I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
The primary aim of this Bill is to facilitate and encourage the extension of piped water and sewerage services by both local authorities and private persons and groups. I do not need to remind the House of the extent, difficulty and indeed urgency of the job to be done in bringing our rural areas up to a satisfactory standard in matters of piped water and waste disposal. To mention one point out of many: the rapid development of the bovine tuberculosis eradication campaign throws increasing emphasis on the need for abundant supplies of wholesome water for stock purposes. In spite of an accelerating tempo of activity in recent years, in both the public and private sectors, almost a quarter of a million homes have yet to be serviced. In organising and implementing programmes to perform this task we rely on three separate but complementary types of effort—local authority schemes, private co-operative group schemes and individual installations. If the overall development is properly planned, there can be a fruitful integration of these efforts into a single front. My principal concern since the inception of the rural water supplies programme in 1959 has been to foster co-operation between the various interests involved. In particular, I have been at pains to see that local authorities will co-operate with private initiative towards the solution of their problems. The Bill now before the House will help substantially to further that co-operation.
Section 2 and 3 of the Bill are intended to replace earlier provisions in the Housing Acts dealing with grants for private water supplies and sewerage facilities. The new sections are drawn in wide terms. The details of the grants schemes will be worked out and embodied in regulations, which will be designed to frame a scheme of grants which will stimulate private enterprise, facilitate co-operative group development, and open the way for a much closer tie-up between local authority schemes and private initiative.
The private grants schemes now being operated by my Department and the Department of Agriculture can be availed of in certain circumstances for taking connections from public schemes. I have recommended to local authorities a development of this idea so as to secure that extensions to public schemes would be taken by the potential consumers on a group basis, with aid of State and local grants.
An application of this concept on a large scale is now being worked out in the case of a scheme in preparation by Kerry County Council, and on a preliminary view it offers striking advantages, such as a substantial saving in capital outlay by the county council, and the maximum number of connections with the completed scheme. I would urge local authorities to bear in mind, in the later stages of their planning, the possible advantages to be derived from co-operation with private groups in the laying of the distribution system. Such an approach offers a good prospect of combining the advantages of public and private undertakings for the common welfare.
Local authorities are equipped for the development of large sources, the construction of reservoirs, and laying down trunk mains. Private groups with the assistance of State and local grants and technical advice, can in many cases speedily and economically fill in the distribution network. By this means, the benefits of private initiative may in such cases be brought to bear on the larger type of scheme, and the resources of enthusiasm, voluntary labour and leadership in local groups and rural organisations may be tapped to the best advantage. The beneficial results of this kind of co-operation would more than justify sanitary authorities in adopting a positive approach to the group scheme movement by fostering the formation of groups in areas which are capable of being served by local authority schemes.
I have referred already to two existing schemes of grants for private water supplies. In fact, three Departments of State offer grants for the installation of piped water in dwelling-houses, and local authorities provide a fourth source of grants. The scheme of grants operated by my Department and Roinn na Gaeltachta, and by county councils, include assistance for sewerage disposal facilities as well. The private water supplies scheme administered by the Department of Agriculture does not extend to sewerage facilities, but it provides in certain circumstances for grants towards the cost of piped water in farm out-buildings and fields. It would make for economy if some degree of rationalisation were introduced into the administration of private water supply and sewerage grants, and Sections 2 and 3 of the Bill will provide the necessary machinery for such a step.
I announced some time ago that the Government had decided that the private grants schemes operated by my Department and the Department of Agriculture should be unified under a single administration in so far as they relate to dwelling-houses. Arrangements to that end will be made when this Bill becomes law. The Bill provides, on lines similar to those of the Housing Acts, for a stay of seven years on any valuation increase attributable to the installation of water or sewerage with the aid of grants. Not that it has ever been the practice of local authorities, so far as I am aware, to regard the installation of piped water or sewerage facilities as a reason for revising valuations, and the Bill is not intended to alter that position. Its intention is to encourage people to instal these services in their homes.
Sections 4 and 5 of the Bill will empower sanitary authorities to make or guarantee loans to persons installing piped water or sewerage in private dwellings. In including these sections I have had in mind the need for credit facilities for co-operative groups and I am confident that these provisions will, in combination with the direct grants to be made available under the earlier sections of the Bill, act as a strong incentive to private persons and groups to engage in the installation of water and sewerage services.
