I move amendment No. 1:—
In page 4, line 60, after the word "application" to insert the words "may be made".
Vol. 26 No. 7
I move amendment No. 1:—
In page 4, line 60, after the word "application" to insert the words "may be made".
This is merely a drafting amendment.
I move amendment No. 2:—
In sub-section (2), page 8, to delete paragraph (b).
I raised this point on the last day on which the Bill was before us and I thought I drew attention to a matter of some importance. It seemed to me that there was a contradiction here, and I put down this amendment for the purpose of having it looked into. It is largely a matter of administration but it is important that, so far as possible, we should not have one section appearing to contradict another section. If the Parliamentary Secretary thinks that the sub-section ought not to be deleted, I shall not press the matter.
The deletion of this paragraph would not improve the Bill. In order that Senator Baxter and other members of the House may appreciate the position more clearly, I shall have to refer to some of the earlier sections. Under Section 4 (1),
"Whenever a sanitary authority have made a proposal, they shall do the following things, that is to say:—
(a) take all reasonable steps to ascertain the persons (if any) to whom damage may be caused..."
The section goes on to provide that having taken such steps to satisfy themselves as to the persons to whom damage may be caused, the names of such persons shall be recorded in the book of reference. Under Section 6 (1) any person whose name appears in the book of reference may make an objection to the proposal. Section 8 provides that if an objection has been made to a proposal and the objection is not withdrawn, the local authority may apply to the Minister for a provisional order. Under Section 9, the Minister may refuse such an application for a provisional order or make a provisional order in accordance with such application or alter the proposal which is the subject of such application. It will be seen that, if an objection is pursued under Section 6 (1) by a person whose name appears in the book of reference and an application is made by the local authority for a provisional order under the Bill, the Minister may amend the proposal and the effect of that amendment may be to remove any cause of grievance that a person whose name has already appeared in the book of reference may have, so that, in fact, while a person might be aggrieved at the time the book of reference was compiled, the cause of grievance might be removed by the Minister or by negotiation between the local authority and the aggrieved party before the provisional order was made. An alternative supply of water might, for example, have been provided. In that way, the person whose name appears in the book of reference might have no cause of grievance when the question of compensation would come before the arbitrator. In the light of these facts, the local authority is entitled to contend that the fact that the name was originally put in the book of reference as that of a person to whom damage might be caused does not, in itself, establish that compensation for damage is payable. In the light of these circumstances, I think the Senator will scarcely press the amendment.
The explanation of the Parliamentary Secretary is quite satisfactory, and I am glad I put down the amendment for the purpose of getting the information.
I move amendment No. 3:—
In line 41, page 8, after the word "annum" to insert the words "or such other rate of interest as the Government may by order from time to time determine".
This amendment deals with the amount of interest payable in respect of compensation. The amount involved may be very small but the question of interest is an absorbing and difficult one. I know that it has been the practice to insert the amount of interest which is to be payable in cases of this kind but I question the wisdom of our putting in a section determining that the rate of interest will be 4 per cent. per annum in all circumstances. I may seem to be arguing, in this case, against the interests of the farmers, but the fact is that the owners of land are getting so little under the Bill that I am not prepared to commit myself to a rate of interest of 4 per cent. It is, I think, inadvisable to insert in legislation, which may remain the law of the land for a long time, a provision whereby we must pay interest at the rate of 4 per cent. My amendment suggests that the rate of interest shall be such as the Government may, by order, from time to time determine. I think that would be more reasonable. In this case, at any rate, a certain amount of liberty and discretion should be left to the Minister to regulate the rate of interest in accordance with the value of money at the particular time. I think the principle in the Bill is unsound and it is not one to which I am prepared to subscribe. I do not know whether anybody else holds my view in this matter, but I put down the amendment because I think the matter should not be permitted to pass unchallenged.
I hope Senator Baxter will not insist on this amendment because, if it is inserted, I foresee a good deal of difficulty and embarrassment in the administration of the section. The section provides:—
Subject to the provisions of the next sub-section of this section a sanitary authority shall pay to every person to whom compensation is payable under this Act interest on the amount (when determined) of such compensation at the rate of £4 per cent. per annum.
If Senator Baxter's amendment is accepted the following words will be added:—
"or such other rate of interest as the Government may by order from time to time determine."
