the manager was carrying out his policy. From my experience I agree 100 per cent with what Deputy Major de Valera has said.
Question —"That Section 7 stand part of the Bill"— agreed to.
I move amendment No. 5:—
In page 5, after sub-section (2) to add the following new sub-section:—
(3) This section shall continue in force until the 31st day of December, 1950, and shall then expire.
This amendment would limit the duration of the section to the 31st December, 1950.
I move amendment No. 6 which stands in the name of Deputy Sheldon:—
To add a new sub-section as follows:—
(3) Every Order made by the Minister under sub-section (2) of this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling such Order is passed by either House within the next subsequent 21 days on which such House has sat after such Order is laid before it, such Order shall be annulled accordingly without prejudice to anything previously done under such Order.
On the general principle it is desirable that in the case of any Orders of this kind which are of far-reaching importance the House should have an opportunity of voting on them at an early date.
I am prepared to accept this amendment.
I move amendment No. 7:—
In sub-section (1), page 5, line 42, to delete "the owner of premises" and substitute "a person" and to delete "the" immediately after "permit".
This is merely a drafting amendment.
I move amendment No. 8, which stands in the name of Deputy Sheldon:—
In sub-section (4), line 2, to delete the word and figures "July, 1948" and substitute the word and figures "January, 1949".
I could not accept this amendment. It would mean that the exercise of the powers of tenement control would not come into effect until January, 1949. This would give a waiting period of a year instead of six months, as in the Bill. The Dublin Corporation, who are very intimately and grievously concerned, would object to deferring tenement control for a longer period.
When this scheme becomes law, all flats will be subject to the control of the local authority, or the housing authority, as it is described. Unless the flat or flats comply with any recommendations or directions the authority may make, so far as alterations or repairs are concerned, the person occupying the flat, or the owner, may be ordered to comply with the directions given or else permission may be refused to use the flat as a flat. There is, at the present time, a great shortage of building materials and a shortage of skilled labour. Builders in general find it difficult to get either materials or labour to carry out repair work. It is common knowledge that builders prefer, at the present time, to do construction work. In fact very many of them will not undertake repair work. There is so much construction and house building work available that they are obliged to deal with the big work and to leave repairs on one side. Consequently, a number of people find it extremely difficult to get repairs of any kind carried out.
Under Sections 11 and 12 unless these repairs are carried out, and unless the owner or occupier complies with the instructions of the local authority, he may find himself dispossessed. I think some safeguard should be provided whereby a person who complies with certain minimum requirements should not be obliged to carry out repairs which may not be strictly necessary and which, while desirable in normal circumstances, cannot in view of the present position be reasonably expected from people. The people should not be put to the trouble, particularly during the present acute shortage of houses and flats, of seeking alternative accommodation. I would ask the Minister to consider a safeguard whereby, unless the flat is either uninhabitable or does not comply with the sanitary by-laws, no such alterations or repairs should be demanded.
I have some remarks to make, additional to those made by Deputy Cosgrave, on Section 11. I want to refer to a point which I indicated generally to the Minister on the Second Reading of this Bill. Parsing sub-section (1) of Section 11 as it stands in the Bill we have: "After the coming into operation of this section"— that is, after the Act is passed —"the owner of a premises shall not permit the premises to be used as a tenement house." The Minister's amendment to that is, "a person," apparently, line 42, page 5. That really means that a person shall not permit the premises to be used as a tenement house, whether or not the premises were so used at such commencement or were previously so used without the permission, in writing, of the housing authority in whose functional area the premises are situate.
In other words, a tenement house shall not be used as a tenement house, where it was so used before, after the passing of this Act, without the permission of the housing authority. I think that is a fair construction of the section. That is plainly what it means. Therefore, let us take a case which I can conceive of as being anything but an exception. We have a number of houses in Dublin at the moment which are sub-divided into flats or rooms. They are tenements — they are used as tenements. Being used as a tenement at the moment, in many cases the flats are apportioned and they have the protection of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1946. In other words, we have a house that is used as a tenement, occupied by tenants who are protected by the Rent Act and who, under the authority of the Rent Act, 1946, are entitled to retain possession of their rooms and flats as against all comers, including the Minister for Local Government. Now what happens? The housing authority refuses permission, for some reason or other, to the person or the owner — because in my humble submission that is what the section means and, if that had been used, it would have made the section a little bit clearer. Probably what the Minister means is the landlord.
