§ No hereditament or tenement upon which was built any building or house damaged or destroyed, nor any such building or house when rebuilt or restored, shall be liable to be valued under the Irish Valuation Acts at a sum larger than the valuation in force on the first day of April, nineteen hundred and sixteen, for a period of thirty years from the passing of this Act.—[Mr. Clancy.]
§ Clause brought up, and read the first time.
§ Mr. CLANCY
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."
This is regarded by those who support this Bill, and by the other parties concerned, as one of first-rate importance. The circumstances of the case are so well known to the Chief Secretary that I do not think it is necessary to, enter into a history of what has occurred in reference to the matter. The purport of the Amendment is to prevent any higher valuation of the premises destroyed, after they have been rebuilt, for a period of thirty years than they bore at the time they were destroyed. The fact of my proposing this Clause is the result of an agreement arrived at between the Corporation of Dublin, who are the real promoters of the Bill, and the owners of the houses whose property was destroyed, and they feel themselves honourably bound to adhere strictly to the terms of every part of that agreement. On the last occasion this was opposed by 1224 the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, not on Treasury grounds, but on the ground of the injustice that would be done to the ratepayers of Dublin by giving preferential treatment to a section of the inhabitants. Now no means exist for taking a vote of the ratepayers of Dublin upon the question whether this ought to be done or not; but in my opinion the Corporation of Dublin, elected as it is on a wide household franchise, and the Parliamentary representatives of Dublin, elected on practically the same franchise, are not only competent to speak upon this question, but they know more about the circumstances than can be known by anybody who does not belong to Ireland or to Dublin. I freely admit that the proposal to exempt a small section of the community from burdens which fall upon the rest of the ratepayers is not a principle which I can defend. Under ordinary circumstances it would be unjust to propose anything of the kind, and I am sure the Chief Secretary will believe me when I say that not only myself but all my fellow Irish Members would deeply reseat any such proposals if made under ordinary eireum-stances. But the circumstances are not ordinary; they are exceptional. The fact I have mentioned already, that this proposal is part of an agreement, explains our action and, I think, ought to explain it to the entire satisfaction of the Government and the House.
The principle upon which we propose to exempt some of the ratepayers of Dublin from the burdens that fall upon the rest of the community is that we, want to carry out an agreement. When this Bill was introduced there was no proposal of this kind in it, and the owners of property destroyed in the course of the rebellion at Dublin felt, on that account, that they were about to be badly hit. Although I did not admit that contention, there was a good deal to be said for it, and we all went home in obedience to the suggestion of the Chief Secretary and put our heads together with the result that the Property Losses Association and the Corporation of Dublin came to a certain agreement The corporation wanted to get this Bill for certain betterment objects, and amongst the concessions which were asked for by the property owners was this Clause which I am now proposing, namely, that these premises, upon revaluation, after they have been rebuilt, shall not be valued at a higher figure than they stood at when they were destroyed. It is not irrelevant to 1225 mention—I think the Chief Secretary is aware of the fact—that these premises were not valued low at the time they were destroyed. On the contrary, there had been a revaluation just before, which raised the valuation on all such property in Dublin very highly indeed. Therefore, any argument to the effect that the valuation was low, and had not been revised for years, would be unfounded. The valuation was pretty high when the property was destroyed, and we have agreed that it should continue at that figure for a period of thirty years. We beg the right hon. Gentleman to believe that we are better able to judge the circumstances of the case than any man in England, and that we are justified, in our own minds, at all events, in urging this concession upon the Government as one of the necessary incidents of the case. I repeat that this is a proposal which under ordinary circumstances I would not make, and I am sure my colleagues would not make it, but under the exceptional circumstances which I have endeavoured to describe I beg to move the Clause, and I commend it with all earnestness to the Chief Secretary for its immediate acceptance.
