Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 16 Jul 1952

Vol. 40 No. 25

Housing (Amendment) Bill, 1952—Committee and Final Stages.

Sections 1 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 7 stand part of the Bill".

On Second Reading, Senator Ruane raised a question on this section as to what exactly it was possible to do under it. Unfortunately, I was not able to be here and, as we have not had the Official Debates, I do not know what the position is. I would like clarification of this section. The section reads:—

"The Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, and subject to regulations made under this section, make, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, to a person providing and installing in a dwelling-house a private water supply and sewerage facilities, a grant not exceeding £50, if——"

Does that presuppose the installation of both water and sewerage or, if a person desired to advance by slow stages and install a water supply first, is it possible to have portion of the grant made available to him? Under the schemes administered by the Department of Agriculture, as far as I know, the grant is made available only where the water supply is taken from springs or some supply that would be regarded as permanent. Is it possible for the owner of premises to trap water and provide a supply which he would regard as adequate or which the engineer operating under this scheme may regard as adequate, and secure portion of the grant under this section? While the section is clear in one sense, its full implications are not very clear.

I am afraid I do not see the Senator's difficulty. I thought it was clear enough here. Where the applicant provided water and sewerage— that seems to be clear enough. I understand what the Senator means by taking it in stages, but there is no mention of taking it in stages there. It means water and sewerage; it means the installation of these amenities in the house.

We are conscious, of course, of the fact that the Department of Agriculture administers a scheme which is different from this scheme inasmuch as a grant is payable where the house is merely connected with water; in other words, where the water is taken to the house and tapped into the kitchen. There is, therefore, a substantial difference between what is provided for in the scheme operated by the Department of Agriculture and what is proposed here. It is intended under this section to provide a grant for the installation of water and sewerage by a private person.

Does a person installing cold water alone qualify?

There is no necessity to have a hot water supply?

That would not be necessary.

In some cases the water would have to be connected with a roof supply.

Wherever he got it, he could take it.

A supply from a storage tank in a roof is good enough?

I think the Minister has answered to Senator Commons, quite adequately, a point that I wished to raise. Is there any machinery thought out in respect of the procedure for applying for these grants and paying them? The wording of the section, if interpreted strictly, would seem to confine the payment of the grant to the period when the work is actually being done. I assume that that is not the intention and that what the Minister has in mind is that, once a person genuinely sets about doing the work, he can be paid either during the course of the progress of the work or when the officials are satisfied that the work has been completed.

The net point I want to make is this. Is it the intention that the grant be given when the work is in progress, or that the grant be delayed until some officials are satisfied that the work has been satisfactorily carried out?

The same procedure is followed as in the building or reconstructing of a house. If a man applies for a reconstruction grant or for a grant to build a new house, he must follow certain procedure; he must make application for the grant, and it is only when he gets an approval certificate that he can go ahead.

Sub-section (b) of this section provides that the installation of the water and sewerage facilities must be completed on or before the 1st April, 1954. If, for any reason, such installation was not completed, the person concerned would not qualify for the grant. It seems to me that some provision should be made for contingencies such as a strike. The section appears very strict as it stands. It would be better if the Minister or the Department had some discretion in the matter in the way of lengthening the period.

Our housing legislation has always been on that basis. It has never been suggested that when this Act expires on the 31st March, 1954, any individual erecting or reconstructing a house or installing amenities such as water and sewerage will not get the grant if he has not completed the job by that date. The position is that he will be covered by housing legislation that will follow at a later date. That has always been the case down the years. It is true that this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will expire on the 31st March, 1954, or on such other date as the proposals to take its place will have passed through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I appreciate the point made by the Minister. This is something I raised before. I do not think the provisions embodied in this Bill are the best way of dealing with the matter. It seems to me that it would be very much better if there had been a sort of interregnum of three or six months allowed, because there is always the possibility that an Act of this kind may not be continued in its existing form. What has happened is that there has been a certain amount of uneasiness, certainly in the case of building, until the intention of the Government to bring in a new Act has been made known. It has never been quite clear to me why an Act of this kind should be only for a two-year period. I think the procedure should be adopted of allowing three months extra so as to complete work started before the expiration of an Act.

Even three months or six months would give no safeguard at all, because there are cases in which work undertaken under this Bill may not be completed even by the year 1956. I feel it is better that the procedure followed down the years should be continued. Take the present Bill under discussion, for instance. It was not circulated to the public until the 29th April of this year—a month after the date on which the former Act expired. When this Bill becomes an Act, it will take effect only from the date on which it was published. If we were to add a period of three, four, five or six months to the expiring date, the 1st April, 1954, it would be found that injustice would be done to a large number of people who would not have been able to complete their building projects by that time. As I said already, it is better to leave the procedure as it has been for the past 20 years. I must say that I have no knowledge at all of any injustice having been done because a building project had not been completed within the time specified in the Act under which the person concerned made application.

