Seanad Éireann - Volume 101 - 06 July, 1983

Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) (Amendment) Bill, 1983: Committee and Final Stages.

[722] Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2.

Question proposed: “That section 2 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. M. O'Toole: Section 2 deals with the establishment of a tribunal. A chairman is to be appointed by the Minister and also a number of vice-chairmen. How many vice-chairmen does the Minister consider necessary and what type of person has he in mind? Under subsection (4) of this section, the Minister with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service from time to time may appoint from among his officers persons to assist the tribunal. Is he talking about appointing officers to the board, or is he talking about appointing officers from the Department of the Public Service to assist the tribunal?

Minister of State at the Department of the Environemnt (Mr. Quinn): I am glad Senator O'Toole has raised this question. The volume of work the tribunal will have to do is not clear. We propose to err on the safe side by appointing a number of people, including vice-chairmen or vice-chairpersons, to enable the tribunal to sit simultaneously in Dublin, Cork, Galway and on Shannonside. What is envisaged at the moment is a tribunal of three people including a vice-chairman and two other ordinary members. All things being equal the person will be a judicial person of one kind, a lawyer of one kind as an ordinary member, a valuer as an ordinary member, and then someone with administrative experience or judicial experience who will act as a sort of referee between the other two.

The idea of nominating people to the position of vice-chairman would enable the tribunal to sit simultaneously in a number of locations. The model we are looking at in relation to this—the comparative model, although I do not want a direct comparison to be made with it—is the Employment Appeals Tribunal [723] which operates in the Labour Court. In that context it is an adversary situation which we are not attempting to repeat but, in terms of flexibility, in terms of the way in which they will be appointed and their operating costs, we see it as being similar to the Employment Appeals Tribunal. I do not know if that answers all the questions.

Mr. M. O'Toole: Because we do not know the volume of work it is not easy to assess how many will be required. Senator O'Leary said we might not require any rent officers outside Dublin or Cork, and he also spoke about filtering cases before they come to the tribunal. I see one of his suggestions contradicting the other. If you want filtering you will get it done by the rent officers in the field. I can see rent officers being appointed in counties like the bigger counties of Mayo, Galway and Cork. They would do most of the assessments and filtering. The tribunal would then sit at different locations throughout the country to deal with the cases that could not be dealt with prior to that. Will the rent officers be local authority officers with some knowledge and will they be full-time officers or part-time officers?

Mr. Quinn: To assist the Senator, we will have an opportunity to discuss that in detail when we get to the relevant section.

Mr. O'Leary: Can the Minister indicate to me either on this section or any other section the procedure to be followed by the tribunal? What procedure has he in mind? I have acted before the Employment Appeals Tribunal and I am aware of their procedure. It is an adversarial system. It may or may not be appropriate. I warn the Minister that it might run counter to principles of natural justice unless he gives people an opportunity to present their case and have the case on the other side equally well presented. This is where the difficulty comes in. Under which particular section is the Minister making arrangements to do this? I do not see it in any specific section. [724] I raise it here because this is the section which actually creates the tribunal. Will the Minister explain that to us?

Mr. E. Ryan: On section 2, the Minister has given us an idea of the kind of people who should be members of the tribunal. In his opening speech he said they will probably be a solicitor, a barrister, a valuer, and so on, but, on the other hand, the Bill provides no precise definition in regard to this matter. This seems most extraordinary having regard to the line which the Government have been taking during the past week on another Bill. They criticised appointments because the people appointed did not have specific qualifications. By implication they criticised any body of this kind because the qualifications for members of the boards were not laid down in the Bill. In the Planning Bill the Government have gone to immense lengths, a very complicated, very devious, almost Heath Robinson kind of procedure, to say who the members of the board shall be, and how they shall be selected. In this Bill it is quite open. The Minister can appoint anybody.

Of course the Minister has told us what he intends to do and what he thinks should be done. That is all very well, but it leaves the position completely open. We could have people appointed to this tribunal in the future who would have no qualifications or no suitability whatsoever. I might not have commented on this were it not for the fact that this question has been very much at issue in the past week. It seems to be a characteristic of the Coalition that their right hand does not seem to know what their left hand is doing. I say that without any ideological content. This is an extraordinary manifestation of the tendency on the part of the Government to do two entirely inconsistent things at the same time.

