Seanad Éireann - Volume 38 - 20 July, 1950
Housing (Amendment) Bill, 1950—Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. Dockrell Mr. Dockrell
Mr. Dockrell: Last night I was appealing to the Minister to get on with the work that only the Government and the local authorities can perform. Comparing the present time with pre-war it is my contention that there are, broadly speaking, no sites available on which all the amenities are laid on. I think there are some years of work in front of people in that respect and housing must more or less wait on this work being done.
I would like to suggest that housing should be treated as a business proposition. There seems to be a disposition to put housing in a compartment by itself. It is said that people ought to work harder and for less profit on housing schemes. Whatever the reason may be, I am afraid that either the  Government or someone else has chased away the people who ought to help. The speculative builder has been banished for years. The Minister may say that he has not been banished but he has definitely been treated in such a way as to make his position less favourable than that of other parties dealing with housing. I suppose we may take this Bill as the beginning of a new era during which that builder will continue operations as he did in the past.
Another individual who has been chased off the field is the person who put money into housing as an investment. When the Rent Restrictions Act was first introduced it was a good thing; but, remember, it has had the effect of leaving private enterprise and private investment in a most unfavourable position. I shall not argue that the Act should be done away with, but it has been a contributory cause to the present shortage of houses.
Broadly speaking, the Minister is catering for three classes that have to be housed and each class requires very different treatment. I shall call the classes A, B and C. In category A there is, for want of a better word, the artisan type. That includes many categories of persons. These are the people who are at present being housed in houses erected by local authorities. I do not know if the Minister can tell us exactly what the country loses in housing a person of that class. I know that years ago it was calculated at £1,000 capital. That was the cost of housing a family of that particular class. We come then to category B and, for want of a better description, I shall call them the black-coated workers. That particular person is very little different from the person in category A. In many cases he may have less weekly income than the person in category A. He is catered for under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act and by houses put up by utility societies. We all remember the operation of the Small Dwellings Act before the war. I think there was then enough money available, but since the grants were put up only a very short  time elapses before the funds are exhausted and intending applicants are told that their applications cannot be considered. I suppose the Minister will say that he is now catering for class B—the black-coated worker. There have been continual complaints from that class that the houses are not valued by the local authority at the amount it cost them to put them up. Now I know the Minister has altered that in this Bill and in future it will be the market value. That particular worker will also be saved the legal costs under this measure, and, I think, the stamp duty. The Minister says that at least 5 per cent. of the cost of the house must be contributed and I am wondering why it is necessary to charge him even 5 per cent.
I cannot see any great difference be-between classes A and B. It costs the country £1,000 to house a worker in class A. It does not cost the country anything to house a person in class B. He is going to get into a house and will pay the principal and interest on the money that he has to raise to do so, and he will pay the rates. I heard the question asked yesterday, suppose there was a loss on that house what would happen? I suppose if you let people into houses for nothing, some of them could not pay the rent. In that case they would be evicted, the houses would be sold and, possibly there would be a loss on them. I suggest to the Minister that probably they have had experience of schemes such as that in other countries, and that probably 3 per cent. of the people would not default. If only 3 per cent. defaulted, there would not be a total loss. There would be some salvage out of it. Anyway, you would have put that number of people into houses as against a corresponding number in class A who will each have cost the country £1,000.
I am not going to argue with the Minister as to what a person ought to pay to get into a house because that is, broadly speaking, what the question gets down to. People are prepared to occupy houses even though they have very limited means or no means at all. In the case of newly-weds, I do not know, for instance, but that you might start by having them psycho-analysed  as to the number of couples that would be likely to make good. Remember, if you put a number of people into houses it can happen that while one will make good, even though he has to pay a bigger rent, another person would go down even if you were to let him into the house for nothing. What I am arguing with the Minister is that there is a case for giving special consideration to the people in class B. I suggest that a minimum charge ought to be made on them, consistent with some sort of an examination that they are likely to be trustworthy. Another thing to remember is that if the value of those houses fell it would show that we were half-way towards solving the housing problem.
Now, the third class that the Minister is catering for have not, as far as I know, been catered for in the past. That class is comprised of the very poorest section in the community. They are the people who pay 5/- for a corner of a room. They are dependent on a continuous supply of houses being passed down to them, houses that were at one time inhabited as large single houses. Then they became lodging-houses and, finally, tenement houses. The supply of those houses decreased tremendously during the emergency. I would say that many of them are now almost unfit for human habitation. Be that as it may, the elimination of that class of house can only be brought about by the gradual acceleration of people being moved out of better class houses. Everyone in this Chamber is wearing a suit of clothes. Some day some one will say to them, or perhaps they will discover it themselves, that the suit has become very shabby. It will then either be sold or given to somebody; later it may do a turn on a humbler citizen, and, ultimately it will go into the dustbin as being of no further use. Houses are just the same, whether one likes it or not. The idea of houses being built for everybody is a comparatively modern one. I am making an appeal to the Minister that he should consider this Bill as only the forerunner of an effort fundamentally to change the structure of housing as it is being carried on at present, because, while we may be complacent about the rate of progress,  there is no reason why that rate of progress should not be substantially increased if there is a commonsense and logical outlook on the situation.
