Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Feb 1976

Vol. 288 No. 2

Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Bill, 1975: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The legislation which provided for relief of rates on agricultural land by way of the agricultural grant expired on the 31st December last. The purpose of the present Bill is to continue the application of the agricultural grant in respect of 1976 and 1977.

The agricultural grant is paid by the Exchequer to county councils to enable them to give abatement of rates to occupiers of agricultural land. In the present financial year £36.5 million will be paid over from the Exchequer to county councils by means of the agricultural grant to reduce the rates burden on the agricultural community. This is an increase of £6.28 million on the amount of the grant in 1975.

Under the scheme of allowances provided under the Bill, a primary allowance as in 1975, gives relief of 100 per cent of the general rate in the case of land holdings the valuation of which does not exceed £20. In the case of holdings between £20 and £33 valuation this primary allowance also relieves 100 per cent of the rates on the first £20 of the land valuation and the rated occupier is liable for rates on the remainder only. Land holdings with valuations in excess of £33 again as in 1975 qualify for a primary allowance of 80 per cent in respect of the first £20 of the valuation and a supplementary allowance of 30 per cent on the remainder of the valuation.

The Bill as introduced, also provided for the continuance of the employment allowance of £17 per workman, heretofore given to farmers subject to certain conditions. However, the Government gave the matter further consideration in the course of their examination of the budgetary issues. The original purpose of the employment allowance was, I gather, to encourage the employment of workers in agriculture. It is doubtful if the allowance ever succeeded in promoting any additional employment on the land, but over the years it was argued that the continuance of the allowance was justifiable on the grounds that it provided an incentive for the employment on an all-the-year-round basis of farm workers who might otherwise be disengaged in slack periods.

I think it will be generally agreed that the allowance did not succeed even in this modest objective. The figures in the matter, in fact, show that there has been a steady decline in the numbers employed in agriculture all through the 30 year period since the initiation of this allowance. The total amount of the employment allowance expressed as a percentage of the total agricultural grant has shown a dramatic decrease in recent years. In the year 1953-54 it formed 27.8 per cent of the total grant. Last year this had fallen to a mere 1.65 per cent, and with the continued increase in the total grant, would have fallen to a still lower figure this year.

The employment allowance now seems to fulfil no real purpose and it is not surprising that in debates on the agricultural grant in this House; in recent years, serious doubts have been expressed as to its continued usefulness. I myself, when in Opposition, said that the grant of this allowance was a waste of money. In the debate on the last Bill I repeated that I had not changed my mind in this regard and indicated that the grant of the allowance would have to be reviewed. In the light of the foregoing, the Government decided that the employment allowance should be terminated. Accordingly, I propose moving an appropriate amendment on Committee Stage providing for the discontinuance of this allowance.

The purpose of section 2 of the Bill is to provide that in future extensions of county borough, borough or urban boundaries, farmers whose land may be encompassed by revised boundaries will not lose the benefits of the rate reliefs afforded by the agricultural grant; this arrangement will apply for so long as the land continues to be used solely or mainly for agricultural purposes.

I commend the Bill to the House.

As the Minister has stated, the legislation which provides for the relief of rates on agricultural land expired on 31st December, 1975, and this Bill is simply continuing to enable the county councils to give an abatement to the occupiers of agricultural land in their rating areas. On this side of the House we have on quite a number of occasions introduced measures to give an abatement of rates to occupiers of agricultural land. This was, to quite an extent, a recognition by us that the land was the source from which the farmer obtained his living and in a sense could be likened to the tools of his trade for an artisan. The grant was applied particularly to give relief to the smallholder with the greatest relief being granted to those whose holdings were below £20 valuation. As the Minister has pointed out, those with holdings below £20 valuation qualified for the primary allowance of 100 per cent, the general rate in the £ and all of the holdings qualify for relief but not to that extent.

In relation to the second part of the Bill I could say that very serious problems have arisen in the past where town and city boundaries were extended and where the outgoings of the farmers and rated occupiers generally were arbitrarily increased because of the fact that the new rate level applied and because the holdings of agricultural land which came within the new urban boundary lost the rate relief which they enjoyed. It was to accommodate this situation that this Bill has been introduced and it is a continuation, in a sense, of our policy which involved the introduction of various measures over a period to reduce the rates liability and to transfer that liability to central Government.

As far as I can remember the reason why the abatement of rates did not apply to agricultural land within the urban areas in the past was that this land was regarded as being more valuable than land in rural areas because it could be developed more easily for housing and other construction purposes. It was very often serviced and could fetch a higher price than ordinary agricultural land. Some land which happened to be outside the urban area was also serviced but usually the amount of land involved in such circumstances was small and would be likely to be incorporated in the urban area at some stage. With the rapid increase in the price of agricultural land, not in every case justifiable from the returns to the farmer, and also because of the fact that with all the modern technology available land can be developed for building purposes anywhere, and being so developed the old argument that land is more valuable in urban areas does not apply any longer.

