Local Government (Rates) (No. 2) Bill 1969: Second Stage.

Tairgim go léifear an Bille don Tarna Uair. Beartaítear leis an mBille seo an dlí a bhaineann le ráthaíocht a athrú i ndhá slí thábhach-tacha. Ar an gcéad dul síos, tugann an Bille cumhacht do gach údarás ráthaíochta scéim a dhéanamh agus a chur i bhfeidhm chun rátaí a tharscaoileadh i gcás íocóirí áirithe, i gcás aicmí íocóirí nó i gcás saghasanna áirithe oidhreachtán. Faoin mBille, freisin, beidh ceart reachtúil ag aicmí íocóirí áirithe a rátaí a íoc ina gháilí faoi réir rialachán. Meastar go gciallódh na h-athraithe seo leasú fiúntach sa chóras ráthaíochta.

This Bill provides for the waiver of rates by local authorities in certain cases and for the introduction of an effective system of payment of rates by instalments. These two purposes are distinct and I will deal with them in turn.

First, the waiver of rates. A major criticism of the rating system has been that it is unduly rigid and that local authorities have not sufficient discretion in its operation, particularly in relation to the more needy sections of the population. The existing power of local authorities to strike out rates which are uncollectable at the end of the financial year is not satisfactory, for many reasons. This power implies that some effort has been made during the year to collect the rates with all the anxiety for the persons concerned that this involves. It puts local authorities in the position of demanding and accepting rates in cases where, if the ratepayer concerned refused to pay, they would, because of his poor circumstances, be willing to strike out the rates as irrecoverable. On a more general level it requires local authorities to adopt an inflexible approach to the whole problem. Any new system should as far as possible give definite rights of exemption from rates to clearly defined groups, while at the same time preserving a reasonable degree of flexibility.

Section 2 of the Bill, which is drafted in very wide terms, gives to each rating authority the power to make and carry out a scheme for the waiver of all or portion of the rates due by ratepayers or classes of ratepayers or in respect of a class of hereditaments. This power is a reserved function exercisable by the elected members of the rating authorities and is subject only to such regulations as may be made by the Minister under section 4. It is intended that these regulations will contain two main elements: provision for essentially procedural matters and a stipulation that each scheme shall require the consent of the Minister. As experience is gained of the working of the schemes it is hoped to modify the regulations to provide for a general form of consent by the Minister which will in practice give a wide measure of discretion to local authorities, and will dispense with the need for individual consents, provided specified general guide lines are followed. When the system is fully in operation, I would envisage each rating authority making a scheme which would specify the classes of ratepayers who may claim total or partial remission of rates, due regard being had both to the circumstances of the local authority area and to the requirements of regulations made by the Minister. Persons covered by the scheme would, on application, be entitled to full or partial exemption as of right for the year in question. I would hope that the scheme would be administered as liberally as possible by the local authority.

Many local authorities have already adopted provisional schemes in relation to the present financial year. In accordance with the advice contained in a circular letter from my Department these schemes for the time being are confined to social welfare beneficiaries of the means test categories, except in cases of special hardship. Present indications are that the cost of these schemes will be relatively insignificant; in the country as a whole the cost is unlikely to be very much greater than the 0.7 per cent of the rate warrant struck off as irrecoverable in former years. Local authorities will, no doubt, review the position further in the light of experience gained in the present year. I might mention that a feasibility study for a project on the impact of rates on households prepared by the Institute of Public Administration is being considered in my Department. One of our difficulties at present is that we have insufficient knowledge of the incidence of rates on different categories of ratepayers.

The second purpose of the Bill is to provide for an effective system of payment of rates by instalments. The present legal position is that rates are payable in two moieties, one in respect of each half year. Although local authorities have been urged by my Department to provide adequate instalment facilities on an informal basis the response has generally been poor. Section 3 of the Bill will confer a legal right to pay rates by instalments on occupiers of rated hereditaments of a class to which the section has been applied by order under subsection (2) or (3). My intention is to apply the section to all dwellings, holdings of agricultural land and possibly other hereditaments as well. The general outlines of the instalment system, particularly the manner of calculating the amount and number of instalments and the dates on which they are due will be dealt with in regulations. While I have an open mind on the form of the instalment system my present intention is to spread payment over the period April to February inclusive, each instalment becoming due on the 1st day of the month and with provision for a period of grace. I would draw particular attention to paragraphs (c) and (d) of subsection (3) of section 4 which give extensive power to alter the actual method of paying rates when paid by instalments. The aim here will be to devise the most efficient system possible even if this means departing from traditional methods.

As Deputies will have noted this is essentially an enabling Bill. The waiver of rates depends effectively on the making of schemes by rating authorities and the instalment system will be determined largely by the regulations made under section 4.

In commending the Bill to the House, I wish to make clear that I will welcome suggestions not only in relation to the terms of the Bill but also in relation to its implementation.

One welcomes, in general, the terms of this Bill so far as it relates to relieving the underprivileged sections of our community. As the Minister said, the Bill deals chiefly with the social welfare classes. Our rating system has always been extremely rigid, as one will see on examining the returns from the various local authorities or the annual report of the Department of Local Government. The collection rate runs in the region of 98.9 per cent, 99 per cent, 97.6 per cent. Very often it is 98 per cent or 99 per cent. A collection rate on that level must of necessity cause social pressures, social pressures we sometimes hear about and sometimes never hear about. Every local authority is, of course, given a list every year and the authority wipes out a number of debts deemed irrecoverable. The words "deemed irrecoverable" connote some effort being made and the person involved being pressed to find money from some source to pay the rates. The obligation on the rate collector to collect the rates is a very strict obligation and, judging from the figures I have quoted, it is clear that a more liberal attitude is long overdue. Apart from that, there is, of course, a defect in the rating system generally. The Minister is well aware of that. He has had, I think, three extensive reports prepared for him on the question of rates and the examination of alternative systems of taxation. It is a very difficult matter. No Government can throw aside £35 million or £36 million a year, or whatever the figure is, and ask the Minister for Finance to give the money instead. It is agreed by everybody that rates as a method of taxation have considerable defects; they are not always related to the person's capacity to pay.

As the Minister said in his speech he has sent out a circular to all local authorities. Some local authorities have adopted his suggestions and they have prepared a scheme of their own. They have done so in the constituency that I come from in the South Tipperary County Council. At first we protested and refused to do it and then at a later meeting it was adopted. I think there are two other bodies in the county who have refused so far to adopt any scheme of this nature.

While welcoming the principle of the Bill and the relief it will give to the more unfortunate people in our society, I feel that the Minister should have met some of the burden which the Bill will impose on the main taxpayers in each county. If the Minister said, "I will pay all the extra cost which the local authority will have to meet as a result of this concession to the poorer ratepayers of a local authority," then it would be a question of Bob's your uncle, the local authority would probably be tempted to derate to an undesirable level, but I think the Minister should at least have offered a 50 per cent grant and should have gone half-way to meet the extra cost which this will place upon the ratepayers.

The Minister says that in the initial stages it will not cost more than 0.7 per cent of the rate warrant which is perennially struck off on an average by all local authorities. This is the initial stage. Even of that 0.7 per cent I see no offer from him that he will meet 50 per cent.

If rates are an imperfect form of taxation, here is a Minister using that imperfect form of taxation now for the very laudable purpose of helping the less privileged members of our society but his method of doing it is not particularly laudable. It is easier, of course, to unload that just as previously the Office of Public Works unloaded some other activities on to the local authority. Nowadays the local authority seems to be the old jockey horse. In connection with any unwanted service the first object of central Government Departments is to see how they can unload it on to the county councils. They do it in various aspects of social services. This concession now is, in effect, a form of social welfare. The Minister or the Department of Social Welfare should have made some subvention, perhaps, a controlled subvention, if you wish, to local authorities who were prepared to adopt that scheme.

There is nothing in the Minister's speech to say how this will be financed. The assumption—I take it to be a correct assumption—is that the local authorities will have to face this bill. I repeat that I welcome the Bill in so far as it will give relief to distressed persons and even in a more generous manner than the Minister has adumbrated here but, from the point of view of the local rate, I would have felt that the Minister should have been more forthcoming and should have made some subvention to local authorities who will have to place on the rest of society the cost that further helps in this direction will entail.