Mr. Fitzsimons Mr. Fitzsimons
Mr. Fitzsimons: I suppose all sections in the House will support this Bill if, for no other reason, than that perhaps some of the difficulties which have been confronting this country in regard to this problem will be solved in another few years. To be quite candid, I do not know whether this Bill is going to be much help or not. As far as I can see it is going to clear off if you like the legal and the financial cogs, but the valuation ones will still remain. It is all very fine to be dealing with the legal end of this problem, as far as the acquisition of land is concerned and by the Minister giving power to the local authorities to do this, that and the other. In my opinion, unless the State does something more in the way of financing the housing problem, I cannot see that the local authorities, in view of the rents which they will have to charge to workers or other persons with an income will be in a position to house the people in the way they would desire. I think that the Minister, from the financial end, and not so much perhaps under the Small Dwellings Act as under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts, will have to give greater relief in this or in some other Bill. While, as I have said, the legal difficulties may be got over, I am afraid that as long as the financial difficulties are there the workers will not be housed in the way that I would like to see, or even if they are housed, they will not be in a position, should a period of depression set in, to meet the rents which the local authorities may have to levy on them. If I have any grouse at all in regard to this Bill, it is on that aspect of it, that the Minister has not given any indication that he is going to give greater assistance to the local authorities by way of the payment of a bigger subsidy. I think if he would do that, everyone in the country, especially local authorities and the people who will finally occupy these houses, would be satisfied that the State is really doing them justice.  Seeing that houses in urban areas which formerly cost £300 to £350 to build are now costing from £1,000 to £1,200, I do not think, even allowing for the grants now available, that the people who will occupy these houses in the years to come will be in a position to face the burden which will be cast upon them, neither will the local authorities. I think that burden is altogether too great and I suggest that the Minister should take up the matter with the Minister for Finance to see if anything can be done to get over that difficulty.
So far as the grants for reconstruction are concerned, I note that the Minister is raising the limits of valuation from £35 to £50 but I feel that he will have to provide a larger grant than is provided for in the Bill. The grant is to be £80 but, as you know, £80 will not go very far nowadays when the cost of materials is so high. The grant was £25 pre-war and even though it has been increased by three times the amount, I suggest that is not sufficient. Anyone who knows rural Ireland will agree that small farmers are very badly housed. I know the Minister is thoroughly conversant with conditions in rural Ireland and I think he should try to do something for the type of people to whom I refer. Having regard to the present cost of timber, cement and the various other materials required for the reconstruction of a house, I think the Minister should provide for a grant of at least £100. I think everyone will approve of the proposal to increase the floor space. That is a concession which has been sought for a long time. The Minister has also provided that where a subsidy is being paid on a house, the workers employed in the building of it must get trade union wages. I am glad that is being done because local authorities have had numerous complaints that it was not being done. Now that this provision is enshrined in the Bill, contractors will have no choice in the matter and the Minister can withhold the subsidy if the workers engaged in the building of a house do not receive trade union rates. If the Minister will consider the few points which I have mentioned  I am sure the Bill will have the approval of all sections of the House.
Mr. Counihan Mr. Counihan
Mr. Counihan: There is a certain class of building which I am very anxious to see erected and that is parish halls. I have advocated the erection of these halls for years on practically every opportunity I got since I became a member of this House. In fact it became a standing joke with some of my colleagues and I got tired of it but now that we have a new Minister for Local Government I think it an opportune moment to repeat my request.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: There is nothing about parish halls in this Bill.
Mr. Counihan Mr. Counihan
Mr. Counihan: I ask the Minister to try to do something to promote the building of parish halls. I think they are most essential. If we are to stop the flight from the land to the cities, we must have some amenities in the country. In most parishes there is no suitable building in which to hold lectures, meetings, a dance or any form of amusement whatever. When the Minister for Agriculture sends out somebody to give a lecture to the young farmers, they have to go to the local school, if they can get a local school.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator will have to deal with the Bill before the House.
Mr. Counihan Mr. Counihan
Mr. Counihan: This deals with building.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: There is nothing about parish halls in this Bill. It deals with a different matter altogether.
Mr. Counihan Mr. Counihan
Mr. Counihan: The Bill deals with building and I contend that the building of parish halls is as essential as building for any other purpose. However, if I am ruled out, I shall raise the matter again on the Appropriation Bill.