Section 6 will empower sanitary authorities to acquire water or sewerage undertakings by agreement, or, if necessary, by compulsory purchase procedure. It will be readily apparent that cases will arise, frequently, perhaps, where the owners of a small group scheme may wish to dispose of their undertaking to the sanitary authority. Such cases will present no problem.
The Bill will enable the initiative to be taken by a majority or by all of the owners in requiring the sanitary authority to exercise their powers of acquisition. Sanitary authorities will be expected to use these powers in the light of their general responsibilities for environmental sanitation and to take over, for integration into their own services, where they exist, such water supply and sewerage undertakings as may be offered to them.
On the other hand, if a private water supply or sewerage scheme serving a number of dwellings should deteriorate or become dangerous to health, acquisition by the sanitary authority might be the only effective remedy, and if the owners of the undertaking were unwilling to transfer it, it would be necessary for the sanitary authority in discharge of their responsibilities, to acquire the undertaking compulsorily.
The procedure envisaged is that applicable to the acquisition of land for housing purposes, as embodied in the Local Government (No. 2) Act, 1960, but certain additional safeguards are proposed. The Minister must be satisfied that acquisition is necessary for the purpose of safeguarding public health or for the improvement of water and sewerage services. In the case of a water supply, provision is being made for the abatement of the normal water charges over a period up to twenty years, so as to take account of the owners' initiative in providing their own supply.
Section 7 proposes to substitute a new type of water charge for the water rates and water rents which can now be levied on consumers under Section 66 of the Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1878. The existing law on this subject is both difficult and obscure, and a number of recent Court decisions have underlined its inadequacies as a working basis for making and recovering charges for water. The new procedure will be more straightforward and will have no connection, as had the old, with rating procedure.
Sections 8 and 9 are intended to assist sanitary authorities in securing the maximum number of connections with water supply and sewerage schemes. As I indicated earlier, grants are now available in certain circumstances to persons wishing to connect their premises with public services. I hope to emphasise this aspect in the new scheme of grants to be made under Sections 2 and 3 of the Bill, so as to make it financially easier to take connections.
Section 9 will authorise local authorities to make connections themselves if necessary, or to contribute towards the cost. Between grants and local authority assistance, there should in future be no case of inability to take a connection on grounds of expense. There may, however, be cases where an owner refuses to make a connection for other reasons. In such cases sanitary authorities will be empowered to serve a notice on the owner requiring him to lay a connection not exceeding 100 feet in length.
Provision is included enabling the owner to appeal to the District Court against such a notice. If his appeal is not upheld by the Court, the notice will become effective and he must, subject to penalties, carry out the work. This is merely a continuance of the power to compel connections which has been exercisable by sanitary authorities since 1878. What the Bill proposes is to substitute a new procedure for one introduced by the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act, 1948, which proved cumbersome and slow in practice.
The second main object of the Bill is the control of atmospheric pollution. There has in recent years been a growing awareness of the need for a clean air policy. The existing law is inadequate and out of date and the time has arrived for more comprehensive and flexible provisions. It is, therefore, proposed to take a power to make regulations controlling sources of air pollution such as smoke, dust, grit or gas; regulating the establishment and operation of trades, chemical and other works and processes which are potential sources of air pollution; and specifying maximum concentrations of specified pollutants in the atmosphere. Regulations may also be made to cover such matters as investigation and measurement of air pollution, and the licensing of persons and premises with a view to controlling the discharge of pollutants into the atmosphere from works or processes.
In this country the air pollution conditions which these regulations are intended to control are at present very localised. I have already initiated the measurement of air pollution in a number of centres. The results indicate the existence of pollution in varying degrees. Measurement will be continued until we obtain a reliable picture of the extent and nature of the problem. While it may not prove to be serious at present we must take account of pending industrial development which may in future alter the position as we know it now. A flexible procedure enabling controls to be instituted where and when required is, in these circumstances, the best approach and the Bill provides this by enabling regulations to be made to meet a wide variety of special air pollution problems according as they may arise.
The remaining provisions of the Bill are of a routine character. The only point calling for comment is the proposed inclusion in the Schedule of the repeal of a small portion of the Open Spaces Act, 1906. This is being done at the request of the Society of King's Inns and with the consent of the Commissioners of Public Works, in order to permit of a part of the Society's property at present used as a public park to be maintained by Dublin Corporation.
The Bill as a whole is designed to bring those parts of sanitary services law which most urgently need modernisation into line with present-day conditions and needs. Work on the consolidation of a far larger body of statute law dealing with the powers and duties of sanitary authorities is at present in progress.