I move amendment No. 1:—
In lines 37/39, page 2, to delete the words "nor any land situate in an urban district which was, at the passing of the Act of 1898, situate in an urban sanitary district".
The object of this amendment is to give agriculturalists living in urban areas the benefit of the Agricultural Grant. These agriculturalists have a good many limitations even though they have one advantage. In the old days when the relief of rates was first passed, the Bill was not framed in this country and urban areas were excluded. The urban area in Great Britain is very different from the urban area in this country. The urban area in Great Britain has other potential values. Anyway, we have adopted the British Act here, but it does not work fairly. I am satisfied that the advantage to which I wish to refer arises in this way, that the urban rates here are in two sections, first, the town rate, and the other the rate for the country services. In the town rate the urban areas have an advantage in the matter of land; they are charged only 25 per cent. of the rates on land. But they have to pay the full county rate. It is with the county rate I want to deal. The urban owners of land have the disadvantage of high valuations, and it is on these high valuations the rates are struck. What was formerly the reason for the high valuation on land in urban areas was the proximity value. That has now gone. People living four, six or ten miles away from an urban area have the advantage of the local markets ówing to the improved transit facilities, just as well as the people living in the neighbourhood. The urban holders have the disadvantage of a line of demarcation. You have one set of agriculturalists on one side of the fence which happens to be in the county, and there obtains there the relief on agricultural rates. The man at the other side of the fence, at the urban side, has not that advantage. As I pointed out on the Second Reading, that has led to a great deal of unrest amongst the owners of land in urban areas. They cannot see why they should not get the benefit of the Agricultural Grant on the rates they pay for county services. That is not such a very big matter to the county rates or the urban rates. There are not so many urban areas, and the land in urban areas is not so extensive. I believe it would be an act of justice to pass this amendment.
I am aware that the Ministry hold that there is a corresponding relief in the town rate, inasmuch as the town rate is levied only on 25 per cent. of the value of the land. But the town rate in most urban areas to-day is extremely high, and even 25 per cent. of the town rate means a very substantial rate on the owner of the land. However, it is not with that section of the services that I am now dealing. In tabling this motion I would have much preferred, because it would be more in conformity with my views and sense of justice, if the rules of the House permitted me to put down an amendment extending the grant or increasing the grant to the people in urban areas. Unfortunately, I could not do that within the rules of the House. So I have to content myself with this subterfuge in trying to get in this amendment in this particular way in which it is drafted. The merits of the case stand out very clearly. The amount of money involved is not large. The increase of this grant to land owners in urban areas would be very largely repaid by the sense of justice and fair play that would welcome it.
On the Second Reading of the Bill I stated that, in my opinion, in order to encourage everybody in the State to give of his best, the first essential was to give a feeling of a sense of fair play, that the laws were being justly administered, and that there could be no exemptions. I know that the position with regard to this Agricultural Grant is one that the Minister has inherited, and that there are big difficulties in the way of meeting it, as the Minister himself pointed out when winding up the Second Reading debate. It is in order to give him an opportunity of understanding those difficulties that I have put down the amendment. What is the Ministerial point of view on this; what, in his view, are the disadvantages, and will he, if not now, at some future date consider extending the relief afforded under the Agricultural Grant, as a matter of justice, to farmers living in urban areas?
In urban areas you have this position: you have valuations varying from 42/- to 51/6 an acre. Even where the owners of land are allowed half the town rate, they still have to pay on a substantial valuation; but when you come to the levy for county services, on the full amount of their valuation, whether it be 40/-, 42/- or 45/-, you find that the rate in the urban area is extraordinarily high, whereas the county rate may be only about 50 per cent. of it, and in many cases not even 40 per cent. of the urban rate. In view of all this, I would ask the Minister to inquire into the matter. My submission is that, so far as the urban areas are concerned, the portion of the agricultural grant called the county services rate should be made operative in them.
I gave some examples the last day of the injustice of the present system. On one side of the fence you have a man with a farm of 50 acres. If he is living in the county area his rates may be no more than £23 or £24. A man holding the same amount of land in an urban area will have to pay £65 or £70 in rates. These two men have to meet in the same market. They get the same price for their produce; they have to pay the same wages to their labourers. In fact, all their expenses are about the same, but yet one man has to pay almost three times as much in rates as the other. I think that if the Minister were to meet this demand from the urban areas it would go a good way to inspire a sense of evenhanded justice and fair play. Agitations which have no justice behind them do not concern me. This, at any rate, is a case calling for justice and fair play. I believe that the people in the urban areas have a just claim for an extension of the benefits of the agricultural grant. If the case made for them is not met now, I believe it will have to be met at some future date.