It might be a tenant in defiance of a covenant with the landlord.
The owner or occupier.
In one case it would be the owner. In the hypothetical case which I am making it would be the landlord. He is refused permission to let his tenement in flats. If he is refused permission, he is liable to a penalty. The only way in which he can avoid that penalty is by taking steps to render that house no longer a tenement house: he can do that by clearing out his tenants. But by another Act, piloted through this House by the Minister for Local Government, the tenants can say: "We are staying here", and here is this landlord or owner caught between two fires. He is liable under the Housing Act to a fine and he cannot get himself out of his difficulty by another Act. I have mentioned this point before. I mention it again now. It is more than an academic point. It ties up with what Deputy Cosgrave has said. Under Section 7 the housing authority can refuse permission. The housing authority may in its absolute discretion from time to time refuse permission for the purposes of Section 11 of this Act. There is not even an appeal to the Minister. There is absolute discretion and the word "absolute" there means — the housing authority in Dublin would be the city manager, if I interpret this aright— that the city manager can in his absolute discretion, with no appeal to the Minister or to any other tribunal, decide that a house let in tenements shall not be so let in the future, and refuse his permission. I am not suggesting that that absolute authority would be wrongly used. Under sub-section (2) of Section 12 a housing authority granting permission may attach all or any of certain conditions to that permission — a condition as to repair, the number of dwellings, the maximum number of persons, and so on.
It is quite certain that in the interests of sanitation the city manager, acting bona fide in pursuance of the powers conferred on him, would in the City of Dublin refuse permission in the case of a number of tenants. That is one condition under this section. I would ask the Minister then what is the position of the owner. He seems to be forced into the automatic position of incurring the penalties provided by sub-section (2). I think that is a serious thing for Dublin as a whole because a tenement house is actually defined in that section as a premises let in parts to two or more tenants. That certainly covers flats. A serious case occurs where you have overcrowding in certain slum areas, but they are protected. I can quite conceive of cases arising under town planning where the town planning authority may say that they object to certain residential houses in the suburbs being let into small flats. We know that the town planning authority objects to that practice. There again the permission would be refused. Whether the owner or landlord was personally responsible he would immediately find himself up against that refusal of permission and would be quite impotent to do anything about it. He could not remove his tenants because they would be protected by the 1946 Act. The 1946 Act virtually applies to all premises except a few specified in Section 2 of that Act. It applies to all houses erected before the 7th May, 1941, except for certain furnished lettings.
There is only one possible loophole. Under Section 37 something might conceivably be worked in there. The landlord might find some ground detailed in Section 37 for an order of ejectment and the court would probably consider ejectment reasonable in such a case. But I think it is much too chancy to rely on that. The conflict to which I draw the Minister's attention is likely to be a very real one. It cannot be met by amendment or by deleting "whether or not the premises are so used" at the commencement, or "were previously so used." Even if you wipe out that retrospective provision and make it prospective the difficulty still remains. You might have a case where a house is permitted to be let in flats, and where at one stage that permission was desirable but at a subsequent stage undesirable. The problem arises there.
I would ask the Minister to avoid that anomaly. If the provisions of this section are put into effect I would ask the Minister to do something to nullify that conflict. Naturally enough we are all desirous to avoid slumdom in the future but at the moment in the City of Dublin there is a very serious housing deficiency. The Rent Act of 1946 throws the owner or landlord of premises into an utterly impossible position. I would ask the Minister to do something to avoid that without, of course, defeating the object he has in mind.
