Seanad Éireann - Volume 101 - 06 July, 1983

Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 1983: Committee and Final Stages.

SECTION 1.

Question proposed: “That section 1 stand part of the Bill”.

Mr. Mullooly: The Minister on Second Stage said that the definition of the word “service” in this section was framed to cover the widest possible range of services provided and to give local authorities power to charge for any of these services. At the moment local authorities charge for the processing of SDA loans, Housing Finance Agency loans and house improvement loans. Would the Minister see other services which the local authorities provide being included as services for the purpose of charges? I am thinking in particular of services such as the processing of higher education grant applications, of essential repairs grant applications, or disabled persons' grant applications and such services.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Quinn): The purpose of this legislation, among other things, as Senators will recall from the [744] last debate, is to give, in relation to the legal entitlement of the local authority the charge for a service at this stage, the maximum degree of flexibility on the services they wish to charge for. Therefore, in response to Senator Mullooly's point, the answer in essence is yes, that it is legal. If it can be legally seen to be a service, then the local authority can put a charge on it, but the counterbalance to that is that the Minister of the day — either myself, the Minister for the Environment or any of our successors — will not be directing a local authority to so charge. While the authority will have the power, for the first time, to charge for services for which they cannot currently charge, they will also have the corresponding and complementary power to decide themselves what services they wish to charge for. Therefore, any fears they may have in relation to services which are currently being provided free and not directly charged and which may subsequently end up being charged are fears over which the authority have total control.

Mr. M. O'Toole: It will be noticed that there are no amendments from this side of the House on this very important and controversial Bill. It is regrettable that the amendments which were put forward in the other House were not accepted. Of all Bills, this is one that requires the dedicated thought of every legislator throughout the State because it is a Bill to bring about fundamental changes in chargeability as between State and local authority. Up to now, revenue expenditure has been funded by rates, by domestic rates and by grant from the Department in lieu of rates and from a variety of receipts. May I say at the outset that we are not putting forward an amendment because no amendment was accepted in the other House, but we are going to discuss every section in depth and to debate the Bill in full. We regret that none of our proposed and worthwhile amendments on this controversial Bill was acceptable. Today we are not making promises, we are making law — very important local government law. [745] For that reason, our amendments should have been accepted in the other House.

Mrs. Honan: I must say that I was disappointed with the Minister for the Environment and Deputy Quinn. They give us the image — at least Deputy Quinn does — of bringing a new breath of air into this and the other House. Then, when it comes to a Bill, he writes into the Bill that nobody elected to either House can go on a board, and we have more of that here. He said in his reply to Second Stage that based on present knowledge, the maximum amount to be raised by local authorities under this legislation is £20 million. Does he think that is possible? He goes on then to talk about the abolishing of rates, but I will come to that on another section. If he thinks that local authorities will have to collect £20 million this year, what does he think they will have to collect next year?

Acting Chairman (Mrs. McGuinness): I hesitate to interrupt the Senator, but section 1 is purely an interpretation section. Possibly what the Senator is saying may arise more substantially on section 2. Perhaps as she has made her point, the Minister might reply on section 2, or if he wishes he can reply now. Possibly the points related to what Senator Honan has said would be better dealt with on section 2.

Mr. Quinn: Not wishing to leave Senator Honan without a reply, procedurally it would be more appropriate to reply on section 2.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 2.

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

Mr. Howard: I want to raise on section 2 a point I raised with the Minister on Second Stage last week. That concerned what I described as the risk of a double charge arising for owners of commercial property in relation to services provided by local authorities. The Minister was kind enough to allow another discussion [746] on it on Committee Stage. For that reason, I want now briefly to re-emphasise the point I was making then. Under section 2 we are empowering local authorities to make charges for certain services. We are also empowering them now to bring in a double charge for certain services — be it water, refuse, sewerage and so on. They are now the remaining ratepayers. Many have small businesses, as shopkeepers, publicans and so on. They are already paying rates on their property and within the rates there is an element that part of that rate is set aside to cover the cost of the provision by the local authorities of the services to which I am referring. It is important that we ensure that an injustice does not arise as a result of the passing of the legislation where these people are concerned.

The Minister made the point in replying on Second Stage that it was possibly covered by the fact that the charges could be offset against income tax, corporation profits tax and so on. I accept that point in relation to the people who are begging for it and who are on tax assessment against which these charges can be offset. The reality is that at present many people in the categories I mention are making a loss. I want to give an example from a trade with which I am most familiar, the licensed trade. In 1981, a survey carried out by Stokes, Kennedy and Crowley showed that any provincial publican with a turnover of less than £50,000 was in a loss-making situation. In other words, he was not able to sustain himself or his family income without supplementing it from outside his business. The way out envisiged by the Minister would not apply there because he has not got a profit and has nothing against to offset the charges. That survey also showed that approximately half of our publicans were in that situation. People may find that hard to accept but Stokes, Kennedy and Crowley are regarded as a sufficiently reputable company for their findings to be accepted.

Unless the Minister is prepared to consider an inclusion in that provision there to cover that situation, the one thing that we will guarantee with certainty by passing [747] this legislation is inconsistency in the implementation of it throughout the 27 county councils. Under the Fire Services Act, there is now evidence that there are 27 different interpretations on the safeguards, improvements or provisions within the different counties. In this situation, we are going to get, if not 27 different interpretations, quite a number. The people who do not have the opportunity to offset these charges will find themselves being double charged.

I do not want what I am now going to say to be considered in any way as being anti-farmer. However, agricultural land is derated and many land-owners utilise or avail of water services, and, in fact, the amount of water used on many farms will correspond to and, perhaps well exceed, the quantity of water used by many of the business people concerned. There will be no double charge because the rates are gone from agricultural land. There will be simple, straightforward charges on the water consumed. The point I am making is that the small businessmen in this situation will be paying a double charge. There is a simple answer; that is for the Minster to include a provision that the element that the small businessman, publican, shopkeeper, whatever he may be, pays within his rates for the provision of these services will be offset against the new charges. That will remove the risk of injustice.

It is not sufficient, in bringing in this law, to say that it is a matter for the local authorities or for the county councils. I repeat that we may get 27 different interpretations on the implementation of this. We will have inconsistency. It would make for better law if we have a consistent national service. There are few ratepayers involved. We should not persist with this legislation if we are satisfied that it is not good law.