While undoubtedly conditions may change—the value of money has changed, and the rate of interest obtainable on public loans has varied very often within the past 20 years—on the whole a 4 per cent. rate of interest is a fairly average figure. If we insert the amendment that the rate of interest shall be such as the Government shall from time to time determine, it will mean that when there is a large scheme in contemplation, or in process of being put into operation, and when the amount of interest would be perhaps a serious consideration either to the sanitary authority on the one hand or to the person whose rights would be at stake on the other, the sanitary authority will exercise all the pressure it possibly can on the Minister to keep down the rate of interest, while the person concerned will exercise all possible influence on the Minister to keep up the rate of interest. If the Minister sides with the individual who has obtained compensation, it will be open to people to make very unhappy suggestions. If he happens to be a person friendly disposed towards the Government or towards the Minister it may be said that he got a higher rate of interest because he supported the Government in the last election. If on the other hand the Minister fixes a low rate of interest, I suppose it will be said that he was getting his own back on somebody to whom he was not friendly disposed.
Apart from that, it is not really, as Senator Baxter admits, a very big issue because the amount of money ordinarily involved in this matter will not be very large, but it seems to me that the arbitrator will have a clearer field with a fixed rate of interest than if the interest is liable to fluctuate from time to time or has to be determined from time to time by the Minister. When the arbitrator is fixing the amount of the award, he will be conscious at least of the fact that that award for a certain period will carry with it a certain amount of interest. He will have a clearer field for reaching a firm figure if the rate of interest is fixed in the Bill. On the whole, I think it would be wiser to leave the section as it is.
I just wish to suggest that it is essential that the rate should be fixed in the Act, because if it is not fixed it will be practically impossible for the valuer or arbitrator to decide on the proper amount of compensation. The fixed rate of interest will be a guide to him. It is, in fact, the only guide he really has in fixing compensation. I think it might prove a dangerous principle to allow freedom to the arbitrator to consider possible changes in the rate of interest when he is making his calculations for compensation.
I simply cannot understand Senator O Buachalla's attitude. He says that the only thing that the arbitrator will have to guide him is the amount of interest which is fixed arbitrarily in this Bill at 4 per cent. Surely, that is not a proper view. The arbitrator will be guided by the value of the land in question and not the rate of interest to be paid on the compensation. The Parliamentary Secretary talked about the arbitrator's taking this matter of interest into account, but I simply cannot see the point of that. I cannot see how a rate arbitrarily fixed here and passed in a certain amount of vacuum is going to be the only guide in a whole series of individual cases of equitable claims. I do not know what is in the Senator's mind on that point.
The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of 4 per cent. interest as being a good average. There is no such thing, I submit, as an average in rates of interest. Some people may say that the average age of persons in this country is 37 years, seven months, two days, but there may be no person of that age in the country at this moment. After the last war a huge loan was issued at 5 per cent. When a huge war loan running to thousands of millions was being issued, it governed the whole condition of what is called the value of money, and it would have been inequitable to offer 4 per cent. to people, inequitable to the recipient of that interest. Similarly at the present moment, when war loans are issued about 3 per cent., it would be inequitable to the giver of the interest to charge 5 per cent., so that to talk about an average in a matter of this kind is rather meaningless.
I think that Senator Baxter's view that discretion should be given to the Government to determine the rate of interest taking into account the circumstances of the time is quite right. I can see the Parliamentary Secretary's point that if discretion is left to the Minister people may sometimes attribute rather unworthy motives to him. That is a consideration but, strictly speaking, the Minister's arbitrators are in the position of judges. A judge has to give a decision on one side or the other or possibly arrive at a solution mid-way between the two sides, and it is unfortunate for the judge that the aggrieved party always says that the judge is a rotten judge. That is what you might call a perquisite of the judge's office. It is also a perquisite of the Minister's office in this case. If the Minister's conscience is perfectly clear, I do not see what he should worry about.
It is the future I am worried about.
I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary need worry about the future. He may be sure that if there is any underhand dealing, the public will ultimately become aware of it. We might just as well pass laws fixing an arbitrary punishment for certain offences, providing, for instance, that everybody who robs a gas meter will get five years. That is not done because it is recognised that in each case justice can only be interpreted in relation to the surrounding circumstances. I think that is analogous to the question at issue here. Four per cent. might be all right in one set of circumstances but it might be wrong in another.
