Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 9 Dec 1981

Vol. 331 No. 8

Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Bill, 1981: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When the debate was adjourned I was referring to the legal involvement in rent assessment. I referred briefly to the fact that in their manifestos the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party assured the electorate that a fair rents tribunal would be set up to assess rents. That function is now being handed over to the courts. Many people will express their discontent about that. It will also create a further problem for the courts which, as we all know, are slow-moving. Shifting this serious problem over to the courts will be a very expensive exercise. When the Minister is replying I hope he will be able to give us some information on the effect this will have on the courts, and on our overworked and over-taxed system. I hope he will also be able to give us information on the costs involved.

A court case can be a very harrowing experience even for people in public life and people who are familiar with the law but, for elderly people and those who are not well off, it can be a very expensive exercise and a difficult and harrowing experience. It may be felt, as it was felt in relation to other Bills and other inquiries, that this is another bonanza for the legal profession. It would appear that this will emerge from the Bill. I wonder have the Government any idea what this will cost the taxpayer. A number of people will have to get either State aid or free legal aid, at the expense of somebody, in their endeavour to secure their rights in the courts. Have the Government any idea what is involved here? I hope that when he is replying the Minister will refer to this matter.

There is also the question of the reference in the legislation to the year 1941. Why was that year mentioned? Why should this not apply to all premises? I know it is a complex problem. I can visualise the difficulties which will emerge because of that isolated aspect.

I want to refer now to security of tenure. It is written into the Bill that the tenant and his or her spouse are entitled to remain in possession for life. In the existing legislation there is a very wide definition of a member of the family. I can see a problem arising for elderly people who had somebody looking after them for one, two or three years prior to the figure of 20 years mentioned in the Bill. The person may be a prescribed relative. Such people could find themselves with no place to go. The Government should amend the Bill to cover such problems.

I mentioned earlier the hardship which will be caused to elderly people, and that gives rise to the question of the degree of subsidy which will be offered to them. For example, people may go into court and find that their rent is to be doubled or trebled as a result of a hearing. Within a five-year period they will have to carry a very heavy burden. To protect them the period should be extended beyond the five years mentioned in the Bill.

We on this side of the House are cooperating with the Government in attempting to solve this very serious problem. Both sides of the House feel this is a wide-ranging problem which must be solved. We are not in one camp or the other, in other words, that of the landlords or the tenants. We are aiming at finding a fairly balanced solution for both groups. I should like to add to what previous speakers have said about the necessity for this Bill.

On a point of order, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I want to raise with you the ruling by you last Thursday during the debate in this House—

The Deputy is now out of order.

I wonder when can I question your ruling in the House last Thursday.

The Deputy may discuss the matter with me any time he wishes in my office.

I raised this matter yesterday on the Order of Business—

The Deputy may not make a statement on it now.

The Chair told me he was not aware of it and said that if I discussed it with him he would guide me.

The Deputy is out of order. Will he resume his seat?

If the Chair would listen to me——

I will not listen to the Deputy. He should resume his seat and allow me to proceed with the business ordered.

I want an explanation.

The Chair is standing. Will the Deputy resume his seat?

Last Thursday why did you call——

The Deputy will leave the House.

Just a moment.

I will send for the Ceann Comhairle if——


I will send for the Ceann Comhairle and that is the last time I will tell the Deputy.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, could you give me an explanation as to why I was ruled out of order on Thursday last when we were discussing the Supplementary Estimate for Public Works and Buildings? And I sought——

I have sent for the Ceann Comhairle.

—— and I sought to make a two minute contribution on that occasion. You called the third Fianna Fáil speaker, as against one from the Government side.

I protest, with speakers here wanting to contribute to the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Bill which is much more important than Deputy McMahon's grievance. It is disgraceful of him to carry on in this way.

You called on Deputy Fitzsimons, since he had been in the House since you had arrived in the Chair and I was only here for two or three minutes. You also informed me that there had been a private arrangement between some Deputies and that you, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle——

I am awaiting the arrival of the Ceann Comhairle and I must give him time.

—— would have to abide by this arrangement. If we are to have these kinds of arrangements, then I would like to know about them. But it is a precedent that should not have been created in this House and it was not created on last Thursday only because we had a similar incident the previous Thursday and some weeks back involving other Deputies, not myself. If we are going to have groups of Deputies arranging between themselves as to who will contribute to the debate then I think, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle——

I am suspending the sitting. The sitting is suspended.

Sitting suspended at 3.52 p.m. and resumed at 3.55 p.m.

Deputy McMahon. May I help the Deputy in this matter?

I am sorry to have interrupted the business of the House. I attempted to raise this matter and I wished to be as orderly as possible. At the same time, I should like to see the rights of individuals——

May I help the Deputy?