I want to bring to the Minister's notice the fact that the Dublin Corporation are very vitally interested in sub-section (3) of Section 11 in so far as the definition on the Order Paper goes. They are afraid that as it now stands it will lead to a certain amount of confusion in administration in the future. Because of the housing shortage families are moving out from the centre of the city. There is no longer room for them in the city and they are moving out into the suburbs. They are large families. Simply because they are not in houses scheduled as tenements the local authority is precluded from housing them even though overcrowding definitely exists. At every other meeting of the Housing Committee of the Dublin Corporation some member brings up a case in a particular area where a family of five, six or seven children are housed in one room. Because they are not within the regulations in so far as tenements are concerned, the corporation is precluded from housing them. They would lose the subsidy. I would be quite satisfied, and so would the corporation, if that definition is made of general application so that families, no matter where they are, if they are overcrowded in the same way as they are in purely tenement areas, will come within the scope of the section and the local authority will be in a position to house them without loss of subsidy.
I think that what is wrong with sub-section (3) of Section 11 is that it is intended to apply to tenement houses but that under this definition flats are also included. I do not think the Minister intends that flats should be licensed or that they should come in the same category as tenement houses. I do not believe that the Minister cannot find a definition which would exempt flats from the provisions of this section and yet give the corporation what they want.
It is absurd to say that a flat which may be let at a higher rent than the rent of the house itself is to be rated and come under the same regulations as a tenement house. I believe that if the Minister thought over the matter between this and the Report Stage he could bring in a definition which would put flats outside the scope of this section. There is no doubt that the provision of flats has tended to relieve some of the acute housing shortage in the cities. Fourstorey houses which are far too big for an ordinary family nowadays are being turned into three or four flats, each storey becoming practically a self-contained flat. I suggest to the Minister that that is a desirable provision and I do not see why such a house should come under the definition of a tenement house.
I should like to reinforce what some of the previous speakers have said about a person who finds that he is the owner of a tenement or a person who has allowed a house to become a tenement house without a licence from the housing authority. Very many houses in the City of Dublin have become tenement houses absolutely against the wishes of their owners. Coming along to a house which is occupied by several families and saying to the occupants: "No authority has been given by the local housing authority for this to become a tenement house and you will all be evicted," is something that just cannot be permitted to occur in present-day circumstances. One could bring the Minister round and show him houses which are in process of decay. When a house has got to a certain stage of decay, some person is left in charge. Sometimes that person occupies a certain portion of the house and sometimes he does not. The house is let to some person who proceeds to let other people into it. One would want a private detective force going round these houses continually to detect what houses have become tenement houses. I do not think that the Minister or the corporation can do away with this practice.
For instance, it is well known to everybody that the Dublin Corporation themselves are in difficulties with tenants and, with the housing shortage as acute as it is, apparently no power can prevent a parent, say, from taking in a married daughter or son into his house, or in other cases, where a person's means are very attenuated, letting a single room in a dwelling to another person who will practically pay the entire rent of the premises. I think the Minister ought to become a realist and try to bring in some definition which will exclude flats but include tenement houses. I make him a present of his efforts to prevent houses becoming tenement houses. I only wish to join in the protest made by previous speakers in regard to the luckless individual who is in charge of a premises and who is presented with a fait accompli and is then hailed before some court for allowing something to occur which occurs naturally.
I suggest to the Minister that this section would be all right if the date at the end of it were changed. Everybody would agree with the principle of it if there were sufficient premises available to house the people who may be dispossessed if the housing authority attempts to enforce its rights. There must be many thousands of ordinary semi-detached houses in Dublin, apart from tenement houses, where the owners have rented a flat to enable them to pay the expenses of the house. All such houses will be affected by this section. I can foresee great difficulty if owners of houses are told that they cannot any longer have a sub-tenant in a flat.
The question will arise: where are the people in these houses to go? It is well known that there is not even one vacant room in the City of Dublin at present. I can see that there will be great inconvenience caused to people generally if this section is properly enforced after the 1st July, 1948. If the date were left open and it was stated that the section would come into force on such date as the Minister may appoint, I think that would meet the case.
I also suggest that there should be a right of appeal to the Minister similar to the right contained in Section 7. It is giving too much discretion altogether to the housing authority to give it an absolute right to decide when premises can be used for more than one dwelling. In order to safeguard both the occupiers and the owners who may suffer loss and inconvenience, I suggest that the Minister should include a sub-section giving a right of appeal to the Minister similar to the right of appeal under Section 7.
