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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 19 Jul 1950

Vol. 38 No. 8

Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Bill, 1950—Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

The purpose of this Bill is to apply the Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1946, to the present financial year. As Senators are aware, the 1946 Act applied to the two financial years 1946-47 and 1947-48, and has been continued since then by means of continuing Acts on the lines of the present Bill.

I am sure that Senators are familiar with the principles underlying this measure. The policy of relieving the farming community of part of the rate levy dates from the Local Government Act of 1898, under which a fixed grant of £599,011 was made each year for this purpose. The amount of the grant was doubled in 1925, and was varied later by further enactments until it was stabilised in 1935-36 at the figure of £1,870,000. The grant remained stationary at this figure for 11 years, that is, up to and including the financial year 1945-46.

The Rates on Agricultural Land (Relief) Act, 1946, came into operation in the financial year 1946-47 and made the fundamental change that instead of a grant of a fixed sum, the amount to be provided would vary automatically with variations in the general rate. Under that Act, the rate relief is given on the following basis:—

(1) A primary allowance at the rate of three-fifths of the general rate on land valuations not exceeding £20, and the first £20 of higher valuations;

(2) a supplementary allowance of one-fifth of the general rate on the whole of the land valuation exceeding £20, and

(3) an employment allowance calculated at the rate of 10/- in the £ on the land valuation above £20, subject to the limitation that the allowance does not exceed £6 10s. in respect of each man at work.

The effect of substituting this new method of calculating the amount of the grant was that, instead of the fixed sum of £1,870,000 which was paid in the preceding 11 years, the grant for the year 1946-47 increased to £2,910,378. Each year since then there has been a further increase, the figure for 1949-50 being £3,971,722.

The extent of the rate relief afforded by the grant will be obvious when we consider that although the average gross rate in the £ in county health districts for the year 1949-50 was 22/7¾, the average net rate on agricultural land was 11/3½; or to put it in another way, the rates payable by farmers were slightly less than half what they would otherwise have been.

The amount which will be payable by way of agricultural grant in the present financial year cannot be definitely ascertained until the last few months of the year, but as the average general rate in the £ in county health districts is about the same as last year's figure, I expect that the grant will be roughly equal to the figure for 1949-50, that is £3,971,722.

The Bill now before the House does not contain any new principle. It merely proposes to continue the agricultural grant on its existing basis for the present financial year. As Senators are familiar with the principles on which this measure is based, and have accepted these principles on a number of occasions, I do not think it will be necessary for me to deal with the matter in any greater detail at this stage.

As the Minister has stated in his closing remarks, the principle of this Bill has been accepted over a long period of years by this and the other House. Therefore, I do not think there is any necessity for any long discussion on it, except to avail of the opportunity to mention one or two points. The Minister has pointed out the great benefits, in the way of the remission of rates, which the Bill confers on farmers in general. It provides relief, for example, to the extent of £6 10s. 0d. each for certain agricultural employees. I should like to ask the Minister to bear in mind the burden of rates which falls on another section of the community, as well as the ever-increasing demands that are made on that section arising out of legislation introduced and passed by the Governments of the day. I refer to those persons living in urban areas. So far as they are concerned, they get no remission of rates of any kind. From time to time legislation is passed by the Oireachtas, and Orders are made which have the effect of placing an increased burden on that class of ratepayer. They get no assistance, and there is no relief for them in relation to the rates they pay. As I have said, they get no remission of rates of any kind.

I think no one will have very much criticism to offer in regard to this measure. We all agree with it as far as it goes. It is a Bill which, I think, every Senator can support. There is just one little criticism which I should like to make. For a number of years, I made this criticism in the other House when this Bill came up there year after year. Therefore, I feel that I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without referring to the matter in the Seanad. Even though this Bill provides relief in respect of certain employees engaged in agriculture, it is not, I suggest, an equitable arrangement inasmuch as the relief provided does not extend to all agricultural workers.

Under the present arrangement, there is no provision for giving relief in respect of women workers in agriculture. In the county which I represent, a very large number of women are engaged in agriculture. They are doing the same work as men and they are being paid the same wages. I do not think that the arrangement under this Bill, in the matter of affording relief in respect of employees engaged in agriculture, can be said to be equitable until it is extended to include those women workers, always provided, of course, that the remuneration paid in the one case is the same as in the other, and that the women are not working for a lower wage.

