Seanad Éireann - Volume 98 - 15 July, 1982
Joint Committee on Building Land: Motion.
Mr. E. Ryan Mr. E. Ryan
Mr. E. Ryan: I move:
1. That Seanad Éireann concurs with Dáil Éireann in its Resolution communicated to Seanad Éireann on 14 July, 1982, that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas (which shall be called the Joint Committee on Building Land) consisting of 13 members of Dáil Éireann and 7 members of Seanad Éireann be appointed—
(a) to consider and make recommendations regarding possible legislative and other measures to deal, in the interest of the common good, with the supply and cost of building land (including land within and adjacent to urban areas), having regard, in particular, to:
(i) the Constitution and judgments of the Superior Courts in regard to the relevant articles thereof;
(ii) the Report of the Committee on the Price of Building Land (Prl. 3632);
(iii) tax legislation in relation to profits or gains from dealings in, disposals of, or development of, land;
 (iv) the operation of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts, 1963 and 1976);
(v) the Local Government (Building Land) Bill, 1982; and
(b) To report on the merits and demerits of any measures considered with particular reference to—
(i) their constitutionality;
(ii) legal and administrative practicality;
(iii) financial and economic implications;
(iv) likely effects on the cost of housing and on other forms of development.
2. That the Joint Committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records.
3. That the Joint Committee, previous to the commencement of business, shall elect one of its members to be Chairman, who shall have only one vote.
4. That all questions in the Joint Committee shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting and in the event of there being an equality of votes the question shall be decided in the negative.
5. That every report which the Joint Committee proposes to make shall on adoption by the Joint Committee be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas forthwith whereupon the Joint Committee shall be empowered to print and publish such report together with such related documents as it thinks fit.
6. That 7 members of the Joint Committee shall form a quorum of whom at least 3 shall be members of Dáil Éireann and at least 2 shall be members of Seanad Éireann.
7. That the Joint Committee report before 30 September, 1983.
Professor Murphy Professor Murphy
 Professor Murphy: I would like to suggest to the body setting up the membership of the joint committee that they should consider the inclusion of an Independent from this House. There has been a motion on the Order Paper for quite some time in the names of Senator Brendan Ryan and myself with reference to the cost of building land. We both share the widespread concern of the public at large at what is a continuing scandal. Some people suspect that the setting up of this joint committee is a diversion from the real business of getting on with legislation and facing up to the constitutional nettle if it has to be grasped. Such as it is, fearr é bheith ann ná as. I am not sure who decides on membership of the committee, but here is a case where an Independent should be considered for inclusion.
Mr. P. Reynolds Mr. P. Reynolds
Mr. P. Reynolds: I welcome this motion but I want to ask two brief questions. Will it mean there will be some changes in the Constitution? Do I take it the chairman of the committee will not be a member of the Government party?
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris: I welcome this motion set-thing up this joint committee of the two Houses of the Oireachtas to investigate the scandal of what has happened to building land, particularly in and around the city of Dublin. It was because of a Labour Party Private Members' Bill in the other House requesting that certain legislative action be taken in this field that the Houses agreed to the setting up of this committee. We agreed, as a party, to withdraw our Bill at that time in the hope that this committee might deal with some of the problems that might arise particularly those referred to by Senator Reynolds.
Under the Constitution the rights of private property must not be protected at the expense of the poorer sections of the community in need of housing. The price of building land can determine the ultimate cost of a house and the local authorities must provide housing for people who cannot provide or service sites for themselves. As a party we have agreed to the setting up of this committee but if we are  not satisfied with their progress in a reasonable time we will have no option but to circulate a Bill in both Houses, if necessary, to ensure that action is taken by some Government in this field, because there is discrimination against people in need of housing. The previous Government agreed on the need for legislative action on this front and there was a motion on a previous Order Paper welcoming that commitment. Unfortunately, politics change Governments and because of the change of Government that commitment no longer exists. We are hoping that this committee will serve some useful purpose in highlighting the problems of the cost of building land, particularly building land available to local authorities in and around the city of Dublin. We will be watching this committee very closely. It is important that our party in this House are represented on this committee and we will be watching the functions of the committee very closely but we are not prepared to wait indefinitely for their report. We want action.
Mr. O'Connell Mr. O'Connell
Mr. O'Connell: I welcome the setting up of this committee. There can be little doubt that this is a major issue so far as public opinion is concerned, particularly in built-up areas and those areas which it is proposed to build up. It is not just a matter of frivolous public opinion. It is also a matter of principle which is enshrined in Christian social teaching and philosophy to which the majority of our people give at least nominal allegiance.
The situation that applies at the moment, and that has applied for a number of years, is that very substantial profits have apparently been made on the sale of building land, in particular developed or serviced building land, and these profits have come in the form of a windfall. We would not necessarily oppose the idea that people should have a reasonable profit or a reasonable return from an input made by means of investment, skill or hard work, or even the ability which some people appear to have to look efficiently and effectively into the future, but when that profit is made at the expense of ordinary people, and when those ordinary  people then have to spend the rest of their lives working off that profit, often in circumstances of very great emotional strain, financial strain, with great social and psychological cost to themselves, their families and their neighbours, then it is time our society had a good hard look at this situation.
I personally welcomed the general principles behind the Bill put forward by the Labour Party, but it is fair to say that this party had some reservations about the effectiveness of the measures proposed and the ability of that Bill, as then drafted, to address itself effectively to these problems. That is why we gave it less than full support. I am not excessively happy at the idea of postponing immediate action on this very urgent problem. It is part of the joking apparatus of politics that when one does not want to deal with something one appoints a committee. I would be very unhappy if I thought this committee were going to be a means of postponing action. I would like to assure Senator Ferris that we will be watching very closely the activities of this committee and trying to assess their willingness to address themselves urgently to this matter. I note in that context that a date is set — “That the Joint Committee report before 30 September, 1983”. I hope that would be the absolute and literal ultimate date upon which they would report, but I also hope they will report sooner.