Mr. Douglas Mr. Douglas
Mr. Douglas: There seems to be general agreement that this Bill is definitely an improvement. It certainly deals with a number of difficulties that have arisen in the last two or three  years. I do not propose to take up the time of the House in repeating anything which has been said by other Senators but there is one part of the Bill which I think may require some reconsideration. It is not a Committee point because I think it would not be in order to put down an amendment to deal with it, in this House at any rate. I am referring to the provision with regard to the stamp duty payable. We had a debate on the Finance Bill with regard to the 5 per cent. duty and I think most of us will be pleased that an effort is being made in the case of subsidy houses to reduce the rate to 1 per cent. I should like in that connection to draw the attention of the Minister —and I hope he will draw the attention of the Minister for Finance to it—to a serious difficulty that may arise.
I think that this reduced rate should apply to any resale of the house within, say, five years and the reason is this: Say that a young couple buy a house, make a 5 per cent. deposit on whatever price they have to pay, that a tragedy occurs and the husband dies, as sometimes unfortunately happens, within the first year. The house is then resold and the 5 per cent. stamp duty immediately applies, which means that 4 per cent. out of the 5 per cent. which they have deposited is lost. I think that if the reduced rate of stamp duty were to apply to any sale of the house within five years, if the house had to be resold in that period it would cover any loss in the way of depreciation. We cannot change the figures in the Bill by an amendment now but it seems to me proper to draw the attention of the Minister to it so that it might be dealt with at some future stage. It is not immediately urgent because it would apply only to houses coming on the market in the future and it could be remedied perhaps in next year's Finance Bill or in some other way. I want the Minister carefully to consider it because it is a matter which may cause undue hardship in a small number of cases where houses are bought under the provisions of this Bill and, owing to a death or some tragedy of that kind have to be sold shortly afterwards.
Mr. O'Dwyer Mr. O'Dwyer
Mr. O'Dwyer: I think that this Bill  represents an undoubted advance on the existing legislation but I should like to impress on the Minister that of all the classes provided for in the Bill, there is no class so urgently in need of attention in the matter of housing as agricultural labourers. In my part of the country, and I think it applies generally, they are very badly in need of houses. No matter how acute housing conditions may be in the towns, the problem is not so difficult as it is in the country because it is comparatively easy to get local authorities assisted by the State, to erect a large number of houses in towns. To erect the same number of houses in the country you would have to go over the whole county and it is much more difficult to get schemes under way in the country. Since the start of the war, there have been practically no cottages been built in the country. Due to the peculiar conditions in the country, there is a prejudice against removing people from houses which they occupy, no matter how bad a tenant may be with the result that very many of the cottages are in the possession of one person while at the same time there are very many necessitous families who have practically no accommodation.
The fact is that a large number of families of agricultural labourers have been without houses for years back. In many cases they live in rooms, sometimes with their relations by marriage, under very difficult conditions and the houses are overcrowded. In other cases they have no house at all and it is quite a common thing for a wife to live with her own family while her husband lives with his family. One result of the housing shortage is that the people are getting tired of waiting for houses and many of them are emigrating to England. I have seen it within recent years. I have seen several young couples with children going to England and those people generally will not come back. This means a loss to the country, particularly of agricultural workers and, therefore, I say that that is one of the reasons why the Minister should concentrate above all things on agricultural workers.
Another thing which adds to the problem of the housing scarcity is that  under the cottage purchase scheme the cottages are allowed to be sold. A man having an agricultural worker's cottage can purchase it and sell it again and this has the effect of depriving very poor agricultural workers of any chance of a cottage. I would suggest that the Minister should seriously consider having new cottages built as rapidly as possible. Those which have been built in the past are very fine houses but possibly in the extreme circumstances of to-day it might be better to build smaller houses. The cottages built before the war were very comfortable and the people in them live very well—I think there was a Government Order that there should be a certain floor space—but they would be just as comfortable and the people would be just as contented if they were not so large. The price would be at least £100 less and it would make for speed which is the main consideration to-day. I would ask the Minister seriously to consider whether it would not be better to provide a smaller type of cottage to meet the necessities of the case.
Previous rural workers' schemes— and it was the same in the towns I think—were accompanied by demolition orders and frequently under these orders very good houses which could have accommodated people for years to come were levelled simply because of red tape, simply because it was the law. With every scheme of cottage building carried out before the war there were demolition orders which in the villages and throughout the country levelled a great number of houses. Then the emergency scarcity period came when houses could not be built and these houses would have been most welcome if they were in existence. I hope that the same mistake will not be made again. Any house capable of giving accommodation in safety to human beings should not be knocked down. When they are no longer needed they will become derelict and fall but while they are needed they certainly should not be knocked down.
I thought that the Minister might have dealt in this Bill with the question of the sale or resale of cottages. We all agree that the purchase of  cottages by tenants is a very good thing but what is really bad is that they should be allowed to sell them to people of a different class especially at the present time. Under the law as it stands at present a house becomes vacant and the housing council gives it to the most needy applicant. He can sign a purchase agreement and after three or four months he can by law put up that house for sale and get £200 or £300 for it and walk away free. That is not right. The result of it is that the cottages will gradually be transferred from the people for whom they were intended, very poor agricultural workers, to people in a more comfortable class altogether who would not need them so badly. Another effect it will have is that very poor agricultural workers will have no refuge except the new houses which are being built of which the rent is very high and the old cottages, the rent of which is comparatively low, will belong to people of a different class. It is a matter that I would ask the Minister to look into for the sake of the very poor worker.