I agree with what the other speakers have said. From the point of view of the Dublin Corporation, unless this section is altered considerably to define exactly what a tenement is and to make a distinction between what is commonly known as a tenement — namely a house which is occupied by many families in a poor district — and the definition given in sub-section (3) of this section, the job that the Dublin Corporation will have to do will be nearly impossible. They will have to compile a register giving particulars of every house in the City of Dublin which is occupied by more than one family. Under this section a house which is occupied by only two families will be a tenement.
I do not know whether any local authority working over a large area, such as Dublin Corporation, will really be able to carry out that work in an efficient manner. I think we shall have the unfortunate experience of finding that, immediately this Bill has gone through, it in fact will never be put into operation because it simply cannot be put into operation. The whole section bristles with difficulties. Another difficulty, what I might call a contingent difficulty in large areas, is to know who is a member of the working-class or what rent such a person should pay in connection with sub-section (2).
Might I suggest to the Minister that where a family is residing in a house, not described as a tenement, and paying perhaps 30/- for one room in an outlying district, he should withdraw the ban on such a person getting a corporation house merely because he is not in a house described as a tenement? A number of cases of that type come before the corporation. A young married couple with one, two or three children occupy a room in a house because the owner of the house let it to them through kindness or was compelled through financial circumstances to let the room. The room is let at £1 or 30/- a week, and the young people who occupy it eventually apply to the corporation for a cottage or other accommodation. Although they occupy only one room, because the house is not described as a tenement, they are not permitted to come under the various headings which would qualify them to get a corporation house. How this section will be worked I do not know. Whether it is that the corporation will not get a subsidy if they give a house to such a person I cannot say. The point I want to make clear is that where a young couple are paying say 30/- a week for a room in an ordinary house, because it is not described as a tenement, an application from them for a new house cannot be considered by the corporation. I appeal to the Minister to withdraw that ban.
The section, as amended, now reads:
"After the coming into operation of this sub-section, a person shall not permit the premises", etc.
I should like an explanation from the Minister as to who is "a person". Is it the owner, the occupier or a person passing down the street?
It is the person who permits this thing to be done.
It does not say so.
Of course, it does. It is a general prohibition.
It is sometimes done without the knowledge of the owner.
Precisely. The tenant may act without the permission of the landlord.
It is done in many cases in spite of him.
If a person in occupation of a house under any agreement of tenancy permits the house to be used as a tenement, in the sense that he encourages it, he allows it.
It does not say the person in occupation.
The owner may permit it. This phrase will include the tenant as well as the landlord. If the tenant does it, with or without the knowledge of the landlord, the tenant will be liable. The landlord may be in England or at the other end of the globe. He may not be in a position to enforce his agreement with the tenant. If the tenant in accordance with the agreement or in violation of it——
Is that not taking place every day in the week?
Of course it is and that is what we want to stop.
But you will not stop it.
We shall try to.
If the Minister says that that is the effect of this section I shall accept that statement.
Accepting that from the Minister that it is the person who permits the thing to be done, whether it is the tenant who is subletting or whether it is the landlord who is letting his house into flats, that is all right, but what about the case of the man who has done that before the passing of this Bill? What about certain people who have already done it, and who have already, as far as the actual act of commission is concerned, committed an offence?
It is no offence yet.
"After the coming into operation of this section a person shall not permit a premises to be used as a tenement house, whether or not the premises are so used at such commencement or were previously so used." That house is already occupied by these flat dwellers, these protected tenants. The act is already done. When this Act comes into operation, he is already permitting these people to reside there because he cannot do otherwise. It is a continual permission. You cannot interpret that word "permit" in different ways. It would always be interpreted as the first act of permitting. Within the meaning of the section, it is permitting the occupation of the flat as a tenement, in spite of a refusal of permission and he is powerless to discontinue that permission. I see what the Minister is going to say. He is going to say that he is continuing this permission no longer because he is in actual fact coerced.