Mr. Mullooly: I support Senator Howard on the point made about the double charges. I raised this also on Second Stage and referred in particular to small family businesses, the small premises part of which is residential and part of which [748] is the business premises. The residential portion of such premises is derated but the business portion still carries rates. The owners of such premises will be paying twice if they have to pay charges for services for which they are already paying through their rates.

Senator Howard suggested a solution that the element in the rates that goes to pay for these services should be offset against the new charges. I suggest that it should be the other way about — that the charges in question should be offset against the rates liability of these people.

This is the section that empowers the local authorities to charge for the provision of services. In actual fact, it will be the county manager who will decide on the level of charges for services. In many cases, the first that local authority members will know about the level of the charges is when they see a copy of the county manager's order setting out the level of charges for the various services. That is my understanding of the situation. It would be much more satisfactory if the level of charges were determined by the elected members rather than by the county manager. This should be a reserve function rather than a restrictive function.

Mrs. Honan: I, also, regret that the Minister seems here to be giving the power to the county manager. Again, as Senator Mullooly has said, it is when it is all decided that the elected person will know about it. Perhaps it is important for the Minister to realise that he has not up to now got stick about this because these new charges have not hit home down the country. If he survives 12 months, he will then know more about it than he does today.

In case I gave the impression last week here, as an elected local authority member, that I was dead set against all county managers and that they were all the bad guys, I want to correct that. I do not feel that way at all about county managers. We happen to have the best county manager in Ireland. There was talk a while ago about votes, but I can say that freely now because I do not need any favours from him — he will retire in October and [749] will not be able to do anything for me. I can pay him all the tributes I like today. The Minister might consider him for that new board he is setting up. However, I have a holy horror of these bureaucrats. You can never get too bigheaded if you have to stay with the people and get elected. These county managers are grand guys now but if they are given more power, and that power is taken away from those of us who have to stay with the people all the time to survive, they may not be so affable as senior officials.

On this section, when the rates were abolished in 1977 and 1978, the average household rate was in the order of £200 to £250. That is what the Minister said. He must have been talking about one of the big mansions in Donnybrook or the like. That is not getting away from the fact that we do not know what the end result of these charges will be.

As regards what Senator O'Toole said, it is sad that the Minister did not see fit to accept any of our party's amendment in the Dáil because I thought the Minister was bigger than that. There are some Bills that we would not be able to talk about but local government is familiar to all of us who have served for so long in local authorities. The Cathaoirleach is probably one of the longest serving members in local government. The Minister seems to be hell-bent on taking power from the elected people of this nation in all the legislation he is bringing in. It is we who will have to answer.

Mr. M. O'Toole: Our amendment was that the making of a charge under the provisions of this section should be a reserved function of the elected members of the local authority concerned. The intention now is to allow managers to determine the level and the area of charge. This is a negation of democracy at a time when the whole emphasis of informed opinion at home and abroad is that local communities and authorities should have greater participation in the democratic process. The Minister's proposals could cause problems in the following circumstances. Suppose a manager, in preparing the estimate of expenses, included on the income side [750] provision for receipts from charges and the elected members, in considering the estimate, decided to delete that provision, could the manager decide subsequently to levy charges under the powers of the new Bill in contravention of the wishes of local authority members? This is not clear. When this amendment was going through the Dáil many Deputies, including Deputies Bruton, Owen, Kenny and Farrelly supported the amendment. Nevertheless it was not accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Spring. That was regrettable.

I have served on a local authority for many years. I have seen various changes in legislation regarding the financing of local authorities. I do not say this is the reintroduction of rates. Everybody calls it something different. It is the transfer of the charges, responsibilities and the financing of these services. We are not against charging for services. I wonder just how unconstitutional it is in a county like Mayo with a rate of £27 in the £. The people get their demand notes with the services they can avail of under the said rate printed on them. Now an additional charge under this rate will be imposed. There is a doubt if some people who are paying rates will be liable for these additional charges.

The collection of these charges will now be the responsibility of the local authority and charges may not be the same in Mayo as in Galway. If a person lives in a border area, his next door neighbour may have a cheaper refuse collection and a cheaper water rent. There is no national charge because it will be a managerial function.

We could argue all day about whether a manager is part of a local authority. If we take away responsibility from the local authorities for the implementation of this Bill and the provision of the finances then we are saying it is a managerial authority. The manager brings in his estimate and we decide the rate in the pound that we will get in the year. At a time when we should be expanding our services we will pass the burden of the financing of them to local authorities and [751] give full responsibility to the manger for their implementation.

I have spoken to managers and they do not want this job. I do not think it will work. As Senator Honan said, there is only one way to hurt people and that is to hurt them through their pockets. It has not reached that stage yet but it is only when people have to pay for a particular service that they will realise that they got the same service last year and did not have to pay for it. Local authorities will be less well off next year than they are this year as a result of this section.

The most detrimental part of this Bill is giving responsibility to the managers. There will be difficulty in collecting the charges under this Bill.

Mrs. Honan: There is a very good relationship between elected persons and county managers in most counstitutencies at present. At estimates time as all county councillors are aware there are long discussions. As Senator O'Toole asked, can county managers decide on charges other than those previously agreed to at the commencement of the year? Can they take on to themselves to add extra charges as it goes on? Is it not a possibility that not alone will we have the charges at the beginning of a year but extra charges at some other time during the year? Perhaps I am putting too much emphasis on the power that the Minister has seen fit to give to the county managers but I am worried because while there is a good relationship between the elected councillors and managers I fear if they have this power the results may not be too good.

Mr. Quinn: While we are on section 2, it is inevitable that we must bring into account certain other factors which really belong to other sections so in the spirit in which this section has been debated I will respond. First of all, let me deal specifically with Senator Howard's comment in relation to the element of double charging. It may be hard for some members of Fianna Fáil to recognise the spirit of the Bill because it is such a long time since they saw a Bill devolving real powers [752] back to a local authority that perhaps it is a strange bird.

Mrs. Honan: Keep politics out of it.

