Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Dec 1957

Vol. 164 No. 9

Rent Restrictions (Continuance and Amendment) Bill, 1957—Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This is a short and, I think, non-controversial Bill, the object of which is to extend the Rent Restriction Acts for a further period of one year after the 31st December when they would otherwise expire. In present circumstances these Acts could not be allowed to lapse without creating severe hardships to many tenants and for this reason I am sure that all sides of the House will be agreed as to the necessity for the Bill.

Since the Government took office last March a fresh examination of the rent control problem has been initiated departmentally and when that examination has been completed I shall bring the matter before the Government. It has been necessary to approach the problem afresh in view of the economic and other relevant changes which have taken place since 1951-52, when the Conroy Report on Rent Control was prepared. That report dealt comprehensively with all aspects of rent control and recommended not only that the existing controls should be retained but that they should be extended to all dwellings whenever built and whether let furnished or unfurnished. It also recommended increases of rent for landlords who are liable for repairs.

In the meantime the supply of new and reconditioned houses has improved but, of course, there is still a shortage of rented accommodation in the main urban areas, especially in Dublin and Cork where it will be some few years before full housing needs can be met. In the meantime, too, more and more interests have been created under the rent restrictions code—a code which has now been over 40 years in existence—and these interests and the multitude of complicated legal relationships which are features of the system increase the difficulties in the way of arriving at a generally acceptable solution.

In view of these considerations the Government will require to give careful study to the proposals which will be submitted to them and the drafting of any necessary legislation will take some time having regard to the complex character of this branch of the law. Accordingly, the period of one year for which it is proposed to extend the Acts cannot be regarded as excessive. Extension for one year will not, in any event, preclude the introduction before then of the Government's legislative proposals on rent control, if available. Meanwhile, I shall adhere to the settled policy of not legislating "piecemeal" for particular recommendations of the commission.

The Bill which is before the House provides for preserving the status quo for landlords and tenants during the period for which the Acts are being prolonged and, apart from the necessary changes in dates, it is identical with the Continuation Bills passed in recent years.

Before concluding, I think I should say that the Bill to give effect to the second report of the Conroy Commission—the Report on Reversionary Leases—has been passed by this House and is at present before the Seanad. I expect that it will become law early in the New Year.

I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

There can be no great objection to extending the Act for another year to enable the Minister to examine the legislation that he proposes to bring before this House, but I feel that, as the Minister has a legal colleague—the Minister for the Gaeltacht, Deputy Moran—there should be no necessity for this extention. When I introduced these annual Bills I was told it was a simple matter to proceed with direct legislation and that there was no reason why any committee should be set up, or any inquiry made into the matter. I was told that I was cowardly and ineffective, and I do not know what other ills I suffered from. If the Minister now has the advice of his legal colleague in the Government, this extension for another year should be unnecessary.

In any case, the Minister now has all the material required at his disposal. The County report is very elaborate and contains a fair amount of information to enable the Minister and the Government to make speedy decisions on right lines. Rent restriction is a very difficult subject which has frequently been examined and in spite of that, the problems become more complex, but the Conroy report has gone a long way to clarify the matter and the Minister and the Government should avail of that report to bring this very serious and important matter to a speedy conclusion.

I should like to ask the Minister a question. The availability of housing is very relevant to the question of the renewal of the Rent Restriction Acts. The ideal, of course, would be to create a situation in which there were more houses than tenants so that the ordinary operation of demand and supply would control rents. When that stage was reached, if ever, an entirely new situation would arise.

The Minister points out that the operation of Rent Restriction Acts is most effective in urban areas where demand for houses is most acute. We asked his colleague to-day if he could give us any estimate of the Dublin Corporation view as to how many additional dwellings would be required in Dublin before outstanding demand was satisfied. Could the Minister for Justice conveniently get for us in connection with this Bill any reliable estimate—not by any means a definitive declaration—of what local authorities or the appropriate division of the Department of Local Government believe is the likely figure of the number of dwellings still required, say, in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford to meet public demands and whether there is any estimate anywhere of how long it is likely to take to provide that number of dwellings?

We can give the Deputy Cork's figures.

This Bill refers to relations between landlords and tenants and has no relation whatsoever to the arrangements between public authorities in regard to the provision of houses.

The Ceann Comhairle will probably remember that the late Deputy H.M. Dockrell said that if a family is to move into a new house, presumably they have not been living up to then in a tree——

Deputy Dillon knows as well as I do that he is irrelevant.