If that is what is in the Minister's mind, I think it should be made clear because where you leave two statutes in conflict, such as these statutes are, you are leading the way to trouble. If that is what the Minister wants to do he should incorporate in the Bill a provision withdrawing the protection of the Rent Restrictions Act from tenants in cases where this permission has been refused. If that is done, however, it opens up immense possibilities. It is giving a right of appeal under the Housing Acts to a local authority. In my humble submission, this whole section needs reconsideration. Interpretation will be rendered a little more difficult in view of the fact that there is an explicit reference to the Rent Restrictions Act in Section 13 in the draft Bill, but the Minister now proposes to delete that section and he provides a definition under Section 13 which is on all fours with the definition in the Rent Restrictions Act, with the significant exception or modification that the determining authority is the housing authority. Instead of the opinion of the court it is now the opinion of the housing authority. That should be taken into consideration on the question of the construction of the statute. I think there is a potential conflict between the two statutes, and that should be dealt with by the House.
In order to do what the Minister intends, in a straightforward way, we should incorporate a sub-section in Section 11 pointing out that, upon the refusal of permission, the protection afforded by the Rent Restrictions Acts in regard to recovery of possession is withdrawn and shall not apply. That would be the direct and proper way of doing what the Minister intends. But I would even object to that, too, because it brings in the whole question of how a housing authority could be used to get over the Rent Restrictions Acts. In order to evade their provisions it would only be necessary to make an application to the housing authority and manoeuvre it so that in Dublin the county manager in his absolute discretion would refuse. For that reason that direct method of approach to the section is dangerous.
I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter. It is by no means clear that there is protection for the unfortunate landlord who has, so to speak, already committed the offence, and there will be any amount of potential trouble in the courts later between the two Acts.
To deal with the simpler issues first, I think the apprehensions which Deputy O'Sullivan expressed on behalf of the Dublin Corporation as to the effect of sub-section (3) of the section are not very well founded. The definition of "tenement house" is confined to the section and it does not affect the definition which appears in any other statute or regulation.
That is the definition given now?
Yes. It relates only to the purposes of this section and does not go outside that. It does not amend or alter any definition of "tenement house" which may be embodied in any other statute or regulation. Therefore, I think the apprehensions or fears of the Dublin Corporation in respect of that are not well founded.
As to the point made by Deputy Dockrell, Senior, about the unfairness of applying the term "tenement house" to better-class dwellings, which are generally described as flats, I am prepared to go into that. The problem of finding a definition which would cover our whole purpose has given us great concern. We devoted a great deal of attention to it, but we have not been able to find anything so comprehensive as the term we have used here. You could not use "apartment house" and I do not think we could use "a house already used for flats".
In order to meet that particular point, we shall have this matter examined again to see whether we cannot, so far as the definition of the premises to which these sections are intended to apply is concerned, get one more generally acceptable than the term used here. Even if we do reexamine this question of the designation of the premises, it will still be necessary to exercise control over the creation of flats and over the conversion of dwelling-houses into flats in Dublin City. Very often a flat is a half-way house to a tenement. A district, the houses in which have been converted in an improvised, hurried and unsatisfactory way into flats, very quickly degenerates into a slum. That is an aspect we cannot lose sight of.
Another thing we must face up to is that we cannot just discuss these problems in an abstract way; we cannot discuss these sections in that form. We have to relate them to the very serious problem which exists in Dublin — the slum problem — and we have to bear in mind the manner in which these slums came into existence. They were brought into existence in two ways: first of all, the pressure of persons who were without accommodation looking for accommodation, and then, again, the pressure of economic circumstances upon other people who happened to have accommodation which they found too large for their requirements or too expensive for their incomes. It was in that way, through the operation of these two factors, that our present Dublin slums were created.
We have exactly these circumstances beginning to operate. We have many districts which, prior to the war, were first-class residential districts, rapidly losing their character in that regard, and we find houses formerly in the occupation of one family now being adapted for the occupation of other families. We are, in fact, in the first stage in the development of new slum districts in Dublin. Unless we do something to curb and check that, we shall have as extensive slums in our first-class residential districts as we have already in those quarters of our city which were the residences of the governing classes 120 or 130 years ago. We shall reproduce in the suburbs of this city perhaps the same conditions as exist to-day in the very heart of the city. It is in order to prevent that development, if we can, that these sections have been introduced. You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs——
It is very nice when you are not the egg.
——but, when a public purpose has to be served, and when a social problem of this magnitude has to be dealt with, I do not think we can allow our judgment to be entirely overborne by our sympathy for the egg, no more than the Deputy would regard the hen as a bereaved mother when he was eating her off-spring, even in the form of an egg.