Mr. Quinn: It was introduced, Senator Honan. It was not the Labour Party or Fine Gael that introduced the managerial Act or sacked Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation or centralised housing grants. Local authorities are not accustomed to having powers devolved upon them. Our recent experience as local councillors is that any powers we had are, in some way or another, taken away whether they were administrative or not. The most recent example relates to the administration of housing grants and home improvement grants.

Senators Mullooly and Howard referred to the fact that a local authority in its reserved function, determines the estimates and the amount of money needed in the estimates to provide the services that it intends to provide for the forthcoming year. You have power in so far as you are members of a local authority. Members can decide, on the basis of the grant that they will get from State in agricultural relief if it is a combined rural and urban authority or the domestic rate support grant, combined with the anticipated revenue from house receipts and so on how much money they want to put on the commercial and industrial rates etc. and they can leave it at that. They can say that is the amount of money we will have and we will have no additional charges. That is their power. That is a reserved function. That is the law as it is and it is not proposed to change it in any way. Members call the opening shots and define the field within which the manager subsequently has to act. If they so choose, they can say that for a variety of reasons that are peculiar to their local authority, they do not propose to require the manager to raise any local charges whatsoever. Obviously, that will have an effect on the available services to local citizens. That is a political choice and is a choice which in legal terms they have the power to make. If they decide, in order to maintain services or expand them, in addition to the moneys that they [753] anticipate or forecast in their estimates that they need additional current account receipts in order to fund services in their local authority for the forthcoming year, then they can fix the amount of money needed.

First of all, they can decide that they will raise no money at all. Secondly, they can decide to raise some money but the maximum amount will be so much. These are the powers which they currently have. The manager, as is the practice in relation to water rates, having been requested to raise a certain gross amount of money under the legislation, as determined by the elected members at their estimates meeting, has the power and the responsibility to design the scheme, how much should be charged per household to raise the gross sum required and what form and what kind of waiver would be appropriate for the circumstances in the area.

In that context let me return specifically to the query that Senators Howard and Mullooly raised in relation to the problem of double charging and the fiscal and financial difficulties of small businesses. I accept that they exist. There is no reason why working under the kind of co-operation that Senator Honan referred to—Clare is a very good example of that kind of co-operation between managers and members—informal discussions could not take place between the manager and the elected members to decide, for example, that there will be no charges applied to the commercial industrial sector already paying rates. They can be excluded. That power will not come from Dublin. It can be decided in Ennis, Castlebar, Westmeath or wherever. We will not tell them how to do it or what way they should do it because this is part of the process of returning to local authorities a degree of autonomy, respect and dignity which regrettably successive administrations have taken away from them.

Mrs. Honan: We still have respect and dignity.

Mr. Quinn: It is frequently lost in the journey from Dublin down to the relevant [754] county and we are anxious to ensure that it is nurtured and properly restored. For that reason, councillors will be able to cash in on the relationship Senator Honan referred to. They have the power to suggest to the manager that certain categories of enterprise, small family firms or whatever who are not making a profit and who, therefore, cannot avail of the tax reliefs that I referred to in the Second Stage speech, should be excluded. If the manager does not appear to be forthcoming in the informal discussions and does not give precise details but is rather vague about how she or he proposes to raise this money, then by resolution under the existing legislation governing the powers of local authority members, a motion can be put down on the order paper requiring the manager to bring forward the detailed scheme of the charges that he proposes to raise and the waiver attachments to it before any such charges are implemented. These are councillors' powers at present.

The reason why the Minister for the Environment in the Dáil, did not accept the amendments to which Senator O'Toole referred earlier is that we believe the range of powers that I have is more than adequate to meet the legitimate concerns and fears that have been expressed by some Members here and in the Dáil. If, however, at the end of two years—I repeat the commitment made by the Tánaiste in the Dáil and which I made here on Second Stage—it emerges that the kind of relationship which Senator Honan described in respect of her county does not exist, that managers appear to be travelling down a road totally at variance with the wishes of the elected members, by order of the Minister for the Environment we can under the 1955 Local Government Act and the Schedule to those sections which are deemed to be a reserved function and therefore the exclusive pleasure of elected members, assign the function of fixing these charges as well. I have described a series of levers of power that are vested exclusively in the elected members in relation to the operations of these charges. As a consequence, we do not believe that it was necessary at this [755] stage to accept the amendment proposed in the Dáil because the necessary powers are there. I am not making a political point but we are reversing the whole thrust of the relationship between the Custom House and local authorities throughout the country. It may be difficult for some Members to recognise that there is a fundamental shift in policy. Over the next four years, Members will get an opportunity to see in a variety of ways just what form and substance that will take.

Mr. Mullooly: The Minister has said that local authorities will have the choice between deciding to fix an amount to be raised by charges or deciding not to impose any local charges at all. In practice that choice will not exist. It would exist only if the Minister would give a guarantee that he would compensate local authorities in full for the amount of domestic rates relief given and the amount of agricultural rates relief given. That has not happened this year. Local authorities have not been compensated in full.

I mentioned in my Second Stage speech that in County Roscommon the block grant which we received from the Exchequer in lieu of the agricultural and domestic rates relief grants in the current year represented an increase of only 6.6 per cent on the amount which we received last year. It was not 100 per cent of the amount of rates relief given in the county. I submit that local authorities will have no choice but to supplement the grant which they will receive from central funds by including in the estimate an amount to be raised by local charges.

Mr. Quinn: I recognise the Senator's argument. It comes up in section 9 and we might have a more constructive discussion on that point on section 9.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 3.

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

[756] Mr. M. O'Toole: Perhaps this is an unfair question but I must ask it. In a block of flats in any given part of a local authority area where there is a communal water pipe to service the whole area and a number of refuse bins left outside, how do we define who is to be charged? The owner may be in Taiwan or wherever and he is not responsible for collecting the charge. Is it the manager who will decide? Are we to put a number on the bin as they are doing with the milk cans in the west at present or how will the refuse from my house be identified from that of my neighbour?

Mr. Mullooly: This section states that different rates of charges may apply in respect of different classes of persons, premises or services. It would be very hard to apply different rates of charges equitably. If it were to be done equitably, then every house would have to have a water meter and every refuse collection vehicle would have to have weighing facilities. In addition to that, what is the position regarding consumers who do not wish to avail of particular services or whom the services which are provided by the local authority do not suit? I am thinking of a situation where a weekly refuse collection service is provided in small rural towns or villages. A weekly service may not suit or meet the requirements of a particular premises. The owner of such a premises would have to make his own arrangements to have a daily service provided by a private contractor. It would not be equitable if that person, though he is not availing of the service being provided by the local authority because the service does not suit him, has to pay for it.