I dislike passing laws in this arbitrary way for the convenience of the Minister rather than for flexibility, so as to get exact justice. This is not a point that I would make a great deal about. I have no doubt that if the average rate of interest in a secured investment rises to 10 per cent. we will have an amending Bill, whereas if it drops to 1 per cent. we will also have an amendment. The present Government in every Act that they brought in have had to bring in an amending Bill. I have no doubt that what Senator Buckley meant was clear to him, but I cannot understand how he could maintain that the only thing the arbitrator has to guide him in making an award is what is stated in the Act, an arbitrary rate of interest. If I thought that was so I should feel called upon to make a much stronger objection. I did not pay much attention to this matter, but if I thought we were going to pass a Bill which was going to react on an unknown number of parties, I would object. I presume the arbitrator will be an honest man, who will take into account the damage done, on whatever the basis may be, and make his mind as blind as possible when what is casually put in is 4 per cent.
Is Senator Baxter serious about this amendment or are we going to be treated to another lecture on high finance? If we adopt the principle of the amendment how would our National Loan as well as other loans with a fixed rate of interest be affected? If we went back to the conditions proposed in the amendment what would be the position?
The Senator has misunderstood my point. At a given moment if a man puts £100 into National Loan——
I want to point out that for stability a common rate of interest is the general principle accepted. In this case it is not a commercial or a speculative undertaking that is involved. People will be compensated for damage caused by the provision of water supplies and the rate of interest is fixed at 4 per cent. Assuming we adopted the amendment, and taking it that 2½ per cent. or 3 per cent. is now the common rate of interest, surely Senator Baxter or Senator Fitzgerald realises that the provision of a certain and secure rate of interest is very much better than a doubtful or a speculative one in the present condition of the money market. Is it not much better for a man to know that he will have 4 per cent. certain than an insecure amount which might be only 2½ per cent.?
This is a case of much ado about nothing.
I quite agree.
Then there is nothing to be said.
A great deal has been said about it. The average rate of interest is 4 per cent. I do not agree with Senator Fitzgerald's idea, that the amount will fluctuate between 1 per cent. and 10 per cent. That is very unlikely. As Senator Foran pointed out, it is quite possible that the rate of interest for a considerable time may be as low as 2½ per cent. or 3 per cent. Is it not better to ensure that future applicants under this Act will be assured of a steady 4 per cent.? As the Parliamentary Secretary stated, take it that in 1945 Mr. A gets 5 per cent., and in 1947 Mr. B only gets 3 per cent., nothing will save the Minister of that period from the charge that he unduly favoured Mr. A and unduly victimised Mr. B. It is much better to have a steady rate of interest so that such a charge should be avoided. Apart from that, I prefer an assured and steady 4 per cent. I only wish that we could all be assured of it.
I wish we could.
Let us ensure that applicants in future will get 4 per cent.
I do not think there is much in the point, or that it is one to get cross about. What I object to is the word "average", which may be misleading. Senator Foran got the wrong end of the stick completely. His implication was that if a National Loan was issued at 5 per cent., the Government the next year might say that they had changed their minds about the rate. It is nothing of that sort.
The Senator is misrepresenting me.
I can only take the case the Senator made. When the first National Loan was issued in 1924, the amount was 4½ per cent. It would be perfectly ridiculous if it was decided that other National Loans should be at 4 per cent., because, as time went on and as money conditions changed, the Government was able to issue loans at 3½ per cent., which meant a great saving to the taxpayers. There is no instability in the fact that as years go by the interest on money invested may differ from that on money that was invested previously. Where the Senator makes the mistake is having the feeling that the amount might be 4 per cent., whereas if the amendment were accepted it might be 5½ per cent.
Or 2½ per cent.
I am only anxious that the matter should be seen clearly. I do not think there is much money in it in this case, or that the taxpayers will suffer.
I do not think this is a case for a general debate on future rates of interest. If compensation had to be paid in the form of interest-bearing stock, then it might be applicable. As this is only for a short time, I cannot help feeling that this is the best way to deal with it. It may be rough and ready, but as a commonsense way it is the best.