It is generally accepted that of all the systems of taxation, direct and indirect, the rating system is the most unjust, the most inequitable and the most crushing and overbearing imposition on our people. It has been said time and time again that the incidence of rates has reached saturation point and that the burden is becoming more and more unbearable. The Minister was given this unique opportunity of considering this inequitable rating system and of bringing in a worthwhile measure designed to provide a fairer rating system whereby the burden would bear on the backs best able to take it. It is to be deplored that, instead of doing that, he has introduced an instrument of political policy. This Bill was mentioned prior to the general election. This Bill is ill-conceived. It was hastily designed for the purpose of courting votes in the last general election.

The proposals in this Bill are worthless. I regard the Bill as a piece of deception which purports to give relief of rates or exemption from rates to all sections of our people. The announcement of the Bill prior to the last general election was a really worthwhile political gimmick. When we saw the translation into law, local authorities were sadly disillusioned.

This scheme for exemption, abatement or easement in the payment of rates is designed solely for the benefit of social welfare classes—non-contributory classes—I emphasise "non-contributory"—who, in the main, live alone. I submit that these categories of persons of slender means could not pay rates and were not paying rates and had not been paying rates over the years. They are destitute classes in our society whose rates were struck off as irrecoverable each year. Therefore, there is nothing in this Bill to benefit these categories of persons. They had always been exempt from the payment of rates simply because they could not afford to pay them out of their small pensions. Humane rate collectors and considerate county managers have always accepted that position, that the rate demand on these persons was irrecoverable.

What appalled me was that the Minister, purporting to give relief to certain categories of unfortunate persons, the non-contributory social welfare classes, did not take the necessary steps to provide the money. County councils, corporations and urban councils are rightly indignant because the Minister is passing the buck to them, passing this extra burden of rates on to the rest of the ratepayers. It is not a question of passing the burden from the poor to the rich, from the relatively poor to the affluent ratepayers in our towns and villages. It is passing the burden of rates from the non-contributory classes to the contributory classes because, in fact, they are not provided for in the type of scheme submitted by the Minister's Department to our local authorities. Therefore, we can have a situation where a non-contributory widow or old age pensioner, living alone, will be exempt from rates — as if he or she was not exempt from the payment of rates in the past — and we shall have, side by side with them, the contributory pensioners, the persons with the contributory pension or old age pension — living alone, again — with relatively little difference nowadays in the same pensions, a fraction. Nevertheless the contributory pensioner will be expected to pay the rates demand.

We know that the vast majority of our pensioners are contributory pensioners. We know that there is at present little difference between the non-contributory rate and the contributory rate. Indeed, the non-contributory categories received a 10/- increase last August and the contributory categories will have to wait until January 1st next to get their 10/-. Therefore, the pension rates are, in the meantime, very largely being equated.

It is deplorable that we should have a scheme of that kind, differentiating between widows and old age pensioners. I appreciate that this is a matter that, very largely, is one for local authorities. This is a reserved function of ours, as local authorities, and we can include those other categories which the Minister and his advisers have recommended to be cut out — the contributory classes. We can include them; we can extend the scope of this Bill; but we shall merely be increasing the already crushing burden of rates on our people at large.

It is no wonder that this scheme has met with such a cold reception. Many county councils, corporations and urban councils have rejected it outright by reason of the fact that the Minister expects them to provide the money, thereby increasing the rates still further. If the Minister were sincere about providing genuine relief for our people who are caught up in the throes of this vicious rating system he would provide the money in this House and let it be paid out of the Exchequer rather than pass it on to our local authorities who simply cannot find that kind of money.

The Minister well knows that the incidence of rates is so great, so crushing, so overburdening on our local authorities that it is completely frustrating in recent years to be a member of a local authority. We cannot provide the ordinary amenities for our people. We cannot provide adequate amounts of money for housing, maintenance, lighting, sewerage, water, and so on, because of the genuine concern and alarm about increasing rates beyond the ability of our people to pay them. It is a most inhibiting and frustrating system. It calls out for immediate redress.

Here is a Minister with a golden opportunity to give us a measure of this kind which would give genuine relief in respect of the burden of rates; to give us a more just and equitable system of valuation. We get this paltry gimmick which was launched before the last general election merely to court votes on a shabby pretence. Realising the anger of our people in respect of this matter of rates, this thing was devised in order to placate all our rate-paying public into thinking that something worthwhile was being done for them by this Government—and this is what we get. We get the audacious suggestion that home assistance recipients, unfortunates in long, continuous unemployment, people who are chronically ill, non-contributory widows, non-contributory old age pensioners, will be exempt from rates— they tell us. This is a fraud. This is deceit. This is making a mockery of the most unfortunate and harassed and deprived section of our people. We reject this Bill as worthless.

There is genuine relief of rates in this country for the farming community —and they are entitled to it. There is the abatement of rates for them in respect of employees on the land. There is no relief whatsoever for the town dweller, for the small shopkeeper, who is trying to eke out an existence in competition with the giant supermarkets. There is no relief for the ordinary house-dweller in our towns and cities. If these people, these business people, these dwellers in our towns and cities, attempt to improve their property, even by painting and decorating, they do so under the threat of having their valuation and their rates increased. It is highly discouraging, highly frustrating, that we should have this situation. I think it is only fair to alert other people in our country to the fact that, in respect of the provision of grants for repair and reconstruction, after the expiration of the seven years grace, valuations——

The Deputy may not embark on a discussion of rates,per se. He is entitled to deal with the two points in the Bill which are the waiver of rates by local authorities and the payment of rates by instalments.

I am pleading for the extension of the scope of this measure to provide genuine relief of rates for these categories of persons whom we know to be hard-pressed—certainly the old, the sick, the unemployed and the disabled but also the shopkeeper, the urban dweller, the corporation tenant, the urban tenant, as the case might be. All of these people seek urgent remedial measures in respect of rates.

It would seem to be a matter for a wider Bill.

Was it not a great pity that we did not have a genuine piece of legislation, carefully considered, recommending at least some of these salient and important points of the commission which sat for some years in respect of this whole problem of our rating system, an antiquated and archaic system, revision and review long overdue? Yet we get this paltry piece of legislation which purports to give relief. It has no hope of succeeding in anything like its intentions because most of our local authorities are opposed to its implementation. Many of them have refused to implement it unless they get a guarantee from the Minister that he will fund this measure, back it up by the necessary money and are not at all impressed by the meagre percentage which is mentioned in this Bill as being the kind of money that it will cost local authorities. We have memories of another Minister for Finance and Health, Dr. Jim Ryan, when he told us that the cost of the Health Bill would not exceed 1/- in the £. We all know how much health is costing us in respect of rates in our various counties—ten, 15, 20 times more than that surely. Unless the money is provided to extend the scope of this Bill to take in all those who are in urgent need of the abatement of rates the scheme is worthless, because already our local authorities have reached saturation point in respect of the rates that they can impose. To bring in extra sections of our people will only be buck-passing, robbing Peter to pay Paul. This is a wrong approach.

To be serious about it the Minister must provide the money. The money should be provided by the Exchequer to meet the genuine relief of rates envisaged in a Bill of this kind. This measure, therefore, is in essence an insult to the intelligence of all of us in this House. It is a shabby pretence of giving relief of rates to people who are already getting relief of rates. The terrible anomaly of differentiating between the contributory and the noncontributing classes is disgraceful in the extreme. I know the terrible disappointment experienced by old age pensioners when they were told by public officials in South Tipperary: "The scheme for the abatement or relief of rates applies to non-contributory pensioners only." It did not apply to them even though they were living alone.

When the Minister was drawing up his memorandum of advice to local authorities he did us all a serious disservice when he specified these categories. I submit that he should look again at the categories of persons who genuinely need relief of rates, reconsider it and apply it to the contributory sections as much as to the non-contributory sections. This is the least justice we can do to try to make this scheme anything like worth while. We want to see genuine relief of rates. We want to see a more equitable system but this Bill does nothing to satisfy us along these lines. It was ill-conceived, hastily designed, a panic measure designed to placate the ratepayers, who are becoming more and more enraged with this unjust system. Many people had high hopes of getting relief under it but they have been completely frustrated.

There are certain aspects of the Bill that one naturally welcomes. I do not want to be misconstrued as saying that I am against relief of rates for a non-contributory pensioner or a person depending on home assistance or on the dole or ill over a long time. I submit that these categories have always enjoyed exemption from rates. You just could not collect it from them. They did not have it anyway. I am concerned about extending the scope of this measure and I am concerned about the shabby pretence that it is. I am concerned to see it backed up by the necessary financial resources in the clear knowledge that our local authorities are unable to provide additional money for the extension of a measure of this kind.