Mr. Ferris: We should not get too hung up on this. Local authorities have been imposing charges for a long time, especially county councils who had no restriction on them from making a charge for this service. There is already a difference between services provided by local authorities in towns and villages which do not have an urban authority running them, in other words, businesses were charged differently, they were separated [757] into publicans, hairdressers, doctors, dentists and so on. They had a specific charge which was different from the householders' charge. This was for water. It has never been a problem to differentiate between what section in a town should be charged a separate charge from another section. If the option was available, a person receiving the service could have a meter which is a fairer system. Meters are expensive. It costs at least £50 per household to fit a meter. Naturally, one would not fit a meter to an old age pensioner's cottage or a cottage with one person living in it where the income from the water charge would not justify the installation of the meter. We have a flat-rate of charge or a meter.

The charges will be specific and they should be separate. There are people in rural areas who do not have a refuse collection and they should not be included in a blanket charge for a sanitary service on the basis that they do not benefit from a refuse collection. In all towns and villages where they have a refuse collection we can make the people there responsible for a refuse collection charge. We do not have to identify bins or put numbers on bins. We can have a minimal charge for it the same as for water.

Local authorities have been implementing a scale of charges for many years. All this Bill does is give power to urban authorities and corporations which have been precluded from charging for these services since the rates were done away with, to charge for them. It is social justice to extend charges to people who can afford to pay for services that other people in rural areas have always been paying for.

Mrs. Honan: We are not, as Senator Ferris said, getting hung up on something but this is the place to say what we have to say. Talking about the services that the urban areas have and which the county areas did not have, this is where I see trouble. In a big housing estate of 200 or 300 houses how are we going to implement charging people for refuse collection in that type of housing estate if 15 or 20 of those people refuse to pay? Senator [758] Ferns has a lot of experience of dealing with some of those people just as I have. How are you going to make 20 householders in the type of housing estate that I am referring to pay for a refuse collection? We can bring in the legislation here today but we cannot knock them down and make them pay for a service if 20 out of a block of 100 or 200 refuse to do so. I am a great believer in saying anything I have to say where it has to be said. This is the place to say it and not down the corridors.

Mr. Ferris: I now know the point that Senator Honan is getting at: how do we collect the charges that we will impose? That is an administrative problem. I accept what she says, that nobody will pay any bill if he can get away with it. If the local authority have the responsibility to make a charge they most certainly have the responsibility to collect it. That is why I was so worried about Senator O'Toole, whom I respect and who has been a member of his own local authority. He knows that they have been making charges. I was trying to follow his argument and to know how they would apply them in certain sections when we know that he and I have been applying them already in the same section. But the local authority from an urban point of view have not been applying them. That is the point I wanted to make. Certainly, non-collection is another problem but it is one for the manager. He would have the statutory power to collect.

Mr. M. O'Toole: In case there is any misunderstanding of what Senator Ferris has said, we have no charge at all in Mayo for refuse collection on the basis that he has outlined. We have a county-at-large charge and there is an estimate and a provision made for the collection services throughout the whole county. What this Bill is going to do is bring it down to the bin and to the person at the moment. I thought I would take this under a different section. Senator Ferris is trying to help the Minister. You do not have to help that man: he is well able to handle the situation himself. It only applies in [759] my county on a county-at-large basis. This Bill will change that.

An Cathaoirleach: We are getting away from the section.

Mr. M. O'Toole: Sorry about that. What I am saying is that it does not apply in my county, only on a county-at-large basis. Now we are going to change that with this Bill. So you will appreciate my concern about the administration which Senator Ferris has admitted will have a problem. This will be an administrative problem. I am putting the problem in front of the Minister so that the Minister will be aware of what is happening down in Mayo. Indeed he probably knows it as a result of his visit there recently. We appreciate very much that he came down to meet us and see us on the ground and in the flesh and how we operate. We had a very useful discussion on many aspects of our responsibility. We reserve the right not to use the occasion of his visit to pre-empt any Bill or discuss any Bill.

Mr. Ferris: I am not here to defend the Minister. He is well able to do that himself. I am a member of a local authority and I am just putting my view on this legislation on the record of the House as to how we have implemented various schemes and various charges in a county council area. If that is not how it is implemented in other counties then we will benefit from an exchange of view across the floor with the permission of the Chair and the ear of the Minister. If the Minister feels any county is doing anything wrong, he has the right to intervene. I certainly am not defending him because there might be other aspects of this where I would like much more power for local authority members.

I listened intently to his contribution in which he pointed out that he will still hold certain other functions and if the local authority members cannot get their proper rights in the initiation of these charges, the formulation of schemes and the relief from them, then certainly the local authority members would have lost the proper input they were elected to [760] give. I would have the gravest reservations about that on behalf of all of us. That goes for the other side of the House as well. I want to reassure Senator O'Toole that I am not defending the Minister. He is well able to do that himself.

Mr. Howard: I intervene briefly to comment on what Senator O'Toole said that in Mayo the cost of the refuse collection is a countywide charge. That is true I am sure of quite a number of counties. How can we justify the continuation of that situation where you put on a charge on a countywide basis? We are back to what I said earlier, where the last remaining group of ratepayers are paying for the service or can now be in a position to avail of it and which is being availed of by another category of people. I was making the point that in the refuse collection in Clare about one-third of the total number of houses are involved in it. It is only fair that those who are availing of the service, to whom the service is of value, should make a contribution towards it. Is the fact that this was supposed to be available free not the very reason why we are continuously getting demands to provide a refuse collection service in an area where it is very hard to justify? It is hard to continue justifying a situation where some people are paying for a service that is free to others. I believe that what we can justify is providing a service and putting a charge on the people who can avail of that service.

Mrs. Honan: Nobody on this side of the House is arguing with Senator Howard about putting a charge on refuse collection. We are just asking how are you going to make it work.