For this reason it appears that the Minister is creating an anomalous situation and he appears to be discriminatory in confining the Bill to continuing the relief of rates on agricultural land or land which is used for agricultural purposes which will come within the urban boundary in the future. It is not regarded as proper that those who have got agricultural land, and who will in the future come within the control of the borough or urban council, should have to forfeit their rights to the abatement of rates such as the provision granting holdings not exceeding £20 land valuation the right to qualify for a primary allowance of 100 per cent of the general rate in the £. Equally, it can be held that those holdings which were brought within urban areas in the past or any holding of agricultural land within the urban area should not be denied the rate abatement applicable to land outside the urban areas and which will now be applicable to land which will be incorporated in urban areas in the future.

Whatever argument may be put forward for the situation as it exists at present in urban areas where no extension of the boundary has ever taken place—I do not accept that any case can now be made for that position— no argument at all can be made in relation to agricultural holdings which have been incorporated into urban areas in the past. I should like to cite a case in point by referring to Dundalk, which is in my own constituency. This town has at present within its boundary a considerable amount of agricultural land which is being used as agricultural land. A certain amount of this land, because of its type, and because of its situation, is likely to be used always as agricultural land. These agricultural holdings are not entitled to relief of rates which is generally applicable on agricultural land. This is inequitable and there is no reason why these lands should not be included in the terms of the Bill. Dundalk Urban Council, by showing its concern for the future of its citizens, decided at an earlier date to extend its boundary. The owners of these holdings which are now included in the Dundalk urban area have lost their rate remission although a considerable portion of their land is being used for agricultural purposes. In my view such people are being discriminated against in this Bill.

It is likely that the Minister, when replying, will ask me why the Fianna Fáil Government did not introduce a Bill such as this at the time of the town extension.

The Deputy must have a crystal ball.

The fact is that at that time the argument put forward for not doing so could be regarded as a valid one because prices of land within town boundaries at that time were higher than prices of land in rural areas. The fact that they were included in an urban area, and had the prospect of being serviced, increased the value of the land. However, this differential has gone and the price of land is high everywhere. Changing times and circumstances have made the arguments that existed then no longer valid. The position is that those holding land within town boundaries have little advantage over those who hold land outside the town boundary. Therefore, it is only right that we should give favourable consideration to allowing them the same advantages as regards rates relief as those who are to be incorporated in the future inside town boundaries and as those who are outside town boundaries.

By making the change proposed in the Bill the Minister is accepting that the transfer of land from outside an urban area to within an urban area constitutes a considerable liability in so far as the holder of such land is concerned. He is making provision accordingly. In making this provision I doubt if a reasonable argument can be put forward by the Minister to back up a continuation of the extra rate load which is borne by those whose holdings are within the urban boundaries and are used for agricultural purposes. We should also recognise that even with this Bill to ensure that the rates relief which a holding had available to it while outside the urban boundary there is still a further liability on those whose land comes within the boundary. Generally speaking, the rate in the £ within the urban boundary is higher than that in the county area. For that reason even where the rates relief is granted to the holder of agricultural land within the boundary, nevertheless the financial outgoing as far as the farmer is concerned will be much greater after the farm is brought within the boundary of a town. In these circumstances we should give further consideration to granting this rate relief to all agricultural land within the urban boundaries.

As I said at the beginning, the provision the Minister is making is welcome, but it is creating an anomalous situation. We will now have one group of farmers within an urban area having the right to a rates remission, and another group of farmers within the same urban area will not have it. It is not any argument to say that what the Minister is doing is simply ensuring that those who already had this rates remission will continue to have it. The Minister having gone so far, I suggest that it might be possible for him to consider granting this rates remission to those who are using the land for purely agricultural purposes within city and town boundaries.

This Bill also gives us an apportunity to discuss the employment allowance of £17 which the Minister has decided should no longer be available. This allowance was given in respect of each adult workman who was employed continuously on a holding over the prescribed period of 12 months. If one is to judge by the amount of money paid out by each local authority, fairly considerable use was made of this allowance. It is now ridiculously low. In recent times it did very little to fulfil the objective it was supposed to fulfil. To give some idea of the change in the value of money since that allowance was first introduced, it is worth noting that when it was introduced it was sufficient to pay the insurance stamp of the employee for a year. Now it would not pay it for three weeks.

The principal objective of the Government must be to keep as many people as possible in employment and to increase employment where possible. Rather than removing the allowance of £17, I am convinced the Government should have increased it to a realistic level. There is no point in saying that, because the allowance was so low as to be of little value, the proper thing to do was to abolish it altogether as the Minister has done. It should have been increased to a realistic level to fulfil the purpose for which it was originally intended.