Another thing that helps to make houses scarce is the law against subletting. A man having a cottage, even a single man with plenty of accommodation, is not allowed to take in tenants. As a matter of fact they do take them but it is illegal and when the law is enforced it has the effect of restricting accommodation. It would be a good thing to have some alteration in the law in that respect. The main point of my speech is that smaller houses might be built.
The burden of all this housing programme will fall on the rates and will prove very heavy. I really think that the Minister should in the near future go into the question and see whether the Government could not provide larger subsidies for housing because eventually the local authorities will not be able to carry the burden.
Mr. Ruane Mr. Ruane
Mr. Ruane: I consider this an excellent Bill because it remedies many of the defects that previous Bills were discovered to have in the course of operation and any member of a public body, or any public representative,  who on behalf of his constituents had correspondence with the Department of Local Government on matters pertaining to housing grants must have felt from time to time that notwithstanding the care given by previous Ministers to the drafting of Bills to provide houses in the country there were still defects that presented difficulties.
One of the defects was the question of their application solely to agricultural workers which knocked out many deserving members of the community from ever making use of the facilities to secure decent houses.
Because of its nature I think that this Bill will tend to have better houses built in the country. It offers an inducement to honest speculative builders to put up decent buildings and as the applicants will have the right of selection and may call round and view the different houses before they make a selection it is up to the builders and good business for them to provide the best houses possible. I believe also that the Bill will tend substantially to reduce the excessive building costs that have obtained for some considerable time. As has been said here previously there is always the danger that when Government grants are pretty liberally provided expenditure will not be as careful or as cautious as it should be and as it would be if money were scarce, but I do believe that this Bill will tend to get better value for less money.
The part of the Bill that refers to reconstruction appeals to me because I know that in many cases people who put up houses 20 to 25 years ago for which they received grants were unsuccessful when applying for reconstruction grants in respect of improvements they subsequently made. Many houses built under the 1923 Act were not provided with sanitary amenities because at that time the towns and villages in which they were built had not a piped water supply. Within the past 25 years these defects have been remedied in many places and houses built with the grants have been provided with sanitary annexes or an extra room and accommodation and they could not qualify for a reconstruction  grant. Under the Bill they can. Heretofore, a considerable amount of time very often elapsed between the time a person made an application for a grant, either in respect of a new house or the reconstruction of an old house, and the issuing of the certificate. Under this Bill, the work may proceed before the certificate is issued and payment will be made either during the reconstruction work or as shortly as possible after it has been finished. That is a very desirable innovation.
I visualise only one danger in the Bill and I suppose it would be more appropriate to discuss it on the Committee Stage, but I want to make a passing reference to it now. I refer to the power which the Bill gives to local bodies to acquire land for the purpose of building houses. I have no interest in the maintenance of demesne grounds in so far as they are necessary as sites for houses to be built, but I foresee possibilities of an unscrupulous local body acquiring property for the ostensible purpose of erecting houses and not using that property for that purpose. I see the possibility of that property then being sold by the public body at a higher figure than that at which it was bought or sold perhaps at the same figure to an interested member of the local body or some friend.
Within the past couple of years, I referred in this House to this matter during discussions of local government matters and suggested that, where such a site was not used by the public body for the purpose for which it was intended, and where the site was to be sold, the person from whom it was acquired should get first preference and should be able to get it back at the price for which he parted with it, plus the cost of any improvements the local body might have carried out. Generally speaking, the Bill is an excellent one. It solves the difficulties which have been found as a result of the experience of the past 25 years. I compliment the Minister on its introduction and I am quite satisfied that the aids which it provides will be liberally availed of and that they will make a substantial contribution to remedying the housing shortage.
Mr. D. Burke Mr. D. Burke
Mr. D. Burke: This measure has  received more universal acclamation from the national and local Press than any Bill that has come before this Assembly in recent years. I should like to add my compliments to those of other Senators on its introduction. It is a measure which will tend to solve some of the evils which have been very prevalent in our time. It will tend to do away with emigration, because it will give people an opportunity of having ownership in their own country. Many workers, white collar and others, have spoken to me within recent weeks about the possibility of purchasing a house or having a house built for them under this Bill, where, by paying a little more each week than the rent, they could own the property in 25 or 35 years to give to their widows or their children. That will have the effect of giving these people a stake in the country which will have a very desirable stabilising effect on community life. The additional money payable each week or month in the annuity will make a desirable contribution to savings for other essential works. It has been found that, where there is a greater distribution of spending power, one of the problems which always confronts a Government is how to increase savings, and I believe that this measure should tend to increase savings because people will invest their incomes in property which they will have an opportunity of possessing.