I do not think I am. I am asking what is the shortage of houses in the areas referred to by the Minister. Housing in this country consists of three kinds, the small dwellings acquisition house in which the tenant becomes owner, the municipal house in which the tenant is the tenant of the municipality, and the rented house in which the tenant is the tenant of the landlord. We are restricting rents in respect of landlords' houses because there is an overall shortage of accommodation. The ideal way to control landlords' rents would be to provide so many houses that the landlords would be looking for tenants instead of the tenants looking for landlords. I should just like to know when is there a prospect of reaching that stage of balance?

The operation of the Rent Restriction Acts over the last 40 years has virtually ended private building for letting. The Rent Restriction Acts have operated to pass that burden on to local authorities. Nobody now builds a row of houses to set because they anticipate that their rights to charge an economic rent will at some stage be controlled by law. Therefore the old practice of investing money in bricks and mortar in preference to stocks and shares has virtually ended and we are driven to look elsewhere for the filling of this gap between demand and supply.

It is highly relevant to the question of how long we should continue the operation of Rent Restriction Acts to find out when have we a prospect of closing the gap between total demand and total supply, because when that day comes I suggest our attitude towards rent restriction may be radically changed. We are all prepared to agree that so long as there is a shortage of housing the operation of rent restrictions, whether desirable or undesirable, is unavoidable. Therefore if the Minister could get that information in relation to the municipal housing requirements of the principal centres of population I would be much obliged to him.

I do not think there can be any objection to this measure which simply continues existing legislation originally designed to ensure fair and equitable rents, and specifically designed I would say, to protect the tenant in a situation where the supply of houses is not sufficient to meet the needs of the people.

I am wondering whether, recently or in the past, it has been considered that local authorities should be brought within the scope of rents restriction legislation. I understand that originally local authorities were excluded because nobody could conceive a situation in which a local authority would charge what might be regarded as excessive rents. If that is so, and if we are to have continuing legislation restricting rents, I think the Minister, or perhaps a successor, will have to look at the situation in the light as to whether or not it is advisable to include local authorities in such legislation.

I have noticed from Press reports and from my own experience that the rents charged by certain local authorities appear to be excessive; the tenant has no appeal since it is a function of the manager. I believe that a local authority tenant should have the same redress in law as any other tenant. Perhaps the Minister would indicate whether that aspect has been considered or whether he intends considering bringing local authorities within the scope of rents restriction legislation.

I should draw the attention of the House to the fact that this is merely a Continuation Bill and we are merely seeking the authority of the House to continue this Bill for another 12 months.

I told the Minister for the Gaeltacht that on several occasions.

So complex is permanent legislation, I do not think it would be possible to deal with it in this sort of discussion. We would have to know first of all exactly what we were discussing. At the moment we cannot say what we are discussing because the matter has not been brought to the attention of the Government. It is popular for Deputies on the Opposition Benches more or less to taunt the members on this side of the House with the fact that they neglected to do something they should have done, something they themselves did not do, and so on. I could continue on that line, but I do not think it is desirable to do so.

Though I am hoping, it is not at all certain that a permanent measure will come before the House even in the next session because the matter has not been touched upon at all either by the last Government or the Government which preceded it. At the moment I am almost submerged in legislation of a particularly complex legal type and it is not possible for me to say when I will be in a position to bring a permanent measure before the Government, much less bring it before the House. When it is brought before the Government, it will take a considerable time to discuss it and come to decisions as to what recommendations of the Conroy Commission should or should not be accepted. Certain matters will have to be decided before we can present the draft heads to the draftsman. The question then will be how quickly the draftsman will be able to deal with the measure. It would not be fair for me to suggest to the House that a permanent Bill will come before the House even in the next session, though I shall do my best to meet the demands which have been made in relation to the introduction of such a measure.

Deputy Dillon asked some questions about local authority houses. It may be of some interest to know that the number of houses completed in Dublin since 1947 amounted to 16,463 and in other urban areas 15,468. Since 1952 to date, 8,991 houses have been constructed in Dublin and 8,544 in other areas. That will, of course, relieve the situation to which Deputy Dillon referred to some extent. It may also be of interest to Deputies to know that it is estimated that 11,767 houses will be required in Dublin according to the estimate for local authority housing needs on 30th September last. I suppose we could call that 12,000 houses. In Cork City 2,075 houses are estimated as being necessary to meet the needs of that area. In other urban areas 3,433 houses and in rural areas 5,671 houses are estimated as being required. That makes a grand total of 22,946 houses, or approximately 23,000 houses. That is the number estimated to be required before one could in fact bring in the type of relief that Deputy Dillon was, I think, suggesting could be given if housing needs were met.

As I said at the outset, this is merely a Continuation Bill. If we were to discuss all the intricacies of this legislation we would need to have before us something in the nature of a permanent measure. I am not in a position to bring such a measure before the House and I would be glad if the House would decide to give me all stages of this Bill now.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.