When the employment incentive scheme of £12 a week for each extra employee taken into employment was being introduced, we pressed the Minister for Labour to include agricultural workers. The Minister agreed but it has not proved successful in that area. What is very urgently needed is financial assistance to ensure that more jobs will not be lost in the agricultural sector. Recent statistics showed that the greatest loss of employment was in the building area and the building industry. This was followed very closely by a loss of employment in the agricultural sector. When one notes that, one must accept the need to provide the necessary assistance to encourage farmers to keep workers in employment.

The Minister said it was doubtful if the allowance ever succeeded in promoting any additional employment on the land. He went on to say that, over the 30 year period since the initiation of this allowance, there was a steady decline in the numbers employed in agriculture. The fact is that this decline was common to all developing countries. People tended to move off the land into towns and into industrial employment. The question we should ask ourselves is not whether there was a decline in the number of agricultural workers but whether the allowance, when it was of some value, might have slowed down that decline. I have no doubt that when the £17 employment allowance per workman was available it did something to hold people on the land. The most vital thing we have to do is to try to increase employment and to hold people in employment.

The IDA are spending quite a considerable amount of money, and rightly so, to try to hold people in employment in industry, and to try to increase the numbers employed in industry. If we take the capital sum which is necessary to put one person into employment, and consider the annual cost of this capital sum, we must accept that even quite a considerable increase in the allowance would cost less than the cost of the capital sum. Therefore, it is necessary that we should view the continuation of people in employment of any sort, and particularly in the agricultural industry, as a top priority. We should do everything possible to encourage farmers to keep their workers in employment. I believe a worth-while increase in the allowance would achieve this objective.

The agricultural industry could do with many more workers if it is to reach anything like its full potential. Because of the Government's policy, in many instances farmers are now working below capacity. Many of them feel they can get by on a lesser income. This entails a lot less work and trouble for them. The danger is that we will see a greater percentage fall in the number employed in agriculture in the future. Therefore, it is vital that every encouragement should be given to at least ensure the safety of the jobs available at present.

As I said, the IDA are spending very large sums of money for the purpose of consolidating the numbers employed in individual factories. It is only right that the same assistance should be given to ensure continued employment in our major industry. The agricultural worker is as important to the economy as any other worker. I have no doubt the Minister will agree with that.

Does the Deputy expect me to disagree?

No, I do not.

I had the honour of being an agricultural worker and, therefore, I know.

I am well aware of that fact.

The Minister is one of the statistics hidden in this document.

The £17 allowance did not make my employer keep me on.

I just make the point in passing.

Unlike Deputy Murphy I earned my money.

Order. The Deputy in possession must be allowed to speak.

Because I know the Minister has a sympathetic attitude in this matter I have not the slightest doubt that he will be sympathetic towards an amendment we will be putting down. Now that the Minister has brought in his Bill, in regard to those whose land is being brought within the scope of boroughs and urban district councils, will he ensure the land brought in will not lose the rates relief? I hope he will take some cognisance of what I have said in regard to those who are using the land for agricultural purposes. Let me also express the hope that now that he is removing some of the objections of those who will be brought within town boundaries he might agree to allow the Drogheda Corporation to extend to a much greater extent into Meath.

If I bring in the extension I have presently in mind, can I be assured by Deputy Faulkner it will get a swift passage?

Provided it is a much wider area.

It will be the area designated—it will not be a wider area— and it cannot be changed now.

Nobody believes the area the Minister proposes to allow is sufficient.

I will give the Deputy the rest of County Louth if he wants it.

Drogheda is a fast growing town and the projections are that, if it continues to grow at the same rate, it will double its population in a relatively short time.

We may take it into County Meath yet.

I do not think there will be acceptance of that particular proposal.

It might help the Meath footballers.

They beat Wicklow, anyway.


The Minister knows there is little hope Drogheda can extend in the very restricted area he is giving. I am sure he will recognise the proposals he is making are not reasonable and, while as a representative of Meath, he must have a certain tendency to look at these matters in a parochial way, nevertheless he must recognise, as Minister, that there is another aspect and he must look at it from the national standpoint.

Doubtless we will have an opportunity of discussing that matter on the appropriate occasion.

It is very relevant now that the Minister has removed some of the objections of the landholders who will be coming within the town boundary.

It is not relevant on this. I understand there will be a specific measure coming before the House on that matter.

It is only a matter of giving the permission. I would be glad if the Minister would consider the two main points I have raised in regard to land within town boundaries used for agricultural purposes at the moment which was taken in in the extension of town boundaries. I would be glad, too, if he would consider increasing the employment allowance to a realistic figure to ensure that those who are employed in agriculture will be retained in that employment.