I am not necessarily in favour of spelling out in a Bill of this kind exactly what qualifications members of a board or a tribunal should have. By and large, Governments in the past have been responsible about the kind of people they appointed. Of course, for some boards it [725] would be impossible to lay down qualifications because obviously there would be people who would have a general view or a general experience of business and it would not be possible to lay down qualifications. This is an area very similar in many respects to the position under the Planning Acts and nevertheless, the question of ensuring that suitable people, qualified people, are appointed is blithely ignored, as though that kind of consideration was something the present Government did not believe in, or thought was of no importance whatsoever.

I am not dedicated to the idea of stating exactly in a Bill of this kind what qualifications a person should have but, at the same time, I have to comment on the total inconsistency of the Government who introduce this Bill today and introduced another very similar Bill yesterday in which their total concern seems to be the necessity of saying what qualifications people should have and to ensure that unsuitable people cannot be appointed. It is quite clear that under this Bill unsuitable people could be appointed. Whatever the good intentions of the Minister may be there is no doubt that that is possible in the future. I cannot understand how one point of view in another Bill can be reconciled with the way in which this Bill has been drafted.

Mr. Quinn: To take Senator O'Leary's points first, the procedures to be adopted will be set out by way of regulation. It is our clear intention to replace the current adversary system which the District Courts have tended to produce with a non-adversary system. However, Senator O'Leary is correct in saying that people's natural rights and entitlements are such that they should be allowed to present their case and, if they so choose, to have people to assist them in the presentation of their case. The procedures will be set out by regulation which will come before the House in the normal manner. That is set out in section 15 of the Bill. We are looking for a certain degree of flexibility to enable us to move from one foot to the other should the need arise. I would be the first to accept [726] as a legislator, as distinct from an office holder, that that is not a very satisfactory way in principle to approach legislation, but we are impoverished by the available statistics in this regard to a certain extent. Senator Ryan's argument has a compelling logic to it. All I can say is that in this instance we will appoint to the tribunal people who, as I said in my Second Stage speech, represent the interests and the skills I believe and the Government believe are required. They will be people with experience of valuations, people with legal experience, and people with a general view. What is lost sight of frequently in all of these boards and groups is the general view to which he referred. He is pointing to an apparent contradiction, from his point of view, between one piece of legislation and another. I will be back in this House on another occasion talking about An Bord Pleanála, and in so far as it is relevant to this point, I do not think one can compare the two for the reason that An Bord Pleanála has become the subject of a considerable degree of comment. I understand the view expressed by Senator Ryan.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 3.

Question proposed: “That section 3 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Durcan: This section disqualifies the holders of certain elected offices from membership of the tribunal. I wonder whether elected members of Údarás na Gaeltachta should not be included, and if there is any reason why they have been excluded. Members of the Údarás are elected within the Gaeltacht areas on the usual electoral basis. I cannot see why they are not excluded under this section.

Mr. Smith: In the past we have appointments from political areas to the Judiciary, such as lay commissioners in the Land Commission. I want the Minister of State to say why he is eliminating the prospect of any assistance from people in the political field in this area. [727] In the tuberculosis eradication programme there is the view that if you eliminate the disease completely you run a greater risk of an outbreak. I am afraid that in their desire to follow opinion at the moment and eliminate politicians from so many areas, the Government are running the risk of eliminating politicians and the cure could be worse than the disease. There could be an outbreak of problems. In the past we were able to appoint people as lay commissioners in the Land Commission. Dealing with land is a very emotive problem. We were able to draw from these sources for appointments and from the Judiciary. Politicians will not be eligible for this tribunal. I have no wish however to qualify personally.

Mr. B. Ryan: I want to ask the Minister something I asked on another Bill yesterday. Apart from the extraordinary exclusion of politicians from every State agency set up since I came into this House, the reason for excluding people immediately they become candidates still escapes me. It seems to inhibit people's ability to participate in anything. A person nominated either as a Member of Seanad Éireann or for election to either House of the Oireachtas shall thereupon cease to be a member of the tribunal. There might be logic in something like this where there could be conflicts of interest. I do not altogether see it. I can see no logic in excluding people automatically if they become candidates. I mentioned yesterday a distinguished member of the Higher Education Authority who had to resign because he became a candidate for Seanad Éireann, not even when he was elected but when he became a candidate. I still do not understand it. The Minister will probably tell me that is standard practice. Standard practice can be wrong as easily as it can be right. I should like to know is there a reason.