The payment of rates by instalment is to be greatly welcomed. We all know that more and more people are buying their own homes and the payment of rates in two moieties can be a tough financial imposition and has caused hardship to many people I know. It is to be welcomed that they can now pay the rates by way of instalment on a monthly basis. This will give some relief but here, again, we must face the fact that this will mean increased costs for local authorities. It will surely mean additional staff and additional work for local authorities and thereby further increase costs in the collection of the rates and in a situation where we are crying out to have the cost of the health services made a charge on central funds, the provision of 50 per cent or a little over by way of State grant is totally inadequate.

I do not wish to dwell on this or to bring in any extraneous matter but it is disturbing to realise that the Health Bill which we expect to have before the House very soon does not provide for any further extension of State relief in respect of the health services. That is all the more reason why, when this Bill came to be considered, the Minister ought to have considered it logically, seriously and responsibly and this, I submit, he did not do, in the throes of a general election. This gimmick was designed like many other gimmicks. I am sure it won some votes for the Government in the last general election but the people who were gulled then are now in for a rude awakening because I submit that there is nothing in this measure for the relief of rates for the people of this country who are crying out for a measure of amelioration.

It is a pity that the last speaker tried to distort completely the situation in relation to rates itself. If this were the end product of the inter-departmental committee which has been examining the question of rates relief I would oppose this Bill in its present form. I believe that when the inter-departmental committee submits the final report and it is considered then there will be comprehensive overhaul of the present rigid, out-of-date and antiquated rating system and I look forward to that day.

However, I believe that in the meantime where relief can be brought to the very weakest sections of the community this should be effected, rather than allowing those sections to suffer it out until such time as the commission reports and the decision is taken to overhaul the system in its entirely. I believe that this section is the very weakest section and it is wrong to say that local authority tenants at the moment are relieved of rates. In the Dublin city area local authority tenants who do not pay their rent which includes rates are evicted. They have been evicted and are continuing to be evicted if they do not meet the rates that are imposed on them by the local authority. This Bill caters for the very weakest section. There are many other sections in need of some support in relation to the payment of rates and I am positive such support will come in the overhaul of the rates system which has been promised and on which there will be reports which must be studied and analysed. I shall welcome the day when such an overhaul is accomplished.

The suggestion by Deputy Treacy that the measure now before the House is as far as the Government are prepared to go in this matter is ridiculous and irresponsible. As I have said, there are many sections of the community in need of easement as far as rates are concerned and therefore I welcome this Bill and the promise that in the near future we will have a system of rates levy which will be acceptable to most people.

Referring to the last section of the Bill, the Minister said he wished to make it clear that he would welcome not only suggestions in relation to the Bill as it stands but also suggestions which would widen the scope of the Bill. In other words, the Minister has left the door open to Deputies to put forward ideas. Up to now, however, no such ideas have been put to the Minister as to how the scope of the Bill could be broadened. There is no doubt that rates have become an unbearable burden to many people. I am aware of a case in the city of Dublin where a person had to sell a piano in order to pay the rates.

It must have been a good piano to pay his rates.

It was done. I do not wish to broaden the scope of the debate. The Bill is a short one to deal with a very limited section of the community. It has limited scope and I welcome particularly the section which provides for the payment of rates by instalments. I should point out that for some time Dublin Corporation have in operation a successful system for the paying of rates by instalments. Strangely, the demand for such a system was not as great as anticipated. It was, however, welcomed by many people in the middle income group who preferred to pay their rates in this manner rather than in two moieties as at present in general operation.

I should like the Minister in his reply to make it quite clear that this is not the end product of our efforts to relieve rate burdens. I should like him to tell the House that there will be a comprehensive Bill which will ease or eliminate altogether the many defects in the present out-of-date rates system. I should like to repeat what the Minister has said, that if Deputies have any ideas which would widen the scope of this Bill they should indicate them to the Minister because any effort that will relieve the weaker sections of the community would be welcomed. Of course, somebody must pay and if the rates burden is to be shouldered by way of general taxation the people now burdened by rates will still have to bear a share.

I do not know where the line should be drawn. The cost of local services must fall on somebody's shoulder and I would hope that in future we might let it fall on the shoulders of those best able to pay. I have in mind business concerns and I would have no objection to a section being introduced in the Bill providing that business people in this city who are making vast profits should be asked to contribute more towards the provision of local services.

(Cavan): As has been stated by the Minister, the objects of the Bill are two-fold. First of all there is the proposition to put on a formal basis the payment of rates by instalments and also the proposition to waive rates levied on certain necessitous classes. For the purpose of remarks I shall make later, I wish to emphasise that this is, as the Minister has stated, an enabling Bill. It may be implemented or adopted by local authorities or it may be ignored, and it is very important in view of the proposed method of financing this Bill and the schemes to be worked out under it that we should bear that in mind.

I do not think we need to waste much time with the second objective of this Bill, namely payment of rates by instalments. Most local authorities, and in particular most rate collectors, have always acted in a reasonable way in this respect and have accepted rates by instalments where there is an obvious hardship on the ratepayer to pay in two moieties. I agree that the putting of this system of payment of rates by instalment on a formal basis is a good thing because people on not very large fixed incomes will find it easier to pay by monthly instalments than twice yearly. They will not be subject to the temptation of spending the money on something else and then finding, when March and September come, that they have not the money available. I agree that this would probably add something to the expense of collecting rates but it is worthwhile.

The main purpose of this Bill is to grant relief to necessitous ratepayers, to exempt them from rates, and this will enable local authorities to bring into operation schemes which will relieve those needy people of payment of rates. I was quite pleased early this year when, in ignorance of the fact that such a measure was contemplated, I put down a question asking the Minister if he would exempt social welfare classes from rates and I was informed by the Minister that he was introducing such a measure and that it would be open to local authorities to operate it during their current financial year.

I was pleased to hear this because in my capacity as a public representative I have learned in the last years that this question of rates is a genuine hardship on people living on small incomes. I knew, for example, that people living on old age pensions and widows' pensions had to contribute as much as 10/- weekly for rates. I had to make representations about the rent of a county council cottage occupied by a person living on an income of just over £7 weekly and I was amazed to find out that out of a rent of just over £1, approximately 10/- was attributable to rates. This I regard as unjust and unfair. Therefore, I welcome the promise by the Minister to introduce legislation to enable relief from payment of rates to be given to these classes.

I must say that I am thoroughly disappointed with the measure as it stands. It will not achieve even the limited objects which it sets out to achieve. That is the principal objection I have to it. It will not achieve the very limited but desirable objects which it sets out to achieve. If it does, it will impose hardship on other categories of ratepayers who are already feeling the pinch and finding it very severe.

In his opening statement the Minister referred to the social welfare beneficiaries of the means test categories. That is, broadly speaking, the type or category of person who is to be exempt from rates if the local authorities implement this measure. Added to that class will be cases of special hardship. Before I go on to the point I want to make in particular, I want to say that I sometimes find it hard to see why the Minister, in granting a relief such as this, differentiates between the social welfare classes of the means test section and the contributory section. Take two old age pensioners, one in receipt of a contributory pension and one in receipt of a non-contributory pension. Assume that neither of these pensioners has any other income or any other assets. I think the difference in their income is so little that it does not matter. It is only a matter of shillings. Yet, in this measure the Minister proposes that the exemption shall apply to the means test category only and cases of special hardship.

I would welcome this measure so far as it goes, and I would welcome it even if it only applied to this very limited class of people, if the Minister were providing the money to pay for it, but he is not, and that is my principal objection to this measure. Deputy Dowling who has just spoken agrees that the present rating system is outdated and out-moded. Although he did not use the expressions, I am sure he would also agree that it is unjust and inequitable because it does not have any regard to the capacity of the ratepayer to pay. I have been riding this hobby horse in the House for some time. Even the Minister for Health, speaking on the Health Estimate earlier this year, or speaking on some of his estimates or some measure he introduced, conceded that there was a lot to be said for and against making the health charges a national charge. He said that the principal argument in favour of that was that it fell on a broader back and was a more equitable way of getting money.

I say that the present rating system is unjust and inequitable because it does not have any regard to the capacity of people to pay and that, if it were shifted to the national Exchequer, it would fall on a far broader back. Section 2 of the Bill enables the local authorities to make schemes providing for the waiver by the authorities of all or portion of the rates due to them by ratepayers or classes of ratepayers or in respect of hereditaments of a class or classes specified in the scheme. That is provided in subsection (1). Subsection (4) of the same section provides that the cost of implementing the scheme shall be borne by the other ratepayers of the county. In effect, that is what it says, according to my reading and understanding of it.