I hope people will not lose the benefit from an agricultural point of view as a result of any extension of town boundaries. At the moment land adjacent to a town is no longer a benefit to the farmer. Years ago farmers in such a position provided fresh milk and vegetables. Most milk now is bottled and delivered by large dairy units situated in far distant towns. The same situation exists where vegetables are concerned. The bulk of these is now grown in North County Dublin. From that point of view it is imperative that the Minister should examine Deputy Faulkner's suggestion that existing farms inside the town boundary should be included and not lose the benefits.

Mention was made of the £17 employment allowance. In the year 1953-1954 the total grant was £27.8 million. Last year it fell to £1.65 million. It must be remembered that rates relief on agricultural land at that time was comparatively small. Following on the war there was increased agricultural production, even if it was only in the line of seed potatoes for export. The industrial boom in the 1950s and 1960s led to people leaving agricultural employment for industrial employment. That situation has changed over the last number of years and one now thinks in terms of agriculture and agriculture-based industries and these are bound to take on a new significance. While the £17 rate relief was very small—it was minimal—it was of some benefit. I suppose the total payment for the whole country would be around about £500,000 but that is £500,000 taken from the farming scene. Recently, I believe, the general council of the county committees of agriculture had a motion asking that the employment allowance be increased substantially. The matter was discussed and it was indicated that the employment allowance should take over. That is not so because the very terms of that scheme, whereby a person had to be employed for nine months before the farmer could be reimbursed from the Department, were not helpful in creating employment. This scheme should be re-examined with a view to reducing the nine-months' period.

An indication of the problem of industries compared with agriculture was the statement yesterday by the Confederation of Irish Industry, commenting on the reduction in the bank rate, that it would not be beneficial due to the small number of opportunities for creating new industries. Therefore, we should do all in our power to divert as many people as possible and give as many incentives as possible to agriculture and agriculture-based industries. We have reached the stage when anything that can be grown agriculturally will have to be completely processed in this country if we are to make any dent in the large number unemployed at present.

While the £17 was a very small allowance it was welcome, and the Minister should have a word with the Minister for Labour to see if anything could be done to broaden the terms of that scheme and make it more acceptable from a farming point of view.

Mr. Kitt

First of all, when I heard the Minister interjecting during Deputy Faulkner's contribution about putting Meath into Louth or vice versa, I thought he was revising the constituencies once again.

Deputy Kitt is one member who would not like me to revise the constituencies again. He is nice and cushy where he is.

Mr. Kitt

However, I think it was town boundaries that were being discussed. I would welcome any assistance to county councils to enable them to give abatement of rates to occupiers of agricultural land. As we all know in county councils, particularly in the west, there has been a very large increase in rates and I hoped there would have been extra remission for those with holdings between £20 and £33 valuation.

I was also hoping before the budget that there would be an increase in the allowance of £17. The Minister seems a little unsure of himself, because in the brief statement he made he has statements like "I gather the allowance was to encourage the employment of workers in agriculture". He goes on to say: "It is doubtful if the allowance ever succeeded" and, "I think it will be generally agreed that the allowance did not succeed even in this modest objective."

In this year with so many people unemployed we should be doing everything possible to keep people working in agriculture. There is nothing we can do about it now because the budget has been brought in and the allowance has been discontinued. In the budget of last June, encouragement was given on all sides of the House to the employment premium, and the same encouragement should be given to people who employ people working on the land. I can only protest at the discontinuance of this allowance. I was hoping it would be increased to a realistic level, and perhaps the Minister at some stage will find it possible to revoke this decision.

The two main items of this Bill are, first the discontinuance of the £17 allowance to employers on agricultural land on which the valuation is £20 and, second, the extension of the boundaries and the abatement of rates entitlement under section 2. I do not wish to detain the House very long on this because the points that can be made were very ably put by Deputy Faulkner, and I would like to support what he has said.

I am very sorry to see the £17 allowance being withdrawn, because even though it was a small amount, those who were getting it appreciated it. It was a retrograde step to discontinue it; in fact the case has been made down through the years that this allowance should be increased substantially. Indeed, some time ago I pressed the Minister for Local Government to have this extended to female workers. There are quite a number of women who are managing their farms efficiently. I saw no reason why they should not qualify for the £17 abatement the same as male employees would, but unfortunately I got no hearing at that time. Now the Government and everybody else are talking about equal rights for women, and maybe the Minister would reconsider this.

We have given them equal rights.