Since Senator Fitzgerald asked me a question I feel that I must rise to reply. However, having heard Senator Foran explain the matter which worried Senator Fitzgerald I am prepared to leave the matter at that, because I think Senator Foran explained it fully and simply. One of the main considerations is stability, and any suggestion of allowing fluctuating rates of interest will certainly interfere with stability, and that is something which, in existing circumstances, I do not think we should encourage.
I misunderstood the Senator. I thought he used the word "arbitrator", but I understand now that that was a mishearing and that he was talking about stability.
I am sorry; I probably did use the word "arbitrator" instead of some other word. It may be I did make a slip in the use of the word. I am not sure.
I should prefer that the House would accept my amendment, but if the House does not accept it I do not suppose I can carry the House. The Parliamentary Secretary indicated that, in his view, the arbitrator, when he comes to determine how much compensation is to be paid, will take into account the rate of interest.
No—that he would be conscious of it.
I do not know how it is possible to be conscious of something without taking notice of the fact that it is written down in the law and is going to operate in a particular way. My view is that if my property is damaged because of the operation of this Act, I ought to be compensated for that damage. The rate of interest I am going to get on the compensation is another matter altogether. There is, however, material damage done to my property and the assessor ought to indicate that that damage amounts to so many pounds or so many hundreds of pounds. What I will be paid annually by way of interest on the sum of money is an entirely different matter, and I do not think it is one which ought to be taken into consideration by the arbitrator of the damage done. I do not think it would be equity, I do not think that ought to be the approach at all. I did not think that the Parliamentary Secretary would put that as an argument in favour of this 4 per cent. rate of interest.
He did not, in fact.
That is the impression left on me by what he said. I must say that it is very interesting to hear the Leader of the Labour Party in the House indicating his very conservative attitude, and very great and serious concern for the maintenance of stability in so far as rates of interest can make for stability. I, too, am very concerned about maintaining stability, but I am equally concerned about the fact that high rates of interest have done, and are doing, more to create instability in the world than many of the other factors to which people attribute the present world situation. While I have no great interests in the material way to safeguard, I am concerned that people who have possessions should live under world conditions in which these possessions will bring them some reasonable earnings, but I put the amendment down in the belief that the Parliamentary Secretary would embrace it and in the belief that it would bring about a situation which would make the administration of the Act in relation to rates of interest more satisfactory from his and his Department's point of view. Now it seems that we are to be put into a position in which the law demands that money shall earn a certain rate of interest over a given period and that it does not matter to what extent changing circumstances in the money market may alter the short-term rate of interest within that period.
I think there is room in this country for some alteration in the more orthodox view held with regard to money and its use and value to the people. Instead of arguing that the maintenance of stability can be secured only by this high rate of interest, I think that a reorientation of the point of view of all of us on that matter would go much further towards that end. I cannot carry the House with me if it is not prepared to be less conservative than it has been in the past. I realise that Senator Sir John Keane, from his point of view, would argue strongly that 4 per cent. is a reasonable rate and that it ought to be maintained at that level, but, in my judgment, money has been asking too much for its services in this country and everywhere else in the past. It would have been better for the world if it had been satisfied with less and if human beings could have got more for their services than they were given.
I have urged here that we make a start, and that instead of determining that for the next 50 years, if needs be, during which this Act will operate, we are to pay 4 per cent. interest on compensation for damage done to people whose property has to be destroyed or damaged to any extent, the rates of interest be altered in accordance with the prevailing rate at the time the damage is done to the property. If I sell my farm to-morrow and invest the money I get I shall have to take the current rates; I shall have to take whatever the money can earn. If the British Government at present can finance a war at 2 per cent., I frankly cannot see why we should determine that for all time we will pay 4 per cent.
I know that this is all an argument against the interests of the people whose property will be damaged, but I am looking at the matter from the other angle. There are a great many people with property in this country, which property could be made much more valuable if they could get X million pounds at a rate lower than 4 per cent. We farmers cannot have it both ways. We cannot argue with one voice that we must have 4 per cent. if our property is damaged, and, with the other, that we ought to get 2 per cent. for the exploitation and better use of that property. It is from that angle that I have approached this problem. While I realise that people like the Labour Party who have tremendous monetary interests in their Labour organisation to safeguard— money which they have unquestionably put at the disposal of this nation on every occasion on which the nation wanted money to finance any scheme; that must be said to their credit—may be a little conservative, I think it would be much better for the nation as a whole if they joined with me in approaching this problem from my point of view.
