Housing (Amendment) Bill, 1952—Committee (Resumed).

Wednesday, 18 June 1952

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 132 No. 10

First Page Previous Page Page of 37 Next Page Last Page

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

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  We had only just started, as well as I recollect, to discuss Section 9. I think the Minister will agree when I say that this section will mean that in certain counties smaller grants will be given than has been the case up to now. In these counties which have adopted schemes with higher levels than these, the housing grant is going to be reduced. That is a very retrograde step. It is, I think, the first time that a housing grant of any sort has ever been reduced. Quite apart from the type of case which we shall be discussing on amendment No. 22, this section is going to have a tremendously bad psychological effect on housing. In any of these counties where a scheme is in operation, that scheme is going to be slashed, as the Kildare scheme will be slashed, under this section.

I think I put before the Minister on the last occasion the comments that I wished to make on the section. I would seriously ask him to agree to the deletion of the section and to leave the question of the rate of income and the question of the grant to each local authority because quite clearly the figure for income that will suit Kildare and the figure that will suit South Cork will be entirely different. The valuation of £12 10s. as set out in the section, in Kildare represents a different way of life to the valuation of £12 10s. in Kerry and the Kerry County Council on the one hand and the Kildare County Council on the other are far better able to decide what the appropriate limit income shall be for the purpose of their grants. To try as this section does for the sake of uniformity to stream-line departmental [1383] provisions of this kind, means that it will have a very adverse effect, an effect which we would all be long sorry to see, in these counties that have already adopted schemes. On this section, it is purely a question of means and I do not want to enter into any discussion at this stage on the question of current buildings which can more easily be argued on Section 22.

The Minister will remember that on the Second Reading I suggested that it was unfair even as between two farmers with the same valuation to treat a farmer who has lower overheads on the same basis as the farmer with higher overheads. Perhaps it might be better to discuss this question on amendment No. 12, because it equally arises when a farmer has an overdraft or is indebted to the bank in connection with a mortgage.

Before I sit down I should like to ask one specific question. Where you have a farm held by two or more joint owners, if the farm is, say, one of £24 valuation and is in the name as joint owners of two brothers, does it mean under this section that the valuation is £12 for each of them or is the valuation to be £24? In other words do you divide the number of joint owners into the valuation before you arrive at your figure? In the other sections, where there is an income level, you add in the family income, but so far as I can see you do not necessarily follow the same procedure in the case of the valuation. If there are two joint owners are you to divide the total valuation by the number of joint owners in order to arrive at the figure which is to be considered in connection with sub-section (1)?

Minister for Local Government (Mr. Smith): Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  It is still a separate holding.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  Not necessarily. Supposing a man dies intestate leaving only two sons. The two sons have equal shares in the holding. If they decide that they want to build, they are two separate persons each entitled——

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I am not disputing that, [1384] but they have a joint interest in an independent separate holding.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  Therefore they would come under the larger figure.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I could not say right off. The matter could be decided when we come to deal with it.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  We had a specific case in Kildare and we did not know how to deal with it.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  It would be up to the two brothers to agree amongst themselves, and for one to withdraw his claim.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  The position in Kildare was that there were three sisters entitled to the holding. The holding was over the limit. The eldest sister was the one who was going to build. If you considered a third of the holding, they were within the limit, but if you considered it as one holding they were over the limit.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  We could not deal with that.

Mr. Crotty: Information on Patrick J. Crotty  Zoom on Patrick J. Crotty  I move that the section be deleted. The Minister has already deleted Section 8 and he would be doing a good job if he deleted Section 9 as well. Up to this county councils and other local authorities had a free hand as to what amount of grants they would give. Some county councils felt it was good business to encourage people to build houses, and they gave the full grant. Others felt that the county council could not afford to give any grant, and did not give any grant. It was up to the county council in each area to decide for themselves what they should do about it. I think the Minister is becoming a kind of dictator when he says: “No you do not decide for yourselves. I will decide for you.” I object to the principle of this section.

In other cases where a county council gave a reduced letting grant to banks the Minister was not very long about telling them: “You will not give a reduced grant; you must give the full letting grant to the banks.” In Kilkenny one bank applied in regard to two houses for a letting grant of £400. [1385] The council gave them a grant of £4 per year for ten years, or £40. I was not in favour of that. I was in favour of giving about £200, as I regarded it as an enterprise on the part of the bank. This bank had not the courtesy to write to the county council and ask them to reconsider their previous decision and increase the grant. They went over the head of the county council and wrote to the Minister to look into the matter. I understand the Minister can decide the matter when there is a dispute, but in that case I hold that there was no dispute. Instead of writing to the county council about the matter the Minister sent down word that they were to give the bank £400.

The same thing happened in Killarney. I read in the papers where the Kerry County Council gave a bank a letting grant of 10/- per house and the Minister said: “You will not give a letting grant of 10/- but a grant of £400 per house.” Is the Minister the Minister for banks or for the ordinary people of the country? When it comes to banks, the Minister gives them £400, the full letting grant, but when he comes to deal with farmers he says: “You must stay in the thatched house you were in always. You are not fit for a new house. It is only bankers we want to see getting new houses.” The Minister should have some regard for the farming community who have been working for a very small income for many years. It is only within the last few years that some of them have come out of the mire. They are anxious to improve their dwellings. When the Minister gets the opportunity he will not tell the farmers to build houses and get decent dwellings. He says: “If your holding is under £12 valuation you can get the full grant, but if it is higher than that you will not get the full grant.” I regard a farmer in my county, at any rate, with a holding of £40 valuation and a large family as a reasonably small farmer.

I think we should give encouragement to these people and I ask the Minister to delete this section. The Minister came to Kilkenny to open a [1386] housing scheme and we all welcomed him. He assured us that he had the greatest confidence in the people and that he would show by his future actions the confidence he had in the urban authorities and the county councils, being a member of a council himself. He said: “I will give you more powers in this new Bill,” but he has not done that. My opinion is that the Minister should abolish the county councils if he has not confidence in them. County councils have a sense of responsibility. The councillors are ratepayers and they will not throw away money for the sake of throwing it away. If the Minister wants to show any confidence in them he will delete this section.

Mr. Sheldon: Information on William Alexander Sheldon  Zoom on William Alexander Sheldon  I find myself in this difficulty. I fully agree with the Minister that there should be some restriction on county councils. I do not think it is correct that the ratepayers' money should be handed out to all and sundry. Where I disagree with him is that I am not prepared to admit that this is a suitable method. I take it that selecting rateable valuation is a way of arriving at means. I am not prepared to admit that rateable valuation is an indication of means. It is quite possible that a man who would qualify under the Bill by being under £12 valuation would be very much better off than a farmer with a valuation of £40. Then when you add to that the fact that the rateable valuations in the different counties do not necessarily bear any relation to each other, you find that this section will have different effects in different counties. That is very unwise. I should like the Minister to reconsider the matter.

I do not agree with Deputy Crotty with regard to the county councils. The theory that we are all responsible ratepayers is only a theory, and does not always work out in practice. It is unwise that ratepayers' money should be freely distributed by the local authorities alone, that is assuming that this service is one which is properly applicable to county councils at all. My own view is that this matter of housing is a national matter and that the cost should be borne entirely on the [1387] Central Funds and that no part of the burden should be put on the county councils. I admit that that is a wide matter to bring up in Committee. Feeling that county councils should not be burdened with this at all and that the rateable valuation is a very bad yardstick to use, I find myself in some difficulty. Having those views, I still believe some restriction should be put on the county council. It is easy to find fault with the suggested remedy and the only thing I can suggest is that other circumstances should also be taken into consideration. The term “farm” is loosely used here. “Charity covers a multitude of sins,” but what exactly does the Minister mean by “farm”? There are people who are in occupation of agricultural holdings, who work those holdings but who have other means. Will they be excluded? Where will the dividing line be drawn?