I hope so.

Will the Deputy be good enough to withdraw from the House now. The matter can be discussed with him in detail if he comes to see the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and myself. We will gladly discuss the point with him. We must have rules in the House. I know the Deputy is never disorderly and it makes it difficult for all of us. If the Deputy will call to see me we can discuss the matter and not hold up the business of the House.

I thank the Chair for his kind remarks. I have no wish ever to be disorderly. I raised this matter yesterday when the Chair asked me to discuss it with his office——

If the Deputy would discuss it with me I would be more than happy to talk to him about it. Unfortunately I must ask him to withdraw from the House. The Deputy is more than welcome to come to my office immediately to discuss the matter.

I have been informed that the ruling of the person in the Chair is his responsibility.

I am afraid I cannot leave the matter any longer. The Deputy has placed me in an awkward position. I must ask him to withdraw from the House or I shall have to call for the Taoiseach to name him.

I am told that the ruling of the person in the Chair is his responsibility. Where then can I take this matter? I have been denied my rights here.

If the Deputy will come to my office the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I will go over the matter with him. I am issuing that invitation to the Deputy now. I am asking him to withdraw from the House.

This is a very serious matter.

If the Deputy does not withdraw from the House he will be named.

Will the Chair receive me now?

Certainly. I will be glad to facilitate the Deputy.

If I cannot get satisfaction on this matter this afternoon I must raise it in the House again.

I am asking the Deputy to comply with the order and withdraw from the House.

Deputy McMahon withdrew from the House.

Deputy Coughlan.

I welcome the Bill before the House. It is a genuine attempt to overcome a difficult problem and I wish it success. However, as I said in my contribution, I am anxious that a sincere attempt be made to protect the less well off and I hope that the cost and the involvement of the courts will not be to the detriment of the courts and their proceedings in future years.

Deputy Shatter.

I wish to point out that Deputy McMahon was the previous speaker.

There are two Bills being discussed by the House, one dealing with rent restrictions and the continuation of the position as it has been since last July until 25 April, and the other dealing with private rented dwellings. It is hoped that both Bills will go through both Houses of the Oireachtas and, if necessary, will be referred by the President, to the Supreme Court to judge on their constitutionality.

In legislating for this area it is essential that this House achieve a balance between the rights and interests of landlords and the rights and interests of tenants. The Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Bill, 1981 is an attempt to find that balance of interests, to protect both sides in this type of situation and to provide legislation which falls within parameters set by constitutional provisions relating to both private property and the common good. I would draw the attention of the Minister to certain aspects of the Bill and certain modifications that could be made to it as it progresses through the House that would to some extent tighten it up while continuing to maintain the delicate balance between the rights and interests of tenants and landlords that must be preserved.

Section 14 of the Bill applies to the area of houses that come under rent restrictions legislation and also lays down minimum standards to be applicable to all private rented accommodation. The section confers power on the Minister to make regulations in this regard. This section could be tightened up. The intention of the section is to protect the interests and rights of tenants. Any such provision if it is to have teeth and to be effective must have proper enforcement mechanisms to ensure that those who do not comply with the statutory minimum standards set can be required to do so under the terms of the relevant legislation. As the legislation stands, effectively the obligation would be imposed on the housing authority or the local authority within whose area a particular building is situated to ensure that the minimum standards are complied with. That procedure will not result in the legislation ensuring that minimum standards are fully and properly complied with in future. All of us who are members of local authorities and those Members of this House who are not but who have continual contact with local authorities know how overstretched local authorities are and the extent and great expansion of work that has fallen to the officials in the various local authorities and the great dedication of these officials in carrying out their work. Speaking as a member of Dublin County Council I pay tribute to the officials of the housing section of that council who, no doubt, in the context of this Bill would have the obligation to ensure that these minimum standards are fully and properly enforced. When one looks at the amount of private rented accommodation available in Dublin city and county one realises that it is not possible, unless we were to create and expand greatly a form of housing inspectorate within the local authority, for these minimum standards to be enforced properly and fully in the way set down in the Bill. We should have a second look at this.

The local authorities should continue to have a role, but an obvious way which would involve far less cost to the State and far less administration would be to confer a right on tenants to enforce such statutory minimum standards as the Bill intends to impose. If this right was conferred on tenants then the tenants living in these houses would have a real interest in ensuring that the houses are looked after and maintained properly and that landlords comply with minimum standards, as I believe the vast majority of them do. I suggest that the Bill be amended by the insertion of a clause to the effect that such minimum standards as are laid down in the Bill or imposed by regulations should be implicit terms of any tenancy contract or agreement concluded between a landlord and a tenant. That would afford the tenant an opportunity of enforcing directly such minimum standards without having to depend on the local authority. It would save the State money in that if proceedings of some nature were to be brought under this legislation the vast majority of cases would be brought by tenants.