The people in the classes proposed to be covered by the proposed scheme will be relieved of rates if the local authorities prepare a scheme, but the cost will be passed on to the other ratepayers who will not fall within these classes. I want to go on record as saying that the payment of rates by a great many of these other ratepayers is already an extreme hardship. There are many small business people in the towns of this country who, due to the change in the system of distribution of goods and the coming into operation of the supermarkets and that sort of thing, find themselves with little or no business. Many of them are advanced in years. They are living in houses with valuations of £20, £25 or £30 and they are paying rates of from £80 to £100 each year on those houses.

These people are to be asked by the Minister in this measure to defray what, in effect, is a social service, because I regard the provisions of that section of this Bill, the waiver of rates in the case of necessitous people, as a social welfare service, as something the same as an old age pension, children's allowances, or a widow's pension. These people who are already finding it extremely difficult to pay their rates and are feeling the pinch of the increase in rates—and they are increasing year by year by something to the tune of 10/- in the £—are to have this additional burden imposed on them.

When the Minister was introducing a measure like this he should have availed of the opportunity to start phasing out the rating system. He should have said that the Exchequer would pay the amount of money involved in this relief. Perhaps it is only right that we should ask ourselves: is there any precedent on the Statute Book for granting a relief from rates? Of course there is. The farming community have enjoyed partial relief from rates and for a few years back the farming community, within certain valuation limits, have been totally exempt from rates, but the other ratepayers in the country, the other farmers in the country, are not asked to foot the bill. No, the Exchequer foots it; the Exchequer pays by way of additional agricultural grant or under some other heading the amount involved in granting exemption to the category of farmers who enjoy either partial or total exemption from rates. Why are we adopting a different approach here? Why are we asking the other ratepayers to carry this burden when we do not do it in the case of the relief granted to farmers?

I should like to ask the Minister when replying to tell us how many county councils have so far acted on his circular and prepared a scheme for exemption from rates in respect of this year. I would also ask him to tell us how many local authorities have either refused point blank to prepare such a scheme or have adjourned consideration of it until such time as the Minister is prepared to undertake the cost involved. I think many county councils have either refused altogether to implement the scheme because of the cost involved or have adjourned consideration of it until such time as the Minister decides to accept responsibility for the cost.

The Minister has, in the closing sentence or two of his speech, asked the House for suggestions not only in relation to the terms of the Bill but also in relation to its implementation. I think the Minister will have the unanimous support of this House, including his own Party, too, if he at this stage is agreeable to make this a national charge. I want to emphasise that if he does not, two things are likely to happen. Local authorities will not avail of this enabling measure at all, and that would be a great pity, because so far as it goes it is a highly desirable measure; it is a move in the right direction. However, I am convinced that many local authorities will not implement it simply and solely because the rates in their own functional areas have already reached saturation point: £4 in the £ now is commonplace and, as we know, in some county council areas the rates are more than £5 in the £. That is point No. 1.

Point No. 2 is: if the local authorities to decide to go ahead and implement the scheme they will be imposing a very severe burden, indeed, on the categories of persons I have mentioned, that is, the people living in polite poverty in houses in respect of which they have to pay £80 or £100 a year rates. As I have said previouslythe present rating system is so outrageously unjust that you may have side by side two semi-detached houses each of them with a rateable valuation of £20, one house occupied by a family with a total income of £40 a week and the other house occupied by somebody with an income of £8 or £9 a week. The people in both of those houses are going to be asked to pay £80 a year rates and both of them are going to have their rates increased under this measure, if it goes through, to defray what is really a social obligation on every man, woman and child in this country who is earning. Surely the provision of houses for the people is a social obligation and what is involved in this measure is a measure of social welfare, a discharge of a social obligation of the community to these people in poor circumstances.

It might have been said that when local government was first introduced, I suppose, nearly 100 years ago and when rates were first introduced, only people with property, only people who occupied houses or owned land, had money and could afford to finance schemes such as this, but surely that is not the position now. We all know that money is being spent freely; we all know that many people who are not married, who are living in digs or who are living at home with their people are in receipt of good salaries. A scheme like this should fall on the broadest possible shoulders.

I am not firing the measure back in the Minister's teeth and saying it is an insult. I am saying that what the Bill sets out to do is a move in the right direction, the relief or the exemption from rates of people in necessitous circumstances. I am emphasising to the Minister that it will not achieve that object because the local authority will not implement it. I am also saying that this is the wrong way to finance it. The Minister and the Government concede that the present rating system is unjust but they are saying it will take time, and I suppose a long time, to find a better scheme. That is the argument the Minister will put up and that the Government have been putting up. If that is the position, surely it is wrong to keep adding charges to the rates which are more properly defrayed otherwise. I accept, therefore, the Minister's invitation to offer suggestions for the implementation of this measure, and I appeal to him even at this late stage to have second thoughts about it and to make it a national charge.

In the course of his speech the Minister says that the amount involved in implementing the proposed scheme will be very small indeed. I think there is an error. It is very hard to read that section of the Minister's speech, but I think he meant to say it is only about the equivalent of what is written off each year as irrecoverable. We have been told by our county manager that the amount involved in this could be substantial. However, if what the Minister says is right, that it will take a very insignificant sum of money to implement it, is that not the best argument in favour of making it a national charge and dealing with it in the same way as the exemption from rates in respect of farmers on agricultural holdings is dealt with?

I do not think there is any answer to the case I am making. I trust the Minister, between now and the Committee Stage, will see fit to delete subsection (4) of section 2 and substitute another section for it. If Deputy Hogan or any other Deputy on this side of the House puts down an amendment to do that I know it will be ruled out of order as imposing a charge on the Exchequer; but the Minister can bring in such a measure and if he is genuine and sincere in granting relief to this necessitous class of people he will do that.

My colleague has already dealt at some length with the main objections which the Labour Party have to this short Bill. I should like to make some further small objections and a few suggestions.

In so far as this Bill under its two provisions brings some small measure of relief, the Labour Party is supporting its enactment. However, we are against this method of rate collection under three main headings. Deputy Fitzpatrick has mentioned one: that the income of ratepayers or householders is not taken into account when rates are being levied. As a matter of fact there are many instances where households who have lost the breadwinner find themselves with a very large house, paying very high rates and their only way out is to sell the house and buy a smaller one. We feel the Minister could come to the aid of this type of individual under the Bill if he were to provide some small relief for people in these circumstances.

The second objection we have is that valuations vary greatly from house to house and from area to area. Indeed, houses of almost equal size or similar area are rated differently inside the same county. This is true in the case of older houses, particularly in the towns, which are valued at much less than the newer buildings. In the last few years buildings have been valued more on their floor area than on their location as was the practice in the past.

An urgent revaluation of all property in the State is called for. Relief could be given if some Departments, who have large holdings in the counties, were made partially rateable depending on the type of property they had. In my own county the Forestry Division have large areas which are completely exempt from rates. If some measure of rating were put on that land it would reduce the overall amount of rates to be paid by the rest of the ratepaying community.

Our third objection is that there is a patchwork of uneven rates from county to county and even within counties. In my own constituency we have three different rates all of which are higher than the rural rate. The result is that we have a lot of development on the boundary of each urban area and just outside it because people find it cheaper to build just in the county areas and they gain some measure of relief by that method.

The first main provision of the Bill is the waiver of rates but the fact is that very few people are going to benefit under this provision. The regulations which the Minister has laid down have reduced the numbers who will benefit to a very small figure. In my own town the amount of relief which will be given is about £300 and that, in a warrant of about £44,000, is almost negligible. This £300 will have to be paid for by other ratepayers, some of whom may be in a worse position than the people to whom the benefit is being given, and this makes it all the more objectionable.

The Bill also provides for some relief to be given to a category of ratepayers who occupy small dwellings. "Small dwellings" under the Act are dwelling with a valuation of £6 and under. In many cases the people in the small dwellings do not pay any rates at all because many of the houses are owned by landlords and landlords are liable for the rates. If this provision were to go through the people in these rented houses may not benefit by the Bill at all. It could even happen that the owner of the premises will be the beneficiary.