Would Senator Baxter be satisfied if I put down an amendment to reduce the 4 per cent. to 2 per cent.? I am prepared to put down such an amendment. Will Senator Baxter support it?
At the moment, yes.
I want to give notice that, on the next stage, I shall move that the rate of 4 per cent. be altered to 2 per cent. I have Senator Baxter's assurance of his support for that amendment.
If you were doing it at the moment, yes, definitely.
On behalf of Senator Quirke I move amendment No. 4:—
Before Section 19 to insert a new section as follows:—
19.—(1) Where, immediately before the passing of this Act, a sanitary authority was taking water from a source of water for the purposes of a water supply provided by them under the Public Health Acts, 1878 to 1931, such sanitary authority may, after the passing of this Act, continue to take water from such source of water at the place, by the method, and in the quantity at, by, and in which they were so taking water immediately before the passing of this Act.
(2) Nothing in this section shall prejudice or affect the right of any person to recover damages from a sanitary authority for any wrongful interference before the passing of this Act by such sanitary authority with the property of such person or for any interference after the passing of this Act by such sanitary authority with the property of such person which, but for this section, would be wrongful interference.
The purpose of this amendment is in no way different from the purpose of Section 19, already in the Bill. It is largely a matter of drafting. Section 19 which was intended to preserve existing water schemes read:
Where a sanitary authority is, immediately before the passing of this Act, taking water from a source of water for the purposes of a water supply provided by them under the Public Health Acts, 1878 to 1931, no court shall grant or issue any injunction or order to restrain or having the effect of restraining such sanitary authority from continuing to take water from such source of water at the place, by the method, or in the quantity at, by, and in which they are so taking water immediately before the passing of this Act.
Now, instead of putting a prohibition upon the courts from granting an injunction, this new section gives the sanitary authority a statutory right to take water. The present Section 19 prohibits the courts from granting an injunction in the case of schemes in operation at the time the Bill is passed. The new section gives the sanitary authority the right to take water in respect of schemes that are already operating by the method and in the same quantity as they are taking it at the time this Bill becomes law.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary say if the new section is likely to cause any interference with main drainage schemes? It seems to me possible that sources of supply, which are at present being used, might be interfered with. That point should, I think, be taken into consideration. What I am anxious about is that the power of the sanitary authority should not be made absolute.
I think the Senator's point refers to future schemes rather than to existing ones. The amendment relates to existing schemes and is intended merely to protect them as they are at present, and to prevent an injunction being granted against a local authority for continuing to take water in the future in the same manner as they have been taking it in the past.
On the general question as to how a scheme under this Bill might affect a drainage proposal, that is a different matter altogether. The Bill empowers a sanitary authority to take water. It provides for objections by the persons affected. It provides for a provisional order by the Minister when objection is made and is not withdrawn, and it provides, ultimately, for an appeal to the Circuit Court by any person affected to prevent a proposal coming into operation. With all these safeguards and provisions, if a scheme is ultimately confirmed, either by the Minister or the Circuit Court, the only redress anyone who may be affected by the scheme has is by way of compensation.
Is any provision being made for the enlargement of existing supplies? Suppose a supply comes from a small lake and that the catchment around the lake needs an enlargement, is ample provision made to permit a sanitary authority to make the enlargement?
I think the Senator will find that matter is dealt with in Section 2, where it is provided:—
Whenever a sanitary authority desire to take from a source of water (whether within or without their sanitary district) a supply of water for the purpose of increasing, extending, or providing a supply of water under the Public Health Acts, 1878 to 1931, they may make, under and in accordance with this Act, a proposal for so taking such supply of water from such source of water.
I might mention to the Senator that this Bill is not in substitution for the powers which a sanitary authority already possesses under the Public Health Acts, but is an alternative method of procedure. If a sanitary authority chooses to proceed under the Public Health Acts, instead of under this Bill, it can still do so.