Mr. Quinn: I could confine my remarks to section 3 and answer specifically the question raised by Senator Mullooly initially. In deciding on whom legally a charge would be levied, it is prudent for the Minister from a management point of view in Senator Mullooly's own experience, that the person whom you are legally going to list as the recipient of the charge should be someone who is permanent for the purposes of law and [761] debt collection. Otherwise, you will find yourself in a situation that in the event of a default you really have no effective recoverable claim. It is for that reason we would envisage, as is common practice in other aspects of local authority government, that in a block of flats where there is a clear legal tenant, a long-term tenant. someone who is there and capable of having a civil bill served upon him in the event of a default or non-payment, then that person would be the person who would be the main recipient of the charge. In a house that is converted into a number of flats, furnished lettings, weekly tenancies and so on, where there may be two or three tenants in the one fiscal year, then we would see the landlord or the registered owner of that premises being the person who would be liable for the charge. This is subject to what the local authority themselves want to do.

If for argument sake, you have six dwellings in that building owned by one individual and the water or general purpose charge is £25, then the landlord, the registered owner, would be charged £150 and he or she in turn would then make his or her own arrangement with the tenant. In a manner similar to the old collection of rates when such tenants were not eligible for rates, it would vary. The purpose behind it is an administrative one; you set it against the person who is the best conceivable target, if I could use that particular phrase, so that in the event of default you have someone to go after.

The question was raised: if the service is there but you are not really availing of it, do you have to pay for it? That is a bit like somebody saying to the TV licence collector, “Well, I live in Dublin: I never watch RTE 1 or RTE 2 and I do not want to pay the licence”. It sounds fairly sustainable. In fact, if there is water being delivered to your house by a piped system and you are not using any of it or are using very little — for example my requirement to wash my hair would be far less than perhaps Senator Honan's — that is the kind of factor that no doubt people will argue but it is not sustainable. It the service is there, whether you are availing of it or not you are going to be liable in law. That is the way we envisage [762] it in relation to a refuse collection or in relation to anything else that may be decided by the local authority in conjunction with the manager as being required.

On the question of equalisation, the whole purpose of this Bill and the whole thrust of its administration will be to allow local authorities to re-establish norms that are appropriate to their own county. Senator O'Toole gave an instance unwittingly of that when he referred to the county rate in Mayo of £27 which is much in excess of what the county rate in County Clare is, which is £18 or £19. But that is appropriate to the needs of County Mayo.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 4.

Question proposed: “That section 4 stand part of the Bill”.

Mr. Mullooly: This section allows the Minister to make an order excluding certain services from charges. I would like the Minister to give an assurance that the services to which I referred on section 1 would be excluded services, such as the processing of higher education grant applications, the processing of re-housing applications, the processing of disabled persons' housing grant applications and essential repairs grant applications.

Mrs. Honan: Do I read the section correctly, that under this section the Minister can stop local authorities from charging for a service? I would like the Minister to explain this and say why he needs this power and in what circumstances he may use it.

Mr. Quinn: The power is there in the first instance because it is a fall-back position that any superior House or body such as the Oireachtas must have in respect to any subsidiary body such as the particular local authority. The devolution of power and local autonomy is not the same as the granting of full independence. Therefore, that fall-back position is required.

[763] I take the spirit of what Senator Mullooly is saying. In regard to other legislation, particularly housing legislation where provision is made in the enactment of that legislation for the delivery at local level of a particular service as an integral part of the housing policy, it would on first hearing sound somewhat iniquitous to be charging for it in the manner mentioned. All I can say at this stage is I support the spirit of what the Senator said in principle and I will certainly look at the comments the Senator is making. It would apply to other services that have been traditionally free and for which there is a very good argument against inclusion, balancing the impact they may have against the possible revenue they would raise, for example, charging for library services.

Mr. Ferris: Could we take it from what the Minister said in regard to retaining this function to himself that if members of a local authority were unhappy about a specific area of charging that the manager intended to include, they would have the right to send a request to the Minister to look at that particular trend in case it was, as Senator Mullooly said, a charge for a disabled person's grant — people we are trying to facilitate really — and it would be an area of real social need where you would not like to be making a charge or just the processing of an application for a higher education grant which has very little administrative work at county council level. This is very straightforward and it is completed by the applicant anyway. Suppose the manager, in trying to make up a deficit, suddenly started to pull out of the sky this kind of service which would certainly concern me and other Senators in the House, would we have the right by resolution to demand that the manager would not implement those without the final approval of the Minister on the basis of this section which gives him the power to exclude some services from charges?

Mr. Mullooly: I raised this because at the moment we charge for the processing of house improvement loans, reconstruction [764] loans applications and we charge for the processing of Housing Finance Agency loans and SDA loan applications. It is a very short step from that to charging for the processing of the other applications to which I referred.

Mr. Quinn: As I said, I understand the spirit of what Senator Mullooly and others are saying. What we are talking about is a fall-back provision in the first instance. Therefore, it would not be availed of until there was substantial need for it. All I can do at this stage is to give an assurance to Senators that we would certainly take into account any representations that are made.

Mr. Howard: I welcome the presence of the section in the Bill. Rightly or wrongly, I look at it as a last resort situation to deal with the problems that I was referring to earlier. I hope that it will never be necessary to come back to the Minister on it but, should we have a situation where there is grave inconsistency or where there is obviously an injustice being done in certain counties in relation to what I was referring to as a double charge. I look on this section as providing the means as a last resort of coming back to the Minister. For that reason I welcome the presence of this section.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 5.

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

Mr. M. O'Toole: In connection with section 5, it appears that there is no directive given to the county manager as regards the time limit and there are no guidelines laid down in connection with what type of scheme a particular manager will bring in in connection with the waiver of certain charges under this Bill. Perhaps down at home I would not be able to say this: we have a very humanitarian manager and I have no doubt that he would implement that scheme quite adequately but I am talking about the Minister bringing [765] in legislation for a period of time and managers come and go. I would like some guidelines as to what type of person the Minister had in mind to waive or give some relief to. If there is going to be a waiver scheme the members of the local authority should first have the option to examine it and it should be brought before them so that they could examine and amend a waiver scheme before its implementation because in the absence of a time limit and guidelines it would appear to me that the Minister is saying to the manager, “On you go; implement the Bill and your own waiver scheme”. Having done that, it will be a different waiver scheme possibly in different counties. I know that quite possibly the managerial associations have their own meetings and they will discuss this at their meetings and it will perhaps be made as uniform as possible.

