Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Feb 1976

Vol. 288 No. 2

Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Bill, 1975: Committee and Final Stages.


I move amendment No. 1:

Before section 1 to insert a new section as follows:

"1. The Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1946, shall apply to the local financial years ending on the 31st day of December, 1976, and the 31st day of December, 1977, and shall so apply subject to the modification that no employment allowance under section 7 shall be made."

The purpose of section 1 embodying the amendment now moved is to provide for the continuance of the existing primary and supplementary allowance for a further two years and also to terminate the employment allowance of £17 for each workman employed.

I have a letter from the Ceann Comhairle in which he states his regret that my amendments were judged out of order in view of the fact that they involve a potential charge upon the revenue. I also regret that decision. What exactly do you mean by revenue? I understand if one could claim it came from the rates, it would not be out of order.

I can assure the Deputy that very careful consideration was given to his amendments and the advice I have is that amendments Nos. 2 and 3 in his name would clearly involve a potential charge on revenue.

I would just like to know what "revenue" means?

The State is putting up most of the revenue for running local authorities.

Yes, but in an indirect way. I would be interested to know whether it could be claimed that when money is made available in an indirect way it could be claimed that the money for this purpose came from the rates themselves.

The Minister's amendment places me in a quandary because if I object to the amendment it means I am objecting to the Bill being passed, and if I agree to it I am accepting that there should be no employment allowance under section 7. I would like to say a few words on that.

What we had proposed was that the £17 employment allowance be increased to £200. The Minister's argument today referred constantly to the £17, and the query he posed was whether it would be likely that anyone would remain working on a farm for the sake of £17. I agree fully with him that nobody could be expected to continue to work on a farm because the £17 employment allowance was available. My feeling was rather than removing the £17 allowance it should have been increased to a point where it would be attractive and likely to ensure that the farmer could retain an agricultural worker. I am very concerned about the very high level of unemployment which persists at present. Statistics recently issued showed that the fall in the agricultural sector was only second to that in the building sector. It is encumbent upon us to do everything we can to ensure that those who are presently working on the land are retained.

The employment premium allowance of £12 a week was applied by the Minister for Labour at our request to the agricultural sector. The possibility of a farmer employing extra workers is not very good because farmers employ relatively small numbers. To employ an extra man would mean a very considerable increase in his percentage quota, whereas to employ one extra in an industry where hundreds are already employed would be a much lower percentage. We must tackle this question of farm employment in a different way. We must ensure that something of an attractive nature is made available to ensure that the farmer will continue to employ the number he is presently employing, so that there will not be a further deterioration in the employment situation.

I pointed out earlier that very considerable and worth-while efforts are being made by the IDA to ensure that industrial employment is held at the present level, even if it is not possible in present circumstances to increase the numbers employed. Every farm worker who loses his employment must of necessity try to get employment elsewhere. If it were possible to absorb him into industrial employment, it would cost much more in capital outlay than it would to increase the £17 allowance to a reasonable level. This could possibly ensure that the farm worker would be retained on the land.

The Minister stated that the £17 allowance did not stem the tide in relation to a reduction in employment on farms down through the years. This type of statement is not relevant because in every developed country there has been a movement away from the land and into the towns and cities and, consequently, to industrial employment. Such movement took place in Britain more than 100 years ago but it was only during the thirties and forties that it began here on any noticeable scale. Unfortunately, because the urban areas of Britain were developed to a greater extent and had better employment prospects than was the case here, the movement so far as we were concerned was out of the country in many instances. During the past number of years, though, that movement has been stemmed. The case made by the Minister in that respect, therefore, is not relevant. There would be that sort of fall in any case but it does not prove that the £17 allowance—I am talking of times when £17 was a worth-while sum of money—had not the effect in those early stages of at least slowing down that movement. Today when it is virtually impossible for anybody who loses his employment to find alternative employment it is a matter of the utmost importance that we should endeavour in whatever way possible to maintain our people in the employment they are in. In this instance we were suggesting, by way of the amendment which has not been allowed, to have sufficient money made available which would make it attractive for a farmer to decide to retain a worker whom he might be contemplating laying off.