A very biological kind of argument.
The position is, of course, a very difficult one by reason of the fact, as Deputy Cosgrave and Deputy de Valera pointed out, that the problem we are trying to deal with has already developed to a very great extent and many houses which were not designed for the purpose of being utilised as flats have been converted into flats. Some of them have been converted much more skilfully than others, but, in any event, there has been an element of improvisation in relation to the whole, and attempts have been made to adapt, for the purpose of housing a considerable number of families, structures which were originally designed for the habitation of only one. As has been pointed out here, that has developed to quite a considerable extent in the City of Dublin, but the point is: are we going to allow that to continue, merely because it will inconvenience a great number of people if we try to stop or curb it? That is the real issue. The choice is a choice, if you like, of two evils, but which will Deputies regard as the greater: the creation of new slums in Dublin or the inconvenience to which some people may be put, if we try to restrict that development?
I think that, bearing in mind the eyesores which the slums already constitute, the reproach which they are to past and present generations, we certainly would not be justified in allowing new slums to be created to stand as a reproach to us in the eyes of those who come after us. That is the position and I think we shall have to decide for ourselves that, even if it does inconvenience and perhaps inflict hardship upon those who have already allowed their residences, their houses or their property to be converted into flats, we shall have to endeavour to ensure that, so far as the future is concerned, the existing flats and those which it is proposed to create in future will be brought under control. There is no way in which you can exercise that control, unless you give the local authority, in addition to the power to grant or refuse permission for the conversion, the power to grant or refuse permission for the continued occupation of existing flats where the conversion has taken place without the permission of the local authority.
I think there is a great deal of merit in the arguments advanced by Deputy Cosgrave and Deputy de Valera and I have been considering how we might mitigate the consequences of these sections in so far as existing owners and tenants of flats are concerned. I do not think, for the reasons which I have already given in dealing with Deputy Sheldon's amendment No. 8, that there is anything to be gained by deferring the date upon which this section will come into operation. If we were to defer the date we should simply encourage the conversion of premises into flats and we should have this conversion carried through at an accelerated rate in order to make certain that, if you like, the harm would be done when the section began to operate. Therefore, I do not propose to do as Deputy O'Connor suggested — postpone the operation of this section to some indefinite future date—we will stand by the date we have in the section. Nor do I think that I could meet the problem in the way which Deputy de Valera has referred to, that of depriving the tenant of the protection of the Rent Restrictions Acts in any case in which the permission of the housing authorities has been refused. This, as the Deputy pointed out, would simply mean that persons would try to avail of the provisions of Sections 11 and 12 in order to relieve themselves of the restrictions imposed upon them by the Rent Restrictions Acts.
I think, subject to further consideration, that perhaps the position might be met if, in line 45, we were to insert after the word "authority" or perhaps after the word "permission", the proviso that the permission should not be unreasonably refused, and then give to a person who felt that the permission had been unreasonably refused a right of appeal to either the District Court or the Circuit Court. In present circumstances that is as far as we could go to meet the objections raised by Deputy Cosgrave and Deputy de Valera. While not committing myself specifically to that remedy, I shall look into the matter between now and Report Stage to see whether we can draft an amendment embodying that proviso.
I am afraid I did not quite follow the Minister's suggestion as to an amendment in line 45, but he said something about the permission being unreasonable.
Shall not be unreasonably withheld.
In that case, the Minister will need to consider the provision in sub-section (1) of Section 12 which says that a housing authority may, in their absolute discretion, from time to time, grant or refuse permission for the purposes of Section 11. I intend to deal with that matter on that section, but there would be a potential contradiction, if that sub-section were not amended.
The Deputy may take it that there would be a consequential amendment.
It is not before us at the moment.
I know, but I refer to it as arising out of the Minister's reply to my general criticism. Everybody agrees and sympathises with this effort to prevent the growth of slums. There is no question about that. There is another point in this connection. What exactly is meant by the term "owner of premises"? Dwelling-houses and tenements are defined in the Bill and then it suddenly speaks here of "owners of premises". Sections 7, 8 and 9 deal with habitable houses and dwelling-houses, but now we have this word "premises". What is the purpose of using that word here and what is the distinction between "premises" and "dwelling-houses or habitable houses"? Presumably, it is intended to cover business and other sorts of houses.