I rise to support the Clause. This Clause is proposed as portion of an agreement arrived at on the recommendation of the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman advised the property owners and the corporation to come to some agreement so that they could present to Parliament an agreed measure, and that if an agreed measure was not accepted it would be sent to a Grand Committee. Consequently, the corporation agreed to accept what they believed was fair, and what most people will regard as fair and just, and by that agreement the property owners were deprived of the opportunity of presenting their case before a Grand Committee. It is fair to remember that last year a revaluation of Dublin took place and there was substantial increase in the valuation, and if this Clause is not now inserted it will mean that we are availing ourselves of the misfortune of these people to try to put upon them an additional burden which would not have been put upon them if the rebellion had not taken place. Under this Bill the Corporation receive certain rights and privileges as to the size and nature of the structures to be built. The corporation may require a building much in excess of any valuation that now exists 1226 in order to have structural harmony in a particular street. These property owners will not receive any additional benefit for some years as the result of these buildings, and they will have to pay or repay the interest on the loan of capital which has been necessitated in consequence of this Bill and the requirements of the Dublin Corporation. That in itself is a sufficient recommendation to this House to accept this Clause, but I might add another, and that is that these buildings which were destroyed were in the principal thoroughfare of Dublin and the business carried on was largely a local trade. A large amount of capital was spent upon that trade, and there is no attempt being made to compensate any of these people for the loss of trade and profit that is bound to take place during the period of reconstruction, and before any reconstruction can take place. If you give an ex gratia grant with one hand, I do not think it is fair on the part of the Government to take it away with the other, and to suggest that it is in the interest of the City of Dublin. The lord mayor, the town clerk, the city treasurer, the law agent, and the principal officers of the corporation are here, and they speak on behalf of the entire council, and the entire council is in favour of this Clause. Therefore, I do not think it is fair that the Clause should be refused I hope the Chief Secretary will at once recognise that acting upon his own recommendation this agreement was come to, that the property owners have been deprived of an opportunity of putting forward their case, and that as representatives of the citizens of Dublin and of the corporation we are asked to see that this Clause is inserted.
§ Mr. BRADY
I would like to dwell for a moment on the agreement which was entered into as a prelude to this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman I am sure will bear me out when I say that he himself suggested to us that we should go home and come to an agreement as to the headings of this Bill, and that, having done so, it would be his duty to pilot it through the House of Commons. Over and over again we have been reminded that this was to be an agreed Bill, that the Government were honourably pledged to put these Clauses into the Bill, and put the Bill on the Statute Book. In reference to the point raised by my colleagues as to the will of the citizens in this matter, I have no hesitation in saying, as one of the Dublin Members, that if a plebiscite of the citizens of 1227 Dublin could be taken, all of them, quite irrespective of mere personal interest, would agree that the Clause should go through in the form in which it is on the Paper, because all citizens of Dublin recognise that those whose property was destroyed in the leading thoroughfares of Dublin have been put to hardship and suffering which will not disappear for many years. The valuation of these premises has been already increased very considerably last year, and if there is to be any further increase in the valuation, the extra expense thus entailed, coupled with the enormous expense to which these people will be put notwithstanding the ex gratia grant—the amount of which we have not yet heard— will be a very serious thing indeed. I join my colleagues in pressing upon the right hon. Gentleman to accept this Clause in the form in which it appears on the Paper.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BYRNE
I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that just prior to the outbreak of the Rebellion the new valuation of the City of Dublin had come into operation, and many of those houses which were burned down had been greatly increased in valuation. I know of one case in which the increase was 60 per cent. and another in which it was 50 per cent. That is all the more reason why this Clause should stand. In one portion of the Bill you are giving to the Dublin Corporation, of which I am a member—I stand here in a double capacity representing both the corporation and the citizens who have lost their property—power to insist on certain classes of building being put up. Is it fair when that class of building is put up to say to a man, "You must pay on a considerably increased valuation for what you have been compelled to do whether you like it or not"? The new fancy fronts that might go into certain buildings would attract a valuer and give him grounds for increasing the valuation, though it would be of no value to the man from a business point of view. That alone is one reason why the Clause should be accepted. It would be most unfair if you compel me to put up a better class of house than I had prior to the rebellion to say, "You must pay an extra £50 or £100 a year because you have a fancy building which is a credit to Dublin." If the Clause does not stand it will mean that certain people will press very strongly to have buildings put up which will not do justice to that thorough- 1228 fare which is known as one of the most splendid thoroughfares in Europe. The right hon. Gentleman would be well advised if he would allow this Clause to go through.
§ Mr. FIELD
I agree entirely with what has been said toy all my colleagues. This Clause is regarded as vital, and unless it is passed we regard the Bill as being almost valueless. The Treasury have no right whatever to interfere in any arrangements which have been entered into solemnly between the corporation and the owners. The Treasury would be at no loss under the proposed arrangements. We were sent home to Dublin to try to arrive at an agreed Bill. The Bill has been agreed upon. The Treasury have interfered where they were not entitled to interfere. This is a matter between the Chief Secretary and the Members who represent Dublin. If the right hon. Gentleman does not agree to this Clause we do not know what may happen.
