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.