The provision for reconstruction grants which will help people to bring their houses up to the standard which they believe they are entitled to have in 1950, is a desirable provision. The increase in the superficial area from 1,250 square feet to 1,400 square feet is very welcome, because it often happened that a man with a rather large family found that, if he wanted to provide sufficient accommodation for them, he could not do so within the floor space allowed in the past. As God gives him a large family, he finds that the State gives him no grant, but now the Minister has provided a grant in respect of the increased area.
In that connection, there is one small observation I want to make. While  the townsman may find 1,400 square feet sufficient, because with modern conveniences, a small kitchen is suitable for him, for the man in the country, the kitchen is likely to be the workshop or the laboratory. The Minister should agree to allow people in rural Ireland to get the advantage of an additional 100 square feet. A concession has been given under some housing regulations whereby professional men in towns and cities may go above the statutory limit for the purpose of providing a consulting room, surgery or office, provided there is a separate entrance. Something ought to be done under this Bill or under the regulations to give the farmer some concession in this respect. Any of us who have ever visited the country will appreciate the desirability of having a pretty large kitchen in the house occupied by a farmer. I wholeheartedly support this measure and I hope it will have the success which we all look forward to its having. I hope also that it will have the desirable effects on social conditions which it is intended to have.
Mr. McCrea Mr. McCrea
Mr. McCrea: I want to join with other Senators in congratulating the Minister on the introduction of this Bill. I have been associated with public bodies all my life and I have been closely associated with many housing schemes, and, to my mind, there was very little improvement brought about by any of the various Housing Acts from the passing of the Local Government Act in 1898 up to the pre sent. The same old procedure had to be followed under the different measures, with the same delays and the same red herrings dragged across various housing schemes, with the result that a public authority was very lucky if, within five or six years, it was able to get a housing scheme through.
I listened carefully to the Minister's explanation of the Bill and, to my mind, it removes obstructions of every kind and makes it possible for anyone who wants a house to get a house or to get a house built. I think the Bill is an excellent Bill and that it goes a long way towards solving all our housing problems.
Fear has been expressed on the  opposite side that public authorities, and particularly county councils, will be given too wide powers. That is one of the bright spots I see in the Bill. Heretofore, there was no opportunity under any Housing Act to build better-class houses in non-municipal towns. I know that in my own town and other towns there is an opening for a number of better-class houses for certain people who are in the position to pay an economic rent for that particular type of house.
The Bill further gives power to county councils or local authorities to go into non-municipal towns which are reasonably well kept but where there are some derelict sites which are eyesores and to have these sites cleared and decent dwellings built upon them. In my own county there is a village in which I have only been once or twice, and that at night time. With the county manager and the engineering staffs I went there to inspect certain houses. The opinion of those who inspected the place was that the whole village should be demolished. There were derelict sites and half-demolished houses which you could describe as nothing but weeping-willows as they were bowing to each other. The whole village was a disgrace to any local authority but, we had no authority to do anything in connection with it, although the owners of the property had offered these houses to the council as a gift in order to have the village rebuilt. A lot of stress has been laid on the amount of the subsidies which will have to be paid and it was contended that they will bear very heavily on the rating authorities.
Mr. Fitzsimons Mr. Fitzsimons
Mr. Fitzsimons: The Labour Party have been saying for years that the subsidy is not sufficient.
Mr. McCrea Mr. McCrea
Mr. McCrea: I have heard this matter commented on at council meetings and in other places so often that I was inclined to believe we were carrying the whole of the working-class people on our backs. I can speak for a local authority which has been building houses for very many years and which did what no other local authority has done: carried out a scheme of 500  houses during the emergency. I find that the total contribution from the rates in County Wicklow is something like 1/10 in the £ for all housing schemes. In proportion to our population, certainly in proportion to our wealth, I think we have built more houses than any other public authority in Ireland. In County Wicklow at the same time we have built 3,000 rural houses. I do not know what the actual valuation of these houses is. I presume it is £5 or £6. If we multiply 3,000 by six it gives us £18,000, so that the actual loss to the rating authorities is not anything like what is represented. I do not think it would be more than 5d. or 6d. in the £, although the building has been going on since 1898.
Mr. Fitzsimons Mr. Fitzsimons
Mr. Fitzsimons: The workers are meeting the difference.
Mr. McCrea Mr. McCrea
Mr. McCrea: I am very glad that the Minister is going to give reconstruction grants, but I think the period of 15 years between grants is too long a span. I think the highest grant paid for reconstruction is about £45. In recent years very little work could be done for £45. A great number of people who availed of the previous grant will be debarred from getting another grant until the expiration of 15 years. I do not know whether the Minister will be prepared to consider that matter, but I would ask him to do it in connection with grants given for thatched houses. I know of a case in County Wexford where a person got a grant about 13 years ago for the reconstruction of a thatched house. I think 15 years is too long a span for thatched houses. I brought that case before the Department but a second grant could not be given under the Act. These cases of thatched houses are very isolated and I would ask the Minister to reduce the period to five or six years in these cases.