I am sure he would not have to be waiting to be told by Brussels to do it. Every effort should be made to keep as many people as possible on the land, and the fact that the number of people employed in agriculture is declining is no reason why we should withdraw this £17 grant. It is up to us to make the best possible use of our land, and if we see any opportunity of creating employment on it, surely the withdrawal of this £500,000 that it was costing is not a step in the right direction. We have a great asset in our land. In the past few years we have seen industrialists get into difficulties and all the State agencies, the IDA, Fóir Teoranta and so on, have come to their assistance to help to maintain their employees. Yet when agriculture is in trouble, when the farmer is finding it difficult to maintain his workers, there is no fuss at all about it. He can let them go if he likes but this is very bad. Instead of withdrawing the £17, in my view it should have been increased substantially. It would be an incentive and would help to reduce the numbers on the dole queues.

Deputy Faulkner dealt very ably with section 2. It is very bad that rates reliefs are not granted to people within town boundaries who are using their land for agricultural purposes. Under this Bill those people are not entitled to the relief. This is very wrong. Agricultural land outside town boundaries is worth as much as agricultural land within town boundaries. Within the town boundaries they may have such facilities as water and sewerage. Most people living in rural areas know that rural land in the last couple of years has been almost as expensive as the land within town boundaries. I cannot see why urban farmers should not be entitled to rates reliefs. I will have an opportunity later of putting down amendments and I hope they will be accepted.

The Minister's Second Reading speech is a typical example of the stop-go attitude adopted by this Government. When the Bill was introduced recently, provision was made for the continuation of the payment of the employment allowance of £17. I deplore the discontinuation of this allowance which the Minister dismissed as being of very little significance. It costs over £500,000 and is not to be dismissed lightly. This change will mean that the £500,000 will have to be made up by the ratepayers. In my own county alone this allowance amounted to some £13,500. This is a considerable amount of money which will now have to be paid by farmers many of whom employ their own sons. The Minister might reconsider the position before he brings in the proposed amendment on Committee Stage. The Bill should be left as it stands. If the Minister decided not to bring in his proposed amendment, he would have the full support of this House.

I welcome the continuation of the extension of the rate abatements and support the statement made by Deputy Kitt that some relief should be given to small farmers in the £20 to £33 valuation bracket. These farmers need rate relief. I believe the present position where they must pay the full rate in the £ is very difficult for them. I had hoped some provision would be made by the Minister to extend rates relief in this area. As I said, I welcome the provisions in the Bill except where it is proposed to abolish the employment allowance. The Minister should reconsider this matter and leave the Bill, as introduced, stand.

I will be very brief. I had a question down on this employment allowance of £17. As Deputy Daly said, by abolishing it we are taking £500,000 out of the farmers' pockets. We, in the county committees of agriculture, over the years got the impression that this allowance should be substantially increased. I agree with the Minister that it is a miserable sum. It might not do much to encourage a farmer to employ an outsider on the land, but it would help to keep the son at home. A man must be on the land a whole year before he can draw it. A person cannot get employment in the county council for two or three weeks and be insured or he will be automatically out of the scheme. This will probably result in more people being on the dole and will be a disincentive to farmers to keep their sons on the land. As I said, we have been looking for a substantial increase in this employment allowance. To dismiss it as being of no use is ridiculous. A sum of £500,000 is involved here. This is another disadvantage the farmer is faced with as a result of the budget. I am very disappointed.

Deputy Faulkner spoke of the relief to farmers who will be included in an expanded urban area. I have always felt—and I have been talking about this for years—it is grossly unfair that because the urban farmer is not a ratepayer, he cannot avail of the services of the agricultural advisers. Portion of the advisers' salaries is paid by the ratepayers and so the advisers are not at the disposal of the urban farmers, except as an obligement. They are not supposed to go out to plan a farm in urban areas. That is a big disadvantage to urban farmers. Some of these people do not even qualify for building grants and so on. Some of these farmers pay very high rates. I am not a convert to this view. I have always fought the case of the man in the urban districts because he is at a disadvantage.

I am disappointed the £17 allowance has been taken away because, in my view, that is a retrograde step. Urban farmers should be included. They are at a disadvantage because the services of the agricultural advisers are not at their disposal. The budget and this Bill are definitely anti-farmer. This year everybody is leaning on the farmer. As I said, when we were discussing the budget, our only hope of survival is to increase our agricultural exports. This is of vital importance but everything we do is determental in that regard. I am disappointed with the Bill. I regret that the £17 provision is being withdrawn and also that all farmers, whether urban or rural, are not included.

I do not intend to detain the House for very long but there are a few points I should like to make. Section 2 provides that in respect of future extensions to county borough or urban boundaries farmers whose land may be encompassed by revised boundaries will not lose the benefit of the rate relief afforded by the agricultural grant. In dealing with legislation here our aim should be to get rid of anomalies and, above all, not to create disparities.

If this Bill goes through in its present form it is bound to lead to disparties. I am pleased, though, to find that future extensions will not mean that farmers concerned will lose the allowance. This is of much importance to me since, as a county councillor, it will be for me to recommend or, perhaps not to recommend, an extension in so far as the Bray urban area is concerned. The Bray area is completely landlocked and application has been made to Wicklow County Council for an extension into the county area. As I was concerned in regard to this situation, I am glad to note now that the farming community, although they may be small in number, will be catered for.