Mr. Ferris: I echo that sentiment. It has often happened that people have been out of work as a result of allowing their names to go forward in the democratic [728] process, despite the fact that they were not elected. They were then without a job which is rather unfair. Many well-known people come to mind immediately, even in my own party.

I am concerned about the exclusion of members of local authorities. I accept that there is some justification in this case for a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas because, no matter how badly we are paid, at least we are paid and we would be considered to have a vested interest in this area. The day he is elected a member of a local authority has to declare his interest in the council chamber and cannot and does not take part in planning decisions in the council because of this declaration of interest. He is an unpaid politician at local level. Anything he does is on a voluntary basis and he is subject to criticism from many people.

I would like to know from the Minister of State why he felt it necessary to exclude voluntary politicians. Perhaps they could have a major input into a tribunal and they would know the people in this area. The people would have confidence that local councillors would handle their cases better than they are being handled in the district courts. They would be seeing somebody with whom they could associate and identify themselves, as they do in claims under the Social Welfare Acts. Although their powers are limited, local social welfare committees are most acceptable to people who tend to give of their best in front of local councillors because they know them and trust them and know that they understand their problems. I resent this on behalf of members of local authorities.

Mr. M. O'Toole: We had this yesterday in another area. This happens in drafting Bills. This section is just put in. There is no recognition of the expertise of members of local authorities who would be excellent people to sit on a tribunal such as this one. They would know all the relevant aspects social and otherwise of housing and so on. Must you have a legal mind to sit on this tribunal? A valuer or an auctioneer would have a wide range of assessment qualities in the auctioneering field. What would a legal mind have [729] to offer in fixing a proper rent? This is where we fell down with the District Courts system. They sat there, as Senator FitzGerald said, on the bench. People before them and their lawyers were unable to get through to them. They probably fixed rents without a proper examination of the facts. An independent person sitting on a tribunal such as this, with years of experience of local government administration would make a very good member.

The Minister cannot change the Bill now. It is almost standard practice to insert this section about Members of the Oireachtas and public representatives. They are not wanted on boards because they may have political pull in decision making. Local authority representatives throughout this nation are doing a very worthwhile job with no remuneration whatever, and doing a very impartial job for the people. They would be ideal people to sit on a tribunal such as this one.

Mr. Quinn: As some Senators have already indicated, this is a standard provision that goes into nearly all legislation establishing a board. The thinking behind it is pretty fair. It is not denigratory of politicians. It is for the House at some stage in the future to discuss it in principle. The thinking behind it is that it is designed to try to protect politicans from influence or from pressures in their individual capacity and to ensure that our interminable pursuit of votes during most of our working lives as politicians does not get in the way of making clear and balanced decisions. Not everybody has the luxury of a quota on the first count. Most of us have to struggle through second, third and fourth preferences to arrive at elected office and frequently we do not even achieve that. The thinking behind it is to protect politicians from the conflict of having to make quasi-judicial judgments in some instances, or judgments on behalf of the common good and, at the same time, needing to seek votes. That is the thinking behind it. I am not necessarily saying that I agree with it. I tend to be of two minds and I would prefer a longer time to debate it because [730] if we were to change this provision we should change it right across the board in relation to a lot of other legislation.

However, I would draw the House's attention to the fact that if you combine the number of candidates for general election, 166 Dáil seats plus 60 Seanad seats, and 1,000-odd local authority seats, and multiply the seats by a factor of 2 or 3 in terms of competing candidates, there probably are not many more than about 5,000 people who have opted for the pursuit of elected office. Whether those people should be automatically excluded from consideration for these boards is an issue wider than the context of this legislation. All I am saying in defending this section is that it is harmonising this legislation with other legislation. I gather from what Senator O'Toole said that Senator Honan referred to this in the context of the Posts and Telegraphs Bill. That would be my view. Until such time as we change the system generally, I do not think it would be necessarily appropriate to change it in relation to this legislation, although I recognise the arguments that have been put forward.

Mr. E. Ryan: That is what every Minister says about every Bill.