The Minister will appreciate that it is quite possible for a man to have a small holding and be engaged to a considerable extent in cattle dealing. He may be a very wealthy man. I take it that under this section he will be able to apply successfully to the county council for a 100 per cent. grant whereas a small farmer who has no other means and who farms land with a rateable valuation of £40 cannot get one red cent. I would like the Minister to reconsider that position. I think he will realise that rateable valuation is a very bad yardstick and that there is no real relationship between rateable valuations in County Donegal and those in counties like Meath and Kildare. What may be perfectly fair and just in one county might be very unjust and unfair in another county.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  I am opposed to the principle underlying Section 10 and I feel that the same principle underlies this section. Deputy Sweetman, Deputy Sheldon and Deputy Crotty have referred to the different valuations in different counties. Added to that is the fact that one man may use his holding for purposes other than farming and may be a very wealthy man. There are various reasons governing [1388] the matter. That brings us to the inescapable conclusion that there is no perfect method of assessing to whom a grant should be given. Apparently the Minister is not satisfied with the methods adopted by county councils in the past. I do not say that he has found evidence of any glaring anomalies but he evidently considers this a better method. In the short time that has been devoted to the section I think it is quite obvious that anomalies will arise as the section stands. For that reason I feel there is no perfect way of assessing who should receive the full grant and who should receive a lesser portion of such a grant. The only conclusion then is that we should do away altogether with the means test, and give the grant to all and sundry. I think that is the only just way because otherwise some will get the grant while others will be refused and in that way injustice may be done. It is no injustice if everybody gets it. It is unjust if a rich man gets it and a poor man does not. Under the section as it stands that will undoubtedly happen and I do not believe anybody here, including the Minister, wishes that situation to arise.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  Deputy Sheldon touched on a very important point in relation to this section. The provision in the existing Act enabling county councils to give a grant equivalent to that given by the State represents in effect an attempt on the part of the State to pass over to local authorities a burden which local authorities were never asked to bear in the past. I think it is an attempt, too, on the part of the central Government to be generous at the expense of the county councils and the local ratepayers rather than at their own expense.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell  Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell  But the local authority is getting a rateable asset in the house.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  That is true. The asset has to be considered as against the liability that is imposed. The 1947 Act represented a very far-reaching advance in the provision of grants for housing. Under that Act the [1389] grant was raised to £270. Prior to that it was only about £45 in the majority of cases. That was a step forward but I think the attempt to outdo that by providing a similar grant at the expense of the ratepayers was not altogether a carefully considered reform. I know the difficulties in which county councils find themselves in trying to decide who should and who should not benefit by this provision.

It is very easy to say that all comers should get the 100 per cent. grant. That is a simple solution of the problem. If a county council, with its very limited finances, is expected to provide £270 for every house that is built a very, very substantial burden will be imposed on the ratepayers of that county. Deputy Crotty spoke very sympathetically about the farmers. It must be remembered that the majority of the substantial ratepayers in most counties consists of farmers and it is upon them that the main portion of the burden will fall. Instead of being generous to the farmers, therefore, Deputy Crotty was proposing to put upon their shoulders a very, very substantial burden.

When this provision was first made it was conveyed to county councils that it represented an attempt at relieving the burden of work on county councils by assisting private individuals to build houses for themselves. I think our purpose in providing a contribution out of the rates should be to provide that contribution for those who would otherwise be a charge on the rates—the people with the small incomes and the low valuations for whom the county councils and the ratepayers are under statutory obligation to provide houses. I think there is need for some restriction in relation to the manner in which these grants will be allocated. I think this represents a cautions approach to the problem. It may not be an entirely satisfactory solution but it is better than leaving it open to county councils to give a 100 per cent. grant to every person intending to build a house. While it is true that the State gives a similar grant to every person proposing to build a house, it must also be acknowledged [1390] that the finances of local authorities are much more restricted than those of the State.

Deputy Dockrell raised a question as to the extent to which ratepayers might recoup themselves by the establishment of new houses by an addition to the rateable valuation of the county. I think if anyone worked the matter out carefully—I have not done so—I think he would find that the amount that would be collected in rates from a house provided under this scheme would be very far short of the amount that would have to be granted. It from an applicant for a new house the £275 which it is proposed should be given.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  What valuation would the Deputy suggest should be placed on a house?

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  I would not know exactly.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  That is the whole kernel of it.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  This is a rather small type of house. Perhaps Deputy Sweetman would be able to suggest what it should be. I would say about £10.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  I will accept your figure of £10 and will work it out for you on that.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  In any event, it would take a considerable number of years to recover it. I think it is better to approach this problem with a certain amount of caution. For that reason, I suggest that we leave the matter as it is provided for in the Bill.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  The repayment of a loan from the Local Loans Fund at 3¾ per cent., including the principal for redemption of the £275 at the 3¾ per cent., is, I think, £10 6s. 3d. I am taking the valuation of £10.

Mr. O'Higgins:  I join with other Deputies in passing strictures on this section. In effect, the section, as has been pointed out, seeks to introduce into the financial provisions of the [1391] Housing Acts a means test. The question of a means test has been a matter of controversial politics in relation to other matters. Therefore, I do not think we should passively consider the new introduction of a means test under Section 9 without very careful examination. All of us can agree with what Deputy Sheldon has said, that it is, of course, desirable that no assistance should be given to those who, in fact, do not require assistance. There has always been that good sense on the part of those who advocate a means test in relation to any particular thing. The trouble, however, arises when one seeks to put that into practice.

In Section 9, the Minister, in order to put into force a means test, makes use of the easy method of poor law valuation. He asks the House to pass a section which ties to the valuation of a holding the amount, if any, of the financial assistance which the housing authority may confer. I think that is asking this House to legislate without any regard to what the facts are. Valuation in this country is an antiquated and cumbersome system of valuing property, and has no regard to modern circumstances. In many parts of the country, holdings have been valued in the past because of a certain amount of local pride on the part of landholders some 50 or 60 years ago. In my own constituency, we have the mountainy area of Wolfhill tenanted by farmers with high valuations, of men who qualify for the full old age pension. They have valuations of over £20. These people are amongst the poorest of the poor. I am certain that the same thing applies in many other rural constituencies. Their position is that they have land which is valued as highly as land in the Counties of Kildare or Meath. Under this crude means test suggested by the Minister these people are going to be penalised very severely. I do not think that is a method of applying a means test which should recommend itself to this House. I think it betrays very hasty and illconsidered action on behalf of the Minister and his advisers.

While I might be prepared to concede the desirability, in certain circumstances, [1392] of some test as to means, I do not think this is the correct way of doing it. Here the Minister seeks to apply a means test to the money that is being spent, not by the Minister, but by the housing authorities throughout the country. He is seeking to control the money raised by them, money which they may or may not desire to spend by way of grants to certain people, and he is applying this test to the valuation. I think if that is desirable at all, it can only be successful as a means test if a proper effort is made to find what the exact means are.

The valuation of a holding of 20 or 30 acres, in my experience, does not represent the value of that holding to the owner. The only way of finding the value of that holding as means to the owner is by assessing the market value of the holding. I seriously suggest to the Minister, and I suggest it to him particularly as a representative of Laoighis-Offaly where this problem arises in a very acute form, that if he is anxious to introduce a means test he should do it by some method based on the actual value of the property owned by the farmer-applicant referred to in the section. It should not be too difficult to provide in a section of this kind that, where a farmer applies for a grant, a market valuation should be carried out on his property, and that if the property exceeds the market value of, say, £400 or £500, he shall be entitled to a grant on a large scale, with a reduction as the value of his property increases. That, I know, is open to objection. It is not a perfect way of applying a means test, but at least it is more in accordance with the facts than the crude method of valuation applied by the section. If the section is applied I can see impoverished farmers in parts of my constituency debarred for all time from any assistance from the Laoighis County Council by way of grant under this section. I think that the Minister and his advisers are aware that that problem of high valuation on poor land exists in many counties throughout the country, and, knowing that, it is legislating with our heads in the clouds if we just apply this antiquated method [1393] of valuation in a housing Bill in 1952. That is what I want to say about valuation.

I would like to agree completely with what Deputy Sheldon has said in connection with the lack of definition of a farmer under this section. I am sorry to say that Deputy Sweetman has pointed out that Deputy Sheldon appears to be completely wrong because the farmer is defined in the definition section as a person “who derives his livelihood solely or mainly from the pursuit of agriculture”.