We are aware of the present financial circumstances and the great difficulties we are facing in the future. We have heard from both sides of the House in recent debates on economic issues about the need to ensure that the non-productive sector of the public service is not expanded at this time because that would only incur debt that this country can ill afford. Nevertheless, unless we provide a series of house inspectors as I have suggested I would be very worried that the intent of section 14 — which is good and the Minister is to be congratulated for what is in the section and such minimum standards are long overdue — would not be enforced. If it is to be enforced it should be possible for tenants to enforce it.

Another means of ensuring that the provisions of this section are enforced is by making it possible if a landlord has not complied with minimum standards for a tenant to obtain damages in court against the landlord. At present this section merely provides for a fine of up to £500 for non-compliance. That is not the correct way to deal with this. In this area the system of prosecution does not work effectively and we have seen that it does not so work in the context of other legislation produced by different administrations that has come out of the Department of the Environment or the Department of Local Government as it was known formerly. Criminal prosecutions in these circumstances are not effective if they have to be instituted by a local authority. This provision in section 14 would work far better if it conferred the right on a tenant to enforce the minimum standards and enabled the court before which such proceedings could be brought to order moneys by way of compensation to a tenant upon the landlord being found to be in breach of his obligations.

A provision in section 3 of the Bill enables the tenant, if he wishes to do so, to surrender the dwelling to the landlord. This has happened in the past and it will happen in the future, and, no doubt, for sound reasons, economic or otherwise, landlords and tenants will opt out of the provisions of the Bill and tenants will be paid compensation for vacating a house of which a landlord wishes to acquire possession. In some instances tenants may voluntarily return possession of a house for specific reasons, and this has happened even under the old legislation, although rarely.

I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to another matter of concern that should be clarified to avoid unnecessary litigation under this Bill when enacted. As the Bill stands at the moment a tenant can effectively surrender his or her interest and the tenant in a marital situation can be either the husband or the wife. Under the provisions of the Bill, upon the death of a tenant spouse the remaining spouse will take over or acquire the deceased spouse's interest. We have other legislation which is relevant in this area. We experienced difficulty in the past with legislation of a technical nature in this whole area of rented accommodation and the legislation applicable today is one of the most difficult and technical areas of law. Far too often, legislation is drafted concentrating on the direct problems identified with this area, without regard being had to existing legislation which has some implications in the area.

In this regard I draw the Minister's attention to the Family Home Protection Act, 1976, under the terms of which a spouse cannot dispose of a family home without the consent of the other spouse. A family home can be any type of home. It does not have to be a home being purchased on mortgage, or fully paid for. It can be a rented house, which a husband has rented for his family and which falls within the ambit of this, or any other legislation. This Act, while expressly providing that a tenant may hand over his interest to a landlord, does not expressly say that the tenant does so validly and legally if he has a spouse and if the rented accommodation is a family home, the consent of that spouse should be sought. My belief is that two married people act together and such consent will be required by lawyers acting for landlords in such circumstances.

There has been much difficult litigation under the Family Home Protection Act. Indeed, there have been two important High Court cases in the past week, concerning the area of judgment mortgages. What I see as a complex area merits trying to avoid creating any further complexities or difficulties, if they can be avoided. I urge the Minister to look at this issue. It would be simple to amend this section of the Act to provide that the consent of the spouse would be required to hand over tenancy of the type of dwelling which comes within the ambit of the Act. Such provision could avoid unnecessary court procedures and litigation.

The main tenor of the Act is to ensure that the rights — as they should be — of the tenants in these houses are protected in the sense that they have the security of knowing that accommodation in the house — many of which have been family homes for 20 to 40 years — will continue to be available to them and that their interest in it should be protected. This is based on the premise that this accommodation will continue to be of a rented nature. While the Act provides a mechanism for renegotiation of rents, it provides no mechanisms, other than under other circumstances in which a tenant could lease or surrender a tenancy.

Take the position of a tenant who has been living in such a house for fifteen or twenty years, has no intention of moving, has complied with all the conditions of his tenancy and, indeed, has a good landlord who is willing to allow him to continue to live in the house and to negotiate a reasonable rent. The Act envisages that that rental situation will continue. It is fair to say that many tenants live in rent-controlled accommodation who, over the years, have been anxious to purchase the house from the landlord. Indeed, Members from all sides of this House must come across the situation where a tenant purchased such a house from his landlord prior to the recent Supreme Court case, at a sum greatly below the true value of the House. I am aware of a number of instances where such negotiations were taking place prior to the Supreme Court declaring the rent restriction legislation unconstitutional. Such negotiations abruptly came to a halt, pending the introduction of this legislation into the House.