The agricultural worker is a skilled person. He is very important in the context of our economic development. His skills are equal to those of someone in any other employment but there is the danger that this skill will be lost to him. We must endeavour to consolidate our employment as it is and then, to expand it. For that reason I regret that, having listened to what I had to say today, the Minister does not appear to be willing to accept the proposal I was putting forward and that, rather, he is persisting in removing the allowance. I would have thought that this allowance could have been used for the specific purpose I have mentioned. While it is useful to have the employment premium in so far as agriculture is concerned it is available only when the farmer employs extra help, help in addition to those employed already. Our aim is to endeavour to hold existing employment for the present. There is no opportunity for the Minister to meet the amendment because it has been ruled out of order but perhaps he would consider the question at some other date so as to ascertain what might be done in this respect.

I support Deputy Faulkner on this. In the area I come from there are not many farmers who can employ agricultural workers but there are a number of farmers' sons still at home. The point is that a person who had four children and whose valuation was between £25 and £35 could, up to 1st March, draw social welfare of £7 or £8 but now, beyond the £30 valuation, and even with five children, he will not qualify for this benefit. A farmer who had a son at home and whose valuation was more than £30 qualified for this £17 allowance. The Minister misunderstood me when he said that this remission did not have the effect of keeping anyone at home. I did not say that but I am saying that a person who qualified for the £17 relief could not compete in an open competition for a public position with one who was employed in a sector other than agriculture because he could not take employment, be insured and continue to get the relief.

Is the Deputy saying that a farmer's son would not take a job at £40 a week simply because his father was getting rates relief of £17 a year to keep him at home?

As the Minister is aware there are no £40 a week jobs available but if one should become available——

I am talking about the one that might become available.

——such a person as I am talking of could not compete for it. There is no better way in which employment can be created at the moment than by concentrating on the land. While £17 was of some value in past years, it is of little worth today. If the amount of relief were to be increased substantially to, say, £100, together with the employment premium it could result in more employment, especially on larger farms. However, I am referring to the smaller farmer because there are not many big farmers in my area. The Minister was talking of big farmers.

I was referring to those who were working for Mayo and Galway County Councils.

I am talking of the farmer whose son has left school and who must stay at home on the farm because of the lack of employment prospects. Such a farmer will not now receive the £17 rates relief. This is a retrograde step. I understand that the amendments are not in order. Is that correct?

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 have been ruled out of order.

On a point of order, regarding the notice which Deputy Faulkner has received concerning the two amendments submitted, I have been looking through Standing Orders and find that it is not in order to introduce amendments for the Report Stage of a Bill if they constitute a charge on Revenue but there is nothing, so far as I can see, which would prevent them being moved on Committee Stage.

The position is in regard to any charge on Revenue that it must be imposed by a member of the Government.

Standing Order No. 101 states:

On the Fourth Stage, no new section or other amendment may be proposed which creates a charge on the public revenue or upon the people but the Bill may be recommitted in respect of any such section or amendment.

The fact that the Standing Order states that no amendment can be moved on the Fourth Stage which involves a charge on the Revenue to me automatically means——

It is by the Minister.

It does not say that.

The Minister is the only person who can move an amendment.

I know, but I do not think the civil service should be deciding this for the Chair——

I would refer the Deputy to Standing Order No. 119 (3).

I accept it under that heading.

Does this mean that the matter is out of order? I do not want to waste the time of the House if I am out of order.

We are dealing with amendment No. 1, in the name of the Minister.

Deputy Faulkner spoke on amendment No. 2.

I am sure the Deputy would have ruled him out of order if he had been in the Chair.

I rose to support the Deputy. If I am out of order I will sit down.

If the Deputy wants to make a case, the Chair is not ruling him out of order on that account. The Chair is merely giving information that amendments Nos. 2 and 3 have been ruled out of order.

