This is an interim measure pending a more comprehensive examination of the legislation governing sanitary matters and sanitary services and also pending a further consolidation of the existing law. On the formation of the Ministry of Health it became necessary to separate the sections of the Health Bill which related to measures for improving and maintaining sanitary services and creating a sanitary environment from those sections concerned with the maintenance of conditions conducive to public health. This Bill is a result of that separation. The Bill provides for the development of improved standards of sanitation. Now that advances have been made generally in regard to health and hygiene, it is felt most desirable that standards in regard to sanitation should also be improved throughout the country. It is not possible for us to get a complete consolidation of the sanitary law at present but in this Bill the code has been divided into separate subjects and consolidation can be effected by stages. There are seven distinct Parts in the Bill.
Parts II and III relate to sewerage and water supplies. It is our intention to strengthen the powers of local authorities in regard to the connection of premises throughout the country with public sewers and water supplies. In the last 15 years, 350 sewerage systems have been installed and 500 water supply systems have been constructed throughout the country. At the present moment, 190 such schemes are in course of preparation and in course of planning. Others will be coming along in the near future. The legislation regulating the connection of premises either with a sewerage system or a water supply is wholly obsolete having regard to modern standards of hygiene. At present owners of premises may be compelled to connect their drainage to the public drainage system only if not even a minimum of drainage exists. The intention of this Bill is to ensure that such owners be compelled to connect their premises, save under appeal to the Minister, even if they have systems such as cesspools or other systems of drainage which do not conform with modern hygienic practices.
A simplified procedure has been introduced in this Bill in regard to this matter. Owing to the fact that there has been a great deal of litigation in the past over the responsibilities of owners for joining their sewerage system with the public sewerage system, it is impossible for us at this stage to say whether the procedure as outlined in the Bill will be entirely successful, and the Minister envisages a continuing examination of this whole matter and of later bringing before the Oireachtas a further Bill, partly in the light of the experience gained, partly as a result of being able to effect further consolidation, and partly because we are not yet satisfied that this Bill will do all we want it to do. We do think that it is very important that local authorities should be able to begin the work of improving sanitation immediately.
Under the Bill sanitary authorities may require owners of premises to carry out specified works for the connection of their premises with the public sewerage, for the connection of separate premises or for connecting premises having some common connection with one another. That applies both to sewerage and water supplies. If, in the course of the works required for making connections, more than 100 feet of water supply pipes or more than 100 feet of sewerage drains have to be laid, the sanitary authority will provide the costs in excess of that 100 feet If a number of houses are to be connected to a common drain, the sanitary authority will be responsible for the cost of laying the drain in excess of 100 feet for each premises. If a number of premises belonging to the same owner are to be connected, the local authority will be responsible for the construction of the length of drain represented by the excess over 100 feet multiplied by the number of premises. In other words, if there are five houses owned by the same person and the total length of drain for connection purposes is 600 feet, the owner will pay for 500 feet (5 × 100) and the sanitary authority will pay for the excess of 100 feet.
Part II of the Bill requires some explanation particularly in respect to Sections 10 and 11. Under the Act of 1878, drains constructed for joining more than one premises to a public sewer were vested in the sanitary authority and the sanitary authority became responsible for such repairs as were necessary. I want to make that quite clear. Where there was a public sewer running along through a particular area and a number of houses became connected by another side drain with the sewer, the sanitary authority was made responsible for the upkeep, maintenance and repair of these drains. As a result a legal distinction arose between the term "sewer" and the term "drain."
As soon as a drain became a sewer, in legal parlance, the sanitary authority became responsible for its upkeep and repair. When a number of premises which had previously separate drainage became connected, the drain became a sewer or what was equivalent to a sewer for legal purposes. One might ask: "When is a drain not a drain?" and get the appropriate answer: "The higher the fewer." I should say that it would be absolutely impossible for me to answer obscure legal questions but the many cases that have been heard in the courts on this matter— there is a stack of them under the appropriate authorities in the books and records—show that there has been a great deal of litigation over this whole question. The effect of this arrangement was to minimise the liability of builders in regard to the construction of a drain pipe leading from a separate house to a sewer that had already been laid by the public authority.
In 1890 a Bill was passed and in Section 19 of that measure an attempt was made to remedy the position. Where two or more houses belonging to separate owners were connected by one drain, the arrangement was that the sanitary authority could recover from the owners any expense incurred in remedying nuisances or defects in the drain— that is, where the houses belonged to separate owners. That Bill gave the lawyers more work and added to the difficulties. It did not deal with houses belonging to the same owner whose drains were connected to a public sewer and, further, some of the houses might be sold to another person. You would have four houses belonging to one owner and in the middle there would be one house belonging to a second individual. Further, the section did not deal with the distinction between remedying a nuisance and repairing or making good a fundamental defect in the drainage system. Nuisances could be remedied, but the question arose whether the Act applied to fundamental defects.
In Part II of this Bill a single private drain leading from one house to a public sewer continues to be defined in the same way in order to avoid making a different judicial interpretation; in fact, in order to avoid making legal difficulties. The big change that has taken place is that the owner of a number of premises is now liable to remedy nuisances and fundamental defects in a drainage system.
It will be recalled that, under the 1890 Act, in the case of houses belonging to separate owners, the Act made it clear that the owners were responsible. The present Bill makes it clear in the case of premises belonging to the same owner. The liability to maintain and repair drainage also applies to buildings that are not dwelling houses. Under previous legislation the owner of a building not a dwelling house was not responsible for the maintenance of the drain. I might add that a number of municipalities in other countries have included provisions of this kind in private Bills for drainage purposes.
Another improvement in the law is that local authorities may now open drains in order to see whether a nuisance has occurred and examine nuisances reported to them without an individual making a complaint, whereas, formerly, some individual had to make a complaint in a proper form before the local authority could open the drain for the purpose of examination.
There are all the usual provisions for appeal in these matters and it will be noticed that time is given to owners of premises to pay for the connection of their drainage with the public drainage, if the sanitary authority does the work as a result of their failure to do so.
In connection with the improvement of water supplies, under previous legislation no account was taken of improved standards. There was no proper means by which owners could appeal against a decision that their premises must be connected with a public water supply. The same held good in regard to buildings that are not dwellinghouses. They did not come under the provisions of previous Acts.
Section 26 in Part III provides a valuable aid to the improvement of sanitation. It gives powers to the sanitary authorities to improve or contribute to the improvement of existing small water supplies. Everybody coming from a rural constituency will realise that that may be very valuable in the future.
In Section 27 power is given to a local authority to analyse water belonging to a private water supply. That power has not hitherto been available and it should result in the provision of purer water supplies in many places in the country. So much for Parts II and III.