I consider many provisions of this Bill to be negative. We note that the scale of allowances gives relief of 100 per cent of the general rate in the case of land or holdings which do not exceed £20 in value. I wonder whether the Minister gave any thought to improving these scales——

There is a 120 per cent relief?

——especially in the lower valuation figures, in other words, where the valuation does not exceed £20. Did the Minister not consider raising that figure to, perhaps, £28? Did he seek statistics which would indicate how much would be involved financially in this? The Minister had an opportunity to indicate to us the numbers involved. One would expect that he would have considered this legislation in detail. Did he not endeavour to ascertain what would be the implications of increasing the £20 lower limit to a more realistic figure? I trust he will dispel any doubts we have in this regard.

The Bill provides for the continuance of the employment allowance of £17 per workman per year. However, the imposts of the budget will nullify this. It is reckoned that there are approximately 30,000 men involved. I would have thought that the Minister, in conjuction with the Minister for Labour, would have taken the opportunity to do something general here and, perhaps, to offer a subsidy in the region of £2 per week per man in the hope that other people might be employed. This would not involve more than £3 million but it might be a worthwhile step towards creating further employment. It would appear that the Minister's attitude is that this is a short Bill and that all he is interested in is continuing the rate relief allowance.

I welcome wholeheartedly the continuance of this scheme but the Minister could have been more positive in his approach. We can only hope that the Minister will introduce some amendments designed to prevent the creation of disparities. I regret that £500,000 is being removed from agriculture, an industry which we should be endeavouring in every way possible to promote. I look forward to the Minister's reply on the various points that have been raised.

Most of the Deputies who have contributed to the debate spoke from their knowledge of agriculture in rural Ireland. While I did not agree with most of the opinions expressed I am glad that we can have such a debate here. Deputy Murphy was the exception because he showed his lack of knowledge in this whole area. Unfortunately, from time to time we find somebody going in where angels fear to tread. The Deputy must have embarrassed his colleagues because, wittingly or otherwise, he was indicating that they did not know what they were talking about whereas each of them spoke from knowledge of the situation. They let us know what they thought should be done. Of course, it is easy to do that when one is in opposition. I did for many years. While in opposition I had solutions for practically every problem and I had no hesitation in putting forward my views, sometimes with tongue-in-cheek. It was ironic that Deputy Faulkner and others spoke of increasing the £17 allowance. That figure has been in existence for 20 years, during 17 of which Fianna Fáil were in office. They did not increase the figure and they had a good reason for not doing so : it was not achieving what it was intended to achieve—maintaining people in employment. If for no other reason than the £17 allowance there is any farmer who is prepared to employ somebody for 52 weeks in the year, or if there is a farmer's son who is foolish enough to stay on the farm for the same reason maybe he would just pass the information along to me because that person is unique in the country.

He cannot do it because he would be in severe trouble.

He would be in severe trouble but he is not doing it. Nobody seriously suggests that anybody is staying on the farm for £17 a year. Even when £17 was a good deal of money people were not doing it. They are not doing it now either. When Fianna Fáil were on these benches Deputies on the backbenches expressed the same views as I am expressing now. We should not attempt to prove that we are keeping people on the land by paying £17 a year to their employers. If there was a case for increasing the amount substantially that case should have arisen when there was an average of 12,000 farm workers leaving the land per year over most of the last period Fianna Fáil were in office. The Fianna Fáil Government were right not to increase the allowance then. They realised it was not doing anything for what it was set up to do and they did not increase the allowance. Anybody who suggests that we should now (a) retain it or (b) increase it substantially is either having a try on or does not understand it. Two Deputies referred to the loss of the £½ million. Is it not understood that the Government are this year giving the farmers on rates remission alone an extra £6.5 million approximately with the £½ million taken off? Is that not going through loud and clear?

The grant is being increased by about £6.5 million and if this was on it would be £7 million, from £30 million to £36.5 million. Let us be fair about it. We are all in the profession of politics here and we are all making the best case we can for ourselves. I appeal to Deputies to be reasonable in their approach to those things because nobody will cod me and I will not cod the Deputies either.

The rates are up £2 in the £.

I do not want to go into that, but since it has been mentioned I would like to point out that if I was not Minister and this Government were not in office they would be a further £4 in the £ higher. I challenge anyone to try to dispute that. For goodness sake do not let us go back to that corny old chestnut because it just does not wash. When I started considering this first I was very much inclined to agree with Deputy Faulkner's case that there could be a charge made of discriminating against the people who were already farmers within urban areas by doing what we are doing now. I think it was Deputy Callanan who said that he talked about this for years when he was on this side of the House. I heard him talking about it. I am not talking about it. I am doing it. This Government are doing it. That is the difference which some people do not seem to understand. We are doing it for new extensions.