Mr. Sheldon: Information on William Alexander Sheldon  Zoom on William Alexander Sheldon  That is a very wide definition.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  Give us a narrower one.

Mr. O'Higgins:  I am afraid I have to depart as an ally from Deputy Sheldon. It does seem to me that the definition does cover the point made by Deputy Sheldon. But I do say to the Minister that if he wants a means test—and, mind you, the Minister's colleague in another Department was against a means test—he should try to introduce some method which will not make more difficult the conditions of certain landholders throughout this country who are struggling against high valuations on their lands imposed 60 or 70 years ago, when it was a great thing to have a high valuation; it qualified one for the grand jury, and so on. Many landholders in parts of my constituency 60 or 70 years ago actually went out of their way to have their land highly valued, and to-day we find unfortunate holders of land who are owners of bits of mountain, very poor pasture land, having to pay for the vanity of people who went before them 60 or 70 years ago. They are going to be penalised by a section of this kind. In view of the objections that have been expressed by Deputies in the House I ask the Minister to reconsider the section and to devise some other method for the Report Stage of the Bill.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Information on Michael Pat Murphy  Zoom on Michael Pat Murphy  I cannot understand the objections raised by the previous speakers to this section. We all know that if we had sufficient money we could give grants to everybody [1394] looking for them but taking into account the fact that we have only limited funds available, I believe it is an admirable section and one that should be retained. I also believe that the Minister's advisers who formulated this section should be congratulated. This section gives to small farmers who own a house the opportunity of getting a supplementary grant. We all know that the lot of small farmers is not a very happy one and these supplementary grants would be very welcome. I cannot see for the life of me why there should be objection to the system by which it is proposed to give these grants. Surely the valuation system is the best system that one could arrive at. What better method is there? In 95 per cent. of cases the valuation of a farm gives a true indication of the wealth of the owner. There are very few farmers, possibly not 3 per cent., below the £12 10s. valuation who are men of affluence.

Deputy Sheldon says that in the case of people with whom farming is only a side line and who engage in some other occupation, they could, so to speak, obtain a grant under false pretences. Will they not be precluded from benefiting under Section 10? If a school teacher, say, has a small farm the valuation of which is £9 or £10, he cannot get a grant because under Section 10, if his income exceeds a certain amount, he will be precluded from benefiting. Therefore, taking everything into account I believe this section is a good one, the best that could be designed under the circumstances.

The only amendment I would suggest is in sub-section (4), that if the figure of £35 were increased to £50 it would meet the situation. It is all very fine for Deputies from the Midland counties to speak about the position of farmers living in those areas with £50 or £60 valuation. Travelling through the Midland counties I see the type of land these people own and, comparing it with the land that is generally owned by the people that this section will benefit, there is a vast difference. If these people are not sufficiently well off to provide themselves [1395] with a house, seeing that they will be entitled to a State grant, it is more their own fault than anyone else's if they do not receive the benefit. I want to repeat that I entirely agree with this section. As I say, the only amendment I would suggest is that in sub-section (4) £35 should read £50.

Mr. Sheldon: Information on William Alexander Sheldon  Zoom on William Alexander Sheldon  I should like to deal with this matter in regard to the definition of a farmer. Deputy O'Higgins was very easily scared off by Deputy Sweetman. Have they never heard of conacre? Have they never heard of a man with a £10 valuation taking land of, say, £100 valuation in conacre every year?

Mr. O'Higgins:  Why should he not get a grant?

Mr. Sheldon: Information on William Alexander Sheldon  Zoom on William Alexander Sheldon  Why should he? A man with £40 valuation is debarred.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  We do not want to debar him.

Mr. Sheldon: Information on William Alexander Sheldon  Zoom on William Alexander Sheldon  Deputy O'Higgins was following me and agreeing with me; then he was scared off. Deputy Michael Murphy spoke about school teachers who might have farming as a side line. There are all sorts of vague cases which will require definition. Conacre is one; cattle dealing is another. There are quite a number of small cattle dealers and it is going to be very difficult for the local authority or the Department to decide just what is meant by “mainly derived from agriculture”.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  What is agriculture? Is cattle dealing agriculture?

Mr. L.J. Walsh: Information on Laurence Joseph Walsh  Zoom on Laurence Joseph Walsh  I wish to oppose the amendment. There is nothing dictatorial in this section. I know county councils who have not adopted the Act and are not contributing towards the erection of houses by farmers in any way. I see no reason why the Minister should be asked to withdraw this particular section. There are benefits in it. I agree with Deputy Sheldon when he points out the difficulties about the farmer deriving his actual [1396] living from the land. These are the people it is intended here to assist. I suggest to the Minister that the inclusion of one simple line would remove a lot of the difficulties. That particular line would be: “farmers other than farmers engaged in any other commercial pursuit”. If the Minister would take steps to cover himself in that way in the section, that would be fair and just because it would not be right that a farmer-cum-publican or farmer-cumany other industrial pursuit should have the same right as the man who is getting his living from the land only. These are the people who should benefit under it and not people who are also engaged in industry and commercial enterprise.

Mr. McMenamin: Information on Daniel McMenamin  Zoom on Daniel McMenamin  I think this section is rather unfortunate. Deputy Murphy attempted to inject class distinction into the discussion of this matter. That should not be done. Those of us who have an idea of valuations as a result of handling old age pension cases know that valuations in this country are so ununiform and so dependent on the people that made the valuations that there is a terrible anomaly. The figures in this section were taken quite arbitrarily. The section says (i) if the rateable valuation does not exceed £12 10s., 100 per cent. of the relevant grant; (ii) if the rateable valuation exceeds £12 10s. but does not exceed £20, 66? per cent. of the relevant grant. How in fact and reality and in practice can you draw a distinction between those two types of valuation? They are really in the same group. That distinction will create enormous hardship on people who will be caught and will be outside these valuations. If the Minister had taken a whole group of a valuation of, say, £30 and under, I would be prepared to accept it because when you have got to that figure then you are coming on to an economic farm. Even at present, there are a lot of these people who, because of one circumstance or another, the cost of labour, the cost of producing crops, find themselves in pretty tight financial circumstances. This Bill is an attempt to help people to build houses.

Take a district where, perhaps, the [1397] valuations were made by two different valuers, 60, 70 or 100 years ago. The land of a man who gets a 100 per cent. grant under this Bill may adjoin that of a man who will get only 66? per cent. and the latter will feel aggrieved, particularly having regard to the cost of building materials. That is a real problem. It is a nightmare.

If we intend to do this job and to make any attempt to solve the problem we should err on the generous side in this matter. I would appeal to the Minister to recast this section. I certainly would include an entire group of, say, £25 valuation and give the local authority an opportunity of giving them 100 per cent. grant. Then there should be very little room for grousing at this Bill when it becomes law.

To take a valuation of £12 10s. is taking a very low valuation when one considers that the building of a house is a really serious problem.

A few years ago a man might have considered three rooms sufficient accommodation for his needs. He may have got married and find to-day that the accommodation is too small for the family and that it is necessary to increase it, and his valuation would be increased proportionately. The minimum of £12 10s. is too low. I would include a whole group under a higher figure of, say, £20, £25 or £30. That would include those who would be struggling between being poor, middling poor and not quite so poor. I certainly do not like the minimum figure set out in this Bill. It will involve hardship. I would earnestly appeal to the Minister to reconsider the matter. I would ask him to take the figure of £25, get a whole group into that and give them 100 per cent. That would abolish any of the grievances that might otherwise exist.

I am sure the Minister is aware of the marked differences in valuations. Those who have handled old age pension cases have come across cases of quite small farms having a very high valuation because of the district in which they are and because of the person who made the valuations.

[1398] These people are really poor. Deputy Murphy attempted to inject into this matter the question of their comparable position. The people who are labourers and tradesmen nowadays are much better off than these men are. Let us be quite frank. There is no use pulling wool over our eyes and deceiving ourselves. A lot of farmers under £20 or even £25 valuation are really poor people. Tradesmen to-day are much better off than these men are. When will such a farmer see £5 or £8 per week coming into him? Never in his life.