We could usefully include an additional provision in this Act of a mechanism to enable tenants to purchase the house in which they reside, if they so wish — a mechanism which would not only be in the interests of tenants but of landlords as well. If a tenant wishes to purchase a dwelling, as the Act stands at the moment, if he negotiates with the landlord and the landlord and tenant cannot reach agreement as to what price should be paid for the house, there is no mechanism whereby such agreement could be arbitrated. We could very usefully look at the possibility of including a purchasing mechanism in the Act which sets down procedures in the case where, if the landlord and tenant agree, in principle, to the house being sold by the landlord to the tenant — and I do not think that we can force the sale — the one outstanding issue is to agree a price. One could usefully include in this Act a form of arbitration clause which would empower the court having jurisdiction in the context of the Bill — the District Court — upon hearing proper evidence in relation to valuation, to fix an appropriate price to enable such a sale to take place. That would be in the interests of both parties, landlord and tenant. That aspect should be very seriously examined and it would add something to this Bill.

Two aspects of the Bill have been referred to. One is that the Bill is effectively — except for section 13 and 14 — confined to those forms of dwellings previously known as rent-controlled dwellings. The second aspect is the method of rent fixing set down in section 9 of the Bill. It is not my intention to refer to these in any detail, as the Minister has indicated that there is a possibility that the Bill, as a whole, will be referred by the President to the Supreme Court to judge on its constitutionality. They are the two particular aspects of the Bill which the Supreme Court might wish to have regard to and about which, it is fair to say, there are conflicting legal opinions but which provisions, one should say in fairness, seek to strike the balance which the Supreme Court has previously intimated, in its judgment, should be struck in this area.

One aspect should be referred to in the context of section 9 and that is the rent fixing mechanism.

The Deputy appreciates that in respect of a particular detail, ordinarily it is regarded as more appropriate that it be discussed on Committee Stage.

This is a general point which I wish to make in this area, but it is relevant to the whole Bill as such, as opposed to individual sections. It reflects upon the whole Bill.

In relation to section 9, which lays down the rent fixing mechanism, the Minister has mentioned that financial assistance will be or should be available to tenants in the event of there not being circumstances to meet the amounts of rent which the court may fix. That type of mechanism is already available under the supplementary welfare allowance system. Some criticism has been voiced of the Bill in the context that there is no such mechanism in this Bill. It should be pointed out to Members opposite who made that criticism that it is not necessary that such mechanism should be in this Bill. Supplementary social welfare allowance legislation under the Social Welfare Act, 1981 specifically lays down a procedure and circumstances in which persons in need can seek supplementary welfare allowance payments for rent. To have included such provision in this Bill would have been to duplicate social welfare legislation. There is a provision under the social welfare legislation, but most people are unaware of it. It needs to be highlighted that this legislation is available. The section concerned with the fixing of rent is effectively concerned with the present lettable value of the premises. But there is one provision in it that I, as a lawyer, would say the courts will have difficulty in enforcing and dealing with.

I can understand why it is in this Bill. It is very much part and parcel of the intent of the Bill, which is to strike a balance between landlords and tenants. Subsection (2) of section 9 has a general provision which permits the courts, in certain circumstances, to look not merely at the premises concerned and the lettable value of it but to look at the general financial circumstances of both the landlord and tenant concerned to adjudge, if asked, whether particular proportions of rents should not be payable by the tenant in certain circumstances. It is a curious provision. I am not sure how it will work in practice. I am concerned about it because it seems — and I say this because it is an area I am familiar with — to be translating something that is already difficult in the area of family law into the area of landlord and tenant law. It smacks somewhat of a maintenance action between landlords and tenants, which is a similar to a maintenance action between husbands and wives. I understand what is behind that section and the intent of it, which is to strike a balance. But it is a section I am somewhat concerned about in the context of the manner in which the Act will operate.

In relation to the question of the legislation being referred to the Supreme Court, I think the Minister should be congratulated on his statement in relation to this and on his intent to do this. It is in the interests of landlords and tenants that there be a clear legal statement as to whether or not this Bill is constitutional so that upon its coming into operation there need be no long-drawn-out court cases or disputes about that and so that this House is fully aware of the position and whether matters have been fully dealt with. Because of the complexity of this area it is a procedure worth using and one that has been used by past administrations from both sides of the House to deal with other difficult legislation about the constitutionality of which there has been a degree of uncertainty due to previous court pronouncements.

