I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
The Agricultural Credit Act, 1961, marked what might well be called a turning-point in the history of the Agricultural Credit Corporation. The total of all loans advanced by the Company for agricultural credit between 1928, when the Company commenced working, and April, 1961, amounted to £10¼ million. Since April, 1961, lendings have increased dramatically. In the four years from April, 1961 to April, 1965 they amounted to £10.3 million; about £5 million of this amount was lent in the year ended April, 1965. Even allowing for the fall over the years in the value of money, this is a very striking increase.
The increased lendings were partly a symptom and partly a cause of the welcome upsurge of activity in the agricultural industry. It is gratifying to record this evidence of the willingness of farmers to borrow, in the conviction that their enterprises would prove worthwhile, and of the willingness of the Corporation to keep pace with the credit demands of this new and heightened activity in agriculture. I am glad to say that a fairly sizeable amount of the Corporation's lendings have been to co-operative enterprises. I would like to congratulate the Chairman, Directors and staff of the Corporation on this satisfactory increase and on the effective and expeditious way in which they are conducting the affairs of the Corporation.
The Agricultural Credit Act, 1961, was an important instrument in helping these increased lendings to be made. It increased the share capital and borrowing powers of the Corporation, broadened the range of agricultural activities for which the Corporation could make loans and widened the means by which these loans could be made. That Act introduced the system of "charging orders", which enabled the Corporation and the borrower to use a relatively simple procedure when taking a charge on land as security for a loan.
Since 1961 the Corporation have branched out into new types of lendings and I would like in particular to refer to their unsecured loans scheme and to their hire-purchase business which are showing very satisfactory progress.
The Bill which I now present to the House is intended to enable the good work in progress by the Corporation to be continued and expanded. The chief purpose of the Bill is to increase the share capital and borrowing powers of the Corporation. The 1961 Act authorised share capital of £2 million for the Corporation. This amount has been fully subscribed. That Act also increased to £10 million the borrowing powers of the Corporation, and some £9 million of that amount has been used up. The Bill, therefore, proposes to add another £4 million to the authorised share capital and a further £10 million to the borrowing powers of the Corporation. This total of £14 million in new money for the Corporation together with repayments of existing loans should keep the Corporation in funds for some years to come.
The Bill has a number of other provisions which in the main extend the provisions of the 1961 Act. As these are explained in the memorandum circulated with the Bill, I propose to confine myself to some brief comments. The charging order system, which has proved successful, will be extended to enable it to be used by a personal representative of a registered owner of land. In addition I am proposing that a registered owner of land should be able to use a charging order when using his land as security for a loan to another party. The most obvious example of where this could happen is where a farmer acts as guarantor for a son who is starting out to farm on his own. This Bill also proposes to increase from £1,000 to £2,000 the limit for which charges by the Corporation on land will rank prior to equities. The limit was fixed at £400 in 1928 and it remained at this figure until 1961 when it was increased to £1,000. The £2,000 would be well in excess of the majority of loans made by the Corporation. The Corporation assure me that they are not aware of any case where a priority charge in their favour resulted in a loss to an equitable claimant. The limit on borrowings by personal representatives is also being increased from £1,000 to £2,000 and in addition the Corporation will be able to guarantee loans by a third party to a personal representative. The power to guarantee loans was given to the Corporation by the 1961 Act but this power was not specifically extended to guaranteeing loans raised by personal representatives.
So much for the Corporation's authority to lend money. I am also proposing a change as regards their power to sue for defaults in repayment, though I am happy to say that these occur in only a very small proportion of loans. The Bill provides that a certificate by the Corporation of moneys due under hire-purchase agreement may be accepted in Court proceedings as evidence of debt.
The 1961 Act gave the Corporation authority to accept deposits from co-operative societies. I understand from the Corporation that they have from time to time been in a position to obtain deposits from other sources but have been precluded by the terms of the 1961 Act. The Bill provides, therefore, that the Corporation may accept deposits from any source.
The Charging Orders introduced by the 1961 Act were under that Act exempted from stamp duty and registration fees in the Land Registry. The Bill proposes to exempt from stamp duty and registration fees all mortgages and charges in favour of the Corporation, also releases from such instruments. This will place borrowers using mortgages or deeds of charges in the same position as borrowers using charging orders in so far as these duties and fees are concerned.
The Bill also makes certain provisions as regards membership of the Houses of the Oireachtas by directors, officers and servants of the Corporation. These provisions are in line with established provisions as regards membership of the Houses of the Oireachtas by directors and staff of State companies.
The Bill will enable the Corporation to continue its vital work of ensuring that agricultural progress is not hampered by lack of credit. I confidently recommend it for the approval of the Dáil.