There is a reference in the motion to the Constitution. I am glad that the Constitution has been mentioned in this context. The committee are being set up in such a way that they will have to confront those sections of the Constitution which are concerned with the rights of property. Members will possibly recollect that many years ago a distinguished member of our civil service, appointed not directly by our own people but nevertheless somebody whose record proved he had the interests of our people at heart, said that property had its duties as well as its rights. The whole question of private property is a complex one because on the one hand, property is, in our kind of society, the means by which we assure security to people, and, on the other  hand, a means by which the weak in our society can be exploited and inequities and injustices underlined and perpetuated.
I wish this committee every success and hope they will have the courage and the perseverence to address themselves to their task and produce a result which will rectify the grave injustice that exists at the present time.
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan: I welcome the setting up of this committee. Like the previous speaker, I would like to set out a number of areas where I feel there may be limitations in the motion. It is desirable to introduce some system whereby the cost of building land to the house purchaser would be reduced, or that as a constituent of the cost of house prices it would be seen not to increase at the same rate as over the past number of years. There are, however, a number of matters relating to building land and development generally which do not come within the ambit of this committee and which I feel are very relevant to the whole sphere of development: I speak, of course, of planning and development strategy. There is a reference to the Planning and Development Act in the document before us.
Anyone who looks objectively at development as it has taken place in the greater Dublin region for the past ten years cannot but ask how and why development has taken place in that fashion. There are financial implications, but the major financial implications is that large scale land acquisitions have been entered into by business interests — which they are quite entitled to do, and I have no objection to that — but by their acquisition they and they alone have determined where development will take place. In my view it is entirely wrong that development should be at the behest of vested interests and not of the elected representatives or the Government of the day.
It is absolutely essential that we introduce planning and development strategy objectives. When this committee are sitting there should be some attempt to ensure that when development takes place in the future it will be purely as a  result of Government or local authority objectives and not large scale acquisition by speculators who by sheer pressure will ensure that the land they have acquired will become much more valuable and will eventually become development land. If we continue our present spate of development, in about 50 years time we will finish up somewhere on the outskirts of Mullingar with a concrete jungle behind us. That would be entirely undesirable.
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Raphael Burke) Raphael P. Burke
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Raphael Burke): I thank Senators for their welcome to this motion. In the Dáil debate on the Local Government (Building Land) Bill, 1982, the Government made a commitment that this Joint Committee would be set up. Considerable discussions have taken place since then with the Opposition parties and the terms of the motion on the Order Paper are the terms that were agreed. I am surprised to hear Senators, particularly Senator Ferris, refer to the fact that his party wanted action. Action has been taken and the time limit is set out in paragraph 7 which states “That the Joint Committee report before 30 September, 1983”. This was agreed with by all sides of the House.
Senator Murphy and Senator O'Connell said they were afraid this was just a long fingering exercise. I can assure them that the Government are very anxious that this nettle of land and the cost of building land will be firmly grasped. There is no point talking about it any longer. It is something that governments have to take action on, and we want the action to be positive and lasting. That is why the terms of reference are as drafted.
As far as membership of the committee is concerned, this is a matter for the Committee of Selection of this House. I am sure the committee will take note of the fact that Senator Murphy and Senator B. Ryan had the motion on the Order Paper. Senator Reynolds raised the question of constitutional change. That is covered in the terms of reference as drafted and I have given that assurance in the House. The chairmanship of the committee is a matter for the committee, but there are precedents for the chairman being from another party than the Government  party. That is the tradition of joint committees.
The question of planning and the development of the greater Dublin area, the urban areas generally and the urban sprawl, comes under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts, 1963 and 1976 and is one of the items to be examined by the joint committee. I fully agree with Senators that the whole question of land banks being bought by the private sector should be tackled, and it is the root cause of the problem that the committee are to examine. I have no doubt the joint committee will concentrate very much on this question. I will be coming back to the Seanad later today with the planning Bill and we may take that opportunity to discuss in greater detail the point made by Senator Durkan, if he would care to come in at that stage.
Just in case the Seanad is under the impression that nothing is happening and that we are merely setting up a committee and in the meantime the Government have taken no action, I would remind Senators that in order to crack down on exorbitant profits from dealings in building land and to ensure that a significant proportion of windfall gains resulting from the provision of services are returned to the community, significant changes in capital gains tax were announced by the Minister for Finance, Deputy MacSharry, in the budget statement on 25 March last. I would like to remind Senator O'Connell that a capital gains tax rate of 50 per cent on gains from disposal of development land was announced; a new rate of 60 per cent for gains within one year of acquisition, and a 40 per cent rate where land is compulsorily acquired were also announced, as were new restrictions affecting indexation relief, roll-over relief and the right to set off losses. A lot has been done, and a lot remains to be done. I have full confidence that with the terms of reference of this committee, their report will be important to the future, to property values and to housing prices.
As Minister for the Environment, I look forward to receiving that report from the joint committee before 30 September  1983. I wish to say to Senator O'Connell that it is not a date for which they have to wait: if they have their work finished before then all the better. However, the terms of reference are very wide and they have a lot of work to do. I can assure the members of the committee that they will receive full co-operation from all Government Departments in the matter of documentation and files. I would like to thank the Seanad for the welcome they have given to the terms of reference.
Question put and agreed to.
Seanad Éireann 98 Joint Committee on Building Land: Motion.