Every county varies. What may be acceptable in Cork may not be acceptable in the west and vice versa. A waiver scheme should be brought before the members of the local authorities for examination, amendment and adoption.

Mr. Mullooly: I agree with what Senator O'Toole said. Any blanket waiver scheme introduced would have to be very flexible. The Minister, in his Second Stage speech, said he would be issuing guidelines to local authorities to assist them in deciding on the waiver scheme they would bring into operation. I would like the Minister to suggest, or even more than suggest, to local authorities that there should be some kind of an appeal process set up because if the county manager decides that charges should not be waived in the case of a particular person and if that individual comes to me or some other member of a local authority and asks that representations be made on his behalf and an appeal made against the manager's decision, we are going back to the person who made the decision in the first instance. In the vast majority of cases, unless we are able to bring to the manager's notice information which was not available to him at the time he made his decision, then the likelihood is that the original decision will stand. I would [766] like to see in that kind of situation some appeal machinery which we could use and which would arbitrate on the particular case which might only arise in a small number of instances. An individual concerned would feel his case had got a fairer hearing if there was some kind of appeal machinery in existence.

Mr. Quinn: The purpose of this section is to introduce and give formal recognition and power to the principle that people pay according to their means and that those people who as a consequence of their means are not in a position to pay are not levied. That is the principle upon which the provision of the section stands. In pursuit of that principle it is logical that we identify people who, for categorisation purposes, are clearly, because of their receipt of a particular social welfare allowance, manifestly people of low or poor income. These allowances are self-suggestive, non-contributory pensions, deserted wife's allowances, prisoners' wives allowances and so forth.

Senator Mullooly is correct in saying that I said in my Second Stage speech that we would be issuing guidelines. I want to emphasise that they will be merely guidelines and it will be up to the local authority to interpret them as they themselves see fit. The problem of the borderline case will arise in relation to any waiver scheme. Once a category is set even at local level, having regard to a guideline, a person either meets or does not meet it — if he is in receipt of a pension, or is not, for instance.

Returning to the principle of relating ability to pay with the waiver scheme, there has to be built into it a degree of discretion or degree of appeal that would enable the manager and the local representative to make a case on behalf of a particular individual. I am disposed to that if it is operated at local level for the reason that at local level people know what the situation is on the ground in the vast majority of local authority rural areas. It manifestly would not function in the Dublin area or within the larger urban areas. The guidelines we will be issuing in due course will simply be such but they will be addressing themselves to the principle [767] that ability to pay is an integral part of this. Senator O'Toole and others who have far more experience of local authorities than I have, will recall that the old rating system, when it operated prior to 1977, did have provision for a waiver scheme. There is experience there of its operating and also in the operation of the appeals procedure related to it.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 6.

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

Mr. M. O'Toole: I would like to ask the Minister if a person fails to avail of a service and he is unable to pay and the service is cut off, if he decides the following day or two days or a week afterwards that he wants the service, will the cost of restoring service far exceed that of giving him the service in the first instance? However, I admit you must have some administrative principle. Weeks or months after the implementation of the Litter Act I see a big problem arising in most of the western counties. We live close to Sealink beaches and if we charge people for refuse collection, the first thing they will do is dump it on the beach, the bog or on the side of the road or anywhere. Who will be in a position to identify them at their work of dumping?

Where there is a county-at-large charge at the moment people are getting this service and they think it is free but they are paying it on a rate basis. Indeed some people who are not paying rates do not pay at all. That has been the way in local authorities down through the years under the system we had where there was a county-at-large charge for all services. People in rural areas did not get group water schemes that people in towns enjoyed. I can see problems arising in a tourist area. We will have problems in trying to stop people from dumping freely on beaches, roads and scenic areas. That is my fear here. I hope it will not happen. I hope the communities in the areas concerned will see that it will not happen [768] because it is unsightly, to say the least. The collection of refuse is a great service and we should try to maintain and improve and increase it. We provided three dumps in County Mayo. If people can get this collection service done by a private agency, will the local authorities stop them from dumping in the dumps we have appointed? I am sure the Minister is aware of the danger which exists in a tourist area. If people are already being charged for refuse collection in other counties it will not arise but we will have to be watchful in the case of counties which have a county-at-large rate.

Mrs. Honan: Is the Minister making it mandatory on householders to pay this charge?

Mr. Quinn: To answer Senator O'Toole's question first, the people of County Mayo must recognise the extraordinary assets they have there, vis-á-vis tourism. Therefore any action about indiscriminate dumping is ultimately going to offend and hurt themselves. That is a general argument that frequently individuals exempt themselves from. It is for that reason that the Litter Act was passed by this House last year. There are much stronger provisions for prosecution than were there before. There are difficulties about enforcement because Mayo is a big county.

The combination of public education and political leadership at local level is essential. I agree with Senator O'Toole that, for a variety of reasons, health reasons, environmental reasons, tourist reasons, a refuse service is essential and should be provided. To answer Senator Honan's question, if the service is made available to a district, then it will be mandatory on the recipients of that service to comply with whatever charges are deemed to be required by the local authorities.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 7.

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

[769] Mr. Mullooly: I have reservations about this section. If the person in question accepts that he owes money to the local authority, or that the sum in question is due to the local authority, then that is fine. But, if there is a dispute as to whether the sum in question is due to the local authority, then it would be very unfair that any money should be deducted until that dispute is settled in some way. If a local authority employee was being charged a certain sum, and he disputed the sum being charged, under this section it would appear that the local authority would be entitled to deduct from that employee's wages the amount of the sum in question, even though he disputed the fact he owed the total amount or part of it. I would like the Minister to reassure us on this section.

Mrs. Honan: This would be totally wrong. It seems at the moment that persons working for a local authority could have some money taken from them if they were in dispute over a payment. A Chathaoirligh, will you allow me to refer to something which is not relevant to this Bill? This morning I had the wireless on in my room. I would ask whichever Minister is reponsible to tell Mr. Mike Murphy and Mr. Pat Kenny from RTE, who are both very good comics, that we would be most grateful as elected persons from all constituencies at local authority level if they stopped making a joke of employees of local authorities. They are very good workers in all our local authorities and they have themselves and their families to think of. We hear: “Oh, they are not working now because the sun is shining” and it is some other crack when the snow is on the ground. Mr. Murphy and Mr. Kenny are living and working in comfort at the taxpayers' expense in RTE and it is easy for them to have a go at the ordinary county council workers. I am still with the workers of the local authorities.