Mr. Quinn: There is a great validity in the question of nomination. However, once you declare yourself as a candidate, you are subject to the pressures that I referred to earlier. That is the thinking behind nomination as distinct from actually being elected

On the question of Údarás na Gaeltachta raised by Senator Durcan, there is some ambiguity here. Some of the members are elected directly, others are appointed by the Minister. They are not a directly political or elected board in the sense that we commonly know it. For that reason Údarás were excluded. If the House so wishes I am quite prepared at this stage, subject to agreement, to include Údarás na Gaeltachta in this category.

Mr. Durcan: As the Minister said, some members are elected and the [731] elected members are what I would term practising politicians. The spirit behind the section seems to be to disqualify practising politicians. It would be unwise if practising politicians who are members of that board were included and were eligible for appointment to these tribunals.

Mr. Smith: I would not want the House to divide on this, but when we are looking forward to the time when perhaps we will consider whether to incorporate in future legislation a provision of this kind, I am doubtful whether we should extend at this stage Údarás na Gaeltachta as a further link in this provision about which we have some doubt as to its future use in legislation. It is almost copperfastening this kind of provision for the future. For that reason, we should leave it over for further discussion at a later date.

Mr. O'Leary: There is one point I want to make arising out of that discussion in so far as it relates to membership of Seanad Éireann or Dáil Éireann, and the Assembly of the European Community. Members may not be aware of it, but — going on memory, I do not think this applies to membership of a local authority — you can be a member of a local authority and a member of a semi-State board. You can be a director of the ESB and CIE and be a member of a local authority. There is a reason for that which I support. Within the context of this Bill and the Private Rented Dwellings Act, 1982, certain authority is given to the housing authority who have certain functions.

Under section 6 of this Bill it is proposed that the rents officers should be officers appointed by the housing authorities, and therefore subject to the housing authorities, presumably. It would be invidious to have a member of the local authority, which is the housing authority, also a member of the tribunal to whom the dissatisfied applicant would be appealing. In the circumstances, we should firmly lay it on the line that unless there is a very specific reason, there should not be an exclusion in the case of [732] members of a local authority. However in this case, because there are functions under this Bill and the Act to which it directly relates for local authorities members of local authorities should be excluded from potential membership of the tribunal.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 4 agreed to.

SECTION 5.

Question proposed: “That section 5 stand part of the Bill”.

Mr. B. Ryan: What does the term “terms of tenancy” mean? Is it simply rent?

Mr. Quinn: They relate to the conditions under which the tenant holds the property, the entitlement to be there, certain obligations, and so on.

Mr. Durcan: Under subsection (4), if a rent officer ceases to be a rent officer, as is provided for under subsection (3) of the following section, and if a question of interpretation arises subsequently who will determine the matter that has to be interpreted? The subsection deals with questions of interpretation. What happens if the rent officer who dealt with the matter initially has ceased to be a rent officer? I was worried about that.

Mr. Quinn: That is a fair question. Where such a coincidental circumstance arises, the proper body would be the appeals tribunal. The tribunal appeals structure is above the rent officer and it will clarify beyond doubt any question of interpretation: in the absence of the original officer, the proper body would be the appeals tribunal.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 6.

Question proposed: “That section 6 stand part of the Bill”.

[733] Mr. Durcan: On Second Stage I said this section appeared to give wide powers to a housing authority. Should these powers not be reserved to the Minister?

Mr. Quinn: I recall the Senator making that point on Second Stage. I gathered from what he was saying that he is concerned about subsection (4). Subsection (4)reads:

Housing authorities may make arrangements for the joint discharge of their functions under this Act.

We are trying to encourage two or three local authorities to designate one person, given the volume of potential business and because there may be some staff negotiations involved, an allocation of scarce personnel resources and so on. For example, in Mayo there are three housing authorities at local level and the county council. They may come together for the purpose of this Bill and designate one person. That is my understanding of it.

Mr. M. O'Toole: In connection with rent officers, what standard is laid down? Is he an administrator or a clerical officer within the housing authority? Has he to come within the appointed local government staff of the housing authority? Will the appointment be advertised in the Press inviting people from outside to apply? I would like to know the grade of such a person; will he be a staff officer, a clerical officer, a clerk-typist or an administrator?

Mr. Quinn: The thinking behind this section is that the person who is making the recommendation on the arbitration in relation to rent should be perceived by both sides to be a capable and mature person, capable of exercising balanced judgment on both sides, and having a knowledge of the housing market generally and in that particular locality. Hence the attraction of being able to appoint someone who knows the prevailing level of housing conditions and rents in the area and not someone who has come into the town and has no proper direct or even indirect experience of the work. That would logically bring one to the conclusion [734] that one is talking about an established senior officer working in the housing section of the local authority.