In this regard I would to some extent repeat a plea I made when we had the first Rent Restrictions (Temporary Provisions) Bill before this House in July last. That is that the first Bill, the Bill that extends the time of the existing provision to 25 April, be extended somewhat further; because, on the basis that this Bill would pass through the House this side of Christmas, the next step will be that the case must be dealt with in the Supreme Court. It would take a minimum of 60 days for such a case to be processed. Under the constitutional provisions the Supreme Court has an obligation to produce a decision within 60 days. If one presumes that the decision will be that the Bill is constitutional the Bill will be then signed by the President and come into force and we will just about make the 25 April limit date. If the court judges the Bill, or indeed a section of the Bill or a small portion of the Bill, to be unconstitutional — and one must be aware of the possibility that that could happen if one is to be realistic about it — it means that this matter will again come before this House and the effect of that will be that we will have to again extend the existing provision and have a further temporary provisions Bill before us.

To avoid that happening I would suggest to the Minister that the Bill that intends to continue the present temporary situation continue it up to the end of July and that it contain an additional section to enable the Minister, by statutory instrument, effectively to repeal the Bill or, if that is not possible constitutionally — and it may not be — that the second Bill contain a provision to the effect that upon its coming into force the temporary provisions Bill would cease to exist. It sounds somewhat involved but what I am getting at is that in the event of this present Bill not being judged constitutional, in the event of this matter having again, through no fault of Deputies on either side of this House, to come before this House, that this House should not have to have another temporary provisions Bill coming before it and, in the event of the Supreme Court seeing difficulties with this Bill, there is no doubt that these difficulties could be remedied and dealt with by legislation passed certainly no later than the summer holidays. We should have regard to the possibility of that situation and we should extend the temporary provisions Bill in the manner I am suggesting.

I am saying this not simply for legalistic reasons but for practical reasons. I, like many other Deputies, have had many letters from tenants living in private rented accommodation that was formerly rent controlled. That is the accommodation we are concerned with here. Many of them are elderly people who are concerned about the implications of what is happening. It is generally not fully understood that as things stand at the moment their position is protected. I am anxious that in the event of this Bill or a portion of it being found to be unconstitutional we do not create a lot of unnecessary alarm to these people and that we will be in a position to assure them that they have still the protection that the Oireachtas wishes to give to them. In that regard I believe that an extension of the temporary provisions Bill would effectively do that and safeguard their situation.

There is not a great deal else I wish to say in the context of the Bill. It is a technical measure and, as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle pointed out, some of the matters that we want to deal with would be better dealt with on Committee Stage. I would like to make two further points. One relates to the court that is to determine all matters under the Bill. As the Bill stands at the moment it is the District Court. I envisage that there could be certain difficulties in that at the time when it is expected this Bill will come into force there will be a massive increase in the jurisdiction exercised by the District Court under the Courts Act, 1981, and one would hope that the District Court would be in a position to deal with the great mass of claims that could come before it under this legislation — I am concerned particularly with the Dublin area in that regard.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has referred to the necessity to look generally at this whole area. I fully accept that this Bill is effectively a temporary or an emergency measure to deal with this whole question of rent controlled premises and the recent constitutional pronouncement in relation to them. It is fair to say that we need comprehensive legislation to deal with the whole area of private rented accommodation. In reality there is very little logic in distinguishing between accommodation that was previously rent controlled and accommodation that is not rent controlled. We should — and I hope we will in the short term — have legislation to deal with the whole of this area. I welcome the Minister's statement that this whole area is being examined and I would hope that we would have the consolidation Act clearly setting out the rights and duties of both tenants and landlords throughout the rented residential accommodation area in the not too distant future.

In the context of the courts I would expect and hope that such legislation should provide for the creation of rents tribunals which I think would be a simpler, less expensive and better way of dealing with the whole question of fixing of rents. I am somewhat disappointed that this Bill does not provide for rents tribunals. It is fair to say that in the amount of time available and in view of the speed with which this Bill would come into force it would not be possible to have them set up and working. But I would hope that in the consolidating legislation the Minister referred to in his opening remarks we will provide for such rent tribunals. They would be of assistance to both landlords and tenants in that they would avoid much of the present difficulties and expense attached to litigation and would result in a single tribunal or court developing a degree of expertise in this area so that matters could be resolved far more speedily when disputes arise.

Finally, I congratulate the Minister on trying to achieve a very difficult balance by providing the type of legislation the Supreme Court suggested. I would be happy if he would look at some of the suggestions I have made. The intention is right and all that is needed now is for us to do all we can to make the Bill operate efficiently.