Mr. M. O'Toole: There is an old saying — and I am sure Senator O'Leary would be able to give us the legal side of it — that stoppage is no payment. You have [770] no legal right to stop a man's cheque if he owes you payment. In the past people did this. They were brought before the courts and the people from whom the money was stopped succeeded in winning their cases. A number of people work for local authorities such as labourers, cleaners, clerk typists, clerical officers, and various other people. They are in a position to avail of these services and, if they did not pay for them, the charges could be deducted from their wages. A doctor or a nurse working for the Western Health Board would be in a different position, or perhaps an instructor working with ACOT or an OPW ganger or overseer who is resident in the county. They charge us a statutory amount, whereas the county council worker is easy to catch. This might be a clanger for the Minister to answer. How would he catch the OPW man, or the ACOT worker, or the man working with the Western Health Board if he refused to pay? How does this section deal with two different sets of people? I hope I have explained myself.

Mr. Quinn: I will deal with the first part which relates to external money, so to speak, not salaries. Let us exclude for a moment the question of employees of local authorities. On the question of where moneys would, in the normal course of events, be coming to an individual by way of a grant of whatever kind, where for simple accountancy purposes you can offset one against the other, this is a standard provision. It goes back to the older days when people were paying local authorities moneys of one kind or another. It relates, for example, to the present practice on commercial rates. It is to facilitate ease of transaction between the local authority and an individual.

On the question of people who are employees of local authorities, it is certainly not the intention of this legislation that deductions should be made in that way. We have no specific power. The nearest we can get to it is in a seminal piece of legislation known as the Truck Act, 1831. There are words in a song about “owing my soul to the company store”. People were effectively made [771] company slaves. They were paid in a currency which could only be cashed in the company store. The thinking behind it is that they would not be locked into that situation.

On a personal note I would add that, as a former employee of a local authority and as a former member of the LGPSU, I have a fair idea of the reaction of Harold O'Sullivan and the President of the LGPSU to such a proposal. Any attempt to do so would have a fairly dramatic effect on the working relations within a local authority. Senators are right to draw attention to it. In the guidelines which will emanate from the Custom House we certainly make our views very clearly known in relation to it. On the general question of external moneys, it is a standard provision and I think it will be useful and will facilitate transactions.

On the point Senator O'Toole made, I would prefer to comment by saying that we are limiting the statutory demands in relation to OPW to 5 per cent this year, as distinct from the average of a 38 per cent increase, which they were looking for. We are moving on the other ones. not necessarily in the direction suggested.

Mr. Mullooly: I accept what the Minister said on section 7. I would ask him to consider amending that section by including the words “other than in respect of salary or wages” in line 36. If those words were included in the section after the words “another sum” the section would be very clear so far as local authority employees are concerned.

Mr. Quinn: As a former trade unionist and member of a local authority I would be very much disposed to accept the amendment. Senator Mullooly will appreciate that, if I do accept it, procedurally I will need to return to the other House. I can give this assurance. We will make the guidelines very clear as to what our intention is in relation to its operation.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 8 agreed to.

[772] SECTION 9.

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

Mr. Mullooly: Earlier I raised the question of the block grant or the cash grant which will be paid to local authorities in the future. Heretofore local authorities were paid an amount which coincided with the amount of domestic rates relief which they provided and also a sum equal to the amount of agricultural rates relief. Those two rates relief grants compensated the local authorities in full for the rates relief they gave. That will not be the situation in future and, as I mentioned earlier, the block grant or the cash grant which Roscommon County Council received this year represented an increase of only 6.6 per cent on the figure which we received in 1982.

I would like to ask the Minister how the amount of this year's grant was decided. What factors were taken into consideration in arriving at the amounts of the grant which we were given this year, and what factors will be taken into account when those grants are being decided in the future? All local authorities will not have the same scope for raising revenue through local charges. Local authorities in counties which have a number of large urban areas will have considerably more scope than local authorities in the rural counties. My own county is a mainly rural county and, therefore, I submit that the scope which we will have for raising revenue through local charges will be limited as compared with other counties. I would be very happy if I got some kind of an assurance from the Minister that he will take that factor into account in deciding the level of the cash grant which our county will receive in the future. It appears to me that it will be very difficult to bridge the gap between the cash grant which we will get and the total amount of rates income which the local authority should have.

Mr. Quinn: I fully understand and recognise the spirit of Senator Mullooly's contribution. He reflects the crisis local authorities have experienced in relation [773] to bridging the gap between what they need and what they are likely to get. This is experienced very acutely at central Government level. In the Second Stage debate Senator O'Donoghue recalled the circumstances in which the remaining sections of the domestic rates grant were removed at that time, and that the 1978 Act was seen as a temporary one with certain powers being given to the Exchequer to put a ceiling on what would be given to local authorities, and that obviously some long-term solution to financial restructuring would be required.

Against that background, and against the background of fiscal difficulties all local authorities have experienced, it became necessary in this legislation to rectify some of the anomalies which have grown up over the past couple of years in relation to recoupment. What we are trying to do is to remove any doubts. Some local authorities were trying to suggest that there was a legal claim, or that there were difficulties in relation to the amounts of money that were due. Once we moved away from the rateable valuation—and Senator Mullooly referred to the problems of Roscommon—the legal tax base was limited. Not only is it now limited, but it is somewhat at risk because of the High Court action which queries the whole constitutionality of a portion of it. All of these are simply further factors which point to the necessity, to which Senator O'Donoghue and indeed many other speakers referred, to get local authority finances onto a new, secure legal basis.

As the Minister for the Environment said in the other House this must be seen as legislation of a somewhat temporary nature in relation to the overall problem of local authority financing. It will be reviewed in two years in relation to its operation vis-á-vis the elected members, but it must be seen as part of a programme designed to deal with the whole question of local authority finances. It is in that context that section 9 is being moved.