Senator Miss Butler yesterday raised the matter of larger houses in rural areas and suggested a floor area of 900 square feet. I think the average for rural dwellings which we are building at present is between 570 and 640 square feet. It is all very well to suggest that all rural houses should have a floor area of 900 square feet. If we  do that, we are going to increase considerably the price of rural cottages. The rents to-day are pretty high and if we add another 75 per cent. to the rents I am afraid very many people will not be in a position to pay them. If we are thinking of doing anything like that, we will have to suggest to the Minister that the subsidy should be doubled or that the rate contribution should be doubled or that wages should be increased correspondingly to meet the increased rents. I certainly welcome the Bill. I think it is a measure which is going to make some effort to solve the housing problem for all sections of the community.
Mr. Keyes Mr. Keyes
Mr. Keyes: At the outset I want to express appreciation of the helpful comments of Senators generally in connection with the Bill and, particularly, of the very helpful and reasoned analysis of the housing problem given by Senator Hawkins. Naturally, I am heartened by the reception given to the measure by every section of the community. I would like to say that it is the result of the efforts of the Department's officials and a good deal of study by them in examining the existing measures dealing with housing; the advice which we have got from the local authorities and the complaints we have received, some of them genuine, some of them fictitious; and making a very careful analysis and trying to embody in the measure provisions which will give the maximum of relief and remove any legislative bar in the way of the local authorities who are co-operating so actively in this national housing drive. We felt that we should not have any legislative bar when we are getting genuine co-operation from the citizens and the local authorities and that we should be helpful to them by introducing a measure which will remove a lot of the difficulties which have presented themselves so that the drive will go on at an accelerated pace.
Senator Hawkins referred to the work of the appointed officers and of some delays in making payments of grants. We have in fact introduced a procedure to short-circuit the existing  method of certification and lessen the work of the appointed officers. Payments will not now require final inspection by two officers. First inspections will be made by the appointed officer and the final inspection by the housing inspector of the Department. In that way we are lightening the work of the appointed officers. While it may be said that the remuneration of the appointed officers is not adequate or commensurate with the work, we must remember that the work is only part-time and that they receive a fee of two guineas. As I say, their work will be lessened by the new regulations which will also speed up the payment of the grants to the applicants.
Senator Hawkins also raised a question about the alteration in regard to the purchase grant and its effect. I think there cannot be anything but a beneficial effect from the alteration made. The applicant will still have the right under the 1948 Act to enter into a contract. The fact that we are giving him the right now to acquire, purchase or construct a house and still get the grant for it, anyway you take it, will be helpful. Even if it does encourage the speculative builder, as was suggested, we think that will be helpful. Up to now, the speculative builder could only build a house as he got an order. Such a man, having a site, will be able to plan and develop it to full advantage in the knowledge that applicants will come along with a grant in their pockets. That will enable the builder to do a speedier and maybe a cheaper job. Furthermore, there will be the fact that there will be a spirit of competition when applicants can come along with the grant in their pockets and say: “I am going to you to-day. I will go to the other builder the next day.”
I am rather surprised at the suggestion by Senator Hawkins to give the grant to the builder. Even the builders themselves did not ask that and they have been with me several times. We had not a notion of doing that. We are trying to keep the grant in the applicant's pocket. Many of the steps we have been taking were to secure that it went into the applicant's pocket and that the builder did not get it.
 There was also the point made that there may be an additional burden on local authorities to provide houses for every class. It is not intended that these new powers should impose any additional burdens. The operations contemplated are intended to leave each transaction economic for the local authority. The State grant will be the same as that being given to private individuals. There should be no extra cost upon the local authority in connection with that extension of their powers.
Many Senators referred to the acquisition of lands and the danger attaching to it. I can assure the Seanad that every caution will be observed and every discretion taken in the use of these powers. The powers are not being put into the Bill lightly. They are being put into the Bill because of essential need, hardship and handicap that was experienced by several local authorities.
A Senator referred to the possibility of a local authority being unscrupulous. I do not like to take that view of the local authorities. I think they are generally not of the unscrupulous type. They are doing a very good job and even if there were any danger of any particular local authority acquiring portion of land for an ulterior motive—it seems a rather remote possibility—the owner of the land has a right of appeal to the Minister and the right to an inquiry where he can be legally represented and, finally, he has the courts. All precautions and essential guarantees are given there because we do not want to invade the private rights of citizens to any extent other than in the public interest. Certainly the Minister, whoever he will be, will not stand idly by and see some local authority acquiring lands for purposes other than the provision of housing for the people in the area. The Senator may rest assured that private rights will be vigorously protected.