Let us not make a mistake about it. This is where it shows that people like Deputy Murphy do not understand what is happening. Urban districts have already two-fifths of the rates. Those already in urban districts are relieved of two-fifths of urban rates and that applies to Dundalk and all urban districts; boroughs, except Dun Laoghaire, a quarter of the rates; Dublin County Borough half of the rates; Limerick County Borough two-fifths of the rates; Waterford County Borough three-tenths of the rates, and Cork County Borough half of the rates. Deputy Murphy asked me why do I not make them all the same. Why did Fianna Fáil not make them all the same? Why did they make that pot of stirabout of the rates all over the country? I assure Deputy Murphy of one thing. If I have my way next year I will have the same thing applied to them all because I believe it should apply. I am not doing anything which is unfair. I am trying to go one step further to help. I believe that has been done in this Bill.

Will there be disparities?

Of course there are disparities which were there under the previous Government. I have just read them out and I am sure Deputy Murphy understood what I said.

Will the Minister create any more?

The Minister must be allowed to make his speech without interruption.

Farmers in the urban areas of Dundalk are only liable for 60 per cent of the town rates. I am attempting to prevent a loss of relief to those who at present enjoy agricultural grant relief because they live in a county health district and because if they are moved in they will not lose as a result. I know the arguments against this. People do not want to move from one county to another. If they are born and reared in one county they like to stay there. That is one of the arguments. Another is this loss of the rates relief. I believe by doing this I am doing a lot to smooth out the further extensions of borough boundaries where people will not lose heavily financially by changing over. I do not provide in the Bill for any deterioration in the position of occupiers of agricultural land which at present lies within urban boundaries.

Deputy Faulkner said that the grant should be increased to boost employment on the land. As I said, it is doubtful if it ever had an effect. The employment premium, unfortunately, was not taken up by the farmers. Maybe they were not encouraged. Maybe they did not see the way it was intended to be shown to them. A lot of extra employment could have been given by farmers if they had taken up men for whom they could have received £12 a week for a period and £6 per week for a further period. A very small number of them, about 22, is all who inquired about it. This is ridiculous in an agricultural country. I want to say to the Deputies opposite, who are so fond of talking about private enterprise, that the last big bastion of private enterprise in the country is, of course, the farming community. The farmer is a very independent man normally. I do not think he would want it to go out, as some people tried to represent here and indeed as some people who are supposed to be speaking for farmers organisations try to put across in the newspapers, that every day the farmer is at the gate waiting to see if there is a grant or a handout from somebody coming to him. I believe I know more farmers than anybody in the House even those who have been in farming all their lives. I worked as a farm worker and I represented farm workers as secretary of a trade union for 26 years. I dealt with farmers all over the country. I found them very decent men. We often had to agree to disagree. The idea which has been given now by people who claim to represent farmers and, indeed, by people in the House that farmers are always looking for a handout is wrong. It is being rightly resented by the farmers.

I did not state that.

The Deputy will make the case for the farmer in the House. He never talks as if the farmers whom he represents in his area were waiting for somebody to come along with a handout. I never heard the Deputy say it and I would not think he would be fool enough to do it. It is being done and it is wrong that it should be done either here or anywhere else. Private enterprise is what the farmer believes in. If he does believe in it he stands on his own two feet and should do so. He is doing very well at present. Deputy Faulkner also said that we should try to hold as many as possible in agriculture. A sum of £17 will not hold anybody in agriculture or anywhere else.

I am aware of that. When we put in the amendment perhaps the Minister will agree to it.

Deputy Faulkner would first have to go back and talk to his leader who spoke about cutting down substantially on State expenditure. Nobody can come into the House and propose a massive increase in State expenditure and then at a public function say you must cut down public expenditure very substantially by hundreds of millions of pounds. The Deputy cannot have it both ways and I suggest that he is having a little try on.

Priorities could be changed.

What does one do in that event? Do we reduce old age pensions or the number of houses we are building? Does the Deputy think we are building too many local authority houses? I should like to hear more about that from some of the people who are so glib when it comes to the question of extra expenditure.

The number of employees qualifying fell from 25,363 to 10,575 in the past ten years. The number of relatives qualifying fell from 34,118 to 19,647 in the same ten years. The £17 allowance was there and I do not think anybody can say that it was doing anything to keep them on. The agricultural grant is increased by £6.5 million this year over last year.

Deputy Leonard spoke on the same lines as Deputy Faulkner. I should like to tell Deputy Leonard that 72 per cent of all land holdings in Monaghan are derated and another 17 per cent are between £20 and £33 valuation. They are not doing so badly.

Almost 700 people qualify for the £17.