There is also another matter which would be material in relation to the Minister's proposed amendment on Report Stage. This section has some implications in regard to the general principle of subletting. At the present moment, except in the case of a statutory tenant or a tenant forbidden by contract to sublet, a tenant is entitled to sublet his premises or he is entitled to sublet part of his premises. This appears to me to alter very materially the law in regard to the subletting of premises. I have not examined very closely what the general consequences of that are, but it may be desirable to consider that aspect when considering the potentialities of the Rent Act. For instance, a provision that would make a statutory tenant under the Rent Act unable to let without permission may come into question on this section as it stands.
All I can say in conclusion is that the Minister would be forced, on the viewpoint he is now adopting in this regard, to recast the section but I want to make it clear that I am asking him to do nothing in regard to its context. The context is very proper; what he wishes to do is very proper; it is merely a question of doing it without coming into conflict with other branches of the law.
I agree with a great deal of what Deputy de Valera has said. Nobody, I think, disagrees in principle with this section. The section is unworkable as it now stands and will need recasting for Report Stage. I would like to put this point of view to the Minister, that its unworkability mainly lies in the fact that in the section he is trying to cover conversion and present use of tenements. I would submit to the Minister that it will be very difficult to do that in one section. He will want two sections. Speaking from the point of view of the Dublin Corporation, I think conversion is adequately covered by the present town planning rules and regulations. No premises can be converted into use as flats without plans being lodged and passed by the city architects and without coming before the town planning committee and town planning authorities generally. In connection with what I might call the present use of tenements, which is the big problem, we have found in the corporation time and time again that we would like to alter conditions in various tenements but we are up against the problem that the owners of these bad slums in many cases have no money and cannot do a thing to them.
If the corporation step in, they must either purchase the property or try to get the owner to carry out the necessary improvements and repairs. What is to be done with the tenants while the premises are undergoing repairs? We cannot clean up the present tenement system in Dublin faster than we can build houses. That fundamental fact will make this section absolutely inoperative, notwithstanding that every authority, the local authority and the Minister's Department, wish all the good in the world to the principle contained in the section.
In brief, what I want to put to the Minister is that we all agree with the section but, unless it is very considerably altered, it will be completely unworkable. If it is completely unworkable the end we all have in view will not be achieved.
It seems strangely approprivate that the Minister for Local Government should be responsible for so completely a Marie Antoinette section as this. In effect, what this section is, is a claim on the part of Oireachtas Eireann to go down to a potential tenement like those in Lower Dominick Street and to say to the wretched people who are living in these nauseating warrens: "You must not live here." What one amongst them wants to live there? What has them living there? It is that they have nowhere else to live. How many people would live in the three tenement houses at the foot of Dominick Street, on the east side, if there were any other place in God's creation that they could live? But this twentieth century Marie Antoinette is going to go down to them and say: "You have not got bread; you must eat cake. It is quite intolerable for you to go on living on plain dry bread in a tenement room in Dominick Street." He has not yet learned that what brings people into tenement rooms is that they have nowhere else to go.
Is not it humiliating to be passing legislation in this House giving the local authority power to prohibit householders from turning their houses into tenements so long as there are potential tenants for such tenements? There is only one way to stop houses becoming tenements, that is, to provide houses into which people can go when they want somewhere to rest their heads.
It is not quite as simple as that.
I have grown up in a slum, and I know. The difference between myself and the Deputy is that I was reared in a slum and I saw great houses which were the residences of one family become in my time the residences of 15 families. The reason they became the residences of 15 families was that those 15 families had nowhere else to go.
Yes, nowhere else in the area; but many of those families, even when you provide them with housing on the outskirts, do not want to leave the areas.
I heard that old saw 20 years ago. I remember being told that the Birmingham housing schemes, which were largely based on a green belt with the housing schemes outside the city, would turn out to be a failure because, when you had moved the people out to comfortable apartments outside the belt, they would want to jump on a bus and rush back to the fetid slums in which they had been living. That is all a cod. I move to report progress.