Under the second provision, dealing with instalments, the Minister plans to introduce payment by instalments from April to February. As anybody who has ever dealt with rates knows the estimates are prepared and put before a meeting of the council in March but the rate is not struck until later in the financial year. By the time rate books are made up it may be the middle of July before the rate collector starts his first collection. The amount of each instalment cannot be accurately gauged at the beginning of the year until the complete figure is known. As this may take until the middle of June or July it means that the instalments cannot be equal instalments. As the year goes on, with rates getting higher each year, the later instalments may have to be changed in order to take into account increases from the previous year.

The Minister has asked for suggestions and I should like to make a suggestion under this provision of instalments. Instalments are to help people living in urban areas, particularly those paying rates for the first time, who may have a new house. Many of these will be paying SDA loans. These loan payments are due at the beginning of the financial year and in April and again in October. I would ask the Minister if he could combine the two instalments so that the people paying SDA loans could pay the loan and their rates by instalments as equal as possible over the 12 months.

Instalments relate more or less to people in urban areas. I do not think payment by instalment would be of any great benefit to the farming community. Their rates payments are usually made in October when they are paid for their produce.

Rates are divided into two moities, the first being due on demand, which could be July or August, and the second being due on demand on 1st October. Because of this system, a person in a rural area, particularly a farmer, could find himself called on to pay a full year's rates at once after 1st October because he had failed to pay his first moiety during the period April to the end of September. The Minister could give some relief to the rural community by extending the period for the collection of the first moiety to the end of October. It would also regulate the time which the collector has to collect his rates, usually about nine months.

The Minister did not mention what the position of rate collectors would be when the new system is introduced. Rate collectors are paid either by way of basic salary or by bonus, the bonus being paid at certain times throughout the year. The Minister did not say how the instalment system, if brought into general use, would cut across the law relating to rate collectors. As far as I am aware, a collector is entitled to demand the first moiety as soon as he gets his warrant, and the second moiety on 1st October. Under an instalment system, the collectors' bonus periods would have to be altered in county and urban areas. Therefore, I suggest that the Minister consider carefully the question of rate collectors. This Bill will affect their positions and their incomes very definitely.

A colleague has dealt with the objections we have to the Bill. However, because of the relief which the Bill will bring to certain categories, we support it. We hope that the relief given to certain ratepayers will be financed from some source other than the ratepayers who get such relief in the first instance.

I congratulate the Minister for introducing the Bill. I regard it as a very progressive step and a further indication of the Minister's desire to secure a greater levelling up of the standard of living of our society, even though I realise the reliefs contained in this Bill will be applied mainly to social welfare classes. As a public representative of some years standing, I have received many callers and many letters from constituents welcoming this measure as a first step, a recognition in any case of the need to remedy anomalies in our rating system.

Year after year in Dublin Corporation, particularly during the sensitive period of the consideration of estimates preparatory to the striking of a rate, we have had appeals and protests against the striking of a high rate. Inevitably, appeals are made in respect of widows and pensioners. We are told about their incapacity to meet the rates burden. This measure is designed, and we welcome it in that sense, to relieve these classes.

This Bill has been introduced as a first step to easing the burden of rates and is the result of a recommendation of the interdepartmental committee set up by the Government. It is to be welcomed for the relief it will give to a very deserving section of ratepayers, and I should like to regard it as just an instalment of further legislation to try to deal with this complex question.

With demands on local authorities, particularly in Dublin city, for more housing and more educational and recreational facilities, the cost of providing these services will be considerable and I look forward to the day when a more equitable system of raising finances to meet these demands may be evolved. Certain speakers have been critical of this measure because they suggest it puts the burden on the local authorities. Any citizen with a social conscience should welcome it and realise that the less well-off section of the community should be helped. The Minister has taken a very humanitarian stand in introducing this measure which I welcome and commend.

On the question of the interdepartmental committee, there is a feeling outside that, perhaps, it might be wiser to bring other interests into the deliberations so that on this very complex problem their views might be obtained. I should like the Minister to deal with this matter because there is a feeling that no matter how excellent the people in the Civil Service are it would be wise if outside interests were consulted and their views obtained.

I welcome the section dealing with the question of payment of rates by instalments. This has been in operation in Dublin city and county and I think the extension of those facilities is a very progressive step on which I congratulate the Minister. We have had criticism here that this suggestion was a political gimmick. I do not think that is so because we all know that this committee has been sitting for a number of years and a gradual public opinion was developing for the redress of the rating system. The first people we must seek to help are those least able to bear the burden of rates. In that context this Bill covers that category and I am very glad to be able to speak in support of it.

As the last speaker said, a Bill of this kind deserves the serious consideration of every Deputy. He extended congratulations to the Minister on the introduction of this Bill. If there is any congratulation due to the Minister it should be to the Minister's sense of humour for bringing in a Bill of this kind. Everybody who reads the Bill carefully and studies it knows that this Bill is a fraud and that the proper short title of the Bill should be The Rates Gimmick (General Election) Bill, 1969. If we read the provisions of this Bill, we see that it authorises local authorities to waive the rates in the case of certain poor people who would not have the money to pay rates one way or the other. Those people always had the rates waived by local authorities and by county managers.

The next section deals with the payment of rates by instalments. Every Deputy associated with local authorities in the country knows that any ratepayer who wanted to pay his rates by instalments approached the sympathetic rate collector who always accepted the rates by instalments. We always knew that rate collectors closed their warrants on the spot but then they proceeded to collect because they knew if they did not close their warrants on the spot they would not be paid their poundage. This Bill merely authorises local authorities not to collect rates from the non-contributory old age pensioners and the non-contributory social welfare recipients. Is it not true to say in many cases, if not in all cases, that such people never had to pay rates? At least that has been my experience for 26 or 27 years as a member of a local authority. During that time I have always found that an old age pensioner living alone with no other source of income did not have to pay rates. However, it is correct to say that this is the first time we have had it set out in a Bill.

One would imagine that this was a Bill which would assist the poorer sections of the community. It is not but it will certainly put an additional burden on the ratepaying community. If the Minister desired to be generous, and as he says himself it is a most insignificant sum which is concerned here, why did he not add that insignificant sum as a contribution from the Exchequer to local authorities for the relief of rates? There is a responsibility on a rating authority to provide from the rates the allocation for housing, a very substantial allocation for health services, the allocation for special lighting, county road repairs, maintenance, water, sewerage and other public services. It is also correct to say that the farming community legally enjoy what we can describe as a substantial abatement in rates providing they can certify that they have in their employment certain qualified employees for whom they can claim the abatement.

In this Bill there is no abatement, reduction or concession for the urban ratepayer, the town ratepayer, the small country shopkeeper who is being put out of business by the supermarket combines, the small shopkeeper who is being crushed out of existence by increased overheads, the urban dweller who, if he carries out any small improvement on his property, has a revaluation which will mean a very substantial increase in his rates. Here we find the Minister bringing in a Bill to give concessions to certain ratepayers but he is, in fact, making concessions to people who already enjoy those facilities. He is providing for the payment of rates in instalments although we all know that this has already been in operation. Our rate collectors are reasonable, humane people who never implemented their warrants for collecting rates on people who could not pay.

The most serious objection that the public and members of local authorities will take to this Bill is that it gives nothing to the local authorities or ratepayers out of the Central Fund. So well the Minister can pose as a generous man if he is giving nothing. This is a case in which there is nothing given to any local authority to make up for the rates that will be waived as a result of the passing of this Bill. In other words, the amount to be collected on a warrant from the recipients of non-contributory pensions will be switched to the well burdened shoulders of the ratepaying community who must pay, that is, the town dweller, the owner of a private residence, the agricultural community, the owners of business premises, factory premises or whatever they may be. That is the serious objection members of local authorities have to this Bill.

The Minister invited suggestions. I would say the most practical suggestion that can be made to him is not to ask the ratepayers, who are already finding it difficult enough to pay the rates, to pay more rates. Other Deputies pointed out that the rates have now gone to almost £5 in the £ and this Bill will be an additional burden on them together with having to meet the increases that have taken place, and are due to take place, in every county in Ireland where they are preparing the estimates for the coming financial year.

I would ask the Minister seriously to reconsider this Bill. As he says, a small amount of money is involved. I would ask him, however small that amount is, to give it from the Central Fund and not impose it on the shoulders of ratepayers who are already put to the pin of their collar to pay the rates. The Minister has differentiated in this Bill between contributory and non-contributory old age pensioners both living alone. Would it not be the proper and decent thing to do, in so far as the provisions of this Bill are concerned, where you have recipients of either home assistance or any kind of social welfare benefits not to make any distinction between them? Give them all the benefit of this Bill for what it is worth.