Local authorities may develop sites for private persons and charge the cost to the lessees. There should then be no loss to the ratepayers. In the case of public companies the invariable practice is to require such companies  to undertake all development work on the site.
The private builder is also strictly controlled, particularly in Dublin, by restricting permission for further building according to the builder's readiness to carry out requisite incidental development. There is always a check on that and it is in the power of the local authority to insist on the development being carried out to their satisfaction. In the proposal here, they can take the sites themselves and develop them themselves and set them to the applicant or the tenant.
There was a point made, I think, by Senator Hawkins that there may be a danger in opening the door by giving more money under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act in the new method of valuation, that is, relating market value to the reasonable cost of construction rather than the previous method of having it assessed by an auctioneer. The Senator suggests that we may be giving too much money. I want to point out that the real trouble up to the present was that the amount advanced by the local authority, even plus the grant, left a gap between the amount advanced and the price of the house to be purchased. We found that it was generally the practice that these people had to go elsewhere to get the additional money. They went to moneylenders and usurers in many cases. We will make the money available to them at a cheaper rate than the rate at which they have been getting it up to now. They will know exactly what they are facing, what their commitments will be. There was a very genuine demand all over the country for this particular concession. As has been mentioned by other Senators, if the fact that they want to build a house adds a little more to the weekly outgoings than would be represented by a normal rent, they are making a realisable asset for themselves and it is much better to have the money from the local authority than from private moneylenders at usurious rates of interest.
The question of costs has been raised and rightly so. I want to assure the Seanad that the costs have been very carefully kept under examination by the Department. Our whole aim is  to try to get building costs down as much as possible. We do not want to lower standards. We want to maintain standards, both urban and rural. We want to try to get the costs down as near as possible to a reasonable figure. I am glad to say that there has been a tendency in recent times for prices to drop. While the standard of wages has not gone down, some very slight decrease in materials took place which was offset again by an increase in other materials. None the less, there has been a drop in price levels and contract prices. Local authorities have been advised by the Department to examine tenders carefully and anything that is felt to be of an unreasonable nature should not be accepted. We have set ceiling figures in certain parts of the country which are operating satisfactorily. In addition, we have found the operation of direct labour schemes has had a very good corrective effect. We have not got the results of many of them yet but those we have got show a very pleasing and gratifying result. Some of the reductions that took place as against the contract prices could be called spectacular. That, in itself, has also helped to bring down and to keep contract prices to a lower figure. We are hoping, by the new developments under this measure and the spirit of competition that has been produced now, that there will be still further lowering of prices in the building of houses without reducing the standard.
The question of rural slums was referred to. I may say that the number of applications from congested areas up to now has been very gratifying, and bears a good percentage ratio to the applications from other parts of the country. That is gratifying because we are very anxious in the Department to get as much as possible done in those areas. Furthermore, the provisions of Section 7 should be of immense help and we hope will accelerate the building of houses in those areas.
The terminal date of 1952 has been mentioned. It will be in the knowledge of all Senator that successive terminal dates have always been a feature of Housing Acts. The intention is to ensure that the Oireachtas will  get an opportunity of instituting a periodical review of the financial provision. Nobody loses by this system.
It was suggested also in this connection that the powers which have been given to local authorities to build houses will have to take place behind priority classes, under the Labourers Act, etc., and that the time is not yet ripe. I think it is no harm to have that provision in this Bill. As a matter of fact, I could cite one or two cases at least in the country where they have already covered their housing needs and are in a position to get on with other work. We do not intend that that will be put into any priority. They must keep on and finish their existing housing needs before getting on with the other part of the job. I happen to know one case, and there is possibly a second, where they have already solved the problem and we hope many others will fall in in the course of the next few years.
In connection with the reference to the proposal to scrap the transition development fund grants, we have already obtained material from many local authorities and a substitute scheme is being worked out for the clarification of the existing methods of subsidisation. Ample notice will be given to the local authorities so that there will be no hitch or hold-up. They will know exactly what their powers will be. We are taking steps to secure that there will be no possible hitch because any of the local authorities engaged in the housing programme must know, well in advance, what the financial provisions for the following year will be.
I was glad to hear Senator Miss Butler's appreciation of the social principles underlying the expansion of general housing policy revealed in the Bill. The powers proposed to house general classes can scarcely be exercised to delay the more urgent problem of the special classes but when the solution of this latter problem is in sight the general powers can be exercised. Indeed, there is no objection to a proportion of such houses being provided in many areas at present according to demand. We are in a position to do that now to some extent and I think  a little mingling with the urgent cases would not do any harm. In that connection I would mention Castleblayney where they have already solved their housing problem under their existing statutory obligations.
Senator Miss Butler also said that the fact of overcrowding should qualify for a second grant. I am not quite clear if the Senator's remarks relate to local authority houses only. If so, the problem is met by the procedure proposed to transfer newly-weds after some years to larger houses. In other cases there is nothing to prevent a local authority from adding a room to any of their houses. As regards standards of accommodation generally, these have necessarily been restricted, but we certainly look forward to raising them now and, in fact, we are building at the moment some four- and five-roomed houses. The trend is upward and onward at the moment and in no respect is it downward.