§ Mr. DUKE
This Clause has been based to some extent on an urgent recommendation which I made to the members of the two parties in the dispute which was revealed at the time of the Second Reading to compose their differences. They have composed their differences. But that is proposed to some extent to be done at the cost of other parties. That is why I found a great deal of difficulty in giving a silent assent to the benevolent proposition which has been pressed upon me. The hon. Member for North County Dublin (Mr. Clancy) said most properly that in ordinary circumstances nobody would dream of a Clause of this kind. But I quite recognise the force of what has been pressed upon me by so many Members, that the circumstances are entirely extraordinary, and though I felt a difficulty in point of principle, which the hon. and learned Member distinctly recognises, I think that this is a case where some concession from strict principle can be made. The matter affects not only the property owners and the corporation, but it affects the ratepayers of Dublin and the Imeprial Ex-Exchequer. I never promised to give anything away out of the Exchequer. I had no authority to do so. I certainly did not induce members to come to an agreement on the ground that they should solace one another out of funds from the Imperial Exchequer, and in whatever arrangement is made the interests of the 1229 whole body of taxpayers of the United Kingdom will have to be borne in mind. It is quite true that this is not So serious a matter as might appear on the face of it. There was last year a revaluation of the parts of Dublin which are affected by this Bill, and I know that many owners of property felt that they suffered severely upon the new valuation. So it is not likely that within the few years immediately ahead of us, if the houses existing at the time of the rebellion had remained standing, there would have been any idea of a revaluation.
There were houses in the great thoroughfare in regard to which a revaluation was not likely to recur in the immediate future; there is something more to be said: I have endeavoured to find arguments for a departure from principle, and there is this to be observed, that the owners of these premises, at the instance of the Corporation of the City of Dublin, backed by the Irish Local Government Board, and I must say encouraged by the Chief Secretary, have parted with, under and by process of this Bill, the right they had to resist, and in all probability to successfully resist, the proposals which were thought to be in the public interest—proposals for having something like uniformity and something like elevation of spirit in regard to the kind of premises to be erected in the place of those destroyed. Having regard to those circumstances, I shall not resist the Second Reading of this Clause. I shall have to consider, then, having regard to the fact that this House is trustee both of the interests of future ratepayers of Dublin and present and future taxpayers, how far is it proper to go. I cannot conceive that a term of thirty years could have been put into this Amendment with the serious expectation that it would be accepted, practically for a generation of men, and in that time many successive sorts of ratepayers and taxpayers would come upon the field. Having regard to the arguments advanced, temperately and none the less forcibly because temperately, and after a consultation I have had at the Irish Office, I have come to the conclusion that, if there were a clear period after the probable completion, re-entering and re-establishment of business in these premises, of ten years, something like rough justice would be done in the matter.
I take the intermediate period of two years, and then a period of ten years after the disturbed period. It is now more than 1230 half a year since the Sinn Fein rebellion, and it may well be eighteen months before the advantages are obtained of re-entering upon these restored premises, and that would give a period of about twelve years. By the adoption of that proposal no hardship would be inflicted upon the future ratepayers of Dublin, and no hardship upon owners of premises. May I say a word about the taxpayers? It is quite true that my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury stoutly resisted this proposal of a private solatium to property owners in Dublin at the cost of the Exchequer, but there are great public interests involved in the fact of rebuilding Sackville Street as well as it should be rebuilt. Principle has not, therefore, been rigidly adhered to, and there is to be an ex gratia Grant as the outcome of the extraordinary circumstances of the case. Since this matter was unanimously pressed upon me by the Member for Dublin and by other Irish Members, I have had an opportunity of consulting my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of Exchequer, who offers no resistance to the proposal in the amended form, which I have described. I must make this qualification, however, that I do not think it can be seriously supposed that these concessions ought to extend to premises which are merely damaged instead of destroyed. Premises which have been destroyed have to be rebuilt, and in regard to rebuilding, the work must be measured by the fact of the necessity of rebuilding. I should have to modify the Clause in Committee by omitting the words "damaged or" ["damaged or destroyed"], and I should also have to propose the reduction of what I regard as the impossible term, in a matter of this kind, of thirty years, a period which, I think, under all circumstances, would not be a reasonable term. Subject to this reservation, I shall not resist the Second Beading of the Clause.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. CLANCY
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the Amendment might permit of slight damage being included under it, and I do not think it is the intention that cases of slight damage should be availed of. At the same time, there might be cases of considerable 1231 damage without the premises being destroyed, and really, I think, the right hon. Gentleman should propose some words to this effect, "That the damage should be such as to prevent business from being carried on." If the right hon. Gentleman would propose such words as those the Amendment perhaps would not be resisted. It seems to me that the Amendment, as moved, would exclude all houses merely damaged, but not destroyed.