The Minister could do this by providing the amount necessary to compensate local authorities from the Central Fund and by extending this Bill to all social welfare recipients, whether contributory or non-contributory. These are two practical suggestions.

On the question of the payment of rates by instalments, I have known this to be in operation in my local authority for as long as I can remember. Perhaps there are local authorities in which this practice is not followed. If there is to be any advantage from that I presume that the advantage would be to those ratepayers whose rates may be in the region of £700 to £1,500 and who would avail of the advantage of paying by instalments so that they could leave whatever money they have on deposit account to earn interest. However, it will be of no benefit to the very small ratepayer and that is why I say that it is a great pity that the Minister, when he was introducing the Bill, did not consider the plight of the already overburdened ratepayers who have been expecting some relief and who are entitled to some relief.

The granting of concessions to people who have never paid rates and never will pay rates because of their very poor family circumstances is an effort to put over a fraud on the local authorities so that it may be used as a publicity gimmick for those who are not affected. If the Minister seriously wishes to help the one way in which he can do so is by providing the necessary moneys out of the Exchequer. That would be welcomed by members of local authorities.

I heard some Deputy say that there are some local authorities who are not accepting the provisions of this Bill. It would be most regrettable if local authorities did not accept the reasonable provisions of any Local Government Bill but, nevertheless, this Bill is an effort by the Minister to push over a burden on the ratepaying community. It is giving no relief to the country in general and no relief to the taxpaying community; rather, it is adding an additional burden to those who always paid their rates and it is not providing any improvement for those who have never paid because they could not pay and cannot pay.

I appeal to the Minister to include provisions at the next Stage of the Bill for the inclusion of all recipients of social welfare benefits, contributory and non-contributory. The Minister should give us more information as to what legislation we are likely to have during the next 12 months regarding the whole rating system. I presume that we cannot debate it on this Bill but the ratepaying community of this country are seeking such information. They are anxious for some relief because the stage has now been reached when the last straw has very definitely broken the camel's back. Our rating system has failed and we have reached the stage where the ratepaying community are becoming exhausted in their appeal to have some measure of relief brought about.

While the motives for this Bill are very much political I consider it desirable, at the same time, that we should have a measure on the Statute Book that will give some relief to the poorer sections of the community.

I should like to pay a tribute to both rate collectors and county managers who have always exercised great sympathy and understanding in so far as the problems of the less fortunate section of the rate-paying community were concerned. I am sure the Minister realises that when the local government auditor visits the various councils to conduct his audit he is very particular when examining cases in which rates were waived. We can say that in no case has a person in dire poverty ever been asked or compelled to pay rates. Therefore, the measure of relief this Bill brings is an added burden on those who are already paying more than their share of rates; and I trust that the Minister, as a result of whatever enlightenment he has received from this debate, will sympathetically consider the provision of moneys from the Exchequer. Again, with regard to the paying of rates by instalments, it would be no harm to have it in writing, although the Minister knows as well as everybody else that there was always a system, in rural Ireland at any rate, whereby rates could be paid in this manner.

The Minister should lose no time in coming to the aid of local authorities who now find that the whole rating system is rendering it impossible to provide the services to the ratepaying community that are now being demanded. I do not know what measure of relief the ratepayers will get as a result of the new Health Act and the taking over of certain link roads by the Minister but I do know that the patience of ratepayers has been exhausted in so far as promises are concerned. That is why I expressed concern at the manner in which this Bill was introduced in so far as it provides relief for people who never had to pay rates while at the same time gave no concessions to local authorities by way of a contribution from the Central Fund.

Nevertheless, may I go on record as not being opposed to the measure? It is not a measure which one could oppose, but it is a measure on which one could make constructive suggestions as to how it should be improved. In its present form the Bill is a fraud and until it comes in its next form it will not be of any benefit particularly to any rating authority. I hope the Minister will act on the suggestions he has heard from Deputies Fitzpatrick, Treacy and Kavanagh tonight. They made intelligent and sensible suggestions. The Minister is not pulling the wool over anyone's eyes by a short Bill of this kind. The ratepaying community are wise, smart people who can see around corners from time to time. They are not going to be hoodwinked by a Bill of this kind that bestows no benefits on them. The proper title of this Bill should be the Rates (Fraud and Gimmick) Bill, 1969.

Speaking for the first time in the Nineteenth Dáil, I am pleased to discuss such a Bill as this. I am particularly pleased that this Bill is, in essence, already functioning in that the Minister has already notified the county councils that they can allow easement of rates in the cases of necessitous persons. We are all aware that until now when a rate bill was presented the demand had to be paid in full or not at all. The local authorities had no power, as such, to cut the bill in half where this could have been possible and would have been acceptable to the person on whom the demand was made.

For a long time I, with almost every other Member of the House, had been urging that something should be done to effect an easement of rates on certain classes of people. Many people live on fixed incomes. There are people whose incomes have not risen in line with those of other sections of the community. There are people living on pensions or small annuities. During the general election campaign, I was constantly under fire from people about the high rates bill. Everyone who has studied the rating system has finally come to the conclusion that there is no alternative to it. The reports issued by the committee set up to examine the rates question came to the same conclusion. One of the great faults which I found with the system was that people could only pay their rates in two moieties. Provision was made by certain local authorities for people to pay the bill in instalments if they wanted to. This idea of introducing an instalment scheme has not come too soon. I can well imagine the agitation that would exist throughout the country if people were to get their electricity, telephone or gas bills for the year to be paid in two moieties. I remember reading one of the reports of the committee in which it was pointed out that a person who smoked 20 cigarettes a day would pay to the Exchequer, at today's prices of cigarettes, £65 a year approximately. If that sum had to be paid in two moieties fewer people would be smoking today and there would be a tremendous outcry.

The commission brought out another point. It pointed out that the person who drove an average-size car 10,000 miles in a year paid to the Exchequer approximately £70 a year. If one had to pay this sum in two parts it would really focus attention on how much money was being paid out. The rates are no exception. I should like to see every local authority introducing a system where people could pay their rates either every month or every two months.

Deputy O.J. Flanagan was critical of the fact that this would not apply to contributory pensioners. This scheme is for non-contributory pensioners. My understanding of this Bill is that anyone who can prove to a local authority that he does not have the money to pay the rates will get an easement of the rates bill. I am surprised to see in the Minister's speech that the cost to the country as a whole would be approximately 0.7 per cent of the rates. I do not know whether I am correct in assuming this is the amount of the rates collected which would be set aside for easements. The report suggested two per cent of all rates collected should be set aside for easement to necessitous persons. I feel the community at large would not begrudge paying an extra two per cent on their rates if such sum would help people in dire need. I know many people would object to this but there are many people who are put to the pin of their collar to find the money to pay the rates. People have had to go to hospital and have lost wages, or may not have any income during such period, but they still have had to provide the money to pay the rates on the threat of their furniture or belongings being taken away from them and being sold to pay the bill. I am sure this did not happen, and I hope it did not happen, but the threats were there. I would hope that the Minister would make it very clear to each rating authority that the basic necessity for an easement of rates is the fact that a person just does not have the income to pay the rates. I am quite sure this easement will not be given too recklessly.

When I hear people in this House complaining about the high cost of rates and about the high cost of health charges on the rates I feel that these are often the most generous people for trying to get medical cards for applicants. I am quite sure they do not ask anyone "Do you realise that your fellow citizens are having to pay for your medicines? Are you sure you cannot provide for medical attention yourself?" Most county councillors try to outdo one another in getting medical cards for people. I am in favour of medical cards for those who need them, but I sometimes feel that there is not a conscientious approach on the part of many people in examining the cases or recommending medical cards for people. From time to time I have made representations for people who have asked for medical cards. I have written to the Dublin Health Authority and had a reply from them stating that the persons in question had refused to provide certain information to the inspector calling on them. This would indicate that the persons had some other means which they did not want to disclose.

As I see it, this Bill sets out to ease the burden on the person who just cannot meet the bill, to ease the position of people who have had to sell the homes in which they lived all their lives because they could not afford to keep them any longer.

