Seanad Éireann - Volume 13 - 18 June, 1930
Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Bill, 1930.—Second Stage.
Question proposed: “That the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest  (Restrictions) Bill, 1930, be read a Second Time.”
Minister for Justice (Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney) James Fitzgerald-Kenney
Minister for Justice (Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney): This is a short Bill. As the Seanad no doubt is aware, the control of houses under existing legislation will terminate on the 24th of this month. This is a Bill which continues the existing legislation up to the 31st of December next. The reason why I have chosen the 31st of December is that if it becomes necessary for me to carry on this legislation it would be more conveniently done by the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill than by coming before the Dáil and Seanad year after year. However, I hope that before the 31st of December I will introduce a general Bill dealing with the whole problem in relation to the tenancy of houses in towns and cities.
Sir John Keane Sir John Keane
Sir John Keane: I shall be very brief in what I have to say, but I feel compelled to make my usual protest against this hardy annual. As long as measures of this kind are being brought in here and remain on the Statute Book it is only futile to expect that enormous expenditure on the part of the State will settle this housing question. The only rational way it can be done is through the agency of private enterprise, and private enterprise will not go on so long as measures of this kind remain in force. The Minister let drop a qualification just now which offers one hope of comfort. He suggested that it might not be necessary to carry on this legislation beyond the end of the current year. I do hope, if he has in contemplation a larger measure to deal with the matter of housing, he will allow rents to operate on the ordinary economic basis. Why should rent be the only commodity that is now controlled? Clothing, food, and all other services are operating in a free market, and you have only to get a steady price level to see that these things are rapidly adjusting themselves to the law of supply and demand. Why alone should house-owners,  who have taken a very great risk in providing capital for these important services, be penalised? I say that they have taken a risk. They have fixed their money in houses instead of putting it into liquid securities, which they could realise at any time they wished. Why should they be penalised because they have invested their money in a national service? Until rents are freely allowed to operate you can never settle the housing question.
Mr. O'Farrell Mr. O'Farrell
Mr. O'Farrell: I am surprised to find Senator Sir John Keane again trotting out these arguments against the Rent Restrictions Bill. He is opposing the Bill on the ground that it is detrimental to the solution of the housing problem through the free play of private enterprise. I could understand the force of that argument if there was any control whatever over the rents charged for any houses now being built, or any house that has been built since 1919. As the Seanad knows, since 1919 there is no control whatever over houses built. On the contrary there are State subsidies, rates remissions and every encouragement that can be reasonably given to the extent that we can get the present Government to give to private enterprise to build houses. In spite of that the speculative builders have not responded in a way that is calculated to settle the housing problem within the next ten or fifteen years. What the Senator suggests is a further method of augmenting or aggravating the position that now exists, to allow the rent of every house be increased to what he calls the economic level which would, of course, involve an impossible burden on the tenants in view of the present housing shortage. I can understand the Senator's attitude from the viewpoint of a landowner, but all the same I should have imagined that he would have advanced an argument that would hold water, and not such an argument as the one he has advanced. I do hope that the Minister will introduce a comprehensive  measure regulating the relations between landlords and tenants in towns and cities before this measure expires. I say that because the whole position is far from satisfactory in view of the Report of the Town Tenants Commission which was presented long ago. It is surprising that, since then, time has not been found for the introduction of a town tenants measure in view of the fact that time has been found for measures not at all as important as this.
Mr. Comyn Mr. Comyn
Mr. Comyn: In one respect Senator Sir John Keane is right. There is nothing so bad as uncertainty. Temporary laws dealing with questions of this kind are bad because they are leading to uncertainty. That is the only point in which I agree with Senator Sir John Keane. I agree that the rents of houses in towns should be restricted permanently for an economic reason.
The economic reason is this, that whereas goods and other things can be produced ad lib, lands in the neighbourhood of towns cannot be extended or increased. The land available in the towns is limited. The Minister must know that legislation of this kind, of a purely temporary nature, owing to its uncertainty, is very bad. But I take it that now in introducing this Bill he has promised that this year he will introduce a permanent measure dealing with this question of housing in the towns and dealing with the rents of these houses.