Senator Tunney felt that houses for newly-weds should not be confined as a “reserved class” to urban areas. The rural housing authorities have complete power for all classes under Section 17. The newly-weds can, therefore, get the additional accommodation put on there.
Senator Dockrell mentioned the question of housing waiting on other services. I am glad to be able to say that we are going ahead with the other services at full speed—water and sewerage schemes. We have schemes at a total cost of £1,000,000 in progress this year and the same applied last year. Therefore, we are not allowing housing to absorb completely our activities but are seeing that the other is in step with it—and schemes are planned ahead for the coming years.
The Rent Restrictions Act was referred to. That will be inquired into by a commission established by the Minister for Justice, on which there will be a representative from my Department, in the very near future.
Senator Dockrell referred to three classes to be housed—(1) artisans; (2) black-coated workers and (3) room keepers. I do not know why he segregated this latter type of person from class one. We want to see these classes dealt with as a whole. The differential rent system is the  best way we can devise of dealing with them. The houses are provided and the need for houses is equal. A person with a reasonable income will be asked to pay a reasonable rent as near as possible to the economic rent. The State will give equal grants and the local authority will be asked to help from the rates. But the lower income tenant is unable to get a house at a figure approaching an economic rent. I do not think I would approve of the suggestion of the segregation of classes to the extent suggested by the Senator. They are all our citizens and if the medical officer recommends that their houses are insanitary I think it is the duty of the local authority to find alternative housing for them and to look after them as best they can. So far, the differential rent system has been operating in some places throughout the country and it has been found to be an equitable way of grappling with the problem.
Senator Douglas, in his reference to stamp duty, stated that this is a matter for the Minister for Finance. With that statement I heartily concur. The Minister for Local Government has enough responsibilities of his own but this is not one of them. Our interest in the matter is merely for the purpose of encouraging the building of new houses. We felt that by giving the advantage—as we hoped it would be—to the purchaser of a house that had been erected rather than to the contractor we would be walking him into the 5 per cent. purchase tax and we have gone to the extent of having an amendment tabled to relieve him of that. I would prefer to leave suggestions as to what might happen in five years' time to the Minister for Finance.
Senator O'Dwyer referred to the question of building in rural areas. I want to assure him that it is our policy, and that it is an aim that has actually in practice been realised, to build in strict proportion in the town and in the country. It is a happy feature that we find that the returns are corresponding and are rising to the occasion equally in the country districts and in the towns. I am inclined to encourage that. It would be very bad to concentrate on the cities, urgent as the needs may be, because I feel it would be an  attraction which would lure the country people to the cities.
A vested tenant has not the power to sell again, save with the consent of the county council. The policy is to consent only where the sale is to another agricultural labourer.
With regard to demolition orders, I should like to inform the House that the matter has been reviewed in recent months. A circular was issued by my Department some months ago to all local authorities advising them to go slow during the present period of scarcity of houses. If it is considered that a house, in respect of which a demolition order is proposed, is capable of being put into habitable repair for as abort a term as ten years, the local authority are encouraged to put it into repair. No house will at present be demolished except one which is declared unsafe or completely unfit for human habitation. We do not want in this period of scarcity any house which is capable of giving service for a few added years to be demolished. That circular was issued to local authorities quite recently.
Senator O'Dwyer also felt that the burden of all this housing programme will fall on the rates. That is not correct. You will find that from State assistance, subsidies, transition development fund grants and assistance even to the interest charges made by the State that the Central Fund is standing nobly to this question and the full burden is not falling on the rates, as has been suggested by somebody. In fact, I expect that it will even have the effect of lightening the incidence of the rates because, with the new provisions of this Bill, there is an encouragement to more and more of our citizens who would normally be on the local authority to build their own houses. We are accepting as low a figure now as 5 per cent. of the total cost. That is a new departure. It is an encouragement to our citizens who feel like building their houses to go from the local authority and to build them. In that respect it will be an assistance rather than an added weight on the local authorities.
Senator Burke raised the question of  additional space in rural houses. I would point out that 1,400 square feet in a rural area does not include dairies and so forth attached to the houses, which may be treated as out-offices. A plan of this kind will relieve and supplement the kitchen accommodation. It would be very dangerous if we were to have a general introduction for an additional 100 feet for every house in rural areas. There would need to be a segregation in regard to that matter. I feel that we have been reasonable in regard to the 1,400 square feet and in the interpretation of the Act.
I think I have now dealt with all the points which were made in this debate. Again, I desire to thank the members of this House for the cordial reception they have given to the measure and I trust it will realise the hopes which have been entertained for it.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 26th July, 1950.
Seanad Éireann 38 Housing (Amendment) Bill, 1950—Second Stage (Resumed).