There is agreement to conclude the debate at five o'clock and so I shall try to be brief. It is accepted by all parties that some attempt must be made to deal quickly with the problems arising from the decision of the Supreme Court in the area under discussion. While the general purpose of the Bill and its general spirit are something we can recognise and accept I must add my concern to that already expressed on particular features of the measure. Deputy Shatter touched on the point of surrender tenancies and the need to ensure the rights of spouses are not adversely affected by any action on the part of one party to a marriage. That is a point worth noting. My general remarks, however, will centre around the mechanism of using the District Court in respect of some procedure to determine some of these matters relating to rents and the finding of a balance of interest as between landlord and tenant.

First of all, I can see why this legislation is designed to deal with just one category of rented accommodation because of an element of unconstitutionality. For a different reason I would question Deputy Shatter's comments in that area. What I would be concerned about is that legislation dealing with this particular problem and, therefore, abolishing rent controls as they exist for this category in this form, might be construed as accepting abolition of all rent control over all rental accommodation. As I see it, it is still perfectly valid, should the Government so wish, to bring in a general form of rent control applicable to all rented accommodation. If that is not feasible I would think that the whole basis of price controls must be unconstitutional. I have never seen any suggestion to that effect and I assume that it is permissible, therefore, under Article 43, to regulate the exercise of individual property rights and to take account of the common good and it is, therefore, permissible to have general price controls applying to any one service or product or item such as a lease of accommodation.

The reason we have this legislation before us is because we have discriminatory legislation applying to just one category of rents. I accept we should eliminate discriminatory action of that kind and I am quite happy that the District Court should be the court to decide, for reason I shall come to later, but I am very unhappy with the suggestion that the court should proceed to decide in some cases whether a rebate is to be allowed taking into account the circumstances of the tenant. This seems to me to be totally unconstitutional because, if it is unconstitutional to discriminate for a block of rented accommodation, it must be still more unconstitutional to single out individual landlords and say that, because of the circumstances of individual tenants, they should bear the cost of subsidising such tenants' accommodation.

I am not a lawyer but I have to say that most lawyers are not economists and are liable to get themselves tangled up when they tackle financial matters. If there is a case for dealing with hardship that could arise for some tenants, then the logical approach would be the one touched on in the Minister's opening statement, namely, the provision of some form of rent subsidy. The actual method whereby to apply that subsidy, whether through supplementary welfare benefits or something else, is a matter that can be teased out. To me, that is the correct way to resolve the problem. If landlords have a constitutional right to be treated equally they should be treated equally and matters should be decided on the circumstances of landlords as a class and not on the basis of the individual circumstances of their tenants.

Tenants have certain property rights conferred by this Bill but it seems to me, if this Bill is passed and landlords are able to secure the full market value for their accommodation, that too could give rise to some form of discriminatory benefit. In equity I would have thought fair treatment of all concerned would require that only landlords who had bought their premises before these rent restrictions come into force would be entitled to be compensated in full — in other words, to be able to acquire the full rent and full market value of their accommodation. Now anyone who bought rented accommodation from, say, the 1960s bought premises that were rent controlled premises and this Bill will confer on him a speculative profit by allowing him to capture the full market value of the premises. To me, as an economist, that is one area that needs to be carefully examined. It is an area we might wish to take up on the next Stage.

It seems to me there is a more general problem arising out of the operation of the courts in this area. It may have been touched on by other speakers. First of all, who is to bear the costs in so far as costs arise for tenants who must be represented? If we are concerned about hardship it seems logical to make some arrangement to meet the financial costs of court representation and court appearances for such tenants. There is then the question of the handling of the volume of work which will arise. How will the courts deal with a substantial number of referrals? They are already clogged up in handling existing business.

On the question of striking what may be regarded as a fair rent, there is an inflationary bias built in in the way in which courts tend to tackle economic matters. According to the Minister's opening statement the court will be asked to arrive at a rate that would be paid by a willing lessee or lessor. Inevitably, it is fair to say from our experience of the way courts decide on prices for compulsory acquisition of land, they invariably arrive at the highest open market price for that type of property. Therefore, what will happen with this legislation is that invariably the courts will tend to strike the highest prevailing rent for that category of dwelling.

That, almost certainly, is not the kind of rent that would emerge on a free market because if we were to abolish all controls tomorrow and have 30,000 tenants seeking to rent accommodation on the open market they would not be able to pay the high rents now being paid by tenants of uncontrolled dwellings and therefore it would not be feasible for landlords to let on an open market all their accommodation at current prevailing market rates.

It is a quite complex technical matter to estimate what might emerge as rents in such cases, but there are techniques applied by the economics profession for handling such matters. By the crude rule of thumb it would be better to suggest that a closer approximation to a fair market rent would be a rent half way between the amount being paid currently, on average, and the rents currently prevailing on the open market. I would suggest that would be a more accurate indicator, certainly much more accurate than the rent currently being fetched on the open market. It would take me too long to elaborate on the reasons for that. I simply make the point that there will be an inflationary bias built in if we just leave it to the courts, to judges, who, whatever their other estimable qualities may be — and they have many — do not have any particular background of expertise on technical economic issues of this nature and they should not be required to decide such issues.