Deputy Murphy attempts to draw a distinction and to hold these men up to us as persons who do not require and should not receive any consideration. I think they should. They are the backbone of this country. They have been, they are and they will continue to be. Therefore, generous consideration should be given to them.

I feel that the variation in valuations makes it imperative to include in one group all valuations under, say, £30, £25 or at least £20 and sub-sections (i) and (ii) should be modified to that extent.

Mr. McGrath: Information on Patrick McGrath  Zoom on Patrick McGrath  If sub-section (iv) were altered to make the figure of £27 10s. £50 or even £60 and to make the figure of 33? per cent., 40 per cent. or at least a minimum of £100 grant, it would go a long way to meet this case. I am inclined to agree with Deputy Murphy that a person who would then be getting a grant of £350 or £375 will not be doing too badly. For the man with the low valuation there is provision for 100 per cent. of the relevant grant. In my experience of Cork County Council and I am sure in Deputy Murphy's experience of it, there would be no chance in the world of getting them to agree to a 100 per cent. grant even under sub-section (iv).

Mr. Murphy:  Not a hope in the world.

Mr. McGrath: Information on Patrick McGrath  Zoom on Patrick McGrath  I would go a little further than Deputy Murphy. I would say that the valuation ceiling should be about £60 and that the grant should [1399] be 40 per cent. of the relevant grant. I think that would meet the case.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  Could the Minister tell us what is his objection to leaving it to the county council to decide?

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  You will not give me a chance to tell you.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  I will give you every chance.

Mr. O'Higgins:  I just want to correct one matter referred to by Deputy Murphy. He seems to be under a misapprehension with regard to the point I made in connection with the effect of the valuation test on land that I know of in my constituency and on land about which I have heard in other areas in the country. I am speaking on behalf of the poor man whose land is poor and who has not twopence to rattle in his pocket. His is one of the most impoverished sections of the community. I am speaking particularly of people living in certain parts of Laois, in the coal belt from Castlecomer across to Athy, and the man who lives in the area of Wolfhill whose holding is incapable of producing even the poorest kind of grass. Such men own land that is highly valued. It is so highly valued and so worthless that a man with the valuation of £22 qualified for the full old age pension. I am merely pointing out to the Minister in these circumstances that if this section is put into operation it is going to regard those landholders as amongst the rich classes. They are not. They are the poorest of the poor. I see here, according to sub-section (3) of Section 9, that a landholder with a valuation of £22 in that area of Laois will qualify only for a 50 per cent. grant from the Laois housing authority. That is an injustice—a considerable injustice. At present a person of that class who seeks to build a house in Wolfhill area would be regarded as a most deserving applicant, as one who should get assistance from the housing authority, but if this section is put into operation the housing authority cannot help him. I suggest to the Minister, who is obviously without any means of [1400] testing that, that that is a great injustice and one that should be carefully examined by him. It is the Minister who has to make a case for it because as things are at the moment this double grant is working out pretty well. Housing authorities who adopted Section 7 of the other Act, in fact, exercise a very sound discretion in regard to the people who are to get grants. They do not give a full grant to a person who has a valuation of £50 or £60.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  Who says that?

Mr. O'Higgins:  I am only quoting Deputy McGrath.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  Speaking for Cork.

Mr. O'Higgins:  I am not a member of a local authority so I cannot give first-hand evidence.

Mr. McGrath: Information on Patrick McGrath  Zoom on Patrick McGrath  You do not have to bother about the rates.

Mr. O'Higgins:  I am sure that what Deputy McGrath said was correct.

Mr. McGrath: Information on Patrick McGrath  Zoom on Patrick McGrath  I did not catch what the Deputy said.

Mr. O'Higgins:  I did understand from some other Deputies that housing authorities do endeavour to decide between the merits of different applicants and they do not give full grants to persons whose means do not fully entitle them to them. In any event, it is the Minister who is interfering with that situation. I say to him sincerely that he should not do it if the system has brought about an injustice in any substantial number of cases.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  I think it regrettable that this section has given rise to a little bit of dissension between the Parties who formerly constituted the Government of this country. It is like the old saying——

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  If the Deputy wants a political row, we can have one quite easily. If the Deputy wants to discuss the Housing Bill he should refrain from referring to these matters.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  I think it should lie with each speaker to speak in his own time.

[1401]Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  Provided he proposes to deal with the matter before the House, which in this case is housing.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  I think there is room for discussion and even for dissension between Parties on this particular section. It is a very difficult and complicated matter but we still can work out a system which would be absolutely fair. I think that Deputy Hughes will agree with me that in the county council of which we are both members we had, first, to prepare a scheme and we had to revise that scheme at least once in the short time that the other Act was in operation. It is not true, as Deputy O'Higgins says, that county councils can discriminate between one applicant and another.

Mr. O'Higgins:  That is what Deputy McGrath says.

Mr. McGrath: Information on Patrick McGrath  Zoom on Patrick McGrath  No.

Mr. Cogan: Information on Patrick Cogan  Zoom on Patrick Cogan  That would be quite wrong because in discriminating by giving one particular applicant £150 and another £200 there would be a completely chaotic condition brought about in the affairs of the country. What a county council has to do is to prepare a scheme and administer that scheme as fairly as possible. Just as we are in difficulty here in preparing a scheme that is absolutely fair, so the county councils are even in greater difficulties. It would be no harm, therefore, if the central body were to lay down standing rules in regard to the manner in which these grants are to be applied.

It is not just a question of simply saying that everyone who is building a house is a person with low means. Very often it is wealthy persons who build houses. They would not build houses if they were not able to build them. Deputy Sweetman referred to the fact that the building of a house increases the valuation of a county. In many cases the building of a new house means that the old house has been demolished and that offsets to a certain extent the increase in the valuation. There is also a difficulty in regard to the question of deciding [1402] whether a person is deriving his living solely or mainly from farming. It is very hard to know in the case of a cattle dealer how much money he makes out of his ordinary farming operations and how much money he makes as a middleman, carrying on commercial operations between one farmer and another. We have had in this House men, even Ministers, who claimed to be farmers—I do not include present company—and saying that they derive their living mainly from farming. It is a very difficult question to decide but at the same time we have got to decide it. I do not think honestly that any Deputy in this House can suggest or has suggested any improvement on this section.

Deputy McMenamin referred to the hardship on a person with a valuation of slightly over £12 10s., who would not get the full grant but it must be remembered that such a person will get a grant of 75 per cent. and then there is a graded scale up to a valuation of £35. I would be in agreement with the suggestion of Deputy McGrath that the upper limit might be raised somewhat but there will always be border line cases. Even if we were to adopt Deputy McMenamin's suggestion of a £30 limit, we would always have the person with the valuation of £30 5s. who would feel a grievance. In this question we have got to try to do what is fair and I think this section has been very carefully considered. I think this is the nearest approach to something fair which we can get.

Breanndán Mac Fheórais: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  I want to put this point of view forward, that in respect of the grant which the Minister himself gives there is no means test; there is only the stipulation that the house have a floor area of 1,400 feet. That grant can go to prince or pauper, irrespective of his valuation and his annual income. My opinion is that the assistance and the facilities given both by the State and the local authority are very generous. Deputy Cogan suggested that in the last Act there was some sort of compulsion on the local authorities to give 100 per cent. grant. There was no such compulsion, [1403] because in my own county the county council decided that they would not give a penny in addition to the grant given by the Minister. I should like to hear the Minister's views on that point because I have heard divergent views about it in the House. I merely want to suggest to him that if there is no means test attached to the grant which he gives the whole question should be left to the county councils to decide whether or not they will give the full grant of 30 per cent. or a grant of 20 per cent. or 50 per cent. or whether they will give nothing.