Thank God Fianna Fáil were returned so that they could have the Second Stage of this Bill. As you are aware, Sir, the First Stage of the Bill was introduced in the last Dáil and I am delighted that there has been no delay in introducing the Second Stage. I hope that no unfair advantage will be taken by members of county councils who, hoping to get extra votes, might aid or abet people to obtain an easement of their rates which they do not really need. No doubt this is something which the local authorities will be quite expert in detecting. I hope, through this Bill, we will be able to increase the help we give to these unfortunate people who up to now have been in dread of the rates system.

I am sorry that Deputy Briscoe's opinion of county councillors in general does not coincide with mine. As we are aware, many of the people serving on county councils are giving their time and effort almost in a voluntary capacity and I must say that I found the councillors whom I have met to be generous and hard working in the main. As far as the Bill itself is concerned, year in, year out the rates have increased significantly and have placed an almost intolerable burden on householders and farmers all over the country. The increases, which have been considerable, have applied to everybody in rural and urban areas. However, the rates have to be found because they help to pay for such services as dispensaries, hospitals, roads, libraries and so on, and we are all agreed that these are essential services and must be provided.

There has not been agreement, however, up to now about the method by which rates are collected. Anybody would be perturbed to see such people as widows or old age pensioners having to meet a heavy rates demand every year, a demand which they might not be able to pay. This imposed a burden on them and, indeed, was something that can be described as a glaring imposition on those people. I am pleased to see that this Bill goes a certain distance towards relieving the situation and in so far as it does I am in agreement with it and welcome it. It will help to give relief to a section of the community who really need such help because not alone have their incomes not kept pace with those of other sections but in many cases have fallen considerably behind them.

It has been said that many people in this section have not up to now being paying the rates and that is true. Many of them were unable to pay the rates demanded of them. At least this Bill will help to legalise the situation and help to allay the fears of many people who each year were faced with this demand, who paid it if they were able and who did not pay it if they were not able. In regard to the mechanics of the scheme, I hope the Minister will ensure that the county managers will treat all those who are to benefit with as much courtesy and kindness as possible and also see that the matter is dealt with in as private a manner as possible. I hope many people will benefit, that there will be many people who can prove they are deserving and are not able to pay the rates. In regard to proving their inability to pay, I hope the county managers will approach them in as fair, open and reasonable a manner as possible. I know that in the case of other schemes such as the provision of free lighting, free television and so on, many people who applied were turned down for various reasons. In a number of cases I applied on behalf of people and their claims were rejected. I hope in this instance they will be treated as fairly as possible and that this scheme will not be just a gimmick but a sincere effort to benefit these people.

I believe that this Bill is based on a recommendation from the committee on local taxation which reported in July, 1968. They made other recommendations and one was that rates should be stabilised over a number of years. This is something that is very necessary but it is outside the scope of this Bill and I hope to deal with it on a future occasion. As has been said already, the Minister should endeavour, if at all possible, to see that this taxation burden which is now going to be placed on the councils should be transferred to the Exchequer. Somebody has to provide the money but it would be more equitable if the money was paid from the Exchequer instead of from the local authorities and I would recommend that that should be done.

I shall intervene very, very briefly to support this Bill. It is noteworthy for the large element of social justice which has gone into it. There have been many complaints in the recent past about the way our social welfare classes have been treated from the point of view of rates. This initial step in the charter of social justice will prove a welcome relief. The Bill gives effect to some of the fundamental philosophy of the Fianna Fáil Party. We have always been conscious of the need to favour those who can ill afford to look after themselves. One of the most penal taxes in our society is that of rates, more particularly when applied to those who cannot afford to pay them. Certain rural Deputies have argued that the Bill will be ineffective in the context of their particular areas. As a Deputy representing a Dublin constituency I should like to remind them that, day in and day out, one is literally besieged with callers to one's home and to Leinster House, and with telephone calls, bringing to notice appalling cases of hardship. I believe this Bill will put an end to such cases.

The Minister pointed out there are two elements in the Bill—the right to waive rates, on the one hand, and the provision for the payment of rates by instalments on the other. With regard to the right to waive rates in necessitous cases I would strongly make a case for the widow with five, four or three children, living in a non-local authority house. There are many widows in the constituency I represent who are trying to educate their children and who have to work in order to do so. Some may be lucky enough to have a small pension. In most cases there is no pension at all and the only alternative to nonpayment of rates is for them to get out and go to live in a flat or in some abode entirely unsuitable from the point of view of the way of life to which they have been accustomed when their husbands were alive. They should receive particular consideration under this Bill.

There have been criticisms of the Bill. It should be recognised that this is but the beginning of the real alleviation of the rates problem in general. In my constituency provision has been made for a number of years past for the payment of rates by monthly instalments. This is greatly appreciated. This Bill represents a tremendous step forward in the context of social justice. Deputies should recognise that. We have a very important function from the point of view of social justice. We have a duty to look after these people and to assist them in every way we can. I am grateful to the Minister for what he is doing.

Everybody agrees that those in need should get relief from rates and that the less well-off should be allowed to pay their rates in instalments. I agree with those speakers who said the Exchequer should pay and I agree with Deputy O.J. Flanagan that the discrimination between contributory and non-contributory is wrong. Deputy Dowling said that business people should pay for this amelioration of the position of the less fortunate amongst us. Deputy Dowling must know that business people look on rates in the same way as they view electricity, water, wages,et cetera. Rates are an overhead and if these rates are paid by businessmen then these businessmen will, in turn, transfer these costs to the customer. Eventually it is the customer who will have to pay. The relief involved here is not very large, but it will have to be paid by somebody. If business people carried this relief without passing it on to customers the Government might decide they had been overcharging. Automatically costs will go up and the person getting relief will have to pay those increased costs. This relief should be borne by the Exchequer.

Our rating system is outdated. Small shopkeepers all over the country are being put out of business by the supermarkets. They are not able to pay the high rates. All rates should be borne by the Exchequer. The Government could find this money by increasing income tax. At least, when one pays income tax, one has earned the money on which to pay it. Very often people are asked to pay rates when they have no money at all. They may have to borrow to pay their rates. Any increase in rates will hit workers paying up to £80 or £90 per annum on valuations of £20. These extra charges will create a big burden where they are concerned and they, in due process of time, will look for increased wages. All we are doing is relieving one person and putting the charge on another who in turn is looking for compensation. Nobody will object to the lower paid or badly off people getting what is a social benefit but this social benefit should not be put on the rates. The Exchequer should pay for it. Then tax somebody for it. Put it on anyone you like but pay it out of the Exchequer.

In fact, we have two annual Budgets and now a hidden budget in the rates. This new scheme will mean that in certain counties where there are many social welfare recipients there will be very few left to pay the rates. I am thinking of the west of Ireland. These few will have to pay for the majority. If they are business people they will have to increase their charges to compensate themselves. There will be different standards in different counties. In County Cork as compared with the city the scheme will be operated differently. There will be jealousy because some people in Cork city will get relief while others in the county will not get it. The same will happen in Dublin. The same will happen in the west of Ireland. There should be some standard laid down by the Minister to be complied with. It is wrong that the city manager, who has to regard things academically, should grant the relief or not. The matter should be one for the public representatives on the local authority.

I would again appeal to the Minister to consider having the cost of this scheme borne by the Exchequer. We all agree with the principle but disagree as to where the money should come from. Some people say that it should come out of the rates, others say it should not. In my view it should come out of the Central Fund as a social welfare benefit. Everybody agrees that those in need should have relief. There is general agreement that the rates should be paid in instalments. There is not agreement on the point that the burden should be borne by the rates. On this side of the House we believe that the health charges and the cost of the scheme set out in this Bill should come out of the Central Fund and not out of the rates.

Mr. J. Lenehan

It is rather remarkable that no member of the Labour Party appears to be interested in rates or in the reduction of rates. They seem to be a party apart in that regard. It might be some type of inducement to join them when one sees that they are not interested in rates.

On a point of order. Could I draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that Deputy Thornley is asleep and has been asleep for half an hour? Could I draw your attention to that fact, particularly in view of the fact that Deputy Thornley before he became a Member of the House was very abusive indeed about the alleged laziness of Deputies——

Will the Parliamentary Secretary allow Deputy Lenehan to continue?

Mr. J. Lenehan

I would say that Deputy Thornley is perfectly entitled to sleep if he wishes. Indeed, he has been raving since he came in here. So, it does not make much difference. The only thing that can be said against the introduction of this Bill is that it has given a reason to Deputy Oliver Flanagan to make a longwinded statement.

Wakey, wakey, David.

Mr. J. Lenehan

I have been defending you, David. Do not worry.