Is there any reason why there should have been a precedent for a two-year Bill? Is there any reason why a certain Bill should not have been allowed to stand and amendments added to it year by year? It seems such a waste of time that a new Housing Bill should be presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas every two years. The present Housing Bill appears to cater for all existing circumstances. If these circumstances should change with the passage of time, new amendments could be added to this Bill to provide for them. The points to which Senator Douglas referred are worthy of notice. I fail to understand why it is necessary to introduce a new Housing Bill every two years.

The procedure of introducing a new Housing Bill every two years has been adopted by my Department, and I do not think there is anything wrong with that. It does not make much difference whether a new Bill is introduced every two years or whether certain amendments, found necessary owing to changing circumstances or with the passage of time, are added to an existing Bill. Through the experience gained by local bodies, certain amendments suggest themselves as being necessary. Therefore, it is thought wise and proper that new legislation should be introduced after the expiration of a period of two years. One could argue on the point raised by Senator O'Donnell, but I do not think there is anything in it. One may as well be discussing a new Housing Bill in this House now as discussing amendments to the 1950 Bill.

I would like to point out that I did not suggest there would be any injustice done in the circumstances I mentioned. What I did suggest and do suggest is that the period prescribed in the Bill is not sufficient. I am not referring so much to the installation of water and sewerage facilities as to building proper. I think something should be embodied in the new Bill to get over these difficulties.

I did not mean to use the word "injustice"; I should have used the word "hardship".

I would like to get back to the point I raised originally with regard to the grant being made available under existing legislation for the installation of private water supplies and sewerage facilities. This is very desirable and very welcome.

I feel that this is something which, so far as many of our country people are concerned, will have to be tackled by slow stages, and I suggest that the Minister, in making the regulations, might provide that as portion of the work was completed a proportion of the grant could be made available. There must be a water supply before there can be sewerage facilities, but the cost of installation of sewerage facilities is at an extravagantly high level to-day and I feel that it should be possible to help people along where they decide to take on all this work at the same time. If you help them to install the water supply, the other will follow automatically. If it were possible to provide that a proportion of the total grant will be made available as a support for the first part of the scheme, it would be a definite encouragement to getting the whole scheme taken on. I feel that you will get more done in that way and I urge that that point be given consideration.

I am neither a mason nor a plumber, but there is at the moment a grant obtainable by a rural dweller from the Department of Agriculture for the provision of water to a dwelling house. The grant specified in this section is provided for the installation of the water system in the house, and, when you start to install a water system, I should say, even though I am not a plumber, that the only practical way to approach it is to take the two together, to complete the job. I find it difficult to see how it could be approached in any other way. The water is on the threshold and I do not see what you could do with the water, unless you provide both services. The intention of the section is the encouragement of people who provide these facilities. I am perfectly aware that this is a costly business and that it will be a slow process. I am aware, too, that many people will not be able to take advantage of it, but it is designed to encourage those who are in a reasonable position to do so to take advantage of it. I am afraid that I could not by a process of regulation make the thing any more simple than the section intends it should be.

Am I to understand from the Minister that a person can get the benefit of two grants, one from the Department of Agriculture and the other from the Minister's Department?

No. I did not intend to give that impression.

I thought not. The Department of Agriculture grant is in respect of the erection of a tank and cost of piping, and so much is allowed for the provision of a sink in the kitchen, but that grant cannot be made available in addition to this grant?

There is a point which I was not clear about until to-day with regard to a hot and cold water system. It is desirable, and it is the Minister's intention in this Bill, that both hot and cold water systems should be available in each house, and I understood that a person had to have both hot and cold water before getting the benefit of the grant. The Minister has made it quite clear that he can benefit by having a cold water supply only. If a bathroom is erected and a bath installed, there is not much use in having a cold water system only, and hot water is also very desirable in the kitchen. We know, however, that the cost of installing the hot water section of the system would be a good deal more expensive than the installation of the cold water section. I should like to know if the Minister considers £50 adequate? Would it be possible at this stage to amend the provision to enable a separate grant to be made available in respect of the installation of the cold water supply and an additional grant of £50 or £25— whatever the Minister might think feasible—in respect of the installation of a hot water system as well? The cost of copper piping, tubing and baths is very high, and I feel that, as we have gone so far in this very desirable section, we should go a little further and bring it as near to perfection as we can.

The Senator is thinking of the ideal thing, and those who can afford the ideal thing will have it. Those who cannot will have to do with something which is not the ideal. There is no prohibition against those who can afford to install the hot and cold water systems doing so, and they will get the grant mentioned here, but there are people who could not, and it is these people we are trying to encourage.

Lest there be any confusion about this, may I say that this is merely a grant to encourage people to do something? It does not purport to cover anything like the cost of the work.

It is not a bad effort.

I can say from years of practical experience as a builder that the person who will get water and sewerage facilities supplied to a house in a rural area for £50 is doing extremely well. With regard to Senator Baxter's suggestion as to making portion of the grant available for portion of the work, from my practical experience, I know that the person who would attempt to avail of this grant would come off much better by doing as much as possible, by bringing the water supply in, even if it were only a cold water supply, and providing sewerage facilities, rather than splitting it up, because the cost of the two bites would be far greater than the original cost.