Mr. T. Brennan: Information on Thomas Brennan  Zoom on Thomas Brennan  This section is a very necessary one. There are a number of local authorities who have not yet adopted any scheme for the augmentation of the grant given by the Government. In most cases the reason possibly was that they could not arrive at an equitable scheme. This is a suggestion to them by the Minister. There is nothing compulsory about it. A local authority is not compelled to adopt this scheme, but, if it does adopt the scheme, there is a maximum figure to which it can go by way of grant and I suppose that has been worked out in the Minister's Department on as equitable a basis as possible. For that reason I consider that this is a very useful provision as a guidance to local authorities who are prepared to augment the Government grant by a local grant to people who will be affected. There is one particular section of the community which I should like to help, namely, the small farmers and I think most of them will be treated fairly if the scheme is adopted. Anything that we can do here or that the local authorities can do to help to house the small farming community should be done as they are deserving of it.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  It would be far easier for me and for everybody if I were to retain a section like Section 7 of the 1950 Act and meet the point of view expressed by Deputy Dockrell when, in criticising the limitations suggested here, he said it would be more just [1404] to leave this matter open to everybody. But I have to ask myself when a section of this nature is being framed what we are trying to achieve by it. Having answered that question, I have to ask myself if the section is likely to achieve that purpose. In fact I have to ask myself a lot of questions and these have relation to the experience we have had of the operation of Section 7 of the 1950 Act.

It has been suggested here that the valuation basis is faulty and unjust. It has been said that a man with a small valuation could be engaged in a number of other occupations, that he could be a cattle dealer or a horse dealer, that he could be dealing in eggs and many other things, and still be entitled to describe himself as a farmer with a valuation of under £12 10s. and, therefore, entitled under this scheme to receive the maximum grant if the local council were to adopt this scheme. I am well aware of all these snags. The Department and myself have examined the schemes which have been formulated from time to time by the local authorities who did adopt that Section 7. We have seen schemes coming up in which a means test applied. We have seen amendments proposed by local authorities widening the scope of these schemes. We have seen them changed and switched around from day to day. All these things demonstrated that local authorities were having great difficulties in operating schemes, at least a limited number out of the total number who adopted schemes under Section 7 of the 1950 Act.

It is all right for Deputy Crotty to talk as if there were no difficulties. Of course there were difficulties. Even in one of the local authorities of which he is a member such difficulties arose. As a matter of fact, it was only on the 3rd March, 1952, 28 days before the Act was about to expire, although Section 7 of the 1950 Act was in operation for nearly two years, that the Kilkenny Corporation adopted the scheme. Is it suggested, then, if this Section 7 of the Act of 1950 was embraced with the enthusiasm with which Deputy Crotty would have us believe to-day it was embraced that [1405] it would have taken the local body of which he is a member two years to make up its mind as to whether or not it should adopt it. In matters of this kind I think we should try to be reasonable. In the course of my contacts with local authorities I have been able to discover that in those counties where the scheme was not adopted—Clare, Wexford, Sligo, Louth and, I think, Dublin—they were able to put forward very excellent reasons for not adopting the scheme. They said that if they started to discuss the formulation of a scheme in which a means test would be stipulated, whether it was a means test designed to meet the position of farmers or of the position of those who worked for wages, some member of the county council would immediately argue, as has been argued by Deputies here to-day, that such a limitation was unjust. Members of the county council would raise specific cases and it would be pointed out that a farmer with a valuation of £45 was actually much poorer and found it more difficult to live and rear his family than others adjoining him with valuations of £25. These are cases that have arisen all down the years and will continue to arise in the future.

My idea in saying that it would be an easy matter for me to disregard all these considerations and agree with Deputy Dockrell to provide a section giving local authorities every freedom to adopt any scheme they liked would be that I could then wash my hands of the whole thing and tell the local bodies that if they did not adopt the scheme it would be their own fault. But I do not think that is the proper approach. I think the proper approach is to recognise the difficulties members of local authorities have. They are men who give their services voluntarily and they should not be asked to segregate their neighbours in the way in which it would be necessary to segregate them so that the local authority as a body would accept the idea that underlies this section.

I assume that the adoption of a scheme such as this is desirable. I believe it would be good for everybody. If we are satisfied that a scheme such [1406] as that proposed here is a good scheme and would serve the country, then with the co-operation of the House I must take on myself the undesirable, if you like, task of formulating for local bodies something that I regard it as fair to ask local bodies to do for themselves. If one asks local bodies they will probably say that, rather than have to carry out this task, they will wash their hands of it entirely.

I have a list of counties here in which schemes were adopted. In every case the local bodies made some effort—in many cases more than one effort—to limit the expenditure to which they were committed under Section 7. They stipulated a valuation limit. In the case of employees, they stipulated an income limit. Fearing that would not be sufficient, they actually tried to stipulate the amount of money they would borrow for that purpose. Some said £10,000, some said £15,000, some £20,000 and some £25,000. It is quite easy to see that these bodies had in mind in adopting a scheme under that section some danger and they took steps, however feeble they proved to be ultimately, to save themselves from the open free-for-all approach that was recommended to-day by Deputy M.E. Dockrell.

I have to ask myself where will these local authorities get the money to finance a scheme such as that outlined here. Section 7 of the Act of 1950 crept into that Act on the Committee Stage. I think it came in as an amendment by some members of the Labour Party. When a section such as that is inserted in a Bill it is the duty of somebody to follow up the effects of the section. Certainly I would consider it my duty to do so. If the Kildare County Council adopt a scheme it is sent to me for sanction. I then receive, following on my approval of the scheme, an application to borrow money in order to implement the scheme. Before sanctioning the scheme I would consider it my duty to consider what I could do in relation to that second request. I found that while 14 or 15 schemes were approved under Section 7 of the 1950 Act no provision was made at all as to where local authorities would get the money [1407] to finance these schemes. It was only when these bodies proceeded to look for the money that they discovered the Local Loans Fund would not be made available to them on this free-for-all basis. If I were asked to argue in favour of making the Local Loans Fund available for such a purpose I confess I could not make any argument for it.

In thinking in terms of a scheme in substitution for Section 7, therefore, I naturally not only thought of a scheme likely to be acceptable from the point of view of its conservatism but also of the availability of money to finance the scheme at a certain rate of interest so that local bodies would not have to travel from one insurance company to another or from one bank to another, all the time scraping the pot in order to provide the necessary finances.

I want Deputies to look upon this section as a piece of machinery that can be operated by the Department of Local Government. It is a piece of machinery designed for the use of local authorities, if they desire to use it. Having regard to the criticisms we have heard levelled against different schemes by local authorities we are substituting what we believe to be their objective under the previous method. Since all of us, apparently, have decided that it is desirable that a scheme of this nature should be operated by the local bodies, is it not better for us that we should go as far along the road as it is possible for us to go and bring with us those whom it is essential to take if we are to make any progress at all, and that is the local bodies? The limits may be low. They are £12 10s., £20 to £27 10s. and £35 10s. Deputy Sweetman has made the case that these valuations would rule out an enormous number of people in his constituency. I am sure Deputy Sweetman is better aware of it than I am that 50 per cent. of the holdings in County Kildare are under £10 valuation. I take it that the maximum limit prescribed here of £35 10s. will probably cover 70 to 75 per cent. of all the holdings in Kildare and will easily [1408] cover 85 per cent. of all the holdings in the country.

I know, of course, that one could talk about the niceties of valuation until the cows come home. But a valuation limit has been accepted in Housing Acts in this country over the past 20 years. There is such a limit in regard to reconstruction. There was a valuation limit in the 1932 Housing Act and in Housing Acts ever since. Under a recent piece of legislation dealing with a means test in regard to old age pensions, and in relation to a number of other matters, there are valuation limits. Deputies are talking to the converted when they try to prove to me how unjust a valuation limit can be in certain circumstances. I know all that as well as any other Deputy—perhaps even better than quite a few. The fact, however, is that talking about the niceties of valuation is not going to get us anywhere. Let us keep in the back of our minds this fact: that the machinery here is devised to be used by local authorities that are free. It may be that they will have their prejudices and, if you like, may be conservative. That, I suggest, is not an undesirable characteristic— a certain amount of it. I would ask Deputies to realise that.