I suggest, therefore, that that aspect of the Bill be looked at seriously because we have enough inflationary pressures operating in the economy without adding to them unnecessarily by legislation passed here. I would have thought that that danger of inflationary pressure would be further aggravated if, I believe to be the case, it were found that this five-year rebate were deemed to be unconstitutional because it might discriminate selectively against particular landlords. If you have to move to the payment of what the court would regard as full market value rents and if that had to be met in part or substantially by some form of subsidy to tenants in cases of hardship, it will be underpinning an inflationary impetus. I suggest, therefore, that the whole question as far as fair market rent is concerned should be looked at in much greater detail.

I will try to sum up the debate on this legislation for my Fianna Fáil colleagues. I will say quite bluntly that we are not in favour of this legislation because there is a lot more we dislike about it than we like about it, but our sense of responsibility to thousands of tenants throughout the country puts us in a position of going along with it. There is fear and there is shock and worry among the tenants throughout the country about this question. Would not you be worried if you were to have your rent increased by 1,000 per cent or even 2,000 per cent? If you are paying £1 and suddenly you find yourself paying £10 or £20, you would be shocked, because there is inflation for you.

Obviously, therefore, there is extreme worry among people who had managed on a budget who will suddenly find themselves faced with 1,000 per cent rent inflation. We on this side have grave reservations about a number of aspects in the Bill and about a number of principles in it, but we will go along with it to try somehow to dampen the worry of many tenants and to get some legislation on the Statute Book before the Supreme Court decision will become operative and landlords can charge whatever they wish or evict people on to the streets. It is our sense of responsibility that allows us to go along with the Bill. We would not like anyone to think we are happy with it, however.

We have heard lawyers and economists, but I will take a political stance for the moment. I have here the Fine Gael manifesto with which they approached the Irish public last summer. On page 35 they promised quite clearly to establish a fair rents tribunal. That tribunal is not mentioned in the legislation. They also promised that they would introduce a new tax credit for private tenancies up to a maximum of £1,000 rent. That is not covered in this legislation. The manifesto also stated that existing tenants, if in difficulties, would have a rent subsidy scheme. This morning the Minister made some reference to this, but the manifesto clearly suggested that an across the board rent subsidy scheme would be introduced for tenants in possession.

I am raising these points now lest people would feel that we on this side are allowing the Government to run away from their commitment in that contract with the Irish people last June. There is no provision for a fair rents tribunal in this legislation, though it was specifically promised by the present Government.

Our party are happy to go along with this legislation in order to allay the genuinely held fears of tenants throughout this city and the country. Deputy Shatter made a point that there is a housing crisis, an accommodation crisis in the country and this city which I do not think any political party have faced up to fully. For example, a family came to see me yesterday who had 17 people living in a three-bedroomed house. An hour later a group representing a number of families came to see me. In every one of those families there were between 12 and 20 people living in three-bedroom houses in Dublin. There are more than 6,500 people on the corporation's housing list and many more on the county council list. There is a housing crisis which has to be tackled by co-ordinated action. There are more than 133,000 people unemployed at the moment and many of them are unemployed building workers. On the other hand we have thousands and thousands of unfortunates in this city, in particular, who are looking for houses. We have unemployed workers and we have people looking for houses.

It should not be beyond the imagination of the Department, the Government and politicians in general to devise a scheme which would give those people employment building those houses which the people of the city and the country could occupy. There is a need for houses and a need for jobs. All that is missing is the spark of finance in the whole accommodation area, be it rented or owned, which can come from the financial institutions or a more imaginative approach on the part of the Government. To say we have up to 20,000 people, perhaps, in this city looking for houses in 1981 is a scandal. It does not reflect any credit on any politician and, at the same time, we have people unemployed.

The Chair may feel that the 1963 Planning Act is not directly relevant to this Bill. I suggest the whole area of accommodation, be it rented or owned, is dealt with broadly under this Bill. In 1963 a planning Bill was enacted. Have we not progressed one inch in virtually 20 years of observing Irish planning in that we have not had a thorough co-ordinated planning Bill since then? It says very little for all of us that we have not advanced beyond that. There are a thousand loopholes in it. The 1963 Planning Act is a shambles. Coaches and four are being driven through it. We need a new planning Bill. That can be discussed and I intend to raise it on another occasion.

More imagination will have to be brought into the whole area of providing rented and ownership accommodation for the people. The old static system we have been using up to now is not good enough. If at all possible the Department should try to give a lead in finding some imaginative answers to an age-old problem. That is what leadership is about. That is what government is about. We do not like this Bill for a number of reasons. I will give them very quickly.