That is the most despicable thing I have ever witnessed in my life.

Did you ever see him on television talking about how lazy we are here?

See how low you can stoop.


Let us get back to the Local Government (Rates) (No. 2) Bill, 1969.

Mr. J. Lenehan

The payment of rates by instalment is something which has been accepted in many counties for quite a long time but there has been great divergence of opinion with regard to this matter over a long period and it is time that legislation was introduced to bring about some rule or regulation which would be complied with universally. Up to now county managers and rate collectors have taken various attitudes towards this question of whether to allow rates to go uncollected or to collect them.

Somebody has suggested here that there might be abuse by the intervention of county councillors. I do not think that would happen, certainly not in my county. Rates, as we know them today, are a completely outmoded method of taxation. No matter what any committee or member of a committee may say it is wrong to continue along the existing lines. For instance, there may be a doctor who may be a semi-millionaire who would be paying no rates because he was a boarder in somebody else's house while the unfortunate person in whose house he was living would have to pay a tremendous amount of rates. Rates should be related to capacity to pay. It is in that respect that we have fallen down.

I know that the Minister is anxious to get in and I do not want to delay him. I believe that the present rating system is crazy. I hope that some proper method will be thought out of distributing this terrible imposition in some fairer way. The people who are really hit are the small shopkeepers in country towns. While farmers have been given a rebate of rates on valuations up to £20, and all that kind of thing, the shopkeeper has got nothing. His position is deteriorating as a result of the advent of supermarkets and the big men. His rates have increased. If he paints the front of his house and some smart alec reports him, his valuation could be doubled. If he builds on a few square feet to his house his valuation could be doubled. He is the sufferer. It is on his behalf that I appeal to the Minister to make it possible for him to exist.

I want to congratulate the Minister on introducing this Bill. It brings a great deal of good to some people and certainly cannot bring anybody any harm.

I think Deputy O.J. Flanagan typified the Opposition approach to this Bill when, almost in the same breath, he described it as a fraud conferring no benefit on anybody and then went on to refer to the crushing impost this was going to put on the backs of certain ratepayers. Now, surely even Deputy O.J. Flanagan can see the contradictory nature of those two statements. If a crushing impost is going to fall on somebody's shoulders as a result of this, then this measure must be going to result in the raising of a considerable amount of money, and where is that money going to go? If the money is going to be raised and used then it surely must confer some benefit on somebody? But, because the Opposition parties could not find anything in the proposals in the Bill to attack, they had to adopt this typically contradictory approach.

I do not think anybody could reasonably say that, in introducing this Bill, I tried to represent it as doing anything more than what in fact it does. I did not suggest for a moment that this was a proposal to deal in any comprehensive way with the objections many people have to the system of rates, to the payment of rates. I do not know of anybody else who ever contended that it did, either. However, that does not mean, as Deputy Treacy said, that the proposals in the Bill are worthless. They are not worthless. I agree, and I said myself before anybody on the Opposition benches suggested it, that, in general, those who are likely to be exempted by the local authorities—who, by the way, will themselves decide on the classes of persons to be exempted from paying rates —are people who do not in fact pay rates now. But that is the point: in general, they do not but some of them do and some of them do because of the fact that there is a requirement on rate collectors now to take every possible step to collect the full rate warrant.

People are of different types. Some people will be tough enough to resist the demands of the rate collectors. Some people will be well enough advised, maybe by public representatives, of the fact that, if they do not pay these rates because they are not able to, they will in fact be struck off at the end of the year. But others are not; others, when they get a demand, and another demand, and then a final demand, make it their business to scrape up these sums for rates from some source and pay them. All that this Bill does is that it enables local authorities to exempt these people from the word "go" and, in doing that, to exempt the rate collectors from the unpleasant duty that is on them at present of compelling people to pay rates when they know, themselves, that these people just are not capable of doing this.

I mentioned that, in the circular, we suggested that recipients of non-contributory pensions, recipients of social assistance should be one of the classes to be excluded but I also, I think, made it clear that other cases of hardship could be included also. I also made it clear that it is in fact the local authorities themselves who will draw up these schemes. If they know of other classes of people to whom the payment of rates is an unbearable hardship then they can include these.

I think it was Deputy Fitzpatrick who objected to what he called the discrimination between recipients of contributory and non-contributory social welfare. The thing about the recipient of a contributory pension, for instance, as opposed to a non-contributory pension is that we do not know anything at all about the means of the recipient of a contributory pension—nothing at all. He could have any means. We do not know anything about his means by virtue of the fact that he has this type of social welfare pension. However, in so far as the social assistance classes are concerned, we do know that they have already been means tested. It is admitted, I have never denied, that the rates of social assistance are low. Therefore, if a person has been subjected to a means test and is in receipt of social assistance it has already been established that such a person is in fact unable to pay rates because of lack of means.

I do not think I claimed, either, that the provision for the payment of rates by instalments was any major proposal. I adverted to the fact that in many cases arrangements were made for the payment of rates by instalments but it is not done universally and it is resisted in certain local authority areas. It is not a convenient way of collecting rates. It is much more convenient to do it in the present way. This Bill confers a statutory right on practically all ratepayers to pay their rates by instalments. It will not lessen the amount that any ratepayer will pay but I think, in general, it will make it easier for the ratepayers to make this contribution.

One of the big difficulties and one of the big objections to rates is that they have to be paid and that they are demanded at present in the form of two comparatively large lump sums. During this debate, there has been from a number of Opposition speakers a demand for transference of the proportion of local authority finance that is raised by means of rates to this mysterious thing called the Central Fund, that is, to the general taxpayers. One thing that is certain is that if this demand were conceded, the ordinary taxpayer, the ordinary consumer who pays a proportion of his taxes by virtue of the fact that he is a consumer, would in fact pay more. Certainly, in the city of Dublin, 50 per cent of the total rates are paid in respect of commercial properties. This, in fact, is a suggestion to transfer this amount that is paid in respect of commercial property to the ordinary general taxpayer.

It is quite clear that the tax system would not succeed in ensuring that anything approaching the same amount of rates was paid in respect of a lot of these premises. Therefore, if this were done, the general taxpayer would clearly pay more. I agree, however, he would pay it in a less painful way because he would pay it gradually. This proposal with regard to the payment of rates by instalments spreads the payment of rates over a longer period. They are paid more gradually —something approaching the manner in which ordinary taxation is contributed. While it does not reduce the amount that any taxpayer will have to pay it does make it easier to pay it. A number of Deputies said that this facility is there already but the position is that this gives a statutory right to it and it will now be available in all areas.

Deputy Treacy suggested that there had been widespread opposition by local authorities to this and widespread refusals to operate it on the basis of the circular sent out by my Department but even in the county of Tipperary itself the majority of the rating authorities have in fact adopted the scheme and presumably are implementing it. Tipperary North Riding County Council, Nenagh Urban District Council, Thurles Urban District Council, Clonmel Borough and Carrick-on-Suir have adopted schemes and the other local authorities—Tipperary South Riding County Council and Tipperary Urban District Council— have adopted schemes subject to being recouped the cost by the Exchequer. In the country as a whole 14 county councils, three county boroughs and 27 urbans, in other words 44 out of 87 authorities, have adopted schemes. As I said, this is an enabling measure and local authorities are entitled to either adopt the scheme or not adopt it according as they wish.

There has been a lot of talk about this being confined to social assistance recipients. Of course that is not so at all. It is not confined to them but it is suggested that that class should be covered. However, the circular also recommends that there should be a relief clause included to deal with hardship cases outside the specified classes

The suggestion that the cost of this particular proposal should be transferred to the Exchequer is clearly an unrealistic one. Since it is the local authorities themselves who will be making the schemes I think it is unrealistic to suggest that there should not be any financial implications in so far as they are concerned.

Deputy Fitzpatrick suggested that the scheme should be designed so as to ensure that this crushing new impost fell on the broadest possible shoulders. In fact it seems certain that the total amount that will be struck off will be only marginally more than the percentage of the warrant that is at present struck off.

Deputy Belton suggested that the rates should be transferred to income tax.

This particular one.

The result of this proposal would be to increase the standard rate of income tax by 50 per cent. This Bill does not specify who will actually pay for the relief. Whether it will be the Exchequer or the local authority. There is nothing in the Bill to say that it must be paid by the rates or that it will be paid by the Exchequer. That would be a matter for the Finance Bill. This Bill does not commit the Government one way or the other.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 4th November, 1969.