Acquisition of Land (Allotments) (Amendment) Bill, 1934—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

I would like to support this Bill for various reasons, many of which have been covered by the Minister in his recommendation of the Bill to the House. I think, however, that the Minister overlooked one very important aspect of the case, and it is this, that I believe that one of the greatest arguments possible in favour of this Bill is from the point of view of the education of the children of the workers in the towns and everywhere that allotments are made available. It is particularly desirable in view of the fact that there is a general back-to-the-land movement in the country at the present time. The people everywhere are doing their best to get back to the land and anybody who is in touch with affairs in the country generally will be well aware of the fact that many applicants for land are seriously handicapped because of the fact that they have not been brought up close enough to the soil and have not the necessary knowledge to work the land if and when they are able to get holdings of their own. It is not unusual at the present time to find the children of workers brought up even in small towns in the country in great ignorance of the ways of tilling the soil and producing the various crops. When this Bill is passed and when it is made possible for the workers to get these allotments in the various towns it will be possible for the workers to bring their children out on the plots in the summer time.

Apart from the various advantages in the way of health to the man who will be working on the plot, and apart from the amount of food produced, to the benefit of the State, and made available for the family of the allottee, I believe that appreciable educational advantages will accrue from the Bill. The children will naturally go out on the plot with their father, either to help him in the various little jobs he will have to do or to watch the work going on. In either event, their health will benefit and they will come into close contact with the soil. They will get to know how crops are grown and, as they grow up, they will be fitted to take their part under the policy which must be the policy, not alone of the present Government but of any future Government, to get the people back on the land in increasing numbers. When these children grow up, with the knowledge which they cannot avoid acquiring on the allotments, they will be better fitted to go back on the land to work or to take up land as independent farmers.

As the Minister has pointed out, the scheme will keep the unemployed in a fit condition for work. If a man has nothing to do, his muscles and his mind get, more or less, out of order. There is a natural desire in every man to be doing something. When the means are available, he will keep himself constantly employed on the land. Apart from that, I believe that the Bill is necessary because, as a result of it, a considerable amount of extra land will be brought under cultivation which, in the ordinary course, would not be tilled at all. It is also a commendable measure from the point of view of giving a fair chance to every individual in the country to provide for himself. Heretofore, workmen in towns were in a very peculiar position. Their families were dependent for food on their earnings. If anything happened by which the father was not able to provide for the family, if he were, for instance, disemployed, a serious situation arose. When this Bill is in force and when allotments are at the disposal of workers, they will feel themselves far more independent. The worker will feel that he is able to provide a considerable portion of the food necessary for himself and his family and he will know that that food is good, wholesome food.

In many towns and cities it may be possible for workers from their wages to purchase a certain amount of vegetables but, as we are all aware, the market is so regulated that the really fresh and valuable vegetables go to people other than those whom this Bill is intended to serve. I dare say we are all aware that it is absolutely necessary for the youth of the country to be supplied with fresh vegetables. The children of well-to-do people are sure to be looked after in that regard because the income of their parents is such as to enable them to buy the best vegetables in the market. The workman, if he buys vegetables at all, is generally thrown back on the inferior type or on vegetables left over from the previous day. My experience down the country is that the workman in the small town rarely, if ever, buys vegetables. He may buy potatoes but he does not buy green vegetables. Green vegetables are an absolute necessity. I have been reading up some medical books lately and I find that various diseases prevalent in this country are caused, to a great extent, by lack of green vegetables. That state of affairs will no longer continue if this Bill is passed. I am glad to see that provision is also made for the supply of seeds and manures. The Bill passed the other House without opposition. I am glad to be associated with it and I have great pleasure in recommending it to the House.