Mr. M. O'Toole: Suggestions have been made that the Fianna Fáil estimates [774] of 1983 had a short tall of around £33 million. They were only estimates, but I should like to remind the House that, when the Coalition Government presented their budget, there was a short fall in the allocation to local authorities in the region of £12 million and that is what Senator Mullooly is talking about in relation to the Roscommon area.

There is no percentage indication in the Bill as to what amount of money the local authorities will get from central Government next year in a block grant. For that reason, one would hope the charges to be implemented by local authorities will offset this deficit of £12 million, which will be much greater next year because there will be a considerable drop in this commitment by the Exchequer to local authorities. This Bill will not have the desired effect of making up the short fall. The anticipated savings will be made because the Minister and the Minister for Finance will decide to give a lesser grant next year and the following year to local authorities. Whichever Government are in office at that time will be in a position to review the situation.

We are opposing this section. Last year the Coalition Government failed to honour their commitment by £12 million, and this year they will fail to honour it, but to what extent I do not know. It is stated in the Bill that a grant will be made available, but the Bill does not indicate what percentage of the grant. Responsibility for charging for services is being changed from central authority to the local authorities. We are opposing the Bill on the issue of the failure of the Government to make adequate funds available.

Mr. Mullooly: Section 9(2) states:

The Minister shall as regards each local financial year, as soon as may be, furnish to each rating authority an estimate of the grant which he proposes to make to the authority under subsection (1) of this section...

The inclusion of the word “estimate” in that subsection would appear to me to indicate that if the local authority in question are able to make a sufficiently strong case to the Minister, that estimate is open [775] to revision. As soon as the Minister furnishes this estimate to the local authority each year, there will be a procession of deputations from local authorities making a case to the Minister to revise upwards, of course, the amount he proposes to give them. The only satisfactory way in which funds can be paid from central Government to the local authorities is on the basis of the system which we have had up to the current year, that is, that local authorities are paid a domestic rates relief grant which will compensate them in full for the amount of domestic rates relief given, and also an agricultural grant which will compensate them in full for the cost of agricultural rates relief.

If that were done, the Minister could truly say that he was allowing local authorities to supplement their revenue by imposing local charges. As was the case this year, all the local charges will be doing if 100 per cent grants are not given, is bridging the gap between the amount received from central Government and the amount to which the local authorities should be entitled. Therefore, the financial position of local authorities will not be improved one iota by this legislation.

Mr. Quinn: It is quite wrong to suggest that in some way or other the 1978 legislation was open-ended, and that the Minister was automatically locked into a particular commitment. In fairness — and I am not being political about this — there is a certain degree of artificiality about this because, on the one hand, central Government are giving the money to the local authorities and, on the other hand, what we are arguing about is the basis upon which this money is to be calculated.

Senator Mullooly already referred to the disadvantaged position of Roscommon having regard to its tax base, which is its rateable valuation base. For that reason section 9 specifically does not lay down the exact manner — or does not link it entirely to the rateable valuation of this stage — in which moneys will be [776] paid in the future. It may be necessary to apply other criteria to compensate for the poor tax base local authorities have, having regard to the possible implications of any Supreme Court action in the near future.

On the question of the word “estimate” in subsection (2), the intention is very clear. The word “estimate” is already used by local authorities in relation to their own fairly precise estimate of moneys required in the course of their own financial or accountancy year. Our intention is to signal as soon as possible to local authorities what money it is intended to give to them by way of a current account grant-in-aid which, in effect, is what it will be. The reason for that is to enable them subsequently to make their own local estimates having regard to the size of the block grant and to decide in their own time and with proper regard to other factors how they want to allocate that money.

If we give them the estimate as soon as possible, by definition it cannot be 100 per cent accurate because of the constraints that operate on all of us. It is subject to revenue account holding up on tax receipts, and so on, and it is subject to a number of other factors as well of which all Members will be aware. It is totally unsatisfactory to be told at the end of the year exactly how much you are going to get, because it effectively paralyses you during the course of the year. You do not know how much to spend if you do not know how much you are going to get.

The other alternative is the one all of us as members or former members of local authorities would like. That is, to be given as accurate an estimate as possible early on in the fiscal year of what you are going to get by way of a global block, current account grant-in-aid, and that will subsequently enable local authorities to make up their own detailed estimates. That is the thinking behind the provision.

Question put.

[777] [778] The Committee divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 14.

Belton, Luke.

Browne, John.

Bulbulia, Katherine.

Burke, Ulick.

Connor, John.

Conway, Timmy.

Cregan, Denis (Dino).

Daly, Jack.

Dooge, James C.I.

Durcan, Patrick.

Ferris, Michael.

FitzGerald, Alexis J. G.

Fleming, Brian.

Higgins, Michael D.

Howard, Michael.

Howlin, Brendan.

Kelleher, Peter.

Kennedy, Patrick.

Loughrey, Joachim.

McAuliffe-Ennis, Helena.

McDonald, Charlie.

McMahon, Larry.

O'Leary, Seán.

Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

de Brún, Séamus.

Ellis, John.

Fallon, Seán.

Fitzsimons, Jack.

Honan, Tras.

Kiely, Rory.

Killilea, Mark.

Lanigan, Mick.

Lynch, Michael.

Mullooly, Brian.

O'Toole, Martin J.

Ryan, Eoin.

Ryan, William.

Smith, Michael.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Belton and Conway; Níl, Senators de Brún and W. Ryan.

Question declared carried.

Section 10 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

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

Mr. Ferris: I would like to thank the Minister of State who stayed with this House all day. We have facilitated him and the Opposition have been most constructive in these debates on the two local government Bills. It is unusual for a Minister to stay all day without some break, he did not have one and I would like to compliment him on that.

Mr. M. O'Toole: I second that compliment to the Minister. He dealt with the two Bills and did not ask anybody to deputise for him. He should be complimented for that.

Mrs. Honan: I want to thank the Minister. After debating these two Bills today I look forward to the local elections in 1984.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Quinn): I thank Senators for their co-operation and repeat what I said in relation to the first Bill. I also want to repeat the clear commitment given by the Tánaiste on the monitoring of this Bill. As regards local elections I could not possibly understand what Senator Honan is referring to.

Question put and agreed to.