Mr. Douglas Mr. Douglas
Mr. Douglas: It was difficult to hear the Minister. Was there a definite promise by the Minister that a Bill would be introduced? Did the Minister say that it would not be necessary to extend this Bill beyond the 31st December next because other legislation for town tenants would be introduced, and is that why he is introducing this Bill?
Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney
Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: No. I hope to introduce two measures before the end of December. One will deal with the question of town tenants, which I look upon as a permanent question. The other will deal with  rent restrictions, and I regard it as a temporary expedient to meet a temporary difficulty in regard to housing.
Mr. Johnson Mr. Johnson
Mr. Johnson: I am glad indeed to hear the last few words which the Minister has uttered because it has been evident to me since the report of the Town Tenants Commission was published and from resolutions passed impressing on the Government the importance of bringing in legislation, that there has been a good deal of misconception abroad on this matter, and I am very glad to find from what the Minister said that he is not going to be led away in this matter by the shopkeepers in the small towns. I think that is the problem. At least that is the explanation of the difficulties perhaps with which the Government has been faced. I know that there is urgency in respect to established shops and the like in the small towns and also houses that are owned by the present occupants. In cases where their leases are likely to fall in, every postponement in the bringing in of the Town Tenants Bill is making it more and more difficult for any repairs to be done to these houses or shops. The position is in general very unsatisfactory, but in regard to the other aspect, in the matter of persons who are living in houses in towns and cities that are at present subject to the Rent Restriction Acts, if the Report of the Town Tenants Commission is to be put into operation, as has been demanded in respect of these houses, I very much suspect that the remedy is going to be much worse than the disease, because it is practically an invitation that any person who is aggrieved by the landlord charging any rent he likes will have to go and take his case into court. I think that is quite impracticable and I think the trouble that is going to arise will be very great. Therefore I am glad to be encouraged in the hope by the Minister's statement that the question of rent restrictions for houses in towns is going to be detached from that of the general question of town tenants, which in the main, I think, signifies shopkeeping tenancies and the larger  type of tenancies, not the working class tenancies in the towns. In regard to Senator Sir John Keane's statement it is very much like a statement made in the Dáil last week that the housing problem could be solved by allowing free play of the economic forces and of the ordinary agencies, financial inducement and so on.
I cannot understand this mentality on the part of anyone who has lived in Ireland for the last forty or fifty years. I cannot understand such a person advancing such a proposal. Was the labourers' cottages problem in the country solved by the ordinary play of economic forces? It was not. I do not know that anyone is prepared to say that it could have been. It was said—presumably the statement was made by Deputy Good——
Sir John Keane Sir John Keane
Sir John Keane: I qualify that by saying that if the State was not prepared to take up the liability for housing it could be solved in another way. The labourers' cottages problem has been solved by a lavish expenditure from the resources of the State.
Mr. Johnson Mr. Johnson
Mr. Johnson: It is a question of degree as to State assistance. I do not know whether the Senator wants us to say that there are circumstances in which he would approve of the State coming to the aid of this housing problem. However, if he admits that it is right that the State should come to the assistance of private enterprise, and if private enterprise has failed to solve this problem then it is simply a question of how far the State should intervene and how much assistance should be given.
It is alleged that even in urban districts private enterprise, if left to itself and the ordinary play of economic forces, would solve the problem. It was said that in 1906 private enterprise had built sufficient houses, that the demand and supply met, or rather, that the supply was greater than the demand. That was supposed to be the position in 1906, but anybody who knows Dublin knows  how utterly false that was. I suppose the same is true of every other town in the country. In 1911 and 1913 you had several reports on the state of housing. That was absolute proof without any possibility of refutation that the housing problem had not been solved by the free play of private enterprise or of economic forces, so that the necessity for legislative intervention is proved up to the hilt. The question of method is not one I am going to discuss now. I think it is evident that there is a necessity for the passing of this Bill to extend the existing Act, which expires before the end of this month.
Question—“That the Bill be read a second time”—put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 19th June.
Seanad Éireann 13 Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Bill, 1930.—Second Stage.