I have been trying to figure out exactly what case was being made——

It appears it has been ruled out of order.

Deputy Callanan was drawing attention to the fact that Deputy Faulkner was out of order——

No, I said he was ruled out of order.

No. He made the point that if he had his way instead of taking away the £17 he would substitute £200 but as this was ruled out of order he could do nothing about it. It was a fair debating point.

The sum of £200 was not mentioned, it was £100.

The sum of £200 is mentioned in amendment No. 2. Deputy Callanan has said he was not talking about the big farmers, that he was talking about the farmer's son who was kept at home on a farm of £25 valuation. No matter how high we increased the allowance it would not be worth much to such people because the rates they would be paying would be somewhere around the £17 mark. No matter how high we went we could not encourage the farmer to keep the son at home because he could not get any more. It would be no use to him because he would not be paying that kind of rates.

When talking about increasing the amount in order to encourage farmers to keep men on the farm, we must consider what kind of farmers we are discussing. I said earlier, and I repeat it now, that I worked as a farm worker; for 26 years I worked as a trade union official dealing with farmers and their workers. I found the farmers tough but decent men; they did not then, and still do not, want people to get the impression that they want something for nothing.

There are some people even in this House and there are those outside it who are always talking about "handouts" for the farmers. The farmers do not want handouts. The £17 we have been talking about is no good. Nobody will convince me that any young man will stay on his father's farm because his father is getting £17 off his rates each year. It is ridiculous to suggest that is so. Last year Deputy Callanan said the amount was ridiculous and when I was on the Opposition benches I had the same opinion. For the last 19 years it remained at £17; during 16 of those 19 years Fianna Fáil were in power but they did nothing about it. They were right to do nothing about it. They could have wiped it out; in fact, about ten years ago one of my predecessors said that we had reached the time where it was not significant in so far as keeping people in employment was concerned. He said it might be as well to do away with it but he did not take that step.

This year we are stopping the £17 but it does not matter very much to anyone. It is saving the Exchequer £500,000 but we are giving an extra £6,500,000 in rates relief to farmers as a direct payment. This is irrespective of items such as health and housing which cost approximately £4 in the £. The £500,000 we are taking represents about 30p a week and nobody can convince me that a person stays in a job because his father or relative is getting 30p a week. This matter should have been dealt with long ago.

As I pointed out, increasing the amount would not have made any difference because the people who would benefit would get very little, unless they got a direct subsidy or a handout and this they do not want. They would get a very small amount because they would not be paying enough rates. If the amount were increased it would affect the bigger farmer. He would have more money but I do not think it is our job to help him because we would have to tax someone else to get that money. It would be a mistake to increase income tax or to impose other taxation in order to give money to the only people who could benefit by a higher payment for the employment allowance. Continuing the existing allowance at £20 was right, but it was time to stop the £17 allowance. In 1976 it was a bit of a joke.

The Minister is probably referring to parts of the country where the rate is not high. I own a farm of 50 acres and I have a £43 valuation on land. In County Galway the rate is £10 in the £ for this year and I can assure the Minister that a person with a valuation between £25 and £40 would gain if the amount were increased.

He will get 80 per cent off the first £20 valuation and 30 per cent off up to a valuation of £33. I am convinced that the amount of money would be relatively small.

It is obvious the Minister will not accept our proposal. He concentrates on the £17 which everybody admits is ridiculously low. I put the point that a reasonable level of finance as an employment premium would be effective but as the Minister does not accept that, there is nothing more we can do about it.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Acceptance of the amendment involves the deletion of section 1.


Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 in the name of Deputy Faulkner have been ruled out of order.

Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

We have no alternative but to agree.

Surely the Deputy would not object to section 2?

The Minister must have been thinking of the hinterland of Drogheda.

How did the Deputy guess that?

Question put and agreed to.
Section 3 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment, received for final consideration and passed.
Business suspended at 6.5 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.