I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
The main proposals of the Bill are, firstly, to provide for the establishment and administration by An Foras Tionscal of industrial estates, with factory premises for renting, in development centres and, secondly, to continue in operation for a further period the scheme of enlargement and adaptation grants to assist industrial undertakings in preparing for free trade conditions.
To take the first proposal—Deputies will have seen the Report of the Committee on Development Centres and Industrial Estates and the statement of policy indicating the Government's attitude to the proposals in the Report. For the convenience of Deputies I might recall that it is the intention on completion of the regional surveys being undertaken by the Minister for Local Government to identify development centres in each region. Meanwhile, it is proposed to proceed with the development of industrial estates at Waterford and Galway. The necessary powers to enable An Foras Tionscal to establish and administer industrial estates are contained in section 4 of the Bill.
I should like to make it clear that the identification of development centres and the setting up of industrial estates is not intended to involve the discouragement of industrial development at other locations where there are no industrial estates. The Government have already indicated in the policy statement to which I have referred that the dispersal of industrial activity throughout the country, where this is economically feasible, yields important social advantages, and that, in the administration of the industrial grants scheme, the location of industries in other development centres will be encouraged. It is confidently expected, however, that the development of industrial estates will attract thereto industries which might not otherwise have been located in Ireland at all but for the facilities offered at these estates.
It is also proposed in the Bill that An Foras Tionscal should be empowered to make available, at reduced rents, factory premises situated in industrial estates administer by An Foras Tionscal and also to make grants available towards the reduction of rents for factory premises situated in what may be termed private industrial estates. This power is inherent in the provisions of section 4 in relation to estates administered by An Foras Tionscal and a specific provision is made in section 9 in relation to estates in the other category. When factories are made available at reduced rents it is the intention that the reduction in rent would not be more advantageous to an industrialist than the amount of a grant which he would have been given under the existing legislation.
I am sure that the House will agree that the industrial grants scheme which has been in operation for a considerable time and under which assistance is provided in appropriate cases to industrialists who build their own factories, has been an important factor in the progress so far achieved in industrial development. I am satisfied that the provision of factories on inindustrial estates at attractive rents will represent a significant extension of the range of incentives available for industrial development and, therefore, should stimulate activity among industrialists contemplating industrial projects that are suitable for location in an industrial estate.
Under the existing legislation the aggregate maximum expenditure provided for in relation to grants which the Minister for Industry and Commerce may make to An Foras Tionscal is £30 million. It is not proposed to increase this amount, at least for the time being. Section 3 of the Bill proposes, however, to increase from £20 million to £30 million the aggregate amount of grants An Foras Tionscal may make for industrial development.
It is also proposed, in section 5, that An Foras Tionscal should be empowered to recruit staff for the administration of industrial estates. As the type of work involved will be more akin to commercial activities than normal Civil Service procedures, it is desirable that An Foras should have this power so as to ensure flexibility in staffing arrangements both in the administrative and technical spheres.
Deputies will recall that in March last, I had the "Report on the Progress of Industrial Adaptation" prepared and presented to the House. This report sets out in fair detail the steps which have been taken to prepare industry for the coming of freer trade. It also indicates that in many respects the work of industrial adaptation is far from complete. However, the failure of some firms to seek assistance and the lack of progress in certain directions mentioned in the report may be due to the uncertainty that had obtained regarding our future trading relations. This uncertainty has now been largely dispelled and it is to be hoped that more firms will urgently apply themselves to the task of adaptation.
The legislation which enabled An Foras Tionscal to assist firms by way of special grants, not exceeding 25 per cent of cost, expired on 31st March, 1966. The Government feel that if the impetus towards adaptation which has been generated is to be maintained and strengthened the continuation of the grants scheme is necessary and one of the purposes of this Bill is to extend the operation of the scheme to 31st December, 1967, as provided for in section 2 of the Bill.
Up to 31st December, 1965, some 600 firms had formulated adaptation proposals representing a capital investment of over £55 million. In addition, as is indicated in the report, the adaptation councils have been applying themselves to the solution of the various problems highlighted in the reports of the Committee on Industrial Organisation. The council in some industries have achieved quite good results. Others have not as yet made any real impact on the wider aspects of adaptation—joint marketing, training, etc.—which involve cooperation between individual firms in the same industry or in related industries.
There is an urgent need for a great burst of activity in these aspects of adaptation—equally urgent, I would say, with the need for progress in physical adaptation by way of modernisation of equipment, expansion of premises and the like. I am confident that the desired progress will be realised as I think it is fair to say that industry is now far more aware of the need for adaptation measures than it was when the legislation was first introduced. This, of course, is hardly a matter for surprise. The conclusion of the trade agreement with Britain brings us to the threshold of free trade and it is only the most ostrich-like mentality that could in present circumstances ignore the need for drastic changes in all aspects of industry. Evidence of the new and more realistic outlook is afforded by a sharp increase in the number of applications for grants received in the quarter ended 31st March, 1966.
I do not propose to delay the House by going into the matter too deeply as the report which I have mentioned is up-to-date and covers the ground in a most comprehensive way. I would, however, like to repeat what I said in a foreword to that report "It is clear that much has been achieved; it is also clear that more remains to be done. Action cannot now be postponed. Now is the time for an all-out effort to ensure that what has still to be done will be tackled with energy and completed with speed".
I recommend the Bill for the approval of the Dáil.