There is one suggestion I want to make to the Minister with regard to framing the regulations in respect of the grant under Section 7. The Local Government Department has been very helpful ever since the Housing Act of 1932 in issuing the standard plans indicating the type of house which would qualify for a grant. That system has been continued down through the years and, as I say, these plans have been very valuable in giving people down the country an idea of what is required. I suggest that a standard specification should be made available for such things as the erection of a tank, the bottom of which in many cases might be the roof of the bathroom. Care requires to be taken to ensure that it is a watertight job. Many people will do this work by direct labour or by themselves, and it would be very wise if the Department issued some sort of standard specification and plan for that particular type of work, the erection of a bathroom as an adjunct to an existing farmhouse as a guide for these people.

With regard to what I have said about hot and cold water systems, I agree that my proposal was as near as possible to the ideal scheme, but we now find that the ideal scheme is only ideal for the person who has a little extra money to enable him to put the hot water part of the scheme into operation.

Would it be possible now—I would not be asking for too much—for the Minister to consider that this grant could only be paid where there was hot and cold water? I can assure him that I thought that this covered both. I would have put down an amendment, but I know that it is useless to put in an amendment at this stage unless the Minister is prepared to accept it. The Minister knows as well as I do that people who are engaged in hard labour, such as farmers, cannot derive full benefit from the scheme unless they have hot water. Maybe small farmers and labourers cannot afford it, but it would be a good thing to give them extra encouragement, so that they, as well as their better-off neighbours, could have a hot-water scheme. I am, of course, in the Minister's hands, but I think the suggestion is reasonable.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 8 and 9 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 10 stand part of the Bill."

I would be glad if the Minister would give us some clear idea of how the income will be arrived at under sub-section (2). Does this mean that every different housing authority can make its own rules to decide what is income? In the case of other means tests, such as the test for old age pensions, there are very carefully prepared rules, but there are no such rules in the Bill. It looks to me as if there could be one decision as to what was income under one local authority and another decision in relation to another authority.

It also seems to be very difficult to decide who may reasonably be expected to reside in a house. Take a young man of 22, unmarried, who does not want to reside. Different decisions could be arrived at all over the country. Some schedule as in the case of the National Health Bill and some uniformity would be desirable.

It is not easy to lay down any hard and fast method of simplifying this income question. Local authorities are at the moment making an effort to reckon the incomes of different people for whom they are providing houses, and I can only assume that if they can make a fairly accurate calculation for that purpose they will be able to make a calculation also for the purpose of paying this grant.

On the question of who could reasonably be expected to reside, this is what we had in mind: you might have a young man living with his parents, and he might have arranged to get married in a month or so; while his income or part of it might be coming into the home at one time, a month afterwards he would be on his own, married and living apart from his family. The provision is designed to give local bodies a fair scope. It is very hard to visualise all the types of cases which might arise. Local bodies all over the country have had that task to perform for some time, so if they have done it fairly well why should they not do the same in the future?

If the Minister reads this wording carefully he will find it difficult to see how it could be interpreted as he says. If a person has resided in the house at any time during the year his income must be taken into consideration. Those who may reasonably be expected to reside are those who are not residing, but who in the opinion of the local authority should have been residing there. I do not think it can be interpreted in the elastic way the Minister says. I am not objecting to that, however. My real difficulty is the meaning of the word "income". I am not pressing an amendment, but merely drawing attention to the fact that it is not as it might be.

A boy might have been residing with his parents, but just at the time the local body was about to determine the family income he might have left and got married.

He would be caught under the Bill if he lived in the house at any time during the year.

I would not interpret it so rigidly. I do not think there is any need to do so.

I am only drawing attention to the fact that that seems to be unnecessarily rigid while the other part seems unnecessarily vague. I have no specific amendment.

This time I agree definitely with the Minister. It will at all times be a difficult task to assess the income of a person described as one who may reasonably be expected to reside in a house. It is vague and very wide. Local authorities will have a difficult task in finding out who exactly is the right person for a grant and I do not see how it can be made any easier.

You have a man who is about to build a house. He lives in a bad one. Three or four of his family are in England and are contributing very handsomely to his income by sending money home. How is it possible to track down the income in a house like that? There are many such cases in my own county. Take a man who has two sons carpenters or plasterers, which are very well paid trades at the present time. They do not reside in his house but make a handsome contribution every month or every week to their father who is about to build a house. It would be very difficult to assess his income.

I am, therefore, in full agreement with the Minister that it would be very hard to lay down exact rules for this section. It will depend on the investigating officers of local authorities and in my estimation their task will be a pretty hard one.

I am reminded that the words to which Senator Douglas has drawn attention, "who may reasonably be expected to reside", refer to the new house for which application has been made, not the old house.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 11 to 36, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedule and Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Agreed to take the remaining stages now.
Bill received for final consideration and passed.