I think it was Deputy McMenamin who suggested that this scheme was lightly thought of. That is not so. When I was appointed Minister for Local Government the first question I asked the secretary to my Department when I opened the door of my room was: “What provision has been made for financing the scheme that has been adopted under Section 7 of the 1950 Act?” That section was inserted when I was a member of the Opposition. I was aware, of course, of the discussions that had taken place on it here and of discussions at meetings of the county council in my own county and in other counties. I saw that the thing was altogether too loose, and that it was not fair to ask county councillors to do what I have already suggested, namely, to set themselves against their neighbour and segregate them, as it were, into categories, having regard to the valuations of their holdings. I felt that, if there was any unpopularity [1409] to be incurred, it is the Minister who is responsible for introducing legislation like this who should try and find out just what the limitations were which local bodies would like to impose and should set them out as I have set them out here. It should be his responsibility to say that is the maximum: that if they wanted to adopt a scheme, that was the maximum, but that they could make it less themselves. That is the mental approach of the person who is responsible for this amendment.

Deputy Murphy and Deputy McGrath suggested that I should make it £60. Of course, one could make it £60, £70 or even £100. It would be the simplest thing in the world for me to accede to any request of that nature, but that would be no answer to the question which I have posed: is it desirable that we should have a scheme of this nature generally applied? If it is, and if we think it is likely to be taken up by local bodies and if it is fairly conservative, is that not better than that we should say to the local bodies that we throw every door open to them to do what they like, and then find in a couple of years' time that only half of them or perhaps none of them had adopted a scheme. That might be the approach of some people to this problem, but it is not mine. I have discussed this with members of councils, and following my discussions I have no doubt at all that what I am proposing here, even with all the defects that there are undoubtedly in it, will be found to represent the majority view of members of local authorities in all parts of the country. With regard to the point that was raised by Deputy Corish, we could, of course, decide here to give any grant that we thought fit and proper, but we are not taking upon ourselves the responsibility of saying to local bodies: “You must do likewise”.

I believe that Section 9 is an excellent section. If I were a member of a council I might, perhaps, feel inclined to be conservative. I think it might not be a bad investment, even from the point of view of a council, to borrow money for the purpose of enabling people who are covered by [1410] the section to build houses for themselves. Taking the long distance view, the council perhaps might not stand to lose anything by that. There are people who would contend that the council would benefit over, say, a period of 50 years. I must confess that I have not gone into that with anyone very seriously as to whether a council would or would not benefit. My inclination would be to think that a council would not benefit, but even if it did not benefit, I think that a scheme adopted by local bodies for the people who are covered here would be advantageous. I invite them to see the defects in this proposal as I see them, to have some regard to the realities of the situation and to see that it is better for us to go along in this conservative way and see how we do. After two years if somebody finds that we can go further it will be possible to improve upon this. It is much better, I would say, to start in this conservative way and advance from it than to throw the gates open and then find that you have to retreat from the whole position. I am recommending that course to the House and I believe it is a course that will be understood and accepted by the local bodies for whom we are trying to devise this scheme.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  As the Minister referred to Kildare when he was speaking, might I ask him if he discussed with any of the members of the Kildare County Council the day he was opening the new housing scheme in Kildare the operation of the scheme under Section 7? I will be interested to know the reactions he received on that occasion. As a matter of fact, as Deputy Harris will remember, when the original Kildare scheme came into the Council of Kildare, and was proposed by me, it was a member of the Minister's Party who proposed that the limits of the valuation and the income limits we had on the scheme we were putting before the council should be extended, so that at least the Minister must, talking from the Kildare angle, exculpate me from merely trying to be political.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I never found Deputy [1411] Harris in that generous frame of mind myself.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  It was not the Deputy himself. It was a Fianna Fáil councillor. On another occasion when the increase was proposed it was, in fact, the director of elections of Fianna Fáil who eventually sealed the bargain between that council and myself. He made me agree to a recommendation and he came down on his side a little bit in the limits proposed. I mention that so as to show that I do not want to discuss this matter in any political spirit.

The real difficulty in regard to the building of houses for people of any valuation is the initial money required. It is the amount of the initial fund that a lot of people do not like either borrowing from the Small Dwellings Act or otherwise. They had a certain amount of money put aside and this second grant enabled them to go ahead with the building. If the Minister said that that was imposing a burden that was heavier than the local authorities could bear, I think there would have been a case for him to come to the House then and to say that the grants would be given but that the people could not get supplementary grants and get remissions.

I think that if a person were forced to choose between a remission, on the one hand, and a supplementary grant on the other hand, he would choose the supplementary grant because it is that that would enable him to start off. As I understand the case that the Minister has made for this section it is that, unless he puts the restrictive limits in the section that he has put, he will not be able to bring the reluctant county councils along with him. I do not think I am being unfair in paraphrasing the Minister's views in that way.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I would not expect them to come with me on any other basis.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  Then the Minister's point of view in bringing in this section is that he feels that these are the only limits upon which he could [1412] ask the housing authorities to come along with him. That may be his problem and I am not prepared to argue from the point of view of any housing authority other than the one I know. In so doing he is excluding those who may wish to travel a little further. I do not accept the viewpoint that there should not be responsibility placed on local authorities of taking a decision as regards means or income limits and so forth. The Minister's line is that he does not want local authorities to have to decide this.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  They do not want it themselves.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  I think those of us who are in local authorities should face up to our responsibilities, accept the responsibility that is there and take the decisions. In the case of Kildare we faced up to our responsibilities and took the decisions. As I understand the Minister's viewpoint now it is because some local authorities will not face up to that responsibility that those who are prepared to come voluntarily are to be prohibited. That does not appear to me to be the right line. If this was a mandatory section I could quite understand the Minister saying that for this section to be any good, and to operate generally throughout the country, “I must make it mandatory and I am not prepared to make it mandatory on all housing authorities to go beyond a certain point”; then I would see very easily the strength of his argument but I do not think that argument arises when the section is still only a permissive section.

I do not see any reason why the local authorities should not be allowed, if we are going to keep them at all and not abolish them, to judge in this respect what is the best for each area. I certainly think that Deputy Allen and Deputy Corish would know much more what would be for the benefit of the Wexford housing authority than I would know. As I said on a previous occasion I would not for one second dare to intervene between Deputy Murphy, Deputy Desmond, and Deputy McGrath as to what would be a sound scheme for [1413] Cork. I have too much respect for my skin. Similarly, the section is not being made mandatory. If the Minister were trying to make it mandatory on everyone I could quite understand him saying that you have to strike an even line and that he is prepared to force people to go a certain distance. He is not doing that. He is saying that it is permissive for people to go. In these circumstances there is an unanswerable case to allow local authorities to judge what suits their own area best. The case that the Minister has made is not at all a case for the section but a case for the section as it would be if the first line read: “A housing authority shall make...”

Breanndán Mac Fheórais: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  I am not entirely against this section. I agree with a lot of what the Minister said but there is one thing on which I do not agree with him, that is, as to whether or not the members of local authorities were prepared to face up to their responsibilities in devising schemes, in this case, a scheme such as is outlined by the Minister.

It is abundantly clear and recognised —by the Minister more than by most people in this House—that the valuation system is all screwy. The Minister knows that. Every Deputy knows it. Deputy Sweetman and other Deputies have said that a £20 valuation in Wexford would not be at all what a £20 valuation would be in Cork or even in Wicklow. Certainly it would not be the same as in Donegal, Galway or Mayo. For that reason I would suggest to the Minister that on Report Stage he would bring in an amendment which would enable local authorities to formulate their own schemes, those schemes to be subject to the approval of the Minister. Then if the Minister wants to take responsibility, if he wants to be helpful, as I am sure he does, to the local authorities, he can decide whether or not in his opinion the scheme proposed by each council is an equitable scheme for the county. I suggest that because, as everybody agrees, the valuation system is so screwy, so lopsided, so unfair in many respects.

I do not think that course would be [1414] unusual. In respect of the same things different councils have different schemes. The Minister has to consider on their merits particular purchase schemes sent up by local authorities. He had to consider many circumstances with regard to grants from the Transitional Development Fund to local authorities for housing in order to enable him to determine what was the proper grant. There were many things to be considered there. The grant given in respect of a £1,000 house in Wexford need not necessarily be the same amount that would be given in respect of a house in Donegal, Kildare or any other county. The grants varied from place to place because there were different sets of circumstances which the Minister had to take into consideration.