§ Mr. BRADY
I agree with the hon. Member for North Dublin as to the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment. Take the case of a house where the four walls alone are standing. It might be argued, in the terms of the Amendment, that the house was only damaged and not destroyed. If the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman were accepted in the form it is moved, it would lead to a great deal of misunderstanding and ambiguity, and it would be very hard to say whether the house was damaged or destroyed. The unfortunate position is that, in almost every case, the damaged house is really destroyed and practically useless. Then you have the further fact that when they have to rebuild they will have to do so in accordance with the powers which the Dublin Corporation will possess. The case should be measured by the fact that the damaged house will be incapable of being rebuilt till it has been first rased to the ground. I really think that the right hon. Gentleman, and those responsible for the Amendment, if it were adopted, would introduce a great deal of ambiguity and uncertainty into the measure.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I think the words would hardly have the application which has been expressed. In the Amendment which is proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, if he insists on it, I do not think there is much between my view and those of hon. Members behind. I do not think that the ideas they entertain on the matter are well founded. The right hon. Gentleman and several persons have spoken of this generous ex gratia Grant. I have endeavoured to follow as closely as I can the details of this matter, and after six months, beyond granting, no doubt, some small stock and other matters of that kind, I cannot find anybody who has received intimation from the Government that he will receive the ex gratia Grant in respect of his destroyed property. I think it 1232 would be no harm if the right hon. Gentleman would tell us how soon property owners may expect some announcement in their own particular case. This whole Clause goes on the suggestion that by the joint operation of two factors, namely, the Grant from the Government and a demand from the corporation, special buildings of an unusually ornate kind will have to be erected. That is the position taken up, and that will result in an extended valuation. It seems to me, from my experience of the Treasury, that we are building upon a gossamer foundation. I have been endeavouring to get information from anybody who could give it to me as to whether in fact they mean to give one penny piece in the shape of a definite promise to any of the persons whose premises have been destroyed, and I can find nothing as yet to support the very rosy suggestions which have been made.
§ Mr. DUKE
With regard to the exact position of the ex gratia Grant, I can tell you that I expect that within a very few days an amount which will provide for a considerable number of the cases that have been before Sir William Goulding's Committee of Inquiry, a communication will be made of that amount to those parties. On the other question whether any less destruction than that which involves rebuilding can be taken to-mean destruction, I do not think, as the hon. Member who spoke last pointed out, that there is anything in substance between us. Anybody knows that the houses which are in question were houses which have been for every practical purpose destroyed. As there are houses which have been damaged, and as this Bill is not limited to houses which have been destroyed, it is impossible to subject the ratepayers and taxpayers to the possibility of having unfounded claims in respect of houses which it is not intended should have the benefit provided by this Section. Therefore I must ask hon. Members to consent to the omission of the words.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: Leave out the words "or restored" ["rebuilt or restored"].—[Mr. Duke.]
§ Mr. HEALY
This is not a very large matter. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has not taken into account that this Amendment is really not a tenants' Amendment at all, but a landlords' Amendment. It is a concession given to landlords and fee-simple owners, because in the fixing of the rent the amount of the rates are taken into account. Therefore it is in ease of the landlord class. Any proposal to ease rents is a proposal in ease of the landlord, because when you go to take a house, the first thing you ask is, What are the rates? and the rent is fixed by reference to the rates. This is, in my opinion, a highly conservative Amendment, moved in the interests of the property class in Dublin, and I do think that in a small matter of this kind he might advance from twelve to fifteen years, because it is the interest of the conservatives of Dublin and their property which is at stake.
All the members of the Corporation of Dublin would be very glad if the Chief Secretary would make this concession which surely' will bankrupt neither the Treasury nor the corporation. This is a question on which the corporation are in honour bound to make a fight. If the agreement recommended by the right hon. Gentleman had not been arrived at those concerned in this matter would have been able to go before Grand Committee and put their case. They were sufficiently broad-minded and patriotic in the interests of the city to make them consent to an agreement. My colleagues in the representation of Dublin join with me in pressing for this concession.
§ Mr. FIELD
The right hon. Gentleman expressed the opinion that these buildings might be finished in two years. I doubt that. I think it will possibly be nearer to five years before O'Connell Street—I do not like to call it Sackville Street—is properly finished. There is an old saying in business of "split the difference," and 1234 seeing that thirty was asked, and that fifteen is now suggested, it appears to me like a business proposition.
The principle for which we are here contending is not altogether novel, for I think I am correct in saying that it is to be found in the Housing and Town Planning Act and also in the Land Clauses Consolidation Act.
§ Mr. BYRNE
I beg to support the suggestion of making the period fifteen years. It must be remembered that you ask these people to consent amongst themselves to this Bill, and that they acted on the suggestion of your own official, Mr. Raymond Unwin, who, I believe, is known as the "King's High Planner."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to be added to the Bill.