The Act regulating the allotment of land for this purpose at present in force is the Act of 1926. That Act was passed to enable local authorities to take over land and to let it out in plots for this purpose. Under that Act an allotment was defined as not more than a quarter of an acre, which was to be cultivated by a person mainly for the supply of vegetables for himself and his family. Under that Act also the local authority, in taking over land, had to be satisfied that the costs would be recouped by the rents and other moneys received when the allotments were let. As far as that Act goes, it has not worked to any great extent outside Dublin and a few other centres, one reason being, perhaps, that land is very dear around the cities, and the local authority, in taking it over and letting it out in plots, has to charge rather a high rent for working people. The plots average about one-eighth of an acre and for that the rents average in different towns from 10/- up to about 23/-. They have reached that figure in some of the centres. The person working the plot has also the expense of supplying seeds, manures, and the implements or tools necessary for working the plot. We are anxious now to see that plots can be let to the unemployed, but we realise that the unemployed could not possibly pay those rents, and neither could they provide themselves with the seeds and manures necessary. Under the law, as I have explained it, the local authority cannot let the land at a lower rent to the unemployed and the question is, even if we gave them the powers, would they be willing to do it?
In this Bill we have set out to amend the 1926 Act. In the first place we are giving the local authority power to take over land without being satisfied that they will recoup themselves by rent or other moneys received. Secondly, we are giving power to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health to recoup local authorities for their losses in letting those plots to the unemployed at nominal rents. In the third place, we are giving power to the Minister for Agriculture to supply these plotholders with seeds, manures, implements and spraying materials— that is, of course, in case they are let to the unemployed. The law, as far as allotments are concerned, will remain as it is where the plots are let to people in employment. There is no change in that respect. The only change is concerned with plots being let to the unemployed. If they are let to the unemployed the effect of this Bill will be that the unemployed person can get a plot for a nominal rent of, say, a shilling a year, and he will get free seeds, manures, implements and spraying materials.
I believe that allotments for the unemployed is a very desirable policy, because the person who takes a plot under this arrangement has a personal interest in making the most he can possibly out of it. It keeps him in good health and in good form. We often hear complaints that when a person is unemployed for some time he gets out of the way of working. In fact, he is not able to work hard for some time after getting a position. If he has a plot where he is out in the open air and keeping himself fit, he is much better able to undertake employment. In addition to that, in a position like this he is not debarred from looking for employment because his time is his own. He can work his plot on days when the quest for work is not necessary and, if he thinks there is a good chance of getting a job on a particular day, it is quite easy for him to knock off from work on his plot for a few hours. Accordingly, he is not tied to his plot and he can go out and look for a job. He is also in the position of being able to produce good, healthy food for himself and his family, which is sometimes very badly needed by the unemployed.
We have had some little experience of this system already. Last year, we got a small amount of money from the relief grant and we gave a small grant to the Dublin Plotholders' Society here. They undertook to let 160 plots—I think that was the number —to the unemployed, and those plots were worked very well. They were let at quite a nominal rent and the unemployed who took them over got free seeds and manures and free advice from one of our inspectors. In the case of Cootehill also the local people got some land from a local contractor to make what use they could of it. We gave them a grant out of the relief fund to provide those people with seeds, and so on, and they also put the unemployed on these plots. Our inspector, in charge of this particular scheme, in submitting his report at the end of last year, said that he had inspected all the plots and that they were admirably kept. He said there was only one out of the whole number, amounting to somewhere about 160, that was neglected. I do not think this is a Bill about which I need give further details except to answer any questions that may arise. I would mention, however, that I undertook at a late stage of the Bill in the Dáil to have an amendment inserted in the Seanad to the effect that any regulations made under the Bill would be laid on the Table of both Houses in accordance with the usual procedure of laying regulations on the Table.