I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to the position of a small section of the farming community who live within boroughs or urban districts. These farmers in some cases live four miles out from the town but they are still within the urban district. They have to pay for light, sewerage and water but they enjoy none of these amenities. On various occasions I have advocated that they should be treated on the same basis as farmers living in rural districts. Some of them are probably engaged in milk production or perhaps in market gardening. It might be argued that they have within easy reach of them a better market than the farmer in the rural district proper but if they got the benefit of relief on their agricultural land, they could sell both their milk and their produce to the town worker on more favourable conditions and everybody in the town would benefit by that. It is true that they are a small section of the community but, nevertheless, a section of the community whose interests have been overlooked.

I have urged on various occasions under different Governments that people who live exclusively by farming, though they live in an urban district, should get the benefit of the relief on agricultural rates. I hope that the Minister will bear these representations in mind and try to do something for these people. Those living within the Galway borough district have to pay rates of about 32/- in the £ and in the urban district of Ballinasloe, which extends three or four miles out into the country, they pay 38/- in the £. I think it is the highest urban rate in Ireland. They have the benefit of neither light, water nor sewerage. They reside in small thatched houses for the most part and they live exclusively by farming. They are not, as I say, a big section of the community but nevertheless they are a section that have been overlooked by the Legislature in the past.

I have a small point to raise with regard to the employment allowance. If a farmer happens to be unfortunate enough to lose one of his employees and is not able to replace him immediately, he forfeits the employment allowance for that year. We all know that it may happen that a man in the employment of a farmer may decide to enter another occupation and leaves after giving a week's notice or it may be that a man may decide to go to England and leaves without giving any notice. In both cases, the farmer is debarred from getting an allowance in respect of these men. I think there should be some arrangement by which if the farmer got another man within a period of three or four weeks, he would get the relief less a deduction of one-twelfth in respect of the period when he had not a man in his employment. He should not be debarred entirely from participating in the relief allowed for such employment.

Senator Burke has made exactly the point I wanted to raise. It is a matter that has come under my notice more than once. Even where there is only a break of a few days in some cases, the employer loses the benefit of the relief given on account of that particular man. I do not think it is quite fair and I think there should be some arrangement whereby there would be a proportionate reduction for the short period during which the employer had not filled the vacancy but he certainly should not be deprived of relief for the whole year because of a short break in the employment.

I desire also to support the suggestion made by Senators Burke and O'Connell. It is a matter that is of peculiar interest to County Limerick which is one of the largest dairying counties in the country and where men are employed for perhaps a period of ten or 11 months in the year. It might be possible to base the allowance on the amount paid in wages but, in any case, there should be an allowance for shorter periods than 12 months. There should also be an allowance for women as sometimes they are employed almost exclusively for milking cows. I should like also to support Senator Quinn's plea regarding farmers who live within city boundaries. Owing to the development of motor traffic, these men have no great advantage over the farmer living miles outside an urban area. The farmer living 15 or 16 miles outside a city will produce the very same commodities as the farmer living within the urban boundary is in the habit of producing and he can deliver them by lorry just as quickly as the man living within the city boundary. The labour costs of the man living within the city boundary are also very considerable. I think, therefore, that the man living exclusively by agriculture, although living within a city boundary, would be as fully entitled to relief in rates as farmers living outside.

I want to say, in support of the point raised by Senator Quinn, that this was a rather acute problem in two urban areas in County Cavan. We had the position over a number of years that a few farmers residing in urban areas were not able to get the benefit of the relief on agricultural rates which was provided for the rest of us. I think the Minister will have to face this situation. Actually the people living in the two urban areas in Cavan got over the problem by deurbanising the towns and the net result is that relief will have to be paid to the farmers who reside in these towns. I personally do not regard it as a happy development to see a small local community divesting themselves of their responsibilities and obligations in this way. I think it would be much better to see a spirit amongst the people of our towns which showed that they had a certain pride in their towns and a certain readiness to work together for their betterment. There are many things that the local authority could do for them which will not be done for them by a county authority functioning as such, but if these communities decide that certain of their residents are denied benefits that are forthcoming to other sections of the agricultural community and are driven to take the step of deurbanising themselves, they cannot be blamed. At the same time I think it is an undesirable development. The net result is that the agricultural grant will have to be increased in these counties on account of the demand that will be made by these people who are no longer living in an urban area since the towns have been deurbanised.