It is for that reason that I would suggest that the Minister would consider including in this Bill a section which would enable local authorities to formulate their own scheme, such scheme to be subject to the approval of the Minister.

Mrs. Crowley: Information on Honor Mary Crowley  Zoom on Honor Mary Crowley  I am very glad the Minister has put this section into the Bill because Kerry County Council was, I think, the first council to adopt a scheme under Section 7 of the 1950 Act and we have been operating it for two years. First of all, we had a restricted scheme. Then we had a free-for-all. We then found that we could not borrow the money and we restricted it again. We found ourselves in great difficulties. Kerry County Council is grateful for this scheme. There may be other county councils who are grateful that the Minister is giving us a headline that we can follow and not have this free-for-all that we found we could not operate at all.

Mr. McMenamin: Information on Daniel McMenamin  Zoom on Daniel McMenamin  The Minister's attempts at this would not convince anybody. He admitted the strength of the case that we put up to him. One felt like saying: “I think the lady doth protest too much”, the case took so long to defend.

The Minister knows quite well the grave hardship that will take place under this section. A person whose [1415] valuation is £12 10s. will get 100 per cent. grant. His neighbour whose valuation is £13 will get a grant reduced by 33? per cent. How can we justify that? How can anybody justify it? You could not do that at all.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  How was it done all down the years?

Mr. McMenamin: Information on Daniel McMenamin  Zoom on Daniel McMenamin  Would it not be far better to go to a figure that would include a whole group of people? Under Section 11 a person, not in the lower income class, can get a grant equal to 50 per cent. of the relevant grant if he is a person entitled to be housed by a local authority. I have known a person with an income of £1,000 a year to be living in a council house. Are such people to be compared with people whose valuations are £13 and £14, whom the Minister knows of, who have not a penny? I am sure there are hundreds of them in his own constituency. How can he defend that? Is it just?

Again I appeal to the Minister to recast this section and to adopt the line suggested by Deputy Corish and Deputy Sweetman. My own suggestion would be to include a group whose valuations are up to £25 or, on the other hand, to leave it to the discretion of the local authority as to how they would treat it. As the section stands, it is gravely and seriously objectionable.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  The Minister has said that several counties did not adopt the scheme. I do not know if it is a matter for discussion as to why we did or did not. One of the reasons why Wexford County Council did not adopt the scheme was that they knew that if they provided these grants outside the boundary of urban towns immediately new towns would grow up and the people who earn their livelihood in those towns would provide themselves with cheap houses, cheaper houses than the local authority could provide, just on the borderline or in a ring around the town. We saw it happening in the middle '30's when loans under the Local Loans Fund became available for the first time. [1416] People got loans from the county council, who were the only authority in the county that adopted the Small Dwellings Act, and built houses on the border of existing towns. These people were earning their livelihood in the towns. They were well-off people. They were paying no rates in the town in which they were getting their livelihood. They were creating problems for the local county authority in respect of sanitation and water.

There are many good reasons why some local authorities did not adopt the scheme at all. Wexford, taking the urban and the local authority, have housed about two-thirds of the population of that county and are paying out of the rates substantial sums each year to subsidise those houses. They felt that if they were to take on the burden of housing the remaining one-third or contributing to that object the burden would be greater than they could bear. That was a second reason. One very strong reason was that the county council knew that the urban authorities were not likely to adopt this scheme. They could if they wished. Many of them have not sites on the boundary and they felt their finances would not stand it. The county council was going to be burdened right away with a ring around the urban towns which absorbed the people living in these towns, people who earned their livelihood there but who wanted to get away from bearing their just portion of the charges in these towns. The Wexford County Council thought that that was a bad development and that anything that could be done to prevent it should be done.

I suppose we can discuss Sections 9, 10 and 11 together because they are all interrelated. I notice that the term “farmer” is not defined. I should like the Minister to define what a farmer is. A farmer should be defined as a person who derives his living solely from farming.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  “Solely or mainly”. That is defined.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  Persons with experience as members of local authorities for a [1417] number of years will know that in the matter of scholarships, they often had a headache in defining different classes. We well remember that before the coming into operation of the County Management Act, local authorities had to differentiate between different classes of persons resident in the county who qualified for scholarships. It often gave us headaches and one felt that it was not a matter that one liked to have anything to do with at all. If a local authority wants to adopt the Act, and they are not prepared to have a free-for-all scheme, the Minister's proposals are a step in the right direction. Unless the local authority is satisfied to adopt a free-for-all scheme and give grants without exception to everybody, what is laid down here will be a help to local authorities because if local authorities have to differentiate as between Citizen A and Citizen B——

Breanndán Mac Fheórais: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Do you think the Wexford County Council might adopt a scheme like this?

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  I shall not commit myself. I know the Deputy will be out on Sunday evening and you would have the boys coming in the following Monday to tell the story.

Breanndán Mac Fheórais: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Not on next Sunday.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  I want to point out that under Section 10 the minimum grant is 33? per cent. on an income of £416. I take it that is the gross income of the family.

Breanndán Mac Fheórais: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Might we get this clear? Are we discussing Section 9 only?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  Section 9 only.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  Am I confined to Section 9?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  Yes.

Breanndán Mac Fheórais: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  It would be better to dispose of it first.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  That is in relation to farmers only. I want the term [1418]“farmers” to be more clearly defined. I think it should not be left to the local authority to define who is a farmer and who is not. If he is earning his livelihood solely from a farm, in my opinion, he is a 100 per cent. farmer but if he is supplementing his income from any other source——

Breanndán Mac Fheórais: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Is the keeping of greyhounds farming?

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  That is a real source of farming. But if he is a small shopkeeper and has other sidelines to supplement his income he should not be regarded as a farmer. If he is earning his livelihood solely from the land he can come in.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  Must it be his own land or other land?

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  He must own the land.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  What about the man who keeps conacre? Is he not a farmer?

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  Not necessarily. He might derive a substantial margin of his income from professional work.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  The man who has a small farm and who takes conacre should not be ruled out.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  No.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  I thought the Deputy was ruling him out.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  His valuation is not fixed on that at all. I again urge that the term “farmer” should be clearly defined. I take it that the Minister thinks that this question of defining what is a farmer would be a reserve function. I hope the Minister will answer that. The question of whether the council will adopt Section 7 is a reserve function. If the councils had a say in that it would be adopted all over the place. Taking the section by and large it will help local authorities and it will clear the air. I have read discussions of the way in which local authorities put this scheme into operation and I can see the other point of view and the argument put up by [1419] Deputy Sweetman that every ratepayer in the county, wherever he may be, will help to pay these grants and he should be entitled to get a grant if he wants one. I can see the force of that argument. On the other side it can be argued that the smallest ratepayer in the county is contributing his proportion to grants for houses for wealthy persons. The labouring man in County Wexford and County Kildare may object very strongly towards contributing to grants for the erection of houses for large farmers. With justification certain businessmen can claim that they are large ratepayers and that they are contributing towards the erection of houses for everybody else and that, therefore, these other people should help them. It is very hard to have a perfect scheme. Personally I thought at the time that this section was inserted in the 1950 Act that there was no necessity for it because the local authorities and ratepayers all over Ireland were doing a great job in housing. They will have housed, before they are finished, three-fourths of the population of this country.