On a previous occasion I raised a question with regard to the putting into operation of a water supply scheme for Kingscourt, County Cavan. I was disappointed that the Parliamentary Secretary did not deal with the matter then, but perhaps he overlooked it. The matter, I think, could be fittingly raised on this section. A short statement from the Parliamentary Secretary would help to clarify the relations between the sanitary authority there and the people in that town who are seeking this water supply.
Perhaps I could deal with that matter more appropriately on the Final Stage of the Bill.
On behalf of Senator Quirke I move amendment No. 5:—
Before Section 20 to insert a new section as follows:—
20.—Where a sanitary authority is empowered by virtue of this Act to take a supply of water from a source of water at any place, such sanitary authority shall have the same rights to prevent interference with the flow of water in, from, or to such source of water and to prevent pollution of the water in such source of water as an owner of land at such place contiguous to such source of water.
Does this amendment deal with the question of pollution?
Under amendment No. 5 — new Section 20—the sanitary authority can take proceedings in the case of interference with the flow of water or of pollution as though the sanitary authority were a riparian owner. The Senator raised this question of the pollution of sources of supply on an earlier stage of the Bill. I found, on examining the position, that the Rivers Pollution Act did not give complete or satisfactory powers to deal with the matter of pollution. This amendment was drafted for the purpose of safeguarding against pollution and of giving a sanitary authority power to protect the water supplies they provide under the Bill.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that this section gives to sanitary authorities all the powers they require to deal with this matter? I do not think it does. Would he say if the power under this amendment is to be made retrospective, or if there is any hope that some of our sanitary authorities will get relief under it?
Relief from what?
From pollution. There is a big institution in the County Dublin that has suffered for years from this pollution. It was my knowledge of that case that caused me to raise this question.
This section would safeguard its rights in the matter of pollution provided it is a sanitary authority, but I am not so sure that the body the Senator has in mind is, in fact, a sanitary authority.
The institution I have in mind is Portrane Mental Hospital.
It is not a sanitary authority.
Then that institution will get no relief under this measure?
I would not say that. It may be assumed that the authorities there have the rights of a riparian owner, and a riparian owner has rights against pollution. If they have the rights of riparian owners, they can prevent pollution.
They have spent a lot of money trying to do that and have not succeeded. There are certain limits, I believe, even in the case of a riparian owner. It is because I know so much about the situation that I mentioned the matter originally. Apparently under the Bill there is no relief for this body or for other bodies similarly situated.
I think, Senator, we must be at cross-purposes. According to the information at my disposal, the local authority to whom the Senator refers brought this matter into court and the court decided in their favour. A rule of court already has been made. What further relief do they want?
It has not made them any better off. The man shifted his cattle into the next field. Surely that sort of thing should not be allowed to go on?
He will get more tired doing it every time you bring him to court.
If the Parliamentary Secretary is satisfied, I am satisfied also.
Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with the question I raised?
Senator Baxter, at an earlier stage, asked as to the position relating to a water supply scheme in Kingscourt. According to the information available in my Department, amended documents in connection with the proposals were received on the 30th July, 1940, and, on the 14th August, 1940, the board of health were informed that no objection would be raised to the invitation of tenders. On the 28th November, 1939, the board decided to postpone for a period of six months all public health schemes for which loans had not been borrowed, in view of the conditions arising from the European War. My position is that, so far as the Department is concerned, on the 14th August, 1940, we informed the board of health that no objection would be raised to the invitation of tenders. Since then we have not heard anything from the board of health on the matter.
I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for clarifying the position. This matter has raised a considerable amount of annoyance and ill-feeling. As a matter of fact, it is probably the one fairly large town in the county that is left without a water supply; all the other places have had a water supply laid on. There is a good deal of ill-feeling engendered; the people there are under the impression that they are not being justly treated. I have had communications on the subject, and I have been asked to raise it here. The last report I saw in the Press appeared to put the responsibility on the Department for not proceeding with the scheme. I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary has clarified the situation for me, and the people in Kingscourt and elsewhere in the county will be glad to know where the fault lies—that it is not in his Department, and that the responsibility lies with the board of health.
Of course, the difficulty now will be in relation to materials, even if they are anxious to go on with the scheme.
Question agreed to.
Bill ordered to be returned to the Dáil.