I think the Minister will have to face that, otherwise I think that the decision that was taken in these two urban areas, Cootehill and Belturbet—Belturbet was a very old borough—will be followed by other urban areas. You will find that movement spreading and the net result will be that the agricultural grant will have to be increased everywhere to meet the additional demand. As I say, I regard this de-urbanisation as undesirable. I think it would be much better to see our people prepared to come together and assume all necessary obligations in regard to their local areas rather than divest themselves of that responsibility. We all like to see a spirit of citizenship developed amongst our people rather than see a development of the tendency which I have described. That is the situation confronting the Minister and if he does not deal with it in one way he will have to deal with it in another. I agree with Senator Quinn that it would be much better to amend the existing legislation to meet the point than that we should have towns deurbanised. I do not know what the total cost would be. I am speaking of urban areas. I am not speaking of the point in regard to people living in close proximity to Dublin City. That is a rather different problem, a much bigger and a much wider problem. I do not understand that at all; I do the other. I think it would be interesting for us if we could have some indication of the total cost to the Exchequer if people in urban areas got the same relief as farmers living outside them. The Minister will have to meet this in one way if not in the other.

I am interested in the points which have been raised but at the outset I would like to remind Senators that this is only a continuing Bill, not one which could make any serious reconstructions in order to give effect to the suggestions. With regard to the point raised by Senator Baxter and Senator Quinn I would remind them that urban landowners are paying on reduced valuation and are not completely left out in the cold. They pay on three-fifths the valuation of agricultural land. With regard to the question of Cootehill and Belturbet the necessity for de-urbanisation was not mainly caused by the lack of agricultural grant, but was due to the fact that the buildings valuation did not enable services to be adequately provided for.

The case of Belturbet is definitely due to the agricultural grant.

In 1947-48 the rate paid by farmers in the urban districts was twice that paid by farmers in the county health districts and in 1949 it was one and a half times so that the difference between the two is decreasing. They are not left completely without consideration in so far as their assessable valuation is only three-fifths.

The question raised by Senator Bennett is a very old question. The question of extending the employment allowance to ladies has been raised every time that the matter has been discussed, but I would hold out no hope of being able to do it now. The primary reason for not giving it to female workers is the difficulty in determining which is an agricultural worker and which is a domestic worker. It is practically impossible in the case of a female relative, for instance, to determine whether she is whole time engaged in agricultural work and is not doing some domestic work as well. It is difficult even in the case of a female employee not to mention a relative. Although there may be a number in the county where Senator Bennett comes from it is a negligible figure over the country as a whole and it has not been considered wise or desirable to include female workers.

On the point of continuous employment I should like to say that the principle underlying the Acts from the very first day was not that it was to be a subsidy to casual employment but rather that it was to be an inducement to farmers to keep their workers in continuous employment and not lay them off during the slack times. Continuity is the chief plank on which the thing is based. The point was made by Senator Burke that a man who leaves his employment and gives a week's notice cannot be covered fully, but the gap in between is one that should be capable of being bridged in some shape or form, so long as it is the intention of the farmer to keep him in employment.

Senator Hawkins referred to the ever-increasing demands on urban rate-payers but in this financial year it is a little less than in 1949-50. The difference is a fraction of a penny. State grants of all kinds including agricultural grants have increased out of proportion to the increase in the rates. In 1939-40 the rates collected amounted to £6,510,000 while State grants were £4,734,000. That goes on all along the table. In 1949-50 rates collected were estimated at £10,900,000 while State grants were £13,649,000. For last year we have definite figures and the rates collected were £9,500,000 and State grants were £10,749,000. Even if the rates have gone up State grants have increased by a bigger ratio.

I think I have dealt with all the points which were raised, but this is merely a continuing Bill and I cannot hold out any hope of meeting all of them.

I understood that you could not amend it and I only wanted to bring to your notice the hardships of some of these people. I do not want to be taken as opposing the Bill or holding up its passing.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining stages now.
Bill passed through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.