Mr. Crotty: Information on Patrick J. Crotty  Zoom on Patrick J. Crotty  The Minister made one welcome statement. We now know that we shall have money to finance these grants and that no longer we shall have to go to banks, to pawnbrokers or to insurance companies. We know where to get the money. The Minister must realise, however, that farmers for years past have been paying 2/- in the £ towards subsidising housing in the country. By this Bill they are being given an opportunity of getting a grant for themselves. Up to this every Housing Act brought in improved the conditions under which people got grants. There is no doubt that every Housing Act brought in was an improvement and this is the first Housing Bill which did not improve the conditions which bitherto existed. In fact it worsens existing conditions. I think that is a retrograde step. In 1952 we should be going forward and not backwards. The valuations which the Minister mentions may be all right in County Cavan, where there are many farmers with low valuations, but [1420] I know, speaking for my own county, that there are farmers with valuations up to £40 and £50 who have already built and have got grants for building houses. Hundreds of other farmers, whose valuations are only £25 each, will be entitled now to a grant of only 50 per cent. That is very hard on them. I think if the Minister is not prepared to give the responsibility of grading them to the local authorities, he should accept that responsibility himself. The Minister said that the local authority will not grade applicants as between one neighbour and another neighbour. They are not really going between neighbours; they are going between two sections of different valuations. It is not a matter of deciding between neighbours. If a man is prepared to go on a local authority, he should not be afraid to face up to that responsibility. The Minister threw out the challenge to me, if the local authority were so enamoured about the Act, why did the Kilkenny Corporation not adopt it until a month or so ago? There is a reason for that. The Kilkenny Corporation are a very small rateable authority. Our total valuation is very low. For a long time we felt that giving any grant would be a hardship. In fact, there was a grant suggested and we found that it would increase the rates by 5d., 6d., or 7d. in the £. That is why we held our hands for so long.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I sympathise with that point of view.

Mr. Crotty: Information on Patrick J. Crotty  Zoom on Patrick J. Crotty  When we did adopt the scheme, we did not do the niggardly thing the Minister did—4d. a week maximum where a person could get 100 per cent. grant. For a long time we considered whether we should give these grants or not as 1d. in the £ on the rates only realises about £100. That was the main reason. This Bill will be no help to us to give a bigger grant as the Minister is not contributing any more. The only way it will help is because the Minister tells us that we can get the money from the Local Loans Fund.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  Are we to take it from the Minister that the money will [1421] be available from the Local Loans Fund?

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  You are to take it from the Bill that it will be available.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  Which section?

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  Section 12.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  I want to raise one point with the Minister with regard to the highest valuation here, the £35 valuation as against the maximum income of £416 mentioned in the next section. As Deputy Crotty pointed out, the maximum valuation would be a rather low valuation in Leinster. Many farmers with a £50 or £60 valuation are hard set to carry on. There are very few farmers with a £35 valuation who will have a net income of £416. There is an anomaly there.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  It is very hard to know.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  It is very easy to know. They may have a gross income of £416 but it is doubtful if the net income will be £416.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  I agree with the point of view expressed by Deputy Allen in regard to the two comparisons and for that reason I was rather surprised to see some amendments put in to the limits in Section 10 but none to the limits in Section 9. If one was increasing the limits in Section 10 it seemed to me that there was a much stronger case to increase the limits in Section 9 with regard to the farmer. Deputy McGrath put it into Section 10 but left it out in regard to Section 9.

I want it to be quite clear, so far as I was concerned, that my first line with the Minister was to get him to withdraw the section, but my second line, if he will not withdraw the section, will be to amend the limits on Report, and on that we can discuss the relative figures between Sections 9 and 10. I want to answer the speech made by Deputy Allen. Surely the whole justification or basis upon which this grant is made is the fact that it will increase the valuation of the area in which the house is put up.

[1422]Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  That would not be a justification.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  Then the Deputy and I must part company. The reason for the grant is to help the person to get himself a home. But the reason for the housing authority making a grant, apart from the grant from the Government, is because the housing authority gets the benefit by the increased valuation.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  You think it is a good investment?

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  You get from the Local Loans Fund at present the necessary loan at such a figure that it approximately works out at 3¾ per cent. for interest and redemption. I am prepared to take the figures given by Deputy Cogan. The house which gets a grant of from £225 to £275, with the exception of the first seven years during which the rates are remitted, will show a profit to the local authority.

Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  The house might be built anyway.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  That depends on the position in the individual county. If one takes the view that the house will be built in any case, then I think you go very much towards the line that the local authority should be left the discretion in each county. Deputy Cogan when talking about increasing the valuation suggested that the old house would be knocked down. I suggest that that is not a true picture, that we are not dealing with urban houses but farmers' houses in Section 9. The much more general picture is that the dwelling-house is kept in some type of repair and used as an out-office. That would be a far truer picture than the picture suggested by Deputy Cogan.

I take it from the Minister's comment that he means that the wording of Section 12 is such as to make it mandatory on the Department to make the money available from the Local Loans Fund. I do not think it is mandatory. Even though the powers of borrowing are given, I think it is optional and discretionary.

[1423]Mr. Allen: Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  It is so in all Acts.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  I understood the Minister to say that the Bill made it mandatory that the money should be available from the Local Loans Fund. I do not think that is the position. If the Minister gives us an undertaking that the money will be available from the Local Loans Fund——

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I thought I did give that.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  That is what I want to be clear about. I think the Minister said it was in the Bill. I do not think it is in the Bill, but that it is within the ministerial powers to direct it by regulation. If we know that, however, it is something and we can deal with a variation in the limits on the Report Stage. As a matter of fact, I had originally drafted an amendment for the Committee Stage to double all the limits in the Minister's section. I came to the conclusion that it would be better to have the discussion on the Committee Stage on the section as it was without any limit and to deal with the question of increasing the limits purely on the Report Stage, because I must confess I had very little hope of being able to persuade the Minister to withdraw the section altogether.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Daniel Desmond  Zoom on Daniel Desmond  I move amendment No. 9:—

In sub-section (1), paragraph (i), line 9, to delete “£208” and substitute “£600” and to delete all words after “grant” in line 10 to the end of the sub-section.

While we agree that it is beneficial to give a grant to a person desirous of building his own house, we are faced with the problem of discovering first of all what particular type of person will be in a position to do so. Under the section as it stands a sum of £208 is taken as the income for the year in order to qualify a man for a 100 per cent. grant from the local authority. Spread over the 12 months that represents a relatively low wage, taking into consideration the present wage levels in the rural areas and in the [1424] towns. It may be that in a particular area adjoining Cork City there may be a family with the father as the principal wage earner but with three or four members of the family also bringing in wages.

Under the section as it stands such a family will be debarred from taking advantage of the proposal to make a grant available from the local authority. Surely it cannot be suggested that an agricultural labourer or a road worker will avail of this grant. We must face the problem, therefore, of deciding what the ceiling should be. When these people reside in houses that are condemned by the local authority medical officer there is an obligation on that authority to rehouse them. We know that the rents charged in such cases are not economic rents. They have to be subsidised through the medium of the rates. There is, therefore, a financial problem facing those who are called upon to pay rates.

If we make the ceiling £208 as is suggested here no one will be able to take advantage of the grant. The only thing then is to amend the section and make the ceiling £600, deleting the following sub-sections. If we can succeed in inducing the people with an income of £600 per annum to build their own houses we will ease the burden on the local authorities; £600 per annum amounts roughly to £11 10s. 9d. per week. Some people may regard that as a high wage if they look at it merely from the narrow parochial point of view. It must be remembered that that wage is not earned by just one member of the family but represents the combined wages of the father and three or four children.

If the income coming into the home is roughly £8 0s. 5d. per week advantage cannot be taken of this grant. That wage represents £416 per annum. I think it would be a more satisfactory system if we raised the ceiling to £600 and leave it to the local authority to decide whether or not a grant should be given so long as the total earnings of the family remain under that figure.

We are faced with the difficulty, then, that though we may make provision here, certain local authorities [1425] may not agree to accept what is provided. We cannot help that. We cannot compel them to accept it. There are local authorities who will be prepared to accept it. The Minister said on the previous section that there was something to be said for conservatism. I believe there is very little to be said for it. Possibly local authorities have to be conservative in relation to some matters. When we come to providing homes for our people it is unfortunate that conservatism should be allowed to enter into the matter. Every house that local authorities build represents added income to the local authorities by way of rates and the saving on the amount to be provided annually in the estimates to make up the uneconomic rents.

I appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment. By means of it local authorities would be in a position to offer people certain advantages in building their own homes and if the people take advantage of that offer local authorities will be relieved of some of the burden placed upon them in relation to the provision of houses.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again later.


Last Updated: 20/05/2011 12:20:01 First Page Previous Page Page of 37 Next Page Last Page