Mr. M. O'Toole: If the administrator in the housing section in Mayo County Council applied for this position, would he be seconded on his existing salary, or would it be a special appointment which he would take up in a full-time capacity?

Mr. Quinn: Utilising the general head of legislation we have vis-á-vis the Department and local authorities and complementary legislation, we would be assigning the function of rent officer under the 1983 Bill to the local authority. We do not envisage that there would be any net additional employment. Therefore the consequent questions raised by the Senator in relation to advertisements and salaries would not arise.

Mr. O'Leary: On Second Stage I said in my view it would be a better Bill if the rent officers system came into operation when the Act came into operation. The rent officers are a necessary filter system and every effort should be made to bring it into operation. Having discussed this privately with the Minister, I considered further the question of putting down an amendment which would enable him to make the appointment of a rent officer for some of the local authority areas only. The Minister correctly pointed out that that probably is not a sustainable position. It is suggested that all applications will have to be routed through the rent officers and that would have to apply to every local authority. That is right and anything else would probably be in conflict with natural justice and all sorts of other important concepts. It is important that the rent officers be used and I recommend very strongly that they be used from the first day the Act is brought into operation. It is not necessary to propose an amendment to that effect because the Minister will have the power to do that if he wants to. I recommend very strongly that he use the rent officers because this will be a much better system and we will not be building up a big bureaucracy in the tribunal.

[735] Mr. B. Ryan: What Senator O'Leary says has great merit. The element of human concern involved in this area is extremely important. We must remember that to qualify for the social welfare rent subsidy, a tenant must have his or her rent fixed by the District Court, and presumably under this legislation by the tribunal or by a rent officer. Obviously, in terms of the elderly, vulnerable people about whom everybody is concerned, a visit by a rent officer to their homes would be a more humane way of dealing with the problem. If people do not go before the tribunal they will not qualify, and old people have the option of either paying an enormous rent — which they might agree to pay — or paying a small or relatively reasonable rent. What Senator O'Leary suggested would be very humane and compassionate particularly in the two or three major urban areas where the problem of old people is widespread. A rent officer appointed to carry out these functions could alleviate a lot of the personal distress these people are suffering.

Mr. Quinn: I recognise the sentiment that motivates both Senators. As Senator O'Leary pointed out, we have the power to obtain what he is looking for and we will not hesitate to exercise it, subject to the kind of constraints which he, as a former member of a local authority — indeed Lord Mayor of the second city — can readily understand. We sought the full co-operation for all Stages of this Bill today in this House because of our desire to establish the tribunal and this mechanism as quickly as possible. In so far as the establishment of rent officers would not impede the speedy establishment of this system, particularly for the larger urban areas and to achieve the two-stage filter system which Senator O'Leary is talking about, we would look very positively on what he suggested but within the time constraints I referred to earlier.

Question put and agreed to.

[736] SECTION 7.

Question proposed: “That section 7 stand part of the Bill”.

Mr. B. Ryan: My lack of legal training may be obvious but I am still fascinated by the term “the term of tenancy”. It may have been defined in the original Act but I was under the impression that the rent tribunal would be talking about rents. What else can it regulate in terms of the agreement between a landlord and a tenant under the terms of tenancy?

Mr. Quinn: This is a legislative process of dovetailing because the rent is conditional on the terms being met. It is a legislative system dovetailing the fixing of the rent in the 1983 Bill with the fixing of the terms in the 1982 Act. It is meshing of one with the other.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 8.

Government amendment No. 1:

In page 6, to delete lines 35 to 39 and to substitute the following:

“(1) Where the rent of a dwelling is fixed by the Tribunal or a rent officer, the new rent shall, subject to subsection (2) and section 7, apply from the first gale day after the date on which the landlord has complied with the requirements of any regulations under section 24 of the Act of 1982 for the time being in force.”.

Mr. Quinn: This is a technical amendment to clear up any potential ambiguity that may arise between sections 7 and 8.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 8, as amended, agreed to.

SECTION 9.

Question proposed: “That section 9 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. E. Ryan: Section 9(2) says:

... the references in the said section [737] 13 to the opinion of the Court shall be construed as including, as the case may require, reference to the opinion of the Tribunal or the opinion of the rent officer.

