No, they are not rated but when they are put up again they are rated and that is what this Bill proposes to prevent. At the moment, under the existing valuations code, if a farmer enlarges or improves existing farm buildings, if he converts a barn into a machine shed or if he does any worth-while building or improvements of that kind on his farm, his name and address are taken by the local rate collector, who is under a penalty of £5 if he does not do it, and the valuation is increased.
Section 4 of this Bill proposes to prevent that. The section is in general terms and it also deals with the construction of new outhouses in order that the remission for both new and improved farm buildings may be contained in the same section. Under Section 4 of the Bill a similar remission for seven years is provided to every farmer who henceforth improves and enlarges the farm buildings on his farm and endeavours to make his farm buildings more suitable for agricultural production. That is the third reform in the valuation code proposed by this Bill.
The second last section—Section 5 —is the section which contains the machinery for carrying out these reforms. In that section it is provided that the Commissioner for Valuation must give his decision with regard to the amount of improvements carried out on any building and he must, in his decision, apportion the valuation accordingly. I think that if the other three main proposals in the Bill were accepted by the House some machinery, such as is envisaged in Section 5, would be necessary to carry it into effect.
Those are, briefly, the proposals contained in the Bill. I do not think it is necessary to emphasise the need for some reform such as we propose. The House will appreciate that in a Private Members' Bill of this kind it is not possible for any group of Deputies in this House to incorporate in any legislative proposal all the reforms that, perhaps, might be desirable. With the resources at our disposal, it is only possible for us to deal with some of the more urgentsteps that we think should be taken in reforming the valuation code.
A case may be made that some of the remissions granted here might or should have retrospective effect. That is a matter that might be considered at a later stage but the important thing at the moment is to get agreement in principle with regard to the steps which we now propose should be taken.
With regard to the business life of the country, I do not think it is exaggerating if I say that rates at the moment are a tax on initiative and a burden on enterprise. At the moment, any businessman who decides to enlarge his business, to make it better and to improve it, realise that his efforts will, as sure as day follows night, be taxed by an increase in his valuation. Every Deputy knows that the existing valuation code—the manner in which improvements are taxed, in the same way as the landlord of 100 years ago taxed a tenant for improving his cottage—is going to continue the "bucket" shop in this country, the hole-in-the-corner factories and all the conditions that our social legislation tries to get rid of, because business people cannot afford to invest money on improving their premises when their investment will be followed by the valuation officer and with new demands for rates. Accordingly, it is quite clear that, in the last four or five years in any event, the effect of the revaluation of business premises has been a very serious curb on expansion. It has, time and again, prevented business people taking advantage of a trend in affairs that should have been taken.
Some years ago, in fact when the Minister for Health in the inter-Party Government introduced the very proper Food Hygiene Regulations of 1950, regulations requiring business people to comply with certain minimum standards in relation to the condition of their business premises, a lot of people realised that those regulations must be associated with a remission of rates. The Food Hygiene Regulations, as Deputies will recollect, empower a local authority to compeleach trader to alter and improve his premises if he wants to continue in business. If he fails to do that, there is power to shut him up and, of course he should be shut up.
Now, when those regulations were brought into force for the benefit of the community it could not have beer expected by the Minister for Health or whatever Minister was in charge, that the result would be a tax on business people who complied with the regulations. We all know that, in fact, that was what did take place. Those regulations came into operations in the beginning of 1951. They are two years in operation now, and in the past two years every single trader who has complied with the provisions in those regulations had had his valuation increased. That is a serious state of affairs.
It was because of that that a responsible association in the country made a case to the Government within the last 18 months or two years, a case confined, it is correct to say, to those affected by these health regulations. That was a request to the Government to grant a remission of rates to traders who complied with the regulations, who spent money in bettering their premises and, generally, in improving the hygiene of the country.
That case was made to the Government in 1951 and in 1952, and it was repeated by various representations that were made to different Ministers of the Government. Apparently, the Government did not find it possible to grant the remission which was sought. On 8th November, 1952, a responsible Minister informed this association that the Government had decided not to grant the remission in rates which they sought. The text of the letter dated 8th November, 1952, was as follows:—
"The Ministers for Finance and Local Government were approached regarding the possibility of introducing legislation to ameliorate the lot of traders whose premises might be revalued to their pecuniary disadvantage because of the food hygiene regulations, and the Commissionerof Valuation was also consulted. It is regretted, however, that it is not considered feasible to amend the Valuation Acts in one particular respect so as to grant concessions for the cases in question."
There the matter might well have ended were it not for the fact that this Private Members' Bill was introduced. It was truly amazing the tonic effect which this Bill had on the attitude of the Government. After the introduction of this Bill, I think some days later, the Taoiseach announced that it "had been decided in principle that a substantial remission of rates for a period of years should be granted on the valuation of new buildings and on the total increase in valuation when premises had been improved and revalued."
Following that announcement by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Local Government issued a statement on 7th August, 1953, informing the country that the Government proposed to introduce a Bill providing for some remission of rates. The regrets that were expressed in November, 1952, had apparently become a conviction in the justice of the case that was then made. As regards the announcement that was made on 7th August, 1953, we have not, of course, seen the Bill and do not know what, in fact, it will contain, but in that statement, in effect, the Government announced that it would give a remission of two-thirds on the valuation of all new buildings. Secondly, where the building was not new, but reconstructed, it would give two-thirds remission of the increase in valuation. Therefore, the Government's statement and their Bill, if it is in accordance with their statement, will contain two things: First of all a two-thirds remission on all new buildings. At the moment a remission is enjoyed in respect of every dwelling-house on which a grant is obtained from the Government and also a variety of houses provided by local authorities, but if a dwelling-house is built beyond the housing limits no remission is enjoyed. The Government proposal is to give two-thirds remission on the valuation of all new buildings and, secondly, where buildings are reconstructedor altered, to give a two-thirds remission on the increase in the valuation, the remission in the Government's case being for a period of seven years and convering such new buildings or reconstructions as may take place in the next three years.
It was a pity that the Government, having changed its mind with regard to rates and valuation and having come a good bit of the road towards our point of view, did not go the whole distance. We propose full remission for seven years; the Government proposes two-thirds remission. We propose that this remission for seven years will become a permanent part of the valuation code; the Government say: "No. We will only dole it out for the next three years". We propose that valuations may not be altered except buildings are improved; the Government say: "No." They want to continue the existing system in that regard.
Accordingly, the Government proposal, as announced last August, falls very far short of what we propose. It may be, of course, that the Minister for Finance—it probably is, since the Minister for Finance is here; he is generally the most reasonable member of the Government in matters of this kind—was sent in here to announce a total conversion. If that is so, we will willing hand him over this Bill or give him full opportunity of carrying this Bill or its proposals into effect.