The number of applicants is 655. I do not think Deputy Leonard or myself would be terribly worried over a lot of the people who are qualifying because the £17 would not result in 655 people losing their jobs. Not one of them will lose his job as a result of it.

I am worried about everybody in the constituency.

I know the Deputy is. Deputy Kitt talked about the gross rates on land. The gross rates on lands was £43.519 million and the agricultural grant last year was £13.220 million. This year it is £36.5 million. In 1976 the grant will relieve farmers of rates to the extent of £16 million and I am sure the Deputy will agree that the farmers are doing quite well. Deputy Kitt should also remember that 84 per cent of all holdings in County Galway are derated. He asked that something be done for those with valuations between £20 and £33. I should like to inform him that they represent about 11 per cent of land holders in Galway. He should also remember that they get 100 per cent relief on the first £20 valuation. I do not see what the Deputy was getting at. It is possible that he felt there were bigger farmers who were discriminated against but that is not the usual language I hear.

Deputy Daly was bemoaning the loss of £0.5 million but he forgets that £6.5 million is being given to the farmers.

And 700 people are losing that allowance in County Clare.

Would Deputy Daly like to suggest that that means that 700 people will be dismissed?

It could mean 700 people signing for unemployment assistance and that will cost a lot more.

Deputy Daly is saying that farmers' sons who are working full time on the farm and for whom the £17 allowance was given did not sign for assistance before now. He is saying that they will sign now.

How could they claim for assistance before now?

I am very interested in those patriotic young farmers' sons in Clare who, because their father was getting £17 a year, did not sign on the dole although they could. I should like to see some of them.

They could not sign.

I know they could not but their fathers would not claim £17 for them. If they sign on the dole now and they are working on the farm, they might be surprised. This is the sort of thing that has been going on for a long time. They must be people over £33 valuation and they are not small farmers.

They are from £20 to £33 valuation.

The small amount they would have to pay in rates would not be worth their while. A valuation of £33 in Clare is a fairly sizeable farm. The argument is being made that people have stayed on the land and have not signed on the dole or sought work because their father was getting £17 but I have still to be persuaded that that is so. I do not think it is so and I do not think anybody would, in fairness, put it across that it is so.

Deputy Murphy described many of the provisions of the Bill as being negative. The figure of £36.5 million is not very negative and it is an increase of about £6.5 million over the 1975 figure. I should like to tell the Deputy that 77 per cent of the holdings in Wicklow are under £20 valuation and are, therefore, completely derated. A further 8 per cent are between £20 and £33 valuation and they do not pay rates on the first £20. No matter what way one looks at the position one will find that the Bill is doing something which had been talked about—as Deputy Callanan said—for a long time.

The idea of allowing farmers who are moved against their will—they have very little choice in the matter— into an urban area to continue to get the full benefit is something which should have been done years ago. I am glad I was the instrument in having it included in the Bill and that should be accepted generally.

Of course, we are accepting it but I am talking about the people who were always inside.

I tried to point out earlier that not alone was nothing done for the people who were always inside but nothing was done for those who were being put in until this Government did it. It is a little negative for Deputy Callanan to say that as we had done one bit we should do the whole lot. I am grateful to Deputy Murphy who gave as his reason that the one thing should apply to all the farmers within the urban area. At present all farmers in urban areas who are working their land, that is land which is used as arable, meadow or pasture ground or as woodlands, market gardens or nursery grounds, would qualify. Sports grounds would not qualify. In urban districts they only pay three-fifths of the rates. In boroughs, except Dún Laoghaire, they pay three-quarters of the rates. In Dún Laoghaire Borough, they pay half of the rates and in Dublin County Borough they pay half of the rates. In Limerick County Borough they pay three-fifths of the rates; Waterford County Borough, seven-tenths of the rates and Cork County Borough, half of the rates. Deputy Murphy, speaking for the party who were responsible for doing that, asks me to be consistent and have them all the same. I am sure he will realise that if he had a look at the Bill and the ones that went before it that——

There are disparities and the Minister is creating more.

There are disparities but the Deputy should not pillory me for doing something now because nothing was done by the people before me to try to remedy the disparities. I propose in 12 months' time to try to regularise the whole lot. I was aware of the disparities but Deputy Murphy was not aware of them. If he was he would have sat down during this debate instead of putting his foot in his mouth. The comments he made were not on the ball.

The other Deputies who spoke spoke from experience in rural Ireland. It is easy from that side of the House to suggest big improvements but I have made substantial improvements in this Bill and I believe they are welcomed by all sides of the House. They must be. I am told there are amendments which are likely to be put down. As always I am prepared to look at any reasonable amendment which is put down.

Question put and agreed to.

Tomorrow evening if that is agreeable to the Opposition.

We have no objection.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 19th February, 1976.