Section 13 dealt with matters which should be taken into consideration in fixing the rent and said it would be a just and proper rent having regard to the nature, character and location of the dwelling, the other terms of the tenancy, the means of the landlord and the tenant and various other things. The way the court at that time, and the tribunal now, are to approach this is that they would first decide what the ordinary market rent of the premises should be, then they would, perhaps, make certain allowances having regard to these matters which are dealt with, including the means of the landlord and the tenant. Presumably, if they came to the conclusion that the landlord was a very wealthy person and the tenant was a very poor person, they would fix the rent a little bit lower than it would normally be.

Reference has been made by Senator Smith, and the same point was dealt with very forcefully by Senator Whitaker when he was a Member of this House, to the fact that there are cases where the landlord is the poor person and the tenant is a relatively wealthy person. Although I am sure that in the vast majority of cases that will come under this Bill the landlord will be relatively well-off and the tenant not well-off, nevertheless, there are many cases where the landlord is the person in need of consideration. That is a fact which some Members do not seem to be aware of, or perhaps they just choose to ignore it, but it is a fact which has to be taken into consideration.

Section 13 states that in certain circumstances the rent should be fixed at less than the proper rate because of the means of the landlord and tenant, but if this legislation is to be interpreted in a fair and non-discriminatory way, it would be open to the tribunal, in the kind of case that I mentioned where the tenant is the wealthy person and the landlord is the impoverished person, to fix the rent at something more than the market rent, [738] having regard to the fact that the landlord has been getting far less than he or she should have been getting, perhaps for many years past. I would like the Minister to comment on whether he thinks it would be open to the tribunal in the circumstances which I have postulated for the rent to be fixed at something more than the market rent in these circumstances.

Mr. Quinn: The reason for this section is to establish legally that the tribunal or the rent officer will have the same rights to fix the terms of a rent tenancy as the District Court originally had under the 1982 Act. We are simply transferring the entitlement to fixed terms in that context. To answer the second point the Senator raised, since we have consistently said that a just and proper rent should not automatically be seen as the market rent but should take into account circumstances on the ground as they relate to particular cases, the instances he referred to — and some occur — should be dealt with in a manner that takes all those factors into account. Consequently I would agree with him.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 10 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 14.

Question proposed: “That section 14 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. O'Leary: I want to comment on subsection (5). It is becoming an increasingly dangerous occupation to get married. A person would want to be very careful about whom he marries because not only would membership of a local authority disqualify him from all sorts of things, and Membership of the Oireachtas disqualifies him from all sorts of beneficial appointments — but his spouse, by her profession, could also disqualify him from the most extraordinary things. I doubt that it is necessary to put anything in this Bill about spouses. The whole movement in marriage relationships should be towards the separation of the [739] husband and wife as being two separate individuals, not towards considering them only as a unit or one being dependent on the other. There seem to be two conflicting strands of opinion running through our legislation as present — to grant a proper place to each partner and to identify their interests as being separate and distinct and capable of being defended by the law — and it is proper that they should be defended by the law. In this case a beneficial interest includes the interest of a spouse. If the spouse is the landlord or tenant of the building that is a beneficial interest of the other partner. If the spouse is a member of the company or other body which is landlord of the dwelling, or even if the spouse is in the employment of a person who is either the landlord or tenant of the dwelling, that is considered as being of beneficial interest to the partner.

I know why this subsection is written into this Bill and it does not worry me from a personal point of view, but we are a bit confused about what we want marriage to mean. Do we want people to have separate identities, or do we want to tie them hand and foot together? I think we are going both ways simultaneously and we are in a total mess, as a result. It is not necessary to have this subsection included. The point was made by Senator Durcan this morning that even if this section was never there, there would be an overriding duty on every person not to act as a judge in his own case. That overriding duty could, in certain circumstances extend to properties and to situations where a person's spouse, son or daughter was involved. That overriding interest will be there irrespective of whether we pass this legislation. I do not think it is a good idea to be tying spouses together by legislation. This is adding an unnecessary complication to the Bill.

Mr. B. Ryan: I know I will be accused of being facetious, but I am not. It is this extraordinary thing of sticking the formal spouse into one box and all other relationships into an apparently different box. There are people who are spouses in the [740] eyes of the Church but who would not be spouses in the eyes of the State. In this benighted land we live in, are these people covered by this particular clause? Are those people who choose not to marry and who might well have the sort of beneficial interests that I described covered by this clause?