I am glad that Senator Quirke has spoken so fully on this measure. It is a measure which shows that the Minister has a clear conception of the realities of the situation. He does not seek to make a profit out of the land. So far as the land is concerned, he contemplates that there may be a loss. He also realises that for the poor man out of employment to find seeds and manures is an impossibility. The Bill makes due provision to secure that unemployed people, particularly near the towns and, indeed, in the country districts also, will have a chance of work which will be remunerative to themselves and their families. That will be the best class of employment—employment on the land. It would be a great mistake to expect too much from this Bill. Looking at the framework of the measure, I gather that the Minister does not expect a revolution from it. The necessity of the time is to find employment. This Bill will go a long way towards finding employment where employment is most needed and also producing, as a result of that employment, healthy food for the poor. I think that Senator Quirke expects too much when he hopes that the son of a plotholder, who goes out to look at his father sowing cabbages, will be able to take on the management of a farm. Senator Quirke is himself a farmer, and he ought to know that it is an occupation that needs great skill and great experience. We should not hope for too much, but the Bill will give us a considerable amount of relief so far as the unemployed are concerned. Of course, it is only one of a series of measures which I hope will be brought forward by this Minister and every other Minister to deal with the problem of employment. I rise simply in order that it should not be said that a measure of the importance of this measure passed through this House in silence as if it were a measure of little consequence. I think it is a measure of considerable consequence and of great potentiality—that it is a measure which will probably lead to others of wider scope.

I welcome this Bill. It is really a necessary complement of the Act of 1926, which itself was consequent on a Bill introduced in the Dáil for the same purpose in 1923 or 1924. That Bill was not accepted. The Bill generally fits in with the Unemployment Assistance Act, and should have good effects in and around the small towns and, perhaps, also in Dublin if the local authorities rise to the occasion. There is one point on which I should like to be reassured. The Unemployment Assistance Act and the Unemployment Insurance Act are mentioned here as affecting the definition of "unemployed persons." It is quite possible that a successful plotholder might produce a considerable quantity of foodstuffs on his plot for the benefit of himself and his family. I want to be assured that the value of that produce will not be taken into account in assessing the income of the unemployed person for the purpose of the Unemployed Assistance Act. I raised the matter in another way on an earlier Bill, but it may be more appropriate here. If it is not clear that the money value of the produce from the plot is not to be taken into account in assessing the income of the plotholder, then the Act ought to be amended to ensure that that will not be done.

I welcome this Bill. Everyone knows from experience how valuable it is to have vegetables produced on these plots. The Bill might go further by applying in some small way to those living in towns the advantages enjoyed by cottiers in country districts. The conditions under which allotments can be secured seem rather exacting in the Bill, because a man might be in employment when he secures an allotment but might lose that employment in a few months. Provision should be made to deal with cases of that kind. It would appear that only those unemployed can secure allotments. There will be some difficulty in selecting applicants. The scope of the Bill should be extended to include people employed in small industries in country towns, especially where the hours of employment are short. In the case of one new industry, I am aware that the hours have been curtailed to six daily. Because people are employed in that industry they cannot avail of the advantages of this Bill. Many people of that class would be glad to have allotments on which they could work in their spare time. I believe that this is a valuable Bill and that it will be widely availed of by the unemployed. While I believe it will have all the advantages the Minister mentioned, I suggest that its scope should be extended in the direction I indicated.

In view of some remarks made by Senators, I would like to make it plain that I regard this as more of a social one than an Agricultural Bill. I do not think it will do a lot for agriculture, but I hope it will be useful from the social point of view. The question raised by Senator Johnson has, as a matter of fact, been under discussion between the Departments concerned, as to the value that should be assessed on the plots. Some value will certainly be assessed, but, as Senators are aware, if the value is not as high as 2/- a week it would not matter; it will matter if the value is over 2/- weekly.

Then people will not take the plots.

The question is under discussion, and I would like to have a little more time to discuss it with other Departments. Senator Cummins raised the point concerning people who would only be employed for a short time. I do not think we could go so far as to include people in regular employment, but with short hours of work. As Senators will notice, Section 2 (1) (c) says

Any other person who for the time being complies with the prescribed conditions.

We must prescribe regulations. Senators realise that it would be impossible for the Bill to apply to persons who become unemployed in May or June, because the plots would have to be let in January or February or maybe earlier if they were to be properly worked. It may happen that a person anxious to get a plot has casual employment, which he knew he would lose in a couple of weeks, with no prospect of employment after that. I think we would be able to frame regulations to admit such persons as unemployed. On the other hand, I do not think it would be possible to include such people as those mentioned by Senator Cummins, who have short hours of employment. If Senators put any particular case up we may consider the question of something being done, but I think it would be very difficult.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, February 28th.