On a point of order, will I be allowed time to reply to the debate?

The Minister of State appreciates that I am operating under an order of the House. Unfortunately, from the Minister's point of view, there is no provision to give him any time to conclude.

That is most unfair.

That is the arrangement made.

We are facilitating the Government's programme.

In what regard?

In agreeing to a short debate. We are not happy about it.

Deputy Brennan to continue.

Perhaps I can facilitate the Minister. We have serious reservations about the Bill. We feel it is inadequate in a number of areas. We think the District Court is totally unsuited to handle this problem with 30,000 or 40,000 cases piling in on top of it. That is ridiculous. The District Court is not the place to handle this type of problem. Other family cases, social cases and juvenile cases will be held up while there is a squabble in the District Court over the next couple of years between auctioneers, valuers, solicitors, accountants, and so on.

On the question of subsidising people in hardship — and I am speaking personally — of course people should be subsidised if they need it. I am totally opposed to subsidising people across the board in any scheme like this. We should subsidise people who need it. In no other circumstances should we hand out State money apart from the basis of severe need. Perhaps we can take that up on Committee Stage.

On the question of who will bear the cost when we go into the District Court and evaluate the cases, if I am paying £2 a week rent and suddenly I have to pay £20 a week rent and I am earning £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000 a year, can I afford to employ solicitors and auctioneers? Who will pay for all that? What scheme will pay for all that? That is another reservation we have.

Another problem we have is the question of phasing in increases over a five-year period. If I am paying £40 a month rent and suddenly it becomes £100 a month, I understand the difference of £60 will be phased in over five years. By the time the five years are up and I have covered the gap of £60, will the market value not have gone up by a further £50 or £60? Are we not again into the spiral of trying to catch up on it? Will we not have another Bill in five years' time to try to catch up? How can you catch up on inflation in five years? That is a very difficult mathematical problem. Perhaps it should be spread out over seven, eight or ten years.

I want to make a suggestion to the Minister. Many people can afford to pay higher rents. Many people could afford to buy out these premises. I imagine most landlords who own controlled premises would be quite delighted to sell them to the tenants. Rather than having the State paying out more subsidies to people who do not need them, would it not be better for the State to bring in a loan scheme to enable people in these premises to buy out their houses at a reduced figure? If you are a landlord and you have tenants like that, I reckon you would want to get out of a house like that. The tenant should be encouraged to buy the house to prevent the State from getting bogged down in further subsidies which it can ill afford.

I am sorry I have left the Minister very little time. I could go on for another half an hour but the Minister has asked for a few minutes and I will be glad to give them to him.

I want to protest. I represent a city constituency which has a big involvement in this Bill. By whatever agreements were made I am not being allowed to make a contribution on this very important item of concern to me and the constituents I represent. I deplore people taking the stage here for an hour as a speaker from one of the Government parties did. Everybody realises that this Bill must be pushed through or rushed through, but people should have been given fair play and allowed to make a reasonable contribution.

The Chair sympathises with the Deputy's protestation. The Chair is ordered by the House to carry out certain duties and the Chair must do that. In passing, may I say that on a former occasion the Chair attempted to co-operate with Deputies in respect of the time remaining and was very poorly thanked for it. If Deputy Lyons wishes to make a two-minute contribution he is entitled to do so. That is the time remaining between now and 5 o'clock when I must put the question.

Does that mean four Opposition speakers are to be called one after another and I am not to be allowed even two minutes, which would be absolutely useless anyway.

The Minister is here to conclude and if other Deputies offer ——

I am not allowed to conclude.

——irrespective of the side from which they offer, the Chair is obliged to call them.

A decision was made, but the House was interrupted unnecessarily a short time ago when Deputy Lyons and I could have been given an opportunity to make our contributions, especially since we represent a city like Cork which is affected by this legislation. I want that to go on record. The House was interrupted unnecessarily for 20 minutes.

At that time we had indicated that we wished to contribute to this very important debate. I do not know where we stand at one minute to five. I should like advice from the Chair.

The House has ordered that the debate shall terminate at 5 o'clock and so it will. Unfortunately that is the position. The Chair would remind the Deputy that these orders were made by agreement between the respective Whips and that the Chair must obey the subsequent order of the House. That having been said and in keeping with the order of the House — it now being 5 p.m. — I am, in accordance with the order made this morning, putting the question in regard to the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Bill, 1981 (Continuance) Bill, 1981 "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Question put and agreed to.

I now ask for an indication of the date for Committee Stage.

Subject to agreement between the Whips, next Tuesday.

Committee Stage order for Tuesday, 15 December 1981.