Mr. O'Leary: We would not know anything about that in our party.

Mr. B. Ryan: I recognise the intent, but I wonder why only those relationships which are defined by the laws of holy wedlock are referred to. For instance, the father/son relationship is not referred to. As far as I can see it is only the spouse. I do not see why people who are married are specifically picked out in this case, particularly since, by and large with the nature of Irish life as is, it will be the women who are picked out in this way.

Mr. Ferris: This could be discriminatory. I am not sure that it is a good idea specifically to pick out a spouse, who should be treated as a separate individual in his or her own right. It is questionable whether we are reversing what is now taken to be norm, that we treat everybody individually as having his or her own right, even in a married situation. On the question of taxation and other areas, we are bending over backwards to ensure that people are treated separately. Why suddenly identify them here as having to be treated differently?

Mr. E. Ryan: We seem to have moved on to the motion that I did not think we were taking until later on this evening on marriage.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Yes, I was going to comment on that.

Mr. Quinn: Much as I enjoy the company of the Members of this House, I have no desire to participate in the House's 7 o'clock business, despite my views on the matter. Going on from the Second Stage comments that I made earlier today, the reason why there is such [741] an apparently elaborate section 14 for a matter that would otherwise have been covered by natural justice is twofold. First of all, we have begun the piecemeal process, legislatively speaking, in a broad sense of identifying in her own legal right the legal spouse of the marriage relationship, particularly in relation to property and to the family home.

Senators will be aware that local authorities now fix joint tenancy as a matter of course for husband and wife irrespective of the definition of wife in that particular instance. The reason why we thought it necessary to include references to spouses in this instance was because under the 1982 Act proper, the spouse will have a successionary right in relation to tenancy in the context of being a tenant, but the declaration of interest could cut both ways. The point, therefore, is that if you put it in for one you should put it in for others. We did not want it to become unnecessarily complex to include father and son and other successionary rights.

The intent behind it is fairly clear. It is part of the legal process about which the Senators will have more substantial comments to make. Ultimately, the moving from a position where all of the property was held, or deemed to be legally owned, by the husband in the relationship, by a gradual process, to now being partially, or jointly, or separately owned is going to continue to result in these anomalies which only substantial legislation, such as the kind that the committee will look at in the lifetime of this Oireachtas will be able to eliminate.

Mrs. McGuinness: Can we then take it, from what the Minister has said, that for the present, at any rate, and until any kind of substantial legislation can be brought in dealing with this matter, spouse here means solely the legal spouse under the present law and not the cohabitee or the spouse in the eyes of the church and so on as mentioned by Senator Ryan? If so, what Senator O'Leary said about the danger of getting married is substantially true and you would be a good deal better off not to marry.

[742] Mr. O'Leary: That is right.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 15 to 19, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 20.

Question proposed: “That section 20 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. M. O'Toole: In regard to grants to housing authorities, is the Minister now in a position to tell us—or is it the chore of the Minister for Finance—under this Bill will local authorities have full recoupment from the State for the grants that will be made available, or is it a part grant or 50 per cent? What grant will be made available?

Mr. Quinn: The answer to Senator O'Toole's question is yes. Subject to the normal provisions that operate in local government between local authorities and the Department of the Environment, the moneys incurred by rent officers in the course of their activity would be subject to recoupment in full by that local authority from the Custom House. We would look askance, however, at any attempt to bury within the expensive claims for the operation of the rent officers other activities that the county managers or councillors might suggest—not that it would ever happen in the Senator's good authority.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 21 and 22 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported with amendment and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Quinn): What has happened today is not a precedent which I, as a legislator, want to see recur and therefore I am thanking the House for their co-operation in moving through all Stages today. I, for one, do not regard [743] it as in any way being a precedent that this House might afford to any other legislation. However, in addition I want to say that since we are moving into somewhat uncharted country in relation to the operation of this legislation, should it so arise that the Members of this House feel that there are problems relating to the administration or the functioning of the tribunals that require a debate or my attention to be brought to bear on matters, then through this Houses' good offices and through the Whips, I would make myself available to participate in any debate, or respond to any motion which Members of this House would put down on the functioning and in the operation of this legislation.

Question put and agreed to.